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Friday, September 13, 2019

Individualized learning

In the K-12 education field today, there's a real push to emphasize individualized learning, or, to use another term that may be thrown out there from time to time interchangeably, personalized learning - this notion that teachers should find more ways to encourage each student to learn on their own terms. To have students learn what they want or need and through the styles that they want or need - visual, audio, hands-on, projects, papers, etc. - is really the goal of this thing we're calling individualized, or personalized, learning.

But in the end, isn't all learning already individualized, whether we're talking structured environments or unstructured activities? And if so, is this movement nothing really more than just one of the latest fads, one of the latest buzzwords, in K-12 education? Now, full disclosure here - I've worked in private sector business all my life so far, and have only been dabbling in K-12 education for less than 1.5 years as a substitute teacher and instructional / special education aide. By no means am I a psychologist, career-long educator, or expert on learning and brain development. I'm merely raising the question based simply on my own observations and experiences over the years as a non-expert lay person and student myself, for whatever they're worth. Let's explore further. We're about to get a little philosophical here.

As I tried to make the case in a previous post, The double-edged sword of technology, each mind is truly unique, and that's what makes every individual truly unique. With that said, if that's the case, then each mind is going to learn, retain knowledge, and make connections in a truly unique, individualized way.

If you and me are in the same class on whatever - it could be business, math, English, history, any kind of elective, etc. - sure, we're both being exposed to the exact same lectures by our teachers, the exact same assignments, the exact same textbooks and materials, and so on. But, I ask, are they really the exact same? You and me are truly unique, so we're not going to learn, retain knowledge, and make connections in the same ways.

Some examples of where I'm trying to go with this:

You may find one of the course's lessons to be very fascinating. I don't know, maybe this lesson, you feel, is somehow really pertinent to a career you're exploring. Or you just simply find it interesting. Whatever. Meanwhile, I'm bored by that very same lesson and simply dismiss it. No offense to the teacher. I just find that the lesson doesn't mean anything for me. It happens.

I may find one strategy to problem solve that really works well for me, while you may find another strategy that really works well for you. Both strategies get us to the same answer or general conclusion, but we find the other's preferred strategy confusing.

Another, more concrete example here - writing a research paper. We're both given the exact same assignment - the rubric is the same, the general guidelines and overall topic or research questions are the same, and so on. But what I actually research (the sources I consult and cite, the search words I enter into Google or an article database, etc.) and how I write and assemble my paper in the end is going to look very different from yours. It's not the same assignment for us because we're not the same.

What you take away from an assigned reading could be very different from what I get out of the exact same reading. What I find meaningful and relevant from the reading, you downplay and forget about, and perhaps vice-versa.

Finally, high school diplomas and college degrees - we earned the same high school diploma from the same high school in the same year. We then earned the same college degree in the same major at the same university. We both have the same exact sheets of paper, the diplomas, to prove it. Only difference is our names on these sheets of paper. But in the end, we each received very different educations to get there because of all the previous examples discussed - and then some. You may have gotten far more out of your education than I did because you completed more of the assigned readings than I did. You also greatly enhanced your education by learning outside of the classroom, and you took networking far more seriously than I did, so your career prospects are looking a lot better than mine at the moment.

What are your own thoughts and observations here? Can you come up with any examples of your own to add to the discussion? Are there any teachers that want to weigh in? What am I missing? What am I not considering or factoring in?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Letter to a former student

Thank you for the kind words, bud. Really means a lot to me. I'll never forget my time there with all of you. So many happy memories. It was a truly wonderful experience, and I'm a better person because of it. You used the crying emoji. Well, I'm going to admit that I really did cry. And I cried hard for a while, both privately and in front of quite a few good friends.

Like I always say, don't waste this precious time that you have right now, like I did when I was in high school. Learn all you can, in and out of class. Learn about history, business, government, finance, investing, ethics. Learn about leadership and what it means to truly be of service to others. Learn about your rights and responsibilities as a citizen. Learn some valuable skills that no one can ever take away from you. Master writing and communication.

I can tell you're the entrepreneurial type, with your lawn mowing business and all. I can also tell that you're the leader, or one of the leaders, among your close circle of friends. Keep it up, and you're not going to believe how far you're going to go. I'm excited for your future - for all of your futures. Give everyone my best. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

An introduction to Scott Joplin

Sometime in high school, I believe, I first came across the music of Scott Joplin (1867 or 68 - 1917), and he's the focus in this latest installment of my occasional series here on this blog, "Exploring the world of music." Famous for a style of music known as ragtime, and even nicknamed, "The King of Ragtime," Joplin, like many ragtime composers and artists, was a pianist.

Following are just three of the many "rags" that Scott Joplin wrote. Just the tip of the iceberg for the vast body of brilliant work he left for us to enjoy and cherish.

The first one here is called "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899), while the second is "The Entertainer" (1902). You may find that you are already somewhat familiar with these tunes when you listen to them here, as they are pretty famous. This is especially true of "The Entertainer." Both have been used in movies, ringtones, and elsewhere all throughout pop culture.

The third one, "Wall Street Rag" (1909), is also fairly well-known but, I would suspect, not at quite the level of fame and familiarity as the other two.

An interesting note here about "Wall Street Rag" - Joplin, who truly had a brilliant mind, wrote each of the song's parts and transitions in such a way as to mimic the different cycles and moods of the stock market, specifically during the Panic of 1907. You can read more about the background of "Wall Street Rag" by clicking here.

What do you think of this music? What's your reaction? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

How to save without really realizing it

Recently, during a meeting of a business networking group I belong to that meets over breakfast a couple times per month, one of the group's members shared this really neat tip for saving up money for, well, whatever - some sort of goal, a rainy day, a trip, etc. At the end of each day, she goes through her purse/wallet and any other place where change is left over from the day, and she'll put any $5 bills she finds away. Some days, obviously, she won't have any to tuck away, but many days she'll easily find at least one. What a cool idea, I immediately thought when I heard it. What a clever way to save for something without making it a big burden and dramatically impacting your lifestyle. Thought it was a tip certainly worth sharing here.

Cavalleria Rusticana

I'm pleased to revive my occasional series on this blog, "Exploring the world of music," after a hiatus over the summer. In this installment, I'd like to reflect on a classical/opera piece by Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. It's called, "Cavalleria Rusticana (Intermezzo)," and it was prominently featured in the films Raging Bull and The Godfather Part III. Listen to it in the video below, and then let's discuss it.

I don't know about you, but this piece can be highly emotional and reflective in nature for me, mostly in a tragic sense. I don't know if it's because of the scenes where it plays in The Godfather Part III, and, to a little bit of a lesser extent, Raging Bull, but this piece often paints a picture for me of an old man near the end of his life, thinking back on his life - all the triumphs, joy, sorrow, memories, regrets. Thinking back on all the people and moments that touched his life in a meaningful, profound way; all the people that hurt him and all the people he hurt. Thinking about all the unfinished business he's about to leave behind. All the unfinished words that should have been said. But also, hopefully, thinking, "Man, what an incredible journey it all was."

Sometimes, the piece makes me think of someone experiencing deep loss. The loss of a loved one, and the immense agony that comes with never being able to see that loved one ever again in this world. Thanks, Godfather Part III.

But for all the tragedy and the heartache, if there's any good that can come out of thinking about this piece in that light, it's that we should attempt to simply treat others, along with ourselves, better in the limited time we each have.

When you listen to this piece - and I'd suggest listening to it at least a couple of times - what does it make you imagine, or think about? How does the music move you, and speak to you? Share in the comments below. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

PBS video clip on George Custer

Per my recent post on Captain Myles Keogh and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, here's a PBS video clip on General George Custer I recently came across on YouTube. It focuses on Custer's time in the Civil War (1861-65) and on his relationship with his wife, Elizabeth. Very interesting. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Welcome back students!

Hello! I hope this message finds you well, and I hope you enjoyed your summer break! I sure kept busy over the summer with several projects that were a lot of fun for me. Well, it's time to get back to work in the classroom for all of us. For me, that means a long-term substitute assignment as a special education aide at the high school level that I recently accepted.

While it's back to learning in the classroom, hopefully, you didn't stop learning over the summer. As I always explain to students, learning takes on an enormous variety of forms and situations. With that said, learning - and the opportunity to learn - never ends. You don't have to be in a classroom or school setting to learn, grow, and develop. And actually, I would contend, many of the greatest, most meaningful life and career lessons we'll ever learn take place outside of school. But school and the "real world" do certainly go hand-in-hand. While there are plenty of social commentators and political pundits out there ready to attack and instantly dismiss just about all avenues of formal education as being a complete waste of time and money and not having much to do with reality at all, it's clear, at least to me, that there are certainly deep strands connecting the two "worlds." You're not going to be very successful out there in much of anything if you can't read, write, reason, perform basic math functions, conduct research, and understand and subscribe to some sort of ethical and moral framework. Likewise, skills and experiences like networking, learning how to effectively communicate and collaborate with others to perform work or accomplish a goal, customer service, general business processes, mastering software programs and different types of equipment, building or repairing things, working with tools, salesmanship and marketing, computer programming and coding, entrepreneurship, etc., etc., can only come by constant exposure in real settings. You have to just get out there and do it, as they say, and that requires plenty of practice, mistakes, patience, fine-tuning, reflection - and drawing from the skills and experiences you're picking up in class.

Anyways, I think I may be getting off topic just a tad. This was supposed to be a simple "welcome back" post, not a philosophical debate about the merits and shortcomings of formal education, or the current state of the modern-day school system, or how the mind grows and develops. There will be plenty of future opportunities for "those" posts.

Here's to a successful 2019-2020 school year and to your continued growth as a leader! Wishing you all the best. Take advantage of this time that you have to learn all that you can. Don't squander this precious opportunity you have right now, like I did when I was in high school.

Mr. Robertson