February 19: Metacognition Day

Today is the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus, a man who not only changed the world as we know it, but also the universe.  

Nikolaus Kopernikus.jpgBorn in Poland in 1473, Copernicus was both a polyglot and a polymath.  He spoke Latin, German, Polish, Greek, and Italian.  In addition to holding a doctorate in canon law, he was also a physician, mathematician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist.  Today, we know him best as the astronomer who challenged the orthodox belief that Earth was the center of the universe.  Fifteen-hundred years after the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy established his theory that the planets, the sun, and the stars revolved around a stationary Earth, Copernicus presented his revolutionary theory.  He claimed that not only did the Earth rotate on its axis, but also that Earth and the other planets revolved around the sun.  Copernicus’ work in astronomy was the quintessential achievement of the Renaissance, totally transforming mankind’s view of the universe and paving the way for future work by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton.

A true man of science and of learning, Copernicus embodied the Renaissance ideals of searching for knowledge and challenging conventional wisdom. His opus On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres was published in 1543, the same year he died (1).

One quotation that typifies Copernicus’ scientific approach is one that uses simple terms to express a profound insight:

To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.

Today cognitive psychologists sum up Copernicus’ insight using a single term: metacognition.  Meta is Greek for “about,” and cognition is Latin for “to know.” Metacognition, therefore, is “thinking about thinking.”  More than just being aware that we think, metacognition is the process of monitoring our own thinking.

As Copernicus reminds us, metacognition is not just what we know, it is also being aware of what we don’t know, as well as being aware of the ways we sometimes delude ourselves.  To understand the ways we think best and the ways we fall short of sound thinking, we should always keep in mind the relationship between both knowledge and ignorance.  

Notice, for example, how the following wise voices from the past express this relationship:

-Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.  –Confucius

-The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. –Daniel J. Boorstin

-The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance. — Socrates

-The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge. — Elbert Hubbard

-To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge. — Benjamin Disraeli

-The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand. — Frank Herbert

In the book Make It Stick, the authors discuss one specific learning strategy that employs metacognition to help learners be more productive and more efficient in their study.  The strategy is called retrieval practice, and recent studies have documented that this strategy is much more effective than rereading a text, highlighting a text, or even reviewing notes.

The key aspect of retrieval practice is self-quizzing or testing.  When reading a text or listening to a lecture, therefore, the student should generate questions for self-testing.  Once the student has finished reading or listening, he or she should use the questions to recall and recite out loud the facts, concepts, or events from memory, without using the book or notes for reference.  The basic premise of retrieval practice is that learning that sticks is learning that is effortful.  Furthermore, the effortful act of retrieving knowledge from memory strengthens the memory, increasing the likelihood that knowledge will stay in long term memory.  Like walking an unfamiliar path through the woods, the more you travel the path, the more confidence you have in remembering your way without getting lost.  Retrieval practice also decreases the likelihood that students will delude themselves into believing they know what they don’t know. Since the strategy requires that student recite answers aloud, they are able to exercise good metacognition by clearly determining what they know and what they don’t quite know yet (2).

Today’s Challenge:   What Do You Know?

How can you apply retrieval practice to increase your metacognition?  Select an article or short story that you have not read before.  As you read the passage, write down three questions based on the key ideas you’re reading.  When you finish the reading, put the passage away, and attempt to answer each of your questions by reciting the answers out loud.  As you answer each question, rate your level of confidence with your answer on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being you feel highly confident; 1 being you need to look back at the passage to answer).  Once you have finished, take a moment to reflect on the strategy.  How did it feel to answer out loud?  Do you feel like this strategy will work for you in the future? (Common Core Reading 1 – Key Ideas and Details)

Quotation of the Day:  When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it – this is knowledge. — Confucius

1-http://www.nmspacemuseum.org/halloffame/detail.php?id=123

2-Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel.  Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning.  Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 2014.

 

February 17: Two Sources Day

On this date in 1942, the Voice of America (VOA), the United States’ government-funded multimedia news source, made its first radio broadcast.  With the world at war, the mission of the VOA was to combat Nazi propaganda, to promote American policies, and to boost the morale of its allies around the world.   

VOAlogo.pngAt the end of World War II and with the beginning of the Cold War, VOA began its first Russian-language broadcasts into the Soviet Union in 1947.  These broadcasts included news, human-interest stories, and music.  The stated purpose of the VOA at this time was to give listeners in the USSR a picture of what life was like on the other side of the iron curtain (1).

Congress did not enact an official charter for the Voice of America until 1976.  The charter, which was signed by President Gerald Ford, requires VOA to “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (2).

Today the VOA provides programming through the internet, mobile and social media, radio, and television in more than 40 languages.  Located in Washington, D.C., VOA serves an estimated weekly global audience of 187.7 million people (3).

From its first broadcast in 1942, the VOA made the following promise:  “The news may be good.  The news may be bad.  We shall tell the truth.”  One principle that assists its quest for accurate reporting is its “two-source rule,” which it instituted in 1981.  The two-source rule stipulates that the VOA will not report a news story until it has two independently corroborating sources or an eyewitness report from a correspondent.   It’s this principle that prevents the VOA from making mistakes in its reporting.  It also promotes the VOA’s reputation as a trusted, credible source for news.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Sources to Truth

What are some questions that you have, questions that you are truly curious about and that you do not know the answer to?  Select a question that you are curious about and research it.  Find at least two separate sources, and write a paragraph answering your question.  If the two sources do not corroborate a clear, single answer to your question, continue your research until you have at least two separate sources that corroborate your answer.  Use direct quotations, and cite your sources. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  It was very hard to get any records, so the only source for us to really hear what was happening was listening to the Voice of America. We would be taping all the broadcast and then sharing the tapes and talking about it.  -Jan Hammer

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/voice-of-america-begins-broadcasts-to-russia

2-NYTimes

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/06/opinion/06UNGA.html

3-VOA History

http://www.insidevoa.com/p/5829.html

February 5:  Summary Day

On this date in 1922 the first edition of Reader’s Digest was published. The magazine was the brainchild of DeWitt Wallace, who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1889.  Recovering from wounds he suffered while serving in World War I, DeWitt began working on his idea of publishing a monthly periodical featuring condensed versions of articles from other magazines.  

First issue of the Reader's Digest, February 1922.pngWith the help of his wife Lila, Wallace published the first edition of the Reader’s Digest, producing 1,500 copies and selling each for 10 cents.  By the end of the decade the circulation had reached more than 200,000, and in the 1930s, Wallace expanded his company to include condensed books. In addition to its smaller, condensed articles, the magazine itself is half the size of a typical magazine, just about small enough to put in your back pocket.  The circulation for Reader’s Digest, however, is not small; it has more paid subscribers than any other magazine in the world (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Read, Ruminate, and Digest

How can you paraphrase the main points of an article in 50 words?  In order to write a summary, or to digest an article by breaking it down to its essential points, you must read carefully.  The purpose of a summary is to capture the writer’s main point your own words.  Select an article of at least 250 words, and write a 50-word summary.  Use the following step to guide you:

Step 1:  Read and annotate the text carefully, focusing on the main ideas and main details.  Underline key ideas, and circle any unfamiliar vocabulary.  Remember, the purpose of a summary is to sum-up the writer’s idea, not your reaction to the writer’s ideas.  So, resist the temptation to inject your opinion.

Step 2:  Draft a brief summary in your own words on a separate piece of paper that captures the writer’s main point or claim.  Don’t include the author and title in your summary.  Also, don’t waste words saying things like: “this article is about” or “the author argues that.”  Instead, just state the main ideas.  Don’t worry about the number of words until you have finished your draft.  

Step 3:  Revise and edit your summary.  Count the number of words and revise as necessary to write the most clear, concise, and correct summary of exactly 50 words.  Read your revised draft aloud to make sure that it is clear, that the sentences are complete, and that there are no wasted words.

Step 4:  Write the final draft of your summary.  On the line above the final draft of your summary, write the author’s last and first name, followed by the article’s title.  Then, on the line below the author/title, legibly write your complete final draft of your 50-word summary.

Quotation of the Day:  The dead carry with them to the grave in their clutched hands only that which they have given away. -Dewitt Wallace

1-http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/nyregion/03bookwe.html?_r=0

 

December 26:  Boxing Day

Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, celebrated each year on the first day after Christmas because Stephen is recognized by the Christian church as its first martyr.

The New Testament Book of Acts provides an account of Stephen being brought before Jewish authorities and accused of blasphemy.  After giving an impassioned speech to the assembly of judges, in which he denounced his audience for its long history of persecuting the prophets, Stephen was dragged from the city and stoned to death.

Saint Stephen’s Day is a traditional day for giving food or money to the poor.  The lyrics of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” reflect this tradition:

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even

The carol tells the story of Wenceslas, the 10th century Duke of Bohemia.  Seeing a peasant gathering wood in the snow, the King is moved to help him and puts together a parcel of food, wine, and pine logs. Accompanied by his page, the King then trudges through the blinding snow and the dark night to deliver his gift to the peasant’s door.

Boxing Day, an English holiday celebrated on December 26th, reflects the example of giving we see in the Christmas carol. Traditionally on this day, household servants were given a box of presents to take home and share with their families, an early version of what we know today as the “Christmas bonus” (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Boxes Within Boxes

What is a subject or topic that you could divide or classify into 12 different parts?  Boxing Day is the perfect day for planning a calendar — after all isn’t a calendar made up of boxes within boxes?  As you prepare for the beginning of a new year, instead of buying a calendar, brainstorm ideas for making one of your own.  Below are twelve possible topics:

12 Labors of Hercules

12 Books that Everyone Should Read

12 Olympian Gods

12 Signs of the Zodiac

12 Precious Stones

12 Great Science Fiction Films

12 Greatest Rock Songs

12 Reasons that 12 Angry Men Is the Greatest Movie of All Time

12 Most Important Years in History

12 Holidays to Celebrate

12 Ways to Save Energy

12 Greatest Great Annual Events That Everyone Should Attend

Once you have selected the theme for your calendar, create an outline of the content of each month, including notes about what specific textual content you will include, what artwork you will include, and what other features you might include to make your calendar unique. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress. -Charles Kettering

1-Rufus, Anneli.  The World Holiday Book.  New York:  HarperCollins, 1994.

 

12/26 TAGS:  Feast of Saint Stephen, Good King Wenceslas, Boxing Day, calendar

November 29:  Compulsory Education Day

On this day in 1870, the British government announced its plan to make education compulsory.  The Elementary Education Act of 1870 required that education be provided to children up to age 10.  The act was also commonly known as the Forster’s Education Act, named for William Edward Forster, a member of the House of Commons who crusaded for universal education and who drew up the act.

One nation that adopted compulsory education before Britain was Prussia.  A decree by Frederick the Great in 1763 provided an education for all girls and boys until age 13.  Under this plan teachers were paid by the citizens of the municipalities in which they taught; however, the teachers – many of whom were former soldiers — were asked to supplement their income by cultivating silk worms.  (wiki)

In the United States, Mississippi became that last state to pass a compulsory education law in 1918.

In 2012, best-selling young adult fiction author John Green published a YouTube post on compulsory education entitled “An Open Letter to Students Returning to School.”  In his letter Green challenged students to not take their education for granted and to see “compulsory” schooling as an opportunity to contribute something to society:

School doesn’t exist for your benefit or for the benefit of your parents. Schools exist for the benefit of me. The reason I pay taxes for schools even though I don’t have a kid in school is that I am better off in a well-educated world. Public education isn’t a charity project; I pay for your schools because I want you to grow up and make my life better. I want you to make me beautiful books that will bring me pleasure and consolation. I want you to make me cooler cars for me to drive, and drugs so that I can live a longer, healthier life. I’m paying for your education in the hopes that you will invent a microwave pizza with actually crispy crust and that you’ll spread the availability of the internet so I can get more YouTube views in Zambia.

Your education isn’t just about you, your nation is making an investment in you because they believe that you are worth it. So the next that you’re like half asleep fantasizing about being a kid chosen for a special mission or wizard school, or whatever, please remember something: you are special, and you’ve chosen for a special mission that was denied to 99.9% of all humans ever. We need you, we believe in you, and we’re counting on you.

Today’s Challenge:  

If you were the Secretary of Education, what class would you make mandatory for all students?  Why?  Imagine that you have been appointed to design a specific class that will be required by all students before they graduate high school.  What would you call your class, and what would be the make-up of the class’s curriculum.  In addition to describing the class, provide a rationale for why the content of the class is essential for students. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  But yes, your teachers may be stupid. So are you, so am I, so are everyone . Except Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The whole pleasure in being a human is in being stupid but learning to be less stupid together. -John Green

November 23:  Jukebox Day   

On this day in 1889 the first jukebox was installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. Although it is somewhat of an anachronism today, the jukebox was one of the key influences on music and culture throughout much of the 20th century.

The idea of a coin-operated phonograph was hatched by Louis Glass, president of Pacific Phonograph Company.  Glass adapted Thomas Edison’s phonograph, which played songs on wax cylinders, by attaching four stethoscope-like tubes for listening.  Each tube was individually activated by the listener inserting a nickel.  In fact the machine was first called the “nickel-in-the-slot player.”  The term jukebox did not enter the vernacular until the 1940s.

The origin of the term “juke” begins in the Gullah, a creole language spoken by the African-American population of the Sea Islands and coastal region of the southern United States.  In Gullah “juke” means “disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.” Before the term was used for a coin-operated music box, it applied to a “juke joint,” a common term for a saloon or tavern.  Because these types of establishments featured “nickel-in-the-slot players,” the more concise term “jukebox” took hold.

Today’s Challenge:  Put in Your Two Bits

What would be the top five songs you would include on your personal jukebox?  Whether you have a jukebox or not, the playlist has become a prominent part of a modern culture where music is more accessible than it ever has.  Brainstorm your favorite songs, the kind of songs that would make up the soundtrack of your life.  Select your top five songs and write a description for each that explains why the song is important to you and what makes it a vital part of your playlist.

Quotation of the Day:  I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music. -Billy Joel

 

November 22:  Pixar Pitch Day

On this day in 1995 the computer-animated film Toy Story was released by Walt Disney Pictures.  The film, directed by John Lasseter, was the first feature-length film produced by Pixar Animation Studios, a subsidiary of Walt Disney.  Widely considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, Toy Story and has earned over $350 million.

Film poster showing Woody anxiously holding onto Buzz Lightyear as he flies in Andy's room. Below them sitting on the bed are Bo Peep, Mr. Potato Head, Troll, Hamm, Slinky, Sarge and Rex. In the lower right center of the image is the film's title. The background shows the cloud wallpaper featured in the bedroom.Today Pixar Animation Studios, located in Emeryville, California, is one of the most successful studios in movie history, grossing over $7 billion and winning 26 Oscars.  Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 have all won the Academy Award for Best Animated Features.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel H. Pink attributes the success of Pixar to “The Pixar Pitch,” a template that provides a structure for the most important part of every Pixar film – the story:

Once upon a time____________.  Every day____________.  One day____________.  Because of that, ____________.  Because of that,_____________.  Until finally___________.

The following is an example of a pitch for Finding Nemo:

Once upon a time there was a widowed fish named Marlin who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day, Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away. One day in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into open water. Because of that, he is captured by a diver and ends up as a pet in the fish tank of a dentist. Because of that, Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo….Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite, and learn that love depends on trust.

According to Pink, the strength of the Pixar Pitch format is that it a concise and controlled “framework that takes advantage of the well-documented persuasive force of stories” (1).  Just as the fourteen lines of a sonnet seem to be the best package for a message of love, the six-sentence template of the Pixar Pitch is the perfect way to deliver a packaged plot.

Today’s Challenge:  The Six-Sentence Sell

What story would you tell using the Pixar Pitch as your template?  Try your hand at creating a narrative that uses the six-sentence structure of the Pixar Pitch.  Imagine that you are making a pitch for the next Pixar feature.  If you are working with others, have a contest to see who can come up with the most compelling pitch.

Quotation of the Day:  In the South, we tell stories. We tell stories if you’re in a sales position, if you’re in a retail position, you lure your customer by telling a story. You just do. -Tate Taylor

 

1-Pink, Daniel.  To Sell Is Human. New York:  Riverhead Books, 2012: 170-174.

 

August 31:  Short Letter Day

Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television’s most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.

With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).

Looking back at the text of the Shapiro’s letter — only three sentences long — it’s hard to believe it was the spark that set of a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years:

Call me a crazy guy, but I feel that Jerry Seinfeld will soon be doing a series on NBC, and I thought you’d like to see this article from the current issue of People Magazine.

Jerry will be appearing in concert in New York City at Town Hall on Saturday, September 10. If any of you will be in New York at that time I’ll be happy to arrange tickets for you and your guests.

When the show ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Money Refused” when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as “Yada, Yada, Yada.”

Seinfeld’s Agent George Shapiro, who later became one of the show’s executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).

Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarantee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Seinfeld you can’t write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter. Below are four important guidelines for a successful letter.

The Four S’s of Business Letters:

Keep it Short

Cut needless words, needless information, stale phrases, and redundant statements.

Keep it Simple

Use familiar words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple, and use a conversational style.

Keep it Strong

Answer the reader’s question in the first paragraph, and explain why you’re writing. Use concrete words and examples, and stick to the subject.

Keep it Sincere

Answer promptly, be friendly in tone, and try to write as if you were talking to your reader (3).

Today’s Challenge: Short, Simple, Strong, and Sincere Snail Mail
What is something that you would recommend right now, something that is overlooked or underappreciated?  Just as George Shapiro wrote a letter of recommendation for Jerry Seinfeld, your job is to write a short letter of recommendation.  Your letter, however, should not recommend a person, rather it should recommend an object or an experience.  This idea comes from a weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine called “Letter of Recommendation,” where various writers recommend an object or experience that has been overlooked or underappreciated.  Past topics featured have been:   egg shakers, summer Fridays, The Oxford English Dictionary, Skiing, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and alternative search engines.

Brainstorm a list of ideas.  Then, select the topic you feel most passionately about.  Your purpose is to share your passion with a general audience, telling and showing them why your object or experience is worth holding in higher esteem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: The second button literally makes or breaks the shirt. Look at it. It’s too high. It’s in no-man’s land. You look like you live with your mother. –First line from the first episode of Seinfeld and the last line from the last episode. In both cases Jerry is speaking to George.

1- Jerry Seinfeld.

2 – Grunwald, Lisa and Stephan J. Adler (Editors). Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. New York: The Dial Press, 1999.

  1. Business Letter Writing – Business Letter Writing Checklist