Tents Not Needed…

wordpressiconFolks who’ve taken my WordPress Course already know that the software used is WordPress–one of the most popular website/blog authoring programs because it’s user-friendly and free!

What you may not know is there are WordPress Camps held around the world that focus on “everything WordPress.” Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other.

And there’s one scheduled in Portland Maine on August 15-16!

But wait, there’s more! Not only is WordPress free… it only costs $30 to attend both days! So dig out your pocket protector and check out the details: http://2014.maine.wordcamp.org/. Unfortunately, a prior commitment prevents me from attending on Saturday, but I hope to be there Friday… if you decide to attend, let me know and we can try to meet!

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When I Grow Up…

Having spent 11 minutes with this 13 year old (virtually) I can say that I would love to spend some with him in person. He knows what he wants to do but is not so sure he knows what he wants to be. I think he’d make an awesome teacher.

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Books and Balloons at Guilford River Festival

And there might be dancing!

And there might be dancing!

“Are you old enough to dance?” is just one of the many questions “Mr. Boomsma” has been asked by the children he works with as a volunteer and substitute elementary school teacher. In his book, Small People—Big Brains, he points out that his original knee jerk reaction was the child had asked it wrong and really meant “Are you too old to dance?” But whether this is just an example of the literal thinking of a child or one of the many insightfully innocent statements kids make, it becomes another one of the stories about simplicity, exploration and wonder contained in the book.

Boomsma explains that the book formed when he realized after years of telling stories about his experiences with kids—sometimes hysterically funny stories, sometimes extremely insightful stories, and sometimes tragic—he’d already “written” most of it—all that was left to do was compile and publish it. Completed just over one year ago, he’s already hinting there may be a volume two as the stories keep coming and the kids still seem to have a lot more to teach him. He especially likes it when the kids ask “Mr. Boomsma, what would happen if…?” and wishes more adults would recapture some of that exploration and wonder because “thinking with kids about that question can lead to some amazing discoveries.”

Jack Falvey,  a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s says of the book, “This is a light and fast read until it isn’t, and then you stop and read a sentence or a thought a couple of times… If you have ever been in a classroom, on either side of the teacher’s desk, you will enjoy these classic and classy observations on the art and science of learning.”

Boomsma’s work with Valley Grange and children will be featured in a soon to be released issue of Maine Seniors Magazine where he will be identified as a one of the magazine’s “Prime Movers – seniors and organizations who have truly become icons in their communities.” “I have figured out a lot of things about working with kids,” he jokes, “but I don’t have a clue how to be a community icon. I wonder if it involves dancing.”

“Mr. Boomsma” will be at the Guilford River Festival on Saturday, July 26 with some of his Valley Grange friends and the Bookworms who volunteer to listen to the kids read at Piscataquis Community Elementary School. There will be balloons for kids and funny stories about kids for adults. Signed copies of Small People – Big Brains will be available for purchase. And maybe even some dancing!

(Adapted from a press release…)

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All work and no play is bad for your health. So says Jack.

What follows is the work of friend and colleague Jack Falvey–who many will recognize as the author of the “blurb” on the back cover of my book, Small People–Big Brains. Jack’s authoring this online investor program for Saint Anselm College… a free daily investor brief. See the bottom for additional information… try ‘em! The price is right and I think you’ll enjoy Jack’s style. As a bonus you’ll learn a lot! Subscribe here.


Jack F HeadshotWorking smart is harder to do than working hard. To learn the application of this principle, read a few biographies. They are usually written about people who have accomplished things. Most pay a high price for being recognized in print. The lesson well could be that it is best not to be biographical material.

For all those who focus and lead the world, there are some impressive members of the pack who have not done badly. At times, hard work, long hours and dedication are justified and indeed are the smartest strategy. Biologically, we have reserves that make this possible. Realistically, we are better off if we can come down off of an adrenaline high and figure out how to even out things in a healthy way that will produce acceptable results.

Good financial planning has never required master-of-the-universe efforts. Being in a hurry is not a workable guiding principle. Progress is seldom smooth. Fits and starts seem to be the rule. Being smart enough to know when full forward is required and when reasonable cruising speed is best is the challenge. Having physical reserves to commit when needed means that you must get each day to work for you without having to force it to do so. How best to use the division of labor is a “work smart” skill. What must be done by me, by when? cannot have an “everything right now” answer.

Technology now requires around-the-clock commitment. Getting off the grid is a new life discipline to be mastered. Eventually, we all will learn how best to deal with this challenge. Working smart, while often requiring a lot of hours and effort, eventually translates into a strategy of setting priorities and doing only what must be done. Patience is a rare virtue. Take some time off to think about that. Thinking time is very important.

Investor Education Briefs is an online investor education program provided by the Institute for Politics at Saint Anselm College. It goes out each business day of the year at no charge. The editorial opinions of Jack Falvey, a Fellow of the Institute and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, are provided for investor education only and are not offered as financial advice. Anyone may enter or exit the program at any time. There are no tests or academic credits involved. It is designed as a free program which will recycle and be updated every twelve months. Subscribe here.

 

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Few Are Free…

What follows is the work of friend and colleague Jack Falvey–who many will recognize as the author of the “blurb” on the back cover of my book, Small People–Big Brains. Jack’s authoring this online investor program for Saint Anselm College… a free daily investor brief. See the bottom for additional information… try ‘em! The price is right and I think you’ll enjoy Jack’s style. As a bonus you’ll learn a lot! Subscribe here.


The best things in life are priceless. Few are free!

There is a balance to the universe that theoretical physicists attempt to codify as a theory of everything. They may be in a bit over their heads, but they are far enough along in their quest to indicate that actions have consequences and, while sometimes difficult to see at first glance, that there is an order to things which may appear to be unconnected or random.

As we seek financial stability in our economic lives, it becomes obvious that our efforts are somehow related to our results. We do not have to study physics to see cause-and-effect relationships between hard work and return on that investment. We know that goals and focus pay off. We accept the discipline of economic life without fully understanding everything involved.

There are, however, other aspects of our lives that produce a different kind of return on investment. Our challenge is to attempt to gain the rewards of economic prosperity at a price that does not blot out the sunshine of a healthy existence.

Our culture dictates that we divide our lives chronologically into play, education and work. It has been suggested that things may work better by mixing all three all the time. Our income producing years do require focus and dedication, but the priceless parts of life should not be the price we pay for financial progress and security, such as it is. We mix play and learning naturally as children. Education leads us to our work life. Those who learn to work hard at continuing to mix the three aspects of life seem to do better at all three. Intellectual curiosity should always be with us. Physical health does not require organized athletics, but it does require dedicated time and some discipline. Work discipline is better defined as knowing how to stop! So financial planning requires life planning. See if you can get all the aspects of life working together. Perfect balance is not the objective. Try for the mix. That’s a reasonable goal.

***

Investor Education Briefs is an online investor education program provided by the Institute for Politics at Saint Anselm College. It goes out each business day of the year at no charge. The editorial opinions of Jack Falvey, a Fellow of the Institute and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, are provided for investor education only and are not offered as financial advice. Anyone may enter or exit the program at any time. There are no tests or academic credits involved. It is designed as a free program which will recycle and be updated every twelve months. Subscribe here.

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When Teachers Go Fishing…

Hannah caught her fish just as it was announced "time to leave."

Hannah caught her fish just as it was announced “time to leave.”

I recently had the opportunity to accompany a bunch of fourth graders on a school fishing trip. My semi-official role was photographer. But whenever I’m around the kids I’m also their coach and champion. So as I wandered about the shoreline looking for “photo ops” I also asked questions and offered encouragement and advice. I had some fun with the kids by asking them, “How many ya got?” When they replied “none.” I would try teaching them the fisherman’s answer. “As soon as I get the one I’m after and one more I’ll have two.” There is something of a never-ending optimism among fishermen. You can’t say you haven’t caught any until you’ve quit fishing.

One young fellow surprised me a bit when I asked about his catching. He replied, “I don’t think these fish like me.” I’m still not sure if he was sincere about his answer, but it was quite interesting to see how the kids reacted to catching and not catching. And there was another teachable concept in pointing out the fundamental difference between “going fishing” and “going catching.” Sometimes the process can be the result.

While a certain amount of skill is involved, ultimately the catching is up to the fish. (I used to have a little sign that read, “Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut.”) The fisherperson’s role is to engage and excite the fish into taking the bait.

One of the teaching processes we often use is called “Q & A Teaching.” The process is based on the sound principle of engaging learners because you teach by using directional questioning designed to get the students to take the bait. If it’s not done well, it can be a lot like fishing without much catching.

An example might be stating a word problem involving math, then asking the class “What information do I need to solve this problem?” (There’s the cast.) One student calls out an answer that’s totally wrong. (Your line is now in a tree and the fish can’t reach it.) If you’re lucky, the next student gives the right answer. But what do you say to the first student? Personally, I don’t think wrong answers are “bad,” but some would say that calling attention to wrong answers creates a negative learning environment. We’re supposed to ignore them and move forward–unless we can somehow build on them. As most fisherpeople know, if you blow the first cast to a waiting fish, the odds are good you’ll just scare it into hiding.

Kids aren’t much different. Even if it’s unintentional, when we set them up to fail they’ll often go into hiding and stop trying.

But there’s another factor at work here and any teacher who’s made this mistake is painfully aware of its reality. You only only get one chance to teach it right because most students will remember what they hear first–even if you immediately correct your mistake. In my real estate classes there are two terms for holding title to property that are really quite simple, but they are also very easy to mix up. The terms are “fee simple determinable” and “fee simple condition subsequent.” When I first started teaching them, I would occasionally accidentally reverse them. When that happened, the number of students who got the subsequent quiz question wrong dramatically increased no matter how hard I retaught the concept. It’s become a concept that I now teach very carefully and deliberately. I still rehearse that lesson in my mind before I teach it.

I do not ask any questions until I’ve been over both terms at least once. I will emphasize the importance of getting it right by subtly suggesting “This might be on the test.” This emphasis is called “raising the stakes” and it’s another way of engaging learners. but I definitely don’t invite the students to give me wrong information until they’ve heard it correctly at least once.

Teaching kids is an awesome responsibility and while I’m not inviting paranoia over the ways and means by which we do it, I am suggesting deliberation and a disciplined approach. Sometimes knowing the right question and when to ask it is more important than knowing the right answer!

(Note: While I do not usually use photos I’ve taken of the kids at school to illustrate my writing, I have Hannah’s parents permission for this one which also appeared as the cover photo on a recent edition of the Eastern Gazette.)

 

 

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Nobody Taught Me…

woman_laptop_desk_400_clr_7859

I can figure this out!

A recent LMS (Learning Mangement Systems) newsletter had some fun with this statement. “I can’t use Facebook–nobody has taught me how.” For those of us in the business of education, it was a funny thought–at least initially. How many times have you heard someone say they can’t use Facebook because they haven’t been trained?

Of course there’s a not so funny aspect we’ll get to in a moment, but we chuckle because the “nobody has taught me” excuse is in fact a selective one. Given the addictive nature of Facebook use, most folks tend to jump in with both feet. You might occasionally hear somebody say he or she is not using Facebook because “I can’t be bothered…” But you aren’t likely to hear, “I’m not using Facebook because I don’t know how.” Grandma–who is anything but a technology whiz–is “facebooking” so she can see what the grandkids are doing.

The aspect of this that’s “not so funny” is the lack of critical thinking sometimes applied when things get so easy. Just because you can post almost anything on Facebook doesn’t mean you should. While that might seem obvious, to many it’s not. Unfortunately, once people learn how to type in the box or find things to share, the learning can stop because the desire to learn is diminished or perhaps even extinguished. Now it’s about the desire to share.

What we’re really talking about here is “engagement.” While there are a number of factors impacting whether or not a learner learns, one of the most powerful is his or her desire to learn. The “nobody has taught me” excuse is an attempt to remove responsibility from the learner and place it with the teacher. Kids are particularly adept at this. I hear it occasionally in a classroom when I’m subbing. My usual response to “Mr. Boomsma, we haven’t learned this yet…” is “Well, then I guess we’ll have to now.”

The elementary kids I work with are not supposed to be using Facebook, but I do know this much. They can figure out some complex computer games and software without much help (teaching). And I have caught six graders using a chat function that we don’t cover during class.  Why aren’t they complaining that we haven’t taught them how it works? I do not ever recall hearing a kid say, “Nobody has taught me how to play computer games.”

The will to learn is a big factor in the learning process. Whether I’m teaching kids or adults, one of the awesome moments happens when it becomes apparent the student is “turned on” and wants to learn. I have seen a strong desire to learn overcome limitations that range from a lack of resources to a perceived learning disability. I have said that my biggest challenge as an educator is to convince people they can learn things and it doesn’t change whether the student is five years old or fifty.

A second grader who recently brought a pile of books to read to me–everyone was about the Titanic and we spent nearly as much time with him telling me things about the sinking of the Titanic as we did reading about it. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself learning some things I didn’t know. I’m not sure what exactly got him so interested, but he is becoming quite the expert on the Titanic! Since as far as I know the Titanic is not part of second grade curriculum, nobody has taught him this.

But learning is not just about engagement. One of the things Facebook has accomplished is that at some level, it’s extremely easy to use. In this regard, the good news is the bad news, because there are legions of Facebook users who are simply typing some words in a box and clicking “post.” This is, of course, in Facebook’s best interest–speaking of engaged learners, you have to admire Facebook’s ability to figure out how to make their system work.  You don’t hear them saying, “No one ever taught us how to make this work.” They have figured out, for example, that by making some things difficult to learn people will remain gleefully unaware of how much they are contributing to Facebook’s interests, sometimes a great expense to themselves.

The lesson for those who would teach is that we, too, need to figure out how to make things easy to learn. One of my three classroom rules is “We will have fun learning.” I usually have to explain this doesn’t mean we’re going to be rolling on the floor laughing and it doesn’t mean we’re not going to work hard. But I believe we humans are “hard-wired” to learn–it’s instinctive and natural. The “fun” is in the achieving and the intrinsic rewards that accompany learning. Learning is about consequences. As a teacher, part of my job is to make sure my teaching doesn’t interfere with learning. Sometimes my job involves getting out of the way so the students can learn.

 

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