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Our Future: What I learned from four years as a public school teacher

February 18th, 2016 No comments

If you want to know the future, just look at what fifteen-year-olds are doing today.

–Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad

 

I was going to harness and encourage the natural curiosity and energy of our youth. I was going to show them by example how they could make a life and a living for themselves and others by pursuing their passions.

It didn’t work out that way.

This year I formally resigned from one of the largest school districts in the country. I could share my story in this post, but I’d rather offer you something more valuable: A glimpse at the future. It’s not nearly as bleak as some people say, but you’ll have to be ready for it.

“Dangerous Thinking”

During my first year teaching biology, I tried to help a tenth grader get his GED. This would allow him to leave school a few years early and pursue his idea for a business startup. A few people expressed their shock that I, a teacher, would try to help a student get out of school.

But shouldn’t that be the goal?

A person in a high position told me my thinking was “dangerous.” He reminded me that school was really designed to train people to be punctual and obedient.

Some students would find their way and become successful business owners. Many more would go to college and possibly become professionals. “But,” he told me, “Walmart will always need people to drive the trucks. And we’ll always need people to build the roads.”

The Digital Future

I appreciated this person’s outlook, but we’re in a different world now. Anything I taught my students in an hour-long biology lesson, they could look up on their own in minutes. Even most of the poorest inner-city kids have a smart phone.

This means virtually anyone with ambition and drive has the chance to teach themselves anything they need to know to pursue their dreams.

We’ll always need people to pave the roads, and we’ll always have people to fill that need. But the web has increased everyone’s potential for upward mobility. We have a wealth of young people bubbling over with creativity, and I don’t want to work for an institution that merely slows them down and gets in their way.

Some people say that today’s teens are all video game addicts, that they spend their waking hours mind-melded to an electronic device with a screen. That’s not too far from the truth, but there’s another truth as well.

Many of these kids are amazingly smart and innovative.

The Gamer’s Education

There is a reason digital games are so addictive, and it’s actually good news. When you fail to reach a goal, you almost always get another chance in a game. You can try a different tactic, or finesse your approach until you figure out a way to succeed. Then you get to “level up.”

This is how the human brain naturally learns. It’s how most new things get invented and built. Video games reinforce that pattern, teaching kids to be resilient and persistent.

As a teacher, I got to see kids apply this persistence to the real world. I watched students approach everything like a video game. They would learn which answers would please a particular teacher. They would figure out just how to get the requisite amount of points on a project with the minimum amount of effort.

They would apply this technique to find the best ways to text in class without getting caught, to minimize their homework, to sell snacks to their classmates for extra money, and even to find a date.

None of these skills seem obviously useful in the traditional school classroom. But there are alternative ways of obtaining an education. I got involved in one of them early on, and I’m working on another one myself.

Education is going to become highly personalized and self-directed in the near future. Here are some of the results I think you can look forward to.

Our Future

As a marketer, I’m a little bit scared. Even the best copywriting will only work if it’s added to videos, games, and apps. Even then, you’ better have a great product because the buyers of the future are going to be ruthless in their pursuit of whatever they want.

That said, if you can appeal to the emotions of this next generation, you’ll succeed as a marketer and an employer.

This is an exciting time to be in any kind of business. For myself, it’s an exciting time to be back in business. I’ve already collaborated with some young geniuses, and I look forward to hiring more of them to help you become more successful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Become a Better Thinker

August 8th, 2014 No comments

In 2010 I took on the most challenging sales job of my life. I started teaching biology to inner-city kids at a pilot school near downtown Los Angeles. I wanted to sell them on learning.

The trouble I quickly discovered is that our school system isn’t really helping students to learn anything. We’re really making them memorize things, and not doing a very good job at this, either.

Dr. Derek Cabrera does a great job of outlining the problem in this TED Talk:

If you ask almost any teacher, they’ll say kids aren’t motivated. Ahah! So education is a marketing problem! Or is it?

If kids don’t like school, what kinds of things do they enjoy doing, and what makes those things enjoyable? What’s going on in someone’s head when they’re playing golf, climbing Half Dome, or listening to a symphony? It turns out there’s a lot of scientific research on this stuff.

Marketing by Neuroscience

Let me give you one last marketing secret before this becomes a rant about brain science. When people are actively engaged in facing a challenge, solving a problem, improving their game or learning something truly new, the body produces dopamine and other rewarding chemicals.

This brain candy is natural. It’s not only good for you, it makes you want to do more of the activity that produced it. This is the reason video games, music, good movies and similar kinds of stimulation have such a hold on us. More to the point, it holds a powerful potential both for selling/marketing and for teaching and learning.

I’m officially employed as a teacher (for now), so I use this same info in a different way:

Magic happens when a student is actively thinking about a lesson, solving problems and not merely memorizing facts and procedures. They start to think more actively and clearly, and this active thinking triggers the same biochemical alchemy that makes things like skiing or Minecraft so much fun.

Control your mind and nobody else will control it for you

This summer I spent over 50 hours in trainings about how to teach students in a way that engages more of their brain, helping them learn to think clearly and building motivation to do more of this. I stumbled upon a fantastic, under-appreciated phenomenon:

You can actively monitor and control the way you think about something. There’s an emerging branch of science around this ability, known as metacognition. Metacognition literally means “thinking about thinking.”

When you practice metacognition, you put yourself in the driver’s seat. You can actively take control of the processes that take place in your brain. This might be the greatest discovery since yogis mastered meditation and breathing six thousand years ago. Your skills, intelligence, and even the physical health of your brain can improve by leaps and bounds.

I’m starting a new project. I’m building a team of tutors who will teach students how to practice metacognition. You can see the preliminary stages of this work here. We’re going to start a revolution in the way kids learn and think. We’ll soon overcome the entrenched, fossilized old ways of our public school system.

In the meantime, I have something for you that might be even better.

On my other website, you can begin getting tips on metacognitive practices. I’ve presented these as “study tips” for students, teachers, and (hopefully) the parents of students. But really they’re all about getting your brain in better shape, learning faster, and becoming aware of how to learn better.

If you’re interested, you can sign up for it all right here:

http://www.ScienceTutorOnline.com

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Introducing a new breed of entrepreneurial educators

August 1st, 2013 No comments

It’s been years since I’ve posted anything on this site. Literally. It’s a brave new world, and I’ll try to be quick about what I’ve been doing and why you should care.

We’re slowly emerging from the second worst economic period in our nation’s history. You can point your fingers where you will–blame the bankers, the Fed, the mortgage brokers–but ultimately this whole thing happened because we let it happen.

Some people should have known better. Most people didn’t, and that’s a brutal condemnation of our culture, our educational institutions, and what we’re teaching kids about business and economics. Masses of consumers bought houses they couldn’t afford, ran up debts they couldn’t pay.

Sure, the banks and the government made it easy to do this. Sure, some unscrupulous sales people encouraged everybody. But if most Americans had been smarter with their money, the crisis of 2008 could have been largely averted.

I’m on a mission to make Americans smarter.

In 2010 I turned down a project from an old and trusted client (and believe me, I really needed the money) in order to teach biology at a pilot school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in L.A.

I very quickly saw that virtually nobody in our public school system knows about marketing, how to start and run a business, how to sell anything (including your own services). “Entrepreneur” may as well be a French word. None of my students or colleagues knew what it means.

Last year I enrolled in an intensive, accelerated teaching credential program. I am now fully authorized to teach science. As soon as I get a teaching job I’m going to teach biotechnology. And self-direction. How to argue for your ideas and, more importantly, how to sell them.

There are others like me. Education is going through a revolution, and when we finally change the way people learn and the skills they develop, it will change society. There are entrepreneur teachers out there, not many of us but it’s a growing movement. You won’t find an organization (at least not that I’m aware of) but you’ll find us one by one on LinkedIn, Edmodo, and brave little blogs like this one.

I’m on the faculty for an online, entrepreneurial educational program called the Ron Paul Curriculum. I’m not fully aligned politically with RPC and the people running it, but what they’re trying to accomplish is important and inspiring. I’m honored and excited and grateful to be a part of it.

We need to teach the future Generations about self-direction, personal responsibility and empowerment. This is orders of magnitude more important than standardized tests.

Becoming a teacher is the toughest marketing job I’ve ever taken on. I have to win the hearts and minds of students and their parents. I have to sell my ideas to administrators. I’ll be doing some things no other teacher has ever done, using every marketing tool I’ve got in my arsenal, and of course constantly learning.

I don’t know what my “day job” is going to be a month from now. Even if I’m not in a classroom, even if I’m managing the social media for some new startup, I’ll still be teaching in one way or another. I’ve got my own new website in addition to the Ron Paul curriculum.

On some level, marketers have always been teachers. Now teachers have to be marketers. And entrepreneurs. I’m going to help them all find a way. I’m going to create outstanding learning opportunities for students, parents, and teachers around the world.

If you want to follow along on the adventure, check back here from time to time, or subscribe to Bold Words. I’ll soon be resurrecting that venerable publication, and I’ve got some surprises in store that will curl your ears.

 

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