The Weekend Collection

A small collection of good things to read, and hear (no watch) when time allows this week.

Read: This past Tuesday, March 14, was Pi day. 3/14 = 3.14, the approximation of this classic irrational number. From two years ago, a writer for the New Yorker goes beyond the trivia to briefly explain in relatively simple terms Why Pi Matters. A little math for all you non-mathematical types. (about 3 minutes)

Listen: If you’re not between the ages of 18 and 34, you’re not in the target demographic for SnapChat. You may not even know how the service works, or why so many young people check in and use it over, and over, and over every day. A recent episode of the Note to Self podcast tries to explain why this app is worth more than $10 billion, as well as “how far Silicon Valley will go to capture and control your eyeballs”. (18 minutes)

Read: Rolling Stone celebrates the 20th anniversary of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer with a nice essay that summarizes what made the series both fun and meaningful. I actually like the very flawed movie on which it was based and the series hooked me from episode 1. (about 6 minutes)

Listen: I’m late to Jenn Binis’ very informative podcast, Ed History 101, in which she discusses the background to our profession that you probably missed in college (or which they got wrong). A good starting point is the segment on summer vacation, a topic that generally falls into that got-it-wrong category. (23:11)

Read: Although I disagree with the central premise that Google is making us dumber, this interview with the author of a new book about how adults learn is still interesting. I do believe that many of the techniques we were taught in high school (and that are probably still taught) are not particularly effective. (about 6 minutes)

The Weekend Collection

A small collection of good things to read and watch (didn’t have much time to listen last week) when time allows.

Read: I have a great deal of admiration for David Letterman. He’s an intelligent, very funny guy with a lot of class. All of that shows through in this conversation in which he offers his assessment of the current political landscape from his perch in retirement. The beard is still weird. (about 32 minutes)

Read: You go to a theater and probably don’t think about the device being used to project the movie. Unless something breaks of course. However, one writer at Vox says “the way a movie is projected can have a meaningful impact on your theatrical experience”. And presents the fascinating story of why and how. (about 10 minutes)

Read: Carl Sagan was a man ahead of his time. Although it was written more than 20 years ago, his Baloney Detection Kit, “a set of intellectual tools that scientists use to separate wishful thinking from genuine probability”, somehow seems very current. (about 9 minutes)

Read and Watch: Our short visit to Cuba last November is still swimming around in my head, sticking like few other trips I’ve made in my life. This short article and video is one of the best essays I’ve seen on the state of Cuban travel (positive and not so), and is worth a view even if you don’t plan to go. (4:24)

Watch: You’ve probably never heard of Marie Tharp but, as this wonderful animated film from The Royal Institution, a British charity dedicated to educating the public about science, explains, her work and determination proved the theory of continental drift and plate tectonics. Show this one to your middle and high school science students. (4:39)

Teaching How To Fail Shouldn’t Be An Option

This is just a short rant about something that’s been buzzing around my head for a while. Feel free to ignore it.

Over the past few months, at several conferences, in a webinar or two, in more than a few articles, and in a long Twitter discussion, I’ve heard some variation of the “it’s ok to fail” trope. Usually accompanied by the idea that we as teachers need to teach kids “how to fail”.

That’s garbage and we need to stop saying it. Especially to our students.

Failure is not a good thing. It’s not something that builds character. It should not be a part of our instruction.

Instead, we should be teaching students an iterative process that identifies possible errors and fixes the problems as they are identified. NASA calls that midcourse correction. Some relate it to design thinking.

I rather like the very simple way that Mitch Resnick from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT explains it in this creative cycle.

Creative cycle

Whatever you want to call it, the whole “permission to fail” business should have no place in our instruction.

The Weekend Collection

A small collection of good things to read, hear, or watch when time allows during the coming week.

Read: Isaac Asimov wrote 500 books in his lifetime, both fiction and non-fiction, in addition to hundreds of essays, letters, and other works. So, what was his secret for such a prolific body of creative work? A writer for Quartz found six “tactics and strategies” in Asimov’s autobiography that would be easy for anyone to use. (about 5 minutes)

Read: Every four years, the Olympic Games are a huge spectacle spotlighting one major city in the world. A city that likely has spent huge amounts of money building venues to house the athletes and the events. But what happens after everyone leaves. It’s not pretty, and one writer believes we’ve reached The End of the Olympics As We Know It. (about 8 minutes)

Read and View: Speaking of abandoned places, National Geographic offers a collection of photos from the apocalypse, but smaller. They are miniature scenes by two artists from Brooklyn (where else?) depicting what common place locations might look like long after humans have left. I know it’s weird to like this stuff but the images are very compelling. (about 10 minutes)

Listen: You probably don’t think much about bees unless you get stung by one. But they are an essential part of the ecosystem around the food we eat. The story about how millions of bees from Louisiana help produce California almonds is a great Planet Money segment. If you teach middle or high school science, play this one for your students. (22:54)

Watch: Everyone gets spam email. A few people actually respond, usually with unfortunate results. However, British writer and comedian James Veitch is one who responds and turns his encounters into great social commentary. This is a TED talk from last year in which he details his very funny ongoing exchange with a Nigerian “Kamanda”. (10:20)

Watch: Austin Kleon is an interesting artist and writer, author of the wonderful book Steal Like an Artist (I bought it just based on that title :-). He is also a big fan and advocate for journaling and keeping notebooks. In this video of a bookstore talk to promote a journal related to the Steal book, he explains his process in between showing notebook examples from other fanatics. (31:30)

Not Super, But Still Interesting

I probably don’t have to tell you that the Super Bowl happened last Sunday. And I have a confession about that: I really don’t care anything about the game.

I haven’t been to a Super Bowl party since the event was in the XXXs, couldn’t name any player on either team other than Tom Brady, and even had to ask Google where it was being played. Is that anti-social? Un-American?

Now I did have the program playing on my tablet in the background while I did other things, so I guess the ratings people counted me as one of the billion or so viewers. But I find the periphery of the event far more interesting than football. The competition to create entertaining ads, the subtle (and not so subtle) political messages people try to inject into everything, Lady Gaga’s backup drones, the running commentary on Twitter.


Being completely oblivious to football during most of the season, I have to rely on others to explain why this Bowl became so Super, which is where a recent segment of the Freakonomics podcast, An Egghead’s Guide to the Super Bowl, was so valuable. That 30 minutes, half the length of the actual game play, was more interesting. One of the former players on their panel is even a PhD candidate in math. At MIT. Now that’s something I never expected.

One other item that caught my eye during the game were two high profile commercials (featuring “that person looks very familiar” celebrities) for web hosting companies2. Both ads were trying to sell the idea that anyone can build a compelling, profitable website for their business. It’s a nice, if somewhat inaccurate, story.

I know web publishing technology has advanced to the point where it really is easy to build a site. However, I also know that creating a site that people will actually want to use is still a very complex process. My advice as someone who has worked on many of these projects is, in addition to paying SquareSpace or Wix, spend something on a good designer.

Anyway, that’s pretty much my Super Bowl experience. I can’t recall much about the actual game, especially the second half since I went to bed after the Snickers live commercial (which did not live up to the pre-game hype).

Yes, I know there was a “historic”, first-ever, tie game that was won in overtime. And New England set all kinds of records. And there were possibly many other significant cultural aspects to this event. Sorry, I just don’t care.

Anti-social? Un-American? You decide.