3-2-1 For 2017

For the final 3-2-1 of 2016, here are three books, two audio books, and one movie you may want to consider enjoying during the coming year.

Three books worth a space on your reading list.

The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  George is very much an advocate for empowering students and this book is a wonderfully positive collection of ideas for making that happen. It include many great suggestions that could and should be used immediately. This is one book that should be read with a group of other educators. (about 4 hours, 16 minutes)

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. Many decisions made by corporations and governments, such as who gets a loan or who is paroled from prison, are based on mathematical models that are poorly understood, even by the people who create them. This book is especially for those who are not “math people” and I’ll have more posts about it later. (about 5 hours, 26 minutes)

Education Outrage by Roger Schank. Few people do outrage better than Schank but, as you’ll find in this book, there is much to be upset about in the American system of education. This is a collection of Schank’s essays that will challenge some (maybe many) of your beliefs about what school is and could be. Share the book with your local school leaders. (about 5 hours, 57 minutes)

Two audiobooks for your commute.

Medium Raw written and read by Anthony Bourdain. Although he’s a chef by training, Bourdain’s television is all about travel and exploring other cultures as wide ranging as Vietnam and New Jersey. This is the story of those travels, mixed with a strong critique of restaurant trends and food television. Be warned, he occasionally uses bad language. (9 hours)

Me of Little Faith written and read by Lewis Black. If you have seen or heard Black’s stand-up work, you might think this is just his very caustic humor applied to religion. You would be wrong. This is a very thoughtful, and very funny, philosophical treatise in which he asks many good questions, and arrives at at least some good answers. Be warned, Black also uses some bad language. (5 hours, 50 minutes)

One movie to watch when you have time

The Big Short. This film was released at the end of 2015 and probably didn’t get a big audience. However, it’s a very thoughtful, surprisingly entertaining story about the housing crash of 2008, and bitingly very funny as well. Based on the book by Michael Lewis and featuring great performances by Steve Carell and Christian Bale. (2 hours, 10 minutes; on Netflix)

More Thoughts on Cuba

As mentioned in a previous post, we spent a fast, interesting week in Cuba earlier this month. I’m still sorting through both the photos and my memories, but here are a few more of both, not necessarily with any kind of coherence or consistent theme.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

During our four days in the capital city of Havana, we saw some of the traditional sites in what would be called the historic/tourist areas. Although the Cuban government has dedicated some money and effort to restore and maintain the area, it still had a very worn appearance. And unlike similar sections of other major world cities I’ve visited, something was missing. Like the usual brand names that often litter those areas. We were told that at one time Cuba allowed Benneton to open a store but all that’s left now is a window decal. Odd, but not bad. 

Dancers 1


One of our stops off the tourist track was at the studio of a modern dance company. Cuba, both the government and society, is very supportive of the arts. Artists and performers who excel at their craft can live a very good life compared to other fields, including the opportunity to travel and show their work.

I admit that I don’t know much about dance, of any kind. But the young performers were energetic and eager to share with a group of strange Americans, all trying to photograph the action in a very small, oddly lit space.


Community Clown

Another unusual stop was at Casa Cultural Comunitaria, a neighborhood community center that provides classes and workshops in art, music, writing, and other subjects for both children and adults. The center is more informally known as El Tanque after the old concrete water tank that forms the core of the building. Our guide was eager to tell us the story of how the whole community reclaimed the space from a dumping ground for the nearby rail yard.

During the time we spent at El Tanque, we heard from two wonderful bands, one performing very rhythmic Cuban music and another doing wonderful rock and roll covers from the 50’s and 60’s. And in between, they served us lunch, a much more traditional meal than we had at the private restaurants. 

Streets of Trinidad

 Streets of Trinidad

For the final three days of our trip, our little band of very middle class Americans journeyed far outside of Havana to the city of Trinidad. Now a popular tourist destination, the town was founded in the 1500’s and was a major center of the sugar cane trade in the 1800’s under the rule of the Spanish.

Although many people, Cubans and foreigners, come to Trinidad for the history and the beaches, there is only one major hotel in town. So, in true entrepreneurial spirit, many residents rent a room in their “casa particular” (literally private home), something the government began allowing in 2011. The home in which we stayed was very comfortable, beautifully decorated, but very unexpected for the average American traveler. Our hosts were wonderful, even if my poor Spanish matched their lack of English skills. And the grandmother was concerned we didn’t eat much.

School Boy

Heading to school

Although Trinidad is a growing tourist area, life in town is probably similar to anywhere else in the world. Kids make their way to school, although we never saw anything resembling a school bus, and adults go about their daily routines. And in the evenings, they find ways to connect with their neighbors and celebrate life.

More to come about the trip but as always, many more photos with captions are in my Flickr albums.

Photo Post – Visiting Cuba

Cuba is one of those places that is largely a cliché to most Americans. When I was growing up, they were the big evil in the western hemisphere, home to communist boogie men planning to infect civilization.

More recently, as relations have warmed, the island acquired the image of a land frozen in time, full of classic American cars, old buildings and plenty of rum and cigars.

During a week-long wonderful, enlightening, inspiring photographic journey to Cuba, we, of course, learned that the culture and life of the island are far more complex and interesting.


I was surprised we didn’t see more of these cars
broken down on the side of the road.

For most Americans, travel to Cuba is still not a straightforward proposition, due to the continuing, anachronistic embargo. With few exceptions, the State Department requires visitors from the US to participate in “people-to-people” programs, interacting with artists, performers, and community leaders as a way of making connections between our two cultures. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Havana Cruise

Even with US restrictions, Cuba has seen an increase in visitors over the past year or so. This cruise ship was docked in Havana for several days during our visit, dropping 700 people into the city at one time. Several people mentioned that the Cuban people look forward to more visitors but that the country’s infrastucture is really not ready to handle it. And they have absolutely no interest in seeing Starbuck and other American fast food stores. I can’t blame them.

Camera Collection

You gotta put them somewhere while we eat and drink.

As I said, this was a photography trip and we received some excellent guidance, both on making better pictures and on the country from our leaders. We traveled with Road Scholar, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in learning expeditions to all parts of the world. This was our first trip with them and just from this experience, I would go with them again. I’m not going into the mechanics of the trip in these posts but if you’re interested in details, feel free to contact me directly.

I will have more to say about our experiences and the wonderful people we met in later posts. For now, I’ll just offer a few more images. Many more can be found in these three flickr albums.

Old and Older

The skyline of Havana as seen from the fortress El Morro,
built in 1589 to defend the harbor below.


Near Trinidad, on the south side of the island, the scenery was spectacular.

 Essdras and the Women

Our leader, Essdras, seemed to know people everywhere we went.
But this group was especially friendly.

Discovery Learning

The title of a recent essay in Wired certainly caught my eye: American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist.

I think anyone who does a realistic evaluation of our educational system in the context of the rapidly changing American society, and especially the world of business, would regard that statement as obvious. But that’s not how school works.

We “learn,” and after this we “do.” We go to school and then we go to work.

This approach does not map very well to personal and professional success in America today. Learning and doing have become inseparable in the face of conditions that invite us to discover.

A large part of our approach to the learning process assumes that students must accumulate facts to some basic level before they can ever consider applying those facts.

Here in the real world, most people begin with a problem to solve, a question we need answered, or a skill we want to acquire. Then we do the necessary research as we work towards the goal. The two parts are so intertwined, I doubt most people notice when they switch between accumulating information and applying it.

The writer, a professor at Harvard, goes on to say “Americans need to learn how to discover”. But he does see something changing in the right direction.

Against this arresting background, an exciting new kind of learning is taking place in America. Alternatively framed as maker classes, after-school innovation programs, and innovation prizes, these programs are frequently not framed as learning at all. Discovery environments are showing up as culture and entertainment, from online experiences to contemporary art installations and new kinds of culture labs. Perhaps inevitably, the process of discovery — from our confrontation with challenging ambiguous data, through our imaginative responses, to our iterative and error-prone paths of data synthesis and resolution — has turned into a focus of public fascination.

Certainly these “discovery” programs are showing up in many schools. But they are not part of “regular” school. They are classes for a special group of kids (generally those who we know will already pass the tests), after-school programs, or occasional reward activities.

The last part of the article focuses on changes at the college level but he discusses one very interesting idea that should be brought into K12.

All this has led to the rise of the culture lab.

Culture labs conduct or invite experiments in art and design to explore contemporary questions that seem hard or even impossible to address in more conventional science and engineering labs.

Instead of starting with memorizing facts and processes, then using them on totally artificial applications, why not ask students below the college level to address those contemporary questions? Why not ask them to investigate the parts of the world about which they are curious as part of “regular” school?

Instead of making discovery learning a supplement for only select kids.