Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Does Adrenaline Help Learning? The Importance of Colors and Snakes in the Classroom

A Visual and Active Method of Teaching

Steve McCrea

Recommended: a visual approach to pronunciation

Hello. I'm a teacher of English as a second language. I also teach teenagers how to improve their score on the SAT, a college entrance exam. I think about "How do we make math and vocabulary come alive for these students?" As teachers, we need to make this stuff more appealing to more students because we need more engineers and consumers who understand basic physical and chemical laws.

Perhaps you have heard about these topics:
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (sometimes the first impression is right and our intellectual analysis overwhelms the intuition, leading us to negative situations)

A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink and Free Agent Nation. The ideas are that we need more "right-brain" thinking (which looks at the whole situation) and less focus on efficiency (to the exclusion of beautify). Since more people will be working for themselves, free agents need training on how to come together to work on projects (in the Hollywood movie making process). Projects will take place, not jobs. People will deliver services and then leave. Are we preparing our students for the uncertain, fastchanging workplace that demands more than a solid resume and good academic scores? Are we instilling the discipline of self-teaching (most people will have to train for at least five different careers) and flexible networking skills?

We know that there are many ways of learning Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences

Perhaps you have heard that it is a good idea to learn in a small school (see Dennis Littky's book The Big Picture: Education is Everybody's Business and the initiative by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to subdivide large schools, The issues are about where students learn, how they learn and what they should be learning. Who should teach them? Dennis Littky says, "Mentors."

The recommends slightly older peers. Now let's put more information on top of this long list of recommendations: According to recent studies, we need to bring more color, action and positive stress into the classroom. Did you hear about the adrenaline experiment? What role does excitement play in helping us remember new information?

Here's a quote from a 60 Minutes report
Adrenaline makes memories. How can we use this information?
The story begins with some surprising discoveries about memory. It turns out our memories are sort of like Jello – they take time to solidify in our brains. And while they're setting, it's possible to make them stronger or weaker. It all depends on the stress hormone adrenaline. The man who discovered this is James McGaugh, a professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine. McGaugh studies memory in rats, and he invited Stahl to watch the making of a rat memory -- in this case, how a rat who's never been in this tank of water before learns how to find a clear plastic platform just below the surface. "He'll swim around randomly," McGaugh explains. The rat cannot see the platform, since his eyes are on the top of his head. The rat will swim around the edge for a long time, until eventually he ventures out and by chance bumps into the platform. The next day, he'll find the platform a little bit faster.

But another rat, who had learned where the platform was the day prior, and then received a shot of adrenaline immediately afterwards, today swam instantly to the platform. Adrenaline actually made this rat's brain remember better, and McGaugh believes the same thing happens in people. "Suppose I said to you, 'You know, I've watched your programs a lot over the years, and although it pains me to have to tell you this, I think you're one of worst people I've ever seen on … now don't take it, don't take it personally,'" McGaugh says.

"So, my stress system would go into overdrive, no question," Stahl says. "Even with my telling you that it's not true, there's nothing to keep you from blushing, from feeling warm all over," McGaugh points out. "That's the adrenaline. And I dare say that you're gonna remember my having said that long after you've forgotten the other details of our discussion here. I guarantee it."

McGaugh says that's why we remember important and emotional events in our lives more than regular day-to-day experiences.

AH! Now I know how to get someone to REALLY learn grammar! We need snakes, vampires and ghosts in the classroom.

Suggested Materials
I have collected these procedures because I am sometimes asked to teach in a new school as a substitute. The director of studies is often surprised at the amount of stuff that I bring into a classroom. Here is a typical list:

Stuffed animals
Large picture books (dogs, places to visit, food, profiles of countries, atlas, different types of atlases),
comic books,
DVDs and CDs showing students expressing a variety of opinions
Pronunciation CDs
Video camera,
Small rewards (bouncing balls sold ten for $2, pens with web site addresses, particular and
Colored papers,
colored pens,
post-it notes,
rulers (yard stick)
glue and tape to put papers on the walls,
wide-tipped markers.

Phew. And then the director of studies wonders why I request a closet or corner to leave this stuff so that I don't have to carry it back to my car at the end of the day.

This pamphlet is a draft,, a work in progress, but it is urgently needed as a manifesto for parents and students who have learning differences. If your kid needs more stimulation in class, here's one way to build support for the idea that schools need a variety of ways of teaching and some of those methods of teaching require more space for storing materials that can be useful.

A more radical notion is "If a teacher does not employ things to help the visual learner and the student who needs higher stimulation, should that teacher go through training?" What is the point of going to workshops about multiple ways of learning if the teacher does not change the method of delivery? If a teacher refuses to bring a video camera into the classroom, is it possible to allow students to make videotapes of segments of class? What are the rights of students who have an ability for learning through later listening?

I am not an attorney, so I will leave these matters to better-informed analysts. As a teacher in the front line, where I deliver lessons to students, I have observed that the focus is often on "Did the teacher present the information clearly?" (show me your lesson plan) when in reality, the focus should be on the student. Did the teacher give each student an opportunity to express or perform his understanding of the material? The teacher can lecture beautifully and even pass out a DVD to every student, but the visual and active method requires the teacher to listen to each student perform their understanding of the process. This is why at least every 9 weeks in the Met Center, an innovative school in Providence, Rhode Island, every student gives a formal presentation that is video recorded. The student can analyze the performance, the teacher can see what has been omitted and the administrator can evaluate both student and teacher. Stand up presentations are used so that students who dislike writing can use a larger vocabulary.

I tested this. I asked several boys to write a page about their recent vacation. Most didn't cover half a page. But when I asked them to tell me about their vacation, I had a hard time stopping them. The presentations were sequential and well-organized while many of the written presentations jumped from topic to topic without smooth transitions. If you teach young boys, consider introducing video testing as an alternative or supplement to the typical written essay.

I will conclude this presentation with a list of principles that I’ve compiled to attempt to inform a (choose one) flustered, annoyed, perplexed director of studies: "Why is this room so messy? Why do you need this stuff in here? Why can't you teach without all these things?" In short, I could read the question in his eyes, "Why can't you be like the other teachers?" (Yes, there are usually complaints from some students who claim that the materials make the classroom look like a children's play room.)

The following principles are presented in an effort to build an army of colleagues. I want to be part of the majority who use visual and active techniques. I want to hand out a brochure to parents that persuades and wins over new supporters of this method. If you have additional points or suggestions on how I can reformat this presentation, let me know.

What would Cary say?
A workshop for Experienced ESOL Teachers
When I first taught English for speakers of other languages, I believed that the purpose of my presence in the classroom was to speak a lot (slowly) so that students would catch on to what I was saying and build vocabulary the way a two-year-old picks up words by watching dad clean the house. Oops. After watching Cary Elcome and after taking the RSA CELTA course, I learned what we all know -- the language learning takes place inside the student, not in the classroom. Here are some tips that I think Cary would tell you if he were here and if he weren't modest.

1. Share your techniques. Cary was generous to me and often asked if I'd like to sit in and participate in a private lesson or in an afternoon class so I could pick up tips from him and he could watch me and pick up tips.

2. Video record your lessons at least twice a year and analyze your method. Cary used to record the audio of his lessons and hand out the cassette to students who wanted a dictation. 3. Call them anything except students. Participants, learners and colleagues were his favorite terms. "A student is so clearly beneath a teacher that some students never get over the humiliation."

4. Give them errors. Let the learners find the solution. Cary loves gapfills (fill in the blank) and he often l__ves o__t v_wels when he wr_tes w_rds on the wh__teb___rd (leaves out vowels when he writes on the whiteboard).

5. Develop incurable chronic laryngitis. TTT. I can't be said enough. Keep Teacher Talking Time to the minimum.

6. Put a bunch of materials together. Cary gives away scads of photocopies. I think he knocked down two entire forests in Washington State to supply his materials to his learners. And these are HIS materials, all created using big and small fonts.

7. Go visual. Cary LOVES visual techniques. He puts a photo on every worksheet. He brings in photos from his latest travel and asks students to write questions to go with each photo.

8. Bring the NY Times into the classroom. Even with beginners. He believes that students who are advanced have less opportunity to learn than beginners and so all students should be exposed to real English found in newspapers, free (New Times and City Link) as well as the major papers on the Internet.

9. Stay current with the learners. Find out about their music. Use their lyrics in the classroom.

10. Cross-pollinate. When possible, send a student from your class into Cary's class. That student will be peppered with questions by the class. Then Cary will send a student from his class and they will pepper another student. Or take half or your class and send them to Cary and he'll send half of his class and send them to you. "It's great, he says, "That's facilitating!" He believes in monitoring by walking around with pen and paper and requiring pairs to make a written record of some of the topics that they discussed.

11. Make use of the people in the room. Of course ask learners to read the instructions in the book or to begin the day with "What's the news in your country?" Cary looks up articles so that the busy learner (who hasn't had time to find a juicy piece of news) can say something interesting, perhaps about the growing and persistent market for manatee meat in Venezuela.

12. Make use of the people in the school. He annoys administrative staff by asking students to go out and get a stapler (even though he has a stapler in the room).

13. Use the people in the community. Cary used to develop relationships and ask students, "What's the name of the doorman?" or receptionist or the bus driver.

14. Give away materials. Did we mention this? Do it again. "We have no idea how much our teaching is done outside the classroom. If we can write something about ourselves, maybe an autobiography of two pages, the students who want to can read it and come back with questions. If you went Venice, talk about it. The Italians will have something to talk with you about during the break time."

15. Break time is learning time. Cary arrived early, stayed late, ate meals with students, and met them at least once a week for an evening of talk on Las Olas Blvd, and never spent break time in the teacher's room. He was always interacting with students. "When they are OUTSIDE the class, that's when the real mistakes emerge," he believes.

16. Keep in touch. Cary was an early adopter of email but he was slow to take on the role of technology guru. He had a laptop but didn't know how to make web sites or make a network. He used it to write lessons on his computer and he was an avid explorer of the Internet.

He wasn't afraid to ask for directions. Unlike a typical guy, he would start by saying he knew very little about something and send a lot of emails to get information. In other words, he is the perfect mentor for people who are afraid of some aspect of technology. He still gets frustrated with the lack of communication between printer and CPU and he was my role model for bringing technology into the classroom. He might not understand every aspect of it, but he just knew that someone in the room or in the school would help figure out how to use the darn thing.

I write some of this section in the past tense because Cary is "no longer with us." He's in Asia. Sometimes he feels "gone" and when asked to give training to other teachers, I just think, "What would Cary say?" and he's alive for me again. We're having a hard time meshing our lives over Skype because he's out the door at 8 a.m. (7 p.m. the previous day for me) and when he is ready to talk at 5 p.m., it's 4 a.m. for me! I've learned about right/left, male/female brain tendencies and the role of adrenaline in the formation of memories -- all since I met Cary. However, his basic training help me to daily deal with challenging situations -- not the new bells, whistles, laptops and CDs. It's still nuts and bolts, in this ESOL industry, and it's still people to people. Cary is a good mentor and hi advice is timeless. The point of this presentation is to encourage you to find your Cary or to contact him yourself. Set up an email pen pal (email pal?) exchange of correspondence. Ask your students to write to his students. He's currently in Japan:

Composed by Steve McCrea, Eternally grateful acolyte of the School of Elcome.


If I am pressed to state the visual and active method in a paragraph, I say the following:
I have learned my method from my students. I do not hold important degrees, like university professors. I am sure that when I give my presentations, people with master's degrees in ESOL will recognize the methods and they will be able to explain why the method works. I can not explain much about the theory behind the method, but I respond to my students' needs.

1. For pronunciation, my students don't want to learn a special alphabet (IPA), so let's teach "It Sounds Like." is an organized method to use the phonic method by graphing the sound. It is "visual listening."

2. For tests, many students prefer to make a video. "I don't like to write" or "I can't spell very well" -- so make an audio recording using a digital camera. The camera does not need to point at the student.

3. Students learn most quickly when they are laughing and when they are surprised. (See the October 31, 2004 article about novelty).

4. Students learn the things that they want to learn. If they are interested...they will remember more. So why not let students choose their subjects?

5. Let's create projects and homework that are REAL, not just paperwork. Let's make websites and blogs and write emails -- let's build bridges. Let's make videos and send the news to other people. (Source: Dennis Littky)

6. We know that some people learn by listening to audio recordings and others learn by watching videos, so the teacher should have support from administration to provide CDs and videos to students. (But if there is no support, the teacher can recommend videos on the internet!)

That is the central message. I offer a workshop because most teachers don't believe these 6 points or they don't believe that they have the power in themselves to use this system. Thank you for listening.

In a column called Science Watch (Sun Sentinel Oct 31, 2004), Sandra Blackeslee (NY Times syndicate) reported that "anything that is novel grabs the brain's attention system by tapping directly into reward pathways in the brain." Marketing organizations are interested in this technology.
"Being able to see how the brain responds to novelty and makes decisions is potentially a huge step forward for marketers," according to Tim McParlin, who works for Lieberman Research Worldwide in Los Angeles (quoted in the article).



See also the document (where I pulled this blog entry)


The photos that appear in the original document (see come from Suzy Lima's class in Curitiba, Brazil. She was looking for a way to make her ESOL class more vibrant, and I suggested an activity that I use (based on the insights presented by Dennis Littky in The Big Picture) make it personal. Ask the students to perform their understanding. I'm a lazy author (I have difficulty matching captions to photos), so I asked that the photos include the caption, which is why the students are holding pieces of paper. Some captions are in Portuguese to give the reader a translation of the English and practice in another language. Go ahead, learn something new and keep the brain active and young. Many thanks to the students of Suzy Lima. I encourage you, dear reader, to send an email message to and ask your students to send letters to Suzy so she can find one of her 789 students to create penpal correspondence.

This is a flat world, as Thomas Friedman says, and we need to have more than scholastic success to prepare for competing in a global economy. See Dan Pink's arguments about design. In other words, there are five doors for success (LASSIE): Languages, Academics, Social Skills, Inherited opportunities and Experience. We teachers can't change what our students inherit and we know that achievement in school is not the only door for success in many students' lives (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other entrepreneurs dropped out of school to put their ideas to work). Let's encourage our students (and model the behavior, too) for learning more languages, finding new experiences, and developing social skills. Students who have limited inherited opportunities or who do poorly at traditional schools are possibly the salvation of our economy with their divergent thinking and creative out-of-the-box approaches to problems. Using a Visual and Active method of teaching with narratives for grading and testing by exhibition (following the model of the Met Center in Providence, Rhode Island) we can make our schools into places of exploration.

In case you skipped the article and you are reading the end of the article, here is the main issue: What do these two news stories bring to the ESOL industry (and teachers in general)? We can force the brain awake more often with bright colors and change of pace (have you stood on the furniture lately?) and then you can scare the student to help them remember the moment -- we hope that the student remembers the grammar or vocabulary and not the fact that you introduced lifelike spiders into the classroom.

List of Web Sites (graphs that show the stressed syllables)
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Littky's school Littky's organization and consulting firm
If you have other suggestions about how to use stuffed animals (novelty) and snakes (an adrenaline rush), please send them to me at or I'm on MSN and Skype SteveEnglishTeacher and I welcome your contact, questions and suggestions.

In Appreciation: To the teachers and administrators who have asked, "Why do you need all of these things? This classroom looks cluttered and disorganized" -- thank you. Your questions and comments have spurred me to jot down these thoughts.

The Visual and Active Method (any comments?)

Features of the Visual and Active
Portfolio Method – Steve McCrea

I came to know that “there is another way” after trying to teach 6 classes of 20 kids, 45 minutes per class. The focus was on presenting the material efficiently and effectively. The Madeleine Hunter method of teaching is the standard of “good teaching.”

The research by Howard Gardner makes it clear that the Hunter method is effective in ensuring that more than one teaching method is used and more than one learning style is given a chance to “latch onto” the material.

However, most people who study Gardner have not gone one step farther. They didn’t read pages 161 and following about how to evaluate the learning.

Even we who have taking the RSA course for CELTA (teaching English to Adults) have a false sense of knowing what to do next after presenting the material of the day. We know we have to check understanding and then move on to connect the material to real examples in English for practice. The effort is designed to ensure that materials are presented to a variety of learning styles.

However, let’s take a moment to breathe and reflect on the purpose of the language school (and on any class):
it is not to present an effective curriculum. The purpose of a school is to meet the needs of each individual student. The idea expressed by Gardner and put into action by Dennis Littky is to ensure that teaching changes to meet the needs of the individual student. The steps include:

Adding an element of relationship.
(mobile phone and email contacts, invitations to lunch or snacks outside the classroom)

Building the curriculum from relevance . (What does the student want to know or learn?)

Creating opportunities to learn through action, through performances of understanding and mentoring.

Evaluation is not through written tests but through recorded exhibition so that the student has to feel and see the gaps and know where the next step is. Through feedback from the teacher and (if the student isn’t shy) from the audience (and self evaluation after looking at the video), the student then knows the next layer of learning that needs to take place.

Independent Work Time takes up a larger part of the class schedule. Building a portfolio is more important than running through a check list of grammar and vocabulary (listen, speak, write, read). The expectations of the students are changed, because most people who go to Littky’s school have to be persuaded to see that studying only what you want to study will lead to a rigorous result.

How can effective teaching and “Teaching for Understanding” (the code phrase developed by Lois Hetland, Ed.D, a disciple of Howard Gardner) be accepted by students who have come to expect “traditional classrooms”?

Samples of a portfolio created by other students and standard “packages” showing what students have produced is a good example. Performances of Understanding can be produced at lower levels of proficiency, but this method is more obvious at advanced intermediate.

EVERY PART OF THE CLASS CAN BE VIDEOTAPED for later review (since some students find it difficult to take notes and pay attention). The videos can be converted to a video on CD at a rate of about 2 hours per 700 megabytes.

The key is found by making a parallel set of key standards.
The Met Center, Littky’s group, does not teach Math, History, Science and English – they ask students to develop their own goals for qualitative and quantitative reasoning, empirical reasoning and communication. These areas can be supplemented with ESOL or EFL structure and the EFL teacher can restate what needs to be sought by the students. In the Visual and Active Method, the students learn skill areas or interest areas, not artificial "chapters" related to grammar and vocabulary.

(Some students will not accept this functional description of a language class, and they will need to pursue the making of a portfolio based on the structure of the textbook.)

We can see some similarities – and therefore the materials developed by Littky have some relevance to all methods of teaching. The Madeleine Hunter model remains in place (to support students who want structure) and the classes have a textbook and class time (as they do in the Littky school). The key focus is on
asking the student to seek outside learning opportunities that are connected to their aspirations. An executive at a power plant in Japan should spend time touring a plant… but do more. He should sit and shadow the mentor. The chapter on Mentoring in Littky’s book shows that there is not always a burden of mentoring… there is a feeling of adding a dimension to the mentor’s job. “I get paid to show another person why I love my work.”

The focus for teachers could be on pushing and guiding students to develop a portfolio to show that students have demonstrated or performed understanding by making presentations. The exit portfolio can be a CD with performances on video showing basic skills of pronunciation and grammar (with students teaching units to the camera). The teacher can then ask students to go out to the “real world” to video themselves in situations with shopkeepers and volunteer situations.

BAD EXAMPLE of mentoring
I was studying Spanish in a small program in Chalchihuites, Mexico near Zacatecas and the program offered an “experience in real Mexico” working side by side Mexican employees. I filed cards for 3 hours in the city hall (no interaction with the staff). After the initial hand signals I didn’t have to talk or listen for the next three hours, yet I was “immersed” in the culture of the work place.

GOOD EXAMPLE of mentoring
One of my students, Johana, said that she loves being corrected by young kids. “They tell you exactly the truth.” The EFL teacher (Mr. Mac) got her the volunteer sheet for Virginia Shuman Young Magnet school and she plans to volunteer two hours next week in a school. That’s using English in a real sense. A photo of that opportunity or a video camera on Johana can be part of her portfolio.

Small cameras if the student doesn’t have a digital camera.
Burning software on a laptop in the school. It's best that the computer is NOT connected to the network.
Portfolio system (clear plastic sleeves with three punched holes for storage in a three ring binder) needs to be set up to engage the students.
List of potential mentoring and volunteering locations in the area of the school.

Most students learn another language better in a classroom that is visual and active.
Students can be pushed to create portfolios to show their understanding. (See Gardner, Littky and Hedland)
Students can be pushed to find relationships outside the classroom to pursue interests and build their vocabulary through use in mentorships and volunteering positions.
Video equipment will allow students to bring back information that they want to practice.
Video equipment in their home allow them to practice pronunciation and listening on computers (see the series of CDs that I distribute to my students).

For more information, write to


Adding an element of relationship.
(mobile phone and email contacts, invitations to lunch or snacks outside the classroom)

Building the curriculum from relevance.
(What does the student want to know or learn?)

Creating opportunities to learn through action, through performances of understanding and mentoring.

Evaluation is through recorded exhibition so that the student has to feel and see the gaps and know where the next step is.

Independent Work Time takes up a larger part of the class schedule. Building a portfolio is more important than running through a check list of grammar and vocabulary (listen, speak, write, read).

Short Quotes to Drive School Reform

What short quotes could help teachers focus on what they can do in their classrooms -- today -- to move along school reform?

The teacher of today is the GUIDE on the SIDE, not the sage on the stage.
- aphorism passed on by senior teachers

Education is NOT the filling of a pail, but rather the LIGHTING of a FIRE. -- W. B. Yeats

Most students might forget what you taught them, but they will always remember how you treated them. -- aphorism passed on by senior teachers

A big obstacle to bringing Computer Assisted instruction into the classroom is the teacher, because teachers love to perform. -- Dr. Abraham Fischler

Jack is a boy from Brooklyn who dropped out of school to avoid terminal boredom.
-- biography of an entrepreneur

I never let school get in the way of my education. -- Mark Twain

Drive out fear. -- W. Edwards Deming

Never do for a child what a child can do for himself. -- Maria Montessori

There are 2 billion children in the developing world. Instead of asking their teachers to "reinvent the wheel" every day, why not share lesson plans that work with those 59 million teachers? -- Gordon Dryden (Get his 1999 book as a digital book -- free --

Keep Teacher Talking Time to a minimum. -- CELTA training

The purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. -- Dan Pink, Free Agent Nation

What other "pithy" and focused items can you quote? What short thoughts can transform a classroom? Send your suggestions to

Recommended perusing:
Thomas Friedman's columns by Dennis Yuzenas articles by Tom vander Ark by Abraham S. Fischler by Gordon Dryden and J. Vos

Someone to hunt down for a cup of coffee: ribbonfarms blog by

Or call me at +1 954 646 8246 and dictate your favorites. I'm ready.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

EDD 9200 Comments about Trends CANTON (1)

Notes for discussions...

On the phone, several of us agreed that Canton likes to drop names....

... and he has decided that the future is about America. His link between "America" and "democracy" leads us to believe that no other country can protect individual freedoms or democratic political structures. His past as a consultant to companies (which he takes pleasure in listing) makes the book read like a list of powerpoint slides: here are the problems, here are possible futures, this is how we get to the future where we can shout "USA! Number one!"

Because Canton focuses so much on the USA, several of us have asked, "What is he missing?"

James Canton's book "The Extreme Future" mentions the following points
p. 104
The US will benefit from being an advocate of globalization but must continue to support innovation, global democracy and free trade.
(hmmm...Canton doesn't take time to describe the benefits ... or to describe the losses that hundreds of smaller U.S. cities have endured.

p. 345
America's top future challenges
Learn to collaborate more deeply with nations that hold different values
(Europe? Turkey? Brazil? Pakistan? China? Canton does not make it clear which countries' values differ from the US)

Recognize that globalization shapes global peace and prosperity.
(Globalizing forces have alienated some communities, in USA and in other countries. Could we state that globalization has distorted global peace?)

Canton reveals his bias: On page 346 the secition begins "Many Possible Futures for America" -- if he were serious about collaboration, if he were sincere about understanding other cultures, if he truly worried about the impact of globalization on other countries, his book would have had more chapters about other countries... and the last chapter would have included a discussion of "many possible futures for Europe / Middle East / Africa / Asia / Latin America."

Canton's book focuses largely on these topics
Future of China 31 pages
India 10 pages
Security lessons from South America (8 pages)

p. 325 "The central question of the future for the secuirty and stability of the planet is the extent to which America and CHina will cooperate." Is there literally nothing that Europe, Russia, Brazil and India can do if the US and China conflict?

The index reveals the lack of interest by Canton in exploring other futures

Canada: 3 references
Pakistan: nuclear crisis (is there nothing else to talk about besides nuclear issues?)
Saudi Arabia, 3 references
Singapore, 3 references
Europe 5 pages
Developing nations 5 pages

the following countries and organizations appear once in the index
Tamil Tigers
World Bank

The United Nations (with two references) appears as a separate entry in the index from
UN (one reference)

Canton's focus on innovations (p. 83) shows the strength of the book (and he leaves to the reader to sort out how these innovations will percolate through various cultures and national economies).

In short, Canton's attempt to describe extreme futures is like describing the Milky Way from the vantage point of the Earth: it's a band of stars that surrounds us. Only by mentally taking the camera view millions of light years away from Earth do we see the shape of the Milky Way: a spiral galaxy. In the same way, when we want to see extreme futures for the USA, we need to see extreme futures of many other organizations and countries. Only then can we truly think about "many possible futures for America."

Thomas Friedman in an editorial column in the NYTimes 6 September 2010 wrote the following remarks: We have enjoyed a century in which we could have, in foreign policy terms, both what is vital and what is desirable.


His point about "what is vital and what is desirable" is well-made. James Canton's approach appears to be "here's what we need to do to maintain our position of superpower." Canton does not distinguish between needs and wants ... Canton does not acknowledge the possibility that looking at extreme futures of Pakistan, Turkey, European Union, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Korea could help us see better the extreme future of the USA. His focus on India and China leave out large segments of the planet's economic actors.

Submit more comments and I'll add them as a separate post
... or post a thread below...
Write to


For your reading convenience, the entire column appears below:

September 4, 2010

Superbroke, Superfrugal, Superpower?

In recent years, I have often said to European friends: So, you didn’t like a world of too much American power? See how you like a world of too little American power — because it is coming to a geopolitical theater near you. Yes, America has gone from being the supreme victor of World War II, with guns and butter for all, to one of two superpowers during the cold war, to the indispensable nation after winning the cold war, to “The Frugal Superpower” of today. Get used to it. That’s our new nickname. American pacifists need not worry any more about “wars of choice.” We’re not doing that again. We can’t afford to invade Grenada today.

Ever since the onset of the Great Recession of 2008, it has been clear that the nature of being a leader — political or corporate — was changing in America. During most of the post-World War II era, being a leader meant, on balance, giving things away to people. Today, and for the next decade at least, being a leader in America will mean, on balance, taking things away from people.

And there is simply no way that America’s leaders, as they have to take more things away from their own voters, are not going to look to save money on foreign policy and foreign wars. Foreign and defense policy is a lagging indicator. A lot of other things get cut first. But the cuts are coming — you can already hear the warnings from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. And a frugal American superpower is sure to have ripple effects around the globe.

“The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era” is actually the title of a very timely new book by my tutor and friend Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert. “In 2008,” Mandelbaum notes, “all forms of government-supplied pensions and health care (including Medicaid) constituted about 4 percent of total American output.” At present rates, and with the baby boomers soon starting to draw on Social Security and Medicare, by 2050 “they will account for a full 18 percent of everything the United States produces.”

This — on top of all the costs of bailing ourselves out of this recession — “will fundamentally transform the public life of the United States and therefore the country’s foreign policy.” For the past seven decades, in both foreign affairs and domestic policy, our defining watchword was “more,” argues Mandelbaum. “The defining fact of foreign policy in the second decade of the 21st century and beyond will be ‘less.’ ”

When the world’s only superpower gets weighed down with this much debt — to itself and other nations — everyone will feel it. How? Hard to predict. But all I know is that the most unique and important feature of U.S. foreign policy over the last century has been the degree to which America’s diplomats and naval, air and ground forces provided global public goods — from open seas to open trade and from containment to counterterrorism — that benefited many others besides us. U.S. power has been the key force maintaining global stability, and providing global governance, for the last 70 years. That role will not disappear, but it will almost certainly shrink.

Great powers have retrenched before: Britain for instance. But, as Mandelbaum notes, “When Britain could no longer provide global governance, the United States stepped in to replace it. No country now stands ready to replace the United States, so the loss to international peace and prosperity has the potential to be greater as America pulls back than when Britain did.”

After all, Europe is rich but wimpy. China is rich nationally but still dirt poor on a per capita basis and, therefore, will be compelled to remain focused inwardly and regionally. Russia, drunk on oil, can cause trouble but not project power. “Therefore, the world will be a more disorderly and dangerous place,” Mandelbaum predicts.

How to mitigate this trend? Mandelbaum argues for three things: First, we need to get ourselves back on a sustainable path to economic growth and reindustrialization, with whatever sacrifices, hard work and political consensus that requires. Second, we need to set priorities. We have enjoyed a century in which we could have, in foreign policy terms, both what is vital and what is desirable. For instance, I presume that with infinite men and money we can succeed in Afghanistan. But is it vital? I am sure it is desirable, but vital? Finally, we need to shore up our balance sheet and weaken that of our enemies, and the best way to do that in one move is with a much higher gasoline tax.

America is about to learn a very hard lesson: You can borrow your way to prosperity over the short run but not to geopolitical power over the long run. That requires a real and growing economic engine. And, for us, the short run is now over. There was a time when thinking seriously about American foreign policy did not require thinking seriously about economic policy. That time is also over.

An America in hock will have no hawks — or at least none that anyone will take seriously.

Submit more comments and I'll add them as a separate post
... or post a thread below...

Write to

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Advice from New Zealand (Edu-tainment entrepreneur Gordon Dryden)

Don’t have such a network, Steve.

Our original book, The Learning Revolution, sold 10.2 million copies there. But all sold by bookshops and at seminars by independent educational software companies.

So we don’t have a permanent record of their names and addresses (and, at the time rthe sales were made) no one ordered online and provides email and other physical addresses.

We have not launched “UNLIMITED: the new learning revolution and the seven keys to unlock it” we have decided to switch all our international editions and future ones to become digital, online touch-screen editions. We are working through that right now. Among other things, we will be launching a global competition to get the brightest students in the world to reinvent education. This will be launched through facebook (and its 500 million members) andf YouTube before the end of this year.

You’ve asked my opinion of your videos, and, from the tone of your email, I think you’re asking for genuine honest appraisal. And, to do that, I can only quote from my own experiences from both making presentations, running workshops and seminars around the world: and seeing some of the world’s best nvolvers in action at educational/learning conferences.

So my first genuine impression, of each of the first two videos: I found the opening of both so boring I couldn’t really go on:-)

So first I had better summarize my own strong beliefs (and my experience from many years as a national TV presenter):

  1. Particularly with video or other online material: you have to start with a big “Wow!” Think of what I describe as the new 80-20 rule: Students today spend 80% of their waking hours in a year outside the school classroom (only 20% in it). For 80% of their time they are 21st-century citizens: using 21st-century instant-action digital tools .

I’ll demonstrate some ways I use or have seen used to actually involve entire audiences in immediately learning-the-message by acting it — and then I will leave you to draw your own conclusions . . .

2. You really have to (actively involve people from the first impact), and even before that. For example, as teachers or other seminar attendees are moving into a room or conference, I will always have some involving video/ music/montage etc on to set the entire theme. And then (if the theme is to convince teachers or students that the students – or teacher conference participants – should be in charge then put them in charge:

This is how we opened a
one-day think tank of New Zealand entrepreneurs last year:

That BEFORE anyone had spoken:-) (You’ll find thousands of similar great “ice breakers” on YouTube. In fact you will find dozens of adaptations of that one presentation. They set the scene for the entire proceedings. By the way, four of us came up with tht same idea, off the ingernet, well before the conference started.)

And immediately the conference chair, on his feet, immediately said
: “Today we’ve got 580 of New Zealand’s most innovative entrepreneurs in this convention center. During the rest of this day we’re gong to come up with art least 580 incredible ideas to reinvent New Zealand. And together we’re going to boil those ideas into 20 great ones by the mid-morning break. Then we’re going to drilll them down into the 10 best ones by lunch. Then, by the mid-afternoon break, the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zeland will be here, and we’re going to present to him the one incredible idea that will make the difference. Entrepreneurs can change the world. Let’s start.”

Or look how, this year, during a five-day New Zealand
sporting-tourism congress for 100 Australians, I had to run a two-hour interactive session on both New Zealand history and sporting history (bearing in mind that there is a three-hour, across-the-ocean flight to get from Sydney to Auckland). And then, by the end of the day together

  1. The interactive multimedia session was announced with this title: “What every smart Australian should know about New Zealand since we drifted apart 65 million years ago”. Then: “Welcome to the Youngest Country on Earth” — with this video clip:

Now Australia and New Zealand are great sporting rivals, especially in rugby union and rugby league football. Traditionally New Zealanders international sporting teams do
a Maori (native Polynesian) war-dance challenge at the start of international sporting games [later, check YouTube + New Zealand rugby haka), in Maori, but Australians never know what the words mean: so, right after the video, we had all the Australian guests stand up and perform the welcoming-challenging haka in Maori and in English. Until 240 years ago, the Polynesians had no written language: they passed on their heritage by song and dance — so our Australian guests actually learned that by doing it

So that is the next point: a good involving opening (and throughout a seminar) to
demonstrate (in all different learning styles) etc) the theme-of-the-day in action.

So let’s get back to your message: to prove that students themselves (or an audience of teachers) should really (and immediately) act out that theme, to prove it: with actions, movements, songs, dancing, fun, humor, involvement.

So over straight into that. My co-author, Dr Jeannette Vos, is fantastic with music and dance.
So she often starts one of her seminars by getting everyone up, immediately to a vigorous dance to music to get through that you can only learn well if your brain is fully activated and oxygenated.

And then she say something like:
“What an incredible volume of talent and brainpower exists in this room today. Imagine if we combined it all — right now. So let’s do that.” In front of each participant (or at the top of individual folders) has a US letter sheet of paper with a grid of 12 squares, four across and three down. And (depending on the seminar topic) you’ve have had typed along the bottom of each square such “experiences” as:

Plays a musical instrument
Speaks a foreign language
Loves public speaking
A great cook
Good photographer
Can do computer animations
Can edit video

Then (as you start playing the music theme “Getting to Know You . . . Getting to know all about you” you ask each person to find 12 different people who can perform one of those great achievements, each person has to
find 12 people to match the squares: introduce each other and write down the person’s name to march each specialty. First to get a full set of 12 yells out “Bingo” (a game we play in the British commonwealth) and wins a prize.”

And then the seminar presenter may say something like: “I am reasonably good as three of those talents. But look how the big majority of you are much brighter, much more talented in your own way.” And that applies to every group, every class, every school, every company.”

Everyone has a talent to be highly competent art something. Combine your talent, your passion and your dream and you can become truly great. Then keep adding on skills (often by working with other people who are talented in different ways) you become multi-skilled. (we’ve got hundreds of examples of those in the photos and paragraph I our book). Use the photos to illustrate your slides.

(I happen to be designing a multimedia game on that subject at the moment
: I have attached a pdf of the slides, but stress that the original Apple Keynote slides are very interactive. I have also attached the seminar board game I designed to teach British high school teachers how to teach “business innovation”- at ten one-day seminars around their country: on how to turn their talent into a great business plan.

I do this professionally for a living (I am NOT school teacher): teach creative business management – but using the same “involve them” principles that are the core of good teaching – and especially if teaching by videotape.

“If you want to learn it, do it.” . . . Don’t just talk about it. Get ‘em involved in different ways to embed the message naturally, in their own learning style or stmyles.

All I can say, mate: compare some of those “involvement methods” to starting with two lifeless fingers on a video, over the top of a one-color one dimensional long sentence . .. and then a closely-typed list of questions (with hand-writing under them) - thst telegraph a message of another boring lecture: “This is what I am going to tell you” . . Rather then involving them in “doing it – and thus learning it.”

Maybe you don’t fell like cribbing great live demos from the Internet (Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital team which won five Academy awards in a night for the digital effects they made for the movie Avatar, also made that “youngest country on earth” video. Steal only the best!)

So why not start off by asking (directly) for a show of hands from your participating audience:

“Let’s start today with a simple show of hands:

“How many of you first learned to talk in a school classroom?

“How many of you first learned to walk – in a school classroom?

“How many of you learned to ride a bike by first reading a textbook on riding a bike?”

“How many of you learned to speak by reading a book on speaking?”What none?

“So how many of you learned to talk by talking, and chuckling with your mum or dad? Wow, all of you.

“How many of you learned to walk by walking, by first creeping then crawling, then tottering up, holding a chair; then finally wwalking?” Great.

“And how many first learned to ride a bike by sitting on a tricycle? Etc.”

(Now, using a slide of our first graphic photo on page 1 of “Unlimited”: the plugged-in world.

“Now let’s take some of the things you do every day, in this age of the internet and the world is the touch of keyboard away: how many of you learned keyboard skills by first reading a book right through? None! How many of you learned to type by actually typing.”

So what is the main lesson we learn from this? Get some quick responses.

360 years ago (photo from our book), Comenius invented the so-called modern classroom: with backboard, chalk, slate, and children sitting in rows listening to a teacher talk, with chalk, 95% of the time.

“Now one of the finest research universities, in America, Carnegie-Mellon, has spent a fortune getting rid of boring lectures . “


“Today we don’t just read about science, we actually become computer scientists - by making computers.”

Dinner time here. I feel a good wine coming on.

Hope that helps

END OF letter by Gordon Dryden

Let's talk about the points made by Dryden. This guy should be cloned. +1 954 646 8246

Invitation to teachers -- do you want to be in a documentary?

This blog aims to attract teachers, students, principals, parents and taxpayers to pay attention to the research of educational pioneers. has many articles on ways that people learn ... often better than through the lecture-and-take-notes (it might be on the final exam) method of transmission of information.

One of my students, Claudia Gonzalez, (find her on Facebook), aims to capture some of these innovative/ignored teaching methods with a documentary about teachers who use these methods.

If you are an innovative teacher, remember that you are not alone and there are dozens of us who want to see what you're doing. Contact me at +1 954 646 8246. Let's do workshops for each other in each other's schools (so that our principals can see that it's not just you who uses these "off the wall / crazy / disorganized" techniques.

This is an invitation to connect with each other. Call. Please.