This is incredible. Scratch that. This is life changing. Thank you so much for sharing Derek.
I was skeptical that Spaced Repetition Software would work for me and my terrible memory. I’ve tried plenty of techniques in the past. For instance, I spent a while learning the peg system in an effort to be able to memorize dates, numbers and lists. While it worked, it serves me more as a party trick than an actual life changing approach to memory.
What I particularly love about using Anki, which I’ve been doing for a half an hour a day on the bus since reading this article, is I feel the information is actually sticking. Because of that, I want to spend more time learning, and because of that my memory muscle is actually growing stronger. My ability to memorize quicker and quicker is already improving. I’ve gone from hating the very idea of memorizing to getting excited about learning more. I’ve always been frustrated wasting time memorizing because I knew it was facts I’d just forget in another couple months. This doesn’t feel like that. This feels like I’m gaining a super power.
I did a small test over the course of the last three weeks to see if Anki would really work for me. I didn’t want to jump into something ambitious like a programming language before seeing if it actually worked for a small data set. I challenged myself to use it to learn the names of all of the countries in the world. There’s less then 200. If Anki could teach me those, I had faith I could then go on to more ambitious challenges.
I loaded a shared deck, and three weeks later, I feel confident I know them all. It took half an hour on the bus every day, but that’s a small sacrifice. In a few more weeks it will be cemented for life. That’s incredible. Now I’m excited for what I’ll be taking on next.
I went to see Chris Dorr give a talk on promoting indie films and projects through social media. Here’s a collection of my notes from that talk with helpful links throughout.
He stressed the importance of having a strong database of followers, and how important it is to grow that over time. Independent artists can literally support themselves off of 1,000 true fans. Kevin Kelly goes into how with 1,000 fans you can support yourself for life.
On the outskirts of Nashville, I drove down the freeway weaving in and out traffic, going a little over 85, switching lanes every 15 seconds, as traffic crawled at 55 around me. If a cop saw me, I had no doubt he’d rightfully pull me over. I prayed that that didn’t happen in the eight mile stretch between where I was and the airport. My flight was taking off in 50 minutes, and I still needed to return my rental car, check my bag, and hope that I didn’t hit traffic.
Cut to thirty minutes earlier. T-minus eighty until my flight departed.
When I got to the airport, there were no rental car locations. I searched for Budget’s location on my phone. It was eight miles away meaning if Budget had a slow shuttle I was screwed.
‘I probably should have checked this beforehand,’ I thought.
I started driving in that direction, and about a mile in, saw it was taking me straight towards the center of Nashville. It didn’t make sense. I looked down at my phone, this time looking at the address that they’d listed in my email when I booked the car.
1 Terminal Road.
Searching for directions to that, I saw I was going the wrong way.
The real destination was only a mile and a half away, which still seemed pretty far from the airport for a road with Terminal in the title. Also, it was listed as 1 Terminal Court. Not Road. I’d done that dance before, so I searched again, not letting the autofill correct me. It showed up with the same address. Reluctantly, I drove there.
‘There’ ended up being a dirt road under a bypass with a massive truck depot lot on the left. No Budget Rental Car.
“Shit,” I screamed, knowing I would miss my flight. There wasn’t enough time. I got back on the road, heading to the actual Budget Rental Car place inside Nashville, still feeling this didn’t make any sense. Why would the airport drop off be eight miles away?
Ten minutes and six red lights later, I got to a tiny Budget office. This wasn’t right. I swerved the SUV into the lot and ran into the office.
“Is this the Airport Budget place?” I asked the guy at front.
He looked at me and kind of smirked.
“No. That’s by the airport.”
“Oh, cause I typed in Budget and got this. Do you get that a lot? I’m sure you do.”
“No. Never gotten that before.” He looked at the other guy there. They smiled, “You see-”
He kept talking but I ran out yelling behind me, “Thank you. I don’t mean to be rude, but my plane takes off in less than an hour and I’m pretty sure I’m screwed.”
By the end of the sentence I was back in the SUV, screeching out and heading back to where I’d started. I thought how this was probably going to be a $400 screw up. How I trusted my phone without double checking, and it was likely going to cost me, which is ironic as the whole point of my phone was to avoid situations like this.
This was my very last day on a job I’d had for four years, traveling one week out of the month to teach. On the one hand, it would be a terrible way to end it. On the other, it would be a pretty poetic finish to a run that for all intents and purposes should have ended two years ago. I swore to myself pretty loudly.
‘I’m an idiot,’ I thought, switched lanes, hit my brakes, switched again, and continued praying no cops saw me. The windows were down, country music played at full blast (this was Nashville, after all) and I relished in the air beating against my face at 80 miles an hour, feeling alive.
In less than ten minutes, I got back to the airport, this time from the front where there were all sorts of signs showing where the Rental Car drop off was.
I sped up the ramp, over the Do-Not-Back-Up thingies and came to a halt behind someone slowly removing their luggage from their trunk.
“Hey, my flight takes off in 40 minutes. Could I quickly get a receipt?” I asked as I went for my bag in the trunk.
The Budget Employee shot me a look.
“Give me a minute,” she said. Not an option.
“Can I get it emailed to me?” I asked, as I shut my trunk.
“Sure?” she said.
“Great. The keys are on the seat. I hope that’s all right. We good?” I didn’t wait for a response. I was running with my bag in tow towards the gate. I ran through the lot towards departures and down the escalator. I hoped my projector was fine, as I heard my 45 pound bag clank as it hit each step.
Reaching the Delta front counter, I swiped my card. I wish I could say this was the first time I’d almost been destroyed by an airline’s 40 minute absolute cut off policy. I was prepared for the worst.
This time my card was accepted. It wasn’t a problem. After four years of endless traveling, it was over.
2,000 people a day go to my site, watch my videos, and a couple of them even pay me for it. I get questions, compliments, and comments on a daily basis. It’s a great feeling, but there’s a disconnect.
I forget that I’m helping others, and it gets hard to keep creating. Something’s needed from time to time to spark inspiration.
My regular outings to a room full of business types wanting to learn about marketing or comedy types watching their 3rd show that week has become a routine. I love doing both of those things, but they’re not special. One’s my job and the other my hobby.
That’s why it was such an amazing feeling to head over to a good friend, Meg’s, 3rd grade classroom a couple weeks ago with Andrew, her fiancee, and read to her class.
It was National Reading Day, and Meg was under some misconception that we were doing her the favor and not the other way around.
I left the room inspired and amazed that Meg was with these kids on a daily basis, putting together a new lesson plan every day.
They hung on her every word and were fascinated by everything she threw at them. It was a great experience.
A big thanks to Meg. But also to Vanessa, Isaiah, Lindsay, Alondra, Antonio, Jade, Aiden, Jesse, Emmanuel, and everyone else in the classroom for the cards and the love.
Let’s do this again soon, Meg. Art project next time?
(Images are from the cards her kids sent me, in case that wasn’t clear.)
Teach the history of baseball, beginning with Abner Doubleday and the impact of cricket and imperialism. Have a test.
Starting with the Negro leagues and the early barnstorming teams, assign students to memorize facts and figures about each player. Have a test.
Rank the class on who did well on the first two tests, and allow these students to memorize even more statistics about baseball players. Make sure to give equal time to players in Japan and the Dominican Republic. Send the students who didn’t do as well to spend time with a lesser teacher, but assign them similar work, just over a longer time frame. Have a test.
Sometime in the future, do a field trip and go to a baseball game. Make sure no one has a good time.
If there’s time, let kids throw a baseball around during recess.
Obviously, there are plenty of kids (and adults) who know far more about baseball than anyone could imagine knowing.
And none of them learned it this way.
The industrialized, scalable, testable solution is almost never the best way to generate exceptional learning.
In part 113, he asks:
Is the memorization and drill and practice of advanced math the best way to sell kids on becoming scientists and engineers?
To combine these sections, the question becomes:
How do you make students care about high level math in the same way they care about video games?
The answer lies in turning math into a project based learning experience. I’ve seen many attempts at this, including my own High School curriculum called C.O.R.E. It was an embarrassing effort to make every math problem a word problem. Instead of creating a purpose behind the math, it put a thin veneer of application that did more to confuse us rather than make us care.
It wasn’t until Sophomore year of college that I got the chance to apply math in an exciting way. I was coding in Flash, and wanted to create a tank game where you bounced cannon balls off of walls in an effort to hit the other tanks. To write it, I had to relearn trigonometry. Sine, cosine, tangent, and far more in depth topics suddenly had an application. For the first time I studied them and had a reason to care. By creating a video game, it all started to come together.
What angle should a cannon ball go at if sent at the wall at a 30 degree angle? For the game to work, I needed to figure this out. While the final results of the game were a bit of an embarrassment, it was an exciting project that made math fun.
How I wish my game was half as awesome as this. And no, I didn't actually play this game before grabbing this picture.
It’s easy to say “That’s nice for people who already know programming and are operating at a college level, but for the rest of us that isn’t particularly practical.”
Yet when I took on this project, my main thought was, ‘Why isn’t this how math was being taught to me since at least 6th grade?’
One of the answers is it requires the students to have a computer at their disposal.
The other answer is it requires the math teachers to teach basic programming as a prerequisite to make the students care. It’s not easy to teach this well, but it’s well worth the effort.
In fact, teachers have been using programming to teach math for decades. It’s just in the last five years that the idea has started to spread on a grand scale.
Allison, a math teacher who runs Infinigons in New Jersey, tested the idea of using programming to teach math. She wrote:
Something that became obvious very quickly (and was integral in quelling my fears that I was under-qualified to teach a UC-approved programming class) is that almost every student in the class was into it. This was bizarre, having a class where 25 out of 27 students were really trying to figure out a problem and would literally groan when I told them they had to shut down their computers at the end of class.
In addition, there are books dedicated to teaching just about any of the programming languages. For instance, Introduction to Programming with Greenfoot is aimed at teachers looking to encourage students getting in to programming for the first time.
In 2004, I learned Flash Game programming through Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Game Design Demystified. While the Flash programming side of it is no longer relevant, Jobe Makar does a fantastic job of going over math programming in a fun applicable way. I’m sure there are far more recent books on the subject, but from a math perspective, this is a timeless introduction to the fundamentals of applicable trigonometry in game design.
Last week I read your book, Stop Stealing Dreams, and very much enjoyed it. You’re a great writer. I’m not sure if anyone has told you this before, but your writing is almost as good as your speaking. And your speaking is terrific. I’m a big fan.
In your book, if you recall, you picked apart the problems with America’s school system and said the way to fix it is by changing what topics are covered and how we cover them. In your own words:
As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.
I emphatically agree. And so does every single teacher I’ve ever talked to. And there’s a reason we agree. It’s obvious.
Looking at responses to the book, the general reaction was one of, “I nodded my head in agreement the whole time. This is exactly how I’ve felt for years.”
However, the difficulty in changing our school systems is more than figuring out better end goals and better curriculums. There are 1,000’s of charter schools experimenting with alternative curriculums. The flipped classroom is just one of hundreds of ideas floating around.
And while the standard curriculum in most public schools is awful, it’s hard to say the curriculum is the root of the problem.
I’d love if you could expand just a wee bit further on three of your ideas.
3 Fairly Impossible Problems with Schools
1. What are the actionable steps to get rid of standardized testing?
You talked about how schools are stuck teaching to the test and that’s a generally agreed upon problem. To stop that, colleges would need to judge students in some other way.
On what metric should colleges judge students?
If it’s portfolios, how do we convince all universities to judge students on portfolios?
And what accomplishments should these portfolios include?
Or, do you propose getting rid of the college system in general?
2. How do we improve the quality of teachers?
If I read you right, the crux of your argument was to make learning more project based, as well as making it deal with more current subjects such as programming and negotiating.
If this is the goal, is the problem the curriculum or the teachers teaching the current curriculum?
Can a fantastic curriculum help a poor teacher make his students care?
To rephrase that, how can we get lousy teachers to successfully teach in a project based manner?
Or to rephrase again, how can we make lousy teachers get better?
One answer is by providing extended one on one mentorship programs for the teachers or just firing the bad ones, but that brings us to our final problem:
3. What’s the best way to increase school budgets?
But somehow I’m sure you guessed this was where I was headed.
There’s a good chance those aren’t fair questions. Any thoughts?
I stuck to teaching the class on Social Media Marketing, and it was another two months before I was sent out again. I’d remembered the Friday class from two months ago, and was confident I’d do all right. My slides were in order. I knew the answers.
I was wrong. It was just as bad as the first time out, and this week rather than the inspired go-to I will improve this class every night, and it will become great, I accepted the mediocrity. I was in a depressed state that week, and saw that the class was serviceably mediocre. Unlike the first week where it was I-will-get-fired-awful, the class was now just mediocre enough to work. I let it be, and for a week I carried on with that.
When I got home after those five days out, I hunkered down and completely reworked the fourth hour. Then I went through, and hour by hour came up with new examples for each. I redesigned the slides, and scoured the web for more relevant examples. Three weeks later, I was back on the road, this time feeling good. The class continued to improve.
What I found was the act of talking with hundreds of different companies, hearing their individual stories, and workshopping as a classroom, got us to grow. On any given day there would be 2 or 3 people who were far more experienced in some aspect of marketing or social media, and I’d let them talk. Of the five hours, I’d give those people a half hour over the course of the day and hear what they did in their own experience. The next day I’d incorporate those lessons into my class. It took another two dozen classes, but I’m finally confident. I believe in my class. I start the day excited. It took hell to get through, but I can’t imagine a better way to learn it all.
My students leave the class now energized, excited to start applying everything that I’ve showed them. I leave the class excited to do the same. It’s forced me to start a blog. It’s forced me to become active. It’s forced me to write.
And I return back to that initial question – am I part of the New Rich or am I just employed? With enough money to sustain me, it becomes a question of what I’m doing on the days when I’m not teaching. So I write. And I draw. And I improvise. I host dinners. I see friends. I travel. I live the life I’ve only dreamed, excited to see where this all takes me.
And more than anything, I search for that next moment of absolute terror where I know there’s a chance to fail. For that’s the moment where real growth happens. As long as I keep pushing, I’m exactly where I need to be.
It’s pretty incredible waking up at 5:30 AM and feeling like I slept in late. It probably has a bit to do with being on Central Time Zone last week. But I’m guessing it has much more to do with being in Israel a week ago and deciding not to get off that schedule.
I spent last week traveling to places as exciting as Mendota, Illinois and Des Moines, Iowa. I even almost went to Gulfport, Mississippi. They’re about as exciting as you can imagine, so I decided rather than shifting off of Israel time and having the night to myself like a normal person, I’d continue waking up at a late time by Israel time zone standards. It meant on Saturday while still in Los Angeles I woke up at 2AM, bike road for two hours, worked out for an hour, and read for another hour before heading to services. On Sunday I got up at 7am, despite having been out till 3:30 the night before. On Monday, in Mendota, I went to bed at 9pm and woke up at 2:30am. I worked out and wrote for a long time before I got downstairs to start teaching at around 7:15 AM.
On Tuesday and Wednesday it was closer to 3:30am, but followed the same pattern. I got exhausted around 9pm every day, but that’s a small price to pay for 4 hours of bonus morning.
I meant to do the same on Thursday, but instead I ended up being stuck in Ft Worth due to a flight cancelled due to weather. I was forced to wake up at 3:40 AM (read: plenty late) to make it to a 5:20 flight. It wasn’t a problem at all. The problem came when the airport system had no record of my freshly assigned ticket and needing to sweet talk my way into getting it assigned with about 20 minutes to go before the flight. The bigger problem came when after getting in to Houston, which was connection #2, I learned that just like the night before, my flight in to Gulfport was cancelled and there were no other flights to get there. But during the whole hassle, I was wide awake. I got to sleep in until 3:40, after all.
The Thursday class ended up getting canceled due to weather, so I flew straight home to Los Angeles 12 hours earlier than expected. I got to go to improv practice, and by the time it was done at 10pm Pacific Time people were worried if I was awake enough to drive. The thing is, I would have been falling asleep just due to the fact I’d been in central time all week needing to wake up at 6:30am.
This schedule is perfect. If I threw in a short daily siesta, there’s no reason I couldn’t wake up at 7am and go to bed at 3:30 every night.
That whole, “Early to bed. Early to rise. Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” thing has always been over ruled by “Early to rise. Early to bed. Makes a man healthy but socially dead” in my mind. Perhaps there’s a way to do both.
My first week out, every night I turned to my traveling partner, telling her what a mistake I’d made trying to teach this class.
“I’m not a teacher. This is a soft skill. They’re looking for someone like you – a public speaker who does marketing professionally. I’m quitting after this week.”
She reassured me that I’d be all right.
On the comment forms that first day the general consensus was, ‘He’s definitely an expert over the material, but a complete mess as far as teaching style,’ and an overall negative rating of the class itself. For me, that was a major accomplishment.
‘Really? I’m an expert on the material?’ I thought about it. I spend an hour or two every day reading the latest trends in the industry. I listen to half a dozen podcasts on the subject. I’d read a couple dozen books tracing out all the latest trends. I’d talked with various people knee deep in this full time. I guess I did know a thing or two. But only second hand.
People asked me questions the first day, and I didn’t have a clue where to start. I had no idea what an iframe was or how to sync youtube with twitter with facebook, or the professional options for tracking results. Those were actually the easy questions. The hard questions were, “How does this apply to non-profits?” or government agencies or schools where nothing can be posted online or a large corporation where no one actually lets them post. Etc. I didn’t know. It was that simple. I’d geared the class towards independent artists wanting to use social media to make it on their own. Not this crowd. A bunch of corporate types looking for something between a couple of tips and tricks to total online salvation.
That night I went back to my hotel room, and for four hours worked through answering all of the questions that I couldn’t answer in class. I modified the lesson plan to include those questions before they were even asked. I spent another hour listening to TED talks and the soothing voice of Seth Godin as I worked out.
The second day was still a disaster, but a slightly calmer one. No one cared about the questions from yesterday. They had their own set. A completely different set.
And that night I did the same thing. I spent four hours revising the lesson plan. Again. Answering the questions that I didn’t know the answer to – tightening up the places where people appeared bored.
The third day went a little better. The ritual continued, and on the fourth day people had a good time. I’d improved.
It was a trial by fire. Even with that, I told my travel partner, “There’s no way I’m ever teaching this class again.”