Tag Archives: Learning

Learning to Say What You Mean: Parenting 101

I’ve been a parent now for a few years. In fact, I’ve been writing about Christine Gross-Loh’s book for nearly as long as I’ve been a parent. Certainly, there’s lots to learn about being a parent and lots that one can learn from being a parent. To date, there’s one salient lesson that stands above the rest: intentional speech.

Whenever I’m speaking to my kid (or any kid, for that matter), I’m always acutely aware of the words that are coming out of my mouth. For one, this little person is still learning the language, so it’s important that I be as precise as possibly can (within reason). In particular, I’m thinking about idioms.

If you’ve travelled to different parts of the country (or different parts of the world), undoubtedly you’ll have come across some phrases that might sound… odd. For instance, I bet you’ve probably let the frog out of your mouth on an occasion or two (Finnish idiom to say the wrong thing). Or when giving directions, has anyone ever told you that the place you’re trying to go is just a cat’s jump away from the museum (German idiom for something that’s not too far away). Or maybe, you and your friend are walking around a new part of town and your friend says to you, “I sense owls in the moss,” (Swedish idiom for finding/seeing something suspicious).

I could go on, but the point here is that cultures from around the world have created phrases to say something (when they really mean something else) and the same thing has happened in our culture. Have you ever done something at the drop of a hat or met someone who was all bark and no bite? Do you find your boss tends to beat around the bush or maybe sometimes add fuel to the fire? Have you ever wished that someone would break their leg?

Think about what these phrases might sound like to someone who’s just learning English. Break a leg. How rude. Or what about saying that to do something is a piece of cake? What the heck is that supposed to mean? Do I need to eat a piece of cake before you tell me how to drive to the airport or will there be cake at the airport?

For toddlers, it’s hard enough to learn how to maneuver one’s body and learn a “foreign language” (learning one’s first language is *kind of* like learning a foreign language, if you think about it). So, why would we compound the difficulty by simultaneously teaching them idioms? There’ll be plenty of time for them to learn how to feed the donkey sponge cake (thanks Portugal!).


Children are Finland’s Most Precious Resource: Parenting Without Borders, Part 8

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own.In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.” In Part 7,  we explored what education is like in East Asia and in Part 8, we’ll look at education in Finland.

There are many fascinating aspects to education in Finland, especially because they’re so counter to many of the ways we understand education in North America (and East Asia, given the last post in this series, for that matter). Here’s the underlying ideal that guides Finnish education [Emphasis Added]:

Children learn best when they are motivated and when they’re given tools to make responsible and effective choices. Teachers and other adults strive to help kids reach their potential by connecting with them, respecting them, and creating optimal conditions for learning. In Finland, children are regarded as the nation’s most precious resource.

In reading the first part of the quote, it might seem strange that other adults also strive to help kids learn, but as the quote closes, it makes sense. If children are the most important aspect to a country, of course all adults would make strive to foster the development of children.

If you’ve ever come across one of those articles that ranks the education systems of different countries, you should be quite familiar with some of the unorthodox methods used in the Finnish education system. For instance: children don’t begin “academic” education until they’re seven years old; every hour is split into 45 minutes for ‘education’ and 15 minutes for recess (even into high school!); Finnish children spend approximately 300 hours (or ~6 weeks) fewer in elementary school than their counterparts in the USA; and they often have no homework. Oh, don’t forget that there aren’t any specialized programs for gifted children, there aren’t private schools, and there aren’t any high-stakes standardized tests (like the gaokao).

When put in that context, it seems extraordinary that Finns consistently are at the top of global rankings in education. It’s not surprising then, that Gross-Loh dedicated an entire chapter to exploring some of the underlying reasons why this might be the case. She found three “secrets”:

  1. Cultivating High-Quality Teaching
  2. A Variety of Classes Enhance Creativity
  3. The Importance of Setting Up Every Kid for Success

Let’s start with the first one — high-quality teaching. Right off the bat, it’s not easy to become a teacher in Finland. Since the 1970s, all teachers were required to have a Master’s degree. Since the 1970s! If we try and equate that to today’s society, that would be like requiring a PhD. Can you imagine if every teacher in the US had to obtain a PhD before being able to teach (even primary school students!)?

If that analogy isn’t enough, how about this one: “Teachers in Finland are as highly respected as medical doctors in the United States.”

Naturally, it follows that Finland invests quite a bit in their teachers — $30 million a year on professional development. Teachers are continually renewing themselves, which kind of reminds me of the self-cultivation piece of East Asian education.

In the second “secret,” there were two pieces that I found particularly important — Finns want their children to be good at learning how to learn and the emphasis on creative study. In high schools, all Finns must take: Finnish, Swedish, English, math, chemistry, physics, biology, geography, history, social studies, handcrafts, arts, home economics, music, and sports. Not only are Finns educated in science (and foreign languages — sheesh, three languages!?), but there is time and emphasis placed on creative subjects. These topics are emphasized just as much as the sciences because, “teachers believe that creative study transfers to a child’s performance in all subjects.”

The opening sentence from the last ‘secret’: “We can’t afford to waste a brain.” Further to that, in Finland, ‘school readiness’ means that the school is ready to receive and meet the needs of the children (rather than the kids needing to be “ready for school”).

The Finnish way of setting up kids for success means trusting them with many responsibilities even in primary school, so they feel a sense of ownership over their own lives and their education.

An excellent example of this, Gross-Loh has a conversation with a student in Grade 5 who is well-versed in matters of the school budget! If I think back to when I was in Grade 5, I don’t even think I knew what a “budget” was, much less that my school had one, and that I could know about its inner workings.

Two last things I wanted to mention —

Near the end of the chapter, there’s a quote that reminded of an image I’ve seen floating around social media: “Instead of emphasizing global competitiveness, or high individual achievement, the concept guiding almost every educational reform and decision [in Finland] has been equity.”

And finally, in case you want to dismiss the achievements in Finland as being impossible to port to the USA, consider that Finland has the same population as the state of Minnesota.

Why It’s Important to Have Diversity (in age!) in Your Work Teams

If you had to guess, would you say that younger people or older people are better at learning abstract causal principles?

When first thinking about this question, I would have thought that older people would be better at this given that they have more experience and that they might have been in analogous situations. However, the research seems to indicate that younger folks are better at things like this. Here’s a passage from the researchers that specifically address my thought that experience would be helpful:

The very fact that older learners know more may make it more difficult for them to learn something new. Once a learner has inferred a general principle (e.g., that people act because of their traits, or that individual objects, rather than combinations of objects or relations between them, have causal powers), that principle may constrain his or her interpretation of new data. Causal relationships that conflict with that principle may then be more difficult to learn.

Certainly this research is important, but the thing I want to highlight here is work teams. Specifically, this study points to the importance of having diverse w0rk teams. It’s important to remember that diversity doesn’t just mean people of different genders and different races, but people of different ages, too. If we mix in folks with different “levels of experience,” we might have a better chance of coming up with a solution to the issue than if we just used folks who were all of the same level experience.

Further to that, I was thinking about how this research comes into play when we think of top management teams or corporate boards. Recall the post I wrote recently that discussed the importance of diversity at the board-level. I don’t remember there being anything related to age in that article, but I also suspect that conducting research on age as it relates to boards or top management teams might be difficult. Usually, we find folks who’ve reached a certain level of experience before they’re considered for work on a corporate board or considered for a promotion to the top management team. Maybe we need to start thinking about considering some younger folks for positions in these roles.

ResearchBlogging.orgGopnik, A., Griffiths, T., & Lucas, C. (2015). When Younger Learners Can Be Better (or at Least More Open-Minded) Than Older Ones Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24 (2), 87-92 DOI: 10.1177/0963721414556653

Sheldon Cooper Presents “Fun With Flags”: A YouTube Series of Podcasts

The other day I happened to be eating lunch and staring off out the window. While that may not seem important, it is. Most of the time, I like to be reading or doing something, while I’m eating. I completely understand that it’s probably better to not do this, but I often can’t help myself. Anyway, as I was sitting and just eating, an idea came to me. (Don’t you find that ideas come to you when you’re not thinking about them?) The idea, as the title of this post suggests, a web series from one of The Big Bang Theory’s main cast members: Sheldon Cooper.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the show (it’s quite funny), but a few times throughout the six seasons, Dr. Sheldon Cooper has led us on a journey through the wonderful world of vexillology: “scientific study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general.” Sheldon’s generally a pretty funny guy (not on purpose, that is, on purpose by the writers, but not by the character himself), so when he does these short podcasts on flags, it certainly provides a laugh or two. To date, there have been 5 instances of “Fun With Flags.”

In the first podcast, Sheldon and his, at the time, “girl who’s a friend, but is not my girlfriend,” Amy Farrah Fowler, introduce us to vexillology and tell us a bit about Oregon’s state flag.

Every time I watch this one, when Sheldon asks Amy about the white flag, I can’t help but laugh… “I’m submitting… to fun.”

In the second podcast, we learn about Bavaria.

In the third podcast, we learn a little bit about flags in Star Trek with Wil Wheaton.

In the fourth podcast, LeVar Burton replaces Wil Wheaton in attempting to teach us about flags in Star Trek.

In the fifth podcast, Penny (Sheldon’s across-the-hall neighbour),  helps teach us about Nebraska’s state flag.

The idea is that these podcasts could actually become an online series that supplements the show. They wouldn’t necessarily have to be every week or even every other week. The idea is that Dr. Sheldon Cooper could teach us about flags. This could be a big boon for CBS and The Big Bang Theory as I can’t imagine it not being a hit with fans of the show. Plus, there’s the whole social media aspect to it. That is, these clips would undoubtedly be shared vehemently across many networks.

Maybe I’m way off, but my guess is that this could really be a creative way for the show to engage viewers on a medium other than the TV. There could even be “special guests” (i.e. other cast members or noted vexillologists [are there any?]).

If you’re an executive at CBS and you’re reading this, I’d encourage you to get the marketing team on this and see if they think that there are enough people to warrant this kind of endeavour. I understand that there’d still be some cost to it (paying Jim Parsons, the film crew, the editing team, etc.), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’d be profitable.


For those of you who think that I may be a bit biased because I like these online learning formats (John Green, Hank Green, ASAPScience, Michael Sandel, etc.), I’d encourage you to take a look at some of the number of followers of these accounts. The Crash Course has almost 1,000,000 subscribers. AsapSCIENCE has almost 1.5 million subscribers. MinutePhysics has almost 2 million subscribers. Consistently, the videos that these users upload obtain views in the hundreds of thousands.

One final note — Mental Floss. They’ve, in a sense, tested the market as they already have a “Fun With Flags” kind of series. They’re up to episode 17. Here’s a link to the first.


Put Down the Non-Fiction and Walk Away Slowly

I read a lot of non-fiction. I’ve written about some of the books I’ve read on here (Good to Great, The Art of War, The Art of War (again), etc.), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the articles I share on Facebook (about 5 per day) comes from something I’d read in the past month. I believe it’s important to continually refresh ourselves (through learning). I do that by reading as much as I can — non-fiction.

About 2 years ago, when I decided to go to business school, I read everything about business that I could get my hands on. I read the Heaths, Collins, Christensen, Pink, Godin, and many others. In amongst that reading, I continually came across a piece of wisdom — read fiction. At first, I was a little shocked by it. Read fiction!? And then, I started to understand a little bit more about what the reasons for reading fiction.


Empathy is at the heart of the beginning of the solution to many of the world’s problems. When we empathize, we are able to recognize the emotions that another is feeling. At the root of compassion is empathy. [Note: sympathy is quite different from empathy. Sympathy is simply a concern for another’s well-being, where empathy usually refers to one sharing the same emotional state.] So, now that I’ve explained empathy, I need to tie it back into reading fiction.

Reading fiction ‘improves empathy’, study finds — Sept. 2011 — The Guardian

Reading boosts empathy — May 2012 — The Globe and Mail

Fiction is an exercise in empathy — June 2012 — New York Times

Dots connected?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to continue to read non-fiction — and lots of it. Though, I may start to whittle down the number of non-fiction books I read. I’ve just finished Dan Pink’s most recent To Sell Is Human, and I still want to get through Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats. Once I do that, I plan to make the switch and start reading more fiction. Will you join me?

Instead of Resolutions, Make New Year’s Challenges

I may be a bit late to the party in writing about New Year’s Resolutions, but I did want to share with you a philosophy that I think you may find useful. When was the last time you made a New Year’s Resolution that you actually stuck with — for the whole year? If I’m being honest, I can’t think of one resolution that I stuck with the whole year, but then again, I can’t really remember any resolution I’ve made.

So, I submit — make a New Year’s Challenge!

First, there’s the language. A challenge is much more inviting than a resolution. (Am I right?) Second, do you know the definitions of these two words? Resolution:

A firm decision to do or not to do something.

While challenge means:

A call to take part in a contest or competition.

I don’t know about you, but a challenge — by definition! — is much more inviting. In fact, the idea of a resolution (in this context!) kind of seems a bit out there, doesn’t it? The sheer inflexibility of it nearly makes it an impossibility. It’s not fair to you to put such a stringent barrier on yourself. It’s no wonder that people fail to keep their resolutions — our ideas change all the time!

There’s another piece to this that I think is important: skills. A challenge to learn a new skill could certainly be compelling and it may expand one’s awareness. I remember last new year’s I signed up for CodeAcademy’s challenge to learn how to code. I know I didn’t finish it, but I got pretty far and it did re-jog my memory on some of the coding I’d learned in high school.

If you’re going to challenge yourself to learn a new skill, be sure to take it easy on yourself and be mindful of how you position this challenge. For instance, I’d like to learn how to play the guitar and the piano, and learn a couple of languages. It would be pretty silly of me to try to learn all of those all at once (although, some might argue that the reverse). I’m setting myself up to fail on some of these challenges. Like I said, it’s also important how I position these challenges.

For instance, it’s a bit ambiguous to say, ‘I’m going to learn Spanish or French.’ What does that mean? Do I want to be able to converse with strangers, order off of menus, work in the French government, etc. Instead of placing these kinds of targets, I’ve decided to just plan to practice French for 30 minutes a day (or 30 minutes a day during the week). This way, my skill will improve and I won’t have a vague target in the future. (As a brief aside: I’m still trying to decide between Memrise and Duolingo for practicing the new language. I may just alternate between both.)

What challenge(s) will you have for the new year?

If You Want to Be Happy, Tame Your Expectations

I wanted to finish 2012 with what I think is my biggest “insight.” That is, the thing that I felt taught me the most about myself and other people. As you know, if you follow me on Twitter  Facebook, or read what I write about here (follow button on the right-hand side!), I like to learn. I think that learning doesn’t end once you leave school (whether we like it or not) and I think that learning about ourselves never ends.

I’ve certainly came across quite a few techniques, perspectives, and ways for being in the world and handling stress. In particular, I think that Byron Katie‘s The Work can be quite powerful. While I’ve never attended one of her seminars, watching the videos of people “doing The Work” can have its own cathartic experience.

I’ve noticed that one of the revelations I’ve come to this year is very similar to what Katie has said, but I still feel it to be slightly different. It’s the idea that our expectations about the world are what cause us stress, unhappiness, and you name it. I’m speaking very abstractly, so let me give you a concrete example.

Let’s say I’m having a problem with a coworker. Let’s say that coworker does something that I don’t like. Why does this upset me? Without getting into any psychological underpinnings and staying right at the surface, it’s simply about my expectations of what that coworker should (or shouldn’t) be doing that’s causing me trouble. How? Well, assuming you believe that each human being is entitled to their own autonomy, they have free will to do as they please (within the law, I suppose). If the person is acting in a way that displeases me, it’s probably because I expect them to be acting in some other way — and they aren’t. Again, still kind of abstract, so let’s make it really concrete.

Let’s say that this coworker (by the way, this example works for family, friends, spouses, pets, pretty much anything), has a particular way of answering a question with a question. And let’s say that I find this really annoying (in fact, I’d find it intriguing, but let’s go with annoying, for now). Every time I see this coworker, I’m going to remember that this coworker asks me questions whenever I ask them questions — so it’s going to make me unhappy, just seeing this person! If I happen to need to ask them something and they ask me a question back, I might begin to feel angry. Why am I feeling angry? Simply because my expectations are that this coworker should not ask me questions when I ask them questions. Should this really matter? No! This coworker can ask me questions when I ask them questions — they’re certainly allowed to do that.

Let’s try another example for which I’m sure we can all relate: traffic. Have you ever been sitting in traffic, late for something? I know I have. While sitting in this traffic, do you ever notice that sometimes people will try to “jump the line?” Does that bother you? If I’m being honest, this has certainly bothered me at times. Why should this bother me (or you)? Well, we expect that people will be kind and wait their turn right. We expect… Oh boy — there it is again! Expectations! If I didn’t have expectations that people wouldn’t try to jump the line, this wouldn’t make me upset. I might think, ‘Oh, maybe they’re in a really big hurry. Maybe someone they know is in trouble and they’re trying to go save them.’ It’s really impossible to know why someone would try to jump the line in traffic, so far be it from me to expect something from them in the way that they behave to the other drivers.

So, if I had to choose one thing to offer you from 2012, moving into 2013, it would be your expectations. Notice when you get upset/angry about something and try to discern what it is that you’re expecting should be happening in that situation. If you want to take it a step beyond, try to tame that expectations. Though, for starters, I think it’s important to notice what it is that you’re expecting in a situation. From here, you’ll certainly be well on your way to determining the root of your unhappiness.