What makes teams work? Ask Google

Google has spent 1000s of hours trying to figure out how to make people work better in teams. The answer? Teams are most effective when there is “psychological safety” — in other words, everyone feels safe contributing ideas, questioning others (even the boss), and sharing problems. In the best teams, people feel free to offer…

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If school comes easy, find a bigger challenge

Near the end of the school year, one of my freshmen (I’ll call her Meg) complained to me about our school’s grading system. “Why does homework have to be 20% of my grade? If I can get As on tests without doing assignments, why does homework count against me?” We had a little post-AP test…

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A cynical take on the value of school

Last week, a Slate.com article on a new technology to track mental engagement (Pay Attention!) raised the issue of boredom in school, quoting this stat: “82 percent of U.S. high school students report being sometimes or often bored in class.” Like me, the writer Mary Mann (also the author of Yawn: Adventures in Boredom) clearly…

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If it’s interesting, they’ll listen

Which high school subject is most interesting to students? Economics Pre-calculus Physics English History The answer: None of the above. No subject is inherently the most interesting; what students find interesting depends on how we teach the material. I was reminded of this twice in the past week, thanks to my AP Psych students. First,…

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What makes history stick

When I was in high school, I found history pretty dull. We spent a lot of time listening to lectures, watching filmstrips, taking notes, and regurgitating facts onto tests. Only a small fraction of our time was spent debating historical questions (should we have dropped the bomb?) or participating in simulations (like a constitutional convention)…

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Show kids the possibilities

Silver Falls State Park, the site of the wedding Last weekend, I went to a former student’s wedding in Oregon. In high school, she was a journalism kid, a writer who was always interested in other people, especially the underdogs. She wrote a particularly compelling editorial — after a school shooting in rural Minnesota —…

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A perfect place to learn

Last week, I experienced the ideal learning environment. For five days, I learned Spanish at an adult immersion program in Samara Beach, Costa Rica. The fresh air, the warm sun, the sound of the ocean, the small classes (just six students with an instructor), and the motivated students were all big factors — and ones…

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Why err on the side of a noisy classroom

I’ve always felt a little embarrassed about my classroom management style. I know if many of my colleagues walked in during class — especially at the beginning — they would be appalled. It doesn’t look like I’m running a tight ship. They would probably wonder: Why aren’t those kids in their seats when the bell…

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Stop telling students the answers

Students learn better when we ask questions before we provide the answers. They learn better if we ask them to generate their own strategies, interpretations and ideas before we tell them how to do things — whether it’s how to use an economic model, solve an algebra problem or write an essay. I learned this nugget…

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Is boredom actually good for you?

Boredom can be good for you, it’s true. But at school, not so much. After my last blog post, a friend challenged me and pointed out that boredom is not all bad. I spent a little time following up on that — to see what research says about the plus side of boredom. Researchers have…

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