Secrets of the Colosseum

Beste and his colleagues spent four years using measuring tapes, plumb lines, spirit levels and generous quantities of paper and pencils to produce technical drawings of the entire hypogeum. “Today we’d probably use a laser scanner for this work, but if we did, we’d miss the fuller understanding that old-fashioned draftsmanship with pencil and paper gives you,” Beste says. “When you do this slow, stubborn drawing, you’re so focused that what you see goes deep into the brain. Gradually, as you work, the image of how things were takes shape in your subconscious.”

What Data Can’t Do

Once a useful number becomes a measure of success, it ceases to be a useful number. This is known as Goodhart’s law, and it reminds us that the human world can move once you start to measure it.

We might be interested in whether our children are getting a good education, but it’s very hard to pin down exactly what we mean by “good.” Instead, we tend to ask a related and easier question: How well do students perform when examined on some corpus of fact? And so we get the much lamented “teach to the test” syndrome. 

Textile factories were required to produce quantities of fabric that were specified by length, and so looms were adjusted to make long, narrow strips. Uzbek cotton pickers, judged on the weight of their harvest, would soak their cotton in water to make it heavier. Similarly, when America’s first transcontinental railroad was built, in the eighteen-sixties, companies were paid per mile of track. So a section outside Omaha, Nebraska, was laid down in a wide arc, rather than a straight line.

For that matter, think about our use of G.D.P. to indicate a country’s economic well-being. By that metric, a schoolteacher could contribute more to a nation’s economic success by assaulting a student and being sent to a high-security prison than by educating the student, owing to all the labor that the teacher’s incarceration would create.

More Than A Perfect Score: When Are Kids Under-Challenged In Math?

  • Instead of seeing perfect scores as the benchmark for success, it’s time to start seeing them as signs that kids are under-challenged,
  • “We’re teaching kids that you have to get it right every time,” he said.
  • They’re also missing out on opportunities to tackle more challenging problems that will help them grow and develop.
  • What’s more, if kids aren’t presented with mathematical “challenges they won’t succeed at every time,” then the first time they encounter a real challenge, they often don’t know how to cope,

Technology Is a Huge Social Experiment on Children

  • While the private Waldorf School of the Peninsula, popular with Silicon Valley executives, eschews most screens, the nearby public Hillview Middle School advertises its 1:1 iPad program.
  • “….everything that’s happening around big data, AI, and that is not something that you’re going to be particularly good at because you have a cellphone in fourth grade,”

The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’


  • Instead, the visual learners performed best on all kinds of tests. Therefore, the authors concluded, teachers should stop trying to gear some lessons toward “auditory learners.”
  • This doesn’t mean everyone is equally good at every skill, of course. Really, Willingham says, people have different abilities, not styles
  • Husmann says the most important thing, for anyone looking to learn something new, is just to really focus on the material—that’s what the most successful students from her study did.



Online teaching vs. Classroom teaching


  • If teachers were to teach as Salman Khan teaches in his videos they would be down rated. The math teacher who shows her class several very clear examples followed by some practice problems will be rated developing on the basis that she was too teacher centered, not engaging, and too focused on procedures.
  • Where was the student engagement? Why weren’t they sitting in groups? Where was your differentiation? Where was your student-centered instruction? Why no discovery based learning?




The 10,000-hour rule is wrong and perpetuates a cruel myth


  •  For example, the number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach “master” status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times as much deliberate practice as another player to become a master.
  •  Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained. For example, deliberate practice explained 26% of the variation for games such as chess, 21% for music, and 18% for sports.
  • Researchers found that there was a stronger correspondence in drawing ability for the identical twins than for the fraternal twins. In other words, if one identical twin was good at drawing, it was quite likely that his or her identical sibling was, too.
  • But it does imply that there are limits on the transformative power of practice. As Mosing and her colleagues concluded, practice does not make perfect.
  •  Jesse Owens, Marion Jones, and Usain Bolt, and found that, in all cases, they were exceptional compared with their competitors from the very start of their sprinting careers — before they had accumulated much more practice than their peers.

Slate  BI





  • How much did practice actually explain? A 2014 meta-analysis looked specifically at the relationship between deliberate practice and performance in music, games like chess, sports, education, and other professions.
  • For some things, like games, practice explained about a quarter of variance in expertise.
  • For music and sports, the explanatory power accounted for about a fifth.
  • But for education and professions like computer science, military-aircraft piloting, and sales, the effect ranged from small to tiny. For all of these professions, you obviously need to practice, but natural abilities matter more.

Studies show taking notes by hand is more effective

Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension

  • The results revealed that while the two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions.
  • The benefit of having more content is canceled out by “mindless transcription.”
  • The amount of verbatim overlap was associated with worse performance on conceptual items.

What You Miss When You Take Notes on Your Laptop

  • Mueller and Oppenheimer predicted that the decrease in retention appeared to be due to “verbatim transcription.”
  • And again, though the laptop note takers recorded a larger amount of notes, the longhand note takers performed better on conceptual, and this time factual, questions.

A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop

  • Students who used longhand remembered more and had a deeper understanding of the material

Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away

Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away

  •  For questions that asked students to simply remember facts, like dates, both groups did equally well.
  • But for “conceptual-application” questions, such as, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” the laptop users did “significantly worse.”
  • “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

Teacher Must Remain a Student

I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself… It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can… The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten… I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained…     -C.S. Lewis

Can Students Have Too Much Tech?

  • “Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” the economists wrote, adding that license to surf the Internet was also linked to lower grades in younger children.
  •  What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest. When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.
  •  With no adults to supervise them, many kids used their networked devices not for schoolwork, but to play games, troll social media and download entertainment. (And why not? Given their druthers, most adults would do the same.)
  • Technology does have a role in education. But as Randy Yerrick, a professor of education at the University at Buffalo, told me, it is worth the investment only when it’s perfectly suited to the task, in science simulations, for example, or to teach students with learning disabilities.

Can Students Have Too Much Tech?

Laptop versus hand-written notes

The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.

Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades