The Student Becomes the Master

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My oldest son Aiden has been in scouting since he was in second grade.  He started in Cub Scouts and continued up through Webelos and ultimately earned his Arrow of Light (the highest award in Cub Scouting).  Today he is completing his 1st year as a Boy Scout and last month was elected as the leader for his patrol by the boys (most of which are older) of his patrol.

Aiden’s first task was to organize a bowling night for the boys in the patrol, which he is doing a good job of with my Dad’s help.  On an email Aiden just sent to his patrol about the event, I noticed an unusual note he placed at the bottom … here is what it said …

Narwhal Patrol Leader,
Aiden Kovacs

P.S If I’m doing anything wrong let me know. Thank You!

How many of us who call ourselves leaders would benefit from the same openness?  “If I’m doing anything wrong let me know.  Thank You”  Instead, we may find ourselves believing that we were selected to be leaders because we know the right way to do things … but something as simple and innocent as an email from your son can remind you … boy do I have a lot to learn.

Life Lesson #4:  You Can Learn Something From Everyone

The 40 Year Old … Snowboarder?

So before last weekend, I had never been skiing or snowboarding before.  I even included it in my 101 things To Do in 1001 Days.  So last weekend I joined Aiden’s Boy Scout Troop on a ski trip to Winterplace, West Virginia.  And based on some good advice decided I would try to learn to snowboard.

OK get your laughs out now ….

Can we continue?  Thanks … I thought it would be an adventure and boy was it.

The package we had included a lesson so we eagerly got our gear and reported to class.  Our “new” snowboarding group included Aiden, two other Scouts and two teenage boys and myself.  We had a wonderful instructor Mark, who demonstrated great patience with the boys and me.

Aiden and I Snowboarding

I must have fallen 800 times during that lesson, but each an every time (with Aiden watching me) I got up and tried again.  And eventually, I was consistent enough to go down Green (easy) hills.

I loved the feeling of negotiating my way down the mountain (ok hill), and despite being incredibly tired and sore the next day, I suited up and went out to do it again.

It’s pretty simple to see there are two “Life Lessons” that were clearly illustrated …

Life Lesson #2:  You should never, ever give up.  No matter how many times you fall you get up dust yourself off and try it again.  Tenacity pays-off.  Sure tenacity hurts sometime, but if it was worth starting it is worth finishing.

And

Life Lesson #3:  Don’t let yourself believe that it’s too late, or you’re too old to learn something new.  It’s not and you are not.

I had a blast learning something new with my son despite the fact that later on the second day I fell and probably cracked a rib.  But even then, I forced myself up one more time and tried again.  Once it heals, I will definitely be back to try it again.  But this time I’ll focus more on following instructor Mark’s “How to Fall” instructions.

Life Lessons – The Challenge and Bad Bacon

Part of the reason I write this blog is because I hope someday my children and God willing perhaps my grandchildren will find these writings and know a little bit more about their Dad or Grandpa. This is perhaps the thing I’ve not been entirely successful at so this year I’m going to change that. This year I’m going to write down one life lesson or little piece of wisdom I come across every week. That’s right 52 lessons, not all long items mind you but something that I hope adds some detail about what I believe is important.

I’ll take some and expand on the ideas as time allows, some will be things I learn as I attempt to close out my 101 Things to Complete in 1000 days leading up to my 40th birthday this year.

2014 is going to be an incredibly busy year but my resolution is to keep my eye on the long term stuff and not let the minutiae of the day to day bog down what we’re trying to do.

So here is Life Lesson #1: Bad bacon is better than no bacon.

There are things in our lives that by their very existence are good and Bacon is one of them. You never look at bacon and say that Bacon is Not Good Enough so I’m gonna wait for a better version of it, no you eat the imperfect bacon AND the perfect bacon if it does show up.  There are other of things in our lives that are even more important and they too may not be perfect but like bacon we should’t wait for the ideal version of them to dig in and enjoy. As a busy working parent I often find that I don’t have as much quality time as I would like with the kids but we keep trying to do our best, take what we can get and enjoy it instead of stressing that it isn’t enough. Time spent worrying or complaining about something doesn’t ever make it better it just takes away from what we could be doing.

From: A Return to Love

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

 

This quote is from Marianne Williamson’s  A Return to Love.  This has frequently been misidentified as being from Nelson Mandela’s Inaugural Address.  While Mandela may not have been the first to say it … it most certainly can apply to him.

Thanksgiving Unplugged

I love Thanksgiving!  I find it very easy to recall many wonderful memories of my childhood spent in rich and living color with my family as celebrated this holiday.  And every year is a new chance to add to those memories by SHARING the time away from work and school with each other which of course now includes my own children.

All to often today sharing is defined by my last update on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, not as being present.

Last week I read a blog by Randi Zuckerberg the former CMO of Facebook titled Stop Sharing on Thanksgiving .  Her suggestion of unplugging on Thanksgiving is very appealing and the more I thought about it the more it made sense.

I don’t want to be a father that speaks to his son through Instagram … although I have done it before when I busted him for having his iPod when he was grounded but that is a different story.  (You’re grounded why would you post updates on Instragram where I’m following you?)

This is Thanksgiving and spending time together is important … in fact spending time with those we love if probably the most important thing we do.  It shows we are thankful for the opportunity to do so.  If my time and attention is taken away by thumbing through several hundred “Happy Thanksgiving” messages from friends what am I saying to my family … It says that someone who I’m linked to on Facebook just because we happened to go the same high school 20 years ago is more deserving of my time and attention than you are.  That is something I’m not willing to say.

So I’m unplugging for Thanksgiving.  No Facebook updates, no Twitter Posts, and perhaps the most difficult … no Fantasy Football Score Updates.  I will have my phone but will be careful to only used it for pictures … pictures of the time spend being with my family.

Happy Thanksgiving to You, I hope you’ll consider sharing your time with your loved ones too.

Milton – The Best Disney Character of All

My son had an interesting assignment in his religion class and like so many other things that I come across I believe there is a lesson in it to be shared.

The assignment was to write a paragraph about an unrecognized saint.  Someone who they thought embodies the spirit of a saint.

This was my son’s submission:  Milton.pdf

DON’T PROCEED UNTIL YOU’VE READ THE ABOVE LINK – I mean it!

So that’s right.  My son’s unrecognized Saint was his Waiter on a Disney Cruise – Milton.  And by the way that cruise was two years ago.  This single Disney employee created such a positive experience for my son that two years later he still remembers him.

Is there any doubt that Aiden will be a fan of Disney for the rest of his life?

Are you creating positive indelible experiences for your customers/members?

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The Kids with their Waiters Dharma and Milton

Is Google Destroying Learning?

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” –  Friedrich Nietzsche

There was a time when if you wanted to research something you had to go to a library.  I can easily recall the hours of time I would spend at the local county library researching topics for school papers.  The library was probably the very first place my Mother and Father would allow me to stay by myself.  They would drop me off and I would find a corner or chair to call home for the next several hours.  And I would get to work, rifling through the card catalogue, browsing articles in reference materials and spinning my way through news articles on the microfiche machine.

My experience wasn’t unique.  If you were born before 1990 you probably had very similar experiences in middle and high school.  And while we may not have appreciated it at the time we were learning.  Learning to gather information from a variety of resources on a common topic, learning to distill that information into something new that we created … we were actually learning HOW to learn.

Since then the computer age has ushered in a whole new way to access the world’s information, and libraries have become symbols of antiquity.  No longer do you have to spend hours looking through reference indexes to find material, then read it to determine if it contains the necessary information you are looking for.  You no longer have to separate the unrelated material and refine your search.  No Google can do all of that for you in milliseconds.

Case in point, tonight I was “helping” Aiden with his homework.  I use quotes because as I look back I may not have truly been helping at all.

He is working on a chart for his 6th grade Science class discussing the phases of matter, their properties, as well as describing how the properties change during phase changes.  A project certainly worthy of a little research elbow grease.

But that’s isn’t how he completed it.  No instead he would formulate a series questions based on what he wanted to know and as I watched him, he entered each of his questions into the search box for Google.  Google would use it’s trillions of pages of stored information to locate what it thought was the most relevant answer and Aiden could read two or three sentences and then write down the answer he was looking for.

If for some reason he could not find the answer he needed, he would come over and ask his question to me, just as he had Google.  Before I realized I was being used the same way I use Siri, I would try help him by talking him through the answer but he wasn’t patient enough to not immediately get the answer.  And would start settling for whatever he could find on Google.  In most cases, I believe he got the correct answer but I’m not sure he learned anything accept the answers to potential trivia questions like “At what temperature does water evaporate?”

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Is using Google the equivalent of using a Calculator in Math Class?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Google is an amazing tool, but is it creating a bunch of kids who can find the answer to any question but not understand the WHY behind the answer?

As a parent, my research skills were embedded in me in an analog era and I have no idea how to help my sons use these tools to build good learning habits.  They know how to find the answers but can they truly research a question.  How do you balance using the power of modern tools like Google with the need to understand how it works and where it doesn’t?  We’ve had the discussion that “not everything you read on the internet is true.”  But to me that consideration falls short of helping to describe how and why to do better research online.

After he was done for the night, I grew very concerned about this dilemma and what it could mean for Aiden and our future:  if young people become the best consumers of information but produce little on their own.

I am very interested in your ideas about how you’ve addressed this with your kids or students.  Please consider sharing your insights in the comments below.

Football and the American Character – by John J. Miller

I came across an great essay by John J. Miller of Hillsdale College about Football, it’s early violent years and the impact that Theodore Roosevelt had on the game we enjoy today.

The man on the farm and in the workshop here, as in other countries, is apt to get enough physical work; but we were tending steadily in America to produce . . . sedentary classes . . . and from this the athletic spirit has saved us.  – Theodore Roosevelt

Here is a link to the article – http://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/file/archives/pdf/2013_08_Imprimis.pdf

An interesting question is what role does risk and the potential for injury play in making us a stronger people and does a life a guaranteed safety make us weaker.

iSavants

This morning an interesting headline caught my eye.  It said “The Most Important Skill of the 21st Century”

So naturally as someone who will hopefully work for the first third of the century I decided to check it out, call it self preservation.  Here is a link to the Article ; I was surprised when it said that “Computer Programming” was the skill of the 21st century.  There was one line that really stuck out to me …

[Writing Code] is the new literacy

As a Programmer I found this article very interesting.  But one of the nuances of this finding, that the article does not explore, is that if we agree that Writing Code is the new literacy … is being “Tech Savvy” the new illiteracy?  For many years we’ve known that in order to succeed in the modern economy an individual needed to know how to use a computer … they had to be what was commonly called “Tech Savvy”.  When this term became common place many years ago, it assumed that knowing how to use a computer is something that not everyone did, or could.  It may have been because of environment, access to a computers, training, interest, or because a computer was not easy to use.  Therefore the potential employee that knew how to use a computer was set apart … they were “Tech Savvy”.

But times have changed …

I argue that what was once “Tech Savvy” is no longer good enough, because the computers (phones and tablets) have been designed to hide their technical complexity behind very simple interfaces. In fact every product in Apple’s entire product line is designed to make using it simple, requiring less and less savviness to use with each revision.

Has the movement toward improved UI design in apps created less knowledgeable  users?

My oldest son Aiden is 11.  He can to ANYTHING with an iPod, iPhone or iPad.  He does homework on it, he communicates with his friends through Instagram and posts videos out to his network.  He is by all definitions a true Millennial.  He has never known a world without the internet.  Don’t know something … ask Google, but even now that’s too much work because it requires typing … just ask Siri.  And necessarily repeat the question over and over again until Siri finally understands what you are trying to say.  It really would be easier to type in the question.

These tools are designed so that everyone can do all of these things; today Aiden’s technical abilities are nothing special.   The high degree of designed simplicity and integration have fooled people into believing they know how to use technology.  They are no longer using the technology they are using a developers vision of the technology with no ability to change or modify it.  Ask these iSavants how the technology works and you’ll hear everything from “I don’t know” to “Magic”.  It used to be that USING technology required you to UNDERSTAND technology … but that dependency is no longer true.

In Aiden’s case while he is doing all of these things the moment he gets a pop-up with come kind of error message he calls for my help like an old grandpa.  “What is wrong with this thing!”

I can only imagine how insulated many people will be from the process of computing in the future.  In fact there was an incredible short story written in 1909 called The Machine Stops that predicted mankind’s dependence on machines and simultaneous inability to understand them.  It is an amazing read.

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Programming IS the skill of the 21st century, because it provides a level of technical understanding that very few other skills can.  It will tell you how computers work at the most basic and lowest level, how they communicate, how to modify them and how to create entirely new computer services.  But our isolation from the technology is going create fewer and fewer people who have this kind of knowledge and skill.  But while we will know less of it we will become more dependent on it as everything with a microchip in it will require someone to program it.

I’m gonna go see if I can find a computer programming camp for Aiden this Summer, and dust off my old Java books.

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