Friday’s Links: ADHD and Michael Phelps

October 3, 2008

Variety is the spice of life.” — proverb

I think this proverb should be amended for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to read, “Variety is the meat of life.”

I honestly think that ADHD people have so much trouble in school because they are expected to think linearly about one topic at a time, in isolation from everything else.

I have ADHD myself, and I know that I thrive most when I balance two or three things at one time. And when my learning and actions have a purposeful context, and meaning.

This morning I enjoyed an article on swimmer Michael Phelps from the Edge Foundation. It is titled “Michael Phelps is not an Attention Deficit.” His mother says the following about Michael’s childhood:

“In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus.’ I said, maybe he’s bored. The teacher said that was impossible. “He’s not gifted,” came back the reply.”

Not gifted! Let’s look at what really makes Michael Phelps thrive in competition.

First, he listens to music on his Ipod while he’s gearing up for races. This is getting him “in the zone,” actually into a zone of what psychologists call “hyperfocus,” (the real H in ADHD). Hyperfocus is a gift, a special ability to tune out the rest of the world and pour all your energy into one thing that you really care about.

Next, Michael doesn’t just swim one event! He swims relays, sprints, and middle-distance events. I suspect that the variety of those different events keeps him engaged, the energy and enthusiasm from each event feeding into the others.

The other article for today is from WebMD and is called “ADHD Medications and Treatments.”

I’m sure the author of this article, Dr. Richard Sogn, has good intentions and thinks he is helping people. But the article assumes that ADHD is a problem, and goes on to recommend the best medications for how to eliminate the problem.

I was encouraged by the Edge Foundation to look at my ADHD as an opportunity rather than a problem.

The opportunity is to string together interesting combinations that may otherwise go unnoticed. To bounce around from one subject to another, and see familiar patterns wherever you go!

Now I want to do an article on notable scientists who are thought to have had ADHD!

Thursday’s Links: Photoblogs

October 3, 2008

I think a photoblog is a fascinating idea. Rather than let words speak over time, a photoblogger lets photos do the speaking, from one day to the next.

Today I have found two photoblogs that I both like. So I am unable to say that one is bad and the other is good. They both seem good to me.

The first one is called “Beyond Illusion.” I tried to stick the front page image to my blog, but I was unsuccessful. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how its author would feel about that anyways, so check it out for yourself.

The About section features a quotation from Albert Einstein that begins:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science…”

This was fantastic to find, especially since I had just written in Wednesday’s post that I wanted to explore the spiritual beliefs of prominent scientists!

I also liked the fact that there was a quotation from former Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley. I enjoyed the music of Alice in Chains in high school, particularly the Unplugged performance they did for MTV. Staley apparently said at some point:

“There’s no huge, deep message in any of the songs. It was just what was going on in my head right then. We had good times, and we had bad times. We recorded a few months of being human.”

“Beyond Illusion” does a lot of contrasting of black-and-white with vibrant color, stillness with motion, old cathedrals with young people. The two most common color patterns in the photos are either black-and-white, or bright, luscious greenery.

The blog also gets a lot of mileage out of the contrast between young people and old religious icons, portraits, and statues. One photo is called “Absence of the Sacred,” and features four young men dressed in black, standing inside an old British cathedral, at a sharp angle.

The second photoblog I enjoyed was “Thinking Picture.” The “About” section isn’t as developed (as Beyond Illusion).

“Thinking Picture” focuses on some of the huge, breath-taking landscapes of South Africa. There are several vivid portraits of nature in motion, such as the stunning “Spotted Eagle Owl in Flight.”

There are also several powerful action shots which are apparently from a Seether concert, such as “Shaun Morgan from Seether.”

Wednesday’s Links: Faith and Science

October 3, 2008


My namesake for this blog, Socrates, says in Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus,

Wonder is the special affection of a philosopher; for philosophy has no other starting point than this…” – Theaetetus 155D

Faith and Science. Two ponderous ideas about which much has been said. What is my purpose in lumping these two together?

I think if I look honestly at my own life, I find the seeds of both already implanted in me, and the beginning of them is a mystery.


I want to know the answer to many “how” questions. How do computers work? That’s a big one I’ve picked up lately.

How does my brain work — what happens inside my brain when I have what I call a “thought”?

These, to me, seem to be the domain of what we all generally call science.


At the same time, I am full of “why” questions. Why am I here, fundamentally? And why is there a universe around me at all — something, rather than nothing?

Why do I think? Why am I, unlike other animals (as far as I know), capable of generating and expressing a series of thoughts about my life?

This seems to be a different category of questions, and the domain of what many people call faith/belief. (Many people approach these questions from a secular standpoint not related to religious faith. I am not saying that religious faith is the only way to deal with these questions.)

Thesis and Antithesis

Can we afford to dismiss either the “why” or the “how”?

Some people say they have all the answers to the “why” questions, so they can ignore the question of “how.” They look down on science, suspicious of it, because they think it undermines their faith.

Others look down on the “why” questions. They say that in time science will have all the answers we need, so “why” questions are extraneous.


Yet others say something remarkable. They say that as they learn more about “how” through science, their sense of wonder and awe is reinforced, their perception of mystery becomes deeper, and the “why” questions are nurtured.


So I’ve looked up some websites on this topic. I’ll mention two today.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a website from Berea College called “Faith and Science: Perspectives on Christianity and Science,” written by professor Robert J. Schneider.

Dr. Schneider says some remarkable and surprising things. Even as I glanced over the Table of Contents, I was intrigued to find an essay called “Evolution for Christians.”

In the first essay, “What the Bible Teaches About Creation,” Dr. Schneider says the following:

I shall take the position, common among most Christian scholars, including many evangelicals, that Genesis 1 is not “a straightforward, historical and scientific account of how God created,” the view espoused by young-earth creationists. Rather, this magnificent hymn-like passage is a theological proclamation, a manifesto, a statement of faith about both the creation and the Creator. [bold text mine]

Elsewhere in the essay we find an interesting quotation from Galileo:

“The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” — Cardinal Baronius, quoted by Galileo.

I give this website a hearty thumbs-up — for being knowledgeable, readable, and thoughtfully prepared, and for defining faith and science in contexts that make both meaningful and valuable.

My other website for today is “Intelligent Design vs. Evolution,” which I found doing a Google search for “intelligent design and evolution.”

I can’t tell you exactly what the current theory of “intelligent design” is, but I didn’t get a good impression of it from this website. The website itself doesn’t seem intelligently designed; it features loud colors and a huge in-your-face banner announcing “Win $10,000 for Proof of Evolution!!!”

I watched the videos on the site. One of them involves a middle-aged man named Ray Comfort asking college-aged kids probing questions about the scientific theory of evolution. The video makes a big deal out of the fact that the kids respond with words like “maybe,” “probably,” and “I’m not an expert.” I guess we’re meant to notice that they don’t understand the theory of evolution very well even though they believe it is true.

A second video claims to feature a scientist asking British biologist Richard Dawkins, “Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?” Dawkins looks up at the ceiling for a few seconds deep in thought and says nothing. (It is not clear to me that Dawkins was even in the same room with the questioner, because of the way the camera cuts drastically from one person to the other.)  I think the purpose of the video is to try to show an expert being stumped by a basic question, not an approach I find particularly useful because I have made some effort to understand evolution for myself, so I don’t feel the need to either rely on or disapprove of Dawkins.

I don’t think this website really promotes better understanding of either evolution or faith like the Berea College site does. It might have some marginal value in getting people to think through their positions more clearly.  I have read elsewhere, though, that the Dawkins video is a total hoax, which of course would make the website just plain silly to me.

Further Research

The Berea College website got me thinking I’d like to devote a couple of blogs to researching prominent scientists and what we know of their spiritual or religious beliefs. I might start with some great historical scientists like Newton, Pascal, and Einstein.

I remember hearing once that Newton was an alchemist before he revolutionized physics. Pascal, of course, was a mathematician heavily immersed in probability, number theory, and physics before his mid-life conversion to Catholic Christianity. At the time of his conversion, he gave up on math and sciene altogether and devoted his full attention to religious life.

Then I might move to some modern, working scientists. The Berea College website has a Resources section that lists some prominent current scientists who are also interested in questions of theology. I might begin with this list…

Tuesday’s Links: Math Wars part 2

October 2, 2008

Math Wars Continued: “You Cannot Memorize Meaningless Gibberish!”

I promised I would discuss some of the responses to M.J. McDermott’s traditionalist video “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth” (see Monday’s Links).

My favorite response is by a professor of mathematics at Berea College, James Blackburn-Lynch. Part One of his video response is about 8 minutes long; please watch it now:

Different assumptions

Ms. McDermott begins her video with an assumption: The purpose of elementary math education is for all children to be able to multiply and divide using the standard algorithms by the end of 5th grade. This is the traditionalist point of view: basic skills are to be mastered, through rote memorization and repetition (practice).

If you read my Research Plan, Ms. McDermott represents the Tabula Rasa philosophy of education: fill ’em (with knowledge) and drill ’em (on skills). Not necessarily a bad approach, but we should note that it is just one approach among many, and just one camp in the Math Wars.

If you watched today’s video, you saw James Lynch question Ms. McDermott’s assumption. “Why? What is the big picture here?” he asks.

He says Ms. McDermott and many parents “want math to be what it was for themmemorization of formulas.” So when their child comes home with a cluster problem or an assignment to use the lattice method of multiplication, they balk.

But what is the purpose of those types of assignments? Mr. Lynch suggests it is to make meaning of math.

Different Diagnoses

Ms. McDermott says the fundamental problem with math education today is that students don’t master the basic skills anymore. The solution? More drill and practice.

Mr. Lynch says spending so much time on drill and practice was itself the problem! Students learned to think of math as “a bunch of arbitary rules,” without making meaning of it for themselves.

See why this is a War? Each camp’s solution is precisely the problem, for the other camp.

I give a thumbs-up to Mr. Lynch’s video, for pointing out the shortcomings of Ms. McDermott’s position.

As my other website for today, I recommend the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Curriculum Focal Points website.

The NCTM is probably the best, most organized voice in the Constructivist camp of the Math Wars. This camp believes, with Mr. Lynch, that “you cannot memorize meaningless gibberish,” and that, to best make sense of math, you may need to take a round-about route that involves things like cluster problems and strange algorithms.

I give the NCTM a thumbs-up for its easily navigable, grade-by-grade listing of curriculum points.

I give it a thumbs-down for requiring that you become a paid member before you can interact with the website — i.e., leave comments, ask questions, etc.

Monday’s Links: Math Wars part 1!

October 2, 2008

Day 1 Website Review: Math Wars and Singapore Math

I apologize for getting this up late in the week. I actually did the legwork for this on Monday, but have been unable to get around to posting until today.

Today’s exploration takes us into the red-hot battleground of Math Wars. Venturing onto YouTube, we find a series of videos, starting with one by Seattle meteorologist M.J. McDermott called “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth.” A take-off on the title of Al Gore’s bestselling book, this video is about 15 minutes long; please watch it now before you read on…

Wow! New-fangled textbooks are failing to teach basic skills, and kids are no longer learning how to multiply and divide (in the state of Washington) by the end of 5th grade! They arrive at college totally unprepared, and much of their college experience has to be spent as a kind of remedial camp.

That’s the impression one gets from this video. But we must back up and recognize that this is an ongoing debate. Ms. McDermott is really espousing a party line in what has become a math war – the philosophy of traditionalism.

Traditionalists, says The Irascible Professor, “favor a return to more traditional methods (direct instruction) that include greater emphasis on … multiplication tables, repeated drills…, and traditional word problems.”

Watching Ms. McDermott’s video, we get a demonization of the new math textbooks. Reading from the Irascible Professor, we realize this is a political-type of argument, and there is more than just one side to the story.

The Irascible Professor goes on to talk about Singapore Math — the approach taken to learning math in materials prepared in Singapore, the country that consistently ranks first in the world in its students’ average math preparation and test-taking abilities.

For today, I give the nod to the Professor for letting us know that there is more than one side to this story. I also appreciate Ms. McDermott’s contribution, if only for giving others the opportunity to respond to her on YouTube, which we will look at tomorrow!

But I also hold Ms. McDermott accountable for her decision to demonize her opponents and present this as a one-sided issue.

Open House Notes!

October 1, 2008
Pat, Tyler, Deb, Dick, Bobby, and Kirk represent JOMC 713 at the Open House in Chapel Hill

From left: Pat, Tyler, Deb, Dick, Bobby, and Kirk represent JOMC 713 at the Open House in Chapel Hill

Parking — What a nightmare!

So, I pick up my friend L.T. in south Durham at 9:30 and say, “There’s plenty of time for us to get to this Open House thing in Chapel Hill by 10:00.” How wrong I was!

First, my printer only produced about a fourth of the map nicely provided on the Web by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The only road clearly showing on my map-segment was Franklin St., which everybody knows about anyways! I had to ask about the rest.

Once we were parked, we stumbled (in the rain, of course) upon Carroll Hall itself — which is a veritable labyrinth of floors and hallways to the uninitiated. Making it necessary to ask our way around the building.

So we arrived to the conference room half an hour late. But just in time, it turns out, to hear all three of the professors give their presentations! (and get free coffee!) — and meet Deb, Tyler, Pat, Kirk, Dick and Rachel Lillis when it was all over.

Deb Aikat

Deb began his presentation with a slide from News University. The slide showed statistics for how people retain information. According to the figures, people retain only 10% of what they read! Ugh! We retain 20% of what we see, and 30% of what we hear.

Now consider the more active forms of participation. We retain 70% of what we collaborate in, and 80% of the information related to things we do.

Deb showed a slide of an artist’s illustration of cyberspace, which involved some people with 80’s-looking haircuts standing in an urban environs with Japanese and Chinese writing characters on neon signs behind them.

Then Deb talked about JOMC 710, which he teaches and which has a lot to do with computers (of course!).

After this, he praised this year’s JOMC 713 even more, calling it his favorite group of students of all time. He borrowed a phrase from John McCain in the Presidential debate, saying that he admits he “muddles through” 710 (Afghanistan) just to get to 713 (Iraq), which is the true battleground for the War Against Internet Ignorance. (Just kidding on all of this!)

No, but he did say something about deadlines. He said deadlines are important for online classes more than anything, because, quote, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” (Parkinson’s Law) (There ought to be some kind of corollary about sleep doing that as well…) So Deb gives us deadlines, not because he is trying to push us around or something, but, quite the contrary, because he wants us to succeed in the course.

I would like to applaud Deb for the way he ended his speech, “I’m done now.” If only every professor would do that…

Brian Carroll

Brian teaches JOMC 711, “Writing for Digital Media,” which he called “the 7 to 11, open 24/7!”

Brian used the metaphor of music for most of his talk. He called the textbook “the sheet music,” which gives every student in the class a common reference, from which they can learn to jam together and each student can find his/her own rhythm.

Brian has each of his students write a blog; indeed, his motto for the course is Blogito, ergo sum (Silly-Latin for “I blog, therefore I am.”)

What I enjoyed most from Brian’s talk were the six tips for success in his course:

1.Budget your time. (see Deb and deadlines)
2.Find a rhythm. (Find your own personal groove and niche in the class.)
3.Get in on the discussion early.
4.Find your role or niche. (similar to point 2, but he gave examples of specific class roles)
5.Ask for help.
6.Pass the potatoes. (Think: Classroom as family around the dinner table. Each person has a unique role, and brings their own perspective to the class.)

Serena Fenton

Serena teaches JOMC 712 – Visual Communication and Web Design.

I just have to say, she has a very pleasant subject to teach!

She showed us an appealing textbook about web design, which she called “internet architecture.

She put up a slide called “Learning from Las Vegas,” which made the point that we innately have these good ideas about how things should look; we just have to learn the vocabulary for those ideas and apply it. She also made the point that people want design to be useful; in Las Vegas, the signs are conveyors of useful information.

Some of the key principles for internet architecture, she said, are:

  • predictability
  • consistency
  • simplicity
  • transparency

This ties in to the whole Las Vegas thing. The signs in Vegas tell you what you need to know, in an attractive, clear, predictable format.

She also talked about the “Gestalt” of a good web page/site; you can visually get a good sense of the whole product from eyeing the page. Then, as you dive into the parts of the page or site, you expand on your knowledge, and each of the parts ties back in to the organic whole.


After the talks, the professors opened up the floor to questions. Mostly, in my flawed memory, it seems like it was this one prospective student asking about the technical requirements of the Certificate Program and whether or not a Certificate student also needed to be an expert in computers.

This prompted Brian to actually show us some of the current posts from his 711 discussion board. He read through a couple of the posts outloud, and tried to show this fellow what Blackboard looks like from the inside.

Brian also used this opportunity to voice his overwhelming preference for Macs over PC’s, which drew a nice laugh from the crowd of 25-or-so people. Deb quickly stepped in and clarified that it is not necessary to own a Mac to participate successfully in the Certificate program!

At which point, we adjourned and I had the chance to meet Tyler, Kirk, Dick, and Pat, and to speak more at length with Deb – oh, and to get a really cool group photo with the whole group of us from 713 (see above)!

I hope these highlights have been at least semi-useful for the out-of-town crowd in this class, which is the majority!

My Research Plan!

September 19, 2008
Alexander's Empire


Welcome fellow students of JOMC 713, Deb, and whoever else may have stumbled upon this, my blog on education!

This welcome page is my Research Plan, so let me get right to it.


Aristotle once said or wrote,

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. (

Aristotle put this into action by tutoring the young Alexander of Macedonia at the tender age of 13. The student Alexander went on to conquer most of the known world, transmitting Greek ideas and values wherever he went.

Both sides of the Aristotle-Alexander coin were important. Without Aristotle’s humane influence, Alexander may have been just another brutal tyrant, ruling men by force of arms and will. And without Alexander’s ambition and strength, Aristotle’s ideas may have never reached and transformed a larger audience.

We can learn from this history that education is a give-and-take, a form of social interaction. Both the student and the teacher have to be involved. As John Dewey would say, education is about real-life experiences, not mere preparation for some future action.

Research Questions

In my blog preamble I raised the question, “What does it mean to learn?” There I discussed education as an exchange between the teacher and student, with the ideal teacher showing genuine interest in the context and needs of the student. I would like to continue to research this basic question.

An extension of the first question is “Do we primarily want to teach rote skills such as the standard algorithms for multiplication and division, or should we instead focus on teaching the understanding of concepts? Or are both possible?” There is a fascinating debate about this on YouTube dealing with the use of certain contemporary textbooks for elementary math education (see both the original video by M. J. McDermott and the response by James Lynch.) Ms. McDermott argues for abandoning the new textbooks altogether and going back to teaching “basic skills” (which she defines as mastery of the standard algorithms for multiplication and division by the end of fifth grade). James Lynch wants to teach skills also, but “in the context of conceptual understanding.” He mentions the terms “number sense” and “understanding mathematics as a whole.”

Lastly, a related question is “How can we best accomodate education to the specific needs of each learner?” This question brings in the whole subject of classifications of students as “gifted and talented,” “specific learning disabilities,” autism, ADHD, and so on. This question focuses on how to teach real people who are not statistical averages or blank slates.

I know I bring a unique perspective to this research, for a couple of reasons. I have attended public and private schools, been in huge lecture classes and small discussion classes, and have learned from rote memorization as well as from open-ended discussion. As an undergraduate I attended St. John’s College, where there are no majors or minors, no tests, no grades, and no professors per se. Everyone reads a common list of great books, which are some of the most profound books ever written. Students learn to see these books as being engaged in a “Great Conversation” with each other, and we enter that discussion through Seminars and tutorials led by “tutors.”

In addition, I have taught and tutored mathematics for several years (see About Bobby), and I have been diagnosed at various times as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder myself.

What the Audience Wants to Know

I think people will want to know what practices and policies are the best for teaching people as real people, and for teaching them tools to help them understand concepts. Some audience questions might be, “What’s the earliest age at which a child can benefit from a Socratic discussion?” “How can we get American kids more interested in math and the sciences?” “What motivates gifted and talented students, as well as students with learning disabilities, to develop and unfold their own unique talents?”

Key Words

My keywords for research will include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Socratic method, the
  • John Dewey
  • Aristotle on Education
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Constructivism
  • Gifted and Talented
  • Specific Learning Disabilities
  • ADHD
  • Number Sense
  • Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome


Again, this list is not exhaustive; I’m always on the search for good resources. If you find some, send them my way.

Title: “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth,” by M.J. McDermott; and “Responses” parts 1 and 2 by James Lynch.

Web Address:

Description: Seattle meteorologist M.J. McDermott examines some contemporary math textbooks used in the elementary grades, and she finds them inadequate to teach “every child how to multiply and divide by fifth grade.” College mathematics professor James Lynch responds that the basic idea of the textbooks is good — to foster a conceptual understanding of mathematics and number sense — but that the effectiveness of the books is limited by other factors in the education system.

Title: “What’s Wrong with Math Education in the USA?,” by James Lynch

Web Address:

Description: College mathematics professor James Lynch discusses some of the core problems with math education in the United States, as compared with other countries. He mentions 1) the unequal nature of the comparisons and 2) some cultural values in America that work against the goals of math education.

Title: CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) Blog: “Reality 101 for the New Teacher”

Web Address:

Description: Experienced and award-winning teachers and administrators share their wisdom with new teachers who have taught in a school for only 0 to 3 years. Topics range from reading student body language and behaviors (“Behavior is Language”) to finding Web resources that teach subjects through the use of games and fun.

Title: “What is the Socratic Method?”

Web Address:

Description: This site describes what the Socratic Method is, its origins in Plato’s dialogue Meno, and why the method is useful for promoting understanding of core concepts. It has a homeschool-oriented perspective.

Title: “The Informal Education Homepage”

Web Address:

Description: This site deals with “informal education,” which it defines as lifelong learning and education tied to social action. It features an “Encyclopedia of Informal Education,” full of pages on thinkers from Aristotle to John Dewey. It also has an “action” section devoted to ideas on civic participation and community.

Title: “The British Journal of Special Education”

Web Address:

Description: This is a peer-reviewed journal on issues in special education, dealing with topics from interventions for Asperger’s Syndrome to reading materials for adults with intellectual disabilities. This is pretty cool because it’s a professional journal but you can read the article abstracts online for free.