Diversify Your Narrative

*Draft @ 5/16/21 @ 6:30pm*

As a straight, able-bodied, bilingual Chinese Californian male citizen with an associate degree, who will not be evicted if I lose my primary source of income, it’s good practice to under claim rather than over claim. here I am baby, no shade, but shade. Please verify the claims I or anyone else makes in your life for yourself, I have hope you weren’t planning to treat this as a social media clickbait, or the truth anyway. Remember just because writing with our voice or writing in the text is published, doesn’t mean it’s etched in immutable stone. 

Shareholder supremacy and the Market World capital at all cost, have man-spread their way into our public school classrooms by controlling the dominant narratives.

Caution: Manspreading occurs everywhere and anywhere

These narratives become pseudo-truths that lead to de-centering the learning needs of the students who are most vulnerable in our system of education. 

This is influencing our collective aspirations in achieving the ideals of democracy. I’m beginning to deeply believe then invest in public purpose, public services, and public goods. I’m learning how to defend and support the idea of public institutions as militantly as the Koch brothers, and the plutocrat class has fought for anti-government principles with lobbyists and policies. I need to stop internalizing the idea that governments are more inefficient than businesses. The reality is:

many businesses are faster at doing things because they do things that are way less important than what public institutions do.

My friends with 4.0 GPAs may boast to me that they can finish their homework in two hours, play video games (skewed because I’m a CS major), and barely have to study for their exams… from that viewpoint, they never forget to remind me that they are so much more efficient than I am. Why? 

Maybe it’s because multiple times in a single week: I have to deal with housemate drama, critically think about how CS curriculum matters beyond the grade and my employment, read between the lines of technical lectures that oversimplify without the guidance to verify just about everything, help my parents become better Chinese tutors which has of recently become essential to keeping our lights on, spend ~20 hours a week prepping and hosting my Supplemental Instructional sessions for Data Structures and Algorithms (side bar: student-centered teaching is more demanding than the Gates and Zuckerburg foundation markets their missions to be), work shifts at In-n-Out, do paid research in the College of Education and McNair Scholars, and read, (sometimes take the time to) think, write for The Learning Code. In that purview, my 4.0 friends still come up to me and say hey you should just focus on your studies and just get the answers to what your teachers are looking for… like why are you so slow… it’s like um yeah, I’ve got a lot on my plate, but thanks for the advice homie. “We have a natural nature to try to do things differently than before, that’s the heart of experimentation” – Po-Shen Loh, an award winning mathematician that is implicitly stating students need differentiated engagement opportunities, since… yesterday

I mean seriously I have classmates who boast about the knowledge they have in computer science, where they will literally build a 2-dimensional car on a screen that moves only on one axis and will say in perfect sincerity “you know, why do you care so much about your students teaching and learning and education? You should just focus on getting the answers in your classes, and a high GPA.” I’m like Hello I’m trying to figure out how to empower my cohort of learners in my discussion sections so they can actually feel like they belong, leave with joy, and a sense of freedom each and every time we work. Significant learning cannot happen without significant relationships and psychological safety. Ubuntu. 

People don’t learn from people they don’t like. You’re making an application where your 2 dimensional car moves back and forth on a computer screen. Please remind me again how inefficient I am, like we’re not doing the same kind of work. So instead of internalizing this prejudice and narrative that public services such as peer education sucks, having been in the same room as so many silicon valley tech start up people I hear talking, because they all enjoy talking about their work so loudly, but why do I rarely hear “John” having anything intelligent to say… the conversation usually goes like this “yeah charles just make sure you copy me on that email to Sarah, don’t want her to read it with any surprises, and oh yeah you just want me to reuse last week’s powerpoint? How about we do a different icebreaker for this?” *laugh* like what is John doing that’s adding social value for the communities he’s manspreading over? How many techies in silicon valley are adding tremendous social value? I don’t know, like my guess is peer educators at public schools are adding way more socially to the United States of America every day than most bros in silicon valley. “We have to fight back against this silly uninformed caricature of public action – wanting the wellness and success of the people in our country is patriotic,” said Anand Giridharadas author of Winners Take All.

The longer I work in higher education the more I experience plutocracy, a class governed by the wealthiest, influencing the ways our classrooms are funded, taught, and led – effectively influencing whether or not students become actualized, have agency in their professional networks, and efficacy in their ability to learn anything they see value in. I’ve never met a teacher who’s been teaching for a dozen years of their life, then go to some tech company and suggest changes in the way their production line of how electric cars or smartphones are manufactured. That’s probably because the teacher is asynchronously dehumanizingly grading – not because they feel that’s what’s most helpful for the 100 students they are responsible for, but legally required to. As if the process of learning can be compressed to a single letter. But more so now than years before, it seems like the billionaire class not only has more opinions about the future of education, where they lobbied us to use the technology they built, which will supposedly solve problems in education. However, anyone that’s been an actual educator knows that tech does not solve the most demanding problems that exist in a classroom. I trust with some critical reflection and research led by you, my reader, you will realize the production life of a product is far less complicated than investing in teaching as a process of change and positioning students to discover truths for themselves – not merely skill acquisition. We are all feeling the effects of when society does not fund and value teaching and learning as actual science.

Our education is marketed to help us develop the ability to hold multiple truths and complexities, to understand micro and macro, and society’s second-order effects of things such as where genuine civic discourse occurs. Straight up the business of teaching a novice learner to engage and value the subject matter is the hardest business I’ve been in. When we focus on strategic deep learning within our education, we defend against harmful policies and the people enforcing such policies in our shared reality. We will not stand by while we let the capitalistic greedy mercenaries and the pursuit of money at the cost of humanity, dictate how narratives shape our education. As a supplemental instructor, who hosts weekly discussion sections centering community before active learning, it is clear to me how much time and energy is necessary to develop learning trust, creative lessons, projects, and thought activities that reflect the diverse histories, identities, contributions, and experiences of the students in the room. If I were to solely regurgitate what I understood from class content, or force students to exercise active learning, before I co-constructed a space that was psychologically safe for learning to happen, my proposition would be drowning them in domination and control. I teach students, not content. Fear-based motivation for action is not how deep learning works compared to dream-building activation during the little shared time we have together in a week. It is time to reclaim our narrative, study our history and engage in civics. Your education should reflect you, but no institution, (traditional) curriculum or individual can ever do that for you. You have to see yourself and your dreams in the curriculum. But this is extremely hard when so many public institutions are operating under huge structural deficits. Pretty sure my teachers paid more income taxes than Amazon last year. 

Growing up I really struggled in learning anything in a classroom setting. I remember how dehumanizing, unengaging, or irrelevant the lesson plan for the day was. Especially when our precious shared class time was dominated by a lecturer that seemingly had no interest in their student’s lives. The representation of diverse racial ethic backgrounds exists in a classroom, not in the traditional STEM curriculum. This has been a way racial minorities do not identify or engage in educational institutions STEM departments. 

There’s so much cognitive and conscious dissonance paired with zero sum thinking that keeps us from acting in solidarity with one another. Are there Havard business case studies written from the vantage point of a warehouse worker, a laborer, a uber driver? Business schools should re-examine how they continue to churn out people when unleashed on society, show sociopathic instincts at scale. Profit at all cost is killing us. If we want a philosophy to be a foundational aspect of our lives, we have to consider critiques and alternatives. It’s within these dialectical clashes where intellectual roots can grow deeper. There’s a difference between Exposure vs. Knowing: how do we model for students 1) how to engage in long form consumption 2) challenging with the best critique and 3) comparing with the best alternative. 

Ultimate growth and engagement in learning starts with knowing ourselves. To build relationships to a level of unconditional trust, at times we must be willing to take a stand and bring the narratives in the room, to the forefront. Here’s a quote from a crazy math professor and learning doctor,

“We’ve never had a school system designed to teach students how to transgress. But I believe that is what we need if we’re to transform our society to empower the underclasses.”

– Jeff Anderson

How do you make sure history includes your story -> how might you design a career where your history makes an impact for a public purpose and the public good? Think about what makes public institutions so important in society. Healthcare: Keeping 350 million people alive vs. Tech: building an app where you share photos with your friends are two very different missions.

There are no woke points for being the first to merely share other narratives. There are no brownie points for being the first to update your truths. Being Current ain’t a thing to perform while others are doing the work or pitted against each other. Express what you need to, but here I remind myself to not turn this page into a stage.

Every billionaire is a policy failure. 

Every 4.0 student not guided to tutor their peers is a policy failure. 

The only person who’s better than you is embedded in you. – Chris Emdin from HipHop Ed.

Diversity your Narrative

Droppin’ some light on y’all Spoken Word Therapy

Dreams

Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Setting a Precedent for Leadership

This quarter I have greatly benefited from my study group and office hours to make my education richer and engaging. This would not have been possible if I did not embrace being uncomfortable when actively seeking help.

Starting with the first week of the class, I made the effort to keep my camera on despite being the only one besides my professor in a lecture of over 30 students. When attending office hours and discussion in the first and second week, I messaged other engaged students to gather contact information and establish weekly zoom calls to review our homework. I believe being consistently present and often asking questions demonstrated my will to thrive in this class and made my classmates more willing to engage with me.

If I had not done this work within the first two weeks, I would have been less inclined to reach out further into the quarter, so forming the habit early was vital to my success.

To get to this point, I have had to battle with myself and imposter syndrome. Having always struggled in school, these years of failures have often left me with a lot of limiting beliefs about my capabilities. These beliefs often made me less inclined to engage with others as I did not feel like an equal to my peers.

I have had to learn to acknowledge and gradually remove the power from these beliefs to uncomfortably expose my vulnerabilities and receive help from others. As a result, not only have I greatly benefited from this experience, but my peers have shared their gratitude with me for taking charge in creating a supportive learning community.

I have received a lot of help and guidance in my academic journey, so it is crazy to believe that I have the tools and knowledge to currently help empower others as well.

Trust the Process

Trust the Process.

This is the motto that has stuck by my side through the hardest of times. I wish that I could say the end of my hard times in academia are near, but that moment barely seems to be getting any closer. It is easy for me to fall into the trap of knocking myself for not being the prototypical 22-year-old graduate making money in the corporate world. More now than ever, I just need to trust the process.

I am 24 now and I do not know when I will graduate, but I will! I have struggled for a long time to believe this, and a lot of that self-doubt is attributed to my history of failing math classes throughout high school and college. However, rewriting my narrative and therapy are powerful tools that have helped me get back up after being knocked down countless times. I used to be ashamed to reveal my history of struggling with math, even to this day I sometimes find myself falling back on that narrative. It has been a pleasant surprise for me for people to find my story inspiring. People are often in disbelief knowing I am a math major and finding out I have not given this path up despite all the years of setbacks I have encountered.

It always makes me smile when I can help someone with math and they tell me, “yeah, I’m just not a math person,” and they look at me in disbelief as I tell them I am the same way, and that I have a track record to prove it!

My progress towards my bachelors degree has felt awfully slow recently. Every hard-fought quarter and only ending up with a D or a C hurts. Six years into this process, and I feel as if I should have it all figured out by now. For years, every essence of my soul was fixed on coming back to UC Davis and thriving in this environment to validate my worth as a student. Starting at a new school in the middle of a pandemic was not what I envisioned, but it did teach me something. I did not need a new school to validate myself, I am the same person I always have been. I have picked up a lot of knowledgeable gems on the way here, but I have been capable and worthy the whole time. Without recognizing this, it is easy to fall prey to any perpetuated narratives that tries to push me out of academia or make me feel like I am not good enough to be here.

F**k that.

I can choose to see all my experiences as failures, or opportunities to learn and grow from. I know many of my “failures” are yet to come, “failures” so big they might discourage others from continuing, but I have been pushed to the bottom and counted out my whole life, there is nowhere to go from here but up! The logistics and timeline of getting my bachelors might not yet be evident, but I must let go and have unwavering faith that I will get there. I need to trust the process.

For my readers:

What motto has resonated with you along your journey and why? (In a more fun way to say this, what motto would you tattoo on yourself and why?)

Support for Victors 🛡️ not Victims ⚔️

Over the past 5 years, my experiences in STEM operate under a cycle of instruction and teaching that has done more harm than good for myself and my closest friends, many of whom have been weeded out. We cannot interrupt the cycle unless we face that the cycle exists with nimbleness and critical reflection, to which Jeff, a learning doctor I discovered by going into office hours, calls system navigation. The entire narrative about the underperformance of students in college is required when there’s a financial structure that is based on saving those students.

If everybody in my CS courses received a full score on their ACT and SAT, then the billion-dollar industry of test/college prep is gone. If all the students in the CS department received a passing grade, then it is likely that the adjunct or assistant professor will receive shade from their colleagues, for conducting a class with not enough rigor. To which I would say: rigor doesn’t have to be rigor-mortis; if we had brain activity monitors on during in class meetings, it wouldn’t take long to see how engaged we really are during technical lectures without dialog around motivation, prior knowledge, and feedback.

Sadly these methods of instruction and grade distributions become the norm even when tenure is awarded, to where we really only allow the most privileged or remarkable students to create significant learning experiences during this out-of-date right of passage. I will continue to call out some of the truths I’ve experienced in my college journey in hopes of resonating with your experiences. However, I will also present a solution that has empowered me not to be weeded out, earn +$30,000 in scholarships, complementary travel around the world due to my mediocre ability to write personal statements, and ignite a career path in community college teaching I never knew was ever a possibility. 

Imagine if everybody in our neighborhoods feels fully actualized, graduated college and earned a stable middle class job within a year of graduating. If that were the case, a whole scholarly body of work around community-focused interventions would be broken. “These cats construct hills of our downtroddenness, then they can create industries about our victimhood, so they can perceive themselves as savior and make it a generation of income and about status” said Chris Emdin, one of my favorite speakers of all time.

As students, if we’re lucky and gritty enough to have made it this far, we understand that we have an opportunity to interrupt the cycle by not being complicit in the articulation of these stories. It helps to experiment in setting clear goals for ourselves so we learn how to learn, and complete our course work with genuine fulfillment. If haters are always telling and publishing stories of our downtroddeness, they will always see us as victims and never see us as victors

We will NOT be a victim of poor STEM pedagogy where we gotta act that way, dress this way, speak a certain way, and perform STEM only in this particular systematic way that our teachers are barely staying above water to grade, anyway. Bars, dat rhymes right dur. Education was never meant to be institutionalized or systematized to begin with – say no to the banking and labor model of education, that grinds our most precious resource, human capital, to dust. 

When we (keyword: we) do this, they make us complicit in the dominant narratives, so the students who become weeded out, become the marketing scheme of the brokenness. 

The restoration of our collective humanity is the most essential piece of any revolutionary work. 

This is why there’s a dozen students who continuously show up to my Supplemental Instruction Sessions for Data Structures and Algorithms because we restore humanity by co-learning at a healthy pace that is revealing just how flawed and constrained traditional methods of teaching are in the very little shared meeting time we have together. For more on this please read “How Learning Works: 7 Principles to Smart Teaching by Ambrose et al.”

Oftentimes, it’s about the psychological work first. 

Harriet Tubman “I freed XYZ amount of slaves, I would have freed so many more if they knew they were already free.”

When our minds are free and our souls are fed, our brains will follow. 

When our school system, meaning the classes we are in, does not feed our sense-of-self or belonging it’s no question we will replicate these types of oppression. #FreeOurTeachers to #FreeTheStudents. Replace 50% of an educators teaching load, with time they can spend developing out their course:

  1. Why critically thinking about their students prior knowledge matters?
  2. how to help them organize their knowledge?
  3. what students true motivations tangental to the curriculum or syllabus may be?
  4. how to design and scaffold their course for evidence based mastery (such as a portfolio of work), not drill and kill or regurgitate information (which is no longer scarce) only to be dumped out when the grade is given?
  5. how to facilitate goal directed practice with critical feedback?
  6. how to create a social, emotional, intellectual climate that is conducive to learning, but more importantly belonging?
  7. how to empower their students to become self-directed learners?

For more about these 7 Principles here check out a 50 minute workshop by an Author of this work: https://youtu.be/9-an_8tN_mA . Until teachers are incentivized, funded, respected, acknowledged, empowered, finally heard… to do this work above, it falls onto the shoulders of students. It has taken me four full years of experimentation in my teaching roles to realize, each one of these principles demand to be a full time research job, to be able to truly design meaningful educational experiences for students who will run our world, with or without their degrees, in the (very) near – future.

Here is my proposal for y’all: generate help-seeking practices and find support for each and every single class you struggle with. Without doing this for the past 5 years, I would have 100% been weeded out, fallen off the rails, or have gone away.

Implicit here is the collective healing work many people in academia, including myself, haven’t done yet… due to the attachment of systems to policies rooted in the gut of dominance & control (from our GPAs to our teacher’s Salary Caps and workload). The incentives passed down by the systems act as if they were the only ones to grant us affirmation, value, and success… as if those elements cannot be created by ourselves and with our students and learning communities collectively… This is taking its toll on everyone. Just look around, how many people in higher ed. have a spark left in their eyes? 

The blind pursuit of capital – or curriculum/syllabus – at the expense of humanity is the underlying flu that robs all of us of our collective worth. By virtue of growing up in the Bay Area in the early 2000’s and having friends who live in the marginalized communities we label in higher ed… we have the genius to share, that is suppressed in our traditional schooling practices, because personnel and policy do not want to invest to see our light. We gotta empower Young folks to find then understand their humanity and identity… to position them to see that you all are inherently wealthy. Contemplate this: The more we repeat a behavior, the more we you reinforce the identities associated with that behavior. In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin word essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness.’”

Take a moment to reflect on what growing up in your communities, on planet Earth means? Research the famous people that grew up in your neighborhoods, or have a deep conversation with people who have played a huge role in your life and what their upbringing was like.

Schools have to reimagine what they think of as curriculum, to incorporate community cultural wealth and capital to be just as essential as Computer Science, Math, English, Physics, if not more quintessential. 

The moment a student registers for a class, from four principles of the book How Learning Works by Ambrose et al: 1) given their prior knowledge, 2) how they organize knowledge, 3) their motivation, 4) their current ability to be a self directed learner- BEFORE they even meet their teachers or begin the course, they will very likely be either an A student or a student who’s about to get weeded out, given the inequitable game of grades. As CS professor Seshadhri Comandur who earned his Ph.D in CS from Princeton University, states: when we blindly pursue the curriculum or syllabus, we are expecting our students to run a marathon at the end of a semester, when some can barely run a mile to begin with.

It’s when we center the human dimension, learning how to learn, incentivizing the advanced learners to engage and inspire the less motivated students… in the very little amount of shared class time we have… where we might begin that healing work for the marathon. Yes, educators are healers. And yes students who are hyped about class content and have stronger learning foundations, in our very classes, could lead mini small group lessons if given the proper guidance and human (not capital) incentive. This happens in every S.I. session I host for two dozen students in a Computer Science class by the way, this can be designed. If I can do it, you can do it too. 

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is building a small support team for each one of your courses. From strategically going to office hours with a focus on human dimension before content, to tutoring centers, to reaching out to students in the class by stating: where you are with the course, what’s going well, and what you’re struggling with, and whether or not they’d like to set up a time to study together.

From research on: habit formation, Plan Act and Reflect portion in a learning doctor’s syllabus, and 100’s of office hour meetings with Jeff Anderson here is an image I created that you may save, print, or better yet, re-create for yourself in your own words.

Here’s an example focused on help-seeking practices using this table above.

  1. Do: Make it Obvious. We can all use help in our learning journey, that much is obvious. Lead with intentionality that you are willing to be vulnerable and be willing to communicate. Share what is going well for you and what you’re struggling with in the class and multiple dates & times you are willing to study with your peer, go into office hours, go seek tutoring services. 

Don’t: Make yourself invisible to your professors, peers, and support services at your college. Don’t Do It, please. 

  1. Do: Make it Pleasant. Think about the most fruitful experiences you’ve ever had in your life, there’s a good chance it’s with another human being. We are surrounded by fascinating people in our college journey, and we create the culture where we occupy. 

Don’t: Reach out for help only 1 time with your peers, going to office hours, trying out tutoring, then giving up on that service and interaction completely. Learning how to create healthy help seeking practices will require finding the sweet spot (link), and a willingness to remember the reward at the end is much greater than content knowledge. 

  1. Do: Make it simple. If you’re messaging your classmates on what’s going well and what you’re struggling with, along with your availability on when you could meet, copy and paste this message and send to classmates you believe in – base off their behavior and attitude in class. If you’re going into office hours, in the first week of school, put office hour times and locations into your weekly calendar to reduce friction. If you’re going into tutoring, make an appointment and follow through. 

Don’t: overthink what reaching out for help really means. Remember people thirst for a human connection especially in academic settings, so lead authentically and learn together. 

  1. Do: spend time reflecting on what you enjoyed about the help seeking practice you tried. Think about what you can do differently and what you can do better. How to prepare, how to experiment, how to adopt a growth mindset about seeking help. 

Don’t: operate with a deficit lens by focusing on only what went wrong or was unsatisfying. 

Fall 5 times, stand up 6. 

Please share in the comments below what help-seeking practices mean to you, and what your best help-seeking practice story is! 

Please try implementing the habit table above and let me know how it goes.

What are 2 useful things you found in this post – if 1 isn’t the table I drew, how can I improve on the table so it makes more sense?

What’s your number 1 habit you attribute your successes to?

What’s your habit table look like?

Steve’s Winter Quarter Reflection

One of the great things about being human is always being able to improve your craft. As much as I wish I could have been a perfect student by now (six years in higher education), I continue to learn about myself, skills I want to develop, and habits I fall back on. Here are three ideas that I want to reflect and expand upon to hopefully serve me in the future.

Getting Feedback

Without a doubt, getting feedback is one of the most important aspects of my learning. Making sure that the feedback is received early and often is just as important. A personal pitfall of mine is placing myself within the trap of thinking that I should not ask for help when I have fallen behind. I always deceive myself into believing that I will ask for help once I have caught up to the current lecture. However, I need this message to get lodged into my head. I will always be behind! Therefore, I should never be using that reasoning to justify me not asking for help, otherwise I will never get to it. I know that it hurts my pride to admit when I am struggling but asking for help often saves me so much time and alleviates me of so much pressure. It is funny and a bit sad to realize that I know what I need but find myself always looking for reasons to justify why I should not ask for help. Just do it! In addition to feedback being received early and often, I have found honest and raw feedback from my peers to be just as pivotal for my success. Getting genuine feedback from peers who understand the difficulty of learning the same material as me makes the learning much more engaging and less daunting. Within the context of feedback, it is very empowering and validating to be able to freely express my concerns without worrying about the power dynamic and politics that can be present when engaging with professors.

Focused and Diffused Approach to Learning

This is an idea that still requires a lot of exploring on my part, but I found it to be a reoccurring theme as I struggled through my lecture. I believe it is safe to assume that being focused is great, but sometimes I felt as if it also hindered my learning as well. Perhaps my gaze was too focused on following through with my notes and textbook in a rigid and linear way. When my attention was more diffused and freer with no specific structure to follow, I often found myself being more capable of breaking down information and finding a spot for it in my concept map of the content. In the same way that reflection does not call upon a concentrated gaze, I feel compelled to begin my study sessions with the same form of diffused thought.

Full Immersion

Inspired by the “Math Sorcerer” on YouTube, I want to be fully immersed in a subject matter. This implies that beyond my scheduled studying, I also want to engage in pleasure reading of the material or related material. This idea really appealed to me because I often found myself discontent with the content I was learning. I have a deep appreciation for math, but all the stress associated with deadlines and grades made me want to do anything else but math sometimes. By setting aside a time slot to randomly engage and be okay with not yet knowing math as one reads it, one can not only cultivate their excitement for the subject, but also continue to learn! Whether that engagement is a focused reading with pen and paper at hand, or whether it is a leisurely reading, I can still gain so much from this experience.

For the audience: What are some reoccurring ideas/themes about your own learning processes that you would like to explore?

A model for deep learning

Our mission at The Learning Code is to help you thrive in your college classes and to support you in completing your college degree. We hope to ignite your passion, stimulate your curiosity, and strengthen your belief in yourself. One of our major goals is to encourage you to become a strategic deep learner so that you can learn anything you want and master any skill. We believe that the more effective you are in exercising your expertise as a deep learner, the more freedom you enjoy. Under the right circumstances, we know that you can leverage your proficiency as a deep learner to earn straight A’s in your college classes, make money via scholarships, develop a value-based vision for your future, grow meaningful relationships that bring happiness into your life, build a career that you love, and change your communities to reflect your most cherished desires for a brighter world. In fact, we believe that the most valuable skill you can develop while earning your college degree is that of strategic deep learning. The best way to do this is to find a master coach in your target area who can guide you to become a strategic deep learner. However, the U.S. college education system makes it nearly impossible for most college students to engage in and sustain deep learning over long periods of time. As we’ve discussed before, the current policies that govern our college systems all but guarantee that most college students will have close-to-zero meaningful, long-term relationships with master coaches who are invested in their success. Our work at The Learning Code is designed to fill this gap and help you develop yourself as a strategic deep learner. In this post, we explore a model for deep learning that you can use to improve your learning skills in any of your college classes.

Continue reading “A model for deep learning”

What if we were free?

reflecting as a peer educator hosting Zoom meetings for over a dozen students throughout the week
Credit: @WokeTeachers IG

I have so much joy seeing my peers learn from each other in their supplemental instructional sessions for data structures and algorithms. I am dedicating this post to why creating a safe, then productive learning environment equates to being free. If you are an educator, recognize the answer has always been in the room. Here is a draft of what I presented to my peers in three 1-minute chunks, with breakout room activities asking for what they understood out of my objective as their peer educator, on earning trust and building community. 

If I do not help you feel more connected with your classmates so that you have at least 1 peer you can reach out to throughout the week, I should be fired. My goal is to ignite the love of communal learning because that’s what’s gonna change your life and our communities, that’s the algorithm I’m passionate about. Teaching without passion is just talking, learning without passion is just doing, so I wanna help y’all, me included, create the conditions to be passionate. People ask me, Henry, why are you so intense about education? Well, it’s because I’m passionate about the possibilities. I recognize the privilege of freedom. I realize the urgency of justice & citizenship. I’m passionate about y’all. I go to sleep at night thinking about what it’d be like for a CS class to be interactive for 60 minutes out of 70. Look at how far we’ve been able to come with a whole system designed for us to be disengaged and misunderstood. A whole system that denies you of your own form of expression and cultural intellectual capital. Could you imagine all the possibilities that could be, if y’all were genuinely, free?

Play the what-if game: What if we broke into small groups and did the coding activities together in collaborative teams for the majority of synchronous shared class time. 

What if the advanced learners could be incentivized to teach their peers the content, with an agreement that their peers deliberately take notes, give credit where credit is due, and share them with their friends, for the betterment of the class.

What if educators, myself and y’all included – because no one can ‘teach’ you computer science, this has to be learned – understood their connection to their students was more about authenticity than what they know? No one (really) cares about how much you know, what we’ve all been waiting to feel, is how much you care. 

I would rather any day of the week have a teacher who doesn’t understand the content, but has a passion and love for their students, to teach you geniuses by virtue of your existence and grit, how to co-learn. Then we extract the conceit & ego around who gets what content. This is: Shared Responsibility for the acquisition of knowledge. This, is what transforms teaching and learning & transforms the future of learning. What’s crazy is y’all know this already. This has happened to you in your life in some way shape or form when you’re learning something. 

Let’s see how to design learning experiences and environments, so that the passion and curiosity becomes awakened. Sometimes when I’m in a role of instruction, I act like I have no clue what to do. “Henry what do we do with this data structure or algorithm?”, bromeo (brother & romeo), fammm, I don’t know – we gonna have to figure this one out together. I mess up on purpose, I struggle with a purpose (credit: Jeff’s intellectual brilliance), and before long I start modeling for them what it looks like to not give up.

When I figure out how to edit and share the magic that is in this type of learning environment, I will update this post with what that looks like in practice. 

Conversations around intelligence quotient or IQ lends itself to objectivism which lends itself to an agonist way of looking at the world. Folks who claim to be agonistic align with the concept of agnosia: an inability to see what’s already there, an inability to interpret sensations and hence recognize things. This is why I know the answer has always been in the room. 

Healing the damage that’s been caused in spaces not designed for us. Divorcing our authentic self from the pursuit of knowledge. That traditional educational structure and mode of instruction has robbed us of our cultural intellectual capital. With our belief and spirit compromised, we’re inevitability broken. Let’s help each other create the spaces, where we celebrate the answer that’s in the room, and be free. 

Shout out to all educators, who consistently read the room, reflect on who,why,what,how,when their students are learning, who flipped their classrooms, and continuously innovate in their methods of instruction. Take care of yourself, take care of others. See you next week.

Confessions of a College Student

I used to really enjoy learning! Having been in higher education for six years now, I feel as if that ambition has been picked away at more and more each quarter. The emphasis on grades is mentally taxing!

I want to be the best student I can be. However, in the eyes of the current educational system, that means specializing in memorizing specific ideas and using them too often in abstract ways. I have always wanted to relate ideas to other concepts in real-life, and as a result bring my education “to life.” But there is no reward for that, if anything, I lose time I could have spent continuing the cycle of memorizing enough to pass but not understand.

University favors strategic learning in place of deep learning. As vital as deep learning is for being successful in industry, it is too often neglected and not incentivized. Unfortunately, any beneficial deep-learning gets pushed to one’s free-time, if you have the privilege of having a lot of free-time during college. This unfortunate factor leads to the loss of so much talent. But for now, many of us including myself will have to get by with strategic learning until we are granted a diploma.

Why is deep learning so hard?

It is not easy to figure out how to learn deeply. In the early stages of developing your identity as a deep learner, one of the smoothest ways to engage in deep learning is to seek out skilled coaches who understand the principles behind deep learning. If the mentors you find are good coaches and have many years of practice in the art of teaching, they will likely have collected effective techniques to guide you in deep learning and effective repetition. Assuming these teachers are willing and able to act as your mentor, you can leverage their guidance simply by following their directions. In this scenario, all you have to do is give your best effort on pre-designed activities that specifically engage you in deep learning. Sadly, this “simple” solution of finding master coaches who are also content experts is out of reach for most novice learners. This is especially true in the context of the US higher education system. In this post, we explore some substantial barriers to seeking out expert coaching while earning your college degree.

Continue reading “Why is deep learning so hard?”

When there’s no line at the library…📚

I use to think reading assigned readings in my courses was unnecessary. Many of my peers assumed that as well because we can get by while only doing a fraction of what’s expected; 3 hours of work a week for 1 unit enrolled, yeah no thanks. But after 5 years of STEM college education, I realized that reading is extremely necessary to unzip the foundational knowledge many of our professors expect us to do. Here are some categories to creating significant learning experiences from L. Dee Fink’s writing.

Taxonomy of Significant Learning Experiences by L. Dee Fink

In fact, as I’m in my upper-division coursework, it’s required to read deeply, just to pass. Gosh, that would have been nice to know earlier on – a huge mission to TLC is to allow you to know earlier. This realization challenges the work of educators and students alike who have long assumed that learning how to learn – is something we all will figure out during our right of passage – that are the letters after our name – in our education. However, the data of college dropout rates in STEM disciplines challenge the work of all parties involved, when we do not explicitly teach the science and art of how learning works. 

But who really cares? Who besides The Learning Code, and a handful of serious educators – which include but are not limited to parents, tutors, mentors, fellow associates, colleagues, and teachers – have a stake when we drop out from college? By focusing on outdated metrics and celebrating the ‘few’, I think many of us overlook the deeper question of, what in the world are we actually learning? The truth is, it’s on us the learners to study with purpose, because very few professors have the ability or freedom to do that for you. At the very least, the people who formerly believed that learning how to learn with intentionality doesn’t matter, I invite you to begin changing your minds.

If any other establishment I worked for was loaning their most valuable items, say less – an urban phrase derived from say no more – there would be lines even more chaotic than the ones we witness on Black Friday as a nation out the door. The retail shop, burger joint, even the electronics store * when we probably would be better without the surplus of digital anythings brainwashing us on a weekly basis * would have a line wrapped around the block. But not the library. I never saw a library with a line out the door. 

Now that we’ve moved many school textbooks and readings that could be loaned through the library or openly accessed online, it’s even more convenient.

A century ago, information was scarce and books were far harder to obtain than they are now. A couple decades ago, obtaining instructions on “how to do” something was difficult. To this day, my parents still think I’m doing black magic when I reset our router and modem. 

“It’s too pricey,” or “I can’t get access to a solution” used to be really good excuses for not reading. But we have obscured the truth. The truth is, it’s hella work to change our minds

That’s why there is no line out the library, who is giving away their most prized possessions. It’s too much work to change our minds. It’s hella scary to fail, especially when we don’t have any safety nets there to catch us. It’s too much work to plan, act, and reflect. It’s hella work to develop concept images. It’s even more work to go from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. It’s just too much work to imagine walking through the world with multiple/critical/intersectional lenses, knowledge, and empathy.

That doesn’t have to be the case. We can refuse to be brainwashed into accepting the existing conditions, beliefs, and mental models, and we can commit to finding the human / resources, engaging with them and learning significantly.

If we care enough.

Somehow I’ve gone through two decades of formal education, without ever thinking about what it means to study or learn – which are two different words & verbs. The conclusion I came to about four years ago when Conquering College by Jeff Anderson was presented to me as I had no idea what I was doing to study. For an introduction on Conquering College please read the article: Deep Learning

And for extra credit, the credit is a small deposit into your own learning bank, look through Reading Mathematics and it’s comment field. 

The National Youth Poet Laureate, a bold black woman wearing a bright yellow coat who is honored with an award for outstanding creative and intellectual achievement presented “The Hill We Climb” after the siege on the Capitol. Here are the final words from that poem:

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to BE IT.

So go ahead, begin reading for yourself and your mind, you get to skip the line.

Community Engagement:

What comes up for you when you read this?

How have you or are you changing your mind this year?

How do you learn with purpose