The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

What Could You Do with a One-Minute Story?

Emily Casriel, Head of Editorial Partnerships and special projects for BBC World Service Group, gives a detailed account of her project Take 10 animation in a blog post published a month ago.  

This project involves MA student animators from the Animation Department at the University of the West of England (UWE), who were given a great challenge: to animate 10 one-minute audio clips, inspired by 10 inspirational stories  from BBC World Service.

Here is how  

Student animators get creative with one minute World Service stories

Testimony of former child soldier Deng Adut, animated by Laura-Beth Cowley and Carwyn David.

Take the harrowing tale of being hauled in front of Islamic student activists in Iran, the search for an elusive bird in East Africa or the first-person experience of a child soldier. Hack each complex and rich story to precisely one minute. Now present those 60-second tales to a bunch of student animators and ask them to draw upon their wildest creative imagination to craft films that are so full of personality that they will engage people across the world. 

When I visited the Animation Department at the University of the West of England UWE to meet its MA students, I was presenting them with a demanding challenge. As I played the one-minute audio clips, drawn from a range of BBC World Service output, the animators listened intently with furrowed brows and occasional smiles.  

The students were already visualising how they could bring to life an attractive story while plotting how they could wriggle out of being assigned the toughest stories. Who would be tasked with imagining the story of a corrosive Soviet town and who would have fun bringing to life the wine-loving bear?

I first developed the partnership with the University of West of England (UWE) two years ago, when it was already clear that animating audio was an effective way to engage audiences which might not already be consuming BBC News content. Bethan Jinkinson from BBC World Service Digital was excited to collaborate on this project because of its potential to showcase and share the richness of our audio offer.

Research with the BBC’s Global Minds panel indicated that audiences liked snacking on content. The combination of factual content with a creative treatment seems to be attractive, perhaps because it engages both sides of our brain. Sharing something intelligent, yet still accessible, makes people look informed in front of their peers, which in turn drives viral success.

The search for a rare East African bird inspired animator Thomas Porras.

The BBC is increasingly experimenting with animated audio – from Omar’s Journey which depicts the journey of a teenage refugee in the Jungle in Calais based upon his own drawings, to The Today Programme animating the news. When I used to run the ideas discussion show The Forum I even experimented by personally animating its 60 second idea.  

I sought out UWE in Bristol as it is renowned for its creative flair and enjoys links to some of the most successful animation companies in the world, such as the local Aardman studios, home of Wallace and Gromit. Back in 2014, we collaborated with Chris Webster, the course leader, and his second year BA students to produce an animation based on a BBC World Service Outlook interview about Antarctica, saunas and naked running. Truly.

There were many exchanges over the tiniest of details from the texture of the sky (richer and more artistic) to permissible nudity (bottoms acceptable, full frontal not). I learned that the students needed to be encouraged to fly free of a too literal interpretation of the spoken word, while still keeping to the spirit of the message. This knowledge was useful when I briefed the graduate students this year for our more fully fledged partnership.   

My follow-up visit to the MA students was exciting if a little daunting for all of us. The students, who had been attracted to the course from across the world – from Vietnam to Venezuela – were now on the cusp of exposing their creative imagination to an external client for the very first time, awaiting judgement on the first ‘draft’ of their one-minute masterpieces.

From the moment the first film was shown on the screen, I could see that the MA students were in a different league to their BA counterparts. Yet I was a little confused by seeing a set of wooden films with little movement. The students patiently explained to me that the animatic wasn’t the finished film, merely a moving sketch book.

They had all put tremendous energy into researching the world behind their one minute clips.   Michail Gkialas Fikaris had watched numerous YouTube videos of his beatboxing subject (above) to understand not only the artist but also the beatboxing culture.

Linh Nguyen had drawn upon a Japanese vintage aesthetic to animate the story of a robot (above) which was born the moment its mother unwrapped the packaging. Not content with the audio narrative that I had presented to her, she had inserted an angry unicorn with a murderous laser beam as a visual sub plot. This burst of creativity led to a discussion about the importance of a visual narrative that would complement rather than compete with the audio. Linh’s finished animation sticks a little more faithfully to the audio clip, though it is still full of visual jokes reflecting her subversive originality.

I was also impressed with how Nagore Rementeria Muriel used stark black and white graphic images and negative space to create a tense atmosphere in her depiction of fear in revolutionary Iran (above). She built a 3D model of an Iranian man to rotate for the animation, and scribbled intimidating anonymous figures.  

Hannah Stevens had enlisted the help of her six year old cousin to imagine the two headed purple mutants of a fabled Soviet town, and then drew on World War Two propaganda films to create a cinematic atmosphere (above).  

And it was fantastic to see some stop motion animation in the mix with Sasha Lawrence’s story of the first legal inter-racial marriage in South Africa. Sasha took plywood and plaster to create a three tiered wedding cake (above) and found a 1980s Jet Magazine picture of the couple online to inspire her creation of the bride and groom puppets. 

At the end of our session together, tutor Chris Webster told his students that one of the most valuable lessons of this partnership was to understand the mindset of a client and the likelihood that they wouldn’t understand the animating process. He is committed to helping his students not only develop their own voice – all of the animations are highly individual – but also equip them with skills that will enable them to succeed in the world of deadlines and client demands. 

I am excited to share these jewels with our worldwide audience by publishing them on the BBC website, broadcasting them on BBC World News and seeing reactions as we share these films on a whole range of social media platforms. I hope that people around the world will appreciate the thought and inventiveness that has gone into these richly layered treats and feel tempted to find out more.       

The animations are available on the BBC News website, BBC World News and across social media. 

 

Filed under: 3►STYLE, 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ ANIMATE, ■ Animations, ■ Communicate, ■ Creativity, ■ How to Tell a Story, ■ Movies, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ Thinking Space, ►META PHORS▼

Recommended Brain Workout: Flex Your Multilingual “Muscles”

0:06
¿Hablas español? Parlez-vous français? 你会说中文吗?
0:12
If you answered, “sí,” “oui,” or “会” and you’re watching this in English,
0:18
chances are you belong to the world’s bilingual and multilingual majority.
0:23
And besides having an easier time traveling
0:25
or watching movies without subtitles,
0:27
knowing two or more languages means that your brain
0:29
may actually look and work differently than those of your monolingual friends.
0:34
So what does it really mean to know a language?
0:38
Language ability is typically measured in two active parts, speaking and writing,
0:43
and two passive parts, listening and reading.
0:46
While a balanced bilingual has near equal
0:49
abilities across the board in two languages,
0:52
most bilinguals around the world know and use their languages
0:55
in varying proportions.
0:57
And depending on their situation and how they acquired each language,
1:01
they can be classified into three general types.
1:04
For example, let’s take Gabriella,
1:07
whose family immigrates to the US from Peru when she’s two-years old.
1:12
As a compound bilingual,
1:13
Gabriella develops two linguistic codes simultaneously,
1:18
with a single set of concepts,
1:20
learning both English and Spanish
1:22
as she begins to process the world around her.
1:25
Her teenage brother, on the other hand, might be a coordinate bilingual,
1:29
working with two sets of concepts,
1:31
learning English in school,
1:33
while continuing to speak Spanish at home and with friends.
1:36
Finally, Gabriella’s parents are likely to be subordinate bilinguals
1:41
who learn a secondary language
1:43
by filtering it through their primary language.
1:46
Because all types of bilingual people can become fully proficient in a language
1:50
regardless of accent or pronunciation,
1:52
the difference may not be apparent to a casual observer.
1:55
But recent advances in brain imaging technology
1:58
have given neurolinguists a glimpse
2:00
into how specific aspects of language learning affect the bilingual brain.
2:05
It’s well known that the brain’s left hemisphere is more dominant
2:09
and analytical in logical processes,
2:11
while the right hemisphere is more active in emotional and social ones,
2:16
though this is a matter of degree, not an absolute split.
2:20
The fact that language involves both types of functions
2:22
while lateralization develops gradually with age,
2:25
has lead to the critical period hypothesis.
2:28
According to this theory,
2:30
children learn languages more easily
2:32
because the plasticity of their developing brains
2:35
lets them use both hemispheres in language acquisition,
2:38
while in most adults, language is lateralized to one hemisphere,
2:42
usually the left.
2:44
If this is true, learning a language in childhood
2:47
may give you a more holistic grasp of its social and emotional contexts.
2:52
Conversely, recent research showed
2:54
that people who learned a second language in adulthood
2:57
exhibit less emotional bias and a more rational approach
3:01
when confronting problems in the second language
3:03
than in their native one.
3:05
But regardless of when you acquire additional languages,
3:08
being multilingual gives your brain some remarkable advantages.
3:12
Some of these are even visible,
3:13
such as higher density of the grey matter
3:16
that contains most of your brain’s neurons and synapses,
3:19
and more activity in certain regions when engaging a second language.
3:23
The heightened workout a bilingual brain receives throughout its life
3:26
can also help delay the onset of diseases, like Alzheimer’s and dementia
3:31
by as much as five years.
3:33
The idea of major cognitive benefits to bilingualism
3:35
may seem intuitive now,
3:37
but it would have surprised earlier experts.
3:40
Before the 1960s, bilingualism was considered a handicap
3:44
that slowed a child’s development
3:45
by forcing them to spend too much energy distinguishing between languages,
3:50
a view based largely on flawed studies.
3:54
And while a more recent study did show
3:56
that reaction times and errors increase for some bilingual students
3:59
in cross-language tests,
4:01
it also showed that the effort and attention needed
4:03
to switch between languages triggered more activity in,
4:06
and potentially strengthened, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
4:11
This is the part of the brain that plays a large role
4:14
in executive function, problem solving, switching between tasks,
4:18
and focusing while filtering out irrelevant information.
4:22
So, while bilingualism may not necessarily make you smarter,
4:26
it does make your brain more healthy, complex and actively engaged,
4:30
and even if you didn’t have the good fortune
4:33
of learning a second language as a child,
4:35
it’s never too late to do yourself a favor
4:37
and make the linguistic leap from, “Hello,”
4:40
to, “Hola,” “Bonjour” or “你好’s”
4:43
because when it comes to our brains a little exercise can go a long way.

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, 4►WRITE

What Will Future Jobs Look Like?

Filed under: 8►BUSINESS, ■ AI, ■ Automation, ■ Intelligent Life

Translators Recommend: 7 Tips to Learn a New Language

TED-Ed-language-image

Knowing more than one language is great for your brain. But what’s the best way to learn? TED’s Open Translation Project volunteers share 7 tips:

  1. Get real. Decide on a simple, attainable goal to start with so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. German translator Judith Matz suggests: “Pick up 50 words of a language and start using them on people — and then slowly start picking up grammar.”
  2. Make language-learning a lifestyle changeElisabeth Buffard has been teaching English for 27 years. She says that consistency is what separates the most successful students from the rest. Find a language habit that you can follow even when you’re tired, sick or madly in love.
  3. Play house with the language. The more you invite a foreign language into your daily life, the more your brain will consider it something worth remembering. “Use every opportunity to get exposed to the new language,” says Russian translator Olga Dmitrochenkova. For example, you might label objects in your house in the language, read kids’ books written in it, or watch subtitled TED-Ed Originals.
  4. Let technology help you out. Dmitrochenkova has a great idea: “A funny thing like resetting the language on your phone can help you learn new words right away,” she says. Ditto for changing the language on your browser. Or you can seek out more structured learning opportunities online. Dutch translator Els De Keyser recommends Duolinguo for its approach to grammar, and Anki for memorizing vocabulary with its “intelligent” flashcards.
  5. Think about language-learning as a gateway to new experiences. To Spanish translator Sebastián Betti, learning a language has always been about focusing on the experiences that the new language would open up, from “visiting theme parks, to enjoying cowboy poetry and folk-rock festivals, to learning about photo-essay techniques.” In other words, he thinks of fun things that he wanted to do anyway, and makes them into a language-learning opportunity. Many of our translators shared this advice. For example, Italian and French translator Anna Minoli learned English by watching undubbed versions of her favorite movies, while Croatian translator Ivan Stamenković suddenly realized he could speak English in fifth grade, after years of watching the Cartoon Network without subtitles. So the next time you need a vegan carrot cake recipe, find one in the language you’re trying to learn.
  6. Make new friends. Interacting in the new language is key — it will teach you to intuitively express your thoughts, instead of mentally translating each sentence before you say it. Find native speakers near you. Or search for foreign penpals or set up a language tandem online, where two volunteers help one another practice their respective languages.
  7. Do not worry about making mistakes. One of the most common barriers to conversing in a new language is the fear of making mistakes. But native speakers are like doting parents: any attempt from you to communicate in their language is objective proof that you are a gifted genius. They’ll appreciate your effort and even help you. Nervous about holding a conversation with a peer? Try testing your language skills with someone a little younger. “I was stoked when I was chatting with an Italian toddler and realized we had the same level of Italian,” recalls German translator Judith Matz. And be patient. The more you speak, the closer you’ll get to the elusive ideal of “native-like fluency.” And to talking to people your own age.

This article was adapted for TED-Ed from a TED Blog post by Krystian Aparta published on January 19, 2016 in Interviews

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ TED, ■ Translators

Teachers Recommend: Enrich Your English Vocabulary

Welcome back from holiday!

The first post in 2016 comes from the teachers at the school Solo Idiomas in Madrid.

Here’s what teachers there recommend:

Solo Idiomas

1. In order to enhance your speaking skills, the first thing you have to do is create a comfortable environment for “language immersion”. If you have never been to an English speaking country, try to combine different activities:  read blogs, articles, listen to music you like (don’t forget to pay attention to lyrics, as you can learn some new colloquial expressions from them), watch series and TV shows in English. These are effective ways to learn expressions that you may not find in textbooks. While practicing any of the activities above, try to guess the meaning of words from their context before looking them up in the dictionary.

2. If you try to memorize words out of context, one by one, it will be a bit challenging to use them naturally in the flow of speech. It is very important to learn how to use collocations, as English words have a lot of meanings depending on their usage with verbs and prepositions.

 Once you have added new words to your vocabulary, try to use them as often as possible, make up questions and sentences for extra practice. You may also find it helpful to make notes of synonyms as well as antonyms when you record new words, to expand your vocabulary. This will help you distinguish between general and more specific meanings of words.

3. Use monolingual dictionaries (English-English dictionaries). You will expand your vocabulary in a very effective way if you use monolingual dictionaries instead of a bilingual ones. Surely it will take a bit more time to find the right definitions, but you will learn a lot of synonyms and your speech will gain in accuracy.  Plus, it is a great way to “dive” into language. The more you investigate new language, the more confident you will become. Some of the most popular online dictionaries are Merriam-Webster, Oxford and Longman.

4. Create a memo book to write down the new words. It may sound boring for you to write down words to learn, but organizing your personal word lists is an activity which definitely will help you expand the number of words in your active vocabulary. I would suggest that you stick to a certain routine – it is much more efficient to practice English 30 minutes every day than 2 hours at the weekend. Choose which way is suitable for you: either write the words in alphabetical order, or combine them thematically. You can also use your tablet or phone to organize your vocabulary.

5. Remember that all these techniques are particularly useful if you practice English with a friend or tutor. That’s why we recommend that you join a conversation English class or a regular English meeting in your city. 

*****

So, if you find yourselves in Madrid, you are welcome to pay a visit to Solo Idiomas.

If you may find yourselves in Krakow this January, it is worth checking out this invite from the American Consulate:

U.S. Consulate Krakow Language Club  
The Consulate is pleased to continue the second edition of the English Language Club for Polish high school and university students. Each week the club will focus on a new discussion topic drawn from important issues of the day. The goal of the club is to give English language learners an opportunity to develop their speaking skills in an informal setting. All levels of English are welcome. Participants must register in advance to participate in an English Language Club session. Complete information is available on the Consulate website.

 

 

 

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ How to Learn Languages, ■ School, ■ Teachers

SNOWFLAKES – SCIENCE & ART

Artist Rogan Brown's paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens.

Artist Rogan Brown’s paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Do you remember cutting paper snowflakes in school? Artist Rogan Brown has elevated that simple seasonal art form and taken it to science class.

These large-scale paper sculptures may evoke snow, but actually trade on the forms of bacteria and other organisms. The patterns may feel familiar, but also a bit alien. You’re not looking at a replica of a microbe, but an interpretation of one. And that distinction, Brown says, is important.

“Both art and science seek to represent truth but in different ways,” the 49-year-old artist, who lives in France, tells Shots. “It’s the difference between understanding a landscape by looking at a detailed relief map and understanding it by looking at a painting by Cezanne or Van Gogh.”

Brown wants to you to feel something looking at these sculptures.

Last year, he met with a group of microbiologists to plan an exhibition on the human microbiome. He became fascinated by the hidden world of microbes and the strange shapes of pathogens. He was particularly interested in humans’ fear of the invisible microbiological world. That meeting led him to spend four months creating Outbreak entirely by hand.

Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014.

Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the "long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay."

Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the “long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay.” Courtesy of Rogan Brown

A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it "embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy."

A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it “embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy.” Courtesy of Rogan Brown

He starts each construction by sketching detailed designs and then mocking them up in larger pen and ink drawings. Then he begins to think in 3-D. Each structure is composed of layers of paper, which are stacked using foam board spacers. This floating effect allows him to build a complex colony of organisms that appear to grow beyond the confines of their housing.

In Cut Microbe, that growth is chaotic. The whip-like appendages of the creature branch outward in an invasive way. Those legs, Brown writes on his website, were inspired by the flagella of Salmonella and E. coli, tiny appendages that help the bacteria move.

Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli.

Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

In Magic Circle, the architecture is more constructive, ordered — there are colonies of intricately shaped forms that evoke the collaborative, constructive network of a coral reef. It also evokes microbes and diatoms.

Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes.

Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Some of Brown’s work is sliced meticulously by hand using a scalpel. Others, like the one above, are also cut using a laser. The end result is a fragile paper sculpture that borrows from what we can see as well as the artistic imagination.

“We live in a world dominated by science,” Brown says. “Art needs to work hard to keep up or use the language and imagery of science for its own ends.”

Source: Meredith Rizzo, Is This Snowy Wonderland Or The World Inside A Petri Dish?, NPR, December 25th 2015

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ Arts/ Music/ Dance, ■ Biology, ■ Nature, ■ TED

An Anti-creativity List for 2015

From the Harvard Business Review

Five years ago I published a version of this tongue-in-cheek checklist on HBR.org that highlighted how organizations kill creativity. It really touched a nerve​—​people flooded the post with No.examples from their own organizations of how their managers and colleagues stifled innovation. Even clichés like “We’ve always done it this way” seemed to be alive and well back then. Given all the talk in recent years about unleashing creativity in organizations, I wondered whether the same creativity killers are still at work today.  So, I’m posting a slightly edited version of the original video to ask viewers around the world  what’s changed. What happens in your organization today that shuts down creative thinking? Please post your examples of anti-creativity in the comments section. Thanks, and enjoy.

Filed under: 3►STYLE, 8►BUSINESS, ■ About Organisational Cultures, ■ Creativity, ■ Dream Jobs, ■ Harvard Business Review, ■ Podcasts

To Add on Your e-Shelves: WhyEnglishMatters Documentary Series

Business Growth

English helps drive business growth.

A vast majority of companies with adequate English proficiency believe they are more competitive globally because of their employees’ proficiency, according to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. 

The Need for English is Growing

The need for English is growing.

According to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries, the demand for employees who are proficient in English will continue to grow.

 

English Proficiency Opens Doors

English proficiency opens doors.

With a solid understanding of English, your employees may build better relationships internationally.

English is the Language of the Internet

English Is the Language of the Internet

The Internet connects people all over the globe and accounts for a greater share of the world GDP than agriculture or energy. Used by more than a quarter of all Internet users, English is the single most used language on the Web.

English as a Common Language Drives Efficiency

English as a common language drives efficiency.

ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs surveyed 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. They described the role English plays in the efficiency — and therefore the cost effectiveness — of their staff. Communication, collaboration and productivity are all at stake.

English Skills Can Pave the Way to Global Expansion

Explore the Impact of English Proficiency on Global Business

In today’s global marketplace, English is the universal language of business. In our exclusive whitepaper, 66% of companies reported that the lack of an English-proficient workforce posed a challenge for global expansion. Alternatively, 94% of companies with adequate English proficiency have found that English has made them more competitive globally. Putting English proficiency first drives global growth and leads to business success in new markets.

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, 8►BUSINESS, ■ Global Issues, ■ Technology & Our Generation

To Learn More, This High-Schooler Left The Classroom

To listen to the interview below, follow this NPR link.

Boy surrounded by the wonder of learning.
 Like a lot of students, 17-year-old Nick Bain says he really likes his school, but sometimes it can feel like a chore.

“It just feels a little bit like you just have to keep doing one thing after another, but without a whole lot of thinking about an education in general,” says Nick.

So one day he decided to write down what he was doing every 15 minutes at the Colorado Academy in Denver.

And in his seven-hour school day, Nick says there were only “2 1/2 to three hours that you actually really do need to be in class,” to get instructions from the teacher. The rest of the time was spent at lunch, getting books from his locker or reading.

“It occurred to me that maybe the way school is now is not the perfect way,” he says.

Motivation As A Powerful Force

Nick saw a TED Talk by education researcher Sugata Mitra about his famous experiment in India. It showed how children living in Indian slums could teach themselves to use a computer.

“It’s just incredible that that sort of intrinsic motivation exists,” Nick says. “It seems like a really, really powerful force.”

That led him to come up with his own unusual experiment in learning. He would spend the final trimester of his junior year learning on his own.

With enough convincing, he got his school and parents to sign off on the plan.

He’d take the same tests and write the same essays as other students, but wouldn’t attend class. He’d be graded on a pass/fail basis. It would be a self-taught and self-paced journey.

Nick would take seven courses, instead of the normal four, including calculus, Advanced Placement physics and advanced French.

He also designed some of his own courses: In one, he worked with local scientists on a climate change project; in another, he built a one-seat model aircraft.

He journaled along the way.

Nick’s Journal — March 24, 2015

“I’m again feeling that I’m not efficient enough, but maybe efficiency isn’t the most important thing. I definitely feel like I’m learning. But there isn’t that sense of constant urgency that causes one to save time in all sorts of ways when one is under the gun. But what that also means is that I can walk through the park, for example, to the gardens without feeling constant anxiousness about things.”

Thinking In French

Nick experimented with different ways to learn. First he tried to learn a bit of a subject every day. That didn’t go so well. Then he asked, “What if I spent 10 hours a day on one subject?”

Eventually, he found that being steeped in one subject all day led to more learning.

He figured that out one day at the Denver Botanic Gardens while reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days — in French.

“I’d been reading it, and reading, and I wasn’t really liking it because I wasn’t understanding some things,” he recalls. And then by the end of the day, “I realized I was reading the French as fast as the English.”

He discovered his learning wasn’t more efficient on his own because he was spending every waking hour learning. His mother, Lisa Bain, said this last trimester was the hardest she’s ever seen Nick work.

“It was hard to get him to relax,” she says. “It’s important to have downtime, and school sometimes allows you to have the downtime. But when you are self-directed, there’s no time that’s not something you could be doing.”

Nick’s Journal — March 6, 2015

“Noticed that I’m actually under a lot of pressure. Thought flexibility would make things less of a strain, but actually causes more of a strain. Constantly thinking: Is what I’m doing right now the best possible use of my time, and that seems to make me highly inefficient, actually. So it’s a lot harder than I thought, and less efficient than I thought. Realizing that I don’t ever feel finished with something, that there is always something I can be doing.”

Learning More Deeply

At the same time, Nick said his learning was more satisfying outside of school. It had more purpose and he was learning more deeply.

As the days passed, he started to relax into the joy of learning. He realized he wasn’t feeling that anxiousness he felt in school with a conveyor belt of assignments coming at him.

And because Nick was on a pass/fail system, he didn’t worry about the best way to get a good grade. Instead, he realized he was working hard at something because he wanted to.

Nick’s Journal — March 18, 2015

“I’ve been hesitating to note this (because of the possibility that it might not hold true), but I feel exactly as Nate Newman said he felt at Stanford: ‘This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’ It’s always risky to say things like that because they may turn out differently with time. But I have never been so enthralled by learning, ever. I wish only that I could do it for years and years.”

The Value Of School

Nick is heading back to class for his senior year this fall, but that’s not because the experiment was a failure. In fact, he kept up with his classmates, passing his exams and classes. But one of the unexpected results of the experiment, he says, is that now he can see his school — and teachers — in a different light. He appreciates the role teachers play as curators of the best material.

“[There are] some huge benefits to learning with people that I really missed and I’m going to be glad to go back to,” he says.

“The greatest thing is really this,” he says of his experience: “I can be 45 years old, or 27, any age, or doing anything and become an expert on anything.”

“It makes me really excited for the rest of my life, I guess, because I know that it doesn’t have to stop when I stop school.”

Nick’s Journal — June 2, 2015

“Today was the last day of school. It did not feel like the last day of school. It was very strange. I rode my bicycle home, ate some fruit (it was a half-day), and wrote a 3 page essay on Kant and Voltaire. I think I would have laughed at myself pretty hard at doing something like this last year at this time.

“I think today is probably an appropriate time to end this log. Maybe I’ll sporadically note developments and general time usage over the next few weeks — at least some data would probably be helpful, I think. Otherwise, I don’t think I should even try to describe in a few broad statements the effect of these past months. Neatly summing it up here would not capture the magnitude of its value.”

Filed under: ■ NPR, ■ School

What’s going on under the skin?

This TED-ed series called Getting Under Our Skin is looking at this very topic. Browse through the selection of videos below to learn more about what may interest you. Enjoy the summer, stand up straight, be healthy and get savvier every day!

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, ■ Biology, ■ TED

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