Friday Five: Robots, Rebels, and Radical Markets

Hope you had a good week. We sure did. The Getting Smart team had a great retreat spent in the mountains of central Washington where we planned more great learning opportunities for the coming school year. Here are a couple things we learned this week:

1. Passion-Driven Learning? You may discover your passion (like my mid-career stumble into edu) and spend the rest of your life working on it but don’t tell your kids that’s how it works. Instead of a magic light bulb that fires years of effortless toil, it works the other way more often–hard work develops a passion. That’s the conclusion of a new paper from Stanford’s Carol Dweck and Great Walton (summarized in The Atlantic). “It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”

2. Rebels Learning. This week on Hidden Brain (@HiddenBrain), Shankar Vedantam interviewed Francesca Gino, a social science professor at Harvard Business School, who has spent much of her career studying nonconformists. “Rebels are people who break rules that should be broken. They break rules that hold them and others back, and their way of rule breaking is constructive rather than destructive. It creates positive change.”

Young people are experiencing more nonconformity. We should teach them how and when to break the rules. Gino’s new book, Rebel Talent and this podcast interview are a good start.

3. Writing to Learn? Fordham posted a report on Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools and concluded that kids aren’t doing enough of the right kind of writing: “By the time students graduate high school, they should be able to construct a coherent argument. Yet the results suggest that teachers are still prioritizing creative expression over evidence-based writing.” Predictably, they also wanted more content and more classics.

4. Robot Learning. What do you get when you combine cheap robotics, powerful networks, and Airbnb? You get really smart robots. Scientists at CMU wanted to evaluate generalization in robotics, so controlled lab environments wouldn’t cut it. For Robot Learning in Homes they tapped Airbnb to gain access to lots of home environments fast.

Jack Clark observed that “that robot component costs are falling while network performance is improving sufficiently for academic researchers to conduct large-scale real world robotic trials and development, which will no doubt further accelerate progress in this domain.” We think it’s a great example of creative data wrangling for a good cause (we call it Cause + Code: the new impact formula)

5. Markets Learning. Marketplace’s Molly Wood dove into radical economics this week with Glen Weyl of Microsoft Research and co-author of a new book “Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society.” Weyl says inequality is at the root of most problems facing our world, and those problems are worse because our “free” markets are not free enough. So-called “free market champions” used capitalism as a veil to further entrench privilege and power, he says, and a real free market could make things more equitable.

Radical Markets is full of radical ideas–but it will take big changes in our political economy to avoid the negative effects of the radical concentration of wealth that seems inevitable with the march of AI.

5 Discoveries

  1. Gig: A couple days after retiring as Albemarle County superintendent, Pam Moran announced that she’s taking over the Virginia School Consortium for Learning, a 30 year old network. Stay tuned for a great podcast with Pam on August 29th
  2. Pic: our picture of the week is Pam Moran visiting one of the very cool multiage classrooms in Albemarle; it’s the kitchen hub of the new space at Agnor-Hurt Elementary.
  3. Book: Apple’s long time VP Education, John Couch has a new book out, Rewiring Education: How Technology Can Unlock Every Student’s Potential. Stay tuned for a podcast with John that we’ll publish on September 5th.
  4. App: Nonprofit Gooru developed Navigator – a GPS for Learning. They also have a new subscription based Navigator for Math. Check them out.
  5. Org: is the philanthropic arm of a Uptake, an industrial AI company. Their  Student Union initiative is taking on the college under-matching problem and personalizing counseling with machine learning.

Check out last week’s Friday Five: Notes from the Frontier. And to stay up to speed via email, sign up for our week Smart Update Newsletter

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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