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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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BFTP: Reaching students who don't care about grades

If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. That's how business works. But that's not happening here. You've got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity. And it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity. Daniel Pink

Dan Pink's TED talk about intrinsic motivation is well worth watching.


Pink very much comes to the same conclusion about what motivates adult workers as Alfie Kohn observed about what motivates students in Punished by Rewards back in 1993. See: "Creating Fat Kids Who Don't Like to Read."

Here's what both Pink and Kohn both tell me as an educator. If you want permanent, long-term learning or behavioral change, you won't do it with M&Ms, a special event for doing well on a test, or even saying "good job."

In fact we've all known lots of kids who were plenty smart but just didn't give a damn about what little letters appeared on their report cards. (My children will NEVER see my old report cards!) Yet we as a profession still pretend that all kids should care about their GPAs and state test scores.

Many kids, possibly a growing percentage, will only be reached through the heart, not the head. Only when they care about the topic and understand its relevance, interest, and meaning to them or to those they care about will they engage.

It's one reason we still need libraries with books on a wide range of reading levels on a broad range of topics if we want to create readers. It's why every child should have access to the Internet with its seemingly infinite range of topical information (and librarians to help children learn to find it) if we want to create life-long learners.

Unfortunately Arne Duncan or Barrak Obama don't understand this. At all. I'm guessing they were both "good" students for whom it was all about scores and stars.

Maybe it's time for somebody who had "not working to his potential" written on her report card running education. It would be different.

Original post September 4, 2009


Who Owns That Course - Ed Leadership column online

My Power Up column,"Who Owns That Course?", in October's Educational Leadership is now available online.







Photos from Addis

I enjoy speaking at international conferences. And no small reason why is because I usually tack a few days on to the conference to explore the area. International conferences have taken me to Santiago, Rio, Istanbul, Tallinn, Berlin, Nairobi, Cairo, Amman, Bangkok, and Beijing.

So when I was invited to speak at a Learning2 conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I happily signed on. Because of staring a new day job, I could not extend my visit for another week as I had originally planned, but I did get in one good day of sight seeing with a car and driver in this interesting city. Below are a few photos and a little commentary:More photos on SmugMug here.

This is the view from the Radisson Blu hotel. Close the drapes and you could be in New York or Chicago. Open them and you are in a developing nation of traffic chaos, shanty towns, and lovely people. I know conference organizers mean well, but I'd rather stay in something more authentic. I'm probably in the minority.

Driving to the mountain top Entoto Maryam Church, we encoutered donkeys, goats, and human beasts of burden sharing the winding road. Somehow one's first world problems become more glaring when seeing a woman carrying a huge bundle of bamboo down a mountain side - something she probably does each day.

The Entoto Church is a pilgrimage destination, as this woman demonstrates. Open protestations of faith are common in this country of largely Ethiopian Orthodox worshippers.

Scene coming down from the Entoto Mountain.

Cow horns used as meat hooks in one of the palaces. Ethiopians are great meat eaters, preferably eating (as I was told) their beef raw. On fasting days - about half the year - one does not eat meat.

The fourth largest city in Africa, Addis Ababa remained a mystery of navigation to me. Alternately hot and cool, sunny and rainy, it was difficult to dress for the day. The place has a fascinating history. Glad I read Cutting for Stone before going.

The Ethiopian Natural History Museum, hidden in a college campus with guards who were reluctant to let us enter, contained a few rooms of stuffed animals from the region. I rather liked the mirror with the inscription "This animal is wildlife's greatest threat." I did get to visit great-grandmother to the nth power Lucy at the Ethiopian National Museum. If you are a museum fan, Addis might not be your first choice of destinations...

My excellent guide at the Holy Trinity Cathedral demonstrates the use of the prayer stick. It's sacrilege not to stand during prayer and since some of the prayers are very long, additional support is welcome.

Street scene near the Mercado market. Some people have a gift for sleeping. Perhaps he counts goats?

Market colors are bright even during the rainy season. Again, the Mercado market area which is huge and confusing.

Conference attendees were treated to an authentic Ethiopian meal at the Dimma Cultural Restaurant. Small mounds of unidentifiable food (one platter veggie, one platter meat including tripe), are transported to the mouth with scraps of the injera bread on which the little mounds sit. I tried it all. Along with generous quaffs of St George beer.

At the International Community School of Addis, we had excellent tech support by students. Not just knowledgeable, but nice!


International school campuses tend to have lush grounds and ICS was no exception. I would send my grandchildren to this school in a heartbeat. Great staff and great programs. (The director of schools actually cooked for us at his home!) A small oasis in this developing country.

I said to myself many times during my short visit "I wish every student in the US could spend a single day in a place like Addis Ababa." I believe they would go home thankful for so many things we simply take for granted: clean water, reliable electricity, good roads, and a standard of living most of Ethiopia can only dream about.