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Kevin Currie-Knight RSS Feed (Springfield, Illinois)

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Bolse® Bluetooth Wireless Presentation Remotes with Red Laser Pointer Pen
Bolse® Bluetooth Wireless Presentation Remotes with Red Laser Pointer Pen

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good and Compact Remote for Giving Presentation, September 25, 2014
Length:: 4:28 Mins

I am a professor, and like to use some sort of remote control when giving presentations (because it frees me to move around the room). This one is fantastic. It is about the size and thickness of a Sharpie, fits easily in the pocket, and has four buttons (forward, backward, laser, and a multi-purposed button). The USB plugp-in magnetically sticks to the bottom of the wand for easy storage and retrieval. The wand takes one triple-A battery, and while I don't know how long one battery lasts, I have used mine for five weeks now. Anyhow, here's the video. Highly recommended.

The Story of Psychology
The Story of Psychology
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $13.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Telling of Psychology's History, from Philosophy to Cognitive Science!, August 31, 2014
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I am a Professor of Education who teaches (among other things) classes on learning theory and education psychology. I use this book as a very helpful resource and came quite close to assigning it for a class on learning theory. Why? Well, first, Hunt provides a very thorough but eminently readable account of the history of psychology, from the psychological speculation of philosophers from Aristotle to Kant up to modern day cognitive science and behavioral therapy.

In doing this - and this is why I almost assigned this book as one of my texts - Hunt's story of psychology allows people to understand each psychological 'movement' as part of the larger history of psychology. It is easier, for instance, to understand and appreciate behaviorism if you understand the more introspective psychological movements (and experimental movements that relied on subjective self-report data) first, and how behaviorists wanted a more 'objective' science. In turn, gestalt psychology (and information processing theory, etc) make the most sense when seen as part of a long history with one 'movement' or trend reacting to its predecessor.

And, of course, the book goes well beyond psychology's contribution to learning theory. We learn about the personalities of some of the great psychologists like Wilhelm Wunt, WIlliam James and Sigmund Freud, how psychology has sought to answer a great many questions, from how identity is formed to what therapy is best suited to help people conquer neuroses. And all of this is told in a quite engaging (if quite detailed) form of an academic story.

Maybe in future semesters, I will assign this book for its chapters applicable to education psychology (chapters on behaviorism, cognitive science, the psychology of motivation, etc.). It is a great book that makes the subject of psychology's history come alive.

GNC Total Lean Lean Shake 25 - Orange Cream NET WT 29.3 OZ.
GNC Total Lean Lean Shake 25 - Orange Cream NET WT 29.3 OZ.
Offered by Bargain_Zone
Price: $44.98
2 used & new from $44.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A Protein Shake that Really Does Taste Pretty Good!, August 31, 2014
Let's face the simple fact: most protein shakes range from awful to merely okay. Well, GNC has figured out some formula to create protein shakes that actually taste quite good. In fact, I've been drinking the Orange Cream shakes fairly regularly for the past three weeks (as meal replacements and as post-workout replenishment shakes), and I must say that I actually look forward to them. I mix the powdered Orange Cream mixture with soy milk (1 scoop for about 8oz) and it is great. (Not as good with almond milk, but still quite good).

The only other thing I'll note is that these shakes don't quite have the wide array of vitamins that some of the more expensive (and worse tasting) protein shakes on the market have. So, this is probably a shake best fitted to those trying to lose weight than to those using shakes as part of a workout regimen. But for the former, they do the trick. One shake and I am full for a good many (five or so) hours, from lunch until dinner.

well worth the money.

Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning
Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning
by Benjamin K. Bergen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.67
69 used & new from $5.15

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Sure This is How the Brain Does It, and the Author Doesn't Convince Me., August 30, 2014
Ben Bergen's Louder Than Words is a book explaining the "embodied simulation" theory of how brains make meaning out of words. The reader should beware, though, that this theory is not the general consensus in cognitive science (as many readers may be new to this area and Bergen makes it sound like its the only real game in town). For the record, I am not a cognitive scientist but a professor of Education who has done a fair amount of reading and thinking in this area, and for my part, I am not terribly persuaded by Bergen's arguments.

In the first chapter, Bergen takes square aim at probably the dominant view of how the brain makes meaning: the idea of a language of thought, or what Bergen calls "mentalese." In "mentalese," the idea is that every word we hear has some sort of mental representation (like a word, but a unit of thought). This, of course, is a strange theory (at least unless you go into its nuances, which this book doesn't), because understanding a sentence involves something more than just understanding all the words, but understanding how each word interacts with each other, and the idea that the sentence conveys, which seems more than the sum of its words.

So, enter embodied simulation theory. This theory tells us that instead of understanding sentences by 'mentalese,' our minds simulate whatever is going on in the sentence. When I say "the black bear bellows through the cold snow," what is going on in our brain is actually visualizing what this looks like. "Coltrane's A Love Supreme was performed badly last night," involves us simulating this in our heads (visually, auditorily, etc.). What evidence does this theory have going for it? Well, we know that the areas responsible for visualization often show activity when we understand a visual sentence, and the areas of our brain responsible for moving our limbs show mild activity when reading a sentence that describes motor movements. Also, Bergen describes some really interesting studies where individuals perform actions faster after having read a sentence that "primes" those actions. (For instance, if I am asked to push an object forward after reading a sentence about someone pushing a bowling ball down the lane, I can perform that action faster than if I am asked to do the same thing after reading a sentence about someone pulling something close to her body.)

And this leads to a lot of other interesting questions that Bergen gets to and summarizes the research on: how quickly do we start a simulation based on a sentence (as soon as a few words are uttered, or after the sentence is complete). Or, if a sentence has me visualizing an act, how do nuances of language change what 'viewpoint' I view it from? Stuff like that. And Bergen's explanations of the (tentative) answers is as interesting as his ability to explain the ingenious experiments devised to test these things.

But I have a few problems. First, Bergen doesn't go into what I (and other academics, if you look at academic reviews) think should be an obvious problem: what about how we represent sentences that can't be simulated because they are too abstract (or because the hearer doesn't know terribly much about some of the ideas in the sentence. Ironically, Bergen has some fairly abstract sentences in his book that we can make sense of, but I doubt his theory can account for. Maybe a more basic one would be something like, "I think the homework is due on Friday." (You can mentally construct a scene where the homework is being turned in Friday, or of the teacher saying it is due Friday, but neither scene is what the sentence means, and I don't know if there is a 'scene' that does.). Those who read abstract disciplines like philosophy or law can doubtless come up with other examples. (As for sentences that the listener can make meaning of without knowing much about some of the words, remember my earlier sentences about John Coltrane's A Love Supreme being performed badly? You can probably represent that scene even if you haven't heard the work and haven't the faintest idea of how it sounds.

Second, I am not a huge expert on information processing models of the mind and the idea of a language of thought, but it seems to me like the embodied simulation theory doesn't solve problems its 'predecessor' can't solve so much as push those problems back a step. So, Bergen's criticism of 'mentalese' is how a word can come to signify something in the brain such that we can put them together and understand what they mean all taken together. But doesn't Bergen's theory - that we hear a sentence and can construct a representation of its meaning - have the same basic problem? How does a word, or a string of words, evoke a scene in us that we can represent? And it may be that each word doesn't have a separate "mentalese" symbol, but obviously, each word does have importance to how we construe a sentence ("He walked the other way" is a very different image with the insertion of one word - "nervously" - before "walked.") So, mentalese may seem reductionistic, but to understand why each word can affect how the sentence is simulated kind of has to be reductionistic.

Anyhow, those are the two complaints I have about the book. (An academic book review I saw is less generous, accusing Bergen of giving a 'strawman' account of the 'language of thought' idea.) So, it is an interesting book, but be forewarned that Bergen is less giving a summary of a new science than pushing a new theory (that hasn't yet gained consensus in his field).
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 8, 2014 3:20 PM PDT

Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences
Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences
Price: $14.04

5.0 out of 5 stars A Former Special Educator's Review, August 24, 2014
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I am sure when people see this book and its subtitle, a good many think it will be claptrap: "Hooray diversity! Find the beauty that lies within you!" I'll confess that, to some degree, that is also what I expected. But the book turned out to be anything but. This is a bona fide work that goes into the neuroscience of diversity as much as it celebrates diversity on a moral level.

The first few chapters are particularly impressive: these are the general chapters that explain what neurodiversity is and the like. In one chapter, we get into the idea of niche construction, a biologist's term that explains how people can create environments around their abilities, weaknesses, and predilections, in a way that de-emphasizes their weaknesses by giving freer play to their strengths. (For instance, an autistic who is not good with people but excels at computer work can design her environment so that these strengths are exploited and the weaknesses avoided to the degree possible). This is what he urges us to do: help the "disabled" construct environments that lessen the degree to which they have disabilities so that their abilities can shine.

What abilities do disabled folks - autistics, dyslexics, those with attention deficit 'disorder' - have? This is another area where Armstrong goes way beyond feel-good claptrap slogans and delves into the research. For instance, research shows that those with attention deficit disorder do much better at seeing 'the big picture' - the gestalt view of the world - than they do at focusing on details. (This may be part of the reason so many entrepreneurs are labeled with ADD). And autistics? Well, they may not be great with social interaction, but they excel at thinking within systems. (According to Tyler Cowen's book Create Your Own Economy, there is also some evidence that autistics often see the world more 'accurately' than 'neurotypicals' because they are less subject to certain cognitive biases.) Etc.

For those who either have a 'disorder' or work with, live with, or love, those who do, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Armstrong explains what research says about the strengths and weaknesses (as well as neurological bases) of certain 'disorders'), but how to help the 'disabled' construct niches where their strengths can get full play.

A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $9.07

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good One, but More About Steele's Experience Being Multiracial than the President's!, August 24, 2014
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I debated with myself about whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars. So, first, let me start with the reasons I had for giving it three, and then reasons why I gave it four instead. First, the book is a "psycholigization" of now-President Barrack Obama. That is, the book is not at all a political tract, but is an "explanation" of why Barrack Obama is who he is, given his biracial upbringing. I confess that I don't tend to like "psycholigizations" because they are a bit squishy; that is, one can always 'psychologize' another's actions in a way that probably says more about the author than the 'subject' and verifying the correctness of the attempt is impossible. (That is, if Obama objected to the characterization in this book, Steele could always say, "Well, you think it is wrong, but you are wrong about your motivations, which are just hidden from your conscious view.")

But here is why I gave the book four stars: I think the book is very good IF it is approached as saying more about Steele's own biracial experience than about Obama's. And, as always, Steele is very good at articulating what he thinks the inner dynamics (and social dynamics) of race in America are. So, this book is really about being biracial as Steele perceives it. Obama, he says (and this was before his attainment of the presidency, which makes it all the more fascinating), has a dilemma: he can make race an issue in his candidacy and risk losing some support from his wider white audience, or he can keep race out of it and risk losing some support from the black community. He can be (as Steele thinks he mostly is) a "bargainer" who gains acceptance from a wider audience by being a 'non-threatening' black man (a black man who will not accuse whites of racism or hold America's past against them), or he can be an 'activist,' who focuses more on issues particularly affecting the black community.

I must stress that this book is not a political tract. By "can't win' in Steele's subtitle, Steele does not mean that he shouldn't win, but that in these two dilemmas, Barrack Obama cannot win because either way, he sacrifices some part of his identity and will risk alienation from either the white or black community. And while Steele is often called a 'conservative,' there is no hint in this book of disrespect for the President. (This is not an Ann Coulter book.) In fact, several times throughout the book, I paused with suspicion that, if the book didn't have Steele's name on it, readers would likely think that the author was of the left, maybe a critical race theorist; that is what the book is, an examination of the dilemmas one faces in American society being biracial.

In the end, I gave the book four stars, because I learned to read it as a book about Steele as much as or more than about President Obama. My suggestion, though, is that this book would be all the better if Steele wrote an update, appraising how the President has done in light of his now six or so years in the presidency (within which the President has commented on several racially charged incidents, such as the shooting death of Trayvon Martin). Otherwise, this book is made all the more interesting (if a bit dated) by its having been written before Obama became President.

G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement (Understanding Children's Worlds)
G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement (Understanding Children's Worlds)
Price: $13.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Strong Hereditarian Take on What Makes All Learners Different!, August 24, 2014
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As every educator surely knows, talk about the role of genetics in things like general intelligence, human motivation, and school performance is really dicey. I think Asbury and Plomin do a good job in writing a book that gives us a summary of what current research says without getting sidetracked by some of the controversy over genetics and its role in learning. And they also leave plenty of room to give some - albeit pretty speculative - recommendations for what teachers and policy makers can do with this knowledge (and anyone who thinks talk of genetics in education is necessarily conservative will be in for a shock at some of these).

Basically, Asbury and Plomin explains that, by current research, a great many traits to do with education are at least 50% heritable. (And what that means is NOT that any person's trait is 50% genetic in origin, but that the differences between people in this trait appears to be 50% explainable by genetic differences as opposed to environmental causes). Mathematical ability, general intelligence (which, yes, does seem to beat out theories of multiple intelligences in explanatory power), and even how motivated we are to persevere in learning. (Oddly, abilities in things like historical aptitude don't seem to have any strong genetic component.) More obviously having a genetic component, of course, are learning 'disabilities' like difficulties in reading or performing mathematical operations.

After the authors go through this research, they offer some potential conclusions for educators. Some of which will be surprising, because the stereotype has long been that 'strong hereditarians' are conservative in policy preference. So, the biggest conclusion the authors draw is that we all need to do a better job adapting education to the skills, weaknesses, and predilections of individuals. Yes, to some degree, everyone should be educated to a certain standard in, say, math. But if someone is not terribly good at math, genetic research leads us to believe that they probably will never get to a point of being terribly good at math. This does not mean we should give up on their learning math, but that we should build an education that focuses MORE on the things they are good in and less on their weaknesses.... until the day comes where they want to do more toward addressing their weaknesses.

Another conclusion - one I am in wholehearted agreement with - is that we need to get beyond classifying people into certain 'learning disorders' and recognize that, at best, these disorders are a very loose categorization and that individuals with the same 'disability' are all very different. Dyslexia, for instance, is not one single disorder in reading (the most common myth is that dyslexics all 'flip' letters), but ANY persistent glitch a person has in their decoding skills. And instead of labeling someone dyslexic and using a formula to design interventions, we need to pay attention to what that specific learner is having trouble with and designing individualized treatments. Not terribly controversial, but it is worth hearing again.

All in all, this book is decent. But I have two complaints. First, while I understand the authors' desire to not get sidetracked by debates over the political correctness of applying genetic research to learning, I am not sure they did all they could in correcting errors (like reading genetic research to entail determinism, or the public's persistent misunderstanding about what "x% heritable" means). Second, I think a good many of their recommendations will strike people as somewhat pedestrian, like the suggestion that since we are all differently situated individuals who interact with our environments differently, education needs to be more individualized. (In fact, I think the only folks who DON"T think this are the legislators!) Other recommendations, on the other hand, will seem a bit science-fiction-y, like the hope the authors have that our future will contain genetic tests that educators can use to help design the most effective individualized instruction based on a student's genome.

The Cultural Animal:Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life
The Cultural Animal:Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life
Price: $25.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compendium of Human Cultural Activity, from How We Learn and What Motivates Us to How We Interact in Social Groups!, August 24, 2014
This is one book that is REALLY difficult to summarize in an amazon review. It is basically a compendium of a lot of things we know about humans - from what motivates us to how we learn to how we interact with each other. But there is a common theme, and it is a good one. Where most scientists look at human nature as what comes first and culture as what comes next, social psychologist Baumeister suggests that culture is actually part of human nature - that human nature is 'hardwired' for culture. Unlike other species who are, at best, social animals, we are truly cultural animals. We not only cooperate with each other, but have elaborate social rules with which we interact with each other. And while these social rules vary between cultures, the variations can often be understood as expressions of our very common human nature, a human nature that in some sense needs culture.

Taking off from this foundation, Baumeister explores everything from what motivates us (with fascinating talk about the ways humans exploit extrinsic incentives to get a great many things done), to how we learn (and the ways we've devised to consciously pass information between people) to how we interact (how most cultural rules are ways to harness the positives of human nature and disincent the negatives).

I've been an admirer of Baumeister for some time, having read his books, Willpower and Is there Anything Good About Men? Not only is Cultural Animal a very clear and engaging text, but it is quite encyclopedic in its scope dealing with how humans operate - reviewing research on everything to how humans construct mental maps of the world to how we go out of our way to create social networks that enhance our well-being. I have to suppose that, of all the books I've read, this one may have the most highlighted passages of them all.

[One word of warning: the kindle edition is a facsimile of the paperback edition, basically a scan of it. That means no ability to highlight, change text size, or annotate.]

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
Price: $9.02

4.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge!, July 24, 2014
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This book is a real challenge, precisely because it is very hard to peg as a 'conservative' or 'liberal' take. I have to imagine that for that reason, it will not only challenge, but probably anger, a good many people.

On the one hand, Burrell's book is centered around the idea that much lack of progress within the black community has been because American society has swallowed whole a persistent message of black inferiority. Started during the early days of American slavery as a way to rationalize the institution in a country built on liberty, and perpetuated during reconstruction and even the New Deal, blacks are often portrayed (even subtly) as not as smart as others, over-sexualized, aggressive, and a whole host of other negative stereotypes. This, so much that, in Burrell's words, even blacks themselves have become 'brainwashed' by these stereotypes. (For a more thorough discussion of the idea of 'stereotype threat' - the idea that a social stereotype can become internalized by the stereotyped, affecting her view of herself - see Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time)).

On the other hand, Burrell is not about waiting for society to undo this stereotype. Burrell seems to suggest (I don't think he ever really says it) that blacks themselves must be largely responsible for combating these stereotypes and overcoming by dint of their own efforts. This, perhaps, is the more 'conservative' side of Burrell, the side that is most like writers such as John McWhorter. Yes, racism and injustice exist. Yes, blacks have persistently gotten a raw deal in American society. But, black men and women cannot and should not wait for others to do something about it; as unfair as it may seem, the only way things will improve is if black men and women lead the charge by refusing to have truck with these stereotypes.

Burrell takes this argument into such areas as the entertainment media (where he argues that blacks need to watch how they are being portrayed in genres like hip-hop), education (where Burrell seems to suggest that blacks might achieve best in Afrocentric or self-segregated schools), beauty (where Burrell wants to reclaim "black is beautiful"), and even black churches (where Burrell believes too many churches preach victimology or contentment with one's lot, rather than fostering ambition and self-sufficiency). Overall, Burrell's message is that once the stereotypes that have been perpetuated to the detriment of black men and women are uncovered, they can be challenged, but only if blacks are willing to bear the burden of tackling them head on.

I am sure this book will be controversial, again, largely because everyone can likely find something to both cheer and take issue with. Conservatives (or libertarians) will probably agree (much to liberal chagrin) that self-sufficiency is the key, rather than engaging in victimology or waiting for injustice to be absent before believing that one can act effectively. Liberals and progressives will admire (and conservatives will dislike) Burrell's 'deconstruction' of how negative black stereotypes are used socially to reinforce themselves. Both sides will take issue with certain points. For my part, I am not at all sure whether Burrell is advocating for a sort of integration among 'races' or a separatism, and suspect there is some tension in his writing. For instance, Burrell sees no reason (I agree) why blacks can't achieve academically the same way other groups do, and is adamant that blacks shoot for being "the best x" rather than "The best black x." But he also advocates (in the chapters on education and beauty) a type of separatism that calls for self-segregated schools for black students and a rejection of 'white' images of beauty. But is it, as Brown v Board taught, ultimately futile to try and gain equality through separateness?

Anyhow, a very thought-provoking book here, and one that will hopefully cause a good deal of discussion and action.

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want
Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $11.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seeing Minds When They Aren't There, Not Seeing Them When They Are There, and Other Mistakes We Make!, July 24, 2014
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I think if we were asked whether there is a limit to how well we can understand others, most of us would answer with a non-hesitant "sure." But in Mindwise, psychologist Nicholas Epley's goal is to convince us that the problem is more than that. We not only understand others (or ourselves) less than we think, but that we are chronically over-confident in our ability to understand the minds of others.

There is, of course, at least one obvious reason for this: my mind is the only mind I know, and my quest to understand other minds, mine is the only one I can appeal to as a model. If your mind turns out to differ from mine, I literally cannot understand you. (This was brought home when I watched a documentary on those who sexually classify as asexual. Several were discussing how their lack of sexual attraction doesn't mean a lack of romantic attraction. I cannot disentangle these two from each other, and I thus came face to face with the mind's inability to grasp foreign experience for which it - at least my mind -has no reference.)

Epley is not only concerned with those situations where we can't understand others, but those situations where we either attribute minds to things that don't have minds (yelling at our car that won't start) or don't attribute minds to things that have them (humanity's history of classifying certain races as subhuman).

He also reviews literature on the fuzzy deal of our tendency to stereoetype. On one hand, there exists literature suggesting that stereotypes are often accurate.... in the aggregate. (We can safely say that the average basketball player is taller than the average male, and this will turn out accurate a good amount of the time.) If stereotyping didn't have the benefit of giving us some sort of useful information in a world where useful information is dispersed and hard to come by, we wouldn't have a seemingly evolved tendency to do it. BUT, stereotypes also fool us into a sort of 'essentialism' where we look at average traits and assume that all group members have them, ignoring variation within the group. (The average basketball player is taller than the average male, but there is significant variation in height within both groups.... a fact that the "basketball players are tall" stereotype often blinds us to.)

As for practical advice on how to avoid some of these errors, it seems typical of popular books of this genre: knowing our biases can help us avoid our biases. Stop being so confident that you have successfully read others minds (particularly in their thoughts about you, because that is where you are likely the most biased). Be aware of the tendency toward "essentiallism" is stereotyping, and avoid it (and try not to rely on stereotypes too much). Etc. Pretty common-sensical stuff, even if the research Epley uses to derive it may be anything but.

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