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What am I Reading
March 2021
Madame Curie: Gentle, Subborn, Timid, Curious
Curie, E. (1937). Madame Curie: A biography. Da Capo.

The biography of Marie Curie (1867-1934) was written by her daughter, Eve Curie (1904-2007), and published in 1937. I have just started the book, so I haven't much to say. The introduction by Eve Curie was sweet and touching, and her writing is graceful and well-paced. She is a good story teller and I look forward to the next hundred pages.
February 2021
Human Learning: Watching a Textbook Develop
Ormrod, J. (2020). Human Learning. Pearson.

Yes, I'm including a textbook in my "What I'm Reading" section . . . because that's what I just read (600+ pages). I've been a fan of Ormrod's Human Learning text since I first started teaching human learning in 1997. At that point, it was the third edition, the current text is the eighth edition.

The content is fairly common across multiple other human learning texts, but Ormrod provides a narrative flow to her writing that is clear and easy to follow, and includes explicit links to "Educational Implications." Over the years, the text has grown a bit, but not too much. One of the things I appreciate about the text is it hasn't grown by including new "boxes" of new information, rather than integrating the new information into the text.

In addition, the text provides an appropriate level of depth for a first course in human learning. Ormrod has included citations and the results of studies that get the student in touch with the original sources of the information. Finally, her organization makes it easier for students to organize the content in their minds.

Overall Thoughts
The Ormrod Human Learning text is student-friendly, providing depth, breadth, organization, and flow. It's not quite like reading Harry Potter, but what is? Ultimately, it's good for a course and it's good to have on your shelf as a reference.
February 2021
Story of Your Life: Seeing the Present and the Future Simultaneously
Chiang, T. (1998). Story of your life. In P. N. Hayden (Ed.), Starlight 2 (pp. 257-313). Tor.

Why go back and read a short story from 20+ years ago? Chiang's story is the impetus for the 2016 film Arrival, which I love, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Indeed, Chiang wrote the screenplay with Eric Heisserer. After watching a movie (that I like), I will often read up on the movie on the web -- Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, fan and movie sites, history sites -- to get a better idea of who directed the move, if the history or facts are correct, or, in the case of movies like Tenet, what the heck happened at the end.

The short story was not a disappointment. The story and the movie follow similar trajectories, not exactly the same, but very similar. Reading the short story filled in a few quality details and provided some insights into what changed in the movie. The story involves the Earth being visited by aliens, not Aliens aliens that want to use humans to create more aliens, or Independence Day aliens that want to destroy the world, but benign aliens. Chiang's short-story aliens arrive and leave without notice or intent. At first, I thought this would be unfulfilling, but it wasn't.

Chiang's prose draws the reader into a mystery. Why did the aliens come? What do they want? How do we learn to communication with them? This is a story about smart people coming to terms with big questions: What would we do if we knew our future? How much pain is love worth? How much agency do people really have?

Overall Thoughts
In the end, Story of your life, is thoughtful and a heartfelt examination of the heart . . . that happens to involve aliens (no, not in that way, no human-alien romance).
January 2021
77 Science of Learning Studies Every Teacher Should Know
Busch, B., & Watson, E. (2019). The science-of-learning: 77 studies that every teacher needs to know. Routledge.

This text provides a very short summary of the main ideas from 77 studies that resulted in a positive finding toward learning. As the introduction states:

Supporting teachers in the quest to help students learn as effectively and efficiently as possible, the science of learning translates 77 of the most important and influential studies on the topic of learning into accessible and easily digestible overviews.

The overview for each study is two pages in length and consists of four sections: The Study, The Main Findings, Related Research, and Classroom Implications. The Study section provides a one or two paragraph description of the question or problem being addressed and the essential methods of the research. The Main Findings section includes one or two sentence explanations of each of the study’s main findings (typically three to five main findings). The Related Research section is typically two to three paragraphs relating one or two other research studies that are pertinent to the findings of the study at hand. Finally, the Classroom Implications section is comprised of two paragraphs discussing how the findings of the study might be applied to the classroom.

Overall Thoughts
The way the text is written, each of the research studies is easy to read. The descriptions of the studies and the findings are clearly articulated and get to the point quickly. The related research provides nice links and a bit of depth to the discussion, although the classroom implications are fairly shallow.

One concern with this type of discussion of a research study is the lack of context. There is addressing of how related research expand, challenge, or apply the study’s finding. What one gains in brevity, one loses in depth of understanding, which leads to the question: Would a novice or naïve reader be able to fully understand the principles discussed? How would actual K-12 or higher education teachers apply the findings?
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Contact Information

Peter Doolittle
Blacksburg, VA 24060
pdoo@vt.edu