26 January 2011


S.O.T.U. Last night President Obama delivered his second State of the Union address. In it, according to a NYTimes editorial, he set national goals for investments in clean energy, high-speed rail, science and education. The president also proposed eliminating taxpayer subsidies for oil companies, ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy when they expire in two years, and simplifying both personal and corporate income taxes, among other economic policy changes. The Times writer was pleased with what was presented.

Another writer took issue, however, with the absence of any discussion on climate change. Perhaps the president deliberately limited the number of topics in order to encourage focus on what is most urgent in the minds of the voting public. Still, it remains problematic to this observer that so little time and effort are devoted to climate, by nearly all public figures. But then, we've always been a species that tends to be reactive (responding to crisis) rather than proactive (planning ahead). I see glimmers of thinking forward in Obama's words. It remains to be seen whether he can muster support from a recalcitrant Congress to put that thinking into action.

Here is the C-SPAN video of the entire Presidential address.

LEARNING WHILE DOODLING. In a previous post I noted the benefits of handwriting over the spoken or typed word -- enhanced learning skills, idea composition and expression, and fine motor-skill development. In the article To Learn Best, Write an Essay, Brandon Keim takes that thought one step further by recounting the results of a study in which it was found that writing an essay on material just learned (a.k.a. "retrieval practice") enhances retention of the material more than either of two other study aids. And in Doodling Helps You Pay Attention, Kelly Redinger describes in detail a study which concludes that when faced with boring material or a boring speaker, doodling and fidgeting actually engage the brain just sufficiently to prevent a side trip into daydreaming, while still allowing you to pay attention.

I'm not certain yet about the doodling study, but the study on essays resonates strongly in my own experience, both as a student and as a teacher.

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