Where is Your Safe Haven? Let us Talk About Earth Overshoot Day

Where do you go when the summers in the city get boiling hot or when you feel exhausted? Do you have a hiding place where you can escape when the sun burns and our natural world disappears before your eyes? A cozy, happy corner where you are at your most comfortable. You are free, serene and burden free.

lakesidewalk-640_medium

Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian European Space Agency astronaut, Italian Air Force pilot and engineer, also a first person who brewed espresso in space, spent 199 days at the International Space Station from November 2014 to June 2015. During the stay, she and other members of the crew performed numerous scientific experiments and maintained their spaceship, the one and only that kept them alive.

Up in space at the ISS with a small well-prepared crew or on planet earth with 7.6 billion fellow humans, our responsibilities stay the same. We have to care for each other; live in peace. Also, take care of our vessel, planet earth, because that’s all we have.

beach-640_medium

Did you know that August 1st, 2018 was the Earth Overshoot Day? It was the date when we (all of humanity) had used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year? If the whole world consumed like the French, for example, we would need 2.9 piles of earth to produce enough for our needs. This is way more than the planetary mean during past few years, 1.7 Earths.

The healthy and pollution free edges of the world are getting scarce, and the humanity is consuming more than nature can give. The current trend shouldn’t be our destiny! Even if our planet is finite, human possibilities are not, states Global Footprint Network, an international think tank that advances the science of sustainability and hosts and determines the date of Earth Overshoot Day.

Global Footprint Network has identified four main areas that characterize our long-term future most forcefully: cities, energy, food and population. All of them are shaped by our individual and collective choices. For instance, I can replace car miles by public transportation, by biking or walking. If everyone around the world reduced driving by 50%, Earth Overshoot Day would move back 12 days.

Educating children is the best investment for the wellbeing of our planet.  If you are a parent or an educator, have a look at the classroom recourses provided on the World Overshoot Day website: propose your students measure their own Ecological Footprint and ask them to think about ways of reducing it. Or why not to create a sandwich with tasty leftovers.

How Wonderful, It Rains! – It’s Time to Focus on Work

Start of the academic year is like an annual new beginning; children transition to a new grade and we adults have a chance to start something fresh and exciting: a hobby, a degree or a different manner of working. The rainy days of August are just perfect for plunging into the planning of the new season; I’m exhilarated to tackle the latest coding tasks and teaching assignments starting in September. I hope you are too!

This fall is about teaching and learning about computational thinking without screens; demonstrating unplugged coding activities to transfer the skills and concepts of computer science to the pre and primary school students. Luckily, plenty of printed and online resources offer suitable, age-appropriate activities for young children as well as tools for parents and educators alike.

helloruby-640_medium1-e1534255570236.jpgMy personal favorite for the unplugged classroom activities is Hello Ruby, the world’s most whimsical way to learn about technology, computing, and coding, as described on Hello Ruby’s website. Originally a book, created by Linda Liukas, now a series of them translated in more than 20 languages, aims to create, promote and evaluate exceptional educational content on computational thinking for 4 -to 10-year-olds. Playful activities can be downloaded from the website and complement Ruby’s adventures in coding, her journey inside the computer and expedition to the Internet. Hello Ruby also provides classroom resources for educators.

Code.org – Hour of Code supplies language independent unplugged activities for all grade levels from pre-readers onwards. Any educator is encouraged to teach the fundamentals of computer science, whether they have computers in the classroom or not. These lessons may be used as a stand-alone course or as complementary lessons for any computer science course.

Pre and primary school teachers are well-equipped to use the above mentioned age-appropriate exercises and innovate more because they regularly use hands-on manipulatives, games, songs and stories in teaching content to their students. These very activities can be useful in engaging young children in developing computational thinking skills such as algorithmic thinking, decomposition, abstraction or pattern recognition. Asking children to work with partners or in groups develops behaviors for working with others and dealing with frustration. Nurturing communication, cooperation, and empathy are maybe even more important skills than learning to code at an early age.

 

Put that Learning into Practice

app_catalog-640_medium

Learning something is somewhat comfortable, but putting it into practice is the tricky part. We have an extraordinary ability to grasp new knowledge, but it’s not until we implement the learning that it becomes a real skill. We need to activate the potential by creating something useful, practical and/or beautiful that showcases the accumulated information in practice.

A new language, for example, is of no use, if you don’t read in it or communicate in speaking or writing. The same applies to computer skills: your knowledge of JavaScript or Python will only be tested when you create a new web application.

Project-based learning provides a solution. You gain content knowledge and accumulate critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills by carrying out a meaningful real-life project. For example, when I learned front-end web development, it was only the first big project, Neighbourhood map, that tested if I had actually understood all the online lectures I had listened over the past few months.

There are dozens of online courses teaching web development, but I personally favor the Nanodegree programs of Udacity because they are project-based and community oriented. Udacity provides excellent forums for asking questions from peers and mentors alike. Students work on different projects over an extended period of time – from a week up to a few months. They are engaged in creating apps with varying complexity and therefore get to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a product for the web or app store. Over the course of project development, and especially when you feel like giving up, the community is there to support you.

Screen capture of a Cafe and co-work appThe Udacity Nanodegree programs don’t only require us, students, to implement the skills we have acquired but at the same time provide us with the portfolio projects demanded when applying to jobs. These projects also serve as references for future work. The code has been reviewed and is, therefore, according to industry standards.

Putting knowledge into practice should be a requirement for all educational bodies. I might have become a mechanical engineer had the formulas of rotational motion been demonstrated in the real-life projects at the high school physics class!

On Learning and Running Marathons

marathon-640_mediumLong distance running, my oldest and dearest recreational activity, has thought me how to focus and be determined to overcome drawbacks and fatigue. The same willpower that got me through marathons or out there running when it was raining cats and dogs works now for my strength in other disciplines and areas of life.

During a long run or a marathon, the body and mind experience numerous sensations. The run starts typically easily because you’ve trained for it for months by running hundreds of kilometers. At the marathon, the difficulties usually begin after the halfway point. Your body starts showing signs of extreme exhaustion after the 30-kilometer mark: legs are painful and cramp, you feel nauseous and just want this all to end soon. You swear to yourself that you will never put yourself in this pain again, yet you’ll find yourself signing up for a new effort a week later. Your mind has to work on overcoming these unpleasant feelings you are experiencing; Your brain needs to focus on your goal – the finish line!

Becoming proficient requires discipline and perseverance. You have to be determined to continue your training despite disappointments or delays in achieving success. This isn’t easy if you are a naturally impatient type or if you let small – or significant – setbacks discourage you. You can, however, learn to be more persistent.

Firstly, set a goal. Then consider the steps you need to take in reaching it. Break down your grand task into smaller chunks and start working on them one by one. Focus on what you want to learn and drop all unnecessary from your schedule. When you face an obstacle, think how to overcome it. Don’t quit even if it feels exasperating; keep on trying!

marathondeparis 2I’ve been self-observing my progress over a year now in my two new hobbies, drawing and tennis, as well as aiming towards a new career. I notice that I progress gradually, but slowly and am content with the small accomplishments that motivate me to go on. Got that forehand shot quite right – so it is time to boost the backhand!

I’ve practiced tennis twice a week, drawing less regularly, and am still far from fully understanding, without mentioning putting in practice, all different types of tennis shots or drawing techniques. I’ve improved my play a great deal but also understood that getting even better will require more hours of regular training. The same applies to the drawing – more strokes on paper will necessarily lead to advancement in arts, but achieving results takes longer when the exercise schedule is irregular.

I intend to improve my drawing and tennis skills. I have set myself short-term and long-term goals. Sooner, I need to get that serve right; Later, I want to participate in a tennis tournament. The road to the long-term goal is windy and passes by many stops and I need to, hence, stay focused and determined. Here the lessons learned through the long distance running become handy. At the moment of despair, I’ll set my mind to my long-term goal. I will not stress out if something does not stick immediately but try again, and again, until one short-term goal has been achieved; then I’ll move on.

 

Endless Source of Inspiration

smileycafe-640_mediumI’ve troubles in finding inspiration. I’m sipping my morning coffee in a beautifully designed Parisian coffee shop while writing this post. Flavor of the Belleville coffee and the ambiance of Bleu Olive should toss me into it, but no, it’s no go, again today. The energy of a young adult has vanished long ago, and bourgeois lifestyle might have drained the rest of it like those dementors in Harry Potter, who gradually deprive human minds of happiness and intelligence.

Or maybe it’s the urban way of life. Running back and forth – being busy. Too many stimuli. Personal characteristics add up to this lack of motivation – tendency to overdo and get tired, trouble in finding a perfect balance between labor and leisure. Labor meaning not only work but strenuous physical activity in the form of any sports. I do tell my kids that downtime is critical, but my example is contradictory.

Google search provides me with many self-help lists for finding the inspiration. According to many disconnecting and giving yourself a pressure-free moment or creative expression would do the trick. Also contemplating everything you’ve learned and achieved and how you’ve made a positive difference in the world would fill the bill.

I’d add recalling your goals to this list. Those reasons that pushed you to the exercise at first place. I’ve scribbled mine in a notebook and will revisit them right now.

Out of the Box Thinking

colorful-640_medium“Creativity is more important than knowledge.” I’ve loosely quoted Albert Einstein to my children. “Does it mean that we don’t need to go to school but we can just build lego or play computer games instead?” Why not, if somehow through that play, the basic concepts and rules of math, sciences, and living in a society would be transferred to you. School, in general, provides a wide variety of information: we learn the basics of math, sciences, languages, history and geography. We practice our social skills by being a part of a community; We learn discipline and to respect the rules. An excellent school also provides nurturing for the curious minds and makes them want more.

Knowledge can thus be acquired by learning from books and from people, but when the imagination steps in the new inventions are born. Creativity is our inner quality that can be fed and knowledge provides nourishment for the innovation. Without knowledge, there is not much to innovate on. Hence, learning is a key and creativity will define the door it will open.

What Did You Learn Today?

Legos and lego instructions

I have two children from whom I ask the same question(s) at the dinner table almost every night. I’m interested in their lives in many ways, but quite prominently in their school and learning. I insistently repeat myself with the same question, “what did you learn today?”. Answers vary from “nothing” to considerably detailed explanations about French method of calculus or the rise of the Carolingian dynasty.

My kids like to learn, and one of them is always eager to demonstrate, in detail, the pieces of data she has accumulated throughout the day. I most often enjoy listening to the lengthy explanations and wish I would also have so many bits to share every day. I do, however, sometimes hope that she was more concise with her comments, but being brief and comprehensive is a difficult skill to learn, and not required in this setting.

According to Joseph McCormack, who helps leaders craft a clear and concise message, over explaining, under preparing and missing the point are the tendencies that hinder us to deliver a terse message. My child who likes lengthy discourse doesn’t miss the point but over explains; She wants to talk and monopolize the conversation. She doesn’t do it deliberately, but because she is yet to master the skills of compressing her confession.

On the other hand, son’s feedback, “nothing,” is another extreme and simply a disappointing return. Even if real-life situations demand straightforward messaging, and brevity – concise and exact use of words in writing or speech – “nothing” is not enough and most probably, as a reaction to the title question, not true.

nothing-640_medium

“Nothing” shows a relaxed attitude and uninterest in the exchange. It may tell about negligence in the classroom or an unwillingness to share with others, for whatever reason. It might also signal fear, overconfidence, insensitivity to people’s feelings or disregard just like sharing too much information and overcharging people with superfluous details.

Luckily, Mr. McCormack supplies a do-it-kit for condensed communications that could help both expansive and reticent talkers. In his book “BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact By Saying Less,” he advises mapping the message before communicating it. Just draw a circle around the central point and few connected bubbles around it. The ideal communication should only consist of the facts stated in these bubbles. Nothing more, nothing less. He also suggests telling a story by talking and showing rather than controlling the conversation. Everyone likes a short statement explaining who, what, where, when and why. We also like to get a chance to process, participate and react; To feel and be part of it.

Communicating what you’ve learned is as important as learning itself. Tonight, I’ll have information to interpret – in perfect brevity – I hope. I’ll tell my family about succinct communications, and I’ll follow the method of Mr. McCormack when doing so.