A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom 2016-05-01T22:14:08.092Z
Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness 2015-08-23T01:32:09.629Z
A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom 2015-07-04T22:30:16.207Z


Comment by tanagrabeast on LW 2.0 Open Beta Live · 2017-09-26T05:52:57.437Z · LW · GW

Even a site's use of a font I don't recognize I provokes that reaction in me.

Speaking of font difficulty, the new font doesn't render well on my desktop (Windows 10, Chrome, default font/size, 1680x1050). It comes out looking poorly aliased, or maybe just not fully black. I compare to another serif-heavy site like nytimes and the latter just seems so much darker and crisper, even at similar sizes.

On my older MacBook Air the LW font is not as ugly, though it still seems less than fully black.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-05T02:41:31.265Z · LW · GW

14-16, usually. These are 9th and 10th graders, with a few repeating upperclassmen.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-05T02:05:30.581Z · LW · GW

I did made hundreds of Anki cards on that basis with 2 to 3 answers and my conclusion is that it's a bad idea. Given "what fires together wires together" cards like that seem to create links between the question and the wrong answers.

There's also a risk that you become dependent on being able to look for the answer visually rather than being able to fish it out of year head; in most real-world cases, it's the latter skill you need.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-05T02:01:58.877Z · LW · GW

Have you considered sharing some version of this essay with your students?

This question makes me squirm a bit, which makes me think it might be important.

I do discuss the rationale behind my course design choices with students, in some limited domains. I should have mentioned in this report that I've tweaked my intro-to-SRS presentation I gave at the start of last year; I now bill it as a kind of superpower, and we have some cards in our deck about the principles of it -- cards that still get some play even this late in the year. I hope this may create more of those "sleeper agents" I speculated about, who may bloom into power-learners down the road.

I also make sure my students understand how valuable I think pleasure reading is, with a different presentation that spruces up the more interesting findings from that report I linked to. And I put my money where my mouth is by making sure they understand how very unlikely I am to give them a hard time for reading during my class, even if it's not exactly what they're supposed to be doing.

I even try to let them know why each unit is in our curriculum, whether it's "because the boss/district/state says so, but we'll try to make it fun" or "because I want to help you get into college and I know this will help".

But a lot of my thinking I don't share. I understand some of my reticence: there are things I do that wouldn't work as well if they knew I was doing them, and there are other things that would be exploitable if I laid out the strategies behind them. I'm struggling to articulate the rest of my hesitation, though.

Like the stuff about apathy and caring. I had some experimental lessons dealing with this sort of thing about 7 years ago when I taught a course with a broader curriculum mandate. I don't feel like these lessons got a lot of traction, though, in the same way that other "life skills" lessons tend to fall flat with typical teens. This age group is so slippery... so reluctant to accept advice where others would see it, so wary of anything that smells of paternalism.

My instincts now tell me to approach these things obliquely, as though I'm accidentally letting out the secrets I know they're too immature to make use of. I'm not telling them what they should do. I'm talking about how the rash actions of young characters in our stories make sense because said characters don't understand how adolescent brains are wired for overconfidence and short tempers. I'm making a seemingly off-hand comment about the rare superpower of "taking advice". I'm giving an off-script response to a question about my past with an answer about that time I totally kicked butt by putting in extra hours of effort, as though this were a cheat giving me a secret edge.

I remember being a teen and thinking much more deeply about the things adults seemed to let slip than about their prepared remarks. It hadn't occurred to me until now that some of those slips might have been carefully scripted.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-03T00:31:22.821Z · LW · GW

It should be noted that how the cloze cards play out changes greatly depending on whether you allow different cards of the same note to show up on the same day. One version gives you that early overload effect, while the other gives a kind of extended familiarity effect where for months you'll probably have at least one variation of that cloze come up every day or two. The more variations on a note, the longer this stretches out.

The problem in Anki, at least, is that this is a global deck setting ("Bury related reviews until the next day") and not one you can customize for individual notes. Maybe I should start organizing decks by desired automaticity levels rather than by content.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-03T00:18:44.087Z · LW · GW

You know, I had a start-up idea along these lines recently: something that would combine SRS with social bookmarking.

Example: I'm slowly-but-steadily working my way through Learn You a Haskell for Great Good. I have it on good authority that few people make it as far as I have. I feel like the only reason I can do it is because I stop to make cards for terms, concepts, and many of the examples. I take days or weeks away from the book between sessions while I let those facts firm up in my head, and then I resume.

While I hold that there is real value to making cards yourself when this involves putting things into your own words, making a high-quality card is also a time-consuming chore that is just as much about formatting. I've often wished, as I read, that I had a browser extension that would let me pluck pre-made cards out of a side-bar that went with the passage I was reading -- cards by one of the thousands of people that have no doubt come before me in that chapter.

You can see how this might work. People could build karma when others copy their cards. Site creators might create their own cards as a way to help readers and boost traffic, or pay bounties of some kind to others who make them.

You could browse other cards by the writers of cards you've cloned, and all cards would have automatic links to the sites they go with -- getting around a big problem with imported cards, which is that they are shorn from their creation context.

Monetization? Maybe ads in the corner of the side-bar or something. Maybe partnerships with popular for-pay learning sites.

There are no doubt some thorny copyright issues at play though, and the overall potential market is probably pretty small.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T23:47:14.322Z · LW · GW

I think all of these strategies give the type of student I'm talking about too much credit, as they are mostly emotional creatures not prone to strategic planning. I guess TDTPT comes closest, but I would change it to a phrase I use with my students: "It's fun to be right." IFTBR.

Easy trivia apps were all the rage among my students a couple years ago. Nobody was trying to get a high score or trying to advance to the next level, but if you put a question in front of someone that they think they know the answer to, the urge to get validation for knowing it is irresistible. You've probably seen ads on the internet that work on this principle.

It's why Who Wants to Be a Millionaire always started off with insultingly easy questions, and why easy cards in the class Anki deck are so important for raising participation and morale.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T23:32:43.592Z · LW · GW

Monitoring features are definitely a part of the vision I'll be laying out in the next post, but more as a way to make classroom time more productive than as a homework enforcement aid. To get them to use something on their own time I'm going to have to be more clever, and make them feel like it was their idea.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T05:51:51.792Z · LW · GW

I've cut back on note-taking quite a bit thanks to Anki. They weren't looking up those notes anyway. If they want them bad enough they can look them up on my web page or go straight to the Anki cards.

Anki hasn't displaced much homework, though, as there wasn't much left to displace. I don't give it mostly because few of my students would do it; they are not strongly motivated by grades. This is especially true of reading homework; I gave up on that a year after I stopped teaching honors after getting about 10% compliance. Reading happens in class or not at all, and yes, it is a big challenge to squeeze this in and still do all of the other things we need to do. It's important, though. For most of my students, the reading we do together is the only reading-at-length they do all year. They admit this readily -- even proudly.

Essays are more mixed. We don't do too many full ones, and the ones we do mostly get done in class. The "homework" is there just as safety valve for those who care enough to make their essay great.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T03:44:48.677Z · LW · GW

Good question, but no, I wouldn't say these students are trying to guess the password. The cards they're remembering aren't complex enough to qualify. The answer is the answer, not a surface representation of some deeper knowledge they're skipping.

This feels more like a case of selective attention, of perking up and caring more about cards they see as "in their wheelhouse". It's an easy way of being better than everyone else at something, even if that something is pretty narrow. If you've ever done any cooperative social gaming, you can probably recall analogous situations where new players spontaneously start seeing themselves as specialists with some power-up, weapon, player class, etc. It's a land grab for the ego, and mostly just harmless fun.

Remembering passwords takes effort; a mystical incantation is harder to memorize than an answer you can logically derive from deeper knowledge. Hence, password guessing is something I mostly see in students who are grade obsessed, and I don't get too many of those.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Abuse of Productivity Systems · 2016-03-28T23:50:26.474Z · LW · GW

Just wanted to thank you for sharing the seemingly silly and overly personal. More generally applicable and insightful than you might appreciate.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Lesswrong 2016 Survey · 2016-03-27T16:36:11.602Z · LW · GW

I have taken the survey.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Require contributions in advance · 2016-02-08T23:57:14.787Z · LW · GW

As a high school teacher, I use this tactic all the time. I have to, or I would be overwhelmed by the many requests from parents that seem perfectly reasonable from their perspective but which become mathematically impossible in the aggregate.

"I think each teacher should check my son's agenda every day and sign off on whether they did their classwork and whether they have homework."

"Of course. Not a problem. As long as he brings it to me at the end of every class period filled out and ready for my signature, this should not be an issue."

Three days later -- often less -- the practice discontinues with no word from anyone.

Another example, by email: "I would like to meet with you this week about my daughter's grade."

I deliberately wait between 4 and 24 hours. And then:

"Of course. I'm available every day after school until..."

9 times out of 10 I'll never hear from the parent again. Ever. It's easy to rattle off an email to a teacher when you're mad at your kid, and it's easy to let a teacher make an appointment for you, but the trivial inconvenience of deciding on and committing to your own appointment time, combined with the cool-off period I created before responding, almost always leaves the ball dead in their court. And I think they feel too silly about it all afterwards to even talk to me again.

Oh well. Guess it wasn't that important to you.

Yeah, this is a dark art. Selective application is key. I really am there to help. But I use judicious social engineering to filter many of the demands I could end up committed to. Hopefully, I'm letting the ones through where I can actually do some good.

Comment by tanagrabeast on [Link] AlphaGo: Mastering the ancient game of Go with Machine Learning · 2016-01-30T01:47:35.358Z · LW · GW

Does one have to be the master to be a master?

I would be amazingly impressed by a robot beating the 633rd-ranked tennis pro. That would easily put it in the top 1% of the top 1% of those who play tennis. How close to the top of a sport or game would a human have to be before we would call them a master of it? Surely not that high!

Imagine the following exchange:

"I'm the best blacksmith in Britain."

"Oh. Well, this is awkward. You see, I was looking for a master blacksmith..."

Comment by tanagrabeast on Studying Your Native Language · 2016-01-29T23:49:24.825Z · LW · GW

Do you remember the source for this? Because what you described here was very fashionable in my country, at least a few years ago -- having schools where students not only learn English (as a second language), but also learn all subjects in English, so it deepens their language skills.

I'm not sure this is the same thing in a country where English is the native language. In your country, a school that teaches every subject in English might be the only way to make sure students are sufficiently immersed in the language. Your teachers are well aware of the limited English possessed by their students and no doubt adjust their instruction accordingly, perhaps even dipping into the native language as needed to communicate difficult ideas. English fluency at graduation is a selling point for those schools, I bet, and they are willing to take a hit to the efficiency of instruction to get it.

Here in the US, there is little worry that students will not be sufficiently immersed in English. The texts I remember I would summarize as saying that bilingual instruction is great, but that in reality most students are left to "sink or swim". The good news is that most students will, eventually, "swim" and become fluent in English whether we help them or not.

The concern here is what they lost while treading water. You see, graduation rates for students new to English here are not so great.

Which takes us back to the issue of whether academic instruction in the native language is important while the English is weak.

There is a good deal of irony in how and what I learned from these required courses. For reasons that melt into partisan politics, my state is one of a handful that specifically forbids (by law!) instruction in any language other than English (with obvious exceptions for classes teaching foreign languages as second languages). My 6 credit hours were required as part of a federal court settlement -- the state was sued by students who felt ill-served by this law -- which amounted to saying, “if you’re going to mandate English-only instruction, all of your teachers better know best practices for teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) using only English.”

But back to sources. I went to a very dusty bookshelf for you...

Alas, the one text I have left from this era is “Echevarria, Vogt, and Short. Making Content Comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model 2008.”, which is a book on best practices focused on English-only instruction... but even this still touches on the value of “L1” (the students’ native language) fluency in making sure students are receiving “comprehensible input” -- an important term in this field, as language that does not reach the threshold of comprehensibility for a given student will not help them build language fluency or academic subject knowledge.

Echevarria, Vogt, and Shorts say their model still allows for students to be “given the opportunity to have a concept or assignment explained in their L1 as needed. Significant controversy surrounds the use of L1 for instructional purposes, but we believe the clarification in students’ L1 by a bilingual instructional aide, peer, or through the use of materials written in the students’ L1 provides an important support for the academic learning of those students who are not yet fully proficient in English.” These authors seemed to be glad that, thanks to internet technologies, all classrooms “should have some resources in most of the students’ native languages.”

Another relevant passage:

“In fact, the National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth found that academic skills such as reading taught in the first language transfer to the second language.”

Summarizing findings from the National Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence, they listed as a bullet point that “Academic literacy in the native language facilitates the development of academic literacy in English”

I remember stronger endorsements for bilingual instruction in books now lost to me, but even these acknowledged that bilingual instruction generally doesn’t exist for a variety of budgetary and political reasons, so we had better learn to help ELLs get by in an English-only classroom.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Studying Your Native Language · 2016-01-29T02:27:52.565Z · LW · GW

As an American teacher of high school English, with a passion for spaced repetition software, I feel like it is my duty to respond to this post. My answer may surprise you.

If your goals are simply to understand more of what you read and to write more effectively, trying to skill up your general English skills strikes me as rather suboptimal.

Sure, a mastery of common word fragments will improve your ability to make at least some sense of unfamiliar words that use them -- I certainly teach these -- but you probably already know the most useful ones. I’m also unconvinced that etymology deepens comprehension much; usually, we want to understand someone, not somewords; this comes from understanding what that person intended to communicate, not from unlocking obscure arcana behind the words they happened to use.

Most of what is known to help reading comprehension is language independent, as is most of what is known to help you write better. I certainly don’t think Paul Graham’s skill as an essayist has much to do with his English; if he knows a second language even marginally well, I’m sure he would write in it nearly as effectively. To wit, he eschews esoteric explication. Writing is a craft, not a lookup table.

The strongest predictor of how well someone will do on a comprehension test of a given passage is how much they already know about the topic of that passage. A knowledge of the domain-specific vocabulary for that topic is either the second strongest predictor, or the same thing, depending on who you ask. General purpose vocabulary is farther down the list, and as an educated native speaker, you, again, are unlikely to find much low-hanging fruit in that area. So rather than take another level in English, I would suggest you consider which domains you want to be able to understand more of, and just start reading more in those domains, looking up words as needed. The language you do it in is almost irrelevant.

Consider: in the 6 credit hours of theory and practice for teachers of English Language Learners my state requires all teachers to take, I was taught that teenagers acquiring English as their second language are best off when they can continue learning domain specific concepts in their native language while waiting for their English to mature enough to transfer this knowledge over. Otherwise, they gain conversational English fluency but miss out on their first, best chance to learn foundational abstract concepts in, say, Science, Math, or Social Studies, leaving them without the ability to talk or even think about these subjects in any language.

With all the above in mind, when it comes to Anki cards and vocabulary, I am convinced that a great example sentence is much more useful than a great denotative definition. Connotations matter, and a visualizable, narratable context goes far both in conveying the extra implications of a word and in providing hooks for one’s memory. Still, you’re unlikely to absorb the deep flavor of the word -- the full intent of one who wields it fluently -- without encountering the word many times in varied contexts.

I say this in part because I acquired a sizable Spanish vocabulary from a time living in Spain decades ago, and there are to this day a number of words common to my internal monologue that are Spanish simply because they capture the flavor of the concept more perfectly than my closest English equivalents. But this is only the case for words that I encountered on enough authentic occasions to build that full connotative sense. Ones I merely studied out of the dictionary never reached that level, no matter how well I mastered them from a recognition and recall standpoint.

As any programmer will tell you, leveling skills in one language will have knock-on effects on your abilities in other languages, whether they are similar or not; the similar ones give you skills that transfer very directly, while the dissimilar ones broaden your conceptual toolset for approaching programs in general. If a problem might be more tractable within the intricacies of language suited to it, by all means, go deep into that language. But if you’re trying to understand say, an algorithm or a data structure, study that.

Comment by tanagrabeast on [LINK] Waitbutwhy article on the history and future of space exploration, SpaceX and more · 2015-09-08T01:34:20.148Z · LW · GW

It's possible that you are not the intended audience for such an article, which is clearly targeted at people like the author: a non-expert who is sometimes interested in technical topics. Simplifications, which were indeed abundant, are not the same thing as errors, which is what it sounds like you were implying with "ignorance".

If the author was all, "the thrust-to-weight on a Merlin is like, awesome" and you were like, "but that vacuum ISP, yo!" then you should probably be following SpaceX from rather than from an eclectic blog.

Comment by tanagrabeast on making notes - an instrumental rationality process. · 2015-09-06T01:25:52.614Z · LW · GW

Twenty years ago, I was an American living in Spain. The most useful habit I established was one of carrying around one or two tiny flip notebooks in my shirt pocket. Whenever I left a situation where I hadn't known the right Spanish word to express myself, I would write down the English equivalent in the left column.

At least once a day, I would consult the premium badass bilingual dictionary I kept on my kitchen table, writing the words or phrases I hadn't known on their corresponding lines in the right column.

During spare moments, I would pull out my notebooks and quiz myself. Over a two-year period, I had filled four or five of these notebooks--thousands of words--and rotated them in or out of my pocket as needed to keep every word fresh in my head. It was spaced repetition for an age before we carried computers in our pockets, and it steadily ratcheted up my language mastery in a very satisfying way.

Living now in the age of Anki, I find myself re-embracing this systemized approach for whatever I'm trying to learn. But the weakest cog in the machine is my inconsistency in making a timely note at the moment of insight or confusion. I'm tempted to go buy another mini-notebook... but since I have a phone with a stylus, I'll first try to train a habit to actually use it.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-29T18:25:44.792Z · LW · GW

[Added the Exercises section. I think the article is definitely better for it. Thanks for the advice.]

Comment by tanagrabeast on Calling references: Rational or irrational? · 2015-08-29T00:30:33.145Z · LW · GW

Why does every employer ask for a list of references, then not call them?

You think that's bad?

A local school district called the "references" of a prospective employee for a tough-to-fill position. These references, her former bosses, uniformly advised against hiring this person.

The district hired her anyway.

After a long and difficult process, the district eventually fired this employee. Then, the principal that had done most of the legwork on the firing got a call from yet another district. Surprised to have been listed as a reference, the principal vociferously cautioned the new district against hiring her.

They hired her anyway.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-28T04:12:28.383Z · LW · GW

Hmm. I see your points. I'll try to structure future articles so that an above-the-fold abstract structure will work better, but I'm not convinced that my present post is long enough or self-evident enough to support it -- at least not without an extensive rewrite. What I think I'll do this weekend is add an Exercises section at the bottom with the techniques in concise form. Thanks!

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-08-28T04:03:59.965Z · LW · GW

I spent the better part of a year teaching Spanish as a long-term sub for teachers on maternity leave, and made extensive use of their mini whiteboards. I loved them. They forced everyone to engage, and gave me a clear picture of which misconceptions needed correction.

When it comes to mini whiteboards, though, I found that there's a sweet spot for the length and complexity of responses. Anything too short or simple doesn't justify the time it takes to wait for everyone to write it on their boards. Anything too long and it doesn't fit on the boards and/or can't be easily read by me.

Spanish, with what, to Americans, feels like backwards syntax and weirdly complex conjugation, routinely fell into that sweet spot, where a phrase or short sentence conveyed a great deal.

English hardly ever seems to hit that same spot. Occasionally, if we're covering conventions/grammar issues, perhaps, but not often enough, so here's what I've been doing more of for that type of lesson:

After going over each concept, we do multiple choice slides. Students select their answers with those same 4-colored cards they use during Anki time. I have them get their colors ready but not hold them up until I say so. This is very fast, easy to read at a glance, and still lets me identify areas that need clarification. The trick is to produce really good multiple choice options that will help tease out these problem spots.

If I were teaching foreign language right now I'm sure I would still be using the mini boards. I would also be trying very hard to get my students to use Duolingo, the gamified language-learning SRS that Spanish teachers and their students keep raving about to me.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Why people want to die · 2015-08-27T14:23:07.883Z · LW · GW

My assertion is that there's a difference between wanting to die and being apathetic about having death sneak up on you, and that most old people are actually in the latter category. I'm not comfortable calling these people "deathist", preferring instead to reserve the term for those who would oppose the idea that death should be optional.

I hold that the person who merely wouldn't mind not waking up tomorrow is usually just as content to keep living for one more day, and would likely be at least as content to wake up in a younger body.

The guy living in his mom's basement who says he would like to leave is less ambivalent. He would much rather wake up in a place of his own, provided he didn't have to make the continuous effort normally needed to enable this.

If dying took as much effort as getting and holding a job, I doubt it would be so popular.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-26T23:01:43.860Z · LW · GW

I'm glad you liked the article.

Can you point me to a post on LW that is laid out in the style that you propose? This could give me a better vision of it.

Also, don't you think my techniques might sound a little kooky without context? I worry that, as openers, they might be more off-putting than inviting.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Why people want to die · 2015-08-24T23:20:12.837Z · LW · GW

How many of these people want to die today?

Precious few I expect. Their daily rituals must still carry some intrinsic satisfaction. Perhaps they no longer hold long-term goals because they don't feel like they have enough time left to achieve them and enjoy their fruits. This does not seem unreasonable, though it may seem self-defeating from the outside.

As I've recently commented, I don't like the idea of living each day as though it might be your last, but if I were 80 years old it might make a certain kind of sense. At the very least, this late-game logic creates a sizable hurdle to getting an elderly person interested in something to the point where they become less apathetic about eventually kicking the bucket -- which is all we're really talking about here.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-23T16:39:32.908Z · LW · GW

What we're really getting at now is the idea of roles, as explored in this LW post from last year. (The comments on that one are fantastic.)

Developing personas to play in different contexts -- and training to swap between them -- is, I think, incredibly valuable. The persona I developed for my day job as a teacher is actually quite different from my default personality, and has its own contingent sub-personas that I shift into as circumstances warrant.

"Time traveller", "clone", "fork" are, in this sense, useful meta-roles that may help give your other roles additional purpose and focus.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-23T05:24:30.354Z · LW · GW

I like your summaries, and have a few clarifications along with answers to your questions.

On Second Chances, you asked:

Do you think it has to be a whole day? What if you thought about a whole chunk of time in which you will be in a particular situation and then approached it with a specific purpose? If you are at the beach with your family, maybe you can take on the appreciative frame of mind. If you are driving, maybe you can take on the mindful frame of mind.

No. In the paragraph about driving, I was trying to suggest that I don't expect a second chance mentality to fill an entire day. I agree that as contexts shift throughout the day, it makes sense shift the mentality. The Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day, for example figures out the best ways of approaching each segment of the day he has to continually relive.

More mindful which means being in the moment and in control (you don’t need to do that silly thing that caused an accident last time)....

Mindfulness probably isn't quite the right term for what I'm talking about, just because people use it in so many different ways. I use it to mean feeling present in the moment, with my attention on the things that, looking back, I would be glad (or wish) I had been paying attention to.

...Is there any kind of thought pattern or ritual that would make the perspective you take more impactful and vivid.

The hallmark of "time travelling" mindsets for me is that they take so little effort to slip into. Only my "bobbling" has much of a ritual to it. I will say, though, that reflecting on past situations where I was successful at heightening my asethetic appreciation and emotional presence helps prime me to do so again.

What do you think is the best amount of time to use? [bobbling]

I've not hit on a single optimum. It depends partly on how much uninterrupted time I think I can expect (or afford to take), and partly on the nature of the task. I've gone as long as 4 hours (with short breaks, Pomodoro style), but 90-120 minutes with only a short stretch break or two is more my preference. I tend to be something of a zombie if I'm walking around taking care of biology in the middle of a bobbling, as I don't want to release any of my goal-task thoughts from working memory. I cleared everything else out of it for a reason.

Do you ever extend the period of time. For example, if you are writing and you get a great idea do you just keep writing or do you take a break?

I usually had a very specific reason for choosing the length of time I bobbled. Unless these (often external) constraints have changed, I will probably not attempt to hold on to the timeless single-minded mentality, although I will often ride the momentum when I can, even if I can no longer give it 100% of my attention. The hardest part of many tasks is starting them.

It pays to know when to quit, though. I don't want to create memory associations where bobbling ends in fizzling or burnout. See Peak-End Rule.

The Past, Interrupted(Essentially, it means that you make a certain perspective or context vivid so that you are more likely to take actions appropriate for that context)

That's not quite how I meant it, although I think what you are suggesting can help. I was more talking about the ability to let go of what's on your mind right now so as to shift back to a prior mental context. This requires trusting that you are able to reclaim whatever is valuable in the context you are leaving, which is why I say that you might need to write things down so that you can feel good about releasing them from your working memory. This ability to trust your systems to store your concerns is practically the entire thesis of David Allen's Getting Things Done.

Your comment has me giving some thought to the idea of looking for ways to create emotionally vivid hooks for the working memory contents of the context I'm about to walk away from. I would love to be able to load back more of what was on my mind at the time, although there is also something to be said for getting a bit of a fresh perspective on a problem that had been giving you trouble.

"ug field" should be "ugh field" I made this mistake. You should have a summary break so that people don’t need to scroll through the whole article when they look for new main articles.

Fixed both, I think. Thanks for the feedback!

Comment by tanagrabeast on Wear a Helmet While Driving a Car · 2015-07-30T23:29:02.654Z · LW · GW

I'm curious about liability risks that may accrue to the very lonely trendsetters who try it.

In my imagination, there's a terrible accident that leaves someone other than the helmet-wearer paralyzed or dead, and investigators are surprised to see that one driver was wearing... a helmet?? It's almost like he knew he was going to get into an accident -- perhaps even intended to. Certainly, that's what people would think reading the articles about it. Perhaps a jury would, as well.

Even a weaker version of that argument could be damaging; anti-lock breaks are said to increase risky driving behavior, after all. The same has been said of seat belts, even. See risk compensation.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Catastrophe Engines: A possible resolution to the Fermi Paradox · 2015-07-26T03:23:08.647Z · LW · GW

Seconded. So many layers of specificity, one of which is "exotic physics" ... I have a hard time seeing why it's worth entertaining this idea over any of the other unlikely but less specific theories one could devise.

Comment by tanagrabeast on MIRI's 2015 Summer Fundraiser! · 2015-07-21T02:14:13.771Z · LW · GW

At the smaller end of the spectrum, I'm using this as an opportunity to zero out several gift cards with awkward remaining balances -- my digital loose change.

Or at least, I started to. There's a trivial inconvenience in that the donation button doesn't let you specify increments smaller than a dollar. So I wouldn't actually be able to zero them out.

This is, of course, a silly obstacle I have more than compensated for with a round donation from my main account. The inconvenience will just have to be borne by those poor retail cashiers with "split transaction" phobia.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Bragging Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-15T04:34:54.633Z · LW · GW

I think you may overestimate my odds in both domains, but the sentiment is appreciated.

That was an interesting link you posted. I read it with much affirmative nodding, and only the occasional impulse to make a snarky remark about the cute little sample size :)

Comment by tanagrabeast on Bragging Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-14T04:31:50.647Z · LW · GW

I expanded MIRI's pool of quality candidates for their office manager position by submitting my application.

If you can see yourself stepping into that role, please do likewise!

Comment by tanagrabeast on MIRI needs an Office Manager (aka Force Multiplier) · 2015-07-09T20:05:35.069Z · LW · GW


(I didn't need a whole lot of convincing.)

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-07-05T18:33:53.062Z · LW · GW

There is talk of me giving some training on it, yes.

Teachers are so different from each other, though, and we easily become set in our ways. I'll count myself lucky for getting even a few to try it, and some of those may be doomed to fail because of their very different styles.

That said, the foreign language department, at least, should have a way easier time capitalizing on SRS than I did. I'll try to give them some extra attention.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-07-05T18:22:55.544Z · LW · GW

I don't disagree with any of this. Overall, Anki is very smart about how it prioritizes. The only behavior I really question is the one I highlighted in my "Triage" section:

if you tell Anki to review a deck made from subdecks, due cards from subdecks higher up in the stack are shown before cards from decks listed below, no matter how overdue they might be.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-07-05T18:12:29.960Z · LW · GW

Because of this, people are reluctant to become teachers and the occupation tends to attract folks who lack better options.

It has not been my experience that people go into teaching because they lack better options. You're right that it's a hard job and the pay isn't commensurate. This means, though, that there are almost always "better options".

People go into teaching because they like to teach. Some want to feel like they're making a difference. Some like the challenge of it. It's complicated. Yes, many regret the decision and then feel trapped in education. But they usually make it out eventually.

What I will say, though, is that our country doesn't get nearly enough of its very smartest to think seriously about teaching kids, especially if the subject they could teach is one that's easy to get an exciting and high-paying job doing instead.

According to this theory, Teach for America helps by making teaching in to a high-prestige occupation that you'll want to put on your resume.

In my experience, American teachers generally do enjoy a certain amount of prestige with a wide cross-section of the population. But it's mostly a kind of "moral" prestige that comes from that combination of low pay and difficult conditions. Many people see teachers the same way they see charity workers. This perversely helps keep salaries low, I think, because there's a sense that teachers shouldn't be in it for the money.

Teachers have an appreciation day, you know. Of course, I have a stand-up comedy bit about how you know you're getting shafted if there's an appreciation day in your honor...

Also, I'm gonna be obnoxious and ask you what you think of Paul Graham's essay on English classes since you're an English teacher.

I love Paul Graham's writing, and that essay in particular. But he's operating several meta levels higher than my student writers, and at least one level higher than me. I might get two or three students a year who need to stop worrying so much about structure and follow their guts more. The rest just need to master the traditional 5-paragraph essay so they can pass the state test and survive the rest of high school.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-07-05T17:45:10.186Z · LW · GW

I don't give nearly as many tests and quizzes as you might think, as they are costlier than commonly appreciated. Not only do I have to write them and score them, I have to dedicate precious, precious class time to them. Lots of class time, because we have to wait for everyone to finish, and in my classes some students will always take forever. More than that, even, because if I give anything that smells like formal assessment, I'm required to send students with accommodations to a special testing room where they can get extra help and time. So not only do I have to work out the logistics on that, some of my most needy students might be missing from my class for an extra day.

My testing minimalism raises some eyebrows. I get away with it because my students consistently beat expectations on the tests people care about the most.

You're absolutely right, though, about assessments acting as an additional review. I do give some regular "take-home quizzes" in the form of vocab/terminology matching sheets or crosswords just to have something to put in the grade book.

Also, that team-based review game we play on the interactive whiteboard has very high overlap with my Anki deck. This did help keep some vocab words that were languishing on the bottom of the Anki deck in circulation. Not every class has the same leeches and due cards on a given day, though, so it's not really practical to tweak the game that precisely.

By the way, gwern, let me thank you directly for your web page about spaced repetition. This experiment never would have happened without it. My "heartfelt presentation" is basically the CliffsNotes version of your research, and I attribute you at the end of it.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-07-05T17:10:53.524Z · LW · GW

If I were currently teaching honors students I would also be less skeptical. My district persistently pushes its honors and AP offerings in a way that leads to an evaporative cooling of work ethic in the lower classes. I think I only had a handful of students using Anki on their own because pretty much everyone with enough ambition to have been persuaded by me was in honors.

Not seeing the benefits of what I do in the classroom goes with the territory. I do plan to give the presentation again when we start back up in a few weeks.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-07-05T17:03:08.420Z · LW · GW

That's a fair question with a surprisingly complicated answer.

Before I get to it, let me explain that I had a weekly ritual for reminding them about the potential for personal Anki use and the value I placed on it. Every Monday morning started with a written reminder on the board and an oral reminder from me that the class deck had been updated, uploaded, and was now ready for them to download. I invited them to pull out their phones and download the latest deck at that time, and gave them a couple of minutes to do it. Depending on the season, I would also remind them that "Anki is school EZ MODE", and "Anki is our study guide" for the mid-term, final, etc.

Of course, way more phones came out than were ever downloading my deck, but I felt the cost was acceptable.

This brings up another limitation of Anki: the fact that it costs 25$ on iOS. From a survey I gave the year before, I know that more than half of my students use iPhones. I made sure they knew they could be using it for free on their desktops, linking their desktop profiles to Ankiweb, and studying for free from their phone's web browser... but that smells like effort. Effort AND cost? They rejected it out of principle, offended by the suggestion.

Anyway, I didn't directly poll my students because I felt like I already knew the answer from the downloads and didn't feel it was worth the risk of lowering the prestige of Anki further. You see, by about 6 weeks in there were maybe 1 or 2 students per class still downloading. If I asked the class to "raise your hand if you're using Anki on your own" those 1 or 2 people would have felt like losers, and maybe not even raised their hands. The same effect would have been only moderately reduced with a written survey, because the first thing students do after a survey is ask their peers what they wrote. Either way, they would have gotten the impression that "nobody is using Anki on their own". You know how studies show that teens think their peers are having way more sex than they really are? I chose to let my students think their peers were getting way more Anki. Never underestimate the power of social proof on teenagers.

Another fun dilemma: It occurred to me that whole-class Anki use was probably cannibalizing personal Anki use. I suspect that many of the ~25 people who downloaded my deck during the first two weeks soon stopped because it felt redundant. I was left to choose between two scenarios:

Scenario 1: We use Anki together in class, and about 110 of my ~180 students get something out of it, but only 3 people get the most of it by using it on their own.

Scenario 2: We don't use Anki in class. 25 students (optimistically) get the most out of Anki. Nobody else gets anything from it.

Even if I felt like total learning was higher in Scenario 2, I'm strongly incentivized to choose option 1. I know who those 25 students would be. They were destined to pass the state test and get As in my class with or without Anki.

Guess which scenario looks better on my annual performance review?

Comment by tanagrabeast on MIRI needs an Office Manager (aka Force Multiplier) · 2015-07-03T05:55:41.505Z · LW · GW

This is probably my dream job... the job I would do for free if I had the means. But any idea of the salary range? Could someone with a family (and a spouse's teacher salary) possibly hope to live close enough to Berkeley to be effective?

Comment by tanagrabeast on Summary and Lessons from "On Combat" · 2015-03-24T00:54:39.943Z · LW · GW

If merely looking to elevate into yellow/red levels of arousal through safe means, let me suggest a digital approach: not "ego shooters" but rather 1 vs. 1 competitive Real-Time Strategy (RTS) vs. anonymous human opponents. I'm sure one can build up a tolerance, but a 2-month fling with Starcraft II taught me that stress gets amplified by the following:

1.Complex cognitive demands.

2.Knowing that no-one will come to your aid.

3.Feeling like your opponent has absolutely no reservations about eviscerating you (probably helped by not being able to see them)

I studied the game intently, advanced above the 50th percentile quickly... and had to give it up. By the end of each round I was often too shaky to manipulate my mouse. I would have to run in place and then pace for long periods to lower my heart rate. The clincher, though, was the impact on my temper. I would become enraged at little things, and the mindset could persist for 12 hours or more.

For me, playing felt too much like being a hunted animal. Interestingly, a friend of mine gave up the game for similar reasons -- but described his experience as feeling too predatory, like he was stalking and literally killing his opponents, with resulting damage to his own psyche.

He may have been better than I was.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Ergonomics Revisited · 2014-04-23T22:48:21.396Z · LW · GW

Yes. Go laceless. I only discovered a few years ago that there is such thing as men's close-toed shoes that can be appropriate semi-formal workwear yet never need to be tied. I wear something roughly similar to this at work: Amazon and a more casual variation in my free time. Very comfortable, loose-sneaker feel on the inside. An elastic-bound tongue ensures uniform snugness, rather than fluctuating between too tight and too loose. Once broken in, you can slide them on and off without hands, as you might with slippers or flip-flops.

But more importantly than the ergonomics... why waste time time tying shoes? Why risk injury tripping over laces, or getting them caught places?

Comment by tanagrabeast on Book Review: How Learning Works · 2014-01-20T17:54:38.232Z · LW · GW

I skimmed through Teach Like a Champion when it was first released, largely on the strength of the New York Times article about it. My take on it closely echoes this fair and critical Amazon review.

In summary, Champion can show new teachers a lot of low-hanging fruit -- valuable techniques veterans like myself already use but remember figuring out the hard way. In particular, Champion shines a light on hard-to-explain non-verbal concepts that good teachers don't always realize they've mastered and wouldn't think to tell newbies about. I expect that a new teacher will get more immediate mileage out of Champion than from How Learning Works. Veteran teachers, though, are more likely to be unimpressed and notice some real blind spots in Champion. For example, the linked review's discussion of SSR (sustained silent reading) vs. "popcorn" reading is, in my own experience, spot on.

I will make a note to revisit this comparison when I have read HLW.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Book Review: How Learning Works · 2014-01-20T03:22:11.339Z · LW · GW

This looks like a valuable book, and as a teacher I will probably read it soon. That said, at the high school level, it often feels like we are already swimming in "best practices" but being pushed under by crushing workloads. Better practices generally mean higher loads -- sometimes not in the long term, but always in the short term.

Think of it this way. When you have 180 students per day, anything you do that relates to individuals gets multiplied by 180. Did you design a killer rubric that lets you read and give useful feedback on a submitted paragraph in just one minute? You're amazing, but you will still need three solid hours to go through them all. And remember that this is on top of all of your other lesson planning and parent communication and extracurriculars and meetings and administrative paperwork etc etc.

And you have school again tomorrow.

In the same dangerous motion of not quitting after my first year, I privately swore to doggedly accumulate true effectiveness without sacrificing my personal life on the altar of public education. In the eyes of many, this makes me a bad person. How dare I draw boundaries around teaching as though it were just a job? Six years later, though, the tortoise is clearly winning this race. The corpses of the hares smolder by the side of the road; they were never as fast as they looked.

I will no doubt find some useful gems in this book, but they will be vastly outnumbered by the tears I shed for all of the great techniques I won't see any realistic way to implement.

Thank you for writing this review.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Why I haven't signed up for cryonics · 2014-01-12T20:59:16.817Z · LW · GW

As a counterpoint, let me offer my own experience rediscovering cryonics through Eliezer.

Originally, I hadn't seen the point. Like most people, I assumed cryonauts dreamed that one day someone would simply thaw them out, cure whatever killed them, and restart their heart with shock paddles or something. Even the most rudimentary understanding of or experience with biology and freezing temperatures made this idea patently absurd.

It wasn't until I discovered Eliezer's writings circa 2001 or so that I was able to see connections between high shock-level concepts like uploading, nanotech, and superintelligence. I reasoned that a successful outcome of cryonics is not likely to come through direct biological revival, but rather through atomically precise scanning, super-powerful computational reconstruction, and reinstantiation as an upload or in a replacement body.

The upshot of this reasoning is that for cryonics to have any chance of success, a future must be assured in which these technologies would be safely brought to bear on such problems. I continue to have trouble imagining such a future existing if the friendly AI problem is not solved before it is too late. As friendly AI seems unlikely to be solved without careful, deliberate research (which very few people are doing), investing in cryonics without also investing in friendly AI research feels pointless.

In those early years, I could afford to make donations to SIAI (now MIRI), but could not afford a cryonics plan, and certainly could not afford both. As I saw it, I was young. I could afford to wait on the cryonics, but would have the most impact on the future by donating to SIAI immediately. So I did.

That's the effect Eliezer's cryonics activism had on me.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Open thread for January 1-7, 2014 · 2014-01-06T22:44:49.438Z · LW · GW

I just played around with Memrise, and it does indeed look perfect for my audience. I had begun my SRS search with gwern's excellent exploration of the topic, where Memrise does not appear. Thank you so much!

Comment by tanagrabeast on Open thread for January 1-7, 2014 · 2014-01-05T22:00:30.782Z · LW · GW

I need some advice on spaced repetition software.

I teach high school English to underclassmen who skew towards "totally unmotivated". I have been using spaced repetition principles for years (using games, puzzles, and other spaced reviews) to help with vocabulary and terminology. These do effectively engage many of the poorly motivated.

But recently, I feel like smartphones have become ubiquitous enough among students that I'm looking for software I could use as a quasi-official SRS companion app with my students. I think many of them would use it, but only if they experience very minimal frustration setting it up and running it. My wishlist:

(1) Free app on both Android and iPhone (I'd say it's about 50/50 with my students) (2) Companion web app with cloud sync to mobile apps. (3) Very easy to use and update with new cards regularly. I would like to be able to post weekly deck additions on my teacher web page that students can add to their deck.

Anki, which I use for my personal learning, seems to come closest -- but the $25 cost of the iPhone app is a problem, and I worry that using the web app on the iPhone be too much of a hassle. I also worry that the "add external cards to your deck" procedure is a bit too hairy as well.

Has anyone seen anything that comes closer to my needs than Anki? Thanks!

Comment by tanagrabeast on Why CFAR? · 2014-01-05T06:42:01.226Z · LW · GW

Donated $105, making my contribution the true baseball bat in the infamous $110 question.

May we get these things right more often.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013) · 2014-01-02T04:25:34.695Z · LW · GW

Yes. It's amazing how memorable people find that one episode. Props to the writers.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013) · 2014-01-02T02:56:50.301Z · LW · GW


I'm a long-time singularitarian and (intermediate) rationalist looking be a part of the conversation again. By day I am an English teacher in a suburban American high school. My students have been known to Google me. Rather than self-censor I am using a pseudonym so that I will feel free to share my (anonymized) experiences as a rationalist high school teacher.

I internet-know a number of you in this community from early years of the Singularity Institute. I fleetingly met at a few in person once, perhaps. I used to write on singularity-related issues, and was a proud "sniper" of the SL4 mailing list for a time. For the last 6-7 years I've mostly dropped off the radar by letting "life" issues consume me, though I have continued to follow the work of the key actors from afar with interest. I allow myself some pride for any small positive impact I might have once had during a time of great leverage for donors and activists, while recognizing that far too much remains undone. (If you would like to confirm your suspicions of my identity, I would love to hear from you with a PM. I just don't want Google searches of my real name pulling up my LW activity.)

High school teaching has been a taxing path, along with parenting, and it has been all too easy to use these as excuses to neglect my more challenging (yet rewarding) interests. I let my inaction and guilt reinforce each other until I woke up one day, read HPMoR, and realized I had long-ago regressed into an NPC.

Screw that.

Other background tidbits: I'm one of those atheist ex-mormons that seem so plentiful on this page (since 2000ish). I'm a self-taught "hedge coder" who has successfully used inelegant-but-effective programming in the service of my career. I feel effective in public education, which is not without its rewards. But on some important levels teaching at an American public high school is also a bit like working security at Azkaban, and I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to keep my patronus going.

I've been using GTD methodologies for the last eight years or so, which has been great for letting me keep my mind clear to work on important tasks at hand; however, my dearest personal goals (which involve writing, both fiction and non) live among some powerful Ugh Fields. If I had been reading LW more closely, I probably would've discovered the Pomodoro method a lot sooner. This is helping.

My thanks to all who share their insights and experiences on this forum.