Tag Archives: reading

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I was recently accepted as a contributor to Apple News. This means that readers can now access this website’s content via the Apple News app from any iOS device. The latest posts will appear directly in readers’ Apple News feeds. This is quicker and much more convenient than using the mobile version of this website.

I’ve been using Apple News for a while now, and I love having quick access to important news from various sources. You can customise which news sources you want to appear in your news feed: there are around 2000 news sources to choose from, and this website has now been added to the mix.

Click here to check out my Apple News channel.

James Kennedy, Monash Apple News Channel
My Apple News channel as of March 2016. Click to subscribe.
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Slow Reading Makes You Smarter

books open random pages

“Why bother reading?” is a question I’m asked occasionally by students, and “reading makes you smarter” is my standard response. This week, I want to expand on this fact and give some evidence for reading being a major contributor not only to academic success, but to success in many other aspects of life as well.

Reading improves your IQ and EQ

Firstly, there’s convincing evidence by Mar et al., (2009) that people who read fiction have greater ability to understand others’ emotions, emphasise with them and view the world from their perspective. In other words, reading increases your emotional quotient (EQ).

Second, there’s convincing evidence that reading increases your vocabulary. Cunningham & Stanovich (2001) penned an excellent analysis that includes evidence from many other studies that a person’s vocabulary is increased fastest by reading, particularly reading books outside of school hours, than by learning lists of vocabulary on their own.

Improving your EQ has obvious benefits. But what are the advantages of increasing your vocabulary? Increased vocabulary has been shown to be linked with increased intelligence and socioeconomic status. Even if the link is correlative and not causative, people will still benefit from the perceived intelligence that an increased vocabulary brings about.

Furthermore, Olson, D. R. (1986) writes:

It is easy to show that sensitivity to the subtleties of language are crucial to some undertakings. A person who does not clearly see the difference between an expression of intention and a promise or between a mistake and an accident, or between a falsehood and a lie, should avoid a legal career or, for that matter, a theological one.

It has also been widely argued in the literature that reading can increase vocabulary faster than verbal interactions because our written vocabulary is so much more diverse than our spoken vocabulary.

What type of reading should I be doing?

Deep reading is the most effective way to increase your IQ and EQ.

Deep reading involves:

  • decreased physical activity while reading
  • zero distraction (or immunity to distraction: being ‘in the zone’)
  • reading for extensive periods of time: many hours in one sitting
  • processing the things you read in a meta-cognitive way, e.g. writing book reviews or making notes as you read

Deep reading is vigorous exercise from the brain. It increases our capacity for empathy in real life. Deep reading is slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity, and is very different from the kind of reading we do on the internet or even in school. Deep reading is a distinctive experience, different in kind from the mere decoding of words. Victor Nell reported in 1988 that deep readers read their favourite pages more slowly than average, and that deep reading is usually accompanied by a significant decrease in physiological activity. He even noted that deep reading sets the reader into a psychological state akin to a hypnotic trance.

“…deep reading sets the reader into a psychological state akin to a hypnotic trance.” – Victor Nell (1988)

Can I use an iPad or an e-reader?

Not for deep reading, no. Use an e-reader or an iPad for reading magazines and news articles only. Not only are electronic devices prone to distracting you (under the ruse of ‘multitasking’), but studies have shown that readers who read books on electronic devices:

While reading can be done on electronic devices, deep reading needs to be done from paper. Not only are printed books free of popup notifications and advertisements, they also kinder on your eyes (because they’re not backlit) and lend themselves better to being highlighted and annotated in the margins if required.

Read more about 10 reasons print books are better than e-books on Huffpost

I hate reading. Why do I hate reading?

Here’s a flowchart derived from Cunningham & Stanovich that explains why some people hate reading. Their premise is that people who hate reading have been introduced to books that are too difficult so the excessive focus on the meaning of individual words distracts people from the meaning of paragraphs or chapters as a whole.

flowchart for reading article
Adapted from Cunningham & Stanovich (2008)

It’s therefore important to choose books of an appropriate reading level.

So what should I read (or, ‘deep read’)?

Choose a genre that matches your interests and a medium that matches your reading level. The material you read should be not too easy and not too difficult. Here’s a rough guide to the difficulty level of different types of media.

reading materials help you to become more intelligent

Occasionally, try to expand your horizons by challenging yourself to read something you wouldn’t normally read. Here are some great ways to read outside your comfort zone:

  • swap books with a friend;
  • get books recommended to you by a teacher, tutor or a family member;
  • participate in a book club, in which you read a new book each month or fortnight.

How much should I read each day?

Aim to read 3,300,000 words per year. That equates to about one book per week, which puts you above 95% of the adult population.

In 2012, when I realised I wasn’t reading enough, I decided to read a book every two days. I posted all the reviews online as a way of holding myself accountable to reading them thoroughly and deeply. Reading this much was difficult and time-consuming at first, but, just like sports, I become faster and more proficient as I read more books.

number of hours of independent reading

Read one book per week and review it online to keep yourself accountable.

Conclusion

Get involved in deep reading by reading one book per week and posting the reviews online. Here’s your new reading process for the new year.

your new reading process for 2016

Read more about why reading is important here

8-Page VCE Chemistry Formula Booklet Just $55

VCE Chemistry Formula Booklet INSIDE
VCE Chemistry Formula Booklet, $55. Free, Fast Delivery Included.

Inspired by the formula booklets used by VCE Physics and VCE Maths Methods, here’s an 8-page Chemistry formula booklet you can use for your Year 11 and 12 Chemistry assignments. This custom-made booklet is a a collection of reliable formulae that I have been using to answer VCE Chemistry questions while teaching and tutoring.

There are 76 formulae in total, at least 10 of which are original. Orders are shipped on A3 paper, stapled along the spine and folded to an A4-sized booklet that resembles the VCAA Data Booklet.

Orders from schools, students and tutors are all welcome. Price includes free international delivery and 10% voucher for the T-shirt store.

Order your copy now by clicking here

VCE Chemistry Formula Booklet FRONT
Click to purchase a printed copy for just $55

How to Read a Book

Source: Livinganawesomelife.com

Reading is the key to developing a comprehensive understanding of any subject by yourself. By the end of Year 12, you’ll need to have mastered the skills of independent readingnote-taking, and asking for help. Today, we’ll focus on the first of those key skills: independent reading.

There are three main types of reading: inspectional, analytical and synoptical reading. How you read depends on your purpose for reading.

1) News articles require Inspectional Reading

In a magazine or academic journal, skim over the headlines and pictures to find articles that might interest you. I recommend reading New Scientist as an excellent source of up-to-date science news. I used to read this magazine each morning before reading the day’s textbook chapter(s) while I was a student in Cambridge. Inspectional reading involves skim-reading then re-reading if the article is particularly relevant to you. You might even want to cut it out and keep it for future reference.

2) Your Chemistry textbook requires Analytical Reading

The key to analytical reading is to make annotations and excellent notes. If you’ve purchased a printed copy of the book, then you’ve purchased the right to annotate that book with ink, Post-it Notes® and highlighters. In difficult/technical sections of the book (such as the introduction page to NMR spectroscopy in Heinemann Chemistry 2), summarise each paragraph in 7 words or fewer in the margin. Transfer your notes to A4, lined paper and file your notes in an organised way. Note-making is the best way to learn while you read a technically difficult text such as your Chemistry textbook.

3) When you have an assignment due, you’ll need to do a Synoptical Reading of your source materials

When you need to build a bibliography, you’ll need to glean pieces of information from many sources and summarise them into your own words. You’ll also need to keep a properly-formatted references list to append to your assignment. You can read the entire text or just relevant parts – but make sure your reading is varied. Read books or articles from the references sections of books that are particularly relevant to your assignment. When writing your essay, much of the structure of the essay will ‘magically’ emerge when you link together in a logical way the dozens of sentence-long summaries that you created during your synoptical reading.

How do you read?

Is there a special reading/note-taking technique that works well for you? Do you make flashcards or mind maps? Let us know in the comments section below.

Which Chapters of Heinemann Chemistry 1 do we need to learn in preparation for Units 3 and 4?

Chapters for Heinemann Chemistry 1
Click to download PDF version

My favourite Year 11 VCE Chemistry book explains all the concepts you need to know for Units 1 & 2. If you’re in Year 12 and you want to refresh your memory of the essential topics from last year’s course, these are the chapters you should spend the most time reading.

  • Skip the sections in red;
  • Read the sections in yellow and make careful annotations;
  • Study the sections in green because they are assumed knowledge in the Year 12 course.

Remember to check out the related post:

Which Chapters of Heinemann Chemistry 2 do we need to learn for the examination?

Good luck!

Which Chapters of Heinemann Chemistry 2 do we need to learn for the examination?

Chapters for Heinemann Chemistry 2
Click to download PDF

My favourite VCE Chemistry textbook contains some extra information that isn’t part of the VCE Chemistry Study Design, which almost certainly won’t be on the end of year examination. Use this chart to help you find your way through Heinemann Chemistry 2:

  • Skip the sections in red;
  • Read the sections in yellow and make careful annotations;
  • Study the sections in green meticulously and make concise notes on all of their contents.
  • Chapters 19 to 22 (in blue) explain the “detailed studies”, and students need to study just one chapter out of these four. Many schools choose the chapters on ammonia or sulfuric acid.

Five most important things in any classroom

Students raise their hands in a classroom
Students raise their hands in a classroom

At the beginning of each academic year, I ask my VCE Chemistry students what the most important things are in the classroom in order to learn Chemistry. Typical answers include ‘pens’, ‘notebooks’, ‘tables’, ‘chairs’ and ‘a teacher’. I have a different view.

1. Students

Students are the most important ‘things’ in the classroom if any learning is going to happen. No learning happens without students present!

2. Textbooks

The primary source of information is not the teacher. It’s the textbook. The textbook explains every topic on the course concisely and accurately, and teaches students all the theory required for the end-of-year examination. Textbooks contain so many practice questions that some students don’t even complete all of them. Before hunting for extra resources or question sets, do all of the questions in the textbook first.

Learn how to use a textbook here.

3. Stationery

Pens are more important than notebooks because the textbook is designed to be annotated. The giant margins in a textbook (which aren’t there in novels) are placed purposefully to accommodate students’ personalised notes. Students should use at least two different colours of ink to annotate their textbooks, and they should highlight important definitions and phrases as well. (They should translate words, too, if they are fluent in another language.) Teachers will need to guide and encourage students through this process initially. Some students enter your classroom with an aversion to writing in textbooks.

4. Notebooks

Making your own notes is a very efficient way to learn. Any teacher who gives pre-made notes to their students is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn for themselves. It’s fine to give some notes to students as an example, but the vast majority of student notes should be written by the students themselves (even if they’re copying most of it from the whiteboard).

An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their teacher.

Several interesting studies have found that students who hand-wrote their notes learned more than those who typed them.

Learn how to make great notes here.

5. Teacher

A teacher’s role, in addition to providing academic and moral support, is to bring the textbook (or the subject) to life. A teacher is the difference between reading a play and watching a play. A teacher makes the subject more engaging, more interesting and more relevant by bringing their own experience, funny stories and exciting experiments into the curriculum. Great teachers make even the dullest academic subjects exciting to learn. They serve to inspire and guide students to an extent that technology will never be able to match.

Not in my top 5…

  • PowerPoint slides
  • Internet access
  • iPads, laptops and other gizmos
  • interactive whiteboards
  • laboratory equipment & chemicals
  • printed notes for students
  • past examination papers

What do you think of my low-tech “top 5” list? Should technology be in the top 5? Will technology reduce the need for teachers? Is something other than the textbook the primary learning resource in your classroom?

Let me know in the comments section below.

9 Habits of Highly Successful Students

Source: The Guardian

All classes contain students of mixed ability levels. However, performance in an end-of-year examination is more dependent on how hard a student is willing to work than on any measure of innate ability. Student learning correlates much more with “grit” than with talent. In other words, the more hours you study, the higher your grades will be.

In this article, I’m giving you my observations from a teacher’s perspective of what students in the top 20% (in terms of grades) tend to do.

1. They don’t play games on their iPad

Students with low scores tend to resort to picking up their iPads at every spare moment. iPad addiction is a typical sign that a student doesn’t spend any of their free moments reading or thinking. Successful students don’t usually have games on their iPad. If they do have games, they’ll be the more intellectually-stimulating ones such as Scrabble or quiz apps: you certainly won’t find an A-grade student frantically thumbing their iPad screen to Flappy Bird or Crossy Road between lessons.

2. They read the textbook at home, highlighting and annotating as they go

VCE Chemistry annotated textbook Heinemann

When I ask a class of students to open their textbooks to a certain page, four things happen:

  • The most successful students open their books to those pages, which are already highlighted and annotated with key vocabulary circled and translated/explained in the margins (see picture above);
  • The mid-range students open their textbooks, which look brand new;
  • The least successful students do nothing because they weren’t listening;
  • The remainder (if any) didn’t bring their book to school.

Reading the textbook before class does two things. First, it helps you to understand the lesson much better. It’s much more effective to read the textbook at home then ask questions in class than to learn the textbook in class then ask those questions at home. Second, a textbook that’s highlighted and annotated looks very impressive. Your teacher and classmates will be impressed.

3. They write neatly and colour-code their notes

Successful students use large, A4 notebooks. They write the date, title, and subheadings in the same places with the same colour pen. They don’t cram too much writing on one page, and they organise their notes heavily using subheadings.

An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.

4. They have a designated homework diary (or an app)

Successful students always remember to do their homework. They record their homework tasks in their diaries with due dates. Reminders for iOS does this job excellently.

5. They do all their homework on time

Even if the teacher forgets to ask to see students’ homework, the most successful students will actively hand it to their teacher because they’re proud of the work they’ve done.

Even if there’s no homework set, they’ll still spend time reading the textbook (or another relevant book) or watching YouTube videos to supplement their understand of what’s been taught. The most successful students are self-motivated.

6. They pay most attention to their teacher during the lesson

From experience, students who chat to each other too much tend to get low grades at the end of the year. They miss crucial instructions, homework, questions and information being delivered by the teacher. While it’s important to be sociable, the most successful students always pay more attention to their teacher than to their classmates.

“Students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.”

7. They ask questions after class and email their teachers at evenings/weekends with questions regarding the homework

Most days, I receive Chemistry-related emails from students. However, these emails are usually sent by the same 30% or so of the students I teach. The students with the habit of asking more questions—both inside and outside the classroom—tend to fare better in the end-of-year examination.

8. They understand that we learn primarily through reading, and that the classroom is just a place to discuss what they’ve read and put it into practice

Successful students learn more outside the classroom than in. They read the relevant textbook section before class; they come to class with questions about what they’ve read. They re-read the textbook section after the lesson as well. They know that the more times they read the textbook, the more they’ll learn and the better their scores will be in the end-of-year examination. They know that their textbook (not their teacher) is their primary learning resource, and that their success depends more on how many hours they put into studying than on how ‘good’ their teacher is.

9. They know when to say, “Sir, I don’t get this!”

This is one of the most valuable skills on this list: admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new. Successful students have the confidence to admit to things they don’t understand and are thus more receptive when their teachers explain them. In other words, it’s a dangerous habit to pretend that you actually understand something—this habit usually has disastrous consequences before the end of the year. In a classroom, always admit when you don’t understand something.

“admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new”

What do you think?

Are you a student who agrees/disagrees with these 9 observations? Are you a teacher with more observations to add to the list? Write them in the comments section below.

For more study tips, click here.

Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet

Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet image
Click to download my Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet

The VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet contains answers to many questions you’ll be asked in the end-of-year examination. Unfortunately for students, however, the information it contains is neither explicit nor complete. Students need to know how to use the data booklet if they are to make the most of it.

Many formulae and definitions still need to be learned. For example, the data booklet doesn’t give you calorimetry formulae, and hydrogen bonds aren’t shown on DNA nucleotides. Trends are missing from the periodic table, and the electrochemical series comes with no annotations whatsoever! All this extra information needs to be memorised for VCE Chemistry.

I’ve annotated a real VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet to help you understand it. You can download it here.

Features include:

  • Trends are now shown on the periodic table (page 3);
  • Electrochemical series is fully labelled and explained (page 4);
  • 17 equations and 4 gas laws are given on page 5;
  • NMR data is now labelled to help you identify functional groups (pages 6 & 7);
  • Infrared absorption data is now pictured with 3 peaks described (page 7);
  • Amino acids are now labelled “polar/non-polar” and “acidic/basic” (pages 8 & 9);
  • Number of C=C bonds is now included for fatty acids (page 10);
  • DNA structure is explained in much more detail (page 10);
  • Colours of two indicators are corrected (page 11);
  • Ka is explained (page 11);
  • Solubility rules are added on the back.
Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet
Every page is colour-coded and annotated with explanations

Chemistry data booklets make great revision tools. Check out the following data booklets from around the world:

15-Step Checklist when Teaching a New Class

Students in classroom

It’s so much easier to change your teaching style at the beginning of a year than in the middle. This is because new students in a new class after a long summer break are much more receptive to change than the ones who are already used to the way you teach. In fact, most students return from their summer vacation eagerly expecting something new!

The following checklist is based on what I’ve learned since I started teaching in September 2006; and I believe it’s a great way to start teaching a new class.

Part A: Get to know your students

1. Make a grades database in Excel

Start with the following columns: Surname, First name, Email address and Gender.

Make columns for any compulsory assessment tasks (raw score and percentage). If any assessment tasks are submitted late, just add a comment to the relevant cell in the spreadsheet. Nothing more needs to be recorded in this database. Keep it really simple!

2. Set up group email lists

Use your email client (e.g. Outlook) to create groups for (a) your students and (b) your students’ parents. You’ll use these to distribute resources and reminders in future.

3. Email the parents

Send an introductory email to the parents and attach the course outline. For most students, this will be the only time you ever email their parents. Just send them one message to establish contact at the start of the year, and they’ll feel welcome to email you if they have any concerns regarding their child’s progress in your subject. Remember to put their addresses in the bcc field to hide their addresses from each other!

4. Prepare start-up packs for your students

See next week’s post on creating start-up packs for VCE Chemistry students, or make a similar start-up pack for the students in your subject.

5. Put students’ birthdays into your calendar

Take the time to put all your students’ birthdays into your calendar at the start of the year, then wish them a happy birthday face-to-face on the day. This builds rapport, and students really appreciate it!

Part B: Get to know your curriculum

6. Read and annotate all your textbooks

Teachers need to be very familiar with all the resources they give their students. Just as you’d pre-watch a YouTube video before you show it to the class, you also need to pre-read the textbook before you endorse it and use it in class.

Unless you’re already done so, read all the textbooks for all the subjects you’ll be teaching from cover to cover. Make notes in the margins as you would expect your students to do. Highlight important facts carefully and summarise every paragraph all the difficult sections in your own words. These will be the words that you write on the whiteboard (along with any important diagrams) during the lesson.

See my post on How to Read a Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow for more information.

7. Add the following to your course plan:

Your school will give you a plan for the course you’re going to teach. However, these plans don’t always contain all the information you need. Get a copy of your course plan and add the following columns to it:

  • Textbook chapter references for each week
  • Any extra resources you want to use (e.g. YouTube videos) – you can always use more later; add them to the course plan if you do.
  • Assignments / tests and their due dates. Give each assignment/test a name and stick to it. Label how much each assignment/test counts towards the student’s final grade.
  • Experiments. Label how long each experiment takes and plan which days to do each of them for the entire term in advance.

8. Gather misconceptions for each topic

Dialogues about misconceptions are a brilliant way to introduce new Chemistry topics. Derek Muller, founder of the YouTube channel Veritasium, explains this beautifully.

Using your own experience marking tests and examinations, annotate your own textbook with misconceptions that students have about each topic. For example:

Great resources include:

9. Find out what’s going to be on the tests and exam!

Not all schools teach all topics on the curriculum, and not all schools test all the topics in the examination. Find out the topics to be tested on the tests and examinations and tell the students in advance (with textbook chapter references) so they can plan their revision.

Part C: The first few lessons

10. Monthly Seating Plans

Allow the students to choose their own seats in the first lesson. Sketch a map of the room so that during the introduction session, you can label who chooses to sit where. Tell the students that you will modify the seating plan every calendar month to break up students who don’t work productively together.

Be very strict about maintaining the seating plan. This creates an atmosphere of order, structure, fairness and respect very early in the year. Be strict about punctuality and homework as well.

11. Introduction lesson

  1. Stand in a circle: “What’s your name” and “tell me something interesting about you”
  2. Ask around the circle again: “What is [Chemistry/Physics/History]?
  3. Sit down. Teacher answers questions 1 and 2 for the class. Distribute the start-up packs and show their contents.
  4. Show students the textbook and get them to write their names in it. Don’t be afraid to write in your textbook!
  5. Revision of fundamental concepts from last year (a worksheet). Use this to recap the required knowledge for this course.
  6. Dictate classroom rules & homework expectations into students’ notebooks
  7. Show the students your office
  8. Homework is to make a name plate to put on your desk (be strict about this)
  9. Dismiss

12. Second lesson

  1. How to Read the Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow
  2. How to take great notes (see my post on this in November 2014)
  3. Start teaching the theory behind first topic to be learned. Follow textbook closely.

13. Third lesson (experiment/demo)

Do the first week’s experiment in the third lesson if possible. For year 11, doing flame tests in watch glasses is a great place to start. Keep the students motivated by questioning every aspect of the experiment: why use methanol, not ethanol? (Try both!) Why does methanol emit light when it combusts? (Electrons absorb energy/emit quanta of light) Why does the presence of metals change the colour of the flame? (Electrons at different energy levels in different elements emit light with different wavelengths when falling back to their ground state, producing different colours).

Flame tests (YouTube frame)

14. Do a feedback survey

Use SurveyMonkey to set up a very simple, anonymous survey and send it via group email to your students on Friday afternoon. There should be very few questions:

  1. Which class are you in? (Tick-boxes)
  2. How would you rate Chemistry lessons so far? (1-5 rating)
  3. (Any other questions you want to ask)
  4. Is there anything you particularly (dis)like about your Chemistry lessons so far? (Large comment box)

Thank the students for their honest feedback on Monday. Honest feedback builds rapport!

15. Plagiarism & Referencing Session (optional)

To establish an honest work ethic in the classroom, you can give your students a one-off session on Plagiarism & Referencing. Use PowerPoint such as t h e s e and give all students a printed handout. The purpose of this session is merely to raise awareness that copying is detrimental to student learning and should include:

  • what plagiarism is (and why it hinders learning);
  • the severe punishments for plagiarism in academia and in industry;
  • how to locate good learning resources (with emphasis on the textbook!); and
  • how to reference those resources in an assignment (using Harvard or APA style).

In some schools, the library staff are happy to arrange (and teach!) these sessions for you. Arrange this Plagiarism & Referencing session early in your course if you think that copying and cheating is a widespread problem in your class. ■

Is there anything I’ve missed out? Write in the comments section below.

Book: Do/ Improvise

Do Improvise 

Yawn. At least it doesn’t cost any money (it’s free on Readmill)
144 pages, ★★

I love Readmill. It’s an iPad app for social reading. In this free iPad app, you can download free (or cheap) books and make highlights, page-marks and annotations with your fingers just the same as in iBooks and many other popular reading apps. In Readmill, however, your comments are shared with all the other people reading that book—and you can see everyone else’s comments, too. You can start a global discussion between strangers from any sentence on any page!

Not only is it interesting to see other peoples reactions to certain part so of the book that you found interesting, but it also gives all readers a crowd-sourced, pre-highlighted, pre-annotated version of the book available from the moment you open the first page! Social reading apps like Readmill could provide the social aspect that textbooks currently lack, and that students are craving (sometimes unknowingly) in today’s classrooms.

I am also glad that I teach. Reading this book aimed at corporate office-workers reminded me of the team-building exercises and networking opportunities that, for the most part, comprise the biggest highlights of those ‘corporate’ office jobs. The most useful of those in this book, and the most applicable to my career as a teacher, was called “Yes, and…”. It’s a variation of “Today, I went to the store and bought…” and the author touts it as a way of training your audience’s listening skills.

Games like these are fun, memorable ice-breakers but they honestly don’t teach anything. Education is far ahead of the corporate world with its modern, interactive teaching practices and we could actually teach the corporate world a thing or two. PEEL is just one example (although I wish it were free to access).

So I won’t be reading these free corporate books on Readmill any longer. Reading them is a waste of time, and reading education books and articles is a much better use of my time. That’s all I learned from Do Improvise: don’t read irrelevant books. ★★

Side note: while the book was awful, a workshop based on this book might actually be fun to attend (should I ever have the time…)

Book: From Clockwork to Crapshoot

From Clockwork to Crapshoot

History-heavy skim of all of humanity’s Physics achievements.
340 pages, 

From Clockwork to Crapshoot appeals to readers who, like me, enjoy reading history of science. It covers ancient theories of astronomy, including how the measuring the relative distances between the sun, Earth and moon, and how the camera obscura was discovered; and goes right up to today’s most advanced theoretical physics—including QED and a ‘theory of everything’.

Its only flaw is that by choosing to cover all of humanity’s Physics achievements in only 340 pages, it skims over entire centuries, leaving some fascinating characters largely unexplored. There’s no time for characterisation in this fast-paced book—reading it, we just skim from one scientific snapshot to another every one or two pages. If this book were a CD, it would be an entire album of skits with little music. People who enjoy continuity and character arcs in their books will be disappointed with this one.

Dozens of characters are introduced (and then forgotten) very quickly; it’s easy to get lost within the first 100 pages. The best way to get he most out if this book is to draw a timeline as you read. It will allow you to learn much more than from reading alone.

That said, I like how the author describes not only successful theories whose key ideas persisted for centuries—but also rival theories that were abandoned long ago. Recommended for people who enjoy reading Physics non-fiction and don’t care much for characterisation.

Also consider this book I read last year: Chasing The Sun. 

Book: The Cat Selector: How to choose the right cat for you

The Cat Selector
Can you resist opening this cute book?

Felinity deconstructed. Comedy.
176 pages, ☆☆☆ (three comic stars)

Browse through categories of “playful cats”, “talented cats”, “high-maintenance cats” and more to find your ideal cat with The Cat Selector. There are cat types I never even knew existed, some of which more closely resemble rabbits and piglets than cats.

I laughed out loud in the library while reading this book. Cats are supposed to be lovely and cute, but The Cat Selector deconstructs felinity into star-ratings and quantifiable attributes. I thought that trusting your feelings was a good way to choose a cat (or partner, or friends, or anything else that breathes); but the experts at The Cat Selector seem to think numbers and statistics are the way to go. This book treats living things as something completely unemotional, like petrol or phone credit: the juxtaposition of giant, heart-warming pictures and insensitive text made me laugh.

It’s hard to give a star-rating to such a funny book. Just read it yourselves. Then buy a theoretically-perfect cat and name it “Billy Beane”. ☆☆

 

Book: How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Idiot’s guide to repulsive, pompous bragging
208 pages, ★★

For the Chinese students who read only to show off later, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read should be their bible. A typical conversation with a typical Chinese student goes like this:

Me (teacher): What English books have you read?
Student: I like Jane Eyre.

Me (teacher): Have you read it?
Student: … umm… no [smiles].
Me (angry, Chinese): IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT THEN YOU CAN’T LIKE IT, OK?!

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read tells you that reading is pointless (except for the bragging rights), that books contain useless information (except for the stuff on the cover) and that cheating people is commonplace (everybody knows; nobody cares; and nobody talks about it).

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is about an imaginary world where people are constantly trying to climb over each other in a social pyramid. The book tells us that during discussions, it’s “shameful” to admit that one’s never read any particular book, and that we should make up a flattering nonsense-review on the spot when we’re questioned. The level of snootiness and superficiality sounds even worse than that in Cambridge University. It’s quite unsettling.

The author thinks he’s invented a new kind of “meta-reading”. Meta-reading is not actually reading, it’s simply the memorisation of hundreds of book titles coupled with “the art of bullshitting”, the only purpose of which is to impress other people. Meta-reading sounds like a course at New Oriental School, where students learn “meta-English” by memorising thousands of long words and standardised phrases which substitute for real, human intelligence. It’s goldbricking. The only purpose of these “meta-” courses which is to “give you face”, i.e. to cheat your way through tests and interviews. However, for most of us, who couldn’t care less what other people think, these cheat tactics, and How to Talk, are completely pointless.

By the end, How to Talk was worse than pointless. Rather than read more books, we should apparently accelerate our pompous bragging about books we haven’t read ad infinitum, in an attempt to conquer the pressures of culture. I had such a visceral reaction to the art of “pompous bragging” that I’m left wondering whether Cambridge students brag so much merely to make others uncomfortable (Cambridge students think they’re infinitely better than everyone else). ★★