Going with the Heard

I learned about a cool new game last week. If you’re a fan of Wordle, Nerdle, Octordle and the many variations, you may want to check out Heardle. Like the many variations of these -DLE games, you’re given a number of chances to guess the correct answer. Instead of figuring out a word or a country or an equation, however, users try to figure out a song. The game is easy to use, but really hard to master. For each category (I’m a fan of Heardle 90s), the game will provide a short snippet of a song and you can take a guess. If you’re wrong, you get a little more of the song to hear. It’s a lot of fun. And honestly, pretty addictive.

I learned about the game last week at a retreat I was on with some science colleagues. During a break, one colleague pulled up the Heardle 80s game on their phone and played the first snippet. Our group started throwing out ideas. The conversation went something like this.

“It sounds like that one Irish band, what was their name?”

“U2? That doesn’t sound like U2.”

“No, that other Irish band.”

“Hold on, are you thinking it’s Van Morrison? It’s definitely not Van Morrison.”

“No, the band that does ‘The Boys are Back in Town.’ What was their name?”

“You mean Thin Lizzy? It does sound like them. What’s the other hit song they have?”

And then someone started humming potential lyrics, inserting nonsensical words into the mix. Before the next snippet of the song was even needed, someone exclaimed, “It’s Jailbreak! The song is Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy.”

The colleague typed in “Jailbreak” and Heardle confirmed that our group was right. We had won our first Heardle on our very first attempt.

Since that retreat, I’ve played Heardle (and its variations) multiple times on my own. Overall, I haven’t been as lucky as when our group did it collectively. Sure, I guessed “Dancing Queen by ABBA” on the first snippet in the Heardle Movies and Musicals a few days ago, but that’s a pretty iconic song and easily recognizable. Otherwise, I’m usually struggling through multiple snippets and guesses, before eventually getting the song wrong.

The differences between processing alone and processing as a group made me think about a section of a book I read recently. I just finished How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion by David McRaney. In a chapter on Arguing, McRaney shares research done with a cognitive reasoning test. The test is comprised of questions like: “If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machine to make 100 widgets?” Summarizing the research, McRaney writes:

“Reasoning alone, 83 percent of people who have taken this text under laboratory conditions answer at least one of these sorts of questions incorrectly, and a third get all of them wrong. But in groups of three or more, no one gets any wrong. At least one member always sees the correct answer, and the resulting debate leads those who are wrong to change their minds.” (pg. 197)

Switching gears a bit, I know there’s a lot of talk about how polarized society is. But it’s clear that diversity in thought and experiences and the ability to collectively discuss and debate stuff is what helps us reach better decisions. It doesn’t just help with reasoning tests, guessing songs on Heardle, or answering trivia questions. It’s for the collective good. The real challenge is fostering trusting environments where those debates and discussions can happen.


McRaney, D. (2022). How minds change: the surprising science of belief, opinion, and persuasion. Penguin.


More Specks of Fish Spawn

A bunch of years ago, I wrote a post that was inspired by a quote from Alvar Aalto.  Aalto was a Finnish architect who was quoted in a podcast I heard at the time. Discussing the development of his ideas and inspirations, Aalto writes:

“Perhaps they are, for instance, like some big salmon or trout. They are not born fully grown; they are not even born in the sea or water where they normally live. They are born hundreds of miles away from their home grounds, where the rivers narrow to tiny streams. Just as it takes time for a speck of fish spawn to mature into a fully-grown fish, so we need time for everything that develops and crystallizes in our world of ideas.

In the spirit of Alvar Aalto and the fish that are not yet fully matured, this week, I’m going to pull a few “specks of fish spawn” from my notes pages. All of these are quotes from books that I’ve read or podcasts that I’ve heard. They were all intended to develop into blog posts (and they still might) but right now, they’re not “fully grown fish.” For each, I’ll provide a little bit of backstory so you can understand the context in which the quotes were used and found. I’ll leave the meaning making to you, though.

Save or Savor:
I recently finished the book The Measure by Nikki Erlick. I won’t get to much into the story (it’s a great read!) but Erlick shares a quote by E.B. White that I hadn’t heard before:

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to the save the world and a desire to savor the world. That makes it hard to plan the day.”

The Overexamined Life:
In a recent episode of the 99% Invisible podcast, Roman Mars talked with author John Green. In the discussion, Green builds on the famous quote by Socrates:

“You know, it really is true that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. But the overexamined life isn’t much better.”

The Need to Act:
I recently started Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s new book, Mind Over Monsters: Supporting Youth Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge. I’m only a few chapters in, but it’s really fascinating stuff. I’m sure I will talk about the book in other posts. But midway through Chapter 1, Cavanagh offers this charge to parents and educators who live and work with adolescents and young adults:

“We have this marvelous period where we could make a lasting difference in the mental health of these burgeoning adults that we love so desperately – we can shape the trajectory of their lives, which paths they take. But like rivers, the flow of their lives during these years also shapes the riverbeds, the tendencies and habits they will use over and over as their lives progress and their neural machinery become more set, less fluid. We need to act.”

Stepping Down:
In a recent episode of the Rethinking with Adam Grant podcast, Grant interviews leadership gurus Simon Sinek and Brené Brown. Grant asks the pair, “When should a leader step down?” In classic fashion, Brené Brown answers:

One clue is when the work becomes self focused and not others focused, it’s time for deep reflection.

The Need to Persuade:
In his book How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion, David McRaney shares a discussion he had with famed cognitive scientist, Hugo Mercier. Summarizing the discussion, McRaney writes:

We evolved to reach consensus-sometimes on the facts, sometimes on right and wrong, sometimes on what to eat for dinner- by banging our heads together. Groups that did a better job of reaching consensus, by both producing and evaluating arguments, were better at teaching communal goals and out-survived those that didn’t. That led to the innate psychology that compels us to persuade others to see things our way when we believe our groups are misguided.

Accentuate the Positive

This weekend, I went with my wife and son to see the newest Marvel movie, the Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3. Last night, the three of gathered to watch episodes nine and ten of season 3 of Ted Lasso. I wanted to start this post with those experiences and with the following declarations.

I love Marvel movies.

I love Ted Lasso.

I’m sure starting out a post with declaring my love for two storied franchises may seem odd to some readers, but I felt the need to start there. I also want to point out that I didn’t qualify my affections in any way. I didn’t say “I ‘still’ love…” as if I needed to apologize for or characterize my feelings. I love those franchises. They bring me joy.

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve started this post with these declarations of love. One doesn’t have to look far to find criticisms of Ted Lasso or Marvel lately. I find them in my podcast feed, on social media, and in the news. So many people want to tear apart the latest episode, some story line of the movie, or the fate of some character. But the critiques don’t stop there. In some cases, the critics have extrapolated to make sweeping statements about the quality of the entire franchise. “Ted Lasso: What went wrong?” “Marvel isn’t super anymore.” “Ted Lasso is a big disappointment.” Negative generalizations abound.

I get it. People have opinions and want to share them. It’s totally okay for people to say whether they like something or not. I also believe some directorial choices and performances warrant critique. For example, I really didn’t like how the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie ended. I wanted a different arc for a few of the characters and felt like some story lines went unresolved. But overall, I still liked the movie.

Beyond critiquing things, it’s also pretty natural for us to rank stuff. For example, I like some Ted Lasso episodes better than others. I also enjoy some Marvel movies more than others. It’s okay. Loving something doesn’t mean you have to love everything about it equally.

So, where am I going with all of this? I’ve noticed a trend where people feel the need to over-analyze and critique things without recognizing any positive attributes. It’s not just with Ted Lasso and Marvel stuff, but other things, too. Sports. Restaurants. Books. People rail on the negative stuff or talk about bad things are, without identifying anything positive. There is always positive stuff to recognize. Some people are just choosing to ignore it.

In education, there’s this feedback technique called the “feedback sandwich.” When assessing student work, teachers start by identifying something positive about the work before pointing aspects that need work. The teacher closes with offering some additional positive feedback for the students.  The feedback sandwich is a way to cushion how the negative feedback lands with students.

I guess I’d like to see a little more “sandwich” in the assessments people share. We need to look for the positives and be willing to share them.

Doing the Work

After two weeks of commencement and graduation related posts, I was anticipating that I’d go a different direction this week, but my brain is stuck here. So, you’ll have to forgive me for another post on this topic. This one offers a different take, though. At my daughter’s commencement this past weekend, the dean of the college at my daughter’s university gave a short speech that I’ve been reflecting on a bunch since I heard it.

Dr. Jen Bacon is the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at West Chester University. In her opening speech, she relayed a memory an English class she had taken in elementary school. Since she was a mindful and dedicated student, Dean Bacon explained that she focused on the rubric that the teacher had offered for a poetry assignment and was doing all of the required components so she could earn her desired grade. Is it two stanzas long? Check. Does it rhyme? Check. Is it related to nature? Check. At this point in the speech, Dean Bacon read a section of the poem to the commencement audience. She then said that her elementary teacher refused to accept the poem. “You have completed the assignment, but haven’t done the work,” her teacher explained.

In her speech, Dean Bacon used that sentiment to capture the obstacles that the graduating students have endured and the challenges they’re likely to face moving forward. It was a way for her to motivate the graduates to fully engage in all that work and life is going to throw at them in their post-college worlds. Don’t just complete the assignment. Do the work. Engage.

I love that sentiment, but I want to position it next to some other conversations I’ve been hearing lately. The world is abuzz with artificial intelligence (AI) fears. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written about ChatGPT and how it’s going to shake up our classrooms and so many other industries. Campuses are busily reviewing and rewriting their plagiarism and academic honesty policies to better reflect the post-AI world. Teachers are rightfully concerned about the potential impacts that these tools will have on the assignments that students submit. They’re worried students won’t actually do the work and just have AI tools complete the assignments. They’re worried students are going to take academic short cuts to avoid doing the heavy lifting of learning.

I understand and share these concerns. I agree that we have to do more to ensure that our students are actually doing the work for the assignments and projects in our classes. But I worry that revising policies and giving motivational speeches isn’t enough. As educators, we have to do the work, too. For us, “doing the work” means taking a hard look at the assignments and projects in our classes and revising them to better connect to our students’ lives. Assignments that may have worked with a different group of students at a different time and place may not resonate with these students today. If we want our current students to avoid academic short cuts and do the heavy lifting of learning, we have to do some work on our own to make sure the projects and papers we assign are more meaningful to them.

Rites of Passage

In last week’s post, I wrote about celebrating the achievements of our recent graduates. I also took a moment to highlight the work of three of my students who persevered through great personal challenges to successfully complete their programs. I attended commencement last week and was able to see the students at the ceremony. I’m not too embarrassed to admit that a tear or two was shed. I can get choked up during these rites of passage for my students.

I’ll be honest. As a teacher, I love these rights of passage. I love the ceremony around students’ identities formally shifting from being novices to being recognized as accomplished. Sure, the events can be long, and the speeches can be tiresome and sometimes repetitive. But the formality with all of the “pomp and circumstance” and fancy regalia communicates that this is a big deal in the students’ lives and for the work of the scholarly institution. Collegiate life rightfully stops to recognize and celebrate this rite of passage.

I’m in a unique spot this year. Besides my students’ graduation this past weekend, I also have the honor of attending my daughter’s commencement ceremony at her university this coming weekend. While I won’t be wearing my official doctoral regalia or anything, I will be attending to celebrate her achievements and to recognize this formal rite of passage for her academics and her life. Like I said, I can get choked up at these ceremonies, so I’m expecting to get a little teary eyed seeing my daughter walk across the stage and receive her diploma.

As a parent, I’ve been able to share a few other graduation ceremonies with my daughter. Her preschool held a ceremony when she officially “graduated” to elementary school. Her elementary school held a similar event when she officially transitioned to middle school. The middle school even held a ceremony to recognize her passage to the high school. And, of course, her high school held an official commencement ceremony when she graduated. I know some people balk at these multiple rites of passage. They consider them to be some kind of artificial recognition or something. They wonder why we need to hold preschool and elementary graduation ceremonies. I don’t share that perspective. We shouldn’t hesitate to celebrate achievements, regardless of the age or academic level.

Here’s the real rub, however. Each academic rite of passage is both an ending and a beginning. Sure, the ceremony official celebrates an academic achievement and marks the formal transition from novice to expert within that school or learning community. The rite of passage signifies that accomplishment with all of the pomp and regalia. But more than that, the rite of passage also signifies the person’s entry as a novice into some new community. Think about it. A person graduates from high school, signifying their successful accomplishment of all that’s required of that academic community. Months later, when they arrive on campus, they’re novices again in a new setting. Four years later, those undergraduate students graduate with their academic degrees, but become novices again when they pursue graduate work or enter their first jobs. Experts to novices, and then back again.

Maybe that’s what gets forgotten when we celebrate these rites of passages. We focus so much on it being the ending of one phase of life, that we lose focus on the fact that it’s also the beginning of some other phase. It’s like that quote that’s often attributed to Seneca (and also immortalized by the band Semisonic in their song “Closing Time.”)

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

So, let’s celebrate and honor these rites of passage, not only for the endings they signify but for the beginnings they represent.