Byron's Babbles

Teaching Like Angry Birds

I am not a big game player on my phone, but I love Angry Birds. I have blogged about this game twice before in The Angry Birds Effect and Angry Birds University. Just in case you aren’t familiar with Angry Birds, it’s simple: the pigs have stolen the birds’ eggs. This has made the birds angry. Therefore, they allow you to slingshot and catapult them into the pigs’ fortresses. The birds love every minute of it.

The thing that still amazes me about Angry Birds is that a person can download the game and be playing in 10 seconds. You are given small pieces at a time in a way that makes it possible to master a level in 30 seconds. In education we call this chunking. I always wonder why we can’t create learning management systems (LMS) in education the same way. Instead the first thing that has to happen with a new LMS is to take a training on how to use. With Angry Birds this is done real-time as you go.

In Angry Birds the learning is paced and is scaffolded just like in a great classroom. Once you develop foundational skills you are given new birds with different abilities. At the same time different scenarios are introduced. This is a very engaging and developmental path to mastery.

The game also has a very well structured star ⭐️ system. And remember you are able to play over and over making improvements to reach mastery. We need to operate more like this in education. Players are also able to earn badges. I love the way schools are adding badging to their e-portfolios.

Another very cool addition is that of tools that can be used. These tools include an earthquake, a scope, extra power sling shot, bombs, and more. These really teach creativity and problem solving because you only get so many. Therefore, the player must decide the right time and how best to use these limited resources.

As you can see, Angry Birds supports many learning principles and best practices. Rovio just continues to make improvements. I last blogged about Angry Birds in 2014 and this game continues to improve and be a relevant example of how to lead learning.

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Thoughts From The Barn On The Opioid Crisis

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture Science, Community, Convening, Culture, Dopesick, Leadership, Opioid Crisis by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 5, 2019

This morning I had a moment of reflection while caring for our dairy show heifers. We had some heifers dehorned this week and we then give them a pain/antibiotic bolus (what you would know as a pill) for five days. Just to be clear, removing horns while the calf is young and horns are small is important for the safety of the animal itself, the other animals, and those of us caring for them. After giving the boluses I thought about whether the pain pill was addictive like opioids. Then I thought, well this is irrelevant because our heifers won’t get addicted because they won’t get more than the prescribed dosage of our veterinarian. Then, I couldn’t help but think about the opioid crisis that is a very real and relevant problem in my own state of Indiana and the nation.

This caused me to go back and study the work of Beth Macy and author of the great book, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America. I blogged about this book in Why Everyone Should Read Dopesick. The supply-side of the opioid issue is one that Macy has chronicled in detail. The supply-side narrative is much more complex for humans, however, than our show cattle, but the analogy helped me understand the messiness of the supply-side argument.

I learned from Macy that there are several parts to the opioid crisis. There is no doubt that companies like Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, profited from understating the addictive risks and forced high sales quotas on their salespeople. But, government regulations to limit supplies haven’t been successful solving the crisis. In the case of my cattle, I can control the supply and do what’s best for them. With people, however, it is much more complex. We cannot just stop the supply completely. One challenge with supply-side regulations has been people not being able to get the pain medications necessary. Targeting supply is very important, but we must still address the needs of people with real pain. I read about those that by battling the opioid epidemic that some patients who need opioids are being abandoned by their patients.

We really need to make sure our policies are not too draconian and that we really get to the root causes of addiction. Our country has become flooded with opioids and it has made for lots of literary works, but we need to make sure and learn who is most at risk of addiction and why. The other thing that has resonated in my studying of this issue is the disconnect between science and policy. Or, what I often describe as policy not meeting reality.

Additionally, another big obstacle to solving the crisis is that many local, state, and federal agencies and governments are more concerned about protecting turf and budgets than solving the problem and helping people. I’m not sure that technocracy can solve this issue. It is going to take intersectional thinking that includes mental health, physical health, housing, peer support, community, workforce development, education, and harm reduction.

While I believe in individualism and personal responsibility, we need to find ways help our addicted, limit supply to those who need the drugs and in the proper doses, and really get to the root causes of the crisis. Policy, knowledge, science, and reality need to come together.

MacGyver Intersectional Leadership

I don’t watch a lot of television, but tonight I have scheduled time to watch the new episode of MacGyver. I love the old, original show that ran from 1985-1992, but also really like the remake version. I can’t wait for the 8:00 start time for the show. MacGyver is the poster child of resourcefulness and core values. There really needs to be a little MacGyver in every leader.

There are times in our leadership careers when we are faced with unforeseen circumstances that don’t fit the usual textbook solutions. What we do at those times will go a long way to determine our success or failure. So, what can we do? We need to be be like MacGyver and look for the solutions, not look at the problem. I love watching him look around for what’s available and really out of context to the problem till he uses his knowledge and skill to put it all together. We need to encourage purposeful efforts to find unusual concept combinations to solve the opportunities we have.

Skills and talents are not labels, they are tools, ‘MacGyver’ tools that allow leaders to improve how their organization functions.  When organizations dare to move from a weakness-fixing organization to a talent-focused organization, they will enjoy improved productivity, greater efficiency, new levels of engagement, higher retention rates, and overwhelming organizational improvement.

Really, people are more likely to bring something new to the organization if they are not recruited to fill an established role. And if they are motivated and engaged, they will be able to find intersections between their skills and the organization’s needs.

If you notice, all the members of the Phoenix Foundation team on MacGyver all have different skills. If we want to generate intersectional ideas, we should seek and provide environments where we and our team members will work with people who are different from us. In The Medici Effect, What Elephants and Epidemics Can Tell Us About Innovation, author Frans Johansson wrote: “A sure path to inhibit your own creativity is to seek out environments where people are just like you.” We all come to the table with with different skills and we need to develop those skills and search for the intersections.

In Cracking Creativity, Michael Michalko describes taking “thought walks” in order to look for random combinations or get new, fresh ideas for solving opportunities. I compare this to how MacGyver walks around and looks for items to put together to form a potential solution. Michalko tells this story about a group that did a successful thought walk: “A few months back, a group of engineers were looking for ways to safely and efficiently remove ice from power lines during ice storms, but they were stonewalled. They decided to take a “thought walk” around the hotel. One of the engineers came back with a jar of honey he purchased in a gift shop. He suggested putting honey pots on top of each pole. He said this would attract bears. The bears would climb the pole to get the honey, and their climbing would cause the poles to sway and the ice would vibrate off the wires. Working with the principle of vibration, they got the idea of bringing in helicopters to hover over the lines. Their hovering vibrated the ice off the lines.” All of that from a jar of honey. Amazing, right?

We need to learn from MacGyver and step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, and combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas. So let’s stop looking at the problem and use our skills and talents to search for solutions.

“Old Hickory” Leadership

General Jackson’s Home At The Hermitage

Our family had the opportunity to visit The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s farm and home, near Nashville, Tennessee, this past week. We love going to historical sites of past presidents and this one of our seventh president was awesome. General Jackson’s, as we learned he wanted to be referred as, home is very well preserved and cared for. Our tour guide, Stewart, was incredible and very knowledgeable. To be on the farm where General Jackson worked, stand outside the room where he met with other presidents, and be next to the bed where he died was awe inspiring and caused a great deal of reflection about the leadership of this great American.

Some praise his strength and audacity. My son and I had learned about his great military leadership prowess this time last year when we walked the grounds of the Battle of New Orleans where General Jackson led the defeat of the British and soaked up all the history. We learned how his servant leadership, dedication to his troops, and toughness gain him the affectionate title “Old Hickory”. Others see our seventh President as having been vengeful and self-obsessed. To admirers he stands as a shining symbol of American accomplishment, the ultimate individualist and patriot.

Andrew Jackson, the President, believed republican government should be simple, frugal, and accessible. As President he was very accessible and was know as the people’s President. By 1835, President Jackson had reduced the national debt to a mere $33,733.05 and would eventually pay it off, making him the only president to ever accomplish that feat. He was an ardent supporter of state’s rights, and individual liberty fostered political and governmental change, including many prominent and lasting national policies. Many believe it was his stubbornness and tenacity to keep fighting for what he believed was right that made him a great leader. There was a lot that happened in our great country under the many leadership roles that Jackson held during his lifetime. We can agree and disagree on his decisions and policies, but it is important to reflect on the General’s leadership influence and learn from our history.