A New Milestone & Other Learning News

I am pleased to announce that Learning Life has just published its 50th quiz.  The quiz on slavery in history follows on a quiz we published in May on slavery today in light of the troubling persistence of slavery in the world, despite its widespread illegality.  This milestone prompts me to write to you about where we’ve been and what we’re up to in terms of the educational content we provide as we approach our second year in existence.

Paul LachelierAs you may know, Learning Life’s mission is to nurture a wider culture of learning by spreading knowledge on everyday surfaces, like napkins, cup sleeves, coasters, placemats and posters.  As I have noted in a previous post, cognitive research shows that the more one knows about a given topic, the better one remembers, comprehends and problem solves on that topic.  Thus, information matters, and it matters all the more in our era marked by deepening social and educational inequalities (more on this here).  Learning Life focuses on spreading knowledge that matters to people’s lives, whether that be vital information about safety and health, about history and politics, or else.

Since our founding in August 2012, I have worked with talented advisors, volunteers, and student interns to:

  1. Build Learning Life’s website
  2. Launch our monthly newsletter
  3. Establish our Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest pages
  4. Establish our Big Questions Series (more on this series below)
  5. Partner with Washington D.C.’s Newseum to help inform area residents about President John F. Kennedy’s legacy using 10,000 napkins, street theater, and an online quiz (see our short video on this project)
  6. Partner with the City of Alexandria, Virginia to help engage area residents with the City’s rich history using thousands of wallet cards, tote bags, fortune cookies as well as two online quizzes (more about this project here and here)

Since December 2012, when Learning Life’s website went live, we have also been publishing two new quizzes per month.  With this 50th quiz milestone, we will be shifting to one new quiz per month in order to develop other learning initiatives, like our Big Questions Series.  The Series presents experts’ 1-2 paragraph answers to important questions of wide public interest.  Last year, we launched our first three Big Questions on terrorism on the anniversary of 9/11.  Three terrorism experts answered the following questions: How big a threat is terrorism?  What are the underlying causes of terrorism?  How does news media reporting shape terrorism and public perception of terrorism?  You can read their provocative answers here.  This year, Learning Life interns and volunteers are busy working on several new Big Questions, from the practical to the celestial, including:

  1. What makes for success?
  2. What makes for long, happy marriages?
  3. What should students do to get the most out of their education?
  4. How and why is economic inequality increasing?
  5. Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?

Stay tuned as we begin posting answers to these Big Questions in the coming months, and if you have ideas for Big Questions, please feel free to contact us at email@learninglife.info.

Learning Life is also expanding the array of information we spread via our social media pages as we grow our audience online, with a special focus on Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 1.3 billion users as of this writing.  Thanks to the work of our interns and volunteers, we will be sharing more helpful facts on health and safety, more excellent information sources on the internet, profiles of famous political leaders, inventors, writers and others past and present in the USA and worldwide, and much more.

There’s more to tell, but I don’t want to reveal it all in this blog post, so stay tuned!

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life

Intern Spotlight: Dimitra Rallis

Special thanks to Learning Life intern, Ehvyn McDaniels, for helping to write this profile.

Hailing from Elmira Heights, NY, Dimitra Rallis is currently a rising senior at Georgetown University, double majoring in English and government, and very active in extracurricular activities.  And somehow, she manages a 3.8 GPA!

In her three years thus far at Georgetown, Dimitra has worked as a residence hall office assistant, a student-alumni liaison to engage alumni in their alma mater, a board member of the Georgetown chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and a mentor to first-year students.  She also participates in formal debates on social, political and literacy topics as part of Georgetown’s Philodemic Society, and has become a “swing dancing enthusiast.”

Dimitra RallisDimitra recently returned from a semester abroad, studying at Georgetown’s Villa le Balze, located in Fiesole, Italy, a village just outside of Florence.  Reflecting on her time abroad, Dimitra describes her experience as “not what I expected, but everything I could have wanted.”  By the end of the semester, she felt she had truly experienced life as an Italian resident rather than a tourist, having shared meals and quality time out of class with Italian professors and students.

Last summer, Dimitra interned for U.S. Representative Tom Reed (R-NY).  As an intern, she communicated with constituents, conducted research on legislative matters, and composed statements for the Congressional Record.  This summer, Dimitra started interning with Learning Life soon after finishing her junior year.

Struck by her intelligence and ability to communicate, Learning Life founder, Paul Lachelier, assigned Dimitra from the start to a challenging project: developing research and expert-based answers to two “Big Questions.”  Learning Life’s Big Questions Series gathers research and brief answers from experts to important questions of wide public interest.  Launched in 2013 with three questions on terrorism (How big a threat is terrorism?  What are the underlying causes of terrorism?  How does news media reporting shape terrorism and public perception of terrorism?), Dimitra is now pursuing two other questions on the minds of many people: what makes for success, and what makes for long, happy marriages?  To develop answers to these Big Questions, Dimitra has been gathering interesting research findings and resources, and interviewing experts on those questions, which is no small challenge given the breadth and density of the scientific research on these questions, and the difficulty in gathering responses from busy experts.  Stay tuned for Dimitra’s finalized Big Questions coming soon!

Dimitra has also helped grow our number of “likes” (supporters) on Learning Life’s Facebook page. Currently, she is developing a series of template placemats that will feature answers to the Big Questions she is pursuing and future questions too.  Most recently, she and another Georgetown student and Learning Life intern, Ehvyn McDaniels (who, coincidentally, helped draft this profile), are developing a new batch of Learning Life infographics, embedding arresting facts in original photos they take.  Attached to this profile is their very first infographic.  Stay tuned for more of their infographics on Learning Life’s Pinterest page, and our other social media pages!

When asked why she decided to volunteer with Learning Life, Dimitra Rallis simply said, “I want to put good things into the world. I believe that volunteering with Learning Life is a great way for me to live up to that goal.”  Dimitra has gone above and beyond to achieve this goal with Learning Life, and we are grateful for her smart and creative contributions.  We are confident she will continue to put good things into the world.

To learn more about interning or volunteering with Learning Life and other ways you can help, contact us at email@learninglife.info.

Education: The Good, the Bad, and What We Can Do

There are some hopeful statistics coming out of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

1) The student-to-teacher ratio is going down: from 16 to 15 students per teacher in public schools, and from nearly 15 to 12 in private schools between 2000 and 2013.  This is good news because the student-to-teacher ratio is known to affect student performance; the more teachers, the more personal attention each student gets, and accordingly, the better their grades tend to be.School graduation

2) Fewer are dropping out of high school.  Among 16 to 24 year olds, the percentage that are high school dropouts declined from 12% in 1990 to 7% in 2011.  Further, there were declines among white, black and Hispanic students alike.

3) More are going to college.  About 22 million students attended college in the fall 2013, up 6.5 million since fall 2000.  That increase is not just due to population growth.  The percentage of 18 to 24 year olds enrolled in college was also higher: 42% in 2011 compared with 36% in 2000.  Further, the college population is growing more diverse.  The percentage of college students who were Black rose from 12% to 15% from 2000 to 2011.  The percentage who were Hispanic rose from 10% to 14% in the same period.

So primary and secondary school students are getting somewhat more teacher attention, dropping out less, and going to college more, driven in part by the clear payoffs of higher education.  In 2011, here were the median earnings for young adults with different educational levels:

$22,900: No high school diploma

$30,000: High school diploma

$37,000: Associate’s degree

$45,000: Bachelor’s degree

$59,200: Master’s degree or higher

But as Demos, a think tank based in New York City, has stressed, while college enrollment has clearly risen, so has college dropout.  Only 56% of those enrolled in four-year colleges earn a bachelor’s degree after six years, and less than 30% of those in community college earn an associate’s degree within three years.  And many drop out with burdensome school loan debts.

Part of the college dropout problem is the rising cost of college, as Demos emphasizes.  But as I and so many other current and former college professors can attest, it’s also about how prepared high school graduates are for college.  A lot of the blame falls on primary and secondary schools, which may be improving student-to-teacher ratios with more funding, but less so the rigor of the education they provide their students.  Demanding more of students has been shown to improve their performance (and can cost less than lowering the student-to-teacher ratio), but it doesn’t necessarily facilitate moving students along from grade to grade to graduation, as schools are eager to do.

We must demand more of students, and support them more to ensure that they are challenged enough to grow, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed and quit.  In schools, such support can take the form of better quality teachers, and longer school days that allow students more time to struggle and grow, among other changes reformers commonly call for.

But reformers need to think beyond school walls to the wider society students enter and the culture they swim in when they leave school every day.  Does our society support learning in everyday life at home, at play and work?   Does the culture students swallow so eagerly after school support learning?  I suspect at least some, if not most of you, dear readers, will answer “no” or “not enough” to these questions.

So what can we do to nurture a culture of learning in everyday life?  This is the question that drives Learning Life.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we believe that education cannot be limited to a certain period in life, to schools, to books, or even tablets and the internet.  Education needs to spread on the surfaces of everyday life, from placemats and cereal boxes at home, to cup sleeves in cafes, napkins in restaurants, and posters in public buses, trains and bathrooms, connecting each of those surfaces to more learning online.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life

National Center for Education Statistics.  2013.  “Back to School Statistics

Wheary, Jennifer.  2012.  “Debt But No Degree: The College Drop-Out Problem”  Demos.


Volunteer Spotlight: Derrick Costa

Special thanks to Learning Life intern, Ehvyn McDaniels, for her assistance in drafting the following profile.

Hang around Derrick Costa long enough and what will strike you is his quiet yet dogged resolve to improve himself by helping others.  In his young life thus far, that resolve has taken him from Washington D.C. and Virginia, to New York, Missouri, Colorado and Costa Rica.

Derrick CostaMotivated by the “opportunity to learn and gain new skills, meet new people, and help those who need it most,” Derrick has served as a videographer and events promoter for a teen mentoring program and taught math and English to inner-city youth in Denver, Colorado; cleaned up homes and yards as part of a community clean-ups in Denver and Niagara Falls, New York; served the homeless at a shelters in St Louis and Washington D.C.; filmed and live-streamed sermons at his church, and helped market Volunteer Loudoun, a county civic group in Virginia; and volunteered as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher for high school seniors in Costa Rica.

Consistent with his resolve to help others, Derrick pursued volunteerism at Liberty University, from which he graduated in 2012 with a degree in English.  At Liberty, he helped in a variety of ways, including clearing the campus of debris, stockpiling firewood for retreats, and assisting with crowd control, clean-up and stage dismantling for campus concerts.

Soon after graduating, Derrick began working as a projectionist at a movie theater, following his ambition to become a screenwriter.  His work as a projectionist has allowed him to establish a blog as a movie critic titled “Entertainment Observer,” with a growing list of movie reviews Derrick wrote.  Then, in November 2013, eager to take on the challenge of helping to promote and develop a new non-profit, Derrick began volunteering with Learning Life.

Since last November, Derrick has helped promote Learning Life and its quizzes via Facebook and email, informed relevant Washington D.C. area faculty of our work, conducted market and business research, assisted with educational content development, including interesting and important facts Learning Life routinely disseminates via Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.  In April, Derrick completed production of Learning Life’s second brief video, which promotes our novel approach to public education.

Asked why he chose to volunteer with Learning Life, Derrick responds, “I not only saw an opportunity to gain some new skills that could be utilized in other career fields, but also a chance to help develop a new non-profit from the ground up.  I also found Learning Life’s mission enduring because by spreading free knowledge we are helping people become aware of issues that may prove detrimental to not only our society, but to the wider world around us.  By providing easily accessible information we can help people become passionate about rectifying these issues.”

We at Learning Life are very glad to cross paths with Derrick in his pursuit of improving himself by helping others.  We look forward to working further with him and wish him the best in his quest to become a professional screenwriter.

To learn more about volunteering or interning with Learning Life and other ways you can help, contact us at email@learninglife.info.