There was the Joe Biden's inauguration as the new USA president this week. Amanda Gorman won her spotlight with her poem: The hill we climb. I listened to it thousand times. Yes! Poetry is what the world needs right now.

"When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it"

Amanda Gorman reminds me the power of poetry. Joe Biden was the fourth presidents who had poets in inaugural ceremony after John F. Kennedy (1961), Bill Clinton (1993, 1997) and Barack Obama (2009, 2013). After listening to them all, "On the Pulse of Morning" is my favorite.

In Vietnam, poetry was also used to unite the nation. Vietnamese people learnt by heart Lý Thường Kiệt's Nam quốc sơn hà (Mountains and Rivers of the Southern Country) as the symbol of indepence from the North:


Nam quốc sơn hà nam đế cư

Tiệt nhiên định phận tại thiên thư Như hà nghịch lỗ lai xâm phạm Nhữ đẳng hành khan thủ bại hư


"Translated: The mountains and rivers that carved the southern empire, dwelled by the Southern Emperor.

Its sovereignty is of nature's will and is allotted in script from the heaven. What gives these invaders the right to trespass it, They shall, in doing that, see themselves be defeated and shamed"


In this digital age, one could question the need of poetry. To me, there is no computer program can beat a rightful poem in rhetoric. Amanda Gorman has done a fantastic job confirming the role of poetry in chaotic times.

Maybe a poem won't literally pass legislation or deflect a bullet from exploding in my Black body, but a poem is what makes our hearts move. It does make people think, reflect, and it can even lead to empathy. We need that. That quality of light where hopes and dreams can live is what this country needs, and you can count on the artists to keep fueling all of our movements for liberation (Ashley M. Jones)

As an aspiring teacher, I also curious with the use of poetry in (economics) teaching. Poetry is known as a mnemonic device in Math lessons. I still remember the poem on trapezoid at high-school:

Muốn tính diện tích hình thang

Đáy lớn, đáy nhỏ ta mang cộng vào

Rồi đem nhân với đường cao

Chia đôi kết quả thế nào cũng ra


(Translated: If you want to calculate the area of a trapezoid

We bring larger base plus smaller base

Then multiply it by the heigh

Divide by two we've got the results)


Mary Davis in Tufts University had an experiment that assigned graduate students to write proses for economics class. Here is one poem on diminishing rate of return by Betsy Byrum

On weekend mornings and without delay

I make some coffee to jump-start my day

The first cup’s delicious – fragrant and hot

It helps wake me up and def hits the spot

I have a second, it quenches my thirst

But’s not as satisfying as the first I drink a third cuz it’s there in the pot It’s good but makes my stomach hurt a lot


The quantitative impact of poetry on student scores is not available yet. Students, however, reports spending longer for economics assignment. Long-term retention and overall student experience are the two positive outcomes of this experiment. To first year students in Vietnam university, I don't think poetry is a suitable learning/teaching tool yet. This approach may work well in liberal arts system. We shall wait and see whether Fulbright University adopts creative poetry in economics. Till now, let us appreciate the beauty and power of words and poetry with Maya Angelou


Reference:

  1. The Week (2021), From Kennedy to Biden: The tradition of the inaugural poet, https://www.theweek.in/leisure/society/2021/01/20/from-kennedy-to-biden-the-tradition-of-the-inaugural-poet.html

  2. Jones, A. (2021), Amanda Gorman reminded America what poetry can do, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/01/22/opinions/amanda-gorman-affirmed-poetry-and-me-ashley-m-jones/index.html

  3. Davis, M. (2019), The Poetry of Economics, https://sites.tufts.edu/marydavis/files/2017/01/Poetry_Final_Draft_8_12.pdf

  4. Davis, M. (2019), Poetry and economics: Creativity, engagement and learning in the economics classroom, International Review of Economics Education.

  5. Davis, M. (2015), Bringing imagination back to the classroom: A model for creative arts in economics, International Review of Economics Education.

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Hello again!

I'm back with another set of recommendations. In the past weeks, I discovered some interesting Vietnamese podcasts and readings that I'm delighted to share with you.

1. Podcasts

Vietnamese podcast starts to gain its popularity. In the previous posts, I already mentioned Oddly Normal and Unlock FM as two of my new found love. Here are two more lovable background noise for your morning walks.

  • Bốn chấm không: This podcast brought to you by two Yale alumni who work in Silicon Valley. My personal favorite was Episode No. 1 where Lien, the guest, share her stories in the 4.0 era. One big lesson I took away was the urgency to learn dealing with data. I was so motivated that I registered Udemy courses. In the next posts, I will update you with my learning progress :)

  • Chuyện Khởi nghiệp This is a nice discovery reminding me of my start-up days. My personal favorite was on Son Dao and his mistakes with the very first transformation gym in Hanoi - Swequity gym. After all, we should answer Why before working on How.

2. Movie

I finished a rigorous movie marathon on teachings last week and share my thoughts here. Other than that, I would like to share a documentary with you.

3. Readings

- Con nhà giầu và con nhà nghèo khác nhau ở điểm nào? Phân tích từ góc độ giáo dục: is a brief writing on how students from richer background earn their privileges in life. I like the first part of the writings where the author explained why. The second part, however, is not convincing since it derived from subjective opinions of the author. Nevertheless, it is the good read for students to understand the (limited) attribution of education to one's success. - Kinh tế học vô hại is a great translated version of Harmless Economics in Github on casual inference. After the data class from Udemy, i will continue my conquest of knowledge with this website. Have a look if you fancy to learn new research techniques in economics.

And finally, I played this song thousand times this week. Hope you like it too!


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Updated: Jan 11

I wrote this blog entry to my students

with the hope to better connect with those younger souls


After two years of teaching, I found the followings needed to change among colleage students in Vietnam.

  1. Students are afraid of workloads.

  2. To students, good grade is the ultimate goals of learning.

  3. Reading (something other than Facebook Status) and thinking critically remained extraterrestrials to students.

I want to do something different this semester so I decided to watch movies on teachers to seek some light. I want you, my students to construct your minds with truths through education. Just like what I am striving. And just like what Tara Westover wrote:

Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. (Educated by Tara Westover)

In the next semester, I will ask you to watch the following movies to "break the ice" and understand my teaching philosophy. Before your watching them all, I would like to share some thoughts.


1. Starting with Why


History boys (2006) was the British version of Dead Poets Society (1989). The two depicted an ideological battle within every classroom. One force (both headmasters in two movies) measures learning through achievement. School students should learn to get good grade, pass exams, and get into good universities. Poetry, music, and art are superfluous. Teachers who neglected such aims are regarded as incapable ones.


The other force (Keating in Dead Poets Society and Hector in the History Boys) assures the purpose of teaching is being happy. Keating and Hector ignited the reckless fire in their students. To speak their minds. To rip off inappropriate textbook pages. To look at life at different perspectives. To celebrate individualism. To support unconformity.

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” - Hector in History Boys

Or

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for" - Keating in the Dead Poets Society

Watch the two movies side by side. Let me know what you think. As for me, I believe grade is not enough. I don't argue that grade is an inadequate measurement of learning ability. Grade is something but not EVERYTHING. One prove oneself through grade first, then what set him/her extraordinary is the flare: art, music, and poetry. When you study, learn how to study effectively but don't turn yourself into machine with calculated strategies in cram-schools. As a teacher, I aim at extraordinary.

"They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary" - Keating

2. Continue with How


If you follow my blog long enough, you may know Make it stick, a simple book can help you learn and remember anything through spaced repetition and active recall. During this semester, you are expected to have at least 4 mini tests. I will make the process enduring enough for you to remember things better.


You can also write a journal on learning (economics). This is your independent study. You can share with me if you want. Sometimes I feel it hard to understand you, my students. We are a decade apart. Let alone, I was born in different settings. I want us to understand each other. I can be like Erin in Freedom Writer (2007) or Louanne from Dangerous Minds (1995) playing rap music to you. In fact, I'm big fan of Rap Viet so it would be easy. I, however, believe there is something deeper beneath the water. So let us understand each other through writings.

In 2020, I attended PEN (Pioneer Teaching Network) and learnt the new concept of "deep learning". My teaching activities are designed in DoK (Depth of knowledge) framework.

Source: Edmentum

In my Microeconomics class, activities in different DoK levels can be:

  1. Level 1 - to recall your lectures and textbooks (i.e. True/False, Define). For example, test question on recalling the definition of market economy?

  2. Level 2 - to solve textbook problems. For example, exam exercise requires you to calculate the quantity that maximize Firm X's profit?

  3. Level 3 - to apply what you have learnt in realities. For example, case study ask you to explain why the elderlies pay higher insurance premium?

  4. Level 4 - to present your own research and experiment.

This highest level of knowledge requires you to think on your feet. In class, it can be something very hypothetical like "What will Adam Smith tweet on Trump's last day of presidency?".


For assignment, I will require you to lead your own project/ experiment / or research on economics and present it in front of our class. It will be hard to you, especially first year student. But hey, nothing good in life comes easy.


I also want to remind you the importance of good attitudes. To be a winer, act like winer. Sit in frontlines. Raise your hands. Challenge your teachers (in this case, me!). Be punctual. I won't be like Coach Carter (2005) asking to do push-ups once you are late. You will lose my respect and part of my lectures. To me, it was enough of a punishment.

Finally, success, like everything good in this world, requires time and effort. Remember Gladwell's rule: To get good at any field, "you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good". Don't expect an A just 2 weeks of cramming or 2 days at cram-schools. Learning is a progress. It is a journey that one should travel with sweat and perseverance.

3. Pass it on

“Pass the parcel. That's sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That's the game I want you to learn. Pass it on.” - Hector in History Boys

Knowledge is contagious. So pass it on! Your knowledge, your passion, and the attitudes of learning. Today, 100 students in this class. Tomorrow, millions people have their lives changed because you met them. Just like Admiral William H. McRaven once said:

That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people (Admiral William H. McRaven)

So learn and pass it on!


Movies mentioned (and highly recommended)

  • Coach Carter (2005)

  • History Boys (2006)

  • Freedom Writers (2007)

  • Dangerous Minds (1995)

  • Dead Poets Society (1989)

Honourable Mentions

  • The Great Debaters (2007)

  • Thao's Library (2015)

  • Whiplash (2014)

  • Thầy cô chúng ta đã thay đổi (2017)


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