January 2009 Archives

Educational Stimulus

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

I read recently that the College Board is probably going to drop the Italian Advanced Placement Exam. The impact of dropping one AP Exam is minimal, but I hope that as our nation faces economic hard times and seeks ways to stimulate recovery, we can remind ourselves that knowledge is an asset.  There was a time in the United States when some feared that we would have an overly educated workforce; now, technology companies ask for visa exemptions to bring suitable talent into our country.  Many factors contribute to this situation, but one of them has to be the lack of importance we place on providing our citizens a broad-based education. 


We have frequently reacted to current events to establish our goals for education; when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, beating the United States into space, we passed the National Defense Act of l958 to increase funding for a wide range of areas, including mathematics, science, modern foreign languages, and geography!  The National Defense Act recognized that an educated citizenry is a great national asset, and I hope the new administration remembers that education should be at the top of its list.  Educated people find good jobs, educated people create jobs, and educated people make the country more productive. 


Barack Obama can begin repairing our tortured economy by making a long-term investment in our future through education.

Learning Styles and Changes

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
An odd thing can happen while you are waiting for change to take place; often, the change occurs and you are surprised that you missed the event. When Thinkwell first offered its products, we were sure that we had good ideas that would address multiple learning styles, as well as bring great teachers to students across the globe. However, the idea of offering the core content via video lectures, online exercises and homework, and mixed media presentations was new and untried. Today, though, many teachers and students would balk at the idea of returning to the days of drill and practice on a piece of paper, and mixed media is well established in all levels of educational publishing. The change happened.

There are good reasons for this. Students get immediate and relevant feedback by doing online homework, which helps them correct mistakes while it reinforces understanding. And mixed media addresses multiple learning styles to empower all users. I think this is good news for everyone; more learners find content that meets their styles and instructors have new tools. It is clear that the evolution continues; take a look at the Pew Foundations report, The Internet and Education. I like to think that Thinkwell has been one of the drivers for change. 

This brings me back to great teachers.

No matter what tools we all use, nothing can replace a great teacher. In the study released last fall by the National Governors Association, entitled Accelerating the Agenda: Actions to Improve America's High Schools, one of the major goals was to provide "excellent teachers" to schools, and Malcolm Gladwell not only points out how important teachers are but also gives us insights into how to find them in his essay, Most Likely to Succeed.

Thinkwell's underlying mission has always been to provide great teaching, and technology has come a long way toward helping us make that happen. I am happy the change has come.

Thinkwell Surpasses 75 Million Exercises Delivered

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Almost 12 years ago, when Dan Heath and I first started Thinkwell, the prevailing attitudes towards educational media were mixed at best.  On the one hand, everyone saw the promise that this relatively young medium held, but the stark reality was that no one was using it in any meaningful, substantive way.  

As an early member of this educational media community, I can attest to the fact that there was a fair amount of hand-waving going on about the impact that these new games, simulations, and interactive media would surely have on students' learning. How could it not, right?  This stuff was so cool! The sad truth, though, is that so much of this new media was hobbled by the fact that it didn't work on the computers that it was supposed to run on, that it never had a fair chance of getting off the ground. (Full disclosure: the first web release of the Thinkwell products (ca. 1998) crippled about 50% of our customers' computers. We were part of the problem).

And so what we've seen up until the last couple of years is great multimedia content relegated to the sidelines. If you were lucky, you were able to get your stuff onto a CD and slapped into the back of a printed book.  But, let's face it, those CDs rarely, if ever, got used.

I'm happy to report that things look much different now. Thanks to the rise of standards, platforms, and this thing called the Internet, access to quality, reliable multimedia has become all but ubiquitous.  And the cool thing is that students and professors are really using it.

I bring all this up in light of our most recent press release, "Thinkwell Surpasses 75 million Exercises Delivered."  While we've always known that students enjoy the Thinkwell material, up until a couple of years ago we had limited insight into how much they were actually using it. Once we put all our material online, we've been able to track their usage patterns and here's what we've found: On average, students watch over 90% of the Thinkwell media to completion! That's the equivalent of a student reading 450 pages of a 500 page textbook all the way through, which I think we all know never happens.

We're excited and encouraged that the use and adoption of educational media continues to rise, and are honored to be a part of this growing trend.

Homeschool lesson for Inauguration Day

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Today is a great day to learn about how the United States brings a president into the oval office. The election happened months ago, and we've seen a lot of activity from the president-elect and from the outgoing president. President-elect Obama has been getting ready for office, while President Bush has been tying up loose ends.

What are we going to see today? A great way to get ourselves ready for the coverage we'll see on television (or the web) today is by studying some of the topics we know will be mentioned. You'll hear a lot of reporters and pundits mentioning three of our previous presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Take a moment to brush up on these three presidents so that you can make your own decisions about the comparisons they make.

The ceremony you'll see today, the inauguration, is when our president takes the oath of office. Take a look at the oath of office that every president has taken since George Washington's inauguration in 1789. Look at where the oath was taken, and who administered it. The oath hasn't changed, but other things have!


A president's inauguration is an event our country has celebrated for centuries. Take a little time to think about the many inaugurations that have come before. What has changed since our first inauguration? What will be the same for the ceremony we'll see today, the 56th inauguration in our country's history?


There's one part of the inaugural proceedings that may be the most anticipated, the inaugural speech. These are the new president's first words to the nation, and can be a sign of what we can expect. Here's an interactive tool that will take you through every inauguration speech given. Use the slider at the top of the page to find the presidents you're most interested in. Around here, we really like Thomas Jefferson's first speech, but you may also want to take a look at Franklin D. Roosevelt's and John F. Kennedy's in preparation for today's speech.


You're ready! Watch and learn as we swear in Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

Have a great inauguration day!


Thurmond Heights Holidays

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Happy Monday!

We're enjoying another week back at Thinkwell HQ and hope you're getting a good start to your week.

I wanted to share with you a very special day we spent recently with some families from Thurmond Heights, a housing development here in Austin, TX. Here's a little background on how we ended up there for such a fun time:

We're very lucky to be connected with the Entrepreneurs' Foundation of Central Texas, a group that helps local entrepreneurs pool their resources of time and money in ways that really help our community. They got us involved with a group called Communities in Schools, and we've worked with them for two years to host a Christmas party for the kids of Thurmond Heights.

It's been a blast! We've had cupcake decorating, a moon bounce, face painting, caricature drawing, games, Xmas-card making, Polaroid portraits, frame decorating, lots more crafts, and a pile of good fun. If fact, it's been so great that we have plans to get even more involved with Communities in Schools this year.

Take a look at this slideshow to see all the fun we had!


Welcome to the new Thinkwell blog!

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


We're very excited about connecting with all of the homeschoolers who welcome us into their homes, the professors who use us inside and outside of their classrooms, and the students watching our lectures and using the exercises on their laptops and in their computer labs. And hello to everyone in the online classes using Thinkwell!

In the last 10 years, we've been lucky enough to work with the best educators and most successful students on the planet, and we've set up this blog so that we can be in touch a little more often. We're looking forward to connecting with you--don't be shy about using the comments! And we'll be setting up a blogroll soon... we're looking forward to finding out and sharing what you're talking about.

So watch this blog for our thoughts on education, interesting tidbits from the world around us, insight into what happens here at Thinkwell HQ in Austin, TX, and whatever we can think of! We already have a great post from Carl Tyson, our CEO, (you'll be hearing more from him!) and you'll be hearing a lot from me, Hank. I wear a lot of hats at Thinkwell--some days you'll find me in the studio working with our professors and the crew to make great videos, some days I'm working with artists and editors to create the final Thinkwell lecture with all of the graphics and exercises, and some days you'll find me here, blogging like crazy. This is me: Thumbnail image for blogprofilepic.gif

You can find us in other corners of the internet, too. Be a fan of Thinkwell on Facebook (there's also a group called "thinkwell rocks"... we like the sound of that!), or follow us on Twitter. Take a look at our Flickr page, too, for some insights into the question "How many Thinkwellians does it take to change a lightbulb?"

And keep your eyes open for the Thinkwell Forums in coming weeks!

Talk to you soon,


Why learning?

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Why Learning?

I often get asked "Why dedicate your time to developing learning materials?" There are many more exotic pursuits with potential for higher payoffs, but most of us need and want a job that offers the opportunity to do something important--and as industries go, education and learning are fundamental to making our country competitive in the world.  In other words, while I work to make Thinkwell a winner, I also get to make a contribution to the future of the United States.  Let me explain:

Every nation needs lots of talented and well-equipped individuals--people who can develop software, or read blueprints, or build steel structures, or calculate the fuel needs of an airplane, and on and on. Every time I get to work with our mathematics expert, Professor Edward Burger, I am reminded of how important his work is to both students and the country. As a math-challenged person, I am in awe of Ed's ability to make elementary functions or calculus seem doable. Ed is one of those great teachers who can take a complicated subject like calculus and figure out a way to explain it in a way that makes sense to a mere mortal like me. Take a look at Ed's "The Two Questions of Calculus" and my point will become obvious.

I have enjoyed many days of just watching Ed talk about calculus or college algebra, or seeing him solving and graphing equations. It dawned on me one day that he has mastered two of the greatest challenges: he knows math cold--from the fundamental theorem of arithmetic to multivariate calculus--and he can speak from his knowledge in a way that lets all of us share his understanding.

I do not think Ed knows he is making us more productive as a nation by helping people learn algebra or trigonometry or calculus. I think he just wants to share his passion with others. Every time I watch him I know why I am working here.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.