Saturday, May 10, 2008

National Mathematics Advisory Panel

The U.S. Department of Education has released the results of its recent study on math education in the U.S. You can download the report here. The report called for an emphasis on the "basics" of math -- addition, multiplication, fractions, decimals, and geometry.

"There is, I think, a tendency in American curricula to cover too many things too shallowly," Larry Faulkner, the panel's chair and the former president of the University of Texas, said in a briefing with reporters.

I haven't looked over the document -- it's rather long -- but it definitely looks like it's worth reading.

Five Minds for the Future

I received an interesting link about Howard Gardner's new book Five Minds for the Future. The page includes a summary of the basic ideas of the book as well as audio of Gardner explaining his ideas.

Dyslexia and Foreign Language

The Washington Post has a very interesting article on a recent study done on dyslexia. The study by the National Academy of Sciences shows that dyslexia affects different parts of the brain depending on whether students are raised reading Chinese or English. The implication is that different scripts will require different strategies to help dyslexic readers.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Summer Reading For Students

The National Council for Teachers of English has released a report on the student book selection process.

Here's an excerpt:

What could be better for a student's literacy skills than a summer filled with reading of all kinds? As Cathy Beck et. al explain, "With the time pressures of a regular school year behind us and the new year not quite a reality, we can dust off the books that have waited patiently to give us pleasure and without guilt, immerse ourselves in one of life’s greatest pleasures—reading" (Books for Summer Reading, p. 321). Summer reading programs urge students to read during their summer vacations, developing and maintaining a lifelong habit of reading for pleasure. Further, such programs help students retain and sharpen literacy skills during the months that they are out of the classroom.

The Washington post has an article that talks about the whole summer reading experience. It's an interesting read for any of you who have ever struggled to find "appropriate" reading materials for kids. Take a look at the Washington Post article here.

Comic Books

A few days back, I wrote about video games. If anyone is reading these posts, I'd bet there are some who would question the intellectual worth of these endeavors and just might question my intellectual worth as well. I'm about to lower myself in these people's estimation a bit more when I talk about my next topic: comic books. They're also known as "Graphic Novels", but to me that's like using the term "Action Figure" for dolls -- a euphemism for the same thing. I'm more familiar with the term comic books and I'll use that term.

I once held a fairly dim view of comics myself. Images of Archie and Jughead and Superman come to mind in a rather unappetizing panoply of mediocrity. And yet if one scratches beneath the surface, there is some incredibly profound work being done in the comic book world. Most people are familiar with the Art Spiegelman series Maus, but there's a lot more in this genre than that. Here are a few examples:

1) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is for me the best example of this genre. It is the story of a young woman growing up in revolutionary Iran. The piece works on a number of levels, but for me the merging of the text and the images is profound. There is one passage where the author confronts her religious beliefs that is beautiful and profound. If you know me, you also know that I don't throw that particular combination of words around lightly.

2) Deogratias by J.P. Stassen is the story of a young man's experiences during the Rwandan massacres in the 1990s. It's a tough book to categorize, and it is not for the faint of heart -- there are some pretty vicious scenes. For a visceral and haunting account of Rwanda, however, I cannot recommend a better book.

3) Action Philosophers! by Fred van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy is a series of comics that [obviously] deals with brief discussions of the lives of prominent philosophers. What interest me here is that aside from the typical litany, the authors deal with lesser known people like Derrida, Wittgenstein, and even Foucault. The series is lighthearted and often very funny. The section on John Stuart Mill, for instance, depicts Mill as a Charlie Brown like character. The Foucault section is done in the style of Family Circus.

4) The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick is an amazing work. As a history teacher, I have a bias here, but this is a really exceptional work. The book is a work in progress. The series that starts from the origins of the universe and is supposed to go till the present day (they're at the American Revolution right now). There's some surprisingly good history here and it's very well researched and interesting.

I don't know that these works are for younger kids -- there are some pretty adult themes in each of these books -- but they could be great with older kids ready to discuss some serious themes.

Global Voices and Voices Without Votes

I ran across two really great web sites that cover world politics. One is called Global Voices and is a collection of bloggers from around the world. It covers parts of the world that don't generally get coverage in the U.S. media, like Lebanon and Haiti.

Voices Without Votes is another interesting site that covers the U.S. presidential elections from the perspective of international bloggers. Right now, for instance, there is an interesting piece on how Iranians view the current elections here in the U.S. Worth a look.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Big Think -- Interesting Conversations

There's an interesting website called Big Think that's sort of a forum for some interesting conversations on a host of issues ranging in everything from globalization to religion to art economics. They have short videos posted from experts ranging from David McCullough on John Adams to Harvey Mansfield on the American political system to Jim Lehrer on the media today to Reza Aslan on the "clash of civilizations".

It's the type of site you can browse around in and find some really interesting things for both personal edification as well as for possible use in the classroom. Take a look at this posting on David McCullough's views on "Adams Family Values".

Why Football Is Better Than High School

I was reading educator Ian Jukes' blog and came across a link to an article from Phi Beta Kappan from 1998. It's entitled "Seventeen Why Football Is Better Than High School" Basically, the author's claim is that football creates a far more engaging learning environment for kids. It's controversial, but worth a look. Read the article here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Do The Arts Make You Smarter?

The Dana Foundation in Manhattan has spent the past few years studying just this question and they've released their findings on their web site. The fundamental issue they address is "Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?"

The document is pretty long, but is broken up into interesting chapters such as "Musical Skills and Cognition"; "How Arts Training Influences Cognition" and the like.

From their web site:

Learning, Arts, and the Brain
The Dana Consortium Report

Learning, Arts, and the Brain, a study three years in the making, is the result of research by cognitive neuroscientists from seven leading universities across the United States. In the Dana Consortium study, released in March 2008, researchers grappled with a fundamental question: Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?

For the first time, coordinated, multi-university scientific research brings us closer to answering that question. Learning, Arts, and the Brain advances our understanding of the effects of music, dance, and drama education on other types of learning. Children motivated in the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other subject areas.

The research was led by Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “A life-affirming dimension is opening up in neuroscience,” said Dr. Gazzaniga, “to discover how the performance and appreciation of the arts enlarge cognitive capacities will be a long step forward in learning how better to learn and more enjoyably and productively to live. The consortium’s new findings and conceptual advances have clarified what now needs to be done.”

Gin And Web 2.0

Clay Shirky has an on his web site an article about the introduction of new technologies. It's hard to sum up his argument, but part of it a push against the idea that people who participate in Web 2.0 are wasting their time. I'll lose the sense of what he wrote if I try to summarize it, so take a look .

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mathcasting? A Possible Resource for K-7 Teachers

I ran across what could be a really interesting site. Basically, these mathcasts seem to be SmartBoard recording of various math lessons that teachers can share with other teachers. I can't vouch for the quality of the site, but I'd be interested to see what the math teachers think about it.

Growing Up Online

PBS's recent Frontline series has recently broadcast a program "Growing Up Online". It's an interesting look at what kids doing online and explores both the good and bad side of technology. The website has some great resources and you can watch the program for free!

Take a look:

Biology Lessons

The research department at Children's Hospital Boston has developed a series of web-based Flash tutorials to present complex medical and biological concepts in an interactive, user-friendly format. Check out the site here.

It covers such topics as:

The Neuron
How Cancer Grows and Spreads
Virtual Stem Cell Lab
Transegrity in a Cell
Make a Micrograph
Introduction to Proteomics

Monday, May 5, 2008

History Timeline

There's an interesting British web site out there called "History Timeline". The concept is pretty straightforward -- it's an interactive timeline of British history. There are some interesting video clips at various points on the line ranging from the Norman Conquest to Shakespeare to the Empire to the current age.

Do Video Games Make You Stupid?

In my last blog, I discussed the role of games, video and board, in my youth. I like to think that they actually helped me develop a sense of intellectual curiosity and a love of learning. The list of video games I mentioned in my earlier post are a bit dated and I'm not sure they're even available. But there are a crop of new games available that I think represent the best of the "intelligent games" that inspire me. Here's a brief, but hardly comprehensive, list:

Bioshock: On the surface, this game might appear to be a typical first-person-shooter game. Probe a bit beneath the surface, however, and you get an entirely different perception. It turns out that the plot of the game is a rather detailed and complex critique of Ayn Rand's "objectivist" philosophy outlined in Atlas Shrugged.

Europa Universalis III is an historical simulation that covers the Early Modern period in world history (roughly from Columbus to the American Revolution). You can select any country during this time period and engage in a pretty sophisticated simulation of the politics, religious, economic, and military institutions. It requires some fairly complex decision-making skills and does a pretty good job of getting the "feel" of Early Modern Europe down. I played one game as Poland. During the course of the game, I inherited the throne of Hungary through a dynastic marriage and became embroiled in a protracted war with the Ottoman Empire as a result.

Civilization IV is a long-standing favorite that many teachers have used in their classrooms. Like Europa Universalis III, this game simulates world history. It involves a fairly complex model that requires the player to understand comparative political, religious, economic, technological, and militrary systems. It's a bit more approachable than Europa. I've used this game in my 8th grade class the past two years and had some really positive results. Kids were, for example, reading Sun Tzu, the Buddha, and even some Aristotle in order to get a leg up on the game. The important thing here is that none of those students HAD to read these authors. They did so on their own initiative.

The Movies is a game that recreates the history of Hollywood cinema from its origins to the present day. The player is cast in the role of a movie studio producer. One must oversee multiple aspects of the process and be aware of the business side of the industry. One must be aware of market conditions and historical social trends (like WWII and the counterculture). The player can also try their hand at putting together their own movies.

IPhones In The Classroom

I ran across an interesting video about Abilene Christian University in Texas. They're piloting integrating IPhones into their entire campus life -- academics, scheduling, and more. It all looks a bit far-fetched, but it provides some glimpses into what might be coming down the pike for us. Check it out here. It's a bit slow moving and the acting isn't especially inspiring, but be patient and I think you'll see some interesting uses for the new technology.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Some Sort of Wierd Online Game That Sort-Of Intrigues Me

Did anyone see the New York Times' article on the game Go Cross Campus (GXC). The article describes how students at some Ivy League schools are playing the game. It's hard to describe but the interesting part of the game is that you can connect your social networks together and play one another. So, for instance, you could create a game that pits Collegiate against the Saints or faculty against students or something like that. I don't know the educational value per se, but it looks sort of fun. Take a look at the article here.

My Misspent Youth?

When I was a kid, I played a fair amount of board and video games. All right, I played a lot of board and video games.I suspect that there's a general cultural consensus that I wasted my time doing so. But I older I get, the more I question that assumption. I fact, I'd argue that playing video games was a positive good for me when I was growing up. To make my point, I'm going to walk through what I hope isn't too boring a depiction of my game playing history and the impact it had on me.

To start, I need to back up a bit to look at myself before video games. I went to a pretty mediocre working-class public high school outside New York City. My friends and I were, by all accounts, slackers at best. Corporal punishment was common, despite whatever laws there were against it. Why? The kids just assumed that we deserved it for acting up. There was a solid core of kids who did well and went on to college, but I was definitely not one of them. Games quite literally changed my life.

Before I played video games, I used to play board games quite a bit. I played Strat-O-Matic Baseball for hours on end, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. I learned quite a bit about the sport itself, but I also taught myself math -- I used to replay entire seasons and compile statistics on the players. I also played a lot of Avalon Hill board games such as Squad Leaderand War in Russia and Caesar's Legions. These games were my first exposure to history in any real and meaningful way. To learn more about the games, I actually did something I never did in school -- I researched the topics extensively. I remember sitting in my living room scouring every page of our 1959 World Book Encyclopedia for information on Zhukov, Rommel, and Augustus. These games got me excited about history and made me want to learn.

From these games, with pretty much no input from my school, I learned about the origins of WWII, the Holocaust, the Gallic Wars, Athenian democracy, and a host of other things. I learned some rudimentary statistics and honed my skills in arithmetic. I learned to follow complex directions -- some of these games had rulebooks well over 50 pages. I learned an amazing amount from these games.

In a similar fashion, video games taught me a great deal. I played a game called something like Wall Street Investor or something like that. I played games that covered topics as diverse as European imperialism, the American Revolution, Greek mythology, the Spanish conquest of the Americas. The stereotype of video games today seems to be on a spectrum ranging from some mindless form of Pong to the ultraviolent Grand Theft Auto. The types of games I played seem to be lost in the shuffle and don't get noticed.

I read quite a bit about "kids today" and how video games are destroying their brains and bringing about the end of civilization. I admit that not every video game out there is a top quality, guaranteed-to-make-your-kid-a-genius product. But are books any different? Is every book a masterpiece? Video games inspired me to read, to look more into the topics that video games introduced to me.

There is enormous potential to use video games to inspire kids in our various subjects. Kids play video games -- it's just true. If we abandon the field and don't even make an effort to use this to our benefit, we are missing out on an amazing opportunity to teach our kids.

First Post

I'm starting this blog to chronicle my journey through educational administration. I don't know that any of this will be especially enlightening or if anyone will even read it. That's fine. It's sort-of like spitting in the ocean; I'm not doing it to create a tidal wave, I'm just doing it.