Saturday, June 14, 2008

Civil Rights Digital Library

The University of Georgia has an amazing online library that documents the civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s and 1960s. There are all sorts of primary source documents -- tv footage, financial statements, transcripts, photos, speeches, etc.

This looks like it would be a great place to craft a student research project.

Friday, June 13, 2008

IIT Courses

The Indian Institute of Technology has posted a selection of its courses online according to Open Culture. I'll warn you that it's not for the faint of heart -- these are really intense courses on such topics as "Electrical-Digital Signal Processing" and "Project Management" and the like. It's all in English and worth a look if you're interested in science and technology.

IIT is one of the world's top centers of scientific research and business management and is harder to get into that MIT or Harvard.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jesuit Leadership

As I've read through my blog to date, I realize that I never explained the title of the blog -- Ratio Studiorum. It comes from the Latin phrase the Jesuits used to describe their curriculum in their schools.

So why did I pick that as the title of my blog? I admire the Jesuits -- Jesuits guided my education in graduate school and represent to me the best in intellectual achievement and commitment to social justice.

I just finished reading the book Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450 Year-Old Company that Changed the World by Chris Lowney. Lowney reminded me why I've always admired the Jesuits and also made me think more clearly about exactly what it is that I admire in them.

In an amazing book, Lowney outlines four basic principles for leadership: self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism. On the surface, the book looks like one of those inane books like The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun or Robert E. Lee on Leadership or something like that. But this book is decidedly not of that sort.

First of all, Attila and Robert E. Lee were, when all is said and done, pretty pathetic failures. The Jesuits, by contrast, have been remarkably successful as a group. But more importantly, Lowney give one a remarkably humane approach to leadership that is designed for the whole person. As such, it is very different than most leadership books.

He does a nice job outlining Jesuit history and showing how the four principles have been applied over the years. As I see it, their ideals are remarkably suitable for our world today. Lowney stresses that Jesuits are rooted in their principles and ideals, but reflective enough to understand that one must be flexible to compromise on non-essential points. For examples, he cites de Nobili and Ricci, Jesuits sent to live among the people of India and China. Both men remained devout Jesuits but were able to appreciate local customs and cultures. It is a principled ability to navigate in the world and remember what is truly important.

As we move ahead in education, these are principles I think all educators would be well to remember. Let's remember what's essential about education, but also be willing to forgo customs, habits, and traditions that don't compromise our principles.

I recognize that the Jesuits don't have a spotless record in all things and in fact the very term "Jesuitical" is not used in praise. Nonetheless, I think Lowney shows that whatever their shortcomings have been, they have also been resilient enough and principled enough to make a real difference in the world. He also does a good job of "secularizing" the Jesuits' leadership principles so that it applies to people beyond the Catholic world.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I just finished the book Nerds by David Anderegg. It's worth the read. Anderegg discusses how deeply ingrained the idea of the "nerd" is in American culture and the effect that's had on our development as a nation. He traces the idea back to Washington Irving and Emerson and their juxtaposition of the American "man of action" with the effect, European thinker.

He does a great job trying to flesh out the complexities of these apparently opposite terms and discusses the various shades one may occupy on the "jock/nerd" spectrum. Nerds have been pathologized as potential Asperger's sufferers (like Bill Gates)and denigrated as keepers of useless and arcane knowledge on all matters technological and mathematical. Nerds are one of the last groups one can openly mock without fear of offending people (aside from the nerd, but that's okay).

Given our dismissal of these kids and our acceptance of the taunting they are subjected to in school and in popular culture, Anderegg is not shocked by the fact that we are in the midst of a declining interest in math and science.

The book doesn't really say anything new, but it's a well thought out cultural analysis. As an educator who teaches lots of "nerds" and is pretty much one myself (or am I a geek? I still don't know), this book spoke to me. I do feel, though, that we are in the midst of a nerd Renaissance. From the days of my own schooling to today, there's been a marked acceptance of nerd culture. From the band Weezer to Napoleon Dynamite to pretty much you-name-it, nerds have thrown off their chains of shame and stepped into the light. I like to think that Gen-X played a role in this transformation, but that's another story altogether...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Video Game for Science

The Federation of American Scientists has released a new video game called "Immune Attack". The game is designed to teach kids the principles of immunology. Some of the beta-testers were AP Biology teachers, so I think it's going to be pretty solid in terms of content. Click here to download a copy of the game. Here's the press release from AFS:

WASHINGTON DC – On Thursday, 22 May 2008, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) launches Immune Attack TM, an exciting, fun and fast-moving video game that teaches the critical scientific facts of immunology from 6-8:00 pm at AAAS in Washington, DC.

The cutting-edge game is designed to teach how the immune system works to defend the body against invading bacteria. The visual elements and simulations are critical for grasping the complex interactions of the biological systems.

“My students were very engaged while playing Immune Attack,” said Netia Elam, AP Biology Teacher at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, VA. “The video game provides great visuals and allows the students to interact while playing the game. The kids really wanted to master the game and to do that they needed to learn the immunology concepts.” (click HERE to see video of Elam.)

Immune Attack is a complement to the learning that happens in the classroom. The game allows students to use sights, sounds, and touch to get better acquainted with the immune system. It also encourages them to interact with each other and have problem-solving discussions to enhance their game-play and ultimately learn the subject.

Preliminary surveys show that the students who play Immune Attack show an increase in knowledge when compared with students who did not play the game. After playing the game students also showed a higher interest in biology.

"Immunology is a complicated subject to learn. The challenges in Immune Attack give those who might not otherwise be interested in biology the chance to learn in a fun, hands-on manner they won't find in a text book," said Michelle Lucey-Roper, director of the Learning Technologies Program at FAS.

FAS is researching and developing ways to produce complex games and 3-D interactive simulations that will one day revolutionize education and how people learn. These learning games help students and workers learn globally competitive skills in demand by employers.

“Computer games hold special interest to a generation who has grown up with them and show promise as educational tools. Here at FAS, we’re using games to better understand which features can be used to improve learning and to develop guidelines based on that research,” said Henry Kelly, FAS President.

FAS will use Immune Attack with teachers and students across the U.S. to research how to improve the design of games for learning and how they may be used to encourage students to consider careers in bioscience, medicine and other health care professions.

“Games increase motivation, but it is not entirely clear why. For example, games typically include competition - either against a human opponent or a computer-generated one. The research challenge is to determine how these features contribute to learning,” said Kelly.

FAS's interest in games emerged from research that shows advanced learning technologies, such as video games and computer simulations, can help address one of the nation's most pressing needs -- strengthening education and preparing workers for 21st century jobs.

Immune Attack builds on insights from FAS's Learning Science and Technology Research and Development Roadmap, the FAS report "Harnessing the Power of Video Games for Learning", and the Digital Opportunity Investment Trust (DO IT) -- a proposal to transform learning and training for the 21st century. These recommendations have been incorporated into the House version of the Higher Education authorization bill which FAS hopes will be passed by Congress.

Immune Attack was created by FAS in collaboration with teams of game developers, instructional designers, immunologists, teachers, and learning scientists including Brown University, the University of Southern California, and Escape Hatch Entertainment.

To celebrate the premier of Immune Attack, a launch party will be held on Thursday, 22 May 2008 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. The event will take place in the AAAS Auditorium and 2nd floor at 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC (at 12th and H Streets). This FAS event is free, but space is limited.

Speakers include:
Henry Kelly, Federation of American Scientists

John Cherniavsky, National Science Foundation

Bob Hirshon, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Merrilea Mayo, Kauffman Foundation
Science NetLinks , the AAAS K-12 science education web site, will make Immune Attack available to its users for use in the classroom and beyond the classroom. Teachers, students and parents can find Immune HERE.

This FAS event is free, but space is limited. The game will be available in advance and during a demonstration in the AAAS 2nd floor atrium.

* Exclusive swag and free copies of the game will be available.

When: 6:00-8:00pm, Thursday the 22nd of May, 2008

Where: AAAS Auditorium and 2nd floor atrium
1200 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20005

AAAS is located at the corner of 12th and H Streets, NW, Washington, DC (Metro Center stop on the Red Line.)


Monday, June 9, 2008

Learning Chinese - The Game

I read in the Chronicle of Higher Education about something called Zon, an online game that teaches you Mandarin. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like it puts users in realistic situations and one then learns to use the proper Mandarin to get through. It's apparently a massively multiplayer online game. If it's any good, it could be a very interesting way to learn languages.

When I think ahead about education, I keep wondering if things like this will be a major part of what we'll be doing in education in the future.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Boys' Crisis?

The Washington Post has an article on a study done by the American Association of University Women on boys' performance in schools. The report questions the assumption that there is a crisis in boys' education and argues instead that social class is a much better predictor of underachievement.

I find this article interesting for a number of reasons, but primarily because it calls into question many things I've observed the past few years. For the little I've read of the report, it seems pretty convincing and soundly researched, but I still have the sense that boys just aren't performing at the same level as girls. But the report says that that has been the case for quite some time.

This is one of those liberating moments when I just don't know what to think about the whole issue. What do others think about this issue?