Saturday, June 28, 2008

Strange Things Found In Books

AbeBooks sent out a question to its customers asking them to identify strange things they found inside used books. People found, among other things, a rookie Mickey Mantle baseball card, a diamond ring, a piece of bacon, a used q-tip, and the list goes on.

Take a look at the article here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rapture Ready

Daniel Radosh's "Rapture Ready" is an exploration into the world of Christian pop culture. Radosh calls this world a "parallel universe" and he clearly approaches it as such. His perspective is that of a self-professed New York liberal Jew and he finds this universe rather odd but in the end he comes to see beyond his own stereotypes and describes a rather complex world. He ranges far and wide, looking into such areas as Christian merchandising (known as "Jesus Junk"), to Christian wrestling, to pop music, to abstinence education, to theme parks, etc.

On the surface, all of this seems somewhat boilerplate and Radosh starts out rather jaded and cynical. Along the way, though, he begins to see there are subgroups and differences in approaches to popular culture. He runs into Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's son, who runs a progressive church out of Brooklyn that approves of, among other things, homosexuality and lesbianism. He finds that even among the more traditional approaches to evangelicalism, there are some who choose to shut themselves off from the world and those who choose to engage in meaningful dialogue with people who disagree with their worldview.

Radosh is by no means an objective observer and there are some really funny, but condescending passages describing some of the cheesier aspects of Christian popular culture. And while there are times he looks down his nose at this whole world, he is honest enough to admit this and he's also honest enough to point out the good side. He genuinely comes to admire some of the Christian comics and to appreciate some of the Christian music he hears. In the end, he says that in order to foster meaningful dialogue between the evangelical world and Radosh's world, there needs to be some mutual understanding and appreciation and, of course dialogue. Rather than just dismiss all of this as drivel and a banal collection of mediocre crap, those of us in the Northeastern establishment need to look for common ground with evangelicals. The alternative is to push these groups further and further into a subculture that licks its wounds and nurtures resentments and hostilities.

One of the best parts of the book is the online appendix, which has a boatload of videos, images, and web links to many of the performers and groups Radosh mentions in the book. It's a truly great addition and if anyone reads the book, I really recommend you follow along with the online appendix. Take a look at it here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The New P.E.

Edutopia has an interesting video on the "new P.E." There's an interesting display of how technology can help along the process (like using PDAs to track attendance and health info), but the emphasis is on giving kids some different ways to approach physical fitness.

I still can't figure out how to embed videos on this site, so go here for the video.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Young Minds, Fast Times

Marc Prensky's article in the recent Edutopia raises some pretty crucial issues for educators. The synopsis of the article is:

Students have little input into the structure and substance of their own educaiton. The traditional classroom lecture creates massive boredom, especially when compared to the vibrancy of their media-saturated, tech-driven world. But if we were to ask the, we'd learn they prefer questions rather than answers, sharing their opinions, group projects, working with real-world issues, and teachers who speak with them as equals rather than as inferiors.

I found Prensky's denunciation of typical PowerPoint presentations as glorified chalkboard notes to be telling and disturbing.

I don't know that people will agree with the author on everything, but I have to say that he covers student disengagement and boredom pretty convincingly. It mirrors my own encounters with kids nicely. Somehow, I feel that a comparison to sports and the arts bears investigation. In those areas, kids are coached but ultimately have to stand on their own for a public display of their skills. It's only in the classroom where teachers do most everything for the students (i.e., the traditional lecture) and then the students give a private display of their knowledge (i.e., the test, essay, lab, research project, etc.).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Brittanica Goes Wiki

From World History Blog comes news that the esteemed Encyclopaedia Britannica is going wiki. Alongside the pre-existing articles, there are now going to be user-created articles as well. I find this to be an amazing business decision and I wonder about the intellectual consequences of this shift. Is this a major change or not?

Here's a link to the announcement from Brittanica.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Supreme Court Justices Are Designing Video Games

MSNBC reports that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is involved in developing a video game that will teach students how our judicial system works. The site, called Our Courts, will be fully operations come this fall in time for the start of the 2009-10 school year.

Here's a passage from the MSNBC article:

She said the only way to preserve an independent judiciary was through public education, which she said was failing to produce citizens with enough knowledge about the three branches of U.S. government — legislative, executive and judicial.

The Our Courts project will have two parts, O'Connor said. The first is on online interactive civics program designed to be used by children from 7th to 9th grades either to supplement existing courses or as a distinct unit in the curriculum.

The program, developed with Georgetown University law school and Arizona State University, will be distributed free online.

"It will allow students to engage in real legal issues," she said. Asked to give an example, she said one element would focus on a scenario of a school attempting to stop students wearing a T-shirt with a controversial slogan — a free speech issue designed to elicit argument about the 1st Amendment.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Accelerated Math?

Are we pushing kids too far too early in math? That's the issue raised in a recent Washington Post article. Looking at some school in northern Virginia, there is a rush to have kids in Algebra I by the end of middle school. There are obvious benefits to this, but there are also some serious concerns raised. Foremost among them is the frenetic pace required to get to algebra.

As I've studied math curricula around the world and looked at the recent NCTM and government-funded studies, I wonder if rushing all this math through so quickly is really such a good idea. In places like Singapore, Japan, and China, it seems that the emphasis is more on depth of understanding than it is on just reaching specific target topics. As I traveled through some great Indian schools, I was struck at the depth of the kids' mathematical understanding. The seemed to have achieved "automaticity" and could actually play around with numbers more so I've seen in the US.

All of my observations are highly impressionistic, but they also reflect what others have said and researched. As the "math crisis" grows in the public perception, I think the issue of breadth and depth is going to define how we want to move ahead. I suspect that standardized-testing types will push for more breadth while the more progressive types will push for the increased depth. As an outsider to the whole math issue, my voice isn't quite authoritative, but my sympathies do lie with the progressives on this one.