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What’s wrong with English education in Japan? Pull up a chair…

October 30, 2014

Am a bit too busy with work right now to do much blog research, but found this and think it’s worth posting. So many issues, lol! Now I’m thinking, “I should go to Japan! I can help fix this!” 🙂 Interesting and quick read for people who deal with language learning issues, ESL or other.


w00t! A New Curriculum for Creative Computing

October 1, 2014

ScratchEd Team Makes Good With Top-Notch Curriculum GuideScratch

Remember my infatuation back in early 2010 with Scratch, the open source programming language developed by Mitchel Resnick at MIT? And Apple’s upsetting decision to pull the Scratch reader from its app store, soon afterwards? I was worried, but things have been in good hands.

The ScratchEd team at HGSE has been hard at work, in collaboration with people at the Education Development Center’s Center for Children & Technology, and the MIT Media Lab, developing a comprehensive and inspiring curriculum guide for teaching creative computing and the Scratch language.

“The activities are designed to support familiarity and increasing fluency with computational creativity and computational thinking. In particular, the activities encourage exploration of key computational thinking concepts (sequence, loops, parallelism, events, conditionals, operators, data) and key computational thinking practices (experimenting and iterating, testing and debugging, reusing and remixing, abstracting and modularizing).”

It’s really excellent work. A very polished, easy to use, and well designed upgrade of the original version.

You can access the 150-page pdf guide here.

Synchronized Mobile Devices Make Magic

September 28, 2014

knock-knock-music-videoThis is just cool.

It’s Sunday night… This isn’t a “real” post but I just came across this and want to share it. I’m sure it’s viral all over the digiscape but I don’t care. This is very cool and has me thinking about the possibilities.

A Brain Based Education: Yes, Please!

September 28, 2014

Brain Based LearningBrain Based Learning Strategies and the Reasons for Them

FROM FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION’S FEAWEB.COM (Eric Jensen): “Here’s a simple, but essential premise: the brain is intimately involved in, and connected with, everything educators and students do at school. Any disconnect is a recipe for frustration and potentially disaster. Brain-based education is best understood in three words: engagement, strategies and principles. You must engage your learners and do it with strategies that are based on real science.”

If this was Facebook, I’d post a “LOVE!” comment before I shared this find to every educator and educational developer I knew. I think the secret to people with a “gift” for teaching is that they know intrinsically what brain science shows us through research. And they care about it and act on it.

This is a very well done piece. As Jensen says, brain based education is “a no brainer” — the science behind it is strong and the results are compelling. But it’s still amazing how little of an average K-12 student’s day is likely to incorporate these guiding principles, mainly: Appreciate how vital movement and our range of senses are to learning — make time for playing, physical excursion, and different tactile experiences, every day and whenever possible; Be sensitive to the real impact emotions have on learning — create a safe environment, avoid random social groupings, and know that most behavior is not hardwired but learned (or reactive); Understand that every student’s brain is developing and changing — help students wire/rewire their brains for learning and living by teaching basic thinking, social, and coping skills on a continuing basis; Realize that most human brains are “atypical” when using common benchmarks to decide this, which means that almost all of us “learn differently” or develop differently — so make different the new normal, don’t fall victim to outdated labels that limit how you perceive your students; Teach in smaller chunks — the conventional standards on how much new stuff we can realistically hold onto or learn is outdated; Remember that memory is malleable and in flux when being accessed — mediate when students review content for assessment to make sure the new “content memories” they’re creating are the right ones. And others. His article is probably easier to get through than that last run-on list of mine. You can read it here.

Missouri Standards: Tough to Step Back from Common Core

September 25, 2014

Missouri State Senator Tom Dempsy

Group Chosen to Rewrite Missouri State Standards in Gridlock

FROM EDUCATION NEWS: “A group of educators and parents chosen to rewrite education standards in Missouri cannot agree how to proceed. The group of 132 educators and parents met for the first time on Monday in Jefferson City, spending their time arguing over how involved the state education department should be and how best to rewrite the national standards…”

The lead in tell you what’s going on; the article will fill you in on the politics and issues facing the group. This is something to watch. You can read the article here.

As Texas Goes, So Goes the Nation?

September 23, 2014

(Photo by Eric Gay/AP)


“The Texas State Board of Education is studying how textbook publishers responded to the state’s ideologically driven guidelines for teaching history. The results, say historians, are dire.”

I’d like to pass along an article that I found today by Edward Countryman, writing for The Daily Beast. It focuses, not on brain science or interesting new technological break throughs, but about educational content development. Or, more precisely, about the most recent effects of ideological politics on big-market K-12 content development. The author is sensitive to the issues publishers face as they work to secure sales and market share, but that doesn’t alter the reality of how ill-conceived standards lead what is being developed for these classrooms. You can read the article here:

And if you’re in the mood for candid reactions to what can be found in some of the submitted textbooks — from the questionable to the outright incorrect — try this blog article from the Houston Press.

Technology Really Works… As Long as the Learning Design Does, Too

September 13, 2014

Augmented Reality Technology Brings Learning to Life: A Study Looks at the Power of Technology to Recapture the Attention of Middle and High School Students

FROM HGSE’S USABLE KNOWLEDGE (Deborah Blagg): This brief  article summarizes some of Christopher Dede and Patrick O’Shea’s studies on using augmented reality (AR) for teaching adolescents. It’s old, now, but still worth the read, for general purposes. I can nit-pick Dede’s statement that “Most kids at this age tend to become disengaged from learning,” since, in my experience, it’s the classroom they can become disengaged from, not the learning… and a great teacher can keep students engaged and learning, regardless of the subject… but I appreciate his point that technology can help teachers teach greatly.

The AR implementation was interesting but my takeaway is that their work demonstrated the real need for good instructional and content design (curriculum development) to make the technology deliver on its potential. The original design had unintended outcomes. “Both Dede and O’Shea agreed that curriculum development — not technology — is the key to augmented reality’s potential as a teaching tool. ‘If you don’t design a sound curriculum, then it doesn’t matter how good the technology is,’ O’Shea said.”

Well, sure, but it’s nice to hear it said, anyway.

And I can’t help but wonder what Lowell Monke would have to say about this. 🙂

You can read the article here.

Remembering Jeanne Chall

September 3, 2014

Jeanne_Chall_smallTeacher. Researcher. Phonics Champion.

As the new school year begins, and my kids head back to the classroom, I find myself thinking about my own education and some of the teachers who had an impact in my life or work. I was lucky; there were a number of them. Most are not well-known, but they were great influencers nonetheless. And I owe them a lot.

Today, I’d like to pass along a brief bio of Jeanne Chall, taken from the history page of the Jeanne Chall Reading Laboratory at Harvard. I was fortunate to have spent many quality hours under her tutelage, in the classroom and at the lab, and was among the last of her students at the Ed School. She retired the year after I earned my degree. She died in 1999.

Jeanne was smart, no-nonsense, and very astute about… well, about most things. She drove some of the students mad with her intolerance of the whole-language vs. phonics approach debate. She firmly believed in the power of systematic phonics instruction and early intervention for basic skills; that decoding facility is what allows readers to develop higher level strategies to read for meaning — a natural next-step for fluent decoders, which relies strongly on vocabulary knowledge. She was not a fan of trends or anecdotal evidence and expected us to base our practice methodologies on proven approaches.

She was, however, a proponent of television and other media as a tool to teach skills and expand word knowledge, which I appreciated. She was an advocate for educationally underserved populations and the potential that technology has to reach them. And she was considerate and patient with her students (although you were smart to leave the methods war outside the door), and said nice things about my writing, too, which I also appreciated. 🙂 I think she would have been very excited to see how far interactive technologies have come, as teaching tools.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Chall, you can start here.

Smart Animal Log: Chimp’s Intelligence, Like Human’s, Is 50% Genetic

July 30, 2014

chimp familyFor Chimps, Social Skills and Spatial Understanding Run in the Family

FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NEWS (Virginia Hughes): “Chimpanzees and other great apes are known for their intelligence… But just as for humans, cognitive abilities vary from one animal to the next. Now, in one of the largest studies ever conducted on chimp cognition, researchers report that those individual differences are due in no small part to genetic makeup.”

I do seem to be on a “smart animal” roll, lately. Forgive me.

This is an interesting article and more evidence “that animals are not passive machines but rather are sharp, active thinkers.” (Just like kids!) It also discusses the relationship between nature and nurture when it comes to how smart chimps — and taking other mitigating factors into account, we — are likely to be. The study appears in the most recent issue of Current Biology.

You can read the National Geographic article here.

Language May Have Evolved With Help From Other Species

June 30, 2014
Illustration by Christine Daniloff/MIT

Illustration by Christine Daniloff/MIT

Human Language’s Deep Origins Appear to Have Come Directly from Birds and Primates

Miyagawa and his co-authors think that some apparently infinite qualities of modern human language, when reanalyzed, actually display the finite qualities of languages of other animals — meaning that human communication is more similar to that of other animals than we generally realized.

FROM SCIENCE DAILY (June 11, 2014): “‘Yes, human language is unique, but if you take it apart in the right way, the two parts we identify are in fact of a finite state,” Miyagawa says. “Those two components have antecedents in the animal world. According to our hypothesis, they came together uniquely in human language.'”

Introducing the Integration Hypothesis, in which humans combined the expression of the birds with the logic of other primates to produce language that is uniquely (but not completely) human.

This article, produced with information provided by MIT, gives an overview of research into the origins of human language that was done by Shigeru Miyagawa, the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture at MIT, Robert Berwick, a professor of computational linguistics and computer science and engineering in MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems; and Shiro Ojima and Kazuo Okanoya, scholars at the University of Tokyo. The resulting paper was recently published in Psychology Today.

“The paper’s conclusions build on past work by Miyagawa, which holds that human language consists of two distinct layers: the expressive layer, which relates to the mutable structure of sentences, and the lexical layer, where the core content of a sentence resides. That idea, in turn, is based on previous work by linguistics scholars including Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale, and Samuel Jay Keyser.”

Interesting stuff. You can read the article here.