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Smart Animal Log: Yes, That Crow IS Looking at You

May 30, 2014


Be Nice to Crows, Unless You Want Wild, Grudge-Bearing Animals on Your Case

FROM NEW SCIENTIST (Bob Holmes): “Wild crows can recognise individual human faces and hold a grudge for years against people who have treated them badly. This ability – which may also exist in other wild animals – highlights how carefully some animals monitor the humans with whom they share living space.”

I love crows. They’re smart, quick learners, social, calculating, and surprisingly acquiescent. I’ve seen them back away from a meal in progress when a squirrel approaches, for heaven’s sake… the chickens. I always felt that the crows who learned that my backyard and winter handouts of stale bread were safe, also learned to know me a little, but I had no idea that their face recognition ability and memory were so good. According to the research carried out by animal behaviorists at UW Seattle, they not only recognize and remember their foes, they pass this knowledge on to one another. It’s probably a good thing to be their friend.

You can see a video and read about the study here.


A Case for Unplugged Schools

March 30, 2013

Children MeetingSchools Can Address Society’s Ills by Offsetting Digital Connections With Deeply Human Ones 

FROM ORION (Lowell Monke):”In a society in which adults so commonly treat each other mechanically, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that our youth are more attracted to machines. It seems to me that in such a society one task of schools would be to stress the kind of deeply caring, fully present, and wholly human interaction that long ago disappeared from ordinary public life and is now rapidly evaporating from private experience as well. By helping our youth become good at and appreciate the value of profound human engagement, we may help cool the attraction to mediated experiences …”

A call for contrarian action, this is another good piece by Lowell Monke that explores the developmental role of schools, society, and technology in childrens’ lives. You can read the article here.

The Problem With Technology

September 30, 2012

computer-laptop-boyI didn’t want to like this essay, but I did.

FROM ORION (Lowell Monke): “To develop normally, any child needs to learn to exert some control over her environment. But the control computers offer children is deceptive, and ultimately dangerous. In the first place, any control children obtain comes at a price: relinquishing the uniquely imaginative and often irrational thought processes that mark childhood. Keep in mind that a computer always has a hidden pedagogue—the programmer—who designed the software and invisibly controls the options available to students at every step of the way.”

I delved into this article half-heartedly, prepared to confront a stale and luddite treatise on “the problem with the world today.” I should have known better. Lowell Monke offers a well argued and thought provoking essay on the nature of children’s’ social and intellectual development and its relationship to the world around them, and how technology (currently) interferes with important processes that children use to learn about themselves, the nature of the world, and how to connect to place and people. I didn’t want to agree with him, but I found that I did — and realized that, as much as I love technology, I spend a lot of energy mitigating its influence on my own childrens’ development. There are many good takeaways from this piece and I recommend it.

You can read the article here.

Smart Animal Log: Why I Don’t Eat Octopus

February 14, 2012

Photograph: Brandon Cole

A Deep Intelligence Lies Inside the Mind of the Octopus

FROM ORION (Sy Montgomery): “Only recently have scientists accorded chimpanzees, so closely related to humans we can share blood transfusions, the dignity of having a mind. But now, increasingly, researchers who study octopuses are convinced that these boneless, alien animals—creatures whose ancestors diverged from the lineage that would lead to ours roughly 500 to 700 million years ago—have developed intelligence, emotions, and individual personalities. Their findings are challenging our understanding of consciousness itself.”

This is a beautifully written and compelling article by Sy Montgomery. He allows us to shadow his encounter with Athena, a giant pacific octopus, and eavesdrop on his conversations with animal behaviorists who study these complex creatures and have jaw dropping tales to tell. Much more than a report on octopus intelligence, this piece offers a window into a whole other realm of life of earth — and a philosophical exploration of the concept of mind. Truly awe inspiring.

Read the article here.

Harvard Views on Readers, Readership, and Reading History

October 26, 2010

Interested in a little history? A little perspective? Some insights into the “hot new topic” of Reading? Visit Harvard’s Open Collections Program at and maybe gain a little background knowledge of your own. : )

High Stakes Testing Fails Our Kids in Fundamental Ways

October 26, 2010

In the spirit of getting ready for the March to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) in D.C.,

Prof. Richard Elmore, HGSE

I bring you some sane and sage insight from Richard Elmore of HGSE regarding high stakes testing and its impact on the relationship among teachers, students, and content in schools. It’s a little off-topic for this blog, I guess, but I am so tired of fighting this battle — sometimes, seemingly — alone out here, where education is often made synonymous with skills training in parents’ minds. And I’m tired of trying to remediate the effects of MCAS on my children’s education with the limited tools that I have at my disposal. So, I will happily pass along anything that supports what I know with a mixture of research results and common sense. Here’s the link to a good, quick read:

Outsourcing the Teaching: Classrooms in Britain, Tutors in India

October 25, 2010


From NYTIMES.COM (Julia Werdigier): “Once a week, year six pupils at Ashmount Primary School in North London settle in front of their computers, put on their headsets and get ready for their math class. A few minutes later, their teachers come online thousands of kilometers away in the Indian state of Punjab.


Ashmount is one of three state schools in Britain that decided to outsource part of their teaching to India via the Internet. The service — the first of its kind in Europe — is offered by BrightSpark Education, a London-based company set up last year. BrightSpark employs and trains 100 teachers in India and puts them in touch with pupils in Britain through an interactive online tutoring program.


The feedback from pupils, the schools and parents is good so far, and BrightSpark said a dozen more schools, a charity and many more parents were interested in signing up for the lessons. The one-on-one sessions not only cost about half of what personal tutors in Britain charge but are also popular with pupils, who enjoy solving equations online, said Rebecca Stacey, an assistant head teacher at Ashmount.

But the service also faces some opposition from teacher representatives who are fearful that it could threaten their jobs at a time when the government is pushing through far-reaching spending cuts. The 3 percent that is to be cut from the budget for educational resources by 2014 might be small compared with cuts in other areas, like welfare and pensions, but money at schools will remain tight.

Online learning is still controversial in Britain. Some teachers said tutors based elsewhere lacked the cultural empathy and understanding of a pupil’s social environment that could influence study habits and performance. There is also concern about the qualifications of teachers abroad…”


(Ya think? In this case, BrightSparks teachers have good qualifications on record and the interaction includes interactive whiteboard communications during the online lessons.)

I have my feelings about appropriate use of online learning. This case may fit my criteria but when you’re talking about remotely hiring a workforce that’s paid about $11/hour, it’s tough to feel OK about not seeing a problem with it, frankly. Why? Partly because of how hard it will become for cash strapped schools and systems to *not* turn over more and more of the teaching responsibilities to companies like BrightSparks, as they get more comfortable with this model. And that may mean that local teachers will see wages and benefits cut in order to stay on par with the value of their foreign counterparts. If we become comfortable thinking about educating as a commodity that we can buy from outside sources, the nature of education changes and the link between teachers and students changes, too.

On the other hand, imported education can save remote and under served areas. (If it also brings affordable options to the masses with options, then can I reasonably make a stink? Still, I see a difference. And a danger in one instance, when it’s a boon in another.)

See what you think. Read the rest of the article at

Growth Cycles and Brain Development: Linked ’til 30

October 20, 2010


Pic via:

This stuff fascinates me. I’m so grateful for this kind of research. And I love how it affects how I approach educational design. I’m going to post the whole article from HGSE news, here. Because I can.

From HGSENEWS.COM (Maria Fusaro): “What does the brain have to do with learning? HGSE professor Kurt Fischer offers a powerful explanation: behavior and the brain change in a repeating pattern that appears to involve common growth cycles. From birth until about age 30, new capacities for thinking and learning coincide with these growth cycles in the brain.


What does it mean for the brain to go through a growth cycle? Consider the brain’s outer layers, known as the cortex, which supports reasoning and thinking skills through its massive network of connections with the rest of the brain. Whenever neurons fire, a small amount of electrical energy is released, which can be measured using EEG (electroencephalogram) technology. The amount of electrical activity in the cortex, and the strength of connections between its parts, show periodic spurts. Fischer noticed that these spurts occur at the same time as news skills emerge, say in musical performance or spatial reasoning. So, during each cycle, spurts of electrical activity and growth in connections support a new level of development.

Just as physical growth shows dramatic spurts, learning also jumps in fits and starts, often even falling back temporarily during the learning process. This doesn’t mean that learning is fast or easy: it can take months or years for children to master new skills. Development involves a recurring growth cycle. A child doesn’t learn skills and concepts just once – he or she relearns them at successively more mature levels.

Cognitive spurts in clusters of skills only show up when children enjoy optimal learning conditions, such as the support of a good teacher or mentor. The figure below shows how students’ ability to think abstractly differs depending on whether support is available. A child’s ability even in a single skill can vary depending on the support available. Removing instructional help, such as when a teacher shifts from working with a student to having the student work alone, leads to a natural, rapid drop in performance.

Skill Level vs. Age in Years

In other words: don’t count on your cortex to do the work for you. Sustaining the highest level of performance supported by brain development takes practice and help from others.

Fischer, K. W., & Rose, S. P. (1998). Growth cycles of brain and mind. Educational Leadership, 56(3), 56-60.

By Maria Fusaro, doctoral student in Human Development and Psychology at HGSE.

Codex Rules!

October 19, 2010

Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

E-Books are Gaining Ground but Paper Textbooks Still Reign
From NYTIMES.COM (Lisa Foderaro): “They text their friends all day long. At night, they do research for their term papers on laptops and commune with their parents on Skype. But as they walk the paths of Hamilton College, a poster-perfect liberal arts school in this upstate village, students are still hauling around bulky, old-fashioned textbooks — and loving it.
“The screen won’t go blank,” said Faton Begolli, a sophomore from Boston. “There can’t be a virus. It wouldn’t be the same without books. They’ve defined ‘academia’ for a thousand years.”

Though the world of print is receding before a tide of digital books, blogs and other Web sites, a generation of college students weaned on technology appears to be holding fast to traditional textbooks. That loyalty comes at a price. Textbooks are expensive — a year’s worth can cost $700 to $900 — and students’ frustrations with the expense, as well as the emergence of new technology, have produced a confounding array of options for obtaining them.

Internet retailers like Amazon and are selling new and used books. They have been joined by several Web services that rent textbooks to students by the semester. Some 1,500 college bookstores are also offering rentals this fall, up from 300 last year. Here at Hamilton, students this year have a new way to avoid the middleman: a nonprofit Web site, created by the college’s Entrepreneur Club, that lets them sell used books directly to one another.

The explosion of outlets and formats — including digital books, which are rapidly becoming more sophisticated — has left some students bewildered. After completing the heavy lifting of course selection, they are forced to weigh cost versus convenience, analyze their own study habits and guess which texts they will want for years to come and which they will not miss.

“It depends on the course,” said Victoria Adesoba, a pre-med student at New York University who was standing outside that school’s bookstore, a powder-blue book bag slung over her shoulder. “Last semester, I rented for psychology, and it was cheaper. But for something like organic chemistry, I need to keep the book. E-textbooks are good, but it’s tempting to go on Facebook, and it can strain your eyes.”

For all the talk that her generation is the most technologically adept in history, paper-and-ink textbooks do not seem destined for oblivion anytime soon.

According to the National Association of College Stores, digital books make up just under 3 percent of textbook sales, although the association expects that share to grow to 10 percent to 15 percent by 2012 as more titles are made available as e-books.

In two recent studies — one by the association and another by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a national advocacy network — three-quarters of the students surveyed said they still preferred a bound book to a digital version…”

And the article continues. No opinions from me, today, just passing on a story that I think is of interest. Read the rest of the information and learn more about where things stand and what people are doing, here:

Just in Time for Fall: Change How You Study

September 8, 2010

Ellen Weinstein for The New York Times

Happy September, Everyone. : )

My summer vacation is officially over and I’m back to posting. How appropriate is it that I find this article on “new” research that throws some age-old study suppositions on their tails?

I’m not sure Howard Gardner, et al, back at ‘GSE will appreciate the reference to “the lack of credible evidence” for the utility of understanding learning styles, made by researchers who published this research review in this APS Journal. The abstract has me questioning their suppositions and they sound a bit, oh I don’t know, “hackish” I guess, if that’s a word. : ) However, methodology is important and I may have to read the review in its entirety to find out, alas.

Nevertheless, it was nice to see other support for some practical teaching/study methods I’ve employed by trial and error, myself — esp., getting out of the mud,  the heck away from the “official study zone,” and mixing it up a little!

You can read the NYTimes article here: