Friday, August 29, 2003

Learning Without Limits
We've long talked of the day when all students use notepad computers as text, notebook, blackboard, and homework. Converge Magazine tells us of a Michigan initiative to give all sixth-graders their own laptop - all 130,00 of them!. It's part of Michigan's Freedom to Learn Program.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Layers of Lower Manhattan
This 5-view map looks at lower Manhattan as it grows (literally!) from the original island Henry Hudson found, through the Revolution, Industrial expansion, and today. It is also its own testament to the power of interactive map--the fifth is a single flat map, of the type you'd normally find in a textbook. How 1990's!!

Monday, August 25, 2003

Reclaiming Social Studies
The Fordham Foundation released two reports on Social Studies education in our schools. These will not be loved by all; they seriously challenge the educational mainstream.
  • Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? offers eight looks at "Social Studies" vs. traditional history and civics education.
  • Terrorists, Despots, and Democracy: What Our Children Need to Know includes thoughts from 30 prominent thinkers. Also, they've published a pamphlet for parents: Six Questions to Ask on Back to School Night(pdf).
  • Thursday, August 21, 2003

    Valley Forge, Propane Powered
    The Boy Scouts are giving up campfires, says today's paper, and no less a group is joining them than the Campfire Girls (CampFire USA)!

    Its all part of the "Leave No Trace" ideology--combined with scares from past years' droughts and fires. And, hey, I've seen my share of weinie campers cutting branches off standing trees to fuel the bonfire at their massive RV.

    But when the facilities manager for a Boy Scout camp cries, "I hate campfires", and the cooking merit badge requires a propane stove, do we think about a young dude's interpretation of History? Do ya still "get" what pioneers and soldiers faced when you whip out the Coleman to light and heat your way?

    Tuesday, August 19, 2003

    The Character of George Washington [ related book and pbs site | more books | more sites]
    In the two years since 9/11, we've fought two wars half a world away, major combat in each lasting weeks. The American Revolution took eight and a half years to bring to conclusion. One man, George Washington, led the hopeless cause for its duration.

    The Revolution drew out longer than our Civil War and WWII engagement put together. His troops were untrained. He lost more battles than he won. Through brutal winters and fetid summers, with not even enough boots or food, or certainly ammunition, he led on.

    In the end, what Washington didn't do was as important as what he did. He didn't become King. He didn't retire to farm in peace, either. He served. Tirelessly. And then, he stepped aside.

    In an age of monarchs, Washington preferred "my friends and fellow citizens" as his view of troops and people governed. Lincoln called it govenrment of, by, and for the people. In corporate America, we now call it servant leadership. In the time of George III, Louis XVI, and Napoleon, Washington nearly invented it.

    Monday, August 18, 2003

    Things in Perspective
    New Yorkers were attacked twice in our history; you saw the second assault. The first was the summer of 1776. George Washington got there in time to command the defense.

    Against a couple-score British warships and 32,000 professional soldiers, Washington had but 19,000 mostly untrained militia, few proper weapons, and no ships. Of two major land battles, they lost both. Several hundred soldiers died in those battles--many more young men than in Iraq and Afghanistan, and small compared to our civilian losses in 2001. Yet that is not the terrible story of New York in the Revolution.

    In the East River (along New York), for the rest of the long war, the British kept ships filled with American prisoners. The sailors and soldiers were not fed well, had little fresh air, and were not even given sufficient water - amazingly cruel treatment in a river. Dissentery, typhoid, smallpox all ran free.

    Each day, the British would yell to the captives in the holds, "Rebels, throw out your dead!" And corpses would be pitched overboard in response. The war lasted eight-and-a-half years. Eleven thousand American men died on those ships. For years after, people of New York would find human remains along the waterfront.

    Moreover, the men aboard had a choice to leave [More]. This is the kind of history to give strength when times are tough.

    Sunday, August 17, 2003

    Nefertiti Resurrected Discovery Channel
    Evidence that a discarded, defaced mummy in a long known tomb is actually Nefertiti, the beautiful Egyptian queen and stepmother of Tutankamen. Tour the Tomb actually lets you visit 8 Pharoahs' tombs, and see their positions in the Valley of the Kings. Explore the Evidence uses some interesting text box and link treatment.

    Friday, August 15, 2003

    Rags to Riches Timeline
    Andrew Carnegie was born the same year Alexis deToqueville published Democracy in America. He died after the end of World War I, living from a time when farm work was the norm and there were virtually no corporations, to the heart of the new industrial age.

    Boy, would I like to see these timelines use up more of my screen. But this one is great in the way it puts Carnegie's life in the context of other history.

    Thursday, August 14, 2003

    ...and the Semiotic domain thereof

    We could re-phrase this in terms from cognitive psychology [see 7 Aug.]: What semiotic elements should citizens master and pass on to their children? What would you like students to learn from US, UK, and other western history? Totem pole designs? Or something more related to avoiding another Sadaam clan?
    Iraqis, Self-Governance,

    What, then, is important to teach? One way to look at what our own kids should learn is to ask what the Iraqis need to learn if they want to permanently govern themselves. (It's certainly a question for the new Iraq Ministry of Education).

    If you're an Iraqi, and you want to live in a republic and elect your own leaders for a long time to come, what should you want your neighbors to know?

    What qualities must a culture have to be able to sustain peaceful democracy? Can it be done anywhere, or must certain values be in place? If a culture values, say, tribe loyalty over rule of law, will democracy work?

    Stanley Kurtz takes up these questions of old cultures and new democracies (Japan, Germany, India, Iraq); and asks what role schools may play: The Job Ahead Bringing democracy to Iraq will take more than elections.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2003

    How People Learn National Research Council
    I've been refreshing my awareness of cognitive science: How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School was early on the list. Naturally, I turned quickly to the sections dealing with history education.

    Page 16 gets things off to a rough start. "In humanities, [students'] preconceptions often include stereotypes or simplifications, as when history is understood as a struggle between good guys and bad guys." But that's exactly what history is. At least the really interesting parts.

    The book goes on: Effective teaching, they say, teaches students to think like professional historians (ch. 7 "Effective Teaching: Examples in History"). "Expert people to understand the problematic nature of historical interpretation and analysis..."

    Yeah. What we need is more people thinking like our history professorate.

    Their basic point is right. Teachers should teach, and students learn, more in the fashion that "expert learners learn". But for Pete's sake, don't model the learning after history professors!

    The judge who learns history to better his verdicts should be your example. The legislator who considers his vote; the mayor pushing for development. If you're looking for models of succesful learners, don't choose some professional investigator of sex habits in Byzantium. Make your model the entrepreneur who tempers his expectation about gold-rush markets, the voter who seeks 200 more years of the world's oldest constitution.

    Monday, August 11, 2003

    Since we're talking about full-length video games and learning, we'll note that the first cohort has begun their tour at The Guildhall at SMU. SMU has partnered with big names in game design to create an 18-month certificate program toward becoming a "serious digital game designer". Note that they are serious: they'd like students to already have a bachelor's degree, though its not mandatory. First day of classes was July 11; an interview with Gamezone is posted; and a Jan interview on HomeLan Fed.

    Thursday, August 07, 2003

    Semiotic Domains and Student Mastery (What Video Games ch. 2)
    Gee introduces the concept of different literacies, and how print reading is not the only, or perhaps even the correct, way to think about literacy. In the context of this site, he's exactly right. We are trying to build an open platform for all types of history; yet I am most interested in a fairly narrow domain of history.

    We looked at Caroline Kennedy's A Patriot's Handbook. What mastery of a semiotic domain does it take to really appreciate and savor the works in that book?

    The first question on a sample Ohio Proficiency Test asked students to match a particular totem pole design with the Native tribe it represented. This is a piece of knowledge totally unrelated to the domain of Ms. Kennedy's book. Is it still a critical piece of knowledge that Ohio students and their teachers should by law be accountable for?

    Similarly, we recently looked at the timeline on Britannica Student Encyclopedia. In it, the composition of the Veda and the poetry of Lesbos and Ptahhotep are covered, as are the domestication of dogs, cats, pigs, sheep, and pidgeons as major events. There is, however, no mention at all of the Hebrews or their literature (or even the temple). Can a person be a minimalist citizen without more of that?
    Video Games and Learning
    "So here we have something that is long, hard, and challenging. However, you cannot play a game if you cannot learn it. ... Of course, designers could keep making the games shorter and simpler to facilitate learning. That's often what shcools do. But, no, in this case game designers keep making the games longer and more challenging (and introduce new things in new ones) and still manage to get them learned. How?"
    --What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy ( publisher | Amazon )