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The best that schools offer is never for everybody, mobile fixes that

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Posted on 31st July 2011 by Judy Breck in Biology, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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Until mobile browsers existed, there has NEVER been a way to proved equal schooling to all children. The usual situation is for elite kids to have better schools. The effect of that is for the highest achieving kids in worse schools often to get a worse education than the low end achievers in the best schools.

For decades in the United States there has been hue and cry to give equal opportunity to minority kids by providing them with equal education. Today a high percentage of minority kids are in relatively bad schools, where the top students are learning at a level far below that of their elite contemporaries in schools across town.

Across the world there are many places where children receive rudimentary education, or none at all. There is simply no realistic hope that each of the world’s kids will ever attend an excellent school. At best only some will; those who do will tend to be the children of the powerful and wealthy. Intelligent individual students from poverty and upwardly ambitious environments will mostly attend poor schools or none at all.

For a student to own a mobile with a web browser changes everything by making each child’s access to online knowledge equal with all mobile-equipped students. Take for example this website:

Life on Earth – Gorongosa

Led by E.O. Wilson, a team of scientists, educators, science writers, and wildlife biology students is working in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique until the second week in August to document a story of transformation in this “Lost Eden” of Africa. The expedition is gathering the lessons to be learned from Gorongosa about ecology and evolution, and will present Gorongosa as model biosystem in the upcoming online text book “E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth.”

Granted, students would need to read English to use this website, but the translations to many languages are coming. The fundamental point is this: Because it is on the web, this exploration of Gorongosa is exactly the same for everyone who learns from it. Every student who looks at it is on literally the same page as all the others who do so. This is true for:

The valedictorian of a top Seattle high school
A sophomore at a poor South Chicago high school
A college freshman in Kenya
A sixth-grader in Mongolia
A young teenager an India slum
…  you get the idea ….

In the mid-20th century the USA tried busing kids from their home neighborhoods to balance school equality. Affirmative action attempts to create more opportunity by admitting students who do not qualify for supposedly better schools. Civil rights have been advanced little by these kinds of measures.

Providing individual mobile access to the web to every student makes real the right of each to equality.


Trees communicate using mycorrhizal network

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Posted on 23rd July 2011 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge and Networks

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Learn some fascinating facts about forest interactivity from Brian Lamb’s post Do trees communicate? Networks, networks… and from the 5-minute video by Dr. Suzanne Simard embedded there. Wow: Nature’s use of networks for sharing and managing ideas is awesome. We learn here that a forest is able to communicate among its trees which are in need of CO2, and to thereby supply the CO2 to needy trees. Fungi do the job — for real!

Dr. Simard explains (at 2:30)

. . . all these parts are working together — the fungus is working together with the trees. It’s a lot like how our brains work. In neural networks we have — our brains are comprised of neurons and axons and these neurons are physically related, but they are also almost metaphysically related because they are sending messages back and forth and they are building upon each other. It works a lot like a forest ecosystem that is comprised of overlapping networks . . .

The GoldenSwamp is devoted to the concept that knowledge is itself a network, and that it is best served in a network medium. The Web is a network medium. That is what education should use as its primary source of knowledge in teaching and learning.

In any event, you will have trouble not being fascinated by Brian’s terrific post, the sources he links to, and Dr. Simard exciting video about what happens underground in the forest.

Challenge shows the innovative behavior of parrots and crows

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Posted on 11th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Animals, Emerging Online Knowledge and Open Content

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A Public Library of Science (PLoS) One article describes challenging birds in the boxes shown above. Titled “Flexibility in Problem Solving and Tool Use of Kea and New Caledonian Crows in a Multi Access Box Paradigm,” the article is an example of the excellence of science outside of the garden walls of online journals that cling to the paywalled, print past.

PLoS One “is an interactive open-access journal for the communication of all peer-reviewed scientific and medical research.” Articles like the one on the parrots and crows are both excellent sources for the knowledge conveyed, and provide outstanding models for students of scientific investigation and writing. The abstract for the article featured in this post begins:

Parrots and corvids show outstanding innovative and flexible behaviour. In particular, kea and New Caledonian crows are often singled out as being exceptionally sophisticated in physical cognition, so that comparing them in this respect is particularly interesting. However, comparing cognitive mechanisms among species requires consideration of non-cognitive behavioural propensities and morphological characteristics evolved from different ancestry and adapted to fit different ecological niches. . . .

Ocean Topics from Woods Hole go deep into watery knowledge

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Posted on 8th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Biology, Geography and Networks

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Dive into Ocean Topics with Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution experts. The Deeper Discovery page is a node in the network of knowledge from one of the world’s preeminent institutions in the field of ocean studies. Topics in the Deeper Discovery collection: Antarctic ecosystem, season, circulation, ecosystem, abundance, and human impact. There are also links chosen by the Woods Hole experts to Antarctic Ecosystem resources across the Web.

The Woods Hole Ocean Topics homepage is a portal to nine other main areas of ocean study and knowledge.

BBC presents the British History Timeline

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Posted on 6th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge and History

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The challenge of making clear the long, complex history of Britain is met admirably by the interactive digital timeline across which the BBC has locked events and people into their positions. The timeline begins at 6000 BC marking the separation of Britain from the European mainland. As of this post, the most recent year is 2005. Any of us who at one time had to learn the sequence of British kings will wish we had had the BBC’s timeline at the time.

A long historical timeline has been tough to create physically until it could be done virtually in the digital world. Lengthy paper versions have been cumbersome or impossible to print, and even tougher to keep up-to-date. Museum walls dedicated to long timelines have been costly and inadequate to provide much detail. Spending some time with the BBC’s British History Timeline is an excellent way to enjoy the benefits of interactive digital technology for timelines as well as to learn some British history.

Tables of elements show how online subjects endure

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Posted on 5th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Chemistry, Emerging Online Knowledge and Open Content

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There are 3 websites for periodic tables of elements that have been the most popular ones on the internet since the 1990s. The article that follows describes them. These three are examples of many excellent websites about academic knowledge that are created by experts in a subject and kept up-to-date and authentic by their authors.

The most remarkable thing about the following article is that it was true in 1999, true in 2006, when I first wrote it, and remains true today in 2011. The three tables of elements described in the article remain in the top Google search results, as they have for over a decade.

Amateur, Laboratory and University Open the Tables: Interactive Tables of Elements
By Judy Breck 2006

One of the most popular early topics for digital education interpretation was the periodic table of elements. The reason is obvious. The table begs to be interactive. On a webpage, each of the elements can become interactive: click on an element and you arrive at its details.

In the late 1990s dozens of tables of elements clogged the popular search engines. Then Google came along to elevate the tables of elements that users liked best. Three of them floated to the top of the Google search return. Those same three have stayed there for several years.

I described these three open education resources for tables of elements in Education Technology magazine in the summer of 2006*:

“On February 28, 1996, eighth grader Yinon Bentor presented his science project to his class at school. It was an interactive periodic table of chemical elements displayed on an Internet browser — a new tool that Yinon had coaxed out of the connecting digital world. At the time there were only a handful of periodic tables on the World Wide Web. In the months that followed his class presentation, Bentor’s project took first place in his school science fair’s brand new Computer Science/Mathematics category and won the “Navy/Marines Distinguished Achievement Special Award” at the 40th Piedmont Region, Illinois Science Fair. These are commendable achievements for an eighth grader, but school recognition was just a beginning.

“The project Yinon Bentor put online a decade ago is still there and he still hosts it and tinkers along with improvements. Two other period tables of elements, one from Los Alamos National Laboratory and another from the University of Sheffield, along with Bentor’s, nearly always are the top three periodic tables listed in a search for “periodic table of elements” on Google.”

These websites are prime examples of open education resources. Are their tables of elements really of high quality? Materials that cost money are better, we feel it in our gut. There must be a highly paid expert inside ivy walls somewhere who has created the superior learning material for every and any subject.

The way the Internet has developed, that line of thinking has proven wrong. In the example of tables of elements, in what kind of superior walled off source of origin would those websites be? The three open tables of elements described here are tended, respectively, by a devoted amateur, scientists at a leading government laboratory, and academics at a major university. Here is what these keepers say about the open education resources they oversee.

Yinon Benton writes on the About page of ChemicalElements.com, the website he has been nurturing and supporting personally since he was in junior high school: “Recently, I’ve added advertising to this site in order to make up for the costs I incur because of having this site on its own domain hosting the site on Pair Networks, a fast commercial host, and in order to make a profit from the work I put into this site . . . . More Coming Soon! I’m always looking to update this site and add more information. If you know of something that would make this page better, please let me know and I’ll do my best to add it in future updates.”

The scientists at Periodic Table of the Elements at Los Alamos boast about their web-child: “Originally this resource, the Periodic Table, was created by Robert Husted at Los Alamos National Laboratory during his time as a Graduate Research Assistant. The Periodic Table that you are currently viewing was inherited by the Chemistry Division from the Computer Division who provided the laboratory some of the internet’s first web sites. This page was given a face lift, tummy tuck, and lobotomy in 2002/2003 by Mollie Boorman.” [Current version here]

The Papa of WebElements, the periodic table at the University of Sheffield, is Dr. Mark J. Winter of the Department of Chemistry. He explains how the website came to be that he continues to tend for thousands of online visitors: “The periodic table on the WWW [is my] first site. Running since 1993, although its origins lie in a HyperCard program (MacElements) I started work upon around 1989.”

Open education resources like the three tables of elements discussed here are custom projects by experts in the knowledge they interface. They virtually let the student look over the shoulder of scholars like Dr. Winter, shown here—sparking study and exciting learning.

* Judy Breck, “Why Is Education Not in the Ubiquitous Web World Picture?” Education Technology, July-August 2006, pp. 43-46.

Duck-billed Platypus found in the EOL

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Posted on 2nd July 2011 by Judy Breck in Animals


The Duck-billed Platypus is designated an exemplar node in the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), cataloged as Ornithorhynchus anatinus (Shaw, 1799).

As the EOL website explains:

The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is an unprecedented global partnership between the scientific community and the general public. Our goal is to make freely available to anyone knowledge about all the world’s organisms. Anybody can register as an EOL member and add text, images, videos, comments or tags to EOL pages. Expert curators ensure quality of the core collection by authenticating materials submitted by diverse projects and individual contributors. Together we can make EOL the best, most comprehensive source for biodiversity information . . . .