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Golden Swamp goes big picture with


Posted on 28th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning, Networks, Open Content and Schools We Have Now

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A new website has been spun off of Click this line to go there to see what is a big picture of exciting new serendipitously, wonderful brand new way to learn in the 21st century.

Here is why I created, from the About section of the new website:

Handschooling will — at last — break each individual child’s learning free to go beyond the control of education establishments. Sound scary? Nothing scares me more about the future than limiting yet another young generation to the analog, tradition-dominated, doling out of a bit of this knowledge and a bit of that knowledge by some remote priesthood (pedagogical, secular, ideological, political, — yes and/or religious too).

We should all be very afraid of education policy reigning from far away. The range of control and chaos these distant pedagogues cause is wide. There is the sort that pumps gushes of money into celebrating mediocrity which perpetuates an underclass the nanny standard setters can count on to keep them in power. There are tyrannies that nurture hatred and spawn fanaticism in the young, even to the horror of blowing people up. Settling for inferior, and even destructive, education for other people’s children is all too easy when those children are in other people’s neighborhoods and towns and beyond.

While we nurture our children up close, we should strive for equal opportunity to learn for each child. Serendipitously, wonderfully — in the 21st century there is a brand new way to do just that! Handschooling has almost suddenly opened the way for every youngster across the world to learn from a global commons of that is known by humankind.

Go to

Learning basic history, science, math in kids’ hands

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Posted on 17th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning, Open Content and Schools We Have Now

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Every boy in the picture above (by Griff Witte/the Washington Post) can learn basic history, science, math and more — in spite of what is reported today in a front page Washington Post story:

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — With a curriculum that glorifies violence in the name of Islam and ignores basic history, science and math, Pakistan’s public education system has become a major barrier to U.S. efforts to defeat extremist groups here, U.S. and Pakistani officials say. . . .

. . . according to education reform advocates here, any effort to improve the system faces the reality of intense institutional pressure to keep the schools exactly the way they are.

How widespread is this intransigence toward changing schooling? This kind of stubbornness is not just found in Islamabad. Intense pressure to keep schools as they are ranges in different places and cultures from orthodoxy to tradition to profit issues by vested interests and control demands by unions and, most sadly, a panoply of corruption.

While we deal across the planet with the inertia and intransigence that promises to perpetuate failing schools for at least another generation or two of kids, why not let the kids trapped in these schools learn the basics with handschooling? To do that, we need to get a mobile that browses the internet to each kid, and focus more on sharpening the findability online of basic subjects. Every boy in the picture above could learn his algebra from a mobile friendly tutorial in Urdu, Punjabi – and one day the full range of local languages. My guess is that many Pakistanis of their generation are already doing some handschooling beyond their school walls — or when they have no school to attend.

Dwarf dance debuts new knowledge while standards setters lock in the old


Posted on 15th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Open Content

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Will school science continue to teach the long-standing problem in cosmology about how dwarf galaxies form? I don’t know if/where schools teach the dwarf problem, but I do know curriculum and testing standards lock in old knowledge to what is taught and tested.

When I watched the video above this morning, I was only the 302nd person to do so. I found it on’s The Great Beyond science news blog.

In this week’s Nature Fabio Governato and colleagues present computer simulations that appear to have solved a long-standing problem in cosmology — namely, how the standard cold dark matter model of galaxy formation can give rise to the dwarf galaxies we see around us.

The beautiful animation above shows how exploding stars are a key force in shaping dwarf galaxies.

Educators are long overdue in dancing away from locking students into subject matter that fossilizes into printed textbooks and their matching tests. As I lamented this week, Texas is doing that right now for history.

galaxyVideo180WThe education establishment has judgmentally held the internet at arms length for way too long. It is time for teaching to step into the magnificent ballet of what is known by humankind in the open internet.

And wonderfully, it is now possible to put knowledge like the dwarf dance into the hand of every child.

Apple’s Tablet, as Imagined by Book Publishers

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Posted on 5th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous and Mobile Learning

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This video is described on MarketWatch as “Apple’s Tablet, as Imagined by Book Publishers”:

This video created by Coursesmart, a joint venture of five textbook publishers, shows how students might use tablet-based textbooks. It is based on their own renderings, not specific applications being developed with Apple.

Terrific as the use of textbooks on the imagined device would be, Apple’s tablet will surely not be a one trick pony. In fact, a really big trick is demonstrated briefly in the video: going out to the Web to find subject matter related to a textbook topic.

As I wrote about yesterday, the new mobile devices rolling out are important heads-ups for educators. How do you imagine Apple’s Tablet from your perspective as a student or teacher, or just someone who wants to learn something?

HT: Brian

Educational nodes need to signal like our bacteria do

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Posted on 25th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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bodyPoliticSince the late 1990s, when I was working with education study subjects that were then pouring in to the internet, I have been convinced that what is known by humankind would form a “grand idea” online. By that, I have meant a large network, fully interconnected, of all the subjects we know — what we call academic subjects, the stuff we learn in school. That grand idea network would not and is not something that has grown from the top down. It begins as nodes that signal and connect to each other based on their meaning — the cognitive content they have that is learnable by us humans.

Can it be that the grand idea is like a superorganism, as described in a fascinating article in SEED magazine on this topic: “Our bodies harbor 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. It’s easy to ignore this astonishing fact. Bacteria are tiny in comparison to human cells; they contribute just a few pounds to our weight and remain invisible to us.” The following are some excerpts from the article [with some comments by me] that suggest similarities between the communication among our bacteria and the behavior of knowledge online. The fundamental reason they are alike is that bacteria and bits of learnable knowledge are small pieces that communicate in network patterns.

Indeed, several scientists have begun to refer to the human body as a “superorganism” whose complexity extends far beyond what is encoded in a single genome.

The physiology of a superorganism would likely look very different from traditional human physiology. [Learning resources in libraries look very different from what is online.] There has been a great deal of research into the dynamics of communities among plants, insect colonies, and even in human society. What new insights could we gain by applying some of that knowledge to the workings of communities in our own bodies? [to the workings of knowledge when it gets online] . . . .

Even confined in their designated body parts, microbes exert their effects by churning out chemical signals for our cells to receive. [Yesterday I posted about signaling by cells and signaling by learning nodes.] Jeremy Nicholson, a chemist at Imperial College of London, has become a champion of the idea that the extent of this microbial signaling goes vastly underappreciated. Nicholson had been looking at the metabolites in human blood and urine with the hope of developing personalized drugs when he found that our bodily fluids are filled with metabolites produced by our intestinal bacteria. He now believes that the influence of gut microbes ranges from the ways in which we metabolize drugs and food to the subtle workings of our brain chemistry. [The influence is a form of connectivity.]

Scientists originally expected that the communication between animals and their symbiotic bacteria would form its own molecular language. But McFall-Ngai, an expert on animal-microbe symbiosis, says that she and other scientists have instead found beneficial relationships involving some of the same chemical messages [again: signaling connects] that had been discovered previously in pathogens. Many bacterial products that had been termed “virulence factors” or “toxins” turn out to not be inherently offensive signals; they are just part of the conversation between microbe and host. [Open educational resources (OER) often are, and need to be, able to converse (signal) each other.]

Why burying subject matter in curricula stifles learning


Posted on 22nd November 2009 by Judy Breck in Animals, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks and Open Content

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Presenting subject matter to learn online inside of a curriculum or one of its courses causes extra steps for learners and teachers go through to find that subject matter. The illustration* above of the network structure of the internet shows why this is true.

frogByteFor example, in the network illustration above, the Frog Animal Bytes page from the San Diego Zoo could be the 4-dot webpage, with the green dot representing the upper left frog photo. Fortunately, in this case the excellent Animal Bytes pages each have their own urls, and can readily be found through searching online.

Because the Animal Bytes frog and Toad page is an independent url, it can be networked into curricula, independent study, science work and all sorts of subjects: jungles studies, flycatchers, comparative amphibians, and power jumpers, to name a few.

But when curriculum makers and aggregators make their users drill down into through curriculum to lecture to chapter before getting to the meat webpages of the subject matter, the benefits of open source and open content are pretty well lost. Putting curriculum materials online without making their knowledge assets findable on their own degrades the quality of learning. After all, can we suppose that curriculum makers will create a better frog page than the San Diego Zoo has? Yet if you look around at online curricula you will find that often (most often?) the folks who make the curricula do not connect out to the excellent resources like Animal Bytes. That needs to change.

*As I explain in my article where I first used this image, it is adapted from an article by by Natali Gulbahce and Sune Lehmann, from the BarabasiLab, and used with permission.

Tribute to Ted Sizer who respected adolescents


Posted on 23rd October 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Mobile Learning

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Theodore Sizer, whose obituary is in the New York Times today, saw a crucial key which unlocks individual education. As the obituary concludes: “He wrote in [his 1997 best seller] Horace’s Compromise, ”Horace Smith and his ablest colleagues may be the key to better high schools, but it is respected adolescents who will shape them.”

Adolescents who are respected are not the kids you find in failing schools and especially in United States inner city black schools. Dumping money on these schools demeans the student body even more. It resonates as failure that speeds a downward cycle of expectations that form of an underclass of can’t do kids. This underclass becomes a growing source of leftish political and union support, casting a deepening shadow on American democracy.

Ted Sizer did great work in creating schools where the adolescents were respected — beginning in the 1980s. It is now becoming much easier for any adolescent to avoid the demeaning expectations. We have a powerful new tool for eliminating the respect problem. The kid who uses his or her smartphone to browse the web connecting to knowledge and assessment options is not judged by its virtual teacher and tester. The mobile source of knowledge in the kid’s pocket does not know if its owner is in South Chicago, South Korea, or Southampton. It does not know if the individual connecting in is male or female, black or asian or white, or what grades school has given this person.

The experience young Sizer had that taught him individual adolescents can achieve is explained in the obituary of this remarkable and extremely insightful and constructive educator. Although in the experience this describes the pressure to achieve was group support, notice that it is the individual who is proven to be able to perform. In the virtual world of learning online, every adolescent is respected.

Theodore Ryland Sizer was born in New Haven on June 23, 1932. His father, also named Theodore, was an art historian at Yale. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale in 1953, the younger Mr. Sizer served as an Army artillery officer, an experience that would set the course of his professional life.

Few of the young soldiers who served under him had completed high school, but when treated as valued members of a cohesive group they learned new skills readily, he found.

“Whatever troops you got had to deliver,” Professor Sizer told Phi Delta Kappan magazine in 1996. “If one person didn’t do it, he put everybody’s life at stake. That made a deep impression.”

Always on learning linked to Carnival of the Mobilists #192


Posted on 22nd September 2009 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists and Mobile Learning

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A veteran of the Carnival of the Mobilists, C. Enrique Ortiz of About Mobility hosts Carnival #192. CEO reviews great entries from mobile bloggers on topics that include Opera Mini, Mobile Learning, App Stores, HD voice and Mobile music. Included in the reviews is a Golden Swamp recent post which CEO perceptively dubs being about “always on learning” — because it is mobile. When a student has a mobile, learning is always on tap, at the least, in her pocket.

Festival may kick-off the handschooling era


Posted on 18th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous and Mobile Learning

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In a decade or two, when the world looks back at the transformation of learning to mobile, what will be the kick-off date? When did handschooling* really take hold and get underway? I would lay down a bet that 2009 will be the year. Here are some reasons why:

First, smartphones are rampant. These devices are actually — finally! — delivering the internet through browsers that are easy to use for the nimble fingers and sharp vision of kids. The tipping point is close and closing for the cascade of internet browsing mobiles into the hands of student age people.

Second, the mobile phone transmission networks that are quickly covering the planet are also being crept into by internet browsing. I am not an expert here, but with my iPhone, where I can make a phone call I can browse the internet. That fact is transitional for learning.

lcdColliderThird, online knowledge quality of learning resources has become embarrassingly superior to print. A student simply learns more by clicking through the website of the Large Hadron Collider than by reading a textbook author’s synopsis written months or years before.

Fourth, handschooling is emerging in the for profit sector, while the edu sector continues to hemorrhage money. A fellow I know is qualifying for an Apple certification for which he can only take the test on his iPhone. Apple is not tax-supported.

Maybe the HandheldLearning 2009 in London in a couple of weeks will be the day of the turning point into the new era of handschooling. If so, its founder deserves kudos. A few years ago I was on a panel with Graham Brown-Martin who founded and heads the HandheldLearning conferences, now in their fifth year. He is a true believer in learning for every child which mobile can deliver. He has pushed forward to empower kids to learn with mobiles, against education establishment inertia and the need to clarify the mobile learning vision for all of us. Graham is leading a winning movement, as I am sure the Festival will reveal.

*Handschooling is a new domain I have registered. More about that soon.

Access centered learning instead of place centered learning


Posted on 6th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Math and Schools We Have Now

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Future kids will learn from the internet via mobile devices wherever they are: at home, on the bus, on the beach, at the workplace, and yes, perhaps at school. For 21st century learning to move ahead, we have to get it clear in our minds that having a place where children spend all day is not the same thing as learning.

As a long-time high school debate coach, I judge this contention by Michael Horn to be a red herring:

“It seems obvious to me that for a variety of reasons, roughly 90-plus percent of students (that number is derived from some projections we ran when we were researching the book) could never take part in a fully virtual school program because of family structures and associated economic realities and the like, which is why hybrid-learning of various sorts will ultimately be so important to the future of education. Having a physical place for most students to go will always be important.”

Sure, kids need a place to spend the day. In the future, though, that place is highly unlikely to be where very many of them can find the best material to learn for science, history, math, technologies — and even the 3Rs, like this sampling of math study pages that go far beyond standards teaching in the grade trap of each individual student.

Forgive me if I use the debater’s tool of narrowing the contention I challenge. I realize that in the excellent book Horn co-authors, Disrupting Class, traditional education practices are helpfully called into question. Yet I would go farther than trying to repair schools as the platform of education. Radically, I know, my suggestion is that the individual student connection to the internet must become the platform for learning. After that, it will be time to figure out what use places we require our children to spend most of the days of twelve of their years may have.

Not just choice, but equal knowledge for all students


Posted on 26th June 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Networks

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We still have school imbalance savage inequalities described by Jonathan Kozol in 1992. The imbalance is getting worse: Now, kids who have their own mobile Internet devices — laptops and smartphones — have a new, important advantage over youngsters in failing schools. The analog resources of public schooling are designed to let most students settle for a median of C+, like the high point on a bell curve. Things are very different at the ends of the bell curve. Their is deep failure and dropping out at one end. At the other end an elite is excelling with the help of Internet access through mobile devices that individual students own. Examples: private prep schools, a scattering of exceptional schools in wealthy districts, and homeschoolers.

The simple fix is to give every student his or her own mobile wireless access to the Internet.
Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt told the June 2009 graduates of Carnegie Mellon University that ubiquitous information is coming and that it is important because it is “a tremendous equalizer.” Dumping many billions of dollars on the bell curve system of schools we have now will not equalize the opportunity of students. Some students will still be in failing schools, most will be near the C+ average, a few will have every advantage. If all have devices they will be learning from the same virtual page, and in that they will be equal.

Networks will platform 21st century learning


Posted on 5th June 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Networks and Open Content

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The internet is a network platform in which humankind is embedding everything it knows. Educators who are building the future of learning are using the networked, embedded knowledge that the internet contains. It is important for educators to no longer hold the internet off judgmentally. Educators should be hands-on optimizing and connecting knowledge online. The image above shows the reason why: it is how networks connect.

The column going up the right side of the illustration with this post visualizes how knowledge grows in a network. A student’s mind is a network. The internet is a network. Knowledge is a network. It all meshes, and that is a beautiful thing about the new education.

Click this line to watch the video from which the right column is taken. Imagine as you watch that what is spreading is in a student’s mind. Connecting as a richer and richer network as the student learns is his understanding of biology, of the topics to the left of the column in the image above. (Actually the video depicts the spreading pattern of a Bluetooth mobile phone virus — but networks follow their own laws regardless of what is embedded in them.)

I made this illustration with boy and the K-12 ruler several years ago to show how school grades and standards chop apart ideas that need to connect to be understood. I added the right column today because I think it is a powerful visualization how open online content does the opposite of the traditional grades/standards chop chop. Networks connect ideas and deepen context causing learning.

A National Science Foundation press release explains more about the video.

No entry at school into the new “third place”


Posted on 2nd June 2009 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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Virtual worlds and MMOs (Massively Multiplay Online Games) are off limits for kids at school. Does that means kids who cannot afford the new “third place” on their own don’t get to go there.

A WoW (World of Warcraft) news story this winter begins: “This is interesting — a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison . . . says that World of Warcraft is an emerging new ‘third place.’ That is, it’s a place in between your work and home where you make friends and otherwise interact with new people. Starbucks has even used the term in their actual marketing (to try to make their coffee shops a hangout more than just a place that you stop by and grab a cuppa joe), and WoW isn’t even the first videogame to fit the critera — Sony advertised the Playstation 2 as a ‘third place’ in Europe.”

A conference I attended last week included sessions on learning methods within MMOs. We learned how games like WoW are teaching design, social, strategy, leadership and other skills.

Most students in our schools are not allowed to venture into MMOs while in school because, generally speaking, the adults there are behind the learning curve for online activities. Caution and suspicion barriers are high.

In an MMO session at the conference last week, an ahead of the curve teacher spoke up from the audience with an impassioned plea to make “the price point” for MMOs affordable in schools. (more…)

Network scientist Strogatz is NY Times guest columnist


Posted on 20th May 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Networks

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Starting today with a column titled Math and the City, Steven Strogatz is guest author for three weeks of the New York Times feature The Wild Side. Professor Strogatz and his then graduate student Duncan Watts discovered small world networks! The chance to read Strogatz is always marvelous; he explains the world through understanding at the edge of 21st century mathematics and network science, the latter of which he is a founder.

The core premise of is that what we know and teach is a small world network. I am convinced that network laws offer the blueprint for future learning that is nondiscriminatory, emergently vetted for veracity, and economical to the point of providing the most accurate and authoritative knowledge globally for free. As I have posted before, I have already learned a lot about networks from Professor Strogatz. I look forward to glimpsing new nuances from his insight in his next two New York Times columns.

The voyage of the Starship Education


Posted on 8th May 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Schools We Have Now

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In 1966, when I saw the first episode of Star Trek, I was an advertising copywriter in El Paso, Texas. In that fairly small market, I was present at the local television studios when we taped the spots I wrote for clients. Production was visually analog. The insert above from the first episode of Star Trek gives you the idea. The stars were walking on a stage with rocks undoubtedly made out of cardboard. The cliffs and sky was surely painted props too. Nothing was digital.

The larger picture above is from a trailer for the new Star Trek movie that opens today in theaters. We see the silhouette of a young James Tibernius Kirk against a gorgeously complex digital depiction of the future.

When I got to thinking about the contrast between how the Star Trek story was conveyed by media 40 years ago to what we have now, it struck me how little the presentation of subjects they are supposed to learn in schools has changed for students during that same period.

Having completed high school in the 1950s, I found the 1966 Star Trek production compelling. Times, however, have changed. The television ads I created back then with a few analog props have been replaced by dazzling digital commercials. Millions of school kids who will enjoy the new digital extravaganza of this year’s Star Trek movie — and are accustomed to the dazzle of digital ads –  will return in the fall to essentially analog classrooms.

For educators to take on this Starship Education challenge would be a lot better than throwing huge amounts of money once again at the analog education methods our children endure:

Learning… the Final Digital Frontier. This is the voyage of the Starship Education. Its five-year mission: to explore the strange new worlds of the internet and mobiles, to seek out new ways to teach ideas and new access to knowledge, to boldly go where where our youngsters already are.