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Untether student knowledge access from curricula, grades, tests

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Posted on 11th August 2011 by Judy Breck in Biology, Language, Literature, Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and Testing


Yesterday I watched and listened to a recording of Lynda Weinman interviewing Will Richardson. The title of this free Webinar: Personal Learning Networks Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education — which is the title of a new book by Richardson.

The webinar is an hour long. Richardson describes his work aimed at making schools better. The discussion between these two at the end of the hour is frank. They agree and agonized over this reality: The system for conveying knowledge to students in the schools we now have is not working and it is changing very little if at all.

I know, from having been her student in several contexts, that Lynda is a great teacher. I feel sure Richardson is as well. Lynda is a major leader of digital education — essentially the supra-teacher of digital arts. Richardson has been immersed in the school mess for 20+ years — and is a father of young teenagers, and proposes ways for teachers to improve their classes against the system. These two hands-on experts do not have answers for how really to change the schools methodologies so that the kids can get a decent education at school.

From their discussion in the webinar I picked up this new word for how education could change: untethered. It implies for me the concept of handschooling: an individual student engaging knowledge by using a mobile that she owns and controls, providing her with a 24/7 web browser.

I suggest that untethering a student’s access to what is known — cutting access loose from standardized curricula, grades, and tests — is a specific, simple step. Connect a kid: let him engage is mind on his own with algebra, history, ecology and the rest of the subjects that are now for him tethered to the academic (school) brick and mortar world.

With individual wireless access on a tablet or smartphone, a student can while away boring times in school:

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


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.

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

Mobile access to school standards testing creates equality


Posted on 19th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning, Open Content, Politics in the swamp and Schools We Have Now

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Let any child anywhere use his or her mobile to take the school standards tests. All the time now the corporate training world, people learn, are tested, and are certified using their internet connection. Take a look, for example, at the Adobe Certification center.

The Washington Post reports this morning that the “Race to the Top” competition for federal grants to states for education is to increase to more than $6 billion. The core goal here is to measure how students achieve according to standards set for them. As the article reports: “Also, 48 states and the District have joined in an effort to develop a common core of rigorous educational standards to replace the current system in which states have wildly different benchmarks for what should be taught in school.”

Wow: one envisions layers and layers before the kids somehow learn — and prove their teachers have taught and they have the test answers — for whatever this common core is. Why not just put it all out there and let everybody develop and work on what students learn in the transparency of the open internet?

Why not just spend a few million dollars and put everyone’s idea of standard stuff we want kids to learn online, and test them there? Everything could be online: material that is rigorous, material that meets various benchmarks — Texas history for the kids there, and how to farm cranberries for the kids in Vermont. Very soon, tests that won respect of admissions departments and employers would emerge.

The reason this will work is that the individual mobile internet browser will belong to a single student. This ownership makes the opportunity equal for each kid who has a mobile because the nature (good, bad, or not there at all) of a classroom is taken out of the equation.

Each learner can come to the trough of online knowledge, and each can partake according to his or her own appetite. For sure, there are some youngsters in failing urban schools who could ace math tests at the college level. I have met them, I know this is true. There are struggling students in excellent schools who would benefit from studying, on the privacy of their mobile, subjects they “didn’t get” in earlier grades. Being able to get certified online gives them a way to catch up. There are young people in slums and poverty across the world for whom learning basics and more on a mobile browser is a key to their country’s future development. With a mobile browser in her had, a girl interested in astronomy, whose cultures forbids her to attend school, joins her global generation with access equal to every other student who is, for example, browsing images from the Hubble telescope.

A challenge for educators: Put online centers like the Adobe Certification webpages that teach, test, and certify school standards for math, science, technology, languages, humanities — and be sure to make those pages mobile friendly.

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.

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.”

Smartphones will become textbooks as well as game consoles


Posted on 26th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and games

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The image above is’s display of iPodtouch features — most of which would be superb features for the sort of educational products that will soon replace paper and ink bound textbooks. The textbooks have the same fatal digital age flaws that game consoles are revealing, as reported in a New York Times story today titled, “Apple’s Shadow Hangs Over Game Console Makers.” From the article, reporting the Tokyo Game Show:

Among the questions voiced by video game executives: How can Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft keep consumers hooked on game-only consoles, like the Wii or even the PlayStation Portable, when Apple offers games on popular, everyday devices that double as cellphones and music players?

And how can game developers and the makers of big consoles persuade consumers to buy the latest shoot’em-ups for $30 or more, when Apple’s App store is full of games, created by developers around the world and approved by Apple, that cost as little as 99 cents — or even are free?

The everyday devices that now offer games can not only bring the stuff of traditional textbooks — text and printing images — into the hands of students. These devices can offer later versions of constantly updated text, moving and interactive images, live cams for subjects studied, capture of images and locations being studied, and games that teach.

In fact, it is so obvious that individual mobile devices are at least as effective a replacement for textbooks as they are for game consoles that one wonders why the changeover has not been made long ago. My guess is that schools make decisions for large groups of students instead of one individual at a time. When it comes to buying a game console, a single player or family does the shopping and decides how they want to play the game. Also, billions of dollars spent annually on textbooks are at stake. Surely we can find a better way to spend those billions than on paper (remember the trees), ink, and delivering (making a big carbon footprint) millions of heavy books for kids’ heavy (spine stressing) backpacks.

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.

Mobile Opening Women’s Sky post wins at Carnival


Posted on 1st September 2009 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists


posterHorseGirlPeggy Anne Salz of MSearceGroove is this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists host. Her Best & Brightest Carnival of the Mobilists #189 was illustrated with the lovely poster shown here. She honored GoldenSwamp’s entry, Mobile opens the sky for women with this review:

Post of the week goes to Judy Breck at Golden Swamp for prompting us to see mobile as a tool (for change) rather than a technology. Access to the mobile Internet gives everyone – particularly women suffering in isolation – a voice, allowing them to connect with people and peers who can amplify their message and fight their cause. Thanks, Judy, for reminding us why mobile is amazing and why we must strive to bridge the digital divide.

Mobile opens the sky for women


Posted on 28th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous and Mobile Learning

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Next week the new book Half the Sky, on the plight and progress of the world’s women, will be released. Last spring I had the privilege of hearing the journalist power couple coauthors Nicholas Kristoff and  Sheryl WuDunn talk about some of amazing women whose stories are in the book. The image with this post is from last weekend’s New York Times Magazine article by Kristoff and WuDunn. In the photo are Saima Muhammad, shown with her daughter Javaria (seated), who lives near Lahore, Pakistan. She was routinely beaten by her husband until she started a successful embroidery business.

I have pre-ordered Half the Sky — whose title is based on a Chinese saying that “women hold up half the sky.” Perhaps the authors have mentioned mobile as they look to the future for the situations where women have been isolated and confined. Let’s think about that a bit here.

Imagine what it would mean to each of the women in the photo above to have a smart phone that accesses the internet tucked away in a pocket. One or more of them already may. I would bet that Saima uses at the least a personal cellphone in her embroidery business. In Jump Point, Tom Hayes predicts that by 2011 there will be 3 billion people individually connected into the internet. Let’s guess that by 2015 a couple of billion more will be added. By then the world’s population will be past 7 billion, they say. Far more than half the population will carry with them a mobile connection to what Hayes calls the network culture. Do the math: most women will have a mobile connected to the internet.

Mobiles will be ubiquitous before another generation of baby girls grow up. Cries for help will reach not just within earshot, but around the world. Girls once forbidden to go to school will carry with them direct access to anything they want to learn. Women will be connected with commerce and possess a tool of entrepreneurial equality — male brawn balanced by female e-connectivity. It can take generations for attitude change to evolve, but the trap of isolation transforms into open sky immediately when she slips a mobile device into her pocket.

Ditching Dystopia


Posted on 16th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Golden swamp defined and Mobile & Ubiquitous

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loganCellphoneScience fiction master author William Gibson tells us he was being evocative—not predicting the future—when he described cyberspace, a word he coined, in his classic novel Neuromancer. Yet many of us think of the internet as something like these words by Gibson in that 1984 book: Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

In 1984 when these phrases first hit paper, the engulfing global internet was not on any visionary’s radar. Yet Gibson’s word has come to define the location of the internet—bringing along some dystopic baggage many people have not shed.

George Orwell’s novel titled 1984, that gave us the frightening image of Big Brother watching us, was written in what the literati call the dystopian genre — dark, wretched, fearful, the opposite of utopian. William Gibson, who coined cyperspace, is a cyberpunk, which is dystopian. Somehow we have gotten stuck with a word with a dystopian heritage to name the setting of our future. Yet the real cyberspace is hardly a consensual hallucination, though it is experienced daily by billions. The complexity there is turning out to be a marvelous reflection of human thinking. Clusters of data have proven to be fundamental to network science that was not discovered until 1998. Hum . . . what has happened here?

The reality is this: No dystopia is necessarily ahead, quite the opposite is proving to be true. Cyberspace is turning out instead to be the platform for a dawning global golden age.

My grandniece, shown above filling some time on her Mom’s back by connecting to cyberspace is likely to live into the 22nd century. The virtual venue she is already experiencing is being constructed not by the weirdness of cyberpunk but by the wonderfulness of the golden swamp. The mechanisms that make this so will be a major theme of this blog from now on.

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.