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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.

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.

Texas is busy today setting standards for history to be taught for 10 years


Posted on 13th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Open Content and Schools We Have Now


For the next ten years, what kids across America will be taught about history is being set out right now by the Texas State Board of Education. Yahoo!News describes what is happening in a news story today: Texas braces for fight over social studies lessons. We learn from this report that: “Much of the conversation ahead of the hearing has turned to how much emphasis will be given to the religious beliefs of the nation’s founding fathers . . . .”

Note in the quotation below from the Yahoo! article in the sentence I have emphasized that national tests will follow these standards. So, for the next 10 years if you are a student in Ohio taking a test that will qualify you for promotion, a diploma, or college admission, you will have to know what some Texas political appointees want you to know about the religion of American’s founding fathers.

Perhaps there were some shreds of sense to this when textbooks were the basic knowledge delivery vehicle to schools. But now, the Internet provides not only a full range of views on knowledge. In the example of the religious views of the founding fathers, the Colonial Williamsburg podcast collection includes views on religion by both Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, in their own words.

How much longer are we going to let this happen, as described by Yahoo! today? :

The State Board of Education begins hearing testimony, before a tentative vote this week on new social studies curriculum standards that will serve as the framework in Texas classrooms. But, as usual in votes before the conservative-led board, the wide-reaching guidelines are full of potential ideological flashpoints. . .  .

The curriculum it chooses will be the guideposts for teaching history and social studies to some 4.8 million K-12 students for 10 years. The standards will be used to develop state tests and by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on Texas, one of the largest markets. . . .

Network platform integration for the new education


Posted on 13th April 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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The brain of your child whom you entrust to standardized schools is the most complicated thing in the universe, with 100 billion brain cells none of which seem to be in charge. So explains Steven Strogatz (about the human brain) in the above video. He and Duncan Watts are introduced in this first of a five-part explanation of network theory. Strogatz and Watts discovered small world networks and are top tier scientists of their generation. The other videos are available on YouTube: two, three, four, and five.

What we are learning about networks make standardized schooling obsolete. The platform for the new education will be the interaction of four networks — each of which we are beginning to understand from the new network science introduced in the videos. The four networks are: the internet, the brain, what is known by humankind, and the network in which humankind is interconnect by six degrees or so of separation.

Although networks and education have yet to be heard much above the education din, GoldenSwamp will focus increasingly on this fundamental subject. For example: It is downright silly to impose watered down stand alone standards upon an eager brain that is a network of 100 billion cells from which thought seeks to emerge by connecting patterns.

Standards boxes and Blue Brain Project cerebral cortex model


Posted on 13th June 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Networks

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Blue Brain Project models and images simulate, as they describe it: “The cerebral cortex, the convoluted “grey matter” that makes up 80% of the human brain, is responsible for our ability to remember, think, reflect, empathize, communicate, adapt to new situations and plan for the future. ”

The Learning Standards we impose on children are in little boxes, as the superimposed image above illustrated in a post I wrote a couple of days ago. As a follow up to that post, I suggest you view Blue Brain Project’s video called Flying through the column!

One can only wonder how ideas packaged in little boxes could become become useful in the awesomely networked structure the Blue Brain Project lets us fly through.

Standards and synapses are very different


Posted on 11th June 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Open Content

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On the left above is a screen shot of Science Standards from the Illinois State Board of Education (you can download the pdf from this page). On the right above is a drawing of a Synapse phosphoproteome network from the Genes to Cognition team at the Sanger Institute. The full size version of the image above is here.

I put the Illinois Learning Standards and the Synapse side-by-side to suggest that we require students to learn subjects inside of little boxes, while students think about them in highly connected networks. The boxes in the Standards are separated from each other in all sorts of ways: living things are in different boxes than processes of the Earth. Different things about the same subject are spread out over five different grade levels. There seems little chance of having a thought that relates an early box in “A” to a late box in “E.”

Yet the news for the future is very, very good! The beautiful Sanger Institute drawing of the synapse network looks an awfully lot like what subject knowledge does when we put in on to the open Internet. Students’ synapses would seem naturally to mesh with online learning because both are networks. Learners can – as the drawing suggests – start at most any point or level in a subject and follow what they are thinking and learning to connect it to any and all other points.

Weirdly out-of-date high school measurement


Posted on 22nd March 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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In a new book Work Goes Mobile, authors from Nokia describe the transformation of their company to a global mobile workplace. In todays Washington Post, Education Columnist Jay Mathews analyzes here the ten-year-old Challenge Index I that Newsweek is now using to prepare its annual “America’s Best High Schools” report. The contrast between the two approaches is stunning, and a bit scary in terms of how behind the times school thinking can be.

As I read about Nokia mobile teams of workers interacting flexibly and effectively even across countries and oceans, I have hopes and visions of students being able to do the same for their studies. Perhaps a mobile sophomore global studies class would enroll students from a country on each of the six populated continents; the class members would access their study materials and confer with each other using their mobile phones. In a view that makes our old way (just a decade ago) of looking at schools downright provincial, the broadest Challenge Index I measure of interrelationships among kids of different demographics is within a school itself. That is weirdly out-of-date and insular by workplace standards.

If we were writing Challenge Index 2006 for high schools, would we not be doing our youngsters the right service by putting mobility of people (students and teachers) and online open learning knowledge at the top of the criteria for education excellence?

Education euphemisms and Kathy Sierra market talk


Posted on 4th March 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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expert chart
Kathy Sierra, who writes for Creating Passionate Users, is a learning guru disguised in marketing language like “sucks” and “kick ass” which would get big frowns at an education conference.

Her illustration (above) from her post today demonstrates, in my opinion, that teaching to an “acceptable” level is leaving yet another generation of school students in limbo below the Kicking Ass Threshold. Success at school these days is to be above the Suck Threshold and failure is entering the drop-out zone. Our school system passes kids on to the next grade and gives them a diploma when they suck. I know I am twisting the language here, but I do so as a wake up call. The euphemisms of education are among its causes of mediocrity. We owe it to our kids to teach them how to kick ass. I would not attempt to explain Kathy’s brilliant analysis of her chart shown above. You can read it in her words here.

What then lets students move above the Kick Ass Threshold? First is to accept that essentially every kid can do it which you have to figure out for yourself. Maybe you cannot accept that idea, in which case mediocrity (sucks) is the expectation for any generation.

For those who see the budding kicker in every kid, the new networked world is full of hope. In Marc Prensky’s new book, Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning, he mentions (p. 59) the “leveling up” factor as a reason kids work for hours with digital games. That Prensky says:

. . . means feeling yourself getting better at the game, and achieving mastery over something difficult and complex, something you couldn’t do when you started.

Compare that with the Kicking Ass Threshold:

I’ll keep pushing myself. There’s always some way to do it better . . .

Myself, I think moving learning into the kids’ own digital medium will move them past the era of the Suck Threshold.

The marshmallow standard


Posted on 1st February 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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There are those of us who think teaching to standards has the downside of expecting too much of kids who pass the standards tests. Maybe they just learn to pass the test, without learning the subject matter being tested and the subject’s connections to other ideas. Now comes the marshmallow standard implied in a little book called “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet.” The post here in describes a study in which a single child and a single marshmallow are left together alone in a room. The child is told that if he/she waits fifteen minutes without eating the marshmallow he/she will be given another marshmallow. Participants in the trial were tracked for ten years and this truth was revealed: “kids who were able to resist eating the initial marshmallow were significantly more successful than the group who ate the marshmallow.”

Although I write this in the spirit of whimsy, there really is this question in there somewhere: If kids were pre-taught thoroughly before the test that the best strategy is to wait for the second marshmallow, would they then wait in higher proportions? More interesting: would they then succeed in greater proportions in later life? There is a caution here in wondering if standards justifications is not thinking that is a bit on the soft and spongy side. Thanks Seth