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April 29, 2011

The Inconvenient Truth About Textbooks

School-books I just went to the iTunes App Store, and in one impulsive click, downloaded Al Gore's companion app to his book "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis."

It's an immersive learning environment that begs the question - $4.99 iPad app or $49 textbook? 

Watch this promo video and you decide if the eBook has made the traditional textbook a relic. If you need some more numbers to help you make the decision -a quick search on textbook costs turned up this data from a 2005 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. "The average estimated cost of books and supplies for a first-time, full-time student at a four-year public institution was $898, or 26 percent of the cost of tuition and fees. At community colleges, the estimated cost of books and supplies was a whopping 72 percent of the cost of tuition and fees." 

EBook or textbook - still trying to decide?  Don't forget that future updates of the app could add more content or features - how about social networking?

Update: A hat tip to my friend Martin Edic at 24PageBooks who pointed out that Push Top Press (the folks who did the Gore's book) plan to release a publishing platform for authors, publishers and artists to turn their books into interactive iPad or iPhone apps — no programming skills required. Imagine when students can make their own!


April 27, 2011

Prisoner's Dilemma - A Game Theory Simulation


Back in the 1970's I taught a high school social studies course called "War and Peace Studies." 

A recent email exchange reminded me of a simplified version of the Prisoner's Dilemma that I created for use in the classroom. 

The Prisoner's Dilemma is a fundamental exercise in game theory and serves as a great catalyst for discussions about decision making, communications, ethics and responsibility. 


First, the classic example of the Prisoner's Dilemma from Wikipedia: 

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?  

How I adapted for classroom use

Students were divided into two separate locations. (Group A and Group B). Once divided, I managed the game - shuttling between the two rooms. Both groups were given the same goal - "To accumulate as many points as possible without helping or hindering the other group." In practice, I found that the point incentive generally faded away as groups just focused on their perception of "winning."

I ran a series of 10 decision rounds. During each 5 minute round both groups were told make a group decision about the choice one of two colors - red or blue. See results chart below. I did not specify how they were to arrive at the decision within their groups. When each group has completed their decision, I shared results back to each group. As the decision rounds accumulated,  players faced the results of cooperation and betrayal. 

To add another dimension to the dilemma, periodically (after decision rounds 3 and 6) I invited each group to send a negotiator to a neutral location (usually just the hallway). This was the only communication allowed between the groups. Generally each group was divided over both the instruction to give their negotiator ("bluff 'em" vs "make a deal") and how to interpret the negotiator's "report." Sometimes groups even became mistrustful of their own negotiator.

It usually took about 45-50 minutes to set the game up and go through a series of 7-10 rounds with some negotiation breaks. The homework assignment was to write a reflection "What did I learn about myself during the game?" Loads of great discussion the next day with many great applications to history, current events, group process and ethics.  

For great prompts to foster student reflection, see my post "The Reflective Student: The Taxonomy of Reflection.



April 13, 2011

Abraham “Abe” Rothberg: Author, Professor, Friend

Abe-rothberg Two weeks ago, I lost a very important person in my life. For more than 25 years Abe Rothberg served as friend, mentor, surrogate father and personal curmudgeon. Over long lunches in diners or late afternoons in his study we'd discuss politics, history, literature, journalism and gossip about everyone we knew. 

By the time I met Abe in the early 1980’s he had many achievements - a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of thirteen novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children's books, and a volume of literary criticism. Abe was the most learned (and opinionated) person I ever knew. While I never saw Abe in the classroom, he was beloved or feared (or both) by legions of English literature students from his days teaching at Hofstra, Columbia and St. John Fisher.

For more on Abe's accomplishments see the New York Times obituary 
Abraham Rothberg, Who Wrote of Golem and Stalin, Dies at 89 

Following his retirement from teaching, I knew Abe hoped to devote more time to his writing. There were some successes - like an occasional journal piece,  but many of our lunches were punctuated by his growing disappointment that yet another book manuscript had been rejected. So beginning around 2000, I began to try to convince Abe that we could use new print-on-demand technology to by-pass the big publishing houses and do it ourselves. “I will never stoop to vanity press,” he’d bellow.

I pressed on and a few years later (did I say he was stubborn?)  I convinced him to let me publish The Holy Warriors a novel that had been rejected by a few publishers despite the fact that it had, in a way, anticipated 9/11. “OK Abe, let’s get this started - give me the Word doc of the book and I’ll get going on design.” Abe replied, “What’s a word doc?” (Did I mention that Abe refused to even LOOK into a computer screen?) So before beginning work on book design, step one was finding someone who was willing to scan / proof  his typewritten and heavily edited manuscript into OCR. 

Eventually the book was finished and sent off to Lulu for publication. I’ll never forget bringing the finished paperback to Abe. He took the book in his thick hands and kept turning it over  - like a baker patting down dough. His face beamed as he asked,  “So when do we get started on the second book?” 

Over the next six years we published another twelve books. (That's right - all 12 started as typewritten manuscripts.) The scope was a remarkable testimony to the breadth of Abe’s interest and expertise - collections of  short fiction On A Darkling Plain, essays and literary criticism What Time Is It Now? novels set in Japan The Torii Gate and the Soviet eastern block The Former People. Subject ranged from a children's story - Pinocchio’s Sister ~ A Feminist Fable  to an exploration of the justice system through the lens of a serial killer The Trials of Arthur John Shawcross.

In 2010, a group of his friends held a tribute to Abe  - the man and his writing - as part of a Jewish Book Festival. Here’s an excerpt of the reflection that Abe shared with us. (I learned he always liked the last word) 

... Serious fiction is a lie that tells the truth. Fiction can introduce you into the lies and truths of other people's minds and hearts, to your own country and time, or strange, foreign places and other eras, into the most public forums and the most private scenes of human intimacy; it can make you see, hear, feel, love, hate, forgive, judge, understand, and yet not be bound by the consequences of all those activities, though you are there as a participant-observer in the most personal and informed ways. ... And so, tonight, you will hear some of the lies I have written I take to be important truths, serious fictions about our lives and times. I thought my books might contribute to the cultural and political conversations and dilemmas of our epoch. If that has not taken place as I wished-- and I am sorry to say it has not--it was not for the want of my trying.

To read more about Abe, download or order his books click here.

April 11, 2011

Putting the Problem First Can Create the Knowledge

Dan-meyer-math As I blogged in my Apollo 13 video post,  Watch Problem Based Learning in Action  "While our students have been conditioned to 'learn the basics - then solve the problem,' that's not how life always works." 

Here's a great 4-minute video by Dan Meyer that gives three examples of how to bring real-life problem scenarios into the math classroom.  To paraphrase Dan, "In these examples student have to first ask the question - what information do I need to solve this problem? The textbook usually gives you that information. But here students build the problem and decide what matters. The question that's usually buried at the bottom - it's the last thing in the textbook problem - now becomes the first thing in the student's mind. I want to make that question "irresistible" to the student, so they have to know the answer."  For more great ideas on how "math makes sense of the world" - go to Dan's blog dy/dan

March 29, 2011

3 Ways to Use Social Media to Crowdsource and Blog a Conference Backchannel

One of the goals of my blog is to research, curate and effectively share information with my audience. Conferences are a great aggregator of expertise and information that have inspired some of my most popular blog posts. Here's three strategies that I've used to crowdsource my research and harness the conference backchannel. All three tools employ hashtags - the popular practice where conference attendees include a common tag in their tweets. Typically conference organizers will designate an official hashtag - some combination of letters / numbers prefixed with a hash symbol "#."

Use Twitter Visualizers

Wiffiti There are many great Twitter visualizers that can be set up to automatically gather specific Twitter #hashtags. Two of my favorites are Wiffiti and Twitter StreamGraphs. Wiffiti displays entire tweets, while StreamGraphs graphs frequency of keywords within the tweets. Both are interesting visualizations of the conference backchannel. Each tool is free and can be embedded on your blog. And neither requires you to attend the conference. 

Here's how I used these visualizers  to cover the 2010 ASCD conference. 

Streamgraph For some fun, I used StreamGraphs to blog "comparative coverage" of two conferences that were in session at the same time in this post, "Humanities Conference Smackdown! AHA vs MLA Twitter Visualizers."


Use Prezi

Itsc11-prezi Prezi is a presentation tool that adds a dimension of space and scale to information. It can be displayed both as a stand alone presentation and embedded on a blog. Here's how I used Prezi at the ITSC 2011 conference in Portland Ore, where I had been invited to attend as a guest blogger. My onsite tools included my MacBook, iPhone and Flip Video.

During the conference I attended sessions to gather photos / video and tweeted my observations along the way. I also gathered content from other attendees by following the conference hashtag #ITSC11. The finished Prezis can include - tweets, images, video, YouTube video, PDF's, screenshots, text, hyperlinks and clipart.

Periodically I gathered all the content and created a Prezi. (BTW - I used the same Prezi technique to blog the San Antonio ASCD in 2010.)  


Use Storify

Storify Storify is a new platform that allows users to quickly tell a story using material from the social web. Recently I received an invitation to try out their beta and I've been putting it to use as conference blogging tool. 

The Storify web-based interface divides your screen in two columns. On the left (screenshot - to the left) are a variety of social media feeds - Twitter, FaceBook, Flickr, YouTube, RSS feeds, Google searches, SlideShare as well as any URL you select. It also has built in search tools that allow you explore your sources using hashtags. My favorite feature is that the Twitter search allows you to exclude RTs. As you find your content,  you drag it to the right side of your screen where you also have options to add text, delete or re-order content. When your Storify finished it can be embedded in your blog. To help you get the word out Storify sends out a Tweet to anyone you have quoted. 

Here's how I used Storify to cover the recent 2011 ASCD conference in San Francisco. I received many positive comments from viewers who thought I gathered some of the best social media being posted from the conference. I saved them the time of wading through all the RTs, side comments, and promotional tweets. BTW - I did not attend the conference. 

Stay tuned for may ongoing conference coverage - I'm sure there's a new tool being created that I'll get to take for a spin!

March 27, 2011

ASCD 2011 Conference: Sunday's Social Media Highlights

3951912182_b2dce2d317 I'm following the ASCD conference in San Francisco via the social web. Here's the best of the feed from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and SlideShare.  I follow the feed from #ASCD11 - so you don't get overloaded with RTs.
Image credit: flickr/wallyg 

March 26, 2011

ASCD 2011 Conference: Saturday's Social Media Highlights

ASCD-george-lucas I'm following the ASCD conference in San Francisco via the social web. Here's the best of the feed from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and SlideShare.  I curate the feed from #ASCD11 - so you don't get overloaded with RTs.  Image credit ASCD 

March 25, 2011

ASCD 2011 Conference: Social Media Highlights - Friday

Golden-gate I'm following the ASCD conference in San Francisco via the social web. Here's the best of the feed from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and SlideShare.

Be sure to tag your posts with #ASCD11 so I can include your content in my daily updates.  (Hint: how about posting some photos and videos!) Stop back, I'll be updating through the day. Have a great conference. ... Sorry I can't be there! Image credit: flickr/-ratamahatta-

March 23, 2011

Vermont is Yemen and Hong Kong is Egypt: A Comparative GDP Infographic Map

Us-comparatives Effective infographics enable us to see information in new ways. The Economist recently posted these two interactive maps that offer insights into the distribution of GDP and population in both the US and China. Click on maps or follow links to original maps with full functionality.  

Which countries match the GDP and population of America's states?
Original Map


Which countries match the GDP, population and exports of Chinese provinces? 
Original Map

A Brief Cartoon History of Social Networking 1930-2011

Notificator To celebrate the 75th Anniversary of The Advertising Research Foundation in New York, PeopleBrowser commissioned a brief cartoon history of social networking.
Great illustrations by Adam Long.
 ~ Enjoy ~



March 21, 2011

What Would Schools Look Like, If Students Designed the Schools?

Independent 4 As you watch this video, think about what could happen in schools if  adults got out of the way. 

You'll hear students say things like,  "A subject comes up that I don't know about, and instead of glossing over it,  I truly find myself thinking was is that about? I could learn about it! I'm finding questions in everything." And "We learned how to learn, we learned how to teach, we learned how to work."

Of course, it's easy to discount these kids as atypical. Marginalizing them is far easier than wondering why other high school students are stuck doing worksheets.

For more information on the project and associated lesson plans for students see:  "Independence Day: Developing Self-Directed Learning Projects"



March 20, 2011

iPad 2 - A Triumph of Capitalism Over Communism

Good morning students, your final exam in economics includes this document-based-question (DBQ)
Study these two images, and discuss how capitalism's capacity to supply consumer goods triumphed over the chronic shortages of communism.
Extra credit: Speculate on how Angry Birds might have impacted the "domino theory" of the Cold War.

Communism 1983: USSR
A queue at the footwear store to buy imported footwear. 
Note: Imports were considered to be bet­ter qual­ity and more fash­ionable ­than Soviet goods.


Source: The Real USSR

Capitalism 2011: USA 
iPad 2 line at Fifth Avenue retail store in Manhattan. (One Week After iPad 2 Launch)
Note: iPad 2 is way better than the HP TouchPad.



 Want to know why these people are still waiting?
Read my post "Steve Jobs, You Evil Genius! I - Must - Have - iPad 2!" 


March 19, 2011

The National Writing Project Needs More Than Praise, It Needs Funding

Seven-valleys On March 2, President Obama signed a bill eliminating direct federal funding for the National Writing Project (NWP), the nation's leading effort to improve writing and learning in the digital age.

Contact members of Congress and President Obama and tell them why the National Writing Project needs more than praise - it needs funding!

Image credit: The Seven Valleys Writing Project at SUNY Cortland 

March 17, 2011

Think All Journalism is Migrating to the Web? These Students Publish Hardcopy Newspaper

The-Fowl Or perhaps you think that high school students are unmotivated, unwilling to take on complex tasks and totally disinterested in anything that isn't digital?

Well these kids run counter to all these stereotypes and more.

Students at Bolder High School in Colorado are 3 issues into publishing their own "underground" newspaper. And they're producing "The Fowl" in old school manner - hard copy with hand drawn illustrations. No InDesign processing for them. As one of the student editors says - "People our age don't get heard that often, because we're not seen as that credible. But we have things to say that we're the only credible sources on."

As reported in the DailyCamera,

The eight-page February issue, adorned with a hand-drawn bird on the cover, includes an opinion piece on the real-life superhero movement, a rant about Valentine's Day, an ode to the Absolute Vinyl record store and a story about a new exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

...The students lay out the pages by hand, make an initial copy at Kinkos and send it to a Denver printer to print 1,500 copies. They said the hours and hours it takes to produce the paper have been daunting, but worth it.
"It's just students writing for students, without any in-between man," said senior Tomas Hernando Kofman.

March 14, 2011

Innovations in Teaching and Learning: Top Down or Bottom Up?


Head to the vendor area of an educational conference and you'll see a "top-down" vision of innovation in schools - expensive stuff that delivers information - lots of flashy equipment like display systems, interactive whiteboards, etc. They might give the illusion of modern, but in fact they're just a glitzy versions of the old standby - teaching as telling. Does anyone really think there's an instructional ROI in jazzing up test prep with a "Jeopardy-style game" delivered by "cutting-edge display technology?" 

In fact, the best innovation in instructional practice is coming from the "bottom up" - from teachers who find effective ways to harness the creative energy of their students. These teachers don't simply deliver information to kids, they craft lessons where students can research, collaborate, and reflect on what they're learning. They harness a flood of new platforms that enable students "see" information in new ways and support a more self-directed style of learning. Unlike the expensive wares being hawked by the convention vendors, most of these web tools are free. 

Want to find out more about instructional innovation in action? That won't cost you a thing either. Just jump on my Twitter feed and you find superb teachers willing to share their latest student projects. And that free flow of information contrasts with a second "top-down" approach to innovation in schools - the professional learning committee. Imagine being told that, "teachers will now attend PLC meetings.. and don't forget to fill out the PLC report form and turn it in to your administrator." No one at the top seems to notice that teachers who want to network have already created their own "bottom-up" support systems via the social web.

Most kids have a "bottom-up" expectation of curating their own information and creating something with it. The barriers to producing content (music, art, books, etc) have all but disappeared. Schools should be helping students develop better skills at critically evaluating information and using it in responsible ways. But many schools cloister students behind internet filters. And instead of finding innovative ways to take advantage of the student's personal smart phone, they ban them. "Susie put your iTouch away and please focus your attention on the output from our classroom's expensive new wireless document camera."

Corporate music, publishing and film were transformed from below. Do we expect education (another legacy information gatekeeper) to be spared the forces of the digital revolution? Unlike the vanishing local newspaper, schools won't disappear entirely. After all, someone has to watch the kids. While it may be difficult to replace the custodial function of schools, I suspect that education's "top-down" approach will eventually be breached. Or perhaps life will just become an "open book test" and we'll no longer notice how our information moves through it. 

As Matt Ridley noted in a piece about the evolution of the social web,  "The very notion that we once discussed the relative merits of text, email, social-network messaging and tweeting will seem quaint. In the future, my part of the cloud will get a message to a friend's part of the cloud by whichever method works best, and I will not even know which way it went. The distinction between a newspaper column and a blog will dissolve, as will the difference between a book and an e-book."  ~ Microchips Are Old Hat. Can Tweets Be Far Behind? Wall Street Journal  March 5, 2011

Image credit flickr/visualpanic