Boing Boing 

Standardized testing and schools as factories: Louis CK versus Common Core

Louis CK is the latest high-profile voice to join the chorus against the US educational Common Core and the educational system's emphasis on standardized testing. A great New Yorker piece explores the movement against standardized testing and one-size-fits-all pedagogy.

I think it falls short of the mark, though. The rise of standardized testing, standardized curriculum, and "accountability" are part of the wider phenomenon of framing every question in business terms. In the modern world, the state is a kind of souped up business. That's why we're all "taxpayers" instead of "citizens." "Taxpayer" reframes policy outcomes as a kind of customer-loyalty perk. If your taxes are the locus of your relationship with the state, then people who don't pay taxes -- people too young, old, disabled, or unlucky to be working -- are not entitled to policy outcomes that reflect their needs.

"Taxpayers" are the shareholders in government. The government is the board of directors. School administrators are the management. Teachers are the assembly-line workers. Kids are the product. "Accountability" means that the product has to be quantified and reported on every quarter. The only readily quantifiable elements of education are attendance and test-scores, so the entire educational system is reorganized around maximizing these elements, even though they are only tangentially related to real educational outcomes and are trivial to game.

The vilification of teachers and teachers' unions go hand-in-hand with this idea. At the heart of teachers' unions' demands is the insistence that teaching is a craft that requires nonstandard, difficult-to-quantify approaches that are incompatible with factory-style "accountability." The emphasis on the outliers of teachers' unions -- the rare instances in which bad teachers are protected by their trade unions -- instead of the activity that constitutes the vast majority of union advocacy -- demanding an educational approach that is grounded in trust, respect, and individual tutelage -- the "taxpayer" types can make out teachers as lazy slobs who don't want to jog on the same brutal treadmill as the rest of us.

Read the rest

Danish Geodata Agency commissions 1:1 Minecraft replica of Denmark

For the kids! (Thanks, Shi-n0-bi)

Students raise money, give away 300 copies of book banned in their school

Jaimie sez, "My bookstore helped a high school student distribute almost 300 free copies of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, a book that has been challenged and removed from the Meridian (Idaho) School District curriculum." Funds were raised by two Washington students." They're going to give away another 350 copies that the publisher donated next week. Go kids! (Thanks, Jamie!)

EFF seeks student activists for campus network


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is launching a major campus organizing initiative and is looking to build a network of trusted campus activists to work with. They're sending staffers on a road-trip to speak at universities and colleges and want to hear from you. They've released a set of community organizing tools to help you get started.

There are plenty of ways to take part, no matter how much organizing experience you have.

* Start a group: Talk to friends and community members to gauge who else in your network is interested in digital freedom. Form a group that can discuss the issues and plan ways of advocating for your rights. For some tips on getting started, check out our guide on how to build a coalition on campus and in your community.

* Bring digital rights to an existing group: These issues are everybody's issues, no matter where on the political spectrum you lie. You can work with existing political, civil liberties, activist, and computer-related groups and urge members to take on a digital rights campaign.

* Organize an event: We have plenty of suggestions for events you can throw, from film screenings to rallies, parties to speaker series.

* Let your voice be heard: We are all part of the digital rights movement together, and your voice is as important as ours. Learn how to coordinate with local and national campaigns, and amplify your message by reading our tips on engaging with the press.

While many student groups and local community organizations are working on surveillance reform in light of the recent disclosures about massive government spying, it’s not only the NSA that we’re fighting: we’re demanding open access to publicly funded research; we’re fighting to protect the future of innovation from patent trolls; we’re urging companies and institutions to deploy encryption; we're defending the rights of coders and protecting the free speech rights of bloggers worldwide—the list goes on.

EFF is Expanding into Student and Community Organizing, and We Need Your Help

Online test-proctoring: educational spyware that lets third parties secretly watch and listen to you through your computer

Rebecca from EFF writes, "How would you feel about having your computer taken over by online test-taking software - complete with proctors peering through your laptop camera? Reporters at the Spartan Daily (the student paper for San Jose State University) have an interesting story about new software in use there, and the legitimate concerns that some students have. The data-broker connection is especially chilling to those worried about their personal information." The company's response? "We're a customer service business, so it’s really not advantageous for us to violate that trust." Oh, well, so long as that's sorted out then.

The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, a nuanced and moving history of race, slavery and the Civil War


The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation sat in my pile for too long, and it shouldn't have. I loved The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, the previous effort by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, so I should have anticipated how good this new one would be. Having (belatedly) gotten around to it, I can finally tell you that this is an extraordinary, nuanced history of the issues of race and slavery in America, weaving together disparate threads of military, geopolitical, technological, legal, Constitutional, geographic and historical factors that came together to make the Civil War happen at the moment when it occurred, that brought it to an end, and that left African Americans with so little justice in its wake.

Read the rest

When it comes to learning computers, play is seriously important

Game on? Or game over? [PDF], a brief research report from the U Washington Information School, summarizes some of the findings from the TASCHA report on computer skills acquisition. This particular explainer deals with the relationship between playing games and goofing off on computers and learning to do "productive" things with them, finding (as Mimi Ito did, before) that horsing around is a critical component of mastering computers, and that labs that ban games and other forms of playful engagement with computers are hampering their ability to teach the people they're supposed to be serving.

Playground removes "safety" rules; fun, development and injuries ensue


The Swanson School in Auckland, NZ, quietly eliminated all the rules against "unsafe play," allowing kids to play swordfight with sticks, ride scooters, and climb trees. It started when the playground structures were torn down to make way for new ones, and the school principal, Bruce McLachlan, noticed that kids were building their own structures out of the construction rubble. The "unsafe" playground has resulted in some injuries, including at least one broken arm, but the parents are very supportive of the initiative. In particular, the parents of the kid with the broken arm made a point of visiting the principal to ask him not to change the playground just because their kid got hurt.

The article in the Canadian National Post notes that Kiwis are less litigious, by and large, than Americans, and that they enjoy an excellent national health service, and says that these two factors are a large contributor to the realpolitik that makes the playground possible. But this is still rather daring by Kiwi standards.

Read the rest

Minecraft videos: booming industry with millions of viewers

Glenn Fleishman writes, "Minecraft YouTube videos are fantastically popular, and a core group of producers of these videos have enjoyed a wild ride up the virtual charts. Diamond Minecart, a YouTube channel by 22-year-old Daniel Middleton of Northamptonshire, England, has almost 1.9 million subscribers, and people have watched his videos over 400 million times."

Read the rest

Kickstarting Lifeform: a fun, educational game about evolution

Michael writes, "I'm launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new game founded in the basics of genetics and physics. You're a cell in a 2d underwater universe, and you must reproduce to gain traits that dictate what you can do. Resources found around the map can be used to construct machines and tools to aide in your evolution. Not only is Lifeform the genetics game we've long been searching for, but it's going to be extremely powerful in classrooms all across the world. Science teachers can use it for genetics lessons, physics, studying the elements, and much more."

This looks really cool (and the prototype is great)! One caveat is that Michael's development projects are pretty thinly detailed, though it sounds like he's had some relevant experience, and the prototype bodes well for the project's future. As with all Kickstarters, you might get nothing for your money! A $15 minimum contribution gets you a copy of the game when and if.

Lifeform: A game of genetic and biomechanical evolution (Thanks, Michael!)

Free science fictional graphic novel about the student debt conspiracy


Christopher Kosek writes, "'The Default Trigger' is a 52 page, free (with a pay what you want version available) digital graphic novel about student loan debt, the shadowy figures lurking in the background who watch over our struggles and their insidious conspiracy to keep this cycle going. It's written and illustrated by me, Christopher Kosek. Plot (with spoilers): When a recent college grad, Joseph Doakes, defaults on over $100k in student loans,"

Read the rest

Homeland audiobook: Wil Wheaton explains how Little Brother and Homeland make you technologically literate

The Humble Ebook Bundle continues to rock, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a bundle of great name-your-price ebooks, including Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, Steve Gould's Jumper, and Holly Black's Tithe. Also included in the bundle is an exclusive audiobook of my novel Homeland, read by Wil Wheaton.

I commissioned Wil to read the book -- it was pretty much the only way to get a DRM-free audio edition in the age of Audible -- and while he read, he had a series of conversations with the project's director Gabrielle di Cuir from LA's Skyboat Studios. In this clip (MP3), Wil explains how the discussions of crypto and technology in my novels serve as a spur to drive kids -- and grownups -- to research more about security and freedom.

You've got 11 more days to avail yourself of the Humble Ebook Bundle!

EFF Policy Fellowship for students: 10 week summer program

If you're a student interested in Internet and technology policy, you're eligible to apply for an EFF Policy Fellowship, a ten week placement with public interest orgs in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America. It pays $7500, and you get to work on global surveillance, censorship, and intellectual property. "Applicants must have strong research skills, the ability to produce thoughtful original policy analysis, and a talent for communicating with many different types of audiences."

Self-directed Crypto 101 online course

Crypto 101 is a free online course on practical, applied cryptography: " everything you need to understand complete systems such as SSL/TLS: block ciphers, stream ciphers, hash functions, message authentication codes, public key encryption, key agreement protocols, and signature algorithms."

Kickstarting Scratchjr: Scratch programming for under-eights!

Mitchel Resnick runs the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten lab, from which came the amazing, kid-friendly Scratch programming language. He writes, "We just launched a Kickstarter campaign for ScratchJr, an introductory programming language that enables young children (ages 5-7) to create their own interactive stories and games. As young children code with ScratchJr, they learn how to create and express themselves with the computer, not just interact with it. In the process, children develop design and problem-solving skills, and they use math and language in a meaningful and motivating context, supporting the development of early-childhood numeracy and literacy.

ScratchJr is a variation of our Scratch programming language, used by millions of people (ages 8 and up) around the world. In creating ScratchJr, we redesigned the interface and programming language to make them developmentally appropriate for younger children, carefully designing features to match young children's cognitive, personal, social, and emotional development."

Read the rest

Homework is eating American schoolkids and their families


Here's a report from the front lines of the neoliberal educational world*, where homework has consumed the lives of children and their families without regard to whether it is improving their educational outcomes. The average California kid in a recent study was doing 3.1 hours' worth of homework per night, at the expense of sleep, time for family and friends, and activities ranging from grandma's birthday to "everything I used to do."

Read the rest

UK university admissions service sells applicants' data to energy drink companies


UCAS is the UK post-secondary admissions service, and is the sole means of applying to most British tertiary institutions. It has been caught selling its applicants' data to marketing departments hoping to sell Microsoft products, mobile phone contracts and energy beverages to young people. UCAS warehouses data on children as young as 16. UCAS doesn't deny selling applicants' data, but insists that it violated no laws, because the students whose data it sold did not opt out of "mailings" (opting out of mailings with UCAS also means you won't receive information from educational institutions and potential employers).

UCAS's "UCAS Media" offshoot advertises access to children's data with the slogan, "We help them reach uni – we help you reach them." Another UCAS company, UCAS Progress, collects data on children aged 13-16 and asks them to opt into marketing pitches as well. A third of UCAS's income comes from selling university applicants' data to third parties.

Read the rest

Thoughts on teaching calculus to five-year-olds

Maria Droujkova writes, "Last week, The Atlantic published my interview called 5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus. I have been following the discussions on blogs, forums, and news sites. The themes that emerge from discussions make me cautiously optimistic. Many grown-ups believe that young math will finally give them a second chance at making sense of algebra and calculus. Others look for the balance between conceptual understanding and the fluency at manipulating numbers. Even if 5-year-olds understand calculus, what would they use it for?

Read the rest

Guardian Cities: how Hackney council let developers demolish the startups of "Silicon Roundabout"

I've written a guest editorial for the new Guardian Cities site about the way that the offices that house the startups of London's famed "Silicon Roundabout" are being systematically demolished by developers who are put up cheap, high-rise private student housing to take advantage of a foreign-student bubble.

(Note: this went up briefly last week by accident and came down again, apologies if you see this twice)

Read the rest

A math teacher explains so-called "new math"

You've probably seen this image making the rounds on social media. It shows a method of doing basic subtraction that's intended to appear wildly nonsensical and much harder to follow than the "Old Fashion" [sic] way of just putting the 12 under the 32 and coming up with an answer. This method of teaching is often attributed to Common Core, a set of educational standards recently rolled out in the US.

But, explains math teacher and skeptic blogger Hemant Mehta, this image actually makes a lot more sense than it may seem to on first glance. In fact, for one thing, this method of teaching math isn't really new (our producer Jason Weisberger remembers learning it in high school). It's also not much different from the math you learned back when you were learning how to count change. It's meant to help kids be able to do math in their heads, without borrowing or scratch-paper notations or counting on fingers. What's more, he says, it has absolutely nothing to do with Common Core, which doesn't specify how subjects have to be taught.

Read the rest

What happens when you opt your kids out of standardized tests

Lisa T. McElroy is a law professor who's spending a year at the University of Denver with her two kids, one in high school and one in middle school. She learned that she could opt her kids out of the standardized tests the school administered. So she did. What followed was a total educational freakout, as the principal, vice-principal and administration alternately cajoled and guilted her over her kids' non-participation in pedagogically suspect, meaningless, destructive high-stakes testing.

McElroy's story is a snapshot of an educational system in the process of implosion, driven by the ridiculous idea that schools are factories whose product is educated kids, and whose employees must be made "accountable" by measuring anything we can put a number on -- attendance and test-scores -- at the expense of actual educational outcomes.

Despite the fact that the best-performing educational systems in the world don't treat teachers as assembly line workers and kids as standardized injection molds to be squirted full of learning, the west continues to pursue this approach, scapegoating teachers' unions and pitting parents against them when the real enemy is the doomed idea that schools are a specialized kind of industrial plant -- and the project of selling off public schools to privatized educational corporations that collect public funds to educate kids, but only to the extent that this can be done without undermining their shareholders' interests.

Read the rest

Get a wee degree in free from RIT

The Rochester Institute of Technology has announced America's "first minor in free and open source software and free culture." (Thanks, Stephen!)

Coderdojo: global network of self-directed hacker schools for kids


Glenn sez, "An Irish programmer started with a club in Cork to teach (at no cost) kids aged 5 to 17 how to program. It was such a hit that it's expanded to hundred of cities across 27 countries. CoderDojo has a template that includes self-directed learning with mentors on tap to help out. The notion is to provide kids a productive outlet. Among its successes is an average participation split about halfway between girls and boys in most chapters."

Read the rest

Child in wet bathing suit made to stand in -5F weather because school policy forbade her from waiting in teacher's car

Kayona Hagen-Tietz, a ninth grader at Como Park High School in St Paul, MN, says she developed frostbite when she was made to stand in -5F weather wearing nothing but a wet bathing suit. She had been in swim class when the fire-bell rang, and evacuated in nothing but her wet swimsuit. Faculty offered to allow her to wait in a car, but school policy prohibits students from entering cars other than those belonging to family and their delegated help. Eventually, common sense won out, though apparently not soon enough. (via Free Range Kids)

South Carolina legislature confiscates budget of college for assigning Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" as a reading

The South Carolina House of Representatives has withdrawn $52,000 from the College of Charleston for including Alison Bechdel's brilliant, celebrated memoir Fun Home in its summer reading program. Bechdel, creator of the Dykes to Watch Out For strip, published the memoir in 2006. In graphic novel form, it tells Bechdel's story of growing up closeted in a family riven by a father who can't admit that he is gay and an embittered mother who doesn't allow herself to notice her husband's affairs.

Representative Garry Smith said that the book "didn't merit scholarly consideration" because it "graphically shows lesbian acts." He led the campaign to withdraw the funds. $52,000 is the cost of the entire summer reading program.

Bechdel expressed gratitude to the college for assigning her book, and added, "It's sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book – a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people's lives."

To its credit, the college is refusing to allow its reading choices to be affected. College president P. George Benson said, "Any legislative attempt to tie institutional funding to what books are taught, or who teaches them, threatens the credibility and reputation of all South Carolina public universities."

The College of Charleston isn't the only institution whose funding has been cut for assigning readings that don't meet with Rep Smith's approval; another $18,000 was confiscated from the University of South Carolina Upstate's budget for including a book with LGBT themes in its curriculum.

I would certainly contribute to a fundraiser to make up the colleges' shortfall, especially if they'd guarantee that the funds would go to a program whose readings consisted entirely of things that Representative Gary Price didn't like.


Update: In the comments, Tim​stellmach writes, "Money has been put where my mouth is. For reference, the name of the program in question is "The College Reads!", and the college's donation page is at https://giving.cofc.edu/donate.

Read the rest

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (must, MUST read)


Sociologist danah boyd's long-awaited first book, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, hits shelves today. boyd is one of the preeminent scholars of the way young people -- especially marginalized young people of diverse economic and racial backgrounds, as well as diverse gender and sexual orientation -- use the Internet, and her work has been cited here regularly for her sharp observations and her overwhelming empathy for her subjects.

It's Complicated is a passionate, scholarly, and vividly described account of the reality of young peoples' use of networked technologies in America today. Painstakingly researched through interviews and close study for more than a decade, boyd's book is the most important analysis of networked culture I've yet to read.

Read the rest

Reggie Watts is America's alternate-universe sitcom science teacher

Here's the season premiere of Reggie Watt's alternate-universe sitcom TEACH, in which the comedian/noisebox/musician/critic plays a fun-loving science teacher in an indeterminate point in the televisual past. It is the role he was born to play (in another timeline).

Reggie Watts - TEACH: SCIENCE (via IO9)

Free curriculum for maker-kids: toy hacking, 3D printing, Arduino rovers and more!


Andy Forest from Makerkids, a Toronto makerspace for kids, writes, "Together, Kids Learning Code, MakerKids, TIFF and the Toronto Public Library have just finished developing 7 comprehensive maker curriculum modules for libraries, schools and other organizations who want to get kids started being Makers. The Mozilla Hive Network Toronto provided funding support. The modules are designed for a non-technical audience and contain all the information needed to teach these topics:"

Read the rest

Announcing the instructors for the 2014 Clarion Writers' Workshop


The Clarion Writers' Workshop at UC San Diego has announced its lineup of instructors for the 2014 session, and it's pretty spectacular: this year's writer-instructors are Gregory Frost, Geoff Ryman, Catherynne Valente, N.K. Jemisin, Ann VanderMeer, and Jeff VanderMeer.

Clarion is a six-week, intensive boot-camp for science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction writers. It counts among its graduates some of the very greatest writers in the field, from Octavia Butler to Bruce Sterling, as well as Lucius Sheppard, Kathe Koja, Nalo Hopkinson, Eileen Gunn, James Patrick Kelly, Ted Chiang, Tim Pratt, Tobias Buckell, and many others.

I'm an alumnus myself, as well as a frequent instructor and a member of the volunteer board of the Clarion Foundation, the nonprofit 501(c)3 that oversees the workshop. Clarion isn't the only way to become a better writer and to learn about the industry and how to earn a living in it, but it is absolutely one of the best. My own experience in 1992 was life-changing for me, and has left me committed to the workshop for life.

Applications close on March 1, 2014.

Read the rest

The Knowledge Box: psychedelic education enviro from 1962

140121 knowledge box ken issacs 04

140121 knowledge box ken issacs 01

Above is designer Ken Isaacs inside his Knowledge Box, a 1962 invention meant to educate students through "a rapid procession of thoughts and ideas projected on walls, ceilings and floor in a panoply of pictures, words and light patterns." At right, technicians work on the slide projectors that project the imagery inside the box. More over at LIFE.