Reading Notes: Everything Bad is Good for You, By Steven Johnson

This book was published in 2005 and is a fascinating look at how pop culture is actually making us smarter. Yep, I said smarter. I love books that turn common belief on their nose, like The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman, which made me feel like the future was actually a great place to go toward as long as I knew how to look at it.

Here are some notes I took:

p. 41 Games force you to make decisions, during which you have to weigh evidence, analyze situations, and consult goals.

p. 45 When gamers interact with gaming environments, they are learning the basic procedure of the scientific method. This comes from James Paul Gee’s research:

  1. Probe
  2. Hypothesize
  3. Reprobe
  4. Rethink

Video games develop different skills than reading textbooks or watching videos, like logic and problem solving. Video games as you to THINK, whereas textbooks and novels as you to FOLLOW. Hmmm… what would we rather our children be able to do?

What skills do they develop? I’m glad you asked:

1. Telescoping: This is the ability to focus on both immediate and long-distance views. There is a hierarchy of tasks in a game, and you have to manage your time. For example, in some games, you have to walk around and collect things or solve little puzzles in order to get enough coins to buy the right potion to transform yourself in order to get access to a boss villain.

Turns out, this is what we all do in REAL LIFE. You have to run errands and do dishes and pay taxes, all while seeking a larger purpose in life.

2. Probing: Games learn by playing. They don’t read the manual first. They probe the logic (or physics) of the games and find the limits.

Turns out, this is what we all do in REAL LIFE. In your first day at a new job, you seek out the norms, the customs, the relationships, the limits.

p. 48 Ask gamers what is happening to them mentally – not what is happening in the game. That is where the valuable skills are being developed.

p. 55 Games have a narrative when you look back at them, but the stories are not built of events – they are built of tasks.

p. 181 We know from neuroscience that the brain wants new challenges. We problem-solve, untangle puzzles,  and lock in on change to try to decipher the cause.

What I find so ironic about the seeming universal attitude towards video games (that they are a worthless waste of time) is that we so universally glorify athletic games for all the values that they teach us: perseverance, cooperation, concentration, strategy, etc. In my opinion, these are skills that can be learned in ALL GAMES, not just athletic ones. Why does it take everyone so long to see these values in video games?

How do you share?

After you teach that amazing class – where the discussion was lively, the students engaged, and the transformation of understanding palpable – what do you do? Do you celebrate with your colleague at the desk next to you? Do you put it as your Facebook status? Do you share with your division head?

When you teach that class that didn’t quite go as planned – where the questions fell flat, the activity was too simple, the students’ eyes glazed over – what do you do? Do you ask a colleague for help? Do you debrief with a mentor? Do you ask a couple kids what went wrong?

“We remain open as learners when we remember to listen to ‘What do you think?” – Chris Lehmann

We need to share, and more than just at the lunch table. Why? Because sharing gives us new perspectives to explore and stimulates conversation.

While there are many ways you can share these days (blogging, twitter, nings, full-on conferences), EdCamp is a great way to share your ideas with teachers from other schools in the area. There is no sign up fee or deadline. We are lucky enough to be hosting the next one on Saturday, May 12th, at OES, 9am-4pm. I’ll be there – how about you?

Acceptable Use

For the Middle School, we follow this Acceptable Use Policy. It is explained to the students at the beginning of the year, I do a short review with the 6th grade tech class, and this year we also reviewed it in January with the 7th grade.

 Acceptable Use Policy, 2011-2012

The school’s information technology resources, including email and Internet access, are provided for educational purposes. The laptop issued to students should be considered an extension of the classroom for the purpose of providing access to educational resources.  Adherence to the following policy is necessary for continued access to the school’s technological resources:

Students must
1. Respect and protect the privacy of others.
  • Use only assigned accounts.
  • Not view, use, or copy passwords, data, or networks to which they are not authorized.
  • Not distribute private information about others or themselves.
  • Not publish pictures of others without their consent.

2. Respect and protect the integrity, availability, and security of all electronic resources.

  • Not download or install any application, extension, or software on the school’s laptops.
  • Not store any personal files on the school’s laptop.  Only files associated with school are allowed.
  • Not stream video or audio through the school’s network during work hours without explicit permission from a teacher for a specific educational purpose.
  • Observe all network security practices, as posted.
  • Report security risks or violations to a teacher or network administrator.
  • Not destroy or damage data, laptops, networks, or other resources that do not belong to them.
  • Conserve, protect, and share these resources with other students, faculty, and staff.

3. Respect and protect the intellectual property of others.

  • Not infringe copyrights (no making illegal copies of music, images, games, or movies!).
  • Not plagiarize.

4. Respect and practice the principles of community.

  • Communicate only in ways that are kind and respectful.
  • Report threatening or discomforting materials to a teacher.
  • Not intentionally access, transmit, copy, or create material that violates the school’s code of conduct (such as messages that are threatening, rude, discriminatory, pornographic, or meant to harass).
  • Not send spam, chain letters, or other mass unsolicited mailings.
  • Not use direct communications such as IRC, online chat, or instant messaging during school without a teacher’s explicit permission.
  • Not intentionally access, transmit, copy, or create material that is illegal (such as obscenity, stolen materials, or illegal copies of copyrighted works).
  • Not buy, sell, advertise, or otherwise conduct business, unless approved as a school project.

Students may, if in accord with the policy above

  1. Use the laptop, its software, and the school’s IT resources to communicate, collaborate, and create original works as enrichment or extensions of the school’s curriculum.
  2. Use direct communications such as IRC, online chat, or instant messaging with a teacher’s permission.
  3. Use the resources for any educational purpose.

Consequences for Violation. Violations of these rules may result in disciplinary action, including the loss of a student’s privileges to use the school’s information technology resources.

Supervision and Monitoring. School and network administrators and their authorized employees monitor the use of information technology resources to help ensure that uses are secure and in conformity with this policy. Administrators reserve the right to examine, use, and disclose any data found on the school’s information networks in order to further the health, safety, discipline, or security of any student or other person, or to protect property. They may also use this information in disciplinary actions, and will furnish evidence of crime to law enforcement.

I follow this with my most important messages:

  • Anything you do online is public, repeatable, and permanent: You should be comfortable with seeing it on the screen in gathering
  • Don’t tell anyone else your password (except your parents)
  • Don’t use anyone else’s computer
  • Log out: be wary of autofill passwords
  • Chat is not necessarily with who you think it is (anyone could be looking at the screen, regardless of who is logged in) and nothing is private
  • At higher institutions, the consequences for violation can be expulsion
  • Harassment is never about what you meant

Resources for Speed Geeking

During our Professional Growth and Development day, I’ll be leading a speed geeking session on using RSS feeds in Google Reader. (The tech department got the idea for speed geeking from Kim Cofino.)

We will start with a brief tour of Google Reader:

Finding good blogs:

I think the hardest thing with trying to find blogs that will be interesting is finding the FIRST one. So I’ve created a bundle of my favorite blogs that you can check out: Click this link and then click the “Subscribe button.”


I tend to scroll through my reader a couple times per week. I often get a couple really interesting articles that I like, but I long ago gave up trying to read everything.

Mobile reading:

One reason that I like having everything online is that I read a lot on my iPhone, which can access my google reader through safari or through an app. (I’ve just started playing around with “Feedly,” but there are dozens of apps for reading.)