Reflections on “Blueprint for Armageddon”, WWI podcast series by Dan Carlin @hardcorehistory

Blueprint-for-Armageddon-1-500px1

Podcast “cover” artwork for the first episode.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast series entitled “Blueprint for Armageddon.” With six episodes and over 22 hours total, it was a major undertaking. And I don’t didn’t even like history! Like a good story teller does, he pulls you in and weaves a tale that you want to listen to, almost regardless of the content. But in the process, I became fascinated with the war itself, the technological changes, and the process of trying to imagine what it was like on the ground and what it was like to be alive and in the world at that time.

I think like most Americans who experience the normal high school curriculum, my experience with learning World War I was  in March/April of my sophomore year, at which point we highlighted enough major details (trench warfare, Wilson’s 14 points, Entente vs. Allies) in order to understand the seeds of World War II. We would move on quickly to World War II, which ran into the last weeks of the year and the cold war/60s/70s/80s were oh-by-the-way mentioned. You get the distinct message that WWI just isn’t worth focusing on, but in this (extensive) telling of the story, I was amazed at how, on many fronts other than just military history like the development of technology and social movements, this war set up not just WWII but an entire era that affects our beliefs today. Continue reading

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Boy and the Dandelion

Alexander and the dandelion

Tonight our technology and leadership class met at the Bubbler, a maker program/space at the downtown branch of the Madison Public Library, in order to learn more about the maker movement. In their media lab, we got to use their set up for stop motion animation, and this was actually the first time I’d ever done a project like this, despite all the times I’ve supported it with kids. This was inspired by my weekend with my son, who currently loves finding dandelions, picking them, and blowing away all the florets. Enjoy!

Looking back: How nostalgia gets it wrong

If you were a white, stereotypical, middle- or upper-class male, the past probably was lovely. But if you were female, non-white, an immigrant, LGBTQ, or just didn’t fit into your narrowly defined gender role, it was an oppressive time. It wasn’t until I heard Reverand Bill Sinkford speak at First Unitarian in Portland that someone articulated the problem with nostalgia.

What inspired this post? This article from The Independent by psychology professor Dr. Peter Gray. I agree whole heartedly with his research on the importance of play, but in the third paragraph, he writes,

“I’m lucky. I grew up in the United States in the 1950s, at the tail end of what the historian Howard Chudacoff refers to as the “golden age” of children’s free play. The need for child labour had declined greatly, decades earlier, and adults had not yet begun to take away the freedom that children had gained. We went to school, but it wasn’t the big deal it is today. School days were six hours long, but (in primary school) we had half-hour recesses in the morning and afternoon, and an hour at lunch. Teachers may or may not have watched us, from a distance, but if they did, they rarely intervened.”

I doubt that it was that simple, and I doubt that this was really true for a majority of kids. What about African-, Asian-, Latino-, Irish-, Jewish- or Native-Americans? What about poor white kids? Were they enjoying unprecedented free time after school where they could roam the streets safely? What about kids who were questioning their sexuality or who knew that they were different? What about girls who were told that their life goal was to find a husband and keep a house? How did they feel about being “lucky” in the 1950s?

This article from the Atlantic quotes These Happy Golden Years when a snow storm requires Laura Ingalls Wilder to get to work teaching school with no snow plows to make her own way, but she never thinks about canceling school or a 2-hour delay and even marks some kids tardy. Oh how wonderful life was back when people worked hard without complaint and kids respected their elders! Wendy McClure is quoted as saying, “You have to admit that the Little House books are constructed, and there were definite artistic decisions and efforts to portray things a certain way, and leave out other things.” This is the most important piece of this article: memories are inaccurate or incomplete.

Homecoming Sunday at First Unitarian Church was a profound turning point in my understanding of nostalgia. In his sermon on Sept 11, 2011, called Paradise Found, Reverend Bill Sinkford puts it succinctly,

“Now, nostalgia has its place. There’s merit in that vision and integrity in that lifestyle…. But looking backward to a lost eden can also be a retreat. A retreat from this world that can feel so difficult to understand and to navigate well, filled with so many obstacles to health and wholeness. This world can be unfair and even dangerous. It can be appealing, even seductive to wish the present away, and seek a return to a simpler way, a purer and more innocent time. A time before people of color and undocumented workers and their families became such a problem. A time when gender roles were clear and distinct. A time of abundance with the economy growing and jobs plentiful. A time of security and confidence in the future….

The main problem with yearning for [the ideal past], however, is not in the specifics. The main problem is that it encourages a rejection of this world here and now, with all of its beauty and possibility, as well as its problems. There is no encouragement to take responsibility for the way we live now and little incentive to help create heaven, here on Earth, in that vision.

… Eden never existed, of course. Or rather, it existed for only a small slice of our people. If you were poor or a person of color or queer the only place for you in that Eden was as a laborer, a servant or in the closet. Poor women and women of color always worked. And even if you were lucky enough to be middle class and white, the gender roles were constraining at best. There was unhappiness even in those households.”

We have different social, environmental, medical, and psychological problems today than they had sixty years ago, that’s for sure, and 60 years from now they will be different too. I would rather engage with the world as it is and let my vision of the future evolve, than escape into inaccurate and incomplete memories that belie a better time. It is here and now that I use my privilege to work for a better, fairer, more just world.

Quotes from Kids

I asked the following question on my end of year survey/laptop check in (using a simple Google form, of course):

What do you wish teachers/adults would STOP saying, specifically about computers, phones, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.?

Nothing, I think most all of the things teachers/adults ask about computers are reasonable.

Awwww. So sweet and trusting.

Live in the moment. Lots of time I will be living in my moment and keeping up with my friends, and they don’t realize that is how I do it.

Love this. Made me think of this Don’t Carpe Diem  article from the Huffington Post.

I wish adults would stop saying that we can’t lend other people our chargers, but during class when someone asks tells them to borrow a charger.

#kidscallingusout

I think the teachers should be much more aggressive about people goofing off in class. I regularly see people steaming videos, on inappropriate humor sites, and playing downloaded games such as Super Crate Box or Super Mario during class time when they should be working. There is also a lot of phone use during the day. I don’t have a Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr account (let alone know how to use them), and I don’t like most internet sites, so internet distractions are not a problem for me. I think many more sights than the ones currently blocked should be.

JUSTICE FOR ALL! Also, it’s sites, not sights. Darn those English homonyms.

facebook is stoopid, twitter is stooped, videogames are a waste of time

Lolz.

I ❤ Middle School.

Parent Meeting Today

This is my first week back at work after my maternity leave. Although it’s hard to leave him at home, it was reaffirming to be welcomed back and know that I’m in the right place. I love my job.

Today, I was asked to speak to 6th and 7th grade parents during their breakout sessions about technology. I wanted to reestablish our connection, reiterate my tenets, and invite conversation.

My main points:

  1. My role is to support student learning and healthy growth for our kids, i.e. the school mission. This includes managing the hardware and making sure it all works + managing the use by students, teachers, and parents.
  2. My three tenets that I always come back to are: Build a Common Culture, Stay Informed, and Start the Conversation.
  3. I am the parents’ tech coordinator too – when they call or stop by to ask questions, it keeps me informed and helps us all troubleshoot together.

I definitely see parenting differently now. I look at my son, who is just beginning to reach for toys, and wonder when he’ll be reaching for the iPad, and think about all these hard conversations that we have in store. I hope I can be as calm and rational as a parent as I can be as a tech coordinator.

Evernote

This isn’t a new tool, but I seem to continue to find ways to use it.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I’ll be presenting at NCCE in March. I’ve begun my literature review phase in trying to dig up a whole bunch of resources to read or reread. I found my way to gamification.org and wanted to save it. So I made a new notebook for my gaming presentation and used the Safari webclipper (best thing ever) to automatically put it in the “Gaming presentation” notebook with the tag “research” and a couple notes about he site. I love that it goes in with one click!

I think I’ll make a note that outlines my research process and timeline.

I also have the Evernote app on my phone and iPad (yes, there are many devices in this household!) so if I’m reading on either of those, I can also put things into the notebook and it will all sync. Perfectly. Hopefully.

I still keep a pad of paper for doodling and brainstorming – I haven’t, and probably won’t ever, gone completely paperless.

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?

Rescuing Time, Part 2: Productivity Tools

I love me some organization!

Though I’m not always neat, I like things to be where they should be. The tools listed below are an odd assortment of ways I manage my computer, my work, and my classroom.

Resource share of productivity tools:

For your Mac

  1. Rescue Time: This downloads onto your computer, and you preset what applications and websites are deemed productive or distracting, then it monitors your usage. You can set productivity goals or alerts that let you know when you’ve been too distracted.
  2. WebDesktop: This allows you to put a website on the background of your desktop. I use it to show my Google Calendar, which keeps me organized for appointments and meetings.
  3. Good old Stickies: Application that comes on your OS X. They save automatically, you can collapse and organize them, and it gives you a place to put random notes (that you would have previously put on an actual sticky).

In Google Apps

  1. Calendars. I’d be lost without mine.
  2. Self Grading forms: script-based Flubaroo, array formulas (happy to share how to do this).
  3. Collections = automatic sharing: share a collection and then just drop your docs in rather than having to go to each document and share it.

iPhone

  1. CalenGoo ($6.99) or GooCal (Free): I personally use CalenGoo, but they both work. Or you can link the native iOS Calendar app to all your Google Calendars by using this link.
  2. WunderList (Free): You can share lists, check off items, put attach items to dates.
Please leave comments with YOUR suggestions – what do you use?

Doodley Doo

I found myself in a 2 hour meeting with no pen or pencil, wishing desperately to be able to doodle, SO THAT I COULD STAY FOCUSED.

http://ted.com/talks/view/id/1230

I doodled while watching her talk, and now I kind of want someone to analyze my doodles.

(My doodle, uploaded by taking a picture with my iPhone using the Genius Scan app, which can make images into pdfs.)

I found myself thinking that my doodles were kind of limited, and that sometimes I can’t think of what to draw and end up just coloring in boxes. This makes me despair about my lack of divergent thinking, like Sir Ken Robinson talks about in his video.

Vi Hart is a mathemusician who has videos of math doodles about number theory. (My favorite is the binary trees.) Also check out the binary hand dance, infinite elephants, and what’s up with noises.

Doodling also ties in with the importance of visual literacy in the world today. Students are exposed to visuals every day (think billboards, tv commercials, magazines) and need to be TAUGHT to be critical thinkers of what they are seeing. Cheryl Lemke writes a great article, “Innovation Through Technology” on this in 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. They learn this by both thinking about visuals and creating them. Some people (myself included) express themselves better visually, and therefore learn better this way.

To sum up:

More doodling + more art = more learning.