More Mockery

USA Today’s Dumbest Article (Today, that is)

It appears that desperation breeds sensationalism. USA Today attempts to stave off irrelevancy by publishing nonsense. Modified article below. As usual, footnotes and italics are mine. Some minor deletions of original article may also occur.
Original Article By Erin Thompson, USA TODAY
Teens and young adults are more likely in their free time to check their Facebook page than read a book.

And they are dumber for it.

“If you examine history closely, you’ll see that the only free time option since the dawn of time has been reading books. Now we have one other option, that monstrosity, that corrupter of youth, that Facebook. I think you can see why we’re doomed.”

That is Mark Bauerlein’s contention in The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, How to Sound Arrogant and Make Money Off Bitter Old People), recently released in paperback (Tarcher/Penguin, 236 pp.)

Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University in Atlanta, says Generation Y, ages 16-29, has been shaped by exposure to computer technology since elementary school. Those individuals who are 30 were lucky enough to escape this tragedy entirely and have normal levels of intelligence.

The cost, he says, outweighs the convenience. Kids are writing more than ever online or in text messages, but it’s not the kind of narrative skill needed as adults, he says. “Those forms groove bad habits, so when it comes time to produce an academic paper … or when they enter the workplace, their capacity breaks down.”

“Ask any adult,” Bauerlein states. “They write long research papers on novels virtually everyday. Poetry also abounds. Footnotes and citations are key elements in every adult’s life. In the real world, no one wastes time with personal communications and relationship building.”

Social networking sites can give young users “the sense of them being the center of the universe,” Bauerlein says.

“It’s kind of like an English teacher being interviewed for insulting the intelligence of an entire generation and assuming he knows enough about cognitive development, society, learning, public education etc. to be able to diagnose the exact cause of their “issues,” Bauerline finished. “Our society can’t handle that kind of ego and arrogance.”

That gives them a distorted understanding of how the world works, he says. “If you go into a room of strangers, you don’t know how to relate. You can’t replicate your IM habits,” he says. “It closes people off from a wider engagement with the world1.”

“It’s not like there are going to be other strangers in the room that have been raised like they have. If only they could have avoided all technology so they’d fit in really well with the rest of society. You know, like the Amish do.”

Parents must do more to pull their teens away from technology, including being role models in developing intellectual pursuits: “Talk with your kids. Kids can’t do this by themselves.”

“If only kids could get off of the Facebook and watch Friends reruns with their parents. Remember if lots of people are doing it at the same time it’s communal, even if you can’t actually see or communicate with one another.”

But Gary Small, director of the Center of Aging at the University of California-Los Angeles and co-author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, says teens are just as smart as they ever were. That is why he’s mentioned very briefly at the bottom of this article.

They’re just smart in different ways, Small says. “In some ways (technology) is hindering, in some ways it’s advancing” education, he says. “It teaches our brain a different way of processing things.”

Shortly after this statement Small was added to our list of people who say reasonable things (and should never be interviewed again).

1 The Internet was once rumored to help breakdown borders. This was proven to be untrue in Bauerline’s earlier work “Face to Face: The Only Way Communication Happens.”

Student Brainwashing Proves Effective

Here’s a slightly modified/mockified version of a recent Chronicle article. Some deletions. My additions in italics.

College students were given the chance to ditch a traditional classroom for an online virtual world. Fourteen out of fifteen declined. The fifteenth student was required to return to K12 education to have the rest of the curiosity and spirit beaten out of her.

“We’ve taken great steps to make sure all that spirit is gone by 12th grade.” Lamented Ms. Demeanor, a local principal. “I don’t know what could have happened. We failed her. There’s nothing else I can say.”

When Catheryn Cheal, assistant vice president of e-learning and instructional support at Oakland University, was designing a course on learning in virtual worlds, she thought the best way to research the topic would be to immerse her class into one such world. Her thought was that the “motivating factors identified in games, such as challenge, curiosity, control, and identity presentation” would help the course along.

“Of course she wasn’t thinking,” writes Ms. Demeanor. “How could they adapt to such an environment when we’ve spent so many painstaking years doing just the opposite? Where were the tests? Where were the lectures? She could have killed them.”

While the interactive style could be fun, Ms. Cheal’s students worried they were having too much fun. Students demanded that Ms. Cheal bring them to a classroom to read PowerPoints to them as they hastily scribbled notes or stared vacantly ahead. Other students insisted they turn in long complicated papers on virtual worlds based entirely on second-hand research.

In her recently published study, “Student Perceptions of a Course Taught in Second Life,” Ms. Cheal wrote that the 15 undergraduate students enrolled in the course raised concerns that too much “play” in the assignments inhibited learning. The students also cited problems with the program’s slow speed and with challenges acclimating to virtual life.

“I haven’t had fun in school since kindergarten,” claimed one student. “I don’t want to break that string. Besides learning new things is hard. It’s not like I use technology everyday.”

Although Ms. Cheal admits that the sample size was small, she warns others to be careful when designing new courses that may use a similar approach.

“While there is potential for interactive and engaging education in virtual worlds, those possibilities may be negated if students feel lost with a difficult interface and hardware problems or if students characterize the virtual world as a venue for play incompatible with learning,” she wrote1.

“Exactly,” blasted Ms. Demeanor. “Don’t take risks or push these students. They can’t handle it. Stay with what you, and they, know. Play it safe. The system has proven it works. Don’t mess with the system!”

Marc Beja
Actual author is above with a link to the real article.

And the funny thing is, I don’t even like SecondLife.

1 Ms. Cheal was unavailable for interview but was able to respond to written questions from a re-education camp where she is said to be “recovering nicely.”

Killing People with Bronze Axes

Bronze Age Orientation

The “lessons” in the video are funny because they’re true (I think I’m quoting Homer Simpson)-

  • don’t be a pompous ass (period, but especially not when advocating for a major change)

    positive version – Be humble. You don’t know everything and your way is not the only way.

  • don’t make change a threat or tie it to a threat (the tribes with the bronze axes will kill you, the kids won’t learn etc.)

    positive version – Tie the change to positive outcomes for those involved. Focus on how it will improve their life. Why is it worthwhile for them?

  • don’t put down the old ways (and then they’ll throw away your stone axes because they’re rubbish)

    positive version – Honor the past*. Even if you hate the old way, insulting it will tend to increase resistance to change. In education, the focus should be on adding tools and exploring options rather than in taking them away. The bronze shoes and window are also pretty similar to the “must use twitter based podcasts wikis” in class mentality too often seen in EduBlogosphere Land. Tools are tools and each has its place.

This video shows the hypothetical meeting held to discuss changing from stone age technology to bronze age technology.

You’ve got the reluctance you normally see (funny but done in lots of things) but you also see something of the pomposity and threat possible in the “change agent.” It’s easy to end up seeming/being** pompous when you believe your way is clearly superior and you want others to adopt it.

via Merlin Mann on Mac Break Weekly although not suggested as being in any way educational





*honoring the past does not apply to crazy things like the Nazi party, cult membership etc.


**There is a difference – seeming pompous means you’ll still listen to others despite coming across as a know-it-all, being pompous means you won’t listen because in your heart you do believe you know it all. There’s a fine line between advocating for something and becoming a zealot.

Minx Graphic Novels: Girl-Positive Comics


Minx Comics, published by DC Comics, focuses on girl-positive themes and images.  As a life-long comic book collector (boxes, bags, and the whole nine yards), it has worried me the way women in comics have become hyper-sexualized.  It’s difficult to find a female character who doesn’t seem to be popping out of her costume.  Minx offers a wonderful alternative to the modern super-heroine.  Pass this one onto your librarians!

via BoingBoing

A Future Intro

I made this so we could talk to our staff about the TIP Chart (our technology integration progress rubric- which is pretty good). It’d work well for parents as well. It’s pretty interactive and fun in the beginning with a number of pretty funny questions mocking our ability to predict the future.

The intro slide sets the tone. I basically say “Where is my jet pack?” Then I try to get people talking about what they expected to have in the “future” that hasn’t materialized.

I then pose this question and then invite guesses from the audience as to why this eminent scientist believed high speed train travel would be impossible. After a while I show them the answer.

The key is that it gets people engaged at the beginning and it’s pretty funny- yet it is amazing how quickly things change.

The presentation then segues into what’s going on now. Since we can’t predict the future very well, we might as well show the “futuristic” things going on now. I showed brief selections from a few TED videos that I thought were cool and relevant to the topic. We hit parts of –

It’d also be a great place to discuss what you are doing, or want to do, that prepares kids for a future that you can’t even imagine. The emphasis I put was that change is not linear, it’s exponential and our focus needs to be on creating life long learners who can thrive in change.

If you want the Powerpoint or Keynote 4 file feel free to change and mutate to your heart’s content.

Rap for English

I’ve been playing around with the idea of doing a blog for my middle school focusing on using rap lyrics to get at daily oral language and to build vocabulary. I think the potential is definitely there. I’m worried about two things. Can I come up with material consistently enough to make it worthwhile for the students? Secondly, can/should I use an appropriate portion from an inappropriate song? These are middle school students so it gets a little iffy and the county I’m in is pretty conservative. That being said they are having a Souljah Boy dance party at our school and played a clip from the song today on the intercom. So maybe I could pull this off.

I’d love to use lyrics like the ones below from TI’s “You Don’t Know Me”

You gone make me bring da chevy to a real slow creep
My Partner hangin out the window, mouth fulla gold teeth
When the guns start poppin, wonder when its gonna cease
choppa hitchu on the side and create a slow leak
We can end the speculation cuz today we gone see
What’s the future of a sucka who be hatin on me
i don’t care about the feds investigation on me
I don’t care they at my shows and they waitin on me
Ima keep a flossin poppin long as Toomp is on the beat
Tell police that I ain’t stoppin Ima keep it in the streets
Contrary to yo believes, im as real as you can be

You’ve got great vocabulary in there and you could come at this two ways- have them “translate” this into formal English or write it in formal English and they have to figure out which song it’s from. I’d probably use the former more but the latter would be nice for a change every so often.

The formal version-

Sir, you are going to force me to drive by you slowly in my Chevrolet.
My friend will be leaning out of the window. You’ll notice his teeth are covered in gold.
When the firearms begin to fire, you’ll likely wonder when they are going to cease.
If a bullet impacts your lower abdomen you’ll start to bleed slowly.
There’s no need to speculate because today we will find out for sure
what will be the fate of the unfortunate individual who covets my stature.
I am not concerned about the ongoing federal investigation of my person.
I am under surveillance at my performances and they are waiting for me yet I remain unconcerned.
I will continue to seize life with a joie de vivre as long as the music continues.
Inform the police department that I will continue to be true to my self.
Contrary to your beliefs, I am a forthright and honest individual.

It’d be hard to keep it up on daily basis but even if I had to avoid violence I could probably dig up older stuff. I know I’d have to get it started with new songs though- get some momentum going.

What do you think? Doable? Worth the time/effort? or am I just amusing myself?

Exhibit and Data Visualization

Exhibit V2

The kind and brilliant folks at MIT have come out with a new Exhibit API that allows for more flexibility and power. The bonus is that it looks good doing it. I’ve now revised my Google spreadsheet fed history example to use some of the new power. It’s here if you’re interested.

In the end I opted to mimic their new presidents layout (much like I mimicked their old presidents layout). This time I had a better reason than pure ignorance of the API (I now have impure ignorance after all). Their new layout is really right in line with what I’d like to focus on this year- data visualization/interaction. The new layout has the map right their with the time line. I like that. Time and location on one easy interactive page. Add in their option to sort and hide/expand sets based on the data you define and you’ve got something really powerful that will help students make connections.

A simple example is if I restrict my set to show only “explorers” then suddenly in the map and the time line things change. I notice explorers were mainly earlier and than none were born in the Americas (obvious to you and I but maybe the spark some kids need). Then I switch map views and I see that explorers did die in the Americas which leads into a conversation about the dangers of exploration and their root causes, motivations for enduring the dangers etc.

In the end, I feel I’m getting closer to Hans Rosling (I didn’t say I was there). My goal is data that is powerful and interactive. That’s what I feel is most impressive about what he shows. He gets data moving and that helps you see trends. Now if we could manipulate that data it’d be even more impressive. We need things like that for students. Exhibit is a big step in the right direction with the added bonus of being free and driven from a spreadsheet it becomes nearly irresistible. With the multiple authors that Google spreadsheets allows it can basically become a really interesting wiki interface driven by material your students create.

I’m working on re-writing the tutorials to reflect the new version. I’m not quite smart enough to follow the simple upgrade instructions so I figure some others are in the same boat. Maybe there’s a reason I didn’t go to MIT . . .

The Director’s Bureau Special Projects Idea Generator

levitating animal
So The Director’s Bureau Special Projects Idea Generator generates fairly random three word idea strings like the one above – Do-it-yourself levitating animal.

This is one of those things that I’d love to use in the classroom because it’s so simple and fun. It’s also flexible in terms of how big or small you’d like it to be. It could kill 10 minutes or be part of a whole unit. This particular generator isn’t really fit for student use because it’ll throw in “erotic” and some other iffy stuff but the teacher could spin the wheel a few times and come up with a great phrase for each week. I’d probably screen grab it or make something visual for the word results- as the packaging does matter.

It can then be use for a variety of things. It’d be pretty cool right off as a creative writing or journal prompt but where things would be neat would be in tweaking it to focus on what you’re covering at the time. For instance-

  • Describe the do-it-yourself levitating animal kit using every word from this week’s vocabulary list
  • Write an ad for the do-it-yourself levitating animal creation kit using the bandwagon technique
  • Write two responses to seeing an ad for the do-it-yourself levitating animal kit. In the first one respond in the voice of an excited kid (“I’ve never been satisfied with the levitating animals I got from the store.”) and in the second respond to the ad in the voice of an irritated parent. (“Just what I need around the house- more levitating animals!”)
  • It’d be fun for poetry as well. It could serve as the end of your poem or the first line etc.

You could have contests where the kids vote on the best one or have a whole series where they complete one of each style by the end of the semester. It’d be a great way to get kids thinking creatively and interacting with one another’s ideas.

I found this via Stumble Upon