September 30, 2006

"Creativity 'boosts pupils' work"says UK's Ofsted

So says this BBC article. Sounds interesting, but I have a couple of questions:
  1. Was it working with creative people that made the pupils punctual and better behaved? Or was it just the fact that they were doing something they enjoyed doing? Or was it the fact that they were responsible for something they enjoyed doing? Or combination?
  2. The challenge now was to get them to apply these skills independently.
  3. To get them to apply them? Why get them to do this? Did the students develop these skills because that was the purpose of the program, an explicit goal? Or did they develop these skills because of the environment they were in and the responsibility and pleasure they (presumably) felt in working? If the latter, then the way to get them to apply their skills is simple: offer them opportunities for similar work in similar circumstances.

September 26, 2006

European demand for sushi threatens tuna

Rising European demand for sushi is threatening stocks of tuna. Read more here. Also, did you know that sushi has a very long history, but modern sushi was invented about 100 years ago by Hanaya Yohei?

September 19, 2006

Safety for children online

Serendipity. After reading this report on the growing numbers of kids in the UK using mobile phones (that's cell-phones to the uninitiated), I wanted to compare those figures with those in Japan. While looking for such stats, I came across Childnet International, which includes a page on blog safety. This might be a resource for teachers using blogs with younger children.

September 17, 2006

So we made a video... now what?

I'm grateful to Borderland for writing about this, as I also have a couple of videos students made, videos just sitting on my hard-drive because of privacy and other concerns that weren't addressed before the making of the video.

September 14, 2006

Powerful woman #101

I don't know if Hina Jilani, a UN human rights representative from Pakistan, is on the Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women, but she gets my vote.

She said the most difficult part about her fact-finding work was talking to people who were putting their lives at risk by coming forward, and not being able to ensure their protection.

Disturbing misuse of technology?

A story on the BBC newssite caught my attention: a video of two schoolgirls fighting, taken by a mobile phone and posted to YouTube, has been removed after criticism from anti-bullying campaigners. A member of the Association of Head Teachers commented:
""Both boys and girls have been scrapping as long as there've been boys and girls. But it's the mentality now and the way they think it's OK to stage a fight - because this is a staged fight, it's not one that just happened...What is disturbing for me is the misuse of the technology - of both the phones and the internet... I have to ask parents do you know what your children are doing with their mobile phones? Do they know what they're doing on the internet?"

More disturbing is this:
John Carr, new technology adviser to children's charity NCH, said the fact it was so easy for children to reach a "large audience", encouraged more staged fights than would otherwise happen. Mr Carr said: "There was a case in London not long ago where a young lad was killed and the whole thing was videoed over a mobile phone. The judge was quite clear that it was partly because they wanted to film what they were doing that caused the attack in the first place."

The fight was out of school hours and not on school property, tho from the couple of screenshots on the BBC website, it looks like the girls were still in school uniform.

An unpleasant incident, but great material for a class discussion/debate. The fact that it was videoed, and the suggestion that the fight was staged for that purpose certainly puts the spotlight on technology use, and the darker side of it being easy for children to reach a "large audience"

September 13, 2006

Japanese Jesus

I've always thought Jesus died in Calvary in Palestine. But apparently, I'm wrong. Jesus' grave is actually in Japan, in Aomori. Also, Jesus had a brother. You live and learn, eh?

Read more.

Wow them with technology

I'm on a committee in my university which oversees the information and computer science education. "Information education" (jouhou kyouiku) in Japanese. Halfway through one recent meeting we all moved downstairs to see a demonstration of a video linkup between two classrooms on the two campuses our university has. The two classrooms are just a few kilometres apart as the crow flies, and linked to the same computer network.

Each classroom had two cameras: one at the back of the lecture hall to show the instructor and the screens at the front of the room, and a camera at the front to one side facing the rows of seats. All the cameras can be swiveled and zoomed by remote from the control panel in each room (i.e. the instructor can manipulate the two cameras in the room where she/he is as well as the "remote" ones in the other classroom on the other campus). At the front of the room were two screens: on one was the video image of the other classroom, with a smaller insert showing the image from one of the two cameras in the local classroom. On the other screen was projected the image from the overhead projector, then the image from a laptop plugged into the console. As the demonstrator showed the image of the overhead projector, we could see, on the other screen, the same image shown on the screen of the other classroom. Same with the image from the laptop. There was a slight lag, and any movement was also rather jerky, but it was manageable (video would have been problematic, tho).

I was impressed by the technology. Not so much that it exists (it's not that new, after all), but the fact that we had it installed. It must cost a lot.

There was absolutely no discussion of the pedagogical implications. It all seemed to be organized on the assumption that the instructor is the source of knowledge and that knowledge is essentially information to be transmitted, altho of course the 2-way video suggests that students in the two classrooms could interact, either with the remote instructor or with each other (altho I wasn't able to find out how to plug extra, say, radio mikes into the sound system). To be fair, those demonstrating the system were technicians, not teachers, but then again, why weren't teachers involved in the demonstration? It all seemed so unproblematic except for the technical issues ("what does this button do? How do you do such-and-such?").

So it was with some bemusement that I read this article today on trying to woo young learners to Latin by means of technology.

Why try to woo them? According to the article, the aim is one of
making the classical world accessible for as many students as possible, whatever their type of school, age or social backgrounds.

I like that: as if the egalitarianism of the purpose justifies the whole venture. So the purpose is .... ?
It hopes that the approach will rewaken an interest in Latin in the hundreds of schools where it is no longer taught on the syllabus.
And this is desirable because...?
A decline in the popularity of Latin and Greek has led to a slump in the number of specialist teachers.

So this is just to keep present classics teachers employed, then? Is that really the best they can come up with? The cynicism of this implication seems to have been lost on the author of the article. Perhaps a little Latin would have helped her/him. (There's probably a great Latin quote from Horace or some other wit that encapsulate my point here, but.... I didn't get my Latin O-level).

Senior lecturers suffering morale crisis (UK)

I will cut this out, paste it on my wall, give copies to my colleagues and bosses...

Lecturers over the age of 50 are the unhappiest in their university jobs and almost half would quit now if they could, found a University and College Union (UCU) poll, released today.

UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "We have a group of incredibly devoted and hardworking lecturers in their 50s, many of who are clearly very unhappy.

"In a sector where age and wisdom have traditionally been synonymous, I cannot understand why universities are failing to treat their staff with respect they deserve. All too often, it is this group that are the first to be considered for voluntary redundancy, and little is done to consider their needs and how best to use their wealth of experience and knowledge."

Future of Learning in a Networked World - New Zealand

The amazing Barbara Dieu tells me about  The Future of Learning in a Networked World conference in New Zealand which she will be attending along with an impressive list of bloggers and educators. Not just in one place but travelling through New Zealand which sounds like a lot of fun.

September 11, 2006

Be good... or else!

Hmm, interesting. Some universities in Britain are forcing students to sign good behaviour contracts where they promise to attend lectures and tutorials, and agree that  any breach of contract may lead to expulsion:

Thousands of undergraduate students are being forced to sign good
behaviour contracts with their universities and warned they could be
expelled if they breach regulations, the Guardian has learned.The
contracts put the onus on students to attend lectures and tutorials,
but have been condemned by the National Union of Students. The NUS claims the contracts are "one-sided", and do not spell out what
standard of teaching students should expect to get for the
£3,000-a-year top-up tuition fees they are being charged.
What do you think of that?

September 09, 2006

The Boondocks

The Boondocks is a cartoon I get daily in my email. Recently, it's about a couple of young black kids who become the ONLY black kids to go to a white school. First, it's the principal's job to tell the aging white teacher that he is going to have a very bright black kid in his class, and helps him get prepared (!). Then the kid himself refuses to go, simply because the school is called Edgar Hoover Elementary. After reading Lisa Delpit's Other People's Children, and living in a completely different environment, I find this hilarious and educational at the same time.

September 07, 2006

More women-power

Speaking of powerful women, Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation tells of a new radio startup called Greenstone Media, for the launch of which she will interview Greenstone Media board member Gloria Steinem. (And check out the other board members.)

Kiss corporate life goodbye - join academia

Chris Pearson is a self-employed website designer and general geek. I came across his blog while looking for help with putting a Flickr "badge" in the sidebar of a WordPress blog I have. Chris' instructions were the most detailed and helpful I had yet found, but still I was unable to make the Flickr photos appear on my page. So I added a comment to Chris' blog-post, explaining my predicament. A few hours later (if that), I got an email from Chris himself giving me some hints and info. It took a couple more emails back and forth for me to achieve the result I wanted, but Chris replied very promptly, knowledgeably and with patience. I was impressed.

Chris' blog is a little too geekish for my needs, but I was interested to read this post on how to kiss corporate life goodbye. The comments are pretty funny, especially this one:
You sound like one of those infomercial guys selling books on how to make ten grand a day for sitting on your ass and placing tiny ads in the backs of magazines. heh

I found another method of avoiding the corporate world that is better suited to the risk-averse geek: working in higher education.

Altho first prize goes to,
Unemployment allows similar freedoms without all those pesky tasks like appointments, doing work and making bank deposits.

The 100 most powerful women

Update: On the other hand, there's this.

This is kind of in "alternative views" category, tho I don't know HOW alternative it really is, but it's kinda cool anyway.
Forbes has a slide-show of "the 100 most powerful women". Just click on the link and the slideshow runs by itself. Below each photo there's a link to find out more about the person, something I will have to do as I don't know 99% of the women who've appeared in my slideshow so far. (I don't watch TV. Maybe that has something to do with it?)

I don't know what Forbes' definition of "powerful" is (women who've "made it" in a man's world?).... OK, JK Rowling just appeared (without glasses), there's ONE I know.... This is embarrassing. Many of the women are white, but not all are North American, which shows that Forbes isn't as parochial or ethnocentric as many North American organizations (I was afraid it would be something like "all the women who've appeared on Oprah in the last xxx years").

Anyway, it's a kind of cool, Internetty way  of getting some education.

September 06, 2006

Triple Yay!

Yay! #1:
Your blog has been reviewed, verified, and cleared for regular use so that it will no longer appear as potential spam. If you sign out of Blogger and sign back in again, you should be able to post as normal. Thanks for your patience, and we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. Sincerely,
The Blogger Team
I was on the point of abandoning Blogger, it was such a pain: I couldn't post from Firefox's Performancing, or even from Blogjet because the "spam blog" label meant that I had to type in the stupid little letters every bloody time before I could post. Initially, Performancing would at least post it as a draft, but even that wasn't working recently. Blogjet could park my post as a draft. AND BLogjet gave me this useful bit of info: a URL where I could apply to have the "spam" label removed. Until I read that, I has assumed I just had to wait until Blogger got around to reviewing my blog in their own time. It was about 1 week after I applied, that I got the above clearance from

Yay! #2: thanks to GTDGmail, I've completely emptied my Gmail inbox of over 1,000 emails!!

Yay! #3: thanks to GTD and Outlook, I've re-organized my Outlook email, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes, and completely emptied my email inbox!! (and no, it wasn't just a matter of selecting them all and hitting the delete, button).

How academics are like the 19th c laborers

A friend sent me this opinion piece from the NY Times, on how academics are like the 19th century laborers, in that they have control over their own time, a large factor in job satisfaction. It’s actually more about 19th century laborers than about academics today, a fact which is explained by a footnote which tells the reader,

Tom Lutz is the author of “Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers and Bums in America.”

It’s interesting, but I would be more interested in the dynamics of change in the academic world: there are forces at work changing the academic landscape, what are those forces? How do they impact academic life for both teachers and students? Jacques Barzun had some interesting things to say about that. Is there nothing worth saying on this matter since he wrote that 15 years ago?

September 04, 2006

Need more math students? Give 'em cash!

An Oxford college head has suggested cash incentives to lure more students into taking maths to A-level.

What caught my attention, tho, was the photo caption:

Maths has been losing popularity to less academic subjects

So “academic” means “difficult”?


Or perhaps History, English, in fact all the "arts" subjects, are "less academic" than the sciences? Maybe it's just me, but this strikes me as the kind of detail an editor is paid to spot before it is printed for the world to see.

September 03, 2006


Barbara Dieu sent me a message about co-link. I need to play around with it some more. Right now, I can’t tell if it’s something interesting or not. It looks interesting…

Firefox's Live Bookmarks + Firefox Japanese version

Better late than never.. I just figured out how Firefox’s “Live Bookmarks” works. This is Firefox’s RSS reader.

It took me quite a while to track down the info I needed, but I finally got there Check it out. Also, the Japanese version is now up and running.

I was initially looking for an add-in that would track auctions on Yahoo! Auctions Japan, but Firefox extensions only handle eBay. Then I came across  this (page in Japanese) promo on the Yahoo!Japan website for Firefox. The screenshots and explanation seem to indicate Firefox Japanese version supports Yahoo!Auction (Japan) tracking. The English version will probably do it, too, on second thoughts, because it’s not an extension, nor a Yahoo!Toolbar (Yahoo!Toolbar -Jpns version – will not run on Firefox … yet). It’s just different Yahoo!Auctions open in different Firefox tabs. Still, the wild goose chase did teach me a few things.

September 01, 2006

Decline in SAT scores, or manufactured crisis?

Borderland posted about a report on reading recently, and the Washington Post apparently has an article about the decline in SAT scores. I haven't read it yet, but Matthew Yglesias guest-bloggling at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog, for one, is sceptical. A two or three point drop means we should all throw up our hands in despair? Or is there a less honorable purpose, aka scare-mongering? And here's a follow-up from Matt's readers.

More on tainting and misuse of language

Purely from a linguistic point of view, I'm interested in how language is used by different groups in bids for power. Media and politics are the usual battlegrounds here, and, as a kind of followup on my previous post, I came across historian Juan Cole's views on the use of a more recent trendy word; appeasement.

And today, I found this:
Night Owl's Appeasing Republicans gives a brief outline of exactly who the prominent American "appeasers" were in Hitler's day (hint: They weren't Democrats).
Now, I don't want to get into politics here, but I do find this interesting. Also, the Internet makes it possible to investigate for oneself and check facts rather quickly.

And apparently, the next word on the list is fascism. This use of language, rhetoric and propaganda really make a powerful and urgent case for education as developing the bullshit-spotting instinct, as well as a memory for history. And here's someone else who seems to think so, too.

The tainting of words

Update: Speaking of evolving language, here's a new (mis?)use of the verb dignify.

Reading Borderland's musings on (yet another) report that warns of impending economic catastrophe and widespread illiteracy:

the “embedded” math mentors for our new Everyday Math curriculum adoption - today I heard the word embedded, with respect to classrooms, for the first time. Maybe people talk like this in other places? Living in Alaska, I often feel grateful to be out of touch.

First, I was suprised, as the term instantly brought to mind the embedded journalists in the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent cycnical distortion of the term into “in-bed-with”.

This in turn reminded me of something I read long ago when I was studying German literature. (I thought at first it was something by Georg Lukacs, but I think it was something by George Steiner, perhaps this book ). Whoever it was, was writing about how the German language had been tainted by the Nazis because of the associations certain words had. One example given was of words typically used in (particularly anti-Semitic) propaganda films the Nazis made and which many Germans of the time saw (and remembered). As a result, the critic stated, it was not possible to use these words because their past associations were so strongly (and in many cases, disgustingly) (damn! now I can’t use the word “embedded”!) linked to anti-Semitic propaganda and manipulation, and because they were used in movies, the associations included images and sounds.

Of course, living languages are always evolving, and not all changes are the result of propaganda (for a fascinating look at the history of propaganda in the West take a look at Alex Carey) . “Gay”, for instance, can no longer be used to refer to an extrovert, cheerful person.