August 28, 2007

Freedom: what is it?

Doug "Borderland" has another thoughtful and thought-provoking post, this time on start-of-the-year "class management" problems, also called emergence...

To be brutal, I didn't understand much of it, but I enjoyed the T-shirt, I mean the comments, especially Stephen Downes', where he discussed the meaning of freedom.

  1. I recently read The Road to Serfdom by Austrian economist F.A. Hayek, originally written in 1944. The Amazon reviews give a good gist of the book (the statement that Hayek influenced Reagan and Thatcher should neither put off the inquisitive reader nor pre-dispose her to agree or disagree). Freedom is only one of several themes in this book, but it presented ideas I had not come across before, in particular the warning that the ideals of socialism (fairness, spreading the wealth, etc) often blind believers to the strong possibility that centralized government control will lead to totalitarianism. At the time, Britain had long adopted many of the laws and concepts of centralised government and a planned economy; Hayek indicated that Nazi Germany was merely a decade or two further along the same road. Very short book, worth a read.

  2. Jon Rappoport's work somewhat supports Hayek's thesis that centrally planned and organized government is ripe for abuse by what he terms "cartels", which aim to gain ever increasing amounts of control over an ever increasing number of areas of human activity, consequently limiting the personal and creative freedom of those humans. The solution, or antithesis, he proposes is for individuals to make full use of their power to desire, to imagine and to realize (make real) what they imagine and desire - the creative force, if you will. He sees cartels as being essentially groups of psychopathic individuals who are in fact unwittingly trying to alienate individuals from their creative power, their freedom, because individuals who have been so alienated are easier to manipulate and control. Freedom, therefore, is something we create for ourselves, using our power to imagine and create what we most deeply desire. It is the antithesis of the desire to control others and demonstrates itself as a refusal to be controlled by others. I connect the desire and power to control, in ever increasing degrees, to centralisation (something Rappoport hints at if I remember, but perhaps I'm projecting). Centralisation - the transfer of power from the many to the few - allows cartels to accelerate their grab for power and control, and is therefore antithetical to true freedom. (Click here for an interview with Rappoport: tho it's ostensibly about his plans for an arts centre, he essentially lays out his philosophy concerning creative power and freedom).

Hayek also connects centralised planning with the homogenization of thought (leading to suppression of individual thought and dissent), e.g. this quote from E.H. Carr:
It is significant that the nationalisation of thought has proceeded everywhere pari passu with the nationalisation of industry.

Disclaimer: I'm not advocating here the ideas of either Hayek or Rappoport. They are merely two writers whose work has prompted in me a re-think of my understanding of freedom. Click the links and read at your own risk, etc, etc.

Marzano - a comment

After coming across Dr Marzano on the Excelsior Gradebook website, I did a little search (never afraid of hard work, me), and found this inspiring review of one of Marzano's books, Classroom Assessment & Grading That Work.

Another Marzano book What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action has the blurb
Any school in the United States can operate at advanced levels of
effectiveness-if it is willing to implement what is known about
effective schooling. "If we follow the guidance offered from 35 years
of research," says author Robert J. Marzano, "we can enter an era of
unprecedented effectiveness for the public practice of education."
That's all we need to do? Follow the guidance from a staggering 35 years of research? You mean that hasn't been tried before? What a genius! I foresee an era of unprecedented effectiveness for the public practice of education! He's right! Waddaya mean, look at the track record? History is dead!

Still, I'm intrigued. I ordered some of his books (not the ones mentioned here, unfortunately, couldn't find those) via inter-library loan and we shall see what we shall see, boys and girls.

Online photo editor

I just bought a new computer (Windows Vista) which comes with some very basic photo editing software (I'm also playing with Picasa to see if that will do the resizing and cropping that I want), the rather clunky Windows photo gallery (at least that's what it's called in Japanese), so when I read Larry Ferlazzo's blog entry about FotoFlexer, an online photo-editing app, I quickly clicked on it.

I just played with the demo, and it does all the basic stuff I want to do - resizing, cropping and some simple effects. I'm too cheap to spring for Photoshop which will come with a ton of features I'll never use.

August 27, 2007

Online grading

Last month, after making one too many errors typing in my grades into Excel, I decided to try an online grading system: I'm using's 1-month trial, and so far have been pleased.

Today, I also found Engrade Online Gradebook but did not sign up for the free account after the guided tour balked at the first fence. I also found Excelsior's Gradebook which is not an online app but a program you download (also free). I clicked around on Excelsior's site and read a bit about Marzano. Anyone know of him or read his stuff? He's photogenic, that's for sure. His products must be good, then, eh?

Do you use online gradebooks? If so, which one? Any recommendations?

Funny ads

Via Google (click on "add more content" to your iGoogle page), I discovered Funny Ads. I've had it on my iGoogle page for a few days, but didn't watch any of them until today. A number are in languages other than English (some of those have English subtitles), and a number are "silent", where the pictures tell the whole story.

Humour is an element common to all those I saw at a quick glance, and I think they would be great for teaching English, e.g. as prompts for a writing assignment (write the story you saw, create your own ad), or a speaking task (tell your partner what you saw; what is the ad for? Do you think it's an effective ad? Why/why not?), or a multimedia project (create your own ad, video it, upload to Internet).

My favourite is the Deutsche Postbank one.

August 26, 2007

Japanese Wikipedia resources

As I'm at present teaching a class on World News, and as I found some of the info on Wikiepedia and bias and the Neutral Point of View page to be of possible value to those World News students, I tried to find the equivalent pages in the Japanese version of Wikipedia. Here's what I found after just 10 minutes searching; if you find better, more relevant ones, please post them in the comments -
  1. Wikipedia:ウイキぺディアへようこそ a general introductory page to the concept and purpose of Wikipedia, including guidelines for contributors, and containing links to more specific pages on point of view, checking sources, copyright, etc.

  2. Wikipedia:記事を執筆する (kiji wo shippitsu suru) guidelines for contributors, including a brief mention (with links) to the neutral point of view (chuuritsu na kanten 中立的な観点)
    and to using reliable sources (shinrai dekiru jouhougen 信頼できる情報源)

  3. Wikipedia:五本の柱 (go-hon no hashira - the 5 pillars or key principles of Wikipedia)

  4. Wikipedia:基本方針とガイドライン (kihon houshin to gaidorainu - basic policies and guidelines), a long and detailed page which my students may not have the patience or motivation to read, nor me!

  5. Wikipedia:信頼できる情報源 (shinrai dekiru jouhougen - reliable sources of information), referred to above. This looks very promising as it alone of the pages I've seen and referred to above is bilingual, with the English on the left and the Japanese on the right.
    In particular, I think I'll use the some definitions (fact, opinion, primary source, etc), and
    beware false authority.

Roundup August 26th, 2007

From a comment Larry left, I discovered his blog, and from there this page of resources for students. An impressive list, although there are lots more resources than student-produced pages.

One of the links was to Dandelife "a social biography network".

One of the stories I clicked on at random referred to sleep apnea and a successful treatment this guy found called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, which I wasn't particularly interested in until I read this: The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.

The Wikipedia article on this topic and a related one on the Neutral Point of View, are both fascinating, revealing a global awareness and how this affects point of view, bias and accuracy in writing, something I blogged about a few months ago: blogging to broaden your perspective. If you're writing on the Internet, you can assume you'll get readers from all over the world, and you can't assume, as so many writers do, that your readers are like you, or have the same point of view.

On the Wikipedia page on countering systemic bias, I found these points to be particularly interesting:
  • The origins of bias
    The average Wikipedian on English Wikipedia is (1) male, (2) technically inclined, (3) formally educated, (4) a native or non-native English-speaker, (5) white, (6) aged 15–49, (7) from a nominally Christian country, (8) from an industrialized nation, (9) from the Northern Hemisphere, and (10) likely to be employed in intellectual rather than practical or physical jobs (see Wikipedia:User survey and Wikipedia:University of Würzburg survey, 2005).

  • Why [bias] matters and what to do
    Many editors contribute to Wikipedia because they see Wikipedia as progressing towards, though never reaching, an ideal state as a repository of human knowledge. The more idealistic may see Wikipedia as a vast discussion on what is true and what is not from a "neutral point of view" or "God's Eye View". The idea of a systemic bias is thus far more troubling than even widespread intentional vandalism. Vandalism can be readily identified and corrected. The existence of systemic bias means that not only are large segments of the world not participating in the discussion, but that there is a deep-rooted problem in the relationship of Wikipedia, its contributors and the world at large.

    The systemic bias of the English Wikipedia is permanent. As long as the demographic of English speaking Wikipedians is not exactly identical to the world demographic, the vision of the world presented on the English Wikipedia will always be askew. Thus the only way systemic bias would disappear would be if the population of the world all spoke English at the same level of fluency and had equal access and inclination to use the English Wikipedia. However, the effects of systemic bias may be mitigated through conscious effort. This is the goal of the Countering systemic bias project.

    There are many things you may do, listed roughly from least to most intensive:
    * See if there are web pages on a particular subject which were written by people from other countries or cultures. It may provide you other places to look or other points of view to consider.
    * Be more conscious of your own biases in the course of normal editing. Look at the articles you work on usually and think about whether they are written from an international perspective. If not, you might be able to learn a lot about a subject you thought you knew by adding content with a different perspective.
    * Occasionally edit a subject that is systemically biased against the pages of your natural interests. The net effect of consciously changing one out of every twenty of your edits to something outside your "comfort zone" would be substantial.

August 21, 2007


Here's a roundup of some of my Google Reader content this morning:
  1. The Wow Factor - from NextGenTeachers by Justin Medved - introduces Animoto, an online app that creates presentations that look very cool and apparently easy to produce in a short time. The free version limits you to 30-second presentations. Here's one of random Japan images.
    . (Check out the YouTube trailer to an upcoming comedy called Balls of Fury).
  2. Jimbo's English Teaching in Japan Blog has an interesting self-reflective entry about a recent frustrating teaching experience that I can certainly relate to and I'm sure many other teachers can, too.
  3. And speaking of self-reflective, Ebele, a brassy, sassy British blogger, posts on one of her blogs, Can We Pay U? a link to another blogger taking a hard, honest look at himself and his blog, Robert Scoble: I was reading Darren Rowse's blog the other day - about a guy called Robert Scoble. Robert wrote a very self-reflective blog questioning whether he was still doing what excited him. Carrying a new-born baby in his arms brought that and other questions to the fore. And it did make me think. So I made a list. Robert Scoble has decided to take a break from his prolific blogging to reconsider how he can best add value, and spend more time with his family (in this case, I don't think that's a euphemism)
  4. Catherine Austin Fitts blogs a short list of recent financial or related news articles. Catherine's website is a rich (pun intended) source of information about money and financial matters, including historical background, and includes some fascinating audio seminars (some for free, but most you need to buy). Catherine was a Wall Street banker for many years, then worked in Bush 41's administation in the Department of Housing, her main aim was to understand how money works. If you read Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad or any of that series and are interested in furthering your own financial education, then you might find of interest (I'm aware of some of the criticism and controversy surrounding Kiyosaki, and it's worth bearing in mind). Some of Catherine's historical background articles are from her own experience, and they are just as gripping as the best whodunit. If you enjoyed Gatto's Underground History of American Education, then you might enjoy Catherine's articles because they take an alternative, insider's look at how money really works. Catherine's Solari concept is SRI (Socially Responsible Investment) but turbo-charged.

August 03, 2007

Video day

David St Lawrence lives in Floyd County and writes about a festival held there. There I found a link to Spiral Hoop Dancer Vivian. Spiral & Earth Dance Festival
I could watch this for hours. She is having such fun, and she apparently did not know she was being videoed. Plus it doesn't hurt that she's very sexy. (This vid is work- and family-safe).

Dan Meyer, math-teacher extraordinaire and a dab hand at making and using online videos lists some of his resources, amongst which was Ticklebooth, a repository for all kinds of intriguing stuff, one of which is Homeless, a non-verbal CG short with beautiful colours and music, about a bag-lady.

Are you gullible? Let this video be a lesson to you. (Warning: if you have religious beliefs, you might find parts of this offensive).

Floods in the UK

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain.
He fell in a puddle
Right up to his middle
And never went there again.

But remember, kids: global warming's just something Al Gore made up coz he was sore at losing the election.

August 02, 2007

Way out of boredom and despair

For all of us working in educational institutions, there is hope: a way has been found out of boredom and despair.

Since the prison's physical fitness programme was redesigned Crisanto and his fellow inmates have become musical stars.

Some of the 1500 inmates at Cebu now perform mass choreographed dance moves to the strains of Michael Jackson's Thriller, Queen's Radio Gaga and a number from the hit film Sister Act among others.

Byron Garcia, a security consultant at the prison, says the thinking behind the move was

Click to read more.

The bit that really caught my attention tho was this sentence about halfway through: Vince Rosales, a city engineer, was drafted in by the prison as a choreographer a year ago...

A what? Was drafted by whom? As a what?!? I mean, when you need a choreographer, that's the first place you go, right? The Engineering Department! The article is curiously silent about this most curious of facts.

(Hat-tip to James of Recent Reflections for the link).

August 01, 2007

Interesting game site for young keyboard users

Just found this plug for online game and web designer, Ferry Halim, on the NextGen Teachers blog, and wanted to promote it here. I haven't tried all the games yet, but they look like fun. I'll be introducing my youngest daughter to them soon.