Archive for April, 2010


Why Schools Are Turning to Google Apps

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Oregon is heading for the cloud.

On Wednesday, the Oregon Department of Education began offering Google Docs to every school district in the state, introducing the power of cloud-based computing to boost collaborative, interactive learning. With school funding taking a big hit in the recession, this move will save Oregon more than $1.5 million a year. Not to mention the huge gains the students will make now that technology is catching up to them.

From Mashable:

Today, the entire public school system of Oregon will embrace Google Apps. 400,000 Students, teachers, and administrators will have access to a common e-mail and chat system, cloud-based collaboration tools, and a robust multimedia streaming service…

Principal Jason Levy, who helped usher in Google Apps for New York’s Intermediate School 339 (see the PBS documentary below) finds that 47% of students now perform at grade level for math, up from 27%. Additionally, both Thiele and Levy observe greater focus and fewer disciplinary problems. “Behavior has improved, attendance is higher, and suspension levels have fallen,” reports Levy.

Both educators’ observations are par for the course, as other classroom experiments confirm that technology in education helps to boost student interest.

It’s not hard to understand why. “People talk a lot about kids — that they can’t focus and sustain their concentration. Well, neither can I,” admits Levy. Embracing children’s need to be social, combined with their rapid adoption of technology, is an organic way to work with the grain of human curiosity.

Read the whole article here.

 
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LISTEN: Anya Kamenetz Talks DIY U on WritersCast

Friday, April 30th, 2010

From the traditional classroom to à la carte online open courseware and everything in between, the options available to post-high school learners have never been more varied—or more daunting. In this interview, Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, talks with David Wilk of WritersCast, the podcast of authors and their work, to discuss her book and the future of higher education.

From WritersCast:

I loved talking to Anya Kamenetz and wish we had more time to talk – not just about her book and the work she did to write it, but her incisive ideas and her many interests in modern, connected culture.  We had a great conversation talking about her book and so many of her ideas.  She’s incredibly intelligent, has complete command of her subject and is a terrific writer  – her extensive experience as a journalist serves her well both in conversation and in the longer form of a full length book.  She can work with big swatches of information and ideas and make them clear and understandable, and importantly, never bores her readers.  Hopefully I’m not alone in wanting see this book help us envision and then implement significant change in education, learning and social change.  This is a book that can make a real difference.

Listen Now

 
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Will Anderson: The Carbon-Zero House Builder

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Eco-builder Will Anderson (Homes for a Changing Climate: Adapting Our Homes and Communities to Cope with the Climate of the 21st Century) built a home that actually produces more energy than it consumes. Anderson modeled his home after the tree that forms its central pillar: the tree regenerated new solar cells every year and shut down every winter. In short, it was adaptable. As a young architecture student, Anderson challenged himself to build a home on the same ecological principles.

From the Telegraph UK:

The philosophy of my house is based on the tree that was in the middle of the plot of land and now forms the building’s central pillar. Trees are the most miraculous, sustainable urban structures. They make new solar cells every year and shut down in winter. They are completely adapted to the climate; that’s how I wanted my house to be.

Including buying the land, the house cost us £500,000, but we haven’t compromised on design: it really is a bespoke house. We have no energy bills so it’s very cheap to run and I’m not planning on selling up any time soon.

Read the whole article here.

 
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The Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Since 1987, rates of mental disability have increased drastically—as has our culture’s reliance on medication to treat it. Is this increased prescription drug use a result of rising rates of depression, or is the correlation more subtle and more destructive than that? Are people more depressed because of rising rates of over-medication? Is the depression-medication cycle a snake eating its own tail?

From Counterpunch:

Whitaker is the author of four books including Mad in America, about the mistreatment of the mentally ill; and as a reporter for the Boston Globe, he won a George Polk Award for medical writing, a National Association of Science Writers Award for best magazine article, and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. In the tradition of Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and other investigative reporters who get taken seriously, Whitaker is scrupulous, fair, and describes complex phenomena in a way that is easy to understand.

Levine: So mental illness disability rates have doubled since 1987 and increased six-fold since 1955. And at the same time, psychiatric drug use greatly increased in the 1950s and 1960s, then skyrocketed after 1988 when Prozac hit the market, so now antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs alone gross more than $25 billion annually in the U.S. But as you know, correlation isn’t causation. What makes you feel that the increase in psychiatric drug use is a big part of the reason for the increase in mental illness?

Whitaker: The rise in the disability rate due to mental illness is simply the starting point for the book. The disability numbers don’t prove anything, but, given that this astonishing increase has occurred in lockstep with our society’s increased use of psychiatric medications, the numbers do raise an obvious question. Could our drug-based paradigm of care, for some unforeseen reason, be fueling the increase in disability rates? And in order to investigate that question, you need to look at two things. First, do psychiatric medications alter the long-term course of mental disorders for the better, or for the worse? Do they increase the likelihood that a person will be able to function well over the long-term, or do they increase the likelihood that a person will end up on disability? Second, is it possible that a person with a mild disorder may have a bad reaction to an initial drug, and that puts the person onto a path that can lead to long-term disability. For instance, a person with a mild bout of depression may have a manic reaction to an antidepressant, and then is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on a cocktail of medications. Does that happen with any frequency? Could that be an iatrogenic [physician-caused illness] pathway that is helping to fuel the increase in the disability rates? 

Read the whole article here.

 
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Author Robert Kuttner to Obama: Stand and Deliver

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

A Presidency in Peril author Robert Kuttner is concerned that the Democratic party may lose a generation of voters. The reality of Obama’s presidency is proving to be too centrist and too incrementalist to really invigorate the nation’s economic future. By cozying up to Wall Street and appointing Wall Street friendly people to positions of power in his administration, Obama is threatening not only the future of his party but the hope of rapid economic recovery and long term prosperity for the middle class. Can he turn things around before it’s too late? Kuttner thinks the answer is a qualified “maybe.”

From Citizen Vox on Public Citizen:

“This could have been a moment — it could still possibly be a moment — if the Obama that we’ve seen flashes of becomes the president who rises to the occasion for the next several years. But if he doesn’t, a moment to recreate a more balanced form of market and society will be lost.”

Read the whole article here.

 
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Radical Homemaking’s Relation to Feminism

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Shannon Hayes proposes that a modern woman can and should be able to find fulfillment in a domestic role outside the traditional workplace—and that goes for the modern man, too. Corporate life is warping women’s sense of self just as surely as the oppressive role of 1950s housewife. Some, however, see the concept of radical homemaking as a giant step backwards for women. To those who equate “reclaiming domesticity” with “getting back in the kitchen,” Hayes says, you’re missing the point.

Shannon Hayes recently spoke to Julie Grant of the Environment Report. Here’s a partial transcript (courtesy of the Environment Report):

When Shannon Hayes was finishing her PhD, she made a list of all the female professors she’d ever had. There wasn’t one who had tenure who was also married with children. Hayes wanted a husband and family, and realized that if she wanted a big university job…

“I was not going to have these things. And they were as important to me as having a career. In fact, in truth they were more important to me.”

So, much to the dismay of her PhD committee members, she headed back to the northern foothills of the Appalachian mountains near the family farm where she grew up. She bought a teeny house with her husband. People whispered. What had gone wrong?

Once there, Hayes couldn’t even get a job interview. To make things worse, her husband lost his job two weeks after buying the house. So, they fell back on their domestic skills.

“Well, if something broke, we fixed it. If something ripped, we mended it. I was very good at canning, so any food we didn’t grow on the farm or didn’t grow in our gardens I wold go to the local farmers when it was in peak season and I would can it, freeze it, lacto-ferment it.”

Listen now.

 
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The 21st-Century Textbook

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I discovered this fascinating blog post by following Tim O’Reilly on Twitter (@timoreilly). It asks the question “What will the textbook of the future look like?” By looking at the way children learn new information and gain problem-solving abilities, the new nimble and (needless to say) digital textbook will be interactive, adaptive, participative, and globally connected. It won’t spoon-feed the baby steps needed to solve complex problems, but will instead spark the student’s innate curiosity such that she begins asking her own questions. It will take full advantage of the newest information technologies to create a rich multimedia learning environment.

From the O’Reilly Radar:

With new technologies constantly coming on-line, and with states like California, Texas, and Oregon allowing digital curriculum to replace printed curriculum, the question arises: what will textbooks look like in the coming years?

Dale’s post, “A hunger for good learning,” featured a fantastic video about teaching math. In a few brief minutes, Dan Meyer showed us a photo of a math problem involving filling a tank of water and calculating how long that would take, then showed us why traditional approaches to teaching this problem stifled student learning. The picture showed a traditional math problem with a line drawing of the tank, a problem set-up written in text (octagonal tank, straight sides, 27oz per second, etc.) followed by short sub-steps that are needed to solve the problem (calculate the surface area of the base, calculate the volume). Then, finally, it asks the question “how long will it take to fill the tank?” Dan’s view is that this spoon-feeding of problem solving in little steps trains students not to think like mathematicians and not to have the patience for solving complex problems. Instead, Dan prefers to show his students a video of the tank filling up, agonizingly slowly, until the students are eager to know “How long until that tank fills up, anyway?” And then they’re off — discussing, questioning, and, most importantly, formulating the problem on their own, just as good mathematicians do.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Dance of the Deficit Hawks

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

When it comes to the deficit, Robert Kuttner, author of A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama’s Promise, Wall Street’s Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future, thinks we have two choices: he calls them “the austerity cure” and “the prosperity cure.” We could tighten our belts and slash budgets, but that, says Kuttner, would be a mistake. To get out of the Recession, we will need more stimulus, more federal spending—not less. Deficit reduction will follow.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Get ready for the dance of the deficit hawks.

The way they see it, the economy is headed for dangerous and uncharted fiscal territory because of rising deficits and debts, and therefore, we need extraordinary measures.

Tuesday is the opening meeting of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. And Wednesday, the billion-dollar Peter G. Peterson Foundation convenes its National Fiscal Summit, featuring prominent budgetary conservatives from both political parties, including key administration officials. Both groups are likely to come to the same conclusion: If Congress fails to hit a specific deficit target, then a cap on federal spending should kick in. Budget hawks tend to blame outlays such as Social Security and Medicare, and they are eager to put a lid on them.

But there’s a problem with all this fiscal alarmism. It confuses three entirely separate concerns: the current large deficits, which are caused by the deep recession; the long-term health of Social Security; and the inexorably rising costs of Medicare and of healthcare generally. If you unpack these issues, a different picture and set of choices emerges.

The current deficits — about 9% of gross domestic product — are mainly the consequence of the financial collapse and the resulting decline in tax revenues. As those deficits pile up, the national debt increases.

Debt seems frightening. But in a deep recession, we need economic stimulus far more than we need to control deficits. Because of collapsing revenues, state and local budgets are in free fall, with California leading the way. Most states have constitutional requirements to balance budgets, which means they are slashing programs and raising taxes, exactly what we don’t need during a recession. They have few options, though, without help from the federal government.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 committed federal spending of $787 billion, spread over four fiscal years. But during the same four years, the state and local shortfall will be at least $600 billion. Once you factor in the state cuts, the federal stimulus starts seeming pretty paltry.

There are two basic roads to fiscal balance. We can cut spending, raise taxes, depress the rate of growth — and balance the budget at a lower level of economic output. Call it the austerity cure.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Waiting on a Train: Download the First Chapter from the Saturday Evening Post

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Author James McCommons spent a year riding the rails, talking to railroad officials and fellow passengers and experiencing the highs and lows of passenger rail travel in the US. He wrote about his experiences and insights in Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service. Now you can download the first chapter of his book for free, exclusively from the Saturday Evening Post.

You can also read James McCommon’s cover story in the current issue of the Post, on newsstands now.

From the Saturday Evening Post:

In 2007, a business trip took travel writer James McCommons from his home in Michigan to the West Coast. McCommons, who hails from a railroad family, took a train west and flew back to the Midwest. His trip on “The California Zephyr” had transcendent moments of crossing the moonlit Great Plains and running through the Red Rock Country of the Rockies’ western slope, but also was marred by equipment breakdowns in Nevada’s deserts and repeated delays due to backed-up freight trains. He reached Sacramento 12 hours behind schedule.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Huge Protests Planned Across the US to Demand Financial Reform

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Protesters plan to send a message to the Senate that ordinary working people won’t stand for the kind of rapacious profiteering Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street companies specialize in anymore. They want real reform to ensure that there won’t be another financial collapse like the one that nearly took down the global economy in 2008. National People’s Action, with the help of the AFL-CIO, PICO National Network and others, is organizing thousands to launch the “Showdown on Wall Street!” protest on April 29.

From AlterNet:

Good thing Goldman Sachs reported its first-quarter profits on the popular pot holiday April 20. Because you had to be totally stoned to appreciate the sheer, corrupt elegance of its nearly $3.5 billion earnings.   

It’s hopefully Goldman’s last outrageous ripoff. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges as recently as last week against the rapacious vampire squid of a bank. ”People are angry and frustrated with how the big banks drove our economy into the ditch, took billions in taxpayer funded bail-outs, and are now doing nothing to help fix the mess they created,” said Liz Ryan Murray, senior policy analyst at National People’s Action, which is marshaling thousands with the help of the AFL-CIO, PICO National Network and more to launch the “Showdown on Wall Street!” protest on April 29.  

“While we struggle with the foreclosures and unemployment their reckless and greedy behavior caused, they’re back to huge profits and obscene bonuses,” Murray said. ”We’re sending a message to these banks that enough is enough. The American people aren’t going to stand for it anymore, and we will continue to keep the pressure on until they change their behavior. We’re also sending a message to Congress that we’ve had enough of them putting the profits of Wall Street ahead of the needs of Main Street. We know the Senate will be listening and watching as thousands of American voters take to the streets to demand real reform.” 

Read the whole article here.

 
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