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A Time for Professionals

June Atkinson
My state, North Carolina, has a decision to make in November – and it’s not a hard one, in my opinion.

It’s the race for state superintendent of schools. We elect our state superintendents, unlike many states, and from the time that I graduated from High School until I joined the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) 20 years later, my state’s education system was lead through the election and continued re-election (five terms) of Dr. Craig Phillips, a professional educator. Since he left office, we have elected a number of different superintendents.

For the last eight years, Dr. June Atkinson has held the position. Dr. Atkinson is a professional educator, having served leadership roles at NCDPI since 1976. When I was at the department, I attended several meetings with Dr. Atkinson, who was heading up business education, and observed the respect she had earned from everyone else I knew. Shortly after I left, the morale at the department was boosted when June became Director of the Division of Instructional Services.

Dr. Atkinson was elected to the office of State Superintendent in 2004 and then re-elected in 2008.  During this time we have seen North Carolina’s graduation rate rise from 68.3% to 80.2%.

Challenging Atkinson in November is Tea Party darling, John Tedesco. He is not an educator, but he has held a variety of positions –– admirably, several of them have been with charitable organizations. Mr. Tedesco was elected to the Wake (Raleigh) County Board of Education in 2008 and is still serving his first term, a tumultuous four years characterized by secret planning meetings and an often riotous board room. The Wake School Board lost its conservative majority during the 2011 election.

My message is simple. In this time when education is challenged to serve a new generation of learners, within a new information environment and for a future we can not clearly describe…

It is a time for Professionals!

Not for amateurs with an agenda.

Please Support Dr. June Atkinson for North Carolina State Superintendent.




Photo by Roy Sinai

I’ve played this card before and do so often in my talks. It’s a way of establishing some credibility from a not so surprise corner — my age. I’ve long believed that part of my appeal as a speaker is that I’m this sixty-year old guy saying these radical things, instead of a thirty-something, representing a new and strange generation. It goes something like this.

“When I entered the classroom, as a history teacher, the personal computer had not been invented. Calculators cost $200 and they were advertised as ‘A Gift for a Lifetime.’”

But if it had been suggested to me back then, that within a few short years I would be working with desktop computers, and within as many short decades I’d be typing this on a black slab of metal and glass, on a keyboard that magically appears and responds to my touch — well, it would have seemed FANTASTIC!

Oh readers of mine, there seems little reason to believe that this rate of rapid change will end any time soon. Technological advancement will continue — and more importantly will be the increased opportunities for new ways to work, play, live and love — and perhaps even new reasons to recognize the humanity in all of us.

A few days ago I wrote a blog article about what I was taught in school that I’ve never needed to know. My intent was to suggest that there is much that we require our children to learn today that they will never need to know.  This challenges us as we try to authoritatively answer their perennial question, “Why do I need to learn this?”

Among the answers I received were, “So you can read a newspaper or instructions at work, write letters to the editor, to friends and family, and make change.” I learned so that I could work and participate in a mid-twentieth century democratic community.

What if my teacher had said, “Because one day, you will be writing books.” “One day you will be programming computers!” “One day, for just about everything you do, you will need to learn something new.” It would have seemed FANTASTIC!

..and this is the critical element that our institutions of education have missed or ignored –– that we are preparing our children for the FANTASTIC!

It’s another theme that runs through much of my writing and speaking, that, “We are, for the first time in history, preparing our children for a future that we cannot clearly describe.” The conclusion that I usually draw is that, “The best thing we can be teaching our children, is how to teach themselves.”

What do we teach them to be prepared for the FANTASTIC?

“We need teach them WONDER!”

It’s why so many of my generation have so much difficulty with all this change. We don’t have WONDER. ..and without WONDER, we fall back on fear and betrayal.

Yet, our schools are required to teach, under the pressures of short-sighted, government-mandated, high stakes tests, that our children’s world is a known place, with few surprises, and fewer unamswered questions. Their school is a place where we provide answers and our children’s questions and curiosity are mostly ignored — at best.

You can’t test WONDER.

My solution?

Flip the classroom.

But I’m not talking about just flipping when you teach and when you re-enforce. Its more fundamental than that. Ive often questioned the sense of making students learn the math and then giving them the word problems. We should, in almost all disciplines, start with the word problems, and then help our learners develop the skills and habits required to fulfill their wonder. Help them invent the math that solves the problem, invent the grammar that conveys the emotion, explore the geography and history that explains why, discover the science that fulfills the WONDER.

You can’t test that.

But I think you’ll have graduates who are ready to own their future.

The Toxic Twenty

Since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, our air quality has gone downhill significantly. Before this revolution, we used human and animal power, as well as water and other natural resources to slowly create what we needed. It was a slow process, but there were very few harmful by products. With the creation of the engine, people realized that they could create things much faster. But it took quite some time to realize exactly how harmful all of these by products were to us, long-term. It took quite some time for us to develop the technology to measure pollutants in the air, and realize that chemicals remained that we couldn’t see.

This infographic, found on Good.is, shows the toxic 20, or the top 20 air polluted states. Is your state on the list? It also shows the health risks involved in breathing in these chemicals. It’s no wonder that health problems have significantly increased in recent years. And finally, it shows the main ways this pollution gets into our air.

Discuss with your students the causes and implications of air pollution. Do they think it is worth it, to be able to have all the amenities we have today? How is there generation going to suffer 20, 30 or 40 years from now, or the next generation? What can we do to stop and even reverse this pollution?

Blog: http://goo.gl/LQ2dR

Yellow is a lie.

In this latest Vsause video, we learn about the color yellow, and how it doesn’t actually exist the way we see it. There’s not a lot that fascinates me more than the way our brain interprets our surroundings whether it be visually or audibly and how we then experience those things. It seems like the color yellow is one of the prime examples of the functionality of this system. We all know what yellow is, but in reality it doesn’t exist in the way we see it.

Yellow is a lie.

What Earth would look like without water.

These hypotheticals are always fascinating to me. I don’t know the specifics, but clearly in this hypothetical, life would change dramatically for us, most likely resulting in this planet no longer being able to sustain life. It’s very interesting to see, though. Kind of reminds me of the Grand Canyon and how that could very well just be another lake if it were maybe in a different climate. Thinking about the pure amount of water that exists on this planet terrifies me just a little bit.

What Earth would look like without water.

Capturing light with high-speed photography.

I’m always fascinated by high-speed (super slow-mo) videos, as I’m sure many of you are as well. It’s just so interesting to see the way things work and react in a way that is impossible to tell with the naked eye. Not surprisingly, there are many scientific benefits that go along with our ability to do this.

In this example, we are able to see how a tiny “piece” of light travels through water in a bottle. I’m no expert on physics, so a lot of this goes over my head, but even without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes, you can get a small grasp of what is really happening with high-speed photography.

Capturing light with high-speed photography

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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