Learning Doesn’t even Slow Down

I had a conversation yesterday with my neighbor, Paul Gilster, of Centauri Dreams. He comes over about every other week and we talk about our histories, families, space and tech stuff, and it often erupts into some pretty insightful observations – if only to us. 

But we both agreed that as we are getting older, our learning has actually increasing rather dramatically. Of course, we are also forgetting a lot more as well. 

But one of the truisms I’ve concluded from a career of learning and teaching is that something learned and used once, can easily be relearned, growing our life long toolset. 

Numbers don’t Lie! But…

I follow a subreddit called “DataIsBeautiful.” It’s about data visualization, which I love because it helps numbers to tell their story, and numbers don’t lie.

Data Visualization

People can use them to distort truth by the data they leave out, the scales they use or their statistical methods (I think it might be smarter for us to teach more statistics and less algebra).  The editorial notes (in blue & red) indicate an obvious agenda behind this display, which, in itself would not disqualify it. But this author committed the deadly sin.  He didn’t include the source for his data.

The Viking Warrior

Viking Tomb in Sweden
Viking Tomb in Sweden

In 1878, archaeologists excavating the Viking town in current day Sweden, uncovered an ornate 10th-century burial tomb. Containing a full set of weaponry, including a sword, spear, armor piercing arrows and shield, as well as the skeletons of two horses and a game board, archeologists excitedly announced that they had discovered the tomb of a great Viking warrior.

Of course, being the Victorian Era, it was assumed that the warrior was a man.

That story persisted until 2017, when The American Journal of Physical Antropology announced that comprehensive genomic sequencing had revealed that the warrior was, instead, a woman.

Woman Viking Warrior
Woman Viking Warrior

Even then, there was a backlash, suggesting mistakes in the sampling and sequencing. A second report, published in Antiquity, confirmed the 2017 conclusion. The author acknowledged that it was extremely difficult to assess aspects such as gender roles and identity from cultures that existed so long ago.

Alphabetical Index for My Book

Small Book Image
Click to visit the book’s web site.

During my first semester of college I took a course that helped to prepare me for taking higher ed courses. One of the tips that I have carried through the decades was reading the the table of contents upon purchasing the textbook. This would give you a structural sense of the topic of the course. Scanning the index was another way to delve deeper into the what and who of the topic. Several days ago I posted the table of contents of A Quiet Revolution. Here, I’m providing the entire index, clickable to specific letters.

I’ve also compiled a list of the items that occurred at least ten times in the book, in descending order (Wikipedia appears 71 times).

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Internet
  3. Apple Macintosh Computers
  4. Math (Subject)
  5. World Wide Web
  6. Science (Subject)
  7. Blog, Blogging, etc
  8. Art (subject)
  9. Apple II Computers
  1. Literacy (Subject)
  2. Social Studies (Subject)
  3. History (Subject)
  4. Video Games
  5. Google
  6. NCDPI
  7. Reading (Subject)
  8. English (Subject)
  9. Internet Archive (Website)
  1. NCLB
  2. Donovan Harper
  3. Al Rogers
  4. Virtual Environments
  5. FrEdMail
  6. Twitter
  7. Writing (Subject)
  8. America Online (AOL) (Online Service)

If you are reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that your name will appear in the index.

ABCDEFGHIJKLM
NOPQRSTUVWXYZ

MARS

2016 TV Series produced by National Geographic

I finished a two-season TV show last night, “MARS.” What’s most interesting about the program is its play between documentary and drama, separated by 17 years. The drama is a mission to the red planet, the intent of which is starting a colony. There are no return tickets. They will either find water and protection from solar radiation or they won’t, and will perish. With two seasons, the outcome of is apparent.

Season one is on Netflix and season two on the National Geographic Channel

The documentary part is mostly interviews with persons involved in planning, designing and testing for future exploration and colonization of Mars. They include  Elon MuskAndy WeirRobert Zubrin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Eventually the science colony, which is supported by the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), a multinational funding and governing organization, is joined by a second colony, Lukrum. A resource extraction corporation, Lukrum has powerful interests in nearly every country represented in IMSF, and they use that leverage to promote and prioritize their mining activities on Mars.

The miners are all likable characters as are the scientists (with one exception) and they get along together gangbusters, as one would expect for people who are ultimately isolated from Earth for years. It’s only when commercial activities collide with scientific discovery that things break down. Even at that, the personal fondness and even trust between the commanders and their crews mostly continue.

Of course, the 2016 interviews and documentary footage shifts its focus to our planet’s ongoing competition between corporate interests and the common good, and that there is little reason to believe that the same will not happen as we become an interplanetary race. These points may be handled a bit heavy-handedly by the show, though I don’t dispute the sentiments, especially considering how much space exploration is being promoted today by commercial organizations.

The show ends on a positive note, especially as one of my favorite characters survives, a short-tempered Spaniard who leaves every conflict spouting rapid Spanish exclamation, Ricky Ricardo style.

Computing: 1980 Style

Small Book Image
Click to visit the book’s web site.

I saw my first personal computer in 1981. At that time, the closest you could come to a computer store (where I lived) was a back corner of the local Radio Shack store. There you found models of their TRS-80 computers, offering all manner of unimagined possibilities – but almost no software. Ready to buy and load (via audio cassettes) were a basic word processor (Scriptsit), a spreadsheet program (Visicalc) and a handful of games, including Galxian, Asteroids, Targ and Zork.

Dot-Matrix Print

But we didn’t buy computers because we wanted to play games or even to word process. Have you ever seen the print from the early dot-matrix printers? We bought computers because we wanted to learn about this new thing that was “going to change everything.”

Early Computing Magazine
Early Computing Magazine

Unsurprisingly, we had to go to print in order to learn and a few early magazines was the bast place to go. Even then, the gestation time of new books was way to long to be reliably up-to-date. New issues of zines were frequent and regular, and among them were BYTE, PC, Compute and even Family Computing.

We learned the latest that was known about these early TRS-80, Atari, Apple and Commodore computers. But better, was the programming tips we could learn by typing code that was included on the zines’ pages.

A Home Accounting program for the Commodore Pet computer
Submitted by Robert Baker of Atco, NJ
January 1980

Of course, the programs never worked the first time. It was impossible to key the code in without mistakes. So we spent as much time going back and decoding the programs, OR we taught ourselves how to write our own programs.

😉

Twice Exceptional

Attending a meeting yesterday, regarding Western Carolina University’s College of Education and Allied Professions, I learned a new term, twice-exceptional.

In education’ese, “exceptional” children are usually students with some learning difficulty, such as A.D.D., dyslexia, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance – or are academically talented in some way.

7C014BEB-C03D-492C-B947-412AC5316ABB

When I asked, the speak explained that a “Twice-Exceptional” student is one who has some learning disability but is also academically and/or intellectually gifted.

I suspect that this describes a lot of extraordinarily accomplished individuals, who later admit to being poor performers in their school experience, i.e. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and Steve Jobs. Sadly, this also, more than likely describes a lot of wasted talent caused by our assigning opportunity-limiting labels to children who are simply divergent learners, children who are not suited to regimented learning environments.

My Indian Self

This book played a huge part in my childhood.  It was probably the most leafed-through book in my house.  The last I remember it was so tattered by use that I dared not pick it up.

Indian Crafts & LoreMy parents had no idea at their wedding in 1950, that they would spend the first year of their married life in New Mexico.  The Korean War recalled my father back into the Air Force, where he was the only PFC in the management offices of Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

They both developed an interest in Indian culture.  One of their neighbors was the son of the chief of the Jemez Pueblo tribe a short distance west of the city. My parents were invited to a number of tribal ceremonies and became good friends of the prince and his wife, a Bostonian. I suspect that it was the friendship that stimulated their interest in Indian lore, and it’s probably when they bought that copy of Indian Crafts and Lore.

I thought about that book many times since and several times, I looked for a copy on eBay and Amazon.  The last time, a couple of weeks ago, I found it on Amazon.  Leafing through, I can recall studying every picture and every description.

The Table of Contents

Small Book Image
Click to visit the book’s web site.

My chapter titles are a bit cryptic, so I am adding some explanation to better anchor the reference points.

A Rough Start

I admit that there are some biases in my book. What’s a revolution without biases. To provide some context for my particular philosophies about schooling, I spend about 19 pages describing my pre-(technological)revolution education, including my less than spectacular career as a student.

The Confabulator

TRS-80 Model III, the first personal computer I ever laid my eyes (and hands) on.
TRS-80 Model III, the first personal computer I ever laid my eyes (and hands) on.

Here, I describe my first experiences with personal computers, starting with how I was knocked out of my seat by an idea.

Leaving Kansas, Apples & Kindred Spirits

In 1983, I moved from teaching Social Studies in rural South Carolina to leading an instructional technology program in rural North Carolina. I also joined a users’ group (MICRO5) and transitioned from monochrome Tandys to color Apples – dazzling.

Networks Open the Gates

My first experiences with modems and learning to use computers to communicate. Project based learning (PBL) became our modus operandi – using computers for collaborative learning.

A Line is Drawn

Moving to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction I learned what a small team of passionate and imaginative professional educators could accomplish. I also learned how little could be accomplished from inside the system. I have to note here that what hindered us was not the nature of state government, but the nature of state politics, and a manipulative narrative that sought to demonize government.

New Education Models

After leaving NCDPI, I lucked into a project instigated by Allan Weis and Advanced Network and Services. It was called ThinkQuest and it showed us how we could make students active learners by making them innovative teachers.

My First Flat Experience

I was so embarrassingly naive on my first trip to Asia.

A Bad Day for Education

Our work toward using technology to encourage more progressive styles of learning ground to a halt on January 8, 2002. No Child Left Behind successfully shifted the aim of public education from active learning by doing, to passive learning by memorizing facts to pass tests. Computers became teaching tools instead of learning tools.

Literacy 2.0

This became my most passionate mission, promoting a model for literacy that addressed the changing nature of our information experience. As information became increasingly networked, digital and abundant (and social), merely reading and writing (and arithmetic) were no longer nearly enough to be truly literate.

The Day that Education Almost Became Fun

As video games became more sophisticated and social networks became places that our students visited and collaborated, we started to recognize the unique skills that they were developing – that much of their play was actually the hard work of learning. We began to look for ways to structure classroom activities to trigger the same learning practices that our students were gaining outside of education.

The Evil Empire Strikes Back

As technology became more prevalent in our schools, investors saw a “golden moment.” There was an opportunity to use that technology to “profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.” This has become, in my opinion, the greatest threat that public education has ever faced.

The “Perfect” Technology

Apple’s iPad. It didn’t surprise anyone. But is it so “perfect?”

BookBag 2024

I end with a few pages of casual predictions of where education might be ten years from now (2014, when I started writing this book). This chapter mirrors the first chapter that I wrote in Redefining Literacy, describing education ten years from then, 2014.