Facilitating Change in Education

Few people are genuinely engaged in transforming the education system for the better. Far more people are more interested in furthering their own gains. However, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation is one group that appears to actually care about the future of education and is focused on improving it for everyone. What originally started out as a traditional grant foundation has evolved into quite a bit more in recent months. Much of their work today is focused on futures studies in education…one of the things that caught my eye and has prompted this post.

About KnowledgeWorks

Social enterprises, grassroots projects, and innovative development make up the majority of KnowledgeWorks’ activities. They attempt to build high school designs around several different models. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum planning is aimed at increasing technology literacy among younger students. Early college high schools are designed to provide education programs for gifted students who have demonstrated that they are ready for something beyond what they normally study in secondary school classes.

Local programs are focused around the Ohio Education Matters organization. Research and advocacy activities promoted by the organization are supposed to be non-biased, which means that they aim to develop policies that are beneficial for everyone involved. However, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the work that this innovative group is doing. They are forecasting that students will actually relate to the world through neuro-enhancement tools and networks by the year 2020 and are developing programs based n this scenario. I find this both fascinating and exciting.

The Future of Education?

Neuroethics remains a major topic for the organization, whose website provides links to a variety of different groups that believe in liberty of thought. This might make the group seem rather extreme to some observers. Many members of the general population think very little about such futuristic themes. However, that doesn’t mean that this organization isn’t on to something. For instance, open-source principles and the way that they free up production is a major area of study within their programs. Linking resources together and providing open accreditation through major institutions helps to simplify the learning process in general.

Few people would disagree with the idea of giving scientists easily accessible access to laboratory materials if their research is in the best interest of humanity. Fewer people would argue that giving students access to a greater number of resources is a bad idea as well…we need more of this everywhere. Therefore, one might conclude that the future of education is indeed brighter than what some would lead the general population to believe. We need innovative programs such as these that are advocated by KnowledgeWorks and administrators that are willing to lead the way to make this happen. I’m not advocating the use of students as guinea pigs either. I am, however, advocating the use of principles and techniques within schools that have been proven by research and can increase the overall success rate of students. I’m hopeful that the work being done by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation accomplishes this very thing.

Additional Learning Resources:

Machines and Music Education

When people talk about social software, they are almost always referring to social networking. Most teachers wouldn’t want their students to check microblogging (i.e. Twitter) updates while they’re in class. On the other hand, there are some interesting uses for search algorithms that might bring technology into non-technical classes.

Recommended Reading (PDF):

Computers know very little about music. While they can reproduce tones fairly well, they usually can’t compose symphonies. Even the most synthetic electronic music isn’t truly artificial. Skilled DJs are in control when dance beats are laid down. Most music teachers use fairly basic music software in the classroom because of this fact. However, this might change in the near future.

Recommendation programs are usually associated with online retailers. Social recommendation software can actually be used to learn a great deal about people’s musical preferences. Students could spend time exploring what sort of music their classmates like to listen to. This could eventually lead to a much deeper study of musical theory. Even if computers will never be popular recording artists, there’s nothing that says they can’t be up on popular music. There’s also nothing that says that teachers shouldn’t use these algorithms to help their students understand the development of different musical genres.

Additional Learning Resources:

ClassDojo Launches First Smartphone App

Free App Download


Today ClassDojo, the digital character building and behavior management service for teachers, is launching the first-ever mobile app designed to help teachers build specific positive behaviors and character strengths in the classroom. The iOS app designed for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices is an extension of the ClassDojo platform that leverages innovative and easy-to-adopt tools for teachers to create a comprehensive learning environment and reinforce character strengths – the same strengths that have been shown to be the best predictors of future success, happiness and health.

The ClassDojo iOS app will make it easier than ever for teachers to monitor and track behaviors in real time. The free app allows teachers to register for an account on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, set up and view all of their classes, and assign personalized avatars to each of their students. Teachers can then walk around the classroom and reinforce positive behavior by awarding students with feedback in real-time. These feedback points are instantly displayed in the classroom with audio-visual cues allowing students to see how they are progressing individually and as a class.

Photo Sep 05, 2 01 33 PMClassDojo for iOS also has a number of handy settings for teachers, including randomly selecting a student to call on, assigning points to one or multiple students, choosing the student display order, and synchronizing the student list for the day based on attendance. ClassDojo automatically compiles all the data collected from each class into analytics reports, allowing teachers to monitor progress, track trends and share information with parents. In addition, students can reflect on their own behavior and track their progress.

“Real-time feedback like this, especially when used to provide consistent, positive reinforcement, has the power to influence future behavior,” says Sam Chaudhary, co-founder of ClassDojo. “This instant feedback loop helps students build the kinds of positive behaviors that promote learning. In the process, we’re taking on a frustrating pain point for teachers and turning it into a positive experience that benefits all”.

The free service also operates on the Web, allowing teachers to alternatively use a laptop, desktop computer, or any smartphone or tablet via Web browser. To date, over 3.5 million teachers and students have used the service and over 50 million feedback points have been awarded. The platform has seen incredible viral growth with 20 thousand new teachers adopting the platform each month, as teachers spread ClassDojo by word-of-mouth and through social media channels.

Photo Sep 05, 2 01 38 PMCo-founders Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don, seed-funded by the education technology incubator ImagineK12, created the service after interviewing hundreds of teachers who reported behavior as their biggest problem in the classroom; forty percent of U.S. teachers said they spend more than half of their time managing behavior rather than teaching. Teachers also reported they were unhappy that behavior management had become about discipline, obedience and punishment, rather than positive reinforcement and encouragement.

ClassDojo’s mission is to bridge this gap and address the “other half” of education that goes beyond building good test scores to building character strengths essential for lifetime success like creativity, leadership and perseverance. The service has been embraced by teachers around the world, as well as high-profile technology and innovation investors like Ron Conway of SV Angel, Jeff Clavier of SoftTech, and Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator, who see ClassDojo filling a critical need that has been completely unaddressed by education technology. ClassDojo is free for teachers, and the company is dedicated to keeping it that way.

To start learn more about ClassDojo, visit: http://www.classdojo.com

To see what teachers are saying about ClassDojo, visit: http://www.classdojo.com/love

About the Founders:
Sam Chaudhary worked as a high school teacher and then in the education arm of McKinsey & Co in London. He has a degree in Economics from the University of Cambridge. Liam Don was an MMO games developer at Runescape (Jagex). He was midway through a PhD in Computer Science, which he left to start ClassDojo. Sam and Liam were early-stage seed funded by the incubator ImagineK12.

Edmodo in the Classroom [App Review]

  Free App Download

Grade books are a thing of the past for anyone that uses Edmodo. Instructors that want to save some paper might want to check out the program for this function alone. However, there’s a lot more to it. In fact, students and teachers can keep in touch with each other using the app. Some classes are even being conducted solely via the program now.

Teachers need to be careful when they use this kind of software. Some students might not have iOS devices so conventional email should be used as a backup to avoid leaving any members of the classroom out. While some instructors might want to provide physical handouts, that defeats the purpose of using a program like Edmodo. That being said, it’s compatible with just about anything that runs iOS 4 or higher.

New features include the ability to send attachments with posts. This is particularly useful for those that have use PDF files to distribute course materials. With the wide availability of public domain material on the Internet, this might quickly become a popular way to distribute electronic books. Some classes can replace their current material with text legally found on the Internet. This can make the app that much more effective.

Users who are troubled with the notification function shouldn’t worry too much. Swiping notifications should quickly get rid of them.

Learn About the Brain [App Review]

  Free App Download

The 3D Brain app is a great introduction to the human brain, and it’s free. Users shouldn’t have too much trouble getting it to run, and it’s compatible with a majority of iOS devices. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (the app developer) has quickly become known for a few different biology apps.

The software allows budding neurologists or neuroscientists to poke around the various structures of the brain. Artists have color coded the different sections, though the labels are also helpful. In fact, colorblind users should still be able to get plenty of use out of the 3D Brain app. While one might expect the program to cover physiological injuries, the presence of mental health information was honestly a pleasant surprise.

Fans of scientific research might be interested in the lineage of the app. Genes to Cognition (G2C) Online provided the knowledge bank that the software runs on, while financing came from the Dana Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. Anyone who finds that they want to dig deeper than the lessons here can easily cross-reference 3D Brain with another free source. The classic 1918 publication of Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body, for instance, is a great place to look up information after messing with the app for a while.

Using Public Domain Materials in Classrooms

Old public domain material has made a major comeback online in recent years. There are countless classics for people to read. For instance, anyone who would like to explore the collected works of William Shakespeare, or countless poets, is free to do so at no cost to them. Ironically, this material has yet to make any real inroads into the field of education.

One would think that schools would jump at the chance to get all the free digital books they could ever want. Some innovative teachers may already be doing this but it’s certainly not commonplace. And think of how often old computers are regularly thrown out. In a perfect world, anyone who wants a computer should be able to have one at little, or no cost to him or her. In a perfect world, schools could receive computers that would have otherwise been thrown away and use them to serve up free content to their students. So why isn’t this happening in schools around the country?

All students should get an opportunity to explore the great books of yesteryear. Technology is making it possible to allow them to do so without the need for printing. That saves a great deal of resources as well as money. The best part about it is that the technology to give children these opportunities has existed for years. Schools simply need to apply the tools that they’re already gifted with.

Sources for Free Public Domain Downloads:

  • Adobe Sample eBook Library – Features free sample eBooks including entire books and preview chapters from leading publishers. Adobe Digital Editions software is needed.
  • Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts – Collection of public domain documents from American and English literature as well as Western philosophy.
  • ArmenianHouse.org – A private nonprofit project to convert into electronic format and publish the Armenian literary heritage. Also provides information on Armenian culture, history, religion.
  • Bartleby.com – Etexts, focusing on classics and general reference works.
  • Bibliomania – Houses an extensive online collection of texts ranging from fiction and poetry to general non-fiction and reference works.
  • Bookstacks – Free online texts in several languages.
  • Classic Bookshelf – Free electronic books to read online.
  • Classic Reader – A collection of classic fiction and non-fiction, poetry, and children’s stories.
  • ClassicAuthors.net – Includes archives of now public-domain works by various well-known American and British authors.
  • Classics at the Online Literature Library – Archived electronic texts indexed by author.
  • E-texts and Women’s History – From About.com, listing of electronic versions of books, poetry, speeches, and other writings that illuminate women’s history.
  • Fiction.us – Public domain novels, short stories and plays in HTML format.
  • Free Electronic Books – Educational texts.
  • Free Online Books – Caters books for online reading. Browsed through genres, authors and titles.
  • Free classic e-books – A site with 1000s of free e-books (in pdf format) of the classics and other out of copyright books
  • Full Text Archive – Large free and searchable collection of classic books, novels and poems.
  • FullBooks.com – A free online collection with thousands of books.
  • Getfreeebooks.com – Collection of free downloadable ebooks in a variety of popular formats and categories.
  • Great Books for Free – Classic English literature published in blog format, one chapter per book per day.
  • Gruntose – Features selected electronic texts, including Doyle, Dumas, and Dana.
  • Hypertexts in American Studies – American literature including works by Poe, Jefferson, Madison, and Twain.
  • Instinct.org Online Texts – Selected online texts on a variety of topics.
  • Kids4Classics – Free classic literature books, with kids picks highlighted.
  • Knowledge Rush – Book lover community, vanity postings, directory of free ebooks, biographies, encyclopaedia.
  • Learn Library – Offers books, poems, speeches, plays and essays; includes reader discussion forums.
  • Library of Southern Literature – There is a collection of approximately 100 texts in HTML and XML. Documents the riches and diversity of Southern experience as presented in its most important literary works.
  • Literature Collection – Contains a searchable collection of timeless literature classics.
  • Literature Online – Links to third party sites, plus literary and reference databases including English and American poetry, drama, and prose, and The Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature. Requires paid subscription.
  • Literature Project – A collection of classic books, poems, speeches, and plays. Site offers online chapter-indexed hypertext that can be easily read and searched and each piece includes downloadable e-text of the work.
  • Literature of the Fantastic – A fair-sized collection of classic works of fantasy/sf, along with fantasy/sf-related websites.
  • Making of America – A digital library of primary sources in 19th-century American social history from the antebellum period through Reconstruction.
  • Medieval and Classical Library – Collection of literary works of classical and medieval civilization.
  • Open Shakespeare – Aims to provide the complete works of Shakespeare along with textual apparatus (introduction, notes) and tools (concordance, search, annotation, word frequency, etc.) in an open knowledge package that allows for easy deployment, redistribution and reuse.
  • PDFreeBooks Library – A small collection of free public domain and copyleft books. Read online on iPaper or download free full text versions as PDF.
  • PSU’s Electronic Classics Series – Classics of literature in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.
  • Page by Page Books – Hundreds of books in the public domain, divided into HTML pages.
  • Perseus Project – Includes texts from the classical and Renaissance world.
  • Project Runeberg – Archive of free ebooks of classic Nordic (Scandinavian) literature.
  • Public Bookshelf – A collection of books in the public domain which can be downloaded.
  • Publicliterature.org – Contains novels, poems, and religious texts with audio.
  • Read Easily – Digital online library provides book lists by author or subject with a “set display” feature for the partially sighted and visually impaired.
  • Selected Sources for Electronic Texts – Provides links to electronic texts and archives in a variety of formats ranging from plain text to digital audio and digital braille. Compiled by the National Library Service.
  • The Classics in ASCII – Public domain fiction and non-fiction etexts at Textfiles.com.
  • The EServer – Includes a variety of literature-related materials, including etext archives of prose, poetry, fiction, non-fiction; links.
  • The International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) – Provides free access to children’s books from around the world. Some books are public domain, others are used by author’s permission.
  • The Internet Archive: Million Book Project – Carnegie Mellon University project to compile digitized texts into a free, searchable digital library.
  • The Online Literature Library – A small, but easily-navigated selection of online etexts from English literature.
  • The Society for the Appreciation of the Post-Dialogic Novel – For theories on the status of the contemporary novel, reviewing texts in print form, with an eye toward the form’s evolution via hypertexts and immersive environments.
  • World eBook Library – Public domain books in HTML, usually one file per chapter. Offers PDF books to members only.
  • Yahshuan Archives – Akashic Infinitum – Preservs Books from world religion, sects, history, philosophy, health, self-help, self-sufficiency, biographies and old Children’s materials. Including Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and Gnostic writings.
  • byGosh.com – Free, online illustrated children’s stories, 20 best out-of-copyright novels of the 20th century, out-of-copyright nonfiction of the 20th century. Also children’s stories.
  • cmadras.com – HTML collection of online classic e-books.


Exercise Your Brain with IBM THINK [App Review]

  Free App Download

IBM THINK may be best described as an interactive film. In fact, it features a ten minute long movie in high definition. Considering the famous battles that Big Blue waged with Apple, it’s actually ironic that this app is compatible with iPad devices running iOS 5.0 or later.

Users can work through five interactive modules while they ponder how human technological progress has made the world a better place. While many presentations focus on the negative aspects of industrialization, THINK attempts to inspire a new generation of engineers. Each of the modules focuses on one aspect of the invention process.

Educators may or may not have the right to use this program in the classroom. They should check first. That being said, those that may do so will certainly have a powerful lesson plan laid out for them.

While it’s not quite a toy, IBM THINK isn’t really a utility either. Regardless of what category it falls in, the program will make users think every bit as much as possible. People who want to feel inspired might want to pay particular attention to the fourth module. After all, it’s not every day that users of mobile devices get a personal speech delivered by a great thinker from the past.

Teaching With an Interactive Whiteboard [App Review]

  Free App Download

Educreations’ Interactive Whiteboard is great for teachers, who can use it to create video tutorials or animated lesson plans. Scientists in a forgotten era always loved to draw out mathematical formula data or vectors on a blackboard. This is a high-tech example of the same thing. It’s not a bad idea for coaches or managers either.

Any iPad device running iOS 4 or later should be able to handle the software. Creating an account on the educreations website might seem to be a little superfluous to many users, but it can actually be pretty helpful for those who are ready to make the jump (and it’s absolutely free). Educators might want to use the software to save lessons to some sort of cloud hosting arrangement. They can then access them at a later date. This is great for anyone who’s found that they have to draw the same thing for five different class groups.

Astronomy fanatics (like me) might also like the iPad app, since it can be used for making observational sketches. The resolution of the iPad’s screen makes it ideal for this use, as long as the backlight is turned down enough to avoid ruining night vision. Of course, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the average astronomy prof anyways.

Sample Lesson Created with the Interactive Whiteboard:

Carry Star Charts in Your Pocket [App Review]

  Free App Download

Planets by Continuum takes a 3D approach to solar system exploration. While it works great for anyone who wants to carry a planetarium and almanac in their pocket, the app does quite a bit more than put on a light show. Visibility charts and a moveable globe are just a few of the extra features that the software boasts.

After having a little fun with the planetarium features, astronomy fans should take a look at the accurate star charts. The 3D version tends to be more fun than the regular flat celestial map, but the latter might be a bit more practical for most stargazers. Since most astronomers are concerned with preserving their night vision, it could be a good idea to turn down the backlight before using this app alongside of a telescope.

Quite a few iPhone users have expressed a desire to use GoogleSky on their devices. For the time being, that doesn’t appear to be possible. Planets isn’t exactly the same thing, but users who want a similar experience would do well to check it out. The software requires iOS 3.0 or later, which means it should probably run on the majority of Apple mobile devices out there.

Simulated Solutions for Real Problems

The way that people look at mathematical statistics is changing. Statistics show up in the news media left and right. People probably view graphs on a daily basis. They’re becoming desensitized to data. However, statistics will be one of the most important aspects of communication in the future. Statistics can actually allow us to predict problems before they even occur. In fact, they play a key role in predictive analysis as well as futures studies. So they’re pretty important to the world of science. But what about alternative uses of statistics? Can statistics be used for nefarious reasons or simply in another, more useful manner? Some think so.

The Advent of Simulated Solutions

Simulated solutions are a type of educated guess based around statistical data. While this sounds like the same sort of thing that scientists have been doing for years, it actually represents a distinct paradigm shift. Some researchers have argued that it’s better to ask the right questions rather than finding exact answers to the wrong ones. Posing questions and having statistical data that suggests a trend is very important. But is this science? Many would argue that it is.

Historically, scientists have sought exact answers to identified problems. However, the use of simulated solutions dictate that scientists change the questions to fit existing data. There is a subtle but notable difference in this approach. This practice is considered questionable by some and has even been called dishonest by many detractors. By changing the way that questions are asked however, perhaps scientists can get closer to the truth in some instances. After all, can we ever be 100% sure that a single approach to finding answers is an absolute? If so, why do we not yet know if life exists on other planets despite decades of some really smart people trying to find the answer? Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions. Or perhaps we should use what we do know to form the questions in the first place.

As the fundamental methodology used to pose a hypothesis changes, it isn’t difficult to assume that the scientific method itself might change in the future. With society constantly in motion, even these bulwarks of rationality might eventually fall. I personally remain unconvinced that simulated solutions are the right approach. In fact, I think it’s a lazy approach to science in general. That of course doesn’t mean I’m right. What do you think?

Image Credit: exoteric.roach.org


John W. Tukey (1967). The Future of Data Analysis. The Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 33 (1), 1-67 : 10.1214/aoms/1177704711

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