Science Communication

July 5, 2012

This video addresses a number of things I really believe in: the importance of science communication, kids learning the things they decide are relevant, the use of media to communicate, combining creativity with factual information, education provided in a loving manner……

Watch Alan Alda’s ‘Flame Challenge’ Aims to Communicate Science on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Thank You Alan Alda!

SOPA and PIPA and random thoughts

January 16, 2012

I probably can’t — and don’t want to — change the world. The very nicest thing I’ve been told in a long time is that I influence others in a quiet way that often becomes apparent to them some time later. “Quiet” doesn’t equal high-profile world changer but it is definitely a mode of being that suits my personality. And I do want to actively participate as much as possible in the good change I see happening all around me so that’s why I’ve spent a career in education. I’m especially interested in the technology/communication advances related to social media.

I want to share
WordPress asks its 60 million users to help stop SOPA and PIPA

because I’m passionate about not losing the important freedom of expression we’ve recently acquired by being able to blog, tweet, share photos, videos, etc. We can use this responsibly without the being shackled by the harshness of proposed legislation. My childhood piano teacher (who I thank for giving me a view of education that was astonishingly progressive for a woman who was 60 years older than me) said “the freedom to swing your arm ends at the other person’s nose”. I get that we shouldn’t use the new communication tools, or any other tools, to hurt others. But let’s not tip in the opposite direction and lose all the potential for great sharing and learning.

Clay Shirky, as always, describes it very well:

And, keeping with the “what-impact-do-I-really-have” motif, here are three separate comments from the instructor evaluation in the most recent course I taught:

– She has a talent to pull student’s out of their comfort zone and to “think outside the box”. This was not a negative attribute in a Master’s level instructor and facilitator.

– I like the approach of letting us figure out things ourselves. My sense from the group is the majority don’t like that approach. The social constructivist approach to learning works for me.

– I wouldn’t let her train my Cocker Spaniel.

I guess I have the ability to make some of my students think and make others get angry. Of course I think the first student completely understood what I was trying to do and the second one I appreciate for being honest enough to let me know that he or she saw others in the group who did NOT want the opportunity to learn by doing. To that ‘Cocker Spaniel’ commenter, I just have to say that grad students shouldn’t require ‘training’. If I’m there it’s for another purpose altogether. My belief system is strongly oriented towards encouraging people to learn how to learn. That’s not generally what you do with dogs and it’s why grad school is not obedience school. I have never wanted to spoon-feed educational content to anyone.

Mynna, born, I believe, in 1895, would be close to 117 years old. She lived into her 90s.

Mynna, born, I believe, in 1895, would be close to 117 years old. She lived into her 90s.

Back to my childhood piano teacher…. she told me that the word education came from the Latin “educa” which she translated as “to draw out”. Nothing about cramming in facts! Thank you Mynna! You were a quiet influence that is still apparent to me all these years later.

Social Media and 9/11

September 11, 2011

The ten-year anniversary of 9/11 has certainly meant that for me, this is a weekend filled with personal reflection. It’s heartbreaking to watch it all over again.

And there’s been lots written about how communication was so different, just ten years ago, before social media. Many are speculating about what things would have been like if our current ways of sharing information had been in place on September 11, 2001.

Some say that families might have located love ones sooner, that lives might have been saved.

We would almost certainly have heard more “last words”

Others say that digital rumours would have spread more quickly and the negative outcomes would outweigh the positives.

My own thoughts turn to the idea of what it might have been like if we’d had social media ten or even twenty years prior — in 1991 or 1981? Is it just possible that we’d have known each other better in 2001 and had more compassion – to the point that support for the things that created 9/11 wouldn’t have been possible? that something similar to wikileaks would have exposed issues before they became as bad as they did? that we’d have had enough wide-spread information around the globe to ensure that hatred fueled by propaganda did not flourish?

We need a population of critical thinkers, with access to pertinent information and also the skills to find, evaluate and use that information towards peace and compassion. I think social media alone would not have been enough. But it could have helped.

Open letter to all Canadian Political Parties

March 27, 2011

(I sent this to all of them today)

Dear Hopefuls,

A few days ago my husband and I sat in a coffee shop in, of all places, Hope (BC) and discussed the state of the world. In spite of being in a town with an optimistic name we were not hopeful but rather incredibly concerned and upset about the Canadian role with respect to Libya.

Of course we want to see democracy prevail but there is no guarantee that supporting rebels (whose motives may be misunderstood) is going to help the situation. As well, the lack of consistency doesn’t help us trust the process. Why intervene in Libya but not Syria, Yemen, etc.? Looking at statements from the current political parties provides nothing encouraging or enlightening. The strategies proposed are unclear and they are not sustainable. Inaction seems wrong, but muddled, misguided action can be even worse.

The world needs a fair and democratic world institution that can decide how best to deal with world leaders who break international law. The United Nations has not been able to achieve what’s required.  Canada could take action by taking the lead on determining if it’s even possible to make the UN more functional or Canada could work to create a new organization if necessary (and it probably is). With previous leaders such as Lester B. Pearson, we have a history of being innovative peacekeepers and it would be wonderful to bring back that image of what Canada could and SHOULD stand for.

Imagine if Canadian resources were being put towards solving this problem. We could bypass the invitation to be part of bombing raids on Libya because we would be too busy working to ensure that international law and human rights EVERYWHERE could be consistently upheld as soon as possible.

ANY candidate in the next election who proposes this will be resurrecting a fine Canadian tradition. Explain yourself clearly, show that you have a plan and ensure your constituents that the work would be the most valuable form of action possible. You will get a lot of votes and you’ll certainly get mine.

Rational thinking

February 25, 2011

So… I’ve blogged a bit recently about equity and distribution (of power and of material things).

Now it’s time to point to some ideas about science education and rational thinking:

“students are being cheated out of a sound science education” is a quote from:
— an article that discusses the reluctance of many teachers in the US to teach evolutionary ideas.

It’s a frightening perspective that, as the authors say, could have a negative impact on critical thinking skills and how citizens in the future view policy decisions that could impact health, environment and other important matters.

Fortunately, there are authors presenting ideas that support the notion that it’s NOT okay to abandon the foundations of scientific investigation in order to support concepts of spirituality. For instance,

gives reasons why those who embrace religion don’t have to deny science and says:

“Such wild-eyed radicals as Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis and Pope John Paul II have all convincingly argued that the Bible should not be read as a science textbook and that the scientific truth of evolution can coexist with the spiritual truth of God.
Given this and the overwhelming scientific evidence, the real question is not whether evolution exists or whether it can coexist with religion. It does, and it can.”

And there are many other sources with this point of view. Daniel Goleman and the Dalai Lama, in “Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama – 2003”, have helped millions to see that science and spirituality don’t have to be at odds with each other.

Here is a 2007 video clip showing the Dalai Lama’s open-minded perspective

In 2010 the Dalai Lama said
“While looking for solutions for improving the future, one should give more importance to reality and science rather than adopting anything on the basis of beliefs and prejudice”


March 3 update with a quote from the New York Times article on politics and environmental protection:
“It was like the science didn’t matter”

Did you know you can #askSKR (ask Sir Ken Robinson)?

January 21, 2011

Sir Ken

This morning I noticed that the Twitter hashtag #askSKR can be used to direct a question to Sir Ken Robinson. His answers, via video clips, appear on his blog

I pretty much immediately tweeted my question, which I hope he will find interesting enough to answer, as follows:

@SirKenRobinson Do you believe there is a connection between compassion and creativity and if so, how do you see this? #askSKR

Actually, I’d like to hear from anyone who has ideas about the relationship between compassion and creativity. My own ideas about this are sort of evolving around the notion that as the educational culture leans more and more towards rote learning and testing, it cannot possibly be considered to be compassionate. In fact some of the recent trends (closing schools that don’t meet standards is an example) almost have an quality of violence that needs to be explored. I believe that if the system *was* to become more compassionate, creativity and critical thinking might be enhanced, bullying reduced, etc.

A bit later in the day I discovered the Sir Ken Robinson Blogathon via Joe Bower…. – A perfect opportunity since I had been wanting to blog about the hashtag and encourage everyone to submit questions.

I really look forward to seeing how the blogathon turns out and think it’s a great idea.

Note that I’ve mentioned Sir Ken in my blog posts (and responding to other blogs as well) several times over the past year or so. He’s fun and funny and has a message that I truly want to see more recognized in education. I met him at UBC last spring when I attended his presentation there and after asking me where I was from, he asked me how early I had to get up to make it to UBC in time (my answer was a shocking 5:00 a.m. which meant I was highly motivated).

Here are some of my mentions of him:

Personal Learning Networks/Environments via the work of Wendy Drexler

May 26, 2010

I’ve been following Wendy Drexler for a while, but just took the time this morning to pull together a few of her resources that are relevant to the concept of the PLN/PLE that’s been put forth for ISWO learners I’ve been “connecting” with.  These ideas are valuable throughout education.

The first video is from a couple of years ago, and presents a vision of the connected learner. One comment on the YouTube site was that it would be useful to dig deeper and explore the gaps in this idea.

This has happened.

The next video is about a year later when a Grade 7 student has “lived it”. You’ll notice there are some gaps – the student hasn’t received the expert feedback yet, etc. This link will take you to it:

Finally, Drexler’s scholarly article on the topic:

Here’s a quote focusing on the role of the teacher in this:

“A student’s success depended upon his or her motivation but also greatly on the strategic guidance of the teacher. The teacher’s ability to gauge students’ understanding and progress were key to achieving a balance between student autonomy and teacher intervention.”

“digital divide in education goes beyond the issue of access to technology”

April 28, 2010

Through my blog browsing (in this case, Tony Bates’ e-learning and distance education resources site) I have found information about a book published within the past week or so from the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (2010) Are the New Millenium Learners Making the Grade? Paris: OECD

I did a bit of exploring of the parts of the book that are freely available online (seems to be actually most of the book), and learned that the second digital divide (deeper than the issue of access – which is rapidly fading as a concern) refers to students who may appear to be “savvy” with technology but who, in fact, are not “critical and creative users of technology”.  This may not seem particularly new (lots of us have speculated about this) but what is truly interesting is that the report is highly research-based which gives a credibility to conclusions such as:

  • 7. ICT familiarity matters for educational performance… differences associated with the length of time students have been using a computer remain once socio-economic background is accounted for
  • 8. There is a stronger correlation between educational performance and frequency of computer use at home than at school.

and policy implications such as:

  • 4. Adopt holistic policy approaches to ICT in education
  • 5. Adapt school learning environments…. students should be able to locate and use a computer at any time, according to the particular needs of their individual and team assignments…. governments should provide the conditions for them to flourish and should assess their effects.

Let’s hope that policy makers look at this very closely.

Wesch – (Digital) Writing on the Walls

January 12, 2010

This video is the recording of the Michael Wesch presentation this morning titled:”The (Digital) Writing on the Walls – And Why the Walls Don’t Matter Any More.”

If you haven’t seen Wesch deliver a presentation, this is a perfect introduction. It’s a good overview of his work and references the short viral YouTubes that are so familiar to many of us. As you watch this presentation you may have the “aha” moment of realizing that you’re seeing the inspirational force behind videos you’ve seen, enjoyed and even shared with others.  Today’s session gives a more indepth look Wesch’s background as he shares his own experiences in the context of many of the “greats” in media history (Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, etc.) and it would be a great resource for any of your colleagues who are ready for more clarification about web 2.0 in education.

The part of this presentation that was newest to me (and something I really want to follow up with) was the assessment question near the end where Wesch began to describe his peer review strategies. An intriguing one is called “calibrated peer review” — designed to promote critical thinking and model a strategy used in real-world evaluation of scientific proposals, among other things. Wesch has his students grade sample assignments from a library he has created in order to establish a rubric, then they grade each others work — all supported by a tracking technology — a google search found this: which seems to be very much like what was described in the session.

Why this blog?

March 29, 2009

Twitter seems to require an underlying blog so you can TinyUrl to a more complete explanation of What You Really Think. I must say that it’s a useful, thought clarifying challenge to condense big thoughts down to the 140 character tweet. And a release to then be able to have the details gushing out in another place 🙂

AND… the reason I started on Twitter at all was to see if I could follow folks who are involved in the big theme-y things that seem to define my life (of course my goal is see whether/how these might be pulled together — and to contribute to that if possible):

  • education
  • education as impacted by technology (social change, critical thinking, information literacy)
  • the participatory web and roles of the citizen (e.g. sharing our cognitive surplus)
  • peace/conflict resolution
  • creativity over destructiveness
  • civic responsibility/resisting unwanted influences
  • the role of culture and the arts in all of the above

Some of the key thinkers are Phil Zimbardo, Clay Shirky, Charles Leadbeater, Michael Wesch, Matt Langdon, etc. (ooh, where are the women here — I guess that’s another topic — I do follow Yoko Ono and a few female educators – but they offer something different). It’s very cool who’s out there, what they’re saying, who will actually answer you back, etc.

Another place where I am having conversations along these lines is the Ning site I’ve put together with my children’s book (“Echoes from the Square”) as a central organizer. But the conversations at that site are intended to be mainly on the education-for-kids side, so this blog is required for when I drift into other things.