Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Questions to Ask

It's hard to know how many educators ask themselves key learning questions when it comes time to using technology in the classroom. For that matter, it's hard to know how often important questions are explicitly asked before educators do anything in the classroom. But, I've been doing some thinking about questions that should probably be asked on a continuous basis during the teaching and learning process. The short list that I've developed includes:

1. What should students learn from doing this?

2. Are there any more effective strategies that I can help students learn this than by doing what I already have in mind?

3. How will I know that students have learned this?

You are probably thinking: these questions are not brilliant. In fact, every first year teacher education student who learns how to write lesson plans knows that these are the questions to ask. But perhaps that is exactly the point: there are a couple of key questions that educators should ask themselves about everything that they do with students.

No new technology should diminish the power of these questions. Without asking these questions and seriously thinking about the answers to these questions, learning will be disadvantaged.

I've asked a few questions - can you think of any additional questions that educators should ask when developing their teaching/learning plans?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Positioning A Pass Educational Group

This past week I attended EdNet a conference with about 500 educational stakeholders, largely publishers, held in Boston. A central goal of the conference was networking. In order to effectively network a business one must understand where the business fits within the larger universe of businesses.

While at the conference, I specifically grappled with the question of where A Pass Educational Group fits within the universe of educational publishers and other educational vendors. My time at the conference helped me solidify my thinking, if only a little.

A Pass Educational Group partners with educational publishers and other organizations needing educational editorial. For me, using the word editorial is new. With it I mean any type of writing that could be used to promote learning, including assessment. This types of writing includes both subject matter expertise and pedagogical expertise. A Pass has what it takes to develop engaging content.

We also have strong expertise when it comes to technology. While A Pass Educational Group does not actually code or develop new technology, we know how to use technology to promote high quality learning. We can write directions for coders so that they can make the technology do what we want it to do to promote learning.

A Pass Educational Group also has the ability to mash-up freely available Web applications to adapt them for educational needs. For example, I have previously used Google Earth as a package for student centered and project based learning. Google Earth is set up in such a way that non-techies are supposed to be able to use it. I applied my content and pedagogical expertise to use G.E. effectively. Smart board's Notebook software is also pretty intuitive. A Pass Educational Group has a Smart development team that can develop Smart activities rooted in sophisticated content knowledge and the best pedagogies.

Finally, I think it makes sense to tell people that they can think of A Pass Educational Group in much the same way that they would think of freelancers. We have the ability to staff the projects of others to help them achieve their editorial goals. As a result of A Pass's virtual structure we can also keep costs down.

The purpose of this particular blog post has not been to advertise A Pass Educational Group. Instead it has been to help cement my own understanding of what my company does. I wonder if my reader has a better understanding of what we do after reading this blog post? What questions still come to mind? How I can make this explanation clearer?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Putting the Game into Learning

The other day, I read a fascinating New York Times article about a focus on gaming at New York City School, Quest to Learn. According to the article, excitement fills the air at this school. Students become so engaged that they lose track of the clock. Anybody who has seen a child or teenager on an XBox 360 knows without question that these games hold some kind of magic. I've seen children who could not sit for two minutes and write a school essay sit for eight hours and write tricks for scoring higher points at these games. Don't think that this process of deciphering games is easy. It requires deep critical thinking.

So last night I started thinking, what can curriculum developers learn from gamers? What is it about gaming that makes it so engaging when typical school learning is far from engaging? I came up with a short list of ideas:
  1. Games give immediate feedback.
  2. Games offer the challenge of getting to the next level.
  3. Games provide competition, both against oneself and against others.
  4. Massive multi-player role playing games provide opportunity for creativity.

This list is by no means exhaustive. But, if I am correct with this list, an obvious next question would be "How can we incorporate these characteristics into the classroom in meaningful ways?" I don't have all the answers. However, I am confident that these attributes of games can be infused into the classroom.

It's important to note that I specifically did not include anything about technology on this list of game attributes. I am a strong supporter of using high quality technology to enable students to fulfill specific objectives in the classroom. But the truth is that many classrooms do not yet have enough computers for all students. Nor, are there enough high quality educational resources to take advantage of technology.

So, instead what I am urging is that we consider how to extrapolate engaging characteristics from games and infuse them into the classroom, with or without technology.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What's the Future of Writing? Who Cares?

Newsweek has published a very interesting article entitled, "The YouTube Application." The lead sentence reads, "Students try to make their mark by filming a personal video for the college of their choice." According to the article a sizable number of students are submitting video presentations instead of the traditional essay.

This past week I forwarded links to this article to a number of connections that I have on LinkedIn. I attached a note indicating that the article has prompted me to wonder about the future of writing in U.S. schools. Interestingly, I received back a variety of different kinds of comments.

One person told me that he was going to use the article in an upcoming talk as evidence that the future happened yesterday. Several people expressed concern or fear with these admission videos. Will curricula begin to undervalue writing?

I, for one, am a strong advocate that high quality writing promotes high quality thinking. However, I am not certain if writing is the only way or even the best way to promote critical thinking.

I could imagine, for example, that an auditory learner could record thoughts on a device equipped with a simple editing function. (It would have to be a very simple editing function, so that it's as simple to delete and replace the recorded word as it is to cross out (and write) words in a rough draft.) Such a recording device might make it easier for auditory learners to learn to think in critical ways than writing.

Critical thinking is extremely important. Our students must learn how to think critically. It is their ticket to the future. However, like recording devices, pens/pencils/type writers are simply technology. To me one need not worry about the future of writing - people should worry about the future of critical thinking. People should be encouraged to use whatever technology makes it easiest for them to master this essential skill.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Teachers Should Focus on Students Not Resources

Do you think that teachers should be asked to develop their own learning materials and assessment devices?

Can you imagine if a doctor had to develop her own medicines, invent his own cures for illnesses and apply these specific cures to their ill patients? Such a concept would be ludicrous. I imagine that most people would not want to visit such doctors. They'd view these doctors as working in a vacuum with little attention to innovative medical practices developed by others.

If people would not want to visit doctors who operate in vacuums why does society expect them to send their children to teachers who develop their own curriculum resources and assessments? Shouldn't teachers, who should spend their time interacting with students, have the support of others when it comes to development?

Last year, I developed a set of five student centered, problem based units using Google Earth as curriculum wrappers. The topics included: Colonial Economic Regions; Considering the Realities of the Holocaust; Cuban Missile Crisis; Gatsby of the Twenties; and Okies Head West. An associate of mine, an executive at an educational publishing company, told me that teachers could develop these types of units for themselves. Certainly teachers with expertise in Google Earth could develop similar units for themselves. But, aren't we missing the point of what it means to be a teacher if we expect them to take the 40 hours required to develop such a unit on development?

Wouldn't society prefer that teachers spend their time interacting with student to help them learn. Resources can be purchased from outside the school - teacher engagement must come from within.

Friday, September 3, 2010

21st Century Tests

By now, you've likely heard that that the United States Department of Education announced awards to two separate coalitions of states to develop innovative large-scale educational assessments. What does it mean for a test to be innovative?

We are all used to multiple choice assessment tests. The primary reason that large scale assessments tend to use multiple choice is because they have always been far easier to score than open response tests.

However, is it possible that technology has finally enabled us to move beyond multiple choice tests? It certainly seems as if this is the case. Technology now has the ability to scan for specific words or phrases in student writing. Educators and educational publishers alike can use these scanning procedures to evaluate student writing.

Writing is obviously not the only skill that students should learn in school. If they are learning math in a high quality way, they should learn to apply mathematical skills to real world events. For example, they might use algebra and geometry to design structures. Virtual reality could evaluate whether or not students have the necessary math skills to design these structures. Given technological advancements it would also be fairly simple to evaluate the steps that a student completes as he/she designs the bridge. Partial points could easily be awarded.

It is time for technologists and educators to come together and develop large-scale assessments that demand critical thinking skills and are not solely based on multiple choice.

I'd love to discuss these ideas further with anybody interested in dong so.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Technology: It's Simple

The other day I recommended that a client of mine consider asking participants to develop their own blogs, wikis, podcasts, or videocasts in a professional development workshop that she is developing. I believe that this suggestion made the client think that I was asking workshop participants to do too much.

People who have never set up their own Web 2.0 applications don't know how easy it is to do. (I'd like to tell them that if I can do it anybody can do it but that might weaken my pitch to do work for them. LOL!!)

In reality, however, WYSIWYG has made it very easy to develop personal web tools. It has made it very easy to publish to the web. I suspect many readers of this blog know that WYSIWYG is an acronym for "What you see is what you get." If you haven't thought about WYSIWYG think of a word processing tool, such as Microsoft Word. You don't have to use code to tell the word processor what to do. You just point and click and you can easily see what your text looks like - because it appears the way that it will look after you print it or email it to somebody else to see.

The second great characteristic about many web applications is that they are free. Anybody, for example, can set up their own blog on Google's blogger. Word press also makes a blogging platform available for free.

If I could make just one suggestion to educational publishers in this blog post, I would recommend thinking about ways to challenge students to take advantage of free web resources. The applications are available for free. However, publishers could earn significant revenue by selling educational resources that require students to use these applications. Just think: "100 Blogging Activities to Improve Writing."

Just a thought!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mobile Learning and Short Term Memory

Yesterday I read an interesting article about the growth/impediments to growth of mobile learning in American schools. The article prompted me to think about the role of mobile learning for K-12 students in U.S. schools. I can't help but wonder if there would be a marketplace for selling review units for just about every subject area for mobile devices.

Just imagine: You are sitting at dinner and your 9th grader son tells you that he has a test the next day in multiplication of polynomials. He thinks he gets it but might also be a little confused. What parent would not spend $2.00 to purchase a learning widget that will help his son review for the test the next day? Most parents would allow their children, who may not have their own smart phone, to use their smart phone to review for the test. Since the student would be using a cool device to learn math the studying becomes a little more bearable. Of course, it's even better if the content is presented in a game format.

Multiplication of polynomials is one test in one course of algebra. Consider how many similar mobile apps publishers could sell designed to help students prepare for tests the next day in school. This development would be relatively easy and inexpensive because publishers already have the content. It's in their textbooks and online resources. Now it just has to be sourced for mobile.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Digital Does Not Always Mean Powering Up

About five years ago I was invited to speak about emerging educational trends to the executives at a well known publishing and distribution company. The CEO of the company warned me that the executives understood how to use educational technology because they had been using Power Point for years. This statement immediately told me that the executives at the company did not have a strong understanding of current technological trends. They thought they did. But, they did not.

How many educators and educational developers think that they use technology well but in reality fall far short of the mark?

I suspect that most educational developers are very weak when it comes to developing high quality educational resources that take advantage of technology. This morning I have been reading about blended learning and distance learning.

I had a thought.

Is there necessarily a difference between the kind of learning that takes place in a face to face classroom and the kind of learning that takes place in a synchronous learning environment? The answer is "of course not". Educators can talk at students in both face to face classrooms and synchronous learning environments. On the other hand, they can also engage students in meaningful learning in both types of environments. Just because learning takes place in an online learning environment does not mean that educators are taking advantage of advanced technology. Nor does it mean that students are "powering up".

Children and adolescents are used to going on online. This is what they do. At one time going into a synchronous learning environment would have been novel and invigorating in its own right. But this is no longer the case, particularly for digital natives.

There are so many invigorating activities that can be accomplished online. It is an absolute waste of time when educational resources do not take advantage of these incredible possibilities.

If you are interested in seeing just one example of an innovative educational resource that takes advantage of the Internet and online learning contact me. I have developed a series of units using Google Earth as a curriculum wrapper and I'd be happy to send you one complimentary.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Not About the Technology

My organization, A Pass Educational Group, has recently been asked to work with a major publisher designing instruction for blended courses. Today I was looking at an outline of a seminar on blended learning and I realized that the author understood the role of technology in learning. The author articulated an objective as, "Making the technology fit the skills you need to engender."

It's not about the technology. It is about mastering specific knowledge and skills. Technology is only beneficial if it helps students fulfill this mastery.

Years ago, I had a conversation with my mother who is not an educator but is a very smart person. I told her that I thought that every school should have a computer class for every grade, just as every grade has a math class. My mother correctly told me that I was wrong. Unlike math, computer/technology is not an end in and of itself. Rather it is something that promotes the learning of something else. (In a different blog post, I can consider whether or not elementary and high school knowledge should ever be an end in itself.)

My mother knew many years ago that technology is not an end in itself. But, interestingly many school districts and curriculum developers continue to look at computers, Web 2.0, and technology as meaningful in their own right. My friend Michael Johnson has told me that he always tells schools that have stand-alone technology plans that they are going to fail. For technology is not meant to stand alone.

I think that my work on the blended courses is off to a good start. For my colleagues obviously know what they are talking about.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Apple's Apps

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "A Playland for Apps in a Tablet World." The article begins, "Apple's move to open up the iPhone to outside programmers in 2008 started a software-writing frenzy. Giant companies and bedroom tinkerers alike rushed to get their applications into the App Store and onto the phone's 3.5-inch touch screen.". It continues, "Now those developers are about to get a bigger stage - or at least a bigger screen."

Questions for Discussion:

1. Imagine that you worked at Microsoft, a software developer. What would this article make you think about? Why?

2. What three questions do you think that all software, or app, developers should ask before creating a product? Why?

3. If you were asked to invent one app that would promote high quality school learning, for any grade and subject area, what would you develop? Why?

4. If you could only have one, would you prefer to have your own tablet or iphone? Why? (You could have another phone, just not a smart phone.)

Questions for Younger Children and Everybody Else:

1. If you could make a computer that could do one thing for you what would you make the computer do? Why?

2. Do you prefer using large computers/games or small hand-held devices? Why? Is it possible that you like them both for different purposes? Explain!

3. Do you think that you would have fun making computers as an adult? Why or why not?

4. Think of one game that you like to play. What one rule would you create to make the game more fun? Why do you think that this rule would make the game more fun?

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Supreme Court Decision

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Lobbyists Get Potent Weapon in Campaign Finance Ruling." The article begins, "The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election." It continues, "'We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you — whichever one you want,’ a lobbyist can tell lawmakers, said Lawrence M. Noble, a lawyer at Skadden Arps in Washington and former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission."

Questions for Discussion:

1. Do you think that corporations should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to support political candidates? Why or why not? Try and argue both sides of this question.

2. Imagine that you were a United States Congressman who did not want to be beholden to large corporations and lobbyists. What plan might you develop to ensure your re-election despite these powerful campaign funders?

3. Imagine that you were a board member of a powerful corporation. What three "business-smart" reasons might you have for not supporting corporate contributions to political campaigns?

4. Do you think that the Supreme Court of the United States should have the ability to overturn precedent decided by former supreme courts? Why or why not? Should this power be limited? If so, how? (Remember, in 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were inherently unequal they overturned a previous decision.)

Questions for Younger Children and Everybody Else:

1. Describe a time in which you had to make a difficult decision? What did you decide? Why was this decision difficult?

2. What do you think are the most important things for a judge, or a sports referee or umpire, to keep in mind when they are doing their job? Why?

3. If you could tell people not to do one thing that many people do today, what would you tell them not to do? Why?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A 45 Million Dollar Joke

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "NBC: Conan O'Brien Reaches $45M Exit Deal." The article reports, "Under the deal, which came seven months after O'Brien took the reins from Leno, O'Brien will get more than $33 million, NBC said. The rest will go to his staff in severance, the network said in an announcement on the 'Today' show."

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why do you think that Conan O'Brien refused to move the Tonight Show one half hour later? Do you think he made the right decision? Why or why not?

2. Do you think that Jay Leno acted unfairly when he agreed to move his show to after the local news programs? Why or why not? See if you can argue both sides of this question!

3. Mr. O'Brien reportedly has more than 200 people working for him? What kinds of jobs do you think that so many people have to do to put on a nightly comedy show? Do you think that it would be interesting to work for a comedy show as a staff member? Why or why not?

4. Imagine that you were a network executive trying to fill time slots from 10:00pm to midnight with the understanding that local news shows run from 11:00-11:30pm. What types of shows would you place in these time slots? Why? How would you balance the need to keep the cost of producing shows down while bringing in as much advertising revenue as possible?

Questions for Younger Children and Everyone Else:

1. What is your favorite television show? What do you like about this show?

2. Give an example of something that you think is fair. Give an example of something that you think is not fair. Why do you think that this is not fair?

3. Imagine that you were creating your own television show. What would it be about? Who would be the main character? Make it up!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts' 41st

Newspapers and news programs around the United States are reporting on Scott Brown's victory over Martha Coakley in the election to replace deceased Senator Ted Kennedy. The New York Times is running an article entitled, "G.O.P. Senate Victory Stuns Democrats." The article states, "...his election was a sharp swing of the pendulum. The Senate seat held for nearly half a century by Mr. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, will now be held for the next two years by a Republican who has said he supports waterboarding as an interrogation technique for terrorism suspects, opposes a federal cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions and opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless they leave the country."

Questions for Discussion:

1. Senator-Elect Brown has referred to his senate seat at "the people's seat". What does this mean? Do you think that Mr. Brown really believes that his new seat is the people's seat? Why or why not?

2. Mr. Brown's pick up truck has attracted national attention, since he drove around the state during the campaign in it. Why do you think that he chose to drive around the state in his pick up truck? (He probably could have afforded a driver with a more prestigious car.)

3. Imagine that you were an advisor to President Obama. How would you recommend that he respond to Mr. Brown's victory? Remember that President Obama campaigned for Mrs. Coakley this past Sunday.

4. Perhaps Senator Kennedy knows what happened last night. If Senator Kennedy could say one thing to the American people today what do you think he would say? Why?

Questions for Younger Children and Everybody Else

1. Describe a time when you worked really hard to achieve a goal and were able to achieve it. What was the goal? What did you have to do to achieve it?

2. Do you think that every time people work hard to achieve a goal they will achieve it? Why or why not?

3. What one question would you ask President Obama if you had the opportunity to chat with him one on one?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Donating by Text

The New York Times is running an article entitled "A Deluge of Donations via Text Messages." Of course, this article refers to Haiti. The article states, "The Red Cross is the biggest relief organization with a system in place to receive such donations, which are sent by cellphone to 90999 and billed at $10 each to the cellphone account. The total raised, a small portion of which will be shared with other members of the Red Cross federation, puts the organization well ahead of other relief groups in fund-raising for operations in Haiti." Red Cross spokesperson Roger Lowe said, "I need a better word than 'unprecedented' or 'amazing' to describe what's happened with the text-message program."

Questions to Consider:

1. Why do you think that so many people have responded to the crisis in Haiti by donating through text message?

2. The article explains that the Red Cross has had management problems in the past. Do you think that this organization should be trusted with contributions for Haiti during this crisis? Why or why not?

3. Ten years ago nobody had ever sent a text message. What do you think that people will be able to do with a cell phone in ten years that they cannot do today?

4. Challenge yourself to do something to help the people of Haiti. Perhaps you can donate money? Perhaps you can run a campaign to encourage others to donate, as well.

Questions for Younger Children and Everybody Else:

1. What kinds of things do people need to buy to stay alive?

2. If you had no money to buy food and were very hungry what do you think that you would do to get food? Is there anything that you could do? Explain!

3. Do you think that people who have food should share with people who don't have food, even if that means that both will be a little hungry? Why or why not?

4. What kinds of things do you think that people will be able to do with cell phones in 100 years that they cannot do with them today?

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Massachusetts' 60th

The Boston Globe is running an article entitled, "Rivals Pull Out All the Stops," about tomorrow's Massachusetts' Senate election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat. The article begins, "President Obama, putting his political capital on the line, swept into town yesterday to bolster Martha Coakley’s campaign in the final days of an extraordinarily and unexpectedly tight US Senate race, saying that a Democratic victory tomorrow is vital to moving his agenda forward."

Massachusetts has not elected a Republican senator since 1972 and Democratic candidate Martha Coakley was an early favorite. However, Republican candidate Scott Brown has made the race too close to call.

Questions to Consider:

1. If you were voting in Massachusetts would you be tempted to base your vote on the issue of the health care legislation? Why or why not?

2. President Obama's position can be significantly weakened if Mr. Brown wins the election? (Why?). Do you think that his position can be strengthened if Ms. Coakley wins the election? Why or why not?

3. People say that the President of the United States of America is the most powerful person in the world. But yesterday he was appealing to common people, voters, so that Ms. Coakley could help him implement his agenda. Can the President be the most powerful person in the world if he depends on common people to implement his agenda? Why or why not?

4. What two questions would you ask the Senate candidates about their positions if you had the opportunity to speak to them, face to face? Why these two questions?

Questions for Younger Children and Everybody Else:

1. Do you think that it is important for people to vote in elections? Why or why not?

2. Do you you think that you might enjoy giving speeches in front of a lot of people? Why or why not?

3. Why do you think that somebody would interrupt somebody else's speech by shouting out?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Presidents Respond

The Washington Post is running an article an article entitled, "Bush, Clinton: Haiti Response Not About Politics." The article begins, "Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and say the earthquake in Haiti offers a chance to put aside politics and help people in despair. Bush and Clinton appeared on five Sunday talk shows as part of their effort to lead private fundraising efforts for Haitian relief, including immediate needs and the long-term rebuilding effort. President Barack Obama asked them to lead the bipartisan effort."

Questions to Consider:

1. President Clinton explained that the disaster in Haiti reminds us of our "common humanity." What does the word humanity mean? Do people have responsibility towards fellow members of the human race? Why or why not? If people do have these kinds of responsibilities, what kinds of responsibilities do they have?

2. Imagine that there was a terrible earthquake in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda apparently keeps its headquarters. Would Western nations have a responsibility to help these people? Why or why not? What kinds of responsibilities would Western nations have towards these people?

3. Can any tangible benefit come to individuals who help those in need, in distant parts of the world? Why or why not? Can any tangible benefit come to individuals who help those in need in their own community? Why or why not?

4. According to the article, "(Rush Limbaugh) urged people not to donate and said he wouldn't trust that money donated to Haiti through the White House Web site would go to the relief efforts." Rush Limbaugh is considered a distinguished individual and leader of the Republican party, by many. What can we learn from his statement? If you were in a conversation with Mr. Limbaugh, how would you respond to him?

Questions for Younger Children and Anybody Else:

1. Is it possible for you to benefit by helping somebody else? Why or why not?

2. Can you think of any times when you should simply do what somebody else asks you to do and not question why they are asking you to do something? If so, when? Is it ever appropriate to question why somebody else is asking you to do something? Explain!

3. Do you think that you should help people who may dislike you when they need help? Why or why not?

4. Who should you help first, another person or an animal? Why?

Friday, January 15, 2010

A 21st Century News Story

Appropriately so, Haiti continues to dominate international news. I will not typically focus on the same story more than once, let alone three times. However in this case, it seems inappropriate not to do so. However rather than asking specific questions about a story, you will see that I have done something different.

These questions stem from the New York Times' homepage.

Questions to Consider:

1. If a single picture can tell a thousand words, look at these pictures and describe what you see. Do you think that a single picture really can tell a thousand words? Why or why not?

2. Open this Web page of missing people. What does Twenty First Century technology enable both newspapers and readers to do that never would have been possible without the development of this technology? Do you think that these technologies always fulfill a valuable purpose? Why or why not?

3. Consider the satellite images of Haiti available here. What can you actually see on these images? (Do not simply focus on the pictures, but also the words.) In what ways do you think that this technology might improve within the next 16 months?

4. Patiently watch the video contained on this page. In what ways is the learning experience from watching this video different from simply reading a newspaper article? Do you think that there will ever be a time when all news will be transmitted in video instead of in written text? Why or why not?

Questions for Younger Children and Everybody Else:

1. In 20 years how do you think that technology will be different than it is today?

2. Do you think it is important to know what is happening in far away places? Why or why not?

3. If you could invent one thing to help people know what is happening in places when they are not there what would you invent? Why?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

An International Response to Haiti

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "Tens of Thousands Feared Dead after Earthquake as Rescue Teams Reach Haiti." The article states, "Early Thursday, an Air China plane carrying a search-and-rescue crew, medics, seismological experts and tons of supplies landed at the Port-au-Prince airport, followed by three French planes with aid and a mobile hospital, the Associated Press reported. A British relief team arrived in neighboring Dominican Republic... Brazil has sent three jets carrying 21 tons of equipment, and many countries have pledged money. Spain has sent planes with surgical teams. The Israeli army dispatched two planeloads of rescue personnel and equipment to set up a field hospital, the AP said."

Questions to Consider:
1. Why do you think it's often easier for countries to work together in times of catastrophe than at other times? What meaningful objectives do you think that the world might be able to accomplish if many countries could work together effectively all of the time? Why?

2. Not mentioned in this article, Pat Robertson explained that the Haitian earthquake was the rest of a pact that former slaves made with the devil, in the 1700s, to end slavery. Do you believe that something as terrible as this earthquake could be caused by the wrath of God? Why or why not? Is there a difference between believing that something could be caused by the wrath of God and believing that something is caused by this wrath? Explain!

3. If you could say one thing to the people of Haiti right now, in addition to "Hang in there" what would it be? Why? Think of something provocative that others have not already said.

4. Imagine that you were an advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Obama, what specific things should they be doing right now to help the people of Haiti? (Consider the fact that they each oversee huge bureaucracies and are therefore going to play leadership roles.)

5. Consider some of the pictures contained in this newspaper article and describe what you see.

Questions for Younger Children and Anyone Else:
1. Why do you think it is sometimes easier to not work with other people?

2. Do you think that it is ever important to work with other people? Why or why not?

3. Describe one thing that you have accomplished because you were working with other people.

4. Is there ever a time when you should not do what other people are doing? Explain!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haitian Earthquake

News outlets around the world are reporting on the earthquake that struck Haiti yesterday. The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Haiti Chief Says Thousands May Be Dead." The article states, "The earthquake was the worst in the region in more than 200 years and left the country in a shambles, without electricity or phone service, tangling efforts to provide relief to an estimated 3 million people whom the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said had been affected by the quake."

Questions to Consider:

1. What one thing do you think that you and your class or you and your family could do to most effectively help the people of Haiti? How would this helping process work? (Meaning if you were to give money, how would the money ultimately work its way from you to the local people of Haiti?) If you don't have money to give what else could you give? Why would this help?

2. What do you think are the four most important things that a community needs to survive? Why?

3. Do you think that rescue workers are heroes? Why or why not? Perhaps they are just people doing a specific job?

4. What can a terrible important earth quake remind us about life? Do you think that it is important to be reminded of this? Why or why not?

5. Ask two questions about the scientific nature of earthquakes and try and find the answers?

6. Five hundred years from now do you think that earthquakes are still going to have the ability to kill thousands of people or will the scientific community have developed ways to avoid earthquakes? Support your answer thoughtfully.

Questions for Younger Children (or anybody):
1. When you are scared of something what one thing can you do to overcome your fear?

2. Is it important to help other people when they need help? Why or why not?

3. What one thing have you done to help somebody else? Why did this help?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Iranian Physicist Killed

Newspapers around the world are reporting on the assassination of Iranian physicist Masoud Ali Mohammadi. The Washington Post reports, "Masoud Ali Mohammadi was killed as he left his house in the north Tehran neighborhood of Qetariyeh. State television showed images of crying people and houses with broken windows as a burned-out motorcycle was taken away by security forces." The Iranian government has blamed the United States of America and Israel for this assassination.

(Note: I had originally planned on using a link to this BBC page to report this story. However, a video on the page was more graphic than most western videos, so I am only including it here.)

Questions to Consider:
1. Can we learn anything about Iran from the fact that they have blamed the U.S. and Israel very early into this investigation? Why or why not?

2. Do you think it is significant that Mr. Mohammadi's name was on a list of supporters of the political opposition in the last election? Why or why not?

3. Imagine that you were an advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. did not orchestrate this assassination. How would you recommend that the President respond to Iranian allegations? Why? What if the U.S. did orchestrate the assassination, how would you recommend that the President respond to the allegations? Why?

4. What three questions, other than "Who was behind the assassination" would you ask about this assassination in order to learn more about it? Why would you ask these three questions?

Questions for Younger Children
1. What is the appropriate way to behave towards somebody who you really dislike? Why?

2. Is it OK to really dislike somebody? Why or why not?

3. Do you think that it is ever OK to hit somebody? Why or why not?

4. What one nice thing would you like to say to somebody else today?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Obama's Dialect

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "In Reid's Comments, Hints of Obama's Own Words." According to the article, President Obama once said, "“We have a certain script in our politics, and one of the scripts for black politicians is that for them to be authentically black they have to somehow offend white people...And then if he puts a multiracial coalition together, he must somehow be compromising the efforts of the African-American community...To use a street term...we flipped the script.”

A previous New York Times article quotes Senator Harry Reid as saying, "Barack Obama could become the country’s first black president because he was 'light-skinned' and had 'no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.'" This statement has generated a great deal of controversy and even calls for Reid's resignation. President Obama quickly forgave his Democratic colleague for any potential offense.

Questions to Consider:

1. Why do you think that Harry Reid's comments have generated controversy. Did he say anything rude or racial? Explain!

2. Do you think that people tend to speak in different ways in front of different audiences, or with different groups of people? Why would they do this?

3. Some people would argue that a sign of maturity is knowing how to behave in appropriate ways in different situations. Would you agree with this opinion? Why or why not? What does it mean to be mature?

4. Many have compared Senator Reid's comments to those made by Senator Trent Lott racially tinged comment made in 2002 when he said that the United States would be a better place if Strom Thurmond had won the Presidency. Strom Thurmond supported segregation when he ran for President years ago. Senator Lott was forced to step down from his position as majority leader because of his comment. Do you think that Senator Reid should suffer a consequence as a result of his statement? Why or why not?

5. Do you think that Republicans who are calling for Senator Reid to step down really believe that he did something terribly wrong? Why or why not?

Questions for Younger Children

1. Do you think that people should behave differently in different situations? Is it ever acceptable to run and scream? Why or why not? Is it ever unacceptable to run and scream? Why or why not?

2. Do you ever speak in different kinds of voices? Why might some people do this?

3. Have you ever done something and been punished for it but then seen somebody else do the same thing and not get punished? What did you do? Why do you think that you were punished but somebody else was not punished?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gay Marriage

Newsweek is running an article entitled, "The Conscience of a Conservative." The subtitle asks, "The lifelong Republican who argued Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court—and won—goes to court this week to overturn California's ban on gay marriage. Huh?"

Questions to Consider:

1. Why do you think that conservative friends have asked Mr. Olson when he decided that he was for gay marriage? Do all conservatives, or all liberals, have to agree on everything? Why or why not?

2. Think of a specific debatable issue? What are the different sides of that issue? If individuals are on the same side of the issue can there still be disagreements between them? What kinds of disagreements? (What does it mean intellectually to belong to a political party? What does it mean to take a particular side in a debate in the classroom? )

3. Define the term marriage? What are the most important things about a marriage? What parts of a marriage are unimportant? Why?

4. Do you think that there are things that a government should tell a person that he may or may not do? Why? In what kinds of ways, if any, should a government be able to govern the behavior of individuals? In what kinds of ways, if any, should a government not be able to govern the behavior of individuals?

5. The government of the United States allows married couples to receive certain tax benefits. Should homosexual people who marry be allowed to enjoy the same tax benefits as heterosexuals? Why or why not?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Gilbert Arenas

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "Who is Gilbert Arenas? Even He Doesn't Seem to Know." Earlier this week, NBA Commissioner David Stearn indefinitely suspended Arenas from playing in the professional basketball league because he pulled out several guns in the locker room. Sally Jenkins the author writes, "Arenas bears a series of tattoos on his legs that he calls Black Rushmore: images of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama. When he first displayed them, they seemed nobler than the usual body art, more interesting than the inked tiger on his chest. They bespoke a guy who, beneath his teasing, was susceptible to meaning, conscious of things beyond himself. But now they just seem like costuming. The guy might as well have tattooed a feather boa onto his neck, for all the emblems seem to mean to him."

Questions to Consider
1. What do you think are the major reasons that people sometimes act foolishly?

2. If you could ask Gilbert Arenas one question in addition to "Why did you do it?" what would you ask him? Why?

3. Do you think that adults have tendencies to fall back on childish behaviors at times? Why or why not?

4. Do you think that professional athletes should be role models? See if you can answer this question from multiple perspectives.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Retail Stores Sales Up

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Retailers See Holiday Sales Rebound from Grim 2008." The article reports, "Retailers as varied as Costco and Saks posted robust year-over-year increases at stores open at least a year, a crucial measure of retail health known as same-store sales. Some chains — TJX Companies, Ross Stores and Aeropostale — reported double-digit increases. And a number of retailers raised their earnings estimates, suggesting the nation’s stores are in the early stages of a turnaround." However, the article also states, "Mid-priced department stores, a sector that has been struggling for a while, posted some of the month’s weakest numbers. Sales declined 7 percent at Dillard's, 3.8 percent at J.C. Penney, 2.6 percent at Bon-Ton Stores, and 2 percent at Stein-Mart."

Questions to Consider
1. Why do you think that sales typically increased at high end stores but stagnated or shrunk at mid-priced tiers?

2. Within your community have you seen any evidence that the economy is rebounding? Explain!

3. Explain the difference between discretionary spending and non-discretionary spending?

4. If you could do one thing to try and promote consumer spending what would you do? Why?