Sunday, September 25, 2016

Gaming The 2016 Election - Videos & Toolkits To Let Students Join The Debates

Source: PBS Learning Media

In the modern era, presidential debates have become must-see theater. In many cases, these general election showdowns have produced critical moments to determine the November outcomes. Even at their most pedantic, these debates are rare opportunities to hear the nation's leaders speak directly to citizens and to each other. Voters can judge how the candidates handle themselves on the world's largest stage.

The first debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University (down the road from us here on Long Island) on Monday, September 26, 2016, is predicted to shatter television viewing records. Not incorporating this event into a day's lesson, therefore, would constitute educational malpractice.

Source: Watch The Debates

Teachers need to foster in their students an appreciation for civics. They need to guide young people toward understanding rhetoric and messaging. They need to use policy discussions as springboards to social awareness and future voting choices. One way to do this is by incorporating the practices of game interactions. This "gamification" approach to learning puts students in the driver's seat.

Source: PBS Learning Media
Fortunately, PBS has put together two terrific resources to bring the debates to life. The first is "Watch The Debates" from PBS Newshour. It allows users to view and interact with every candidate confrontation since 1960. Students can watch full encounters or highlights, and they can respond with their own verdicts.

The second resource is "Join The Debates," from PBS Learning Media. This site provides educators with a poster and toolkit to stage student dialogues in their own classrooms. Based on the Harkness Method and Spider Web discussion, these detailed guides allow children to reenact the debate format. Kids become owners of their own opinions, and they gain a better appreciation of the rigors of presidential parleys and the complexities of global issues.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Recess Rescue: Why Play Time Should Be Written Into The Students' Bill Of Rights

Source: ASIDE 2016

As our nation’s children head to back to the classroom, many schools find themselves trying to rein in kids’ summer impulses. Strict conduct policies are emphasizing rules and enforcing straight lines on students who are used to gamboling in backyards and lolling for hours.

Many Scandinavian countries, most brain science, and all veteran teachers would encourage the exact opposite. They would argue that instead of limiting play, educators should expand the amount of free time dedicated to socialization and creativity. Imagination itself is not learned, but it can be unlearned due to the drone of worksheets and mandates.

Source: ASIDE 2016

While many schools nationwide are reducing free play opportunities, our neighboring Patchogue-Medford district here on Long Island has actually doubled recess time from 20 to 40 minutes. In fact, a few Texas and Oklahoma schools now schedule recess four times a day. These changes are not capricious; they are part of studies such as the LiiNK Project, which has found that physical activity increases students' emotional well-being and reduces instances of bullying and stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports these findings with its seminal white paper about "The Crucial Role Of Recess In School."

Across the board, students, teachers, parents, administrators, kinesiologists, therapists, and test graders are all witnessing the positive outcomes of enhanced play time. The scientist Jaak Panksepp has devoted a career of research to answering two pivotal questions: Where in the brain does play come from? And is it a learned activity, or is it a basic function?

Source: ASIDE 2016

NPR has highlighted Panksepp’s studies, showcasing that play is deep and instinctive, shared across mammals, and integral to survival. Important social skills stem from play, in testing interactions, probing limits, and navigating hierarchies. In other words, play is primitive, the natural outcome of time and trust.

Children need this unstructured time to make mistakes and develop friendships on their own terms. The arena of the soccer field or the sand box is ideal in nurturing successful adults. Recess is not a privilege. It should not be an afterthought. It should instead be written into the students’ Bill Of Rights.

Source: KOIN

Otherwise, what are our playgrounds? Are they monuments to eras past? Are they the still testaments to the naivety of earlier generations? Are they just another hallmark of the sped-up modern day, the never-enough-time-for day, when the things we wish for are just that — wishes?

For other ideas about the importance of play, we recommend:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Designing The Iconic Flame - A Visual History Of The Olympic Torch

Source: Rio 2016

Design is the marriage of message and motif. It is the intersection of identity and icon. In crafting a logo or a slogan or a character, the end symbol is the summation of both the shape and the story.

That’s why the images of the Olympic Games have reached such exalted status. The five rings are a beacon of continental unity. The posters and medals and mascots have linked arms through the years to provide an intriguing portrait of episodic design trends and nationalistic pride.

Source: Rio 2016

Looking back at the summer and winter Games, we have offered reviews of: 

The Olympic torch is an often-overlooked aspect of sports history. Many viewers might remember the televised cauldron lightings, but few can recall the specifics of each particular torch style. This is a shame, because the Rio 2016 cresset is a testament to careful design and deeply embedded meaning.

The Rio torch, as always, represents “peace, unity, and friendship.” This particular beacon, however, features many other subtle elements to personify the flair and landscape of Brazil. For example, this torch is the first to extend and grow. From the official Olympics site:

Source: Rio 2016
The hues and textures of the expanded torch pay tribute to the gold Brazilian sun, the green mountain curves, the blue ocean ripples, and the grounded Copacabana promenade. The winning design from Chelles & Hayashi was chosen unanimously from 76 nationwide submissions. Additionally, “each torch – crafted from recycled aluminum and resin with a satin finish – weighs between 1kg and 1.5kg and stands 63.5cm high when contracted and 69cm when expanded.”

For a look back at past Olympic torches, this wiki outlines a complete list of manufacturers and designers. For a visual gallery, the Olympic site includes icons going back to the 1936 Berlin Games.

Personally, our historic favorites are the art deco Innsbruck 1976, the knifed Sydney 2000, and this year’s evocative Rio 2016:


Our least favorites are the spatulaed Montreal 1976, the cucumbered Albertville 1992, and the twizzlered Sochi 2014


For other ideas about teaching with the Olympics, we recommend:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Visualizing The Summer Olympics - Mapping The 2016 Rio Torch Relay

Source: Rio 2016 Olympics Wiki

On Friday, August 5, 2016, the eyes of the world will be fixated on Rio de Janeiro for the opening ceremonies of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. The #RoadToRio has notoriously been potholed by damaging news stories about Zika mosquitos, water pollution, construction delays, financial collapse, and rampant crime. Still, the tenacity of the tireless athletes and the nobility of the Olympic quest will unite the globe for two weeks and will present terrific opportunities for visualizations and education.

Source: Rio 2016

The torch relay, in particular, inaugurates the Games as the flame travels from its Greek origins to then crisscross Brazil in an escalating parade of famous athletes and historic sites. Mapping this journey through graphics and animations offers valuable chances to learn about geography and culture.

The official Rio 2016 site offers dynamic options for tracking the path of the torch, via calendar photos, city routes, and regional celebrations. The video highlights include both an animated map of each destination and a behind-the-scenes tribute to the nation's citizens. Across 95 days, the torch will pass through 12,500 road miles, 10,000 air miles, and 12,000 people.

Source: Rio 2016

For better or worse, current events also feature prominently in the torch's travelogue (much like the 2014 Sochi controversies). At various stops, the Rio carriers have so far been attacked with a fire extinguisher, beset by an unruly jaguar, and accused of carrying a "cursed" flame.

In essence, the torch relay is a fitting cavalcade to the heroic spirit of the competition. It builds anticipation for the contests to come, and it shines a spotlight on the country's locales and heritage. It also welcomes the world into a terrain that may be unfamiliar. This widening of the learning lens is crucial in pushing students to look outside themselves. Sydney's 2000 triumph and Beijing's 2008 spectacle both prove the worth of these quadrennial jamborees.

For more ideas about exploring the Olympics or using the Games in education, check out:

Friday, July 29, 2016

What Is The Corpse Flower Sensation? And Why Is Viral Science A Learning Opportunity?

Source: National Geographic

It's rare that a single flower becomes a viral, stakeout sensation. We admit that we've been fixated. While YouTube eyes are currently obsessed with a grotesque and freakish bloom, educators may be missing an opportunity.

Yesterday the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) announced that after a decade of cultivation, the Amorphophallus titanum finally began to bloom. Commonly known as the "corpse flower," this plant from Sumatra in Indonesia exudes the smell of rotting meat as it opens. The putrid odor and the otherworldly shape are keys to its appeal, as its startling height. The flower has notched the Guinness World Record for the tallest bloom in cultivation at over 10 feet (and even larger in its natural habitat).

The New York Botanical Garden first hosted a successful bloom of the corpse flower in 1937. A second emerged in in 1939, but generations have past to witness the third revelation of this dreamy, rancid blossom. Visitors have been lining up, and online watchers have been glued to the YouTube livestream, mostly because the scare appearance lasts for only 24 - 36 hours.

Why is this floral oddity relevant for teachers and students? On a basic level, this quirky natural artifact offers countless avenues for science learners to explore biology, botany, morphology, behavior, pollination, inflorescence, germination, dormancy, regionality, and cultivation. For example, the bloom is not actually one large flower. Instead it comprises a leaf-like ring of outbursts surrounding a central column.

On a higher level, the fascination with this shy and fetid flower speaks to every teacher's desire (and angst): how can we make make learning relevant? How can we pinpoint the moving target of our contemporary kids' attention spans? If they are attracted by a weird plant, what can we learn from this momentary buzz to inform our curricula?

Is it too much to ask that a daily lesson is unexpected? Is it pandering to give students something to anticipate, to look forward to? The allure of the NYBG "Corpse Flower Cam" lies in the waiting. It rests in the charisma of the macabre. Why does a flower smell so bad? What is the evolutionary attraction for carrion creatures that will come and spread the pollen?

Source: NYBG; Chicago Botanic Garden

Source: University Of Wisconsin-Madison
In other words, all classes should unfold like a mystery. Children ought to be rapt in the one-in-a-million stories: the collapse of the Spanish armada, the elegance of Euler's identity, the chance of penicillin's discovery, or the lightning of a boy's forehead.

For locals, the occasion to visit a monstrous plant that reeks of spoiled flesh is priceless. Would that all of our classes were as exhilarating. For the rest of us, this is a neat moment that we should remember in September, to excite STEM learners and to wake up the drowsy kids who don't think our "Do Now" exercise lives up to their Snapchat feed.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Visualizing The National Parks - Celebrating 100 Years Of America's Wonder

Source: National Geographic

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) turns 100. After a century of shepherding America's splendor, the Park Service and its personnel will rightfully be feted as dedicated, humble stewards of our country's most precious landscapes.

Personally, we have been lucky enough to visit many of the nation's 59 parks on all points of the compass. Each site has never failed to live up to its consecration as a place of American rarity, pride, and beauty. From the unspoiled trails to the popular overlooks, every curated destination within the wilderness is a testament to the work and vision of the Parks Service.

Source: National Park Service

This august anniversary introduces many opportunities to weave the Parks into authentic classroom lessons. For example, the "Every Kid In A Park" initiative seeks to connect our nation's youth to its most treasured spaces. Additionally, a wide range of visualizations now provide easy ways to incorporate the centennial into state standards and skill-based curricula. At their least, these videos and graphics offer terrific kick-offs to a morning's discussion. At their best, these charts and illustrations support critical student proficiencies. They also bring to life the gorgeous panoply of natural wonder that would make any Disney confection blush.

To start, the "Find Your Park" website gathers videos and social media interactions of everyday first-person testimonials about the grandeur of America's vistas. As a companion, the NPS has opened its Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data to the public, for educators and graphic artists to tap in building models of terrains and visitations.

Some of the best renderings of the National Parks come from the Works Project Administration during the 1930s New Deal. These art deco posters from the Federal Arts Project capture the majesty of the otherworldly settings in colorful and appealing travel enticements. National Geographic has assembled a nice collection of these posters from the Library Of Congress.

Source: National Park Service

In a video homage, the outdoor outfitter O.A.R.S. has put together a stunning tribute to the Parks, told through the stirring words of Theodore Roosevelt. As befitting its founder, the NPS takes seriously its safeguarding of America's geology. It invites students of energy, minerals, and paleontology to explore the singular contours and cliffs through open online access and badging of restoration and geoscience. These resources are terrific for earth science and environmentally minded teachers to investigate with their students.

Source: FiveThirtyEight

In math and statistics, the minds at FiveThirtyEight (who usually spend their time worrying about political polls and baseball ERAs) have analyzed the popularity of each park. They crafted crisp graphs and charts for STEM educators to draw from in ranking the visitors to each venerated location. As they note, "the U.S. national parks have never been so popular," and the Great Smoky Mountains continues its reign as the most-visited National Park, due to its location and exquisiteness.

Source: FiveThirtyEight

In probing the specifics beneath the Great Smoky Mountains' charm, researcher John Farrell raked the Instagram API to determine where in the Park photographs were most frequently snapped. His visualization layers social media atop traditional coordinate geography to present a new picture of the Park's usage. He includes similar map mash-ups for other coast-to-coast sites.

Source: John Farrell

For its part, the NPS has put together its own retro advertisement, in the classic style of antique movie reels or 1950s television ads. This wry film is a perfect nod to the 100-year heritage of the organization. It also displays a warm embrace of every citizen who passes through the Parks' gates.

Digging deeper into the soil and flora, Luke Easterwood, Michael Gelon, Hadar Scharff, and Matt Soave have analyzed the Parks' Vegetation Inventory. They built a visualization series to "encourage insightful discoveries" through the Tableau interface. These charts and graphs drill down to specific physiognomic classes and leaf phenology details.


In order to help navigate the Parks, the Sierra Club has designed a System Map based on the urban subway template. This seemingly humorous rendering actually gives travelers a valuable guide in planning their vacations and in connecting the dots between regional marvels.

Source: Fast Company

Source: David Hockney
Finally, the purest representations of America's National Parks have always come from the minds of the country's painters. Beginning with the light portraits of Thomas Moran, many artists have sought to capture the glory of glaciers and geysers. Most recently, David Hockney scratched a series of brilliant sweeps on his iPad in his "Yosemite Suite." These personal, stylized views prove to any viewer that the nation's Parks are love letters to its wilderness. They are the last vestige against urbanity and a hallmark of global distinction.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teaching With Cartoons - A Visual History Of Donkeys, Elephants, Parties, & Politics

Source: Politico

Our students are avid consumers of politics and history. They always ask, though, how the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant became the icons of the respective parties. Both animals, however strong and noble, seem somewhat incongruous to the preferred imagery of political ambition.

Political cartoonists throughout the ages have captured these two creatures in brilliant colors and tart commentaries. Skilled artists have swayed society's opinions through targeted visual satires. For their part, educators have consistently embraced these editorial cartoons as terrific tools in teaching primary sources, points of view, pictorial language, and symbolic metaphors.

Source: Politico

The curators at Politico, one of the sharpest websites for up-to-the-minute political news, have gathered together a stunning gallery of historical cartoons in honor of the Republican and Democratic conventions. They trace the legacy of the donkey — from Andrew Jackson's anti-elitism, to Woodrow Wilson's internecine war, to Hillary Clinton's divided constituency. They map the evolution of the elephant — from Thomas Nast's first salvo, to William McKinley's bandwagon, to Donald Trump's hair on fire.

Source: Politico

Both compendiums of cartoons provide excellent resources for teachers in history, government, civics, social studies, English, and language arts classes. The collections include many seldom-seen images. They also offer terrific examples of illustrations to practice the skills of graphicacy and to follow the four critical steps in analyzing an image.

Source: Politico

Source: Politico

Check out the Democratic cartoon collection here and the Republican cartoon collection here.

For other ideas about teaching with political cartoons, we recommend:

Source: Politico

Source: Politico
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