Archive for November, 2009

“Did you know?”

“The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010. . . [will not have existed] in 2004. . . We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist. . . using technologies that haven’t been invented. . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

In 2006, high school math teacher and technology coordinator Karl Fisch made a slideshow for his fellow teachers and administrators inspired by the disruptive effect of technology—”cell phones, video games, social networking sites, the Wikipediazation of information, the reach of YouTube and Skype”—on education. The slideshow was called, “Did you know?” and featured provocative statistics, observations, and predictions about future demographics, jobs, and education opportunities. From a great HuffPo article that explains the “anatomy (and meaning) of the ‘Did you know?’ video series“:

New technologies have ushered a seismic shift in education: how our kids learn, how our teachers teach, how curriculum is shaped and presented, how individual students, powered by technology, process and experience what they’re learning.

After having shared the slideshow on his personal blog, Fisch was contacted by a university instructor named Scott McLeod. Together, they turned the slideshow into a short video, which McLeod then posted on his own blog. Someone at the design company XPLANE came across the “Did you know?” video and contacted the two educators, offering to produce a free animated version of their presentation. Within a year, it had been viewed more than 5 million times.

That was version 2.0 of the series, produced in 2006. Version 3.0 is here and 4.0 below.

Says McLeod, a former 8th grade teacher:

“When you show some version of the video to corporate people, like the folks at Sony, they nod their heads and say, ‘yeah, this is the challenge we’re dealing with.’ When you show it to kids, to students, they nod their nods and say, ‘yeah, we’ve been waiting for you to catch up, we’ve been living through all of this.’ When you show it to educators, as often as not, the predominant reaction is withdrawal. They retreat like a turtle to its shell. Not all of them. But a lot of them. It’s too much. It’s too overwhelming. They don’t know what to do with it. This is our challenge.”

HuffPo journalist Jose Antonio Vargas concludes his article on “Did you know?” with “a call to action”:

This is a time for innovation in education, and technology in general and the Internet in particular are central to that. As President Obama and Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, continue to plan the future of our schools, Fisch and McLeod’s videos serve as resources—and, altogether, a call to action. Shift happens. It’s here. Lead.


November 25, 2009 at 3:59 am Leave a comment — “YouTube meets Wikipedia”

Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia, has launched a new educational venture for teachers, parent, and students aged 3-18 years-old —, which aspires to be the most accessible, intuitive, interactive, and easy-to-use website to discover and watch educational videos. Bonus: the website and all of its resources are free of charge.

Billed as “YouTube meets Wikipedia,” WatchKnow has so far organized more than 11,000 of the nearly 7 million education-related videos available on the Internet, and more resources are added every day. There are currently 2,000 categories that users can search to find content from providers like National Geographic, eHow, TeacherTube, SlideBoom, Google Videos, and

From WatchKnow’s press release announcing the site’s launch:

Imagine collecting all the best free educational videos made for children, and making them findable and watchable on one website. Then imagine creating many, many more such videos.

Just think: millions of great short videos, and other watchable media, explaining every topic taught in schools, in every major language on Earth.

Finally, imagine them all deeply and usefully categorized according to subject, education level, and placed in the order in which topics are typically taught.

WatchKnow—as in, “You watch, you know”—has started building this resource.

WatchKnow is both a resource for users and also a non-profit, online community that encourages everyone to collect, create, and share free, innovative, educational videos.

November 23, 2009 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

Best books of the year

The Atlantic has published a list of the 25 best books of the year. The top five:

By Michael Burlingame

Johns Hopkins

“Measured, psychologically astute, authoritative when it can be, Michael Burlingame’s exhaustive narrative (2,024 pages!) is unafraid of ambiguity and indeterminacy. This is the life of Lincoln for our times.” [Read Christopher Hitchens’s full review from the July/August Atlantic]

By A. S. Byatt

“Byatt has wrought a richly detailed, decade-spanning, at once Olympian and pointillist masterpiece. To read this gorgeous bolt of fiction is to fully enter a world.” [Read the full review from the October Atlantic]

(Concluding With The Third Reich at War)

By Richard J. Evans

“Evans’s cool, crisply argued three-volume chronicle will be for a generation the definitive general history of Nazi Germany in English.”

By James Lasdun

“This collection of short stories illuminates the everyday agonies of the mind, its anxieties, obsessions, doubts, and yearnings. Lasdun pins each observation to the page with grace and exactitude.” [Read the full review from the September Atlantic]

An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury

By Alison Light

“In her elegant, sparkling book, Light marries social and literary criticism as she probes the deeply intimate, often sordid, always fraught relationship between women servants and their female employers.”


Related: Andrew Sullivan posts on “The Neuroscience of Reading,” excerpted below.

Stanislas Dehaene, chair of Experimental Cognitive Psychology at the Collège de France, gives his view of the brain:

“What I am proposing is that the human brain is a much more constrained organ than we think, and that it places strong limits on the range of possible cultural forms. Essentially, the brain did not evolve for culture, but culture evolved to be learnable by the brain. Through its cultural inventions, humanity constantly searched for specific niches in the brain, wherever there is a space of plasticity that can be exploited to “recycle” a brain area and put it to a novel use. Reading, mathematics, tool use, music, religious systems — all might be viewed as instances of cortical recycling.”

November 23, 2009 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Diane Van Deren: “I use my legs as my words”

National Geographic Adventurer magazine profiles Adventurers of the Year in their December 2009/January 2010 edition. The opening paragraphs on ultrarunner Diane Van Deren had me hooked:

On February 15, 2009, a dozen runners toed the starting line of the Yukon Arctic Ultra, a 430-miler across frozen tundra in the dead of winter. With 30-below temperatures and seven-hour windows of daylight, it’s said to be the toughest race in the world. Not a single woman had ever completed it. But, then, there is no woman like Diane Van Deren.

Twelve years ago Van Deren, a former pro tennis player, had a kiwi-size chunk of her brain removed to treat epileptic seizures. The lobectomy was successful, but since then she has noticed a strange side effect: She can run without pause for hours.

Diane’s complete National Georgraphic story can be read here — and below is the second part of a great video produced by Colorado Outdoors that explains the role of endurance running in her battle with epilepsy.

This past July, the NYT profiled Van Deren, as well: “Brain surgery frees runner, but raises barriers.”

Finally, here’s a 60-second glimpse of the Yukon Arctic Ultra, perhaps the hardest (certainly the coldest) endurance event in the world, and one that a runner in the video says “destroys your mind as well as your body.”

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

November 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm 3 comments

Fit for class? Maybe not at Lincoln University

Lincoln University, the nation’s oldest historically black college and university (HBCU), mandates all undergraduate students to be tested for their Body Mass Index (BMI). Those who have a BMI greater than 30—i.e., students who are considered obese—are required to enroll in a weekly course called “Fitness for Life.” According to an AP news story, “the course involves walking, aerobics, weight training and other physical activities, as well as information on nutrition, stress and sleep.”

[University] officials said that the school is simply concerned about high rates of obesity and diabetes, especially in the African-American community.

“We know we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic,” said James L. DeBoy, chairman of Lincoln’s department of health, physical education and recreation. “We have an obligation to address this head on, knowing full well there’s going to be some fallout.”

The school’s student health policy, however, is causing an uproar on campus. In the university’s newspaper, for example, one student wrote, “I didn’t come to Lincoln to be told that my weight is not in an acceptable range. I came here to get an education.” In a follow-up interview, this student said she objected to the fact that certain people were being singled out for their weight and suggested that all students should have to take the Fitness for Life course—not just those with a BMI that places them in the “obese” category.

From the AP story:

Health experts applaud the school’s intent, if not its execution. Mark Rothstein, director of the bioethics institute at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine, said being forced to disclose such health information is “at least awkward and often distasteful.”

And it doesn’t necessarily lead to the best outcomes, he said, noting that “when the (health) goals are imposed on people, they don’t do that well in meeting them.”

DeBoy stressed that students are not required to lose weight or lower their BMI; they must only pass the class through attendance and participation.

Also, students need more than exercise, said Marcia Costello, a registered dietitian in the Philadelphia area. The university should make sure its dining halls and vending machines offer healthy choices, she said.

Costello, an assistant professor of nursing at Villanova University, also noted that body mass index can be misleading. Since muscle weighs more than fat, “it is possible to be overweight and still be physically fit,” she said.

I wonder if Lincoln University may be one of the earlier examples of institutions and organizations that eventually mandate targeted interventions for their employees and members who are deemed unhealthy. And I wonder if this is actually effective public policy.

November 21, 2009 at 8:21 am 5 comments

Run like a rat

Researchers at Princeton University recently made a remarkable discovery about the brains of rats that exercise…

The “cells born from running,” the researchers concluded, appeared to have been “specifically buffered from exposure to a stressful experience.” The rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm.

From a great NYT story on “Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious.”

November 20, 2009 at 5:49 am Leave a comment

Drawing is thinking

Kottke highlights my favorite quote from this video of Milton Glaser reflecting on the relationship between drawing and thinking:

“It is only through drawing that I look at things carefully.”

The book Milton said he was working on is now available. “Based on the idea that all art is a form of meditation … the primary intent [of Drawing is Thinking] is to explore how the mind works in its attempt to create reality.”

November 20, 2009 at 5:25 am Leave a comment

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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