Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Thomas G. West Online Conference March 23-25

FYI--The next Gifted Online Conference is taking place this weekend. The guest speaker is Thomas G. West. From the conference announcement:

"Thomas G. West is the author of the award-winning book In the Mind's Eye-- Visual Thinkers, Gifted People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties, Computer Images and the Ironies of Creativity. Now in its 14th printing, the book was awarded a gold seal in 1998 by the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association as "an outstanding academic title" and, later, in 1999, as one of the "best of the best" for the year (one of only 12 books in their broad psychology and neuroscience category). The book was published in Japanese translation as Geniuses Who Hated School. A Chinese translation was published in 2004. According to one reviewer: "Every once in a while a book comes along that turns one's thinking upside down. In the Mind's Eye is just such a book."

The book covers brain research, computer graphic technologies and profiles of 11 famous people who have shown evidence of great visual and non-visual talents along with dyslexia or other learning difficulties. One of the main arguments of the book is that we need to better understand the great diversity of human brains--including the hidden learning difficulties that often come along with superior talents and capabilities- -as well as the hidden talents that often coexist with various learning problems. The profiles include: Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell. Albert Einstein, Rev. Charles L. Dodgson, Henri Poincaré, Thomas Alva Edison, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston S. Churchill, Gen. George S. Patton and William Butler Yeats. ...

More information can be located here.

Also if you would like to order the book, In The Mind's Eye, before during, or after the conference, if you visit Hoagies and click on the Amazon link you will help support the awesome Hoagies website."

These conferences take place entirely by email. Consider it the busiest e-list you've ever been on (I recommend daily digest). You can sign up for the conferences by visiting http://www.giftedonlineconferences.com/index.html

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Guys Read in the UK

There's a story on the BBC News site today calling for more reading support, particularly for working class boys.

"Boys like books which depict them in powerful roles, often as sporting, spying or fighting heroes - not just Jane Austen, but a necessary dose of Anthony Horowitz as well," [Education Secretary Alan Johnson] said.

"To help get boys reading we need a boys' bookshelf in every secondary school library in the country, containing positive, modern, relevant role models for working class boys."

I'm the first to agree it's very hard to find novels that boys, particularly in the 10+ age-group, will read. But if you put all the exciting books on the "boys only" bookshelf, what happens to the girls who like adventure stories or the Hardy Boys?

Perhaps a better approach than sorting library books by gender, is to make English/reading lessons more accessible for the underwhelmed by changing the way the subject is taught. Enter English teacher Gary Spina, author of The Mountain Man's Field Guide to Grammar. From the New York Times:

"What few of his teachers realized was that Gary was an avid reader before his teens, making his way through the shelf of Jack London in the local library, digging into copies of Robert Louis Stevenson at home. In seventh grade, he picked up Hemingway and began to realize there might be something manly in writing well.

Then, in high school, he applied for a job writing copy at an advertising agency in Hackensack and was rejected because he spelled the word “advertize.” Learning something about correct language and grammar, he realized, might prove useful in his goal of being self-sufficient.

Decades later, Mr. Spina used these insights to write a most unlikely reference book, “The Mountain Man’s Field Guide to Grammar,” which was released last year. In the crowded field of grammar books, his is probably the only one to include “grifter” and “pemmican” in its glossary and to teach the simple sentence with examples such as “Dirty Doris spit tobacco juice.”

Cool, huh? I've been looking for a grammar resource that won't put the boys to sleep. I'm going to check this one out right away!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cool Little Resource for Visual Teens

I just picked up a copy of The High School Learning System. It's an interesting package--multimedia presentations on English (with ebook texts), history (US and World), math (pre-algebra through calculus) and science (mostly biology) with Q&A and quizzes assess learning (if you want to do that). The presentation on the French Revolution lasted about 20 minutes of narration with period background music and pictures. They included a good amount of detail, covered the various governments between 1789 and 1799 and offered a 101 question online "quiz" (sounds like a test to me!) at the end.

I was less impressed with the math section. I noticed on their website that they have a stand-alone math learning system product, so that may be why this section is less comprehensive.

I have the 2006 version, which I bought on ebay for $13 (2 DVDs and 1 Spanish-English online dictionary). The 2007 version costs $40 and includes:

"• All core subjects covered
• 86 integrated educational titles
• 54 hours of multimedia presentations & video
• 37 hours of audio books
• 101 Barron’s Book Notes
• Printable tests to monitor progress
• PLUS new educational material for your iPodTM"

I think this would be a great resource for younger gifted kids working at a high school level, for homeschooling teens and/or as a review for regular high school classes.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wikipedia: Bane or Boon?

Let me first say that we use Wikipedia extensively at our house. "Let's ask Wiki" is a common answer to my boys' uncommon questions. It's not the only source we use, but it's a lot cheaper and more interactive than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

There's been some grumbling in education circles about Wiki's accuracy and whether it should be considered a source for college research. Middlebury College's History Department banned using Wiki as a source for research papers. Then there was some silly scandal about one of Wiki's editor claiming to be a theology professor when he was really a college dropout. Both these "scandals" miss the point, imho. Wikipedia is a collective source of knowledge. What you read there may or may not be entirely accurate, but in the aggregate, it's an excellent overview of some difficult topics or first source for arcane knowledge (Just what does the flag of Somalia look like?).

Maybe Wiki has an even greater part to play in education, simply because of the nebulousness of its information. At the University of East Anglia in the UK, masters degree students are required to write for Wiki. "Nicola Pratt, a lecturer in international relations, said she used to be "one of the disgruntled crown of academics who berate students for using Wikipedia in their essays" but is now convinced it can be a great opportunity for students to see at first hand how knowledge is produced.

Uniquely in the UK, her postgraduate students studying for a masters degree in international relations and development are assessed on editing eight Wikipedia articles to improve the quality and make them more balanced. They must also write one of their own.

They haven't found it easy, according to Dr Pratt, and soon discovered just how much reading around the subject was involved. "I've seen improvement with all the students - I think it's working," she said."

Maybe we should do less blaming Wiki for lazy research methods among undergraduates (citing an encyclopedia? Excuse me?) and do more to improve Wiki and improve our collective wealth of knowledge.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Web Site Launched for Students Keen on Math, Science

BALTIMORE, Feb. 26 (AScribe Newswire) -- Imagine if a teen-age Stephen Hawking could have sparred with Einstein over physics. For gifted teens in the United States and worldwide -- perhaps including future Einsteins and Hawkings -- it's now possible, through Cogito.org ( http://www.cogito.org ).

Cogito.org, developed by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth ( http://www.cty.jhu.edu ), offers a virtual home for the world's brightest students with strong interests and abilities in mathematics and science. The site offers free use to all visitors, who can access most of its resources and learn about everything from global warming to cold fusion.

Cogito's developers want the site to inspire its users to become the innovators, visionaries, and problem-solvers of the future. They also want Cogito.org to play a critical part in upgrading math, science, technology, and engineering education -- known as the STEM subjects -- for the estimated 1.5 million gifted middle and high school students in the United States and greater numbers worldwide.

These four areas are the subject of national efforts defined in President Bush's 2006 American Competitiveness Initiative. Improved education in STEM subjects is seen as critical to maintaining U.S. competitive advantage in science and technology.

The free, public-access section of Cogito.org is packed full of interviews with experts, profiles of young scientists, science news, Web resources and directories of summer programs, competitions and other academic opportunities.

Middle- and high-schoolers, for example, have interviewed a nanotechnologist, a scientist at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon, to learn about research they would never hear about in science class.

The site also features a section that is open to membership by invitation. It is here that students can participate in online discussion forums with top math and science students worldwide -- where U.S. students can share math problems with their Chinese, Russian or Thai counterparts, for example. Membership is expected to expand rapidly as programs serving gifted students in programs around the world nominate their students for membership.

Early site activity is promising, with students using Cogito.org as developers had hoped. "For some of us, it's the first time we've been in contact with so many other gifted math and science kids in our lives," says Willow Smith, a senior from Palm Bay, Fla. "It's the first time we've been in a community with people who can stand up to our arguments and then return ones of their own that are just as convincing."

Expert participation in discussions is also important Cogito.org's members, according to Andrew Peters, a 14-year-old 10th grader from Rochester, Minn. "I especially liked it when an expert was brought in to discuss the issue of planet status for Pluto," he said. "The chance to hear an expert's opinion on a current event is a rare and excellent opportunity."

To that end, a key goal and need, say CTY's Cogito.org developers, is to attract and retain adult scientists and mathematicians who can serve as discussion leaders and mentors. "Along with the benefits the site holds for young people, we think this is a wonderful opportunity for scientists and others to offer their knowledge to students," said Lea Ybarra, executive director of CTY.

The name Cogito.org, which was chosen with input from gifted students, was taken from the Latin translation of Descartes' famous maxim Cogito, ergo sum or "I think; therefore, I am." The site was developed by CTY in partnership with these other leading centers serving gifted students: the Talent Identification Program at Duke University, the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, the Rocky Mountain Talent Search at the University of Denver, C-MITES at Carnegie Mellon University, the Belin-Blank Center at the University or Iowa, the Center for Excellence in Education, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and Science Service.

A $1.7 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation provided initial funding to develop and launch the site, and additional funds are being sought to sustain and expand it.

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CONTACT: Amy Lunday, JHU Media Relations, 443-287-9960, acl@jhu.edu

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Not on the Test

*Not On The Test *
by John Forster & Tom Chapin
(c) 2007 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co. (ASCAP)

Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you'll do just fine.
It's reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don't need to know what is not on the test.

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don't get all stressed.
They'd never teach anything not on the test.

The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they're caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school 'cause they're not on the test.
Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
You'll learn there's a lot that is not on the test.

Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you're in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
'Cause rational discourse was not on the test.

Thinking's important. It's good to know how.
And someday you'll learn to, but someday's not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don't think about thinking. It's not on the test.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Blizzard #2 Update

Snow on the ground from the weekend blizzard: 12" compacted to 10"
Snow forecast last night: 5-6"
Snow that actually fell last night: ~1" :(
Snow Day on Thursday? Early dismissal, probably
Snow predicted from now until Friday 6 pm: 6-12"
Snow actually falling now (11 am CST)
Snow Day tomorrow??? Priceless!