Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Cicadas and the Mathematical Brilliance of Nature | Endless Innovation | Big Think

Cicadas and the Mathematical Brilliance of Nature | Endless Innovation | Big Think.

This article brilliantly and succinctly discusses how Nature demonstrates the principles we use in mathematics.  While math frequently seems to be disconnected from reality, hopelessly abstract and difficult to comprehend, it is really a discipline that can help us to understand and explain our world.

Reading this short article, I was reminded of a great book that I now plan to introduce to my 12 year old son.  The book is The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.  In the book, Robert, a boy who hates math, meets the Number Devil, who teaches Robert the beauty and wonder of math in a series of 12 dreams.  Full of wit, wonder, and fiendish charm, Enzensberger creates realistic worlds that make prime numbers, Fibonacci numbers, and infinite numbers real, finite, understandable, and fun.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be doing more of this in our schools than taking the fun out of study and making it all seem so difficult that it just doesn’t seem worth the trouble?


Five billion people can’t use the Internet

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Aleph Molinari – Bridging the Digital Divide

The Digital Divide is a mother that’s 45 years old and can’t get a job, cuz she doesn’t know how to use a computer.

Most news focuses on the roughly 2 billion people in the world who use the Internet.  Economist Aleph Molinari chooses to focus on the other five billion people.  He is working to close the digital divide and empower people, by providing widespread access to technology education.

Español: Logo de la Fundación Proacceso

Español: Logo de la Fundación Proacceso (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2008, Molinari founded Fundación Proacceso and in 2009 launched the Learning and Innovation network.  The network uses community centers to educate under-served communities and

enable them to use technology for empowerment. In about 2 years, the network has graduated 28,000 users through 42 educational centers throughout Mexico.

Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants be...

Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants between 1997 and 2007 by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), source: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Learning and Innovation network

employs a well-designed system to bridge this digital divide.  The system is divided into 4 educational parts.  The first focuses on computers.  The second is the Internet.  The third is office software.  The fourth phase is a 72 hour technology program that produces, in the end, a digital citizen.  While the program sounds somewhat trite, there is no doubt that the programs conducted by Fundación Proacceso and the Learning and Innovation network have made a huge impact on extremely poor communities in Mexico.

Molinari’s arguments are extremely persuasive.  There is no doubt to me that, as he says, “Internet is a right, not a luxury.” We can do a lot to bridge this divide, enabling many of the five billion – most of whom are in the southern hemisphere and Asia – to become active participants as digital citizens of the world.

Although the work ahead seems daunting, it is even more daunting to consider what will happen to our world in the absence of a more fair and just distribution of wealth and opportunity.  It is better to make do with less than to lose everything we love and cherish.

Molinari’s final message is full of hope:

The main message is that technology is not going to save the world, we are, and we can use technology to help us. Most technology is human energy, so let’s use this energy to make this world a better place.

This is a comma, not a full stop. – Ruel Bobet 10/26/2011

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment


For me, LIVESTRONG is not just an organization that provides support for cancer survivors and led by the enigmatic Lance Armstrong.  It is a way of life.

I believe in the LiveSTRONG Manifesto.  I became a LIVESTRONG Leader for 2012 because I wanted to use my experience leading groups through adventure and sports to learn about cancer, cancer survivorship, and its prevention.

We believe in life.
Your life.
We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being.
And that you must not let cancer take control of it.
We believe in energy: channeled and fierce.
We believe in focus: getting smart and living strong.
Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.

I just read today in the LIVESTRONG Leaders group on Facebook about a young man who was fighting cancer until last weekend.  His words from last year about how he was facing his fight says succinctly a lot about why I have joined the fight.  His attitude is evident in the title of his post, which I used in my title as well.  (Thank you Ruel, rest in Peace.  You are now, in my mind, an exclamation point.  That will keep screaming out forever!)

TEXAS 4000 RIDE: This is a comma, not a full stop.

I’ve been wearing a LIVESTRONG wristband for  around 7 or 8 years now.  Long enough for it to become as fitting and natural as a watch or – really, as much as I love/hate to say it – my wedding ring.

My LiveSTRONG wristband

My LIVESTRONG wristband

I started wearing it around 2004, when I finally got one at the NikeTown Portland store. (The store was the first of the NikeTown concept, which has now been mostly phased out.) I’ve been wearing one full time since.

I started wearing the band mostly because I loved the way Lance Armstrong competed.  I have been a fan for many years, since he came back from cancer and started winning the Tour de France.  But I first started paying attention to cycling races because of Greg LeMond.  I had already been a fan of cycling itself, but LeMond’s first victory at the Tour de France in 1986 coincided with my being a bicycle messenger in San Francisco.

Then, in 1987, LeMond was accidentally hit by a shotgun blast during a turkey hunt by his brother-in-law,  nearly killing him.  But after losing two years of professional racing, Greg LeMond won the Tour de France in 1989 and 1990.  He was the first American ever to wind the race, but after coming back only 2 years after nearly losing his life, I became hooked.

Then came Lance.  His story is now legendary.  Never came close to reaching his potential (for 5 years he was projected to become a star) during his career leading up to 1996, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  Spreads to his lungs and even his brain.  Surgery, extensive chemo, and a long hard rehabilitation.  Two lost years of professional racing.  Then, in 1999, Armstrong amazingly wins his first Tour de France.  Then, even more dramatically, Lance wins the world’s greatest race for 7 consecutive years.

We’re about the fight.
We’re your advocate before policymakers. Your champion within the healthcare system. Your sponsor in the research labs.
And we know the fight never ends.
Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life.
Founded and inspired by Lance Armstrong, one of the toughest cancer survivors on the planet.

I’m not as big a fan of the Tour de France as I once was.  I don’t think it is because there have been no American winners since Lance.  Nor is it because of the lack of media attention.  Part of it is because of the media attention, especially the focus on doping.  But much of it is because I’m more focused on just living and doing, rather than watching others compete.

I’ll keep on riding, running, hiking, climbing, and swimming.  These things are important to me.  They are me.


Come along for the ride of your life!

12 Things Really Educated People Know

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

12 Things Really Educated People Know

This list was compiled by John Taylor Gatto, a teacher in New York City for 30 years and selected the state’s Teacher of the Year three times.  Gatto is the author of 6 books, including the wonderfully and colorfully titled Weapons of Mass Instruction (2008).

It is a wonderful and succinct list, one that I believe everyone should thoughtfully consider and most to enthusiastically adopt.  I am particularly fond of #s 4 and 5 on his list.


February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

The Story of KIPP from KIPP Foundation on Vimeo.

KIPP Schools

KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. There are currently 109 KIPP schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serving more than 32,000 students.

Facts about KIPP Schools

Facts about KIPP Schools

The story of KIPP is tremendously inspiring.  It is the powerful story of two teachers, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, who launched in 1994 a fifth-grade public school program in inner-city Houston, TX, after completing their commitment to Teach For America.   Following that small start, Feinberg remained in Houston to lead KIPP Academy Middle School, while Levin returned home to New York City to establish KIPP Academy in the South Bronx. Since then, KIPP schools have expanded and achieved unprecedented success throughout the United States, serving in2011 more than 27,000 students in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

While fewer than 40% of students in low-income families attend college nationally, more than 85% of KIPP students who complete 8th grade have gone on to college.  This rate, more than doubling the national average, is staggering.

This success, in turn, has led to a great number of accolades, including The $100,000 Charles Bronfman Prize in 2009 to Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin.

KIPP, though, has its detractors.  Some point to an attrition rate reportedly as high as 60%.  Others say that KIPP’s rigorous admission standards – with as many as 10 times more applicants than places in some schools – enable the schools to attract and admit students and families who would succeed anyway.

In particular, it is clear that KIPP schools have not demonstrated an ability to engender success among IEP students diagnosed with conduct disorders, serious emotional disturbances, or other such learning disabilities, because students bearing such issues do not survive the difficult and highly competitive admissions process.

Finally, another group of critics say that KIPP schools are successful only because they spend more money per student.  The schools certainly are able to spend more, because they have become well-funded through private donations supplementing their government grants.

Still KIPP Schools are the subject of great accolades.  This report on ABC World News in 2007 is dramatic in its portrayal of the special qualities of the KIPP Schools.

To me, the most apparent feature of KIPP Schools is that they have been able to change the spirit and attitude of both students and teachers.  it is not just the increase in class time, or the increase in homework, or class sizes.  It is really a completely different culture, one in which working much harder, putting more time into understanding and improving performance in academics – especially math, and being “smart” is very cool.

It is difficult for me to deny that KIPP schools have been successful at something.  There is little doubt that its students have been achieving success that is unprecedented in their families and communities.  Or, that these children are exceeding even their own initial expectations.

The schools may, in fact, be selectively neglecting the majority of students.  Nor are the kinds of investments of financial and human capital sustainable.  But the result are impressive.

KIPP Results

KIPPs successes, according to KIPP

Much has been written about the success of KIPP and the schools have won them many notable fans, including Bill Gates.  He refers to KIPP as being one of the places in which good teaching is rewarded.  Here is Gates speaking about this in 2009 at a TED talk:

Five Pillars

KIPP Schools share a core set of principles, which they call the Five Pillars.  These are:

  • High Expectations
  • Choice & Commitment
  • More Time
  • Power to Lead
  • Focus on Results

Ultimately, I believe that it is these that have the effect of changing the culture of the KIPP community.  Certainly there are different ways of valuing results, both for students and the teaching staff.  And when kids are in school for up to 8 hours a day and are given 2-4 hours of homework, some things are sacrificed.  But these sorts of issues, I think are those that many people are willing to make, if they lead to greater opportunities in school, work, and life.

DIY Physics: Physics in the 21st Century

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

In a post-punk, Internet dominated, democraticized world, science and physics will become a subject of online discussion and debate. Online physics is likely to share a lot more in common with the physics of the Big Box DIY store than the university laboratory or a Nobel laureate’s lecture.

This may not make online science academically defensible, but if it ends up making more people think deeply and talk to others about how our world works, then it may be profoundly good for people and planet.

The History of English in 10 Minutes, by The Open University

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Profoundly entertaining! I’ve only included the link for the first video of 10, but you can view them all or find the individual links on YouTube. Enjoy (and learn)!

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