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August 16 2012

Michael Snow obituary

Particle physics, geology, astronomy and music were among the essential elements that fed into the art of Michael Snow, who has died aged 82. He was a highly cerebral painter and a perfectionist who would agonise over whether a painting was finished or not, in some cases for many years. This reticence meant that some excellent work was never allowed a public airing. Some of his finest paintings resembled the dance of subatomic particles, while his metal constructions explored the interplay of form and space.

Born in Manchester, Michael was educated at Lawrence Sheriff school, Rugby. He worked for a period as a librarian before moving to the Land's End peninsula in 1951. Cornwall at this time was living through a golden era of innovative British art and Michael quickly discovered his vocation as a non-figurative painter, becoming good friends with most of the important artists working there, including Ben Nicholson, Terry Frost, John Wells, and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, as well as the poet WS (Sydney) Graham and his wife Nessie.

Michael was a co-founder in 1957 of the Peterloo Group with his friend the poet and literary critic Robin Skelton. Soon afterwards Michael's first wife, Sylvia, married Robin; and Robin's wife, Margaret, became Michael's second wife. They all continued on good terms for the rest of their lives. Michael was also highly active as secretary to the Penwith Society of Arts, and taught at Exeter School of Art and Design for 20 years.

Michael kept in touch with Nicholson long after he moved to Switzerland and he remained a significant mentor to the younger artist. On one occasion the Snows drove across Europe to his home in their camper van with a large ovoid granite boulder from a local Cornish beach weighing them down.

The Snows were devoted to promoting the life and work of Graham, and in 1999 they brought out The Nightfisherman: Selected Letters of WS Graham. Publication was met with enthusiastic critical acclaim; Harold Pinter called it "a brilliant collection". It is, arguably, this book that will stand as Michael's major legacy rather than his own artwork.

Michael and Margaret were tireless in assisting and encouraging the tide of researchers who made their way to Stonemark, their home on the edge of Dartmoor. It gave them immense satisfaction to see that, largely thanks to their efforts, Graham is now widely considered one of the great masters of 20th-century poetry. My researches into postwar St Ives artists led me to Michael and Margaret 12 years ago, and they generously shared their wealth of knowledge with me.

Margaret died in 2009. He is survived by their son, Justin.


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March 07 2012

The dilemma of authentic learning: Do you destroy what you measure?

John Seely Brown tells us the half-life of any skill is about five years. This astounding metric is presented as part of the ongoing discussion of how education needs to change radically in order to prepare students for a world which is very different than the one their parents graduated into, and in which change is accelerating.

It's pretty straightforward to recognize that new job categories, such as data science, will require new skills. The first-order solution is to add data science as a college curriculum and work the prerequisites backward to kindergarten. But if JSB is right about the half-life of skills, even if this process were instantaneous, the learning path begun in kindergarten might be obsolete by middle school.

The second-order solution is to include meta-skills into the curriculum — ensuring young people learn how to learn, for instance, so that they can adapt as new skills are required with increasing frequency. This is essential, but raises the question of how to stay ahead of the skills curve — what are the next critical things to learn, how do you know, and how do you find them?

John Seely Brown and co-author Douglas Thomas propose in their book "A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change" a third-order solution, which is to inculcate the mindsets and dispositions that will lead us, as independent agents, to the things that matter. These include curiosity, questing, and connecting.

A similar theme emerged at the Design, Make, Play workshop at the New York Hall of Science in January. Focused on the question of how the maker movement can catalyze innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, participants included technologists, makers, learning science researchers, educators, and more, all wrestling with how to translate the authentic, integrated experiences that designing, making, and playing provide into something that can be measured, understood, and incorporated into education.

The primary outcomes of making, designing, and playing look much more like JSB's dispositions than the skills demonstrated on standardized tests of reading, writing, and arithmetic. At the same time, though, practical skills are developed — the kinds of projects exhibited at Maker Faire require the same skills as many high tech professions.

This highlights the most pernicious, devilish, intransigent challenge to bringing critical learning into school. Through the lens of standardized tests, higher order skills, meta-skills, and dispositions are literally invisible. Yet, these tests are the gold standard of educational efficacy for judging schools, educational innovations, and now even teachers themselves. School boards are held accountable by property owners for such test results due to their direct correlation to property values. Innovators, researchers, and even the philanthropic institutions that fund them are beholden to education investors for meaningful results that prove innovations work — with test scores as the default.

This conundrum is well understood by the very stakeholders who are trapped by it, and there are efforts at many levels to combat it — from incorporating critical thinking skills into the core standards being adopted by most states to alternative measures of effectiveness being adopted by grant makers. At the DMP workshop, participants struggled with the very real challenge of authentically articulating the benefits of design, make, and play at different levels and the measures that would make these benefits visible. It's a tricky balancing act to reduce something to metrics without losing its essence.

One fascinating approach was presented by Kevin Crowley about how to recognize the impact of science experiences such as those found in museum exhibits on young people. Crowley and his colleagues researched the forces and events that influenced scientists and science enthusiasts in their career/hobby choices. They identified the notion of experiences that caused "science learning activation," which they defined as a "composite of dispositions, skills, and knowledge that enables success in science learning experiences." The idea is that perhaps we can measure the degree to which a specific informal learning experience creates such activation and that this becomes one of the measures that shines a light on the outcomes of making.

As the gathered experts brainstormed to articulate the genuine outcomes of making for students and how to capture those, it became clear that this is a task that is both crucial and emergent. If authentic learning is to become available to all students regardless of means or zip code, the iterative and ongoing process of articulating the educational values of a world of rapidly changing expectations must become a priority for experts and lay folk alike. What are your thoughts? How do we capture and share the soul of making without turning it into something that can be tested using the No. 2 pencil?

Related:

June 29 2011

School district first to permit cell phone use during standardized tests

Source: Green Onion News Network

The Harper Valley School Board recently adopted a new policy that allows students to use their cell phones to search for answers on state-mandated standardized tests. "There's no doubt this new policy will raise student test scores district-wide but it will also improve our rankings statewide," said District Superintendent Carly Moore. Cellphones will be allowed for testing periods during the 2011-2012 school year, although there could be roadblocks ahead from state officials.

Ms. Moore said the "hands-on" cellphone policy was proposed by School Board member and local realtor, Carol McMasters who said the idea came to her while talking with friends who regularly consult their cellphones. "Whenever we forget the name of an actor, or a musician, we pull out our phones and find the answer. Right away, we know without guessing. Why can't students do the same thing?" Her husband, Larry, a self-described hacktavist, convinced her that cell phones would help kids think of standardized tests as a massively multiplayer game, in which they were cracking secret educational codes. Mr. McMaster said that he would prefer to see standardized testing eliminated and he embraced his wife's idea as a means to that end. "If every kid in America could find the right answer to every question, maybe testing will just go away."

The school districts plans to divert money from textbook purchases to lease cell phones for kids who do not have them. Superintendent Moore said that the percentage of students with cell phones is already high and growing. However, she added that kids who lacked so-called "smartphones" were at a disadvantage. "We are going to target kids with Nokia phones and upgrade them. " Some schools may share phones among students. There are plans to add charging stations in classrooms. Before the standardized tests are given, students will participate in "txting and searching" exercises, led by students, and facilitated by teachers who will prepare sample test questions. "These are basic life-skills for students," said Ms. Moore. "Plus students will be more excited to participate, rather than demoralized and apathetic."

Roberta Gonzalez, also a board member, was skeptical of the policy when she first heard about it. "I was concerned that we are taking away the opportunity for our children to recall knowledge they had gained in class." After talking to teachers, she became aware of how much they loathed the now common practice of teaching to the test. A social studies teacher said that he no longer taught a real subject but he found himself teaching students how to be effective test takers. He was telling them not to over think tests, but just how to make the best guess. Ms. Gonzalez came to believe that testing didn't correlate to what students were actually learning. "The emphasis on high-stakes testing was counter-productive and preparing for tests was eating up valuable time in the classroom," she added.

Deborah Chaney said that TV quiz shows like "Cash Cab" and "Millionaire" allow contestants to call friends or family if they don't know the answer. "I think it makes a lot of sense to use your social network to find these kind of answers," she said. "That"s why you have a social network." Chaney added that many test questions were designed to trick students, which she thought was unfair. "I'd like to see them posting these trick questions to Facebook," she added, noting there was no feedback mechanism for students to report problems with tests.

Tech guru Tim O'Reilly said the new policy allows students to tap into collective intelligence. He predicted that the market for paper-based bubble testing was about to burst. "Why are we still using #2 pencils?" he asked. "I don't know why they can't deliver the tests on the phone." O'Reilly remarked that educators should think of re-directing the energy that goes into standardized testing into richer educational programs that allow students to cooperate with each other to solve real-world problems in meaningful ways.

Ned Simon, a district parent, said that the new policy reminded him of a recent dinner table conversation. "My wife and I were arguing about how long we'd been at war in Afghanistan. Dora, my teenage daughter, interrupted us, saying 'Dad, where's your cellphone?" It was her way of telling me to stop arguing and look up the answer." Dora will be one of the students who will benefit from the new cellphone policy at school. She said that using her iPhone during tests could "make testing fun." She mentioned that a number of apps she already uses when doing homework. "I use Google Maps, the Calculator, and mostly iTunes, so I'm not so bored by the assignment."

Asked how the State Superintendent of Education might react to the district's new policy, Ms Moore said she expects to hear from state officials. "I think they have my cellphone number," she added. She hopes they will look at the Harper Valley policy as a pilot that can be expanded statewide. "Educators have to ask why we keep supporting a testing system that produces such failure. If we are unwilling to do change that system, then allowing students to use cellphones during testing will reduce failure immediately. Why shouldn't we do that?"

May 03 2011

Henry Pluckrose obituary

Leading educationist with an intuitive grasp of how children learn

Henry Pluckrose, who has died aged 79, was one of the most inspiring teachers of his generation. He believed that children have intellectual, emotional and aesthetic capacities that few adults realise and too few schools exploit. For more than 50 years, he made a major contribution to our understanding not only about how children learn, but about how to put that knowledge into practice. As founder headteacher, in 1968, of Prior Weston primary school in London, he established a model that aroused international interest and admiration. He was also a prolific author, editor, journalist and lecturer on educational and other subjects.

Born in an impoverished part of Lambeth, south London, Henry – as he was known to pupils, as well as to friends and colleagues – spent his first six years, as he recalled, "in a tiny second-floor flat (running cold water, gas for lighting and cooking, outside toilet, no bath)". His mother suffered "emotional instability" and he was largely brought up by his older sisters, who read to him from their homework, and taught him to recite passages from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha and other poems in infancy. He became a chorister at Southwark Cathedral and, after national service in the Royal Army Education Corps, qualified as a teacher at the College of St Mark and St John in south-west London.

In 1959 he began teaching at John Ruskin primary school in south London and his classroom soon resembled an artist's studio, buzzing with activity and creative energy. Arts in the broadest sense formed the basis of his curriculum: not just art and craft, though they were most in evidence, but also drama, music, poetry and dance. He gave particular emphasis to direct personal experience, taking children to museums, art galleries, churches, historic buildings, woods, fields and parks.

While teaching, he began to write regularly for professional journals and newspapers such as Primary Education and Teachers' World, and was asked to lead workshops and seminars at the University of London's Institute of Education. In 1961, he met Frank Waters, then editor-in-chief at the Oldbourne Press in Fleet Street, who invited him to write for the Modern Education Library series. His Picture Making With Juniors and Free Crafts for Juniors (both 1963) were the first of many books that shared his classroom ideas and techniques with a generation of primary-school teachers.

Increasingly, he contributed to in-service training courses. His workshops for teachers, like his classroom, overflowed with paints, dyes, glues, pastels and numerous other modelling materials, many of them begged or borrowed by him personally from the manufacturers. But as Frank Peacock, his head at John Ruskin, put it in an introduction to Henry's Creative Arts and Crafts (1966): "He is not an 'art-specialist' nor a 'craft-specialist'. Like all good primary-school teachers, he is a specialist in one thing only – children."

He joined Prior Weston – a brand new school on the edge of the City of London's Barbican development – as headteacher in 1968. To an unusual extent, it recruited children from very poor homes alongside the children of the metropolitan liberal elite. In the wake of the 1967 Plowden Report, which gave an official imprimatur to fresh thinking in primary education, it became a mecca for those committed to innovative teaching and more open forms of learning. Henry never claimed to be an educational theorist, preferring to call himself a "journeyman-teacher". But that was too modest: his genius was to bring together a wide range of ideas – from the philosopher John Dewey, the leaders of the "child art" movement, such as Franz Cizek in Vienna, Christian Schiller in London and Robin Tanner at the Ministry of Education, and psychologists such as Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner and Lev Vygotsky – and combine them with his intuitive understanding of how children learn.

Despite the responsibilities of headship, he continued to write and edit at an astonishing pace, producing books on history and environmental studies for teachers and many children's books, including a series for Mills and Boon entitled On Location (1973 onwards), as well as writing for the educational press and giving lectures and organising workshops across Britain. His Open School, Open Society (1975) was the major statement of his educational approach. He wished, he wrote, to extend the schools' "human dimension" and to make them "more open to the society they served", not only involving parents but also becoming the focal point in the lives of their local communities.

At the time, the vision of education created by him and other gifted teachers and administrators seemed likely to carry all before it. But the authors of the educational pamphlets the Black Papers – who wanted a return to more traditional styles – were already making waves. In 1976, a speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, by James Callaghan, the Labour prime minister, marked a change in official thinking. Schools, it was argued, had moved too far from rigorous learning and basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.

Though left of centre politically – he was proud of being "handbagged" by Margaret Thatcher at a publisher's party during her term as education secretary – Henry struggled to find a comfortable space in conventional British politics. He was so committed to the children in his charge that he felt an almost physical revulsion against industrial action, and joined the "no-strike union", then called the Professional Association of Teachers.

He might best be described as a radical individualist, and his favourite politicians were maverick, principled Labour MPs such as Joan Lestor and Renée Short. They were among the informal group he formed to oppose – or at least modify – the educational counter-revolution, holding frequent meetings at the House of Commons.

Largely as a result of its deliberations, he edited two books (their original working titles were "light-grey papers") with Peter Wilby, then education correspondent of the Sunday Times, The Condition of English Schooling (1979) and Education 2000 (1980). By then, Thatcher was in No 10 and the books were only modestly successful.

Yet Henry's international reputation continued to grow. A Swedish television documentary, made at Prior Weston, struck such a chord in Sweden that Henry became something of a national celebrity there, in enormous demand as a guest lecturer. As he recalled (with some hilarious anecdotes) in The Travels of a Journey-Man Teacher (2007), government agencies invited him to lecture and advise teachers in Canada, the US, France, Italy, Germany, Serbia, Bulgaria, Singapore and Hong Kong.

In 1984, he left Prior Weston, initially to complete an MPhil. He did not return to full-time teaching or headship but served on such bodies as the Council for National Academic Awards, the National Book League, the National Trust, the Royal Ballet and the Civic Trust. In 1986 he joined the staff of the Royal Opera House's education department, finally retiring in 1999.

By then, he had published more than 300 books and touched the hearts and minds of thousands, perhaps millions. He was already showing the first signs of a rare form of Parkinson's disease, an affliction he bore with great courage, even starting to write poetry, of which two volumes – More Than Words Can Tell (2006) and Word Shaping Tongue and Listening Ear (2008) – were published. "I have discovered," he said, "the joy which comes from having time to stand and stare."

He is survived by his wife, Helen, from whom he was separated, by their children, Elspeth, Hilary and Patrick, and by his partner, Hilary Devonshire.

• Henry Arthur Pluckrose, teacher and author, born 23 October 1931; died 6 April 2011


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April 18 2011

Pat Russell obituary

Calligrapher and church embroiderer renowned for her resplendent copes

Pat Russell, who has died aged 91, was renowned as both a calligrapher and a church embroiderer. One of her most prestigious embroidery commissions was for St Paul's Cathedral, in London, to commemorate the Queen Mother's 80th birthday, in 1980. The resulting set of festal copes (ceremonial cloaks) was used at the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales the following year.

Throughout her working life Pat never stopped exploring lettering, using different tools and techniques. Her use of abstract and symbolic designs, as well as letterforms – the shapes of letters as they are written or drawn – established her reputation for breathing new life into church embroideries. She was also an inspirational teacher, mainly at Oxford School of Art (now Oxford Brookes University), where she taught lettering from 1951 to 1988. Her distinctive approach was captured in two successful books, Lettering for Embroidery (1972) and Decorative Alphabets Throughout the Ages (1989).

She was born Patricia Cooch in Wembley, Middlesex, and moved with her parents to Farnborough, Hampshire, where she was first introduced to calligraphy at Farnborough Hill convent college by Minnie Hall (who had been taught by Edward Johnston). Pat attended Chelsea School of Art (1938-39), where she was taught by Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore. One of her earliest commissioned pieces was a hand-lettered poster for a small exhibition of Sutherland's work.

She studied under the calligrapher MC Oliver at Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute (1953-54), where her fellow students included Heather Child and William Gardner. She cited Oliver as a great influence – "a good, sound teacher who taught in a practical manner". Pat was elected a member (now fellow) of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators in 1954.

Many formal calligraphic commissions followed.

After a brief spell in advertising, she returned to Farnborough when war broke out and went to work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) – first in the accounts department and then in the aerodynamics department. It was while at the RAE that Pat met her future husband, Birrell Russell, who was responsible for erecting the radar aerials along the south and east coast to identify enemy aircraft. After the war, Birrell worked at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, Oxfordshire. While working on an experiment there, in 1949, he fell from a ladder and died, leaving Pat with two small children. Forced through economic necessity to return to work, she started teaching graphic design evening classes at Oxford School of Art.

Inspired by the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral, the Bear Lane Gallery in Oxford arranged an exhibition in 1964 entitled Modern Art in the Church. Pat decided to submit a cope with lettering around the orphrey (the band of embroidery bordering a vestment). This was a big undertaking as buying the fabric was expensive. Fortunately, she had already invested in a Bernina sewing machine. The lettering was designed in freely cut paper, each letter being built up of little strips. In between each word she inserted a cross form. "In a church service," Pat said, "the priest doesn't want to be read up and down, but the letterforms must be there, decipherable if not easily readable." Different colours and textures of yellow, gold and brown were used in this cope, irrespective of whether for background or letter, the lettering being hidden in a richly patterned band.

In response to a commission for Worcester Cathedral, the Very Rev Tom Baker, who was dean at the time, praised her "sensitive awareness of the demands of liturgy and architecture on all embroidery work".

Throughout her embroidery career, Pat continued to work on calligraphic commissions. She collaborated with the binder Ivor Robinson on a number of books. For Pat, a manuscript book, made by hand, did not need to conform to the usual parallel lines of text and rectangular format, and could employ more unusual handmade papers. A special style of lettering could be developed appropriate to the tone of the subject matter.

Pat travelled widely throughout the latter part of her life, especially in Japan, Australia and Canada, where she was much in demand to lecture on church embroidery and lettering. After retirement from church embroidery at the end of the 1980s, she was free to indulge her passion for experimental lettering, working in paper pulp, on silk and then on a Mac (a 70th birthday present from her son). She was thus able to continue the work she had commenced, on receipt of a Crafts Council bursary in 1978, "to investigate the influence of tools, materials and techniques on the character of letterforms". She continued to teach and exhibit until her mid-80s.

Pat served as chair of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators from 1989 to 1991; she was a founder member of the Letter Exchange and the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society; founder member and president of Oxford Scribes; and a member of the Art Workers Guild.

She is survived by her daughter Jennifer, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her son, Graham, predeceased her.

Patricia Mary Russell, lettering artist, born 17 August 1919; died 12 March 2011


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October 20 2010

Tablets, education, and unions

At this year's Bitnorth conference, I gave a presentation on the future of education, tablet computing and teachers' unions. It was a fairly controversial topic, so I decided to put my research together into a series of blogs on Human 2.0 and provide my references. Here's the gist of it: If you want more background or links to the sources cited here, you can check out the full posts. What follows is an overview of the topic.


In much of the Western world, education is in decline. Dropout rates are high, and we're graduating a generation that is, for a large part, functionally illiterate. This generation lacks the numeracy and critical thinking to function in an information world. The U.S., in particular, is doing poorly: Dropout rates are up, and if you're a low-income American, you have a higher chance of going to jail than getting a four-year college degree.

There are many reasons for this collapse: lack of funding, the politicizing of curricula, administrative inefficiency and more. These areas have been well covered. In the last year, three films -- "Two Million Minutes," "Waiting for Superman," and "The Cartel" -- have taken a disturbing look at the state of U.S. education. The Freakonomics folks looked at the lack of personalized learning. Also, Bill Gates looked at the lack of accountability in schools in a TED presentation.

Why tablets can help education

Despite the problems, digital classrooms provide a reason to be hopeful. A digital classroom can tailor learning to each student's own styles and speeds. It can tap into vast online resources, from Wikipedia to the Khan Academy.

tablets-infoflow.gif

The poster child for the digital classroom is tablet computing. Tablets are traditionally seen as replacements for textbooks, but they can go much further than that: They're musical instruments, design tools, personal trainers and art canvases. Tablet prices have dropped dramatically as well. When you add up the cost of a year's textbooks, a tablet is often cheaper.

Tablets connect all of the stakeholders in a child's education: parents, teachers, tutors and counsellors. But most importantly, tablets are two-way. When a student uses a tablet, the tablet can collect data: What's read carefully and what's glossed over; how long a student spends on certain topics; what works best and worst; and so on. In other words, when you learn from a tablet, it learns from you.

The union roadblock

This is where my research went off the rails. Because a tablet is the perfect collector, it allows us to analyze learning patterns, identify root causes and compare students. What if the conclusion it reaches is that your teacher is simply awful? That Freakonomics piece pointed out that only 13 percent of eighth grade math teachers in New York City get 80 percent of their students to proficiency by the end of the year. Data acquired through a tablet is likely to point toward a bad conclusion for some number of teachers.

There's a group that protects teachers from that kind of scrutiny and accountability: the teachers' unions. In the U.S., teachers' unions are the single largest political contributors. Teachers have a unionization rate that's much higher than that of other industries. They have consistently opposed using student performance to rank teachers, despite extensive research showing that student performance is the most significant indicator of teacher competence. They've lobbied legislators to refuse donations to charter schools. It takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to dismiss a bad teacher. As a result, despite a lack of teaching ability, 99 percent of teachers get satisfactory ratings from their administrators.

After reading a ton on the subject, I came to the conclusion that the unions defend jobs at the expense of a generation's education -- and with it, the future of a nation.

As you might imagine, them's fighting words. Most critics of unions find themselves tarred and feathered by teachers, accused of class warfare or making teachers scapegoats for lazy parenting and lack of budgets. It's true that we don't pay teachers enough. However, teachers' salaries have risen in the last few years (see chart below), despite fairly static test scores. Also, urban public school teachers are more likely to send their own children to private schools.

200909_blog_coulson1.jpg

Tablet computing and the digital classroom it portends will transform the role of educators. They won't teach. They'll manage the learning process of their students. The Freakonomics podcast once referred to this as a student's "playlist": a customized curriculum where the teacher helps with hands-on work and identifies problems or outliers. Already, initiatives like New York's School of One are trying this out (although the project is limited to a three-hour after-school program at the moment).

Screenshot of a spreadsheet dashboard used at School of One to track student performance.
Screenshot of a spreadsheet dashboard used at School of One to track student performance.

So the irresistible force of digitization -- which has already redefined publishing, music, television and dozens of other industries -- is about to meet the immovable mountain of teachers' unions. The unions can step up, helping their members make the transition to tomorrow's learner-centric, tech-heavy classroom. Or, the unions can dig in their heels, resisting change and fighting the inevitable accountability that comes from analytics and digitization.

Tablet computing and the digital classroom give students access to petabytes of knowledge, tailored to their current situations, abilities, and learning preferences. It's how we can overcome many of the problems endemic in today's schools. It'll mean retooling and retraining teachers, equipping them for the student-centric classroom of tomorrow.

As long as the unions don't get in the way.



Related:




Reposted bySigalon02 Sigalon02

March 16 2010

Four short links: 16 March 2010

  1. Government is an Elephant (Public Strategist) -- if Government is to be a platform, it will end up competing with the members of its ecosystems (the same way Apple's Dashboard competed with Konfabulator, and Google's MyMaps competed with Platial). If you think people squawk when a company competes, just wait until the competition is taxpayer-funded ....
  2. Recordings from NoSQL Live Boston -- also available in podcasts.
  3. Modeling Scale Usage Heterogeneity the Bayesian Way -- people use 1-5 scales in different ways (some cluster around the middle, some choose extremes, etc.). This shows how to identify the types of users, compensate for their interpretation of the scale, and how it leads to more accurate results.
  4. Building a Better Teacher -- fascinating discussion about classroom management that applies to parenting, training, leading a meeting, and many other activities that take place outside of the school classroom. (via Mind Hacks)

February 08 2010

Betty Tadman obituary

My friend Betty Tadman, who has died aged 88, was a gifted artist and inspirational teacher. Her career was largely spent in two posts: first as a class teacher at Queen's House school in Hampstead, north London, where many of her pupils were the daughters of Holocaust survivors, and then at Kingsway College, where she set up and ran the textile department in the 1970s and 80s. Her students there included the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, with whom she got on well – her anarchic streak was every bit as strong as theirs.

She possessed a true talent for drawing out strengths that her pupils did not know they possessed. Beautiful and charismatic, she had a gentle way of helping them to conquer their self-doubt, having overcome the uncertainties of her own childhood.

She was born in Sale, Cheshire, the illegitimate child of the woman she grew up believing was her sister. To avoid social stigma, Betty's grandmother raised her as her own daughter, and as a fun-loving eccentric who prized the latest Hollywood movies above time "wasted" on homework, she passed on to Betty a lifelong appetite for entertainment. But Betty often said it was Dickens, whose novels she discovered at a very early age, who really brought her up.

Betty was 16 and had just won a scholarship to Manchester School of Art, when, in the course of a family row, she discovered the truth about her real mother. She learned nothing about her father, but secretly believed that when she came of age, as in a Dickens story, he would seek her out. It didn't happen. But it was never in Betty's nature to dwell on disappointment.

As a born comedian and raconteur, Betty naturally gravitated to the theatre, at first working backstage, dressing a young Julie Andrews, doing ­Vivien Leigh's hair, and generally assisting the actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit. Later, with her husband, the music critic Michael Church, Betty co-wrote her own plays.

But painting remained her first love and she never stopped producing ­pictures. Her style was eclectic and she could achieve – seemingly without effort – any virtuoso effect she wanted. She was much inspired by Greek mythology and the Mediterranean. She despised the values permeating the London fine art scene, and never courted fame. Appreciation by connoisseurs and friends was quite enough.

Michael survives her.


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April 01 2009

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