Screens come under scrutiny – again!

I knew we’d be talking about this sooner or later: Do touch screens reduce how much we absorb, while paradoxically increasing ‘engagement’? Or, are the dumb things that happen in Real Life better teachers than VR, or smart screens?

Researchers have been warning us –from pre-Internet days–  that excessive screen time was having negative effects on children’s attention, learning (cognitive skills, language development), and sleep.

A screen is a two-dimensional (2D) experience that is hard to resist, across all age groups. Yet, a recent report tells us that screens “do not inherently provide (children under 3 with) rich opportunities for whole mind-body learning.”

For instance, it says:


“Researchers who study how children learn have concluded, however, that it is easier for young children to comprehend information from real-life experiences with people and objects compared with information delivered via a screen.”  (“Screen Sense. Setting The Record Straight”)

No one is asking us to eliminate screen-time. But we could rethink how creative thinking, problem solving and experimentation could work without pixels.


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Communicating with crew on ‘Mars’ – Text-To-Speech

Those who know me, know I’m a follower of all things in space – from watching the International Space Station fly by, to the latest maneuvers of the latest Mars Rover.

So this week, it was a chance to communicate with Jocelyn Dunn,one of the 6 inhabitants of a Mars simulation mission, going on in Hawaii. The project, is called HI-SEAS (which stands for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation).

The reason: I’m putting together Mars Day a now-annual event at my school. I thought my students would get a kick out of talking to the folks who are paving the way for humans on the red planet. Or, to put it another way, they’ve seen a lot about the bot that got there; now it’s time to communicate with Homo sapiens!

Jocelyn and the rest of the HI-SEAS crew began their ‘analog simulation’ last Friday, inside a 1000-square foot geodesic dome.(Another crew member, Zak Wilson is also blogging the stay.)


Image, courtesy

So what is it like to be practically isolated from the rest of the world? Isolated as in no phone calls. Now they do have access to the Internet (!) so I will be asking her these questions in a few days. Yet, to simulate the real thing, the crew’s email is subject to a 20-minute delay.

The fun part is planning for Jocelyn and her crew to answer questions from my students. After a couple of back-and-forth (time delayed) she came up with a good solution: We would send her the questions via email, and they would record their answers on a video, and send it back to us in time for Mars Day!

It will give new meaning to ‘Text-to-Speech’!

Here are links to other crew members


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Besides a pencil sharpener and white board, the new must-have: 3D Printer

File this under ‘Disruptive’

It’s stunning to see how far we have come with 3D printing.

I don’t know about you, but when the little things break down –the arm of your reading glasses for instance — I wish I had something more than super glue to fix it.

I’m looking forward to a time when we will get back to being fixer-uppers, and print the part that was nicked off our desk, or died right in front of our eyes.

What’s even more disruptive is how Public Libraries are getting into this arena, with the maker-space phenomenon taking root in cities.


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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Disruptive


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Non-Profit targets neglected childhood disease

My good friend Dr. Robert Selliah’s nonprofit, American Medchem was in the news last week.

His non-profit is looking into hitherto untapped (ignored, really) R&D for rare childhood diseases.

Robert’s a great communicator, in that he is able to succinctly define the challenge at hand. I apologize for the poor video quality.

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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Business Models


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Hyperventilating about tablets in the classroom

You’ve probably read plenty of stories how tablets are shifting the tectonic plates in teaching. And ‘personalized learning.’

I hang around many all-things-digital folk, making rallying for ‘tablets in the classroom! tablets in the classroom!” I also talk to those anxious as desktops give way to touch screens in the class. My daughter’s class now does a math class on Dell tablets. My school has two touch-screen computer hubs.

And though I run a (tablet-free, for now) computer lab, I was a tad irritated by a statement by a fellow computer lab instructor quoted in a TIME article as saying “We don’t care about handwriting.” This was in response to a parent’s concern about screens in a classroom in California.

Not sure who the royal plural ‘we’ referred to, but Matthew Gudenis certainly doesn’t speak for me, or my school’s position. (Read The Paperless Classroom is Coming” in TIME this week.)

Gudenis should’ve read this wonderful piece by Susan Vechon, “Why Learning To Write by Hand Matters,” (in Education Week) who admits she stumbled on the connection between handwriting and the higher-level thinking after many years of teaching.

I’m not dissing tablets, per se. I would be the first to admit that classrooms need to use more of the technologies that young people encounter once they clamber back on the bus after school. But that does not mean dismissing the value of books and pencils, notebooks and research. If we are not careful how we present them, the tabletized learning environment could unwittingly turn students into consumers of knowledge, not producers of ideas and opinions. Touch screens can turn readers into content snackers. We need to create spaces where students could do some thinking and talking, apart from clicking and scrolling.

Twelve to fifteen years from now, these will be our human resources, our intellectual capital. They will be the ones generating your reports, formulating cogent arguments that impact communities, writing persuasive letters, covering the local news.

To say we don’t care about handwriting because kids today know to type, is like saying we don’t need to care about spelling and grammar, because we have auto-correct and spell-check. So let’s stop hyperventilating about tablets, and get excited about what we can do with them.


Update: Just came across this Discussion of Screen Time


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Posted by on October 16, 2014 in Disruptive, Education, Social Media


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Plagiarism claims another victim. When will they ever learn?

There is a fine line between adapting some else’s point of view, and adopting it as your own.

The reality of this cut-and-paste culture of information-sharing, is that many people, especially students, think they could pretend to be original in short 140-character bursts, or longer prose.

I was somewhat shocked to hear that a senator from Montana, John. E. Walsh, was stripped of his Masters’ degree this month, when the college found out he had plagiarized parts of his MA thesis. The paper, titled, “The Case for Democracy as a Long-Term National Strategy,” seems to take off on the so-called ‘Bush Doctrine.”

Going by the New York Times‘ analysis, the senator must have been incredibly lazy, or just plain dumb to have resorted to this kind of plagiarism, even using someone else’s ‘conclusions.’

Which brings to my (blatantly unplagiarized) conclusions:

  • If you’re running for office, or already in office, check your paperwork. Even if your work pre-dated search engines
  • Footnote. Footnote. Footnote. It’s not rocket science to add end-notes, and page notes
  • Finally, if you can’t find something original to say…. (you know the rest)


UPenn Library has a primer on plagiarism, for those unsure. - at Penn Libraries


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Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Social Media


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Texting Vs Talking – Another View

My son was home for a few days, and his cell phone died.

The world didn’t evaporate into a mushroom cloud. You see, not being connected doesn’t faze him. “My friends all know that I don’t respond to texts immediately,” he replied when I asked him if it found  that not having a phone for a week caused him any problems. It made me wonder if Milennials have reached the turning point of incessant texting.

Just a few years ago, this was what we were hearing about 18 – 24 year olds.

  • 43% of 18-24 year-olds say that texting is just as meaningful as an actual conversation with someone over the phone (2010 eMarketer report)
  • More Millennials (than members of any other generation) use their phone for texting. (Pew Research)

What if people stopped staring at their phones and actually spoke to you? Would that creep you out?

What if people stopped sending you links to stupid cat (or anti-whatever) videos, and actually called you to chat?


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