Fourth Graders Play the World Peace Game

John Hunter puts all the problems of the world on a 4’x5′ plywood board — and lets his 4th-graders solve them. At TED2011, he explains how his World Peace Game engages schoolkids, and why the complex lessons it teaches — spontaneous, and always surprising — go further than classroom lectures can.

Musician, teacher, filmmaker and game designer, John Hunter has dedicated his life to helping children realize their full potential. His own life story is one of a never-ending quest for harmony. As a student, he studied comparative religions and philosophy while traveling through Japan, China and India. In India, inspired by Ghandi’s philosophy, he began to think about the role of the schoolteacher in creating a more peaceful world.

As his online biography says: “Accepting the reality of violence, he would seek to incorporate ways to explore harmony in various situations. This exploration would take form in the framework of a game – something that students would enjoy. Within the game data space, they would be challenged, while enhancing collaborative and communication skills.”

In 1978, at the Richmond Community High School, Hunter led the first sessions of his World Peace Game, a hands-on political simulation. The game has now been played around the world, on a four-tiered board. It’s the subject of the new film World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements.

Thank you for the tip, Argy!

Content Curation is a New Kind of Authorship

New tools in general, and Twitter in particular, greatly challenge the binary dichotomy of attention as something that is either given or taken away, distracted. Instead, these tools allow us to direct attention to destinations where it can be sustained with more concentration and immersion.

They offer a wayfinding system that is, on the whole, the polar opposite of traditional media’s: While “old media” fought against the scarcity of information, new media are fighting the overabundance of information….

(Twitter allows) people to discover the most relevant, interesting, and impactful information, in any medium, and then relate it to other information in a networked ecosystem of meaning that helps us better understand the world and each other….

If information discovery plays such a central role in how we make sense of the world in this new media landscape, then it is a form of creative labor in and of itself. And yet our current normative models for crediting this kind of labor are completely inadequate, if they exist at all…. Finding a way to acknowledge content curation and information discovery (or, better, the new term we invent for these fluffy placeholders) as a form of creative labor, and to codify this acknowledgement, is the next frontier in how we think about “intellectual property” in the information age….

Ultimately, I see Twitter neither as a medium of broadcast, the way text is, nor as one of conversation, the way speech is, but rather as a medium of conversational direction and a discovery platform for the text and conversations that matter.

Ten Years of Laptops in Maine Schools

[In 2001] Maine legislators approved — after months of doubt and debate — Gov. Angus King’s proposal to give every seventh-grader in Maine a laptop….

Ten years later, each seventh- and eighth-grader in Maine public schools and every grades 7-12 teacher has a laptop paid for by state taxpayers, at an annual cost of $11 million. And, through the Maine Department of Education, 60 percent of Maine high-schoolers have laptops, paid for by local property taxpayers. That’s a total of 72,000 laptops, according to the DOE….

Teachers, students and administrators interviewed for this report said laptops are giving several kinds of return on that money.

Laptops make learning and schoolwork more interesting, students and teachers said. “When kids are engaged, you can teach them anything,” said Jeff Mao, who oversees instructional technology for the Maine Department of Education….

In the years since thousands of laptops have been given to students and teachers, they’ve become such a part of classrooms that teachers often underestimate how much they use them, Mao said.

“They’ll say, ‘I don’t do too much with laptops,'” he said. “But you watch them in class, and you see teachers with classroom Web page where all kinds of information — homework, class work, recommended sites — is available. Teachers e-mail students and parents. They give out assignments on laptops. It’s become so common it all seems mundane now.”…

Maine is recognized as a “world leader” for technology in classrooms, King said. Delegations from Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Israel, Peru, Australia and Ireland, among others, have visited Maine to learn about laptops. While some cities and counties have given out laptops, Maine is the only state with a statewide program….

One of the most important reasons for the laptop program was establishing equity. That’s been achieved, King said.

“How many Maine families could have afforded to buy laptops for eighth-graders? Yet every single kid has one,” King said. “We put this tool in the hands of thousands of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have it.”

“I’m as enthusiastic as ever,” King said. “We did the right thing at the right time. It’s been tremendously successful.” Maine has a digitally literate group of students, he said….

Robert Krulwich on the Future of Journalism

It is, I know, hard to find a job.

I’m guessing you look at the world of newspapers and magazines and broadcasters and webcasters and Huffposts and Daily Beasts and sometimes the whole bunch of ‘em feel like the City of Troy – you know, this high walled, Fortress of Journalism, occupied by people who somehow got in before you did and now they’re looking down at you … little you, a newbie standing alone on the beach and you’re looking up, thinking: “Hey! How’d you get in there?… and they’re not telling …

If you want to make a life in this business, if you want to begin, and survive and flourish, how do you do it? How do you start? Well I think there’s a way….

What I’ve noticed is that people who fall in love with journalism, who stay at it, who stay stubborn, very often win. I don’t know why, but I’ve seen it happen over and over.

So, here, for what it’s worth, ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2011, is my graduation advice. Some of you will say, “This is a fantasy. Pay this man no attention,” but hey, you invited me, so here’s what I’ve got:

If you can … fall in love, with the work, with people you work with, with your dreams and their dreams. Whatever it was that got you to this school, don’t let it go. Whatever kept you here, don’t let that go. Believe in your friends. Believe that what you and your friends have to say… that the way you’re saying it – is something new in the world.

And don’t stop. Just hold on… and keep loving what you love… and you’ll see. In the end, they’ll let you stay.

The Crisis in Higher Education

When politicians, from Barack Obama all the way down, talk about higher education, they talk almost exclusively about math and science. Indeed, technology creates the future.

But it is not enough to create the future. We also need to organize it, as the social sciences enable us to do. We need to make sense of it, as the humanities enable us to do.

A system of higher education that ignores the liberal arts, as Jonathan Cole points out in The Great American University (2009), is what they have in China, where they don’t want people to think about other ways to arrange society or other meanings than the authorized ones.

A scientific education creates technologists. A liberal arts education creates citizens: people who can think broadly and critically about themselves and the world.

Let Kids Rule the School

I recently followed a group of eight public high school students, aged 15 to 17, in western Massachusetts as they designed and ran their own school within a school. They represented the usual range: two were close to dropping out before they started the project, while others were honors students. They named their school the Independent Project.

One student who had failed all of his previous math courses spent three weeks teaching the others about probability. Another said: “I did well before. But I had forgotten what I actually like doing.” They have all returned to the conventional curriculum and are doing well. Two of the seniors are applying to highly selective liberal arts colleges.

The students in the Independent Project are remarkable but not because they are exceptionally motivated or unusually talented. They are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together. In such a setting, school capitalizes on rather than thwarts the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.

Portland Principal Promotes Collaborative Culture

Mike McCarthy is principal at King Middle School in Portland, Maine

McCarthy transformed a culture of divisiveness and violence by committing to cooperation and innovation.

McCarthy: “The genius of this school is not in a program, it’s not in the laptops, it’s in the learning. It’s in teachers designing learning that they know will work for kids … and they have the space and the time and the autonomy to do it.”

Reflecting on the Tapestry of Small-town Life

Some years back, Julia Alarez wrote an ode to living in small towns and to the sorrow of losing acquaintances: neighbors, friends, storekeepers, doctors.

In a small town … we don’t just make quick, specialized appearances in each other’s lives. For better or worse, we get to know people in a fuller way. The owner of the orchard where we pick apples is also our doctor, and the local bartender fixes our bicycle chain when it slips out on a country road.

This is good for all our characters, I think, for the flawed person we see in one situation can suddenly surprise us by a small act of kindness or thoughtfulness in another encounter. Small towns give us second chances, and third and fourth ones, too. [Source]

Once or twice a week, I spend early mornings in our town’s natural-food-and-free-wireless coffee shop working on project planning and correspondence. Over the months, I’ve gotten to know a few regulars — folks who work nearby, retired professors, college students — and listened to bits of stories about their lives and what’s important to them.

Over the past month, I’ve been busy on a project and haven’t gotten into town very often, so this morning, when I noticed I hadn’t seen one of the regulars, I asked where he was. “Oh, Gustavo. I’m sorry to let you know he died in his sleep several weeks ago.”

All of my thoughts — about what needed to get done this morning, about my pending deadlines, about the beautiful day I was looking forward to — evaporated completely. Someone I’d known, not as a friend, but certainly well enough to know his life story and what had brought him here … he was gone.

How could I not have known? I read the local paper every day. How did I miss his obituary? Have I been that busy? Did he mean more to me that I’d thought? Had I taken his presence for granted?

I found the obituary and tributes online — please read about this good man — and there they were, in black and white: the stories he’d told us. I haven’t wept in public for a long time. This morning, I did.

I could write about the art collection he curated at home and the beloved pieces he chose to sell at Cabot Antiques. I could share his frustration with the insulated, disconnected culture of middle-America, and its affect on our children as well as people around the world. I could tell you about his continuing struggle to get treatment for his asthma and sinus infections as a person dependent on the threadbare safety net for our elders. I could tell about his plans to sign up for yet another trip to some corner of the world that would be new to him.

Instead, I’ll quote this passage about his engagement with the world, both nearby and far beyond us.

made the coffee shop in the Tontine Mall his own Madrid cafe and met there nearly every day with a circle of friends, exchanging ideas and arguing issues. He supported various causes, local, national and international. But he was also a man who loved exploration away from Maine.

His youthful energy belied his advancing years. He was full of curiosity about life and interested in what was going on in the world. His friends and family followed his world travels to China, South American and Europe through post cards and pictures. [Source]

I sit, looking around the cafe, imagining the loss of any of those with whom I’ve chatted, no matter how briefly, or of those with whom I’ve shared just a warm smile and hello. As I return to my daily routine, I vow to consider each and every one of those moments with more respect, deserving of my full attention, with both friends and with strangers.

I’ll hope I can carry that feeling with me. I think all I’ll need to do is remember Gustavo.

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