Gray Matter: How to Teach (Safely) Your Kid to be a Hacker

Today’s youth are growing up learning and socializing online, as consumers and creators of digital media.  Because so many young people spend so much time online, they’re pretty savvy when it comes to navigating the technological landscape.  But that knowledge, if unguided, can pose potential problems.

The recent sentencing of a $675,000 fine to a graduate student, Joel Tenenbaum, for downloading and sharing 30 songs may indeed heed a warning to parents and young people about the repercussions of breaking the law on the internet. On the other hand, experts such as Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig have argued that fair use of copyrighted material must be allowed, in part to encourage curiosity and creativity (watch Lessig’s TED talk below).bluebox

So what to make of this ‘gray matter,’ the space between breaking the law and pushing creative boundaries? What if kids and parents explored hacking techniques together?  That’s what Wired Magazine’s “5 Hacks You Can Explore With Your Kids,” suggests.  The article offers advice on ways to “encourage exploration and discourage criminal records.” After all, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started out ‘hacking’ Blue Boxes to prank call the Vatican, and went on to revolutionize personal computing with a little company called Apple.

It definitely puts a new spin on an old adage:  the family that hacks together …?

5 Hacks You Can Explore With Your Kids [Wired, 8/13/09]
Edupunks and the Future of American Education [Fast Company, 8/09]
Challenging Federal Copyright Law, and Losing [NY Times, 8/10/09]
BONUS VIDEO: Larry Lessig on Laws & Creativity [TED, 3/07]

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Environmentaland — Nobody Rides for Free

Forget the Hershey and Disney parks of yesteryear. For today’s youth, the summer destination is Environmentaland, an interactive environmental theme park located outside of Los Angeles, that offers an Energy Playground, a Mini-Bin Exhibit and Designing Station, a Planetarium, Desert Mini Golf Course, Recycled Paper Plane Takeoff station, and Alternative Energy Golf Carts.

The theme park was created by the nonprofit Global Inheritance Foundation as a way to communicate and push for progressive social change.  Formed in 2002, GIF works “to empower individuals worldwide to think and act creatively in solving global imbalances.”  And they try to do it as creatively as possible.

They’ve pioneered dozens of interesting and unique initiatives including TRASHed, a store where people bring in recylcables in exchange for merchandise, and they held a recycled paper plane contest at the popular music festival Coachella.  Global Inheritance initiatives are aimed at young people and hopes that through technology, the arts and interactivity, a new generation will be able to make a difference in their communities and beyond.

Environmentaland on Facebook
Global Inheritance Foundation

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Laboring for Lunch

The Child Nutrition Act is a federal law that governs the National School Lunch Program, and it’s up for reauthorization this September.  In an attempt to change the bill (arguably for the better), school food activists have declared September 7th (Labor Day) National Day of Action to get Real Food in SchoolsTime for Lunch A consortium of school advocates are calling for petition-signings and organizing eat-ins. Author Robyn O’Brien summarizes the issue, saying:

Today, 1 in 3 American children has allergies, ADHD, autism or asthma, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reporting stunning increases in the number of children expected to be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood. With 17.6% of our GDP being consumed by health costs, there is an urgent need to address the health of our children and the impact that this generation of children is having on our country, our families and our health care system.

The Time for Lunch campaign is proposing, among other things, that the federal government increase the amount of money they re-imburse schools by $1 per day per child, and that the money go toward local and ‘real’ food. Advocates are hoping that the Obama administration will come out in support of their cause. When First Lady Michelle Obama planted a garden at the White House this spring, she took the opportunity to speak out about healthy eating:

Time for Lunch Campaign / Slow Food USA
Center for Disease Control
Educating the Whole Child- At Any Size [Ed Beat, 7/17/09]

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Wednesday: A Weekly Look at Some Big Stories

Arne DuncanIt’s Wednesday!  Here’s a look at some stories we’re following:

Federal investigators looking into Chicago’s elite public schools with allegations that parents use their clout to get their kids into certain schools. [NPR, 8/4/09]
Does a cool economy make teaching a hot job? [Joanne Jacobs, 8/04/09]
In recession, alumni of all ages look to alma mater for career help [NY Times, 7/31/09]
The interview: John Merrow and Diane Ravitch [Taking Note, 8/3/09]
How to achieve Duncan’s proposed transformation when there is such a lack of expert advice on school turnarounds? [EdWeek, 8/4/09]
More success in pay for grades programs? Rewarding Achievement works for A.P. exams in NYC [NY Times, 8/4/09]
Ineffective Uses of Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title II Funds [Center for American Progress, 8/4/09]

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Classrooms of the Future

Every two years Architecture for Humanity issues a global “Open Architecture Challenge” and invites anyone to solve it. This year’s competition was “Classroom of the Future” and it partnered architecture firms with school districts and students (see one students drawing below) to address specific community needs.


They recently announced the eight finalists (from over 500 entries) from this year’s competition.   The grand prize provides the winner with $5,000 and the school with $50,000 to realize the design.

One of the finalist in the United States is The Teton Valley Community School (TVCS), a non-profit independent school located in Victor, Idaho at the base of the Teton Mountain range. TVCS currently serves 70 students from preschool through 6th grade and hopes to expand to include 7th and 8th grade by the year 2011.

TVCS is currently located within two existing houses and the the challenge Section Eight Design had was to create a school that can accommodate the exponential growth that is taking place in towns like Victor.

Watch the video below to see more about their proposal and their process.

2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom [See all the finalists here]

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Taxidermy, live bugs, and rare fauna: a look inside art school!

Ever wondered what goes on inside of art schools?  This video gives you a tour of a unique learning resource for aspiring artists and designers that includes monkey skulls and live insects!, an online marketplace for handmade art and and craft, takes viewers inside the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the most prestigious art schools in the country.

Founded by a RISD alumna in 1937, the Nature Lab “offers the opportunity to examine, explore and understand the patterns, structures and interactions of design in nature.” Its collection includes over 80,000 natural history objects, live animals and plants, and the facility includes a study room devoted to a natural history reference library and clipping file, archives of slides, tapes, videos and x-ray photographs.

Rhode Island School of Design [Official website]

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Media Mondays: How Learning Happens

Learning Matters Managing Producer David Wald tries to keep on the cutting edge of documentary films, and education. In his new web mini-series, ‘How Learning Happens,’ which is exploring the role learning plays in success, he was able to combine both interests when he got lucky enough to snag some quality time with acclaimed documentarian Albert Maysles. We talked with him about his project and process.

Watch the video below and read on to learn more about the project.

What was your motivation for the series?

I’ve always been interested in how successful people got where they are. Especially those who went after some personal dream and achieved it, or built on something they were particularly well suited for. I’m sure going to school is a factor for many, but I’m also curious about high achievers who dropped out, or never started, or credit something other than school with their success.

Recently, I was excited to discover a new book by Daniel Wolff called “How Abraham Lincoln Learned to Read.” The book is about, as the subtitle says, “Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them.” The Americans range from Lincoln to Elvis, from Jack Kennedy to Sojourner Truth. In some cases classroom education was key, particularly for early Americans like Ben Franklin, but often it’s the school of hard knocks that’s responsible for helping to bring about their success.

This got me thinking. What would successful people today have to say about how they made it?

Why Albert Maysles?

It was pure coincidence. My Aunt Judy lives here in New York. One day she called to invite me to meet Maysles, who like her is an alumnus of Syracuse University. I figured this would be a good opportunity to ask him a question or two about how he ticked.

What interested me was the fact that when the Maysles started making their films in the 60’s no one else in the country was working this way. For the most part documentaries were very orchestrated when they were shot. The final films consisted of a lot of narration covered with “B-roll,” visual wallpaper, interrupted only occasionally by a character’s comment. The Maysles’ work was completely different – they never directed the action or even asked a question. When they put the films together they didn’t use narration. I wondered how the brothers had innovated such a radical new form of filmmaking. What lead them to do it like that?

Armed with a Flip camera, a video camera the size of a cell phone, I headed up to meet Albert in his Harlem office. What I would learn certainly surprised me. I don’t want to give it away, but I will say that if Albert was going to school today, the world might have been denied a whole new form of filmmaking.

What’s next with your ‘Learning Happens’ series? Will you continue to experiment with the flip camera format?

I am going to ask some more people what they credit with helping them make it and see what I find out. If I get good stuff I’ll keep doing it. As far as continuing with the Flip camera… as you probably noticed, my footage is a little bit shaky and the sound’s less than perfect, so I’m going to try to use more professional equipment when I can. But the Flip is very unobtrusive, and it’s easy to carry around, so I’m sure I’ll use it again. And by the way, I’m interested in hearing from anyone who might have a good story about how they learn. They can send it to me at

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Wednesday Weekly: Looking at the Big Stories

President Obama’s remarks at NAACP anniversary highlight education [NAACP]

Remembering author and teacher Frank McCourt [NPR]

Extended interview with Social and Emotional Learning curriculum designer, Tom Roderick [LMTV]

California expects $30 billion in cuts over two fiscal years to schools, colleges, health care, welfare, corrections, recreation and more [NY TIMES]

Related Program: California Public Schools: America’s Future [VIDEO]

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Educating the Whole Child – At Any Size

The good news is that a little over half of NYC public school students are maintaining a healthy weight. The bad news? According to a new report from New York City’s Health Department and Department of Education (DOE), 21% of kindergarten through eighth grade students are obese, and an additional 18% of the City’s students are overweight. And, for the pickle: physically fit students outscore their peers who are less-fit on academic tests.


During the 2007-2008 school year, students who scored in the top 5% on their NYC FITNESSGRAM assessments outscored the bottom 5% by an average of 36 percentile points on standardized academic tests.

That childhood obesity is an epidemic in NYC should come as no surprise — Americans have steadily been getting fatter since the 1970s. Fitness has been proven to promote a longer, healthier life, and childhood obesity is an indicator for many serious diseases. But will this strong association between fitness and academic success provoke any changes in schools?

The  DOE says there is an “urgent need to ensure that school-age children receive nutritious meals, high-quality physical education, and ample opportunities for physical activity.” Just this July, a panel composed by the Institute of Medicine released a list of 100  topics that it said should get high priority by the Obama administration, and included the need to look at the effectiveness of school programs to reduce childhood obesity through means like bans on vending machines. Parents continue to advocate for healthier school food and an increase in physical fitness programs. For our students’ health AND academic achievement, here’s hoping we can do it.

Read the Full Report

School Nutrition Association

Panel Suggests Medical Priorities [NY Times 7/1/09]

A Manhattan Mother’s  Battle Against Junk Food [NY Times 6/15/09]

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Big stories we’re following this Wednesday


DC reports modest test score gains as Chancellor Michelle Rhee finishes her second year [Washington Post, 7/14/09]

Coverage of the Black/ White ‘Achievement Gap’
: It persists, but changes and narrows according to latest NAEP Study [NY Times, NAEP]

Obama Proposes ‘American Graduation Initiative’– $12 Billion for 2-year degree programs [CNN]

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