Boston public schools map switch aims to amend 500 years of distortion

A Guardian article tells us that Boston public schools are switching maps. Instead of using the Mercator projection maps most of us are used to, Boston will now be using Peters projection maps. The article begins:

When Boston public schools introduced a new standard map of the world this week, some young students felt their jaws drop. In an instant, their view of the world had changed.

The USA was small. Europe too had suddenly shrunk. Africa and South America appeared narrower but also much larger than usual. And what had happened to Alaska? [continue]

Maggie won the Global Teacher Prize!

In the Exaltation of Links post yesterday, I noted the CBC story about Maggie MacDonnell, who was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize. (And that comes with a whack of money.) Maggie teaches in Salluit, in a remote community in northern Quebec.

And now Maggie has won! Here is a blog post about Maggie from, and here’s a page that includes a touching video about Maggie’s contributions to her community.

School for teenage codebreakers to open in Bletchley Park

Who can resist things that land on the intersection of history and geekiness? From the Guardian: School for teenage codebreakers to open in Bletchley Park.

Its first operatives famously cracked coded messages encrypted by the Nazis, hastening the end of the second world war.

Now Bletchley Park is planning a new school for the next generation of codebreakers in order to plug a huge skills gap in what is fast emerging as the biggest security threat to 21st-century Britain. [continue]

Attending university is free in Germany

From the BBC: How US students get a university degree for free in Germany.

In a kitchen in rural South Carolina one night, Hunter Bliss told his mother he wanted to apply to university in Germany. Amy Hall chuckled, dismissed it, and told him he could go if he got in.

“When he got accepted I burst into tears,” says Amy, a single mother. “I was happy but also scared to let him go that far away from home.”

Across the US parents are preparing for their children to leave the nest this summer, but not many send them 4,800 miles (7,700km) away – or to a continent that no family member has ever set foot in.

Yet the appeal of a good education, and one that doesn’t cost anything, was hard for Hunter and Amy to ignore. [continue]

I love this, and wish all countries would follow Germany’s lead. I was particularly interested in the What’s in it for Germany? section of the article.

Conversation cops at Queen’s University

A Globe and Mail article explains that Queen’s University has hired conversation cops to interrupt conversations that aren’t up to politically correct standards.

Your friend’s new fuchsia fedora might be hideous. But don’t call it gay, or you might get a language lesson from the conversation cops. [continue].

The end of the article includes "a sampling of some behaviour that could warrant attention" from one of these interlopers. One of the examples is "if a student avoids a classmate’s birthday party for faith-based reasons." So making decisions based on one’s faith is now a problem that requires official intervention? Sheesh.

What an idiotic plan.

Reaching an autistic teenager

From the New York Times: Reaching an Autistic Teenager.

On a typical Monday morning at an atypical high school, teenage boys yanked open the glass doors to the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga. Half-awake, iPod wires curling from their ears, their backpacks unbuckled and their jeans baggy, the guys headed for the elevator. Arriving at Morning Meeting in the third-floor conference room, Stephen, his face hidden under long black bangs, dropped into a chair, sprawled across the table and went back to sleep. The Community School, or T.C.S., is a small private school for teenage boys with autism or related disorders. Sleep disturbances are common in this student body of 10, so a boy’s staggering need for sleep is respected. Nick Boswell, a tall fellow with thick sideburns, arrived and began his usual pacing along the windows that overlook the church parking lot and baseball diamond. Edwick, with spiky brown hair and a few black whiskers, tumbled backward with a splat into a beanbag chair on the floor.

"O.K., guys, let’s talk about your spring schedules," said Dave Nelson, the 45-year-old founding director. He wore a green polo shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers and had a buzz haircut and an open, suntanned face. After his son Graham, 19, was given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (A.S.D.) as a young child, Nelson left the business world and went into teaching and clinical and counseling work. On that Monday, he was instantly interrupted. [continue]

Training young brains to behave

From the New York Times: Training Young Brains to Behave.

But just as biology shapes behavior, so behavior can accelerate biology. And a small group of educational and cognitive scientists now say that mental exercises of a certain kind can teach children to become more self-possessed at earlier ages, reducing stress levels at home and improving their experience in school. Researchers can test this ability, which they call executive function, and they say it is more strongly associated with school success than I.Q.

"We know that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the 20s, and some people will ask, ‘Why are you trying to improve prefrontal abilities when the biological substrate is not there yet?’ " said Adele Diamond, a professor of developmental cognitive science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "I tell them that 2-year-olds have legs, too, which will not reach full length for 10 years or more — but they can still walk and run and benefit from exercise."

Executive function involves three important skills. The first is the ability to resist distractions or delay gratification to finish a job: to finish the book report before turning on the television. The second is working memory, the capacity to hold multiple numbers or ideas in the mind, — for example, to do simple addition or subtraction without pencil and paper. The third is [continue]

Teach magic lessons in school, says professor

From The Guardian: Teach magic lessons in school, says professor.

The trick to making primary school children more confident and sociable is to teach them magic, claims Professor Richard Wiseman, psychologist at the Open University.

At the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Liverpool yesterday, he reported the results of his study of 50 pupils at two Hertfordshire schools, which compared his “magic school” lesson with a standard personal, social and health education (PSHE) lesson currently used to promote good health, confidence and social skills.

"Showing and teaching the children magic tricks encourages skills, such as self-discipline — unless you practice magic skills you will fail — and critical thinking. It also helps children to think from another person’s perspective, and consider how they are feeling," said Wiseman, who compared the increase in sociability and confidence of the children, aged 10 to 12, at the JFK school and the Wroxham School in Potter’s Bar. [continue]

Idaho turns to chess as education strategy

From the New York Times: Idaho Turns to Chess as Education Strategy.

Once a week, Deborah McCoy, a third-grade teacher in Donnelly, Idaho, unpacks chessboards and pieces and spends an hour teaching her 20 students how to play the game.

Mrs. McCoy does not do this because she is passionate about chess; she barely knew how to play before this school year. But she began teaching it as part of an unusual pilot program under way in more than 100 second- and third-grade classrooms across Idaho.

On Thursday, state officials will announce in Boise that the program will be extended in the fall to all second and third graders — making Idaho the first state to offer a statewide chess curriculum. [continue]

Kids’ response to the XO laptop

Michael Tiemann gave his 8-year-old daughter an XO laptop for Christmas, and blogs about how that’s working out: Risks–and rewards–of XO laptop.

…the real fun began after we started to explore the XO’s games. I told her to open Pippy and we played the "guess the number" game. In Pippy, the source code appears on the top half of the screen, and the interaction window (where you enter your name and guess the number) appears on the bottom half. She played the game three times, averaging about 7 guesses per try, and then said "I want to play another game." I suggested she try playing a different game by modifying the parameters to guess a number between 1 and 1,000,000, instead of between 1 and 100. She looked at me with wide eyes. I explained that on the top was a program, the program of the game, and that if she changed a single number in two places, she could change the game itself. She went from a look of "no way" to a look of "OK! What are we waiting for!" in about 200 milliseconds. She started to enter a million, decided that was just a little too large, and changed it to 1,000. She hit "run" and sure enough, the prompt asked for a guess between 1 and 1,000. She looked at me excitedly. I told her to guess, and after 11 guesses, she got it. She looked at me again, somewhat amazed. I told her she had just programmed the computer. I might as well have told her we were going to spend a week in Cinderella’s castle — she jumped up, shrieked, and yelled "HEY MOMMY! GUESS WHAT!? I JUST PROGRAMMED THE COMPUTER!"

Needless to say there was much excitement. She tried other modifications, including a version of the game she could win every time on the first try. She got her syntax errors, run-time errors, all the other scrapes and bruises one gets on the way to learning how to program, but she was excited, elated, and became confident! The little scorekeeper in me said:

Negraponte: 1, Doubt: 0.


Meanwhile, physorg has an article about how kids are doing with the XO laptops in Peru.

The residential collage

From the New York Times: The Residential Collage.

On a Monday in April, a dozen or so Cornell students living at the Alice Cook House had dinner with the legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas. They had been invited by Ross Brann, a professor of Judeo-Islamic studies, who also happens to be dean of Cook House, where his apartment has a spacious room meant specifically for this kind of entertaining.

The Freshman Commons at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, is to open in fall 2008 as the first stage of a campuswide conversion to a residential college system.

Meanwhile, a university vice provost was holding an open meeting, on the subject of diversity at Cornell, in the Cook common room, the setting the next night for a panel discussion on "Women in Islam." Before it began, in the seminar room next door, Cook residents studying Middle Eastern languages held their weekly "Jeopardy" competition in Arabic; then, two graduate fellows led a study session for students seeking help in chemistry.

On Wednesday, all 350 or so residents — students and graduate fellows — had dinner together. (The food was Southwestern.) On Thursday, Jewish and Muslim students met for their weekly discussion group, and on Friday, Professor Brann was the host of a tea, where Dr. Stephen Ajl, a pediatrics professor with the State University of New York, held forth on the politics of health care. At the same time, Cornell’s director of undergraduate studies in French joined students in a seminar room for their weekly viewing of "X-Files" reruns.

All in all, it was only a moderately busy week at Cook, where the fusion of academic and residential life represents something of a revolution, not just at Cornell but across the country. [continue]

You’ll probably need a password to read the rest of the article.