Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gaming The 2016 Election - Animations & Maps To Decode The Electoral College

Source: PBS Learning Media

As the national polls and the state-by-state predictions shake out in the final month of the 2016 campaign, the focus turns even more to the Electoral College as the actual arbiter of presidential glory. Somewhat enigmatic and certainly esoteric, the Electoral College stands as a tribute to the Founding Fathers' well-founded distrust of the new republic's voting population. It also exists as a potentially genius solution to the variations in population density across the country and the unyielding desire for fairness in the democratic process.

Some argue that the electoral vote misrepresents the true(r) popular vote. Others claim that the College instead empowers underrepresented regions. Either way, until a Constitutional Amendment changes the process, electors will meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to pick the president. Aside from a few confidence-rattling elections – such as when a Reconstruction compromise or a Congressional broker or a Supreme Court controversy determined the winner – the electoral outcome has been affirmed by both citizens and historians.

Source: PBS Learning Media

In order to explain the workings of the Electoral College to all levels of residents and students, PBS Learning Media has put together a terrific "Electoral Decoder." As a part of its Election Central page, this comprehensive and visually impressive resource demystifies the process and helps anyone become more familiar with the United States' democratic system.

For classroom teachers, a good initial stop is the video introduction to the tool and the methodology. Clear map animations lead educators and learners through the workings of the Electoral College. There is also a teacher portal that includes lesson plans and instructional suggestions.

Source: PBS Learning Media

The 2016 Presidential Predictor is an interactive map that employs a gamification approach, in which each student becomes a pundit and picks the winner of each state to see which candidate reaches the magic number of 270 electoral votes.

Users can also view the complete roster of electoral results from past contests, displayed in clear geographic statistics. The cartogram view is another valuable lens through which historians can employ design to make the data come to life. In this view, the cartogram resizes traditional map shapes to reflect a relative input, such as population or number of electoral votes. In other words, the states with more people become larger, distorting the recognizable scheme while highlighting the crucial swing locations.

In all, PBS' "Electoral Decoder" is an informative blend of straightforward geography, time-honored civics, and forward-thinking visualizations to make American elections more accessible.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Gaming The 2016 Election - Trading Cards & Virtual Interactives To Meet The Candidates

Source: PBS Kids

Educating younger learners about the 2016 presidential election poses a real challenge. The esoterica of the primary and caucus systems can be difficult to explain. The intricacies of the Electoral College require a background in both United States geography and the Founding Fathers' intents. This year's candidate quirks present a special hurdle, since many of the well-publicized comments are NSFS (Not Safe For School).

Avoiding these challenges, however, would be a disservice. Pretending that the nation picks a president simply by totaling all the votes would be unethical. Teachers might as well never introduce advanced vocabulary or higher-level mathematics.

Source: PBS Kids

Fortunately, PBS Kids has assembled a terrific array of resources in its "You Choose 2016" platform. The kid-friendly range of videos, printouts, and interactives address all of the major election aspects at a level perfect for elementary students.

Source: PBS Kids
For example, the "Meet The Candidates" page offers a bingo-style look at age-appropriate trivia about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. The "Videos" portal presents a wide selection of movies and clips, ranging from a live-action explanation of the voting process to an animated tour of the White House.

The "Campaign Poster" interface invites children to decorate and customize their own election placards. The "Trading Cards" area includes colorful renderings of presidents and first ladies to inspire students through a gamification approach.

All told, PBS Kids does a masterful job of avoiding the hard-to-answer questions about the 2016 controversies and instead highlighting the history and the fun of the U.S. presidency.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Gaming The 2016 Election - Videos & Toolkits To Let Students Join The Debates

Source: PBS Learning Media

In the modern era, presidential debates have become must-see theater. In many cases, these general election showdowns have produced critical moments to determine the November outcomes. Even at their most pedantic, these debates are rare opportunities to hear the nation's leaders speak directly to citizens and to each other. Voters can judge how the candidates handle themselves on the world's largest stage.

The first debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University (down the road from us here on Long Island) on Monday, September 26, 2016, is predicted to shatter television viewing records. Not incorporating this event into a day's lesson, therefore, would constitute educational malpractice.

Source: Watch The Debates

Teachers need to foster in their students an appreciation for civics. They need to guide young people toward understanding rhetoric and messaging. They need to use policy discussions as springboards to social awareness and future voting choices. One way to do this is by incorporating the practices of game interactions. This "gamification" approach to learning puts students in the driver's seat.

Source: PBS Learning Media
Fortunately, PBS has put together two terrific resources to bring the debates to life. The first is "Watch The Debates" from PBS Newshour. It allows users to view and interact with every candidate confrontation since 1960. Students can watch full encounters or highlights, and they can respond with their own verdicts.

The second resource is "Join The Debates," from PBS Learning Media. This site provides educators with a poster and toolkit to stage student dialogues in their own classrooms. Based on the Harkness Method and Spider Web discussion, these detailed guides allow children to reenact the debate format. Kids become owners of their own opinions, and they gain a better appreciation of the rigors of presidential parleys and the complexities of global issues.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Recess Rescue: Why Play Time Should Be Written Into The Students' Bill Of Rights

Source: ASIDE 2016

As our nation’s children head to back to the classroom, many schools find themselves trying to rein in kids’ summer impulses. Strict conduct policies are emphasizing rules and enforcing straight lines on students who are used to gamboling in backyards and lolling for hours.

Many Scandinavian countries, most brain science, and all veteran teachers would encourage the exact opposite. They would argue that instead of limiting play, educators should expand the amount of free time dedicated to socialization and creativity. Imagination itself is not learned, but it can be unlearned due to the drone of worksheets and mandates.

Source: ASIDE 2016

While many schools nationwide are reducing free play opportunities, our neighboring Patchogue-Medford district here on Long Island has actually doubled recess time from 20 to 40 minutes. In fact, a few Texas and Oklahoma schools now schedule recess four times a day. These changes are not capricious; they are part of studies such as the LiiNK Project, which has found that physical activity increases students' emotional well-being and reduces instances of bullying and stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports these findings with its seminal white paper about "The Crucial Role Of Recess In School."

Across the board, students, teachers, parents, administrators, kinesiologists, therapists, and test graders are all witnessing the positive outcomes of enhanced play time. The scientist Jaak Panksepp has devoted a career of research to answering two pivotal questions: Where in the brain does play come from? And is it a learned activity, or is it a basic function?

Source: ASIDE 2016

NPR has highlighted Panksepp’s studies, showcasing that play is deep and instinctive, shared across mammals, and integral to survival. Important social skills stem from play, in testing interactions, probing limits, and navigating hierarchies. In other words, play is primitive, the natural outcome of time and trust.

Children need this unstructured time to make mistakes and develop friendships on their own terms. The arena of the soccer field or the sand box is ideal in nurturing successful adults. Recess is not a privilege. It should not be an afterthought. It should instead be written into the students’ Bill Of Rights.

Source: KOIN

Otherwise, what are our playgrounds? Are they monuments to eras past? Are they the still testaments to the naivety of earlier generations? Are they just another hallmark of the sped-up modern day, the never-enough-time-for day, when the things we wish for are just that — wishes?

For other ideas about the importance of play, we recommend:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Designing The Iconic Flame - A Visual History Of The Olympic Torch

Source: Rio 2016

Design is the marriage of message and motif. It is the intersection of identity and icon. In crafting a logo or a slogan or a character, the end symbol is the summation of both the shape and the story.

That’s why the images of the Olympic Games have reached such exalted status. The five rings are a beacon of continental unity. The posters and medals and mascots have linked arms through the years to provide an intriguing portrait of episodic design trends and nationalistic pride.

Source: Rio 2016

Looking back at the summer and winter Games, we have offered reviews of: 

The Olympic torch is an often-overlooked aspect of sports history. Many viewers might remember the televised cauldron lightings, but few can recall the specifics of each particular torch style. This is a shame, because the Rio 2016 cresset is a testament to careful design and deeply embedded meaning.

The Rio torch, as always, represents “peace, unity, and friendship.” This particular beacon, however, features many other subtle elements to personify the flair and landscape of Brazil. For example, this torch is the first to extend and grow. From the official Olympics site:

Source: Rio 2016
The hues and textures of the expanded torch pay tribute to the gold Brazilian sun, the green mountain curves, the blue ocean ripples, and the grounded Copacabana promenade. The winning design from Chelles & Hayashi was chosen unanimously from 76 nationwide submissions. Additionally, “each torch – crafted from recycled aluminum and resin with a satin finish – weighs between 1kg and 1.5kg and stands 63.5cm high when contracted and 69cm when expanded.”

For a look back at past Olympic torches, this wiki outlines a complete list of manufacturers and designers. For a visual gallery, the Olympic site includes icons going back to the 1936 Berlin Games.

Personally, our historic favorites are the art deco Innsbruck 1976, the knifed Sydney 2000, and this year’s evocative Rio 2016:


Our least favorites are the spatulaed Montreal 1976, the cucumbered Albertville 1992, and the twizzlered Sochi 2014


For other ideas about teaching with the Olympics, we recommend:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Visualizing The Summer Olympics - Mapping The 2016 Rio Torch Relay

Source: Rio 2016 Olympics Wiki

On Friday, August 5, 2016, the eyes of the world will be fixated on Rio de Janeiro for the opening ceremonies of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. The #RoadToRio has notoriously been potholed by damaging news stories about Zika mosquitos, water pollution, construction delays, financial collapse, and rampant crime. Still, the tenacity of the tireless athletes and the nobility of the Olympic quest will unite the globe for two weeks and will present terrific opportunities for visualizations and education.

Source: Rio 2016

The torch relay, in particular, inaugurates the Games as the flame travels from its Greek origins to then crisscross Brazil in an escalating parade of famous athletes and historic sites. Mapping this journey through graphics and animations offers valuable chances to learn about geography and culture.

The official Rio 2016 site offers dynamic options for tracking the path of the torch, via calendar photos, city routes, and regional celebrations. The video highlights include both an animated map of each destination and a behind-the-scenes tribute to the nation's citizens. Across 95 days, the torch will pass through 12,500 road miles, 10,000 air miles, and 12,000 people.

Source: Rio 2016

For better or worse, current events also feature prominently in the torch's travelogue (much like the 2014 Sochi controversies). At various stops, the Rio carriers have so far been attacked with a fire extinguisher, beset by an unruly jaguar, and accused of carrying a "cursed" flame.

In essence, the torch relay is a fitting cavalcade to the heroic spirit of the competition. It builds anticipation for the contests to come, and it shines a spotlight on the country's locales and heritage. It also welcomes the world into a terrain that may be unfamiliar. This widening of the learning lens is crucial in pushing students to look outside themselves. Sydney's 2000 triumph and Beijing's 2008 spectacle both prove the worth of these quadrennial jamborees.

For more ideas about exploring the Olympics or using the Games in education, check out:

Friday, July 29, 2016

What Is The Corpse Flower Sensation? And Why Is Viral Science A Learning Opportunity?

Source: National Geographic

It's rare that a single flower becomes a viral, stakeout sensation. We admit that we've been fixated. While YouTube eyes are currently obsessed with a grotesque and freakish bloom, educators may be missing an opportunity.

Yesterday the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) announced that after a decade of cultivation, the Amorphophallus titanum finally began to bloom. Commonly known as the "corpse flower," this plant from Sumatra in Indonesia exudes the smell of rotting meat as it opens. The putrid odor and the otherworldly shape are keys to its appeal, as its startling height. The flower has notched the Guinness World Record for the tallest bloom in cultivation at over 10 feet (and even larger in its natural habitat).

The New York Botanical Garden first hosted a successful bloom of the corpse flower in 1937. A second emerged in in 1939, but generations have past to witness the third revelation of this dreamy, rancid blossom. Visitors have been lining up, and online watchers have been glued to the YouTube livestream, mostly because the scare appearance lasts for only 24 - 36 hours.

Why is this floral oddity relevant for teachers and students? On a basic level, this quirky natural artifact offers countless avenues for science learners to explore biology, botany, morphology, behavior, pollination, inflorescence, germination, dormancy, regionality, and cultivation. For example, the bloom is not actually one large flower. Instead it comprises a leaf-like ring of outbursts surrounding a central column.

On a higher level, the fascination with this shy and fetid flower speaks to every teacher's desire (and angst): how can we make make learning relevant? How can we pinpoint the moving target of our contemporary kids' attention spans? If they are attracted by a weird plant, what can we learn from this momentary buzz to inform our curricula?

Is it too much to ask that a daily lesson is unexpected? Is it pandering to give students something to anticipate, to look forward to? The allure of the NYBG "Corpse Flower Cam" lies in the waiting. It rests in the charisma of the macabre. Why does a flower smell so bad? What is the evolutionary attraction for carrion creatures that will come and spread the pollen?

Source: NYBG; Chicago Botanic Garden

Source: University Of Wisconsin-Madison
In other words, all classes should unfold like a mystery. Children ought to be rapt in the one-in-a-million stories: the collapse of the Spanish armada, the elegance of Euler's identity, the chance of penicillin's discovery, or the lightning of a boy's forehead.

For locals, the occasion to visit a monstrous plant that reeks of spoiled flesh is priceless. Would that all of our classes were as exhilarating. For the rest of us, this is a neat moment that we should remember in September, to excite STEM learners and to wake up the drowsy kids who don't think our "Do Now" exercise lives up to their Snapchat feed.

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