Storytelling for Digital Natives

Smorytellers - www.smories.com
Smorytellers - www.smories.com

Smories are free original stories for kids, read by kids. 50 smories are added every month. Two London-based illustrator/writers Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar got the idea for smories.com during a long journey in a dirty Land Rover from the Kalahari desert in Botswana to Cape Town in South Africa.

Their daughter (8) had the idea to film herself with an ipod reading short stories, and then play them back to her younger sister (6). This kept the kids entertained for hours and inspired their parents to create smories. Thank you for this great idea!

Smories is a free online resource for kids and a nice and simple alternative to sites like youtube where young viewers can easily click away to unknown destinations. But smories is also a new platform for children’s story writers, where they are freed from the usual constraints of having to illustrate their story to have a shot at publication. At Smories.com writers can get their work published online, retaining all rights.

Storytelling when coffee-house and Starbucks weren't synonyms
Storytelling when the coffee-house wasn't Starbucks yet.

(Thank you swissmiss and smories)

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604,546 words, 515,991 pronunciations, 241 languages

All the words in the World. Pronounced by native speakers. Forvo was born as an idea in 2007, and is online since January 2008. By now Forvo has become the largest pronunciation guide in the world.

Are you able to pronounce the reason for Europe’s flight disruptions ?

You can browse and search Forvo for free. If you want to add new words or pronunciations you have to sign up – but it is also for free. In my opinion, Forvo is a great and interactive idea, combining the best of the two worlds: the world wide web’s networking feature with all the languages (still) spoken in real life. The language-of-the-day section features languages you might have never heard of before, e.g., Lakota spoken by the Lakota people of the Sioux tribes.

Mission Forvo: recording all the words that exist in the world.
Mission Forvo: recording all the words that exist in the world.

Did you ever wonder how to pronounce the name of your favorite foreign artist in his or her mother tongue? I was quite impressed, when I discovered how to pronounce the Icelandic singer in Islandic, the French band in French or the Polish composer in Polish. For non-English speakers it might be insightful to readjust some pronunciation assumptions for the worlds biggest internet companys: , and .

Try out Forvo! It’s fun! www.forvo.com

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Turn your overhead projector into a musical instrument

An overhead projector can be found in probably every classroom and caused a lot of students falling asleep during eternal presentations. Blair Neal from New York converted the most unglamouros educational technology into an interactive music-making machine.

Watch his installation that uses an old projector, a camera, some markers and a laptop and turns it all into a playful art piece. It is essentially an inverse color organ that you can play like a player piano. You can draw crazy things for fun or make more complex songs if they look more MIDI-sequencer like. Developed in Max/MSP and Jitter.

(thank you MAKE and Blair Neal)

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Teachers Shock Students in 1938

Teacher shocks student
Teacher shocks student (1938)

I found this picture at the Library of Congress. It is entitled: “Teachers shock students at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., Aug. 2”. The photograph reminded me that the use of technology in education sometimes gets really weird. The so called shocking machine, invented by Dr. Willard Hayes Yeager, Head of the department, was intended to take the “ahs” “ers” and “ums” out of the diction of public speaking students. Yeager is shown putting on the shocker to Jane Hampton, 17. When the student made a mistake the professor at the other end of the room notified her by a gentle electric shock. Maybe this took out some “ums”, but it put in some other “ahs” for sure. Will people look back in 70 years from now and wonder, what we were doing when introducing new technology in education? They probably will.

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American Education in 2030

Take 10 men and 1 woman to think about American Education in 2030. That is what Standford’s Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, a public policy think tank, has done. The result is an ebook and a website with the author’s video comments: www.americaneducation2030.org.

First, one could argue that the group of authors isn’t the best example for gender equality. Second, the essays aren’t covering a wide range of educational issues as I expected beforehand just reading the title. The articles are clustered into Curriculum and Instruction (five), Standards and Testing (two), Governance and Finance (four), and Privatization and Choice (two), with a lot of overlapping territory, e.g., technology or national standards and testing. The best read is probably the conclusion by Chester Finn, a recapitulation of what actually changed in American education from 1990 to 2010, as a form of evidence of what is possible within 20 years.

American Education in 2030 - Not much time left

Most of the essays are written in past tense travelling to 2030 and looking back. This Back-to-the-Future-Part-2 approach is quite entertaining and a good read.

Some authors cite Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle and a cliché in American education: “Had Rip awakened in a classroom 20 years later, he would have noticed no changes at all.” Hopefully this won’t be true for American education in 2030. And most of the authors are convinced that change will happen. However, I would not agree with Paul E. Peterson’s top-down suggestion that “changes will move from the college level downward through high school into middle school.” In my opinion, the only starting point is “the best part of the twentieth-century school” (Peterson), the elementary school. Otherwise it would lead to a future, that President Obama described recently: “Information becomes a distraction, a diversion, rather than a tool of empowerment.”

Many authors stress the benefits of computer access, new teaching materials and computer adaptive testing. In my opinion, one has to be very careful to get the use of technology in education right. Everything depends on the people teaching and learning, and how they use technology. In “American Education in 2030” I missed that perspective. Nevertheless it is a good starting point to discuss a more responsive, efficient and effective education system than we have today.

For further reading and downloading American Education in 2030 (2010), edited by Chester E. Finn Jr., visit: www.americaneducation2030.org

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