Searching for the Truth

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: Searching for the Truth.  I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers

Continuing my thoughts and writing about fake news, fake web pages, teaching search skills, and ultimately, trying to find the Truth of a matter, this post brings together for your consideration two web articles which are not new, but which work well together.

The first is Why Students Can't Google their Way to the Truth, by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew, published 1 November 2016.  
laptop user
Photo in the Public Domain, CC0 Creative Commons
The authors describe their research at Stamford University: "Over the past 18 months, we administered assessments that tap young people's ability to judge online information. We analyzed over 7,804 responses from students in middle school through college. At every level, we were taken aback by students' lack of preparation: middle school students unable to tell the difference between an advertisement and a news story; high school students taking at face value a cooked-up chart from the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee; college students credulously accepting a .org top-level domain name as if it were a Good Housekeeping seal."

Students were asked to determine the trustworthiness of material on two organizations' websites, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Pediatricians. 25 undergraduates at Stanford were asked to spend up to 10 minutes examining content on both sites.  "More than half concluded that the article from the American College of Pediatricians, an organization that ties homosexuality to pedophilia and which the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled a hate group, was "more reliable." Even students who preferred the entry from the American Academy of Pediatrics never uncovered the differences between the two groups. Instead, they saw the two organizations as equivalent and focused their evaluations on surface features of the websites."

When Wineberg and McGrew gave their task to professional fact-checkers, it became clear that these professionals used three strategies that are often unknown to, or not used by average readers:
  1. Landing on an unfamiliar site, the first thing checkers did was to leave it. Fact-checkers use the vast resources of the Internet to determine where information is coming from BEFORE they read it.
  2. Fact-checkers know it's not about "About." They don't evaluate a site based solely on the description it provides about itself.
  3. Fact-checkers look past the order of search results. Google does not sort pages by their reliability. (GoogleSearch presents results in an order it judges to be most relevant. (see How Google Search Works)
Read the full article on Education Week, and read more about Wineberg and McGrew's research at this page from Stamford. An executive summary of the report (Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning) is available here.

In an article on Open Culture, Josh Jones posted Carl Sagan Presents His “Baloney Detection Kit”: 8 Tools for Skeptical Thinking on 11 April 2016. "Sagan... did not hesitate to defend reason against “society’s most shameless untruths and outrageous propaganda." These undertakings best come together in Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, a book in which he very patiently explains how and why to think scientifically, against the very human compulsion to do anything but." (The full text is available on the Internet Archive. An 4-hour reading of Sagan's book can be heard here. )

In The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, Chapter 12 of the book (p. 189 of the Internet Archive text), Sagan describes his tools for skeptical thinking: "...What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and—especially important—to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument." The video embedded below gives a quick overview of the tools; Read them all in  Sagan’s full chapter, where he writes:

Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking lander.
Before you read this caption, did the image make you think that
Sagan had been on Mars with the lander?

(Photo in the Public Domain)
 (https://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions /missions/past/viking/)
"...A deception arises, sometimes innocently but collaboratively, sometimes with cynical premeditation. Usually the victim is caught up in a powerful emotion—wonder, fear, greed, grief. Credulous acceptance of baloney can cost you money; that’s what P. T. Barnum meant when he said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But it can be much more dangerous than that, and when governments and societies lose the capacity for critical thinking, the results can be catastrophic—however sympathetic we may be to those who have bought the baloney."

"In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions...Knowing the existence of such logical and rhetorical fallacies rounds out our toolkit. Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world—not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others. "

The Rational Wiki has a page about The Fine Art of Baloney Detection which includes a table of  the fallacies listed by Sagan, giving with examples and definitions.  If one were teaching search strategies, or how to sort the "fake" from the "real", or scientific methods, or reading for content, etc., this might be a very useful addition to the class library.

Transforming the meaning of evidence and truth

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: Transforming the meaning of evidence and truth.  I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers

This morning I read a post at Engadget titled Researchers make a surprisingly smooth artificial video of Obama "Their program grafts audio-synced mouths onto existing videos." The post describes the process used by the University of Washington researchers:
"The researchers used 14 hours of Obama's weekly address videos to train a neural network. Once trained, their system was then able to take an audio clip from the former president, create mouth shapes that synced with the audio and then synthesize a realistic looking mouth that matched Obama's. The mouth synced to the audio was then superimposed and blended onto a video of Obama that was different from the audio source. To make it look more natural, the system corrected for head placement and movement, timing and details like how the jaw looked. The whole process is automated save for one manual step that requires a person to select two frames in the video where the subject's upper and lower teeth are front-facing and highly visible. Those images are then used by the system to make the resulting video's teeth look more realistic."
Read the post, and watch the video below to see the result.

"Published on Jul 11, 2017. A new tool developed by computer vision researchers at the University of Washington Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering creates realistic video from audio files alone. In this example, the team created realistic videos of Obama speaking in the White House, using the audio file from a television talk show and during an interview decades ago."
The news story by Jennifer Langston is on the University of Washington's web site, Lip-syncing Obama: New tools turn audio clips into realistic video, and the details of the project are at this link.

A story by Kurt Schlosser at GeekWireUW’s lip-syncing Obama demonstrates new technique to turn audio clips into realistic video goes into a bit more scientific detail about the process. Schlosser writes that "By turning audio clips into realistic-looking lip-synced video, the implication is that a moving face could be applied to historic audio recordings or be used to improve video conferencing."

At Gizmodo, Adam Clark Estes goes straight to the heart of this not-fake news: Insanely Accurate Lip Synching Tech Could Turn Fake News Videos Into a Real Problem. "... the capacity to use easy-to-access technology to create fake images and video is growing by the day. Just last week, security researcher Greg Allen published a cautionary tale of sorts in Wired: “AI Will Make Forging Anything Entirely Too Easy.”  Estes writes, "Of course, there are other teams working on similar problems around the world. And you know what? They’re all getting really good at creating incredibly realistic fake videos, even with low-budget equipment. Last year, for instance, one Stanford team created a method of facial reenactment that could be performed with any cheap consumer webcam. It’s incredibly creepy...Allen sums up the bad news pretty well when he says this technology will “transform the meaning of evidence and truth.” If you thought fake-looking news websites were a problem, just imagine what a completely fake police bodycam video could do."
(Watch the video below, and read the notes on its YouTube page.)

We've written on this blog before about fake and real news and images. (See Can that be real? and Alternative Facts). The news media is full of claims, counter-claims about the "true facts" in almost every area of our lives.  There are TV shows to help you sort out fake from real viral videos, among them Britain's Channel 4's Real, Fake or Unkown: "Of all the intriguing, shocking and extreme videos on the web, how do we know which are real? Real, Fake or Unknown works out how the web's most-watched clips were made."

My guess is that many of you reading this post have already made videos just like the Obama one being discussed above.  Do you have a smartphone?  a pet? a child? a friend?

"You can make this photo do and say whatever you want. The pranking possibilities are endless." with Crazytalk

"Add a photo and speak into microphone, you'll get a lively talking pet in video." with My Pet Can Talk

"My Talking Pet brings photos of your favorite pet to life! Use it for any animal... or maybe someone you know?" with My Talking Pet




Why is this technology important to the IB community? Perhaps a quick reference to the novel "1984" and The Ministry of Truth.
"...Orwell saw, to his credit, that the act of falsifying reality is only secondarily a way of changing perceptions. It is, above all, a way of asserting power." The New Yorker
and to TOK.
"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past," repeated Winston obediently. "Who controls the present controls the past," said O'Brien, nodding his head with slow approval. "Is it your opinion, Winston, that the past has real existence?" (1984. Book 3, chapter 2.pp. 39-40) "

We'll just check with Mr. Obama about when he said some of the words quoted in the video above. Wasn't it in 1990?

140 Characters in the IB Classroom

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: 140 Characters in the IB Classroom I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers

"Twitter" flickr photo by Uncalno https://flickr.com/photos/uncalno/8537569665
shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The word "Twitter" (as in a certain social media platform) has been turning up more and more in the news recently.  Twitter itself isn't new (if you're interested, you can read the history of Twitter in this post on lifewire), and it isn't new in education.  But as it is being talked about right now, I thought it might be a good time to take a closer look.

First, here are three posts and a video about Twitter basics: How to Use Twitter: Critical Tips for New Users from Wired.com  WikiHow to Use Twitter and from Twitter itself, Getting Started with Twitter.

As with all online sites and media, once you have a Twitter account, to protect yourself you MUST carefully look at your settings and privacy choices.  Read about these at the  online In the Twitter Support pages:
You can also find this information from your own Settings and Privacy page for your Twitter account. You should read through all this, and make your choices about what you want to see, and do not want to see, who can reach you through Twitter, etc. Access all this by clicking on the little circle with your avatar image, in the upper right corner of your Twitter page after you have logged in.  You might also like to read this post on cnet.com about recent changes in Twitter's privacy settings.  Barbara Stefanics recently posted on this blog about how to "Check Your Twitter Settings".

Do you know what you want to do with your Twitter account?  Read this EducationWorld post, Using Twitter for Professional Development , this one at Talks with Teachers, Why Twitter Matters in Education, and this from November Learning, How Twitter Can Be Used as a Powerful Education Tool.

"Twitter" flickr photo by clasesdeperiodismo https://flickr.com/photos/esthervargasc
/9775119174 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
Now, you are logged in, you've checked through your settings,  you have some ideas of what you want to use your Twitter account for, and you probably  want to find Twitter users to "follow".  Here are some possibilities:

The IB has several official  Twitter accounts, and other folks have created IB centered Twitter accounts and lists:
The whole IB organization @iborganization
IB MYP @ibmyp  and the #myp #mypchat search results.
IB PYP @ibpyp and the #ibpyp search results
IB Examiners @IB_Examiners 
IB World Magazine @IBWorldmag
@IBConnects PYP | MYP | DP International Baccalaureate Teaching Jobs Posted Daily. Connecting the World - One IB Teacher at a Time!

TOK Teachers is a public list by Larry Ferlazzo which collects tweets from the 23 TOK teachers listed on this page.  (The tweets you read on the list page may or may not have anything to do with education.)
IB DP teachers is a public list of 31 teachers created  by Ilja van Weringh
IB DP Geography Teachers is public list of 48 teachers created by Richard Allaway

There are many individual teachers tweeting, among them Brian Neises, MYP Workshop Leader & Field Rep; science and humanities teacher;  @themypteacher; Paul O'Rourke, Lifelong Learner; IB-Middle Years Program Coordinator; debate/public speaking, soccer coach @Paul_Niagara
This search result for our OSC blog shows many posts with ideas for using Twitter in the IB classroom.

This coetail post, Twitter for the IBDP Student: While Twitter is an amazing tool for building community, microblogging understandings, and organically developing a real-time yearbook, there’s more to be done with everybody’s favorite blue bird by Tricia Friedman, offers a few ways to "tweet like a pro in the IBDP classroom".  The post includes this interesting TedEd video "Visualizing the world's Twitter data" by Jer Thorp.(See the accompanying lesson on this web page.)

TMT, Pecha Kucha, and the Art of Liberating Restraints

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: TMT,  Pecha Kucha, and the Art of Liberating Restraints I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers

 As is often the case on this blog, I am going to write about something I have just read.  EPFL is the  École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, which is a research institute/university in Lausanne, Switzerland, specialising in physical sciences and engineering. I subscribe to their news blog as part of my general reading, and am continually intrigued by what I read.  In today's batch I learned about how Digital birdhouses make studying owls easier ("EPFL students have developed a system that can detect when barn owls fly into and out of their nests, without disturbing the birds. Their invention could soon be installed in some of the 350 birdhouses that biologists have set up in the Swiss region of Broye."),  Astronomers make the largest map of the Universe yet ("Astronomers of the extended Baryonic Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey, led by EPFL Professor Jean-Paul Kneib, used the Sloan telescope to create the first map of the Universe based entirely on quasars."),  A tool for monitoring the biodiversity of Swiss livestock ("EPFL researchers have created an online platform for monitoring the genetic diversity of livestock and the sustainability of animal farming in Switzerland. This project, which was developed in partnership with the Federal Office for Agriculture, could serve as a model for other countries."), Antibody biosensor offers unlimited point-of-care drug monitoring ("A team of EPFL scientists has developed several antibody-based biosensors that have the potential to help healthcare centers in developing countries or even patients in their own homes keep track of drug concentration in the blood."),  Understanding how technology can revolutionize humanitarian work ("A new EPFL course offers students the opportunity to learn more about how new technologies can be used by humanitarian organizations. The students critically assessed new information-sharing methods by conducting a real-life exercise using the app Civique, which was developed by the Idiap Research Institute, an EPFL partner institution.")

But the subject of this blog post is in this story about My Thesis in 180 Seconds: two EPFL students make it to the podium ("Two PhD students from EPFL were among the top three finishers in the Swiss finals of the My Thesis in 180 Seconds competition held last night in Geneva. One of them, Amaël Cohades, qualified for the international finals by coming in second. The 15 finalists, who came from universities all over French-speaking Switzerland, treated the large audience to an exhilarating look at their cutting-edge research.")
After reading the post, I wanted to find out more about TMT (Three Minute Thesis).  "The Three Minute Thesis competition (TMT or 3MT) is an annual competition held in over 200 universities worldwide. It is open to PhD students, and challenges participants to present their research in just 180 seconds, in an engaging form that can be understood by an intelligent audience with no background in the research area. This exercise develops presentation, research and academic communication skills and supports the development of research students' capacity to explain their work effectively." (source)  

A story in TheScientist, Your Thesis in 180 Seconds, from 2013 gives an overview of the competition, and its pros and cons. " 'The benefit of 3MT is that scientists who can already communicate get an opportunity to do so, and get feedback,' said Kent (David Kent, a Canadian postdoc currently studying stem cell biology at Cambridge University in the U.K. and an long-time supporter of outreach activities). 'That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not the same as teaching them how to communicate. ...I’ve got no problem with condensing concise thoughts into 3 minutes, and I think all researchers would benefit from learning how to do that,' he said. 'I just don’t think 3MT teaches you how to do that. The competition would be more useful if courses and workshops were always part of the program, he added.' "(source)

I searched for video samples of TMTs  and found 79,900 (!!!) The first I watched was Dimitrios Terzis, from the Laboratoire de mécanique des sols at EPFL speaking about "Geo-mechanical constitutive model for Bio-improved soils". (The format of his video made me think of TedTalks and how it has influenced presentation and staging.)

Then I sampled Megan Pozzi's presentation. She was the winner of Queensland University of Technology's Faculty of Education 2013 competition and the people's choice winner, speaking about her research on teenage girls and social media identity and status updates.

These TMTs remind me of Pecha Kucha,  a presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total). The images or slides advance automatically to keep the speaker on time, speaking only about each slide or image while it’s being displayed.   The essence of Pecha Kucha is to intentionally set limits on speakers using slideware (i.e. PowerPoint, Keynote etc.). Pecha Kucha is the Japanese term for “the sound of conversation” or “chit chat.” The format has been used in education for many years, and there is a lot of interesting writing about it. (Do a Google search for [pecha kucha in the classroom] after a few pages, use the Tools option to limit the search to the past year.) Read Pecha Kucha in the Classroom: Tips and Strategies for Better Presentations  by Richard L. Edwards, and perhaps this page for practical advise, if you are new to the format.

The video below (1 hr 25 min) from an IB World School, the International School of Brooklyn was filmed at its 3rd Annual Pecha Kucha evening on Friday, March 10, 2017. "This year there were 12 presentations from the ISB community. Through their short presentations, community members give brief glimpses into their inspiration, their process, and their work! Think of Pecha Kucha as a series of mini TED talks that highlight the amazing talent of our community. "

When next you assign a slide presentation as part of a student assessment, or when next you prepare a slide presentation for a lesson, remember to think of TMT, and Pecha Kucha, and the art of liberating restraints. Be inspired to use one of these frameworks.

Is it fake nature, or is it a story?

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: Is it fake nature, or is it a story? I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers.

First, I'd like to explore the "Is it fake nature" part of my post's title:

"The 1958 Disney documentary into lemmings that won the academy award. Footage of lemmings jumping off cliffs was later found out to be faked. Edited version just showing the fake footage."

My guess is that most of you reading this post are not old enough to have watched the above television show when it was first broadcast in 1958.  (I will admit that I remember it vividly.  It was one of the first colour TV shows I saw as a child on our family's new colour TV set.)  Imagine my surprise and horror (Disney "cheated"???) when it was learned that it wasn't a "real" documentary at all, but that the lemming scene had been faked. (See Lemming Suicide Myth Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior, The Truth about Norwegian Lemmings, White Wilderness.)

I thought about this recently when I read How Nature Documentaries are Fake: A Filmmaker’s Perspective, by DL Cade, on PetaPixel.  Cade writes:

"When you watch nature documentaries like the BBC’s famous Planet Earth series, do you take for granted that everything you’re seeing is 100% real? We wouldn’t blame you if you did, but as Simon Cade of DSLRguide explains in this video, you’d be wrong....While the amount of “manipulation” that takes place in the cutting room of a nature doc varies with the editor and how far the producer is willing to push the truth, the fact is: every nature documentary is edited to tell a story."  Watch the video below, and read the post, and think about it through the lens of "fake news".

Cade ends with a question: "Is it disappointing that nature docs, even the best ones, are at least somewhat manipulated to help tell a story and engage their audience? Sure. But the music-less 24 hour live stream called “reality” is probably not your idea of the perfect nature documentary either."

Let's check that out with a few nature live-streams. How long can you watch one of  these streams, with no story line, and little/no sound? Nature in motion: live cameras from around the world,  Audubon Top 10 Wildlife Web Cams, Explore,  offer lots of choices.  Some have natural sound, but most are silent. Some are "professional" setups from zoos and sanctuaries, and some or "home-made" setups focused on bird feeders or fish tanks. You'll probably want to choose one in your own time zone, so as not to be staring at a dark, night-time screen from the other side of the world (or, look for nocturnal animals in your own time zone!).

To read more about this subject, see  These Are Some Of The Sketchy Ways Nature Documentaries Are Actually Filmed,
'Er, this bit isn't real': New David Attenborough series will tell viewers which shots are faked,
BBC 'fakes wildlife shots all the time': Veteran cameraman claims species 'smaller than rabbits' are filmed on custom-built sets 

And one last video.
" I am shocked that many people cannot see the computer generated imagery in this scene from BBC's Planet Earth documentary. In the past the BBC has been accused of faking scenes in its documentaries. I am not disputing the camera crew was not there, because they was. I'm not saying they didn't film snakes and iguanas, because they did. What I am saying is that this specific chase scene in this video was fabricated using CGI, to enhance the drama and entertainment of the moment. " (link)

What do you think? Is a heavily edited, CGI-ed nature documentary "fake news" using free actors? Should we be looking at them far more critically than we used to? Can we use them in the classroom without very critical analysis? Should such a nature documentary move from a science classroom to the IT lab, as a lesson in how to create digital stories?

Choosing & Using Sources

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs siteChoosing & Using Sources. I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers.

This morning Nik Peachy shared a free, online or downloadable text book  Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries.   Thinking about the IB DP IA and EE work, I decided to have a look.
Cover of “Choosing & Using Sources” by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries

“Choosing & Using Sources presents a process for academic research and writing, from formulating your research question to selecting good information and using it effectively in your research assignment. Additional chapters cover understanding types of sources, searching for information, and avoiding plagiarism. Each chapter includes self-quizzes and activities to reinforce core concepts and help you apply them. There are also appendices for quick reference on search tools, copyright basics, and fair use.
Written by Ohio State University Libraries’ Office of Teaching & Learning, this attractive book is targeted to college students and their instructors.” https://library.osu.edu/blogs/choosingsources/  
The book has received many 5 star reviews from college faculty and librarians,  which are  posted on the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library page. I share just two paragraphs from among them:
“This text is a comprehensive review of the various types of sources one might need to complete a research project or paper. The book begins with a clear explanation of how to formulate a research question, while the majority of the chapters focus on finding and evaluating sources. The topics in this text are well-chosen and reflect several aspects of academic writing in which beginning researchers might struggle, such as how to do a precision search, understanding biased versus unbiased sources, and how to decide between quoting or paraphrasing. This book is written at a level that undergraduates should easily be able to comprehend, while the content of the chapters gets increasingly detailed and complex throughout the book. There is no index or glossary at the back of the book, but there is a very complete table of contents at the beginning of the text. Readers might find it useful if the chapter titles in the table of contents were in bold, as the detailed breakdown of sections—while helpful—can be overwhelming when one is looking for the main categories of the book.” (Reviewed by Heather Jerónimo, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Iowa, on 2/9/2017.)
“This text is very readable and easy to understand. Concepts are explained clearly. Exercises and examples are provided to help students grasp each new concept. It is written in a casual tone that appears to make an effort to put its readers at ease while giving solid information about how to complete research and writing assignments successfully.” (Reviewed by Jennifer Lantrip, Reference Librarian, Umpqua Community College, on 2/9/2017.)
To give you a feel for the book, here are a few paragraphs and an infographic from Chapter 4, Precision Searching: Why Precision Searching?:
The steps in a precision search
“Starting with a research question helps you figure out precisely what you’re looking for. Next, you’ll need the most effective set of search terms – starting from main concepts and then identifying related terms. Those search terms need to be organized in the most effective way as search statements, which you actually type into a search box.
An important thing to remember is that searching is an iterative process: we try search statements, take a look at what we found and, if the results weren’t good enough, edit our search statements and search again—often multiple times. Most of the time, the first statements we try are not the best, even though Google or another search tool we’re using may give us many results.
It pays to search further for the sources that will help you the most. Be picky.”
“Source evaluation usually takes place in two stages:
  • First you try to determine which sources are credible and relevant to your assignment.
  • Later, you try to decide which of those relevant and credible sources contain information that you actually want to quote, paraphrase, or summarize. This requires a closer reading, a finer examination of the source.
This lesson teaches the first kind of evaluation—how to weed out sources that are irrelevant and not credible and how to “weed in” those that are relevant enough and credible enough.
Because there often aren’t clear-cut answers when you evaluate sources, most of the time you have to make inferences–educated guesses from available clues–about whether to use information from the website or other source.
The clues are factors you should consider when trying to decide whether a source is:
  • A relevant source of information – Is it truly about your topic and from the right time period?
  • A credible source of information – Is there sufficient reason to believe it’s accurate? “
I think this book could be a very useful resource for IB students in both the DP and MYP faced with what for many can be daunting writing assignments.  It could provide a sort of hand-holding comfort for students who are new to academic writing, or for whom a 4000 word research paper seems overwhelming.  It might also be a useful teaching tool to those guiding academic writing assignments.

Encoding and Decoding

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: Encoding and Decoding. I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers.

Anyone connected to ICT and education is familiar with the word "code" - and recently "Teach the kids to code" is all the rage. It usually implies that we should teach kids the fundamentals of computer programming. (In this post I'm going to use the word "kids" as a code word for "learner of any age".)

But if you think about it, we also teach kids to code, as in reading and writing, all their lives, all the time.  Let's explore this thought a little:

Coded messages
Most kids love exploring the idea of speaking and writing messages in code.  (Did you ever try Pig-Latin? Idday ouyay everway ytray Igpay Atinlay? )   Can you decode the sample of pig-latin in this audio file?

Look at the links below to refresh your memory about simple codes. (sedoc elpmis tuoba yromem ruoy hserfer ot woleb skinil eht ta kooL)  Perhaps you would like to practice with Sherlock Holme's Adventure of the Dancing Men.
 Dancing Men Cipher - can you decode it?

Visit the links below for more digital ways of honing your coding skills:

Security and historical codes
Although the stories of codes used during World War II are fascinating parts of history (Navajo code breakers, and Bletchly Manor come to mind),  Morse code is a more useful and easily learned "real" code.  Can you decode the sample of Morse code in this audio file?


Teach the kids to code!
Teaching kids to code has literally become child's play. Coding is thinking and planning in order to make things happen, and most people can do that, and indeed, spend their days doing it constantly in one form or another.  Look at articles linked below for more thoughts about why formal coding is an important part of any education:

"Coding isn't just for computer whizzes," says Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab, "it's for everyone." Watch this 2013 TEDx video in which Resnick outlines the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just "read" new technologies.

Computer code
On his webpage, David C. Zentgraf  writes to us all about why anyone who reads and writes on a computer - even if it is only emails - needs to know some code background. "A computer cannot store "letters", "numbers", "pictures" or anything else. The only thing it can store and work with are bits. A bit can only have two values: yes or no, true or false, 1 or 0 or whatever else you want to call these two values. Since a computer works with electricity, an "actual" bit is a blip of electricity that either is or isn't there. For humans, this is usually represented using 1 and 0 ...To use bits to represent anything at all besides bits, we need rules. We need to convert a sequence of bits into something like letters, numbers and pictures using an encoding scheme, or encoding for short." His article is long, and interesting.  I urge you to get a cup of tea, and at least skim it, bookmark it, and go back to again another time.

Encoding and decoding - as in "reading and writing"
Encoding and decoding are the building blocks of reading. Words, visuals, media - whatever your brain needs to understand and/or produce. "Decoding means translating written words into the sounds and meanings of spoken words (often silently). Encoding, or spelling, is the reverse process. The skills used in encoding are usually developed alongside decoding skills and reflect similar learning.” (Read more about the nuts and bolts of encoding and decoding language in the first link below).
On his web page, Kosarra writes about encoding and decoding data in charts, but his diagram describes the process in any medium.  Writing about making charts from data, Kosarra says "When a program draws a bar chart, it calculates the length of the bars from the numbers it’s supposed to represent. When it draws a pie chart, it calculates angles. When it draws a scatterplot, it looks at two numbers for each data point and turns those into coordinates to draw a shape. We understand the encoding part very well. There’s nothing mysterious about how a chart comes about, it’s a mechanical process."  He then describes the process of decoding various chart styles. "When it comes to decoding, things get a lot messier. What do we decode? We like to assume that decoding just reverses the encoding: we read the values from the visualization. But not only don’t we do that, we do many other things that are surprisingly poorly understood."  That happens with reading and writing words, too.
Image by ROBERT KOSARA https://eagereyes.org/basics/encoding-vs-decoding CC-BY-SA

After all this, have you thought a little about where, what and how you consciously and unconsciously use code?
"Communication" Image in the public domain

The Right Question

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs siteThe Right Questions. I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers.

This morning I read this post by David Hoffeld, on FastCompany: Want To Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears A Question?  "Questions hijack the brain. The moment you hear one, you literally can't think of anything else. And that can be a powerful tool."

I began to think about questions, specifically Inquiry Questions as they appear on IB unit of inquiry planners...and I wondered if the research described in the FastCompany post (focused on sales and management) would be useful to us in education, too.
MRI scans of the human brain; image in the public domain[
Hoffeld writes that "Questions trigger a mental reflex known as "instinctive elaboration." When a question is posed, it takes over the brain’s thought process. And when your brain is thinking about the answer to a question, it can't contemplate anything else. Research in neuroscience has found that the human brain can only think about one idea at a time. So when you ask somebody a question, you force their minds to consider only your question."  His article then lists and links to several brain research studies looking at questioning.

So, do good inquiry questions  "aid in the teaching and learning of essential understandings" ? (DP Approaches to Teaching) We hope that these questions will take over our students' thought process, provoking further questions, driving research - inquiry, action and reflection.

This interest in good questions is not new - we find reflections about inquiry itself since humans first were able to record their thoughts:

“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he's one who asks the right questions.” (Claude Lévi-Strauss)

“I think that probably the most important thing about our education was that it taught us to question even those things we thought we knew.” (Thabo Mbeki)

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” (Eugene Ionesco)

“[…] The art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it.” (Georg Cantor)
“The marvelous thing about a good question is that it shapes our identity as much by the asking as it does by the answering.” (David Whyte)

The next question is, how are good inquiry questions for a specific unit of inquiry crafted?
The IB has published a handful of videos about Approaches to Learning In Practice, which do not offer the possibility of being embedded in a blog post.  I urge you to go to this link and watch the video "Inquiry based and conceptually focused mathematics teaching" filmed in a DP maths class, at the International School of  Toulouse. Around the 4 minute mark you'll hear a lot of discussion about questions.

The video below describes 3 key points to remember in order to develop inquiry questions that are aligned with a unit's statement of inquiry and that scaffold students' learning over the course of the unit:

To end, there's an image on the TeachThought web site which presents you with 20 questions from the inquiry process. "...Hopefully you’ll find the following graphic–and the embedded stages and questions–helpful in your planning, or to distribute to students as they make sense of what could be a new (for them) approach to learning."