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Friday, January 29, 2010

Beware of the Brown Pandas and Revigated Water



The problem in China's Qinling Mountains is that there are too many brown pandas.  Seven to be exact, in the last twenty five years.  According to Dr. Tiejun Wang, on the Nature News website on January 18th, it is because of inbreeding. (Hat tip to Physorg.com one of my favorite reads on the Kindle.)

You see, brown is a recessive gene for pandas, known for the deceivingly cuddly looking black and white color.  And yet, brown and white pandas are turning up. The probability of this happening in a diverse population are extremely limited, and so seven brown and white pandas seem to be enough to cause a stir.

Now, this is not  a blog post about genetics, although this will make a GREAT lesson for those science teachers out there who teach genetics.  Rather, this is a lesson about inbreeding.

Inbreeding, or the marrying into one's own family, causes infertility and genetic defects, the most well known of which,the inbreeding in the House of Hapsburg caused an eventual dying out of the line. The last of the line, Charles II of Spain could not chew his food and was impotent, but even worse, some of the worst persecutions of the spanish inquisition occurred during his reign.  Charles II, you see, was a brown panda.  A product of inbreeding.

And this my friends, is why we must surely celebrate, encourage, and demand diversity in our thinking.  Diversity of background.  Diversity of experience.  Diversity of geography.  These are the things in our reader that help our minds become robust.

We must read people with whom we disagree.  Sometimes we must read people whom we think rude. We must have friends of many types including people who sometimes ruffle our feather.  What I suggest to you is not easy because we have to intentionally change ourselves sometimes.

I'm coming off a personal six month hiatus during which I didn't travel, primarily so that I could be there to keep things stable and well-orchestrated at home for my oldest son's entrance into high school.  But also, during this time, I've been reading new things and NOT reading some things I've been reading for a long time.

One thing about the edublogosphere that sometimes has had me worried is this echo.  This genetic imprint of common ideas that show the inevitable link up of certain people and their thought patterns.  Now, we all have our influencers and mentors - I'm not saying that is bad.  However, I am saying this:  just because someone we know and respect and that supposedly "everyone" things is the best educator on the planet says something doesn't mean it is the gospel truth.

Let me give you an example.  Trendiness is really a danger.  I'm not a trendy person and buy clothes with the intent that I"ll probably wear them for the next 20 years.  Some of my scarves and business suits I've had for twenty years at least - the classic, wool cut that lasts through time.

Let's see what trendy got these people in the 1920's.  Radioactivity was all "the rage" and the inventors of the Revigator Water jar claimed the device would:

"restore the lost element of water "radio-activity,"

and also that it would

" the radiation could treat or cure ailments ranging from arthritis and flatulence to senility and poisoning."

Surely, a person reading could see that such claims were preposterous?  But, ah, no, the company sold several hundred thousand of these ceramic jugs in the 1920's and 30's.  But it wasn't the radioactivity that would kill you - when Michael Epstein and his students at Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland looked at it, they found that the arsenic (especially if you used it to store juice) and the radon, lead, and other dangerous substances that would come into the water from the hodge podge of items put into the clay lined pots would poison you.  Truthfully, this trend killed.

 So, on January 15th, when I talked with superintendants, IT Directors, and teachers in White Plains, New York, one of the themes was making sure that we use good common sense.  I think that sitting back and watching things happen and then applying all of my knowledge of teaching people about technology to what I will use in my classroom is important.

Don't you dare ignore the grey matter between your ears!  Sometimes we will look at the things that everyone is "abuzz" about, but most often, we start using these things about four years before the masses.  I guess in some ways we're pre-trendy and some would say that that has dangers as well. (My student who just graduated had an athropology professor who said 'Twitter is the latest thing' and leaned over to a friend and said, 'that is so tenth grade' (when she had me. ;-0))

The point here is to watch the claims that others give.  Just as a container for water couldn't possibly take care of your flatulence and arthritis, also it is pretty preposterous to think that you could put a piece of software in the room of a bad teacher and suddenly have the Nirvana of educational excellence. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't add up.

So, my challenge to you as you sort through things and deal with increasing budget cuts, and yet know with a passion that global collaboration and effective use of technology are two things that you need to incorporate into your school, I give you two pieces of advice:

1- Beware of Brown Pandas (Inbreeding)


Read different sources.  Talk to different sources. Find 1:1 programs that worked and others that didn't.  Don't allow your thinking to become inbread.

2 - Beware of the Revigated Water (the Trendy)


Often if "everybody's doing it" then somebody is doing the wrong thing.  Part of the need to customize our classrooms is that each area and school is different. I talked to Craig Mantin who has a different way of having each fifth grade connect. In one fifth grade classroom where the wiring was horrible, they used SmartPhones. In another with better wiring, they had NetBooks - each is piloting the program and they are measuring and looking at the best way to do this.  All of the parents are happy and the kids are happy also.





My computers are about to have their fourth birthday - I will have a four year old computer lab very soon!  So many things keep breaking on me! Many of you have 1:1 laptop programs or 1:1 iTouch or Kindles in your library.  If I sit around whining because I don't have what you have, then, I'm not taking care of business right here.  Do what you can with what you have and that is enough!  And trendy isn't ALWAYS right (nor is it always wrong, mind you!)

Meanwhile, know that although technology becomes obsolete, so do textbooks!  Don't let the passage of time dull your sense of mission that teaching students how to connect globally is more important than ever!


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