Annie Fox’s podcast with Amalia Starr

I have come across a brilliant podcast and indeed, a brilliant website. I am a Twitter “friend” of Annie Fox  (@annie_fox) and she recently sent a Tweet about her latest podcast:

#parenting #Autism Just posted new blog/interview w/@AutismMomExpert Got a #specialneeds child? This is 4 U!

Well I don’t have an autistic child (or any child for that matter) but I am a teacher and one who, over many years of experience, has tried to get to know about autism and other conditions of children who may well be in my class or school.

As well as this, I have had to deal with parents who have children with various disabilities, of which autism is just one. It helps, as a teacher, if we can try to relate to what those parents are trying to do on a daily basis for their child and to try and understand how school fits in to the wider life of their child.

The podcast was with Amelia Starr who has written a book called “Raising Brandon” in which she writes about living, loving and understanding her son Brandon who has autism and has learnt to be independent and cope with the world in his own way. Brandon is now 36 years of age and the book is about Amalia’s journey with her son to where he is now.

The podcast is simply riveting from beginning to end. It is so professionally produced by Annie and like all the best of podcasts benefits from the fact that we have two very expressive speakers talking to each other and we feel privileged to be in their company and “overhear” their conversation.

Amalia tells us of the bullying, tormenting and non-acceptance that Brandon had to endure and the way that she had to bring him up, cope with her own feelings about her  adequacy to deal with him, try and be a mother to his brother (who has himself had a journey to understand his brother Brandon) and also deal with the failure of her husband to deal with bringing up an autistic child which eventually led to her marriage split up.

I found this podcast moving and enlightening. I feel that Annie’s comments at one point, where she said that Amalia’s observations about parenting Brandon were really about parenting any child, were absolutely the case.

I wrote to Annie saying that I was impressed by her podcast and she wrote back suggesting that I look at her other podcasts on her website So far I have managed to listen to “So Sexy So Soon” with Diane E. Levin, which was again an excellent podcast on an important issue for parents and of course, for us teachers.

I shall work my way through these podcasts and am really pleased that I have managed to find such a really good resource which I am happy to recommend to others.


I “discovered” this program about a year and a half ago. A colleague told me to look up “Furbles” which is an excellent data representation program using little creatures whose characteristics can be changed and represented graphically.

On going to the website I found that there was another program called “Primitives”. This was a real find. I think it is a work of internet genius. It represents all of the numbers by colour coding them and then allowing you to see how they factorise (or not… since if they can only be populated by dots then they are obviously prime!).

I have used this free program with many children (aged 7 to 11) who absolutely love it. The reason is not to do with the numbers and their properties but the sheer artistic beauty of the representations of the numbers.

I would urge you to take a look at it and then, if you are brave enough, let the children play around with it… do not teach them anything! Let them explore and find out about the multiples, factors and division facts.. you will be surprised at the results but most importantly you will get them to see the joy and fun and beauty of numbers and that is something that no boring textbook or interactive whiteboard program or worse still you telling them a fact will ever have.

The Internet Hedgehog bites back!

I have been following the B.B.C. Series “Virtual Revolution” and have so far reviewed the first of its four programmes in this blog (see earlier postings under the title “Virtual Revolution”). web site:

Those ten or twenty loyal followers who have read these postings will know that I have not been blown away by this series so far. This has been a very negative type of series that has looked at the dark side of the internet and the undoubted threats to our freedom from personal information becoming available so easily with the rise of social networking programmes such as MySpace and Facebook.

The last programme was called “Homo Interneticus” and took on the huge subject of how we, as a species, are being changed by the web revolution. (As an aside I still don’t get the “Virtual revolution” title as, virtual reality was hardly mentioned in all four episodes other than a short bit on “Second Life”).

They looked at the younger generation and concluded that they were “Internet Foxes” able to multitask and jump from one screen to another in no-time, eat their meal, text on their i-phone and even say the odd intelligible word or phrase.

This animal analogy was used as the basis of a test that was conducted at University College in London with people of different ages, races and gender.They found that generally, the younger you are the more likely you are to be able to multitask, the older you are then you are at the other end of the spectrum, a hedgehog… slow in the search for information and very much a one-stop-shopper who is unable to chew gum and surf the web at the same time!

The test that they used was available online :

I took the test and came out as ….a hedgehog. Now I’m aware that I’m as ancient as they come in comparison to those fresh-faced M.I.T. geniuses that they showed in the programme but I can hold my own on the net… well, maybe I am a bit slow and my wife has to shriek at me to get my attention… but a hedgehog!

Well the hedgehog is going to bite back! I was not impressed with the way that the potential of the internet was given such little time throughout the series. The brilliant things that children have produced using the web was mostly overlooked. The potential of the web to break down barriers and get children from all over the world collaborating was mostly overlooked. There was just one positive piece from Korea towards the end of the programme.

In this blog, this hedgehog has laboured slowly to use the power of the internet to communicate with some brilliant educators, I’ve  join in online discussions on Twitter about technology and I have read the blogs of great internet  fox children  in Van Meter, Iowa.

I believe that the internet is a potentially powerful force for good, but I am not blind to its problems… it represents all of us human “animals” from the good to the evil just as society does. It does though provide opportunities for study and learning that this hedgehog could not even have dreamt of as I was making my slow progress from the Sinclair ZX, to the B.B.C. B to the great day I actually could afford and got my first laptop.

I learn a lot from it in my slow old way… just think of what our children are learning as I type this… and what their children might yet learn and become!

Race To Nowhere

I get the links to some fascinating ideas and causes through Twitter. Every now and again you follow a link and it leads you to something that you find a bit special.

I got up this morning, checked my messages on gmail and found that I had a new Twitter follower, a 2nd Grade teacher called Kristina Peters. I looked her up and found that she had a few Tweets and this was the third one down:

RT @kjarrett: New documentary – The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture | Race to Nowhere

This is the way that it happens with Twitter. We pass on interesting links within our network of friends and this link was to lead to me to a fascinating project.

I started by watching the film’s trailer.

This whole project resonates  with me because the “stressing out” of our children and the constant hunt for grades and the unnecessary use of homework as a tool for extending learning are very much a part of the culture here in the U.K. where I live as much as it is in the U.S.A.

But it goes further than that. The film bravely tackles the question of children committing suicide because they cannot cope with the stress. This is something that I have heard of in Japan, the U.S.A. and over here in my country the U.K. It is not acceptable in any way… we cannot condone a society that puts our children under so much stress that they feel the need to kill themselves (before you wade in with the fact that children commit suicide for many reasons i.e. bullying, sexual identity problems, falling out big time with friends… I know that but am referring to those suicides that are purely down to school pressures).

This is a brave project and the film needs to be seen and discussed and hopefully it  might lead to changes in the U.S. educational system as well as in other countries such as my own. Look up the website for the Project The resources section is excellent… look up some of the websites and the people involved… better still get involved yourself.


As I stated in yesterday’s post (“In Praise of Diigo”) I am fortunate in being a follower of the group “Van Meter” in Diigo. I get regular brilliant links to exciting sites that widen and widen my awareness of the growing digital world and the possibility of applications to children’s learning.

Yesterday I received my gmail update from the group and discovered 8 items. Looking up and down the list two things caught my eye. The first was an item called “Microblogging: making the case for social networking in education” it is from a really good blog called “Box of Tricks” This was an impressive posting from an astute teacher who is looking for ways to increase learning for his students. I was so impressed with the article that I left a comment and am now following the blog. (This is the joy of blogging where we all feel ourselves to be part of a community and are always impressed by new finds when we discover or are given a link to someone’s interesting or exciting site).

In the posting, José Picardo, the blogger, wrote about introducing a new program to encourage his students to write and communicate. This “microblogging”  program is called “Edmodo” The advantage of this program is that it creates a format that is very similar to “Facebook” which the students are very familiar with and therefore attempts to bring a private, secure classroom based communications process into the classroom using a format that students are happy to use.

When I say happy I really mean this because another link in the Van Meter Diigo update was to an ABC Chicago report on their News Programme. The link is

This was a brilliant report which mentioned Edmodo and how it is being used in classrooms as well as showing the potential for technology to help students learn. Take a look at it.. it is well worthwhile.

I have been onto Edmodo to see what it looks like. It is free to use and I would think would be something that schools everywhere could benefit by. I am just sorry that it seems to be applicable at the moment to schools in the United States only… here in the U.K. where I live we have a large number of schools that could make very good use of it.

In praise of Diigo

I have been fortunate to have had a headstart in my learning about new technology. I have a brother who is a university librarian.One of the first sites that he pointed out to me as a useful site for bookmarking what I found when searching the internet was Delicious

At that time I didn’t really make the best use of the facilities to bookmark and share my bookmarks with others that Delicious gave me. When I discovered a new zest for learning about new technology and its applications to education I soon found out how useful it is to bookmark a page when I come to it so that I can return to it later for deeper reading or to take from it specific quotes which could be highlighted.

I was fortunate in finding a lot of my earliest contacts through “The Educator’s PLN” , a Ning site that acts a social network for educators interested in the use of web 2.0 tools in education. Many of the educators had a Diigo reference that led me to look up this particular program.

I found Diigo absolutely brilliant and easy to use from the very beginning. I could highlight things and save the highlights (which I could then include as quotes in future blog postings such as these!) I could save bookmarked pages to my library and also, I could actually share my library with others and receive their updates and bookmarks.

As those of you who are regular followers of this blog (and I believe there are a few) will know, I am a great admirer of Elementary and High Schools in Van Meter Iowa, which has a superb technologically aware group of leaders and an excellent librarian who is amazingly up-to-date in her skills in accessing and publishing new links (seemingly every day) to the amazing potential for education of web 2.0. Her name is Shannon Miller and I have written about her and her school’s wonderful library site earlier in this blog

Today I received my usual daily update from the Van Meter Library Diigo site which I am a follower of. This is where I really get excited by Diigo’s potential. This link is shared with all of the followers of the site and therefore, for students, it allows them to keep in touch and then look up these sites for themselves. This opens up the world of learning and means that discoveries of brilliant sites, videos, recordings etc., can be shared.

Today’s posting got me to look up a video from ABC News in Chicago and a brilliant resource called “Edmodo” which I shall be writing about in my next blog posting. Thanks to Shannon for the links and to Diigo for making it work so well.

Incidentally, Diigo allows teachers to open a site which they can share with their students. If you get the chance look into this… it really has great potential for you and your students.

Adora Svitak: The world’s youngest teacher

I first came across Adora as a she was mentioned in Curtis Bonk’s book “The World Is Open” (which I wrote about in an earlier posting).

Curtis stated that he was amazed by this young lady and what she had managed to achieve in terms of having written three published books, poetry and also becoming a teacher who uses new technology as the means to get to her “audience”.

She is also an accomplished speaker who has just appeared at the 2010 TED Conference!

What excites me about Adora is that she is a true child of the Digital Age and is probably its first prodigy/genius but not its last! To get a flavour for the character and personality of Adora look at the video and then go to her website Look out for her TED Talk when it appears on the web it is bound to become one of the favourites from the current series of Talks and I would bet that it may not be her last one!

The Virtual Revoltion Programme 3

I loved the dramatic “Dr Who” like music that accompanied the first twenty minutes or so of this programme. It summed up the melodrama of the main idea that the web is not free and that we are paying for it by giving all our details away.

So I thought about this and I had a couple of issues that I want to explore. Firstly, if Google is aiming for world domination then what would the world be like if it was just switched off overnight? I suspect that we’d all be “Bingers” or that the convenience of a massive and easily accessible search engine would lead to new players in the market to take Google’s place.

I am aware of the fact that advertising is omnipresent in web-pages or even on blogs but then again I can choose to ignore the advertising or switch it off when it infuriating appears as a pop-up before I can look at some interesting site.

If I did have to pay for “Youtube” for example, I would probably not use it very much, if at all and suddenly I could not access many of the marvellous Ted Talks that I am always going on or Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture that I managed to see last week and which kept me enthralled and amazed for well over an hour.

Yes the internet is a commercial playground and has been colonised by the captains of industry and commerce to further their wares but it also the means for children, students in higher education and adults who want to increase their learning to get access to many things that were denied to them before. How many of these would be accessed if there was a price to pay (and I mean money here).

Only at the very end was the excitement of the net made clear and so far in this series I have seen little of the tremendous potential of the web in education but I know that Amazon is an endless bookstore and may be influencing what I might purchase in the future!

I am afraid that this programme was very much back to the simplistic statements of the first programme and with many of the criticisms that I made then returning about a lot of wonderful locations being used needlessly (here I am in San Francisco with palm trees and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, here I am in New York).

Next week they are going to be looking at children and the net. I can already imagine the tone of the programme because they prefaced it by saying that this is the “Facebook generation” well there you go, we shall be looking at how all they do is post silly remarks on facebook, Tweet endlessly and get a bit of cyber-bullying in for good measure. But if that is the case, then again, there is very much oversimplification going on. I happen to know that there is some amazing work being done by students all across the world using the net and that they are collaborating across continents. (Please see my earlier posting on “The Flat Classroom Project”).

So far in this series I saw a small snippet of Howard Rheingold in programme 1 but have yet to see some of the more interesting figures in education and the potential of new technology being interviewed. What about George Lucas and the Edutopia Project? I recommended Curtis Bonk before the programme began but he has not been interviewed. If you’ve never heard of him or his ideas then I suggest that you look up yet another earlier post I did on his book “The World Is Open”.

I think that one of Curtis’ main points in his book is that the world is open because the technology is free (monetarily). I understand the arguments that have been put forward by Programme 2 but believe that there is a trade off here about the access to the huge knowledge-base that is the internet and the fact that we may be dogged by indiscretions 40 years after we have done them… but then again the papers dredge up the ancient indiscretions of every new celebrity that sparkles before their light goes out….. and do we really care… should we really care?

That there is a lot of knowledge about us given away freely is certainly frightening but then again the example of the Dutch collection of data that was so horribly used by the Nazis in World War 2 just shows that there has long been a problem with the ownership and potential misuse of data.

If we closed down Google and Youtube’s access to our data would that lessen the potential for important data to be held about us by Governments and other organisations to be misused at some time in the future?

Those of us who are trying to widen the use of the internet in schools believe that the free access to information and collaboration for students may help us combat authoritarianism in the future, that we are trying to produce global citizens who are interested in breaking down barriers of race, religion and nationality.

I wonder how much of this point-of-view has been looked at in these programmes.

internet voices

I have always been fascinated by people’s stories. When we are very young we listen to the words of our grandparents and people of their generation telling us stories about a world we didn’t know.

These stories were the things that helped us understand our own personal history. Where our forebears had come from and how they had lived. But as soon as these people died off we had vague memories of their stories and your own memory fades and you forget some of the things that you were told.

As a student many years ago I remember feeling really excited that someone had made use of the technology of recording to interview people and get their words onto tape (as it was then) so that we could have their testimony for ourselves and for future generations.

Sometimes the interviewees had lived through amazing and possibly horrific times like the Holocaust or World Wars 1 and 2. Sometimes though they were interviewed about their everyday lives, how their mother used to do the weekly shopping, what washday was like.

What was important in all this was not necessarily the mazing insights into great world events but that this was the authentic voice of people telling us how it was.

Many of these oral history recordings were kept in libraries or owned by a group or privately by an individual. They were difficult to pin down and were certainly not widely available. Also, it was not easy to contribute your own stories to a collection unless you had been contacted by someone asking you to do so.

The web has changed all of that. There are now thousands of sites which act as repositories for the literally millions of stories, some old and some which are being added on a daily basis because it is possible to do so. This is what I find so exciting about the web, that it has provided a platform for these recordings to be collected and most of all researched and hopefully learned from.

I thought that today I would let you know about three brilliant oral history sites that I have come across… these are just three of the thousands of sites out there and I would be interested for any feedback on sites that you may have that you think others would learn from and most importantly enjoy…. because I really do enjoy listening to these talks and often I find them incredibly moving in the way that real life and real individuals, talking about life and love and loss is really much more moving than the Hollywood dramas that  pluck the heartstrings artificially.


This is an amazing oral history project in the United States. I first heard about them from a Twitter hyperlink (I get a lot of leads that way!) and went on their site. I listened to a few stories, cried at some of them and thought that this was truly what oral history and people having a voice on the net was all about… I will let Storycorps introduce themselves as they put it far better than I can:

“StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Since 2003, over 50,000 everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on our Listen pages.

The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing.

Pittsburgh and Beyond:

My brother (a librarian at Nottingham University) gave me the link to this site. It is literally thousands of hours of an oral history project that was done by the National Council Of Jewish Women in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania over a span  of  32 years.

The volunteers used old technology tape recorders to get the testimonies of all sorts of people about all aspects of their life and their memories of their parents and grandparents.

I found the whole thing amazing and yet somewhat overwhelming. Here I was in the midst (so to speak) of a sea of recordings, some good quality and some not so good. Some of these recordings covered many hours of taping and therefore were not easy to keep with.

But, as in all the recordings that I have listened to on the net, they do add to your ideas and as the Storycorps site said, they can change your point of view and make you get a different perspective on life.

If you get the chance go to this site and just listen to a few recordings. There are some really amazing stories in there.

The Museum of London.. London’s Voices

My last site is returning home for me. It is a Project done by the Museum of London, the city where I was born and grew up. This is an excellent collection of different media representing the lives of ordinary Londoners growing up, coming into or living in the great city during the twentieth century.

There are some excellent resources here for getting a real feel for what it means to be a Londoner.

I would point you in the direction of the “Women Talk” section:

Here you will hear the voices of different London women talking about their lives.

As in all the sites I have mentioned in this posting there are is so much to be learnt from these internet resources. They have added to my learning and most importantly, to my life.

The safe use of new technologies

I have just read the best report by Ofsted that I have ever come across! Following the Byron Review into Safety using New Technology Ofsted did a small scale research project looking at the same subject using 35 schools ranging from secondary, primary to special schools and a Pupil Referral Unit.

The report entitled “The Safe Use of New technologies” was published this month.

The key issue that they address is the difference between those schools that they deemed to be “outstanding” in the safe use of new technologies and those who they found less good and in one case inadequate.

Surprisingly, possibly, to some people, they found the best use was in schools which had a “managed” system of internet use as against a “locked down” system. The difference is that in a locked down system children are barred from accessing sites deemed to be bad for them by their teachers or the local authority. In a managed system there is more openness. The children are taught to be “internet safety aware” and everyone in the school takes a part in promoting this.

In these schools the children are made aware of the possibilities of internet misuse and of the problems of false identity, cyber-bullying and accessing sites that portray unpleasant things or pornography. These schools are aware that the children go home to homes where the internet can be accessed and that it is not about ignoring this or pretending that it doesn’t exist at school but using school as a means of training children to become sensible “digital citizens”.

I was really impressed  by the tone of this report and hope that it gets a wide audience, particularly in the world of education itself. There is really a need for all of us involved in education to come to terms with the fact that the internet is a vast place of good and bad things,that it has wonderful potential for good but can be very bad because it mirrors the different aspects of what makes up our human personalities both good and bad.

Internet safety should be a whole school concern and the discussion of what is good or bad on the internet and how to use it well needs to be a central part of any curriculum in our schools. It will not go away and has real power and potential for our children’s futures and we have a responsibility to make sure that they grow up as responsible users of it or at least understanding what responsibility means since, because they are human and prone to all of our vices and hangups they may in the future decide to misuse it themselves but at least we know we have tried to address this.

Well done Ofsted! I never thought I’d ever find myself saying that!


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