We Want Peace

I have just heard a wonderful song by Emmanuel Jal who I have been a supporter and fan of since I saw his wonderful TED Talk “The Music Of A War Child”.

The video is here:

The song was written as part of Jal’s campaign to stop the outbreak of another civil war in his native Sudan. To quote his website:

My country is on the brink of war. On January 9, Southern Sudan will vote for its independence to be free from a government who has slaughtered and displaced our people for 43 years. The country is currently led by a regime bent on controlling oil resources.  80% of Sudan’s oil fields are in the south, making it a prime battleground to displace our indigenous people.  Both north and south are preparing for war, leaving innocent people at grave risk of major human rights violations. The last civil war between North and South claimed over 2 million lives, including my own mother. I have firsthand experience as a war child, forced to fight in the conflict and torn from my family. The time to prevent another genocide is now. I have a written a new single called “We Want Peace”.  It is a call for peace, protection and justice for all in my land, and also for an end to conflicts affecting innocent people all around the world.  Thank you for joining me in my struggle.

I have written this blog post as my small contribution to supporting this campaign….. we cannot surely sit by and allow another major genocide to take part in Africa….. please pass on the message….. WE WANT PEACE.

My TED Talks TOP 20:

Observing a Stroke from Within
Image by jurvetson via Flickr

I have updated my personal all-time favourite list of TED Talks (which now  includes 3 TEDx Talks). This is a very personal list and no doubt your own list would be very different. These though are the talks that have moved me, educated me and generally widened my horizons or maybe made me see the world in a different way.

I have finally (Easter 2011) reached my Top 20…. will I stop here? I don’t think so…because the Talks go on and on and they are wonderful.. so here’s to my next ten talks!

1.  Hans Rosling:  Debunking Third World Myths http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/hans_rosling_at_state.html If you’ve not seen the Swedish doctor give a talk with his wonderful animated statistics then you’re in for a treat

2. Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html Sir ken talking in his own inimitable style about the key significance of creativity in education..a must see for teachers and educators who care about the way education must go.

3. Nicholas Negroponte: One Laptop Per Child  http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/nicholas_negroponte_on_one_laptop_per_child_two_years_on.html One of the great technological innovators on a project that deserves to be looked at.

4. William Kamkwamba: How I harnessed The Wind http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/william_kamkwamba_how_i_harnessed_the_wind.html The wonderful William talking about building his windmills in Malawi.. watch the video and then read his book.

5. Ben Dunlap: Ben Dunlap Talks About a Passionate Life http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ben_dunlap_talks_about_a_passionate_life.html A real tour-de-force by a brilliant speaker and storyteller…. probably my favourite ever TED Talk.

6. Chris Abani: Chris Abani On the Stories of Africa http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/chris_abani_on_the_stories_of_africa.html Moving and well delivered a powerful and brave talk.

7. Emmanuel Jal: The Music of a War Child http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/emmanuel_jal_the_music_of_a_war_child.html Another powerful talk from a wonderful young rap singer and political activist.. just watch his song “Emma” at the end of his talk… inspiring.

8. Doris Kearns Goodwin: on  learning From Past Presidents http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/doris_kearns_goodwin_on_learning_from_past_presidents.html Avery personal talk by a great writer and historian…. beautifully delivered… great to listen and learn from.

9. Pranav Mistry:The Thrilling Potential of Sixthsense Technology This is just awe inspiring stuff and definitely has the “wow” factor…. if you want to see the future then watch this Talk.


10. Jill Bolte Taylor: Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html A great and moving talk that links science to real experience. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about what she learned about the brain from her own stroke…. absolutely riveting talk.

11. Temple Grandin: The World Needs All Kinds Of Minds http://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds.html

A brilliant talk by an animal expert who has autism herself and has achieved so much in her life.


Aimee Mullins: The opportunity of adversity  http://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_the_opportunity_of_adversity.html A  wonderful talk by an inspiring individual about redefining disablement but most importantly….. human potential.

13. Benjamin Zander: Classical Music With Shining Eyes:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LCwI5iErE A brilliant talk that is simply life enhancing.


TEDxSaskatoon Dean_Shareski The Return of Barn raising and Pop Ins  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E_VG7nvIy0 A great talk about the  return to community that the internet has given us… and the implications for education.

15. Denis Dutton A Darwinian Theory of Beauty http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PktUzdnBqWI A brilliant talk that poses questions about the universality of our experience of beauty from a wonderful academic and speaker who died yesterday (December 28th) from Cancer…. a worthy memorial to his work and ideas.

16. Wael Ghonim: Inside the Egyptian Revolution this is a talk about the recent amazing and powerful events in Egypt that saw the overthrow of President Mubarak by a revolution that was fueled and supported by new social media such as Facebook and the man who became the unofficial leader of that revolution Wael Ghonim. A powerful talk that explains much.

17. Sarah Kay If I Should Have a Daughter a wonderful talk by a great Spoken Word Poet from the TED 2011 Conference

18. Roger Ebert Remaking  My Voice a talk by a great film critic who has no voice after suffering cancer but who has rediscovered a voice and the ability to communicate using digital tgechnology.

19. John Hunter On The World Peace Game  A great teacher who uses a game to get his 4th grade children to try and “solve” the world’s problems! This is a great talk which shows so clearly the value of open-ended collaborative learning in the classroom.

20. Eve Ensler: Embrace Your Inner Girl A powerhouse of what it means to have emotion and how the “inner girl” inall of us is a strength that has allowed the huiman race to develop and may yet save us. Brilliant.

Dean Shareski’s powerful TedX Talk

I was really excited by this video. Dean Shareski, the speaker, is actually a “friend” on Facebook and I count him as a part of my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

This is an impressive talk and one worthy of the high level of content and delivery of the TED talks that I have uploaded and talked about in this blog.

In the talk Dean shows how we have travelled from a sense of community and a “pop-in” culture which involved trust and friendship, to a society that has become family or person-centred, that has gone far away from the extended family idea of the Victorian era and “bowls alone” to quote the reference that Dean uses from the article “Bowling Alone” by Robert D. Putnam.

He starts by talking about the communal way that everyone used to “muck in” (to quote a British phrase) for example in putting up a new barn. He then contrasts this to the horrors of the “garage house” as he calls it, where the new design of a house emphasises the garage space before the living space and is about personal private use and not an open-door for friends to “pop-in”.

Dean sees the internet as having re-connected us to a sense of community. He gives a very moving example of a man who, having lost his beloved mother, then used Reddit to see if anyone could change the last photograph he had of himself with his mother, because she was photographed with her breathing tube. There were literally hundreds of replies and the revised and airbrushed photograph is seen as well as the man’s comments that “Reddit is now my home”.

In a later development Dean shows how Eric Whitacre managed to produce a wonderful collaboration of hundreds of people from 16 different countries who became a “virtual choir“. The video of the collaboration is moving but the power of creating a choir from across the international community is as moving and very powerful.

The talk then discusses Dean’s work in schools and how pioneers such as Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis have managed to connect students in classes throughout the world in their wonderful “Flat Classroom Project”.

This is a very powerful talk that needs to be seen as widely as possible. I would recommend that the main TED site considers publishing it (as it does now more regularly with really good TEDx Talks). I have now added it as number 14 in my list of great TED  Talks and along with Aimee Mullins wonderful talk is my second TEDx Talk in the list.

The present of learning

It is that time of year again. The presents are given and the wrapping paper which takes you ages to do is undone in no time and the remains litter the floor.

For many years, as a Primary (elementary) teacher, I would start the New Year at school asking the children to “reflect” on their Christmas holiday. This would usually turn into a list of presents that they had received. It was the topic of conversation as they filed into the classroom and would continue into the playground at break.

As a child myself I can remember the presents that really made an impact were not the toy cars or the racing game that my uncle got me one snowy Christmas, but the large comic “Annuals” (I was a real fan of the Beano, Dandy, Beezer and Topper comics). my brothers each received an Annual and we would read each other’s in a frenzy of excitement that would take up a large part of Christmas morning.

The reason that these Annuals played such an important part in my childhood Christmases was my joy in reading comics. I knew that I would enjoy the silliness of the Bash Street Kids and the naughtiness of Dennis The Menace (and his fearsome dog Gnasher!). I was involved with the subject matter. I had a desire to read and nothing in the world could deflect me from concentrating for a long period of time (for me) on these books.

Now, returning to the long lists that the children had. They varied from expensive bikes, to Play-Stations, Laptops even a new Puppy. What interested me was not to listen to the list of new acquisitions in our materialistic culture but to listen to the effect that the present had on the children.

Getting a new Bike is one thing, but having the chance to ride it on a regular basis, to explore different environments with it, to go out riding with your friends, is another. Is the bike a means to widen our experience or just the means of having a state of the art object that can be one better than the next person’s.

In the end it is not the present’s value that counts but how we use, explore or learn from what we receive. This year I have received a few presents but the one that has really motivated me and which has helped to change me as a person cost hardly anything… it was a “stocking filler” that came from a chance remark that I made to wife.

A few months ago I was on laptop journeying through the internet, as I often do in my “learning journey” and I came across a really interesting talk about a Civil Rights activist who I had never heard of. I found that the programme had been broadcast on a San Francisco radio station and that there was a link to the station. I clicked the link and found that (due to the 8 hour difference between where I live in Britain and the Western side of the U.S.) it was breakfast time in S.F. and there was a song playing by a group called “War” called “Gypsy Man”.

I loved the song but in particular loved the harmonica solo that was part of it. I then looked the song up on Youtube  and found a brilliant version (in 2 parts) from a live performance by the group in Halifax (here in the U.K.) in 1980.Here is the second part with the solo by a man who I now know is called Lee Oskar and is one of the greatest Harmonica players in the world and even produces his own brand of harmonica:

The harmonica playing got me really interested in learning this little instrument. I told my wife that I would really love to own a harmonica and then forgot all about it. Until a few days ago, when she said that she had got me a small little present that turned out to be a boxed set of a Harmonica (C Harp for all you aficionados out there), a DVD and a book. It was picked up by her friend at a “remaindered” sale and cost all of £5  ($7.72, 5.87 Euros at present rates)!

I have been practising my “Harp” every day and have made about three good sounds so far. I have also taken the advice that I picked up online and have listened/watched (on Youtube)  to the work of some great blues harmonica players like Little Walter, Big Walter Horton and a fascinating lady called Big Mama Thornton.

I was never really a blues fan until I got my Harmonica but getting it has motivated me to learn about the wonderful way that it is played by these little known geniuses who have influenced so many of the rock greats of modern times like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.

I am having fun and frustration in the learning process of making sounds from this deceptive instrument. I will never be a Lee Oskar or a Little Walter but I have increased my knowledge about their skills and my appreciation of their music. All of this has happened because I have been motivated to learn from that most important word for all of us in education….. “INTEREST”.

This is why the expensive gift may sometimes not be the best one. The small gift that “ignites a light” (to quote a phrase from Katy Perry’s “Firework” song) can be the key to releasing the “element” for any person it is the present of learning which is the best thing that anyone can ever get.

Jimi Hendrix… last live performance

Jimi Hendrix.
Image via Wikipedia

I am a great fan of the Open Culture site. They keep coming out with little gems of discovery from Youtube and other sources. Well I think I may have found one of my own. Having said “of my own” it has been watched by 373,568 people (or a few people a lot of times!!) so maybe you might be one of them.

If you’re not then you’re in for a treat. Here is the great Jimi Hendrix performing with his friend  Eric Burdon and his backing group, War. The information provided on the Youtube page is as follows:

Place: Ronnie Scott’s Club, 47 Frith Street, London W1, England

Date: September 16, 1970

Jimi Hendrix’s last ever live performance.

Hendrix went to see his good friend Eric Burdon’s new band WAR one night and was invited on stage to play guest guitar, he was dead less than 72 hours later.

I think the pertinent phrase is the last one…. he was dead less than 72 hours after this. In this recording therefore we are hearing the amazing guitar work of a troubled genius amongst friends in his adopted home city of London within hours of his death (the exact circumstances of which are somewhat hazy and still disputed).

It was fascinating to hear and hopefully one or two of my readers will find it an interesting “discovery”.

Have a great Christmas.

We think and Us Now: the realities of a web transformed world

Logo of Us Now documentary film
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday I watched two videos about the realities of living in a world that has been transformed by the web. The first was a brilliant documentary made a couple of years ago called  “Us Now”.

This documentary challenged the way that we live, the way we interact with each other, the way our businesses are organised and most particularly the way that the internet has enabled us to really collaborate and make decisions together which challenges the present political system that we call “Democracy” but which is in reality just us having our say on events once in maybe four years and then delegating people to make decisions on our behalf.

There is an excellent section in the film which looks at a football (soccer) club called Ebbsfleet United which is not only owned by its fans but also effectively run by them in that they have gone down the road of having the fans pick the team for the coach and even decide on substitutes as the game goes on. Not only were the team successful when they shot the film but actually managed to reach the F.A. Trophy Final at Wembley and won it! To see about this amazing experiment in democratic ownership and decision making in a sports club see: http://www.myfootballclub.co.uk/

There was also a spotlight on Zopa which is effectively an internet collectively owned bank. They lend money to people based on contributions, some of them very small like £10, from individuals. They are not a mega-business yet but may well become a challenge to the established banks.

Overall it is a powerful and challenging film that shows how nearly every aspect of our lives has been transformed by the web revolution and like all good documentaries it asks questions about the future and in particular whether our political leaders have the courage to “let go” and allow a form of democracy always aspired to but never really reached, to take place.

The film does not shirk from the questions of security and relevance in an age where everything is potentially open and everyone can feel under a spotlight all the time. It deserves to be looked at though and in many ways I found it much more convincing and relevant than the B.B.C. series “The Virtual Revolution” .

The Charles Leadbetter video, “We Think” runs along similar lines to the “Us Now” video. It is animated and short but makes some important points. If you are a teacher and wanting to discuss the web revolution in your class then this may be the video to use…. it makes the important points about how our world has ben transformed by the web and how we cannot go back to the 19th century factory/mass production consumer led society that many of us still think we live in.

Both videos will challenge students to think and reflect… hopefully it will get them to decide their views on the world they have effectively grown up in and what direction they want to take our world when they have the chance to lead or collaborate in shaping its future.


My top 10 posts, articles and sites of 2010


Because of the wonders of the Diigo bookmarking site I am able to save articles and posts that I read online as I go along. This year has been a really good one for learning. I have made 283 bookmarks which lie in my Diigo Library. As we are nearing the end of 2010 I decided I would search through my Library and find the 10 posts and articles that have moved, educated or interested me the most.

It was not an easy choice as there were many excellent articles and posts that I have had to exclude. In the end I have chosen the ones that had the most powerful impact on me personally. The top three are all blog posts that could truly be called exceptional.

1.       http://www.sarahedson.com/2010/09/i-need-you.html A simply wonderful piece of writing about education and life.

2.  http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/2010/09/sending-snail-mail-from-paperless.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+teachpaperless+%28TeachPaperless%29 A wonderful post about using old technology to fight for a cause and learn about democracy in a paperless classroom

3.   http://markandrews.edublogs.org/2010/12/17/baby-youre-a-firework/ Brilliantly researched piece on the song “Baby you’re a Firework” by Katie Perry… one of the posts of the year by a long way

4.  http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.02/brain.html Great article on the revenge of the right brain… instructive and adds to the current debate on where education is going


5. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/ted-learning-tool-students-heather-wolpert-gawron?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_content=blog&utm_campaign=tedloveaffair A really good post from the great education site Edutopia about using TED Talks in the classroom


6. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1662358/the-end-of-education-is-the-dawn-of-learning An excellent interview by the brilliant Educational Architect Trung Le with one of the foremost thinkers on 21st Century education, Professor Stephen Heppell


7.  http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/10/the-creativity-crisis.html Fascinating article that really opens up the debate about the importance of creativity to educational development in the 21st century

8. http://www.smithclass.org/proj/Monsters/index.htm Love this site and the idea about global collaboration in the design of monsters


9.  http://cybraryman.com/index.html The wonderful Cybraryman Educational Web-Sites online library. It keeps on growing and is literally a mine of information… well done Jerry Blumengarten for a great resource for teachers and educators everywhere

10. http://www.openculture.com/2010/01/yellow_sticky_notes.html A wonderful short animated film from the great Open Culture site… if you haven’t seen this site yet it is well worth a visit.