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Google’s 20th anniversary today. How did you survive before?

What were you doing on September 4th, 1998?

I know I was just getting the hang of email, with Hotmail – the ‘revolutionary’ web-based email service that a fellow called Sabeer Bhatia created. It was soon folded into Microsoft’s Hotmail, and became very clunky. MP3 players were just coming into circulation. Apple was more in the news with the iMac; John Glenn went back into space.

But Sergei Brin and Larry Page started something that would turn information into data, and data into advertising that would make them some of the richest young guys. They also dreamed big with moonshot ideas, some of which withered on the vine, but others took off. Literally.

Despite the problems and controversies Google faces, its ‘Moonshot factory’ is still changing how we communicate, learn, and advertise. Google says it intends to have a “10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems.” It means crazy ideas (that’s what ‘moonshot’ implies, after all) such as ‘kite-electricity,’ and fighting disease.

I’m still quite annoyed at the sight of, and concept of autonomous cars, so thank you very much, Google. I’m no Luddite but I’m happy to own and operate an invention that worked fine in 1998, and still does. But twenty years from now imagine how we would look back at today.

 
 

Abraham, Martin, John, and… John

As the larger than life Arizona senator John McCain is laid to rest yesterday, some things about him stood out. And it’s not because of the eloquent eulogies of his daughter and two former presidents.

The one I remember most is his 2008 response to a question in a town hall meeting when he was running against Barack Obama. I showed this video to my communications class at the community college last week. Not because it happened to be the week of the funeral, but to analyze the ‘Transactional model‘ of communications. The audience, can and will talk back to the speaker, so it’s important to plan for it. Do watch the clip below, and notice how McCain responds instinctively.

One of my students pointed out to the reaction of a lady in the audience on the top left of the screen – a reflection of our reaction too, as a television audience.

McCain spread a culture of decency and integrity as if a counter to our disillusionment with government and those who represent some of its branches.

Recall that 1968 song, Abraham, Martin and John? Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy embodied something that larger than themselves, as John McCain did for our times. One of the much repeated quotes of his was about standing up for “a cause greater than our self interest.”

 

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What should schools really teach?

With schools in session, tests and test preps take up a lot of time. From AP test registration, PSATs and benchmark testing. A necessary evil?

Peter DeWitt, a school principal who blogs about leadership issues, (in Education Week), talks about Social & Emotional learning that gets downplayed as a result. He believes that schools should not lose sight of what’s as critical as the ‘data’ they are after. “For too many years, the focus has been on standardized testing and international comparisons of student performance with little attention given to helping students deal with the trauma they experience,” he writes.

Others take a different approach – that education is not something you do from the neck up. In the trend to prime students for colleges and careers, schools are driven toward short term results. just to have a scorecard to brag about, after all. Social and emotional learning doesn’t have a rating scale.

My principal, Mark McAfee, puts it this way:

The richness of a classical education…does not show up on a standardized test or that which is impossible to test. Namely, and among other things, works of literature for the sake of their beauty and effect on the heart of students; rhetorical skills; the soul-shaping effect of the arts on our youth; the physical courage, teamwork, trust, and hard work learned by our athletes on the field of play; the teaching of virtues, a thorough understanding of the chronology of ideas and the history of Western Civilization and our country’s founding.

For this reason at Benjamin Franklin High School, we have a daily school assembly, an ‘Opening Ceremony,’ during which students hear about anyone from C.S. Lewis to Machiavelli. The study of leadership and character through great men and women, and things such as music, art, philosophy, dance, are (at the heart of) our school curriculum, and pays great dividends.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2018 in Best Practices, Education

 

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Sri Lanka’s Robotics Team finishes on high note

Congratulations to our team!

In Game 8, Team Sri Lanka and their ‘Alliance’ (Jamaica and Zimbabwe) scored the highest points n the entire competition – 1286 points.

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All teams from 170 countries return home this weekend.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2018 in Robotics, Technology

 

FIRST Global robotics challenge summed up

For those following the robotics event beginning tomorrow, this explains what teams are being tasked with – the so-called Energy Impact game.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2018 in Robotics, Technology

 

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‘Energy Impact’ challenge at First Global Robotics

The biggest international robotics event starts this week in Mexico City, and will run from the 16th to the 18th August. Sri Lanka’s team was featured on the home page of First Global this week.

This year’s theme for 2018 is “Energy Impact. This means the robots must work in collaboration, working in three teams (three random nations are picked for each round) to create environmentally friendly solutions in the contest environment.

The larger purpose is to let students from countries with different world views, understand what it takes to work together as alliances.

When I spoke to the team a few days ago they seemed very confident of the maneuvers and demands for this year’s challenge, involving fuel cubes, power lines, solar arrays, and wind turbines. It’s been months or preparation, though each match is just two and a half minutes long!

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2018 in Robotics, Sri Lanka

 

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Inside the Classical Education model. Latin, robotics, and…podcasting

In our middle-school years at St. Peter’s College, Latin was a subject. We didn’t know why we had to study a ‘dead language’ or how it fit alongside biology and geometry. But it later transpired when the seeds of a classical language began to sprout. Our love for theater (whether it was Oliver Twist, or Hamlet), our appetite for reading, debating, linguistics, and history could be traced back to learning what seemed like tedious (read: boring) declensions and the likes.

This school year I joined a classical High School, and now see the internal architecture of a classical education. The three-part structure of ‘grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics’ is just the start. Music and the fine arts, science and athletics are key elements. And of course technology.

A few months ago in teaching communication to my college level students, we looked at how rhetoric mattered; the underpinning of public speaking, ‘Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.’ So I was delighted to see how my High School’s monthly themes are structured on classical Roman virtues such as Gravitas, Humanitas, and Comitas.

You’re probably wondering what does this do for learning, and students’ character? I can only say this. After a month of teaching with this model in place (teaching computers and tech, mind you!), students come to class eager and prepped to learn; respectful, inquisitive, thoughtful.  This week, looking at inventors and inventions we did thought experiments (a.k.a. Bell work) on social norms and expectations when Thomas Edison messed around with filaments and early audio. Next week they will see parallels with someone like Douglas Engelbart, the prolific Edison-like chap who gave us the mouse, among other things. They were philosophers in their own time, who embodied, and fit, the classical model.

At the end of the week two students approached me to sponsor clubs. One was a Robotics club, and the other was for Podcasting. I had to catch my breath – podcasting! What would 12-year olds want to do with podcasts? It comes down to the classical model which feeds the need for young people to engage in much, much more than Fortnite, or memes. If we only let them.

 

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