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Science and fiction – The Human Genre Project

The Human Genre Project

is a collection of new writing in very short forms — short stories, flash fictions, reflections, poems — inspired by genes and genomics.

Starting with just a few pieces at its launch in July 2009, the collection will grow and develop over time.

The Human Genre Project is an initiative of the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, part of the ESRC Genomics Network, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and based at The University of Edinburgh.

Wow. Creative writing inspired by science. I love the overlap in disciplines; it would be good to enable more of this at school, where subjects seem to live in separate worlds, as if life were cut up into mutually exclusive areas.

genome

The main page shows 24 different chromosomes: 22 autosomes, which are numbered, and two sex chromosomes, labelled as X and Y.

Here’s the unusual part – when you click on a chromosome, you get the title which takes you to the creative writing piece. This example links from chromosome #8:

The WRN gene on chromosome 8 is responsible for Werner syndrome, which causes premature ageing.

My hair goes grey and falls out, my teeth yellow and decay, brown spots bloom on my skin. I’m thirty-six years old. My world is a room, and a view of the sea beyond it.

I’ve been told that there’s something wrong with me. But I know my physics. I know that in this universe there has to be decay and disorder. I’m normal. I’m entropy.

I try to sip tea but my clawed fingers let the cup fall to the floor. Liquid spills out from its shattered remains and soaks into the carpet.

What I don’t understand is why the rest of them never change. My twin brother could be my son. His teeth are white and even, his hair is as glossy as ever. His skin always has a rosy blush. He comes here regularly to tell me about life outside my room. Life with other people, other women. There seem to be many women. Or perhaps it’s just tales.

But as I sit listening to him and his stories, I realise how they do it. While I stay here, they’re all travelling around. Einstein had a theory about twins; one sits in his small room, watching the sea, and the other zooms to the stars. As he accelerates to the speed of light, time slows down for him, so when he gets back he’s younger than his stay-at-home brother.

I ask my brother, “Where did you park your rocket ship?” I look outside, “I can’t see it.”

The rocket ship looked like a bicycle, but apparently it worked very well, and my brother frequently made trips to the centre of our galaxy.

“I got rid of it,” he replies, “I replaced it with a quantum teleporter. They’re all the rage now.”

All I can see out of the window is a little red car. “That’s it,” he says. “The women like it.” And sure enough a woman gets out of the car and waves at us.

This was written by Pippa Goldschmidt inspired by chromosome 8.

The WRN gene on chromosome 8 is responsible for Werner syndrome, which causes premature ageing.

My hair goes grey and falls out, my teeth yellow and decay, brown spots bloom on my skin. I’m thirty-six years old. My world is a room, and a view of the sea beyond it.

I’ve been told that there’s something wrong with me. But I know my physics. I know that in this universe there has to be decay and disorder. I’m normal. I’m entropy.

I try to sip tea but my clawed fingers let the cup fall to the floor. Liquid spills out from its shattered remains and soaks into the carpet.

What I don’t understand is why the rest of them never change. My twin brother could be my son. His teeth are white and even, his hair is as glossy as ever. His skin always has a rosy blush. He comes here regularly to tell me about life outside my room. Life with other people, other women. There seem to be many women. Or perhaps it’s just tales.

But as I sit listening to him and his stories, I realise how they do it. While I stay here, they’re all travelling around. Einstein had a theory about twins; one sits in his small room, watching the sea, and the other zooms to the stars. As he accelerates to the speed of light, time slows down for him, so when he gets back he’s younger than his stay-at-home brother.

I ask my brother, “Where did you park your rocket ship?” I look outside, “I can’t see it.”

The rocket ship looked like a bicycle, but apparently it worked very well, and my brother frequently made trips to the centre of our galaxy.

“I got rid of it,” he replies, “I replaced it with a quantum teleporter. They’re all the rage now.”

All I can see out of the window is a little red car. “That’s it,” he says. “The women like it.” And sure enough a woman gets out of the car and waves at us.

Pippa Goldschmidt is Writer in Residence at the Genomics Forum. I’ve mentioned Pippa in an earlier post; her writing is often inspired by science.

Chromosome 11 leads to a piece called Photophobia,

an eye disorder in which the iris is partially or completely missing. A person with aniridia frequently has photophobia (sensitivity to light). The mutation is in the PAX6 gene on chromosome 11.

The telomeric tale of the mouse’s tail (chromosome X) is a shape poem.

chromosome

You can find the original painting/collage here and it looks like this:

mousetale

Still in progress, this is a fascinating project, demonstrating the possibilities in the union between science and art.

If you like this, have a look at what inspired it: Michael Swanwick’s Periodic Table of Science Fiction.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Interesting, poetry

Reflecting again (still)

Last post I wrote a reflection for the culmination of my participation in the  Powerful Learning Practice program. Still, I felt I hadn’t drilled down to what was essential for me.

Listening to Howard Rheingold this morning, and rethinking things, I wrote another reflection.

My participation in PLP has been life changing. I know it smacks of evangelical fervour, and I’ve often written about this in my blog, but PLP came just at the point that I was ready for it. I’d just completed SLAV 23 things, and started a blog. Everything was new to me. Nothing was easy, I wasn’t a natural, probably more of a technophobe than anything, but something pulled me in. Jenny Luca must have read my blog somehow, and emailed me about joining the PLP cohort of Australian schools. It all avalanched from there. Soon I was blogging, wikiing, ninging, twittering, flickering, and having a great time.

Thinking about it more seriously, I realize there’s a big discrepancy between my personal awakening to online participation and what I’ve been able to do in convincing other educators at my school or anywhere else about what I see as a crucial path we must take in order to make learning relevant and engaging for students. Yes, I’ve made steps, and for me, these steps have been significant. I’ve been reflecting and sharing knowledge and resources in this blog, I’ve explored the literacy possibilities with Flickr’s image sharing, I’ve supported English and Art faculties with wikis, I’ve created a blog to inspire reading in the community, I’ve been working on a ning as a platform for learning, collaborating with a wonderful English teacher, I’ve sent countless links and resources to teachers as a result of my own connection to my online network. But it’s not enough. It hasn’t moved a significant portion of my school, it hasn’t changed the way my principal thinks, or other the way faculty heads function. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate small victories, such as the approval for an external fiction blog (read here and here).  On the whole, though, it’s often resulted in friends, family, colleagues casting a critical eye or making derogatory comments, telling me to get off the computerand get a life. Basically, I haven’t convinced many people that what I’ve spent an enormous amount of my own time on is worth anything.

It has, however, connected me to a network of people who are my lifeline. People I otherwise wouldn’t have met or known about. People who are experts in different fields, who are brilliant, engaged, supportive. It has crossed borders, transcended nationality, age-group, ignored physical apprearance and status – it’s been fantastic. I agree with many great speakers I’ve listened to: it’s not about the technology tools, it’s about literacies. Our students need critical thinking to navigate the flood of information and media that comes their way. They are learning outside of the classroom – and social media and technologies such as Youtube and Facebook provide a platform for communication, collaboration and collective action which is more important to them than their textbooks. One day it’s about organizing a large gathering through Facebook, and next thing, it’s organizing political action. None of it comes from teachers or parents; it wouldn’t spark that level of engagement.

I’m seeing the power of collective response to disaster. Why aren’t we thinking in terms of social capital? Why aren’t we thinking about how to mobilize people to do things using social media? What are we doing at school? How can we spark this level of engagement? Should we rethink the ways we are teaching, the content?

You can see that this isn’t about technology tools, although all of this is made possible through technology. These are the things that drive me today – as an educator, parent, citizen. I don’t have the answers but the questions are driving me forward, connecting me to others who find the conversation valuable. This is what my PLP experience has been about. Life is a series of new starts. That’s why we feel we never reach our destination. We’re always starting out with new questions and new problems to solve. That’s why it’s a journey.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Spider’s web

Photo courtesy of moonjazz.

The Powerful Learning Practice experience is coming to an end, and it’s time for us to gather our thoughts and share what we’ve done.

I’ve been putting off my reflection because, frankly, the thought of gathering my thoughts about this relatively short, but intense, period of PLP participation, is overwhelming. Scouting around in blogs and Twitter links, I came across something which describes what I consider to be the focus of what is most valuable from my PLP experience: connectedness. 

I love the way Lisa Huff compares the spider’s web-weaving in Walt Whitman’s A Noiseless Patient Spider  with our reaching out to connect with others through technology.

Whitman, writing in the 1800’s, observes how a spider ceaselessly launches forth filament to explore his surroundings, to travel from one place to another, to bridge his world. Whitman notes mankind’s similarity to the spider. We too ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.

 Technology of the 21st century is connecting us like never before. We blog, we podcast, we collaborate via wikis, webcams, e-mails, discussion boards. We explore endless information easily summoned with a few clicks. We are living in the midst of sweeping technological changes that are reinventing the way we live, learn, laugh. At the heart of this change, however, is the basic spirit of exploration–that same spirit Whitman captured some two hundred years ago.

This is what I have learned since joining the PLP team – how much richer my life has become through connections with people globally via technology. I’m connected through people’s blogs, wikis, through Twitter, and other Web 2.0 applications, to a limitless network of resources, ideas, discussions and creativity. At the risk of sounding evangelical (once again), this is a life-changing experience. It’s not just a matter of acquiring some technological skills with tools, it’s what we have in common with Whitman’s spider as we ‘ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.’

Coming down to earth a little, I must say that my fervour about 21st century learning, and that of my team members, is shared by few in our school community, and I hear it’s the same everywhere. At times it’s lonely, other times frustrating, to be convinced that networked learning and teaching are in step with our fast-paced, global world, and to know that our current education system supports an outdated society. Trying to take tiny steps in convincing others is perhaps the only way to move forward, taking care not to alienate others, but to support them, model new ways of teaching, and to celebrate small successes.

What have I enjoyed the most?

  • writing my personal and fiction blogs
  • reading others’ blogs, wikis; commenting; taking part in discussion
  • creating and supporting nings, joining others’ nings
  • the support of my personal learning networks on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc.
  • sharing information and ideas
  • ‘converting’ others to the networks
  • discovering amazing people with great talents and wonderful minds
  • seeing engagement and joy in students, especially after the new ways of teaching have been a struggle to implement
  • being able to participate in professional development opportunities online at many different times
  • lifting up the minds of young people, seeing the spark in their eyes, hearing excitement in their voices
  • collaborating with others towards common goals
  • discovering unexpected and wonderful links to links to links
  • feeling energized by the depth of what’s out there
  • loving the learning

What have we learned, and what have we achieved? We’ve learned so much, and at the same time, we have so much more to learn. We’ve achieved a great deal, and yet we’ve only just begun.

What I’m sure of is that there are people I can rely on for help, ideas, support, resources, inspiration. These are the people I connect to as a teacher. I can never be bored, will never feel isolated, will always look forward to more.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, networking, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Moving forward and pulling back

Well, hello. Haven’t been around the blog lately. Mid-year holidays and taking time out of my head for a change. And, to tell you the truth, I’ve needed the break. No blog ideas put up their hands in their usual impatient manner. Nothing was hammering inside my head, clamouring to come out. No clear thoughts were forming, no ideas were sprouting. For a while there, I thought I’d dried out for good. Until I realised that I was looking back, only I’m not sure if I’m having second thoughts, or if I’m giving things a second look over.

Our PLP presentation is very close now. I can’t deny feeling unprepared. How have we, as a team, moved forward in changing teaching and learning in our school? How far have we come, if at all?

The answer is simultaneously a great deal and hardly at all. Taking part in the PLP ning, connecting to a rich network of educators, great minds, variety of personalities and viewpoints, forming a personal learning network that I don’t feel I could do without  – this is a new dimension that has changed my life as a teacher and a learner. The Art and English wikis, the personal and reading blogs, the ning I created to support students and teachers at my school are initial experiments, attempts to engage students in new ways, to share resources, to present different types of media as possibilities for discussion or creativity, to use technology for the purpose of re-envisaging education.

But how far does this go in making any difference to the way teaching and learning occur at my school? How many eductors have seen these things, and if they do, how many are convinced that I’m offering them something valuable, something worth trying out? The answer is – not many.

Dean Shareski’s post has resonated with me today. He describes the architecture of learning as transformative where there’s no going back.

The landscape of learning is changing. Rethinking what control means, understranding the power of sharing and transparency all work to topple many of the foundations our schools are built upon.

His post strikes a chord with me at this stage of my journey:

I know this, you know this but after spending 3 days amongst 18,000 in the educational technology field, I still say very few else know this. I made this observation (jump down to #4) last year at NECC and while the number may have increased slightly, those who really have any sense of the changes that are possilbe and perhaps inevitable in education is strikingly small. Yet sometimes the conversations amongst them would indicate they think everyone understands. A good example took place in the last session I attended on a panel discussion on Web 2.0. The panel was made up of all people that I and many in the audience knew very well either because we’ve spent time with them or know them from varoius online circles. The panel and audience were calling them by their first names and having a good discussion One lady stood up and felt frustrated since she didn’t know these people, these terms and most of the content of the conversation. That wasn’t her fault that’s ours. The assumption amongst folks who live and breath social media is that most teachers know about but they just don’t understand social media. We jump in with disucssion about Web 2.0 when they aren’t ready for that discussion since they have absolutely no prior knowledge. I”m not against having these kinds of discussions but it’s a bit like Christopher Columbus and crew arguing over how they would organize and structure the new world when most of the old world didn’t even know it existed and if they did, had no idea why or how they would get over to see it, let alone settle there. It’s not a totally useless discussion but perspective is important.

This is what I’m finding unsettling at this stage –  Dean’s analogy with Columbus. Should I feel unsettled knowing that I’m trying to populate a new world with people who deny its existence? Am I going about this the wrong way? Should I be happy to go slowly with a minority of takers? Am I being naive and unrealistic? Is trying to change teaching and learning in a school insane or egotistical? Am I unrealistically trying to change society itself? Can individuals make this change or is it only possible for politicians?

But then again, I’m pulled back by a comment on Dean’s blog by a teacher who attended NECC:

I paid my own way, as did many of the classroom teachers and a few of the administrators I met, because we are hungry to learn and starving for people who have the knowledge and experience to teach us. Of course, there were sessions and conversations at NECC that were way over my head, but hearing them and trying to understand gives me guideposts and goals for my future development.

If my new, recent direction in learning and teaching came ‘out of the blue’, then why shouldn’t other people make that transition? If a teacher cares about students and thinks about the best ways to inspire students to learn, then who’s to say my little steps, and those steps of my fellow PLP members, or anyone else who is struggling through relevant and engaging teaching and learning – who’s to say these things won’t make a difference?

Should we despair that our efforts are mere drops in the ocean, or should we appreciate our small steps?  So many rhetorical questions…

Dean points us to Tom Carroll’s article, If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? written 8 years ago and still very pertinent:

If we continue to prepare teachers as we have always prepared them, we are going to continue to recreate the schools we have always had. We have to start preparing teachers differently. If we are going to continue preparing educators to work as solo, stand-alone teachers in self-contained, isolated classrooms, we are going to perpetuate the schools we have today.   If we want schools to be different, we must start today to prepare teachers differently… significantly differently.

Yes, I do feel a few can make a difference, but it’s a slow and laborious process. Why isn’t teacher training aligned with the educational needs of students today? Who should we be influencing in order to revise teacher training, in order to go to the source of the problem?

I might stop before another flood of questions is unleashed. Please come in and help stop the flood.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, networking, technology, Web 2.0

Wisdom from the periphery

As always, I’m amazed by the wisdom of the people who form my online network. My last post was written out of the frustration I was feeling when I was temporarily overwhelmed by a sense of isolation – it seemed to me that I was speaking a foreign language amongst many of those around me. It wasn’t long before I started to receive comments from other educators – intelligent, diverse and encouraging comments. My sense of isolation was short-lived. These people have become colleagues regardless of their geographical location. They have become valuable friends and colleagues, sharing their views based on experience and reflection. I feel inspired and supported by these people; thankyou to all of you.

I would recommend you read all the comments, and I’d like to take the opportunity to feature the last comment I’ve received so far, because it would be a shame to leave it buried. I admire Paul Stewart’s deep thinking, and I think he eloquently expresses what many of us can relate to:

A wonderful post. It’s a reminder that we’re not all on the same page. Teachers are an eclectic bunch, and this should be a good thing – I abhor homogeneity, as do kids – but I can appreciate your frustration that our differences result in division. Ironically, it is our diversity that should unite us – it’s what makes us interesting to our students.

That said, I find it difficult to understand how educators – people charged with the responsibility of extending our youth, could be so reluctant to understand the context in which today’s youth develop. These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

Now I don’t buy into the whole digital natives nonsense (now there’s a flawed concept that has got more mileage than it deserved) but I do believe it is the role of any educator to constantly seek out new ways to engage, stimulate and challenge their students. Educators should be provocative. They should be unsettling (but in a good way).

And students? Well, students should be constantly shedding their skin in a classroom. They should be pushed to embrace change by experiencing it.

Now of course, you don’t need to use technology every minute of a lesson to achieve such outcomes, but it puzzles me that some teachers can so easily dismiss the opportunities that lie in technology: the chance to produce rather than consume, the chance to collaborate across time and space, the chance to make a mark upon society without using a spray can. Technology gives students so many tools to analyse, design, produce and investigate and these should not be denied to kids simply because a teacher is unfamilar with such tools.

I added dumplings to a chicken curry I made the other day and one of my progeny stuck out his bottom lip and refused to eat. After much coaxing, he tried one, then two… Ten minutes later he stuck out his bowl for seconds. I was pleased but I wish it didn’t have to be so hard. It’s sometimes like that with teachers (and they do not have the defence of youth to excuse their reactions to new experiences).

Your post really made me think of how different people are. As I get older, I am increasingly aware that I am approaching a time when there will be fewer days in front of me than there are behind me, and that makes me want to pack in as many new experiences as possible. The thought of doing something the same way twice kind of depresses me. The thought of teaching the same lesson that I taught five years ago, ignoring all the incredible changes that have happened in the world, now that would lead to ennui so crippling, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

I don’t think you’re alone in getting frustrated in having to justify your position, but that’s the lot of innovative people. By pushing the boundaries, you (by definition) place yourself on the periphery. There will always be a need to supply justifications to employers (they have a right to ask) but I hope we can move to a place in education where the innovative and bold are not subject to the sort of scepticism you allude to in your post.

Thankyou for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully, Paul. This line made me sit up and take notice:

These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

How many of us have thought about whether what we do at school has anything to do with the outside world? That would make an interesting survey, don’t you think?

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, networking, teachers, teaching, technology

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

michaeljackson

Today the world was saddened by the news of the two celebrity deaths – Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Celebrity popularity is a fact of life, and in this instance Michael Jackson stole the limelight, if you can call it that.  Sometimes the best way to remember a life and career is through pictures. LIFE Magazine is a good place to revisit Michael Jackson’s life.

Stars remember Michael Jackson is an interesting visual record.

Equally as interesting is the album of Michael Jackson covers.

mj

Equally as interesting is the album of Michael Jackson covers.

MJcovers

Then there’s Neverland in all its glory

Neverland

Michael Jackson live – best pics

moreMJ

And, to be fair, have why don’t you stroll down Memory Lane with Farrah Fawcett?

farrah

Since I was on a roll, I decided to check out Michael Jackson’s website.

mjwebsite

 The New York Times has a long post of updates on Michael Jackson and the world’s reaction to his death.

 YouTube has its own tribute to Michael Jackson’s talent.

Given the recent interest in all things Vampire at a time when books like Twilight are more popular than sliced bread, I think it’s time to revisit Thriller.

 

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Filed under media, music, photos

And remember, it’s about the kids

A little while ago I included a post with a video of a heart-warming song sung by 5th graders in New York.

Here’s another one you’ll enjoy

This choir is testament to one man’s relationship with a regular class of 5th graders in New York, it’s not a music school or selective school:

The PS22 Chorus was formed in the year 2000. We are an ever-changing group of 5th graders from a public elementary school in New York City, NOT a school for the arts or a magnet program.

Read about this teacher/musician and view more videos on his YouTube page.

The PS22 Chorus has a blog documenting their activities with lots more videos to watch.

Watching this video reminded me that it’s really all about the kids. At a time when teachers have been swamped with corrections and report writing, labouring over sentence structure and punctuation, categorising students into cleanly definable spaces, it’s good to remember that it’s really just about the kids themselves. When I look at what this teacher has brought out in these kids, I do a double-take and step back to reflect. How can I keep that important focus without getting side-tracked by the structures. I’d like to remember that the structures are there to support the kids, and not the kids to support the structures.

PS22choir

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Filed under creativity, Education, music, teachers