Tag Archives: Writing and Literary Arts

Why Silicon Valley Wants Humanities Majors

It’s no secret the traditional humanities in higher education, especially at the graduate level, are struggling. Fewer students are enrolling in humanities classes as undergraduates, and fewer graduates of humanities doctoral programs are finding the jobs they expected.

But slowly, scholars and universities are beginning to break down the longstanding divide between the humanities and STEM disciplines. Digital humanities researchers are mapping the spread of ideas, crowdsourcing digital archives, and making manuscripts accessible to answer timeless questions about what makes us human. Stanford University recently announced it is developing new majors that integrate computer science with humanities disciplines like English and music.

And engineers and entrepreneurs are taking note. When the New York Times asked techpreneur-turned-academic Vivek Wadhwa to write a 2011 opinion piece on where to spend higher education funds—on STEM or on liberal arts programs—they expected him to argue for STEM. But he didn’t.

Wadhwa and a team of researchers surveyed more than 650 CEOs and leading product engineers at more than 500 technology companies. They found that about half had earned a STEM degree at some point in their academic career (bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D.). The rest held degrees in a variety fields, including the humanities. “Gaining a degree made a big difference in the sales and employment of the company a founder started,” Wadhwa wrote. “But the field that the degree was in … was not a significant factor.”

Students of the humanities bring skills to the table that engineers don’t—like how to tell a good story. That’s a skill in high demand among tech businesses, as Silicon Valley chronicler Michael Malone discovered when he invited entrepreneur Santosh Jayaram to speak to his writing students. As Malone described it to the Wall Street Journal, he extended the invitation but begged Jayaram not to “dash their hopes” by telling them to leave the humanities.

But Malone, too, was surprised. “English majors are exactly the people I’m looking for,” Jayaram said. He explained that to create a successful tech startup today, you must research “that one undeveloped niche you can capture” and sell the idea to investors, partners, employees, and customers. “And how do you do that? You tell stories.” According to Jayaram, good storytellers are much harder to find than good engineers. “That’s why I want to meet your English majors.”

As Christine Henseler, a leading scholar in the digital humanities movement, wrote, “To write or represent a good story, we have to think about the power of the image, the sound, the word, the logic behind our arguments, the cultural perspectives of our audiences, the faith, or lack thereof, in what we do.” That’s what the humanities teach students.

The classroom discussions and group projects in history, English, and other humanities disciplines also foster social intelligence in a way that traditional STEM disciplines have not always done. “Social intelligence is not what schools specifically train people in, but the highest growth right now and the highest salaries go to people with high social intelligence skills. These are skills better fostered by the humanities,” said Kevin Stolarick, a researcher on the “creative class” who recently spoke at Pittsburgh’s Creative Industries Summit. (For more of his perspective, plus a look at our local creative class and our ability to attract and keep creatives, check out this post.)

The Kids + Creativity Network is helping Pittsburgh-area children and youth develop skills not only in STEM, but in arts and imagination—key building blocks of a humanistic world view. Projects like Crossing Fences, the Literary Arts Boom (The LAB), and Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Youth Media Program combine the best of the humanities—asking questions, reflecting on stories, and discovering the common elements of the human experience—with cutting-edge technology and communications tools. Thanks to these kinds of experiences, Pittsburgh’s next generation will seize—and likely, create—new pathways to integrate the humanities with STEM.


Photo/ Kaitlin Phillips

How Today’s Digital Media Helps Kids Find and Tell Their Stories

Where most people would have only seen complicated dots and data, Roxanna Ayala and Uriel Gonzalez saw a story. For a project during their junior year of high school in Los Angeles, the two were given access to GIS maps of their city. The maps were filled with enormous amounts of data about things like population density, per capita expenditures, and income.

Working off what they’d learned from reading Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities,” a book about the wide gap between schools across the socioeconomic spectrum, Ayala and her team plotted every single school in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and compared them to data from schools in Beverly Hills and Malibu. The students aimed to visually explain to their peers and community members how income inequality and segregation were affecting their schools.

“Even though Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools, our schools still continue to be segregated,” Ayala explained in a recent Connected Learning webinar. The webinar was part of a series exploring storytelling and digital-age civics. It included a panel of young people from across the country who are using media to tell stories in unique ways.

“It’s pretty hard to explain to freshmen, ‘You’re being segregated.’ It’s something so complicated. But when they saw it on a map, they saw it was real. They were like, ‘Yeah, I get it,’” Gonzalez said. “We basically told stories through maps. And that was really empowering.”

Good stories connect us to the lives of strangers and help us understand ourselves at the same time. Today, the internet has amplified the power of stories because of the way it allows them to be recorded, shown, and shared with a wide audience.

For kids, this means there’s a platform where they can share their voices and unique perspectives. But while some aspects of storytelling come naturally, using new media often requires learning new skills and practicing—a lot. When kids learn how to create media, not just consume it, a world of opportunities opens up for them to share what matters in their lives.

“Storytelling is a core skill for contemporary activism. The ability to translate deep social concerns into compelling narratives which helps the public reframe their understanding of those issues,” said Henry Jenkins, the principal investigator at the Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project, in a video introducing the webinar series.

And these compelling narratives don’t just come from adults. The Hear Me project, an initiative of Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, has recorded thousands of kids’ stories about topics ranging from bullying to immigration to violence in schools. The audio files are then loaded onto 24 mini stations located in public places around Pittsburgh. There, anyone can listen via a “tin can,” which actually contains digital audio, so listeners can push a button and hold it to an ear to hear the stories young people have to tell.

The project works two ways; kids are empowered by making their voices public, and society gets a look into the lives of Pittsburgh kids. “A society where kids are valued will create kids who value themselves and, in turn, value and better society,” the Hear Me website explains.

Hear Me has done amazing work recording kids’ stories and has received national attention for it. But another project, called This Day in Pittsburgh History, is also teaching teens how to be bona-fide producers of media. This Day in Pittsburgh History is a documentary filmmaking project at Cornell High School.  Each school day, students create minute-long segments that delve into historical events. For example, on January 14, 1953, Pittsburgh’s mayor David Lawrence campaigned for 12 percent of all TV channels to be entirely devoted to education. Who knew?

The students research, write, collect photos and videos, and then record their own voices for the mini-docs, which are broadcast during the school’s daily televised morning announcements. They also trek around the city to museums and meet with history experts. While they’re not telling stories from their own lives, the student filmmakers are gaining crucial media-making skills.

For kids and teens, getting excited about producing their own content is the first step in speaking up in the world. Twenty-one year old Youth Radio project associate Derek Williams perhaps summed it up best in the Connected Learning webinar: “When youth get involved, we’re change makers.”

Understanding the Common Core

A new survey finds that approximately 62 percent of Americans have never heard of Common Core. Even those who are familiar with the standards admit confusion.

These findings emerge from the 45th annual PDK/Gallup Poll, which measures the public’s attitudes toward public schools and initiatives such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.

Given the confusion, we thought a primer on the Common Core might be helpful. Below is a completely unscientific—and no doubt incomplete—gathering of what people are saying, writing, and thinking about the Common Core.

The basics: The Common Core Standards are an attempt to align curricula across states so students graduate with a shared set of knowledge that better prepares them for college-level work. They are designed to improve critical thinking and reduce reliance on rote memorization. Spearheaded by the National Governor’s Association, the standards apply to the English language arts and math—for now; science standards are in the works). The standards have been adopted by 45 states, though some are now considering retracting their “yea” vote.

The debate: The movement has met resistance from a variety of pundits and politicians, whose complaints center, sometimes in the same breath, on autonomy and control (something like, “I don’t need controls but everyone else does.”). From an education research angle, New York University’s Diane Ravitch leads the movement against Common Core. Ravitch, a liberal, has a strange bedfellow in the Tea Party, which also is resisting the Common Core. According to the Tea Party, the standards infringe on state’s rights; its opposition is perhaps also because the Obama administration has encouraged adoption of the standards through Race to the Top awards and waivers from No Child Left Behind. Business leaders and many editorial boards across the country tend to like the standards because they impart a shared knowledge base and improve high school graduates’ career-readiness. Here’s a handy cheat sheet to learn more about the debate.

What educators think: The opinions are varied, but many teachers and their unions are worried that the year is too short to cover the standards and, like “teaching to the test” under No Child Left Behind, the pressures will snuff out creative teaching and learning experiences. In addition, Common Core will introduce new teacher evaluations; 17 states have moved forward with them this year. A survey in February found that nearly half of the teachers felt unprepared to teach the standards. For more, Mind/Shift contributor Amanda Stupi has gathered thoughts from educators. Education Week offers thoughts as well, like this from algebra teacher Allison Crowley of why she thinks the standards will help students move from being the equivalent of GPS-dependent navigators to finding their way without a map.

Costs: Frankly, who knows? That’s the big question floating out there. The Department of Education has spent $330 million to develop new student assessments that align with the standards, which will start deploying in 2014. Here’s a map of each state’s adoption progress. The Pioneer Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Boston, approximated the potential costs of the CCSS implementation process at $15.8 billion across participating states over the next seven years. But really, no one has a good handle on this yet.

One thing is for certain: there will be more lingo to remember: GBL, CBL, or PBL? Edutopia’s Matthew Farber defines all the acronyms used to describe creative ways of meeting Common Core Standards.

Proposal Submission Deadline for DML2013 Quickly Approaching!

The deadline for proposal submissions for DML 2013 is rapidly approaching on November 6th, 2012!

The upcoming conference, themed Democratic Futures: Mobilizing Voices and Remixing Youth Participation, will be taking place in Chicago, Illinois on March 14-16, 2013. This annual event unites scholars and practitioners to engage in collaborative dialogue over theory, empirical study, policy, and practice. By submitting a proposal, you can have a hand in shaping the conversation from which great ideas will grow. Proposals for DML 2013 can be in any of three forms: panel, workshop, or short talk. Each having their own structural strengths, taking advantage of the opportunity to choose a format that best suits your idea is encouraged. Panels: bring four presentations representing a range of ideas and topics together in discussion, are scheduled for 90 minutes, & should include a mix of individuals working in areas of research, theory, and practice Workshops: provide an opportunity for hands-on exploration and/or problem solving, are scheduled for 90 minutes, & should be highly participatory Short talks: short, ten-minute talks where presenters speak for ten minutes on their work, research, or a subject relevant to the conference theme and/or subthemes In addition to selecting a format, a proposal must also fall under one of the five sub-themes for the 2013 conference:

  • “Envisioning 21st Century Civic Education”
  • “Youth Media & Youth Movements: Organizing, Innovation, Liberation”
  • “Whose Change is it Anyways? Futures, Youth, Technology & Citizen Action in the Global South”
  • “Tech for Governance: Community-Driven Innovation”
  • “Digital Media and Learning”

If you’ve got a great idea relevant to the upcoming DML 2013 conference, ready your proposal and get it in by November 6th at 5pm PST. If you’d like to learn more about proposal themes and guidelines, click here.

Local Pittsburgh Teachers Get Slimed This Saturday

Pittsburgh’s teachers are some of the most involved and dedicated in the nation, and here at the Spark network we like to keep our city’s educators up to date on all the exciting and engaging opportunities our city has to offer. In other words, we want to help local Pittsburgh teachers become even more awesome than they already are. That’s why we’re so excited about an event happening this Saturday at The Ellis School.

The event, called Story Time Slime, will equip early childhood and elementary teachers with the learning tools they need to craft engaging lesson plans, to thrill students and to fit even more STEM learning into each school day. Steve Spangler Science will sponsor the event. Spangler, the organization’s founder, boasts credentials as a teacher, science author, professional speaker, toy designer and an Emmy award-winning television personality. But you may know him best for his T.V. appearances and YouTube videos — including his Mentos Geyser Experiment that went viral in 2005. Spangler’s videos and events help make understanding science fun and easy. With sparks, explosions and yes, even a little slime, Story Time Slime will pile teachers’ toolboxes with “hands-on science to teach critical thinking skills and to create unforgettable learning experiences.”

Here’s what teachers can expect when they attend Story Time Slime:

  • Uncover the secrets to developing an integrated curriculum that teaches science through the medium of children’s literature.
  • Use elements of the story line to introduce or reinforce fundamental parts of your early childhood science curriculum.
  • Learn how to present hands-on science activities that boost creativity and help to develop critical thinking skills
  • Take home more than twenty kid-tested, teacher-approved activities that are guaranteed to get young learners doing more science the very next day.

Julie Gintzler will lead the event. With over 20 years of experience teaching full-day kindergarten, Gintzler is an expert on capturing kids’ attention and keeping learning fun. Gintzler was recognized as a Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers in 2007 and she currently serves as a traveling instructor for the National Hands-On Science Institute, which offers science training to educators across the country.

“Not only is Julie an amazing kindergarten teacher,” says Steve Spangler, “Her strategies for connecting science with children’s literature really work. I attended her first workshop in 2003 and I was hooked. Her library of children’s books and collection of hands-on science activities is amazing – she could do a week’s worth of teacher training. Julie is a fantastic trainer and the perfect addition to our selection of teacher training programs.”

Still on the fence about whether or not you should attend the event? The Steve Spangler Science team offers these reasons why you should:

Here’s Why YOU Should Attend…

  • Participate in more than 20 ready-to-use science activities that are inquiry-based, standard-related and kid-tested
  • Use elements of the story line in popular pieces of children’s literature to teach and reinforce fundamental building blocks of your science curriculum
  • Learn how to become a more effective early childhood teacher without spending more money on stuff you won’t use
  • Gain a better understanding of the real science behind all of fun activities
  • Turn ordinary science activities into unforgettable learning experiences

Are you a local Pittsburgh teacher who’s ready to get slimed? Then head to The Ellis School’s website to register for the event. Tickets are $80 and include a continental breakfast, lunch, and a take-home science kit. The event also fulfills Act 48 and DPW. Story Time Slime happens this Saturday, September 29 from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm. Space is limited so register now to reserve your seat.

Note Takers Take Note of this New Product

Evernote and Moleskine have joined forces in the war on note taking. From this alliance has come the Evernote Smart Notebook from Moleskine. This new product, set for distribution October first, will bridge the gap between paper and pixels.

Today’s update to Evernote for iOS adds a new mode called Page Camera, which is optimized for bringing handwritten pages into Evernote. It fixes the contrast and shadows, so the handwriting is more visibile. That makes the notes more legible to you, but it also enables Evernote to read and search the text.

While this works for any page, the Smart Notebook from Moleskine has some enhanced features. It comes with stickers that enable Evernote’s camera to automatically tag your hand-written notes, so they end up in the right place in your digital archive.

Who makes the science behind this useful tool, you  might ask? Only the best of the best were recruited to develop the software behind this product.

Evernote’s OCR is great at print, but it also has some of the best computer scientists in the field of handwriting recognition behind it. Some of its core team members were on the Apple Newton team and wrote the CalliGrapher handwriting recognition engine. In May, Evernote acquired Penultimate, the best digital handwriting app for iPad, so now that team gets to optimize Evernote’s OCR with data from all that digital handwriting.

To learn more about the Evernote Smart Notebook from Moleskine and how you can pre-order yours today, check out this full article online.

Cool New Learning Tools – The Reading Rainbow App

The world of digital learning tools just got a dose of 90s nostalgia. Reading Rainbow’s rolled out with a new app for the iPad – one that was developed by LeVar Burton himself. For anyone who learned to read sometime during the last 30 years, this is obviously exciting news. For parents and educators, it just might be a game changer. Or, as one Gizmodo writer put it, “Reading Rainbow might stop the iPad from ruining the brains of all children.”

Long before the days of tablets and ebooks, Reading Rainbow spent its screen time on broadcast T.V. Aired by PBS starting in 1983, the show ran for a remarkable 23 years, until it went off the air in 2006. But just because the cameras stopped rolling didn’t mean host and executive producer LeVar Burton was ready to hang up his hat and abandon the cause of early childhood literacy. Instead, he switched gears, turning to a new generation of tech tools to reach a new generation of readers.

Having dedicated more than two decades of his life to teaching children to read, Burton remains a powerful advocate to a cause that he believes is in more need of support than ever. “The unvarnished truth is that we have spent the last decade funding the machinery of war, and our children have been sacrificed,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s not OK. [When it comes to teaching early literacy,] educational technology is what we need to get it done, and if we marry educational technology with quality, enriching content, that’s a circle of win.”

Quality, enriching content is exactly what the Reading Rainbow app hopes to provide, along with the following features:

  • 150 interactive books; frequent updates expand the library
  • Recommendations customized to your child
  • 16 video field trips and more to come
  • Interactive activities in every book
  • Reward program to motivate reading
  • Parent dashboard to share a child’s reading progress

Just like the original television program, the Reading Rainbow app makes learning fun by transforming it from a duty into an adventure. Children get to design their own virtual backpack, to pick their favorite topics (from pirates to dinosaurs), and to travel from island to digital island reading, interacting and gaming along the way.

Unlike their paper counterparts, the ebooks available through the new app feature sound and animation. Children can also read alone or let LeVar read for them as they follow along – and these learning tools are important considering the app was designed for children as young as three. The new app also features puzzles to assess comprehension and keep kids engaged. To access all of the app’s features, parents can pay a monthly subscription fee of $9.99, or they can spring for a six-month membership for $29.99.

Even with the animations, videos and other interactive features, in the end, the app remains focused on building literacy. “It’s all about storytelling,” Burton told VentureBeat, “And when you are using storytelling as a tool for education — if you do it well — there is nothing more effective.”

When it comes to learning tools, this new app is one to watch out for. But to borrow Burton’s trademark phrase, “You don’t have to take my word for it!” Visit the Apple Store to download your copy of the Reading Rainbow app to see for yourself.

Domains Beat Diaries – Why You Should Let Your Kids Blog

Wondering whether or not you should let your kids blog? You’re not alone. Many parents struggle to weigh the benefits of blogging against fears for the safety and privacy of their children. While these are very real concerns, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that the positive effects of blogging far outweigh the negative. Yes, we’re telling you to let your kid blog their heart out. Here are seven reasons why:

1. Finding a Passion. If your child’s only exposure to writing comes from English class essays, it’s no wonder they don’t look at writing as a thrill. Give them an open platform to help make learning fun, however, and they might just discover they have a passion – for poetry, for fiction or even political commentary.

2. Writing for an Audience. A private diary can be a great way to vent about unfair teachers and bratty siblings, but blogging teaches kids how to do something that a diary can’t – how to write for an audience. That simple change brings with it a world of learning opportunities, from understanding voice and tone to crafting compelling images or themes.

3. Creating Community. Even with a solid group of friends, many kids still have ideas or interests that don’t always jive with their peers. Through blogging, kids can connect with others who share their love of Korean pop music, crocheting, comic books and everything in between.

4. Digital Citizenship. As adults, we know that what we put out into the world reflects back on us. It’s a lesson that many children learn the hard way, but blogging can help. When kids blog, they learn to be responsible for their images, words and ideas – especially if they know their parents are avid readers of their site. 

5. A Padded Portfolio. It’s never too early to start thinking about college. Even if your child is in elementary school, the skills they learn while blogging can open doors to a world of possibilities, from editing the school newspaper to writing college entry essays.

6. Research Skills. Learning to discern trusted sources from less-than-expert “experts” is a skill some people never master. They buy shady insurance policies, adopt absurd fad diets, and it’s all because they have trouble understanding exactly what makes a trusted source trustworthy. When kids blog, they learn to sift through information and identify quality sources of information – a skill that will serve them well in school and out.

7. Connect to Family. There’s an entire side of your child you don’t see – a world of thinking and experience that happens when you aren’t around. Blogging can give kids a place to discuss their thoughts and feelings, and to address topics they might be too shy to broach at the dinner table. Family members who live across the country can also read the blog to stay in the loop.

As with any internet activity, blogging requires some level of supervision. By telling you we think you should let your kids blog, we aren’t recommending you undo all your firewalls, hand over your laptop and allow little Jimmy to fly solo to the furthest reaches of the internet. What we are recommending is that you play an active role. Offer support, offer encouragement, but promise you’ll try to dial it back when it comes to using emoticons in the commenting section. Remember, even the most promising young journalists can still be embarrassed by mom.