On international understanding

I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback in the last week on things I’ve posted here.

Many thanks to Asi Burak for sharing research on PeaceMaker and feedback on what I wrote about in-person and gamified conflict resolution. I’m looking forward to digging into the research this week. For any other readers, if you have suggestions for my reading list, please send me a tweet @finnismundi.

In response to that post, I heard from Chintan Girish Modi, founder of Friendships Across Borders and a recent delegate to Seeds of Peace. Chintan is also co-author of Continue reading

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The Path of Khan

Marquee of Sal Khan Q and A at the Castro TheaterLast night I went to the Castro Theatre to see a Q & A with Sal Khan of the Khan Academy. I’d never been to that theater before, so the venue alone was kind of a treat. It’s a huge, classic place that looks like it hasn’t been altered much from when it opened in 1922.

It was also inspirational to hear Sal talk about the history of KA and where he thinks education will go in the future.

A couple of takeaways: Continue reading

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What I want from a language-learning tool

Example of a poor Duolingo translation from Italian to English. The grader does not accept "memorize" as a translation of "imparare a memoria," and insists on "learn by memory."

Ceci n’est pas une bonne traduction.

Last night I went to an Edtech Network event here in San Francisco. I got to learn a lot about cool things happening in the Bay Area (such as TechShop and a new after-school STEAM program for the 8-14 age range).

I also had the opportunity to chat with an entrepreneur who’s developing a new language-learning tool, and it got me thinking about the current state of foreign language sites and apps. It’s really puzzling that we haven’t come up with a better system for learning other languages, given how international the tech community is. Continue reading

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Playing together to fight conflict

Last week’s Sunday New York Times has a piece on whether Palestinian and Israeli teenagers’ views of each other improve when they have positive experiences together (“Peace Through Friendship” by Juliana Schroeder and Jane Risen).

It’s an intriguing hypothesis, but does it work in reality? For four years, we studied Seeds of Peace, a program that every year brings together several hundred teenagers from conflict regions such as Israel and the Palestinian territories for a three-week summer camp in Maine. The teenagers sleep, eat and play games together, and engage in daily sessions to talk about the conflict between their groups and their own experiences with it.

I’ve been interested in programs like this for a while. I’m very curious about mediation, but I’ll admit that I’m also a little skeptical. Continue reading

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Tuesday tip: Google add-ons

Earlier this year, Google unveiled add-ons. Previously, developers could use Google Apps Script (GAS) to create custom functions or tools, then publish them to script gallery. Other users could then read a short description if the script and install it in their own files. It worked fine, but it was clearly something Google hadn’t put much time into.

Old Google Apps Script gallery image

The old Script Gallery wasn’t very pretty or easy to use.

Add-ons are more or less the same product, with a better look and less work on the part of the user. To access the new add-ons gallery, just click on the option in the file menu.  (Unfortunately, it looks like it’s not available in old documents and spreadsheets.) Continue reading

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Cappy Hill Op Ed on Increasing Socioeconomic Diversity

I’m liking Cappy Hill, the current president of Vassar, more and more. She wasn’t there when I was a student. Now, on top of the news this week, she’s penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post on “How to increase socioeconomic diversity in college.

To increase the socioeconomic diversity of the student body, especially at America’s leading colleges and universities, more resources must be allocated to financial aid. Colleges and universities can make these decisions and commit even greater resources on their own, but the government can also create greater incentives to do so.

Amen. I’d also add, as I have below, that colleges need to be more actively involved in recruiting and retaining historically disadvantaged and poor students. Great words to hear from my alma mater.

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Poor kids at rich colleges

It turns out that most top colleges are not doing a very good job of enrolling poor students (“Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges”). Unfortunately, this comes comes to no surprise to someone who has close connections to several top American institutions. Still, there are some bright points. The article in the Times relies on a paper by Cappy Hill, the president of Vassar (my alma mater). I don’t know if Vassar deserves the pat on the back that this article gives it, but it’s heartening to see that the issue is something that my undergrad college cares about.

Every time the issue of economic diversity in higher ed comes up, Continue reading

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Tuesday tip: Spreadsheets and sheets in Google Apps Script

This week’s tip is a follow-up to last week’s post on working with ranges in Google Apps Script (GAS).  Just like ranges, you need to be careful that you are working with the correct object if you’re dealing with sheets in GAS.

If you’re used to Excel and VBA, GAS vocabulary is slightly different. In Excel, the spreadsheet file is called a Workbook, and the sheets in a specific spreadsheet are called Worksheets. In GAS, the file is called a Spreadsheet, and the sheets are simply called Sheets.

Spreadsheets have unique alphanumeric keys (which you can find in their URLs).

Example of Google Spreadsheet URL with key indicated

The spreadsheet key is in the middle. The sheet you’re working on is indicated by the fragment at the end.

Once you have the key of a spreadsheet, it’s easy to work with it in GAS. Continue reading

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Meanwhile, across the pond…

Here in New York (my home until Saturday), our new mayor has made universal prekindergarten classes a political priority. Winning pre-K burned some of de Blasio’s leverage with other leaders in Albany and New York. Now that it’s been approved, we’re getting into tricky situations with the schools that want to participate. Religious organizations want to receive government subsidies, but we don’t have clear rules on how to separate secular and spiritual lessons.

An interesting contrast is the UK. There, prekindergarten is already paid for by the government. This morning I was reading in the Guardian about their difficulty in extending it to poor two-year-olds. That’s right: while one of the major cities in the United States is barely able to agree on universal prekindergarten or implement it, the British government is struggling to find organizations to fill all the spots for disadvantaged kids at even younger ages.

Admittedly, the trouble the UK is facing sounds like it may have a nasty class element to it (at least according to that left-leaning newspaper), but it does speak to a difference in how we look at education and social services. On one hand, there is an issue of how to give schooling to everyone. On this side, guaranteeing education for all is a hotly contested idea, and in this city, is apparently uncharted waters. 

Yes, I have just recently applauded on this blog testing of new edtech. Yes, I think we should be focusing on finding the most effective ways to deliver education and other services. But I shudder to think of our future when I hear and read so many Americans essentially writing “But what if we give everyone a quality education, and our test scores still don’t shoot up?”

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Who will test the testers?

Great follow-up to yesterday’s post. Dylan of the Learning Equality Foundation confirmed that they’re planning on doing randomized control trials (RCTs) on the KA Lite program.

Rigorous testing is sorely needed in the edtech world. It’s understandable that private companies don’t seek it out as much (since they need to please clients and institutions), but with all the varied approaches to technology both at the K-12 and higher ed levels, we don’t really know what works and what doesn’t. Continue reading

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