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HASTAC, Superman, and the school fair

The Education system in the U.S. has reached a pretty low low right now. This is currently being displayed on the big screen in the documentary “Waiting For Superman.” Film-maker Davis Guggenheim “follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, and undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying ‘drop-out factories’ and ‘academic sinkholes’.” (IMDB)

So, what do we do about it?

Lots of things.

One idea is HASTAC, or Humanities, Arts, Science, and Advanced Technology Collaboratory. Pronounced “haystack”, it is “a network of individuals and institutions inspired by the possibilities that new technologies offer us for shaping how we learn, teach, communicate, create, and organize our local and global communities.” They’re the group behind Reimagining Learning (, and other scholarly workshops.

Cathy DavidsonDuke University Co-founder, HASTAC; Co-PI, HASTAC, writes:

Traditional education too often forgets its precious social condition of face-to-face interaction and takes its collective opportunity for granted. If your classroom can be replaced by a computer screen, maybe it should be.

We are using lessons from collaborative open web development and peer-to-peer learning and assessment to storm the academy at the first international Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona, Nov 3-5. Surrounded by pioneering open source web developers and experimenters in online peer-to-peer learning, we are using methods of the open web to look back and at shake up traditional learning institutions. Were looking at four key areas that need storming: collaboration, syllabus building, assessment, and publishing (including peer review). Our chief idea is that face-to-face learning should not be taken as a given in education but as an affordance, as an opportunity not a default. How does thinking about the unique opportunity to learn together change the components of traditional learning?

more via We’re Storming the Academy! A Provocation and a Promise | HASTAC.

Teachers are already spending their own money to provide supplies for a fuller education experience.

“Vicky Halm spends a $1,000 a year out of her own pocket to equip her Brooklyn classroom. She buys star stickers to help motivate her students, but she also spends a great deal on basic supplies — such as pencils and paper.
A whopping 97% of teachers frequently dip into their own pockets to purchase necessary classroom supplies, according to a national survey conducted by Kelton Research. Last year, teachers spent more than $350 on average from their own income on school supplies and instructional materials, according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association” (CNNMoney)

There are lots of opportunities for students to gain hands-on learning outside of the classroom too. Zoos and Universities often have family or kid-only programs to try out.

“Children and parents hummed through wax paper-covered combs while jazz singer Jeni Fleming sang the “Science Saturday” version of “Hound Dog,” everyone rocking out to their newly learned blues chord progression. And so — with tingling lips and a room full of smiles — the second season of Science Saturdays came to a close. Over 900 children from Bozeman, communities as far away as Helena, Stevensville and Glasgow; and the Crow Indian Reservation have participated in Science Saturdays since MSU started offering the program in the fall of 2008, said Suzi Taylor, outreach director for MSU’s Extended University. (MSU News)

Parents can also organize these events. A blogger on GeekDad describes his son’s school fair:

For our school fete we blacked out a classroom with curtains and asked for donations from people to enter the “Corner of Curiosity.” It was amazing what people came up with. There was a delightful Plasma Ball near the entrance which was a favorite of the younger children, and a beautifully faded yellow newspaper from 1938 headlining concerns about Hitler’s leadership in Germany. One parent produced a display of the “history of mobile” phones and others had insect collections.

One student produced what has to be the most curious of collections – a collection of animal scats. A local community member supplied a whale vertebrae (and a kangaroo vertebrae for comparison). But, the real value was being able to present a fund raising activity for the school that was also educational. (GeekDad)

Any small measure, from buying markers to throwing a curiosity fair, helps enrich kids’ learning and keeps them wanting more. Even just a little bit of time each week adds up quickly.