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Dan Meyer: Math needs a makeover

Arthur Benjamin’s formula for changing math education


Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, Botany of Desire, is now a film, and you can watch it online, courtesy of PBS. (Click to watch complete film.) The film takes you inside our relationship with the plant world, and shows “how four familiar species — the apple, the tulip, cannabis and the potato — evolved to satisfy our yearnings for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control.” According to a piece in The San Francisco Chronicle, it took eight years to pull together the funding for the film, and that’s simply because marijuana was in the mix. The film runs close to two hours. The preview is below, the full film is here.


Academic Earth is an organization founded with the goal of giving everyone on earth access to a world-class education.” <home>

I am very honored to share, on my 100th post, a phenomenal website with learning aspirations that mirror those of the OpenLearning project.

From their mission statement:

“We are building a user-friendly educational ecosystem that will give internet users around the world the ability to easily find, interact with, and learn from full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars. Our goal is to bring the best content together in one place and create an environment in which that content is remarkably easy to use and where user contributions make existing content increasingly valuable.” <about>

I encourage you to take a moment to browse the lectures available in a clean and accessible format covering a wide range of subjects from a variety of universities and professors. Also, take a look at their great playlists.

Two years ago I posted about hyperrealism. Rarely have I discovered a topic that has fascinated me more–I haven’t really stopped thinking about the concept since. Specifically, I have been intrigued by the notion of “the natural” and what this means for individuals psychologically (do terms like “real” and “natural” have the same meaning and carry the same weight they used to? And what does/will this mean for us?). I remember hearing about a behavioral construct and a series of fascinating experiments in an introductory social psychology course I took many years ago that, until today, I could not recall…

“A superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus that normally releases it.

Konrad Lorenz observed that birds would select for brooding eggs that resembled those of their own species but were larger. Niko Tinbergen, following his extensive analysis of the stimulus features that elicited food-begging in the chick of the herring gull, constructed an artificial superstimulus consisting of a red knitting needle with three white bands painted round it; this elicited a stronger response than an accurate three-dimensional model of the parent’s head (white) and bill (yellow with a red spot).

It is sometimes argued that phenomena such as sexual fetishes and the taste for junk food can be partially explained as examples of superstimulation. Modern artefacts may activate instinctive responses which evolved in a world without shiny fabrics or double cheeseburgers, where shiny skin was a sign of health in a prospective mate, and fat was a vital nutrient.” <wiki>

My favourite (living) philosopher, Daniel Dennett, on Cute, sexy, sweet, funny:

Couple of short essays that really captured my interest in the subject:

Elizabeth Gilbert on a new way of thinking about creativity.

“Eat, Pray, Love” Author Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

Here are five great books on writing and a creative life. These are not “tip books” or self-help guides, they will not give you a quick-and-easy shortcuts or try to convince you that anything but practice and effort will make you a better writer and a more creative person. This short list represents a small sample of some of the best titles out there and come heavily recommended. Read one of these books, and you will no doubt devour the rest in turn. So, lets begin.

1) On Writing Well by William Zinsser

“This book is as engaging as it is instructive. It’s so easy to read and understand, you can’t help but improve. It spells out everything that’s wrong most people’s writing, then provides simple solutions. You’ll cut pounds of fat from your writing. Your sentences will sparkle and your paragraphs will dance. Best of all, your readers will read, not groan.”

Read more reviews of this book.


2) Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

“I’m hooked on Lamott. She slaps me in the face with her startling revelations, nudges me in the ribs with her unpredictable humor, and prods my frozen little writer’s hands back into action with warm compassion. This book won’t solve the mechanical aspects of my writing, or lead me on the path of structural excellence, but it will spark my creativity, free my characters to be true to themselves, and, ultimately, shake me from my doldrums back into the writing mode.”

Read more reviews of this book.

3) The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

“I’ve seen many books on creativity, but this is by far the most practical and accessible one I’ve read. Tharp knows that it takes hard work and good habits to create something tangible, and she doesn’t waste our precious time on mystical mumbo jumbo or some magical “way” of the artist. It’s the work, folks.”

Read more reviews of this book.


4) On Writing by Stephen King

“No matter if you are a non-writing King-reader or if you are a writing King non-reader, On Writing will entertain, teach, and open your eyes to the complex world of (creating) fiction. ‘Creating’ fiction, because it is not just writing in proper grammar that makes a book good. It is the determination, the love, feel and creativity the author pours into his/her piece. And King most certainly brought all these points – and more – very well together.”

Read more reviews of this book.

5) The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and Roger Angell

“Put the principles laid out in this slim book to use, and you will write better than ninety-nine percent of college educated Americans. Anyone reading your writing will thank you for it.”

Read more reviews of this book.

Extremophiles were first discovered just 40 years ago in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. Since their discovery, scientists around the world have worked to find how extremophiles might be useful to humans, and how they might harm humans. Thermophiles were the first extremophile to be discovered, but other extremophiles have been found living in ice, deep under the surface of the ocean, in salty environments, and in environments with both high and low Ph levels. The United States, Germany, and Japan are three of the countries that are searching for extremophiles. Scientists have found a few extremozymes that can be used today. As scientists continue to search, they will find more.

When these organisms were found living in harsh environments that would kill any other organism, scientists began trying to understand how they were able to survive. The proteins inside extremophiles each adapted to the habitat where the extremophile lived. It was discovered that each type of extremophile had enzymes that were resistant to extreme heat, saline, acids, high/low Ph, and high barometric pressure.

Since extremophiles use proteins in different ways than other microorganisms do, scientists are working on adding a sixth kingdom in the classification of life just for the extremophiles. This classification will be called archea and it will include all prokaryotic and eukaryotic extremophiles.”
— from History of Extremophiles

“Tardigrades (or “water bears”) are polyextremophiles and are able to survive in extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal. Some can survive temperatures close to absolute zero, temperatures as high as 151 °C (303 °F), 1,000 times more radiation than any other animal, nearly a decade without water, and even the vacuum of space.” <wiki>

The Deep Ocean: a ribbon of life (David Gallo) —

More on underwater astonishments.

Astrobiology is the field concerned with forming theories, such as panspermia, about the distribution, nature, and future of life in the universe. In it, microbial ecologists, astronomers, planetary scientists, geochemists, philosophers, and explorers cooperate to constructively guide the search for life on other planets. Astrobiologists are particularly interested in studying extremophiles, as many organisms of this type are capable of surviving in environments similar to those known to exist on other planets. For example, Mars may have regions in its deep subsurface permafrost that could harbor endolith communities. The subsurface water ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa may harbor life, especially at hypothesized hydrothermal vents at the ocean floor.” <wiki>

Antarctic ‘resources’ at risk — Antarctic organisms face an onslaught by prospectors anxious to exploit their unique nature, the United Nations says. <link>

Mark Kingwell delivers a lecture on ‘Representations of the Intellectual in Everyday Life’. Has pop culture ruined the intellectual?”

Mark Kingwell, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto

If you would like to listen to this lecture by having iTunes connect to TVO’s Big Ideas podcast, click here.

If you would prefer to browse past episodes of TVO’s Big Ideas, click here.

The episode of the Simpsons that Prof Kingwell refers to in his lecture is episode nine of season twelve, called ‘HOMR.’ You can find it online here.

Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers.

“A meme is any learned feeling, thought or behavior. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a sociological “culture” in a manner similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a biological gene.

The word “meme” is a neologism coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to describe how one might extend Darwinian principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, clothing-fashions, and the technology of building arches.

Meme-theorists contend that memes evolve by natural selection (similarly to Darwinian biological evolution) through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an individual entity’s reproductive success. So with memes, some ideas will propagate less successfully and become extinct, while others will survive, spread, and, for better or for worse, mutate. “Memeticists argue that the memes most beneficial to their hosts will not necessarily survive; rather, those memes that replicate the most effectively spread best, which allows for the possibility that successful memes may prove detrimental to their hosts.” <wiki>

This talk of ‘temes’ sounds quite similar to what Kevin Kelly has described as the Technium. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post. You should definitely check it out.

Chris Jordan: Picturing Excess

“Artist Chris Jordan shows us an arresting view of what Western culture looks like. His supersized images picture some almost unimaginable statistics — like the astonishing number of paper cups we use every single day.” <TED><full bio>

Dan Gilbert: Human Threat Responses

“Why haven’t we rallied our collective power to solve global warning? Join best-selling author Dan Gilbert as he explores our capricious reaction to different threats—from tooth decay to anthrax to climate change.” <Pop!Casts><full bio>


Welcome to OpenLearning! Here you will find the useful links to online learning material suxh as academic podcasts, video lectures, and audiobooks; in addition to posting must-see videos on topics of interest.