The Urban School System of the Future

By: Andy Smarick

It was 50 years ago this spring that LBJ, in just his first year as president, announced during a college commencement address his plans for what became known as “The Great Society.” One of its major planks was America’s cities and their troubled schools.

It is jaw-dropping that half a century–and billions of dollars and endless reforms–later we still don’t have a single high-performing urban school district. Remember, JFK, in 1961, had challenged the nation to send a man to the moon and bring him home safely within a decade…and we did it just eight years later. This nation can accomplish unbelievable feats, but only if it is willing to be bold.

If we want to truly revitalize our cities, we have to dramatically improve K12 urban schooling. If we’re to dramatically improve K12 urban schooling, we have to end the traditional district’s tenure as the dominant, default delivery system of public education. It is hard to name a government structure that has so consistently failed at its core responsibility for so long and so badly.

Our attention must focus on the district apparatus–the central administrative unit that owns and operates scores of schools, controlling virtually every aspect of their daily functioning. It is this organization that has proven itself completely unable to develop open-admission high-performing high-poverty schools.

This stands in stark contrast to the charter school sector, which in city after city (according to rigorous studies form Stanford’s CREDO research center) is producing student-learning gains that far outpace the district.

The solution is a “true portfolio” approach, one that I outline in my book The Urban School System of the Future. We start by seeing the district as nothing more than one of many school operators in the city, placing it on the same playing field as the city’s charter school operators. Then we apply the systemic innovations of chartering across the entire K12 portfolio. We close persistently failing schools, we expand and replicate the cities best schools, we continuously start new schools in the charter sector, and we empower families with choice.

This “sector-agnostic” approach will enable us to continuously grow the number of high-quality schools in our cities, ensuring that low-income urban kids are able to select from among a range of high-performing school options.

The combination of the demotion of the district, the elevation of school quality above school provider, and complete fidelity to smart portfolio management has the greatest chance of developing dynamic, high-performing, self-improving systems of schools that will put underserved kids on a trajectory taking them to the moon and beyond.

Drive-In Movie Theaters a Dying Breed.

If summer makes you feel nostalgic for the old days of going to the drive-ins, you’re in luck: there are still many drive-in movie theaters across the country. Why stress over long lines and finding a place to park your car, when you can see that movie without getting out of your vehicle. Here are some of the best and quirkiest drive-ins from around the country.


Electric Dusk Drive-In, Downtown Los Angeles

The Electric Dusk Drive-In is located on a rooftop in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. Not only do you get to see the big screen, but you can also take in the wonderful views of the city. But if you don’t feel like sitting in your car, you can opt for the Outdoor Astroturf seats, which are the best seats in the house. At this theater you get to see old classics such as Grease, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But it gets better…it is pet-friendly and has great food. The Electric Dusk drive-in has BBQ hot dogs, burgers, and much more. There is also something for those of you with a sweet tooth: a Giant Brownie stuffed chocolate chip cookie. The prices for tickets range from $9-$11 for regular films, and $9-$13 for double features, with advance online purchase. If you want to have a private event or party, the theater does that as well. For more information about the movie schedule or to book a special event, click here.


Galaxy Drive-In Theatre, Ennis, Texas

At this drive-in you can see new releases for a steal. The Galaxy Drive-In Theatre is located in Ennis, Texas, which is more than 30 miles south of Dallas. There are six screens, and the screen fields are equipped with authentic vintage car speakers so you can listen to the movies or radio with DTS surround sound, and you can also watch movies in 3D. This theater is pet-friendly as well. If you’re worried about the weather, you don’t have to be: Galaxy Drive-In is open rain or shine, seven nights a week. Tickets are $7.00 for ages 12 and up, and children are $3.00. For more information, go to



Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre, Orefield, Pennsylvania

If you want to see a piece of history, visit Shankweiler’s Drive-in Theatre in Orefield, Pennsylvania. With 81 years in business, this drive-in claims to be the oldest and continuous operated drive-in movie theater in America! Currently, showings are only on the weekends, but not to worry, you can see new releases, and they also offer a Double Feature for one admission price, just make sure you call ahead of time to check availability. Prices are $9.00 for adults, and $6.00 for children ages 12 & under. For more information or to check availability, go to


Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre, Wellfleet, Massachusetts

The Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre in Wellfleet, Massachusetts is a one-of-a-kind drive-in for family fun. This lot not only has one screen for people to watch movies, but there’s tons of other stuff to do. There’s a mini golf course and a flea market if you’re interested in doing some shopping. There is also a Dairy Bar & Grill where you can find various foods and snacks, as well as a full outdoor cocktail bar. Prices for the drive-in are $9.00 for adults ages 12-61, seniors ages 62+ are $6.00, children ages 4-11 are $6.00, and children ages 3 and under are free. For more information, click here.


Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre, Southern California

If you’re ever in Southern California, another great drive-in is the Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre in Montclair. Here they show new releases, and you also get to see some cool Tiki statues reminiscent of the 1950s. The drive-in features nice and bright digital projectors, and great Hi-Fi digital audio. The theatre also has a Swap Meet, which is open on Wednesdays, Fridays, and the weekend. Prices for the movies are $8.00 for adults, and $1.00 for the kiddos. For more information, you can go to


Bengies Drive-In Theatre, Baltimore, Maryland

Bengies Drive-In Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland claims that it has the biggest movie theater screen in the U.S., at 52 feet high and 120 feet wide. This theater has been around for 59 seasons, and plays triple features nearly every Friday and Saturday evening. It also has dusk ’til dawn shows. So, if you want to see movies on the BIG screen, prices for adults vary from $5.00 to $10.00, children ages 4-10 are $5.00, and children under 4 are free. For late shows, the prices are reduced to $5.00 for any age. For more information, click here.



South Bay Drive-In Theatres, San Diego, California

If you’re in San Diego or driving toward Mexico, head over to the South Bay Drive-In Theatres. You will not only be able to appreciate the wonderful beaches, but you can also enjoy a terrific movie, and shop at the Swap Meet that’s open on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you go to the website, you can print out coupons for the snack bar, which gives you additional savings. Prices for movies are $8.00 for adults, and $1.00 for kids ages 5-9. Swap Meet admission is $1.00 on Wednesdays, and 50 cents on Saturdays and Sundays. Please note everything is cash only. For more information, click here.

Jul 2014



The Adventures of Deeper Learning

By: Christine

“Be kind, always smile, and be the first one to introduce yourself with a firm hand shake.” These were my thoughts while driving one morning for my first day at my first internship. I was granted the opportunity to complete my high school internship at the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. I was thrilled by everything around me. While walking up Allegan street I was anxious to find out what I might experience that week: what I was going accomplish, who I might accidentally run into, and what I would take away from this experience. Little did I know at the time that what I would take from it was a realization of how much I had learned in high school.

One thing I already knew from my journey in high school was that I was interested in TV broadcasting and politics, so when thinking about how I was going to complete my 40 hour internship I thought, “Why not go big?” It didn’t take long for my success. I contacted my second cousin, Craig Ryan who’s the Senior Advisor for the Speaker of the House asking if I could come in a few days a week to work with him. He agreed and I was off to brag to my fellow classmates!

On my first day, I made my way to the House of Representatives building. Craig got me all settled in and explained to me my job for the week: I was to write a research paper that explains the pros and cons to a proposal for raising the minimum wage. At first I was hesitant. Writing wasn’t my expertise; my talent was filmmaking. However, I thought to myself, that’s why New Tech Schools are pushing their students to complete internships: to test their interests.

When writing my paper I was confused on what to do first. Craig gave me some guidelines but for the most part I had to create the paper from scratch. I made myself a checklist and started completing items one-by-one. I created a short outline. I underlined all my main topics and researched the supporting points, which was actually the most interesting part. I was an investigator looking through documents and reports that helped prove my thesis. I never would have pictured myself actually enjoying writing a research paper.

Although my internship was all business, Craig wanted me to get the most out of my experience and explore the Capitol through deeper learning. He took me around to important sessions and introduced me to people that I would recognize. I got introduced to my Senator, Joe Hune, and my Representative, Bill Rogers, who invited me to go on the floor of the legislature with him. I spent 3 hours witnessing a portion of what happens within our Michigan Government! While sitting next to Representative Rogers I was thinking to myself how well I was prepared for this experience. Coming in I knew how to introduce myself to adults and have a conversation with them. For many teenagers, introducing themselves and shaking hands is hard to do.

That week, I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but New Tech had prepared me for that. New Tech High School has greatly influenced me. Going on this internship I realized how much I have learned: meaningful skills I used throughout my internship that had been so driven into my brain, I didn’t even realize they were there. Getting a job done with detailed preparation without being told by a teacher, being able to work independently, and connecting with people I normally wouldn’t communicate with. I started practicing these skills freshman year, perfecting them to get to this point in my life. New Tech encourages deeper learning; when you’re able to understand through engagement and action, then you are able to apply your knowledge, not just pass a test. I believe that because I did my internship I will be better prepared for my future.

About the Author: Christine is a senior at Pinckney New Tech High School. She has been involved in her high school’s dance team for 4 years, being the captain of both Junior Varsity and Varsity. Her hobbies include coaching for the middle school dance team and creating short documentaries which have been viewed state wide. Christine is planning to attend Western Michigan University in the fall of 2014 to complete a double major in Journalism and Political Science. 

Infographic: Competency-Based Teacher Prep & PD

Schools and districts across the country are redefining the goals of K-12 education and reimagining the very nature of teaching and learning. This activity is spurred by the implementation of college- and career-ready standards and the promise of a new generation of online assessments. As calls for improving achievement and increasing personalization of student learning echo across the nation, new professional development learning models are creating the potential for personalized preparation pathways for teachers. Teacher preparation and professional learning should evolve similarly in order to offer teacher control over time, place, path and/or pace; balanced goals; meaningful integration and competency-based progression.

The “Competency-Based Teacher Preparation & Professional Development” infographic outlines how the role of teachers is changing amid broader shifts to personalized, blended and Deeper Learning. This infographic complements the white paper “Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning: Competency-Based Teacher Preparation and Development” written in partnership between Digital Promise and Getting Smart.


Chefs Know More Than Just Recipes: How Experts Differ From Novices

By Tim Hudson

Chefs Know More Than Just Recipes: How Experts Differ From Novices first appeared on the DreamBox Math Learning Blog, on April 15, 2014

Many years ago I surprised my wife by cooking a new meal. I read through our entire Betty Crocker cookbook to find just the right recipe and went to the store for the ingredients we didn’t have: ground cayenne pepper, white vinegar, and ginger root. These items are forever stuck in my memory because they were unfamiliar to me and therefore seemed unusual. At the time, I didn’t know there were different colors of vinegar, and ginger root looked so bizarre that I boldly asked the clerk at the register, “How many people actually buy this thing?” In hindsight, it was an embarrassing question to ask for a number of reasons; the least of which is because as it turns out, fresh ginger is delicious. Looks can be deceiving.

The great thing about cookbooks is that they are designed so that culinary novices—like myself—can accomplish one narrow task (prepare a recipe). Culinary experts can certainly use cookbooks too, but they’re not typically designed for expert chefs. And importantly, cookbooks are not designed to enable and empower novices to become experts, but rather to provide explicit instructions for what to do in the kitchen. I’ll discuss more about novices and experts in a moment because it’s as important for learning cooking as it is for understanding mathematics, and really any subject area. And if you’d like to learn more, the second chapter of the book How People Learn is actually entitled “How Experts Differ from Novices.”

Thanks to the clear instructions in the cookbook, I was able to follow the recipe. The meal was amazingly delicious and over the years I’ve cooked it dozens of times. In fact, I’ve cooked it often enough that I now know it from memory, and I don’t even need to review the recipe. I never specifically sat down and memorized the ingredients or steps word for word, but through repeated use, the recipe has become a part of my acquired knowledge. The key to the recipe seems to be the sauce, where chicken broth, sugar, soy sauce, cornstarch, white vinegar, and ground cayenne pepper are mixed together.

As an educator, I can’t help but reflect upon what my knowledge of this recipe and the ability to create the meal from memory indicates about my deeper understanding of food and chemistry. Does the fact that I can execute this recipe perfectly every time from memory serve as evidence of understanding, or is it simply a skill that I’ve acquired through repetition but without comprehension? Exactly what do I understand about cooking, ingredients, and their interrelationships within the recipe? Truthfully, as an assessor, I believe that the answer is, “Nothing.” I’m very much a novice in the kitchen in general, and even though I can repeatedly recreate this one specific recipe with ease and delicious results, I am by no means an expert.

For example, using sugar, chicken broth, soy sauce, and cayenne as ingredients makes sense to me because I know what they taste like individually. But I don’t understand why they need to be added in the ratios called for in the recipe. Or why—when combined with garlic, ginger root, cornstarch, and white vinegar—they taste so good. Over the years I’ve been told by others that cornstarch thickens the sauce. I can see that the sauce does thicken, but how do I know that’s not a result of the soy sauce or sugar? I’ve never tried making the recipe without cornstarch, so to believe the “cornstarch thickening hypothesis” I just trust what others tell me. I didn’t ever make sense of the “thickening theory” on my own, so I can’t really understand it. Also, of all the ingredients, the white vinegar makes the least sense to me. To begin with, I don’t really know what vinegar is or even how it’s made. And until I read this recipe, I didn’t even know there were different kinds and colors of vinegar. Would the dish taste different if I used a different color of vinegar? Or would red vinegar change the color of the sauce?

Ultimately, I don’t really comprehend anything about the recipe, except how to follow the steps. And although I don’t understand the reasons for the steps, I trust them because they are coming from a reliable source, and I can observe that they work when I follow them. Based on my rote knowledge of the recipe, I can demonstrate skill in executing it, but I have no true comprehension or understanding of the relationships between the ingredients or any reasoning behind the processes or order of the steps. If I were attending a culinary school, what might be done to help me deepen my expertise as a chef?  I would expect that it would be something different than simply more practice following recipes.

Many students feel the same way about math as I do about cooking. Though they probably don’t think an expert chef is someone who has simply memorized a stack of cookbooks, they likely believe that mathematical expertise is demonstrated by knowing multiple algorithms and remembering an ever-increasing list of confusing procedures. Their understanding of the multiplication algorithm or quadratic formula is often at the same novice level as my understanding of cooking; their typical questions are: What’s a placeholder? Why am I carrying a 2? What would happen if I went left-to-right instead? Why do I take the square root? Why must that b value be negative?

It’s not enough for our students to be novices in mathematics, because the goal of learning is transfer and independent use in new situations. I imagine that’s why cooking reality shows and competitions don’t simply give a group of contestants the same recipe and ingredients and ask them all to prepare the same dish. Instead, contestants are presented with complex challenges and restrictions without instructions that require critical thinking and expertise.

Novice cooks follow instructions and execute with knowledge and skill. Expert chefs do that, too, but they also invent new recipes based on their understanding of ingredients and methods. We need all students to be “expert chefs” with numbers, algebra, and mathematical reasoning. Which means they’ll need more than a “math cookbook.” No amount of isolated skill practice or following procedures without understanding can cause these critical learning outcomes. Students need thought-provoking challenges, sense-making experiences, and the opportunity to develop understanding that will empower them to cultivate true expertise in mathematics.

New – Google Classroom This Fall

Today, Google announced that using Google Apps for Education is going to get even easier to manage- this September,Classroom, the new learning management system developed by Google themselves will be available.  It is intended to help ”teachers create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and communicate with their classes with ease.” On the flip side, it will also allow students organize their work, complete it, turn it in, and communicate directly with their teachers and each other in a more streamlined manner.

Some of the expected features include:

  • teachers can create and collect assignments, paperlessly

  • choose to share a single document, or make a copy for each student

  • will automatically create Drive folders for each assignment and each student

  • students will have an assignment page, where they can manage timelines and due dates

  • improve teacher/student communication allowing teachers to make announcements and ask questions

Teachers and professors can apply for a preview of Classroom. Google says Classroom will be available in the fall to any school using Google Apps for Education.


If you’re a developer or partner, sign up to learn more about integrating with Classroom.

40 more maps that explain the world


Maps seemed to be everywhere in 2013, a trend I like to think we encouraged along with August’s 40 maps that explain the world. Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. You might consider this, then, a collection of maps meant to inspire your inner map nerd. I’ve searched far and wide for maps that can reveal and surprise and inform in ways that the daily headlines might not, with a careful eye for sourcing and detail. I’ve included a link for more information on just about every one. Enjoy.
1. Where the world’s people live, by economic status


Those dots represent people: the brighter the dot, the more people. The color shows their country’s average income level: blue is richest and yellow is poorest. I want to start with this map because it’s a reminder that the world is first and foremost made up of people; to me, the best maps are primarily about showing us people, not politics or geography. It’s also a way of looking at the divisions in the world other than by political borders; that’s a theme we’ll come back to. (One caveat to this map: it doesn’t show economic variations within countries, just the national averages.)

2. How humans spread across the world

Human beings first left Africa about 60,000 years ago in a series of waves that peopled the globe. This map shows where those waves of migration went and when they occurred (the “40K” over Europe means humans arrived there about 40,000 years ago). You can see that humans have the most history in the Middle East, India and of course Africa itself (the map does not show the much longer history of migration within Africa). We are relative newcomers to the Americas, one of the reasons it has not until very recently been as densely populated as other parts of the world.

3. When the Mongols took over the known world

The Mongol conquests are difficult to fathom. Although their most important technology was the horse, they conquered much of the known world from China to Europe, a series of wars that killed tens of millions of people, then a substantial chunk of the world’s population. The Mongols also established what may well have been the largest empire in history until the British surpassed them six long centuries later. It’s difficult to understate how much we still feel their impact today; the country we know of today as Iraq has never fully recovered from the 1258 sacking of Baghdad, which until then had been a center of global wealth and knowledge.

4. When Spain and Portugal dominated the world










This map shows the Spanish and Portuguese empires at their height. They didn’t hold all of this territory concurrently, but they were most powerful from 1580 to 1640, when they were politically unified. Portugal would later pick up more territory in Africa, not shown on the map. We often forget that Spain controlled big parts of Europe, in Italy and the Netherlands. In the Middle Ages, Spain and Portugal were so powerful that they signed a set of treaties literally dividing up the globe between them. They became so rich so quickly that their trade with the Ottoman Empire, perhaps the other great imperial power of the time, filled the Ottoman economy with more gold than it could handle and plunged it economy into an inflationary crisis so severe that the empire never fully recovered.

5. Major shipping routes in the colonial era
Data source: Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans (James Cheshire)

This map shows British, Dutch and Spanish shipping routes from 1750 to 1800. It’s been created from newly digitized logbooks of European ships during this period. (Unfortunately, the French data is not shown.) These lines are the contours of empire and of European colonialism, yes, but they’re also the first intimations of the global trade and transportation system that are still with us today. This was the flattening of the world, for better and for worse.


6. Actual European discoveries
















Click to enlarge.

(Bill Rankin/Radical Cartography)

Americans have mostly come around to accept that, despite what our grade school teachers may have told us, Europeans did not “discover” America; the original arrivals had done that 15,000 years earlier. But Europeans did discover lots of land that had never been before seen by human eyes. You can, embedded in this map, see successive waves of European exploration: first the Portuguese, then the Spanish, then the British and much later the Americans. The map’s creator, the always-insightful Bill Rankin, writes, “this map particularly underscores the maritime expertise of Pacific Islanders. Unlike the islands of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, nearly all of the Pacific was settled by the 14th century.”
7. How countries compare on economic inequality
Bluer countries have better income equality. Redder countries are more unequal. Data: CGDev, DIIS (Max Fisher / Washington Post)

Yes, the United States has worse income inequality than Nigeria. That’s according to a metric called the Palma Ratio that measures economic inequality. Read more here about how the metric works and the fascinating results of using it to compare the world’s countries.

8. If the polar ice caps completely melted


Click to enlarge. (National Geographic © September 2013 National Geographic Society / Full source info here)

It’s not clear precisely when the polar ice caps will melt completely. But if and when they do, sea levels will rise by 216 feet. This map shows what the world would look like then. Given how many people live near coastlines today, that’s not good. You can see National Geographic’s wonderful, full interactive here.

9. Where the world’s 30 million slaves live


Share of each country’s population that is enslaved. Data source: Walk Free Global Slavery Index. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

This is not some soft, liberal, by-modern-standards definition of slavery. This is slavery. There are 30 million people living today as forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers, child brides in forced marriages or other forms of property. There are 60,000 right here in the United States – yes, really. This map shows the proportion of each country that is enslaved. It’s highest in Mauritania, a shocking four percent, due in part to social norms tolerating the practice. A little more than one percent of people in India are enslaved, which translates to 14 million Indians living as slaves today. You can see the breakdown by numbers of slaves here.
10. Our globalized economy: What it takes to make nutella











Click to enlarge. (OECD)

Put this map alongside No. 5 above, of European colonial-era shipping routes. This is the end product of today’s ultra-globalized economy. A simple jar of Nutella requires natural resources from four continents, vast manufacturing facilities in entirely different countries and a supply and distribution chain that spans the globe.

11. Where populations are growing and shrinking

Blue countries have growing populations; red countries are shrinking. Purple are growing slowly or not at all. Data source: United Nations Population Fund. Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

The world is in for some major demographic changes over the next generation or two. Populations are booming in Africa, growing faster than ever before, just as they’re slowing in Asia and outright shrinking in Japan and Eastern Europe. What’s most interesting about these population changes is what demographers say they will mean for the world’s political and economic future. For more, read: The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts.

The world is in for some major demographic changes over the next generation or two. Populations are booming in Africa, growing faster than ever before, just as they’re slowing in Asia and outright shrinking in Japan and Eastern Europe. What’s most interesting about these population changes is what demographers say they will mean for the world’s political and economic future. For more, read: The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts.

12. Walls of the world

Source: “Atlas des migrants en Europe. Géographie critique des politiques migratoires européenne,” Armand Colin. (Nicolas Lambert / MigrEurop)

A French non-governmental organization put together this map of the world’s major physical barriers – its most consequential walls. The red lines indicate walls and barriers meant to prevent or control immigration; you see a number of those particularly where there are rich countries next to poorer countries. The green walls are mostly political barriers, such as the 1,700-mile-long “Moroccan Wall” dividing Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, the West Bank separation barrier and the Korean demilitarized zone. No single map of something this controversial and sensitive is ever going to satisfy everyone, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into why and where we choose to limit human movement.

13. The Arctic land grab

(The Economist)

(The Economist)

As the polar ice caps melt, it’s creating something that the world hasn’t seen in a long time: vast, unclaimed territory. That territory also happens to include oil and other natural resources, as well as valuable trade routes. Five countries are competing to claim the new land: Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark and the United States. How the Arctic land-grab resolves is so potentially important that even Canada is getting much more assertive.


14. Who wins Nobel prizes (and who doesn’t)

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

It’s no secret that Europeans and Americans win most Nobel prizes. But just how much more is pretty astounding. When I looked into how the Nobel prizes have broken down over their century-plus history, I was surprised by the results, which you can see here illustrated in maps and charts. One of several facts from the data: More than one in every three Nobel laureates is from the United States. Put another way, the United States has 4 percent of the world’s population and 34 percent of its Nobel laureates.

15. The 17 countries that could have housing bubbles

The 17 countries identified as having potential housing bubbles. Click to enlarge. (Washington Post)

You probably remember the U.S. housing bubble burst of 2007 (it was pretty memorable). According to a recent economic estimate, a full 17 countries could face potential housing bubbles today. Alarmingly, that includes China, the world’s second-largest economy. Read more here on the countries at risk and what could happen if they burst.

16. The happiest and least happy countries

Data source: Columbia University’s World Happiness Report. Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

A recent study conducted by the United Nations and Columbia University attempted to infer happiness measuring a series of social metrics and survey results. Some of the results are unsurprising: wealth, health, political stability and economic equality all appear to coincide with happiness. But there are some real surprises in the data. Latin America and the Caribbean are, by this measure, the happiest on average in the world. Here’s why that might be and more lessons from the data.

17. All terror attacks worldwide in 2012

Click to enlarge. (Start GTD)

This study by the University of Maryland-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism tracked every single terrorist attack in 2012 (the most recent year for which all data was available). This should drive home how remarkably safe Americans are from terrorism today. It drives home who the real victims of terrorism are. And it reveals some of the global hotspots for terrorist activity and all the instability and mayhem that can bring. Some readers might be surprised to see how much terrorism there is, for example, in Nigeria, in Kenya and most especially in eastern India, where the Maoist “Naxalite” insurgency has been wreaking havoc for almost 50 years.


18. North America’s languages, before colonialism

Click to enlarge. Data source: Ives Goddard. (Wikipedia Commons)

This a remarkable reminder of the diversity and cultural richness of North America before it was so completely transformed by the arrival of Europeans – to the terrible detriment of the societies that once proliferated here. It’s also a reminder that some of these societies had spread widely and established themselves deeply, despite the common American perception today of a mishmash of disparate and unconnected tribes.

19. Where place names come from in the Americas

Click to enlarge. (Bill Rankin/Radical Cartography)

Click to enlarge. (Bill Rankin/Radical Cartography)

This map shows the origin language for place names in the Americas. For example, the word “Texas” comes from the Caddoan language, of the Caddo people who lived in what is today East Texas. It’s a fascinating lens into the Americas’ history, of which Europeans arrived or conquered where, as well as a legacy of the people who lived here first. Bill Rankin, the map’s creator,has this chestnut: “‘Huron’ derives from a French slur for the hairy natives (it shares a root with ‘hirsute.’)”

20. American ancestry by county

Click to enlarge. (U.S. Census Bureau)

This map, which shows the dominant ancestry in each U.S. county, is a wonderful show of American diversity and a living museum of America’s history of immigration, voluntary as well as forced. There are countless stories embedded in this map, and not just American stories. Much of this immigration was driven by far-away wars, economic catastrophes, famines or other major historical events, most especially the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In that sense, America’s diversity – like this map showing it – is a global story.

21. What territory Mexican drug cartels control

Click to go to source. (Farhana Hossain and Xaquín G.V. / The New York Times)

This infographic shows which Mexican drug cartels control what territory. It’s a staggering indication of how powerful these groups have become, as well as a glimpse into the vast cartel economy they collectively run – one in which territory is especially important.


22. The empires of Africa, before colonialism

Click to enlarge. (Wikipedia)

This map of indigenous African empires is not exhaustive. It spans two thousands years from 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D., so these empires were not concurrent; some existed centuries apart. But it shows that, like with North America and perhaps even more so, sub-Saharan Africa was rich with vast and powerful empires long before the Europeans arrived. (One of the biggest, Ethiopia, was actually unusually and perhaps uniquely successful in resisting European imperialism.) The Songhai Empire, at its peak in the 14th century, was a global center of culture and learning, based in the still-famous mosques of Timbuktu.

23. What Africa might look like if it had never been colonized

Click to enlarge. (Nikolaj Cyon)

Historical counterfactuals aren’t much more than informed speculation, but this one is still awfully interesting. Made by the Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon, the map asks what Africa would look like today if colonialism had never happened. (Africa’s present-day borders were determined largely by colonialism, which continues to create lots of very big problems.) Cyon drew these boundaries based on a study of political and tribal units in 1844, the eve of Europe’s “scramble for Africa.” He oriented it with south at the top to subvert the traditional Europe-on-top orientation. You can see it here with north on the top, if that’s easier for you to read.

24. The amazingly diverse languages of Africa

Data source: World Language Mapping System/Ethnologue. (Steve Huffman/WorldGeoDatasets)

This is another way of looking at and thinking about Africa’s divisions, without seeing them through the European-imposed colonial borders that we have today. Each shade is a language; each color is a group of languages. Yes, there are an awful lot of languages in Africa, reflecting the continent’s deep history and its diversity. You can see that a number of the borders, such as in Kenya or Cameroon or Nigeria, overlap big swathes of people who speak entirely different language families.


25. Europe, as mapped by tweets

Each color represents a different language. See global version linked below. (Kalev H. Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook)

This shows tweets made in Europe in location and language between Oct. 23 and Nov. 30, 2012, with each language shown in a different color. It’s no surprise that more populous and richer countries have more tweets. But what’s most interesting is places where languages don’t quite line up with national borders. Look at all those German-language tweets in the parts of the Poland that once belonged to the German Empire. Or look at how Belgium seems to disappear, the French- and Dutch-speakers merging into France and the Netherlands. More on the findings here; click here for amuch larger version that shows the whole world and with the languages labeled.

26. How the Barbarian Invasions reshaped Europe

(Wikimedia commons)

Europe was completely reshaped in the third, fourth and fifth centuries. The Huns of far-Eastern Europe and Central Asia invaded Central Europe, destroying the Gothic kingdoms. Germanic tribes conquered much of Spain and North Africa. And, of course, the Visigoths of southeastern Europe sacked Rome in 410 A.D. All of this destroyed the Roman Imperial system, starting the dark ages. But it also sparked mass migrations throughout Europe that reshaped the continent in ways that are still with us.

27. When the Vikings spread across Europe

Click to enlarge. (Max Naylor/Wikimedia Commons)

A few hundred years later, the Vikings had their turn. We often forget just how far they spread. Red, orange and yellow shows areas under their control. Green shows areas where they frequently raided. The word “Russia” actually comes from the Rus tribe, who were descendants of Viking settlers. The “Vikings” who took over Sicily and southern Italy were actually Normans, Vikings who had conquered parts of Northern France, settled in, and then later sailed to Italy. Their descendants also included William the Conqueror.

28. World War II in Europe, day by day

This one speaks for itself and is a fascinating watch; there are countless stories embedded in these frames. If you enjoyed this, I would encourage you to watch this version that includes Asia and the Pacific as well.

29. The word for “bear” in European languages

Click to enlarge.

The Cold War taught us to think of Europe in terms of East-versus-West, but this map shows that it’s more complicated than that. Most Europeans speak Romance languages (orange countries), Germanic (pink) or Slavic (green), though there are some interesting exceptions.

30. People who die trying to immigrate to Europe

Click to enlarge. Data source: UNITED For Intercultural Action (Olivier Clochard/Migrinter)

This shows where and how people die trying to migrate into Europe. In October, when 300 would-be African immigrants to Europe died when their boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, it was seen as a sign ofhow dangerous and deadly migration paths into Europe had become. It’s a result of wide economic disparity between Africa and Europe as well as European policies to prevent immigration. It’s an ugly issue and, as this map shows, it kills many, many people every year.


31. The Islamic states of the world, from 1450 to today

(M. Izady/Gulf 2000 Project)

This doesn’t show all Muslim-majority countries – southeast Asia and parts of Africa aren’t included – but it does show the history of political borders and nation-states in most of the Islamic world from 1450 though today. You’ll notice themes of invasion and occupation, or empires rising and falling.

32. The 1916 European treaty to carve up the Middle East

Data source: The Gulf/2000 Project and United Nations ReliefWeb (The Washington Post)

In 1916, French, British and Russian diplomats signed an agreement to divide up the Ottoman Empire into areas of direct control and “spheres of influence.” It’s easy to overstate how big of a role this treaty actually playedin designing modern Middle East borders; in many ways, those divisions had already organically occurred during Ottoman rule. Still, it did fall along the Middle East’s problematic present-day borders, and you hear about that a lot today, so here it is.

33. The religious lines dividing today’s Middle East

Data source: The Gulf/2000 Project and United Nations ReliefWeb (The Washington Post)

Religious distinctions are deeply important for many of the problems in today’s Middle East, particularly between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Syria and Iraq. This map shows not just that those divisions cross of national borders, but that they’re all over the place. This is one of many reasons why these conflicts can be so persistent.

34. How the 1948 Arab-Israeli war helped lead to Israel’s borders

(Wikimedia commons)

Lots of maps show Israel’s territory from the 1967 Israeli-Arab war to the present, but I thought I’d show this map from the country’s 1947 founding onward. The leftmost map shows, in blue, Israel as established by United Nations resolution in 1947. Red shows the initial Arab state; green is the Arab state after the 1949 armistice. The center map shows the first months of the 1948 Israeli-Arab war and the advance of Arab armies to retake what they saw as rightful Arab land. The right-most map shows the advance of Israeli armies in the latter half of that war. At the end of fighting, Israel occupied much of what is considered Israeli land today.


35. Percentage of Indian homes with toilets

Click to enlarge. Data source: Indian census, 2011 (Avinash Celestine / Data Stories)

India’s ongoing rise as a new economic powerhouse continues to be an amazing story. But much of the world’s second-most-populous country still lives in poverty or in otherwise difficult conditions. This map, created from census data by the designer Avinash Celestine, shows what percentage of families in each district have a toilet in their homes. As you can see, it’s less than half in huge swathes of the country, a reminder of how far India still has to go.

36. The languages of China and the surrounding area

Each shade is a different language; each color is a language group. Click to enlarge. Larger version linked below. (Steve Huffman / World GeoDatasets)

This map, for me, is a wonderful way to observe China’s very long history of expansion and consolidation. Remember that each shade is a different language. Even after thousands of years, Chinese itself remains remarkably diverse, particularly in the country’s dialect-rich southeast. And there are many entirely different language families: Mongolian in the north; the Turkic language Uighur in the West and; in southern Guangxi province, the Zhuang language that’s closer to Thai. This is another of Steve Huffman’s amazing creations; see a larger version here.

37. The WWII firebombing of Japan

Click to enlarge.

This map shows each Japanese city that was bombed during World War II, an American city of equivalent size, and the percentage of the city estimated destroyed by the bombings. All Americans learn about the two atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan at the end of the war, and we’re starting to become more aware of the firebombing campaigns that wiped out much of Germany, including civilians. But we are nowhere near confronting the U.S. firebombing of Japan, which killed several times as many people as the atomic bombs and devastated Japan’s wooden-constructed cities. By the time the war ended, 30 percent of the residents in Japan’s largest 60 cities were homeless.

38. Territorial claims in the South China Sea

(Voice of America)

(Voice of America)

It’s no secret that China claims islands and maritime territory in the South China Sea that other countries see as theirs. But this map shows just how assertive China’s claim is – Beijing claims everything in red, a giant scoop of an area way, way beyond Chinese soil. China’s neighbors are very, very conscious of feeling a bit bullied, and this map shows why.

39. The naval firepower in the Pacific

Click to enlarge. (Cameron Tulk)

The Pacific Ocean, after being set on fire by World War II, is still heavily militarized. Japan, even though its U.S.-imposed constitution bans warfare and codifies pacifism, still has a pretty substantial navy. So does Russia, a legacy of the Cold War. And China’s is, of course, growing substantially. All of this combines with rising nationalism in East Asia, China’s not-misguided fear that the United States is attempting to contain them and growing concern about China itself.

40. Every airline flight in the world over 24 hours

Original video source here. Data source: AirTraffic LIVE. (Zurcher Hochschule school of Engineering)

Original video source here. Data source: AirTraffic LIVE. (Zurcher Hochschule school of Engineering)

This map shows every airline flight around the world during a single 24-hour day, looped endlessly. To me, it’s the perfect way to end. Even with no borders, you can still see so much of how the world is shaped. Where people are connected and not, where they are wealthier and not, how and where people have made social and economic connections and how deep they go.

21 Pictures that will BLOW your mind…..I was amazed

Just keep in mind these are not photographs. THESE ARE NOT PHOTOGRAPHS. All are handmade and amazing.

Kevin Okafor – graphite pencils on paper

Gregory Thielker – oil on canvas

Lee Price – oil on linen

Ben Weiner – paintings of paint

Kim Ji-hoon – pencil

Ray Hare – acrylic paint on canvas

Pedro Campos – oil on canvas

Dirk Dzimirsky – pencil on paper

Thomas Arvid – Giclée on canvas

Samuel Silva – ballpoint pen

Gottfried Helnwein – oil and acrylic on canvas

Mike Bayne – oil on wood panel

Robert Longo – charcoal on mounted paper

Ben Weiner – paintings of paint

Lee Price – oil on linen

Omar Ortiz – using oil on linen

Omar Ortiz – using oil on linen

Paul Cadden – pencil and paper

Paul Cadden – pencil and paper

Kamalky Laureano – acrylic paint on canvas

Kamalky Laureano – acrylic paint on canvas

Man vs. Machine: 4 Robotics Programs for STEM Classrooms

If robots are ever going to take over humanity, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Undoubtedly, the engineers who create them will be tough to match wits with, at least if they come from the STEM labs in our classrooms today.

Research shows that robotics is an effective tool for improving students’ 21st century skills. And teachers have taken note. In various school settings and across all grade levels, students are engaging in programs teaching them to design, build, and program their own bots. As they do, they are developing their creativity, collaboration, self-direction, and communication skills too. So whether you want to prepare your students to withstand the bionic revolution or hasten its coming, the following educational robotics programs will serve you well.

LEGO Mindstorms

When it comes to school robotics programs, LEGO Education is the big fish in a little pond. Their Mindstorms robotics package, designed for upper-elementary and middle school students, is a natural extension of a childhood love of LEGOs. A computer-based brick, specialized LEGO pieces, a swath of sensors, and programming software, Mindstorms kits power 21st century learning without the accompanying learning curve of new technology. Not only are classrooms and after-school clubs utilizing LEGO Mindstorms for their ability to boost students’ interest in science and technology, many of them have formed teams and compete annually in FIRST LEGO League challenges which take place locally across the country.


For early elementary students who won’t wait for middle school STEM classes, WeDo (also by LEGO) will help to create learners who don’t just know about robotics, but do robotics. Designed specifically for the early emerging engineer, WeDo enables teachers to tailor activities to specific curriculum subjects or project-based learning. A simplified version of LEGO’s Mindstorms offering, WeDo comes with a user-friendly software interface and a “plug’n’teach” activity pack that helps teachers cover science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an engaging hands-on, minds-on way.


If your focus is on programming robots rather than building them, Sphero might make you feel magical. At the very least, its going to make you forget that you’re really just playing with a ball. As the name implies, Sphero is a sphere. But it’s one that you control from your iOS or Android device. Make Sphero move, spin, change colors, and more. “Sphero is an interactive and engaging robot that brings programming off the computer and into real life.” With over 25 apps now available for Sphero 2.0, robotics enthusiasts are using Sphero to drive through homemade racecourses, turn their classroom into an augmented reality video game, and engage classmates, friends, and family in multiplayer fun. If you can pry it out of your students’ hands, you will see why Orbotix says that Sphero is “One smart ball [with] infinite ways to play.”


Play-i is so 21st century that it’s not even out yet. Still this crowd-funded project has been popular enough that over $1 million worth of pre-ordered Play-i robots sold out in the first month they were available. To get your hands on your own, you’ll have to order now in time to get Play-i by Christmas 2014. But when engineers from both Google and Apple get together to teach kids how to code, the wait for what they made is definitely worth it.

What everybody wants, but nobody has is a duo of robots that fuse storytelling and play with programming. Bo, a mobile three-wheeled bot, and its stationary sibling, Yana, teach kids how to code through narrative. Controlled via Bluetooth-based remote app, children as young as five can learn to use Play-i by looking at and touching the script on an iPad. Bo and Yana can sense each other, respond to objects, play music (literally. . .on a xylophone), and even deliver a freshly picked flower to a friend. But most important, the Play-i robots help kids learn about if-then code without requiring them to master a programming language. It gives them access to computer science education before they’re even old enough to know what that is.

Whether or not our good intentions will lead to the demise of mankind is yet to be determined. But with the opportunities to engage in STEM-based learning listed here, at least we can ensure that our downfall will be fun.

Lest our fears get the best of us, it’s important to remember that even Isaac Asimov, the face of futuristic science-fiction writing said, “I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.” Additionally, the author of Robots and Empire believed that “The true delight is in the finding out rather than the knowing.” So, instead of protecting ourselves from our own creations, here’s to our blissful ignorance of a potential apocalypse, even if it is one LEGO brick at a time.

Rethinking Math Teaching


I’ve recently been binging on math-related TED Talks and all the great ideas out there almost make me wish I taught math. While I have yet to create a museum exhibit about math, wouldn’t it be great to teach it like something people want to learn instead ofhave to learn?

Math teach Dan Meyer says we need to focus more on teaching math reasoning in a way that students will actually retain it (check out his TED Talk). No problem worth solving is simple, he says, adding a quote from Einstein: “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.” To that end, Meyer spends 90% of his prep time turning boring problems from math textbooks into conversations that build math reasoning skills by eliminating the step-by-step instructions and neatly packaged information provided for solving the problem. This force students to figure out what information and formulas they need for themselves. He encourages math teachers to turn word problems into real problems. Check outMeyer’s blog for lesson ideas and math fun.

Conrad Wolfram argues for computer-based math in his TED Talk. His suggestion: instead of giving students the formulas and making them compute the math by hand, we should teach students to conceptualize real world problems, pose the right questions, apply the right kind of math, and use computers to compute the math. “Math is not equal to calculating,” he says. Driving a modern car is not the same as engineering a car–and math instruction should focus on the driving (using math to solve real problems) rather than the engineering (with some exceptions). Make math more practical and more conceptual by teaching students to program computers!

And speaking of making math fun, check out…