Unbelievably Believable


On this day in 1938, our fragile, blue planet was savagely invaded by unyielding monsters from Mars. No one would have believed that our world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than our own. Creatures from beyond our world were intent on enslaving and consuming everyone. The mysterious alien overlords looked down upon our planet and decided that rural New Jersey was a perfect spot for an invasion.

Well, not really.

Many people tuning into a special Halloween episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air didn’t pay attention and subsequently believed what they heard. For some, it seemed as if the end of human civilization was at hand. Panic ensued. In actuality, the invasion was merely an adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ novel The War of the Worlds being broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. The entire event was directed and narrated by Orson Welles.

What started out as entertainment became a historical lesson in the importance of critical thinking. Why did so many people loose all sense of reality and come to the conclusion that beings from another world were successfully overtaking the earth? Today, this sort of behavior seems ridiculous. A 1995 National Geographic article about the event points out the radio dramatization genuinely replicated how radio worked in a state of emergency. Furthermore, according to sociologist Robert E. Bartholomew in his 1998 treatise, The Martian Panic Sixty Years Later: What Have We Learned, the vividness of descriptions from the radio drama (specific details such as smells, sights, sounds, et cetera) and the overactive imagination of the listeners generated panic on a massive scale.

With fright night just around the corner, why not listen to the broadcast and ponder the necessity of careful listening? Eager audiophiles can access the historical (some might even say hysterical) recording at the sites below:

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Compare and Contrast on a Grand Scale

The folks responsible for the University of Utah‘s outstanding Learn Genetics site are on to something big–and it’s small! The smart minds behind Learn Genetics understand the importance of being able to compare and contrast. Good scientists (heck, good thinkers for that matter) must be adept at identifying, analyzing, explaining, and using information about similarities and differences. In order to help students understand the relative size of the key players in genetic events, the Learn Genetics site has an engaging Cell Size and Scale interactive resource.


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H1N1 Tracking Goes Viral

Educators and students are visiting the CDC’s  2009 H1N1 Flu website for frequent updates. They’re using technology to enrich their understanding of the disease. That’s fortunate. Why? Science Daily and other sources report that computer models indicate a rapid vaccine rollout is effective in reducing infection rates; however, frustrating shortages of the H1N1 vaccine make the quick and thorough vaccination of the population unlikely. Help your pupils make better health-related choices. Teach them how to use FluTracker to keep up with the spread of the disease.

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Back By Popular Demand: Trends

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how 21st century educators use technology to take a digital pulse of popular culture. I mentioned a site called What the Trend. Today, while I was talking to an acquaintance who works for Google, she kindly pointed out that Google Labs has a nifty resource for comparing and contrasting the popularity of ideas. Upon checking out this resource, I was hooked. To use Google Trends, supply a few related terms (using commas to separate them) and click the Search Trends button. For example, I jokingly supplied bacon, lettuce, and tomato. What I got in return was the following graph.

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In terms of search, bacon seems to be gaining in popularity these days though the term tomato was of some importance to folks over the last few years. Admittedly, my example is silly. Think, however, how this resource could be used to generate questions about a number of topics being discussed in schools throughout the world. For example, in a social studies class, pupils might compare trends in terms of Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, and ancient Egypt.

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In a language arts class, a teacher might ask students to conduct a little investigation about the popularity of titles by the same author. While studying a lesson on health, learners could examine trends surrounding obesity and anorexia. Google Trends has the potential to generate higher-level thinking and excellent discussions.

XO So Easy Update

Photo via Curiouslee

XO laptop image courtesy of Curiouslee

Last night, I completed a no-fail update of the operating system on an XO laptop. If you have students who are using an XO machine, I highly recommend this approach. The update was simple and had the laptop up and running within 30 minutes. I’m brushing up on my XO skills because I’m eagerly following Engadget‘s story about Uruguay’s nationwide OLPC education initiative.