Monday, November 26, 2007

Thoughts about Stuff: Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought

Yes, I know I am writing about an event that occurred weeks ago. But I just witnessed it as a home-recording of a tv show that my night-owl husband knew that I would enjoy later. And it is due to show again next week (Dec.2 at 12:00 am.

Steven Pinker spoke on his book The Stuff of Thought on BookTV this past September, 17, '07. The presentation was brilliantly concise, clearly understandable, and extremely provocative. His talk had the ring of truth.

Since I missed the introduction, I soon began wondering who this man was. I even asked my husband, "Ok. So is he a cognitive scientist or a linguist? Wouldn't
this be great for programming robots in natural speech?" Yep, the man is in the psychology science department at Harvard after transferring there from the Center for Cognitive Science at MIT, where he was co-director. In fact, he made the Time 100 list in 2004: "The 100 Most Influential Poeple in the World Today." Why became obvious to me within hearing him speak for the 3 minutes it took to get my husband's attention.

He has written other books on semiotics, language, and cognitive science. He has been a contributing editor for Seed Magazine. He even proved that he understood how language taps emotions through the use of actually funny jokes and suitable memes within his examples.

I immediately began seeing the possibilities for secondary (9-12) lessons in science, history, politics, and creative writing.

There is, of course, a problem. The talk included an analysis of the profane. There are scientific reasons why profanity is taboo, and why children are sheltered from such exposure. Judicious censoring of the podcast, the book, the audio recording of the talk will be necessary for using the video and book with high school children. However, the linguistic principles he proposes are well worth studying.

That said, I located the YouTube podcast of the talk. Enjoy.

Get the book. Get these other books by Pinker.


Get references to his work in these videos.

I would love to be on the team that will transform the information into a presentation suitable for youth. Look to my Web site in the future for lessons and essays on the topic. (Just give me few weeks to work something up.)


The talk is scheduled to show again on Sunday, December 2, at 12:00 AM. Watch it for fun. It is highly entertaining.

You can read about the show at the webpage:

Pinker was honored as one of Time 100: "The 100 most Influential People in the World Today", 2004

Watch the streaming video from YouTube:

Look for lessons using his ideas in the talk at Valerie Coskrey's Classroom Tools and Ideas in the near future.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Additions to my Soapbox


I have added an unbox videos from Amazon that lists science fiction movies. I have seen these and can safely recommend them to older kids that are used to watching movies that might be R (Like Bladerunner) due to violence and language, but that have concepts that create teachable moments---and they are fun to watch. Many are rated G.

I am a proponent of great science fiction for teaching. My favorites are Enemy Mine, Outbreak, Space Camp, 2015, and Anddromeda Strain--for teaching. For enjoyment, I suggest the entire list. But there are more. One of my favorites is Murder by Moonlight for plot and scifi concepts. However, the acting wasn't the best and it never made it past videotape. You can get it from Amazon.

I have also opened an new shop on CafePress Picket Fence Friends.

Since I last posted, I have added pages to my website, including free downloads of some of our products. Check out the site that I call VCCTI for short.