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Random Video: The Algorithm March

Those who follow internet trends no doubt saw these videos when they were the it thing on YouTube for a day or two, but for those who might have missed them, the Algorithm March.

The march was originally shown on an NHK (Japan’s public broadcasting network) educational show as a group exercise for children that also helps teach the Pythagorean Theorem. This first video compiles a few variations of it (including one with a troupe of ninjas), with the addition of English subtitles.

When the march caught on internationally, it somehow ended up being used a group activity at a prison in the Phillipines. This second video shows nearly a thousand prisoners participating in the world-record-sized march. It was apparently part of a birthday celebration for a politician which also included some dance numbers preformed by the prisoners.

Manga Meets Math To Encourage Learning

Manga fans take note: People who think manga and education are opposites will have to reconsider that opinion if one Osaka textbook company has anything to say about it. Story as reported in the Mainichi Newspaper (J) and TBS News (J).

The Japanese government advisory board that authorizes textbooks for school use just released its recommendations for the coming school year. Among the accepted texts for second-year high school students is one that looks like a comic book, but is actually a serious math textbook.

Interest in math and science among students in Japan has been in decline, so the Osaka-based Keirinkan decided to take a different approach to their textbooks: Combine math and manga to grab students’ attention. Olé!, their first full-on manga textbook—the draft features at least some manga on most of its 183 pages—went before the board this year.

The story is as follows: A group of five classmates find a textbook, but accidentally tear it in half. As is apt to happen to kids who damage things they find in manga, the Greek mathematician Archimedes materializes and proceeds to send them time-slipping to the Pyramids, European palaces, and other exotic times and places.

The various residents—everyone from Native Americans to Samurai warriors—set about teaching the kids math and challenging them with various math problems. If the wayward pupils manage to learn the concepts and answer the questions properly, they can of course get back home.

Their site (J) has a few sample pages of the first-year high school version: page 1, page 2 (AAW translated the bit of dialogue for those who don’t read Japanese).

Hey, it makes as much sense as the plot of most harem stories.

The board was a hard audience, apparently; they took issue with much of the material, and the final version will have about half of the manga content removed, and much of the dialogue changed. The council thought the “tough love” approach was too harsh, and they also indicated that they felt the line between lesson and story was too blurry. The textbook company made some changes, and their revised version may well make it into school curricula next year.

The manga text actually fared better than some others; a more traditional biology text which included such poorly-considered examples as marking wild dragonflies with toxic paint thinner was rejected completely.

The results of the public screening will be on display at the Textbook Research Center though July. A report from TBS news with some dramatization:

6-Year-Old Suzuka Finally Gets to Go To School

Suzuka demonstrates her hand-raising technique to JNN.

The smile little Suzuka always wears was shining even more brightly than usual on April 6th, the day of her entrance ceremony into elementary school.

6-year-old Suzuka Aoki’s perennial cheer, infectious smile, and gravelly voice have been a fixture on Japanese news for the past year as her parents battled for her right to attend a public school. She is now so well known that the Japanese media often refer to her as just “Suzuka-chan.”

She finished Kindergarden in her hometown of Higashiyamato City, located in Tokyo, last week, but until last year it was unclear if she would be able to attend a normal elementary school at all.

Suzuka has a severe form of laryngomalacia, a congenital throat disorder that makes it difficult for her to breathe. A machine must be used to remove mucus from her throat through a hole in her trachea about once an hour. This process is considered a medical treatment, so in general is only supposed to be performed by someone medically certified or her family.

Because of this, Higashiyamato City had refused to let her attend Kindergarden there since there was no nurse on staff allowed to do the treatment she needed.

Suzuka’s parents sued the city, and amid widespread media attention the Tokyo District Court ordered the city to accept her. She finally entered a public Kindergarden last February, and finished last week. The city will be placing a registered nurse at the school to provide for her medical needs.

Suzuka is very lucky, however—local governments in Japan have not been required to make special arrangements of this sort to accommodate students with medical problems. According to a national government investigation, there are more than 5800 children in Japan who need special medical care while at school, and it was only this April that education law reforms made allowances for handicapped children and those with special needs.

The national government has now adjusted the public education budget to put a “Special Needs Educational Assistant” in all public elementary and junior high schools in Japan. Their job is to help to children who have unusual medical needs or require other assistance, but are otherwise able to attend normal schools. The funds are supplied to local governments, who can decide whether to use it to hire a nurse or other kind of assistant that will provide the most benefit for the students.

As for Suzuka’s part, while being interviewed by JNN, she said that she wants to make a hundred friends at school, and hopes to become a nurse some day.

You can see some video of Suzuka at TBS News for the next week.