What LEGO can teach us about using data and assessment in education

As anyone who follows me on any form of social media will know, I am an AFOL….that’s an Adult Fan of LEGO. Fatherhood seems to have re-awoken an almost unhealthy childhood obsession with Denmark’s most successful export (…probably), and I’m not reticent to admit it.
So it was with real interest that I read about a study conducted by LEGO. About 10 years ago, LEGO was in a precarious position – it seemed to have lost touch with its core consumers and was haemorrhaging $1m a day. In a bid to stem the tide, it turned to analysis of how children played with the product – this was done through discussion and observation.
Such a study inevitably generates a large volume of data, and the researchers went away and scrutinized the info, putting their personal slant and experience upon it. In team discussions, researchers would go around in circles – “Is this really supported by data?” resulting in further revisitation of the data. So was it that the data was wrong, or that there was something else that was not being measured causing this conflict? Let’s come back to that idea later…..
Some other key points that were observed in New Jersey, were that children’s rooms resembled show homes – everything looked like it was staged – researchers referred to them as ‘meticulously designed’ and ‘suspiciously tidy’. This overbearing and heavy handed approach led to children having less space to creatively play and explore. This also mirrored the rest of the child’s life – being driven to and from activities, micromanaged to the nth degree. Such an upbringing was compared to the French philosopher Foucault’s ‘Panopticon’ where activities were closely observed and subject to negative reaction. So what is the effect of this upon children?
Simply enough – children let people see what they want to see, but hide what they don’t want to see! Researchers found that children would conform openly, but would do things like hiding their favourite toys, or having ‘secret things’ under the bed. This was the only real way a child could have some degree of privacy, and space to be non-conformist. So what was the deduction? Children need space, they need room to explore and use their imagination and creativity – in the past that may have been building a den, going on bike rides with friends, chasing through woods and parks … now that is substituted with a virtual world as a haven for experimentation.
For those of you who have seen the 2014 classic ‘The LEGO Movie’, (SPOILER ALERT) – you will find that there are huge parallels between this study and the movie: The overbearing parent (The Man Upstairs), an influential figure obsessed with uniformity and conformity (Lord Business), a hidden place where creativity runs wild (Cloud Cuckoo Land) populated by individuals whose imaginations allow them to visualize and build fantastic creations (The Master Builders), as well as a character who does not know how to be creative but ultimately realizes that creativity is in every one of us (Emmett Brickowski). Watch it again, with this study in mind, and it’ll take on a new meaning.
So, let’s go back to that point about data – what’s the big deal? (Disclaimer : I am a big advocate of data and its use in teaching and learning;) but drawing parallels with our education system, this study raises a few key questions.
Is our obsession with micromanaging using data killing creativity in schools? Are we turning into our very own Lord (or Lady) Business with our increasingly fanatical use of data? Is our obsession with metrics driving us to go for the safe bet and just get the pass? It’s certainly an interesting question to ask – if you didn’t have to do standardized assessments or procedural testing, what could or would you use your time for? I’m sure that a huge number of teachers would probably suggest that they would want to to be more creative with this added freedom – but would we be able to see the results?
How does this approach affect our students? What would be the effect upon students of a less data driven way of doing things? Would it boost creativity, or would it lead to decreased standards? And how would we know what the effect was if we were not using data in the first place?
And a final question set linked to the last point – What if we are just capturing the wrong data? Is our perception of what is seen as academically ‘normal’ or ‘successful’ flawed? Could it be that as educators we are like that group of LEGO researchers – searching for something that is not quantifiable, or measuring something that is not answering the question we are posing?
Whilst you debate this yourselves, I’m off to watch a rerun of the LEGO Movie and to release my inner Master Builder…..’Everything is Awesome’

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What to do – and what not to do – to nail that job interview

The things you shouldn’t say, or do, in an interview are easier to spot:
– Don’t walk in an say ‘you look nice’ to an interviewer – that’s not flirty, that’s creepy.
– Don’t slag off your current boss. Telling anyone that your boss is an idiot actually makes it clear that you’re the problem.
– Don’t ask how much its pays. Wait til you’re offered the job before wondering about that.
– When you get the inevitable question ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years time?’, don’t say ‘in your seat’. if it’s a joke, it’s not funny. If it isn’t, it’s threatening.
– Then you’ll be asked why do you want to leave your job? Don’t say ‘because I hate it’. Not unless you want to sound like a fifteen-year-old kid, anyhow.
– After that, it’s ‘what are your shortcomings’. Don’t say ‘I have none’ and don’t say ‘I work too hard’ to some such false modesty. Either way, no-one will believe you.
– Ask why their results are tanking. Don’t get all negative on them. No-one likes that.
– ‘How much holiday?’ ‘Can I work from home?’ Did you really think they’d like that?
– ‘You’ll regret it if you don’t hire me’. Don’t tempt them to try and find out.
– Don’t say ‘I have no questions for you’. Think of something, it can’t be that hard.
Preparation, clearly, is key. Get some questions down (make some notes if necessary), and also avoid the other key mistakes – make eye contact; sit up straight; don’t fiddle with your hair; dress well.
It’s all common sense – sound like an intelligent, curious human being, dress like a smart version of someone normal and pay attention to the people in front of you.
If all that seems tricky – then this, from CollegeAtlas, can help. Your print-out-and-keep study on how to look employable. Give it a try.

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The best tools for your paperless classroom

Whether you’ve had a paperless classroom for awhile, have tried to go paperless but have made it only halfway there, or if you’re just taking your first baby steps into emptying your classroom of its paper piles, selecting tools that will take the place of your papers. If you’ve already gone paperless (or partly paperless), you’ve likely already tried out a few tools or more, to varying degrees of ease and success. Part of the issue may be offerings – there are about a bajillion (yes, that’s a real number, and it is a really really big number). How do you decide which of these tools, nearly all of which are marketed as a ‘must’ and the ‘best’ for your classroom, will work well and be worth your time and effort?
You have other people try out the apps for you, and recommend the best ones. We’ve put together this roundup of the 8 essential tools for your paperless classroom after years of being in the edtech industry and talking to tons of teachers, administrators, app developers, and more. So fear not, we have some great tools for you here!
If you have a favorite that we haven’t included here, we’d love for you to share it with the Daily Genius community! Simply leave a comment below, mention @DailyGenius on Twitter or head over to the Daily Genius Facebook page and add your favorite tool there. We love to hear from you!

8 Essential tools for your paperless classroom

  • Google Drive: Use Google Drive to share documents with your students, encourage collaboration, and more. Drive is a one-stop-shop for paperless classrooms, covering nearly all of your document-sharing and collaboration needs.
  • Evernote: Use Evernote for any and all of your note-taking needs, and your students note taking needs. Create lesson plans,  digital student portfolios, content curation, classroom materials for multiple classes, and for student collaboration on projects.
  • Noteshelf: When handwritten is easier, Noteshelf should be your go-to handwriting note taking app. Use your hand or a stylus, create, share, export, and print your notebooks. Use as a personal or a collaboration tool.
  • Socrative: Socrative is a great student response system that allows you to create games, quizzes, and other learning materials. Offer feedback to your class, take polls, and more. All within the app- so no more paper!
  • ScreenChomp: ScreenChomp is a recordable whiteboard app that records your touchscreen actions and screen to share with others. Create videos for class or have students create videos for projects or sharing.
  • iAnnotate: iAnnotate has you covered for all of your PDF needs. It allows you to highlight, mark up, and note anything necessary on a PDF. At $9.99 it is more expensive than many apps, but is well worth it – its the best PDF app out there, hands down.
  • Class Dojo: Keep track of classroom behavior and offer rewards with Class Dojo. You can easily keep parents in the loop with just a few clicks!
  • Wunderlist: Everyone has a to-do list, and why would you keep you to-do list on paper when the rest of your classroom life is online? Wunderlist is a free to-do app that is simple to use and visually pleasing. Adding items, organizing lists, sharing lists, and checking items as ‘done’ are easy as pie.

Paperless classroom

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Why do so many online students quit?

The influx of online learning platforms (OLPs) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has given anyone an array of options when it comes to learning new skills online. There’s a lesson for just about everyone on a dedicated course provider or simply on YouTube. Millions have taken these lessons and the push to bring a lot of offline course material online has never been greater.
That being said, around 7% of online students enrolled in MOOCs actually finish courses. That’s incredibly low. I’ve been trying to identify reasons why this may be the case and have come up with a few ideas that I’ve shared on a recent question over at Learn Egg – the question and answer site for education. It all stemmed from a question posed by Ben Wagner who is looking to better understand why online students quit and why online student course completion rates are so low:
In an effort to answer this question, I attempted to offer up my opinions and anecdotal evidence. But I think it’s worth trying to get a better understanding from the rest of the education community. That’s you!

Why Online Students Quit

Head over to the Learn Egg question to offer your thoughts, but here are my reasons off the top of my head why online students quit and why MOOCs course completion rates are so low:

  1. Lack of accountability – If you have nothing riding on you successfully completing an online course and no one is checking up on you (like a parent, for example) then what’s the incentive or accountability factor?
  2. Time constraints – Getting to class on time is less of an issue if you’re going for online courses. But squeezing in a lesson here and there between obligations is tough. You can only devote so much time to a 3-hour video lesson on your lunch break.
  3. Little oversight – MOOC providers (and online colleges, of course) want you to complete the course. It’s not like they don’t want you to succeed. However, the ‘M’ part of MOOC stands for Massive and that means these providers have to figure out ways to work with a huge number of students that they’ll never meet in person. So, there’s very little oversight happening as a result of this.
  4. Minimal encouragement – How do you get a million people excited about a 1-hour video? Unless it’s a viral video, you’re going to be hard-pressed to get students excited to click and devote a chunk of their day to learning. And these are students who have already expressed interest in learning online!
  5. Vague goals – Some schools offer degrees, to be sure. Most MOOC providers offer something more akin to a digital badge or a nanodegree. Basically, something a course provider can offer to you that doesn’t require accreditation and therefore money. So goals are kept vague and rewards are intangible for most. The only real exceptions to this I can think of are things like learning a language, how to do something physically, or perform a task better. If you can chop an onion better after taking a course, you’ll be a better chef. But if you’re looking to learn about the War of 1812 and get bored and quit, you’re not going to be more knowledgeable.
  6. Distractions – After reading through this article, you may think that YouTube videos are the future of learning. Sorry, they’re really not. YouTube is designed to make you click and watch as many videos as possible. It’s not designed to have you watch the ENTIRE length of the videos, though. The site wants you to view as many ads as possible so those pre-roll video ads are shown to you, a sidebar ad is displayed, and then it’s in YouTube’s interest to get you to check out another video as soon as possible so it can get more pageviews and clicks. When it comes to MOOCs and distractions from courses at online schools, there are many more than just ‘other videos’ on YouTube. There’s your entire life banging at your door while you try and sit down to an online lesson. Good luck finishing one video without pausing or daydreaming!

Why Do You Think Online Students Fail?

Those are just a few of my personal thoughts on the future of online learning, the problems with MOOCs, and course completion rates. What are your thoughts? Share them down in the comments or on the original Learn Egg post sometime!

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How to improve your website's home page

Useful though these tip are, we should make one thing clear before we start: there’s a fatal flaw to this. Yes, you site may well have a page which is declared to be ‘home’, but it doesn’t mean that that’s the page which your users will start on. To a user, every page is a home page, since every page is a possible landing page.
It is, however, true that the page nominated to be the home page, the one that your unadorned url takes you to, is the single most important page on your site. Eighty five per cent of your traffic goes elsewhere, but no other page takes a full 15%.
And the problem with most front pages lies with the fact that so much attention is given to them. Different parts of your business want their share of that prime real estate. People who stare at the page the most want to see new content on it every day – forgetting that the reason they look at it most is because they work there and that page isn’t aimed at them. So many different stakeholders, so much content – and so little thought for the consumer.
This is where you may find this, from Hubspot, useful. While it suffers from the fact that it seems to think the only point of a website is to sell, it does point out that each element of a site has to have a utility, a reason to earn its seat at the top table.
So, if nothing else, take that from this set of digital homilies below. look at your front page – indeed look at every page – and ask what purpose each element serves. The purpose might be to drive sales, or it might be to drive reputation, but so long as you know why it’s there, it can stay, so long as it isn’t because ‘someone else asked you to’.
If that last is the case, and if your website is driven by your stakeholders rather than your users, you need to tell one of them to shut up (clue: it isn’t your customers).

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5 tips for creating online courses with offline material

The number of online learning providers has exploded over the past few years. It’s easier (and cheaper) than ever to become an online teacher and to create online courses. It may sound fun but creating an effective online course or building an online school is actually extremely challenging and there are a lot of little-known things that you should know before starting out on your online education journey.

As someone who does this for a living (shoot me an email at dunn.jeff [at] if you want more tips or to work together!) and loves integrating education technology, I’ve come up with a few key tips for using offline material to create online courses. I recently shared these tips on Learn Egg, the question-and-answer site for education. Feel free to share your insight over there if you have more tips!

5 Tips For Creating Online Courses With Offline Material

1) Get buy-in from the community. If you run a school or department that wants to create online courses using currently offline material, then make sure you get a large enough percentage of community members who want to help create those courses. One person can’t do it alone. Believe me, I’ve tried.

2) Get a GREAT online learning platform. I’ve been liking SchoolKeep and Udemy For Organizations (UFO) for the most easy-to-use options. If you’re looking for free or cheap, try out the free Moodle option (no frills but it has a lot of users and knowledgebase / FAQs)

3) Create a ‘how to create a course’ course for others to take. I know this sounds a bit silly but having a user guide that uses the online learning platform makes a huge difference and actually saves you time in the long run.

4) Don’t be afraid to turn text-based documents into screencasts! If you have a professor’s work that’s dozens (hundreds?) of pages, don’t be afraid to turn it into a SoundCloud file, a screencast using Camtasia, or a visual.

5) Use interactive lessons! If you can add an image, a Prezi, a quiz, or an assessment of any kind then do it. It’ll make a world of difference.

There are plenty of other tips and time-saving ideas I’ve come up with over the past few years but wanted to get some useful ideas out there. I hope this helps you out a bit if you’re looking to embark on creating your own online course!

Creating Online Courses

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Amazon Fire TV: How (and why) to use it in classrooms

There’s a big push to bring cutting-edge education technology into classrooms right now. It’s hard for most less tech-savvy teachers to figure out exactly how to make that happen. Up until now, many teachers resort to a single iPad or perhaps a laptop coupled with a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) setup. You can use a classroom management app like Edmodo or perhaps ClassDojo, throw in some Socrative and Evernote, and you’ll have a great mixture of technology to enhance learning!

But what happens when you want to regularly integrate video lessons into your classroom or meeting? There’s the popular choice, the Apple TV, which is $99 and lets you use the awesome AirPlay feature to mirror your Apple devices onto the big screen. It works with Netflix, the iTunes Store, and many other services. It’s great. I have one at home. I love it and use it every day.

But when it comes to streaming video into your classroom, you should check out this relatively little-known option from Amazon. It’s basically a slight variation on Apple TV but it’s those little differences that add up to something important. So what am I talking about? Let’s dive into the big differences that you should know about:

Why Amazon Fire TV Is Different From Apple TV

Amazon Fire TV has a few key features that are not on the Apple TV offering. Here’s a few of the biggest features to know about:

  • You can do ‘voice search’ by speaking into the remote. It works about 85% of the time which is not too shabby. Siri is about the same on Apple devices. This can be a very useful features for meetings or classrooms where you quickly need to pull up a video or app and don’t want to waste time standing in front of a classroom dialing like your T9 cell phone. I wish the Apple TV had something like this built into the remote!
  • The Amazon Fire TV comes with Amazon Freetime. This is a simple way to use thousands of kid-friendly titles that you don’t need to worry about showing inappropriate things. In other words, you won’t have to worry about students seeing ‘related’ videos that are age inappropriate. You can lock down the Fire TV so it’s as safe to use as you want. There are a lot of parental / teacher controls that make it a powerful but secure device.
  • If you’re looking to save time while in front of a classroom – the new ASAP technoogy is going to rock your world. It basically anticipates what video you’re going to pull up and then pre-loads the first part. So it starts immediately and then loads while it shows you the pre-loaded introduction. Awesome technology and worth it for the world of education!
  • It has all the latest technology like 1080p, Dolby surround sound, HDMI port, etc. It’s just $99 (same as Apple TV) so it’s quite clearly built to compete with the Apple TV. So if you’re considering one, be sure to look at the other and see which features matter most to you.
  • You can use a video game-type controller to play apps and other games. Not super useful for classrooms but it’s different from Apple’s option. So, worth knowing about!

The Takeaway

Long story short, the Amazon Fire TV is quite obviously made to compete with the Apple TV, Roku, and other boxes. Each one is different but, in my opinion, the Amazon version is the best option for classrooms. Especially if you don’t actively use iTunes to acquire your multimedia.

If you’re not already locked into the Apple ecosystem (e.g. you use Google Chromebooks or Android tablets) then the Amazon version might be a better option. Or at least something worth considering!

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How to pick the best education apps for your classroom

Figuring out which apps work best in your particular classroom is not easy. There’s a painstaking process of trial and error that teachers must go through (usually during the summer break or professional development sessions). If you’ve ever contemplated education technology integration or undergone the process, here’s how it typically works:

How to pick the best education apps for your classroom: the first steps

  1. You begin by identifying a need for a particular genre of app. Classroom management, for example. Awesome! Now what?
  2. You need to do some research via blogs, web searches, and polling colleagues about which app you should try out with your students.
  3. You narrow down your list of classroom management apps to about 10 or so. You start playing around with each of them and quickly delete at least half of them.
  4. You delete any paid apps as that’s just not going to happen on a teacher’s salary in a cash-strapped school.
  5. You have about 2 apps that would work but are unsure which one will be best. Time to just pick one and give it a shot, right? No! You should be polling your colleagues in school and online. Be sure to pose a question like ‘which classroom management app should I use?’ on the new Learn Egg (a question-and-answer site for education only) or on Twitter. You’ll get some useful information that might actually help you make your decision.

Okay, so that was an awful experience. It took forever and now you’re left with a few opinions, app options, and unsure how to proceed. That means you’re ready for the final steps!

The final steps of choosing the right app(s)

  1. Use the narrowed-down app options on your own and with a small test group of people. These can be friends, family, colleagues, or even a small sample of students. Use each app for at least 2 weeks before making a decision.
  2. Which app performed the best over the 2 week trial period? Do some in-depth web research, ask around on Learn Egg, Twitter, Facebook, and look up that app as much as possible. Figure out EVERYTHING you will need to know about it. How do you manage privacy settings, adjust brightness of your device, share screenshots, explain the app to parents, etc.? Be the smartest person in the classroom.
  3. Okay, you’re now the most informed and most knowledgeable user of this app for miles around. Time to integrate! Worst case scenario: it doesn’t help but at least you properly prepared so there were no major privacy or cyber-bullying issues. Best case scenario: it enhances learning and takes your classroom to a whole new level of learning!

There’s a lot at stake, so take your time and do your homework. Follow the above steps and you should be on your way to choosing a truly awesome app for your classroom or school district.

It’s a time-consuming and difficult process. Many teachers don’t even venture past step #1 because of all the headaches that come with trying to figure out how to integrate education technology, manage expectations, figure out what works with your particular students, talk to administrators, parents, trial and error, etc. Woof. That’s a lot of other stuff to worry about.

See Also: 9 powerful reasons for trying education technology

It’s no surprise many classrooms don’t take the chance on using apps on classroom devices (iPads, Chromebooks, smartphones, etc.) because of all the red tape.

A pair of useful resources to help you out

In an effort to help you navigate this decision-making process a bit better, we’ve whipped up a pair of handy resources.

The first is a visual guide to the typical process most teachers and school leaders go through when trying to figure out which app works best for the classroom. The guide is by no means exhaustive and is really meant to help you know (ahead of time) what to expect when you try to integrate education technology.

the best education apps guide

The second resource is a list I made a few years ago. It’s a crowdsourced guide to the most popular education apps for iOS. There’s also an Android list here if you’re interested. The apps below are in no particular order and anyone can add to the list. That’s why there’s more than 300 apps on the list. It’s crazy long and only useful as a jumping-off point for identifying the best apps for your classroom. So, take it with a big ol’ grain of salt.

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Amazon Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition: Break it and get a free replacement

Amazon may be shuttering the Kindle Fire smartphone but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an awesome new device teachers and students should know about. Basically, it’s a super-tough Kindle Fire that they’ll replace if it breaks with no questions asked.

Imagine if Apple offered to replace an iPad if it broke with no questions asked? They’d probably go out of business – and that’s saying something for the most valuable company in the world.

But this review is not of the iPad, it’s of the very tempting new Amazon Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition. Long story short, it’s a rugged case wrapped around a kid-friendly device that is probably a better bet than the Amplify Tablet. And the Amplify option is something designed specifically for classrooms!


So what are the pros of the new Kids Edition of the new offering from Amazon?

  • First, the return policy is amazing. No questions asked if you break your tablet and need a replacement within the first 2 years of owning it.
  • The tablet has a HD display as well as rear and front-facing cameras so it’s great for video chats and interactive learning. Skype For Classrooms anyone?
  • It comes with a free year of Amazon Freetime Unlimited which is basically a subscription service designed for kids to get access to more than 5,000 books, movies, TV shows, education apps, as well as games.
  • The parental controls are the best in the business. And I’m an iPad guy so that’s saying something. Basically, you can get granular controls over just about everything your child will view and even control how much time is spent using the device. Fantastic stuff.
  • The case is billed as being ‘kid-proof’ and that’s because it’s both lightweight but – more importantly – durable enough to be able to be thrown down the stairs or dropped from a reasonable height. The screen is still breakable so you can’t start hammering it or stepping on it. But even if you do, they’ll send you a replacement anyway!


  • The apps currently available are not as numerous as those on the iPad but there are certainly the best education apps available and many little-known apps that will certainly be good enough for classrooms and at home.
  • The price is great but you need to be careful about the second year of ownership. If you like using Amazon FreeTime, remember that you’ll have to start paying for it after the first year. Not a big deal, just worth knowing about.
  • It’s a bit bulky when you actually hold it in your hand. That’s by design, of course. But don’t expect to save a ton of space when you include the charger and other cables. Again, just something worth considering when you’re about to buy this device.
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How to get data on sexual habits – check what they buy, not what they say

So … here’s the problem; you’re a researcher and you want to understand more about human sexuality and sexual habits. How do you get good data? Do you simply look up for chlamydia trichomoniasis (females) online? or do you do a little more of research?
The problem is that people don’t always tell the truth. People lie about frequency, size, kinkiness and all manner of other subjects because they don’t want to seem ‘unusual’. But, of course, by not having accurate data, there’s no way of knowing what ‘unusual’ sexual habits are. And there’s no way of being sure what ‘normal’ is or even whether such a thing exists.
The other thing that affects the data is that it’s tough for researchers to get grants to study subjects like human sexuality without appearing to be … well … a bit pervy. It doesn’t help that some sex researchers from the past, like the infamous Alfred Kinsey, have turned out to be … well … a bit weird. If you ever want to read a brilliant book on the subject, do seek out Mary Roach’s Bonk. Fantastic book, terrible title.
However, now, it seems, some new data – some honest data – has become available thanks to the internet and the anonymity it offers. Analyst Jon Millward was given access to the raw data from the various international websites owned by LoveHoney. By looking at people’s buying habits and the reviews of over a million items purchased, he found himself effectively looking into the naughty bedside drawers of 300,000 people.
The results are really fascinating … and maybe not what you might be expecting. If you want to know more, visit Millward’s site here.
All good problem-solving starts with good data; without research you can’t do analysis, and without analysis, you won’t understand the exact nature of the problem. And without knowing that, your chances of solving it are significantly reduced.
Oh, and in case the images scared you slightly … be calm. They’re all dog toys.
Yes, really.
Steve Colgan is crowdfunding his book How Did The Policeman Cross The Road?

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