Research List #26

Things I’ve been looking into

  • Stanley Kubrick research techniques
  • Nike SFB Boots
  • Outlier Clothing
  • Alternate hand-darning techniques
  • Fiberglass Eames shell chair repairs/refurb
  • Better bandana sourcing
  • Better Merchandise sourcing (and new products)
  • HDMI -> wifi based streaming systems (Teradek et al)
  • Open-cell foam sourcing
  • 16mm fast Nikon glass
  • Better plastic storage box sourcing

Research List #25

Things I’ve been researching:

  • Hand-darning denim
  • Hobonichi Techno 2015 (and sourcing a leather case for it)
  • Local Motors 3D printed car
  • LED Edison-style light bulbs
  • Low-Volume Full color vinyl stickers (ideally die cut)
  • Designing a Quilted selvedge denim/chambray chore coat (NF-J-3050 spec)
  • Mediterranean diet
  • Better straight sided storage boxes
  • French Cleat systems for wall hangings

Research #21

Things I’ve been researching this week:

  • The difference between CreateSpace and Lulu (mostly via integration with Amazon)
  • Types of small business organizations
  • Small bus-powered USB drives (at least 1TB of storage)
  • Alternatives to IKEA’s (apparently) discontinued Böder storage system
  • Ubuntu installations on PowerPC based Macs
  • Good value Ball-Head camera mount (ideally accepts a 3/8″ stud)

 

About iPad2’s in Education.

So I was listening to The Accidental Tech Podcast a week or two ago, after Apple had announced their latest round of products. Casey, John, and Marco were all in amazement at why Apple was keeping the iPad2 around (and at that price!) and who would possibly buy that. John made the point that it was likely schools, but that they get “educational pricing” and that was that. In addition, there has been talk about how schools are slow to adopt technology and that this is the reason schools are sticking with such an old device even at the price.

Given that I have been a driving force in one of the first large iPad 1:1 deployment, I thought I might be in a position to offer both some error correction and insight.

Price: Yeah, the price sucks. Sorry, Apple, but it’s a silly price for what the iPad2 now is. Fine. What’s even more frustrating is that we don’t get “educational pricing.” Apple sells us iPad2’s in boxes of ten- and you can order them too. For the same price. Unit price for a 16gb WiFi goes from $399 to $379 per unit. Woo. Hoo.

On Being Slow: Nope, not really. At least not here. When we started buying iPad2’s, they were the new and current device. We’ve stuck with them since for a few annoying buy unavoidable reasons:

Price: Yeah, $379 is too much, but it’s still less than $479. And while that $100 is TOTALLY worth spending if you’re a regular person, when we buy 1000 iPad’s each year, that’s $100k difference.

Size: So here in Massachusetts, our students will have to take this stupid test called the PARCC. It’s totally awful, but that’s what it is. This test is taken on a device online, and they have specifications about the device that may be used. One of which is the screen size, which they specify not in pixels but in inches. So the iPad2 (or Air) both meet that requirement, and the Mini’s don’t and that sucks. The test also specifies that the device has a physical keyboard (which I cannot even fathom the dumbness of…), so I have to purchase enough keyboard to plug into iPad2’s to satisfy that requirement.

I’d much rather buy Mini’s for my older students, but the stupid requirements of a stupid test are in my way. I’d rather buy Air’s for my students, but that $100k is in my way. So it’s not a matter of being slow, but it’s a matter of scale and stupid state mandated testing.

There you go. Carry on.

Not teaching is not a new technique.

There’s been a TON of traffic about the article that just came out about a “radical new teaching method” that mostly involves not teaching. It’s made me kind of angry. There are a couple or reasons for this:

  1. This is not a “new technique.” It’s been used by crappy teachers the world over forever.
  2. The idea of “not teaching” being a better way of teaching as yet another “universal fix” for students is a terrible move.
  3. You can’t just stick kids in a room with tech and expect their natural interest and motivation to cause great learning.

The problem, as I see it, comes down to thirst. In an environment where students are parched for learning, the introduction of the equivalent of a glass of water to people in the desert will of course cause excitement. But that same glass of water in a room full of bottled water will not spark the same excitement. Conditions matter.

Even in conditions that have the requisite thirst to motivate the students, there are issues with coverage- students sufficiently interested will indeed learn, but that learning will be uneven. Plopping a computer in a room with kids itching to learn will allow them access to information they wouldn’t have otherwise, but it doesn’t guide them through any reasonable path. It doesn’t provide the guidance towards a knowledge base that promotes further learning. The danger, I feel, is the gaps in understanding that are inevitable without some guidance.

Is any learning better than none? Of course. Just as a glass of water to a dehydrated person is good, something is better than none. But in the schools I work in, most students aren’t dying for a drink of water.

Some quick resources.

In light of yesterday, I thought I’d post the following resources:

If you are looking for someone from yesterday, you might try Google’s Person Finder They’ve got about 5100 entries, last I looked.

If you want to listent to the Boston Police Radios, try here.

If the codes they’re using don’t make sense to you, try here for some help.

The Boston Globe has very good coverage, and I’d avoid the New York Post, as they’ve posted and retracted a number of incorrect facts. They seem to be more interested in “first” than “correct.”

I hope you are all well. Stay safe. Stay calm.

Hypocrites.

It’s recently come to light that Microsoft has been heavily funding lobbying in Massachusetts with the aim of having Google Apps for Education outlawed for student use. What they say they’re interested in is the privacy of students- they’re “worried” about Google having access to so much student data.

Right.

At the same time, Bill Gates, through his foundation, has thrown $115 million dollars at the effort of collecting student data. And by student data, it’s worth understanding that they’re collecting everything: Names, addresses, ethnicity, grades, disabilities, pictures- everything. It’s not even anonymized at all.

Want the kicker? They’re selling the data to third-party for-profit companies.

And there’s no opt out.

 

English class isn’t about English.

I’m sorry- it just isn’t.

The way we teach English class (at the High School level, mind you. Because that’s what I know about) isn’t about the language- it’s about thought. Let me explain.

Human thought isn’t linear. It’s web-shaped. We see connections through our formidable pattern recognition abilities, and those connections help us understand the relationships between ideas. Simple. Except there’s no way to transmit those complicated web-shaped blobs of information to other humans. No device exists. The solution that we’ve come up with is written text- but written text is an entirely linear device. It’s unable to capture and transmit our webs of thought, so we are forced to translate our web-shaped thoughts into a single, cogent, clear linear form.

And that, there, is the essence of a High School English class. What we really teach, to a large degree, is the skill set needed to translate from web-shaped to linear. We try to push the bounds of students’ abilities with pattern recognition, but we are limited there buy the cognitive abilities of our students. That’s not an insult, by the way. Far from it- it’s time we recognize the limitations of our students are sometimes simply the result of them being young. The relative lack of life experiences and experience in general combined with their still-developing brains means there are some hard limits to what they can achieve. More on that later.

The books we English teachers are so attached to are to a large extent unnecessary to the teaching. This cannon of literature functions only as a tool. While many English teachers view these books as direly important, the reality is that they are fertile and convenient sources of established patterns for students to work with. They are cultural touchstones. But they are in no way strictly necessary. Let me be clear here: I love Shakespeare, but I recognize that my literature-dorkiness is the cause of that. I love teaching Shakespeare, but I recognize I could explore similar ideas and teach the same skills via many other texts. Heck- there’s a good case to be made that we don’t even have to be limiting ourselves to written literature. Film and Graphic Novels are ripe sources for teaching. Again, more on that later.

I’m thinking that we ought to be at least thinking about re-conceptualizing the very nature of what we now call English classes. Even the name is so wildly outdated as to have next-to-nothing to do with what we actually teach in such a class. The basic description of what we try to accomplish hasn’t changed in many, many years. But that’s (wait for it) for a later post.

t.

 

Teaching as Performance

I understand that some people with disagree with this, but I feel pretty strongly that teaching is clearly an act of performance. We assume a persona that is not our own, and use this constructed personality as a tool to connect with students. It’s a matter of constructing (or, if you’d rather think of it as assembling, I’d be ok with that too) a series of traits that best allow you the ability to manage and captivate the audience in front of you.

It is artificial. It is not you.

Or, rather, it shouldn’t be. Our own personas are too rational. They are usually not near enough the fringes to allow the sort of radical shifts in perception that good teaching requires. As a well-adjusted adult, trained to avoid conflict and meet people on common ground, we are naturally exactly the least useful manifestation of a teacher. By pulling on the robe of disguise of teacher, we have the freedom to change into whatever the situation requires.

By ex-students, graduated and adult (and finally allowed to stop calling me “Mr. Calvin” and begin calling me Tim) a usually taken back by how normal I am in most of my thought process. How rational, how even keeled, how human I actually am. It’s jarring to them.

Mr. Calvin is a tool I have created to further allow me the flexibility required to adapt to any situation I encounter in the classroom.

It isn’t me.