Vetting

I starting talking about teachers writing their own textbooks about 7 years ago, in 2006. I’d been thinking about it before that, but there was no practical way to make it happen. In the years since, I’ve been successfully helping other teachers and departments down the road of creating and maintaining their own textbooks. It’s great.

The question that keeps getting thrown at me most consistently on this subject is “Who vets this material?”

I’ve gotten angrier with this question over time, which isn’t like me. Usually I calm down and become more reflective, but in this case the opposite has happened. I’ve gotten progressively more and more irate with this response from professional educators. This is, I think, because the answer is so stunningly obvious.

Who vets this material?

You do.

You, the educated professional educator. You, the expert at what you do. You, the person who will deliver the material and work with the end product.

Anything else is to abdicate you responsibility as an educator. Banking on some large conglomerate publishing house to get the content, context, and whatever else right (and without error or bias) is to give over your students’ education to that publishing company. It is the easy way out. It is cowardly.

My Reading is Private

This might come across as a bit of a rant- and I don’t mean for it to. I’m not that angry. But I am emphatic.

There seems to be a growing push towards forcing collaborative reading on our students. There have been a rash of applications and web sites devoted to allowing teachers to assign reading, and mandating that students both contribute and share notes on that text. It’s a concept that’s been around for a while, but seems to have gained some traction recently. I suspect that much of that traction comes from some very decent apps and services that have done a very good job of approaching and managing the inherent problems. Cudos to them, honestly.

All that said, I’m not convinced. Collaborative writing is a great too for educators- it can really bring better conversations into the classroom about deeper concepts by more voices. That’s a very good thing. The issue I see/have is the mandated nature of this combined with the tendency of educators to overuse tools. While collaborative reading can be good, it isn’t always a good thing. And we, as educators, tend to find things that work and then promptly overuse them to death. We found wordles, and then everything had to be a wordle. We found twitter, and suddenly twitter is all we use.

In addition, and as I’ve mentioned here before, I’m an introvert. I don’t really like doing things like this publicly, and forcing me to do that creates resentment, worry, and essentially¬†guarantee that I’ll hold back my best stuff. Then, to make matters worse, there’s the virtual certainty that I’ll be penalized for holding back my best stuff. It’s not going to go well for me.

Before you start thinking that introverts “need to learn” how to share what we’ve done, hold up. We’re not broken. We don’t need fixing. And I’m happy to share- on my time and when I’ve done my thinking. I’m not ready to write down my working, in-process thoughts for the whole world to see. That doesn’t feel like collaboration to me- it feels like exposure.

Reading has always, always been a private act for me. From a very young age, reading what the thing I knew I always got to do by myself- no matter how many people were around. It was between me and the book, and that made it a sanctuary for me. I’d be heartbroken to see my sanctuary taken away.

Remote Teaching

From time to time I get asked about remote teaching- that is, teaching when I’m not in the room. I talk about how I’ve Google Video Chatted into my classroom to teach when I’m not physically there, and people are often… skeptical.

Just yesterday, however, an former student of mine sent me a video they’d shot from the first time I’d ever taught remotely- my kids had kept me home sick, and I felt some obligation to help my students with Midyear reviewing. It’s a short video, but it’ll give you an idea what it looks like.

Anywho.

New Tools

There are a lot of reasons that you should be buying a 3D printer for your school. It’s a tremendous learning device as well as a tool- and it can be used by nearly any department in a school. Here’s what we’ve done with ours:

1. Print a new filament tensioning mechanism for the printer itself.

2. What would have been an obscenely expensive shoulder-mounted DSLR camera rig.

3. Replacement Manfrotto 501 tripod plates.

4. Nikon lens cap holders for neck straps.

5. A stretchy bracelet.

6. Student designed pneumatic-actuated cylinders.

7. A model deer’s head (mounted via a magnet to my wall).

8. A 180 atom buckyball model.

9. Alternate tripod mounts for some webcams.

10. Tripod to cold shoe adapters.

11. A geared heart.

12. A Rodin “Thinker”

Upcoming prints will include spare camera mount parts, VESA mount spacers, a model cathedral, and some jewelry.
Get one and use it.

SitRep

Here’s what new and happening:

**1.** My school’s Spring Open House is this week. Besides the normal meet-the-parents stuff, there’s an art show and a fashion show. I’m pretty excited about all that, and I’ll have the Replicator2 up and running all night to show off, as well as having some finished prints on display.

**2.** Speaking of the Replicator2, I just printed a new filament tension mechanism for it. Think about that for a second. Anyway, I’m waiting on one more M3x6mm Flat head screw to get the whole thing installed. Excited about that. It should deal with some of the oddball filament feed issues we’ve had.

**3.** iCon2013 is a week away. Everything is coming together well, and I’m excited to do some presenting and meet some new people. School tours are totally booked, but we still have some space for the conference itself. Get in soon if you want to come, as numbers are starting to get crazy.

**4.** I’ve started active work on a student run web video, and I’m hoping to have that up and running inside the next two weeks. I’m leaning towards not running it live, for production reasons. I’d rather quality video instead of live video, and Google seems to have no interest in making both of those possible in the near term.

**5.** Some of my media students have made some really nice looking video. I’m still reviewing them, but I’m generally very pleased. I’ll be cross-posting some of them here (with student permission, of course).

**6.** I spent an afternoon at the Mass DESE last week talking about digital learning environments. There was some food reception to the ideas, but I felt like there was an undue amount of focus on the money/budget issues. Maybe I’m nuts, but it really shouldn’t be about the money. Tech and digital resources are the new cost of doing business, and pretending like it isn’t is putting your head in the sand.

The danger of not being there.

There’s been a lot of talk around about “flipped”¬†classrooms. I’ve written about them a bunch, and I’m not here to re-hash any of that. The new “thing” has been people talking about “blended” classrooms- it’s a little like flipped, except not all the time. Or something.

Anyway, I’m seeing a rather large problem with all this.

Responsiveness.

If you aren’t in the room with the students (either physically or virtually), you can’t see or predict the engagement you’ll get from students. I don’t care how many years you have been teaching- some lessons that look great on paper fail in the classroom. There isn’t any rhyme or reason for it, it seems. It happens.¬†When we see it happen in the classroom in front of us, we can adjust- throw out the lesson, change the tone or delivery, or otherwise modify what we’re doing to adapt to the conditions we’re being presented with. It’s what we do. But if we’re not there, and if we can’t see, then we have no way of doing any of these things. The lesson goes on at whatever pace, in whatever tone, with whatever activities were in place when we began. There’s no adjustment. There’s no adaptability. You’re locked in from before the start.

The analogy here is to the new(ish) driverless cars from Google. They’re capable of getting from place to place- merging, obeying traffic rules, and so on. In theory, all that should be capable with nothing more than GPS- after all, the car only really needs to know where it is and where it’s going. But that’s clearly not the case- road conditions, traffic, accidents, construction… all these factors mean that the cars need to have “eyes.” In this case, that means Lidar, cameras, and other sensors.

We can’t excuse ourselves from the classroom after locking in our lessons ahead of time- via video or otherwise. We must make our lessons, however (whenever) they are delivered responsive to the reactions of our students.

Misunderstandings

There’s a recommendation running around that seems to say that a 1:1 school environment should have 100kbps of Internet bandwidth. As of today I’ve seen this statistic repeated by some high-up members of the education structure in my state.

It’s wrong.

The original study that looked at bandwidth requirements for 1:1 schools didn’t recommend 100kbps. What they said was for every one thousand students, you would need a minimum of 100mbps. Minimum. They are clear that this is not an optimal level. This is a much larger number than I’ve seen quoted.

Here’s what I know: having been 1:1 for nearly two years, with a student population just under 1100, we spent the first year at 50mbps. It required that we throttle (cripple, really) downloads from several domains. Apple consumes massive amounts of bandwidth- between app downloads, iOS updates and the like, it alone could easily saturate out entire connection. We had to kill Pandora entirely, and limit several other services.

This year, we moved to a 400mbps connection. It’s lots better- we aren’t throttling anymore, and its much more useable. That said, we are still capable of saturating our connection for extended periods. We’ve also brought another 850 devices online. Also, and to be clear, we allow outside devices to hop on our network. At the high school, that means an average day sees 4200 devices on the wifi. It turns out we aren’t 1:1, we are 4:1. Who knew?

We’d like to source a 1gbps connection- we’ve even looked into pricing and whatnot. It’d cost us a bit over $100,000 a year, assuming anyone would actually sell us such a service. But the reality is that there’s o such hung as enough bandwidth. It can’t be overdone because the presence of more effectively creates the demand that consumes it. It’s a lot like traffic. Adding another lane to a congested road doesn’t actually ease the traffic; rather, the traffic increases to use the available road space.

My advice is this: buy as much as your budget will possibly allow. Make it a priority and not an afterthought. Understand it will, sooner or later, become a restriction. Understand that your users will be immediately unforgiving and upset about this restriction. Have a plan for that. Make that plan public.

SitRep!

Here’s what I’m up to and doing:
1) Our new MakerBot Replicator2 has been up and running for a few weeks now, and we’re beginning to understand what it will and won’t do. In the last week, we’ve gotten in 20-odd hours of print time, and the quality and usefulness of the prints continues to improve. We’re currently learning to deal with PLA warping issues, as well as a print bed that seems not to be a dead level plane. Working on both of those those things.
2) iCon2013 (which, by the way, is the continuation of last year’s New England 1:1 Summit) is coming soon. The school visits on Friday the 22nd are all sold out. Actually, they’re wildly over-sold, which is a whole ‘nother problem. That said, there are still spaces open for the conference itself on Saturday. Sign up soon, though, as we’ve had some alarming jumps in ticket
sales. I’m presenting at this with Andy Marcinek, on the topic of open educational resources. I’m excited, and it should be a good time, with loads of learning.

3)
My Advanced Media Production students have started turning in some excellent work. I’ll cross post some of it here soon (with their permission, of course).
4) Burlington High School’s Apple profile in education finally (!) went live this week. Their team did an awesome job- they really got the nature of the town, and seemed to understand and represent what we’re trying to do. I’m in it a bunch. I only look that good because of the talents of the production team (the makeup lady was very nice, btw), and I managed to include a joke/hat tip to some of my former students. I won’t give it away, but those that have spotted it think it’s pretty funny.
5) I’m still doing some consulting work (if you’re interested, drop a line), and my summer is starting to fill in pretty quickly. We’re looking at another couple hundred iPads being deployed in my district, so there’s a bunch of work already starting with that.
6) I’m working to get a live G+ broadcast with some of my students up and running in the near future. As a result of my production experience, I get mildly obsessive about making this thing look good- and sadly, it’s been holding things up. As it turns out, Google Plus doesn’t play nice with FireWire- and tha

t’s the standard for all the pro-gear I have. Working around this is proving to be problematic. Actually, the 3D printer is helping with some of this. I’ve used it to print adapters for web cams to work on tripods. Neat, right?