New Project! Sort of!

It’s not so much a “new” project as one I haven’t touched in a while.

I’m getting back to The Long Road Home

It’s been gone for a while- and that’s for a bunch of reasons. I was tired. I had (more) kid(s). I gave up using that camera. I didn’t want to be like every other vlogger. I didn’t want to bore people.

But now I’m bored. Not really, I suppose, but I find that if I’m not slightly over-extended, I’m not as productive as I like to be. So this is going to be a way to put my commute to use, and to introduce some texture to the post that I’ve been putting up here.

It’s not going to be the same as before. I was pushing a new episode every day. That’s too much- too much for you to watch and too much for me to do. I can’t be good that often- and I’d rather be good than frequent. So I’m going to aim for one a week. There might be weeks where there’s more than that, and there are going to be weeks with less. But I’m shooting for an average here.

I’d really like to thank ZeFrank here- his earlier videos (“The Show”) were always something I looked forward to, and introduced me to the rough format that I use. His new stuff (“A Show”), and specifically, An Invocation for Beginnings really go me ready to go with this. I start shooting today, heath permitting, and we’ll see where it goes.

I’d like it to be a conversation. I’d like you to be able to tell me where you want this to go. I’d like to do things together. Make things.

Let’s make stuff.

I’ll start.

 

t.

 

Closing in…

…on the end of the year, and like every year, the wheels are starting to come off.

I’m not sure what it is that leads to the fatigue that we all feel towards the end of the year, but it’s here again. I’ve been trying to fight it off- but I’m having some trouble. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve chosen a sleepy summertime novel (To Kill a Mockingbird, btw) to end the year, and it’s lulling me in, or if I’m somehow not as creative right now with cool new projects.

I’d like to blame the very warm early, early spring we had- I’d love to say that because they were exposed to summer to early, they’ve already shifted to that mindset.

But I’m not sure that’s true.

What I fear, and what I’m starting to think might be the actual reason for the fall-off, is this: We don’t have enough variety in what we do. If we were a restaurant that you were eating at for 185 days, we’d have a menu that is too short and we’d be sick of everything on it. Almost every activity that we do is based in the same sort of physical space- sitting at desks and whatnot. Almost every activity involves writing things down in what looks an awful lot like analytical writing. It doesn’t seem to matter much what subject we’re talking about, it all sort of looks the same.

I’m wondering if now is the time of year to bust out the left field jams. The wacky stuff. If we’re a dinner serving hamburgers and fries, now’s the time to announce that we’re dabbling in molecular gastronomy. We’re adding tuna tartar with an avocado foam and sesame crisp.

 

t.

 

Classroom Displays

There are very few absolute truths in displays, but this much I know: Larger is always better.

As a result of that simple fact, I am a strong proponent of HD projectors in classrooms- and as I’ve covered here before, I don’t really care for IWB’s. That’s not to say they can’t be used well; I just mean that I, personally, don’t have any use for them. And, given their small size, I don’t like that they don’t allow me to pull my projector back and make the image on the wall bigger.

What I’m starting to see, however, is the difference between the same information presented on the same size display in different ways. I’ll take twitter as an example- here are a couple of truths I’ve discovered:

1. The faster the update cycle on twitter, the better the audience response.

2. The larger and easier to read the text, the better.

3. The more posts shown at a time, the better.

Numbers 2 & 3 are clearly in conflict with each other- the larger and easier you make the text to read, the fewer posts you can show at a time. But here’s the kicker: there’s nothing out there that does this. There are individual tools that address any one of those points, but nothing that completes the package. To whit:

1. The fastest update cycle I’ve seen is via Today’s Meet, in which case it’s very quick. But it’s not twitter, and there are problems surrounding abuse/username/and-so-on that aren’t trivial to fix.

2. The largest and easiest to read twitter client is Trickle for iOS. But it’s not a full client and it only shows one post at a time. Also, I’ve not been able to get the video from that app to output to a projector via a wire. Yet.

3. The highest post density can be created using Monitter, but it’s has lag, occasionally re-loads everything, and isn’t super readable.

This basic notion seems to apply to other places- Google Docs, for example, is a great tool for use in the classroom. But displaying a Google Doc on a projector is a less-than-optimal experience. Given the limited space on screen, the browser bar and menus kill real estate- and to get the Doc readable for the whole classroom, you’ll need to bump the font size way up- say, 24pt. Between those two factors, you’re only seeing a slice of the document, and if it gets larger, they’re not much you can do. What I’d like is a projector setting in the menus. Actually, Today’s Meet has this- it optimizes the display for use with a projector- and it’s a lovely thing.

It’s not enough that we think about presenting information in the classroom- we need to be deliberate in how that information manifests. You’d never hand out a printed packet set in 8pt font- but we have no problem projecting 12pt at a distance of 30 feet. We need to step back and think about the visual clutter, the readability, and the overall layout of the displays we present.

t.

 

SitRep

A very, very busy week- and not for reasons I’d like, for the most part. Regardless:

1. The Mass Digital Publication conference is inching every closer- make sure you sign up to come a share. We’re pushing towards a future where educators can quickly and easily produce their own custom digital textbooks without having to rely on commercial publishers. I’ll be presenting, likely on the topics of containers- which means formats for you to put your content into. I’ll likely be covering PDF’s, ePub’s, and iBooks Author files. And I keep saying “likely” because things aren’t set in stone. Yet.

2. There’s a post coming up on this subject, but I’ll mention it here a bit: I’ve been spending a chunk of time in the last two months or so working on how we display information to students. At first, it was just play. I wanted to mix up my setup a bit in part just to tinker. What I’m finding, however, is that the physical means by which we show data to students can make a profound impact on how that information is received and interpreted. Again, a full post on this soon.

3. We made Google Drive live for our staff (on our Google Apps for Ed deployment). I’m looking forward to the possibilites it opens up for sharing even more, and I’m even more looking forward to being able to open it up to students. Also: Google needs to make an iOS app for Drive. STAT.

4. I know it’s my darling, but If This Then That just keeps getting better- every time I go, I find more ideas about how to use it to make my life richer and simpler. If you’re not using it, I really do suggest trying it out. It’s a way (however small) of moving towards the very interesting future of the Internet of Things.

That’s it, for now.

 

t.

 

SitRep!

It been a few weeks since I’ve done one of these, so I figured it was time again. All sorts of new bits in the works. So:

1. The Massachusetts Digital Publication Collaborative is doing it’s thing this June 25-27th. I’ll be there (and I’m helping organize and whatnot…). It’s looking likely that I’ll be presenting, most probably on the subject of digital textbook containers (ePub/PDF/iBooks Author, etc…). Sign up, come, say “Hi.”

2. I’m teaching a two day session for EDCO in Waltham MA. It’s focused on using iPads in High School classrooms. I suspect there’s still space, and it’ll be a good time. Maybe I’ll see you there, too.

3. Apple came back to our school for a video profile and interviewed me again- so there’s the chance you’ll be seeing me in a video on their webpage, thought that’s likely a few months out still.

4. I’ve been neck-deep in iBooks Author for a few months now. I’m starting to find it’s areas of both usefulness and limitations. It makes for a very nice, clean, enjoyable output, but it’s clearly be aimed mostly at professional producers.

5. I’ve been getting back to twitter in an interactive way recently. I was posting lots of content, but most of it wasn’t aimed a specific groups- it was just broadcast out into the twitterverse. These days, however, I’ve been finding myself on #sschat more and more. I feel a little traitorous doing it- I’m an English teacher by training, and hanging out with the History/SocialStudies people is all sorts of wrong. That said, they’re a really good group… and, well… #engchat feels pretty dead whenever I drop by. So now you know where to find me.

 

A new student project.

I was out sick the other day.

That’s not entirely accurate. I was home with a sick child, which is slightly different.

And, as is usually the case when that happens, I emailed my student the plans they needed for the day. I’m a big fan of that, by the way, as it eliminates the uncertainty of what a Sub might do. But I digress.

I sent the following text to my students:

English: Papers were due last night at 11:59. I’ll start looking at those shortly. In the meantime, you should have already read to the end of chapter 5 in TKAM. In class today, I’d like you to create a map of Scout’s neighborhood in Maycomb. You’ll need to do this in groups not larger than three, and you’ll need to do it digitally. I’ll leave the specifics of what you use up to you, but I do have a few other constraints:
1. Every item must be labeled.
2. Every item must have a page number where the quote describing it’s location exists
3. You must have a minimum of 20 items on your map.
I look forward to seeing these tomorrow. For homework, you’ll need to have read chapters 6 & 7.

I come from a pencil-and-paper era, so I had thoughts about students producing stuff that was analogous to that. I was thinking I’d get a stack of PDF’s emailed to me, and that’d be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

I got a few PDF’s and the like- drawings done digitally. What I expected. But by leaving the door open the way I did, I also go a few surprises. Two, in particular, were very interesting:

1. A small group of students built a Google Sketchup file that was a 3d model of how they saw the town of Maycomb.

 

2. A small group of students used the Eden World Creator app to build a Minecraft world of Maycomb.

I was, to say the least, blown away. The willingness and thoughtfulness my students displayed in choosing alternative means by which to fullfil the requirements of the assignment warms my heart for the following reason: They were willing to take the risk involved.

The students that chose “safer” methods have, I suspect, been trained to take the least amount of risk in order to maximize the payoff in school. It’s a reasonable technique that leads to (usually) reasonable results, but in my experience seldom leads to wild success. The willingness to risk can (and often does) lead to failure (of some sort), but with it comes the possibility- the slightest chance- of true greatness.

I guess I’m proud that I got some really good work. And I guess I’m even more proud that to whatever small degree I’ve not completely obliterated my student’s willingness to take risks in the classroom.

t.

Something I’m not going to do.

Ok, look. It’s time we had a talk, you and I. About links.

Here’s what I’m not going to do anymore: If your link is a “fb.something” I won’t click it.

I’ve discontinued my use of Facebook, and as a result, I won’t me clicking links that go there. That includes links via twitter or other social media.

 

t.

The Answer?

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years of Education about how we assess teachers in classrooms. Walkthroughs, mentoring, surveys, and a million other options have all been kicked around as possibilities. Being fans of “empirical data,” politicians have decided that using an assessment that wasn’t meant to look at teacher achievement as a measure of… wait for it… teacher achievement is like a good idea.

False.

But I’ve stumbled across something that might actually be a solution. Really. Honestly.

Some lovely folks over at MIT published a paper on measuring brain activity via a small wristband. They do this by measuring electrodermal activity and using this to help measure cognitive activity.

Changes in skin conductance at the surface, referred to as electrodermal activity (EDA), reflect activity within the sympathetic axis of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and provide a sensitive and convenient measure of assessing alterations in sympathetic arousal associated with emotion, cognition, and attention.

From:

Poh, M.Z., Swenson, N.C., Picard, R.W., “A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity,” IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, vol.57, no.5, pp.1243-1252, May 2010. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2009.2038487 PDF

That PDF link will get you the whole paper. It’s a bit technical (though pretty readable…), but it outlines that there is now a way to measure the level of engagement a student is experiencing directly. In hard numbers. I’m looking forward to being able to monitor my own state- Can I actually tell when I’m engaged? Am I always right? Do the things that I think engage me actually do that?

The wealth of data that this can provide to educators would allow us to fine-tune our delivery and our instruction to maximize it’s impact on our students.