Research #7

From the past week:

  • Nutriloaf vs. Soylent (the new project, not the stuff from the book/film)
  • Color correction via Davinci Resolve Lite
  • Sunny 16 rule
  • Ph testing Amniotic fluid
  • George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali
  • Cray supercomputer design
  • Sourcing Pilot G2 (green) refills
  • Sourcing SSI Schaefer CF Collapsable Containers
  • Sourcing good B&W 35mm film
  • Sourcing replacement batteries for Konica TC camera bodies
  • Sriracha sauce packets (for travel)
  • Bower 35mm f/1.4 Lens for Nikon


Right tool for the job.

I tend to research compulsively. It’s a habit/hobby, and what I love most about it is the ability to bump into seemingly unconnected topics that inspire my teaching and worldview.

One of the things that I run into is people who think or assume that going entirely digital with everything is the right thing to do. I disagree. I’m clearly a proponent of utilizing digital technology in classrooms, but I believe that there’s a correct tool for every job- and that you should use that tool whenever possible. Sometimes, that tool isn’t digital. There is something about pen on paper that for some tasks seems to trigger different neurons. Sometimes a wall covered in post-its works best. A whiteboard is still a useful tool.

I ended up reading a bunch about Seymour Cray, the designer and, arguably, godfather of supercomputers. He designed some of that fastest computers in the world in the eighties and early nineties. I should note here that I’ve always been entranced by Crays. While other kids had sports car and football posters on the walls of their rooms, I had pictures of supercomputers and bicycles (a Bottechia Cronostrada, if you’re interested). As I read about how he designed, I stumbled across the following excerpt from Wikipedia:

When asked what kind of CAD tools he used for the Cray-1, Cray said that he liked #3 pencils with quad paper pads. Cray recommended using the backs of the pages so that the lines were not so dominant. When he was told that Apple Computer had just bought a Cray to help design the next Apple Macintosh, Cray commented that he had just bought a Macintosh to design the next Cray.

And there it is- some of the fastest computers of their day were designed with a #3 pencil on quad paper. Sometimes, it’s the right tool for you that matters.


Savage vs. Chang

This is Adam Savage talking with David Chang. They’re talking (mostly) about food, but the parallels to education and learning are profound- Chang (and Savage, for that matter) is obsessed with learning. And it’s clear that while he’s not an educator, he has spent an enormous amount of time thinking about how to learn more. I’d argue, in fact, that Chang not being a educator (in this case) makes his views all the more important.

Anyway. Required Viewing.


I’m ditching projectors.

I’m pretty well done with projectors in a classroom. Here’s why:

  1. Expensive (especially the limited-lifetime bulbs)
  2. Fragile- knock on off the desk it’s on and you’ve got a dead projector
  3. Slow to warm up
  4. Slow to cool down
  5. Slow to switch between sources
  6. Terrible black rendition
  7. Limited lumen output
  8. Require a clear line-of-sight to the projection surface
  9. Require a projection surface

And so on. Up until now, there had been very poor options to replace projectors- in fact, projectors really were the best option we had available. But with the ever falling price of LED displays, it’s gotten to the point where there’s some price overlap.

In our testing, we’ve found that the minimum size screen that offers readability from the back of a classroom is 70″. Your mileage may vary given room sizes, but in our situation that seems to be it. I have always maintained that for classroom purposes larger displays are always better. The price curve of LED displays is such that as of this writing, the cost of a 70″ is in the $1400 range (ish). The next 5″ to a 75″ will cost a couple thousand more, and the 5″ to a 80″ will bring the total cost to $6000. So 70″ it is.

At that size, you’ve bought a screen that’s as large in display area as most of the staff will have set their projectors to. It’s roughly the size of the workable area on an Interactive White Board. It’s about an even swap.

Cost wise, it seems to be radically more expensive, but it’s not: The cost of an HD Projector is in the ballpark of $800. Add a spare bulb to that ($350) and a mount ($450) and you’re at $1550.

See what I mean?

An idea about food.

Nutrition and students is a huge topic in schools- what with obesity rates climbing and the health problems associated with that. As a result, Massachusetts has a law on the books that requires students buying lunch at schools to take a piece of fruit. It isn’t mandated that they eat the fruit, but it has to be on their tray when they check out.


Except much (most?) of the fruit ends up in the trash barrel five feet away. Not eaten, not handed back- tossed. It seems a waste. And in thinking about what makes people want to eat fruit, three things came to mind:

1. Availability. Fruit that’s easy to get will get eaten more than… well, this is pretty obvious.

2. Quality. Fruit that looks/smells/feels/tastes good is nearly impossible to resist. In parties with little kids, someone always brings a platter of cookies. Someone else brings a platter of fruit. The fruit is always gone first.

3. Cost. If the fruit costs less than other options, it’ll get eaten more. Again, obvious.

So with those three givens, I propose the following move: the school fruit bowl.

We’re already buying the fruit- so that part of the cost is done. I realize we recover some of that cost when we sell the student lunch, but still. We should be able to swing this. Anyway, it’s simple. Park a big bowl (or bowls) around the school with free fresh fruit in them. Free satisfies #3, and bowls around common areas satisfies #2. As far as quality goes, I’d argue that buying the in-season fruit would help keep costs down and quality up.

Think of the problems this solves: any hungry kid, at whatever time of the day, could easily pick up a readily available free piece of fruit to eat. It’s healthy, yes, but it also provides an elegant solution to both the health problem as well as the I-didn’t-eat-breakfast-for-whatever-reason problem.

But I think the advantages run deeper- just like the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table at home helps provide a central point for the family, I think a bowl of fruit in a school can provide a similar function. It can provide a better sense of community. It can provide a location for accidental interactions- with both students and staff- that might not otherwise meet. Those chance encounters provide all sorts of fertile ground for staff and student interactions- and those interactions can lead to some meaningful connections and relationships.

And for the cost of some fruit. Seems like a bargain.


Research #6

Here’s what I’ve been reading about this week:

  • Metabones Speed Boosters
  • M42 mount lenses
  • HumanGear products
  • Used Lumix GH2 bodies
  • Konica AR mount to Nikon DX adaptors
  • Better online communal area for remote group learning


Research #5

Things I’ve researched in the last week:

  • Sourcing 5/8″ Grip pins with 1/4″ female threading
  • New IFTTT channels (specifically interested in activity tracking -> web tasks)
  • Better rainwater storage/management via Ram Water Pumps
  • Replacement vintage KLH Model 30 tweeter
  • Onion Pi (Raspberry Pi & TOR hotspot)
  • Analog or Digital video in via Thunderbolt interfaces (Black Magic Design)
  • Underwater-safe KinoFlo (DIY LED lit)
  • Better Twine functions


On Cheating.

My friend (and boss) Patrick Larkin has been writing a lot on the topic of cheating in classrooms- and how we respond and treat such circumstances. I thought I’d offer my thoughts.

Patrick quoted George Couros in saying that if a student can answer a test question with a simple Google search, it’s not a very good question. I have to agree. In fact, I’d go a bit further, and suggest that we might begin to think about allowing Google searches and structuring the test with that taken into account. It’s an interesting idea, but not really what I want to talk about here.

Cheating is a cultural problem. Our emphasis above all things of getting the “right” answer contributes to this. Our stress on regurgitation of fact encourages this. Our artificial stress on students completing tests in absolute isolation (and at odds to the way the rest of the world functions) rewards this. We need to think about changing that culture.

As educators, we have to set a better example ourselves. We need to cite the work of others we use. We need to note where the image we took from a Google search came from. We need to cite where the article we photocopied was published. We need to credit who made the activity we adapted. We need to make it the standard operating procedure to cite work that is not ours in all venues- and we need to do this in all grade levels. In doing this, we might be able to create a culture where open citation of work and influences is the norm. We might begin to cause change.

We must think first about what we are trying to teach. Traditionally, when data was scarce and static, we distributed information. We built schools and tests to measure how much information students could accurately regurgitate. This, I would argue, should no longer be the case. We should be teaching students how to analyze.

This is a good thing on two levels: we are imparting a much more powerful and versatile set of skills AND we’re able to build assessments that are un-cheatable. If we build a test that looks at a student’s ability to analyse and explain that analysis, we are free from a cheatable set of facts.

Above all, we must to a better job with our education of the nature of cheating. We cannot hold students responsible with an ever-harsher set of punishments and expect real change. It has been long established that longer prison sentences don’t dissuade people from committing crimes. We create a dynamic of adversary and punishment which precludes learning.

Research #4

The list for the week:

  • The Finnish practice of giving mothers-to-be a box of supplies
  • The GoPro Hero3 modifications that went into the Novo camera (desoldering the sensor and moving it? WHOA!)
  • PARCC testing sample questions for ELA grade 10
  •  New firmware update to the Supermechanical Twine
  • Looking for a better Sketchup to .stl plugin
  • The best deal on CREE LED lights (at 5500k)
  • Google’s “Auto Awesome” filter on G+
  • Ghee storage and use



Unrelated but related.

So I was watching this video the other day, and it’s about racing rally cars. That’s not a topic I’m likely to ever delve into here, but what caught my ear was a bit of conversation part way through about drivers investing in knowledge and mastery to succeed. The parallels to teaching are plain. You’ll want to skip to 33:33 for the most relevant portion.