Thursday, November 29, 2007

Death by Powerpoint

How many times have you been in an audience and the speaker puts up their PowerPoint and then says one of the following?
"I know that this is hard to read but..."

"You don't need to read this one. It's in the handouts."

"Let me read this slide to you."

After one or two of these comments, I pretty much start planning my lessons for next week, thinking about the mountains or writing spectacular poetry in the margins of my notes.

I'd like to say that I always create decent presentations, but I often fall into the trap of too little time and too much information. Improving my skill in this area is a personal goals. I guess as teachers we are constantly trying to improve our presentation skills. At least I hope that's true.

This presentation, Death By PowerPoint, has some great information.

If you want some examples of good slide presentations watch a Steve Jobs keynote or pretty much 90% of the presentations on TED.

[Image: Derived from: Creative Commons Jan 23, 2007: Photo-Mojo:]

Edublog Nomination: Dangerously Irrelevant

I didn't realize that this video had been made by a teacher in Colorado until today when I was reading the Edublog nominations for most influential blog post of 2007. I watched it several months ago after reading about it on a blog. Several friends have referred to the presentation or recommended it to me since then. The most recent recommendation came from my brother-in-law in Minnesota, last week. It has been watched by over 10 million people.

Here is the most recent version of this video and a link to a wiki page with more information.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Making the World a Little Flatter

In a recent post on The Fischbowl, Karl Fisch discussed an experience with the governor of New Mexico. He and other educators were invited to a participate in a conference call on educational issues. Another member, Chris Lehmann, never got to ask the question he prepared. I would like to hear an answer to his question:
"With the One Laptop Per Child mission, we are soon to see millions of students in the developing world use laptops in their learning every day. You want to see American education move into the 21st Century, what would you do to provide American students with the same opportunities for connectedness and collaboration?"
Any of you presidential hopefuls want to offer an idea or two?


Edublog Nomination: How to Grow a Blog

I am working my way through the Edublog nominations for most influential blog post of 2007. This one, How to Grow a Blog from the blog of proximal development is my favorite so far.

I recently had a conversation with a teaching friend about using blogs in the classroom.We were throwing around ideas about how to present it to the children. Then, today, I see this post with it's simple, clear visual and the reasoning behind using a blog.

"In short, the goal of using this handout is twofold: to help students plan and begin their journey, and to think about the habits they will need for that journey. I want them to understand that the most valuable part of blogging is the process of interacting with ideas and people, not producing finished assignments on assigned topics."

Great article.

[Image: Screenshot from Blog of Proximal Development;]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Great Missoula Chicken Debate

One of the current controversies in Missoula, MO is the raising of chickens within the city limits. I was going to put this piece in my weekly funny post because the topic is comic. But there is more to this little film. It's a documentary film . Both sides get a chance to say their piece. The producers get a chance to be creative and clever with some of their technique.

Show it to any students trying to think up a topic for a video project. Not every story has to be life-or-death. A simple tale about chickens can also entertain us. Maybe even inspire us.

My favorite quote from the video is made by Missoula resident, Bill DeCou. His take on this whole chicken debate:
"In my opinion I wish the city would spend a little more time dealing with these long range comprehensive issues and if they got time for chickens. Fine."

Great advice for everyone. Now if we could only agree on which issues are chickens and which are not?

[Image: Screenshot from the video: Missoula squabbles over urban chickens,]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Self Tuning Robot Guitar

Cool video of a self tuning guitar.

I don't know how professional musicians might feel about this technology but I once observed a beginning 6th grade guitar class and it felt like a third of the instructor's time was spent keeping the kids in tune. I think she would appreciate every student holding a guitar that tuned itself. More time on task. Fewer asprins at the end of the day.

On a personal note, I know that my playing improved once electronic tuners became affordable. I was lousy at tuning by ear. The battery in my tuner went out a few months ago and I was forced to tune by ear one evening. Much to my surprise I was able to accomplish it with a minimum of effort. Did the tuner take the place of an experienced teacher who could help develop a student's ear?

When I was a boy hanging around the hot rodders and wrench jockeys (you youngsters might call them gear heads in today's lingo) the discussion often came up about manual versus automatic transmission. A hot car can't be hot with an automatic. A good driver wouldn't be caught dead in one of those "sissy cars!"

Wonder if these kind of conversations will start popping up on musician blogs anytime soon?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How creativity is being strangled by the law

Interesting talk by Larry Lessig about copyright. He is involved with the Creative Commons and has some interesting things to say about the extremists on both sides of the issue and what it's doing to our country and our culture.

Here is a rough quote from the video:
We live in this weird time. An age of prohibitions where in many areas of our life we live constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law. And that is what we are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realisation is extraordinarily corrosive.

[Image: Original image taken from the TED web page on Larry Lessig:]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Lego, Tire Circumference and Math

Read this interesting post on The NXT Step-Lego Mindstorms NXT Blog about how a change in the circumference of a Lego tire will change the distance it will travel. Asking students to build a vehicle that will move a specific distance is a common challenge in many of the tech labs that I've visited.

You can go about this two ways. One, trial and error. Or two, figure out the circumference of your tire and set your program to to rotate the wheels the needed number of times to cover the distance. Second method gives students an opportunity to apply a little math.

The article discusses varying results kids get because of small changes in the tires due to heat and weight. Be sure to check out the comments where a good discussion went on for several days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stick Figure Animation

Here is a clever little animation called How We Met. It was built with simple stick figures. The creator used over 1600 still shots for 100 seconds of film. The hook on this particular project is the use of a human body as the canvas. When I first saw this I thought maybe he had overlayed the drawings somehow over the body, but if you go to his site it shows that he drew and erased each of the drawings on his own skin.

Clever example of how you don't need lots of expensive equipment to create an entertaining animation. A pen, a canvas, a camera, and a program to stitch it all together. When you watch the video notice the use of light in several places for effect. The disco scene is a great.

I have discovered that most kids are excited to animate until they find out the number of still shots it takes to create movement. They can quickly lose their enthusiasm after setting up the 50th shot and only have a few seconds worth of footage. My advice. Start them off with small projects first. Some students end up loving it and go on to create longer pieces.

[Image: Still taken from How We Met,]

Monday, November 19, 2007

RSS Reader Can Save You Time

I was late coming into the whole RSS feed thing. My replies to it's proponents were:

"Why do I need to gather all entries from the blogs into one place. "

"I don't have that many sites I follow and, anyway, I already have them bookmarked. "

"It's just one more techno-geeky thing for me to take on. "

That last item was my downfall. I am a techno-geeky kind of guy! After reading yet another blog entry talking about how easy Google Reader was to use and set-up, I gave in and gave it a try.

I love my feeder.

An RSS feeder gathers together the information you request in one easy accessible location. It is the ideal newspaper that contains only the stories you want. A newspaper that allows you to tag and manipulate the articles for future reference. A newspaper that you can continually adapt to meet your changing needs.

I used to follow about 15 websites/blogs daily. I had a job that was eating into my read time (work can be such a bother). That's when I set up Google Reader. It allowed me to get my daily news fix in a fraction of the time and have extra minutes for other activities like talking to my wife.

One note of caution. Adding feeds to your reader can be addicting. I now follow about a hundred sites. I've been subscribed to several hundred. I was suddenly spending way too much time catching up on the latest information. So, I evaluated the feeds I had and trimmed out half. Now I make it a monthly practice to get rid of feeds that no longer interest me, are repetitive of other sites or in some cases give me too much information to fast and too often.

[Image: Screenshot from my Google Reader setup]

Friday, November 16, 2007

I Think It's Funny: Famous Quotes

I'm a secret lover of quotations. OK, not so secret now but anyway I found this page of bad predictions. Here are a few of my favorite technology predictions.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899.

"Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop - because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds."

TIME, 1966, in one sentence writing off e-commerce long before anyone had ever heard of it.

"I am tired of all this sort of thing called science here... We have spent millions in that sort of thing for the last few years, and it is time it should be stopped."

Simon Cameron, U.S. Senator, on the Smithsonian Institute, 1901.

"The ordinary "horseless carriage" is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle."
Literary Digest, 1899.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society, 1895.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977.

"But what... is it good for?"
IBM executive Robert Lloyd, speaking in 1968 microprocessor, the heart of today's computers.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
H. M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, 1927.

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of
no value to us."
A memo at Western Union, 1878 (or 1876).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Frugal Lighting for Video

Lighting a video shoot is not one of my strengths. I blame my color blindness but, it's more likely that I just don't work with it enough. One reason I've not had much experience with formal lighting is the expense of professional kits. For the price of a few lights I could get lots of other equipment that I felt I needed more for my labs.

Last year I shared space with the photography teacher and began to see that I may have been mistaken. Her students were did some amazing things with lights. I've been intrigued by articles I've read over the past year about using cheap lighting for photography purchased from Home Depot or your local hardware store. If you are just starting out or trying to set up an inexpensive light kit for a school, this might be a way to go.

Here is a short post on the Strobist that walks you through the fluorescent light aisle of Home Depot with the frugal photographer in mind. The entire blog is about lighting. There is also a ton of pictures done by the author and his readers. I cruised through the site and saw a few pictures that were slightly risque. There wasn't anything you wouldn't see in a woman's fashion magazine but I still don't think I would chance sending kids to this site to explore. (Why I am reading women's fashion magazines is a whole other story!)

[Image: © Dawid Kasprzak -]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

David Warlick's Social Networking Wiki

David Warlick put out a request to his readers yesterday to participate on building a wiki about Social Networking. He is doing a presentation and wanted to create an example to show his audience. The following questions were posted on wikispaces and almost immediately the document started growing and changing.

  1. What is Social Networking?
  2. What are some of the differences between how our students use social networking and how professional educators use it?
  3. What are your favorite social networking applications?
  4. What’s the latest thing you learned from a social network?
Over 100 folks accessed the page and I had a blast going back at various times during the day to look at the changes. It was my first time participating in a collaborative wiki and I gained some useful insight from participating.

[Image: Screenshot from web page: Social Networking for Teachers, Nov 14, 2007]

Switching from the Lego RCX to the Lego NXT

After finding the Constructopedia last week and writing about it, I got to wondering about the differences between the old Mindstorms with the yellow RCX brick and the new ones with the fancy NXT brick. I did a some research and came up with the following article, Switching from the RCX to the NXT: A Report from One Classroom by Barbara Bratzel. She discusses the switch from using the old to the new in her classroom.
"There are a host of small improvements—the ease of downloading programs, the adjustable volume on the NXT, the more sensitive light sensor, the ability to synchronize the motors. Inevitably, there are also some losses. I miss the simplicity of the RCX motors and the ability to switch their polarity by reversing a lead. I miss the ease with which one could build a sturdy two-motor car."
She gives examples of how she changed her lessons to adapt to the new kits and ends with a list of 5 tips for you switchers out there. It's a good read if you are thinking about upgrading.

[Bratzel, Barbara . "Switching from the RCX to the NXT: A Report from One Classroom." Lego Engineering. 2006. Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University . 22 Oct 2007 .]
[Image is a screenshot from]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Business of Death

The video, The Business of Death, was put together by GoodMagazine. I thought it might be a little too macabre to post until I remembered a great discussion I witnessed in a sixth grade technology class about coffins and graveyards. I don't recall how it came up but the kids had some thoughtful things to say about land use, death and the environment. Someone had seen the biodegradable coffins being used in Europe and from there the topics roamed from cremation to embalming to shooting the remains into space. In hindsight, that would have been the perfect moment to throw out a design challenge to my kids.

Design an economical funeral process that is respectful and doesn't pollute or waste resources.

Alas, I had some other goal in mind at the time and let that killer project slip away. This film could stimulate discussion in any class. One caution. It is about death and what we do with our dead. Tread carefully. Think about the maturity of your kids. Your own comfort level. Your community.

If nothing else, it will get you thinking. I have already looked up a few of the statistics shown in the film. Wouldn't it be fun to compare the resources used in a mainstream industry like housing and compare it to the funeral industry. Learning doesn't have to be deadly dull.

[Image:Cohen, Kathleen. "Columbia Cemetary. Tombstones of Henry and Mary Munroe.." WorldsImage. 1904. 2 Nov 2007 .

Monday, November 12, 2007

Photographs of the Photographers

A few years back I was at Rocky Mountain National Park watching some elk. A man with a huge backpack of equipment came up and started to set up to photograph the scene. I ended up watching him. He had a lens that was as big as my leg. His tripod was a mechanical contraption out of a science fiction movie. He was wearing a vest with a million bulging pockets. It was fascinating.

When you first start sending students out to take pictures they want to stand far away from the action. They tell me it's embarrassing to get so close. They end up with those all too common "vacation shots" of little tiny people who are barely recognizable.
"Yup! That's Aunt Ruthie there by the rim of the Grand Canyon. At least I think that's Ruthie. She has a hat like that one there. Nope. Nope. That's some stranger. But, ain't the canyon beautiful?"
It is hard to get young photographers down into the action. Possibly this series of pictures will inspire them as they show photographers in action. Unfortunately, the photos are not cited. I love this content and will look for similar sites, but please leave a comment if you know of a good location that cites it's sources.

I might mention that I have mixed feelings about the photographer getting down into the action. Sometimes the photographer becomes a part of what she is trying to film. Ever been to a wedding where the photographer is more visible than the bride? The couple end up with great wedding photos but the guests remember the big guy with the humongous camera taking pictures. I have no answers here, just a vague unformed thought about how can we really be observing something if we are part of it?

Update: (11/13/07)I just checked on this site and it isn't working due to the owner running out of memory in their account. (I think?) Hopefully, the pictures will be available again sometime soon.

[Image:"Photopgraphers and their hard work." \STATiC. 27 Oct 2007 .]

Friday, November 9, 2007

I Think It's Funny

I grew up watching Mr. Wizard. That may be why I find this Ernie Kovacs clip so funny. You youngsters out there may find it only amusing or just quaint or painfully lame. Doesn't matter. It made me laugh.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Video Introduction to Type

The ability to change font in modern word processors has been both a boon and a headache. I think students sometimes get overwhelmed by all the font choices and often go for the flashy or garish regardless of the audience they are targeting. Most of us teaching word processing or page layout have had to spend at least a little time discussing typography.

This television interview is a quick overview of the subject. There isn't enough here for kids to grasp the entire subject but it could be used to introduce the topic in class.

[The television interview done by CBS Sunday Morning about typeface design, with Steven Heller, Jonathan Hoefler, & Tobias Frere-Jones in 2006]
[Image: Screenshot of Microsoft Word font menu]

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Lego Constructopedia

This Constructopedia would be a valuable resource for that Lego Mindstorms NXT kit in your classroom. A Constructopedia is an encyclopedia of various structures that can be used in different Lego models. At the Mindstorms station in my Tech Lab, the students had to take detailed photographs of different structures they built. These were printed out and placed in the back of the manual for that station. It served the same purpose as a Constructopedia in that it was a quick reference. If you were having a problem figuring out how to securely hook a motor to your vehicle, look and see what someone else had done. You were free to use their idea or improve it.

This downloadable PDF, put together by Tufts University, is specific to the newest Mindstorms NXT kits. A printed copy kept near the Lego station might come in handy for all those budding young engineers. One caution though, it might be confusing to students using the earlier kits with the yellow RCX. I understand the newer kit is more peg based while the older is more brick based. (Any of you with experience here might leave a comment.)

I've not had a chance to mess around with the new kit yet. Maybe Santa will fill my stocking with something other than coal this year. If he does, I promise to write about the new kit in my blog. Heart crossed and hope to die!

[Image: (17 Aug 2007). Constructopedia; NXT Kit 9797; Beta Version 2.0 . Retrieved October 22, 2007, from Lego Engineering - Resources Web site:]

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

HowTo: Define a Word

My sister, who was a teacher, used to have the most infuriating habit of answering my question about an unfamiliar word with, "Look it up in the dictionary!"

She was an evil, evil woman.

Of course, now as an adult, I automatically go to the dictionary to look up a word that I don't recognize or can't figure out from contextual clues. I also have spell check and the internet available much of the time and can quickly check out a new word. My problem is that in spite of my sister's guidance , I am a poor speller. Google comes in handy when even my spell checker can't figure out what I am trying to spell.

In Google's search bar I type in: define: partesan

Google politely asks me: "Did you mean: define: partisan"

Why yes, that was the word I was trying to spell. Just in case, I click on the word and a page full of definitions and links come up. Yup, I was trying to write about "
a fervent and even militant proponent of something."

On those occasions where Google doesn't recognize my butchery of the language, I can try different spellings until finally I hit on the right combination or something close enough that Google can give me the right spelling.

Monday, November 5, 2007

3D Printer

Several years ago I was touring our local vocational school with a group of technology teachers. The one thing that jumped out and had me talking and dreaming for days was the 3D Printer. The thing was expensive. They had written a grant and I think the assistant principal had to sell his liver in order to raise the money. But it definitely was cool.

If you don't know, a 3D printer is a machine that creates a 3D object. It's print head is able to move in 3 directions, side to side plus up and down. Any object can be thought of as being made up of many, many thin layers. A 3D printer prints each of those layers one at a time from the bottom of the object to the top. Of course, it isn't using ink but rather some material that can be extruded in a liquid form that quickly hardens. The one I saw used a type of plastic.

Think of a brick house. You lay the first row of bricks around the foundation. Then you add row after row of bricks until you finally have a house. If your bricklayer were a 3D printer, then each layer of bricks would be one pass of the printer head. Still not clear? Don't worry, lots of folks have a hard time getting their head around this one. I think the big problem is calling them 3D printers. They should have borrowed the name from Star Trek and called them replicators! Watch the movie and hopefully it will make more sense.

Hod Lipson and Evan Malone at Cornell University have developed a 3D printer that you can build, if you are handy, for around $2400. It's open source and the plans are free. Their hope is to get a lot of people working on this project and get the price down and the quality up. Imagine if you will, anything you can design in a CAD program could be reproduced as a 3D object.

NewScientistTech Article: "Desktop fabricator may kick-start home revolution"

Popular Mechanics Article:
"Fab at Home, Open-Source 3D Printer, Lets Users Make Anything". There is better video at this site.

(Hod Lipson / Evan Malone) from"Desktop fabricator may kick-start home revolution." NewScientistTech. 09 Jan 2007. NewScientistTech. 26 Oct 2007 .]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

World Images

WorldImages is a collection of over 60,000 pictures that are free to use for educational purposes. There are lots of photos of famous paintings, cities, monuments, wildlife and lots more. I spent a pleasant hour cruising through all the categories.

Worthwhile if you want to spice up those PowerPoints or give your students a nice site to find images for their own projects. There is a fair amount of classical art represented so check here if you need a jpeg of a famous painting for that lecture on Art History.

[Rubens, Peter. "Daniel in the Lions Den." World Images. California State University. 9 Oct 2007 .]