Monday, December 31, 2007

Human Memory Expansion Card: Google

I was at a concert over the weekend and there was a small group of friends there for a big night on the town. They had two iPhones between them and spent much of the pre-concert wait talking about their phone's capabilities. The opening act came on and the artist did covers of some old blues songs. At the break, I couldn't help but hear the friends discussing the performance. They had been googling information about the singer, the songs and the concert hall during her act. She had mumbled her way through a few verses of one of the songs and they were able to clarify that a line that sounded like "goon town" was really "going down", although I think a song about goon town was more interesting and edgy. They knew what CDs she had released and which had the songs they liked. They also checked to see if they were available on iTunes. The interesting piece to me was that everyone in this group was at least 50 years of age or older. I am used to seeing students and twenty-somethings interacting with technology this way, but not my generation.

Society is changing. The way we interact with the world is changing. Sometimes I feel I am too much of a futurist, too pushy about what I think our schools should be doing to better adapt to this new connected, flattened world. Then I make an observation like the one at the concert and I think I am not speaking out enough. There is real change happening and our educational institutions aren't keeping up. Here is a list of examples I have seen recently of adults using new technologies not including the folks at the concert or any of the many laptop users.

  • Man at store shopping and discussing what he needed to buy with his wife over a cell phone
  • Two men at a bar googling sports scores on an iPhone to settle an argument
  • Setting my phone up to call Google-411 on my old clunky cell phone to find numbers quickly while I am driving.
  • Woman texting while she was walking the dog (I see this pretty much every time I walk around our local lake)
  • A couple at a restaurant holding hands while they both talk on their cells.
  • Watched a woman tape several video segments of a concert with her cell phone. (As I looked around the hall I saw at least five other people doing the same thing.)
  • Friend of mine gets updates on her young niece's daily antics with short videos sent via her cell phone. She shares baby's first steps with me.
  • I carry a small, compact digital camera with me most of the time to take snapshots whenever I want. Most of my friends use their cell phones for this but I like the extra clarity I get with my camera. On my walk this morning I took pictures of various street signs for a project I have in mind.
Forget the science fiction movie where humans of the future will have mutated into big-brained, smarty-smart people wearing shiny metallic clothing. We will all just get a memory expansion card at Best Buy, hook into Google and presto, it's a smarty-smart world. Oh, and that is pretty much happening today not a 1000 years from today. Minus the shiny metallic jump suit of course.

[Image: Mutant self portrait by Al Gunn]

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays

I'm taking a short trip away from my computer until after Christmas. No technology for a few days. Just a bit of quiet time with the family.

Here's a nice shot I took at the Denver Botanic Gardens yesterday. Every season has it's own beauty and I plan on finding a few examples while walking and holding my wife's hand.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Way Cool Photoshoot

Saw this photo posted on Strobist the other day along with a video detailing the steps in creating the image. It was made by Brandon Voges at Brouton Stroube Studios (fun site to browse) and involves multiple photos and a lot of Photoshopping. Each person in the shot was photographed separately and then it all was pieced together.

I once had a group of students trying to stage an action shot. There was a lots of different things happening at the same time. They spent hours trying to coordinate all the actors to move simultaneously hoping the camera guy would hit the shutter correctly. One person always messed up their cue and so they kept doing it over and over again. The part I remember clearly was one young man whose job was to jump in the air. The next day he was so sore he couldn't do it anymore. They changed their plan at that point.

After watching the video, I thought what a great project idea for a tech lab or a photography class. Of course you'd have to keep your photo "school safe." No paint guns. No jumping up from a trampoline and landing on mattresses. No milk thrown around... at least not in my lab. But if you have access to a digital camera and Photoshop, your students could use the same techniques that would have their friends scratching their heads and asking, "How'd you do that?"

[Initial Source: Strobist: "A Little Light Painting": Nov 27, 2007]
[Image: Brandon Boges; Bruton|Stroube;]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

That will be .03 Cents Please!

Kevin Kelly did a nifty little bit of math and figured out the cost of a single Google search as approximately .03 cents. This means if I had to pay for my searches it would put me out almost 17 cents a month. That's figuring about 20 searches a day. Some day's I do more. Some days less. But, I don't think I ever sit down at the computer without using Google at least once.

Instant access to information has become so integrated into my life, I don't really think about it much anymore. After we set our house up for wireless, the answer to any question is only as far away as the laptop. How many of you now watch TV with the remote and Google. My household can't get through an evening of television with out pausing a show, with Tivo, and my wife or I asking:
"Where have we seen that actor before?"

"That statistic can't be right...let me check that out!"

"I loved that movie. What else has that (director/actor/writer) done?"

"Oooh that (toy/car/gadget/pizza) looks cool. Wonder if it's available near by?"

Did we ask fewer questions before search engines? Are we more curious now that this resource is available to us. Kevin Kelly says in his post:
"But what is most interesting to me, is that this huge "industry," this huge appetite, has materialized out of nowhere. If we ask 800 billion questions today and expect to get instant answers, where were those 800 billion questions 20 years ago?"

Good question. Good article at The Technium.

[Image: screenshot from]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quote: David Weinberger

"In the Britannica, length is a symbol of importance. In Wikipedia, length is a manifestation of interest and passion, even if the interest and passion of only a single person. And while the length of any single topic at Wikipedia may not tell us much, Wikipedia overall does tell us that the world is more interesting than the Britannica lets on."

[Image: Captured from]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bill vs Steve: Presentation Styles

After watching Dean Shareski's video last week on improving PowerPoint presentations, I followed one of his links to the website, Presentation Zen. Read a good post comparing the presentation styles of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. About halfway down the article there is a snapshot of the slides from each of their presentations. Gate's slides are cluttered and information dense. Jobs' are sparse yet much more appealing. Gar Reynolds, the author of the article made an interesting comment:
"Bill's slides aren't really necessary; they are more of an ornament or a decoration off to the side. Bill would have been better off just pulling up a stool and sharing his ideas and then answering questions that audience members could have submitted before the talk so that Bill could select which ones he'd answer."
This got me to thinking about presentation styles. Both these men are leaders in their industry. Yet, in their presentations, I think Jobs plays to his strengths and Gates doesn't.
There is a lesson in there for educators. We need to use what works for us. The job demands that we use a variety techniques. The art of the job is playing to our strong points as often as possible.

[Image: From post 'Learning from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs";]

Thursday, December 13, 2007

School Blogs You Could Start Tomorrow

A colleague recently told me they weren't sure what they could do with a blog in their classroom. I was frustrated at first by this comment as I've talked blogs up so much in the past. Thinking about it later, I figured I am just not presenting this option in a user friendly matter. I challenged myself to come up with a list of ten school related blogging ideas off the top of my head I could hand to the next person who needs a little guidance. I came up with thirteen before I figured the list was getting too long. Sometimes I am an over achiever!

A teacher can modify these based on the age of the target group, student access to a computer and the amount of time they (the teacher) wants to spend monitoring comments. If you have very wordy students you might even add some guidelines regarding length of comment. Remember, you need to sleep once in a while.

Also give a little thought to your purpose. Is the blog informational? Instructional? Skill practice? Set your beginning parameters with these end goals in mind.

1. Daily Notes (student generated)
  • I like the idea of selecting a daily scribe from the classroom. It is this student's responsibility to write down the class notes for the day that will be posted on the blog. Any additions or corrections could be done by the instructor and/or other students through comments.
2. Daily Notes (instructor generated)
  • You may need to be a little more formal than the first idea. You can post your daily notes online and then your students could ask questions, elaborate or wax poetic about your oratory skill in the comment section.

3. Homework Log
  • Any homework assignment is given here with materials needed and due dates. Questions for clarification on the homework can be asked in the comment section.

4. Supplemental Reading
  • Books, articles, and web sites can all be recommended her as a supplement above and beyond what was covered in class. Students can comment on your choices or make recommendations of their own.

5. Favorite Book
  • Everyone in the class recommends a favorite book with a brief description. If others know the book or read it, they can give their opinion. There has to be a reason given for liking or disliking the book.

6. Reviews
  • These can be reviews of music or movies or television shows. I see the purpose of this one as getting kids to write, so the content isn't as important as promoting everyone's involvement. Your purpose may be different and you can adjust the focus. After all, you are the teacher.

7. Daily Quote
  • Student or teacher generated quote. This can be wide open or narrowed down to the topic being covered in class. Everyone is expected to comment on the quotes. With the national elections coming up, how about a daily quote from one of the candidates?

8. Current Events
  • An old favorite from my social studies classes with a modern twist. Student posts a summary of a news event from the previous day that they feel is important. They explain why it's important. They create a link to at least one online source of the story (two would be better). Everyone else gets to state an opinion on how important the story is and the credibility of the source.

9. Meeting notes
  • This one has a staff focus. A scribe summarizes the notes down to easy bullet points for a staff, department, core or district meeting. Be sure to include deadlines and upcoming tasks. Links to online documents that were handed out in the meeting. Clarifications and corrections can be added in the comment section.

10. Book Discussion
  • I've done this with a group of teachers but it could easily be done in a classroom. Each person is assigned a chapter or section to facilitate. When their turn comes up they write a short summary and then ask one or two open ended questions. Everyone then comments on the questions or the chapter or both.

11. Daily Picture
  • Document the year with daily classroom pictures. These could be shots of activities, experiments, assignments, presentations or pretty much anything that happens. Let the students help you determine what should be posted. Maybe assign a daily photographer.

12. Picture Analysis
  • I often used photos as a primary source in my history classes. See how much your kids can pick up by studying a photograph. You could make it less formal and post a picture of the author or explorer or dead guy you talked about in class that day. Help the kids to put a face or an image to an event.

13. Student Work
  • An English teacher I work with has her students critique each other's work. She spends a lot of time working with them on how to do this constructively. I think this could be adopted for a blog. Have a student pick a short piece and post it. They ask the class for the kind of feedback desired. Grammar? Voice? Logic?

OK folks. Your turn. Give me a brief description of something you use or have seen. I am going to start keeping a list of ideas as I come across them on the web. If I get enough, maybe I will redo this into a bigger list.

[Update: Just before posting this I ran across a similar list at edublog called "10 ways to use your edublog to teach". Some over lap but still worth reading or pointing out to a colleague.

Also saw this post on "Some Sample Blog Assignments Aligned to the New ISTE NET-S" on David Warlick's blog. Some very specific ideas. David also has a book available on educational blogging called Classroom Blogging. Warlick is an excellent source for information on blogging.

Even a simple search will bring up a plethora of ideas! I keep finding these references and I'm not looking.]

[Image: rusr8307.jpg | DEYNEKA Aleksandr | A Race. | c. 1932-1933 | Russian | Socialist Realist | | Russia. | | ©Kathleen Cohen$2820*383573]

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CommonCraft Video: Blogs

CommonCraft has created another great informational video. This one is about blogging.

Most of my students know what I mean when I refer to a blog. But, next time I have a teacher or a parent who says,
"What is that exactly?"

First, I'll show them this video. Second, I'll give them the link to my own blog. Third? Well, by that time, they'll be begging me to teach them how to make their own.

[image: "blogging_sign", al gunn, Creative Commons:(Attribution. You may copy, distribute, display, and perform my copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if you give credit.]

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Edublog Awards 2007

The votes have been counted and the winners are listed here. Take a couple of hours and browse all the winning sites. Take a full day or more and wander around all the nominations.

Lots of great stuff here. Congratulations to all the winners.

[Image: "edublog banner" captured from]

PowerPoint is a Multi-Purpose Tool

I wanted to comment on yesterday's post. I didn't mean to imply that PowerPoint can be used in only one way. I think it's most common use is to add some visuals to our verbosity. But, once in a while we want a presentation that can be looked at without our input. We sit down and drink a cup of coffee while the slides are set on automatic. It can have a recorded narration. It can have music. It's designed to stand alone.

I remember a PowerPoint I saw like this a few years back. It had no text, no narration and no music. It was about three minutes of photos of the Holocaust. When the last photo faded to black the speaker got up and gave his talk. It was a powerful start.

In my last school, I taught with a wonderful English teacher who has her kids create stand alone presentations built around a poem. They find images that help convey the mood of their chosen piece. Once they're done, they hit play and stand back. The words and images are the presentation.

Visit Slideshare to see a variety of presentations that are meant to stand on their own. Many of them would be too wordy or cluttered to use with a talk. That's the nature of these presentations. With no speaker to elaborate they have to stand alone.

Determine the purpose of your PowerPoint. Design with that purpose in mind. You'll end up with a better product.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A PowerPoint Isn't a Book

I was watching Powerpoint Extreme Makeover, a video by Dean Shareski and I had an "Ah-Ha" moment. He was talking about how many teachers put too much information on slides because they want to pass the presentation on to someone else. They build the presentation to stand on it's own so that anyone could take it and use it. In my mind I thought, "They want to create a reference book not a presentation." Book may not be the right word but it helped me process the concept in my own little pointy teacher head.

My worst presentations have been crowded with too much stuff. I put everything I've got in one place so I can easily find it when I need it again. I'd had more success if I made a folder for all that stuff and trimmed down my Powerpoint.

My best presentations have slides that support me. The pictures and text helped move my story along. The best piece of advice Shareski gave in the video was to start with a script. If you know what you are going to say, then you can craft your presentation around your words. Your script is the starting point and and everything refers back to that blueprint.

Keep your end purpose in mind. If you want to build a reference tool. A book. Then your product is going to look different than if you are going to be giving a presentation. If not, then maybe it should?

[Image: Book a photo at; Modified in Photoshop.]

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers

Ran across this copyright chart while exploring the film fest site I wrote about yesterday. This may be familiar to many of you as something similar has hung on the wall near the copy machine in every school building I've ever worked.

When I have a question and want to check legalities, I am usually nowhere near the copy room. So, I downloaded the chart and it now has a place in my hard drive.

You can also point your students to this site and the downloadable PDF. Nice quick reference.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Student Film Festival

I always wanted to be organized enough to run a film festival for my school. It would be an opportunity to share with teachers and parents some of the wonderful student work I get to see in my tech classes. I thought it would be an extra bit of motivation for students to put forth their best effort. I thought it would be fun.

I never got this done but a school district not too many miles from my own in the Denver Metropolitan area did. They run something called the Adams 14 Film Fest. The web site has examples from past festivals and a bunch of linked resources that would be valuable to anyone teaching video to kids.

I plan on attending this year. Maybe it will motivate me to try and get something going in my own district.

[Image: Screenshot from Adams 14 Film Fest Website,]

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Evaluating Sources on the Web

Today I offer this short article on Lifehacker about evaluating the accuracy of web sites. When I taught Social Studies many years ago we discussed primary and secondary sources. Inevitably a student would bring in one of those supermarket rags with the stories about UFO abductions and mutant bat babies.
"It's in this magazine Mr. G, so it has to be true!"
Eventually, I started bringing one in as an example for my lesson. Then we spent some time classifying the newspaper as a good or bad source. Several of my teaching points are covered in this article.

I used to tell my students, "A dead rat dressed up in a pretty party dress is still a dead rat." I don't know if it was relevant saying or even if I am the original author. But it was (and still is) fun to say!

[Image: "Weekly World News." Wikipedia. 2007. Wikipedia. 19 Nov 2007 .]

Monday, December 3, 2007

Free Speech on the Web

Google recently posted an interesting piece called, Free expression and controversial content on the web. This could be a fun discussion starter for any tech class, social studies class or the the teacher's lounge. Here is a brief quote:

"We also know that letting people express their views freely has real practical benefits. Allowing individuals to voice unpopular, inconvenient or controversial opinions is important. Not only might they be right (think Galileo) but debating difficult issues in the open often helps people come to better decisions.

While most people agree in principle with the right to free expression, the challenge comes in putting theory into practice. And that's certainly the case on the web, where blogs, social networks and video sharing sites allow people to express themselves - to speak and be heard - as never before."

Google goes on to describe it's position on censoring content.

[Image: "Free Speech", Dixon, Maynard, 1934.$569*33201]