Category Archives: edtech

Twitter as a neurological extension of my brain

world_connectionsI was going to title this “Why Twitter is awesome” and then thought that sounded cheesy. Then I thought about what I love about Twitter and came up with the above title, which is the opposite of cheesy. Probably pretentious.

But there’s something about that scrolling feed of ideas, thoughts, lesson plans, jokes, pictures, movies, and questions that directly feeds into my own thought processes. Part of it is due to the people I follow. I try to surround myself with people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in: learning, making, coding, and thinking about the intersection of learning and technology. Then I curate my Scoop on Learning on the Digital Frontier and post those as Twitter feeds. People who think those are interesting retweet or follow. And I meet more interesting people. And I learn more.

It seems to fit my thirst for learning, my hyper-focused mind, my always-on curiosity. Now I can’t imagine life without it.


Just borrowed a Chromebook. And I have to say that so far, I could definitely see using one of these full-time. Question is — what programs do I use that aren’t web-based? First, I’m a power user of Google Apps and could pretty easily exist with Drive, Docs, Presentations, Forms, Spreadsheets. Then Chrome Apps like Tweetdeck, Weather Channel, etc. I’d be almost set.

But I use several other programs in my teaching that aren’t web-based: Scratch, LEGO Mindstorms, GameMaker, and Processing (for my Arduino). That would probably eliminate the Chromebook as the only device for me. Perhaps with so many programs going to the cloud, in a year or two we should revisit it.

But it has a great form factor: light, nice keyboard, thin. Good battery life. I’ll stay tuned.


Escaping the Echo Chamber…chamber….chamber…

It just feels like it’s time. I’ve been in edtech for over 15 years now. I applaud the efforts of those who are trying to reform the educational system and make it reflect the modern world. But truthfully, I yearn to do something more than retweet what others are saying. And a lot of what goes around is simply that. I hear very few contrarian voices (maybe Gary Stager is the most prominent exception). There’s an awful lot of preaching to the choir.

So I’m pruning my Twitter feeds,  my RSS feeds, my Zite reading, and concentrating on actual learning projects that are  jazzing me. At this point, I’m looking at the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi, webmaking, and robotics. The common thread is that all of these are about doing something. I’d rather move into Mad Scientist Mode and see what students are coming along for the ride. My experience has been that nothing gains student involvement like passion, and they can inherit some of that passion from other passionate people, like their teachers.

Who’s with me?
echo chamber 7

Teaching HTML in middle school

We’re kicking it old-skool! OK, sorry for the lame attempt to be hip. But a blog post by Tess Rinearson about teaching computer science in middle school recommended teaching HTML the Old Way. We’re talking Notepad, folks.

I was happy to read this, because that’s exactly what I’m doing right now with my Digital Multimedia class, which is one of our offerings in our arts block.  The current unit is an introduction to web design. Yes, I realize there are many WYSIWYG tools out there that will enable anyone to create a spiffy web page without knowing a single HTML tag. Dreamweaver is awesome, and we’re going to use it after we learn some HTML, some CSS, and a dollop of Javascript. But my question is always, “What happens when the design you want doesn’t work or won’t display the way you want it to?” Dragging and dropping can only get you so far, and in fact, can compound the original problem by generating more HTML code and further fouling up the works.

Knowing how to get “under the hood” is a necessary skill, and even an elementary knowledge of HTML can help the troubleshooting process. Plus, and this is the part I love, it gives the students a measure of control over the technology they are using. And it can be an important gateway experience for further computer science study. From a gender perspective, about half the class is female. So I hope that I am helping them have a positive experience with coding that will carry on later. It’s a win-win.

Questions I asked my class:

What’s the coolest thing about learning HTML?

“Links and fonts.” — Clark

“The links.” — Greg

“You can put virtually anything you want on a website with the coding, and how it all works together.” — David

“The image with the link. That you can use an image to be a link you click on.” — Chandler

“You can pretty much do everything you see on a normal website with HTML.” — Danny

What’s the hardest thing so far?

“That you have to have all the tags, the closing tags, everything right.” — Sam

“If you make a mistake, you don’t know till you save it. Then you have to go through all the code and find it.” — Mali

What did you learn about the internet that you never knew before learning this?

“You look at all these websites, and you realize that there’s all this coding behind it for them to work.” — Victoria

“You look at a website and it looks all different and pretty, and then you see the code and what makes it look like that.” — Chandler

“I learned that it’s pretty simple, and really anybody can do it.” — Drew

“A lot of websites use code that they get from other websites, but there has to be one that did it first.” — Ethan


html code

From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom


Subtitle = “Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning”

We ordered this after seeing Prensky last week. I’m very interested in reading this and hope to respond here. Thoughts in process…

I love this paragraph from the introduction: “To the disappointment of some (and the delight of many),  the vision I have is not just about technology in education. In fact, it is not even just a vision of better education. My vision is one of better people, better equipped to face the challenges of the world they will live in — that is, a world far different than yesterday’s or even today’s. Technology has an important place in that vision, because it has an important place in our future. But it does not dominate the vision; rather it supports it. As one of my student panelists put it brilliantly, ‘We see technology as a foundation. It underlies everything we do.’ In the end, I am far more interested in creating important, useful learning and life opportunities for our students than I am in promoting any educational technology.”

The more I teach, and the more I work in ed tech, the more convinced I am that Prensky is correct here. First, that the world has changed. Much of education has not caught up and in fact, seems determined to follow a course based on 19th rather than 21st century realities. Second, what we call “technology” is simply part of life to our students, the way TV is to us. We don’t have deep, meaningful discussions about television qua television. We discuss individual shows, but the medium is transparent. Kind of like the air we breathe. “Technology” is like the air our students breathe, and as long as we fear it, try to manage it, treat it as something “other”, we’re perpetuating the disconnect between our educational systems and the realities our students inhabit.

prensky book

Digital Learning with Marc Prensky

I spent yesterday at a full day conference put on by ADVIS featuring Marc Prensky. I’ve been reading his stuff for years but had never heard him. It was a very thought-provoking day. And I mean that in the best way possible. In fact, it provoked so many thoughts that I will probably be writing about it off and on for a while.

So here’s the first. He said we live in an era of VUCA — Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. End result = Chaos. Then factor in accelerating change, which is more than rapid change. The speed of change isn’t just fast, it’s getting faster.  I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t “get” this. The question for us as educators is, “What now?” How do we prepare our students for their future?

The second point he made that struck me was that, because of modern technology, we now have augmented intelligence, or as he called it, an “extended brain”. We have at our fingertips a world of knowledge, and it’s getting easier and easier to access (thanks, Siri!). So what does this mean for education? He seemed to feel that everything is now up for reconsideration. I’m not so sure. But it is time (past time, really) to start having these conversations as educators.

Video file format purgatory

I had my 7th graders “translate” parts of the Declaration of Independence into raps this week. I was originally going to record with the Snowball mic and have audio files. However, it was “Clash Day”, and the visuals of the students were so colorful that I decided to film them with my Android phone. Worked great! Looked awesome!

Then I promised to publish them on our Moodle class site, thinking Youtube would be going a bit too far. OK… mail vid files to my Gmail account, download them to my PC. They’re in .3gp format. Never heard of that. Asked our resident film guru for best format; he suggested (among others) avi. Went to Zamzar, uploaded them, converted them to avi, got the email from Zamzar saying they were ready, downloaded them, uploaded them to a folder in Moodle.

So far, a lot of mailing and uploading and downloading, but still worth it. Kids were excited. Next day in class, my students with Macs said they couldn’t view them. Grr.

Next step: mov files. Stay tuned for further developments. One thing I do know is that mov files are way bigger than avi files (30Mb vs 4Mb). I uploaded one and will ask my Mac students to try it tonight and will go from there.

Perhaps I’m being punished for always having taught in PC (specifically Thinkpad) environments?

I’m open to suggestions.

UPDATE — Well, well. Who would have guessed that both Macs and PC’s, using Quicktime, could view 3gp files natively? Not me, obviously. No need to convert files at all. Just shows me what happen when I assume something….