Thursday, January 31, 2008

Posters that I find compelling

The Mission Minded Management blog featured for the Friday funny. I heard an interview with the CEO of several years ago. He said that people neither read nor get inspiration from the posters that are found in businesses and schools. There sure are a lot of them in my kid's schools. Imagine if someone posted one of these in a classroom and someone else actually did read it!

Just Fix the System Please - A Friday Funny

By Michelle Malay Carter on January 31, 2008

I’ve been called irreverent. Sometimes I use sarcasm to get a point across, but Despair, Inc. has found a way to turn cynicism into cash-flow with an entire line of products for people interested in responding to the lame motivational words and techniques that organizations attempt. Just fix the system please!

Below are my personal favorites. They are from the Demotivator Poster line and they are available for $15.95.

If you were to create a Demotivator poster, what would it say?



Here are some more from their site:

Clearly the shirt is not for me - check my feedjit widget! Maybe if it said "More people have read this shirt than have posted a comment to your blog"...

This next poster was one that the CEO described on the radio show. Hilarious!

I wonder what it says about me that I find this much more compelling than the saccharine version?

Design, Logos, KidPix in a great post

If you didn't subscribe to Bob Sprankle's "bit by bit" blog or podcast after my previous post, you might want to do so now.

In his post "Mama, Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Designers", he describes how Dan Pink's book, "A Whole New Mind", influenced a Grade 3 activity with design and logos. It is a great example of reflective practice.

Do you have other examples of this sort? I think a collection of these stories could do more to convince teachers of the power of ICT than cartons of standards documents or pretty worksheets.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sky High XOs?

I don't know what to make of this photo. Do you sometimes feel like you have come out of a bomb shelter, like in Blast from the Past, and are attracted by strange and inexplicable phenomena?

The full article is chock-full of interesting information, but does not explain why you would use XOs strapped to the ceiling...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lively e-learning, Compelling presentation

Cathy Moore has posted her "Dump the Drone - Steps to livelier courses" presentation on Slideshare. It is well worth a quick run through.

Another example of Read/Write Culture?

In a previous post, I reflected on Larry's Lessig's talk at TED on Read/Write culture. He gave three examples of what people are creating. The second one being a very disturbing video of a Jesus character.

Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, challenged readers to come up with nonsense lyrics according to some rules in a recent post. Readers responded. Then a band created the song. Then it was posted to a popular video sharing site with images added. Much of this is likely illegal, but I do think it is illustrative of what Lessig was trying to get across. Think about the various literacies involved in the production of the work and the collaboration that was involved and the fun that the various players had.

Linkages, Sketchpad and YouTube

Nick Jackiw has a very interesting Geometer's Sketchpad sketch on linkages, which intrigued me. The whole collection is worth having a look at.

Today, I happened upon the video below. If you thought modeling the Fibonacci gauge was a challenge...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fibonacci Gauge

I originally saw this at the magazine's site. I loved it and so did Ron Lancaster. Try making a Geometer's Sketchpad sketch of the gauge.

My blog's readability

I just used the Blog Readability Test on this blog.

The result?

Now, is that good or bad? The OAME site's reading level is Genius....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Music and the XO

Well, I was sitting around playing Barbu and Friends with a Wizard deck the other night with some Math friends and had my XO handy. Having just seen the news about, I thought I would give it a try. I wasn't expecting much since I have been having troubles playing videos - getting no video, choppy sound etc. Anyway, the site played beautifully through Firefox with Flash installed and we enjoyed some music on the Colin James' Similar Artists channel. Too bad that Pandora is still unable to have Canadian users.

Then, on my trip home, I realized that I had not charged my iPod. I whipped the XO out and had it running on the passenger seat, with its solid state drive, and it charged the iPod nicely before "As it happens" was done.

I just found out about feh. It sounds like it can make the XO act like a digital picture frame. I am going to try it out.

Does anyone have any suggestions about a good .mp3 player application for the XO that will play music off a USB drive - with playlists, shuffle, continuous play etc?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The XO Laptop - An Education Project

So far, I haven't spent much time with the XO applications that ship on the device. My children have been dabbling with TamTam and some of the others.

I have been fussing with getting Firefox, Flash, Skype and running. In the meantime, I have been learning a lot and experiencing a fair degree of frustration. This frustration is probably similar to the frustration/crankiness/feeling-dumbness that novice computer users experience at one of my workshops about Sketchpad or Fathom or some other application. When they are unfamiliar with the keyboard, don't understand the file system and can't find the sample files they are supposed to load and it feels like the experience is flashing by them, it is no wonder that they might think the whole thing is stoopid.

I think it is often useful to put ourselves back in that learning mode to regenerate empathy. It is like when Math teachers try to get a CAS to do what they are very comfortable doing on the blackboard. They have trouble and it should generate empathy for their students who will have trouble with whatever approach to algebra is employed since they are new to it.

OLPC has an insightful response to the rather lousy review that the Guardian gave to the device (it's for the kids - stupid!). The reviewer sounds like he was trying to do a lot of the same things as I am. We talk about paper-trained teachers. Well I am paper-trained and Windows-trained!

Like the Possum Lodgers, I can pray "I'm a man, but I can change. If I have to. I guess." But it is not so bad yet that I have to invoke their motto "Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati", "When all else fails, play dead".

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's the conversation, stupid

Sometimes I get so interested in the neat Web 2.0 tools that I forget what is important about teacher learning. That is why I found Tim Hawes' comment on Joan-Vinall-Cox's blog so germane.

In general, I'm less concerned about what medium teachers use than I am about that they may not have the conversation at all. Do we all as educators:

  1. maintain an social active professional networking page;
  2. Use 'live communication tools' like Twitter; participate in meaningful, timely professional development
  3. have received or sent a text message; connect regularly with peers, parents, students
  4. know what a wiki is; have a collaborative approach with our peers, and more importantly with our students
  5. can tell you what RSS is all about... share our knowledge and best practices
Of course, those of us who have tapped into what the 'net can do to enhance all these actions hope that our peers will take advantage of them as well...

Thanks, Tim!

Monday, January 21, 2008

When is the time for digital education?

I have been thinking a lot about the following post from Bit by Bit. It is a little longer than my usual post, but well worth the read:

The Time is Now

January 17th, 2008 · 4 Comments

(cross-posted at

Let’s try something fun. Look at the image below and try to guess what I’m trying to express with this “icon”:


Can you tell what it is, what I’m trying to communicate?

Ok. Now, click on this LINK to see the same icon with modifications. Then come on back to finish reading!

Can you now tell what I was trying to communicate? Of course you can. Those two little lines made all the difference in the world, didn’t they? Without them, we’re looking at a shape that has no meaning. With them, we’re looking at a TV.

Now, go find a kid. Ask him or her to draw a television. Chances are, you’re going to see a drawing that includes the antennas. Over my 11 years of teaching, I’ve seen a lot of TVs drawn by children, and guess what? They all have included the antennas.

What’s interesting about this is that we’re talking about children who have never seen a TV in real life that has donned the “Rabbit Ears”. The children I’m talking about are those born into the world of Cable or Satellite dishes. What does this mean? Surely these children have seen the iconic representation of a television with antennas attached. These representations of boxes with lines have been passed down by those of us who know the reality and purpose of TV antennas. A plain box means nothing to us. Add two lines, and we understand: TV. This begs the question: which part of the drawing is most important: the box or the two lines placed on top?

This antiquated icon has not only survived, but is the more successful model to communicate the “idea” of television. According to the Nielson Company, “Rabbit Ears” are still used by 14.3 million households to receive television signals over the air. But for most of us, TV antennas are now just a memory. So, in a sense, we are using a type of fiction to express a truth. Drawing just a box —even though it is closer to the reality of what a TV looks like— is less effective than adding the fiction of antennas, which in reality do not exist. This is like needing to draw unicorns to represent real horses.

On February 17, 2009, full power television stations will switch off their analog signals forever, leaving only digital signals. My understanding is that those of us who have TVs that are analog, and yet receive cable or satellite, at the most will need to purchase a $40 converter box. It will however, completely make the “Rabbit Ears” useless. Extinct.olddaily.jpg

After the “switch-over” I wonder how much longer kids will be drawing TVs with antennas. Perhaps this will be what changes our expression of what TVs look like, how we communicate the idea of TV. Once TV antennas have been completely obliterated, perhaps it will finally seem silly to include those two little lines. Perhaps we will finally surrender our belief that we need their “fiction” to communicate what we mean.

Last week, David Jakes posted an incredible article here at TechLearning which examines reasons why technology has yet to “alter the learning landscape”. The article has haunted me with the truth all week, and one point keeps rising to the top of my thoughts:

“Too many are too comfortable with doing what they’ve always done.”

David ends the article with the call for schools to:

“Get a vision, and get an expectation that having a digital component to student learning is absolutely necessary. Make it part of your culture, and support it relentlessly.”

I completely agree. Until we make it an absolute necessity, it will not be adopted systemically… much like hanging onto analog TV signals while digital has proven to be the more successful approach.

Perhaps we need to set a date for our education to switch entirely over from analog. By this I’m not really talking about the technology. Instead, I refer to the fact that the digital components (or more specifically, 21st Century tools and skills) is treated as add-ons, as optional, as preparation for the future, rather than implemented as necessary for now.

In David’s TechLearning article, he points us to an earlier blog post that he wrote on his own site about the difference between “integration” and “being integral”. His point is that we are still treating technology as something that has to be integrated rather than as an intrinsic part of the curriculum:

“To imply that technology needs to be integrated strongly suggests that it is outside of what the standard skill set is for educators. It’s not. The use of technology in a lesson is no different than the use of a lecture, of structuring the lesson so that students learn collaboratively, or preparing an assessment to gauge understanding. Whether or not to use technology tools in the learning process is a curriculum design question, pure and simple.”

It’s very much like the fiction of placing those two lines on top of the drawing of the box and saying, “There… Now it’s a TV,” when it’s been a TV all along. If we continue to view technology as an extra or outside of the core curriculum, or even as something that should be paid attention to if only because it will be needed for our students’ futures, then we continue to view it as optional. Instead, we need to make it an essential component and that without it, the lesson just can’t happen. That will force us to stop using technology to do “what we’ve always done” but now with a new tool (for example, using PowerPoint to complete a book report), and move up to the higher levels (i.e., Bloom’s Taxonomy) where technology is transforming our experiences, understanding, interactions.

You want to watch TV on February 18, 2009? You better give up those “Rabbit Ears.” You want to teach in the 21st Century? You better give up those 20th century schools.

Ok… see this picture below? It’s a TV.


Get used to it.


UPDATE: (11:58 1/17/08) Tom Fletcher sets me straight on what I got wrong about analog.


Jakes, David. “The Strength of Weak Ties: To Integrate or to be Integral?.” The Strength of Weak Ties. 15 Oct. 2007. 16 Jan. 2008 .

Jakes, David. “Under Construction (Techlearning blog).” | Technology & Learning - The Resource for Education Technology Leaders. 10 Jan. 2008. 16 Jan. 2008 .

“The Associated Press: Retailers Anxious Over Analog TV Cut-Off.” Google. 8 Jan. 2008. 16 Jan. 2008 .


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My first reaction centred on the question of When? I even posted a comment to that effect:

I am intrigued by the idea of setting a date for analog education to be phased out. Wouldn’t that be powerful!

What date would you suggest? 2010? 2015? When American troops withdraw from Iraq? When there is a $200 Mobile Internet Device for Education widely available?

Unfortunately, no one has fashioned a response to this yet. I am wondering what you think. Vicki Davis talked about comments being the lifeblood of her passion for blogging this week. I would love to read your comment about this or the following questions.

Next, I saw that Bob Sprankle edited his post to indicate that he received a comment indicating that he got some of the details a little wrong. However, I think the important point was that most students do not have an antenna on their TVs and yet when asked to create a simple icon for one, would include them.

Finally, my thoughts have turned to the question of What? Specifically, what is digital education? Is it just a construct for those in the "know" about certain technologies? Together with the Why? and How? questions, this is what the so-called edubloggosphere is concerned with.

There is a part of me that rejects the notion of digital education. That education is about thinking, communicating, formulating questions, resolving dissonance, etc. and that this is not changing. Maybe "digital schooling" would be a better moniker. We seem to be in a very unsettling time when web technologies are exploding that could have a positive effect on schools while at the same time, schools have less access, more controls and an unhealthy affection for an anachronistic view of literacy. I spoke with a technology leader in a school board yesterday who thinks that she will not be able to read this blog due to the board's filtering software.

I am thinking about the What? question in these terms, but could use your help.

Digital Education

  • uses digital tools - digital video, digital audio, digital publishing, digital imagery, digital communications, digital maps, etc. (I am thinking about the power of YouTube, Audacity, GoogleDocs, Flickr, Skype, Google Maps Streetview, etc. to allow students to find information, analyze it, and communicate their learning)
  • finds "knowledgeable others" to work with from around the globe. The teacher is but "the first among many" who brings encouragement, feedback, questions, concern etc. to the students
  • helps students develop a personal learning network (PLN). Incidently, PLN is an abbreviation that I am starting to see a lot, but has not yet made it into Wikipedia - there is a good assignment for some students or teachers: create an entry for Personal Learning Networks linked to the entry for PLN to describe this concept as David Warlick and others see it.
  • is provided by teachers who are learners who use digital tools for their professional development, helped by knowledgeable others in their personal learning networks. This is why I think that getting teachers onto RSS is vital and why the work of folks like Will Richardson is so transformative.
All of this is bound up with a frustration that comes from seeing students look to schools less and less as places to learn and more and more as a minimum-security prisons where they put their interests, passions and relevant education "on-hold". What is the date that we are going to set to reverse that trend?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dropball on the XO Laptop

After a little poking around and subscribing to a bunch of XO feeds, I can post a screenshot of Dropball from CLIPS from the XO Computer.

Here is a quick introduction to the XO that I found. I smirked when they couldn't get it open, since that was my experience with my kids this morning. They were so stoked about the computer that they didn't want to go to school.

Strauss, Sketchpad, Photos, Quadratics and YouTube

I was hoping to post this from my new XO Laptop, but I have some figuring out to do about Flash, Opera, Linux and fat fingers.

However, I just had to post this video. Have you ever seen anything like it. Astonishing!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Presentation Zen

This was one of my favorite links, long before I even knew it was a blog entry. It contrasts Steve Jobs' presentation style to Bill Gates'. Think about how artful Lessig's presentation from my previous blog entry is.

Today, I found on Vicki Davis' feed the link to a recent interview with Garr Reynolds, the author, about good presentations.

Lots of food for thought here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Read/Write Culture

For those of you thinking about new technologies are changing education and society, here is a persuasive argument by Lessig from The summary from the TED blog sets it up:

Creative Commons founder Larry Lessig: "We have to recognize they kids different from us. We watch TV, they make TV. It is technology that has made them different."

I found this on the 21st Century Collaborative blog, where the message is interpreted through a son's experience.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Little Inexpensive Computers

I have been following, with interest, the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative and am looking forward to receiving one soon (Canadians were put on the back of the bus, it seems, for Give One Get One deliveries).

Then I saw Tim Hawes' Asus Eee PC, running CLIPS, and and generally handling everything, except perhaps fat fingers, thrown at it during Will Richardson's workshop in London.

Intel, on and now off the OLPC board, has its own offering, the Classmate PC.

Today, in Vicki Davis' RSS feed, I found Kathy Schrock's post about Mobile Internet Devices in which she mentions the Everex Cloudbook.

Look at the specs for this computer, soon to be sold at (do I really need to add a link?). I wonder if will offer it too.

9 Inches, 2 pounds, 5 hours of battery life. Surf, email, blog, IM, Skype, compute. Cloud computing makes it simple and easy for everyone.

Based on the latest gOS Rocket operating system, the ultra-mobile Everex PC comes with popular applications from Google, Mozilla, Skype, and more.

Find your $399 CloudBook at beginning 1/25/08

Additional Preinstalled and Linked Software

Mozilla Firefox, gMail, Meebo, Skype, Wikipedia, GIMP, Blogger, YouTube, Xing Movie Player, RythemBox, Faqly, Facebook and 2.3 (includes WRITER, IMPRESS, DRAW, CALC, BASE)

Hardware Specifications
1.2GHz, VIA C7®-M Processor ULV, 512MB DDR2 533MHz, SDRAM, 30GB Hard Disk Drive, 7" WVGA TFT Display (800 x 480), VIA UniChrome Pro IGP Graphics, VIA High-Definition Audio, 802.11b/g, (1) 10/100 Ethernet Port, (1) DVI-I Port, (2) USB 2.0 Ports, (1) 4-in1 Media Card Reader, (1) 1.3MP Webcam, (1) Headphone/Line-Out Port, (1) Microphone/Line-In Port, (1) Set of Stereo Speaker, (1) Touchpad, (1) 4-Cell Lithium-Ion Battery

Everex CloudBook CE1200V

Get involved with the Open Source community! Join Everex and FOSS partners gOS, Koolu, OpenMoko, OpenOffice, ZaReason, Zonbu and more.. Email customerservice [at] everex [dot] com for more info.
You get the feeling that Open Source is going mainstream and that small, connected devices might actually be closer to being commonplace among students. Now imagine if they were actually allowed to use them at school!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Broadcasting the audio from a Skype call

Will Richardson in a recent post, tells the story of joining a 14 year old's post-primary analysis broadcast from New Hampshire. Participants were invited to join a Skype call and the show was broadcast using Here is an excerpt:

Tuesday night as I was finishing up the prep for my presentations and scanning the stunning election results from New Hampshire, I got Skype pinged by Arthus who asked “would you be willing to Skype in re: NH?” About the same time I saw a Tweet go by noting that Arthus (who is 14, btw, and probably hates the constant references to that important contextual fact) was broadcasting live at UStream, dissecting the vote tallies coming in from around his home state. A few seconds later, I’m there with about 30 other people, watching and listening to his analysis and his wide ranging discussions with Skyped in guests.


And here I am, the guy doing the spotlight session at NECC on “Creating Live Web TV for the Classroom for Global Audiences” typing into the chat box “Hey Arthus, how do you get Skype to work with UStream?” and Arthus in a much nicer way basically saying “Read my blog, doofus.”

If you read Arthus' blog entry, it explains how to use a Mac to loop the sound back into the mic. It made me wonder if this would be a good way of handling audio in Adobe Connect meeting so that people who do not have a phone connection could still hear what is going on.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Online and Free Calculators and CASs

I made a couple of minor edits to my Wiki page about online basic calculators, scientific calculators, graphing calculators, CAS systems, and plotting utilities today.

It still blows me away how much is available online and how good the quality is. Yacas (yet another CAS) has a tab called My Yacas that provides quick access to the list of commands and to the actual CAS engine - no download required.

Now, if only math students had the kind of access to computers and the internet that would allow them to use these tools routinely in school.

Update: Don't miss the link above to the actual page listing online calculators, CASs, graphing utilities etc.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Mathematic Notation

I ran across a post today on the SquareCircleZ blog, lamenting the effect of some of the poor choices of notation that we use in Mathematics.

It reminded me of the trouble that I have been having saying that cosine is x/r and then making r=1 to get a unit circle. Now x=cosine and we graph the values as y = cos x (what is x!!!).

One of the commenters makes an interesting suggestion about the use of brackets. If we adopted this idea, we could see the difference between 5(x) and f(x).

  1. David Speyer said,

    June 17, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    By the way, this is Mathematica’s notation. “()” indicates order of operations, “[]” indicates application of functions, “{}” indicates an ordered pair or a list. So

    ParametricPlot[{Sin[t], 2*(Cos[t]+1)}]

    would plot an ellipse whose x-coordinate is Sin[t] and whose y-coordinate is 2*(Cos[t]+1). (Also, “[[]]” indexes into a vector or array, but pedagogically we want to discourage students from thinking of an array and a function as different objects.)

    I find that I have very little trouble making these distinctions, even when I’ve been away from the software for several months, so I think it would be easy for experienced mathematicians to switch to the new notation.