David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
Shakabuku Infographics Video

Learn by Doodling

Circuite Scribe

If you are a follower of this blog, then you’re aware that I am employing both of my children to curate their own teacher resource blogs (Infographic-A-Day & Vid-A-Day), and that I syndicate them into 2¢ Worth.

One, posted by Martin the other day, really caught my attention (Circuit Scribe, the new way to teach and use circuits). It’s an ink, developed at the university of Illinois, through which electrical current can be carried. Their (electroninks) intent is an innovative way to help youngsters come to understand circuits. They doodle their circuit ideas with Circuit Scribe pens, lay components on their drawings, and throw the switch.

Part of what intrigued me about the project was our education community’s growing interest in helping students learn by making things – with tools, wires and code. This product is such a threshold-free approach to learning circuit design.

The other thing that provoked me to comment here is my son – and I hope that Martin doesn’t mind my bringing his personal experience into this. You see, Martin is incredibly talented at becoming an expert in areas that interest him. Many of you know that he is a celebrated master musician. But he constantly surprises us when he suddenly can talk with us about that never seemed of interest to him before, such as some old movie we’ve just seen.  He’s telling us about the director, actors, academy award nominations, related works and stories about its production. He’s especially fond of the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson.

He can also tell you almost anything about the NBA and is currently learning a lot about the NFL, via his fantasy football league. He is definitely not the athletic jock type (band geeks were big on campus in his high school) and has never expressed any interest in sports until recently.

To the point of this writing, I find it interesting that my son zoomed in on this video about Circuit Scribe. You see Martin dropped out of the computer science program of one of our state universities, because he hated programming – and I think I know why. They were not teaching him to doodle. I don’t mean literally draw his programs with conductive ink. They weren’t helping him learn to code the way I learned to code. He was being made to learn programming in the same way that I was taught grammar. It was about memorizing proper syntax, instead of learning to make computers do interesting and useful things.

My children will both find their intersections of play, purpose and passion, and it will (hopefully) be something they can make a living at.

..and they’ll do it in spite of the “test-prep” curriculum that dominated their childhoods.

 

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network 2.0

CYPLN in 3 Formats

It is with great pleasure and no small amount of relief, that I announce the second edition of Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network: A Gardener’s Approach to Learning – formerly known as A Gardener’s approach to Learning: Cultivating at our Personal Learning Network.  Switching the title and subtitle was the idea of my wife and business manager, Brenda.  She’d long felt that  ”A Gardener’s Approach..” did not clearly describe the content and function of the book.

This second edition started innocently enough when, with an afternoon to kill, I downloaded Apples iBooks Author (iBA) software, a free download that helps us create interactive iBooks for publishing through the iBooks book store and iTunes.  Since it was my latest book, I dumped the text of Gardener’s Approach.. into iBA and started playing.  My initial reaction was not that different from what I initially though if iBooks.  They glow and flow, but provide little opportunity for the reader to talk back, which I believe should be a core goal for the next generation of learning content.  The iBooks I’d seen were still primarily intended for top-down reader-passive content consumption.

However, when I started factoring in the great fun I’ve had with Apple Keynote’s dazzling animation capabilities and the ability to insert keynotes into the iBook, I continued to play, adding animated tutorials for some parts of the book.  

I initially struggled with the HTML feature of iBooks, which I couldn’t figure out for the life of me.  I’ve been coding in HTML for nearly 20 years.  They I learned…

It seems that what iBook Author means by HTML is actually Dashboard Widgets, which are small programs that can be downloaded and installed on your Macintosh computer and run in the background – and now in the widgets space on later versions of Mac’s OS.  They have come in nearly every category of software, but are usually utilities such as calculators, calendars and clocks. I saw no use for any of these utilities in my book, so I set out researching and teaching myself how to write my own dashboard widgets. 

As I played (which is what learning often feels like to me), ideas started forming for interfacing my iBook with the web and specifically with web pages that would give readers the ability to add and comment on their own stories of networked learning.  It was at that point that I was hooked.

Of course, reading through the book, I learned how dreadfully out-of-date it was, so I started editing and rewriting major portions of CYPLN and adding at least one chapter.  After all, the first edition was written before the Apple iPad launched.  So, after many edits and re-edits, with the tireless assistance of Brenda, and the launch of Bookry, which provides a tool for creating much slicker widgets than I was writing, I’ve published Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network 2nd Ed, in print, ebook (for Kindle), and iBook (with color, motion, and conversation).

The most interesting part of this endeavor was the act of using many of the skills and techniques described in the book in order to learn how to publish it in these new formats and with these new features.  My own PLN grew.

I hurriedly produced the video below as an introduction to some of the features of the iBooks version.

 

The print and ebook versions, like the first edition of CYPLN, feature QR-Codes, which give the reader access to many of the features of the iBook – without the flair. 

One concept that jelled for me during the proces was that of scale. Because the ebook and iBook versions of CYPLN was digital, weightless and so easily distributed, I’ve decided to price for scale. So the iBook and ebook (Kindle) versions are only $2.99 (USD). Since the print version (259 pages) must be produced and shipped, I have to charge a little more, $8.99, which gives me a profit similar to that of the digital books.

This will take you to a page with links to the various purchasing venues: http://goo.gl/EUu7B

Enjoy!

Why 3D Printing & Fabrication are Important to Education

(cc) Photo by Anja C. Wagner
3D printer selbstgebaut vom ODC (self-made at the open design center, probably in Berlin)

I mentioned in my ISTE Reflection article that I thought 2012 would be the year that 3D printing and fab labs emerged as a major interest to the education world. But it’s more than just a cool technology that we’d like to see in schools.  Personal fabrication may be hugely important to us.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having coffee with my friend, neighbor and fellow blogger, Paul Gilster (Centauri Dreams).  A self-made authority on interstellar space exploration and associate with the Tau Zero Foundation, Gilster has inspired me for years, as expressed in the acknowledgments of all my books.

On that day, he told me about work toward sending small spacecraft to specific positions in space in relation to the sun.  The craft would look back at our star and utilize the bending of light caused by the sun’s gravitational force to magnify what’s on the other side.  The concept is called Gravitational Lensing, and was initially mentioned by physicist Orest Chwolson in 1924 and first quantified by Albert Einstein in 1936. In effect, we would be turning the sun into a gigantic lens, through which we would be able to see, according to Gilster, planets orbiting distant stars, continents on those worlds, and even cities, if they exist.

This is where my legs started to get wobbly.

Getting to specifics, Paul explained that to get a spacecraft to that position, about 750 astronomical units (AU) from the sun (Pluto orbits at an average of 40au), the craft would have to be very small and utilize nano scale mechanisms and even some degree of artificial intelligence.

At that point, a recurring question came to mind, which I asked,

“Assume that we’re approaching the limits of what we would practically want to do with our cell phones and personal computers, and that they’re about as small as we wish them to be, what’s going to drive further research and development in miniaturization – making things smaller?  Surely not NASA.”

I didn’t actually speak the last sentence.  But Gilster said that aside from the military, it would be personal fabrication, that we would all have our own in-house fabricators, where we would design and “print” our own cellphones, etc.  

As my son explained it to me, the lid that holds the batteries in our TV remote is broken and has been discarded.  As a result, we have to handle the remote with care to prevent the batteries from falling out.  Tape has not been a satisfactory solution.  With a 3D printer, we would simply go to the Samsung web site, look up the part and print it.  Ten minutes later (or an hour later, it doesn’t matter) the part would be sitting in our printer, where we could clip it into our remote.  One of the 3D printers that I saw at ISTE cost only $1,600.  The original Macintosh computers were nearly twice that expensive with only 128K of memory and no hard drive.  3D printers may become very important to us.

The true potential is when we can design our own remotes, with our our own sense of flair, using design software, and then print in our own homes.  Cottage industries might emerge, contests, DIY markets – and all fueled by creativity and inventiveness.

Check out the proliferation of Maker Faires and Cory Doctorow’s 2009 novel, Makers.

Now this idea of in-house fabrication and its cultural impact may seem a bit far-fetched to you.  However, if you’re old enough, you may remember a time when carrying your personal phone in your pocket might have seemed just as unlikely – a phone with which you could get weather and news reports on demand, have access to an interconnected global library, pinpoint your exact location on a map and participate in any of a million global conversations.

My question is this.  What should our children be learning today and how should they be learning it, to be ready to leverage this kind of creative opportunity?

What do you think?

Another Change My Classroom Video

“There are a ton of these out there.” That was my first response when watching this North Texas, student-produced video. But there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact I would suggest that more classes create, craft, and produce message commercials — but not so much for the world as for their local community. I wish someone would do it here so that our school board might get their heads in the right place and out of their …

Did I say that out loud?

What made me decide to post this was the initial teacher blog post. It is followed (reading up) by reflective articles from students. Here’s the text of the initial post and a link to the video (YouTube) and the blog.

As a teacher, I’ve always believed my job is to pose questions, not answer them. Fittingly, this whole project began because of a question. The class was reading Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” and the students were wrestling with a seemingly simple question: Could children, using the internet, have a dramatic impact on the world around them? Could they influence public opinion, and make a mark on their world?

Perhaps I should’ve seen what was coming, but it still caught me off-guard. Their question to me was simple enough, though: “Can we try it?”

It did seem the simplest way to settle the question, and so began the greatest experimental education project I’ve ever had the privilege of leading. The scope of our project was mind-boggling. First, figure out the most pervasive internet message-spreading tools. Then, determine the best way to harness them to our advantage. Next, craft our message such that it will spread as best as it possibly can, and finally, prepare all the supporting tools, media, and gear required for such a huge endeavor. I never imagined the variety of tasks that would be required:

  • Negotiating with principals for space/allowances
  • Negotiating with the district for extra desks and props
  • Contacting websites, publishers, recording industries
  • Researching all kinds of legalities about Fair Use

You name it, we probably did it. Here’s the best part, though: We had to get the entire thing done and released in four months, using no more than two hours a day, five days a week.

What follows is the account of that adventure – the highs and lows, good moments and bad, through the eyes of the incredible students who made this project happen. If I am to be credited for this, let it only be as the organizer or the conductor of the symphony. The students were the talented musicians who crafted this masterpiece.

J.Fletcher

I got a 35, I reckon!

?

It shouldn’t end with a question mark. It should end with an exclamation point.

I’ll give myself a 35 for the infographic (815KB) that I posted the other day (My First Stab at Infographics..) for your consideration. I get that many points for the effort, probably about ten hours of work. The effort was good. Each time I scrapped the whole thing and started again, it was because I learned something. It was because I realized that I was going down a wrong path — a path I will not take again. Each path, never to be taken again, is worth at least 5 points.

Some of the 65 points that I didn’t get was explained to me by Steve Ruddy, who commented..

An infographic usually uses the info to convey a point, I cannot figure out what you want me to deduce by all of this information. Most importantly I don’t see what the top half has to do with the bottom half at all. Hope this feedback helps you make better infographs.

He’s absolutely right.  All that I did was to convey individual chunks of data as blocks of images and then stack those blocks in a way that made sense to me.  There was a story there.  There was a purpose to the sequence of blocks.  But I didn’t tell tell story.  There was no mortar to give the blocks substance and meaning.  To Ruddy and others who viewed the graphic, it was just a stack of blocks with no exclamation point.

Thursday’s IGAD usually points to a data source that teachers or learners might use to craft their own infographic or data visualization. Today, however, I add an extra post about “breaking news” infographics, which are explicitly designed to tell a story. The examples are graphics, telling the story of the raid on Abbottabad.

As a result?  Well, I’m scrapping my current infographic and starting over again.  But it’s not so much to reshape the blocks, but to mix the mortar.

My point in sharing this is to say that I’m still proud of that 35.  I didn’t fail, because I learned from that experience and will do a little better next time.  But, as a learner, it makes me wonder…

Is it wrong to expect a 100?  Does that emphasize the wrong thing?

Shouldn’t we wait until the end of the course for something near 100?  ..or the end of the term? ..or graduation? ..or a long time after that?

My First Stab at Infographics & an Announcement

I’ve been fascinated by infographics and data visualization for a few years now and have started doing some presenting on the topic at conferences. But one of the questions that keeps arising and perhaps the greatest barrier to making stories with numbers and images is, “How do you do the design?” The tech is easy. It’s crafting the story or message that’s hard.

So I decided to try making one myself, hoping that some reasonable process might come out of it. I’m somewhat pleased with the graphic, as a first time effort, but can’t say that I have any handle on a design process. All I can say is that it involves a lot of trashing the whole thing and starting all over again.  I guess its about a willingness to play and permission to make mistakes and do it again differently.

You can click the smaller image to the right to get the full 1024 x 6000 pixel infographic. The graphic is based on a March 2011 study conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications and Stanford University. They surveyed just over 1,100 18 to 24 year olds about their education experience.

This also seems like a good time to finally mention a new blog I’ve been working on where I plan to post infographics that have interested me.  My plan is to post a link to one a day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, something that I suspect might be used within some instructional discipline — and then a data source for creating infographics on Thursday, and something for the fun of it on Friday.  This who excercize has informed me of the vast quantity of infographics that are being produced today — not all of it good.

So give a gander at an Infographic-a-Day at http://graphicaday.idave.us/.

Hope to have another one coming out in the next little bit to feature a video a day, which will be curated by my son.

A Haunting Experience

Have you ever attended a conference or had another learning experience that haunted you. By that, I mean it lingers, following you, in the shadows, rising in your thoughts at unexpected times, and surprising you with a, “Boo!” What haunts you is that you don’t know why. There’s a room with a closed door, and the answer’s in there. You approach the door, and you can hear people in the audience screaming, “Don’t open the door, stupid!”

This was the scene outside my hotel. There was a real Emerald City quality to the place.

At this point, I’ve not opened the door, though it occurs to me that I often find my conclusion when I sit down and write. It may have been a simple combination of the exotic. A mixture of tropical flora, chilly temperatures, steep and forbidding mountains next to the dozens of enormous freighters I watched moving intoVictoria Harbor during my walks between the conference site and my hotel — which was exotic by its own right.

It could have been the attendees, mostly educators from International schools from throughout Asia and even Indonesia. Teacher-adventurers is the best phrase I can come up with to describe these educators who have decided to live and work at the edges of their worlds.

Or was it the other speakers, such as Chris Smith, whom I’ve known for more than 10 years and whose career has paralleled mine in several ways.  Yet he, an Englishman, has settled in northern Thailand.  Or Stephen Heppell, who is strange in so many ways that simply draw you in. You want to ask, “Did his eyes just twinkle?” And you feel like he has just opened at your feet a sack of toys, playthings you’ve never seen before, ideas and suggestions that are so compelling that you feel as though you are a beginner teacher again.

Stephen Heppell

Yes! Writing this is helping me to uncover the spook — that and the fact that conference organizer, Paul White forwarded a link to the student performance we all watched with wonder on the last day.

What haunts me is what learners can accomplish in an environment that is unfamiliar, through the tension that is caused when gravity is slightly off center, in a place that seems just a little dangerous in it unfamiliarity and exoticness.

Watch the video, recorded by Chris Smith, and ask yourself, “What if I, comfortable at home and in routine, had to up and follow this.”  My spook was that I had to get up and follow these talented youngsters!


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind
(2005)

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