First Podcast I’ve listened to in a Long Time

I know!  It’s a terrible thing for a tech guy to say — though this revalation is fairly consistent with the frequency of my own podcast, Connect Learning — and I’ll not look back to see when my last one was posted.  It’s depressing.

Having shoot the visiting alien (played by Michael Rennie), the “military people” look up in astonishment at what just walked out of the flying saucer.  “Gort!  Klaatu barata nikto.”  From The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

But I’m still running the Education Podcast Network site and get to see what’s coming through — so that I can toss out the less appropriate.  This morning, I ran across MySF Project Blog, a blog/podcast about teaching Science Fiction in secondary school.  The host is Michael Sisley, a secondary teacher in Deakin, in the Australian Capital Territory, and creator of an online course on speculative fiction.

Using a thematic approach and research based around online and flexible learning instructional design, the mySF Project discusses texts that may be useful to teachers and students of SF in middle and upper secondary school. Deriving from several years teaching SF with students in Canberra, Australia and elsewhere, as well as recent studies, the mySF Project comes out on this website from the darkness of education intranets and is presented as another resource for secondary English and other teachers, as well as inviting feedback on the materials as part of an ongoing educational dialogue with teachers, authors, film-makers, blog and podcast creators, and students.

I’ve probably mentioned in this blog, but frequently express in outside conversations, that I believe that science fiction should become a much more widely explored genre in our students learning of literature.  This is not to say that the classics have less to teach us about our own world.  But perhaps, in this time of rapid change, good SciFi writers might be especially valuable sources of ideas for our students.  We can’t ignore these stats from Conor Bendl (Episode 26),

19 of the top 20 grossing movies of all time — science fiction or fantasy.  They did a poll a couple of years ago, Australia’s favorite book, Austrialia’s favorite film, and Lord of the Rings topped it in both situations. (( Bendl, Conor. “mySF Project: Podcast 26, for Teachers of Secondary Students Studying Science Fiction (SF).” [Podcast Entry] mySF Project Blog. 29 Jun 2009: 26 Podcast.31 Jul 2009. <>. ))

I listened to Sisley’s latest podcast, number 27, which features an interview with Thea van O, a former English teacher, SciFi buff, and currently a coordinator of learning technologies.  She talks about instruction technologies and the teaching of science fiction.  I learned about two tools that were completely new to me.

The first was Kahootz, which appears to be a virtual worlds generator (purchased software) that students in Australia are using to create 3D walk-throughs, which can be exported as AVI files. I got the correct spelling and URL from Helen Otway, an Assistant Principal/ICT person from Melbourne — via Twitter.  According to Heather Bailie, a secondary school ICT coach and teacher librarian, also from Melbourne,

Kahootz is a software app to create animated worlds. My 10 year old says it’s really fun! Vic. ed. dept have site licence. (( Bailie, Heather. “Twitter.” [Weblog Hbailie] 31 Jul 2009 07:08. Web.31 Jul 2009. ))

Created using Dumpr

As is often the case, when you ask a question in Twitter, you always learn more than you asked for.  Stuhasic (Twitter handle) mentioned Skoolaborate, an online project that brings students together from across the globe, using blogs, wikis, and Second Life.  Here is a video and explanation.

The other new tool I learned about was Dumpr, a cloud-based graphic tool that does some interesting things with digital images, probably most appropriate for elementary children, though I got a kick out of making the image to the right, using Photo to Sketch.

Conor Bendl is interviewed in episode 26, a high school teacher, instructor of an elective course (Speculative Fiction), and SciFi author. Most of the conversation explored Conors activities and techniques as an author.  It’s one of the huge benefits of a more openly communicative world that we have access, from the classroom, to real authors, who are often eager to talk about their craft.

Anyway, it was a good way to start a day of mostly programming.

So if you agree, that SciFi should be more widely used in classrooms, who would you recommend?  I’ll start with some obvious one.  Arther C. Clark, Greg Bear, and I am especially fond of Robert Sawyer’s work.  Who would you add?

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A New Kind of Math…

Started two or three days ago, while preparing for a presentation.

Highest rated datasets on Data.Gov

This CogDog Blog (Song Lyrics Data) caught my attention this morning.  Initially it was the title along with my continuing hunger for a new guitar and desire to work up a new song list.  I continue to be frustrated by my son’s ability to learn a song in hours (with the help of YouTube) that use to take me days of plucking it out by ear and untold abuse of the record needle.

But the first part of Levine’s article hit on something that I’ve been thinking about and talking about for a long time — the implications of digital content on us and what (and how) children learn.  I’ll be talking about it today (Monday) with educators in Southeast Missouri — that we need to expand our notions of what arithmetic means in an increasingly digital information environment.  When I was growing up, the only information that I was taught to process was number, on paper, in math class.  Although I was taught a little writing, text was for reading.  Images were for looking at.  Audio was for listening to and video was for watching.  What’s changed is that virtually all information today is based on numbers.  Text, images, sound, video — it’s all made out of numbers.

I was taught arithmetic so that I would have the skills to add-value by processing the numbers that described my environment.  This is no less critical today than it was in the 1950s and ’60s.  But today, it has become just as critical to be able to process the numbers embedded in our information environment.  Students need to learn and to become practiced information artisans, able to work the numbers that describe our information environment — so that they can add value to that environment.

Alan mentions a perfect example.  The Obama Administration and the nations first CIO, Vivek Kundra have launched, a website that will increase the

..ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. (( United States. The White House. About. Washington: USA.Gov, 2009. Web. . ))

According to Kundra, in this WIRED inteview, they want…

..the American people to be able to slice and dice and cube it (the data) and create new applications and at the same time, help the U.S. Government find the innovative path, being able to spot patterns and help us solve some of the toughest problems this country faces. ((Van Buskirk, Eliot. “Vivek Kundra, America’s CIO, Details Plans to Let Us Mash Government Data.” EPICENTER 15 Jun 2009 Web.27 Jul 2009. <>. ))

Math should not be just about learning the skills to calculate numbers on a piece of paper, but the ability to WORK the numbers that are embedded in our entire physical and information environments.

Work the numbers!

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I Wouldn’t be Doing This!

It’s an issue I’ve not weighed in on, except to say that I’m happy with the person who will do the best for our children and our future.  In truth, I have to agree with my wife, that it is plain wrong for a….

Education Building in Raleigh, NC
Click image for a close-up of the art work on the center wall.

Well, here’s the story in brief.  Our elected governor, Beverly Purdue, who ran on an education improvement platform, created a new position at the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  She hired William Harris as the agency’s CEO, giving him powers that effectively supplanted our “elected” state superintendent, June Atkinson — our first “insider” state superintendent in, well, decades.  Atkinson launched a lawsuit, which was recently ruled in her favor.  Harrison retired from the $265,000 salary CEO position day before yesterday.

You can read the story here.

But what irked me most, and here is the point of this entry, is that the newspaper article characterizes DPI as “…the state agency that oversees testing, curriculum and policy for 115 local districts in North Carolina.” 

Maybe I’m being petty.  But — that testing is included in this list of three functions of DPI, much less that it comes first, is a mark of the tragic state education has fallen to at the hands of politicians (education amateurs).  Good educators know that assessment is part of the teaching/learning process, not something different.

I suddenly realized, while thinking about this, that, if I was the age of my children, in this environment, struggling right now with shaping my own personal future..


Just to have some fun with this — what would you be doing today, if you had not entered the field of education.

As for me, some of you might remember the cartoon show, The Adventures of Johnny Quest.  I always wanted to be Johnny Quest’s father, this renaissance scientist with a private jet, body guard, some sad untold story that left his son motherless — coming to the rescue with the right knowledge and latest gadgets to save the day.  I’d be a scientist of some type.

How about you?

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Does Standardization Make the Right People Happy?

Flickr Photo by JPellgen

There was an interesting article in the July 19 New York Times, Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global.  The gadget Lover’s dream, their mobile phones are Internet ready, they feature e-mail, double as credit cards and boarding passes, and even body-fat calculators.  And the pocket devices have become an integral part of Japanese culture.  According to this December 2007 Sydney Morning Herald article, half of Japan’s top ten selling novels (at that time) were written on cell phones. (( Norrie. Justin. “In Japan, Cellular Storytelling is all the Rage,” The Sydney Morning Herald 3 Dec 2007. Web.22 Jul 2009. <–handhelds/in-japan-cellular-storytelling-is-all-the-rage/2007/12/03/1196530522543.html>. )) Yet, you wont find one here in the U.S., in Canada, Europe, South America, or …

“Japan is years ahead in any innovation. But it hasn’t been able to get business out of it,” said Gerhard Fasol, president of the Tokyo-based IT consulting firm, Eurotechnology Japan. ((Tabuchi. Heroko. “Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global,” The New York Times 19 Jul 2009. Web.22 Jul 2009. .))

They have a name for the problem: Galápagos syndrome. Darwin found fantastically evolved plants and animals, dramatically different from their mainland cousins, and completely unsuited to prosper or survive  anyplace else.

From the Socioeconomic Data and Applications CenterClick image to enlarge.

One reason for the hyper-evolution of Japanese cell phone technology is the preference they have for the pocket devices over full PCs. Although far below the population densities of small states like Macau (11.3 Mi2) and Monaco (.75 Mi2), Japan’s 870 people per square mile live mostly in the coastal cities. ((“List of countries and dependencies by population density.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Jul 2009, 15:20 UTC. 21 Jul 2009 .))  Most of the country’s almost entirely mountainous terrain can’t be built upon in any large population-supporting way.  Tokyo’s pop density is over 15,000 per Mi2, approaching five-and-a-half people per square foot.  I took a quick scan for apartments in Chuo-Ku (Central Ward) Tokyo and found units from 250 to 312 square feet running from ¥102,000 ($1,091) to ¥109,000 ($1,166) a month.

So where are you going to put your laptop and that 19 inch external display?

Another reason is the Japanese telco’s rush to build functionality into their cell phones and fashion network protocols to support them, vastly out-pacing the networks in other nations.

These cell phone companies need to reach a larger market. Kanshi Tazaki, with the consulting firm Gartner Japan, said that, “Japanese cellphone makers need to either look overseas, or exit the business.”

OK, lets leave the article now and ask two questions.

  1. If Japan could alter their phones so that they would work and be desired by an international community, would the CEOs of Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, and Fujitzu be happy?
  2. Would their products be better phones?

I would have to answer those questions with a “yes” and a “no.”  Even though Japanese electronics company may have no choice, Standardization is not always a good think, especially of your aim is to provide the best product or services to your individual customers.

Lurching over to my usual topic, education, it seems to me that emphasizing standards over softer issues may actually be a hindrance to the vastly different needs of communities across the U.S. and the world.  The basics of literacy and a working knowledge of our geographic, cultural, environmental, and historic similarities and differences should be standardized, in order to build a common ground for working together.  But the rigor of deep learning — knowing, comprehending, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating what we know about our world might better be managed locally and personally.

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Technology & Teaching

I’m sitting in the main hall of the Holiday Valley Yodeler Lodge, where I’ll be talking to about 200 high school teachers about contemporary literacy — in just a few minutes.  At present, there is a horn quartet playing on the floor above and a string quartet on the floor below me.  Interesting, but hard to concentrate.

I do want to say something about the two polls I’ve been running over the past few days — in which I’ve used the word technology more than I typically do during any given three months.  One reason I try to avoid the word is clear when reading through the comments on those posts.  People, rightly, want to clarify exactly what is meant by the word technology, qualifying their answers based on this perspective or that.  Still, it’s not a useless term, and following Alan Kay’s definition, that “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born,” I’m talking about computers, the Internet, software, and devices that you can connect to your computer — things that didn’t exist when I started teaching 33 years ago. 

Question 1

Question 2

My first poll question asked us to consider whether a teacher could be a good teacher without using technology.  The results were just a tiny bit less than an overwhelming, “Yes!” 

As I wrote yesterday, I had a few “good” teachers when I was in school, and this was long before the appearance what we now call technology.  I agree that some teachers, today, depending on their subject, can teach it without using technology, and teach it well.

But this brings us to the second question, “Is that teacher, who is not using technology, doing his or her job?”  The answer here was a fairly resounding, “No!”

I use to say that you should use the tool that was appropriate to the job.  If you can do it with a paper notebook and paper encyclopedia, then those are the tools you should use.  I’ve changed, though.  Actually the world has changed.  Today, our prevailing information landscape is increasingly networked, digital, and abundant.  Information behaves in new ways that are impossible in an exclusively published, print-based world. 

When I was in school, you waited for the 6:00 news, or the morning paper for the latest about the world.  Today, you don’t even go to for the latest. You go to Twitter, where citizen journalists are constantly reporting what’s happening around them.  I learned about the plane crash in the Hudson River from Twitter, and saw the first pictures on Flickr, uploaded from the cell phones of passers-by — before anything appeared on

This changes what it means to be literate.  It changes what it means to be a learner.  Today, being able to read and write and pass a test are not enough.  They are not nearly enough.  Today our students must become information artisans, able to learn, work, play, contribute, and prosper in a new and constantly changing and enriching information environment, and do so in a way that conserves the planet — rather than consum it.  We can not do this today by scratching and printing on pulp-based paper.  Teaching and learning must be digital. 

If you don’t want to do technology, if your not good at technology, then find another calling.

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Why did Google Make this Harder

I use to love demonstrating RSS to audiences.  Alas, I have never seen teachers become so sophisticated in their understanding and use of new technologies as during the past two or three years.  I’m not sure if some sort of tipping point has been reached or if it’s because learning this stuff has become a whole lot easier.

Anyway, I was showing off a few things you can do with RSS the other day, when I found, in front of thousands (probably closer to 12), that Google had removed its RSS subscribe link in its news search.  Before now, when you conducted a Google News search, you could subscribe to that search in your reader, such that it would continue to inform you when new news is published that includes your search term or phrase.  Very cool!

I did a little research this morning and found that the feeds are still there and they continue to work.  You just have to manually rewrite the search URL, adding “&output=rss“.  So if you search for “best wine” and the resulting URL is: wine

You just add the output like this: wine&output=rss

…and you will be able to subscribe to that URL as an rss feed.

So why has Google made this harder to do?

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Poll Number Two

On Monday, I posted a poll, partly as a test of ProProf’s Free Poll generator, and partly to generate some conversation.  The question was: “Can a teacher be a good teacher without using technology?”

Poll Results 69% yes & 31% NoYou can see the results to the right.  Of course it is a complicated question and it is a complicated environment that the question is about.  Kelly Wilson put it well in her comment…

The challenge for me in answering this is that “teacher” encompasses such a wide range of ages and subject matters. In addition, there are so many types and sizes of classrooms from one to one schooling to lecture halls. I do think that certain ages and ways of thinking can be taught without technology in the right situation. But those situations seem to now be the exception and not the rule for many of today’s students. I also agree with Lisa and Rachel’s comments that in preparing students for today’s environment technology and its inherent collaborative features are critical.

For me, and I understood the intent of the question, I’d go with a “yes!” A teacher can be a good teacher without using technology.  I had several of them, long before personal computer existed — long before calculators existed.

But the more interesting question that addresses Kelly’s comments — “Is a teacher who is not using technology doing his or her job?”  What do you think, and please comment…

A Poll…

I was just scanning through some web tools, and ran across this (Free Polls) one from ProProfs.  You fill in some forms, and the generates the poll interface for you, which you can share with a slew of communication services, include Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Friendster, Myspace, Bebo, and so on.  It took me a bit to find code to display it in a standard blog, but here it is. 

You’re suppose to be able to post comments, which I encourage you to do.  But I won’t know if that works until I’ve posted this blog.

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Filters Work

Flickr Image “Stay Behind the Fence” by Daniel James

The Internet has increasingly become a common and essential element of teacher lessons.  However, when asked about getting around the government-required filters, to conduct the deep research required to find the best resources,

..a frequent response is, “I have no idea.” The next most-common response: “I have no idea, but when I need to get to a blocked site, I ask a student for help.”

A recent Justin Reich op-ed piece (In Schools, A Firewall that Works Too Well) in the Washington Post (brought to my attention by Thomas Daccord) explores some of the issues of schooling in a world wide web that is fenced off.  He starts the piece with…

Web site filters in schools have had tremendous success in keeping one group of people from freely searching online. Unfortunately, that group is teachers.

Reich describes a Facebook group, with 187,000 members, devoted to sharing strategies for getting around school and library filters.  I won’t take any more from your reading of the article, except for one of his final statements.

The best strategy for protecting students online is educating them about Internet citizenship and safety. Young people need to learn about safeguarding their personal information, handling cyber-bullying, reporting and ignoring advances from strangers, avoiding online scams, and being courteous in online communication. They must understand the dangers and consequences of making details of their private lives available to the public. This education needs to happen at home as well as in homerooms, health classes, school assemblies, technology classes and guidance counseling.

The Happiest Country on the Planet

According to the “Happy Planet Index,” Costa Rica is home to the most contented people on Earth.  In addition to happiness, the index also factors in ecological footprint and life expectancy. (( “Costa Rica Tops List of ‘Happiest’ Nations.” World5 July 2009 Web.7 Jul 2009. <>. ))

Flickr Photo by B K
Top Ten Happy Nations

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Dominican Republic
  3. Jamaica
  4. Guatemala
  5. Vietnam
  6. Columbia Colombia
  7. Cuba
  8. El Salvador
  9. Brazil
  10. Honduras

Established by London-based New Economics Foundation, the index started evaluating countries in 2006, when the number one happy country was Vanuatu, followed closely by Columbia and Costa Rica.  In the 2009 listing, the top ten countries in the list are all in the Western Hemisphere and south of Mexico, except for Vietnam, which holds position five.  The are listed to the right.

The United Kingdom, which was 108 last year has advanced to 74.  Of the 29 bottom-of-the-list countries, all are in Africa except for Luxembourg (122), United Arab Emirates (123), and Kuwait (128).  Next to them, at number 30 from the bottom and 114 from the top is the United States. (( Wikipedia contributors, “Happy Planet Index.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2009. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web.7 Jul 2009. <>. ))

Is this important?

Is this something we should pay attention to.

Is it, in any way, the responsibility of our education system,
to help our children,
our citizens,
to be happy?

Of course, if you don’t like bugs, then Costa Rica may not be the place for you.

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