Dang! I just Missed It

That was my first thought this morning, waking up around 5:30. I could have seen the planet Mars as large as the moon last night.

I learned about it yesterday, just after finishing my contemporary literacy keynote (what does it mean to be literate in a networked, digital and information-abundant environment) at the NOEL Literacy Conference in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We were all enjoying a delicious buffet of roasted vegetables, sausages and chicken (of course), and a teacher stood and asked for our attention. By the time I was able to focus my hearing on her, she was reading something to the effect of,

Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. …It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide at a modest 75-power magnification. Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. …Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. …NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

I know now, after looking for photos of this planetary alignment that hasn’t happened in 60,000 years, that the whole thing is a hoax. It is an email message that has been circulated every year since 2005, and originates from an authentic message calling attention to the actual close encounter that occurred in August 2003, when the planet Mars can within
55 million miles of us. But even at that, it appeared to be just a bright star.

Astronomers, seeking to debunk the hoax, say that if Mars came close enough to the Earth that it appeared to be the size of the Moon, life on our planet would end. The gravitational influences of both planets would hurl us into new elliptical orbits, dramatically altering our climates and causing devastating tides. ((“Mars hoax: .” HindustanTimes 27Aug 2010: n. pag. Web. 27 Aug 2010. .))

It was likely not a malicious hoax, resulting more from an awkwardly worded sentence and a lack of understanding of Planetary science. The sentence originally read,

At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.

Looking through a 75-power telescope, the moon would appear as large as the moon. Even after having giving that speech and saying several times, “Being literate today means asking questions about the answers that you find,” I was taken in and considered staying up. She was a teacher, after all.

When, as a child, I sat before my teachers in the 1950s and ’60s, I had no Internet. There was no fact-checking. I was not encouraged to question what I read or heard. Education was based on the assumed authority of the teacher, the textbook, and what was available in the school library.

I think that the issue here is not about that teacher (and the rest of us ooh’ing and aah’ing) were taken in. The issue is, Will we admit it to our learners tomorrow that we made a mistake and use the mistake as a learning opportunity?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Vote for Gary

One of the most persistently vexing barriers that we face is the lack of awareness realized outside the education community about strains that change is having on schooling and the challenges to keep up. This lack of vision owes itself to several factors, but getting the message out — especially to other message makers — is essential to expanding the education conversation.

One of the most passionate and hard to ignore voices is Gary Stager, and Gary is trying to expand the audience for his passion by proposing a presentation at the next South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) to be held in March.  SXSW selects its speaker by crowdsourcing the activities of potential attendees, asking people to vote on the presenters they want to hear.  Gary is asking that we go and give him a vote.  He writes about in a blog post, Help Me Change People’s Minds!, and includes instructions for voting.  I’m including them here for your convenience.

In order for me to be invited to speak at South-by-Southwest, (SXSW), I need for you and your colleagues, friends, relatives and students to spend a few minutes voting for my session. I apologize for how clumsy the web site is. That’s why I’ve included the following step-by-step instructions below:

  1. Go to: http://bit.ly/cxq78J
  2. Follow the instructions for creating an account
  3. An email will be sent to you containing a link to click that will return you to the voting site
  4. Click the link in the email
  5. Login using the email address and password you just created
  6. Click on the Explore the Interactive Proposals » link (http://bit.ly/bk31Hl)
  7. Type Stager into the Organizer field
  8. Click the SEARCH PANELS button
  9. My session, The Best Educational Ideas in the World, should appear
  10. Click the icon of the THUMBS UP to vote for my session.
  11. If you wish, click on the title of the session, scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a message of support. Every bit helps!

I am really grateful to each and every one of you who takes the time to follow the steps outlined above and votes for my session. Reaching multiple and varied audiences is the most effective way I can influence public opinion and help kids.

Great luck to Gary Stager!


Technology for 21st Century Learning: Part 2 (But is it a Literacy Machine?)

New York Times app on iPad at launch at San Francisco Apple Store 141 by Steve Rhodes

I’ve been enjoying some time off last week, mostly just knocking around in my office, filing some old cables away (found two parallel printer cables and an Appletalk adaptor), changing the template on my blog (trying out a three column look), and experimenting with BuddyPress as a replacement for the soon to expire Classblogmeister Ning.

In the process, I’ve been playing around with my old Acer Aspire One (ZG5) netbook — and feel almost sacrilegious in saying this, but I’m finding it to be refreshingly delightful to use, especially for some functions that I have been (admittedly) pushing my iPad to fill.  Many have complained that although the iPad would be an excellent consumption device (much better than a textbook), you cannot use it for information production. Others have challenged this suggestion, saying that, “My grandchildren love drawing in my iPad.” I’ve seen some interesting drawing tools for the device with some amazing results.  There are many clever and well executed educational games and applications, and with an external keyboard, the iPad makes a descent writing tool.  I am, after all, sitting on a sofa and writing (thumbing) this blog post on my iPad.

But the question we have to ask is, “What is the iPad really great at — best at?”  My answer, from my experience with the device, is that it is a “great” device to watch.

Of course, if that was all we were going to do with it, we’d have been satisfied with the Kindle. I think that the iPad, as a platform, is amazing, and we certainly haven’t seen the end of its capabilities.  I’ve written before that what truly interests me about the device is that “we” will be the ones who discover and invent its place in helping us accomplish our goals.  But from an educational point of view, I think that we have to continue to ask, “What is the best technology for the learning experiences we want to craft?”

What’s weak about the iPad, from my point of view, is the OS. It is a wonderful consumer electronic product.  It looks good in Best Buy.  But I see little indication that formal education was one of the aims in its design.  They didn’t build a literacy tool.

So what is a literacy tool. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, considering how information has changed (as a result of technology) and what that means in terms of essential literacy skills (Redefining Literacy 2.0).  I usually describe contemporary literacy by expanding the three “Rs” in a way that accounts for the networked, digital, and abundant (overwhelming) nature of today’s information landscape.

When information is Networked, Reading expands into Exposing what is True (finding, decoding, evaluating, building meaning, etc.)
When information is Digital, Arithmetic expands into Employing the Information, working the numbers that define all information to add value.
When information is abundant (overwhelming), then Writing expands into Expressing Ideas Compellingly. Producing a message that competes for the attention of the audience.

A literacy machine not only enables us to find and read information. But it also facilitates a deeper examination of the information, uncovering the evidence of it’s value, utilizing elements of what Alan November has called “web grammar.” A literacy  machine assures that the learner develops the habit of “asking questions about the answers that he finds.”

A literacy machine is also designed to help us work the information, to process not only the massive amounts of digital data that we have access to and need, to make important decisions, but also to be able to process the ones and zeros that now defines almost all information — text, images, sound, video, and animation.  A literacy machine empowers, by helping us to realize that content is a raw material, ready to be remixed, shaped, and assembled into the answers of questions, solutions of problems, and the means to accomplish our goals.

Today, communicating requires far more than the ability to write.  To compete for the attention of your audience, you must be able to produce a message that effectively conveys your ideas and compellingly draw attention.  A literacy machine enables us to communicate, not merely with words, but with pictures, sound, and motion.  It enables us to get the attention of those who can help us accomplish our goals.

As I’ve said already, I think that the iPad is an amazing device.  It is an information slab with seemingly mystical abilities.  And it is exactly the sort of instructional tool that I would like to see all children carrying into their classrooms.  But what I would like to see and what is truly the best personal learning device for helping our children to become information artisans, may be two entirely different things.

I would expand yesterday’s final question by asking:

What ICT is going to help my children learn by helping them to become literate, resourceful, and habitual learners — engaged in a learning lifestyle?


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Edited on an iMac using MarsEdit

Technology for 21st Century Learning: Part 1

Just another … on your back?

A Compillation of (cc) Flickr photos from Seeit_Snapit and Alan HL performed with Pixelmator on an iMac

This will be a two-part entry owing to some comments that I’ve heard over the past few weeks at conferences I have been working. The comments are simple and they go something like this. It’s a computer administrator, coordinator (starting to dislike the term “integrationist”), a principal or head of school, who in conversation about 21st century education mentions that, “We are implementing a 1:1 initiative, handing out Apple iPads to our 8th graders at the beginning of the year.”

To be perfectly fair, this rant could have more to do with a short bout of insomnia I am experiencing right now, but “21st century leaning has nothing to do with iPads, iPod Touches, or any piece of technology.  The only thing that is one to one that we should be concerned with is equitable access to rigorous, relevant, and irresistible learning experiences that reflect and harness the times, environment, and ultimate goals of the learning.

  • The times, “..they are a changing,” exceedingly beyond the imagination of the prophet, Bob Dylan, when he wrote the song almost fifty years ago.
  • The environment we are preparing our children for and preparing them within is one of challenges.  It is also an environment of opportunities.  Another characteristic of our environment is an emerging new information environment, where information and communication are networked, digital, and abundant.
  • And our goal is to give our children a good start on the next 50, 70, or 100 years of their lives.

21st century learning is about the experience, not about the tools you are using. The experience defines the tools, not the other way around. Any statement about handing out iPads (or netbooks or laptops) should begin with the word “So…”

“We want to facilitate … learning experiences for our students, ‘so’ we are handing out iPads (or netbooks, or laptops) in September.”

So what kind of experience is it that we want to facilitate? What is 21st century learning? How might our children spend the first years of their lives?  What can learners do that reflects and harness the times, environment, and goals?

To use the verbiage I have been sharing with educators over the past few months, it is an experience that is responsive. Learners are not simply passive vessels to be filled.  They are players within a game that plays back.  It is inquiry fueled. It provokes conversations that factor in the learner’s identity and measures his standing. It inspires the personal investment of time and skill.  ..and it is guided by safely made mistakes.

When the conversation finally comes down to the appropriate information and communication technologies (ICT), then the question should become, “Which ICT best channels these experiences?”

In my opinion, if that question strings like this, “Does the technology help me to teach?” then you haven’t had that first conversation yet, or you still don’t get it.

But if it strings like this, “What ICT is going to help my children learn by helping them to become resourceful and habitual learners — engaged in a learning lifestyle?” then you’re well on your way.


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Edited on an iMac…

School Digital Yearbook in a Social Way

A Compilation from several photos on Flickr

Brenda and I had dinner last night with some dear friends from my teaching days, back in the 1970s and ’80s. Frank and Karen Braswell both graduated from college around the same time that we did, majoring in technology education at Appalachian State University (archrival of mine and Brenda’s alma mater, Western Carolina University — “Go Catamounts”).

Karen was a graphic artist for an ad agency in Charlotte, where Brenda worked as a bookkeeper. We drifted apart when Brenda and I moved to Roxboro and to Raleigh. Meanwhile, Frank built up an innovative printing company and Karen joined Bojangles as art director (I think that was the title). After many years Karen burned out on the corporate world and was recently hired by an innovative middle school principal. He seems to have been looking for an outside the box approach to teaching the school’s technology course.

Karen and I have had numerous conversations about her teaching, specifically how she should rely on her experience as an art department director more than her notions of what a teacher is supposed to be/do. Some pretty interesting ideas have resulted from these conversations usually about making her classroom operate more like a workplace than a traditional classroom, where her learners engage in a more “on-the-job” fashion of learning.

Last night, we built up the following idea, in response to her principals desire for a digital yearbook.

Rather than establishing a class or club as responsible for collection, selection, laying out and publishing of the yearbook, based on some Josten supplied template, they would set up a social network for the school. It would be designed as a place where student interaction would generate the content that they would need for the yearbook. Students would create and maintain their own profiles, with pictures, favorite classes, etc, and then comment on each other’s profile. They would then select the content and comments to be included in the yearbook.

Students would earn points (coin, gold, permissions, whatever) by contributing to each other profiles, earn even more points when their contributions are chosen by the profile owner for inclusion in the yearbook.

The students in Karen’s class would manage the social network like a company, setting policy, policing the site, adding and removing features.  At the end of the year, they would extract student flagged elements from the profiles and combine them in a digital yearbook, which would be burned to a CD, or DVD (with optional print versions, available through an on-demand book printing service).

So what do you think?

Another 21st Century Promotional Video

Click the image to link over to the YouTube video

These things are like lightning bugs on summer evenings. You wonder at them initially, but soon they are just background noise. But Jeff Whipple, who is facilitating a conference in a couple of weeks for teachers who will soon be working in 1:1 classrooms in New Brunswick, shared this one with me and others who will be contributing to the conference virtually.

First of all, it is fresh, and not just a remake of Karl Fisch’s landmark Did You Know (now at over five million views). It was also produced by the New Brunswick Department of Education, and it is polished, professional, and not overdone. Their stated purpose is to,

..stimulate discussion among educators and other stakeholders in public education in the province of New Brunswick. The 21st Century presents unique challenges for education worldwide. In order to keep pace with global change we must focus on 21st Century Skills and public education must adapt to keep students engaged. Rigor and relevance are key.

You can get a pdf of their plan here.

The only fault I have with the video is its length, five and a half minutes. Like many of these things, we tend to go too long with them. I don’t know how long they should be, but there is a point in many of these promotional videos that I watch, where I think, it should stop here.

But that’s the only constructive criticism I have. I am thrilled at what New Brunswick is doing, and having worked with and come to know many of the people involved, I feel a bit of comradely pride as well. Great luck to Nouveau Brunswick.

Être…ici on le peut!



A Review of aGAL

I gave copies of the initial printing of A Gardener’s Approach to Learning, to folks at ISTE 10, last month, people with whom I have worked repeatedly. One was Doug Johnson, and instructional technology leader in Ontario. I’ve learned since that Doug has just retired. “Great luck to you, Doug.”

He read the book on the plane, on his way home from Denver (where ISTE 10 happened), and then wrote the following review upon arriving back home.

At the ISTE Conference in Denver, I had a nice chat with David Warlick and he presented me with a signed copy of his new book “A Gardener’s Approach to Learning” – Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network. It’s now a proud possession and was read cover to cover on the fight back to Detroit yesterday.

My thoughts…

The book is self-published through Lulu although according to David, it isn’t currently available for retail. It is listed on the Lulu website so it won’t be long now before it’s available for all. Great, I thought. Another book about Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools. But, I was pleasantlysurprised as I dug into the book. Yes, David covers the tools and will take the reader down a number of different paths. But, so many books do this.

What makes this book unique is embedded in the advice that you need to, not only use the tools, but use them wisely, carefully, and cultivate the resources to maximize the benefit. In that respect, there is great advice and good resources for all in the book.

I thought that I had a good handle on things but as I read the book I found additional ideas and thoughts that I know will engage me now that I’m out of the air and connected again. In depth analysis of the utilities appear in the chapter entitled “Mining the Conversation”. Here, the discussion goes well beyond the “click here and stuff happens” instructions. To add an additional level of authenticity, David sprinkles the entire book with references to many of the people that you may have met online. In this manner, the book really personalizes the learning and the use of these tools.

The book is also designed to be interactive and truly uses the modern tools. Throughout, there are many references to internet web resources. Rather than provide the actual URL, David has shortened them all using the bit.ly web shorteners. This approach should encourage readers to actually follow through and easily check them out. I think we’ve all seen attempts to introduce multimedia companions to books by the inclusion of a CD-ROM taped to the inside cover. In a truly innovative way, readers can just point a camera or cell phone at a page and be transported to any of the many tutorials. A pmwiki site has been created to hold tutorials and QR codes are used throughout the book as the launch pad to the tutorials. Even if you are a daily user of these tools, this book is a good read. You can’t possibly know about all of the tools referenced but the message delivered should give you pause to think about how you use them. The analogy of freshly cultivated food from the family garden versus what you get when you speed through a drive thru window made me ponder the depth to which I use many of the tools. The terms “mining” and “cultivating” inspire to take a deeper and more meaningful use of the tools.

So, who should read this book? I suspect that there will be folks who “know it all” and will take a pass. That would be a shame. There’s a wealth of information for Web 2.0 users of all levels of sophistication. I do think that it would be an excellent resource for your principal or your school’s professional library. In one read, you can quickly bring people up to speed with many of the tools that so many of us use on a daily basis. If your school is using book study as a learning technique, this would be an excellent way to introduce or enhance any attempts to understand the impact of Web 2.0 tools in education. David even includes guiding questions and big ideas at the end of each chapter for discussion. If you’re a technology coordinator, this would be a great purchase for all of your schools to support the cause.1

1 Peterson, Doug. “A Gardener’s Approach to Learning.” Doug — Off the Record. 2 Jul 2010. Web. 2 Jul 2010. <http://dougpete.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/a-gardeners-approach-to-learning/>.

Crowdsourcing Astronomy


Flickr photo by Ya-Ko of a young person looking for meteors during the Orionid Shower

My neighbor and self-educated space exploration authority, Paul Gilster, wrote a blog entry today about the Perseids meteor shower, which reaches its peek on the evening of August 12. Debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, Perseids gets its name from its origin — from our visual perspective — the constellation Perseus.

Even though this is a fairly prominent meteor shower, there has never been a spatial analysis of the Perseid meteor stream, according to Chris Crawford. He (she) asks, via his e-mail to Gilster,

what if we had hundreds or thousands of people all over North America and Europe observing Perseids and somebody collected and collated all their observations? This is crowd-sourcing applied to meteor astronomy.

Apparently a person with a fairly eclectic set of interests, Crawford has developed software that can be downloaded from his project web site. He asks that people download the program to their laptops and then carry them out Wednesday and Thursday nights (Aug 11-12) and watch for meteors.  As one comes into view, we click the mouse button on our computers.  The software records the time of the event into a log file.  Afterward, we enter our latitude and longitude into the program and then send off the file.

Presumably, the data will be used to assemble a three dimensional map of the debris stream.  Gilster closes his entry with…

Usually I write about celestial debris in the context of the clues it can offer up to astrobiology, or as examples of the need to develop the technologies to fend off larger objects like asteroids. But a fascinating outgrowth of our ever more powerful desktop technologies is the ability to put in just a small amount of time to achieve a widely distributed result, one that looks at a natural phenomenon in a new way. Here’s to the success of the Perseid Project, with the hope that it’s a forerunner of future skywatch collaborations.


Setting up for Success

Lauri Bartels, of Neuron’s Firing and tech educator at Rye Country Day School in New York, wrote yesterday…

I am in the midst of doing a massive clean out of my desk space. Several times a year I get an overwhelming urge to pare down “stuff”, and this current not-quite-mid-August motivation is that school begins in just three weeks. And so it was that I came upon my yellowed print out from Friday, February 17, 2006.

It was a blog post that I’d written back in 2006, and Brenda brought it to my attention after netting it in a Google News Alerts she has set up for me. The post is about personal learning networks, but focuses on the school culture, policies and teacher attitudes that facilitate casual self-directed professional development. In “OK, No More Staff Development,” I write, and Laurie quotes in here post, that..

(we) need to strive for a school environment where teachers:

  • Have the time to reflect and retool (at least three hours a day),
  • Have ready access to local and global ideas and resources that are logically and socially indexed,
  • Have the skills to research, evaluate, collaborate, remix, and implement new tools and techniques (contemporary literacy), Are part of an ongoing professional conversation where the expressed purpose is to provoke change (adapt),
  • Leave the school from time to time to have their heads turned by new experiences,
  • Share what they and their students are doing with what they teach and learn — their information products and relics of learning become an explicit and irresistibly interwoven part of the school’s culture.

Thanks, Laurie, for bringing this out from under the cover of my archives link.

Click to Copy

With some uninterrupted days at home, I have been tinkering a bit with Citation Machine. I’ve been intrigued with the feature of many apps and browser extensions where you simply click a button and the desired text is automatically copied into your computer’s clipboard, ready to be pasted where needed. URL shorteners have been especially benefitted by these features.

Figure 1
Figure 2

So I started researching the code that enables this, and found that what typically works with Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc. will not work with Internet Explorer (IE), and what works with IE is ignored by the other browsers. So I also had to research the code that enables Citation Machine to detect the type of browser that is being used, so that the proper code can be included for the click to copy function.
It seems to be working now and I have installed it on all of the MLA and APA formats.  There is some programming that I have not yet done for Turabian and Chicago that would be necessary to include C2C functions.  It works like this:

  1. You select your style (MLA) and the type of media you are citing (book).
  2. Enter the proper information, for the instance to the right, I’m entering the info for my latest book, “A Gardener’s Approach to Learning.”
  3. Click the [Submit] button to receive the return in figure 1.
  4. A yellow [Click to Copy] button appears in yellow. When you move the cursor over the button it turns to orange and then flashes red when you click it.
  5. You can then paste the contents of your clipboard into your word processor, text processor, blog editor, or what ever. What is left are the bibliographic citation (for bibliography or works cited section), instructions for what to italicize (since such formatting is not carried over in the clipboard, and the in-text parenthetical citation for inclusion in your actual paper or blog entry.

You have to continue to do some editing after you paste the citations, deleting out the titles and italicizing sections indicated by the instructions, but I suppose that you are in more of an edit mode of thought and action when you are in your editor or word processor than you are when using your web browser.
If you have comments or suggestions, place leave a comment on this blog entry.