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?

Education Blogger Survey

I learned, via Hack Education, about a survey from the Institute of Educational Technology (The Open University). Announced by Alice Bell in her blog, the study is based on work they did last year exploring brain bloggers (early data).

Go here to get and complete the survey, and do it now – because today’s the deadline.

Here are my answers…

Blog URL: http://davidwarlick.com/2cents or http://blog.idave.us

What do you blog about?

Teaching and learning, and how their practice and purpose have evolved as a result of contemporary and emerging information and communication technologies and more specifically the effects of these technologies on the nature of information and literacy.

Are you paid to blog?


What do you do professionally (other than blog)?

I usually describe myself as an author, programmer, public speaker, entrepreneur and 35 year educator. My income comes mostly from book sales, public speaking and ad revenue from one of my web sites.  I am currently in the “slowly retiring” phase of my career.

How long have you been blogging at this site?

Since November of 2004

Do you write in other platforms? (e.g. in a print magazine?)

I have written four books, three of them self-published (Lulu) and one via a traditional publisher. I’ve also written chapters for other books, most recently the foreword for What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media, (2011) by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann. I have also written numerous magazine articles, but not in a long time. If asked to write one today, I would probably decline. It makes little sense, today, to carefully write a timely piece, only to have it published 9 months later.

Can you remember why you started blogging?

Initially (2004), I started blogging because it seemed the thing for a progressive and tech-savvy educator to be doing, sharing my knowledge with my readership. However, I very quickly realized that blogging was really a conversation, between the bloggers I read, what I wrote, the commenters who read and wrote on my blog site, and the bloggers who reflected on my ideas. Blogging is a learning experience for me. I blog to learn.

I learn because blogging requires me to organize and refine my own ideas. I also learn from the commenters and response blog posts.

What keeps you blogging?

To continue to learn.

Do you have any idea of the size or character if your audience? How?

I suspect that I have a fairly large audience, but only from the personal contacts I have with educators at conferences and also from the almost daily requests I receive from PR firms asking me to blog about their clients. I do have 15.7K followers on Twitter.

What’s your attitude to/ relationship with people who comment on your blog?

I deeply appreciate comments and have never deleted a comment (to my knowledge) unless it was obviously spam. I learn from commenters, and that is often especially true from comments that disagree with what I have written. The number of comments has declined, since much of that conversation has moved to Twitter. This disappoints me, since 140 characters is often not enough space to deeply explore any issue about education.

Do you feel as if you fit into any particular community, network or genre of blogging? (e.g. schools, science, education, museums, technology)

Yes, though this was probably more true before so many edubloggers started moving to Twitter as their primary means of engaging the community. But I suspect that I would be part of the edtech blogger community, though I rarely write specifically about technology.

If so, what does that community give you?

What I learn from this community, which spans the blogosphere, twitterverse and F2F connections at conferences.  I learn about new technologies and applications. But more importantly, I learn new stories and new language for talking about retooling classrooms.

What do you think are the advantages of blogging? What are its disadvantages/ limitations?

This is easy. The advantage is the space to more deeply examine issues of contemporary teaching and learning practices. The disadvantage is the space required to deeply examine issues. Busy educators have little time to read. It’s why Twitter and status updates have become so prominant in the education and edtech conversation. The key is learning to link the two together.

But in a broader sense, blogging empowers us to share, engage and build new knowledge.

Do you tell people you know offline that you’re a blogger? (e.g. your grandmother, your boss)

Yes, though people who do not already know that I am a blogger, probably do not know what a blogger is.

Is there anything else you want to tell me about I haven’t asked?

There may not be a direct correlation, but invitations for public speaking engagements dramatically increased when I started blogging – which was good since my children were starting college at that time.

Becoming Future-Ready

“Future-Ready Students for the 21st Century”

It’s the title of the goals document for the North Carolina State Board of Education and it begins with, “..every public school student will graduate from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st Century.”  I’d love to ask that appointed body, “What does this mean and how does it translate to the “what” and “how” the children of this state are being educated?”

A few mornings ago, I was working in my office on a fairly redundant task, which usually affords me the opportunity to pay attention to a podcast or partial attention to a movie or TV episode, usually playing over the air to my iPhone.  The 3 1/2 inch display provides less distraction than my iPad or computer screen.

On that morning, I was playing 2010, the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve enjoyed re-watching 2010 over the years because it has more dialog and slightly more action than the original.

Composite of the scene’s camera pan.

What struck me that morning was a scene, where the hero scientist, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), is sitting on the beach preparing for his upcoming journey to Jupiter, studying reports, an issue of OMNI (which stopped publishing in 1995), and a portable computer (see right & below).

Notice the computer the former chairman of the American space Agency is using and consider that the scene depicts “mobile computing” in the year 2010 – from the perspective of a film produced in 1984.  More than anything else, the computer resembles Apple’s forgettable Mac Portable, launched only five years later.  Scheider’s 21st century machine perhaps even more closely resembles its more contemporary Apple Iic, with a flat four-inch display and parallel ribbon cable connecting the two.

Predicted Mobile Computing for 2010 Apple IIc – 1984-1988 Mac Portable – 1989-1991

It is also worth noting that the 1968 film predicted human spaceflight to Jupiter in a 460 foot spaceship by 2001.  

These are two fairly unimportant and dramatized examples, but if living through half of the 20th century and a tenth of the 21st has taught me anything, it’s that most attempts to accurately describe what we will do, how we live, what’s important to know, and what we care about 30, 20, or even 10 years from now, is at best a challenging intellectual exercise, and a worse a gross display of arrogance.  

Yet, isn’t this what our institution of education is attempting to authoritatively do, predict what our children need to be taught today to be ready for a future we can not possibly accurately describe.

Tom Whitby addressed this a few days ago in How We Teach Trumps What We Teach.  He questions our concern for content, assessment and data, saying,

Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at. 

We need to be much more willing and humble enough to say, “Maybe,” a lot more than we do in education.  But even Tom, I believe, does not go quite far enough.  He refers to becoming a “learned individual,” when Eric Hoffer’s famous quote comes much closer to my view, that..

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. 

How our children learn is critical today, not so much as a point of pedagogy, but for the development of a distinct and most important skill – learning.

The job of education should be to wean children from the teaching, helping them to become, at graduation, independent, skilled, inspired, and responsible learners eager to adopt and adapt to changing conditions, turning uncertainty into opportunity.

Being future ready will not happen because of the rigor of ramped up standards.  It will happen by scaling back the standards as the education years pass, focusing on passion, and providing students with the support, opportunity and facility to learn and to make themselves experts in their shifting fields of interest, fields that educators skillfully usher them through.

David’s “Great Moments in EdTech History”

A few weeks ago, Dean Shareski wrote a blog post (Great Moments in EdTech History), where he said,

I wanted to look back at my personal journey into educational technology and share a few instances of “aha moments” that I think many can relate to.

I so agreed with the items on his list – except for the coffee one – that I thought I would write my own. It’s not intended to be an improvement, and I suspect that many folks will not “relate” so well with some of my moments – ’cause you’re just not old enough, sonny.

My First Experience with a Personal Computer and BASIC

It was a Radio Shack Model I and this was when the hottest PCs on the planet were made by Radio Shack. The “aha” for me was when I realized that this was a machine that you operated by communicating with it. You typed in instructions and it followed.  It even gave you instructions on what keys to press to do what you wanted, and you could change the functions of the keys by changing the instructions.  In the way that only a few technologies in our past had, this was going to change everything.

I had to learn to program, because when the central office purchased the first set of computers for my school (Radio Shack Model IIIs – 16 kilobytes of memory), they didn’t know that you had to purchase software.  So I learned to write BASIC code, so my students would have something to do on those computer – and that changed my life.

My First Apple IIe

The district I became director of tech in had also used Radio Shack TRS-80 computers. But times were changing, and we wanted to step up to the modern, sleeker and more state-of-the-art Apple IIes. They came with a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk that provided a tutorial for operating the machine. Booting it up I was presented with a light green pixelated outline drawing of an Apple computer. The outline of a floppy disk animated into view and the door of the external disk drive appeared to open.  The disk slid into the drive and the operating light of the drive came on —– and it was red. Shudders went through my body and the earth’s crust seemed to shake under my feet. A color other than green. WOW! Anything was possible!

My First Modem

This was actually not such a stupendous moment since it took about three months to get my Apple IIc to communicate with the Hayes 300 baud modem, for which the district had paid $500. But when it finally worked, computers communicating over a distance — well that was cool.  ..and the 300 baud was not a disappointment since it’s pretty much faster than I can read.

A user’s group of school districts in my area (Micro 5) set up a bulletin board system (BBS) so that we could support each other through our computers.

Al Rogers and FrEdMail

Al Rogers the father of FrEdWriter and FrEdMail

This was perhaps one of the greatest pivot points in my career. I knew of Al Rogers (see left) from his FrEdWriter software, a free word processor for Apple IIs. Al had developed a (BBS) whereby a district had its own bulletin board computer (Apple IIe with a 10 MB hard drive) that other modem-equipped school computers could dial into. Teachers and students could post messages (and other writings) to the BBS. In the middle of the night, the district bulletin boards (called nodes) would dial each other passing messages back and forth that were addressed to readers outside the local district. So I could write a message for a teacher in Australia, and over the night, it would be passed from node to node appear in the recipient’s mailbox the next morning.

From “25 That Made their Mark” (2005) 1

A few weeks later our state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) called me asking if I would be willing to pilot a project for a FrEdMail network in our state, with seven other districts. We were called sysops (system operators), and it was the coolest thing ever. We did projects called HistoryLink, WeatherLink and it’s when Global Grocery List started. I joined DPI three years later and sysop’ed the state network, among other things.

My First Presentation with a Mac

The Macintosh, with its mouse, graphical interface and 3 1/2″ disk, was another game changer. But what I remember most about my first Mac production, a presentation for Micro-5 was that....I shadowed everything!

Telnet, FTP, IRC, Gopher

One of the other consultants at DPI had been approached by a university person offering an INTERNET login through his university. She offered it to me.  I’d been able to email in and out of THE INTERNET for some time using FrEdMail. But I had not been able to actually connect. Logging in with TelNet, FTP gave me access mountains of text files located on about a hundred computers around the world. Then Gopher came, which provided a much more usable way of getting to files. Gopher was a world of interlocking menus, starting with a master menu at the University of Minnesota (go you gophers). Selecting options took you to other menus on other host computers until you ended up with the file you needed. Gopher meant that we no longer needed those secret incantations (ftp open, cd 97/files/, get listofearthquakes.txt) to navigate the Internet. The ideas you were looking for became your navigation.

The World Wide Web

WWW had been around for a while before it really caught on. It wasn’t until Marc Andreessen (as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champlaign) created Mosaic that people started to see the potential. With the Mosaic software, you could mouse around, click on words to link to other documents, and see pictures. Now the information itself became the steering wheel for content navigation.  It was also cool that the default background color for web pages was metal gray.


The best thing about the World Wide Web and Mosaic was that you could show it to people and they didn’t yawn.  Non-techies began to get it, that there was something potentially mainstream about this Internet thing.  One afternoon (1993), while at DPI, I’d reached a lull in my work and downloaded a tutorial for coding HTML.  I was aghast at how easy it was and by the end of there afternoon, I’d already written a web page with hyperlinks and images.  Over the next couple of months I covertly created a mock-up web site for the department and showed it to the assistant superintendent for instruction.  Even though he was not a techie and had his secretary print out his e-mails. he instantly realized the potential and assigned me to create a web site for the agency.  It was the first state department of education web site and was launched in 1994 – on the same day that our newly elected (conservative) legislature demanded a 50% reduction in staff for DPI.  I volunteered for layoff a few months later in exchange for a severance package and have not be traditionally employed since.

Meeting an Inventor

In 1997, I was doing some consulting and training for Advanced Network and Services and their ThinkQuest project.  Part of my work was staffing booths at conferences and giving away ThinkQuest CDs.  Late one afternoon I was working a booth at a European SchoolNet conference in Dublin and a man walked by, in something of a hurry.  He glanced over, stopped and asked, “What is ThinkQuest?”  My partner, a TQ representative from The Netherlands, and I explained it to him and he said, I’ll try to get back here after my talk,” and hurried off.  My partner turned to me and asked, “Do you know who that was?”  I shook my head (which rattled a bit).  “That was Robert Caillaiu, one of the inventors of the World Wide Web.”

I was impressed, though I’d never heard of Caillaiu before.  About an hour later, he came back, fast talking, energetic, possibly a little A.D.H.D., and he asked a lot of questions, and finally asked how I wrote my HTML.  I told him that I’d created a Hypercard stack for my editor, and he said that he had done the same.  He glanced over and asked if that was my Mac laptop, and nodded, “Yes!”

He pulled out a disk, slid it into the slot of his laptop, and copied his Hypercard HTML editor and handed me the disk, which I copied to my Mac. 🙂

Alas, my hard drive crashed a week and a half after I returned home and my dreams of framing Caillaiu’s code and mounting it on my office walls were dashed.


Your first inclination is to skip over this one, but these two acronyms (of which I’m not going to bore you with their complete spelling) elevated me to full wizard status.  HTML enables us to publish information on the web.  MySQL, however, collects, stores, and selectively delivers information, and PHP causes that information to behave in useful and interesting ways.  Sounds pretty tedious, but without these two, we would probably never had seen a Web 2.0.

For me, out of these two acronyms came Citation Machine, PiNet (no longer supported), Hitchhikr (defunct), Education Podcast Network, Class Blogmeister and many others.

Blogs, Wikis and Twitter

Web 2.0 elevated us all to new levels of experience and accomplishment, and it hasn’t slowed down yet.  But what probably impacted me the most was RSS.  I won’t go into detail, except to say that while PHP & MySQL enabled us to do interesting things with information, RSS empowers us to do interesting things with conversations.

Mobile Computing and Apps

Mobile computing has been around forever.  I own an  Apple Newton, which was the coolest things on land and sea in 1993.  But Palm was king for years, because it did about three things really well.  Then the iPhone and the iPod Touch came along with their apps and a burgeoning community of talented and creative app builders – and then the iPad – and we had devices we could carry around with us that could do or become just about anything we could imagine.  These are truly personal machines that, by nature, become more than they were when they launched – and not because of the original designers, but because of people like us with useful (and no limit of useless) ideas and the skills to remold the machines to make them happen.

What’s next?  Well isn’t that what we’re about in education.  But it seems that in this time of incredible creativity, we seem defenseless against powerful interests who want to standardize education, for the production graduates who can be monetized.  Will we serve the beast or do we nurture our children and their uniquely boundless capacity to continually and freely invent futures that serve us all.

1 McLester, Susan. “25 That Made Their Mark.” Technology & Learning Magazine. Nov 2005: 5-15. Web. 22 May. 2012. <http://goo.gl/cxJFt>.


About Creativity from Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer
Jonah Lehrer

We hurried back from Cullowhee Thursday so that I could see Jonah Lehrer talk about his new book, Imagine, at the Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh.  We’d been in Cullowhee for events leading up to the installation of Western Carolina University’s new chancellor, Dr. David Belcher.  Brenda and I both graduated from WCU more than 35 years ago — “GO CATAMOUNTS.”

But I had seen some buzz about Lehrer’s new book, and I wanted to hear more.  His background is neuroscience, but he also studied 20th century literature and philosophy at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.  He blogs at Frontal Cortex.  Evidenty, one of Jonah’s passions is “healing the rift between sciences and humanities.” ((Wikipedia contributors. “Jonah Lehrer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.)).  Also, he looks to be only a bit more than 17 years old.  But that’s OK.

He was not able to share much during his 30 minute lecture and what he did share had little to do with the buzz I’d gotten (You have to suffer in order to create – link).  Jonah did describe two sources of creativity.  He talked about those sudden insights that we have when struggling with a problem.  There are two features of these insights, that they seem to come from nowhere and that we intuitively know they’re right when they come. They also seem to come from a brain that is relaxed and emanating alpha waves.

Creativity is the residue of wasted time! — Einstein

My notes from the lecture

The other source was not such good news for those of us in the standing-room audience who were looking for a shortcut to creativity.  It is the GRIT factor.  He said that creativity is hard work and that it comes to people who stick with a problem long enough to combine the pieced of the non-obvious solution.  “If creativity was easy, we wouldn’t have a Bob Dylan.”  Angela Duckworth was the researcher he quoted with regards to the grit trait.

While he signed my copy of his book, I expressed some frustration with efforts in the education world to try to teach creativity.  He told me that kids are naturally creative.  The best thing we can do is just get out of the way and encourage them to express their creativity.

Coolest Thing I’ve Seen in a While

I have felt bad about not blogging lately. It’s partly because of travel, but mostly because of three projects that have drawn most of my attention lately. One of those has been preparation for the NCTIES conference later this week. It’s a special event for me because NCTIES is the ISTE affiliate for my home state and also because it is an especially successful conference. This year’s featured speakers include Richard Byrne, Patrick Crispen (regular), Rushton Hurley, Peggy Sheehy, Kathy Schrock (regular) and Tammy Worcester, with a kickoff keynote by Ken Shelton.

One of my presentations will explore instructional potentials of data visualization and infographics and in preparing for this session, I found one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while.  I ran across the link via Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data blog, where he quoted Jeffrey Winter…

There was an idea floating around that continuously following the first link of any Wikipedia article will eventually lead to “Philosophy.” This sounded like a reasonable assertion, one that makes a certain amount of sense in retrospect: any description of something will typically use more general terms. Following that idea will eventually lead… somewhere.

Winter’s explanation of how he accomplished a test for this idea made it sound easier than I’m sure it was.  But the outcome was an intriguing mashup where you can type in a word or numerous words separated by comas, and his app will thread through the first link in each linked-to article until it reaches Philosophy.

Sitting in Starbucks, I looked for logical connections between Starbucks, coffee and caffeine. (click img to enlarge)

What struck me as I played with this data visualization, was how this operation meshes with our notions of curriculum and of libraries.

When information is scarce and education is defined by knowledge delivery, then the job of curriculum and of libraries is to package content into subjects and units and dewey decimal classifications.

When I watch seemly unrelated topics threading their way to a common subject and re-examine Boyack, Klavans and Palen’s Map of Science, which shows how various disciplines are interconnected by citations, it seems clear to me how schools and libraries need to become more like learning-literacy playgrounds than managed corals.

But that’s me!


What if Curriculum was an Adventure?

Rules, in game play, are traditionally static — printed on the lid of the box. Is this so in real life? How many innovations are rule-changers?

I had the opportunity last week to participate in a conversation that was arranged by ISTE, exploring some of the potentially pivotal emerging issues in the ed tech and broader education domains. I was asked to go first, as I would not be able to stay long — and was consequently put on the spot, to think quickly, and clearly articulate ideas to some really smart people. So I blubbered something about a niche for some new and compellingly relevant digital and networked learning platform that will so effectively, efficiently, and elegantly facilitate all of the education philosophies that we are all so urgently trying to describe that it will change education as we know it.

Peggy Sheehy, being Peggy Sheehy (and rightly so) intercepted my fumbled explanation, campaigning for games as an integral part of that platform. I understood where she was going, said so, and she acknowledged it — because we’ve had the conversation before.  But there is a frustrating problem with Peggy’s mission.  Most people still see games as play and learning as work — and although many of us have become convinced of the learning potentials of video games  and begun to promote their use, the game is still what happens after the teaching.

Periodically, I’m asked to do a presentation called “Video Games as Learning Engines,” which is an introduction to video games (mostly for non-gamers) and an attempt to show how games are actually a form of pedagogy.  Yet, I suspect that what most attendees are actually looking for directories of flash-based educational games designed to help students master their multiplication facts or identify parts of speech. Those games are certainly out there, but they do not interest me.

One of the lingering mysteries that continues to intrigue me, in the waning years of my very long career, is what makes it a game — or more to the point, what makes it fun? ..and can we unfold the elements in such a way that they become handlebars in that learning platform I was trying to describe, from which we can hang more engaging learning experiences for our students.

I guess that a learning platform, integrated with games and play would be characterized by
More Less
  •  Surprise Predictability
  •  Rules that change, can be changed and are inability Static and constraining
  •  Focus on accomplishing personal goals Focus on achieving institutional goals
  •  Frequent, meaningful and empowering rewards Scheduled, symbolic rewards

For instance, one interesting quality of the games our children play is that they do not require you to learn the rules before you play the game. Learning about roles and rules is part of the playing, and they are often a surprise that has to be earned.  They’re a secret. In solving a puzzle or simply exploring, the player finds a magic coin, potion, or relic.  As a result of the find, she is endowed with new powers of flight, invisibility, or speed. The powers are a surprise and they change the rules.

Ewan McIntosh recently described a very simple but explicit illustration of this, concerning a school he is working with in Sydney, Australia.  There is a fairly nondescript and unreferenced book in a classroom that when moved, releases a switch that turns on a light.  Students find it by exploring the environment.  They explore because they expect to find secrets.  It’s an example of what McIntosh calls Secret Spaces, one of Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments (watch the video).

So what if this learning platform held hidden information switches, such that when a student references a particular document in his work, he is suddenly endowed with new powers, an opportunity to visit previously blocked resource or tool, or an invitation to formally explore a topic of personal interest, or awarded points or admin rights to further configure his profile page with options and colors that were not available before.

What if curriculum was an adventure, and learning was the reward?

Progress Report

New advertising to pay for additional RAM and the new uber server coming in December

This is a blog post that is way overdue.  A combination of economic calamity, rising young edtech stars, and a scheduled move to scale back my public speaking activities have had me in my home office — mostly working on Citation Machine.  Some associations with teams running similar web services have bent my attention toward improving this popular tool, that has gone a long time without proper attention and TLC.

I started out wanting and needing to do a total redesign of CM and how it worked, which inspired some rather enthusiastic resistance from commenters about why I should think that something that works so well should be so changed.  Although I still believe that the changes made the tool more efficient, efficiency is a personal thing, and practice plays a big part in what makes something work well.  So I lamented and went back to the old design.

Since then, I have spent some time adding sources to and populating out the Chicago style section, and making corrections to the other three citation formats.  I’ve also, for a long time, been interested in a way to automate some of the format building.  One way was to tie in to Google’s ISBN book lookup API, enabling researchers to simply type in a book ISBN, and having the available information plugged into the citation template — automatically.  That worked well until its use far exceeded Google’s limits on how many lookups were allowed per web service.

I’d also been interested in creating an automated way of doing Web address lookups and tried my hand at page scraping, which is a highly technical and occasionally successful way of writing software that looks at a web page and pulls pertinent information from its text.  This, surprisingly, worked far better than I’d expected, but not well enough to consistently make CM more efficient — and it cost way to much computer processing for CM’s web servers.  So I abandoned it for another solution.

Going back to the ISBN issue, I decided to take a leap and to start archiving book citations that included ISBN numbers.  This has quickly generated a database of, at this writing, 45,244 books.  So, if you have the ISBN of a book today, you can enter it at the opening CM screen (or APA or MLA book template pages), select either MLA or APA styles, and there’s a pretty good chance that the following template form will at least be partially filled out by the database.  This seemed such a good idea that I started archiving Web sites as well, by URL.  At this writing there are considerably more Web sites in the database than books, showing 859,668.  So entering a Web add (with http:// included) avails a fairly good chance of saving some time with at least partially completed template forms.

This, too, costs CPU power, so we had to double the RAM on one of the servers ($), and have concluded that we need to upgrade to a new uber server during the December holidays ($$$).  This is the reason for the additional advertising.  But increasing the size of CM’s pages to make room for a 200×300 pixel ad also provided more space for instructions.  So for each CM source there are now some fairly detailed instructions on each form element to be entered in the template form.

The thing that got me writing so early this morning is that I’ve done most of this in silence, in the closed confines of my man-cave office.  So I’m going to try to be more open about what I’m doing, not just here in my Blogger blog, but also through the Facebook page and perhaps even set up a Twitter account, posting periodic updates on what I’m doing with CM and why.

So pay attention!

Oh!  And then there’s the squirrel.  But we’ll talk more about him later 😉

It’s What I’ve Learned…

skitched-20111028-072827.pngBrenda and I went to a book signing last week at the celebrated independent bookstore, Quail Ridge Books & Music. It was Lions of the West, which has apparently already received much acclaim, Raleigh’s News & Observer saying the author “..should be declared a national treasure.” ((BARNHILL, A. C. (2011, Oct 16). Morgan looks westward through eyes of history. News & Observer. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/gFw4V))

North Carolina born Robert Morgan, spent about 40 minutes of that evening reading from a simultaneously published book of poetry, stemming from his research for Lions of the West, but most of that time talking about the history of America’s westward growth.

Known as a “poet, novelist and short-story writer” ((Department of english at cornell university. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.arts.cornell.edu/english/people/?id=97)) and recipient of an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Cornell University English professor has written one other history, a similarly acclaimed biography of the nearly mythical American icon, Daniel Boone (Boone: A Biography). Lions of the West starts with Thomas Jefferson, and the Louisiana Purchase, which included

…all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River; most of North Dakota; nearly all of South Dakota; northeastern New Mexico; northern Texas; the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. ((Wikipedia contributors. (2011). Louisiana purchase. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Louisiana_Purchase&oldid=458992606))

The book ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which added all or part of,

..California (1850), Nevada (1864), Utah (1896), and Arizona (1912), as well as the whole of, depending upon interpretation, the entire State of Texas (1845) that then included part of Kansas (1861), Colorado (1876), Wyoming (1890), Oklahoma (1902), and New Mexico (1912). ((Wikipedia contributors. (2011). Treaty of guadalupe hidalgo. InWikipedia, The Free EncyclopediaWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Treaty_of_Guadalupe_Hidalgo&oldid=459017384))

..and was negotiated by Nicholas Trist, Jefferson’s grandson, by mariage.

I found it interesting that a majority of people who came to hear the talk were at least as old as Brenda and I, most of them much older. This was a generation who grew up on westerns. But what became clear from this talk and much of the revisionist history that has emerged in recent years, is how little we know about this era that so defined a generation of youngsters.

And this brings me to the second thing I found interesting about Morgan’s talk. It was a compelling story that he delivered powerfully, eloquently, and certainly unhampered by the charms of his southern roots. But it wasn’t until a conversation with Brenda, during our drive home, that it occurred to me why his talk was so compelling. Brenda said that she liked the way Morgan wasn’t trying to sell the book, and I realized that it was his perspective. The story that he spun in his talk was about what he’d learned during his research.

One area he said that he dug into was Mexican history, written from that country’s viewpoint, by Mexican historians. Many of Morgan’s statements began with, “What surprised me was..” Among his surprises was that Mexico was supposed to have won that war. They were, according to European observers, far superior to the United States in almost every way. Another surprise was James K. Pope, the North Carolina born 11th president. The author now believes that Polk was one of America’s six greatest presidents. An especially unlikable man, Polk was the only president who accomplished everything he’d promised voters, including spending only one term in office. Another surprise was how many of the Indian wars actually involved Indian tribes as allies to the American “cavalry.”

But it was this angle that I think especially charmed me, that Morgan did not talk about what he knew. He spent a half hour talking about what he’d learned.

..and of course, this brings us around to one of my continuing themes, that learning, learning practices, the sharing of learning, and what you can building from your learning, are far more important today than even the very best practices of teaching.

“Here’s what I’ve learned,” I think, is a golden key for unlocking the learner-impulse in others.

We Don’t Trust What We Can’t See…

The other day I featured an infographic on IGad (InfoGrapthic-a-Day) that illustrated the declining or less than satisfactory level of confidence that the American public has in it’s education system. This was probably not an appropriate graphic to share on what was, for many, their first day back to school. But hey, what do we have to be exuberant about in the world of education today, besides the intrinsic joys and rewards of teaching — and having a job teaching. So I posted this GOOD.is graphic because I think it’s conversation needs starting.

At the top of the graphic is a not quite so striking decline in confidence since 1977 — 54% then to 38% today. Of course, we understand that this is merely a symptom of things going on that are much deeper and broader than what’s happening in real classrooms. What I found most interesting with this part of the graphic was that the decline was not steady. I dumped the data into one of my favorite graphing tools, OmniGraphSketcher, and produced the line graph at the right. It would be interesting to correlate the rather dramatic ups and downs of confidence levels with what was going on outside of our classrooms — the stories that were being told by people who had influence to gain by telling those stories.

What I found most interesting about the entire graphic was the portion that compared confidence values for other institutions, ranging from the military, with a confidence rate of 78%, down to, well, need I say, congress, with only 12% expressing confidence. ..and where did they find them?

Looking at the ranking on the right, I see an interesting, though blurry difference between the institutions earning more than 40% confidence, and the ones getting less. The military protects us and we feel it. The threat of terrorism is on our minds. We walk into small businesses everyday and we encounter the police, our churches and doctors every week — or there is a potential of encountering them.

On the other hand, most of us have very little direct weekly experience with the inner workings of our courts, schools, criminal justice system, newspapers, banks and congress. It is worth noting that Americans experience a significantly greater likelihood of being in jail, prison, or on probation or parole than we do of graduating from high school this year. ((“Total Correctional Population.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice, 7 Sep 2011. Web. 7 Sep 2011.)) ((“Fast Facts.” National Center for Education Statistics. U.S. Education Department, n.d. Web. 7 Sep 2011.))

Admittedly, there is a lot of gray space in this distinction. But my point is this. People will be less confident in something that they do not see regularly, or they can be more easily be dissuaded of their confidence by political spin. We’ve got to do a better job of inviting the public into our schools. We’ve got to sell them on “21st Century Learning” by showing it to them. We’ve got to inspire confidence by making people wish they could go back to high school. We need to ask ourselves the question, “How do we inspire confidence?

Data? ..or Performance?”