Tuesday, December 15, 2009



I am sorry to have to do it but this post is not a informative, instructional post. It is a rant. If you are here to learn how to use the internet and technology, good. But ignore this post. If you are interested in reading the opinion of somebody who is completely and utterly right then read on. 

Definition of Mastery

great skillfulness and knowledge of some subject or activity

Very great skill or knowledge
(World Book Dictionary)

Possession or display of great skill or knowledge
(Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

Great skill, expert knowledge
(Gage Canadian Dictionary)

Can do the skill, twice.
(the standard teacher's definition)

Anybody see a problem?  As teachers we throw the word mastery around like a dirty dishrag at a community supper.  "Yes, they have mastered the skill."  Has the student?  Or can they merely do the skill (at least we have seen them do it - twice if we are good teachers).  We use the term way too loosely.  Is this just another symptom in our declining expectations?  Master means that they have amazing skill and or knowledge.  Wayne Gretzky mastered hockey.  Arnold Palmer mastered golf.  Steven Spielberg  mastered moviemaking.  A concert soloist has mastered their music.  Any olympic athlete has mastered their sport.  Many of my university professors mastered their content area (some even learned how to teach it).

Malcom Gladwell talks about mastery in his book Outliers.  "10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness."  That is how long it takes to truly achieve mastery.  In studies that ranged from musicians, to professional hockey players, to amazing computer programmers, the common factor was that they ALL worked for roughly 10,000 hours before becoming very good, before achieving mastery.  Skill is not what made them great - skill and working much, much harder than everyone else made them masters.

And here we go as teachers using the word.  We have watered it down and ruined it.  I don't even want to say it again.  It has become meaningless.  How many of our students have spent those kind of hours on any skill we teach them?  A student with perfect attendance would take until grade 11 to reach 10,000 hours of school (not counting homework).  Without a heck of a lot of homework do you really think they can achieve the M-word in any subject area?  

I have already heard the argument "But they have achieved mastery for their level."  (Yes I have gone off on this rant before.)  Really?  Have they?  Are they great?  Are they showing expert knowledge?  Or can they merely do it consistently.  I can drive down the road and consistently stay between the ditches.  Have I mastered driving?  No, I am merely good enough.  

And when has good enough ever been good enough?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Push Me, Come on You Know You Want To.........

"Find some peers and push each other."
            Seth Godin

Interesting quote. Seth makes a good point (and I am going to use it a little out of context - just letting you know). It is easier to improve when you work with other people. When was the last time a peer walked into your classroom and challenged you on something that you did? I mean truly and constructively challenged you. I am not talking about administrators either. Conversations with local and division administrators are often fairly one sided. They are your bosses. Enough about them. I want to talk about peers - the people we work with. There is nothing better than to have a group of people who can offer critisizm without having some sort of private agenda. Critisizm aimed at making you better - not at improving their position.  Praise for a good lesson is also easy to get.  We hesitate to say anything negative.  Remember though, it is all about student learning - not about pride.  So stop worrying about whether you will look bad and accept the critisizm.

Right now I am team teaching a math class with two other teachers.  I love it.  I get to watch how other people teach.  I also have other professionals who are watching me teach.  We help each other out and ask for advice.  I use them to let me know when I did not quite get the ideas across.  Sometimes it is easier to notice these things when you are not actually the one teaching, when you don't have personal investment in the lesson.

Critisizm aimed at collaboration.  I like the sound of that.  Push me.  I can take it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No, I'm Not Dead

Like the title says. I am not dead - just moving. No not this blog. First I moved my classroom and now I am moving house. Needless to say I have been quite busy. Once everything is all cleared up I will get back into posting here.

I am actually going through a little withdrawal.

On another note, the counter on the bottom of my website seems to have picked up about an extra 10,000 hits. Google analytics only recorded about 350 hits. No, I am not as popular as my counter shows. I don't know what happened.

Let me just leave you with a little question that came up from some time with my son.

Does anybody ever worry about the little piggy that ate roast beef?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lights, Camera, Documentary?

Ok before you go on watch this video.

No - I mean it.  Watch the video.
(Sorry I did not embed it but there were no embed codes).

Ok - done?  Pretty good huh?  This is the kind of thing that Marco Torres and his students are putting out.  I was impressed.  A group of ex-students of his put together a company named Alas Media they also put on some really good sessions (and where a big part of Marco's sessions as well.)

Marco taught film making through documentaries.  Documentaries are a rapidly increasing genre in the film industry.  Keep in mind that these are not the boring old documentaries that we all have seen (and probably shown) in class - these are interesting, modern, and hip.  The best part about documentaries is that you don't need actors.

The good people at Alas Media talked about what they liked best about Marco's methods.  He started them off close to home.  They talked about themselves, and then their community.  Their assignments were stories that had personal connections.  The assignments worked in the order of:
  1. Us
  2. Our family
  3. Our community
  4. The world
Marco made some good points about teaching film.  Don't teach the tech.  When it comes to a new skill teach one student - then have that student teach the rest.  That frees up the teacher to focus on important things like composition and storyline.

Ok - now some of the meat and potatoes of what I learned.

The four P's of film making.
  1. Plan
  2. Produce
  3. Present
  4. Pheedback
Apparently 75% of the work lies in the planning section.  If you just shoot and hope to get something then you just have a jumble of cool shots but no cohesive story.  Remember - unless you are making the movie Twister then it is ALL about the story.  (Also - anything that takes away from the story - like unnecessary animation - has no place in the video).

Remember the Rule of Thirds.

How to Make a Simple Documentary Film

A Roll 
Start with the A roll.  The A roll is the interview itself.  It is the camera on the subject.  Marco described the A roll as talking heads - not much action - just talking.  One of the key's to this part is to get good quality audio.  Use a secondary recorder if your camera doesn't do the best job of recording.

B Roll
The B roll is the other shots that get mixed into the video.  They provide the context for the interview.  B roll shots are not different shots of the subject talking - they are everything else.  The key is variety.  Get lots of different shots - closeups, objects, even just the person staring off into the distace (especially if they are remembering a past story).

In this step you start putting things together.  Your A roll is the backbone of the piece.  Start there.  Then start splicing in parts of your B roll.  Leave in the audio from the A roll but show shots from the B roll.  Go back and forth from the subject to the context.

The key to a good interview is being able to hear what is being said.  This is why I suggested a secondary recorder.  Then you have two audio tracks to choose from.  Check out some of Marco's how to videos to find out how to sync up audio.  (You did remember to start with a clap didn't you?)

As you can see I walked away from these two sessions with a lot of information.  This is only part of it and already this post is way too long.  I guess I will have to end it with some links to more information.

And Finally my rough notes from the sessions are here and here (not that you really want to read them.  I place lots of emphasis on rough.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

BLC 09 (Building Learning Communities)

My first impressions. (Done in a make and take here at the conference). I will post more when I have time. It has been very busy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Some Sage Wisdom

The early bird get the worm merely means that the worm should have slept in.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pocket Knives Make Excellent Gifts

Gerver Tulley's program is everything I want to do - only I never realized I wanted to do it.   You all know that I tinker - I just don't share or teach it very well.  That is it - I am going to open up my garage (and my toys) to the neighborhood kids - right RIGHT now.   Um  maybe not - it is 11 PM.  

I bet you that this format would work in my math classes.......... two and two are adding up and I am getting a parabola!!!

He also did a neat Facebook question and answer session.  His answers are worth reading.

All the best, and remember: pocket knives make excellent gifts,

- Gever Tulley

Monday, July 6, 2009

Just a bit of Advice

Killing two birds with one stone is a bad thing to try in a glass house............

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Centenial Man

Wow. This post makes 100 posts (and 3000 views). I never stick with anything this long. I want to thank both of my readers for taking part in the conversation. I guess that I am now obliged to review some of my best/favorite/most talked about posts.

It all started September 25, 2007 with this post. Donna DesRoches got me started at a PD session she put on. I decided to use my real grown up name on the internet. (Or as real and grown up as I could manage!) You can actually Google my name now.

While my first post was not very memorable here are some others that are remarkable either because I liked them or they generated some conversation.

This early post wasn't anything special but it did spark discussion. It showed me the possibilities of blogging. Did I mention that I love when people argue intellegently with me?

According to Google Analytics this page still accounts for 20% of the traffic to my blog. Who would have figured?

Time Lapse Holiday Cheer
This post was about creating time lapse videos. I had initially posted the video directly from YouTube - then I went into Blogger to add more information. In the time between posting from YouTube and going back and editing the post (About 30 minutes) Dean Shareski had already found the post and commented. The really funny part is that I was going back into the post to add a link to his blog where he had done something similar.

A post about copyright and education. I got some good responses with this one. I am still thinking about the issue and when I get time I will get back to it.

This one was fun. The best part is that the people involved still haven't gotten the joke.

I took a bit of a risk on this one. I talked about things that are usually swept under the table. I keep expecting to get in a little hot water over it. Nobody has been willing to touch it in the comments either.

In lots of my posts you will find me complaining that teachers don't have enough time. Here I think I found part of the reason I don't have enough time.

My Rants
Turns out my carpool was right. I do rant a lot. Here are some of my favorites.

Yep - got kinda mad here.

No this post was not about quitting. I was just plain mad (again). This post is interesting because it was picked up and quoted out of context by Dan Meyer. Here was my response to him.

So What Have I Learned?

I have learned to complain a little less - (or at least a little more constructively).

I have learned to write more posts that actually add to the conversation - not to just repost what somebody else has said.

I find that part of the value of writing is just for me to make my thoughts just a little more concrete. Writing it down just helps me work through the ideas. This blog also helps me archive my writing.

I have also learned to just write. Many posts where I waited until I had the time to get them just right never got written. One paragraph just in time is way more valuable than an essay too late.

Lastly, I have learned that just because I think I have something worth saying doesn't mean people will read it. Damn. Because I do. Really. Honest.......

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Students are Screwed!

My students are screwed. They have been from long before they walked through my classroom doors.

I am sure that you are all wondering what the heck I am talking about. Patience. I will get to it - but first you need some background knowledge.

Lets start with Malcome Gladwell's book Outliers. Read it. It rocks - and it will make you look at amazing people like Wayne Gretzky and Bill Gates a little bit differently. Haven't read it? Not going to get to it soon? Ok - here is the basic information that pertains to what I am talking about.

In Outliers there is a chapter about mathematics - more specifically about how Asian students tend to do better in math. Gladwell says that there are two main factors that explain the test scores. He calls them cultural legacy. The first is that numbers are handled differently in most Asian languages. They make more sense. If I were to have a race a Chinese person in counting to a hundred (in our own languages) they would win almost every time. It is just the structure of the language. The second factor (and more important factor) is the fact that a large percentage of Asians come from a rice farming background. Rice farming is VERY labor intensive. Successful rice farmers work much harder and much longer than other types of farmers. Asian students have grown up in that type of environment. They learned how to work very hard. They grew up with a cultural legacy of hard work. (Every single successful outlier in Gladwell's book worked very hard to get where they were.) Gladwell explained that mathematics is easier when the language makes better sense - and when you work hard towards a solution (No surprise there!).

So how are my students screwed? All of my students are First Nations. (Ok maybe 2 aren't - but the rest definately are.) What cultural legacy has been left to them? Thanks to a wonderful system of government handouts many of them come from an environment where they don't have to work. They will be provided for if they choose to not work at all. (Keep in mind that only a pittance is provided - I realize it is not an easy life or a good life.) If you go back before Europeans were in the picture that was not the case - but wasn't that too many generations ago for it to truly be a huge part of many of their cultural legacy? Also keep in mind that this is a generalization and does not apply to everybody. I have students that I would be willing to hire outside of school because they are hard workers. The point I am trying to make is that my students have to fight a very uphill battle in order to succeed in math (and I never even touched on language issues!). They have to fight that battle because of where they grew up and what they saw around them.

So what do I do about it? No, what am I failing to do about it? - because that is what is happening. My students are failing - which means that I am failing because I have failed to do enough about their new cultural legacy. One more time - (and yes I am begging for help here) - what can I do about it?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Opening the GATES to Education?

Bill Gates - he's maybe not the evil megalomaniac that he gets made out to be.  This guy is actually pretty smart.  Watch his TED talk.  The first half is about mosquitos and malaria.  It is ok (especially the part where he releases live mosquitos into the audience) - but then quickly get to the good part - the part about the education system.  (Well the American education system anyways).  I don't agree with everything that he says but his message is definately worth listening to.  He approaches education from a slightly corporate mindset.  While initially I find that disturbing I have to think about it.  He is the key part of a highly successful and innovative company (despite what the Apple propaganda wants you to believe.)  He knows how to succeed and he knows how to effect change.  He IS worth listening to.

Bill Gates does push the current bandwagon - data and assessment.  His message about it is different though.  Don't use the data to identify who is weak and what teachers are terrible - use it to celebrate those that are good.  Put them up as examples and say - "Here is a good teacher - his/her students learn more over the course of the year.  Learn from this teacher."

He also talks about KIPP schools (Bill Gates likes them - no that does not make them evil).  If you have never heard of KIPP schools then you should read up on them too.

Watch it.  Listen with an open mind.  As I said before - he IS worth listening to.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mine? Mine? Mine?

Who owns what we create?

I mean as teachers - if I create something on school time who does it belong to? Is it mine? I made it. Or does it belong to the division? We did make it while being paid by them. (For that matter when exactly does school time end? I am paid on a salary not by the hour.) If I leave am I obligated to leave a copy of what I created? Do I even have the right to take it with me?

If an architect designs a building - it belongs to the company they work for. An engineer's work belongs to the firm. Who does my work belong to? Do I even have the right to offer it up as Creative Commons work? (Like virtually all of my work is?) What is the story with university research? Does it belong to the researcher - the university - or is it a shared copyright?

I know that there are special exceptions in the Canadian Copyright laws for education but how far does it go?

I don't know. But for the record - (to any of my bosses) - you can use anything I create, just keep me happy enough and we won't have to get into the discussion of whether I can take it with me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Value of Time

I have been thinking about time. We always complain that we don't have enough time for collaboration. There is not enough time in the day to get together and work with other teachers.  We are to busy teaching. Administrators need to give us more time for collaboration. We need time to have those meaningful conversations with our peers. (complain, complain, complain)  Yes, I am part of that crowd.

I think I have found an hour a day of regularly uninterrupted collaboration time. Nobody is really going to like the answer.

It came to me when I thought about this past year in teaching. It had been my busiest yet. I am always feeling rushed. The only real reason I could come up with was the fact that I switched carpools. My new carpool always wants to leave right after school. Always. In fact they often call me on the intercom to hurry up. I knew this when I joined but I am too frugal (cheap) to drive myself every day.

I am sure you can see where I am going with this. How many of us are out the door shortly after the bell? We all use similar excuses - I need to get home to my family, I have prior engagements, I am to burnt out at the end of the day. How many other jobs do you get to put in 6 hour workdays? Oh but I do my work at home. Ya, so much for your argument about family.  Add in the fact that it is harder to collaborate with others from a distance.

One hour at the end of the day would give us lots of time to get things done (both together and alone). Think how much better we would do if we were not trying to squeeze in collaboration during time we are supposed to be focusing on actually teaching.

Friday, April 24, 2009

You Betcha I want to say Yes!

Dan Meyer of dy/dan fame picked up one of my rants a while back.  I just found it now.  Here is what he said:

Gary Ball, edtechnophile:

I want to be a Yes Man. I want to be a Lets Find a Way Man. I want my job to be finding ways to say yes to educators requests. Educator: "Can I do/have (insert random skill/technology/tool)?" Me: "Heck ya - that sounds awesome. I am not sure how but lets find a way!"

Mark Weston, Dell's educational strategist:

Asking the question, "Does technology improve student learning?" is the wrong question. The question should be, "Does technology support the practices that improve student learning?"

After reading the comments and thinking about it for a while I wrote this reply.  I figured that I should share it here.

Dean Shareski has the essence of what the post was actually about. You are quoting me a bit out of context.

No division could afford to keep me (or any good teacher) fully stocked up with all of my (our) whims. There has to be some sort of system of checks and balances to see that funds are truly spent on technology that supports students learning (and the practices that improve it). However I was not ranting about whims. Any conversation that starts out with a NO probably won’t get far. I want to be heard out and considered before I get a no (and please leave out the capital letters and the exclamation mark).

Innovation and creativity (which we need more of) sometimes involves picking up something new and asking “What can I do with this?” It involves playing with the new shiny thing and finding interesting ways it is useful.

I do agree that we need to have the conversation about how things will improve or support student learning. Anything that does not in some way improve student learning is money wasted. I don’t advocate blindly saying yes. I do advocate for innovation, creativity, and the conversations that should come with them.

As I have said before - I enjoy when people disagree with me or challenge me (as long as they do it intelligently.)

Related Posts

Online Video Statistics

A lot of school buses by wheany.

The average canadian watches over 605 minutes of online video every month.

That is what I heard on CBC Radio today on my drive in to work.  We watch an average of 10 hours a month.  Here is a link to some of the stats that they are quoting.  We are the top country for the amount of online video watched.  (The radio host figured it might have something to do with winter.)

Now you tell me we shouldn't be using this for and in education.

You tell me that we should be blocking these sites.

You tell me that we can't afford the bandwidth to use these tools.

Then get out of the way of my bus.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Slumdog Canadian

I just finished watching Slumdog Millionaire.  It is a well written story.  It also has a powerful message.  The message did not really hit me until I enlisted Google's help.  (Let me get back to that idea.)  For those of you who have not seen the movie it as about a boy who grows up poor on the streets in India.  He gets a chance to compete on their version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  He is competing for 20 million rupees.  Now this is where the message hits home.  Find an online currency converter.  Find out how much that is in your own currency.   

Wow.  This is an unbelievable, unreachable, utterly amazing dream for people in India.  My wife and I could afford to buy a house worth that much  (with the help of the bank and 25 years worth of time).  We are average people here in Canada.  We have average jobs with average(ish) wages.  For the poor in India what the average Canadian family has is our equivalent to winning a huge lottery.  We already have their biggest dream.

Chew on that before you gripe about the cost of gas.........or maple syrup.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Learning on Purpose

This is coming from my last post.

What is the last thing you learned on purpose?

For me it was about Kline Fogleman Airfoil.  The KF airfoil is a revolutionary airfoil first developed some time in the 70's.  It was used on a world record holding paper airplane but it was laughed at by aviation experts because they did not understand how it work.  It involves putting a step about midway on either the top or the bottom of a wing.  The step creates some turbulence which then generates a surprising amount of lift.  Right now it is getting a lot of attention by remote control model airplane enthusiasts.  (That is where I picked up the idea.)  YouTube, Google, a couple of podcasts, and many discussion forums were my partners in my research.

A challenge:  What was the last thing you really learned on purpose?  I don't mean something that you learned in passing.  I mean something you went out of your way to find out about.  Not because you had to but because you wanted to.  I am passing the challenge on to a few of you (and anyone else is welcome to join in).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Do You Learn? (or do you just Teach?)

Are you a lifelong learner?  What is the last thing that you learned?  Was it an "ouch that hurt - no more touching the pokey thing" kind of learning or was it something that you went out learned on purpose?  What was the last thing that you learned on purpose - not because you had to but because you were curious?

Be careful how you answer that question because you might not like the answer.  I didn't really.  Yes I am a lifelong learner.  Yes I learn on purpose.  (Yes I also learn from the painful, pokey things too.)  But what fires me up and keeps me up at night researching and learning?  My hobbies and my projects.  That would be awesome - if I were retired - but I am not.  Don't get me wrong.  I do a lot of work related research/reading as well.  I love new ideas (well new to me is good enough).  But I can put work research down.  I can put it off until a little later.  When I get off on a new project/hobby tangent - look out.  I pour through everything I can find about it.  Why am I not quite as obsessed about my work?

I just got back from a PD day.  I did not go for myself.  I went as tech support for some of my coworkers.  Boy is it ever fun to watch other people excited about learning something!  In the days leading up to it they were worried about it and not too excited about the ideas (involving computers).  As the day went on they forgot their fears and got really involved in what they were learing.  And then they got overloaded.  Even overloaded they were rushing to see how quickly they could use what they learned in the classroom.  I really enjoyed being there in that environment.

So go out there and learn something.  Do it on purpose.

Photo credit Bill Mosely

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Saddest Sound in the World

What is the saddest sound in the world?

A teacher excited about a new idea/ tool/ pedagogy having to ask "Are we allowed to use that?" (In other words "Is this blocked?")

A little tear rolled down.....
True story. Honest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Want a New Job


I am sorry to have to do it but this post is not a informative, instructional post. It is a rant. If you are here to learn how to use the internet and technology, good. But ignore this post. If you are interested in reading the opinion of somebody who is completely and utterly right then read on. 

I want a new job.  You heard it right.  I want a new job.  Well ok, I would be satisfied with somebody else having this job if they had the power, authority, desire, and ability to do it well.

Ewan McIntosh described his dream job in the Ed Tech Posse podcast he participated in.  He wanted to be paid to jump on each and every bandwagon that came up.  He would then report back to others to see if the bandwagon was worth it.  Now I don't want his job - but my job would probably work well with his.

I want to be a Yes Man.  I want to be a Lets Find a Way Man.  I want my job to be finding ways to say yes to educators requests.  

Educator:  "Can I do/have (insert random skill/technology/tool)?'
Me: "Heck ya - that sounds awesome.  I am not sure how but lets find a way!"

Can I have that job?  Please?  Pretty please with cherries on top?  

I am qualified.  It started back when I was a kid with a bucket of Lego.  Any time I saw a new toy that I wanted (and knew I probably wouldn't get) I found a way to build it.  I was finding work arounds to get what I wanted.

I wanted a Smartboard.  It was not in the budget so I found a way to build the Poor Man's Interactive White Board - for a lot less money.  

We wanted GarageBand on our PCs.  So I found a PC equivilent (and if the Division doesn't get me the license soon going to get a less than legal version!  Yes this is an idle threat.)

I wanted Rockband but didn't want a console.  So I found a free open source program that works the same way.

We wanted Macs to do media editing.  The tech powers that be said no.  I found a way to say yes (and dealt with the consequences later).

I have been trying to do this job for a while now.  I just want the power and authority to make it happen.  I have the desire.  I want to say yes.  I want to say yes to other people!  I just don't have the authority or the power.  

Now we have some of these people in our division.  Yes people.  I suspect that you know who you are and you are wonderful.  You are awesome.  You are great.  Keep it up.  The problem is that you are blocked by NO people.  People whose first reaction is to say NO (usually with capital letters - sometimes with an examation mark).  NO People are controllers - they give up power grudgingly.  Yes People know that sharing power grants you the uber power of collaboration.  It is like that magic penny that keeps growing the more that you give it away.  Yes People scare No People.  No People don't understand them and find them threatening.  

Do not despise No People.  Pity them.  The world is strange and incomprehensable to them.  Treat them like a child that insists on telling bad knock knock jokes that make no sense.  Humour them and pretend that they are funny.  Then move on before things get too awkward.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To Heck with Following your Dream

Ok - once you get past the very entertaining story about sheep ..... um ...... surgeries, Mike Rowe (from Dirty Jobs) has something interesting to say about jobs and our future.  The people he does shows about are not doing their dream jobs - but they are happy.   Watch the video.  Laugh, and then learn.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Business of School

School is a business.  We are selling education to our students.  How do we get them to buy what we are selling?  What price are they willing to pay?  Attendance?  Homework?  Emotional involvement?  What price are their parents willing to pay?  Time?  Involvement?  Risk?  Money?  What price is our community willing to pay? 

Finally, what are we teachers willing to pay to sell our product?  Are we willing to pay the price in time and personal commitment?

In his blog marketing guru Seth Godin wrote that in order to sell you need:

1. A group of possible customers you can identify and reach.
2. A group with a problem they want to solve using your solution.
3. A group with the desire and ability to spend money to solve that problem.
Well lets look at those three things.

#1 - We have them in our classrooms.  The law says that they have to be there.  All we have to do is reach them.
#2 - Here is a little bigger problem.  Do they see us as a solution to their problems?  Are we relevant enough?
#3 - Are they willing to pay the price for education?  Or do they have something else going on in their life that makes school impossible?

It is interesting to look at our jobs through a different lens.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lost Generation

This is something my VP emailed me (I suspect she may have picked it up from admin council). Sometimes adminstrators bring us something more than just paperwork. This is one of those things. Nice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Articles Worth Spilling Soup For

Well just as always - too much coffee and some late night driving leave me winding down when I should be going to sleep. At least I am using the time constructively.

Did you know that you can put a clip on your blog of your most recently shared articles from Google Reader? I just found it. It is even easy to do - the tools are built right in to Google Reader. You can find some of the articles I find that are worth sharing on the right hand side of this blog (you may need to scroll down a little bit). Look for the title Articles Worth Spilling Soup for.

If you read my blog in a reader then this won't help you. Actually, if you read this blog in Google Reader then why aren't you on my friends list? Email me so we can easily share what we find worth reading.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Buddhist Fisherman

How does a Buddhist fishermen justify his job? "They are saving the
fish from drowning, unfortunately it happens to die in the process."
Amy Tan.

There has been a lot of buzz going around the blogoshere about about
how our educational system is killing creativity. In the act of giving
the students an education their creativity just happens to die in the
process. (Well not always but way to often.) Damn, we are Buddhist

** Update **

This post was made from my iPod Touch so I was unable to add links. One of the articles I was talking about was this one from Ewan McIntosh.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Time, Innovation, and Open Ended Learning

I just got off the phone with a colleague. He is participating in an e-Journalism project and just finished a PD day for it. He loved the way that he was given time to play. He said that we would all be using the new web 2.0 tools if we just were given the time to learn them. He had a good point. Why are we only expected to innovate on our own time. When are we given paid time to learn and develop new things? (Conference doesn't quite cut it.) A conference is a great place to dip our toes into the water but then we need to time to go back to school and try it.

My colleague also raised another good point. He learned a huge amount at his PD day. And the learning was structured absolutely nothing like his classroom (or most of our classrooms for that matter). Play time to pursue learning. Learning in the direction you choose. Self directed learning (to use the jargon). I think he is at home right now thinking about how to restructure his classes.
I had a similar discussion with a couple of colleague's after a recent PD. A session were we were being instructed in how to "control the flow of information. " A direct quote. Not kidding. Our classrooms are killing creativity. We are not building lifelong learners. The structure is the problem. The control is the problem. Lets get the heck out of the way of student learning.
Damn, I hope that they don't make me try and innovate too. I just don't have the time.
Photo by Thomas Hawk Used under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to Engineer an Objective Pedagogy

We know that the internet is a great way to enhance classroom-based living documents. It can also be used to leverage top-down interfaces. Good teachers use it to utilize peer-based networks. Others use it to implement holistic higher order thinking. Going online helps us engage compelling learning and deploy mastery focused strategies. We can easily expedite an overarching pedagogy and enhance critical content. I mean it never hurts to strategize performance based systems and extend bottom up pedagogy.

Others (like me) use the internet to randomly generate proffessional sounding jargon. The Educational Jargon Generator is a wonderful tool. Since most of us will need to be getting our second semester year plans in soon I thought I would help you all out. Someplace I read that this website had been successfully used to write grant proposals.

I have to share a story about the benefits of having Google (and this website) in your pocket. In a recent staff meeting a couple of collegues were presenting about a conference they had recently been at about Differentiated Instruction. One activity they had us do was list a bunch of terms that described Differentiated Instruction. I pulled out my IPod Touch and ran the Educational Jargon Generator. "That is exactly what DI is all about" was the response to my randomly generated words. (If you were one of the presenters and are reading this blog I owe you an apology for pulling one over on you. If you don't read this then no apology for you!)

Use this tool wisely and don't tell the administrators in your life.

.............and remember - it's same fertile growing medium, just a different bovine.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jason McElwain Autistic Basketball Player

This story is going around my school right now. (I think that somebody saw it at a presentation and passed it on to the rest of us). It certainly is not new - 1.5 million hits on YouTube - but I had not seen it before either. I just figured that I should pass it on to anyone else who has not seen it.

In summary it is about an autistic boy who has been helping out with the basketball team for several years. Then the coach puts him in for the last 4 minutes at the end of the season. To quote Jason he was "hotter than a pistol." It reminds me of the movies Rudy and Radio - only real life.

Watch it. Enjoy it. Pass it on (like some painfully annoying chain letter).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mixcraft - Music Making for the Mac Challenged

So you don't have access to a Mac? Did you actually listen when your tech advisor told you not to buy one? So now you are stuck without GarageBand. In my search for a PC replacement I come accross Mixcraft 4. It is looking promising. I haven't spent too much time on it yet but it looks like a powerful music creation tool. It has lots of clips that you drag and drop to create your own song. It supports multiple tracks and it also records instruments and voice. There is lots of support for Midi instruments as well.

I gave it to one of my students to try out. I wanted her to compare it to GarageBand. She liked it and put togther a neat little clip (and if I can figure out how to upload it I have her permission to share it). When I asked her she said that she preferred it to Garage Band. I think that the included clips are a little longer and have better variety (not completely sure though.)

I spent a couple of hours trying to hook the Rock Band instruments up to it (like I did with the Mac and Garage Band). No luck. Now that doesn't mean it can't be done - it just means that I have not figured out how. I am still new to the world of digital music creation.

It isn't free, but the $65 price tag won't break the bank either. Go on over and download the free trial. Let me know what you think. If you have any other music editors/creation tools I would love to hear about them.

Rock On - Garage Band Style!

Well, we did it. Rock Band instruments work just fine while hooked up to Garage Band for the Mac. It was not too terribly hard to hook them up and set them up. I downloaded a quick little program called Game Pad Companion (as recommended here). Then it was as simple as configuring the buttons to match keys on the keyboard. We then used the musical typing tool in Garage Band. It really was quite easy, and it sounds pretty realistic. The video I have up above is of my classroom neighbor (and his students) messing around with it. There are tons of instrument sounds to choose from - but the lead electric guitar is definately the best.

One problem is that we have not found a way to use two or more instruments simultaneously. You have to record each track and instrument separately (otherwise the instruments fight over the musical keyboard). In the video you can see the girl at the drums waiting for her turn to record a drum track.

Hooking the Rock Band instruments up to the Mac is a neat trick but in reality you can achieve more with a Midi keyboard - or even just working directly from the computer keyboard. The advantage is using the student's kinisthetic learning. They are used to the shape and feel of the guitar - many of them play real guitars (and even more play Rock Band or Guitar Hero). The touch is familiar to them.

Too bad we didn't actually have any musical talent.

Monday, January 5, 2009

7 Things Meme

Donna DesRoches invited me to join in on the 7 Things Meme. Here are 7 things you may or may not know about me.

1. Before going into Education I spent 3 years in the College of Engineering at the U of S. I finally decided that I wanted to spend more time working with people. It probably explains my fascination with technology. I don't regret any of the time or money I spent in Engineering.

2. I used to be quite involved in 4H. I did woodworking and electrical projects (which have really helped me with my current tinkering). I was even involved with the alumni through university. 4H is a very good organization. I think that once my son is old enough I will get involved again.

3. I took accordion lessons when I was a kid. I never really liked it.

4. I used to play the trumpet in high school. I did like the trumpet. Unfortunately during my grade 12 year I developed a spontaneous pneumothorax after a band festival (essentially I blew a hole in my lung). I spent 2 weeks in the hospital with some of that time in the intensive care ward. Never really played again.

5. I enjoy camping and the outdoors. My last four years of university were paid for through treeplanting. Even after spending all day out in the sun for 3 months at a time I never ever got a noticable tan.

6. My mom and dad were both born at the same hospital two days apart. My paternal grandmother (holding my dad) and my maternal grandfather (holding my mom) met in the lobby and both joked about trading babies. My grandmother already had a boy and my grandfather wanted boys. For the record neither got what they wanted until my parents got married.

7. Last of all I am afraid of heights. I took a job roofing for a couple of months just to try and get over it. I was the guy who got to clean out the gutters on the four story appartment buildings. I can now deal with heights but I am still not comfortable. That is actually how I try to deal with lots of my fears. Anybody want to help me out with my fear of having way too much money?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rock On!

So did you spend a wad of cash on Rock Band 2 this Christmas? Did you have to buy an expensive console to go with it? Did you lose hours to playing the the happiness that is Rock Band and or Guitar Hero (but secretly feel guilty about the price)?

Well you are not going to like me very much.

Last night I was over at a friend of mine's. Now I had been perfectly happy to scoff at anybody who lost hours of their life playing these rhythm music games. Then he had to pull it out. And I played it. And I liked it. And my wife played it. And she liked it. Rats. Big fat expensive rats. We were driving home and when I reached to turn up a song on the radio she asked "You are thinking about Rock Band too, aren't you?" Yes. Yes I was.

So after drinking too much coffee on the drive home I sat down to think about it. I was jealous and wanted Rock Band II. But I have one problem. I am cheap (cut my own hair cheap). Friends have tried to call me frugal but they are just being nice. So I started looking for a free open source clone. Enter Unsigned. A free open source rhythm music game. It felt just like Rock Band. The bonus is that apparently XBox 360 instruments connect to PC's quite easily. After some reading it looks like Wii and PS2/3 versions will too - but with more work. (I already have experience hooking WiiMote's up to my laptop.)

I was surprised to find out that the program runs well on my low end work laptop. I have only been using the keyboard to play and it is fun. Later this afternoon I intend to go and rent a XBox 360 guitar controller to try. There looks like a reasonably active community that creates charts for existing music (charts are the part that tell you when to hit the buttons - the actual game). You are supposed to own a real copy of the original music. There are more free tools for doing it yourself.

The cons? It is not as pretty as the real thing. The song charts are user created so most of them don't have all of the instruments and don't have all of the difficulty levels. (Why don't they make more easy levels? Not all of us can play on expert!) The program actually isn't even finished. All we have now is a beta version. If you try and play a song on a difficulty level that hasn't been created then all you look at for the entire song is a bunch of empty frets. The songs and charts are a little bit annoying to download - you usually have to move the files around to two different directories.

It definatly isn't perfect - but I am sure that there are flaws with the money I am saving too. Until I win the lottery I will continue being cheap and playing this free game. It's fun.

Now where did I leave those hair clippers?