Home Computing Teaching Bushcraft Games Writing About
In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.
Sabbatical update 2
More people should do this...
Deep Dive into AI and Machine Learning
My fascination with AI and machine learning has only grown during this period. I've been thoroughly engaged in understanding complex concepts such as Manhattan distance, greedy algorithms, and the minimax strategy. My sabbatical has also been an opportunity to learn about knowledge graphs, uncertainty in data, optimization techniques, and neural networks. These areas are fundamental to understanding how AI and machine learning systems learn and make decisions. This knowledge will be invaluable in my teaching and ongoing professional development. It's been refreshing to delve into these areas, and I'm always eager to discuss and exchange ideas with anyone interested.
I'm starting to design an ASW-exclusive Local Large Language Model (LLM) designed specifically for our students' needs. This initiative aims to harness the power of AI in education, offering a revolutionary approach to learning support. The idea is to develop a local LLM that is fine-tuned and optimized to understand and cater to the unique educational requirements of our students at ASW. This model will not be a generic AI tool, but a specialized, school-specific system that comprehends the nuances of our curriculum and the common challenges faced by our students. It will be a local system (not internet connected) and meet all the current legal guidelines being proposed in the EU for using AI in education. The diagram has been helpful to guide my thinking about what an educational LLM should consider:
Work with the IB and Travel to The Hague
Part of my sabbatical has been dedicated to contributing to the International Baccalaureate (IB) organization. Recently, I returned from a productive visit to The Hague, where I collaborated on several initiatives related to the new IB computer science curriculum. This opportunity has allowed me to apply my expertise in an international context and contribute to shaping global education standards. I learn so much about the IB in these visits, and they always enrich my understanding of computer science.
Personal Time with My Chocolate Labrador
On a personal note, my chocolate labrador (Obi-Wan MackObi) , who is now 5 months and a healthy 23 kilograms, has been a constant and joyful companion. Taking care of him has brought much-needed balance and happiness to my days. He is just starting his teenage years now, and that's ...pretty...cool...most...of...the...time... He likes to eat things.
Innovative Educational Endeavors
"Date Night with Your Mac" Presentation
Looking ahead, I am preparing for the "Date Night with Your Mac" presentation in January. This event will focus on the practical, nuanced and discerning use of Large Language Models (LLMs) in education. Additionally, I plan to explore some practical legal aspects related to technology use in the classroom. One of the main points I will be making is the way we can use LLM's to reduce the amount of time we spend doing administrative tasks.
As I continue on this sabbatical journey, I am grateful for the time to grow, learn, and contribute to the field of education and AI. I look forward to bringing back a wealth of knowledge and experiences to share with my colleagues and students. I miss you all very much.
Project management tools
What a mess. Pricing models are all wrong. Trello seems to have the most common sense...
The best advice I've heard about project management tools is they should help you manage your projects, and stay out of the way for everything else. I'm sure there is some witty corollary here...That is, the extent to which a project management system is useful is directly linked to how well it does that one job it should do.
I investigated several project management tools, first opting for locally hosted, open-source projects (my preferred solutions for most problems). I got open project working, but the UI felt sludgy / kludgy. I then joined monday.com and love the UI / ease-of-use but their pricing model doesn't accommodate 1 single user. There is a minimum for three person teams - which is expensive.
I settled on Trello. Which has everything I want and a pricing model I like.
My project management plan for my sabbatical is on Trello.
Customers will only buy your product if they believe that the value they’re receiving is greater than the price they’re paying; otherwise, why would they pay?
A rare and welcome opportunity to deeply recharge, learn and reflect...
Next year (school year 2023 - 2024) I will taking a sabbatical (proposal here).
14 years at my current school (American School of Warsaw), 22 years in education = time for some reflection and a recharge. Many of the technical skills I use and teach every day I first learned more than 20 years ago. Technical languages, software development practices, and development tooling has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years! With the rise of large language models and their ilk, it looks like the next 20 years will be even more interesting. I don't think the practice of teaching has changed as rapidly as technology but it also has benefited from years of researchI wonder how much has changed about imparting knoweldge, skills, and lessons in the last 20 years....
Other than technical upskill / refresh I am also looking for some time for deep reflection. I am a fan of a book by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow. Taking the time to consider and thoughtfully and deliberately act is wise. I still feel quite full of motivation, ambition and drive. But at 53 years old, I'd like to move deliberately and maximize meaningful impact.
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
A mostly terrible time
On being a parent to a teenager...
Being a parent brings the greatest joys and deepest pain. Recently our teenager has been struggling with things many teenagers struggle with On a good day being a teenager is hard... and it's just painful to see someone you love struggle. At the same time I appreciate and value struggle; some things you just need to learn the hard way. I suppose at that moment, just showing up and loving you kid is the best you can do. My instinct is to protect, prevent, and cover my daughter from pain and painful experiences. But in that difficulty arises strength and courage; and it is something each of us must find ourselves.
If your goal is to avoid pain and escape suffering, I would not advise you to seek higher levels of consciousness or spiritual evolution. First, you cannot achieve them without suffering, and second, insofar as you do achieve them, you are likely to be called on to serve in ways more painful to you, or at least demanding of you, than you can now imagine. Then why desire to evolve at all, you may ask. If you ask this question, perhaps you do not know enough of joy.
Setting up a dedicated email server, capable of sending and receiving email on behalf of other domains is not easy for those not accustomed to such matters...
I've been wrestling with postifx, MX records, DMARC and other such nonsense lately. Oh, the pull to simply pay someone to do the work for me is great! However I am determined to setup a dedicated email server for all my various domains. This learning is not easy and requires effort. I meet failure often, in fact we are becoming rather good friends over this whole thing.You know, THAT kind of friend.
However, in each unsuccessful attempt I learn something new, and my goal of owning the system remains clear. I really understand how main.cf works, I really see how messages are routed. I learn the guts of /var/log/mail.log I'm learning, and if you don't mind me saying, I love it.
The English language . . . becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
just trying to make it to vacation…
With two days left until christmas vacation, we are all trying to get to the end of the week with grace, humour, and high-energy
Sadly, I have little of all of it. Many of my students are sick, and my energy levels are quite low. Ugh.
Sabbatical learning - part 2
How to best set the stage for new learning?
Part 1 here. With a sabbatical scheduled for next year, I am excited and anticipating some good work to be completed. Being able to coalesce many years of experience to renew learning engagements and refresh my understanding strikes me as a golden time.
I am not only going to work on "professional Bill" but I will also attend to "personal Bill", where I intend to:
- focus on exercise, diet and mindfulness
- focus on my garden and backyard - long neglected
- focus on hobbies
- focus on friends
I will be reaching out to friends who have taken sabbaticals to learn from them; what they did well, what they didn't do well. I don't intend my learning to stop, but this might be the last time I have for long-term break until I retire.
I can't wait!
As I prepare for my sabbatical I am building mountains of curiosities and interests. "I wonder how XYZ" works. Why is XYZ like that". These types of wonderings prime the pump for engagement and interest in the work ahead.
Sabbatical learning - part 1
The plan for learning
If a good replacement can be found, I'm approved for sabbatical leave next year. My plan for learning includes:
- Design and construct curriculum to substantially improve student usage of git (a version control system) and the IDE visual studio code
- Design and construct curriculum for OOP Python
- Design and construct curriculum for advanced Python
- Design and construct curriculum using Jupyter notebook
- Design and construct curriculum for artificial intelligence / machine learning / advanced topics
- Rebuild every learning engagement and assessment in the two year IB computer science course (this is hundreds of learning engagements and 30+ assessments)
- Design and construct curriculum for Rust
I'm already doing some of this stuff, but this sabbatical will help me by granting me the time to invest deeply in learning and reflection. Exciting stuff.
update from Poland
A Russian missile strike in Poland...
Welcome to the occasional update for the academic year 2022 - 2023. I’ve lived and worked in Warsaw for almost thirteen years and these are my perspectives about current events in Poland.
We learned yesterday (Tuesday) there was a Russian missile strike in Poland. The village is located less than 10 km from the Polish-Ukrainian border. It is inhabited by about 500 people, 2 people have died.
There is much we don't know but we know the missile was russian-made, and it exploded in Poland.
According to Polish press, General Waldemar Skrzypczak stated:
It was probably hit by Ukrainian anti-aircraft weapons and misaligned, or it was misprogrammed and, as a result of various errors, went where it saw a different target. Or she got lost and flew until she ran out of fuel, the general estimates.
(almost all words in Polish have a gender associated with them, hence the word she)
To say the least, things are a bit tense in this area of the world. IF this is an attack, this would trigger article 5, which states:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
This is essentially Poland asking for formal help from the alliance, and falls under a key NATO idea “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us”. Many things to unpack here:
- Russia is losing the war Ukraine. badly.
- Russia's military has been pushed back to pre-February 24 borders, and the Ukrainian military has made stunning gains. If you are interested in non-political reading of the war, I cannot recommend understandingwar.com highly enough.
- Napoleon famously quipped: Never interrupt your enemy whilst he is in the midst of making a mistake. Putin is making a doozy.
- …but there's still a war…
- missile attacks continue, and just yesterday there were more attacks on Kiev, and Russia fired over 100 missiles.
- Following a pattern in recent weeks of lashing out far from the front after battlefield losses, Russia fired long range strikes at the capital Kiev, where air raid sirens rang out, two explosions were heard and columns of smoke rose into the sky. The mayor of Kiev said Russian missiles hit two residential buildings (ref).
- Russia made an uncharacteristically rational decisions by retreating from Kherson
- Russian military action has been irrational, disorganized and remarkably inept.
- The manner in which the Russian military retreated from Kherson was more careful and competent than what they have done in the past
- Since this conflict began weapons, supplies and help have been pouring into Ukraine from Poland
- but the missile hit a grain storage in a tiny village, nowhere near anything of strategic importance
- There are also tens of thousands of American (and NATO) troops / equipment / missile defense in Poland
- Seems to me the last thing Russia wants if to trigger a war with NATO
- Considering their stunning failure in Ukraine, a war with NATO would be unimaginably stupid and result in a catastrophic defeat of the Russian military
- Considering their stunning failure in Ukraine, a war with NATO would be unimaginably stupid and result in a catastrophic defeat of the Russian military
- Please understand: nothing unites the Polish people like an attack
- In Poland, as a rule, there is bickering, complaining and division but when the need arises, the Poles unite at remarkable speed and in remarkable solidarity.
- In Poland, as a rule, there is bickering, complaining and division but when the need arises, the Poles unite at remarkable speed and in remarkable solidarity.
We simply pay attention, listen carefully, and get on with our lives as best we can.
saying goodbye to an idea
This is actually a thing...
After more than 20 years of development, I have shut down moderncommand.com, a text-based game built on pennmush. I haven't touched code on moderncommand.com in more than 10 years. Github repo here.
Modern Command simulates running a contemporary nation-state. You assume the role of a Prime Minister (or President), and make decisions that effect the lives of millions of people in your country.
Technology, social, political, military, and economic issues all reflect events in today's news. You will control and manipulate this world just like real life leaders do; you will issue orders, sway opinions, budget resources, provide a vision and structure for your apt minions to do their work. You will negotiate, order, ask, sign, give, take, listen and talk.
Here's the final announcement. My avatar's name was Boris:
Announcement: Boris shouts, "Thank you, Modern Command."
Announcement: Boris shouts, "you have provided me with many hours and days of escape, enjoyment, and fun"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "it is time for me to move on, but you will always have a special place in my life"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "I am saying goodbye"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "the enjoyment of creating and crafting and making"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "was made possible by you"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "so long, and thanks for all the fish."
GAME: Shutdown by Boris
Going down - Bye
The purpose of this blog post is to reflect on the grief of saying goodbye to an idea. Moderncommand was a dream for me, made real. I suffered a little bit from perfection; waiting until the game was “just right”. But I was proud of the systems I wrote and the time and effort I put in to make a good game.
The game was a dream and it's time to say goodbye - this frees me to embrace other ideas and other stories. But the feelings of grief are real. I think when you have an idea you also have dreams about the idea; what it could be, what life would be like with the idea.
I don't think you can fully move on until you say a proper goodbye.
No peace without balance of power
Personally and politically, this seems like it may be true.
Power is possession of control, authority, or influence over others (source). There are different kinds / types of power, and different contexts with which it exists.
Peace is not the absence of conflict; peace is about a real balance of power between and amongst groups. We cannot negotiate through a position of weakness, but rather strength.
I live in Warsaw, Poland. As the war rages on in the Ukraine I see how power (coalitions of power and alliances of power) can create peace, but only when there is a balance of power - that one group is not dominate over another. For Ukraine, the only path to true peace is to fight. I think this may be true for all of us.
The original hum
A sound before our mother's heartbeat?
Lithe and moving, lost and ecstatic. There was nothing but the dance. The music flowed through him and he through the music. a perfect connection of sound and movement. He flowed as he flowed, as the music took him, each person did; each with their own call to the sound.
But everyone on the dance floor was lost (and found) in the sound. The descendent; the earth, the ground, the body were triumphant. It was just perfect movement.
It started adequately episcopal.
A Proper Wedding (with People In Formal Attire). A lovely couple, a nice setting. A chuckle and tear as vows were exchanged. Toasts were made. Dinner was enjoyed and some wine was drunk.
(Some wine was drunk, indeed).
And the traditional party favorite songs, and the traditional party dancing, mostly constrained and happy.
It wasn't until a few minutes before the last song. Ties had been discarded, shoes had been cast aside, when it just. simply. started. The beat began and people just became lost in the movement, the moment and the move. Made of red light, a thread emerged on the dace floor and oscillating and the guests just had to follow it; they had the surrender; then came the joy. And then the ecstasy. The bodies began moving and couldn't stop if they wanted. The light from the thread spread out and everyone who was dancing coalesced.
The music and dancing consumed them. And as it consumed it sought ground; with feet, with the earth. In a moment they all knew the first sound. Each person knew the hum. The body. The sound of life.
..and he became, for a moment, fully alive
The early morning is magic. Quiet, still, and a time to focus prior to the cacophony of the day.
I've always been an early bird. Lately I've been getting up around 4 or 4:30. I get so much work done.
I should clarify: I don't mean work for work. I mean making progress on things I care about. Giving myself time to focus on personal goals and make progress on growing in a way I like.
There is a cost to this of course. Going to bed early I miss time with my wife, who is a bit of an evening starling. We still connect - but I suppose I get my quiet time in the morning and she gets hers in the evening. There's a balance in that.
To the morning, to the start of things, to the time of focus and clear thought, free of interruptions, I salute you.
Letting go / picking up
Sometimes we need to let things go to make room for new ideas.
I have made a list of projects I am letting go. I'm doing this so I have have space / room for new projects and ideas I want to work on. I have feelings of nostalgia and genuine loss as I let go of these older projects, but I am also feeling excited about working on projects I feel have value and interest for me.
So, without any further ado, I'm letting of of the following projects:
- balanced gaming (a site where I wanted to engender a conversation about balanced gaming for schools, parents and students).
- modern command (a text-based game simulating the command of a modern nation-state, powered by the pennMUSH server).
- interactive fiction
I'm picking up:
Sublime - is just so…good…
Well. I haven't been this enamored with a piece of software in a long time. Sublime - a text editor - has won my heart. The last time I got this happy about text editing was back in the day with UltraEdit. Someone put some love into this software.
Social Media and PLN’s: a lot of a little
#cdl_mooced I'm currently learning via a fascinating MOOC Coaching Digital Literacy.
The unit I am working through is about social media and PLN's (personal learning networks). For the record, I love personal learning networks, and have benefited tremendously from my involvement in them. I've been a social media user for a while, but I don't really think they work for me as a PLN.
What I see in social media (twitter, facebook) is a lot of a little.
After reducing the "signal to noise" problem*, I see people post links to tools, without any deep thinking or consideration of context. It's pretty easy to post an infographic, link to a blog, embed a youtube video, but it's much harder to meaningfully change student learning with that same link.
Social media makes it very easy to share, but does that equate with better? I'm unsure. Where I have seen social media shine is when a very specific content area is linked to another very specific content area. For example, when a third grade teacher "follows" another third grade teacher. Or when a 10th grade English teacher "follows" another 10th grade English teacher. Posting a link, a website, or some great web 2.0 tool might help, but I don't think it meets the definition of being connected. My bias is rooted in my growing conviction that focused, mindful attention is the best way to learn and remember.
This weekend, I'm on my way to Istanbul, Turkey where I will meet with other IT Directors from the Central and Eastern European School Association. We all work in similar schools, with similar issues, challenges, and successes. This is my primary PLN, and one which I derive great value from. This face to face contact, this focused, uninterrupted time where we are learning with each other is like solid gold for me. And it is this that is missing from social media. Social media makes connecting quick, easy, and ephemeral. And that's the problem I have with it. I'm curious to hear your thoughts about this. *
Bill's social media signal to noise maxim: the ratio of cat pictures to actionable useful content determines the value of social media as a learning tool.
Was Queen Elizabeth II repaid for the tea that was thrown into Boston harbor during the tea party?
Click here for my findings (PDF)
Don’t use excel for important work
Computer Science professor Daniel Lemire talks about why folks shouldn't use excel for important work.
Lemire states, "They [spreadsheets] are at their best when errors are of little consequence or when problems are simple.". He also writes (and I agree) "Spreadsheets make code review difficult. The code is hidden away in dozens if not hundreds of little cells… If you are not reviewing your code carefully… and if you make it difficult for others to review it, how do expect it to be reliable". When I get a spreadsheet from my business office, I spend more time understanding the formulas than I do the business problem.
I agree with Prof. Lemire's points, but I also see a language problem in changing. In short: people use spreadsheets because they are easy and accessible AND they lack computational thinking skills to build (write) a program in a more organized, coherent way. Probably, people "know" excel and there is a cost to learning and mastering something new.
In schools, I see excel spreadsheets being used to run virtually all parts of an organization (HR, accounting, purchasing, etc..). I think people use spreadsheets because they are easy and well supported, AND they do not know how to program.
I think Prof. Lemire's point is well said, and his post moves me to do more to help kids learn about programming and computational thinking.
Expression Engine 2.8 is out!
Expression Engine 2.8 is out. Really cool feature set that will save time and make it easier to develop great web-apps for schools.
My latest use of Expression Engine is for a professional development request system. Works like a charm!
Is anonymity bad?
Interesting article written by Chris Poole about the merits of anonymity online. I remember when anonymity was the de-facto identity on the internet, and I've watched it change slowly with facebook. As a teacher, I've watched students exhibit truly exemplary behavior online, and I've also seen horrible behavior. Like in real life, just amplified.
I believe anonymity is the great "freeing mechanism" of the internet, one of the truly great things about "online". Gender, age, culture, and socioeconomic status all fall-away as barriers to participation in a free exchange of ideas. At it's heart, I think that is what the internet is; a venacular of idea. In an anonymous forum, the strength of an idea alone carries weight. Of course expressing the idea is important, but without the garbage that traditionally encumbers us.
So I see evidence how being anonymous online can be hurtful. I also see how it be very helpful. A few quick examples:
1. Stack exchange. Basically anonymous. The best ideas and responses to questions are voted to the top of the list.
2. Slashdot. Basically anonymous. Comments are moderated, but in a weird way.
3. Google Moderator. Not very anonymous, but has the same basic idea of voting for an idea.
4. Reddit. Anonymous. The thing about Reddit is the question being asked. So on the front page, the basic question is "what will create the most clicks?". But on subreddits, like /r/linux, answers to questions are voted on, with the best rising to the top.
There are obvious flaws with anon-think (see the Wisdom of Crowds). But that we should shun anonymity, or treat it pejoratively strikes me as myopic.
The 10 moms doctrine
If you ask 10 different moms what they would do in a given scenario, you will get 10 different answers. Especially related to computer use, filtering, and behavioral standards. Last year our school had a strong parent technology partnership program (I intend to build on it this year). One of our activities was to present a scenario and ask parents what they would do (this was led by the indomitable Nick Kwan). One of the questions was "what would you do if you walked into your child's workspace and they quickly minimized a window?". The answers ranged from "nothing" to "take the computer away for a week".
Our school has a one to one laptop program. The school owns the laptops and the students take the computers home with them. We use open dns for filtering. The students have admin access to their laptops (which is a topic for another blog post - I love it).
We got several (well-placed) criticisms last year which stated students were coming home with laptops, and parents had no way to control this device. I considered this complaint fair, because there really are a wide range of parental attitudes and beliefs to technology use. I tend to be fairly liberal and open about tech use, but many parents are not - they are conservative and very careful about technology use. Is it fair to send kids home with no way for parents to control their device? Of course we talk about social contracts, and talking with your child, and trust - but some parents have strong beliefs that a computer should be locked down (the 10 moms doctrine).
The obvious choice is to install filtering software and teach parents how to use it (or teach them to use open dns). It's an option. If parents want to activate filtering, we tell them how to do it. If they don't want to activate filtering, then they don't. We are clear that there is to be no filtering during school time, only at home (from 3:00pm to 7:00am). We also talk about parenting advice and tips and offer parents a venue to discuss technology issues and share solutions to problems with each other. We talk about the technical weakness of filtering, that filtering alone can't solve many problems, and that at the end of the day, there has to be some kind of involvement with parents and their child's technology.
tl;dr: people have different values, ed tech should do what they can to respect and support those values.
Becoming familiar with HTML 5
I follow many people, including Rick Ellis, who said something like 'think of every website as an application'. I like this idea - the idea of static, "brochure-ware" is a dead end. Especially for schools, I believe the web is (and should be) a full suite of applications to serve the community. It seems like HTML 5 very much understands this idea.
I love the built in form authentication elements in HTML 5, the local storage, and the whole "the web is the application" idea. I hope major browsers don't screw up the implementation.
I'm sure I'll build a "test school" webpage with HTML 5 and my favorite CMS, Expression Engine to learn HTML 5.
More tools to combat cyberbullying
Hat tip to our fantastic elementary school integrator, Cheryl Bohn, who found this great news, http://mashable.com/2011/03/10/facebook-anti-bullying/ .
From the article:
Facebook is announcing a new suite of tools to protect users from bullying, foster a stronger sense of community in the social network, and “create a culture of respect” among Facebook users.
Facebook’s latest changes boil down to two main aspects: an improved safety center with more multimedia resources, and better, more social tools for reporting offensive or bullying content.
You can see the Facebook parent and teen safety center by clicking the links below.
QUESTION: moving to cloud-based storage
In response to this question:
I would be interested in your experience, if you have made the switch, in moving to the ”clouds” for data storage.
I can’t quite get my head wrapped around this concept, but am willing to try.
First of all, let's get some terminology out of the way, just to be sure we are all on the same page.
1. Cloud computing (from wikipedia) :
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a somewhat more objective and specific definition:
"Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction." Ref: here
I think of cloud-based storage as "file-storage service located on a remote cluster of high-availability servers, designed to be accessed anywhere, anytime, from anywhere with secure collaborative capabilities."
2. Data Storage:
Purpose-built file storage, as opposed email-as-storage or google-docs as storage. This distinction is important because I know many people who use gmail as storage. I think you are asking about substituting an in-house file-server with cloud-based file server.
My experience in cloud-based storage has been overwhelmingly positive. We are slowly moving our students to dropbox. Starting in the 8th grade, our middle school integrator is testing dropbox. So far, it has been great.
The cool thing about most cloud-based file servers is how they keep files available even when there is no network access. Unlike traditional file servers, cloud-based file servers sync excellently. Let's say you have three computers called Home, Laptop, and Work. If you are using local file storage (your hard disk) you will not be able to access the files from another computer (e.g. if you create a file on Home, you will not be able to access a file from Work).
Most organizations have a file server that securely stores your files. Some organizations set up systems where you can access your Work files from your Home or Laptop computers, but this requires no small amount of careful configuration. If you are working on a file on your Laptop, there is no way for that file to be automatically added or synced to your Work or Home machines. Enter cloud-based storage.
I use dropbox (watch the video on the front page) as my cloud based storage solution. The neat thing about dropbox (and their ilk) is how they synchronize files across several different computers. Let's say you are on your Work computer and you create a file called Budget. You save this file to your dropbox folder. every computer that is linked to your dropbox account then synchronizes that file. So your budget file is automatically added to your Home and Laptop computers. If you work on Budget at Home, it will be automatically saved to your Work and Laptop. If you a smartphone, and you've setup dropbox, it can be automatically updated there as well.
So basically, anywhere you save, the file is updated on all the other computers that are connected to dropbox. Cool, huh? even if you lose network access you will still have access to your files. Files aren't so much STORED on the cloud as they are SYNCED on the cloud, and with approved devices.
But wait, there's more. You can share folders with friends and colleagues. So you might have a folder in your dropbox folder called "for friends". You can control who has access to this folder, and anytime you add or remove something to this folder, your friends will have access to the files. Very handy, you don't even need to email files and folders.
When I moved from New York City to Poland, I purchased the 50 gig option, and put EVERYTHING (music, files and photos) in dropbox. I could safely ship my desktop computer knowing everything was backed up. In the even you DO lose a file, you can simply restore it within dropbox by clicking "show deleted files".
Keep in mind, you are only paying for what you use. You aren't paying for a server, and spending a bunch of time managing this server. It's really nice. It's not all roses, of course. In no particular, here are the issues with dropbox you should be aware of:
1. data ownership. If an employee saves their stuff in their dropbox it may be hard to keep the data when they leave (not only a problem for dropbox - think USB drives).
2. data security. By default, dropbox stays on a computer. If a laptop is stolen, a malicious person might be able to access the data on your dropbox folders (you can turn off syncing though, so this really isn't THAT big of a deal).
3. no network access. If you lose network for a LONG time (a week or so)
4. the first sync. When you first setup dropbox, it can take a very long time to synchronize your files (upload). Our director waited 3 or 4 days until all his files were uploaded. By now that they are online, he doesn't need to worry about what is where, even on his iphone, he has access to all his files.
Hope this helps!
The four noble truths. Explained, part one.
Orginal thought here
The four noble truths of technology and learning.
1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect.
I believe it is important to stop, reflect, turn off, and consider when we we are using technology in the classroom. This happens naturally when teachers are using technology to reinforce an idea or concept. The classic pattern is "let's learn about XYZ, a discussion, activity, and then a closing discussion". When teachers are using technology to teach, they must remember to stop using technology, and allow their students to reflect and think about what they just did. Take a look at that mashup - is it any good? Does it demonstrate learning, or just that you know how to use the tool? Does it meet our ideas for learning? This is the classic idea of kids who get caught up in the tool, and not the learning. Not rocket science, but very important for learning with technology.
I think we can extend this idea further. When we are asking our kids to use technology and media, we need to ask them to stop and think. We didn't need to do this before the rise of 1:1 programs or ubiquitous computers. Why?
1. Divided Attention. This idea of multitasking really is bull. The more I understand about divided attention, the more I believe that we need to ask kids to focus and input on one thing at a time - sometimes. Part of being a digital learner is sifting (see my discussion on noble truth number 4) and learning to process and filter multiple streams of incoming data. Sometimes, kids should be free to "open the hose" and get drenched in the information flow that is the internet. But sometimes, they should stop, discuss, and think deeply - you know, Zen.
2. That so much of the internet is about commercial posturing, marketing, eyeballs and selling. Kids need now, more than ever, to separate the "froth from the foam". To carefully evaluate the information, the idea, the "sense of truth" they have. Kids need an adult to guide them in this maze of stilted information.
3. We have so many students who see the first three google results as gospel. This is lazy. Again, stopping and reflecting, digging a bit deeper, look for a different facet on this gem. Using different databases, different repositories. Even wikipedia (which I love). Students could benefit so greatly from simply reading the discussion page and seeing the disagreements people have about the article. I often find more truth in the argument about a wikipedia page than the actual page!
4. And finally, the way our brains work. A cognitive scientist I am not. But I know when we step away from the screen, and give ourselves time to digest, we tend to remember better.
There is balance here. There is this unending stream of intense information, media, images, links, connections, and fun. It is not ok to turn it off, but better to teach our kids how to engage and then disengage. And then engage.
Domains, hosts, and more!
As my 3 regular readers (hi mom!) pointed out, my site was down for a few days due to an expired domain name. That’s fixed, but it’s time for some changes.
mackenty.org has been around since 2003 and I’ve switched hosts, domain name providers, etc., many times. I’m consolidating my domain registries in linode. This will actually save me a little bit of money every year, and I am in love with linode (come on, a guy can pay $300 bucks a year for a backed-up, multi-continent IP failover solution?! SHWEET!).I spend a little more time doing system administration at the command line,. but I don’t mind that.
SO, I’ll transfer my domain over, switch hosts, and mirror the database for mackenty.org. I’ve already got a mirror of this site setup, so it’s really just a question of transferring domains. If I do everything right, ahem, your should notice virtually no downtime.
What could possibly go wrong?
(technical) Oh goodness, I’m using PERL.
This is a technical post - geek level 5.
Perl is a programming language. It’s a scripting language, as opposed to a compiled language. I first used perl about 15 years ago, playing with cgi-bin and other curious things. I dropped perl in favor of PHP, and usually use bash for my shell scripting (I haven’t scripted in years, but since I found linode, I’ve been scripting a bit more - I love it)
So I’m in a small tiff with my ISP. They are horrible (dropped internet connections) , and I need proof. Enter perl, and this especially yummy script. I hadn’t thought of using http requests, I was just going to write something that pinged, and appended the result to a logfile. This is cleaner, and the variety of hosts is a good thought.
On Gawker and Passwords
Looks like Gawker was hacked. I’m not a “gawker” guy, but I am a lifehacker reader. And, in 2008, I left a comment about my favorite RSS reader. And, after downloading the torrent, I saw my password and email. I’m sure this will be indexable by google in a few days. I guess they didn’t store the passwords securely. oops.
I’ve been using the interwebs since AOL and 2400 baud modems, and this is the first time I’ve been aware of being compromised. Thankfully, I used my normal stupid web password, and not one of my stronger passwords. However, I will now be searching for my username and changing my password whenever I see it pop up. I’m also using a new easy-to-remember web password.
Of course, the moment lifehacker lets me delete my account, I will.
Online cyberbullying - a real challenge for parents
Amazing article in the New York Times about parents struggling with Cyberbullying (PDF here).
I often rest my feet at “parents are responsible” for monitoring their children. They must take computers out of the bedroom, have clear rules for computer use, and look at website history. Let’s see your facebook account, let’s see your twitter feed, etc… I really do believe there needs to be a technology partnership with parents. They might not know how to check facebook settings, or profile pages, or even web browser history. Parents might not know what kinds of threats are out in the world of cyberspace. Thats where schools come in. We have the technical expertise to help parents use computers and tools to monitor their children.
1:1 programs, facebook, and how we teach
This article comes from a parent at my school.
http://www.berlingske.dk/danmark/facebook-forstyrrer-undervisningen - I translated the article using google translate - not perfect, but I get the general idea. Facebook is distracting students from learning.
Here's my response:
I do think the problem has very little to do with Facebook. I think this is really about how teachers are managing technology in their classrooms.
I assure you, if it's not Facebook, it's XYZ; just fill in the blank. Solitaire, twitter, myspace, game, some random webpage, there's always something.
I recently heard something very interesting at a conference; that technology magnifies teaching - both good and bad. If a teacher is sitting in front of a class, without moving around the classroom, giving nebulous and general assignments, then we can be assured students will respond in kind - drifting, lazy, and most likely distracted by facebook (or whatever they are looking at - perhaps a game or something). If a teacher says "go on the internet and research Rome" - I can assure you the students will be doing anything BUT researching Rome.
However, if a teacher is giving a very specific task (using laptops) and is moving around the classroom, monitoring student work, and has very clear outcomes for the assignment, then this is another matter entirely. Part of a 1:1 school is changing the way we teach; this is a major focus of my work here at our school. In this case, if a teacher asks their students to visit a specific site, and collaboratively builds a mini-website about Rome using a template (or referring to a rubric), AND the teacher moves about the classroom helping students, and supporting their activity then that is a very different sort of assignment than the previous example, isn't it? At the end of the class, the teacher will ask the students to produce their work - again, good management.
You simply cannot implement a 1:1 program in a school, and not change the way you teach and learn; it will not be successful. Part of my vision is to change the way we teach. It's a different sort of classroom, a different sort of learning, and we need to understand the old ways of teaching don't work as well in a classroom full of laptops.
I really appreciate your concern about facebook, and how it impacts learning. I agree, by the way, that multi-tasking is doing 2 things at 50% instead of 1 thing at 100%. But having laptops in a classroom does not equal multitasking. Teachers teach, and then usually assign some sort of activity to help students understand the content. Technology makes a huge difference in our ability understand the world - we can see things we simply couldn't see before, we can communicate in ways we couldn't communicate before, and we can collaborate in ways we couldn't imagine prior to the implementation of technology in the classroom.
Expression Engine and Drupal
I recently had a wonderful meeting with a fellow ed tech geek here in NYC. He was helping me with some issues relating to blackbaud. The conversation was wonderful, he was insanely helpful, and we discussed all sorts of interesting things. He is a Drupal guy. I'm an Expression engine guy. After his enthusiastic recommendation, I started to review Drupal (it's been a while since I've used it). I did a fairly standard google search and was pleasantly surprised to find a thoughtful, well-considered discussion about the relative merits and shortcomings of both systems - very few flame-fests.
I personally find EE's templating much more intuitive and powerful. I also like the way I have very fine control over my individual pages than Drupal. Contrary to some comments, I find EE's support amazing (you are paying for it, after all). I've had to avail myself of their help many times! I'm going to stick with EE. This may be due to the fact that I know EE really well.
I like EE more - with one big reservation. I think I would more participative in the EE community if it wasn't a for-profit company. I know Ellis lab through emails and over 4 years of community interactions. I love what they've done with Code Igniter (open-source). But at the end of the day, if I am investing my free-time into a community, I'd like it to be about something more than helping (a really nice) group of people make money. Is EE a best-of-class product? Yes. Are Ellis labs intentions top-notch? I think so. But the one thing Drupal has over EE is it is open source in the truest form of the idea. I have recently begun digging back into Hspace - a text-based space simulator. As my three faithful readers know, I'm a text-based game aficionado - this is an open source project I would love to commit my (increasingly limited) free time to.
I know (not personally) several people who made careers of supporting the Ellis lab ecosystem. I plan on using EE / CI to be the system that drives my school web-based communication company. I will continue to encourage people to use expression engine, and I will encourage people to take a long look at EE as an excellent choice for web publishing.
I hope this post has added something to the discussion about EE and Drupal. I look forward to your comments.
I’m off facebook
I’ve deleted my facebook account. It wasn’t one single event, but several which came together.
1. The intention of facebook went from “connecting” to “profit”. Not sure when this happened, but icky.
2. I hate like - I dont want facebook to know everything (see #1)
3. Funny thing - facebook controls your privacy from everyone except facebook. They are selling gorgeous demographic-based advertising. (see #1 and #2)
4. Facebook says they own my data. So if I write a wall post - it’s theirs. icky.
5. How hard it is to keep my student / personal information walled off. There’ some things I don’t want to know about my kids.
I also already have a pretty well-established web presence, I’m building a bigger web-presence, and I never had trouble with people getting in touch with me.
I’ll miss remembering people’s birthdays, I suppose.
Facebook and privacy
I’m becoming more concerned about privacy on facebook. I like this fact sheet from BECTA which discusses online risks (and includes discussion about commercial influences).
I’ve always blogged and been fairly open on the web, but I guess I don’t like someone selling “about me” online.
eschoolNews likes my comments about the NETP
The National Educational technology plan has been released, and the US government is looking for comments. I chirped in, and eschool news (pdf) Likes what I have to say.
I suppose my basic idea remains unchanged. How do we teach to a test and encourage kids to be innovative, creative, and deep thinkers? For those outside the educational community, it is hard to explain how much testing drives instruction. What we cover in our classes, how we assess our content is all linked to some test. While we hear quite a bit about innovation and creativity, actual practice is about “breadth, not depth”.
Anyways, it’s always nice to be recognized, and thank you to eschoolnews for the blurb.
my word cloud - um, if you care
I’m using this fail2ban
Because I was getting tired of this:
Mar 7 17:01:39 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user simmons from 184.108.40.206 port 38288 ssh2
Mar 7 18:17:41 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user test from 220.127.116.11 port 21637 ssh2
Mar 7 18:17:43 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user testuser from 18.104.22.168 port 22497 ssh2
Mar 7 18:17:46 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user test1 from 22.214.171.124 port 22851 ssh2
Mar 7 18:17:48 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user test from 126.96.36.199 port 23192 ssh2
Mar 7 18:17:50 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user test from 188.8.131.52 port 23525 ssh2
Mar 7 18:17:53 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user test from 184.108.40.206 port 23890 ssh2
Mar 7 18:17:56 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user testing from 220.127.116.11 port 24288 ssh2
Mar 7 18:18:12 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user admin from 18.104.22.168 port 26452 ssh2
Mar 7 18:18:15 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user admin from 22.214.171.124 port 26827 ssh2
Mar 7 18:18:18 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user admin from 126.96.36.199 port 27207 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:01 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user jeep from 188.8.131.52 port 41595 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:04 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user alan from 184.108.40.206 port 41985 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:07 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user jim from 220.127.116.11 port 42397 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:10 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user postgres from 18.104.22.168 port 42803 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:13 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user stuff from 22.214.171.124 port 43217 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:16 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user tom from 126.96.36.199 port 43606 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:19 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user adam from 188.8.131.52 port 8257 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:28 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user gov from 184.108.40.206 port 9349 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:34 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user pgsql from 220.127.116.11 port 10193 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:37 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user adm from 18.104.22.168 port 10562 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:43 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user postgres from 22.214.171.124 port 11167 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:49 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user email from 126.96.36.199 port 11656 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:52 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user oracle from 188.8.131.52 port 11926 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:55 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user users from 184.108.40.206 port 12134 ssh2
Mar 7 18:20:58 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user user from 220.127.116.11 port 12436 ssh2
Mar 7 18:21:01 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user test from 18.104.22.168 port 12652 ssh2
Mar 7 18:21:04 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user david from 22.214.171.124 port 12826 ssh2
Mar 7 18:21:07 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user lynx from 126.96.36.199 port 13047 ssh2
Mar 7 18:21:10 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user music from 188.8.131.52 port 13200 ssh2
Mar 7 18:21:13 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user user from 184.108.40.206 port 13384 ssh2
Mar 7 18:21:16 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user user from 220.127.116.11 port 13587 ssh2
Mar 7 18:21:19 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user user from 18.104.22.168 port 13704 ssh2
Mar 7 19:12:58 grue sshd: Failed password for invalid user harvey from 22.214.171.124 port 54299 ssh2
Experiential Learning and Technology
I’m sitting here at work on Monday, February 15th. It’s a federal holiday, yet here I sit, cleaning up my desk, writing, and tending to some projects I haven’t had time for.
Why am I here, and not with my wife and 9 month old?
In the room behind me, there is a group of students (who are here during their February break) working feverishly on a robot. They are partaking in the FIRST competition - and this reminds me why I love teaching and technology. They bought a drill press (with a laser guide) to make the structure of the robot. They are excited, motivated, and absolutely focused on building this robot. It is a truly delightful thing, to see kids lit up about technology. With very little experience, they have built wireless controllers, steering, and even coded a simple autonomous control. They have done a simply wonderful job of building this robot. They are fairly sure they won’t win this competition, but they are aiming for rookie team of the year.
I often talk about games in education because I see how motivated the kids are. It is amazing to see the energy a student will put into learning when it is something they really care about - and this is exactly why I love experiential learning - and the strange looking robot behind me.
The Many Hells of PDF’s and PHP
If you want to create a PDF from PHP you use a fairly simple PHP library. The benefits are obvious: you can have ubiquitous PDF generated from dynamic data, which is fun and nice - especially for report cards.
But, because PDF’s are PDF’s, you have to EXACTLY specify where you want text to go - on an X - Y coordinate grid. This makes creating complex reports exceedingly painful. Once the report is done, you can dance your “I’m so happy THIS is over” dance. But until then, you need to place text, test, change, place text, test, change, yadda yadda yadda.
Here’s an example:
PDF_set_text_pos($p, 50, 700);
PDF_show($p, “Hello world!”);
This is a simple example, imagine a full page with tables, descriptions, etc… It really is a pain in the neck.
Three guesses what I’m working on today, and the first two don’t count.
iPad = Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy
Maybe the iPad is just rev 1 of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
virtual private servers: an update
I asked about virtual private servers a few days ago, and after some consideration, I decided to go with Linode. All I can say is, wow! I have:
1. identical copies of all my web projects in one place
2. perfect development and testing sandboxes
3. full root access
4. a dedicated IP address
5. 6 databases
6. full suite of testing and development tools (I was using gcc 15 minutes after partitioning my server!)
7. all the different packages I want to use online
8. ubuntu 9.10
9. command line administration
This is a great deal! I’ve become reacquainted with bash, and now I just need to setup a backup system (simple cron and rsync, really)
Thanks to Tom Hoffman for the idea to try linode. The nice thing about this is the high control and functionality I get for the low price. I’ll be transferring DNS over soon, and soon all my hosting services will be run from this virtual instance. I’ll probably get another slice (and backup to it) and use it for development stuff. I’m convinced.
How do you teach web design in 2010?
Tom Hoffman asks if anyone remembers web 1.0 anymore.
I doubt it. The idea of creating or visiting a website that doesn’t do anything is almost a quaint notion. No video, no sound, just images and text? Bwah. Why bother?
Here is my high school web design lesson plan (in docx format) (pdf here)
I think every kid in America (cue patriotic music) should understand and be able to use basic HTML (end patriotic music). But for web design? Here is what I think are basic web design skills in 2010:
1. Basic HTML
2. What is the difference between a web page and a website?
3. Web pages, domain names, web hosting
3.1 ftp, sftp, ssh
4. Static versus dynamic
4.2 Discuss databases, database design, and very basic SQL
4.3 talk about how databases are related to dynamic content using a membership model
5. Building a website with expression engine
5.1 Templating and URL’s
5.2 Hello world
5.3 CSS and DIV’s
5.4 jQuery, jQuery UI
5.5 Using the other kind of template
5.6 Images and image paths
6. Adding common interactive elements
6.3 Email lists
6.5 RSS feeds
6.6 Membership systems
6.7 Contact forms
7.1 Use flash to make games, no I won’t teach you.
8. Standards-compliant website
8.1 Why open web-standards are important.
Site redesign - not just a blog
I have redesigned my website. I moved it from a simple blog into a portfolio site that offers readers a clearer idea of who I am, and what I do. I’m also finishing my administration and supervision program at Hunter College in June, and I’ll be looking for work as a director of technology - I want this site to be a place prospective employers can learn about me.
Like everything I do online these days, I used my favorite CMS, expression engine. I’ll get into the techncial details later in this post.
I used a theme from theme forest. At $12.00 I don’t know how I could of done better!
I spent about three days pushing my content into the new design and adding a bunch of pictures and portfolio sections. I added jqueryUI to my site for the accordion - and I might add some other parts as neccesary.
From an EE point of view - my entire site is based in one channel - and I have 24 different categories. If I assign a post to a category HOWTO it is displayed in the HOWTO section. If I assign an entry to a games in education category, it is displayed in the appropriate place. I can assign one entry to multiple categories.
Of course I use embedded templates, so if I need to update, I only change one page.
My content is absolutely divorced from my design. All my entries, posts, etc, are stored in a mysql database. I can pretty much display them anyway I want. As mentioned above, it took three days to move my site from my old design - and this is with 347 entries!!!
I take advantage of EE’s rich feature set. I spend my time writing content and not coding. I don’t mean for this to sound like an advertisment for expression engine, but when I find something that really works, I want to share it.
I’ve already gotten some great feedback, and would welcome more.
repost: Do Teachers REALLY Come From The Bottom Third Of Colleges…...
I don’t normally repost, but there is a nice piece from Larry Ferlazzo taking on “those who can’t, teach” thinking. . It’s nice to see how he picked apart this dubious claim, and his research trail. He asks for help, saying:
“...I’d love for a math person to examine the numbers on page 91 of the report on the Condition of Education 2002 to tell me what it really says in plain English…”
Here is the Condition of Education 2002 report (PDF) and here is the graph on page 91 and 92
I shared this blog post with my colleagues, all who said “what the hell does SAT and ACT scores have to do with good teaching?” Indeed, that.
I love beautiful documentation - it just…works.
Code Igniter has the best documentation I’ve seen. Clean, clear, and here is the css and sample page to MAKE YOUR OWN. I plan on using this documentation template for my school’s IT department.
10 Reasons you should care about the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s Draft English Language
Courtesy of Tom Hoffman who does some really good thinking about education. Actually, I highly recommend you subscribe to his blog feed, or bookmark his site. I’ve never felt like I wasted my time reading his thought and ideas about education!
I have a standing policy to pay attention to people smarter than me - Tom certainly falls into this category.
HOWTO: reset lamp hours for a 600i series 2 unfi 45
To reset the lamp timer on a UNFI 45 (source here).
1. Press the power button on the ECP or remote twice to put the projector back into Standby mode. The
power button light on the ECP turns solid amber when the projector is in Standby.
2. Press and hold the up button on the remote control for approximately 10 seconds. When the projector
beeps, press and hold the down button on the remote control for approximately 10 seconds. The lamp
timer clears after another beep.
3. Press the power button on the ECP or remote to start up the system. The power button light on the ECP turns
solid green when the system starts.
4. To confirm that the lamp timer has been reset, press the MENU button on the remote control. Scroll to the
Status Display menu heading, and then confirm that 0 h appears in the Lamp timer field. Your lamp reset
count has increased by one.
5. Wait five minutes for the projector lamp to warm up.
6. After confirming that the lamp timer has been reset, put the system in Standby mode by pressing the power
button twice on the ECP or remote. The power button light on the ECP turns solid amber when the system is in
7. Wait for the system to enter Standby mode, turn off the projector’s master power switch to shut off the system,
and then turn on the projector’s master power switch.
8. When you are ready to use the system, press the power button on the ECP to start up the system.
9. get out bottle of something strong
10. Drink until pain goes away.
I hate internet filtering
Greatest email in the history of the internet
Ok, to be technical, it was a twit from twitter, but still…
Do you still have the schematics of StarTrek ships? I’m looking for a Romulan Warbird I can knit.
For those who don’t know, I maintain the internet’s only repository of Star Trek freighter schematics. Other sites have ship schematics, but I only keep freighter schematics.
I will ask the sender of this email for a picture of the knitting project and post it here. Until then, thank you so much for the most wonderful email I have ever gotten, and I will buy you a beer next time we meet.
Expression Engine 2.0 Beta
I’m participating in the Expression Engine 2.0 Beta. Can’t wait to share more!
The disadvantage of Always (The blur - part 2)
part one here
An astute reader recently commented “It is just so dangerous to allow students to invade or break the professional relationship that an educator has with his or her students.”. As a teacher of ten years, I heartily agree. Our school has a policy that all teachers should only use school email for communication with students. I’ve seen teachers run into trouble on facebook - when they post pictures or stories meant for friends, and not for students! I think this could be solved by setting up groups for friends on facebook, so if I post a picture or notice, I can decide which groups get to see that particular item.
Personally, I use facebook for light-weight, personal announcements to friends and colleagues. I use twitter as a personal learning tool. It bears saying, though, that social networks are glomming together - the “always on, always present, always connected” world isn’t far away. Neal Stephenson coined a nice word for this: the metaverse.
As a last point, I was teaching some teachers about blackboard. I mentioned one advantage of online learning is teachers can respond to student queries over the weekend or in the evening. A teacher became frustrated, and said they liked their weekends to themselves! Hard to argue with the idea of free time.
I saw one of my students facebook post “my father joined facebook today - and the answer is no” on their wall.
Hilarious, and a perfect example of how things have changed with regards to privacy, private-space, and the idea of public space. I call this the blur. The standard definitions and understandings of privacy aren’t the same as they were in 1990. In schools, we normally encounter the blur when a student writes something inappropriate at home about something in school. But as we craft AUP’s, and think about how kids use technology, we need to remember things aren’t the same as they once were.
As I think about how kids communicate, and the transparent, interconnected, and ever-linked nature of their connections, I realize how the blur touches everything. Things stick around, media is easy to share, hard to forget, and also strangely impermanent.
I will write more on this later.
Emerging software architectures and non-relational software
Fantastic article by Dion Hinchcliffe’s about emerging software architectures (PDF here).
The most interesting thing to me? Non-relational databases - which I know NOTHING about. I mean, I’ve played with trivial flat file databases before, and XML, but what else is there? Here’s a quote:
Non-relational databases. Tony Bain over at Read/Write Web recently asked “Is The Relational Database Doomed?” While it’s far too soon to declare the demise of the workhorse relational database that’s the bedrock of so many application stacks, there a large number of promising alternatives emerging. Why get rid of the traditional relational database? Certain application designs can greatly benefit from the advantages of document or resource-centric storage approaches. Performance in particular can be much higher with non-relational databases; there are often surprisingly low ceilings to the scale of relational databases, even with clustering and grid computing. And then there is abstraction impedance, which not only can create a lot more overhead when programming but also hurts run-time performance by maintaining several different representations of the data at one time during a service request. Promising non-relational solutions include CouchDB, which I’m starting to see in more and more products, as well as Amazon SimpleDB, Drizzle (from the MySql folks), Mongo, and Scalaris. While many applications will continue to get along just fine with relational databases and object-relational mapping, this is the first time that mainstream database alternatives are readily available for those that are increasingly in need of them.
What I want: Twitter group (categories) in an RSS reader.
I wrote about twitter here. In a nutshell, I think twitter is human rss. Cool. But useless unless I can incorporate it into my rss reader. Twitter isn’t just about me regurgitating my trip to a coffee store, it’s also about learning what friends are doing.
I’m currently following 127 people, and being followed by 40. I’ve got 60 updates. What I would love is a web-based program where I could categorize my twitter follows like my RSS feeds:
2. ed tech
You get the idea. I dislike clients - the more I can keep on the web, the better. Does anyone know anything I can try?
The problem with URL shortening…
More talk about potential solutions here. But as things stand, I hate link-rot (which is why I try to host everything locally).
Exceptional article on video game addiction
This is the best article I have ever read about video game addiction. PERIOD. Fair, balanced, and even-keeled. I highly commend everyone to read this. 😊
I think, in time, scientists will connect that “dopamine-pattern-fun” thing that Raph Koster talks about with gamers. I think most people can enjoy games without any trouble, but I think the unique thing about computer games is how they “tickle” our brains. And I think, for a small percentage of people, that turns out to be problematic.
Please click here for a pdf in case the link goes dead (as of this post, the page is being slashdotted).
Really impressive comment spam here!
I talk about educational technology stuff. I’ve been getting really well crafted comment spam! I don’t think this is human, but the comment is appropriate to the article, and always includes a link to personal injury lawyers.
I agree that both formal and informal use of video games have a positive effect on the human brain. Logic and reasoning are the primary brain functions used solve problems in video games, and stimulating these areas is beneficial for their use in other “real world” issues. I agree that formal use could be more effective.
http://www.avvo.com/immigration-lawyer.html Immigration lawyer
Has anyone else seen this? I am being targeted by humans or this just a really good bot? All my open stories have at least one of these type of comments. link to forum discussion here
The best IT certifications are no certifications
Aaron Stratman of the Wisconsin Technology News has an interesting post about the best IT certifications to have.
I have to say, in my ten years of working in educational technology, I’ve worked with so many people who have IT certifications and don’t know a damned thing. And conversely, some of the brightest folks I’ve worked with have had no certifications. The blog entry was for business folks (I think) - so maybe people in the business world its different. But in educational technology, certifications != good IT skills.
Part of the problem is the numerous and free brain dumps that are available. I actually know a guy who has these and just memorizes the answers to tests. He just doesn’t know his stuff, but he is fully certified. He passes all the tests, but when he actually has to do something, he can’t!
Hmmm….high stake tests that don’t count for a hill of beans in the real-world….where have I encountered THAT problem before??
Good OS X video converter
Mental note to self: ffmpegx is yummy good for converting stuff.
Thank you ISTE - one of the best blogs for June 2008!
Many thanks to ISTE for awarding my blog one of the top educational technology blogs for June 2008
I was listed amongst many other exceptional blogs:
Thank you again ISTE!!!
Good article in the Wall Street Journal today entitled, What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?.
The article discusses some reasons the Finish students scored so highly:
Strong reading ethic (apparently, the government sends new babies a free book!)
Very low funding disparity between schools
No gifted education
In-class freedom for teachers - check out this quote:
Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. “In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs,”
Lack of technology - here’s another quote:
In November, a U.S. delegation visited, hoping to learn how Scandinavian educators used technology. Officials from the Education Department, the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians saw Finnish teachers with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint. Keith Krueger was less impressed by the technology than by the good teaching he saw. “You kind of wonder how could our country get to that?” says Mr. Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology officers that organized the trip.
This comes back to my series of blog posts asking “Is technology worth it?” (part 1, part 2 and part 3). I think technology is worth it, of course, as long as we think about it. But what I like about this article is the simple message: it’s the teaching the counts.
So you want to blog, eh?
I’m often asked about blogging. What is it? How do I do it? What does it do? How does it work? And other beginning questions.
In the spirit of helping others, and not having to repeat myself often, I’d like to offer some answers:
There are basically 3 types of blogs:
1) Personal diaries (for an outstanding example of one, check out Richard Bartles daily blog)
2) Topical blogs (Terra Nova, Huffington Post)
3) Reflective experiential blogs (mine is an example in this category, Terry Real, Confused of Calcutta and of course, Dave McDivitt).
1) Please understand this: blogging is a commitment. You can’t blog for 6 months and then stop - it doesn’t work that way. Commit to 2 years minimum, at least 2 to 3 times a week of writing. One of things blogs do well is build community and become a place where people come and visit to read things they are interested in. They are visiting your blog because you are talking about something important, in a novel / unique / smart way. So write frequently and for a long time. Or else don’t blog.
2) It’s ok to put links up as blog entries, but your ratio of links to great original stories should be 1:6. So for every one link you post as a blog entry, you should write at least 6 really good posts. If you must post a link, perhaps it could be as a response (like here) to an interesting story. Remember the mantra: people come to visit your blog because it’s updated frequently with really interesting stuff.
3) Start out with typepad or maybe blogger. They are easy to get started with and free. Once you have been blogging for a year, upgrade your typepad account, or switch to Expression Engine. These services offer expanded tools and fine-comb adjustments to your site. Make sure whatever you use has good comment moderation tools.
4) Put links to other sites that are relevant and interesting on your site. This is often called a “blogroll”, and it’s polite.
5) You must write original, topical, relevant, and focused material! You are blogging because you have something to say
6) Make sure your site Validates and make sure your ATOM / RSS validates
7) Install google analytics (or some other cool visitor statistic program) on your blog.
8) If ANYONE leaves a meaningful comment on your blog ALWAYS respond quickly and fully. If someone cares enough to comment, chances are other people do as well. This builds community.
9) I often re-task emails and questions and post them as blog questions/answers. I always strip out the identifying details, and write long answers to questions. If you regularly visit a forum or newsgroup you should keep this in mind - anything you write is potential blog material.
Finally, Look at this post it has 10 ideas for making a great blog, and I’ve gotten quite a few comments and questions about the post.
Changing and tweaking!
I’m ripping apart / upgrading my blog and site, so please bear with me as the site looks MIGHTY FUNKY.
Some nice press attention
I recently had the opportunity to write an article for the School Library Journal (PDF here) concerning games and education. The editors at School Library Journal were really quite delightful.
...and then a few days ago, the Boston Globe called with a few questions about blogging in the classroom (see my articles here). The Globe article is here (PDF here).
Pretty cool opportunity to reach out and connect with other teachers and educators.
If you are interested in blogging, or games in the classroom, please contact me!
State of the blogosphere
Leave it to good ole technorati to come up with some fantastic statistics for their regular state of the blogosphere!
From the post…
# Technorati now tracks over 35.3 Million blogs
# The blogosphere is doubling in size every 6 months
# It is now over 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago
# On average, a new weblog is created every second of every day
# 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created
# Technorati tracks about 1.2 Million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour
Google RSS news reader
Of course Google would do something this cool. Goolge new reader is a web-based RSS reader. Seems pretty cool.
Blogging and eFolios
Got this great question about eFolio today…
I am not sure but I think your level of blog might be used with students instead of efolio? Do you have any knowledge of these and/or suggestions? I’d like to pilot these with the 9th and 12th grade classes I teach.
For reference, here’s some stuff I’ve written about blog. Blogging is a tremendously valuable tool, but we need to deliberately design a lesson around the instructional goals…
Blogging and education part 1
Blogging and education part 2
How do I use blog in my classroom
Beginning blog does not allow for really dynamic content, which is necessary for good efolio management and presentation. Blogger, for example, allows uploading pictures and sound, but there aren’t any galleries or file management tools. If I wanted to add powerpoint presentations, videos, and lots of “zing”, I would be limited to simple expressions and site organization.
More advanced blog solutions (Expression Engine and Movable Type) offer tons of plug ins and extras. These extras make blog an exceptional tool to use an eFolio. Keep in mind it’s ease of use which really makes blogs a good choice. If I want to add or edit to my eFolio (blog) it should be as simple and straight forward as possible.
The advantage blog hold over eFolio is RSS. Anytime my blog is updated, it is automatically propagated to aggregate sites, and to whomever is subscribed to my RSS feed.
The value of eFolio and online portfolios cannot be understated; we have a “live” constantly updated assessment record. With multi-media, we have a tremendous opportunity to showcase learning!
Want a great blog? do this…
I’ll be accepting an award tommorrow for my blog. Thanks again to eSchool news.
I wanted to include the criteria the team used to evaluate a good blog. I don’t know who thought of these, but these are truly exceptional criteria fir running an efective blog:
1. Personality: Is there a clear personality? Do
you feel like you know the writer? Is there a feel-
ing of intimacy that might be missing from main-
stream media or other forms of communication?
2. Usefulness: Is the information useful or enjoy-
able to read? Did it make you think, or laugh, or
click? Are there handy links to other places?
3. Writing style: Is the writing in the blog snappy,
crisp, and engaging to read? Or is it long-winded,
dull, convoluted, or sloppy? Worse, is it a sales
pitch disguised as a blog? Or just news briefs or
bullet-point items without any fresh perspective,
analysis, or insight?
4. Usability and design: Is the typeface easy
to read? Can you find links to archives? Is the
writing concise and easily skimmable?
5. Frequency: Is the blog updated regularly, and
with sufficient frequency? Or are there long, ran-
dom periods of inactivity between posts?
6. Relevancy: Does the blog stay on topic, and
is it relevant to the category in which it is being
judged? Or is it all over the map in terms of
7. Interactivity: Does the blog incorporate video
or audio in an engaging, interactive way? Does it
offer a forum for readers to respond, or use other
features to help develop a sense of community?
8. Fulfillment of purpose:How well does the
blog fulfill its intended mission?
9. Appropriateness: Does the blogger use lan-
guage and etiquette that is appropriate to a pro-
fessional educational setting? (i.e., no inappropri-
ate personal references, etc.)
10. Would you revisit: Is it useful or engaging
enough for you to visit it again someday? Or will
you forget it the minute after you vote?
How do I use blogs in my classroom: securing a blogger blog.
After responding to a friendly email question about blogging in the classroom, I found another question in my inbox…
I have some serious gaps in my understanding when it comes to security with blogs. I realize your latest e-mail said you would be addressing security at a later date, but could you touch upon some of these important issues for me?
I have to say Bill, I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw MySpace listed as a recommended blog for use by an educator.
Myspace is inappropriate for school use. Not because of some weird thing with myspace, but because of the current educational political climate…it’s to hot to handle right now. Fortunately, there are plenty of other choices for us to use.
If I were to use MySpace in my classroom and an administrator were to walk in - I would lose my job that day.
eek. Make sure you speak with your administrator about this before you start! I think a list of everything you have done to secure the blog is helpful. Make sure you are very clear about the “this is a school blog”.
Here are three short movies for you to look at. They both deal with basic security using blogger. The volume on the last one is really low because I had a group of kindergardeners in my room.
Securing a blog, part 1 (4.1 MB Quicktime movie)
Securing a blog, part 2 (3.6 MB Quicktime movie)
Securing a blog, part 3 (6.4 MB Quicktime movie)
I need to know how am I going to protect students from inappropriate material on a given blog? Are there “G-Rated” Blogs I can use?
No. The success or failure of using blogs in education hinges on how well we structure the instruction. If you don’t monitor and closely supervise what your kids are writing, you could be in trouble.
That being said, I blogged with almost 50 kids, and I only had one incident which was a little weird.
As James Farmer says in this great post:
You must incorporate blogs as key, task driven, elements of your course - This may sound obvious but simply providing blogs to learners and saying “Hey, use them however you want” is an absolute guarantee of failure as all but 1 or 2 people will take you up on it.
How am I going to evaluate the entries of my students?
Make a rubric. Keep in mind, they will be very excited about blogging, but you are going to have to be very clear about your instructional goals. Make sure the kids know:
1) This is what good work looks like
2) This is what minimal effort work looks like
I also suggest you do some testing. Make sure everyone knows how to post on a blog, and then
How do I use blogs in my classsroom: an answer.
I just got this great email question, and thought I’d share the answer!
I’m looking into ways to use blog based educational technologies for my students and other technology based ways to publish student writings on the internet.
Yea!! Congratulation to you for being progressive and using technology in a really cool way!!
How do I get started?
I made up some getting started guides for new users. There are some quuicktime videos, hopefully these will help you get started.
Getting started with blogs, part 1
Getting started with blogs, part 2
What kinds of things do I need to be alert to,(obviously online safety), and who can I talk to that has used technology based publishing for written work in the classroom?
I have a few suggestions for you based on some hard-won experience.
1) Only create 1 blog for each class. Don’t give each kid their own blog. It’s very difficult to manage!
2) Make sure comments are moderated. You might want to check them first. After creating your blog, you might get a ton of comment spam.
3) Create ground-rules. Make sure they understand not to say anything they wouldn’t say in school.
4) Enforce proper grammar. I was quite embarrassed when my students started to post IM-speak on a public blog! Yuck!
5) Be wary of cyber-bullying. One lesson I won’t ever forget is to always monitor the blogs. It may be helpful to subscribe to the RSS feeds for all your blogs.
6) Make sure you administrator knows! Tell your boss you doing this, keep everything above-board. You might want to share this with some parents or the Parent-teacher organization. Be prepared to confront the myspace issue!
7) SHARE YOUR SUCCESS!! Blog about this adventure, share your success and your failures!
8) Lastly, and most importantly, have clear learning objectives. When this unit of instruction is over, the students will demonstrate knowledge of _____________ (or whatever verbiage you use).
Now. As far as who you should talk with, don’t worry. Trust google on this one. Try this google search. Also, as you blog about this, other people will find your blog!
Try to sign up with technorati and ping as many other blogs as you can.
Blogging and education: a great mix. Part 2
There are many different ways to “get” a blog. Below are blogs which may be better suited to new users:
If you have the technical aptitude, feel free to look at some of these fantastic solutions.
We’ll be using blogger to make a simple blog, highlighting some common elements all blogs share.
Lets start with this movie (10.45MB Quicktime video) which will help you make a blog. Note even moving slowly, and with one mistake the entire process of making a blog takes under three minutes!!!!.
Now we’ll get into posting to our blog. Please watch this short movie (3.3MB Quicktime video) to understand how easy it is to post to your blog!
In the next series, we’ll talk about securing our blog, comments, and sharing your blog.
Blogging and education: a great mix. Part 1
It’s really easy to blog (really).
I’ve been talking about blogging for a while (click here to read some of my conference notes).
In the interest of opening this up to even more teachers, I’d like to write a short series about using blogs in your classroom.
We’ll cover designing and making a blog, securing your blog, blog safety and getting students to blog! I’ve seen great success from teachers who are using blogs to communicate, reach out, assess, and connect. They are doing this with their parents, students, coworkers, and community.
But let’s get some basic out of the way, shall we?
What is a BLOG?? (kind of sounds like an infectious disease, doesn’t it?)
Our friends at Wikipedia have a great answer right here
From the horses mouth:
“A blog is a website in which items are posted on a regular basis and displayed in reverse chronological order. The term blog is a shortened form of weblog or web log. Authoring a blog, maintaining a blog or adding an article to an existing blog is called “blogging”. Individual articles on a blog are called “blog posts,” “posts” or “entries”. A person who posts these entries is called a “blogger”. A blog comprises text, hypertext, images, and links (to other web pages and to video, audio and other files). Blogs use a conversational style of documentation…” (source).
I like to think of blogs as “online you”.
It really is easy. In fact, it takes less time to post a blog entry with your weekly newsletter than it does to write your weekly newsletter, walk down to the copier, make 18 copies, and then make more when one our kids loses it.
It’s available. As soon as you publish your blog, it’s available. Parents can look at your newsletter, homework assignments, reminders, and special announcements. If a parent is subscribed to your blog, they will know as soon as you update your blog.
The nice thing about the internet is it’s ubiquity. Mom or dad can view your blog from home, the office, or even a special cell phone!
It stays. Once something is online, it’s there! Imagine having a year of homework assignments available! Or perhaps some worksheets you’ve created. If a student is sick, or away for a while, they can easily find old assignments.
If you want to remove or edit a post it really is no problem.
it’s a 2-way thing. If you want, you can have people comment on your blog. This enables students and parents to ask questions and give feedback related to your posts!
myspace, teens and education…
myspace, teens, and education
This post was written by an old student of mine…it’s an excellent question.
Hey Mr. Mack, did you see last night or a few nights ago in the news about these two sites?
I didn’t see the actual show, but I have been reading and seeing an increasing amount of concern about blogs like myspace and facebook. We had an issue here at the Edgartown School when some students posted some innapropriate pictures.
Do you think that they are “bad” and dangerous!?!? All my friends have them and its pretty much the only way I can talk to them.
Bad? No. I don’t think these places are bad. but I DO think we need to use them wisely. When a 13 year old girl posts pictures of herself with few clothes on, and then gives her ADDRESS…it’s just not very smart, eh?
A lot of these sites allow you to make your profile “private” and only people you trust can see your site! I think kids should use this feature! There’s actually an important lesson in this: it’s not technology which is bad or good, it’s how we use it which makes it so…
I like your idea of poll to see how many students use myspace or similiar blogs (yahoo360 comes to mind)
Crossing the line and blogging. What crosses the line?
Edited December 8 2005:
As with most things like this in middle school, there are 2 sides to every story. I spoke with all the girls teachers, and learned this is only one side of the story. So now we find ourselves in the curious situation that everyone finds themselves in 2005. Evaluating and assessing information is as much of a skill as finding and creating information.
I had such an interesting incident which happened this morning in computer class. This entry is largely taken from an email I sent to our assistant principal, principal, guidance counselors, and classroom teachers.
1) We have just finished our blogging lessons. A blog is a “web-log” in which students can post an idea or opinion about a topic. We have several blogs, you can find them by clicking on this address: http://www.edgartown.mv.k12.ma.us/index.php/teachers/bmackenty/
2) One of the students wrote the following blog post on the “Girls Sports Blog”. She wrote it about a week ago.
I was going to do basketball because I really like basketball but…. I couldn’t because i have some other responsibilities and the coach wouldn’t compromise!</p>
<p>It all started when there was basketball tryouts. I asked the coach if the kid I could bring home everyday could go to practice because his parents said it was ok.</p>
<p>If he went to games and practices with me and then the coach said he could stay at practice and she said no and then come to tryouts so that is what I did. </p>
<p>Then when we got into the season she kicked me off the team because I bring this little boy home everyday. She wouldn’t compromise and it got me really annoyed because I was doing what she said and I brought him home. Then when I reminded her that he can stay there whiles I was there she still wouldn’t compromise that is very unfair. Something needs to change.
3) Later in the week, 2 other girls deleted her post. They openly acknowledged they had done this. I learned of this from the girl who wrote the post, who informed me during class today.
4) This incident brought forth an utterly fascinating conversation about opinions, slander, censorship, and rudeness.
5) Here is what I told the girls who deleted the post:
- What you did was wrong. You are not in trouble, but we should never disallow someone to share their opinion or idea just because we don’t like it. You removed the other girls voice, which is not ok.
- You acted with noble and honorable intentions. You like your coach, and didn’t want to see some unpleasant things written about her. You should be proud of your loyalty.
- Another way we could of dealt with this is by leaving an appropriate comment on the post. Challenge the idea, not the person. This is the very nature of intelligent discourse
6) The girls who deleted the post heard me, and seemed to be ok for the remainder of class (they were motivated and interested in the lesson which followed).
7) The entire class discussed this incident. Many questions were raised about what is rude, and what constitutes slander and innapropriate activity. There seemed to be general agreement about what was ok and not ok, although there was some “gray area” discussion.
8) I gave permission to the girl to re-write her post, and post it on the Girls Sports Blog. I am utterly fascinated to see what happens next. I think we have a genuine learning opportunity here. We can teach these kids to disagree and even argue with other without being rude or spiteful.
9) I am especially aware of cyber-bullying. I will be keeping my eye on this.
10) Of course, the most important issue is what should the girl do about her basketball coach?