Bill MacKenty

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The future of NATO

Posted in Blogging Update on 07 - July 2024 at 12:30 PM (6 days ago). 35 views.

An excellent opinion piece in the NYT by Farah Stockman on the future of the NATO alliance...

Article here (PDF / protection against linkrot here)

NATO should be more like a decentralized system, and Europe should be more capable militarily. I wonder if the advantages of a hegemonic power no longer work in today's world; that the interdependence of outside states, and smaller interdependent economies are better, or more advantageous systems.

Farah writes:

The United States simply can’t do everything everywhere all at once, by itself. The future requires well-armed, capable allies. The indispensable nation has to be a bit less indispensable.

I suspect the upcoming war of authoritarian vs democratic states will require regional power centers, capable of projecting force and deterring those who would take freedom away.


Some questions and answers

Posted in Personal Update on 04 - July 2024 at 02:39 PM (one week ago). 52 views.

Czuję się bardzo szczęśliwy, że grupa polskich studentów, którzy uczą się o Ameryce, zadała mi kilka pytań. Ich pytania i moje odpowiedzi znajdują się poniżej.



I feel very fortunate to be asked some questions by a group of Polish students who are learning about America. Their questions, and my answers, are below.

Please click here for a google doc with questions and answers.

Kliknij tutaj, aby wyświetlić dokument Google z pytaniami i odpowiedziami.


How much is a place?

Posted in Blogging Writing on 22 - June 2024 at 10:02 AM (3 weeks ago). 69 views.

The Quantara Nexus lay within a very interesting intersection which isn't really an intersection...

Waves of energy gently lap at the edge of the Nexus, creating a soothing rhythmic sound. The first sun-like star moves quickly across the sky, changing colors and hues as it does. The edge of the Nexus fades and unbecomes and becomes. Light is an especially precarious situation, as it bends, fades, brightens and dims, all at the same time.

Further away from the edge a certain stability manifests. Hundreds of different energies which push and pull at each other seem to lock and freeze in a ephemeral stasis. In this stability, surrounded by a maelstrom of energies, lay the Quantara Nexus.

Denziens of the Quantara Nexus move with a specific, careful cadence. Steps are measured and often involve intricate patterns For some, this movement might be interpreted as a dance but each to their own music, and some to none. . Master Elara Tahn slowly walks along a major street; every 3rd step she taps the road with her right toe. She is about to enter one of the many archives when she glances up, an unexpected movement catching her eye. She gasps sharply.

Above the Nexus, a starship becomes visible. The dark black hull shifts and moves, as if alive. Aside from the normal ebb and flux of energies the ship silently, slowly rotates in a circle. Elara adjusts her gaze and shifts her feet, and adjusts her shoulders; grounding herself. She traces an intricate pattern with her hands and as she does feels the ether move around her (much faster here than other places, she thinks).

In an instant four heavily armed and armoured solders materalize around her, holding weapons at the ready. One of the solders, with evidence of rank, says in a commanding voice "Elara Tahn, you will come with us." He moves his finger onto the trigger of his weapon.

Elara relaxes her shoulders and very slowly spreads her hands away from her chest, maintaining a ball-like shape with her fingers. "And who orders, and under what authority do such commands come?" she asks in a steady voice.

In an instant the solders fire their weapons. Arcs of light from two of the weapons and kinetic projectiles from the other two weapons hit Elara squarely in the chest. She gasps, falls to her knees and clutches a pendant around her neck. Her last action before losing consciousness was to touch both her thumbs to her middle fingers. A flash of ether burst around her and streaks into the sky.


Exciting changes in IB computer science

Posted in Computer Science Educational Tech Design Gifted Leadership platform Security Smartboards Support News Teaching Diary on 17 - June 2024 at 10:50 AM (3 weeks ago). 78 views.

A new IB computer science curriculum is being released! Read more about it here....

The Overview is here: https://www.ibo.org/university-admission/latest-curriculum-updates/computer-science-updates/


The subject brief is here: https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/new-structure/university-admission/pdfs/dp_comp_sci_subjectbrief_en.pdf (local copy here: dp_comp_sci_subjectbrief_en.pdf)


The making…

Posted in Blogging Writing on 19 - May 2024 at 03:39 PM (one month ago). 279 views.

The making, the building of a thing...

Nova Lumina is a prominent industrial shipyard located in the outer sectors of the Galactic Core. Known for its large-scale shipbuilding capabilities, extensive mineral extraction from asteroids, and a network of massive space elevators linking the shipyard to its planetary base, Nova Lumina stands as a key infrastructure hub.

The shipyard is a bustling hive of activity. Three massive ship hulls and a dozens smaller hulls are in various stages of construction. Massive scaffolding surrounds each hull, industrial works and manufacturing works are visible from tens of kilometers away. There are hundreds of ships moving around the shipyard.

Close to the power stations, within one of the many machine shops sits a branch of the gearwright guild. It hums with a busy cacophony and at the current moment, gearwrights are carefully assembling an especially complex part of a propulsion system. Large machines and robots work in an intricate and coordinated dance. Always working in pairs, the gearwrights work with careful precision and efficiency of movement.

Not far away from the gearwrights, in a differently lit area stands Sila Maren. She is staring at the propulsion system occasionally glancing at at a floating glowing ember-colored interface. "There!" she says and at once the activity near the propulsion system stops. The gearwrights hold their gaze towards her and the leader of them nods slightly. Sila walks towards the system and begins to move her hands in an intricate pattern and as she does a visible line of energy begins to weave around parts of the system. the energy flares brightly for a moments and then settles into the system. The gearwrights start to measure, with great care, aspects of the system. After some time Sila looks at the system and simply says "this is true", and the gearwrights resume their work.

Sila shifts her feet a bit, bends her knees slightly and adjusts her hips moving very slowly she begins to raise her hands from her waist to her shoulders, and then back again. She repeats this motion a few times and then goes back to more carefully studying the floating interface in front of her.


As things go….

Posted in Blogging Writing on 17 - May 2024 at 10:08 PM (about 2 months ago). 288 views.

Far and away the easiest thing to do is be lazy and not give a shit. a retreat into the nothing...

Liora Kael couldn't be bothered to devote any attention to her phones nagging. Awash in paints and colors, she was immersed in a project to explore the relationship of self and other. "The only way to really see this, is with color", she thought to herself as her phone chimed again. She was paying careful attention to where the different colors intersected and met. She was looking at exploring how our sense of self meets and encounters the other. How they combine at the periphery.

She painted with etheric energies; a hue of blue and teal, and then a hue of something else. She often stopped, breathed and became very still. The smell of paint floated in the air, and the sound of birds singing could be heard through an open window. She watched the colors shift and change; she paid attention to the textures. She waited until there was something to tell her about the next part of what she had to make. This was, of course, part of the process, and part of the creation...the waiting and tension of decision.

Liora cursed under her breath and asked herself if all of this was worth it; her last three pieces barely registered with people she cared about most. Of course it was easy to sell to those who she didn't respect, but for those she looked up to, those she respected? this was her challenge.

Still, though, she continued to create...a connection and touching which made her feel oddly whole; a togethering within her that made her art....possible.

The awards on her wall spoke to her success and impact. Her ability to create.

"Sarah, can you please add a smidgen of holographic nanites to this teal mixture" she said quietly. Her assistant, a young woman responded "are you sure just a smidgen? Maybe a splash, or perhaps a bit"? Liora smiled. "Stop being a pain in my ass" she said with a smirk. Her assistant reached over to the teal paint and gently moved a vial around the paint. Although invisible to the naked eye, the nanites would begin to reproduce in the paint and react to specific energy frequencies, changing subtle aspects of the colors. "I've added the nanites - these are the same ones you used in your last exhibition." Liora gently stirred and poked the paint. "Thank you." she said, and continued her work.

She looked outside her window and it was dark, the birds stopped singing long ago. Her canvas comprised of two shifting figures, each reaching out for the other. The figures were incandescent, and their hands slowly moved in an opposite symmetry to each other. Liora felt her shoulders relax and she put down her brush. "Sarah, some tea please.". "No problem boss!". Not long thereafter the lovely smell of rooibos vanilla tea wafted through her studio. It was late, and Sarah looked down briefly at the floor. "I really need to rest, boss" she said. "of course, of course, sorry for keeping you so late, and thank you again for your help.". Sarah smiled and started gathering her bag, coat, and shoes.


Primitive us, God-like tech. Part 3

Posted in Blogging Writing on 15 - May 2024 at 08:01 PM (about 2 months ago). 157 views.

The Rise of God-Like Technology includes tools which significantly enhance or surpass our scope...

The Rise of God-Like Technology includes tools which significantly enhance or surpass our scope. So far beyond our human capabilities that they can be described as "god-like." These include artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and genetic engineering. Each represents a leap forward in our ability to manipulate and control complex systems, be they digital, mechanical, or biological. AI systems that perform complex tasks such as driving cars, trading stocks, or even diagnosing diseases, which were traditionally thought to require human intelligence. Machines that can execute tasks requiring dexterity and endurance far beyond human limits, from assembling intricate electronic components to exploring hazardous environments like deep-sea or space. The main point here is that the tools enhance our scope way beyond anything we've been capable of realizing prior.Techniques like CRISPR that allow scientists to edit genes with precision, potentially eliminating genetic diseases or creating organisms with entirely new traits.

These technologies promise to overcome fundamental human constraints, offering enhancements in longevity, intelligence, and physical abilities. For example, genetic modifications could one day increase human lifespan or cognitive capacities. As these technologies progress, they provoke profound questions about identity and ethics. What does it mean to be human if our biological makeup can be fundamentally altered? How do we define rights and responsibilities when intelligence and agency are no longer uniquely human attributes? What does it mean to teach and learn if an AI can arguably do it better? We are 100% not ready for this...

Technologies like social media exploit and magnify primal instincts such as tribalism and the need for social dominance, often leading to polarization and heightened inter-group conflicts. Conversely, AI applications in decision-making aim to minimize human biases, promoting more equitable outcomes in areas like hiring practices or legal judgments. There is growing evidence that sustained interaction with technology is altering the way our brains function, potentially dampening some instinctual responses while enhancing others. As technology becomes more embedded in our lives, striking a balance between leveraging these tools and maintaining core human values like empathy and compassion becomes critical. This balance; this nuance, this deep thinking...is absolutely required if we are going to coexist with tools that are better than us in some ways.

It is plausible that continued technological integration may further evolve or alter our brain's structure, potentially diminishing the influence of our reptilian brain or creating new neural pathways. Future interfaces, particularly those involving direct brain-computer interfaces, might lead to the development of new 'instincts' based on our interaction with technology.


Primitive us, God-like tech. Part 2

Posted in Blogging Writing on 14 - May 2024 at 08:04 PM (about 2 months ago). 153 views.

The primary evolutionary purpose of the reptilian brain is to ensure survival through basic mechanisms, but that part of our brain isn't everything we are only part of who we are.

In today’s context, the reptilian brain's influence can be observed in our automatic responses to threats (fight or flight reactions), competitive instincts in social and professional environments, and the subconscious adherence to established routines and rituals. This part of the brain drives our most deep-seated survival behavior, which can manifest in modern settings as aggressive behavior in traffic, assertiveness in boardroom negotiations, or the territoriality sometimes displayed in communal or shared spaces.

While the reptilian brain responds with primitive, survival-oriented instincts, the more recently evolved parts of the brain—the limbic system and the neocortex—handle complex emotions and higher order thinking. These layers of the brain enable humans to engage in reasoned decision-making, empathy, and moral reasoning, which can often be in conflict with the more rudimentary impulses driven by the reptilian complex. For instance, while our reptilian brain might urge us to react aggressively to a perceived threat, our higher brain functions allow us to assess the situation rationally, often leading to more measured and considered responses.


Primitive us, God-like tech. Part 1

Posted in Blogging Writing on 13 - May 2024 at 05:09 PM (2 months ago). 260 views.

As we evolve, everything that comes before stays. There are no "clean breaks" in human growth. That is the fucking problem...

The reptilian brain is structurally simple and focused on primal urges, it governs vital functions necessary for survival such as heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. Beyond these physiological roles, the reptilian brain is responsible for more instinctual behaviors linked to aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritualistic displays, which were critical for the survival and reproduction So much behavior can be attributes to sexual / reproductive mating rituals.... of early vertebrates.

In modern humans, the influence of the reptilian brain is evident in our automatic and subconscious reactions to stimuli. It plays a crucial role in scenarios that call for immediate, impulsive reactions, such as the fight-or-flight response when faced with danger. Despite the evolution of more sophisticated brain structures like the limbic system and the neocortex, which handle emotions and higher reasoning respectively, the reptilian brain's fundamental instincts still underpin much of human behavior, subtly influencing our decisions and actions in ways we are often unaware of.

Despite the meteoric rise of technology that grants us seemingly god-like powers—from reshaping genetics to creating artificial intelligence—the primal aspects of our nature, as embodied by the reptilian brain, continue to exert a significant influence on our behavior and development. These ancient impulses, etched deeply into our neural architecture, persist amidst the waves of digital and genetic transformations, reminding us that our evolutionary past remains a cornerstone of our identity. This is part 1 of an essay which argues that understanding this interplay between our primitive instincts and our advanced technological capabilities is essential for navigating the future, as it shapes not only individual choices but also the trajectory of society as a whole.


Genres of science fiction

Posted in Writing on 09 - May 2024 at 08:42 PM (2 months ago). 371 views.

I've been re-reading "Microworlds" by Stanislaw Lem. He has a very opinionated perspective about science fiction...

...Essentially that science fiction must have plausible science! He eviscerates most science fiction as fantasy, and includes a disdain for the latter in no uncertain terms!

I think this book is a love letter to science fiction. That it is so unforgivingly harsh I think speaks to a desire for writers and publishers to seek out and create good science fiction - a genre that can uniquely explore what it means to be human in incredible ways. I think what Lem is asking us to do is treat the genre with respect and gravitas; not to be lazy or to write fantasy and call it science fiction. In this book, we are treated to a literati who has glimpsed what science fiction can be and points to the trash heap (his words) of current science fiction which is churned out for mass profit and mass consumption.

Each of these genres deserves depth:

  • Hard Science Fiction
  • Soft Science Fiction
  • Space Opera
  • Cyberpunk
  • Steampunk
  • Biopunk
  • Military Science Fiction
  • Time Travel
  • Alternate History
  • Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic
  • Space Western
  • Superhero Fiction
  • Dystopian
  • Utopian
  • Cli-fi (Climate Fiction)

Lem might say: Speculative science fiction, though often liberated from the stringent requirements of hard science, should not be dismissed as mere fantasy. It offers a canvas to explore the more abstract, often philosophical questions that hard science may skirt around. This genre allows us to ponder 'what if' without the tether of current scientific limitations, exploring the vast potential of human imagination. However, it requires a delicate balance—to wield unreality with care, ensuring that it serves as a tool to reveal deeper truths about our reality, rather than an escape from it. For in these narratives, the focus shifts from how things happen to why they might happen, and what that means for humanity.


Archetypes

Posted in Writing on 07 - May 2024 at 11:39 AM (2 months ago). 431 views.

Helpful list of archetypes, courtesy of chatGPT

  • The Hero - Often the protagonist, who seeks to fulfill a necessary quest and typically exhibits bravery and self-sacrifice.
  • The Mentor - Provides guidance, training, and magical gifts to the hero. Represents wisdom and helps the hero to start their journey.
  • The Threshold Guardian - Tests the hero before they face great challenges. Can be a literal or metaphorical barrier to progress.
  • The Herald - Appears to announce the need for change or the onset of a quest. They push the hero towards the adventure.
  • The Shadow - Represents the darker force within or outside the hero that they must overcome. It often embodies their inner conflicts or the main antagonist.
  • The Trickster - Uses wit more than strength; challenges the status quo; often comedic, bringing lightness to a narrative but may have profound insights.
  • The Shapeshifter - Blurs the line between ally and enemy. Often keeps the hero guessing about their true intentions and loyalties.
  • The Ally - A companion who travels with the hero, supporting and aiding them in their quest.
  • The Orphan - Begins from a position of social or familial exclusion, seeking to belong or form connections. Often drives the narrative through empathy.
  • The Ruler - Symbolizes power and control; can be a leader or antagonist, shaping the direction and structure of the society within the story.
  • The Caregiver - Altruistic and nurturing, this archetype is often seen as the protector or the one who sacrifices for others. They provide physical or emotional support and healing.
  • The Rebel - Challenges authority or the status quo, often embodying revolution or transformation. This archetype is driven by a desire for change.
  • The Lover - Focuses on intimacy, romance, and passion. They seek harmony in relationships and are often driven by the desire for sensory pleasure or emotional fulfillment.
  • The Creator - Imaginative and visionary, this archetype is driven to create something enduring and meaningful, often an artist, writer, or inventor.
  • The Jester - Lives in the moment with full enjoyment, making others laugh, and often helps to see the absurdity of life's situations.
  • The Sage - Seeks truth and shares knowledge, often acting as a guide or advisor. This archetype values wisdom and insight.
  • The Innocent - Embodies purity, goodness, and optimism. Often naive, they seek happiness and do their best to avoid wrong.
  • The Explorer - Never happy with the status quo, always seeking to discover new things, places, or ideas. They are driven by a quest for a new experience.
  • The Magician - Wields significant power, often through knowledge of the universe's fundamental laws. They seek to transform or transcend ordinary experiences.
  • The Outlaw - A rebel archetype on the fringe of society. They don't just challenge authority but actively work against it, often living by their own moral code.
  • The Everyman - This archetype is relatable and reflects the normal person. They represent the common virtues and the collective normality of everyday life.
  • The Warrior - A champion, soldier, or fighter who represents strength, perseverance, and honor. They are focused on winning battles and overcoming obstacles.
  • The Martyr - Someone who suffers or sacrifices for a cause, often holding onto their beliefs or values in extreme conditions.
  • The Femme Fatale - A mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.
  • The Orphan/Regular Person - Seeks to fit in or join others on the journey; they represent the normal person thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
  • The Damsel - A character who is placed in distress and requires rescue. While often criticized for promoting a passive role for women, modern reinterpretations can show complexity and strength.
  • The Monster/Villain - Represents our darkest desires and can be a force of evil or simply misunderstood. They oppose the hero and reflect societal fears.
  • The Wise Fool - Exhibits wisdom and insight through what appears to be foolish or bizarre behavior, often seeing the truth when others do not.
  • The Seducer - Uses power through charisma and manipulation, drawing others into their web with charm and leading them astray.
  • The Patriarch/Matriarch - A family or group leader who exerts control and protection over a family or community, sometimes to the point of being oppressive.


A lot of writing lately

Posted in Blogging Computer Science Personal Writing on 02 - May 2024 at 09:38 PM (2 months ago). 536 views.

I've been doing a ton of writing for an interesting project. I can't wait to share it with you. I've also been developing setting for a far-future science fiction...

So. Much. Writing. I can't wait to share a project I'm working on. It should be ready by next February, and I am very hopeful it will be impactful and important.

In addition to mega-secret project alpha, I've also been developing a far-future science fiction setting lately. Most of the content is here. The idea is to create a universe in the year 7019 - far enough in the future to think and imagine and play with ideas related to who we might become. I'm folding in a space trading game I started working on a while ago (link here) but I haven't started to assign values or abstracted the ideas yet. I am hoping for a book, a computer role playing game, and a table top role playing game.

I start with vague ideas about who we are and cycle out to think about 100 years, 300 years, 1000 years. It's a really fun exercise. I have been thinking about history, and how we have changed (and haven't changed). It's helpful to extrapolate our past into our future.

Of course I have species, planets, events, factions, etc... What I really want to capture is the variety within a setting. It's challenging because the broader the scope, that harder it is to understand what that scope means. I think most science fiction is rather one dimensional - star trek focuses tightly on a bridge and a top-down command structure. Although star trek references a big universe, it only portrays a narrow window of it most of the time. My favorite types of stories are when there is a switching between micro and macro. Tom Clancy's book, Red Storm Rising did this beautifully.

Lots more to say, but I'm thinking a lot about the future these days.


The volume of the fringe…more science fiction

Posted in Blogging Writing on 04 - March 2024 at 08:52 PM (4 months ago). 573 views.

Regular technology users are easier to sequester, easier to understand. Control? Maybe not. But if you are a heavy technology user, you can be nudged...

More thinking about the future, and science fiction.

The United States has about 330 million people and about 231 million social media users (about 311 million people are connected to the internet). To the extent people use social media and the internet, they can be known. They can be observed in an intimate, private, and near-total manner. They can be tracked, followed, and influenced. There is probably a relationship between amount of screen time and amount of potential influence

Much of this nudging, influencing, sequestering, and controlling is in service for the free market. But there is enough political and social nudging to raise a wondering.

100 years from now, if the free market is still free marketing, what might the visibility into our lives look like? Might there be a backlash where people disconnect and delete everything? Might social engineering divorce us so much from our nature that we decide not to be socially engineered?

Or perhaps, might the consequence of control be so high that a shadow war is fought for attention. That activists, social workers, and radicals do everything they can to subvert a message of "more and buy". Might monk-like religious / spiritual pull us away from devices and into actual communion and connection with each other.

Science fiction shouldn't ignore trajectory. And in our current world, the trajectory of personal, technological, and privacy is profoundly impactful.

I end with a quote from which I mostly agree with:

The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.

Edward Wilson


Transcend and Include - the future will have part of the past in it….

Posted in Blogging Writing on 02 - March 2024 at 08:41 PM (4 months ago). 772 views.

When we think about science fiction, or our futures, we should include Ken Wilber's ideas that evolution and growth transcend and include that which came before...

Science fiction asks us to imagine a possible future, often fantastic (sometimes quite dark) and live amongst the people who take it as normal.

So the good and the bad that accompany us now will most likely accompany us in the future - but it will be different. This is why I think many science fiction writers use a cataclysm as a device to purge the past. But we are still who we are - and moving humans through a crucible of change will not erase our fundamental nature. Aldous Huxley's book Brave New World addresses this through the London Hatchery and Conditioning Center - where this inconvenient human nature is purged and genetically altered. A terrifying future. The point here is science fiction should consider the way humans might evolve in the future.

Ken Wilber's integral theory, which posits that each stage of evolution transcends yet includes aspects of previous stages, provides a compelling lens through which to examine the trajectory of human progress as depicted in science fiction narratives. This philosophical framework suggests that as humanity evolves, it does not simply cast aside its former self but rather integrates and builds upon it, leading to increasingly complex and inclusive forms of existence. Science fiction, in its exploration of future possibilities, inherently grapples with this concept, presenting visions of humanity that are at once radically transformed and deeply familiar.

In considering how science fiction can incorporate Wilber's ideas, it's useful to explore the notion of developmental stages within human societies and individuals that are depicted in these stories. For instance, the genre often portrays technological advancements not just as tools but as catalysts for new forms of consciousness and social organization. This mirrors Wilber's assertion that each new stage of evolution brings about a greater capacity for complexity and empathy, suggesting a future where humanity's technological growth is matched by its moral and spiritual development.

However, science fiction also serves as a cautionary tale, warning against the potential pitfalls of neglecting the "include" aspect of Wilber's principle. Stories like H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" illustrate a future where humanity has split into two distinct species, the Eloi and the Morlocks, representing a failure to integrate the spectrum of human capabilities and impulses. This bifurcation is a direct consequence of societal choices that favor technological advancement at the expense of holistic development, underscoring the importance of integrating all aspects of human nature as we move forward.

Moreover, science fiction challenges us to consider not only how we might evolve but also how we ought to evolve. Octavia Butler's "Parable" series, for instance, delves into the concept of adaptability as a form of evolution, positing that the future of humanity lies not just in our physical or technological augmentation but in our ability to empathize, cooperate, and coexist with each other and with our environment. This reflects Wilber's idea of integral evolution, where the transcendence of previous stages of development includes a moral and ethical dimension, suggesting that our future evolution will be as much about who we choose to become as it is about the external forces shaping us.

In essence, science fiction, through its speculative lens, provides a rich milieu for examining the trajectory of human evolution in light of Ken Wilber's integral theory. By envisioning futures that both transcend and include our current state, the genre offers insight into the potential paths humanity might take, highlighting the importance of holistic development that encompasses not just technological prowess but also moral and spiritual growth.Spiritual may not directly equate to religious here... As we stand on the cusp of significant societal transformations, perhaps accelerated by technological advancements, the reflective mirror held up by science fiction becomes an invaluable tool for navigating the complexities of human evolution, urging us to consider not just what we can become, but what we should aspire to become.

This essay is my ideas and my thoughts. I used a LLM to help me edit and form parts of it


What about the future, what about science fiction?

Posted in Blogging Writing on 01 - March 2024 at 02:47 PM (4 months ago). 418 views.

What is our future in 100 years? 1000 years?

I'm not sure of course, but it is really fun to think about it.

I am a voracious reader and consumer of science fictionEven early we encounter a problem! The definition of science fiction, science fantasy, and fantasy is pretty nebulous. There are sub-genre's of science fiction. More on that in a bit.. Books, movies, TV shows, video games and RPG's all shape and inform my view of science fiction. I note a few common themes in science fiction:

  • a near-future dystopian hell-scape (fallout)
  • a dystopian far-future empire (warhammer, maybe Starfield)
  • a cyberpunk, hyper-modern world (William Gibson, and Cyberpunk 2077)
  • an idealized clean-future federation (star trek)
  • a dark dystopian steampunk-like setting (China Miéville and Perdido Street Station)
  • a feudal / science-fictiony setting like Star Wars
  • a science fantasy - where magic / multiple races are present (starfinder)
  • a near-future apocalyptic / hard science fiction (Seveneves by Neal Stephenson)
  • a far future, fantastical world (Stanislaw Lem)

We could almost say for every piece of science fiction work, there is a different vision / idea about what the future will be like. This is very interesting because thinking about the future, imagining the future, putting ourselves into a future can start us building towards it.

Of course in all science fiction we explore what it means to be human in a very different culture, place and context. Science fiction is a unique genre allowing this sort of placement-of-self.

In the next few posts, I will be exploring ideas around science fiction, and ask for your thoughts and ideas as I do so.


Sabbatical update 2

Posted in Blogging Personal Teaching Diary Update on 01 - December 2023 at 06:58 AM (7 months ago). 684 views.

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

One of my key projects has been the development of virtual mini-courses for students. These courses are designed to empower students by offering them the flexibility to choose what and when they learn within the course structure. This initiative aims to enhance the learning experience and adapt to the evolving educational landscape. Students will be able to choose how they want to proceed in the course, and multiple pathways will help facilitate interest in different areas of computing. I'm currently offering 4 languages (PHP, Python, Javascript and Rust) and 4 pathways (business, biology/science, computer science and software engineering). At some point I may ask to split these into different courses, but I am quite excited to design, develop and trial these pathways.

"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.


Sabbatical update 1

Posted in Personal Teaching Diary on 31 - August 2023 at 03:05 PM (10 months ago). 914 views.

I'm currently on sabbatical and have been deeply immersed in professional development and research. I intend to post these updates about once a month, sharing interesting learnings.

Connections and collaborations

The ACM is the Association of Computing Machinery. It’s the world's largest educational and scientific computing society.

I’ve been reading, parsing and communicating with members of SIGCSE - the ACM’s special interest group for computer science education. This learning has been deeply satisfying. I look forward to summarizing and presenting “best practices of K-12 computing education”. Needless to say, ChatGPT, AI, and large language models have captured the attention of this community.

Core learning tools

Moving on to the classroom tools, I've been focusing on making Git and Visual Studio Code (VSCode) more accessible for our students. VScode is a code editor and Git is the industry standard version control system that helps keep track of changes in code amongst many people. With the new materials I’ve developed, I'm confident our students will be committing and pushing code like they were born to do it - and be better prepared to work with modern tools in University and the real-world. I should also mention Git is a superb platform to use as a portfolio of student work and learning.

Modernizing PHP

In my continued quest for modernization, I've dived into the world of PHP Object-Oriented Programming (OOP), MVC (model-view-controller) architecture, and strictly typed PHP. This will enable our students to be more industry-ready and familiar with modern development practices ( all of which are transferable between languages). PHP has been in the top 10 of all programming languages for more than a decade, and is still used by about 78% of all websites in the world. I first learned PHP 20 years ago, so this is a welcome and refreshing upskill. Next up: javascript, rust, and python.

Working with the IB

As for my collaboration with the International Baccalaureate (IB), I'm still deeply involved in fine-tuning the new computer science curriculum. While I can't spill all the beans just yet, I'm eagerly awaiting the day I can share these substantial updates with you.

Obi-Wan MacKobi

A personal update. We’ve added a new member to our household: Obi-Wan, a 9-week-old chocolate Labrador. He’s both a delight and a handful, keeping me active when I’m not buried in research or code. He’s snoring at my feet as I write this; a little bundle of love.

The future

The next big chunk of learning for me is machine learning, artificial intelligence, and building a large language model that can run locally at my school (does not need an internet connection to work). The discussions I’ve seen at every level of the IB, ACM, and in the popular press has reinforced in me the need to capture and use this technology effectively for our benefit. Lot’s more to say about this.


The future of high school computing

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary Writing on 03 - July 2023 at 11:00 AM (one year ago). 1085 views.

Large language models like ChatGPT mandate we change the way we approach high school computing.

This article will discuss the importance of differentiation between software engineering and computer science in secondary (high school) educational settings and the impact of large language models on the former. Without correct understanding of computing, we can't fully appreciate how LLM's change it.

In the 2020 Computing Curricula recommendation, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) states that within the domain of computing, there are five primary disciplines. The reason it is important to understand this is because while there are some shared characteristics between these disciplines, they are different enough to be taught as distinct disciplines.


  1. Computer Engineering (CE)
  2. Computer Science (CS)
  3. Information Systems (IS)
  4. Information Technology (IT)
  5. Software Engineering (SE)

To acquire a deeper comprehension and appreciation of these disciplines' distinctions and interconnections, please refer to the following documents:


  1. Overview of Computing Fields
  2. Field Characteristics
  3. ACM 2020 Computing Curricula Recommendations

For some more serious approachesThere is a lot of noise and hype around AI in education - I tried to find respected institutional research to help frame LLM's within education. to AI in education research, please refer to the articles below:

  1. Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching and Learning
  2. Artificial intelligence and the Futures of Learning
  3. The Position of Artificial Intelligence in the Future of Education: An Overview

High schools (and even some universities) often blur the lines between software engineering and computer science, using these terms interchangeably and without recognizing their essential distinctions When your students are applying to university please - I'm begging you - insist they read the actual courses they will be taking. . This conflation creates an ambiguous academic journey for students entering the computing field. While there is some overlap between the disciplines, clearly defined tracks are important in guiding students along the right trajectory.

In numerous educational institutions, students are exposed to programming (akin to software engineering), robotics (related to computer engineering), and occasionally resource management and abstract data structures (pertaining to computer science). Often, the overarching terms used for this education are "computer science", "technology" or "computers".

To make the distinction clearer and prepare students for the evolving world of computing, it is essential to design two distinct tracks within high school computing:

Track 1: Software Engineering

The significance of this track stems from the transformative impact large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT have on problem-solving through programming. Students should be taught the fundamental coding concepts such as variables, control structures, and data structures. However, they must also learn to harness the power of LLMs in solving problems. By integrating LLMs, students can explore innovative ways to create solutions. Essentially, software engineering should focus on basic programming, computational thinking, and the astute utilization of LLMs. I include tools like co-pilot, tabnine, and YouCompleteMe, which use LLM-like technology to vastly improve programming output.

Track 2: Computer Science

The second track should concentrate on the foundational aspects of computer science. This encompasses theoretical data structures, advanced mathematics, and computing theories. The core areas of study within Computer Science include artificial intelligence, computer systems and networks, security, database systems, human-computer interaction, vision and graphics, numerical analysis, programming languages, software engineering, bioinformatics, and the theory of computing.

Conclusion

With the advent of LLMs, it is imperative for the education system to adapt and prepare students for the dynamic computing landscape. While LLMs present extensive possibilities for problem-solving, it is also crucial to nurture the next generation of computer scientists who will forge cutting-edge tools. Equipping students with the right skills and knowledge will be an important differentiator for students entering college and universities.

This article was supported with the use of chatGPT. I used the prompt "please provide your opinion on this article" and then I pasted in the article.


Project management tools

Posted in Blogging Personal Teaching Diary Writing on 10 - April 2023 at 08:35 AM (one year ago). 930 views.

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?

Warren Buffett


Sabbatical planning

Posted in Blogging Teaching Diary Writing on 03 - April 2023 at 05:02 AM (one year ago). 1084 views.

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.

Confucius


A mostly terrible time

Posted in Blogging Writing on 26 - March 2023 at 09:49 PM (one year ago). 1077 views.

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.

M. Scott Peck


Regular Update

Posted in Update on 12 - March 2023 at 09:36 AM (one year ago). 885 views.

The latest curiosities, projects, and workings. This is a semi-regular update of things I am currently working on / learning about / curious about...

  • Laravel - I'm writing a crm-type-app for small business folksThis is really about learning Laravel and that ecosystem.
  • Wargaming for better decision making - I'm finding a group
  • I moved all web stuff to a dedicated web server, sill loving Linode pretty hard
  • Getting sabbatical plans finalized
  • Changed CSS of my site using Edward tufte-inspired CSS. That man is one of my heroes.
  • Grading and marking papers - my students hand-write most of their stuff, and it takes a long time to process this
  • Secret Projects A, B and C
  • Helping mom get organized to move to a new place
  • Desigining a "tank-identification party" with my friends

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.

Henry David Thoreau


on postfix…

Posted in Blogging Personal on 24 - February 2023 at 11:05 AM (one year ago). 1181 views.

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.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”


The faltering

Posted in Writing on 20 - February 2023 at 08:33 AM (one year ago). 971 views.

Steady and true. Steady and true?

Being brave and being brave. Doing the right thing. The whole nonsense of "the greater good" for the greater good - which, to be honest, is for the greater good.  A sisyphean task; should we surrender to the wants of others or live in the self-centeredness of our own ego?

The answer lay in the wise words of Ken Wilber I think he's wise. who posited the truth of things is in both the ascendent and the descendant. That is; to shun the descendent in the name of godly virtue is an error. But also, to practice gaia Sex Magik without abandon is also an error. That balance seems a prescription best filled regularly.


Dedicated servers for dedicated things

Posted in News on 18 - February 2023 at 07:53 AM (one year ago). 1238 views.

I use a couple of VPS providers for Digital Bill. I'm learning with the flexibility and affordability of a VPS it makes sense to dedicate one server for one task. Read on for more...

I run a web server and an email server (MTA, MUA and MSA) on one virtual machine. I have learned this is probably a mistake. I'm slowly changing my setup so I have one server do one thing; an email server should just do email. A web server should just do web stuff. The problem is the more services running on a server, there seems to be a disproportionate rise in complexity when an issue emerges. I would imagine for an experienced and seasoned system administrator, this is obvious. But I am learning, and curious, and always exploring things. Today that's what I've learned. 


Entity-Component-System 〈ECS〉

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 02 - February 2023 at 09:07 PM (one year ago). 1296 views.

Different than oop? Read on...

I've learned about the Entity-Component-System (ECS)


Obligatory chatGPT / wikipedia definition: ECS is a pattern for game development that provides a way to organize and structure game logic. It is a way of designing games that separates the data (components) and behavior (systems) of entities.

In an ECS, entities are objects in the game, such as characters or enemies. Components are data structures that define the properties and attributes of an entity, such as its position, health, or sprite. Systems are responsible for updating and manipulating the components of entities.

The separation of data and behavior in an ECS allows for more flexible and modular game development, as it is easier to add or change components and systems without affecting the rest of the code. It also allows for better performance and scalability, as systems can be optimized for processing specific types of components.

Overall, the ECS pattern provides a clean and efficient way to structure game logic, making it a popular choice for game development, especially for large and complex games.

Entity Component System (ECS) is a software architectural pattern mostly used in video game development for the representation of game world objects. An ECS comprises entities composed from components of data, with systems which operate on entities' components.

ECS follows the principle of composition over inheritance, meaning that every entity is defined not by a type hierarchy, but by the components that are associated with it. Systems act globally over all entities which have the required components.


Entity: An entity represents a general-purpose object. In a game engine context, for example, every coarse game object is represented as an entity. Usually, it only consists of a unique id. Implementations typically use a plain integer for this.

Component: A component labels an entity as possessing a particular aspect, and holds the data needed to model that aspect. For example, every game object that can take damage might have a Health component associated with its entity. Implementations typically use structs, classes, or associative arrays.

System: A system is a process which acts on all entities with the desired components. For example, a physics system may query for entities having mass, velocity and position components, and iterate over the results doing physics calculations on the sets of components for each entity.

The behavior of an entity can be changed at runtime by systems that add, remove or modify components. This eliminates the ambiguity problems of deep and wide inheritance hierarchies often found in Object Oriented Programming techniques that are difficult to understand, maintain, and extend. Common ECS approaches are highly compatible with, and are often combined with, data-oriented design techniques. Data for all instances of a component are commonly stored together in physical memory, enabling efficient memory access for systems which operate over many entities.



Need a procedurally generated country?

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 29 - January 2023 at 03:46 PM (one year ago). 924 views.

Every once in a while one of my students hits the ball out of the park...

Not much sure how much better you could do than this: 

https://github.com/bmackenty/s...


DEIJ - part one

Posted in Personal on 25 - January 2023 at 06:01 PM (one year ago). 1405 views.

Describe diversity...

Obligatory chatGPT reference: 

Diversity refers to the variety of differences among individuals within a group or population. This can include differences in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. Diversity can also include differences in personal experiences, values, and perspectives. The goal of diversity is to create an inclusive environment that recognizes, respects, and leverages these differences to create a more equitable and equitable society.

Within this lay extraordinary scope. I've always thought to measure & evaluate each person equally, irregardless of their gender, sexuxal orientation, race, SES, age, etc... The truth is I've met truly beautiful human beings from every corner of life, and the obverse is also true. 

I believe to know someone, that is, who someone is takes time. That careful measure and often conversation and time are required to know someone. That the enemy of truth is haste. That a glimpse does give us perspective. That when I rush to judgement, when I hurry to act I often err. This is why the slow work movement appeals to me so; as a seeker of truth, it takes time.

There can be parts of someone I love and parts I don't care for. That nuance, discernment and careful thinking can find a person.

What could be more diverse than all of us?


Current thinking about chatGPT

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 22 - January 2023 at 07:12 AM (one year ago). 1474 views.

How should a high school computing teacher use chatGPT?

  1. Ensure students understand the technical boundaries
  2. Teach students to ask precise questions (with follow-up questions if necessary)
  3. Teach students to evaluate answers

  4. As teachers we should encourage students to ask all questions via a text interface (so we can capture questions) and fine-tune the model to reply. The goal is to have a "reasonably good" assistant that can support students as they work through content required by the syllabus. The input for questions should be textual / copy-paste / and spoken word. 


Writing a report card comment generator

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 20 - January 2023 at 06:12 AM (one year ago). 1772 views.

Saving time whilst providing accurate information about a students progress isn't easy, but certainly worth it...

I wrote a report card generator. The GitHub repo is here. It's version 0.1 but I used it and it saved me some time. There are many things to add and edit, but perfection is the enemy of good (I'm not sure I got that quote right). 

I'm hoping to eventually offer it as a web service for students and parents to use so we can co-create a story about student learning. 


Multiple versions of PHP on the same web server

Posted in Linux Personal on 18 - January 2023 at 06:42 AM (one year ago). 988 views.

looks like a job for PHP-FPM...

For better or worse I administer my own web server / web-services. I actually quite enjoy this, but I'm not a professional, which means sometimes I learn things the hard way, and sometimes I make mistakes. I recently installed an invoicing system, which needed PHP 8.1+. Most of my web applications run on 7.4, specifically mediawiki. I would prefer it if everything was on 8.1 and I'm slowly getting there. 

I learned about a nifty new tech PHP-FPM, which enables (among other things) multiple versions of PHP on a per-site basis. Which is cool. The end goal is to (of course) use only one version of PHP but for now I am enjoying the tinkering. 


#dungeon23

Posted in Personal Twitter on 08 - January 2023 at 09:56 AM (one year ago). 1612 views.

I've decided to take part in #dungeon23, a distracting and fun project to build a little bit of a dungeon everyday. But I've decided to approach it a bit differently...

As I am a fan of procedurally generated content (and making procedurally generated content), I've decided to build different systems and eventually combine them so people can have rich, varied and different dungeons and settings. The link to the github repository is here. I'm following a basic schedule here:

• Sunday — Settlement description, a village or a town. Could also be a bandit camp if that strikes your fancy

• Monday — Environment description. Think the local weather, geology, flora and fauna

• Tuesday — More in-depth settlement description

• Wednesday — Culture description of something fun or interesting about the local people. Something to make them stand out

• Thursday — NPC description, someone important or interesting on the island

• Friday — Faction description of either a new or existing faction. Be sure to make ties between factions and peoples

• Saturday — A rumour about something from the past week


Mastering uncertainty: A predictive processing

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 06 - January 2023 at 01:48 PM (one year ago). 1161 views.

Why do we seek out and enjoy uncertain success in playing games? Game designers and researchers suggest that games whose challenges match player skills afford engaging experiences of achievement, competence, or effectance—of doing well...

Yet, current models struggle to explain why such balanced challenges best afford these experiences and do not straightforwardly account for the appeal of high- and low-challenge game genres like Idle and Soulslike games. In this article, we show that Predictive Processing (PP) provides a coherent formal cognitive framework which can explain the fun in tackling game challenges with uncertain success as the dynamic process of reducing uncertainty surprisingly efficiently. In gameplay as elsewhere, people enjoy doing better than expected, which can track learning progress. In different forms, balanced, Idle, and Soulslike games alike afford regular accelerations of uncertainty reduction. We argue that this model also aligns with a popular practitioner model, Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun for Game Design, and can unify currently differentially modelled gameplay motives around competence and curiosity.

Full article (locally hosted) here.

Linked article here.


Our Wisla

Posted in Bushcraft on 01 - January 2023 at 07:30 AM (one year ago). 970 views.

A warm day, the last day of 2022 and that magic of nature...

Walking along the embankment of the Wisla; unseasonably warm weather and yet the unmistakable signs of winter. In the distance you can see the Wistula river. 


The bear

Posted in Writing on 30 - December 2022 at 05:28 AM (one year ago). 1201 views.

There is a bear with a reputation for being strong and intimidating, but something is wrong...

The bear had verifiable reports of Great Deeds. The bear had big muscles, and was physically huge. At one point, the bear's territory was massive; entire nations lived under his rule. He had untold and unimaginable riches. His music, song, and dance were elevated to the highest places. His science and industry were potent. 

All of this led to great pride for the bear. He would rightly walk with his head high and his chest out. He could exercise influence. He could will something and make it happen. Smart, strong, and competent minions worked hard to actualize the bear's goals. People feared the bear, and this was his source of power and control over many people. Some people respected the bear, some people (comfortable and warm) ignored the bear. 

But somewhere, along the way, perhaps as he became old, the bear became sick. So enamored with his power and past, he didn't support and make ready young leaders to replace him. He didn't adapt or change. He fought wars that had no business being fought. He fell into his cave; afraid of losing his power? 


He could be great, of course, but he isn't, anymore. 



setting up a podcast

Posted in Personal on 27 - December 2022 at 11:41 AM (one year ago). 909 views.

Is a lot of work. But...

In the myriad choices and sea of information we are forced to clarify greatly our goals, objectives and ideas. This process of clarification is truly wonderful. 


Merry Christmas!

Posted in Personal on 25 - December 2022 at 06:04 AM (one year ago). 943 views.

On coming together and being in connection...

Celebrating Christmas, giving and getting gifts, connecting with family, listening to music, eating food, and appreciating the holiday season. The best I can do is to describe the area around Christmas; the outline of a shape that has none. The coming together. 


Building an LMS (or virtual learning experience) - part 3 of 3

Posted in Teaching Diary on 21 - December 2022 at 09:26 AM (one year ago). 972 views.

Setting up high quality digital resources takes a long time, but once we've set it up, it provides value for a long time.

My first moodle course is almost complete, introduction to programming languages. This has been a long process, but in the daily editing and revision I am pleased with the overall outcome. I'm sure more activities and resources will be added as students provide feedback, but now this course is "ready enough" for learning. I set up a badge for students to earn when they are done, and I have three assessments students must complete to demonstrate they understand this material at the right level.

I continually read how important building community is for online courses. I want this course to be as self-directed as possible, but I get how automated assessment misses subtle and nuanced points about the topic. Building this course has helped me focus on what I want the learning experience to be like; I suspect I will use this course in conjunction with my day-to-day teaching - but I want it structured so virtual students can derive maximum value from it. 

The good news is the first course is the most difficult (time intensive). But once created, I can re-use elements in other courses. And of course, once I create a digital asset, I can reuse (embed) it in other courses and other digital spaces.


Building an LMS (or virtual learning experience) - part 2 of 3

Posted in Teaching Diary on 20 - December 2022 at 07:01 AM (one year ago). 967 views.

On the importance of H5P...

H5P is a plugin for existing publishing systems that enables the system to create interactive content like Interactive Videos, Presentations, Games, Quizzes and more. The problem with formal and structured learning on the internet is that it remains mostly read-only (or watch-only, or listen-only). H5P helps to solve this by enabling interactive assessment for almost any content. Please click here for many interactive examples.

This is a huge deal, but it wasn't until moodle and other LMS's incorporated H5P that teachers could track assessment for digital learning. This means the kind of learning students can experience and the kind of assessment data a teacher can have are exceptional. No longer do we just "watch a youtube and discuss" but we can add assessment and track that assessment for different topics. 

H5P helps us help students evaluate their understanding of a topic. 


Building an LMS (or virtual learning experience) - part 1 of 3

Posted in Teaching Diary on 19 - December 2022 at 09:22 AM (one year ago). 927 views.

It's not about the technology, it's about the learning...

This is an entreatment I have oft repeated; focus on the verbs around learning rather than the nouns of technology. As I rebuild a virtual learning experience I am asking myself "How can I make this best for my students"

I'm building out some moodle courses - my hope is my students will be use this resource to independently learn about different topics within high school computing. I curate material for them and ask them to learn it. But the key differentiator here is assessment.  Anyone can watch a video, but to what extent do they understand it? By using forums, H5P assessment, and built-in moodle quizzes I can evaluate student understanding (and students can evaluate their understandings).  I'm still looking for a way to embed jupyter notebooks and auto-graders for code. 

...but whatever plugins and features I include all need to direct learning toward encouraging student interaction and collaboration, providing support and resources, and organizing content and activities.

The key points here are:

  1. Have clear learning goals: It's important to have a clear understanding of the learning goals and objectives for the virtual learning experience, and to design the experience around those goals. This might involve creating a lesson plan or course outline that outlines the topics and activities for each unit or module.
  2. Use a variety of teaching methods: Virtual learning requires a different approach than in-person teaching, so it's important to use a variety of teaching methods to keep students engaged. This might involve using video lectures, interactive activities, and small group discussions.

I have to think "to what extent will this course be an independent learning experience"? 

Giving students as much of a choice as possible is important, freeing me to focus on helping my students to solve problems - where there is the biggest bang for the buck for my students. 


Displaying courses in grid format on moodle homepage

Posted in Computer Science HOWTO Teaching Diary on 16 - December 2022 at 03:34 PM (one year ago). 981 views.

After much searching I was lucky to get a helpful reply from a friendly moodler. Read on...

On the front page of moodle when using the boost theme, there is a linear list of courses. If you want a grid of courses, you can use the suggestion from here, a plugin named filter codes. I tested this on moodle version 4.1 and it works perfectly. 


just trying to make it to vacation…

Posted in Blogging Personal on 15 - December 2022 at 05:38 AM (one year ago). 609 views.

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. 


Procedural fantasy weapon generator

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice Teaching Diary on 13 - December 2022 at 05:47 PM (one year ago). 653 views.

If you ever needed to procedurally generate a fantasy weapon with a history, backstory and special abilities, here's your code!

Here is the file on github, enjoy. I had quite bit of fun making this. Here's some sample output: 

Long ago, during the age of Destruction, Gnomish smiths forged Yosyur Wargebas's exquisite crossbow. The wood on this weapon is constructed in a spiral-shaped combination of dark wood and exotic wood, it is clear careful and extraordinary craftmanship went into the creation. This weapon is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, and is a veritable work of art. You have +2 on any rolls to pick up romantic partners while holding this weapon. This weapon is sentient. Moving your hand near it, you can feel a vague sense of neutral uncertainty. For 30 years, this weapon was used as a table ornament in the modest home of Prince Fumbledick, who was unaware of its importance.

Long ago, during the age of Light, Dwarven smiths forged Vosgrolin Bloodshield's flaming scimitar. Elegantly crafted in a spiral-shaped combination of semi-precious gems and rare metals, it is clear careful and extraordinary craftmanship went into the creation. This weapon is aflame, and does 4d6 fire damage. This weapon is sentient. Moving your hand near it, you can feel a vague sense of neutral pessimisticness. This weapon was once stolen by a goblin. When the litch who owned the weapon found the goblin, he punished the goblin severely, which is why goblin soup is now a popular dish amongst evil wizards and litches.

Long ago, during the age of Doom, Dwarven smiths forged Erirnoick Orehead's exquisite whip. Elegantly crafted in a helix-shaped combination of rare stone and semi-precious gems, it is clear careful and extraordinary craftmanship went into the creation. This weapon is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, and is a veritable work of art. You have +2 on any rolls to pick up romantic partners while holding this weapon. This weapon is sentient. Moving your hand near it, you can feel a vague sense of unaligned uncertainty. This weapon was once wielded by a young Kawian apprentice, who later became a fearsome warrior.


As far as dinners go,

Posted in Writing on 12 - December 2022 at 05:59 AM (one year ago). 556 views.

An hour drive through the first real snowstorm, a spectacular meal, two young effervescent boys, a fire in the backyard amidst the blowing snow, wonderful company and engaging conversation...

We enjoyed a wonderful social connection with friends last evening; a warm home - good food and soup on a cold night. There was much to discuss, and we covered many topics. Ostensibly we were there for the 5th birthday party of one of the boys but really, just to see friends. 

After the soup and food, after the fire outside in the snow, after the conversation - with our daughter asleep in the back seat of our car, I just felt...so filled...

Good company does a body good, indeed. 


chatGPT part 3: how do I know you know?

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 10 - December 2022 at 08:57 AM (one year ago). 640 views.

Out-of-school coding assignments are no longer as important as being able to understand the code. The return of oral exams?

As a computing teacher I use standard written assessments with my students. Questions include different assessment objectives such as "state", "describe" and "explain". I also use small code problems where students must solve a problem and write an answer in pseudocode. There is an internal assessment that students write; worth 25% of their final grade students must solve a problem for a real client. This is mostly independent, and a place where students could use outside tutors to solve a problem. 

For any work outside of class, I will add oral component to the assessment.

According to chatGPT, 

Some key steps for structuring an oral exam for computer science include:

  1. Determine the goals and objectives of the exam: The first step in structuring an oral exam for computer science is to clearly define the goals and objectives of the exam. This will help to ensure that the exam is focused and that it effectively evaluates the student's knowledge and understanding of the material.
  2. Identify the key topics and concepts to be covered: Once you have determined the goals of the exam, you can identify the key topics and concepts that will be covered. This could include specific programming languages, algorithms, data structures, or key theories or ideas in computer science.
  3. Create a structured format for the exam: To ensure that the exam is well-organized and focused, it's important to create a structured format for the exam. This could involve dividing the exam into different sections, each focused on a specific topic or concept, or using a specific format (e.g. Q&A, presentation, problem-solving) to evaluate the student's knowledge.
  4. Develop a list of questions: The next step is to develop a list of questions that will be used during the exam. These should be focused on the key topics and concepts covered in the exam, and should be designed to evaluate the student's knowledge and understanding of the material.
  5. Plan for student evaluation and feedback: Finally, it's important to plan for student evaluation and feedback. This could involve using a grading rubric to evaluate the student's performance, providing written or verbal feedback to the student, or allowing the student to ask questions or provide feedback on their own performance.

Overall, the best way to structure an oral exam for computer science is to carefully plan and organize the exam, focusing on the goals and objectives of the exam and the key topics and concepts that will be covered. By following these steps, you can create an effective oral exam that effectively evaluates the student's knowledge and understanding of the material.


chatGPT part 2: how we change our teaching and student learning

Posted in Teaching Diary Writing on 07 - December 2022 at 05:39 AM (one year ago). 560 views.

A high school student asks, "what will I do for work with chatGPT around?"

My seniors students have discovered chatGPT. They (like me) were stunned when they saw it. One student asked me why they should study software engineering when there is a tool like this. 

I agree, this tool changes things, but while it can provide snippets of code, I don't think it can write whole systems with various input, processing and output. Much like visual studio code copiliot, I see systems like chatGPT offering support for experienced programmers.

The key thing is evaluation. How will we know the answers we get from chatGPT (and copilot) are correct? I spoke with our school director, always intellectually curious, who suggested teachers ask students to evaluate a reply given by chatGPT. I think this is where we need to be in relation to chatGPT: a smart assistant who needs to be watched carefully. 

That being said, it looks like intelligent agents are going to become better (much better) at being assistants. This seems to be a plausible near-term future

Our job is to teach our students well enough so they can evaluate / analyze the output to determine if the solution is correct / best fit for the problem they are trying to solve. 


chatGPT: teaching computing

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 04 - December 2022 at 08:14 AM (one year ago). 597 views.

What is the answer when asking an AI to please describe the most effective techniques and methods of teaching high school computer science?

ChatGPT answers: 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the most effective teaching methods will depend on the specific goals and objectives of your course, the abilities and needs of your students, and the resources and materials available to you. However, there are some general principles and best practices that can help you create an effective and engaging learning environment for your students.

First, it's important to create a clear and organized syllabus that outlines the goals and objectives of your course, as well as the specific topics and concepts that your students will be learning. This will help your students understand what they can expect from the course and how they can prepare for success.

Next, it's important to use a variety of teaching methods to engage and motivate your students. This can include interactive lectures, discussions, hands-on activities, and group work. Using a variety of teaching methods can help keep your students engaged and interested in the material, and can also help students with different learning styles to succeed.

It's also important to incorporate real-world examples and applications into your teaching, to help students understand how the concepts and skills they are learning can be applied in the real world. This can help make the material more relevant and meaningful to your students, and can also help to motivate and inspire them.

Finally, it's important to provide regular feedback and support to your students, to help them understand where they are succeeding and where they may need to improve. This can include providing individualized feedback on assignments and exams, as well as offering extra help and support outside of class. Providing this kind of support can help your students feel confident and supported in their learning, which can in turn help them to succeed in your course.

Overall, the most effective techniques and methods for teaching high school computer science will depend on your specific goals and objectives, as well as the abilities and needs of your students. By using a variety of teaching methods, incorporating real-world examples and applications, and providing regular feedback and support, you can create an effective and engaging learning environment for your students.

Bill comments: 

Yea, about that.


Sabbatical learning - part 2

Posted in Blogging Personal Writing on 03 - December 2022 at 04:46 AM (one year ago). 468 views.

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:

  1. focus on exercise, diet and mindfulness
  2. focus on my garden and backyard - long neglected
  3. focus on hobbies 
  4. 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. 


Coming together and eating

Posted in Personal on 27 - November 2022 at 10:10 AM (one year ago). 408 views.

So simple, so profound and so togethering. How eating together brings us together...

When I was earning my superintendents license in NYC my supervising administrator instilled a simple truth:  feed your people. This resonated and resonates with me as a highly effective means of creating bonds, trust and connection. We just had Thanksgiving yesterday and I was struck how simple it is; good food, relaxed atmosphere, and people ...just connect... There is quite a bit more to leadership, but feeding people carries with it a physical and metaphorical benefit I really love. 

I think there is a certain vulnerability and assurance when we eat - something so basic - I don't know why food doesn't figure more prominently in our day-to-day meetings.  


Enjoying the moment

Posted in on 26 - November 2022 at 05:31 AM (one year ago). 329 views.

Cooking large meals can be fraught with anxiety. Here's how I battle it

Nothing especially tricky here. We've 14 people coming over for a slightly delayed thanksgiving, and today is the big day!

  1. We spent time to carefully plan what, when and how of the meal prep
  2. We pre-cooked the creamed spinach yesterday
  3. We got some things ordered via caterer (pies and a green salad)
  4.  We've already started setting the table a day prior

Other than that, honestly engaging with "what's the worst thing that could happen" is a fun way to manage anxiety around large meals, and I find myself relaxing through meal preparation and enjoying the process of cooking (and preparing food for people I love). 

A quote from the Joy of Cooking:

We can offer reasoned counsels and repeat the lessons of experience and tradition, but the truth is that if the table is attractive and clean, the food and drink honest and good, the company amiable and interesting, and the host generous and calm, an affair can be a resounding success no matter where the glasses go or who is sitting where. And that is our last word on entertaining. 


Sabbatical learning - part 1

Posted in Blogging on 23 - November 2022 at 06:47 PM (one year ago). 479 views.

The plan for learning

If a good replacement can be found, I'm approved for sabbatical leave next year. My plan for learning includes: 

  1. Design and construct curriculum to substantially improve student usage of git (a version control system) and the IDE visual studio code
  2. Design and construct curriculum for OOP Python
  3. Design and construct curriculum for advanced Python
  4. Design and construct curriculum using Jupyter notebook
  5. Design and construct curriculum for artificial intelligence / machine learning / advanced topics
  6. Rebuild every learning engagement and assessment in the two year IB computer science course (this is hundreds of learning engagements and 30+ assessments)
  7. Design and construct curriculum for Rust
  8. Design and construct curriculum in node.js, javascript, mongo DB, Linux

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. 


Robotics

Posted in Teaching Diary on 19 - November 2022 at 05:50 AM (one year ago). 486 views.

Truly a wonderful learning opportunity...

This weekend, we are immersed in a Lego robotics competition. Students and coaches have come from other international schools to compete in a robotics challenge. The nature of the challenge is to program a robot to perform different manipulative tasks of various difficulties (within 2 minutes and 30 seconds). For example student robots need to push the red section of the windmill.

This will then trigger a different piece to fall, which must be collected for different points. The cool thing about this project is how many different times student-groups can attempt these challenges. It's ultimate design in my opinion, where a student will try / fail / try / fail many different times. This constant cycle of iteration is really at the heart of learning, construction and design - and is just such good stuff. 


Procedural generation as a teaching approach

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 17 - November 2022 at 05:09 AM (one year ago). 489 views.

In computing, procedural generation is a method of creating data algorithmically as opposed to manually, typically through a combination of human-generated assets and algorithms coupled with computer-generated randomness and processing power (ref).

The amazing thing about procedural generation is that infinite unique possibilities can be created with little work from humans (ref). I've been interested in procedural for a few years, and would encourage you to take a peek at the following resources to learn about procedural generation: 

  1. This is an excellent introductory article
  2.  Dwarf Fortress (an incredibly complex game that is largely procedurally generated)
  3.  No Man's Sky (this a wiki article describing how procedural generation works)

What is cool about procedural generation is how easy it is to start with procedural generation.  In the example code below, we can get the following output: 

  1. Discovered in the small village of Tr'lor
  2. Hatched in the ocean of Greenest
  3. Born in the small village of Mirkwood

# procedural generator to write a brief history
import random

origin_1 = ["Born", "Hatched", "Invoked", "Discovered"]
origin_2 = ["in the land of", "in the wilds of", "in the forest of", "in the ocean of", "in the small village of", "in the modest hamlet of"]
origin_3 = ["Tr'lor", "Kor'mer", "Kobiyashi", "Greenest", "Mordora", "Gondor'e", "Rivendell", "Mirkwood"]

story_part_1 = random.choice (origin_1) + " " + random.choice(origin_2) + " " + random.choice(origin_3)
print(story_part_1)

I have some students working at high levels of complexity and other students working with more basic levels, as seen above. But for all of them, this is a fun approach to deconstructing a complex system, identifying the patterns within the system, and introducing the correct randomness to the system to make it unique. 

Procedural generation gets us close to modeling and simulation where a student must understand a system in order to create a model of it. In my opinion, modeling and simulation is close to the the very best learning we can get

Procedural generation goes into the stratosphere when students apply machine learning to highly complex systems. 


update from Poland

Posted in Blogging Writing on 16 - November 2022 at 05:09 AM (one year ago). 621 views.

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:

  1.  Russia is losing the war Ukraine. badly
    1.  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.
    2. Napoleon famously quipped:  Never interrupt your enemy whilst he is in the midst of making a mistake. Putin is making a doozy
       
  2. …but there's still a war…
    1.  missile attacks continue, and just yesterday there were more attacks on Kiev, and Russia fired over 100 missiles.
    2. 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).
       
  3. Russia made an uncharacteristically rational decisions by retreating from Kherson
    1. Russian military action has been irrational, disorganized and remarkably inept.
    2. The manner in which the Russian military retreated from Kherson was more careful and competent than what they have done in the past
       
  4. Since this conflict began weapons, supplies and help have been pouring into Ukraine from Poland
    1. but the missile hit a grain storage in a tiny village, nowhere near anything of strategic importance
    2. There are also tens of thousands of American (and NATO) troops / equipment / missile defense in Poland
       
  5. Seems to me the last thing Russia wants if to trigger a war with NATO
    1. Considering their stunning failure in Ukraine, a war with NATO would be unimaginably stupid and result in a catastrophic defeat of the Russian military
       
  6. Please understand: nothing unites the Polish people like an attack 
    1. 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. 


Different categories of games in education

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 14 - November 2022 at 03:19 AM (one year ago). 428 views.

Nuance and discernment, baby

I've used three different kinds of games in my classroom. 

The purpose of this blog post is to help teachers understand the differences, similarities, and characteristics of the three types of games. 

COTS - Commercial, Off the Shelf game. I've covered COTS games for a while. COTS games are designed for the mass market - they are designed for enjoyment, challenge, and fun. COTS games can often cost many millions of dollars to make, and a hit game (AAA title) can generate hundreds of millions of dollars. COTS games are increasingly being released for the personal computer and consoles. COTS games offer: 

  1. High production value (very high quality graphics and sound)
  2. Low technical problems and very strong technical support 
  3. Strong user communities (fan sites, active forums, etc...)
  4. Often these games have very active modding communities
  5. Work on a fairly new machines; older computers (more than 3 years) might have problems.
  6. Run locally (from the internal hard disk) 
  7. Have exceptionally good gameplay
  8. Very good tutorials, which check for understanding
  9. Adjust difficulty based on the players skills
  10. A game kids want to play at home 

Edutaintenment Many teachers are familiar with these titles - Millies Math House, Reader Rabbit, Sammy's Science House The hallmark of these games are kid-friendly graphics with gameplay that follows a "solve these problems and get to the next fun thing to do". Sometimes players are asked to do something like bowl for math problems. 

The general feel of the games is really fun math or reading worksheets. These games are fun, and build basic skills. They are valuable and good learning tools. In my context of games in education, these games generally don't fit well. They are a little to oriented to the drilling model (but who says drilling has to be no fun?). Characteristics of edutainment titles: 

  1. Marketed exclusively for schools / education
  2. Content-specific (titles focusing on math, reading, spelling, foreign language, etc)
  3. Marketed for specific age or grade levels
  4. ESRB ratings are often intended for general
  5. The back-story of the game is minimal
  6. Gameplay is generally segmented and measured around learning objectives 

 

Serious games Serious games are a relatively new phenomena (although people have been seriously playing games for a long time). Here's wikipedia's view on the matter; I like what they say. I think of serious games a single-topic, highly specific semi-simulations. Serious games have similar profiles: 

  1. They are usually web-based
  2. They usually have a very specific theme (peace in the mideast, health sim)
  3. They are not meant to be in-depth simulations, they are meant to model the most important dynamics of a system
  4. They are short-term games 
  5. They are deliberately designed to teach, explain an issue, or clarify the dynamics of an issue

Of course, playing  a game invites a healthy dissociation and leans heavily towards recreation. As much as I have tried over the years to integrate incredible student passion playing games and learning, I have failed.

If you really want cream-of-the-crop, high-level learning with games, ask kids to develop models and simulations. It takes a long time to do this well, but learning is magnificent. 


saying goodbye to an idea

Posted in Blogging Writing on 10 - November 2022 at 04:49 AM (one year ago). 462 views.

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."
 

@shutdown
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

Posted in Blogging Writing on 09 - November 2022 at 04:44 AM (one year ago). 438 views.

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 design cycle works

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 08 - November 2022 at 04:59 AM (one year ago). 506 views.

Considered and deliberate approach to design leads to high quality solutions. The obverse is also true.

My 9th and 10 grade (ages 15 and 16) students are working the design cycle as they solve a problem through programming. The problems are all unique, and fit the student's skill / capacity window.  An example of some the projects are below:

How to find the perfect guitar?A web-based application to help people find a guitar based on certain criteria
Which sport should you play?A web-based application help people decide what sport they might enjoy
Dungeons & Dragons character builder helperA web-based application to help people build a D&D character

The students have begun to really think and understand their problem. As they dig into the problems, I note they are changing their success criteria and more carefully adding features based on research into solutions. This process - of inquiry into a problem and understanding the problem deeply - reinforces the power of design. 

In education, we talk about transfer learning, where students can transfer learning to novel scenario or situation. A key question I like to ask is:

What do I want my students to know / be able to do in 5 years, 10 years

This kind of approach to solving problems is extraordinarily powerful, and a good thing™ to have in schools. Students who do not attend to this process generally do not have high quality solutions.


Tramping in Kabaty

Posted in Bushcraft on 07 - November 2022 at 05:17 AM (one year ago). 471 views.

savoring (and stumbling) through nature.

Went for an early-morning tramp in the woods in the Kabaty woods. Stunning area in the heart of Warsaw with plentiful wildlife and beautiful flora to enjoy. I brought my normal kit with me; my pathfinder canteen with a small folding titanium stove. I had planned for a nice walk and perhaps a stop to make some tea. Instead though, I walked almost all the way to Kabaty; almost 45 minutes one way. It was cold, and I regretted not bringing a small backpack with me; my hands were cold as I carried the canteen. 

 

I saw a beautiful woodpecker, red nose and jet-black body. He didn't want to let me look at him for a long time, so I only caught a brief look. The sound of the other birds singing was serene and beautiful. I saw one, maybe 2 other people during my walk (it was early). 

I was wearing my normal hiking boots with normal socks. I wasn't even half-way through my tramp when I recognized the classic sensation of a blister on my right foot. Chastising myself, I thought my shoes were broken in enough to prevent blisters. I suspect the shoes are fine, but a winter of light walking has made my feet a bit thin. 

Big learnings: backpacks are best for tramping in the woods, a bit of foot powder and shorter walks are in order to break in my feet for the upcoming camping / bushcraft season. And of course, nothing beats a tramp in the woods. 


The original hum

Posted in Blogging Writing on 07 - November 2022 at 05:08 AM (one year ago). 465 views.

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


A wonderful way to learn software engineering

Posted in Computer Science on 06 - November 2022 at 04:28 AM (one year ago). 449 views.

Authentic student projects; choice, choice, choice.

I teach two different courses primarily concerned with software engineering; 

  1. Designing Solutions Through Programming
  2. Solving Complex Problems Through Programming

In both courses I offer students a choice about what problem they want to solve. As long as the problem isn't too easy or too difficult I approve the project. This creates agency which well-serves my students. I find I get increased engagement, excitement, a sense that students are working a “real” solution which matters. From AMLE:

Student agency relates to ways that students can intentionally influence their own circumstances (Bandura, 2006). Agency can also be defined as a “student’s desire, ability, and power to determine their own course of action” (Vaughn, 2018, p. 63). Agency depends on “intentionality and forethought to derive a course of action and adjust course as needed to reflect one’s identity, competencies, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values” (Nagaoka et al., 2015, p. 6). These elements suggest areas within which teachers can support student agency: through curriculum, instruction, assessment, and the ways in which they structure learning opportunities (source).

This is though, more difficult to manage. I like to use templates that students can alter and modify to build solutions. We deliberately and carefully learn about each part of a template so students can understand the code, and not just copy-and-paste chunks without understanding how it works. 

I plan on writing more about this, but this overall structure, where we teach students how to code, walk them through a template, and then build an authentic application allows them to transfer their learning to build applications and then “think software engineering”. 


The two types of forests

Posted in Bushcraft on 05 - November 2022 at 09:54 AM (one year ago). 441 views.

How should we think about forests?

As we tramped through kabaty forest  I was reminded there are two types of forests; one where man decides how it should look and one where nature decides. This one is the former; the forest is beautiful, but is unmistakably touched by humans in every way. We would ideally like a more diverse forest floor; with evidence of decomposing tree's and a more wild, unkept look. I was taught the average lifecycle for old-growth forests was about 400 years. When man steps in to interrupt that natural cycle it can take a few hundred more years to get back into the natural rhythm. 

There is debate about how to best manage forests. There is often discussion about harvesting forests, utilizing them responsibly, or just letting them be. As dead trees decompose, a very specific ecosystem develops; one in which very specific bacteria and insects thrive. These bacteria and insects give rise to a connected ecosystem that continues the growth cycle of the forest, creating topsoil that then in turn nourishes more growth, etc… Old growth forests are increasingly rare in our world, and deserving of every bit of protection we can offer them. 

This is one aspect of bushcraft I find appealing; leave no trace, never cut live wood unless absolutely necessary, and to work with nature as opposed to against it. The wild isn't something to be tamed; man's insatiable desire to destroy it is. 


Early morning

Posted in Blogging Writing on 03 - November 2022 at 05:47 AM (one year ago). 438 views.

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

Posted in Blogging News Personal on 02 - November 2022 at 04:49 AM (one year ago). 425 views.

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: 

  1. balanced gaming (a site where I wanted to engender a conversation about balanced gaming for schools, parents and students).
  2. modern command (a text-based game simulating the command of a modern nation-state, powered by the pennMUSH server).
  3. interactive fiction

I'm picking up: 

  1. writing
  2. bushcraft
  3. drawing


How do we measure students computational thinking?

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 13 - May 2016 at 08:50 AM (8 years ago). 467 views.

This PDF answers the question.

Good stuff.


Building a computer science wiki

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 11 - May 2016 at 01:15 PM (8 years ago). 429 views.

I've been very busy online lately, just not here 😊 Please do take a look at my computer science wiki. I'm building it for my high school, middle school, and IB students. Once it is filled-out enough, I will probably ask the internet for some help to add to it. Please enjoy, and check out the list of recent changes.


Linux server with lots of students - assigning individual read / write for students in /var/www

Posted in HOWTO Linux Teaching Diary on 25 - April 2016 at 05:37 AM (8 years ago). 425 views.

I use (and love) linode for my web hosting, email, database, and other linux needs. I'll be using linode for my web applications class next year (about 15 students). I had a problem thinking how would I enable students to write to a web directory (var/www) without giving them all SUDO access (and allowing them to write into another students directory). 

This took me some time to find a solution, and it is beautifully simple (of course). Click here to see the thread

If you make /var/www writeable by its group and add the user to the group, that user will not have to use sudo. 

Try this: 

sudo adduser www-data 

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www 

sudo chmod -R g+rwX /var/www 

 

The user should then be able to edit /var/www/ files without hassle. The first line adds the user to the www-data group, the second line clears up any files with messed up ownership, and the third makes it so that all users who are members of the www-data group can read and write all files in /var/www. If you are logged in as you need to log out and log back in for the group membership to take effect. I confirm this works.


Six rules for asking questions in computer science

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 12 - April 2016 at 11:43 AM (8 years ago). 450 views.

The more complex code is, the longer it takes to understand and debug. If it is poorly written code, a multiplier is added to the time required to read it. I have worked with my students to build a "must do before asking questions" list in computer science. 

1. Google your question 
2. Re-read your code (or function). It can be helpful to read this backwards 
3. Use debugging tools 
4. Ask the person next to you 
5. Read error messages! 
6. If you have to ask a teacher for help, make sure you ask a very specific question about a very specific topic

 Great questions get great answers. Bad questions get, well, not-great answers.


Increasing complexity == increasing time to read

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 08 - April 2016 at 11:32 AM (8 years ago). 419 views.

I need some advice about a common question: "can you look at my code really quickly"?

I am starting to work on increasingly sophisticated programs with my students. My students ask me to help them diagnose a problem, suggest alternatives, or figure out what is broken in their code.

My problem is reading their code takes time, thinking about what they are doing takes time, and suggesting a good alternative takes time. This isn't something I can do in 30 seconds.

How do you manage student requests for support and assistance when their code is very complex and requires more than 5 or 10 minutes to read? 


Object construction

Posted in Computer Science on 02 - April 2015 at 10:30 AM (9 years ago). 462 views.

connecting new learning to learning in the past

I'm continuing my learning in JavaScript. 

Today, I reviewed and refreshed my understanding about objects, and object instantiation. 

I have always clearly understood creating, modifying, and deleting objects and their attributes. Today, though, I learned a new term: object literal notation and object constructor

In my PHP work, I've seen "constructor" term, and truthfully, never fully understood it. After review and practice today, I see how it works. 

It's funny, I always "hook" my new learning onto something I learned in the past. In this case, my work building text-based games was instrumental in my understanding of objects. @create foo; @set foo=thing/value, etc... 

I have forgotten how much I enjoy /just coding/ and hacking. It is a real pleasure.


Computational thinking, Minecraft and a 5 year old?

Posted in Computer Science on 30 - March 2015 at 11:59 AM (9 years ago). 434 views.

According to wikipedia, the primary characteristics of computational thinking are decomposition, data representation, generalization/abstraction, and algorithms. 

Specifically, computational thinking is a problem solving framework where: Analyzing and logically organizing data Data modeling, data abstractions, and simulations Formulating problems such that computers may assist Identifying, testing, and implementing possible solutions Automating solutions via algorithmic thinking Generalizing and applying this process to other problems ...are used to approach problems. How then, can we use minecraft to help a 5 year old (my daughter) start to understand these concepts? 

I think the best way is to build a trap for monsters. Firstly, she would have to use cause-and-effect thinking. She would also need to break the trap into it's different parts. She would need to design a trap, and test it. In broad strokes, we will approach like this: 

  1. Define the problem (zombies, skeltons, and creepers)
  2. Understand the component parts of a trap
  3. With the component parts, she will design a trap
  4. She will test the trap
  5. She will generalize ways the trap can be used in other situations 

Ok, I'll be honest, this isn't a good example of computational thinking. The classic decomposition, data representation, generalization/abstraction, and algorithms are not really present. But this would get us on a good road, wouldn't it? What do you think?


Yea! I learned something that I actually used!

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 24 - March 2015 at 01:39 PM (9 years ago). 473 views.

I'm refershing my javascript skillset by going through a code academy course. Laborious, but helpful. Today, while supporting a co-worker on a powerschool customization, we were looking at a problem. I realized a variable was declared within a function but wasn't scoped to be used outside of the function (globally). Once fixed, we were running strong.

I just studied variable scope in my refresher course, and I'm grateful I did! As always, the wonderful stack exchange has a well-written piece about variable scope within javascript.

I suppose it is mildly depressing that I am excited about learning something that I can actually use. That must mean I normally learn things that are useless.


What is computational thinking in K-12 space?

Posted in Computer Science on 20 - March 2015 at 10:13 AM (9 years ago). 453 views.

Any look at computer science in the K-12 space leads inexorably towards the notion of computational thinking. My elevator speech on computational thinking is "thinking to computer". But there are many other, far better sources we can find below:

From Google comes this excellent answer

Computational thinking (CT) involves a set of problem-solving skills and techniques that software engineers use to write programs that underlie the computer applications you use such as search, email, and maps. Here are specific techniques.

Decomposition: Breaking a task or problem into steps or parts.
Pattern Recognition: Make predictions and models to test.
Pattern Generalization and Abstraction: Discover the laws, or principles that cause these patterns.
Algorithm Design: Develop the instructions to solve similar problems and repeat the process.


From the CSTA:

“CT is an approach to solving problems in a way that can be implemented with a computer. Students become not merely tool users but tool builders. They use a set of concepts, such as abstraction, recursion, and iteration, to process and analyze data, and to create real and virtual artifacts. CT is a problem-solving methodology that can be automated and transferred and applied across subjects. The power of computational thinking is that it applies to every other type of reasoning. It enables all kinds of things to get done: quantum physics, advanced biology, human–computer systems, development of useful computational tools.”

Computational thinking is thus a problem-solving methodology that can interweave computer science with all disciplines, providing a distinctive means of analyzing and developing solutions to problems that can be solved computationally. With its focus on abstraction, automation, and analysis, computational thinking is a core element of the broader discipline of computer science and for that reason it is interwoven through these computer science standards at all levels of K–12 learning Page 9 of the CSTA K-12 computer science standards.

From Jeannette Wing, regarding as the originator of computational thinking:

Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability. Just as the printing press facilitated the spread of the three Rs, what is appropriately incestuous about this vision is that computing and computers facilitate the spread of computational thinking. Computational thinking involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science.

Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science.


What is computer science in a K-12 school?

Posted in Computer Science on 19 - March 2015 at 09:13 AM (9 years ago). 401 views.

Computer science isn’t learning to use excel. Computer science isn’t about understanding system administration and packet shaping. It’s not about using simulations to better understand biology. 

I think K-12 schools can get confused about the difference between computer science, information technology, and educational technology. They are distinct. 

Computer science is the scientific and practical approach to computation and its applications. It is the systematic study of the feasibility, structure, expression, and mechanization of the methodical procedures (or algorithms) that underlie the acquisition, representation, processing, storage, communication of, and access to information, whether such information is encoded as bits in a computer memory or transcribed in genes and protein structures in a biological cell An alternate, more succinct definition of computer science is the study of automating algorithmic processes that scale.

 A computer scientist specializes in the theory of computation and the design of computational systems source here. There are many reasons K-12 schools don’t “do” computer science well. I suspect one of the larger reasons is the confusion about simple definition. I've seen "computer class" as a catch-all. 

From Running on Empty comes an excellent description of why computer science is difficult to define and implement in K-12 schools: Consistent with efforts to improve “technology literacy,” states are focused almost exclusively on skill-based aspects of computing (such as using a computer in other learning activities) and have few standards on the conceptual aspects of computer science that lay the foundation for innovation and deeper study in the field (for example, develop an understanding of an algorithm). 

As I learn and explore computer science in K-12 space, I would be curious to hear your thoughts about computer science in K-12.


How do we understand transformation & SAMR?

Posted in Educational Tech on 11 - March 2015 at 09:56 AM (9 years ago). 327 views.

I love SAMR because it articulates a clear model of technology integration. From a respected colleague and friend comes a question about researching successes with transforming learning with technology. His specific question is "what could I research to understand transformative teaching and learning as it relates to SAMR". The best way to do this is to interview teachers who have changed the way students learn with technology. This is important, so please pay attention. We aren't looking at teachers who are "using more technology", we are looking at teachers who have changed their model of instruction, utilizing digital tools. 

A few examples: 

1. A middle school social studies teachers used to teach geography using paper maps, now he uses digital maps. Transformative? No. 
2. An elementary school science teacher used to teach the water cycle, but now students are engaged in project-based learning about "me and my world". Transformative? Yep. 
3. A high school math teacher used to teach basic geometry on a dry-erase board, but now has kids exploring area and shape using a simulation. Transformative? Probably, but if they are just playing, then probably not. The key point here is that transformative is about the verbs and not the nouns. 

Here are some questions you could ask that would guide your thinking about transformational practice (used gratefully from this source) : 

1. Did the assignment build capacity for critical thinking on the web? 
2. Did the assignment develop new lines of inquiry? 
3. Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible? 
4. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world? 
5. Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)? 
6. Does the assignment demo “best in the world” examples of content and skill? I posit that even the course "educational technology" is dangerous. As if there is a split between the two (there isn't). Hope this helps.


Spock?

Posted in Personal on 27 - February 2015 at 09:56 PM (9 years ago). 373 views.

Oh man. Leonard Nimoy is gone. What a loss, what a great loss.


Sublime - is just so…good…

Posted in Blogging Personal Teaching Diary on 06 - February 2015 at 06:37 PM (9 years ago). 409 views.

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.


Pain Value Analysis & Problem Analysis

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 17 - November 2014 at 07:42 AM (9 years ago). 344 views.

I'm learning Service Operations in ITIL. I encountered some really interesting ideas about problems and pain in IT, and wanted to share them. 

"...instead of just analyzing the number of incidents/problems of a particular type in a particular period, a more in-depth analysis is done to determine exactly what level of pain has been caused to the organization / business by these incidents / problems. A formula can be devised to calculate this pain level, typically, this might include taking into account the number of people of effected, the duration of the problem, and the cost to the business (ITIL Service Operation manual page 100)". 

I'm also learning how to best analyze how and why problems occur - and some tools for getting to the very root of a problem. The technique you use depends on the specific problem you have, but here's the list I'm learning: 

1. Kepler and Tregoe analysis 
2. Brainstorming 
3. 5-why's 
4. Fault isolation 
5. Affinity mapping 
6. Hypothesis testing 
7. Technical observation post 
8. Ishikawa diagram 
9. Pareto analysis 
10. Chronological analysis 

One of the reasons I so value these ITIL courses is because many of the problems we face in school IT have already been well-addressed and solved by other industries. I remain even more committed that learning and adopting ITIL and best-practices for managing IT in schools is the right way to go.


Technology, learning and choice…

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 02 - November 2014 at 09:03 AM (9 years ago). 299 views.

Slate has wonderful article about a professors choice to use (or not to use) technology in learning. The article resonates with me on many levels. As I reflect on the SAMR model of technology use and learning, I see many cases where technology use really doesn't benefit student learning. And I believe this question, does this use of technology benefit student learning must be central in our thinking to use it. 

I've also seen technology use that fantastically improves on the way students learn - but this has more to do with instructional design rather than the actual blinking thing. There is nothing automatically better about learning when we throw technology in the mix. We must carefully judge and balance the benefits of technology in learning. This requires time, testing, and a clear vision of your learning outcomes. 

A last point about distraction. As I work in ed-tech, I see more and more how distraction and divided attention fractures and fragments learning. I believe a great gift teachers can give to their students is the experience of deep thinking. 

To spend a significant amount of time deeply knowing a poem or a part of a song is to know the "truth of a thing". And isn't that why we teach and learn? Sometimes I worry that technology makes knowing the truth harder. There are all kinds of yucky implications about a generation of kids who blink from one thing to the next, but that's a discussion for another article. Great article in the ongoing conversation about technology use and learning.


Social Media and PLN’s: a lot of a little

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Teaching Diary Twitter on 23 - September 2014 at 10:07 AM (9 years ago). 386 views.

#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?

Posted in Blogging on 21 - September 2014 at 09:09 AM (9 years ago). 356 views.

Probably not.

Click here for my findings (PDF)


Goals for this upcoming year

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 02 - September 2014 at 01:17 PM (9 years ago). 252 views.

Our first week is under our belts. We are supporting MAP testing, and school trips have started. I finally feel like IT has some breathing space - but not much. I think once MAP testing is complete, and the "normal school schedule" (whatever that means) has started, we will be able to start moving forward, and not tend to our "getting to normal". There are many exciting initiatives in our school. In no particular order,

High School iPad pilot
Physical education iPad pilot
New student information system (powerschool)
New web-based admissions system
Major upgrade to our web-based professional development system (which is working great)
Start of a new project, HR system
Process-MAP all the inter-system synchronization issues (how does powerschool talk to our finance system, to Moodle, to Google, etc...)
We also have a technology coach team that should coalesce a bit more, a we had two new coaches last year. I’ll be looking for more “lighthouse learning” from the coaches, and I think they could do it with their eyes closed.

In all of these, I see my goals to support organizational excellence and increase student achievement. I will be focusing on:

1. Getting Powerschool off to a great start. In ITIL lingo, Powerschool is in “service transition” - a fragile time when a service must be carefully nurtured, supported, and “tended to”. Our goal is get Powerschool to a “service operation”, where the operations, roles, and benefits of this service are realized, part of our institutional culture, and the service levels are being consistently met.

2. Get our web-based admissions off to a good start. Just like powerschool, this system is in transition, and we’ll want to do a bunch of hand-holding until it matures and becomes operational.

3. My personal goals will be to become certified in ITIL Service Design and ITIL Service transition. My overall goal is to become ITIL expert-level certified.

4. I will also be strengthening my mindfulness practice, and encouraging students and teachers to use mindfulness as a tool to better learn with technology.

5. Finally, I will be strengthening my skills as a leader. I am reading books, talking to mentors, looking for other IT leaders I would want to emulate, and reflecting on my own leadership practice as I continue to strive to improve.



Welcome to a new school year!

Posted in on 18 - August 2014 at 07:31 AM (9 years ago). 268 views.

Welcome back! I am excited to begin a new year.

As I was reflecting about our school, and our technology & learning program, a thought continued to return; we have absolutely everything we need to succeed here at the American School of Warsaw. Solid internet access, reliable and stable computers, tons of software, enough technical and learning support, all the pieces are here. We have a winning team of professional, smart, passionate, committed people who care about kids and learning.

My hope is at the end of this year, we look back and know we've pushed the needle forward for our students. That via our collective effort to support student learning, our students have stronger academic achievement, that every single kid has been inspired to excel. I know we can do this. I know we can improve student learning (and achievement) through the effective use of technology at ASW.

Let's set a high bar for ourselves. Let's take a risk and reach high. I can't wait for our students return to school.


Vacation - needing it

Posted in on 08 - July 2014 at 02:19 AM (10 years ago). 247 views.

I am on vacation, and loving my time to be with family and friends. To let go, relax, recharge, and think about a bigger picture is a fantastic opportunity.


Don’t use excel for important work

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Personal on 28 - May 2014 at 08:14 AM (10 years ago). 372 views.

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.


From the BBC: Computers can impact on children’s ability to learn, says union

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Mindfulness on 23 - May 2014 at 07:26 AM (10 years ago). 253 views.

From the BBC comes word from Northern Ireland. (please read this in your best Irish brogue)

1. Bah! Damn kids an' their computers, no time to focus, and they canna learn!
2. Eh, I remember when WE were small lads. Now THAT was a time to focus an be ON TASK
1. Oh yea...
2. Jeeeeeessssssuuuusss, we could stay focused for 30 hours a day doing something we hated while being whipped
1. Sounds like you were at an easy school. We were focused for 200 hours every hour, and if your attention wandered for even a moment, you'd be taken out and tossed over a cliff
2. oh yea, the old "focus cliffs of doom?"
1. aye, thems the one.

(end Irish brogue)

I support the notion and idea that focus and attention are in danger with technology. What I reject is this silly idea that If we keep doing what we have always done, everything will be fine. Technology (and other cognitive tools) have changed (are changing) the ways our kids think, communicate, recreate, and learn. It is a significant and major change, and will continue to challenge old ways of thinking about cognition and learning. This is at the heart of SAMR, and our thinking that learing must be different when you use technology.

But here's the thing.

I am a proponent of mindfulness in schools. Not hippy-tree-hugger stuff, but rather teaching our kids how to focus and think using the tools of mindfulness. We cannot pretend our context has not changed. It has, and we must adapt.


Interesting article and online discussion about “teaching computers”

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 29 - April 2014 at 10:23 AM (10 years ago). 286 views.

Hello Readers!

http://pgbovine.net/two-cultures-of-computing.htm

An interesting read that discusses different cultures between programmers and users. If anything, this article helps me remember the "spotify" world students live in today makes teaching computer science more of a cultural challenge.

I originally found this link in a very interesting online discussion about programming education making a comeback in primary education.

I am becoming more interested in the Computer Science Teachers Association efforts to teach computational thinking in schools (ISTE also has some excellent resources on the same topic: computational thinking).

As I reflect on what kind of technology education schools should provide, these articles and resources just seem right.

I am curious what you think about computational thinking and how K-12 schools should "teach technology".


PD, ed-tech conferences and student learning…

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 28 - April 2014 at 07:47 AM (10 years ago). 276 views.

This article far better expresses my thoughts about conferences and student learning. I post this after asking if big ed-tech conferences make a difference in student learning. #edtech

http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=326

Well worth reading.


Silence is success in IT

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 17 - April 2014 at 03:32 PM (10 years ago). 232 views.

We are completing MAP testing. This involves setting up four rooms with about 25 computers each and ensuring networks, networking, client software, and system settings are prepared for testing. We also ensure the tests, students, and data is correct prior to testing. We use older laptops to facilitate testing, our MAP coordinator ensures the testing schedules are distributed and proctors are trained.

Setting up for MAP testing isn't rocket science. But everything went especially well. No client computer computer problems, no data issues, everything worked really well, and it was quiet.

This has happened before. When we transferred to google apps for education. Everything went well, and it was just quiet. Kind of a funny thing about IT, we only hear from people when something isn't working.

There is a tremendous incentive in IT to design services well. Sort of a "measure twice cut once" kind of thing. When things are working well in a school IT department, things are quiet. When technology as a service is managed well, life is easier for everyone in a school.

We still have issues, but these come through our trouble ticket system, they are prioritized and addressed.


ISTE Essential conditions are just…right.

Posted in Educational Tech on 10 - April 2014 at 08:21 AM (10 years ago). 195 views.

Getting technology "right" in schools is difficult. I've seen more cases of poor implementation than good implementation. My touchstone question is "how is student learning better?".

There are a cluster of "things" you have to get right when you want to use technology to improve student learning. The ISTE Essential Conditions elegantly articulate what schools should do if they want to use technology to improve student learning.

In my experience, these conditions are correct, and serve as a good reflective standards when schools ask "are we doing this right"?

PDF here in case of link rot (which I doubt from ISTE, but you never know).


Edtech Conferences - worth it?

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Support Twitter on 03 - April 2014 at 04:21 PM (10 years ago). 334 views.

I recently tweeted: Does participating in #learning2 (or any big ed-tech conference) make a difference in student learning? I've always been "meh" about them...

Are they worth it?

1. I've always felt these conferences were of dubious value. When I pay for staff to go to them, I usually get a standard bell curve one or two staff who had a life-changing experience, and one or two staff who were bored to tears and everyone else falls in between. My personal experience echoes this observation. Kids aren't benefiting.

2. I believe teachers grow best through self-reflection, peer coaching, and good professional evaluation. I'm not sure how ed-tech conferences facilitate this. Sure, teachers can learn about tools, and they might learn about some ideas for project-based learning, but how much of that is making a difference in the learning for kids? Is the learning return worth the time and money invested?

3. I see a wide variety of presenting skills at these conferences. Although this is related to point 1, the content and delivery can be variable. The keynote speakers are often more known as keynote speakers, and less as authentic innovators of classroom learning. I've been to many edtech conferences, and all the keynote speakers are compelling, but then there is that whole "our context and your great idea" problem.

4. One of the failings of these conferences is their focus on Nouns over Verbs. The conferences attract advertising and make money by selling advertising space. Many sessions are dedicated to advertisers who do not discuss how learning can be different, but by perpetuating the horrible myth that the tool is magic and will change things! This, by the way, is a disease in educational technology, that the tool alone will fix what’s wrong with learning. It never has.

5. If the goal is to learn new things / try new things, why not try a speedgeeking session? I think about locally produced organic produce being much better for you than crap made thousands of miles away. Back to point 2, I believe teachers learn best when they are engaged with a colleague and are learning with them (see also: plc). There is less of a translation cost when you learn locally.

6. The problem is that sometimes (sometimes), a teacher goes to one of these conferences, and the stars align, and there is star-trek sound effects, and they return profoundly changed. Sometimes that happens. Maybe we need to pay more attention to preparing our teachers to attend these conferences to increase the likelihood of Eureka.

I am curious what the 2 regular readers of this blog think about the big Ed-Tech conferences. Are they worth it?


Dungeons and Dragons for 6th graders?

Posted in Games in education on 20 - March 2014 at 11:33 PM (10 years ago). 348 views.

Today an earnest, excited 6th grade (12 year old) boy asked me if I would help him lead his Dungeons and Dragons club. He had somehow found out that I like D&D, and really wanted to play.

Why does this make me feel uncomfortable? I told him I didn't have time (which is true) but maybe we could make a simulation club, and build games and simulations. He was cool to the idea.

Anyone out there have any advice? I still have this belief that there is a pejorative association with D&D. I still enjoy playing - but only five or six times a year. But is this an acceptable thing for kids in a school as a school sponsored activity?


Animal dissections should not be computer simulated

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 18 - March 2014 at 06:14 PM (10 years ago). 393 views.

I am participating in an interesting discussion about the role of simulations and dissection. My thoughts are below: 

There is a huge difference between a computer-simulated dissection and a real one. Simulations are great because they: 

a. allow us to abstract an idea, piece of knowledge, or thought-object; 
b. allow us to easily and quickly manipulate objects in a simulation to see what might happen; 
c. allow us to model complex systems (see serious games as an example); 
d. help us model and manipulate an environment. 

If we support the use of simulations over real-life dissections, we should at the minimum include a discussion about the kinds of knowledge that using simulations support. The key point here is that simulation allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 

A simulation is not a series of videos or images, which is what I see most "frog dissection" simulations sites. Please know there is a difference between watching a movie of a frog dissection and simulating a frog dissection. I found many dissection sites that seemed to be a series of linked flash videos that showed different stages of a normal dissection process. For example, this site: http://www.whitman.edu/academics/courses-of-study/biology/virtual-pig is a series of images that describe what students should look for when they dissect a pig. Likewise, a cow eye dissection (eww, gross) http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/cow_eye/index.html is not a simulation, but a "click next and look" activity. This site http://www.biologyjunction.com/frog_dissection.htm is good because it has photographs and diagrams, but there is nothing "simulationy" about it. 

This site http://www.mhhe.com/biosci/genbio/virtual_labs/BL_16/BL_16.html has interactivity, and could qualify as a good resource. Also http://www.froguts.com/demo/ is passable, but neither of these sites reach to the standard of a simulation in my opinion. Online resources need to be more than just watching a movie or series of movies; they need to include meaningful interactivity (see https://www.explorelearning.com/ as a good example). For the record, the gold-standard for online resources are resources which allow students to create simulations. I had originally wanted to try to stay away from the debate about dissection and stick with "what is a simulation". 

Personally, I disagree profoundly with the notion that a computer can replace a live dissection exercise. Organisms are gooey, slimy, and not "clean and tidy", as a computer would present an animal dissection. I also believe the affective element of dissection is part of learning (but I'm an IT guy, not a biologist nor an ethics expert) IMHO, technology would detract from learning if our goal in learning was for kids to understand the digestive system (and it's place in other systems) of a real frog. 

To underscore my point, the real value of a simulation is to allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 😊 this is not what most animal dissection sites (that I could find) do.


Expression Engine 2.8 is out!

Posted in Blogging Personal Teaching Diary on 03 - March 2014 at 10:48 AM (10 years ago). 319 views.

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!


Hacking in High School: yes, but….

Posted in Educational Tech Teaching Diary on 28 - February 2014 at 08:27 AM (10 years ago). 337 views.

A substantive article by Pete Herzog about hacking in High Schools.

I hope you read this reply, Mr. Herzog. You are so right about this. I think the key point is what schools do with hackers (geeks) when we find them.

Many times we have "caught" students doing stupid stuff like installing key-loggers, running port scans, writing bash scripts and changing /etc/hosts in amusing ways. When we catch them, we discipline them but then we invite them to learn. And this is my key point. We need to teach kids to be responsible and ethical digital citizens, but also teach them how to hack. And as you say, be "motivated, resourceful, and creative" learners.

I liken this to "geek fishing". Schools generally don't do a great job of fostering an environment of open exploration, discovery, hacking, and making. We have a curriculum to think about, after all. But when we discover a hacker / geek in our school, we have a duty to encourage them and grow them.

As I reflect more on this blog post, I think what should change in schools is our attitude towards hacking; to invite it, encourage it, and recognize the value this type of challenge / curiosity-based learning brings to learning. We also need to help kids make good decisions.


Membership in Computer Science Teacher Association

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Personal Teaching Diary on 24 - February 2014 at 09:13 AM (10 years ago). 417 views.

As I was learning about computer science curricula in the K-12 sphere, I discovered the Computer Science Teacher Association. I've joined, and I am learning a great deal about the value of their membership. I'm currently reviewing their suggested K-12 Computer Science standards, and learning more about computational thinking. I'm looking forward to learning more about how this organization can help me understand how best to plan, implment and assess computer science curricula in the K-12 world.


Is anonymity bad?

Posted in Blogging Personal on 14 - February 2014 at 12:49 PM (10 years ago). 338 views.

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.


Parents, students, teachers and Moodle: who see’s what??

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 13 - February 2014 at 09:11 AM (10 years ago). 248 views.

Moodle is a learning management system designed to support the learning / teaching relationship between a student and a teacher. Our middle school shares the student username and password with parents because we recognize parents want to support their students. Please know the window we use with parents is different than the window we use with students. So when a parent logs into moodle using thier student credentials, they will see a system designed for teachers to communicate with students. We believe part of middle school learning is to take responsibility for their own learning (in fact in our school vision says in part "we see the future reflected in our students' independent thinking"). In the high school, we do not grant access to Moolde for this very reason; the relationship is between the student and the teacher.

In cases where there is real academic trouble or difficulty, then of course, this rule can be bent. But overall, Moodle is about facilitating, supporting, strengthening the conversation between teacher and a student.


An introduction to SAMR

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 11 - February 2014 at 11:21 AM (10 years ago). 228 views.

Here's a youtube video I made a while ago that describes SAMR in depth, with a specific example how learning is different when we look at technology use through the SAMR model.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyWHIi2rW74


Technology Integration—Will We Know It When We See It? A New Taxonomy

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 07 - February 2014 at 02:00 PM (10 years ago). 300 views.

wow.

What a great article about SAMR, principals, and thinking about technology integration. The article, Technology Integration—Will We Know It When We See It? A New Taxonomy, ends with this quote:

As leaders it is important to keep in mind the purpose of technology and how it can transform the classroom. We need to remember that, just as it is in the classroom with students, there is a range of experience and comfort in our faculties when it comes to learning about technology. As with Bloom’s taxonomy, we must take them from where they are and support them along the continuum.

Good stuff. PDF here, in case of link rot.