I've been writing about technology in education since 2006. I include entries below about Linux, Computer Science, Personal Notes, Mindfulness, and Educational Technology. My writing is generally informal and I write for an audience of my peers and friends. My writings started as a blog and now I hope they serve as resource and conversation starters on interesting topics.
Updated July 2016: I'm not writing that much here. I'm still quite active on my computer science wiki (click here) I leave my writings here for possible reference.
This PDF answers the question.
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.
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:<br />
sudo adduser <username> www-data<br />
sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www<br />
sudo chmod -R g+rwX /var/www<br />
The user should then be able to edit /var/www/ files without hassle.<br />
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.<br />
If you are logged in as <username> you need to log out and log back in for the group membership to take effect.<br />
I confirm this works.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh man. Leonard Nimoy is gone. What a loss, what a great loss.
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
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.
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.
#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.
Click here for my findings (PDF)
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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".
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
Well worth reading.
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.
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).
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?
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?
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 orginally 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. 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!
Although a substantial amount of research has examined the constructs of warmth and competence, far less has examined how these constructs develop and what benefits may accrue when warmth and competence are cultivated. Yet there are positive consequences, both emotional and behavioral, that are likely to occur when brands hold perceptions of both. In this paper, we shed light on when and how warmth and competence are jointly promoted in brands, and why these reputations matter.