Yesterday was a good day. I spent 10 hours or so surrounded by motivated, articulate, passionate people who care deeply about the world and taking action in some way to make that world better. (Here’s the list of speakers, but I don’t have a list of everyone who was there.) For someone who is typically engrossed in discussions of education, technology in education, the arts in education, creative thinking in education – you get the idea- it was both refreshing and eye opening to spend a day thinking about things that weren’t (for the most part) placed directly within the context of education. In the words of Peter Arnold, every day we should go “off to save the world”, in whatever way we feel called. His focus is energy sustainability, but I think he’s on target for how we should all feel about what we do every day. John Paul Caponigro reminded us all of the importance of mark making, through words, drawing or photography, to inspire and make tangible our creative ideas as a force for creation and change (or to what ends your personal vision leads). There were calls to action around local foods, alternative energy, environmental responsibility and the importance of pausing to breathe. Antonio Rocha called our attention to moments of transition, playing on perception and awareness, shifting points of focus seamlessly before our eyes and ears. Gola Wolf Richards moved me deeply with his writing on the way in which “understanding the nature of change changes the nature of understanding”.
How will these big ideas filter into my own actions, classroom, workshops and discussions with others? I’m not sure yet. The premise of the day felt good, laden with potential for action and change. How it will play out is still too soon to know, but I look forward to seeing the sprouts of these seeds coming up around our state in the near future, and the ripple effects for a long time to come.
Tomorrow morning at 5am I will be on a bus with 40 7-12th graders headed for the largest student tech conference in the state. The kids are excited to go and be part of the 1000 participant event, learning from and with students in workshops with topics like Scratch with an MIT Scratch team member, internet radio streaming by kids, Legos & robots, Alice, Google Earth & Maps, and so much more. Most of the workshops are led by the students and a teacher or two, sharing what they’ve been doing in the classroom this year.
Final Session with 800+ students with laptops. Photo by Alice Barr
The final session is after lunch, and involves all 1000 student participants and the chaperones. This year the focus is on social action and global connections, and one tool we’ll be using is FreeRice.com Now, I know many of you have used this with students already, but this time we’ve got a stand alone Free Rice site built just for the MLTI conference. It will be reset to zero tomorrow at 1:00, and then we’ll begin accumulating grains of rice to address world hunger. This is where you come in! The site is open to all, and your grains of rice will count as long as you start after 1:00 EDT (-4 UCT). The details are below, but the key is to go to: http://MLTI.freerice.com and participate with the 1000 students in Maine as we see how quickly we can raise the rice totals.
The MLTI Student Tech Conference is a wonderful event for Maine students. I hope you will lend a few minutes of your time, and perhaps that of your students, to participate in this one small step to addressing world hunger. — Thanks — Sarah
From Jim Moulton:
Maine students and the World Food Programme invite you to join in helping to feed the hungry around the globe via http://mlti.freerice.com
On May 27, 2010 at 1 PM EST (5 PM GMT) during the 7th Annual MLTI Student Conference, students from across Maine will be going to MLTI.freerice.com as a body – working in a wireless environment that has been fine tuned by network technicians of the University of Maine System and Cisco to facilitate 1000 simultaneous connections. But in 2010 purposeful use of social networks has to be a part of taking on any major effort, and so Maine educators are reaching out across their state-wide, national, and worldwide human networks to invite others to join us in donating rice via a customized version of FreeRice.com.
(PLEASE NOTE: Though the http://mlti.freerice.com site is now live, rice “earned” via the site in advance of the 1 PM EDT (5 PM GMT) start time for the Conference session will not be “counted.” Once the conference session begins, the site will be re-set, counting of contributions will begin fresh, and the site will remain live until the amount of rice available for donation has been exhausted.)
I really enjoyed this session. Ben was fun, focused, shared ideas and tools, showed some how to but kept it on target with why you would want to use these things, how to make it fit even for those who are less tech-savvy than others. Here is the link to Ben’s notes and links for the session. Check out my notes from Cover It Live (picture is link) :
Three teachers new to SLA this year, Larissa, Caitlin and Rosalind, shared their perspectives on what it’s like teaching at a progressive school. While I’m feeling a little under the weather and not able to ask many questions, the discussion in the session was really great. The new teachers have an interesting perspective on teaching, and specifically teaching at a progressive school. Take a look at my notes on Cover It Live.
First Session: Tech Integrator Roundtable Where tech integrators and tech teachers from around the state got together to discuss the challenges and possible solutions we face daily.
Second Session: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach Following up on her keynote, Sheryl explored the changes in education we face and some of the choices we can make based on that in light of new technologies.
Seedlings Geek of the Week session
Lunch Session : Geek of the Week with Cheryl Oakes, Alice Barr and Bob Sprankle – and many assorted guests! – sharing lots of tools,sites, and neat tech stuff. Link here for the podcast of the session.
CLICK BELOW to go to the CoverItLive live blog for THREE sessions from ACTEM’s MaineEd08 conference. I was unwilling to make multiple liveblogs for fear of not getting back online if I shut down! Sorry to make you scroll through three sessions to find what you are interested in reading.
If you read my previous post about CMK08, you have some sense of the format of the gathering. If you haven’t read it, go back and do that first, or this might not make much sense.
Not only did Gary Stager want us to work on a project at CMK08, he wanted us to work in groups. I volunteered to head up a lego/logo group, and by that I meant I was willing to stand in a space in the room and have others come over. I knew nothing about logo – and my lego history was based mostly on my brother’s large collection circa 1980. Gears? Motors? Nope. But I had come for logo experience, and I was bound and determined to get some. Thank heavens Jim Gerry wanted to work with these tools too. Jim suggested we make a sculpture that made sound, so that was our intro-project. The inclusion of the word “sculpture” was purely accidental, I’m sure, but it resulted in my insistence that we at least consider some aspect of aesthetic in the final design. “Aesthetic” eventually translated to matching stripes, but hey, at least it had some kind of visual consistency.
This day-one experience was primarily mechanical – how do you get a very fast-turning motor to slow down enough to turn something that hits something else and then bonks into a toy drum? It was all very Rube Goldberg to me. John Stetson was the resident lego guru, and his help was critical to my understanding of gear ratios. Here’s the short version: first use a small gear that turns a large gear. Then put a small gear on the opposite end of the large gear axle, which then turns another big gear. Trust me, it works. Take a close look at the gears in the picture and the video to see what I’m talking about. I also decided that one noise wasn’t enough in our music-machine (music is perhaps an overstatement), and I added the finger-cymbals on the side. This is where I got to put my gear-ratio knowledge into practice after seeing it done on the first part of the contraption.
As we tried out the pieces, we ran into trouble and engaged in debugging. The best way to learn is to have your project not work, or at least not work perfectly, and then try to figure out what went wrong or how to fix it. The embedded reflective step in debugging is one of the key parts in an effective learning process. The first thing we debugged were gear ratios, the second was how to keep the part hitting the drum from bouncing back too high (add a delimiter), and third was how to keep the vibration from tearing apart the structure (re-engineer . . this time with crosspieces and stripes). Last but not least, we opted to add in blinking lights, so we hooked up a light strand to one of the power legos and added that to the logo “brain”. The programming for this project was easy : turn the motor on, and keep running. That pretty much did it for the first session of project work. I think both Jim and I felt some sense of accomplishment, meeting our initial goal for the project inside the 3 hour time-slot we’d been given. I know I also felt a little deflated, since I still couldn’t see what making this project had to do with me learning lots about logo. Fun? Sure. Useful? I wasn’t yet convinced.
Tuesday brought us back to the lego table. I knew I wanted to use one of the sensors and tackle more sophisticated programming than we’d done the day before.
Light sensor data recorder
The idea was to create something that would move a pencil back and forth on adding machine paper, which moved continuously, giving a reading of the sensor change over time. After a brief discussion of the issues before us, we decided it would be best (not to mention easiest) to start with the mechanics of the structure and worry about the sensor and programming components later. Why did we pick this? Probably because we had had some success with the mostly-mechanical project the day before. When you are learning new things, you have to attach it to something you know already so it sticks. If you can’t figure out what you know that’s related, just keep boiling it down until you find something that looks familiar. Relative to the day before, gear ratios now looked familiar. Learning from the previous day, we constructed with the vibration factor in mind, tackled the issue of attaching a non-lego part (the pencil) to the lego structure, and ran through about four different gearing structures to make the pencil move back and forth.
Then it was time for the light sensor to provide data, and us to provide programming to make the machine do something. Rather than walk you through the programming experience blow by blow – since it took us until mid-day Thursday to get it fully functional – let me just hit the “learning points”, or the high points in my frustration.
Gary Stager and Jim Gerry working with Logo
First, we had to figure out how to get the sensor readings to show up on the logo brick, then to show up on the laptop, and finally to be used by the program to make the motor move, with variations in duration and direction depending on the relative light/dark of the sensor reading. The help section of logo is less than direct for those such as myself who don’t fully grasp the various parts of the program nor the fundamental semantics of the programming language. As the squeaky wheel gets the help, I squeaked for a bit and Gary rode in to the rescue with a couple of key bits of information and formatting order of operations. In the interim, however, I had one of those frustrating learning experiences. I knew what I wanted the machine to do, but the person providing answers at that time had in their mind what commands I ‘should’ use. Sparing you the details, I’d run into this kind of situation as a high school student, and this experience was bringing it all back in spades. I did what I did then – I proceeded to do exactly what they were telling me to do, went back and explained why their solution didn’t do what I needed, then sat down to figure out how I could make it do what I DID want it to do. Harumph. The upshot of this experience is that I will try to be more conscious of listening to my students when they try to tell me what they are trying to accomplish instead of assuming I know what they need and want to do. Reconnecting with that frustration was uncomfortable from a learner perspective, but definitely eye-opening when I put my teacher hat back on.
Jim Gerry and me working on programming together.
Jim and I finally sat down to figure out the programing issues. This was the best two-heads-are-better-than-one working experience I’ve had in a long time. We opted to write the code as if we knew what the code was – basically making up terms and functions – and once we had it straight in our heads we’d figure out how to translate it to logo. We went back and forth about variables, parameters, how to keep differences as positive numbers (or not), what to divide by to make the numbers work, and a few other odds and ends. Surprise, it worked out great! Turns out the “If else” and “If and” statements were the key, as well as setting some global variables (this is where we got to use our made up vocabulary as part of the working code). Once the pen (pencil didn’t make a dark enough mark) moved according to the sensor input in the right direction, for the right duration, and changing direction appropriately, Jim got the paper going and we had it made. Triumph!
What did I learn from CMK08? On a test, I could do a (very) little logo programming, explain gear ratios, draw a map to the Puritan Back Room, and describe what Frozen Pudding ice cream tastes like. In a more significant sense, I learned that working longer on one project can be more valuable than a survey, that thinking hard about something is rewarding even if the results don’t change the world, and that many people are still not comfortable with acting outside of proscribed lines. I’ll be more open to fewer, more difficult, time consuming projects with my students. I resist the temptation to solidify my syllabus before I meet the learners in my class. I’ll be more careful with the scaffolding I give learners when they are approaching something new, but still let them discover parts of it for themselves. I’ll be running over the experience and my notes for months to come, reflecting on my teaching in light of the ideas presented at CMK08, and tweaking it along the way.
Have you ever sat through a presentation on a teaching technique or philosophy that was antithetical in mode to the epistemology being espoused? Me too. I’ve seen so many powerpoints masquerading as inspiring information that it has become the default expectation. However, when Gary Stager is the one designing the institute, you might as well throw your expectations out the window. That said, even Gary started off his Constructing Modern Knowledge institute with a keynote slideshow last week. After his introductory speech however, the institute departed from the norm and therefore the comfort zone of most of those in attendance.
Some small fraction of the legos at CMK08
Gary arrived with boxes of books, suitcases of legos, keyboards, software, markers, clay, and bubblegum – the very retro-bring-back-childhood Double Bubble variety – to inspire a sense of playful creativity in the service of a project. Unlike most institutes where you may have one hour, or three, or maybe even one whole day to work on a project, Gary informed us that we would spend the bulk of the four days engaged in a challenging project. Oh, and we had to come up with something to do. Now. There was no list, except that generated from those in the group who were willing to speak up. To have created a rigid syllabus before meeting the individual learners would have been decidedly un-constructivist. The man modeled what he was preaching about, and we were thrown into the deep end.
The challenge was perhaps more than some had bargained for. It’s been interesting in the days after the conference to hear from attendees how uncomfortable they were with this format, how unsupported some of them felt at first. Unsupported is an interesting choice of words; I wonder how much was lack of support and how much was the lack of direction, the direction that we in education have come to expect in our PD experiences. We sit, the expert preaches, we watch a few slides, maybe a video, participate in a group activity, perhaps respond to a survey via cell phone if they presenter is really hip. Then we go our own way to do what we will with the new/not so new information, happy that there are some folks out there who “get it” and that we have a new tool or to to put into service (if it isn’t blocked by our district). CMK08 was NOT following this model, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious lifelines except to jump in and start working.
Legos become a music machine on day 1.
My preconceived notions revolved around getting a chance to learn about lego robotics and an introduction to logo. Notice I said “learn about”, not “do” – I figured someone would lead us through some exercises, show us some plans, maybe discuss how best to implement these new (to me) tools in the classroom, and I’d receive enough information to work with it later. Nope. Gary told us to take off our teacher hats, and he meant it. From what I observed, the quicker one transitioned from teacher to learner, the better things went. We learned about learning from the inside out. We picked up the tools and started tinkering, implementing our own bricolage by playing around with what we had before us. This was not pointless; we came up with a project and jumped in, so we had a focus. Over the course of the four days some projects evolved into totally different products, some stuck with the same tool, some learners tried a new tool each day. The experience was truly what you made of it; passive learning was not the goal.
Alfie Kohn speaking to the CMK08 group.
As educators, we all know that learning through doing is fine, but you have to reflect on your learning to cement it in place. Gary provided opportunities each day for us to be challenged by fascinating, intellectual, and thought provoking speakers. Turns out Gary is friends with some pretty neat folks. After working for a few hours on our projects, we were able to listen to Alfie Kohn regale us with his thoughts on education. Why do we continue to have an educational system that serves our economic system rather than the intrinsic value of learning? That’ll be worth a blog post on its own.
Peter Reynolds reads his book The Dot.
Peter Reynolds shared one of his Fable Vision products, Animation-ish, with the group. Peter embodies accessible creativity, walking us through the “I can’t draw” portal in a way that makes one believe that everyone can draw, or at least draw-ish. Melinda Kolk led the group through the Tech4Learning software and spent lots of time with those working with the various facets of those programs.
Bob Tinker smiled much more than this picture shows!
Bob Tinker is perhaps the most animated, energetic and enthusiastic person I’ve ever met. His run through of the Molecular Workbench was overwhelming – and this is not said lightly in the company of everything else we did last week. I’m so glad there are people like Bob committed to making open source tools so those of us in public education can use them! We also benefitted from having Cynthia Solomon from the OLPC project, Sylvia Martinez of Generation Yes, and John Stetson at the institute for all four days. At the end of each day we wrapped up with a group reflection, each individual adding in their thoughts and epiphanies for the day. By bouncing the active learning off the sounding board of a strong thinker, then allowing us hear the voices of our peers for context, we were given the pieces needed to arrive at our own understanding of how constructivist approaches work.
Marvin Minsky at the OLPC offices at MIT
Have I mentioned Marvin Minsky? Gary, with a trick up his sleeve as usual, arranged for us to meet with Marvin Minsky at the MIT offices of One Laptop Per Child on Wednesday night. (I’m guessing Cynthia Solomon might have played a key role in this event too.) While I’ll be reflecting on his comments for a long time to come, my favorite idea was when he talked about playing chess. To paraphrase, Minsky said that chess is hard work, and with half the effort of a game of chess, he could solve a theorem that would benefit mathematics for 1,000 years – and he’s never played a game of chess since. I wonder what my students will make of that thought, in light of the hours they put in on strategy-driven video games. I know I’m putting it in the context of the less than useful things we have kids do at school in the service of “getting an education”. Minsky was full of one-liners. “Surely traveling is out of date.” “Do things because you have goals, not because it’s pleasant.” “Lego is 2 ½ dimensional.” It was a fabulous experience to which my comments here do not do justice.
soon to come . . . Part 2 : Gear Ratios and If Else statements
I’ll be blogging the Hello Light session this morning via cover it live. Hope you can jump in and join me!
This was a great session, with insights into tools that will do image analysis and color analysis of various bits of landsat images or your own pictures. Check out the CoverItLive session for notes, links to the software and information on Jeff’s web page.
It was a great group of eager learners in the Thursday afternoon session.
The session I did on Digital Cameras in the Classroom went well this afternoon. About 20 people were very patient with the heat and humidity in the small, non-air-conditioned room for three solid hours. We covered a ton of information, including ways to use the camera in the classroom, as well as basic camera functions, menus, and other controls many had never used before. One of the best parts was the group – asking questions, helping each other where they could, and staying focused the whole time. It was a jam-packed session, and folks stayed right to the very end – and even beyond, to ask questions and go over additional things individually.
If you are curious about using digital cameras in your classroom, check out my slideshare, as well as my wiki with a pdf handout and other information and links you might find helpful.
Searching for a function in the menu of the camera.
Special thanks to Shalimar who helped lug in all my stuff for the presentation, stayed to help clean up, AND took the great pictures here on my camera so I could share.