Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Visit to the Gates / Hillman Centers.
Last night I just missed Bill Gates' appearance in the Burg. He'd tossed a bit of his billions to CMU, and stopped in to dedicate the Gates Center for Computer Science.

What we did get to see some cool new toys they had trotted out for him.

Snackbot gave me a nice apple and a really bad joke. Video: Snackbot on Snackbot. Snackbot on the Gates Center

We heard but didn't get to visit with the bagpipe playing robot. John will b thrilled that we saw cell phone games to teach Indian kids english.

But the highlight was Claytronics, self assembling solids that will produce 3-d solid objects from your computer. on.

Friday, September 18, 2009

CSI: THE EXPERIENCE - About the Exhibit, Exhibit Preview
The Ft Worth Museum of SciTech, Rice U's Center for Technology and Learning, Left Brain Media, and others bring learners this interactive.
I haven't played it in depth; just wanted to point out the two most obvious features, a map with popups and videos with sound.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Some Questions for Independence Day

I promised over at Bridging Differences that I'd repost here some Questions for Educators this Independence Day. We talk a lot there about preparing students to be Citizens in a Democracy. And not just any democracy, but the one bearing the biggest burden of all in terms of defending freedom for both ourselves and others.

Six million Jews and others were killed and abused in concentration camps; it fell to us to defend them. Little has changed in 60 years.

So, a couple questions to check your civic awareness:
* Who is Ali al Sistani? What does he mean to US-Iran relations, and to world peace?

* Which sect of Islam more closely embraces the US view of the proper relationship between religion and politics?

* What battle gave the US its independence? Who commanded?

* What is the US Chain of Command down to the forces in Iraq?

* At the start of the Gulf War, our army was about the worlds sixth largest. After the troops came home, we cut it by more than a third. How does our army’s size today, fighting two wars, compare to that of the 70’s and ‘80s?

* How many divisions did the US have on Sept. 11?

* When the US pulled out of Vietnam, we were winning the war. Can you name the title of one of these highly influential books on that national challenge?
-- The “war in the corridors” review by writer and President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb. The book details “the efficiency of the system in sustaining an increasingly heavy commitment based on the shared conviction of six administrations that the United States must prevent the loss of Vietnam to communism.”
-- The National Book Award winner which followed the military and USAID career of John Paul Vann, and therein much of the intricacy of the war on the ground.

* What is a combat brigade team? Does the current Defense plan provide for more or fewer in the future?

* The US’ newest bomber is 20 years old. How many do we have? We also fly the B52. How old are these airframes, and how many are in service?

* What US President effectively ended the scourge of Piracy for 200 years? How?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Yesterday was a full day in the conference room on 17th in DC. I wrote at length about it at Bridging Differences.

At the end of the day, I asked an official if the School District of Philadelphia should exist. His feeling, as mine, is that it should be a dozen or so districts, which would solve a lot of problems.

Meanwhile, Daily Grind in Front Royal is a lovely spot to work from!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Firefox web browser | Help us test the latest beta
Wow, I should read /. more these days. I think I knew a major upgrade was in Alpha; who knew they were jumping to 3.5 and it was already at Beta 4.

I'm pretty excited about the idea of a liketysplit faster Javascript Engine. Guess I should give it a try. (I've survived much more premature releases).

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Where Ed Is Not this Week
Well, just about everywhere, but not six feet under and not in Sudan, so that counts for something.

On the other hand, here is where I might be:
- I could have dropped in on Fordham staff, the Office of Education Innovation, and a cast of experts on International Lessons About National Standards. This is an easy one-day bit, and it'd be good to renew some aquaintences and hear about assessment as its done elsewhere.
- I could have been the same day to AEI for the much shorter but surely stimulating (hee) Stimulating Excellence: Unleashing the Power of Innovation in Education. The incredibly hot Michelle Rhee was expected, I just love here energy, smarts, focus, and determination. I wonder if Larry Berger ever got funding?
- RAILSConf would have been great. Maybe I could have met a programmer or fellow enthusiast for fixing one little corner of education via Web 3.0 and a dash of entrepreneurship. Or at least boosted my brain about how to program, about which I am not well talented.
- Of course, there are plenty of people I could be out talking to somewhere in or near Ohio.
- And, I could be punting it all and begging people to put me back to work placing steel on target, at the Navy League's Sea Air Space exposition.

Not being any of those places, I wish I could say I was either raking in the profits from computer services or quietly programming as fast as possible here in beautiful Appalachia. Neither of these are the case, either.

Allegedly I'm not stupid. Its harder some days to defend that case.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Verrocchio's David
Via the sweet smArtHistory site, we take you this morn to beautiful Firenze--Florence, Italy! This beautiful interactive lets you explore Florence, learn about the city and its leaders, including the Medici who funded much great art; and explore daVinci's tale of being an apprentice for Verrocchio.

I wanted to say a bit about this last, the Apprentice's tale. Its a wonderful connection, as daVinci's name is much more known to students and parents than Verrocchio's. Yet here is an opportunity to reach more kids.

On first sight, The Apprentice's Tale grabbed me as an exciting opportunity to connect kids to young artists. Yet the tale is told in daVinic's own words--the words of an old master remembering back to his early apprenticeship.

Wouldn't it be great to tell the tale from a young artists perspective? To fill in the wonder and awe and confusion of youth, to add the details of how tough it was, to relate more to the current students own struggles?

I say this not as criticism of this wonderful work, but as suggestion for a way forward. We used to do this for students. And they learned history. Now we give them boring declarative descriptions of isms, eras, themes, and much they are not yet ready to make theirs. More stories with personal touches would go a long way to bootstrapping an interest in history.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

National Council for the Social Studies Community Network
This week I was invited to join this new Ning network about social studies. It looks cool if it really gets going; different groups are set up for US history, Civics, etc.

Its run by Tom Daccord, who writes and speaks on technology use and integration, so one can expect a good strong focus on the methods of learning we look at here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Not How New Media is Supposed to Work
The Crisis of Credit Visualized on Vimeo at first glance seems a cool explanation of what happened.

Except that my attention was gone in two minutes.

Now, someone (Jonathon Jarvis) put much time and energy into this. The problem is, is doesn't draw the learner in. Doesn't engage them.

At the very least, two voices (or a narrator with quoted voice clips) would mix things up a bit. This simple trick is the most basic of the print reporter's tools, and should be a must for anyone doing educational media. (See how well it works for smArtHistory).

Yet the tech offers us many more options to engage the learner. A simple "ready to go on?" button would at least bring the learners attention back for a moment. You can imagine much more sophisticated choices.

Where is the Web 2.0 Storytellers' manual?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick
Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

I wrote over at Bridging Differences this morn on St. Patrick and why we should tell more such stories in public Education. Won't copy it; go looky for yourself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

1200 Posts
As I logged in to Blogger this morn, it informed me there are 1200 posts in this blog. That's a lie, of course. Many of those 1200 items are draft posts which never got written up properly. Still, that's a wee bit of research and writing about using the Internet to teach history, about open source education, about the biggest problems with education in cities, and about the ancillary experiences of an education entrepreneur.

Friday's our six year anniversary as a blog. It has yet to become the community I'd envisioned.

In that time has come a lot of experiences which few people get to tie together; a strange sort of conglomeration in a now very specialized world.'

I wish I were at South By Southwest today. While I didn't go because of 'a deficit in the budget', it'll probably work out better this way. Maybe. everything's a long shot when you're bootstrapping.

Funny, I recall going to a bootstrappers meeting/party at SXSW two years ago. It looks like they didn't get far at bootstrapping the bootstrappers' network! :-)

Oops. Back to coding. And driving 3 hours to attend a Ruby/rails meeting.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

smArtHistory Reloaded!
Oh, ho! Look at the sweet upgrades to!

On occasion, we've shown you some of the gorgeous video podcasts from the group. The podcasts were rich and deep; yet their website was pretty much just a blog with video.

No more! Check out this timeline of Art across the years. Beautiful!

Wait, wait!! Before you click, let me tell you not to let text put you off! Many of the art stories have a video to go with! If the first one you get doesn't, finad another. The smArtHistory videos are great short looks at what the artists were doing and what stories they tell.

I want to come back to this. Beautiful as it is, there's lots of possible improvements. It should be fun to explore.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Cool Encounter!
Can't not mention this here. Noonish today found me at Panera, writing away on Another Blog, when I heard behind me an intriguing comment. "We were working with the government of Senegal, trying to hep them organize their Education system, and ..."

'Organizing an education system'? Mind you, I'm taking a break from my programming to engage Deb Meier, Diane Ravitch, and others on the very topic of organizing an ed system. I had to butt in.

"Oh, yeah, we consult with different governments" says my neighbor. "Really?" says I. "And have you tried helping Cleveland or Dayton?"

Which obviously lead to an interesting discussion.

Over at Education Gadfly, Checker and Mike review the President's 'Day of Reckoning" and his spending plans in re education. Its a lot of money.

Teachers, when you hear us groaning, its not because we want you to do more with less. We just think you could do more with more...if the processes were a bit different.

It took me and my new acquaintance 5 seconds to understand each other on why he is welcome in Senegal but not Ohio.
The Joys and Sorrows of Programming
How do you build web software?

I promised some words on that part of life here at the conglomerated jobs of Ed. Just what does it take to build a web app?

To get my little history application (you might soon see it) up and running, I've had to teach myself nearly a dozen languages and frameworks. This would be fine enough if I had any significant programming experience. But I'm just too stupid to know that I shouldn't be trying this.

There's HTML, of course. That displays words in a web browser. If you saw the web back in '92-96, you might remember the ugly nature of raw HTML; CraigsList still does serve it up mostly straight and nasty.

To make things look better, CSS pretty's up how the words and images appear-all those solid backgrounds, lines and colors, and things positioned anwhere yeyond the left column.

To complete the package we send to your home or office, JavaScript tells your computer to do anything more active than a magazine page. Popup window? Javascript. Menu that drops down when you pass your mouse over it? Javascript. Interest rate calculator, MS Office Document editing, the nice charts that adjust to tell stock prices over 1 day or 5 years? Javascript.

That completes what we send over the wires, wherever they may go. Ooh! I should add Adobe Flash, which drives many of the Interactives cited on this blog. I only use it in the animation on this home page - the book being flung over the mountain? It's code, too, that runs in a special plugin in your browser. Many more such plugins exist; however Flash is the most widely distributed by far.

OK. How do we create the package we send you? There are special authoring tools, some to edit HTML, some to make CSS easier, etc. We also send you images, which means learning how to use several image programs--Photoshop, Fireworks, GIMP, etc. Image creation and editing has its own natural language, and its amazing how hard it can be to learn how to do something you can describe very succintly-say, "make his face brighter". At least if you're teaching yourself.

None of this so far is programming, save Javascript.

What about data? A good app will store and retrieve lots of info for you. I use MYSQL, but there are many others. SQL is the language to talk to the database; I've had to learn some, but blessedly little.

Which brings us to Rails. Or Ruby on Rails to be precise. Rails helps me not speak SQL. Magicly loaded (for free) on my laptop and also the server, Rails does a huge amount of work with very little adjustment (well, for a non-expert like me, its time consuming. But it really is very little code written on my part).

Which brings up Ruby! I love Ruby! Ruby is a real and genuine programming language. Unlike HTML and CSS which mark up documents, or MYSQL which issues commands to a database, Ruby has lots and lots of command for adding and subtracting and pulling strings of characters together and a host of other actions you might tell a computer to do. Ruby is very powerful and very flexible. Too flexible for some--you wouldn't ask it to fly a passenger airplane. Not because it couldn't, but because it lets programmers do stupid things! Which is cool.

So, as history, I've studied a bit of 40 some computer languages. Ruby is the most human. Who couldn't love a language that easily does this:
>> "Jimmy" * 5
=> "JimmyJimmyJimmyJimmyJimmy"
or this:
>> 40.to_s.reverse
=> "04"
or >> [12, 47, 35].sort!
=> [12, 35, 47]

Dang! Its 4:32, or tea-time, on Friday, and I didn't get to all the additional toys it takes to make a web app. We haven't even mentioned AJAX! Or CGI! OK, more later.

Have a good weekend.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where is Ed?
Though we're fast approaching our sixth anniversary at this blog, its mighty skimpy here. Why? Will things get back to normal? Improve? Inquiring minds ...inquire.

Its that money thing, though not entirely about our money. While I've continued to write toward the same goals, the location has moved a bit.

You could find me much at Classroom 2.0 in late 2007, at FiresideLearning for most of 2008, and writing quite a bit at Bridging Differences for the past couple months. And a number of other places. Plus, writing grant application. And writing Master Plans for a new park district.

...And writing Ruby code. Well, not so much writing new code as struggling to integrate and make work the nearly dozen languages, frameworks, and packages which I'm pulling together to make into a new learning app. Its going very slowly. There's something to be said for live teachers. I've taught myself so much over the years, I kind of forgot there are limits to what one can teach one's least efficiently.

Maybe I'll write about that in another post.

And what of history interactives? Is anyone doing them anymore? There are a few I've tagged the past couple months; just never written up. They weren't that exciting. PBS certainly got tired of them; that institution was a major player in the early years. BBC seemed to still work them. And a couple private companies; you had to pay them annual fees to see them.

Social networking seems to have killed much of the innovation of the web. Not that much of it isn't great; it is. Yet kids need to learn more than what they can learn chatting. Some people at Fireside and other places are quite tired of hearing me say that.

So, when Eduweb 3.0? I asked that two years ago, and its worth rephrasing here.

I'm working at it, when I'm not repairing Windows for people, or pushing leaders to build a heritage trail. I truly hope we can release something in the next month. A middling programmer would have released it a year ago.

It's a good platform, though. It'll be nice to bring kids back to rich content.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Apps for America Contest
Making government accountability Open Source! That's what Sunlight Labs is trying to do with this contest. And you could win $15,000! Just take one of their databases on Congress and make a cool new front end.

"Entries can be client applications, web based applications, applications that use the Adobe AIR platform, Java applications or whatever other kind of platform you'd like to write it in. We use Django for most of ours. "

Easy money!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

West Point Bridge Designer
'Tisn't History, yet history is much advanced by improvements in technology, in the ability to lay roads and join together separated peoples. A good bridge has won or lost many a battle. We wrote here before about the Bridge on the River Kwai; and the horrible toll on the workforce which built it. Many readers will recall the cool scenes of bridge operations in Saving Private Ryan.

Here learners can play with bridge designs and see how they hold up. Its actually pretty simple. The trick is remembering that what you are doing in seconds took years of hand calculations for engineers like Charles Ellis, engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This comes from, who else, the U.S. Military Academy!

For some various and funny bridge designs, search youtube, or look at this guy's weird bridge designs