Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How to hire a product manager
Thought I'd share this, worth thinking about if your project is more than a small interactive or app.

Monday, December 19, 2011
Guy sees article in Forbes he thinks is stupid.
Guy tweets that he thinks its stupid.
Guy is asked by CNN to write a column on how it's stupid.
Response is so great he creates a web app.
Web app gets props on UP with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

All within a week.

Not sure the point of my story, save that the Web makes for blazingly fast--and creative!--disputation. The original column achieved its goal: a discussion on how education results in a better income (we knew that already) and if you're in poverty, it may be a way out.

Some of the responses on various blog sites are astonishing.

As to, here's an excerpt:

is it hard to learn HTML and CSS on the streetz?

Not as hard as you might think! Once I focused on finally getting the whole reading thing down, it probably took me two hours to learn how to operate a computer and code. I’m working on my Python skills this weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Decline of the Software Age?

Has the software age seen its peak? College grads might be saying so.
Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with ...with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%.*
There are potential market-side reasons these students might be foreseeing the future. We could imagine that all the 'old' industries--banking, airlines, shipping, distribution, law, government,...--have been brought into the desktop and handheld electronic form. The labor demands here out might be more for tweaking than for software architecting, scaffolding, forging.

And the demand for programmers who build programming tools might be declining. Things like DBMS and operating systems, which once cost thousands, are now free and open source for most costumers.

This might be why students are skipping CS school. But I doubt it.

More likely, would-be programmers have already learned more about programming before they reach university than they would while there. Consider a CS major I met at an Carnegie-Mellon function.
Me: "Oh, CS, you say. I do a little bit with computers and software myself. "

"Cool.", she says. "What languages do you use?"

"Mostly Ruby. Javascript, You know".

"Oh", she says. And at this point her eyes fall and she looks at me like I have just slipped off the wheelchair into my bowl of Ensure. "We use", she says only half-apologetically, "modern programming languages.
 "Java. Have you heard of it?"

This is a CS major at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, the number one such school in the world. She is cute, small, fragile. I really don't want to break her heart.

Obviously I don't tell the young lady that I tried Java in 1994 and found it to be ridiculously disappointing, even in that olden day.

I do tell her that Ruby is of the lineage of AI languages. SmallTalk and LISP. That it is much more friendly to program. That it makes code beautiful and coders happy.

And that she might give it a try.

So here's the point. If you are 20 and want to write software. Really want it, and at least grew up with a computer nearby. You will have found most of how to do it on your own. You'll have found a group of peers online. Some from Pittsburgh and some from Mumbai. You'll have the full development stack--complete with web server, RDBMS, test tools and IDE--on the laptop you sit down with for lunch.

You probably have a number of web apps to your name, and an action game or two as well. You've animated something with ActionScript. Probably wrote an Android app.

The thing is, those are the software of the present, and near past. So I hope students are learning at school the things they'll need for the future. Like control laws for robots. Feedback loops and systems theory. Natural law.

* Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Credit Flexibility--A Powerful Tool

Today I write on GettingSmart (EdReformer) about the real change agent in Ohio--and it's not Issue 2.

Credit Flexibility is a new (2010) law designed to give students many more options in what they learn and who they learn it from. In it's first year, CreditFlex students have chosen to
  • Learn advanced music from a local youth symphony 
  • Learn business and agricultural management skills by growing and marketing popcorn. 
  • Get Physical Education credits outside the school day 
  • Work with edible and medicinal plants and their relation to healthy living (under an International Baccalaureate instructor and professional herbalist). 
  • Learn programming and build robots Research environmental and global issues 
  • Learn Latin from a private instructor outside the public school 
For more examples, check out the news videos and newspaper coverage at Ohio Credit Flex on FB.

Friday, November 11, 2011

At a meeting, today, I offered the maker movement and educational software as two  emerging and parallel forces.

I wonder about the parallel part. Maybe they're more entwined than we might think. Knowledgeworks' institute for the Future certainly thinks so

It's no surprise that when I visited Carnegie-Mellon last fall, labs and classes were filled with students programming soccer robots, cubicle-wandering robots, snake-like robots, self-assembling robots, and more. What's more interesting is the movement of robots, 3-D printers, modified robotic vacuum cleaners, and much more into the home and k-12 setting.

Will it impact how students learn history? Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"The Congress of Ohio...Or Whatever"

The pre-service teacher waiting for her Caribou Coffee meets a friend who gleefully notes that Ohio defeated Issue 2.

In her best whine, she replies, "It doesn't matter.

"Like,... the Congress of Ohio,..or Whatever? It is already working on another law to .....[oppress teachers].

Really. The "Congress of Ohio"?

We can't expect all 22-year-old graduates to have a command of the intricacies of education and administrative policies. university is for learning frameworks of analysis, research skills, calculating and writing, that sort of thing.

But even if you are a music teacher, shouldn't we expect more of the person teaching our children than 'the Congress of Ohio'?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Occupy the Ivory Tower

Have the snows driven out the Occupy protestors?  It doesn't matter; they're in the wrong place anyway.

The protestors, though they have brought attention to issues we all feel, are in one sense fighting yesterdays battle. The bank and car bailouts are over. What they should be fighting is the root ideas that caused those debacles. Ideas and, yes if greed is a vice, then morals.

For that fight they shuold look to the Ivory Towers.

William McGurn takes this on this morn, in What's Your Kid Getting From College?
"The average college debt load is about the price of a new Toyota Prius—$28,100 for those with a degree from a four-year private school, $22,000 for those from public schools."
Which isn't bad, actually.  It's better, in fact, (adjusting for inflation) than I got. And since the rates are low and the return in wages high, if a graduate forgoes the new car and skimps on the dinners out, life should still be far superior to anyone working their way through as a waitress or roofer.

McGurn suggests another question, though. About the non-loan part. The part we as a society pay for them.

With one year at Ohio State budgeting out at $27,000, society will pick up almost $100,000 for the average incoming freshman.

It's fair to ask what they are learning that benefits us all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Video Tutorial: Create a Game with Impact (HTML5)
Create a pong type game for the browser in a 15 minute tutorial? Create a more complex game that runs on any platform with HTML5?

OK, the games (example: BioLab Disaster) you can create with this seem to me dreadfully boring, though lots of people enjoy them. What's most interesting here is the platform and library nature of the tools.

A library like this allows mini-games to be embedded in larger learning apps. Which is what we aimed for all along. If your individual style of learning can be reached by the addition of such games, you should get it. HTML5 and Javascript are light and ubiquitous enough to make it effective.

Impact isn't the only such library, and you may want to check out others. Yet it seems off to a good start. Game developer Mag says "Impact is the first truly professional-grade JavaScript and HTML5 game engine to hit the market."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cloud Cannibalism: Is PaaS Killing SaaS?
Though I hadn't put it in these terms, this article exactly finishes up what we started yesterday.

The education/assessment space needs more than Software-As-A-Service. It needs highly customizable, open, transparent software.

Those requirements attracted us to Ruby in the first place. And TDD completes that process.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Test Driven Development Has Snatched Much of My Time And How It Will Pay Off

OK, that's a pretty big topic for a blog post. Yet I want to get something up about the sparseness lately of interactive history resources. Which after all is the core topic of this blog.

The cheesy answer is 'go read The RSPEC Book.' While not an unreasonable approach, said book (and everything else I read for months) left me hanging.

Cucumber seemed appealing on the surface and unattractive the first step in. Controller and model tests are good for working through details, but not what I needed to get things going.

And everything online about testing seemed to be just a bit too much yesterday and not quite enough today.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Class Dojo
How far we've come since the start of this blog! Education Nation, for a second year, is focusing the country on the issue. Among the solutions, tech was highlighted. Check out this cool app to help teachers reward and document behavior real time during class.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Norm Augustine on The Education our Children Need (Hint: More History).
 Mr. Augustine, after serving as CEO of Martin Mariettan and then Lockheed Martin aerospce corps, was Chairman and Principal Officer of the American Red Cross for nine years, Chairman of the National Academy of Engineering, President and Chairman of the Association of the United States Army, Chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association, and Chairman of the Defense Science Board.

You may recall that your humble blogger comes from the aerospace segment.

The column is an interesting perspective, coming from a man of this broadly experienced.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

userinfuser - Open Source Gamification Platform
"From the makers of AppScale comes an open source platform that provides customizable gamification elements designed to increase user interaction on websites. The project involves badging, points, live notifications, and leaderboards. Additonally, the platform provides analytics to track user participation."

Visit for more information or sign up at
"The School With the Best Technology Rules'
Kudos to Verizon for the funny play on it's previous marketing sthick. The company is running an ad which merely says "The School With the Best Technology Rules", linked to this page.

Is there truth to the phrase? Depends on how you define "best".

A lengthy piece in the NYTimes is making the rounds, saying NYET. Tom VanderArk takes this on, and refers us to other noteworthy responders in Richtel's Rear View Mirror Missed the Mark.

The fact is, we're not there yet. In a few lucky schools, yes. But can the average district walk in and be sure they're wisely investing in a path to increased core learning? No.

Walk down the street and ask people, "If I want to do social networking, share online with my friends, where do I go?" and you'll quickly be led to Facebook, Twitter, maybe YouTube. But walk down the street and ask "Where I should turn for K-12 learning?" and you'll get no answer at all.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Public vs Private Aims in Education

Mike Petrelli this week considers the strange conflict between the public perception of American schools and parents' views of their own child's school.

As Mike ably points out, there's nothing new about such dichotomies. He mentions Congress, where people dis' the body as a whole, yet love their own guy. Polled views on the economy also often show the same public vs personal split. People echo the media--nothing new there.

In the battle for schools, Mike is essentially siding with parents, and not the Tiger Mom variety. Chill a little. Who cares if the Finns have nothing better to do than practice PISA tests? And in that, I'd agree.

Yet tests aren't the only measure. And the work ethic of nations and their people's do change.

Rome not only wasn't built in a day, it wasn't destroyed in a day either. The Roman government and people became obsessed with entertaining themselves. They lost interest in building and maintaining roads, forts, armies, and engineering. Circuses and imperial intrigue captured the attention of Senator and Serfs.

Is the American attitude toward education drifting? Our attitude toward work period? I know some dairy farmers and contractors whose hiring experiences tell them that.And Lord knows I've engaged enough teachers who insist that "memorizing facts" is no type of education, that education should consist of following all your passions.

And the economy seems for now to reward these views.

Indeed, would you complain at the education of your child at a four year college, complete with all the modern amenities? Especially if their degree in "Communications" landed them a $50K job as assistant producer with The Real Housewives of New Jersey?

And if said child were able to gain entrance to such luxury, would you complain at the K-12 institute which gets him there? Hardly.

Yet nations do lose their greatness. Their people do drift from their values. I'm not suggesting this is true of the majority. I'm suggesting luxury often breeds complacence .

Consider the engineering classes of our great universities. When I looked around the room at 10:00 at night in the engineering library during my time at CMU, the other faces looked like Pittsburgh. (Well, suburban Pittsburgh).

Today, you'll be lucky to find a midwestern face haunting the engineering libraries of any of the nearby schools. And you certainly won't find the faces of African Americans who have so much to gain from incessant study therein. I know several local kids who at least tried engineering/physics. But they didn't have the grit to stick it out.

Two weeks ago the US ended its manned flights into space, depending instead on the Russians to supply our people in our International Space Station. Last week, the Russians suspended manned spaceflight following the loss of a rocket.

Not only can't we supply and re-staff our space station, now we may have to bolt up the door, because we can't even hitch a ride to get there.

Meanwhile, do you remember the great Captains Crisis? Where we can't find enough educated people to lead and organize our brave troops? Were you told of it?

Other splits tell us more about the perceoption of education. Whenever I tell people I work to bring history to students, most average people say, "I never liked history in school." Despite this, do you know the favorite vacation destination for families? (Well, its's the beach, of course.) Historical sites come in a strong second.

The number two vacation destination of American families is Historical sites. Despite people's reported disdain for learning history in school, they spend their precious vacation time at historical sites. That tells us much.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Learning History from the Family Truckster (and Stay-cation Sucks Again).

Summer usually finds this blog filled with reports on some of our true national treasures, our national parks and historic sites, the many fine historic outdoor dramas, and some exhortations to get out there!

This summer we let you down, not even getting the exhortations part right.

In fact, what with trying to do three hard and time-consuming things, all with no stored up treasure and a deeply fallen business income, the past year and more has just sucked in the travel department.

But before summer fades completely, at least a little hearkening back to fatter years:
OK, that's a few. Click the "Trailside" category for more.

It's a good enough reminder that the best education doesn't always come in a classroom, from a salaried teacher, or a textbook tome.

And yet, I actually was conversing with the HS vice-principal last eve, and they think the school can't afford a trip to Washington this year.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The State of digital Education - Info-graphic
From Knewton, Inc. publishers of Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform, a great info-graphic sumarizing where we're at.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Beyond Common Core Standards
[Cross posted from Education Elements]

National standards do indeed have the potential to indoctrinate, not to mention become thin and stale. Yes they seem fresh and democratic now, but mainly to people already part of the educracy.

Look, we got into this mess because education was being driven by a handful of national textbook companies and two national teachers unions. Switching the power to a handful of vocal state experts groups may well nail the standards at this precise moment. But it's not a recipe for long term innovation and adjustment.

The world is changing too fast. How can one group know what is needed in times of such change?

Is static math even the prime thing we should be teaching?

You'll find few in this game who understand the uses of math as I do; I took eighteen years of math with me to the development of the world's most complex avionics system. I've used math from radar mapping to terrain following flight software to satellite positioning to communications, and down to finance, to land surveying and to 120V power distribution in public parks.

Yet maybe there's study more appropriate than math. Maybe K-12 students should be learning more of computer science: arrays and stacks and hashes. Perhaps the should be learning these things in 8th grade while they are programming them in Ruby. And so perhaps they should be learning in 7th grade the basics of Ruby programming.

So, for example, standard 7.G.demands that students (in 7th grade) draw triangles and note that they have angles and sides. Isn't that extremely boring for a wide swath of students? What if they were instead inputting code for dynamic geometric sketches over at SketchPad? Wouldn't that be a step far ahead?

Friday, April 22, 2011

ESEA (nee NCLB) is in play again, the Fordham Institute has published a ESEA Briefing Book, and they highlight "Issue #1 College and career readiness - Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness (such as the Common Core)?"

They say yes, we say "uhhhh..."

What if we could over-power national common-core standards the way AT&T's national monopoly on bland nationwide (but universally connecting--POTS) telephone was overcome? What if we could create many sets of transparent standards which compete and, in between, leave room for innovation.

What if we could unload teachers of the burden of being curriculum deliverers, and instead elevate them to being powerful learning coaches for the better part of their teaching day?

What if we let students move more often at their own pace, and not at the pace of the classroom of 25 they may be far ahead of, or far behind? What if they could do more of their most powerful learning when their brains are awake (8pm) and be less dependent on the curriculum flying by when they are asleep (8AM)?

Modern web technologies (especially advances made just the past two years), will allow this. Yet such tech can be expensive, and leaving it to a few wealthy companies will leave us with much of the baggage of the past.

We could instead combine the new tech with an empowered Open Source movement. If we used cloud computing and open resources to let teachers, ed schools, and others to steadily raise the quality--and individuality!--of the educational experience.

Such an open source paradigm--done right--could get us 50% of the way in a very short time indeed.

Even those not concerned about the downside of school-as-it-was in the 70's-90's, where 3 in 5 African American boys did not graduate from high school, or with our problems with engineering decline or pathetically poor journalism graduates--even they still have a vested interest diversity of education, in avoiding all the ill that comes with a national common core.

If you want to avoid a national regime when the freight train is in full momentum, the way is to make it irrelevant. When it's too late to fight, just make it look obviously silly to all.

Common core will look obviously silly when
- any teacher can go online for free or near free,
- assemble a validated curriculum from diverse sources and methods,
- provide that curriculum to their students at minimal costs, and then
- provide proof to parents that students have completed the bulk of that curriculum in a satisfactory manor.

Everyone now knows that state tests are a poor way to provide that proof. Isn't the asnwer to give students and teachers a set of tools for transparency?

A set of tools worthy of a grand leading nation in the fourth decade of thee Internet revolution?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20, 2003
As we started this blog eight years ago today, allied forces had begun the liberation of Iraq. Today, allied forces have begun operations over Libya, in defense of the people there. CNN offers its own interactive map of the war.

Eight years have brought dramatic change in the Middle East, with more dramatic times immediately ahead. Go back merely to the 2011 State of the Union--sixty days ago. Japan, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain--none were on the agenda.

What of interactive education?

I wrote that first post in a coffeeshop in Ann Arbor--a short drive to the nation's worst school districts, with dropout rates for young men at 70%. While that hasn't changed, the young men have.

This week's Census release reveals that Detroit's population has receded to below where it was when Henry Ford first put out a notice for workers. One fourth of Detroit's people left in the past decade.

Governors clashing with public employees were'nt in the state of the Union, either.

NCLB came in as a result of teachers unions refusing to budge on any sorts of reforms, be they more flexible contracts, charters, vouchers, merit pay, technology, you name it. The educrats stood athwart history and said "Go Back".

Today, 50,000 young Ohioans are receiving an education they wouldn't have gotten, educations the teachers union didn't want them to have.

We're still working here to open up education. To take it away from the textbook conglomerate/educracy alliances. It's been rough. There's been no cash backing; things went far too slow.

We're getting closer to an architecture, and a demo project to prove it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The past year we've spent a good bit of time over at EdReformer exploring the economics of transitioning to Blended Learning. This slide and some commentary to follow aim to refine how we see the production side.
Click to view the entire chart. If you need a editable copy, let me know.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dinosaur Wars WGBH American Experience | PBS
Last night's American Experience offered a fascinating glimpse into the first days of science in America as a profession. Following the civil war, in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, two bone collectors do battle in the American West.

If you've ever explored Utah/Colorado/Wyoming/South Dakota, you wouldn't think two eastern paleontologists could even bump into each other, let alone get near enough to squabble. Yet these two fought bitterly over bones across the west.

This story should be a great entry point for youth to history and science in the US.

All I can say about the accompanying website is that it's basically a "Companion Book" to the film. That's standard again, gone are the days of the rich interactive websites.

Which is sad. And, I might add, I take much blame for this myself. I foresaw this as inevitable without a unified national effort to bring costs down and quality up. Plenty of time has passed.

Yet I have so far failed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Places and Spaces :: Browse Maps
This cool site offers maps in time and space--some spaces of the conceptual type.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Captain and the King -
Nothing at all about education technology, though this is a story of technology and of education.

You've all seen the tale of the US Navy Captain relieved of duties because he made videos to entertain his crew. I won't begin to go into whether this was appropriate or no, except to say that the news shows behaved ridiculously. This was the lead story on all three of the old networks nightly news shows. Was the really most important thing of the day?

That said, Peggy Noonan has a wonderful take on leadership, and eventually on what youth learn.
"But it's a great mistake when you are in a leadership position to want to be like everyone else. Because that, actually, is not your job. "

Monday, January 03, 2011

Tasty New Google Summer of Code Stats - Google Open Source Blog:
No longer new, but still compelling.

If you don't know, Google Summer of Code matches student programmers with mentor organizations to work on Open Source computing projects. Google provides $5500 per project--$500 to the organization and $5000 to the student. Pretty good deal--$5k would go a long way here, must be like instant millionaire to some of these students.

Here's the compelling point for today. Google lists the top universities of participating students:
"Sri Lanka - University of Moratuwa - 22
Brazil - University of Campinas / UNICAMP - 12
China - Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences - 11
Romania - Polytechnic University Of Bucharest - 11
Poland - Gdansk University of Technology - 10
Austria - Vienna University of Technology - 9
India - Birla Institute of Technology and Science Pilani, Goa campus - 9
Sweden - Royal Institute of Technology - 9
India - Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University - 8
Singapore - National University of Singapore - 8"

Doesn't look so good for the ole U.S.

One bright side: mine alma mater, U Illinois UC made the 2009 list with 28 student participants! (Hey, Carnegie-Mellon, what with the slackin?)

More summer of code stats.