Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 118- Make a Thing Pt. 4

This week was supposed to be about Gene Wilder. I am moving that back a week for two reasons. The second, less important reason is I will not be moderating this week and I want to be a part of the conversation about Mr Wilder. The first, and more important reason is I'm in the midst of preparing for the school year, Back to School Night is tonight, and I have a student teacher that I'm also helping. So I'm pretty slammed and, quite honestly, Make a Thing is easy to prepare while still being a high value chat.

We've done this three times before. First, Second, and Third. It's very simple. Fill the Doc with ideas. Collaborate. Share. Expand and expand and expand. This is your time to get ideas from people, to post "I need help with X" thoughts, and go wild. As it's the beginning of the year, I'm thinking we could focus on Beginning Stuff, but we do not have to. Shawna will be ring leading tonight. 

The link to the Doc is HERE.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Science Technology Engineering Art Marvel

credit WIRED and Marvel

Representation matters.

The new Iron Man is a 15- year old black woman named Riri Williams.

Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time looking for ways to connect with our students. What can we use to help them latch on to what we're teaching? What tricks can we pull? PokemonGo is huge, let's cover graphs and banners with pocket monsters!

But sometimes we're handed an opportunity on a red and gold platter, and we need to jump at it. If you've been to a edtech conference* or read an edtech blog you know one of the major challenges we're facing is getting women into STEAM (I like the A, and so do you, iPhone users). A sad but natural connected challenge is getting women of color into STEAM. The technology sector has well documented issues hiring people of color and women. We claim to be training kids for the jobs of the future, and the tech sector is where those jobs will be. So if we're not working as hard as we can to get students of color, especially our girls, trained in STEAM subjects we're perpetuating the problem. Notice I didn't say "get them interested in STEAM". They already are. The trick is keeping them interested and not shutting them out.

And if you haven't been living under a rock you know that every Marvel movie that comes out makes approximately nine bijillionty dollars.

While Marvel's movie productions haven't been as quick on diversifying their cast of heroes as we'd all like (I can't wait for BLACK PANTHER and CAPTAIN MARVEL but it's been too long and they know it), Marvel's comic side has been making strides for a few years now. Oh yeah, you realize. All those movies are based on books! Currently-

  • the mantle of Captain America is being carried by Sam Wilson (formerly the Falcon, yes guy with the wings in the Captain America movies) 
  • Black Panther is being written by the brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates. 
  • Roxane Gay is about to start a run filling out the world of Wakanda. 
  • Thor is a woman, Jane Foster (yes, Luke Skywalker's mom from the movies). 
  • Amadeus Cho is Hulk-ing it up. 
  • Miles Morales is everyone's favorite wall crawler. 
  • Kate Bishop is Hawkeye. 
  • And, my personal favorite comic of all these, Ms Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager, and her book is written by G. Willow Wilson, a Muslim woman.

And now Riri Williams will be joining this illustrious group of Earth's Mightiest Heroes as Ironheart. I don't know too much about her yet. I know she's already part of Tony's stories, but I don't have as much time to read comics as I'd like. I know she's already built herself a suit. I know she's going to MIT. I know that Ironheart is a better name than Iron Maiden if only for legal reasons. And I know that I can't wait for November so I can start buying and reading her stories.

I also know that a lot of our kids are invested in these movies, if not these books**.

Marvel is gift-wrapping engagement and representation for us. Look at that list. Those are The heroes of the Marvel universe. Almost all of them are geniuses. Not because a super power made them geniuses, but because of hard work and training. You can't even pretend Captain America being black doesn't mean something. Or that the character with Marvel's name is a Muslim teen.

We want to use something the kids care about to engage them? Don't*** pander to them with a faceless Pokemon game (face it, we don't actually need them caring about Pokemon, we need them engaged with the technology and, therefor, with the lessons we're teaching). Use these characters and their stories. Hang a poster of Riri Williams on your wall and explain why she's there. She's the new Iron Man and she goes to one of the best technology schools in the country. Let them see her face. Riri might engage the ones who need it and she might be just the thing that those who feel unwelcome in the tech world can cling to. Please, if you're about to hand wave about fictional characters not motivating people, put your hands back in your lap. LeVar Burton and Nichelle Nichols have a thousand stories about young people of color telling them that it was Geordi Laforge and Lt Uhura that showed them it was ok to be who they are and go into technology. And don't tell me you'll feel silly talking about a comic book character in class if you're about to use the words "pokeball" or "Goldeen" out loud.

What if the kids don't know Marvel comics, you ask? You just introduced your students to a whole new genre of books! Way to go, teach! Time to buff up that class library.

Representation matters. We don't have any Pikachus in our classrooms, but each of us has a Miles, an Amadeus, a Kamala, a Riri.

credit- Marvel

*can we stop calling them that yet? All teacher conferences involve technology now. They're just teaching conferences.

**they are books. Don't devalue comics. Watchmen and Winter Soldier alone are stories better told than 90% of the books you read last year.

***just- balance in all things. But seriously, don't pander. It's gross and doesn't last.

tons of credit to WIRED and Birth.Movies.Death writers Scott Wampler and Siddhant Adlakha for writing articles invaluable to this one.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 116- Analog is Warmer

Special Guest Post by Sarah Windisch

Vinyl is the best medium upon which music has ever been recorded.

There. I said it.

And I meant it.

I love records. I have hundreds. There are more turntables than people in my house. My son’s initials are LP on purpose. I celebrated my 33 ⅓ birthday.

I’m possibly a little extreme.

Records just sound better, and it’s inherent in how they’re made: they are pressed physically from stampers created from a master disc that physically has the music - as played in the studio - etched in acetate. The audio engineers think about things like groove width and velocity at the inner and outer edges, and adjust the mix to be truest to where it will appear on the album. A mastering engineer runs a lathe to actually cut the master when it is mixed to perfection - calibrated perfectly between channels and sometimes viewed with an oscilloscope - in one take. ONE. The cut has to be perfect, and the track separations are cut by hand.

That’s all before it heads to a company that will stamp the vinyl that we get as consumers.

That time and commitment to perfection at the very first step should be enough to make a person love vinyl more than a bunch of ones and zeroes algorithmically forced into a sine wave.

Vinyl has perfect imperfections created by human hands. Vinyl is a physical interpretation of an musician’s work. Digital music only has cold perfection.

Don’t get me wrong. I have an enormous CD collection and pay my monthly fee to have good Spotify. I love having access to whatever song strikes my fancy at the moment and having music in my car that will satisfy anyone who’s riding along. It’s great for someone with extremely eclectic taste to be able to examine a band before buying an album. And the pure nerdy fact that digital music even exists? That you can sample and query sound and recreate it in binary? That’s cool too.

It’s just that what’s new and better isn’t always...better. It might be more convenient. It makes life easier. It’s shiny! But the hisses and pops that make every record unique, the care put into liner notes and album artwork by artists to share their vision, the way your needle can wear the grooves down on a favorite track, the ritual of turning it over, of learning how to align the arm so your stylus is right over the start  - those things feel more substantial than being able to DJ on the fly.

There’s so many Exciting New Things in education. Every day there’s a new acronym to be responsible for and a bandwagon to jump on. A new toy or tool to meet our students where they are. Some of these are fantastic. Some, let’s be honest, are 8-tracks: popular for a short time and destined to die out because they are internally flawed. Some are fine, but push older, battle-tested ideas aside, relegating them to idea-collectors and educational hipsters who use the old thing you’ve never heard of to prove their worth as teachers.

And those “vintage” ideas? How long did someone, or a group of people committed to creating them dedicate? Were they used for so long because of their worth, rather than because “that’s the way it’s always been done”? Are we as educators too quick to judge on that point? Are we too focused on keeping up that we forget to use the past to help us change for the future?

So when we talk about vinyl this week, let’s think about educational obsolescence and make nifty analogies about records and teaching. Naturally, we have to talk about the amazingness of album art and the idea of the gatefold and which album is The Album, too. We might even actually debate if analog is really warmer.

Or not.

Because it is.

Sarah's record collecting is an honest habit - she's a music teacher. It's practically required. She lives and causes trouble in North Idaho, and wishes her students appreciated Herb Alpert as much as she does. Find her on Twitter @slwindisch .

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 115- Olympics

The Olympics are the ultimate standardized, high-stakes test. You get one chance to perform at the highest level. Everyone in your event performs under the exact same conditions. Your training and practice overtakes your life to the detriment of everything else. It's stressful, brutal, takes childhoods, and is completely overwhelming. And none of the events represent anything that would happen in real life.

I love them so much.

The Olympics are the best. It's the highest quality athletes performing on the biggest stage. Who can handle the pressure? Who rises? It's not a nationalism thing. I cheer for Team USA because I know those athletes the best, but not because I need us to crush China/Russia/France to make some Cold War point. Medal counts are outdated but it's the best way we have to keep score and the ultimate competition requires score keeping.

The Olympics are fascinating because the closest parallel to Olympians are astronauts, especially the early Apollo astronauts. Neil Armstrong was 39 when he landed on the moon. (I know, I thought he was younger too, but I checked a bunch of places, he was born in 1930, landed on the moon in 1969.) No matter what you do in your life your greatest professional accomplishment will be walking on the moon. Armstrong, Aldrin, and the rest had fantastic careers But they also struggled back home. You train your entire life, every day, everything you do dedicated to one goal. A goal basically no one on Earth will accomplish. And then you do it. You land on the moon. Then what?

We should remember one of the things that makes Michael Phelps remarkable is that he keeps coming back and succeeding. This is his fifth Olympics. That's not supposed to happen. You shouldn't be one of the greatest at anything for almost twenty years. Most Olympians, as Marshal Mathers so eloquently put it, get one shot. (You all thought I was gonna make a HAMILTON reference there. I contain multitudes.)

What do you do when the greatest thing you'll ever do happens at 16? Or 20?

I love how the Olympics pit the greatest against each other and they, because they are killers, that's what makes them great, rise. Katie Ledecky real does love swimming close races. She's not built to destroy people just to destroy them. She's built to see you on her shoulder and then crush your soul. That's much more satisfying. It's more fun. I just watched Phelps win the 200m fly. He broke Le Clous in that race. That dude won't be ok for weeks.

If you'll allow me an Al Bundy moment- The best race I ever had was in high school. It was the 100yd fly, my specialty. Another kid from a rival school had been talking trash. He and I swam on different year-round teams and knew each other. We didn't get along. Before the race my coach grabbed me. he looked me in the eye and said, "Don't let him think he has a chance." I wrecked him. He didn't get closer than my hip the whole race. It was glorious.

What does all of this have to do with teaching? It's not really fair to compare the Olympics, which you have a choice to compete in, with high stakes testing. It's not fair to compare Olympians (and astronauts) with our students. Is that where our expectations hit ridiculous levels?

I tell my students my expectations for them on a regular basis- "I expect you to be the best class in the school." This isn't a joke or hyperbole. Before every assembly, any time we're doing anything, I tell them that. I tell them that before the Music teacher picks them up. I want her to compare every other class to us, and I want us to come out on top. It's not a competition, but we're going to win.

So I guess I do make school an Olympic event. And it works for me. I'm not putting pressure on my kids. I'm not deadly serious about WINNING. But my expectations are as high as they can be. This carries over to the rest of my class. You're the best behaved in music, in assembly, and with me. And because we're dedicated to being the best I'm going to be the best teacher I can be for you. Together we're going to be the best. Are we actually? Probably not. I work with wonderful teachers who do fantastic things. Doesn't stop me from trying.

Let's talk about pressure. But let's also talk about the Olympics without talking about school. I love the Games. It's a wholly unique experience. We get to see sports we never normally see. We get to see the greatest on Earth be great.

And that's as inspirational as anything.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Remembering Seymour Papert

[Ed. Note- Not written by me, written by Jenny Kostka. This post is serving a dual purpose. It's this week's #WeirdEd overview and it's a way for some of us to remember an important person in edtech and for some of us (read- me) to realize we really should have known his name before he died. I'm also cross-posting this at the CUE blog]

Let’s play a game. Guess when the following quotes were first published:

“[W]hen a child learns to program, the process of learning is transformed. It becomes more active and self-directed. In particular, the knowledge is acquired for a recognizable personal purpose. The child does something with it.”

“[M]any children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong.’”

“Most of what has been done up to now under the name ‘educational technology’ or ‘computers in education’ is still at the stage of the linear mix of old instructional methods with new technologies.”

Any of those could have been posted on Twitter in the last week, right? You’ve got growth mindset, self-directed learning, lamenting the use of potentially transformative technology to sustain the status quo. If that last one had included the word “worksheets” it would have been just about perfect.

In fact, all those quotes come from Mindstorms, a book written by Seymour Papert in 1980. 1980! For Pete’s sake, I was wearing diapers in 1980. Papert’s work in education, going back to the 1970s, was, if you’ll pardon the cliche, truly revolutionary and ahead of its time. And if you’ll also pardon me being a little bit dramatic, it changed my life.

I first read Mindstorms when I was trying to learn more about Scratch, the block-based coding program developed at the MIT Media Lab. Mitch Resnick, who leads the Lifelong Kindergarten group that created Scratch, was a student of Papert’s. The book was mentioned over and over again in everything I was reading as The Book that originated Scratch’s open, exploratory, and powerful approach. So of course I read it, and was completely blown away by how clearly and compellingly he wrote about kids and computers. He called his philosophy “constructionism”, and he expressed it by saying that kids (and adults, for that matter) are motivated and inspired to learn when they are using that learning to make something they care about, that a teacher’s most important role is to provide them with the tools and freedom to make those things, and that the computer is an especially powerful tool when kids get to use it for creation.

After reading his book, I started to look for more opportunities to let my students make stuff. I started to give fewer directions and more freedom (which was really hard). I started to let them fail a little bit more, and resist the urge to correct and figure things out for them (which was even harder).

Eventually, I even took a year away from the classroom to study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where ScratchEd, Scratch’s research and collaboration with teachers, is based. I took a class on constructionism that made my head explode and I spent as much of my year as possible learning about how to bring making and constructionism into my classes. For me, Mindstorms was the catalyst for the biggest and best changes I’ve ever made in the way I teach.

It may have taken a while for Papert’s constructionism to become widespread, but these days it’s everywhere: the maker movement, the push for computer science, project-based learning. Maybe the word constructionism isn’t exactly a buzzword (yet), but the ideas pop up in all sorts of forms and in all sorts of places. “Learning explodes when you stay with it.” “The kind of knowledge children most need is the knowledge that will help them get more knowledge.” (Seriously, the guy is endlessly quotable.) Seymour Papert died on Sunday, at the age of 88, but these ideas aren’t going away anytime soon. At least not for me.

Bio: I’m a science enthusiast, an obsessive nerd, and a mom. I teach high school physics, astronomy, engineering, and computer science at the South Shore Charter Public School in Norwell, MA, where I try to bring making and creativity into all aspects of learning. I'm on twitter @jenfromri