November Quick Hits

  Every once in a while I find a bunch of interesting things that aren’t necessarily related, and I don’t think I can write a whole post about any one of them, so I bunch them together and share them as my “Quick Hits” post.

Kids and “Screen time”

            CNN’s Kristen Rogers’ report, “US teens use screens more than seven hours a day on average”, was an eye-opening review of the 2019 Common Sense Census; a report of 1,600 eight to eighteen year olds and their use of computers in all forms and formats. Anyone can download the full 70-page report for themselves here, which includes the questionnaire used to gather the information. For me, the most salient line in Rogers’ article is,

            “Despite the creative opportunities technology offers, young people devote very little time to creating their own content. No more than 1 in 10 in either age group say they enjoy ‘a lot’ activities like making digital art or graphics, creating digital music, coding or designing or modifying their own video games.

            In my experience, I find this to be true. Even while the number of tools available to students continues to expand, I don’t see many students incorporating them into their school work. Nowadays, a slideshow presentation, for example, could easily include embedded videos, audio, three-D models, a livestream connection, and various other media instead of the static, poorly cropped images students still use.

            I also find that students never pick up a newspaper or magazine even though I have them prominently displayed in our library at the circulation desk. In fact, we get twenty free copies of the Haverhill Gazette daily and the only time any student looks at it, is if they happen to be on a team at the school, and there is a story about them or the team.

National Geographic, WOMEN: A century of change

            When I was a kid, the yellow bordered magazine was always a favorite of mine. Stories are told in long-form narratives, interspersed with pullout maps, and rich, beautiful illustrations that show cutaway and multi-level views of exotic places or ancient civilizations. National Geographic continues to be a visual treasure that often features pictures that become icons in the culture.

            The November 2019 issue is dedicated to chronicling the ongoing story of more than half the people on the planet. Full of both archival and contemporary pictures, the issue is also a patchwork of quotes and profiles of women, young and old, changing the planet.

A little from online, a little from print

            While we are on the subject of magazines specifically, and reading in print in general, one of the tables that caught my eye while I was reading the 2019 Common Sense Report is on page 15. This table breaks down how students read nowadays, whether electronically or otherwise. According to the self-reported data, students claim to spend about an hour and eleven minutes each day reading books in print. From my personal experience, I find this hard to believe, unless students are reporting time in class spent reading from textbooks or handout materials copied from textbooks.

            Having observed students’ reading habits for the last two decades, I can state confidently, that their sense of what constitutes legitimate information has shifted radically online and has all but abandoned what we once considered traditional or mainstream avenues. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of this shift has been print magazines, many of which still offer insightful, intelligent and reliable reports.

            Recently, for example, I overheard a health teacher talking to her class about viruses and the curious position they hold somewhere between complex organic chemistry and living organism. After class, I shared with her a link to Journey to the Microcosmos (even though they don’t have a video about viruses) and PBS EONS’, “Where did viruses come from?”. A few days later, I was flipping through the July/August 2019 DISCOVER magazine, “Everything worth knowing about …” Issue, where they cover a variety of scientific and technological ideas, including a three-page spread on viruses! Of course, I shared this too, with our health teacher, and reflected on how great the information available to students nowadays is.

Edward Snowden on Joe Rogan

            One of my guilty pleasures is the Joe Rogan podcast. For those not familiar with Rogan, he is a standup comedian and was the host of Fear Factor, as well as being an announcer for some MMA events. On the side, Joe Rogan has also become one of the most popular podcasters with guests ranging from his comic friends (Eddie Bravo, Joey Diaz, Bill Burr) to actors (Edward Norton, Dan Ackroyd) and a variety of others (Whiz Khalifa, Alex Jones, Rob Zombie, Mike Tyson, Reggie Watts) including serious scientists and thinkers like Brian Greene, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Dr. Cornel West and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

            Recently, Rogan invited Edward Snowden to his podcast, and he accepted. Whether you consider Snowden a traitor or a patriot, he is a thoughtful and insightful individual who knowingly risked his freedom to follow his conscience. The three-hour podcast is mostly Snowden talking about his backstory, relating how he got to be in the position he was in at the NSA and weaving together both personal anecdotes and historic court cases to reveal how the world got to where it’s at. (Not in a good way).

Earth Currents

            Finally, the last thing I will share this week was passed on to me by science teacher, S. Niraula, who in turn got it from science teacher, C. McQuaid. It is another example of what can happen when information gathered by our public science institutions such as NOAA and NASA are turned into tools available for free to the public. Using the tools available, one can monitor and track ocean and air currents, carbon dioxide hotspots, and dust storms. Users can decide what layer of the atmosphere they’d like to see by changing “height” and they can change the “projection” style for the map displayed (Conic equidistant, orthographic, equirectangular, etc.). Click on the map below to go to the link. Worth exploring.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved.

Researching online

Well, I missed posting anything in February, and it seems to me like the month just zipped by; but I do remember shoveling (a lot). As usual, I had many false starts at writing a post, but eventually grew either disinterested or discouraged and just gave up. There’s so much I could write about, but by the time I gather my thoughts, I feel like the world has moved on to the next idea and whatever I’m writing about, feels like old news. Such is the speed at which the world seems to move nowadays.

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Which brings me to this post. This week I had the privilege of getting in front of people and talking a bit about one of my areas of specialty; doing research online. On Monday I was invited to speak to Ms. Morin’s and Mr. Andrew’s junior year English classes, as they prepared to research a current “controversy”. Then on Wednesday, I was invited to present to the Haverhill Public School’s ELA teachers, many of whom are friends and colleagues I already work with regularly.

On both occasions I used a permutation of a slide show I’ve used and modified many times throughout the years. The basic idea is that using GOOGLE to do research for school projects is not acceptable in most cases, and that we need to teach our students how to find reliable online resources and how to recreate an online digital “library” for themselves. I hope to be able to share the slideshow here on this blog in the near future, but in the meantime, any teacher who is interested in getting a copy can contact me at htoromoreno@haverhill-ps.org.

teaching cover

Among the other points I highlighted in my presentation are:

  • We are all awash in information, but most of this information is personal or commercial, and isn’t really useful for our academic research.
  • Today’s students didn’t grow up with specialty references (atlas, dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus, etc.) which divide knowledge into different areas, therefore information is “flattened” … that is it all seems the same.
  • There are reliable and class worthy government sites available for students.
  • Clustering search engines such as Yippy and Carrot, help student find other keywords or phrases associated with their search terms.
  • Google Scholar and Wikipedia are ongoing digital projects that keep getting better and more useful for beginning academic research.
  • Students should be encouraged to turn to subscription databases available through their school or public libraries.
  • Databases are part of the “deep web” which is not made up of web pages and is therefore not available to search engines, not even Google.
  • Academic databases include all the citation information students need and teachers want in the proper MLA, APA or Chicago format.

4 ws

There’s more to this, but that’s the basic idea. Hope you find something useful and that you have a great weekend.

P.S. Getty Images has just made its database of 35 million photographs available for public non-commercial use. WOW is about all I can say about that … And I will definitely add GETTY IMAGES as a major link on this blog.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

August Quick Hits: Online Finds

There’s less than a week left before school starts again, so I hope the summer has been good to you. I have been enjoying my time away from school and love spending time with my family, who I don’t get to see as much during the school year.

One of my great pleasures during my summers used to be reading novels. Nowadays, I find myself reading more non-fiction, and I also still love reading print magazines. We do have an Ipad, and my oldest son loves reading list sites such as Listverse, Cracked.com and others.

Here is an abbreviated list of things I’ve found interesting online this summer:

  • The Citizen Science page on the Scientific American website is a great place to find projects you can take part in, in various ways. One project, for example, is mapping the genes in American Cockroach and will take two of them from you if you’d like to participate in the study. Of course, there are many more interesting, less icky projects there.
  • I am a doodler, but vlogger Vi Hart, takes the art to a whole new level by taking stop motion animation to math class in a series of fast paced and well illustrated videos. Doodling in Math Class, so far, is a twelve-part collection that shares some interesting mathematical ideas.
  • Since I still haven’t won the Powerball or sold a startup company for millions of dollars yet, I’m still very much interested in the growing disparity between the “haves” and the “lesser haves”.  John Sutter’s list of “Must Reads” actually includes a number of videos regarding income inequality in the United States. The article can be found at CNN and it includes links to many of the recommendations.
  • I avoid going to see anything in the theater that I can catch later on for free, unless it’s the kind of affair that deserves to be seen on a large screen. I do, however, love seeing the previews because they give away how good or awful most movies are going to be. Even trailers have evolved, as this interactive article from Wired magazine discusses the art of this ever-changing bit of art and advertising.

waking life montage

  • The Director as Dream Figure” is a short essay in Harpers about one of my favorite lesser known movies, Richard Linklater’s animated, Waking Life, and how it is connected to a number of the director’s other movies. If you haven’t ever seen Waking Life, I highly recommend that you do (a few times).
  • Even if you haven’t yet created a movie about your life, there’s probably enough information on your Facebook to fill a museum all about YOU … and that’s the idea behind Intel’s “Museum of Me” which uses that info to create a 3D tour as though it were hung in a grand museum about your likes, friends, favorites and all that other good stuff you post. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a grand tribute to your life or a really scary visualization of how much information about you is already out there.
  • I love graphs and other visual aids that help you understand a complex issue or idea. This site is called information aesthetics, and its motto is “Where form follows data”. It has a collection of interesting and (sometimes) informative graphs.
  • Sometimes, the illustrators get it wrong, but the image they create is so catchy, that it sticks and is reproduced so many times that it becomes the “norm”. Icons are the memes of the artistic world and they went viral before the advent of video. Even science illustrators get it wrong (big time) and this short article about one scary looking dinosaur is a great example of how long it takes to correct it.
  • I am still fascinated by virtual tours (i.e. visiting places through our best electronic means), though I know nothing beats actually going there. Still, there are some vistas you won’t be able to get even if you really go there in person, and for that there is a great site at pixelcase interactive media. Most of the forty plus, 360 degree panoramic views are of New York and places in Australia, but there are some breathtaking shots of places in Canada, Brazil, London, Paris and Zimbabwe.

summerbooks

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved.

Essay on education, technology & how we use our time

I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

……….Recently a handful of things got me thinking and they seemed connected, although I wasn’t exactly sure how. So I did what I usually do, which is put my thoughts on paper, to see if I could make any sense from the different sources of information I have. Bear with me; I am not sure that it all fits together neatly, and maybe it’s not meant to be neat anyway.

……….As a starting point, what got me thinking were the following things:

I.     An article in The American Scholar by Magdalena Kay, titled,  “A New Course”

II.    Reading a 1966 report called, “Learning by Television”

III.   Cell phones and ipods, Facebook and Twitter, et al. in school

 

I.

……….In the Spring 2013 issue of The American Scholar, Magdalena Kay revisits Christopher Lasch’s 1979 bestseller, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, to find that many of the warnings about turning education into simply another consumer product still ring true today.

……….Throughout the essay, Kay outlines how Lasch recognized (before many others) how higher education would be made more palatable for the masses by using the same sort of marketing and polling data that are used to make better peanut butter or diet cola. While college and university enrollment have increased, however, Kay warns that the courses have been watered down academically, and worse, have been tailored to address the students’ likes and dislikes, trading academic quality to ensure higher enrollment and profit.

……….What’s come of this practice is the commodification and branding not just of traditional brick and mortar colleges, but also of the “schools” born from the digital boom, like Capella and Strayer Universities. Many other articles have pointed out how this rise in “demand” for college education, has allowed colleges to raise their prices. The fact is that for at least the last twenty-five years, colleges have been upgrading their “curb appeal” to attract all kinds of people to their campuses and courses, not just students. Anyone who has recently visited their college alma mater, will recognize how much more comfortable and inviting the campuses are. Upgrades to all the facilities have left some campuses looking more like business parks with resort amenities.

……….None of this would be seen as a negative, if our schools were graduating better students, but they aren’t. For example, despite the push to increase enrollment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs, a 2011 NY Times article by Christopher Drew found, “that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree.” At the other end of the academic spectrum, a 2006 brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education found that community colleges have also seen their enrollment numbers increase, but had to expand their remedial education services and invested $1.4 billion to provide basic reading, writing and math for recent high school graduates. Worse of all, were findings from the National Center for Education Statistics (2009) that students who enrolled in a remedial reading class only had a 17% chance of having of having obtained a bachelor’s degree 8 years later.

……….What I find interesting regarding this complaint about American students’ intellectual laziness, is that it is made at almost every developmental stage. Since the landmark 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, highlighted the poor literacy and mathematical skills of the country’s seventeen year-olds, various reform and improvement efforts have swept through the nation’s schools.

……….Thus far, except for a few gains our fourth graders have made in international scores, Americans do not compare favorably at almost any age. When it comes to measuring our academic discipline, it seems that the news in not good after we turn ten. A sample of recent articles that highlight this trend should be enough to convince anyone that as a nation, we are lacking in basic skills:

……….The findings of the above articles and reports, could be summed up by a paragraph from the 2006 issue brief by The Alliance for Excellent Education which says in part, “America’s high schools are not preparing many of their students for the demands of both college and the modern workforce. Weak curricula, vague standards, and lack of alignment between high school content and the expectations of colleges and employers result in the need for remediation.”

……….And this lack of interest in literacy and learning extends into adulthood, as a 2009 report found that, “an estimated 32 million adults in the USA — about one in seven — are saddled with such low literacy skills that it would be tough for them to read anything more challenging than a children’s picture book or to understand a medication’s side effects listed on a pill bottle.”

……….Just when this problem seemed intractable, when 30 years of bad test results and unfavorable head to head comparisons against our international peers seemed to get the best of us, in rushes technology to rescue education. K-12 schools are preparing themselves by upgrading their equipment, much like college campuses raised their “curb appeal” a generation ago.

……….Armed with smart boards, document cameras, rolling ipad labs, mac books and other gadgets that connect wirelessly to the web, where there are documentaries, 3D virtual tours, subscription databases and a host of other educational resources, certainly we must be close to solving the great problems that have haunted American education. Not according to Magdalena Kay, who says, “The real problem is that students can find entertainment so easily elsewhere, on the laptops, smartphones, and tablets that are ubiquitous in classrooms today.”

……….To quote Homer, “D’oh!”

II.

After more than a decade of intensive effort and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, has television made a real impact on America’s schools and colleges? Has it made a worthwhile contribution to education?

……….The short answer to such a sweeping question would probably have to be “No.” Whether measured by the numbers of students affected, or by the quality of the product, or by the advancement of learning, televised teaching is still in a rudimentary stage of development” (9) – Judith Murphy and Ronald Gross, (1966) Learning by Television

……….Before computers revolutionized the world, there was television. Even before television acquired its fancy peripherals (cable connection, video disc player, VCR, DVD player) it was a superstar of electronic devices. Naturally, people imagined that television could be used to transform education, and thus throughout the 1950’s and 60’s a number of projects were run across the country using television in a variety of ways. One such project was the National Program in the Use of Television in the Public Schools, which according to an ERIC abstract was, “an effort to determine the feasibility of using televised instruction as a major resource in the teaching of large classes.”

……….Looking through a box of donations a few weeks ago, I found the 1966 book quoted above and naturally I had to read it. Like I said before, in 1966 television didn’t have all its sidekicks, and the amount of programming available would seem like virtually nothing to today’s digital generation. Still, the technology seemed very promising and as the quote mentions, tons of money was invested getting television into all sorts of classrooms.

……….Many good things came from these ventures, including the Children’s Television Workshop, which spawned Sesame Street, but the 1966’s report has an overall cautionary tone that warns against being too optimistic about what television could do for education. “Television is in education,” say the authors, “but it is still not of education” (9).

……….Throughout, the report sounds exactly as you would expect a report to sound with lines like, “On balance, ITV is still deficient in quality”(47) and, “The immeasurable possibilities of communication satellites and other major technological breakthroughs have profound implications for education” (78). As I read, I couldn’t help replace the words “ITV” or “educational television” with “computers” or “smart boards” or “laptops”, trying to see if the statements and conclusions held true. Many times yes, sometimes no.

……….When I finished reading, I thought about how different 1966 America was. The Civil Rights Act was just two years old, but everywhere there was unrest in the United States. The Watts riots in California were coupled with anti-war protests on college campuses. 1966 saw the birth of both the National Organization of Women (N.O.W) and the original Black Panthers. A year earlier, Malcolm X had been assassinated in New York. Three years earlier Medgar Evers and John F Kennedy had been assassinated. The first ever Super Bowl was still a year away and ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, was still three years from being launched.

……….The United States was so different. The world was so different. Technology was so different. And yet there was one line in that report I thought really mattered.

……….“ITV is only as good as the use to which it is put by the classroom teacher”(64).

III.

For a culture obsessed with immediate gratification, the rewards of studying anything may seem intolerably slow in coming. The question is not just whether we can twist our favorite subject so that its relevance becomes visible, but whether we can persuade people to study at all when so many easier pleasures beckon” (38)

– Magdalena Kay, “A New Course”, The American Scholar

……….Today’s library is a media center, and I’ve written in past posts about how technology in general and computers specifically, have transformed what I do for a living. Thrown into this mix, are the ever-evolving smart phones and tablets that more and more students seem to be bringing to school. Even though the student handbook still officially prohibits the use of these personal devices, the unofficial position seems to be that students can use them during lunch and in the halls while passing between classes.

……….In the library, we still nag the students to put these devices away, even during lunchtime, and there are at least three good reasons for my persistence with this position. First of all, it is still the official rule in the handbook, and just like the rule against hats, hoods and bandanas, we try to be consistent with how we approach the rules.

……….Second of all, students who claim that they work better when they are listening to music are kidding themselves according to the science available on multitasking. In a 2008 article, “The Myth of Multitasking”, the author, Christine Rosen goes as far as saying that because focus and concentration are interrupted, “multitasking [is] a poor long-term strategy for learning.” More recently, a 2013 University of Utah study found that, “the frequency with which participants talked on cell phones while driving or using multiple media at once correlated inversely with the subject’s actual ability to multitask, and their perceived multitasking ability “was found to be significantly inflated”.  In other words, the more that people multitask, the worse at it they become.

……….The good sensations that our chronic bud wearers feel are what we all experience when we listen to music we enjoy. The therapeutic benefits of music are well documented, and in May 2006 the Journal of Advanced Nursing even had a press release claiming that, “Listening to music can reduce chronic pain by up to 21 percent and depression by up to 25 percent while increasing feelings of power”.

……….But even this positive effect may be limited when dealing with the developing minds of adolescents, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics in 2011. Among its findings, researchers reported that, “Major depressive disorder is positively associated with popular music exposure and negatively associated with reading print media such as books. Further research elucidating the directionality and strength of these relationships may help advance understanding of the relationships between media use and MDD.”

……….Thus, the research so far, seems to indicate that while listening to music may make you feel better while you are working, it does not necessarily help you while studying difficult material, especially if it is new.

……….Coupled with this are statistics that show real changes in our behavior patterns over the last decade. Since 2002, for example, one researcher found that the number of hours Americans spend playing video games doubled from 71 to 142, or nearly 18 complete eight-hour work days.  In December 2012, a San Fransisco based company reported that time spent daily on mobile apps had risen to 127 minutes per day, surpassing the 70 minutes a day people spent surfing online via traditional computers, and even challenging the nearly 3hours a day people spend watching television.

……….In a preliminary draft of a 2012 study done at the University of Texas at Arlington titled, Does time spent playing video games crowd out time spent studying?, the author Michael Ward concludes:

……….“The continuous advent of new technologies will tend to lead to the declining use of older technologies. Likewise, to the extent that these technologies engender engaging and entertaining activities, they will likely displace time spent in alternative activities. Some of these displaced activities will be other entertainment activities such as television viewing or computer use. However, some of these activities could be related to the development of human capital such as class attendance and doing homework. This paper finds evidence that both educational and non-educational activities are displaced by one such entertainment technology. Video games are likely to lead to somewhat lower levels of human capital accumulation.”

……….Which leads me to the third reason I ask my students to put away their phones, turn off their ipods and turn their attention to some academic pursuit. I know that they are not doing it at home. Worse than that, however, is that every time I use LAN software to sneak a peak at what is happening in our computer labs, I see that we are not doing in school either.

(Screen shot of multiple labs at “work” at 9 a.m., 03/11/13. Of the 82 screens I could see,  38 were being used. About half of these showed kids playing games or engaged in some other non-school related activity).

labsatwork

Thank you for your patience and for reading. I hope you have a great and productive day.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved

Video Resources Review

While updating the links to this blog, I decided to check in on some of the video resources available. I was thinking especially about teachers and students who now have access to the internet via their Mac Books and PolyVision Boards, in the computer labs and in the library. The video resources that we can stream and use for discussion are so much greater than the 3000 VHS video tapes we still have in our library collection. Here is a quick review of four video resource links I still think are useful.

Annenberg Learner/http://www.learner.org/

From their About Us Page: Annenberg Learner’s multimedia resources help teachers increase their expertise in their fields and assist them in improving their teaching methods. Many programs are also intended for students in the classroom and viewers at home. All Annenberg Learner videos exemplify excellent teaching.

I like it because: It is produced by a reputable organization whose aims have students and teachers in mind. I also like that their site allows you to search the videos according to discipline and grade level, which limits the number of hits you’ll get. Some suggested titles when I searched for High School (9-12) Science, for example, were (with descriptions lifted from their pages):

  • Earth Revealed: Explore the complex processes that shape our planet. Video instructional series for college and high school classrooms and adult learners. (Didn’t work when I tried it)
  • The Habitable Planet: A Systems Approach to Environmental Science: Learn about Earth’s natural systems and environmental science with this course for high school teachers and college level instruction.
  • Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth: Watch scientists investigate how microbes affect our world. A video documentary for college and high school classrooms and adult learners.
  • Physics for the 21st Century: A multimedia course for high school physics teachers, undergraduate students, and science enthusiasts; 11 half-hour programs, online text, facilitator’s guide, and Web site.
  • Private Universe Project in Science: Explore ways to correct student misconceptions about science in this video workshop for grade 1-12 educators.

Drawback: Video production is sometimes a little too “PBS” for students’ tastes. There is a very limited number of offerings, maybe two or three dozen per discipline, which may actually be a plus in the long run.

FREE: Federal Resources for Educational Excellence/… http://www.free.ed.gov/

From their About Us Page: FREE was conceived in 1997 by a federal working group in response to a memo from the President. The site was launched a year later. It was redesigned and relaunched for the first time in November 2006. FREE makes it easier to find teaching and learning resources from the federal government. More than 1,500 federally supported teaching and learning resources are included from dozens of federal agencies. New sites are added regularly. You are invited to link to FREE.

I like it because: It’s free. In an internet world that is constantly searching for new ways to monetize everything on it, it’s always great as a teacher to find free resources. This site breaks down information into long lists which is a little boring, but I do like that they also categorize their database into animations (only 27), primary docs (130), photos (79) and videos (40). What you’ll find as you search is that you will be redirected to sites such as the Library of Congress, The Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art. Here’s a sample of Videos available (with descriptions lifted from their pages):

  • American Memory : presents the photographs, manuscripts, rare books, maps, recorded sound, and moving pictures that are part of the historical Americana holdings at the Library of Congress. The learning section contains research tools, lesson plans, and activities for students. (Library of Congress)
  • Videos from Secrets of Plant Genomes Revealed! is a lively, upbeat video exploration of how plants got to be the way they are and how we can make better use of them in the future. Learn how plant genome research is revolutionizing the field of biology. Find out how scientists are unlocking the secrets of corn, cotton, potatoes, and other plants that are important in our lives. Discover why the study of plants is exciting and how learning more about plants can improve our everyday lives. (National Science Foundation)
  • NSF Multimedia Gallery provides nearly 100 videos and webcasts on a range of science topics: a fossil that may represent the first vertebrate to emerge from the sea, turning forest-industry waste into fuel and textiles, “superglue” produced by aquatic bacteria, a house built on a “shake table” (earthquake research), teaching robots to swim, 14 engineering challenges for the 21st century, solving a crime scene mystery, a 60-second history of the universe, earth’s deep-time archives, dinosaurs, and more. (National Science Foundation)

Drawback: This is a great clearinghouse for many organizations receiving money from the government and responsible for maintaining the “national memory”; the site itself, however, doesn’t do much more than act as a search engine for these resources. Unfortunately, for me, none of the three web animations I tried from the various links worked the day I tried them. Even after updating my Adobe Flash player.

Open Yale Courses/ … http://oyc.yale.edu/

From Their About Us Page: Open Yale Courses (OYC) provides lectures and other materials from selected Yale College courses to the public free of charge via the Internet. Registration is not required. No course credit, degree, or certificate is available. The online courses are designed for a wide range of people around the world, among them self-directed and life-long learners, educators, and high school and college students. Each course includes a full set of class lectures produced in high-quality video accompanied by such other course materials as syllabi, suggested readings, and problem sets. The lectures are available as downloadable videos, and an audio-only version is also offered. In addition, searchable transcripts of each lecture are provided.

I like it because: If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to attend a world class university, all these videos are evidence that it’s exactly what you thought it would be like. Smart person in the front of the room, talking to a bunch of people listening in the audience. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in group work and differentiated instruction and the student centered model, but what culture shock it must be for our students who work through these other models for all their years in school, only to find the “sage on the stage” or “chalk and talk” as the primary model in college/ university courses. If other models are used in any of the courses, I didn’t find one among those I surveyed. Among the titles I viewed were (with descriptions lifted from their pages):

  •  HISTORY 234: Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600: This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.
  • ENGLISH 291: The American Novel Since 1945: In “The American Novel Since 1945” students will study a wide range of works from 1945 to the present. The course traces the formal and thematic developments of the novel in this period, focusing on the relationship between writers and readers, the conditions of publishing, innovations in the novel’s form, fiction’s engagement with history, and the changing place of literature in American culture. The reading list includes works by Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth and Edward P. Jones. The course concludes with a contemporary novel chosen by the students in the class.
  • PHYSICS 200: Introduction to Physics I: This course provides a thorough introduction to the principles and methods of physics for students who have good preparation in physics and mathematics. Emphasis is placed on problem solving and quantitative reasoning. This course covers Newtonian mechanics, special relativity, gravitation, thermodynamics, and waves.

Drawback: These are all straight up lectures. Viewing them is just like having a friend tape all your classes for you so you never have to attend a 9 am lecture again. It’s not bad though, if you want to have a “guest” lecturer cover a topic, without having to pay the speakers’ fee.

FRONTLINE/ … http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/view/

From Their About Us Page: Since 1983, FRONTLINE has served as American public television’s flagship public affairs series. Hailed upon its debut on PBS as “the last best hope for broadcast documentaries,” FRONTLINE’s stature over 30 seasons is reaffirmed each week through incisive documentaries covering the scope and complexity of the human experience.

I like them because: They are PBS’ premier documentary program and they always have videos that lend themselves, in part or in their entirety, to the classroom. They now have 138 videos available and because they continually add the most recent broadcast to their catalog, it is an ever expanding treasure trove of high-quality, reputable documentaries. A sampling of their latest offerings include:

  • Dropout-nation: Aired 25 September 2012. Education’s hidden crisis. Four students are followed for a semester to highlight the pitfalls they face in places considered “drop-out factories”.
  • Money, Power and Wall Street: Parts I – IV: Aired 24 April & 1 May 2012. Four part presentation that attempts to explain what happened in 2008 with the financial meltdown. Incredible narrative involving really smart people in charge of incredibly large piles of money with no one double checking their work. They fooled themselves into believing they were alchemists, instead of bankers.
  • Digital Nation: Life on the Frontier. Aired 2 February 2010: I’ve recommended this film on this blog before, but it is worth revisiting just to see how much has changed in less than 3 years. Even more than when this documentary first aired, I see young kids completely connected to their digital pets and disconnected from their surroundings.

Drawback: I don’t have much bad to say except that there are less than 150 titles to choose from, and many of them cover controversial topics in a very traditional documentary style, which might not keep all students interested. That’s not really a criticism of Frontline, but of the audience we’ve become.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

Welcome Back, 2012-13

Hello everyone, and welcome back! It has been more than four months since my last post; my longest absence/ silent period since starting this blog in December 2007. The reason for this, is mostly due to my own inability to balance all the demands of my life as a father/ husband/ teacher/ brother/ citizen/ person. Writer/ blogger comes in late on a long list of duties, but I expect to be able to squeeze in a full year of posts this time around

I hope everyone had a great summer vacation and that they feel reinvigorated for a new school year. As usual, I find myself anxious with anticipation and cautiously fearful that my good feelings won’t last. One thing that continues trending in a positive direction is the overall cleanliness and appearance of Haverhill High, the building. Improvements have been made both indoors and everywhere on the school grounds, from the parking lots to the pathways leading into the buildings.

This year, of the many improvements made to the school, perhaps the most welcome (and exciting) is the polyvision boards installed in every classroom. This new piece of technology is expensive, but promises to improve instruction and make classroom time more engaging.  Unlike regular whiteboards, smartboards can be connected to a computer and become large interactive presentation tools. The idea, according to proponents of the smartboards, is that this tool will make lessons more interactive and, possibly, entertaining.  We shall see.

For those who would like to learn more about how smartboards can and are being used in schools, (and whether or not they’re worth it) I’ve collected a short list of recommended reads online. Most of the titles speak for themselves:

While we don’t yet have a smartboard in the LMC, I am hoping that the powers that be recognize how much sense it would make to install one in Lab 2. Many teachers, including me, use that lab for demonstrations and talks that require a large interactive screen. As soon as I get to play with one, I’ll let you know what I think. On to other things …

Here’s a brief list of important dates for the LMC:

  • Tuesday, September 4th, teachers can begin booking time in the library. PLEASE NOTE that the LMC labs must be booked online, just like any other lab in the school. We are not responsible for any conflicts, but we will try to help in any way we can.  All other library visits (to take out books or use the pit, for example) should still be arranged at the circulation desk.
  • Friday, September 7th, teachers of Freshman English classes can begin scheduling visits for an LMC orientation. This introduction to the LMC’s rules and resources takes only one class period. Freshman orientation visits will be Monday, September 10th – Friday, September 28th.
  • Monday, September 10th, students who have a regular study period scheduled, can begin signing up for library study.  Students can sign up before first period or at 2:05, after the last school bell. Please call ahead of time if you must send a student or students for any reason to the LMC and ALWAYS send them with a pass. With so many people using the LMC at the same time for different reasons, it gets difficult to keep a track of who belongs there and who doesn’t. We appreciate your cooperation and thank you in advance for your assistance.

Random things that I want to mention:

  • Over the summer, Curiosity, a car sized rover, landed successfully on Mars, proving once again that even if we can’t go there ourselves, we have ways of “getting there” with our technology. Human beings have this amazing ability to imagine ways of doing things that seem impossible before we actually do them. I can’t wait to see all the high definition pictures and data that Curiosity collects over time.
  • I didn’t really watch the Summer Olympics because there was other stuff going on in my life, but I did see Usain Bolt run two races. I couldn’t help but be blown away by how powerful and explosive he looked, especially when I remembered that everyone behind him represented the very best of the rest of the world. This short video, comparing Bolt to every past Gold Medal Olympian, is both telling and incredible, and left me wondering where the upper limits of human performance are.
  • Hans Rosling is back at TED Talks doing the kind of interesting talk, combining statistics and storytelling, that I always find eye-opening. This time around, he explains what is happening in terms of world wide birth rates and why we should be planning for a world with around 10 billion people.

Finally, over the last few years, I have unfortunately been reminded of how quickly our time passes and how suddenly change can come into our lives. In facing these personal losses, I have had much to reflect on, and I have spent a lot of time reliving my days with those people; elders who carried the world on their shoulders for me, until I was ready to bear the weight for myself. I don’t remember specifically how these people, who are slowly disappearing from my life, taught me all the things they needed to teach me about responsibility or respect or love. I just remember that they made me feel special, protected and wanted. They believed in me and I knew it. As a father and an educator, I hope I can make my own children and students feel that way. I want to thank everyone who has supported this blog over the years and I want to encourage readers to leave feedback so that I know what interests you.

Have a great week and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

My Sketch Up Obsession

               Well here it is, Sunday. I hope you had a great week off and that you are ready for the home stretch. I thought I was going to spend my week playing with the new Mac Book Air that I received right before the break. (Thank you to everyone responsible for getting that wonderful new tool into my hands; from the Superintendent all the way to every tax payer, I hope to use it well). While I did spend about an hour or so getting familiar with it, especially the photo booth feature, I ended up turning back to my own laptop for all my personal uses.

One of these uses was teaching myself to use Google’s Sketch Up 3D design tool. I first mentioned Sketch Up in a post back on Novemer 16, 2008. At that time, I started the program and explored a few of the features, but I didn’t have the time or a reason for learning to use it. On several occasions, as I passed by the A wing, I have seen Mr. Cosgrove’s classes using the program, and it always appeared to be something that was a lot of fun. I just never seemed to need such a tool.

Then one day during vacation, my brother-in-law (who lives in the same town, but whom I never see because that’s just how it goes sometimes) stopped by, asking if I could help him draw a plan for his backyard deck. He carried with him the original plans we had made more than a decade earlier, after a holiday meal. I used to have some cheesy “design” program published by Better Homes Gardens and my brother-in-law still had the printout from that app. I told him that I would be happy to help him with his plans, but that I no longer had that software. This is when I thought of using Sketch Up.

               I downloaded the software, which took no time at all, and started it, thinking I would be able to use it with no tutorials or practice. Everything about the program was familiar; the work area/field, the toolbars, zooming in and out using the wheel on the mouse. After about ten minutes, however, it was clear that I did not know what I was doing. I was thinking and drawing as though I was using a flat two dimensional surface, and Sketch Up is a three dimensional tool. Frustrated, I turned to pen and paper and my brother-in-law and I drafted the plans for his deck the old fashioned way.

Later on that evening, I returned to Sketch Up, determined to learn how to use it. I watched the first two tutorial videos to learn the basics about navigating in the program and how to use the simple tool set. That was enough to get me going. At first, I was happy just making big boxes with uneven rectangles for windows. I learned that cut, copy and paste work pretty much the same, except that they occur in three planes, which can get tricky if you’re not careful.

After mastering the basics, I created the simple patio for my brother-in-law that started this whole learning adventure, but my curiosity was piqued. I started wondering what other things I could do. Could I make a “simple” map of the high school library that I could use in the future? I started imagining a 3D map of the LMC with all areas labeled that would let people take a “virtual tour”. What the hell, I thought, I’m on vacation. How much work could it be to make a simple map?

Needless to say, I ran into problems immediately. How big is the LMC? How tall are the doors? How deep is the pit? What are the dimensions of the pit? How big is the office I sit in every day? Suddenly, I had all kinds of questions to answer. Even if I knew all of this, how would I furnish the area? I still haven’t explored all of the Sketch Up drawings that are available, and anyway, I was kind of hoping to learn more about the software by building all kinds of things.

               That, however, became one of my problems. My obsessive compulsive side took over and I found myself designing everything from file cabinets and lounge chairs, to computers and eventually, giant robots. The more I drew and cut and copied and pushed and pulled and rotated and grouped, the more I wanted to do it.

What is mind blowing about the application is that you can be thinking about the layout for a 150′ x 125′ room one minute (that’s what I ended up estimating the LMC to be) and the next minute you can be designing the 1/4” RCA plugs for the computers that will sit on the desks. I’m still having fun playing around Sketch Up, and hope to complete the LMC library model to use for educational purposes. (At least that’s what I’m telling my wife every time she catches me “playing” around.) Have a great day, and hope to see you all tomorrow.

P.S. After working for hours and hours in a virtual three dimensional world, zooming in and out, panning around the x, y and z coordinates, it was weird coming back to writing a linear post.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

BONUS: My Secret Robot Project