Photo-Documenting Class

Working geometry at the board

Working geometry at the board

My cameraphone-flickr connection makes it so easy to capture a moment and share it. Here are a few examples.

My challenge, then, becomes taking good photos. But, isn’t that the issue for all of us?

Building atomic models

Building atomic models in physics

This week, my goal is to capture one unique photo each day. They’ll all go to flickr and I’ll share them here next week.

What might I capture? My middle school homeroom is a rowdy bunch, so they always offer great camera fodder. The rest of the day is taken up with the following classes:

  • Geometry
  • Precalculus
  • Programming (middle school or high school)
  • Physics
  • Lunch, before/after school

Walking the Line

Walking the Labyrinth

My students drew a labyrinth and walked it as part of our study of Meaning from A Whole New Mind. The original intent was to create our own labyrinth experience. We got several more lessons in the bargain.

Observations from the students:

  • It took us less than two class periods to draw. We used a pattern the kids found on the interwebs.
  • The location of a labyrinth is important — our noisy parking lot, for example, isn’t conducive to meditation.
  • Our labyrinth had 7 rings, a number that’s meaningful in many traditions.
  • By freeing your mind from low-level decisions (“which way do I turn?”), you’re free to think higher order thoughts, which is why a labyrinth aids meditation.
  • The kids mentioned wanting to draw a labyrinth in some public place (with chalk, of course) for others to enjoy.

Drawing the labyrinth was a bit of an exercise in geometry. The driveway was only so wide — so how do you fit 8 equally-spaced circles in the space? I provided the students with sidewalk chalk and a length of rope as a compass.

The class received an unintentional lesson in impermanence when it started raining less than an hour after we finished.

Studying Design Whole-Mind Style

Last week, my students and I studied design as part of studying Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind. We completed 3 portfolio items: Participate in the third industrial revolution, Visit a design museum, and Channel your annoyance. Here’s a quick summary of each:

Participate in the Third Industrial Revolution

Designing your own products is a hot trend among shoe manufacturers. I structured this portfolio exercise so that the students could choose what they designed (from soccer cleats to diamond rings) then critique the experience.

We completed this exercise in one class period, the students enjoyed it, but I’m not sure exactly what they learned about design from the experience.

Visit a Design Museum

Our biggest item of the week, we took a day long field trip to the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). Their current exhibit fit our needs perfectly: they were showing the furniture of Eero Saarinen.

We had the chance to examine up close and even sit in a number of Saarinen designs. The mid-century modern style is a lot of fun to show kids because it’s got a Jetsons feel.

This exhibit was awesome because we got to sit in the chairs. Going to a museum to stand at a distance from the furniture would’ve been little better than looking at pictures on the web.

Several students commented that the museum was smaller than they expected.

When we returned, we investigated several terms our guide mentioned: the Bauhaus, Ray and Charles Eames, as well as Eero Saarinen. This was a very useful exercise. Check out what they chose to summarize on our Wikispace discussion.

Saarinen furniture photo courtesy of idogcow’s Photostream on flickr.

Channel Your Annoyance

The portfolio entry under this title said to choose a household item, go to a cafe with pen and paper, and design an improved model. My students and I drove to the local Starbucks and wrote about all sorts of improvements.

One senior wrote about his annoying personal fan. Apparently it’s got a rattle he’s not fond of. So he designed a way to quiet it. He’s also not happy with the placement of the controls (on the back).

Another described problems with getting the shower temperature just right. He came up with an easy mechanical pre-set method.

We enjoyed the change of venue, to be sure. Several students really got into the exercise and had great ideas. Others needed lots of help getting started. Choosing the correct scope was important on this one. Some kids thought too big to be doing any design work in the coffee shop.

Awesome Final Projects in Tech & Civ

My Technology & Civilization students studied Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. One student in particular really wowed me on his final exam. Here is his final exam project:

The school wikispace holds the complete Tech & Civ final assignment along with the rest of the class’ work.

This was the first time I’ve taught Technology & Civilization. My plan was to turn a high school computer technology class into a study of one of my favorite books. I chose Guns, Germs, and Steel for two main reasons: 1) there are plenty of available materials, including a documentary and 2) the globe and history-spanning scope could provide something of interest to nearly every student.

Along the way, students learned the following computer-y goodness (a partial list):

  • Getting to the point, tight editing, cutting the dissembling
  • Putting together short films with Windows Movie Maker
  • Posting to YouTube
  • Narrating pictures with VoiceThread to tell a story or teach
  • The importance of outlining first, writing second, then recording audio last
  • Wiki editing on Wikispaces
  • Collaborating on Google Documents

A Whole New Adventure

My next course will be based on A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. I’ve written about this idea twice before: My Whole New Mind and A New Kind of Great Books Course.

What did I learn from Guns, Germs and Steel?

  • Provide a copy of the text to each student that they keep after the course. Underlining and making notes are two ways to exert ownership and I want the students to own this material.
  • Go on more field trips. Tech & Civ ventured out only once — to buy foods made from some of the earliest domesticated crops at the local Trader Joe’s. It was a blast & I can be sure those students will remember just how old flax, millet, and spelt are.
  • Plan shorter assignments. My students respond better to 2-4 days per assignment/project rather than the 2-3 weeks I originally designed for.

My Whole New Mind

I’ve gotten the green light to teach A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink next semester. This is so exciting!

How’s this thing going to work?

Well, it’ll be a high school class taught out of the Technology (=Computing) department. Students will receive credit for a computer elective with this course. The class is one semester long.

The class, like the book is divided into 6 sections, focusing on each of the Six Senses Pink says are going to be essential:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

A Design NotebookOur work will be based on the portfolio activities that Pink includes after each chapter. The portfolios are the strength of the book, in my opinion. The very first activity caught my imagination: after describing Design and telling a number of stories, Pink then suggests readers keep a design notebook where they write down outstanding (and horrible) examples of design.

Design Notebooks 2.0
My class will keep a design notebook. Pink says:

Buy a small notebook and begin carrying it with you wherever you go. When you see great design, make a note of it. Do the same for flawed design. Before long, you’ll be looking at graphics, interiors, environments, and much more with greater acuity. And you’ll understand in a deeper way how design decisions shaper our everyday lives.

I’m expanding the concept to use the web. Here are the exciting possibilities I see:

  • Capture the designs with cameraphones or digital cameras. Post to a flickr photo pool.
  • Narrate the designs using VoiceThread.
  • Gather everyone’s designs on a Wikispace, so the students can see and comment on classmates’ design notes.

I’ve found a dozen more great ideas in Dan Pink’s other portfolios.

And In Personal News

I’ve gotten word that I’m accepted into a Masters program at Georgia State! After looking at all the ways I might become certified to teach, I decided on a program GSU offers called TEEMS After Dark. It’s a night program during the school year, so I can continue to teach.

Call me a nerd, but these courses caught my eye based solely on the title:

  • EDMT 6560 Principles of Mathematics Instruction (3)
  • EPY 7080 The Psychology of Learning and Learners (3)
  • IT 7360 Integrating Technology in School-Based Learning Environments (3)

I wasn’t really surprised that there’s no “Keeping a Gradebook” or “Principles of Lunch Duty” offered but dont’cha think they’d make great classes? (I’m about 80% serious here…) I always imagined that teachers had studied that sort of material in college. When I started teaching 3 years ago, I was forever asking the other teachers if they learned this skill or that in their education majors. The answer was always a disappointing, “no”.

Classes start in January.

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Image Citation:
Tim Boyd, “Moleskin Macro.” Dyobmit’s Photostream. 9 Jun 2007. 11 Dec 2007 .

A New Kind of Great Books Course

Teachers never play favorites, right? We love all our students equally. And all our courses equally, too? Problem is, I’m having far more fun teaching one particular course this semester. It’s a semester-long study of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

A little background:

  • This class is coded as a technology course with the state of Georgia. From the beginning, the course has been conducted online: we use VoiceThread, Wikispaces, and YouTube to tell our stories.
  • We are using the book and the National Geographic documentary of the same title to aid our studies.
  • The class is mostly high school seniors.

This might be a “computer” class but this feels more like social studies. I think the difference is that I’m spending an entire semester studying this single book. What with all the history out there, I can’t imagine anyone focusing on this admittedly narrow slice of time (what?! No World War II?).

Guns, Germs, and Steel is just the beginning, I think. This is a world where I work hard to provide my students with authentic experiences. Going forward, I’m imagining a series of courses based on “great books”. My next target may be A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink.

A web 2.0 experience based on a book has precedence: Flat Classroom is based on The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

I’m having trouble thinking of a single general technology course I teach whose objectives aren’t met in this new kind of course. (That doesn’t include techie courses like database programming and systems administration which will remain outside this genre.)

What books do you suggest?

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Typography Is

I found this short video on the information aesthetics blog. It’s a great, quick, introduction to typography.

Like many tasks that once were the realm of professionals, fiddling with fonts is a skill that many lay users should have.

I teach my students about typography in a number of courses. Here are my highlights:

  • Serif vs. sans-serif fonts
  • Leading and kerning
  • Selection of fonts for the screen and on paper; for headlines and for body copy

Do you present typography to your students? If so, what do you focus on?

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