Social Networking in Paperworks

Lee LeFever over at CommonCraft has produced another great “in plain English” video: social networking. I always enjoy these videos because they distill a huge, confusing topic into easily understood ideas.

LeFever has produced several videos using this format, which he calls Paperworks. Apparently a lot of folks have asked him about the limitations of this format — about the constraints. He explains:

The lesson is that constraints work to limit the number and depth of decisions we have to make. By eliminating the decisions about technology, presentation, music, etc. we have time to focus on the core of what makes Paperworks work: the ideas.

I think that’s a great lesson I can teach students.

Web Filtering at a Private School

For my school, I recently installed Dansguardian web filter and Squid web proxy/cache. on the Dell desktop computer shown at bottom in this photo.The server is configured as an Ethernet bridge using Ubuntu’s bridge-utils package. That way, the machine is invisible on the network so I don’t have to reconfigure the clients behind the filter.

John Rucker’s howto install DansGuardian was incredibly useful and my primary source.

(Picture: Test Setup for Web Filtering Installation, Originally uploaded by mgolding)

Software I Use: PaperCut

I have about 100 users and 3 network printers in my school. About two years ago, I installed PaperCut to manage print quotas for students and teachers.

PaperCut is set to limit students to printing 50 pages per week and teachers to 100 pages per week. For everyone, I opted to limit any single print job to 15 pages, regardless of the pages remaining in a user’s account. I’ve found that I save somewhere around 100 sheets of paper a day (about 20% reduction).

How do other schools limit printing, especially by students?

iTunes U Launches

Apple launched iTunes U at the end of May. It’s a dedicated area inside the iTunes store. About 16 colleges and universities are currently publishing content in the U. According to an article in THE Journal

On the K-12 side of things, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Arizona State University (ASU) are providing a small amount of content for teachers and kids. NJIT is providing audio versions of public domain books, and ASU is providing a series called “Ask the Biologist,” tackling science issues for young learners. Apple would not comment on plans for expanded K-12 content in the future.

Prior to this initiative, I was already a fan of UC Berkeley’s Physics for Future Presidents lectures available in iTunes. I love the idea of listening in on college courses. And now, with this dedicated area in iTunes, I can find more for myself and possibly use this with students.

This I Believe and Writing Authentically

While listening to Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing podcast, I learned about the chance to submit essays to This I Believe. Selected essays are read by their authors on NPR.

I’ve heard the NPR program a few times and have been really moved by several of the essays. When I visited the NPR This I Believe site, I learned that the program is based on a 1950s radio show by Edward R. Murrow. Everyday Americans write about the principles that guide their daily lives. A good number of celebrities have written, as well.

This I Believe, Inc. is the organization that runs the essay program. I think it’s cool that they’re reaching out to teachers with This I Believe in the Classroom. I think this could be a really cool project for a high school writing class. Lots of our kids hold very strong opinions — TIB lets them express those opinions in a public way.

Ze Frank on Creativity

Thanks to 43 Folders for the link to this one: An Interview with Ze Frank. For a year, starting in March 2006, Ze Frank produced a daily video called The Show. I found episodes at times thought provoking or enlightening but always funny. Several episodes merited my showing them to high school students (see the one with Condoleeza Rice’s magic satchel).

What impressed me about Ze’s show was his quick paced witty dialogue. How’d he create something this good every day? I can’t imagine the pressure to produce.

Ze explains the creation process this way:

There’s this thing I try to do that I call “brain surfing.” Do you know the technique “morphological synthesis”?

There’s a really beautiful book by James L. Adams called Conceptual Blockbusting. It’s a book that was written in the ’70s on creativity. The idea is, you just start with a concept that’s immediate to you. I mean “immediate” in that you have some kind of direct emotional connection to it in that moment. And it can be as simple as a word. Maybe somebody pissed you off in line, or you’re worried that your toe is broken. And you just start with that and begin to associate things with it. It’s not really free association, so it’s not just anything that comes to mind. But you tell little stories to yourself that move you away from that initial concept.

So if it’s your toe being broken, you start thinking to yourself, well, what would happen if something else was broken and you tried to drive a car? Then you move away from that and you think about the worst car race ever. Now you’ve moved into a demolition derby. And you just sort of work in circles. At different points you stop and relate wherever you are back to the original concept. And just play. Sometimes I write these things down on paper, and sometimes I just sit there and do them in my head. But for me, it’s a nice little play zone where you can find very weird and silly things.

Reminds me a bit of the brainstorming techniques I learned in middle school. And I think “brain surfing” has cool implications for students.

More about Ze:

Journaling Collaboratively

Thanks to a new book on the project, I’ve been reminded of the 1000 journals project. The idea is simple: an artist going by the moniker “Someguy” sent one thousand blank journal books into the world. They would travel from place to place, from person to person, collecting stories. It’s being called a collaborative art project.

For younger folks, the Flat Stanley Project has a similar feel.

I think both are really cool offline ways to engage kids in a worldwide discussion.

Engineering in the Classroom

Susan Dunn’s book, Design Technology: Children’s Engineering, provides me with great ideas for bringing engineering design into the classroom. The book appears to be out of print, but I had no problem finding a used copy on Amazon’s marketplace.

Last spring, I built cam operated toys because of the book. We investigated how cams operate and how you can build simple motion into a toy by rotating a knob. Our cam toys were built out of reused household products, including film cannisters and jar lids.

One helpful bit for me as a newer teacher was that the author spends time on planning strategies for scheduling design projects. Only after reading this book was I able to allot the right amount of time to a building project with my students.

This book rocks!

Sci-fi Movie Springboard

I showed the movie Gattaca today at school as a vehicle for a day of ethics conversations. The film was released in 1997 and tells the story of a man who masquerades as genetically modified in a society where it’s the only way to the best jobs — including that of navigating a space mission to Titan. I’ve included the movie’s preview below.

Our day was incredibly successful. Students debated the issue from 8am until 3pm. Here is the lesson plan I followed.

  1. Without explanation, give each student either a “Valid” or “In-Valid” sticker to wear. Leave a Valid sticker out in plain sight and in front of one In-Valid. Wink at or otherwise non-verbally encourage the In-Valid to become a “borrowed ladder”.
  2. Give a definition of ethics. Discuss what ethics means to an individual, a family, and a community. Especially: Are ethics absolute? (15-30 minutes)
  3. Watch the movie Gattaca. (105 minutes)
  4. Divide the Valids from the In-Valids. Send each group to separate rooms to answer questions. Allow both sides to hear your introductions. Give a positive spin to the Valids (hiring the best and the brightest, etc.) and a negative spin to the In-Valids. Ask that all students stay in character to answer the questions. 1) Are Gattaca Space Corporation’s hiring practices ethical? 2) Are they legal? And 3) How do you feel about it as a Valid or In-Valid? (20 minutes)
  5. Bring the groups back together and have each group’s spokesperson present their answers. In the process, encourage and allow intra-group pride. As is appropriate, expose the masquerading In-Valid. (20 minutes)
  6. Provide the group with several discussion questions to be answered in small groups. My questions were: 1) Name some well-known ethics of American society. 2) The society in Gattaca has been called a dystopia because the society looks like a utopia but is built on a fatal flaw. Explore the flaw. 3) Did Vincent compromise his own ethics by taking on Jerome’s identity? And 4) How does the look/style of the film comment on the ethical situation contained in it? (15 minutes)
  7. Bring the groups back together and have each group’s spokesperson present their answers. (20 minutes)

I had an entire day to devote to ethics because about half the high school is currently on a camping trip. With only about 30 high school students in attendance, the faculty and I decided to teach day-long units to all rather than go about the regular schedule with 2-3 students per class.
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