Category Archives: 21st Century Skills

If it seems like playing . . .

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If it seems like I’m playing lately it is because I am. The last week or so has been an exploration of all sorts of fairly odd things. Markov chains, Twitterbots, McRibs1, photo walks to name a few items.

These are easy things to dismiss as trivial. It’s not necessarily obvious how these strange wanderings connect back to outcomes that other people may want or how they mesh with the idea of online learning at VCU. I believe that’s because we’ve created a belief that (in many things) we know both where we are (point A) and where want to go (point B) and that whatever gets us between these two points most “efficiently” is the best path. I’m going to try to both justify the value of a wandering path by pulling in pretty disparate examples2 from time/space with some recent examples of these wanderings coming to fruition.

Similar patterns of over-narrowing happen in lots of areas. People tend to think they know lots of things they don’t.3 I see elements of this narrowing in terms of the echo chamber, the specification focused patterns of today’s world4, and the general lack of joy evident in work and school.5


Here’s a fairly typical pattern for me.

Stage One – September 2011

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On Sept. 22, 2011 at 10:48 PM6, I took a picture of a random artifact from my youth and put it on insta-facebook-agram so one of my friends could see it. Based on his enthusiastic interest, I decided to figure out how to make a digital version which I had as a working product on Sept. 24th.

Stage Two – August 2013

Nearly two years later (roughly August 8), I stuck my head in a meeting and heard a complaint about a Buck’s Institute tool. I knew from my vast experience with PHP fortune sticks two years earlier that I could make something like what was requested. The details of that exploration are in this post. The short version is that I opted to learn a chunk of javascript because I couldn’t manage rotate the variable independently in PHP. That got me involved with javascript libraries which in turn opened up a few other avenues of creation. A few days later, I made a gif randomizer which let me know I could randomize images as easily as text.

A few more days and I built some bean shaped math manipulatives I’d seen while helping to unpack supplies at an elementary school. This pushed me into touch libraries because the students most likely to use them would have iPads instead of laptops. That same basic concept (you can make user-movable things on the internet) branched into sight word refrigerator poetry after a conversation with a high school English teacher. This was finished up around August 27.

The same basic concepts came back again on September 19 when I built this getting-to-know-you page for the ITRTs after seeing this Dan Meyer post from back on August 7. I agree it’s not the most wonderful example of technology but it did open up a few conversations and I had an ITRT ask if they could move the red dots. My response was sure if they could figure out how to do it. This allowed me to squeeze in a quick Firebug/Inspect Element/CSS conversation and bring up that this is how some middle school kids had been tricking their parents about their online grades.7

Stage Three – November 2013

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Jump to another job and a few months later. A conversation between Gardner, Jon, and myself wanders to the idea of algorithmic construction, Twitterbots, and human attempts to derive understanding8. In many ways the #ds106 generator is a combination of all of these wanderings (and more). Like the best fortunes (sticks or otherwise), there is ambiguity to parse and use to construct meaning. There is also the combination of paths I’d taken previously- Google –> StackOverflow and Github. Little bits and pieces adding up.

At the same time we’re working on a logo for Online @ VCU. Thinking about what we hoped to accomplish and what I’d like the logo to represent led me to think of networks and connections which resulted in some flash backs to some interesting things I’d seen digging through javascript libraries back when I was trying to drag beans around. I’d remembered trying to do something with D3 and collapsible force nodes (just because I thought they looked interesting). That led to the idea that our logo should represent a networked relationship. On top of that being interactive would be an interesting plus and . . . for the next step an organic logo that is built by the actions of our users would be pretty interesting.

I don’t know if it’s heutagogy or combinatory play9 or maybe something else I haven’t learned a word for yet. Things like this happen all the time. It all adds up and comes together in beautifully unexpected ways and it’s not just information or skills- it’s people as well. In the end I really believe it is about interesting intersections but how will you know what to blend if you don’t wander around a good bit? My goal is to be interesting by being interested.10

Currently, I’m also prying at using a IFTTT recipe to capture my Twitter stream in a spreadsheet for analytical experiments and possible use later as a variable generator.

I remain, I hope, usefully deranged.


1 Strangely, McRibs and I have coincided before.

2 All the links are from my Diigo links rather than looked up for this post. I mention that because it’s an example of what I mean by seemingly aimless wanderings coming together at points in time.

3 It could be that my belief that we don’t know what we think we know is derived from a similar confirmation bias but I usually see that pattern cycling towards confidence rather than less . . . but I would think that wouldn’t I? . . . this does get meta pretty quickly.

4 Or 1945

5 It is not a coincidence that both teachers and students go insane with happiness when school is canceled for snow. Consider just how thankful both groups are to have one day of not going to school.

6 The NSA knows everything about me.

7 Crazy on so many levels. The students would pull up their online grades and change them in the browser. It’s like super ninja level whiteout.

8 Algorithmic oracles and Markovian driven divination both have a nice ring to them.

9 Not a victim of Churchillian Drift- Einstein did say that.

10 Amiable weirdness would be acceptable as well.

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Strange Screenshots

I take screenshots of things I think are strange or perhaps illuminate something about the strange world we now inhabit. Think of it as my personal take on The New Aesthetic. All of these images are pulled from my actual life and interactions with former classmates, friends, coworkers etc. There are a blurred out series of iffy pictures down there if you’re easily offended you might opt to skip this post.

Laser toe fungus available now.

Social media makes some really awkward conversations permanent.

I am influential in Zoolander, very, very influential. This happened shortly before I deleted all of my authority.

Some things you shouldn’t tweet from Harper’s Weekly Review(which would also make a great project).

Laptops don’t even make the list any more. Strange times.

The app-ification of education is proceeding at full speed. Reality doesn’t matter much and we’re losing the war of perception.

These four images are someone’s Instagram likes posted in Facebook.I can’t believe he realized this would happen, yet here it is.Social media makes for some really uncomfortable juxtapositions.

Modern day job benefits are not what they once were. Geek desks and monster monitors are pretty attractive to me though.

Someone I follow re-tweeting CNN’s coverage of Greek issues showing up right next to Real Time WWII Tweets also dealing with Greek issues. Everything about that is odd to me.

Buying Instagram friends? I guess you could do that.

Archive.org’s version of Maria Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind seems to have suffered water damage prior to being scanned.I found this hilarious.

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Social Media Talk

I’ve spoken to the PTA at Tuckahoe Middle School for the last two years about social media. It’s been pretty interesting both times in that I take a closer look at things that I tend to take for granted. I think both conversations have gone pretty well. I’ll document the conversation below (mixed with a few things I did with our principals a while back) for anyone who might have to do the same.

Introduction


I start with a slide that mixes the pictures of as many radically different people with Twitter accounts as I can find. I get the audience to try to identify the people. The one I’m using now has the Dali Lama, Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin and a few others. My goal was to have a few easily identifiable people and a few that took a tiny bit more effort.1 I wanted a wide diversity in political views, ages, etc. After we’ve ID’d the people, I ask “What do these people have in common?”2 I mention that you’ve probably heard references to Twitter after shows like Good Morning America, etc. Hopefully this gets people into the mindset that Twitter (and social media in general) is becoming more broadly adopted and is being used by mainstream media.

My next move is to argue against polarizing social media. It’s not black and white. While social media is not responsible for the decay of morals in America, it is also not the magic elixir that will heal all of our ills. I will say that social media is a powerful tool that opens up opportunities to increase the consequences of your energies and actions for good or bad.

What is social media?

I’m defining social media as any platform that allow users to communicate and connect with an audience. That’s a fairly broad definition but intentionally so. If the focus is on both the positive and negative aspect of social media, both come from the ability to communicate and publish for an audience. There are nuances of difference between sites and the ability to “friend,” the types of media you can publish, internal tools, etc. but the unifier is simple two-way communication.

That opens up a lot of terrain and I want to emphasize that. It’s too easy to say “I don’t let my kids go on social media,” or to write off all social media as trivial. This is also an opening to the discussion of how it’s not an on/off decision for schools.

At this point I emphasize different aspects of social media starting with CNN comments (and their high level of offensiveness), hitting Amazon comments (and that whole weird genre of fake product reviews) and then getting into things like Instagram and emphasizing that computers are certainly no longer a necessity. This type of cell-phone-based social media also adds the more immediate and integrated geographical data issue that can be a surprise for parents and kids. It’s not that I believe there are legions of internet kidnappers out there but I do think people ought to understand what data they’re disclosing.

The Social Media Pantheon

This isn’t a bad place to start when talking about the depth and breadth of what can be meant by social media. I also emphasize that social media on the web has been around in different forms for a long time. The Well being a very early example and I talk a little about IRC and Usenet. While not exactly social media as we think of it today, I think they provide some historical context.

I then move on to LinkedIn as something that some parents have used and it provides a touch stone as well as a pretty easily seen career/income relationship.

MySpace is next mainly because I want to stress how transitory these sites can be. Banning one site isn’t going to achieve your desired result. The Internet (and what is cool/hot/hawt) is a moving target. You have to focus on behavior as opposed to URLs.

Facebook takes a little time but is once again a familiar space for many parents. Many have used the site and understand the main capabilities. FB is mainly there so I can talk about its attempts to move into the mobile space3 held more by Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp and the like. Once again, I’m focusing on the mobile component and the importance of geographically aware elements in the popularity of the services.

I highlight a few people who’ve made their names through some bad choices that were documented on social media. I work from Phelps4, to Matthew Stafford and then hit Anthony Weiner. I work up to Weiner as his behavior was especially stupid and it put quite a contrast to the teacher (Ashley Payne) in the right hand corner who was fired for posting that picture. The point being some people document their stupidity and seemingly beg for punishment but there is also some real overreaction to things going on right now. Most people can’t believe the teacher was fired for that picture. I then point out The Facebook Fired, a site entirely dedicated to people fired for their social media actions. I may get into some of the issues that I documented in this post but it depends on the audience mood.

This is playing towards what people expect and I don’t apologize for that. These are the things parents are worried about. I lighten it up a bit at the end with Literally Unbelievable with a focus on the fact that what may be documented may not get you fired but it could convince people you’re an idiot. This also give me a chance to plug media literacy.

The Good

Now I get to focus on the things that are more interesting and fun. These are the things you don’t really hear about on mainstream news shows or on Oprah.5
I have used

From this the move is towards MOOCs/OpenCourseware and the more freeform places where you can join social media communities that are focused on learning. I hit Instructables and Make so I can open up the maker movement discussion and the tie in to use for science, physics etc. in our classrooms.


I take some detours and encourage questions from the audience but that eats up an hour pretty quickly. It’s a fun conversation and I get to talk about interesting things. The fact that raisins have QR codes and ketchup has its own Facebook page is too much to resist.

I ended with this tweet and the challenge that instantaneous access to worldwide communication is something these students will always have to deal with. That’s going to be a wild ride that will require an ever increasing skill set and media savvy.


1 Don’t make people work too hard at this point or everything will stall and you will make enemies.

2 I believe you already know the answer.

3 We talked some about the purchase of Instagram. A few parents brought up Instagram as the major social media element in their kids lives right now.

4 This may be a stretch but I’d argue without social media this would not have blown up nationally the way it did.

5 Is Oprah still on? Apparently not. Geraldo?

6 Yes, part of it is the fact that the video embarrasses me now.

7 I’m also a member.

The textbook as unreliable narrator

NBCLearn

Safe and trustworthy – each resource is selected to be K-12 appropriate, and held to the highest NBC News Standards and Practices.

Washington Post

NBC told this blog today that it would investigate its handling of a piece on the “Today” show that ham-handedly abridged the conversation between George Zimmerman and a dispatcher in the moments before the death of Trayvon Martin. A statement from NBC:

“We have launched an internal investigation into the editorial process surrounding this particular story.”

Great news right there. As exposed by Fox News and media watchdog site NewsBusters, the “Today” segment took this approach to a key part of the dispatcher call:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

Here’s how the actual conversation went down:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.

The difference between what “Today” put on its air and the actual tape? Complete: In the “Today” version, Zimmerman volunteered that this person “looks black,” a sequence of events that would more readily paint Zimmerman as a racial profiler. In reality’s version, Zimmerman simply answered a question about the race of the person whom he was reporting to the police. Nothing prejudicial at all in responding to such an inquiry.

-Washington Post

These two things came my way at about the same time. I don’t want to overstate things based on this one example but it does exemplify one argument I keep having with people. The “vetted” world comes with its own inaccuracies and biases yet we don’t seem to approach this content in that way. Textbooks, NBC’s media library, statements from members of our government, the content of library databases we provide students etc. are all things that ought to be looked at with the same critical eye we encourage for other less “trustworthy” sources of information.1

I wonder to what extent we’d have a more interesting and involved classroom if we introduced the idea of the textbook as an unreliable narrator. It’d be interesting to see what students would consider worth proving vs what they’d just accept. There’s a lot you could play with there. It’d certainly be a fun book to write.


1 Suspect everyone and follow the money might be a good rule of thumb.

Bloom’s Rocks!

Rocks are going to REVOLUTIONIZE education! Just look how easily rocks cover all levels of Bloom’s!

Flying without a license

Remembering

I write things on my rocks and it helps me remember. I can also use rocks as eco-friendly flash cards.

Quartz Varieties

Understanding

Comparing my rock to other rocks demonstrates my understanding. Sometime I categorize all of my rocks.

Skip Rock

Applying

I apply what I know about physics and use my kinesthetic intelligence to skip my rock.

Molasse inspection

Analyzing

I like to use conglomerates to help me differentiate between components and analyze the role of different composite pieces.
Thinking

Evaluating

Sometimes I just sit on a large rock, quietly reflecting on my rock- thinking about how we are all on a large rock and stuff like that.
Greet the Golden Hour

Creating

My rock can be used to make many things. I use it as a hammer mostly but I can stack my rocks into cool towers, use it as a canvas, make it into an arrowhead, or use to ground grain.