Pop Culture Omnibus

An aggregation of strange things that interested me in one way or another.

tl;dr and government communication in the age of the hipster

SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?

Seattle PD’s information on marijuana legalization is an interesting piece with a tl;dr reference and an embedded Lord of the Rings “finest weed” video clip.

Compare the voice and audience of this government communication to other state communications.

We will kill you so fast

We need doctors because people grow up and you fall down and go boom. Everyone’s going to need a doctor. Let’s have 3 doctors per floor of every apartment building in this town. How about that as a good idea? Like that is a good idea. OK.

So let’s make college tuition either free or really low. And if you have a country full of whip-crack-smart-people, you have a country the rest of the world will fear. They will not invade a country of educated people because we are so smart. We’ll build a laser that will burn you, the enemy, in your sleep before you can even mobilize your air force to kill us. We will kill you so fast because we are so smart.

–Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins gives a whole new side of STEM education that I missed from all of the other experts. Let’s thank Big Think for helping to clarify the issue with helpful videos from experts in the field.1

The Maginot Line For Cursive

I’m not really interested in arguing about cursive either way. I just don’t care but this article claiming to argue for keeping cursive does about the worst job I can imagine. Seriously, it makes me sad. Basically the article breaks down to –

  • One PTSD flashback to a nun who threw the author’s work away because apparently nuns can’t read print and really like being mean to kids for no reason.
  • The next argument seems to indicate we should spend time teaching cursive because it’s now being used in CAPTCHAs. I think this is a case of putting the monkey2before the cart.
  • That’s followed by a double-summarized reference to printing (rather than cursive) resulting in “adult” like brain activity. This was also compared to saying the words rather than typing them- which might have actually been a useful comparison for this article.
  • Finally, there’s a half-joking (I guess) reference to students not being able to read the Constitution because it’s written in cursive. So writing vs reading, the many, many versions of the Constitution in typeface3aside, let’s look at the ability of our cursive educated students and adults ability to read and understand the Constitution right now. Then I’d like a conversation about where we are failing our students and where we need to place attention.

The essentials

This was an old screenshot I took of a middle school student’s computer. Apparently these were the phrases she needed for daily success.

Please do not come again

Some people are more serious about shutting down their blogs than others.


Strange message in a spam Google Form URL. Oddly the URL worked and I can’t figure out anyway the message could have been customized, nor any reason to customize it given this was a phishing attempt.

Nothing is safe

1 Alternate titles for this section included sharks with laser beam references, lines from Marky Mark’s Fear movie and other even more obscure things.

2 The horse left in disgust earlier.

3 It’d be totally impossible to alter the original because it’s in cursive,right? RIGHT?

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.

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.


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.

Speaking from experience . . .

Obama Smoking

Asked by one student how he could become President someday, Obama issued a warning about Facebook. “I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life. That’s number one,” he said, according to Bloomberg. – source

Good advice but I really wonder what will be considered “bad” in 30 years1. Neither party has been too clean in terms of youthful (on non-youthful) “indiscretions” lately2. Leaders in the private sector and many religions don’t seem any different.

I wonder if the easy and frequent documentation, not to mention publication, of all sorts of mistakes will change what people expect out of politicians and people in general. People make mistakes. It’s going to happen to lots of them. Will the sheer proliferation make those mistakes matter less? Will it take more and more shocking things to make any sort of impression?

That’d be an interesting byproduct. As a result of the consistent chronicling of “bad” behavior in our society the definition of bad behavior has been revised. I think it has already happened. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. Maybe we’re looking at people realistically or maybe we’re lowering the bar.

1 Granted, many people don’t care about smoking pot but it’s still against the law and photographic evidence bragging about breaking the law isn’t the best idea, right Michael Phelps?

2 I won’t get into what personal stuff is currently going on with a ridiculous number of politicians.

Two Ways To Fail

Here are two options our new filtering system currently gives when you try to access a blocked site1.

Option One
Picture 4

Misspelling aside, this warning is not pleasant. It assumes what I’m doing is bad and that I am acting with bad intent. Apparently I need a scary warning. I am being treated like a deviant. This does not please me.

Option Two
Picture 7
Well, am I blocked? Is the site down? I don’t know. This message does nothing for me and leads to frustration and irritation. I suspect the filter but have no obvious way to confirm it2. Super.

The message I want is simple. Let’s choose something with a blue or green background. It can be unique looking so teachers can spot it easily but it can also be calm and polite. Maybe something like . . .
Picture 8

There’s nothing wrong with treating people with respect and politeness. The scary page isn’t going to deter people who are interested in bypassing the filter and it only insults those who are going about their business with legitimate intent.

1 I’m not going to get into the whole filtering things again. My views on that are probably known if you know me.

2 At least not by myself while at school. I did confirm it via my network of Internet malcontents.

Cute Cats, Dissidents & Your School’s Filter?

Cute Cats

I found this great post via O’Reilly Radar.

It’s basically the notes from a presentation at eTech. I found the ideas and applications really interesting. If you want to see examples of Web 2.0 being used in amazing ways to change the world, this is the post for you. It ought to lead to some deeper thinking about the technologies and their possible applications both in schools and elsewhere.

I thought this quote could apply to schools who are filtering in the typical “block all student communication” manner.

(referring to getting a site blocked) This is a good thing if you’re an activist. Most Tunisians don’t identify as activists and might not be engaged with politics. But, like Americans and Europeans, they’re interested in seeing cute cats being adorable online. When the government blocks DailyMotion, it impacts a much wider swath of Tunisians than those who are politically active. Cute cats are collateral damage when governments block sites. And even those who could care less about presidential shenanigans are made aware that their government fears online speech so much that they’re willing to censor the millions of banal videos on DailyMotion to block a few political ones.

Blocking banal content on the internet is a self-defeating proposition. It teaches people how to become dissidents – they learn to find and use anonymous proxies, which happens to be a key first step in learning how to blog anonymously. Every time you force a government to block a web 2.0 site – cutting off people’s access to cute cats – you spend political capital. Our job as online advocates is to raise that cost of censorship as high as possible.

Technology Mistakes

This question on the MACUL Ning space got me thinking (you may be wondering why I’m part of a Michigan edtech group when I live in VA- answer Ben Rimes).

As a School Board Trustee in Lapeer Community Schools(6500 students) I am very excited about passing our first Bond in 34 years!!! With the passage were looking at $6,000,000 for technology. The big question now is…where do we spend the money and how do we get the biggest bang for our taxpayers hard earned dollars. Certainly we are involving the teachers, administration, students,etc…but I dont want to just dump computers and white boards in every class only to see them sitting in the corner not being used. Has anyone observed mistakes when purchasing technology, or have any success stories about implementing teachnology in their schools?

So here’s my two cents based on my experience in Henrico county with our 1 to 1. It’s not exactly coherent or ordered but I think there’s some truth in there. Am I missing things? Too paranoid? Plain wrong?

I think these concepts seem to get left behind or only partially implemented far too often.

1. Staff development- this isn’t just how to use the computer/white board etc. (although that is important) the focus should be on why you’d want to use it, ways to use it and then time to create resources/lesson plans with it. Administrators need to have training in how to implement the change, how to support the change, and how to assess the change. Teachers need to look at the their teaching and think about what should/should not change. This can’t be a one time thing or something that’s front loaded- staffdev has to be continual and constant. Teachers need to keep reassessing and being given opportunities to grow.

The big plan has to include goals for the initiative. You’ve spent all this money. What did it get you? How are you going to measure progress? Is it based on test scores, student engagement, decreased drop out rates, qualitative survey data, a combination of all those? If you don’t have this critics in the community will pick you apart. It doesn’t take many to do this, they just have to be loud.

How will the technology be supported in the schools? Do you have on site tech support? What about integration support? In my county in VA we have dedicated instructional technology resource teachers who don’t teach classes. They focus on helping teachers use technology in ways that impact learning. That’s one way to do it.

Another way, which appeals to me more in certain ways, is to set up lead teachers in schools. Give them the technology first and let them run with it. They should have reduced schedules (stipends?) and as the technology is phased in for others, they’d then help them with both technology and pedagogy. You have to be careful though, because this is a big task for the lead teachers so something large needs to be taken off their plate.

2. Community education- If you don’t keep the community on your side it’s easy for a few minor issues to be blown out of proportion. Keep talking to the parents. Offer them training. Get them to see the good that you’re doing. PR is absolutely key for a technology initiative.

3. Sharing- So you’ve got all these teachers doing great things in their classrooms, maybe a whole school is doing amazing things- how are they going to share their successes with others? Why should they bother? Thinking about ways to make sure great ideas/lessons etc. are shared is really important and often not done at all. That infrastructure and incentives to use it should be set up early. Get master teachers creating a variety of resources before the technology gets in everyone’s hands. Then make sure everyone knows where to get those resources and give them incentives to make more.

Back on the Internet Safety Bandwagon

I’m back working on Internet safety stuff. Here are some ideas I’m playing with on searching and source validity. If you see anything I’m missing etc. let me hear it.

This is kind of a PR poster for classroom/hallway display. I’m aiming to get students creating them as part of art class or a contest of some sort.
People Lie
Click for a full size PDF

This is more for teacher use (and a little less fun). We’re trying to create simple reference sheets for key computer activities so that Internet safety is covered throughout the year.
Internet Searching Teacher Guidance Sheet
Click for a full size PDF