Friday, October 30, 2009

Fun On Friday #47: But Is It Art?

Daughter Number 2 brought this one to my attention: We Feel Fine. The site's tagline is: "An exploration of human emotion, in six movements" - which is at least intriguing if not downright interesting.

I'll quote a fairly large chunk from the site's Mission statement, however, you really have to see it, and play with it, yourself to get an idea of what it is all about:

Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world's newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases "I feel" and "I am feeling". When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the "feeling" expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.)...

The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 - 20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices, offering responses to specific questions...

If you haven't done so already, go to the We Feel Fine site, open it, and explore!

Fascinating and mesmerising... but is it art? I think probably yes. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BEd, Handheld Learning and Frozen Laptops

Today I intended to talk to the BEd 4 group about handheld learning. I was talking mostly about mobile phones but touched on Nintendo DS, iPhones and a few other bits and pieces as well. Unfortunately, the session started badly and went downhill from there! The ultimate fail happened when my laptop froze completely because the hard disc was full.

I said I'd try to note down a few of the things I talked about (or meant to talk about) and pass them on.

For information about Nintendo DS and handheld gaming, I of course referred them to Derek Robertson, the Consolarium as well as his Brain Training research and Nintendogs activities. I also talked about a couple of mobile phone based games that I like: Myst and Guitar Hero. For more information on Myst in education, have a look at the stuff Tim Rylands did and for the Guitar Hero, see the Guitar Hero @ MSG page.

I also talked about mobile blogging - or moblogging. I referred to some commercial tools but tried to emphasise how much could be done free (or next to no cost) with a moblog - see for example the PGDE(P) moblog as well as do it yourself solutions with Twitter and TwitPic.

I also spent a bit of time talking about how mobiles could be used as Interactive Voting Systems and demonstrated Poll Everywhere (with the students voting via Twitter) but should also have mentioned SMSPoll, Powerpoint Twitter Tools and TwEVS.


I also did a quick demonstration of QR Codes and described how you could use a QR Code generator to make codes for classroom posters, homework sheets and letters to parents. With the right software on your phone (I use i-nigma) you can use its camera to take a picture of the code to connect to an associated website. For example, the above code will take you to my Delicious page.

Towards the end of the session, I sent the students out on a "field trip". They were to find a janitor and send his or her name back by texting a message to Twitter from their mobile phones. I didn't spend long enough explaining the exercise so it didn't quite go to plan but we got a few messages before the end of the class.

Finally, some reading. For more details on mobile gaming, see TeachMeet08@SLF: Mobile Games and for advice on how to build a good personal learning network on Twitter, see Nine great reasons why teachers should use Twitter and Seven Ways to Find Teachers on Twitter.

So have I missed anything? What do you think the key aspects of handheld learning are?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fun On Friday #46: Tessellation - Creativity and Mathematics

Tessellation with squares - easy. Tessellating triangles - a doodle. Tessellating hexagons - even bees can do that. But tessellating rhinoceroses - now that's tricky!

Escher Symmetry
Originally uploaded by Pieter
However, if you head over to the Tessellation website, you will find instructions on how to create tricky tessellations. The sample image they use is... a rhinoceros. Brilliant.

So, if you've ever wanted to produce something approaching Escher like complexity, grab some tracing paper and get busy.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you produce.

Guitars and Online Learning

The last time I said something about trying to learn the guitar I cross posted the same message here and on my Music blog. It seemed appropriate since it was about learning and about music. I've just posted a progress report but rather than just duplicate the post, I thought I'd discuss some of the education issues it raises here instead.

I've been using GarageBand to learn guitar and there are many things about it that I really like but I'll start with a couple of frustrations. First, the lack of feedback that you would get from a "real" tutor is a problem. I'm sure a real tutor would have picked up and dealt with many of the bad habits I have developed, and that I am now trying to unlearn. For example, some chords I manage to form by putting all my fingers in the right place more or less at the same time, but others (e.g. the G chord) I seem to form by putting one finger on at a time. Clearly for smooth transitions, it would be better to develop the muscle memory and form the chord in one smooth movement but unlearning the bad habit I've already developed is extremely difficult. I suspect a tutor would have spotted and nipped that particular problem in the bud.

Similarly, the gap in my strumming pattern would have been picked up by another pair of ears listening to my efforts. I wonder if there's a GarageBand forum/Ning/whatever somewhere where learners could post video/audio and ask for feedback from the community of learners. {Thinks: must have a look around and see what I can find.}

My only other real frustration with GarageBand, is that I'd like a few more backing tracks/tunes so that I can consolidate what I've learned. I learn a few chords, practise some strumming patterns, get fairly good at playing along to the backing track... and then it's onto the next lesson. It would be good if you were given the choice of a few tunes that used the same chords but perhaps different styles of strumming so that you can consolidate what you've done.

The Good
Other than these reservations, I am very impressed with GarageBand's lessons. The directions are clear, the videos helpful, the tutor easy to follow and tools like the tuner and the playback speed adjuster are fantastic. I especially like the idea of learning to play tunes by getting lessons from the artists who wrote and performed them. For example Sting will teach me to play Roxanne (which is listed as "Easy", so I may try this soon) and Alex Lifeson will teach me to play Tom Sayer (listed as "Medium" and if I ever get that far, I will be well chuffed).

...And finally
To summarise, learning the guitar using only online/computer based resources is not without its problems but I'm enjoying trying.

And, once again, I have to put in a plug for the guitar I'm playing in the videos. It's the one Daughter Number 2 built at Bailey Guitars - the one I won from Rock Radio. It is gorgeous to look at, it sounds great (when played by someone that knows what they are doing) and it is easy to play - much easier to play that the Squire Stratocaster that I generally practise on. I cannot recommend Bailey Guitars highly enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Personal Learning Network

From my earlier scepticism about Twitter, I find I am now pushing Twitter as a useful tool for teachers. How did that happen?

House Sparrow
Originally uploaded by Gordon McKinlay
It is experiences like Vote with Twitter that have convinced me... and the response I got today when demonstrating Twitter to some BEd students helped confirm it for me. Today I posted the following comment:
Say hello to a group of BEd student teachers and tell them an interesting educational website. #BEd4
The first response came in a minute after I posted this message with @katiebarrowman recommending Glow. In the space of half an hour, we got twenty responses. While these responses were coming in, I got the students to sign up for Delicious. By the time they were set up with Delicious, they had a whole pile of recommendations from Twitter to save to Delicious. Brilliant!

Thank you to all the people who responded on Twitter.

Have you got any success stories to share about how Twitter was useful in learning and teaching?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fun On Friday #45: My life as a Lego man

I have a feeling that I've done this before... It's déjà vu all over again. If you can find where I've talked about it - can you show me where? :-)

This week - it's the Mini-Mizer. Create a character in Lego form. Here's my techno-geek teacher man:

If you have a go, share your creations in the comment section.

Computing: The Science of the Digital World

What is Computing? What is at the heart of the subject? What distinguishes Computing from ICT and what is the place of Computing in the Curriculum for Excellence developments?

break SPACE
Originally uploaded by diebmx
I have referred to these issues before (for example Computing Science and Games Programming and Computing is... again!) but, although I haven't blogged about them in a while, they have continued to niggle away at me. Discussion about a subject's place in the inter-disciplinary world of Curriculum for Excellence is of course not unique to Computing (see for example Curriculum for Excellence: the end of Integrated Science? and something from Fergal Kelly I think but I can't find just now! Curriculum for Excellence: the end of Separate Sciences? Thanks Mr Hood for this link and for correcting my spelling of Fearghal!) but I think it is worse in Computing because people do not have a clear view of what our subject is about.

I was talking to a chap today, who has been out of the classroom studying and is going back to teach Computing next week after a year's absence. I stated again that I like the definition proposed after the Schools Computing Workshop (which took place over two years ago!):

Computing: The Science of Our Digital World

This seems to me a good balance between being simple enough to be grasped quickly while still leaving enough room to be expanded in complex ways. The chap I was speaking to seemed to think this was a useful focus for our subject, however, he asked how we expand this definition to define the core of the subject in a bit more detail. For example, in CfE speak, Chemistry was defined as: Our Material World including uses and properties of materials, sustainability, the chemistry of life processes and the applications of chemistry in society.

Of the top of my head I suggested:
Our Digital World including programming as an exploration of formal defined languages, digital communications, computer systems and hardware, and the implications of Computing and ICT in society.
Programming is about problem solving and the control of computers using a formally defined language. I would therefore take a very broad definition of programming which would allow the study of application software to take place under this umbrella. By including applications in the programming topic we would hopefully avoid the danger of merely learning button pushing skills and be able to focus instead on computer applications as powerful problem solving tools.

Digital communications would allow the study of networks and communications - including the the mechanics of data transmission as well as the practical application in aspects such as Web 2.0 technologies.

Systems and hardware would include the physics and electronics side of things for example in the consideration of microchips and binary as well as peripheral devices, interfacing and operating systems.

My final social implications section was questioned and it was suggested that this aspect might be subsumed in the other three areas.

So that's my definition of Computing. What do other Computing specialists think? Perhaps more importantly, what do non-computing specialist think? Does this sound like a reasonable starting point or does it sound like someone trying to justify their existence?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's all about control...

Who controls the learning environment?

Einstein's blackboard
Originally uploaded by Garrettc
I came across two posts today that seem connected. The first was from an ex-colleague - Now learners control their VLE/LMS. In this post, Naill argues that:
"Much of the criticism levelled at virtual learning environments / learning management systems relates to the control of the environment by the institution rather than the learner. The individual student has minimal ability to upload their own content or to set up collaborative tools unless this has been pre-ordained by the institution..."
I immediately thought of Strathclyde's VLE (currently Blackboard/WebCT) and of Glow.

It has always seemed to me that Blackboard/WebCT is very much about content delivery. I am the one with the knowledge. I'll post it on Blackboard/WebCT. You can access it and benefit from my wisdom. Perhaps a slightly unfair characterisation of our VLE but not entirely without foundation. Although we are currently using Blackboard/WebCT we are about to move to Moodle. Hopefully, when we move, we'll install the Shared Activities module that Naill describes.

Then there's Glow. It has the potential to be about more than a information delivery... but the limited customisation features available are frustrating. Also, it not clear yet how much of the Glow content will be pupil generated... And that brings me to the second post that caught my eye - Growing and Glowing:
"Glow will soon support user blogs and wikis, allowing pupils and classes to create web pages and online diaries to showcase their work to other schools across Scotland. Promoting individualised learning and collaboration, this will be the first time Scotland has had access to a national education blog and wiki service."
I'm not sure about the last bit of that quote but making it easier to get pupil generated content on Glow sounds promising. Of course, Local Authorities can opt out of bits of Glow, so it will be interesting to see how many adopt these new tools and what encouragement or obstacles will help or hinder pupil use.

What do you think? Who is in contol of the content on the VLE that you use?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Fun On Friday #44: Make your own font

This is brilliant. Go to fontcapture, print out a font template, write in the boxes, scan, upload and Flo's your aunty. :-)

Here, revealed for the first time, is DavidFont - which I am ridiculously pleased with:

It then occurred to me that you didn't need to draw letter shapes. So here is MuirDoodle - half drawn by me and half by Daughter Number 3:

As you can see, we made some of them a bit too big and they got decapitated. but it was good fun coming up with doodles and I think we'll have another go tomorrow.

What fonts can you come up with? What about a music font or a hand drawn maths font, or map symbols or... Let me see what you come up with.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Questions from the back-channel

I recently gave a lecture where I had a back channel for students to make comments and ask questions. I was arguing that schools should be more open to using technology like pupils' mobile phones to support learning and teaching.

Noo Possession
Originally uploaded by Saad.Akhtar
However, in the back channel there were a number of comments/questions expressing concern about the potential disruption this could bring. Some of the messages are copied below.
  • do you not think mobie phones used in the class distract pupils from learning ?

  • phones maybe a useful piece of kit but as proven wit happy slappin it is a dangerous piece of kit

  • is this not open to abuse such as 'sir your a pure knob'?

  • the porn comment is why we switch off phones
    {Note: Concerns about accessing pornography were raised verbally as well as in at least one other message. Given the recent court case, should we add taking inappropriate pictures to this comment? - DM}

  • What about child protection stuff? Are pupils and parents happy for photos and videos to be taken on phones in class and posted online?
I've already responded to all the comments but how would you answer these concerns?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Fun On Friday #43: The plot thickens

Apparently everyone thinks they have a novel in them, however, perhaps some need more help than others. If you are struggling to come up with a plot, let Slate come to your rescue with the Interactive Dan Brown Plot Generator.

The plot I chose is:
An ancient puzzle at the heart of Paris.
A ruthless cult determined to protect it.
A white-knuckled race to uncover the Boy Scouts of America's darkest secret.

The Hidden Cipher

When renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the Eiffel Tower to analyze a mysterious ancient script—drawn on a calling card next to the mangled body of the head docent—he discovers evidence of the unthinkable: the resurgence of the ancient cult of the Baalifori, a secret branch of the Boy Scouts of America that has surfaced from the shadows to carry out its legendary vendetta against its mortal enemy, the Vatican.

Langdon's worst fears are confirmed when a messenger from the Baalifori appears at the Arch of Triumph to deliver a deadly ultimatum: Deposit $1 billion in the Boy Scouts of America's off-shore bank accounts or the exclusive clothier of the Swiss Guards will be bankrupted. With the deadline fast approaching, Langdon joins forces with the lithe and enigmatic daughter of the murdered docent in a desperate bid to crack the code that will reveal the cult's secret plan.

Embarking on a frantic hunt, Langdon and his companion follow a 500-year-old trail through Paris's most venerable statues and exalted churches, pursued by a Romanian assassin the cult has sent to thwart them. What they discover threatens to expose a conspiracy that goes all the way back to Davy Crockett and the very founding of the Boy Scouts of America.
You read it here first so no stealing my idea. Go and generate your own!