Looking Forward

Never Forget

ISTE 2010: iPhone Apps and Tips

The first ISTE session I attended was Getting the Most From Your iPhone: Apps, Tricks and Tricks by David Pownell. It was a fun session; a little of it was education specific, but I think most of it was stuff that the average iPhone or iPod Touch person would be interested in. The beginning of the session lagged a little as the presenter had no way to show what was on his iPhone screen. He tried the best he could and got things going, but he could only go so far by describing what was going on (followed by a lot of what-was-thats and could-you-go-over-that-agains). Fortunately one of the attendees came to the rescue and graciously arranged for a document camera to be delivered, which improved the session immensely.

Like David, I download a lot of apps to try out and I was wondering if I was actually going to learn something new, but I did discover a few gems. To his credit, David encouraged people to jump in and they recommended some great apps as well. Some of my favorites:

* iTreadmill ($0.99)- a simple pedometer
* PopMath ($0.99, free lite version available) – a fun way to help students learn basic computational facts
* Autoverbal ($0.99)- will speak text typed into it, for autistic children

Perhaps my favorite one was Siri (free). It’s similar to Yelp in that it’ll find nearby places, like restaurants, gas stations or movie theaters, but you make requests with your voice. Also it seems to provide better results. When I’m searching for a restaurant in Yelp, it gives me a whole bunch of choices that are close by, but they don’t seem to be in any particular order and a lot of them will not be within walking distance. Siri seemed to give you to closest restaurants, but I’ll have to try that out more.

David posted both the apps and the tips he presented on his website. Check them out!

Location:Quebec St,Denver,United States

Denver Day One

I’ve just got back to my hotel after my first full day at ISTE 2010. It went well. Things don’t really get going until tomorrow for me. Today, I tried to find my way around the city and figure out where everything is at the convention center.

Here are some highlights of Day 1:

* The opening keynote was not well received by the attendees. It was given by Jean-François Rischard, a former Vice President of the World Bank. Which is too bad because he has a lot of expertise and knowledge. The basic message was that the world political systems are currently not able to apply solutions to very serious problems (or as columnist Thomas Friedman calls them, “suboptimum solutions”), so we’re going to depend on today’s young people to come up with innovations to save us. I mean, talk about adding relevance to our curriculum!

Unfortunately Mr. Rischard was not a very charismatic speaker. His presentation was full of lists and PowerPoint slides such as this one

which he went over in some detail. He has some good insights and I would’ve liked to have heard more about his past experiences as he tried to solve some of these problems. (Doesn’t the World Bank have some influence in these areas?) As it was, I really didn’t get a lot out of it.

* The Conference Kickoff didn’t break any new ground – it basically just went over all the great things ISTE does – but it was a lot of fun. Mario Armstrong, who covers technology for NPR’s Morning Edition, was an energetic host and the event reinforced my conviction to not let things get in the way next year. We have the infrastructure and the knowledge to make Edgemere a model school when it comes to using technology to help students build their own knowledge. Let’s do it!!

* This year I’m staying in an official conference hotel, which makes things easier because they provide shuttles that take me from the hotel to the conference site and back, saving me the trouble of driving or walking (or using Google Maps for the mass transit information, like I had planned.)

* The hotel I’m staying in is HUGE. It’s 11 stories big, has it’s own parking garage and seems to be bustling with activity all the time. The rooms are nice, but from the inside lobby it looks particularly ugly. Just rows of horizontal floors stacked to the ceiling, sort of like one of those old hotels but this is all inside.

Since every floor overlooks the lobby, it also is not the place with anyone thar has a fear of heights. I’ve developed a mild case of this and it freaks me out a little every time I have to leave my room!

Here’s a picture I took looking down towards the lobby. It’s as close as I could get to the ledge.

I have a feeling Alfred Hitchcock could’ve made good use out of this hotel a movie. Freaky!

* Before I left, I purchased the GPS Drive HD app for my iPad to help me to get to my hotel and anyplace else I would want to drive to. It was my first time using any type of GPS device and it was fun. It was amazing how well it kept track of exactly where I was in the city. The information on the map was clear, the voice directions were loud enough and I had enough information at the right time to figure out what to do. Being in a different city, there was one time where I was in the wrong lane to go to the street I wanted to, but the app quickly figured out a new route and everything worked out.

* Since I’m going to do all my writing for this conference on my iPad, I decided I needed to go to the Apple Store so I could get a wireless keyboard. So I decide the best time to go is Sunday morning, right when the store opens at 11 AM. I end up getting to the store at 11:05 and although the mall itself is fairly empty, the Apple Store is already bustling with activity! I wonder if that’s normal or if it’s because of all the conference people in town like me. ;)

Anyway, I find the keyboard and I can’t figure out how to pay for it. There’s not one cash register in the whole store. Finally, I ask someone how I’m supposed to pay for it. She points me with someone and he starts putting in information on his iPod Nano, even using it to scan in my credit card. Finally he goes off to print my receipt and that was it.

* The wireless keyboard works great by the way!

See you tomorrow!

Location:California St,Denver,United States

Three Years

We’re coming up on the third anniversary of this blog. In that time, I’ve written a little over 125 posts. In the first year and a half, I updated it fairly regularly, and then for the next year and a half, I barely wrote in it at all. It’s just in the last month since I’ve resurrected it.

By far, my most popular post has been How to Allow Non-Admin Users to Add Printers in Leopard, which accounts for about two-thirds of the traffic to this site. It address a minor problem in Mac OS X 10.5 that will probably concern no more than one in a million people, but when you have a billion or two people in the world connected to the Internet, that still brings a steady stream of traffic to this site each day.

I knew when I posted it that it was going to be useful to some people. To find a solution that worked, I had to piece together information from three different sites – there wasn’t one place you could go to that would give an average user this information.  The ironic thing is that I haven’t used this information since I wrote it. It turns out we didn’t update all the teacher laptops to Leopard after all, so I didn’t have to deal with it. Unfortunately, because of this, I haven’t been able to provide any help to the people who commented on this post. I really don’t know if it’s still a problem or if the fix I provided is still a solution. Sorry!

Sometimes students stumble upon my blog and look at my Clustrmap and ask me how they can get as many people from as many different places to visit their blog. For me, it was just providing information that can’t be found anywhere else. For example, my second most popular post (a distant second) is Making an Interactive QuickTime Movie which presents a unique way to link information from a graphic in Apple’s Keynote and then export it to a QuickTime movie. People who are interested in finding information on that will search Google for it and, since there’s not a lot of people who have posted information on that particular topic, mine will be one of the top results to pop up.

The alternative to that would be write continuously about a hobby or a passion they have and, sooner or later, other people with the same hobby or passion will find the blog and start visiting regularly. I could probably do this on a number of topics, especially with technology and education, but my attention tends to wander to other topics too often.

The strangest thing that happens is when someone brings up my blog. It happens so rarely, it’s a shock. Just about a month ago, a colleague was mentioning my blog to some of the other people in the room and being very complimentary. There was this weird non-reaction – nobody knew what to say, including me! I suppose I should have something in mind to say, though, in case it ever happens again. ;)

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who reads this. I appreciate the kind words … even if it’s hard to tell sometimes.

Beyond McChrystal

Although all the attention has been on General McChrystal today, there was also a disturbing story in today’s New York Times about conditions on the ground for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, who are under McChrystal’s command. Apparently they are facing tightened rules of when they can fire on enemy combatants, which is causing risks with little upside. Here is a key section:

Before the rules were tightened, one Army major who had commanded an infantry company said, “firefights in Afghanistan had a half-life.” By this he meant that skirmishes often were brief, lasting roughly a half-hour. The Taliban would ambush patrols and typically break contact and slip away as patrol leaders organized and escalated Western firepower in response.
Now, with fire support often restricted, or even idled, Taliban fighters seem noticeably less worried about an American response, many soldiers and Marines say. Firefights often drag on, sometimes lasting hours, and costing lives. The United States’ material advantages are not robustly applied; troops are engaged in rifle-on-rifle fights on their enemy’s turf.
I hope there’s more to this story than this article presents. Maybe the U.S. military’s less aggressive posture is causing the Afghan public to have a more favorable view of the U.S. and its goals, but I see no evidence of that.
If that’s the case, this is not going to end well.

Interactive Whiteboards: Worth the Expense?

The Washington Post printed an interesting article on interactive whiteboards about a week ago. Although it presented both sides, it was clearly skeptical of whiteboard manufacturer claims that these devices made a significant positive impact on students’ learning.

I can’t disagree with this conclusion. Although they are impressive devices and a lot of effort, skill and expense have gone into their development, they are also hugely expensive. If a school has an unlimited technology budget, then I might recommend them. If not, there’s a lot more important things to spend money on.

We have five Promethean boards at our school and we’ve had them for about three years. They’ve been rarely used and it seems every time someone wants to use it there’s some kind of problem getting it to work. The software that comes with it is impressive and full of features, but it’s also complex and hardly intuitive. It requires a lot of professional development and I’ve found it has to be on-going. If teachers aren’t constantly using it, they quickly forget how to use it.

My school made a major investment this last year buying projectors, document cameras and speakers this last year, which covers about 95% of what teachers use an interactive whiteboard for and can do a whole lot more. I think these were pretty good purchases because, if you’re using technology in the classroom, there are times you need to show it off. You need to display student work or show them a model of what something should look like. But you don’ need an expensive whiteboard for that. You do lose some of that ‘interactive’ capability but those are usually matching and sorting activities – interactivity on a low level.

I think one thing the article was spot-on about is that whiteboards are just a new way to do the same old thing. It’s one person doing something and everybody else watching. But the best technology integration is so much more than that – it gets everyone involved to build their own meaning by creating something.

The TV Show Recap

One of the types of writing to emerge in recent years is the TV Show Recap. It used to be that newspapers had TV critics who wrote about TV shows and movies before they were shown, now all over the web you can find in-depth analyses of almost any TV show after a new episode is broadcast.

So tomorrow I’m going to be looking forward to reading reactions of tonight’s Friday Night Lights episode. It’s going to be interesting to compare my reactions to theirs as well as to get some different perspectives.

For example after last week’s episode, I read recaps from Time’s James Poneiwozik and Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker that largely matched my own, but the the New York Times’ Ginia Bellafante had a very different insight: ”The episode was called ‘Stay’ and it reinforced the bittersweet point that the kids who are going to lead rich lives leave Dillon and the ones who are going to struggle are the ones who stay. Achievement is just incompatible with hanging around.” Wow, that’s a very interesting socio-economic connection!

Me, I made a very personal connection with that episode. I thought it was a typically understated FNL moment – here you had two of the show’s couples possibly breaking up, yet there were no battles, no betrayals, no ultimatums. All the conflict and pain came from within the characters. One of the things I appreciate most about this show is that it’s mostly about people who try to do the right thing and make an effort to act honorably, yet even though they truly love and care for the people around them, that is sometimes not enough to keep them in their lives, too often there are forces that carry them away.

As a teacher, I sometimes wonder what would happen if we encouraged some of these new forms of writing rather than always insisting on the stodgy report or the contrived narrative. Although they’ll certainly have their place, maybe these other forms can help students to learn how to communicate something that’s on their mind, even if what’s on their mind is a TV show. I don’t think that’s necessarily a negligible skill.

Reading on the iPad

One of my favorite new uses for my iPad is for reading, whether it’s blogs, newspaper articles and books, and I find myself reading more than I have in years.

For books, I’ve been using the two most prominent apps in that category – Amazon’s Kindle app (not to be confused with their Kindle reading device) and Apple’s own iBooks. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and although I’d prefer to have all my ebooks in one place, I’m probably going to end up using both for the foreseeable future.

Both offer a similarly pleasant reading experience. They’ll both take up your iPad’s screen so you won’t be distracted, and you tap to bring up additional menus and, with another tap, they go away. Both will allow you to increase or decrease the size of the text – a very nice feature. They each allow you to download books straight to your device and will save your place for you when you exit the app.

The favorite feature of mine that they both do is allow you to download samples of the book so you have the chance to read a very generous excerpt of the book so you can decide whether or not you really want to buy it. I always hated it when I bought a book at the bookstore only to discover that it didn’t grab my interest when I got it home. So I would try to sludge through it because I felt obligated to read it because I spent money on it. Now I make it a point to read the whole sample so I’m sure I’m going to like it before I purchase the complete book.

There are a few differences however. The Kindle’s main advantage is the much greater number of books Amazon has in their ebook store. Another advantage is that Kindle lets you add your own notes to a book and exports it out to a webpage that you can make public. (Currently you can only highlight sections in iBooks. The ability to add notes is coming in an update, but there’s been no information on whether there’s any way to share them.)

There’s two reasons I prefer iBooks though. When you put your iPad in landscape, you get a nice two page format which is preferred way to read. Also in iBooks, you’re able to get definitions of unknown words by tapping on them. I don’t use this feature often – I prefer to ‘go with the flow’ when I’m reading rather than stop but sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me and, in those cases, that’s nice to have.

So when I’m looking for a book, I try to find in the iBooks bookstore first, and then I go to Amazon’s website and see if it’s available for the Kindle there.

Can We Think Beyond Ourselves For a Minute?

Does anyone think beyond their own narrow self-interest to what’s good for the public or the Earth overall?

Just in the last couple of days there’s been news that some British folks are upset because they think BP has been unfairly picked on. A few days previous to that many people connected to the oil industry were complaining because of the six month moratorium on offshore drilling.

Sheesh. It’s like you’d never guess there’s an environmental catastrophe happening at this very moment.

Look, businesses are great at doing things that bring in money and boost profits. You can count on them to make snazzy products to market in the most efficient means possible. We certainly don’t want government to get in the way of that. But they’re not so good at being responsible citizens. With rare exceptions, you can count on them to take shortcuts whenever possible when it comes to safety or keeping the air or the water clean.

This certainly seems to be the case with BP. If they were open and honest from the very beginning and took an aggressive, proactive approach to getting the oil cleaned up and helping out people that were harmed from the spill, they wouldn’t have had this problem. Instead they always seem to be trying to evade as much responsibility as possible.

The mayor of London is concerned about “anti-British rhetoric.” What is he talking about? Nobody blames this on the British people, we blame the company. If an American oil company was responsible for a similar disaster in the North Sea, I would hope the people in the UK would put the same amount of scrutiny and pressure on them.

As for the moratorium, I think it’s good. I’m all for sensible drilling, but I don’t want to destroy the planet in the process. The question for me is, can’t we stop these spills from happening? If rules were followed, would that have stopped this “accident”? Do we need more guidelines and regulations? What will it take to prevent this from happening in the future?

Look, I feel bad people are hurting. It’s a shame some people’s pensions are losing value. It’s horrible that some jobs won’t be opening up for awhile, especially in this economy. But sometimes there are more important things than money.

Friday Night Lights: The Power of Understatement

Is there a more understated TV drama than Friday Night Lights?

I don’t think so. In almost every episode, the writers take the dramatic conflicts that arise and either diffuses them, undercuts them, or complicates them into something more interesting and real. Even though the show is centered around a sport as explosive and violent as football, there’s this sense of modesty and respectfulness about it that’s perfect for the small Texas town in which it’s set. Although it’s probably the reason why this TV show has never found a mass audience, it’s the reason why I look forward to each new episode.

The series may have hit it’s peak last week with “The Son.” It was one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to give too much away, but one of the characters has just found out his father died in Iraq and goes through an emotional journey as he comes to terms with his father’s passing and the legacy of his life.

In some ways, this particular episode is atypical of the series as there are some very emotional moments that occur. But the grace and humanity in which they play out is classic Friday Night Lights.

Go watch this episode if you haven’t yet seen it. You won’t be disappointed.

Will AT&T’s New Data Plan Change My Plans?

There’s an interesting new dimension in my plans to use ipadio next school year: Last week, AT&T announced changes to its data plans. As an existing iPhone customer, I could keep my current unlimited data plan at $30 a month, but I could change it to a 2G per month plan for $25 or 250MB a plan for $15.

Previous to May, the most data I used in any month was a little over 150 MB a month. With that in consideration, the $15 a month plan would be the ideal choice. But in May, when I started uploading the school’s morning announcements every morning, I used over 400 MB! Since my school district currently blocks ipadio, I have to upload everything over 3G instead of wifi.

If I’m going to continue to record the announcements next school year, clearly I’m going to have to try to get my district to unblock this website. I’m not sure if I’m going to do this, right now I’m leaning toward recording my lessons instead. Still even that’s not worth me paying an extra $15 a month.

I’m not only one facing a choice due to the new data plans. App developers are especially worried about what AT&T’s new policy is going to mean to their app sales. Me, I’m just grateful I can cut a few bucks off my monthly expenses for a change.