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“Time Bombs of the Mind” – A journalist’s take on science, technology, and a media-saturated world

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Nalaka Gunawardena is how grounded he is. Someone introduced him as a citizen journalist, but he’s larger than that, with his antennae in many places, covering science, and pop culture, information technology and social media.

Meeting this new generation of media-savvy writers (he’s a blogger and journalist) who are comfortable in both mainstream and new media, makes me optimistic that in a media-saturated environment where one-liners and tweets pass off as news, there is serious journalism underfoot. Nalaka covers such topics as climate change, space science, and road safety, among other areas.

Nalaka’s just published book is, Wanted: Time Bombs of the Mind

 

Full disclosure: I met Nalaka last year in Sri Lanka –we were on a panel discussion related to my book, Chat Republic.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in Book, Media, Social Media

 

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Drones and other flying objects that inspire

This was an event at my school last Fall. An evening focused on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

The theme was on flight.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Education, Technology

 

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Lessons from Richard Attenborough

AttenboroughIt was a grey, nondescript September afternoon in London, when we sat down with recording ‘machines’, and microphones, all agog for our victim to walk in.

The victim was Richard Attenborough, someone well known to our class of foreign students at the BBC (whose motto, most appropriately, was/is “Nations shall speak unto Nation“). It was just seven years since Gandhi had been released.

We had practiced the ins and outs of radio production, from managing the heavy tape machine (about as heavy as a small microwave), to splicing, mixing sound effects etc. None of this would have mattered if we didn’t get our interview right. We would have just five minutes of face time.

Mr. Attenborough – I doubt we addressed him as ‘Sir’ Richard– was  extremely gracious, and disarming. This was not what our trainers had prepped us for: the evasive spokespeople, the rude celebrities, and those who intimidate you etc.

What I recall most were two things. Mr. Attenborough patiently listened to my question (about the making of the Gandhi), at times tilting his head to figure out my accent.  Speaking of which, there were no shortage of versions of English and thick accents in that room at the Capital Radio studios, London that day. Before and after me were budding radio hosts from the Seychelles, Malta, Lesotho, and Fiji.

The other thing was how he punctuated each idea with his sweeping arm movements, barely grazing, but totally ignoring the microphone. This is what interviews are supposed to be structured around – conversations, not hardware.He made that easy for us.

Long after the spool tapes gave way to tiny, and barely digital recording devices, it’s still the conversations that matter.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Communications, Social Media

 

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The “Windows in our Palms” and Digital Practice

There is no shortage of studies about the value or misuse of smart phones. It’s hard to find an adult who does not carry one. (For the record I know three people, and they are doing just fine!)

As a technology teacher in an elementary school, I must take into account the downside of too much tech, and too little ‘think time’ whether my students are involved in writing, weighing in during a discussion, or sometimes, even listening to instructions, undistracted by the screens to which we give them access.

These Digital Natives may rarely find a space that is free of technology, or an object or space urging them to turn to technology. For this reason I kicked off my classes with a unit on Digital Citizenship.

Technology is a tricky beast. Should we ban phones and roll out the cart of tablets? Should we discourage social media, but ask them to become familiar with ‘journaling’ a.k.a. blogging, one of the earliest forms of social media? Hmm!

Here are two pieces worth reading and watching:

“Why I quit Twitter” – Patton Oswalt, TIME Magazine 
Not just a discussion of Twitter, but a wonderful, commentary on how people are “peeping at windows in their palms.”

“Kids with cell phones. How young is too young?
A short video by CBS News about the pros and cons of cell phones for young children, and the need to model good practices, and teach ‘digital hygiene’.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Education, Media, Twitter

 

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Digital Learning Gets To Schools, One Principal at a Time

I watched a recording of a Webinar by Eric Sheninger, a principal of a New Jersey school, who happens to be a big advocate of digital technologies in education. Been following his blog for about a year now.

His big point on Digital Leadership (speaking for, and to school administrators) was that schools should mirror or parallel the real world.  In other words, few are actually doing that. (A point backed by Univ. of Texas professor Steve Minz, who says there has been much ‘floundering and flailing’  after they emerge from college.)

I’m very cognizant of this kind of thinking, because we in elementary schools feed that college pipeline.  I start my year by informing  my students that the ‘computers’ they will use in less than a decade, won’t even look like the ugly black boxes they see in my computer and tech lab. (Not to mention the posibility that they would not simply shrink, but become invisible, yet ubiquitous.)

Sheninger has a list of seven pillars in this new model of digital leadership he offers:

1. Communications
2. Public Relations
3. Branding
4. Professional Growth
5. Student Engagement and Learning
6. Learning Environments and Spaces
7. Opportunity

Imgine that: principals and administrators having to deal with branding, in addition to student engagement. He makes some fascinating observations about our fear of technology. Interestingly, although he is a prolific blogger, he was at one time skeptical about social media!

My kinda guy!

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2014 in Disruptive, Education

 

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Drone, Baby Drone and other Creative Apps at ISTE 2014

“Creative teachers,” said one presenter –whose name I couldn’t jot down because I didn’t have the appropriate app ready to scan his QR code at a 30-foot distance–“know how to sneak the really good stuff into their classroom.”

elementsAs this marathon ISTE conference draws to a close, there were so many sidebars, and concurrent darn-I gotta-skip events, it’s hard to pin-point one big thing. I ran into more creatives (the tablet-wielding types) per square foot than at any event I’ve attended. Students, too. More about that in a moment. And I don’t mean creative types in terms of the iPad-toting app-happy folk. There are teachers who have spent insane number of hours disrupting their lesson plans with science-ish, media-ish, technology-ish, math-ish hands-on work that you’d think they were running non-profit enterprises. (sidenote: I just recalled the afore-mentioned speaker – author of the children’s book, “ish” - Peter Reynolds.) Getting students to produce hand-drawn periodic tables because they work better with Augmented Reality. You get the idea.

This enormous body of work ought to be documented (Ok, Evernoted, Dropboxed, Google docked or Wikiid) for the 18,000 weary souls who will drag themselves to the train station and airport today. So that when we return to our students in August, we could pull up some of these big ideas to implement.

Consider some of the discussions and hands-on sessions. Most people outside of education (that’s where I came from) only hear of Arduino, Aurasma, SkitchReflector, and Qrafter at social media shin digs. Drone Baby droneThe rush (crush) to scan QR codes was so great at one point this morning there were lines of people –smart-phones poised– that rivaled Starbucks. I must’ve been the only tech blogger with an analog device –my notebook.

Most people think Maker Spaces are where wanna-be engineers mess around. One teacher at a small booth tucked away in a corner had practically designed a pinball machine kit for students to experiment with simple machines. No fancy app here, but ‘moving parts’ foraged from Home Depot and her garage: door knobs, furniture screws, bolts, rubber bands and ‘springs’ from spines of spiral-bound notebooks. Creative teachers really know how to sneak in the good stuff, on a budget.

In case you read my post yesterday, yes, this kind of creative pedagogical streak is very different from the cameras, cloud-based tools and Google-glas-ish shiny objects I ran into before.

THEN THERE WERE STUDENTS teaching the grown-ups. Lots of them. One group from Mexico brought a mine-rescue bot controlled by Bluetooth, a piezo-electric floor, a cardboard-model levitation train, and a swimming robot embedded in a large plastic bottle that can take water-samples of a polluted lake. Students! Others were showing off how to turn 2D images into 3D movies –ideal for digital time capsules. That palm-sized quadro-copter (above) is not however a student project, but a company who has STEM-ready drones that I just might use, soon.

One more day to go. I plan to skip the last keynote and go talk to more smart people…

And apps to download before I sleep. And apps to download before I sleep.

 

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Ed Tech surge as educators prep for Common Core and more Science

ISTE_crowd1It’s hard to miss the optimism at the premier Education Technology conference here in Atlanta. Think of ISTE as the SXSW for teachers.

Supposedly attended by 18,000 people, it’s a bit like Disney Land, in some respects, with lines stretching hundreds deep. But the technology on show is extremely good, give and take a few shiny new objects.

For instance:

  • I ran into someone from the University of Penn, who’s got a content curation service that uses natural language processing (or nlp) which uses some kind of artificial intelligence and smart filters that a teacher can adjust to grade level. It made complete sense to someone who gets annoyed to hear ‘search’ referred to as ‘Research’. Google isn’t optimized for education, she said. Google is optimized for advertising and monetization. Duh!

PupppetVid_2b

  • There’s a tech coordinator and science instructor out of Colorado, Kristin Donely, who’s found a neat way to let students produce animated videos using a super-cheap green-screen technique.
  • I met someone using, and sat in a class on Augmented Reality (this app Aurasma is amazing) about bringing science to life.
  • I bumped into a team from New Zealand who has a way to let students improve their reading by a teacher adding drag-and-drop sound tracks of music, ambient sound and sound effects. They will let me try Booktrack for free; I could see a different use of it – to amp up my digital storytelling module.
  • Glass3Then there is the iPad economy – with companies developing apps, attachments, learning/tracking systems, engagement tools. The push to create 1:1 classrooms is huge. Steve Jobs must be smiling up there
  • I did see a few people trying to convince us that Google Glass is God’s greatest gift to pedagogy. This lady, Kathy Schrock told me that she believes Glass would be useful in projects that lets a teacher give new perspective to a lab in progress, and also have her hands free.
  • Speaking of Glass, this very cool camera from EXO Labs is more than a shiny new object –it could double up as a microscope for science projects and also stream images wirelessly. And of course, it works with (only) an iPad.
 
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Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Education, Social Media

 

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