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Category Archives: Technology

VoiceThread meets Ted Talks!

I wish I had heard of this earlier – Voicethread‘s answer to TedTalks. Just in time for the ISTE Conference starting Sunday.

https://voicethread.com/app/player/?threadId=7784579

It’s called ThreadTalk. Which is quite a neat play on TedTalk considering how VoiceThread is all about the Thread, more than the voice. They make the point that the quality of the conversation thread is just as important as the presentation.

In other words, it’s not about the fancy slides, but the content.

As the VoiceThread notes, we tend to stop using our voices and replace it with text communication because the Internet was not quote supportive of voice for a long time. It is now, as we know thanks to services such as Google Voice, Viber and other phone apps. But in education, we need to bring back the spoken word and student voices into the mix.

I’m waiting to see what evolves out of ThreadTalk, post ISTE2016.

 

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Solar Chili cook-off continues today at Salt River Elementary

Thanks to Anne Patterson of Solavore, for helping me host the solar oven event in my class yesterday and today. I put together this STEM event for 5th and 6th graders as a final year STEM module.

AnneP1A great way to end the year on a high note – focusing on concepts such as insulation, radiation and the greenhouse effect, and letting students taste the end product! I liked how she compared different feeding habits of living creatures – carnivores, herbivores and ‘solavores‘ – to bring home the point about how we consume energy in one form or another. The sun, however is not a ‘consumable’Top 10 Sunnest Countries in that sense since we have an infinite supply of it.

Anne then compared the Top 10 Sunniest Countries, showing how the US has the most number of sunny days, and Arizona tops the list of States as well, with 4015 hours of sunshine a year!

Which is why, within 20 minutes of placing our ovens outside, they reached 250 degrees. One even topped 300 degrees!


Judges_1_SolarSRE

Ovens1

Thank you to my judges on both days, Annette Williams, Chris McIntire, Erik Haarstad, Joni Andreas and Wayne Sekaquaptewa who braved the chili recipes and the near double-digit heat outside. Today’s judges got to taste some of my Sri Lankan Chili as well.

Finally a big thank you to my colleagues. 6th Grade teachers: Erlinda Allen, Donna Horn, David Crebs, John Emmons. 5th Grade teachers: Maria Enriquez, Bernadette Spencer, Valencia Gorman, and Ashlee Chee for supporting this crazy idea.

 

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Sri Lankan students shine at Intel Science and Engineering Fair

Lochana1

Lochana Fernando

I volunteered at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix yesterday as a translator for Sri Lanka competing at the international event.There were thousands of students from Azerbaijan to the Ukraine –and 24 from Arizona. There were outstanding inventions and research across the board. These three students’ work were very impressive!

  • 17-year-old Lochana Fernando had breakthrough research on cancer. His board was titled “Anti-proliferative and Apoptotic Effects of Ellagic Acid Functionalized iron Oxide Nanoparticles on Endometrial Cancer Cells.” In plan English it was looking at a way to use nano-technology to fight uterine cancer.
  • 16-year-old Abishek Gomes had a product, a smart glove, that would convert sign language to English. His board was titled “Wearable Device to Translate American Sign Language (ASL) into English.”
  • 14-year-old Chamindu Jayasanka displayed a pair of “Modified Adjustable Crutches” he had invented to help amputees in particular. It is easily adjusted, but the neat part is that it also serves as a foldable seat!
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Abishek Gomes

Chamindu

Chamindu Jayasanka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lochana is from Senanayake National College, Madampe. Abishek is from Belvoir International School, Colombo. Chamindu is from Rajasinhe Central College, Hanwella.

SmartGlovesTo make the pair of smart gloves, Abishek explained how he had to teach himself programming, and learn how to modify a 3-D printer (among other things) in order to give precision to the flexible connectors inside the gloves. This was crucial  to precisely convert finger movements to  the alphabet in real-time.

The stakes are high. Three first place winners are awarded $150,000 each!

 

 

 

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If you support computer science – speak up!

Care to support a push to promote Computer Science in schools?

Most schools don’t have it as a foundational class, so leaders from across the US –which includes the Zuckerbergs, Cooks, Schmitdts and Gates’ of this world — have begun a movement to petition our political leaders.

You could find it here at Change.Org.

The petition was started by Code.org founder Hari Partovi., and is also supported by governors and school districts, not just the private sector. Please give it your consideration.

 
 

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Could humans replace robots? (That’s not a typo)

When we teach students about robotics, it’s important to give them the big picture of why robotics is important. To do that it’s best to steer clear of the cliché that ‘Robotics are replacing people.’

So don’t you love this story that humans are being given back jobs that robots are not good at? Mercedes and Toyota have begun this, which is a surprise considering Toyota set the standard for automation in its factories. Remember ‘Lexus and the Olive Tree‘ in which Thomas Freedman described how cars were being manufactured by industrial robots?

Turns out humans, though easy to lay off, are better at keeping pace with changes and problem-solving.”The variety is too much to take on for the machines,” observed the head of production at Merc. They realize that humans are better at individualization, and dealing with variations. Robots, on the other hand, while they never need a lunch break of a sick day, work appear to be unable “to keep pace with changes.”

The point is not to teach young people to design robots that will replace human input but to manage them, and work alongside them.

If you subscribe to the opposite view, that robots are replacing humans, this story proves your point. It is a robot called Eve, a ‘robotic scientist’ that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the University of Manchester.

 

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Two networks our children may never know

Networks today mean something intangible. They almost always don’t involve human intervention. But there was a time when networks functioned because of people throwing switches and pulling levers.

I ran into these when visiting the old mining town of Jerome, Arizona yesterday. Take a look at two different networks, and appreciate old tech for a moment.

This model railroad, of the adjoining town of Cottonwood where we stayed in, incorporates the school, saloon, and the ‘company town’ where miners lived.  (If you are old enough to remember Johnny Cash’s song ‘Company Store,’ this is where that sentiment began. As in “St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go; I sold my soul to the company store.”)

Railroad Network

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This other network, telephones, were something else entirely. The switchboard ‘networked’ someone to another, thanks to an operator like this.Telephone Exchange

 

 
 

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The Chatbots are coming! The Chatbots are coming!

You are not imagining. Suddenly there is a lot of talk about these things called Chatbots.

And, um, what exactly is a Chatbot? It’s probably not what you might imagine at first. It’s not an App that you use to talk to someone – thought that evolution might just happen. A Chatbot is a virtual information assistant that uses artificial intelligence to provide answers you may ask of it. Yes, like SIRI, but better.

A Chatbot may predict what you are looking for (say weather in Colombo, as opposed to weather in San Francisco), and provide you with some insight it gleans from past interactions with you.

Amazon and Microsoft have been early out of the gate with these AI assistants. Amazon, for instance has Alexa, and is used with the Amazon Echo speaker. It’s basically a piece of hardware you talk to (as opposed to an App like SIRI). And it this networked speaker provides you with things such as sports scores, places you are looking up such as restaurants etc.

What’s the big deal about Chatbots?

Let me answer this from the perspective of my book (conveniently titled) Chat Republic. The big deal is that we humans fully immersed in a Web 2.0 world are moving towards having deeper, richer, and dare-I-say commercially-infused conversations. For whatever reason, we sometimes prefer technology over humans (which is why we are often politely asked to text someone not call!), so the market is giving us what we show preference to.

Artificial Intelligence has developed to the point that it can deliver information that was once curated, created or thought through by humans. Oddly enough, some Chatbots do have humans working behind the scenes! I’m not against Chatbots. They have a role to play, after all.

Side note: Many moons ago, before smart phones (c. 1998), I used a phone-based service to find movie times, demographic information and such. That data was saved on servers we now call the ‘Cloud’, and that database has evolved into AI.

Supreme irony: Chatbots do the work once done by humans. Humans also do the work done by Chatbots.

 

 
 

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