Friday, November 30, 2007

Fearfully and wonderfully made

TED | Talks | David Bolinsky: Fantastic voyage inside a cell.

This is all just emergent behavior. It all just arose by chance, by the random combining of molecules over millions of years. It has no purpose. No desgner, no creator, no engineer set it in motion.


Sure. Tell me another funny story.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

UPDATED - Open Phone Tests versus Just Knowing It

Will Richardson (Weblogg-ed) starts the day with a thought-provoking post about a student who sends text messages with his phone in his pocket.

---------------------------------- UPDATE Challenged by Barry(16) in the comments thread at Weblogg-ed, I re-read the article. It does not in fact say that Insoo was texting during a test, only that he was texting *in class*. That's the equivalent of passing notes, and hardly a character issue on the level of cheating on an exam. Further, the full article notes that he wants a new phone, the price of which is doing well on his exams. I've edited this post accordingly. Sorry to impugn your character, Insoo. -----------------------------------

This raises all sorts of interesting questions, being battered about in the comments thread and on Twitter. "If they can find the answer on the Net (including their personal learning network of friends and trusted strangers), is the question worth asking?" and so forth.

These are good and valuable questions to batter about. But...

As Charles says in the comments on Will's post, unless the networking is somehow helping Insoo grasp the mathematical concepts, then he isn't learning math. He may be learning something, but it isn't what was assigned. And what was assigned, we may assume, is something that is of value to society. Kids are always whining, "Do I really have to know this?" Cheating - of any form - is that whine put into action. We can argue about the relevancy of the curriculum. And we should listen to our students so we can make it relevant. But they don't get to decide what they need to learn and what they can slough off.

Second, there needs to be a recognition that sometimes you Just Need To Know It. If I'm on an airplane and the engine catches fire, I don't want the pilot texting his Personal Learning Network for a solution. I want him to "Execute the Engine Fire Checklist from memory with no prompting in less than 30 seconds with 100% accuracy." (Thank you, Mr. Mager!)

There's no question that we educators - with help from our madly-connected 21st-century students - need to devise relevant, authentic learning activities that leverage the power of these new communications tools and paradigms.

But it's fair for us to expect that they'll learn what we ask them to.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Black Friday

Game Somethingerother with #1 son. He can not only keep a secret, but feign surprise and delight. Besides, I needed an SME to keep from buying the wrong thing.

Then, across town to meet the wife and younger three at the sports store. A recument bike has been on the watch list, as we both need to reverse the caloric input/output ratio. Sale price expires in ten minutes. Smart clerk sized us up instantly. ("Not in shape, reasons to live, able to pay.") The box was waiting at the door when I walked in. My airplane will have fewer buttons and controls.

The all-you-can-eat pizza place was *right there*, so...

Hey. I had a salad, and only one "seconds" trip on the pizza. Progess, not perfection, right?

Finally, Sears and JCPs with the Daughters looking for a suitable Christmas dress. 12 tried. One settled on, after I said, "Oh, well. Looks like we struck out. No, we're not doing Macy's. Let's go home." It looks FINE. Really.

Then today, "Enchanted" and "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" followed by take-home pints from Hershey's Ice Cream.

All in all a very expensive weekend. And thank You, Big Guy, for making it possible. Feels okay to blow a bonus check on stuff for the fambly when you've already tithed on it. :-)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Digital Identities

"Glassbeed" has an interesting post about Kids and Digital Identities today.

I originally had several online IDs in order to keep professional, personal, and political commentary separate. I was concerned that prejudice about my personal views might color people's perceptions of my professional capabilities.

I quickly realized that it was far too much work to keep them totally separate. If someone takes a dim view of my professional contributions because they don't like the way I vote or worship, that's their problem.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Revealing comments - CNN Political Ticker Wrestler Ric Flair supporting Mike Huckabee «

Back many months ago I thought Huckabee had a shot at the national ticket. It's clear he's at best a second-tier candidate with regional appeal. (That *could* come in handy to balance Rudy, though.)

That "regional appeal" becomes more clear with his recent endorsements - Chuck Norris, Ted Nugent, and now a famous pro wrestler (whom I've never heard of, since the last time I watched "rasslin'" was when LBJ was President).

What's really revealing, though, is the reaction in the comments section at the CNN ticker site linked above. The hatred and bigotry that is expressed there is truly breathtaking.

But it isn't coming from the fans of Chuck, Ted, and the WWF.

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Technology Makes Aircraft More Crash-Resistant.

"The Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands will demonstrate how the application of Fault Tolerant Control can be used to keep damaged aircraft flying and improve their chances of being successfully recovered. "

It probably would not have helped in this case, though.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Amen, amen, and yea verily I say unto ye again, amen

Will Richardson at Weblogg-ed:

"At some point, I want one of the goals and outcomes for the students at my kids’ school system to be that they will graduate with the ability to build their own learning networks in effective, ethical and safe ways. But that will only happen when enough of the administrators and teachers understand that for themselves. Only then will they be able to help my kids add dots to their world maps in ways that teach them the power of networks in the ways we already know it."

emphasis added

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I think we may have turned a corner... the war of Radical Islamism against Western Civilization. Not only is there continued good news from Iraq (a "surge" division is going home) but the the enemy is fodder for ridicule. (Think "In Der Fuhrer's Face") Note - the second link above is NSW, non-PC, and potentially offensive. YHBW, YMMV, etc.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A parable for teachers

From the email inbox:

Once there was a king who decided to set aside a special day to honor his greatest subject. When the big day arrived, a large gathering took place in the palace courtyard and four finalists were brought forward.

The first person was a wealthy philanthropist. This man was deserving of the king's honor because of his great humanitarian efforts. He had given much of his wealth to the poor, building orphanages, schools and hospitals throughout the land. The second was a celebrated physician. This outstanding doctor was deserving of honor for rendering his faithful and dedicated service to the sick for many years and discovering medicines that saved many lives. The third was a distinguished judge. He was noted for his wisdom, his fairness and his many a brilliant decision.

The last person presented before the king was an elderly woman. Her manner was quite humble, as was her dress. She hardly looked the part of someone who would be honored as the greatest subject in the kingdom. What chance could she possibly have, when compared to the other three, who had accomplished so very much?

The king was intrigued, to say the least and was somewhat puzzled by her presence. He asked who she was. Then the answer came: "Well, my king, do you see the philanthropist, the doctor, and the judge over here? She was their teacher!"

Monday, November 05, 2007

A large hmmm factor

What happens when you take public dataset A, merge it with public dataset B, and make the results public - and easy to use?

Betchablog has links and commentary.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A human in the loop

Astronauts fix ripped solar wing

Sometimes, there's just no substitute for real "hands-on" problem-solving.

We have become masters of automation. Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, it's been all about faster and cheaper. Since people are slow and expensive (especially in space) that means getting people out of the loop. The more we can turn the work over to the machines, the more work can get done.

Until something goes worgn.

Machines are far better than people at performing pre-programmed tasks with precision. Star Wars - the 1977 pre-digital-effects original (a purist, I refuse to call it Episode IV) - could not have been made with human camera operators. But when the machines break down (as they always do), people must step in to fix it.

It's the same with learning. We can design all sorts of systems that automatically mold themselves to the student. We can create algorthims to diagnose and adapt to a specific "learning style", or anticipate a learner's probable errors and stand ready with remediation at an atomic level of detail.

But there will always come a point when a student steps off the design document.

It doesn't happen with every student, but a dollar gets you a doughnut it happens with every "automated instruction system" if it has enough users. Eventually, a student comes up with a question the designer didn't anticpate.

As the old pre-PC "Little Rascals"put it, "Now what, Buckwheat?"

But if we can put a human being back into the loop - someone who can interpret the lost look, the six-days-without-logging-in pattern, the forum post that is so clearly off-track - then we don't have to analyze the content to death.

Just build an additional component into the sysem: a teacher, a tutor, a peer mentor. (If you call them "a network of organic, analog feedback devices" you might even be able to get grant money to pay them.)