Another Podcast?

Historically, I have not been one of those “New Year, New Me” kind of people.

I don’t typically make New Year’s Resolutions.  I don’t set annual goals and post them around my home, car, and office to remind me to work toward them.  I do set goals, but I don’t formalize them in the same way many others around me do.

In recent years, I have become more intentional with some of the changes I want to make and new things I want to try.  This blog was one of them.  A still-unfinished book manuscript (7,500 words and counting) is another.  My newest “Hey, there’s an idea, let’s try it and see what happens” project… a podcast.

At ISTE 2017 in San Antonio, I talked briefly with my friend Luis Perez about this idea.  At the time, I was only thinking about how much would be involved in creating such a podcast, and how many podcasts already existed.  His advice to me?  “Do it!”  In truth, the barriers I was seeing were the same ones I had already talked myself through in starting this blog and in starting to write my book.

So, those of you who are visiting my blog get a “sneak peak”.  I am planning to start this podcast as a regular series in 2018, but I have a rough cut of episode one ready to preview.

Cincinnati Zoological and Botanical Gardens Director, Thane Maynard, taught me years ago that you can say a LOT in 90 seconds.  His “90 Second Naturalist” radio spots are some of my favorite listening – as much for how they are structured to convey a little important information quickly as for what information they contain – so with a nod to him, here is Episode 001 of “The 90 Second Integrationist”.

So far, I have used a reasonably inexpensive (~$50) Blue Snowball Ice microphone and the powerful open source Audacity software to create my audio files.  I found a piece of intro music I liked from freemusicarchive.org.  The next step (once I produce a better quality m4a/mp3 file) will be to create the necessary rss file to submit the podcast to iTunes.

If you have 90 seconds, check out Episode 001 and let me know what you think!

(**note** – One of my biggest hesitations about starting a podcast was my self-imposed requirement that I provide a transcript with every episode.  Some of my best friends and biggest influences in education work with students who are hearing impaired and/or are themselves hearing impaired.  I could not in good conscience provide a product that they were unable to consume.  On the blog post, a transcript appears below the audio controls.)

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Mopping Stinks, and How They Fixed It

If you love to mop, stop reading.  This post will make you mad.

If you hate mopping, channel that rage into what you’re about to read, and enjoy a journey through the design thinking process.

In his 2012 book “Imagine”, Jonah Lehrer opens the book with a story about mopping.  For me, mopping is an occasional hassle and a detested chore.  And I couldn’t really tell you why.  It just stinks.

A lot of people felt the same way, and Procter & Gamble knew it.  P&G makes millions of dollars per year on the floor cleaning industry.  So, they put their world-leading chemistry department on the job.  Come up with a better floor cleaner.

After months of trying, and failing, the company with more Ph.D.’s than Harvard, MIT, and UC-Berkley (combined!) reached its last dead end.  P&G shifted focus and gave the problem to an outside consulting company for a fresh perspective.

David Kelley, founder of the company IDEO and Stanford University’s d.school, once spoke of the design thinking process as “a series of buckets” from which to draw useful strategies to addressing problems.  Three of those strategies (“ask an expert”, “observe users”, and “build a prototype”) led to a breakthrough in the mopping industry.

The consultants spent tedious hours watching people mop.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Watching… people… mop.  The trick is to watch people mop and pretend you’ve never seen anyone mop before.  By watching people mop and talking to them about their experiences, they learned two important things: 1) Most people spent more time cleaning their mop than cleaning their floor with the mop, and 2) People used easier ways to clean up smaller messes.

These two observations led to an idea, and that idea led to a prototype: a disposable paper-towel-like head on a plastic handle.  People didn’t get it, until they tried it.  When people were told about the plan to put a disposable head on a mop handle, focus groups were unimpressed.  So, rather than try to explain it better, they built one and let people try it themselves.  Then the focus group participants wanted to take it home with them!  The Swiffer was born, and it generated over half a billion dollars in sales within its first year on the market.¹

What is your mop?  At school, at work, at home… what is that task or that chore that takes up our time, and that we have just come to accept as “part of life” with no way to improve it?  Maybe you have the beginning of the next Swiffer!


¹ – Information about the development of The Swiffer comes from Jonah Lehrer’s 2012 book “Imagine”.  The book was recalled by the publisher over admissions by the author that he fabricated quotes and other material in a section of the book about Bob Dylan.  I scored a copy from the Canadian imprint online.  The book sold about 200,000 copies before it was pulled from shelves.  It is generally readily available used on Amazon.

The Most Significant Barrier

The most significant barrier that many students with disabilities face in school is not their disability.

In actuality, the most significant barrier that many students with disabilities face in school is a lack of support from the system toward accomplishing greater things than they ever thought possible.

Sometimes, the system (that includes the teachers, the administration, and the family) just doesn’t have a basic belief that the student has a path to accomplish great things.  Sometimes, the belief is there that the student could achieve great things, but there is not adequate support (either in type or quantity) for the student to make it a reality.  Both of these situations perpetuate a longstanding myth that students with disabilities are unable to achieve the same curriculum goals that typical students are expected to reach.

This perspective becomes magnified when students are expected to “qualify” somehow, behaviorally or academically, before being given access to the very technology that could unlock a world of learning for them.

If you have a 1:1 program, but you don’t include the kids in a resource room or other placement besides the typical classroom, I’m sorry, but you don’t really have a 1:1 program.

Chrome logo with accessibility symbolIn my work as an instructional technology coach this school year, I have been supporting Felicity-Franklin Local Schools with rolling out Chromebooks to all students, grades 5-12.  Some of the students have difficulty (for various reasons) using the Chromebook in its typical setup.  Through a variety of accessibility features, students are using their Chromebooks in a variety of ways to accomplish tasks.  Here are some of the most useful for us:

  • Zoom – Native to Chrome OS (and the Chrome browser) is the Zoom feature.  Press [Ctrl] + [=] to zoom in (make things bigger).  Press [Ctrl] + [-] to zoom out (make things smaller).  And when you get lost playing with that, press [Ctrl] + [0] to return the browser to the default zoom. [Pro tip: Use [Cmd] instead of [Ctrl] for Chrome on a Mac.]
  • Speech-to-text in Google Docs – Google Docs has a built-in speech-to-text tool called “Voice Typing” that lets you talk to your word processor instead of typing!  This is a great help for students who struggle with keyboarding speed, and students who struggle with spelling.    In a Google Doc, click “Tools” → “Voice Typing” (or use the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl] + [Shift] + [s]).  A guide to input by dictation and voice commands is available at https://support.google.com/docs/answer/4492226.
  • Text-to-speech with texthelp’s Read&Write – Some students greatly benefit from having on-screen text read aloud as they follow along visually.  Far from being a “crutch” that permits students to consume content without developing decoding skill, text-to-speech supports developing readers by highlighting individual words as it “reads”, giving students a multi-modal experience. Get the Read&Write Chrome extension.
  • Closed Captions in YouTube – Many typical students prefer video to reading, especially for longer passages of material.  For students with hearing loss, video can be a huge barrier.  Make sure the videos you provide for your class have accurate captions, or at least an accurate transcript, available.  YouTube will try to auto-generate captions for a video that does not have them provided, but these can be woefully inaccurate. [Pro tip: In YouTube, click the “More” (three dots) button below the right edge of the video, then click on “Open transcript”.  Click on any line in the transcript, and the video will jump to that timestamp! Great for searching for a particular word or phrase in the video!] 

All of these tools, and many more that are used for more specific circumstances, have one great thing in common: they address learner variability by “adding to” rather than “taking away”.  Strategies like removing access to technology and reducing academic expectations do more harm than good for students who struggle with typical curriculum (even in electronic formats!).

When a student struggles with the technology we are making available to every student, we must remember that the barrier is not in the student, but in the technology.  The first best question we can ask is, “What can we add to this situation to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of this barrier for this student?”

STREAM? Why not STREAMMSSFLPE?

The following article was originally published by Daniel Mares at https://www.mrmares.com/stream-why-not-streammssflpe/.  It is re-published here with his permission.


Full disclosure. I am a former social studies teacher. I have also taught math and engineering. I dabble in computer science with my students as well.

Textbook with highlighter and glassesI recently was invited to a webinar that was focused on STREAM education. Many are familiar with STEM and STEAM. But STREAM was new to me. The second part of the title of the webinar was “R for reading.” Reading. We have to add reading to acronyms for education. When did reading leave the classroom? Did we start to focus so much on science, technology, engineering, and math that reading was left out of our schools!

I understand the initiative to bring more focus to the science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum. Especially when we are forecasting jobs of the future to be reliant on those skills, along with problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Reading should be baked into everything that we are doing in our classroom and our schools. It is fundamental to achieving everything else in our classrooms.

Math Equations on Chalk BoardIf we are going to add reading to our STEM or STEAM initiatives, then why not add music, social studies, foreign language, physical education, and everything else that we teach in our schools? STEAMMSSFLPE. Even with a focus on stem education, reading should not have gone away from our classrooms.

I understand with the A in STEAM, but if we continue to add letters to STEM it will lose its purpose. If we are to really begin to focus on bringing awareness to our STEM skills, we need to ensure that we keep it simple with acronyms. STEM is fine the way it is. STEM does not say, “do away with all other subjects.” STEM is just a focus. We can’t lose sight of the other subjects as we want to have well-rounded students that really can read, write, communicate, create, think critically, and collaborate to be successful in the economy we believe is coming.


Daniel Mares is an Instructional Technology Coach in Coloma, Michigan.   He blogs at http://www.mrmares.com He is on the short list of “people I have never met face to face but would love to sometime.”

Ten Best “Must-Try” Free Tech Tools for 2017-2018

Welcome to the start of the 2017-2018 school year!  The new year brings with it a new opportunity to try new things to support learning for all students.  Here are my top ten “must-try” free tech tools for this year!

10. Flipgrid – The “flip” in “flipgrid” comes from the concept of a flipped classroom.  Ignite discussion by creating a “grid” where students make video of their thoughts and ideas on a topic you post.  Super Cool Hack: Use this in language classes (foreign language or ASL) to post source material and translations!

9. Seesaw – A digital portfolio system for your students.  Students can submit materials as typed documents, photos, drawings, video, or links.  New to Seesaw, students can log in with their G Suite for Education account instead of scanning a QR code, and students can submit material from their Google Drive!  A great solution for early elementary students who are not ready for a full-blown LMS!

8. Read&Write for Chrome – You have to be using Google Chrome for this one, but the benefits are so good!  The free version gives you high-quality text-to-speech within Google Docs and PDFs.  Teachers can submit their e-mail address to get a free one-year (renewable) subscription to all of the paid features as well.

7. Edublogs – Your students can write for a global audience.  That’s a scary thought to many teachers, but the potential benefits are too vast to ignore.  If we want students to reflect on their learning, become effective communicators, and create authentic products, blogging is a great way to reach all students.  Built on the popular and powerful WordPress system, Edublogs provides an easy way for a teacher to create a single class blog and invite students to become contributors.  The teacher retains ultimate control of what becomes public, and students learn digital citizenship alongside of the content they are creating.

6. Canva – Digital Publishing and Graphic Design calls us to merge our content knowledge with creative expression.  But, basic productivity tools still assume an 8½”×11″ (or A4) format, based on the tyranny of printed paper.  Canva gives you “Publisher” type templates to start from, but in Infographic or other formats that defy traditional size restrictions.  Smash the boundaries!

5. Feedbro – I have rediscovered the value of RSS feeds!  Yeah, I follow certain people on Twitter or other social media platforms, and I learn a lot from them.  But, I can still miss important posts from certain people or organizations, and I don’t want to have to remember to visit their pages every day/week/month to see if there are any updates.  Feedbro lets me enter the RSS feed address for my favorite feeds and keep track of updates in one convenient location.  Versions available for Chrome or Firefox.

4. Iorad – Creating step-by-step tutorials and screencasts can be a great way to familiarize people with a long series of steps to perform online tasks.  Trouble is, these tutorials and screencasts can be very time-consuming to create.  Enter Iorad.  Start Iorad, and perform your task.  Iorad keeps track of where you click and what you type, and produces both a step-by-step tutorial with screenshots, and a screencast of the procedure you just performed.  Turn hours of tutorial production into minutes!

3. Recap – Recap takes multimedia student interactivity to another level by shifting the focus away from the teacher’s questions and to the student’s questions.  Queues, Journeys, and Video Responses offer exceptional flexibility in using this tool to provide asynchronous communication opportunities, and promote deeper thinking by students who interact with the system.

2. Book Creator – Book Creator has long been one of my favorite tools for the iPad and Android tablets.  Giving students the ability to create their own multimedia e-books can ignite a passion for learning, to become “published authors” with expertise in their chosen content area.  Now, this capability has been extended to the Chrome browser with the release of the newest version of Book Creator! Anything from short, simple picture books, to comprehensive advanced math and science texts (with built-in video examples!) can be produced with Book Creator.  And, if you need a powerful ePub reader to view your completed eBooks, try Readium!

1. iCivics – Anyone else out there seeing a renewed interest in civics education and how government works?  Just me?  Okay, then….  The mission of iCivics.org is to provide students (and anyone else, really) with immersive simulations into how government works, across all branches, at all levels from local to federal.  With Constitution Day coming up on September 17, iCivics is releasing a brand new version of its most popular game, “Do I Have a Right?”  Infinitely playable and replayable, the simulations at iCivics are great for introducing students to the complex and complicated world of representative democracy!

Which of these have you tried?  Any others that you love for 2017-2018?

 

Squishy Circuits with Conductive Dough

Jumper wires are a staple for anyone working with electronics.  Jumper wires for solderless breadboards, jumper wires with alligator clips, jumper wires in oodles of different colors and lengths.

But, wires can be boring.  Wires are extremely functional, but they can leave a lot to be desired in the aesthetics department.

Enter “Squishy Circuits”!

In their 2014 book “The Art of Tinkering”, Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich give more than just a set of directions for nifty DIdemo of a squishy circuitY projects.   They pull back the curtain at The Exploratorium to reveal a world, and a process, just as curiosity-piquing as the projects themselves.  In this book, there is a recipe for a conductive dough that can be used to make circuits.  That is what I used to make the green globs in the animated gif here.  Watch the full-size video to see the green LED much easier.

(I haven’t requested permission to reprint the recipe for the conductive dough from Exploratorium’s book.  But, the “squishy circuits” section of the book comes from AnnMarie Thomas, and she is the “Squishy Circuits” Project Director at St. Thomas University. You can find the recipe for conductive dough, and for insulating dough, at the “Squishy Circuits” project site.)

What sort of things might be made from this dough, so that electricity can be conducted through them to light lights or turn motors?  Only the limits of one’s imagination could say!  What sort of projects might you use conductive dough for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Chickens**t Club”

The July 11 morning Marketplace radio program featured an interview with journalist Jesse Eisinger, promoting his new book “The Chickens**t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.” [Amazon link: No affiliation]

I listen to the Marketplace Morning Report because, well, because it happens during NPR’s Morning Edition during my drive to work.  I don’t typically find myself enthralled by the Morning Report content.

This one caught my attention – not because of the content, but because of the story that Mr. Eisinger told about where the NSFW title came from.

Go listen to the Marketplace interview.  (Mr. Eisinger was also the featured guest on the July 11, 2017, episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air”.)

Back in 2002, when former FBI Director James Comey was named US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he gathered his corps of bright, talented, young attorneys.  He asked them to raise their hand if they had never lost a trial.  Numerous confident hands went up.

“My friends and I have a name for you,” Mr. Comey informed them, “you’re the ‘Chickens**t Club.'”  In blistering fashion, Mr. Comey pointed out that the best measure of their job was not about whether they were always winning, but about whether they were standing up for the right causes.

As educators, we have a parallel experience.

I have never met a good teacher who never had a lesson fall flat on its face.  I have never met a good teacher whose students didn’t misbehave sometimes.  I have never met a good teacher who didn’t have a student who failed an assignment, a quiz, a test.

Why?  Because they were willing to try something beyond what they were already comfortable with, something afield of what they had done every year before, something they didn’t already know would succeed.

Those are the best teachers I ever met.  Those are the best teachers I’ve ever had.  Those are the teachers who are willing to try whatever it takes to help all of their students learn to define and achieve what the highest level of success means for them – not just to pass a test or earn a credit.

Teachers: if everything you do in class works just the way you expect it to, it’s time to resign from The Chickens**t Club.