Monday, February 25, 2013

Mindfulness in Education

In 2013, I have made a commitment to be more consistent with my mindfulness practice. So I have decided to blog almost exclusively about mindfulness this year. My new website/blog can be found at www.theinnerpiece.weebly.com. I will still update this blog when I discover a cool new technology tool for you. I will also be happy to answer any of your questions at todd@cerra.org.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Cost of Technology

I stumbled upon this graphic recently and it confirmed what I suspected to be true. We are not only living in an age of exponential growth in the POWER of computing, but also an era where the cost of technology is significantly less. I recall the day (1978) when my dad bought me an Atari 2600. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. Is that sad? It is strange that in 2012 I can purchase an Xbox 360 for about the same price. Cell phones, personal computers, televisions, and printers have all become far more powerful and cost so much less.

I believe this trend will continue, and this means the digital divide will shrink with each passing year.

Increased accessibility to knowledge and new ideas will truly flatten the world.

Ultimately the question will not be whether one can afford technology, but rather how much technology one cares to incorporate into his/her life.

To put this in perspective, the Atari 2600 CPU ran at about 1.19MHz. The Xbox 360 runs at 733. They both cost the same. In fact, the Atari would be over twice as much in today's dollars.

If only we could find energy solutions that provided us with the same kind of miraculous economic trend. I would be able to get about 22,000 miles per gallon at about 99 cents per gallon, right?




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Best Video Sites For Educators & An Argument for Videos in the Classroom


Crossword puzzle or this?
While in the classroom, I loved to use videos. I think videos often get a bad rap in schools. I hear about silly rules such as, "Don't let your sub show videos." Crossword puzzles? Fine. That LOOKS like meaningful work.

I've heard some argue that students can watch video at home and, therefore, school ought to be used for instruction. In other words, "We aren't paying you to show videos."

The problem with that argument is that it is highly unlikely that a student will ever choose to watch Citizen Kane at home. Most students don't spend their free time watching TED videos.

It certainly seems reasonable to question an Algebra 2 teacher who is showing The Lion King, but videos are a powerful way to capture students' attention and supplement instruction.

As the website manager for CERRA, I often hear from frustrated teachers who cannot access YouTube at school. Someone has to explain this policy to me. Why would a district deny teachers from accessing such an incredible resource? Oh I forgot. The schools that DO allow this have a HUGE problem with teachers wasting their days watching Minecraft videos.

As you can tell, I share the frustration of teachers who are blocked from the amazing, free supplements available on video sites like YouTube.

I guess there is a lingering bias against videos because most videos do not require students to read. Written material seems to be given AUTOMATIC preference over the same information presented in audio/video form. If you read my last post, you will realize how silly this bias is. The ability to read information will soon be automatic. What will matter is comprehension and application of knowledge.

This is personal to me because I prefer to learn through video. I love reading, but SEEING the information has always helped me comprehend concepts better. Having a visual to recall helps me RETAIN what I am learning.

Some of the most important experiences of my life have come by way of film. Films like Gandhi, Into the Wild, and Hotel Rwanda all made powerful impressions on me. The combination of visuals, music, and dialogue produced powerful emotions that motivated me to do more, be more.

Please don’t read this as an attack on books. Like many others, I often enjoy books more than their film adaptations. Books force you to imagine, and a medium of text only can produce its own kind of motivational power. I just don’t understand the anti-video sentiment that too often guides school/district policy.

So when I stumbled upon Jeff Dunn’s article entitled The 100 Best Video Sites for Educators, I felt like it would be great to share with you. I also knew that some of you would think to yourselves, “Sure. That’s great, but my district probably blocks most of those sites.” That’s why I wrote everything above first.

Here is my three-step plan to improve the state of video usage by teachers.

1. Organize a coalition of teachers at your school/district to collectively argue for free and open internet access for all teachers.

2. Ask to meet with administrators or district officials so that you can show them EXACTLY the kinds of FREE resources you and your students are being denied. In many cases, they simply don’t know much about these tools. Rather than taking the time to familiarize themselves with online tools and develop thoughtful policies, they take the easy road and ban them altogether.

3. Use Mozilla Firefox’s add-ons, RealPlayer, or other free online tools to download relevant videos at home. These video files can be saved on a flash drive or portable hard drive, brought into school, and played on your computer.

If none of this works, be patient. It was not too long ago when districts treated Facebook like an enemy. Now they all realize how important it is to use it as a free and efficient communication tool.

As on-to-one computing becomes the norm and tech-savvy folks takeover leadership roles, “videophobic” policies will evolve. It’s up to us to speed that evolution up.

Monday, November 5, 2012

22nd Century Literacy (Maybe 21st)

I recently downloaded SwiftKey 3, an alternate keyboard for Android devices that learns your typing patterns and begins to predict the next word you will type. It then presents you with word options that you can choose to bypass typing in the whole word. The software also auto-corrects mistakes you make while typing. This makes typing on your mobile device much easier and faster. I am often amazed at how accurately SwiftKey predicts the next word I will use.


The more I use this software, the more I begin to consider how it will impact reading and writing instruction in the future. So on one hand you have an evolving tool to assist writers. On the other you will have software that reads for you.



If you have not read my post on Augmented Reality, you might want to go back and do that. I believe it won't be long before we have glasses, goggles, or possibly contact lenses that can view our external world and place another layer of reality within our field of vision. We will also have the ability to HEAR a layer of information based upon what we are viewing. So it seems perfectly logical that, in addition to text-to-speech software built into e-readers, we will soon have very affordable devices that can look at text and read it to us. Couple that with input technology, like SwiftKey and Dragon Dictation, and literacy instruction is turned on its head. Illiteracy will be a thing of the past. All children will be able to read every word, and the only thing that will prevent children from writing proficiently will be an inability to organize their thoughts into coherent sentences. With predicative software and auto-correction, spelling and other common writing errors won't be an issue anymore.

I am not sure exactly when the transition will take place, but I can't imagine a classroom in 2100, or MUCH sooner, that will address literacy the way we do today. Most of the barriers to literacy should be overcome by then. It seems as though most of the emphasis will shift to reading comprehension and ultimately the application of knowledge since the acquisition of knowledge will be a given.

Just as Gutenberg's printing press led to the Enlightenment, I believe technology that provides literacy for all will lead to a 2nd Enlightenment where, for the first time, no child will be left behind.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Taking Your Questions (Shout-out to Turkey)

I was checking the stats for my blog and was surprised to find that I must have at least a few readers in Turkey. So I salute you Turkey readers! Thanks for reading! Hopefully, I can expand into Bulgaria soon. Very happy to have 3,500 pageviews! Hope to reach 5,000 by the end of the year. (UPDATE: I'm over 4,800 on November 22nd.)

I wanted to use this particular post to solicit questions from you. Anything is fair game. Technology, education, philosophy, politics, religion....ANYTHING. Ask away.

You can submit your questions by commenting on this post, or you can e-mail them to me at todd@cerra.org.

You can also send suggestions for future topics I should tackle on my blog.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top 4 iPhone Alternatives

Blackberries never intrigued me. Why pay for a data plan just to get e-mail and SLOW internet on a small screen? I was fine with my laptop and a simple phone to make calls. I had a flip phone for a long time. Then my students started showing me their iPhones, and like the lady in Napoleon Dynamite who lusted after Uncle Rico's model ship, I said, "I want that."So about four years ago I purchased my first iPhone. I remember walking out of the store and not being able to take my eyes off of it. It was the closest thing to my first day with an Atari 2600.


Imagine Uncle Rico is my student, the boat is an iPhone, and I am the woman.


iPhone 3 - my first smartphone
So I purchased an iPhone 3 and fell in love. Two years passed, and the iPhone 4 was a no-brainer. In my mind, nothing on the market in 2010 compared. The 4 served me well so as soon as I heard the iPhone 5 was being released, I put my name on the waiting list.

While waiting for my iPhone 5, I began doing research into other phones. I didn't expect to discover anything that would tempt me to stray from Apple, but I did. There are several new phones that intrigue me. They offer larger screens, more customization, microSD card slots, and other features not found on an iPhone.




iPhone 4 - my most recent phone

iPhone 5 - an amazing phone
Apple puts all of their eggs in one basket. They make one phone, and they make it well. They had such a head start that nobody could touch the iPhone for years. Now the game has changed. While the iPhone remains an incredible choice, it is no longer the clear choice for everyone seeking a premium smartphone.

It's not that you can go wrong with an iPhone. It's just that there are options out there for you now, and you should explore them all before you commit the next two years to an iPhone. After hours and hours of research I am offering you my top 4 iPhone alternatives. Like the iPhone 5, these phones come with an 8MP camera and a front-facing camera. They all offer incredible speed and plethora of great apps. Deciding which one is right for you depends on which specs you value the most, including price.

So here it goes.

#4 - Motorola's Droid Razr Maxx - Motorola makes solid phones. This one has a 4.3 inch display and is one of the thinnest phones on the market. It comes with 16GB of storage with a microSD card slot expandable to 32GB and a 1.2 GHz dual core processor. The biggest draw for the Razr is its battery life with talk time up to 21.5 hours or standby time of up to approximately 15.8 days. To put that in comparison, the iPhone 5 numbers are 8 hours of talk time or 9.4 days on standby. This phone is a great choice if battery life is of primary concern to you, but in term of specs, size, and capabilities it pales a bit in comparison to the next three phones.



#3 - HTC One X - This is an incredible phone. I held the phone side by side with a Galaxy S3 and the 4.7 inch display is stunning. It seemed brighter and crisper than the S3. The problem for me was that my provider only carried the 16GB model and HTC did not include a microSD slot. I've also heard that the phone comes with about 25% of that 16GB used up with bloatware. Many tech savvy folks purchase Android phones and root them to eliminate this pre-loaded software and give them more control over the OS and the phone itself, but doing this voids the warranty and can cause issues if you don't know what you are doing. If storage is not an issue for you, this might be your phone. Besides the crisp display, the phone comes with a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and Beats Audio. It also is a great choice for the cost-conscious buyer. My provider offers it for $99 with a 2-year contract. It's an amazing phone at that price.

#2 - Samsung Galaxy S3 - The Galaxy S3 is widely considered the best Android phone on the planet right now. My wife has an S2, and I was am not overly impressed with it, but the S3 is a huge step forward for Samsung. The 4.8 inch display makes the iPhone 5's screen look tiny. My only complaint is that the display is not as bright as the One X or iPhone. NFC (Google Near field communication), a microSD card slot (expandable to 64GB), a removable battery (dope), and several neat features and applications set this apart from the iPhone. The latest version of Android (Jelly Bean) will be coming soon to this 1.5 GHz dual-core device. An overview video of Jelly Bean is included below. I've used it on my tablet and LOVE IT. Does that make the S3 a better phone than the iPhone 5? It depends on who you ask. What is clear is that Samsung has made a phone capable of turning iPhone devotees' heads, as it did mine. The gap has officially closed. This S3 varies in price. My local provider sells the 16GB model for $199 with a 2-year contract.



Want to see what Jelly Bean is like?


#1 - Samsung Galaxy Note 2 - This will be my next phone. It will be released sometime this fall and will likely cost around $299 with a 2-year contract. I was intrigued by the first Note, but I was in the middle of a 2-year contract when it came out. The Note 2 is a "phablet," a cross between a phone and a tablet. The smallest tablets are about 7 inches. The largest phones are about 4 - 4.8 inches. At 5.5 inches, this falls in between. It is probably too large for some people and will look odd when using it as a phone, but I've never minded looking odd. I am all about function over form. This device is still beautiful though. It looks like a larger Galaxy S3. Another thing that sets it apart is that it comes with an "s pen" for taking notes, drawing, and a host of other very cool capabilities. The 1.6 GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM should make this a very powerful device. As with the S3, the Note 2 has a microSD card slot so that you can expand up to an additional 64GB. The Note 2 will come with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) already loaded. One of the cooler features of this update is the inclusion of Google Now (mentioned in the video above). The new Google Search works almost as well as Siri. One of the main reasons I was set on getting an iPhone was because I wanted to experiment with Siri. When I tried out Google Search on Jelly Bean, I felt like I would not be missing Siri too much. I suppose the biggest drawback is that this will likely be a device that requires 2 hands on many occasions. If that bothers you, go with the S3.



The iPhone 5 is one of the greatest pieces of technology on the planet. If a smaller, HIGHLY intuitive, beautiful phone with plenty of power is what you seek, there is nothing better. Apple will eventually fix its maps issue, and while the screen is smaller, it is truly a marvel in terms of clarity. It is also currently the fastest phone in America, out of the box, according to the benchmark tests I've seen. The iPhone starts at $199 for the 16GB model with a 2-year contract. The 32GB is is $299, and the 64GB is $399. If you love the way Apple products work, you are sure to love this offering as well.

For me, it is time for something bigger. Spend ten minutes with a Samsung and your iPhone just seems unacceptably small. I have to admit that part of the Samsung lure for me is that I get to learn a whole new operating system. I get to experiment with widgets and other neat Android features that I have been missing as an Apple user. While I may eventually wish I had opted for the iPhone, I am confident Apple will still be making phones two years from now. If the Note 2 isn't everything I believe it will be,  I'll either sell it or wait impatiently for the iPhone 6.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Augmented Reality & Education

Sorry it has been so long since I have updated my blog, but I hope to make up for it right now!

Augmented reality (A.R.) can and will transform our classrooms. What is augmented reality? It is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. And yes, I proudly got that definition from Wikipedia.
Aurasma app
Aurasma is a free app that has been developed so that regular folks like us can begin dabbling in augmented reality. Users create "auras." Auras are videos, animations, audio or webpages that are linked to an image, object or symbol in the real world. People create the auras (content.) Users can then open Aurasma, point their device's camera at the image, object or symbol and the creator's content pops up and replaces the image, object or symbol.

Some of us video game geeks have already seen augmented reality in action, but it wasn't until I saw this video that I realized the tremendous opportunities this technology presents for us in education.



Imagine. Imagine a school where the kids all have iPads or some form of portable device loaded with Aurasma or some similar A.R. app. They point their device at a picture, photo, or object and immediately begin learning. Imagine students CREATING the content that displays for other students. Imagine textbooks or novels that now come to life when the reader points a device at certain pages or images in the book. Imagine a trip to the library where students can preview books simply by pointing their device at the cover. Imagine how this will change the way we read newspapers and magazines. Imagine how field trips to museums, art classes, and open houses could be revolutionized by this technology. This clip shows an early adopter of the technology in the U.K.



You can download Aurasma Lite right now. Android users / Apple users 

I found it to be a little clunky at first, but it is an emerging technology. The lite version allows you and your students to play with the technology and imagine the world of possibilities.

This clip shows you some of what I imagine will happen in the near future.


Students learning through A.R. will first use handheld devices, but soon that will switch to some form of glasses, goggles, or contact lenses. The continued refinement of voice recognition software will make this a hands-free technology. Down the road, the technology in these devices will likely be implanted.

Eventually we will be able look at people, animals, and real life objects and immediately pull up a wealth of information to explain everything we observe except for, perhaps, the popularity of the Kardashians. 

Imagine a trip to the zoo. Imagine never again experiencing the embarrassment of forgetting a former student's name. I would often forget the names of students I had the previous semester.

Imagine never getting lost in a city. Imagine always being able to identify a tree, flower or insect while walking in the woods. Imagine looking into the night sky and being able to point out every planet and star. Imagine pulling up recipes and cooking instructions without ever needing to use your hands. 

This is the world our children will be living in. This is the world our children will be learning in. As I consider the possible evolution of the technology, I wonder if this will turn out to be a bridge to an even more artificial reality. Will AUGMENTING reality be the first step in REPLACING reality with an artificial world that conflicts less with our vision of a perfect world? For example, could someone eventually be able to change the LOOKS of another person they like, but aren't physically attracted to? They would look at the person, but an "aura" of their "perfect" mate would replace what they see...kind of like a technological Shallow Hal. Could we look out our back window and see a Bahamian beach rather than the back side of another vinyl-sided house like our own? Even further, will we be able to replace bad memories with good ones, nightmares with dreams, fears with hopes, and sadness with happiness? Most importantly, will I be able to experience USC winning a National Championship in football?

I have no doubt that augmented reality will soon become embedded in our schools and our lives. Our children will begin by augmenting reality. Their children will likely be able to redefine reality. That definition, and the algorithms used to create it, will largely depend on our ability to pass along the values we cherish to the next generation.

If you've read this far, you might be interested in learning more. Below are a few more clips for you to check out!