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!



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Technology and Educational Ecology

Neil Postman: Extremely Dope
"Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological. I mean 'ecological' in the same sense as the word is used by environmental scientists. One significant change generates total change. If you remove the caterpillars from a given habitat, you are not left with the same environment minus caterpillars: you have a new environment, and you have reconstituted the conditions of survival; the same is true if you add caterpillars to an environment that has had none. This is how the ecology of media works as well. A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything. In the year 1500, fifty years after the printing press was invented, we did not have old Europe plus the printing press. We had a different Europe. After television, the United States was not America plus television; television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry. And that is why the competition among media is so fierce. Surrounding every technology are institutions whose organization -- not to mention their reason for being -- reflects the world-view promoted by the technology. Therefore, when an old technology is assaulted by a new one, institutions are threatened. When institutions are threatened, a culture finds itself in crisis. This is serious business, which is why we learn nothing when educators ask, Will students learn mathematics better by computers than by textbooks? Or when businessmen ask, Through which medium can we sell more products? Or when preachers ask, Can we reach more people through television than through radio? Or when politicians ask, How effective are messages sent through different media? Such questions have an immediate practical value to those who ask them, but they are diversionary. They direct our attention away from the serious social, intellectual, and institutional crises that new media foster."

This is a passage from Technopoly, a brilliant book by Neil Postman. Postman is one of my favorite authors and has written numerous books on technology, media and education. This particular book is close to 20 years old, and I think it is still incredibly relevant.


Technology has had a profound impact on the ecology of our schools, and I believe we are at a point of crisis. The word crisis has many definitions, so let me be clear. Education is at a turning point. It is going through a radical change and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The internet, along with cheap and powerful computers, is revolutionizing the way children are educated across the globe.

Elsewhere in the book Postman wrote, "
It is a mistake to suppose that any technological innovation has a one-sided effect. Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that."Many of us get excited by the idea of a classroom full of iPads. Few of us consider the potentially negative consequences that these technologies will have.

I spend a lot of my time researching new technologies and encouraging others to use these new tools. This particular post is designed to encourage thoughtful adoption of these tools. As these tools get more powerful, and old school administrators retire, their adoption will speed up. Their power will make educating students more effective and efficient. Their affordability will offer savings to districts that will not be passed up. As we march into this future, it would be wise for us to zoom out a bit and consider what could be lost in this ecological shift.


Here are some questions to discuss...

How will the teaching profession change?
How will the relationship between student and teacher change?
How will the relationship between student and student change?
How will students' social skills and physical health change?
Will students still care about nature, exploring the world, and living outside of their virtual worlds?

Some more practical questions for educators might be...

What kind of math will still need to be taught?
Will foreign language need to be taught?
Is spelling or cursive writing necessary?
How much time do we need to spend teaching historical facts?
How do you design a test for someone who has the answers to any objective question at their fingertips?
Should elementary-aged children be going to a computer lab to practice literacy or computer literacy?

Consider for a moment the amount of time you spend in front of a computer. Now compare that to the amount of time you spent in front of a computer 25-30 years ago, or as a child. How has that changed your personal ecology? How has that changed your life?

As educators, we have the profound task of passing along our culture. Is this electronically-immersive culture exactly what we want to pass along? Do we want our students spending most of their youth in large, secure boxes with pieces of machinery? What kind of adult will that produce? What kind of culture will rise out of such conditions and be passed along to the next generation?

These are critical questions that must be considered because children are largely passive receivers of the culture we present in our schools. Are they being taught to question this culture or simply accept it? Are they being taught to carefully consider the ramifications of new technologies, or are they simply being taught to get excited about the next iPhone?

I will leave you with one final quote from Postman, "I don't think any of us can do much about the rapid growth of new technology. However, it is possible for us to learn how to control our own uses of technology. The "forum" that I think is best suited for this is our educational system. If students get a sound education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, they may grow to be adults who use technology rather than be used by it."

Postman was a genius.



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chrome for iOS and a plea to stop using Internet Explorer

This will be a quick one. Google has finally released a version of its Chrome browser for the iPhone and iPad. It is a free download. I used it for about five minutes and realized it needed to replace Safari on my dock. Tabbed browsing, voice searching, great speed, and coordination with my other Google products including bookmarks made it easy to recognize its superiority over Safari.

I also highly recommend Chrome for your laptop or desktop computer.

If you do not already have a Gmail account, go ahead and set one up before downloading and installing Chrome.

I have included a few videos that cover Chrome's features and how its speed compares to Safari.

One final note: Stop using Internet Explorer. Please. Don't trust me? Read this.




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Friday, June 22, 2012

Cloud Storage Pt. 2

So I started running out of space on Dropbox rather quickly. Since I do not want to pay to upgrade I have begun looking for additional cloud storage services. I stumbled across a very thorough article reviewing a variety of cloud sync storage options. I have now added Google Drive and Sugar Sync to my cloud storage repertoire. Each give me 5GB of free storage as opposed to the 2GB from Dropbox. Let me know what you use, why you use it, and HOW you use it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why You Should Start Using Dropbox

The adoption of technology is a funny thing. Sometimes people tell me about cool new apps, devices, or websites and I am interested, but might not have the time or motivation to explore their suggestions.

I think to myself, "I'm already juggling enough technology. I don't want to take on something else." It's kind of the same mentality I have when someone wants to show me a "hilarious" YouTube video. Sometimes it's worth clicking the link, but many times it is not.

I am confident about the suggestion I am making to you today. I think you will find that it actually makes things much easier for you when it comes to storing and sharing important files.

I am a relatively recent convert to Dropbox. A few fellow CERRA staffers have been using it for a while, but I hesitated to explore it until recently. Once I did I wondered why I waited so long.

Here's a short video explaining what Dropbox is....



5 ways I already use Dropbox to save time.

1. I no longer have to sync my phone to upload my photos. I can use the FREE dropbox app and they will quickly be available on all of my computers.

2. I no longer have to worry about e-mail restrictions on file sizes. I can upload the file and share it with anyone.

3. I have placed some important files on my desktop computer that I can now access from any other computer with internet access.

4. Each file saved in dropbox gets a link that I can use to share in an e-mail, within a webpage, or within social media updates.

5. Other Dropbox users can easily share their photos and files with me.

So are you ready to give it a try?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Top 5 Documentaries to Inspire You This Summer

When I was teaching I rarely had time for a movie. So I would spend part of my summer catching up on some of the movies I had hoped to see during the year.


Since my kids are already monopolizing the television with Team Umizoomi, XBox, or some other fine children's programming I have found myself watching movies on my laptop. A subscription to Netflix has been well worth the investment, particularly during summer months.


I'm a bit of a documentary nerd. Some folks might say I could simply leave out the word documentary, but I digress. I love documentaries, and Netflix has a pretty good selection.


So are you ready to be inspired? Well then, here is my list of 5 inspirational documentaries you should check out this summer...


#5 - Exit Through The Gift Shop (Rated R) - I won't pretend to understand abstract art, but I do love Banksy's work. If you can handle some profanity, this is an interesting journey.


"Amateur filmmaker Thierry Guetta's project to chronicle the underground world of street art takes a fascinating twist when he meets Banksy, an elusive British stencil artist, in this Independent Spirit Award winner for Best Documentary. Unimpressed with Guetta's footage, Banksy takes over filmmaking duties while Guetta reinvents himself as a street artist and -- much to Banksy's surprise -- instantly becomes a darling of the Los Angeles art scene." 


LIKE THIS? Check out:
  • Jean Michael Basquiat: The Radiant Child
  • The Art of the Steal
  • Between the Folds
#4 - Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (NR) - This movie was a wake-up call for me. The latter half of the film is wonderful. I bought a juicer about two weeks after I saw this. You probably will want one too.


"Focusing on two men whose bodies have been trashed by steroids, obesity and illness, this documentary chronicles the rigorous healing path -- including a two-month diet of fruits and vegetables -- that both attempt in a bid to rescue their health."




LIKE THIS? Check out:
  • The Future of Food
  • Food Fight
  • Food, Inc.
#3 - The Quantum Activist (NR) - Are you a science geek? Are you fascinated by the idea that science and spirituality can overlap? I was absolutely enthralled by this documentary because it mixes two of my favorite subjects, quantum physics and mysticism.


"Filmmakers Ri Stewart and Renee Slade tackle a weighty subject -- quantum mechanics -- in this thought-provoking documentary that centers on visionary scientist Amit Goswami and his revolutionary theories about reality and consciousness. Without watering down too much of the science, the film illuminates the details of Goswami's work while putting forth challenging new ideas about mysticism, God and religious thought."


LIKE THIS? Check out:
  • Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman (on Discovery Channel)
  • Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking 
  • The Human Experience
  • My blog post on Inner Technology (Yes, I plugged myself.)


#2 - 180ยบ South (Rated PG) - Do you love adventure? Do you love the idea of just breaking free from your normal day to day life and taking off for some remote corner of the world? 


"Inspired by pioneering outdoorsman Yvon Chouinard's freewheeling 1968 van trip to Patagonia, South America, a band of bliss-seeking surfer-mountaineers sets out -- in 2007, by boat -- to remake the journey in this adventure documentary. Jeff Johnson and his buddies hug the coast, stopping at the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island before arriving in Patagonia -- a region that's still breathtaking but is now besieged by environmental threats."


LIKE THIS? Check out:
  • Into the Wild - Not a documentary, but one of my favorite films.
  • National Geographic: Appalachian Trail
  • Surfwise - Available on Netflix, but not Instant Play.


#1 - Forks Over Knives (PG) - I went vegetarian shortly after watching this film. It's been about 10 months, and I feel great. I never thought of food as medicine. This film completely revolutionized the way I eat.


"Focusing on the research of two food scientists, this earnest documentary reveals that despite broad advances in medical technology, the popularity of modern processed foods has led to epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes and other diseases."




LIKE THIS? Check out:
  • The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue
  • Food Matters
  • Hungry fo Change (not available on Netflix - go to hungryforchange.tv)
One of the greatest outcomes of new technology is the increasing ability to share. I hope you will share some of your favorite documentaries with me. Please post a comment on this blog or e-mail your suggestions to me

A couple of other random recommendations....

Winnebago Man - Funny and oddly compelling. (If profanity bothers you, stay clear.)

Transcendent Man - I've mentioned this before. Got me interested in post-humanism and became the basis for a presentation I gave all year. 

Finally, I hope these documentaries inspire you to get out and have an amazing summer filled with adventure, revitalization, and opportunities to reinvent yourself and reignite the passion within you. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

5 Apps to Try This Summer


Hopefully most of you are basking in the afterglow of beingdone with testing. It is a great feeling to know that you have made a hugeimpact on yet another group of students. It is also nice to know that summerbreak is just around the corner. WOOHOOOOOO!!!

I thought I would use this post to introduce five apps foryou to test this summer. It is so hard to find the time to experiment withtechnology during the year. Maybe you’ll find a few minutes to give these appsa spin.

Voxer – Marcella Wine-Snyder shared this app with us a fewweeks ago. Essentially Voxer turns your smartphone into a walkie-talkie. Here’swhy it is great.

     1.    You can talk back and forth with someone withoutusing any of your plan’s minutes.

     2.    You can shift over to texting without closing aprogram and opening up another. This comes in handy if you are in themiddle of a conversation and suddenly find yourself in a situation where youhave to be quiet. You should still listen to the sermon. Haha.

     The app will save your conversations so you canplay them back later. A practical example would be if your wife calls you whileyou are at the grocery store with a list of ten more things you need topurchase. (She always calls me when I'm in line. Is there an app for that?) Instead of trying to remember the list and inevitably forgetting, ortaking the time to write it all down, you can just listen to the message. Italso comes in handy when you are on the road and can’t write down notes duringyour conversation. Just play back the conversation later and jot down yournotes. You can easily Vox with multiple users makingfor a very easy conference call. Get Voxer. It is dope. Yes, I just used "dope" to describe an app.

Sleep Cycle – I am not a morning person….AT ALL. Until I get coffee, I'm just super duper tired. If you can identify,consider the Sleep Cycle app. This app will wake you within a certain window oftime that you set and go off at the time when you are in the lightest possiblesleep state. All you do is open the program, set the alarm time, and place the phoneunder your pillow. The program uses the accelerometer in your phone to senseyour movement. It then calculates the best time for you to wake up. I will tellyou that it does not help much if you are only getting a few hours of rest, butit DOES help if you can establish a sleep routine. And yes….there is a snoozebutton.

MapMyRun – So you’re ready to get into shape. It’s time toget out and walk, jog or run! Before you head out, open this handy app and recordyour workout. The app will record your route, speed, time, etc. You can thenlog your workout and share it through your social networks. There is also abuilt-in nutrition program to keep track of calories, weight, and your dailyfood/drink intake. This is a great way to monitor your progress and determineexactly how far you have walked/run. Please consult your physician before starting any exercise program. This app does not work well on a treadmill. Haha.

PBS – Are you and/or your kids fans of PBS? If so, this appis a must. All of your favorite programs and schedules for your local PBSstation are all in one place. Watch these shows right on your phone and sharegreat programming through your social networks. You can even donate to PBSthrough the app. Not sure if you still get the mug or tote. If you have a display out cable, you can even hook your phoneup to a projector and speakers to display clips in your classroom.  For those of you who enjoy publicradio, give the NPR Music app a try as well.

Vlingo – Are you jealous of your friends who have Siri? Ihave an iPhone 4 and my contract isn’t up until this summer. I will likely waitfor the iPhone 5 before I acquire a new phone. Until then I have Vlingo as asubstitute for Siri.

Vlingo provides you with a digital personal assistant. Usingeasy voice commands, you can ask Vlingo about nearby restaurants, send e-mailsor texts, update your Facebook status, and perform searches online. This makes for a muchfaster and safer interaction with your phone while driving. If you text and drive, you could end up in a roadside ditch. Don't wind up in a roadside ditch. 

Give Vlingo a shot and tell your Siri-loving friends that you are now as cool as they are....or have Vlingo tell them that for you.

Do you know of an incredible app that everyone should check out? Quit hogging it to yourself and let us all know about it! Send your app suggestions to me. I love learning about new tools and sharing them with others. Send your suggestions to schollt@cerra.org

I hope the remainder of your year goes smoothly! Here's to an incredible, fun-filled SUMMER!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jailbreaking Your Phone

A few years ago one of my students told me he had "jailbroken" his iPhone. This sounded like something dangerous or illegal, so I wasn't really interested. He insisted that it was safe, legal, and amazing, but I was happy with my phone and just wasn't interested in modifying it based upon the advice of a teenager.

Over the next couple of years I began reading more about jailbreaking phones and eventually became convinced that it would be worth trying.

I am glad I did.

Jailbreaking is done for many reasons. Back when iPhones were only available to AT&T customers, many would jailbreak them to enable their use on other networks. Others, like me, do it to access the many amazing apps, tweaks, and themes available through Cydia. Think of Cydia as the jailbreakers' App Store. Instead of being locked into only purchasing apps through Apple, jail breaking allows users customize their phones in many cool ways.

For example, I can change the look of my icons. I now have rows of five apps rather than four. I have purchased apps that allow me to display my screen out to a tv or projector. Another app I purchased allows me to record what is on my screen. There is an app that allows you to download YouTube videos to your phone. My3G allows you to use FaceTime on a 3G network.

None of this may sound interesting to you. If you are perfectly content with your phone, there is no reason to jailbreak it. If you are like me, however, having the ability to customize your phone and make it even more useful is just too enticing.

So are you ready?

Here's what you need to know.

The Good

  1. Jailbreaking is fairly easy.
  2. Jailbreaking is typically reversible. Make sure to backup everything on iTunes before you begin. That way you can restore your phone if you decide you want to go back.
  3. Jailbreaking is legal.
  4. Jailbreaking is free.
  5. Jailbreaking will allow you to do a lot of neat new things with your phone.
The Bad
  1. Jailbreaking voids your warranty
  2. Some of the apps on Cydia may have bugs that will need to worked out. These apps do not go through as rigorous a screening process as those on the App Store.
  3. Some people have experienced problems with jailbroken phones requiring a complete restoration.
  4. Some have security concerns regarding malware. I have never experienced this.
  5. Some people don't take the time to learn how to fully utilize the new features. You will need to take some time to familiarize yourself with Winterboard and be patient with respringing.
  6. If Apple releases an update to the iOS, you will not be able to upgrade without "unjailbreaking" your phone. You will have to wait until they have created a jailbreak for the update. 
If you decide to go ahead with a jailbreak, you will need to make sure you run the correct jailbreak for the iOS version you are currently running. If you have updated to 5.1 there is only a tethered jailbreak available right now. That means that you would have to connect your iPhone to your computer each time you needed to reboot. That is a pain. 

Make sure you read all of the instructions in detail and be prepared to restore your phone if there is a problem.

Ultimately, I feel like it was definitely worth it. I cannot guarantee you will feel the same way or have the same experiences.

With that said, if you are ready go to http://www.jailbreakme.com/

If you have any questions, e-mail me at schollt@cerra.org


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Social Bookmarking

There are many ways to get social. Most of us are familiar with social networking. It has become normal for us to share our lives with others online through sites like Twitter and Facebook. Many of us use YouTube to share videos and sites like Flickr to share our photos. Some people even do this weird thing where they invite other people over for a "party." #fishingforaninvite

In this post, I'd like to focus on social bookmarking. Let's take a look at a short video that explains exactly what social bookmarking is.


Now let's take a look at a few definitions.

Social bookmarking -  a method for Internet users to organize, store, manage and search for bookmarks of resources online.


Tagging - a non-hierarchical keyword or term assigned to a piece of information (such as an Internet bookmark, digital image, or computer file). This kind of metadata helps describe an item and allows it to be found again by browsing or searching. Tags are generally chosen informally and personally by the item's creator or by its viewer, depending on the system.


Folksonomy - a system of classification derived from the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content; this practice is also known as collaborative tagging, social classificationsocial indexing, and social tagging. #doubtifi'lleverusethiswordinaconversation

So essentially, what we are talking about is trying to take the TONS AND TONS of websites, videos, articles, photos, and other resources one would find on the Internet and organizing it by categories through the use of tags thus creating folksonomies. Think of these folksnomies as collective intelligence.

Even if we categorize all of these resources, there is still tons of junk to sift through. This is where social bookmarking helps us out. Sites like Stumbleupon, Digg, and Delicious not only organize the resources, they also allow users to easily rate, discuss, and share resources with others. This turns the organization of the Internet into a collaborative effort and makes it MUCH easier to find cool, relevant, engaging information on the topics we're most interested in. The resulting collective intelligence provides a perfect model for learning in the 21st century. Rather than viewing learning as an individual pursuit, it becomes a social, collaborative experience. These free tools have the power to radically change the way your students view researching, learning, and discovering new information. #2ndageofenlightenment

So let's take a look at three of these tools to get you started. I use each of these for different reasons.

My favorite is StumbleUpon.


Have you ever gone to the library with the intent to pick up a great book, but you didn't have anything particular in mind. You just figured you would browse and find something. Now imagine going to the library and having a personal assistant waiting for you that knows all of your interests and can recommend multiple books for you. Wouldn't that be cool? Well, StumbleUpon kind of works that way. You tell StumbleUpon what your interests are and it starts presenting web content for you to check out based on those interests. As you continue "stumbling," you give the content a thumbs up or down. StumbleUpon begins to learn exactly what kind of content you would like to experience next. Every time I use it, I never fail to discover a great new resource. #likevideosfromcerrasc

I also love using Digg. I use Digg more for news content. Digg allows you to find content/news on the web based upon use ratings. The more "diggs" an article, photo, video, etc. receives, the higher it appears on your list of results. You can also "digg" or "bury" the articles/content. In essence, this is like having the world go through all of the news articles and web content of the day and voting on what is most interesting and worthy of your attention. You can even join in on discussions of this content and make connections to people with similar interests. When you find that amazing article or video clip, you can immediately share it with your social network. #jeremylindropping38onthelakershighlights

Delicious is an incredible tool for teachers. Most of us create bookmarks or favorites on our personal computers. So you may have an incredible assortment of bookmarks/favorites on your classroom computer, but what happens when you have to go to the lab? What happens when you want the students to access those bookmarks at home? Well, Delicious allows you to create private or public bookmarks. As long as you have Internet access, you have access to all of your bookmarks. Through tagging, however, the process becomes even more dynamic. You will begin to discover other great sites and web sources that teachers and students just like you are tagging all over the world. Once you have five or more sites bookmarked, you can create what Delicious calls a "stack." Create a stack for your Algebra I class, another for your soccer team, and another for your favorite hobby....spelunking. Set these stacks to public or private and keep adding to them as you discover new resources. Delicious offers a tool called a "bookmarklet" that allows you to easily add a site, video or other online resource to your stacks as you are browsing the web. Here's a video that will show you how useful Delicious can be.


There are many other social bookmarking sites. Pinterest and Reddit are two popular tools to check out if social bookmarking intrigues you. The great thing is that they all work well together. I use StumbleUpon to FIND content. I use Digg to find and SHARE news articles. I use Delicious to ORGANIZE my bookmarks. So I may find something on StumbleUpon and add it to a Delicious stack. #mmmmIwant pancakes.

So give social bookmarking a shot. You'll be surprised by how fun it can be and how quickly it can reignite one's passion for learning. #let'sallbenerdstogether


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Inner Technology - Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Ever since my dad took me to see Star Wars I have been fascinated with technology. This world with droids, hovering land speeders, and light sabers opened my eyes to the possibilities of what the future might hold.

While I do not yet have my own Millennium Falcon, we have certainly developed some really cool tools. Smartphones, iPads, 3D printers, and social media have all transformed our external world.

But what about our inner world? What inner technologies have we developed to improve our consciousness?

What do I mean by inner technologies? Well, there are probably many ways to define it, but I believe it boils down to the ability to control one's own mind, promoting a state of peace and stillness. It could also be described as the ability to be mindful, present, and aware in the now while shedding the ego's desire to work through problems of the past or worries about the future.

I believe the development of inner technology has largely been neglected as we sought to build better machines. This has resulted in an imbalance. The world is moving much more rapidly while our minds are still wired for a much slower world, resulting in high levels of stress and anxiety. 

This neglect has led to an epidemic of mental health problems. Here are just a few statistics to support this claim.
  • Approximately 10,000,000 students in the U.S. are on antidepressants. 
  • It is estimated that 1 in 5 students has a mental health disorder.
  • About 79% of children with a mental disorder, between the ages of 6-17 receive no mental health care. 
  • Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens. 
  • The suicide rate for 15-24 year-olds has TRIPLED since 1960. 
  • More than 160,000 students skip school each day to avoid being bullied. 
What have schools done to address this epidemic? From my perspective, most have ignored it due to their narrow-focused drive to increase test scores. After all, mental illness, emotional well-being, and happiness are not measured on standardized tests.

Our children live in a fast-paced, high-pressure world. Many of them come from homes filled with strife and uncertainty. Others have incredible home lives, but are under an enormous amount of pressure to earn straight A's and perform at high levels in sports, music, etc. Increasingly, these students are given the external technologies to be successful, but they have been given virtually no training on how to develop internal technologies to manage the pressure they feel. 

I believe we have a possible solution. Some call it meditation or biofeedback, but we will refer to it here as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR. MBSR is a meditation technique that promotes relaxation through nonjudgemental awareness of moment to moment sensations, experiences and reactions.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor Emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In this video, Jon explains the benefits of MBSR.


Now I know some will wonder if I am trying to push some form of religion or spirituality. That is understandable. MBSR is based, in part, by meditation techniques with roots in a variety of religious and spiritual traditions, but let me be clear. MBSR is a secular approach to controlling the mind and is NOT spiritually based. Rejecting the scientific benefits of this technique simply based upon its origins would be, in my mind, like rejecting algebra because it was largely developed by Islamic mathematicians. This misunderstanding is likely to be the highest hurdle faced by those hoping to integrate MBSR in our schools.

MBSR would be an incredible asset to our students. If they simply spent 20 minutes at the beginning of each day calming and focusing their minds, I believe they would benefit emotionally, mentally, and academically. I believe classroom discipline would improve and, most importantly, the students would be happier.

Daniel Rechtschaffen explains how teaching mindfulness is helping students in California.


Mindfulness is already being integrated into schools. Let's take a look at the impact it making.


Check out what these students have to say about their mindfulness practice.


Students are not the only ones to benefit from MBSR. Teachers' minds are bombarded with information, worries, agendas and to-do lists all day long. If we do not give our minds an opportunity to settle down, we can become worn down, burned out, and completely stressed. This time of year can be one of the most difficult stretches for teachers. There are very few breaks between January and Spring Break. If you are feeling the pressure, it is critical that you find a way to release it. Stress can lead to a multitude of health problems: high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, etc.

The scientific community is uncovering a variety of mental and physical health benefits associated with MBSR. The studies show that MBSR can transform our minds, our health, and ultimately, our schools. MBSR has been proven to be highly effective at stress management. Studies show that MBSR can reduce pain levels, improve self-esteem, relieve anxiety and depression and help one develop greater energy and enthusiasm for life.

So you have read/watched to this point. You must at least be curious about what it would be like to develop your own inner technology through mindfulness.
This requires taking a timeout from thinking. It also requires shifting one's focus to the present moment. There are many ways to do this. Some focus on the breath. Others repeat mantras. For some, singing or guided imagery can accomplish this. The key is to let go of all thoughts of the past and the future. I choose to sit down in a quiet room, focus on my breath, and gently acknowledge thoughts until they inevitably pass. When I have a thought, I recognize it and gently refocus on my breath. After several minutes, my mind begins to unwind and settle. Once I am settled in I stay focused on my breath. Now this may sound incredibly boring to you. It was for me....at first. I was used to constantly giving my mind stimulus: conversations, music, video games, books, movies, tv, etc. The idea of sitting quietly, doing nothing seemed like an odd thing to do. But when I gave it a shot, I was surprised by how incredible it made me feel.

Try this....

1. Find a quiet place where you will not be distracted. (This is the hardest part.)
2. You can use relaxing music or just sit in silence. I use music and guided meditations found at www.meditationoasis.com. Choose something with which you are comfortable.
3. Sit comfortably keeping your back straight.
4. Breath in and out focusing on your breath. What does it feel like?
5. As thoughts from earlier or later in the day enter your mind, recognize that a thought has come up and redirect your attention to your breath. This requires practice. I was surprised at how difficult this was for me at first. Stick with it though.
6. Just continue this process. At first, you might only practice for 5-10 minutes. You may never really become fully relaxed, and that is fine. Remember...mindfulness leads to a nonjudgemental awareness of the present moment. If you are chastising yourself for not getting it right, you are preventing yourself from reaching that relaxed state. It's like TRYING to fall asleep. You're only making it harder.
7. Try to keep up with your practice. Set aside 5-10 minutes per day. Hopefully you can work up to 20 minutes.
8. Experiment with this and see what kind of an impact it has on your mood, your patience, your stress levels, and your overall feeling of well-being.

Stop for a moment and consider how much of the day your mind has controlled you. How many moments did you give away to your mind, thinking about the past or worried about the future? How many moments were you truly present in the now?  When the mind controls us, we run around frantically trying to get everything done on our checklist. We take our worries home, perseverating on the events of our school day and worrying about events that will take place tomorrow. This non-stop world of thought generates stress that will bring you down.

If we allow our stress to go unchecked, we not only risk health problems, but also risk never reaching our potential as educators. A mind that is under constant stress cannot operate optimally. We also run the risk of transferring our stress to the students we teach. Our patience, our compassion, and our sense of humor do not shine through when we are plagued by stress. Our students pick up on this and will often model this behavior.

Our schools have done a remarkable job integrating technology. Our schools have become very efficient at analyzing successful learning strategies, informing decisions based upon data, and moving closer towards true individualization of instruction. They have, however, done little to address the growing pressure felt by students, teachers and administrators. If we fail to balance our advances in external technologies with the development of inner technologies, we risk escalating emotional instability and mental health issues with our students, teachers, and administrators.

We must insist that our schools offer opportunities to develop inner technology. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a proven, scientifically-based tool that could achieve this goal, positively transforming our schools and our society.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Get to Know TED

One of the greatest developments in the internet age has been the growing access everyone has to news, information, and knowledge. Like Gutenberg's printing press, the expanding educational resources of the internet, combined with the increasing power and decreasing cost of computers, have the potential to create an age of enlightenment.

While it may be true that sifting through this glut of information has become more challenging, those willing to take the time to sift have golden opportunities to expand their understanding of our world.

I have a wide variety of interests. I cycle through these interests frequently. I may spend a few weeks researching quantum physics and then move on to religious studies or gardening.

One of my favorite research tools is a nonprofit organization called TED. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED hosts two conferences every year that bring together some of the world's most interesting scientists, artists, sociologists, engineers, etc. These outstanding people are given a maximum of 18 minutes to share their ideas. These presentations are recorded and organized on the TED website or YouTube. You can also find them on iTunes as podcasts or simply download the TED app so you can watch them on your mobile device.

These videos are perfect discussion starters for your classroom. They also make wonderful homework assignments. You can easily embed or link them in a blog post and then ask your students for feedback. My hope was that if I could get students to watch one of these videos, they might be willing to watch more on their own. A guy can dream, can't he?

Teacher Cadet instructors can find numerous TED Talks relative to education. One of my favorites is from Sir Ken Robinson.


Another favorite is a talk by Ann Cooper about school lunches. I would show this while teaching Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.



There are hundreds of engaging videos that could serve as a spark to promote student learning. The goal of education should be to inspire our students to love learning and help them develop the ability to teach themselves. Tools like TED make those goals much easier to achieve.

It strikes me, however, how some teachers seem to be uninterested in learning anything new themselves. How can we expect our students to become lifelong, passionate learners if their teachers have no curiosity, no zeal for exploring something new? 

As we begin this new year, let's all make an attempt to reignite that sense of wonder we felt as children each time we learned something new. Let's resolve to discover a whole new world of knowledge this year. Let's share what we are studying with our students so they see US as LEARNERS, not just their TEACHERS. If all of us set that example, I believe that a great passion for learning would be passed along to the next generation.

Researching other fields helps us better understand our own profession, and that is one of the greatest side effects of our ongoing learning. So I challenge everyone to get to know TED in 2012, and then introduce "him" to your students.