Sunday, December 30, 2012

MakeyMakey and Twine Sunday

It's Sunday, and since it's the last Sunday of 2012, I felt it was time to do some playing. Today's toys: Makey Makey and Twine.

Let's start with Twine.

Here is what the folks at Supermechanical say about Twine:

Your experience as a Twine owner begins with the setup (at, when your device gets connected to your network and, bam, you are ready to go. Twine comes loaded with sensors: temperature, magnetic, and position. It also comes with a breakout board that allows you to add other, external sensors. 

Once you have set up your sensors, you can establish "rules" that allow actions to happen in response to certain criteria.  Here's an example rule I made (after connecting a light sensor). When darkness falls, the Twine sends me an email saying, "Hey, turn on the lights!"

The Twine is monitored via a web page, which provides rapidly refreshing displays of the data collected from your Twine. 

I didn't get very far, but this device is very cool.

Device #2 is the MakeyMakey. The MakeyMakey folks' video says it all:

So far, I have been able to do some typing, some game-playing, and some music making. Sadly, I am out of bananas until the next shopping trip, but look forward to creating my own banana-piano.

The coolest thing about this cool device is that it is Arduino compatible, and thus truly "open." 

I am looking forward to bringing both devices, but especially the MakeyMakey into my classroom.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Learning to Think

This video from Vi Hart is an amazingly powerful rant connecting parabolas (all puns intended) to learning to think. It is definitely worth the time to watch it.

go,  +Vi Hart

(thanks, Mindshift)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's a start, at least

Why Nate Silver Can Save Math Education in America | MindShift

I thought this article did a good job critiquing our current system of teaching math. I especially liked the notion of our current system being a pyramid, culminating with calculus.

Additionally, I strongly recommend reading the Mathematician's Lament ( mentioned in the article). It does an amazing job arguing for the beauty of math.

How about a math program organized around beauty?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Napster, MOOCs, K-12 Ed?

I am in the middle of reading this blog post by Clay Shirky called "Napster, MOOCS, and the Academy."

A neat quote:
Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.

In it, Shirky talks about the revolution in peer to peer sharing of music via Napster coming to Higher Education in the forms of MOOCs (massive open online classes).

That’s because the fight over MOOCs is really about the story we tell ourselves about higher education: what it is, who it’s for, how it’s delivered, who delivers it. The most widely told story about college focuses obsessively on elite schools and answers a crazy mix of questions: How will we teach complex thinking and skills? How will we turn adolescents into well-rounded members of the middle class? Who will certify that education is taking place? How will we instill reverence for Virgil? Who will subsidize the professor’s work?

As an adjunct professor, I am very interested in the future of higher education. But in my day job as a middle school Science teacher, I wonder and fantasize about the time where K-12 education also undergoes this type of openness.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Love Note to

Recently, I was asked by some of my district administrators to review an online textbook being delivered by Discovery Education. It is called the TechBook, and features interactive elements. I am sure it is fine, but I wanted to repost what I shared with my colleagues about another resource, called

The site offers a large range of features:

1. The books are available in a wide variety of subject and grade levels, and all are free.

2. The books can be viewed online. The online versions have embedded videos in them. Here is an example of a chapter section on Common Parts of the Cell (forgive me, I am a Life Science guy).

Note that online readers can highlight sections of the textbook, as well as take notes.

3. The books can be downloaded (for free) in various formats: pdfs, ePubs (for Apple and Android devices) and mobi (for Kindle devices).

Notice that the chapters (and book as a whole) can be shared just like everything else on the web.

4. The books can be edited by teachers. So, if you want to include or exclude certain content, exercises, diagrams, review questions, etc., you can do that. If you want to gather various chapters from a set of books into one new one, you can do that as well.

Here is a screenshot of the FlexBook system, which allows for this type of editing.

5. Braingenie. Braingenie is a tool that allows students to work through a set of content on their own, by watching teacher prepared videos and then taking skills quizzes. Teachers have access to reports on their students' progress. This is also free. Braingenie is also separate from the use of the digital textbooks.

Here is a screenshot of Braingenie.

6. Multi-modalities. also offers (for teachers) a set of muti-modal tools (flash cards, activities, readings, etc.) on a variety of topics. Here is an example of the set of these tools for the topic, "Characteristics of Life."

7. Did I mention, these high quality materials are all available for free?

I have been using these textbooks peripherally for about three years, and this year I have been using their Middle School Life Science textbook, which correlates nicely with the Living Environment. The students have found the book really helpful and clear. They also really enjoy the portability of the various formats.

I have also been experimenting with Braingenie. Some kids love it, some less so, but this has had to do with learning styles more than anything else.

The app may be the thing, but what about being app makers?

The great blog Mind/Shift has an article about a new app for the iPad which embraces Shakespeare's The Tempest.

We spoke with (Notre Dame professor Elliott) Visconsi about transforming Shakespeare for the 21st century and why the intensely social experience of the app is what, in essence, the humanities have always been about.
I am sure the experience will be a great one for readers of The Tempest, and may even deepen users appreciation of the play.

I was left with one nagging question -- wouldn't this be a great project for students to do for/by themselves? I can imagine a Shakepeare class where this is a culminating project. Sure, it would be different than this, but wouldn't that be something?