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Make Lunchtime Fun!

If we want to make lunchtime fun, why not allow students to choose anything they want to eat? Of course we recognize the absurdity in this statement; we have actually taken great strides to ensure that students eat a nutritious lunch.

So shouldn’t that same logic also apply to learning? Too often, I hear teachers proclaim they want to use technology to “make learning fun.”  Of course, this can be a dangerous proposition if the goal of infusing technology in the classroom is to simply entertain students. Furthermore, this mentality can undermine the foundational idea that technology is a tool.

As educators, it is important that we help guide students in their technology diet. We need to realize that there can be ’empty learning’ with technology in the classroom. Like junk food, some EdTech can be highly enjoyable, but may not offer a lot of educational nutrition. Even websites that offer educational content can often be riddled with toy ads and other distracting content (to follow the analogy, they have too many preservatives or prizes inside).

So how might an educator evaluate the nutritional content of technology used in the classroom? Perhaps one way is to follow the Triple E Framework.

The Triple E Framework attempts to define what it should look like, sound like and feel like to integrate technology tools into teaching in order to meet and exceed learning goals.  The framework is based on three levels, Engagement in learning goals, Enhancement of learning goals, and Extension of learning goals.


One of the many shining points in this framework is the proper use of the word engagement.  In the framework, engagement means that student brains are engaged whereby they are motivated to become active learners. Furthermore, the framework goes beyond engagement and challenges the technology to not only enhance learning goals but to extend student learning.

Check out this research-supported model, and run your next technology activity through their evaluation tool.

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ParentingSo far this summer the best book that I have read is a short and insightful book by Illah Reza Nourbakhsh: Parenting for Technology Futures, Part I.  Every parent, teacher, administrator and school board member should read this book.  It is a short and fulfilling read, and is only $2.99 to download the Kindle book.

Avoiding the wildly popular concept of tech literacy, Nourbakhsh argues that students must have technology fluency – where students understand technology so deeply that they influence the future of technology instead of being techno-consumers.

Nourbakhsh also affirms that the teacher is an important and necessary component for improving student attitudes – one that can’t be replaced by any technology.  Parents should engage their schools and the teachers of their children to discuss the role of technology in schools.

In addition to providing parents with ways to engage the educational system, Nourbakhsh provides a recipe for parents to encourage tech fluency at home that includes participation, co-learning, allowing your child to teach you tech, and using technology interwoven with creativity.

By being mindful of technology in the home and at school, and by actively working to be aware of recent trends in technology futures and in education technology, you will set your child up to have the best possible chance to have a tech fluent future.  In a time of economic uncertainty and social upheaval, thanks to massive income inequality and robot-triggered underemployment, that tech fluency is the best insurance policy to insure that your child will not be a victim of technology, but rather an innovator who helps reinvent the future of technology for a better world.

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I’ve been playing around with mirroring content on my iPad2 to my classroom LCD projector (with an Apple TV connected).

But now I’m becoming greedy.  I also want my MacBook Air to mirror its desktop content as well.  Why didn’t Apple support AirPlay for Mac OS X when it was released last summer?  That would simply be too convenient to connect a computer to a projector, eliminating the need for 25+ feet of plenum-rated cables running through our classroom ceilings.

Coming this summer, it looks as if I might get my wish.  Mac’s next OS upgrade – OS X Mountain Lion – will feature AirPlay support.

Now that this dream will become a reality, I am still not completely satisfied.  Why can’t we get LCD Projectors with AirPlay support?

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As meet manager for many swim meets, I know the importance of having instant results displayed on the scoreboard.

But a new iPhone app is starting to make me think differently.  At the 2012 FVA Boys Swimming and Diving Meet, we turned on Meet Mobile – a fantastic new feature in Meet Manager 4.0.

runmenuLet me explain a little bit of swim meet management.  Hy-Tek’s Meet Manager (a part of the Active Network) is the industry standard for running swim meets.  Swimmers and teams are entered into the program before the start of the meet, and the computer interfaces with the touchpads (we use both Daktronics and Colorado products in our district) during the meet.  At the end of each race, Meet Manager harvests the data, where times are matched to swimmers.  The software also scores the meet, and you can print out and email the results to the local paper.

But it gets better.  With an internet connection (our district has a guest Wifi network), Meet Manager 4.0 allows you to send your results live to an iPhone app called Meet Mobile.  This free download from the Active Network displays each heat’s and event’s results sorted by event or by swimmer.  The app even allows you to view splits and places for every swimmer in the meet.

Here’s a sample of what you might see with the app (in three screens):

  1. Select the correct meet when you open the app (sorted by date)
  2. Select swimmer or event
  3. View results (complete results and splits are also available)

It was fascinating to watch the fans trying out this app in the stands – they were mesmerized by the instant results they could find.  And coaches loved it even more, as they put down their stopwatches and stopped subtracting splits on the fly.

So who needs a scoreboard anymore?


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img_1773After being frustrated with my students not being able to see all of my demonstrations, I decided to make a demo cam with some of my electronic junk.

The demo cam is simply an old Sony Handicam Digital 8 camcorder mounted on an inexpensive Videosecu Universal Camera Mounting Bracket.

The camera has an adapter that splits into an RCA video/mono audio cable, which I can easily plug into my classroom television.  Switching the input on the TV is a piece of cake, and using the TV doesn’t interfere with the interactive whiteboard.

Here are some of the benefits:

1.  I can project demos onto the television above, so the entire class can see every bit of the demonstration.

2.  The zoom function is quite impressive; I can easily zoom in on discreet parts of the demonstration not easily seen – even by the person doing the demo.  This is made even easier with the use of the remote control.

img_18133.  Safety.  The demo cam allows me to show demos without the need for the students to come anywhere near it; it also is far enough away from the demo so the camera is not damaged as well.

4.  Because I have to use the record function to keep the image on screen, I can easily capture video of the demonstration.  As there is a firewire output, I can easily capture the video with a connected laptop, and share it online (below see video demonstration of adding sodium to water).

Sodium in Water from Brian Bartel on Vimeo.

5.  I can also capture slow reactions over a long period of time, import them to a computer and speed up the video to a shorter time (see video of copper in silver nitrate solution).

Some of the Drawbacks:

1.  The angle is a little ackward because of the mounting limitations.  It takes a little practice not to walk in front of it, and to make sure that the demo is in the viewing area while zooming.

2.  In order to use the TV as a monitor, I have to use the record function.  This requires me to stand on a stool, and manually rewind the tape every hour (it cannot be done with my remote).

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The use of digital photo frames to show slideshows is nothing new. But while I was setting up our house for Christmas (tree, lights, etc), I noticed the digital photo frame in the family room that has been repeating the same family pictures for the last 11 months (it was a 2006 Christmas gift).

Immediately, I realized that it could easily be used for another Christmas decoration. So I went to Flickr, searched for “Christmas” and found a slew of high quality, general Christmas pictures. After realizing that my frame only recognizes JPEG’s, I selected only those files – and ones that were shot horizontally (they look better in the frame than vertical ones).

So I was able to create a temporary, yet dynamic Christmas slide show (interspersed with family pictures at Christmas). Beyond using this idea for other holidays and special days, I realized that I could do the same thing in my classroom.

Imagine topic-specific pictures that can showcased to peak curiosity, engage discussion, and generally highlight the topic at hand. These pictures can easily be changed by swapping out memory cards, so it would be fairly easy to get it ready for several lessons over a school year.

As digital photo frames are getting pretty cheap, they can easily be purchased for the classroom. Or, if you are like me, then your old electronics end up in your classroom. I might have to upgrade mine at home and use my old one at school!

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In anticipating the release of Google Presentation, The Official Google Blog recently released a neat little video describing the power and utility of Google Documents. The video speaks for itself and is worth watching:

My biggest problem is that our district has blocked Google Docs via Websense for fear that students might use it to chat (in a quite convoluted way) and import inappropriate content from outside of their safe little fortress of an intranet. This same mentality has them blocking flickr and slideshare.

And this is also why the district blocks YouTube (I might remind you that Google owns them). But stupefying as it may seem, Google Video is open!

When I question these practices, I usually get this response: “what happens if a student imports porn this way?” To which I mentally reply “yeah, that is a LOT easier that plugging in a USB drive full of porn into any district computer.”

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