Who needs books? Not me

OK, I just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001 on my Nexus 7. After reading it I came to a two conclusions. The book wasn’t all that great and I can’t see myself purchasing or borrowing a physical book in the near future and I’m more than OK with that.

As far as the book goes, the Amazon reviews are a pretty good place to start. It just didn’t seem complete and the conclusion was pretty lack luster and just a bit of a disappointment. At any rate, the other books in the series are pretty good if you like sci-fi and probably worth your time.

Now onto my other conclusion. I can’t really see myself holding a physical book (if I have a choice in the matter) again. I just don’t see the point of it. Let me go to the beginning.

For Christmas of 2013 my wife bequeathed to me her old Kindle Keyboard as she upgrade to the newer Paperwhite. So I immediately started to find free ebooks by heading over to Project Guttenberg. Here you can find books that are out of copyright and can be downloaded for free – Shakespeare, Conrad basically a lot of classics. It was great and reading on the kindle was sweet. It was fast, easy, convenient and I can do it almost anywhere and the battery life oh man – it was a month! It fit in just about any bag, was light and comfortable to hold. I was hooked – this is how I wanted to read.

I also had the ability to borrow books from Amazon because I’m a Prime member, but Guttenberg and Amazon didn’t always offer everything I wanted and Amazon only let me borrow one book per month. So if I polished it off in a few days I was left waiting another 27 to borrow another one and there are some books I’d like to read but don’t necessarily want to buy. That’s OK because these two options were not my only source of literature my good people. I could also borrow books from my local library in Ohio.

Yep, I live more than 7,000 miles from my hometown and I can still access, browse and borrow books electronically. That is truly amazing. If you’re wondering, I use the my Kindle (if it allows it) or the Overdrive app Nexus 7. Of course not everything was available but that’s OK – a lot of what I want is there which is awesome! So why do I need a physical book to enjoy it?

I know people love to go to bookstores, sit, peruse and browse through the stacks, maybe sit and have a latte and talk with friends. I get that, I do, but living where I live, there aren’t that many places here to do that and even back home I rarely felt the urge to jump in my car and head out to a Barnes and Noble or a local haunt just to kill a couple of hours. It just wasn’t my bag baby.

I know that textbooks for example allow you to write notes in the margin, highlight more easily than a tablet or e-reader will allow but for general reading – I see no reason why I need to pick up a physical copy of a book ever again.

What do you think?

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How I blog

byword_logo

I just wrote about workflows in school and I thought I would share my blogging workflow and how it has changed over the years. Obviously I currently use Byword2 right now but before I start talking about how this works, I figure I will start at the beginning.

The Old, Old Way
When Omar and I started IT Babble over five years ago (damn that’s longer than I thought) I simply logged into our WordPress blog and then wrote my posts there. What I found was that it was a bit of a hassle. I had to have an Internet connect, I had to log in, I had to get to the posts section of the dashboard and I had to upload each and every image. It just wasn’t convenient.

I tried stand alone programs like Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages but the problem here were the images. I would put them in my post, but when I copied and pasted my post over to WordPress, the images didn’t come over.

Enter MacJournal
So I started looking for programs that would let me publish directly to WordPress. I was surprised to find that my options here were quite limited and even more so on a Mac. What I ended going with was MacJournal.

macjournal

MacJournal is pretty sweet actually, I set up my blogging credentials.

blogging

Then all I do is write and add my images. When I publish it goes directly to the blog. I can even select categories from MacJournal, set the date it will appear on the blog – I mean it is pretty sweet and that’s what I’ve been using for the past five years pretty exclusively. So why did I switch – what were the shortcomings?

The Shortcomings
MacJournal was very good but there were some issues. On rare occasions the images wouldn’t publish. There was no rhyme or reason behind it – MacJournal just failed. Again, this was rare and not a big deal. Another reason was I had no access to the HTML code at all. There was no way I could tweak it, embed certain media from various services. At first this wasn’t a big deal but as my blogging progressed and my needs grew I often found that MacJournal was adequate but just not meeting my needs all the time.

As far images, I was using Voila which is a great screen capture tool. I could resize, add images, add borders, blur out areas. It was lightweight and easy to use. It even let me organize them and then I would copy and paste them into MacJournal.

voila

The workflow was clunky but there really wasn’t anything out there that could do what I wanted. There was MarsEdit 3 which seemed to be my answer, but when I tried the trial I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. So I resigned to using MacJournal and Voila.

The Change and MarkDown
Recently I started using Coggle as my preferred Mind Mapping tool. I like Coggle a lot and one feature that it boasts is using Markdown instead of a rich text editor. This frees doesn’t clutter the workspace with floating palettes that contain formatting choices like bold, italics, font size, etc. It clears out all that stuff and let you focus on one thing – your ideas. After figuring out how to use Markdown language (that took a whole 30 minutes for the basics people and no need for coding experience is necessary) I found it an efficient and very quick way to work especially as the mind map started to grow – there was then nothing really in the way which is very nice – especially for presentations.

Not only was it a good way to work but it supported images as well (as long as they were published on the web).

Recently I started looking again for another blogging program and came across Byword2 which is a markdown editor check out this post in markdown (I’ve taken a screen shot of the very beginning).

byword_doc

Looks like a word processing app, but all formatting and images are handled with Markdown – which is easy to learn people. Also, Byword lets me focus on my writing. Right now, that’s all I see – no underlined red marks, no images, no formatting bars – just my thoughts and like Coggle – that’s the way I like it.

Skitch
OK, now to an area that was a bit of a problem – images. I needed a screen capture tool that was easy to use, flexible and could let me annotate when needed. As I mentioned before, I used Voila for this previously and it is great. So why switch to Skitch? In one word – sharing. With Skitch I can take a screen shot, annotate it, resize and then publish it directly to the web and give me a full link that WordPress will recognize and work with.

Granted Skitch is not as robust or as good as Voila but I can work with that and am willing to give up some of those features in order to have all my images in one document and the ability to simply focus.

Another plus is the cost. MacJournal costs $50 US dollars and Voila costs $30 (if you get it from the website you may find discounts there). Byword (with the publishing feature) costs $15 and Skitch is free and this makes my workflow much easier and more efficient.

Why Should You Care?
Good question and honestly maybe you shouldn’t so much, but the point I am trying to make here (as I did in my previous article) was that I didn’t just find something that was “good enough.” I wanted it to be better. I kept looking and refining my workflow to get it the way I like. I spent time researching and thinking about it and for you maybe blogging isn’t something you’re all that keen on – that’s cool. It’s not for everyone, but what about grading papers? What about planning out units? These are definitely tasks that I think all teachers should look into and can find some improvements? What do you think? Leave them, there comments below.

Patrick Cauley

http://www.thetechjonsey.com

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How is your school’s workflow?

I like crossing things off my to-do list as much as the next chap, but let me tell you people sometimes I’ve completed a task and though Yeah, that took a lot longer than it should have. Usually that happens when trying or learning something new. In that case I often quickly forgive myself and try to do better next time.

In the video above, Terry Gilliam (famed director and Monty Python alum) talks about how he did his now famous animations for [The Flying Circus] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Python’s_Flying_Circus). The video is a little long and does have some quick nudity in it so watch out.

The reason I put it on this post, is that watching him work was fascinating. He knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. He has made the process as effecient as he can and anything he does is to express his story not dazzle people with his skills. He also keeps it as simple as possible so he can focus on presenting his story (or jokes in this case) as concisely as possible. The workflow doesn’t get in the way with his creative process. After watching that I thought to myself That’s how it should be with schools! Of course without babies eating adults (watch the video and you’ll see what I’m talking about :)).

True ,Terry was working mostly by himself and schools are typically dealing with loads of people but it made me think. How often do schools actually revisit their workflows and policies for everyday activities, and how often do they try to improve them? How often do they sit down with their staff and ask the question How can we improve taking attendance? What changes do we need to smooth out reporting grades? How can we better manage students in the hallway? As technology grows, new solutions to old problems are presented (like using workflows to deal with budgets, or track discipline in a way that allows all involved to help monitor certain students?)

Most schools I’ve worked at simply find a quick answer to these questions and then never revisit it again unless they need to react to an incident. I think it is worth while for schools to sit down and take the time to revisit the nuts and bolts of the procedures and policies that help it function. They don’t need to do it every year but once every few years would be ideal. It’ll give people an idea of who is responsible for what and how it affects the whole school not just a portion of it.

Patrick Cauley
www.thetechjonsey.com

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Google Smarty Pins – Trivia with pins

smarty_pins

Google has a number of fun little games that you can play with your students and we can add one more Google’s Smarty Pins. This is a trivia game that works with Google Maps. You can select a specific category to work from or just start and get a mix of them all.
category
Here is how the game works. You start off with a set number of kilometers. Google will ask you a geography question that is realted to the cateogry you chose. Instead of time, kilometers tick down. If you get the question correct you don’t lose any more kilometers. If you answer the question quickly enough, you get bonus kilometers. When you answer a certain number of questions correctly you receive bronze, silver or gold badges.

So here is a quick look at what you can expect. When you start they will ask you a question and then place the pin in the “vicinity” of the correct answer. I think it is within 1000km.

question

If you get the question correct you get the question correct – nice work! You get to continue on without any losing any additional kilometers. If you answer correctly within a certain amount of time you get some bonus kilometers.

correct
If you answer the question incorrectly. It calculates how many kilometers you are off and subtracts that from your total.
incorrect
When you have no more kilometers left, then the game is over.
If you work in a one-to-one laptop school or a a BYOD school then this could be a good way to help focus your students when they walk in the door, or use it as a reward for some students if they finish their work early.

Smarty Pins
http://smartypins.withgoogle.com/

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The good, bad and ugly – A look back at 2013-2014

wpid-goodbadugly-2014-07-1-20-19.jpg

This year I stepped into a new role that I wasn’t exactly expecting or prepared for but hey that’s life and it has certainly been exciting to say the least. So, like Tony, I thought I’d take this time to take a look back and reflect a little about . . . well the title says it all. Instead of going into that order though, I’d thought I would start with the ugly first.

The Ugly
The most obvious issues were the networking issues that bookended the school year. At the beginning of the year we were instructed from the powers to be to install a new component into our network. Myself, nor Tony, nor anyone on our team had any say about this. Needless to say it took about a month to get everything working but having a month of terrible Internet (not just WiFi) and that kind of leaves a sour taste in the mouths of the staff. Then towards the end of the year we had issues with two separate issues that caused increasingly poor havoc across our network. While it wasn’t “unusable” for many it seemed that way for some and it just ended the year in a bad place. Neither of these incidents were expected (at least to that extent) and it was ugly. The staff was upset (rightfully so) and I was left in a situation where we had to be rescued and that took time.

Now, onto other ugly. It was our new electronic gradebook we started the year out with but did not end the year with. It was another nightmare. Grades being lost, teachers unable to enter grades, progress reports not showing all inputted grades, serious display issues and much, much more. It was a long first semester for sure. For some teachers it worked fine from day one and others it never worked as it should. When one problem was “fixed” by the company they added new and more features. Needless to say this ugliness was not confined to the staff but spread to the administration and student body. Very few people had confidence in the program and led to grades being questioned . . . often. Teachers have enough to worry about and do than to sit down with a calculator and make sure the grades in the electronic gradebook are being calculated correctly.

The Bad
Now that’s out of the way let’s talk about the “bad” part of my year. I don’t consider this to be “bad” per say, but it was a part of the job I underestimated.I had big aspirations of creating a rotating IT Essential PD program where several workshops to teach people the basics and essentials but that never came to be. I underestimated how many fires I had to put out. I underestimated how projects seemingly found their way to my desk and then consumed my time. I’m not saying that those projects were’t worth my effort – on the contrary. They were important and I was needed and happily helped out, but to make room I had to push other projects off to the side and that included projects that had not taken flight yet. I regrettably didn’t blog enough. My blog just isn’t a means for me to get my opinions and views out in the world but a place for me to reflect and take stock of what I’m doing and where I’m going. It is very therapeutic and I neglected it which was more to my detriment than anyone else’s

One thing that was “bad” was communication in our school. One part of my job that I don’t like was dealing with email. On average I was receiving between 25-40 emails a day. Wow, that doesn’t sound like a lot until you are real busy and neglect it for a day or two then it becomes a problem and demands quite a bit of time to sit down and mow through. I’ve tried several techniques to deal with it but none I like. The problem is not just volume but the content. Some emails are from people who haven’t read their own and are asking a question I’ve answered. Other email issues occur when someone replies to an email that has nothing to do with the original email. Unless I deal with it right then and there it becomes hard for me to find that email again. It gets lost and that person feels like I’ve given them the shaft. Then there are those people who don’t communicate or report an issue because they think that someone else has. Then when no action is taken, they feel that they’re being ignored.

As you can see it’s not just email – it’s a bigger issue and it’s something I hope to address in the next school year.

Then, there was the issue with getting grades out of our new – stand alone gradebook into our student information system. It was a learning experience and I think we have figured out for next year.

The Good
In a word: Google. This was our first year with Google Apps for Education (GAfE) and it worked exactly as advertised. There were a few hiccups of course, but basically Google came through in just about every way imaginable. Teachers were using it in ways I hadn’t dreamed and those teachers that really embraced it found it a tool that changed the way they teach and work with their students. Also, the fact that our students had accounts made emailing keeping in touch with them easier than ever before. If there was an issue I couldn’t figure out – I called Google and they came through each time usually within hours of the inquiry. Just great.

I haven’t even gotten into the fact that teachers are starting to work collaboratively with their peers by utilizing Google Docs more and more and using stand alone word processing programs bringing more synergy and equality across classrooms. Every month so more and more Google Docs created.

wpid-kahoot_048-2014-07-1-20-19.png

There is still a long way to go to get everyone on board but as you can see as off June 23rd – more than 60,000 Google Docs had been created – not bad.

Another good point was the switch to Engrade. As I mentioned in the ugly part, we were in a bad way with the old gradebook. I realized in early October that this was an issue that was not going to get better. I started looking elsewhere. I found Engrade – good reputation, used by millions and a solid gradebook with a robust learning management system. It didn’t integrate with our student information system but that’s OK and myself and most of the staff were happy to trade that off for a gradebook that actually worked. The best compliment I received about Engrade was none at all. No compliment or complaints meant that it was working and that meant that teachers weren’t . We had a few issues, but they were each rectified within a day or so and their tech support, while not as fast as Google was every bit as reliable.

Also, Google gets better and better. Drive will soon have the ability to open and edit MS Office documents and the add ons are making it an incredibly robust content creation platform.

Printing
While this was a small win – we got half of our school on a card based printing solution from Xerox. Basically teachers send their print job to a print server (not a specific printer). They then go to whatever Xerox machine is nearest to them, tap a card on the sensor and the print job comes out right then and there. The goal here was not to track printing – we were already doing that. The goal here was to cut down on waste and make the printing process more efficient. This did work out. Before teachers would print and it would be sent to a specific printer and print immediately. We had people accidentally picking up other people’s print jobs, people actually canceling other print jobs in order to move their’s up in the queue and even parents and anyone could print from a USB or make copies. Now it is held until they are ready to pick it up and unless you have a card you can’t use any of the features on the machine.

Even when Xerox machines went down, teachers could still go to another Xerox machine and pick up their print jobs. Not super convenient at all but It worked pretty well until the machine was repaired. The only problem we had were the Xerox machines themselves. They went down a little more than what we were hoping for, but the system worked pretty flawlessly for the most part and was a welcomed addition to that part of our school. We intend to roll it out to the other half in the fall.

The final good was Drupal. Tony started our school’s website with Drupal and while I didn’t do much with it for most of the year, I spent time learning the ins and outs of it. Around April, I started to work on a very robust section aimed for just our teachers and to redesign other aspects of it. Drupal made it easy and while our site is still under construction it is much larger than before with a lot more options. What is great about Drupal is that once I have the architecture in place I can turn over the ability to add content to other staff members. Thus freeing my time up to do other projects (PD workshops anyone?)

There were a bunch of ups and downs for sure, but those were the big ones. As a teacher, I could always look forward and know (with a reasonable bit of accuracy) what to expect the upcoming year. With my new role as IT Coordinator I find that pretty hard to do. Maybe with time and more experience I will get there. As of right now, I’m just enjoying the excitement that comes with my job and enjoying a little downtime this summer before gearing back up for 2014-2015!

Patrick Cauley
www.thetechjonesy.com

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2013-2014 a Look Back and Preston’s Beard

As the year winds down, I decided I needed to take some time and slow down a bit. It is that time of year to reflect, to say things to people like, “It’s all over but the cry’n”, and to generally be very apathetic so nothing will stop the summer holiday schedule. However, it is bad to start the summer, without reflecting.

So what happened this year….

I started off in Dubai finishing up a contract. I was welcomed back after summer break to a building that was over 50 degrees Celsius (Americans Google that and see what it means). After sweating and struggling for more than two weeks, that issue was solved with only minor damage to most things. That was followed by a disastrous networking problem related to a new security configuration, that I did not choose, but had to troubleshoot and luckily not alone.

Things happened so quickly, and I had no time to wrap-up my 8 years and move to the next challenge in the manner which I had planned. The game is never the game plan.

I relocated, missing very much my friends, but needing a change. Losing the weekly IT Babble Podcast really affected me and still affects me. One thing I have learned is we all need pointless banter and focused theoretical conversation to solve the problems we have yet to face. The banter also reduces stress more than anything else I can think of, and I have to make an effort to re-establish that in the next year.

I used to think working-out, and do other things to unwind was the key to a clear mind. Now I know those are fractionally significant compared to conversations that make you laugh, think, and fume with rage over the pointless of all known and unknown facts.

The new school, was and is, completely different. I have to say nearly every project I started is still on-going. I had forgotten how long it takes to really move a large group of people to a new way of working and doing things.

Office 365, Powerschool, Security Standards, Server Reconfiguration, Network Reconfiguration, Building a Residential Network, Writing Polices and Procedures for Everything, Creating a Real Budget, etc. All things that have happened in less than 10 months and will continue for the next 6 months until each is able to operate with me involved most of the time. The goal is always to build opportunity for others when working in Educational Tech. ‘Others’ does not refer to students, but to the entire community.  It is challenging, but it is a rule I follow and explain almost everyday.

The only other things in life and technology I know for sure after this year, and actually thinking about the last 9 years, are:

1. Linux is just better. I am sick of MAC and Windows and I am going back[to Linux] and staying there. Bite me OS X.

2. My next thing is to be a Certified Ethical Hacker, and I can’t wait to get that finished.

3. Being a leader means not being a friend, but finding real friends.

4. I should have won that Haiku contest on IT BABBLE but I am still waiting, and I am pretty sure I was shafted.

5. When Preston came to visit his beard was so big it needed it’s on towel and seemed to have gravitational pull. Please Preston…trim that before the summer heat.

The summer writing will be the never ending saga know as “The BYOD Playbook”. It will be revised, expanded, and hopefully finally published without conflict.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

 

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Omar’s basket weaving haiku challenge – IT’S ON!!!

If you listened to podcast episode 80 you now know that we have laid down a gauntlet of literary proportions (I don’t think that makes sense does it?) It is time to write your own haiku.

kahoot_036

Submit your haiku by filling out the Google form below. The deadline is June 19, 2014 and the winner will receive a handwritten haiku poem signed by Omar (the master himself) and a mystery prize that hopefully won’t suck. Get those submissions in!

For the record – won’t do anything with your email address except contact you (if you’re the winner that is).

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Podcast 80 – Omar is a haiku master

itbabble_podcast

Man, that was a great show! Omar, Preston and myself sit down and talk about some great ed-tech talk. Check out the agenda below and then check out the podcast yourself. You can also download it (see the link below) or subscribe to us on iTunes.

Plus look for our upcoming Haiku contest!

  1. Google Classroom – Google’s Learning Management System predictions?
    1. Here is the YouTube video
    2. The link to Google Classroom
    3. Is this a threat to other LMS like Edmodo, Schoology, Engrade, etc.
    4. What features would you like to see?
  2. A Time to Stop and Think About : STEM, Programming, & Feynman a post by Tony on IT Babble
    1. Is the STEM approach incorrect?
    2. Do you think it will fail?
  3. Google Sites – Patrick’s quick review
    1. Should people use it
    2. Your thoughts
  4. Don’t interview anyone who hasn’t accomplished anything. Ever. post by Tony DePrato on IT Babble
    1. Should this apply to high school students looking to go to university?

Download it HERE from PodOmatic!

Subscribe to us on iTunes HERE!

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Don’t interview anyone who hasn’t accomplished anything. Ever.

This post is focused on a post I read on Slashdot. The link and excerpt at below.



Why the New Guy Can’t Code

Don’t interview anyone who hasn’t accomplished anything. Ever. Certificates and degrees are not accomplishments; I mean real-world projects with real-world users. There is no excuse for software developers who don’t have a site, app, or service they can point to and say, ‘I did this, all by myself!’ in a world where Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services have free service tiers, and it costs all of $25 to register as an Android developer and publish an app on the Android Market.”


I have always told my students, even as young as Year 9, that they need a portfolio. That they need original work, no matter how lame it may seem. I have always forced students to use legal music, images, etc., if they are working with media. I have pushed them to realize the benefit of being able to say, “I made this. And it might not be great, but it is mine.”

Many times students want to use an established piece of media for their projects, because that piece of media is clean and polished. It makes their work better, or at least makes it feel better to them. I understand that, but in the same way a DJ is not a musician, a student re-mixing someone else’s creation is not really creating.

I personally work with open source resources all the time. I implement solutions developed by others; I re-work them to fit my needs; and I occasionally have the time to take it and make something new, something it was not designed to do. However, I never advertise myself as a programmer, because most of the time I am implementing solutions and not building them from scratch. To a novice, I am creating- but to an expert – I am just a user.

However, I do have things I have made. Things I have created out of need. Whenever I need to reference my programming skill set, these projects are what I use.

I agree with the comment above that there is really no excuse for students not to have the tools they need and the online presence required to share their work. However, the main issue with students, and even with teachers, is that schools still have a culture of “we own it and we let you use it.” This culture has to change. Many schools have started to shift to BYOD but even with the shift many still seem to hesitate. They seem to worry about control.

If control and software management are the primary goals of an educational institution, then they need to review the meaning of the term, education.

Students need to not only create original content, they need to be able to work with it when they want and how they want. They need to be able to move it around, and where ever they go, it needs to go with them in a usable and demonstrable form.

If students are programming, they need full access to the computer they are working on. Running virtual environments and emulating systems within systems is actually very common. Anyone doing web-based programming knows that tools like MAMP and XAMPP are now required to allow students to develop seamlessly without worrying about a live webserver. These tools require full access to the platform in the same way a carpenter requires access to all the tools they need.

Once a student has worked on a few projects offline, they need the real-world experience of uploading this so the world can use it, test it, and criticise it. It is better for them to face harsh comments when their work is nothing more than a hobby or experiment, than when their work is determining their career. The only way to do this is to make it possible for their creation(s) to live out amongst the griefers, haters, and fans.

What is the cost of this access and opportunity? If the student can own it outright, which is ideal, $10-20 USD a year to have their own name and address online and about $50-100 USD a year for them to have access to a server to run whatever they wish.

Google Apps allows people to write code and publish Apps for free, and it is viable. However, I think going all in for an individual Apps for Business Account in the last year of High School helps make the transition from this is what I enjoy to this what I want to do.

When people invest, even a small amount of resources, they tend to own their work and increase their effort. Like BYOD, personal ownership creates a sense of freedom that all people need to truly reach their potential.

For the record- teachers need to BYOD too. This is another discussion, but it is time to acknowledge that professionals in any other field own their tools and invest in their own work. Learning to manage the tools is part of a life long learning process. A process we profess to students, and often as educators, tend not to follow as rigorously as we should.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

Posted in Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, Opinion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Time to Stop and Think About : STEM, Programming, & Feynman

STEM-logo

In a single day, three pieces of media influenced me to write a post. This is one of those times when I hope people involved in curriculum planning and long-term education planning read IT Babble. Of all the things I have written this year, this one is the most important.

First, I read a post on Slashdot, Coding Bootcamps Already 1/8th the Size of CS Undergraduates. This is talking about crash courses in programming and how they are going to be producing more programmers than university programs.

Second, I watched the movie The Challenger Disaster. I should have known all about this, and was upset with myself for not knowing. The movie highlights Dr. Richard Feynman’s methods for determining the cause of the accident in the face of a huge bureaucracy.

Finally, I read an article by Deborah K. Fitzgerald- At MIT, the humanities are just as important as STEM. This quote from the article will sum it nicely, and hopefully stick with anyone who reads it: ..”the world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale, and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities…

I think everyone needs to take a breathe and step back. I am concerned that art, music, literature, philosophy, the study of language, etc. are being considered insignificant to computer programming and other STEM subjects. The STEM term has grown from a buzz word, to business model. It is being marketed by non-profits, publishers of textbooks, and online services for schools. It is being driven into the public eye by a media frenzy. This is simply a huge mistake.

Science and technology education opportunities should be developed in all levels of education, and they should be kept current. But the people who choose to follow a science or technology career need to be connected to the world in order to understand the problems before they propose solutions. Human beings tend to connect to the world through religion and philosophy, art, music, media of varying types, and of course writing and publishing.

Many STEM projects are pushing computer programming, but I do not think anyone is paying attention to what type of programming students are learning. There is a huge trend going-on right now. Students are being directed to build apps and make webpages that do something entertaining. App building is creative, but it is done with code that is already part of someone else’s design. It is regulated by companies. It is not truly original thought, nor is the process of developing a world of app builders going to benefit the future of science and technology. It is only going to benefit a handful of people enjoying short-term profits.

Teaching kids to make apps or webpages is not the type of curriculum that drives the universal benefits that are derived from studying programming. Programming can be studied as a topic, but it should not be seen as something the masses need to master.Not everyone can be a programmer, nor should they. Programming should be part of a project, such as in robotics, but it does not have to be the whole project or topic. Programming is a tool, and knowing that it is a tool means that other skills are required to make it truly effective. Students must learn these other skills as well.

What education needs to do is reach back in-time and refocus on what is important. The world needs professionals who can use tools and teach themselves new tools as they evolve. Society needs as many people as possible who are aware they need to be responsible to be equipped in the same way every carpenter knows they need a t-square. Doctors, Engineers, Artists, Teachers, and other professions must understand more than the single dimension in front of them in order to face unknown problems or problems that violate known theories.

Using canned curriculum and programming libraries   ,and calling those things new and innovative, is sending the message that applying knowledge is limited to what is being provided and what already exists. Having a society of people focused only on what already exists, is not going to solve the next Challenger Disaster, raise a Russian sub-marine from impossible depths, create the equivalent to a supercomputer in a garage, revolutionise the way films are created, save millions of people from evil regimes, or improve infant mortality rates by 100s of percentage points.

All of those things were achieved by teams of people from varying backgrounds who did not have Google and who did not have tools given to them. They were achieved because there was a problem, and everyone involved simply believed that they could solve the problem, and if needed, create the tools.

Unless STEM curricula are designed to put a few students in a room with a box, and help them learn to turn that box into something better than a box, then those curricula will fail. Unfortunately, when they fail the world will know about it 10-15 years too late.

Students need learning opportunities in as many subjects as can be afforded. Humanity does not know enough about how our individual mind goes from seeing a glass of ice, and then deriving the inspiration to solve a problem that has hundreds of engineers at NASA confused. Because we do not know, we should not assume that the things we are removing from curricula are insignificant. We should only assume that we need to keep questioning and keep searching. We need different types of people doing that questioning and searching, because obviously we are doing it wrong.

Perplexing the future is.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

 

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