Monday, November 29, 2010

Multitasking: Destroying focus?

Test your multitasking ability with the NY Times.
Pictured above are my personal results.
In a previous post, I made a jab at multitaskers--using one article to suggest that having to switch frequently between tasks means that we do all of our desired tasks worse than before.

A string of Windows 7 commercials like this one hits the nail on the head: being able to do more at the same time in fact limits what we can do at once. Fascinating, no?

The question for me as a teacher is: 

How is this Affecting Our students?
It's hard to say at the middle school level where I teach, because these students have never been known for great attention spans. At the college level, many students bring in their laptops and unlimited distraction capabilities with them into the classroom. My kids don't bring their laptops anywhere (few probably own one), but I'm worried that with every new smartphone that hits the market, our culture is pushing this myth that the more things you can do at once, the better person you will become. When article after article after article report that multitasking does not increase effectiveness, I say that this is not doing a great deal to help our young people take full advantage of their powerful minds.
Test your multitasking ability with the NY Times.
Pictured above are my personal results.

Prove It To Your Students
Try this lesson plan to show your students about the cost of multitasking.

Test Your Own Multitasking Savvy
If you think that this claim is not true, try taking this test posted by the NY Times.
My scores are pictured on the right and above right. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Acer Aims to Kill Laptop

Like this writer, you may be tired of hearing about yet another entry into the brand new world of tablet computing. So what if Acer is offering not just a 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab-sized alternative but also a 10.1” iPad-sized alternative. So what if Acer, like so many other companies, is making a grab at Android software for its tablet without making virtually any changes (yet) to the interface compared to a puny little phone.

But Acer's plans may be more than just a “Can I play too?” from the annoying kid down the street.

Instead of a Laptop?
By offering two different screen sizes and a fun way to dock your machine at home, Acer appears to be moving ahead with the plan to kill laptops set forth by tablet PCs everywhere. If you ask me, Acer is making a smart move to offer both previously-exclusive screen sizes. Whereas before a consumer's choice to board either Apple's or Samsung's corporate train was bound together with the choice of what screen size to get, now a customer can leave out the choice of screen size from the decision of what company and software to side with.

Some commenters say that a tablet PC is good for on-the-go use or media consumption such as videos, photos, and web, but not great for creating things such as spreadsheets, word documents, and photo/video editing. However, by offering big screen sizes and a keyboard dock, your on-the-go machine can take a break from travel to become a dedicated creation control.

It should be said that the iPad has a dock and a physical keyboard you can get to let your on-the-go Apple tablet become a powerful home computing device. As a matter of fact, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has all these things too. I'm not saying that Acer does these things better than its opponents necessarily, but that to me it illustrates the slow decline of the laptop as we know it. I think the tablet PC is coming into its own as a more mobile choice than a laptop; especially now that tablets now widely come with the capability of an in-depth user interface that doesn't sacrifice an already-small screen space for a virtual keyboard or a drop-down menu of input options.

Laptop Fused with Tablet?
Acer stands ahead of its competitors because of its variety of personal computing options right now: not just 7” and 10.1” tablet PCs, but now a laptop that might combine what's fun and useful about a tablet touchscreen and double it. This laptop has a touchscreen that replaces the keyboard, unveiling yet an even more advanced way of breaking down the wall between a user's mind and a computer's response. Take a look at this video here:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: MIT Robo Turkey May Threaten Tokyo

Photo from
The robotic turkey developed by MIT (that selfsame university that gave us the hosts of NPR's Car Talk) has evolved into a robotic flamingo... and beyond.

Will this horrible mechanism one day conquer Tokyo? Only time will tell!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo of Aqua Teen's "TurkETron"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Students Use Technology to Break Down Barriers

A Smart Board Lesson/Anticipation Guide
Just Once” is written by Thomas J. Dygard and anthologized in the Elements of Literature: Introductory Course © 2000.

All Moose wanted was to run the ball on that football field. On the other hand, Coach Williams wanted his biggest player doing what he did best: hitting other players. This would give the little guy holding the ball a big opening through which to burst and run for a touchdown. Moose knew that his job was important. He knew that it was vital, even. But he was stuck on one fact: the people in the bleachers never cheered his name, no matter how badly the runners needed him to score. It was always the runners that got the glory. Come on, Coach. Just once.

Journal/Discussion: Have you ever wanted one chance to try something new?

I think that the theme and conflict of this story is easily generalizable, yet understanding Moose's central conflict begins with a basic understanding of his circumstances: football. I want to help my students connect on an emotional level, but this is nearly impossible for those students who, by not understanding how football is played, don't know what Moose wants and why he can't have it.

Many of my students love football. Almost daily I get asked who “my team” is. I respond with the name of alma mater, of course, but apparently college football doesn't count: “No, Mr. Brinker, your real team. I mean like the Steelers, or the Cowboys, or the Eagles. Which one is your team?”

However, many of my students are not fans of football and know very little about the sport. In fact, many of my little football fans can't articulate what happens on the field, but they still know if their team wins or not.

In order for them to appreciate what Moose does every day and what he would rather do if given the chance, we need to break it down on the Smart Board with a few well chosen languages: in this case, visual, kinesthetic, musical, and oral. “Multiple intelligences” are what we sometimes call these different ways of reaching someone.

First we look at a bird's eye view of the football field and ask this basic question: “Where does this team want to get the ball?” Inevitably, a student is equipped to answer: “To the end of the field, or the end zone.” Right.

Then, like a football coach, I get a student to put hands on the board and drag the X's and O's around to show one basic play: one player holds the ball and runs forward, while at the same time, another character runs in front and hits opposing players. This is the kinesthetic component: some students learn best by moving their hands and manipulating objects. Research has proven that much fo the time, a boy's brain goes off like fireworks when he sees a physical object moving through space. That's why boys throw stuff and jump off things like animals. It's a drug for their brain. It's also a great way to keep these little balls of fire engaged, so whenever possible I let them use the Smart Board.

This tool is called the "Magic Pen." Why magic?
Just circle with your finger, then... 
Now I point to the screen. Of these two characters, which one is probably Moose? Answer: the one in front. Great!

Now, which character would Moose rather be? Answer: the one in back, carrying the ball to score. Yes.

For the oral component, we've been talking this whole time about which player is whom and where on the field. I'll offer one more basic explanation to cap off a running oral discussion before entering into the visual side. automatically draws a much nicer circle. Magic.
Some of my non-football fans may still not understand: How come you need two players to carry the football down the field? Do they both need to hold the ball? That's silly. What does the player do who doesn't have the ball?

This is a great question, because knowing this answer is the key to identifying Moose's central role and conflict on the field. To answer the question, I'll show a clip from Remember the Titans where the players run this play. In the scene, the music swells up, communicating in yet another language to students the literary importance of the football play we're about see—that importance is this: the underdog can still overcome the odds, and two very different people can cooperate toward a common goal.

In the movie the camera dips down and seems to glide alongside the running players, showing my students visually that one player runs while holding the football, glancing around like a scared animal. At the same time, the player in front runs with both arms battling off opposing players as the two work together down the field: huff huff smack, huff huff smack, huff huff smack.

By now, my students' engines are revved, whether they cared about football before or not. The fanfare of the final music and the beaming faces of the cheering crowd speak to a much wider audience than does the basic football playbook. My students are ready to give this text everything they've got.

To see the section of Remember the Titans that started it all, you might find it in this clip below, beginning at the time 8:01.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with a Teacher Blogger

"Cool Cat Teacher" is, like me, both a teacher and a blogger with a major interest in technology's role in our lives and the classroom. You can read more about her blog here.

How do you use new technology for your job?
I take at least 15 minutes 2-3 times a week to "play" with new technology. as a teacher who teaches students how to learn new technology and also how to stay abreast of technology change, it is vital that I "practice what I teach" and DO IT myself.  I'm always playing with new things and sometimes even testing new things for companies as part of my blog (which is very exciting for the students - this is how I found some cool things like ArtRage and my M90z touch computer.)  We have a very limited budget, so often I'm trying free or open source software or websites.  Sometimes students learn as much when we use a website that is in Beta and we have problems than if everything were perfect.  Technology, in order to be profitable, has to meet needs and remain innovative and edgy - I find that I also have to remain innovative and edgy to be excellent in my teaching.

Is there any technology/website made in the last 5-7 years that you can't live without?

My gmail, wikispaces, elluminate, and timebridge. These are four of the most important sites I use, but I'd also say the Amazon website and my Kindle - although my Kindle isn't a "website" per se - I receive about 8-9 blogs and news sources on my kindle that are vital to my survival as a person as they provide the mental food that keeps me growing and vibrant. I can also read my kindle when I'm away from the hustle and bustle of life and can soak in learning.
Is there any technology/website made in the last 5-7 years that seems useless to you?

Gosh. I think everything out there has some use or it ceases to exist eventually. I think the only thing that is often useless is negativity. A negative attitude makes us sick, causes us to worry, and makes us unable to perform our jobs. So, I think, if I know of one useless thing it would be a negative attitude. Ban negativity and the word "can't" and I'd be happy and I think we'd get a lot more done. We need constructive criticism but often nowadays because of the pressure of the world in which we live we get obstructive criticism which serves to obstruct us from getting anything done. Now, more than ever, we need the determination and drive to improve our classrooms and world!

What's one thing you wish you could do with technology but can't yet?
I am ready for Augmented Reality and what it will offer us. It is frustrating that Foursquare and Gowalla don't get that we really want an educational overlay of our world that allows ANONYMOUS or private users like our children. Although Foursquare is adding overlays that will allow us to go into a town and see what history is in that town, it won't allow us to take kids on field trips and have them tag the artifacts and things they find with their information without causing privacy concerns. I think that location based apps need to realize that there is a HUGE potential for the educational market of our world that requires a higher quality privacy control than exists today.