Sunday, August 16, 2015

Change Your Classroom Lights

I've had a wide variety of classrooms in my teacher life.

From trailer rooms in Namibia:

To rooms in Guinea that have walls painted with blackboard paint:

and floors painted with human feces

By contrast my past couple of classrooms have been pretty great. My favorite has been my Kathmandu classroom:

Fun Fact: When the big earthquake hit a couple of months ago, those fish in the fish tank in the back left corner flung all the way to the front of the room (where the photo was taken). 

 My classroom now at ISP is pretty cool. It has some nice corner windows. And a loft.

It's a good room. 
The only issue is the fluorescent lighting. That part is gross. And since Prague gets pretty dark in the winter months, the lighting is a big deal. 
I was scratching and stretching about this until I saw this commercial:

The strange, windowless room with drapes

I thought this could be the solution! And it probably is. Through my classroom budget, I bought a few overpriced light strips, blooms, and bulbs. Then I put them in and below the class loft.
It's not the same as the commercial because I have windows and daylight. It's also the summer.
But I think it'll be a big improvement to fluorescents.

Here is the Hue Light system:

The Bridge:

This is what makes everything work. The bridge needs to plug into your internet hub. I have a port in my classroom wall that I plug it into. Without the bridge, the lights would just act as... lights.

The Bulbs

Once you have the bridge, you can buy as many bulbs as you want. Each bulb can be controlled separately from your smart device, or grouped together. At the time of this writing, each bulb costs around $20. 
The only downside is that they aren't super bright. It would be nice if the darker colors would be a little more bold and less soft.
Grade: B+

The Blooms
The blooms are mostly for backlighting. They are way too weak to have any meaningful effect in your classroom. They're meant to be used at night, in the living room, highlighting a photo or changing your TV into a poltergeist-possessed TV. If you use them for that purpose, they look pretty cool.
They have power cords. At least the ones that I bought. And those just add to the clutter too.
Grade: D

The Light Strips

The light strips have the same problems as the blooms; they aren't so bright, and they have that annoying power cord. But they are so, so much cooler!
The first thing that the kids and parents notice in the classroom are the light strips. They really define the classroom atmosphere, even though they don't contribute any meaningful light. At $90 though, their price is crazy stupid. They should be cheaper.
Grade: B

Those are the three types of Hue lights that I have. There's not an "A" grade among them, but that doesn't mean they aren't fantastic. They are. There's just room for improvement.

I haven't used too many iPhone apps with them, but here is what I'm using:
If I want to control individual lights, I use the standard Philips Hue app.

If I want to use a cool color scheme, I use OnSwitch.

I can decide to program each individual light color too. To do this I use "Tickle", a programming app that resembles Scratch. It not only lets me control the color of each bulb but the time as well.

I should talk about Tickle in the near future. 

It's a neat app that does more than just programs light. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Kaleidoscope Fishbowl Episode 3 - Dead Metaphor

I think I'm getting better at this.
My third episode of my podcast is out. It's a story in Guinea-Conakry. I was teaching in Guinea from 2000 to 2002. On the way, I talk about Jonas Savimbi, Angola, Charles Taylor, and mosquitoes.

Episode 3 - Dead Metaphor

You can find it also on iTunes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kaleidoscope Fishbowl Podcast: Episode 1 - Potassium

I've been a little light on posts this summer because I've been working on a podcast.
Last year I wanted to create an education podcast (based on interviews) because I was frustrated with the existing education podcasts (based on interviews).

And I thought it'd be fun.

But scheduling interviews was nerve-racking. It was both a strange and busy year... not at all conducive to scheduling interviews. 

This summer I decided to jumpstart the education podcast by reformatting it. 
No Interviews. Just Me. 
Talking To Myself.

So no interviews.
Just me.
Telling stories and talking to myself.
But each story has to be something about teaching, or a lesson, or the classroom, or an education system, or an education anomaly. 

Here is episode 1 of "Kaleidoscope Fishbowl". I was teaching math and science at Ombuumbuu Junior Secondary School in Namibia from 1998 to 2000. 

Potassium: A story in Namibia

I definitely want to do the interviews at some point. But in the meantime, I'll tell my stories first. 

You can find the podcast on itunes here. 


Sunday, July 5, 2015

RIP Scratch and Makey Makey

There needed to be some sacrifices. After almost a decade of co-teaching, I had to say goodbye and bury my beloved counterpart:

I've been teaching Scratch since 2007.

But because we're moving to a 1-to-1 iPad program next year, and because MIT Media Lab can't seem to figure out what this guy figured out, or this Kickstarter campaign figured out, it looks like I've said goodbye to my favorite elementary programming tool for a while.

To mourn and celebrate, I decided to pull together several of the things I like to do in Scratch with 4th graders.

Here's the funeral memorial video:

I've talked about most of these projects before. And there is actually a Scratch Guide and Learner Workbook that's worth taking a look at if you still have access to laptops. I've often pulled a few ideas from earlier versions of these documents.

But enough digression! 
There is so much more mourning and wailing to do.  
Because I not only have to say goodbye to Scratch, but to Makey Makey as well.

You bastard

So here's another funeral memorial video:

I know there is a way to connect Makey Makey and iPads, but I probably won't do it. So RIP Scratch and RIP Makey Makey. You were pretty good. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Minecraft, Microsoft, and Education: A Dysfunctional Polygamy Made In Heaven

It's summer!

A time to enjoy so many flavors of equality!

This was the most pertinent image I could find
when I Googled "Affordable healthcare act, gay marriage, confederate flag"

Summer also means that it's that special time of year when I can write again. 

I'm excited too, because after a fairly professional and technical stagnant 2014-15 school year, 4th grade at ISP is ringing in the new school year with a 1-to-1 iPad program... 

I say this without hyperbole or sarcasm: I'm pretty excited.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Clone Zone: Put Your Content On Any Website You Want

The world of digital literacy just got murkier. Today I learned about Clone Zone, a website that allows users to annotate any website they want.

This means that you can change any online newspaper to your version of The Onion.

I used the existing photos from the USA Today website in the above example, but I changed the text. If I wanted, I could have changed the photos as well. 

That's great for teachers, but probably not-so-great for Facebook users. 

Full Disclosure: 
I'm Not Sure The Comments To This Fake Article Aren't Fake As Well

Besides the fun of making your own fake content, there's a lot of potential to teach digital literacy with Clone Zone. Now teachers can stretch their students' digital literacy muscles even more with customizable websites that can look like anything the teacher wants.

This means it's now a little easier to customize my resources when teaching about online authorship and content. 
Teaching Research, by salamanca

The one thing that doesn't seem possible yet with Clone Zone is to change the links of the webpage. If users (teachers) could do that, they could create a whole online ecosystem for digital literacy. 

Yesterday Clone Zone went into closed Beta, and if you want to try it out, check out the link to find out how to sign up. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Right To Vote: A Case Study In American Territories

A governments' authority comes from the will of the people. People must show what they want their government to do by voting. Everyone has the right to vote.

For several posts I'm featuring case studies that illustrate an article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that children and adults find interesting and illuminating.

The goal is to identify examples that I can use with my 4th grade class. 

I get the Czech Republic version of HBO, and can never really figure out when anything is on. I think John Oliver is on at sometime, but I'm not sure. But there's Youtube, and there's this brilliant critique of US citizens who aren't allowed to vote. John Oliver brilliantly critiques the hypocrisy and ignorance that much of America has with its territories.  

Not all of our territories allow even citizenship though. 
If you're born on America Samoa, you're a US national, but not a citizen.  As John Oliver put it, "they can't run for president, serve on a federal journal, or, depending on where they live, even become a public school teacher." Yet they serve on our army, where a commander-in-chief who they couldn't possibly vote for, send them to war. 

America Samoa, you belong in my "right to country" post.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Right To Not Be Bullied: A Cyber-Bully Case Study

No one is to be hurt or to be punished in cruel or unusual ways.

For several posts I'm featuring case studies that illustrate an article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that children and adults find interesting and illuminating.

The goal is to identify examples that I can use with my 4th grade class. 

Most kids hear this right and immediately think of physical pain. I think this right can be a gateway into bullying in general, and specifically cyber bullying. 

Anyone who has read my blog on a regular basis...
 I'm looking at you, me

...knows that I'm really interested in teaching digital literacy in elementary school.
There's this post, for instance. Or this one

Case Study 1: Invisibilia: How To Grow A Bully

The second half of Invisibila's episode "Our Machines, Ourselves" details the story of Pete, a commuter on the N train in New York. Here's a quick summary:

  • Pete was fed up with rude behavior he saw on his daily commute. He decided to start a twitter account to capture the rudeness and to vent his frustrations.

For example spreading your legs so that the person to your right is smashed against a pole.

  • Pete didn't find rude behavior all the time, but he wanted to keep his twitter account active, so he also snapped and posted photos of people who looked strange, or was caught doing something embarrasing, or didn't fit his definition of normal.

  • What started out as a way to expose bad behavior became an outlet for bad behavior. In short, Pete became the cyberbully of the N Train.

  • Pete didn't stop when his anonymity was exposed and fellow N Train commuters encouraged each other to snap photos of Pete on the N Train and post them online. Instead that kind of energized him even more.

  • What made Pete eventually stop posting was a moment of self awareness. He realized that his online activity was making him angrier, not calmer, as he was constantly looking for things to be outraged by. 

There are a lot of teachable moments in that story. But another strong aspect about this episode is that  Invisibilia talked to Dr. Ryan Martin, the chair of the psychology program at UW-Green Bay and Arthur Santana from the University of Houston. They identified specific ways interacting online is different than interacting offline:

1) Online you are primarily communing through text. So we don't have these social cues. We don't have inflections of voice. We don't have facial cues.

2) Online it is easier to go through the process of deindividuation, which apparently is a word. It means losing one's self-awareness in a group setting.

3) Online there are time delays. So you can drop something into the world and not stick around to see how it lands.

4) Online interactions are taking place through a screen. They can all feel like a game.
And often times they are a game

5) There's anonymity, which Santana found makes you nearly twice as likely to be cruel.

6) We are more likely to retweet or share things that are angering than anything else. This comes from a study that classified the emotions of more than 70 million tweets. What they found is that anger spread faster online than joy or sadness or disgust. 

The problem, says Doctor Martin, is that over time, using that online vent to cure your anger actually makes us more likely to become aggressive later on.

The WSJ makes a parallel to Catholic confession

All of these factors lead to something called the online disinhibition effect. Which, according to Wikipedia means a loosening (or complete abandonment) of social restrictions and inhibitions that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction during interactions with others on the Internet.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Right To Country: A Sea Gypsy Case Study

No person or people shall have their nationality taken away from them. This means everyone has the right to belong to a nation. And they also have the right to change their nationality, if they want to.

For the next several posts, I'll be featuring case studies that illustrate an article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that children and adults find interesting and illuminating.

The goal is to identify examples that I can use with my 4th grade class. 

The 26th of this December marked the 10 year anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami that ended 230,000 lives. I was living on Ko Phayam at the time, a small Thailand island about 300 km north of Phuket, and when the wave hit, I should have been swimming, because I swam every morning. Except not on the 26th, because I took a boat to the mainland to pick up my brother at Ranong’s airport. The boat reached Ranong, and the wave reached the island about a half hour later. 

The months that followed was an interesting time for relief work, as the world pulled together to help and support affected regions in as many ways as there were ruses.  Michael Douglas, for example, decided the best way that Hollywood could help was to give a million baht directly to the now deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. 

Foreigners eager to assist paid shady, fly-by-night NGOs for the privilege to pick up garbage on the beaches as the locals sat on their porches and watched. 

One of the more interesting predicaments I saw was on the small island of Kho Lao. The island was comprised of a steep hill, surrounded by a narrow shore.  
Kho Lao. The school is on the left.

This was kind of a problem for the island inhabitants, because it meant that anything they built jutted out into the sea on stilts and wooden planks. 

The island held two villages positioned on opposite ends and split by the mountain that made crossing the island on foot essentially impossible. One of these villages, the Thai side, has a school. It could potentially teach around 200 students. 

The Thai side of the island

The other village, I’ll call it Morgan village, did not. If children want to go to school from Morgan village, a small boat picks them up everyday. At the end of the school day, they are taken back. 

Morgan village was not made up of Thais. They were a settlement of sea gypsies, until recently nomadic on the water. Sea gypsies had no nationality, even though generations have lived on and around the shores of Thailand, and many had permanent residence on the banks of Thailand. The Thai government allowed sea gypsy children to attend Thai schools, but they weren’t citizens. Morgan village wanted citizenship- a fact confirmed by a quick glance around the village- every house and boat has a Thai flag hoisted above it. 
The Sea Gypsy side of the island

The village looked like a forgotten beachside carnival. 

But the Thai government hadn’t granted that privilege yet. As a result, the sea gypsies were foreigners in their homeland, among some of the poorest people in Thailand, save for the illegal Burmese immigrants. Without country or education, they had slipped into a level of poverty and hygiene that is at once horrific and heart-tugging.

In theory the children in Morgan village could go to the Thai village school. But there were several obstacles. 

Transportation was one. Although it is only a five minute boat ride, there was only one small long-tail available to transport the children to and from school everyday. 

Another obstacle was food. But not in the way you may think. A relief organization has decided to supply the sea gypsy children with a lunch program directly in their village. This took away the one motivation poor, uneducated families have for sending their children to school- the promise of lunch. With lunches being given directly to the homes, no one saw the need for school. The few students that were going to the Thai side for school just stopped going.  

Free lunch from an NGO took away the incentive to go to school

So this was an interesting problem. Actually a problem within a problem. Problems that as a foreigner and a guest of the island I could not fully comprehend. 

But stripping the problems within problems away, what's interesting about this to a 4th grader studying "The Right To Country," is that there are people that are born without a country. Until recently they couldn't go to school. And even then because they don't get any type of government support, there's a cycle of poverty that is very difficult to break.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Right of Responsibility: The Miami Gardens Case Study

People have duties toward the place where they live and towards other people who live with them.

For the next several posts, I'll be featuring case studies that illustrate an article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that children and adults find interesting and illuminating.

The goal is to identify examples that I can use with my 4th grade class. 

There is a lot of topical and recent fodder I could have pulled for this one, but last week's This American Life is possibly the least grey. In the second part of their two part series "Cops See It Differently," they feature the strange, awful case of Miami Gardens, Florida.

Cops See It Differently Part 2, Act 1

The episode is called Inconvenience Store. Instead of trying to summarize it, I'll let This American Life summarize it. The following is an extended excerpt from the accompanying transcript:

(Miami Gardens is) a city of about 110,000 people with a lot of crime, a higher murder rate than Chicago or New York or Miami. In fact, it used to be part of Miami-Dade County and broke off in 2003. It became a separate city, started their own police force after that, partly because the Miami-Dade cops hadn't been so responsive to the community.

And at first, apparently, people loved the new cops. Miami Gardens is an overwhelmingly black community. Its leaders are black. They had a black police chief. Residents called the new cops the bumblebees because they seemed to be swarming everywhere and people liked that.
And, really, it just took a couple years for it to become a total mess. (T)he best illustration of how bad it got happened to two men-- the owner of a convenience store called the Quickstop and one of his employees. 
Back in 2008, right after the city launched its new police department, officers stopped by and they talked to the owner of the Quickstop, a guy named Alex Saleh. They asked him if he wanted to partner with the police in a new initiative called The Zero-Tolerance Zone Trespassing Program.
Alex says he never had any problems inside his store. But under the program, the police would keep an extra eye on the Quickstop and on the parking lot, and if they thought something was up, they wouldn't have to wait for Alex to phone in a complaint. They could stop and question or apprehend someone if they felt they had cause. 
Alex says he'd be standing right there in the store, right behind the counter, and officers would ignore him and tell his customers to put down their things. Then they'd take the customers outside and line them up against the wall. The customers were always black. The officers were almost always white.
Before long, it wasn't just the customers being questioned. The police started including a guy named Earl. Alex paid him to do odd jobs around the store. One night, right before closing, Alex sent Earl out to the parking lot with a broom and a dustpan. When he didn't come back, Alex want out to check on him.
That incident with the police, where Alex walked outside to check on Earl at the end of the night and found only a dustpan and broom, that happened two more times that month.

Surveillance video of Earl Sampson under arrest for trespassing at the store where he works. 

Each time the police picked up Earl, they'd book him into the county jail. He'd spend the night there, go to court the next day, and there he'd be given a choice. Plead guilty to trespassing and get out of jail right away, or he could fight the trespassing charge, but it would be a hassle. And it would be expensive. He'd have to hire a lawyer and post bond and wait for a trial date. So Earl always pleaded guilty.

Three years into the program, he had been arrested 63 times and stopped another 99 times. On the police reports, the reason was almost always the same. Earl seemed, quote, "suspicious." Suspicious while waiting at the bus stop or playing basketball for buying food or walking to a public restroom-- only once did Earl run.
In the arrest report, the officer wrote, quote, "Earl stated that he was running because he was tired of the police arresting him for no reason." After that, Earl says it was just easier to give himself up.
By 2012, four years into the zero tolerance program, the violent crimes that people were most concerned about had not dropped. In fact, murders had increased, and so had assaults. Though burglaries were down, and vehicle thefts fell by half.
Way in the back corner of the store, at the end of an aisle, there's an 11 by 11 foot room built out of plywood and sheet rock. And inside that room is a mattress and a sink for Earl to wash up in. If you were picking up laundry detergent or toilet paper, you'd be standing right next to where he sleeps.
But even that didn't prevent the police from coming in and getting Earl. Not long after his room was built, he got arrested again for trespassing at the store. Earl didn't immediately take a plea this time. Alex doesn't know why, but Earl spent 20 days in jail. And the judge issued a stay away warning from the store.
(Finding no recourse through legal channels, Alex went to the Miami Herald)

One of the Herald's reporters, Julie Brown, pulled records that showed police had arrested Earl at least 62 times for trespassing.
Most of the citations were issued at the Quickstop. And overall, Earl had been stopped and questioned more than 250 times. His criminal record was 38 pages long.
Miami Gardens only has 110,000 people. And the number of stops that had occurred over a five-year period was 99,980... Compare that to the city of Miami-- it has a population four times as large as Miami Gardens-- over the same period of time, they had only made 3,753 stops.
More than 11,000 of the stops were for kids. Kids who, in the field contact reports, were labeled suspicious while doing things like playing freeze tag, riding bikes, swimming at pools, or hanging out a public park.

(Here are some examples cited by the program):

Five years old this kid is, and it says, the listed subject was fitting the description of the suspect in the area of a burglary.

Here's another one. This kid was seven years old, stopped for being a suspicious person. Officer says in the remarks, "I was dispatched to the above location. Several subjects, possibly selling narcotics. This subject was observed in front of this location. And pat searched was conducted after consent... No wants nor warrants were found. It says here in the physical characteristics that this seven-year-old had a slight beard.
So how would I use this case study? 

I'm not exactly sure. 

But at the very least it is an extreme illustration of when a society doesn't value a right to responsibility.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Right To Property: The Edith Macefield Case Study

"Everyone has the right to own property. Anything that belongs to a person can't be taken away from him or her unless there's a fair reason."

For the next several posts, I'll be featuring case studies that illustrate an article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that children and adults find interesting and illuminating. 

The goal is to identify examples that I can use with my 4th grade class. 

I used to work at the Walgreens in Ballard, Seattle in the winter of 2002. I worked the graveyard shift as a stock boy and cashier. Maybe it was because of the time of the day that I was hanging out in Ballard, but to me it seemed kind of run down, and kind of full of a lot of working class alcoholics. 
Google's Street View of That Walgreens Today

Around 2005, long after I left, Ballard was in the midsts of unprecedented development and growth. Condominiums started springing up, and a developer wanted to make shopping center on an industrial block where Edith Macefield lived. The developer offered about 7 times the value of Edith's house so they could tear it down and build their shopping center, but Mrs. Macefield refused. So the developers decided to build their shopping center around her.

It made national news

Edith Macefield's house surrounded by the shopping mall

Edith Macefield passed away in 2008 when she was 86 years old, but the podcast 99% Invisible featured her situation in an episode called Holdout.

What's interesting about this case of property besides that Mrs. Macefield didn't want to sell, is that if it wasn't for Barry Martin, the shopping center project's superintendent, she might have been forced to anyway. He began a relationship with Mrs. Macefield during the construction of the shopping center. He ran errands for her, and made himself available to her at all hours of the night. He believes that if he wasn't watching out for her, the powers that be would have put her in a state run facility. 

Edith Macefield became a kind of symbol to our right to property. There's even a tattoo in honor of her, her stubborness, and this right:

The rest of the body is a flesh-colored shopping mall

This case study doesn't cover eminent domain, which I guess is covered in the "unless there's a fair reason" portion of the right to property. But it would also be interesting to see if 4th graders believe that eminent domain is a fair enough reason to take someone's property away. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Introducing Case Studies for The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

We are about to begin our Rights and Responsibilities unit of inquiry in 4th grade.

We have the following enduring understandings for this unit:
  • People can contribute responsibly to their communities.
  • People all have rights and responsibilities as citizens of the world
  • People’s actions have an impact on how human rights are met.
I use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the backbones of this unit:

One of the backbones. It's a multi-backbone, single-eyed cyclops-hydra thingy.

I've been trying to compile interesting case studies that showcase when these rights are violated. And I thought I'd spend my next few posts outlining what I've found. 

If you have any suggestions as I get the ball rolling, please leave your thoughts in the comments. 
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