Here We Go Again

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Once again it is time to saddle up and prepare to ride herd on another group of technology students. With the hustle and bustle of preparing for a new year I often forget how important it is to document what works and what does not. This year my goal is to journal, at least some of my classes, with an eye towards technique. We spent the morning in a professional development seminar presented by Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame.  Needless to say, while I did not agree wholeheartedly with everything that was said, I do believe that Mr. Burgess was correct in one very important area.  We absolutely DO need to carefully consider our presentation and we need to devise ways to make it more engaging.  We are packaging and marketing a product for sale and we are competing with some of the best marketers in the world for the attention of our students.  In order to engage our students and give them the best opportunity to retain the material we present, we must make it palatable.

Before anyone grabs the tar and feathers, I have not bought into the theory that each lesson needs to be an epic presentation of Hollywood-like special effects.  I survived the “Working on the Work” phase of 2007 and 2008.  We all built carefully crafted set-pieces to be trotted out for special occasions like evaluations.  I have seen teachers with fire station poles, amusement park rides, and all sorts of props in the classroom.  I don’t think that this is a legitimate expectation for every teacher.  I do, however, think that each of us can, and should, put more care into the format and presentation of our lessons.  Any good craftsman will be interested in improving their craft because each of us, in the end, wants to do the best we can for our kids, or at least, they should be our highest motivation.

At any rate, my goal this year is as follows:

1.) Document what I am doing in class with video, audio, and careful notes.

2.) Use that documentation to improve what I am currently doing and use legitimate data collection and analysis methods to determine what is good and what is not so effective.

3.) Brain-storm ideas for more ways to present information more accurately and more interestingly.

4.) Archive and share what works and what does not in the classroom on these pages.

Having said that…Wish me luck…Here We Go Again.

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A Review of the new Ghost is the Shell Movie

GhostInTheShellAs my loyal readers will know, I have had occasion to use this space to review movies. There was a great deal of discussion recently concerning the,  then, up-coming live adaptation of the classic manga, Ghost in the Shell, written and drawn by Masamune Shirow.  While the manga presents itself as lighthearted and moderately comedic, the anime, produced in 1995, is a gripping and dramatic adaptation of the story.  It is this anime that most fans point to as the definitive telling of the tale.  Much of the buzz around the ‘net consisted of concerned fans hoping that Hollywood might treat the original source material with respect and allow the compelling and fascinating story to play out on the big screen as the author intended it.  If you were one of those fans with concerns along those lines, then rest assured that your fears were well founded and fully realized within the first 45 seconds of the film.  The Ghost in the Shell live adaptation suffers from the very thing that makes up it’s subject matter:  it completely lacks any soul at all.

By way of plot review, the original story involves a young woman, Motoko Kusanagi, whose mind has been implanted into a cybernetic or cyborg body.  While every part of her is mechanical, her mind, soul, and spirit remain human.  She, according to various sources across the Internet, was injured in a plane crash and then, as her body failed, was placed into the cybernetic shell.  She volunteered for government service as a way to pay for the maintenance and upkeep on her cyborg body, again, according to the original anime but she also seems to be motivated by the needs of society.  It seems that sacrificing self to benefit the collective is a theme that appears quite regularly in Japanese literature.  At any rate, she is employed by Section 9, a division of the Government Intelligence Community tasked with protecting the public from various threats.  As well as possessing formidable physical and tactical skills, the Major, as she is called, is expert in all things technical and digital.  She is a master hacker/programmer, and as such, often gets called in when cases involve technological details.

The story occurs at some time in the near future when mankind has perfected the ability to combine electronics, mechanics, and the human body.  Nearly everyone in the story is enhanced to some degree, with the notable exception of the recently recruited former policeman Togusa.  The team is assigned to track down and capture a ghost hacker, someone who can hack into a human mind via the network connections in the cybernetic bodies, and control the actions and thoughts of those so compromised.  In order to prevent spoiling a fantastic story for those who have not had the pleasure, I will say no more about the plot, except that it is engaging and speaks eloquently to the question of what defines a person.  Sadly, the current live-action offering did not ever even wave at this question, much less speak to it.

As many fans feared, the screen-writers and directors of the live-action film pulled bits and pieces of plot from various points along the narrative of the original anime and mashed them together into a non-challenging, politically correct, and quite frankly boring mess of a story that was distinctly western in flavor.  All of the motivations from the original work that were specifically Asian in nature were completely skipped over, or so under-emphasized as to be invisible.  In fact, the Major’s name was not used until the last 10 minutes of the film.  She was given a western name and no reference to her being Asian was ever made, barring the creation of a contrived mother who never appeared in the original story, and was, once again, a specifically western idea.

The original anime is considered to be, among other things, an action/adventure story.  The plot is fast moving and barrels from once action scene to the next with the speed of a packet traveling through the net.  The live-action film lacked a great deal of its name-sake, action.  Aside from a few set-pieces taken from the original film and stitched together in no particular order, the movie consisted of a great deal of dialog.  I felt stifled in exposition.  Video is a VISUAL medium.  Don’t tell the story, SHOW IT.

Don’t get me wrong, I have adored Scarlett Johansson since I saw her in The Island  with Ewan MacGregor.  She is the only person I can see as the Avenger’s Black Widow and she is, in general, a very talented actor.  However, the Major is, according to the original anime and especially the original manga, supposed to have the appearance of a much younger woman, and later, a young girl, as her cybernetic body is damaged and must be replaced.  I think the casting director might have taken that into consideration when filling the role of the major.  Also, in my opinion, the character of Batau was poorly handled.  He is shown in the beginning with normal eyes and does not acquire his signature enhancements until much later in the film.  This is not in keeping with the original material.

All in all I felt disappointment as I walked out of the theater.  I had high hopes for this movie and those hopes were dashed on the jagged rocks of Hollywood’s desperate need to make sure that everything produced by a major studio fits the long establish, and boring, mold.  Sadly they lived down to my expectations.

Useful Skills in Canvas

w3c_logoI am going to start a series aimed primarily at teachers who use the Canvas Learning Management System.  I have found, over the course of the last three years, some tips and tricks that can make your experience with Canvas easier, or possibly more effective.  The first trick I will offer is the use of HTML to control how your embedded images relate to the text you place them with in pages, quiz questions.  Most people ignore the HTML editor portion of Canvas and just use the Rich Content Editor.  I think this is a mistake because the HTML editor allows you much more control and functionality.  All you need is a cursory knowledge of in-line style commands and CSS.

Let’s say you wish to add a picture to the top of an informational page.  Ordinarily you would upload the file to Canvas, use the Embedded Image button in the page editor tool bar to place the picture, and then put your cursor where you want the text to appear and start typing.  The problem here is that if you wish the text to appear on one side or the other of the image and/or to wrap the image, it is difficult do do in the Rich Text Editor.  Often you end up with a single line of text next to the image and the rest of your text below the image, like this…

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With the addition of a tiny html snippet into the HTML editor you can go from this to what appears in the image below.

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To accomplish this task we only need open the HTML editor and find the code that embeds the image into the page.  We are looking for the following structure:

chrome_2017-03-08_11-12-51We see the line img src=”https://whitesboro…  This line tells us the source for the picture we have embedded into our page.  We need to edit that html slightly with the addition of the following snippet of html code.

“style=”float: left; padding-right: 15px;”

Everything, including the quotation marks, must be included.  Essentially this line of code tells the HTML browser to float or move the picture always to the left of the text and to give us a 15 pixel space between the right margin of the image and the start of our text.  Entered correctly, the code will now look like this…

chrome_2017-03-08_12-18-23This is the same bit of html with the code snippet above pasted in.  We placed the line of code between the “img” and the “src” and now our text politely starts at the top of our image, wraps nicely around our image, and gives us a 15 pixel buffer space between the right margin of the image and the left margin of the text.  This particular bit of html can be pasted anywhere that you are allowed to edit a page with html.  In fact, I used it on the smaller images on this page at WordPress to allow me to wrap the text around the images.  This is just one example of the power that simple HTML and in-line CSS style commands provide.  The link above will take you to the W3C page on style sheets and you can begin your journey from there.

If information like this is useful to you, please leave a like and share on social media.  If there is some topic you would like covered, please leave a comment below.

Live From TCEA…Sorta

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I am currently at the premier technology education event certainly in Texas, and possibly in the world.  This is my 5th such event in as many years and so I am not exactly a newbie to this environment.  I have seen a great many changes, some good and some bad, but the one constant ingredient I find is the caring demonstrated by the educators here.  While we may not all agree on what is best for our students, we can all agree that we want the very best for our students.  I am proud to be surrounded by such professional and caring individuals

Having said that, the other draw to this incredible meeting is the amazing amount of technological innovation being displayed here.  The leading technology players in the world gather here because they know that teachers are an excellent source of sales and we seem to be drawn to toys.  Perhaps we like toys because we like kids.  Who knows?  All I know is that I am exhausted and off to bed.  Hope to see you tomorrow in Austin.

#TCEA16 Reflections

tcea2016I just got in from unpacking the car after an exhausting and thrilling week at TCEA’s state-wide convention in Austin, TX and now I have a moment to pause and sort out my thoughts before I go take a nap.  (As you might suspect, this will be a short post.  I really need the nap.)

First let me say that there is a great deal of talent, passion, and enthusiasm for technology in education in Texas.  I have spent the week with several thousand people who genuinely care about educating YOUR children.  Public school teachers in Texas are not lazy by any stretch of the imagination.  They are not uncaring.  They want nothing more out of life than to see your child succeed.  They work in the face of impossible odds and with very little in the way of appreciation, either financial or social.  They don’t need a lot.  Texas teachers will teach your kids using old fashioned text books, pen and ink, or the newest SMART board and laptop.  They don’t need a lot but they make use of anything and everything.  This week I saw people using computers and robotics and I saw people using rubber bands and paper clips.  Each was just a excited and committed as the other.  Both groups are now home and reinvigorated and ready to teach on Monday, or at least they will be ready after a good night’s sleep.

To all the teachers who have spent the last week at TCEA I have some suggestions that will make the experience a bit more meaningful…

  1.  Sit down ASAP and write down your impressions and thoughts about the past week.  Don’t let all that experience go to waste.  If you met someone interesting or who offered worthwhile information, write down their contact information and enter it into your phone or email address book.  Make a committment to contact them and continue the relationship.
  2. Recopy any notes that you may have taken.  Use OneNote or some other organizational aid to put what you learned in order.  Don’t let all those brochures and handouts get wadded up into the bottom of a suitcase and tossed out with the trash.  Organize what you brought back.
  3. Commit now to work next year.  We need volunteers.  Every member should spend at least one session as a facilitator or a worker at the TCEA booth or something.  Much of the work for this convention is done by a very few people.  Be one of them.  Besides you get a really cool T-shirt that is different from everyone else’s and it is not one that can be bought or given as a door prize.  The only way to get an “I can help you get connected” T-shirt is to earn it (or you could mug someone else who earned one but that would not be very nice).
  4. REST this weekend.  Sleep late tomorrow.  This convention stuff takes it out of you.  Be ready to get busy on Monday.  Get some sleep.  Take a break tomorrow.
  5. Pick three things that really impressed you and implement or involve them in your classroom.  Don’t try to cram everything in your notes into your daily routine but do incorporate three things.  If one doesn’t work, choose another but you should be able to add three tools to your belt that will make your job easier, better, more effective, or more fun.  Write the other things down and keep them for later but make sure you add three things when you go back to work.
  6. And finally, the most important thing you can do is go back to school and share what you learned.  This is the purpose of the convention in a nutshell.  “Learn and then Teach”.  You have been given a great many opportunities, tools, and tips; share them.  Give a class on something that impressed you.  Build a document that all the teachers from your school can access.  Just don’t waste what you’ve been given.

Well that is my take on it anyhow.  I am going to start organizing my notes while I can still keep my eyes open and I will see you in the classroom on Monday.

OneNote Classroom Notebook Creator

onenoteiconAs you may know, I am a huge proponent of the OneNote®Classroom Notebook system created by Microsoft®.  I realize that it was not originally intended for education and that it is primarily a business application, however, it works really well for information presentation as well as storage and evaluation.  Serendipitously it is ALSO a great business application that students will be familiar with when they enter the workforce in a corporate environment.

To teachers who have SharePoint® available it could not be easier to install and use the product.  Classroom creator is available as a free download in the SharePoint App store.  Someone with admin. permission can install it and then it is available for all to use.  It took me, with no previous experience, about 10 minutes to get it up and running on our domain.  Once the app is installed it is incredibly easy to follow the instructions to create notebooks, add students and teachers, and publish your class notebooks to the system.

Students find the application to be intuitive and easy to work with.  They really enjoy the collaboration area that allows their contributions to appear in real time.  I generally open that section of the Notebook on the class smart board during topic discussions.  All entries are labeled with the student’s name so inappropriate comments are never a problem.  Once discussion is complete, I direct the students to the Content Library to begin the day’s assignment.  I can either create a worksheet or lab page individually for each student or I can simply create a page in the Content Library and have the students copy and paste the questions into their personal homework sections.  The sections are completely private and available only to myself and the each student.  They do the work, I grade the work and enter a grade on the homework page that they create.  Once the grade is entered, any further entries onto that page are labeled and time-stamped to prevent students from changing grades or answers.

It is very easy to create content for lessons in OneNote.  Images can be copied and pasted easily into pages.  Video can be embedded or even recorded directly into the page.  Audio can be synchronized to follow along with text and images and other embedded objects can be made searchable with OCR.  There is a very friendly community of users accessible online to provide help, and, as a member of the Office Suite from Microsoft, the control ribbons will be very familiar to most people.  Objects like Flash or other presentation content can be linked and will open in their native players at a click.

There are some features that I wish were available, perhaps in a special educational version of OneNote.  I would like to see OneNote support OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) to allow ActiveX controls or other native support for different formats.  I would like to see VBA support so that Macro creation could be made simple.  I would really like to see a way to lock pages within the student’s notebooks to prevent unauthorized or accidental editing.  These are the only real complaints that I have with an otherwise excellent application.  Microsoft really found a winner here.

Status Report

Technology-wise it has been very busy around here.  The City of Whitesboro offered an e-cycling clean up for used technology.  I got rid of 11 PCs from my garage and hauled off 5 from the Police Dept. and 7 from the City of Whitesboro offices.  I did this because there were 6 of them that were suitable for inclusion in our “Computers for Kids” program co-sponsored by myself and the Whitesboro Chamber of Commerce.  My Computer Tech class will have a lot to clean up and install hard drives in next week.

I have received the syllabus for my summer session classes in my Master’s Program.  My professor seems like a great guy and I look forward to working with him.  I am SO ready to get started.  My first class will be advanced data manipulation and presentation in Office 2013.  I will be doing advanced Flash animation during the second part of the summer.

I did not get a lot feedback from the Online Safety post so I am not going to continue that thread.  I just want to remind everyone that you need to know where your kids are and what they are doing online as well as in the real world.  I will pick up a couple of new apps (Autocrat and Diigo) as soon as I have a moment.

I am finishing up our Digital Fluency program so I must be brief in order to finish a lesson plan for the training.  Hope to hear from you guys soon.