Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Learning at #CMK2011

This is my second post about Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference. This post is focused on my learning around my project. I learned many things at this conference. Some of the things I learned about had to do with engineering, electrical charges and gear ratios. If you missed the previous post, I created a cell phone charger that was powered by the pedeling of a bicycle. Also, some of my learning is explained on the Constructing Modern Knowledge blog here on a post called "Impossible!"

Here is what I learned about gear ratios. Really the only gears that matter are the ones that connect directly to the energy source or the output. All the other gears just transfer gears and really do not matter that much. Gears can be geared for speed or for torque. If your input gear is small and your output gear is small your torque will be great. If your input gear is small and your output gear is large your torque will be low but your speed will be high.

I learned a bit about creating an electrical charge. In the early stages of creating the cell phone charger, I wanted to see how much electricity I could create by self-powering a motor with my hand. With some help, I was able to connect a volt meter to the electrical output of an engine. I then cranked the engine with my hand. I was only able to create a .033 volt charge, which is very low. I did feel that I would be able to create more voltage by pedeling a bike than just turning a crank with my fingers.

I also learned that the only real electrical part of a USB port are the outside pins. There are 4 pins and the two inside pins are for grounds. I did not worry about the grounds since the electrical charge I was creating was not harmful. With the help of a friend, Elias, the female end of a USB port was sodered to the output wires from the engine.

The last thing I learned was the idea of over engineering. When I was young and I would get scared my father, who is a chemical engineer, would always tell me that I do not have anything to worry about because things (air planes, roller coasters or bridges etc...) are over engineered. I remember being a young child and getting on a plane. I was affraid but my father told me that I had nothing to worry about because engineers had designed the plane 300 times stronger than it had to be. Basically, whatever mother nature or human error, to a certain extent, “threw at the plane” the machine could handle it. I finally learned what this meant. When creating the cell phone charger I realized that I could create something better and in the long runs save myself time by over engineering. Basically where I could put one support I put two. Where I could put one stopper I put two. Where I could put three braces I put four. This made my charger virtually indistructable, which is a good thing because the vibration of the bike caused problems.
I do want to take my cell phone charger a step further. I want to make the charger out of an old VCR or outdated computer or other recycled materials. I think it is great for the environment to make energy from human powered devices made from recycled materials. As of last week, I purchased a $.99 electric can opener from Goodwill and am slowly turning my learning from Constructing Modern Knowledge into a real product prototype that I can use on my bike.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Experience at #CMK11

My experience with the Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference was like no other. I was able to hear from experienced
educators like Johnathan Kozol, Lella Gandini and Mitchell Resnik. I was able to choose a project and finish it to completion and I even have vid
eo documentation. I was also able to work elbow to elbow with Brian Silverman, Artemis Papert, Cynthia Solomon, John Stetson, Brian C. Smith, Claudia Urrea and others. The incredible thing was that you could not tell the participants from the instructors. I also got to talk to scientists. I spoke with Marvin Minsky and Derrick Pitts. At this conference it is difficult to label a person so I will just call all of us educated tinkerers.

Gary Stager asked all of us to take off our teacher hat and put on our learner hat. This request varied much with different teachers. I was able to take off my teacher hat and emmerse myself in learning. I even neglected a lot of my emails and did some work on my project in the evening in my room. On the first day I stated that I wanted to create a cell phone charger that was powered by a bicycle. I was able to make it.

Another great thing was working with educators from all over the world who have like minds concerning ideal uses of technology. If you have ever asked the question “how do I teach problem solving?” then this conference is for you. If you choose, you will be put into situations where you will have to solve problems.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Should Screen Time Be Limited (Continued)

The whole year of 2010 was a very interesting year for me. Each year I make resolutions or create goals in different sectors of my life and do my best to accomplish them. I often have mixed results at my resolutions and my goals. Last year I created two publishing goals. One publishing goal was to read a book and record a book review for my local NPR affiliate. Here is that work. My next goal was to publish something in Learning and Leading, a magazine published by ISTE. I actually tried to publish in this magazine previously but was rejected. Unbeknownst to me, I was pitted against, in a duel of words, with Dr. Gary Stager. Gary is a leader in the edtech community whom I greatly look up to. Of course, I won the argument but I still feel that my 500 point/counter point stance could use further clarification, especially after Gary highlighted this poor attempt at a “faux debate” in a blog post not to far in the past. I must iterate the point that Gary and I did not know, at the printing of the original article, which side of the argument we were lobbying for. Here is the pre-published article.

I have three main points that I want to clarify. (Child=Student; Not all screen time is equal; limits are love)When is a child not a student? For that mater, when is a person not learning? I too believe that schools have very little jurisdiction of what a child is taught in the home, what parents should expect of a child and what that child is exposed to. I do not think that it is unreasonable to coordinate with the home about content. If Suzy is learning multiplication facts, wouldn’t it be great if the parents could do 15 minutes of flash cards a night. This is not an unreasonable expectation of the school. It is even a greater gift to a child if the school collaborates with home to help a child learn about his or her interests. By the way, these interests might not be on a state standardized test. If learning is a 24 hour, 7 day a week natural occurrence, then shouldn’t we consider a child always a student? And if you except the “child is always a student” premise then should parents limit screen time? And Yes, there is a screen time hierarchy. It does depend on what you consider screen time. I do not think that I consider, as a part of the edtech community, that all “screen time/screen-based activities as equivalent.” I hope that I am not a part of the “imaginatively bankrupt,” but I would let a child create a musical score to his or her video voyage to the center of the Earth, discussing all the layers of our planet before I sat that same student in front of a projection screen to let them watch the movie Marley and Me. On the same note, I see way too many children at Applebees playing Nintendo DS’s at the table waiting for a meal when conversation should occur. Give me a break. Parents and teachers should not placate their “student” with electronic devices because it is easier to let them zone out and avoid any risk of an augment with a disagreeable teen. Also, when children are engrossed to the point of zombies in their electronic devices they are a lot less likely to bug or touch each other in an effort to annoy, which seems to be an activity that my 8 and 11 year old cannot avoid. Parents cannot let their children sit around and “eat bonbons all day.” If we limit bonbons and screen time we are being the 24 hour educators we should be and are not being “capriciously mean” or in any way shirking our responsibilities as parents.

My son, while using an iPod Touch on my home wireless, downloaded the app “Sexy Monster Trucks” when he was 10 years old. My Internet at home is not filtered. I would rather teach about limits that are self-imposed rather then authoritatively handed down by some kind of automatic filtering system that blocks my father’s website because he works for the “lubricants” division at the American Refining Group. My son did not know what the word “sexy” meant so he looked up the word on YouTube. He got an education. He uses my iTunes account so I got an email about this app he downloaded. I asked him about the app and at first he lied and said he did not download it. Then I said that I would investigate and that is when he came clean. I was not going to punish him until he lied about it and it seemed he felt so guilty that he wanted some kind of consequence. So, for a whole month he had no screen time. He actually limited himself and did not watch TV or use a computer of any kind for a month. A transformation occurred. He became more articulate, talkative and more thoughtful. He even read more on his own. He was looking for a limit and in someway he understood that I cared about him even more because of the consequence that I handed down. I cannot imagine how inarticulate and mind numbed my son would be if my wife and I had no screen time limits.

The number one predictor of success for a child is their ability to delay gratification. Setting limits teaches children how to delay gratification. I wrote a
previous blog post and I recently read a WebMD article about this very topic.

Setting limits are very important for children because they are always “students.” Watching “Fred Clause” during school and not creating your own video game using the program Scratch just further emphasizes the point that not all screen time is created equal. And sometimes children are looking for us (the village) to set limits and many times those limits are a sign of caring. And in this day and age, a caring adult in a child’s eyes can have a lot of impact.

(All Photos are in the public domain and were found using