Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ISTE Day 3 Wrap Up

Today was as amazing as, and yet very different from, yesterday. I only attended two actual sessions today and spent a significant amount of my time checking out the Exhibit Hall and the Showcase Tables. So let's start with the sessions, both of which were incredible:

Session 1 - Beyond Words: Using Infographics to Help Kids Grapple with Complexity

This Bring Your Own Laptop Session, led by Jane Krauss and Diana Laufenberg, was awesome and helped clarify lots of great design principles for communicating data visually, the presenters also gave very specific advice on how to implement, not just infographics, but infographic creation in the classroom. The session started off with a really cool exercise: we were all shown the following infographic and asked to identify what it was spite of the fact that it is not in English and over 150 years old.

Minard Map - Probably the First Ever Infographic

If you couldn't figure it out, it is a map of Napolean's Russian Conquest of 1812 and his "diminishing returns". The key lesson this graphic shows us is that juxtaposing data and showing correlation visually is key to properly expressing data. By taking two data-sets, the location of the troop and the number of men, and juxtaposing them, the artist was able to illustrate the data in a way that encouraged us to learn and made it easy to visualize. These two data-sets could just as easily have been two columns in a spreadsheet, one containing long/lat coordinates and the other containing population data, by making that juxtaposition visual, the artist allows us to better understand the data at a glance.

Another valuable point about infographic creation, before I get to practical application in the classroom, is intuitiveness. If you can avoid a key, or anything which only serves the function of explaining your design or data, do so. Your design should speak for itself and shouldn't need any outside help, not to mention the fact that often times extraneous elements or "chart junk" are not just neutral but make things more difficult understand and detract from your design .

Now onto the practical classroom applications! Although infographics serve as a great teaching tool on their own, by illustrating complex data-sets in an easy to understand and intuitive format, that is only a small part of their value in the classroom. By helping students to create their own infographics educators can encourage better research and comprehension and pique their curiosity.

Immigrants to the US by Decade

As mentioned above, the key to a quality infographic is juxtaposition of data, so if you give students half of the data you can pique their curiosity and encourage them to do research and create a graphic to explain the data. For example, the chart on the left represents a data-set of immigrants to the US by decade. What happened in the 1930s that caused that anomaly? What data could you juxtapose with this data to give context and explain the data better?

Finally, one of the greatest lessons I took from this session: Don't use infographics at the end of your lesson to crown your teaching, use them at the beginning to engage students and pique their interest so they pay attention to what you have to say. If you lecture for two hours about WWII and then show them a graphic showing the correlation between the war, the economy and immigration, they will likely be asleep before you get there. However, if you show them the graphic to the left and get them asking questions, they will be listening for the answers and suddenly the correlation between WWII, the economy and immigration is fascinating (Side note: that is why the Haggada begins with the 4 questions, the best educational model is one in which all teaching is just an answer to a student's question).

Here are some additional resources from this session:

Session 2 - Teach Your Students Game Design in One Week

This session, by Alexander Repenning, was awesome, not because of the content (although the content was mind-blowing, I'll get there soon), but because of the ideas it got me thinking about and the potential cross-discipline lessons I now have in mind to create.

This session was a fairly nerdy one about how to use a graphical object oriented programming tool called AgentSheets to create your own version of Frogger in under an hour. It was one of the coolest and simplest things I have ever participated in and has shifted the way I think. Computers function through if/then statements and that is the basis of programming, tell the computer that if X happens it should do Y and you have written your first program. The first step to creating a program is to identify what it is going to do, for our purposes (creating a Frogger game) it was as follows:

You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowningby crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators! (Sega, 1980).

The first thing you have to do is identify the objects in this description (I have highlighted them in blue) and then the relationships (verbs) between these objects (I have highlighted them in green). This analytic skill, on its own, is a valuable tool for our students to develop. Not just for computer programming, but in all areas of learning, particularly Gemura learning and logic. After you have identified the objects and their relationships, creating if/then statements to reflect these relationships is easy, but also leads to divergent thinking. For example: if a frog gets hit by a car, then it dies, but how do we express this statement for the computer? If FROG OBJECT sees CAR OBJECT on left, then FROG OBJECT dies? If CAR OBJECT sees FROG OBJECT on right, then FROG OBJECT dies? Both answers are technically correct, but the fact that students can discuss and use logic to determine which one should be used is a tremendous skill to develop, again especially for Gemura learning.

After coming out of this session, I am will to put money on the idea that if we teach our students graphical object oriented programming at a young age, it will improve their Gemura and reasoning skills tremendously.

Here are some additional resources from the session:

The Exhibits

I spent about 4 straight hours in the Exhibition Hall and only made it through about a quarter of what's there. Granted, I did spend almost an hour at the Google booth talking to every Google employee there, and here is the run-down:

  • Google Docs - Met a developer from the Google Docs team, who wanted to see how I am using Google Docs in the classroom. I showed him some of the things I have done (collaborative Chumash study, hyperlinked Jewish Philosophy text, etc.) and we talked about Hebrew support in Google Docs (which is amazing) and he let me in on a little secret about one of the Google Docs products being relaunched in a few months
  • Chrome OS - This was obviously exciting for me, with my shiny new Chromebook and my time spent hacking around with the open-source code...We spoke about the potential of bringing a 1:1 Chromebook program to my school and he told me about a really cool feature that Citrix is developing to allow in-browser remote desktop from within Chrome OS, that is a game-changer.
  • I also spoke to Google Apps guys, Google Earth and Maps guys (and discussed some lesson plans for Tanach using Google Earth and Maps), and a few Google Certified Teachers about some of their implementations in their classrooms.
  • I hope to go back tomorrow to meet with one of the lead developers on Google's App Inventor and get an inside look into using it create Android apps in the classroom.
  • I got a free Google beachball and sunglasses! How did they know I'm from San Diego?

After Google, I wandered around the exhibits for a while, talking with different vendors about solutions for NCSY, JSU and SCY High until I overheard what definitely sounded like an Israeli was. I met Ami Dror, founder of a company with a really nifty idea for 3D implementations in the classroom. His technology allows students and teachers to easily create and share 3D content in the classroom, without the need for expensive equipment. His software works with existing tech and integrates with PowerPoint, all you need are his glasses and software plugins to make it work! I hope to meet up with him in Israel to get a better feel for the technology and perhaps bring some of the tech back to SCY High. He also has an online database of 3D presentations for the classroom, which teachers can upload/download lessons to/from and share content. He was very intrigued (having grown updaati) by the idea of Tanach, Gemara and other Jewish content being made 3D.

After that, I wandered around, entered lots of raffles, considered getting into the interactive whiteboard business and met a few more cool vendors, here are some highlights:

  • Edistorm - a Canadian start-up that allows teachers and students to create collaborative work environments using virtual post-it notes, it also generate wicked reports about student interaction, visit for a free account and 50% off sign up before September 15th.
  • DYKNOW - Classroom management software for 1:1 school environment, very robust features, such as allowing teachers/admin to monitor all student monitors wirelessly or take control of the computer to regain focus, even restrict what windows can be opened...probably expensive.
  • ToonBoom - Very cool animation technologies for the classroom, they even have a free iOS application and different level of software from anyone from K-Graduate School.
  • SparkFun - An awesome online electronic component shop for DIY projects. They have curricula for many of their projects, ranging from simple circuits to robotics...this is great for PBL and not just electronics classes.

At some point during my travels, I also ran into an old friend from Yeshiva, Harris Zvi Goodman, who is now a VP for an awesome company that makes virtual laboratories which I hope to bring home to SCY High. Check them out

Dinner and the End of the Night

Once again, AVI CHAI provided us with a fantastic dinner and a very well facilitated discussion amongst the cohorts. We discussed lots of things, but those which stood out to the me the most were our conversations on interactive whiteboards and getting around roadblocks to integration of EdTech in our schools and communities. Some great points were exchanged. I am of the opinion that interactive whiteboards will soon be a thing of the past, being replaced by personal learning devices (1:1 computers, tablets, etc.) and networked collaborative working spaces (Google Docs, SynchTube, etc.). In this type of environment all students can participate and the class can truly collaborate and learn as a group, it also allows more control over classroom mangement (contrary to what some might think) in that teachers can see what all the students are doing in one glance. I am also of the opinion that the best mode of attack to get past roadblocks is not a direct attack, but a flank. Don't argue with people's objections to EdTech, just show them the value of it and show them that it is the best solution to their teaching problems and their objections will melt away.

It was a great day and I am definitely looking forward to tomorrow!

For more updates on my time at ISTE, you should follow @theadamsimon on Twitter.

This post was cross-posted on Adam Simon's Blog and YU 2.0

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