Where's Dale Basler? ... and what keeps me busy

The Internet built my daughter an app

October 5th, 2014

In May, my nine-year-old daughter suffered a stroke. The stroke weakened the left side of her body severely. However, with therapy she has managed to improve each week. Because of the stroke, she has a lot of tone in her arm. This causes her arm to pull up close to her body instead of naturally resting down and at her side. She has to make a conscience effort to put her arm down and we are frequently reminding her.

One day I got an idea. Could we use sensors to measure when her arm is up and use a vibration to remind her to put her arm down? After a little digging online, I quickly learned that the Pebble smartwatch has an accelerometer that could be used to detect orientation.

As a physics teacher, I understand accelerometers and I have a little bit of programing experience but I had zero experience with the Pebble watch. So I reached out to the community of Pebble enthusiasts and developers in the Pebble Forums. I explained my situation and asked if my idea was even possible.

Pebble app at CloudPebble

Pebble app at CloudPebble

What happened next was truly remarkable. Within a day, I had a response explaining that my idea was possible. By the next day, another user made me a working prototype app. I learned how to install the app on a Pebble watch that my good friend loaned me. I made adjustments to the code using an online development tool called CloudPebble.

Watch app triggers a vibration in this position

Watch app triggers a vibration in this position

Another user offered to merge the app into a watch face “so the watch doesn’t have to look like it’s only there for the stroke.” From here, things really took off. With my feedback, we added several other features such as a learning mode so the app could be used by others in similar situations.

Info screen gives us feedback

Info screen gives us feedback

This experience has shown my daughter the true power of the Internet. She saw that it is so much more than a place to consume media. The Internet allows total strangers from all over the world to work together. She learned that people will volunteer their time and skill to create new things and help others.

It is the best lesson about the Internet I could ever hope for her to learn.

Kids from the 1980s answer “What is a computer?”

August 7th, 2014

Watch this clip from Sesame Street where young students from 1980s describe a computer and what can be done with one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kccWna71sqk

I love their answers:

a computer is something you write on

[with a computer you can] make designs

you can make pictures with it and it helps you read

it’s not human

[a computer doesn't have] feelings

It can think but you have to tell it what to do, we are [doing the thinking]

By now, the kids in the video are about forty years old. They are my age. We grew up working with a computer. The focus was on what we could do with a computer. What could we write, design or create with a computer.

I wonder if today’s students have the same focus? Are we shifting from a ‘what we can do with a computer’ toward ‘what can a computer do for us’ mindset?

Take math class into Google Maps and measure

July 11th, 2014

Google has brought back the ability to measure distances in the new Google Maps!

Right-click on the map to add your starting point. Continue clicking to add new points. Now your students can explore and measure places (and even some larger objects) in their neighborhood.

measure-distance-back-in-google-maps

What is the perimeter and area of a local park?

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 9.31.15 AM

How big is the city pool?

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 9.39.49 AM

How many semi trailers could fit inside the city pool?

Self-driving Cars in the Classroom

July 5th, 2014

Why not, right? It’s engaging, authentic, student-directed, personalized learning that is rich with opportunities for discovery!

Driven to improve learning

Driven to improve learning

Sure, you can try to teach with drones, Google Glass, smart watches and Oculus Rift but the future of education will have students driven to learn. (at least until our spacecrafts are ready)

Does Google hate audio?

June 30th, 2014

Maybe Google doesn’t hate audio but I certainly think they skipped it for its love of video.

With all the TV and YouTube channels at our fingertips, we tend to look toward video as the only tool for expression and communication. However, much like a good book, audio allows our students to conjure up imagery from within rather than having it blasted effortlessly into their minds in the form of video.

We can also challenge our students to create new forms of expression by restricting the use of visual elements. When students are asked to create audio works, they are given a chance to develop new ways to communicate effectively.

However, audio support seems to be missing in Google Apps for Education.

You cannot play audio (unless you get help elsewhere) in Google Drive.

no audio in Drive

Google Drive can play video but not audio?

 

Google Drive knows the audio files are there

Read on…

Embed an HTML5 audio player in Google Sites

June 27th, 2014

Want to add audio files that play in your Google Site without forcing visitors to download the files first?

audio player in Google Sites

An HTML5 audio player embedded in Google Sites

Do you need this to work on the iPad or in other browsers that do not support Flash?

Below is the URL to a gadget I made that will embed an HTML5 audio player in Google Sites.

https://sites.google.com/site/basler45678/home/html5-audio-player.xml

Watch the video below to learn how to use it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0CzF4l5IvU

Free software to Create Screencasts in Windows

April 15th, 2014

I’ve been using oCam as a screen recorder for several months and I love it!

oCam

Create screencasts for free with oCam

With oCam, you can create recordings in mp4 that are free of watermarks. Audio from the computer or a microphone can be captured during a recording in oCam. It is easy to use and a perfect start for the Windows user. Check out this full review at AddictiveTips and download it today.

Get a direct link to public files shared at Copy.com

April 13th, 2014

Over the past few days, I’ve been tinkering around with the cloud storage site Copy.com. It’s a lot like Dropbox and the others.

After exploring Google Drive’s ability to host files and provide direct links, I wanted to see if Copy could do the same thing. Turns out it can for most files (not html). below is an example:

change this: https://www.copy.com/s/duJ7I70PLvTK/interview109-clip.mp3

to this: https://copy.com/duJ7I70PLvTK/interview109-clip.mp3

I made a bookmarklet that does the URL hacking for you. Follow the steps below to put it into use:

  1. Drag this link to your bookmarks bar: Clean Copy
  2. go to the public URL of a file shared at Copy.com
  3. click “Clean Copy” bookmark to get a direct link to the file

Speaking of bookmarklets, here is one that will switch your Google Drive folder to a hosting folder like I described in a previous post (Update: this no longer works now that Google has updated to the ‘New Google Drive’.)

Education reform takes more than innovation and inspiration

March 26th, 2014

I caught this TEDx a while back and a few points really struck a cord with me.

“…when inspiration becomes manipulation, inspiration becomes obfuscation”

After seeing countless TED Talks that were meant to inspire education reform, I found myself duped by what Bratton described as “placebo innovation.” Bratton explains:

In this case the placebo is worse than ineffective, it’s harmful. It diverts your interest, enthusiasm and outrage until it’s absorbed into this black hole of affectation.

Too often I feel like some “reformers” are implying that we’d improve education if every teacher would just realize “x” and “have the courage to change.” Bratton points out:

Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true. “Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.

Bottom-line: If the problems we face in education were easy to solve, they’d be solved. But Bratton outlines that tough problems take a lot more than just ‘talk’ (or the latest blog post).

If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.

Powerful weapons of speech- think about ethics and design first

March 24th, 2014

Last week we interviewed Illah Reza Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. We talked a lot about how robots will affect the future. However, there was a segment of the interview that really touched on the role of the teacher and technology in the classroom.

Nourbakhsh explains the new challenges teachers face when students are working with technology in the classroom:

…educators not only need to give students the power to invent, because they need to be creators, but they need to teach them what it means to think about the process of invention, to think about the ethics of society and that’s not a lesson that we’ve ever been busy teaching people in say middle school or high school before.

When asked about teachers who feel they don’t know enough about technology, he explains:

…teachers are decades older than their students, or at least a decade older,  they know about society, they know about ethics, they know about rhetoric. And we can create resources that make it ever easier for them to teach with that. But basically we’re giving people much more powerful weapons of speech. And if we do that, we have to also teach them how to use that speech. If we decouple those in the wrong way, it’s a disaster. Then we have this zoo and our quality of life goes to heck.

You can find the entire show at LabOutLoud.com, but I clipped out the segment that speaks to technology integration and share it below.

[download clip]

P.S. In this clip, co-host Brian Bartel coins the phrase “edtech smog” to describe the instances where technology pollutes our mission as educators. I’m putting Voki and Animoto at the top of my list as #EdtechSmog.

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