Monday, September 6, 2010

Current trends

As promised, after reviewing materials and notes from the summer, I have formed some opinions on what I deem to be the current IT trends. Most of this is based on the websites, software packages, and presentations that I picked up on at the 2010 ISTE convention in Denver.

Several movements are emerging or have emerged for Education in the Web 2.0 environment.
  1. Greater proliferation of quality online educational content by amateurs and professional developers.
  2. Increased amount of IT usage and studies of its effectiveness.
  3. Learning systems or online curricula have been designed for online or interactive whiteboard use. Conceivably, these could take the place of textbooks and include standards-based materials for each state. Many learning systems follow a multiple-choice format and are intentionally directed towards standardized test preparation.
  4. Packaged administrative solutions for districts or schools with online communication, engagement, and management.
  5. There is a pedagogical dilemma that exists between many technological solutions versus best education practices.
My award for best of show at ISTE 2010 is SAFARI Montage. This is a visual instruction package that allows teachers to incorporate video-on-demand instructional material from publishers such as National Geographic, NASA, PBS, The History Channel, Scholastic, Schlessinger Media, BBC Worldwide, Disney Education, and much more. Teachers have the ability to format multimedia lesson plans using a combination of text, video excerpts, and live-video feeds. The content can be played on computers in the classroom or at home, as well as on interactive whiteboards. The system allows for the integration of a document camera for presentations, and classroom camera feeds for district-wide productions, video conferencing, or distance learning. What I liked best about SAFARI Montage is that it didn't push a designed curriculum but rather presented itself as resource tool for the teacher to format his or her own lesson designs. I would be very excited if I was a teacher on the receiving end of this package.

Most likely, I'll be adding to this post so please revisit it in the future.
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cultural Mash-urations

I've found myself fascinated by the influx of mash ups appearing in popular culture in recent months. I would define a "mash up" or "mashing" as when you take creative elements from two or more sources and present them together to convey a new message. Mashing is nothing new - we've all probably done it to some degree or another; whether it was adding an iTunes track to a slideshow or incorporating a video to a blog post. Christopher Shamburg says that Shakespeare himself incorporated unoriginal elements in his plays. Mr. Shamburg demonstrates how students can understand and appreciate literary work by Remixing Shakespeare. One could argue that mash ups are a triumph of Web 2.0, an open sharing of content and applications in collaboration with others, but perhaps it is time to reflect on where we are headed.

In the music industry it's called sampling when a rhythm track from one song is used in another (see Grandmaster Flash). I believe the common practice here is that permissions are sought to avoid copyright entanglements. Our laws are derived from the moral questions that society deems important, so where do we stand on the sampling of creative work that is displayed on the Internet?

Consider the case of Shirley Sherrod, the U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who was forced to resign her job this past summer. A conservative blogger posted video excerpts of remarks she made at a NAACP function. Ms. Sherrod, an African-American, was portrayed as a racist who misused her government position; except her remarks were taken out of context, and were actually to the contrary. Nevertheless, these video clips were spread across the Internet and played on cable news to the point where the White House asked for her resignation. Ms. Sherrod has since been vindicated but I'm sure she's still wondering how this could have happened.

The cut and paste features that impressed us so much two decades ago have evolved into embedded html code. Now, we can move and edit entire videos, audio excerpts, and widgets created by a third party to our web pages to convey what we want. Does this mean that we are free to do what we want with it? I feel the lines are blurred as to what the acceptable practice is. I know certain clip art is copyrighted but why is it displayed and easily copied from massive catalogs on our browsers? Videos are shared on YouTube but what most people don't realize is that the Web is now a two-way street. What if your video was used in a way you didn't approve of? You're sharing your video not broadcasting it, so does that mean it can be used in any way? Comments, or a reaction is solicited for the videos; some will be positive and some will be crude, and some may take your video and mash it up. The Gregory Brothers are masters at this. They took a TV news segment about a break in and attempted rape in Huntsville, Alabama and put music to it. Using Auto-Tune, a digital music enhancer, they arranged the video and the victims' comments into a song. The resulting video went viral on YouTube racking up over 10 million views. Sounds terrible, but the video comes across as a battle cry for victims of violent crimes in a catchy jingle. The Gregory Brothers are selling the song on iTunes and are splitting the money 50/50 with the victims. The Gregory's YouTube channel features an assortment of edited newscasts that have been "auto-tuned" and mashed into musical arrangements of political parody. The clips they use are taken out of context so is this any different than Shirley Sherrod's? That's entertainment?

The last election was the first where a political candidate truly embraced the web and used it to spread his platform. Imagine a campaign of the future with mashed versions of the candidates' speeches turned inside out. Is this political commentary? Could this be construed as acceptable satire? Most importantly, do you think these videos could have an impact on a candidate's image and influence how someone would vote?

The Internet is a fabulous invention that lets us share our views, creations, and personalities with others. Are there any boundaries to prevent others from transforming our work or our words into something unintended? I've got a feeling that Creative Commons just isn't cutting it. I feel this is a topic that educators should be addressing with today's youth. We should be teaching editing techniques and content sharing practices but perhaps the morality of mashing others' intellectual property should pursued as well.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lift-off tops 76,000 as a new school year begins. Hopefully even more educators will find the site in the months to come. If you are new to RWM or checking back on its contents, you will find a listing on the Updates page of the recent lessons and activities added over the summer. Refer to this post from the past for tips on how to begin your school year with RWM.

After attending the ISTE Convention in June, I was able to attend the first Google Geo Teachers Institute at the end of July. This was two days of presentations from the Education Outreach team at the Googleplex in Mountain View. There were workshops for Google Earth and SketchUp and speakers from around the country. I've learned some new tricks and made a lot of new friends. Here is a listing of just some of the interesting projects that were shared:
I was also able to finally meet Jerome Burg of Google Lit Trips in person. Jerome and I have been corresponding for several years. He was a great help in getting RealWorldMath up and running.

It's going to take a while to digest and act upon all of the new ideas and products I was exposed to over the summer. I've got a lot of pots on the oven right now, but you can expect more content for the Space Lessons and I have plans for another involving the Oceans' layer.

As always, please don't hesitate in contacting me ( and letting me know what you like, what didn't work, or what you'd like to see more of.

Have a great start on your new year!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Eagle has landed...

I'm happy to announce the addition of some lunar content to A new branch of lessons will be devoted to Space. Lunar Fieldtrip is a tour of the moon created in collaboration with Pam Eastlick from the University of Guam Planetarium. The activity is meant as an introduction to the Google Earth's Moon add-on. On Google's Moon, you can take tours of Apollo landing sites, view 3D models of landed spacecraft, watch video footage of Apollo missions, and browse content in an assortment of placemarks.

Lunar Field Trip
takes the viewer on a futuristic field trip hosted by several high school students from the class of 2040. The students narrate the tour in a series of videos starting at their lunar base and continues through peaks, craters, and Apollo landing sites. 3D SketchUp models of futuristic Armstrong City, Lunar Stadium, and more are included in the Kmz download. It's hard to say whom the targeted audience for this activity is for since many persons, young and old, have become unfamiliar with the lunar missions of the past. This may work best in a Science classroom but lessons extensions for Math, Geography, or English can come from this. For now, I have two spin-off lessons from the Field Trip in the works: Lunar Sports and Rockets.

Google has enhanced the Google Earth platform with add-ons for the Sky, Moon, Mars, and Oceans. I expect will be touching down on all of these areas in the future.

Monday, July 12, 2010

ISTE Denver 2010

I am still recovering from June's ISTE convention held in Denver. If you are unaware, ISTE stands for International Society for Technology in Education. Each lesson page in has a listing of the corresponding ISTE 1998 or 2007 standards for students in the left side bar. According to their website,"ISTE is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in improving learning and teaching by advancing the effective use of technology in PK-12 and higher education." I have been aware of the organization and its standards for several years but I have only recently become a member. This was the first ISTE conference I had been to, so I wasn't sure what to expect.
To begin, the organization is larger and more advanced than I had thought. Over 15,000 members and exhibit presenters somehow managed to fill the massive Denver Convention Center. There was a plethora of workshops, lectures, and presentations large and small, as well as several hundred industry exhibits. Although I thought I had planned out my visit fairly well, I was mistaken. There was just too many interesting events to attend at the same time. To say that the convention was an eye-openers for me is an understatement. I found that I have been ignorant of the many advances in technology for education and, as always, there is much to learn.
What I found concerning though was the promotion of certain "smart" technology for schools. There is a group of companies that have developed curriculum software systems for smart boards or computers in general. These systems have many positive attributes including the provision of instant feedback to students, tutorial systems, and the ability to create lessons, quizzes, or tests all correlated to states' standards. What I found troubling about them was their focus on assessment. All of the materials were developed for multiple-choice formats so I wonder how well they promote learning above the lowest levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Some of the companies developing these programs are the very same companies that produce standardized tests. As to whether these are ethical dilemmas or not, these are issues I will be trying to sort out in the future.
What I do know is that I will strive to become more acquainted with ISTE's vast amount of resources, including the network of IT educators from around the nation. will continue to promote the higher levels of thinking - analysis, synthesis, and evaluation - in its lessons and activities.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


You may have noticed a flurry of activity on the Updates page in With the end of the school year, I finally found the time to add some lessons and make adjustments to the site.

The first addition was an exercise that revolves around the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Estimates is a lesson on estimating area that uses image data from NOAA. Google Earth's lines of latitude and longitude serve as the grid for two estimation techniques. I also designed two versions of the platform with SketchUp to serve as the focal point of the lesson. The first model is a cross-section of the drilling operation; it can serve as an instructional mode. The second is a model of the Deepwater Horizon that can be loaded into Google Earth at the scene of the accident. Hopefully the crisis will be resolved by the end of summer.

Three of the new lessons use SketchUp as the tool of instruction. A four color map investigation led to an introduction of tessellation. SketchUp proved useful to accomplish these two-dimensional activities but it is the third dimension where it excels best. Thus, SketchUp's ability to model 3-D buildings for Google Earth is used in a project-based learning activity. If that isn't enough, there are two more Google Earth tutorials made with Xtranormal's animation creator: Adding a Polygon and Managing the View.

In the next month, I'll be traveling to the ISTE convention in Denver and attending the first Google Geo Teachers Institute in Mountain View, California. I hope to gain more knowledge to improve the RealWorldMath website and meet a lot of interesting people. Keep checking the website and this blog. You should see a constant growth in the year to come.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New year - new lesson

Another year has passed and I don't know if I can say that I'm going strong but the seems to keep finding users. The counter now shows over 66,500 viewers, so either I find around 20,000 users each year or I have a lot of repeat visitors. I hope it's some of both. I continue to get messages from around the world and for those I am grateful. Please give me feedback on how the lessons worked for you or what you'd like to see in the future.

To commemorate the anniversary of the site, I've added a new lesson: The Iditarod Challenge. This lesson has students calculating and adding elapsed time in a virtual sled dog race across Alaska. This is a long term activity that doesn't take a lot of classtime to do but it will last at least a month.

I've also added some Google Earth tutorial videos. These were made by me using the animation creator at The videos are in Google Earth Kmz file format because they are intended to be viewed within Google Earth. Students will be able to look over the Google Earth toolbar and side menus as the videos make reference to them. You can view all of the above on the Updates page.

Too many things to do and too little time, but I hope I can get more lessons up this year. Don't forget that you are invited to submit your creations to the website also. Enjoy the site and I hope to hear from you soon.

Inspiration lies at the tip of your nose

Well, it's taken awhile, but a new Kmz is available on The Iditarod Challenge activity had been in development for several months. People have asked where I get ideas for some of the lessons, so this might serve as a good example.

My daughters are strange. They enjoy Disney movies, but they like nature documentaries, Cirque du Soleil videos, etc. just as much. I rented The Discovery Channel's 6-part documentary Iditarod: Toughest Race on Earth, and my kids were hooked. Alaska is a bit different than Guam, so it was an educational experience for them just to see someone who is cold. They quickly got caught up with the terminology and strategy of sled dog racing, as well as the personal stories of the mushers. Somewhere along the way something clicks in my head.

First, I looked at Alaska in Google Earth. The views in Google Earth of populated areas are very good but often remote regions don't get the same quality of imagery. Alaska is one of those places. It looks a bit like a patchwork quilt; some areas are snow covered and some appear to be in a fall bloom. I also looked at the terrain from a low viewpoint. The lesson I have in mind is a virtual dog sled race.

Distances between Iditarod checkpoints are a set value, so using the ruler tool across 1,000 miles of Alaska didn't seem like a good idea. I decided the distance formula would lend itself best to find the traveling times between checkpoints. No two dog teams are alike but that doesn't help in creating a standard for a class. If the rate is given then the only variable to solve for is time. So, the lesson is primarily about calculating and adding elapsed time.

Next I start educating myself on the subject and creating the Google Earth file. I was fortunate to find online a good mapping of the route the race takes, so I created a path and starting marking the race checkpoints. I found some race data from the past that gave the distances between the checkpoints and average rates traveled. Around here I realized that every student would finish at the same time using the given values, provided they did everything correctly. Thus, Fortune Cards were added to the lesson: some sort of situation is drawn from a deck that affects the rate of travel. Cold weather adds speed to the sled while diarrhea slows the dogs down. Now the race has become a game of chance but the lesson's objective stayed the same.

I try to add more to my lessons than just math ideas. In this case, it is a geography lesson on the race event. Subjects such as the dogs, how the race is managed, how does a sled work, etc. become secondary objects to the lesson. The Discovery Channel video was a good primer, but I spent days researching the Iditarod and deciding on the best sources of information available on the web. This would include - The Official Site of the Iditarod, and, both tremendous sites with loads of information. I ended up gathering so much information that I added placemarks to the lesson to hold it. So, I decided a WebQuest would have to be a part of the materials included with the lesson. I want the students to link themselves to the event without a lot of direction. In my mind, this provides them with an opportunity for self-education and a chance to construct meaning out of the lesson. This is one of the primary goals of Real World Math.

Now the hardest part is assembling all of the information in an attractive package that works. HTML script is written for all of the placemarks, links need to be made and tested, and any paper work has to be created. I scour the Internet for photos for embellishment. The tricky part about that is I don't use unauthorized material, so I need to find photos that are not copyrighted. Wikipedia normally has these types of photos and if you can find anything done by the government you're good to go. I try to always give credit to any site whose material I use, and I provide a link to their page.

Finally, it's time for testing and my classes are normally the best way to do this. After the activity is over, I may make refinements to the materials, but more importantly I need to consider how to assemble it for public consumption - you! It isn't that hard to come up with lesson ideas. The hardest part is finding the time to put it all together.