Learner-Shaped Technology

October 26, 2009

Scrivener Rocks as a Course Design Tool

Filed under: demo,education,general,technology,time management,writing — Tags: — Mike W @ 2:45 pm

I mentioned in an earlier post how much I liked Scrivener as a writing tool.  As I used the program to write some learning goals for an upcoming course, I began to realize how powerful it is for facilitating the entire course development process.

Here’s a brief video demonstration which shows how I’m using it for course design as well as reflection and organization during the course.


While there’s only a Mac version available, Literature and Latte, the maker of Scrivener, has provided a list of supporting and alternative softwareWriteItNow is mentioned as an alternative for the PC, but I haven’t tried it yet.  Anybody out there have any experience with WriteItNow?

June 15, 2009

Visualizing the World – Wow!

Filed under: data visualization,education,general,gis,mapping,technology — Mike W @ 12:36 pm

This is a really powerful tool for viewing global statistics that might be useful for class.  The visualizations in Hans Rosling’s presentation  are pretty amazing.

Motion Map

The tool Rosling uses in the presentation is available online (along with his blog).  It took me a little while to figure it out how to use it, but experimentation with the maps and charts, along with the video tutorial, really helped me realize how much is here.

Indicators include health, economic, education, environmental, and more data from the UN.

The site also provides information about how you can use Google Spreadsheets to make your own motion charts.  I experimented, and the process is fairly straight-forward for charts but doesn’t include the mapping piece, which is available for the UN data on Rosling’s site.


Total Oil Consumption – Let’s get on those bikes or carpool America 🙂

October 15, 2008

Discussing the reading in class. Students as designers.

Filed under: books,general,mars,science — Mike W @ 2:34 pm

I’m truly impressed by colleagues who can effortlessly lead an engaging class discussion about a particular reading. I’m not that person. It’s a lot of work for me. While I find myself comfortable discussing concepts like conservation of momentum, acceleration, and projectile motion in class, I often feel out of my element when pulling together a strategy for discussing an outside reading for a book like Case for Mars (see earlier review). I really wanted to move beyond my current strategy of “summarize the 3 main ideas that grabbed you most”, which seems to inspire a pretty shallow read and makes me feel like that teacher in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

I thought I’d share something that seemed to work.

Engaging Ideas, by John Bean, has some great ideas for lesson design, including focusing on problems as an entry point. There’s a ton of literature out there on problem-based-learning, but something about Bean’s style (concrete and concise) seems to resonate with me and spur new ideas (almost as much as going on a run). When a friend first recommended this book, I initially thought it wouldn’t be helpful for a science teacher. Man, was I wrong.


The Case for Mars chapter we read focuses on strategies for getting to Mars and outlines contingencies provided by different plans. It’s fairly content rich, and I’d decided that I wanted to present the students with a mission mishap and ask them to analyze the options offered by each of the mission plans. After sharing my struggle to come up with a good problem with my teaching partners in crime, Sarah, our creative and talented TA, said, “Let them come up with the problem themselves and exchange it with another group.” Brilliant!

Here’s the scenario we presented to the students (zubrin-contigencies.pdf).

From my perspective a great deal of learning took place during the session, and the seemingly minor change of having the mishap designed by the students made a real difference. I don’t have a control group for comparison, so in the future I’d like to see what happens with the same assignment when I generate the problem. 10 bucks says it doesn’t go as well.

Some highlights:

  • Students were diagramming the different plans, flipping back through and rereading the book, and critically analyzing each of the options. I don’t think this happens as readily if I just say, “Read Chapter 4.”
  • The portable whiteboards seemed to help students organize and efficiently present their ideas. You can make these on-the-cheap from materials at Lowe’s or Home Depot (see below). They’ve been willing to cut these to size in the store.
  • Students were teaching one another. I asked a lot of questions. I know I’m supposed to do that anyway, but the context of the problem made it flow more easily.
  • It set the stage for more accountability and a different (and better) approach to future readings.
  • They did a great job critically analyzing each of the plans and were able to concisely share their thought processes and conclusions at the end of class.
  • Tech required – whiteboards, books, caffeine.
  • Their mishaps were much better than mine would have been.
  • I had fun.


Cut this into pieces and you have pretty cheap, portable whiteboards.

Thanks for the great lesson idea, Sarah!

August 3, 2008

Mars Books

Filed under: books,general,mars,science,technology — Mike W @ 10:47 am

Because books are perhaps the best educational technology around, I thought I’d share some good reads related to Mars. Comments below:

clipped from www.amazon.com
Zubrin does a super job of outlining an economically feasible and sustainable approach to Mars exploration. This is one of the texts we’ll be reading for the Mars course in the fall. A great read and no shortage of controversy.

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (Paperback)
clipped from www.amazon.com
This one looks pretty intimidating when you first flip through it, but Kargel makes the geology of the red planet understandable and incredibly interesting. The spectacular images and graphs really enhance the discussion, and you can tell he’s passionate about this stuff.

Mars - A Warmer, Wetter Planet (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)

Mars – A Warmer, Wetter Planet (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration) (Paperback)
clipped from www.amazon.com
This covers the history of mapping Mars and is really well written and in-depth. My only suggestion is that it needs more images and maps. I often found myself visiting the map on the inside cover of the book to orient myself to a feature being discussed in the book. The plastic protective cover from my library copy made that map hard to get to, and I ended up tracking down maps on the internet instead. Who wants to be sitting at the computer though when reading a great book? Not me. A fascinating look at Mars mapping, but it could be much better with maps that support the discussion.

Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World

Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World (Hardcover)

  blog it

August 2, 2008

Way to go iClicker!

Filed under: clickers,general,sustainability,technology — Mike W @ 9:51 am

In an earlier posting I discussed some less than optimal packaging with a recent order of iClickers. We’re very happy with the clickers themselves, btw (which is also in the earlier posting). A glitch with my blog comment notifications caused a great response from the Director of iClicker to sit in moderation for quite a while. My apologies for that. It’s since been fixed.

I wanted to highlight Renee’s response here. Since the posting, I was also contacted by one of the iClicker creators about an idea I’d posted on a list serve about making analyzing data gathered via iClickers easier. We had a great conversation, and they are exploring adding some additional features to make analysis more seamless.

Thanks for being so responsive and committed to sustainability! I’m impressed.

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