Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Community of Practice

A Final Reflection on INTE 5340


I am in my first year as a graduate student, and Learning With Digital Stories was the fourth course I've taken. It has been very interesting being a graduate student - it is unlike any other formal 'student' experience I have had. Here is what I have noticed, a model let's say:
  • I'm expected to learn much of the technical aspects of media production myself.
  • The professor isn't going to tell me how I'm doing. He or she is more likely to help me see what I am doing, and what I could do further.
  • The production of work isn't as important as the critical stance I take in producing the work.
  • I am expected to critique or comment on the work of my peers. The professor will model this activity for us in various ways.
  • I am expected to collaborate with my peers; respond to their critiques and comments on my work, provide encouragement and feedback, and honor my commitments to a group.
  • In these ways I become a model and inspiration for my peers, and they for me.
This course is perhaps more strongly in line with this model than any of the others I've taken. To disconnect from Canvas and use our blogs and Twitter was intimidating but very cool. The only part of Canvas I missed was the threaded discussions (which is hard to do in Twitter), though they did become unwieldy past a certain point. Most importantly, thanks to Lankshear and Knobel's New Literacies, I now understand and can analyze the model above. I see that the model is not ad hoc or accidental, but is a designed approach, a platform, for having us, as graduate students, practice taking on identities as professional academics and technicians. Reading about the graduate class in Chapter 8 made me laugh, because it sounded very much like my experience with my UCDenver ILT courses.

I learn very quickly, I'm very efficient at it. I've found that the best approach is to fling myself at the work and see what happens. I also employ what I call The Committee of Sleep (which I made a video about for my last course). As an older student who is also an experienced teacher, I have come to appreciate the role I can play as a leader among my peers. I'm not voluble in that role, but the right gesture at the right time can mean the world. So I pick up on the modeling that the professors do, and then keep in mind that my communication with peers is modeling too. (A quick example: when deciding whose work to respond to, I will sometimes look for the student who seems to not be getting a lot of attention and give him or her some comment love.)

My main contribution to this course was in the work product. Like the disc jockey on the radio who has no idea whether anyone is listening, I created my media projects and posted them on my blog and made announcements on Twitter. Anyone who clicked the link and took a look would be rewarded with a multi-faceted project that tried to address the assignment at many levels simultaneously. This is my favorite kind of work, and in this class consisted of taking 'storytelling' seriously and creating traditional and not-so-traditional stories-within-stories, or self-referential stories, or interwoven narratives, or even just a title that was a tiny story. Even my contention that physics is 'story' is heterodox (or eccentric - you decide).

As much as I really enjoyed the media assignments and Twitter camaraderie, my greatest accomplishment in this course was understanding New Literacies. I have copied below a paragraph from each of several weekly Reflections in this course. I think these paragraphs demonstrate a progression in my understanding, and also demonstrate a consistency in what occupies my mind, and how I hope to apply my graduate work in my life.
  • As the school year winds down, my thoughts turn to next year. I want to pursue this idea I have of using story to teach physics - specifically, having the students express physics in their own stories. By reading Lankshear & Knobel on literacy, I think that I may gain a broader perspective on physics-as-story, something along the lines of a physics literacy. (Week 2)
  • Thinking more about next year, I am beginning to understand that teaching my students to use story to understand physics is going to be a multiple-literacies experience. When I imagine what I would like them to do, I see primarily the technical practices: using equations, graphs, diagrams, and charts as parts of a certain way of explaining; using online sites for finding and accessing texts, images, audio and video files, simulations, and models; and using other digital tools for creating presentation material, software like Photoshop and hardware like Smart Boards. In other words, I imagine what it is that I already do, the ways in which I am literate, and how I can model these technical practices for my students. (Week 3)
  • I'm thinking again about the next school year, and about all the instructional materials I'm constantly designing and tinkering with. Of course, this is remix as well. I steal shamelessly from the Internet and from my fellow teachers. I watch how students respond, and re-remix accordingly. The concept of remix allows me to see more clearly how my students, using remix techniques, could improve their ability to "speak" or "write" physics , and I'm eager to try some ideas. I'll be remixing, of course, from materials that already work for me. (Week 4)
  • Here's a question - a lot is written about learning and learners and communities of learners, and almost nothing is written about teaching. In these communities of learners, whether digital and online or not, who are the teachers? And more importantly, who qualifies as an engaging and effective teacher? Exploring this question has been part of my focal theme, not just this semester but for decades throughout my teaching career. In my work this semester, I am acutely aware of being both a learner and a teacher. The learning is in mastering a technique or tool to achieve an end product. The end product, for me, is always an attempt to teach, either overtly or covertly. L&K left a hint in Chapter 7 where they mention mentoring (p. 221), and I hope they enlarge upon this in Chapter 8. (Week 6)
  • It was exciting to read Lankshear & Knobel's final chapter. It left me with a lot to think about, not just concerning different approaches to literacy and learning, but also concerning L&K's language and concepts as tools for analyzing a learning environment. In other words, I'm beginning to shift my focus from the social phenomenon itself to how a social phenomenon can be analyzed. As I pointed out in Week 1, I've never studied sociology, so this has been my first exposure to a sociological study of any social practice. I'm only just now getting a feel for how sociologists see and study the world, and how I, in my small way, could do the same. (Week 7)
By the way, I'd like to point out that L&K did NOT enlarge upon the role of teaching in an overt way in Chapter 8 as I had hoped. They did use an important word in briefly describing the role of the professors in the graduate course (p. 236): elicitive. I liked that - it's a good start.

Reference

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2011). New Literacies: Everyday practices and social learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Learning With Digital Stories - a Curation

It is always a challenge to find a way to present a portfolio that somehow provides a large-scale overview with the possibility for small-scale exploration. When I looked through the Web assignments in the Assignment Bank of ds106, I came across a tool called Kumu. I immediately knew that I would try to use it to present my portfolio. What you see below is my entire work output for Learning With Digital Stories, arranged by category.


You can click on any assignment (the outermost layer of organization) and a box will appear with an image, video, or other link to media content. There will also be a link to the specific entry in my blog. If you look closely, there are a number of assignments connected to their respective nodes with a red connector. These assignments are related to my focal theme, and will be the focus of this curation and the final Reflection.

This has been a course primarily about literacies, so I have organized my commentary into four sections; media literacy practices, social media literacy practices, literacy practices associated with my focal themes, and my developing understanding of literacies through the writing of Lankshear & Knobel in New Literacies (2011).

Media Literacy Practices


The most overt aspect of this course centered on the media work the students produced largely through their interaction with ds106. In keeping with the class theme of digital storytelling, I tried to produce media projects that not only told a story but which also had a backstory. I even had the titles evoke some aspect of the story. In the Daily Create called My Classroom (see ds106/daily create/tdc1256 above), I created "openings" in my classroom through which I could view nature (celestial objects in this case). The resulting image tells a story of being confined, or blocked, and of finding relief through possible openings to the outside world. I added a poem which popped into my head about my classroom, which in fact has no windows, a detail that vexes me on occasion. The image also points to a facet of my physics teaching - I am an avid fan of astronomy.

When producing my media work, I made an effort to have "story" happening on different levels. I saw this as part of my overall literacy practice in this course. Producing media also involved technical skill, and this was another kind of literacy. In choosing which assignments to tackle, I looked for assignments that stretched my capability, culminating in my using two media tools that I have never used before (Twine and Kumu) which made use of programming skills (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Web above).

Social Media Literacy Practices


All of the assignments in this course were published in my blog. Doing this encouraged me to write, even if the assignment did not require writing, because I have a habit of writing in a blog. This practice resulted in my telling stories, about the assignment itself, about the media produced, or about the backstory. For contrast, you could visit my Flickr collection and see all my visual assignments, but there is little writing. The same is true for my YouTube channel. My practice in both these cases is to use the sites as archives.

My blog developed more of a social aspect as the course progressed. This consisted of comments by classmates, replies by me, an occasional Google recommendation, and my own practice when I write of documenting and linking as much as possible.

Once published, I used Twitter to announce the publication. This is a practice I have used for a long time on Twitter. This time, though, everyone in the class was also announcing on Twitter, and thus we were a community. I was not used to using Twitter in this way, and it was fascinating for me to watch myself learn a new set of practices. It started with Prof Holden favoriting every tweet, a nice bit of modeling. I subscribed to Lisa Dise's Twitter list. I practiced favoriting, retweeting, and replying, trying to understand the subtle differences. I even experimented trying to have a longer conversation, and I tried a technique called "talking to oneself." I also shared outside tweets with the group, and interacted with others outside the group who ended up participating with us.

Our connection with ds106 also had a social practice aspect which started with linking my blog with ds106 through the special class page. This page became a focal point for assignment information, a blog list, and a blog feed. On each assignment page in ds106 there was a way to submit one's work so it would appear in that page, and I made sure that my work was included. Looking at the work of others was both instructive and inspiring - if it seemed that people were having fun with an assignment, I was more likely to join in. When I created my own Daily Create (see ds106/daily create/tdc1303 above) and submitted it, that was my gift back to the community.

Here are a few example interactions:
  • A Twitter conversation.
  • Some retweet encouragement with a classmate.
  • A nice group of comments and replies on one of my blog posts.
  • Two comments on a blog post from people who were not students in the class! Kathy and Mariana were associated with ds106, and they started following and commenting on the work of our class.










Literacy Practices Associated With my Focal Themes


I chose a focal theme, but to be honest, it was not really a choice. I live my focal theme - it's what I do for work, but it is also a practice that I examine critically all the time. I am a physics teacher, and as such I am interested in physics, effective ways to teach physics, and ways of understanding and describing teaching itself. Thus it was not difficult to stay focused on my themes (actually a single continuum in my mind) of teaching physics/understanding teaching. It was in this context that I eagerly joined this course - I regard physics as a great big story.

Any physical phenomenon takes place in time and involves cause and effect. It has a beginning, middle, and end. This is, in effect, a story. My goal as a teacher is for a student to be able to, at least, repeat a story accurately. If the student can reconstruct a story in his own words, that is better. Best is when a student can examine a phenomenon and venture a credible story on his own. Physics also has many technical tools that can be employed in building a story - measuring tools, graphs, charts, and diagrams. Physics also has a variety of story vehicles - equations (very compact stories), text, photos and videos, models, and simulations.

Four of my Assignment Bank assignments were related to my focal theme:
  • My design assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Design above) was basically a hand-drawn infographic on how a tiny electric motor works and how to build one. This assignment came directly from my teaching experience.
  • My mashup assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Mashup above) was a response to a NASA Twitter stream which I felt was inferior to an ESA Twitter stream in telling the story of their respective spacecraft. I mashed up the NASA stream with a Bill Nye stream to make a point.
  • My animated GIF assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB AnimatedGIF above) was an exercise in exploring the arrow of time, a thermodynamic concept that can be explored with videos run backward.
  • My web assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Web above) was a trial in using Twine to construct an interactive story as a way of explaining the basic physics of rocket flight.




In all of these assignments, I explored or created a physics explanation using a story coupled with a media product particularly suited to the nature of the story.


Four of my critiques were related to my focal theme:
  • My second critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 2 above) was of a video that came from the PhD thesis of a physics teacher in Australia. His research on videos as instructional tools in physics education was an eye-opener.
  • My fifth critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 5 above) was by the same researcher above from Australia. He now makes instructional videos professionally, and this was one of his earlier physics videos.
  • My seventh critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 7 above) was of a highly professional video that told a short fantasy folk tale. In the process, it demonstrated some aspects of momentum and inertia, two physics concepts.
  • My last critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 9 above) was of an instructional video of projectile motion which I made with my students, employing three media production tools.





These critiques consisted of an examination of media:
  • that informed my understanding of using media in the classroom (Critique 2);
  • that I would actually use in the classroom (Critiques 5 and 7);
  • and that I created in my classroom (Critique 9).

Developing an Understanding of Literacies


Three of my weekly responses to Lankshear and Knobel were related to my focal theme:
  • My Chapter 4 response (see INTE 5340/Response/Chapter 4 above) was an examination of remix practices as applied to how one learns to play music in a social practices setting, and to the music itself. While this would not seem to be related to my focal theme, I use my own example of learning to become a musician as a way to understand how a student could learn physics in my classroom. In addition, I believe that teaching is an act of performance not unlike a musical performance.

  • My Chapter 7 response (see INTE 5340/Response/Chapter 7 above) examined the real-world education that takes place in the technical programs in my school. I described the shops as platforms that allow students to learn in a community of practice.
  • My Chapter 8 response (see INTE 5340/Response/Chapter 8 above) examined my own reaction to a typical packaged classroom project and how I adapted it to act more like a platform and less like a program. I used the language and concepts in New Literacies to analyze this adaptation.





I understood early on with New Literacies that I would be absorbing both new vocabulary and a new way of looking at media practices. In each of my responses:
  • I told a story that set the basis for my response;
  • I applied the language and ideas of the chapter;
  • and I made note of other ideas that stood out in the reading.

A good way to demonstrate my growing facility with New Literacies is to look at my first attempt (in the Chapter 2 response) to apply the language:
I can see that in my classroom I am trying to make my students literate in science generally, and physics specifically. I wish to create a Discourse of science students who can generate and negotiate physics meanings through the media of equations, explanations involving technical vocabulary, diagrams and graphs, digital simulations, and tangible demonstration equipment. In particular, I insist on seeing all of our encoded texts as narratives to some extent, in the belief that narrative, or story, is the most natural and accessible meaning vehicle.
I was rewarded with a nice response from one of my fellow students:
susannahsimmonsJune 20, 2015 at 10:47 PM

I love how you explore your discomfort with our sociology text in the beginning of your writing then take us through your learning journey. You walk us through the points that resonate with you such as "perform" and "orality", but then you take a stab at defining your Discourse as a physics teacher. From my perspective, you define it as beautifully and succinctly as the quote you adore, "socially recognized ways in which people generate, communicate, and negotiate meanings, as members of Discourses, through the medium of encoded texts (Lankshear and Knobel, 50)." Nice work William.
In my last weekly reflection, I mentioned how I was beginning to read New Literacies differently, to move from seeing only the content of the chapters to understanding the construct:
It was exciting to read Lankshear & Knobel's final chapter. It left me with a lot to think about, not just concerning different approaches to literacy and learning, but also concerning L&K's language and concepts as tools for analyzing a learning environment. In other words, I'm beginning to shift my focus from the social phenomenon itself to how a social phenomenon can be analyzed. As I pointed out in Week 1, I've never studied sociology, so this has been my first exposure to a sociological study of any social practice. I'm only just now getting a feel for how sociologists see and study the world, and how I, in my small way, could do the same.

Monday, July 27, 2015

From Sociology to Sociologist

A Reflection on Week 7 of INTE 5340


It was a tough week! There's a two-week stretch every summer where I am responsible for tuning the pianos at three music festivals here in Rhode Island, and this was the first week. I'm driving a lot, tuning many pianos, managing an assistant, and coordinating with production managers. One more week to go!

It was exciting to read Lankshear & Knobel's final chapter. It left me with a lot to think about, not just concerning different approaches to literacy and learning, but also concerning L&K's language and concepts as tools for analyzing a learning environment. In other words, I'm beginning to shift my focus from the social phenomenon itself to how a social phenomenon can be analyzed. As I pointed out in Week 1, I've never studied sociology, so this has been my first exposure to a sociological study of any social practice. I'm only just now getting a feel for how sociologists see and study the world, and how I, in my small way, could do the same.

I posted the following:

I would give myself a 9/10 for the week. I knew that I wanted to try one of the web assignments in the AB, but I also knew that there would be a time-consuming learning curve. I also chose another web assignment tool (Kumu) to begin working on my portfolio for week 8. I've already started climbing that learning curve. I was not planning on doing a Daily Create, but then an idea came to me for one that I submitted to ds106. But it was a tough week - I couldn't spend much time on Twitter with my classmates, and in spite of a decreased assignment load, two of my assignments were late.

Project Push, Project Pull

A Response to Lankshear & Knobel, New Literacies, Chapter 8



It is often impressed upon me in various ways that science education can always benefit by engaging students in science-y projects. I have never been terribly enthusiastic about many of these proposals. Yes, projects are fun, they provide a hands-on experience, but the connection to actual learning is murky. The physics learning standards established by my state may amount to a shopping cart of seemingly arbitrary topics, but I am bound by the standard, so time spent on any project must be pedagogically fruitful in that context. Projects are also promoted as a way to engage students in their learning, but the engagement tends to be based on competition rather than learning. Teaching science with projects seems eminently sensible, so I have found it difficult to fully explain my objections.

If I take the view presented by Lankshear and Knobel in the final chapter of New Literacies, I find that I have access to language and concepts that help me understand my hesitation to adopting projects in my classes. The curriculum that Lankshear and Knobel describe at the Quest to Learn School in New York would appear, at first glance, to be a successful project-based curriculum. Lankshear and Knobel make clear, however, that the education is situated, that the students take on meaningful roles as learners within a community of practice (p. 247). The school uses projects not as part of a program but as part of a platform. In particular, the school uses games as the main platform:
The point here is not that students are learning by playing games as such . . . Rather, the learning principles of games are used to create learning environments . . . (p. 247)

The kinds of projects I object to are projects that do not create an authentic learning environment for my students. These projects are heavily programmed in a traditional 'push' fashion. If a project is seen by the students as simply another assignment, then they are not being engaged by an opportunity to take on identities as learners, to 'learn to be' according to the 'pull' model of Brown and Adler (2008). And once I state this, it becomes clear that the same can be said of any activity I ask my students to engage in; labs, demonstrations, hands-on activities, worksheets. By using games, simulations, models, and stories as platforms, my students can take on more authentic roles as learners.

Here is an example I can describe. NASA, in its role of educator, has a programmed project available for schools that asks students to form teams of 'rocket scientists' with the goal of designing and building a rocket. There is an elaborate collection of activities with role-playing and assignments that can take up to two full weeks or more of class time. The main engagement is through the chance to actually build and launch a rocket and to compete with the other teams. The entire project is very much a 'push' project. The experience of physics teachers before me at my school was one of almost literally pushing students through a process that was viewed by them as inauthentic. What learning was accomplished or reinforced was uncertain. They did enjoy making and launching the rockets, though. The competition part was of much less interest than one might expect.

Based on this reporting, I decided right away to eliminate the inauthentic 'push' elements of the project and focus on the rocket designing, building, and launching. Students are given basic materials, are shown a few example rockets, and off they go. They are allowed laptops to research design ideas, and the rocket building is very much trial and error. They work in teams and keep a close eye on the work of the other teams. Because this is a technical school, students already have a habit and expectation of building or making things on their own. They share their varied skills, and have permission to take their rockets to their shops for raw materials, spray-painting, logo design, etc. The rockets are tested in the hallway, and often it's "back to the drawing board." There is a deadline - the launch day. This happens outside, with multiple classes, and with results that range from spectacular to comical. Everybody is happy, and it's all over in four days.

The students do learn some things about rockets per se, but the rockets are really just a platform the students use to experiment with identities as learners and makers.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

DaVinci Man Waits for the Bus

I woke up in the middle of the night, climbed out of bed, and headed for the bathroom. When I returned, my wife, who was only half-awake, muttered "DaVinci Man Goes to the Bathroom." I figured out what she meant, and starting laughing. She woke up enough to laugh with me. Some of my wife's best material comes when she's half-awake (or half-asleep).

I was able to picture DaVinci Man, or as it is better known, Vitruvian Man, in my mind's eye, walking down the hallway to the bathroom, and I realized that it could be a Daily Create assignment in ds106. I submitted it as a photography suggestion; catch DaVinci Man in a mundane everyday activity. Of course I created my own - DaVinci Man Waits for the Bus.


(My Daily Create suggestion for ds106)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Start with a balloon

I have been looking forward to finally picking an assignment from the Web Assignments Bank at ds106. There are a lot of cool digital tools/programs listed - it's worth taking a look at all of them! This week I decided to take a look at Grant Potter's assignment, which was to use Twine to create an interactive story.

Twine allows you to build a story whose pages are programmed so that the story is not linear. The interactions can be as simple as links which will take you somewhere else in the story. They can be as complicated as JavaScript programming that, based on your decisions, carries out various actions in the context of a game. You can use Twine online, or you can download Twine into your machine and work locally (which is my preference).

Each page of your story is called a passage, and passages become connected through links. Twine creates a storyboard as you go which looks like this:


Passages can contain text, images, and audio and video files. Passages use a special script to create links and other programming. Here is what one of my passages looks like:


Twine can handle different scripting languages, including HTML and JavaScript. You can build a simple story just using links, or you can jump into the programming, as I did, which has a bit of a learning curve. When you are done building your story, you can export it as an HTML file which can be viewed by any browser. I hosted my HTML file in Google Drive, and then embedded it into my blog in the window below. You can access and download the file itself here, or you can play with it in the window below.


A consistent theme for me throughout this course has been the teaching of physics as a story. Twine seemed like a perfect tool for doing this, and worth the climb up that learning curve. It helped that I have experience with scripting languages like JavaScript. For this assignment, I kept it short and simple, just to test out some of the functionality. Since rockets and space have figured in many of my assignments, I created an introduction to rockets using the simplest rocket; a balloon. The most difficult part was trying to understand how to have interactions that weren't simple yes/no or right/wrong interactions. It's so easy with science to fall into right/wrong thinking. Incorrect answers by students need to be taken seriously - sometimes there's a germ of truth in the incorrectness that needs to be brought out. An incorrect answer may have correct thinking underlying it, and that needs to be acknowledged. Incorrect answers are always opportunities to explore further.

I decided to think of three students, or kinds of students: the "spacey" one who is a dreamer and a bit inattentive; the "fast" student who is impatient and tries to anticipate what's coming next without fully digesting what has come before; and the "straight" student who follows the directions and usually has correct answers but is afraid to take leaps. My storyboard had decision points that corresponded to each of these student types. No one of the decisions was "wrong," and following any of the three threads brought different rewards. Overall I kept the tone and voice as "story," rather than just explanation.

This sample above is just an introduction. I could easily see adding design elements like fonts and colors, diagrams and images, animated GIF's and sound. I could also continue the story from air-filled balloons to air-launched rockets. I left a hint in the story - see if you can find it.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Does it Mean to Teach?

A Reflection on Week 6 of INTE 5340


I had forgotten to read Chapter 6 last week, so this week I read both Chapters 6 and 7. Chapter 6 was quick reading, but Chapter 7 was like Chapter 2 - a lot of new ideas and research, and a lot of new vocabulary to digest. It made me think about my teaching, and my school, what seems to work and what could be changed. My written response to L&K ended up being a story about my school, in fact.

Here's a question - a lot is written about learning and learners and communities of learners, and almost nothing is written about teaching. In these communities of learners, whether digital and online or not, who are the teachers? And more importantly, who qualifies as an engaging and effective teacher? Exploring this question has been part of my focal theme, not just this semester but for decades throughout my teaching career. In my work this semester, I am acutely aware of being both a learner and a teacher. The learning is in mastering a technique or tool to achieve an end product. The end product, for me, is always an attempt to teach, either overtly or covertly. L&K left a hint in Chapter 7 where they mention mentoring (p. 221), and I hope they enlarge upon this in Chapter 8.

I posted the following:

I would give myself a 9.5/10 for the week. I had fun putting a lot of late-night work into my animatedGIF assignment. I was happy to really focus on my theme of physics teaching this week. I was a day late posting my reading response, though.

Parking Lot Barstool

It had been a week of cloudiness, but on the day this Daily Create was published it was gloriously sunny. My wife was so inspired she went out with her camera and took a zillion photos. I picked this one out of the pile, a photo of what Marcel Duchamp would call a readymade.


(The Daily Create for July 17 2015 at ds106)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Flat Tire

A Response to Lankshear & Knobel, New Literacies, Chapter 7


I noticed that the left rear tire seemed low on air pressure. I finally measured the pressure, and sure enough had to add air. I kept an eye on the tire, and every so many days I had to add more air. Then I had to add air every day. Finally one morning, after adding air, the tire was noticeably low by the time I got to work. Thank God I work at a technical school, I thought, I'll just drop the car off at the automotive shop and give the kids something to do. When I had the chance I walked over to automotive and waited while the students were given their assignments. The shop was full of cars, most of them from paying customers. An instructor had a job list, and he barked out orders to the students using technical language that I vaguely recognized. The students got to work. "Oh I just have a slow leak in a tire," I said, a little embarrassed to be presenting such a puny task. "Which tire? Where's your car parked?" The instructor was perfectly happy to have a simple task, more real-world work for his students. I gave him my spare key. Later in the afternoon a student approached me in my classroom. "Mr Calhoun? Here's your key. Tire's all fixed, and the car is back where you parked it." He was very business-like, and obviously proud. We talked a bit, but he was ready to go back to work.

This kind of exchange goes on all day in the school. The young children of teachers attend the day-care program. Customers from the community are in the cosmetology shop having their hair done, or go to the culinary shop's Thursday lunches. Teams of plumbing or carpentry students head out to work sites in the community. The graphic design shop prints up agendas for that night's city council meeting. Eighteen different shops provide in-house real-world experience for the students. By the time they are seniors, many of the students don't even come to school during their shop week, they go to cooperative work experiences in the community and receive a paycheck. Seniors often have state certification in various applications by the time they graduate.

As I read Lankshear & Knobel's presentation of the concept of social learning, I kept being reminded of why I love working in my technical school. The students are
mastering a field of knowledge . . . not only 'learning about' the subject matter but also 'learning to be' a full participant in the field. This involves acquiring the practices and the norms of established practitioners in that field or acculturating into a community of practice (quoting Brown and Adler, 2008, p. 218).


When I was in high school, students in the technical program were thought to be less intelligent. They were not prepared for college and were thus doomed to menial labor in the work-a-day world. What did it mean that one was prepared for college? I recognize this now as the "push" process described by Lankshear and Knobel (p. 226). In college one would finally join a community of practice. Or maybe not, maybe college was to prepare for graduate school, where one would finally join a community of practice. And possibly the joining of a practice might not happen until one was finally hired into a practice. The "pull" process exemplified by the technical programs in my school allows students to participate in a community of practice right away. The shops themselves are platforms that allow for learning by novices while still providing professional services in the real world.

In my own practice as a physics teacher, I am aware that very few of my students will participate in any kind of physics community in their lives. A push program would accomplish little - I have nowhere to push my students. What I can do is add my practice to the practices they experience in their various shops, where "physics" is happening all the time, and add one more facet to the pull process in which they already participate.

Trajectory

I am critiquing myself again. This time I want to examine an early attempt to create with my students an elaborate digital document about the physics of a trajectory.

A trajectory is the two-dimensional path an object takes when moving through space under the influence of gravity. It's the path of a thrown ball, for instance. There are two aspects of trajectories that students have difficulty understanding. One is that gravity (at the Earth's surface) is always directed downward, that it is constant, and that it is constantly pulling down on the object regardless of how the object is moving. If the object is moving up, gravity slows it down. If the object is moving down, gravity speeds it up. The other aspect is that gravity does not work in the horizontal dimension. Whatever horizontal speed the object has remains constant (ignoring friction).

The velocity of an object can be represented with an arrow, called a vector. The arrow indicates direction, and the length of the arrow indicates speed. Any arrow can be "broken up" into a vertical part and a horizontal part, and this analysing of vectors allows one to understand the shape and size of the trajectory. It's so much easier to show this with a diagram or an animation.


There are several layers of story here. First, a trajectory is the "story" of an object moving through space. Using vectors, this "story" can be separated into a vertical and a horizontal "story." The video also tells the story of my students launching an object and watching it fly. The various diagrams superimposed on the video tell a story of how the overall animation was constructed.

I want to look at this last story in detail, because I believe it can be examined as a remix practice, and I want to describe the tools and techniques used because they are unique to physics education. I referred to Lankshear & Knobel's appendix to Chapter 4 in New Literacies about remix practices to examine this animation.

The students are standing in a hallway of the school outside the classroom, and are using an air pump to launch an empty plastic water bottle into the air. The resulting trajectory was recorded on a Surface tablet by a student who had to resist the urge to follow the bottle as it flew. The students launching the bottle had to ensure that most of the trajectory appeared in the frame of the camera. All this took some practice.

Once a good video was recorded and uploaded into the school's network, the video was opened with a tool called Tracker. Tracker allowed students to isolate and slow down a section of the video, and then locate the bottle frame by frame, thus marking out a trajectory. This path could be edited and superimposed on the video (in a manner resembling rotoscoping). This work was done collaboratively on a Smart Board. This is the yellow trajectory seen throughout the animation.

At 0:20 yellow velocity vectors appear. These were automatically generated by Tracker based on the trajectory data. At 0:37 bold yellow vectors appear. These were hand-drawn by me on the Smart Board using Smart Notebook.* I then invited students to draw by hand the vertical (green) and horizontal (blue) components of the bold yellow vectors, which appear at 0:46. Note that the vertical components change, and the horizontal components remain constant. These component colors were consistent with notes and other diagrams used earlier in this physics unit.

I later arranged Tracker and Smart Notebook so the various pieces would be aligned and layered. I used CamStudio to record a screencast as I manipulated the programs, causing graphic elements to fade in and out, resulting in the final animation. The animation formed the basis for further study of trajectories. A lovely addition that could be made would be an audio narration, which could be scripted and read by the students.

It was the layering and manipulating of the various visual elements that constituted remixing. As with any kind of digital remixing, success relied on a certain expertise coordinating several pieces of software. The students also needed an understanding of vectors, and how to properly handle the equipment out in the hallway.


* A 90-day free trial of Smart Notebook is available. You don't need a Smart Board to use it, but if you have access to a Smart Board, you can use its serial number to register your copy of Smart Notebook so it won't expire.

The Arrow of Time

There is a concept in physics called the arrow of time. We experience the physical world as proceeding in a time direction we call "forward." The laws of physics, though, work equally well either forward or backward in time. What explains our sense that time has a direction? Look at the first animated GIF below, of a bouncing rubber ball. You might find it difficult to determine if the animation is playing forward or backward. For the brief moment of the animation, time seems to have no particular direction.


Of course, if the animation were allowed to play for a longer period of time, showing several bounces of the ball, you would, in fact, be able to tell whether it was playing forward or backward. Still, the laws of physics would work either way, forward or backward. Even the law of the conservation of energy (AKA the first law of thermodynamics) would hold whether time moved forward or backward.

Now look at the second animation below. The animation is clearly playing in reverse. But how do you know? What is different from the animation above (which is also, by the way, playing in reverse)?


What you cannot see is what is happening at the microscopic level, the level where heat is revealed to be a transfer of energy from molecule to molecule. A given collection of molecules can be thought of as having a certain amount of disorder, or randomness. In general, interacting collections of molecules will either maintain their randomness or increase it. The arrow of time follows from this observation, which is called the second law of thermodynamics. A broken egg could possibly reassemble itself and leap back up onto the counter, but it would be extraordinarily unlikely. Hence you can tell the direction of time - time's arrow.

I took advantage of Brian Bennett's animated GIF assignment (Turn a GIF into a FIG) at ds106. I pulled this together very quickly, recording video with a Surface tablet, trimming and resizing the videos with VirtualDub and then exporting the video clips into separate folders as images. I renumbered the images so that they would import into Photoshop in reverse, making a backward animation.* I slowed the animations down and then saved them as animated GIF's. Both animations use the same number of frames.

*h/t to Mariana Funes for pointing out that I could have imported the frames, selected all of them, and then selected the tool "Reverse Frames."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Three Hyperbolic Musicians

Well how could a physicist not love today's Daily Create? We are directed to a website that is worth exploring at length, but in particular we are instructed to create a hyperbolic tiling of an image. Right away I knew there would be something perverse about remixing and distorting the Picasso image I used in an earlier assignment, The Three Musicians.

After playing with the tiling program, I began to understand how it worked, and I realized that I would have to first alter the image I had. The tiling program is sufficiently mind-boggling that tiling anything would be impressive, but I wanted a particular effect. I wanted the three musicians to be identifiable in the center of the tiling. This required cropping the original image and creating a large border around it so the musicians would be captured in the central hyperbolic polygon. I colored the border so no boundary would be visible in the central polygon. I boosted the contrast, saturating the colors a bit. Poetic justice would dictate a central polygon of three sides (p = 3), but I couldn't fit the musicians in it. I chose a six-sided polygon instead, in which they fitted nicely with the polynomial distortion. After experimenting I chose a q of infinity. Too much fun! Try the other image generators on the site too.


(The Daily Create for July 16 2015 at ds106)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Pulp Textbook

Pulp (or "trashy") novels are known for their lurid cover art and low-brow content. Still they are an identifiable literacy practice! Because I teach physics, I couldn't think of anything more ridiculous than a physics pulp textbook, so here it is. I made an effort to not use an overtly exploitative image of a woman - girls can do science too!


(The Daily Create for July 12 2015 at ds106)

AB Frustration

A Reflection on Week 5 of INTE 5340


The competition for my time became intense this week because my wife broke her foot. She tripped over our dog Lily and, trying not to crush the poor dear, caught her fall with her foot and cracked three bones. Fortunately this was after the weekend's big parade.

I've had some concern about the Assignment Bank at ds106. In the first three weeks, there were so many assignments to choose from that I had no problem picking something out that I liked. In week 4, the pickings seemed a bit slim, and this week there were very few interesting options. What do I mean by interesting? First you should know that I'm not an avid consumer of pop culture. I don't watch movies, or much television, and I don't have cable TV or Internet radio or a smartphone loaded with apps or even an iPod. So when an assignment starts with "Pick your favorite TV show . . . " my eyes glaze over. And it's not just that I'm older, I've always been this way.

The problem became more severe when I needed to make the assignments be about my focal topic, which is the teaching of physics. My solution was to look for assignments that were focused on a technique, and in which the content could be open-ended. These criteria tended to narrow the options considerably, though.

I posted the following:

I would give myself a 9.5/10 for the week. I really put a lot into all my assignments and writing this week, especially the mashup, but posted my critique a day late. It was fun to read Lankshear & Knobel on blogs since I have so much experience with them. I have been avoiding learning how to build a wiki, though, and even wondered if they were relevant anymore. L&K's take on wikis has convinced me to take up the challenge on behalf of my students.

Animated GIF's on Flickr

There is no problem uploading an animated GIF to Flickr - Flickr just converts it to a JPG. Of course it is then no longer animated. There is an easy way to display the animation, though it won't show on your Photostream or Camera Roll.

Start by uploading the GIF in the usual manner. Once the image is in your Photostream, click on the image to bring up its page. Click the Share Photo (arrow going up and to the right) icon. In the small new window, choose HTML embed. The top input box has options for image sizes that drop down - choose Original. Copy the embed code and close the small window. Now, back on the page for your image, scroll down to the "Add a comment" box and paste the embed code in as a comment. That's it! If you want, add a note to the image caption saying that the image is an animated GIF which can be viewed below. There's an example here. Make sure you scroll down to the comments!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Day of the Dead

This week's chapter in Lankshear & Knobel's New Literacies was about blogs, so I thought I'd take a look at the little blogosphere that my wife and I occupy. In particular, I will critique a blog entry that I created for my wife's painting blog, a blog post about her painting called Day of the Dead.

Emily Lisker is a professional painter and illustrator. Her paintings are brightly colored surreal images, emotional and psychological commentaries on life and relationship. The imagery could be called narratives, stories told with a single image, like photographs from another planet. Lisker's paintings almost always present a theater stage, with characters, props, costumes, backdrops, theater lighting and perspective, a sense of drama, and quite often red stage curtains. Her body of work is clearly the product of remix practices. Certain characters appear and reappear as do certain objects, shapes, and colors. As is the case with many artists, Lisker seems obsessed with certain themes and emotional settings, so her compositions often feel like rearrangements of a basic set of elements. These elements often reference the work of other artists. Lisker exemplifies Lessig's idea that cultural artifacts, and culture itself, are made from the practice of mixing and remixing (Lankshear and Knobel, p. 97).

Lisker's blog is designed to be a gallery of her work. Usually a blog entry consists of the painting title, a photograph of the painting, short commentary by me, and details about the painting, including purchase price. There is a page that summarizes information on all the paintings using thumbnail photos and links to the appropriate blog entry. I had the idea one year that I wanted to document the evolution of one of Lisker's paintings. Knowing Lisker's work habits, I knew this would have to be a multi-year project, and that I would have to catch just the right moments. This project resulted in two additional blog posts; one summarizing the painting's evolution using an animated GIF image (An Emily Painting Comes to Life), and another detailing Lisker's process and how the animated GIF was produced.


I referred to Lankshear & Knobel's appendix to Chapter 4 in New Literacies about remix practices to examine both Lisker's and my own literacy practices.

The animated GIF shows Lisker's literacy practices as a painter. The practices start with Lisker collecting images that appeal to her. These images inform and inspire Lisker's daily practice of sketching and drawing. A sketch may be transferred to a canvas, sometimes interacting with a pre-existing sketch on the same canvas. Lisker then refines the image, enhancing some details and eliminating others, while adding and changing color. Lisker enters a process of refining and finishing, with an eye toward a finished product. This is primarily a projective configuration with proprietary possibilities. The participatory configuration consists of a dialogue Lisker has with herself and her own body of work, with the works of artists which influence her, and with commentary (both live and via email) from the small audience that sees the work as it progresses.

The animated GIF is itself a story of how a painting evolves. My literacy practice began with photographs I took over time. These photographs were imported into Photoshop and prepared for eventual inclusion as frames in an animation. The preparation made use of typical Photoshop literacy practices. Of special note was the distortion I introduced into the first two images so that the spatial relationship of the elements would correspond with the painting's elements. I added a transition between frames that allowed one to briefly see how the images looked overlapped - a mashup practice. I paced the animation so it would proceed in a stately manner, not rushing the viewer.

What's a Blog?

A Response to Lankshear & Knobel, New Literacies, Chapter 5


I remember my wife asking me that, 9 years and about 8,200 posts ago.

I was excited about reading Chapter 5 because it explored certain literacy practices with which I am very familiar - blogs, wikis, and Google Docs. It occurred to me that these are the practices that the teachers in my school are also most familiar with. I have created almost a dozen blogs for me and my wife over the years. They serve many different purposes: as notebooks, as publications (of text and imagery), as websites, as stores of information, as advertising and promotion, as grad school portfolio. Interestingly, none of our blogs employs a participatory or collaborative configuration.

Almost a decade ago, during the financial crisis and Great Recession, I discovered the world of economics blogging. Blogging has become the primary way that economists try to have their voices heard. This econoblogosphere ranges from the political left to the political right, from academic economists to political advisers to financiers. There is the salt-water - fresh-water rivalry, Keynes vs. Hayek, macro and micro economics, history and philosophy. It is a remarkably lively community. A prominent blogger is the Princeton professor and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, blogging for the New York Times. He writes that the traditional process of economic discourse through journal publication lost its relevance 25 years ago. It was first replaced by an informal publication process called white papers, and eventually replaced by the much nimbler Internet in the form of blogging.
Does this new, amorphous system work? Yes! In just the past few years we’ve had what I’d consider three classic economic debates — on the effects of monetary expansion at the zero lower bound, on fiscal multipliers and austerity, on the effects of high debt ratios; the emergence of major new themes involving issues like private-sector leverage and the need for safe assets; and more, all strongly informed by data (The Facebooking of Economics, 17 December 2013).
Here are links to two blog posts he wrote on this topic: Open Science And The Econoblogosphere, and The Facebooking of Economics.

Lankshear and Knobel wrote in great detail of a fan blog called Blogging Project Runway. It was fascinating to see how the blog changed so profoundly over time and yet was still recognizable as "a blog." One aspect of the blog and its relationship to the television show disturbed me, and I was surprised that Lankshear and Knobel did not bring it up. I noticed how much the television show was benefiting financially from the blog, and wondered if the blog was benefiting as well from its relationship to the television show. Was the relationship symbiotic, or were the blog owners and writers effectively working for the television show, and for little money at that? When does a participatory configuration unwittingly become hijacked by a proprietary one? Lankshear and Knobel did mention this dynamic earlier in Chapter 3 (p. 81).

There were a few more points that stood out for me in this chapter. I was intrigued by the exploration of the idea of collaboration in the context of wikis. Different literacy practices tend to get lumped under the broad category of collaboration but need to be more clearly explicated (p. 161ff).

I have had the opportunity to participate at length in a forum associated with a computer program called Celestia. The forum is defunct now, but I recognized myself in the description of how a wiki participant can transform from novice consumer to collaborator (p. 162). (I did wonder why Lankshear and Knobel did not address forums as a literacy practice.)

I was struck by the idea of a kind of knowledge that is produced at the level of the community, and the role of "boundary spanners (Halatchliyski et al.)" as mentors and mediators in this process (p. 164ff).

I have never created or participated in a wiki (except as a consumer, like with Wikipedia), but I have seen wikis created by physics teachers and students, and have been curious about it. The opportunity exists in my school, and a few teachers there have created wikis - so maybe now I'll finally explore what they have been doing.

Tweeting for NASA

I decided to try Dylan Gott's mashup assignment Twittr at ds106. Instead of two websites, though, I chose two Twitter accounts.

Did you know that in a few days a satellite will zoom past Pluto and take a jillion photos and measurements? NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft over 9 years ago, and in that time it has traveled about 3 billion miles. On Tuesday the 14th of July it will make its closest pass to Pluto and zoom right past at more than 30,000 mph. NASA created a Twitter account that makes it seem as if the spacecraft is itself doing the tweeting. It's cute, but not nearly as well done as the European Space Agency (ESA) with their satellite Rosetta orbiting comet 67P. Rosetta's Twitter stream has been cute in the same way yet engaging and almost endearing. It has provided information, tons of pictures, and a lot of drama. The Rosetta Twitter account and blog are very hip and sophisticated.

NASA on the other hand just can't seem to help being a little stodgy. They haven't endowed the New Horizons spacecraft with the same warmth and personality that ESA did with Rosetta. And NASA has a tendency to overuse scientific gee-whiz that comes across as almost corny. The worst part is that the mission is hard to express in human terms. Think of the gee-whiz numbers I used in the paragraph above: 3 billion! 30,000! Impressive but not exactly warm and fuzzy. And the nature of the mission is that there were going to be very few photos of Pluto until the last moment, and then whoosh! it would be all over. I've been following the Twitter account, and it has been, frankly, kinda boring. In the last few days, though, the photos have been coming in more frequently, blurry at first but getting more detailed each day. It's going to be an exciting weekend. The fly-by on Tuesday will result in so much information in so little time that we probably won't see or understand many of the photos until later, though. This was a tough social-media assignment for NASA.

So I thought I'd help out. Who could be more gee-whiz exciting than Bill Nye? I checked out his Twitter account, and knew right away what I had to do. I mashed up his account with the New Horizons account so that it seemed like he was actually narrating the space flight. Or maybe not narrating, but commenting. Or something. I thought his kookiness and NASA's gooniness would either work well together or bring the worst out of both - you decide.


I basically Photoshopped this image of a Twitter stream. Microsoft Office has a nice screen-shot capability, so I opened Excel and took screen shots of portions of both Twitter accounts. Then I imported the shots into Photoshop. I started with assembling a page of the New Horizons account as a base image and then added and blended bits from the Bill Nye account. I also added extra text where needed. I tried to understand the grammar, as it were, of Bill Nye's tweets, and his voice, and apply that to the NASA account in a funny but pointed way.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Blast Off!

At first I wasn't drawn in by this daily assignment from ds106, but as so often happens, when examples started coming in I was inspired. I guess I have rockets on my mind because yesterday I cleaned out a couple-of-year's worth of student rockets - all broken nosecones and missing fins and tape coming undone.


(The Daily Create for July 8 2015 at ds106)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Physics of Remix

A Reflection on Week 4 of INTE 5340


I guess every week is going to have something competing for my time. My marching band performed this weekend, and I was kept busy all week with the details (not to mention the marching itself on the Fourth). I thought I kept up with the course pretty well considering. Playing music this week made me think a lot about music as remix: composing, producing, performing, recording, are all remix practices.

I'm thinking again about the next school year, and about all the instructional materials I'm constantly designing and tinkering with. Of course, this is remix as well. I steal shamelessly from the Internet and from my fellow teachers. I watch how students respond, and re-remix accordingly. The concept of remix allows me to see more clearly how my students, using remix techniques, could improve their ability to "speak" or "write" physics , and I'm eager to try some ideas. I'll be remixing, of course, from materials that already work for me.

I posted the following:

I would give myself a 10/10 for the week. I really put a lot into my Design AB assignment, and learned a lot. I also tweeted responses a bit more, trying to figure out more about working the Twitter machine . . . And as I did last week, I enjoyed reading Lankshear & Knobel, and now I see everything around me as remix!

Three Musicians Pub

Picasso's Three Musicians finally get a gig.


So many of my classmates were having fun with this assignment that I decided to join in.

(The Daily Create for July 2 2015 at ds106)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Tale of Momentum & Inertia

This is a fun little video from an animation studio called HouseSpecial that I like to show my physics students. Yes, it's about momentum, a physics concept, but it's also a dramatic and humorous story about gratitude, small-mindedness, and revenge. The story (spoiler alert) is that at the top of a mountain lives a giant rock-man who maintains the mountain. One day he makes a mistake, and the mistake threatens a village of humans down on the coast. The rock-man goes to great lengths to save the village, but his final move collapses the village church. The villagers attack mindlessly, annoying the rock-man, who responds by allowing the village to be destroyed. I am still amazed that such a powerful story can be told in so short a time (1:10 min).


The computer-graphics animation has the look and feel of a video game. Video games have to employ the laws of physics to render physical interactions and motion believable. Yet video games find sly ways to break the laws of physics if needed for the sake of drama, or for the sake of the story. In addition, human perception does not always "see" in accordance with the laws of physics. For instance, how big is the full moon? If you hold your thumb up at arm's length to compare, you'll see that the moon is no larger than half your thumbnail. But in a video, if you render the full moon that actual size, it looks ridiculously small to your eye. Videos and photos using the image of the full moon end up making the moon quite large so it will be believable.

I will show the video three or four times to my students. The first time is just to "see" it. The second time is to point out the obvious displays of momentum and inertia, and the use of physics in the animation. The third time is to review the story. Finally, I like to have them spot places where the laws of physics have been violated.

I referred to Lankshear & Knobel's appendix to Chapter 4 in New Literacies about remix practices to examine this story.

Though not a remix in the classic sense, this video animation uses the grammar of both movie and video game storytelling, so it is a remix in the expanded sense advocated by Lessig (2008). The animation studio is clearly using this video to promote their work, so it could be thought of as a projective configuration by an affinity of animators/programmers/storytellers, ultimately for proprietary gain. The quality is quite professional, and the humor is a little dark (no happy ending). The intention is probably to create a video that could "go viral," or at least gather a fan base that could go on to further remixing. In this way the studio could expand its reputation among fans as well as potential customers.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Tiny Electric Motor

Well maybe I got too carried away, but this is a response to @giuliaforsythe's design assignment Learning by Design at ds106. This is both an explanation of how an electric motor works and instructions on how to make a tiny one. I have my students do this in my physics classes every year, and it's a favorite hands-on project.


If I had been at school, I would have done it all on the Smart Board, which is easier to draw on and manipulate. Instead I drew on several pieces of paper with a black marker. Then I photographed the pages, and used Photoshop to extract various images from the photos. I carefully built the image up, layer by layer, copying and manipulating many of the layers, and adding color. I designed the page to make the concept and instructions clear with minimal text. It's a pure conceit that it looks like I drew it as a single page. I couldn't resist creating a half-dozen frames for an animation of the little motor at the end, copying and manipulation just one single layer in each frame.

Remix Blues

A Response to Lankshear & Knobel, New Literacies, Chapter 4


Last week I reacted positively to Lessig's (2008) idea of digital remix as a new kind of "writing" (Lankshear & Knobel p.67). So I was happy to find that Chapter 4 was a thorough dive into just what Lessig was referring to. Lessig's idea, striking at first, is that culture develops and is enriched through a process of remixing, that remixing is a necessary condition for culture (p.67). As a creative person who has been involved in several different "remixing" affinities (a few digital, others analogue), I was very comfortable with Lessig's idea. I'd like to respond by describing one such community.

I had some training early in life with musical instruments, particularly the piano. Though I was regarded as talented (meaning skillful), I knew I was not a real musician. What did I think "musician" meant? I wasn't sure, but I knew it meant more than being able to read written music. As a young adult I discovered the blues and realized that this was what I really wanted to play. The problem? Blues are not written. That is not how one learns the blues. I began to teach myself how to play by ear, and began, tentatively, to experiment. A musician friend of mine was keen to help. We would sit at a pair of pianos and he would show me and have me mimic certain blues moves and lines. Eventually he told me about blues jams, and how learning the blues (and learning how to perform) happens in that environment. My wife and I (she plays bari sax) started attending various jams, at one point going to as many as three per week. It was the most terrifying yet exhilarating experience to learn this way. We made a lot of friends, got invited to gigs, joined bands, and eventually started playing professionally. We were in our mid-forties.

The blues are a perfect remixing medium. In some simple ways, all blues are based on a handful of basic patterns. Improvisation is highly encouraged and regarded, and one is meant to develop one's own approach and voice. This is done bit-by-bit as one's skill develops. A blues jam is a perfect remix community. Everyone gets a chance to play, supported by experienced musicians who are very helpful. The audience at jams is quite special. They come specifically to watch newcomers grow and improve. I remember my wife's first solo. In the terror of the moment, she could only play one note over and over. She did it with style and rhythm, though, and the audience, who knew her by now, erupted in cheers. This is what it meant to become a "real musician."

We could have, of course, taken lessons and classes and had a teacher guide us through the path of becoming performers. This may have been a more efficient learning experience, assuming we had found the right person. Instead we went to blues "grad school," for the nightly price of a beer. And even if we had taken a more formal route, we would still be remixing the blues.

I wanted to emphasize one aspect of the creative act, be it performance or anything else, and it is this: the audience is a crucial part of the experience. As one musician explained to me, it is the presentation of one's art to an audience that completes the creative act. In other words, the presentation of one's remix, one's practice, to other members of a Discourse or larger affinity group completes the "conversation," the ethos of making culture. This is regardless of the contribution or the response.

Note to self: check out the serviceware mashup sites that Lankshear and Knobel identify. I have some programming expertise, so I want to see what is currently happening in this space, even if just for my own purposes (a projective rather than participatory configuration, but who knows?)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

First Design

Something about this Daily Create with the instruction to "tell us about your first time making art" caught me. I've always drawn and doodled, as far back as I can remember. But there must have been something that was the first really deliberate, consciously-aware making of art. And then a memory came back all the way from high school, so I made it into a little story.


(The Daily Create for June 29 2015 at ds106)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Video Chops

A Reflection on Week 3 of INTE 5340


This was the last week of school, and it kept me busy. It also provided material for some of the assignments, which, now that I think about it, has happened each week so far. I like the way that grad school work contributes to my high-school work, and vice versa.

Thinking more about next year, I am beginning to understand that teaching my students to use story to understand physics is going to be a multiple-literacies experience. When I imagine what I would like them to do, I see primarily the technical practices: using equations, graphs, diagrams, and charts as parts of a certain way of explaining; using online sites for finding and accessing texts, images, audio and video files, simulations, and models; and using other digital tools for creating presentation material, software like Photoshop and hardware like Smart Boards. In other words, I imagine what it is that I already do, the ways in which I am literate, and how I can model these technical practices for my students.

I posted the following:
  • My first and second TDC assignments
  • My Video AB assignment
  • My Response to L&K Chapter 3
  • My first and second Critiques
  • My four Peer Comments (1 2[post][comment] 3 4)
  • and this Reflection
  • I also worked some more on my Video AB assignment. When I record video indoors with the Surface tablet, funny things happen to the color in the low light. I didn't really know how to tweak the color in the video clips, though I did experiment, but I was not happy with the final posted video. It satisfied the assignment, but I really wanted to get the color right, just for my own enlightenment. I did it finally, and the result is here.

I would give myself a 10/10 for the week. I was very pleased with my work, and I really sank into my reading response. I am getting better at video production - I feel like I'm really developing my video "chops." I continue to enjoy reading Lankshear & Knobel. I'm beginning to see everything around me as a potential literacy issue!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Recycling Softballs


Here's a photo of me recycling softballs. These balls are frequently abandoned in a baseball field near where I live. My wife and I pick them up for our dog Lily to play with (recycle #1). I also clean up the best ones and use them at school for physics demonstrations (recycle #2) (see here). What I'm doing in the photo is skinning a softball. What's inside? A lovely plastic sphere which is light yet durable, and also useful in my physics class. I'm convinced that they would make a great Newton's cradle, so I'm "harvesting" some to try it out this summer (recycle #3).

(The Daily Create for June 28 2015 at ds106)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lily-Dog Nightmare Take Two

I was so happy with my recent audio assignment that I couldn't resist trying Kathy Onarheim's video assignment for ds106. I used the audio file below as the audio track for a video that would tell the story visually.




I wanted to preserve the pacing and spookiness and disorientation of the audio file, so I approached the video as I had done with the audio, repeating a number of small clips. I recorded a collection of short videos of Lily on my Surface tablet. Then I used VirtualDub to edit the clips. I extracted the parts I wanted, stripped out the audio, and made other adjustments. I assembled the clips into Windows Movie Maker, resized them, moved them around a lot, and added fade effects everywhere. I uploaded the final video to YouTube.

I Critique Me!

Now that I've had a chance to critique a number of videos from the point of view of story, I decided to revisit a video I had created last semester. I wanted to take a look at it again in light of what I am studying this semester. This video was created to provide an introduction to my UC Denver portfolio, and in it I tell a story of what I hope to accomplish as an ILT professional and a teacher of physics.


Though I am writing as if I were a neutral observer, I am, of course, well aware of the effort I made and struggles I experienced producing the video. What I want to see is if the video holds up under scrutiny several months after the fact.

I referred to Jason Ohler's list of possible digital story evaluation traits to examine this story. I used three traits: flow (& organization and pacing), media grammar, and writing.

Flow: The video was well-organized, and flowed evenly and briskly with excellent pacing.

Media grammar: Media grammar refers to the conventions and rules of use in a given medium. In this video, the media grammar was handled reasonably well except for the section starting at 0:22. In this section there were obvious bumps and inconsistencies as the producer tried to achieve certain effects. In the section starting at 0:12, the coordination between what was described verbally and what was presented visually was incorrect. The images needed to correspond to what was being said. Finally, a higher-grade video recorder would also have improved the image quality in the first and last sections where the speaker was visible.

Writing: I can definitely say that there was a script and a storyboard. The writing was competent and concise, the overall plan of the video was sound.

A final comment: I was particularly happy with the audio portion. The quality of recording was good, and my voice was expressive and appropriate for the task. I also composed and played the two pieces of music. The change in music signaled the main transitions, and the music effectively set the mood for the video.