Category Archives: education

From Oldivai to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Posting from the Mount Greylock DML Lab:

Instead of downloading and printing another Tardis from Thingiverse, we’re shaking it up a bit and exploring some of the affordances unique to the 3D printer. While making our own creations is a top priority for the DML Lab, we’ve also discovered some amazingly cool items that have been captured/rendered for educational use.

On the left is a skull of Homo habilis, discovered by Kamoya Kimeu (1973), and excavated by Richard and Meave Leakey. Estimated age: 1.9 million years.

We also printed some tools (1:1) made by homo erectus from the Lake Turkana region in East Africa. Thanks to for offering all this valuable data and 3D files to us.

Also pictured on the far right is the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on which the European Space Agency landed a probe several months ago. Rosetta spacecraft launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014.

These items are fascinating. In less than two hours, we printed a tool that was had been discovered and unearthed from the historic grounds of Olduvai. And thanks to the European Spaces Agency (ESA), we discovered the data for and printed a representation of the comet scientists set out to explore over ten years ago, and some 6.4 billion kilometers travel distance from earth.  Now, in our humble DML Lab, we sit, holding a hand ax, musing and asking questions. Why is this a tool and not just a chipped piece of rock? Who was this being who made this ax? What did they do with it? And How did the ESA compute the spacecraft’s  trajectory to land a probe on a moving comet?

We’ve teleported objects from history and from outer space. What next?

This work was helped by funding through the National Writing Project / MacArthur’s Educator Innovator initiative.

DML Lab Updates 2014

We’ve been doing some totally fun work recently at the school DML Lab.

Digital Media and Learning Lab
Digital Media and Learning Lab

One of the senior bio classes beta tested the Gates funded STEM game Radix, MIT’s new immersive environment for genetics and biology. (Students land on an island and encounter a group called the “Curiosi, who ask them to help find solutions to some of the island’s worst problems, both environmental and societal.”)

Our machines were perhaps too slow to run the game efficiently, and it took a while to learn the game mechanics/terms before delving into the genetics content, but the overall response from the students was quite positive. They were inspired to continue the quest and learn more about the Radix world/ecosystem, plants, animals. MIT Education Arcade formal beta starts in Feb., I believe.

NWP Educator Innovator

The DML Lab received some funding from the National Writing Project for an Educator Innovator Grant. Earlier in the year, I used some of those funds to offer faculty PD sessions in Mozilla’s PopcornMaker with roughly 15+ faculty from the local high school and two elementary schools. The idea here was to use Popcorn to loosen up, relax, and play with digital media in fun ways by making presentations that draw content from the live web. This resource is ideal in that it encourages a high level of participatory engagement with the web as teachers create perpetually morphing experiences with video, location, Wikipedia, Soundcloud, Flickr, etc.

And, inspired by a student I work with, I used some of the Educator Innovator funds to purchase a PrintrBot Simple for roughly $300. The printer arrived—-unassembled—-and soon there was a bunch of students hanging out during Directed Study, building the printer and hacking various other projects. Very exciting. AutoDesk123D Catch, for example, offers a cell phone capture app we’re looking forward to using.

Hopefully we’ll soon print our first test cube. We’ve run into problems though because the PrintrBot shipped with no firmware on the card.

We’re also headed to Williams College to see the 3D printer they constructed this winter term.

Addendum: we checked out artist Lorna Barnshaw‘s work. She attempted to 3D print herself.  Seeing her work got us thinking about some of the possibilities beyond merely printing representations of geometric shapes or human forms. What, for instance, would it look like to print a spoken word?

An unusual opportunity: Implement Connected Learning

Connected Learning at Mount Greylock High School

Mount Greylock Tech Ex - Connected Learning

For the past eight months we’ve been implementing a Digital Media and Learning program at Mount Greylock High School. This new role is ideal in that it allows me to listen to teachers and students, then build ways for Connected Learning to amplify and augment their work. The nascent DML Lab has been implementing ideas both through a Tech Exploratory and with individual teachers, starting the organic needs that arise from the classes. The DML Lab is great in that it combines Jim Gee and Michael Levine’s Digital Teacher Corps with MacArthur/UC Irvine-backed Connected Learning. Best of all, it starts with questions and inquiry.

Thus far, we’ve completed projects in Physics, Science 8, English, Digital Citizenship, and other fields. We’ve also played with varying and various degrees of technology: MaKey MaKey, Fold.It, Scratch,,, and Mozilla projects such as Popcorn, Thimble, and Hackasraus.

OpenPathDemo_MountGreylockTEchExAnd, we’ve done some great live demos. Our OpenPath team (Jared Lamenzo, Ilona Parkansky, Shawn Van Every, and I) recently won our second round of funding from the Mozilla Foundation  and NSF to write some code. The first iteration of OpenPath uses WebRTC for real-time communication and co-learning around location. We demoed the first product with Pat Blackman’s and my Tech Exploratory, and shared insights and vision on how location-based learning, curation, and co-creation can take place in non-institutional settings, out in the world, where questions arise naturally, fluidly, spontaneously.

We also had the good fortune to demo the metaLAB at Harvard’s Zeega, which uses HTML5 as a  web publishing and interactive storytelling tool, using social media and real-time platforms. Ahmed did a great demo for us, and driven by the student interest, we created a mash-up: Gangnam Nayan Cat.

Digital Citizens. Digital Footprints.

I am two months into my work with Mount Greylock Regional High School, where I am responsible for a nascent program in Digital Media and Learning. While the role is relatively uncharted at the school, I knew that I wanted to establish common ground regarding how we understood digital media and learning, and in specific, digital citizenship.

Liza Barrett teaches English at Mount Greylock and was cautiously eager to integrate technology with curriculum. Her 7th-grade classes typically do a multi-week exploration of autobiography in the fall, and we decided to fold digital citizenship into their work. Here is a sketch of our goals, process, and outcomes.

“Real” selves
Rather than simply tell students what to think, we asked them to generate ideas about themselves in a variety of contexts. First, we asked them to do a series of exercises, writings, and discussions concerning the different literal/physical/”real” contexts where they might find themselves—the classroom, the home, the playing field, hanging out with friends. The work was designed to raise their awareness of different contexts, their “self,” and how they act in those contexts. Of nearly 100 students, almost no one listed a digital context for themselves. Our work, however, suggests that they spend on average 20-25% of their waking time in some sort of digital context. (For recent data on teens and digital media, see Kristen Purcell’s presentation for Pew Research. Of note, “Some 76% of ALL teens are “social media users.“)

Digital Selves
Our next step was to investigate the digital contexts where students spend time. Across the board, these discussions were especially robust. Students shared places where they hang out with friends, where they spend time and money, and where they leave a digital footprint. Their comments were varied, from sharing ideas about applications and sites to expressing concerns about privacy, misrepresentation, and needing to unplug. We also defined citizenship and asked them to make linkages to the key concepts inherent in the definition—citizens belong to communities and groups, and they have rights and responsibilities. What then are your rights and responsibilities in a digitally connected world?

The culmination of the project presented students with a choice between two autobiographical essay assignments, both offering opportunities to include their digital “self” as a topic.  We also devised a project for collaborative group work where the kids synthesized their findings and opinions on digital citizenship to make a tri-fold mock-up/prototype pamphlet for elementary school students, presenting their Top Five Tips for being a good Digital Citizen. This project allowed students to distill their ideas, and to become teachers that share what they believe and know in an intelligent fashion.

Of note, our in-class work asked students to map out the hours of the day—asleep, awake—and then come up with an estimate of hours spent on some form of digital media (usually connected digital media: websites, games, mobiles, apps, etc.). The averages across classes suggest that 20-25% of their waking time spent with/in the digital. This specific exercise was especially powerful in that it implicitly underscored why we should investigate selfhood in a digitally connected world. It also highlighted our broader need to think about how kids are learning in these spheres and what Mount Greylock is doing to lead that process. Creating a Digital Citizenship unit that asks the entire incoming 7th grade to rigorously investigate their roles in these contexts is an amazing step toward this goal.

Mobiles 4 Learning 2012 (M4L2012)

I’ve been playing soccer with Joe Cleary for years. He teaches mathematics at The Loomis Chaffee School (CT) and was always curious about, so I’d keep him up to speed. One thing led to another, and now Joe (@jhcleary), Scott MacClintic (@Smacclintic), and I are hosting a mobile learning conference on April 23, 2012 at Loomis. On board to present are Professor Eric Klopfer, MIT Associate Professor and Director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program; Jared lamenzo,; Ralph Morelli, Trinity College, Department of Computer Science (on App Inventor); Jon Moser, finalsite; and Crystal Fantry, Wolfram Alpha Research (using mobiles).

If you’re interested, please sign up. It’s a mere $25.

Further info.: Mobiles4Learning 2012 explores current practices and future uses of mobile technologies by/for secondary school educators and students. Hosted by The Loomis Chaffee School, this one-day gathering will bring together innovators who are leveraging cell phones and other mobile devices for educational purposes. In addition to teacher-led hands-on presentations and an Ignite Mobile Session, there will be a keynote address by Professor Eric Klopfer, MIT Associate Professor and Director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program. Klopfer is also co-director of the recently created MIT Center for Mobile Learning.

corrupting “games”

“If you fall into the trap of using games just as any other medium and you aren’t understanding the broader social changes and values that the technology is promoting, then you are going to be using new tools to reach old ends.” —Kurt Squire.

This fall has been researching mobile use at the K-12 level, trying to understand if students and teachers are actually using mobile phones for learning. We have been interviewing superintendents, principals, IT Directors, teachers, and students, representing over 15 schools (and nearly 10k students) in Western Mass.—charter / public, elementary and high schools. Though this work is still in progress, we presented some preliminary findings at Mozilla/HASTAC/MacArthur’s several weeks ago at Parsons The New School.

Among other things, we have found that while many administrators, teachers, and students had some sort of mobile device, phones were not really being used for learning—either formally in class work or informally outside of class. At, we presented some of the reasons why mobile phones were not being leveraged, then made recommendations for how we might address the situation. We argued for creation of Open Mobile Learning, an open web-based resource for mobile learning lessons. And building on James Gee and Michael Levine’s idea for a Digital Teacher Corps, we recommended creation of a Mobile (Digital) Teacher Corps.

Why the quote from Kurt Squire, then? Squire’s caution about “using new tools to reach old ends” resonates with a sub-theme emerging from the research. When asked about games, some students remarked that there are two types of games: ones designed by Educators and ones designed by gamers (people who love and actually play games).  “The ones designed by educators suck,” said one student candidly. Of course, the binary is not absolute—there are educators who design good games, etc.—but the point is a well taken, and that’s what Squire begins to address in his DMLcentral interview when he discusses how we can design good, comprehensive games for education. What I am also hearing in conversation with students is that the meaning of “game” has already shifted. Kids are suspicious of  computer “games” when they’re rolled out in school settings. And when I watch third graders perform rote memory exercises in the guise of a game, I fear that we’ve corrupted the “game,” moving it away from what Jane McGonigal describes as  “gamefulness.” Clearly, a game does not necessarily ensure meaningful learning, but a proliferation of bad games might just ruin the very passion-led learning opportunities that games make possible.

Streaming Video from/to Your Phone

Metropol938 Bambuser

Thanks to Katrin /, who introduced me to Bambuser allows you to stream video from your phone or laptop to another phone or website. Totally fascinating. As I write, I am watching/listening to a mobile feed from acampadaparis_int France, a gathering of students and stakeholders describing their experiences with Occupy Paris (Streaming vidéo officiel de Démocratie Réelle Paris – Réseau International)) essentially real-time. What is striking, beyond the often refreshing lo-fi spontaneity of some of the streams, is that many of the videos are coming from mobile phones. With Bambuser, the mobile is broadcast tool; the mobile is the portable camera, studio, and news channel. A quick glance reveals mobile video feeds from Syria, Brazil, China, Spain, Sweden, Russia, and many others. And they’re streaming any number of events and happenings—business conferences, sports matches, political gatherings, performance art, pets, documentation of the quotidian.

As you’d expect, video content and production quality are varied, and the streams are evanescent—popping up briefly, streaming, then disappearing, though there is an archive available on the Bambuser site.

I am not sure who is monitoring these streams or even if there are rules to enforce. (Users can flag streams  as inappropriate, though.)

I also wonder how Bambuser will bring better quality to the content experience so that instead of sifting through thousands of videos, there is a viable way to parse and view the content efficiently. Search is helpful, and the channel subscription model is a start, but right now, it seems fairly random. And maybe therein lies the beauty.

No doubt, ads are imminent.

I see a lot of potential for Bambuser, especially for mobile learning. Watching Sweden’s Metropol live i Skärholmen!, I see news organizations utilizing the tool for real-time, on-the-street reporting, polls, and census taking. There are potential privacy issues, but beyond using Bambuser merely as a video documentation tool, students could leverage mobiles for real-time reporting on events, scientific data collection in the field, or instructional lessons from remote locations anywhere in the world. Another tool in the citizen journalist/scientist/activist kit.


By smalandskavlen from Sweden: Smålandskavlen 2011 Mariannelund – Dagsträckor

Delivering, Accessing; Creating, Designing

Last Thursday, The New York Times hosted SchoolsForTomorrow, an all-day event featuring a variety of speakers sharing their vision for “bringing technology into the classroom.” The conference leaned toward corporate (Skype, Pearson, Scholastic, Intel, Cisco, etc.), or at least it felt that way. Conference symbiosis is always a delicate balance, though. And Yes, some teachers and administrators were there, but a student panel or two would have offered a useful contrast with the corporate discourse. Youth sometimes provides a healthy reality check (crucible?) for the ideas adults espouse.

The panels were too crowded—eight people (plus moderator)—but they generally uncovered some worthwhile ideas on the current state of affairs in education and technology. Keynote (Harvard University president emeritus) Larry Summers stated emphatically (paraphrased): 1. technology is dramatically transforming education, and 2. the mobile phone is central to that transformation.  And on a broader level, one of the more important ideas of the day was that the event happened, that The New York Times gathered these groups to share ideas with a broader audience. A good sign, I hope.

Mitch Resnick (Scratch), in the K-12 panel covering The Student, noted something revealing. Most of today’s discussions, he remarked, were about delivering and consuming, not making and creating. While delivering/accessing information is important, new technology can also broaden they way we create and design things…to be full citizens in society, said Resnick. Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab states:  “We develop new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and fingerpaint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people can design, create, and learn.” I could see Nichole Pinkard (Digital Youth Network, Remix World) and Esther Wojcicki (Palo Alto High School, Creative Commons) nodding in agreement as Resnick spoke. I did, too.

Herein also lies a problem, I fear. Are most of the efforts to transform learning with technology merely duplicating old (ineffectual) models? Delivering and consuming, instead of designing and creating?

At the end of the day, I stopped by one of the new edtech showcases. As I  watched the black box theater and chatted with the rep, a hologram of Nicholas Negroponte (OLPC) emerged from the darkness to present a lecture.

Badges liberate mobile learning?

I just listened to the HASTAC / MacArthur/ Mozilla Foundation announcement on the DML Competition and badges.

Digital Media & Learning CompetitionI wrote to a colleague but decided to include some of the thoughts here, as well:

Badges as assessment/proof-of-accomplishment tools are especially intriguing in that they could liberate the inquiry-based mobile learner to pursue his/her questions more freely, flexibly. Mobiles, I believe, open up new learning possibilities in that they offer the power of the Internet in the student pocket (“anytime, anywhere” or “anyhow, anyway”) while untethering the learner from the traditional institutional strictures (class periods, school buildings, etc.). This move into new learning environments is often unmappable to state/federal standards. Badges, then, hopefully, might address new assessment needs that arise from mobile learning.

This of course is just the start of a long conversation regarding mobile learning and assessment.

Open Mobile Learning: MobileEd’s 3-minute proposal

As finalist for the MacArthur / HASTAC Digital Media and Learning Competition, we were asked to submit a 3-minute video describing our plans and partners for Open Mobile Learning, an initiative to help teachers leverage and integrate mobiles for learning. This was shot mostly on mobile phones. Thanks to all the people who helped out, especially Merli V. Guerra.

Check out also MacArthur’s Spotlight, a blog covering digital media and learning, and DML Central, for theory and praxis writings in this space.