Category Archives: Education

In defense of analog.

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That’s right, analog. Just because you can go digital doesn’t mean you should go digital with everything.

No, I’m not one of those people who still only listens to records because I think they sound nicer, but analog does have it’s benefits.

I decided to write about this after reading about a study where technology was found to have no positive impact on student performance. In fact, the study said they did better if they didn’t have computers. Shocking, I know. As a culture, educators often do tend to think (even if only subconsciously) that a computer is a magical device that will alter our students’ DNA to make their brainpower increase tenfold. (Edit: Although technology can and does help raise test scores in some instances.)

You see it’s not whether or not you’re using technology, it’s whether or not you’re a good teacher. A shiny new Macintosh will not magically make your student ace his or her SAT because it’s not a magic pill. However if you already are a good teacher, the increased use of technology can be a boon to the classroom as you now are better able to address the multiple intelligences found among your students – provided you do not then decide to get lazy and let the educational software do all the work for you. (I’ve seen that happen too, fortunately not at my current place of employment.)

This is even more obvious in an Art classroom. I love technology – I routinely play around with computers, digital cameras, digital video, web pages, RSS feeds, podcasts, the list goes on. I’m planning on having my 6th graders make a video for the upcoming multicultural dinner, and I’m really excited about it too.

However, I don’t do these things in every class. There’s still something to be said for the act of putting a pencil onto paper, for painting over crayons with watercolors and watching the crayon show through, and for following a series of folds to make an origami frog that can jump across your table. Sure, I could do some of this on a computer, but I could not do it as well.

A computer, like any other educational resource, is a tool – and tools are only useful if they’re used for the jobs for which they are best suited. Perhaps that aforementioned study found such low progress because too many people thought you could hammer a nail with a screwdriver. You can get it to work, but it’s a lot more effort than using the right tool for the right job.

So I’m all for computers and digital arts. Bring on the 1 to 1 computer/student ratio, I’m all for it!

… but when I show up to teach your class you shouldn’t be surprised to see my cart’s still full of markers, crayons and paint. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an art supply budget to complete.

Copyright Warnings

brushesCopyright infringement is a big deal. I mean, a really REALLY big deal. A “cease and desist or our army of lawyers will sue you and everyone associated with you for your entire life savings” big deal. And for the longest time, many people have felt that they were (or should be) exempt from copyright restrictions. Unfortunately, they weren’t and/or aren’t. The following stuff is cautionary in nature based on facts. If you want to see my personal opinion on this I’ll mention that at the bottom of this posting.For many of you that stay up to date with tech news the first thing you thought of when reading the above paragraph was “stealing MP3s.” Yeah, people distributing copies of music without permission is a big chunk of the pie, but there’s more to it than just that.

Infringement in the arts…

Look at Andy Warhol if you don’t believe me – his most famous works were all appropriated pop culture references, and most (if not all) of them were copyrighted by others. If he tried to do today what he did then (assuming he was still alive), he might need to put all his profits into legal expenses.

Infringement in Education…

But wait, there’s more! Did you know that a lot of copyright infringement happens in school? Unfortunately, it does. There is a “fair use clause” that allows educators to do a little more, but the shield of fair use isn’t as big as some teachers think it is.

Want to show a movie in class? Well you can probably get away with short clips preceded and followed with class discussion, but if you would rather just turn off the lights and hit play you’re providing a public viewing. You know that little FBI warning you fast-forwarded through? Yeah, you just broke federal law and made you and your school liable. There are some tapes that when purchased include permission for viewing in their entirety in an educational setting, but I doubt Disney’s “The Lion King” is one of them.

Want to photocopy a book for your students? Last I heard you’ve got two choices: Copy no more than a chapter at a time and disposing of (NOT reusing) the copies when you’re done, or making sure you have an actual book for EVERY set of copies you make. Making 25-30 copies of a book you borrowed from the library can get your principal very angry at you if you get caught, and believe me people have been caught. (Some substitutes turn teachers/schools in for a small finder’s fee.) When in doubt ask your Media Specialist (or Librarian for you old-schoolers) or Technology Coordinator. They may deal with copyright law on a more frequent basis than you do.

So what’s my opinion on copyrights / file sharing / etc.?

I think some people are a little too zealous with their opinions. On one hand, the copyright holders sometimes go out of their way to enforce their intellectual property rights. Disney has served papers on teachers who put Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” on “Welcome Back” signs in September. Some CDs are modified so they won’t play in computers. I don’t think these steps are necessary (and in some cases they can be bad PR), but those companies have the right to do things like that – it’s their products, after all.

On the other hand, those that promote the breaking of copyright laws seem to say “Let us do what we want or we’ll do whatever we want anyway!” Seriously, I’ve heard people interviewed who said they didn’t agree with the price of something so that’s why they downloaded it illegally. If you try that at Walmart they’ll haul you away in cuffs, and rightly so. A thief is a thief, whether it’s a 25 cent pack of gum, 99 cent song, or a $1,000 stereo system. Oh, and saying it should be ok because the person you robbed is rich will at best make the judge laugh at you for acting like you have a below average intelligence. “…and justice for all” includes the rich too, you know.)

As for me…

I am an artist. As an artist, I would feel greatly offended if someone else made a profit off of my creations without giving me a cut. I would also feel cheated if something I based my livelihood on was being distributed for free whether I wanted it to be or not. I mean, why buy something if you have something else of equal quality for free, right?

Now as an artist, I also see reasons to have my work shared with others. It can get my name out and increase my popularity, for starters. I’m not concerned about financial gain (although my student loans aren’t due yet…), so I’m just happy for the ego boost I get from people telling me they think my stuff’s cool. That right there is payment enough for me. But the free distribution of my art is and should always be my choice. That right there is in my opinion the bottom line. Promoters of file sharing have given good reasons for what they do, but not a single one of them can or should trump the copyright holder’s wishes.

Bridging the Digital Divide

circuit board… and doing it $100 at a time, if those wacky geniuses at MIT and AMD have anything to say about it.The more I read of this article, the more happy I became about it. To make a long story short (Trust me, my story’s shorter. Their story’s 3 pages), A bunch of MIT researchers have decided that it’s possible to design a wireless laptop for $90-$100, provided they get a screen that’s cheap enough. AMD (one of the leading processor manufacturers and Intel’s main competitor) and Google have promised to help out as well.

Naturally they’ll be using open source stuff like Linux (I’m sure they’ll pick one of the free versions over Red Hat or Linspire) and OpenOffice to make sure only the hardware needs to be purchased. Does this mean that people will miss out? Well, sure, if you mean spyware and viruses.

All is not perfect in this wonderful dream. Apparently one of the ways to cut costs is to only manufacture orders of one million or more, so unless a school district has $100 million spare cash in it’s budget it might be a little difficult to see computers like these showing up in schools. I suppose school districts could always team up to pull their resources though. I can even see them instituting some type of clever reselling system to earn their money back. I know I would totally buy one of these if it went on sale.

And the bottom line would be: everybody wins.

On Demand Education

circuit boardMany of us are old enough to remember when VCRs first became popular. Before then if you wanted to watch a movie you had to go to the theater or wait for it to show up on TV. Once VCRs got past the legal problems (The movie industry thought it would COST them money .. HA!) you could see a movie any time you wanted to. If there was a cool show on TV but you still wanted to go out someplace with your friends, all you had to do was program your VCR and walk away.(Yes, I’m looking at history through rose colored glasses. Our display was always flashing 12:00, I admit it.)

Nowadays we have Tivo and other digital recorders to do the same thing for us, only better. On top of that we have podcasts, RSS feeds, voice mail, and all other kinds of cool things that let us get our information when we want it, not just when it’s convenient for others.

That right there is the heart of this little spiel of mine.

You see, we can use this to our advantage in education. Imagine a school where every student is required to have an MP3 player. The teacher could record the lecture and / or supplemental information and distribute it to the students. They could listen to it while on the bus, doing chores, or even when playing their favorite video game. Students could make the time for education while doing other things as well, thus taking a load off of their shoulders.

Now I don’t think that audio should replace text entirely. Not all students perform well by being lectured to, just like not all students perform well by being given worksheets. Rather, I think it would be ideal to have the two elements combined, with one reinforcing the other.

Sound like more trouble than it’s worth? Not really. Most podcasts out there right now have corresponding “show notes” for each episode, including links, downloads, and more. If people can do this for a hobby, why not do this for a class? If each teacher had an RSS enabled blog, the homework, notes, audio recordings, handouts, JPG files of sample artworks, and anything else that needed to be distributed could be sent directly to the students. The students could even have their own blogs with which they could submit their assignments. Imagine: students could no longer use the “You never gave me that,” or “I know I handed it in, you just lost it,” excuses. One quick trip to the news aggregator would prove them wrong or right instantly. (Those excuses would have to be replaced with “I have a virus,” but that’s your own fault if you’re still using Explorer.)

Naturally this could invigorate distance learning programs, (I’m in one now as I’m enrolled in University of Phoenix’s online Master’s Degree program, but I think they could make a good program into a great program if they started using RSS and podcasts in addition to the newsgroups and email they already use.) but I can see this being used in the regular classroom as well. The only things holding us back are the lack of a 1:1 student/computer ratio (not including an MP3 player) and the inertia that keeps teachers from trying new things.

I know I’m not the only person who’s thinking along these lines. David Warlick, Steve Dembo, & Steve Sloan have voiced similar opinions. I’m just agreeing with them here.

Rainbow Warriors

Browser Window pixTo those of you who think that newspapers only report bad news, I say “HA!” and “HA AGAIN!James McHenry Elementary School really has a good thing going for it with Mr. King and his Rainbow Warriors program, which is one of the many reasons why I’m glad it’s one of my schools.

I won’t read you those two articles word for word, but this is one of those programs that just gives everyone involved a positive mental attitude. Kids, parents, teachers, everyone’s glad it’s there. I also like the goals that Mr. King has in mind for the future, although I may have to talk with him about building a web site. A paid site is nice, but there are plenty of hosts out there (Geocities for example…) that can give you space for free.

So, who else has some outstanding news about their school?

Book Review – Photography: A Crash Course

Brushes IconIt should go without saying that a good teacher should know his or her subject area well enough to teach it without a book. Being able to and having to are much different things, however, and I for one am grateful for that. Texts are wonderful resources that can foster discussion, provide background information, and give step-by-step instructions on how to complete tasks. One book that is a good example of some of these things is Photography: A Crash Course by Dave Yorath. (Sure, I could find a lot of this stuff online, but I like the tactile nature of books as much as I like the interactivity of the internet.)

The very name implies that this book is meant to be a textbook of some kind, although it’s my opinion that it would best serve as a supplementary text rather than the main book for any particular course. As rich with information as it is, the book is only 144 pages long, including the index, and a majority of that space is filled with the book’s 400 assorted illustrations.

I must admit that the price was right. The book’s list price was $14.95, but it was in the bargain books section of Barnes & Noble for $4.99, roughly a third of the list price.
As a mostly self-taught digital photographer I found this book to be quite intriguing. True, it said little on how to do this technique or develop that kind of film, but where it lacked in instruction it made up for it in historical information. At the top of each page was also a timeline explaining what else was going on at the time that that page’s content took place – a wonderful way to help readers keep everything in context.

As much as I liked the book, I think it would actually be a bit too difficult for most of my current students (since I’m teaching elementary at the moment). My best use for the book would most likely be to digest it’s information and provide regurgitated chunks to my class as they pertain to any particular lesson. Were I still teaching high school, I think I would seriously recommend the purchase of 30 or so copies for use in the classroom. High school students would be more likely to create involved photography projects anyway.

A day in the life of a tech addict Art teacher

circuit boardAs a teacher, I pride myself in using technology intelligently every day to help with my lessons. I include the word “intelligently” because as cool as computers are, they aren’t always the best solution for every problem encountered.

For example, let’s take a look at my typical day. I start off checking my e-mail and my schedule for the day. As I can only teach each class once before I move on to my next building, every day’s schedule has different classes at different times. My brain would deflate if I tried to remember everything, so I write my schedule out in iCal (a calendar program for the Macintosh) and sync it with my Palm Pilot. I have it set so an alarm goes off five minutes before class starts as well as five and ten minutes before the class ends. That way, I can’t loose track of time.

In the classroom my main use for technology has normally been for presentation purposes, but it’s difficult for me to use it on a frequent basis. As I have no room of my own and teach in four different buildings, I have a wide variety of classroom settings – some rooms have computers hooked up to TVs, some have opaque projectors, and other rooms have only the standard overhead projectors and blackboards. This limits my technology usage, as it’s often not worth it to create a PowerPoint presentation for a single class when you have twenty classes or more for which you have to prepare.

Lucky for me, this does not mean I must forgo technology entirely. Whenever I want to include a photo of a famous artwork or some other reference material for the students, it’s a simple thing to print it out on the school’s color laser printer. Websites like Artchive.com are full of images that are perfect for my lessons, although sometimes I have to pick them carefully.

During the lesson I’ll often walk around the room with my digital camera and take pictures of students with their art projects. The kids really like this and are often more than happy to work harder so they can show off for the camera, but my main objective is to archive the activity for later display. Parents and kids love to see visual references to projects they’ve done, and the display helps to reinforce the lesson later on.

After each class is over it’s my job to show off, or as my job description puts it, set up a display of student work. If the project is flat I can do this by hanging them on the wall and printing out a paper with the project title, objective, grade, and teacher’s name.

I’d love to hang three dimensional work from the hallway ceiling, but then any small air current would cause them to move, which would result in the alarm system going off at 3:00 in the morning.

I don’t wish to be chewed out at 3:30 in the morning when the Principal, Building Supervisor, and local police find out it was my display that triggered the alarm, so photographs have to do. Lucky for me I’ve been taking photos of the kids with their projects during the lesson so I can print them out after minor adjustments.

Modifications include some cropping, but mostly eliminating those glowing red demon eyes that some kids seem to get. Using the “red eye reduction” setting on my camera doesn’t work well, since that involves multiple flashes and the younger kids just won’t hold still for all of them. (I end up with a lot of pictures of kids walking away when I try that.)
I teach three classes a day like this, with my so-called free time dedicated to setting up displays and preparing materials for the next day.

At the end of the day I check my email once more, throw a few podcasts on my palm pilot for the ride home, and head out.

When I started working for my Master’s Degree my situation was much different. Instead of four elementary schools I taught at one high school. While I had my own room with a TV I could hook up to my computer or one of the two classroom computers (thus allowing me to incorporate all kinds of technology into the daily lessons) I still maintain that wild horses couldn’t drag me back to the higher grade levels. Maybe I’ll teach college some day, but never high school.

I didn’t just use computers and TVs last year; I also made good use of my digital camera. My Art II students spent the good portion of a marking period drawing out short animations frame by frame, then digitizing them using my camera and a tripod. The final steps were completed when they compiled them in iMovie and added sound effects.

Of course I also did the standard PowerPoint presentations, but when we went into the computer lab I also made sure all their instructions were on my school web site. That way if they missed a day (or if there was a substitute) they were still able to work. (Of course few of them worked away from my presence, but it really mattered for the handful that did.)

Suffice to say, I used technology a lot more in the classroom last year than I do this year. I like to think I still provide a good educational experience, it’s just that it’s more analog than digital now. Last year I could open a web page to show the entire class an artwork, and this year I have to either show them a page in a book or a printout from that website. I still think I use technology well every day, but a lot of my tasks are
more support tasks that the students don’t actually watch me perform.

Since I only see my kids up to four times a year this time around, fancy technology lessons are still in development. (Digitizing animations is almost out of the question entirely, although we do happen to have some digital video cameras I could borrow …. )
My students last year were encouraged to use technology several times each marking period, if not every month. My elementary schools this year are quite different, with one school not able to use the computer lab for anything other than testing for most of the first marking period. When I eventually do a computer lesson, it will most likely be in small groups using my own laptop, since it’s the only computer in all my buildings of which I can be certain of it’s abilities.

Mastering PowerPoint

circuit boardThere are some who would say that PowerPoint® is a teacher’s best friend. After all, here is this simple little (ok, not so little …) program capable of displaying any media you choose, and all you need to do is drag and drop! If you’re giving a linear presentation, and chances are you are, then this is all you need to know.

However, there are other times when a linear presentation just won’t do. Perhaps you need to go to a certain slide during a question and answer session. Better yet, what if you want to create a quiz? What to have some mathematical computations going on in the background to make the whole presentation more interactive? Sure, go ahead!
Oh, wait … they didn’t cover that in the faculty in-service, did they? Oh well, what do you expect from fifteen minutes of instruction and a half hour of “play around with the program” time. Lucky for you, there are enough people out there who have not only figured this stuff out, but are willing to share. Among them are the good people who maintain the Internet For Classrooms website, which happens to have quite a few tutorials on it.
Scrolling down to the “Advanced” section of the tutorial list, the instructions on how to create invisible buttons caught my eye. Wait, invisible? What good is that? Bear with me here, I’ll get to that.

First of all, the tutorial is written totally in html code – although at the end a link is provided to a sample PowerPoint. The text includes many, many pictures that show in detail exactly what needs to be done. These pictures are simply wonderful – in fact I think that I wouldn’t even need to read the tutorial so long as I could look at the pictures. These pictures are obviously screen captures from an older Windows operating system, but I won’t hold that against them. They were just planning to help the largest percentage of PowerPoint® users possible. The Macintosh version is still similar enough to make this tutorial useful to me.

So what could I use this for? Well, it’s rather convenient that you asked. Something I routinely do as an Art teacher is show artwork to my students. Normally this requires that I be there to point and talk. With this setup, however, I could section off different parts of an artwork to be buttons and have each button link to a different slide. When students see a section that interests them, they can click on it to learn more about it. If I’m lazy and don’t want to make multiple slides, I could have the buttons play audio files where I talk about that section of the artwork rather than force them to read.

I could put a bunch of artworks like this together to make whole chapters of informative multimedia books, then go take a break while the students all use my PowerPoint® presentations and become so enthralled that they fail to notice my absence … or rather, maybe I should stay in the room in case anyone has any questions for me. Yeah, that’s what I meant.

Edugadget

Browser Window pixGolly gee whiz, I’ve got more content!

When I created this blog I wanted to use it not only to to provide useful information to others, but to also show the blend between art, tech, and education. (Insert venn diagram … here.) As such, I always get a kick when I see other web sites that blend some or all of these things.

So when teach42‘s Stephen Dembo podcasted about Edugadget, I was quite pleased indeed. Edugadget (not to be confused with Engadget, another nice tech site) has a plethora of posts on software, websites, and ideas on how to use technology to improve the quality of education. If you’re a teacher who’s interested in technology, then you should check this site out – or better yet, subscribe to their RSS feed.

Edit: Just found out I wasn’t linking to teach42 as much as I was linking to Edugadget again. The problem should be fixed now. Thanks to Stephen Dembo for pointing it out. And no, I don’t think you’re egocentric. :)

So you want an art degree …

Education IconWonderful! The more education you get under your belt, the more money you have the potential to make. Now the question is, what college should you pick? Well my alma mater was quite nice, but rural Pennsylvania isn’t for everyone.

The first thing I would do is decide what art career you want once you’ve graduated. It’s quite possible to make a living with an art degree (both my sister and I have been doing it for years), depending on your skills and dedication. Of course, only the most skilled, dedicated, and lucky can make a living off of a degree in painting, ceramics, or another of the fine arts degrees. (It’s not impossible, just more difficult.) There are others, of course – architecture, communications design (advertising), and my personal favorite: Art teacher.

In any case, whatever art career you choose you’ll have to find a good college, and that’s what this update is truly about. I recommend asking your high school Art teacher, artists working in your chosen field, and of course, doing a little research online.

Google is nice, but there are other sites that give more information. If you’re serious about checking out art schools and colleges, then I recommend a site that is, coincidentally, called “Art Schools and Colleges.” More than just a categorized list, this site lists descriptions of each school so you’ll know more about it before you ever go to the college website.