iPods In A Classroom: My Observation

I had an interesting learning experience today while I observed/evaluated one of my preservice students teach a senior level highschool math class. Direct instruction was utilized as students observed the teacher, followed along and wrote down any derived formulas. It was classic chalk-and-talk. And, the students were mostly well-behaved, and although a few chattered among themselves, it appeared that the majority paid attention.

Then I noticed a couple of the students in the class fiddle with their iPods as they followed the instruction. Both students were using only a single ear bud, while directing the rest of their attention toward their teacher. These students still took notes, yet once in a while, stopped long enough to navigate to another song.

I asked the supervising teacher if this behaviour was usual, or if iPods were even allowed in the classroom. He opened his gradebook, and noted that these students were two of the highest achievers in the math classroom. Their averages were well into the 90’s.

Then it occurred to me, or at least, this is what I have surmised. It seems that these students use their iPods to:
a) keep from being bored when there is downtime in the classroom;
b) keep from being distracted from the chatter of other students; and,
c) maintain a one-to-one relationship with the teacher.

Yes, I’m talking about direct instruction, and one-to-one teaching/learning relationships. And I’m talking about teaching and learning that doesn’t involve networks of learners, or the Internet, or even simple forms of collaborative learning. Yes, it’s direct instruction, and I’m talking about it here.

But in many schools, and in many classrooms, this is the way that learning still occurs. And in this very real situation, I was both happy and surprised to see that the use of the iPod actually seemed to make this learning relationship just a bit better.

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Poker Playing Robots

This strays from my usual line of thought, but it goes out to my many friends who are avid online poker players. I came across an interesting article (via Digg) titled “You’ll Never Beat The Poker Robots“.

Over the years, I’ve been trying to convince my friends that gambling online will never be profitable, that if that odds aren’t bad enough, they’re worse once you factor in the amount of cheating and collusion that goes on. Yet, the assumption that it’s a fair game is what keeps online gaming profitable for the business.

What is crucial for the boom to continue is that these fish think there’s no cheating. In the beginning of online gaming, the big and obvious worry was collusion – groups of supposed strangers in fact conferring by phone. It’s impossible to win against such a group, because when you get a strong hand, you don’t rake in as much as you should to cover the losses from all your weak hands, since your opponents will work out who among them has the strongest hand and the rest will fold. But the websites stopped this – terrified that their cash cows would falter under this threat, they spent millions creating software to automatically monitor patterns of play and sniff out these collaborators.

Although the article claims that collusion has stopped, there are many players that still advise each other using instant messaging. But the bigger point of the article, of course, is the rising use of online poker bots.

One player who utlizes bots describes his experience:

He says, ‘I’m doing pretty well. I have two computer systems, and each one can run four poker bots, and each of those four can play up to five tables at once. At worst I make on average £2.90 an hour at each table. That’s a minimum of £116 an hour if I can get all the bots running at once.

And of course, if you don’t have the programming skill to develop your own bot, there are places all of the Internet where you can buy the software.

And the lesson:

Ultimately we’ll get to a stage where if you want to win anything, you’re going to have to use some kind of poker bot just to keep you in the game.’

Gollum: Wikipedia Browser

I love this idea.

Gollum is a Wikipedia Browser for fast and eyefriendly browsing through the free encyclopedia “Wikipedia”. Gollum gives you access to nearly all Wikipedias in all languages. Further more Gollum gives you some special features which allow you to easily customize your work with Wikipedia.

In my opinion the interface of Wikipedia is too overloaded and confusing. So let’s get an easy to use interface. Gollum, the intuitive way to the powerfull knowledge of Wikipedia.

Gollum is GPL’d so it could be tweaked for a school (where Wikipedia is allowed … ugggh), and could act as a clean portal to viewing or editing great material.

Vienna RSS/Atom Reader For Mac OS X

I just downloaded Vienna 2.0 and threw in my feeds over from Shrook. Vienna is open source/freeware, has a nice clean user interface and seems much snappier and responsive than my usual reader. Although, the speed may have something to do with it not being able to handle file attachments within the reader. This is a bit of a downfall for the moment. So far, Vienna seems pretty good, but not overly impressive.


I don’t know much about this other than it looks to be a very cool organizational asset manager. Yet, the video makes me want it!

However, something makes me think this will be both proprietary and expensive. OK, my love affair with Fluxiom is now officially over.

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Songbird: iTunes Alternative?

I just noticed Songbird, what seems to be an iTunes like media player in development with the first preview release forecasted for this December. Songbird is being developed on Mozilla’s XULRunner package so I’m thinking that this may be a free/open source package, however, I dont’ see anything on the Songbird website that confirms this.

Of course, even if it is iTunes like, will it be able to sync. my iPod(s). I’m doubting this, but I’d be very happy to have an open alternative to iTunes. I’ll keep an eye on this, but I’m not getting my hopes up yet.

Let Them Sing It For You

This is a neat little web app. Let Them Sing It For You takes your written prose or lyrics and substitutes the text with samples of popular music from throughout the years. The result is usually something difficult to understand without text prompts, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. Maybe I should translate the entirety of my next podcast this way. :-)

So here’s some added fun. I’ve used this service, and Wiretapped the results into an .mp3 file.

The text: “Hi, and welcome to my site”.

The audio: WelcomeToMySite.mp3

So who can pull out and identify all of the sample sources/artists/songs?

Hmmm … I think this could have some neat applications for a lesson/activity somewhere.

Google’s Influence

I am starting to see more and more interesting posts on Google’s massive dominance on our society. Of course, about a year ago, I noticed the prophetic EPIC 2014 (Rise of Google-Zon) presentation. That’s certainly an image that’s always stuck in my mind.

A few days ago, I noticed “Disturbing Facts About Google“. While I knew most of these already, seeing them all on one page kinda makes me cringe.

This morning, I noticed Google’s comparison to SkyNet, the fictional computer network in the Terminator trilogy. There are certainly some interesting predictions provided in this post. With Google’s recent activity, the speculation in this post seems reasonable to some extent.

I also noticed a recent contrarian view, a Slate article predicting that Google will fall just like all of the others that have been in their position in a particular market segment. “Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, IBM PCs, CompuServe, Nintendo, Netscape, AltaVista, AOL, Dell, the iPod, and Microsoft all held, at one time, what seemed like impregnable positions in their markets.” With Google’s stock at $400, predicted to rise to $500 by the end of the year, this seems less believable than the previous predictions.

A while ago, Mark Evans followed by D’Arcy Norman led an informal search for a better alternative to Google’s search mechanism. While some alternatives were noted, I don’t believe any one particular search engine faired as well. In my own work and teaching, I am certainly guilty of promoting Google without even thinking about it … the term “just Google x” is one I use far too often. And including this more critical note, this will be my 42nd blog post (on this blog) related to Google in some way.

And if the good people of Google are reading this, I say welcome our new dark overlords, masters of our universe. For the rest of us, let’s continue to pay attention. The future of what we write, what we build and what we create — the very future of our ideas — may just depend on it.

Update: I just noticed a recent Wired article that describes industry’s fear of Google getting into just about everything in Silicon Valley. It certainly fits this theme.

Net Effect On Television

Here’s an interesting comment from my (blogless) brother George regarding the convergence of the Internet and televised media.

Not only are TV shows ripping off other television shows and doing parodies off of them, but they are also ripping stuff off from the Internet. Maybe it is assumed that the television generation is now moving to the Internet and you will only get a show like family guy if you pay attention to both.

“Peanut Butter Jelly Time” – Original.

“Peanut Butter Jelly Time” – Family Guy Remix.

Anyone else have an interesting example?

Paris Accelerates Move To Open Source

InfoWorld reports (thanks Michael) that the City of Paris is stepping-up the move toward open source software alternatives to its current, mostly-proprietary environment.

The city of Paris is accelerating its move to free and open-source software as part of a strategy to reduce its dependence on suppliers. It plans to replace more of its server software with free and open-source alternatives, and to install open-source applications on desktops.

Earlier this year, volunteers among the city’s 46,000 staff were invited to download and install open-source software to their desktops, including the Firefox browser and the Open Office.org productivity suite. Now, the city is planning to migrate all the users of one city department or all of those in one of the city’s 20 districts, not just the volunteers, to test a larger migration. The city has 17,000 workstations, up from 12,000 in 2001.

I find this particularly interesting as I still see much resistance to open source in our local schools. Today, I sent out a Python tutorial (via Downes) to a former student of mine, who is now a teacher in a local highschool. He told me that, although thankful for the resource, he couldn’t use it in school as they don’t allow the installation of Firefox (the resource is designed for the Firefox sidebar). So, not only does the school ban the use of a superior, alternative web browser, they effectively block excellent, openly developed content.