Time, nothingness and imagination

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Another marvelous conversation last week with the 5th grade students with whom I've been working all year. At the beginning of the school year, one of the questions in which the students were interested was, "What is time?" We began this session with that question.

One student suggested that time is the way "we measure how long different units in the day are, so that we know exactly at what point in the day we are."

"Would time would still exist if we weren't around to measure it?" I asked.

"Maybe time is nothing," one student suggested.

"There's no such thing as nothing," responded another student.

"I think that's right," a third student agreed. "I say, 'I have nothing in may hand,' but of course it's not true. There's air in my hand, for example. Everything is something, so there is no such thing as nothing."

"That's right. We just say there's nothing in our hands because that's the only word we can come up with to describe it."

"We think of 'something' as being solid. And air isn't solid, so we think of it as nothing. But it is something."

"If nothing is something, it's not nothing. So if we're asking what nothing is, there can't really be an answer."

We talked about trying to imagine "nothing." We tried to imagine the absence space, and couldn't.

"It's not possible. There's nothing we can refer to."

"When there's a totally new idea like that, like a new color we've never seen, we have no way to think of it. Everything we can think of is based on something we've seen, heard or know about. Our imagination is not based on some magical thing, but on what we've experienced."

"Actually, we wouldn't experience anything without our imaginations."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, everything we do is because of our imaginations. We wouldn't even be able to move without  imagination."

"Yeah, humans would probably have died out a long time ago without imagination. We wouldn't have survived if we couldn't imagine how to build things and do all kinds of things."

We talked about the nature of imagination, and one student said that really, then, all we experience in the world is through our minds. So how do we know that anything else exists? I explained a little about Berkeley's view that we are able only to know sensations and ideas. In the course of our conversation, I told the students about Johnson's attempt to refute Berkeley's view by kicking the rock.

"That doesn't prove anything!" one student protested. "All he showed was that he felt that he was kicking a rock, which was all in his mind."

"Everything we experience is because of our thoughts. So whether the rock is there or not, the pain I feel when I kick it is just in my mind."

"Hmmm," a student replied. "Think about the lyrics to 'Row Row Row Your Boat.' What do you think?"

"Is life just a dream?"

"I think that's really scary."

"When I was little, my brother told me that life was just being characters in a book someone else wrote. Maybe we are just characters in a book."

"If we are, I wouldn't want to know about it."

We talked a little about whether it would make any difference, if the world felt exactly the same as it now does to us, if it turned out that we were characters in a book. The conversation ended just before the bell, with us reflecting that our thoughts are the lens through which we experience the world, and that we can control how our experiences feel to us by thinking about them in certain ways.

Excellent Web Based Educational Resources

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This web site has some great resources for students and teachers, including test prep, study skills, organization, grammar and writing, and career planning. Everything broken down by topic and is listed on one page, so it is easy to find things.

Free Book - Amazing Web 2.0 Projects

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Terry Freedman has put together an excellent, free, book entitled "Amazing Web 2.0 Projects." This book has links, resources, tips, and examples of projects to do with your students using Web 2.0 technologies.

Some of the features of the book:
  • 87 projects.
  • 10 further resources.
  • 52 applications.
  • 94 contributors.
  • The benefits of using Web 2.0 applications.
  • The challenges of using Web 2.0 applications.
  • How the folk who ran these projects handled the issues...
  • ... And what they recommend you do if you run them.
  • What were the learning outcomes?
This is a great resource for any teacher. The projects can be easily modified and there is so much other information and links to help educators come up with their own projects. I recommend this to any teacher, especially teachers who are just starting to use Web 2.0 technologies.

It is available for download, for free, as a pdf file. http://www.ictineducation.org/free-stuff/

PS - my blog is listed in the book as a resource.

Hotel Rwanda

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Hotel Rwanda

As part of the "Moral Philosophy and Genocide" unit I am doing with eighth grade students, last week we watched the film Hotel Rwanda and then discussed it. We talked about the reasons the international community did not intervene in Rwanda, and what obligations the Western countries had to Rwanda during this period. We also discussed the spectrum of moral obligations. At the beginning of the film, Paul Rusesabagina (the hotel manager and main character) contends that "family is all that matters." As the genocide in Rwanda unfolds, however, he develops a deep sense of obligation to neighbors and fellow Rwandans, to the extent that at one point he attempts to send his family out of the country to safety while staying behind with the refugees he is sheltering at the hotel. We talked about whether this was the right decision.

We explored the role of the United Nations as "peacekeepers," and analyzed whether it was right for the UN troops to refuse to fire on the men committing genocide. The students seemed to feel strongly that the UN troops should not have obeyed their orders not to fire, as they would have been able to save more lives had they used their weapons other than in self-defense. Did the larger role of the UN in the country, and in Africa in general, however, require this more restrained role? We analyzed what obligations the UN peacekeepers had toward the Rwandans being attacked and murdered.

We spent a little time talking about whether Paul Rusesabagina was a hero. Most of the students agreed that he was a hero. What makes someone a hero? Someone who puts his or her life at risk for someone else, a student suggested, is certainly a hero.

We'll continue our discussion this week and explore why the people who did not help others during the genocide became bystanders, examining the nature of indifference and its moral status.

Recent Resources I posted on Twitter

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Recent resources I've posted on Twitter:

Tech Tip - access US government online - http://www.180techtips.com/126.htm

Tech Tip - Manage and Customize Tabs in Firefox - http://goo.gl/rShc

Tech Tip - Capture and Upload Screenshots with GrabOut - http://goo.gl/PpOI

My PLN presentation resources: http://goo.gl/WZms , http://goo.gl/SBxe , http://goo.gl/0vJA- feel free to use
My thoughts on creating a PLN & why-http://goo.gl/SBxe , PLN Prezi- http://trunc.it/6iegh
here's the handout I use during the PLN presentation I do - http://trunc.it/6j9hk

Tech Tip - making a photo story - http://www.180techtips.com/125.htm

How to recover missing files - http://goo.gl/cCcu

Google Calendars Smart Rescheduler Searches For The Best Meeting Times - http://goo.gl/yLov

Prezi Education Exchange - Collaborate via @prezi http://edu.prezi.com/ and share your lessons, slidedeck, etc. for the benefit of all

iPad vs Kindle vs Netbooks vs Books: Whats Best for Students? - http://goo.gl/pew6

Course mngmnt system - "it's learning" - http://trunc.it/6h3gt

Tech tip - remove scroll bar from Windows 7 start menu - http://goo.gl/n92Y

Tech tip - browse blogs, videos, news with Google Reader Play - http://goo.gl/0YuY

Pretty cool - wireless body area networks - http://www.wpi.edu/news/20090/wire.html

Project Based Learning with Web-based Tools http://ff.im/-hJCHj

Mobile learning makes it's mark on K-12 - http://trunc.it/6c9jp

Tech Tip - the fake internet - not everything online is true or real - http://www.180techtips.com/124.htm

When students don't prepare for class: http://goo.gl/Qk1e

Tech tip - 10 essential Windows freeware programs, part 3 - http://trunc.it/6gv99

Tech Tip - manage Twitter and Facebook accounts using Mixero - http://trunc.it/6drl4

Tech Tip - educator discounts - http://www.180techtips.com/123.htm

Palm introduces new homepage - http://www.palm.com/us/

it's learning Course Management System

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It's very rare that I review apps and services that are not free. However, I found out about it's learning last month and was able to see a demo and I really liked it as a course management system.

it's learning is a web-based system containing course management tools that enable students and teachers to create multimedia learning experiences. You can create your own content or merge free and commercial content into the library.

You start with a dashboard that contains links to your courses, calendar, tasks, messages and more. The system is easy to navigate and quite intuitive.

Features include: course listings, project management, calendar, messaging, ePortfolio's, a library of lesson plans, full search, a community forum, tasks, blogs, built-in audio and video recorders, plagiarism control and much more.

Pricing is based on an annual license for each student and teacher,
typically ranging between $10 - $15 per user/year. Parent and mentor
accounts are free.

it's learning is a very good alternative to other course management systems like Blackboard or Moodle. I found it to be easier to navigate and use also.

(disclaimer - I was not paid for this review and have received nothing from it's learning for the review)

Below is a full list of features and descriptions from their site:

it’s learning is a user-friendly and flexible learning platform that can be used for:

§ Communication and cooperation

§ Administration, reporting and evaluation

§ Production and management of learning resources

it’s learning is not adapted in any specific pedagogical direction. We supply the tools that are used to build up courses, while the teachers and schools fill the learning platform with content. it’s learning supports learning activity, new learning forms and simple access to knowledge. We support standardised e-learning standards such as AICC, IMS and SCORM.

User-friendliness is an important factor for successfully implementing a learning platform, whether in private or the public sector, or in an educational institution. Even if different e-learning systems often seem to include the same functions and tools, it is the intuitiveness of the user interface that in practice decides if the learning platform is actually used. When our customers choose it’s learning, it is most often because of the user-friendliness.

Communication and cooperation

it’s learning has a number of built-in learning tools. The application can easily be set up so that only parts of these tools are made available for the users of the learning platform. This is an arena in which the participants cooperate, both synchronously and asynchronously. Available tools for communication and cooperation are, for example: the internal message system, e-mail, discussions,process-oriented documents, bulletin boards and news services.

Administration, reporting and evaluation

it’s learning is also an administrative tool, both for system administrators, course administrators and teachers. The idea behind the learning platform is that the teachers themselves have the flexibility to choose their own methodology in their educational work. Teachers are not dependent on a superior administrator to set up and administrate their learners and content resources. Reports are automatically generated providing overviews of the learning process, either of a single learner or that of a group. it’s learning also supports assessment portfolio evaluation, and provides possibilities for individual follow-up and reflection.

Production and management of learning resources

it’s learning is a powerful tool for production, organisation, updating and re-use of learning resources. We allow both internal and external tools for producing content.

Our users are interested in content production. By using the Add function in it’s learning, you can access about 15 different tools that allow you to add your own learning tools and organise them within a subject. You can organise course content in many different ways, for example, thematically, chronologically and functionally. For the more advanced users we recommend the additional module Library. The Library allows teachers to create and share lessons. Our customers can also make their own learning tools by means of the proxy tool function.

Some Random Thoughts on Education

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My brain has come up with some random thoughts after reading lots of articles, blogs, and tweets about education over the last week.

1. Everyone child deserves a strong, good education. But, what does a strong, good education mean/ look like?

2. Some facts are important to learn, but learning how to find and analyze information and how to think critically and solve problems is more important.

3. Encourage students to create and be creative. Help them be creative and use ingenuity to solve problems.

4. Relate educational lessons to the real world and do the students' experiences.

5. Use technology, tools, toys, props, etc. to emphasize and explain concepts and topics.

6. Use technology to expand the school day and learning environment.

7. Use technology to do different things with your students that you would have been able to do without technology.

8. Make your lessons exciting, engaging, educational, and fun.

9. Collaborate with other teachers to improve student achievement. (a PLN is great for this).

10. Care about your students.

11. Educators need to have a strong voice in educational policy. Too much is decided by non-educators with minimal educator input.

12. Everyone is responsible for the quality of education and student achievement and success. We all have to work together.

13. There is a lot of money wasted by governments in running schools. There are plenty of ways to save money without affecting the quality of education. Use less paper. Use open source and free resources instead of expensive software licenses and textbooks.

14. Schools are designed poorly. We need more room for group work, collaboration, exploration, and projects and less rows of desks.

What are some of your thoughts on education?

Free Teacher resources from Microsoft

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I received this email the other day listing a lot of great education resources from Microsoft. Instead of re-writing everything, I figured I would just post the email with the links. I have used some of the resources and they are very good.

Hi David,
I thought your readers might be interested in the free teacher guides, step-by-step instructions, and resources from Microsoft. The guides are designed to make it easier for teachers to integrate technology into the classroom.

To help teachers engage students in a variety of subject areas – from art to music to science – Microsoft is providing free software and online tools, step-by-step instructions, videos and getting started teacher guides. Beyond learning about access to free software and tools, the getting started guides will also help teachers get the most out of the software they use every day. I have included a brief overview of each teacher guide below.

Microsoft offers a number of free tools and software that make it quick and easy to engage students and create energized lesson plans. Why not introduce a new subject with a 3D viewing experience using Photosynth or take a virtual celestial tour with Worldwide Telescope? Or showcase your students’ musical talents with Songsmith or create a movie in a minute with Windows Live Movie Maker? Microsoft provides the tools and instructions to make this possible.

Microsoft will be providing daily teacher technology tips, tricks and ideas for the classroom leading up to May 4, 2010, National Teacher Day. Twitter users can follow @TeachTec or hash tag #TeachTips for teacher technology tips. Facebook users can follow Microsoft TeachTec. Check out the Microsoft Teacher Tech or the Microsoft Blog posts for additional details.

Please let me know if you have questions.

Teacher Guides

• The Free tools teacher guide and materials will help teachers engage students, energize lesson plans, and save time using free tools that can be download today.
• Free software downloads and online tools include: AutoCollage, Worldwide Telescope, Photosynth, Songsmith, Photo Story for Windows XP, Office Live Workspace, Windows Live SkyDrive, Bing Search, Bing Maps, Bing Translator.

• Enhance classroom lessons with movies made with Windows Live Movie Maker. The teacher guides and materials show how fun and easy it is.

• Office 2007 and 2010 can help improve collaboration and increase productivity with Microsoft Office OneNote, PowerPoint, Office Word and Office web apps. The teacher guide and materials will help teachers get the most of Microsoft Office programs.

• Make everyday tasks easier, and take less time to complete them. Quickly discover shortcuts to the things you use the most, including the interactive whiteboard.

• Creating digital stories ignites a love of learning and is a powerful student-centered learning activity. This eBook helps teachers get started with digital storytelling in the classroom.

And some more details from the Microsoft Blog:

Free software downloads and online tools include: AutoCollage, WorldWide Telescope, Photosynth, Songsmith, Photo Story, Office Live Workspace, Windows Live SkyDrive, Bing Search, Bing Maps, Bing Translator. *AutoCollage and Songsmith are available for free to members of the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network. Participation in the Partners in Learning Network requires a free one-time registration. Learn how to take advantage of these free tools in the classroom with the Free Tools teacher guide and resources.

Teacher guides and resources are available for Free tools, Microsoft Office 2007 & 2010, Windows 7, Windows Live Movie Maker, and Digital Storytelling.

You can also watch a video about our free tools and a video about our Windows 7 interactive whiteboard.

Genetics resource

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Learn Genetics and Teach Genetics are great resources from the University of Utah.

Learn Genetics has interactive videos and demos that explain different concepts of genetics. The web site is nicely designed and easy to navigate.

Teach Genetics is a beta preview teacher companion site for Learn Genetics. There are some resources now, with more coming in the future.

These are great resources for Biology and Genetics teachers.

My wife, a Biology teacher, found them and told me about them. She found them very useful and easy to use.

More Educational Apps for Palm webOS

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Palm's new operating system, webOS, is gaining more and more apps each day. While the iPhone and Android get the most media attention, Palm is slowly gaining share. Many teachers used Palm PDA's in class in the early part of decade. If they are looking for the same ease of use with increased productivity, functionality, and graphics, they should check out webOS on the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi.

Two new apps were released today that would be great for education:

1. Quizmine Math Reference - this app is a math reference app that allows you to get quick and easy access to math formulas from arithmetic, algebra, geometry, measurement, trigonometry and derivatives. $0.99
UPDATE: Quizmine also has a great Physics reference app too!

2. Soshiku - this app is a simple, but powerful tool for students to use to manage their classes and assignments. It will keep track of assignment due dates and will notify you by email or text message to remind you it is due. For each assignment, you can add notes, tasks, view attachments, and share messages with assignment partners. The app syncs with the free account on Soshiku.com. $1.99

And of course webOS phones have all the basic features:
contacts, email, excellent web browser with Flash support, text messaging, camera, phone, tasks, media players, note taking, and lots more, including Evernote, Twitter, Facebook and Google.

Some additional apps that are great for education:
Evernote - "remember everyting"
A+ Student Organizer - keep track of schedule, grades, calculate GPA, assignments, tasks
Flash Cards - create your own flashcards, download from site, or download user created
Easy Stopwatch - useful for keeping time and in science labs
Seismograph - show students how vibrations are recorded
Convert - unit conversion calculator
Newsfeed - RSS reader
pReader - ebook reader
Epocrates - excellent medical reference
Wapedia - encyclopedia
SciCalc - scientific calculator
Periodic Table - interactive periodic table of the elements
World Atlas - world atlas with data on countries and regions
Twee - Twitter app
AP Mobile - news from the Associated Press
New York Times - read the NYT

There are also apps to learn Spanish, a grade book app for teachers, math games, and much, much more.

And, you can use all of those older Palm OS apps (Centro, Treo, TX, T3, etc) by using the app "Classic" on the Pre or Pixi. It will then run the old Palm OS apps on the Pre or Pixi. Pretty cool!

Related Articles:
** Palm Apps for Education ** (really a companion to this article)