Archive for December, 2015


There has been a recent push toward a more progressive approach to education that is likely to have a positive impact at all grades and across all subject areas. This move is based on Seymour Papert’s ideas of “constructionism” in which learning is demonstrated by the creation of artifacts that are separate from the learner herself. As Papert has said, it doesn’t matter if the expression is a poem or a sand castle – the fact that it exists outside the learner where it can be shared with others is the critical part. John Dewey famously said, “I don’t care what a child knows; I care what he can do with what he knows.”

This shift from knowing to doing is reflected in the Next Generation Science Standards where the focus is not on learning about science, but learning how to think and act like a scientist. The same approach applies to other subjects – from mathematics to the arts – and the benefit of this approach is that it engages students and increases their learning.

One of the strategies that supports this shift is inquiry-driven project-based learning in which students start with a compelling question that drives the creation of projects to provide an answer to the question. For example, suppose a class is exploring the seasons. In early grades, questions might deal with why certain holidays are held during particular seasons. In later grades, a question might be whether or not seasons exist on other planets. If you want to bring the arts into the topic, there are rich areas of exploration from the music of Vivaldi (The Four Seasons) to Monet’s seasonal paintings of haystacks. In fact, a good starting point for this module would be to use a mind mapping tool like Freemind Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 3.13.51 PM(http://freemind.sourceforge.net/) for students to use as they brainstorm a list of interesting questions. In short order, a list of 50-100 questions might get posed by a classroom full of students, any one of which could be an interesting project for a student. By having students work on individual questions and then sharing their work with the rest of the class, everyone benefits from the combined efforts and the depth of learning increases as a result.

What tool is best for creating projects? To me, the answer is Hyperstudio (http://www.mackiev.com/hyperstudio/). This product has amazing capabilities as a multimedia authoring tool. Basically, the user creates a stack of “cards” on the screen, each of which can have buttons, graphics, sounds, movies, narrations, text, etc. Once a project is completed it can be shared with others who can navigate through the stack to explore the project. In the case of a linear sequence of cards, a stack even can be converted to a movie for posting on YouTube. Because Hyperstudio works with both Macs and Windows, a student can start a project on one kind of computer and finish it on another. The versatility of this software is amazing.1 card sample

In fact, if it only did what I described, it would meet most people’s needs. However, as they say on late night television: “But wait, there’s more.” In addition to everything else, Hyperstudio has the built-in capability to interact with the Arduino interface card (https://www.arduino.cc/). This card connects to your computer through the USB port and allows you to read a wide variety of sensors (light, temperature, pressure, etc.) and control external devices (lights, motors, etc.) The result is that the virtual world of the computer is now extended to the physical realm, adding even more capabilities to student projects.

The Arduino is not without its challenges, however. First, the native programming language is a tricky to learn, especially for younger users. Second, the physical connection to sensors and lights requires additional components (resistors, etc.) that complicate the creation of a finished project.

Both of these challenges are nicely addressed with Hyperstudio. First, the programming tools for the Arduino are built into Hyperstudio using easy-to-understand commands that students at most grades easily can learn. Second, the need for external resistors, etc., is eliminated through the use of a plug-in card (called a shield) that greatly simplifies the process of making connections. This card is called the Hyperduino, (http:www.hyperduino.com).hyperduino

It plugs into the Arduino card and provides all the resistors an other components needed to supplement the lights, motors and sensors so the student can focus on the project itself, not the mechanics of connecting components. As Roger Wagner (designer of both Hyperstudio and the Hyperduino) has said: “The HyperDuino does for the maker movement what HyperStudio did for hypermedia: it makes it possible for everyone, regardless of age and experience, to create interactive maker projects.

The result is that student projects can have both a virtual and a physical component in which, in addition to a rich piece of multimedia on the computer screen, a physical model can be constructed with touch switches and LED lights that turn on or off to show aspects of the physical model that are related to what is being shown on the computer screen. The result raises the constructionist bar, and makes student projects even more compelling to those who experiment with them.

For example, if a student builds a physical model of something related to a season, the act of touching a switch can light up the model and have the computer go to a card related to the season and start playing a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The point here is that everything is created by the students.

Because Hyperstudio stacks can launch each other, the teacher can create a master stack with buttons that link to each student’s project. This becomes a really neat thing to display during open houses so parents can see (and explore) the work of their own children as well as the work of others in the class. The greatest benefit, though, comes from students sharing their work with each other. This sharing is likely to trigger new questions that can result in even more work on the topic – all without the direct intervention of the teacher.

The result is a huge leap away from the traditional text-book driven model of education with the bulk of the work being moved into the hands of the students themselves. In fact, with a project like this, it is possible that teachers may learn something they didn’t know before. The excitement that comes from new learning makes everyone eager to learn more.

As mentioned before, the constructionist approach described here cuts across grade levels and subject areas. One would he hard-pressed to find a curricular area for which it doesn’t apply.

As for us, we are busy doing workshops with teachers that explore both the pedagogical underpinnings of this approach, as well as the mechanics of working with Hyperstudio and Hyperduino. Because we want the workshop to have an immediate impact on classrooms, every participant receives both the Hyperduino kit (including the Arduino board) as well as a full licensed copy of Hyperstudio. To schedule a workhop at your school, e-mail us using the form below.

Anatomy of an Illness

This blog is health related, and you are forgiven for skipping it if you wish – I just want my readers to know what happened to me last year – and to spread a tale of caution.  I will tell you that it has a happy ending!

Those of you who know me are likely aware that 2015 was a lousy year, healthwise. On the positive front, I had a very successful ablation that fixed my afib problem, but other than that, things got cruddy. First, while in the hospital, I contracted pneumonia and was on IV antibiotics for a long time to get that out of my system. While dealing with this, I was told by a pulmonologist that I had COPD – a chronic lung disease that made breathing hard, and was just going to get worse over time. My energy fell through the floor and the thought of going out on the speaking circuit was the last thing on my mind. I had a horrible cough, and my lungs were working at about 45% of normal.

The docs prescribed a couple of inhalers, but these did nothing. From the hospital I went to a rehab center for a week, and then went for outpatient respiratory rehab. I was the only one in the group who had not been a smoker, which I found strange, but was told that it sometimes happens.

In the meantime, my thyroid went through the roof, and my endocrinologist attributed this to a side effect of my old heart medicine, Amiodarone. Fortunately, Prednisone and Hydrocortisone took care of this problem, after which I was being weaned off the steroids.

One problem solved, but the lungs were still lousy – and getting worse.

After about 9 months of nasty lung problems, we went to California to visit friends and Norma suggested that I see another pulmonologist to get a second opinion. This new doc listened to my lungs and did a breathing test. In short order, he told me that, while he wasn’t positive what I had, it surely wasn’t COPD! In short order he eliminated a bunch of other nasty causes and thought that it might be another well-known side effect of Amiodarone. The good news, in that case, is that the problem would be reversible. By this point, my lungs were only working at 35% – not the best news by a long shot!

After a couple of days in the California hospital for tests (I’ll spare you the details), the decision was made to load me up with Prednisone again since that was known to help with Amiodarone pulmonary toxicity.

It turns out that, while it was easy to find that the problem was NOT (COPD), proving that it was another Amiodarone side effect was much trickier. From my perspective, though, my health started turning around for the better almost immediately, no matter what the underlying cause was. The coughing went way down, my breathing got better (some days it is almost normal), my energy is recovering and I’ve rejoined the human race.

At this point, I’m being weaned off the Prednisone again (apparently it has problems of its own) and every day I get a little bit better. My friends have all noticed that I’m back! I have a busy speaking schedule for 2016 and two new workshops that we are scheduling, safe in the knowledge that I’ll be in great shape. I’ll be at FETC and TCEA, and I hope to see some of you there!

While I’m getting a new pulmonologist in the Chicago area, I’m still flying to California every month or so to see the doc that put me on the fast track to recovery! The big question remaining for me is how I could have been so badly misdiagnosed in the first place. I know that medicine is not an exact science, but I’m one of those guys who trusts what doctors say. Mistakes happen. I have a PhD and I’ve made my share of blunders, so why should I hold other highly educated people to higher standards?

At this point, I’m just moving forward. A nasty health scare gives you perspective and helps set priorities. In my, case, this means putting family and friends first. And that reminder makes all the lousiness of 2015 worth it!  So, for those of you who knew something was going on, I thank you for your support and look forward to seeing lots of you next year at some of the conferences I’m attending!