It has been my pleasure to work with Lisa Davis at High Tech High. She is the Director of Community Outreach but I believe any title underestimates her and the importance of her job.

One of the buzzwords in education is relevancy or real world connection. Many schools do this by talking about "when you get a job or get older you will need __________" but, real world education means right now not in 5-10 years! Through Lisa we have received grants, internships, and collaboration partners within our community. She made it possible for our students to learn from experts, work with professional equipment, and experience first hand what it means to follow your passions and dreams.

Lisa engages with our students, teachers, and staff to find out their passions and ideas for future projects. She then connects us to the community and helps us obtain resources. She is a wonderful sounding board to help refine and implement new endeavors. I cannot count the number of times we have talked about various ideas that would not have come to fruition without her help.

While I think education would be significantly improved if a position like this was available (and if she could be cloned) in all schools, it isn't likely to happen. It's a shame because she is invaluable to our schools operation.

Lucky for all of us, Lisa has decided to take the plunge and begin blogging about her thoughts, experiences, and the community connections she has helped foster. Her blog is at which stems from the belief that if people are paired with the right resources and collaborative partners, it is like a catalyst in a chemical reaction speeding up the innovation and creative process.

She is also on Twitter @mindcollisions and is hoping to pioneer the hashtags #youthengagement and #mindcollisions because of her passion for service learning (as well as the wikipedia link) and the incredible things that happen when students are connected to their world.

What you can expect to learn from Lisa, is the practical side of connecting students with the community and with each other through examples and evidence. You might also get a chance to hear her passion and pedagogy for how students can learn in the 21st century. Patrick, I, and many other educators have benefited from her and I am so happy that you can as well.

Blender 3D Modeling Resources for Education

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When I show Blender to educators, they immediately say show me how you do that so I can use that in my classroom!

When they see Blender's interface for the first time they want to run away. It is overwhelming but once you spend an afternoon with it you discover that it isn't confusing, its powerful and packed with features.

For those of you who have never heard of or used Blender, it is 3D rendering software allowing you to create models for video games, CAD printing, and now a movie! It was the technology behind the OVRP Virtual Bike and did I mention it is Free and Open Source?

I agree it has a learning curve but for many, this is an opportunity to learn a software that is highly applicable to their future career without costing them the thousands for a proprietary software like Maya.

Blender is the perfect software to prove what Patrick and I say about learning technology because you as the teacher have little if any experience with it.

We cannot wait until we are masters or pros to use a technology with the students. There are too many and it would take too long. You should not let that stop you from using it. Show it to your students and they will learn more than you ever thought possible. While the following are not all of the resources out there, these are the ones my students and I have used with success. That is the great thing about the Blender community, there are so many choices out there.

Video Tutorials:
HamsterHill - These are the tutorials that my students started using to learn Blender and they are great, his accent occasionally trips you up but they are easy to follow nonetheless.
IraKrakow -  For more advanced topics these were very helpful.
BlenderUnderground - Very well made and high quality. If you are looking to become a master of Blender, these would be a great first step towards professional level knowledge.
Tutorials for Blender 3D - If you are creating a video game or movie with Blender, these tutorials are for you. logic blocks, textures, and the Blender Game Engine are all covered well in here.
Blender Cookie - Excellent suggestion from Black Stormy covering a wide variety of concepts from start to finish as well as those concepts beyond modeling (particles/physics/lighting/etc)

Text Based Tutorials:
Blender 3D: Noob to Pro - An incredibly well done community generated wiki that will take you through all of the essentials. Patrick and I were at a conference together and spent much of our time working through the exercises in this book. It prepared us to make the Virtual Bike tour and Patrick's class' 3D movies. Go step by step or reference it (and yes I know it's spelled n00b, I'm just copying the website).

Keyboard Shortcuts - This is ESSENTIAL! There are so many commands and features possible and you will waste a lot of time trying to find them in the menus. After using Blender for a while you will remember them as well as the other Windows/Mac keyboard shortcuts you should be using.

I'll continue to add to this list as I come across them as I do with my Android, Free Software, Humanities, Math Science, Geogebra, and Programming Resources lists.

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Why STEM needs a Makeover


For years it has been my passion to help students realize their potential in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related field. I have a more specific goal of bringing women into the world of STEM, not because of a bias or favoritism per se but because they have so many more obstacles to discovering their passion and talents in it.

In a telling article on the Adafruit website, Google Executive Marissa Mayer explains why there are fewer female geeks than men. It is far from an ability problem, I have seen personally that women are a necessary part of the engineering process and teams that work without them often are less successful than those who do. So what is the problem? Unfortunately it is a culture problem.

Ask a group of students to tell you what they think of when they think of a programmer and they will respond with: male, geek, nerd, unsocial, video games, etc. It is not surprising that we then see a self perpetuating cycle with college students who fit these adjectives pursuing STEM programs and others running from them. The female to male ratios are appalling and women often feel very intimidated in their undergraduate Calculus and Physics classes. I saw the women in my classes drop by about 30%!

I worked at a well known video game company and enjoyed the work well enough. However, when the work day was done, everyone would leave to go home and play video games. I am not a hard core gamer nor am I extremely extroverted but I left the company soon enough because it was frustrating to be surrounded by one type of personality.

Any ecosystem that wishes to survive needs diversity. While Google+ is hitting record numbers of new members, initial reports are showing that it is overwhelmingly 20-30 year old male dominated. If Google cannot bring in more women and a creating a more diverse population, it runs the risk of becoming a narrow niche product and that is far from the vision of Google+.

How can STEM bring in more diversity? Currently, we have a image problem. As Dean Kamen says, we get what we celebrate and unfortunately Geeks are far cooler than they were twenty years ago but they still are stereotyped as an unapproachable genius who is socially awkward. We know better, the STEM/Maker community is far more diverse than it is portrayed so lets get out there and tell the world about it. Programs like FIRST and Make Magazine do a great job of this but the message isn't loud enough. There are far fewer positive role models for women than negative with regards to the opportunities available to them. With my daughter set to enter this world in December, I refuse to let her be bombarded with the notion that she is "not smart enough" to do incredible things in any field she chooses or that she will have to sacrifice some part of her personality.

I push back against the stereotypes of lab coats (even though I own an awesome tie-dyed one), and the Star Wars obsessed Fanboys (of which I am one) being the sole culture of STEM. While I am a stereotypical geek in some ways, that doesn't mean that we are the only ones that should be admitted to the club. It would be frustrating to work with 20 clones of me because I would never experience new perspectives and disagreement. My hope is always renewed at the Maker Fair where everyone has an opportunity to "geek out" and discover something cool.

If we can open the doors of Engineering to more, then we all benefit from fresh perspective and innovation. If you are in a classroom or work with students:
  • Promote positive role models. Share articles and links beyond just those of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. If you need suggestions, check out Dot Diva, Engineer Your Life, and Lady Ada. If you have more I'd love to hear about them.
  • Be sure to create opportunities for learning and problem solving that are not one dimensional and support only one type of learner or demographic.
  • Start a program that supports a diverse group. Try learning programming with students using Scratch or Alice, explore solutions to global challenges. In a large survey study performed by WGBH Boston women want to tell stories and change the world. 
  • Discuss the advantages women have in STEM fields and the scholarships and incentives available to them.
I hope that by the time my daughter is a teenager she will live in a culture with a positive view of STEM, she of course can choose any path she wants but it is sad to think of how many incredible people are missing out on an opportunity to contribute because of peer pressure. Other countries like India and Japan revere their accomplished citizens as heroes and rock stars, there is no reason why we can't do the same. 

The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction

"You consider yourselves inventive don't you? Well, be inventive."

For those of you who don't recognize those words, they come from the Gorilla Ishmael from Daniel Quinn's book of the same name. Described as an "alien anthropologist" by some for his unique perspective, Quinn reveals through Ishmael to us the flaws in our thinking and why it is our story not our actions that are sending us towards inevitable collapse. Our cultural memes dictate everything we do, even the rebellious reforms we try to implement are still operating in opposition to the laws of nature.

Ishmael caused a critical shift in my thinking almost a decade ago and my highest recommendation to anyone would be to read it and share it with someone else. It is easy enough that it could be read by a 5th grader and with  less than 200 pages it could easily fit into your summer reading plans.

The quote at the beginning of this post is Ishmael's response to the main character's realization of our predicament. I won't spoil for you the paradigm shift that one gets as a result of reading Ishmael but it is important to realize that our society does not lead a sustainable existence. Not exactly news to anyone but what makes Ishmael truly valuable is the insight as to why we continue to do live an unsustainable existence.

Many readers of Ishmael are left with the question, well what should we do now? In fact, an entire section of the website devoted to Ishmael revolves around that question (don't click expecting an easy answer). About 15 years later, research and insight allowed Rebecca Costa to provide her perspective in her book The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction.

Although I read a lot of books, my favorites are those that inspire new ideas for me. As I was reading this on the way to the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, I easily filled 2 pages worth of thoughts, ideas, innovations inspired by this book. If for no other reason, check this book out because it makes you think.

The author draws from her research the realization that one of the causes of societal collapse is when we hit our cognitive threshold. When a society's problems become so complex that they cannot be solved by left brain/right brain thinking then we inevitably will fall prey to some cause like the Romans and the Mayans before us and be unable to think our way out of it.

Evolution, is too slow to provide us the biological gains to solve these problems, but we already have a mechanism built in that could be the key to our survival. Through numerous examples and with the latest in neuroscientific discoveries, the case is laid out for "insight" as a way to solve complex problems. While insight has always been a spontaneous non-repeatable occurrence, it has led to dramatic scientific and societal paradigm shifts as a result. Now scientists are discovering the factors that increase the likelihood of insight which could be used as a basis for innovation out of our current situation and into one more sustainable.

As Ishmael lays out in his book, our culture is the primary cause of our problems and not some failing of human nature or lack of technological innovation. Rebecca Costa shares the five supermemes which prevent us from reaching our goals. Memes are a cultural idea that is transmitted from person to person and generation to generation. The supermemes are those which are everywhere and are most destructive.

The problem is, when you describe a supermeme to someone their response is, "well that's the only way it could be or has been". We encounter this quite often with education as those who would remember a time before our industrialized classroom emerged are no longer with us and so we believe this is always the way it has been.

According to Quinn and Costa, the only way to overcome these cultural memes that are detrimental to our society  is to ensure our beliefs are rooted in fact and logic as opposed to destructive memes. Once a critical mass of people understand why we are doing things the way we are, it is possible to abandon it and start again. This is demonstrated in science (documented by Thomas Kuhn) as well as in our history that a small growing group of people can cause a shift in our societal thinking.

So while I know what I need to do, it is also critical that more of you read these two books and become inspired yourself to, "Save the World" as Ishmael called it. I can think of no better time than now.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

The Watchman's Rattle by Rebecca Costa

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How to Plan Projects that Make Jaws Drop

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It is no accident that this post is on July 4th, America's celebration of Independence. It is even more appropriate having just returned from Philadelphia, PA from the 2011 ISTE conference. Lisa Davis, and I were presenting our students' Virtual Bike Tour and the other incredible projects accomplished through the HP EduInnovator Grant.

What I saw and heard, was the same thing that happened at the National Science Fair and almost everywhere I talk or show my student's work. Double takes, jaw drop, questions as to which college my students go to (they are Freshmen in HS), and more or less disbelief that students are capable of doing these things. Unfortunately for me, the audience always seems to think it is something special that I do, or that I have specially gifted students (neither are true, nor are they absolutely false). I'll tell you my secret so you can go and replicate it with your students:

1) I always look at what the "real world" or colleges are doing and steal it for my classroom. If there is a professional software, I'll find a way to get it for them. Is ground breaking research occurring at Engineering universities, I'll take my students to go talk to them. I vehemently oppose a belief that students have a limit to what they can accomplish at any age. Countless professors, parents, executives, and project managers have come to me and said something like, "I never learned that until my Junior year of College," and yet here are these students doing graduate level research, creating software and designing interactive circuits.

2) The second thing to create amazing opportunities for learning (often referred to as projects) is to keep plates spinning. This is similar to a project manager in the corporate world, but sadly we don't do enough of this in High School. Shawn (of Think Thank Thunk) talks about this in his Education without Coercion Ted Talk.

When I hear that a student is interested in something, I will passionately (some would say obsessively) learn how I can help them to become better at it. If a student wants to learn 3D games, I'll learn Blender with them. If they have always wanted to learn to make Android apps, lets make one for our robotics team! He loves to play guitar, why not make our own. All of my favorite and best projects have come from students inspiring me to keep learning along with them.

Basically it comes down to three steps to creating a great project, do you believe in the students, can you listen to them, and are you willing to learn along with them or at least support them in doing so? If so then you and your students will have an amazing adventure. Along the way you will find many roadblocks to creating these amazing opportunities. Some will say that all students need to learn the exact same thing and we need to find a way to motivate them to be on board, others will say that students are not capable/ready/mature enough to handle a complex or professional project.

In the meantime you know that you have truly unlocked a student's passion and ability. You have forever changed their lives and empowered them to create. That is the purpose of education, don't let anything stop you from doing so because it is the best part of being an educator. The amount of freedom and empowerment your students feel they have, will determine how much they learn and do with what you are teaching.

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