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Showing posts from 2010

Science at Home: DIY Labs and More

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
December 27, 2010 Deadline
February 2011 Issue

Science at Home: DIY Labs and More

Model rockets, a microscope, a telescope, motorized kits and various computers enabled my explorations of science and technology while growing up in the 1970s and 80s.

During the 1990s, the popular television shows “Beakman’s World” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” built on the tradition of “Mr. Wizard.” These programs showed young people they didn’t have to wait for school science fairs to do something fantastic. The science projects were decidedly low-tech, using items like cardboard tubes and plastic soda bottles.

Today’s amateur scientists can assemble a do-it-yourself lab rivaling any television show, a lab more like “C.S.I.” than the simple lab table of Mr. Wizard. And, as with any hobby, there are online communities dedicated to home science labs. Many of the participants in these groups are active in the homeschooling movement. Also, many of the people involved work i…

History of Education: Books I Suggest

Selected Bibliography

Some texts either specifically or indirectly on the history of education and education theory (pedagogy) that have influenced me. The list is exported from my Bookends database, so there might be some formatting errors. I am trying to clean up my database, but I have several thousand books in the system (and on my shelves).

Beniger, James. The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information SocietyCambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Berlin, James A. Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures : Refiguring College English Studies. Lauer Series in Rhetoric and Composition. West Lafayette, Ind.: Parlor Press, 2003.

Corbett, Edward P. J., Nancy Myers, and Gary Tate. The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook. 4th ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 0195123778 (alk. paper) Cuban, Larry. The Blackboard and the Bottom Line : Why Schools Can't Be Businesses. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004.

---. How Scholars Trumped Teachers :…

Contour and Dramatica Follow-up

Two months ago I introduced the idea of using Contour or Dramatica to outline a novel or screenplay. These applications are marketed primarily for screenwriting, but they do mention novels in their promotional materials. I would only use Contour for screenwriting, but I would recommend Dramatica to anyone writing a long-form work.

Contour's questions assume a blockbuster script will progress through four stages. These stages represent the emotional growth of the main character.
Orphan: The main character is literally or metaphorically abandoned and isolated from others.Wanderer: The main character wanders through events, looking for a place or role that will end the feeling of isolation.Warrior: The antagonist creates a situation that forces the main character to face any doubts and fears. The two characters engage in direct or indirect conflict.Martyr: The main character consciously chooses to make a personal sacrifice to accomplish the primary task of the story.This is a "He…

Online Courses Reducing Equal Opportunity

I have argued that online courses are not equivalent to traditional spaces and often are more of a barrier than an accommodation for students with special needs. I remain skeptical that online spaces can be made flexible enough to accommodate all students. Nor, honestly, do I believe it is right of universities to suggest to many disabled students that online courses are somehow better for them.

In the case of blind students, clearly the online spaces aren't working as planned.

For students with limited mobility, maybe online is a good alternative, but I found them less engaging and harder to comprehend. Right now, we don't consider the pedagogical implications carefully enough, but I also understand the rush to online spaces is an economic necessity for some institutions.

Since I have difficulty with mobility as well as some cognitive differences, my views of online education are biased. I like the convenienc…

Virtual Valley Predictions for 2011

A display of old televisions, VCRs and radios in Amberley Working Museum, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
December 6, 2010 Deadline
January 2011 Issue

Virtual Valley Predictions for 2011

Prognostication is a year-round sport in the technology industry, with everyone trying to anticipate the “Next Big Thing.” Few analysts guess the trends, but since it is the start of a new year, time to offer some predictions from the Virtual Valley crystal ball.

The five predictions I offer share a common theme: with media going digital, traditional broadcasters and retailers are going to struggle. As newspapers and magazines have fallen to Web surfing, the next earthquakes will strike the film and television industries.

Prediction 1: Cable and satellite television subscribers will reduce or terminate their monthly services.

When the Fresno State Football Bulldogs beat Illinois 25-23 on December 3, I wasn’t near a television, but I was still watching the game live a…

Wedding Registries Go Virtual

Lifestyle / Direct: Wedding Issue
November 15, 2010 Deadline
Wedding 2010 Issue

Wedding Registries Go Virtual

A friend of mine adores Williams-Sonoma, the gourmet food and cookware retailer known for unique teas, baking mixes and unusual items like cakelet pans. When she announced her engagement, she included Williams-Sonoma among her list of bridal registries. However, many specialty retailers have yet to open locations in Tulare County.

Though a drive to Fresno to visit some retailers might be a nice way to spend a weekend afternoon, my unfortunate experience has been that specialty retailers do not offer the same selection in the Valley as they do in places like San Francisco or Los Angeles. Also, there are some smaller retailers we might never see in the Valley.

I know some couples who have used Target’s “Club Wedd” to create wedding registries. Club Wedd’s online bridal registry is convenient, especially when you’re swamped preparing for the big day. As my wife has reminded me mo…

Scrapbooking Made Easy

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
October 25, 2010 Deadline
December 2010 Issue

Scrapbooking Made Easy

Scrapbooking is a serious hobby for some people. Two of my cousins create beautiful works of art using special acid-free art papers, rubber stamps, decals and photos. Scrapbooking is an art form in the hands of serious “scrappers.”

Then, there are people like me. I can’t cut a decent trim using Fiskar scissors and don’t even allow me near glue. I’m more likely to glue the photos to myself than the pages. Yet, there is hope for those of us with scrapbook impairments.

Digital scrapping, also known as DigiScrappin or digiscrap, enables us to use computer software to create virtual scrapbooks that can also be printed.

There are several specialized software packages available for scrapbooking. These applications sell for less than $40. Broderbund and Nova also sell special editions of their scrapbooking applications for weddings. The wedding editions include clipart and fonts appropriate to …

Online Communities Temporary at Best

The word "community" is overused in academic fields, but it is the best word for what it on my mind today. I closed a Web server this week on which I had created a Drupal and MediaWiki site on special education. The site was functional for about two years, which is an eternity online. The reality is that online communities come and go so rapidly that what was popular a year or two ago is often "inactive" now. There are dozens of Yahoo groups that are dedicated to special education. Most of these were active five years ago, but have since fallen out of favor with users. Just as the Usenet groups and most "listservs" have faded away in the last five years, so have many online forums. The Internet has accelerated the speed with which a community grows, propers, and then declines. The timeline of the Internet is punctuated by technologies and business ideas that were "hot" for a moment. When is the last time you used IRC or read a newsgroup? Remembe…

Dramatica vs. Contour vs. 'Me'

I am a believer in outlining and planning before, during, and after the drafting process for most long forms of creative writing. Generally, I'm always searching for a way to better organize my thoughts. As a writer, this means I experiment with various outlining and "story plotting" tools.

Two popular story plotting applications are Dramatica (B000H774K0) and Contour (B002ABL3IK). In addition to my thoughts on these tools, you can read reviews on Amazon and various writing-focused forums.

Bluntly, Dramatica Pro 4.1 is too precise and Contour 1.2 is not precise enough.

Contour guides you through a serious of basic questions based on a single "Blockbuster" template for screenplays and novels. There is one, and only one, Contour story structure. You can create a basic story outline in a few hours, assuming you follow the model.

Contour could be great. It looks a lot better than Dramatica, but the beauty is only skin deep.

The Contour application does nothing m…

Building a Business via Social Networks

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
October 4, 2010 Deadline
November 2010 Issue

Building a Business via Social Networks

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and a myriad of social networking Internet technologies are reshaping how businesses develop and maintain customer relationships. Just as a Web presence became a standard marketing tool by the late 1990s, a “social network” identity is becoming an essential part of brand development.

Writers, musicians and actors have to be good at self-promotion. Celebrity Twitter feeds are read by millions of loyal fans. Many celebrities also maintain blogs and public accounts on Facebook or MySpace. We can learn from the examples of celebrities, both what to do and what not to do with the power of social networking.

One local mystery writer has turned social networking into an effective promotional tool. Marilyn Meredith, a Springville resident, writes a blog entry almost daily. These entries are on both the business and craft of writing. To see how this Val…

Nurturing the Valley’s Tech Economy

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
September 2, 2010 Deadline
October Issue

Nurturing the Valley’s Tech Economy  

“What can we do to improve, or even create, Tulare County’s tech economy?”

When I receive messages after a column is published, they tend to ask technical questions. This summer, I received poignant messages about topics of special interest to me: our schools and our economy.

There is no quick and easy way to nurture a high-tech economy. Sadly, there are more examples of failure than success. In the Midwest, states have been trying to transition from manufacturing to technology for the last quarter century. Driving through these states, one finds empty business parks, faltering science-focused charter schools, and cities with uncertain futures. Tax breaks, special incentives, and substantial federal aid have not produced rivals to Silicone Valley or the Route 128 “Tech Corridor” of Massachusetts.

However, this summer I visited Texas, where high-tech is expanding at an amazing …

Learning to Program, Learning to Think

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
August 2, 2010 Deadline
September Issue

Learning to Program, Learning to Think

Several times a month I create or modify computer code, but I use the skills I have gained from programming on a daily basis. The more I learn about computer languages and programming, the more I learn to think creatively to solve problems.

Our schools are asked to prepare students for standardized tests, primarily on English and math skills. We frequently claim we want students to learn creative problem solving, but we test memorized knowledge. State and national tests focus on knowing such things as the meanings of words and how to solve math problems with memorized equations. I don’t question the value of memorizing Latin and Greek roots or the quadratic equation, but teaching how to think is essential to the future.

Computer programming requires analyzing a problem, breaking a possible solution into small parts and then writing the code to perform the steps required by the…

Back to School Computer Shopping

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 29, 2010 Deadline
August Issue

Back to School Computer Shopping

Back-to-school sales used to mean new jeans, shoes, and school supplies. Now, along with binders and pencils, retailers discount computers as summer ends. Computer manufacturers have joined in with back-to-school promotions, making August and September great months to consider a new computer, especially for college students.

When buying a computer for school, two common mistakes are bargain shopping and brand loyalty.

There are instances when buying the cheapest possible computer makes sense. If the student only needs to type papers for class and perform some basic spreadsheet functions, then almost any computer is up to the tasks. Even the most affordable netbooks, at under $200, can surf the Web and run a good word processor.

Considering the abuse portable computers take in college settings, I’m all for buying an affordable system. I’ve seen students knock computers off the absurdly s…

I (Sometimes) Miss WordPerfect for DOS

In college, I wrote software documentation for mainframe users, which meant I had the opportunity to use text editors and word processors on a variety of computer platforms. I composed documentation on everything from glorified typewriters (DEC VT102 and IBM 3270 terminals) to slick WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") Apple Macs.

I was probably not alone in being captivated by the Mac experience. Toss in PageMaker, a few fonts, and a LaserWriter for a complete desktop publishing system, and the Mac was hard to beat. Yet, I quickly realized that I wrote better on my MS-DOS 2.1 PC running WordPerfect 4.2 from floppy disks. How could this be? The Mac was easier to use and the papers I typed looked much better on paper. Why did I type so much more, and much better, on the PC?

I didn't work on the Mac; I explored. I'd play with fonts, formatting options, and the nifty features of Word or PageMaker. I'd also play Crystal Quest, Lode Runner, and Dark Castle for hou…