Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Summer Meeting Postmortem

If you read my blog you'll know that I went to and presented at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) earlier this summer. A couple of my posts this summer were about my own session and I did manage to post about a couple of the other sessions I attended. In addition to the NECC I also got to go to the Lemleson-MIT Inventeams Odyssey. At both of these events I learned more from the conversations I had with other educators than I did through any organized activities. Don't get me wrong, I also learned a lot from the sessions I attended and from talking with vendors, it's just that I leaned more through informal interactions.

The main reason this post didn't happen right after the NECC is that I've been spending time investigating the resources I learned about in my conversations with others. So, what did I learn:

In Boston (at MIT):
  • I met, Stephen Scannell, the president of the Oregon section of the American Association of Physics Teachers and we traded emails and lesson ideas. We'll be sharing more over the years to come I'm sure.
  • I also made a contact with Steve Meyer, who is a teacher and a distributor for the PICAXE micro-controller. The PICAXE is an inexpensive, easy to use micro-controller and is perfect for a lot of really cool electronics projects. Until recently, the only distributors I knew of were located in Great Britain.
  • I also learned about Project Lead the Way. I need to spend some more time looking at this to see if it might be right for my school.

In Atlanta (at the NECC):
  • I had a great, although brief, conversation with Carolyn Staudt from the Concord Consortium. They have some truly great stuff. They develop research based lessons and lesson plans and then do the research to determine the efficacy of their stuff. If you teach science or math you really should spend some time going through their site. They have lessons and resources that can be used by educators at every level. My favorite is a collection of tools for DIY probeware.
  • My table was right next to the Vernier table at the Math/Science Playground so I got to talk with Rick Sorenson, their representative, quite a bit. He pointed out some different ways to use LabPros so that the LoggerPro software doesn't do all the work for the students. By default, LoggerPro sets itself up in the most user friendly way. This is often not the best way to ensure students learn, however. I find students learn more when they have to think about and analyze the data for themselves. By default LoggerPro does most of the analysis for you making it easy to run through a lot of labs very quickly, although in a very superficial way. After talking with Rick I learned that it doesn't have to be this way, apparently I can have my cake and eat it too.
  • As a presenter I had access to "Presenters World". It sounds much cooler than it was. It was a room with tables, internet connections, available plugs, and a printer. We could also store stuff so we wouldn't have to lug it all over the convention center. While spending a little down time recharging my laptop I met Scott Garrigan. He had run a workshop on free/opensource resources for education. So, I asked him for the 5 minute version of his session. He pointed me at:
    • Breve - An opensource 3D simulation program for creating artificial life. He recommends it particularly for its potential to teach concepts in evolution and genetics.
    • Teragen - A free landscape generator. You can use this to create photo-realistic landscapes. The you can then cause erosion to happen and talk about how land changes over time. It is also possible to take topo data of real places and create them.
    • NetLogo - This is what I was looking for last summer. I will be spending much of August playing with this to see if I can use it in my classes. "NetLogo is a cross-platform multi-agent programmable modeling environment." There are lots of great models out there already, including some that I would use to replace EcoBeaker (assuming I every teach Environmental Science again). I will be spending time see how I can create new models or modify existing ones to teach the lessons I need to teach.

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