Year3-Week14: Thoughts from the Educational Trenches


Year3-Week14: Thoughts from the Educational Trenches



I like being an educational grunt on the front lines in the classroom and take some pride that what others theorize about, I have to make happen. It might be a fool’s errand, but you can’t tell me what we’re supposed to be doing in the classroom if you’ve never spend any given week teaching in said classrooms. And it turns out that we tend to NOT plan for student resistance.

Twenty-six students per class and all it takes is two or three students committed to NOT following directions to derail the lesson plan. I have to confess that I tend to assume student buy-in, because the subject is so awesome, that I can be thrown off when students decide that they aren’t going to follow directions. Doh!

I was pleasantly surprised this past week when one third grade class followed directions as they began the LEGO WeDo unit and chose to complete the first lesson with minimal drama and almost every pair built their first robot before the end of class. The same could not be said for one fifth grade class that decided not to do their Scratch programming lesson and made it all about their dislike of their assigned partner, such that only one pair out of 12 completed the lesson. Something here needs to be adjusted.

Admin thinks it’s all about classroom discipline and “consequences,” but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Earlier robotics classes floundered because too much was expected with too little time to get the job done. We just ran out of time to get anything done and really have fun with the robots before our four-weekly-sessions were over. So, I simplified things and reduced the number of robot builds and added time to compete and reflect on the process. Conversely, I think the problem with Scratch is that because we’re not programming a physical device it’s harder to make the team thing work. It’s too easy to get derailed and choose to NOT follow directions. Building and programming a robot can be a two or three person activity, but Scratch really works better when everyone has their own computer to program. You wouldn’t know that if you haven’t spent time watching groups of students do the Scratch programming lessons. I should have known this from my Full Sail Labs experiences. Physical devices, like robots, can be group/paired experiences, while programming characters on a screen is better served when everybody gets to use their own computer/iPad.

We’re still spending way too much time just with the login/getting things started process. There are lab-supervision software programs that I really should push for, so that I can have better control of all the computers when I need to do whole class instruction. When I talked to a couple vendors about this, they admitted that they can do everything I need, except control iPads. So I can anticipate having to control iPad access more directly, because some kids are dedicated to derailing things. That said, I would like to see more instruction completely conducted via iPad, so that everyone has a device.

If we had enough iPads, I’d consider switching from Scratch to Apple’s Swift Playgrounds (which is iPad only). We would need five more iPads to make that work. At the same time Scratch itself is going HTML5 in January (and finally leaving Adobe Flash), which finally makes it something that we can do on either iPads or computers. So, I’m thinking that I’m going to shelve Scratch with 4th & 5th graders until January/February, when we can have either enough devices to Scratch is ready to be used on the devices we have.

I posted on one of my classroom walls the giant maps of our neighborhood created by my kindergarteners and first grade classes. I’m thinking that the follow-up activity will be for them to create houses and buildings using the small milk cartons that I collected earlier this month and then Velcro the little buildings to the map… Finally, second and third grade classes are into multiple weeks doing a “Student Learning Goals” research/presentation process (that was originally supposed to happen in one class period). So… lots of room for growth. What was that quote that I used from week two of this year:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, German Field Marshal



The Newspaper Business in the Age of Digital Media, Part 1

Old newspaper by ShironekoEuro (some rights reserved)

Who still reads the local newspaper or any newspaper for news these days? I recently saw an ad for a position at the local alternative paper looking for a digital content coordinator, essentially to help the paper “develop and define the publication’s digital presence across a variety of platforms.” In the early 1990s I interned as a Fact-Checker for the Los Angeles alternative paper just before getting my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism but went into public education instead. Like many memories from those days, the paper and its clout seemed to be a lot bigger than the current version. A lot has changed in the intervening 30-years, making me wonder, what is it going to take to make the news business work with today’s challenges?

When I was a kid I watched my dad read the LA Times every morning and watch the evening news every night. I think I still have one brother-in-law who reads the paper daily. I also have maybe one friend who is a Sunday Brunch/LA Times Calendar section kind of person. And that seems to be about it for news consumption on the part of anyone that I can think of. I think I have to go back at least 30-years to remember the last time I was a faithful subscriber to the daily newspaper, but over my life it’s been more of an occasional novelty that I quickly abandon when the piles of unread paper get too embarrassing. Granted, working nights and going to school most of my adult life, I never seemed to develop the kind of sit-down-at-the-table habits that was part of my father’s world.

My own peripatetic lifestyle aside, the problems facing modern journalism aren’t any one thing. They are technological, economic and sociological. Everyone tends to focus on the economic and technological challenges… which are very real. Losing advertising dollars to the other emerging forms of media and the whole lost Want-Ads revenue stream would be show stoppers alone. And somehow technology is expected to come to the rescue, as in just eliminate the expense of paper (storage, processing and transportation) and go digital with a website or app on one’s smartphone or tablet and it’ll all be better.

For example, in 2010 when everyone from Sports Illustrated to Time Magazine jumped on the iPad bandwagon, I was quite interested to see if I’d suddenly become more of a regular news consumer without the embarrassing piles of paper to shut me down. I wrote quite a few times about my e-News experiences (see the links below). Yeah, it turns out that even though I had been using an online system called Zinio for some time on my computer, also having access to magazines and newspapers on my iPad didn’t quite make me a regular news consumer on the platform. Well, that’s not entirely true…

caveman-typing-750I guess the error, on my part, was assuming that because I didn’t consume my news like my dad that somehow I was doing it wrong. Because sitting down with the paper every morning and watching the news every night wasn’t part of my routine, somehow I was part of the reason that newspapers were disappearing. Yeah, not so much. Turns out that thanks to the 24/7 cable news channels and continuous news cycle, I’d gotten use to the notion that I could tap into news coverage whenever something was happening or whenever I wanted to. I learned over time to not depend on an AM/PM news cycle. That’s the sociological plus technological challenge: we’re no longer on the same “news cycle” and have an expectation to get our news whenever it’s happening and whenever we want it. Way back in 2005 I realized that my need for news, especially tech related news, was being taken care of via audio and video podcasts. I was getting my news very consistently and found sources who held to journalistic standards I’d expect from any kind of news source. There was nothing on TV or traditional radio that could compete. And waiting for the monthly magazine news cycle was completely useless. So the solution isn’t really about paper versus digital versions of the news, but managing live AND on-demand availability of journalistically vetted information.

The question remains, how do you get your news? Recognizing that my experiences aren’t remotely universal, I posted an informal questionnaire about ones news habits. I’ve upgraded the questionnaire to a google-doc based survey and would greatly appreciate your responses. Please click the following link:

Previous posts about Journalism and News:

Et Tu, iPhoto?


For as long as I can remember I was the guy with the camera. As a result I have a lot of boxes of photos (yes, physical prints), photo albums and gigabytes of image spread out over several personal and shared media servers. I’ve been wrestling with my collection for some time and had previously been a strong believer in the iLife/iPhoto process mostly because it was so seamless getting my images off of my devices and into a library where I could decide what to do next with the images. But for a long time my collection has been just too big to be in one iPhoto library. So I tired to break my collection down to yearly chunks, but I often need or want to use images from previous years and it’s a pain to even know which library the image might be in. Actually the combination of the different storage limitations of my devices and my main macbook pro is where things break down. I have the storage capability on my network server but iPhoto doesn’t like network drives and I can only imagine how slow things would run as the library got even bigger. I don’t need to add any more spinning-pin-wheels-of-death to my life. So, I started dismantling my iPhoto libraries, making sure that I have all of the images stored, still organized based on date, but accessible from the Finder or any other file-level application, like say Adobe’s Lightroom.

What really is pushing me away from iPhoto, besides the storage problems, is as easy and automatic as it is to take a picture on my iPhone and have it automatically show up on all of my other devices, editing an image on iPad with iPhoto for iPad didn’t automatically make the return trip. What is worse is that label and notes that one might add to an image in iPhoto on the Mac didn’t show up when viewing the image on the iPad. This might seem trivial, but because I use images for all kinds of sources and need to keep track of where I got the image and its licensing, I started using the notes feature in iPhoto for mac, but saw that the info wasn’t available to edit or even view when looking at the same image in iPhoto for iPad. I’m still in the huge process of making sure all of my images are available outside of the iPhoto libraries and would like to use Lightroom or something similar but I’m intrigued at the announcement at the recent WWDC of a iCloud-based version of the that makes editing seamless between devices and also opens up to having ones whole collection available online. Interesting. We’ll see. I know that scrolling through my Flickr account can be really slow and when I was looking for my own panoramas to add to a collection, the scrolling flat out failed and hung up. So we’ll see if iCloud can do any better. Back to managing my photo collection(s). Ugh.

Thinking about Hands…

I recently started or restarted sketching or doodling, now on my iPad. It was something that I did a lot of back in the pre-computer days. Look at any book I owned in those days and you’ll find my doodles and notes bleeding across the margins. Funny that someone who drew long before I was comfortable writing would have mostly abandoned the art when I switched to computers in the 1980s… I’m definitely out of practice…

This past Sunday I was sitting on a park bench after doing three laps around Lake Lilly in Maitland and my feet were not happy with me and I was wondering what to draw. I had this beautiful vista of this lake and the birds and the trees, but my thoughts were much more inward. I wanted to remember, despite my achy feet, how far I’d come in the past year… this time last year I had been losing strength in my hands to the point where I found it difficult to sign my name (not that anyone would notice the difference in my pathetic signature). I was also growing more and more frustrated that I was losing accuracy in my typing. I had bought a couple different keyboards to use with my iPad and had to reject them because anything less than a full-size keyboard and I couldn’t seem to hit anything with my left or right pinky finger. It was so frustrating and scary to feel like I might lose my ability to communicate via my writing. I was losing feeling in my fingers and after seeing how my legs so quickly wasted away to nothing I didn’t know what I’d do if I lost my hands like I’d up to that point lost my feet and legs.

I tried to adjust and started gripping my eating and writing utensils in the same close-fisted stabbing posture because I could use my arm strength to help my failing fingers. I know it scared those around me to see me this way, but I couldn’t think about it much beyond just trying to adapt and keep moving. I did find out that the way I was leaning on my elbows was probably contributing to causing numbness in my hands. Ack, but I leaned so much because with so little padding on my legs and rear I found it difficult to sit for any length of time (not that standing was at all an option…). Grhh. Not a fun time.

I still have some slight numbness in my right pinky finger, which might be permanent, but as I started to get better over the course of the past year, my hands also have returned to something close to their pre-illness functioning. Just like the rest of my body, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get back to the way it used to be. All the more reason to remember the difficulty I’ve been through and celebrate what I’ve regained so far. Thus, the return to sketching means more to me than something to do during idle mental-cycles. After what I’ve been through I’m trying to figure out the things that are important to me and reclaiming them.

Up to the point when my body began to fail me and I started to lose every day abilities, I had so much that I gave no thought to. This time last year I had lost my ability to walk or to drive my car, to go up and down the stairs of my townhouse, to even get something to eat from the freezer to the microwave and I was beginning to notice the numbness spreading to my hands. As the new year began I started to see some signs that the treatments might be working, but I had lost so much at this point that I didn’t want to make assumptions about when it would end or how long it would take. I don’t if I would have made it if Tricia and her family hadn’t taken me in, but the holidays 2012 were still a very dark time for me when I spent as much time as possible either sleeping or doing something like soaking in a hot bath to escape the pain. It’s all the more important for me to remember what I’ve been through, what I almost lost and reclaim what is truly important to me with both hands. Happy Holidays.

Back to Doodling, Now on my iPad

A few weeks ago I got a fancy stylus for my iPad, not-ironically called Pencil from 53, makers of the iPad app, Paper. It’s renewed interest in using the iPad as a sketch device. A bit later I reflected on some work news in “graphic” form… more or less…

Monitors Back o' My Head by Joe Bustillos

Monitors Back o’ My Head by Joe Bustillos


Mini-Retina vs. Air & Other First World Problems

I know that I’m not a normal tech user, well, in more ways than one. The fact that I’m so strongly concerned about which new iPad to buy should be proof enough that something is missing in my life. So, it’s all the more important that my compunction to wrestle these esoteric tech things should be used to the benefit of others who might also be wondering which iPad to get (or whether to get one at all).

I’ve had iPads since I got iPad version one in 2010 and have used the things to do almost everything, especially any quick activity like checking my email and Facebook, watching video podcasts and … um, any bathroom reading (I’m very militant about hand washing after using the bathroom, so germaphobes, get over yourself!). Anyway, with the latest iPads being almost identical in the hardware spec department, save the screen size & cost, deciding between the diminutive mini-retina and iPad Air isn’t turning out to be such a simple thing.

First part of making this decision was to figure out what I do with my current full-size iPad (3rd gen). Like I mentioned above, I do pretty much do everything on my iPad, including blogging and various types of content creation. When I drilled down I figured out that the line between using the iPad versus my macbook was whether the job required multiple screens. That is, if I need to have multiple windows opened, side-by-side, then I was probably going to resort to using my macbook. If the job could be done in a single window then I’m likely to use the iPad. So, current usage doesn’t point to a clear choice between which iPad model to select.

So the next consideration was what is it that I want to do with the next model that I don’t do or don’t do as much. When I thought about what I want to do more, my first thought was using the iPad as an e-reader more frequently. For a very brief moment last year I had an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and the difference in weight and lack of stress on the hand from holding the thing when compared to my full-size iPad was pretty obvious. Having a smaller device for reading is something that I’ve been wanting for some time. The thing is, I use my 3rd-gen iPad so much that I really have wondered how much stress I must be putting on my wrists and back because I sit there for a long time watching videos and not change positions nearly enough. It’s gotten to the point to where when I’m lying on my back I prop my Griffin Loop for iPad stand on my stomach and work from that position. It’s kind’a silly.

After briefly holding the new iPad Air during my recent visit to the Apple Store I’m not convinced that it’ll be light enough. Also, if I’m going to spend this much money there needs to be enough obvious difference to help justify the purchase. So, is there enough of a difference in the models, size-wise.

At the same time, when I think about what I want to do, I’ve mentioned several times that I’d really like to be able to work through my photography and do some of my triage and editing on my iPad. Having felt the need for the smaller more hand/wrist-friendly iPad mini/retina, I’m wondering if the reduced screen real estate will present a problem editing photos. Both devices have the same number of pixel, but I have no idea if the mini’s screen will just be too small for my aging eyes when it comes to doing photo-editing. The device will be more portable, but if it’s less useful then that’s a real problem. Granted, I love the iPhoto tools but I don’t love the fact that editing done on the iPad doesn’t sync without great effort to the macbook and tags/labels on the macbook don’t show up in iPhoto for iOS, so this concern about photo editing on the iPad is the most speculative item in my decision process.

The smart thing to do would be to wait until I can get my hands on an iPad mini retina to try to decide whether screen real estate would be an issue. Of course we all know how consistent I’ve been when it come to doing the smart thing related to my tech purchases. Ha!

Real Computers Versus Toys, Part 2


I can understand how some might feel that devices like iPads and tablets aren’t real computers, especially those who’ve never really used an iPad or those who think a real computer has to have a keyboard, mouse and USB port. Anything less are just toys, expensive toys, but still toys. Like I mentioned before, I don’t encounter this sentiment that too often, mostly because I normally find that the long-suffering classroom teachers I’ve worked with are used to taking whatever they can get and making the best of it. This bunch would gladly “put up with” a classroom full of iPads.

When I first started teaching I populated my classroom with two PCs that I’d thrown together from parts left over from my latest computer upgrades. With the lone Mac in our non-networked classroom (this was before the Internet had reached our outpost elementary school in Cerritos, California), I set the computers up as stations for student to use in pairs for their language arts and social studies assignments. Basically I used what I had or could cobble together and the addition of the two vintage PCs meant that my students got to be on computers more than just once a week. There was a teacher in another district who populated his classroom full of Apple ][cs that he bought very cheaply or retrieved from school that were going to throw them out. On his own, without school money, he was able to populate his classroom with one computer for each student, long before any one-to-one program existed. Part of being a classroom teacher is working miracles with very little or out of your own pocket, usually both. Ha, we’re used to working with “technology” that’s missing things like working keyboards or mice. Bring it on!

We’re used to working with less than ideal situations. But that’s no excuse for decision makers to underfund us or make purchasing decisions purely on the basis of how much they think they can get for how little and expecting our resourcefulness will make it work. An outspoken hater of iPads-in-the-classroom, Dr. Garry Stager, feels that the technology is too crippled to be truly useful and that decision makers are only thinking of dollars and cents and not the educational value of how technology should be used in the classroom. Granted, we’re still in this asinine numbers-driven/testing mindset, so the value of technology in the classroom from the point of view of district people tends be focused on managing the testing regime and not on learning or Dr. Stager’s beloved (and politically exiled) Constructivism. Screw all that we learned in the late-70s and 80s about useful learning models in the classroom. Hell, because of the scripted test-prep curriculum, we don’t even have time for the wasteful drill-and-kill tech-model, it’s all about training for the test. So, iPads for everyone, my friends, just make sure they’re properly locked down (LAUSD!).

In the end, this version of “real computers versus toys” isn’t about technology but about how little we regard the teaching profession and that, as much as we say we believe in education, we’re not willing to properly fund it. When my district stripped out a huge chunk of our Magnet grant funding, we were able to make it work anyway because something called the”iMac” had just been introduced and cut the expense of buying computers in half. Given any kind of say in the process and we’ll make it work. But it’s shameful that we’re forced to do so because decision-makers have forgotten that this enterprise of learning is more valuable to our culture and society than all other civic responsibilities combined. Fail at this and forget about your healthy economy or tax-base or middle-class, etc. If bringing iPads into the classroom is based on the usefulness of the tools for learning, than go for it. If it’s another workaround more underfunding than shame on you decision-makers and disinterested community for not giving teachers and students the proper tools to get the job done.


  • image: 2011-04-14 FaceTime Everywhere by Joe Bustillos,, retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • Point/Counterpoint: Should Students Use Their Own Devices in the Classroom? By Jen LaMaster and Gary S. Stager (posted Aug 7, 2012, 16:36 PM), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • L.A. Unified’s iPad rollout marred by chaos: Confusion reigns as L.A. Unified deals with glitches after rollout of ambitious an-iPad-for-every-student project, By Howard Blume and Stephen Ceasar (posted October 01, 2013), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • youtube video: Seymour Papert 1983, posted by Cynthia Solomon (posted May 25, 2007), retrieved 10/23/2013.

Real Computers Versus Toys, Part 1

I’ve finally encountered a real “microsofty.” Being primarily an Apple school it’s not often that I’ve encountered those who firmly believe in the Microsoft-way and more or less tolerate having to use Macs in our coursework. We’ve recently introduced an iBooks Author assignment into my course and the following course and this student confessed to not having access to an iPad, which is currently a prerequisite to testing out ones creation when using the iBooks Author app. More than that, the student expressed a preference for using Microsoft Surface devices and some negative feelings because he’s had to help others use their iPads on his network and didn’t like releasing privileges to these users. He didn’t come out and say it, but there was a definite “real computers” versus “toys” mindset expressed.

After taking the tutorial on using iBooks Author, I think that relegating an iPad to the “toy” category dismisses the power of the device and reveals a prejudice stuck in an 1980s definition of what’s required to be a real computing device. The latest iPad vs. Surface commercials repeat these “requirements.”

For those who live in a Microsoft-only world these things might seem like minimum requirements, but I cannot tell you the last time I needed to use a USB-key to move a file or data. I take that back, last time was when I was helping someone using a PC print out something because they couldn’t get the printer to work with their PC. Anyway, Dropbox, Google Drive and even Microsoft’s SkyDrive have made needing a USB port for data-transport seem very antiquated (in the floppy-disc era we called that “sneaker-net”). As for needing to run MS Office, I pretty much do most of my editing and composition using an online tool or app built specifically for the task at hand. I love the freedom to use any device at hand to do my work instead of having to “sit at the computer” to get work done. Finally, to call the keyboard sold for the Surface RT and Surface 2 a “real keyboard” is a real insult to keyboards. And it’s not as if I can’t purchase a much more functional Logitech Ultrathin keyboard/cover.

I wonder if those who insist that you have to have a “real” keyboard/USB port/MS Office to do real work would also say that the only real form of transportation is via trucks? Using the analogy cited by the late Steve Jobs, there was a time when if you wanted to buy a vehicle you bought a truck because it was the most useful and most available. I remember when I had a truck and how much I thought that the back portion was a real waste because I used it so infrequently. Trucks aren’t going away but most of us don’t need them and choose not to buy one. The world is changing and the need to sit at a keyboard is changing. Believe me, I love having my three-wide-screen-monitors, keyboard and mouse when I’m in that mode. But lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing, reclining on my couch or bed, using my iPad’s virtual keyboard. Having a kickstand in the back isn’t necessary and reminds me that some people seem to think they need to sit-up to work.

iBooks Author & the Post-Website World


I just finished taking an extensive tutorial on the Apple product iBooks Author and it really got me thinking about the post website world. What I mean is that Apple has been trying for decades to create the right combination of tools to enable their users to unleash their creativity on the world. Among other problems, the chief conduit of sharing this creativity has been a mode of communication that was primarily designed to make it possible for scholars to access each others’ papers. In other words, from its inception, the Internet has a narrow set of tools meant to share text or highly compressed versions of other media. It’s remarkable how much can be shared via such small pipes and such non-artist-friendly tools. Apple’s last tool, iWeb, attempted to bridge the kind of page-layout tools used for magazines and graphic design with the limitations of html and the Internet. But as easy as these tools were to use I think Apple discovered that everyone did want to take pictures and make videos, but no one wanted to go through the hassle of putting up a website to post their creative works. But what could not be controlled on the Internet was quite a different thing if one were to use tablets, specifically iPads, as the means of sharing… But, realistically, we’re still dealing with more hassle than most are willing to deal with. I don’t think Apple cares about that or is under any delusion that the vast majority of wanna-be photographers or videographers are going to rush to iBooks Author to share their works. I think that tools like iPhoto and iMovie and the iPhone and iPad will continue to serve the needs of folks who just want to whip out the pictures from the weekend trip or videos from the vacation and YouTube and Facebook will continue to be the easiest way to share one’s work with friends and family. But what happens when one wants to create something more than snapshots from the weekend or something more involved than a 90-second video of the baby dancing? I know this problem well.

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