Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Brain Drain - Fact or Fiction?

At the end of the school year parents are assulted with the notion of "Summer Brain Drain". The theory is that students "lose: a few months of learning over the summer break and then the schools have to spend a few weeks at the beginning of the year reteaching this lost knowledge.

I contend that if this knowledge is so easily lost then it truely wasn't learned in the first place!

Surely if your child summer consists of sitting in front of the tv or playing video games all summer long then he/she is missing out on the opportunity to do some real learning, the kind that sadly they don't have time for in school because they are focused on things like cursive writing and memorizing facts and figures.

Summer is the perfect time to explore the natural world and learn how things connect to each other. Higher concept learning rather than compartimentlized learning in which kids have no idea how the various concepts relate to each other. For example learning multiplication facts by memorizing instead of using it directly in a project.

Personally I use the summer break to do all sorts of project based learning with my son, we also go on a lot of family trips, sign him up for a few art, nature, sports camps and I make sure there are plenty of trips to the library to spend a few hours of reading in the car or especially on those very hot muggy after noons when you don't want to move.

A few weeks agon I over heard the principal talking about year round school in order to catch up with our European and Asia global neighbors who are passing us in the education front. I cringed at the thought of year round school without the break to do the things school does not. Unless the schools taught an entirely different circulum perhaps spent mostly on the arts and sciences I'm not interested.

The problem of brain drain really is more economic as children in poorer familys do not have the access to the enriching summer camps or even a stay at home parent who can spend time with them and do the project based learning.

"If we can eliminate the summer gap, we can close the longstanding achievement gap between richer and poorer kids," said Richard Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and past president of the International Reading Association. "Basically, even poor kids grow reading skills at about the same rate as middle-class kids, when they are in school." he said. "Two-thirds of the achievement gap occurs during the summers, not during the school year." - Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at U-Va. who is an expert in cognition and the application of cognitive principles to K-12 education.

Active Summer, Active Minds

Great Schools - Stop Summer Brain Drain

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meet Your Teacher

This current issue of Edutopia
says it all - Kids lead the way in the digital classroom.

My philosophy working with kids is to show them technology, give them a little direction but then get out of the way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Self-described as a cross between a mechanical engineer and a choreographer, Arthur Ganson creates contraptions composed of a range of materials from delicate wire to welded steel and concrete. Most are viewer-activated or driven by electric motors. All are driven by a wry sense of humor or a probing philosophical concept"

Exhibit info

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. It's a message with deep resonance. Robinson's TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? "Everyone should watch this."

A visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken led the British government's 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements. His latest book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, a deep look at human creativity and education, was published in January 2009.

Check out this humorous and thought provoking piece:


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Time to shut down the public education system

Alvin Toffler (Future Shock author)on why public school need to be rebuilt from the ground up:

"We should be thinking from the ground up. That's different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.

Let's look back at the history of public education in the United States. You have to go back a little over a century. For many years, there was a debate about whether we should even have public education. Some parents wanted kids to go to school and get an education; others said, "We can't afford that. We need them to work. They have to work in the field, because otherwise we starve." There was a big debate.

Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce "industrial discipline."

What is industrial discipline?

"Well, first of all, you've got to show up on time. Out in the fields, on the farms, if you go out with your family to pick a crop, and you come ten minutes late, your uncle covers for you and it's no big deal. But if you're on an assembly line and you're late, you mess up the work of 10,000 people down the line. Very expensive. So punctuality suddenly becomes important.
You don't want to be tardy."

Yes. In school, bells ring and you mustn't be tardy. And you march from class to class when the bells ring again. And many people take a yellow bus to school. What is the yellow bus? A preparation for commuting. And you do rote and repetitive work as you would do on an assembly line.



Once you start thinking about this "industrial discipline" taught in public schools you can really start to see it: Don't run on the playground. Don't play with sticks. If you have extra time here is another worksheet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DrumBot Project Update

BTW - I order a few of these surplus Saw 3 toys from All Electronics. For $2 you get a digital voice recorder part and even two included AAA batteries. Just the battery holder is worth that!
So far so good. My soldering skills seem to have been good enough to get the MSA-R board working properly despite a few questionable solder joints. The one LED stays lit and the other one comes on and then goes off as its suppose to - I did have the MIDI connector soldered on wrong which I learned is a common mistake according to the Highly Liquid web site. Note to self - Read the diagrams with care!

I got a really cheap MIDI to USB cord off of Ebay and used Anvil Studio (free MIDI composer program) to generate some MIDI signals. Anvil has a nice MIDI test feature that generates about 12 notes over and over so you can test your MIDI ins and outs.

For who knows why I couldn't get my Windows NT computer to work with the DrumBot. I have a zillion USB ports in use so maybe that was the problem. Anyway I tried it on my super slow Vista laptop and had success! But I did have to download a little Vista Midi Mapper utility. Here are the resources I used:

Midi Mapper for Vista

Anvil Studio

I set the MIDI out to channel 13 and set the DIP switches to channel 13 and the note range of around 60 to 70 which is where Anvil Studio runs its test. Success! The MIDI cable lit out as sending data OUT and the LED on the MSA-R blinked with the incoming notes.

Next up - Raid Caffrey's collection of talking Happy Meal toys and add some motors and solenoids!

Friday, June 12, 2009

DrumBot Project - Tips from Michael Una

These are the solenoids I use:

If you're considering tackling this project, I recommend using a different HighlyLiquid kit than the one mentioned in the article. John has come out with some newer ones that work a little more cleanly than the MSA-R.

You should check out the MD24:

It's got 24 outputs, and can control servos directly for a quick and easy solution. You can also drive transistors with it for activating the solenoids.

Please feel free to ask me any questions as you get into it.


Michael Una

Thursday, June 11, 2009

DrumBot Resources

Original Drumbot Article in Make

Michael Una's Blog

Cocktail Drumbot -


This one uses a motor to drum:

Teaching Computer Technology

I found this great blog that is "A collection of ideas and resources that might help someone who wants to teach kids about computer technology"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Step By Step Reactable Journal

I just found this step by step guide as to how to make your own reacTable.

He is going to use the following software:

reacTivision: reacTIVision is a computer vision framework for the fast and robust tracking of fiducial markers via a camera.

TUIO Simulator: A java application that simulates reacTIVision, i.e it simulates a real table so that you can configure all of the software without the need of a camera and a physical table set up.

MIDI Monitor: An application that intercepts all data being broadcast over the MIDI controller channel and notes what information is being sent. This is useful to monitor exactly what is going on between Max/MSP and Ableton Live.

3dMix patch: A kind of application that runs inside Max/MSP because Max/MSP alone is useless, it needs to be instructed, that is what this patch does.

Ableton Live: Ableton Live is a versatile loop-based music sequencer software for mac or PC.

Max/MSP: Max/MSP is a graphical development environment for music and multimedia.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Progress on the Reactable

After a week of fussing with this and learning a lot I have some success. I got the ReactTIvision software working right off and it was reading the fiducial symbols no problem. The sticking point was getting the MIDI data into something that could read it.

The ReaTIvision MIDI setup video helped A LOT! Specifically moving the Midi demo.xml file out of the Midi folder into the main folder and in the xml file itself moving the MIDI config line into the active code from the comments area. See the video for more details.

I also installed the MIDI Yoke driver.

Settings that worked for me. Opening Midi Device: Out of MIDI Yoke: 4

In Midi-Ox input port 04 in from MIDI Yoke: 4

MIDI easier for non-programer types...

The application can alternatively send MIDI messages, which allows to map any object dimension (xpos, ypos, angle) to a MIDI control via an XML configuration file. Adding and removing objects can be mapped to simple note ON/OFF events. Keep in mind though that MIDI has less bandwidth and data resolution compared to Open Sound Contol, so the MIDI feature is meant as an convenient alternative in some cases, but TUIO still will be the primary messaging layer.

Adding to reacTIVision.xml switches to MIDI mode and specifies the MIDI configuration files that contains the mappings and MIDI device selection. An example configuration file along with an example PD patch can be found in the midi folder. You can list all available MIDI devices with the "-l midi" option.

A user at the reaktor forum posted this brief tutorial on how to use reacTIVision in conjunction with commercial audio software such as reaktor. "

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

And now for something really kewl: Reactable

How it works

reacTIVision (free software and directions)

Make a Reatable

"To make sure that all of the included libraries are loaded when Pd runs, double-click C:\Program Files\pd\pd-settings.reg"
Installing PD (PureData) on Windows

Tangible Laptop - step by step

Tangible Laptop software TUIO to MIDI

Create Digital Motion

Groovy - Kids Making Music

My son's former music teach had a sign on in her classroom that said "Musical Kids Excel". I used to think it was just a way to promote the music department and keep the funds for music from being cut but as I've seen my own child excel in music I wholeheartedly believe in the connection between music and learning.

Once music basics are learned it one of the most creative and fun learning activities is composing your own music. In the past, aspiring composers typically had to master an instrument, play it and then listen to the sounds before they wrote down the notes for a composition. Now software is available for even very young kids to write original compositions. Comparing it to painting, think of the software as the brushes, music as the paint and the composition as the canvas.

"Students are able to do things now that were all but impossible before except for the truly gifted and talented, which is to compose their own music," said Sandi MacLeod, coordinator for the Vermont MIDI Project, a 12-year-old music composition project involving more than 7,000 students grades two to 12 from 40 schools in the state that use Sibelius and its kids software, Groovy." (from Software for kindergarten Beethovens By Stefanie Olsen)

Groovy comes from Sibelius a leader in notation and composition software for professional musicians. There are three versions of Groovy for different ages, each allows for compositions to be viewed as standard music notation.

Groovy Shapes - Ages 5+

Teaches the basics of sound, rhythm, pitch and composition using pictures and animation. Children can compose by dragging and dropping shapes that represent rhythms, melodies and chords. Compositions can be viewed as standard music notation.

"I am an elementary music teacher and our school bought the entire series of Groovy Music for our computer lab. My students have done so well with it and enjoyed it so much, I bought it for my 5 year old niece. It's very user friendly and kids find it very entertaining. The Create portion of the software is awesome for beginning "composers." I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to encourage the exploration of music in a 5-7 yr old they know."

Groovy Jungle - Ages 7+

Teaches the basics of sound, rhythm, pitch and composition using pictures and animation. Children can compose by dragging and dropping shapes that represent rhythms, melodies and chords, or by playing from a MIDI keyboard. Compositions can be viewed as standard music notation. Introduces children to notes and notation, ostinato, major and minor, and simple musical terms.

"The moving animals, the sound effects ~ it's so much fun to be creative with this software."

Groovy Music City - Ages 9 - 11

Futuristic city themed Create mode. Library of sounds includes patterns, as well as individual sounds. Introduces notation and musical terminology. Record from a MIDI keyboard, display compositions as a score and work with text.

-- Ed


If you are looking for a game that combines creativity and music (Wii Music also comes to mind), you might want to track down SimTunes from Maxis. It came out in 1996 and seems to be out of print.

"SimTunes is one of those wonderful programs that grows with the user. In essence, it is a paint program that doubles as a musical composition program--or vice versa. The user begins with a blank screen, or canvas and a variety of tools, paints, and patterns with which to decorate said canvas. The twist is that each colored dot applied to the design represents a musical note--from low C to high C. Now add 4 adorable little "bugz" to the painting. The bugz march across the screen much like Pacman. But instead of munching, these bugz make music when they contact a dot.

Each bug is a caricature of the musical instrument it plays. There are a dozen bugz in each of 4 different categories to choose from--some play standard instruments, like pianos and guitars; some play unusual instruments, like steel drums or cymbals; some play chords or riffs, some make sound effects, and some rival Scatman Caruthers in verbosity. The user chooses one bug from each group to create a quirky quartet.

At this point the creative mind is let loose. Some users choose to create non-drawings which sound like actual tunes, known or newly composed. Others choose to create intricate drawings that, when "played" by the bugz result in utter cacophony. With dedication, the user can even create the perfect marriage of art and music. Examples of previous SimTunes users' masterpieces can be found in the "Gallery". The possibilities are endless, and as with any artistic endeavor, beauty is in the eye, or in this case the computer, of the beholder!"