Life is Beautiful

Now that it is summer time I have the opportunity to sit back and reflect on my courses and how I can make them better. I teach an introductory biology course for non-majors at a small state college (equivalent to a community college in other states). I will be teaching this course during a summer session in July, so I should start there. My students come from a variety of backgrounds and possess a wide range of learning capabilities. The students drive me crazy. I struggle to fully engage them in the course material and to keep them from becoming zombies in the classroom (see this post), but I love teaching this class.

Many of my students are at a turning point in their lives. They are mostly young, right out of high school, but I also have many students that are returning to school after a long hiatus. All of them are there in an attempt to make a better life for themselves. Many are intimidated by science. Others are indifferent, they think it doesn’t apply to them or to their major. They come into the classroom with misconceptions and misunderstandings perpetuated by bad teachers, the internet, and TV, etc. For all of these reasons, I feel like teaching this class it is a great opportunity to really make an impact in the lives of my students.

I recently came across this song by The Afters called “Life is Beautiful”. It made me think about my vocation as a biology teacher at an even deeper level.

Biology is the study of life. Since we are all living things, it is the study of us, how our bodies work, how the world around us works. I stand in awe of the beauty on complexity of life. I want to share that sense of awe with my students. I want them to marvel at how wonderful life is and to recognize that it should not be taken for granted. War, poverty, hatred, bigotry, environmental destruction, these are all things are symptoms of a greater illness. We live in a culture of death that does not value life. So, as I plan out my next semester of Introductory Biology, I am going to use that phrase, “Life is Beautiful” as my theme, my anthem for my course. Perhaps, by doing so I can do my part to throw a little light into the darkness.

 

Sir Ken Robinson’s Top Three Focus Areas for Teaching

Sir Ken Robinson

Like all parents, Sarah and I desire to have our little ones thrive.   We want them to learn how to make good decisions since all outcomes of life are the results of choices. We hope that our children learn to love their Catholic/Christian faith and become contributing citizens to their community.   Every parent has dreams for their children.    With this in mind, Sarah and I talk frequently about the guiding principles that we should be using to teach our children.

This past month, we reviewed an awesome talk by Sir Ken Robinson entitled “How to escape education’s death valley.”   He offers three small and profound focus areas to help foster a whole minded child.   In his very entertaining and funny talk, he challenges us to think deeply about the basic framework of our education system.

While the education system of the US is beyond our influence, I started asking myself “how can I foster these focus areas with my children?”   Here’s a quick list of those focus areas:

Sir Ken Robinson’s Top Three Focus Areas

  • Personalized learning:  Since every child is born different, how do Sarah and I find ways to adapt our teaching style to the child?
  • Creativity:  I love seeing the creativity in my little guys.   As a musician and computer geek who loves being creative with technology, I really want to pass along this gift. I think this might explain my passion for the Makers movement and teaching styles like project based learning.
  • Curiosity: Sarah and I want to keep our kids in a state of wonder.   In our family, we love science and the craftsmanship of the world and biology.   My wife is an expert in microbiology.  It’s fun for us to talk about the machinery of the cell.    Even with all of our understanding of the cell and the complex messaging processes that are involved, we are left in wonder. Who crafted our biology to be so profound and beautiful?   Doing the math, life is not an accident.   It was designed.   This is a wonder we want to pass along to our children.

On another front, I’m very excited that our eldest loves all things related to NASA, space ships, and Mars rovers.   At a very young age, it excites me that he can name the Mars rovers by name and wants to learn more about exploring space.

I do believe that “good decision making”, grit and character are skills that need to be fostered as well.   I was kind of surprised that this did not make Sir Ken Robinson’s list.   In any event, I wanted to share these focus areas with our readers hoping that it inspires you in your craft of teaching and learning.   As a parent, I’ve been paying attention to my behavior and coaching style to see how I can use these ideas today.   I also keep these ideas in mind as a team leader in my work place too.

I hope these ideas serve you as well.

What are some of the key focus areas that you use with your children?

Other posts from InspiredToEducate.Net

Photo taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sir_Ken_Robinson_@_The_Creative_Company_Conference.jpg

Top 10 Google I/O 2013 Announcements Related To Teaching And Learning

Google I/O

This week , Google held their annual technology conference named I/O 2013 for Google professionals and developers.   You have to love all the great technology that Google gives to the community for free!  I wanted to share a great summary video by Marques Brownlee and highlight announcements that would impact educators and educational game developers.

  • New Google+: Google released a new user interface that reminds me of Pinterest.   I enjoy the new flat card look and the communities features of Google+.    Google has made it easy to discover communities on topics that you care about.   This is great for building a personal learning network.
  • App Store for education:  In the fall, Google will be launching a focused app store for teachers and students.   Google is working with teachers to collect and organize the store.   This is a nice “back to school” gift from Google.
  • Google Now: Google Now enables you to search for information and resources using conversational voice commands.   In addition, the service tries to anticipate your needs based on current location and the context of your question.    It’s like Siri, but better.
  • Hang outs: In the next few months, Google will phase out Google Talk in favor of Google Hangouts.   Educators like Eduvue and “Teachers teaching teachers“, have been using Google Hangouts to publish great video chat conversations on teaching technology trends.   Google has tried to make this feature more accessible to encourage personal text and video chat.   Our family uses Google Hangouts so our kids can see their grand parents who live in another state.
  • AndroidStudio: To my programmer and computer science teacher friends, we have a new toy!   AndroidStudio is a new code environment for writing Android apps.   I can’t wait to take it for a test drive.  I was impressed with the user interface design features that help you see how your screens render across devices quickly.
  • Improvements Google Chrome: Everyone’s favorite browser just got faster.  Again! Amazing!  From a developer perspective, Google has added tons of new features making it easier to make games and robust apps that live in the browser.  It’s a great time to be a web developer.
  • Opportunities for gamification in education: From a developer perspective, Google has created API’s so that game score boards and badge boards can be shared in the social context of Google+ .    When I saw this feature, I started thinking that this would be helpful in creating alternate reality games for the classroom.   The improved location API’s for Android will help launch the next generation of educational games that you play in the real world… Not just the digital world.
  • Google rocking Malaysian Education System: @googlechrome Malaysian government is bringing Google Apps to their entire education system – 10M students – along with Chromebooks to all schools. #io13
  • @oquidave — Google playstore for Education, chromebooks, & tablets >> Google’s approach to education http://bit.ly/13ADksj via @techpostug #io13
  • @GoogleAtWork  What you need to know from I/O: Google I/O announcements for business, government and education customers http://goo.gl/GR5Wi #io13

Check out all the talks at Google I/O 2013 at this link.    I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about Google i/o.   What do you feel would help students and teams grow and learn using Google technology?    What would make your life easier?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Build Your Mobile App using HTML

Are you looking for an easy way to get started building mobile apps?   In this post, I would like to introduce you to a tool called JQuery Mobile that empowers you to craft mobile applications using HTML and a little bit of JavaScript.   This free tool builds upon the strengths of the jquery programming community who do a solid job of creating fun and well documented programming tools.

JQuery mobile works well in the following cases:

  1. Information apps: The application that you’re building is informational in nature.   If you’re trying to build a game or the next “Angry Birds,”  Jquery mobile is not a good fit.   This tool works well if your creating e-books, apps for conferences, promoting a band, or capturing information using simple forms.
  2. It’s just HTML: Learning Objective C or Java can be intimidating to people just learning how to program.   I greatly appreciate that JQuery mobile provides a solid place to start for novice app builders.
  3. Get started at no cost: What do you need to get started? A text editor, a web browser, and your creativity.  (notepad++, textwrangler for Mac, etc.)

In the following code sketch, I will outline how to create a simple application.   The app will show you how to create buttons on a list view, create a pop-out window, include text and images, and enable your users to navigate from one page to another. If you need training on HTML or JavaScript, please visit CodeAcademy.com for additional teaching.

In this  example, we will build a simple app to help promote a group or club.   It will consist of four pages: home, events, contact us, and news.   These pages will look something like this when we’re done. You can also check out a demo at this link.

Home screen

Home page

Contact us page

Events page

Events page

For a comprehensive introduction to JQuery Mobile, please visit http://learn.jquery.com/jquery-mobile/getting-started/

The HTML to create this small application is shown below.  How does this code work?

 

 

[cc lang=”html”]



Group App



My Group App

Etiam a lorem id nisl porttitor scelerisque sed vitae dolor. Nunc gravida leo quis dolor pretium sed eleifend nisl commodo. Cras id imperdiet tortor. Sed convallis massa vel sapien ullamcorper convallis. Vivamus elit odio, suscipit quis adipiscing at, dignissim interdum arcu.

Look forward to seeing you soon!

My Group – Contact us

Contact Us

Etiam a lorem id nisl porttitor scelerisque sed vitae dolor. Nunc
gravida leo quis dolor pretium sed eleifend nisl commodo. Cras id
imperdiet tortor. Sed convallis massa vel sapien ullamcorper
convallis. Vivamus elit odio, suscipit quis adipiscing at, dignissim
interdum arcu.

  • Mary Jane — President — E-mail
  • John Smith — Vice President — E-mail
  • Simon Flat — Communications — E-mail

Look forward to seeing you soon!

My Group – Events

Events

  • Event 1: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
  • Event 2: Quisque ut metus eu leo interdum volutpat.
  • Event 3: Vestibulum accumsan erat vitae leo imperdiet faucibus.

Look forward to seeing you soon!

My Group – News

News

  • News 1: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
  • News 2: Quisque ut metus eu leo interdum volutpat.
  • News 3: Vestibulum accumsan erat vitae leo imperdiet faucibus.

Look forward to seeing you soon!


[/cc]

In the HEAD of the document, we include JavaScript code references that enable JQuery mobile to function. JQuery mobile tries to use standard HTML structures to enable you to craft mobile user interfaces. If you removed these code references, you will notice that the web page reverts to standard web browser rendering rules.

[cc lang=”html”]

Group App



[/cc]

To create a button that moves the user from the home screen to the “Events” page, use the following code. The “#events” string corresponds to the “id” attribute of the page “events”. To see an example of opening a dialog box, look at the “#contact_us” link to see how that was done.

[cc lang=”html”]

  • Events
  • [/cc]

    The following code is responsible for creating the “Events” page in the application. The code sets the header, footer, and content of the page. The content of a JQuery mobile page is just HTML. To make it easier for the user to return to the home screen, I added the “data-add-back-btn” attribute and set it to true.

    [cc lang=”html”]

    My Group – Events

    Events

    • Event 1: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
    • Event 2: Quisque ut metus eu leo interdum volutpat.
    • Event 3: Vestibulum accumsan erat vitae leo imperdiet faucibus.

    Look forward to seeing you soon!


    [/cc]

    So… How do you make this HTML app available in the Android or iOS app store? Check out our post introducing PhoneGap.

    Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

    Related posts:

     

    What Makes a Great Teacher? An Article for Educators

    It’s my great pleasure to introduce you to our friend Elizabeth Rosenthal. Sarah and I became friends with Elizabeth through our college church at University of Central Florida.   As an experienced art teacher, Elizabeth has a great passion for helping elementary school students to be creative.   She would enjoy connecting with you at elizabeth.rosenthal@ocps.net

    Teacher helping student

    By: Elizabeth Rosenthal

    As educators, we don’t always get the chance to see how our teaching affects our students.  So I decided to take a poll of Mrs. G’s 5th grade class to get their feedback on what makes for a great teacher.  Some of the answers are what you would expect from a 5th grader, but there are a few answers that I found charming and enlightening.

    But first, a letter thanking you for all that you do:

    Dear Teacher,

    It’s been a long time, but I wanted to let you know that I remember what you taught me.

    I know you think that I am talking about what I learned in your class, but I learned other stuff too. Like how to be a better person. 

    I really thought it was great when you told us how you expected us to behave at the beginning of the year, and even though I broke the rules sometimes, I liked that I had some guidance. 

    Your class was hard, but I liked that it was hard because I felt like more was expected from me and I felt challenged.

    Thanks also for providing opportunities for me to succeed.  I always knew I liked drawing, but I never thought I could do something with it.  Thanks for telling me I was good and telling me to pick up a pencil everyday and practice.  

    Also, I never really saw that I was great until you told me I was.

    Sincerely,

    Student

    Special Credit goes to Mrs. G’s class for providing me with insight into what makes a great teacher:

    • A.Q.: I think that a great teacher is thoughtful, caring, sweet and helpful.  She is strict when she needs to be and nice when she needs to be.  She gives out good work and homework and grades it the right way and if we don’t get it she helps us.  She lets us go to the bathroom when we need to, and get a drink of water without raising our hand and lets us do errands and help out because she trusts us. That’s what I love about Mrs. G and what I think is best from a teacher.
    • M.C.: My favorite teacher motivated me.
    • A.M: Ensena, ayuda, y es divertida (She teaches, helps, and is fun).
    • L.C: A good teacher gives you candy and is nice and smart.
    • Y.G.: What makes a great teacher is that they are fun, nice, helpful, and they don’t yell.
    • M.B.: What makes a good teacher is when she does hands on Science with us.
    • G.W.: My favorite teacher was when I was in kindergarten; she let us meet a famous basketball player so she was never on my bad side.
    • L.E.: A great teacher is some one who has respect and treats you equally like others.
    • K. M.: A great teacher is a teacher who can control a class.
    • A.B.: A great teacher is kind to kids and wants them to complete school and have education for themselves.
    • L.R.: What makes a great teacher is that they have to be nice, caring, loving, and fun.  She has to be a little strict with the bad kids and she has to give out treats to the good kids.
    • D.W.: A great teacher would have to be nice and have a sense of humor, and also be a great explainer and teacher.
    • J.P.: What I see in a teacher: My 5th grade teacher inspires me to be a teacher. She is nice, cool, gives you candy, and doesn’t yell that much.
    • A.P.: They have to be smart, and they have to be nice, and not punish the whole class.
    • P.S.: A great teacher is if they help me do some work after school and gives me ways to pass the FCAT.
    • N.S.: A good teacher is when they don’t punish the whole class when it is one or two people and then takes the good students outside.
    • S. C. What makes a great teacher to me? My first grade teacher was the best teacher ever.  Her name was Mrs. Grinner. For my birthday we had cupcakes.  I think that a teacher should give you candy, let you have fun games, center games, and doesn’t yell about everything you do.
    • M.M.: What makes a great teacher? When they give prizes, helps you a lot, and lets you play games.
    • C.S.: I think a great teacher is a person who you can relate to, someone who is interesting and makes learning interesting. A great teacher is someone who’s funny and gives treats. My favorite teacher would also be nice, looks innocent, not mean and weird.  My best teacher is my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Sterling. She is nice, pretty, and interesting. Also a great teacher is someone who punishes a couple of students instead of the whole class and doesn’t give a lot of homework, but just enough to make it fun.

    So, what can we learn from these students and what can be said about what makes a great teacher? Perhaps you can think of a teacher right now who has impacted you, motivated you, and encouraged you. A teacher who set you on the track of success and showed the traits of dedication, resilience, and passion every day in their teaching and maybe, just maybe they are the reason why you are a teacher today.

    Teachers, never forget or underestimate your ability to inspire those you teach.

     

    Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/kathycassidy/8522478858/sizes/m/in/photostream/

     

     

    Learn to Build Your Own Mobile App using PhoneGap

    iphone

    When I talk to college or high school students about my job as a software developer, I often encounter the question “how do I get started creating apps?”  As a software guy, I want to encourage students to become makers.   I love the craft of making software and building apps.   Therefore, I wanted to share some information about a tool that will provide a gentle introduction to building mobile applications for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

    PhoneGap is a free tool that allows you to create simple mobile applications using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.   You should check out this tool for the following  reasons:

    • Using PhoneGap Build, you can build apps using one step without owning a Mac or other expensive programming tools.
    • A friend of mine is building a small mobile phone game using Canvas and JavaScript.  It’s amazing that this works!
    • As you grow in your HTML and JavaScript skills, you can use more advanced features of your mobile platform like the accelerometer, camera, geolocation and more.
    • You can build apps like these – http://phonegap.com/app/
    • I believe in taking baby steps in life.  While it would be cool to start learning Java and Objective C to build mobile apps, PhoneGap helps you start the learning process using tools that are simple and engaging.
    • If you start investing time in learning PhoneGap, you’re building skills to become a web developer too.   The demand for these skills is only increasing.

    If you don’t know HTML, JavaScript, or CSS, no problem!  There are fun places to get started learning.

    HTML/CSS

    JavaScript

    How do you get started with PhoneGap Build?

    Here’s a quick video giving you an overview of how PhoneGap Build works from LearnToProgram.tv .   In future blog posts, I hope to provide more teaching regarding the design process of building a mobile app, getting started with HTML5 and JavaScript, and more.

    Reference Links:

     

    What kind of app would you like to create?   We would love to hear from you!!  Leave a comment and let us know how we can help you.

     

    Related posts:

     

    Photo taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/witer/4908036684/sizes/m/in/photostream/

     

     

     

     

    Change Your Life And Make A Difference – Know Your Strengths

    Sunrise

    In our work place, we have started a book club around Dave Ramsey’s book “EntreLeadership.”   A small tribe of my friends from work gather over lunch to learn Dave’s lessons on business and leadership.  One awesome recipe from this book shares how you build personal and organizational momentum.

    1. Have focus
    2. Have intensity
    3. Have persistence
    4. Ask God to amplify and guide your efforts

    My mind is challenged and blown away by this simple idea.  What do you focus on?  My friend Scott shared a profound and practical book with me called “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath (Thanks Scott!)   It argues that leaders and teachers who want to leave a positive impact should always look for ways to foster and grow natural strengths while minimizing weaknesses.   By doing this, it becomes possible to create strategic plans and guides that are energizing.  According to data from Gallup, if a leader primarily focuses on an employee’s strengths, the probability that the team member will be engaged is 99%.

    What leader or teacher doesn’t want engagement from their team members or students?

    The post “Seven reasons to lead with strengths” by Gallup.com, outlines additional results you may consider reviewing.

    What’s special about the book is that you get access to Gallup’s strength inventory tool.  This online survey helps you discover your top 5 strength areas.   It should be noted that Gallup is VERY data oriented.   You can be assured that these strength recommendations are trustworthy.  My top 5 include the following: Belief, Learner, Connectedness, Responsibility, and Self- Assurance.   I’m not sharing this data with you because I want to brag.   I’m sharing my story because I hope you decide to discover your own strength areas too.

    The strengths inventory tool concludes by giving you 50 actionable steps to help foster your strengths.   I immediately picked out the top “20%” from this list and plan to focus on one point every month.

    1. Help others see a bigger picture: “The meaning and purpose of your work will often provide direction for others. Remind people why their work is important and how it makes a difference in their lives and in the lives of others.”
    2. Foster friendships with like minded people: “Actively cultivate friends who share your basic values. Consider your best friend. Does this person share your value system?”
    3. Schedule learning time: “Time disappears and your attention intensifies when you are immersed in studying or learning. Allow yourself to ‘follow the trail’ by scheduling learning sessions during periods of time that will not be interrupted by pressing engagements.”
    4. Set goals for learning: “Develop ways to track the progress of your learning. If there are distinct levels or stages of learning within a discipline or skill, take a moment to celebrate your progression from one level to the next. If no such levels exist, create them for yourself (e.g., reading five books on the subject or making three presentations on the subject).”
    5. Connect organizations: “You are aware of the boundaries and borders created within organizations and communities, but you treat these as seamless and fluid. Use your Connectedness talents to break down silos that prevent shared knowledge.”
    6. Partner with a communicator: “Partner with someone with strong Communication talents. This person can help you with the words you need to describe vivid examples of connection in the real world.”
    7. Delegate and foster leadership in others: “You naturally take ownership of every project you are involved in. Make sure that your capacity to own does not keep you from sharing responsibility. Allow others the opportunity to experience the challenges of ownership. In doing so, you will contribute to their growth and development.”
    8. Say no more: “Push yourself to say no. Because you are instinctively responsible, it might sometimes be difficult to refuse opportunities. For this reason, you must be selective. Ask for more responsibility in only the areas that matter most to you.”
    9. Seek out strategic and deliberative people: “Partner with someone with strong Strategic, Deliberative, or Futuristic talents. This person can help you assess the goals to which you commit. You need this help because once you set your sights on a goal, you are likely to stay with it until you achieve it.”
    10.  “Start with dream. end in goal”  — Dave Ramsey : “Set ambitious goals. Don’t hesitate to reach for what others see as impractical and impossible, but what you see as merely bold and exciting — and most importantly — achievable with some heroics and a little luck. Your Self-Assurance talents can lead to achievements that you may not have otherwise even”

    Check out our post on appreciative inquiry that builds upon this idea of strength building for families, teams and organizations.

    Let’s keep the conversation going!  What tools do you use to foster strengths and passions of your team members or students?

    Related Posts:

     

    Photo is attributed to http://frank.itlab.us/photo_essays/wrapper.php?feb_25_2011_dancer.html (Amazing photography!)

     

    Building Trust in the Classroom

    Two things that I’ve come across this week have made me think about the issue of trust in the classroom. The first was Michael Hyatt’s podcast on building (or rebuilding) trust which can be found here. He breaks down the process of building trust into 4 basic components:

    1. Keep your word.
    2. Tell the truth.
    3. Be transparent.
    4. Give without any strings attached.

    This seems like common sense advice, but harder to implement than we might think. The second thing that made me think about the issue of trust was an article in the Onion. Wait. You mean the satirical newspaper? Yep. That one. It was a spoof on student evaluations. In the article a professor is devastated by a negative evaluation by a slacker student (found here). I often find reviews like this one amusing more than anything, but I do read negative reviews carefully. As a professor I don’t want to put too much stock into student opinions, my job is not to “entertain” students or make them feel good, my job is to teach. Some things cannot be controlled, for example the difficulty of the subject matter, or the laziness of the students. On the other hand, a negative review can be the result of a strained relationship between a teacher and their students. Here are a few ideas for maintaining a good student-teacher relationship in the classroom:

    1. Clearly define your expectations. Put together a syllabus that clearly outlines your classroom policies and learning objectives. Don’t be vague. The syllabus does not need to be a complete outline of the entire course, but is should be an anchor for the students and the professor to refer to as they travel through the course. It lays down the ground rules and the consequences for breaking them. If a student tries to turn in a late assignment or misses too many classes, you can simply point to the syllabus when they come crying about a grade.
    2. Don’t make a habit of making exceptions. This will only create headaches (trust me, I’ve learned this from experience. Once you give in on one policy, the entire house of cards will come tumbling down. That said, be compassionate. Sometimes there are things that are outside of a student’s control and it does not serve the greater purpose of education to simply stick to the rules for the rules’ sake.
    3. Treat your students with dignity and respect. Too often professors treat their adult students like children. Yes, we need to hold our students accountable for their behavior in the classroom, but we do not need to babysit them. Don’t accommodate bad behavior (being late to class, missing assignments). Let students feel the consequences, but don’t create an adversarial relationship.
    4. Be organized and keep your word. I’m guilty of telling students that an assignment would be graded over the weekend and then failing to do the grading. When I let myself get overwhelmed I let my self-imposed deadlines slip. In other words, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Design your courses in such a way that there is a rhythm and an order that is easy to follow. Don’t take on too much.

    I am by no means perfect at implementing these approaches. I am still learning how to be a good teacher, but these are just a few of the lessons that I have learned along the way. I hope that someone else might find them helpful!