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The Cracker Jack of EdTech

Some of us older timers remember Cracker Jack, a snack mixture made of caramel-covered popcorn and peanuts with origins at the end of the 19th century.

Crackerjack2

Of course, the most distinctive element of the product wasn’t the edible part but the “toy surprise” buried in every box. Although, thinking back, the biggest surprise was probably why any of us cared about those trinkets in the first place.

Anyway, the edtech professional development community has its own variation on Cracker Jack: the event known variously as a “demo slam”, an “app smackdown”, or some similar title.

In these sessions, popular at EdCamps and smaller conferences, participants line up to present a two or three minute demonstration of a favorite piece of software or web service. Sometimes they try to connect the app to teaching and/or learning. But in that brief space of time, the focus is most often on the “wow factor” of the tool.

At larger conferences lacking a formal “smackdown” contest, the program is often littered with sessions completely devoted to this concept. With titles like “60 Apps in 60 Seconds” or “29 New Web Sites You Need to Check Out”, and “Tech Share Live!”.

Like Cracker Jack, these collections are a sweet mixture of cool tech stuff. With virtually no nutrition. And, if you’re lucky, a trivial prize buried inside.

Ok, I know there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a sweet treat every so often. I’ve had my share of Cracker Jack (although I much prefer Screaming Yellow Zonkers in that crap food category) and other items of questionable nutritional value.

And there’s nothing wrong with most of those demo slam, “cool tools” sessions. Occasionally it’s fun to have people rapid fire demonstrate a whole bunch of apps and maybe discover something new. I’ve even been known to participate in a smackdown or two.

However, the problem comes when we overindulge in snack food. Or in a constant search for the new, the next alternative, the techno “cool”. Looking for the toy surprise buried somewhere in the app store.

The Weekend Collection

A few good things to read, hear, and watch when time allows this week.

Read: Elizabeth II has been on the British throne for more than 60 years, but she obviously will not be Queen of the realm forever. So, how will the royal family, the government, and the BBC handle a transition to a new monarch? Each organization will play their part and have their own secret plans, and the story about them in The Guardian makes for an interesting read. (about 33 minutes)

Read: For those of us who regularly present to groups big and small (me: just small), any ideas to improve the experience is welcome. This post with ten tips (plus a TED video) is a few years old but it comes from the guy who literally wrote the book, Presentation Zen. (about 7 minutes)

Read: If you look at the most commonly used world maps, Greenland is represented as the same size as Africa, Alaska is larger than Texas, and Europe is right in the middle. Boston Public Schools has decided to replace that view, called the Mercator projection, with one that’s more accurate called Gall-Peters. If nothing else, watch the clip from The West Wing to understand why the change is necessary. (about 4 minutes)

Listen: Most of us here in the US are less than a month away from the date when we are required to file our taxes. But the process is more complicated for most people than it needs to be. Planet Money tells the story of one professor who has been working to make the standard return simpler for more than a decade, and why he has made little progress. (22:54)

Listen: If you’re a trivia nerd and Jeopardy! just doesn’t work for you anymore, give a listen to Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. A good place to start is with the episode titled Under the Hood, in which contestants and panelists Seth Godin, Faith Salie, and Nicholas Negroponte discuss things hidden from everyday view. (58:07)

Watch: You probably know that the internet is a network connecting millions of computers all over the world. But did you ever wonder HOW they are connected? Nat and Lo from Google are here to show you as they follow a project to lay a new cable between the US and South America. This would be a good one to show middle or high school students who think it’s all magic. (7:36)

Jumping Back in the Stream

I'm writing this from somewhere over the Atlantic as we return from a week or so on the Amalfi Coast of Italy.1 Mostly pleasure for me, partially work for the musical wife.

More about that later, after I've recovered from the jet lag and eight hectic days, along with a few pictures. Or maybe a whole lot of pictures, depending on what's on the memory cards.

Between the trip and a somewhat chaotic month of July prior to getting out of town, this space has been rather silent for quite a while. It's not often I go this long without ranting about something in public, here or on Twitter, not to mention that I've also been ignoring the stream of information and ideas that comes from my learning network.2

But one fact of traveling with a group as we've been doing, is that it often takes a little longer to get forty people heading in the right direction, not to mention arriving at a destination3. But the process does allow for time to catch up on both reading (thanks in large part to Instapaper) and thinking.

So consider this a toe in the water as I prepare dive head first into the stream that is my normal life. Fair warning however. I may not be totally coherent tomorrow, at work or anywhere else.


1 It will be posed after we get home since United doesn't offer wifi, free or otherwise.

2 While I was gone, did Mitt Romney really dis the entire British Government during his visit to the UK? And I tried so very hard not to be the ugly American on our trip. :-)

3 Especially considering the narrow twisty roads we've been traveling on in a 48 passenger bus.

 

The Trivia Can Continue

Yesterday I tweeted a little piece of news fluff about 10 Congress critters voting against a resolution proclaiming March 14 as Pi Day, speculating (humorously, I hoped) that they might have no clue as to what pi is.

I was surprised to receive several very serious @replies, and one DM, with various versions of the sentiment that Congress had better things to do with it’s time. I’ve heard similar statements made by talking heads on television.

I disagree with them all.

We certainly have a lot of economic problems in this country, ones that need the serious attention of our leaders, many of whom have decreed the situation to be a “crisis”.

However, this not the kind of 24 crisis which demands that everyone maintain single, focused attention on the situation so that two or three absolutely life-threatening critical decisions can be made correctly before getting to the :28 station break.

As long as the President and Congress don’t spend long hours debating the minutia of the propositions, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t continue to issue these proclamations calling attention to a particular part of American society, in this case math education.

Or do any of the other mostly meaningless little pieces of ceremonial trivia that make up the pomp and circumstance of our federal government.

We will survive this economic mess as well as the theatrics surrounding the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.

The 25th Anniversary Mac

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Macintosh, the day the first model in the line was released into the world.

As near as I can figure, we’ve had 15 different Macs around the house over the years, including a couple of Power Book models I used but which belonged to the school district.

For the sake of trivial completeness, here’s the complete list (* = machines we still have around the house).

  • Mac 512KE
  • Mac SE 30*
  • Power Mac 6100
  • Power Mac G3 (Desktop)
  • Power Mac G4 (Quicksilver)
  • iMac 17-inch Flat Panel
  • iMac 24-inch (Intel) plastic*
  • Mac Mini (Intel)*
  • Power Book 170
  • Power Book 520c (owned by school district)
  • Power Book G3 (owned by school district)
  • Power Book G4*
  • iBook G4*
  • Power Book 15-inch Titanium
  • MacBook Pro 15-inch Aluminum*

This roster, of course, will continue to grow. Very soon, I hope. :-)

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