Your New Textbook, Brought to You by Bill Gates

Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold have filed a new patent that could change the way we read textbooks, and possibly the way we learn, forever.

textbook patentBored of reading the same textbooks, the same old way? Well, Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold, the duo behind an invention that can actually slow hurricanes, are looking to change that. In 2012 they filed a patent for a device that will have the capability to “automatically create a customized video snippet from any random selection of text,” according to GeekWire. That means that as you read a textbook on, say, a tablet or your phone, that device could generate a video based on the content of the textbook–turning a boring old piece of text into essentially a short film.

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Social Media and the Classroom: How to Use Vine

Social media is already transforming classrooms. If you teach, there’s a good chance you’ve used Twitter, Facebook, and even Pinterest to draw your students’ attention to their work in exciting new ways. But now there’s a new app on the scene: Vine. Luckily the blog at OnlineUniversities.com was on hand to help us all become a little more familiar with this new social forum and figure out how to implement it in our ever evolving classrooms. Take a look and let us know what you think!

What is Vine?

Vine, a mobile app created by Twitter, allows users to create and share short video clips. Like Twitter, brevity is valued and video clips can’t exceed six seconds in length, so users have to be quick about getting their point across. Vine is a pretty new addition to the social media canon. The service was founded in June of 2012, but just launched to the public in January of 2013 as a free app on the iPhone and iPod Touch. In this time, Vine has seen amazing growth, with users tweeting an average of 2,300 Vine videos every hour. Below is an example of the creativity one can bring to the app.

Why Vine is Special

Just like Twitter, Vine imposes limitations on how much content users can generate. While this might seem constricting at first, if Twitter has proven anything it’s that it’s easy to say a lot with very little. Limitations, in this way, aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, the constraints may actually force users to get to the point more quickly and to be more creative and innovative about how they present their content.

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Digital Learning Day Brings Technology into the Classroom

Yesterday marked the second annual celebration of “Digital Learning Day,” the culmination of a year-long focus to utilize the power of technology in more classrooms nationwide. But we’re not just talking about throwing iPads into classrooms in the hopes of engaging students’ short attention spans. No, the ideas employed in classrooms and libraries around the world yesterday were far more innovative than that. Here’s how a handful of educators around the country took Digital Learning Day and ran with it, as reported by School Library Journal:

  • Over at New Canaan High School, CT, library department chair Michelle Luhtala is asking students and faculty to download an eBook to their mobile devices, and setting up a support desk to help to anyone who needs it.
  • At Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, MD, Gwyneth Jones is tying Digital Learning Day into the school’s celebration of National History Day with custom QR codes on history displays throughout the library with the phrase: “I DARE you to Scan this Code!” Digitally-savvy history buffs will be sent to an infographic on how to get the most out of the Library of Congress.
  • Digital Learning Day also happens to coincide with a project students are working on at Charlotte Country Day Middle School, NC—creating five-minute films about a topic in Ancient Roman culture. The kids are editing the pieces on Windows Movie Maker, and faculty will be awarding film prizes like the Oscars, but aptly called “the Caesars.”

Looking at the ideas of some institutions since the advent of portable learning tools like the iPad, it seems like some view technology in the classroom as having the innate capability to help kids learn, without the introduction of any out-of-the-box ideas. Some seem to think that just the presence of technology in the classroom heightens learning, the way fire radiates warmth. While I don’t believe in that style of teaching, I do think that technology in the classroom is a positive thing when educators harness their students’ ease with digital devices and use it in new ways that introduce fun to the learning environment.

Students often gravitate easily to these objects from laptops to tablets, e-readers to smartphones, plus they tend to be savvy users of online databases and web-based learning apps. But marrying these tools effectively into student learning—linking the fun to the educational element—is where many librarians and educators are focused today.

What say you? Do you use technology in the classroom, and if so, how? What are some creative ways to celebrate digital learning day, year-round? Is technology in the classroom stimulating, or distracting? We’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment!


The Enchantress of Numbers

The curious tale of the world’s first computer programmer.

Today I stray a little from the ordinary literary and educational news updates, after coming across a nod to an exceptional woman I couldn’t pass the day without commemorating, not only for her role in mathematics, but also for her role as a woman in mathematics, far ahead of her time. I hope that her story inspires women in the sciences, or indeed anyone who perseveres to think beyond the capabilities of modern technology.

Sadly I’m usually behind the times on Google’s artistic and quirky depictions of special days via their homepage. But today, gmail just happened to crash, sending me to the Google homepage where I saw the below image:

I was curious. Who was this woman in 19th century garb, scribbling mathematical functions with quill and ink? And so, by way of technological error, I learned of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

Ada Lovelace was born on December 10th, 1815, to the poet Lord Byron and his wife Anna Isabella Byron. She had a miserable childhood, considered a disappointment from birth for not having been born a boy. Ada was abandoned by her father before she was a month old and resultantly never knew him, as he died abroad when she was eight. Meanwhile her mother chose to keep little connection with her, possibly because young Ada reminded her of her devious husband, with whom the Baroness had an acrimonious divorce. So Ada was raised by elderly relatives and relegated to a life of suspicious observation via her mother’s friends, dubbed “the Furies.” Fortunately for us, though, she was also subject to a life of education–intended to squash any deviation she might have inherited from her father–and took a keen interest in mathematics from a young age.

Around the age of seventeen, Ada’s special abilities became clear to her tutors, all famed in mathematics in their own right. The noted mathematician Augustus de Morgan even reported of Ada to her mother that she seemed destined to become, “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence.” Meanwhile another one of Ada’s instructors and friends, Mary Somerville, introduced her to Charles Babbage, future inventor of the world’s first computer. Ada was not yet eighteen at the time.

Babbage and Ada thus began a friendship that produced their academic collaboration on the former’s Analytical Engine. In 1843, Ada translated Italian mathematician Luigi Meanabrea’s explanation of the machine, complete with her own set of notes and conclusions (which were actually longer than Menabrea’s). In her depiction of the Analytical Engine, Ada imagined its potential as being greater than simple “number crunching,” something not even Babbage indulged in. She wrote:

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.

Along with these forward-thinking notes, Ada wrote “a computation of Bernoulli numbers for the Analytical Engine” (below). It is this part of her thesis, “Note G,” that is universally considered to be the world’s first computer program, making Ada correspondingly its first programmer.

So there you have it: the world’s first techie was a noble lady, The Right Honourable Countess of Lovelace. That means that on this day, as you browse the Internet in search of Google poetry, GIFs, or the Ikea Monkey, you have Miss Ada Lovelace to thank for her place in imagining the capability of computers to change our lives in the myriad of ways they have today.

Ada was such an interesting woman, there is only so much of her life I could include in this post. I highly recommend her Wikipedia entry as an overview of her amazing achievements and somewhat scandalous personal affairs. In her mere thirty-six years, Ada gave us much to appreciate and stands as a prime example of the role women have played in science and technology, though they are often overlooked. She truly lived up to Charles Babbage’s nickname for her, “The Enchantress of Numbers”:

Forget this world and all its troubles and if
possible its multitudinous Charlatans – every thing
in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.

Related:

Teachers, instruct your students on the history of “The Enchantress of Numbers” with eNotes’ document on Ada Lovelace, found here. It comes with an activity to help students write their very own programs and is recommended for Grades 4-8.


Some Take-Aways from Twitter’s Fiction Festival

As promised in last week’s post on Twitter’s Fiction Festival, here’s a round up of a few standouts of the online event, which finished this past Sunday.

Four things I took away from the festival, besides learning how to read from the ground up:

1. My personal favorite was Andrew Pyper’s sinister adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic horror novel The Turn of the Screw. Only downside, should blare a massive SPOILER ALERT banner at the top of the account page. Do not ruin this story for yourself by reading the first few tweets! Scroll straight to the bottom of “White House”, which you can read in full here. #socreepy

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2. Another fantastic creative endeavor was writer Lucy Coats’ retelling of 100 myths in 100 tweets. Check out this pithy (and alliterative) summary of Odysseus’ encounter with the sirens, below:

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You can find a collection of many more of her mythical re-imaginings, including the tales of Leda and the Swan and Heracles, at her twitter account here. #pervyancientgreeks

3. Elliott Holt’s mystery tale had an interesting twist to it. The story was made up of tweets from a crowd of partygoers, unambiguous as to whether what they witnessed was a suicide, an accident, or murder.

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The multiple voices create an interesting, interwoven narration. Plus the self-centeredness and banality with which these characters tweet spins an interesting satire on the way we present our lives online for others’ amusement and approval. I think. Scroll down Holt’s twitter page to read this very interesting and suspenseful form of the classic murder mystery. #likecluebutbetter

4. Twit-Lit-Crit: so now that we have twitterature changing the form of storytelling, will literary criticism follow in the same vein? Carmel Doohan of Exeunt Magazine conveyed a critique of the weekend via a series of tweets, just like the authors had done themselves:

Essentially a blank page where any text or format can be uploaded, @storify makes a bricolage of social media.

On it the twitter fiction works, but when encountered on twitter itself it is frustrating; interruptions and RTs spoil the flow

Yet there is something very modernist about it- interruptions incorporated into the fiction; remaining true to the fragmentation of reality

Even the Guardian jumped into the fray, doling out self-effacing reviews in under 140 characters.

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It makes me wonder, like Doohan asks, “will the twitter essay forever change the face of criticism? Answers on a postcard.”

Did you have time to check out the Twitter Fiction Festival? If so, what were your take-aways?


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