Category Archives: technology

Nostalgia for Old School Aerobics

Fitness Guru Leslie Sansone

I was coming of age in the late great 80s just as the aerobics movement, led by Jane Fonda, was getting started. I may still have a vinyl copy of her first workout album in the days before everyone owned a VHS player. Live classes were everywhere. My mother and I took a class at the nearby community center. The cable access channel hosted a weekly workout led by a local gym instructor. I could set the VHS to record it so I could do it on my own time…an early version of streaming, I suppose.

I haven’t done these kinds of workouts for a long time, preferring my treadmill, Wii and working and walking outside. But, with the demise of my Wii and my need for a bit of excitement beyond the treadmill, I went exploring online and discovered fitness guru Leslie Sansone. She was a contemporary of Jane Fonda, and her signature exercise was simple: WALK. There are a few different steps, but mostly the goal is to keep moving.

I explored her YouTube channel to start with and then downloaded the app and paid the subscription. Leslie is my age, and her upbeat approach was immediately fun and nostalgic. I found myself wishing I had a unitard and leg warmers! One of Leslie’s claim to fame is that she was the first live on-air guest on QVC. I got to know her colleagues and enjoy the wide variety of walking workouts. As COVID moved in, they began streaming live workouts from their studio in Pittsburgh.* They have also added some strength training workouts in the app.

There are plenty of videos featuring Leslie in the app, including archives of some of her original workouts. But, according to Wikipedia, she hasn’t been featured in any videos since 2020, and there is some mystery around where she might be and her current involvement with WALK. There is some speculation on Reddit but otherwise no one seems to know. Hmm…sounds like podcast fodder to me!

*Part of my attraction to Sansone was her ties to Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh.

Once a Teacher

A poster called Choose Your Own Adventure in Technology Land with four items: Making and Makerspaces, Hour of Code, Augmented, Virtual and Virtual Worlds, and Edutainment.
Choose Your Own Adventure in Technology Land poster

My twitter feed is filled with pictures of my K-12 teaching friends as they begin the year, eager to connect with their students. I am excited for them and, even after decades of being out of the middle school classroom, I always have a pang of regret that I took a different path in 2001.

That unconventional path has provided me with a variety of opportunities to work with educators across the country. But, I don’t necessarily think of that as teaching. I was engaging in professional development, which to my mind has a different quality than teaching. I have continued to teach, however, working with students in a formal setting where we have time to develop relationships, explore curriculum and create knowledge together.

This fall, I am teaching two courses, one for Old Dominion University and one for University of Richmond. Both are graduate courses related to instructional technology for a mostly K-12 educators. The two courses represent the ends of the spectrum in terms of how teaching and learning is done in higher education.

The Old Dominion course is designed for career switchers, people with degrees in other fields who wish to become teachers. It is always a wonderfully diverse mix of individuals as they come, in some cases, from all over the world. The course is completely online and asynchronous. But, we still create community using tools like Flip and Padlet to share and explore. I don’t have a lot of leeway with the content as the course is taught by multiple professors, but I am able to bring my own personality and practices to teaching online. But, it is a still a very different relationship than my face to face course.

At University of Richmond, I have taught School Technology each fall to students in the graduate education program for many years and it is most definitely MY course. Pre-COVID it was fully face to face with perhaps one virtual meeting to give them a flavor for learning online. I revisit the content and curriculum each year as well as the way I deliver the course. We have been almost completely online for the past years. This year, I am experimenting with a hybrid format that allows for us to connect as a whole group and then give students time for their own exploration and work.

Basically, I have front loaded the content into September. We work together on campus until fall break. Last year, I began using a textbook: the small but impactful volume, Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for the K-12 Classroom. I am continuing with that this year as the authors cover the big picture with the lens of equity that helps connect various topics in a useful way. They also provide a framework for students to consider their own problems of practice that lead to their final, individual projects, which they work on in November.

In between, October is given over to the students to explore on their own. I created a Choose Your Own Adventure activity that focuses on four different areas of ed tech that I don’t have time to cover in any depth. They learn a little about each one and then choose one to explore in more depth, with the goal considering how they might roll it out in their schools. A secondary objective is for them to think about how they use technology to research, reflect and report. What tools do they for curation? Collaboration? Communication?

We meet tonight for the first time and I am a little nervous, as always.

Old Friends Are The Best

Women in Blue Blouses by Pierre Auguste-Renoir

I am visiting one of my oldest friends for a few days. We taught high school English together in Pennsylvania nearly 40 years ago. We get together a couple times a year and have kept in touch over the years via the prevailing communications methods, starting with handwritten letters then moving on to email and text messaging. Now, we connect every day playing Words with Friends.

When we do get together in the same place, we pick up right where we left off: lingering over breakfast, meeting other friends for lunch, shopping at our favorite stores, watching old and new movies, chatting about our families, talking about our current reads and sometimes just sitting in silence, each with a book in our hands. It’s nice to have one person in my life who knows all about me and loves me anyway. Comfortable and comforting.

This is my first post-retirement trip, and I wanted to see if I could travel without a laptop without losing my writing momentum. I am typing this blog post on my iPad with an external keyboard. It is still a bit of hardware to tote but is lighter physically but also mentally. The laptop means work while the iPad is my ereader and entertainment device so turning it on has less pressure. The add-on keyboard just makes it easier for an old school typist to create text.

Second Day of School

I teach a technology course for school leaders seeking a master’s degree. Most will become school or division leaders such as principals or curriculum specialists. Normally, the course is fully face to face during the fall semester.

This year, I am implementing a blended, mostly online approach, with weekly synchronous meetings.  We will have three face to face meetings. Last week, we met on campus to get to know each other and make sure everyone was comfortable with the tools we were going to be using to do our work during the semester. More on those tools in another post.

Tonight was our first online meeting using Zoom as our interface. There are 7 students in the class, which seems like a good number for an online meeting, particularly because I wanted to use video and audio. It was good to see their faces, and I think it facilitated conversation. My face to face class is very interactive. My students have a variety of professional experiences related to educational technology that can inform their understanding and provide diverse perspectives to their classmates. We talk a lot about how our work connects with standards and research and practice.

And, we did that tonight. We spent time making sure everyone was comfortable with the Zoom room. We used the text chat and then video discussion to explore the topic of technology transformation. My one technology glitch was that they couldn’t hear the audio on a video. I’ll explore that more this week as I do want us to have some communal viewings.

At the end, I asked what they thought, as many of them hadn’t had an online course or even used Zoom. I got positive feedback and am excited about exploring the possibilities. There are some drawbacks that I will explore in another post.

For now, I am a happy teacher: I had an engaging few hours with some thoughtful, smart educators that allowed me to be closer to my base while they could go home and relax a bit before we connected.

I did do one thing to make sure we would be successful: I am renting office space in the small town next to my farm. The internet at my house is problematic: our potential cable provider has refused to provide us with broadband so we are stuck with DSL, and it is notoriously unreliable. I didn’t want to take any chances with losing connectivity during class. It was the right decision.

I had honestly forgotten what good internet was like…I’ve already messaged the landlord about creating a co-working space. I don’t need daily access but knowing I had a place to go for important meetings and large file uploads would be reassuring.

Confronting the Digital Divide One Kid A Time

I like on the edge of a small, impoverished, underserved town* in a county southeast of Richmond. During a Halloween “trunk and treat” event at the local library, I met the local 4H coordinator for the county who came over to check out my Makey Makey screaming pumpkins and talking hat. I followed up because I have been looking for a way to connect with the kids in my town. It turns out that 4H has a coding curriculum that we could use as the basis for a SPIN (Special Interest) club, a short term group around a specific topic. I agreed to facilitate six sessions around STEM to be held at the town’s community center, which is housed in the former elementary school in the heart of some of the worst poverty.

While the 4H curriculum is good and provides “unplugged” activities that don’t require Internet and computer access, we are fortunate to have decent Internet access, my collection of Makey Makey, and a few laptops including a couple that I bring with me. I ended up creating my own curriculum to take advantage of that access.

During the first week, we experimented with circuits using copper tape and playdoh with batteries and leds. On Tuesday of this week, we spent our hour connecting the Makey Makey to Scratch and making simple switches. One of the five participants had experience with the Makey Makey. The others caught on quickly.

Today was the big day, at least in my mind, as I knew I only had an hour to get them hooked on Scratch. So, we dove in and made a simple game using Barb Ericson’s tutorial.  I had three incredibly motivated students who had zero experience with coding and Scratch. but were eager to make their game.

They played my sample game when they arrived so they had an idea of what they would be creating. We worked through each step, and they were also able to customize their games by choosing their own sprites and backdrops. We still have some work to do but you can see their games here: https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/5887105/projects/

One of the boys, the same one who had worked with the Makey Makey, was able to move forward more independently by following the slides in the printed packet so I could work closely with the other two who needed more direct support. By the end of an hour, all three had working games that kept score. Whew!

I’m worried that they didn’t really have to time to process what we were doing, and I want to take time next Tuesday to review the various pieces that we put together. We will make the games harder and add some sounds, I think.

I would *love* to integrate the Makey Makey by having them create game controllers with switches during the last meeting. I think the town mayor may be stopping by. She helped me connect with the community center director so I invited her to stop by to see what is happening.

This is a small, small step. Three boys who are living in the digital divide and deserve the same access and opportunities of other kids. If there is interest, I am committed to continuing our meetings to explore Scratch and other kinds of programming. At the least, I want to hold a Valentine’s Day Card workshop using this great template from makerspaces.com.**

*Use whatever adjective you like: our grocery store closed several years ago so our food sources include fast food, one or two restaurants, and a couple dollar type stores. No local access to fresh food including vegetables and meat. The closest full-service store is 8 miles away. It’s a long way for people who also don’t have access to their own or public transportation.

**The wonderful woman who serves as the on site director for the center came to me today asking about how she might add lights to flowers to Valentine’s Day.  I told her I would bring my kit of lights and batteries next week and we could figure out how to make it work!