Thursday, June 23, 2011

You Wanna Buy a Parthenon?

Actually it's free! This OAR file contains terrain modeled on the Athens Acropolis, a model of the Theatre of Dionysus built by me, and a model of the Parthenon built by about 40 8/9th grade students in their geometry class this past October. The models are built to scale, which was the point of having students do it as a geometry activity. The only thing that is way off is the Acropolis itself, which should be about twice as big, but it would have far exceeded the boundaries of a single 256 x 256 meter region.

I'm releasing it with an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license. For attribution you can specify "Erik Nauman and The Hewitt School" as the original creators. Only one texture is used aside from the default viewer textures and that is a white marble texture downloaded from CG Textures. The link to the OAR file is here. My students and I would love to hear how anyone uses it, so please leave a comment if you do.
Here's a video of some of the students working.

It’s not the tech that matters

I had the honor and pleasure of moderating a fantastic panel of presenters yesterday at the conference of the NCGS at Wellesley College. The session title was “Creative And Interdisciplinary Uses Of Technology To Engage Girls In STEM” and the panelists were Carolyn Steele, Middle School Math Teacher at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, CA, and Karen Kolkka, Lower School Educational Technologist at Springside School in Philadelphia, PA. Carolyn showed us how she and her colleague, Louise Madrid, integrate Scratch programming throughout the disciplines. They have 7th graders programming science animations that depict and explain DNA replication, challenging interactive math games, and hypercard-like history presentations with embedded animation sequences. Carolyn and Louise have backgrounds in software development so they are able to give their girls a solid introduction to programming concepts and design iteration process. I could learn so much sitting in on their class! Karen showed us animation projects by their lower and upper students using Animation-ish and the Motion component of Final Cut Pro. Their focus is on using tech to combine art and creativity with science, the idea being that their students will understand science concepts more deeply by creating animations that represent causal relationships and develop their personal creative vision through their projects. Then I gave a little demo of our Parthenon sim project
How does all of this tie together? As moderator I talked a little about the difference between patching the leaky pipeline to STEM and creating alternate pathways to STEM, the projects we demo-ed exemplifying the latter. Our common interest seemed to be casting a wider net to draw girls into using technology and engaging them in science, math, engineering, and technology in vital, personal, creative, and interdisciplinary ways. 
A few more points from my comments:
     Effective modeling of technology integration, exemplified by Carolyn and Louise’s use of collaborative co-teaching between those who know the tech and those who know the content area
     Making explicit the connections between the students’ work and work in STEM fields: increasing girls’ confidence in STEM
     Making technology more accessible to girls with meaningful applications in content areas and room for personalization
     Bringing together art and technology to foster greater engagement, understanding of science, other disciplines

Monday, June 20, 2011

OpenSim Diva upgrade

I just finished upgrading my school sim to the latest version of the Diva + Wifi distribution of OpenSimulator, v0.7.1.1. It's a serverless grid setup, so I can shuffle the separate regions around in whatever layout best suits our current needs. The last version of Diva was released back in September, so this was a major upgrade. Aside from the changes mentioned in the release notes (run configure.exe), here are a few changes I had to make between the last version,, and this one:

  • FreeSWITCH: My voice service didn't work until I read in the wiki that a path changed in one config file. In the "xml_curl.conf.xml" edit, a folder name changes from api to fsapi. That fixed a FreeSWITCH error I was getting.
  • I could add a start location for new accounts! Open up MyWorld.ini and under the [WifiService] section add this line.
  • In my Mars simulation I had changed the gravity setting to -3.8 so the astronaut avatars can bounce around. Many defaults have been moved out of the Opensim.ini and into separate files. Gravity is still under [ODEPhysicsSettings] but in a file called OpenSimDefaults.ini now. To retain that gravity setting I added an [ODEPhysicsSettings] section in MyWorld.ini with the gravity setting I want.
Those are the biggest things I've had to figure out. Now I have to see what sort of bugfixes have been implemented. Exciting!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Opensim Guide for Schools

David W. Deeds has created a much needed guide to setting up OpenSimulator in your school. It's more than a step-by-step, including some discussion of the reasons for using virtual worlds in education. Here is the Scribd version (cool, that worked), or you can download a copy from his website. I've only just skimmed it but it looks great, explaining many of the complications one encounters in configuration and setup, as well as covering the options pretty well. IMHO the Diva setup could have been promoted more heavily as I think it's more user-friendly than the main release, since it includes documentation and update utilities. But it also uses MySQL as a default for storage rather than SQLite and he may have thought setting up a db would pose too great a challenge for the average user. Great service he's done, putting this together!

OpenSimulator: School Quick Start Guide

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Learning with Gestures

A sneak peek at Windows 8 reveals that Microsoft wants to integrate its os with tablet hardware to keep up with the huge growth in people's desire for the gestural UI of tablet devices. This should be a much bigger post because there are so many issues this transformation raises for schools but all I can come up with right now is a list of problems to think about and questions:

  • How does learning through apps restrict learning possibilities and how does it facilitate new learning possibilities?
  • Microsoft seems to be trying to simplify the user experience while still providing access to the file system (explorer.exe still exists!) but iOS removes a layer of user control in that sense. What happens to the learner when this level of control is taken away? Granted, file systems are simply TMI to many users, but if you know what you are looking for and aren't allowed access to it that takes away an important level of control over your machine.
  • The rush to gestural UI is happening so fast. My feeling is we're being led into making significant decisions about how best to provide and use technology by consumer preferences. It's way too early to say learning with apps is more effective than learning with software on a more open and transparent os. Of course, both can be effective, but it all comes down to how they are used, and there's still so much to learn about that.
Much more to say, but it will have to come in future posts...