October 3, 2012

April 26, 2009

"Oh my god, I love you! Thank you so much!!!!"

I'm the recipient of a lot of comments like that; they're just not meant for me.

I posted a few math videos casually created by a talented teacher two years ago - just as samples for a concept demo for personalized education. So by accident of mistaken identity, I've vicariously watched a stream of "thank you" comments from appreciative students.

It's inspiring to see the multiplier on this teacher's impact. Her 9-minute instruction on dividing polynomials would have previously benefited the 30 kids in her class that day. Now, she's helping more than 30 each day - for a cool 36,500% increase in the reach of her talent. And that doesn't even include the viewership of the same video subsequently posted on her own YouTube account. Amazing.

Plus, the video "Hot Spots" seem like a really helpful feedback loop. Where did I engage them? Where did I lose them? What topics were most helpful? The loss of that pedagogical feedback loop typical in two-way classroom exchanges with 30 kids must be at least partially mitigated by the much larger sampling of attention among thousands of kids.

Maybe soon those same kids will benefit from a new kind of final exam review - where they tune into an automatically generated compendium of Hot Spots on any subject from the best teachers in the world. Anyone in Education working on that?

p.s. - if anyone knows how to merge a YouTube video in one account with a copy of the same video in another account, please let me know. I'd like to reunite the recording with the artist without losing any fans.

February 10, 2009

Create Invoices from your Google Calendar


gTime creates simple invoices by reading from your Google Calendar.  There are screenshots of creating an invoice on the project hosted at Google Code. 

The project was a birthday gift for my wife last year, but it was also a hobby project to explore Google App Engine and GData APIs.  The primary motivations for the app were to:
  1. eliminate redundant data entry by generating invoices directly from the appointments you already keep current on your Calendar. 
  2. work with any Calendar client by reading billing rates from plain text in the calendar entries themselves.
  3. protect client confidentiality by printing Web-based invoices that do not pass identifying name and addresses over the Internet.
That last goal is a bit specific to healthcare providers, but expand the app for your own needs (and maybe even punch out a few features on the wish list)

March 21, 2007

Baby Steps towards Individualized Education

A very, very rough and incomplete prototype is up and running now at www.mykindofmind.org. I hope it’s enough to illustrate some concepts and to recruit some great people to make it real.

Here’s a brief demo you can run through yourself. Assume you’re an 11th grade physics student that wants help in understanding the concept of center of mass. You’re a visual learner that does best seeing an example before diving into equations:


  1. Search for “center of mass” (the link jumps to the results)
  2. Click on the video in the upper right corner (brown-vested professor)
  3. Watch the video for a few seconds, but click the “I’m done watching above video” once you realize you’re not a chalk-talk-at-MIT kind of learner
  4. Click on the “My Style” tab; then click the first/only link “Lesson 11: Center of Mass”
  5. Return to the search result, and click “keep” to save it (and any others you like) for future reference
  6. Rate your “keepers” to help improve the correlation of instructional materials with your particular learning style (not implemented yet, but the intent is to feed ratings into the XML annotations for the CSE for that subject)

The rudimentary Custom Search Engines for science, math, history and english were just thrown together for this demo; there’s much more to do before the demo reflects the kind of specialization that’s possible with CSEs done right (beyond actually populating them - thinking through the granularity of CSEs, the labeling, the feedback loop, etc.)

But this baby step will help us discuss next steps. If the possibilities spark your interest, please let me know (and/or subscribe to the My Kind of Mind group). It’s exciting to think of millions of students with their own personal tutor on any subject.

March 15, 2007

Individualized Education - Start with Homework?

My son would love this explanation of center of mass; his AP Physics buddy might jump to this one. My son would love his center of mass homework to work on maximizing his bunny hops; his pool-loving classmate might prefer to simulate billiards.
These are oversimplified examples of individualizing education, but just in tutoring our two kids over the years, I’ve seen how much better some approaches are for each learning style. For example, do I start with a big picture visual, show examples, and then explain? Or outline the specific steps, and then generalize the concept later?

A baby step towards individualized education may be creating custom search engines for different learning styles, levels, and interests. Combine that with the content tagging, syndication and personalization trends you see in services like digg, youtube, and delicious, and we could have a pretty good resource quickly. And ideally, making it easy to create and syndicate great material that’s used and rated around the world would encourage the celebration of “rock star” teachers. It’s worth a prototype.

p.s. – while experimenting with digg’s syndication, I posted a list of schools focused on dyslexia that I wish we’d had when we were looking.

March 14, 2007

The One-Size-Fits-None Education

Our son starts college this fall. It's a big milestone. It has me thinking a lot - not only about how much I’ll miss his being at home, but also about how much better K-12 education could be. We were extremely fortunate to have found Charles Armstrong School for him; Rosalie Whitlock leads the school with an inspiring and clarifying mantra that governs every decision there: “What’s in it for the kids?”

The approach CAS takes for dyslexic learners is applicable to all learners; dyslexia just happens to be a label for one set of mind characteristics. And even that label is an ambiguous umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of differences in visual and auditory processing. Ideally, all kids could develop an early awareness of their particular strengths and weaknesses and approach learning and life in a way that caters to their specific aptitudes and interests. So individualizing Rosalie’s mantra, what if we could ask for each student: “What’s in it for the kid?”

How can we provide an individualized education for everyone? It seems a bit ambitious as we struggle with basic problems of large class sizes, standardized tests, overloaded teachers, high drop-out rates, budget shortfalls, etc. But I’ve personally seen the great work from organizations like Charles Armstrong School, Mel Levine’s All Kinds of Minds and Charles Schwab’s Schwab Learning that motivates me to explore ways to contribute. I’m not an educator, but I’ll start by listing some of the problems I most want to solve:

Classroom unidirectional, undifferentiated

  • 1 textbook, 1 teacher, 1 curriculum ==> 35 students, 20 intelligences, 16 types, 4 styles…

Time, location artificially constrain quality

  • 1 day, 1 time, 1 location, 1 teacher ==> Global experts on “TiVo” for my lifelong learning

“How to Learn” underemphasized

  • The “WHAT” focus ==> the “HOW” of working your brain with variations for interests, aptitudes, and learning styles

Marginal relevance to real-life skills

  • The 1950s “organization man” ==> Collaboration, context, curiosity on topics that inspire passion

As a technology guy, I’m drawn to exploring ways computing might help. Clearly, computing is only part of the solution; but it’s also clear that our opportunities to apply computing to these problems have advanced far beyond the standalone drill tools on some PC in the corner of the classroom. So much of the innovation in computing today relates to connecting people, organizing information, and making the web a collaborative medium that blurs the lines between consumers and producers of valuable resources.

So I’ve put up a My Kind of Mind web site as a playground for trying out ideas. Nothing there yet, but I hope to use some of my time-off this week to flesh out ideas and get things started. In the meantime, if you’re interested in helping in any way, please subscribe to the My Kind of Mind group.