Learning Adventures

I am an educational experimentalist. My teaching style is an eclectic blend of constructivist pedagogy fused with social learning theory that allows me to facilitate interesting experiences that peak my students’ curiosity and desire to know more. If it involves helping others learn, I love trying it out. In my field, there is no way to be an expert at everything, so I am an expert at learning and at setting up engaging educational experiences. I am great at connecting people to the resources they need and at connecting people to other people. It’s so much more fun that way!

The Nerd Herd @ China Lake NAWS

Our proximity to a research and development Navy base lends itself to some interesting experiences. I arranged to take a group of students on tour of some of the more unique projects that they could talk to us about (without having to kill us afterwards). My students saw robotic bomb defusing devices, a GPS guided robotic truck that is used for missle practice, and many other practical applications of the technology we were learning about in class. My students were doing the same exact thing, developing the same exact skills, with our robotics project. The only difference is that the Navy has a larger budget than my CIS department so their toys are bigger. The great epiphany of the day? You mean they will PAY us to have this much fun if we get our degrees? You bet they will! Several of the students in this picture have gone on to work on base in programming and engineering fields, and many others have transfered to university to continue their studies in STEM areas.

Riverside County Department of Education Moodle workshop

I often have the opportunity to teach teachers about technology. It is one of my favorite things to do. Many of my workshops are online, but once in a while, I get the treat of working with a group of educators face-to-face. In this workshop for the Riverside County Department of Education, hosted in Palm Desert, I used LEGOs as a hands-on lesson in how to build a Moodle course. It’s all about using the building blocks to come up with something creative. How cool is that?

Haiku LMS Workshop - Riverside August 2011

Sometimes it is hard to get people to understand that how you organize an online class is just as important as the content itself. You might know where you put things, but you can’t expect the new user to necessarily understand. In this Haiku LMS workshop for teachers that I facilitated for the California Technology Assistance Project, I used snack food to illustrate the concept. I figured if the object lesson didn’t work, at least we’d be well fed for the rest of the workshop 🙂 Each participant had a cup full of mixed snacks and had to organize them in more than 3 but less than 6 groups. They then had to try and guess what the organization scheme was for their table-mates. What they thought was obvious, suddenly became not so obvious when others tried to figure it out! One guy made exactly three completely identical groups… when asked how he did it, he said “I ate all the ones that didn’t fit!”

Intro to CIS "Computer Dissection" project

In my Intro to CIS course, I use hands-on activities throughout the semester to facilitate student learning. This is our computer dissection project where students get a chance to pull apart a computer and then put it back together again. For many, it is the first time they’ve seen “under the hood” so to speak. Demystifying what goes on in the box is a very empowering skill for these students.

Middle School Robotics

Yes, there is a story here! I teach a week-long summer robotics workshop for middle school kids. These guys wanted to use a rotation sensor and needed to measure a rotation for their calculations. I suggested they use a small piece of duct tape on the wheel so they could tell when it had gone around once. I came back a while later to find ALL the wheels covered in duct tape! When I asked why, the answer was simple. They decided they needed to reduce friction and that this was the way to do it! Every time I teach, I can honestly say “Wow… I’ve never seen that before!”


Middle School Robotics

This group of kids was also in the middle school workshop. They didn’t have a friction problem. They had a structural integrity problem. Their robot kept falling apart. I suggested that they needed to fortify their ‘bot so they went to work. When next I looked, they had made a solid block of LEGOs about 6″x6″x4″ with the brick sitting on top. When I asked about it, they said “We didn’t know what FORTIFY meant, so we built a FORT!” Crazy kids… it worked!


Computer Literacy "Teach & Learn" activity

I have a quote on my philosophy page that says “If you want to function at the highest effectiveness as a teacher, then it is not enough to teach a subject to a student. Your goal must always be to teach the learner to be a teacher. Then the student is functioning at his highest relationship to the content, and to himself.” (Jensen, Brad. “Education is not broken.” DEOS). In my Computer Literacy class, I do just that. This is the beginning level, here’s-where-you-turn-on-the-machine class. One of their culminating experiences is a “Teach and Learn” session. I have them submit topics they feel they could teach someone else and topics they would like to know more about. I carefully pair them up so that each student gets a chance to be a learner and a teacher. They often begin the class lacking confidence that they can master the machine on their desks. They end the class teaching someone else how to use it. It is one of the favorite activities of their entire semester!


5th grader I Am Going to College day

So, the college counselor called me and said,”We’re inviting 400 5th graders to the campus. Do you mind running a workshop for them? You’ll only have 25 minutes but don’t worry. They’ll be in smaller groups of only 60-70 at a time. “SURE! But what can I do in under a half hour that will capture the attention of dozens of 10 year olds and leave them walking away from the day thinking “Awesome! I’m going to college!”? Robotics, of course!! But what will keep their squirrley little hands occupied while I try to share with them some of the exciting things we are doing? LEGOs, of course! You do know what makes a robot different from a toaster, don’t you? These kids do!


On tour at the San Diego Super Computer

I believe in showing my students the possibilities beyond their local experience. One year I organized the “Nerd Herd So Cal Tour“. With a group of about 20 students, we spent three days visiting the UC Riverside Electrical Engineering department, the UC San Diego Supercomputer, and a regional high school robotics competition in San Diego. We managed to find time to play in the grass and squeeze in a trip to Laguna Beach at sunset (rare treats for my high desert group). picture: The Super Computer computer scientist @ UC San Diego talking to us about how it works and what it can do.

Linux for a day

I enjoy exposing students to technology they may not have ever used before. It definitely pushes many outside of their comfort zone. For those theorists out there, we spend plenty of time in the ZPD!

I prefer an immersive experience. We don’t just talk about the impact of social media, we use it throughout the semester. I don’t just have them read about operating systems, I boot up the classroom to Ubuntu Linux and let them take it for a spin. We learn about computer programming concepts by building and programming robots. We create digital media projects that include webpages, images, podcasts, and screencasts. Cloud-based software like Google Docs and online wikis are used to help students understand the power of collaborating together across distributed work spaces. I do my best to teach them concrete applications of abstract concepts. Apparently, at least most of the time, it works!

"Taking this class will for sure pay off. I am learning many things that will make my life a lot more simple at work."

"Tell me about that..." Expanding Your Horizons @ China Lake NAWS

I take my role as a mentor to young women very seriously. There aren’t enough positive role models for girls who want to have careers in STEM fields. For the past decade I have participated in a program called Expanding Your Horizons. It is an annual conference with the goal of “nurturing girls’ interest in science and math courses to encourage them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.” My robotics workshop has consistently been one of the most popular and highest rated offerings at the China Lake conference. I love robotics because it is one of those activities where you can actually see students think.

Computer Salvage Project

The college had a problem: almost a hundred old computers needed to be salvaged out, but there wasn’t enough manpower to wipe the hard drives and pull out any useful components.

I had a solution: put a call out to all super geeks, average geeks, geek wannabes, and other interested parties who wanted to learn more about how to take apart a computer. The first Saturday of spring break over 20 people gathered with screwdrivers in hand to process 90 old machines. The uber-techy paired up with the newbies to show them how it was done and in a couple of hours what started as an impossible one-day project was completely finished. Who says geeks don’t know how to have fun? 🙂

Pepperdine Masters of Educational Technology cadre 8

I’ve worked with kids in kindergarden through high school. I’ve worked with teachers at all levels of education. My heart is definitely with my community college students because I believe so strongly in the mission we are fulfilling. However, every once in a while, I get the opportunity to teach graduate students working on their masters in learning technologies or technology management. It is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences because I have had the opportunity to teach for programs that are transformational adventures for the students who go through them. We break down their assumptions about learning and we push them to be reflective educational and technology leaders. They push me to be at the top of my game and to research and develop learning activities that will help facilitate the journey they are on. It’s a win-win situation that is lots of fun to participate in!


Intro to Computer Science in Second Life

I am always looking for ways to engage students, especially online students. In my sophomore level Intro to CS class, we held class meetings in a virtual world that they helped create. They learned about building and scripting in an environment that encouraged a sense of presence. Their avatar choices gave insights into their personalities (notice the robo-student in the lower right corner!). The students had a semester long research project that was presented to their classmates in Second Life. Most students created a simple prim with a slide show script. However, this student went above and beyond the call of duty. He built a large box that was locked until the day of the event. Inside were dynamic wall displays, interactive creatures, and tons of information on his topic: virtual autopsies. He detailed advances in computers that allowed for high resolution imaging as he gave us a tour of his “facilities”. It was quite amazing!

Sometimes the very best things happen when you set up the learning environment with an interesting challenge, give them the tools, and get out of their way. One of the first robotics challenges I created used one of those city map rugs for kids. They had to make a robot that transported President LegoMan from the airport to a BBQ at the Fire Department across town, staying on the roads. The easiest route had a major 10 (hotwheel) car collision that had to be cleared first. The other routes involved more intricate timing and programming but no major obstacles.

On the second day, one student came to me and asked if he could make his robot fly. Thinking to myself “it’ll never happen” I said “Sure, why not?”. On the 4th day, the day we were running the course, he came in with a 6′ tall balloon, a bag of smaller balloons, and a tank of helium. What followed was chaos, creativity, troubleshooting, problem solving, critical thinking… and a robot that could fly! Ask me and I’ll tell you the whole story 🙂 To this day, I never say never (unless it involves expolsives or fire!).

Video: This was created by another student who took raw footage and was asked to come up with “something short and cool”. As always, I was amazed at what he created.

Summit Continuation High School students

Teaching isn’t about the technology, even when it is about the technology. It’s about getting students to trust you enough to let you lead them on an educational journey that takes them outside of their comfort zone, because that’s where the real growth happens. It’s about being willing to learn alongside of them and to learn from them. It’s about connecting to individual dreams and desires and helping them develop their own personal learning network.

I took this group of continuation high school students on a journey to discover their North Star. I asked them to think and to dream a little. How can you get there if you don’t know where you’re going?

"My Professor told me today to take a step back and dream. How many of us really do that?"

Posted by an online graduate student after a phone chat we had (8/3/10)

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