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Welcome…

Hey everyone,

Welcome to my mostly dormant blog that I’ve kept running, in one form or another, for a long time. I might even go so far as to say it’s been an internet lifetime since I started this thing.

Feel free to explore. You’ll find silly poems about my dog, my thoughts on climate change, bicycling, politics, train travel and other random stuff. Most of it written when I had a job in a bank where I spent vast quantities of time with headphones in my ears, sitting at my desk. I haven’t really kept up with it because until #coronavirus hit, and basically ever since I began work at school, my days have been filled with interactions with people… blogging has not been at the top of my priority list.

But… we have a new world in front of us, and at least for the next couple months, we’re embarking on an exciting new experiment in teaching and learning. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say this is the biggest experiment in educating kids that has ever happened in history. There will be a lot to process. It might be fun to do a little blogging again.

Categories: General.

Apple Music, Spotify, Algorithms

Followup to my previous lament. This is a really interesting and nerdy post: I Decoded the Spotify Recommendation Algorithm. Here’s What I Found

Categories: Music.

The iPod

I’ve been spending some time cleaning up all my old junk in the house. Old papers, boxes. Shoes that are worn out, clothes I no longer wear, etc.

As you might imagine, I have a lot of old technology lying around as well. Old computers, chargers, cables. (Just in case I need them!) The pack-rat genes run strong in my family. I really have to take a moment with each thing before put it in my tech recycling bag.

I have several old iPods laying around. Most of which, I found, no longer worked. The battery won’t take a charge, or the hard drive (when pressed up against my ear) goes, “click, click, click” when it tries to boot up.

But one still did fire up. A 30GB iPod from around 2006. I had loaded music onto it a several years ago, before I finally signed up for Spotify, and then Apple Music (and then back to Spotify).

I’ve been trying to put my finger on this feeling for a while. What is special about this collection of music? Why does having all of the millions of tracks available to you on Spotify somehow feel less special.

This article from back in 2016 pretty much nails it – An Ode to the iPod Classic – I guess the author would put me into the music nerd category. I still love kicking back and listening to an album straight through. Call me old fashion, but as much as I enjoy Infinite Indie Folk on Spotify – I probably couldn’t name a single track off the top of my head.

But for the meantime, I’m planning to pass along this working iPod to someone who I know will appreciate it.

Categories: Music.

Make Blue America Great Again

Matthew Yglesias has a new blog, Slow Boring, and the first posts I’ve read have been great. I love a hefty dose of commuter rail discussions any day of the week. Check it out!

Progressive politics needs ambition

Now I hear you saying, “wait wait this started with talking about how we should build social democracy in blue states and ended with a bunch of deregulation and union-busting — it smells like neoliberalism.”

Make Blue America Great Again

Categories: Trains.

What a well-funded passenger rail system could look like in the Midwest under ‘Amtrak Joe’

What a well-funded passenger rail system could look like in the Midwest under ‘Amtrak Joe’:

There’s little doubt that one of President-elect Biden’s favorite federal programs is Amtrak, America’s 50-year-old, subpar rail system.

While I am very excited that Joe Biden is not Donald Trump – his overall platform is pretty moderate. However, he is a huge proponent of rail travel, and I would love to see a major expansion in passenger rail in this country. (I’m sure a very obvious statement for anyone who has ever read my blog)

An infrastructure program that would generate jobs, create mobility and be good for the environment. Let’s go.

Categories: Trains.

Rock the Garden 2021, we hardly knew ye

Well, that’s a bummer…

Rock the Garden 2021 won’t happen; SPCO cancels the rest of its 2020-21 season:

COVID has taken its first punch at summer in the Cities 2021, knocking Rock the Garden into summer 2022. The Walker Art Center, co-sponsor with The Current, issued a statement this morning saying, in part: “Due to uncertainties around planning for a large-scale outside event next summer, the Walker and The Current will not present Rock the Garden in 2021. After thoughtful consideration of how Rock the Garden could be coordinated and held in the time of COVID-19, the two organizations determined that the event in its current form could not be done in a way that would guarantee the safety of community members and artists.”

Categories: Music.

The PolyMet Mine is a disaster waiting to happen

Well, it’s the eve of the election. The PolyMet mine is a good example of what is at stake. Strong environmental regulations, or whatever you would call what this administration has done.

This opinion article in MinnPost today – Two years after the much-litigated PolyMet permits were issued, some facts aren’t in dispute – is well worth a read.

 This polluted water would be stored in a 900-acre pond, which would need to be maintained continuously by pumps, and held back, indefinitely, by a dam taller than the dome at the Minnesota Capitol.

The dam holding back the massive amounts of pollution and waste would be made from mine tailings stacked on top of other mine tailings stacked on top of unstable peats and slimes — the “upstream” design. This is the type of dam that failed catastrophically at Brumadinho in Brazil and at Mount Polley in Canada. It’s the type of dam that has been banned in countries around the world, including Brazil, Chile and Peru. And engineers have been clear they fear more catastrophes await if this design continues to be used.

Insanity.

Categories: Environment.

Why messaging your students via your LMS is so important (and not sending them emails)

Since I was just complaining about internet recipes that give the author’s life story before telling you how to cook the cookies, here is the TL;DR (too long;didn’t read) version:

  • Your students’ and parents’ inboxes are theirs. Your messages are one of hundreds vying for their attention.
  • Your learning management system’s announcements or messaging feature is “the school’s”. All of the messages there are relevant to school and between the school (teachers) and the students (or parents).
  • When your student (or parent) wants to check on school and goes to their inbox – they are distracted by every other email that is there.
  • When your student (or parent) wants to check on school and goes to their LMS – they find only relevant messages.

A more complete, but probably rambling version of my thoughts follows… I’d welcome your comments or feedback. It’s been a while since I’ve been blogging, so I’m probably a bit rusty!

As we make a rapid shift from face-to-face learning to distance learning, one of the things I’ve struggled with is the shift in communications. In a physical school, where a one can expect to have the (mostly) undivided attention of your students for a period of time, the communications can be direct and relevant to the time and space. We can write messages on the board, we can find a student for one-on-one conversation, we can make an announcement in assembly.

Yes, not every student hears those message with perfect clarity, not every student is paying attention and not every student writes down their homework in their planner, but most do! Email volume for students, on the whole, is low. Most of the “messages” they receive happen in person.

Now fast forward to distance learning. Kids are with their teachers in a web conference for maximum, 90 minutes a week. (and our guidance has been don’t spend more than 10 or 15 minutes in each session live, and use that time to connect – not direct instruction) Our first student survey is littered with comments like “It’s hard to pay attention during a web conference.” I’m right there with them. My brain has melted at the end of every day for the past two weeks as I jump from Zoom to Meet to Slack to Chat, Messages, email and back again.

And so we necessarily sending messages. So far, mostly, via email. The problem therefore, is that everyone else is sending emails too. Your student’s inbox is littered with messages. Some from school, some from friends, some from colleges, some from some game they installed, some from their parents, etc etc etc.

Now think about the parents. You, a teacher or administrator, are trying to get an important message home about an important website their student should read. You send an email. What is in that parent’s inbox, besides your message?

Literally a bazillion other emails.

If you’ve been on the internet for the last five years, you’ve probably received a covid-related email from every entity you’ve ever interacted with. Not to mention the parent’s work emails, emails from friends and neighbors, notifications from Facebook, Nextdoor, shipping notifications from Amazon, whatever! And then your message about school, and it’s important, but will the student or parent see it? Will they act on it before tending to all of the other emails? See the problem?

We know from all of the guidance about screen time and phone addiction and the like that a necessary first step is to turn off all of the notifications. When I want to go on facebook, fine, but I don’t need their notifications and pop-ups coming at me to try and get me in there.

We (as teachers and administrators) need to apply the same thing to our school’s messaging:

Create a single place that students and parents can go for all of their school-related messages. When they think school, they can go there and be sure to find school-related messages.

While the school can’t control the time or place or environment in which those are read, the school can set an expectation that you check in to that virtual space every morning. Students can consistently find the information they want about school, when they want to.

 

Categories: Education.