Cellphone Microscopes, Please Break and Rebuild

Through a tweet I was pointed to this post about a middle school California standardized test which had a reading comprehension question on the proper use of a microscope.

The question that followed was this:

The microscope lens should initially be placed close to the glass slide:

A. Because focus is achieved by moving closer to the specimen.
B. Because the specimen on the slide will be in perfect focus.
C. To avoid breaking the glass slide when adjusting the focus.
D. To maintain distance from the microscopic stage.

The writer pointed out the insanity of students proving their knowledge of a microscope through their ability to follow a diagram’s instructions, which I completely agreed with and was equally disappointed by.

Have you ever looked through a microscope? Created a wet mount slide of pond water (I did in sixth grade) and utterly marveled at the world that exists inside that tiny space?

Inspired by the article, I started to search for what I new likely existed – hacks to build your own microscope with a mobile phone. I found this $5 one which is a 35x microscope that a maker attached to his iPhone case, creating a snap-on, snap-off microscope for his iPhone’s camera.

I ordered this little part from Amazon, but it’s not going to come in time for the class, so I’m going to make something a little harder, a 350x microscope attachment for the mobile phone. I looks to be a bit harder to make (and more expensive) but I’m hoping to use it for making not just 350x pictures, but videos as well. There’s another group making a similar scope that uses wet mount slides. The video will be really fun I hoping to make more animated GIFs, one of my ongoing passions.

Be a Maker!!!!

One thing that is surely to happen in your experience as a K-12 teacher in New York City is you will find resources (especially technology) limited. You can and should be frustrated by this situation, but also you can look to maker culture as a beacon of hope if you’re willing to pull things apart and build. They are willing to get their hands dirty, pulling apart iPhones, hacking code, and even simply getting on the hammer, screw gun and doing-it-themselves.

I’d like you to watch this talk by Grant Potter at University of Mary Washington’s 2012 Faculty Academy. It’s great as he makes a lot of connections between maker values and education.

[vimeo width=”580″ height=”435″]http://vimeo.com/42415690[/vimeo]

This ideal is one that I’ve recently been thinking about for teachers through the likes of friends who’ve been experimenting with 3-D printers like the MakerBot, and through David Darts (maker of the pirate box), discovering Cory Doctorow’s short scifi story Printcrime. I’ve been used to scanning and printing on color lasers, injets, and offsetpress for some time, but now you can scan an object and print it. Relatively cheaply too. Just think, that dohicky thingy breaks on your kids nice plastic toy, and you could scan it and make a replacement part.

Now imagine what you could fix, build, create in a classroom with students if that were available? 3D printers like the makerbot are just becoming available due to a lower price point. Sadly York doesn’t have one (yet), so we’re going to work on another exercise to play with the maker ideal.

Over the next two weeks you are going to build a tool that you could use to support your teaching. The tool could be anything, a digital tool (code only and would possibly require programming), the mashing together of existing tools (I’m going to build an iPhone microscope), or even something you build with traditional tools – hammer, nails, wood, glue, popsicle sticks, exacto knives, paper mache, whatever.

Over the next two weeks you are going to do three blog posts about what you’re making:

1. For today you are going to propose something to make. I could be based on something someone else has built, and you’re just going to build it too. You also have to tell us how you and your students could use it in your future classroom. And even better, imagine how they could build their own version of the tool too. I want you also to reflect on Grant Potter’s talk and how it is feeding into your thoughts about what you plan to build.

2. Next Monday 6/18, you will blog with a video showing your process of building it. Here’s a good example for an iPhone microscope (video) and in photos of students building a camera obscura. Do you’re best to show steps.

3. And for the final maker post 6/25, you will demonstrate the tool’s use. You’ll need to make a video for this as well or we can use it with you in the final classroom.

Serendipitous Teaching and Learning

I was reading student blog responses to Michael Wesch’s video A Vision of Students Today, and one student described her college experience as “not terrible but having a lot of incomplete pieces.” She wondered how she might be able fill that gap and included this image of an incomplete puzzle portrait. REALLY DEEP QUESTION RIGHT?

And while reading this post a tweet from David Kernohan popped up:

The comic is a remix of Neil Gaiman’s graduation speech to the University of the Arts class of 2012 delivered two weeks ago. Here’s the first frame of the comic:

You should definitely read the rest of the comic and watch Gaiman’s speech which asks you to respond to the stresses of life by making ‘Good Art.’ And if you believe anyone can be an artist, a good one mind you, then the answer is in being creative right? So I responded to the students post including this link and message.

How cool is that? Someone in England helped me respond to my student’s post. It’s as if David Kernohan were in the classroom helping me teach.

And how did David come to be in my classroom? He showed up serendipitously because I’ve been slowly building connections with peers through my blog and twitter account over the past year-and-a-half. These are connections that didn’t exist before, and the opportunity to learn, to reflect, and to share with them didn’t exist before.

George Siemens’ theory of connectivism might be useful to help me understand how this was possible:

The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed.

He describes how important it is to make connections within specialized communities and make sense of the information that comes out of them. My group of fellow learners happens to be crazy about communicating online via twitter and personal blogs, so I began to follow people and slowly found my way to join the conversation.

Finding that specialized community can take time, but you can look for bloggers and Tweeters of interest and see if they lead to other’s sharing resources. Hopefully over time, you will find a community out there that makes sense to you and you will find ways to engage it. You have to start somewhere!

So for your next blog post I want you to look for an entrance point to your own network of connections that might help you on your path to becoming a teacher. The entrance point could be a tweet, another blogger’s post, something that you believe might set you on your path.

I want you to describe how you found the post, tweet, or page and link to it. Describe why you’re interested in this piece of conversation and how you think it’s going to help you get started on building connections with peers.

Your Vision of College Today

Watch the embedded video above, “A Vision of Students Today,” by Michael Wesch.

Blog a response to the video, find a text, image, and/or video that in some way relates to your undergraduate experience to date. Describe why this text, image, and/or video relates to your undergraduate experience. Before posting, be sure to review the course blog for other students’ responses, please do not use the same image, text, and/or video that someone else has previously blogged about.

Battle the Apocalypse with aPOPcalypse!

In Jim Groom’s Educational aPOPcalypse video, he’s concerned that problems in education are dramatized to create hysteria and despair (there’s no way out!) But he doesn’t believe in this alarmist approach, rather he looks to the creativity found in participatory web culture and calls on us to respond to problems by harnessing this energy, excitement, and even sense of humor (yes maybe we need to laugh our way out of the problem). Jim uses 25 animated GIFs to emphasize his point.

I want you to find your own example of an educational ‘crisis’ real or not. And tell us how you might look at it differently, not as you would rubber-neck at a multiple car pile-up on the highway, but how you might envision the problem as something solvable. Also find and embed an image or video which you believe emphasizes your new perspective. Please be sure to link back to the original story as well.