Colin's Sandbox


Oat Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Liam

by on Aug.26, 2014, under ramblings, recipes

I’ve been having a hard time with parenting my oldest lately. My son is going from preschool to Kindergarten and we like to say he’s “transitioning”. From his perspective perhaps the problem is that I’m not. Case in point – I’m still trying to force him to take a damned nap when he’s tired and acting like a snot towards his sister. I keep trying to tell him – “dude I’m almost 40 and I discovered the joy of napping one day not all that long ago! You should really try it the next time you’re feeling grumpy and angry at people – it’s super helpful!”. Because really, it is. Show me someone that doesn’t enjoy a good nap and I probably wouldn’t don’t trust them much like WC Fields wouldn’t trust a non-drinker.

I am really trying to help and not be a big jerk. In hindsight, if anything at all I feel like I’m “transitioning” (regressing) back to toddler-hood while he’s jumping two feet out of the last vestiges of it. I want to figure this kind of stuff out now because I know it’s just going to get worse the older it gets, as well it probably should since you want them to go off and be independent some day so you can get some stuff done around here for chrissakes’.

When I’m frustrated with the roadblocks of dealing with my little people I have to remember the good things we’ve done together recently to keep it all in perspective. Here’s some cookies I made with Liam recently, adapted from an oat-fudge brownie recipe that an angel gave me back in my college years, smuggled from a local establishment that I used to do my homework at:

Colin and Liam’s “Pretty Close to Perfect Oat Chocolate Chunk Cookie Recipe”

Dry Stuff
1 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tsp Soda
3 cups Bread flour
3 cups Oats, and not that instant stuff that I only take camping

Wet Stuff (well sort of)
1 cups Butter
2 cups Brown Sugar, packed
2 1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 eggs

The Awesomeness
1 10oz bag of chocolate chunks, the Fred-Meyer-brand-because-I-haven’t-made-my-second-million-yet-Ghiradelli-brand
Totally optional – speaking of luxurious – chopped up pecans. A 1/4-1/2 cup amount is probably about right. Nowadays everyone has some sort of food allergy so unless you’re planning on only eating these in the comfort of your own closet while wearing your favorite band t-shirt from the 90’s, better leave these in the top cupboard with the good scotch.

Melt the butter, not all the way, just enough so that it will blend well with the brown sugar and vanilla (yes do that now). Add in the eggs – and this is the only part that Liam didn’t really want to do because it’s messy, and I gave up on trying to force him to get dirty long ago. Mix it all up until it seems pretty consistent and creamy.

Mix up all the dry ingredients separately and then add one half at a time to the wet ingredients while blending them up. Stir in the chocolate chunks and whatever else you will need to atone for into the dough. Plop small golf ball sized portions onto a buttered cookie sheet, and I do mean buttered (not that Pam crap). Smoosh them down a wee bit and bake at 350deg for about 10-12m. I’m using a convection oven so I’ve got mine in for about 9-10m at 325. YMMV. Hope yours turn out as well as ours did.

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A Noble Conference Embiggens the Smallest Man

by on Oct.21, 2013, under ramblings, stem

I was privileged to take part in the Anchorage Math and Science Conference this past weekend, appearing with Dr. Chip McMillan, Dr. Megan Buzby, and Lori Sowa, PE, all professors at UAS, presenting ideas on how to incorporate STEM in the K-8 classroom.  The presentations went really well!  My portion of the presentations was an overview on how Minecraft (and MinecraftEdu) has been implemented to engage students constructively and how it may be used in their own classroom.

Outside of the presentation I took part in a few sessions that were particularly “embiggening”: an overview of elements of “Project Lead the Way“, incorporating STEM into curriculum.  When it comes to proprietary curriculum (or proprietary anything for that matter) I’m admittedly a little biased.  What I took away from it though was the necessary concept of a vertically aligned curriculum, with one course building upon another, from principles of engineering on up to a final design project.  Some students from Dimond High School presented their work and thoughts on their efforts and they did a great job.  Communication is key to being a good engineer – the ability to describe your efforts and needs to others is crucial to good teamwork.

Earlier, I took part in a quick ArcGIS Online walk through, making our own maps.  I’m currently trying to figure out how to do a time-enabled map showing increase in temperature in Alaska over time.  I haven’t yet figured out which layer I need to add to get that data, or how to adjust it over time, but below is an example of an interesting layer, that of permafrost extent.

View Larger Map

One of the most interesting experiences for me however was the digital circuits presentation that I sat in.  While in college I used Motorola microcontrollers as part of digital design classes and I loved them.  I can remember the the “a HA!” moments while programming the units (in assembly) along with many hours of debugging wiring and improving the various projects.  Now to the outsider it might not be that exciting to see lights blink on and off and LED / LCD displays flickering different words across the screen but let me tell you – very exciting while you’re doing it.  Today’s kits featuring Arduino processors make it _lot_ easier.  The programming language is C (and I believe C++, although I didn’t code up any classes objects to check), which is a huge step up from assembly when it comes to readability.  I would like to see additional languages such as python, but that might be a lot easier to use on a system-on-a-chip (SOC) implementation such as the Raspberry Pi.

I heard a great phrase this weekend that I’ll take with me: “Don’t be a sage on the stage, be a guide on the side.”

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Fast times at Petersburg High!

by on Jun.18, 2013, under #oltak, ramblings

One of the parts of the job that I like the best is my ability is that I often get to wear many hats in the span of a day, such as “Network Guy”, “Systems Administrator”, “Ad-Hoc Trainer”, “Computer Maintenance Guy”, “Updates Updates Updates!”, and “Talk Technology with Teachers Man”.  This past trip I took with a coworker down to Petersburg I was all of those things.  The school district is in a good spot in many ways because it has access to great people on the ground who understand the purpose of technology in education (Education!) and are dedicated to providing great support to their teachers.  Where people like myself fit in best is as part of a team with the technology staff, finding ways to roll out computers quicker, finding ways to speed things up and make things easier for the staff.

With my own current schooling in the forefront, working directly face to face with the technology director / teacher and his staff provided me with a lot of opportunities to ask questions about how technology is used in their school, problem areas in the usage of technology in education.  We floated ideas of how to get student input and hopefully buy-in to technology related aspects of their education.

I also engaged in a lot of just-in-time, face-to-face teaching of the staff there in how to use tools in order to best manage various aspects of their network.  From finding and fixing cabling issues, to tracing the network cable routing itself (not as trivial as you might think!), to showing them new methods of maintaining their computers, there’s a lot of diverse topics to hit upon.  After a trip like this is over I usually continue with asynchronous and synchronous support in the form of Google Docs, IM sessions, emails, etc.

Spicoli learns something new about managed switches that he never knew was possible

What’s also really exciting is that the education goes both ways.  I learn things every time I go on a trip to do an installation, because no matter how much you are committed to a set of implementation steps, there’s always something that comes up to work around.  During the past two trips I have worked a couple of stints pretty closely with a network engineer working for GCI who’s been very helpful in working with me to design out the customer’s network, and I’ve got the chance to learn new things about various parts of computer networks, which I’m finding more and more recently that there’s a lot of gaps in my knowledge.  It holds true: the more I learn, the less I know.

I also thought of ways we could use tools that we normally associate with systems administration to help make teaching some technology courses easier.  How about incorporating something simple such as Dropbox or Google Docs to propagate reference projects out to students for example?  At one point Jon (the technology coordinator / teacher) and I were batting around different ways we could facilitate what I like to call “geeking out” classes when I saw he had a radio time signal receiver setup in the tech room.  How neat would it be to interface with something like that to make a network time server?  It’s not necessary really, there are much easier options out there for an accurate source of time that are good enough for what a school district would need, but it would be a fun project   Now that they have some great hardware in their server room with plenty of head room, what about the idea of rolling out a virtual machine as an option in a technology class, giving a highly advanced and motivated student the option of having their own sandbox to play with to do systems administration, web programming, etc.?

Fun times, and a pleasure to work with a staff that really wants to see their students engaged in learning.

While working down in Petersburg I attended a couple of webinars, the first concerning digital communication in online classes given by Matthew Turner from the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Rose Urban Rural Exchange, and the second involving synchronous learning environments for teaching.  The first one covered some bases for me that I had already a good grasp on, having took the “Multimedia in the Classroom” class taught by Dr. Ohler, as well as being somewhat conversant in various course management systems.  The big take-away here for me was a strong reminder on some basic tips when doing video with groups of students in particular using mobile devices, such as:

  • Keep each video shot as short as possible (10s).  Not only are they easier to combine later on into your video, they keep the movie interesting.
  • Establish your scenes so people feel connected to the environment they’re being shown
  • Landscape, landscape, landscape!
  • Improvise a tripod from your body or any other objects around to keep the video quality as still as possible.  Allow yourself one (1) pan or tilt per shot, and make it last for the entire shot.
  • Hash out a quick storyboard or shot list beforehand so you can hand out shots individually or to groups (camera team A and camera team B).

Matthew’s presentation was based around the asynchronous mode of learning facilitated through a Joomla-based content management system (although this is in transition), and a lot of the units he uses to work with students involve video.  Some examples that he’d use would be ato have students develop a video introduction to aspects of their town (a day in the life) as well as create a destination log of their travels to their syster school district.

The other webinar in the week was devoted more to synchronous learning environment such as Elluminate and its progeny.  My feelings are a little mixed using something like Elluminate; it seems like a good way to manage large groups of students in a very traditional class-like synchronous environment but at the same time provides some neat features for breaking students into groups, assigning them each tasks, recording and archiving the class environment for later viewing, utilizing a whiteboard component.  What I personally got out of it the most though was a couple different ideas: first, build the community early on as best you can, know your audience and when and when not to use humor, and how little things like moving stuff around on the whiteboard to better demonstrate math concepts can be a really effective tool (thanks Virgil Fredenberg).

My planned tutoring hasn’t started yet 😐 – I think the warm summertime is taking its motivational toll out on people.  This is unfortunate because I’m going to need something fast to explore in terms of this class, and therefore I’m falling behind by default.

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by on May.22, 2013, under #oltak, ramblings

salutationsI picked this picture out because I’m not afraid any longer to admit that Charlotte’s Web, the 1973 animated feature, holds a special place in my heart.  I don’t have anything special for pigs necessarily, no matter how cute and adorable.  Against my better interests and frequent attempts not to, I do eat bacon and sausage.  Like a pig, I can sometimes be seen rolling around in muck as well in the pursuit of what may be called “yardwork”. What’s special is the way that Wilbur greets others, openly, without pretense, willing to interact for the betterment of both conversational participants.   I think that is something to strive for in life.

I am happily enrolled as a student in the M.Ed. Ed. Tech program at University of Alaska Southeast.  I did my undergraduate work at Virginia Tech, graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering one extremely hot day back in 1999 and then while the degree was still hot off the presses I bounced around for a few years around the country before ending up here in Juneau.  For almost the past decade I have been doing computer and network support around the state, mostly with school districts.  I am married to a wonderful woman who epitomizes the very essence of patience, who happens to be a teacher.  She is also very wise and thus hasn’t yet allowed me to work with her in her own classroom.  In her own way at times, she is my Charlotte, except without the eating insects part.  I have two young children (a little boy, 4 and a girl, 2).  I haven’t figured out yet which characters they play out.  Is it wrong to sometime see the traits of Templeton in your children?  We can’t be Fern all the time I suppose.

terrificOver the past few years I have been looking to crawl out from the cobwebs of the server rooms and instead work more directly with teachers in pursuit of their goals.  I’m hoping that at the end of this degree program I’ll be in a better position to do just that.   The more I study education the more I realize that I am at the start of something much larger than I anticipated and it feels good to be a rookie once more.  I would love to work more with location aware technology, place based education, and games and gamification in education.  It’s easier for me to love the idea of learning how students learn and empower them to seek out information to meet their goals, than the concept of getting through a set volume of content per course.  I fall into the camp that believes the hyper-focus on standardized testing as anathema to that goal.  I don’t foresee myself having a classroom of my own any time soon, so I have that luxury.

In that vein I love the idea of the constructivist MOOC, which allows a greater community to form that helps to guide each other to expand their abilities in tasks relevant to their own practice.  Again – I’m a rookie, and on the sidelines drinking the Kool-Aide for the most part, so take my words with a grain of salt.  I hope to carve out the time in the future to design a course of my own in this regard for other tech professionals such as myself, or perhaps working with teachers to incorporate something like Minecraft into their own classroom.

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iPads iPads iPads

by on Feb.27, 2013, under ramblings

Lots of iPad presence on the ASTE grounds this year. Sessions devoted to the iPad ecosystem, from numerous talks about their management, app development, how to use them in the classroom. On the event calendar I did see a session devoted to Android app development as well, but the relative lack of their presence demonstrates a key point for me: Apple understands education marketing extremely well and comes at you with the whole package. If the various manufacturers of mobile devices running Android are going to get a foothold in the education market in Alaska they are going to have to do a lot better, holistically. I’m mystified as to why these manufacturers seemingly fail to understand the marketing punch of getting that whole package of hardware, training, and support out there for the education. Learn from our friends in the tobacco industry: hook ’em young. I care for a few reasons: it is my earnest belief that competition in this sort of field benefits everyone through the formation of open standards, more impetus for providing better (and perhaps cheaper?) enterprise management workflows, and lowered costs for the [educational] consumer. Insert car analogy here.

To be sure, I am coming around to tablet computing. I love using my iPad for all sorts of things, mostly in what I call “knowledge consumption” mode. I haven’t used Android very much at all, although I’m giving serious thought to replacing my home computer with a “house tablet” + HDMI display of some sort (yes OK an Apple TV module would fit in this niche as well). My concern is that of the monoculture.

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