February 27, 2004

Home, and New Design Patterns

There was frost to be scraped off the car windows this morning in St. Louis and yet, through the miracle of American Airlines, I was home in San Diego by noon. I used the time in the air to add two new WebQuest Design Patterns: Ballot and Comparative Judgment. These will be useful, I think.

If I can get the list up to about 40 patterns, this will cover most possibilities. I'm going to try to set aside some time for this over the next month.

February 25, 2004

Groundhog Day in Missouri

Having a great time here in Columbia, Missouri doing workshops for eMINTS. This is the seventh or eighth time I've been back here, and each time I am impressed by the solidity of the organization and the with-it-ness of the people in charge. eMINTS has set up technology-rich classrooms and trained hundreds of teachers all over the state and now it's poised to go national. Already there is an eMINTS spinoff in Utah and there's interest elsewhere.

For me, it's fun to come back here each time. The structure here is that for each of three days a different group of about 70 teachers comes and cycles through three different sessions about WebQuesting. I'm doing my hour and a half on design patterns nine times and I feel a little like Bill Murray every morning when I wake up, though in a good way.


February 23, 2004

Where Am I?

I've driven this road a half dozen times before, always in the dark: Interstate 70 heading west of St. Louis. All I see are long stretches with a few lights, punctuated every 15 minutes or so with exits leading the same ten fast food places. This time, though, I'm seeing it differently. I've got the PowerBook open on the passenger's seat, and ROUTE 66 is running. On the dashboard, I've got my nifty little Rayming TN-200 GPS thing. So now the darkness is embellished. Now I can see where those lights are coming from and that just behind the trees there are roads and lakes. It makes the two hour drive go more quickly, though I'm careful not to get distracted.

The crescent moon and Venus are directly in front as I head west.

Will Climate Change Change the Climate?

It will be interesting to see if this report will also change the behavior of a guy who never admits to being wrong.

February 20, 2004

William H. Pickle

That's a name that I'm guessing will be famous a few weeks from now, at least if Josh Marshall is correct as usual.

February 14, 2004

I Chat, You Chat, We All Chat

Had my first successful iChat conversation tonight with Otto Benavides up in Fresno in preparation for my meeting with his class next Tuesday night. Very impressive. Good video and sound quality, completely transparent set up. Apple does it again!

Actually, since we've been cleaning the house all day, I looked like a dog's lunch. Having good quality video is a mixed blessing. Maybe the next version will have a "Display me the way I wish I looked" checkbox.

February 11, 2004

As Satchel Paige Once Said...

"Don't look back -- something might be gaining on you."

Had a fun class with my EDTEC 296 kids. We were discussing Tapscott's Growing Up Digital and Prensky's Twitchspeed stuff. The question in the air was, are you really different from your parents' generation?

And of course, they are. But the funny thing was that these 18 and 19 year olds are already looking over their shoulders at their 10 - 15 year old siblings. THEY'RE the ones that are really different, they tell me. This even younger generation would rather IM than meet face to face. They'd rather be online than play outside. One 15 year old even breaks up with his girl friends over IM. In lots of ways, these college freshmen are feeling outgeeked by kids only a few years younger. Are the generations getting even shorter?

February 10, 2004

What Time Zone is This?

I've made it through the day without major mishaps, but this is roughly how I feel.


February 09, 2004


After a few hours sleep, we all got on the minibus one last time at 6am in Targoviste. From there to Bucharest, Paris, Chicago and home. Twenty-six hours in transit.


February 08, 2004

Day Three in Targoviste

Today was mostly about getting a look at Romania's mountains. No official work until evening. We piled into the mini-bus and headed upward.

I'm still jetlagged and achy and sitting in one place in a mini-bus designed for shorter legs didn't add to the fun. But the show outside the window distracted me from all that. Images slipped by so quickly my eyes couldn't parse them: a winding dirt road with two old women carrying bags; an old man in a fur hat solemnly saluting the minibus in welcome; a family in a horse drawn cart with auto tires; wooden houses with sharply pitched roofs; a gypsy village by the river; a whiff of wood smoke, twin domed church spires clad in metal. If I were driving this road by myself there were a dozen National Geographic-worthy pictures I could have taken; but the mini-bus hurtled onward.

One of the highlights was Bran Castle, the official Dracula destination. This is the one they're setting up as a tourist attraction, but Vlad the Impaler never lived here. It was a garrison for his soldiers guarding the border betweek Transylvania and Wallachia. One thing I learned from the guide was the etymology of "Dracula". Vlad Tepes' father was called "Drac", which means devil. The "ul" affix means "the", and the "a" affix means "son of". Romanian adds all these things to the end of words. So Dracula = son of the devil. I think I'll refer to our president from now on as "that Bitchula".

And all the Disneyesque commercialization that was absent at the castle ruins in Targoviste was there in spades at this one. I picked up a Dracula t-shirt for Alex and a handstitched table runner for June (that had flowers, not fangs).

After yet another big meal and a long drive, we made it to Brasov, a beautiful old city with buildings dating back centuries.

With night falling, we zoomed back to Targoviste with a couple of hours to spare before dinner. I slept like a corpse for an hour. And dinner was great. It was a celebration of the professional relationships that were deepened during these three days and looking ahead to the next part of the project. These are fun people and I'm happy to be getting to know them.

Even after the long day of tourism, we somehow managed to prolong dinner past 2am. There was dancing involved and even I, a notorious stick in the mud disco-wise, got up and boogied some.


February 07, 2004

Day Two in Targoviste

Sometimes while sitting in committee meetings at SDSU I begin to have an out-of-body experience. From my position floating near the ceiling I entertain myself by thinking of something completely different while the discussion grinds on to a conclusion that should have taken half the time.

The morning working group was like that, only off-the-scale more-so. The agenda was simply to discuss having a videoconference involving all the institutions working on the project. What could be time-consuming about deciding on that? Nailing down a date! Easter vacation affects things, and there are two Easters involved here: one for the Romanian Orthodox and another for the Catholics and Protestants. That pushed the date towards late April, but there we run into Pentecost and Italy's national day. Back and forth it went until finally a good day was found.

Then there's the language problem. The meeting is being conducted in English, which is a second or third language for everyone here but me. This constrains communication to the lowest common vocabulary. Humor and word play are just about impossible, at least at an adult level. It's like trying to speak through a mouth stuffed full of peanut butter. And even when the words are understood, they don't mean the same things. "OK, we need an example from the high school level." "What's high school? Do you mean secondary?" "High school is for ages 14-17." "Oh, for us, there's lower high school for 12-14 and upper high school for 15 - 18". And so on and on and on. It's a wonder that anything gets accomplished in the EU, but somehow it does.

Turns out that I'm going to be one of the points in this multipoint videoconference. That was a surprise to me but the challenge should be interesting. Challenge is the operative word, too. This group hasn't ever put a videoconference on before, let alone one with 6 languages and 2 continents. Yes, April 27 should be interesting.

Since we were meeting on the Valahia University campus, I finally had a chance to sneak out, plug an ethernet cable into my Powerbook and check my mail. After three days of my being unplugged, I knew the intestines of cyberspace would be jampacked with fascinating new information addressed to me. True enough: there were 725 messages, of which 5 were personal and important, 100 were from lists I belong to, 150 were generated by the MyDoom virus responding to infected attachments I never actually sent, and 470 were spam. I'll be disconnected again until Monday and will have to go through this again with the same odds.

We left the Engineering building just as the sun was starting to set. I heard a loud rustling in the sky and looked up to see a flock of crows so thick you could barely see any blue behind them. Straight out of Hitchcock. I wondered if it was some kind of north-south migration but soon learned that it was a daily phenomenon. These crows commute to a garbage dump outside of Targoviste every morning, eat their fill, and return home each night. The explanation made it seem less majestic, but only by a little bit.

Back into the minibus for a long ride to dinner. This time we went to a vineyard and clambered down steep stairs into its chilly cellar. We started with a tasting of 8 wines decanted for us on the spot with a lecture about the qualities of each. Most of them were claimed to provide new energy for older men. Maybe I'm not "older" yet since I didn't feel any different. I suppose that's good.

After the tasting we left the wine cellar and drove a short distance to the restaurant on the premises. By the way, Romanians don't designate bathrooms by gender. (The huge lineup before dinner involving 30 people and two unisex toilets makes this seem like a good point in the story to report that.)

Dinner was again, tasty and too much. There must have been six courses.

I'm going to have to have a leg amputated to get back to my pre-Romania weight.


February 06, 2004

Day One in Targoviste

What an incredibly long day. The mini-bus picked up the 12 of us from the hotel and we went to Valahia University for a welcoming ceremony. We were seated at tables arranged in a U-formation with the flags of each country at each place setting: 5 from Spain, 2 from Romania, 2 from Italy and 1 each from Finland, Poland and the US. The University is clearly happy to be involved in a project like this and in general I get the impression that the whole country is doing whatever it can to join the larger world after 50 years being stuck in the Soviet bloc.

That was followed by a visit to the ancient part of Targoviste: the castle and church built by the princes of this part of Romania during the 15th century. One of those princes, Vlad Tepes, was the inspiration for Dracula. The walls of parts of the castle are still standing.

There is a church that's in much better shape with its inside walls completely covered with paintings of saints. We climbed up a tower that was used to watch for marauding Turks on the way. From there you can take in all of Targoviste: snowy mountains to the north, oil wells in the distance and lots of smokestacks and apartment flats. In the gift shop by the castle, there were mostly religious pictures and statues for sale. They had the good taste to resist the temptation to fill it up with bat wings and bloody fangs and Bela Lugosi t-shirts.

Then we went on to a working session in which each of the participating institutions reported on the activities of the last year. They have designed an online course to teach teachers how to create WebQuests and have implemented it once already and are about to offer it a second time. It's interesting to see the snags involved in implementing a project in five countries simultaneously. One of the deliverables for Think, Construct and Communicate is the creation of WebQuests that will be published on the web and made freely available to everyone. In Finland, however, a recent law makes it illegal to require students to publish their work, so we'll only be able to see four of WebQuests created there.

After lunch it was time for my session about improving the quality of the WebQuests created in the project. It seemed to go over well. Then we continued on to Ion Chica Economic College, the high school that's involved in the project. Several teachers who took the online course described their WebQuests and kids demonstrated the products they created. One teacher came up and thanked me for coming up with the idea. She said her kids have already done two WebQuests and they love them. Nice to hear!

A choral group from the University was next. Nothing moves me to the edge of tears more quickly than hearing a well trained group of kids singing. It's a combination of admiring the self-discipline that made them so good at it, along with the innocence still in their faces. It always leaves me feeling that the future will be in good hands.

And the grand finale couldn't have been grander. The school has courses to prepare kids for all aspects of running a restaurant and to cap off the celebration, they brought out a WebQuest cake. The second line is hard to translate. Apparently it means something like "many happy returns".

Coincidentally, the ninth birthday of the WebQuest model will be next week.


February 05, 2004

The Last Time I Saw Paris

The 7 hour flight from Chicago to Paris was only 20% full, which meant that I could pick out a seat with no one on any side of me and stretch out a bit. I guess all the anti-French ranting by Republicans last year has finally paid off. No one's going there.

Put Terminal 2B at De Gaulle on your list of places to avoid. There are only a dozen or so places to sit down before going through security and getting ready to board. The only place to eat is also the only place to smoke, and you can still smell the smoke at the other end of the terminal under the no-smoking sign. With a 3 hour layover, that got old fast.

I do like the sound of French, though, and the ongoing PA announcements gave me plenty of opportunity to hear it. As a non-Francophone, to me it mostly sounded like "Mes Dammes et Monsieurs, blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah bah-GAHZH." They make baggage sound romantic.

I think Europeans are different from us in terms of gender exclusivity in bathrooms. I headed into the "toilette" and there were two women in there mopping the floors. Other men skirted breezily around them and took care of business without missing a beat. I, on the other hand, suddenly decided I didn't have to go after all.

After another three hour flight I landed in Bucharest and was met by Gabriel Gorghio, the host for this event. We waited for two more planes to arrive with other participants and then piled into a mini-bus for the hour and half drive to Targoviste. Gabriel told us that the many potholes we were bumping over were part of a national program to keep driving speeds down. After 24 hours in transit, I arrived.

The whole group had dinner in the hotel restaurant, which began with a strong Romanian liqueur and went on to a cabbage salad, a chicken schnitzel with ham and cheese inside, vegetables and then crepes wrapped around ice cream for dessert. After a day of airplane food, it was terrific.


February 04, 2004

Bound for Romania

I'm getting on an endless plane ride this morning, headed for Targoviste, Romania. Thanks to 10 timezones working in the wrong direction, I won't actually get there until tomorrow night. I'm participating in a meeting for the Think, Construct and Communicate project, an effort that involves universities from Spain, Poland, Romania, Finland and Italy. They've been hard at work for the last year developing an online course to help teachers learn to create WebQuests. Should be fascinating!

I'll be posting pictures daily, I hope. Stay tuned.


February 03, 2004

Gorilla Grunts and Bee Buzzes

Pete MacKay's useful Teacher List has a pointer today to JungleWalk. This is a tremendous resource for elementary science and high school biology teachers. The site has approximately a bazillion links to still pictures, videos and audio files for every animal known to humankind. You can click here to hear the chirp of this Bell's Vireo, for example.

Hmmm.... I just bought iLife with GarageBand. If I had all the time in the world, I'd put together a musical composition made of loops of these squawks and screeches and warbles. Call it Animal Techno. Or BioElectronica. There's an idea some kid could take on.

February 02, 2004

Found Out

After 24 years of deliberately flying under the radar here on campus, I've been outed by today's issue of SDSUniverse. Two nicely written articles cover my obsessions with WebQuests and blogging. Good thing I'm leaving town Wednesday. I hate elbowing my way through crowds of autograph hounds and paparazzi. Then again, with all eyes riveted on Janet Jackson's mishap, maybe no one will read it.


February 01, 2004

Mapping Your Personal Worlds

Thanks to a pointer from Dori Smith at Backup Brain, I found World66's site that lets you map out the places you've been. Here's my US map, and you can easily create your own.

My world map isn't nearly so filled in, though I'll be adding China, Taiwan, Singapore and New Zealand to the list before the year is out. (Hmmm... this may motivate me to only visit big countries from now on.) You can create your own visited country map, too.

I had been thinking about whipping up something like this myself as part of an icebreaker for workshops and classes. I'd go beyond just making the maps and script it so that it picks out people who have visited the same unusual places (unusual to that particular group). Seems like a good way to get conversations started.