Archive for the 'Neat Stuff' Category

The lights in Chicago

Thursday, March 31st, 2011


Tonight I went to an event sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation: Re-imagining Learning in the 21st Century. It was at the Spertus Institute, which if you’ve never been, is nothing short of incredible. None of the floors touch the front, which faces Lake Michigan, so every floor has an incredible expansive view of the lake. Everything is glass and white and lovely. Even the food that they served was amazing. I’m still thinking about the cucumber slices with salmon roe and wasabi peas. Well done! It was the perfect setting for the event, which featured innovation in education. Big hitters like Karen Cator and Chicago’s very own mayor-elect, Rahm Emmanuel, spoke. Specifically, they featured what Jenkins (a MacArthur grantee) calls “participatory learning”, peer-based education that is shaped around individual interests that are shared and consumed. The buzz was mostly around ChicagoQuest, which “applies the principles of game design and systems thinking to teaching and learning.”

I was invited to the event by my good friend James, and afterward, his wife, Kami, picked us up. She asked us if we could drive by the Cabrini-Green housing project, which was on our way home anyway, and we agreed. Most people have heard of Cabrini Green, but for a lot of really bad reasons. It was built with a lot of hope for lower-income residents, but because of neglect and gang violence, it deteriorated into a difficult place for a lot of kids to grow up. Yet, it was still their home and community and it was a blow when the Chicago Housing Authority decided to demolish them and replace them with mixed income housing. The residents complained that the temporary housing they were placed in until they could be relocated was substandard and that there wasn’t enough housing for everyone who was displaced. Most tragic for me were the surrounding schools: as of now, only three of the five elementary schools that existed in the area are in use. One of the ones that closed down, Byrd Academy, used our Collaboratory Project while I was at Northwestern to fight their school closing. The kids showed the poor conditions in which they were supposed to learn, which included the lack of a lunchroom (they ate on the floor of the hallway), no gym (it was heartbreaking to see the first graders having to cross a busy street in the cold to use another school’s gym), and windows broken and dirty. In the winter, I saw the students work with gloves and hats on (because the heat didn’t work) and in the summer, scream over the old industrial fans that were in their classroom (because their was no air conditioning). The building was a mess, but the soul of it was was strong and the students fought to keep their community in tact, but with a new school. They received lots of national media attention, but to no avail. Byrd was shut down and the kids were transferred to other schools.

And now, Cabrini-Green was getting torn down. Kami wanted us to see an art project commemorating the buildings. It was amazing, and somewhat creepy. It brought the building to eerie life, and I couldn’t help but think back to the lights that illuminated the floor in the Spertus Institute earlier in the night.


Monday, August 30th, 2010
All of my grandparents were pretty amazing people.  My Abuelita Chela (my dad’s mom) was amazing at crochet and cooking (she would make me the best dulce de leche, even though it would burn her hands every time she made it).  She was also a violinist and a schoolteacher (education is very much in my [...]

Everyone’s Talking about ITP!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
There was lots of buzz about ITP this weekend.

First, NPR’s On  the Media showed up at the Spring Show and had a great interview with  some students and Clay Shirky.  Then, the BBC put on their front page  a really nice slideshow of the Spring Show.

Both of these  stories make any [...]

Chicago Teachers’ Center

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


For those of you who do not know, I have a new job! I am now the Director of Math/Science/Technology (MST) at the Chicago Teachers’ Center (CTC) at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).* The CTC is a wonderful place that has been around since 1978, with the defining purpose of reforming urban education. It’s a really exciting place to be, at an exciting time, with exciting responsibilities. I’ll be designing, developing, and implementing MST programs, writing grants that support these endeavors, and providing professional development for my colleagues and the teachers we service. I am thrilled to be working here with such wonderful and experienced people, who believe as strongly as I do that education is a human rights issue.

My time at Northwestern and the Collaboratory was invaluable and I hope to continue the great work and relationships developed there. It’s a great shame that a program as innovative as the Collaboratory (it was “Web 2.0” before they even came up with that term) was not able to follow us into classroom of the next generation, but I do think it provided great inspiration for many of the great programs we see in schools today. I’m looking forward to seeing what it is we can continue to do to foster curiosity and a life-long love of learning in our students.

*Yes, I am aware that I went from Northwestern to Northeastern. No, I will not only work with organizations that are named after intermediate directions.

ALF Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Thanks to everyone who came out and supported the ALF Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament last month. We raised a couple thousand dollars, despite the awful weather (that night) and economy (this year). This will help in the fight against liver diseases. Maybe someday I will actually learn how to play poker and join you all. In the meantime, I’ll just pretend.

Bubble (pro)test

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
 image is modified version of Jeff Kubina’s (CC AttributionShareAlike license)

Wade Tillet, one of the many great teachers I have met over the years at the Collaboratory (he was the co-winner of the 2008 Project of the Year Award) has started a fantastic movement called Bubble Over:

This is the time to work for change [...]


Wednesday, November 12th, 2008


Today, I’ll be giving a short presentation to NUIT staff on Buzzword, Adobe’s online word processor. I’m sure no one thinks a word processor is all that exciting, but I totally heart Buzzword, which is why I was asked to present on it.

With Buzzword, I always have any project I’m working on at hand, because it’s online. And because it’s online, I can also collaborate with other writers on it. When I’m writing, my collaborators can’t edit, until I pass it off to them, allowing for a seamless work-flow. My collaborators can leave comments or edit (if I choose to give them that power). A history is kept, so I can return to earlier drafts if I don’t like certain changes, which means I don’t have to constantly Save As. Inserting pictures and graphs is super easy and what I get on the screen is what I get when I print out, with all the comments listed at the end of the document, being referenced like footnotes.

Also, Buzzword does a great job of organizing documents for me. I can find documents by authors, date created, date last opened, length and my role. I can also make any Buzzword document a PDF.

I also love Buzzword’s price. FREE.

Last, but in no way least, Buzzword is just plain pretty to look at and fun to work with. That might not sound like much, but for those of us who spend way too much time writing out stuff, the expereince should be as pleasurable as possible, not like using a chisel and stone tablet to hash out your ideas. I mean, wasn’t technology supposed to make our lives better? Are you listening Microsoft?! The menus look and move beautifully and are easy to find. They have great fonts available and moving between pages and document is a breeze.

Is everything awesome in Buzzword-land? Nuh-uh. Sometimes it won’t let me use certain key commands, like ctrl+z, which, as you can imagine, is SUPER annoying. So then I’ll use the menu for other commands, and it will scold me for not using the key commands. GRRR. Also, a word count for the whole document is great, but when you’re working on a large document that you have to submit in pieces (like, say, a grant), you need to have word counts for the different sections. It stinks that I have to open up Word to paste segments in there to see how many words they are. Bleargh. Also, Buzzowrd is part of, which offers cool tools like file storage and sharing and ConnectNow, a net little app that lets you collaborate via live video and chat. You would think you could collaborate on a Buzzwrd document Live on ConnectNow, but you can’t, unless you share your screen. Can’t I just share it with the other two people in my ConnectNow session in the main screen, like where I have my whiteboard?

Other than that, Buzzword is the raddest, and my favorite word processor to date (sorry, Google ... I guess it was just a fling).

The User Illusion

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

User Illusion

Back in grad school, my Physical Computing professor Dan O’Sullivan recommended we read the book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders. That was in the spring of 2001. I finished the book yesterday. In general, I’m much timelier completing my assignments, but I didn’t really understand at the time why we were assigned a book on consciousness in a class that dealt with breadboards and Basic stamps. I was more interested in figuring out how to ground my board than read some guy’s thesis on the state of our minds. I found the book recently in an attempt to clean out my bookcase, and decided to give it a go.

Discussing everything from Gödel to the moral models of Judaism and Christianity to fractals, Norretranders presents the idea that consciousness is a manufactured state of being. It was part of our evolution as humans, but we’ve come to rely on it far too much. Consciousness is just a map of our world, when really, we should be discovering the actual world itself.

And now I understand why it was assigned. Consciousness is only a minuscule fraction of the information we are ingesting every day. As designers of new media, we should think about how we can design experiences that can touch all parts of the human brain. And as humans, we should try to get in touch with those other parts. Consciousness is seriously overrated.

Interaction Design: What’s it All About?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008


David Malouf has written a nice article on the state of Interaction Design for Core 77, and includes some handy resources. In it, he lists my alma mater, ITP, as one of three programs to study IxD. More specifically, he lists Carnegie Mellon’s program and University of Kansas’s just-launched program as “True” programs, with ITP as a “Possible Substitute” (quoth another alum: “So we’re the margarine of Interaction Design?”).

Imaging by Numbers

Monday, January 21st, 2008

If you happen to swing by Evanston between now and April 6th, I highly recommend going to the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art for the show curated by my colleague, Paul Hertz, Imaging by Numbers: A Historical View of the Computer Print.

This groundbreaking new exhibition examines the intersection of digital technology and the graphic arts. Imaging by Numbers surveys the use of computers in printmaking and drawing through approximately 60 works created by nearly 40 North American and European artists from the 1950s to the present.

The pieces in the show really are fantastic and give you a good idea of where we’ve come from and where we’re going.