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Archive for July, 2009

The 4:30PM Wednesday slot was packed at OSCON. I'm talking about three sessions I was either "eager" or "very eager" to attend at a conference where 95% of the conference titles were outright inscrutable. (eg. "Sun GlassFish (OpenSolaris) Web Stack – The Next Generation Open Web Infrastructure" — see what I mean?) One session concerned graphic design. Another risk models. The third session listed as "Antifeatures," a title which was tough to resist in its own right.

I told myself I'd pick one and sit through the first five minutes. If, at that point, it had met certain criteria, I'd bail on it for one of the other sessions.

If you are loathe to leave a session under any circumstances, consider yourself exempt from this writing prompt. Otherwise, if you value your time and you vote with your feet, how do you judge a session by its first five minutes? Again, it's possible the session turned into a winner exactly six minutes in. Under these constraints, though, we don't have the luxury of patience.

I'll post my own criteria to the comments shortly.

I was constrained by twenty slides at fifteen seconds apiece for a lean five minutes to talk about whateva to a crowd of open source software-types. I talked about a) teaching, b) why my first two years were miserable, c) the difference between teaching math and teaching citizenry, and d) what excites me lately.

[Click through to view embedded content.]

If any other pecha kucha survivors want to commiserate over the format, which required (for me) 400% more rehearsal and 90% less slidework than I'm accustomed to, the comments are all yours.

BTW: A couple of people have asked for a YouTube embed. I tried, but the audio stopped tracking with the video. Here, instead, is a link to a high-quality file.

OSCON 2009: Overview

I attended O'Reilly's Open Source Convention last week in San Jose, which wasn't my usual scene. I gave a brief, five-minute talk Tuesday night (which I'll post shortly) and then spent Wednesday and Thursday wandering between sessions, feeling alternately like I was a) bobbing along the surface of something awesome or b) submerged several hundred feet beneath that same surface, all depending on the complexity of the content. I stuck to sessions on design, usability, business-building, and data visualization. Those were pretty great but OSCON punished me, without exception, anytime I decided to get adventurous, like the session on e-mail protocols that I would have understood just as well had it been delivered in Croatian.

Scattered notes:

  • It's nice to know that, even at 27 years old, there are still things I don't know, that there are at least a few things I have left to learn.
  • Everyone was exceptionally warm and welcoming, even people who, upon subsequent Google background-checking, turned out to be something of rockstars within the community. I wonder if this is particular to the open source ethos or if, more generally, I just go to all the wrong conferences.
  • Seriously, Valerie Aurora did everything but sound out the syllables in Li-nux Ker-nel for me. Such is the patience with noobs here.
  • There were no handouts whatsoever at this conference. I asked a few people about this and they looked at me like I was high.
  • Keynotes were fifteen minutes long. Sessions, forty-five.
  • The gender balance here is inverted at education conferences.
  • Everyone had an opinion or an anecdote to share about teaching. It was easy to lure someone into conversation by asking her to elaborate on why her ninth-grade science teacher was so good or bad. I had these conversations all throughout the conference, all throughout the convention center. I can't imagine water management engineers enjoy this sort of ready social icebreaker so chalk one up for teaching.
  • Open Source Hero I: Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, who aims to make meaning out of the deluge of data from data.gov.
  • Open Source Hero II: Michael Driscoll, who makes awesome visualizations of huge data sets using the statistical analysis software R. Check out his six-dimensional analysis of baseball pitches.

With the question, "how high will the club soda go?" we have taken WCYDWT media into calculus, which is fun.

It's important with these media-based math questions that you have on hand a) answer media (like this, showing how high the club soda went) that students can contrast against their own work, and b) iterative practice problems that scale in difficulty.

Maybe you start with i) the cylinder tumbler, building towards ii) angled, linear sides, moving through iii) the parabolic bowl, and culminating with iv) the piecewise monstrosity that is the margarita glass, which, it turns out, holds exactly 12 oz. of club soda. I only know that to make WCYDWT media worth your while, you must iterate them.

[Click each for high quality.]

What is the lesson plan? What will the students do? How will you supplement this photo? What is the best plan to provoke sustained, rigorous inquiry?

[high quality]

[BTW: the follow-up.]

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