Saturday, March 31, 2012

Signals Intelligence

Beginning this year, our students are allowed to use electronic equipment in the classroom at the teacher's discretion, they are not allowed to access the internet or communicate with each other during class. Many students use iPads and laptops to take notes during class. So long as they stay offline, this is okay.

Not all of those devices are able to connect to the internet on their own.  By the beginning of this school year, however, many android smart phones were capable of creating their own WiFi hotspots. This is commonly called "tethering," sharing a phone's internet connection with other devices. With the advent of iOS 5,  all iPhones  (4 and 4s via WiFi, older models over Bluetooth) can tether. Once you factor in jail-breaking tools, you can include all internet enabled iOS devices.

The "it's okay so long as they don't get on the internet" school- of-thought regarding technology in the classroom is now unworkable. Short of jamming 802.11 and Bluetooth (you can at least see when a computer is tethered over USB) or installing sniffing hardware in every classroom, teachers can no longer be sure that the student in the back of the classroom on a laptop isn't on the internet. Whether or not that's bad is a different conversation. What I wanted to know, and the focus of this post, is whether or not students were finding their own ways online in the classroom.

Electronics I have confiscated.
To be sure, tethering plans (for iPhones anyway) aren't cheap. So the question becomes are those tech-savvy among the students willing to shell out the extra money every month for access? Are their parents?

I am going to focus on mobile phone-generated WiFi networks because they don't require the purchase of additional hardware. As far as I have been able to observe, the number of students who own hardware dedicated to WiFi access is limited. I have seen one MiFi hub and one broadband USB stick over the past three years, and both of those were borrowed from parents. Smartphone ownership on the other hand is quite high. I am also operating under the assumption here that they cannot get on our school network. (Yes, I know that some of them do, but there are steps we can take to keep them off.)

This is what I did.

Every day this week while I was in the building, I had a jailbroken iPhone3Gs running WiFi-Where in my pocket. I would do one complete circuit of the building in the morning and leave it plugged into a charger while in my classroom. WiFi-Where is a scanning app that will log data on each WiFi network within range the device. You can set it to beep or vibrate when it detects a network. It can also filter on characteristics such as distance, mode, and security. (Incidentally, if you wanted to setup a WiFi alarm in your classroom, you could just leave this app running on your desk set to beep if someone activated a hotspot) This is what I found after a week of scanning.

WiFi-Where Export Summary (Friday)
Version: 1.3
Total Hotspots: 47
Hidden Hotspots: 0
Secure Hotspots: 42
Open Hotspots: 5
Ad Hoc Hotspots: 10
Access Point Hotspots: 37

Going through the list, many of these are the school's own WiFi networks. Quite a few are home networks reaching into the building from the apartments next-door. After doing a little research to narrow it down, I found, among other things,
  • 3 WiFi enabled printers
  • 2 T-Mobile Broadband hotspots
  • 2 HTC Sensation 4G phones
  • 3 unique SSIDs that are probably cell phones
  • 10+ Ad-Hoc networks with strange names and different MAC addresses.
I have written before about non-standard SSIDs used by students, and I had not seen any of those yet. I was also limited by the fact that I had to stay put most of the day. Also, students are less likely to leave these networks running when not in use. So I decided to expand the search.

I issued a jailbroken iPhone4 to a trusted student and showed that student how to use WiFi-Where. I asked the student to leave it running during lunch. The student added they would try to use it in or between classes where possible. Meaning, they would only use it when there was little or no risk of confiscation. (I included a signed note in the case in the event that did happen.) The student then asked me if it the phone would play a video briefing message including the words "should you choose to accept it." (It didn't, but not a bad idea.)

Between the student and myself, we found evidence of a whopping....two additional WiFi hotspots produced by mobile phones. (Not including my own) All together, we found evidence of seven non-school WiFi networks within the main building. These could belong to employees at the school, parents, or students. So which group do these networks belong to?

Faculty and staff have access to the school's WiFi networks. That does not rule them out. Passwords to our networks change frequently. For instance, when students guess them or gain access in some other way and we find out, passwords are changed. A teacher might not have the complete list of WiFi passwords (Printed lists tend to get lost) and would use their own network during lunch. Substitute teachers might bring their own internet with them. There are plenty of reasons for adults in the building to use this technology. Parent volunteers are another possible source of these networks for these same reasons.

Student generated access points are usually easy to spot by their names. These can be anything from insults directed at teachers, to anime character names, to short, pithy statements. (My favorite so far is "My WiFi Only")

So are they using this technology? Yes, a few students are connecting to the internet whether we like it or not. Is that a bad thing or a good thing? I think it's time we start having that conversation.

Since I began this project, a few other students began checking with their own phones and will share screen-shots of interesting network names. I and my students will continue to look. If I come across anything interesting or humorous on this topic I will post here under the label "SIGINT"

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Good thing we have the internet.

That's not really what he says....

Found him.

This is in no way an endorsment by me

The Things You Do...

PSAs (public service announcements) are a way of combining something informative with something creative. (The broadcast students tend to enjoy the creatives more than anything else, but the serious stuff first.) The idea for this one came from a section of the daily bulletin added by our Dean of Students this week. If you watch TV at all, you may get where our Dean got his inspiration. Two of our students planned, shot, and edited the piece. They wanted the Dean to narrate it, but he is on Kairos with the seniors this week.

So guess who got to do it? 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Things you didn't expect to do: Video Editing

I'm a social studies teacher. While I knew how to use tools like iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, I did not expect to use them on a regular basis as a teacher.

Oh well.

What follows are a series of videos I shot and cut together as part of a broadcast journalism class. I currently assist in the class. The main instructor is also our school's journalism teacher, photography teacher, yearbook adviser, and cheer coach. (If I forgot something, forgive me.) The experience has been wonderful. The class is completely project-oriented, which was new to me. (I am very much a student most of the time) There is very little in the way of direct instruction (they learn all the technical stuff in Journalism the previous year), they are given a schedule with deadlines and that's about it. Its great just to watch to community that forms in that kind of environment. These videos were used as examples or as parts of assignments given to our students.

This is one of two videos I shot and put together during homecoming this year to be used in a lesson with broadcast journalism students. I was trying to make three points with the students here. First, that students could shoot and edit these kinds of videos with equipment they already own. Second, that footage can be used in different projects for different purposes. And third, most students at Nolan will want to be on broadcast. As soon as I held up my phone and said "who wants to be in the broadcast?" I was swarmed.

This is the second video from the same batch of footage. I had a rough idea of the kind of video I was going to do with it (the mums video above), but I ended up shooting everything that looked interesting with the intention of going through it later. (Once I started thinking of these as essays, it was easy. You allays shoot/research/write too much and end up cutting it down.)

The premise was that you could shoot different parts of an event on your smart phone (this was on an iPhone 4) and cut it together either on the phone itself or on your personal computer without that much hassle. The editing here could have been done on iMovie for iPhone, although it was done on an iMac. The first video needed the broader capabilities of a desktop editor to complete.

Both of the above videos were cut from the same batch of footage (with some overlap). I used music where the students would be required to voice-over interviews or other audio. The general rule for our students is that music is only allowed on the creatives.

I cut this next video together for use in a lesson that focused on musing multiple camera angles and shots as opposed to static angles and one or two shots. We wanted to move the students away from monologing into a camera when reporting on something. And at the same time remind them that they can do their work hardware they already own and outside of school.

This video was even included at the end of a broadcast. (Which, I will admit, made me very happy) The venue was the University of Dallas Ministry Conference, which all catholic school instructors of the Diocese of Ft. Worth and Dallas were required to attend. Occupy Dallas was camped just across the street, so the broadcast teacher and I decided to walk over on the break and film with out phones.

I sat on the footage for several months. I had thought about using some of it in a sociology lesson, but never got around to it. A few months later I attended the Association of Texas Photography Instructors Winter Conference, again to help with the journalism students, where I was able to attend a class on Video Grammar. I went back over the Occupy footage and cut the following video together while adhering to the concepts outlined in the lesson. This video will be part of a lesson on video grammar at some point. (Thanks to Nathan Hunsinger at winter ATPI for the video grammar concept.) Understand that the footage was shot months before the video grammar class and isn't the best example. (Besides, the sound is garbage.)

The broadcast class has eleven students, all have smart phones of one flavor or another, at least three of them have iMovie on their computers at home. After showing a few of these videos (and a little more encouragement), our sports reporter switched to doing all of her assignments on her iPhone 4. The only time she needs to edit on a computer at school is when she incorporates footage shot by another student. She has never missed a deadline.

Applied to other classes
This video was not made as a component of the broadcast class. I shot and edited this video for use in my sociology class and possibly in a history class as part of a lesson on free speech. I visited the premises of the Westboro Baptist Church while passing through Topeka on the way to visit relatives in another part of Kansas. I had hoped to combine this with footage of a picket (as they do that on a regular basis in the city) but they were in Kansas City protesting a Radiohead concert at the time of my visit. This footage was shot on a Nikon CoolPix, and I imported, edited, and uploaded it on an iPad over breakfast the next day.

This footage may form the intro to a longer video on the WBC (if I am ever able to to film them) or as a teaser to an existing sociology lesson on the subject. (The QR code at the end of the video links to this semester's post) On a side note: When the WBC protested the Cotton Bowl this year, several of my students (non-broadcast) took photos and video and brought them into class.

Sometimes, when doing prep work for a history lesson, I find myself thinking "that would make a good video!" I plan on using the summer to turn some of those ideas into things that I and other teachers can use.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

WiFi Graffiti?

A student brought this to my attention. They say it shows up now and then during lunch. That is a teacher's name. I'm sure you can figure out the rest.

This is almost the equivalent of scrawling something on a desk or on a bathroom wall. It's mostly harmless and you won't catch the person unless you want to go to a lot of effort. I say "almost" because they are similar in intent but not in execution. The discipline issue is another matter. I am going to focus on the technical issues.

First and and foremost, I think, is that the person responsible is not damaging anyone's property. The message is not carved or written on a desk or wall. We don't need to spend time and resources cleaning it up, that's good. But you can't clean it up. You can't erase it. You can't repair it. Nothing is broken.

It's not confined to one place either. Our WiFi hooligan can leave the feature active and walk from class to class. Anyone looking at available WiFi on their phone, tablet, or otherwise will see it. So long as they are within the ten-or-so meter range. 

The issue of "offensive" SSIDs has come up a few times with regard to people's home WiFi networks. (You can read about one here if you like) So short of living in a Faraday cage or painting our classrooms with RF-blocking paint, how would we solve it? The same way we solve any problem of student behavior, whether it has to do with technology or not.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What's that thing on your door?

I have heard that question often enough to want to write down my answer. 

Short version: 
The "leave a message" post on this site is attached to a QR code which is attached to my classroom door and also to my mailbox in the faculty work room. The post itself is an embedded Google Docs form. When the form is edited I am notified by email.

Longer Version:
I got the idea for this from an Art professor at the University of Dallas. While visiting I saw a QR code stuck to an office door right below the professor's name. When I scanned it, I was taken to a site that displayed the professor's contact information and office hours. It got me thinking of ways to connect physical places to online ones. So I thought about connecting my classroom to a website. Of course I could use foursquare or Gowalla (RIP), but the visitor would need to be a user of those services and think to look there. (Besides, students have already covered that angle)

I liked the idea of a QR code but I wanted to take it a step further. QR codes are their own visual signal and the software to read them is available for free on all smart phone operating systems. The idea with mine is that a person can scan the code when I am out of my classroom and not only see my contact information but be able to leave me a message. It's the equivalent of writing a note and sliding it under my door or attaching a sticky note to it, except that I don't have to be in the classroom to get the message. They won't need to log in to anything to do it, they don't have to give me their email address if they don't want to. (As opposed to sending an email to the address listed on the door, where I would get the sender's address.)

My students already know how to use QR codes. (They get them attached to midterm and final exam review packets that link to online notes, for instance.) Most of the questions I get about the code on my door or my mailbox come from teachers. I will admit the door code is not something that get's used very often, but it was easy to setup and free to leave running.

Hazards of Facebook when used in education, example #1

(Or, this is what may happen if you use social media, and I still think its a good idea.)

I am one of those teachers who uses social media tools, yes, even Facebook. I am fortunate enough to work in an environment where this is allowed.This isn't so I can spy on my students. It's not so I can relate with them any more than I already do. I don't want to know what they put on Facebook. Normally, I don't see posts that they make and I go to certain lengths to keep it that way.

I use Facebook's built-in twitter integration to funnel content from service to service. I only log into Facebook when I need to confirm a friend request or fix something. When I do log in I take advantage of the unsubscribe feature in the news feed. (For a full run-down, see this post.) Students will add this account as a friend in order to receive our class activity updates in their news feed. There is no other interaction with students.

But every once in a while, I hear about something like this.
For me, this isn't a big deal. First, understand that if a student wants to say something about a teacher on Facebook, they can do it whether or not that teacher is on Facebook. True, you might say that being on Facebook as a teacher is providing an opportunity for ridicule, but so does walking into your classroom every morning. I'm sure there are worse things out there with my name or effigy attached to it, not all of them are on the Internet.

Internet technology has allowed us to create and apply layers on top of our world. Right now, students are the ones who are populating those layers. Most of us are blissfully unaware of what is going on around us. (Don't believe me, check Four Square, check Nolan's wikipedia page history) Social media networks are only some of those layers. Blocking Facebook on the school network only keeps the teachers out. The students have it in their pockets. Should we abandon it to them?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Social Studies Department Video

Last fall, I was asked to put together a video showcasing the Social Studies Department for use in Nolan's big open house event. The video has been circulated around the department for some time but I recently got around to uploading it to YouTube. This post contains that video as well as my notes, reflections, and gratitude for those who helped on this project. 

The shooting was spread out over about two weeks, filmed mostly during my off periods. It took a weekend to sort through the footage (over thirty-two gigs worth) and cut together the first rough draft, which was then tweaked over the next week after school. The editing was all done on a MacBook Pro running iMovie 09 (8.0.6)

I used four cameras (better to have too much than not enough), an iPhone 4, a handheld HD digital camcorder, an iPad 2, and a Nikon CoolPix (which I borrowed from my wife). The stills were provided by Mr. Nemeth and Mrs. Coleman. I would set the smaller cameras up in static positions around the room and then use the Nikon close ups and detail shots. I'm not happy with the quality of some of the shots (I used the front-facing camera on the 4, forgetting it was different).

This was the result. This was a lot of fun to shoot and cut together.

While I had done smaller videos when assisting Mrs. Coleman with the broadcast journalism class, this was my first video project that people other than students were going to see. I was a little nervous. I am told it may end up on Nolan's website. As with most of my work, this will probably end up as a part lesson on video projects for my US History students. This is basic compared to some of the stuff I have seen the broadcast students do (when they feel like it), but it could benefit other students as an intro to film projects.

At some point (maybe next year) I need to go back and add Mr. Duarte, who teaches AP Psychology, and is split between us and the Fine Arts Department. I wasn't able to film any of his classes. And anyway, he does so much with theater (along with Mrs. Rosenthal) that it probably needs to be treated separately.

I am grateful to everyone who let me film their class, who gave me advice, material, and help with this project. Especially my dept. chair Mr. Edghill for giving me the assignment and Mrs. Coleman for letting me assist with her broadcast journalism class. The things I learn in that class have greatly assisted me in my teaching (and convinced me that I need a copy of Final Cut Pro.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bat Skees

(They are feeding off each other.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Not really D20 but....

Some of you know that I assist (key word, she does all the work) with a broadcast class at Nolan. This is a submission two of our students put together for the ATPI Big 72 Contest. Students are given a theme (this year it was "Found") and must shoot/edit/upload their video within a 72hr time frame.


Monday, March 12, 2012

How I use social media in the classroom.

Let me explain how this works.

Note: This page is for new students, parents, or random people who stumble across this site. The information below will explain how I use tools like blogger, twitter, facebook, and evernote in my teaching. All of my current students know how this works. We cover it on the first day.

When my students enter the classroom they see something like this.
They are looking at a post from a service called Google Plus. I update the service for each of my subjects at the beginning of the day. The content is different, but the format is the same.

I stared using services like Google Plus when I was a roaming teacher. Posting the information in advance and employing the classroom projector saved me the time of writing it all on the board. (Besides, my handwriting is terrible.) You can see what we are currently up to here.

Each class activity post is automatically re-posted to Twitter and Facebook.

While the posts to Twitter and Facebook are truncated (each of those services has a character limit) each one will link back to the original Google Plus post.

The primary services I use were chosen in part because they do not require that students create accounts on them in order to access my content. Twitter and Facebook are optional. Students use them according to their own preferences. (Some prefer Twitter, but the majority use Facebook.) All three of these services are accessible from a desktop browser or a mobile phone (all three have smartphone apps and mobile web versions).

Class activity posts can themselves link to different things. These are usually lecture notes or lecture related material (videos, photo galleries, etc.), downloads for homework, readings, and other documents. Downloads are hosted either in a public Evernote notebook or on a public Google Docs, class notes are hosted on

Each subject has one or more blogger sites. One will be for class notes and other subject-related material, other may be for long-term projects or for extra credit assignments.

This is how lecture works.
Below is a screen capture of a post on WWI. That post will contain my notes for use in lecture for that lesson.


Using the zoom feature on the classroom projector, the post is enlarged to a point where students can read the words. The result is similar to a power-point slide.
As the lecture proceeds, I scroll down the post. This has slightly more flexibility than a power point slide. I am more easily able to adjust the speed of the lecture if there is detailed information that needs to be taken down. (You can't split two slides in the middle of a presentation on power point, for instance.) This format also makes it easy for absent students to take notes they missed without the need for uploading and downloading large files. (The more elaborate the power point, the larger the file)

Using the mouse or the projector remote, words and images can shrunk or enlarged as needed. Any image in the post can be enlarged to fill size for a closer examination by the class. This is especially useful with maps. If I dispense with the screen and project directly on the whiteboard, students can draw or write on top of them with dry erase markers. These annotated images are then photographed and posted to the class site for later reference.

Students who miss class are able to look up the class activity posts for the days they were absent, see the agenda for that day, download any readings, take any notes, and complete (almost) any homework from home. They will at the very least know what they need to make-up without having to come to me and ask. (Some students even have the work completed before they return)

Documents are distributed through an Evernote public notebook. This can be accessed from any web browser, or students with evernote accounts can link the notebook to their accounts.
Important files (like midterm reviews) are also uploaded to Edline and to Google Docs so that if any one or two services goes down for any reason the students can still get what they need.

Feel free to browse the site or any of my other sites. (Check the links sidebar on the main page and on Google Plus). At some point this page will become part of a separate site (which I work on in my spare time) that will go into greater detail.  If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the feedback.