Video: Circle Center

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Once you finish a book on geometry, everyone wants help. 🙂

I wound up making this short video on how to find the center of a circle for my dad.  It’s not ideal; I need a better set-up for making videos at my desk.  But the essence of it are these steps:

  1. On a given circle, find three points about 1/3 of the way around the circle, A, B, and C.
  2. Arc the distance AB center A, and BA center B, so the arcs overlap one another at two points, D and E.  Draw a line between D and E — the center will be on that line.
  3. Arc the distance AC center A, and CA center C, so the arcs overlap one another at points F and G.  Draw the line between D and E — the center has to be on that line.
  4. Point O is the place where lines DE and FG cross. That’s the center of the circle.

I hope this helps!


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I wanted to make a video of me weaving.  My lady obliged by holding the camera, so I didn’t have to.

One of the problems I haven’t solved yet is the problem of the twisting fibers behind (to the back of) the cards.  The warp threads on a loom of this type are usually weighted individually — either by being wrapped around a spool, or tied around or to a weight of some kind. Then they can be unwrapped and the warp extended.

I don’t know how to do that, though.  Not yet.  There’s also some technique that one can use to turn the cards backwards every so often, so that the twisting is un-turned as it’s turned.  But doing so appeared to introduce challenges in the pattern. So what’s been happening is that I’ve been un-doing the warp from the spreader bar, untangling the twisted lines, and then re-spreading them.  It’s a fifteen minute block of work every 3-5 inches of weaving.  There’s got to be a better solution.  Anyone know what it is?

Design Work: animated movies

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Animated video:


Remember Commoncraft Videos? For a while, they were all the rage in the educational-tech community. We were sharing those things back and forth, learning about Twitter and blogging and YouTube, and how to create videos, and … and … and.  That was… what, four years ago? Five? Then they sort of dropped off my radar, and I went on to other things.

At the time I was an active consumer of them, but I hadn’t yet made the leap to visual literacy as a mission-critical skill for modern students. And I can date the beginning of that shift to August of 2009.  Which means it’s been six years since that fateful introduction to one of the core competencies of my own ideas about Design Thinking.  More on that some other time.  And then I started coming across resources on making RSAnimate style videos, and Commoncraft-style videos:

For today, though, know that I’m currently prototyping an after-school program for my school in how to make Commoncraft videos, with a couple of students as assistants, in the summer school program.  My students and I decided that we would do Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Wow, were we in for a ride.  We’ve developed seven scenes to this short film, from Goldilocks lost in the woods to the bears coming home, and we’ve developed… what, about fifty small illustrations in Sharpie marker for this project so far.  That’s pretty good!  I imagine we’ll need another 20–30 such drawings to finish this project before our time is up this week.  And we’ve only put about 6 minutes of footage into our digital vault — which means we have another two to three days of work… which means our final film project will be around three and a half minutes in length (I already know that of that six minutes of footage, three minutes will be unusable… I figure the same will hold true for the next two days).

Animated video: A lost goldilocks

Amazing what you can do with some simple linework, really.

I have to admit, the students have not done many of the drawings here.  A good many of them are mine.  They’re certainly helping with the process of making the film, but I’m doing a good deal of the work. This time.

What have I learned?

First of all, this is challenging.  The kids barely know what they’re doing; and I barely know how to guide them forward, because I’m doing it with them — not exactly for the first time, but certainly for the first time with a team to work with.

Second of all, this is hard work. When I was a college student, it was not uncommon to put two hours into a five-page paper for a class, or something like 15 hours into a research project of some kind.  This project, when it’s finished, is going to be around 10 hours of labor from me, and 6 hours apiece from two students — twenty-two hours.

Third, it’s not shortenable. Yes, I know that’s not a word.  But surprisingly there hasn’t been much wasted time on this project.  Wasted time would actually make this project take longer than it has to run, this week. It would require all of the time we had, and more, to do it badly or slowly.  And we haven’t even had that much research time.

Fourth, the skills are not transferrable.  Just because I can learn to draw Goldilocks from scratch, just because I can do a passable Mama Bear in 3 minutes, doesn’t mean that my students can do so.  As I said above, it’s been six years since I realized/recognized with Dave Gray’s and Josh’s help that Visual Thinking Skills are mission-critical.  But now I’ve been drawing pictures of Goldilocks for two days, and my students are still hung up on getting the sizes of Papa, Mama and Little Bear all right and proportional. That took me six years of part-time practice to learn.  Start now, if you think this is an important skill — you have six years of catching up to do.  And I have six years of teaching to do before my students will be able to do what I can do.  And I have six more years of training to do before I will be anywhere near as good as I’d like to be.

Seven — and this is really where the work of this animated movie class starts to bite me, only two days in — Educators want students to develop the powers of abstraction that come from Design Thinking.  But Design Thinking culture is actually resting on the backs of some fairly toxic behaviors, as this article (NSFW, really, particularly the references and links that follow from this expletive-laced commentary) makes clear.

And while our aggrandising of bullshit through language is both notorious and aggravating, we aggrandise bullshit even more-so by our actions:

  • We spend our time and energy not on things that improve the lives of people around us in an honest fashion, but on whatever seems most profitable and tempting to VCs; then, we convince ourselves that our profit-centric ventures are actually humanitarian causes because it sounds really good in the press and makes us feel special and warm and fuzzy. (It also makes people trust us more than they should, which is great for profits.)
  • We start companies just to flip them, taking consumers along for the joy-ride only to finish things off with a “we’re so thrilled to announce we’re moving on…” blog post, as if it wasn’t our plan to use people and their data as stepping stones to selling out the whole time.

These are not behaviors that we, as educators, want to be inculcating into the next generation of students — we don’t want them growing up pretending to work on humanitarian causes while actually being out for themselves; and we don’t want them growing up to treat people as means instead of ends.  That is, we don’t want students to grow up pretending that they care about other people when they don’t.  In short, we would like them to grow up to be something, someone, other than Goldilocks…  who invades people’s private domains, takes their food, dishevels and destroys their property, and makes use of their worldly goods and material, before departing, frightened away by discovery.  From the perspective of Goldilocks, of course, her behavior is completely normal — she was alone, frightened, hungry, etc., but from the Bears’ perspective, she is an intruder and a robber who feared their ursine appearance far more than was warranted (and I’m kind of annoyed that my students colored in my line drawings… but it’s interesting that they chose brown, no?)

Mike Monteiro addressed this in How Designers Destroyed the World, too:

Webstock ’13: Mike Monteiro – How Designers Destroyed the World from Webstock on Vimeo.

Coming back to the questions of Makery vs. Abstract Thinking that preceded this digression on the toxicity of designer culture, though, I want to touch on some challenging things here.  This project is twenty-ish hours of face-to-face labor: for many classes, that’s weeks of in-class time.

Animated video: Goldilocks, Running Away

A frightened Goldilocks. And I didn’t even draw her!

It requires access to paper, to video cameras, to scissors, to markers.  It requires access to a whiteboard or other white surface that can be used for the video.  It requires good lighting.  There’s a whole host of pre-requirements that are concrete, specific, and only partially-negotiable.  If you, the teacher, can’t provide those basic tools, then this project isn’t going to be much fun — and that’s assuming the team collaborates.

But the abstract thinking skills that many educators want to see developed, are present in this project… the challenge is that they’re deeply embedded in the work itself. There’s no getting around that basic issue — kids are going to learn the abstract thinking skills in the course of very concrete, very specific issues.  How does one represent Goldilocks running away, frightened?  How does one represent curiosity? What does a surprised face look like?

And a traditional teacher, in a traditional classroom — particularly a teacher in a traditional classroom who’s governed by expectations that their students will perform well on the test! — can’t let this much instructional time go by, used in this way.  It’s unconscionable to him or her that this be allowed in the classroom, because it’s much fuzzier and complicated in trying to evaluate the results.

But now that I’ve run even half of an animated movies class, I have a much better idea of what needs to happen, and how it needs to be done, and what the challenges are.  I get the sense that 50 drawings are going to work better than ten. I know that it’s going to take kids time to develop fifty drawings, and that parts of this project need to run in the background to other kinds of work.  That — in a classroom setting — some of this work is homework, where each kid develops one character, and draws it 10-15 times, happy, sad, running, falling, lying down and so on… that each kid develops a color palette for each character… and so on.  Only the making of videos needs to happen in a classroom setting.


I’m so far from understanding all of the ins and outs this project is going to have to go through, really.  I’ve made the beginning of the work, though.  And I’ve learned that there is much more that I have to learn about making this style of movie.  But I also know that there’s plenty of useful knowledge here for any student in the modern world, and plenty that even a medieval student of the 12th century might have found useful, in terms of the necessary exercise in creating visually-interesting drawings or cartoons.

In the meantime, though, there’s a movie to finish.  I’m sure I’ll say more eventually on the subject of this film.  But this is likely enough for now.

Short Clips from Mo’Monday

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There’s a very short clip of me telling part of the story of my first experiments with alchemy here. This isn’t the full talk — just about a minute, along with my colleagues and fellow presenters who shared the stage on August 26, 2013 at Box 63 Bar & Grill in New Haven:

Twenty-Three Things: Activity 11: YouTube


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty

Activity 11: YouTube

For this week’s entry, we’re supposed to find, and learn to embed, a video that we think is useful from YouTube.  Oh, dear.  Because a) I already know how to do this, and b) I have already made some videos on YouTube, and posted them, (some on history, and some on writing skills, and some on how-to)and c) I’ve gotten quite a bit of negative feedback on some of them because they’re wrong from the point of view of people who live there, but right from the perspective of the textbook I used to make them [and it also turns out that the recording is out of synch with what the video is doing — hence Seoul in Japan rather than Korea. Argh!] and d) increasingly I don’t watch YouTube videos to be inspired about digital things, but to learn how to do things, like bind off a knitting project.

Here’s the video that taught me how to bind off a knitting project:

I think the underlying message about YouTube is that if you’re not using it as a teacher, you should be.  You can use it to create review videos for concepts you teach often; how-to videos for specific grammatical or writing concepts you teach; and for finding alternate explanations of the material you teach for kids who don’t quite ‘get’ how you teach.

And for that, I go to Sugata Mitra:

Look — We live in a world in which we have increasing access to the vast storehouses of the world’s knowledge. You can learn tai chi or yoga from a video online for free.  To get really quality instruction requires a teacher face-to-face in the same room with you, but you can learn the basics from a piece of film.  But that places enormous pressures on local school systems — public AND private — to deliver top-notch, quality instruction all the time, at every level, from kindergarten through high school.  And to do so in a safe way, so that kids feel helped and guided and protected… yikes.

Meanwhile, here’s this vast library of video instruction that’s growing all the time, getting better all the time.  Here’s Vi Hart talking about cutting space-time and mathematics and music [or actually mostly playing different kinds of music that’s really cool]

This is future shock.

I mean, this is definitive future shock.  If you’re not doing something in your teaching which is radically different than what other teachers are doing, then why are they coming to your class? What is the point of teaching the same old thing that everyone else is teaching, if there are people who are providing amazing quality, high-level instruction way above your pay grade?

“Well, Kids need to learn the basics.”

Yes. Yes, they do. They must learn the basics.  But it’s getting easier and easier to learn the basics from someone else by watching the right videos… the right videos FOR THEM.  And that means that the purpose of our individual instruction is not to teach the basics, but to teach the basics in a new way.  Because if we don’t provide better instruction in school than a video can provide out of school… then why have schools?

Tai Chi Y2D97: Slowing Down

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First things first: My friend and colleague Marek Beck is applying to the Google teacher Academy this year. They only take fifty applicants internationally, so it’s a long-shot, but one he’s willing to take. If you have a minute (literally a minute), watch his YouTube video which is part of his application.

Right, on to the Tai Chi: Today is day 97 of the second year — rapidly approaching the 100-day mark. Slowly.  Yesterday during my practice, I realized that if I’m genuinely going to advance in this art, I really have to slow down. And slow down a LOT.  I have a tendency to rush through the form, especially when school is in session, because I’m usually tired from the night before grading papers or planning classes, and getting up way too early, and so on.  Right now, it’s not the case: I have the summer mornings to go at my own pace, be very deliberate about my tai chi, and really learn to slow down the pace. This will intensify my practice in a lot of good ways.  Here goes!

Of course, today sucked.  How could it not? With a day like today, with high expectations beginning, of course the run-through was less than ideal. The two qi gong forms I do were fine, of course — but they weren’t the ones under the microscope.   It was the tai chi form — the one being most closely examined here — that had problems.

Call it Putrefaction— the act of deliberately rotting something.  If you think I’m making an alchemical reference, you’d be right. Without deliberately holding the work I’m doing as unworthy, there’s no way it’s going to get better.  And it’s part of the reason I did the tai chi form twice this morning — more time, more practice, more catching of errors, more deliberate effort to fix what’s wrong.

This is the Black Work, another alchemical reference.  What has already been, must be broken down, or dissolved, in order to find what’s good and remove the bad from it.  Good and bad are not necessarily the “good” and “evil” of Scripture here, because this is tai chi.  No, it’s more like what’s “useless” and what’s “unuseless” or perhaps even what’s “skillful” and “not skillful”. There’s a lot of both in this work, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other.

I can break my form into a few basic parts:

  1. From Opening through Stand Like Tree up to Spread Hands Like Fan
  2. From Throat Strike through Golden Pheasant Stands up to Heel Kick
  3. From Roll Back through Cloud Hands up to Fair Lady Works Shuttles 4
  4. From Ward Off Left through Bend the Bow up to the True Close.

There’s a few maneuvers in each section; Section 1 in this list is the longest in terms of the number of actual moves, but it’s the section I can perform most slowly, and with the most attention to details like breathwork and chi.  Section 2 is the hardest for me to keep at a slow speed on, because it involves lifting my feet off the floor and balancing and spinning and so on; things that are not easy for a guy of my size.  Section 3 is easy for me to do at speed when I practice it solo; but when I’m coming off the crazy bits of section 2, it’s easy to keep going on a roll.  So I have to remember to slow down at the roll back at the start of this section of work.  Section 4 is also challenging, because by this point, I want to finish.  It’s also the section that has the fewest moves in it.

So, based on this list, I really need to concentrate my efforts on sections 2, 3, and 4 for a while.  This is putrefaction — deliberately casting down what work has been done before, and letting it rot.  In astrological terms, it’s letting Saturn take over for a while.  In schooling, it’s turning over work to be critiqued by a teacher (and taking crap for it).  It’s breaking down what’s been offered and finding out if anything worthwhile is hiding within.

I don’t doubt that there’s value in the work I’ve already done.  But it’s time to shake up that work a bit, and find out where it can be further refined.

Tree of Life Geometry, Revisited


I’m not entirely sure this will work. But here goes.  Thanks to Gordon’s recommendation to try out VINE, I was able to produce a trio of short videos today, including this one on the traditional geometry of the Tree of Life.  It’s fast, because Vine only allows six-second videos.  But it’s kinda cool, and if you watch it a few times, you can probably figure out how the geometry of the Tree fits together.  Enjoy!

Vine: Video of the Tree of Life

Update: Apparently you have to go to Vine’s website to view it, because I can’t embed it on a WordPress site.  Alas.  Enjoy anyway.

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