Monday, August 16, 2010

Robert Thirsk: Open the Door to Opportunity

Enjoyed an inspirational keynote by Bob Thirsk, Canadian Astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency, on Monday morning at Alberta Education's EMERGE Conference.

Powerful Ideas that Thirsk used to frame his talk that included photographs from the international space station, a video made by the crew and many, many stories about "the right stuff" for kids who are considering a career in space.

1. teachers are cool - Shirley Cole, Powell River, BC, barely remembers the day when John Glenn launched into space and she played the audio link for her grade 3 class. Most students just saw it as a passing event, but one student, Thirsk, was obviously inspired and went on to a career in space.

2. A career in space is not science fiction: Canada employs thousands of people in the Space industry

3. We learn best when we are engaged - careers in space are not desk jobs!
Get students involved in hands on activities inside the classroom and beyond via science centres, science fairs, get students involved in these fantastic learning opportunities. If you cannot get to Montreal, you can learn about these resources and use them through videoconferencing

4. A Career in Space is Challenging
Astronauts take inspiration from JF Kennedy, 'we chose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard (get rest of the quote)
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon... (interrupted by applause) we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

5. Failure is not an option – speed of events and decisions, using expensive equipment, astronauts operate on behalf of researchers who have spent years designing their experiments, just like failure is not an option for students at exam time, at high school graduation, and so on, failure is not an option.

6. We go to school to learn how to learn
The door to opportunity only opens when students acquire the needed knowledge, skills and attitudes - there are specific ksa's that scientists and astronauts need to be successful. Astronauts need to understand very complicated systems, machines, vehicles; the space station is complex on another level of magnitude.
- Willingness to undergo advanced training on an lifelong learning basis; massive amounts of information need to be acquired in a short period of time

7. You don't have to be a geek to love math and science
We do wear white lab coats, but we also wear backpacks, space suits, hiking shoes; we love going to work, and get new challenges each day, every day is different.

8. Practice makes perfect
The bulk of an astronaut’s time is spent learning and practicing for the mission, and preparing for optimal and off-optimal outcomes, unanticipated events
Simulations - practice, doing procedures over and over to get it perfect

9. Its more fun to work in a group than to work alone
Attitude - decisiveness, team work, persistence
This is the most important competency of the three - you can always learn the knowledge and skills to do the job, but not everyone can learn the attitude needed to do the job well and be successful.

10. People are more interesting than facts
Students want to learn about the people who have made a difference, the explorers and inventors, and what attitudes and skills were necessary, instead of just the events and accomplishments - kids are inspired and learn from the dispositions, the attitudes, the people themselves, who they were.

11. opportunities are built upon a strong educational foundation
the next generation of space workers are in today's classrooms - so, teachers have an awesome responsibility to inspire the next generation of explorers, inventors and astronauts.

Gesture and Object Based Technology

Dr. David Merrill, co-founder and president of Sifteo, was the first keynote at Alberta Education's Emerge Conference 2010 in Banff, Alberta.

Powerful Ideas David shared:

Key idea: it can take TIME to refine and improve how we use a powerful technology.
- Computer Mouse - a great idea that lasted over 40 years, from Englebart's (1968) original mouse, to the iMac mouse (1995), and latest wireless and gesture mice. Supports a range of interactions, and is also limited.
- Theremin (1928), gesture controlled pitch and volume, to O'Modhrain (2000), Stanford, who explored haptic feedback to increase playability of the Theremin, to the Wii (2006), to the Ocarina (2010), and the iPhone that supports multi-touch.
 - Videogames, Damien Lopez (2008) worked on a taxonomy of game controllers, and the types of interaction they support.

Key idea: Why our tools matter: they are objects that help us to think (Draws upon Seymour Papert's seminal work on "objects to think with"). Trying many alternatives with a minimum of effort increases our good solutions and enables us to explore problems more fully.
- Rapid prototyping, Experimentation, expression
- Access to tools matters - anytime access allows us to try more possibilities, to rethink the problems themselves

Key idea: Siftables:  Play, Learn, Create
- Key advances: multiperson, more mobile, 3D spatial, 2-handed all fingers bodily interaction, tangible: cognitively beneficial
- Object-based, gesture-based interaction with computers

David Merrill's TedTalk - demonstration of Siftables.