Why I’m Switching from iPhone to Android (Part 1)

This morning when I told my 14 year old I’d ordered a new phone for myself and it isn’t an iPhone, she said, “Now people are going to think you’re weird!” My response was, “Good, bring it on. I am weird!” As a long-time iPhone user and devotee, I realize this decision to give a near-baseline Android phone an extended try may come as a surprise to many. In this post, I’ll briefly outline the reasons for my decision. Technology companies WANT us all as consumers to believe we absolutely HAVE TO HAVE the latest and greatest smartphone to use, enjoy, and show off to others as a symbol of our affluence and life priorities. I’m ready to get off that train, and I hope the reasons for my decision that I’ll explain below will help you think about perhaps doing the same thing at some point.

The Cost of New Smartphones is Absurd

It is absolutely ridiculous that the new iPhone X base model costs $1000. As an Apple devotee and Apple technology evangelist since 1995, I’m willing to call this out. This feels a bit like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Few if any Apple fanbois want to say this or will say it, but we all should be willing to speak the truth in and to our consumer culture. The normalization of smartphones which cost as much or MORE than a VERY capable new laptop computer has been wonderful for Apple’s quarterly profits, but it hasn’t helped strapped family budgets. It’s also a reflection of what smartphones are and have always been: Small, mobile computers which also happen to make phone calls. Moore’s Law has been in effect for laptops and desktops for years, and consumers have been the beneficiaries of those economic and computational dynamics. I’m ready to financially enjoy the benefits of Moore’s Law in our family when it comes to smartphones, and that road is paved best by Google and its Android operating system. It is certainly not paved by Apple today.

As a parent in a family of five, I’m keenly aware of not only our monthly cellular phone costs (part of the reason we switched from AT&T to T-Mobile three years ago) but also our periodic handset upgrade costs. I’ve deliberated this for many months, and I’m ready to step off the Apple smartphone upgrade train. If this $146 “plus size” Android phone can meet my mobile computing and connectivity needs, I’m all for it. I’m ready to give it a try.

Multi-day Smartphone Battery Life is a Game Changer

Last night when I was reading a review of the Moto E4 Plus, the following statement literally jumped off the screen and hit me between the eyes:

With the E4 Plus, I have consistently been able to achieve battery life that would allow me 10 hours of screen-on time over twice the amount of time off the charger (around 36 hours). That’s insane.

I have an iPhone 6S, and even though I’ve worked to limit my apps which use GPS and other battery draining features, I’m rarely ever able to make it through a day at work without charging my phone. Yesterday in fact, my phone died about 3:30 pm, and I found myself working late in my office after 5 pm wondering why my wife or daughter hadn’t texted or called me to come pick them up. Then I remembered my phone was dead. Yikes.

Today we had a network interruption at about the same time of day, and I found myself alone in our school DMARC on my iPhone with our ISP and firewall technical support personnel with less than 5% of my battery remaining. Thankfully one of our IT staff came to my rescue after I texted him asking for a phone charger and cable. This situation is absolutely NOT acceptable, from a safety as well as productivity standpoint. Yes, I could start carrying a phone charging battery with me at all times, but I really don’t want to do that. I keep one in my backpack, but I don’t want to keep one in my pocket. The 5000mAh battery in the Moto E4 Plus is going to be a definite game changer for me in terms of daily phone battery life, and this new reality can’t arrive in my pocket fast enough.

Google’s AI Technology and Smart Assistant is Better Than Siri

One of the things I’ve been thinking about the most in past months, when it comes to smartphones, is the race for companies to develop AI powered smart assistants. (Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, etc.) These cloud-based anthropomorphic  platforms are already changing the ways many people interact with their devices, with other people, with information, and cloud-based services. I think Google is poised to take and maintain a big lead in AI technologies, because of their access to huge troves of data which is needed for machine learning and AI.

To hear me elaborate further on these ideas, check out the audio podcast of my breakout session from G Camp OKC this past Saturday, “Teaching and Learning in an AI First World.” The shownotes for that podcast have several helpful articles on this topic, including “Google and Amazon are spearheading a quiet gadget revolution, and it’s going to put pressure on Apple most of all” from Business Insider on October 29, 2017.

Most of my Important Apps are Device Agnostic

Back in August 2014, I purchased a small Nexus 7 tablet running Android to give the operating system a serious try for the first time. I used the web, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, Book Creator, and even edited a video using WeVideo. I found it wasn’t nearly as smooth and easy to use for media creation as an iPad, but it was moving in the right direction. Since that time, that tablet has mostly gathered dust at our house and only occasionally is brought out as a novelty.

Android as well as Android apps have continued to mature since 2014, and I’m eager to give a full Android phone daily experience and workflow a try. These are the main apps I use every day or almost every day on my iPhone, and almost all of them are available for Android:

  1. Flipboard
  2. PocketCasts (podcatcher)
  3. Echofon (Twitter client with Buffer support)
  4. Instagram
  5. Nuzzel
  6. YouVersion Bible
  7. Pray As You Go
  8. Facebook
  9. Circle
  10. Pro HDR
  11. Asana
  12. NPR One
  13. Audible
  14. Pandora
  15. YouTube
  16. Flixter
  17. Feedly
  18. Kindle
  19. YouTube
  20. Web browser (Safari, Chrome)

The main iPhone apps I use regularly which do NOT appear to be available for Android are Adobe Spark Post and Fantastical, my favorite iOS calendar app. I generally use Adobe Spark Post to make several infopics per week, so that is potentially the biggest Android app shortcoming I can foresee. Hopefully Adobe Spark Post can run reasonably well in the Chrome web browser of Android, or I’ll be able to find an equally awesome replacement app for infopic creation.

I think my investment in Apple’s iTunes Match and Apple Music playlists may be one of the more challenging aspects of my Android conversion experience. Time will tell. Google Play Music or Spotify may have import options which will make this an easier transition than it might be. If you have insights or advice for me on this front please let me know with a comment below or tweet to @wfryer.

International Travel and Mobile Carrier Flexibility

One of the reasons I started considering buying a cheaper Android phone most recently is an upcoming trip I’m taking to Egypt to speak at the 2nd EduForum in Cairo. We’ve talked on The EdTech Situation Room, the weekly technology news analysis show I co-host, a fair bit about the risks of traveling with a smartphone logged into your social media accounts and loaded with contacts as well as email. Here are a few articles which have headlines that will give you the flavor of these concerns:

  1. I’ll never bring my phone on an international flight again—neither should you
  2. Federal agents can search your phone at the US border — here’s how to protect your personal information
  3. Want to protect your data at the border? Delete it
  4. How to Keep Your Smartphone Safe While Entering the United States
  5. Is it legal for officials to search your phone when you’re traveling?

The March 2017 New York Times article, “Crossing the Border? Here’s How to
Safeguard Your Data From Searches,” specifically recommends the Moto G4 Android phone as a travel smartphone compatible with multiple cellular carrier technologies. The author noted:

It’s a wise idea to invest in a so-called travel device, a cheap smartphone or computer that you use only abroad: You don’t want your nice equipment to get lost or stolen while traveling, anyway, let alone searched by border agents. So leave your fancy equipment — along with your photo album, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter apps — at home.

I’m likely going to erase my Android phone before arriving at the airport to depart or return home from Egypt. This level of concern for having my smartphone data copied by customs officials might seem paranoid, but we all need to remember that ANY digital data can be hacked and repurposed. I don’t have anything to hide in my smartphone data, but I also value privacy and don’t want my entire digital life in the hands of foreign or domestic customs agents.

More Knowledge About Android Capabilities

I remember back in 2009 when I experimented with inexpensive netbooks and hackintoshes, facing questions from friends among the Apple faithful about why I would foray into such blasphemous computing territory. When I worked for AT&T from 2006 to 2008, I used Windows PCs in my office and had access to a personal Windows laptop. While I didn’t enjoy using Windows like I did and do enjoy MacOS, I certainly benefited in all those cases by learning more about usage and benefits/drawbacks of a different operating system. Similarly, I see the opportunity to “use Android full time” on my smartphone as an experiment which will, at worst, leave me better educated and informed to compare different smartphone capabilities.

We all are subject to baby duck syndrome. The first computing system we learn to utilize is not always the best, however, and “best” is a contextual term that can vary widely in meaning. I was a Palm Pilot and Palm Treo user before the iPhone was invented, and have been an iPhone user since witnessing Steve Jobs’ live on-stage demo of the original iPhone in 2007. I’m keeping my Macbook laptop and iPad, and will keep creating Sunday sketchnotes and narrated sketchnotes with my iPad, Apple Pencil and Procreate. I’ll just be doing my smartphone work on an Android device… until further notice.

Our Phones Reflect Financial and Life Priorities

We all have different priorities in life, and those priorities are often reflected on our calendars and in our bank registers. I love “powerful technologies that just work,” and this is one of the reasons I’ve been an outspoken evangelist for Apple computing products for years. Google products definitely fall into this computing category as well, however, and for this reason I’ve been enamored with Chromebooks since I first started one up in 8 seconds in 2011.

While I’m a fan of powerful tech tools made by Apple and Google, I’m decidedly NOT a fan of consumerism or unchecked consumer culture. I enjoy going to the mall sometimes with family members, but part of me laments the fact that going shopping and spending money has become a favorite hobby and pastime of many in our present age. Capitalism has brought many benefits of affluence in the United States to large numbers of people, but it also encourages folks to misplace their priorities and value things more than people or ideas.

As a fan of Conscious Capitalism, I think it’s wise and healthy for us to introspectively consider the choices we make with our personal resources. In this spirit, I’m glad to hang my hat with those who believe it’s better to save or spend money elsewhere rather than on the latest and greatest bleeding edge smartphone. This is especially true when that latest smartphone retails at $1000 for the baseline model.

Bigger Smartphone Screen is Appealing

My eyes are getting worse with age. I’m up for an annual eye exam this month, and it’s going to be the year I get bifocals. A larger smartphone screen is appealing to me, so I’m excited to be able to try a 5.5″ model without spending an arm and a leg to do it. It’s both an age and a pocketbook thing.

Learning More About Chromecast

I love the function and reliability of AirPlay for teaching, presenting and working with other learners in the classroom. Google’s Chromecast technology is not yet as ready for enterprise use as AirPlay, but it’s hopefully going to get there. By having an Android phone, I’m sure I’ll be doing more testing and experimenting with Chromecast capabilities and technologies. As a school technology director, eventually I want our Chromebook using students to be able to mirror their devices on classroom screens. This needs to be done in a way that does not compromise network security segmentation, or overwhelm limited wifi capacity. I often need a catalyst to learn more about a new subject, and an Android phone will serve in that role for me in many ways on different topics, including wireless streaming.

Jason Says Android is Cool

For over a year now on Wednesday nights each week, I’ve been spending an hour talking about technology news with my Montana friend, Jason Neiffer. (@techsavvyteach) I respect Jason’s opinions, and he says getting to know Android is a worthwhile and cool experience. What other reasons do I need for this switch?!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Podcast456: Teaching and Learning in an AI First World

This podcast features a recording of Dr. Wesley Fryer’s breakout session at G Camp OKC on November 4, 2017, titled “Teaching and Learning in an AI First World.” Referenced slides are available on http://wfryer.me/aifirst and include all referenced videos, including those mentioned but not shown during the presentation. Please refer to the podcast shownotes for a complete list of referenced articles and videos from the presentation. If you have feedback, please contact Wes via Twitter @wfryer or leave a comment below.

Shownotes:

  1. Google Slides for “Teaching and Learning in an AI First World”
  2. G Camp OKC Session Resources (@GcampOKC)
  3. Follow Wes Fryer on Twitter: @wfryer
  4. The EdTech Situation Room Podcast (@edtechSR)
  5. [VIDEO] Mobile first to AI first – Google I O’17 (1:44)
  6. Artificial Intelligence (English WikiPedia)
  7. Alan Turning (English WikiPedia)
  8. EdTech Situation Room Promo Trailer
  9. Neuralink
  10. “Artificial general intelligence (AGI) will be the most significant technology ever created by humans” (via Open AI)
  11. Seeing AI by Microsoft
  12. [VIDEO] Seeing AI app from Microsoft
  13. Google Home
  14. Features of Google Home
  15. Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck (May 14, 2015)
  16. Robots could replace 1.7 million American truckers in the next decade (25 Sept 2016)
  17. This self-driving truck has no room for a human driver — literally (July 5, 2017)
  18. Tesla Autopilot
  19. [VIDEO] (Tesla) Autopilot Full Self-Driving Hardware (Neighborhood Short)
  20. Deep Blue (chess computer) from English WikiPedia
  21. Go (Game) from English WikiPedia
  22. AlphaGo from English WikiPedia
  23. [VIDEO] No match for mere mortals: Google’s AlphaGo wins Go series (56 sec)
  24. Google’s AlphaGo AI wins three-match series against the world’s best Go player (May 24, 2017)
  25. The AI That Has Nothing to Learn From Humans (October 20, 2017)
  26. [VIDEO] AlphaGo Zero: Starting from scratch
  27. [VIDEO] Google demos real time language translation with new Pixel 2
  28. [VIDEO] Digital Citizenship in the Surveillance State (Nov 2016)
  29. Google and Amazon are spearheading a quiet gadget revolution, and it’s going to put pressure on Apple most of all (Oct 29, 2017)
  30. Preferable replacement for Madeline Hunter lesson plan model: Design, Create and Share
  31. Scratch by the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Group
  32. Scratch Day
  33. PBS Scratch Jr
  34. The Three Acts Of A Mathematical Story by Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer)
  35. Math class needs a makeover (May 2010 TEDx Talk) by Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer)
  36. Dan Meyer’s Three-Act Math Tasks
  37. Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play by Mitch Resnick (@mres)
  38. Learning Creative Learning MOOC
  39. VIDEO: The 4 P’s of Creative Learning

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Minecraft Halloween Challenge: Lessons Learned

Yesterday Dr. Glen Emerson (@emerson_glen) and I, along with four other teachers and my Minecraft-guru daughter, Rachel, facilitated an evening “Minecraft Halloween Challenge” for students at our school. We had 61 students sign up and 59 participated, in two different sessions from 4 – 6 pm and 7 – 9 pm. The kids had a great time (with a few caveats) and many asked when we would be doing this again! In this post, I’ll share a few lessons learned from the event.

MinecraftEDU Software Rocks

When I started working at Casady School as the director of technology in the summer of 2015, Microsoft was just taking over the MinecraftEDU franchise and starting its conversion over to Minecraft Education Edition. As a result, we were able to purchase enough MinecraftEDU licenses to run the program in several computer labs. MinecraftEDU was supposed to be a one-time purchase, perpetual license program that would include all future upgrades. When Microsoft took it over, however, they discontinued MinecraftEDU and made a new version which requires annual licensing / payment.

While I know there are some cool new features in more recent versions of Minecraft, the 1.7.10 version of MinecraftEDU we have to run perpetually is still working GREAT and has fantastic teacher controls which make teacher moderation and control of student gameplay fantastic. Minecraft is SUCH an engaging game and activity for students, they frequently get swept up in the excitement of working in a virtual environment. This can mean needing to remind students to use their “inside voices, sometimes “freezing” a student’s ability to move and teleporting them to your teacher avatar location so you can have a quick face-to-face discussion about not griefing the creations of others, etc. If you’re fortunate to teach and work at a school which licensed MinecraftEDU, I personally do not think you need to “upgrade” to an annual payment situation with Microsoft for Minecraft Education Edition. MinecraftEDU 1.7 is still working great and still offers SO many possibilities for student engagement and learning it remains potentially overwhelming. I am VERY thankful we’re licensees of MinecraftEDU.

Differentiate for Age and Experience

The biggest change I would make, if we were to do this event again, would be to differentiate the experience for students based on their ages and levels of experience with the PC version of Minecraft. Many of our younger elementary students had not ever participated in a multi-player Minecraft world, they had just played single player / alone. Additionally, many were not familiar with the PC controls, since they had placed on a console or tablet. The next time we do this, I will pre-build and offer a “tutorial world” option for students who want to get up to speed on the basics of Minecraft navigation and controls.

My wife, who is now teaching 3rd grade at our school, stayed with students in the other computer lab during our first session which was for elementary students. Since the kids were younger (2nd, 3rd and 4th grade) with hindsight I think we needed to tone down the number of monsters and the chaos of the final waves which were unleashed. Not only did some of the kids just prefer building to the chaos of monster waves, but they also needed more time and support in learning to defend themselves than the middle school students who had all had at least some PC Minecraft experience.

Intel I7 Horsepower

The computers in the labs we used last night are 4 and 3 year old iMacs and Dell all-in-one PCs, and when it comes to Minecraft world HOSTING they show their age. Dr. Emerson has been using a new MacBook Air laptop with an Intel I7 processor and 8 GB of RAM as a local MinecraftEDU server this year with his students, and it’s worked GREAT. Last night we used another Macbook Air with an I7 processor as the server for the Windows lab, and we had similarly good experiences. We did have a few students kicked off the server at one point, and I’m not sure why, but they were able to log right back in. Even when we “spawned the wither” at the end of each session, and spawned two in the final session after the students readily dispatched the first one, the server didn’t hiccup.

About 4 years ago when I was using MinecraftEDU with students in my after-school Maker’s Club in Yukon schools, “spawning the wither” was an immediate invitation to crash our desktop Dell computer. I think it had an I5 Intel processor and was just running with 4 GB of RAM. It was GREAT to experience zero lag, and not have ANY students complain about lag last night! During the second session we did have to restart MinecraftEDU on two of the Windows computers, but I think that was attributable to issues with those PCs running Java and not the server. This was the best in-house MinecraftEDU server experience I’ve had with a lab full of students to date, from a local server performance perspective.

Multiple Challenges Available

The next time we offer a Minecraft Challenge night, I think we’ll setup several different levels of challenges. Yesterday we basically just had students work collaboratively in a large team or in small groups to build a castle or houses to prepare themselves for successive waves of monster attacks. As teachers logged into MinecraftEDU we have “special powers” to do all kinds of things, including spawn monsters when and where we desire. Like the Minecraft Redstone Challenge which I put together for my students in May 2015, and used again in a Saturday Minecraft workshop for The Div in May 2016, I’d like to pre-configure several areas with different challenges students can work through in teams. Last night worked fine, and the kids had a LOT of fun, but many were ready for some additional challenges and would have enjoyed the chance to mix things up more with design challenges, builds which required them to learn new recipes, etc.

The other reason to offer multiple types of challenges during the evening is to help both students as well as parents understand that Minecraft and MinecraftEDU can be used for more than “just gaming” and fighting monsters. I don’t know that we we advanced that goal much with our weekend activity, but it also wasn’t an explicit goal we set out to achieve together. The students had fun, and we definitely had some great building examples of houses the students created, but since monsters and fighting were involved I’m guessing most kids and parents walked away with the same perceptions of Minecraft they had before the afternoon/evening activity.

In the past when I’ve used MinecraftEDU with students, we always had monsters turned OFF in the game and focused exclusively on the design, building, and collaboration aspects of the game. This was a fun event, and I’m glad we did it, but I think the next time we have a school Minecraft challenge it won’t involve survival or fighting monsters. This actually may prove to be a great disappointment for some students, who really looked forward to and enjoyed that aspect of the game and our Minecraft Halloween Challenge. Together we’ll work on managing those expectations, for both students as well as parents.

Engaging the Creativity of Student Organizers

Because of timing and the fact that this was the first Minecraft event we’ve ever had at our school like this, we didn’t enlist the help of our students very much to brainstorm and build the actual world we used. Our daughter, Rachel, had given me a few ideas, but I was not able to contribute very much to the world we used. Dr. Emerson did almost all the work!

We heard several different students suggest that we do a similar Minecraft event before Christmas, and they had some suggestions about challenges and activities we could create. I would love to get some of these students involved in brainstorming as well as building the Minecraft world for our next challenge night. Minecraft is such a wonderful “open container” for student design creativity, I know they would help us come up with a MUCH better and more engaging series of challenge activities than we could create as teachers.

Great Opportunity for Adults to Play and Learn

One of my favorite parts of the sessions last night was getting to help a couple of our teachers who had never “been” in Minecraft before or experienced gameplay get into the game and start building as well as learning to navigate and survive. Minecraft can expose “Lord of the Flies” tendencies in in kids, where (at times) the worst tendencies in people to steal others’ property, bully others, and generally use their knowledge, skills, resources and cunning to dominate and subjugate other players emerges in dark ways. This didn’t happen (as far as I know) in major ways last night, but I did see one of the kids of one of our teachers take delight in getting his mom stuck in cobwebs, get boxed in so she couldn’t escape, and generally create mischief for her instead of helping support her learning the first time she was in the game.

Thankfully, I was able to help her out of these situations and eventually get her logged in as a teacher, where she was able to use teleportation, “spectator mode” (which made her invisible), and unlimited resources in teacher Creative mode to balance the scales with her son and others. I think she had a very good experience, overall. There were some other situations with students which required my intervention, as is often the case using MinecraftEDU, involving name-calling in in-game chat and minor griefing which I “nipped in the bud” again with teacher controls. All of these highlight the VITAL importance of teachers and potentially, responsible student moderators, keeping watchful eyes on students during a school Minecraft/MinecraftEDU activity and being capable of taking swift action so things stay respectful and kind.

I LOVE being able to help other teachers and adults get into Minecraft and have positive experiences with gameplay, and this is especially powerful when students are also in-world and playing. This was a great aspect of our Minecraft Halloween Challenge and I hope to replicate that again in successive events we may host at school.

Limited Resource Chests Best

My experiences using MinecraftEDU with students, as well as Dr. Emerson’s, affirm the idea that it’s best NOT to put students into “creative mode.” Creative mode offers too many opportunities and temptations for students to get derailed from whatever the specific activity or lesson focus may be, and take time making enchantments or other things. Certainly one of the best things about Minecraft is the open ended array of choices it offers students, but this can be a disadvantage in a school or other learning context if you’re not flat out giving students complete free time in Minecraft. For our Minecraft Halloween Challenge, Dr. Emerson created a warehouse full of chests, which had food, some different tools and weapons, and a variety of building materials. Students were free to mine for more, but we didn’t want them worrying about having to find food to eat or resources to find for building. Overall this worked out really well. This is the same strategy I eventually learned to use in the MinecraftEDU Treehouse Challenge, which involves permimeter and area and is probably my favorite activity of all-time with students.

Ghasts Are Destructive

I hadn’t had much experience with ghasts in Minecraft before last night, I think I’d only seen them one time before when Rachel led me on an adventure into the nether a few years ago. Ghasts can be very destructive! They shoot fireballs when they attack, and of course this means that if you have even a few of them present as monsters they can wreak a great deal of havoc and set your entire village and landscape on fire in a short amount of time. MinecraftEDU has a server checkbox option to turn off fire and TNT, and in the past when I would de-select it that turned off all active, burning fires. Maybe I’m remembering that incorrectly, because last night when I wanted to shut down the wildfires that checkbox didn’t seem to have an effect. I did learn from one of our 8th grade students that since I was in creative mode as a teacher, I could simply punch (left click / attack) a burning square and extinguish it. That proved to be a much faster and more effective way to put out unwanted fires rather than using water and buckets.

Elementary Classroom Teacher Input Helpful for Grouping

We were blessed to have my wife, Shelly (@sfryer) helping out yesterday with our earlier session for elementary students. Many of the participating students were her own 3rd graders from her classroom, since we’d been talking up the Minecraft Halloween Challenge with them and they’d been asking both Rachel and I questions about it in the weeks leading up to yesterday. It was great to have her assign students to different labs, to help group compatible students. One decision we made together was to put all the elementary girls in the same computer lab. About one third of the student participants in each session were girls, and I think it worked well to have them together. I didn’t actually visit the other computer lab during the evening when students were in MinecraftEDU, but it sounded like the tone and dynamics in our labs were different in some ways. The composition of our classes certainly contributed to that. Next time we do a Minecraft Challenge at school as an evening activity, I’ll definitely try to again enlist the help of some of our elementary teachers who can assist with student grouping.

Always Leave Some Open Computers

Although we have 19 computers available in each of our computer labs, we capped the enrollment in our Halloween Minecraft Challenge sessions at 30 students so we’d have 15 students per lab. This worked out to be a GREAT number, leaving some computer workstations open for teachers and adults to use and in some cases, for students to use when there was a technical problem with their computer.

At one point I considered having all the students in a single lab, and bringing in a laptop cart, but I’m glad we stayed with the fixed lab computers. Not only was network performance in Minecraft better using ethernet/wired computers rather than our wifi network, but it also made for a more easily managed number of students and Minecrafters.

Require Use of REAL First Names

I required that students in my computer lab last night use their REAL first names when they chose a nickname in the game. There were a few exceptions that I didn’t make a big deal of, but for 95% of the students they played using their actual names and this proved helpful as it has in the past. When someone was griefing (which was thankfully rare last night, but that’s also often all about how griefing is handled by adults / game moderators) we could readily identify who the culprit(s) were and take action. Our kids were very responsive to redirection and griefing wasn’t a big problem, and I do give a lot of this credit to our students. As I previously noted however, Minecraft can become a “Lord of the Flies” virtual experiment if adults / moderators are not proactive. The provided MinecraftEDU teacher tools and commands are invaluable for this reason. Having used MinecraftEDU extensively since 2013, I would NOT want to use an unmoderated, unmanaged version of “regular Minecraft” with students in a lab setting like this. Students are often (and easily) more saavy and sophisticated in their Minecraft knowledge and skills than I am. While it can be great to enlist the help of saavy and experienced Minecrafter students (as we did last night with Rachel) it’s also important to have good procedures promoting classroom accountability (like the use of real first names) as well as teacher tools in your toolkit to help promote an interactive environment that is respectful and in control.

Overall, I think our Minecraft Halloween Challenge was a success and I’m very glad we did it. There were several things I’d do different the next time we host a similar event, however, and I’m hopeful that some of these lessons learned will be of benefit to others. If you use any of these ideas for your own after-school Minecraft or MinecraftEDU events, please let me know with a comment or by reaching out on Twitter (@wfryer). I think we’ll likely be brainstorming a pre-Christmas MinecraftEDU Challenge Night, and I’ll certainly share what we come up with for challenges as well as any other lessons learned from those experiences.

For now, I’m personally more motivated to get back into Minecraft and play with Rachel as well as my cousins in Liberty, Missouri, who we’ll be seeing soon over the Thanksgiving holidays! The last few years one of the highlights has been adventuring together and building together in Minecraft, and I’m betting that will be a high priority for them again when we see them next month!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

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The Podcasting Legacy of Bob Sprankle and The Scholars of Room 208

Today my friend Bob Sprankle would have been 55 years old. Before Bob’s untimely death in December 2015, I had been working with him to archive some of his websites. Bob was one of the first elementary educators in the world to use audio podcasting with his students, and was recognized by the New York Times in August 2005 for his pioneering work. Many of his ideas, strategies, and techniques remain “best practices” for educators today, and are worth studying as well as emulating.

After Bob’s death, I started the website BobTaughtMe.com as a digital space to preserve all of the original Room 208 podcasts as well as blog posts. That work has remained incomplete, however, with “The Bobby Bucket Show” being the only one archived previously. Tonight, however, a few more pieces of this digital puzzle have been put together, and my heart is happy.

Working links to the original Room 208 podcast are now available online, with browsable calendar archives of Bob’s classroom website from 2006, 2005, and 2004 also online. All those links and others comprising Bob Sprankle’s digital legacy are available on BobTaughtMe.com. These webpages were originally created with iBlog, a now defunct MacOS software program which was coincidentally the first blogging program I used from 2003 to 2005, before transitioning to WordPress. Not every link on these pages works, but the MP3 podcast audio files do, and those are some of the most important ones!

As an example, here’s the archived blog post for the August 17, 2005 “Summer Literature Circle 03.” This is the direct MP3 audio file link. It’s 29 minutes long, and features wonderful dialog between Bob and his students. Bob’s episode description was:

This is a special SUMMER EDITION of the Room 208 Podcast with readers, Zoe, Sean, Nina, Amy, and Mr. S having a Literature Circle Discussion on The Giver by Lois Lowry.

I listened to this entire show tonight as I made updates on BobTaughtMe.com, and it was a wonderful way to remember what would have been his 55th year of life. I encourage you to check it out along with the other episodes on the site. I don’t know how many total minutes of podcast audio are included in these files, but they do comprise 945 MB of storage on my laptop and web server. Bob compressed his audio (I think) at 64 kbps, so this represents quite a few hours of recorded audio. A few movie clips are also included, but most of the archive is MP3 audio. Unfortunately the actual podcast feed (RSS/XML feed) is not working, but the direct media file links are. At some point I may work on fixing the feed, which functions as a blog feed but not a podcast-only feed.

On a brief technical note, I was able to get what were broken iBlog links to the Room 208 podcasts working tonight using TextWrangler software. TextWrangler (now just available as BBEdit) allowed me to open the entire iBlog website (comprised of static HTML text files and media/image files) at once. I was then able to perform a multi-file search and replace static links including the previous domain bobsprankle.com with the new domain bobtaughtme.com.

There were 524 HTML text files which included that old domain, and TextWrangler appears to have successfully updated them all. This would have been an extremely time consuming task to code / repair by hand, so I’m very thankful for this “sitewide” / “folder-wide” text search and replace functionality.

Next time you’re at table, raise your glass to the memory, the life, and the priceless contributions of Bob Sprankle to our world and our archive of digital learning. To Bob, and the “Scholars of Room 208,” as he liked to call his students. May our memories of your exemplary learning never fade.

* If you’re not familiar with Bob check out:

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Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Daily Blogging and an Ode to RSS

One of my favorite Twitter lists which I follow regularly in Flipboard is “Gigaom Vets.” The list includes people who previously worked for GigaOm magazine, which has been rebooted but unexpectedly fired all its staff in March 2015. They were an amazing group of tech and tech culture journalists, and they still are, except now they all work for different companies. Thanks to the power of Twitter and Flipboard, however, I still read their aggregated ideas via a “single pane of glass” (my Flipboard subscription to their Twitter list) and am regularly both educated and inspired by the thoughts they share.

Om Malik (@om) was Gigaom magazine’s founder, and he’s on my Gigaom Vets Twitter list as well. Last night before bed, I saw the article he shared, “Seth Godin Explains Why You Should Blog Daily,” by CJ Chilvers (@cjchilvers).

CJ’s post is not only an encouragement for all of us to blog daily, because of the inherent value of generously sharing reflections about what we notice around us daily, but also the first shout out I’ve read in quite awhile to my old friend RSS. Ah, RSS. Twitter streams and the Facebook news feed have largely eclipsed your name and fame, but I still use you via my Feedly account (at least weekly) and acknowledge your latent power. A few of my older posts here still testify to your greatness:

  1. March 2010: Favorite iPhone / iPod Touch News and RSS / update applications
  2. July 2006: RSS: Connecting Ideas and Knowledge (shout out to @willrich45)
  3. November 2005: Blogs & RSS: Tapping into the global conversation (shout out to @dwarlick)

It’s quite easy to become depressed by the ways Facebook was cleverly used to subvert democratic processes in our last Presidential election and even now, our sitting President uses Twitter to discredit mainstream media sources as “fake news” and obfuscates rather than clarifies truth for many. Our needs for media literacy and the “crap detector” of Neil Postman are as great as ever, as Jason Neiffer (@techsavvyteach) discussed on last week’s EdTech Situation Room podcast.

The last couple of years, since I become an independent school technology director but perhaps even before that, I’ve fallen into a pattern of blogging where I write much longer posts but share MUCH less frequently. I started blogging in 2003, and have shared 6,088 posts here since that time. At one point, I was blogging daily. My routines have changed, but CJ Chilvers and Om Malik have me rethinking those today.

RSS is a free information subscription technology, which is an open standard and is supported (still, despite Google’s painful abandonment of Google Reader in 2013) by multiple applications and platforms. Podcasting is alive and well, in fact thriving far more today in 2017 than it was at the dawn of the podcasting age around 2005 when I started. Blogs like this WordPress-powered website, thousands of Blogger blogs, and others continue to create RSS / ATOM feeds, which permit free subscriptions unfiltered and lacking the black-box modification of secret algorithms like the Facebook news feed.

I remember you, RSS, and have not forgotten your power! I’m podcasting weekly via @edtechSR, and have been now for about 70 weeks, but I also resolve to return to my “short share” blogging roots. Long live the open web, RSS, blogs, podcasts, and information streams unfiltered by corporate (and monetized) secret algorithms.

I will keep noticing ideas of significance in our world, and sharing short reflections about them here on “Moving at the Speed of Creativity.” I encourage you, as well, to consider or reconsider a commitment to regular blogging. We live in an emerging surveillance state, and our understanding of those dynamics should temper our personal sharing stream, but they should not chill or silence our capacity to be inspired and share our inspirations with each other on the social web.

Long live RSS!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Interactive Google Earth Updates and Map Tools: Solar System Exploration and Nuclear War

In this week’s EdTech Situation Room podcast (tomorrow/Wednesday evening at 9 pm Central / 8 pm Mountain) I’m going to share several new space related features in Google Earth as well as some new Google Maps mashups (at least new to me) that can be used in the classroom to interactively explore and discuss current nuclear war risks as well as nuclear history around planet earth. In this post I’ll summarize what I plan to share on the show, along with related and supporting web links.

First of all, everyone should know that as of April 2017 Google Earth has become largely web-based. This 55 second video from Google provides an overview. Wow! With Earth for Chrome, Chromebook users are no longer geographically crippled when it comes to exploring many of the features of Google Earth previously reserved only to computers running MacOS or MS Windows. The desktop version of Google Earth (Google Earth Pro) still has some unique features, but the Chrome version is pretty robust and amazing. Google Earth Pro used to require an authorization code to unlock all its features, but it’s now entirely free for everyone, as is Earth for Chrome.

Some of the features (as of this writing) just supported on the downloadable / client software version of Google Earth (Google Earth Pro) include:

  1. Compute distances and areas using measurement tools
  2. Visualize, manipulate and export GIS data
  3. Use Movie Maker to produce media collateral
  4. Manipulate and export GIS data
  5. Go back in time with historical imagery

Tons of features, including Google Street View, are now supported in the browser-based version of Google Earth. (Earth for Chrome)

Yesterday (16 October 2017) Google announced some exciting updates to Google Earth which are accessible just in Earth for Chrome. In the official post, “Space out with planets in Google Maps,” Google announced the availability of “12 new worlds” in our solar system to explore via Google Earth. These include the recognized 8 planets of our solar system, as well as 4 more moons photographed in detail by the 20 year long Cassini mission to Saturn. Point your browser over to www.google.com/maps/space/earth to get started. Google Earth Pro (the desktop version) continues to have Google Sky, Google Moon and Google Mars, which allow for some solar system exploration, but the updates in Earth for Chrome are more extensive and utilize lots of NASA photographs of these 12 celestial bodies.

Tips and tutorials about navigating both versions of Google Earth are available on support.google.com/earth/. Head over to www.google.com/help/maps/education/ for more Google Earth related classroom resources.

The other GeoMap resources I’m going to share on @edtechSR tomorrow night are Nukemap: An Interactive Simulator and MISSILEMAP, both by Alex Wellerstein (@wellerstein). Recent tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump have been interpreted by many as physical threats to North Korea. The Prime Minister of North Korea has interpreted these tweets as a declaration of war by the United States.

These alarming tweets have raised a number of issues, with the biggest being the potential for a nuclear exchange between North Korea and the United States. It’s also raised issues with Twitter’s rules and policies for users, which generally prohibit tweets that are physically threatening to others. Because of the “public interest” of these Tweets from President Trump, however, Twitter has not removed them.

If you’re discussing or might discuss these issues with your students, consider using the Google Maps mashup sites Nukemap and MISSILEMAPMISSILEMAP now includes an option as a “Launch Preset” to select the unclassified capability of North Korea’s nuclear missile arsenal. I was surprised to see that includes the range to strike about half of the United States, but not yet our east coast. Of course this is “just” one analyst’s opinion, based on careful research, and it could be wrong. This August New York Times article (updated on Sept 3rd) breaks down the engineering challenges facing North Korea, which include successfully using a delivery vehicle on the top of a rocket that can survive atmospheric reentry.

MISSILEMAP provides an export button to NukeMap which then permits users to select the “yield” of the nuclear warhead and the projected effects of the blast on the selected location, which accounts for actual demographics. Other factors can be changed as well, like whether the nuclear detonation is a surface blast or an airburst.

It may seem macabre to interactively explore nuclear war scenarios using Google Maps with students. Depending on the age of students and your teaching context, it may not be appropriate. If, however, you are teaching older students and discussing current world events, I’d argue discussions about possible nuclear confrontation between the United States and North Korea is very relevant and important. These interactive map resources can provide you with useful teaching tools to visually focus classroom conversations and writing assignments, and can empower your students to use statistics, measurements, and logic to discuss the variety of issues raised in this general topic with greater background knowledge and facts. Consider also checking out the useful resources Alex Wellerstein has collected for teachers on his Nuclear Secrecy Blog as well as personal website.

As someone who debated competitively for four years in college, I’ll close by noting nuclear war scenarios (always common in policy and cross examination debate) have never been more realistic than they are today. As teachers, if we think it’s challenging to talk with students about the recent shooting in Las Vegas or school shooting incidents (sadly not limited to the United States) it’s even more difficult to think about having to emotionally deal with a nuclear strike against our country or anywhere else. Memories of the horrors of World War II have faded in the minds of most living citizens of our country today, and too few appear to understand or care about just war theory, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the moral imperative to protect noncombatants in wartime. Let us hope and pray our leaders can defuse tensions and avert a nuclear crisis.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Reflections on Comancheria, Identity and Frontier Terrorism

I never thought much about my own family bloodlines and ancestry until we moved to Oklahoma in 2006. As I got to know teachers and school staff members in my role (at the time) working as an “education advocate” for AT&T, I learned that all public schools in Oklahoma have “Indian Education” programs and students qualify for these programs based on the percentage of their blood which corresponds to a federally recognized Indian tribe. In Oklahoma, that’s a list of 38 tribes. Tribal membership rules vary, and many have been modified, so “the blood percentage” required has been reduced in some cases which has allowed shrinking tribal rolls to expand. Membership in some tribes is tied to whether your ancestors registered on the “Dawes Rolls” between 1899 and 1907. While I certainly had thought about and been aware of racial differences and skin color throughout my life at different times (especially when I lived in Mississippi from 1978-80 and Mexico City from 1992-93) bloodline ancestry was a novel concept for me before 2006. My own learning about Oklahoma Indian tribes and tribal members has grown a little over the ensuing years, because of different relationships, projects, and job opportunities. I’m still embarrassed, however, about how very little I know (relatively speaking) about the respective histories and cultures of Oklahoma’s different Indian tribes. On October 6th, about a week ago,  I had an opportunity to drive almost 500 miles from our home in Oklahoma City down to the Hill Country of Texas, and I stopped in a couple museums in Lawton, Oklahoma on the way. In this post, I’m going to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned in the past few weeks reading a book about Comanche tribal history, and how this “gave me new eyes” for my drive through historic “Comancheria” today.

In addition to being extremely ignorant of North American tribal history, I admit that in the past I have made the all-to-common mistake of viewing American Indian tribes as more monolithic (the same) than diverse and different. Just as it’s a huge mistake to speak of “Africans” instead of the unique and very different people who inhabit and originated from the continent of Africa, it’s also a huge mistake to regard ethnic or religious groups with a similar “broad brush.” Muslims and the Islamic world are far from monolithic. The same is true for American Indian tribes.

Although I grew up during part of my elementary school years living in Lubbock, Texas (1975-78) and returned to live in Lubbock from 1993 to 2006, my knowledge of the Comanche Indians was very limited. I heard a little about Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie, but didn’t deeply contemplate or comprehend the ferocious violence of frontier in the 1800s during the decades preceding and following Texas “independence” and statehood in 1845. Despite periodic visits when we lived in Lubbock to their outstanding National Ranching Heritage Museum, and seeing the relocated frontier homes with shooting positions raised and gun ports open for fending off Indian attacks, I didn’t think deeply about the reality of that world until reading “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” by S. C. Gwynne (@scgwynne).

Some Oklahoma elementary students still re-enact and “celebrate” the Oklahoma land run of 1899. All three of our kids in Edmond Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools did, Alex and Sarah at Chisholm Elementary in Edmond and Rachel at Quail Creek Elementary in OKCPS. I grew up (through 3rd grade) in a Texas elementary school learning about white heroes like Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. I learned and our 3 children predominantly learned in elementary school “a white man’s history” of the Comancheria frontier in the 1800s, and that meant quite a bit of important history and significant perspectives were left out.

 

 

S. C. Gwynne‘s book “Empire of the Summer Moon” is remarkable and important for many reasons. One of these, as I already mentioned, is the factual way he documents the violence inside and along the borders of historic “Comancheria,” especially in the early to late 1800s. Those are the years heroically portrayed in Texas classrooms as the era of the Texas Revolution, the Republic of Texas, the Mexican American War, and the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo. History lessons from elementary and secondary classrooms in the United States blend naturally with Hollywood portrayals of “the old west” and the frontier, however, sometimes (or perhaps often) leaning toward a simplistic portrayal of these events where all the white settlers are “on the side of the Lone Ranger” and all the native peoples are unfortunate land squatters living on the wrong side of history. Of course, reality is far more complicated.

Reading “Empire of the Summer Moon” gave me some important new insights into this era of history. The ferocity and savage violence of the Comanche Indians in opposing settlers on the frontier was as extreme as is possible for the human imagination. Certainly the beheadings and torture of westerners by ISIL / ISIS in the past five years has been horrific and terrible. It was actually exceeded in brutality, if one’s imagination is permitted to go this far, by the Comanches. I will not provide those details here, but S. C. Gwynne does in his book. If you take a time machine to 1830 into central Texas, and become or remain a Caucasian immigrant, it’s jarring to thinking about the “clear and present danger” in which you would be choosing to live if you remained there as a “settler.”

The story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the story’s role in defining the perceptions of Texas settlers and U.S. citizens more broadly, and the amazing as well as tragic juxtapositions of her life as the mother of Quanah Parker remain vital threads in the tapestry of history of Comancheria. Parker’s relatives were woefully naive and reckless in the unguarded way they chose to live before their fateful encounter with Comanches on May 19, 1836. After witnessing the deaths of many relatives and her own kidnapping by the Comanches, Cynthia’s subsequent adoption into a Comanche tribal group, marriage to Peta Nocona, role as mother to Quanah Parker, and eventual recapture by whites and functional imprisonment within white culture is one of those true stories which almost defies possibility. Because of this, a great deal of mythology (what we might call “fake news” today) was also associated with her. Anything I write here naturally risks oversimplification, and that is not my intention. Reading Gwynne’s record of this history was analogous to cracking open a geode of history for me about this era. It is complicated, multi-faceted, and extremely difficult to fully comprehend from my separated vantage point of 181 years.

One of the biggest turning points in my own thinking about our midwest North American history in the 1800s, catalyzed by Gwynne’s book, regards American bison herds and the inevitability of conflict between plains Indian tribes and white settlers coming from the east. I have often imagined that if I could travel in a time machine back to any era of history, I would go to the great plains of North America before the slaughter of the bison herds in the late 1800s. The sight of literally millions of bison roaming wild and free on the open plains of our continent would have been an awe inspiring sight to behold. While some people romanticize about the wolf in North America defining “wild,” or even the historic range of grizzly bears, it’s the American bison which has captured my imagination like no other creature on our planet.

Before reading “Empire of the Summer Moon” I had read and heard about the inevitability of conflict with the plains Indians of America, and the necessity of eliminating the wild herds of bison to fully defeat the plains Indians, but those lessons did not sink into my own understanding of history very deeply. Gwynne’s historical narrative makes it abundantly clear to me that in the grand course of history, these outcomes were inevitable.

Interjecting my own opinions into the historical record of the lower great plains in the 1800s is perhaps perilous, for as with all normative judgements about historical events I have limited access to facts on the ground and must rely on the observations and interpretations of others. That said, however, it definitely strikes me as tragic and unfortunate that the United States government repeatedly broke so many “treaties” which it negotiated with native people, including the plains Indians. As Gwynne recorded, after agreeing to move to an Oklahoma reservation, the U.S. government decided to change the terms of its treaty with the Comanche. Instead of permitting the tribe to own and manage (leasing to cattlemen for a handsome profit) vast swathes of land, Congress passed The Dawes Act of 1887. This permitted the U.S. government to “allot” previous lands granted to Indian tribes to individual Indians and families, and also to white settlers. It served to further impoverish Indian tribes and individual Indian leaders (like Quanah Parker) and further advance the white man’s mandate to native tribes to give up their way of life and “become civilized.”

The Comanche Indians in the early to mid 1880s were, in many ways, a stone age civilization which came into abrupt and violent conflict with modernity. In the parlance of Alvin Toffler, they were a first wave civilization coming into conflict with a second wave civilization equipped (by the late 1880s) with the lethal, advanced technology of industrialization. I had not known Comanches originally came down from the Wind River Canyon area of Wyoming, and were part of the historic Shoshone Tribe. Thanks to  a unique confluence of factors, they acquired and adopted their nomadic way of life to the wild Mustang horse, and became one of the post potent and fearsome pre-industrial military powers in history. Their horse-powered ferocity and capabilities remind me of the Mongols as described in amateur historian Dan Carlin’s series “Wrath of the Khans.” It was both the adaptation of military tactics which mimicked the Comanche, utilized in the early days of the Texas Rangers and later by U.S. Army General Ranald Mackenzie, along with the technological advances of the repeating revolver and rifle (thanks Samuel Colt) which finally led to the end of free-ranging plains Indians in Texas and elsewhere in the American great plains.

I may never look again on a full moon the same after reading “Empire of the Summer Moon.”  According to Gwynne, because the Comanche preferred to go on raiding trips at night by the light of the moon, Texas settlers began to call the full moon the “Comanche Moon.” Imagining the fear which justifiably must have seized hold of thousands of early Texas pioneers and settlers before the Comanche were finally forced to stay in reservations in Oklahoma stretches my mind.

Of course we can’t say for certain what our opinions and actions would have been if we lived in a particular era of history rather than our present, since the factors defining our allegiances and loyalties would have played crucial roles and can’t be extrapolated. It’s impossible to say with certainty if I would have had the risk-welcoming disposition to leave the relative safety and predictability of the east for the danger and opportunities of the American west in the 1800s. If I had that disposition, however, and was a white pioneer, it is easy to imagine myself taking a racially defined side in the violent conflicts of the frontier. Returning to my original reflections about not having thought a great deal about the important role of bloodlines before moving to Oklahoma, these are relatively novel thoughts for me. Because of the time of my birth in the course of history, I have not had to make choices about “sides to be on” largely defined for me by the color of my skin and my own ancestors.

Driving south from Oklahoma City almost 500 miles to Hunt, Texas, about an hour west of San Antonio last Friday, I was thinking about many of ideas as I passed through historic Comanche reservation lands as well as Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in Lawton. There is a large Comanche Casino now in Lawton, and the large Kiowa Casino just north of the Red River and Wichita Falls, Texas, had more meaning for me as Gwynne’s book had given me a little more insight into the history and interactions of the Kiowa with early white settlers as well as the Comanche.

One of the things I thought about the most on this trip was the IDENTITY of men in the Comanche Tribe, and how that identity was almost completely obliterated (by tragic necessity) by the collision of cultures which happened in the 1800s on the southern great plains. To be fair and egalitarian, I probably should have thought just as much about the cultural identity and crisis for Comanche women, but since I’m a guy, I was thinking more about the men.

One of many things I learned in “Empire of the Summer Moon”  was that Comanche men in the pre-reservation 1800s had two primary roles in their tribe and family: to hunt bison and go protect their family. Women did virtually all of the work butchering meat, doing camp chores and raising children. By the 1800s, the Comanches were entirely a “horse people,” defined by their relationship to and use of horses. Wealth for the Comanche, as with other plains tribes, was mostly defined by possession of horses. It seems crazy today to imagine that the U.S. Army and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, proxies for the will of the U.S. Government on the plains, literally told and expected Comanche men moved onto an Oklahoma reservation to “become farmers.” In the history of humanity on our planet, has a more difficult cultural mandate ever been placed on one civilization by another?

Thinking about these identity issues, last Friday I stopped for about an hour at the Comanche National Museum and Culture Center in Lawton. The museum is small and modest. Imagining the vast numbers of horses once possessed by the Comanche tribes, who continue to use the moniker “Lords of the Plains,” it was sad yet perhaps predictable to see statues of a single horse and a single bison outside the museum’s entrance.

My thoughts and emotions seeing these statues and touring through the Comanche Museum were different than they would have been three months ago, before I read “Empire of the Summer Moon.” I was more aware than ever of history which had transpired, but also that the Comanche people live on today as a surviving tribe from the cultural genocide promulgated by conflated forces in the late 1800s including Texas settlers and the U.S. military. Before reading Gwynne’s book, I had a much shallower appreciation for how the Comanche had ferociously served as a buffer between the nation and people of Mexico and the dreams of Manifest Destiny sown and nurtured by thousands of white people living and migrating from eastern lands. According to Gwynne, the Comanche turned back the advances of the French, the Spanish, and for many years the Americans (the United States) in “civilizing” the great midwest.

Driving across large swathes of Texas as I have over the past twenty years, traveling from Lubbock to Austin or Oklahoma to San Antonio for different conferences and family trips, I’ve often wondered why there are not any Indian tribes in Texas? I knew that the Texas pioneers killed or drove off all of the Indians, but why did this happen in Texas when in some other parts of the midwest tribes continued to live on reservations and exist as a people? Gwynne provided the answer in “Empire of the Summer Moon.” The conflict lines between the Comanche and the Texans were so stark, and were so absolute, that there literally was no room for compromise or co-habitation. This is why the Comanche hated Texans with such a vengeance, and vice versa. Gwynne shares a story of Charles Goodnight, who encountered Quanah Parker and other Comanches on “his” newly acquired property in Palo Duro Canyon, after the Comanche “reservation era” had begun, and relates how Goodnight eventually convinced the Indians he was from Colorado and not a Texan. If he had not been successful, they might have killed him for simply being from Texas.

I’m definitely not condoning every act of frontier violence promulgated against the Comanche during the days of the frontier, but am saying Gwynne’s recounting of this era of history in his book gave me a much deeper and nuanced understanding of why Texans did not create or allow any reservations for Indians within the boundaries of their former nation and current state. This conflict and history wasn’t simple, it wasn’t pretty, and it certainly isn’t easy to understand and accept almost two hundred years later. It was, however, in my current estimation an inevitable “clash of civilizations” whose outcome was both predictable and inevitable based on the march of technological advances.

A final image and reflection I’ll share comes directly from the Comanche National Museum and Culture Center last Friday. It’s both understandable and expected that the written narratives as well as limited multimedia exhibits in the small museum do not address the ferocity and violence of the Comanche people’s conflict with Texans in the 1800s. Just as Gwynne relates that Quanah Parker “wisely” did not talk publicly about his campaigns against white settlers as well as the U.S. military once the Comanche reservation era began, it’s reasonable that the current Comanche national museum does not focus on the violent details of those conflicts either.

It seemed rather jarring, however, to be by myself in the Comanche national museum last Friday, and see a self-serve photo selfie station with the encouraging caption, “Share Your Comanche Moment.”

I did, perhaps predictably, take a photo and check the tick box giving permission for my image to be shared publicly on the contracted social media website used by the tribe. I couldn’t bring myself to smile for the photo, the weight of too much violent history and conflict was filling my mind.

Take a moment to browse through the most recent additions to this social media sharing station from the Comanche Cultural Center. Today as I miraculously view these from 20,000’+ MSL on board a cross-continent flight from New York City to Dallas, Texas, all the faces I see are white. And that is good: I’m glad more people (hopefully of all races) are taking time to learn more about the Comanche people, their history and their culture.

I couldn’t and can’t help thinking, however, what a different “Comanche Moment” most of the white settlers in Texas would have shared in 1836, 1850, or 1877… to randomly pick a few years, if a social media selfie sharing booth had been available anywhere in northern or central Texas. This was and is a moment of historic cognitive dissonance, as the technologies of “modernity” continue to encounter the realities and perceptions of history.

If “becoming farmers” seemed like a ludicrous and almost impossible idea for Comanche Indians in the late 1800s, what challenges to cultural identity are not only present today for living native people in the United States but also for people of other races? The relentless march of technological advances have brought mechanization to the farmer’s “allotment” of the 1887 Dawes Act. We are living now into an era where cities have a magnetic draw for literally millions around the globe, and our rural areas continue to depopulate as cities swell ever larger. Thinking about the challenges Comanche Indians faced in the late 1800s and early 1900s to assimilate into “white society,” the imminent challenges truck drivers will face as self-driving cars and trucks go mainstream in the next decade seem paltry by comparison. Truck drivers “only” face the need to retrain for a new job, not reorient their entire cultural identity and that of their nation.

One last fact before I close this lengthly post and reflection. I learned from the Comanche museum docent that the tribe currently has about 17,000 members. If I’m remembering correctly from Gwynne’s book and other articles I’ve read in past weeks, this is up from a low of about 1500 members at one point. Today’s English WikiPedia article for the Comanche Nation estimates post-contact membership in the late 1800s at approximately 45,000. The docent explained that today, anyone with at least one-eighth Comache blood is or can become a tribal member. This is specifically outlined in the online version of the Comanche Nation’s Constitution. Again, the role and importance of blood and anscestry wasn’t something I thought a lot about before moving to Oklahoma. I’ve definitely been thinking a lot more about this in the past few months.

I will close this post with two images which further juxtapose technological modernity with the history and ongoing story of the Comanche people and “the rest of us” in the southern great plains.

Two Fridays ago as I drove 480 miles from my home to Mo Ranch near Hunt, Texas, I downloaded Gregory Moore’s “Texas Historical Marker Guide” app on my iPhone shortly after crossing the Red River and entering the geographic boundaries of Texas. As a result, throughout my journey down through historic Comancheria, I read and heard about historic encounters between early Texas settlers and the native people who had lived there first like this. As a storychaser and student of history, it’s a wonderful thing when technology can bring both historic context and stories to a geographic location. I’m thankful to live in our “modern age” when this is possible, but of course for MANY, MANY other reasons which my enlarged understanding of history helps me appreciate.

On that recent journey across historic Comancheria, in addition to stopping at the Comanche Cultural Center I also filled my car with gasoline and purchased lunch at the Comanche Travel Center just north of the Red River. On the wall of the travel center, the official logo of the “Comanche Nation: Lords of the Plains,” are juxtaposed on an image gallery with photos of South American coffee beans and filled coffee cups.

Trek Across Comancheria

We live in times of rapid change, but I wonder if the level of cultural change with which we’re confronted in 2017 approaches the stark scale faced by members of the Comanche Tribe in the late 1800s? I don’t think it does. Stone age meets second wave industrialization and pioneer settlement is a much bigger contrast to, “you grew up with a Sony Walkman and now you’ve got a supercomputer in your pocket.”

Add “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” by S. C. Gwynne (@scgwynne) to your future reading list. It’s guaranteed to give you a rich platter of food for thought. And count your blessings. I’m immensely thankful “sharing my Comanche moment” means something completely different to me than it would have to Ranald Mackenzie. His name and historic contributions to our nation and military history, by the way, deserve more attention than that accorded to George Armstrong Custer. If you’re not sure why, get to reading and researching! You’ve got some important learning waiting for you in the annals of North American military history.

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Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Podiant: A Great Platform for Podcasting and Migrated Podcasts

Over the past 10+ years our family members have recorded a lot of podcast episodes in different places using different apps and websites. My all-time favorite remains AudioBoom (previously AudioBoo) where we still have 227 episodes available online. Some of my favorites there include:

  1. “USS Arizona Impressions” (very touching spiritual insights from a 6 year old)
  2. “Flamingos at the zoo” (hilarious example of why we need to ask others to check their perceptions of reality, and why when audio recording with kids “the good stuff usually comes at the end”)
  3. “Why I am Mulan for Halloween” (just plain cute)
  4. “Hallelujah – I’m Ready! by The Soggy Bottom Boys of Edmond” (one of the best days of our Friday morning men’s group EVER!)

We also recorded a few podcasts over the years using the iPhone app Opinion, which (like AudioBoom) provided free podcast audio file hosting. As of November 1, 2017, however, Opinion is discontinuing its hosting. For that reason, I migrated our family podcasts on Opinion over to Podiant, so they are now accessible on learningsigns.podiant.co. This was a wonderfully easy (and FREE) process, since we could directly import all the audio files and meta info from the RSS feed. (Episode titles, episode art, podcast show art, etc.)

Just in case AudioBoom goes offline at some point, and to have a backup, I also imported all our AudioBoom podcasts over to Podiant, so those are now available on audioboom.podiant.co. I am OVER THE MOON with how easy this import and migration process was and is with Podiant! A thousand thank you’s to Joe Dale (@joedale) who alerted me to Podiant, and to Mark Steadman (@iamsteadman), the creator and developer of Podiant.

Another alternative platform with podcast import functionality (but not free) is Fireside. I’ve added both of these to the “Radio Shows” page of ShowWithMedia.com.

Tonight I’ve also migrated some other podcasts hosted by Opinion to Podiant, including:

  1. My wife’s (@sfryer) classroom podcast, “Casady News 12” (formerly the “Room 108 Podcast from Oklahoma City”
  2. The “Casady Voices” podcast channel I started last year, also linked from our “Casady Learning Showcase” website

Long live podcasting and Podiant!

* Cross-posted to “Learning Signs” (our family learning blog) as “Learning Signs Podcasts Migrated and Backed Up to Podiant.”

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Thankful for Brave First Responders in Las Vegas

The 13 minute segment from last night’s 60 Minutes show, “Storming Room 135,” is #MustWatch television.

I’m on the safety committee at our school and we’ve both talked and researched / read quite a bit about responding to “active shooter” incidents. I know from this work as well as discussions with law enforcement officials that the modus operandi in an active shooter incident has changed universally now: The focus for law enforcement and others with the means and ability to do so is to confront the shooter(s) with lethal force as soon as possible. Statistically speaking this is the most likely way to end the incident and save lives. As was the case in Las Vegas a week ago, often shooters choose to take their own lives when confronted with deadly force from others.

We should all be thankful and extremely appreciative of the brave actions of the 5 law enforcement officials who were, on their own initiative and on an ad-hoc basis, able to form a team and confront the Las Vegas shooter within 12 minutes after he started firing on the crowd below. Their selfless and brave actions likely saved the lives of thousands of others, according to the Las Vegas police chief also interviewed in the 60 Minutes segment.

Sadly, I agree with the analysis of James Fallows in The Atlantic (“Two Dark American Truths From Las Vegas: On the certainty of more shootings”) that we are not likely to see these dynamics change in the USA. We can try to speak out and support gun control, but so many factors are stacked in place that even successful advocacy on the gun control policy front is unlikely to stop people with the motivation to commit crimes like this from obtaining the means to do so.

My purpose in sharing this post was not to focus on the policy imperatives which this situation highlights but rather the outstanding courage of the first responders interviewed in this 60 minutes segment. In the finest traditions of law enforcement and military service, these brave men stepped into the line of fire so others can live. Let us give thanks for their sacrifices and the willingness of first responders everywhere to make sacrifices like this for the safety of us all.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?