Sun(Fun)day Night: Tech Breakthroughs Giving Animals the Power to Speak

It’s a bit late on Sunday evening, but I wanted to stay consistent and get this post out to you. Wherever you are, I hope you had as beautiful weather as we did here in Central Ohio – it was over 70 degrees and sunny on Saturday!

The always interesting Wired, has an interesting article entitled “Tech Breakthroughs are Giving Animals the Power to Speak”. It’s not really funny – although I do like the article’s image featured above.

It is pretty cool to think that animals, especially service ones, are beginning to be equipped with “wearables” which will allow them a basic level of verbal communication with humans. One situation in which this could be life-saving is:

IMAGINE YOU’RE A DIABETIC and you use a service dog trained to alert you if it senses your blood sugar is falling. These dogs are incredibly useful, because diabetics can lapse into “hypoglycemia unawareness,” where they don’t notice their own oncoming symptoms. The canines do, and they intervene. But sometimes a diabetic shock can emerge so suddenly the human passes out. Then the dog’s in a quandary: How does it go for help? Because dogs can’t talk.

Unless they’re sporting a wearable computer that helps dogs communicate with humans. Melody Jackson, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech, has been outfitting service dogs with computerized vests, so that in an emergency they can find another human and pull a mechanical lever on the vest that triggers an audio message: My handler needs you to come with me!

When people hear this for the first time, “they jump back 3 feet, because the dog is talking,” Jackson says, laughing.

Although dogs are the main animals for the focus of tech for communicating with humans, the article mentions that dolphins are being equipped in this way too.

You can learn more about this use of technology with animals from the TED Talk below:


Thanksgiving Reading?

Back in the day when the best way to watch movies at home was to schlep to the video store, I worked in one of those now nearly extinct stores. The busiest days of the year for rentals were the day before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Apparently, turkey and a movie (as you fall asleep on the couch) was a special, annual treat.

Now, with so many ways to stream movies, TV and more entertainment whenever and wherever you want, I wonder if turkey then a watching a movie from your love seat is still part of many people’s plans. Might the ubiquitous RedBox machines see lines and shortages today?

While my family and I are planning on the special treat of going out to a movie tomorrow after dinner, I’m not looking forward to watching anything over the long weekend. Rather, I have some books ready to be read during these holidays I’m not grading or preparing for class.

If you’re like me, here’s some lists which may help guide your selections:

50 Super Smart Books for Everyone on Your List

We Read All 20 National Book Award Nominees for 2015 – Here’s What We Thought

Top 10 Books: The Girard Option of Interdisciplinary Influence

100 Novels All Kids Should Read Before Leaving High School

(Here’s the Top Ten from this list)

1 Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (free eBook, Audiobook & study resources)

2 To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (free eBook)

3 Animal Farm, by George Orwell (free eBook)

4 Lord Of The Flies, by William Golding (Amazon)

5 Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck (Amazon)

6 The Harry Potter series, by J K Rowling (Amazon)

7 A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (free eBook)

8 The Catcher In The Rye, by J D Salinger (Amazon)

9 Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (free eBook)

10 Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen (free eBook)

OR: The 100 Best Novels Written in English

Here are the Best Books from 2015 So Far (in August)

Black Girls Matter: A YA Reading List

All the Most Thrilling Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming this Fall

You Must Read These Five Books Which Will Totally Transform Your Classroom

And if you read any of these books, will you be able to talk about it with colleagues via an on-line book club?

Regardless of what you read, will you choose it by its cover? If so, here’s some fascinating research on that very topic.

Or maybe you’d like to read this short story composed entirely of 5,000 “tag lines” from movies.

Would this be fiction or non? If the former, reading it can actually transform the functioning of your brain.

Maybe you’d like to read not an ebook on your tablet, but an interactive, digital book. Here’s 10 of the best of this emerging genre.

Or perhaps you’ll tell stories at the dinner table. Research shows that it makes kids voracious readers!

And after dinner, maybe watch a TED Talk or two:

10 of Our Favorite Literary TED Talks from 2015

Finally, perhaps the weather will be nice and you’ll take a walk, bring your smart phone and stream free audio books or listen to any of these 25 Outstanding Podcasts for Readers



Headspace Free Trial & Videos

Recently I described how I used the Headspace app to help my students learn how to mindfully meditate at the start of each class period.

On my own, it took me a few more than ten days to complete the free trial of ten sessions.  Although I am now meditating using a different app with nature sounds, I can highly recommend the Headspace trial.

After signing up with an email address and password (or signing in with your facebook account), you can access the ten free sessions. Don’t worry, no credit card is required at this point.

The screen looks like this, via a web browser on a computer:

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Click on session one and a cute, 1 1/2 minute animate will begin.  If you want to jump right to the audio for the first session, close the video and proceed.

There is also a free iPad/iPhone app that you can download via the App Store.  Search under “Headspace.”  You won’t see it on the screen that comes so you need to change the search to “iPhone only” (upper left side).  You’ll then see the app and have the ability to download it.  After signing into it (with a username/password you’ve set up through the website), you can access the 10 free sessions.

Image of HeadSpace App


And here’s links to some YouTube videos featuring Andy and the Headspace content:

Andy TED Talk

What are the benefits of meditation?

The mind as a blue sky

Expectation in meditation

Teaching Students About Mindful Breathing & Meditation

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been learning about the many benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  At the start of Advent last December I began a practice in my classes which I hoped would prepare students for Christmas.  During the first six to ten minutes of class, I had them use their iPads (as my classroom is essentially paperless) to write in a private Gratitude Journal while quiet music played.  After they completed this, they were to close their eyes and focus on their breathing.  As I wasn’t sure if I’d continue this class time after Christmas Break, I didn’t offer them much instruction in mindful breathing beyond a few simple suggestions.

On the day after break, I gave my students a short, confidential, Google Survey – a few questions and space for an extended response.  You can see the results and comments here:

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I was pleasantly surprised – more than 80% of my students felt we should continue the gratitude journal/mindful meditation time (and a slightly higher percentage wanted to continue the later than the former).

I knew I needed to teach the students more about how to practice mindful meditation.  So I turned to an app/website that I started using recently – Headspace.  While there’s a not-insignificant subscription fee to access all of the resources, they offer a free set of 10 x 10 minutes audio sessions.  I’ve used these sessions and have benefited from them.

During a class period, I started by showing this very short animated video produced by Headspace. I then showed this great, less than 10 minute,TED talk by Andy Puddicombe in which he engagingly articulates how to begin a meditative practice.  For further introduction I showed this animated video by Headspace and concluded with this cute one:

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I then led the students through a 10 minute meditation.  Calmly and quietly, with relaxing music in the background, I walked each of my classes through much of Andy’s direction given in the 10 x 10 minute free sessions.  I could tell by the immediate response on the faces of my students that the time was well spent.

This introduction was more than three weeks ago.  We’ve gotten into a routine now where my students write in their gratitude journal, sit up straight, close their eyes and focus on their breathing (I say these words at the start of each class to remind them of our procedure).  It’s great to see my students doing this and to feel the stillness and calm in the classroom as they are engaging in it.

Now that they can engage in general meditation, I plan to soon connect a number of important Catholic prayer practices to it.  There’s a long tradition of contemplative prayer, centering prayer, lectio divina and Eucharistic Adoration within the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Mindful breath meditation is the foundation upon which these specific practices are built.

About a week or so after I taught the students this practice, I had solid verification of the value of it.  A freshman girl visited me after school and enthusiastically said, “Mr. Kohut, what you taught us about meditation really helped me today.”  She went on to tell me that she’d been asked to read at the funeral service of a friend’s mom.  Not surprisingly, she was extremely nervous about doing this.  But, in her words: “I did the breathing and other things you taught us and I calmed down.  I was able to do the reading and I know my friend really appreciated it.”

My goodness – how rarely I so quickly see the beneficial results of my teaching and have a student express her thanks for it!

I am watching my classes carefully to see how else individuals and the class community are changed by this practice.  I’ll survey the students again at the end of the year to get their thoughts about what they’ve gained.  I imagine though that I’ll see the benefits of the daily mindful meditation and prayer long before I hear about them in a year-end survey. I’ll let you know what I see and hear…


Final 2014 Lists

As promised, here’s a few more 2014 lists to ponder before moving boldly ahead into the rest of 2015:

Five Favorite Resources in 2014 – The first three on her list (Google Apps, Social Media, and Google Voice) are familiar.  She lists Padlet and Graphite as #4 and #5.  I’ve never heard about these tools and her descriptions make me want to check them out.

Reviewing My 2014 “Bold” Predictions for EdTech: Everybody and his brother can make a list of predictions, but how often does the prognosticator go back and honestly assess how well he or she did?  Kudos to this blogger for having the guts to do so.

Best and Worst Education News from 2014: A solid list with many links which was reblogged by the Washington Post

10 Most Popular Educational Tools from 2014: Again, many familiar faces on this list.  Yet, EDpuzzle (to add voice and questions to videos) as well as (to create charts and infographics) are two interesting sounding newcomers.

Year in Ideas 2014: An eight minute summary of the biggest ideas showcased via the increasingly ubiquitous TED Talks.