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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What is a mashup? Google-led Socratic teaching



I was listening to the Inside the Net Version 13 podcast about a new use of technologies called "Mashup" during my planning period as I was grading papers. (This is new, the wikipedia article was created on September 19, 2005)

We had an assembly and so I ended up with two fifteen minute class periods and fifty minute lesson plans. Problem or opportunity? Opportunity!

Here is how I lead what I call a Google-led Socratic discussion of a new technology!

1 - As I listened to the podcast (and graded) I kept a pen and paper handy and wrote down keywords. I did a little Googling to check out the sites before I used them in class.

2 - I created a mashup wiki page on our wikispace. I split the students into teams and had them research the following words:
3 - I guided them in a class discussion which I recorded to podcast to my other computer science class. The sound isn't edited but you can hear what we discovered.

4 - After the discussion, I had them start posting their findings on the Mashup Madness wiki.

Now, what is a mashup?
I'm a newbie at this, so here is my simple understanding.

Google Earth, Amazon, and others want people to use the massive amounts of information stored in their online databases so they write these things called API's. These helper programs allow others to interact with, search, and publish information from their database onto a new site. These databases can be put together in new ways, thus creating a "mashup" of information from various sources.

Here are the examples we discussed.


This won the word "Best of Mashup Camp." This is a site created by three Florida guys who work at a university in Florida. It searches the EVDB database, a database that lists concerts and happenings all of the world. Out of this database it extracts information about upcoming concerts.

Then, it matches that information with information in another database that has info on the band, band website, etc. and links it to MP3's of the band!

But the power is in the RSS. You can subscribe to your city's podbop RSS feed and you will find out about concerts as soon as they are announced and have an MP3 clip delivered to you so that you can listen to it and book your tickets!

All of this done by three guys who have a full time job doing something else. No IPO. No vaporware. Just a great program that works!

This website takes information from their city's reported crime database and plots it on Google earth. You can see the latest crimes and where they occurred! Talk about something that will change real estate and cause an upheaval. This single concept will transform cities and even where people park their cars. Look at the map of first degree murders in Chicago. Do you see patterns?

What a great discussion for a government class. How will such information change the ways that cities are run? How will public crime information change society? Wow!

This is very cool and has been added in forms to the classblogmeister screen and in other places. This searches all of your old posts and creates a tag cloud that lets people see what you are blogging about and go to those posts. This is an easy way to search.

The only problem is, I've been waiting for my tag cloud for several days to be built. I will post it on this website when it is done. There are other services that provide this type of service as well. This is how the tag cloud looks for slashdot.

How does this relate to my current curriculum?
I just completed a module on Access XP with my ninth grade. I was able to relate this to what I've already taught them about queries and XML. The light bulb went on!

My Computer Science class will begin HTML programming next week and I was able to talk a little about XML and HTML. I hope you'll listen to their quick, five minute class discussion. They are so great!

No time is wasted!
So, teacher, do not waste a minute! Technology is one of the most exciting, thrilling things I've ever encountered and I am passionate about teaching students to learn, change, and adapt quickly. I want to encourage questioning minds and an evolving thought process as the world changes rapidly around them.

You don't have to be a supergeek to lead a Google-enabled Socratic discussion of technology! Listen to a podcast or read your bloglines to learn about new stuff and take your students to the bleeding edge!

I tell students it is the bleeding edge because sometimes we make a "bloody mess" of things as we sort through the web sites and misinformation that is posted. It takes a while, but it provides a great opportunity to teach them about the authority of sources, etc.


Stay inspired. Find something new in your field and take your students in the computer lab. Learn with them and guide the discussion based on your knowledge base! This is how you stay young!

My students were so excited, they didn't want to leave. Some of them returned later to discuss it some more! They are going home to do research! I'm going home to mashup... some potatoes!

Keep the faith!

One note: The Inside the Net Podcast is a good one for anyone keeping up with technology. It does have a "geeky" flair to it and some adult themes (it talks about a beer finding mashup too) so I never let my students listen in. I however, use their information all the time!

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