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Teacher's low-tech laptop hack to display handwritten notes for online class (mothership.sg)
704 points by miles 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 267 comments

My wife is a kindergarten teacher, and has been back at (virtual) teaching now for 2 weeks. Whatever your political persuasion, it’s pretty mind blowing how little the districts prepared for and invested in a virtual year. It’s not exactly like this snuck up on them, we’ve been locked down for 6 months now. You’d think they’d have decided on common software platforms, provided some training for the teachers, something.

Luckily, my wife is fairly tech savvy so is hanging in there, but even just general things like how to have an effective virtual planning meeting is just not something she’s really ever had to do. So I’ve been trying to help her and her coworkers, like recording a half hour video where I just explained all the different capabilities of Zoom, and another where I explained Trello and Google slides.

Just sad how the school administration’s plan boiled down to burying their head in the sand and hoping it would all go away. Really bolsters the narrative that they just don’t care about the teachers.

> it’s pretty mind blowing how little the districts prepared for and invested in a virtual year.

I think you're underestimating the effect of poor direction from their districts, and in turn poor direction to the districts from the state and federal government on this.

Up until a month or so before the start of the school semester, we were still receiving communications about "if we start with in-classroom learning". These schools have set budgets, and large expenditures are planned and paid for over years, and to be faced with a hard fork in the road choice over a summer about whether to put all your eggs into distance learning (when many politicians were vowing students would be in classrooms) or to try for a hybrid approach, or to assume the politicians know what they're talking about and kids will all be in class come late August/early September, it's not hard to see how this situation could turn out as bad as it had.

Extreme circumstances require solid leadership. All it would have taken would have been the President (or even someone high in the Department of Education with the President's blessing, so it wasn't contradicted a day later) to say "we're hoping students will be able to return to class come the start of school, but we're allocating funds and directing districts to prepare for the eventuality that it may not happen, either overall or in their locality." and that clear signal that schools needed to prepare for this and would be supported in doing so would have made all the difference.

This whole year has been a comedy of errors. Like so many of those, what you're really seeing is just a tragedy.

I can't agree here. Boards could have prepared (not spent) by splitting into preparation teams for all three eventualities, producing a plan for each scenario. In each case they could have gathered freely available resources (Youtube videos, websites!) for the associated and chosen technology set. They could have gathered and organized these items into something as free, and as simple as a Microsoft Word document - something they already have. This information could be passed upstream until such time that a decision was made. For those boards that had summer education hours, the time could have been allocated to familiarization with the learning materials and technologies.

I can heartily attest that even boards that were 100% planning on remote learning in April (I'm looking at you TDSB, YRDSB, TCSB in Toronto area) did literally none of this. How do I know - teachers all over the family, and my own efforts to literally help a private school board do this. I'd also note the private board spent zero dollars until the day before the first day of school.

It costs money to purchase things. It costs time to train people. But when you literally have the board "working" during the summer, and not on a curriculum, this is really just an indictment of an inability to organize.

Humans could have come together and agreed we would move entirely to clean sources of power and be 80% of the way there.

That clearly hasn't happened either.

Surely you've been in a meeting room with more than about 5 people? All of those people have conflicting viewpoints, theories about the situation, risk analysis and so on.

Can you imagine being a board member who spent 30% of a school budget on remote learning only to have in-class instruction all year?

Hindsight is 20/20. School budgets are generally tight, their IT teams have less-than-desired-bandwidth, and they've already had to handle costs and challenges with the current situation such as getting mobile hotspots and video conferencing solutions up. Remember that not all kids have laptops or internet at home - and school IT gets to handle that situation too.

> Hindsight is 20/20.

Especially when predicting failure was inevitable after somebody has clearly failed.

Citing a list of challenges (and renewable energy and imagination) is not a proof that failure couldn't have been avoided, it's a version of the "it's all so complicated, we can't say anything because we weren't there" trick. But the fact is that plenty of people understood the challenges, which were not at all new (what was new was the scale), and plenty of people were there (including the person you replied to) and are telling you about the failures that they saw.

I have a family member who is in a school IT department. They spent all summer preparing for remote learning.

Then they spent the last two weeks bulk flashing student laptops and ripping apart streaming servers to restore normal in-person learning because the governor put in a new order.

Anyone can predict that a failure will occur, predicting the specific mode of failure is almost impossible.

I very much agree. The whole situation is just crossing fingers and hoping things will go away as a replacement for pragmatism in the face of no good options. Complete failure of leadership at every single level.

Or really just where the buck is meant to stop.

The problem is that a pandemic is an n-th order effect nightmare, with a distinctly low failure threshold based on covid's epidemiological parameters. A country's commander in chief needs to listen to scientific expertise & provide clear public communication and apolitical leadership to avoid this kind of calamity, which just didn't happen.

If I receive poor direction from leadership, I have two options: say forget it and blame them for my lack of action, or determine my own course to handle the situation. I agree that ultimately, the federal government is to blame. But the fact that almost no one at the state or local levels took some initiative and started preparing for this eventuality tells me that we have no leadership anywhere in the whole system.

My school district in Virginia prepared the best they could. They had previously procured chrome books, just not in the massive numbers needed for every student to have one, which they gave to families on an as needed first come first serve basis back in spring and throughout the summer. They distributed hot spots to students without internet or adequate speeds. They provided lunch through the buses to students that needed them. They spent the summer fighting with other localities to procure as many chrome books as possible for the fall and when they found out they were going to come up short they used funds to make sure atleast everyone had a tablet as a stop gap until the student could receive a laptop. It's not prefect, Google classroom training could be improved, I noticed it was hard to find overall schedules and homework assigned that wasn't meant to be turned in via classroom and have heard younger students especially have trouble with the tablets over laptops, but the first week of class seemed to have gone as well as it could have given the situation.

The response has not been a resounding failure across the board in states that also didn't pretend like the federal government that the virus would just go away and wasn't a real problem. But if there had been a real federal response I'm sure more students would have laptops and internet, online classroom training would be better, and importantly cases would be down and we'd be safer.

Can you imagine beginning Kindergarten as a 5 year old this year? At least many of these kids have grown up around more technology than I did, I'm not sure I had even seen a computer when I was 5. I didn't have one at my house until middle school. How are they supposed to navigate online classes when they can't even read?

The main benefit of school at that age is learning to interact appropriately with your peers and teachers. Hopefully the younger kids are more resilient and adaptive than I'm giving them credit for, because I can't imagine it being anything less than frustrating and depressing for them.

My comment is specifically talking about the experience of fifth grade. Of course a five year old would have more trouble but it's not a wash for all of elementary school in places that decided early they were going to be remote and that they had to prepare the best they could with little federal help.

Yeah, I wasn't criticizing your comment, more observing how difficult things are going to be even in the most prepared districts.

It's no different than it's always been. All of the hard work, planning and preparation has been on the shoulders of teachers for as long as I can remember. They've never had much guidance from leadership, which is often nothing more than a target grade their students have to hit on a standardized test. Up until now the status quo has been fairly consistent, so teachers have been able to informally provide guidance and leadership to each other. Now that things are taking a massive left turn, what is supposed to be the actual leadership is being exposed for what it really is.

Why prepare when you can just bully people into doing what you want (in person school). No options will cause most people to just go along. This is all by design. I plan to vote out every member of my school board except the one guy who actually responded to my emails.

>>or even someone high in the Department of Education with the President's blessing, so it wasn't contradicted a day later

Very good chance of getting contradicted even with the president's blessing, most likely by the president himself.

Education in the United States is run at the local and state level. Also, The US Department of Education can only spend money they has been appropriated by Congress. When Congress hasn’t appropriated federal funds for the US Department of Education to send to local school districts for remote learning, they generally can’t send money no matter how worthy the expenditure would be.

The DoE could have set clear guidelines though- even without money that would have given local boards and teachers something to fall back on. Now pretty much every district has to make their own decisions, which only increases confusion.

More simply, they could have helped coordinate the preparations. Which is the only legitimate function of government. What happened is consistent, though; the Republicans have long made clear their opposition to any federal role in education at all.

well they are basing it on the constitution, which lists no specific power for the federal govt to be involved in education.

I don't understand why in-person and hybrid would be planned separately. Any realistic plan for in-person has to account for periodic positive tests followed by isolation, that is, you have to plan to be able to switch to virtual with little or no notice if one person in a group is infected. If you planned for in-person without also planning for virtual, you weren't actually planning, you were just bullshitting.

Because one has a hard deadline of late August to have enough resources for all children to be remote learning, and the other doesn't. If you are responsible for planning out the next year have another 2-4 weeks to procure what you need, or if the difference between getting them all now on short notice or four weeks from now is a sizable difference in money that your budget can't easily sustain, your decisions are going to be affected by that.

I imagine almost all the people planning this had very little practical experience with remote learning before this, and so had to learn about what it could and could not do well and implement a program to get all these resources to children.

That's something that many people here might be comfortable with, so I can understand why they may think this is the easy part, but let's flip this on it's head. How many people here, if instead of working out a digital solution and delivering to people were asked to work out a solution to have hundreds to thousands of children come in to a physical location, group into assigned categories for teaching, go to their individual rooms in these groups, and receive instruction for hours at a time with periods of play and lunch interspersed?

All the problems you might encounter in that scenario has equivalents for someone migrating from managing a fully in-person based teaching system to a fully, or even partially digital one. Whereas I might have problems knowing how to direct people as they arrive to the correct location effectively and efficiently, in a digital system they need to know how to find the students that are completely list in connecting to the classroom and never show up. Where I might struggle in making sure I had the appropriate staff at the correct locations to teach, they might struggle with the fact that not all students have digital accounts set up needed to connect (and not all parents are responsive to any contact during the summer).

Managing adults where you have a clear channel of communication to them that they are expected to pay attention to because it's their job is hard. I can only imagine what it's like to add a bunch of children in the mix (because you really are dealing with kids AND their parents) and have a sizable portion of the adults likely think "it will work out because it's their job, I'll just pay attention a couple days before school starts and do what they say, it's always worked out before".

I know I didn't want to read all the school emails coming to me over the summer (which reading between the lines mostly seemed to amount to "we're totally screwed but trying our best and we really hope school will be open because we have no idea how to do anything that we might need to".

I think your TL;DR is "shit flows downhill.". Teachers aren't near the top.

Teachers are the ones that have been sitting there for years preventing as much shit as they can from getting on the kids. My mom was a teacher for two decades and I can't tell you how much time and money I saw her and her coworkers put into things like classroom decorations, basic school supplies, textbooks that weren't a decade out of date, and even food and clothing for struggling kids.

Cambridge University fully committed to a full-remote year of teaching back in May. At the time this seemed slightly radical, but really they just gave everyone (students, teachers and administrators) a full 5 months to PLAN around a DECISION.

Meanwhile, other universities like KCL and LSE were still playing "wait and see" until even a few weeks ago.

Even if Cambridge were wrong, and everything is all well and good and we'll be home by Christmas it'll be easier and cheaper to revert back to normal than the clusterfuck that will be going on in places stuck in limbo/denial.

As anyone with some experience knows - trying to plan during instability or planning for two eventualities is basically impossible and a whole bunch of institutions AND countries have pissed away the past 6 months.

Kudos to Cambridge for showing some strong leadership.

Student weren't going to leave Cambridge no matter what. They could offer a subpar year and everyone would still "show up." Same reason Harvard can charge $55k for watching its free videos this year.

In April parents were already talking about "pods" as an alternative to remote learning in K-12 schools.

If the average K-12 school wasn't promising what parents wanted - in person education - the parents would get it somewhere else, pulling their student and the ~10k funding that comes with the student right from the school.

This was the ONLY factor at play and is highly predictive of the preparedness of remote learning at various institutions.

The bigger takeaway is that parents, not students or teachers, are almost always the antagonists.

When the first two cases in my city were reported there was a swirl of questions related to where those people had been and who they had been in contact with. There were no answers. We weren't going to do contact tracing or take any measures to contain this thing. That was the eye-opening moment for me.

We've had 6 months to prepare and instead we spent the summer arguing about masks. Incredible to look back on the lack of leadership and planning at all levels.

Never in my life have I been so disappointed with the people around me.

Never assume malice where incompetence would suffice. I've found it to be generally true that when people don't know how to solve a problem, they will ignore it. This would have been a great time to bring in consultants on remote work. A nationally organized program would have been ideal so you could benefit from scale in doing sessions, and avoid patchwork solutions.

Too bad our DoE is completely dysfunctional, led by a person who likely prefers it not to exist, a pattern for this administration.

I know its cliche to blame the administration but let us be honest here. The Department of Education has rarely been a productive resource with regards to educating in the United States. It has been around since only 1979 and for the most part been just another means for the Administrative branch of the US Government to extend its reach; effectively passing regulations and such without Congressional need. These tend to take the form of "significant guidance letters" and are used as a club to change rules on threat of losing Federal dollars.

The current budget is 81 billion dollars. We have spent more than a trillion on that department since its founding only to see little to no improvements.

If you want to see where most local school systems get in trouble simply look at the lavishness expended on new schools appearances instead of focusing on the needs of students. Where the teacher to non teacher ratio can be upside down yet all funded under the education banner.

The DOE isn't the problem you think it is, it is however nearly entirely useless and like other recently created "Departments" are a means to expand the power of one branch of government at the expense of others.

Agreed, we need a national standard that states need to meet, and not just some test scores.

Suggested standards: max class size

max admin to teacher ratio

standardized pay rate for teachers in each state

standardized credentialing

paid school lunches

standardized mandatory "recess"

standard list of "extras", let clubs handle the non-standard extras

no school sponsored sports, let them be PTO affiliated and funded

mandatory list of supplies for students and teachers.

I think it can be a mixture of both. People who don't have the drive, goodwill, and skills (i.e. incompetance) to take on extra work will sometimes willfully ignore problems (i.e. malice). This only increases in an environment where demand is locked in for whatever reason. And it gets even worse when replacing the supply is hamstrung by bureaucracy.

At what point does being incompetent turn malicious, if you are in a position of leadership? Choosing to continue ignoring a real problem you cannot handle is pretty bad. At least get some advice or allow competent people to take the wheel. Of course in this instance, the blame flows uphill and then falls of a cliff.

I don't think anyone here is claiming that malice is the reason the system is like this. There's so much incompetence from leadership at all levels that the situation we're in now was pretty much inevitable.

It’s both incompetence and complete cowardice in the face of an extreme challenge.

There doesn't seem to be any incentive to do anything different when the failure to deliver doesn't seem to have any punishment. You can just say its inevitable that things are bad and thats good enough.

Exactly. My 8 year old is online and he has at least 8 apps he is responsible for checking or turning in work. And none of them talk to each other but clearly the district signed up for a bunch of different things

> My wife is a kindergarten teacher, and has been back at (virtual) teaching now for 2 weeks. Whatever your political persuasion, it’s pretty mind blowing how little the districts prepared for and invested in a virtual year. It’s not exactly like this snuck up on them, we’ve been locked down for 6 months now. You’d think they’d have decided on common software platforms, provided some training for the teachers, something.

I have to say our school district has been great. They've picked standard central platform (https://www.schoology.com/) that provides all the links the kids need, been training the teachers on them and got them support. Under that portal they've got just a few specific websites that serve a central purpose. Teachers are allocating work under one portal, though it might mean they need to go use a special interactive maths website or something on another site, but they have SSO working so it's smooth and effortless. It did take a long time for the state to make decisions and make proper resources available, which severely tied the school district's hands, but they did their best to assume the most pessimistic situation they could and worked towards that while waiting for the funds to be released for more.

Apart from the screw ups around initial passwords on email accounts it has been an incredibly smooth process. My 3rd grade kid hasn't had to seek help from us for the technical side at all after initial logging in.

This is an aside, but is there a curriculum in kindergarten in your country? Kindergartens were closed for a couple of months in my country, but there were no virtual "teaching" at all. I don't know what in the lords name my kids would get out of any virtual teaching. It's not like it's a school where there's things to learn. They mostly play outside and at most learn to sit by a table and eat a meal, to get dressed and put on their shoes and how to hold a pencil. And stuff like that.

I find it interesting how different pre-school is in different countries.

What you think of as kindergarten would be termed daycare in the US, or potentially preschool, depending on the age of the children.

In the US, kindergarten is the first year of compulsory education - traditionally children would go for half a day, but I think more and schools offer it as a full day now to take into account having both parents in the workplace.

> In the US, kindergarten is the first year of compulsory education

Usually, not.

It's generally the first year of free, available education which most people take advantage of because it's free.

First grade is usually the first year of compulsory education (e.g., in California a student must be admitted to kindergarten at parent request if they turn 5 before September 1 of the school year and to transitional kindergarten if they turn 5 between September 2 and December 2, but compulsory education starts at age 6.)

This is the first time I’ve heard of kindergarten being less time in school than any of the other grades. I went 30+ years ago, and never heard of anyone going for half a day.

Some states in the U.S. only fund 1/2 day kindergarden. Full day exists, but requires the parents to pay more for that.

Used to be half a day in my time. I suspect it is different in different countries.

I was in kindergarten in the early 90s and it was a half day. The school had two sessions though, so half the kids had morning classes, the other half had afternoon classes.

Other countries have "daycare" style unstructured environments for children up to age 7 though, which would encompass US kindergarten age.

In some states 1st grade or age 7 is when you have to go to school

My mother is a kindergarten teacher and was "teaching remotely", which was pretty much setting up a shared google drive with parents, sharing with them weekly activities and then asking the parents to send pictures/videos of the kids performing the activities.

There is indeed a curriculum here. It's obviously pretty lightweight and not very strict, but kids are expected to know things like animal names/sounds, the ABC, have some musical/coordination skills...

The US has decided that the way to increase the educational opportunity of disadvantaged kids is to put them into school earlier and earlier- there are programs which put kids into public education as early as 3 years old. The fear of 'falling behind' other countries has turned Kindergarten from an optional half-day of play and socialization to a full day program with a real curriculum- not just basic reading/math but in many cases science and social studies standards.

The unspoken implication here, which I've always found to be an ethical nightmare, is that the intellectual and activist classes in America have quietly decided that poor families are incapable of raising their children properly, so the state should step in and do it "correctly".

It is perfectly acceptable in educated circles in the U.S. to state that kids from "disadvantaged families", should be taken out of their families' homes from 7 AM to 7 PM to get "additional enrichment opportunities", in other words, raised by the state.

It may well be that you could increase grades and test scores this way, but I have some serious issues with the degree to which we're comfortable separating children from their families, because we've decided that we know what's best for everyone.

Reminds me of how the American government made a big push in the second half of the 19th century to remove Native American children from their homes and send them to boarding schools to "civilize" them.

> Reminds me of how the American government made a big push in the second half of the 19th century to remove Native American children from their homes and send them to boarding schools to "civilize" them.

One great resource to get your toes wet on this topic is to read the "Neither Dog nor Wolf" series by Kent Nerburn [1].

I was going to link to the Goodreads for the books, but when I went there just now it had full page ads that completely changed the styling of the page. So f that.

[1] https://kentnerburn.com/books/

People can't complain about achievement gaps and then also complain about the only ways to lower them. When one parent is in prison and the other is working nonstop, how is a kid supposed to learn from their parents all the things kids are expected to know by kindergarten?

I wasn't complaining about the achievement gap. I think we're placing far too much emphasis on academic performance at the expense of the individual families and certain social classes and cultures, all the while pretending that the very significant moral questions around this approach don't exist.

If we're going to have the state effectively raise the children of certain social classes in the name of academic and economic achievement, we need to be clear as day and openly state exactly what we are doing, and why we think it's the right thing to do.

My guess is that we haven't had this conversation thus far because to do so would reveal the arrogance of the educated classes in the U.S. and show folks just how little the elites think of them and their families.

In northern Europe 90+% of children between 1 and 6 attends daycare. Both the very rich and the very poor. It's a very good way for the kids to learn critical social skills and having fulfilling days. But I do appreciate the huge differences between the US and Europe, both in the labor market, family and welfare.

> complain about the only ways to lower them.

When you say "the only way", you are ignoring other solutions

> When one parent is in prison and the other is working nonstop

Should we be putting that parent in prison? Should we be forcing the other parent to work nonstop to provide for their family?

IMO in a complex, vicious feedback loop like this (namely, cultural and systemic discrepancies in outcomes and opportunities), you have to use every solution, weighted for effectiveness and weighted against backlash and unintended consequences. In some cases you really want state-provided educational daycare. In some you really want the parents to have more time with the kids, in some you really don't (I know personally of some cases in rural "red neck" towns where kids' parents were the worst influence in their lives). If non-violent parents are put in prison, that's a problem. If violent parents are not put in prison, that is also a problem. You have to address peer influences. You have to support families who have the potential to do well. You have to improve access to means of family planning (education, birth control, etc.). You have to try to persuade people to do things differently than the way that keeps them in poverty. You have to do all of these things.

And the school days have gotten longer and longer, and the homework both far heavier and far easier at the same time. They're optimizing for control, not education. The US upper-middle classes value themselves so highly that they think that total control by middle management will inevitably breed success.

Remote kindergarten? What's the point?

Cynically, keeping kids occupied so that parents can work. This is also (IMO) why in my country (NL) and others they are and have been so pushy on opening up the schools again, because it's a hit on employee availability and productivity.

The other less cynical factor of course is kids' education, but at the same time, ours was homeschooled for a while during the pandemic before the summer vacation and he's learned a lot more and more broad things than he did in his own school (history through youtube, music / singing er... also through youtube, maths, etc)

Remote kindergarten does not make it easier on parents, it makes it harder. It is parents who have to manage start times, end times, muting, general helping when kid minimizes app.

It is also parents who have to redirect kid back as the kid looses attention and wanders away (completely normal at kindergarten age).

My kids aren't quite kindergarten age yet but I doubt they won't need attention just because there is an online class. Better off sticking them in front of khan academy or similar.

No, the cynical take is "because they need funding".

> they just don’t care about teachers

I think you mean, they don’t care about students? Because that’s truly who is hurt here.

> > they just don’t care about teachers

> I think you mean, they don’t care about students? Because that’s truly who is hurt here.

It is true in some transitive sense that the people making these decisions don't care about students, but insisting on that phrasing seems either hostile to, or at least minimising of the importance of and impact on, teachers.

The school or district administration's role is to care for the students, yes, but (at least in the classroom) they do that indirectly, by choosing, training, and equipping skilled and qualified teachers.

An administration who is showing contempt for its teachers is thus, indirectly, showing contempt for its students; but it's directly showing contempt for its teachers, and cutting them out of the story says that the harm they experience is not important. Teachers already are, like so many essential workers, expected to do their job endlessly without any commensurate reward; what is the point of denying the harm (for example, by saying or implying that they aren't truly hurt) that is done to them when they are not given even the basic tools to translate their passion for teaching and care for their students into commensurate results?

(I would also be opposed to someone responding to claims of harm to the students by saying "why not focus on the teachers?—they're the ones who are truly hurt." There's no monopoly on suffering; we can acknowledge one group's suffering without pretending that they're the only ones.)

I don’t think you have to go that deep. We can simply say they don’t care at all.

If we’re hair picking students vs. teachers then it is likely political distinction.

I mean, for every 20-30 kids, there’s also an adult trying to educate them. Everyone’s fucked in the situation, and all you need to do is follow the money to understand the motivations. For example, my wife has to take real time attendance on a zoom call every morning in a 30 minute window, when everything else can be asynchronous. Why? Because schools are funded by attendance of the students, and they couldn’t be bothered to think of an alternative way to handle things.

Not that your wife can do anything about it, but...

My daughter has been doing online school for two years now with a school system that has been online only for about 10 years.

Their hack was to give the kids one assignment per day. A missed assignment = 1 absence. An assignment turned in a day late = 1 tardy. The teachers post the weeks assignments on weekend (before Monday morning) and it's up to the kids to determine when/how they will get them done (which is why she attends this school, as it gives her a lot of flexibility to do the other things she is interested in).

> my wife has to take real time attendance on a zoom call every morning in a 30 minute window

Holy crap this is an incredibly stupid thing to be forced to do.

The teachers will work themselves into an early grave just to help the kids. Nobody's doing that for teachers. Teachers are more at risk of actually dying when in-person learning is forced on them as some school districts have done. And they have their livelihood to think about (many live a little more than paycheck to paycheck).

Comparatively, the kids aren't dying, they don't have bills to pay, they don't work overtime. Their parents may even be able to pull them from school, or homeschool. Worst case they might be held back a year.

The students will survive this, but the teachers literally might not.

hundereds of people a weel in the US die driving, many of them going to and from work.

Hundreds of working people also die from floods, too. I'm not sure why that's relevant here, though. Are you against traffic laws and flood control?

Will not protecting teachers from covid somehow keep them from getting in traffic accidents? I suspect the opposite is true.

This is almost a hysterical response, there are so many more dangerous jobs where people actually die but because they are not academics no one literally ever cared. Thinking covid is some grave danger to teachers now when we know about the disease is insane.

The point is we accept a certain level of risk in going to work.

The point you've just tried to make is that it's fine to force teachers to risk death in a classroom, because they might also get hit by a car driving into work? You need to work on your rhetoric.

We force people to risk death driving to work, why is covid different?

Because people shouldn't have to increase their risk of death significantly just to have the privilege of having housing and food. The comparison is ridiculous. It's like saying, you already have a low risk of death by colon cancer, so why not eat things that dramatically increase your risk of cancer. Do you want them to die?

Can't it be both? I think it's both.

It seems like they're focused on politics, since that's what gets them paid. If school choice comes around, they'll probably change their priorities.

My wife works at an institute for higher education that's allowed to call itself "university of applied sciences" abroad. Their board has come up with the silliest of policy documents over the summer, which can almost be summarized as "strive for high quality education, and keep safe", leaving all of the practical matters to be decided in 2 weeks time by the department heads. There didn't even think of some way to coordinate head counts among departments that share buildings. On their website's front page, there's a link "Corona virus -> read more", which gives a 404. That's a "university".

Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, apparently become director of education.

It's sad how unprepared districts were over this summer when they could have been prioritizing and figuring out solutions. Within about 2 hours of working through workflows I was able to help out a family member in primary education figure out what could be bought to buy and what kinds of questions to ask their administration.

In the end we made a high value and bang-for-your-buck setup by purchasing great but older and used components such as a 1920x1200 IPS U2412m monitor off ebay for $99. A ring light with camera mount, Apple Pencil, AirServer for showing the iPad on screen and being able to cast. Amongst other components I wasn't using and let them borrow like a Apple Trackpad and wireless keyboard.

The thing that saddened me was teachers who only found out weeks before the start of school were having to figure out their setups and were unaware of how technology could be integrated for a benefit and didn't know what they didn't know. Stuff like using an iPad with an Apple Pencil and AirServer on a mac to cast a lesson drawn onto the desktop and then share that with a zoom meeting.

>It’s not exactly like this snuck up on them, we’ve been locked down for 6 months now. You’d think they’d have decided on common software platforms, provided some training for the teachers, something.

In Germany we have the same problem. A side effect of our politicians not wanting to modernize anything fundamental in the education system for years.

Hell, Bavaria still bans cellphones in schools.

It is kind of sad, but according to my observations the age of the children is proportional to the degree of organization and proactivity shown by their teachers.

Of course, administration could and should have helped. And maybe I am not seeing a lot of things going on, but I did not notice teachers organising themselves, sharing materials or video lectures, or curating literature for their students.

The frustrating aspect of remote schooling is that there are thousands of underemployed teachers, there is a network that allows every one of them to reach out to millions of students. And yet all I ever heard was about single teachers being stressed to prepare and correct exercises for the maybe 100 students the would have met in-person otherwise.

Thankfully our county did prepare and I’m actually fairly impressed because I’m hearing horror stories from other friends in different counties. It would have been extremely helpful if our Department of Education was out ahead of this, instead Betsy DeVos has been absent while the President has been saying we need to have kids back in person. Absence of leadership is the theme of this administration. I’m not sure how anyone in the world can look at the US as a leader anymore.

Our school district, LAUSD, spent most of the summer arguing with their union and even delayed roll out of the program citing "we've finally come to an agreement with the union about...".

Regardless, I do think teachers are putting up with a lot and likely stressed more than usual while their leaders fail miserably.

Consider posting your tutorial on YouTube for other teachers to watch and spread.

A teacher friend's district claimed to be investing in training their teachers, but all it boiled down to was a high level overview of google docs, with no guidance on adapting a curriculum.

Every part of our government failed with this pandemic. From federal to state to county, no one really took it seriously. Both sides fucked this one up.

The common software platforms like google meet, seesaw and even zoom are not sufficient.

My partner graduated as a primary school teacher at the end of last year, and this pandemic bs has caused her to not have a single day of work since March or April. Casual days were just starting to pick up but after lockdown there has been no casual work at all.

>> it’s pretty mind blowing how little the districts prepared for and invested in a virtual year.

Is it? I have two kids in grade school and it was eminently obvious. My partner thought they'd get their shit together and was shocked when they didn't; school year delayed, laptops not ready (we live in a lower income area, not all families have means to afford devices), and the teachers completely unprepared to adapt to online learning.

I told my partner we should move the kids into private schooling that was prepared for it or just home school for a year while keeping them enrolled in the district to keep tax money local. They said to give the school a chance.

Government-run services are incredibly awful at adapting to anything in a "short" period of time, time and time again. Try getting permits for a house or business. Anyone who runs a small business inherently understands how generally useless government agencies are.

I didn’t mean I was expecting them to nail it and am surprised they didn’t, I meant my mind was blown that they whiffed so hard that it doesn’t seem like they even swung the bat.

My kids use an educational app series called Osmo, which comes with a reflector like this for iPad (1). Field of view and distortion may be an issue, but I bet a vendor could easily make something similar designed for this use case.

It also looks like there are $6 clip-on mirrors (2) that would also do an admirable job, perhaps with more stability and control than the pencil-balancing trick.

(1) Osmo - Base for iPad https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B07JNZ4J67/

(2) Flexible 4" Clip On Mirror for Computer Monitor - Convex Desk Mirror to See People Behind You - Perfect in Any Office Cubicle Environment https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B078NB3JV2/

> but I bet a vendor could easily make something similar designed for this use case.

True, but this cost the teacher zip (assuming supplies on hand) instead of $38US.

Clever. But also tragic. The poor teachers who have been caught in the middle of all this really make me feel sad.

Teaching is already a rough gig, and being forced to improvise with limited to no support from communities, schools, or governments.

Being forced to improvise with limited support is a fairly normal situation for teachers tbh.

I had to buy pens for white boards even though I was volunteering to help students prepare to university exams as a math/physics teacher, I wasn't getting a single penny and I had to pay for minimal resources because they were only available for free for the hired teachers.

I have nothing but a giant respect for teachers that are usually underpaid for the giant importance that they carry on their shoulders, a good teacher can help completely change the life of their students.

I know of teachers buying all sorts of stuff for school, or for specific children.

Cheap sports shoes so the poor kid isn't left out after he lost his shoes but can't afford new ones, pens etc for children who lose them and don't have friends who will lend them one, tampons or sanitary towels for girls whose parents refuse to accept she's growing up.

Example article on this: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/nearly-1-in-10-school...

...in some countries like the USA, India, Nigeria... Typically governments find education a good area to invest in (including two of the three counties I used as examples).

That is precisely why it is tragic.

But should it be is more the point I think GP was making?

No, it obviously shouldn't. Just because I replied, doesn't mean I disagreed with the comment I was replying to.

K-12 is a terrible system in the US which seems entirely reliant on the desperation of people who devoted 4-8 years of education to retain their jobs in a very limited market.

Maybe the teacher used this because it’s actually simple and using specialized hardware would be just waste and hassle?

I mean maybe. But a basic Wacom is like $100. Surely that would be preferable?

Well yeah, but they would need the software as well, and instead of just shifting a mirror they would have to work that software in combination with their webcam etc. There's arguments to be made in favor of simple hardware solutions.

Anyway as others have pointed out, if the schools won't fund that, should the teachers be shelling out for supplies like that themselves? Where's the excessively rich tech companies now? They could do some dank virtue signaling and give free hardware to teachers for example. They've earned tens of billions in the past month anyway, if the government isn't doing anything for society, it's down to the companies.

Maybe. Maybe not. Introducing new hardware comes with its own logistical issues (from validation of which tablet to choose and figuring out if it even works with the hardware teachers are using, to purchasing, to distribution and training of teachers, to tech support, etc.). It's something that has to be thought through and managed. Given how fast the entire society had to pivot to remote learning, it's also unfair to expect everyone to have it figured out. Maybe Wacom tablets DO make sense, but how the heck do you just figure that out when you're scrambling to just get the basics sorted out? Also, I'm not sure there would be an improvement.

... And you don't even know if this is a problem you need to solve. Did you do an analysis to see if a) this is a wide-scale problem and b) that an expensive hardware solution is the actual answer versus, say, shipping an extra webcam that teachers can position in any way they want, or shipping a cheap plastic clip with a mirror that replicates what this teacher did.

Honestly I don't think so.

I don't think taping a CD to a laptop is perfect, but you can imagine all the technical difficulties that come from using something like a Wacom tablet like home, right?

Drivers/software/OS support for the tablet? What program do they use to write in? How do they share that with attendees? How reliable is all this?

There's a simplicity to keeping it completely analogue which has much less failure scenarios. I don't have a link, but a saw a tweet where a teacher (?) had 3D printed a mount for a mirror to put on the laptop lid, a more polished version of this same thing, basically an overhead projector for a webcam.

I don't seem a Wacom providing $100 of extra value compared with a working solution that is free.

It's free only if you discount the teacher's time.

You'd also need to account for the time it'd take to set up and learn to use a Wacom tablet though, which is likely longer than the time it'd take to tape a pencil and a CD to a laptop. This just shows the Wacom tablet is even more expensive.

Point taken, but distributing a new piece of hardware to thousands of teachers does require logistical planning, and at the teacher level .. it will require training and support. Some teachers will still take time to adjust their teaching methodology and will struggle and therefore will take time.

So no, Wacom tablets are not a magic time-saver that protects teachers time. In fact, it may the case you shipped Wacom tablets and this teacher STILL chooses to use this low-tech approach. Why? Because you didn't do your due diligence and just assumed Wacom tablets will solve this problem and you have ZERO evidence for that.

Right now, we're in just scrambling to get the basics sorted out. I think you do want to give teachers some flexibility in figuring out the last mile of this process and potentially roll out things that work, into general policies later ... because there is no way a school board can think through all the challenges.

A wacom provides a ton of value that you can't just get on pen and paper. The ability to have infinite space in teaching is extremely useful.

> A wacom provides a ton of value that you can't just get on pen and paper.

I had teachers who I know for a fact had wacom tablets available, as they taught the photography/graphics course, who still chose to use pencil and paper. I have to assume therefore that there is some benefit to using pencil and paper over a wacom.

I am not denying the value of a Wacom tablet, I'm simply considering the teachers' salaries, and comparing the cost of a $100 Wacom tablet with a free CD and pencil plus a $1 notebook.

"working solution that is free"

With this ingenious level of analysis we'd still be banging rocks together to make fire.

Aside from ethics, a class of kids represents millions of future earnings and GDP, this warrants serious approach and best tools money can buy.

Instead education is still stuck in 18th century and we have to put up with ridiculius aruments about petty expences.

> Aside from ethics, a class of kids represents millions of future earnings and GDP, this warrants serious approach and best tools money can buy.

Indeed it does. Let's start with paying the teachers more instead of assuming they should pay out of pocket, then, we can have districts pay for the teaching supplies... Oh wait, that all costs tax dollars? Never mind, carry on.

Edit: Also, I had teachers who I know for a fact had wacom tablets available, as they taught the photography/graphics course, who still chose to use pencil and paper. I have to assume therefore that there is some benefit to using pencil and paper over a wacom. This being the case, why on earth would they spend more money?

It's entirely possible they weren't comfortable using a tablet input, or even wanting to learn how to use one. I've seen this firsthand, numerous times in more numerous careers.

Either way, it's important to teach children to use technology so they aren't lost when entering higher education or career environments that will use said technology.

This teacher spent more than three years convincing the district to purchase the wacom tablets, and pushed everyone in the photography class to use them as much as possible.

I completely agree, but for the purposes of a teacher using a tool to display something to the class, if paper works better, paper works better.

In mid-2000s there was a trial in my region's elementary schools that had students equipped with PDAs and keyboard and they could use those to write their essays on. It was obviously stupid but someobody thought like you and made the assumption that technological improvement for the sake of technological improvement is better than just using something that is low-tech and way better.

>Instead education is still stuck in 18th century

Nitpick. Education is not stuck in the 18th century.

If they just rolled out this initiative across the country without a second thought, then you could call it stupid.

If they carefull trialed it and got scientific data as to PDA's effectiveness, then you have no right to declare 'obvious stupidity' of any sort, no matter what the results were.

Sometimes paper is the best tool money can buy.

Who's it worth millions to though? The teacher?

It's not as if the school (district) is going to buy the teachers what they need. Why not let the teachers decide by how much they want to subsidise education from their hard-earned wages?

The sensible path of course would be for the school (district) to provide its teachers for job related expenses. A home office budget should be part of that, especially these days.

Doesn't have the tactile feedback of pencil and paper.

Needs additional software and mental overhead to get the sketches on screen.

But a basic Wacom is like $100.

That's half a day's pay for a newly qualified teacher in the US.

One big advantage of screensharing (e.g. with Wacom) is much lower bandwidth requirement. If kids' internet connections aren't great, it could be an important improvement.

And now you need additional software, need to switch between screens, constantly check which feed students see, etc.

Who is going to pay the $100? The school district that can't afford to buy supplies for students to have a functional classroom, or the poorly paid teacher who has to buy supplies to have a functional classroom.

Yes, this is my point. The school should buy them. If the school isn't sufficiently funded, the local area should fund the school. If the local area cannot, then we move up the chain. The funds exist, they should be directed at education, housing, etc.

They could afford it if they axed a lot of the administration level positions. I've seen school districts with 3-1 administration staff to teacher ratios; for no provided value.

>being forced to improvise with limited to no support from communities, schools, or governments.

Everyone is trying to figure out how to continue life during this pandemic. Why would you expect all levels to have this figured out?

> >being forced to improvise with limited to no support from communities, schools, or governments.

> Everyone is trying to figure out how to continue life during this pandemic. Why would you expect all levels to have this figured out?

There's a big difference between, on one hand, complaining "why haven't communities, schools, and governments figured this all out?", which would be a ridiculous complaint and which no-one is making; and, on the other hand, observing that communities, schools, and governments have collectively thrown up their hands and declared that it's all the teacher's responsibility, which is a real and justified complaint.

>and declared that it's all the teacher's responsibility, which is a real and justified complaint.

Is it a real complaint? I don't see anybody claiming it's all the teacher's responsibility. I don't see that from the parents, or school board, or any government of any level.

> > and declared that it's all the teacher's responsibility, which is a real and justified complaint.

> Is it a real complaint? I don't see anybody claiming it's all the teacher's responsibility. I don't see that from the parents, or school board, or any government of any level.

No indeed, it is usually not stated explicitly, just as racism and sexism often are not. But few to no resources are given to teachers, and the first port of call for governmeents, school administrators, and parents looking to apportion blame is teachers, so the effect is the same, even if no one explicitly acknowledges it.

To be clear. Nobody is actually saying that it is "all the teacher's responsibility". Similarly, I don't see any evidence that "governments have collectively thrown up their hands" ... in fact the opposite is the case. Local governments have spent inordinate amount of resources equipping students with laptops and software, as well as adjusting processes and policies to facilitate remote learning during this pandemic, and they've done it in a record short amount of time (which isn't easy for big monolithic organizations - which usually need months or years of lead up to make drastic changes like the ones we've seen them make).

I think a little credit and understanding is due to all the people working at all levels of government, including teachers and school boards, for trying to do their best in an unprecedented, unplanned situation. Having said that, I'm sure there are parents that complain about this, that or another thing, but those parents will always complain about everything.

>and the first port of call for governmeents, school administrators, and parents looking to apportion blame is teachers

I don't see that happening with respect to the pandemic response at all.

I agree this happens with education standards in general and it is a pet-peeve of mine when it does happen. The reality is that if students fail, it's never the teacher, and in fact, it isn't even the school. It's always the parents. Always. If the parents don't enforce education standards and make sure their children don't fail, then there is very little that schools and teachers can do.

She's getting a surprisingly high-quality reflection from that CD. I would have thought a CD wouldn't have had enough specularity, or created too much distortion to achieve that kind of quality.

The only downside appears to be that you have to angle the CD, in order to reflect the keyboard plane into the webcam, which means the captured image can only be viewed at an angle.

It'd be nice to have some live, post-processing to fix some issues like this. You could apply a perspective transformation to rotate the image to a head-on view, and maybe increase the contrast between black and white.

> The only downside appears to be that you have to angle the CD, in order to reflect the keyboard plane into the webcam, which means the captured image can only be viewed at an angle

The angle doesn't look like it is farther away from head-on than you would get when looking at a piece of paper sitting on your desk, which is a pretty common thing to do. I think most people are so used to reading paper at that angle that they wouldn't even notice that it isn't head-on.

It does make you wonder why not just use a small mirror. It might be a little bit harder to suspend in place correctly depending on weight but it'll do the job perfectly.

The trick is that the CD/DVD acts as a first surface mirror.

I just tried it with a bit of regular mirror (second surface) taped to bits of an old lamp. It does not work well, as there are internal reflections and glare from the glass fronting. You get slight double images too.

First surface mirrors can be made by taking apart kaleidoscopes and using the mirrors in them. That or dissolving the protective backing to regular mirrors with acetone. You can buy them outright as well, but they tend to be more expensive (~$20 each).

A CD/DVD is much easier than the other options and I'd say that the hack is even easier than a regular mirror.


I just tried it with a freebie compact from a makeup store and a single piece of tape (definitely simpler than these tape/pencil/coin shenanigans), and it worked better than I've been able to get any CD to work while taking literally less than a minute to set up properly. Proof: https://i.imgur.com/OF29Ci3.jpg

I'm really struggling to see how the pencil/CD/coin solution is better. I wouldn't be surprised if more teachers have compacts readily available than CDs. I think the whole CD thing is going viral because it falls into the "clever lifehack" bucket, i.e. it is optimized for hackiness virality while not actually being the best/simplest solution to the problem. But a simple compact taped to a laptop screen isn't as interesting of a "hack", and thus doesn't go viral.

(Also -- conveniently -- the layer of glass/plastic on compacts is super thin, basically just barely enough to prevent the aluminum or whatever from oxidizing and from you getting the mirrored surface all fingerprinty, so it doesn't seem to cause noticeable internal reflection problems. And it's thinner than the layer of plastic on CDs, which are NOT first surface mirrors, which is easily provable by scratching the bottom of the CD and noting that you're scratching the plastic and not the reflective material directly.)

It’s better because it’s a surprisingly universally applicable solution.

Actually, I think my solution is more universally workable. You're overestimating how many teachers will have suitably reflective CDs on hand and underestimating how many will have small mirrors on hand.

Are you sure CD/DVD is a first-surface mirror?

AFAIK The reflective layer is on the top of the disc - where logos and graphics are. From the clean side you are looking at this metallic layer through the plastic.

Hmmm, maybe there are differences between them. The DVDs and CDs that I have access to all acts as first surface mirrors (albeit not the best ones).

There are no CDs/DVDs that are first surface mirrors. There is always a protective plastic layer on the outside, same as with any normal household mirror (except it might be glass in a household mirror; regardless, you will get internal reflections). This is the structure of a CD/DVD: https://cdn4.explainthatstuff.com/layer-structure-compact-di...

I don't know where you got this idea from that CDs/DVDs can be first surface mirrors; they aren't. If they were they'd be really bad at their job, because one of the hallmarks of first surface mirrors is that they're incredibly fragile and do not stand up to any kind of handling whatsoever. That would not work for CDs/DVDs for obvious reasons. More info and diagrams here: https://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub121/sec3/

I'm holding it in my hand right now. It's a DVD copy of Empire Strikes Back. It may not be a 'mirror', but the reflection starts right at the surface. Yes, it is rainbowy.

The CDs I have access to are mostly burnt, not factory-pressed, and they don't have nicely mirrored surfaces at all :(

A CD is readily available, dead cheap, unbreakable (if not actively trying to break it).

Making a mirror would be a far more involved process.

That reminds me, i don't have a CD lying around.

Haha, I don't have access to a CD either.

But assuming it's partially the webcam/video software that's correcting the exposure/contrast to eke out a decent image, other common household items could be used in it's place i.e silverware, annealed glass etc.

You're overthinking this. Just use a compact or hand mirror. I hacked it together in a minute flat: https://i.imgur.com/OF29Ci3.jpg

You're right. I completely forgot about compact mirrors. They're probably way more accessible then CDs as well.

Tiny cheap mirrors are also readily available (potentially more available since lots of young teachers legitimately may not have any CDs; they're a dated technology). They're a buck at dollar stores.

And you're overstating how much harder it would be to prop up a tiny cheap mirror. I bet you could do it with two pencils taped together at an angle, with one taped to the back of the laptop and the other taped to the back of the mirror.

> Tiny cheap mirrors are also readily available


> potentially more available since lots of young teachers legitimately may not have any CDs

I'm sure you'll pass a Walgreen's on the way to the tiny cheap mirror shop.

Do you really not know what hand mirrors and compacts are? You know, how people do their make-up? Walgreen's definitely sells them (and they'll be cheaper than CDs besides working better as mirrors, too). I'm trying to interpret your post in good faith but you're making it so hard.


This is one example that may well work as-is, no pencil or tape necessary. And that $5 is the inflated "shipping is factored in" Amazon price; they're cheaper in dollar stores and similar.

Craft stores such as Joann have small mirrors. I'd not be surprised if Walmart has them, too, in their craft section.

The most likely place to find 'em is in the cosmetics section.

Those will tend to be mounted in/on something, like a clamshell case, that might get in the way.

The craft store should have unmounted mirrors, which might be easier to deal with.

For what it's worth, the first two I grabbed at home come apart into two halves that snap together rather than being hinged. The hinged variety can actually be useful though, as you can drape them by the hinge over the back of the laptop (taking the part of the pencil in the original photograph). The one thing you really don't want is compacts that are full of actual make-up, as that's gonna cause a huge mess.

The hole in the CD is used to secure it.

FWIW, many CDs are also very good mirrors. I've also used commercial pressings without extensive paint to look at eclipses.

The hole isn't necessary. Here's a working solution with a compact: https://i.imgur.com/OF29Ci3.jpg

Reminds of the "hot pocket" Dr. Gillingham's surgical team developed in Iraq for keeping air-evac'd patients warm: wrap patient in blanket, put blanket-burrito-patient in a body bag with a hole cut out for their face. Battlefield hypothermia cases went to 0 overnight.


I really like how her hack doesn't involve using another video feed, which makes it a lot more accessible to anyone with a laptop.

One improvement I can see - maybe better to tape the pencil with the eraser point up, so you're less likely to accidentally stab yourself with the pencil if moving the laptop or CD?

We could drastically cut costs with a nickel instead of a quarter.

2 pennies would be cheaper. Here are US coin weights, in grams:

  5.670 quarter
  2.268 dime
  5.000 nickel
  2.500 penny

The pencil's orientation might be deliberate as the eraser provides additional stability due to its friction with the back of the laptop.

I have the same thought when I see the pencil tip is pointing upward instead of the other end.

Probably try to lower it down enough to fit one CD.

This is similar to the solution I found for showing hands and face in a piano lesson. I spent a long time trying to get two cameras working. First by composing the video streams with ffmpeg or gstreamer and then by screen sharing a application which showed a second video. But in all cases the synchronisation was really bad.

Then I realised a mirror composes two images really well :)

Later I used transparent perspex with lighting (peppers ghost) as the mirror so the laptop screen on the piano is visible.

It is described here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4Qp8iHre9o&t=1s

This is super useful. I have a daughter who is a piano performance major and I spent ages getting a working two camera set up for her. I wish I had seen this then (or better thought of it myself).

I expect her university will end up going fully remote again next semester, so we will no doubt be putting this to use.

Well done! (both on the setup and the instructional video)

Another option is to use a mobile phone and whatever can work as a "tripod". I used a large clothes peg and the lamp over my dining table.

There are apps that will stream the image from the phone to the computer, and in Zoom it can be added as a second video feed. That means the class can see the teacher's face as well as the paper.

I tried a few apps, but I don't remember which worked, or their names, except for https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.dev47apps....

I use this app over a USB connection. The phone (Pixel 3a) used to overheat but I picked up a USB fan which keeps it cool. Only downside is no virtual webcam driver on FreeBSD, so I boot to Windows for video chats.

How is a video streaming app making your phone overheat? Doesn't that phone have specialized hardware for video processing?

It would be interesting to compare against just taking a very long video. Charging over USB (used for the connection) is probably a factor.

Some apps can stream to a browser over LAN.

I find the stability of the video feed is better with a wired connection. I had also tried using a USB-ethernet adapter to put the phone on the LAN for video streaming, but USB seems to be the better solution since the phone charges as well.

I've been using a phone gorilla tripod meant for vloggers to take all of my meetings on so I can keep my laptop screen clear. It's been rather nice

This is what real judaad [1] looks like! It blows my mind when people come up with such ingenious solutions, only partly because I’ve never been able to.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24459888

While it is mind blowing how less we've invested in modernizing education, the biggest barrier I've seen in recent times is - educating the educators.

For reference, I helped set up my high school with a <insert-suite-for-education> for free and they were very happy as there were folks charging them to get it set up. But next biggest problem I saw was - teachers who have been using a blackboard all their life trying to do their best to teach with a powerpoint presentation.

Problem is exacerbated when you throw in more variables like - flaky internet connection, inconsistencies in UI all across, hardware failures, zoombombing and a certain lack of features. Now do this in India - where the student:teacher ratio is absolutely crazy.

Really goes to show how we should get the fundamentals right.

> Really goes to show how we should get the fundamentals right.

We did for a long time then everyone said that computers had to be used.

Maybe I'm missing something but how is the image so clear? CDs don't have a mirror like surface, they reflect light in unusual ways

The rather shallow angle probably helps a lot. On top of that the camera probably has some form of auto white balance which will counteract the tint the CD will give to the image.

Here's a quick proof of concept using a random CD and my phone's camera: https://svkt.org/~simias/up/20200914-000627_psx-cd-reflectio...

Note that the color of the reflection is not much different from a normal picture (visible at the bottom). For added difficulty I used an original PlayStation disc, that's dyed black: https://svkt.org/~simias/up/20200914-000836_psx-cd.jpeg

It's very HN that we've been trolled into debating the irrefutable, widely-known, totally obvious fact that a CD reflects light.

Didn't mean to come across as a troll, this is how I remember CDs, with rainbow diffraction. https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=cd

I think at such shallow angles it's the plastic surface that becomes reflective, not the metal layer with the pits and grooves. Hence the lack of diffraction (and hence why it works with my black PSX disc).

She's using a CD-RW with blue/purple dye. The reflection is definitely coming off the surface.

Everything reflects light, but not everything reflects it clear enough to read documents through. I haven't held a CD in ages, so it it's possible that folks don't remember exactly how reflective they are. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Almost everything reflects light. The discussion is on why it can be used as a mirror.

The quarter helping to hold down the CD may also contribute by blocking overhead inbound interference.

Use a pressed CD (which are good mirrors at this angle), not a blank CD (which are tinted).

I just pointed a CD at my face and it's pretty much a mirror. What unusual reflection did you expect?

Some rainbow diffraction I guess. It has been a long time since I've used a CD https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=cd

Real CDs don't look like clip art CDs. 90% of the images for "mirror" don't have reflections either.

Well I noticed it's a CD-RW which is a peculiar device, so maybe it doesn't reflect the same as normal CDs.

I think you probably haven't played around with CDs more than just to play them.

I also don't really get it. Looks too clear and sharp for a CD reflection.

Amazing how creative people can be when faced with little resources and an important problem. This is one of the few pieces of content that is truly able to wow me.

Now it needs to go viral for all the other teachers. Maybe a site will emerge from this where teachers can share best practices, and everyone can benefit from some of the creations.

I like the hack. Kudos to that teacher.

Reminds me of the “space pen” urban myth.


You can use the same trick to make a touch screen for any laptop with a webcam! https://github.com/bijection/sistine

The mirror system isn't quite as macgyvered though :)

My wife is a 2d grade teacher. She brought home her lumens ladybug that she used with her Promethean board in the classroom. However, the lag was terrible, her 2012 macbook pro just couldn't handle it. Our solution was to re-purpose an old ipad along with reflector teacher https://www.airsquirrels.com/reflector/teacher ($17.99). Yeah, just in case you're curious - my wife teaches for a SF Bay Area school district where I suppose they can afford lots of stuff except a refresh of eight year old laptops.

They could literally go to Apple's doorstep and ask for sponsorship; I'm sure Apple can use it in one of their saccharine marketing videos.

Another option (although requires more tech) is to use the camera from a mobile phone connected to the computer via USB. Requires app + USB cable + "drivers" installed on the host computer.

My teacher friend recommended DroidCamX (paid) but the drivers are windows only so I wasn't able to use that.

I instead tested with Iriun https://iriun.com/ and it worked OK with my newer phone (the older phone I wanted to use had trouble with autofocus... though maybe that's because of the way I have it suspended from a desk lamp).

It lags a little, but overall usable.

Can't you also just join the Zoom/Meet/Whatev from your phone?

Yes for a live call that would probably be the easiest.

The USB camera use case is to send "table top" video input into OBS, mix with other sources, and record the lesson for offline async viewing (flipped classroom).

I wonder if a DVD versus a CD produces better or worse diffraction/distracting artifacts in the image? or maybe it doesn't even matter given the resolution of the camera.

My kid has an Osmo kit that did the same trick with a little mirrors that fit an iPad perfectly:


Official app for students\teachers https://apps.apple.com/us/app/id1502489790

Theres got to be tons of sellers/makers in shenzhen that are either laughing or dismayed over the lack of tooling for our teachers in response to this.

What I find the most striking about this hack is that by doing it, the teacher is indirectly modeling clever problem solving techniques to the class.

I applaud the inventive of being able to solve a problem with the tools and knowledge at hand but I must say it hit me like a blow to see that one key component to a low tech hack was a MacBook, one of the most expensive laptops out there.

My teachers all have laptops with cameras that don't reach even half of that kind of crispness of image sadly.

Wouldn’t the text be a mirror image (backwards)

I had the same question (and tried it with my webcam app and a handheld mirror just to make sure I wasn't crazy) but I see another commenter has mentioned Zoom's feature.

Zoom has a setting to mirror video.

My friend is a teacher and uses an application that turns his phone into a webcam.

He puts the device on a shelf with the camera facing down.

Fascinating how the article has “how it works” explanation, despite showing the picture right above that.

For a nation that so unwisely overspends on other foolish things, and not enough nor intelligently on education, thus leaving school districts lacking in the basics - which require teachers to hack their way through classes...yes, i can imagine the author(s) might assume that such an audience might need extra help in understanding.

Disclaimer: I'm an American and while i'm often proud of my country, i acknowledge how awful our collective priorities have become with education in general suffering from it...and at the risk of sounding political (apologies)...Neither of the 2 major political parties seems to have the answer. <sigh>

I realize politics is frowned on here, and there is much I'd like to say yet won't, but do take a look at https://articlesofunity.org/.

Interesting, I've never heard of this; thanks for sharing!

FYI that website is both alienating in its rhetoric and gives no clue of how it solving the problem it alludes to.

The idea that the Moderate is the new third party is novel though. But it's too early to tell if that's true, since Democrats are mostly still moderate and if the Trump Republican party collapses, the moderate wing of the Republican party might resurge.

Well, it is an article on education!

That’s why I think the iPad pro has so much potential to replace laptops for a lot of people.

If only they were affordable. You can get a good enough laptop for $300, an ipad pro is thrice that, more if you need the keyboard / stand to go with it.

I've been now teaching several remote math lessons with a standard iPad $329 and Apple Pencil $99. Basically I'm joining to a Teams meeting and sharing the entire screen, then writing stuff using the standard Notes application. Finally I share the note with the class by exporting it to the Teams application.

There is a built-in feature in Teams which allows me to launch quick improvised quizzes in the chat which I find nice. I'm also able to collect assignments via Teams and check/mark them in Word using Apple Pencil. The students take a picture using their own phone camera and add it to a docx-file which is then turned in using Teams.

The basic iPad is $329. It is a modern fast computer that has everything built-in. The only things you need to add is a keyboard and/or a stand/case.

Apple hardware is no longer expensive these days — I mean, they will let you spend as much as you want and take your money, but their lineup starts quite low and provides excellent value for the money.

Basic ipad hits it limits pretty quickly in multitasking use cases and the screen real estate is half that of a laptop.

are we still comparing that to a 300$ laptop?

This is such a simple hack. It's basically equivalent to the classroom transparency overhead projectors of the past. You could 3d print a similar device with a USB webcam and a proper mirror for pennies. Is there a market for this?

Yes, there is a market for things that do this - it's the projector market, so if people don't have the money to enter the projector market they use hacks like this one - examples

https://hackaday.com/2014/03/13/make-an-hd-projector-for-nex... https://www.instructables.com/id/Convert-a-40-years-old-DIA-...

first couple of hits for me when googling "convert old olverhead projector"

So market wise maybe there is a hacky way that allows you to get a cheap reasonably efficient projector thaat would make these hacks irrelevant, without naturally pushing to solve the problems of the projector market and thus pushing the product to have a projector type price. I certainly wish I could think up something that fell in that niche.

The market is temporarily disturbed by COVID WFH. The regular market either doesn't there it because they have blackboards/whiteboards, or they are rich/corrupt and buy overpriced overengineered things like Prometheus instead.

Cool, but they could have just spent less money on a Windows laptop with a stylus and touch screen. I use my stylus extensively at work, but many employers still have their users on machines without them. Such a shame.

I don’t understand why Apple keeps holding back the Mac platform, but I finally had to give up. I love my iPad for what it is great at, but gave up on Mac eight years ago. This reminds me of the black and white Mac Classics with tiny screens in school, when everyone had colour PCs that cost less.

There is a "Phone Periscope" I use, that you can buy on Amazon / eBay for a few dollars, that might be useful if you need something like this: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=phone+periscope

Some have a little magnet so it can be detached and re-attached quickly.

We use it to make a phone-based people counter. Recently found out that in China they're marketed as phone attachments to take pervy, upskirt photos of girls without getting caught.

Clever. Now someone from China needs to make a plastic mirror reflection mount device to put on top of your laptop camera.

Need a periscope version so it doesn't awkward cram onto the keyboard.

In our district some teachers were trying to do this until my wife reminded them they can run webex on their cell phone... Sad the district spent a lot of time and money on owl webcams to follow the presenter but nothing to cover the basic class room ops.

This is quite impressive, but - to nitpick a bit - doesn't this setup get messed up by the keyboard being pressed due to pressure on the writing pad, and the focus going to some other window, or menu, or something?

I was pointed to this by Naomi Wu:

This maybe something that local hacker spaces could pump out:


I happened to have a HD Webcam from years ago. I plugged that into my wife's laptop, use the default windows Webcam software...And then share screen.

I rigged up a stand so she can slide papers in and out.

Better wait until Apple Mirror is available which does the same, but in a beautiful aluminium finish and just costs $99.

This is what I think of when I think "innovation": a different perspective. Not lost in the weeds of details, but a thousand miles above them.

Wouldn't writing on that transfer the pressure through the notebook to the keyboard? How would you avoid random key presses?

You don't, probably.

As long as you don't have a chat window focused and accidentally press the enter key, you can just backspace out any accidental keypress that might happen.

If your notebook is nice and stiff, the pressure will be pretty evenly distributed across the whole keyboard. Keypresses should be rare with such low pressure per key.

Hardware solution: plastic tray over the keys.

Software solution: Keyboard Cleaner http://jan.prima.de/~jan/plok/archives/48-Keyboard-Cleaner.h...

Hardware solution: $1 plastic cutting board

Looks like a notebook. If its a reasonably thick/sturdy notebook and you don't push down extremely hard then it doesn't press the keys.

My laptop has a "lock keyboard" key on fn.

You can also connect your phone to your laptop through usb or wifi and use it as a camera positioning it however you like.

https://twitter.com/yadav_monica/status/1292047281676382210 is another instance where a teacher from India used a smartphone and a refrigerator tray for sharing hand-written notes. I believe that this would give more clarity than the surface area of the CD.

It solves two problems at once: Letting the document lay flat, and mirror-imaging the camera.

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