Tech Salad

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Month: December 2008 (page 1 of 2)

A Successful Week

This past week continued the previous week’s trend. I spent most of my time in classrooms helping teachers with technology-rich plans.

Mrs. Howell and Mrs. Nichols introduced MyAccess to their students to help them improve their writing. The students worked very hard and took the editing and revising advice to heart. The essay scores were very good. We even had two students score a perfect 4.0!

In Ms. Talley’s class the students created slide shows using iMovie to illustrate the poems they had written. Students compared themselves to inanimate objects and then used Creative Commons images from Flickr to create their slide shows. The results should be posted on Ms. Talley’s blog soon after January 5 when we return to school.

Ms. Harden’s students put the finishing touches on their Scratch stories. From dating pet rocks to snowmen stealing cookie jars, the projects were very creative and interesting to watch. As with the iMovie projects, those will be on the Scratch page after the break.

Looking ahead to January, I already have a long list of projects on my calendar. Mrs. Kuhns and her students will be mocking up Facebook profiles for characters from their novels using Pages and iWeb. Mrs. Tual’s students will be applying their interior decorating knowledge using SketchUp. Mrs. Lewis’s students will be running a time-travel agency to teach us about Ancient Rome. Mr. Rooke’s students will collaborate with students at the Chesterfield County Spanish Immersion Center using iMovie and our Student Wiki. There is more, but long lists get boring.

Photography Fun

This morning I took a two-hour walk down memory lane with Ms. Smillie’s students. To help the kids take better pictures, we looked at how cameras used to work with film and how many of those functions have translated into digital photography. From the chemicals coating acetate film, to shutter speed, to aperture, to dark-room development, we looked at how new cameras let us be bad photographers.

Then we looked at how some pictures are so bad, no amount of digital magic can make them good. We learned about the rule of thirds and how to draw attention to our subjects by their placement in the picture. We talked about angling shots to highlight good features and hide bad ones. We looked at composing posed images to create a mood and diminish distractions. We looked at lighting and the effects of glare and dark shadows.

Finally we moved to the original objective for the lesson. We set up a mini-studio, seamless backdrop and lighting included. With some poster paper and a desk lamp, we photographed the new products being sold at the School Store to update the website.

Was all this absolutely necessary? Probably not, but it was a really fun lesson that the kids can take with them on vacations, to parties, or just about anywhere they decide to snap a quick photo.

Scratch Goes Home to MIT

I plan to share this TechCrunch post with Mrs. Harden’s students when I see them again next week.

Students at MIT created mobile applications (for Android, iPhone, and others) in a 13-week period. The applications were presented to the public and many will be available to users like me soon (I hope).

Programming in Scratch may be the start of a brilliant career for our students.

A Week in the Trenches

This week I co-taught approximately 50% of my time at school. It had been a while since I spent so much time working directly with students, and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Mr. James and Mrs. Schwerdtfeger invited me to work with their students on MyAccess. The resulting essays were very good. Best of all was watching the kids put so much thought into their revisions, and then seeing their face when their scores improved. When I saw several of the students again outside class, they all commented on how they have a better understanding of what to expect on their SOL writing exams. I am glad we have this program to walk the students through the editing process. It is a skill they will find useful beyond the SOL test.

Mrs. Harden invited me to teach her and her students about Scratch. We spent a block looking at the basics so the kids could animate a short story they had previously written and storyboarded. Several of the kids downloaded Scratch at home and came back to class armed with new skills to share with their friends. We have one more class block to add the finishing details, and then we will publish the projects to the Scratch page.

Next week several teachers at GMS are taking advantage of the exam schedule to work on technology-rich plans during the unusually long blocks. I am sure the week will be just as rewarding as this one.

Ironic Sans

This week I’ve spent time talking to several teachers about making their blogs more interactive, a bit more fun for students, parents and colleagues to visit, and for them to maintain. Yesterday I found a blog that made me laugh and stay a while. And, I learned a few things, too, even if the blog does not fall into the category of an educational blog. I think it is an excellent example to share with our teachers.

I first landed at an entry polling readers, in a very unscientific manner, about numbers. Then I noticed the title of the blog, Ironic Sans (as opposed to the much-hated Comic Sans font), and I had to look at other posts. Despite some partisan humor not altogether appropriate for sharing at school, this blog has a good combination of text, video, images, serious content, and humor.

I could learn a thing or two from this blog.

Laugh-able Spelling

This morning I’ve been laughing out loud as I watch silly spelling videos on SpellTube. Take the tour and enjoy. My favorite, the IB4E robot song and dance.

Whether kids make videos like these, or watch these ready-made videos, the lessons are memorable.

Thanks to Tom Barrett for sharing on his blog.

The Mouse at 40

On December 9, 1968, Dr. Douglas Engelbart gave a presentation on something described as “computer-based, interacitve, multiconsole display system” by the flier promoting the session. During that presentation, Dr. Engelbart used the very first computer mouse, which he had developed. He also demonstrated hyperlinks to his audience.

Here in Goochland, we have mice, track pads, Promethean pens, and a few iPods with touch screens, all made possible by research carried out by Dr. Engelbart and his team. Imagine technology integration with keyboard commands only. What a nightmare!!!

Read more about the historic conference session at cnet news, and see more pictures of the first mouse from different angles on Flickr.

Keeping MyDistance in MySpace

For the past few days, news aggregators have featured news of a student in Pennsylvania who was denied a teaching degree after posting a picture of herself to her MySpace page, dressed as a pirate, consuming alcohol. What few people are saying is that the picture is being used as an excuse to give the story visibility at a time when online social networks are being demonized by many. The omission is not inexcusable, though, since the student’s attorney did try to defend his client by claiming the degree had been denied in violation of her right to free speech. Anyone reading the attorney’s published comments could easily assume the picture was the student’s only transgression.

Towards the bottom of his write-up, Brian Krebs of the Washington Post included a link to the PDF file containing the judge’s decision. Skip down to the second half of page six and read on from there. Posting pictures of herself is just an indicator of the student’s utter lack of preparation as a teacher. From teaching incorrect grammar and spelling during Language Arts lessons, to making up incorrect answers, to yelling “Shut up!” at her students, it is clear this woman would have left many children behind.

Still, the MySpace lesson remains. Had the student teacher kept her professional distance from the high school students in her classes, there is a chance she would have had an easier time, at least with classroom management. Opening her private life to those kids by inviting them to “friend” her in MySpace demolished that wall of authority and respect in just a few clicks.

Connecting Everything

Just a few minutes ago I ended up at the Universal Everything website, watching a digital image representing a soundtrack. There was very little information about it on the screen, and I wanted to share it with our art and design teachers. When I moused over the image, I found a link to share the animation, and figured out the project is connected to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Off I go to read about it at the V&A website, and I found out this is part of an installation titled Impressions of Forever showing this winter at the John Madejski Garden. The installation involves giant projections generating unique images in response to a soundtrack. The online component of the installation offers downloadable samples of the films, a new one each day, since November 21st.

That brings me back to my post from earlier this week about new jobs and giant projections. It is not enough to know art, or technology, or design, or effective communications any more. All of it needs to be rolled up into a single person.

When students ask, “Why do I need to know this? I don’t plan on being a…” it is our job to show them how everything is connected.

More Thought-Provoking Maps

Today I stumbled upon StateStats, a site that provides a great visualization of Google search statistics. The data includes searches from 2004 to the present.

Based on the popularity of search terms, states are ranked and tinged from blue to red, with red being the state where the term is most popular. For example, this map shows the ranking for the term “tornado”. It makes sense.

In addition to ranking the states in terms of the popularity of the search term, the site shows the correlation between the search term ranking and rankings based on other statistics. For example, the search term “chimney” is most popular in the far northeastern corner of the country. The correlation with the top ranked in “latitude” is very strong. The relatively high popularity of the search term in the Carolinas may be due to people looking for information on Chimney Rock, a popular hiking destination. It makes sense.

The site, however, is careful to warn that we should not assume a high correlation means causality. The example involved in this warning includes the search term “walmart” and the high correlation to the high ranking for obesity. Google users have searched for the term “walmart” in states where the stores are most prevalent. These are also states where there are many obese people. We can’t assume that obese people like WalMart stores, only that they happen to be in the same states.

The site seems to be very busy, but if you catch it at the right time, you can generate a map and correlation for any search term you like. Think of something you are covering in class and try it out with your students. Let your students discuss the results and determine the meaning of the correlation.

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