Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: April 2010

Fun Quizzes and Connections

For the past month or so, I’ve been obsessively playing GeoMaster on my iPhone. It has become a competitive activity between me and a friend’s husband, who seems equally obsessed with it. I now can identify all flags in the easy and medium challenges with almost no mistakes. But, I have to admit, it is really not that hard when your answers are presented in multiple choice groups of three. Placing locations on the map has been much tougher.

Last week Mrs. Doroshenko (blog) shared a really challenging quiz in which the player is given 15 minutes to type 195 countries. As the names are typed, they float to their corresponding location on the map (with some notable exceptions, like Venezuela, which should NOT be between Colombia and Peru). I tackled the quiz confident I’d get most of the countries, but recall cannot compare to multiple choice. On my first attempt, I only got 154/195 before running out of time. On my fifth attempt this morning, I scored 187/195.

Screen shot 2010-04-26 at 9.19.00 AM

While this quiz is fun for me, it is not the most impressive. The site, Sporcle, is full of quizzes teachers could use as warm-up activities in their classrooms and use the results to start a discussion. For example, there is the quiz that asks the participant to identify the five largest cities in the United Sates each decade, since the 1790’s until today. The answers, placed on any map, tell a story. Pretty cool. Give it a try.

Warm-up activities should get kids excited about what will be covered in class that day. Give these fun quizzes a try. And, when you’ve exhausted all possibilities on Sporcle, keep in mind you can create your own quizzes to share.

Extreme and Creative Summarization

When I attended the Google Teacher Academy in December, the Googlers shared their SearchStories with us. My favorite, the Parisian Love Story, was later shown as a commercial during the Superbowl. I thought it was a very creative way to tell a story. Now Google has made it possible for all of us to create similar stories.

Of course, I immediately started thinking of ways to use this in school, and today decided to create my own example. I created a SearchStory on Henry VIII, a fascinating historical character.

What does this involve? Well, you have to formulate seven search engine queries that tell a story, type them in the spaces, add music, and, voila! That’s it? What are kids supposed to learn from just that?

The key word in all that is seven. That’s it. Summarize a person’s life, or a book, or a historic event, or a scientific discovery, or an artistic or political movement, all in just seven brief representative phrases. Summarization is a complex critical skill to develop. Extreme and creative summarization require quite a bit of effort and great understanding of the subject matter. This tool provides a fun way to practice that skill.

Interactive Computer Art

This week I’ll be working with Ms. Tolson’s students on their interactive computer art projects. We are using Scratch to create artwork that responds to its environment.

I originally got the idea when I read about an installation at the Victoria and Albert museum in London, in which a screen displayed streams of color that changed randomly according to an electronically generated soundtrack (YouTube link). We had recently purchased Pico Boards and I thought this would be a great way to manipulate a screen display by sensing ambient sound.

When I presented the idea to Ms. Tolson, she just gave me that look, you know, the one that says, “you tech people are weird.” I had to cast around for a more tangible example, and ended up showing her some projects from Ze Frank’s website. The two that most resembled what I had in mind were the meditation flowers and the matrix. Of course, it was the talking frog that most fascinated the kids.

I have now created a sample project of my own. You can download it from my Scratch gallery page. Here’s a screenshot to give you a general idea of what I did with a few sprites duplicated many times…

Picture 1

Why Password-Protect?

Ms. Yearout-Patton (blog) found my last post about password protection and had a couple of questions worth addressing in a post of their own.

1. Does password protecting our personal blogs defeat, to some degree, the purpose? If it was that private of a post, could I not just e-mail it to the appropriate person/s? 2. What about feeds to blogs? How does that play into this, especially since feeds are such an excellent aspect of blogging?!

When I post anything to my blog, I understand the audience can be a mixed bag of people. There are, hopefully, teachers from our schools. There might be a principal or administrator wanting to know what I’ve been up to. And, ideally, there are also classroom teachers and ITRTs from other places who include me in their personal learning network. A classroom teacher’s audience will also include students and their parents. Using a password to protect a post is a way to safeguard students’ identities by temporarily limiting the range of audience that can view that particular post.

As Ms. Yearout-Patton says, we could email the information to the appropriate group, but that would be much harder. The blogs allow our teachers to reach that very wide range of people without managing unwieldy mailing lists and receiving dozens of out-of-office and undeliverable messages. Having a blog also lets people find our teachers and see what we do without having to give us their e-mail address in advance.

How would passwords affect feeds? Well, subscribers to your blog would have to skip that particular post. They would see the title, and the message that the post was protected, but would not be able to access the content without the password. Hopefully, a password-protected post here and there won’t cause them to scratch you off their RSS readers, but show them how you are using this powerful tool to its full potential.

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