Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: January 2011


Recently, a student I have worked with occasionally came to my office dancing around excitedly. He had just managed to move something he created in Google Sketch-Up into something else he was working on in Vue. Nobody showed him, and he didn’t have to do it. He just challenged himself to figure it out and tried and tried until it worked.

This is the perfect example of 21st Century learning. He figured it out. He didn’t wait for the handout. He used the technology at hand to find whatever tutorials were available and guessed the rest.

Read more about it on Mrs. Bachmann’s blog.

Thinking About Art

Our county-wide G21 initiative is about giving students the opportunity to think and learn in ways that go beyond the classroom, for purposes other than just the test. Today in Mrs. Rohrer’s art room, the students were thinking, and thinking aloud. It was great to be there and participate in the process.

Earlier in the year, the students created visual representations of emotions. The artwork was really interesting to see. Lines, colors, shapes, tridimensional structures represented anger, joy, confusion… The students wrote a sentence or two about each emotion for a display, and the end result was beautiful, very profound and often poetic. In fact, the visual and the text together had such an effect that Mrs. Rohrer and I decided to share with the world, and we made this the art G21.

Today the students photographed their work to prepare a narrated slide show in iMovie. Students worked in pairs to photograph each element of the project from different angles, in different lights, and then selected the best images for the iMovie project. It was really great to hear the students discuss their artwork as they saw it through the camera lens, and then go from there to discussing the merits of each photograph as they edited it. Had they worked individually, I might have missed hearing these comments.

Look for images from today’s class later this week on Mrs. Rohrer’s blog.

Cross Country Adventure

I created this game to make myself go through the full process of drawing the sprites and stacking all the blocks necessary for a game. Until I made this game, I had mostly created little storytelling animations. It is not very fancy, but it is fun. I am using what I learned to work with middle school students the rest of this year. Go ahead and play. Let me know what your high score is.

Learn more about this project

Photographic Resources

I am a big fan of primary source use in the classroom. I am also a big advocate for respecting intellectual property rights and take every opportunity to preach proper citation of sources.

My husband knows all of this. Additionally, he is a big Civil War buff. This morning he sent me a link to a story from the Center for Civil War Photography. It seems author David J. Eicher’s book, Gettysburg Battlefield: The Definitive Illustrated History, came under fire when other authors claimed he had used photographs previously published without proper documentation. He had, and he got in trouble for it.

So what? Well, Mr. Eicher used a scanner, not Google image search. The result was the same. These things do happen, and they do have consequences. It is just one more real-life example to share with our students, one more opportunity to encourage them to do the right thing.

If It Were My Home

How many of us have used the CIA World Fact Book? I can’t imagine a teacher who has not heard of it. The site is full of amazing facts, but it is dry and boring. Combing through the information to fill out the usual worksheets is a terrible task for any student who has to do “research” there. All those lists of names and statistics can put even the most difficult insomniac to sleep.

Enter the ifitweremyhome website, with its friendly interface and relevant presentation. Compare common determinants of standard of living between the United States and any country in the world and make all those dry facts suddenly come to life.  You even get to choose whether you’d like to live in that country or not, and leave a comment.  Here’s my comparison between the United States and Colombia, where I grew up.


Warning: some of the ads that show up on the site are for dating services and the people in the pictures are not wearing too many clothes. This is a good site to explore as a class, using a projector, and keeping some of the screen out of sight of kids who might be upset.

UPDATE: I received an email from Andrew Lintner, who developed the site, and he said he would look into the ads Google was displaying. I just showed the site to a colleague, and the ads are all very sensible. Nice!

Free Tips and Tricks

Free tips and tricks are the words that seem to pop up over and over again in edtech conference programs. There is at least one session in each time slot including these words. Don’t you get tired of seeing them? I have, and lately I have been questioning the value of such sessions.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with free. I have touted free stuff often enough, like Scratch, WordPress, and Moodle. But when people flock to sessions advertising free websites, I wonder what they will get out of it. Do the presenters show the resources because they are neat, or because they have some educational value? Obviously, it would be great if both characteristics could be attributed to the resource.

Take Animoto, for example. It is free. It is featured often in edtech conferences, it requires absolutely no though processes beyond those required to upload a file. In short, Animoto teaches nothing but the fact that teachers often confuse glitz and flash for meaningful, thoughtful products that demonstrate student learning. I have attended sessions where a dozen or so websites in the same vein as Animoto have been fire-hosed out to the audience at a fast clip. I had a few laughs, but seldom used any of those websites in any meaningful way.

When it comes to tricks and tips, I’m not sure the problem is the terminology or the content of the sessions. Sometimes it both, sometimes just the title. Tricks and tips, to me, denotes a quick fix, an easy way out, or something to quick to impress someone with you tech dexterity. Maybe the better model would be to focus on best practices, backed by results, or at least strong examples of how these tricks and tips enhance the learning experience, not just save a few seconds here and there.

What do you think?

Silly, Fun, Smart

I have just downloaded a free game for my phone called Gravity Wars. It looks very silly, with Atari-like graphics. It is also deceptively fun. The goal is to launch an object in space so it goes around the “planets” on the screen for as long as possible. The player sets the direction and force of the launch, and watches the trajectory on the screen. The planets pull the object and change its trajectory, and if the launch is not a good one, the object crashes. The object also “crashes” if it goes too far out into space where no planet will pull it back. The game seems to go on for as long as the object does not come back and crash into its launching site.


This very simple game makes a complex idea easy to grasp. How does gravity work in space? Watch your object speed up and slow down as the path bends and sways around the big and small planets on the screen. You get to watch something that, in real life, might take years to happen. How cool is that?

The game has a free and paid versions, both identical. You may try the free one, and if you like it, consider paying the $.99 for  your entertainment and enlightenment.

Words and History

Today I met with Ms. Holloway (blog) to plan an activity for her unit on rhetoric. Both Ms. Holloway and I love words and their history, so we used both of those themes, plus a bit of politics and current events, in formulating the plan.

Students will read selected inaugural speeches from different time periods in American history, then use Wordle to see which words were prevalent for each administration. Then, to put words in historical context, students will use Google Timeline, which shows the popularity of words in books over time.

Students will also use a tool I discovered recently in Google Labs, Ngram Viewer. This tool lets you compare the frequency of word use over time by searching Google Books.

I LOVE this tool. Just try it. Look up, for example, “radar, radio, laser, television”. You’ll get a visual of when these technologies became household names. Search for “casualty” and you’ll be able to tell when the United States was involved in a conflict over the past two centuries. Search for people names, or store names, or city names and think about why these may have been popular in books at one time or another.

Here’s my fun search for today. I’m still trying to figure out why foods such as chocolate, soup, and ice cream are so popular when the US is at war (World War I, World WarII, and since 2001). Do you have any ideas?


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