Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: February 2011

Creative Approaches to Research Papers

Over the past month, students at GHS have been working on research projects for their Language Arts classes. It is an annual ritual, this flurry of notecards and Gale Database articles. The kids don’t enjoy it much, and I wonder if the teachers enjoy reading the end result.

I understand this is a requirement, and a very useful one. I believe there are few things more important in education than teaching students to access and evaluate information. However, if all we require of the students is a recitation of the facts with little or no interpretation, we are letting a great opportunity pass them by.

Thinking about this, I decided to read the SOL relating specifically to research (I picked Grade 10 randomly from the high school levels). The SOL states that students will do the research, organize, cite sources, all the expected stuff, and then they will “present the information in an appropriate format.”

Screen shot 2011-02-28 at 8.52.12 AM

What is an appropriate format? As a teacher, I would interpret this as a written document with well-organized paragraphs made up of coherent, correct sentences. There is no requirement that the end result be a dry recitation of facts.

My idea is to allow students the flexibility to be creative. Instead of a dry report, students could write something more creative. Instead of a biography, write journal entries from critical times in a person’s life. Or maybe write an acceptance speech for an award someone receives for a particular event or invention. Or maybe write a short story about traveling through time and participating in an event, or meeting a person.

This would be much  more fun to write, and to grade. It would involve a great deal more of critical thinking than simple summarizing. And, it would be infinitely harder to cut and paste and turn in.

Student Survey

Hello Math students!

Here is the data you provided for your project. After you download it, launch the application InspireData. Import the file from your Downloads folder and have fun!

Deltora Quest Adventures

This week I worked with Ms. Nichols and her students on their G21 project. They were creating graphic novel pages for selected chapters of Deltora Quest: Forests of Silence.

This project was not for the faint of heart. The room was loud and messy, with kids arguing and jostling for control of trackpads and keyboards, making props out of tissue paper and string, and flipping madly through the pages of the book. It was really great.

While the kids produced their pages in pairs, the collaboration included the whole class. If a student made a construction paper helmet or a cardboard sword, all others got to use it. Since they were using the built-in cameras on their computers, students had to help each other hold the computer at the right angle to get the perfect picture. Sometimes students had to “borrow” each other to play some character in a particular shot.

The best part, however, was the discussion. Kids argued over colors, facial expressions, backgrounds, and much more. You could hear them discussing the words from the text before deciding on a particular pose or prop to use. They would flip back and forth in the book, pointing to particular adjectives or phrases to back up their argument.

How often can you get students that involved in a traditional classroom discussion?

See pictures of the kids and props on Ms. Nichols’s blog.

Top Secret Rosies

STEM is a big topic, right? There is grant money, research, and lots of presentations at conferences. Here’s a story for the kids, especially the girls.

Before there were computers, there were groups of people crunching numbers with pencil and paper. During World War II, a team of women staffed a secret ballistics research lab that gave the U.S. military vital information that helped the Allies win the war. Read more about these smart women, and if you have the opportunity, show the documentary to your students.

Top Secret Rosies Trailer from LeAnn Erickson on Vimeo.

Ask THE Google?

At this week’s EdTech 2011 conference, I caught a glimpse of a presentation about Google (How Google Works: Are Search Engines Really Dumb and Why Educators Should Care). I have to admit, I did not attend the session, but just looked at a couple of slides while waiting for my own session to start.

I had attended a session, also by Mr. Barron, with a similar title, at a previous conference. In that session, Mr. Barron warned attendees to be wary of Google results. He gave very good examples, some very well known, about rankings and sponsored results. I walked away thinking the problem is not Google, but the lack of critical thinking on the part of the users. I still think the same.

What surprised me in the slides I saw this year is that Mr. Barron was encouraging attendees to try other search engines, specifically Bing. This week, Bing has been all over the news, both serious and comedic, because they have been using Google results as their own.

So, the fact remains. Search engines are only as smart as the users. If we don’t educate the users, whose fault is it that “Google is dumb”?

Scratch Followup

After three sessions of Scratch at EdTech 2011 today, my head is full of new ideas. I had a really fun time sharing my passion for this cool application that lends itself to learning so easily. And, we even caught the ScratchEd Team’s eye. They tweeted about our presentation today.

Screen shot 2011-02-03 at 6.07.53 PM

If you attended the session on PicoBoards and WeDo sensors, I owe you this zipped file with the examples I shared today.

Please let me know what you think of Scratch, and come back to share examples from your schools soon.

Scratch VA!

Today is the second day of EdTech 2011. John Hendron and I, along with our friends from the ITTIP will be celebrating Scratch VA day. It isn’t much of a celebration, as celebrations usually go, but we hope to inspire other educators in the area to embrace Scratch as a means to encourage creativity and problem-solving.

We will start the day with a session introducing Scratch. You may find the handout on John’s blog. Our second session will cover PicoBoards and LEGO WeDo sensors, showcasing sample projects to extend Scratch beyond the keyboard. Finally, we will have a full afternoon of hands-on Scratch learning with plenty of experts on hand to guide participants through the creation of fun animations and games.

Some of the Scratch examples we will use in our workshop are available online at our website.

Here are more examples created by Rebecca Bowen from the ITTIP. These are in PDF format.

Project 1 Sailboat

Project 2 Dancing

Project 3 Dancing part 2

Project 4 Pacman

Project 5 PacMan scoring

Project 6 Jeopardy

Project 7 Cat light sensor

Project 8 cheese puffs

Project 9 graphing resistance

Here is our set of tutorials for DesignBlocks.net which will also be introduced in today’s hands-on session.

random values

rotation and hue

scale and hue

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