Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: March 2011

Skype in the Classroom

Are you interested in collaborating with teachers around the world? Sign up for Skype in the Classroom and start making contacts.

After years of advocating for Skype, I am very happy to see this development come about.

Google Body Browser

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In a novel I am currently reading, there is a discussion between two characters about body snatching in late 18th Century London. One character is appalled by the act, the other justifies it as necessary to scientific advancement.

Luckily, we no longer have to snatch bodies. We have lots of accurate pictures in books and online. Now there is a way to view the human body with customized images with Google’s Bodybrowser. You’ll need a browser that supports WebGL, such as Chrome.

Using very simple controls, different systems can be viewed by making others transparent. The image to the left has the skin, circulatory system, and the muscles hidden, while leaving the internal organs and skeleton visible. Neat, huh?

Data Collection = Friend Collection

A few minutes ago I saw a tweet from @jutecht asking his followers to help a teacher collect data on weather for a math project. I followed his link and landed at Ms. Chesebro’s Grade 3 class blog. I left my comment letting the class know our weather was cool and partly cloudy, and then I poked about for a bit. I really liked the blog. There was information for students, parents, and colleagues alike. Not only that, the blog gave me, all the way here in the United States, a very good idea of what happens in a third grade classroom in Bangkok.

I will definitely visit Ms. Chesebro’s blog again, and maybe I can introduce our own 3rd grade teachers and students to them. It would be so much fun to collaborate on a project with kids so far away!

One last thing. I noticed a visitor counter on the blog that shows the flags of the countries where visitors are. I’ve added that one to my widgets. I know many flags, but this gives me one more opportunity to learn any I don’t know. I hope other teachers here in Goochland will add the flag counter to their blogs, too.

From WikiMonster to WikiAlly

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia attracts over 78 million visitors monthly. I know I am one of them, and so are my own children. I know the students in Goochland County are among those millions, but I doubt they would admit it. Wikipedia has been so vilified students are shamed into admitting they find it useful.

I hope that will all start to change after the London Wikipedia Academy convenes in April and other groups like it form around the world.

According to the BBC, students and faculty at Imperial College will meet to learn about Wikipedia, how it is edited, and how it should be used in formal research. The group of students and staff calls itself Wikipedians, and its aim is to improve the way in which pages are edited to make the information more reliable. Until that happens, we must help students understand how Wikipedia should be used.

In the words of Wikipeidans’ own Vinesh Patel,

“Students know there is an inherent unreliablity, as it’s open edited. We’re not trying to hide that.

“But it’s a place where you can orientate yourself when you start a topic.”

Spelling Cat

I have just downloaded and tried the Spelling Cat on the iPod touch, and I’ve deleted it, too. I think the idea is nice, mimicking the spelling test environment a student might encounter in the classroom. There were two important reasons why I did not like this app and would not encourage teachers or parents to use it.

First, the computer generated voice is extremely hard to understand. I had to listen to the words many times, with my ear close to the speaker, in order to understand. Even with earbuds, I had a hard time understanding. In the end, the biggest challenge is deciphering the sound, not spelling the word.

Second, there is no feedback for improvement. If I get a word right, I get a purr from the cat. If I get a word wrong, I never know if I misheard the word, or if I spelled the correct word incorrectly. The right word is never displayed. I am just told that the correct word is yummier than the wrong one I typed. Constructive feedback would do much to improve this app.

Hopefully the makers of Spelling Cat will release an updated version incorporating some improvements.


Today I drove out to Goochland to watch the GHS Players present the musical Annie. I am so glad I did. It was very good. My parents and my daughter really enjoyed it, too. It was a great experience for my parents who had never been inside an American public school.

I know I work with technology, and that is mostly what I blog about. But, I am also a proponent of real-world experiences for students, and of project based learning. This was the perfect example. The students, with just a handful of adults helping, put together an amazing stage, choreography, costumes, tickets, posters, shirts…

I hope we can maintain funding for arts programs that offer students something other than multiple choice questions.

To Print or Not To Print…

Remember slide rules? No, neither do I, thankfully. Apparently, using one of those takes a long time and is rather complex. I don’t know when this was dropped from curricula around the world, but I am extremely happy I did not have to go through this torture.

Remember centering typed text on a page or adding page numbers and footnotes on a typewriter? I do. I also remember having a HUGE argument with my typing teacher about the need to even sit through her class when I had a brand spanking new IBM clone at home, sporting a super nifty Word Star floppy diskette the size of a pizza box. The course was dropped from the schedule the following semester.

We still had to learn to center text and add page numbers on a computer. After all, once we finished word processing our creations, the only way to turn them in was by making a ton of noise with a dot matrix printer.

Much of this formatting is now obsolete. Do we need to teach kids to add page numbers or page breaks or stress font and margin sizes when we work with electronic formats such as Google Docs and ePub documents? I don’t think so. Formatting for printing is all fine, if the tool we are using does it automatically, but I believe page numbering and page breaks should go the way of the slide rule, the sooner the better.

It’s a Comic Life!

This Thursday I will be leading a class centered around Comic Life at the Central Office Training Room. We will explore the Comic Life application, of course, but we will also examine how storytelling can help students learn in any content area.

If you would like to attend, just add your name to the list.


Scratching Our Way Into a Job?

Yes, I am blogging about Scratch, AGAIN. I love Scratch. I love to create in Scratch, and I love to watch students create in Scratch. I wish I could have Mitch Resnick and his team in Virginia.

Scratch is drag-and-drop computer programming for everyone. Using Scratch is as easy or as difficult as the user decides to make it. The complexity of the creation is entirely up to the user. What is constant is the learning. Nobody can create a Scratch project without applying a minimum of critical thinking or creativity.

I wish I could overcome arguments from teachers who say they need to teach math, or science, or language arts, or history instead of computer programming. I think they can do both, and I think it is important, too. So do employers.

Tech geeks are in high demand. According to a report on NPR’s Morning Edition today, unemployment in the tech sector is 30% lower than the national average for the economy at large. Teaching Scratch won’t send kids out of school qualified as app developers, but it will equip them with a fundamental knowledge of how things work. The ability to think logically and persevere in creating something complex are priceless qualities.

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Going Google

This year we have been introducing Google Apps to our students. Over the past few weeks, teachers who have had much success with it, like Mrs. Yearout-Patton (blog) and Mrs. Yurick (blog) have shared their stories with others. Suddenly, we are seeing an explosion of Google users.

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I am so glad we are able to provide this service to our school. Google Apps has allowed students to collaborate easily, to track their files and versions, and to work from anywhere. And, for teachers, Google Apps has provided a great way of providing feedback to students while assignments are in progress, while there is still time to make changes.

All in all, everyone is happy. No flash drives, no lost files, and work done even when students are absent.

Thank you, Google.

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