Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: August 2012

Don’t Strip Off the Fun Stuff

I work mostly with secondary teachers, and lately I’ve been wondering why we have to strip off any remnants of fun when we walk into the building. In elementary school, classes often have team names, mascots, slogans, and other fun devices that turn the kids into a team, much more than just a list of names on a roster, a true community of learners.

This morning, chatting with Ms. Abbott in the hallway, we were discussing Edmodo and how to get started with her students. One of the convenient features of Edmodo is the ability to group kids in multiple ways. We can have an overall Abbott group for all her students, but we can also have subgroups for each of her classes, and even overlapping groups for kids who are reading certain books, working on specific projects, on and on.

So, of course we will have groups that correspond to, say, Day 1 Block 4. But do we have to call them Day 1 Block 4, or could we let the students select a name that really represents them? It sounds so… elementary school-ish. But who cares? It will be fun. There’s no rule that says we can’t have fun in high school

Moodle and Google Update

Yes, I know. Once in a while I have to post really boring stuff here.

The Moodle accounts have been updated. All students who were enrolled as of August 24, 2012, should have accounts in Moodle. Any students enrolled since then will need to be added manually. If you run across any new student, send me an email message with their first name (real, not nickname) and their last name, their student number, and grade level. 

If any student is having problems logging in, make sure they are at the right place and using the right credentials.

Google accounts will be updated by the end of the week. Students new to the county and new to 6th grade do not have accounts yet. 

To log in to Google, students should go to http://docs.goochlandschools. org. To log in to Moodle, students should go to Please notice there are no www in either of those.

Student credentials all follow the same convention as my example below. If I were a senior at GHS, and my student number were 12345,  my user name and password would be as follows:

Username: beatrizcantor2013

Password: gcps12345

Notice I used my full first name, used no capitalization, and left no spaces.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • If you have created documents or forms on the teacher side of Google ( you can only share them with students if you make them publicly available on the web and do not require users to be logged in to view it.
  • All apostrophes have been removed from names. If a student’s name is Patrick O’Henry, his username will be patrickohenry.
  • All Jr. and other suffixes indicating multiple generations of the same name have also been removed from usernames.
  • Students with hyphenated last names will have their hyphenated last names in their username, with a hyphen.
  • Please remind students to always use their own credentials, no sharing, and to log out of any account left logged in by a previous computer user. It is good digital citizenship.

I’d like to thank all of you for your patience while I got this done. Please email, iChat, or stop by my office if you have any questions.


Say Good Bye To Flat Hair

Remember Pocahontas and her hair waving in the wind? Yes, in that animated movie that got the Virginia History Standards of Learning all wrong. That poor Pocahontas with her flat hair. She should hang out with the animators who created Merida and her incredible hair for Pixar’s Brave.

When I went to see that movie with my children this summer, I already knew where the plot would go. It was too obvious. It turned out I had a great time at the theater because I was so intrigued by the textures in the animation. The hair looked real. The bear fur looked real. The water looked real. And last night I found out how some of it was done.

It is amazing, the amount of physics involved: harmonic movement, elasticity, tension, light dispersion and reflection. When the animators were in school, maybe in a math class, they might have asked, “Why do I need to know how to find the force needed to stretch this spring to twice its length? I’m going to be a digital graphics animator, not an engineer…” Unfortunately, we did not have this particular example to point out back then. Fortunately, now we do. The more you know, the better you can be. It applies to everything.

Connecting what we are learning to more than just a test grade is crucial. Teachers should look for ways to do this every day.


Getting to Know You

Yesterday we were fortunate enough to have Mark Fernandes from the Luck Companies address the faculty and staff at our county-wide convocation. He spoke at length about the importance of human potential and the role we, as educators and leaders, play in unlocking that potential. Mr. Fernandes made lots of comments about being on the “clueless bus.” Are we clueless of what goes on around us, or are we conscious of others around us? What are their needs, their likes and dislikes, and how can we help them be better people?

With all that still fresh on my mind, I heard NPR’s Story Corps this morning. As a teenager, Julie Sanders fell in with a gang of white supremacists. She did so much she now regrets. How could someone who can tell her own story so eloquently and with such insight have fallen into such a situation? In her own words,

“I was on a search for people who wanted me around. My parents didn’t,” she says. “And there was nothing about me that felt special. So, when I met these friends, it didn’t matter if I was pretty or funny. None of that mattered. They liked me…”

Do we know our students? Does each one of our 800+ kids at GHS have someone who wants to be around them, who will keep them from doing horrible things they’ll regret for the rest of their lives?

I usually take up all the space here to talk about technology in teaching and learning, but this is something I feel strongly about. If we make our classrooms true communities where students and teachers care about each other as people, not as names on a seating chart, we make the learning environment much more effective. We make risk-taking acceptable, and mistakes become learning opportunities rather than motive for ridicule. We bring everyone in and make sure they feel wanted and accepted and capable of success.

Look around your room on Monday, and on every day during that first week, and take the time to know ALL your students, just a little bit. You won’t regret it.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

If you teach, attend school, or have kids in school in Virginia, you most definitely have heard about last spring’s Math Standards of Learning all-new test. It threw quite a few people for a loop, and I do hope the results won’t be used to punish anyone in any way. I do hope, however, that these new test items will change the way some of us approach teaching these days.

While change is scary, it is not necessarily bad, and what this new test format is trying to do is get the kids to think through a problem to find an answer rather than spending a year memorizing answers. While a multiple choice test is not my favorite way of finding out if kids can solve problems, it is a practical way to do so, and for now, we have to live with SOL testing.

But don’t throw in the towel yet. You can help your kids train their brains to look for solutions. Have I ever stopped by your classroom to talk about Scratch? Stop rolling your eyes. I can see you.



Yes. Scratch. You might not know how to make the cat dance on your screen, but hundreds of thousands of kids around the world use Scratch, and their teachers agree: when kids make things in Scratch and work out all the kinks, they learn very important skills: perseverance, creativity, logical thinking, computational thinking. All those add up to, yes, you know it, problem-solving skills.

So, yes, again. I would love to work with you and your students and we will have a really fun time using Scratch. Make the time for it. You won’t regret it.




Experiment to Hobby

Last spring I blogged about macro photography using a drop of water on the iPod and iPhone lenses. I got several emails asking if I was crazy, getting my iDevices wet. I had enjoyed the resulting pictures but I saw what these people were saying. Getting my iPhone wet regularly was a risky proposition, so I purchased an Olloclip, a lens attachment specifically for the iPhone with wide angle, macro, and fisheye lenses.

What followed was a summer of almost daily photo expeditions in my back yard. My own children joined me often. I have accumulated close to a thousand images of insects, flowers, leaves, mushrooms, drops of water, and crystal structures. Here is a sampling of the pictures. If you are interested, you may view more of them on my Flickr page.

But, as cool as some of the pictures are, the coolest part has been the learning. After posting a few pictures where friends could see them, I started getting questions: What kind of bug is that? Are those eyes or nostrils? Where is its mouth? I got curious, too, and as weeks have gone by, I’ve built my own collection of resources to help answer those and many other questions. From joining the Project Noah community, to digging through the Garden Safari website, to emailing Wikipedia editors, I have looked for answers that only fed my own curiosity. I have learned about the habits of assassin bugs (who knew there was such a thing?) and the life cycle of katydids, and the wing structure and physics of dragonflies. We’ve learned chemistry, physics, biology, ecology, plant pathology, and all other kinds of subjects from examining my pictures closely and executing a few Google searches.

There is a “schooly” point to this post. Believe me.

Several times during the summer, I either listened to speakers or participated in discussions where the topic was engaged learning. My kids and I have been engaged in learning about insects all summer. How can we replicate this in schools?

What if we encouraged students to take pictures of what interests them and learned from that? What if, instead of spending so much time worrying about copyright this and that, our students made their own pictures, hand-drawn or photographed? The  making of a picture inevitably draws attention to details that go often go unnoticed when we just grab the image off websites. Think back on all the times in your life when you’ve learned something because you found out an interesting detail, something that hooked your intellect.

We have the technology. Let’s use it creatively. Let’s help students find what interests them and learn from those interests. The experience of creating a collection of reliable resources, joining a community of people with shared interests, and discovering answers on your own rather than from a boring textbook is valuable. And don’t ignore the pride in sharing what has been created with others within these communities. These are things people do every day, for work and for life.

At the Scratch conference in Boston last month, one of the speakers said we should educate kids for life, not for jobs. It is probably the salient quote of the summer for me. I think tapping into student interests is the perfect step in the right direction.

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