Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: November 2012

Accidental Discovery

Earlier this week, John Hendron and I were in my office working on a video when Mrs. Abbott (blog) came to visit. I had asked her to stop by so we could install the Reflection app on her laptop and show her how to use it with the iPads in her room.

After I launched the application, I picked up my iPad off my desk to activate mirroring. John, who was across the room from me, wanted to be the one to show the apps on his iPad, and he had also grabbed his iPad.  We looked at each other and it was a challenge. Who can do this first?

We hit the button, and it turns out, we BOTH mirrored our iPads. Neither of us knew we could do that. What a nice surprise.

Now I have this new option to share with teachers and students. Imagine the possibilities. The teacher and a student comparing how they’ve done something and sharing with the class. Two students presenting a complex project involving multiple apps…

These little accidental discoveries are always so much fun.


Scratch Habits

This morning I received an email from a teacher asking for help with a Scratch project. A student needed help getting a sprite to appear at a random corner of the screen whenever the game was started. There was a Scratch project attached to the email, but as I read, I realized I did not have to look at the existing code. I could see, in my head, the blocks I would use and how I would assemble them.

It felt really good to be able to solve a problem on the fly, and I realized it would have taken much longer if I had not been spending so much time in Scratch over the past couple of days (conference session at VSTE, workshop at Dinwiddie Middle School, and my own child’s project at home).

When John Hendron and I attended the Scratch Conference at MIT this summer, we heard many speakers discuss the benefits of using Scratch. This habit of thinking logically through problems seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list. I understand that this spontaneous visualization of Scratch blocks in my head is a result of immersion over the past few days. Still, it makes me even more eager to get teachers using Scratch in their classrooms. I don’t mean getting teachers to do a single Scratch project during the school year, but using Scratch consistently over time to reinforce and apply valuable concepts. That’s how it will have an impact on kids’ lives.

Poetic Devices Adoption Agency

A few weeks ago I blogged about Ms. Talley and Ms. Thomas and their poetry project. The students were to create a pitch for a poetic device or poem to convince poets to adopt them into their work. I had a really fun time working with the students and with the teachers. It was a challenging project due to logistics, technology adoption, and the nature of the project itself.

On the logistics front, we shared a single iPad cart that was also being used for other projects. I’m really glad I did not run over anyone as I raced down the hall with the iPad cart between blocks. Even if it is a challenge, this is a good problem to have. High demand of whatever technology we have available is better than having piles of tools in closets and storage rooms.

Many of the students who worked on this project had not used iMovie on the iPads. They all know their way around iMovie on the Mac, and it took a bit of getting used the pared down iOS version. The universal complaint, which I take up wholeheartedly is the automatic, unstoppable Ken Burns effect. I love Ken Burns and his documentaries, I love Ken Burns effects on the Mac, but this is a bit much. Please, Apple, shut it off.

As far as the project went, well, many of the students were pushed out of their comfort zones. This is good. Making things just hard enough to make students think beyond what they are used to is a good exercise. If we had asked the students simply to write about their assigned poetic device, they could have just paraphrased whatever they found in their textbook or online. By asking them to illustrate and narrate, we made the students think about their writing as more than something to turn in to their teachers. They had to get creative both in the writing and the illustrations.

Of course, there was one more dimension to this project. The adoption best of the adoption pitches have been posted to YouTube. Expanding the audience beyond the teacher and the students in the room gives students the added incentive to make their work worth sharing.

Here is one of my favorites.

Vsauce, Photography, and Sources

Over the weekend I watched this video from the Vsauce educational channel on YouTube. I take dozens of pictures with my phone every week, and my whole life I’ve taken pictures with more traditional cameras, so I found the subject very interesting.


I’m a big fan of Vsauce and some of their collaborators Vi Hart and Minute Physics. I’ve blogged about them before.

What caught my eye this time was how the sources of the information were cited for this video. The people at Vsauce used the video description section in YouTube to link to each bit of information that required a reference. With more and more of our teachers uploading videos to YouTube through our Google Apps for Education accounts, I thought it would be useful to point this out.

Our students don’t currently upload their own videos through school-managed accounts, but they might some day. It is good to start looking at how good digital citizens operate and establish a collection of best practices.

Building a Better City

Ms. Curfman and her STEM class have been working on designing the city of the future. They are looking at issues such as financing public works, water runoff, and sprawl. I visited their classroom today. Everyone was having a really good time. Have a look.


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