Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: September 2013

Playing = Learning

Last week I attended my son’s Back-to-School night and walked away smiling. His math teacher, Ms. Griffin, spent a long time talking about games and puzzles and very little time talking about SOL tests and homework. At the end of her presentation, she gave us a puzzle for us to bring home to the kids. Can you solve it?

Take eight eights and, using only addition, find a way to make 1000. Don’t Google it. That will ruin the fun.

One particular puzzle tool Ms. Griffin shared with parents were pentominoes. She told us she likes pentomino puzzles because they teach students to step back, think, and try new approaches every time they get stuck. Perfect! It is a great problem-solving habit of mind to acquire, this iterative, creative approach to problems. Ms. Griffin also mentioned spatial reasoning, something that was in the news this summer (at least the news I follow). Researchers at Vanderbilt University had good things to say about spatial reasoning that back up Ms. Griffin’s use of pentominoes in the classroom.

 Exceptional spatial ability at age 13 predicts creative and scholarly achievements more than 30 years later, according to results from a Vanderbilt University longitudinal study, published today in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Yes, I know. I don’t like it when I walk into a room and the kids are playing games on the computers. The thing is, there are games and then there are games. Shoot-em-up games are not the same as BigSeed or Kickbox or Contig, all of which are on our iPads here at GCPS. Good games make players think, not just push buttons faster and faster. Good games teach players to be persistent, to be creative, and most importantly, that there can be many ways of arriving at a solution that does not have a 25% chance of being right if selected randomly from a list. Good games take time to master and lots of thinking. Good games are hard fun.



Scratch, Automator, and Trial-and-error Learning

What do you do when you have about 600 files to print for mailing and you only want the very first page of each file?

You find a student volunteer to click, click, click, click for hours.

What happens when the files are confidential tests results you can’t let anyone else see?

You pull up Automator and create a workflow.

I think Automator is incredibly cool and useful, but I don’t get too many chances to use it. I know the basics, but for the most part, I have to try several times before I get the result I want.

For example, the first time I ran the workflow, I accidentally dumped all 563 files onto my desktop. I cleaned up, made changes, and tried again. After a few tries, I finally sent everything to the right printer. Now I have this powerful tool for the next round of testing.

Creating in Automator is not that different from creating in Scratch, another tool I absolutely love. Learning Scratch trains the brain to go through iterative learning using trial-and-error in a simple, safe environment. The process is time consuming, but it teaches lessons that can’t be replaced by any other pedagogy. It is not about the tool, learning the syntax, or recreating existing successful projects. It is about going through the process and training yourself to stick with it until it works.

Would you like to learn about Automator? Email or stop by my office and I’ll get you started.

Collaborative Courtyard

This year, students in Ms. Yearout-Patton’s and Ms. Bratton’s classes will be wroking with the students in Ms. Gates’s 3rd grade class  and 5th grade volunteers to transform the GHS courtyard into a more usable learning space. The students at Randolph Elementary have worked over the past couple of years to make their courtyard into a very beautiful and usable outdoor classroom.

Yesterday all the students met for the first time at RES. We learned about the changes already made to the RES courtyard and plans for future changes. We had lunch, and then students worked in teams to brainstorm ideas for the GHS courtyard. It was a really great day. Take a look at some of the pictures.



Students will meet again in October to finalize plans and start working on a rock garden at RES.


Sharing My Weekend Find

On Saturday afternoon I took a break from yard work to take pictures of a few bugs I’d found. One of them turned out to be a beautiful caterpillar striking a defensive pose. As I often do, I posted the pictures to Project Noah looking for an identification of the species. Then I collected all five caterpillars I found and made a home for them in a big container to watch them grow.


The caterpillar turned out to be a Cerura vinula caterpillar in its second instar. This means that the caterpillar hatched from its egg looking a certain way, and now it looks different. It will continue to change appearance from one instar to another until it is ready to go into a cocoon. The cocoon will be made up of silk produced by the caterpillar, and will incorporate bits of leaf and bark. There will be no change in the winter, and the caterpillar will remain in its cocoon until early spring, when it will emerge as a white moth with gray markings.

I always encourage teachers to share with other teachers, but most of my bug pictures are in places not easily accessible to educators. As these caterpillars grow and move from one instar to the next, and then into their cocoons, I will post the images and comments on a Google site where anyone teaching life cycles will have access to it. In the spring, I hope to create a time lapse video of the caterpillars emerging as moths after wintering in their cocoons.



Color Me Green

I was in Ms. Adams’s room a few minutes ago helping her share her students’ work on YouTube, and I just had to share here as well.

Ms. Adams participated in a summer class on making iMovie trailers on the iPads. We discussed the importance of succinct and clear communication using a combination of text and visuals. Of course, we also discussed the importance of giving students an audience outside the four classroom walls. Ms. Adams took all this to heart, and here is her students’ first iMovie project: researching and communicating the importance and meaning of colors in design. This is the trailer for green, my favorite color. Go to Ms. Adams’s YouTube page and watch the video for your favorite color.


This morning I read an article on copyright laws in which the origin of the word “pirate” was discussed. I doubted the given etymology was correct, so I did what I do: Google.

To my surprise, instead of getting to my first choice for such searches, Google gave me the answer directly. Here is Google’s answer and my expected answer right below.

I immediately started trying other words.

Then I realized there was an arrow to expand the information. Look at all the cool stuff!

Definitions, historic data, options for translations, antonyms, synonyms, usage examples…

A word geek’s dream. A fun way to learn.

I hope teachers make good use of this.


1:1 Success Story

On Sunday night, I was about to change the radio station to play music as my kids requested, when I happened to hear “Mooresville, NC public school…something something something…” I told the kids they’d have to wait and listened to part of a documentary on personalized learning.

I have known about the laptop program in Mooresville for years. I’ve met teachers from Mooresville and read about their implementation. I really liked this documentary because I heard from students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Everyone spoke of the transformation in the way everything is done.

Mooresville Middle School Assistant Principal Angelo DelliSanti says technology doesn’t change education, people do. “If you take laptops and you put them in a school where there are low expectations and no instructional leadership, what you’re going to have are students doing worksheets on the laptop,” he says. “Now they’re just using a text edit tool to fill in their answers.”  

Success requires high expectations, strong instructional leadership, and a true transformation of instruction.

We are just embarking on this 1:1 journey here in Goochalnd County. I hope we can learn from the school community in Mooresville and see as much improvement as they have.

You can read about all the different chapters in the documentary, or skip down to Chapter 5 on Mooresville, at the American RadioWorks website. There is also a link to download the full transcript or the MP3 version of the audio at the bottom of the page. Both contain much more than is available in the written version.

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