Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: October 2013

Rotating Objects – Google SketchUp

Last week I was in Ms. Curfman’s STEM class working with students on making 3D models of buildings they designed on paper. We built houses together to learn the basic tools. Now they have a question for me, so I’ve created this brief video to help them rotate objects they are importing from the 3D warehouse.


“There Are No Wishy Washy Astronauts”

I drove home yesterday listening to the tail end of Terry Gross’s interview with Commander Hadfield on Fresh Air (audio and transcripts available at the NPR website). I have blogged about his willingness to share and its value to the education community. There is much more than science to learn from Commander Hadfield.

“There are no wishy-washy astronauts,” Hadfield tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “You don’t get up there by being uncaring and blasé.”

You don’t get anywhere, really, by being uncaring, blasé, or wishy washy. It is not just about being a famous astronaut. It is about having goals and making an effort in whatever path you choose for your life.

Earlier this week, I was part of a team that visited Warrior New Tech Academy in Henry County. (Read about the New Tech approach to education at their website) The car ride there and back was excruciatingly long, but well worth the time. We heard students talk about the difficulties of changing their mindset and having to work harder than ever before to be successful in their new, project-based environment. These students knew that a large component in their failure or success in school was their own effort, resourcefulness, and determination to improve.

The key term used in New Tech environments is agency. Students have all necessary resources available to them: books, networked computers, search tools, team members, experienced teacher facilitators, a project plan, and time to execute it. Whether they use all these resources to learn is entirely up to each student. The growth and success of each student depends on how wishy washy a student chooses to be, or not.

To be or not to be. That is, supposedly, the question. I think a better question is, “Are you aware of how much effort you are making?” At one end of the scale is apathy. The scale progresses through wishy washy-ness and finally gets to awesome motivation on the other end. Grades don’t reflect this. We all know some kids can make very high grades without breaking a sweat, some work very hard, and some say, “my teacher gave me a __” without really giving it much thought. Grades don’t reflect effort accurately, therefore grades are not a reliable motivator.

Last night, with all this floating around my head, I spoke to a group of students in Dr. Gretz’s class (blog) . They are all teachers, and they were discussing how to best measure nebulous attributes like motivation and effort. I don’t know that there is a way to quantify motivation, but I think there is a way to get students thinking about the level of effort they make and how it affects their performance: Ask students to write a reflection.

Ask students to be honest with themselves and just write it all down without worrying about grammar and mechanics. Ask students to write in an authentic voice and in a safe environment. Assure students that this will not detract from any grade you have given them. You might even ask the students to read what they wrote themselves and never turn it in to you. Make students think about the work they did, what was good, what could have been better, and how they plan to improve in the future.

We cannot keep working under the assumption that students know what they need to do in order to succeed when nobody takes a look at what’s inside their heads. This is what the students at Warrior New Tech were telling us. They never knew how much they could do until they self-assessed how much of their success was dependent on them and independent of their teachers.

I think this is what Chris Hadfield is saying: We can get to where we want to go if we understand the effort that is required, and if we are willing to make that effort.

There are no wishy washy successful people.


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“Wait! My Bacteria Mutated!”

This weekend I asked my daughter to set the table and her response was, “Wait! My bacteria mutated! It is resistant to cold! Now it is going to wipe out the rest of the northern hemisphere.”

It seems my children have been playing Plague Inc. from Ndemic Creations on their iPads and learning some interesting stuff.

The game simulates the spread of a disease from Patient Zero to either total annihilation of the human race or the cure. If humans find the cure before everyone is dead, the player loses the game. It might sound unsavory, but there is so much learning going on along with the total gross-out kind of things so many middle schoolers just love.

Here is how one of these scenarios might play out: I choose a bacteria (virus, fungus, prion disease, and others must be unlocked). I choose a disease vector and initial symptoms. I select a location on the planet where Patient Zero acquires the disease, and I start the game. As time goes by, I earn points as more and more people are infected and die. With the points, I can purchase mutations for my bacteria to make it more deadly and more resistant to a cure. As I mutate my disease, I must pay attention to newspaper headlines. If the Olympic Games are about to happen, I want to purchase a mutation that makes it easy for the disease to jump from one person to another very easily. When all athletes and spectators go home after the games, they will take my plague everywhere.

At each step of the game and for each choice, there are definitions and explanations. Players can choose to click past these explanations, but knowing what everything means will help refine your strategy. For example, purchasing hemorrhaging as a symptom is good if the disease is a blood borne pathogen. I don’t know that hemorrhaging has been a word in my children’s vocabulary until now. Neither was prion, retrovirus, disease vector, hemophilia, anemia, or much more. It is now possible for my children to discuss the importance of fleas in the spread of the bubonic plague in the middle ages, something that is usually covered in high school history.

If the pattern holds true, my children will tire of Plague Inc. in a few weeks. They will lament having spent a dollar of their allowance on a game they no longer play, but the vocabulary, science, and geography knowledge they have acquired will remain, and that is well worth the money, in my opinion.

This is a game I’d be willing to have on school iPads for students to play when they have down time.

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