Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: November 2013

The 3D Printing Question

I think 3D printing is really cool. The possibilities are endless. I can print my own spare parts, or create my own toys… There have been incredible stories 3D printed bones, or casts to help heal broken bones. There is even a beautiful story about 3D printing helping blind kids “see” their Google search results.

We have 3D printers in Goochland, and I hope to see lots of cool things come out of them. However, I fear 3D printing may turn into a meaningless, routine activity. This would be truly tragic.

Back in early 2012, there were lots of articles about the Smithsonian making 3D-printed replicas of some of its artifacts to lend to other museums. Here is a link to one I read back then. I thought that was really great. I mean, I’d LOVE to see originals in museums, but the practice of displaying replicas of fossils and statues is not new, and 3D printing made this so much more inexpensive and easy. Now there is a new development. The Smithsonian is making the 3D files available for download and printing.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen lots of educators talking about this on Twitter. I know, not everyone has the Smithsonian just 2 hours away like we do. 3D-printed versions of artifacts would be really cool to have. However, once the object is printed, you have to store it. And really, all you did to create it was send the model to the printer. My guess is that it would be a teacher who did this, not a student. So, in addition to transforming printing from “killing trees” to using up resin, how did we improve instruction?

I think it is very generous of the Smithsonian to let us have their 3D models to print in our own classrooms.

I think it would be much more valuable to let students research objects, figure out why they are important, make the case to the class, create their own 3D model, and then print it. In fact, the Smithsonian is already giving us a great starting point with their 100 Objects that Made America. Would your students add any objects? Which of the 100 objects in the book would they replace? Maybe, after researching and deciding as a class, the students could make their own 3D models and have their own museum exhibit. That might be a better learning activity than passing around a piece of plastic.

The Case For Downtime

Last week I read an article in The Atlantic about the importance of daydreaming. The author cites studies and makes the point that giving the brain time to drift from one idea to the next, unprompted, helps cognitive function. In daydreaming, while people appear idle, the brain is fully-engaged in cementing knowledge, making connections, and just practicing invention.

This idea of unstructured thought reminded me of a couple of reports I had heard on NPR long ago. I had to search for them, and was surprised I was still wondering about something I heard on the radio back in 2008. I talked about these reports  for weeks, but never got around to blogging about them. The first report focused on old-fashioned play and the development of executive function. Executive function is the ability to self-regulate.

This was the portion that most impressed me from that report:

We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.”



That’s quite a drop. And, yes, a very sad drop. Here are the implications:

Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.”


I remember thinking, “No wonder some people have issues about ‘kids these days.'” We expect kids to behave in certain ways, but we raise then in environments that don’t support the development of self-regulation.

The second report showcased what can be done to encourage the development of executive function in a world where old-fashioned make-believe play is so scarce. Most of the report focused on a school in New Jersey where students engage in lots of pretend play and activities designed to help them control their impulses. Again, as with daydreaming, this time spent in pretend play, while it seems idle, is crucial. Pretend play helps kids learn to abide by rules without necessarily being subjected to punishment as they learn. 

Ms. LAURA BERK (Psychologist): We often call it free play, but it’s the least free of children’s play context in that children are always during make-believe acting against immediate impulses, because they have to subject themselves to the rules of the make-believe scene. And those rules almost inevitably are the social rules of the child’s cultural world. So that a child pretending to go to sleep follows the rules of bedtime behavior, another child imagining herself to be a parent conforms to the rules of parental behavior, and the child playing teacher asserts the rules of the school and classroom behaviors.


With the push towards higher academic achievement, we have cut out lots of downtime from children’s schedules. We have short recess in elementary and a 25-minute sedentary lunch in secondary. We flip classrooms and make kids spend more time watching videos at home. I know there are schools in surrounding counties where teachers are required to assign daily homework. Now we are discussing year-round school pilots.

Are we paying attention to what all this research shows us? With all our efforts to focus on time-on-task and seat hours, we might be doing more harm than good.

 

 

Minecraft and Spatial Thinking

How long has SketchUp been around? My earliest blog post referencing SketchUp is from December 20, 2008, but I know it had been around for a long time before that. I enjoy working in SketchUp, and I have encouraged teachers to use it many times. I always warned teachers and students there would be a steep learning curve and an adjustment to working in three dimensions. Today, however, something clicked.

This morning I was working with students in Mrs. Kass’s Science class on creating zoo enclosures for endangered species. As I did last week in Ms. Curfman’s class, I started our SketchUp project by helping the students build a house. This is a great introduction to all the most commonly-used tools. In the past, I would have to spend a long time discussing what students were seeing on their screens, learning to use the orbit tool, zooming, etc. In Ms. Curfman’s and Mrs. Kass’s classes, the kids jumped right in and started working. Nobody was confused. Nobody ended up looking at their house from underground, trying to figure out how to get back to the top.

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As the class was wrapping up and students were putting their computers away, one girl said to another, “It is like Minecraft, but you build with lines instead of blocks.”

There you have it. These kids can navigate virtual 3D spaces effortlessly. It is what they do in their spare time. If we make the most of this spatial thinking ability (see why it is important), if we apply it to creativity and problem-solving, I think we are going to see some interesting things.

 

I’m INSANE…

By the way….I’m INSANE about the teacher dashboard.  The amount of info it gives you is incredible.  I don’t have to worry about logging in to a million different accounts when there is a question.  It’s so convenient.

Sometimes we find a good tool. Sometimes we find an insane tool. I’m very happy we have Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard, and if we judge by the above quote, so is Mrs. Abbott.

We have been using Google Docs for about four years now, but there has always been a high entry point for this tool. Teachers must feel comfortable organizing files in folders and tracking who is sharing what where. With Teacher Dashboard, all that becomes so easy you can get started in just a few minutes.

Head over to John Hendron’s blog and watch the video. Let me know if you would like my help. I know you are going to like this.

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