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Category: Around the Web (page 1 of 11)

The Magic Moment

I watched a really amazing video over the weekend. Peter Dahmen is a paper engineer who makes incredibly complex pop-up cards. The first time I watched, I was not listening to what Mr. Dahmen was saying. I was too distracted by the paper sculptures he was holding throughout the video. Then I played the video again, and paid closer attention. A few things popped out (haha) at me.

The Magic Moment from Christopher Helkey on Vimeo.

First, Mr. Dahmen makes a living out of cutting and gluing paper. This in itself is amazing. Second, his work was born from not having someone with a car drop him off at school with is assignment neatly held in his lap, wrapped in a big trash bag. It made me feel slightly better about the times my own children have had to walk to the bus stop carrying unwieldy projects. Maybe my kids have learned from those experiences. Maybe.

Third, and most important, is that Mr. Dahmen has developed his skill by doing, by revising and iterating and being unafraid to fail. We have mentioned learning by doing so many times in our discussions of Deeper Learning. Let’s keep this example in mind, and let’s remember to create environments in our classrooms where it is okay to fail and try again.

Deeper Learning

What’s the point of a 1:1 program? The point is not to waste taxpayer dollars, or to make our existing worksheets into digital worksheets. Our goal is to truly transform learning to attain Deeper Learning.

As with much of what we do, we didn’t just make it up. We have read and observed and talked to educators around Virginia, around the United States, and around the world.

KQED has a great blog post that explains it really well.

So what defines deeper learning? (…) mastering content, critical thinking, effective written and oral communication, collaboration, learning how to learn, and developing academic mindsets.

Look at the last two. You will never teach kids all there is to know. Give them the tools, and the mindset, to get there after they leave your classroom.


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.


Space Kitchen

Who’s my new favorite astronaut? Chris Hadfield, of course!

Commander Hadfield is currently on the International Space Station, and he has been sharing his experiences with us, poor Earth-bound mortals. Each video has something amazing to see. Whether he is singing with schoolchildren or chatting with Captain Kirk, Commander Hadfield is entertaining and always educational.

In this video, Commander Hadfield makes a sandwich. I love it that he eats peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Those are always better than the grape jelly kind, right? And in a tortilla, too! By the way, I could not stop staring at how his watch moved on his wrist.


I hope teachers are making the most of these videos and sharing with their students. There are so many interesting ideas to explore. From Commander Hadfield’s comments about crumbs, to the tethered scissors and Velcro-attached bottle of honey, there are examples of creative solutions to seemingly-unimportant problems.

So, watch the videos, and then visit the Canadian Space Agency’s website. There are tons of good reads and pictures there. One related to the above video is Eating in Space. What would you like to rehydrate for lunch today?


What’s the Secret?

What’s the secret? How can I boil down things I do into pithy sentences that make myself sound as good as possible? Here goes: Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.

Aaron Swartz was a name I’d seen many times in many different places, but until today, I had never really looked into him. I’m sorry I didn’t. He committed suicide yesterday. He was only 26 years old, and he did amazing things that have made a difference in my own life.

You can read about it on Wikipedia, a place he loved, or in his own words.

When In Doubt…

A few years ago, Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Blackburn brought their Language Arts and Latin students together in a very interesting cross-curricular project to study the origins of words.  Now that we have so many new tools that let us create animations very easily, I would love to see a reprise of the project. Here’s the video that sparked this idea.


Connecting the STEM Dots

In October, I clicked on a link in a tweet and discovered hexaflexagons. I watched a couple of videos from Vi Hart’s channel on YouTube, and then I set out to make my own.

When I left my office to find a teacher, I took my best hexaflexagon in my pocket. I finished my task, and on my way back to my office, stopped to say hello to Mrs. Falconer (blog). She had taught Math last year, so I showed her my hexaflexagon. Then I showed her one of the videos I had watched.

Mrs. Falconer was excited, and although she now teaches Social Studies, she came up with a perfect way to bring hexaflexagons into her classroom: the mathematicians mentioned in Vi Hart’s videos were very active in the 1920’s, a period Mrs. Falconer will be covering with her students anyway. So, instead of focusing just on Jazz and flappers, why not talk about the incredible advances in math and science? This is the time when Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein, and so many others worked out ideas we find all over textbooks and applied science today.

As I watched Vi Hart fold her hexaflexagon on the screen a second time, I was not so focused on how to make one myself. I had already done that. My mind drifted and I found myself thinking that proteins fold themselves up in the same way the paper folds for making a hexaflexagon. I thought I’d look into it, but I moved on to whatever happened in my next email and forgot about it.

Then, today, I read about a robot developed at MIT that can change its shape by folding itself in different directions. At a glance, the little robot looks like a metal version of the strip of triangles that is folded to make a hexaflexagon. And, yes, the robot is intended to mimic the structure of proteins in how they fold themselves. Eventually, this little robot prototype could end up serving as the basis for something really great. In my mind, it is all connected.

When we talk about STEM in schools, we focus too much on test scores, as always. How are we doing compared to the kids in China? Can we answer dozens of problems on a bubble sheet in a limited amount of time? I think this is the wrong approach. We should show kids that math, science, and engineering can be fun and beautiful, like decorated hexaflexagons and tiny transformer robots. We need more teachers like Mrs. Falconer. She is willing to deviate from her rigid curriculum and pacing guide just a bit to give her students an experience that might lead to a meaningful a-ha! moment in the future.

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.

Somewhat Reading Vs. Really Reading

As is often the case, NPR made me think this morning. First, I woke up to a story about Jane Austen, reading, and neuroscience. I had read the report earlier this year when a friend sent me the link to the Stanford website. I kept it open in my browser for weeks, hoping to somehow work it into a blog post at some point.

It turns out our brains behave differently depending on the purpose of our reading. We get to a point in time where we read unconsciously. We can hardly glance at a word without reading it. We can also scan documents and skip around books getting the general idea. And, while that is reading, the purpose is different from consciously settling down for concentrated, concerted reading. It makes sense that our brain behaves very differently depending on how much attention we pay to the text, how engaged we are with the text. 

Of course, there must be implications for educators in there. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I’m sure not forming that habit of purposeful reading must leave a hole in people’s lives. I do tons of the more superficial reading, and get more and more distracted, especially when reading on a screen, or reading a text while in close proximity to a screen. I still value and enjoy the deep, engaged reading where, as one researcher said, the house could burn down and I’d be hard-pressed to notice.

I was still thinking about this issue, and how to ensure children do form that engaged reading habit, when I heard the interview with author Robin Sloan. He is well-acquainted with this distraction problem. He worked at Twitter, a great source of distraction for me. And he gets it. He really does.

“If you come from the Internet, as I do — I think of it as sort of my native country — there’s a lot of great things happening on the Internet, but one of the things, one of the feelings you just can’t escape is the sense that it’s really hard to keep people’s attention,” Sloan says.

In the audio, he even mentions what a feat it is to get someone to look at your website (or blog?) for more than 30 seconds, if they even look at all. If you’ve read this far, I win. You’ve spent more than 30 seconds visiting my blog. Yay!

So maybe our brains are changing, and maybe our students’ brains are completely different. The truth remains. If something is interesting enough, good enough, people will pay attention and engage. 

If you have time, listen to the full interview. Then, if you are in the classroom, think about how you attempt to engage students. Are the students distracted because they don’t know how to pay attention, or are they distracted because what you are offering is not holding them?

Master Googler

Everything is in Google if you know how to find it. That last bit is the important one. Do you know how to find everything in Google?

Now is your chance to learn.

Registration is open for the Power Searching with Google online course. In six 50-minute sessions, you can learn all the tricks from Dan Russell (blog). You will even get a certificate. Cool, huh?

I think I’m pretty good at finding things, and have learned a lot from playing the daily Google search puzzle. I still would love to take the class, but will be traveling during the days the course will be live.

It would be great if Google could offer this again during the school year. I know a few teachers who’d find a way to incorporate this into their syllabus.

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