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Tag: MIT

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.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

If you teach, attend school, or have kids in school in Virginia, you most definitely have heard about last spring’s Math Standards of Learning all-new test. It threw quite a few people for a loop, and I do hope the results won’t be used to punish anyone in any way. I do hope, however, that these new test items will change the way some of us approach teaching these days.

While change is scary, it is not necessarily bad, and what this new test format is trying to do is get the kids to think through a problem to find an answer rather than spending a year memorizing answers. While a multiple choice test is not my favorite way of finding out if kids can solve problems, it is a practical way to do so, and for now, we have to live with SOL testing.

But don’t throw in the towel yet. You can help your kids train their brains to look for solutions. Have I ever stopped by your classroom to talk about Scratch? Stop rolling your eyes. I can see you.



Yes. Scratch. You might not know how to make the cat dance on your screen, but hundreds of thousands of kids around the world use Scratch, and their teachers agree: when kids make things in Scratch and work out all the kinks, they learn very important skills: perseverance, creativity, logical thinking, computational thinking. All those add up to, yes, you know it, problem-solving skills.

So, yes, again. I would love to work with you and your students and we will have a really fun time using Scratch. Make the time for it. You won’t regret it.




It’s Scratch Time…Almost


Last night I found out the Scratch team at MIT has the new Scratch up and ready for testing. I did not have much time to play around, but saw enough to know I really like it. Everything seems to work as well as it did before. The paint editor looks like it will be much nicer once it is active. paint editor

I’m excited to have Scratch available for students without the need for downloads and updates. Here in Goochland we are pretty nimble when it comes to deploying new software, but in some surrounding counties, getting the application on student computers has been a barrier to kids accessing this amazing tool.

I can’t wait to have many more teachers and students scratching soon.

What Is Scratch?

I have been talking about Scratch since John Hendron introduced me to it in 2007 when it was brand new. I have blogged about it, tweeted about it, presented at conferences, co-taught workshops, participated in conferences, and pretty much tried to sell it to everyone for everything. Scratch is an amazingly fun learning tool for all ages.

If you have never heard of Scratch, or used it, you are really missing out. Take a look at the new video the Scratch team at MIT has released.

Intro to Scratch from ScratchEd on Vimeo.

From Scratch

I spent the last few days of my summer break in Boston attending the Scratch Conference at MIT. I have so much to share with teachers. This, added to what I saw and did earlier in the summer, has me very excited about this new school year. I just need to get all my thoughts organized so I can share with teachers and students.


It was great getting to hear Mitch Resnick and his colleagues speak about Scratch, the culture that surrounds it, and the new developments we can all anticipate. Scratch is truly an amazing tool for 21st century learning. I have lots of new ideas of what to do with Scratch. And, I learned about a really cool new tool to help everyone get started with Scratch. Take a look at the cool stuff you can make using DesignBlocks.

But, not everything was about Scratch. We got to hear a panel discussion in which Sherri Turkle and Henry Jenkins shared thoughts about participatory culture and how technology has changed the way we behave, both privately and in public.


I have to confess, when my travel companions were going on and on about how excited they were to hear Henry Jenkins, I was not sure who he was. I can remember numbers and images, but never names… A quick Google search took me to his blog (very cool, by the way) and got me just as excited. I started my summer teaching Scratch, then spent the middle part of my summer reading about games in education, and here I was at the Scratch conference listening to the man behind Ed Arcade, which had provided a lot of the information I’d read in Orlando at the Apple Institute. Pretty cool.

So, my summer has come full circle, from Scratch, to games, and back to Scratch AND games. Next, get all this into teachers’ heads and students’ hands. It is going to be a fun school year.

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