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Teaching them to Code, one block at a time

My colleague and robotics coach, Donna Horn gave me a Wall Street Journal article on Coding that’s worth sharing. It’s about why coding shouldn’t be so intimidating (at least to us teachers who didn’t learn to code).

Titled “We want our children to code, even if we can’t.” it argues why this is a skill we need to introduce early and often. Reading. Writing, and Coding…The timing of the article is not accidental.

February is when Coding fills the news, since Digital Learning Day is on Feb 17th. This year we have plenty to pick from –the usual powerhouses Code.Org and Khan Academy. There’s also Scratch, and other visual programming tools. Plus, there’s Mindstorms, the visual programming language we use in robotics.

Grant Smith, a tech writer for Edutopia makes a god point about teaching coding in schools. We need to set the stage first by (a) Curating the resources into the curriculum  (b) Organizing the classroom to be coder-friendly and (c) Rallying around those who might support your initiative. Including use some of the social media tools to build one’s personal learning network or PLN.

I’m planning on getting experts to come into the classroom, and teach.Ideally I’m thinking of App developers, from surrounding tech companies.

Please contact me if you know of someone!

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Ed-Tech, Education, STEM

 

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Is there an app for civic awareness?

I have begun looking into a site called Countables, positioned as a tool to connect people with those in government, including one’s state representatives.

However, civic awareness (or the lack thereof) may need more than an app. There’s a video going around showing students of a Texas university being asked basic questions such as ‘Who won the Civil War?’ or Who is our vice president?” Watch!

The producers of PoliTech, say they interviewed 20 to 30 students, of which only 30 percent knew the answers to some of the questions.In this context it seems obvious that a pre-requisite for getting young people to be better informed, is to get them better engaged.

  • In 2002, a study by National Geographic found that less than half the Americans could identify France, the United Kingdom or Japan on a world map. (Fewer than 2 in 3 could find China on a map of the Middle East/Asia…half of young Americans could find New York, etc)

Next week is Digital Learning Day, an event I participate in with my classes. Perhaps there should be a Civics Literacy Day.

 

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2016 in Social Media

 

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Star Wars, a gift when teaching image manipulation, animation

For the past few weeks I’ve been having a blast (and hopefully my students too), using Star Wars as material for classes on image manipulation, and color correction whether it is in Microsoft Word or Photoshop. The latter, for instance is a forthcoming 6th grade class that will be continued this year as well.

Chewey - DesireeStudents pick their favorite Star Wars image from Google, and the fun begins.

  • They learn to copy and paste (the keyboard shortcuts as well as the right-mouse commands).
  • The learn to layer an image, and color correct it – as in the example on the right
  • They learn to delete a background color using the much-ignored ‘Set transparency Color’ tool
  • They learn how to tweak the ‘saturation’ of the image, and what that means – and says. Or how to re-color an image for a specific effect.
  • It’s a good way to introduce ‘layers’ before we get to Photoshop.

Star Wars is also helps open the door to other topics and discussions about space.

Over the past few weeks, my 5th graders are working on The Moons of Mars – a PowerPoint, specifically aimed at understanding animation paths and orbits. I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint, but it’s a great canvas on which they could understand the purpose of animation, beyond the obvious wow factor.

I am now considering using Star Wars as a backdrop for a class on Digital Storytelling. Perhaps an animated cartoon strip with voice-overs matching the speech bubbles. I can see a lot of storm trooper effects, and tricks using the lovable BB8.

 

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Start taking notes! (It’s good for your brain.)

I’ve always known that note-taking is good for you. There are plenty of stories about this, and it’s always refreshing to see research and evidence for this. Here’s Why Writing Things Out By Hand Makes You Smarter: By slowing down the process, you accelerate learning.

One theory is that introducing ‘desirable difficulties’ that challenge the user help retention. The person who introduced this idea is Robert Bjork, at the Learning Lab – interestingly called Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab.

 

Of course the best example of note-taking can be seen from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. His notes went like this:

“Put this in the Book of useful inventions and in proving them bring forward the propositions already proved…”

Or, in what looks like a ‘note to self, Leonardo jots down this:

“And this is to be a collection without order, taken from many papers which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place, according to the subjects of which they may treat.”

A notebook, after all is a piece of ‘technology’ designed with a simple interface. Use often. Use responsibly!

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Communications, Media, Technology

 

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Media Illiteracy prevails, and the adults aren’t off the hoook

As our modes of communication grow smarter, we seem to be doing a shoddy job of using them. This is not just about the misuse of Twitter, of which dumb tweets are legion. Such as a Time correspondent firing off a tweet wishing for a drone strike on Julian Assange in 2013. This is about young people who have too powerful publishing tools at their disposal. If you like to know more, you will love this compilation!

This week, six High School students in Arizona got themselves and their school into serious trouble, using SnapChat. They got a picture of themselves taken wearing shirts that spelled out a racial slur. They learned, too late, that an app’s ability to ‘communicate’ should not define the message. (If none of them had data-enabled mobile devices would anyone have even bothered setting up the shot?).

An editorial in the Arizona Republic asked how students who have gone through a curriculum that probably included close reading and discussion of the civil war era, could have been so crass.

It’s hard to imagine these girls got this far in school without reading the ugly chapters in American history about the enslavement and oppression of Black people. Did they fail to pay attention? Did they fail to connect the dots to real people?

Let’s not get parents off the hook. How much time are we spending with young people to inform them about media use? It’s easy to be tool literate and media stupid.

Here are some thoughts for parents who may be considering giving a teenager (actually pre-teens, now) a mobile device:

  1. You pay for the phone and the data plan. You own the device; you set the rules. A phone is not like a pair of shoes, it doesn’t have to belong to the end-user.
  2. You better decide on the apps that get on the phone. Don’t complain later when a kid is spending too much time on Insta-brag or Brat-chat. I mean Instagram and Snapchat.
  3. Like your car keys, devices not owned by a child should be stored outside of bedrooms at night.
  4. It’s possible for homework assignments to be completed without digital devices. Really!
  5. Make sure your child makes every effort to not be in a video taken by a fellow insta-bragger.
  6. Finally, make sure your child’s school has a policy that has been updated to match the ubiquity and speed of shared media. It’s no longer valid to call it a ‘social media policy’. It’s a device use policy.
 

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It’s a kite. It’s a tethered bird. Could it be a drone?

I love how this guy is disrupting the idea of what we think of a drone, to re-frame it as a kite.

A kite that takes pictures, that is.

Funny how we box ourselves in by classifying things the way they originally emerged as. Is a cell phone today really a phone? Ore more recently, with the idea of a supersized ‘commuter drone’, is a drone a light aircraft that may or may not need to be autonomous? But apart from the boxing ourselves in, the need to be creative is often stymied by those who are reluctant to make mistakes.

Sergei Lupashin, in the video below spoke at an Education technology conference last year about this. His point being we need to get young people to feel comfortable with making  a lot of mistakes! That is how we could make breakthroughs

 

If you haven’t seen the Chinese-made single passenger drone, here’s how they position it – learning from their mistakes. Um crashes!

 

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in STEM, Technology

 

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International Ping-Pong Space Station

Space could be fun (OK, except for dehydrated food) especially if they let you play a few games. All in the line of testing out how some materials behave in micro-gravity.

One of my colleagues lets students work on NASA projects, such as making a glider out of a shoe-box, or growing vegetables in space-like conditions. Her students are currently working on how ‘toys in space’ might perform.

So in this line of thinking, there’s Scott Kelly, who’s spending a year in space, playing ping-pong with a water droplet. If only he played against, say Sergey Volkov or Timothy Peake (UK). That would make it a more realistic international playoff.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2016 in Education, STEM

 

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