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Category Archives: Best Practices

Summer boot camp: SLRs, Robots, and a Solar Oven

Last week, students at the summer boot camp I conducted here at Li’l Sprouts Montessori got to work with different technologies. From building robots and circuits, to using cameras and a solar oven. They also used one of the oldest ‘technologies’ that tend to be overlooked – pencil and paper.

But besides motors, and learning the software (to program the robot below) students also learned about engineering design, using toothpicks to build a bridge and a tower.

They did a fair amount of writing, maintaining their journals each day. They worked on essay writing, a news story, and poetry.

On the final day I introduced them to the solar oven, and Tanu helped them bake cookies. One batch got done in just over 30 minutes!

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Typos in educashen tweets mask bigger issues

I’m sure Dan Quayle, the vice president who got famous for (mis)spelling ‘potatoe must feel vindicated, now that the new US Education secretary had a tweet sent out to correct a typo in a previous tweet. Unfortunately the apology contained this gem:

“Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”

Now I’m not going to join the bandwagon and frame it as the end times in education. We all make mistakes. Even one like this, as her staff did. Mistakes happen when we blurt things out without much thought.

However, there are some lessons here worth repeating about using a social media handle to go public:

What is the purpose? Micro-blogging, or trying to communicate in 140 characters requires a different discipline (from say shouting, or firing off a press release). One needs to craft the message to the channel and its audience. What was the point of the Education secretary’s Twitter handle being used to publish a quote from the essayist and author? Just to show that the department is clued up on sociology and civil rights? Come on! Does the Dalai Lama need to quote Gandhi to prove himself?

Whose ‘voice’ is it? A department or an organization comprises many divisions. But the top dog sets the tone of voice. A random quote is quite an anemic way to communicate, since it basically reflects no one. Is the channel a news feed, or for insight into the workings of the organization? Is it a place to link to important assets, or ideas? It can’t be all things to all people. Define your brand voice!

Who is doing it for you? Sure someone else may manage the communication, but you oversee it. Or, as some companies like Dell do it, set up multiple Twitter accounts for different constituents. This was something we discussed in 2009 and 2010.

Perhaps government agencies shood should go back to Twitter skhool school. Or at laest least take communication 101.

 

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So you think you can’t draw?

Who says Microsoft Word is just for typing?

3rdgrade_illustrationHere’s how my 4th graders have been discovering their inner artist, using the hidden drawing tools. (The illustration on left was by a 3rd grader.)

They start off assuming they cannot draw. But once they have mastered the tool, ideas start to flow, as you will see below in the video.

 

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Is there an injunction about Tweeting in ALL CAPS?

Anyone who began using Twitter around 2008, may recall that there were certain requirements and protocols that had to be learned, unless you wanted to risk the wrath of the twitterverse. (How many of you remember using 40404 short code? If not, never mind.)

One of the holy cows about using Twitter was to avoid all caps. It was common sense, and a convention borrowed from email etiquette. We still tell young people getting started with email that it is rude to type in all caps; there are others ways to add emphasis. Communication doesn’t require one to shout! The intended audience is supposed to be respected.

So what do you tell a young person who sees the president of the United States using Twitter frivolously, impulsively, and using the tool to bully, shout and vent?

There are some things in life for which you don’t need a handbook. However I’ve got this 2009 book titled The Twitter Handbook, I will be happy to mail to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. Someone seriously needs a crash course.

 

Do we have space for Makerspaces and tech shops?

Some days I wish I could convert part of my computer lab into a Makerspace. After all I have re-defined it as a Computer and Technology Lab, so it would be appropriate to have other technologies. Like a metal cutter, or workbench to build things – such as making a speaker out of an Altoid tin, or rudimentary printing such as silk-screening.

I thought of this again after getting into a discussion with a teacher visiting our school from New Zealand this week. She spoke of how curriculum there includes woodwork, needlework and many hands-on activities.

She was not been aware of Makerspaces, but mentioned a parallel well-organized movement called Mens’ Sheds – run by retired people so that anyone could take up a new skill.

Makerspaces here are great places for students with rudimentary engineering products in mind, for say a science fair. They are open to anyone and are often free. Some school libraries are carving out makerspaces for 3-D printing.

I’ve visited one in Mesa, Arizona called HeatSync Labs. Love the name!

I’ve still to visit the TechShop in Chandler where you could learn CAD drawing, or how to build a (guess what?) Bluetooth speaker!

 

 

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“World Peace” game proves kids can problem solve (without Apps)

A friend sent me a link to this story of a “World Peace Game” played by 4th graders. Sorry it’s not as fancy as MineCraft, or pointless as Pokemon. What I love about John Hunter’s concept is that there is no “win” and that it truly demonstrates how students can learn, sans smart devices.

If you need some background to this, watch John Hunter’s Ted Talk. You’ll be blown away.

One of the best performance reviews a teacher could get is what one of Hunter’s students says: “My brain, when I come back from his class, it feels like ‘jelly’ –it learned sooo much.”

 
 

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Is there a ‘Maker’ in you?

Given how we’re being swamped by all things digital, don’t you long for a life with more hands-on experiences? I’ve written about (and visited) ‘Maker Spaces‘ that have been popping up in cities.

If you need inspiration, check out Intel’s ‘America’s Greatest Maker’ series. It will blow your mind to see a movement picking up steam that had young people becoming inventors and ‘makers.’ It is a TV show (similar to ‘The Voice,’ or ‘America’s Got Talent’), and a resource for learning the basics with plenty of how-to videos.  Watch someone who did just that.

“Inventing is really cool, because you don’t need a factory, you don’t have to be a certain age… as long as you have the right tools, and the right people to seek out.”  Shubham Banerjee, Maker

Also worth looking at is a fellow named Paulo De Souza who came up with the idea of equipping ”bees with backpacks” – um, tiny sensors. He has been addressing one of the world’s biggest problems, a diminishing bee population –or ‘colony collapse‘ as scientists call it.

Another great space for the movement is Maker Faire at Makerfaire.com

maker-faireFrom Art, and Arduino, to Fashion and Robotics and everything in-between, this annual festival has been instrumental in getting people to go out into their garages and tool sheds and discover their creativity. Like our ‘STEAM’ activities, but even beyond it, this it’s a fascinating trend!

There was a time when we did repair our own shoes (which lasted almost a decade), and build our own tree-houses (instead of ordering one from Walmart). There is a maker in each one of us, paralyzed by our fixation on apps and shiny new objects.

 

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