Friday, February 3, 2012

Teacher Feature: Liz Buchan & Idea Time

Screenshot of one of Chloe's Creations.
Have you heard the sound of hammering, sawing, and sewing coming from Liz's Fifth Grade classroom every Thursday morning? That's the busy hum of creativity at Idea Time in 5-B. Idea Time takes inspiration from Google's concept of 20% time. Each week her students have a chunk of time set aside to work on a project of their choice. When it's finished, the student will present it to the class or the Lower School at a morning meeting.

At the beginning of the project, Liz asked the kids to find a problem they were interested in solving or to think of a topic they were interested in learning more about. Ideas came slowly at first, but eventually the kids picked ideas as wide ranging as making a dog house, fixing a model train, and creating sculptures. Students were excited to have time during the school day to pursue their passions. A few students have presented their projects so far. Jake and Will made a bike ramp, tested it, and filmed a movie showing the final result. Chloe has presented her project on fashion design resulting in sewn clothing for her dolls. 

Liz came up with the idea for including Idea Time in her weekly schedule at the BLC conference last August. Many speakers at the conference spoke about how to engage learners and reformat the traditional classroom. Ewan McIntosh, a keynote speaker at BLC, spoke about the importance of problem finding versus problem solving for students in the 21st Century. Most problems that students are being asked to solve in school can be answered by Googling it, which may not promote deep thinking about a topic. The challenge comes from creatively thinking about problems that can't be Googled. McIntosh calls this "Design Thinking" and believes that the "future belongs to the curious." 
A screenshot of my notes from Ewan's keynote address on Design Thinking and Problem Finding. 
If this piques your curiosity and sounds like something you'd like to investigate for yourself, please consider attending BLC2012 in July. It's an amazing experience. Shore sent a group of 5 teachers and some of the TechTeam last year. Talk to Sander, Anneke, Liz, Ellen, Elyse, Susan, Dave, or me to learn more! We can't recommend it enough. Let us know if you want to go.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Keeping YouTube Videos

During my weekly meeting with Deb P. in Grade 1, we played with a website called "Save YouTube". Since our school's firewall blocks YouTube, she wanted to grab a few videos she found on YouTube displaying the Aurora Borealis to share with her students during class. The video at right is uses TimeLapse photography and was put together by Brian Maffit.

Save YouTube sucks the video down from the internet and saves it to your computer. There's lots of other sites that do this, too, like KeepVid, but this one is working well for now. Here's what you need to do to use it. Keep in mind, you need to do this at home or talk to the TechTeam about a super secret way of accessing YouTube at school.
  1. Find a video on YouTube that you want to grab. Copy the URL (web address) of the page with the video.
  2. Open another tab (Command-T) in your web browser and go to the Save YouTube site ( Paste the URL into the big box at the top of the page and click "download."
  3. The first time you acces the site, you may get a pop-up that asks if an applet can run on your computer. Press "Allow." It's OK.
  4. It will try and validate the address to make sure it's real, then you will choose the download format. Pick the highest quality .mp4 version you can. You will see numbers like 720p or 320p...the higher the number, the bigger and better quality of video you will get. Don't download an .flv file. Those are in the Flash format and harder to deal with. Plus, if you wanted to put the video on your iOS won't display.
  5. The video will appear in your Downloads folder. Now it's yours forever. Don't forget to give credit to the videographers!

Project Update: The Electric Blanket is DONE!

Mrs. Parenteau and her merry band of 3rd grade scientists/sewers have finally finished their electric blanket project! The final result is a quilt containing approximately 45 squares that light up. Currently hanging in the Science hallway, it's fun to watch students interact with it by pressing the different switches to light up the quilt. This was a challenging project for the kids and we are proud of their hard work and perseverance with the e-textile materials - especially the conductive thread. To learn more about the first steps of the project, see my earlier blog post.

We know...we need to hang it better. Also, I will be embroidering "Massachusetts" in the black area on the bottom. At some point.
After finishing the project, we took a look back to see what we'd do differently next time and what we were smart about. Here's a short list.
  1. SMART: Colleen had a great numbering system for each quilt square so it was easier to piece together after the squares were done. We recommend making a paper grid labeled with numbers/initials/class section and also putting a corresponding label on each fabric square.
    The grid. We also kept a spreadsheet of who had what square, etc.
  2. SMART: With so many little pieces to keep track of, we needed an organization system. When they were ready to sew, each child got a strip of tape holding the electric components. At the end of class, each section had their own place in the room to store their materials. Happily, we didn't lose many little pieces.
    DO DIFFERENT: That said, we probably should have done the sewing one component at a time per class period. "Today we will sew on the negative end of the battery holder to the 'S' side of the switch" and only hand out those components.
    Lunch trays make a very good component holder. We bought our materials from Sparkfun: coin battery holders and Lilypad LED lights and button switches.
  3. SMART: Colleen created a worksheet where kids wrote about how electrons moved through their  sewn circuit. Through their writing, she could gage their understanding of circuits and electricity. On the same worksheet, the students sketched their quilt square.
    DO DIFFERENT: We should have had kids draw a clearer diagram of their circuit including the polarity of each component in their drawing. At first we didn't think it would make a big difference which way the switch and LED light faced, but actually there was a very specific way the components needed to be laid out and stitched in order for the light to turn on.
    Our schematic on the left marked with colored dots to show polarity. The students each drew a diagram of their square to let us know they understood how they were making a circuit. 
  4. DO DIFFERENT: Some of the kids thought the battery holder ruined the "design" of their square and wanted to sew it on the backside of their square. While we appreciated their design sensibility, it made it impossible to quilt in a traditional way. There would be no way to replace a dead battery with a sewn backing on it. Next battery holders on the back.
    Connecting the squares. Note a few battery holders on the back.
  5. SMART: We pre-threaded all the needles - Brilliant! The conductive thread split very easily and was almost impossible to thread (and re-thread) in our needles, even with needle threaders. Since the eyes of the battery holders were very small, we needed to have thin needles to fit through them. The first batch of needles we purchased were thin, but also had VERY SMALL little eyes, which were impossible to thread. Beeswax helped the most. However, we ended up splurging on new thin needles with big eyes. Great move for our sanity.
  6. SMART: Towards the end of the sewing portion, we worked with kids in very small groups (sometimes one-to-one) to make sure they were connecting the components in the right way, not getting knots in their thread, and generally staying positive. That was a luxury, but we definitely saw a change in the quality of the sewing when we did that.
The kids are really proud of their work and like to hear the older kids wonder, "How'd they do that?" Take a look. Better yet, come see it in person!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Get in iOShape Class & App

The Tech Team is really excited about our Get in iOShape class for employees tomorrow night! We've been gathering our favorite tips and tricks to share with attendees to help them get even MORE out of their iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. We're hoping to learn from them, too! To gather resources and plan our agenda, we are using a shared Google Doc. After the workshop, we'll link to it here so people who couldn't attend can get the resources, too.

Fooducate is FREE!
Speaking of getting in shape...Yesterday, Nancy McNall showed me a cool new app she's installed on her iPhone to learn about healthy foods. It's called "Fooducate" and requires an iOS device with a camera in order to use it. Snap a picture of a food product's barcode and Fooducate immediately pulls up a listing for the food that gives it a grade, lists the ingredients, and delivers interesting facts about the food. If the food you love gets a bad grade, you can click to get healthier alternatives! Take it to the grocery store and zap photos of foods before you buy OR scan your cabinets at home to see how well you currently shop.

Don't eat that "C+" cereal. Trade up to the "A-"!

Thanks for sharing, Nancy. Stay tuned for the Shorgle Doc with our iOS tips and tricks. Do you have one that you'd like to share? Leave a comment!