The twists and spins he had to master to be on the U.S. team took a lot of practice, and was hard work. But the truth is, he said, that event just took 20 seconds! To put it another way, you train all your life for those 20 seconds.
Sean’s main message to Salt River Elementary students was to set goals. Saying “I want to fly” is not realistic, he said. Set goals that are achievable. “But you have to dream, and dream really big!”
“Today, my goal is to have fun, to help people, and to smile every day.” Sean Smith
Starting tomorrow, being Digital learning Day, I plan to start using Code.Org, the site that lets a student learn coding, and understand the syntax behind an interactive website.
Code.Org is backed by two of the most recognized coders in the world: Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill –needs no introduction– Gates. Partners include Amazon, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Khan Academy, and Saleforce.com
One of the goals of Code.org is to introduce Computer Science into the math and science “Core” curriculum. The thinking behind this push is to make students excited about computer science, which tends to be confused with Technology Literacy, and ‘education technology.’
Indeed, it’s never too early to get students fired up about the ‘science’ of what makes computers so interactive. Even if it means introducing a Red Bird into class.
As the site says, this is for those age six to… 106! Which means you qualify, too!
I am planning on using a pretty creative technology service provider called Voki for a lesson.
The idea is to let students create avatars for their work, and also use different avatars to send them prompts to take a project to the next level.
Here’s one such avatar, for a project on the Polar Vortex which we began working on last week, when covering animation.
I’m going to surprise my class next week with this character!
If you don’t see this avatar (using Flash), click on this Voki Message.
Excited to be part of teleconference with NASA, today.
We have begun upping the ante when it comes to STEM-related work here at the school, and this series of teleconferences brings things into sharp focus, especially for me. Just a few months ago my students got to speak to an astronaut and experience a whole day of hands-on activities for Mars Day.
This event is about getting to probe the higher knowledge, of why the pursuit of Mars, and why scientists are on a race to study the topology and climate on the planet.
The rover, Curiosity has given us earthlings an instrument dashboard through which we could study the Martian surface. Not only through the advanced imagery, but by the chemical analysis.
The event is targeted at many different age groups.
Third- and fourth-graders will be challenged with figuring out why Mars is “the planet of choice” for NASA’s missions.
Fifth- to sixth-graders will look for “the similarities and differences in soil analysis” done on Earth and Mars. The conference notes say that students will (post-conference) be able to create a model of an “aeroshell” to simulate entry and descent of Curiosity.
All my students have looked at the descent pod –the so-called “powered descent” –and how the complicated landing was handled. Slowing down the descent of a one ton robot from 180 miles per hour to a mere 1.7 miles per hour, using the sky crane, above, was one of those feats that blew their minds, and made astronomy so exciting.
This year I began trying a series of mixed-media in my class, with Common Core in mind.
For instance, last week I began using Rube Goldberg as a point of interest through which to teach 4th, 5th and 6th graders both science and document creation. It’s impossible for young people to not be enthused by the simplicity and complexity of Rube Goldberg contraptions –a useful point to make, considering his belief that we humans tend to make simple tasks more complicated than they need to be.
What resonates with students seems to be the basic elements of one of these machines – ordinary objects lying around a home. I’ve even found it useful to get third graders to talk excitedly about forces and gravity, after demonstrating a crude ‘machine’ in my class. “Crude,” as in what appears to be a hastily put together contraption of a ball, some string, paperclips, and a ruler. Here’s what I did last week:
I tied a length of string to the door handle, and wrapped it around a computer terminal, then stretched it about 15 feet to a stool, tying that end to a ‘lever’ (made of Lego pieces).
When the lever is moved, it drops a ball onto a ruler balanced on a cardboard box. The ruler, when tipped (by the weight of the ball) sends another ball shooting into the air.
We tested it out; it was hit or miss. But when it worked, I picked a student to catch the flying ball.
What was fun, and unexpected, was when the teacher came to pick up the students, the contraption went to work, and the ball flew into the air. I don’t know what the teacher thought was going on in a ‘computer class’ but I think they have all come to expect that this is not just about hardware and software, but science and technology.
Rube Goldberg’s ‘machine’ also helps me draw out the larger lessons of STEM:
- Problem solving and experimentation go hand in hand
- It’s OK to fail -and learn something from your mistakes
- The ‘laws’ of science don’t need to be memorized to be applied
- Scientists are cool people. They don’t only work in murky labs with hazardous chemicals
- Big Ideas haven’t all been taken. The world is always anxious for the better mousetrap!
Here’s another contraption I’ve begun using to teach…. animation in Powerpoint.
And what’s the connection between PPT and a Rube Goldberg contraption?
I get students to create one of their slides using shapes, and create a ‘machine’ using shapes –you know, cones, cylinders, slides, etc. and get a ball to ‘move’ through a sequence, almost mimicking the device they help me build and test.
It’s turning out to be a fun way to combine computer skills, science, and hands-on activity, and get them thinking deeper about the connection between a computer lab and science and technology.
I just got back from a robotics practice tournament at Intel this morning, an event where schools and clubs participating in the FIRST Lego League, come to learn, and make the necessary mistakes before the real thing.
One thing that clearly stood out was the increasing number of girls in these clubs. I have been attending these events with my team for about three years now, and began to see the change last year, as robotics begins to go mainstream.
This is exciting for many reasons, as we educators try to break the stereotypes as to what kinds of engagement suit whom. This is not to discount the many teams with young men who are very passionate about robotics.
In a guest speaker slot a meteorologist (above: he was brought in because this year’s challenge is ‘Nature’s Fury‘) asked the kids questions about weather sensors and ‘data’, and a few kids knew what a ‘servo’ was. They instantly got the GIGO (garbage in, garbage out’) concept. I’ sure many other coaches and parents were pleasantly surprised at the questions they (girls and boys) peppered him with. And that was after the girls did swimmingly at the tables, changing attachments, modifying move blocks etc.
Intel must be excited about this girl momentum. I have heard from many tech folk there how they are trying to bring in more women into engineering, so in about 12 years, when these kids are about the graduate from collage, there’s going to be a rush to grab them into the workforce.
I have been taking an online class, titled ‘Digital Learning Transitions’ for K-12 educators by the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the Friday Institute, and it’s fascinating to see where the discussion of the participants is taking me.
There are different kinds of schools represented, and technology instructors facing different issues. Some of the key themes they have spelled out are:
- Leading with education initiatives –not technology initiatives;
- A student-centered focus in teaching methods
- The need for professional learning opportunities
- The need for leadership is this area
- Earning buy-in from teachers and admins in schools, PLUS buy-in from parents, community, school board members.
I was particularly excited when I was approached by a board member last week who had seen some of the initiatives in my class, and wanted to know how the board could help. If I make a wish list, it would be a very long one. Speaking of buy-in, I am fortunate to have major backing from my education IT department.
But in the discussions with fellow instructors online , I have realized that there’s no need to rush to incorporate every tool, every platform into the curriculum.
My goal is to make my computer and technology class, student-lead and support the work of class teachers. Yes I love to teach them how to create Wikis and e-books, podcasts and presentations, but these are just ‘media’ –the vessels for the content and the knowledge– that students can use to help them get more excited about the language arts, social studies or math classes.
In case you are interested, the MOOC class began on September 30, and ends November 24.
Students can’t get enough of science. I’ve been amazed at the interest from students as early as in Kindergarten. They already know the name and the spacecraft that put the first American into orbit. Some of them have even begun giving me artistic rendering of the spaceship that will one day take a human to Mars.
Back on planet earth, we are lucky this year to get Commander John Herrington, the first Native American in Space, to speak to my kids via video hook up. It’s a complex set up, making sure we have a stable connection into the library where students will talk to an astronaut, while the rest of the classes watch the event on their smart boards!