Connecting the Dots for ‘Dot Day’

Encouraging to see such a large outpouring of ‘dot’ art from all the grades, to commemorate International Dot Day last week – Sept 15th.

Our students were part of the 1,853,749 people who took part, altogether representing 82 countries!

We decided to do something more than just put up the dots. We displayed them in a long string, across the hallways, randomly connecting each student’s self-expression. Basically we connected the dots, to create one large distributed artwork.


Pretending the Internet Died

What is the Internet died?

Before introducing 6th graders to e-mail and blogs, I like to throw a few scenarios at them, one of which is to imagine what it might be to get onto a computer and not have access to anything online.

Last week, soon after that freak flood in the Phoenix metro area, I showed them a ‘story’ how the Internet died, and may never come back.The keyword here is ‘scenario.’ As in a what-if.

I think it’s important to get young people to think of the ‘plumbing’ of this thing we call the Internet. It could start an interesting discussion of things most of us take for granted: hyperlinks, networks, the cloud, and now more than ever, Wi-Fi.

Unlike for many other technologies they use here in the Lab, and in their homes, there is no user-manual for the Internet.

Well, there is one – sort of. It is a cross between a set of best practices and a code of conduct that we need to pass down to young people who assume the Internet will be always on.

Slow Down. Not Just For a Day!

A 'loading cat' icon that net neutrality proponents can used to indicate their support for Title II reclassification.Wednesday was –in case you didn’t skim the headlines — National Slowdown Day! A day to bring awareness about who could control the flow if information through the plumbing of the Internet.

Whenever we discuss reading, we talk about the need to slow down. We are fighting the trend where skimming, scrolling, and headline-browsing is becoming the norm. (By the way, there’s a book titled Slow Reading.) We take for granted that with reading comes comprehension, but unless there is ‘absorption time’ no amount of reading time will improve literacy.

Enter something called Close Reading. We have just begun to adopt this as a reading practice for our students at Salt River Elementary. It means encouraging young people to a habit of reading that will ‘uncover layers of meaning.‘  It involves reading and re-reading. Slowing down for more than a day!

Here are two good discussions of Close Reading:


Celebrating International Dot Day

I am excited to be participating in an event that grew out of a book – The Dot, by Peter Reynolds.

The DotNever heard of The Dot? It’s a book about believing in yourself and your own ability to create something. Basically, to be able to leave a mark on this world (and on paper) that is truly unique.

International Dot Day is on Mon, 15 Sept.

To get involved, Nancy Yurek and I are encouraging every class to let students take a dot (a circle) and do something creative with it.

Some broad guidelines, if you are taking part:

  • Use your dot as the base of to create something larger than the circle provided- add other pieces to it!
  • Write something creative inside your dot – Your own ‘Dot story’, a poem, or something funny, 
  • Add cut-outs of pictures of yourself and your family
  • Add other ‘media’ to your dot
  • Paint or draw something 
Our plan is to take this into different aspects of school values.

We plan to:

  • Encourage students to read the book – on Tumblebooks, to which we subscibe
  • ‘Connect the dots,’ literally –on the walls in the hallways
  • Photograph them and create QR Codes for each group of class entries
  • Pick the winning Dot-stories, and feature them at our next school assembly

More about this event will follow. 

The Computer In Your (child’s) Pocket – How Soon Is Too Soon?

There is no shortage of studies about the value or impact of smart phones. It’s hard to find an adult who does not carry one. (For the record I know three people, and they are doing just fine!)

As a technology teacher, I must take into account the downside of too much tech, and too little ‘think time’ whether my students are involved in writing, weighing in during a discussion, or sometimes, even listening to instructions, undistracted by the screens to which we give them access.

These Digital Natives may rarely find a space that is free of technology, or an object or space urging them to turn to technology. For this reason I kicked off my classes with an unit on Digital Citizenship.

Technology is a tricky beast. Should we ban phones and roll out the cart of tablets? Should we discourage social media, but ask them to become familiar with ‘journaling’ a.k.a. blogging, one of the earliest forms of social media? Hmm!

Here are two pieces worth reading and watching:

“Why I quit Twitter” – Patton Oswalt, TIME Magazine 
Not just a discussion of Twitter, but a wonderful, commentary on how people are “peeping at windows in their palms.”

” target=”_blank”>Kids with Cel phones. How Young is Too Young?



7 Pillars For Digital Learning For Schools

I watched a recording of a webinar by Eric Sheninger, a principal of a New Jersey school, who happens to be a big advocate of digital technologies in education.

His big point on Digital Leadership (“Changing Paradigms for Changing Times”) was that schools should mirror or parallel the real world.

If you’re a student or parent reading this, I hope you visit (or have visited) the Computer & Technology Lab, where I try to do just that. I’m cognizant of the fact that the ‘computers’ my students will use in less than a decade, won’t even look like the ones we work on today! (Consider: What if computers not only shrink to the size of cell phones, but become invisible, yet ubiquitous?)

Sheninger has a list of seven pillars we need to have in this new model of digital leadership

1. Communications
2. Public Relations
3. Branding
4. Professional Growth
5. Student Engagement and Learning
6. Learning Environments and Spaces
7. Opportunity

He makes some fascinating observations about our fear of technology. Interestingly, although he is a prolific blogger, he was at one time skeptical about social media!

Our 5th Year of Robotics Kicks off

We saw a surge of applications for Robotics this year. A good problem to have!

We had 25 students applying, and I admitted 21. That’s nearly twice as many who took part last year.

All parents attending got to meet the Mentors and Coaches. Here, coach Pat Wilson who helps me on a weekly basis, talks about the technology, and programming skills students will learn.

Robotics is a central part of our STEM program at Salt River Elementary.

Dr. Bill Johnson who has been our coach for the past 4 years also was present, as were superintendent of Salt River Schools, Dr. Cynthia Clary, and principal of Salt River Elementary, Erik Haarstad.

Digital Citizenship. Why Should You Care?

Last week, I began introducing the topic of Digital Citizenship.

It’s easy to see what it means to be a Digital Citizen, by looking at what happens when people have got caught not doing the right thing. Or why Google Glass, though useful to some, is upsetting. No shortage of these examples!

Plagiarism, bullying, and password theft are the big three in schools. But as more and more of students get into online sharing and commenting, we must think of Digital Citizenship in terms of how they perceive Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp., Twitter and SnapChat –and a slew of others coming right after these.

Alongside this unit, I am introducing something that gets 4th, 5th and 6th graders all fired up: Learning how to blog. This is a fun class, and not only because I’m a writer. Teaching students to publish content is a great way to recognize how language arts (the mechanics, even), connects with the digital skills they need to have. It gets them to consider what it means to have an audience!

It’s also fun because you don’t have to sweat bullets to make these units cross-functional, and multi-disciplinary –to be in keeping with the Arizona College & Career Ready Standards.

Here’s something that could be sent homeA Digital Citizenship ‘Family Contract’ for children to sign.

Sneaking Apps into the classroom

This might be the year when we deploy brand new devices and apps in the classroom.

Let me rephrase that.

This will be the year when we experiment with many ‘ed-tech’ apps in my class. 

The boundaries between a STEM curriculum, and one that lets children tinker with ‘media’ have blurred. I am lucky to have a very supportive IT and Technology Integration team, so I can see us diving into the deep end of Ed-Tech very soon.(In case you’re wondering, Ed-Tech is technology-speak for Education Technology)

Speaking of which, I ran into some amazing teachers at an conference in Atlanta this summer. “Creative teachers know how to sneak the really good stuff into their classroom,” said one teacher, who summed up for all of us what we try to make content more relevant and engaging with  zero or near zero budget.

I’m learning some of the best-kept secrets of equipping a class on the cheap. Apart from the hardware, there are the free apps such as Aurasma (pictured above), DoceriReflector, and Qrafter that I plan to introduce to my students. 

Understanding the differences between Categories and Tags

Today we are learning how to use Categories to make searching a web site easy.


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