What if citizens had cameras during the Civil War?

I went down with my family to watch a Civil War battle of Picacho Peak this Saturday. This battle took place in Arizona 153 years ago just about 70 miles from here.

It made me wonder: How would an event like this have been ‘documented’ if more citizens (soldiers, included) had some sort of camera? How would this piece of history been communicated?

This is one of the pictures I took. As you could tell, such battles were chaotic, dangerous, noisy (with injured men, cannon fire etc). Of course I could get close to the event thanks to a piece of technology we take for granted: the zoom lens.

A historical (and local) event like this is a great way to help students look at technology, and its implications for recording and retrieving knowledge. For instance:

  • Do cameras give us access to ‘primary source’ documents?
  • Could a picture be trusted?
  • Could a camera angle reveal the photographer’s bias?

In this picture, I cropped out unnecessary details using the zoom. I could have, I suppose, Photoshopped it. It also looked as if this side (the Confederates) was taking more casualties. The outcome of this battle was  a bit unexpected – the Union soldiers retreated, initially. This was not what some of my photographs revealed!

What if I was a reporter for an Union newspaper? Could my photo story, accidentally or deliberately, have distorted the truth?

Having looked over my pictures I thought of doing an unit on Photography & Media next month for my upper level students, asking them to record an event from differnt perspectives.

This lesson plan could be extended. I discovered an interesting colection of 2d and 3D photos of the Civil War here at the Civil War Trust. They also have some good lesson plan ideas.

Focus on Word Clouds, QR Codes, and Smart Watches for Digital Learning Day

Today is Digital Learning Day. This is the third year we have participated.

Planning on introducing a new unit to my 5th and 6th grades today – a bit of a challenge!

5th grade: Students will scan a web site (to be announced), and pick up 10 key words that could provide a good snapshot of the topic.

Then they would create a list on a Word document, and be sent to a Word Cloud generator to ceate their own Word Cloud. Topics I will choose form are from this week’s news:
(a) Apple Watch

(b) Will Ferrell ‘plays’ Cactus League – visiting Mesa, Arizona this week!


6th Grade: Students will learn the differences (and relationship) between URLs and QR Codes. The challenge is to use 3 web sites and 4 steps to produce customized and usable information. They will:

(a) Visit a web site provided,  and copy the link

(b) Go to Kaywa, the QR Code generator where they will create and download the Code.

(c) Open the image file, which could be a PPG of TIFF, in Pixlr.com (the Photoshop Clone)

(d) Create a poster using Pixlr, with QR Code image and text

Once done, they will save it to a shared folder, and print it out.

See last year’s activity here in my class.


This Month’s STEM Talk on Swarm Robotics!

Excited to announce the second in our monthly  STEM Talks series.

The speaker:  Dr. Spring Berman, from ASU’s department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She is a recipient of the 2014 DARPA Young Faculty Award. This DARPA program is to engage the next generation of researchers who focus on national security issues.

The Topic:  Swarm Robots.  Dr. Berman’s ongoing research focuses on controlling swarms and ‘distributed sensing’ of not-so-smart robots.

This will be followed by a demonstration of a swarm. Ruben Gameros, a postgrad student will show how 2-4 bots could be manipulated to do complex tasks. “These tasks or ‘games’ are inspired by ants, which collectively work to deliver food through a tunnel to feed the queen,” he told me.

Date: Mon 9th March, 2015       Time: 4:00 pm           Venue:  Room A122  – Computer & Technology Lab

Light refreshments will be served.

(Check out last month’s STEM Talk)


Don’t Let Google Mislead You!

This month I am running a challenge about Thomas Edison’s inventions. The student who tells me the most number of Edison inventions, wins a technology challenge prize.

Many students (wrongly) assume that Edison invented the light bulb. This is because we have often heard about the incandescent bulb and Edison. However, Thomas Edison was simply improving earlier inventions of the bulb by scientists such as Humphrey Davy and Allesandro Volta.

Google somewhat contributes to this famous mistake – Try Googling “light bulb inventor.” Who pops up on the right, in a highlighted area about the Incandendescent Bulb?

Perhaps Google aimed at rectifying this by featuring the Google Doodle (below) yesterday for the birthday of Allesandro Volta.

Salt River Elementary featured in Dept. Of Interior News

I covered the visit of US Secretary of interior, Sally Jewell to my school, here on the school website.

It was exciting that she also visited my class, and had a talk about robotics and science. At that time, little did we know how it would figure in the grander scheme of things…as a Listening Tour, of Native youth.

The department’s video below included several pictures of her engaging with our students. Two of the students you see in this are potential podcasters in my class on audio. Three are in robotics.

More from the Department of the Interior’s communication channel called ‘This Week at Interior.’

Local NPR Station, KJZZ covered the visit here.

Here she talks  to two of my students, and watches a demo in my class.



And this from Cronkite News at ASU.


Launching ‘STEM Talks’ with Hamid Shojaee

Happy to launch a new series of outside speakers in a series I am calling STEM TALKS. The goal is to get students at Salt River Elementary School to engage with technology experts, scientists and outside educators. They could learn to feel comfortable asking the tough questions, being curious about other careers especially in the sciences.

To kick off this series, I am inviting Hamid Shojaee, CEO and founder of Axosoft, to talk with our students, during my Robotics class.

In  2012, at age 38, Mr. Shojaee was named one of the ‘Most Admired CEOs’ in Arizona by the  Phoenix Business Journal. He has been an active member of Arizona’s entrepreneur community, and is an angel investor in several software startups.

I was inspired to discover that Axosoft has rooms named after some of the world’s best known problem-solvers – scientists and inventors such as Newton, Kepler, Hawking, Tesla, and Socrates. I asked Mr. Shojaee to speak to the robotics team about programming and being problem-solvers.

The event is via Skype.

Date: Tue Feb 10th, 2015                Time: 4:00 PM                       Place: Computer & Technology Lab

Testing Lino – Padlet-like Content ‘Wall’ for Students

This Lab is all about software and hardware, and how best students could use existing and emerging tools.
So I just began testing out a service called Lino (www.linoit.comto create a new ‘wall’ to support lessons in my class.

I have used Padlet, but for some reason there is a glitch on the new Windows 8 computers.

The first test is for a class on Book Trailers – a way to combine script writing, and microphone use with creating a promotional ‘trailer’ for a book. This is what it will look like – more student resources will be added.


This could become a lesson in itself, for content gathering and teaching how embed codes work.

Students could ‘curate’ facts, pictures, sounds, music tracks, video and slide decks to support work in social studies, science, math or robotics.

Mars Day Program – Permanent Home on Salt River Website

Proud to see that we have a permanent home now for some of our major programs on our Salt River Elementary School website. There is the STEM program, which takes many shapes and forms, filtering into robotics, for instance.

The page title says something about what it’s all about: Next Stop, Mars!

But since we have a few year’s worth of Mars Day activities behind us. I got together with Lori Diab, and she created this marvelous space on our site. (The video works on the Firefox browser, but not on Chrome or Explorer for some reason. We are working on that end!)

It contains:

  • Links to past activities
  • Scientists who have been involved
  • Winners of competitions
  • Organizations supporting Mars Day
  • Media reports

Kody Ensley, at Johnson Space Center, who spoke to our students in 2012. Seen here working on Robonaut-2.

Faster Access to the ‘Net – Obama’s Pitch

This is just out, today. President Obama plans to push cities to invest in broadband, so we could all be on par with some cities in the world that have faster access to the Internet.

Why is podcasting so popular?

It’s really funnny how in an age of video, Instagramming, Vines, amazing flat screens, and mobile devices that can record and push all kinds of video formats, podcasting is gathering momentum – again!

I just caught a preview of a podcast callled Invisibilia, a new series on NPR. that uses some amazing ‘radio’ devices, to tell a story, and keep us on the edge of our seat. The producers


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,659 other followers