Angelo Fernando

When machines break, and coffee cups burn – just another day in science

In Education, Engagement, S-T-E-M, Science on April 23, 2015 at 9:19 pm

In teaching technology we like to say that it’s OK mess up the first time.

This is counter to how we like things to run smoothly. You know: neat transitions, good closures etc. A formula, in other words. Even when doing a demo, you probably want your audience to see the end result.

But I’ve realized that in many lessons – life lessons, and class lessons– the best thing that could happen is for something to fall apart, if not crash.

Earthquake simulatorTake this ‘earthquake machine’ we built from two-by-fours, scrap metal, and some springs. The plan was to simulate tectonic plate movement that brings down buildings. This was for our STEM Night, which happened on Tuesday.

On the day of the event, when a bolt was turned by a power drill, the rickety contraption ran into a few issues. The wheel began to crack. And we had no proper Plan B (a replacement). Plan C was to manually shake the spring-based table. We settled for Plan D – Duct tape! Which looked messy, but worked.

In a sense, I loved that uncertainty. It becomes an opportunity to tell students that this ‘problem-solving’ stuff we go on about, is real –even for us.

Then the next day, last morning), Channel 10 News’ weather guy showed up and I had to demo the cranky machine. More issues.

  • Problem #1: The drill that drove the machine, had been taken home! We scrambled to get one in time.
  • Problem #2: Cory McCloskey wanted to repeat the ‘quake’ and …of course, it failed on camera. Nice.

You cannot plan these things. What looks bad, actually informs the story. McCloskey was here to do the weather report on Earth Day, and connected with the story of how humans might solve earthquake issues. (Actually, this just in the news: earthquakes are caused by humans drilling but not the kind you see above !)

Fox 10 News visits SRES (35)He then spotted the solar oven we had used the day before. I had left my coffee cup inside one of the pans to keep my cup of joe warm while the kids were all gathering for the media truck.

A solar oven can reach up to 250 degrees in 30 minutes. So does the plastic cap, which warped out of shape as you can see in the picture below.

The weatherman’s parting comment: “We’re burning coffee cups in here…”

Indeed. We’re doing messy, fun, science here. Things break. Or bake. You can’t touch this.


Solar baking AfterIMG_0659 STEM Night 2nd Red Camera (12)

Truth or Photoshop? Students Tweak TIME Cover

In Education, Space on April 8, 2015 at 4:32 pm

This year too my Photoshop class that has attracted a high level of interest – and questions.

I teach this to 6th graders, and not many of them realize the importance of scrutinizing and decoding the media they come into contact with – billboards, newspapers, Facebook posts, album covers, and celebrity photos etc.

Borrowing on the interest from the NASA study using twins Scott and Mark Kelly, I asked them to consider the conspiracy theories about space. Starting with the old, ‘we faked the moon landing’ theory (now with a lot more discussion about that pre-Internet event).

And then I got them to see if a head shot of an astronaut bound for the Space Station could be Photoshopped.

We have a great candidate for this, in-house: 6th grade teacher David Krebs, who was up to it.

I took a quick mug shot of him (in yellow T-shirt) as his class was exiting the Lab. The students are asked to try to replace Scott Kelly with  David Krebs, using filters and cropping tools.

The best part is that not only are they learning about the issues — the ethics of image manipulation, bias in media, why there are lines media people should not cross when editing photos etc –while learning how to use Photoshop.They are also learning some bigger issues about space science, and what the NASA study is all about.

It nicely sets the stage for possible activities and lessons around Mars Day in the new school year

Technology in Education Predictions. Up in the Clouds?

In Computers, Common Core, Digital Citizenship on April 2, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Patrick Ledesma writes an excellent blog, and this week’s post on “Technology for Online Standardized Testing vs. Technology for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Inquiry” is an excellent read. He was commenting on the Horizon Report.

He makes some big predictions, which you may or may not agree with, but they give us pause for thought. For example he sees the following happening in one year:

Cloud Computing, Collaborative EnvironmentsMobiles and Apps, and Tablet Computing

  • Regarding Cloud computing, he’s dead-on. I know of one school that lets students use software-as-services so well, that they will soon begin to not see the difference between client-based and web-based services. (BTW, I’ve got an aversion to the word ‘cloud’)
  • Mobiles and Apps: We are still a few years away because of privacy and bandwidth issues around BYOD.
  • Augmented Reality, which he places in the 4-5 year timeframe may come sooner. I was at an ISTE conference last year and saw some amazing breakthroughs that have begun to filter down.

Having said that, I have to agree with some aspects of what one of his readers, ‘Terry2449‘ made. The comments were not as Luddite as it may seem at first glance. Terry talks about the humanistic side of educating the rounded child. He puts it this way

“I am not sure I am ready to sever the relationship that we as humans have in order for students to operate a piece of unfeeling/unknowing technology. While I understand that technology is the wave of the future, books on tablets, programs built for students to access from anywhere their technology is I wonder about the socio-economic split that will deepen with the have’s and have nots.”

We (and I am part of this royal plural being a computer teacher) tend to get fixated on the devices and apps, and forget the broader, deeper goals. I have seen students who have mastered apps, or fly through Khan Academy, and not be able to problem-solve simple issues.  I have seen how screen-time (awarded by parents who give their child a tablet to play with in the car on the way to school) affects cognition and attention.

We are desperately in need of a balance, and I could see a time when we will have to build in offline moments into our children’s school day, just to get them to reflect and apply them to real life experiences that, as you point out, is described as a challenge in the Horizon Report.

Finally a thought on the other challenge it highlights: Media Literacy.  And I don’t media Tool literacy. Schools don’t spend enough time on this. If at all they do a ‘Wikipedia is bad’ type session because it’s just plain easy to do. At a time when pre-teens are overwhelming spaces such as Instagram, or using every kind of chat App, there is  plenty of media-related life lessons worth incorporating into any subject that is touched by tech.

I just began experimenting with a unit on ‘Is it True, or is it Photoshop?’ connected to the Civil War. Before we weigh in on cheating and BYOD, there are lessons we ought to preface it with, such as media ethics, copyright, bias etc. Why wait till middle school to do this, when elementary school students are being influenced and impacted by it?

You could download and read the entire Horizon Report here.



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