Cheap camera, free eclipse: Quick Ed-Tech lesson

This week’s Blood Moon and the coincidence of a lunar eclipse was made for science teachers.

DSCN1174Or for an Ed-Tech teacher incorporating a lesson in photography –how to frame a slow-moving event; how to compensate for lighting; using camera shake to your advantage.

The camera was a Nikon Coolpix, less expensive than the lens of my trusty older SLR.

Which brings me to the point about technology. How often does we allow technology get in the way of what we are experiencing in the moment? I’ve been trapped in presentation software just to make a point that would have done just fine with a hand-held device – a sheet of paper.

In Ed-Tech, which is what I teach, I like the focus to be more on the ‘Ed’ and less on the ‘Tech.’

The above image was blurred as you will notice. The ‘shift’ was accidental, but makes the point (simulating an orbital path) about light and shadows. I just used this in a 2nd grade class on editing and manipulating shapes. Nothing like a current event to get ideas – design-related, science-based- flowing.

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‘Trash Trek’ Robotics theme leads to ‘Story Of Stuff’

The upcoming theme for FLL Robotics challenge in Fall, has already fired up my students’ imagination.

 Yesterday no sooner had I introduced them to the recycling / trash theme, Trash Trek, than they began thinking of a project. By happenstance, I was getting rid of a large cardboard box, and it became the discussion point of where it ‘stuff’ comes from and where it ends up.

Better still, in my closet was another cardboard box filled with a gift from Solavore last week —the solar oven. As we looked at the ‘technology’ I could see the gears turning, as thoughts about energy, land fills, insulation and composting filled our discussion. I assigned a note-taker, and an ‘investigator,’ to seize the moment.

These are the last 3 days of  robotics, but it will become  a topic they could think about during the long summer break.

 

 

At our next class we will be watching this classic presentation by Annie Leonard called the ‘Story of Stuff.’

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)

 

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

Hour of Code – 60 Minutes Isn’t Enough!

This week, I began introducing some of the basics building blocks of coding via Code.Org to my students.

They wish they had more than the half hour they get in a class.

Even 60-minutes seems inadequate, so I tell them to go home and pick up where they left off. Many of them say they did.

 

 

No one thinks they would ever dabble in this:

But given a chance, they sure want to build pages like this: