USN Lower School Technology!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Holidays and See You Next Year!

As the New Year marches toward us, I want to thank the parents of my students, all 372 of them (not to mention those who've outdistanced the Lower School and who are moving through middle and high school, for a total of around a thousand), for sharing your children with me. I am privileged to help guide some of the brightest, most creative, and cutest young people on the face of the planet. I hope that I am helping them to know that although the world can be a scary place, we will make it through this together by caring and kindness, coupled with mutual respect for one another.

It's a media shareout BONANZA!

This week, at least until my lab projector decided to go on the permanent fritz (a new one has been ordered), the 4th graders shared their "All About Me" PowerPoints, and I'm going to put one of them up here to share, with the student's name withheld. It's illustrative of the efforts, though, and I'll qualify by adding that though they are all the same, they're all so different that it's a joy to watch each and every one of them.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: elementary usn)

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: elementary 4th)

The K and 1 kiddies finished their pics for Boowa and I mailed a large zipped folder off to the site's creator, Jason Barnard, in Mauritius. We're crossing our fingers and hoping some show up soon at the gallery at! Meanwhile, here's the unedited collection!

Second Graders visited websites in the Webliographer designed to help them practice basic time-telling strategies. Their favorites, by report, are "Snapdragon" and "Stop the Clock."

Have a safe, fun-filled, family-full holiday break and we'll see ya next year!!!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Last Full Week Before Winter Holidays!

We're achieving closure here in the Lower School Technology for Learning lab, on a number of fronts!

4th graders are charged with finishing their Powerpoint presentations, each entitled "All About Me," for shareout next week. We'll be displaying them next week on the big screen at the front of the lab, and from what I've already seen it's going to be a reallllly big show!

3rd graders get another session practicing their basic multiplication math facts with Multiflyer, where their mission is to save the solar system from doom arising from a planetary alignment that only happens once every ~82,000 earth years. The year is 3074, and danger is imminent. Along the route they gather data and struggle to maintain their Warp Speed health by solving simple "times" problems FAST. Next week we'll go into its "Practice Mode" for brief timed sessions that will result in printed performance reports, which I'll share with the classroom teachers. The report notes areas of mastery and areas where further work might be helpful.

Kindergarteners and 1st graders are finishing the drawings we'll send to Boowa at, with the hope that some of their drawings will be featured in Boowa and Kwala's gallery. The number of schools using the "UpToTen Premium @ Schools" free account (which I helped design years ago) is nearly 8000 now, which means that a picture in the gallery is likely to be viewed by tens of thousands of children all around the globe. That's a nicely sized audience! I received an email from a Kindergartener's mom last week that warmed my heart: Her son had been drawing on the computer with our freeware software, "Drawing for Children," and she wanted me to see the drawing of Boowa and Kwala that he'd produced at home. Yay! Here it is:
2nd graders spent good time at the LearningPlanet Kids' Site for grade levels 1-3. There is a little group of games there, and they could make a choice from the menu and play any one of these (screengrab from

I particularly love The Counting Game, an interface that allows for counting incrementally, by 1's of course, but also by 2's, 3's, 4's, etc., even by 2's in odd numbers. Very good practice for children seeking to gain instant recall of basic math facts.

As we steer into the holidays, don't forget to make time for closeness and relaxation. We'll be firing up the gas logs in the family room fireplace for quiet reading times at least daily!


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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Happy December 2008! Fun, Games, and Learning

As we sneak into the last days of 2008 (can you believe it?), several grades "work" with "play."

It's long been understood that learning can be enhanced with the thoughtfully applied use of well-designed game technologies. Anyone who has never had an extended conversation with a child immersed in Pokemon game culture, for example, should rush out and do so a.s.a.p.: No one is assigning children homework in understanding the particular attack power or defensive worth of any given character card. No one is quizzing them. No one is making them take notes. But I can recall sitting through conversations with my 9 year old (now nearly 13 and more interested in guitar tablature then trading card games) that absolutely floored me with his (self-)learned expertise.

There is a stunning paper, one that's been around for quite some time, actually, called "Eat Your Vegetables and Do Your Homework: A Design-Based Investigation of Enjoyment and Meaning in Learning," by Barab, Arici, and Jackson at Indiana University, that was a groundbreaking treatise, raising the questions like "How does school learning become tinged with a negative connootation? What occurs to shift the perspective from 'learning as play' to 'learning as work?' Is it possible to reconnect the two and do so even in the context of schools?"

These are significant questions, especially when considering that the total number of graduating Bachelors of Science candidates in Science and Engineering in all of the United States hovers around 450,000 graduates. Compare that with around 1,100,000 users of Runescape, a popular computer game, and over 10,000,000 World of Warcraft players. It's all about the scope, according to Merrilea Mayo, Director, Future of Learning Initiatives, at the Kauffman Foundation. Serious game design holds serious potentials for the future of learning. (Click image for full-size graph)

All that said, I'm announcing this week that I'm crafting our 4th grade students' entry into Quest Atlantis, a virtual world environment designed by the aforesaid Dr. Barab and teams of educators from across the globe, and based out of Indiana University. I'm so impressed by what I've learned so far about QA, as I will henceforth call it, that I've spent the equivalent of two working days in professional development training and countless hours researching, discussing, and planning in order to bring this opportunity to my students. I'll be sending home consent letters next week and hoping they all return by the beginning of January, when we'll ease on into the world and begin Questing! More on that later!

The 3rd graders began working in a game this week as well. It's called "Multiflyer" and it is an online game dedicated to reinforcing basic math fact skills. A complex backstory immerses the player in the mission of "obtaining coordinates" for the next planet in the solar system by solving multiplication problems at the "easy," "medium," or "hard" level (player-chosen) and stops along the way present facts about the solar system. I have also been looking into a math-facts game software called "TimezAttack," and it's in the testing stages in the lab. Look for more on that later as well.

2nd graders this week went into for a tic-tac-toe game involving multi-digit addition and subtraction, and they will be playing "Math Mayhem" next week. This online game requires quick entry of basic addition problem solutions and allows players to compete against others in distant locations. It's safe, compelling, and fun. I just played against six others and my "Scotty" only came in second. Was there another teacher online? A college student looking to best little kids? It doesn't matter: I had fun and I got practice with my facts that was certainly much more friendly to my spirit than sitting at a table with a stack of flash cards might be.

It's certainly not boring in the lab these days...

Kinder and 1st graders are creating pictures for me to deliver to Boowa (actually to my friend Jason, the creator and owner of, so that they might have a chance of being displayed in January's online art gallery. We're using Drawing for Children and the students have a choice of creating a picture "of" Boowa and Kwala or one just "for" them. I believe in choice. Here is an example of each:

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