USN Lower School Technology!

Friday, February 27, 2009

February is Out Like a Lion

Hey, all,

We're proceeding apace through Quest Atlantis in 4th grade, and it was gratifying to have a parent slow her vehicle exiting morning hookup, roll down her window and shout "We're LOVING Quest Atlantis! [My son] is obsessed! Thank you for that!" While I'm hoping the obsession comment was a bit of an hyperbole, it does feel good that students are beginning to understand the value of the work, that they enjoy it, and further that many are sharing their enthusiasm with their parents! I've been on a track in QA similar to the one the students are on: Much of it is the process of figuring out how things in an unfamiliar environment work, persevering through new processes, paying attention to the order of things in a new order, and sharing with one another--both questions and insights.

For example, I'm discovering the teacher review and feedback functions are not just limited to reviewing quest submissions, but also consist of working on my own quests and missions, previewing those to understand the progressions themselves, and telegraming and emailing students. Doing so last week, I previewed and eventually assigned the wonderful "Communicating with Technology" mission, with elements helping questers learn and demonstrate learning about several important facets of digital communication, in particular chat, email, and blogging. Here's a composite screengrab from one stage of the mission:

You can get more detail by clicking to enlarge the image, and it will give you some notion of the quality of the content we encounter in our questing. Most children have chosen to pursue commitment missions in one of the seven Social Commitments, which are, again,
social responsibility, compassionate wisdom, creative expression, diversity affirmation,
environmental awareness, healthy communities, and personal agency. Depending on which commitment they choose to pursue first, they're off to fulfill requirements that they illustrate a grasp of its meaning and demonstrate actions in support of it.

Some Quests can be very simple ones, as in the "Draw your own political cartoon" one. Here's an example of one early sumission from one of my students in this Quest:

While its effectiveness as a "political cartoon" might be challenged, it clearly illustrates a beginning understanding of the concept and a creative way to approach the task, short of actually "drawing." It also illustrates some "collatoral learning," project-based learning where the technological skills of search, copy, paste, save, upload and more are practiced in the context of task-based learning. I'm beginning to see more and more of this, and I'm proud of the path my students are beginning to show as they move deeper into the virtual world of Quest Atlantis. Stay tuned! And for some deep reading about my motivations for bringing this work to our students, please read Eat Your Vegetables and Do Your. Homework: A Design-. Based Investigation of Enjoyment and Meaning in Learning, bySasha Barab et al.

3rd graders continue their own path into Timez Attack, the 3dimensional multiplication practice program that offers a fun and amusing way to practice times table. Not only that, but it's design is informed and underscored by best practices in instructional technologies. Rather than launch into my own review let me point you to an objective review at the MathNotations blog that I agree with in every particular! I'll be finishing up next week with them and then moving on to something else new and exciting. Shhhhhhh! It's a secret!

2nd graders worked this week to beat 4th grade teacher Ms. Dent's record on StackerBlocks3D, a tetris clone that is also available for download via the Webliographer's Download topic. I like this game because it is free, opensource, and fully customizable. It also encourages visual pre-planning based on a visual assessment of current spacial environment, fine motor hand-eye coordination, and perseverance. An arcade-like look is popular,

as is the "Bobbles" interface:


No one's beat Ms. Dent's 7264 points yet, and I'm beginning to despair of ever doing so. I'm stubborn, though, so stay tuned here as well.

Kinder and 1st kiddos visited's program online to drop back to Lesson 36, Counting-Part 2, which contains 4 activities designed to help them with numbers, including a very nice Paint by Numbers activity:

By the way, if you are missing some of the multitudes of color-printed work that has been in backpacks in years past, please be aware that we're making a serious effort to print only the most important pieces of our "artputer" work this year. It's all in a hopefully appreciated effort to work toward environmental (and financial) responsibility. I hope you approve! We'll be saving all artwork in a network folder at the end of the year, one which will follow your child through Lower School and perhaps on into Middle School!

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February Marches On!

Another big week in the lab, as:

Kinderkids explored lesson number 43 at UpToTen Premium@Schools, now up to 8,377 schools using it; and I have to brag again about our being school NUMERO UNO! This lesson contains four activities classified as "Advanced Mouse and Keyboard" work and the kids had great fun with them--filling a honeycomb with honey from flowers, helping a mole through a tunnel, mousing Zoombunny up into the air to collect acorns and carrots, and finally using keyboard arrows to play a very serviceable version of the old game Brickmaster called "Breaking Bricks." Click the pic above for a detailed descripton.

1st graders explored the Webliographer for resources I've stored there relating to Weather. Some particularly liked the 15 or 20 word "word searches" while others gravitated to the "Water Goes Around" construct-your-own water cycle activity.

2nd graders visited the Webliographer for Mystery links, and explored especially the Fin, Furr, and Feather Federal Bureau of Investigation.

3rd graders cracked open Timez Attack (free version) to take their little guy through a very very nice 3D environment picking up math facts along the way then demonstrating their retention of them by tossing them at a pretty scary ogre who their math releases from a secret door. When the ogre is conquered by the smarts of the player, he disappears into thin air (not "killed," I emphasize, because the next door will surely see him released again) and another door, containing another math fact, is sought. It's a fun, well conceived and expertly executed game, the free version of which (the only limitation is that there is only one environment option, and more can be purchased at the site; but I don't encourage that--to the maker's credit, new environments are not required for full functionality) is downloadable at the Webliographer's Downloads topic or by visiting the TimezAttack website. Parents, if you wonder about the value of playing games for learning, visit and view the excellent intro video at

And, ahem, speaking of games, we (4th graders and I) proceed apace into Quest Atlantis, learning more about the worlds in which we are increasingly engaged. My email 9within QA) to all of the kids this week encouraged them to seek a sense of balance by limiting game play on their own, balancing it with homework, family time, outside play, reading, and other ways to be entertained. Their enthusiasm is sooooo clearly present (I overgeneralize somewhat here--we still have some confusion and mixed reaction and we're working with that) and I'm glad for that, but the last thing anyone wants is for this engaging platform to dominate playtime inordinately. But I will argue to the wall that if there's "screentime" available and there's a choice between a DVR'd episode of iCarly or the Simpsons and Quest Atlantis and a child chooses the latter, a good choice has been made!

We're beginning to get into some missions and quests now, and in addition to the basic iBurst quest and Shardflower Social Commitments mission, the kids are unlocking some interesting things, such as fighting blights with magical critters and seeking out a playable giant piano to commit to Creativity. I'll soon have samples of writing so that you can begin to truly understand the power of this platform to motivate and inspire. I'm also beginning to take a little video of the action in the lab when the kids are all on at once. It's wild!

That's all for this week!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quest Atlantis Apace, Math Arcade A-Go-Go, and Valentines Art Amazing

We are spending this week in various ways, and I'll dive right in, in the order in which the kids come in the lab each day:

3rd graders are finishing up their Master Artist poster projects, and they've been locating images with Google image search, always with the procedure in mind that in the event of inappropriate images they 1) close the window or turn off the monitor and 2) report it to a teacher (me, most likely, but their parents at home if that's where it happens). Copying and pasting seems such a natural concept to us old digital immigrants, and while the myth is that all things computer come naturally to little kids, that's truly just a myth. My 3rd graders, after a few sessions of work with it, do "get" it better than, for example, my mother-in-law [nods to Ann], but it has to be learned, ya'll--it's not breathing, it's a task! They practiced this task with Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word, copying and pasting both text and images. The benefit of pasting an image into Word before printing it is that it can then be easily resized by dragging handles from corners, yet another new skill. Here are a couple of the resulting projects, these from students in Ms. McKay's class!

Once the 3rd graders have mined all they need from the internet, they are returning to Type to Learn 3 for more practice home-row-keying! That will come in handy next month when we foray into computer programming with Scratch.

4th graders are venturing further into Quest Atlantis! The room is both exciting and filled with questions from the questers, and one thing I note is that the din is beginning to subside a bit as confusion yields to early understanding and wonder. NOTE TO PARENTS: If you can't get the software working at home, not to worry! We'll be questing at school for real and soon, pursuing an aspect of one of the 5 Social Commitments that underscore QA. Look for more soon! Meanwhile, here's a picture I snapped at the Ecology World Game Preserve, only one of the amazing wealth of experiences available in this virtual environment:
Kindergartners and 1st graders are designing Valentines with Drawing for Children. They are working from template, adding their name, and exploring the shift and Ctrl keys for modifying the effects of stamps and clipart hearts. Then we print! All the kids love to print; it must be the tactile attraction of paper and physical product, which shows no sign of going away, despite the digital world's offerings. Here are a couple of those, one from K and one from 1st!

2nd graders are working with basic, simple math operations at's Math Arcade, easily accessible at the Free Choice Options category of the Webliographer. While there's no product to share from this activity, the hopeful expectation is that 2nd graders will become familiar enough with the interface to come and practice their math skills at this fun site, available anywhere, anytime with internet access. There are 22 games in the gameboard-style interface, and the problems can get more challenging depending on the grade level set at the beginning. After each game mastered, a code is issued so that a student can come right back in at that earned level the next time, no user registration required. We went in this week using the code "Cow2," which puts us at Math Basketball. Try it for yourself!


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 05, 2009

We Warm Up in the Lab During the Coldest Week!

Wow, it's cold out there, but it's warm in the computer lab!

Third graders are practicing their copy and paste skills in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word as they gather images to adorn their poster creations that will display their learning about their Master Artists. Check back here next week for example pictures! Along the way, they are reminded of the two-step procedure in case inappropriate images or websites greet their searches (1--close it, turn off the monitor if it won't close and 2--tell a grownup) and they are learning about how to resize images in Word, how to relocate a saved document on the network, and how to change the destination printer while printing. Lots of "collateral learning" going on!

Fourth graders continue their tentative explorations into the fun and exciting 3D online world, Quest Atlantis. The excitement in the lab is palpable as they gain control of their QA interface, begin to understand the culture of communication and helpfulness, and learn from early mistakes. I did receive my first (and hopefully last) email from a QA Chat Monitor that one of our students was "spamming," typing gibberish into the chat field repeatedly, and this provided us with a good teachable moment. The student account was not disabled, but should the behavior continue the next incident will lose him/her the privilege of participating in this community "play." The Quest Atlantis founders, by the way, have pursued significant research into the way students learn best, and their game design is solidly rooted in this research. See their philosophy and foundations at While I've got you here, though, let me give you a taste of it:

It is generally accepted by educators that learners should participate in domain-related activities, not simply receive the results of someone else’s activities as summarized in tests or as heard in lectures. Underlying the development of QA learning tasks, QA unit plans, and the experience of Quest Atlantis more generally is a participatory framework that emphasizes action and reflection as central components to the learning process. This notion of an active learner engaged in real-world activities is central to the child-centered, experientially-focused, and inquiry-based learning environments promoted in academic research, and is consistent with current frameworks and plans for educational reform.

Kindergarten: It was soooo cold this week that I felt it necessary to take my kindergartners to the beach with Boowa and Kwala! They could practice their mouse and design skills by dressing Kwala up and then printing their masterpiece; they hone their visual skills by picking out pairs of parasols that match; they could work on hand-eye coordination by attaching a crab to their mouse and navigating down a sandy path (in 5 increasingly difficult levels); and they could play Frisbee catch with Boowa (hand-eye work again, but much more challenging than Mr. Crab!).

1st graders worked with a couple online "games" at the BBCKids website, including "Clockwise" and "Matching Time," two exercises geared to practicing concepts relating to time and timetelling. Again, the game design is incrementally levelled, from Level 1's "on the hour" questions to Level 3's "on the five-minutes" ones. We also discussed the meaning of "millenium" and "fortnight," two time-words we don't see so much over here in the New World. Nashville makes use of the latter concept in its "Fortnightly" social dance school, and I was pleased to see that some of our kids are already familiar with the term precisely because they attend their dance classes every two weeks!

2nd graders also forayed into math, visiting for some rousing sessions of "Math Baseball," either on the "Easy" or the "Medium" levels. Easy is single digit, but it can be challenging as well if students try to see how many "runs" they can bat in how fast. My students' Easy level record as of this typing is 76 runs and more than one student has batted in more than 35 at the Medium (double digit) level. Using sites like Funbrain's Math Baseball, students can challenge themselves and differentiate their very own instruction. As I told my students, they are going to have to learn their math facts, and if they can be having fun while doing it, more's the better. After completing Math Baseball, they were able to visit the Funbrain Math Arcade, an interesting set of math games set up for delivery on a boardgame-like table. My favorite was the Pig Toss, I have to admit. In it, estimation and spatial skills are challenged as some of my hillbilly relatives jump as high as the user sets them to onto a seesaw with a pig at the other end, then the pig flies as far as the user sets it. It's estimate, revise, estimate revise, until the game is finally won and the next game can be played. It's none other than Math Basketball! Yay!


Labels: , , , , , , , , ,