USN Lower School Technology!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Come on, May, We're Ready for Ya

Well, more or less ready!

It has begun: Here it is Tuesday afternoon of the week as I begin this week's blog post and two classes were out today for two different field trips, and a third was late coming in for the same reason. Good, I say! The more we can get out of these doors the better. The best part is that I get to help celebrate these travels online, and we are using Voicethread to do that!

Voicethread is one of the Web 2.0 tools that I think has a unique enough design to be both useful and lasting. We experimented with it in one fourth grade class last year, creating a fun little voicethread about one room's Ellis Island Day. This year, all 3rd and 4th graders will participate in some form or fashion. The 3rd graders are sharing pictures they took, themselves, with digital cameras snugged into heavy polyethylene camera bags during their individual classroom's canoe journey down a section of the Harpeth River, and the 4th graders will comment on pictures from their own field trips to Cedars of Lebanon State Park. When they're done, look for them here!

3rd and 4th graders are also splitting some time off into further Quest Atlantis questing and into Scratch exploration, saving interesting projects they've modified into a new folder on the school network to share at the projector. I snapped some short video this week and they'll be here soon, too. Meanwhile, some of the kids, with parental permission, are establishing accounts at the Scratch Wiki. Want to see some things a 10 year old can accomplish with this tool? Check out the usntigers stuff" gallery. Here's one example from that gallery!
Scratch Project

Kinderkids and 1st graders are having a blast at a site called aMLaboratory Tonematrix, a wonderful site that allows one to create looping music simply by clicking on blocks. After a quick demonstration at the smartboard, some classes (using my number cards to randomize the order in which children were called up) added to a piece by adding two or three blocks as they went to their own computers to make their own creations. This made for a series of really good "Musicputer" classes, were we were able to SEE the relationship between tone, pitch, and silence over time. Check out aMLaboratory yourself. It's nothing short of magical.

2nd graders are exploring Insects resources on the Webliographer!

and some classes are beginning basic PowerPoint work, turning their classroom-created insect flipbooks into digital stories with that great tool. The products of those efforts will be shared here, too, so check back!

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Last Full Week in April!

It's hard to believe that next Friday is the first day of May! We're here in Nashville, just putzing along teaching day to day, and we look up and the end of the school year is looming!

This week the 3rd graders and 4th graders are exploring animation in Scratch, starting with the 8th tutorial at, and some are taking off with their own animations. I have it on good authority that a several 3rd graders are already uploading experimental first projects to the Scratch Wiki. I'll be sharing them out soon, I'm certain.

This Scratch work has been good for us so far. One of its unforeseen benefits has been raising the opportunity to talk with my students about the ways one's family values might differ in the area of violence and video gaming: This issue came to light because there are some very light-weight efforts at shooting games at the Scratch Wiki. None are what I would term "inappropriate," excepting possibly for the most conservative of families. I have the whole range in my class--the kids whose parents are fine with them playing Halo 3 (a very violent alien-fighting 3D shooter) and watching "Family Guy" on tv, the kids who are not allowed to play or watch anything with any hint of violence, and all hues in between. I have at least one 3rd grade family whose kids watch the uber-violent "24" on Fox Network (my dearest friend just had his character killed off, taking a bullet for Jack Bauer, two weeks ago:). I tell them one and all that it's their job to know their parents' positions on this issue and to behave accordingly. So far, all the discussions have been lively and interesting, and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this important topic.

Kinder and 1st graders are finishing up their "My Family" pictures in Drawing for Children and we'll be sharing those at the end of the day Friday, when they're all complete and I can upload them to picasaweb, Google's excellent picture sharing platform. Know that once a slideshow is displayed here, you can click on it twice to go to picasaweb, where you can view the show larger, look at all the pictures at once, and download your child's picture for printing or even for using as your own computer desktop!

Here are the slideshows from the efforts!


and 1st Grade:

2nd graders are meeting up with the fantastic graphing website, CreateAGraph, maintained by an organization called the National Center for Education Statistics. The site hosts a wonderful graphmaking wizard, and just a little familiarity with it should stand our students in good stead for years to come. Of course we will be working in Microsoft Excel by 4th grade, but until then, if they want to play with graphs, this is the site for it!!!

Have a great rest of April and I'll check back in with you next week! Here comes MAY!

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, April 16, 2009

We're Really Working Now!

It's a busy time in the computer lab, with these things going on:

3rd graders are opening Scratch projects that interest them (a great number of projects download with the program and are easily accessible with a few clicks) and are charged with the assignment to find one element of one project that they want to investigate, then to look at the script that makes it work and be ready next week to demonstrate it. This is a purely learner-driven exercise that I hope will result in lively discussion during computer lab next week! Parents, if you haven't downloaded Scratch for your home computers, it's FREE, it's safe, and it's available at MIT's Scratch Wiki!

4th graders are being introduced to online tutorials that demonstrate quite clearly how to use Scratch to create a simple animated story. These are at a site called, and are accompanied by download links to the templates they describe. I am already seeing students developing their own self-motivations and exercising wonderful degrees of curiosity about Scratch, and I'm sincerely striving for some great examples of student work in the platform by the end of the school year. How many more weeks? 

Speaking of "Time," I'm encouraging Quest Atlantis work go on at the end of lab periods, during inclement weather indoor recesses, and at home, as we venture into Scratch. We have to get started with these things earlier next year! I do want to share one thing here from Quest Atlantis, however. One of the Quests, "What a Novel Idea!" encourages student Questers to create a piece of artwork. Here's the charge:
We are trying to write the events of the recent past so others can learn about Atlantis. Have you read the comic or the novel? Anyway, we would love some illustrations or other art forms that would help others learn about Atlantis and our mission. Would you please help us? The artwork could show what our environment was like prior to the destruction of the Arch of Wisdom, the problems afterwards, our mission, and even how this might relate to similar problems on Earth. Thank you for your aid and support! We are anxious to see what you create.
Further directions tell the student to bring their work to their teacher so he or she can take a digital picture to upload along with the Quest submission. Well, Ruby, one of my lovely 4th grade Questers, brought to me a little foam piece sculpture she'd created for the Quest. Here's a picture of her with the work, and a close-up:


I soooooo look forward to seeing what other students create for future Quests! And I'll add that the writing one gets from invested and guided students in Quest Atlantis continues to improve with time. Acting as a reviewer for their work, I have become much more than a computer teacher: I'm a writing coach and an ethics guide. I absolutely love it...

Kinderkids and 1st graders are repeating their drawing exercise, this time challenged to depict themselves and their families with the tools in Drawing for Children. See last week's post for the finished slideshows from their "How I Spent my Spring Break" work. This kind of work helps kids understand that there is an audience for their work, underscores our increased dedication to refraining from frequent printing of "artputer" work, and hopefully allows parents to celebrate their children's work at home. K and 1 parents, click on the slideshow you're interested in viewing, click again and you'll be transported to, the hosting site for the images, where you can view the slideshows in larger format, view all the pictures on a single screen, find your child's, and download it to your home computer to print and/or use as your new computer desktop image! When the family pictures are finished, I'll process them similarly! Here's one to whet your imagination!

2nd graders this week are creating business cards for today's (and tomorrow's, in some classrooms) annual Market Day, when the malls open in the classroom to celebrate the culmination of the 2nd grade unit on Business. Each student opened the same Word file, a simple template with one sample formatted card, then highlighted each element she or he wished to edit and typed their business information. The resulting card was saved, and I did the grunt work of editing and copying and pasting into the remaining 9 fields in the Avery-style form, then printing each child's on business card template paper. The resulting cards look like this:

and I printed them off, one sheet to each of my 72 2nd graders, and delivered them to their teachers. I wish their business efforts great success!

See ya next week!!!

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The K-4 First Weeks of April

How I Spent My Spring Break by USN Kindergartners!

How I Spent My Spring Break by USN 1st Graders!

Last week March went out like a lamb but this second week of April is amazingly frozen lion-like. Freezing temperatures may greet us in the morning, but inside the computer lab is toasty and thriving.

3rd and 4th graders continue their exploration of Scratch, the fantastic programming-for-kids platform built by the fine folks at MIT's "Lifelong Kindergarten" project. Even as the kids pursue the completion of the dozen or so "Scratch Cards," notating their project on the Google spreadsheet form I whipped up at Google Documents, I note some early projects budding. I'm hoping next week to be able to share a few, as I upload them to the Scratch Wiki galleries in a school account. This week we'll explore one project together at the group projector display before I send the students off for another go at Scratch Card completion. And thanks to the Google Survey spreadsheet, I can remind them what they did last week so they can make good choices about what they dive in this week!

We haven't lost track of Quest Atlantis. Though Scratch is taking the lion's share of the lab time, a clear benefit of QA's online location is that kids can access it from home. I hope that if you haven't downloaded it for a computer to which your child has access, you consider that. There is all manner of information about the program at the Quest Atlantis Parents page!

Kindergarten and 1st graders will be finishing up their dictation to me of "How I Spent My Spring Break" for the blog comment project (I'm doing the typing for them while they finish up their pictures. I put the resulting (separated by grade level) Drawing for Children pictures up top and the comments at the Lower School Lab Blog, where the comments reside. Watch for an announcement of that milestone, as each and every kindergartner and 1st grader joins her or his fellows in sharing. The resulting document is, to say the least, interesting, or will be as I complete compiling the pics into .jpgs from their native .bmp format and uploading them to Picasaweb to create the slideshows!

2nd graders, my last class of each school day, will be making their business cards this week for the Business Unit. Last week they learned how to play "My Lemonade Stand," a remarkably fun and concept-laden 30 day experience selling lemonade, each day making decisions about how much lemonade to make and how much to charge for a cup based on the cost of supplies and the randomizing weather forecast. This is an old game from the days of Windows 98, but it still runs well on our newer Windows XP Pro and I'll keep using it until it fails us. It's to my knowledge no longer available for download, but kids can play it in the lab at free choice options time and I often see a 4th grader or two making that choice when it comes time to choose from the available options at the end of a class.

That's all for now. More later! Oh, if you're looking for the Webliographer on our new website,, it's not there! I'm working on that and you can expect an announcement soon about the solution. For now, if you're not here to simply click on its link in the sidebar, the link is and you can always just "google" "usn webliographer." It'll be the first return link.

Labels: , , , ,