USN Lower School Technology!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Please Do Not Use the Scratch Wiki!

USNers, please do not use the Scratch Wiki until further notice. One of our students uploaded some games and received some comments that were abusive and inappropriate. I am requiring you to avoid the site until this can be sorted out with the Scratch Wiki managers.

Thanks! Please DO continue to play around with Scratch if that interests you!!! Just don't go to the wiki!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

End of 2008-2009, Have a Great and Safe Summer!

Parents, I have sooo greatly appreciated the time I was privileged to share with your children this year, and I look forward to 2009-2010 with great anticipation and high hopes for an even better year.

The lab has been abuzz with activity as the 2nd graders pushed to achieve closure on their Powerpoints, the 4th graders put finishing touches on their Memory Books, and 3rd graders worked to make progress in TimesAttack before the two exciting extra environments go away at the end of the month. Kinder and 1st graders spent time with Boowa and Kwala and Drawing for Children, contributing illustrations that may well make it into print form in the future. Here, for example, is one 1st grader's impression of the old guy in the computer lab:

That just about says it all. I've worked over the past several weeks to gift our students with online tools that can enrich their summers, and I've every step of the way encouraged them to get outside and play, to spend time with their families, and to keep technology in its place in their lives: a useful and powerful tool for learning and sharing. 

May your families prosper in the coming months and may you continue your own quests for balance and realization. 


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Have a Great Summer!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Countdown to the End of School -- T Minus 7 Days

I watched a great presentation on Quest Atlantis last Monday night, and I hope readers can suspend disbelief long enough to visit one of my other blogs, Oh!VirtualLearning! to read about it. My friend Jeff Agamenoni in Great Falls, Montana teaches 7th and 8th graders and introduced them to QA this year. His observations filled an hour for a globally situated audience and I'm as proud of him as I can be. This was the first of what I am sure will be many presentations from a dedicated Web 2.0 proponent and a good friend. I'm looking forward to meeting him someday "in real life," though we've had many a Skype conversation and collaborated in virtual worlds many a time.

What's happening in the lab?

My main thrust this last week has been on giving my older kids a set of tools they can use over the summer to continue their online learning adventure. I frequently advise my students that while online learning is not the be-all and end-all, it's a resource that they should keep in mind, that it's important to balance their lives to include a healthy mix of safe online experience with robust exercise, outdoor activity, quiet family time, reading books, playing music, and generally living life. That said:

3rd graders played TimezAttack Online, and I made sure they played via the Web browser, so that progress is saved for them. They can continue to play through the summer, though they may find that their environment choices (levels) have reverted to a total of one choice. The pay version contains all the levels, and we likely won't pursue purchase until the new school year, if at all. Here's what the game's website says about that:

Difference between the base version and the full version
Entertainment. We put ALL the education into our base version so that EVERY child can master multiplication. The full version then adds entertainment--more worlds, characters, and creatures to learn in. So it's worth the investment, but you shouldn't feel any obligation to upgrade if money's tight. The base version works just as well--children just don't keep begging to play it for as long.
4th graders, after completing a quick 1 minute typing speed assessment at,  chose their activity this week from a menu of 1)TimezAttack Online, 2) Quest Atlantis, and 3) Scratch. Generally, the winner was number 1, likely because it was the most recently added to the menu--new items are often best sellers :)

Kinderkids are creating a slideshow of thank-you art for Boowa at, in order to thank site creator Jason Barnard for taking the time to Skype video call last week, singing songs and chatting with all the kindergarteners. Here's the slideshow!

and here's a short Quicktime movie snagged from the events:

1st graders are exploring the Fairy Tales topic in the Webliographer. We don't often use commercial sites in the school lab, but NOGGIN is an unusually rich one, and using it gives me a good opportunity to reinforce our rule/advice to children never to click on advertisements at websites. I share with them that clicking on ads can take them away from the fun to a place where the site only wants to sell them something, and it may be dangerous, leading to spyware and adware. There are four other good links at the Fairy Tales topic, and many web explorers like the GrimmFairyTale site.

2nd graders are working to finish their PowerPoints by the end of school. I'll spend some time after the school year is over organizing all our kids' work into portfolio folders they can carry into their next grade level, so if we don't get finished, the'll have access to their work when they return for 3rd graders. 

Finally, I'll mention that I'm deeply involved in an assay of activities that we pursued in the lab this school year, planning to organize them, look for links with classroom units and alignment with new Computer Science department objectives and curricula, and overarching alignment with the National Educational Technology Standards for Students, from an organization I work closely with, the International Society for Technology in Education. It's going to be a full summer for me, and much of my summer effort should substantially improve my students' learning come school year 2009-10!

See you next week, the final full week of the 2008-9 school year!

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

It's Rainyrainy Outside but Warm and Active Inside!

Wow. There's a lot going on this week, with Skype video calls planned for Kinderkids, Scratch shareouts with 3rd graders, TimezAttack Online for 4thers, PowerPoints at grade 2, and 1st graders exploring both Tonematrix and 

That pretty much says it all. See you next week.

Just kidding, though I have recently been informed that I write too much here. Do you think so? Please comment below :) In any event I'll start listing the high points at the top of the blog for those who are too busy to get the whole skimmy.

Now: Let's get detailed, in the order the kids come into the lab:

3rd graders have now spent several class periods exploring Scratch in both guided and self-
directed ways, and they've now saved at least one project in a special network folder to share out at the projector with their classmates. This allows for some critique, some dialog, and some applause for the project they've either found or created, and collatoral learning abounds. One of my projects this summer, as I move into my first year of a 10 month contract (as opposed to the 9 month work-year I've enjoyed for the past 13 years) is to link everything in here to ISTE NETS for Students and to look for gaps in my school year where I can nurture the developmentally appropriate skills that help students achieve them. I'll be cross-referencing and utilizing resources at Computer Science Teachers Association as well.

I am filming some of these shareouts, and though I won't reshare all of them with you, I will give you a taste of how it goes, right here. Bear in mind that I have 72 3rd graders and that, despite varying degrees of enthusiasm, I can claim virtually universal engagement with Scratch. My only regret is that we didn't get started earlier in it, and you can bet I'll make some changes to
 accomodate that earlier work next year!

Here are the first four videos:

4th graders are enjoying the new full version beta access we've been granted at, for their fantastic creation TimezAttack. Earlier in the year we played with the free download version of the program after installing it on our lab machines, and just a couple weeks ago the online version was released. Along with hundreds of other schools all over the country (world?) we were given free access to the online version until the end of this academic year, May 30. After that, we still have access but the game reverts to a free version with only the one environment. Are additional environments important enough to justify a good-sized expenditure of our software budget? I'm leaning on the affirmative side here. From my observations, both
 3rd and 4th graders who play this game are more likely to pursue it if they have the goal of accomplishing new levels of environment, and will be more engaged as the program helps them retain automatic recall of the basic multiplication facts. The way the license works is that there is a flat fee for each 3rd grader in the building, then any other student, K12, can take a free ride on the 3rd grade. I can envision it useful for children in other grades who need remediation in their facts retention, plus the program tracks student progress and allows assessment via the teacher interface. Finally, I can see us adding TimezAttack as required homework in 3rd grade, much like we do for Keyboarding for Kids in 4th. This will help prepare them for their future K4K work, as well as help them master their multiplication facts at an earlier age. If it looks like we can migrate it to individuals who require more of a challenge at any earlier grade level, it will be there for them, too! There, I just worked out my purchase request verbiage :)

Kinderkids have a treat this week, a Skype videoconference with one of their favorite online characters, "Boowa," from We've been working with site creator Jason Bernard since the site first went live in 2002, and he was kind enough to agree to meet with our kids this week in two sessions, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. It worked out great, since the Friday kinderkids were slated to miss computer this week due to K-3 field day anyway! Here is a brief video from the meetup! (I also had Jason connect with 4th graders for a few minutes before the end of their lab time, just as a treat.) 

1st graders either connected with Tonematrix, which we visited last week, depending on whether they got to see it last week, or helped create a beautiful digital splatter painting at It wouldn't load on our lab computers, likely protected against multiple access from one IP adress, so we created a large version on the Intelliboard. Here's what one of them looked like, after randomly calling kids up to the board for a 10 minute swipe at "artputer."

We also explored "kerpoof," a digital art and media site on our Webliographer. We don't visit many "commercial" sites at school, but this drawing tool, designed by Disney, is really fun and membership is not required to use it. 

2nd graders are working with Microsoft Office 2003 PowerPoint to design basic .ppts from their About Me flipbooks created in the classroom as an extension of their Insects unit. PowerPoint may be becoming passe' as cloud computing software like Google Presentations take the forefront of presentation tools, but it's a great place to start! I'll share one of those (in progress, not yet finished!) right now so you can get the gist. I created the template for them, since their keyboarding skills are not yet conducive to getting a task like this accomplished in one class session, but wooo, they're having fun and learning! Slideshare, by the way, doesn't allow for animation to play when it's been flash compressed, but the custom animation is one elementof PowerPoint that many kids are exploring!

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