USN Lower School Technology!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Last Full Week of February

Where does the time go?

Here we are in the last week of February with only two weeks until Spring Break and there's much to do, much to do...

The Short Story:
3rd Graders continue Keyboarding for Kids
4th Graders perform a screengrabbing mashup in their kidblog using Scratch, the PrtScr button, and Microsoft Paint.
Kindergarteners visit PBS's Between the Lions website
1st Graders work on math skills at the BBC Bitesize Math site for their grade level
2nd Graders do the same at their grade level's Bitesize Math site, focusing on Shapes

And then of course, there's
The Long Story:
3rd Graders continue Keyboarding for Kids and I'm proud of the way many of them have waded into the program and are making real progress. "Mileage does vary," though, and as I anticipated many are still struggling into it, some likely developmentally unprepared for either the physical challenges, the regular practice, the understanding of the importance of this skill, or all three. My goal over the month of March is to improve the numbers in all three areas so that our 2010-2011 4th graders have a real jumpstart on their work.
4th Graders perform a screengrabbing mashup in their kidblog using Scratch, the PrtScr button, and Microsoft Paint. This activity is a good example of why a computer lab curriculum needs to be at least to some degree flexible. I came up with its design just yesterday, when I was helping a teacher learn how to do a "screengrab," basically taking a snapshot of a desktop window and creating an edited image of it for a website archive. We've neglected Scratch the past few weeks, concentrating on blogs and blogging, and I wanted to fuel the interest in that program, so 4th grade students
  1. opened Scratch and found a project they'd either created or edited
  2. screen-captured its display with the PrtScr key on their keyboard
  3. opened Paint and edit/pasted their picture then(if needed) with the Select tool, then saved it as a .jpg file in the My Pictures folder
  4. opened Firefox and clicked in the Webliographer to go to the USN4th Kidblogs
  5. created a New Post and uploaded their screengrab into it, resizing as neccessary
  6. wrote a few sentences about their selected project.
Wow. Here are two examples of the products in our password protected Kidblogs, more or less selected randomly:


Kindergarteners visit PBS's Between the Lions website where there are great, fun activities ranging from Movie Clips to Stories to Games, all geared to enhance kids' literacy skills. One of my basic intrinsic goals in my work is to expose children to fun ways to learn, to broaden their knowledge and appreciation of just how many ways there are to practice important skills, and to get them in shape to pursue their own means of life-long learning online. "Between the Lions" is one good source for that.

1st Graders work on math skills at the BBC Bitesize Math site for their grade level.

2nd Graders do the same at their grade level's Bitesize Math site, focusing on Shapes.

I may be Bitesize Math's newest big fan. This site holds a wealth of engaging content, and one screengrab of my own (from the 1st grade site) will give you an indication of just how many activities are available at each grade level.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Middle of February

The Short Story:
3rd Grade--K4K
4th Grade--Math Options: TimezAttack, Multiflyer, and ArithmAttack
Kindergarten--Starfall-- Learn to Read
1st grade--Starfall-- It's Fun to Read

The Long Story:
3rd Grade--Third graders continue their orientation to Keyboarding for Kids, the online-accessible touch-typing learning system we are using with them for the very first time this year. It is so important that they are typing through the lessons using "home row key position" so that they can learn to type without looking at their hands, so if your child is working on this at home (and quite a few, to my pleasant surprise, are!) please remind them to use that approach to typing! Finally, I have added the K4K Troubleshooting support page to the Webliographer for those who want their children to work on their typing but may be encountering difficulties connecting to it online.
4th Grade--We have used the computer lab so much this year for writing related work that it struck me that we need to be sure not to overlook some of the other benefits computers and online resources can bring to bear on our learning. Consequently, I offer our 4th graders three options this week (see above, The Short Story, for links). All three take an approach to learning with what is termed "skill and drill" technique--sort of a technology-enhanced flashcardKin approach, and it's been interesting to see the choices the students make. Predictably, the "ArithmAttack" activity is overlooked: It's a simple javascript flashcard interface with timer and a running count of correct answers and incorrect ones. The Multiflyer online activity can win half the students or more--a trip through the Solar System (including the space rock formerly known as the planet Pluto) with energy points earned by entering correct multiplication products. Edging Multiflyer out in most classes is TimezAttack, from, a "defeat the troll" 3D interface which has you, the little green alien, working your way through a dark dungeon encountering trolls you must defeat by clobbering them with your multiplication problem answers. The whole educational foundation of this game can be viewed at the BigBrainz website. While you're there, you may see that you can purchase a full version of this program for US$39.95. I want to emphasize that I do NOT recommend people purchase this (or any other program) for their home computers. In TimezAttack's case, the upgrade purchase provides several additional environments for practice of the same skills covered in the basic FREE version. If this is something your family decides is important, by all means, go for it.

Kindergarten--We visited Starfall a few weeks ago, and now I'm taking our Kinderkids back to "up the ante" to the next phase: Learn to Read. It's all part of my plan to get them interested in how to practice the skills their teachers are expecting them to gradually master as they get older, and practice them in a safe, interactive, fun, engaging way. I really like the way that many of's activities culminate in a printable product, but one that is printable in black and white (cost saving) and also usually includes something to be completed by the child in pencil on paper. Most kids either printed from the "Make Your Own Calendar" activity or the "All About Me" one.
1st Grade--Also working at Starfall again, but just like the Kindergarteners, they are moving up a level, and their new level is "It's Fun to Read." At Starfall, it is fun to read, and the reading contains everything from classic poems to brief information about famous painters. It's fun, it's engaging, and it's learning.
2nd Grade--Visited the 2nd Grade Go Here page from the Webliographer and worked out with Funbrain's Changemaker activity and with one of's wonderful games geared to opensourcing online pre-K to adult learning. We'll be exploring's site more often and soon.

Come on last week in February. We're almost ready for March!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Laptop Per Child Receives 4 USN XO Computers for Haiti

This post is just to announce that the four XO computers USN purchased in 2008 during the "in kind" purchase program (where we bought 12, received 6 of them, and 6 went to a child in a developing nation) have been shipped to Texas in order to be forwarded to Haiti. My dear son Colin, now a USN 8th grader, took the other 2 to leave with orphans at a friend's orphanage in South Africa last summer, so all have now been put to good use.

Here is the email that I received last month announcing the new initiative (thanks to William Gabella for the heads-up!:
Subject: OLPC for Haiti: XO Laptop Recovery Date: Tue, 26 Jan 2010 23:13:22 -0500 (EST)

Dear G1G1er,

At the end of 2007 you participated in the Give One Get One program of One Laptop per Child (OLPC). Thanks to you and others like you, 75,000 laptops went to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Oceania, the West Bank, and Haiti.

An additional 75,000 laptops came into the USA as part of the "get" side of the equation. In some cases those laptops have since been put into closets for one reason or another.

We are gathering additional used XO laptops to send to Haiti. If you or the child to whom you gave the laptop is no longer using it, we appeal again to your generosity and ask you to send it to the address below (even if it is broken).

615 Westport Parkway #500
Grapevine, TX 76051

75% of the schools in Port-au-Prince have been destroyed in the recent earthquake, but by good fortune, none of our Haitian team was hurt. They have spare parts and OLPC technical staff and teachers, and stand prepared to deploy these XOs.

Because of the XO's unique features (sunlight readability, solar powered, water resistant, drop proof), it is also an ideal tool for relief work.

If your XO is in use, please ignore this email. We only want your broken or unused XOs.


Nicholas Negroponte
And here is the cover letter I included in the box:

University School of Nashville

2000 Edgehill Avenue

Nashville, TN 37212


615 Westport Parkway #500

Grapevine, TX 76051

Dear Folks,

Please accept these four laptops from us for shipment to Haiti. If for some reason you have discontinued this program, please ship them back. Our students can use these, but we have agreed that children and relief workers in Haiti can use them more.


Scott Merrick

USN Lower School Technology Coordinator

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Monday, February 08, 2010

February 8th through 12

The Short Story:
3rd Graders: Practice for touch-typing success with Keyboarding for Kids
4th Graders: Flex their blogging muscles at with comments
Kindergarteners and 1st Graders tidy up and finish their Valentine cards with Drawing for Children
2nd Graders: Are working at the A+Math "Money Flashcards" experience and then visiting U.S. Mint's official government site, H.I.P, Pocket Change

The Long Story:
3rd Graders have been set up for success at our online Keyboarding for Kids web interface. Unlike the 4th graders, 3rd graders are not required to work at their keyboarding daily, for homework. I still encourage them to practice, now and over the summer and to help them understand the importance of practicing correctly, I'm working with them in February to make progress in the computer lab. In that process, the kids will encounter the small nuances in the program that might frustrate them had they not had that supervised time in-lab. 3rd grade parents, if your child does have problems accessing the site at, please let me know via email. I'll try to help. Copious online help is also available at the troubleshooting tips page at Ellsworth Publishing.

4th Graders continue to blog, toward beginning to understand the power of this medium. I will enable comments this week and hopefully we'll move past some of the issues we have previously encountered concerning using the platform at as more of a chat interface than a blogging one!

Kinderkids and 1st graders will finish and print their Valentines from a template they've liberally modified with their own creative approaches to Drawing for Children. Here's a slideshow of our work:

2nd Graders are working for 15 minutes with "how much is it?" money counting flashcards at A+Math and then visiting the wonderful games at the U.S. Mint's official government website. These games are perhaps a bit less flashy than some the children may have encountered online, but they are fun and challenging and some allow for partner play, such as the darts game, and all have some bit of learning built in. Practice with trajectory, acceleration, speed, and timing are all good things!

See you next week! We'll be off Monday for Presidents Day, so enjoy the long weekend with your families!

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Short Story:

3rd graders are finishing off and printing their Master Artists pictures for their posters
4th graders continue their introduction to blogging by posting about the recent snow day and snowy weekend.
Kindergarteners and 1st graders begin Valentine cards from a template in Drawing for Children
2nd graders visit and email results from's 2nd grade addition word problems

The Long Story:
3rd graders are finishing their quest for pictures by and of their artist so that they may print them for cutting out and pasting onto their hand-made posters for the culmination of the Master Artists Unit. The concept of the Windows clipboard is at once simple and complex, and like so many other no one really gets it until they use it for a while. Use it for a while they are, as they collect as many as a dozen pictures and copy, paste, and resize them to fit no more than 6 to a page for printing. Those who finish delve into Keyboarding for Kids, and I'll have much more to say about that next week.
4th graders are blogging with the closed platform at, and we've had a rocky start. It's a learning curve for me as I introduce the concepts of blogging with a Prezi, a creative new online presentation platform (introducing Prezi in the process). Here's the one I am sharing with them this week:

Once we've talked about the issues surrounding blogging, shared the "Blogs in Plain English" from, viewed some examples of my own blogs and talked about the way some blogs are open and some blogs are closed, we go to it. Our initial introduction was interrupted by the snow day last Friday, and we had a great deal of confusion as kids dived right in and began using the comments feature essentially as a chat platform (I've currently disabled comments altogether until I can ascertain that we have consensus that we will not do so using, but that snow day did give us some fuel for some good blog posts. Here's what the menu for me looks like:

And here are a couple examples from the blog, which no one but the kids, the 4th grade teachers, and Ms. Rankin--who is interested in seeing if this might be the venue for kids to share their summer reading over the summer--can see. I encourage kids to share with parents while they are at computer at home, though. As you will see, we'll use to share opinion and experiences and once comments are enabled I hope to get meaningful dialog going. Ms. Touchstone was observing one class this week and she contributed some language that will help me in this regard, encouragement to the students to write about "small moments." I will be encouraging detail and honesty in these writing efforts. Let's see how we're doing:

From Gracie:

My snow day was awesome! the only part i’m sad about is it isn’t still happening!

we had ice chunk contests, hot chocolate, snowball fights, you name it!

we made huge forts out of sticks, and little ice sculptures to go outside.

I also made a snowball the size of one of those masks we made in kindergarten.

I hope there is another snow day!

P.S. Do you know this is like a record? Two snow days in the same month! I heard people were so shocked that we got one it was in the newspaper but that might just be a rumor…..

From Conner:

Does anybody reading this know what a Tonkinese cat is???

I thought not. a Tonkinese cat is a cross between a Siamese and a Burmese. they are very sweet and loving. nobody really knows about Tonkinese cats, so if you could, tell a friend, or, you could send an email to someone. I happen to have 2 Tonkinese kittens. They are very, very, sweet. I will upload a picture on a future blog, right now i cant figure out how. Please tell someone about Tonkinese cats.

and when I asked in a blog post of my own for students to share their opinions about Scratch, I got some very interesting responses:

From Carolyn:

I really like it, but at first I thought that it wouldn’t be fun just boring programing but now I can do really fun stuff on scratch and it is really awesome so I also do it at home!!!

From Evelyn:

I like it a lot, but i wish it had better instructions. I had to work a while to make a decent project. They should have some more instructions for each little thing so you know how it works and how to use it and stuff. But scratch is really fun!

Some 4th graders have already copied and pasted their Aztec reports into their blog, sharing them with their classmates, and one has proposed to do a weekly weather report. I can't wait to see the possibilities!

Kinder and 1st grade kids are creating Valentines Day cards from a template in Drawing for Children. With Vday on a Sunday this year, a week from Sunday to be specific, we'll print these next week. Watch for them to appear, and make room on your refrigerator doors for these beauties!

2nd grade is visiting 2ndGoHere and choosing one or more sets of 2nd grade math word problems, solving them, getting a "score" and emailing the results to me. This involves copying my email address from the 2ndGoHere page and pasting it into the email form field at the site. It's quite involved, and I've been mostly pleased at the perseverence with which 2nd grade kids can get this done. Ms. Pitt's class didn't do this one this week, rather opting for an introduction to Keyboarding for Kids for her students. More about that next week too!

I'm off to the races! See you next week!