So, traditionally, Fridays are what I call Phun Phridays – when I blog about something that pretty much has no educational value. But I’m tired of called them Phun Phridays. So I used an online Scrabble dictionary to help me find something more realistically alliterative. The new name is – drum roll, please!!!! – Frivolous Fridays!
For today’s Frivolous Friday Find, I am grateful to The Bloggess, whose site never fails to make me laugh but is definitely NSFW – particularly if the workplace happens to be a public elementary school.
Anyway, The Bloggess shared, “That Can Be My Next Tweet!” which gathers information from your Twitter feed to generate random tweets that could be complete nonsense or surprise you with startling depth. The best ones are those that do both. I included a few of the suggestions it compiled from my feed below:
If you really have nothing better to do, you can also put in other people’s Twitter names. Like famous people. You know. Famous people who Tweet a lot. Here’s a scientific study you could try: If someone always tweets nonsense, does the random tweet generator from their Twitter feed actually make sense? I’ll let you figure that out…
Hidden Figures, a movie recently released about the three African-American women who were instrumental in the John Glen’s historic orbit around the earth, is based on a the book of the same name by Margot Shetterly. By showcasing the contributions made by these women, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan – virtually unknown names until now – the book and movie remind us that many people who have significantly influenced our history are omitted from the history books because of racism, sexism, and ignorance.
In an attempt to correct this, IBM has created a website devoted to the movie – as well as to revealing other “hidden figures” in the field of S.T.E.M. The company’s interest is partially due to the fact that it was one of IBM’s early mainframes that aided the women with their calculations.
On the IBM website for Hidden Figures, there is information about the movie and some video clips. In addition, IBM partnered with the New York Times’ T Brand Studio to create a free interactive augmented reality app that can be downloaded in iTunes or Google Play. According to the site, there are markers at 150 different locations in the United States that you can scan with the app to learn more about amazing S.T.E.M. pioneers who never got due honors for their work. You can also find markers in the New York Times. Don’t despair if you don’t subscribe and don’t happen to live near one of 150 sites selected. After downloading the app (“outthink hidden”), visit the IBM site here, and you can scan the marker online.
Within the app you can search for nearby markers, scan, take pictures of the 3d images, and listen to audio about each included figure. If you are using the online marker, click on the icon in the top right corner to change the figure who appears when you scan it.
Fans of the fabulous Kid President know that he is part of a dynamic duo. Behind the scenes of all of the Kid President videos is his brother-in-law, Brad Montague. Now Brad has started a YouTube channel, and his first video is just as inspirational as all of the others he has produced. I can’t help but think that Brad’s new dad status might have been a motivating factor for this story. Or maybe he saw Hamilton recently…
“That’s it?! But that’s so little!” one of my students said, incredulously, when I showed him the Raspberry Pi. I nodded. Another student explained, “That’s what a computer looks like. A lot of people think this [he pointed to the television monitor] is the computer, but it’s just a screen.” The other students, who mostly lived in a world of tablets and laptops, stared solemnly at the small device.
I had just returned from Picademy in Austin. Whenever I am absent for any kind of staff development, my students demand justification for abandoning them. They knew, before I left, that Raspberry Pi was a computer, not a dessert. But just like me before the 2-day intense training, that was about all most of them knew. It was time for me now to show them that my absence had been worth it.
“You said there was Minecraft,” one student prompted. I pulled up the Python program we coded at Picademy and asked the students to guess what would happen when I initiated it in Minecraft. They weren’t quite sure. Then I showed them how my Minecraft character could walk, leaving a path of gold behind me.
“Cool!” was the general consensus. I was proud because, before Picademy, I had never played Minecraft or coded with Python. In fact, I was still awed by the fact that I had hooked up the tiny computer to an old television monitor from home, and that it actually worked.
I had applied to Picademy in Austin with great apprehension. Raspberry Pi seemed to appear on many of the educational sites I regularly visited and I felt like I needed to to have one in my classroom. But I didn’t want to have the school invest money on something that couldn’t be used. When I saw that Picademy was being offered an hour and a half from where I lived, it seemed like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. But I was worried it would be way over my head. The problem is that I am constantly telling my students to take risks, so I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t even try.
Fortunately, the organizers of Picademy have a lot of experience differentiating for a room full of educators with multiple skill levels. On the first day, they led us through several hand-on sessions, guiding us to “Hack Minecraft,” light up L.E.D.’s, compose music, and make ridiculous selfies. We were given lots of free “stuff” (including a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and mouse), introduced to new vocabulary (Sense Hat?), and tons of support from a group of experienced educators.
On the second day, we were tasked with creating our own Raspberry Pi projects with partners. We were given 4 hours and extra supplies. My partner and I decided to program our Pi with Python to allow students to take pictures of their work with the touch of a button, also sending out a random tweet with the picture and a phrase such as, “Look what we did in class today!” There was a lot of trial and error and frustration. (Spelling and punctuation are extremely vital in Python, as we learned.) However, we finally got it to work, and got to experience the exuberance our students feel whenever they work through tough problems.
If what I just described to you sounds ridiculously impossible for your skill level, remember that I was (and still am) an amateur. The key to programming Raspberry Pi is taking other programs offered freely on the internet and adjusting them to do what you want. Once you get used to the syntax of Python, it isn’t that difficult to “steal” and remix. Also, you are not limited to using Python. Scratch, for example, now works with Raspberry Pi.
If you can attend a Picademy, I highly recommend you apply. The 2-day workshop is free, and you do receive free breakfast and lunches, a free Raspberry Pi, and other accessories. However, there may not be a Picademy coming to your area anytime soon, so you may want to check out the new online courses. All training information can be found here.
An incredible number of resources are available on the Raspberry Pi website. I suggest that you go to this page if you are brand new to using Raspberry Pi. The site is extremely user-friendly. However, I think the training is what has made my experience so enjoyable.
In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned how our class has connected with experts through Skype in the Classroom. One of the experts was a science reporter named Erik Vance, who helped my 3rd graders really understand the impact overfishing has had on ocean ecosystems. (The students are working on a Genius Hour project about protecting the coral reefs.) Mr. Vance was matched with us after we scheduled a request for an interview on the topic on Skype in the Classroom. Our request went to the Pulitzer Center, and a member of their staff, Fareed Mostoufi, arranged for Mr. Vance to speak with the children at our requested date and time. You can read about the interview here.
We have been using Skype for a few years in my classroom. Sometimes we have chatted with experts for genius hour projects and other times we have talked with classmates who have moved away. A couple of times we have used it to talk with app developers about products the students were beta testing.
As many educators know, inviting other adults into your classroom, whether virtually or physically, can be extremely unpredictable. While these adults may be experts, that does not guarantee they are able to impart their knowledge effectively to young people. They may have great intentions, but might have a hard time keeping your students interested.
This is what is great about using the resources from Skype in the Classroom. On this site, you can look for guest speakers, virtual field trips, and other classrooms to collaborate with. The people who have volunteered to have information posted on the site are experienced working with students. Your chances of having a great Skype lesson are increased when choosing a contact who is prepared to speak to a young audience.
After each Skype, my students and I felt very gratified that the hosts were willing to volunteer 45 minutes out of their days to help the students understand their topics better. The experts were able to offer perspectives and ideas that were new to all of us, and we agreed we definitely learned quite a bit. I must admit, also, that I was relieved that the presenters were not only very knowledgeable about their subjects, but excellent at communicating with children.
If you want to use the Skype in the Classroom site, you will need to have a free Skype contact already created, and to register with the Skype in the Classroom site. If you are a beginner, don’t worry. There are tons of resources on the site to get you started. In addition, you will find the people who respond to your interview requests are very happy to help as well.
Take your students to places and people they might not otherwise ever encounter with Skype in the Classroom. It will deepen everyone’s learning, including your own.
UPDATE 1/8/17: I just found this fantastic blog post that gives suggestions for Skype Virtual Field Trips from Skype Master Teachers!
The New York Times has many lesson plans and other resources for educators that can help with the integration of current events. One portion of the site that you may not know about is the page that offers, “Over 50 Reusable Activity Sheets to Teach any Day’s Times.” With downloadable PDF’s of graphic organizers, games, discussion starters, and other lesson ideas, this page should be bookmarked on the computer of any upper elementary – secondary educator. One of my recent discoveries was the, “Literature Quote Bingo” PDF, (which just happens to include one of my most favorite Harry Potter quotes of all time). The students must match famous quotes to news stories, which is a great way to demonstrate understanding of the quotes and make connections to real world events. This is an open-ended activity that could be used with any selection of quotes. If your students enjoy quotes as much as mine do, then they will find it engaging and you will get some valuable insight into their perspectives.