Tag Archives: education

Back to School – Designed by Students

How cool is this?!!!! Staples collaborated with students at The Ron Clark Academy to design brand new school supplies.  The pupils went through the Design Process to create products that are useful and appealing.  You can see the students presenting their ideas in the video below.

Here is a link to the full list of student-designed products that can now be found on the shelves and online at Staples.  I am so impressed with the ingenuity of these students, and wish I had some of these items when I was attending school!  If you have a child shopping for the brand new year, consider purchasing one of these great supplies.  And, if you are a teacher, consider the value of allowing students to come up with an idea and see it through to a conclusion where it impacts people in the real world.

Floating Locker Shelves designed by students at the Ron Clark Academy and available at Staples
Floating Locker Shelves designed by students at the Ron Clark Academy and available at Staples
Portable Desk designed by students at The Ron Clark Academy - available for purchase at Staples
Portable Desk designed by students at The Ron Clark Academy – available for purchase at Staples

A Cautionary Tale

So, for today’s Phun Phriday post I thought I would regale you with a story could that could have turned out tragic – but mostly just ended up with a humiliating twist.

A couple of months ago, I received the Amazon Echo.  If you don’t know what that is, I highly recommend you watch the video below.  In fact, even if you do know what it is, I suggest you watch the video because it plays an important part in this story. (Try to ignore the irritatingly condescending father if you can.)  Go ahead and watch.  I’ll wait.

After I received the Echo, I mentioned it to my students one morning when we were all sharing some personal stories.  They didn’t really understand my explanation, so I showed them the video.  Duly impressed, they asked if I could bring it to school.  Unfortunately, the Echo needs wi-fi and I was pretty sure the district wasn’t going to give me the password just so I could demonstrate my new toy.

The next day, I went to get my hair cut after school.  My stylist, who has known me for 17 years, asked if there was anything new.  I told him about the Echo, and he looked a bit confused by my description. (Apparently I am very bad at describing things.)

“No problem,” I said.  “There’s a video I can show you. ”  I pulled out my iPad.  Two stylists, a client, and I gathered around one of his other clients who was getting her hair colored so everyone could see the Amazon Echo video demonstrating this modern miracle of technology in action.

I pulled up the video.

The video started playing and I watched everyone’s faces to see their reactions.  When the son said, “Alexa, play Rock Music,” and the speaker obeyed, I could see that the group in the hair salon was impressed.

The mom said, “Alexa, what time is it?”

And this is where things went awry…

“It’s time to calm the _________ up!” Alexa responded.

Substitute the worst word you can say out loud for the blank space.

I scrambled to stop the video.

The room was dead silent.

“Well, that was interesting,” commented one of the clients with a glint in her eye.

My stylist started snickering, and so did everyone else.  The other stylist was laughing so hard she was wiping tears from her eyes.

“Wait!  That’s the wrong video!  I swear that’s not the way it works!” I yelled because despite what I claim I am very worried about what people think of me and two perfect strangers were now of the mind that I regularly show R-rated videos to everyone in my vicinity.

“Well, darn, because I was ready to go out and buy it!” was my stylist’s response.

My face was so hot I was surprised my hair didn’t catch on fire.

All I could think of was that I hoped the clients didn’t think I speak like the foul-mouthed Alexa.

Then I remembered.

I had shown that video to my students yesterday!  What if I had accidentally pulled up the wrong video then?!!!!!

So, my friends, there you have it, a lesson to be learned by all of us.

Never marry a condescending man who thinks he knows more about technology than you do.

Oh, and never show a video to your students until your hair stylist has a chance to approve it.

Amazon Echo Parody

Parable of the Polygons

My students adore Vi Hart videos.  I think the kids understand maybe 1/2 of what she is saying, but she makes math fun and stimulates their curiosity.

Parable of the Polygons” is an interactive website that was created by Vi Hart and Nicky Case.  Having watched several Vi Hart videos, I expected the site to do one of the things Vi does best – teach me math.  But I was mistaken.  “Parable of the Polygonsuses math to teach about racism, sexism, (and all of the other negative”isms”) and what we can do to help eradicate them.

from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case
from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case

I innocently played each activity trying to make happy polygons until I realized that I, a self-proclaimed non-racist, have had probably zero effect in persuading others to be less biased.  Using math, I learned that, unless more of us make an effort to seek out more diverse colleagues and friends, there is little chance things will change.

This is definitely an activity that I will be doing with my students and I hope to make some changes in my life based on what I learned. From now on, this little square is going to be on the lookout for opportunities to meet more triangles :)

What Should We Be Teaching?

The other day I ran across an article authored by Mark Manson for the Business Insider called, “5 things we should teach in school but don’t.” (You’re probably thinking someone should have taught me to capitalize important words in a title, but that is actually way the title appears, not my lack of capitalization education.)

Before I read the article, I jotted down a few of my own ideas so I could compare them to Manson’s.  This is what I came up with:

  • Career Counseling
  • Innovation and the Design Process (including reflection and revision)
  • How to Handle Money
  • Metacognition
  • How to Protect our Brains in the Case of a Zombie Apocalypse

Okay, so maybe the last one is somewhat extreme – but a little survival training could do us all a bit of good.

Manson’s ideas don’t quite match mine – but first on the list is Finance.  I completely agree with his assessment that our nation’s lack of education in this area is behind a lot of the economic difficulties we are experiencing today.

Logic and reasoning are also recommended requirements according to Manson – something I do not dispute.  I think these skills are implicitly taught in many subjects (including computer programming), but an actual class or two on this topic would benefit many students.

I urge you to make your own list (feel free to add suggestions to the comments below) and to read Manson’s article to find out what else he finds critically lacking in today’s high school curriculum.  He has a good point that we shouldn’t rely on our grandparents’  course of study to prepare today’s generation for the future.

Public domain image by Russell Lee on Wikipedia.
Public domain image by Russell Lee on Wikipedia.

iBesties and Jewelbots

I am constantly prowling Kickstarter for new products that I think might be good for my students.  Lately, two STEM-related toys aimed particularly at girls have been on my radar.

The first, “iBesties,” only has 3 days left in its campaign as of today. They are very close to reaching their fundraising goal of $50,000. iBesties are dolls accompanied by books.  The purpose of iBesties is to raise awareness of careers that currently employ very few women – especially those related to science and technology.  Not every child likes to play with dolls, but iBesties look like a great alternative to Barbie for those who do.  If you back iBesties on Kickstarter for $40, you  will receive a doll and a book around April of 2016.  Check out their Kickstarter site for more info here – but do it soon!

iBesties dolls - McKenna and Jada are being offered in the Kickstarter campaign
iBesties dolls – Mckenna and Jada are being offered in the Kickstarter campaign which ends 7/31/15

The second Kickstarter product that recently caught my attention is “Jewelbots.”  Jewelbots are basically friendship bracelets, but they are wearables (short for wearable technology).  The bracelets can be programmed using an app to do such things as light up when another person wearing the Jewelbot nears you, send Morse code messages to each other, or notify you when you receive a text message.

One characteristic of Jewelbots that intrigues me is the potential to program the jewelry using Arduino IDE.  This opens up many more possibilities for the use of these deceptively simple bracelets – and might be an attractive way to motivate tweens and middle schoolers to learn more about programming.

With over $100,000 raised already, Jewelbots don’t need our backing to reach their $30,000 goal.  However, you might want to pledge $59 just because you know someone who would be excited to receive one in March of 2016.  The funding deadline is 8/7/15, but don’t wait too long!

Jewelbots - Friendship Bracelets with a Techie Twist
Jewelbots – Friendship Bracelets with a Techie Twist

Zombie-Based Learning

Yep.  You read that correctly.

How have I not heard of this before?!!!  Problem-based, standards-based, project-based…. All familiar to me.  Zombie-based?  Not so much.

image from Pixabay.com

The only reason I know about it now is because of another of Edutopia’s fabulous 5-Minute Film Festivals.  This one, posted on 7/17/15, is about inspirational teachers.  I scanned the list and, well, the word, “zombie” kind of jumps out at you.

David Hunter invented Zombie-based learning as a way to engage students as they learn about geography.  It’s aimed at 4th-8th graders, and he created his own graphic novel to supplement the lessons.  Curriculum standards are covered; you just happen to be evading zombies as you learn them.

I don’t know about you, but geography was such a yawn subject when I was in school back in the day.  With Zombie-based learning, I might have actually been interested in the location of Siberia and whether or not its climate was conducive to zombies.

I have not tried the curriculum,  You can check it out over here, and look at examples.  To use the curriculum you will need to fork over some cash.  You might find it worth it.  After all, you’re really getting two things for the price of one – an engaging curriculum for your students and a survival guide for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Let’s face it.  It’s coming.  It’s only a matter of time…

Shake Off Your Math Fears

Jo Boaler, the Stanford professor behind YouCubed.org, works hard to dispel fixed mindsets about math.  She recently shared a video from the 2015 YouCubed summer camp in which her students show their enthusiasm for problem solving and their willingness to learn from their mistakes.


For those of us trying to promote a Growth Mindset, particularly regarding math, this video is a great resource.  I also encourage you to take a  look at the YouCubed.org website for more great materials, including the “Week of Inspirational Math,” which would be a great way to start off your school year.