Wikis, Siftables, Mindstorms, and other Random Musings

Last week, my classes spent three days in the lab working on our class wiki. On Friday, I spent some time debriefing with my students about what they learned during their three days in the lab. Though their answers were typically middle school depth answers, I enjoyed hearing some of the following things they learned:

  • How to hyperlink (and a couple even mentioned WHY to hyperlink)
  • Wiki page creation
  • Commenting on the wiki (had two who learned how NOT to comment on the wiki)
  • How upsetting it can be when someone vandalizes a collaborative project…our team name is the Sunfish and I went in and changed the wiki homepage to SUNFISH STINK!!! and let someone happen upon it during the course of class, worked like a charm to make the point
  • Several mentioned their work output with a computer in front of them, some positively, others negatively
  • Several mentioned learning about synesthesia from the podcast I recorded and the article from CNN I posted
  • Many learned that it’s dangerous to text and drive (wonder what the long term impact of that article will be???)

Overall, I think our three days in the labs were well spent. Truthfully, it made me want either my own class set of computers or a 1:1 environment all that much more. The kids did well for the most part about getting to the various labs we were working in on time and completing a reasonable amount of work. I think the process can be much more streamlined, but they were really getting the hang of it by the third day.

While in the lab, my students also participated in Will Richardson’s request on behalf of fellow Edutopia writer Sara Bernard. For those interested, here are my student’s responses.

After our discussion of things learned from working on the wiki, somehow I felt it appropriate to continue the talking about technology and its changing role in their lives. My students provided from good suggestions for using technology in education, however none of them stepped far outside things that are already occuring in our classroom. Those that are beyond what we’ve done are on my horizons. We discussed cloud computing, and how if they explained computer use five years into the future to their parents, it would likely make their heads explode. The “future of computers” idea led me to show them the TED talk on Siftables that was posted earlier in the week.

Siftables blew their collective minds. Some of them were hung up on how they worked. Others on how much they would cost. Still others rightfully questioned what their overall application would be. I think much of that skepticism came from our earlier discussion of the Smart Table which, while carrying a hefty price tag, currently has very little that it can do which can’t be done otherwise with much cheaper equipment.

I left them for the long weekend on the idea that what they think of as a computer will very likely not be the same thing we’re using 5 to 10 years from now. Though many of them didn’t believe me, or perhaps weren’t surprised by the statement, I think the overall point was made.

Today, I attended a PD session on engineering, math and science. While the focus of the session was largely on the local community college’s cooperative program with several state universities, I did come away with a few interesting ideas.

  • First, we made lip balm. This was a surprisingly simple activity with great implications for collaborative class work. The recipe was given comparatively (1 part shea butter, 1.5 parts cocoa butter, etc) so students would have to do basic calculations to determine how much of each material would be needed for their group.  There were about 15 different flavors available which could have lead to a survey activity about favorite flavors, or testing to find flavor combinations that work together. I thought a wonderful language arts connection would be to design a label and advertising poster/campaign for the lip balm. Additional math could be brought in by doing cost analysis of the materials in order to determine the price to sell each tube for in order to make a profit. Definitely wishing I was teaching 8th grade for this activity.
  • We made Solo cup speakers for a stereo. Again, surprisingly easy, and a great discussion piece for students.
  • Most interestingly, I noticed on a price list that was handed out for the engineering camp run by the presenter contained a listing for Lego Mindstorms. My first exposure to Mindstorms came from this post by Clarence Fisher. It turns out the presenter (who is local) has a set sitting in his office that he can’t find anyone willing to use. Looks like I’m going to be offering up another idea for my chess club students to test out after that activity wraps up.
  • For those who don’t know, Mindstorms are a programmable robotics kit created by Lego. The programming is done in a visual editor and is designed to be used by students as young as 8 years old. I’m totally intrigued by the idea, and slightly concerned that I’m getting in touch with my inner Gary Stager.  Though I still don’t think programming/robotics needs to be a part of the standard curriculum for all students, I’m beginning to see some possibilities. Who knows, maybe after playing around with the set for a while I’ll have even more ideas. Is anyone out there using Mindstorms already? Care to share how you work it into your curriculum, or after school program?

Thanks for indulging me with the opportunity to ramble on a bit this evening.

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