Friday, December 31, 2010


Seems like everybody is either resolving to do things next year or reflecting on the year about to close.  I'll look back, and, if there is energy, will then resolve.

I've been using an iPad now for just over 6 months.  I have now read more e-books than paper ones.  swiping screens is not a problem.  With the sound turned off, I am uninterrupted by all the apps which send alert beeps and I have discovered I can turn all alerts off by simply switching the iPad to airplane mode.  When I'm ready to connect to the world again, I turn airplane mode off.  Checking email is no problem.  Hooking the iPad up to a TV so I can watch Netflix while on the treadmill is equally easy.  I can easily read news from a variety of sources, watch YouTube, and accomplish a variety of daily tasks which used to require sitting at a laptop.  Thanks to lots of ways to read/view items offline, I can catch up on reading while waiting for Noa's basketball practice to end.

Professionally, I use my iPad daily.  I have taken notes at meetings, posted information on students to databases, conducted parent conferences, etc.  Of course, when I need to create a document, process photos or create a movie,  I turn again to my trusty laptop.  Thanks to DropBox, I can view everything I need to conduct class.  I can even edit Excel spreadsheets, though that doesn't go quite as smoothly as I would like it to.  Using an iPad demystifies it for me and has helped me guide students who are also using iPads through the speed bumps they encounter.  While my school doesn't have an official policy which addresses student iPads, two students brought them regularly before the holidays and I suspect that number will rise once school begins again.  Using DropBox will allow students to use school computers to print documents that require printing.  I look forward to continuing to integrate the iPad into my teaching.

Last night I attended a friend's birthday party.  A guest brought Microsoft's new Kinect unit for us to play with.  Watching kids jump on plain carpet while virtually rafting down a fast moving river was very cool.  I almost considered becoming a gamer, but the moment passed!  In addition to the thrillseeking games, Kinect also has a virtual tiger cub.  The idea behind the tiger cub game is to "dig" for treasure.  All one does is paw at the floor and the tiger digs!  While the tiger cub was being set up, a three-year old boy commented, "this is soooo boring."  I shall remember these words as I find ways to incorporate physical activity into class!  I wonder if Microsoft's Kinect engineers can recreate the chariot race from Ben-Hur?  Happy New Year, everybody!

Oh, the courtesy of

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trying out new apps

My friend Jay Hurvitz is blogging about some interesting topics right now. You will need a translator or you can enjoy the original Hebrew here. I downloaded 5 free apps today and learned that free isn't always the best price. Craigly is an app which allows iPad users to interact with Craigslist. It seems to work as advertised, though the interface isn't always intuitive. A new Edinburgh city guide is excellent for those traveling to Scotland, either virtually or in person. Touch Icon works as advertised, and I think might eventually be useful for those who use their iPad differently. I created my own custom icon for a couple of websites I regularly visit and also a couple people I email on a regular basis. If I organize my iPad correctly, I will click less to email these folks or have to navigate Safari's bookmarks. it was a fun diversion, but probably not my iPadding style. My Album simply returned one error after another and has already been jettisoned from the iPad. Finally I played with Thicket, and I must admit, I don't get it. I love Winter Break,and getting the house to myself for an hour or two. Off to the gym so I can eat more fudge!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Portland,United States

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's ERIC week

About eleven years ago, I cobbled together a unit I named ERIC.  We study four ancient civilizations, Egypt, Rome, India, and China concurrently.  The unit has an oral presentation component where each group presents their findings to their classmates, parents, and other interested friends.  This year, attendance has averaged around 85-90 people.  The presentations last roughly 50 minutes.  This is a huge block of time for seventh graders to fill.  They write the entire presentation, design all the visuals, costumes, blocking, etc.  My fellow core teachers and I provide broad guidance, but, the presentations are all kid productions.  I never cease to be amazed at how much seventh graders actually know about how to do things.  This year, students have filmed and edited movies, created executable flash animation files, collaborated on powerpoint presentations, used document cameras, choreographed dances, created delicious foods for cooking demonstrations, and exhibited amazing creativity in so many ways.  Their facility for technology is jaw-dropping.  They use Flip cameras, still cameras, document cameras, etc. with  such ease.  My job seems to be making sure the technology is available to them.  We have one group which even needs two projectors!  The energy level is high.  The quality of the presentations is stunning.  It is a very fun week.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ordering NASA shuttle tiles

One of the side benefits of the space shuttle program shutting down is that NASA has a surplus of shuttle tiles.  These are the heat-resistant tiles that covered the outer skin of the space shuttle.  Actually, NASA has about 7000 tiles.  They are giving them away to schools and universities that pony up $23.70 for shipping. Here's the news release from NASA.  Now, this sounds easy enough, I thought.  The press release makes it sound easy...

The lightweight tiles protect the shuttles from extreme temperatures when the orbiters re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. Schools can request a tile at: 

Turns out this is not for the faint of heart.  The gsaxcess site is an example of how not to design websites.  I finally figured out which link to click on.  Then I began hunting for my school's NCES number.  What is an NCES number?  From the GSA website:

Universities and Schools can acquire an artifact directly from NASA without the aid of the State Agency for Surplus Property (SASP). You must first Register to receive a User ID and password. To register you will need the Department of Education's statistics tracking number (an NCES Number if you are a school or an IPEDS Number if you are a University). Just follow the links provided (highlighted text) to obtain the NCES or IPEDS numbers and to register. 

After negotiating yet another website, I'm up to 4 screens now, I finally figured out how to navigate the National Center for Education Statistics site.  Looking up private schools didn't work.  So, I just clicked on the first Search for Schools link, filled in my zip code, hit return, prayed, and voilĂ , in the upper right hand corner of my school's information was an 8 digit NCES number.  Armed with this, I was able to register at the GSA site.  Cooking now, I hear you think.  Nope.  Turns out, I was just the "Person getting the Access Code."  I also needed an "Approving Official."  I tried filling in both blanks with my email and phone, but was told that the two could "Not be the same person."  Hmm.....time for cloak and dagger work.  I entered my administrative assistant's information, the computer accepted this, and we were off.  Once I had a temporary password (somebody super creative at GSA decided the temp password should be 12345678,) then I received an email with a user id.  This turned out to the be the first of 5 emails I received from the GSA involving space shuttle tiles.  Now I was faced with a screen which listed NASA "artifacts."  Did I want something from
 Aircraft Launching, Landing, and Ground Handling Equipment 1 / 1 )
Nonmetallic Crude and Fabricated Materials ( 0 / 0 )

How was I to tell?  Finally, I noticed a tab that said Space Shuttle Tiles, clicked it, clicked the only link on the page, and found this:

I added the Space Shuttle Tile to my cart!  This caused another email to appear in my inbox.  Time to contact my Approving Officer!  I raced downstairs to the office and before I could ask my administrative assistant, she said, "I just got mail from NASA.  Should I delete it?"  I asked her to open it, and neither of us understood what she was to do next.  Apparently, she was supposed to register first.  So, as the Approving Officer, she went through the same registration process.  This generated another 2 emails to her inbox.  Following one of them, we managed to find the correct link for her to "Sign-off" on my purchase.  Then, we followed another email link to the secure payment site (the US government only prints money, they only accept credit cards) where we entered the appropriate information, generated 4 more emails and finally had a receipt.  The whole process only took an hour!  In three weeks or so, Catlin Gabel will own a space shuttle tile which we have promised to keep in its protective wrapping, not to sell, barter, or trade it to anybody else in any country on any planet, and treat with the respect it is due.  Shuttle tiles also come with their own MSDS forms since they contain materials which are hazardous to breathe.

There are also other NASA artifacts "for sale."  Anybody need pliers, needle nose assembly M/U?  How about some used NASA medical items?  Perhaps the Ark of the Covenant?