Friday, February 29, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Stratastencil Animation

Stratastencil is a cool animation technique created by adding layers of cut paper. Here is the site of the artist, Javan Ivey, who created the animation with some photos of how it was done.

[Image from the artists website:]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Saw this page of different bookcases and I thought to myself, "there is always a fresh way to look at any structure". Show these to your students before giving them a design project to encourage their creativity.

I once gave my middle schoolers an assignment to redesign their notebooks. They had a hard time moving beyond what they knew. Once they allowed themselves to be creative and maybe a little crazy, it turned into a project they all enjoyed. I started it off by having them brainstorm answers to the question: What I hate about my notebook!

At the top of everyones hate list was homework.

[Image: Captured from]
[Original source: Neatorama:]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lecture Tips from Patrick Winston

I followed a link to a YouTube video that was supposed to be a famous lecture about giving effective lectures. Unfortunately, the video had been removed. I suspect for copyright reasons. I did a little searching and found this site through Harvard that has the lecture by MIT professor, Dr. Patrick Winston available online. It is also available for purchase if you would like a copy on DVD.

The video was made in 1997 and is a little dated in places. For example, it uses a chalk board and overheads with nary a mention of the possibilities of powerpoint. It was intended for folks who were going to become college level instructors. Still, I think it makes many valid points useful for any teacher. I have been thinking about one of his points recently as it is something I am guilty of. When we use slides (overhead or powerpoint) it can speed up the pacing of our lecture. Dr. Winston mentions that blackboards have been around for a long time because they fit the pace of our natural speaking voice. Ready made slides allow us to move quickly and dole out lots of information. often faster than our audience can process. There is a natural speed that goes with writing out key points and a drawing on a board. We need to be cautious when using technology that we don't move too fast.

Although, I do remember an Economics teacher when I was an undergraduate that came into the classroom, placed a box of chalk on the desk and then commenced to fill the chalk board completely with diagrams and graphs. He started on the right side and worked his way across the board, drawing and talking the entire time. As soon as he filled the board, he erased it, from left to right, got a new piece of chalk and then began filling it up again. He did this for an 90 minutes twice a week. If that man had used an overhead or god-forbid, powerpoint slides. My brain would have melted.

[Image: Captured from the video: How to Speak: Lecture Tips from Patrick Winston;

Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: NXT

Damien Kee has written a book, Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: NXT that might be of interest to those of you who use Lego in your school. He has designed a 10 week set of lesson plans on robotics based on the NXT Mindstorm kit. I haven't seen the book yet but I looked at some of the sample pages provided on the site and if I were still teaching a robotics class at my middle school, I'd purchase the book. It looks like it has some great activities.

Here's a list of the chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: What is a robot?
  • Chapter 3: Flowcharting
  • Chapter 4: DomaBot Basics
  • Chapter 5: How fast?
  • Chapter 6: How many sides?
  • Chapter 7: Help! I'm Stuck
  • Chapter 8: Help! I'm (still) stuck
  • Chapter 9: Stay Away from the Edge
  • Chapter 10: Did you hear that?
  • Chapter 11: Mini-Golf
  • Chapter 12: Dancing Robots
  • Chapter 13: Mexican Wave
  • Chapter 14: Robot Butler
  • Chapter 15: As seen on TV!
  • Chapter 16: Student Worksheets

He has more details about what's covered in each chapter, some sample pages available for download and some cool related links to explore on his site. This is definitely going on my list of books to buy.

[Image: Captured from Dombotics:]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Compact Nomadic Furniture

Saw this video on Make and immediately thought of a book I picked up years ago in a bargain bin called Nomadic Furniture. It had the schematics for all kinds of furniture that could be easily torn down and packed. At the time, we were moving a lot and the idea of being able to easily break down all my belongings into easily transportable components seemed like a great idea. My wife had silly notions about style, color schemes and comfort. I let myself get won over to her point of view by a huge, heavy couch that was ideal for napping.

This concept could be a fun for a classroom design project. Have your students design a piece of furniture on paper. Then mock up a scale model using construction paper. Then create a full size reproduction out of cardboard. Then have your parents come in so they can "ooo" and "ahhh".

I attended a workshop given by a woman who taught technology in the United Kingdom and she had a design unit built around the design and construction of a chair made out of cardboard and paper mache. (Sorry, I can't find her name in any of my notes.) I loved the idea but never pursued it as I had no place where I could work with wet paper mache and then store all the projects in their various stages. If you were working with collapsible cardboard models connected with something like McGroovys Box Rivets, it might be doable in a smaller space.

This brings to mind my two biggest complaints about technology labs. They never build them big enough and they never include an area where you can work with wet and dirty materials. Not all technology education takes place on a computer screen. Some of the best labs I've seen were stuck in old shops or extra storage areas with concrete floors, easy access to the outside and sinks with running water. The newer labs I've seen tend to be smaller and carpeted with the idea that the kids will be sitting at a computer and will never need to get out of their seats or build anything bigger than matchbox.

We work with what we are given but we can dream!

[Image: Captured from]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Need an metronome? Here's one that is online? If you've never used a metronome, this might be an inexpensive (free) way to try it out. My guess is that if you decide it's a tool you would use one, you'll end up buying one anyway. My pocket size metronome is portable and I can take it anywhere I take my banjo. It also has a light that flashes to the beat. I find this helpful as I have a hard time hearing the tick over my banjo.

My wife says she has a hard time hearing anything over the sound of my banjo.

[Image: Captured from Metronome Online:]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Photoshop Gradient on a Photo

I was putting together a web page for a class I'm taking and wanted the photograph I was using to gradually fade into the white background. I know how to make solid blocks of color do this using Photoshop and I know that I've done this before with a photo, but I just couldn't remember a key step.

A couple of minutes later after a Google search I found this tutorial that walked me through the process.

[Image: Al Gunn private collection.]

Monday, February 18, 2008

Google Doodle Contest

Google is sponsoring a contest for k-12 students called "Doodle 4 Google". Using the theme "What if...?" students doodle over the famous Google logo to create something unique such as the example I have here for Einstein's birthday. If selected, it will be posted on their site for a day and the student wins a prize as does the school.

They offer teacher resource guides with suggestions for activities to use with your students. If you are going to participate notice that you need to register your school. The topic is so broad it could be tied into a social studies or science class fairly easily. Make it an interdisciplinary project. Venture beyond that dusty old computer lab and talk to some of those other teachers who work in your building. Check it could be fun.

  • Register by March 28, 2008.
  • Doodle Entry Deadline is April 12, 2008.
  • State Finalists and Regional Winners notified by May 7, 2008
  • Online Public Vote May 12-18, 2008
  • Awards Ceremony and National Winners Announced on May 21, 2008
  • Winning Doodle on the Google Homepage may 22, 2008

Video of various doodles that have been used in the past.

Interesting video showing a doodle being designed. When kids ask if anyone uses a program like Illustrator, show them this. (Not sure if it is Illustrator....but it's a vector program of some sort?)

[Image: Captured from Doodle for Google:]

Friday, February 15, 2008

Funny: Geek Love

A wedding can be so much more than tuxedos, white satin and bland hunk of cake.

[Story Source:GeekDad: Did You Have a Geeky Wedding?; Jan, 7,2008]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Better photos through composition

Quick tutorial on improving photos through composition. The author give two easy techniques: one with your camera and the other with your photo editor.

Show it to your students and set them loose for a fast lesson on your first day back after suffering the indignities of a nasty stomach virus.

[Image: Captured from Information Addicts: Change Your View, Change Your Composition:]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I wanted to take Home Economics

When I was in Junior High boys couldn't take Home Economics. We were all funneled through wood and metal shop. I was a klutz in those two classes but am grateful for the skills I learned. I was exposed to some great technologies, for example, we did sand casting in metal shop. Our shop teacher never let us near the molten metal but we did everything else. I probably will never take up sand casting but it helped me to understand the process and a little bit about the properties of metal. I did learn some skills that were more practical. I learned to use power tools safely. I learned the names of common hand tools. I'm not afraid to take on minor repairs in my home. I was taught things in those two classes that I've used my entire life.

With that said, I wish I could have taken HomeEc. I loved to cook as a boy and experimented a lot in the kitchen. I often think that if I had understood that men could cook for a living, I might have picked that as a career path. By the time I was aware of restaurant chefs, my interests had moved on.

I wish I had learned to sew. I don't think I would have taken to making my own clothes but there have been numerous times where it would have come in handy. A design for a tent I would like to have built. Puppet bodies to go over the mechanical structures I created. Costumes for Halloween. Some of the other things those lucky girls learned in class I picked up out of necessity once I left home. Ironing. Washing. Cleaning. I would have sat through a lecture on cleaning products for the chance to cook.

I wasn't given that chance because of my gender. (I wonder how many women from my generation feel the same way about not getting to take shop?)

When I started teaching in the early eighties, HomeEc and Shop had been integrated. Boys and girls took both. I saw guys walking around with their sewing projects. I oohed and awed over the towel racks the girls created from cherry wood. Everyone got to cook. Everyone got to learn about tools and how to use them. I think this was good. Knowing this stuff gives us an understanding of how the world works. Of how people make their livings. Of where the products we buy come from and the labor that goes into their creation. I think it's sad that these classes have been slowly pushed out of the schools.

I don't expect a 7th grade shop class to create a working carpenter. I don't believe that every child that goes through home economics will be able to put a home cooked meal on the table every night. But, they might have the beginnings of the skills needed to do minor repairs. Cook a meal. Sew on a button. Not get ripped off by the plumber or the mechanic. Follow a recipe without fear. Know how to do a load of laundry. Aren't these things we want our kids to know? Don't we gain a broader understanding of our world when we learn how to interact with it in a variety of ways? What happened to the idea that it's a good thing to expose kids to a wide variety of topics and skills?

This is the article that got my mind riding this train of thought. In the UK they are going to require cooking classes for their secondary students. Why? To try and help prevent obesity. The reasoning is that if kids know how to cook they will make better choices when it comes to eating. Will it work? Only time will tell.

[Image: Chili Verde: Photographed by al gunn, 2007]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Historical and Educational Maps

This site, the Perry-Castaneda Library Archive, is for the Social Studies teachers in your building. I used to constantly be on the outlook for maps when I taught American History and geography. Back in those days, the map I am showing here would have cost me around $15 dollars to get something that I would be able to display in the front of the room. Some of the nicer pull down maps that were supplied by the educational houses cost upwards of a hundred dollars. This was for a specialty map you might use one day or maybe refer to for a couple of weeks. It was more cost effective to put our money into a couple generic maps that we could draw on and then some good line masters we could use to make transparancies for the trusty overhead projector.

Because I was stubborn, I often was down in the library using the copy stand and a 35mm camera to shoot pictures of maps that I could turn into slides for specific presentations. Many is the young teacher I have bored into leaving the teacher's lounge with my stories of how hard it was in the old days and how easy they have it with all this new fangled technology. But, Good Grief! It only took me two minutes to find this map and download it!!!

[Image: Captured from US-Territories-1860 (map) Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection:]

Monday, February 11, 2008

Inexpensive Teleprompter

When I first started doing video with kids in 1985, I often wanted some kind of teleprompter like I saw in the TV studios. Instead we used big cue cards which worked but were time consuming to make and added some annoying background noise as the pages were turned. I think it was in the mid-nineties that I was introduced to using HyperStudio as a cheap teleprompter at an educational conference. There was a function in that program that scrolled text. So, then with any computer, we were able to set up a simple teleprompter with text that could be quickly edited and easily controlled.

Jump forward to 2007 when I started teaching in a high school studio. It had specialized teleprompter software that cost close to two hundred dollars to purchase and could only be used on one machine. I looked around for a cheap alternative but didn't find anything that I liked that was simple or cheap. The kids often created word documents with enlarged text that they printed out and carried outside the studio.

I recently read about this teleprompter that runs online from the web and is free, If your computer can connect to the web, it can run a teleprompter. When I tested it out and was running text at the biggest size, I had to work with the line breaks to keep the words from getting cut off. Other than that, it seemed to work fine.

If you give this a try, let me know how it works with students. If you have other inexpensive options, let me know about those too.

[Image: Captured from]

Friday, February 8, 2008

Funny: Darth Vader Blues

A Star Wars mashup with blues, harmonica and Darth Vader. How could you not love this?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets

I thought I had written about these fasteners before but I found a note to myself this morning reminding me to try them out before writing about them. I don't think I will get a chance to experiment with them until this summer and thought some of you might try them out in your classrooms now if you knew they existed.

They were reviewed on Cool Tools and I when I saw them I immediately thought of several projects I've done with kids where rivets would have been useful. In the past anytime my students built large structures with cardboard, they used either hot glue or duct tape. Usually, I preferred duct tape because it's easier to tear down a structure and rebuild it if there is a design flaw. And, there is always a design flaw.

The web site gives these five reasons to use their rivets.
  1. Easier to Use - big projects go together in a snap
  2. Stronger - projects stay together and last longer
  3. Faster - more time for creativity and enjoying your project
  4. More versatile - build with cardboard in new ways
  5. Reusable - construct a new project every week
If they work as advertised, I'd have to agree. I had an activity where my students designed a temporary structure that could easily fit into a trunk and be dropped into disaster areas. They built their models to scale or just drew them on paper. It would have been cool to take it one step further and build a full-size structure out of cardboard?

If anyone has had any experience with these rivets, please comment.

[Image captured from website: Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets:]

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Improve your videos

Five quick and easy tricks your students can use to improve their videos explained in this short piece posted on Instructables. All cheap. All student accessible. It might even get them thinking about other ways they could improve their videos with readily available materials. Heck, they could even create their own how-to video!

Kipkay's Video Tricks & Tips! - video powered by Metacafe

[Original Source: Lifehacker: Improve Your Videos or Photos with Five Cheap Tricks:]
[Image: Captured from video:
Kipkay's Video Tips & Tricks: Instructables:]

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Kevin Kelly: Better Than Free

Kevin Kelly has an interesting piece on The Technium called Better than Free. His premise is that anything that can be copied can be put on the internet. Once it is on the internet it becomes available to anyone for free. Money can't be made from the original item in this new electronic landscape. Money can only be made from things that can't be copied. Here was the interesting part of the article for me. He gives eight possible ways that marketable value can be added. Eight things that can't be copied that are valuable to the consumer. I won't explain what he says, read the article. It's worth it.

In these changing times as major studios are trying desperately to hang onto an outdated business model that doesn't work in this new digital world, we seem to hear from the two extreme camps. "Pay me cause it's mine" or "I can get it for free and you can't stop me." It is nice to read a thoughtful piece that looks at how things might work out.

Good discussion article for the tech classroom. Good debate topic for a social studies classroom. I've already seen this mentioned on three other blogs I follow. It is going to generate a lot of discussion.

[Image: Captured from The Technium:]

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Color theory you can eat

That creative young woman in Washington is at it again. I blogged about her a few months ago when she was posting her werewolf costume construction process on YouTube . She recently put up a tutorial on cookie decorating but hidden within all that chewy goodness is a wonderful lesson on color theory.

Here is a fun way for all you home economic teachers out there to integrate your curriculum with other subject areas. Your art teachers, your science teachers and even your color deficient, elderly technology teachers usually cover color theory at some point. I think your students will be paying particularly close attention in class if instead of the family dog, they get to eat their homework for a change.

[image: Captured from "How to Decorate Cookies using Simple Materials":]