Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Scratching my Creativity Itch in New Orleans

This week's challenge for my graduate class had me 'scratching' my Creativity itch.

Probably my favorite learning tool in the world is SCRATCH as it makes THINKING and LEARNING really visible. You can take any pedagogical textbook and illustrate its key concepts using Scratch as a tool.

(can you tell I'm a fan)

Here is a video I captured from my Tech Savvy Girls Camp of a group of young ladies designing their first game in Scratch. I filled the room with lots of fun creative objects to provide inspiration.The girls were asked to use the physical objects in the room to design a game. The game had to have at least 1 FAIL state and 1 SUCCESS state. Then they were given a short intro to Scratch lesson, and then asked to use Scratch to implement their design.

Here is their final Game Implementation on Scratch - Can you you use the cursor keys to navigate the frog through the maze.

This example  was an "outside" of school learning activity, but Scratch can be used in the classroom, as you can see from this "connecting Scratch to literacy" example.

A few years ago I went on a mission to move these creative type activities INSIDE the curriculum and worked with another Creativity enthusiast colleague to kick off a project that we called "Create Simulate Innovate"

I was astounded at how hard it was to get teachers to buy into this idea. Even my most creative teachers went would respond with "sounds like a great after school activity" or 'perfect for enrichment class".

I did have a few successes and here is one of them.

A fifth grade teacher who I saw a connection between teaching kids procedural writing in language arts and SCRATCH. She discovered that having kids "LIVE" and "EXPERIENCE" procedure was a perfect connecting to WRITING out procedures.

They examined the ultimate procedural writing text - "cookbooks" then create their own Interactive procedural pieces using "Scratch" before they moved on to the actual writing piece (which I believe was a local assessment)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Toy Hacking in New Orleans - Mardi Gras Fun

As we entered New Orleans I found myself with the challenge of completing a Toy Hacking Project for my grad course.   The assignment started by having us visit our basements or other places for used or broken toys. Since I took all my toys to Good Will before I moved into the bus, I had little to work with. No Good Will stores nearby, but aha a Dollar General. Rounded up a few toys with potential and came up with this Toy Hack.

Deconstructing was great to do "after" a circuit unit. I understood what was happening and imagined the parts I could not control (like the song being played) .

I appreciated the programming in the Toy Phone which had both English and Spanish, and lots of conditionals (including a built in Quiz)

One of the toys appeared not to work, but after swapping out the watch batteries from another toy, we discovered it was the batteries and upon further deconstructing discovered the switch was stuck on ON (thus the drained batteries).

After I got everything apart I started to imagine possibilities. In playing with possibilities, I managed to dislodge some wires, which gave me the opportunity to learn to solder. Lucky me, I had a great teacher nearby who let me use his tools.

This got me to reflect on the importance of having access to resources (both tools and people) to support your process. Also important is a person who notices when you've reached capacity and encourages you back on your journey to a point where you have the desire and confidence to keep going. After all the tools were put away and we were working on some decorative elements, Mr. Potato Head's light up nose, stopped working - didn't take me long to spot that one of the wires had broken on the switch. ;-( By that time it was late at night, I had worked all day on this, and didn't have any stamina left for this 'slight' setback. Although Craig had left me to my "inventions" most of the day, he was within earshot and stepped back into the picture long enough to get my spirits up again, and offered to take out the solder so that I could "practice my new skill". ;)

A school environment does not lend itself well to the extra time mishaps take to fix. And many kids do NOT have mentors outside school that could lead them through this type of learning. When I read the Steve Jobs biography, I learned that Steve's adopted father was a tinkering and set up many opportunities for Steve to feel empowered as he learned to control computing devices. Where is that opportunity for our kids today?

To me creating these type of opportunities provides a common goal for schools and community to work  for together on.  I'm glad to see the interest in "making"  come to the surface again.   I think its a sign that our society is try to correct its path after having wandered too far off course.   
Time to  make to learn, invent to learn, and play to learn. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Road to Texas

As I am writing this post it is late April and we are in Croton Point Park in NY, working our way back to Vermont.

This post begins in mid February when we left Florida for the great city of New Orleans Louisiana.  We stayed on the other side of the Mississippi river from New Orleans at Bayou Segnette State Park. The weather continued to be cold and rainy, but this didn't dampen our enthusiasm for being in this wonderful city.

Each trip to the city began with a short drive to the ferry which crossed the Mississippi every 30 minutes.  While we were there it didn't cost anything to walk on and be dropped off at the base of Canal St, on the edge of the French Quarter.

Our first visit to the French Quarter saw us walking around on a beautiful sunny afternoon soaking up the culture and enjoying the famous food.

Because the last ferry run was at 6:00 PM on week days we returned to our side of the river and our bayou campground at a reasonable hour for people our age.

The next time we went into New Orleans it was on the weekend, when the ferry runs later, which allowed us to stay until 8:00!  This time we finally found a health food store where Lucie could stock up on the healthy food she is eating on her diet.  The supermarkets on "our" side of the river were rather amazing in that they had a Koolaid aisle but nothing organic or gluten free.

We took the trolly out of the touristy part of the city, had  a great meal at a "locals" restaurant and continued on the trolly line to the famous cemeteries.  We arrived just at dusk and decided against a long walk through the graves after dark.

Then we strolled down Bourbon St. as the evening's revelry was beginning.  The street was blocked off, the drinks were flowing and the Bon Temps were Roulaiting!  We stopped in a bar and listened to a live band while watching the parade of partyers out on the street.

We returned to the banks of the Mississippi and caught the last ferry back to our side of the river.  Leaving the really serious partying to younger people.

Our campground in the bayou had lots of walking trails.  It was a large park with picnic areas and swimming pools which I imagine could get quite busy in better weather.  While we were there it was early spring but still we got plenty of good exercise during the days where we stayed at the RV and worked.

On one of our last days in New Orleans we took the car into the city to a different neighborhood.  We went out to dinner at Jaques-imo's and saw a band at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street.  This is an interesting, artsy neighborhood that contrasted nicely to the super touristy French Quarter.

Our time in New Orleans was rich with music and good food.

We left New Orleans and stopped for one night at a Walmart in Lafayette LA.  This gave us the opportunity to eat more good cajun food at the Blue Dog restaurant there before continuing on to Lake Charles where Lucie had a gig presenting at a Google for Education Summit.

 We camped at Sam Houston Jones State Park.  When we weren't meeting educators from around Louisiana at the Summit we would walk the trails in the park, enjoying the exercise and the bayou landscape.

 By the time the Google for Education Summit was over February was drawing to a close and it was time to head into Texas so we could be in Austin in time for South By South West EDU.

We still had a few days before our campground reservation in Austin so we found a campground in High Island TX, 1/2 mile from the Gulf.  This area is in the middle of an oil field, on a barrier island north east of Galveston that is known locally as the Redneck Riviera.

We enjoyed good weather here, warm and for the most part sunny.  The campground had decent WiFi and we caught up on work and had a few $0 days to give the budget a break after New Orleans.

One of the days we were there we drove about 20 miles up the barrier island to a free ferry that goes across to Galveston TX. 

We spent the day walking around the "Strand" in Galveston where everyone was preparing for Mardi Gras.  We enjoyed the sunny warm day on the wharf next to the very busy bay with all of the historical buildings, shops and restaurants.

 We thought about returning for Mardi Gras but everything was pretty expensive (you had to buy tickets to even be down town during the parades) so we didn't return but stayed at our campsite until it was time to move on to Austin.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Leaving Florida

It is early April, Lucie and I are in the Texas Hill Country just north of Austin.  Tomorrow we start making serious headway north to return to Vermont for the summer.  Back around New Years I made a resolution to keep up with these blog posts, a resolution that I have not been very good at keeping!  Today, though, because it is raining and we have some quiet time around the RV I will go back and do some catching up.

This blog post is a recap of our journey out of Florida.  This all took place during the last week of January and the first two weeks of February 2014.

We bid the urban Eastern Coast of Florida goodbye amid reports of "Arctic Vortexes" freezing the rest of the country. 

On our way north to Orlando we stopped and filled the propane tank on the RV while questioning the wisdom of leaving the 80 degree weather in Lake Worth.

While we were driving from Lake Worth to Orlando Lucie researched county campgrounds in the Orlando area and discovered Moss Park Campground where we were delighted to find large private campsites scattered throughout a pine and oak forest.  We were only about 15 minutes from the Orlando Convention Center where we were signed up to attend FETC, the Florida Educational Technology Conference for 3 days.

 Lucie started the conference with a full day of workshops, which gave me a day at camp where I explored the park and tinkered on our Verizon data connection which we were dependent upon because there was no campground WiFi.

The next day we were joined by our co-worker from St Albans City School, Matt Allen, who would be staying with us while attending FETC.  As I've been traveling this winter I have been working remotely for SACS.  Matt is the lead person there for the technology team, so it was really nice to be able to spend some time with him and reconnect with what has been happening at the school.

 The weather was not at all welcoming during the time we stayed in Orlando.  It was cold and rainy the whole time, never getting out of the 50s.  Still, we had a great time at the conference, experiencing new ideas and making contacts with people from around the country who work in educational technology.  When FETC was over and Matt had returned to the frigid North we bid the Sand Hill Cranes goodbye and continued North West towards our next destination in Florida.

 We had reserved 4 days at Sunset Isle Campground in Cedar Key Florida, where we had stayed for a month in November. 

These 4 days were a time where we reconnected with the people who are a part of the NuRvers who were having an informal convergence there during the winter of 2014.  These NuRvers are people who are living and working full time on the road. 

 After too short a visit at Cedar Key we said goodbye to the people at the convergence, but knew we would be staying in touch through the Internet and meeting up as our paths crossed out on the road.
 Our next stop was Grayton Beach on the Florida Panhandle.  This beach is a beautiful state park with the whitest sand I could imagine.  The campground was in the dunes behind the bay.

 We explored the community next door called Seaside.  This planned (and controlled) community was a little creepy with its streets all laid out according to plan and all the buildings fresh, clean and the same.  It was for successful people only, no poverty allowed.  They did have a really neat grocery store though with lots of healthy food.  Something that we felt contrasted to the stores we patronized on the West side of New Orleans.

On the other side of the state park is the town of Grayton Beach.  A funky summer community where we hung out with Meagan and Jesse, two NuRvers we had met at Cedar Key who were staying at Grayton Beach.  We went to the Red Barn on a Saturday afternoon where we heard excellent live music from a local band, some of the best music I've run into on this trip!   

After Grayton Beach we continued West to New Orleans.  But that is another blog post!