Friday, April 25, 2014

Engineering Paper Cubes

In a recent Computer Science workshop with 6th grade, students were challenged to replicate a Rubik's Cube in paper. They had to measure the cube and identify the different types of cubes that comprise the whole.

Then they had to devise a method for creating 3D cubes out of 2D sheets of paper. The class had recently worked through similar fold-able exercises so this step wasn't a big step for them.

Working in groups, they developed roles and processes to accomplish repetitive tasks quickly. Tape was found to stick better than glue.

They also had to color the model correctly. This can be challenging as students don't often realize that all 26 component cubes are different. They also needed to color the paper before folding which again emphasized the three dimensional relationships.

The entire project took a couple of days but less than an hour each day. Areas of efficiency students could have worked on would included cutting more patterns out of a single sheet of paper (less waste). The kids also got to playing the cubes but when they were left with only one solved cube, it was left off limits as a control group.

I really enjoyed working with the kids and want to send a big shout out to Mrs Stauffer for letting me invade her science class!

Lesson plan, cubes and ideas all came from

Monday, April 21, 2014

Using Spreadsheets for Life Decisions

The best projects build current content on previous units and have an application that carries beyond the classroom. Occasionally, I create a culminating unit project that gets it right. 

We just finished a unit on spreadsheets: everything from basic construction to formulas and graphs. For me, the point of spreadsheets are to make sense of data collected. 

Organizing, sorting and charting helps us see the picture through the volume of data. This naturally leads to reporting what we find in the data. Without application, without impacting change, the data loses its meaning. 

"Truth that is learned but not applied, forms callouses on the soul."

This project asks students to compare five colleges in a total of nine areas. The way the data is organized and presented is intentionally left up to their discretion. This gives students the thrill of discovery. The focus is not on getting it right but telling the story. By pulling the data from their personal choices, they begin to tell their own story.

My favorite part of the project is involving parents. What an opportunity for parents to engage their child in a discussion about choosing a college. By grounding choices in data, much of the disagreement looses its emotional punch. Parents can look at the same data and come up with a totally different interpretation, which helps students see different perspectives.

The College Comparison Report is available on Google Drive. Feel free to make a copy and tweak it for your classroom.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rubik's Cube Workshop

This week I ran a dissection lab in Biology - we took apart Rubik's cubes and reassembled them! Basically it was a lesson about the scientific process and problem solving.

Students had to devise a hypothesis on how the cube worked. My favorite idea was that there is a little bird inside like on the Flinstones. As students took the cubes apart, they needed to document their findings so it could go back together.

I pointed out that we typically look inside animals in science labs but don't often put them back together. But when we have surgery, we all expect the doctor to put us back together.

Students identified the different types of pieces that make up the cube and noted their relationship to each other. I asked if a corner piece could ever be an edge piece. After thinking about it and playing with the cube, they realized the answer is no. But I reminded them that if we let the cube sit for millions of years, eventually a corner could somehow evolve into an edge piece. I don't think they believed me!

There was plenty of engineering and problem solving going on. They also discovered sequencing was important, that pieces could not be reassembled in a different order. The entire lab took only 45 minutes and everyone got their cube back together. The cubes were made available through You Can do The Cube's lending library program and lesson plans.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Philosophy of Education

Every parent should sit down and write out their philosophy of education. It's not enough to value education, there needs to be a purpose and a method.

Once the idea is committed to words, it becomes a framework for educational decisions. Here's my personal philosophy of education, primarily as it applies to my own children, but by extension to how I train others.

"As declared by The Westminster Shorter Catechism, man’s chief end is to glorify God. Everything we do becomes an act of worship (1 Cor 10:31), including education. Man seeks to know God better through the exploration and understanding of his creation. The pursuit of knowledge and truth is actually the pursuit of holiness. Everything I teach should ultimately direct students back to God’s character."

Photo Pen en papier used with permission from Flickr Commons.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weather Reminder

Easter week snowfall reminds us "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Isaiah 1:18

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Big Decision

Spring Mill Camping Trip Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Each book could have several different endings based on the choices made while reading. In a way, our lives are similar. Everyday we have choices to make.

But sometimes we are faced with a decision so important that it can alter the entire direction of our life. The path of faith begins with a definitive choice, probably the most important decision you will ever make.

It was through the teaching of my kindergarten Sunday school teacher, Mrs Gilmore, that I understood I was a sinner and needed Jesus to save me from my sins. That afternoon I told my mom that I wanted to know how to be saved. She said that I could talk with pastor after the evening service.

My pastor loved kids but he was a very imposing man, especially for a five year old. But I was determined, knowing that this was something I had to do. So after church, while pastor was shaking hands with everyone at the door, I told him I wanted to be saved. He immediately asked a deacon to shake hands and took me into his office, which scared me. I knew this must be serious business, because pastor never let anyone leave without shaking his hand!

Looking back, I realize now that pastor walked me through the Romans Road, the Four Spiritual Laws, John 3:16 and a few other plans of salvation. When he was satisfied that I understood what I was doing and not just parroting things I had heard, he explained how I needed to pray. I then asked God to forgive my sins, come into my life and be my Lord and Savior.

After I finished praying, I felt extremely happy. It was the first time I ever had tears of joy. I was so overjoyed that I ran right past my mom and straight to Mrs Gilmore. I wanted her to be the first person I told about asking Christ into my life.

The path I chose back in kindergarten has not been easy or always clear, but God has remained faithful. The prophet Habakkuk has helped me through many uncertain difficulties with his reminder that "the just will live by faith." True life is only possible through faithfulness to God's word.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

iPod Sync with Rhythmbox on Ubuntu

How converting to Ubuntu got more use from an old PC, without losing access to music files or juggling different music storage systems. Now Android and iPod can sync to the same music archive through Rhythmbox.

With Windows XP no longer supported, I converted our old PC over to Linux Ubuntu. We've been running Ubuntu on a laptop for a couple years now so everyone in the family is used to it. We mostly kept it running so the kids could play PC games, but they've slowly converted to Android app games on the Nexus 7 tablet. In fact, no one liked using the PC because it was too slow and cumbersome.

It does have an extra hard drive where we've archived all our old photos, records and most importantly, ripped music from our CD collection. I certainly did not want to lose all that data during the conversion. Our library is copied up to Google Play but it's still nice to access the original ripped copies. Neither did I want to rip 342 albums again.

Another goal was for my youngest to still be able to use her iPod. When she first received it as a gift, we had to install iTunes and rip her few CDs so she could listen to her music. It always irked me that I was managing two different copies of albums.

But after converting to Ubuntu, Rhythmbox took about thirty minutes to update its library. I then dropped selected songs into a new playlist for the iPod. Once the device was plugged in, Ubuntu recognized it and was able to add it to the player's list of devices. I could then select what songs or playlists would sync and within minutes it was loaded and ready to go. With warmer weather approaching, we're looking to be outside more, and now we can take our music with us!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Third Place Programming Winners

I'm almost as excited as these guys were. They had about ninety minutes to build a game in Scratch based on the theme of fire. They knew their program was good. I only wish they were able to keep a copy of the game.

The two in the back finished in third place. Both guys received a water bottle, a t-shirt, and a can of silly putty. Official Press release from IUPUI detailing a couple of my students' 3rd place finish in the game programming competition:
INDIANAPOLIS— More than a dozen high school students from Central Indiana and Michigan place at the top among 127 competitors in the 2014 Computer Science Day at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). The event held Friday, March 21, was organized by the Department of Computer and Information Science in the School of Science. Students competed in one of three tracks:  game programming, intermediate programming + problem solving, and advanced programming + problem solving. 
The 2014 winners are:Game Programming
  • First: Aaron Claussen and Jenner Wile, Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center
  • Second: Bryan Keefe, Min Park and Colin Burke, Fishers High School
  • Third: Andrew Warrick and Justin Keathley, Bethesda Christian School
Intermediate Programming
  • First: Michael Orwin and Matoska Waltz, Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center
  • Second: Skylar Rizzolo and Zach Mills, Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center
  • Third: Benjamin Maddux and Evan Batsell, Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center
Advanced Programming
  • First: Dan Fu and Nathan Mytelka, Park Tudor
  • Second: Josh Zaugg and Caleb Flynn, Fishers High School
  • Third: Jason Zhao and Chris Hsu, Park Tudor
“These young students are the future of the field, and events like Computer Science Day at IUPUI are significant in developing a deeper understanding of the complexities and delights of the industry,” said Shiaofen Fang, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Computer and Information Science Department at IUPUI.
Through tests involving programming and problem solving, students in grades 9-12 came away from the competition with a deeper understanding of teamwork, software tools and deadlines associated with today’s computer science industry. The keynote presentation was delivered by Mike Gagle, Ph.D., Chief Scientist at Interactive Intelligence. An industry panel included professional from Interactive Intelligence, GyanSys, ExactTarget, DataXstream, SEP and Right On Interactive. High school teachers also participated in training workshops during the student competition.
“Occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree in computer science are growing at more than 20 percent annually. It is a constant challenge to match the pace of the job creation in the field. It’s estimated there are three computer science jobs available for every one new graduate,” Fang said. “It’s important that programs like ours at IUPUI continue to train and educate people to fill these high-paying, high-demand positions.”
The 2014 Computer Science Day was sponsored by Interactive Intelligence and GyanSys. For more information, visit the Department of Computer and Information Science.
The IUPUI Computer Science Club and Department of Computer & Information Science are the primary sponsors of this event as part of the School of Science’s commitment to advancing scientific minds, and fostering community interest in the sciences. Through this event, the department is committed to educating students, teachers and parents about all the career paths possible through computer science.The School of Science at IUPUI is committed to excellence in teaching, research and service in the biological, physical, behavioral and mathematical sciences. The school is dedicated to being a leading resource for interdisciplinary research and science education in support of Indiana's effort to expand and diversify its economy. For more information, visit

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Vacationing With Facebook Lists

Have you just returned from a spring break trip? Try using Facebook's Interest Lists to keep the fun going.

By compiling a list of places you enjoyed visiting, the vacation can continue long after returning home. We like to visit parks, and by following their Facebook news feeds we get a glimpse into areas of the park we didn't explore. We can also see what the park looks like in other seasons.

Or are you dreaming of warmer weather? Those same lists can help plan a summer vacation. News items can alert you to the best dates/times to visit. You could even fine tune your vacation schedule according to reviews and notices received.

The nice part about Interest Lists is that you can access the list news feed anytime. It becomes a convenient way to organize a large and diverse news feed. The same function could be accomplished in Google+ by creating specific circles around vacation destinations. Depending on the types of businesses you want to track, they may have a larger presence on Facebook than G+.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Do The Cube

What can you do with 36 Rubik's cubes? Create amazing mosaics!

For the month of April I have the use of 36 cubes available through a lending library program. Check out all the details at

Watch for future posts about using them in the classroom!