Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: The Lost Kingdom

What if colonial America used steam punk technology to discover the lost Welsh Indians? Matthew Kirby takes that giant leap in his historical fiction novel for young adults, The Lost Kingdom.

Just prior to the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Benjamin Franklin sends several members of the American Philosophical Society on an unlikely adventure. Tasked with discovering a lost tribe of Welsh speaking Indians and the descendants of

Monday, June 29, 2015

Download My Establishing Classroom Procedures Guide

Failure to plan is planning to fail. Download my Establishing Classroom Procedures Guide.

Last year I did a unit called Listening With Legos using offline listening skills to reinforce students' need to be attentive to details and instruction. This year I have developed a longer introductory unit giving students greater input into the classroom culture.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Popular Posts from Last Week

Classroom info boardThis summer I encouraged students and staff to share #60DaysOfSummer photos so most of my summer online posts have been straight to social media instead of blogging. As a result, last week's popular posts come largely from the archives. Use the tabs at the top of my blog to follow me on various social media sites.

1. Three generations of Biddle men enjoyed a trip to Chicago last week, (thanks Dad!). Besides a Cubs game (they lost) we also toured the Adler Planetarium. My post praising their consistency on observational science received the most visits last week.

2. I've always been baffled by it, but a short post about a Jamaica bulletin board from 2011 has consistently received traffic. I did like the way the yearbook class incorporated that year's theme into the design but don't know what continues to draw traffic to that post.

3. This spring I purchased a 1972 VW Bug and drive it to school every day. If online traffic is anything like the excitement my students have over it, then posts about fixing the wiper motor may gain more hits than my school ones!

4. My review for the Cargo-Bot App received some attention.

5. An early summer reading review for the book behind the movie Boxtrolls also drew a few readers.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Observational Science at the Adler Planetarium

Hands-on exhibits allow immersive discoveries as ancient astronomers or modern astronauts. #science4everyone

Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. A lot has changed in the twenty years since my last visit but it is still a fascinating place for both adults and children. The whole museum did an excellent job of demonstrating and encouraging observational science.

As a teacher (with ID) I received a discounted admission rate! We signed up for two shows: Cosmic Wonder and Destination Solar System. Both were presented in the Granger Sky Theater, the largest domed theater at Adler.

Cosmic Wonder used open source images from the World Wide Telescope project and the Adler's own archives to give a galactic tour of some of the amazing images collected. More than just a flip book photo journey, our guide described and explained what we were seeing.

My dad made the comment (half jokingly) that the dome was not in high definition. I also thought that there could have been a little more distinction between the observable science and the historical scientific interpretations. But the overall tone encouraged viewers to question and seek out answers for themselves, not just blindly believe one astronomer's interpretation.

They also shared the website Zooniverse where students and adults can help make sense of the massive amounts of data. This is where real scientific study happens. I could see a class of students becoming engaged in a particular project, excited to see their efforts have a positive impact on the scientific community.

The second show, Destination Solar System reminded us more of Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios, without the physical movement. Led by an energetic young man with a funky hairdo, we took a fictional journey visiting planets in our solar system. Throughout the trip, I found myself wanting to yell "open the pod bay doors" to the pretentious computerized assistant.

The show was comedic at times and had enough flair and peril to entertain. I wonder if younger children may come away with some weird ideas about our solar system as fact was interwoven with futuristic fiction. Of course science fiction could also be the springboard that launches a child's career into science.

We also spent some time in the exploration lab making lunar modules. The goal was to keep a marshmallow astronaut safe in the vacuum of space and the turbulence of entering the atmosphere. This was tested through a vacuum chamber and a cement mixer.  As a teacher, I found inspiration in the room design, the open-ended nature of the activity and the excitement shared by the volunteers. If my classroom could become half as engaging, I think students would learn so much more.

Lastly, I was a bit surprised but pleased to see that the Apollo 8 Christmas broadcast played automatically at the entrance to the exhibit area. The broadcast includes the three man crew reading portions of the creation account in the book of Genesis. While the Adler Planetarium is not a Christian organization, the creation account was shared and speculations as to ancient origins were usually presented as theories.

In another section, a small prismatic display propertied to show the Big Bang. After forty seconds of watching lights dance across the tiny screen, my son said, "that's it?" With so many differing opinions in the scientific community, it appeared that the Adler Planetarium has wisely chosen to focus on the processes and history of observable science rather than the drama of speculative historical science.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Teach Students to Discern the Truth

In a world of information overload, we need to teach kids how to discern truth. This was the biggest idea I picked up from day one of the Empowering Students with Technology conference.

Alan November gave the keynote address, emphasizing that education technology is not really about the tools. We need to focus on teaching students how to use the tools in responsible ways.

Just because information can be found on the Web, does not mean it is right. The first search result is not always the best. I would also add that as a Christian school teacher, I need to show my students how to evaluate information against the truth of Scripture.

To read more about how teachers are responding to the conference, search #LTeLearn on Twitter.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Book Review: Here Be Monsters!

Soggy boxes, laundry washing rats and the revival of an evil cheese industry are a few of the nonsensical things inside Alan Snow's massive novel Here Be Monsters! 

Snow has created a fanciful world full of monsters more at home on Sesame Street than truly scary creatures. Each kind has it's own quirks and personalities, but it takes teamwork among everyone to resolve the story's conflict. The line drawings sprinkled throughout the book help immensely, giving shape and scale to a jumbled up world.

The only objection I had was a couple uses of "God" as an exclamation. The antagonist Snatcher, also dresses up as a woman but it's all part of his evil scheme, more of a disguise than a statement on sexuality. The ladies of Ratbridge also seem inordinately preoccupied with their buttocks. But even that has a humorous, if slightly crude contribution to the story's resolution.

Despite covering more than 500 pages, the book reads quickly and easily. Chapters are short and the book was difficult to put down between them. I gave the book 4/5 stars on Goodreads. If you like Roald Dahl, then you will feel right at home with the Boxtrolls of Ratbridge. I preferred the book over the movie version.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Geared Up

Working on our Bug, my son learned a lesson about gears and "interchangeable" parts. The original wiper blade motor had locked up and after tearing into the motor, we realized the plastic gear was stripped out.

Most parts places will sell the entire wiper motor assembly, not individual parts but we found an "as is" wiper assembly for a fraction of the cost. The plan was to tear them both apart and cobble working parts together.

Once we had both gear boxes apart and the gears pulled, we suddenly realized that the threads ran in the opposite direction. This meant the plastic gear would not mesh with the worm drive from our electric motor.

We had already established that the "new" motor would not run as it was too rusty. So we took the two motors apart and swapped out the magneto and worm drive. It needed a little cleaning but worked!

This same wiper assembly could be recreated with Legos and would provide great lessons on mechanics: taking circular motion, turning it 90 degrees and converting it into an oscillating motion. I used the example of a steam engine drive piston when explaining the wiper motor's mechanism.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book Review: Minecraft Construction Handbook

Looking for Minecraft inspiration? Check out the official construction handbook published by Mojang. This handy little book is full of ideas and illustrations for constructing several styles of houses, city walls, ramparts and fortifications. They also address floating islands, ships and roller coasters.

While billed as an instruction guide, no step by step instructions or design maps are given. Instead, golden nuggets of tips and tricks are sprinkled throughout. Several amazing builds are well illustrated to spark the imagination.

This book is ideal for the beginning Minecraft player or for anyone needing a bit of inspiration. Its compact size easily fits in backpacks or coat pockets.