Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Kindle

This week I received a nice surprise from my sister...a Kindle. I've wanted to get one for a while, but wasn't sure if I'd rather wait to get an iPad. Now the decision's been made for me and I'm quite happy about it.

What To Do First?
Since I already have a number of physical books I am finishing, I did not want to spend money on a random book. I did want to test the device, though, so I went in search of some free downloads. There are a number of ways to do this. I went the route that seemed easiest to me and looked at some lists on Amazon.

On this Listmania list I found a few titles that sounded interesting:
Autobiography of a Yogi - 4 1/2 stars
Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis From the Good Play Project - 3 stars
Living and Learning With New Media: Summary of Findings From the Digital Youth Project - 4 stars

From a second Listmania list I found:
The Rosary - 5 stars (a 1910 romance in the vein of Pride and Prejudice)

I found a couple of word games that have been entertaining. Every Word and Shuffled Row. I didn't expect to use games on a Kindle, but they were available and free so I downloaded them. They are good for the brain cells and work well.

First Paid Book
It didn't take long for me to find a book that peaked my interest. I came across a post on The Principal's Posts blog called Living on the edge. The book caught my attention through a quote about how Lyn connected people who are organizing events such as EdCamp NYC to pull:
"I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the educators involved in the passion-driven organization of these events harnessed the power of pull to make these learning experiences a reality for attendees."
I was curious about what the power of pull might be. I followed the link to the book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown. From Lyn's post I learned that the authors talk about the shift from access to attract to achieve by making small moves to effect big change. This type of thinking is in line with a lot of other reading I've been doing over the last few years.

The book, at $18.15 for the physical copy, is not too expensive. I would not have driven down to the store to pick it up until I had finished other books. The price on the Kindle was $9.34. Inexpensive enough for me to download it and start reading last night.

After having read 2% of the book, I felt comfortable with the format and enjoyed starting to use the highlighting feature. In the back of my mind I was wondering how I could use this feature to gather all my thoughts, but didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it.

It was also interesting to see highlights from other readers (which can be turned off) within the text of my book - along with a count of how many people highlighted that passes.

A Great Way to Gather Notes
While I was on Twitter today, I came across a tweet by Tim Lauer (someone I just started following yesterday). He pointed out a blog post about exporting Kindle notes and highlights. This is fantastic! It took a couple of minutes to figure it out, but this is a game changer for me.

I signed on to my Amazon account, but could not figure out where the highlights might be. I went back to the exporting post and noticed that I should be at the site. Still no luck. Even though I was signed on with my Amazon user name and password, it said Hello Unknown at the top of the screen. I had to use the drop down box to Edit My Profile. As soon as I did that, I was able to click on the Your Highlights link and there were my highlights from the book. I want to look a little closer at the post about exporting notes and highlights, but already this is an improvement over having the notes stuck in the Kindle!

While Finishing This Post

As I was re-reading the post to check for grammar errors, I looked back at the Your Highlights page and noticed a link that said "Read more at location 125". I wanted to see the effect and was presented with a link to download the Kindle for Mac (OS 10.5 or later) app.

Once the app was installed, I clicked on the link again and was presented with the actual page in the book complete with yellow highlighter.

I can't wait to play some more!

Image Citation:
Kindle picture by Ann Oro.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spreadsheets and Reflections

During the past couple of weeks, I have been working on spreadsheet reviews and extensions with the sixth and seventh grade students. Both groups of students have been working with spreadsheets since the fourth grade. 

Hands On Work
I wanted to have the students generate their own data and tie into the curriculum in the school. Having taught sixth and seventh grade math, I know that they work with probability and decimal numbers. After some thought, I resurrected some projects I used to do with the students in math class as a more computer-centric operation.

I started with a probability project. The idea is to examine what probability is as a theory and give the students the ability to experiment to see the actual outcome. I've written the project up on my wiki and have handouts on the page, too.

The students enjoyed rolling the dice and choosing where to do it. They were sitting at tables and on the floor. Once they gathered the data and typed it into the spreadsheet, we discussed the difference between rolling the die a few times, seventy-five times, and over 1,000 times.

Making Choices While Gathering Data
In the second project, the students use the CIA World Factbook to gather information about countries. The students use a spreadsheet to calculate the percentage of land area versus the total area of a country. They calculate the number of people per square kilometer. I have a full write up on the lesson here on the wiki page.

Reflection is important when I use spreadsheets in my personal work. I wanted the students to not only gather the data, but then reflect on what the numbers mean. In order to accomplish this, they are following up the spreadsheet work with two reflection paragraphs. It gives them practice in setting up several document features in the word processor. 

The reflections are as follows from my handout to the students:
The reflection should have one paragraph that tells me how you went about deciding on which countries to select. Did you just learn about some countries? If you just learned about the countries, like Christmas Island, where in the world is it? Have you known about countries already? What led you to choose the countries? With the countries that you knew about already, did the capital sound familiar? Did you think a different location would have been the capital? Were there capitals that you never hear about before?
The second paragraph should have a reflection on the calculations. What do you notice about the % land area column? Please be specific. Which country had the largest population? Did it also have the biggest number of people per square kilometer? If it did not have the biggest number of people per square kilometer, how many countries had more people per square kilometer? Did this surprise you? Which country had the most people per square kilometer? What can you deduce about the country that had the most people per square kilometer?

Ten Days to Make a Difference
Following the idea behind the blog post at Make It Interesting,I created a project in which the students imagine being given $10,000 per day for 10 days. The question is: How will you make a difference to your family, school, community, state, country, and/or the world. 

They are enjoying looking up the prices of items and deciding on charities. I think I will do this project with the seventh and eighth grade. The lesson is written up on my wiki with the student handout.

I'm still trying to decide how I will tie it into the real world. I may simply start a jar for coins and let the students decide what to donate through Heifer International. I'll probably make some sort of matching donation. I'll post another note eventually to share how it worked out.

Changes From Previous Years
I've always worked on spreadsheets with sixth through eighth grade, but the lessons always felt contrived. We created spreadsheets with school lunches, imagined class trips, and magic squares.

My hope is that these projects will make a deeper connection with the students.

Photo Citation:
Ann Oro: Family of Cows

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The 30 Goals Challenge

If you are looking to expand your investigations on small ideas in education, you might want to look into Shelly Terrell's 30 Goals Challenge. While it is not really a technology project, there will be different web sites mentioned through the thirty days.

Goal One
Shelly is posting a daily video and is suggesting a different idea each day.

Today's small goal was to be a beam for someone and find a way to privately support them. The larger goal was to find a way to support a student. I was able to do something in both these areas today.

More Background
Shelly wrote an eBook about the 30 Goals she shared in 2010. You might want to take a look and see what she did last year. She said the thirty goals will be different from 2010, so you might get something totally different out of reading the eBook and participating in the 2011 challenge through her blog.

Image Citation:
Ann Oro