What 1st Graders can do with Microsoft Word. Who would have thought!

It’s always a surprise when you introduce a tool, and watch where it takes students. First Graders, in this case! (Just a few months ago they were learning how to use the left- and right-mouse buttons.)  Here are two examples of what they did, using the Shapes menu.

Next week, upper grades will work on other tools and effects, as 4th graders did last year. (Watch video)

Is ‘word-processing’ a misnomer? Or old-school?

Sometimes I wish we could delete update the term ‘word-processing’ from our vocabulary. It has been ingrained in taken up permanent residence in the cortex of our brains, and needs to be dispatched to the storage unit reserved for vintage-tech such as ‘typewriting’ and ‘facsimile.’

It’s not that we don’t ‘process‘ words anymore. It’s just that we use the software to more than highlight, punctuate, or cut-and-paste. Food processors continue to grind and chop things for us, but word processors? We can use them to embedded videos in docs, or create blog posts for heaven’s sake! As far as words go, we could use Word to translate content into, say Hungarian (‘Word processing’ turns out to be Szövegszerkesztés in Hungarian.)

In my computer class at Salt River Elementary, since keyboarding and document creation are often the starting blocks, I try to inject concepts that refer to creativity and publishing in addition to content creation, when dealing with Microsoft Word.

But what else to call it? Any suggestions? 

‘Word,’ which is still listed as ‘document and word processing software’ started out as ‘Multi-Tool Word’ in the same year that Flashdance, and Never Say Never Again was released – in 1983! Today there are many more choices – niche software such as Nitro Pro, and for authors, there’s Scrivener.

So is Word-processing just old-school?

ISTE Ed-Tech Conference Wrap-up: Part 1

Just got back from the ISTE 2016 conference in Denver, and it’s hard to decide what stood out more: The technology, or the practices.

HARDWARE: Being a tech teacher, indeed the tools were mind-blowing. From the simple Digital Storytelling hacks, and wide range ofgaming technologies, to Makerspace ideas such as conductive material, to Virtual Reality, and Robotics. (More on robotics in a later post.) VR seems to have matured since 2014, and mini robots –like the Sphero, here — were practically running over our feet. OK, I actually took the challenge and drove one of these across the floor. They’re practically unbreakable, too!

SOFTWAREThe software definitely made me do a double take, when it came to programming languages, and ‘kits’ to simplify the learning curve. It’s finally come to this: software doesn’t exist in some abstract dimension, but comes coupled with devices that a student could learn to program – and see the effects in real-time. Google and Microsoft appeared to be fighting for attention. If you had the stamina and enough coffee, you could go through an entire day toggling between a Google classroom and that of Microsoft’s. Both have well defined Education divisions. (The former made 5 education product announcements at the conference.)

The sessions I liked most, were the Education Playgrounds. These were informal on-on-one or group sessions. I picked several that combined hardware and software. I met with a few Raspberry pi experts, basically teachers who worked with kits that were built around this mini computer.

I was fascinated by the no-frills entry-level kits (starting at the princely sum of $35 an unit!). Why?


First because this hardware was not housed in some beautiful laminated case but was transparent enough or a 3rd grader to understand what a computer was all about. I often need to remind students that ‘computing’ is not some mysterious art form.

Second, computer literacy and digital literacy are joined at the hip today, in the same way that Robotics and the Maker movement can be two sides of the same coin. We need to merge our lesson plans, and get our young Digital Citizens to be Makers, engineers, designers, tinkerers, problem solvers and storytellers to recognize they can each take a piece of this action, and run with it.

FINALLY: I attended a few mind-expanding poster sessions, where the presenters were students. I’ve said it before that no teacher conference would be complete until you have met with students who are after all the reason our schools go to great lengths to send us out to these professional development events. It’s inspiring to see the end product of great teaching, and how underpaid teachers in bootstrapped school districts get students to soar. Many takeaways from these sessions.

Coding in schools gathers steam, thanks to Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook et al

I began introducing coding to my 5th grade classes this year, and the interest level is truly inspiring. I was planning to up the ante in the next school year. Looks like my timing couldn’t have be better.

Many stories have begun to appear about how Coding is being pulled into the curriculum.

The latter piece (by Matt Richtel, 10, May 2014) weighs in on the pros and cons, especially wondering if there’s something iffy about having big-name backers such as Microsoft and Facebook. The insinuation is that they may have vested interests in this, and not be interested in the bigger picture of inspiring the science in computer science.

That’s being a bit too snarky. After all, the ‘career ready’ jobs that educators talk up so much are in such spaces that the present and future Gates’ and Zuckerbergs will create and nurture. I want these kids to glide into those plum jobs, ten years from now. That the runway is being paved with corporate dollars –and their sweat– is not necessary a bad thing, is it?

Also, teaching students to code is not trying to turn them into over-paid kids working out of a coffee shop. Making computer science a mainstream discipline, not a nice-to-have, is a place to start.

If you really want to know the grand plan of computer science, here is an illuminating document on Computer Science Standards for K-12 by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). Some of the points they stress:

  • CS’s role in “logical reasoning, algorithms thinking, and structural problem-solving.”
  • The value of being closely aligned with business people, scientists, artists etc.
  • Teaching students to work ‘cooperatively’ and ‘collaboratively’
  • Teaching ‘Computational thinking’ –from data representation to problem solving

Sounds a lot like Common Core to me. This is what educators in CS have thought through, calling for us to embed these skills as early as Kindergarten. This is not something that grew out of Silicon Valley.

It’s time we put it into practice. The kids are hungry for this!

Thinking digital in unusual spaces

This video by Microsoft has not been watched a lot, but it sure demonstrates what kind of digital world we might be getting close to. The neat part is, it’s not just all digital, but a transition from analog experiences to interactive ones.

Watch the part around 4.09 minutes, when the man opens up the newspaper. How different is it from your experience today?

Not that you can scroll through a column, or click on a news item in the newsprint. But think about it: ten years ago, we never thought we would be able to read a newspaper on a phone, did we?

Or use a ‘tablet’  styled laptop in this way. Or take a picture of  an icon or bar code and have it link us to content. Which is what Quick Response Codes allow. (See my twinterview on this for more details.)

The critics of this tend to question how useful a hand-held device will be, when ubiquitous computing will make common objects interactive. “Why would the whole world revolve around a single technology (touch screens)?” asks one person commenting on the Microsoft video. Google probably has answered that, now, with its Android. Watch how its navigation application works.

Will crowdsourcing take off with Photosynth?

As an amateur photographer I have been watching this Microsoft ‘lab’ project, talking it up since last year in fact, as an example of where crowdsourcing and visual communication could be headed.

Glad to note that it’s now open to us, the hoi polloi. You will need two small plug-ins for the site to work, and adhere to a code of conduct that includes abiding by intellectual property and privacy laws.

I can see how global and local events could be seen and reported.

OlympicSynth: Imagine if Photsynth pulled all the tens of thousands of images from amateurs and Pro-Ams at the 2008 Beijing Games via Flickr and Picasa. We would get a whole new perspective and in-depth look at events such as the disqualification of an athlete for stepping over the line, the tie breaker at a gymnastics final, the Free Tibet protests, the opening ceremony etc.

ReuterSynth: Could news organizations such as local TV stations and newspapers, even global ones such as the AP and the BBC create their own synths and let communities contribute to stories? Not a stretch since some of them are taking contributions from citizen journalists.

Internal CommsSynth: Organizations could let employees feed their intranets through Photosynth widgets to participate in company events.

iPhoneSynth: The widget for an iPhone plugin is just begging to happen, considering how iPhone / iPod users are sharing pictures anyway. Camera phones and digital cameras are waiting to be knitted together.

SecuritySynths. The FBI and SIS could easily pull together real-time synths of cities and buildings, subway systems etc when something on the scale of the London bombings occurs. If you the detail of people and architectural features possible on Photosynth demos (it can capture anything from a logo on a T-shirt to a pack of cigarettes in a piazza) it makes the controversial Google Street View maps quite tame.

Mojave Experiment: marketing not science

I don’t use Vista, the Microsoft operating system. But I have heard mixed feelings about it: It’s classy, or it’s like adding a piranha to your gold fish bowl. Vista has a huge perception problem; maybe we humans are just fickle; maybe there’s a marketing or PR fix to tell the Vista story better.


But if the Mojave Experiment is part of that attempt, you wonder what kind of mad science teacher is sitting next to the PR wizard in the perception adjustment department.

The set up: 22 Hidden cameras; ordinary people who have heard bad things about Microsoft Vista, and would never ever try it.

The experiment: This happens off camera, so we see no more than a before and after series of short video clips

The outcome: People who thought they were using a “new” operating system called “Mojave” having seen the software box and tried it in the ‘lab’ loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it.

The microsite looks like a fun experiment from a marketing angle. A panel of clickable videos that give you a feeling you are watching the participants as you would from behind the one-sided glass in a focus group.

But it’s easy to see that these are edited clips. We don’t see the whole reaction. This is not a lab experiment but a video shoot in search of footage that could be used for other purposes. I would have liked to see the guinea pigs use the OS, watch them struggle with the set up, and (assuming these are not all IT folk) do things like install print drivers, set up a wireless network, download web apps etc to suggest they/we do in real life.

If the Mojave Experiment is an exercise in attitude adjustment, we need to see less of the (reality) TV and more of the transparency. I like to know:

  • Who are these people in the experiment?
  • What do they say now –outside the lab?
  • Are some of them blogging about it? Could they be quizzed by us?
  • What percent of them are upgrading from Microsoft XP to Vista in their homes?

Finally, what is the outcome? I guess there will be more Mojave experiments. Give me some Mojave results.