The day rockets flew!

Rockets soared at our school, on April 30th –the same day news broke of China’s plans to test a reusable launch vehicle, the ‘Long March 8.’ STEAM night was quite an experience, six years since we began on this journey.

Ours too were reusable, but they were built by students from Kindergarten upwards. Made of paper, drinking straws, Popsicle sticks, and rubber bands they traveled where no rocket had gone before on the basketball court. (One flew way out of our test range, covering 70 feet!) Most were powered by rubber bands. Some preferred to use wind power – blowing them out of the launch tube! The judges were quite impressed. Said Orbital ATK engineer, Monique Dalton of one model:

While most rockets flew pretty flat and straight, this one showed a curve visible to the naked eye of the sort of trajectory rockets take in space. It was as if this rocket really was on a mission delivering a payload.

This student’s rocket traveled 58 feet, 7 inches.

Meanwhile, SpaceX, is looking for ways to go beyond ‘reusable’ into mass production of rockets, just like GM does cars. Some day one of these kids will be in Mission Control –and I’m going to watch it from my rocking chair!


Note: Check out


Sneaking in VR to the class

This year I’m using VR both as a project, and as a motivation tool – to create a brochure. My 6th graders understand some editing and formatting skills. So to raise the bar, I got them to research and put together a brochure on Virtual Reality.

Granted it’s a lot of work. Understanding VR itself takes some time. They must create content for the 6-panel document, look up content, find pictures etc. As work progresses, there is a parallel discussion of what VR looks like, using a few cardboard headsets I acquired. One student even brought in two headsets. (One had cost him just five bucks!)

The incentive was that any student who showed me they had three panels formatted, and with required content, would get to experience a VR roller-coaster ride. Didn’t think a 40-minute class could move so fast!

Funny how sneaking in a piece of tech into a lesson can accomplish much more than a hand-out!

Second eBook experiment. It gets better!

As I mentioned yesterday I’m trying out different publishing tools for eBooks. Here’s the second option, using SimpleBooklet. It is at Click on the image to open the book




QR Code - Culture Book


The Pros

  1. Simply upload a PDF and the site converts it to an eBook.
  2. You could start with a blank page and add content –including audio and video.
  3. You could change the layout of the book, the way the page flips, and also add a contact card.
  4. Sharing is a big deal here. It generates links and embed code for social channels.You could also email directly from the website to your network.
  5. QR Code generator. Very neat feature lets you generate the QR code –on the right.
  6. You can check Stats on the dashboard (it uses Google Analytics)
  7. My best feature: A unique URL

The Cons:

The embed code was not available for WordPress. You need to upgrade to a paid account to get this.

NOTE: The previous eBook Was created using

Conversations with an Olympian

Trying out another ambitious ‘chat’ –this time it is with a former Olympian,

Sean Smith - Olympics

Sean Smith was a member of the U.S. Olympic team at the winter games in 2002

The idea is to have my students talk to an Olympian, this week. A few of my fellow teachers have been adding Olympic-related content to our lessons, and this would be a great way for the students to feel connected to the events going on in Sochi, Russia.

To join this Live chat, click on the link below.

  • Date:        Tuesday, 11 February, 2014
  • Time:        8:45 am—sochi-2014

Sean was on U.S. Freestyle Skating team for 10 years, and has been on CSPN, and ABC. He is now an ‘outfitter’ with Promontory Club, involved in several outdoor sports. He is also helping the Salt Lake City NBC-affiliate, cover the Olympics in Sochi.

Live streaming video by Ustream

Digital Learning Day, tomorrow: An opportunity to teach and learn

Tomorrow is Digital Learning Day across America. For me it’s an interesting way to focus on the ever-changing landscape of education and knowledge tools; With schools upping the ante on the sciences, and adopting what’s known here in the U.S. as the Common Core Standards, it’s time we experimented with digital learning.

And if you’ve read this blog you’ll know that by Digital Learning I don’t mean thrusting a small screen in front of students and expecting knowledge to automatically be transferred from hyperlinks to neurons.

There’s a lot more about how I’m approaching #DLDay on my school blog. Here’s are three things I will be trying out this week. I bet they could be easily applied to areas outside education.


This is an interesting way of allowing a group to collaborate on a topic, using voice or video. The spoken word could be a powerful way to get a team or a class to focus on the content, not the presentation. When I interviewed the CEO of Voicethread last week, Steve Muth used the phrase “No Bling” to describe why Voicethread is powerful.


For some reason the embed code is not working here. Padlet is essentially a way to create a multimedia story on a blank wall, and share that story in a variety of ways. So you could have a small group curate ideas from multiple sources and quickly assemble them in one place. A bit like a wiki, but with a visual look and feel.I like the fact that it also gives you a QR code for each project.

When I first heard that Voki was about creating avatars, I didn’t want to take it seriously. It reminded me of the avatar fetish we once had when Second Life was all the rage. But on second look, Voki is a neat way to get students to engage in digital storytelling, by getting them interested in creating content. The ‘voice’ of the avatar could be created in many ways: by uploading text, uploading a pre-recorded voice recording, or by recording it live. Once again, your avatar generates an embed code.

How will students take to these new ways of engaging? No predictions. But I could tell you that just this week I tested out voice recordings with first graders, and they were beginning to record mini stories in less than 30 minutes of showing them how to use Audacity.

Could robotics’ kids could teach adults some ‘Gracious Professionalism’?

Newsflash: Not all kids are staring at their phones.

Ever walked into a mall and thought the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, watching teenagers ‘socialize?’

I had the opportunity to see another side of kids and technology, at a robotics tournament yesterday. The event is part of the FIRST Lego League events, that challenges young kids to put their minds to robotics. (There are a series of such events going on across the country over the next few weeks.)

Salt River Elementary School, Robotics - Gracious Professionalism

It’s a different lens. You get to peer into the future, watching a bunch of 12-year olds get themselves in and out of a sticky situation, and employ communication skills we wish some grown-ups had. You see them go through all stages: panic, disagreement, leadership and teamwork. When things go awry, they often problem-solve and improvise on the spot. (And there’s not an App in sight!) And best of all, they celebrate each other’s success –even competitors at the next table.

If only Congress would work like this, I thought.

And then it dawned on me. These kids will be the ones on Capitol Hill, someday. Or running our institutions, setting our agendas…

The FIRST Lego League requires that we adults promote what it calls ‘gracious professionalism’ in our teams. (The term was coined by Dr. Woodie Flowers, a professor at MIT), because that is how the grown-up world works. But the reality is, such a brand of professionalism in many facets of business and governance is more the exception than the rule. It’s a winner-takes-all world, we are often reminded.

But here at the FLL level, we teach our students to consider failure as a wonderful learning opportunity, and to not be obsessed by trophies. One of the core values they must exhibit is enlightening:

“What we discover is more important that what we win.”

Then, at the end of the day, the results show up on the large screen. Your heart sinks as you see the wide gap between the team that has mastered every mission, and those that had epic failures as their bot went off track, and wrecked their team’s chance of making it to the State tournament. But they quickly get over that and enjoy the moment.

They’re our gracious professionals in the making. 

Mars Day –and a chance to talk to an astronaut!

This year I’m expanding Mars Day (an event I started last year) to the whole school, thanks to the Mars Space Flight Facility at ASU, and NASA.

Students can’t get enough of science. I’ve been amazed at the interest from students as early as in Kindergarten. They already know the name and the spacecraft that put the first American into orbit. Some of them have even begun giving me artistic rendering of the spaceship that will one day take a human to Mars.

I love being able to tell them that by the time they are my age, it’s most likely that a human would be walking on Mars. I liberally borrow from Buzz Aldrin’s breathtaking vision of that time (in “Mission To Mars“) where he shows us blueprints for how we would be “a two-planet species”!

Back on planet earth, we are lucky this year to get Commander John Herrington, the first Native American in Space, to speak to my kids via video hook up. It’s a complex set up, making sure we have a stable connection into the library where students will talk to an astronaut, while the rest of the classes watch the event on their smart boards!

If we could chat with astronauts on the space shuttle, or get a live feed from a robot on Mars, this should not be complicated.

Stay tuned!

When Robotics is more science than fiction

A few weeks back I took my Robotics team to see one of the coolest robots. It has ‘eyes’ and a brain, and it knows enough to get itself out of trouble, even when its handlers are not in the next room —let’s say 34 million miles away! This was the Mars Rover, at the  Mars Space Facility at Arizona State University.

The purpose of the visit was to get students to start thinking of technology as something much bigger than the gadgets they tend to get exposed to. To many 4th and 5th graders a computer is a box with a screen. A remote control is a piece of plastic with buttons.  And a robot tends to be thought of as an anthropomorphic device that takes orders.

Is our education system to blame?

Perhaps our society has to face up to the bigger challenges facing young people today. Challenges that may not be solved just because these kids become savvy using an iPhone app. Or being able to define the Pythogorean theorem.

Apart form a tour of the Rover, the students got to meet the NASA robotics team who demonstrated the simple-looking but complicated bots they are working on, using PVC pipes, , scrap metal, Styrofoam, and wire. Twenty years from now one of these could be making the big step to solve unsolvable water, energy or safety issues back here on earth. I think my students walked away from there realizing that robotics is more science than science fiction.

They took notes! They asked a lot of questions!

One of them, a budding designer, is making very complex sketches of his ideal robot.  Someday all children will…

I will leave that sentence unfinished –for now.

But as adults, there’s work to be done. Recently President Obama addressed students at the Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center. He was imploring students to think like the future inventors and  entrepreneurs. This country is sorely lacking them.

“Now, imagine if America was first to develop and mass-produce a new treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched …or flexible display soldiers …or a car that drives itself. Imagine how many workers and businesses and consumers would prosper from those breakthroughs.”

Those things aren’t science fiction, he noted. It is the “kind of adventurous, pioneering spirit that we need right now.”

My class of 14 students is relatively small. We do not have the funds of a Carnegie Mellon. But we have big ideas. Wide-open eyes. Some of them are already programming the Lego NXT brick to perform some neat manoeuvres.