Tag Archives: Technology

Book Review :: How Does Cloud Computing Work?

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Picture of the book, How Does Cloud Computing Work

A kids’ book on cloud computing, written by Leon Gray.

Ages 10 and up
Gray, Leon. How Does Cloud Computing Work? Gareth Stevens Publishing: New York, 2014.

For a book that tries to explain a very abstract concept, Gray does a great job of breaking down the various parts that make up ‘cloud computing.’ Although the book is short, he provides enough background information for students to understand how computers, the Internet and mobile storage are all connected. With chapters on the cloud and its various parts, students (and adults) will finish this book will a clearer understanding of where our data resides and why we can access it through our connected devices.

Picture of TOC for How Does Cloud Computing Work

Juvenile non-fiction book by Leon Gray explaining cloud computing.

How Does Cloud Computing Work?

Gray briefly discusses the sharing of information and how it has evolved from floppy disks to cables to wireless transmissions. This helps students to place the cloud computing concept into a historical context. I think it might be similar to my initial understanding of the evolution of television – from black and white to color. As in, wow, really? Television was really only in black and white? How could you tell what anyone was wearing or what color their hair was? Was there even a point to watching TV back then? At least, I imagine that’s how my children think about it when I tell them that the Internet (as they know it) wasn’t even around until I was in high school. But, alas, I digress…

Gray also introduces and defines the terms LAN, MAN and WAN. If you have a Minecraft player among you, they should be able to tell you what LAN (Local Area Network) stands for, but may stumble when asked about MAN or WAN. Since I don’t live knee-deep in computer science, I had a hard time coming up with the correct terms.  For the record, the Internet is a good example of a WAN (Wide Area Network).

This book is colorful and will appeal to today’s visually-oriented youth. Although some of the pictures are seemingly irrelevant, there are a few that are note-worthy, especially the picture of Tim Berners-Lee, the “father” of the modern-day Internet.

This is a great book to get your students excited about the different aspects of computer science. Cloud computing can be overwhelming, but this book does a good job of succinctly explaining a very abstract concept. Since the author uses the proper terminology, students can further their learning and seek out more information on a particular topic.

Pciture from How Does Cloud Computing Work by Leon Gray

 

What’s inside a laptop?

This is the fourth post, in a series of activities, that are designed to impart logic and computer science concepts without the use of expensive technology or one-on-one devices. Check out the first post about the game Robot Turtles, extensions for Robot Turtles and the game of ‘Be the Robot.’
A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

Inside a Laptop – Make a Paper Laptop

This multi-day project was one of the kids’ favorite activities. I think it impressed the adults too. Everyone seemed to like this activity – both the process and the final product. There was structure, there was learning and there was enough creativity that the kids could ‘make it their own.’
I did this activity with kindergartners, and up through fourth grade. They all loved it, although I think it was too much for the younger kids (K and 1st).

The purpose of this project was to reinforce the idea that computers are made up of parts. We, as people, construct them and we need to tell them what to do (at least at this stage in the game). I don’t want the kids to think that it is just a magic box that works. I want them to understand that there are lots of connected pieces that work together to make a working computer.

With a little bit of guidance, students can craft knowledge about the inside of a computer.

This was a great lesson on drawing attention to where the letters are laid out on the keyboard. The students copied a real keyboard and wrote the letters onto their paper computers.

This activity came about because I needed a computer science project for a church camp, but they had no computers. There were minimal materials available, but I am a hands-on educator. I needed to find a way to engage the students without droning on and on. I don’t lecture (at least not for more than 5 minutes) and almost never for classes that include young children.

After some desperate web searching, I came across a few ‘computer parts’ worksheets and thankfully, this blog post by Creatiful Kids. Since I am a Montessori-educator – and I was trying to discourage the “magic” feel of a computer –  I created my own, realistic-looking materials so that my students could build their own laptop.

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

Then, I needed a computer to take apart. Thank goodness I had one laying around. It managed to stick around despite during my minimalist-inspired purge of 2014 (as it’s called in our house). Somehow, I didn’t manage to get rid of the old macbook. That laptop was still hanging out in my husband’s office, so I immediately grabbed it, found a YouYube video on how to take it apart and started unscrewing. I attracted the attention of my youngest son and we worked together.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

Since it was a very old laptop (from 2005), some of the screws were stripped and just did not come undone. There was some cutting and pulling, but finally we took the top off and figured out where the main parts were.

You can see how old this laptop is...by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

You can see how old this laptop is…by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

Now I had a real-life visual to show the kids and they could replicate the “real” laptop by making one out of paper. I asked them not to touch any of these parts because I wasn’t sure what sort of chemicals were coating them after so many years of use. I also removed the battery and placed it in a plastic bag and showed it to them, but didn’t pass it around.

The keyboard is removable and it's fun to watch the kids' expressions when I take it off.

The keyboard is removable and it’s fun to watch the kids’ expressions when I take it off.

Did I expect them to remember the names of the parts? No. Did I expect them to remember them at the end of the project? No. But, my older students did. I was quite impressed.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part black since we will refer back to the "inside" of the computer.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part blank since we will refer back to the “inside” of the computer.

Be sure and only glue on the screen - that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Be sure and only glue on the screen – that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Will they remember the names of those parts next summer? No.

I’m not there to reinforce the concepts, but they should remember that a laptop computer is made up of various parts and that they are housed inside the computer. That’s one step closer to taking the magic out of a computer.

I have put both hand-drawn sheets and a lengthy list of instructions on the web site, Teachers Pay Teachers, under the title, “Make a Paper Laptop.”

 

Book Review :: Twitter Safety and Privacy

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Twitter Safety and Privacy

Twitter Safety and Privacy

Ages: 12 and up
Henneberg, Susan. Twitter Safety and Privacy: a guide to microblogging. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.: New York, 2014.

The six chapters in this book cover more information (than you could imagine) about Twitter and online safety, but the information will find a good audience with teens and their worried parents.

Students are legally allowed to open a Twitter account (without a parent’s permission) at age thirteen. As a parent myself, I can see why parents might be a little frightened at this prospect. Thankfully, the book offers a lot of helpful advice on how to use Twitter responsibly (including many anecdotes about how famous people have misused Twitter to their own detriment).

Chapters three and four provide numerous examples of “tweets gone bad.” These include tweets from famous people who thought they were sending private messages or sent a rage-fueled rant before letting themselves cool down. There is a strong emphasis on using Twitter appropriately and a good reminder that we need to think before we speak.

While there is a little bit of fear-mongering in the book, concerned parents may prefer the “think first” approach that it also advocates. With all books of this type, I highly recommend that a parent read it with their teenager. You are not going to convince them to remember everything they read, but you will show your teenager that the topic is important and it will be easier to bring up later in casual conversation.

App Review :: Reading Rainbow’s Skybrary

Besides certain programming apps, there are only a few apps with a lot of staying power at our house. The app by Reading Rainbow happens to be one of them. I am not endorsed by them – I just happen to love this app and want to share why.

My boys are sharing some brotherly love while reading a Reading Rainbow book.

My boys are sharing some brotherly love while reading a Reading Rainbow book.

I love it because it has to do with books and learning. My kids love it because they like books, but they also are drawn to technology, so it’s a perfect compromise to satisfy their tech needs. It’s well worth the $60 for a yearly subscription. We do not have a TV that connects to cable, so connecting to our local PBS station isn’t really an option (not that they play Reading Rainbow anymore). We’ve been subscribers for well over a year now and I renew our subscription every six months.  I’m waiting for the kids to tire of it, but they never do.

Like many of our activities, it goes in and out of favor, but one of our favorite features is the ability to save five personal books in your own “backpack.”

My "backpack" currently has 4 books. You can read these books off-line as long as they are in the backpack.

My “backpack” currently has 4 books. You can read these books off-line as long as they are in the backpack.

I love that you can read your books –  without Internet access – as long as they are in a backpack. My husband and I, and both of our boys, have each created our own backpacks. That’s twenty books that we can take on car trips or office visits to read. And, while my six-year-old is becoming a much better reader, it was a life-saver for those days when my oldest needed more help with school work and my youngest wanted me to read a book. He could go and have the book read aloud to him. Each book gives the option of reading it yourself or having it read to you.

Flip the page with your finger.

Flip the page with your finger – preferably NOT the one you are using to bite your nails!

Many of the books are picture books, but they also include a number of non-fiction titles, such as the National Geographic series and a few picture book biographies. The pages “flip” and every other page contains a brief animation that needs to be activated by the user (they touch the screen to run the 2-second animation). Readers can choose to ignore the animations and just move onto the next page.

In addition to the books, there are a number of videos that feature the host, Lavar Burton. The video offerings are different depending on what “book island” you are visiting. There are seven islands and new videos are added or removed quite often.

A shot of one of the many islands, "Genius Academy." Choose some books or watch a few select videos.

A shot of one of the many islands, “Genius Academy.” Choose some books or watch a few select videos.

In our ongoing attempt to reduce the “stuff” in our house, we have given the subscription to our youngest child as a Christmas present. We just wrapped up the ipad mini and stuck it under the tree. That way it doesn’t have to be one more thing that you need to purchase throughout the year. Books are always a gift.

Ozobot :: Lesson Extensions :: Maps

This past summer, I introduced these Ozobots to my young campers (ages 7 – 10). They were excited at the idea that this little robot would follow a hand-drawn line. There’s something about combining “high tech” and “low tech” that they find baffling – and that instantly draws them in. They know markers. They’ve been working with them for years, so the barrier to entry is very low. It’s the perfect way to introduce them to these tiny bots and to enforce (or introduce) the idea of computer languages.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

While I think computer programming is a great skill to have (or at least be aware) for this next generation of children, I place a greater value on being creative and persistent. These little bots can encompass both of these skills. As I’ve said before, the paper and marker language is not always consistent and thus, children (and adults) need to have some grit to be able to solve their problems. Sometimes the bots need to be re-calibrated, sometimes the marker line is too thin, etc.

So, how to help them move forward after the initial play period has worn off? Maps.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Once they understand how the Ozobots work and how they read their color-coded computer language, I asked my students to create a map of places for their little bot to visit. The instructions were open-ended, but I ended up asking lots of questions about their favorite places to visit. The task seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but after asking them to draw one place that they would love to visit, they took off.

There was a lot of giggling and hastily-drawn buildings as the Ozobot would randomly choose paths to take. Some of the students had deliberately added lots of fast food restaurants to their map and they were delighted when the Ozobot would “eat out” way too much. It prompted an additional doctor’s office and hospital on the hand-drawn maps. What a fun way to teach the concept of moderation.

Each student’s map was different and they varied based on age, ability and interest level. For some of the younger, “less-art” kids, I sat with them and helped them to stay on task – asking questions and wondering where their Ozobot might want to go next. Did they like to visit the beach? Would they like to find work as a tractor on the farm? Maybe they wanted to visit a friend’s house?

In addition to helping them develop their creative muscles, this activity also helped students to see various paths to creating. Would they choose to create the Ozobot’s path first…with various color codes? Or, would they want to create places to visit first…and then add a path later? The decision-making was sometimes intense and there were lots of opportunities to think about how to plan out (or not) their Ozo-village. None of the children I worked with suggested using a pencil first, but this might be a great concept to introduce to an older crowd. Either way, they had fun, they learned something and hopefully, they feel confident knowing how a line-following robot works.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills - planning, handwriting, spelling.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills – planning, handwriting, spelling.

 

 

Ozobots and Computer Programming Concepts

Black Ozobot with color-reading sensors.

Black Ozobot with color-reading sensors.

Earlier this year I came across this new and interesting line-following robot, Ozobot. After looking over some general reviews (here and here), I decided to order four of them for my summer camps. In the past few months, I have used them with a number of children and I have noticed that they have a definite appeal with the younger set — kids who are younger than age ten. I think here’s something about using a marker and making the robot do what you say. It’s very empowering for young children. They all know how to draw with a marker!

Ozobots follow thick lines drawn on paper. They user sensors to detect the line.

Ozobots follow thick lines drawn on paper. They user sensors to detect the line.

Most of the students I’ve worked with have had some experience with the notion of computer programming and sensors. Using these robots is another way to stress the concept of “talking” to a computer through it’s language. Ozobots have their own color-coded language which sometimes works…and sometimes doesn’t. Just like “real” computer programming.

At first, I found this annoying, but eventually realized that this was the best way of learning. Yes, even adults need reminders to have a growth mindset.

While working together, we have to figure out why the coding didn’t work…was it that particular color of marker? Did it have too much white in it? Did we remember to calibrate the Ozobot? All of these questions mimic the questions a computer programmer needs to consider when trying to find the bugs in his or her program. Once the kids understood this concept, they were remarkably understanding. They were very willing to try and figure out the problem…and quite accepting of the fact that they might have to start over.

Next week, I’ll lay out my “plans” of introducing Ozobots to children. Stay tuned!