Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Tax Help for High School Students

Yesterday afternoon one of my students said, "Mr. Byrne, how do you do taxes?" It was one of those questions and moments that embodies the idea that we teach students first and content area second. I was happy to explain to her that her employer (Walmart in this case) would be giving her a W-2 and that she'd have to fill-out and send a 1040 to the IRS. That led to more questions about getting the forms and questions about our state income taxes. By the end I had a sample 1040 and sample W-2 on my whiteboard and was walking her through the completion of the forms. 

I'm sure that there many high school students like mine who are also wondering if they need to file a tax return and how to do it. If you have high school students ask you questions about filing tax returns, here are some helpful resources to consider sharing with them. 

Your Local Public Library
In non-pandemic times, my local public library and many others around the United States have hosted volunteers to help people like my student file their federal and state income tax forms for the first time. Check with your local public library to see if and when they're hosting volunteers to help students file tax forms.

Free File Alliance
The Free File Alliance is a public-private partnership of the IRS and leading tax preparation/ online accounting services that provides free federal tax return filing to those who have an adjusted gross income of less than $72,000. More information including how to get started is available here on the IRS' website.

Video Explanations
This video from Five Minute Finance is helpful in pointing out some of the unnecessary "upsells" that pop-up when using free online tax preparation programs. 


This video from Practical Personal Finance offers clear guidance on the whole process of gathering the information needed to file a tax return and then completing the proper forms.


Monday, January 11, 2021

How Many People Does it Take to Make a Cup of Coffee?

I drink a lot of coffee! Thanks to the timer on my coffee maker my day usually starts by smelling freshly brewed coffee at 4:47am. Making the coffee is pretty simple task in my house; pour in some water, add some ground beans into the filter, and set the timer. But getting the roasted coffee beans to my house is not a simple process. That process is detailed in a new TED-Ed lesson titled The Life Cycle of a Cup of Coffee

The Life Cycle of a Cup of Coffee details the steps from coffee being grown and harvested through being turned into a beverage for our enjoyment. There are two aspects of the video that I particularly appreciated. One of those is a mention of the warehousing and customs processing of imported coffee beans. The other is at the end of the video when the faces of coffee farmers are featured along with a note to not value the end product more than the people who make it possible. The lesson page also contains a question designed to get students to think about the pros and cons of locally grown versus globally sourced products. 


I drink my coffee without sugar, milk, or cream so this TED-Ed lesson is reflective of the process to created the beverage that's in my cup. The process would have many more elements if I included sugar or milk in my coffee. Researching the entire process to create a cup of coffee that has milk and sugar could be a good continuation of the TED-Ed lesson, The Life Cycle of a Cup of Coffee

Nine Neat NASA Resources for Students and Teachers - Updated

Years ago I published a list of nine neat NASA resources for students and teachers. At the time the list was current. Over the weekend someone emailed me to point out that few of them were no longer available due to the deprecation of Flash. Here's my updated list of neat NASA resources for students and teachers.

NASA Artifacts
A couple of years ago Steve Dembo introduced me to a U.S. General Services Administration program that lets schools acquire artifacts from NASA's space program. The program has two parts. One part lets schools, museums, and similar organizations borrow artifacts. The other program lets schools acquire artifacts for no cost other than shipping fees.

The NASA Special Items program lets schools acquire things like old shuttle tiles, meteor strike test plates, shuttle thermal blankets, and food packets from the space program. The Special Items program seems to be the easier of the two programs to navigate as it does have an itemized list of what is available and what it costs to ship the items to schools. The steps required to acquire items through the Special Items program are outlined in this PDF.

The NASA Artifacts program is the program that offers the more unique items from the space program for schools and museums to display. The documentation required for participation in this program is much more complex than the Special Items program. And applications appear to be reviewed in greater detail than the Special Items program. The requirements and procedures for the NASA Artifacts program are outlined in this document.

Explore the Moon & Mars in Google Earth
The desktop version of Google Earth includes a moon view and a Mars view. Select the moon view or the Mars view then click on some of the placemarks in the NASA layer. Your students could even create a narrated tour of the moon or Mars. 

Interactive Exploration of the Solar System
NASA's Solar System Exploration website contains interactive displays of the planets, dwarf planets, and moons of our solar system. To launch an interactive display just choose one of the planets, dwarf planets, or moons from the menu in the site's header. Each display includes little markers in it. Click one of the markers to open a side panel that contains information about that particular feature of the planet, dwarf planet, or moon. Below each interactive display you'll find additional facts and figures.

Spacecraft in Augmented Reality
Spacecraft AR is a free iPad and Android app offered by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The app enables students to learn about various NASA spacecraft including the Curiosity rover, Voyager, Mars Exploration Rover, and a handful of other spacecraft. Spacecraft AR includes information about each spacecraft's development and use.

With Spacecraft AR installed and open on their iPads or phones, students can select a spacecraft or mission then point their iPads or phones at a flat floor or wall see the spacecraft appear. Once the spacecraft appears on screen students can move to see other angles of the spacecraft and move the spacecraft. Students can also pinch and zoom to change the size of spacecraft they're looking at.

Spacecraft AR reminds me of NASA's previous AR app, Spacecraft 3D. The key difference between the two is that Spacecraft 3D required students to scan a printed target in order to make spacecraft appear on screen. Spacecraft AR does not have that requirement, but it does require that you have a fairly recent iPad or Android device that has either Apple's ARKit or Google Play Services for AR (formerly known as ARCore).

NASA Selfies
NASA Selfies is a fun and free app for "taking a selfie in space." What it really does is just put your face into the helmet of a space suit that is floating in space. You can pick the background for your space selfie. Backgrounds are provided from NASA's huge library of images. When you pick a background, you can tap on it to learn more about what is shown in the picture. For example, I chose the background of Pinwheel Galaxy then tapped on it to read about that infrared image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Get NASA Selfies for iOS here and get the Android version here

NASA Kids Club
NASA Kids' Club is a collection games, interactive activities, and images for students in Kindergarten through fourth grade. At the center of the NASA Kids' Club is a set of games and interactive activities arranged on five skill levels. The activities range from simple things like coloring pages and pattern recognition games to more difficult tasks like identifying planets based on clues provided in written and video form. 

NASA Space Place
NASA Space Place is a sizable collection of fun projects, games, animations, and lessons about Earth, space, and technology. Before playing the games or attempting one of the projects, students should explore the animations and facts sections to gain some background information. The projects section of NASA Space Place provides teachers, parents, and students with directions for hands-on projects like building a balloon-powered rover, building relief maps, and building a moon habitat. The games section offers thirty games covering all of the subjects in the animations and facts sections.

NASA eClips
NASA's eClips videos are arranged by grade level; K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. There is also a section labeled for the general public. The videos are short clips designed to show students the work NASA is doing and how that work impacts space science as well as its potential impact on everyday life. All of the videos can be viewed online on the NASA eClips site, viewed on YouTube, or downloaded for use on your local computer.

What Did Hubble See on Your Birthday?
If you're curious about what the Hubble telescope saw on a particular day, What Did Hubble See on Your Birthday? is the site for you. Just enter the month and day of your birthday and you'll see an image that Hubble captured that day. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

New Microsoft Teams Features for 2021

When it comes to learning about the latest features of Microsoft Teams there is no one better to follow than Mike Tholfsen. I've mentioned him a lot over the last couple of years. But for those who aren't familiar with him, Mike is the product manager for Microsoft Education. Last spring he started publishing a lot of tutorial videos for teachers. His latest video provides a run-down of eleven new features of Microsoft Teams for 2021. If you're a Microsoft Teams user, this video is for you. One of the things that I appreciate about this video and all of Mike's videos is that he explains use cases for the features. He also mentions which users may or may not have access to the various features.

 
Featured in the video:
  • 5 minute warning for the Teams Meetings.
  • New background options in Together Mode
  • Putting Teams apps into their own window
  • Changes to Teams video and call icons. 
  • Creating a Team directly from a SharePoint Site
  • Updated SharePoint tab app 
  • Updated SharePoint Pages tab app 
  • Teams mobile Meet Now for chat.
  • Updated iOS Meet app
  • Teams family and friends desktop and web app

Four At-home Science Experiments for Kids

Winter in Maine has lots of short and cold days. While I take my kids outside for sledding and skiing as much as possible, we still need to keep a list of fun indoor activities. That's why I subscribe to the SciShow Kids channel on YouTube. It regularly features science experiments that are perfect for young kids to do at home with the help of their parents. 

Last week SciShow Kids released a new compilation video that explains four fun science experiments that kids can do at home with their parents. I'm going to try the blubber experiment with my kids. The other three experiments are making balloon rockets (I that one with my kids a few weeks ago), making secret/ invisible ink, and making a visual illusions with cardboard and paper. The whole video is embedded below.