Tuesday, July 20, 2021

How Rockets Fly - And DIY Model Rockets

This morning Jeff Bezos is blasting into space on a new rocket designed by his company, Blue Origin. The BBC has a succinct overview of how the rocket is designed to work. For a kid-friendly explanation of how rockets work, turn to SciShow Kids. Last week SciShow Kids released a video titled How Do Rockets Fly? 

Like all SciShow Kids videos, How Do Rockets Fly? offers an easy-to-follow explanation of the basic design and purpose of rockets. I particularly like the comparison of the weight of a rocket to the weight of one hundred elephants. Watch the video here or as embedded below. 


After watching the video about how rockets fly, take a look at the latest SciShow Kids video about how to build paper rockets. The video is based on the directions that NASA provides for making straw rockets and the teacher guide for making stomp rockets

Monday, July 19, 2021

Collect Chat - Turn a Google Form Into a Chatbot

A couple of weeks ago I published a video about how to create your own chatbot with a free tool called Acquainted. This morning I discovered another tool for creating your own chatbots. 

Collect Chat is a free Google Forms add-on that you can use to turn a Google Form into a chatbot. I gave it a try and found that it is very easy to use. With the add-on installed you simply have to open a Google Form then open Collect Chat and choose to convert the form into a chatbot. You can choose to use the chatbot on its own stand-alone page or you can embed it into an existing webpage that you own. Either way, visitors viewing your chatbot will see the same questions as they would if they viewed the Google Form directly. The difference is that the questions appear one at a time and look as though they were typed by a live person. 

Take a look at this little exit ticket chatbot that I made with Collect Chat to see how it works. (Update: on Friday I disabled the exit ticket because it had received a flood of responses and I'd exceeded the limits of Collect Chat's free plan). 

Applications for Education
While Collect Chat itself is easy to use, it would take a bit of planning to make an effective chatbot via Google Forms. If you want your chatbot to actually interact with user input you would need to create a fairly long Google Form that accounts for a variety of responses from users. That said, I can see the potential to create a chatbot to walk users through troubleshooting problems with their computers or to help parents locate important school information in a guided manner. There's also potential to create a chatbot that serves as an interactive test practice. 

To learn more about Google Forms take a look at this collection of Google Forms tutorials that I published last week. 

All About Rubber

Here in Maine we've had more rainy days than sunny days lately. That means we've been wearing our rainboots a lot. Yesterday, as I was trying to convince my daughters to wear their rainboots instead of sneakers my four-year-old asked "what's rubber?" To which I replied that it's a waterproof material used in boots to keep our feet dry. That, of course, prompted her to ask where it comes from. I explained to her that it comes from trees kind of like maple syrup comes from trees. And now she wants us to grow a rubber tree. That prompted another line of questioning about why we can't grow rubber trees in Maine. 

If you have a child in your life who is also curious about where rubber comes from, Maddie Moate has a video for you. In Where Does Rubber Come From? Madddie visits a forest in Thailand to learn how rubber trees are tapped and how the sap is used to make products like rubber boots. 
 



On a related note, here's a short TED-Ed lesson on how the rubber glove was invented.

Challenge - Introduce Students to Academic Search Engines and Databases

In the minds of many students yelling “Hey Siri, tell me about Martin Luther King, Jr.” or “Hey Google, when did the Soviet Union collapse?” is conducting research. As teachers we know that research is a process that goes far beyond telling a machine to give us some information. The challenge is to get students to understand that research is a process and is not just typing a question into a search box or speaking a query aloud in the hopes that some AI-powered machine spits out new, useful information.

To move students past entering simple queries into Google and onto conducting research, we should show them that Google.com is not the only search engine they can use. There’s a good chance that your school library and or local public library pays for a subscription to a database of academic articles. A few examples of those include JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, and ScienceDirect. The librarians in your school and public libraries will be happy, perhaps thrilled that you asked, to show your students how to access those databases through a library login.

In addition to the aforementioned subscription-required databases, there are free databases that your students can use in their research processes. Some popular choices include ERIC, Semantic Scholar, and Get The Research.

History teachers should also be sure to point their students toward digital archives such as those housed by The Library of Congress, The World Digital Library, and The Commons hosted by Flickr. Additionally, most countries, states, and provinces have digital archives of their own that can be freely searched. Some of the records in these databases may appear in Google search results and some may not. In either case, the records within the archives aren’t likely to rank highly in a Google.com search result and it’s therefore worthwhile to compile a list of the digital archive databases that you think will be helpful to your students. Somewhat ironically, the easiest way to find these archives is to type into Google.com the name of the country, state, or province followed by “digital archive,” “national archive,” “state archive,” “provincial archive,” or simply “archive.”

Another good source of information for student researchers is in the digital archives of libraries, museums and historical preservation societies. The largest of these, like The British Museum and The New York Public Library are well organized and relatively easy to search. Smaller ones like those of small-town historical societies may not have a search function at all. In that case students will have to browse through archives in hopes of finding a useful piece of information.

One of the primary differences between searching for information through Google.com compared to searching through academic databases and digital archives is found in the organization and presentation of search results. Google.com ranks search results based on five key factors; meaning of your query, relevance of webpages, quality of content, usability of webpages, and context and settings. In short, Google is trying to predict what you’re searching for and serve up what its algorithm predicts is the best thing for you to read or watch. The results are therefore a ranking based on that combination of factors and some lesser factors that Google doesn’t always publicly acknowledge. With few exceptions, academic databases and digital archives are not in the prediction game. Their search results pages are based on matching your query to the content of items in their databases.

The difference between how search results are organized and presented matters to students for two reasons. First, in a quest to appear at the top of Google search results website owners often publish material in a quest to satisfy Google’s algorithm which leads to lots of superficial or basic content rather than in-depth academic content. Deep, academic content is rarely written to satisfy Google’s algorithm and therefore rarely appears in the first pages of Google search results if at all. Second, the predictive text or suggested search terms provided by Google can lead students into searches that distract them from their original search strategies.

Finally, many academic papers are not indexed by Google at all because they are behind the paywall or login of a database and or the owners of those databases have requested that Google not index their content. Students who rely solely on Google.com for their research needs are missing out on valuable information.

This writing and image originally appeared on FreeTech4teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Writing and feature image created by Richard Byrne.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Math Learning Center Apps Now Include Sharing Options

Math Learning Center offers twelve free apps that are designed for teaching elementary school mathematics lessons. All of the apps are available in versions as free iPad apps and as web apps. Last week I visited the Math Learning Center for the first time in a while and noticed that the apps now have a sharing function. 

The sharing function in the Math Learning Center apps allow you to send to your students the specific virtual manipulatives that you have designed in the apps. For example, when using the fractions app you can design a virtual manipulative for students to practice identifying and writing fractions. You can then share your virtual manipulative with your students by giving them a direct link to it or by having them use an activity code that is automatically generated for you. In either case, your students don't need to sign into any kind of account to access the virtual manipulative that you share with them. 

With the exception of the flashcards app, all of the Math Learning Center's free apps are designed to provide you and your students with virtual manipulatives. Geoboard is a good example of how all of the apps are intended to be used. Geoboard is a free app on which students stretch virtual rubber bands over pegboards to create lines and shapes to learn about perimeter, area, and angles. Another app features US currency to help students learn to add and subtract money. The Pattern Shapes app is designed to help students recognize and develop patterns by moving colorful shapes into place.

Applications for Education
It is important to note that except for the flashcard app all of the Math Learning Center apps are virtual manipulatives designed to be used as a part of lesson plan not as stand-alone practice apps. You will need to provide your students with feedback when they are using these apps. The new sharing option makes it easier for you to share with your students and for your students to share their work with you. They can provide a link to their work for you to see what they've done.