Tech Tip Tuesday

Filed Under (Home, Work) by Laura Smith on 14-09-2010

iGoogle.  IMHO, one of the simplest and easiest-to-set-up aggregators available.

Basically, you either sign in to your Google account, or create one, and you can set up little “widgets,” or boxes on your page, which hold things you use frequently, such as a calendar, weather forecast, news feed, your various emails (yes, Google can import ALL of your email accounts into one place- no more checking 5 different sites to read your email), links to your favorite websites, and so much more!

Top 5 things to do when you are home sick from school…

Filed Under (Home) by Laura Smith on 13-09-2010

  • Catch up on lesson planning…while sitting in bed
  • Catch up on your to-do list…while sitting in bed
  • Watch WAY too much HGTV…while laying half asleep in bed (darn it! I fell asleep and missed the reveal again!)
  • Drink hot liquids, like tea with lemon and hot chocolate
  • JUST REST.  It’s hard to do! I’m so used to being busy it’s hard to just stop and do nothing!

Can you tell where I am today?;)

Top 5 things to do on Labor Day

Filed Under (Home) by Laura Smith on 06-09-2010

  • Sleep in
  • Eat some sort of food off the grill
  • Spend time outside
  • Spend time with family
  • Not work (they should call it Anti-Labor Day

Here’s hoping you can enjoy at least a few of these today!

Spy in the City

Filed Under (Home, Work) by Laura Smith on 02-07-2010

Yesterday, I went to Washington, DC with my husband and oldest daughter, who is 7, to try out The International Spy Museum’s Spy in the City program.  Basically, you get a handheld GPS device and you use it to try and solve a (fake, but still fun) mystery.  Throughout the game, you receive text messages, audio files, surveillance footage, and clues via the touchscreen device.  You scan for fingerprints and microdots, find secret symbols, and analyze photos.  Well, despite the fact that I am a moron and I failed the mission (I pushed the wrong button by accident!), we still had fun!  My husband and daughter completed the mission, so DC avoided being hit with an ElectroMagnetic Pulse.  You’re Welcome.

Always the teacher, I couldn’t help but think of the adaptations possible for the classroom.  We may not have the money to buy GPS communication devices for all our students, but I’m sure there is some way I can work in the activities we did into my teaching.  Here are some of the steps (I won’t go into too much detail in case you want to go to DC and play the game for yourself):

Analyzing Photos: We had to look at a photo of a city street and locate that particular view, then find the building indicated in the photo.  Classroom app: If I were to set up a similar mystery game, I could email students a photo of a location within the school and they would have to find that spot and locate the clue I placed there.  If I were teaching World Geography, I could show the students a photo of a famous (or maybe, to be more challenging, not as well known) landmark in a foreign country, not tell them where or what it is, and have them work in teams to find out about it on the internet.

Following a map: The GPS unit had a map that showed your current location.  My daughter loved watching the little “You Are Here” symbol move along with us.  Classroom app: Map skills are taught at many grade levels.  Why not give your students a map of the school, or a compass and set of directions (go to a predetermined location, walk 10 paces North, 3 paces East, etc.), or, if you have at least 1 or a few GPS units, have them find coordinates or do some Geocaching.

Solving Codes and Puzzles: We were given Book Ciphers, Cryptograms, and riddles to solve.  Classroom app: There are soooo many ways you could incorporate codes, ciphers, and riddles into your classroom!  It can be extra work for early finishers, an exciting way to introduce new topics, a way to practice spelling words or vocabulary words, a fun way to study for a test, etc.

Forensics: We compared fingerprints, chemical samples, and suspect photos.  Classroom app: With the popularity of CSI and related shows, this is a fun topic for science teachers.  Here are some examples featuring the cast of the hit TV show.

There were many other little details that rounded out this experience, for example, we had to look at an office building, find a particular window, and report whether the shade was up or down, and that was supposedly a signal from an accomplice inside the building.  Of course, it doesn’t matter whether the doggone shade is really up or down, you get the same message, but it makes it feel more authentic, like you are actually working with a spy crew.  Overall, I highly recommend this experience for kids and their parents (or maybe a field trip?), ages 9 and up.  My daughter had some trouble reading the long text messages.

I am really thinking about creating a similar “mystery” in my classroom this year, as a content-based project, using technology along the way to solve the clues and, shhh, actually LEARN something along the way!

Reversing Progress…

Filed Under (Home) by Laura Smith on 10-07-2009

This is somewhat random, but I’ve been thinking- isn’t it funny that some of the progress we’ve made in the past 50 years or so is now being reversed?  Now, I’m not talking about everything.  Just some little things that I’ve noticed.  For example: Plastic bags.  Oh, they were so cool!  So convenient!  And now we are going back to using totes or sacks instead (or at least we should be!  I’m talking to you, lady at the grocery store with 20 plastic bags that you are going to throw out!).

When it comes to washing clothes, did you know that some estimates state that about 1/4 of our household energy usage comes from doing laundry?  Much of that is used to heat the water in the washing machine.  So now many people are going back to washing in cold water and hanging clothes out to dry.

With the recent emphasis on greener living, what other ways are you going “old school” to help our environment?  And how do we reconcile progress with environmental responsibility? 

Say Yes to Dirt!

Filed Under (Home) by Laura Smith on 04-02-2009

Finally, I have found an article that confirms what I have said all along regarding allergies and diseases:

We are TOO CLEAN!  All this antibiotic, antiseptic, antibacterial nonsense is doing us more harm than good!  Our bodies NEED to be exposed to viruses, germs, and bacteria so that we can build resistance to them.  But there are so many people out there telling us to wash, wash, wash; boil, avoid, sanitize!  I personally, think it has become a little crazy.

When I was pregnant with my first child, my former boss actually told me to avoid eating peanut butter while pregnant because the baby might become allergic.  Well, guess what I craved?  I couldn’t stomach lunchmeat, so I had a PB&J almost every day for lunch.  My doctor told me that was ridiculous- he said, “You drink water- is the baby going to be allergic to water?”  Yes, a simplistic argument, but he made his point.  Then, after she was born, everyone said, “Make people wash their hands before they touch her!  Don’t let other kids touch her!  Don’t take her out of the house until she’s 6 weeks old!”  RIDICULOUS!  I was encouraged, by all well meaning friends and relatives, to wash her clothes separately in special detergent, and boil her baby bottles, and boil water for her bottles, and boil any toys that fell on the floor, and wipe other toys with sanitizing wipes, and for gosh sake keep her away from other babies and kids.  Meh.  I basically ignored all that.  I used (gasp!) tap water to make her bottles, and let her crawl around on the ground, and took no special measures when it came to cleaning her toys or washing her clothes.  And the same goes for my second child as well.  And you know what?  May God bless them, they are two of the most healthy kids I know.  They both had some mild “allergy-type” issues when they were little- they both had reflux and were on Soy formula for a few months, but they grew out of it.

Now, what would I have done if they had major allergies?  I guess I would have different opinions, but as far as our experience goes, their exposure to everyday germs and possible allergens has made them healthier.  I think we need to rethink as a society our need for “extreme clean.”  I think a little dirt just might make us all a little healthier.


Filed Under (Home) by Laura Smith on 28-12-2008

It’s that time of year again… the doldrum days after Christmas.  At least on the 26th you can joke around and say “Merry Day After Christmas!” and it’s mildly funny (okay, maybe not).  But when you hit the 27, 28th, 29th… it’s just sad. 

I had a fairly good Christmas this year, relatively speaking.  There is quite a bit of personal turmoil going on in my life, but at least for a few moments I was able to experience the joy of the season.  One of the highlights for me was the candlelight mass at the church where I work.  After communion, they turned out all the lights, and we all lit our candles, and sang “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night.”  The beautiful setting, the glow of the candles, looking around the church at the sea of lights and hearing one of my favorite songs… it was pure magic.  I think that was my Christmas “moment” this year.  You know when you think back to Christmases past, the memories that stand out in your mind?  Those are your Christmas “moments,” the things that make it really special for you.  (Note to self: Start keeping track of these moments; maybe I can gather enough of them and create the ultimate Christmas including every one…)

And then Christmas day is over, and the magic starts to fade.  At least it’s not as bad for me this year as in previous years.  I don’t know if it’s having two active children keeping me busy that keeps my mind off of it, or if I just wasn’t expecting that much out of this Christmas, so having a good one was enough to sustain me for a few extra days.

Each year, I wonder why this happens.  Why do we feel so bad?  Do other people feel this way, too?  I’m sure they must.  I can’t think of any other time of year filled with so much anticipation- and I guess all that buildup has to turn into letdown when the buildup is over.  I feel like we are at the bottom of a hill on a great roller coaster.  Right now, we are kinda stuck in a valley.  We need to do something fun to start pushing us up the hill, or we’ll never get enough momentum to get us through the dull, dreary days of January and February.

Merry day after day after day after Christmas! 

Yep, sad.

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