Thursday, October 25, 2007

Google SketchUp and Autism

[Also posted on]

3-D Modeling with Google SketchUpI have had the good fortune of being peripherally involved in efforts in India to explore the use of technology to help children with Autism. It is with much excitement, therefore, that I share this YouTube video I stumbled upon last night, which adds a new technology tool to the wealth of resources already amassed on to help teachers, parents and care-givers of children with Autism in India.

Google SketchUp
has already been talked about in the past here, in the context of a good design tool that is freely available. However, this YouTube video uploaded by Google shares some inspiring stories of how SketchUp has helped kids with Autism (who are known to often have advanced visual and spatial thinking abilities) express themselves. There appears to be an entire research project (Project Spectrum) that is devoted to studying this.

As a matter of fact, Google SketchUp has great potential in any classroom setting. It's "a powerful yet easy-to-learn 3D software tool that combines a simple, yet robust tool-set with an intelligent drawing system that streamlines and simplifies 3D design." It's a great companion tool to use with Google Earth - once you've built your models, you can place them in Google Earth.

Download it, and try it out!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some Convenient Lies in 'An Inconvenient Truth'?

An Inconvenient TruthAn Inconvenient Truth is all over the news again thanks to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Al Gore (and the IPCC) recently. We had a discussion on after I posted an elog about 8 months ago, about this great teaching resource for Environmental Education and Science.

You may have have already shown this movie and discussed it with your students, but for those who plan to show this movie to their students and discuss the facts shared in this Oscar-winning documentary by Al Gore, please be sure to also share with your students some "corrections" that have been highlighted by a British Court which recently passed a ruling that this movie can be screened in schools in Britain (people actually went to court with this?!!).

Read this Washington Post article to find out about the "nine significant errors" in the movie, and do share these with your students when discussing this film.

"After listening to government witnesses, environmental campaigners, and skeptics on global warming argue their case, the judge described Gore's film as "broadly accurate" in its presentation of climate change. At the same time he also listed nine significant errors in the movie which, he said, reflected a general context of "alarmism and exaggeration" surrounding climate change."

The important thing to note, however, is that the film has proved to be "broadly accurate" and these factual errors don't affect the main argument that the film is trying to make - that climate change is a real threat, and that it is up to us humans to reverse the dangerous trend and save our planet.

I guess there is an important media literacy lesson in here for all of us (and our students) - to take with at least a pinch of salt, scientific "facts" and reports of events when they are stated not by a scientist or witness, but by an ex-politician... and to listen to all sides of a story.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Itching to Scratch!

It's everywhere around me these days - every elementary and middle schooler at Aditi, where I spend a day every week, is itching (pun most certainly intended) to create a fun project on Scratch - the exciting new programming environment that has emerged from MIT Media Lab (and can be downloaded for free). I have blogged about Scratch here before, and of course am a huge fan of the tool myself, so it's great to see the current buzz on Scratch these days.

I had the pleasure of watching some grade 4 students yesterday proudly present their "Stories of Invertebrates" created in Scratch as part of a Science unit. I offered them some useful suggestions to help them make their stories even better, and also suggested to the teacher to create a class account on the Scratch community website and upload those wonderful creations there. The kids are excited at the thought of uploading their projects - a great incentive to polish up their stories and add titles and credits (one of the suggestions I made to them).

My 11-year old son just finished creating a quiz in Scratch (for 1st-3rd graders) on an Indian Panchatantra Classic (which he has also made into a movie using iMovie, to be shown to the kids before the quiz) in honor of the upcoming International School Library Day that will be celebrated at his school on Monday, Oct. 22.

I recently discovered a community of "Scratchers" on Facebook as well, discussing new Scratch ideas and sharing notes on how to engage kids with this new technology tool that has such tremendous potential in any learning context.

I have had the pleasure of knowing and meeting many of the people at the Media Lab who are working on this project. The great news for us educators in India is that this environment, which currently supports some European languages in addition to English, will soon be available in Indian languages as well. I have actually been helping to build and test a beta Hindi language Scratch environment. It's such a kick!

Anyway, back to BLC07 (see previous post) - I was surfing YouTube and found a sweet little movie uploaded by Ewan Macintosh, from the Scratch preconference workshop at the MIT Media Lab during the Building Learning Communities conference in July this year.

So here's Scratch and Playing a "Banana Phone" for your viewing pleasure...

BLC07 on YouTube

More on the Building Learning Communities conference... Marco and his brilliant students (of cine de la gente fame - who were armed with microphones, cameras and video cameras throughout those memorable 5 days) have polished up some of the vodcasts they captured and created in the course of the July conference from the November folks ;). They're up on youtube now, and here's one of them...