3rd Grade Back to School Night

Here are some photos from “Back to School Night” this evening at Quail Creek Elementary School in Oklahoma City Public Schools. Rachel recorded a short “Narrated Art” message with AudioBoo on my iPhone and described the first piece of artwork shown below.

Rachel's "Name Art"

Letter to Dad

Work Samples

Class Schedule

Cursive Practice

Timed Addition Test

Sentence Completion

Sentence Fragment Worksheet

More cursive practice

1st day of journaling

Writing Journal

2nd day journal

Journal entry about the Nile River

Sports Camp Learning this summer

If I Was a River Pilot

I volunteerted tonight to be the “class historian / photographer.” I’m thinking we might buy an older iPod Touch at a local pawn shop which can take photos, and then set it up to both post photos to a class blog as well as use it for narrated art recordings like Rachel made tonight.

Volunteer to be the Class Historian / Photographer

Storychasing our Philmont Backpacking Trek in June 2012 with Images, Audio & Video

This month I was greatly blessed by the opportunity to serve as an adult advisor on my son’s first backpacking “high adventure” trek to Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico. We spent 11 days and 10 nights on the trail, and I probably lost somewhere between 5 to 10 pounds on the journey! In this post I’ll share a few photos and some of the ways I was a “storychaser” of our adventures using my iPhone in the Philmont backcountry. All 212 photos from our trip are included in this Flickr collection, and 7 of the 8 videos I recorded are chronologically connected in this 4.5 minute video I uploaded to YouTube.

The number one reason I wanted to use my iPhone4 as my camera at Philmont, instead of a battery operated digital camera, was its ability to take HDR (high dynamic range) photos with the Pro HDR app which Dean Shareski told me about several years ago. I absolutely LOVE this Surrounds Landscaping and the high quality images it enables me to capture. Especially in the mountains where landscapes have dark shadows as well as bright sunshine and clouds, the HDR app is priceless. Here are a few of my favorite HDR photos I captured on our trek.

Alexander by Cathedral Rock, on day 2 of our trek.

Alex at Cathedral Rock

Looking down the mountain at surrounding clouds and storms, climbing Mount Phillips (11,700′ MSL) on day 4 of our trek.

Climbing Mount Phillips

Sunset at Fish Camp, which is where Waite Phillips (the Tulsa oil man who donated the 127,000 acres which comprises Philmont in 1938 and 1941) built his favorite backcountry cabin.

Sunset at Fish Camp

View from “the notch” overlooking Rayado Canyon, between Fish Camp and Abrehu.

View from the Notch in Rayado Canyon

Alexander on top of the Tooth of Time on day 11.

Alex on Top of the Tooth of Time

The other iPhoneography app I really like on my iPhone4 is Pano, which takes great panoramic images. It’s incidentally also available for Android and Windows 7 phones. Here are a few of my pano shots from Philmont this month.

Having breakfast on top of Mount Phillips on day 5.

On top of Mount Phillips [PANO]

On the porch of the staff cabin at Cimarroncito Camp on day 2.

Cabin View at Cimarroncito [PANO]

Panorama (almost 360 degrees) on top of the Tooth of Time on day 11.

Top of the Tooth of Time [PANO]

Since we were on the trail for 11 days and did not have ANY access to electricity, I needed a way to use solar power to charge my iPhone. (I could have opted for a battery charger, but I didn’t want to carry all the extra battery weight.) I purchased a $35 G24i Solar Innovations Power Curve Solar Charger at Academy Sports before our trip where they had a lot of sports items and then even had require soccer equipment that I need for my new team, and was pleased with the performance overall. It came with a USB female plug which I could directly use with my iPhone USB dock charging cable.


The Power Curve has a rechargeable battery built into it, so I would charge it during the day and then recharge my iPhone at night. I generally was able to get a 30% to 40% charge of my iPhone4 each night with a full solar battery charge. Near the end of the trip during the day I got down to less than 10% battery at some points, but I was able to boost the iPhone battery enough that I was able to take all the pictures I wanted. I did turn the brightness down to almost zero (probably about 15% of max brightness) for the entire trip, along with turning on airplane mode to conserve battery. According to the instructions, the solar charger needed 6 to 8 hours in direct sunlight to become fully charged. I found this was not possible when the charger was just hanging on the back of my backpack on the trail. I needed to set the charger in direct sunlight at camp for many hours each day, when possible, to obtain the maximum charge available.

I was able to make a couple calls at different points of our trip, mainly on top of mountains and high ridges where cell phone service was available. Since the Oklahoma City Thunder was in the NBA finals during our trek, it was ‘critical’ (in the minds of several of our boys) to get score updates. Overall, however, I was ‘unplugged’ from the grid for almost two weeks and really enjoyed it.

Since I had my iPhone, instead of keeping a written journal during our trek I decided to make an audio journal using the free app AudioBoo. (In addition to iOS, AudioBoo is also available for Android and Nokia phones.) I recorded a short audio journal entry each night before bed, and selected a photo from the day to accompany it. After getting back home to Oklahoma City, I uploaded all of those AudioBoo recordings to the web. This worked great and is an audio journal option I highly recommend to others taking trips you’d like to document.

I came very close before the trek to buying a Spot Connect satellite GPS device which would allow me to tweet from the backcountry with our updated GPS coordinates. Our Maryland auto accident lawyer told us these are discouraged in the backcountry, because of the possibility of accidentally hitting the “panic / come rescue me” button and inadvertently calling in a rescue helicopter. It’s possible in the next couple years my son and I may go on another high adventure trek canoeing in the Minnesota / Canadian boundary waters. If so, I might again explore that option. As it turned out, it was great to be largely disconnected from technology and information during our trek, and the option to “tweet from the backcountry” might have been more of a distraction in our journey than it would have been worth. To learn more the latest trend about technology including PDF file converter online services, check out www.sodapdf.com/pdf-editor/ for more information.

If you ever have an opportunity to go on a backpacking trek to Philmont, I highly recommend that you go. I went on a trek with my scout troop from Manhattan, Kansas, (Troop 74) back in 1986, and was a Philmont “zoomie” ranger in the summers of 1990 and 1992. Philmont is a truly magical place and it casts a spell on you that will last a lifetime. It was a tremendous blessing to be able to share these experiences with my son this summer!

Alex and Wes After the Trek

Evening Chapel Service at Philmont

Closing Campfire

This trek was, by the way, the reason I was not able to attend ISTE 2012 this year. Next year I definitely hope to attend ISTE 2013 in San Antonio.

To learn more about my favorite iPhoneography apps, please see my iPhoneography workshop curriculum. An hour long videoconference I taught on iPhoneography in December 2011 is also available free on YouTube.

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Alexander Answers Questions About His Simple Machine Project with AudioBoo

In March and April this year Alexander worked on a simple machine project for his 8th grade science class. His design process and the results of his project are documented in the posts, “Draft Design for a Complex Machine to Generate Electricity from Water Power” (26 March 2012) and “Good Things Can Come From Science and Engineering Projects in School” (30 April 2012). After sharing those results, I received some feedback via Twitter from Arizona 5th grade teacher Michael Buist. His students looked at the design photos and videos Alexander created, and wrote an extensive series of questions for him about his project, design process, and lessons learned.

This evening Alexander answered a few of the questions using AudioBoo on an iPad. He actually asked to answer with just audio, since he didn’t need to show anything on his actual project in a video to answer the questions. Here are the student questions written by some of Mr. Buist’s students and Alexander’s recorded answers. There were many more questions shared by students, but these were the ones Alexander was able to answer tonight. Thanks Mr. Buist and students for your interest in Alexander’s project and his learning journey as a designer and engineer! I hope the information we share is helpful to you in your own engineering design projects.

Questions from Jonah C:

Did you have fun doing this project, or did you just do this for a good grade? If you did have fun with this project, what were the most fun parts of the project that you had?

If you did not like this and just did this project for a grade, then what did you not like about the project? What kind of help did your dad give you, or did you just do the project by yourself?

Question from Braxton B:

One of the questions that I have about the second design is why even use the pulley when you still have to use your hand to help it along I hope you can answer my questions a thank you for listening.

Answers for Jonah C. & Braxton B.about Simple Machine Project

Question from Lejon D:

If you were to take away one thing from your design what would it be?

Answers for Lejon D. about Simple Machine Project

Questions (1 of 2) from Eric B:

Question 1: Did you think about recycling the water by making a tube back into the bottle or something like that?

Question 2: Where did the water go after it went through once?

Question 3: How long did it take to make your project?

Question 4: How much did it cost to make your project?

Question 5: Did you find this project particularly challenging?

Question 6: Have you faced a project like this before?

Question 7: What inspired the idea?

Question 8: Did you enjoy this project?

Answers 1 of 2 for Eric B. about Simple Machine Project

Questions (2 of 2) from Eric B:

Question 9: The first time you ran your water wheel it failed, why?

Question 10: Could you upgrade your machine in any way?

Question 11: Was your dad very beneficial do you work and the way your machine ran?

Question 12: Did the light turn on?

Question 13: Why do you think the pulley did not work?

Question 14: Was your dad excited when your project was a success?

Question 15: Did you dad embarrass you at the end of the video?

Question 16: Witch design did you think worked the best?

Answers (2 of 2) for Eric B. about Simple Machine Project

Question from Katie:

In your first design you had the water from the wheel turn on a light bulb. Why did you decide not to do that design?

Answers for Katie about Simple Machine Project

Question from Malaya G:

I want to know what grade you got on your project and did you have fun making it?

Answers for Malaya G. about Simple Machine Project

Good Things Can Come From Science and Engineering Projects in School

(Cross-posted from Moving at the Speed of Creativity)

This weekend, my 8th grade son and I worked on a project for his science class he’s been planning for over a month. In March I asked him to record a short podcast we posted over on our family learning blog, “Draft Design for a Complex Machine to Generate Electricity from Water Power.” This was his initial design:

Complex Machine Design (original)

After actually building his planned design and working with different materials (largely scrap wood from our local Lowe’s hardware store and various bits of hardware pieced together with a drill and Gorilla Glue) we finally created a product which resembles this design, which he drew tonight.

Revised Design

Last night, he recorded a three minute video explaining his design and what we’d changed from the original plans.

Today, he actually tested the design and we recorded two videos I combined into one: A preliminary failure and a second successful test.

Overall science class this year for him has been (I think) largely a disappointment and a big frustration on several fronts. I won’t elaborate here in detail, but it’s been a case as a parent where I dearly wished there were more opportunities for both student and parental feedback to be integrated into the formal teacher evaluation process. Those frustrations aside, I want to observe that good things can come from projects and specifically engineering challenges which students are given. We spend far too LITTLE time in school and outside of class actually BUILDING THINGS we design and tweaking those models until “they work.” Alexander’s project isn’t likely to win any STEM awards and I’m not even sure what his grade on the project or in his class will be… but those things really don’t matter much. What matters is this science and engineering project gave him a chance to design and build something he imagined in his mind. It gave us a chance to work on building his design together. It was fun, and I think we both learned some new things as well as creating something we’re proud of and will remember for a long time.

He takes his project to school tomorrow to show his teacher and his class what he made and what he learned. “Success in learning,” however, has already been achieved and we don’t need a teacher’s grade or evaluation to know it. We DID, however, need a teacher to assign this project and thereby provide a catalyst for designing and building together. For that I am thankful both to his teacher and his wonderful school, Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Long live science and engineering projects for students which require creativity, imagination, and really “making stuff!”

Compound Machine (unpainted)

Final Compound Machine (painted)


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Planting Pumpkin Seeds

Today we worked in our flower and vegetable beds in our front and backyard. Among other things, we planted some pumpkin seeds. We’re not sure if we’ll get any pumpkins (or cantaloupes, or ears of corn) but we’re going to give it a shot! Later this month we’re going to plant some tomatoes too. Here are a few photos from today’s inaugural planting, along with a short video narrated by Rachel. I’m thinking these photos will make a great narrated slideshow if we keep taking pictures as the plants grow in upcoming weeks.

We Planted 4 - 6 Seeds in Each Hole

These are seeds for "Big Max" Pumpkins

Putting seeds in the hole

Pumpkin Seeds in the Hole

Covering up the hole with dirt

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