Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Robot-Roving Through The Computer History Museum

It's not often that we, as adults, get new experiences that daze, amaze, and dazzle us. Additionally, if you're like me, and embrace your inner geekiness as part of your effervescent charm, you tend to look for some fun and funky tech experiences that will get you here. And I did.

At the start of 2019 we go the opportunity to go to California--without ever leaving my time zone, Maryland, or my school! We were in my Maryland classroom & Mountain View California's Computer History Museum simultaneously via the Beam Telepresence Robot. It was a crazy feeling of déjà vu as I got the opportunity to revisit a place I had visited this summer! To have my robot footprints in the same place my actual feet had once stood!

I actually got to drive the Beam 3 different times this year--one, a trial run (to make sure our systems would work), and the other two as virtual field trips with my 2nd and 3rd grader. They got almost as much of a kick out of my robot driving as I did!

Prior to robot-driving, we did some diving into the Computer History website in class--in particular, their "Revolution: 2000 Years of Computing" exhibit. We explored the website to learn online about their 1,100+ computer history artifacts--everything from the abacus, early calculators, punch cards, to modern day! We also visited the online "Where To?" exhibit about self-driving cars. While investigating the website's online images, videos, and artifacts, students took notes on paper of items they're interested in, fun facts they learn online, and any questions along the way.

Then, the exciting part--the trip to California via computer! Nothing like being on a guided tour, learning about technology WITH technology! My kids were bummed they didn't get to have the experience of driving the robot... but, if you let one drive, you have to let all 30+ drive! I got to have that glory all to myself!

Among other things, on our tour we got a chance to see a prototype for the first home computer from 1969 (for your kitchen for researching recipes--wayyy too expensive and it never came to be). We also got to see the office computer from 1973 (4 years later) with a screen that was paper sized and even a mouse! We also saw the 1999 Google Server, the teapot that inspired 3D drawings on computers, and everyone's favorite: the self-driving car. I was proud that I didn't take out anyone's toes or run into any door frames while  driving the Beam Telepresence Robot around the museum.

To see more in action, visit this article from our school archives (including a video) of our experience.

If this looks like your kind of driving experience, book a tour by checking out the Computer History Museum's Tour information. Given the timing, they only offer trips at 10 am on Mondays (in their time zone), while the museum is still closed to the public. I was very glad for that, as it was tricky enough to drive around the robot!

Lastly, here are creative curiosities and questions my 7-9 year olds posed after visiting the online exhibit (prior to our virtual visit). While the list was long and we didn't get all the answers to these during our one-hour tour, we did get a great opportunity to interact with our docent and see some pretty remarkable artifacts. Not to mention, it really made history come alive!

-What's the oldest thing you have in the museum? 
-How can they have over 1000 computer "things"
      [=artifacts] in a museum? 
-How did they figure out how technology works? 
-How big was the first computer? 
-How many computers have there been? 
-Who invented the first computer? 
-How do you make a computer? 
-How do you make computers? 
-How long has the museum been open? 
-Do they have olden day virtual reality goggles there? 
-I wonder about the differences between then and now computers. 
-Will we get to see old phones and old headphones? 
-Who had the idea of a computer and how did they get it? 
-Why is technology important? 
-Who created the Internet? 
-How long has technology been a thing? 
-How is a punch card a part of computer history? 
-How do pocket calculators work? 
-What were the earliest computer games? 
-How are computer games on TV's? 
-Why was the web invented last? 
-Are they trying to make flying computers? 
-How many video games have there ever been? 
-Do they have museums like this all around the world? 
-Why are mini computers called that when they are big? (They were smaller than the mainframes, but clearly 
      bigger than personal computers!) 
-How did they build the computer that 
      "broke the code" during WWII? 
-Why were old computers so big? 
-What did earlier [mobile] phones look like? 
-How do you program a computer? 
-How does a self driving car work?
-Who invented the self driving cars? 
-Has the self-driving car ever gotten into 
      an accident?
-With the self-driving car, do you type 
      in the destination to get it where it needs to go? 

Images from either our side or the CA side of our Virtual Field trip, screenshots included!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ahh... The Beauty & Gift of a Snow Day

There's something about a snow day. I think the phenomenon holds true for both teachers and students alike. I've not met a teacher or student who doesn't erupt into smiles (and perhaps even a happy dance) when the announcement is made. Even bigger and better: if the announcement is made the night before. We got that little gem this week. I happened to be in an educational meeting with both current and retired teachers at the time the text came through. It was definitely a glee-filled moment as the joy elevated in the room. We love our job (despite the occasional frustrations and challenges), but there is something about a snow day!

It's a multi-faceted gift--first, with the potential to sleep in: teachers--and students--are a tired bunch. That ability to sleep in and luxuriate in bed is certainly a gift! But there's also the gift of the day. An unexpected day off. Unsuspected, unplanned. This surprise does wonders for the body, soul, and spirit!

It's a slowing down of life. You find yourself mesmerized in the meditative moment of just simply watching the snow fall. You catch yourself noticing the changes, especially over the course of a lengthy snowfall. The tree branches become blanketed in the winter white, and the whole world transforms into this whole new place.

It even sounds different as the snow muffles the typical street-sounds (which might be non-existent with buried roads). The world just seems to be hunkering in.

There's a beauty to the birds at the feeder, the untouched yard of snow before anyone gets out and traipses all over it. There's even the pups that spring out to frolic outside, wondering what on earth happened to the world just over night. It must feel magical to those crazy canines!

It's a fireplace, pajama, blanket-and-movies, curl-up-with-a-good book, hot-chocolate kind of day.

The shoveling will come eventually, as might the sled runs and snowmen, but at first, the world just sort of slows down. Even if the teacher's plate ultimately gets filled with grading papers on the couch or writing report cards (some of which I know my teacher friends will be doing), there's still the gift of time. An extra day you didn't expect, where you are free from your classroom obligations of lesson plans and learning, carpool or lunch duty, and all the other energetic elements of your class. Permission to burrow in, enjoy the warmth of your tea or coffee, and just "be" in a way that busy-ness doesn't always allow.

It causes you to take pause and watch as nature frolics in nature... and the sum total of it all brings a smile to your face.

THAT certainly is a gift.

Images from my camera from my snow day gift this week!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Inverse Antidote

I think a lot (and write a lot) about how innovation & technology are going to solve our environmental problems.

But I was struck yesterday that the reverse is indeed also true: that the cure to all our over-techified time is indeed getting out into the environment. Nature.

It's interesting, because although I think and write about that a lot too, I was struck by an epiphany that tilted my view enough to see that this was indeed the inverse of my original thought. Technology and nature are the foil to each others.

It hit me while listening to one of my new favorite podcasts: Robert Plotkin's "Technology for Mindfulness." I was listening to episode #44 "Beauty, Nature & Capturing Moments" with John de Graaf. He brought together the marriage of environment and innovation, nature and technology beautifully.

In examining this tilted epiphany and my latest "ah ha" moment, it perfectly illustrates both the creation and the evolution of "Green Team Gazette." It certainly explains my love-hate relationship with technology. It paints my path as to how I'm now employed as a Lower School Technology Specialist... after previously teaching at perhaps the greenest school in America. It has led me to be on the sustainability committee at my current school and why we now are a Maryland Green School. It drives the stack of #eco and #edtech and #unplugging books that I can't seem to stop buying and reading.

Nature/the environment and technology/innovation need each other.

More importantly, we need them to solve each other... and to cure us AND our planet!

The Inverse antidote image created on; woods & innovation pictures from

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Dichotomy of Calendar Dates: Digital Learning Day & National Day of Unplugging

Sometimes as the Lower School Technology Specialist, I have an internal struggle. I've mentioned my love-hate relationship with technology a time or two. At times, I picture it like the little angelic version of me on one shoulder and the devilish one on the other. I've been using the ScreenTime feature that's now part of iOS12, writing down my weekly stats for about 3 months now, and I know exactly how much I'm on my phone and my iPad, and how many times I pick them up. Numbers that are sometimes startling! But, I know that there's so much value in using educational technology as a tool in our lives and our classrooms.

That's in part why it strikes me that these two calendar days are a mere 24 hours from each other. Both equally vital. Both as opposite as can be. Both completely worth registering for!

1. Digital Learning Day ~ February 28, 2019 
Since 2012, Digital Learning Day has served as an innovative inspiration, bringing technology and education together. The goal: to improve student outcomes and engagement through a foundation of learning with digital tools.

To dive deep at their website and get inspiration on how to plan your own Digital Learning Day, here are a few links to learn from:
--Digital Day 2019 Graphics
--Activities & Ideas
--Digital Tools
--Online Resources
--Check out their Interactive Lesson Plans
--Watch their 2018 video
--Watch their Live Webinar: How School and District Leaders Can Create the Conditions for Innovation and Change (10:30 am EST)

2. National Day of Unplugging ~ Sundown to sundown March 1-2, 2019
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the National Day of Unplugging and goes off the idea of this quote by Anne Lamott: "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you." Last year, 65,000 people took the world wide unplugging pledge. As I read in both Florence Williams The Nature Fix and Jean Twenge's iGen, there's many reasons to unplug! I've got 3 more books on my bookshelf on the same subject, waiting to be read!

To get some great ideas from their website, check out these links:
--Take the Pledge
--Host an Event & Get Toolkit Resources
--Youth Kits for Unplugging kids of all ages
--Download posters
--Unplugging Stories & News

Header image created on Canva. Logos from the Digital Learning Day & National Day of Unplugging websites.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Loving Nature This Valentine's Day!

In thinking about Valentine's Day, I was struck by this quote:

Given that, this spoken poem/song by David Attenborough (originally created for BBC One in 2011) seems spot on. If you can't get enough animals, you can always check out,

May we all love what surrounds us: people, animals, nature. Happy Valentine's Day!

 Photos from and and; Video from

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Nature Fix

I just spent a bulk of the weekend finishing the book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams. Of course, the irony is not lost on me (or my children) that I spent a bulk of my weekend indoors reading a book about the outdoors.

However, I will say, upon wrapping up the book's epilogue today, I did go out and just sit outside for awhile to watch the birds at the bird feeder and study the Jackson Pollock-like fractals in our trees. (The latter of which I learned all about in the book.) Our 47 degree weather today is feeling remarkably warm in the sun after the frigid cold snap we had earlier in the week. Hard to believe that 2 days ago we ended up with an early out for a sudden snowstorm and icy conditions--and now the melted snow water is running noisily through our gutters, with almost every evidence of snow disappeared. It feels like spring out. In fact, I've landed in one of my favorite writing places--my back patio, basking in the sun, looking at the birds as they fly between the trees and the frolicking squirrels as my fingers find the keys.

As with any book I read, I find the information I've read swirling around, making its mental connections, becoming part of my DNA. (Of course, that's the same with us all.) There are so many nuggets of wisdom in this book. It's reminding me of this past summer of counting my outdoor hours (inspired by 1000 Hours Outdoors), and how good I felt at the end of the summer. My 2019 hours are probably growing exponentially here today as I'm not innately a fan of the winter, preferring to hibernate over just about anything else. Many thoughts have me circling back to Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, making this an excellent companion piece to follow that book for those who want more.

This book also connects with the reading I've done on brain studies, particularly when it comes to executive functioning and the elementary/teen brain & ADHD. Additionally, it deeply resonates within me as I look at our overly-techified world (and how that relates to my role as Lower School Technology Specialist).

Noteworthy notes that my highlighter found in this research-heavy (yet highly readable) book that are worth pondering:
  • "We don't experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature, it turns out, is good for civilization." (p. 4)
  • "Nature employs the mind without fatigue yet exercises it; tranquilizes it yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system" (Quote by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1865, from p. 48)
  • "Psych studies using birdsongs consistently show improvements in mood and mental alertness." (p. 100)
  • "Our tendency to wear earbuds during all hours of the day [is called] 'learned deafness.' We are tuning out the real world in favor of our own personal soundscapes. The cost is we forget how to listen." (p. 102)
  • "When we stare at screens all day, we blink less." (Quote by author's eye doctor, p. 126)
  • "To elevate mood and stave off depression most reliably, 5 hours per month is the lowest amount of time to get the effect, then after, if you can go for 10 hours, you will reach a new level of feeling better and better." (Quote by Liisa Tyrväinen, p. 141)
  • "A thirty-to-forty-minute walk seems to be enough for physiological changes and mood changes and probably for attention." (Quote by Kalevi Korpela, p. 147)
  • "The '30 x 30 nature challenge'--30 minutes a day of walking for 30 days in a row." (p. 182) [which elicited the following effects in the Trent University study that the author participated in: "significant increases in all measures of well-being, including mood and mental calm, and also decreases in stress and negativity. We slept slightly better, and also reported feeling slightly more connected to nature."] (p. 182-183)
  • "The ultimate paradox is that humans need both wilderness and civilization." (p. 192)
  • "Awe is considered one of the core positive emotions along with joy, contentment, compassion, pride, love and amusement... 'Basically, awe is something that cloys your mind.'" Secondary, interior quote from Paul Piff, p. 196) ".... Awe promotes curiosity." (p. 199)
  • "We consume 74 gigabytes of data every day." (p. 224)
  • "Exposure to nature reduced reported symptoms of ADHD in children threefold compared with staying indoors." (p.226) [Of note--recess and outdoor exposure during school has decreased over time! "Preschoolers in the United States average just 48 minutes of exercise a day in their schools, even though the recommended level is 2 hours. Of that 48 minutes, only 33 minutes is outside." (p. 233)
  • "In the U.K., two-thirds of schoolchildren do not know acorns come from trees." (p. 233)
  • "Nearly 1 in 10 children has a vitamin D deficiency. That's 7.6 million children. And, two-thirds, another 50.8 million, are considered vitamin D 'insufficient.'" (p. 234)
  • "Distilling what I learned, I came up with a kind of ultra simple coda: Go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe."    (p. 254)
Not to mention, here's a short list of new (and some not-so-new) environmental terms to consider investigating:
  • nature deficit disorder
  • forest bathing 
  • biophilia 
  • task switching (versus "multitasking")
  • the science of forest smells 
  • natural soundscapes 
  • accidental nature (exposure you get to nature without even trying)
  • myopia (nearsightedness)
  • ecotherapy
  • solvitur ambulando (in walking will be solved)
  • toddlers are "containerized kids"
  • Metro sapiens (what the human species became in 2008, when we crossed to the majority of us living in cities)
  • The Nature Pyramid (I'll be writing about this soon!)

So as I've spent the afternoon pondering all of this, here's my next stop: a local park with my family and our overly-energetic dogger. Purposely unplugging us all, and sharing some of my "Nature Fix" finds with them, hoping to re-inspire my very tech-friendly family get out and get what's good for them. For us all!

Images from, other images from my phone!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Virtual Valentine

I love The 10 Minute Teacher Podcast with Vicki Davis (aka CoolCat Teacher). 10 minutes is the perfect nugget of knowledge for busy teachers, and I always learn something new.

It's here I learned about Virtual Valentines--just in time for that sweet holiday ahead!

This is a passion project created by Dyane Smokorowski, Michael Soskil, Micah Brown, and Stacey Ryan. Their goal--to connect students around the world, inviting them to a take part in a creative design challenge while learning a little bit along the way, making a global connection.  Authentic audience anyone?! I love the tagline: Melting the Miles Between Classrooms!

There are a slew of creative ideas for your valentines here on this portion of their website.

There are 2 levels of involvement options:

* Level 1: Students create a virtual valentine to share with others who have participated around the world to see work from all over the globe.

* Level 2: Get a partner classroom, research the community your partner class is from AND determine the mileage away they are. Then "virtually meet" via Skype.

But move fast! The registration window is closing--this week! The deadline to register is THIS FRIDAY, FEB. 8th! Click here to register!