Archive for November, 2010

Big Astrobiology Discovery

November 30th, 2010

I’m super-excited about the oxygen find on Rhea (go, Cassini!), one of Saturn’s moons.

I’m even more excited by whatever announcement NASA will make about a discovery that will change the search for extraterrestrial life. Here’s the news blurb:

WASHINGTON — NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

The news conference will be held at the NASA Headquarters auditorium at 300 E St. SW, in Washington. It will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website at

Participants are:
– Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington
– Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.
– Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
– Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla.
– James Elser, professor, Arizona State University, Tempe

Those are some big names in science, especially Elser and his life stoichiometry focus (how chemicals show up and balance in living things). The news conference should show up here (around noon Arizona time).

I hope this announcement is bigger than the Beatles being on iTunes.

Research Scavenger Hunt

November 24th, 2010

I’m a fan of experiential learning to build connections and help students find the relevance, hopefully remembering some of what they learned. (If they truly learned it, they will remember. If it’s just storing the information in working memory, then you can wave bye-bye.)

Many times we ask students to find information using multiple sources, but we don’t coach them on how to do it. 7th grade Language Arts teacher Mrs. Clerke and I created a quick scavenger hunt to familiarize students with print references. If we were to jump straight into a big research assignment, the students wouldn’t quite know where to look. Add that confusion to students not realizing what information they really need for their project and a research unit becomes more exhausting than it should be.

Below is a copy of the handout we gave them for the scavenger hunt race. (This is also for Clerke’s and my reference in case the district wipes our computer user accounts and e-mail in the same year. What are the odds of that happening, right?)

Research Scavenger Hunt

Find a biography of a president. What’s the title of the book? Who’s the author?

Is Warsaw, Poland north or south of Prague, Czech Republic? What’s the title of the book? When was it published?

Let’s say you’re writing an essay and you want to start it with a quote about winter. Find a quote about winter. What’s the title of the book? Copy the quote about winter. Which page was it on?

Your teacher has asked you to make a travel brochure to visit Guyana from the story “Three Skeleton Key”. Draw the flag from Guyana. What is the title of the book you found the flag in?

What are two synonyms for the word “sovereign”? Which book did you use?

What part of speech is the word “jealousy”? How do you spell its plural form? Which book did you use?

Who invented the Geiger counter? When did that person invent it? What country was that person from?

Name a type of fluke worm. What does it do? What’s the title of the book? Who published the book?

*Bonus Point: Draw the flag from Libya.

Hunger Games: Turkey Edition

November 24th, 2010

Every year it’s tradition for the President of the United States to pardon a turkey from being killed for Thanksgiving. But how do those turkeys get chosen? They compete in a dancing competition, trying to impress the judges into letting them live another day.

Here’s more to the story.

Nightlight by the Harvard Lampoon

November 19th, 2010

I haven’t read the Twilight series.

Yes, I know.

Even though I haven’t read the books or seen the movies, I’m familiar enough with the plot of the series to understand the jokes in the Harvard Lampoon’s Nightlight.

Most of the book plays off of Stephenie Meyer’s writing style and how Bella is characterized. In Nightlight, Belle Goose stalks a boy named Edwart because she thinks that he is a vampire. The plot line revolves around her being clueless to the world around her as she acts out most cliches found in supernatural romances, thinking that every boy is super-obsessed with her and that she is smarter than anyone around her.

Here’s an example of her oblivious nature as she considers another possible vampire at the school:

I thought back to the tables in the cafeteria: Edwart’s table, Jocks, Populars (my table), Arty Kids, Vampires. He must have sat at the last one.

On top of her cluelessness, random events will be thrown in for humor (it’s a parody, after all). Belle loves having a big truck because she can make slushies by throwing snow in the back and driving like crazy. Supporting characters (what English teachers would call flat characters) don’t have names and Belle makes a point to say that the character has some forgettable name like “Lululu” and is not important at all.

Nightlight frequently steps out of the narrative to make a book joke, one that is only funny while reading. Belle says something in italics and comments that she learned at an early age to say things in italics because people listen better. A scary foreshadowing is that something scary will happen in chapter ten. It literally says chapter ten.

For being the Harvard Lampoon, it’s actually pretty clean. I think students would enjoy it (I know they would because it’s students who asked me to read it in the first place). I’m not going to booktalk it simply because I haven’t found an Accelerated Reader test for it yet. Once there’s an AR test, I’ll work it into my lineup.

The mathematical odds for “2 things” is astounding.

November 18th, 2010

Play the Twilight Zone theme.

Today I received two e-mails from two different people. They were next to each other in the list of messages and both had the subject header “2 things”, both spelled the same way. And they both were on an even hour sent six minutes into the hour. On top of that, they weren’t SPAM.


Working with variables in Scratch to make a score

November 17th, 2010

My demo game for today in Scratch involves checking to see if a button is pressed, changing a variable and a costume if it’s pressed, and then checking if the required score has been met.

The variable is boot to the head. *

When the green flag is clicked to start the game, we reset boot to the head and the costume to give the player a fresh start.

Next, we check to see if the spacebar has been pressed. If it has, we change boot to the head by one and do a mini-animation of a cat with a boot to the head. I put a wait command in there so the user’s eye can actually see the costume change.

We use an “if…” statement (found in the Control section) and use an operator (the green section) to see if boot to the head equals 10, our designated end of the game. If the player has 10 boot to the heads (boots to the head?), we reward them with a positive message of encouragement and then cruelly reset the score.

This is my demo, but I know that you’ll need variables to keep track of info in your games for the competition. Use the same techniques for your own variables.

Notice the big red X. The “if…” statement won’t work if it’s not connected to the rounded top of “When space key pressed”.

Your code should look like this for the demo:

*In no way does Mr. Griggs endorse giving walking cats a boot to the head.

Author visit with Mike Lupica

November 16th, 2010

“I look like a jockey standing next to you.” – Mike Lupica

Mike Lupica’s great to have speak with your students. A big thanks go to the folks at Phoenix Book Company for making it happen.

He didn’t spend too much time hyping his new book, which I appreciate. He told the story of how he started writing YA books and his inspiration from his own children. You can tell that he loves sports and has a love for the game, no matter which one it is. Something that he emphasized was that in sports, you get knocked down a lot. Many people get knocked down. It’s the people that get back up that show the heroics.

He also explained that one reason people love sports so much is that you can’t go to Blockbuster and rent tonight’s game. It’s unscripted, it’s unpredictable, and that resonates with people because it echoes life.

It was cool to hear him say that Hero was the most fun to write because he was such a fan of comic books growing up. You can tell that he enjoys writing and likes interacting with students. He does tell it like it is, though, and called out a kid because the student’s favorite team had spent a billion dollars on players with not much to show for it. He also found it ironic that you can get a trophy in youth sports just for showing up.

I enjoyed hosting Mike Lupica and I know the kids found it worthwhile, as well. He said that every one of the students had a novel in them and I hope that some will be encouraged to take up writing, whether academically or in a professional setting.

Well, isn’t that intriguing?

November 15th, 2010

Do you think Apple’s releasing the app store for Mac applications? No matter what it is, I’m intrigued, even if their grammar is a little off.

Switching Backgrounds/Levels in Scratch

November 10th, 2010

For the STEM video game challenge, we’re using Scratch to make our games.

One of the things you usually need in a video game is the ability to change what the background looks like. First, you’ll need to create the backgrounds in Scratch:

I’ve created two backgrounds using the built-in paint editor. They’re very intricate backgrounds named “background1” and “background2”. You can name yours differently, just remember what you called them.

These scripts:

  1. Reset the background to background1 at the start.
  2. Broadcast either a Go to 1 or Go to 2, depending on what key is pressed.
  3. The script checks what’s broadcast and changes the level’s appearance.

The Hero’s Journey

November 9th, 2010

Many stories have similar elements, similar characters, that author Joseph Campbell believes is common to the human experience. If you look at the plot lines for Harry Potter, the Lightning Thief, Eragon, Star Wars, and King Arthur legends (Dumbledore/Chiron/Brom/Obi Wan/Merlin), you’ll see that there are shared aspects of popular stories.

You’ll be exploring those similarities today in Ms. Redden’s Language Arts class. The online Hero’s Journey organizer can be found by clicking here.