Category Archives: technology in schools

Tech bus delivers training

Take a standard 40-foot, 84-passenger yellow school bus and make it into a rolling technology center.

Scottsdale Unified School District unveiled its eCoach yesterday at Mohave Middle School. They brought out the Saguaro High School Jazz Band, provided refreshments, put up a tent to shade attendees and conducted quick tours through the bus, which is equipped with a Smartboard, document camera, audio, Wi-Fi, extra air conditioners and enough room for 11 people and an instructor.

The eCoach was crowded with students, district staff and members of the media during yesterday's unveiling ceremony.

Tom Clark, the district’s chief technology officer, said it wasn’t too expensive to create because the district already had the bus, district employees made the furniture, partners donated various parts and services to make it a reality and they’ll have a district bus driver cruise around to where the teachers are. All in all, Clark said, it cost “a few thousand.”

The district also intends to use the bus for community outreach to teach parents about the technology their kids are using in school and to provide online access to kids who might not have a computer or an Internet connection at home.

The benefit for teachers is that they will be able to schedule the eCoach to come to their school when they need training rather than having to drive to another school or the district office.

One area of staff development Clark mentioned was the increasing use of iPads in the classroom and apps to enhance the teaching and learning process. The eCoach will make it easier for teachers to get up to speed on the newest apps.

Scan code on the side of the eCoach.

There are 31 schools in the Scottsdale district and about 1,700 teachers, so it looks like the eCoach driver will be on the road non-stop for much of the school year.

For more information, visit


Robotics at Carl Hayden Community High School

Dean Kamen, shown above with the Carl Hayden Community High School robotics team, is the inventor of the Segway and the creator of FIRST  (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competitions. He came to Carl Hayden Community School yesterday for “A Morning of Robotics” as part of the statewide SciTech Festival.

Several high schools brought their robots and students waited eagerly to talk with Kamen, who answered questions and signed autographs.

Austin Patton and Adam Winters of the Highland High Robotics team in Gilbert check the height of the basket on their robot. The robot must be able to scoop up a ball and then raise it as high as possible. Ten points are awarded for every six inches of elevation. Their robot can lift the ball eight feet, four inches.

The Falcon Robotics Team at Carl Hayden High School practiced with their robot. It can suck up basketballs and shoot them into hoops set at different heights. The mechanism that shoots the basketballs isn't installed on this version of the robot which is used strictly for practice. The official, complete entry into the contest is set aside for the actual competition.

Putting life into concepts

When I took education classes as a post-baccalaureate at ASU from 1991 to 1993 there was plenty of talk about using technology in learning and the great things that might happen in education.

When I started teaching, there was much talk about how technology would change teaching. Getting enough computers in the classroom, or all working at the same time in the lab, was a huge hurdle. Something, usually money, or just as often, a glitch in the network, hampered efforts to really use technology easily.

Last week I saw a new effort to use technology to enhance and transform education. I went to talk to Mike Brown, Ph.D. and Jacob Shotwell, Ph.D. at Adaptive Curriculum at Sky Song, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center. The press release said, “Phoenix Schools implementing new state-of-the-art teaching technology.” Having taught 10 ten years, I had to see it.

Mark and his parents from the slope-intercept lesson.

Adaptive Curriculum is building an online resource that takes science and math for middle school through high school and uses Flash to illustrate and animate concepts. Not games, but animation and illustrations to bring concepts to life and make them real and relevant. Brown taught high school biology for 10 years and he found the schools woefully behind the scientific curve. The textbooks were teaching science current to decades ago but bearing no relation to science students will encounter in college and beyond.

I wanted to see an example of a concept that’s difficult to make cute: linear equations in slope-intercept form. You remember y=mx+b, don’t you? In their lesson, a guy, Mark, gets $50 allowance from his parents every month. He also has a job at an advertising agency earning $8 an hour. (At least he wasn’t living with his parents.) The lesson showed how to graph his monthly finances. Because he always took in $50 a month, that was the minimum and his earnings went up from there, so obviously, the y-intercept was 50. The equation was y=8x+50. I think I would have remembered more about linear equations in school if I understood what they could be about.

Data table for the graph

The animation was a quirky and amusing, not slick or trying too hard to be cool. Shotwell said they found that kids liked quirky. Students were asked to draw another graph assuming the parents decided to no longer cough up $50 per month. It wasn’t cute or silly and the explanations were solid. I especially liked that instead of saying “eight x” the narrator said “eight times x” because kids often forget what 8x means.

Shotwell said they refer to pedagogical research to make sure their teaching methods are solid. There’s more teaching than technology in the lessons; the technology illustrates and animates the concepts. It’s easy enough to teach kids about y=mx+b because it’s simple, but for them to understand what it means, and how it relates to life, is not so easy. Mark and his $50 allowance and minimum wage job gives the formula life and makes it memorable, which is the whole point of education.

Textbooks can’t come close to what an animated, narrated, illustrated video does. And teacher can’t create richly illustrated examples for everything they teach. Textbooks are fine for kids who learn that way, but most of us don’t have fond memories of textbooks.

Chemistry lab. The cursor can "pick up" and manipulate the objects.

I watched a lesson on the conservation of matter experiment. Yes, you can do experiments in the classroom if you have the materials, but can you show kids the experiment five times and let them do it five times on their own?

I did the conservation of matter experiment twice. When I got into the “lab” all the materials were there for me to click on and use. I put the calcium carbonate onto the scale, put it in the Erlenmeyer flask and lit the Bunsen burner, but only after I put the balloon over the top of the flask. Then I watched as the balloon inflate with the gas created from the reaction. I then weighed the balloon and compared the total mass of the ingredients at the beginning to the total mass after the reaction

As a student I had to remember to account for the one gram mass of the balloon to make the results make sense. On the computer it was easy to revisit and try different amounts of calcium carbonate.

Addition of mixed fractions with unlike denominators.

I did a lesson on adding fractions with unlike denominators. This isn’t as exciting as Columbus or dissecting frogs or blowing up stuff in chemistry class, but these lessons give immediate feedback to tell students whether they are right or wrong. Watching, listening and practicing is better than just reading the problem from a book and waiting until the next day for feedback after the papers are graded. Immediate feedback is gold in education.

All photos are screen images from Adaptive Curriculum.

Dan Friedman

Eco-friendly food and table

Students who don’t know where their years of education are taking them might want to ask peers at Metro Tech High School in the Phoenix Union High School District. These students designed, built and operate a fine dining restaurant, The Sustainable Table (pictured above)  on campus, integrating green technologies and sustainability into the construction, furnishings and menu.

To start, a beverage made with fresh extracted cucumber, honeydew, lime with a hint of mint.

Students in Construction Technologies did the remodeling and Fashion and Interior Technology students chose the furnishings, lighting and colors. The floor is from recycled milk cartons laid without adhesives.  Wood tables and chairs are from sustainable forests.

The tables are from recycled countertops. When the old space was demolished as much of the material was recycled or re-purposed as possible.

Most of the light is from solar tube skylights. Electrical lighting is from LED lights, which use a miniscule amount of energy. Two large flat-screen monitors in the dining area will replace paper menus. The green attitude pervades the project throughout, so toxic fumes and unhealthy materials are absent.

Carpaccio beet salad, honey mustard with micro greens

But a restaurant is for eating and the true test is the food. As part of my job, whenever I cover anything involving food, it is my duty to my reader(s) to taste whatever is put in front of me. The gastronomic fact is, the food at The Sustainable Table, prepared by the culinary students, is very good.

What was on the menu? The photos will tell you.

The experience for the students at Metro Tech involved in the project is just as good as the food. The Sustainable Table is just one of 23 sustainability projects at Metro Tech funded by a $900,000 Science Foundation Arizona grant.

Pan-seared free range chicken, roasted raspberries, chipotle bulgar, ratatouille with stuffed squash blossom, honey-glazed pecans

mini-indulgence dessert

A campus orchard will ultimately provide figs, apples, citrus, pomegranates and grapes to the restaurant as well as herbs and produce from the garden, which is watered by a rainwater harvesting system.

“Sustainability projects are an ideal framework for instructional design,” Metro Tech Principal Kate McDonald says. “They provide students an opportunity to collaboratively work on cross-curricular, real-world projects that can present solutions we need in our local and global communities.”

I have a feeling most students aren’t thinking of instructional design or cross-curricular projects. But the real-world part sounds a lot like the better possibility for a job once graduation day arrives.

Senior Danh Vu who put together the rainwater capturing system to water the school garden is now a certified rainwater harvesting technician after taking classes from the Watershed Management Group. He has his sights on an engineering degree from Georgia Tech.

Story and photos by Dan Friedman

Ed tech at PVUSD MediaFest

Educational technology can range from a simple number 2 pencil and blank paper to jot down brilliant thoughts to an iPad with loads of snappy apps to arrange and organize information. Either way, it’s how it’s used more than the fact that it is used. Paradise Valley Unified School District will present MediaFest at Desert Ridge Marketplace Saturday from 11am-1:30.

Their press release says “the public can learn how educational technology is changing the way students learn, communicate and express creativity.” The MediaFest is worth a look because what kids learn hasn’t changed in a long time, but the way technology changes how they learn certainly has changed enormously.

When I went back to school to get my teaching credentials in the 1991 computer technology was changing the way we accessed information. Namely, we could access far more than we could digest or understand in a short time. And when I started teaching and the classrooms were stocked with networked computers, teachers were fond of saying that education had become more about knowing where to find information than actually having a storehouse of facts crammed into one’s brain. I soon found out that wasn’t the case.

Students need have many basic skills and sufficient background knowledge to understand and evaluate what they are seeing on a website. Really, students need to be much better educated than they used to be at the same age in order to sift through the oceans of junk-thinking masquerading as facts online.

My first year teaching was 1993 and I taught a decade so that is a long time ago in technology years. Educational software is undoubtedly more educational and school districts are past the giddiness of “cool” tech toys and looking more at their slim budgets and looking to increase educational efficiency.

So sleek and flawless, almost unworldy...the hand model I mean. The iPad, equally sleek, in this photo from Apple, could change the way students respond to questions, access information and communicate.

So here’s the schedule:

Hands-on computer lab events for the public:

  • 11am North Ranch Elementary School: Higher-Order Thinking Skills for 21st Century Learning
  • 11:30am Echo Mountain Primary School: iCan, iWill, iLearn with iPad
  • Noon Sonoran Sky Elementary School: Googlicious – Google Apps In a Snap
  • 1pm Grayhawk Elementary School: Technology Lynx Us To The World
  • noon-1:30pm: iPad and iPod musical performances on the stage near Dave and Busters.

If you can’t make it Saturday, there will another MediaFest with different displays and presentations at Paradise Valley Mall on October 15.

–Dan Friedman

A science competition and teacher grants

Two opportunities mined from our inboxes — one for high school students and one for teachers.

The Siemens Competition  in Math, Science & Technology awards scholarships from $1,000 to $100,000. With an Oct. 3 deadline, it’s probably too late for this year’s competition, but with $100K on the line it’s worth considering for next year.

Have a look at the 2010 winners. Brace yourself; the $100,000 individual winner’s project is titled: The Close Binary Fraction: A Bayesian Analysis of SDSS M Dwarf Spectra – Astrophysics. It’s by Benjamin Clark of Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa.  Clark is now attending CalTech.

A red dwarf star, type M near a spiral galaxy. Photo:Sloan Digital Sky Survey,

Siemens awards some monster scholarships, so they expect some serious science. If your child has what it takes, putting “won $100,000 Siemens Competition” on a college application would make him or her stand out, not to mention take care of a serious chunk of tuition.

For teachers, the Qwest Foundation, now CenturyLink, has $95,000 for Arizona Technology in Education Association (AzTEA) education grants. Grants will be awarded to “preK-12 teachers who demonstrate a project-based innovative use of technology with students.”

There is no guarantee technology works wonders, so teachers who have effective teaching strategies enhanced by effective use of technology will benefit from submitting their ideas.

Robert H. Goddard, Ph.D. (for whom Goddard Space Flight Center was named) is shown teaching physics at a blackboard at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. in 1924. Blackboards, which have been replaced by whiteboards and Smartboards, were an indispensable teaching technology for many years. NASA photo

Grants are due Nov. 4, with the option of getting early feedback on ideas for ideas submitted by Oct. 3.

Find out more about AzTEA grants.

–Dan Friedman

SRP funds new math, science programs

Salt River Project has donated a total of $124,000 to implement special programs that support math and science education in 29 Arizona schools.

Recipients of Learning Grants by SRP are schools representing elementary through high grades all across the state. Grant funding will enable robotics and engineering courses and clubs, water testing and analysis, ecological conservation programs, gardening projects and more.

Below are just a few examples of the incredible programs being developed at a few of the recipient schools.

Photo courtesy of St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary.

Avondale. St. Thomas Aquinas will implement a program in which students will learn about the role water has played in Arizona’s history, work with water-saving devices and show their parents and fellow students what they’ve learned at a Water Conservation Awareness/Science Night.

Photo courtesy of Verde Valley Montessori.

Cottonwood. Verde Valley Montessori will now have a garden space at the Cottonwood Community Garden. Through the Life Cycle of a Garden Project, students will test soil, chart plant growth, prepare a meal from their crops and donate surplus of the harvest to a local food bank.

Fountain Hills  

Fountain Hills High School engineering students will construct and equip a solar-powered, fully robotic and automated astronomy observatory on the roof of the school’s science building with live Internet video feed. The district’s teachers will have access to the system to use as a teaching tool in their own classroom, and astronomy classes at Fountain Hills High School will also use data and images from the observatory for their own research projects.


Gilbert Elementary will combine social studies and science to create a year-long theme that will incorporate the study of water throughout Arizona’s history. Students will use GPS devices for geocaching treasure hunts, study Theodore Roosevelt Dam, visit the Desert Botanical Garden and more, ending with a “Water Night” for parents and community members.


The Cesar Chavez High School robotics team students will compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (beginning level robotics engineering), FIRST Lego League (intermediate level robotics with an emphasis on climate connections), and FIRST Robotics Competition (an expert level engineering competition involving improving the functionality of a robot system). They will also mentor elementary school students interested in learning about engineering.


Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona math and biology students will gather ecological and hydrological samples from the Nina Mason Pulliam Audubon Rio Salado restoration area in Phoenix. They will compare their data to 2008 data to determine changes in the habitat and hydrology, and will present their findings.


Mountainside Middle School sixth graders will lead a campaign for an energy-free day – “Lights Out Day” – to raise awareness about renewable technologies and saving energy. They will participate in several data analysis activities to determine the cost and energy savings for one day of no-energy use.


Desert Vista High School’s Engineering Academy students will participate in the Shell Eco-Marathon and design hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. They will design and build three test vehicles with the goal of acquiring the highest miles per gallon, comparing different designs, constraints, and materials.

Find the complete list of recipients here. SRP annually gives more than $1.3 million in  contributions to educational programs and partnerships that provide teacher training, mentoring and hands-on learning. For more information, visit