Friday, February 28, 2014

6th Grade P.A.C.T. Students Discover the Art of Computer Science

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By Peggy Chapman

Most people think of computer programmers as people who sit alone at their computers all day.  As our sixth grade students are learning, the art of computer science is much more engaging and collaborative.  

Sixth Grade Students enrolled in the Technology 6 Course at P.A.C.T. are gaining a clear understanding of what computer science is and how it can be helpful in their lives.

On Tuesday, February 25th, students began to learn about bits, bytes, and nibbles as they were exposed to vocabulary unique to computer science.  They began to learn how computers read and store data. It has been said, “the best computer scientists understand what it’s like to “be” a computer.” After students learned these pieces of vocabulary, they were handed a  Binary Decoder Key and taught the method a computer uses to store data.  

Computers format everything as some representation of on and off. The students figured out the binary key and encoded their initials on a 4 X 4 binary grid.  Once they were comfortable on the grid, they encoded their own “secret message” which was shared with classmates to decode. P.A.C.T. Students began to understand what it’s like to “be” a computer.

Even if you are not a computer programmer, your students can be. Lessons that teach your student how to code are available for free on

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sharing What You're Reading!

Writing Reviews for a Real Audience
Kirsten Spall and Sam O.
Last week, I became aware of the fact that several of our students are writing online reviews. This intrigued me. I am always curious about how our families are using writing in real life. What better way to explore a novel than to review it for an audience of your peers? Below is an online interview that was conducted on a Google Doc.If you would like to create your own book reviews, game reviews, or video reviews you may also submit a review to PACT's very own Review Blog called "PACT Kids Know What Rocks".
Kirsten: How did you get into writing reviews for Scholastic?
Sam: I read a lot of books and my mom wanted to find a new way to teach literature.

Kirsten: How do you choose novels that you read?
Sam: I read the summary on the back of a book. If It sounds interesting, I check it out. If I like the book and it's in a series, I read the series and do a review on my favorites.

Kirsten: What is your writing process? Do you just sit down and write, do you brainstorm? Who edits your work (if anybody!)?
Sam: I guess I just sit down and start writing. When I finish it, I make edits and revisions, and then share it with my mom who makes sure it’s ready to publish.

Kirsten: Do all of your reviews get published?
Sam: So far, I have only done two, and both are published, so yes, they all get published.

Kirsten: Do you read reviews? Why.why not?
Sam: No, I just read the summary on the back of the book. My mom is the one who reads book reviews.

Kirsten: Do you have any advice for PACT students who want to write reviews?
Sam: There is a walk through at scholastic about writing book reviews which I found very useful. It helps a lot, and after reading it I knew what to do and what not to do.

Do you want to write your own reviews for Scholastic? Read this website for tips!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Music, Movement, and Math

One of the best parts of working at PACT is being able to hear the small stories of success that get passed from Adviser to Adviser. They are evidence of our family's creativity, our parent teacher's hard work, and the growth we see in students everyday.

Last week, Mrs. Valdovinos shared the story of a young guitar player. Like most new guitar players, he did not put his fingers on the strings in the correct positions. Once he learned that placing his fingers in the correct position alters the pitch of the string’s sound, he took off! He could hardly stop playing. He learned to play songs on his own, far beyond what was taught in class.

His success and growing love for playing guitar was exciting for everyone to see, but what took place in the adviser meeting reinforced the idea that linking the arts or using physical movement has an impact on student learning (see “Stimulating Heads and Hearts with the Arts” from the February PACT newsletter here). During the meeting his Adviser asked him about his multiplication tables, something that he has had trouble with.  Instead of making him put down his guitar, his Adviser asked him multiplication problems while he played. The answers seemed to come easier while the student played, the change was unmistakable.

This reminded Ms. Kirsten of her own experience learning  multiplication tables.She was plagued by poor memorization skills. It was not until fourth grade when she started swimming laps in the pool that she finally learned them. To keep her mind busy, she recited them in her head as she swam lap after lap. Something about the rhythmic, physical movement of swimming and the quiet of the underwater world  proved successful.

Another first grade student found skip counting difficult to master until one day out of frustration by an active boy wiggling in his seat, his mom put him on their trampoline and told him to count. He struggled at first, but the normal frustration never came, his body and brain seemed too busy with the jumping and thinking to become angry. Besides, it wasn’t really math, right? He was on the trampoline.

There is research on play, music, physical activity, and learning. However, what these stories show is the power that we have as homeschooling families to explore and implement learning strategies on a daily basis that fit our individual kids.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ms. Assante Takes Two Airplanes to the Head

All the materials needed for a fun day of Math and Science!
Helping students enjoy learning math and physics also means using real life models. 

Question: How many times can a middle school class of scientists calculate Speed=Distance x time without planning a revolt against their teacher? 

Answer: As many times as you want them to, if let them throw paper airplanes and chew gum. Last week we completed two labs: Bubble Gum Physics where students completed a Chomper Challenge and Speedy Chompers (how many times can you chomp a piece of gum in one minute?) and a Paper Airplanes Design Challenge, where students design paper airplanes that can either cover the greatest distance or attain the greatest speed.  
We used the scientific process to complete our challenges paying close attention to our independent and dependent variables (don’t forget the control!) We completed no less than 40 math calculations (not including measurement, mass calculations, and time).
This time laughter and joy replaced the usual moans, groans, and  tears that can sometimes accompany multi-step math and science projects. This year, I only took two airplanes to the head! Real life experiences and fun can go together and enhance the curriculum at home or in the classroom.

Extensions and Variations: