Tiny Tower Project Days 4 & 5

The past two days have been great. On Day 4 the students continued to build their towers. They a coming along quite nicely. I also was introduced to the app 123D Capture, so when they are finished next week, I hope to have a chance to capture them so students can have a 3D model, and also for anyone else to see it.





Students also started to build their businesses that they would like to see. On Day 4 they were also starting to find a place in Emporia to house their business. Did they want to buy or rent the building and what is the cost of starting the business up. They were quite surprised at the cost of some of the buildings in town.

Day 5 was a field trip to our downtown. Our first task was to walk the height of Willis Tower in Chicago, IL. The day before, I put together a picture showing the approximate height of the building laying on its side in our downtown.


It’s about a quarter of a mile tall. It is pretty impressive to think about, especially when you realize the tallest building in the world (see Day 3) is almost twice as tall!

We then had a tower with Emporia Main Street, led by Casey Woods, telling us about the history of Emporia, some of the architecture of the buildings downtown, and giving us candy.


We then walked to the home of William Allen White, a famous Emporian. His home is very beautiful and even has a little inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright himself.


I really hope the students learned something today. I feel knowing a little history of your hometown is very important. It helps you realize where the town came from and why it is the way it is today. I also hope they start to understand how skyscrapers are difficult to build, and really are remarkable to look at.

If you were to do this project in your town, where would you take the students for their field trip to highlight important areas in your town?

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Tiny Tower Day 3

Yesterday the kids were once again excited to come into the classroom. Right away students started to update their “Tiny Tower” game. We told them by 8:50 they needed to be started on building their skyscrapers or they would lose their iPad. We want to help the students start to learn how to balance technology in their lives and not just be attached to them 24/7.

After a little work, I took the picture to the left. The students saw me take a picture and look at them. They instantly said, “We’re waiting on the glue to dry and thought we’d update our game.” Students seem to think they’re in trouble when “catch them” doing something wrong. I was thinking that they were just waiting, but I didn’t say anything. After their comment I assured them that they were fine and I understand needing to wait at times.

We also watched the video of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. After watching the video we discussed the height of the building and compared it to the height of the wall in our classroom. We then measured a student in the class and did a little math to see how tall said student would be if the building were the height of the wall (2.76 meters). What did we find out? He would be about .006 m (.6 cm) tall. Students were amazed how small he would actually be.

The building is going along great! Here are some photos from the building as well as the notes from Day 2 discussion of famous skyscrapers.

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Building a Wing

I will not be able to post Day 3 until this evening because I will be doing a presentation this afternoon and driving. Don’t worry though, I didn’t forget about you and it WILL be coming.

In the mean time, enjoy some videos from earlier this summer that I made with Mr. Anton Sandoval (my co-teacher for Tiny Tower) after we built a couple of wing models. Thank goodness it was a windy day.

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Tiny Tower Project Day 2

Right off the bat today students were excited. You could see it in their faces as they knew they were showing up and getting their iPads. Students were ready to get back to their games and see how many coins they had collected.

Also, as they came in, they saw some of their questions they had written down yesterday up on the board.


As students started to update their game, I talked about the questions on the board. I let them know about what was coming up, how to balance their game with their work, as well as why they might be sitting in summer school right now. I helped them understand a little bit more of the reasoning today and they were not just playing a game for fun.

Students also started getting their skyscrapers built. They didn’t get very much accomplished, but there was great conversations going on. Some groups were using their iPads to research ideas while others where just going with what they thought was the best solution.






We also began looking at some famous skyscrapers from around the world. They shared several facts that they had learned. (and as I type this at Java Cat in Emporia, I realize I did not get a picture of the board of facts they had collected) As they shared facts we talked a little more about what they were sharing as well as go a little deeper into what they found.

Students found when the first elevator was invented (1887) and that it meant buildings taller than 5 floors could now be built! They also found out the Willis Tower, formerly The Sears Tower, was the tallest in the world for 25 years. We also talked about the glass areas that stick out high in the tower. (more to come with this tower later in the week)

Students started to look into what is needed to start a business as well as start to make their own business. What area some things that are needed besides an idea? They came up with money, customers, a building, a product. . . So many ideas!

Students are actively involved and enjoying their time. I feel many will learn tomorrow that their budgets for building their skyscrapers is going fast. Some are spending wisely, others are just buying small items as a time. We’ll see how they fair.

We have three sizes of sticks. The medium size is the normal Popsicle size. We also have the larger tongue depressed type and half size sticks. We sold out of large sticks (one group bought them all) and now they are wondering if we will get another shipment more not. Their plans for building may need to change. They though they had it made, then noticed their height was only 10 centimeters and they need at least 20.

I’m excited for day three tomorrow. So many great things are starting to show up!

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Tiny Tower Project Day 1

I’m really excited about the next two weeks of summer school. Yes, I am a teacher who is VERY excited about teaching summer school.

I started playing the game Tiny Tower on the iPad during the last week of May. It’s addicting, so I don’t encourage you to play it. . . .unless you are wanting to learn something. I looked at the game and tried to figure out a way to play the game in school (without 1:1 iPads) and teach from it. Then my principal Mrs. Wendy Moore (@wlbmoore on Twitter) asked me to teach a

sample building

session of summer school. I was ecstatic! I knew what I wanted to teach!

Students would have time to build their virtual tower each morning. They need to use coins and bucks earned in the game to build more floors to their building as well as stock the businesses with goods to sell. Residential floors house 5


bitizens (the characters in the game) and each business (food, service, recreation, retail, creative) floor uses 3 residents to run the store. Instantly you can see how building your tower and making sure your bitizens have a place to work and all businesses are fully staffed can be difficult to do.

Another part of the day will be to build skyscrapers out of craft sticks and glue. The students are being given a budget of $800 (can earn more by various tasks) to build a skyscraper in groups. Craft sticks come in bundles of 50 ($100), 20 ($50), and different colors for various prices depending on availability.

The only stipulation is the that tower must be at least 20 centimeters tall. At the end of next week there will be a prize for the team who builds the tallest, the team who builds the strongest (text books will be placed on until it collapses), and which team has the most money left over. There will also be a prize for the overall winner based off of those three criteria. (formula is still being worked out)

The remaining time of the mornings will be spent discussing the history of skyscrapers. The building boom of the early 1900s, the architecture of tall buildings, as well as failures of some buildings. Most of these students (grades 6-8) have never seen a skyscraper, so figuring out the height of a building and then laying it flat with students at the top and bottom to understand how tall of them are will happen on Friday.

Students will also be discussing budgets of daily life as well as businesses. Money doesn’t just fall in your lap, so we have to figure out the differences of wants and needs. What do we do with money and how do we budget?

I’m excited to be sharing the project over the next two weeks. Here are some photos taken today.

I also want to thank Mr. Anton Sandoval for trusting me in this crazy adventure of a project and working with me.

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Too Many Critics

This past week Luke Bryan sang the Star Spangled Banner in front of millions during the All Star Baseball game in Kansas City. Take a look at a clip of him singing below.

Word has it, and he has confessed, that he looked at the words on his hand as well as his watch. Why? Well, because there is a lot of pressure on celebrities when they sing the National Anthem in the United States. It seems someone always has a problem with whomever is singing.

Mr. Bryan wanted to make sure that he didn’t mess up on the words. He also had to keep on pace so that the fly-over would be at the correct time. Again, a lot of pressure.

My question for Americans is: “Do you know the Star Spangled Banner by memory?” Could you really stand and sing it in front of ONE person without messing up? What about millions?

Yes, people say that celebrities should know the national anthem before they sing it at a large event. However, I say EVERYONE should know it AT ALL TIMES!

Take a look the video below from the England vs Slovenia (soccer) game in the 2010 World Cup.

EVERYONE in the stands sings their national anthem for BOTH countries. They are not standing and watching ONE person sing and then criticize them. Where did the United States go wrong?

Read what Clark Merrefield wrote in 2011 after Christina Aguilera flubbed the words at the 2011 Super Bowl.

Like “In God We Trust” on our currency, the Star Spangled Banner feels as old as the Republic, but its status as the national anthem is a relative new phenomenon. Francis Scott Key’s most famous writing, composed in 1814 as a poem called “Defence of Fort McHenry,” didn’t gain major traction until the Civil War, when it was played extensively by military bands. It lived on in the hearts and voices of soldiers after the war, some who lived until the early 1900s. By 1918 it was played for the first time at a baseball game, starting the modern tradition linking the song to sporting events, and in 1931 Congress declared it the nation’s anthem.

“Most people even today don’t really realize the song was written about a real flag and a real incident,” says Lonn Taylor, co-author of The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon and a former curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “We did an exhibit at the Museum of American History on the preservation of the star spangled banner and we had this huge flag—it’s the size of a basketball court laid out flat—and big labels telling everyone what it was and we did an audience exit survey and half the people coming out thought they were looking at a flag made by Betsy Ross.”

So how many people, including those who sneered at Aguilera, can even recite the lyrics? I wound up putting the challenge to 73 adults, ranging in age from 19 to 80. Total number who claimed their $10 prize? Eight. As in, 11 percent.

ELEVEN PERCENT! 11%! 11 out of 100!

No matter how you put it, it’s sad. Why do we stand around and watch only one person (or sometimes a group) sing our national anthem? Why are we not like other countries and EVERYONE sing it?

I guess the main point I’m making is, don’t be a critic unless you are willing to stand up and sing our national anthem in front of just one person WITHOUT looking at the words.

You can see the original poem written by Francis Scott Key here.

sidenote: How many of you knew the author? I did without looking. I also know the words without looking. I’m proud to be an American and strive to know the words to all our patriotic songs
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Looking Back

A couple of weeks ago I was watching the Olympic Trials for swimming and they were talking about Michael Phelps. He will be going to his 4th Olympic Games, which means the first time he went was to Australia in 2000. The amazing thing is, he was 15 that first year he went. That’s amazing!

Well, then I started to think about what I have accomplished in the past 12 years. True, I haven’t been to 4 different countries to participate in a sport, but I have done some amazing things.

To name a few:

  1. Graduated from Emporia State University with my teaching degree
  2. Taught a total of 7 years so far (ages 1-18)
  3. Worked with teens from Northern Ireland in the Ulster Project
  4. Lived in Tacoma, WA for awhile
  5. Traveled to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee (not even half, now I’m sad)
  6. Presented in 4 different conferences
  7. Started on Twitter and Facebook (They didn’t even exist in 2000)
  8. Taught over 300 students (not including the 1.5 years of substitute teaching)

As I sat and thought about all that I have accomplished, I realized that I have done quite a bit both personally and professionally. I don’t want to just share what I have done though.

Damian Bariexca ‏ @damian613 Taught, became a psychologist, bought a house, sold it, bought a bigger one, bought two cars, got married, had two kids, started and finished grad school once, started a second time… you know, not much.

Amanda Marrinan ‏ @marragem put my 3 children through high school & tertiary ed. Saw DD1 married, became a g’parent twice over, moved online & flattened my classroom which has opened me up to the world of travel and most importantly – wonderful friends. My life has been enriched & changed enormously!

I do have to say there was one person who shared “just like Michael, I am 12 years older”. That’s great! We all have! I know this person has done so much more, but I feel we try and compare ourselves at times.

We need to brag about our accomplishments. We need to become proud of who we are and who we want to be. Don’t put others down that seem to be doing “better” than you. Instead look at what you have done and be proud.

Please feel free to comment below on the accomplishments you have met in the past 12 years!

Also, good luck to all the Olympians from around the world headed to London at the end of the month. Make your country proud and know that you are one of the lucky ones who have been given the gift to compete in the sport that you love.

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Math is Too Easy


Mathematics manipulatives I received in a training this summer.

This morning I read an article from USA Today reporting that students say math is too easy in school. Well, I don’t doubt it. However, I want to talk about the “findings” in the story.

Among the findings:

•37% of fourth-graders say their math work is “often” or “always” too easy;

•57% of eighth-graders say their history work is “often” or “always” too easy;

•39% of 12th-graders say they rarely write about what they read in class.

If one looks at the four “core classes” for students as Mathematics, English/Reading, History, and Science, along with 13 grade levels (Kindergarten to 12), then there are a total of 52 classes. The paper reported on 3 of them. I’m going to mainly look at the first one mentioned.

About 1/3 of 4th grade students are saying math is easy. That makes sense.

I taught 4th grade for two years. I had a class of about 20-25 students both years. I was responsible for teaching all of them mathematics (as well as all other subjects). I also had to make sure that students passed “THE TEST” in the spring. So what’s a good way of teaching all the students and making sure they pass? Teach what’s on the test.

Is that what I did? NO! But I feel there are many teachers that do.

When a teacher is forced to make sure that students are passing the test, then the easiest thing to do when teaching elementary school is to just teach the requirements. Some students are advanced and need to be challenged more than others. It’s difficult to reach all your students individual needs, so just teaching to the test is easy. Who cares if we’re not challenging the higher level students, right? They pass the tests, that’s all the government seems to care about.

So how do we change this?

Well, when I was teaching 4th grade we didn’t give letter grades. Instead, we gave a ranking of 1-5.

1-working a grade level or more below

2-working a below grade level

3-working at grade level

4-working above grade level

5-working a grade level or more higher

Pretty clear cut, right? Well, in order to give a 5 for mathematics, we had to have proof that students were working above grade level. So after the 1st 9-week period, I would know who my higher level students were and talk with the parents about those students coming in before school to do some higher level work. Yes, before school, because during school I was working with students at and below grade level to make sure they understood the grade level content.

I had the students, I think about 7 or 8 each year (7 or 8 out of 20-25 would be about 1/3) come in and work on more challenging problems. I had them thinking above grade level. Then, during class, they would still do the same assignment as all students. When they finished, they would help other students or continue to work on the more challenging work we were doing before school.

Where did I get this idea?

When I was in 5th grade I was working quicker than others on my math work. Yes, I was one of those who found math to be easy. So my teacher, Mr. Les Groves, had me, and a few others, work at our own pace. We worked through the book on our own during the math period. If we had difficulties, then we would wait for him to finish teaching to the rest of the class to ask our questions. If I remember correctly, there were about 6 of us in the class of 28. (a little less than 1/3)

So what am I getting at?

Well, I completely agree with the first statistic talking about 1/3 of 4th grade students not feeling challenged. The government has “THE TEST” and it’s results pounded in our minds as teachers. The government has put strict rules and punishments on us for if we don’t pass. So what do we do?

Teachers teach to the test and end up leaving the higher students behind. It’s much easier to teach to what is required then to teach to what is needed. This needs to be changed!

Are the new Common Core Standards the answer? I don’t know. They could be . . . . . if teachers teach using the standards and challenge students. However, if “THE TEST” is still the way we’re going to be judged, then I don’t think they are the answer.

What do you think? Will the Common Core make a difference? Do we need to change how math is taught in schools to make it more challenging?

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Does Your Brain Hurt?

I was watching the news Tuesday morning when they went to talk with the local radio station, as they do every morning, they had a great conversation. Check out the video here.

I found this conversation interesting for many reasons:

  1. They talked about memory of phone numbers, passwords, and birthdays.
  2. They talked about spelling and researching.
  3. They talked about what we will tell our grandchildren.

I have had discussions with friends about the fact that we don’t remember phone numbers anymore. However, I don’t think it’s because we’re trading our memories for other things. I think we just have a convenience of where to find that information, that we have become a little lazy. The numbers and birthdays that are really important to you and that you want to remember, you do remember. Why remember everything? Did you know 100s of phone numbers by memory before cell phones? Probably not, maybe only a few of your close friends.

Have we become worst spellers? There is a big debate on this in schools. Should we be teaching spelling as we learned it? Having a list to memorize for the week, just to forget the words the next week? There are some words that I have learned to spell because of spell check. I think it’s just easier to use then when I was a child and was told “look it up in the dictionary”. That was tough because you didn’t know how to spell it. If you don’t have any clue how to even start to spell a word, spell check doesn’t help. If you’re not close to the correct spelling, then spell check can’t recognize what you are trying to spell. I feel we just use spell check as our dictionary.

Researching information is the same way. However, I feel that we as teachers should be teaching students how to research. Kids today may have the question, “How many states in the United States start with the vowel?” Guess what they do. They type the entire question in and don’t find an answer. Before we had search engines online, we had to learn key words to research. There was no such thing as writing a question and placing it next to the encyclopedia set and the right book falling open. Yes, we have an easier way to research and find information, but it’s not always accurate either.

The last item. Grandchildren. We have all heard stories of how tough life was before we were born. I tell students about when I was a kid and I what I “had to suffer” through. I feel we will always have something to tell the grandchildren. Also, sometimes I tell my students how when I was a kid, we had heat days at school. There was no such thing as air conditioning in schools, so we would get out at noon if the temperature was above 95 at 11:00am. I brag about how life use to be instead of complain all the time.

Yes, the internet and cell phones have made a convenience for us. (By the way, I forgot the en after the v in convenience and was going to be lazy and have spell check fix it. . . . it thought I meant convince. In fact, it didn’t even give me the word I wanted as an option.) But we need to know how to use them. I feel that we are using technology to benefit ourselves. We are not becoming lazy or dumb, we are just using our resources.

I want to thank WIBW  and 94 Country in Topeka for opening my mind and getting me to thinking early in the mornings. I enjoy their talking and rantings they have. Even if it stirs the pot about marriage. I also want to thank Chris Fisher and Amanda Lanum for helping get the video from the conversation (even though I couldn’t get it to embed in my post).

My views on this conversation in no way reflect the great work that WIBW and 94 Country do in giving us the news. I appreciate all the do to inform our state of the news and happenings. I just wanted to share some of my input to their conversation.
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Crushing Creativity

Yesterday I read a blog post by Dr. Chris McGee. In the post he had a video of a little kid, named Caine, who was very creative in making an arcade. The video was great and you can tell how creative he was. Caine was taking what he had seen and was making his own “inventions”.

Dr. McGee went on in his post talking about how teachers need to be providing time for students to be creative and work on their own. It’s a great post, as well as the conversation I have had with him, that has me thinking about how I can do this in my classroom. I also got to thinking where stopping creativity in schools started.

Then I ran across this cartoon today.

"Close to Home" by John McPherson

Why can’t scholarships be allowed for creativity like this? Why are scholarships only given to students who “fit the mold” of what is normal? Not only that, but scholarships are given to students who have a greater ability at what they are trying to do. The scholarships are given to students to improve on what they are already doing well, while students who struggle get no help at all.

Why do we crush creativity and the strive to work hard? What is going wrong in the world that this is being allowed.

We hear from President Obama as well as several other world leaders about how we need to be helping lower level students strive to achieve great goals. We do this, only for the students to be crushed by higher education. Where does this end?

We need to be giving scholarships to students who are NOT the best at what they do in hopes they will improve. We need to be encouraging students to be creative and show that what they do “out of the ordinary” really is great! We need to be pushing students to improve no matter what they think is important.

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