We Stopped to Look at the Stars

Note: I have been asked to include the story of how the Los Quinchos orphanages got started in Nicaragua so here is a story I edited and adapted for my elementary students. Each year my students help to raise over $2000 for this program. - Brad WE STOPPED TO LOOK AT THE STARS

The story of how the Los Quinchos orphanages got started in Nicaragua as told in her own words by Zelinda Roccia, the founder. Translated into English from Italian. Edited and adapted for Elementary Students by Brad Flickinger. Original interview by Francesca Caminoli for “Una città”

I have seen los niños de la calle in Mexico and Guatemala, countries where the problem of street children had already existed for years. However, in Nicaragua, this had hardly existed at all. The Sandinista Government had taken charge of education, health care and of giving a minimum food rations, “la canasta basica”. Only a few children could be seen in the streets, almost all of which were war orphans.

But then governments changed and things started to get worse, especially for the children. The new government had ordered the campesinos to give the old land-owners back their land that had been confiscated and redistributed back to poor farmers. So now the large landowners who had fled to Miami were coming back and taking their land back. When the police couldn’t manage to send the farmers away, the landowners would arrive with their armed gangs and force them to leave. So the homeless farmers fled to Managua and formed the asentamientos , where people live in miserable shacks, built with a few pieces of sheet metal put together with black plastic sheets.

Families would go the city and find nothing. There were very few men (all compas or contras). They had died, or ran away, or disappeared into the frontier, the majority of women were left on their own. They would go around the streets all day long searching for a job, leaving the children alone in these shacks. But more and more children were starting to leave these shacks to live on the streets in hopes of finding more to eat.

So what struck me weren’t all the children I saw on the living on the streets, but three particular children. They were very small and were sleeping in a truck tire. They were really no different from the other children; I didn’t speak with them or interact with them in any way, so I don’t know why those three children unchained a huge feeling of rage. Such an enormous rage, that in that precise moment I decided to quit everything and to do something to help these kinds of children. And the same anger still lives in me today, because since then the situation has gotten dreadfully worse in Nicaragua, and every day the most unheard of things continue to happen.

I returned to my life and job in Italy and for three years I struggled to obtain an early retirement. In the end I made it happen and I returned to Nicaragua in 1991. All alone and with no support and not knowing how to get organized, I started working in the most miserable barrios, such as the Dimitrof, where not even the police dare enter, and in the asentamientos. People were coming from all over Nicaragua with nowhere else to go. I was seeing the most brutal sides of post-Sandinista government.

“What am I going to do?” I kept asking myself.

I wrote many letters, a few friends started supporting me, but of course they couldn’t do much. The large government organizations didn’t know me and they were too busy repairing roads, running hospitals and trying to keep the water and sewer lines working. When I spoke to them of children they looked at me as though I were a bit crazy.

In those early days I lived on a pension. “I could open a comedor” I thought, “what these children need most is food”. They were under-fed, some of them at five or six years old were barely able to walk because of malnourishment. What could I do? They needed help immediately.

Amid these confused feelings I searched for a small house and found it in Ciudad Jardin, behind the Mercato Oriental. It was there that for the first time I became acquainted with the horrible things that street children would do to escape the feeling of hunger and fear. It was two children who made me discover it, Harling and Hormiga. They were six or seven years old, very small and thin.

This is what happened…

By my patio, on the side of the road, was a guayaba tree, a plant which gives fruits that are delicious when they are ripe. I saw them pick up the fallen fruits that had already spoiled. I moved close to them and asked why they were eating them. They told me they were hungry. So, I invited them inside and gave them some bread and butter. They told me they were le pega and lived in the Mercato Oriental, in the Chiesa del Calvario.

This is how the story of Los Quinchos began, with two kids that never were part of the project.

You see, the next day I went looking for them, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. So I started to work with any of the street children. At first it was terrible, they refused any contact with adults; they had ran away from violence in their families and found just as much violence from adults on the streets. They accepted me little by little, seeing how I would stay with them and most of all because of certain specific acts, such as having stood up for them when the police had tried to chase them away from an area with sticks. I never did find the original two boys that I met by my patio. I began speaking with the saleswomen in the market to get them to give them some food, but it began to be clear to me at this point, to really do something I needed a house.

So I met father Jesùs Arguete, the basque priest of the church of santo Domingo, who lent me a house belonging to the church. It was a wreck, with no running water or electricity, and I could only use it during the daytime to feed the children. Hundreds of them arrived but I could only feed thirty or forty of them; when that many had arrived, I had to close the door.

We would stay on the second floor of the house, which had huge windows with no glass. One day a pandilla arrived and started throwing stones at us. All the little ones were frightened and threw themselves into the middle of the room. Peeking from the window I guessed who the leader was: Piri, with his sidekick, Pichete, who wore a blond mohawk just like a Berlin punk. I went downstairs, walked outside and went up to Piri.

“You’re the leader”, I said to him. He swelled with pride.

“Why are you throwing stones at us?” I asked.

“Because we’re hungry!” was his reply.

“But I’ve got nothing left, come and see.”

Piri snapped his fingers and all the others stopped throwing stones; he and Pichete came upstairs and I showed them the empty rice pot.

“There’s food here.” he said pointing to the empty pot.

“What?” That’s how I learned the famous sentence “Aquì està la raspa”. “La raspa” is the crust on the bottom of the pot, a kind of mush. Piri scraped off the entire bottom.

“I’m taking it away”

“Are you going to share it with Pichete?”

“No, I’m going to share it with all the others. I’ll come back every day to take la raspa”

“All right, shake my hand, a jefe’s word says you won’t attack us anymore”

He would come back every day, silently, and go away just like a great chief.

We had shelter here, we could go on somehow, but it was becoming more and more urgent to find our own house.

At a certain point, the community of father Arguete’s church asked him to send us away, they said the kids had stolen the gas caps off the cars while they were at mass. There was a meeting and we were told that we had to go.

I was running out of option when I met an almost eighty-year-old Italian man who owned a pizzeria, he lend us a piece of land where we built a small house. Really tiny, but at least we could stay there to sleep too. I began to realize that the only way to get the children away from la pega and from the streets was to get them away from the city of Managua, to let them live freely, in a real home, without neighbors complaining every day.

During the Christmas holidays I went back to Italy and I went to Padre Balducci’s Community in Fiesole. We had already had contact by letters. Together with a group that had formed in the meantime in Cagliari, they were the first to give me some substantial money. When I got back, I bought half the Finca San Marcos. On February the 7th, 1993, on a radiant night, with all the kids crammed on a little jeep, we arrived at La Finca. I remember that before arriving, we stopped to look at the stars. We had five blankets the Red Cross had given us, our pots and that’s it.

And we’re still here.




How to make a student iPad podcasting studio.

#edtech #ipaded #mlearning

This past summer I converted our conventional podcasting studio with PCs over to iPads in hopes of improving the workflow. To be honest, I amazed at how easy podcasting is now for my elementary students. Here are the basics:

iPad number 1: Sound Effects. The host of each episode has this iPad his/her desk in the studio, this iPad used the Soundboard app from Ambrosia for all of the different sound effects that we use to make a show; laughter, applause, ohh-ahhh, etc. Before converting to iPads, the sound effect were handled by a different students, which often led to some mis-timed sound effects, now that the host Han control his/her own sound effects, the show is much better.

iPad number 2: Music. Before each show we play about 10 minutes of music while students come into their classrooms, this allows teachers to adjust the volume of the show. We mostly play Kidz Bop songs from the Music app since the lyrics have been scrubbed clean for our young audience.

iPad number 3: AudioBoo. We connect our sound mixer's USB cable into the bottom of this iPad through the Camera Connection Kit. Each show is recorded into the AudioBoo app and then we add album art and upload to our AudioBoo account which is then picked up by iTunes within an hour. AudioBoo also sends out a Tweet using our school's Twitter account.

That's it. What used to take us about 13 steps to get each episode from our studio to iTunes, now happens in three. Here is a link to our show on iTunes. http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/bethke-elementarys-boos/id556878539

- Brad Flickinger, Tech Teacher, Bethke Elementary


Edtech Badges for Elementary Students Part 1

#edtech #edchat

For the past year there has been rumblings in the edtech world about the "Gamification of Education." When I first heard this term I panicked thinking that people wanted to turn my classroom into a video game, I soon found out that this was not the case. Which was a good thing, because I am not a video game player. My research into gamification took me in many different directions, but what really intrigued me was the use of badges to show students competencies. Badges are the reward system used by many video games to show the progress of players to complete certain tasks.

As part of my research I even started to play a few video games, the first one I tried was Cut the Rope. I was impressed with how the game taught me as I progressed through the it -- just in time learning. I couldn't help but think back on how we sometimes get this wrong in education; we force Spanish language students to learn years of conjugating verbs and still they still can't speak the language. Music lessons are similar -- we get students bogged down in music theory instead of just teaching them how to "rock!" So many student give up before they get good. If we reverse that and teach them just what they need to know to get to the next level the conjugated verbs will still happen, but later.

So I liked the idea of badges, but groups like the Open Badges Project focus on digital badges and here I was teaching young elementary students, they don't even have social media pages, so how were they going to show off their badges? The showing off of your badges is important to the success of gamification. So I started to look for physical, real-world, badges for my students. I looked at lanyards and tokens (like at summer camp) and "Live-Strong" type bracelets. But it wasn't until I stumbled across little one-inch buttons that it hit me.

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You see, every elementary student has a backpack, the perfect place to put badges, or buttons as I discovered, so that they can show the world that they have earned something for their tech skills. Another unseen bonus that I discovered from the badges going on backpacks was that the student's backpacks hang at the back of the classroom, which now act as a reminder to their teachers that they have tech skills. If a teacher needed a student to take photos during an upcoming field trip to the museum, she just needs to scan the backpacks and find a student who has earned their Digital Photography badge.

Here is the button maker I use: http://stores.americanbuttonmachines.com/Detail.bok?no=43 So last year I did a small test with a group of 20 students to see how it would work, next time I will tell you how that worked out.

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Students Filming with iPad

#edtech #edchat #ipadded #mlearningStudents Filming with iPad 26

Here are some shots of my elementary students filming with the new iPad.


Here is a link to the finished movie.


- Brad Flickinger, Tech Teacher, Bethke Elementary School

Young Students Can't (you fill in the blank)

#edtech #edchat 

I get at least one of these excuses when I am working with schools while trying to get more tech projects incorporated into the academic planning...

Young students can’t blog.

Young students can’t podcast.

Young students can’t make movies.

etc. etc. etc.

The truth is they can.

But does this mean that we throw the idea of doing age-appropriate lessons out the window? No, of course not. We do not ask a second grader to blog the same way that we would ask a high school senior, but they both can blog.

When I first started to do movie making with my elementary students, many of my colleagues thought I was crazy. And perhaps I was, but I at least wanted to give it a try. So I started with the idea of how could I make movie making age-appropriate for my young students? And how could I do it with just a few pieces of inexpensive equipment?

I only had a Flip video camera for my first elementary student-made movie.  So I knew right then that I would be restricted with the type of filming they could do. The Flip had no zoom lens or external microphone jack, so they would have to just move the camera a lot to get the shots that we wanted, especially knowing that the built-in mic was only good for a few feet. We also had a simple light kit that was made with reflectors that we got from our local home improvement store. That was it for equipment.

The next thing I did was to sit down with the students to get the outline for the movie. The students had been studying dramatic writing so they knew all about how to tell a good story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Since we knew the limitation of our equipment we decided on a few rules:

1) It had to be shot in the school. We had no money to go somewhere else to shoot.

2) Any dialogue would have to be done using a close-up shot so that our audio would be good.

3) All the shots would have to be simple, static shots. We would avoid panning or tilting the camera.

Soon we had our movie outline and script, so we were now able to start shooting. We broke the script down into a shot list and from there we started to shoot. One of the funny things that we didn’t see coming was that the actors had to remember to where the same clothes every Wednesday so that the shots would match.

We shot Wednesdays after school for about 5 weeks. In the end we had over an hour of footage for our seven minute movie. Editing took a little work; as it turns out, young students want to keep everything -- they don’t want to edit anything out. The solution was to allow them to make a blooper reel. This allowed them to put the very best parts in the movie and then all the mess-ups and mistakes were for the blooper reel. The students were only allowed to use simple transitions and a few effects, so after another two weeks of editing we were done.

Both the students and myself were amazed at how well the movie turned out.

Dude! Where’s my pencil? http://www.youtube.com/user/bethkeelementary#p/u/0/9TEBqs7kX2k


10 Steps to Successful Student News Podcasting

#edtech #edchat

I had a little extra time over the Thanksgiving break to finish my new video how-to guide called 10 Steps to Success Student News Podcasting.

In this Video How-To guide I give you all the secrets that I use to get my elementary students to do the best student-news podcast on the web, and how our news podcast makes our school over $1000 a year.

Step 1: Developing a Show Format, Step 2: How to Set-Up your Studio, Step 3: Writing your Script, Step 4: Setting Up your Show in iTunes, Step 5: Putting Together a Great News Team, Step 6: How to Train your Team, Step 7: What to do Before the Show, Step 8: Doing the show, Step 9: What do do After the Show, Step 10: Extras.

Here is the intro video so you can see what it is all about. I have it for sale in my store (above) for $35.

- Brad Flickinger, Tech Teacher, Bethke Elementary


My Elementary Student Screenplays are Now Available

#edtech #elemchat #edchat

For the past two years teachers have been asking for my screenplays for the movies that I make with my elementary students, so I have now made them as PDFs and are now available online in my new section I have added to my website just called the store (see above on the menu bar).


Brad Flickinger, Tech Teacher, Bethke Elementary



My Students Need Your Help

#edtech #edchat

As many of you know, my elementary students do a daily podcast that is featured on iTunes. They have worked hard and they could really use some ratings in iTunes. So if you have a few minutes, search for KBOB in iTunes and check out one or two shows and give them a rating and leave a comment -- it will mean the world to them.


- Brad Flickinger, tech teacher, Bethke Elementary School

Learning.com Review: EasyTech

#edtech #edchat #elearning

For years I have been all alone in teaching my elementary students about the world of technology, I've made all my own lessons from scratch as I tried my best to give my students the tech skills that they so desperately need in this new world of the 21st Century.

That was all perfect until I came across Learning.com this summer at the ISTE conference in Philadelphia. I just wandered into their booth drawn by the free candies that they prominently displayed at the back of the booth. "Candy," I thought in my head, saying it like I was Homer Simpson. I was just inches away from my reward when I was approached by a rep from Learning.com who asked me if I would like a demonstration of their products.


I was beat and needed to sit down so I agreed.

The first product they showed me was their web based tech training for elementary students called EasyTech.

"This should be good," I sarcastically thought to myself believing that I had the best tech lessons on the planet..

I watched as they demonstrated how easy it was for students to log on and then follow along with an animated lesson about certain tech subject.

Learning.com blew me away with EasyTech.

Animated Lessons

Learning.com EasyTech

The lesson I watched was done with a cool animated character named Lukas Blackwell, a young rocker who is on a european tour and wants to stay connected to his friends and fans so he starts his own blog. I was pleasantly shocked at how much detail this little lesson covered, they really went into all of the deeper aspects of blogging, not forgetting to cover Internet safety all along the way.

The animation and narration of EasyTech is top notch and it is not just a "sit and watch" lesson, on every other slide the student needs to interact with the lesson to make sure that they are understanding the content that is being presented. Learning.com has got strong academics backing these lessons -- something that caught my eye from the first of the demo.

Here is a link to the same lesson on blogging that I saw at their booth in Philadelphia.


Just click on the Curriculum link and then Grades 6-8 Sample.

Offline Work

The other half of the EasyTech program are the lesson plans for teachers to use once the online lesson is over. This is usually a PDF that has it all spelled out for the teacher. Here is a quote from the blogging assignment:

In this activity, students create and respond to blogs as they read and write about literature. To begin, the class is divided into two teams. Each team brainstorms prompts about the current reading and theme for the other team. The teams then break into pairs to respond to the prompts in their blogs. Students post blog entries in first person as one of the main characters, and respond to other students blogs in their own voices. In a culminating project, students watch a modern-day movie version of the literary work and blog a final movie review essay that compares and contrasts the movie to the original work and provides a movie review.

Learning.com's EasyTech is a fee-based subscription service that is for the K-8 market. They also offer other products like: Aha!Science and Aha!Math, which I will review at a later date.

Here are some photos of my students using Learning.com's EasyTech on their netbooks:

EasyTech lessons are aligned with the ISTE NETS-S standards (something that I strongly believe in), and that they are available in both Spanish and English.

What really ticks me off about this particular EasyTech lesson on blogging is that I worked for years to develop and refine my own blogging lesson and in the end I didn't cover half of what was covered by Learning.com And what really hurts is how my kids think that the rocker character "Lukas Blackwell" is so much cooler than me.

I should have never fell for the candy!

- Brad Flickinger, Bethke Elementary School

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Atomic Learning Review: Creatives Commons Workshop

#edchat #elearning

I have started to post a lot of photos on my Flickr account. In fact, I just had to upgrade to a pro account because I just passed the limit for a free account. Most of my photos have to with elementary students using technology, which has got me thinking about the world of "creative commons," which is a licensing tag that your photos have in Flickr.So the first thing that popped into my head was, "What the heck is creative commons?"

The next thing that popped in my head was, "I wonder if Atomic Learning has something on it?"

Within a few minutes I was watching the videos in the Creative Commons Workshop. It answered all my questions and I was soon back in Flickr applying the correct creative commons tag to all of my photos. Nice!

Brad Flickinger's Flickr Photostream

Atomic Learning

- Brad Flickinger, Bethke Elementary School

Report: Day 2 at TIE Colorado

#edtech #edchat #tie2011 #tie11 What a wonderful day 2, I'm exhaused and my brain is spinning, but I have learned a lot and I have met some incredible people.

First off, the keynote was given by Roger Pryor who is the School Education Director with the New South Wales Department of Education in Australia. He did a great job, plus he plays the guitar and sings songs during his keynote -- how do you beat that? My big take-away from his keynote that we really need to rethink the question of "What are schools for?" I also like his comment about how we should be data informed and not data driven.

I gave my first presentation on Elementary Filmmaking and it was a great to meet such awesome teachers who really wanted to know all the tips and tricks that I use to get my elementary students to make movies. As part of my presentation I made an impromptu movie with the teachers. A risky undertaking since I never know how this is going to turn out. All I can say is WOW! These teachers really pulled off a great movie that we filmed and edited with my iPad 2 in under 15 minutes.

Check out their video below...

How to Ditch a Bad Presenter

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New Podcast Episode: Day 1 from TIE Colorado

#edtech #edchat #elemchat I just uploaded a new episode of Elementary Tech Teacher's Journal.

Episode Number 27 for the week of June 20, 2011

"Day 1 from TIE Colorado"

This is my first episode live from TIE Colorado. I am getting ready to do my two presentations; Movie Making with Elementary Students and Podcasting with Elementary Students.


This week's episode is sponsored by Atomic Learning.

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Off to TIE Colorado

#edtech #edchat #elearning Tomorrow I am off to speak at TIE Colorado at Copper Mountain. This year will be a little different in that I will be leaving my laptop at home, everything that I will be presenting will be coming off of my iPad 2.

I will be presenting two workshops; Movie Making with Elementary Students and Podcasting with Elementary Students. So there I will be making movies and podcasts with my iPad if you can believe it. When the iPad came out last year I thought it would be a great consuming tool, but now I use it for almost everything I do. In fact, this blog post is being typed into my iPad (although I am not really typing, I am dictating instead).

So with the movie making workshop, I will show teachers the tricks I use to get students to make awesome movies and with the podcasting class I will show my secrets on how I have made over 280 podcasts with my elementary students.

If you are at TIE Colorado, please come and find me and say "Hi."

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The Frustrations with Elementary Tech Projects

#edtech #edchat #elearning #elem There are days that I think that I am insane to teach technology to elementary students. There seems to be one constant that I fight with all the time, which is; The first time you try any new tech project -- it will fail.

Case in point: my fourth grade students are trying to do podcasts on the U.S. Constitution. Which you think would be easy in my school considering we have done over 225 podcast episodes of our morning news show.

No such luck.

My students have hit quite a few roadblocks in the process, and I found myself running around in circles trying to troubleshoot their issues. So I had to back things up and get back to the basics of podcasting. When I reviewed the problems, it turned out that most were centered on their lack of experience in using the free program Audacity. Although their recordings were good (we have a really nice podcasting studio) it turned out that their editing skills were getting them into trouble.

To solve this I sent them back into our Atomic Learning account to learn the basics of Audacity, I found 6 video tutorials that I assigned my students and low and behold it worked. They were soon editing their podcasts like nobody's business.

My point is that edtech is a new frontier, each project we do with our kids is like a step into the unkown. We never really know what they will pick up quickly and what will cause them to hit the wall -- but we need to keep trying. Sometimes we need to reset our lesson and try a new way. But don't give up or throw in the towel, because the payoff is huge when it does work and there is too much at risk for our student's future for us not to try.

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Revamping the Student Studio

#edtech #edchat #elemchat Although I have been doing a weekly news show with my elementary students for the past two years, I am not happy with how it looks. Getting 8, 9 and 10 year-olds to do a news show is tough enough, but a high quality news show is next to impossible. But I like to give my students impossible tasks and see what they can do -- most times they blow me away.

So I stewed about the news show all during my winter break. I wrote and rewrote the outline for the show about 10 times before I came up with a format I liked and what I thought my students would be capable of doing. So today on my first day back (and without students) I started to rearrange the studio to reflect the new outline. Granted, my studio is really small so there is not a lot to work with, but I went forward anyhow.

I hope to have a new show using the new format some time next week.

I am very interested to see what other schools are doing for morning news... just comment below to tell me what you are doing.