Archives for posts with tag: technology

## What is a computer?

A while ago I taught a group of 1st graders a class about computing. I wanted them to understand the concept of a computer in a simple and tangible way. So I came up with an activity where the kids would be able to build and test a simple computer anywhere: in the classroom, at home or at the playground.

Here is what I told them to do:

“Build a computer that can produce random numbers using anything you have at home.”

They go: “Really? We can use anything we like?”

And I go: “Yes. Anything you like. Except of course your mom’s or your dad’s computer. You can’t use a computer to build a computer. That would be cheating. You are also not allowed to generate the random numbers in your head. The computer must do that.”

And then they go: “What are random numbers?”

It took me a few cycles to recover from such a disarming question. I thought “Wow, the world around us is full of randomness (especially the computing world) yet how does one explain it to a six year-old?”

I said: “It’s numbers that are not in order. They are completely mixed up and you can’t guess which number comes next. Like when you throw a dice. Can you guess which number will come up when you throw a dice? No, right? That’s a random number.”

## Solutions as surprising as a random number

The kids surprised me with their creativity. Here are some of their cool “computer” designs:

Spin the wheel to get the next number. I love the added touch of fake buttons to make this look like a real computer!

Stir the pot to shake the numbers and open it to pick the next one. Computing in the kitchen!

Throw the dart-marker at the target and write down the number closest to the mark. I would have never thought of that one!

## Surprised yet again

What’s more surprising than the creativity of the children is the lack of creativity of the adults. Having already seen what the kids came up with, I posed the same question when I interviewed a series of college students for a software engineering position. They were about to graduate from one of the top computer science programs in the US.

“Design a computer for generating random numbers using anything found in this interview room.”

9 out of 10 of them gave me the same answer:

“I can do this by flipping a coin.”

And then I thought: “Should I tell them a 6 year-old can do better than that?”

Does you kid have a cool design? Post a picture to the DrTechniko Facebook Page. I will personally respond to you.

I hope we learned something useful today,

DrTechniko

Last week I finished an online digital painting class at schoolism.com taught by the legendary Bobby Chiu. To show you how effective the class was, I learned how to turn this:

Into this:

And then into this!

All from the comfort of my home and time schedule using only Photoshop and a digital tablet.

I’m not a professional illustrator (yet), but I feel like I learned some amazing skills from a world expert on the subject and I felt like a kid having fun. So, I wondered “Could kids benefit from online schooling?”

So I thought of some benefits and drawbacks of online schooling compared to traditional schools:

Benefits:

(The online schools I include above do not target children per se, but I don’t see why their models couldn’t be adapted for children.)

Drawbacks:

• Schools are not just about knowledge transfer, they ‘re also about making friends and getting exposed to the real world away from home.
• It’s hard to enforce the “rules” when the teacher is not physically around.

As far as “enforcing rules”, a “virtual teacher” technology can easily be applied to record scores and progress as if the teacher was around (with deadlines, online testing etc.). So the most serious drawback of online schooling is the lack of the ability to socialize. Even though there are options that mimic social interaction online a la Facebook (schoology.com), unless kids leave home and meet other kids in person, they will miss out on a big part of life lessons if we replace schools with online learning.

So how about turning schools into “social activity centers” to get kids to play and interact together while they get schooled online? For the first time in history, we could give kids the opportunity (especially in developing countries) to get quality education from anywhere anytime at the fraction of the cost of traditional schools.

What do you think?

Many times I’ve heard people ask first graders “what is your favorite class in school”. The child is forced to choose one subject: sports, math, language etc. That trend continues throughout school and students tend to become one-dimensional. Too much focus too early ends up hurting our problem solving skills, because we lose the opportunity to build extra thinking tools and models that can be composed together.

StoRy 4 illustrates that taking a step back, thinking outside the box and composing abilities can solve a problem even if it appears to be unsolvable. Not until the Number 4 and the Letter R realize they can combine their spelling and counting abilities can they figure out that R is the fourth letter in the word FOUR.

The story also introduces the array, a data structure that appears everywhere in science (especially in computer science). An array, is basically a list of items that can be identified by an index/position. In our story, the array is an array of characters (F-O-U-R), also known as a word.

Q: What is the 4th letter of the word LETTER? What’s the position of the letter B in the word NUMBER?
A: T. 4.

Q: What’s more useful: Counting or Spelling?
A: Both are equally useful.

Q: Why was the Number 4 smiling at the end?
A: Because at the end, FOUR had 4 boxes and R only 1 inside the crossword puzzle. Moreover, it was all because the Letter R jumped into the box thinking that this would make it win the argument against the Number 4. If the Letter R hadn’t jumped into the box, then the Number 4 would not appear in the crossword puzzle at all.

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko

The second part of Story 3 explores more aspects of the DNA molecule both when used as a message and when used to create new organisms. Also, we take a look into biological processes that are defined in terms of positive and negative feedback loops.Here are some questions you might want to discuss with your kids:

Q: What happens when we change a sequence in the DNA or we start messing with the DNA strand and we cut and paste pieces from other DNA strands into it?
A: We get an engineered DNA strand that may or may not exist in nature. The change can be as small as changing the color of your hair or as big as transforming you into a new type of organism altogether, like a mutant.

Q: What do you think is Daena’s best quality that makes her a great DNA detective?
A: First, she knows her biology. Second, she is inventive and tries to find solutions based on her knowledge. Third, her solutions are not complicated. They are simple and they work.

Q: How did Daena beat the Ugga Ugga virus at the end?
A: First she changed the DNA of the Ugga Ugga virus to create a stronger (and not evil) virus, the Gaga Gaga virus, and then used the Gaga Gaga virus to kill the Ugga Ugga virus by creating a negative-positive feedback loop.

Q: How does a negative feedback loop work? Can you show an example of a negative feedback loop at your home?
A: A negative feedback loop works by regulating the amount of something. The more of the “something” we have, the feedback loop will try to make this “something” less. The less of the “something” we have, the feedback loop will try to make this “something” more.
This is for example how we maintain temperature in a house using a thermostat. In this case the “something” is the “heat”. The more heat we have, the thermostat will tell the A/C to blow cool air into the house to bring down the heat.

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko

“We need to catch one of these viruses and …” but before Daena could form a plan, the big hungry monkey head with the twisted sharp teeth started approaching them.

“DannyBot, this Ugga Ugga seems to take an interest in us. We should head back and reevaluate. I’m not in the mood for drama.”

They turned around but another Ugga Ugga virus blocked the exit.

“Dannybot, without being too dramatic I think we are …”

The virus zoomed at them, mouth wide open.

“DOOMED!”

But the next instant the virus was caught by a lasso made of DNA coming out of … DannyBot’s body. The lasso wrapped the virus around the mouth and body tight as a squeezing tentacle. Once Daena realized they were safe she headed to the exit, DannyBot and their new prisoner behind her.

“If I were not under the shock of a near-death experience, I would be impressed. Dannybot, I didn’t know you could do that.”

“It’s quite a basic function I’ve been designed for. My lasso makes bonds at the molecular level with the object so the object is unlikely to escape,” said DannyBot as if he had lassoed a harmless-looking water molecule.

They dragged the Ugga Ugga prisoner to the closest White Cell headquarters, at the tonsils.

DannyBot constructed a message from DNA, asking for permission to see the Warden and gave it to the nearest guard. It felt like a lifetime until the gate opened. When they found the Warden he was floating around his office, eating random proteins. He looked quite well-fed in fact.

“What can I do you for, Miss Daena?” asked the Warden.

“First of all, it’s DNA Detective Daena. Second, you ‘ve been infected by a genetically engineered virus. As proof, I brought a sample right here into your office.”

“He don’t look so dangerous to me. Just a monkey face. We ‘ll take the prisoner from here. Off you go now.”

The guards escorted them out of the headquarters.

“I assume the mission has been completed. Shall I set course for the extraction point?” asked DannyBot.

“Nothing would cheer me up more, but I have a depressing feeling about this. Let’s just wait out here. How much time left?”

“There are three hours left to total infection.”

It felt like forever until finally the gates opened. At first, it looked like the Warden coming out of the gates. But as he moved out of the gate and into the light, he didn’t look as white as before. He looked dark and ugly and had twisted sharp teeth. Like an Ugga Ugga virus!

The two guards at the gates tried to swim away, but before they could escape, a hoard of hungry monkey faces stormed out of the gates and brought an end to them.

“Eat my children. Eat and multiply!” said the Warden as the monkey heads swarmed the area. Then his eyes fell on Daena. He started eating his way towards her in a steady pace.

“This doesn’t look good. DannyBot, let’s hide before more of these monsters realize we are here!”

“Don’t go Missy. Come and feed me,” said the Warden, and then gulped down a couple of his children.

They zoomed away from the tonsils and went into hiding behind the nose. “The Warden might be slow, but his children are multiplying. How much time left, DannyBot?”

“We have entered the last hour.”

Daena sighed. This was all very stressful. She wished she was back inside her vial even if it was not near a window, even if had to look at the same sticker all day:

-The recipe of life and death lies in the DNA-
The recipe lies in the DNA, she thought. Her mind drifted off to her first class at the detective academy and the principle-of-life rule they all had to memorize:

The DNA recipe is written with 4 letters.

What are they?

T, G, C and A.

And when DNA splits in two

Each half is called RNA

And every letter T is replaced by a U.

“That’s it!” Daena jumped with excitement. “I figured out how to kill the Ugga Ugga virus! The recipe of life and death lies in the DNA. Get it, DannyBot?”

Daena sighed. “Ugga Ugga’s DNA contains the recipe for making an Ugga Ugga virus. It’s like when you read a message written in DNA language using the T, G, C and A 4-letter alphabet. Only the message is also the recipe. Do you see?”

“I don’t see how this helps us defeat the Ugga Ugga virus,” said DannyBot.

“Well, here is the missing puzzle piece. DNA doesn’t make the Ugga Ugga directly. It has to first split into two RNA strands, and in the RNA alphabet T is replaced by a U.”

“I don’t see how this helps us defeat the Ugga Ugga virus,” repeated DannyBot.

“Don’t you get it? What’s the code name of the Ugga Ugga virus in RNA alphabet?” said Daena as if explaining the concept to a hydrogen atom.

“U-G-G-A-U-G-G-A,” said DannyBot.

“Can you search your data for the U-G-G-A-U-G-G-A sequence in the Ugga Ugga virus’s RNA?”

A few moments later DannyBot said “I searched. I found the pattern.”

“Great. I want you to synthesize the same RNA strand but replace the U-G-G-A-U-G-G-A pattern with the G-A-G-A-G-A-G-A pattern.”

DannyBot synthesized the mutated Ugga Ugga virus strand. One by one he glued together A’s and C’s and G’s and U’s until he had a full RNA strand.

“The sequence is ready. But I don’t see how this helps us defeat the Ugga Ugga virus,” said DannyBot.

Daena closed her eyes. She wished she had a hydrogen atom for a partner.

“Because if we get the Warden to eat this mutated Ugga Ugga strand, then he will use the wrong recipe to make children. His children will be Gaga Gaga viruses instead. Then the Gaga Gaga viruses can fight the Ugga Ugga viruses. I think it’s time to pay a visit to these depressing monkey faces.”

They zoomed back to the tonsils with the Gaga Gaga strand in hand. The Warden eyed them with a hungry look.

“Bring them to me, my children!”

Before Daena and DannyBot realized what was going on, they found themselves wrapped by DNA lassos from a bunch of Ugga Ugga viruses.

“My calculations tell me he means to eat us,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

“Miss Daena. Why so gloomy? You should be happy, because you’ll make a tasty snack,” said the Warden and opened his mouth.

“Wait, wait! You don’t want to eat me like that. I’m more tasty if you eat this first as an appetizer,” Daena waved the Gaga Gaga virus strand in his face.

“You ‘re a real lady,” said the Warden and he gulped down the Gaga Gaga strand. He burped and said “Missy, that was really yummy. Remind me to get the recipe after I eat you.”

He came closer to Daena, opened his mouth and was about to close it over her head, but instead he grew and grew and grew until he… burst and a bunch of Gaga Gaga viruses came out of his body.

Soon a war begun between the Ugga Ugga and the Gaga Gaga as they started eating each other. Whenever an Ugga Ugga ate a Gaga Gaga, it gave birth to Gaga Gagas.

But, whenever a Gaga Gaga ate an Ugga Ugga, it gave birth to Gaga Gagas. Soon the Ugga Ugga’s were wiped out.

“He should not have eaten the Gaga Gaga strand before checking it, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell him,” said DannyBot.

“DannyBot, you are learning. Yet you still have ways to go to before you understand the genius of my scheme that killed the Ugga Ugga virus.”

“There was nothing to understand. It was based on a pair of positive and negative feedback loops. It is quite a very elementary and primitive principle of life,” said DannyBot.

“You really depress me.”

-The recipe of life and death lies in the DNA-

Daena sulked as she looked at the message on the sticker of her vial.

“I’m depressed. I haven’t been assigned anything interesting since I graduated from the Detective Nanoengineering Academy and placed into this horrible tube in this horrible lab. I was voted the most beautiful nanoengineered virus in the Nature Journal. They could have at least placed us near a window to get some sun. Don’t you think, DannyBot?”

“I don’t see the importance of sunlight radiation,” said DannyBot.

“Are all nanobots as entertaining as you are?”

“Nanobots are robots made of DNA strands. We are not made to entertain. We are made to decode DNA, to synthesize DNA, to take apart DNA…” DannyBot went on and on about his functions.

“Booooriiiing. What’s the point of using DNA, if you can’t build something to have fun? Look at the humans in the lab. They are made from DNA like us, but they get to work on interesting things and laugh and go out. Why not us?”

“Because we are not humans,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

Daena decided to swim around. She was kicking a bunch of floating aminoacids, when a human moved towards the vial and squeezed a drop of liquid into it. A DNA strand appeared into view.

“Looks like we got a message. Another boring mission I bet,” said Daena.

DannyBot swam towards the floating DNA strand, hooked himself onto it and started reading it base by base like a tape: A, T, G, A… Then he decoded the message.

“Message Start. Detective Daena. The chairman has been infected with a genetically engineered Ugga Ugga virus. The chairman will turn into a monkey in the next 12 hours. If word gets out, the government will close the lab and destroy all genetically engineered viruses including you. Your mission is to locate and neutralize the virus. You and DannyBot will be injected into the chairman’s body. Extraction coordinates have been provided. Extraction will commence once the virus has been neutralized.”

DannyBot spit out the last base of the DNA strand. “Message Stop.”

“I really hope we take care of this virus. I don’t want to end up inside the body of a dumb monkey forever.”

The lights went out as the vial was put into a box. When Daena saw the light again it was at a great speed as she was injected into the body of the chairman.

“We are into the blood stream,” said DannyBot. “Cell analysis shows our location to be the chairman’s butt.”

“That is so humiliating,” said Daena.

“Actually, humility is considered a virtue in some human cultures,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

Daena tightened up. “Let’s go catch this Ugga Ugga virus and feed him to the white blood cells before he spreads. What is the most likely infection scenario?”

“Most likely scenario is airborne infection through the throat,” said DannyBot.

“I’m not looking forward to getting coughed at, but let’s head for the throat.”

They floated inside the bloodstream through the digestive track to the stomach and from there climbed all the way to the lungs and then the throat. When they arrived, the throat seemed normal.

“I do not detect any viral activity in the proximity,” said DannyBot.

“Great. We are back to nothing. DannyBot, how much time do we have left?”

“10 hours.”

“And how long will it take us to search the entire body?”

“21 hours. The math indicates we have less than 50% chance to find the Ugga Ugga virus in the next 10 hours,” said DannyBot.

“Simple math won’t get you anywhere, DannyBot. Set course for the brain’s thalamus, the pain processing center. If the chairman didn’t breathe in the virus then someone forced it into him. We can figure out where if we follow the pain. I should be working with humans. I should be named the greatest DNA detective in the world.”

Daena stretched proudly.

“Actually, you are the only DNA detective in the world, so by definition you are both the best and the worst detective,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

They jumped into the blood stream next to the spinal cord and followed all the way up to the brain. DannyBot mounted on top of a nerve center and waited for pain signals. After a few minutes, they heard one of the nerves scream “Ay!” “Ay!” “Ay!”

“The pain signal appears to be originating from the left eye,” said DannyBot.

“I’m not looking forward to meeting this Ugga Ugga virus, but let’s head for the left eyeball.”

And so they floated from the brain to the nose and from there to the eye. As they entered the eyeball they shook from their horror. Thousands of big fat viruses that looked like hungry monkey heads with twisted sharp teeth swam inside the eyeball. Some would attack and try to eat each other, but most of them attacked the chairman’s cells. Their jaws would grab onto a cell and eat their way into it. Once they disappeared into the cell, there would be a moment of silence. But only a moment. The cell would then grow and grow and grow like a balloon and then explode.

“Bang!” a cell exploded near Daena and out of it came a hoard of ugly twisted monkey heads. They swam towards a bunch of eyeball cells nearby. But one of them, a really big one, turned and looked at Daena…

To be continued…

I’ve been reading lately about new approaches to teach children science and technology through storytelling via the use of specialized software and portable devices. The most notable effort I’ve come across is Alan Kay’s Viewpoints Research Institute which is integrated with the One Laptop Per Child project. The idea is that through the use of media and the integration of activities in one interface, children can understand complex concepts in science.

Another tool I came across is called Processing. Even though this software is not really targeted for children, it serves the same purpose: teach complex concepts through an intuitive user interface. Maybe in the future it could be tweaked for teaching kids how to write software.

Given the highly sophisticated educational software out there and the web’s ability to find knowledge fast, it’s fair to ask why would a teacher-in-school setting be necessary in educating our children in the future? In fact there are examples, where teachers start being replaced by devices running educational software.

An approach by Microsoft research relies on a multi-point mouse interface and off-the-shelf PC equipment to allow children in developing countries to teach themselves without the need for a teacher.

A start-up company called Knewton uses adaptive algorithms to coach students on standardized tests (e.g., SAT) in a personalized fashion by “understanding” their skill level. In addition, online services like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, teach university-level classes through rich-media content from the comfort of one’s home.

At the same time, the current generation of portable devices (iPad, iPhone, Android tablets) expose simple to use interfaces. Simple enough for children to use on a daily basis. So children could carry them around, meet with their friends and play and learn together. Not only that, but there are already games available that provide alternatives to learning how to read or count.

So, it won’t be long before schools have children carry around portable devices through which they enhance their learning. In fact, some schools have already started doing this.

So the obvious question is: will school teachers be entirely replaced? After all, intelligent portable software and a great user interface provide a powerful interactive storytelling medium that can not only capture the attention of a child, but also convey very sophisticated concepts that a teacher and a blackboard cannot.

On the other hand, after reading “Work Hard, Be Nice”, I see how much power an effective teacher can have in a child’s life. The passion and persistence of the founders of the KIPP schools is hard to replicate using software running on a personal portable device. The teachers made each class a ritual and enforced a “no shortcuts” culture in their schools by confronting students in person. Even unmotivated students responded positively. An iPad can’t do that.

What do you as current or future parents, teachers and educators think on this matter? I’ve created the following poll to pick your brains.

I hope we learned something useful today,

Dr. Techniko

The story of the Dragon’s Treasure Makeover aims to teach both a problem-solving skill and a technical skill.

First, the problem-solving skill is “try to understand the nature of a problem before you attempt a solution”. Imagine your printer is not working and you say “It worked fine yesterday. What happened? It broke. I’ll call support,” when in reality someone by mistake pulled the printer’s plug.   In the story, all three wizards use the Spellopedia Magica, but only Thinkalot picks a useful spell out of the book. That’s because he asked questions in order to understand the true nature of the Dragon’s problem. Understanding the nature of a problem is most of the time harder than coming up with a solution. It’s a skill that takes time to acquire, but it’s invaluable. If your children are stuck on a problem you can teach them by saying:

“Understand the problem and you ‘re more than half way towards the solution.”

Second, the technical skill is “if you organize things based on an identifier then it’s faster to search through them”. In this information-loaded age, information management is a great skill to acquire, so this story will provide a good discussion framework for you and your children on this topic.

I’d be interested to hear your opinion or reactions of your children on these topics.

Here are some comprehension questions you might want to ask:

1. If you were a Dragon which wizard would you hire and why?
(Thinkalot because he would try to understand my problem before he cast a spell.)

2. If you were the Dragon how would you change your ad in the Magic Network to make more clear what your problem was?
(“looking for wizard to help with search of treasure. I would like to be able to find any item in my treasure in about one day. I don’t want to lose any of my treasure” etc. The goal is to write a more specific ad.)

3. Thinkalot’s solution splits the treasure based on the first letter of each item. That splits the treasure in 26 piles. What if half of the treasure items started with “A”? It would take the Dragon half a month instead of a day to search for an item starting with “A”. So Thinkalot would be in trouble! Can you help Thinkalot find a better solution before the Dragon finds out?
(One way to solve this is to split the “A” pile into 26 piles using the second letter and so on. There are even better solutions if you are creative with your sorting criteria. I’d be interested to hear what your children can think of!)

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko

There was a Dragon in a place far far away and over the thousands of years she had lived, she had gathered almost every known treasure. From gold coins to enchanted weapons, to magical stones and scrolls. The Dragon had it all.

Since she was such a big collector, other dragons often asked her to show them one-of-a-kind artifacts during dinner parties like the Diamond of the Druids or the Sword of the Seven Kings. The Dragon wanted to impress her friends, but her treasure was so vast that she had to search for months and months to find anything. Dragon dinner parties are known to last many days, but even the most patient dragon guests could not wait for a month.

The Dragon  tried to remember spells to help search her treasure faster, but all she knew were dangerous spells used in combat, not in someone’s own dragon lair.

At some point she had hired one thousand and twenty four goblins to do the searching for her. But they turned out to be very unreliable workers (plus they stole treasure). So she breathed fire on them and they ran away (they were not tasty enough to eat).

But the Dragon didn’t give up. She decided to post an advertisement on the Magic Network for a wizard. She wanted a wizard smart enough to figure out a way for her to search through her treasure faster.

The next day, a wizard walked into the Dragon’s lair.

“Mighty Dragon, I’m the Great Don Havakloo. I read your ad and I have a very simple solution to your problem. I will perform a My-Treasure-Where-I-Can-See-It Spell.”

“Spellbinding,” said the Dragon. “I’m curious to experience your spell, Don Havakloo.”

And so the Great Don Havakloo opened his copy of Spellopedia Magica, whirled his hands in the air and shouted:

“Treasure oh Treasure piled in far away piles
Move in front of the Great Dragon’s eyes!”

And all the treasure piled up next to the Dragon.

“Now your treasure is closer and you can save time searching for things,” said Don Havakloo.

“Don Havakloo, you really don’t have a clue. It takes me only thirty two steps to get to the treasure but a whole month to search through it. Do you think your spell deserves a reward?”

“Only a hundred gold coins, oh Mighty Dragon. I’m giving discounts today,” said Don Havakloo.

“I’ll give you a hotter reward,” said the Dragon and she blew a red hot flame and burned the wizard to a crisp.
The next day, another wizard walked into the Dragon’s lair.

“Mighty Dragon, I’m the Grand Gobblehalf. I read your ad and I have a very simple solution to your problem. I will perform a Split-My-Treasure-Like-Butter-And-Eat-It Spell.”

“It spells T-a-s-t-y,” said the Dragon. “I’m curious to experience your spell, Gobblehalf.”

And the Grand Gobblehalf opened his copy of Spellopedia Magica, struck his magic staff on the ground and shouted:

“Treasure Pile split in two. One half left and one half right.
And as for my share, I will only take the right.”

The treasure split in two mountains, one stayed near the Dragon, the other next to Gobblehalf.

“Mighty Dragon, now your treasure is half as it used to be, so it will take you half the time to look for things,” said Gobblehalf. “I will take your other half as payment, so no worries.”

“My dear Gobblehalf, since you want to gobble up half my treasure allow me to give you an extra reward,” said the Dragon and blew a red hot flame and burned the wizard to a crisp.
The Dragon was about to give up looking for a fix to her problem, when a young wizard walked into the Dragon’s lair.

The Dragon thought that wizard would be amusing to watch, but she was surprised when the young wizard said “Hi, my name is Thinkalot, what exactly is your problem Mighty Dragon?”

“It’s taking me a long time to find an item in my treasure.”

“Is it because your treasure is too far away?”

“No” said the Dragon. “I burned the last wizard who assumed that was my problem two days ago. It’s because I have too much of it.”

“And what if you gave up some of your treasure to make it smaller? Would that bother you?”

“Yes. I burned the last wizard who tried to take half of my treasure yesterday in fact.”

“And is your treasure organized, Mighty Dragon?”

“No, it’s all randomly piled up.”

The young wizard opened his copy of Spellopedia Magica and searched for the right spell. After a few minutes he said “I think what would help is to use a Sort-My-Treasure-By-Name spell.”

“Sounds like a spelling,” said the Dragon. “I’m curious to experience your spell, Thinkalot.”

So Thinkalot waived his wand and said:

“Amulets and Armors go to A
Bracelets and Broadswords go to B
Charms and Coins go to C”

…and so on and so forth and when he said…

“Zephyrs and Zircons go to Z”

then the treasure divided in 26 piles, one for each letter.

“Now, Mighty Dragon, when you look for the Sword of the Seven Kings all you need to do is look into the pile with the letter S. So, instead of one month, you can find any item in almost one day,” said the young wizard.

“Young Thinkalot, you clearly think a lot. You diagnosed my real problem,” said the Dragon. “You can take anything you like as payment.”

And the young wizard said, “I don’t need a payment, Mighty Dragon. Can I instead come and visit you every week?”

“Sure. Why, Young Thinkalot?” asked the Dragon.

And the yound wizard replied, “Because you have lived a thousand years and I want to learn from your wisdom. Gold is very valuable, but knowledge is invaluable.”

The story of the Three Little Pigs teaches us about hard work and strong foundations in preparation for the possible dangers in life. While hard work is essential to learning and success, we can do better. A lot of times we work hard, but we sometimes take too long to see results or don’t rip great enough benefits. One of the reasons this happens is because a lot of work goes to waste.

The prequel I wrote to the Three Little Pigs emphasizes the benefits of doing your research before attempting to solve a problem. All three pigs need a house so they have to allocate a budget for it. Bennie, the first pig, is afraid of running out of food. However he hasn’t validated his concern. So he spends a disproportionate amount of coppers for food and leaves only one copper for building the house. Vinny is simply not in touch with reality. He assumes all will be well and so spends most of the money for pleasure.

Johnny, on the other hand, does his research before making any decisions. He has ideas of what he’d like, but he is patient. Although he likes the keypad lock, he doesn’t buy it. Before he decides how to spend his coppers, he checks online about possible dangers that he should take into account. Once he collects all the information, he makes a more informed decision on what to do with the house. Making an informed decision, not only increases his success-to-effort ratio, but saves his life and the lives of his brothers as well.

I would expect 3rd graders to be able to read the story on their own. For younger children you will probably have to read the story to them. At any rate, here are a few comprehension questions you can ask at the end (feel free to mix them with your own ones):

1. What did Johnny do differently from his brothers that helped him build a brick house?
(he did his research)

2. Why is it important to collect as much information as we can before doing something?
(so we don’t go the wrong way or spend our time doing work that is not relevant)

3. If you run into a problem that you don’t know how to solve, what is the first thing you should do?
(research and information gathering related to the problem)

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko