Friday, August 23, 2013

Tech class: It is not about the tech

At my school this is the first year we are using iPads in k-5th grade. As part of this process we have been training the teacher in using iPads in class and we are taking a more integrated approach to tech in the classes.  As the tech integration specialist, I am planning with the teachers and shaping the tech curriculum to support the learning and the projects they are working on.
This is the first week of school and my first meeting  with 2nd grade.  I was excited about going into their class and talking about technology in their lives.  I wanted a "getting to know you" conversation before we were putting iPads in front of the students. When I met with the teachers yesterday we planned this:
1. A group conversation about technology.
-Students sit on the floor and I ask them questions about technology to get them thinking about how they define and use technology.
2. Students write questions and interview me
-Students return to their small table groups and write questions they will ask me about my life or technology.
3. The Favorite game
-This is a game I adapted from an edcamp session.  In this game I say a topic like "Reading" and students who feel that reading is one of their favorite things to do go to one side of the room and students who feel that reading is not their favorite go to the other.  Possible topics: video games, reading, sports, being outside, watching TV. . .

I was happy with this plan.  I was not going to spend more than 10 minutes on any of these topics and the 2nd grade teachers felt the level of challenge was good and they liked the idea of the game.

And then I got brave.  It started this morning when I remembered advice my friend Michelle, who teaches 3rd grade, had given me: Lead with the puppets.  And I did.  I brought Wokka and iPuppet Sammy in to the class and as we talked about technology I talked about how we can use technology to learn things.  Several of the 2nd graders had already learned things from Kahn academy videos.  I shared my own learning process for puppet making, and brought out the puppets.

After a bit of conversation, we turned to writing questions for the students to ask Wokka and iPuppet Sammy.

Once they wrote the questions we all returned to the "puddle" to interview Wokka and iPuppet Sammy. The conversation was amazing and the students were really engaged.  They wanted to know if the puppets were boys or girls, how old they were, when their birthday was, where they live, what time they had to go to bed.  After a great conversation the puppets took a nap and the kids played the favorite game.

Overall we talked about tech in many different ways and I learned how many of the kids play video games, how many like to read, how many have used Siri, and how many are funny.

I am thankful I was brave enough to bring the puppets in and see what happened.  The funny thing was when my boss walked through during the lesson and was amazed, apparently in our conversations I had never mentioned the puppets. :)  I was also grateful the teachers were ok with the surprise puppets, our plan was that they were going to interview me and not the puppets, but this worked out great.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Tech Discovery Project: The Stylus

I am a strong advocate for letting your pedagogical needs drive tech integration.  I think you should spend time on tech tools that clearly support learning.  Occasionally I decide to explore a tool I don't understand just to see if there is something there that supports my class goals.  My most recent discovery project was with the stylus for my mobile tablet.
When I first started using my tablet (it was an iPad 2) I did not give a stylus a thought.  I have many fingers on each hand, why would I need or use a stylus?  The iOS use of multi-finger gestures supported my anti-stylus predisposition.
Chopstakes, Jot, and Telescoping
I went through a similar phase with my smart board, and after several years of use I discovered I could use a turkey feather instead of their pen and my user experience changed.  Here is a prior post I wrote about that.
When I decided to explore using a stylus, I cast a wide net and ended up with 3 different approaches to a stylus: A set of chopstakes and a telescoping stylus from Ipevo and the Jot classic from Adnoit.  I challenged myself to use each of these as much as I could in my own work with my tablet as well as in teaching contexts and here is a brief summary of what I learned.
The High Performance Vehicle:  The Jot Stylus is amazing.  The Jot is unique because instead of a rounded rubber tip it has a pointed tip set into a plastic disc.  This allows my to be very precise on the tablet because the tip is fine and I can see through it.  When I am using a drawing program, like Paper 53, or Brushes, I use this stylus for the pen and pencil tips.  The experience is great because it work like I expect it to.  Using my fingers to write on my tablet is not satisfying in part because I don't use my fingers to write at any other time.  The jot makes it easy to have a familiar writing experience with my tablet.  I did not like the fine tip as much for "push button" style tasks, but for writing and art it is amazing.
The Surprise: The telescoping stylus is my new favorite teaching tool.  This week, once I starting helping students working on iPads, it became surprisingly useful.  The fully extended 15 inch reach makes it easy to assist with an iPad over someone's shoulder.  I can push the buttons or just point to them.   The collapsed mode on this stylus is great for individual use.  I enjoy the cushioned tip for push button functions.  It also works well for broad-tip brushes in drawing programs, such as watercolor or markers.
The Mystery: I still have not come up with a good use case for the chopstakes, although they still intrigue me.  At 9 inches long they are not quite long enough to work over someone's shoulder, and they are a bit too long to use solo.  If you think of something I should try with them let me know!

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Are What You Share

The idea that identity is socially constructed is not new, but changing my job context has allowed me to see this in action.  My tech lab bulletin boards are still mostly bare, but one carries this slogan "You Are What You Share."  This is not my phrasing, in fact I had trouble tracking down when it first appeared. (if it is yours let me know and I will give you credit and a link right here.)
I was thinking of my PLN life and how I have made choices about what and how I share in order to construct my "Digital Self."  These choices would construct my identity whether or not I approached them thoughtfully.  As I work with students I will try to point them in the direction of awareness and making mindful choices.
In many of our meetings this week we have been talking about integrating digital citizenship into our character education program.  In fact just calling it digital citizenship is misleading.  It is citizenship and the lessons apply in many different contexts.
I am blessed to work in a private school that subscribed to a values-based approach to character development.  This year as we work to integrate technology into learning we are also integrating digital citizenship into the character ed program.
There are many acronyms in education, and THINK is my current favorite.  It is often invoked in a digital citizenship context, but I am hard pressed to imagine how you could go wrong if you let it guide all of your actyions.  Before you act, THINK.. Is it True? is it Helpful? is it Inspiring? is it Necessary? is it Kind?  I love this and I need to write a post about building your PLN that is titled "if you want followers on twitter, THINK."
When we were talking about this program for the students I suggested a think workshop for parents, seriously so they know what we are doing. Also, I believe in spreading good ideas.  As I have been meeting new people and settling in to the new job I have been trying to THINK as much as possible.  So far so good, we are finishing week one as a staff in training and I have so many new people I am working with.  My calendar is filling like a flower bed in spring.  I will share more as I learn more.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Technology for your Club or Team

I am getting ready for coaching First Lego League for the first time, and I am a bit nervous.  I know that I have a great deal to learn about the program and every time I go into it I discover something new and exciting, today I learned that most teams have some kind of uniform!
I am not yet overwhelmed because I know that as the coach my main job is to make sure everyone on the team learns, stays engaged, and has fun.  These are some of the things I do best ;).
Clubs and teams are a great place to leverage technology to improve communication, as we usually have less face to face time with clubs than classes and students may be more engaged and motivated with the learning goals of clubs.  I want to share with you a couple of my favorite tools to support clubs and teams.

Livebinders I love using livebinders to put all of the links I need for the club in the same place.  I can also upload forms needed for the club or team directly to the binder.  The binder I have linked here is just getting started.  By the end of the season is will be full of directions to competitions, links to news stories about the team, links to the kids project pages and a link to the team blog.  Most of these things only exist in my mind right now, but the address for the livebinder won't change, I can just keep adding things to it.

Remind Even though I am sure all of my Lego team parents will have my cell phone number, I like to use Remind to send out team updates.  I have used this before for cross country as well as English classes.  Remind is a messaging service that allows your team to subscribe to a list.  From the coaches end I text out a reminder or an update or even a link to a web page and it arrives as a text on my team members' (or their parents') phone.  This is REALLY handy when we are on the way to a location and we find out the address was wrong.  If there is one thing I have learned it is that more communication is better than not enough.

Video As you prepare to be a coach, think about the power of video to extend and support your instructional time.  My best experiences with "flipped" tools have been with a club.  Here is a video I made for our puppet club.
The club setting is a good match for "watch this at home and do it" because the students have a high level of motivation and a low penalty for not getting it right.
Also consider shooting video of your team in action to review and share.  There are apps like Coaches Eye that are designed to shoot video from your tablet and allow you to annotate and share the video.  I found this really helpful when I was trying to convince my cross country team that they were not standing up straight when they ran.

I am sure I will be using more tools as I go, but here at the beginning of the season, these are the first tools I am setting up.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Building a Puppet Greenscreen Stage

A little inspiration can go a long way.
When I was traveling to ISTE I saw a short video by Kevin Honeycutt:

While I don't need to build a classroom out of PVC this video planted a seed.  I have thought about it several times and last week when I was on the USS Hornet for the Cue Rockstar camp the idea finally came together.  A greenscreen puppet theater made out of PVC.  My goal is to use PVC to construct the frame and drape green fabric over it.

A sketch:

The materials: 3/4" PVC pipe and joints
4 yards of bright green felt or fleece, needs some fuzziness to avoid reflecting light

The build: I assembled the back frame first, and then the front

I added these for stability
This is the assembled frame

The completed frame:

The chair is there for scale
Covering the frame with Green Felt

Right now the felt is just pinned in place

This is the assembled frame ready for screentest

   This turned out great!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Starting from/with Scratch

Scratch Design Interface from wikicommons

Chances are you have heard of Scratch.  If you haven't, it is a program that allows users to create animations using visual or object driven programming.  Here is an example of a scratch animation to the song "Radioactive," lots of minecraft references here.
I know I want to use this platform with my students and I know that many of the teachers I follow on twitter have used it, but that is the extent of my knowledge.  So now I need to find resources for learning and supporting my students in learning Scratch.  I asked my twitter PLN.  Within 12 minutes I had an awesome collection of resources.
Now comes the real work, digging in and playing hard.  I will post my progress as I go.  Please add your resources in the comments and I will add them to the storify.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Podcasting the Edupuppets

I was honored to be a guest on Jeff Bradbury's TeacherCast podcast.  Jeff hosted a great conversation between @WokkaPatue, myself and some of the rest of the Edupuppets gang.
Read more about the show or listen to the audio-only version (but the puppets are pretty visual) by going to the page here.  It was great to share this time with Jeff and to get a chance to talk about the puppets I have made and the difference they have made in my classroom and beyond.

Wokka is a regular on the Techeducator podcast.  You can catch the show live on on Sundays at 7EDT/4PDT.  

There is talk of Wokka getting his own show soon, if you would tune in, leave a comment and let us know. Thanks for stopping in at mypaperlessclassroom.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Building Community Through Blogging

I was honored to be invited to be invited to help out with the JET conference at the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco.  My first session will be on the power of interactive writing to support learning and build community.  Be sure to check out their Blog, a community site of interaction.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

First Impressions

Starting a new job is tough and one of the reasons is that you are the only one the job is new to.  As I was prepping to head into work for the first time yesterday I was thinking about how I want to be know at my school.  How do I want people to see me and what ideas do I want them to associate with me?

1. Look like you want to be known
I dressed up in my full "teaching outfit."  I don't know about you, but I have a teacher uniform (shirt that is almost fully ironed, bowtie, slacks and a great pair of shoes #shoesinedu).  I even grabbed one of my sport coats to really look put together.  This is a jedi mind trick, the professional attire and the bowtie make people think "This is the geek I have been looking for." 
2. The first conversation is key
I had a bunch of first conversations yesterday and they followed a pattern.  After intros and greetings there would be a question like "How is tech class going to work this year?" or "Why did you decide to do tech instead of English?" or "Why elementary?" or "Did you leave your high school by choice?." This was an invitation into explaining myself and my choices.  In each of these conversations I shared my story and experience.  I focused on the big ideas that excite me.  I also made sure to provide a snapshot of how I want to be known and what I see my job as.  I used the phrase collaborative partner and talked more about pedagogy than technology.  Each of these conversations felt like a mini-interview and it was.  Most of them ended with the other person asking me for help or talking about their class plans, so I think they went well.  My greatest win was when a teacher asked me if I could help her print labels and I was able to.  I really want to be known as a helpful and accessible person and this first success was a great start.
3. Own your space and make it communicate your mission
When I walked into the lab with my boss he said "This is your space, although other people will use it."  I looked around and it was very grey.  the walls are off white, the bulletin boards are grey, cabinets grey, and there are white boards at the front.  I immediately thought "This does not look like a creative learning space, this looks like a training center.  I want the tech class to be a place where we learn, create, reflect and share. My challenge is to make the room communicate this.  Step one is cover those bulletin boards.  At first I thought there were only 2 boards in the room, one on each side of the white boards in front.
I covered these with yellow paper and put up some great monster boarders. (thanks Mom!)

 Then I looked around the room and noticed the upper cabinet doors were actually bulletin board material also, so I set about covering them.  As I was doing this I realized the space under the cabinets was also made of bulletin board material.  My room is practically lined with board space.  I needed more paper.  I raided the supply room and found red and green paper to complement the yellow, I was hoping for blue to go all "Google" on it, but no luck.
cabinet faces and under cabinet boards

As I was working a number of teachers stopped by to chat with me and introduce themselves.  Each of them looked at the paper I was putting up and said "I never
knew these were bulletin boards."  This was exciting for me because I could tell that I was transforming this space.  This transformation will help support me as I do things differently than the last person who worked in this lab.  The change is visible and exciting.  My next step is to figure out how to use the die cutting press and make slogans to post on the boards.  I want to use "before you post T.H.I.N.K." I also will use "you are what you share."  If you have any great ideas about inspirational quotes or phrases that will fit on a narrow cabinet door please include them in the comments.

Screencasting for Differentiation

There are many reasons to introduce tech into learning, but all the right ones are about increasing and supporting student learning.
When I began integrating tech into my high school English class, I started with a microphone to amplify my voice a little because I had a student in the class that had depressed hearing.  Once I was using the mic, I noticed that it created a more engaging environment for the other students  (except for one kid  physically cringed every time I turned on the mic).
As I became bolder about my tech usage, I started to explore lesson capture, recording the teaching I was doing.  This was great for many lessons and allowed me to just record what I was already doing in class. Once I saw how the videos and livescribe recordings could help support my students at home, I wanted that effect live in my room.  I had seen some good examples of screencasting when I had looked up videos about how to do things on my computer.
A screencast uploaded to Gdrive beats the YouTube Firewall
Screencasting is the ability to record your computer desktop with added audio, and it can be a powerful tool to differentiate instruction and scaffold learning.  While this form is widely used for computer program tutorials, consider having one window on your desktop as your notes or what you would normally project and a second as your face.  This creates a multiple pane video "stream."

Truths about Screencasting the Core of your Lesson:

  • It takes less time to record your lesson than it does to teach it to the class.  We spend a great deal of time stopping whole class instruction to answer questions.  I still answer student questions, but the whole class doesn't have to wait for me to answer.
  • Students will spend as much time as they need to with your screencast.  This means some will watch it 3 times and others will not even finish it once, that is ok.
  • Allowing students to chose their own pace is empowering, but it requires the teacher to build a lesson that has "room to run."  The top students need to have purposeful options to expand on and go beyond the basic goals of the lesson, so they take it to the next level instead of finishing early.
  • Provide multi-modal instructions so the narrated information is supported by written instruction.  This allows students who read well and comprehend quickly to "get-it" without having to watch your video.
  • Screencasting instruction allows students to take the time they need without making other students wait.  It also enable me as the teacher to work one on one with students who have questions.
  • Putting the information in a screencast empowers students to help each other.

A Few Tools for Screencasting

Jing -free
Snagit -30 day free trail
Screenr -web based
Juno Front Row -Hardware based infrared mic, amplifier and powerful screencasting software.  I use this for most of my screencasting

Tips for Screencasting Starring @WokkaPatue 

Do you already use screencasts to support student learning?  Share your perspective in the comments and include links to some of your screencasts.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Following my Edu-Passions

There is a look that I am coming to know.  It is a look of surprise and then shifts to understanding and it happens on the face of teachers I know when I tell them I am starting work as a K-5 tech integration specialist.
The surprise is earned, I have been teaching for 11 years in middle-high school.  Although I have taught Math and Photography (B+W darkroom as well as digital), I have spent most of my teaching days with English Language Arts.
Photo by Farm4 on Flickr
This morning I start at the new school, and I am nervous.  I am excited.  I am about to explode with the awesomeness that is about to happen with this job.  I know it will be a process of getting to know new teachers and kids and I am looking forward to both.  I feel like there is so much of myself (and my puppets) that I can bring to this position.  I am writing this post now because I need to put a pin in this moment of time, the roller coaster is climbing the first hill.  I can hear the chain ratcheting up and I know the plunge is coming.
I will be writing more in detail about my choice to move and the process. Have you ever made a major shift in your career?  What lead you to do it? What advice would you have for me as I step into the awesome world of elementary ed?