Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Evernote and IFTTT, a Powerful Combo for Teachers

If This Then That plus Evernote is a force multiplier for educators. This web-based service allows you to connect many accounts to others with automated scripts.  For example, you can create a recipe that will post every status you post to twitter on your Facebook page.  You can create an archive of your blog by sending a copy of every post you make to Evernote.  In this segment, the team at the Techeducator podcast tours the IFTT recipes that connect with Evernote.  Check out these amazing ideas and see if you are inspired to add a little automation to your workflow. Click HERE for the full episode

Monday, September 29, 2014

Can I use Coding to Teach Reading?

I believe that students will read when they are ready, but I also believe in immersing students in an environment rich in opportunity to build and practice literacy skills.  When I began working as a K-5 technology integration specialist, I didn’t think I would be programming with my pre-reading students.  I had always experienced coding as text-based and really complex. In the late 90’s I hand coded a 500 page web based poem in HTML (no link, sorry, I think it is lost to the ages), but once I started looking into coding for kids, I was delighted by how accessible coding and programming have become in the last 15 years.

My school uses shared iPads in the lower school, so all of the tools I am exploring are ipad based. When I met Jon and Grechen from Kodable, their game-style coding interface really changed how I thought about the possibilities of coding with pre-readers. You can read more about my early adventures with Kodable here.

When I saw how quickly students got into the code-based challenges, I started asking questions:
  • How can I use this high-engagement tool to meet other learning goals beyond ‘tech class.’  
  • What does coding have in common with reading?
  • Can I use this tool to get my students ready to read?
The Tools available to me
in this puzzle you build the word by matching the letters

  • What kind of program will I begin to get my kids interacting with literacy concepts in Scratch Jr?
  • Can I use the camera to bring pages of our favorite classroom books into the coding environment?
  • How can I guide students to record letter and word sounds using the microphone blocks?
  • Is there a way to share a program to my students in Scratch Jr, or do I have to build them individually?
  • What does differentiation look like in this environment?

Kodable is a puzzle-style interface and as students progress through levels they are introduced to increasingly complex challenges and sophisticated coding concepts.  They also have some puzzles called Fuzzy Fun designed to support reading, vocabulary and spelling.  

Scratch Jr is more of an ‘open studio’ experience.  This iPad app is built on a foundation of Logo.  As I was reading Invent to Learn I was emboldened and guided by the author’s advice to create starter programs students can interact with and build on.  So now my questions begin:
I am working on a lesson, and I have a program partly written, but I have gotten stuck on an idea.  This happens to me when I want to be able to do something and i can’t think my way around what I want to do in order to interact with the app on its own terms.  In this case I was to use text as a character in the program.  I have become spoiled by Hopscotch.
 I am hoping the team at Scratch Jr can help me figure this out.  If I had Text as a character I could set up a collision rule.  When my main character runs into the word it would play a recording of the word.  The students could record this sounds, or sort through pre-loaded sounds to find the right one.

What are your ideas?  I will continue to share what I figure out as i learn, but I think we all need to work together to get this right.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Questions about Learning Stations in Elementary

As I think about learning stations in elementary I wonder how many I need with 24 kids. I am leaning towards at least 6 stations.  This is based on the idea that 24/6 =4, but I am committed to letting them choose which ever station they want.  Ownership of knowledge begins with choice.  I am also not sure it will be group work,  so what does the number of choices matter? I am sure 

Each choice means another set of directions to deliver or make available, and another set of skills to build. I need a variety of compelling choices. I am sure the choices need to connect deeply to the content area lessons as well as the student’s interest. Perhaps we have regular choice days and each one has more options available.

Now I have questions upon questions.
  • How many stations do I need? (must think about this from the point of view of engagement, not management)
  • How do I use the space in the room to give kids space to record and work?
  • Which base skills do I need to teach to prepare the kids for stations?
  • How do I deliver directions at the learning stations?

I envision a very hybrid experience where instructions are on an iPad or web page and available at the stations via bookmark or QR code. (Do we have a QR reader installed? Have I taught the kids to use one? Can I teach that skill quickly?) When the kids come to class we would go through the menu of stations as a whole class, but detailed instructions would only be at the stations.  I think they will need support to get there, but I hope to create an environment of independent work and problem solving in which kids create their own understanding and feel a sense of ownership and agency.

What questions do you have about learning stations in elementary? What has your experience taught you?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Levels in Learning, Making Room for Choice in Elementary

We are not always learning about programming, , but this week it became a choice activity.  Why? Because they asked for it. Prior to this we had built our skills using a Tynker over the course of 2 classes.  The first class focused on basic functional instruction and some strategies for finding answers:
  • Ask 3 then me
  • Read the screen
  • Try something else
  • Ask for help

In this first lesson I asked them to start at the beginning of level one, although several students said they had used the app before, so I asked them to start at a level appropriate to them.  This was where choice starts.  It is true that some kids might race ahead to a level that is not appropriate to them, but I kept an eye on the few kids who self-selected a higher level and only one was lost. It was not hard for me to guide him down to a more appropriate level.
In our second class with Tynker we programmed for a shorter a mount of time because the focus of the lesson was making a reflective Vlog about their learning process.  In this week's lesson we applied those vlogging skills to the science lesson of the week as they created a movie about their physical traits.
I have written about the lesson, but not what happened when they finished. As soon as they finished several students asked to use Tynker.  I don't know why this surprised me other than the fact that I was so focused on the lesson I had not thought about the end of the lesson. It is typical that in tech students will have a 10 minute range of difference in their finishing times. So when the students asked to use Tynker we gave them a choice between that and reading. As we build skill in other programs they will also become choices.
Working towards a choice-based hour, these choice-based times are good testing grounds.This is a little choice, but not truly student-centered; a student -centered approach would ask the students what they want to do.  There could be learning stations, but the stations would have to be choice based.  The kids would choose to go to that station and do that mode of learning until they decided to do something else, no timers, no rotations, choice.
The choices have to be made with flexible resources so if everyone chooses to do the same thing it is possible.  So I can already see that Tynker will be a good choice activity tool, maybe with a goal of designing a video game that tells a story or explains a concept.  When I checked in on a group of students they were working in a group (self selected, I never said anything about groups) and they had Tynker's game design tools open and were talking about the game in story terms. In 3rd grade they already have mastered the Rhetoric of video games.
My challenge, my dilemma, my guiding question is what would other learning choices be and how do I build towards those choices.  They cannot all be app-centered because I don't have enough good apps to choose from.  I also want to develop choices that put content learning out front. I want the teachers I work with to be inspired to replicate what I am doing.  The first time we try this on a whole class scale there will be some tech element at each station, as it will be in tech class.  
As I brainstorm content centered choice stations here are some I have come up with, please add your ideas to to this list:
  • Bring a story from Jewish studies to life using the Puppet Pals app.
  • A science lab where they conduct an experiment and record their evidence and observations in our forthcoming idea of a tablet-based science notebook (suggestions appreciated.)
  • An art station where they use Brushes or Paper 53 to render something with some content connection. (Open ended station design allows for flexibility)
  • A math station where they use stop motion and pattern blocks to model or design something.

These ideas do not mean I am ready to start, but I am getting there.  I still have many questions, and I want to know your questions.  I would love to know how you are approaching this challenge, share your ideas and questions in the comments and we can continue this journey towards an inclusive, progressive, choice-based pedagogy together.  


Monday, September 22, 2014

Towards Choice-Based Learning in Elementary

Sometimes you get to attend a surprise Edcamp. I was settling in to write when I saw a tweet about Edcamp Los Altos. I checked the map, and it was 2 miles away.  Never mind the fact that I was in cycling shoes and a very casual t-shirt, I rode to me school, picked up Wokka and we were off to camp.  
At Edcamp LosAltos

As the first session wrapped up, I was in the MPR and I started talking to John Miller. It didn't take long before the conversation was not about tech at all. We talked about supporting community engagement and the challenges and opportunities of implementing a truly progressive pedagogy.
This was just what I needed, and focused on the challenges I chip away at everyday. While it can be tough to keep up with the tech end of things, the change I want to make in these classrooms is to transform the foundational pedagogy.

When we look at using a new tool in class it is an invitation to innovate. In education innovation is not just about workflow or product. Since the early days of my teaching sitting in awesome national writing project workshops, I have heard about the power of the student centered classroom and the need for student choice and voice. From where I sit today I can see that many of my attempts to implement choice were well-intentioned failures.

I had writing assignments with menus instead of prompts, but all of the kids were reading the same text and writing some form of an analysis. It was better than having all of my 9th graders responding to the same prompt, but I was leaving so much money on the table.
In a truly student choice based class, how often would all of the students choose to read the same text?  

My challenge, now working in elementary school as a push-in tech teacher, how can I develop and model the possibilities of choice based learning for the teachers I work with? My ideas so far:
  • Develop a range of skills and activities that can become learning centers, teach towards portable and transferable skills.
  • Use centers or stations in tech class.
  • Have students share their learning from centers to drive and/or the class blog to model data collection and assessment.

Do you use learning centers or stations? How do you support student choice in learning? Share your ideas, successes, and failures in the comments and let's work together to develop a choice based learning environment.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Learning with Selfies, a Lesson in Traits

This week in 3rd grade STEM we have been learning about traits, our introduction to genetics.  We are using the iPads to create a sonic pics movie connecting the evidence we have coillected (a selfie), with our observations (which we wrote in our science journal before recording).

How are you using technology to get students connecting evidence to observation?  Can we leverage devices in the classroom to get students more engaged in the scientific process?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Supporting State Landmark Research in 5th Grade

Possible Sources for Significant Landmarks (an incomplete list)

Today’s challenge is helping students search effectively for significant landmarks for a state research project.  What my teachers and I have found is that many students do not have a big picture idea of what kinds of things might be a source for significant landmarks in their state.  As we were talking I thought, “What these kids need is a big picture.”  So I used a Wiki commons media image of a US map and labeled each area with possible sources for landmarks using Snagit.  This is not comprehensive at all, but a place to start.  To check my own assumptions, I showed it to several other teachers and got some more ideas.  We will post this on the 5th grade blog and add it as a resource they can use to guide their research.

Have I missed something important?  What would your map look like?  How do you use graphics to support learning in your class? Share in the comments and let's figure out how to build better resources, and model the process for our kids.

When the Wifi Doesn't Work

Yesterday I was not a good teacher.  The lesson was not inspiring; it was not empowering to my students.  They did not become awesome creators of amazing digital content.  It just didn't happen.  The wifi was weak.  There wasn't enough to carry all 24 iPads as we tried to get Drive and Docs set up on the 4th grade iPads.   There was also just enough wifi that I wouldn't give up on the effort and move on to plan B, C, or D.

I ran around the room trying to make devices work as many of the kids called my name, reminding me of baby birds at feeding time.  I was stressed and not doing any good.  How could I have saved this lesson? Looking at the accounts, 80% of the kids did get Drive set up and started a document, meeting the goal of the lesson.  Why don't I feel like I passed?  My fourth graders spent much of the time either frustrated or disengaged.

Teaching tech we sign on for failure, but how do you know when to pull the plug and go to plan B.  When the power goes out the choice is easy, but how long do we struggle with weak connections before we break out the pencils?  

Leave a comment and share your perspective, maybe it will help me do a better just tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Coding into Geometry in 2nd Grade with Hopscotch

Last week I was surprised when my 3rd grade class took much longer than I had allowed for to complete some serious app smashing, this week I am plunging into coding in hopscotch with the second grade.  For our first lesson we will be drawing hexagons, something they have not studied.  In fact last year we didn't try programming until much later in the year.  Somewhere along the line I heard "always be sure your reach exceeds your grasp," check.  
The program to draw a polygon is a great way to study nested loops.  In this case I will be using 2 main commands, 'move with trail' and 'rotate'. The move with trail command controls the length of the side and the rotate controls the angle measure.  This will be a regular hexagon, where all the angles and sides are equal.  The basic code looks like this.

Once the students draw one hexagon successfully, we introduce another rotate and nest everything inside another repeat block like this.

and when you run the program it looks like this:

Now that I have the code for class written, all I have to do is get Hopscotch launched on all 26 shared iPads and get the program updated and enter nicknames for each user.  The recent updates to Hopscotch require the users have a name and since I have not purchased the education version of the app, I don't think there is multiuser support.  To protect the kid's identity I will be using nicknames like 'cart01' and 'cart26', the name of the iPad they are working on.

My goals for this lesson include getting student familiar with the properties of a regular hexagon and developing their understanding of loops.  We will be each on our own IPads fort this lesson, so I also will be teaching them how to ask their neighbors for help when they get stuck.  I will be projecting the code on the board during the lesson and directing students to use the color of the code blocks to help them find the code they need.  One spot I anticipate difficulty is that some of the code families hide commands under the word 'more.'  So that when you click on the code family, you do not see all of the commands.

How are you using tech to reach beyond the standards and curriculum in your content area classes?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ScanSnap IX100 Review Wireless Mobile Scanning to your Tablet

One of the first blog posts I wrote was about the power of the scanner option on my school's photocopier.  If you somehow collected all of the devices I have used over the years you would see that I have owned at least 6 different scanners since I started college in the 90's.  I have long been obsessed with bridging the paper and digital world.  The mission of My Paperless Classroom is primarily to discover the best uses of technology to support learning, and to save me from my own organizational shortcomings.

Last year I scanned in my typewritten journals from college, and then recycled them, all nine binders worth.  Despite my love for scanners, I have not made much use of my iPad to capture documents.  I can take pictures of documents and load them into evernote, but I end up with the document plus part of the table, or the text is not square in the picture, or the document is keystoned because I was not holding the iPad flat.  It is a copy I can refer to, but not really reuse.  
When I got the Scansnap IX100 to review I was skeptical.  It is a small, lightweight, battery powered scanner.  Could this really work?  My first test was to associate it with my desktop at school.  I had to plug it in to the computer for the initial setup, but once the drivers were installed and the scanner found the wifi network, I was ready to get moving.
When I taught high school English I enjoyed having my own classroom and my students always came to me for class.  I had maybe 3 meetings a week, I was a sedentary teacher.  I rarely sat behind a desk, but I also rarely left the room.  This year I have 17 class periods per week and 18 or more meetings.  Most of these happen outside my recently created makerspace.  So when it came time to head to my meeting, I grabbed my iPad, by Livescribe notebook and my scanner.  When the first grade teacher showed me a handout they were using, I opened the scanner and hit the button.  Once I got back to my desktop, it was there waiting for me, and that was in the next building over.

A mobile scanner that sends work back to my desk is really neat, but I don't know if it is a game changer, but then I connected the scanner to my devices.  I installed the app on my nexus 7 tablet as well as each of the iPads I use at work.  Now I can scan wirelessly into my iPad.  This is not about saving work, this is about doing work.  I scan in a document and then open it in Explain Everything and I am ready to make a quick video to share information with a student, a colleague, or my supervisor.  The draft someone handed me can be sent to skitch for annotation, or the color drawing a second grader made for me can be opened in iBooks for a high quality presentation when I airplay it to the projector.

My scanner is so mobile it even works as it's own wifi hotspot if I am away from my own networks, so wireless scanning is possible even off line.  My tablets can connect directly to the IX100's own wifi.  

When I started teaching I kept breaking the rear axle on my bike because of all the paper I hauled.  I remember one dangerous afternoon as a grad student when I dumped my bike in the middle of a busy intersection in San Diego.  Cars dodged me and honked as I scrambled to collect hundreds of freshmen composition assignments as they swirled through traffic and away from me.  Considering that scenario, this scanner could be a lifesaver, lightweight, portable and full color 300dpi.  I am looking forward to fewer assignments lost and hopefully never chasing student work through traffic again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflective Learning in App-Based Coding, 3rd Grade

On Friday I was preparing to teach the second coding lesson of the year to my third graders.   The first lesson had just been an introduction and the students were able to interact with the Tynker app for most of the period.  The first few levels got the students familiar with the mechanics of the blockly-style interface and the concept of conditionals (A conditional is a command like "If the path is clear ahead then walk, if not jump.")

The students took to it quickly.  My goals for the first class were just to get them comfortable with the commands and helping each other when they got stuck.  As I got ready for the second coding lesson I wanted to formalize the communication and problem solving aspect of the lesson.  I asked them when they got stuck to check in with the students at their table group before raising their hand.  To support this we learned some helpful sentences.  I asked the students to use this language it request help from their peers while their peers are working.  

3 ways to ask your neighbor for help
NAME when you finish that level, could you look at this with me?
I can't figure this out, NAME could you give me a hand? 
I really think I have this right, but it isn't working NAME, could you help me out?

The very really an constantly escalating challenge of thee coding puzzles is compounded by the fact that the iPads do occasionally freeze up, or the app stops responding.  When this happens we quit the app and relaunch.  Once or twice we had to restart the iPad completely.  Having the students help each other made it so I was dealing with mostly these system failure issues.  I think our luck would have been better if I had done a hard restart on the iPads in the cart before class.  If you know an easy way to tel 26 iPads to restart themselves, please let me know.

If I had limited what I was adding to the lesson to the communication scaffolding I am sure I would have ended class on time, but I didn't.  Reflection is a very important part of the learning process and I have been struggling to get my tech students reflecting in a meaningful way that I could easily access.  I wanted to know what the students were thinking about coding and how they were doing.  I can get some of this information by keeping a tally of fist pumps and tears, but these are extremes.  So I asked the students to take screen shots as they worked, specifically when they got stuck or they figured out something really great.

In the last 15 minutes of class I asked them to use their screenshot and sonic pics to create a short reflection (actually a vlog, but I did not call it that).  I have to remember this was the first time they used Sonic Pics or Drive, but this took longer than I guessed it would.  By the time I got all the iPads back I was 7 minutes overtime and late to the other 3rd grade class, where I also ran over and they got a shorter recess because of it.  The challenge is that reflection happens after the learning and with only a 45 minute class period, the time to learn quickly evaporates if you schedule 20 minutes for reflection and 5 for an introduction.   

It turns out that when I talk about supporting reading skills through coding, I was missing the front line of reading in the classroom: directions.  When it came time to create the video I wrote the steps, click by click, on the board.  Truth be told I like to write directions based on desired outcome, not every button to press.  After the first class I realized they needed click-by-click directions and even once i wrote those on the board I had to work hard to have the students read the directions.  The hardest work was NOT ANSWERING THEIR QUESTIONS.  Yes, I am a mean teacher.  When they asked me what to do next I would look at their screen and tell them which step they were on.   

I was surprised by how much support the students needed, and when they needed it.  There were some who needed affirmation before they commit to each click in the process.  I mentally set a long term goal of fostering more tech independence in this group.  I want them to find through discovery instead of wait for directions, but that is another topic entirely.

So the workflow I asked 3rd grade to follow was this (rendered in outcome-based directions, not click-by-click).

1. At the beginning of class sign in to Drive app.
2. Launch Tynker app and continue where you left off last time.  
3. Take screenshots as you work, either when you get stuck or when you figure out something great.
4. When the teacher calls for reflection time, launch Sonic Pics (iMovie, Explain Everything, 30 Hands,    ShowMe -any of these will work).
5. Import one of the screen shots you created while working.
6. Record a short voice over (30 seconds to 1 minute) consider the following questions Why did you get stuck? How did you get unstuck? What did you learn?
7. Share to the Camera Roll on the iPad.
8. Launch the Drive app.
9. Upload the video to your Drive.
10. Share the video to Sam and your classroom teacher.

When I converted this to click-by-click instructions there were over 20 steps, and it was the first time I asked 3rd grade to use Sonic Pics.  They have used iMovie before, but I avoided it because there is a large potential for distraction as they can see all the movies other users of the shared iPads have made.  So for using a new app and a new workflow we were very successful.  There were only a couple of students who were not able to share their video with me in class.

So while I was frustrated by running overtime, for the first time I finished an in-app programming class with real evidence of progress and what the challenges are for individual students.  As I watched their videos this weekend I got a great sense of what we need to focus the next mini-lesson on and which students already understand those concepts, so they will be the voice of authority in those mini lessons.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Power Up your Knowledge of Crome Extensions with @Techedshow

  Are you learning with Chromebooks this year?  Using google Chrome as your go-to browser?  I have been a fan of chrome for a while, but until the most recent episode of the TechEducator podcast, I had no idea the wealth of tools available as Chrome Extensions.    This show was amazing with Samantha Morra as our featured guest and the deep chrome knowledge of David Saunders and Josh Gauthier.   Check out the full show and 23! chrome extensions with links at the show page.  

Tech Day One in Kindergarten

Last year when I started as a K-5 tech teacher I had no idea what tech instruction would look like in Kindergarten.  I had some pretty good ideas about 4th and 5th grade, a few bold ideas about 2nd and 3rd grade, but as I focused on younger grades I had no idea what I was doing.  (that has to be one of my least favorite sentences to write, and to some degree I feel it still holds true.)  When I was planning my Kindergarten class, a fellow teacher I trust told me to relax.  "Look," she said, "don't bring any tech, just bring your puppets."

I puppet in my classes, and I started with my high school students.  When students are building and acting with puppets amazing things happen.  When I signed on for an elementary tech position I knew it would change what I am doing with puppets, and it started with day one.  Following my friend's advice I walked in without the Ipad cart, without even a single iPad.  I brought 2 puppets, introduced them and then invited the students to ask them questions.

In our 30 minute conversation the puppets also asked them questions.  I found out how may of the students had used iPads before (almost all), how many liked watching videos on YouTube (all of them) and how many of them knew the passcode on their parent's phone.
Coming in the door with no tech saved me from my own assumptions.  My audience had a great deal more experience than I assumed, and what I learned about their experience shaped our next lesson.  Instead of a low speed tour of the ipad, we went straight into how to take care of an iPad.  

The assumptions I was saved from were not just about tech.  By talking with the students through the puppets I got a pretty good sense for who they were as people and as a class.  By focusing the first class on them and getting them talking to me, I built a foundation of our work together.  As I came into the first grade class this year, all of the returning students greeted me by name and I was able to do the same.  If you read much of my writing you will see me say that education is about relationships, and you will also read that it is not about the tech.  Here was more evidence for me.

Of course not every drop-in tech teacher will want to get to know their students through puppets, but we all have some way we can put students more at ease and break down the artificial barriers that sometimes pop up between big people and little people.  Putting a little bit of time into connecting with students at the beginning of the year can pay big dividends in learning for the rest of the year.

My advice, take the time to talk and find a way to get kids talking.  Maybe you play a game, or create a skit.  If all else fails, try using puppets.  They are magic.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How Can I Get my Child to Put Down the iPad?

The question put to me was "How do you get students to put down an iPad when it is time?" As I searched for an appropriate response to this parent I thought about how much our questions reveal about us. This one revealed more than I was comfortable with. Laid bare in this simple question was a history of fights and fits about screen time. It was a plea for a solution, for an inspired answer to end this problem. I stood there, once again without the answer they wanted, trying to craft the answer they needed to hear. What we were talking about was crafting a meaningful context for using devices.

The wider question is how do you get anyone to stop doing what they want to do and move on to something else?

How do you compete with a device and an app built on an economy of screen time? You don't. This is a force you have to guide and direct, but not oppose. When I started learning about integrating technology into education I was working as a high school English teacher. My struggle was getting my students to unplug from their devices and tune in to Homer. Sadly, most days it seemed that the song of the ancient bard could not win when pitted head to head against Beyoncé. So I pivoted. I resolved that if I had to crawl into my students' world through their ear buds, I would.

Perhaps my first advice to this parent should have been "If you can't get your kids off YouTube, launch your own YouTube channel. (I wonder how many parents have done this already, I think it is actually a pretty good idea.)

I am not making light of the very real challenges of parenting in the age of the ubiquitous screen, but controlling screen time at home and at school are very different things. When I decided to bring technology into my classes, I did introduce a management challenge. Like other management challenges, the answer was not in making rules, but in building an environment of active engagement.

As I was still standing in front of a parent who was clearly asking for help, I struggled to quickly assemble my experience into some scraps of advice they could actually use. Of course there is more difference in our contexts than they may immediately see. At school I have 24 students at a time and often the will of one can be directed by the others. When time is called, even the student who does not want to stop sees all the other students turning off the device and putting them away. That is not to say I don't wrestle with the students' wills and wants, but it is usually at the beginning of the class. As they come in they ask what we are doing and call out for their favorite apps. They hope out loud for robots. Sometimes I forget to block suggested videos at then end of one of my embedded video lessons and they shout for the ones they want to see as soon as they pop up. I don't respond to every question or plea shouted out, I transition into what we are doing. This was the first piece of advice I gave -Set a clearly defined goal.

I know it also helps when you focus iPad time on on creating rather than consuming. If you are trying to get someone to stop playing a game you are competing with everyone who designed that game for the player's attention. any well-designed game has a primary purpose of keeping the player in the game. Most of the games, the free ones especially, can only measure success by the amount of time the player spends looking at the screen. This holds true for Youtube, have you seen their playlists in action? One video now dovetails into the next, allowing the viewer to be washed away on a sea of ads and videos without making a conscious choice between stopping and continuing. How do we avoid this malicious attention trap? -Focus screen time on creating rather than consuming. If the expectation is to make a video rather than watching 20 of them the user knows when they are done and they will have something they want to share with you at the end of it, bringing them back out of the screen-based world and back in to face to face time.

The end of tech time in school is less challenging than at home because of the nature of school itself. We are always moving on to something else. The advice this becomes is -Always have something awesome to move on to. Of course there are times when all of these strategies fail, so what can you do? In my case I bring out the puppet, and Wokka tells the students to pack up the iPads. If someone isn't listening, maybe he kisses their cheek or bites their head to get their attention. (Don't worry he doesn't have any teeth.) I use the puppet as a way to avoid becoming frustrated, the puppet is much more patient than I am.

In the end I can't say I know anything about parenting, and I try to avoid situations where I am telling parents what to do. When I am asked my advice I can only speak to what I do in the classroom content and the factors present that I think contribute to my success. This, as best I can figure, is what compassion looks like.

How do you help kids make good use of technology and learn to balance their face to face and screen time?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Quick Puppet Making Lesson with @Teachercast

I know that using puppets as part of daily classroom practice may not be for every teacher, but it works for me.  Most days it works better than I believe it ever should, reinforcing my belief that puppets are magic.

In my case, the puppets work because it enables me to populate my class with characters that help break down barriers between me and my students (as well as the adults in the room).

While I sometimes fall down the rabbit hole of complex puppet construction and design, puppets can be very simple and my favorite ones are.  In this short conversation with Jeff Bradbury I talk about how I use videos to support my work in class.  I make quick into videos and I use the puppets to recapture the student's attention when I need them to refocus on me for the next piece of instruction.  What questions do you have about using puppets in class?

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Problem with Educational Apps

If back to school night has one lesson for me. It's that parents of elementary students are looking for someone to talk to about iPads, phones, tablets, and how their kids are using them. I'm lucky enough to work in an amazing school with a great approach to technology education. Last night at back-to-school night I got to share with the kindergarten through second grade parents why we do technology the way we do. In my short talk about 10 minutes I was able to discuss what kinds of things we do in Technology class, and the goals we have.

As I was preparing to present to the parents, I created a small slide deck, grabbed a robot, and headed over to the elementary school. When I got there, my first grade team asked me, "where's the puppet?" I laughed because I got so wrapped up and prep I've forgotten a very important part of who I am in the classroom. So I went back to my office, grabbed my orange friend, and we headed over to back-to-school night.

In my short presentation, I described the work I do as creating a high-engagement high-challenge environment for learning.  I talked about how the teachers and I plan together to keep our most important educational goals front and center.  In the elementary grades these goals are about social skills, communication, problem solving, and perseverance.  I might be running a lesson on programming with an iPad, but really we are teaching problem solving skills and communication.  We use the iPad to create a complex social learning situation.  Even though I have plenty of devices to put each kid on their own, we usually have the students working elbow to elbow, knee to knee on one screen.  This is because it isn't about the tech, it is about the learning that we can leverage into the space around the tech.  

I share with the parents anecdotes of times in class when everything is going smoothly, but also when communication breaks down and kids get upset. We construct these teachable moments, we manufacture a bit of frustration. We do this to help students learn how to communicate their way past these points.  I talk about the first time I handed a kindergarten student an iPad. They clutched it to their chest, crossed their arms around it, and turned away from the students standing nearest to them. That's when I knew there was a central problem to the iPad. Without guidance and support devices can be isolating.  My goal as the technology instructor is to transform that. For students to reimagine these devices not as a world unto themselves, but as a way for them to create messages that connect them to others, a way to share what they know.  As Wokka,the aforementioned puppet, and I shared the work we do I was glowing, and not just because the building air conditioning automatically turned off an hour before the evening program began.  I love the work I do and I love sharing it.

I could talk forever about coding and puppets and robots and movie making, but since I was visiting rack of the k-2 classes, I had to keep my talk brief.  At the end of my bit, I asked for questions and almost every class had the same one, "What educational apps do you recommend?" I don't think my answer was what they were looking for.  As a teacher who has spent a great deal of time and my future income studying how the social environment supports learning, I certainly have a bias.  I told them I don't have much faith in educational apps.  I create educational experiences that include devices and apps, but I never assume that the app and the device are going to create and support an educational experience.  

I was speaking to a room full of Silicon Valley parents and I have to be careful because I know there are apps out there that do a much better job than others.  So couching my statements with apologies to app developers in the room, I shared that education happens in the space between people.  Even a great book in isolation is not the educational experience that can be created by a great book and a conversation.  Education needs reflection, conversation, and shared experience.  Even good online courses have discussions, reflections, and interactions with a community.  It isn't about the instructor necessarily, it is about creating a triangular space with two minds and a subject of study.  In first grade this might look like two students working on one iPad running Kodable.  I am a giant fan of the app and love the design and tutorials.  I admire the length they go to in order to work with teachers to guide the meaningful development of the app, but I argue that the app and one student alone are an incomplete experience.

As I shared my perspective, I could tell this was not the answer the parents were looking for, they wanted to know which apps they should put on their iPads at home.  To satisfy this I recommended they check out common sense media's app reviews.  I like their reviews because they rate the apps on the quality of learning in the app as well as the degree of commercialism present.  

At the end of the evening, most of the parents still looked happy to see me.  Through our years together at this school they will find that I share the apps we are using in class, and I will often endorse certain apps or products within the context we are creating.  For the most part I try not to speak to what they can install on their device to educate their students, because it really is about the experience we create. I believe education happens in the triangular space between two minds and a subject.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Can we work smarter?

This week almost all the teachers I know are back to school, prepping lessons, collecting papers, and trying to find enough time to get all of the work done in a professional and thoughtful manner.  And the question rings out across the land "is there a better way?" We have been told that teaching out of the filing cabinet is no good.   We need to be responsive to the kids in front of us, we need to differentiate, we need to empower student voice and choice; all of this is true.  But does this mean we need to start from a blank slate each day, semester or year?

When I started teaching we had 3 main media, photocopies, overheads, and chalk.  I remember when laser printers became popular and we were able to create printed overheads, it was amazing, finally we had a media that looked good and we could reuse.  The quest was to develop the perfect materials that we could use year after year.  As the technology shifted and chalk gave way to white boards (for the record I am more allergic to green markers than I ever was to chalk dust, grumble), I started building resources on my tcomputer.
I have, somewhere, disks of handouts collected and developed as I tried to figure out how to get middle schoolers excited about grammar.  These disks became a Dropbox folder, and then a Google Drive folder, and an Evernote notebook.  Once I started thinking about interaction with content more than delivery, I added a blog, a Google site, and countless other small sites and services.
With so many options of collecting, creating, and sharing content, I struggle to be sure that I am doing all of this the right way.  It isn't that teachers are lazy, it is that we want to be efficient.  The time I spend creating, storing, and retrieving content is time I am taking from something else.  (My family, my grading, my workout).  
Last year was my first year as a tech integration specialist.  I decided to teach mostly from blogs.  I was working from a truly clean slate and all of the content I had created and collected over 12 years of writing and literature instruction was of no use to me.  I lined the shelves of the tech lab with it because I had no where else to put it.  This summer I packed most of it up, leaving some notebooks and the more general pedagogy texts, along with a fe hundred gigabytes of work on and external hard drive.  I scanned much of the oldest work into Evernote so I could get to it without it taking up space we need for student projects in the MakerSpace.
Even with last years lessons on the blog I find that in the first week of class it is a whole new game.  Last year's "getting to know the iPad" lesson took 50 minutes, and this year it took 15.  So how I teach the kids in front of me and prepare for the next time I am teaching? Is it possible?
More and more I prepare into outlines instead of detailed notes.  I try to create resources that are about concepts instead of screenshots, but largely I assume that by the next time I teach a tool, resource, process, or site everything will be different.
How are you teaching for today while preparing for the future? If you have a good solution, share it.  We all want to know.