Tuesday, December 30, 2014

5 Lessons from 2014, A Year in Learning

I thought I was done blogging for the year. I am working on a couple of posts, but I wasn't going to post anything else. I was going to take the time off. The thing about blogging is that it helps me make sense of the work that I do. 

So today, I find myself wondering why I would take a break from making sense of the work I do.
Blogging has helped me to grow as a professional and has connected me with some great educators, and reflecting is part of the process. So here is a quick reflection on 2014 and the top 5 things I learned in 2014.

The more I write, the better I teach.

Although it is tough to find the time to write, it makes a huge difference in how I teach. Daily lesson production and delivery has the inertia of a freight train, and there is always tomorrow's prep to do. Stealing some quiet time in the morning to write about what I am doing diffuses this momentum. It gives me a chance to think about what I am doing.
Once I have the writing done I can share my thoughts and questions with other teachers. My lessons are always better once I share them and get feedback.

Play is a powerful teacher.

When I started as a K-5 tech teacher I had no idea how much fun it would be. Now I am crafting playful lessons everyday that support content area learning. From Sphero robots to toy skateboards, there is so much to be learned in play. Learning in STEAM is too important to be taken too seriously. When I ask my students to explore, think, discover, and share, they all find opportunities to be successful.

Ask for the help you need.

Despite what the various “award shows” would have you believe, being a connected educator is not a contest to see who has the best ideas, the most well-written blog, or the coolest conference swag. This year, more than any other, my PLN has been an amazing resource. This amazing resource got a powerful upgrade in July when I attended the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View, CA. Meeting with people face to face can make the online collaboration so much more powerful.  Almost everytime I asked anyone for help this year I was energized and inspired by their response.  Once upon a time I wanted to be the teacher who was smart enough to have all the answers.  Now I strive to be wise enough to know when I should ask for help and to be brave enough to ask.

Collaboration is a force multiplier.

Without a doubt, 2014 has been a year of collaboration. While I love my online community, the biggest shift in my second year as a tech specialist has been more collaboration with the teachers I share students with daily. The work I am most proud of right now is in elementary STEM, and those classes are not even on my schedule. By working closely with our STEM resource teacher, I have been part of amazing learning. I am so grateful for the thoughtful, smart, and tireless people around me.

There are people out there doing amazing work and there is so much to be learned.

When I was working alone in my classroom, unconnected to my local community as much as I was unconnected to any online community, I had a manta. “There is too much to do is a fact, not a complaint.” My thinking was that when there was too much to do, it was a given that things would not get done. My job, I thought, was to “manage neglect” and make sure no one part of my life had too many things not done.
Now I see that there is too much for any one person to do. I can see in my connected community that there are so many people doing amazing things and sharing them, that I have shifted my outlook. I don't have to do, learn, know, or share it all. A big part of contributing to a community is being ready to learn from others, celebrating their success and supporting them when you can. So while I struggle to find the time to write, I also struggle to find the time to read and learn. When Something connects with me I try to share it, comment on the post, send the author a note, or provide some other feedback that says “Thanks, I needed that.”

So here I am at the end of 2014, wondering what the year ahead holds. I know there will be robots, trainings, puppets, play, writing, sharing, reading, celebrating, programming, and challenges I have not yet imagined. I know that no matter what I find in 2015, there will be others sharing the journey with me. Thank you for taking the time to share my journey, and I hope you join me this coming year and share your own struggles and successes.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Roller Coasters in Second Grade #STEM

Looking for a simple roller coaster design program? My second graders loved Coaster Frenzy. This week in Tech we designed and rode our own Roller Coasters!
Building on our STEM study of balance, energy and motion, we used the app Coaster Frenzy to design our own thrill rides.  In the process we asked questions like “How do I make it go faster” and these question led to discussions of gravity and energy.

The app is available on iOS and Android
iOS link https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/coaster-frenzy/id542899183?mt=8
Android Lnk https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.affinestudios.coasterfrenzy&hl=en

Holiday Slow Down

Just a quick note to let you know that I will be posting less through the rest of December.  Never fear! the writing will continue.  We have upcoming pieces about Core 5 reading,  reviews of new ASCD books, a profile of Literably, and a review of OZObot.
With the new year we will be looking for teachers to write guest posts for Mypaperlessclassroom.  I want to help you share your stories about programming, pedagogy, the tools you use, and even puppets.
Have a great holiday, hold your loves close and enjoy the time you have.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Want Minecraft, but don't Have the Tech? Try #Sugarcraft

Note: there is a real use of #Sugarcraft and it looks like a healthy community of culenary artists.  If this is what you are looking for here, I am sorry.  This is about teaching.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

7 Facts about Hackathons for Teachers

This weekend I was working in Hacker Dojo, a shared workspace in Mountain view and I found that I was surrounded by a Hackathon.  I had heard of Hackathons, but since I am not a hacker, I never went to one.  The idea is that in a weekend teams create an app or a program.  This Hackathon was hosted by Flir One, a thermal camera that connects to an iphone.  
Sitting in the midst of this group, I found myself thinking about project based learning, choice-based learning, game based learning.  We have so many models we use to try to prepare kids for life after school.  This can be challenging because as teachers we spend most of our time in school, for us all of life has been school.  Now I sit in this giant workspace watching teams developing and refining an idea.
As an educator I notice some things.
  1. Everyone participating choose to participate.
  2. There is a real goal with a real reward.  The top 4 ideas get cash prizes (5k for first place)
  3. The organizer supplied a list of starter ideas
  4. Most of the teams formed at the event, some changed during the event
  5. There is food
  6. There is a rubric
  7. Everyone has to present

What do you see in this that resonates with you as an educator?  What doesn't fit into your model of learning?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reverse Engineering Toys, Second Grade #STEM

The meeting began like many other meetings with my teacher teams. I asked “what are you working on now?” The teacher shared that in science they were starting a project focused on balance in motion. At the end of the unit they are planning on having the children design their own toys.
I suggested we have the students analyze some existing toys, so they could decide what was important to them in a toy.
Today we study: Toys!

Lesson prep involved going to the dollar store and finding as many cheap and simple toys as I could. I came back with some miniature skateboards, some toy cars, and some knock off slinkys.  
Before the teachers brought the students over to the makerspace, they asked the students to think about their favorite choice. All of the toys the students listed were electronic iPads, gaming systems, computers.

When the students arrived, and they said down at the table they immediately all claimed a toy. I hadn't anticipated this, I had put enough toys out so they all could be working with one, but I hadn't guessed that as soon as they sat down they would each claim one. What I then had to students do was navigate to the class blog. On the blog I had embedded a Google form which asked them some simple questions about the toys.
  1. How much fun is the toy?
  2. Where does the phone come from?
  3. How do you play with the toy.

The students initial responses were fine for the first two questions because they were just a scale question on the multiple-choice question, but the free response question was under responded to. The students were writing two or three words. So I made the requirement that they use complete sentences, and I added a word count. In hindsight, I should have found some other way to promote detailed response.  Many students struggled to come up with 20 words describing  how to play with a toy car or how they play with a toy skateboard or how to play with a slinky. I was surprised because I encouraged them to talk with each other, to get ideas.

I found that the ones who had difficulty writing also had difficulty talking to their table mates.The task quickly turned into a writing class. We put a word wall up on the board, talked about where ideas come from, and even gave some of the students starter sentences. When a student became stuck I often suggested, “write a sentence using the word pretend.”

Our results were for the large part good and useful.  The data we collected was instantly viewable using the “view summary of responses” tool inside the Google form.

When we begin working on our toy design we will return to this data.

We may even get a chance to extend this lesson to full “reverse engineering, and take toys apart and study their components. The current plan is to have students create toys out of recycled materials. The big question is, will we have a 3-D printer in time to have students print their toys?

This #STEM lesson, spent a great deal of time on writing and even keyboarding. So much learning is naturally cross curricular in elementary. What cross content connections are you making in your lessons, what are the challenges you face?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Neck Straps Help Kinders Film with Tablets

Collaborative problem solving is awesome, and this week I got to experience it at it's best.  One of my Kindergarten teachers and I were talking about how hard it is for her students to hold the ipad up and film.
We want them to be able to interview each other in front of their work and film it.  Our solution started with her handing me a strip of fleece and saying "Try to do something with this."
The strips were really long, so I cut them in half and fed them through part of our iPad case.
We turned the kids loose filming and they were able to film longer, no iPads hit the ground and the videos were a bit better.  The problem came at the end of class.  We had to use pens to pry the knots apart!  the weight of the device had been pulling on the knot and made it very tight.  

We also saw that some of the strips were way too short.
So we revised our deign.  The new strips were longer and Sally suggested we tie them in loops first and then use a lark's head knot  to attach them to the ipads.  
This worked great.  We tested the design with the other kindergarten class and then with the first grade.  
We are keeping the design on pretty tight lock down until the patent clears.  But if you want to be a beta tester, let us know in the comments.

Scoodle Jam for Free! on 12/16

Save The Date
Free Download Day!

Scoodle Jam

By Scoot & Doodle

Mark your calendars! 
On Tuesday, December 16th, we're making Scoodle Jam free for a day.
Share the date with your colleagues and IT Depts. It's a great time to get Scoodle Jam for your entire classroom, even school.

“It’s a space that explicitly, elegantly supports student learning and imagination." -- CommonSense Media’s Graphite

Scoodle Jam for iPad empowers K8 teachers & students with CCSS-aligned content, creation, and collaboration tools to enhance Common Core Math & ELA instruction and learning.

What People are Saying

Featured in Best New Apps for Education and Middle School Collection
Four Stars from both Common Sense Media's Graphite & USA Today
2014 Tech & Learning Awards of Excellence Winner

Compatible with iPad 2 or later
Requires iOS 7.0 or later
Available in US and New Zealand markets only

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kodable Web is Live!

The hour of code is upon us!  and we are so excited about all of the possibilities for coding in class.  If you made plans for what to do during hour of code a month ago, it might be time to change those plans.  
Coding app developers have been staying up late to get the best tools in your hands for computer science education week.  I just found out that after spending the day at Hausner's family coding event, Neil and Grechen went back to Kodable HQ and launched the web version of Kodable.

That is right, now you can play everybody's favorite coding app for pre-readers on a desktop machine in the browser, In fact, it is optimized for chromebooks.  The reports from the beta tests indicate that it will even work on your android tablet or phone, although this is less than ideal.   It won't play on an ipad, but they have the app for that.

For existing Kodable class users, teachers can have students log in with their class code or student code. For teachers not yet using Kodable, students can start a new game for free, then save it with a student code. This progress will sync when they play on the iPad as well. 

The link is game.kodable.com

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Live from the Hour of Code! My School in the News

What a day! with over 200 parents and kids in attendance we had a great Hour of Code!  We had Robots and dancing, cup stacking, and apps apps apps!
This event is my favorite all year and I am lucky so many people helping make it possible.  It was a real treat to have the news show up.  #hourofcode

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sphero and the Inclined Plane

The more I collaborate with great teachers the more I am convinced that teaching is a team sport.  I am lucky this year because I get to work with Megan, the STEM coordinator for the lower grades as well as 8 other problem solving roles.  Megan and I share many students and we work to integrate our work whenever possible.
One good idea can make my week
Neither of us has time for real meetings, but we make good use of out time.  This week Megan gave me my best robot lesson yet.  It came in a text, I think she was riding the train home.  Looked at the text in the evening and only focused on it again around the time I took this screenshot.
I was planning for the second grade class that begins at 8:30.
Balance, Forces, Sphero on an incline.  Oh, I was all over this.
So I set up as many multi-user inclined surfaces as I could. even re-purposing a decommissioned smart board.  When I started prepping for class I thought I would just use the white board.  It was bad, so bad I had to take a picture.  Obviously at some point in the morning my coffee kicked in and I actually made a slide deck to help the kids focus.  (they got really excited when they heard Spheros were on the menu.)

We paired the students up and had them explore the various planes, including a small personal white board and a plastic block.
The energy in the room was awesome, and the students really experienced dynamics of power needs and an inclined plane.

One of my favorite moments was when a student explained that if they used the whiteboards at a shallower angle the Spheros could make it farther up the ramp.  This was just an "into" activity for the force unit, we didn't spend much time on vocab, we got to the heart of understanding inclined planes.
The robots allowed us to quantify our exploration, as one of the students observed "We could go up that ramp at 30, but the other one we couldn't do even at 100."

What science concepts could you explore with robots?  Leave a comment and let's make some plans together.

What will we do for Hour of Code?

I am so excited about the Hour of Code.  We are hosting a family coding day for the second year and I am so thankful to all the people who have come together to make this day possible.
One of the parents in our school community created Evenium, a great event management platform.  Check out the embed below to view our full agenda.