Monday, December 2, 2013

Minecraft and the Oregon Trail

It was last year while eating lunch with a student, that Minecraft first blipped across my radar. The student was talking about creating a rail track underground and the challenge of getting the cars to work properly. I asked him how he learned to create the underground tunnel and track and he responded that he just tried to build it until it worked. He went on to say that it was hard at first, but the more he stuck with it, the better it became. I was intrigued. 

By now I am sure you have heard about Minecraft. If you have not come across it in a blog post or a tweet you have heard about it from your students. Minecraft is a “sandbox” game where players are free to create anything using blocks of material. The game’s two modes are survival and creative. In survival, players must find their own building supplies and food. In creative, players have easy access to supplies and do not have to worry about food. They can also break all kinds of blocks immediately.

After some research, peer collaboration, and asking the experts (my students) a lot of questions, we have worked Minecraft into part of our curriculum. The challenge was to respect the creativity of the open environment and the students while balancing the expectations of our learner outcomes.  I think we found that balance. After 59 students entered our sandbox world, I am excited by what I have seen.

·       I've seen authentic and meaningful collaboration. Students who are experts with the platform are sharing their knowledge about crafting. Students who are unfamiliar with Minecraft are leading the research and informing the design. There is ownership of all levels of the project.
·       I've seen students complete research in a more focused, directed way. Before they can build a stop along the trail, students need to complete research that informs their design. Teams are efficient with their research and eager to translate what they've learned into the game. I have also seen students revisit their research and check their facts numerous times to make sure they represent the sites correctly. 
·       I've seen information and knowledge being shared in creative ways. Students are sharing their research through text on sign posts, information blocks, and through the structures they create. They also get out of their seats and walk to another group to have a conversation about the content! These are purposeful interactions that would not take place if working on a poster or a diorama. 
·       I've seen energy spill out of my classroom and follow the students home. I am receiving e-mails with ideas for future crafting or with images of real life locations that can be created within the world. 

I am excited that my students are excited about their learning. I have taught this lesson before and have struggled with helping my students gain a deep understand of the trail, its geography, and the vastness of the land. By incorporating Minecraft my students are researching the sites along the trail and are creating their own meaning based on the research. They are also building their trail which is adding depth to their understanding. 

I can clearly see my students' learning when I read their info blocks in the Minecraft world, see the historical structures they have built, and review their research notes. I can also see their excitement in their blog entries.

After just this first experiment, it's clear that Minecraft in the classroom offers a wealth of possibilities. My students and I are anxious for our next opportunity to explore, learn, create, and play in our new Minecraft world.

A supply depot in Independence, MO
Teacher comments for crafting pioneers.
Chimney Rock on the horizon

Missouri River

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting Techno-ready, but don't change everything!

Yeah, so I was supposed to post last week.  Best laid plans.  This will be in two parts.  Part one about sales people, and part two about lecturing.

I'm teaching Adv Stats this year, for the first time in three years.  We've offered it, but it hasn't run, due to few kids choosing it.  If ever there were a math course that cried out for technology integration, it is Stats.  Generating most statistics requires a mind-numbing amount of calculation. The TI-83 and TI-84 calculators have a really good Stats package on them, but the small monochromatic screens limit their educational use.  You want drag and drop, colors, icons, all that good stuff.  A number of years ago, I saw a presentation about "Fathom" - for LS folks, this is "Tinkerplots" on steroids.  It is very cool, very intuitive and sets up as a fantastic teaching tool.  We own a license to put it on ten computers. and I have ten students.  Kismet.  I was all set to use it for my regression lessons a couple of weeks ago.  I even knew where the disk was to load it on our laptops.  I called the publisher to see if I needed any new numbers to get things rolling, spoke with three people at the company and learned that if I wanted to use Fathom, they assured me of this, I would need to find a Computer Lab that had ten PC's in it or find a Mac computer that was still running on OS 8.  Good luck with that!  I taught the lessons on my projector and the absence of "hands on" was a palpable loss.  I mentioned my frustration to the kids in the class.  DURING class, one of the kids researched the whole thing on line on his smart phone (okay, I shouldn't compliment him for that choice) and discovered that there is a version of Fathom that works on new Macs and the whole thing costs less than $10 per student for a one year license.  You would have thought while I was talking to all those folks at Everyday Learning - makers of "Fathom" - that one of them would have thought to mention this as an option.   In retrospect, I shouldn't have called, I should have just gotten on line and researched myself.  If you want to see Fathom in action, ask me, it really is cool.

Okay, so I am coming around on the value of using the internet for research and technology for self-expression - although perhaps not on one's smart phone, in class, and without the teacher's permission.  That said, I am still struggling with how to have it augment actual learning in the classroom.  And then old friend Drew Nucci posts this article from the Atlantic Magazine (on his facebook page, yes I facebook too - stick-in-the-mud no more).

Read it, think about it.  We need to change the bathwater, yes, but let's be careful not to throw out that baby.

Some of everything is what education needs!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Inspired yet a good way!

I had the privilege of attending the iPad Summit in Boston last week with Lisa, Nancy, and Linda. I went into it ready to absorb anything and everything I could-- I wanted to LEARN. The workshops I picked for the first day were wonderful and gave me concrete ideas for how to use the iPad in my classroom. Workshop titles such as App-smashing, Collaboration 3.0, and Thinglink drew me in and the presenters didn't disappoint. The workshops on the second day were geared more toward navigating and managing the first year of 1:1 iPads in the classroom. I didn't gain much from these presentations. I decided I was really looking for some do's and don'ts-- suggestions that these workshops fell short of providing. I think the best option is to talk with my fellow techies in 4/5-- they are the best resource.

The definite takeaways for me:

1) Collaboration is a skill all teachers need to incorporate into their classrooms. And cooperative learning or group work isn't the kind of collaboration we're talking about. I learned some fun ways to bring collaboration into the classroom: at the very minimum, GoogleDocs and blogging allow students to collaborate with each other and beyond their classroom walls. To take it to anther level, what about Twitter (she talked about Twitter in a 1st grade classroom!), Google hangouts (a Julius Caesar video call and students play roles from that time period), Skype (with classrooms around the world-- create YouTube videos and send them if there is a time difference), Subtext (iPad app that allows students and teachers to exchange ideas in the pages of digital texts), and eBooks (create books collaboratively, maybe even with a class somewhere else in the world!).

2) The idea of App-smashing blew my mind. App-smashing is when you:
a) Create content with one app.
        b) Create content with another app.
              c) Merge the content together (smashing)
                     d) Publish content to the web.

So, the idea is students collaborate on creating something that can be shared beyond their classroom walls (that's the key!), but they do so using more than one app. For example, students could use the iPad camera, Explain Everything, Paper 53, and skitch.....then upload all of the images generated to the camera roll, then head to iMovie or Book Creator to put it all together. I have used Explain Everything and the camera together, but I hadn't even considered going beyond them for the same project. Cool idea! To check out the presenters notes and suggestions for how to app-smash, see the link below.

App Smashing presentation from iPad Summit

3) Finally, I learned about Thinglink, which is a way to make an interactive image....your images can come alive with music, video, text, and your voice. So, you choose an image, tag it with content, and then share it beyond the classroom walls. Here's an example of a Thinglink that was made to explain the app-smashing ideas. If you hover over the individual app pictures, you'll see video and text windows pop up that teach you about that app.

App-Smash Thinglink

Here's another one-- how about this for a project idea?

Fun Facts about Famous Landmarks in Europe Thinglink

I am still processing everything I have learned and how to put some of the ideas into practice. Lisa K and I have decided to meet regularly to brainstorm ideas and touch base about how we're doing re: putting ideas into action. This is just the beginning-- I am not an expert. But I certainly hope I will be further along the continuum by the end of the year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sometimes I Bend the Rules

There are two seniors in my Upper School advising group who are sloughing through the college application process.  Everyday brings a new venting, only occasionally a celebration of a milestone passed.  So, it was with consternation that I read a recent article in the New York Times, titled They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweet., about the impact of social media presence on the college application process.  

The opening section caught my eye, "At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., admissions officers are still talking about the high school senior who attended a campus information session last year for prospective students. Throughout the presentation, she apparently posted disparaging comments on Twitter about her fellow attendees, repeatedly using a common expletive." I cannot imagine what this student was thinking, but it made me stop and consider how my own seniors are using social media.  I have made it a policy not to connect through social media with current students but I bent that rule late last year.  

Have you ever driven a car full of teenagers for any length of time?  If you are quiet they forget about you, or at least they ignore you.  You learn a lot, and with a helpful cough or grunt, you can remind them of your presence to prevent yourself from learning too much.  I was invited by a then junior now senior to join Instagram.  I'd avoided it until then but I considered it on her behalf.  Then I weighed the implications and consulted with a workmate.  My colleague helped me see that if I allow a student just that little bit of a window, and I carefully curate what I Instagram it would have the same effect as when quietly driving a car full of kids.  My student would know I was there and perhaps her online social life would in some way be shaped by my presence.  

Mostly I post pictures of my cat and dog, or even a particularly lovely scenic view.  I don't "follow back" but there are a couple of other advisees that follow me.  I'm still wary but I try to model the "if I can't say/post it in a school hallway I won't post it here" mentality.  I was able to stay connected to advisees as I traveled this summer and when I posted a picture of an ancient Greek carving of Odysseus, from The Metropolitan Museum in New York, I was pleased to see that a kid to whom I'd taught The Odyssey expressed comic aversion to my taste in art. I got a chuckle and she got to rib me, it seemed like a fair exchange.  

A minor connection, perhaps too small to note if Instagram didn’t permanently log it, but the long-term effects are deeper.  I hope that none of my advisees is ever so alone online that they feel like no one who matters to them is listening.  


Sunday, November 10, 2013

As I find myself wondering if I have really made any progress with technology and teaching, I think it's a good time for an no particular order:

*I use Apple TV daily to project notes, display websites, show video clips, etc
*My 12th graders use my website to see all weekly syllabuses, access HW, download forms, articles
*Some of my 8th graders use my website to see what's for HW or to verify HW
*The Stock Market Game project is now 100% digital for 12th grade, and I am moving the 6th grade project closer to that reality
*Math 6's website is becoming a key part of the class
*Poll Everywhere is my go to program to mix it up a bit in the classroom
*I've now done several presentations using my iPad converting PowerPoint slides.

I've really come a long way in the last couple of years, but I see that most of it is stuff that I do.  I really don't have the kids doing a lot with technology (except for Finance classes where we use it constantly).  But it continues to be a challenge for me to find a better way to learn math than with paper and pencil and chalkboards.

I feel like that "next great thing" for the kids is not here yet.  At least not at Waynflete.  But the momentum is there, we will get there.  And taking this at the right pace is probably a good thing.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I thought I would share two pieces of info. One is that Math 6 has a full blown (google) website that is used by teachers and students to get information about HW assignments along with resources for learning and practicing skills. Here is the site link if you want to check it out. BUT since that was such a LONG title and kids and parents alike were shying away from using it to get to the site, Steve heard about a site that creates an "addy" for our site. If you go here: you will get to a site that has the longer site as a link and will take you right to the Math 6 site. Pretty cool. You can create an addy for just about anything. Check it out! :)Cathy

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Here is the first movie made in EC this year.  It is called The Shark and was made by novice film maker Naomi Rice.

We're experimenting with a 2:1 student to device ratio this year, with each EC teacher being responsible for a small set of student iPads.  The iPads have finally traveled out of the closet and we've started introducing a few apps to the class.  We had a scan demo this morning and a small group of students worked with a teacher to create some QR codes.  We're slowly moving forward again!
In EC we have been consumed with the teacher parts of technology, and also with sorting out the various bugs and problems that have cropped up.  Our plan to start google accounts for all of our students has forced us as a team to begin to learn how to use Google Drive.  It took quite a while to bring everyone up to a similar starting point with Drive.  It seemed that each device had its own issues to sort out as well as it's own learning curve.   (I was personally gratified to solve a problem that stumped one of our experts through dogged trial and error.)

We're finally (almost) ready to send links to the accounts to families.  At the same time we continue to discuss exactly how much content we want to put in the student accounts and to what end, beyond simply sharing media.  Some questions:  Will we be able to load the conference videos after conferences?  Do we want to do that?  Will these accounts function as a long term portfolio for each child?  If so, how much content will one account hold?  So, as usual, we're cautiously feeling our way into unknown territory in a fairly public way, and learning as we go.  Excelsior!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Thoughts for Year 3

* Less IS more for me.  I have far fewer apps on my iPad now than I did 3 years ago and my iPad use seems more streamlined, productive, and less daunting
* Less IS more for students.  We have cut back to 4 apps students will use regularly (Camera, DrawingPad, Explain Everything, Scan) and use "skills practice" apps in a guided fashion with students who need work in specific areas (this is where 1 to 1 would make our lives easier!).
* A clear purpose for apps and explanation of intent for iPad use is important.  Last year we had several apps on the iPads that students were using frequently, but I found myself becoming hesitant to bring out the iPads because the benefit I originally intended the apps for seemed lost (for example, Puppet Pals was too tempting for silliness and not the storytelling platform I envisioned, and once they figured out how to change the settings on LetterSchool, there was no going back, defeating the object of letter formation practice).  I have had to think and rethink how we introduce apps and set expectations.  This is very much a work in progress.
* I love the idea of Evernote, but have not fully embraced it, yet.  For meeting notes I have actually found I prefer Notability (due to the ability to write with stylus on agenda, highlight).    Maybe I will take a poll sometime (Poll Everywhere?)
* It is satisfying to have a clear vision and goal.  Student documentation of work is my goal.  Right now students are regularly documenting their work in the classroom with photos.  I hope to get them comfortable with Explain Everything to add audio to their documentation.  I need to become more comfortable with Explain Everything (or we learn together).  There is a lot of potential to be had in thinking of how students (who are often pre-literate) can share their ideas and document their learning.
* iPad minis are much easier for our students to manage, particularly in using the camera (for photos and video).
* iPad maintenance always takes more time than expected.
* Google Drive is better than Dropbox.
* Google Chrome makes it easy to switch between accounts on my laptop.  Chrome has proved less helpful on the iPad since I manage different Google Accounts, but I have not used it much.
* QR Codes are fun and useful
* There simply is not enough time to do it all so choose carefully and prioritize.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jess Part I. Hello Google Drive...

...I think I love you.  And I like your friend Google Chrome too.  Collectively, you have been very helpful to me and I have a feeling that I have only scratched the surface of our relationship.  I look forward to getting to know you better and introducing you to my friends.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Just Some "Tools" of the Trade

Last year was all about weaving the old in with the new and the traditional with the "innovative" while continuing to build a program that encouraged students to communicate in the target language with courage, confidence and laughter.  Some of what seemed "old" or "traditional" to me seemed quite innovative or forward thinking to another - this is technology moving at rapid speeds!  I first used "technology" in 1987 during my second year teaching (yeah, I'm old!).  I put a small disk into a funky little box and it saved all of my written work so that I could print it out and edit it without having to do it over again by hand - amazing to someone who had hand-written or used one of those ancient machines called a typewriter all the way through college!  Later, in 1990, I was teaching with laser discs (the old, but wonderful Annenberg Destinos series) and was one of the first to do student projects in a brand new mac lab using HyperCard (we had to write the scripts ourselves back then)!  Later, I also used the templates of a friend, colleague and teacher to do close exercises with songs in Spanish, and had my students record their voices into their projects in another decked out mac lab. Over the years I came to learn that these - often viewed as flashy methods- were simply modern, useful tools that allowed me to communicate in another language - technology-  to teach the second (or third or fourth...) language, Spanish, to my students.  The teaching and learning was lively, interactive and creative in ways that I could not do as well alone at a blackboard, with film strips, videos and an occasional (native) guest speaker (but remember, none of that completely disappeared, except maybe the film strips!).  This technology stuff was never meant to replace human contact, it was just what it is today, a set of remarkable tools that allowed me to enhance my lessons and improve my (pedagogical) goals while enabling students to interact, practice and review in the target language more often with me, each other and the outside world - a virtual language lab and more!  These tools have been refined over the years, but they still allow me and my students to communicate, create and collaborate more efficiently and globally in the target language.  Still not convinced?  Here are some examples (please click on the links to view/hear examples of student work) :

Spanish I (8 students): ipad pilot 2013-2014.  In the beginning of the year, I  regretted having the ipads because they were simply not needed, except to take notes, take photos, record our voices in short dialogues, communicate over email and occasionally visit our vhl supersite ( a really useful site that accompanies our text) and class google site.  Useful, I suppose, but I was not ready to tap into some of the more collaborative apps and neither were they.   However, we have really  used some tools well.  Most notably, Notability.  Here are some snapshots of their latest work done:

• Travel Brochures:

• Letters to real Nicaraguan Pen Pals (sent and recieved via gmail):

Cine (10 students) - A 21st Century Film Elective:  Our curriculum was live on Google Sites:

El cine español

Student Final Project on Voicethread

Spanish 8: (15 Students)  These students did Explain Everything Projects throughout the year and wonderful iMovie commercials for their 8th Grade Final Project:

Class web page (for outside practice and review)

Las botas de Bean

La efervescencia

This year, my 28th teaching with technology (even if it was a little clunky), my goals are not so different.  I hope to continue to learn and collaborate with my students and to connect with others beyond our classroom. The one brand new addition is Schoology.  I have to admit that I was skeptical at first because it looked way too much like Facebook.  I, have, however, dived in full force and I am using it in all of my classes as the class site (still linking out to my already designed class google sites/ textbooks for supplementary material).  I am currently in the love affair stage with this platform especially because I can now communicate with my MS students daily (they do not have school email, yet!).  I have made the following observations so far:

1.  Posting homework keeps me more organized and the students and parents love that they can check an assignment from home, especially when they are absent from school.

2.  I can be very, very specific about an assignment, including all of the steps and links to support their studies.  So much so, that I was able to have a virtual oral, aural and written connection with the students in my elective before we even met for the first class - ¡qué fenomenal! Below is an example of a quiz homework.  Instead of just saying, "study for a quiz on blah, blah, blah," I can actually lists the steps with direct (previously researched) links!  Pretty amazing!

3.  I have to be very careful with dates and wording.  If you make a mistake, students will miss important steps.  For example on a current assignment discussion, I posed some questions along with a photo.  I forgot to say, "please respond in a paragraph/narrative," so 2 of 13 students bulleted their responses.  Not bad, but something to remember for next time.

4.  Students can turn in work through Google Docs.  I can correct, edit and return.

5.  Be careful to have very specific guidelines about how you want students to use the UPDATE section.  Remind them that this is NOT a social network.  My students can suggest links, comment (in Spanish only!) and pose questions related to our subject.

That's it for now. I would love to hear how it is working for others!

Many thanks to Page for providing a classroom set of iPads, too - I'm looking forward to using them spontaneously and frequently to enhance our lessons.  I'll post again once we get up and rolling.

¡Gracias por leer y hasta pronto!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Summer of Development

I do not know where I picked it up.  Perhaps it was from my passionate professors, Dr. Michael James and Charles "Bud" Church?  Maybe my mentor teacher at Claude Chester Elementary instilled it in me?  It could have been engrained in me by the expectations of my first principal at Jeffrey Elementary? Whomever it was, I thank them for instilling in me a desire to continually refine and reflect on my practice, and to grow as an educator even during the summer months.

This summer has been no different, and I have grown tremendously.  From conferences, team meetings, and readings, to participation in numerous conversations virtually and face-to-face, I have found voices that have challenged and reinforced my practice, and have energized me to explore new ideas.

My biggest takeaways from this summer are ideas that have energized me and have transformed themselves into some of my professional goals for the coming school year.

To hear my students' voices: Sparked by Stephanie Harmon's talk at the iPad Summit in Atlanta, GA, I continue to investigate ways to foster student voice.  This year, I hope to provide a teaching space that will provide a number of tools, both traditional and technological, for students to share their own personal understandings of the content we study together. I also hope to provide a collaborative and creative atmosphere where students are challenged to generate their own ideas as I facilitate learning and guide discovery. Learners will take more ownership of their learning and spark curiosity in their peers.  With support from my PLN (Greg Kulowiec and Shawn McCusker from afar and Page Lennig and Jonathan Werner locally), I will continue to refine and reflect on my strategies throughout the year.

To develop an individualized experience for each unique learner: With our grade level moving to a one-to-one iPad format, I am working towards a deeper and more individualized curriculum.  We have always aimed to do this and have seen successes, but adding the iPad as another tool will make a tremendous difference. Not only will we be better able to connect to students' passions and interests, but we will also be able to better monitor and assess learning.  We will also be able to document student work at every step of the process.  We will be able to show brainstorming sessions, revisions, and final presentations in a number of different ways.  To better utilize the new tool, I have created a learning space that is flexible in facilitating whole class instruction while also providing quiet spaces for small groups to work.  The new space will also promote a culture of meaningful conversation of which I will be an active participant.  I hope that my conversations will look more like a spider web rather than a game of tennis, always returning to the teacher.

To honor the true pace of learning: It is easy to add more to the plate, but it is hard to take things off. This year I hope to maintain a pace that encourage investigation, reflection, respect, and community.  
I revisited one of my favorite books, Time to Teach, Time to Learn by Chip Wood and was once again struck by how many times we interfere with children's natural tendencies to learn through investigation, exploration, and play.  As I plan units with my students, I hope to keep in mind that our journey should be a relaxing one filled with wonder and excitement.  

I am about to start my 16th year in the classroom.  To be honest, I still get butterflies.  However, I know that I have a strong Professional Learning Network to support me, and familiar faces near and far who can help me grow as an educator.  I am also lucky to say I have eager and curious learners as part of my network, and together we will do amazing things.  Have a great year!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A New Design?

It is a rare opportunity when teachers are able to participate in the redesign of a school.  It is a once-in-a-career event.  For us, the possibility of a new Lower School may be just over the horizon, and conversation has started as to how a school's physical space can improve learning and teaching.
The factory model of education provided an easy-to-follow physical layout for classrooms.  Quadrilateral room.  Desks in rows.  Teacher at the front.  Thankfully, times have changed. Collaboration and creativity are embedded in lessons to promote 21C academic and social curricula that will help students be successful in the future.  

What should a new classroom look like?  How can an entire school be redefined through physical space?  Here are my initial thoughts. We need:

-Space that promotes our understanding that students learn in different ways.
-Natural light and opportunities to easily observe and engage with nature.
-More than one "front" of the classroom to provide for small group instruction and multiple student presentations.
-Nooks and crannies for students to engross themselves with their work.
-Space that supports an ever changing technological landscape and houses traditional tools.
-Multiple whiteboards that students can use throughout the room.
-Space that encourages collaboration and fosters creativity.
-Space that houses long term projects.
-Furniture that is easily moved by students and can be rearranged in a number of ways.
-Gathering space where a number of classrooms can meet to exchange ideas and celebrate learning.
-Spaces that promote interaction among grade levels.
Here are some resources to get our wheels turning:
Classroom Redesign Challenge - Mind/Shift
10 Ideas For Designing An Engaging Classroom Space  - Etale - Life In The Digital World

An example of a classroom renovation:

Assistance in gathering resources provided by @plennig and @MaineSchoolTech

Physical space is not the only factor in determining success of a school, but creating an engaging space that supports how students and teachers want to spend their day certainly helps.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Page and I took advantage of an annual 4-5 tradition and turned Special Classes into a lab experiment.  Each year the students of 4-5 choose to spend the day engaged in a class that can range from bowling to paper airplane crafting, mozzarella cheese making to a food walk.  This year we floated the idea of Minecraft EDU.  Minecraft is a sandbox game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.  The creative and building aspects of Minecraft allow players to build freely and collaboratively.  The EDU version allows us to create a peaceful world contained in a server available only to the Waynflete community.  Needless to say, the nine and ten year olds were very excited.  Page and I wanted to see how the "craft your own" world would work in a classroom.  After 3.5 hours I was blown away by what I saw.

Of course, the skills varied.  We had students who have been crafting every night for the past few years to students who were experiencing it for the first time.  As is the case in all scholastic endeavors, we had a range of abilities.  This dynamic provided a need for students to engage in positive teamwork & collaboration.  I was very impressed with how the "gaming" situation allowed students to practice the skills we stress as part of our social curriculum.  The framework of the game enables students to access problem solving strategies.  Because of the creative nature of the game all students have something to contribute and every student needs help from their peers.  Students were so eager to help and share their expertise and ideas that the students who had never played before were crafting in no time.  Due to the collaboration, the learning curve was not as steep as I expected.  The most novice was building a two-story house with stairs and a working train in the living room.  By the end of our experiment, every student was begininning to walk away from their computers to have actual conversations based on the creations on the screen.  Without a doubt, every student felt a great sense of pride in their work.

However, there were some moments that gave me pause.  The experienced players, who play at home, were eager to "set traps" for their peers even though they knew our world was peaceful.  Is this indicative of the normal shenanigans of their age group or a connection with the wilder game available on line?  In the same vein, occasional references to blowing things up, even though the world was set to peaceful,  popped up and showed me that we would need to build common expectations and a shared vocabulary before integrating this into the curriculum.  Of course, that would be true with any new activity.  I was not surprised, but it is worth noting, that, at first, students were tied to their computer.  Even though peers were a few feet away they would shout or try to communicate through the chat option.  Thankfully, students began to understand they could walk to a classmate and talk directly to them.

After the initial tutorials and exploration we paused the class and asked the students to brainstorm how Minecraft could be used in an education setting.  They came up with some very interesting ideas:
-Create an Underground Railroad simulation
-Build safe houses
(We just wrapped up a slaver/civil rights unit in history)
-Build a new school
-Use it as math.  We could measure and work with perimeter and area.
-We could turn our Dream House Project into 3D

For some the question may be how can a game connect to our work in school?  I am excited by what I saw and do see Minecraft as an opportunity to make our curriculum come to life.  A student, with a passion, will learn more on their own in one hour than a disengaged student in a week's worth of classes.  Minecraft may be one of many tools students can utilize to share their understanding of topic or concept.

Minecraft resource scooped by @MaineSchoolTech

Ipads Support Dramatic Play in Early Childhood

IPads in Dramatic Play

"Mission Control! Come in Mission Control!"
"There's gingerbread on the moon!"
"We're not going to the moon any more. We're going to Mars where the robot lives."
"Yeah, the robot that's our friend."
"Look out we're heading to an asteroid!"

"I'll shoot the gun."
"No, an asteroid is a big chunk of rock. We have to steer around it!"

It has been a big year for block building in the Early Childhood classroom. Every day all of the blocks are used to make castles, forts, road systems and today, a rocket ship. IPads have also been used each day this year. Many pictures have been drawn, letters learned and QR codes scanned. On this morning the two things have come together for the first time. The astronauts asked if they could bring the iPads into the block area to support their play. After some discussion about safety and care for the iPads, the command center was outfitted with three useful screens.

The imaginative play was immediately enriched by access to this tool. While one astronaut scanned his screen for dangers ahead, others created images of weird planets and enemy spacecraft. The kids have surprised me again in finding a whole new use for the iPad. Unencumbered by preconceived notions about how and where it should be used, they are free to see possibilities that have escaped me.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

TLC in the News

Our TLC work has gotten a lot of good press this year.  First, with our use of iPads in the Early Childhood program; then with hosting EdCamp Maine; and now our TLC work specifically was highlighted in this recent news story from Channel 6:

Click here for the full story from WCSH. Both of our TLC groups have worked hard to advance the use of technology in our classrooms.  Even though we never seem to have enough time to accomplish what we want, everyone involved has contributed in some way - having thoughtful conversations, taking chances in changing curriculum, challenging their students to do more, taking time to learn something new, and so much more.  Thanks TLC for bringing the conversation to a new level and making the school more aware of the exciting opportunities available to us.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Georgia On My Mind

I was very fortunate to attend Ed Tech Teacher’s iPad Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.  The 700+ educators who gathered to investigate how they could improve their craft inspired me.  After attending three keynote addresses and seven workshops my mind was ready to pop.  Needless to say, I am still digesting the information but some of the bigger ideas that resonated with me are shared below with more detailed information linked to Google Docs. I hope to return to those docs as ideas gain clarity.  All presentation materials from Atlanta can be found here.

To set the mood even though the song may not have been written about the state.  You could also watch the WCSH news report.

Big Whopper Of An Idea #1
While attending the iPad Summit in Atlanta, GA., I was presented with a very intriguing and frightening idea;  Hacking Education.  Tom Daccord, in his keynote, posited that education is a commodity.  If a family cannot find what they need in school they will looks elsewhere.  Families are no longer limited to just physical space.  Students can now access information from a number of resources both virtually and in reality. (continue reading)

Big Whopper Of An Idea #2
Educators are used to being “the hub of learning” in their everyday interactions with students.  Teachers make thousands of decisions to improve student understanding and engage passion.  The hub is now moving away from the teachers.  Educators need to see themselves in a new way. 

Big Whopper Of An Idea #3
As educators we care a great deal for the students that work with us everyday.  Educators worth their salt spend a tremendous amount of time considering all their pedagogical options and have an array of tools up their sleeves to engage their learners.  The technological revolution in education is adding new tools at an amazing rate and educators cannot keep up.  There is little time to experiment with the new tools and even less time to evaluate their effectiveness with students.  For some teachers this creates a resistance to incorporating technology into the classroom. (continue reading)

Big Whopper Of An Idea #4
We do not have to change everything we do. We must continue to work hard to help our students be prepared for a world we cannot even conceive.  However, we know that for our students to be successful they will need to be able to collaborate, search for information, synthesize that information, and present that information to various audiences.  Technology will be present in the workforce so it must be present in our classrooms.  As educators we need to help students develop the skills that will allow them to successful utilize technology.  However, this does not have to be done at the expense of our professional expertise.  When considering the use of technology think as you always would.  What do you want your students to be able to do?  The answer may not always lead to technology. (continue reading)

Big Whopper Of An Idea #5
No amount of PD will replace actually working with the technology in the classroom WITH your students.

I have been contemplating this following idea in my head for some time now.  My trip to Atlanta and a recent workshop hosted by Bea McGarvey helped bring some ideas into focus. (continue reading)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


"You'll be putting on a conference, but we won't know who will be presenting, what they'll be presenting, or know for sure how many people will be there."

As part of our school's Technology Learning Cohort,  we put on an 'un-conference,' an EdCamp conference model where professional educators - you know, those people who put on 5-6 hour presentations every day to young people who may or may not want to learn- are in charge of not only what they want to learn, but what is presented.  It sounds absurd; in actuality, it's brilliant.

Teachers never get a chance to talk about what they are doing in the classroom, and rarely do they get a chance to share ideas and collaborate.  So on March 30th, at 8:30, over a hundred teachers from Maine and New Hampshire gathered together and decided what they wanted to teach and what they wanted to learn. And guess what? It was a huge success.

As it was a technology 'un-conference,' topics ranged everywhere from basic googledoc instruction to how to write code to build a website. In our morning session, people shared what they could offer and/or what they wanted to learn, and then they 'voted with their feet' - they grabbed another cup of coffee and a bagel and dashed off to different presentations and discussions, sometimes staying through a whole session, sometimes wandering from session to session to join different conversations.

Did it work? Ask participants:

  • "I like the collaborative atmosphere of presenting but sharing at same time; like a huge thinktank!"
  • "I love the interactive element and the organic feel. I like being able to interact and contribute. "
  • "I liked how easy it was to pick something, go to it, and leave if I wanted to. It was casual and there was an easy way to share ideas with colleagues and other teachers in other schools" 
  • "The flexibility of topics was helpful.  It was also great to talk to teachers from other schools." 

To go to a free day-long conference,  to teach and learn from your peers, to collaborate for a common goal; EdCampMe was an incredible experience. It was empowering to teachers as they not only got to share their incredible classroom practices with technology, they also got to set the mood and tone of the conference. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with information, practical lessons and sharing of problems and ideas left most feeling refreshed and invigorated.

Here is the video and story from the Channel 6 News report:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Moving Forward

Like a video going viral, (example 1, example 2) the use of iPads in 4-5 is spreading leaving behind a satisfied smile.  Usage has increased as students experiment during their free time.  Learners are exploring iMovie, Explain Everything, Fetch Spanish, Slice It, and the many QR codes hidden in classroom spaces.  These QR codes link to websites that celebrate student work and highlight conceptual understanding across the content areas.

What is most exciting is the thoughtful integration of iPads in classrooms.  Up to this point, the power of the iPad was being constrained to simple substitution.  Apps were just replacing traditional tools.  As teachers have become more comfortable with the iPad and time has been allocated to focus conversations based on student learning and pedagogy, the possibilities have presented themselves and integration in the classroom has improved.  In the past few weeks, the students of 4-5 have used the iPads to generate documentation in preparation for student-led parent-teacher conferences using iMovie and Explain Everything.  Math classes have used Explain Everything to assess understanding of fraction and division concepts.  Science classes have used Nova Elements to provide a powerful visual of what cannot be seen and to begin an investigation of atomic structure.  Finally, Literature classes have used iMovie and the video recorder to capture reactions to reading assignments.  The common thread in all these applications is that the students are reflecting, synthesizing, and delivering their understanding in real time.  Furthermore, teachers can observe those comments later in the day and lead the students towards new understandings.

All if this activity leads me to think about our classrooms of the future.  If there were to be a 1:1 program, how would that impact our work as teachers and the ecology of learning in the classroom?  With 1:1 on the horizon, we have a real opportunity to redefine how we guide learning and provide instruction (not just content instruction but focused teaching on how to use the tools.)  With 1:1 we can really cater to the individual needs of our students and provide real world scenarios.  It’s time to start imagining how technology can create different roles for teachers and very personalized learning opportunities for students!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

8 great flash card apps

"Howard Gardner theory of Multiple Intelligences clearly corroborate the fact that students and learners have differing learning styles and teachers  should aim to appeal to all the different learner types at some point during the course. A large category of learners are visual learners and this does not  need rocket science to prove , you can easily notice it when you use bright and attractive visuals in your teaching, students tend to interact and engage with these visual teaching aids more than than they would do with other teaching materials. Flash cards can be bright and colorful and make a real impact on visual learners. Educational Technology and Mobile Learning has already featured some excellent web-based flashcard making tools and today I am providing you with the mobile version.

Below is a list of iPad apps that you can use to create and share flashcards with your students. Have a look and share with us if you have other suggestions. Enjoy"

Guided Access

This is for anybody working with young students or any other tap happy users.  My wife, who is a speech language therapist and works with young children, let me know about the  "Guided Access" setting. O.M.G. Brilliant!  Once you set it up, with a simple triple click you can restrict students to only the app you are working with and even block buttons within the app, like "going to the next level".  Enjoy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Here at the vantage point of almost two school years experience using iPads with the EC class, I'm feeling like the "great experiment" has succeeded.  Parents, faculty and students see the iPads as just another tool to be used in our classroom, as we had hoped.  The iPads are used or not as needed by all of us without much  fanfare.  Students use the iPads independently for drawing, writing, reading, music, movie making and research.  Teachers use them for the same purposes.  We have been pleased to start using more QR codes in the classroom to facilitate research for the students.  The minis that we have, have made scanning codes much easier for the students which has encouraged us to make even more use of the QR code process . The iPad has become something that we all use and rely on.  We are able to expand our library of apps organically, as new needs are identified. It is pleasing to note that all of the worry,fear and excitement has largely dissipated leaving us with a very useful tool and no ill effects that I can discern.  Onward!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Waynflete in the News

In case you missed it, here is WCSH's story on how our Early Childhood program uses iPads with their students:

Friday, March 8, 2013

K-1 music exploration with the iPad


I have been searching for apps that I can use with my Kindergarten/First Grade students all year.  Finding ways for kids to work individually on listening skills seems like an easy fit with the iPad.  Each week, I meet with small groups of 8 students outside of the regular music class.  This “special” class provides a great opportunity to experiment with different apps and procedures. 

Hearing pitch and sequence is a big part of music learning from early education to the music conservatory.  In music school, it’s called “Dictation” where the teacher plays a melody, or rhythm, or both and the student writes it down.  A famous and extreme example of dictation was during the 17th century when Mozart heard and transcribed from memory Allegir’s Miserere.  This particular Mass was supposed to be exclusive and only performed in the Sistine Chapel.  No copies of the music were to be published by order of the Pope. 

Early on, I found the “Blob Chorus” app, which is great fun for kids and requires careful listening.  I have found many apps that are fun, but don’t really teach anything, or teach and are too boring for most students.  There are a couple apps that have worked well.  “Young Genius”, also called “Young Music Genius” has been successful.  Students can practice listening to different instruments then take a quiz and/or play a matching memory game.  All of these activities provide great listening practice and enhance knowledge of musical instruments.  One good thing also is that the program gives a score at then end of each activity so the student or teacher can keep track of progress.  One less good thing is a section of the app that compares 24 composers.  This is only fun for real music geeks.  Another app that I found that works well is called “Musical Me!”  The “memory” section of the app has a great sequence and pitch game that is fun and progresses well.  The only issue for me is that the sequences are visual as well as aural.  Many apps that I find have issues that I wish I could adapt or change.  If anybody out there can program apps, I have a bunch of ideas for activities.

A big challenge working with young kids and iPads is coaching them as they learn the activity while they are wearing earphones.  It’s easy for them to start tapping off into iPad oblivion when they get frustrated or bored.  On the other hand, I am often surprised when some kids with generally short attention spans can get totally sucked into iPad activities and not want to stop.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Teach21 Sumer Conference in NYC

This is an unsolicited advert for the Teach21 Conference at The School at Columbia.  I have not been paid for my testimonial.  

For a third year in a row the cohort of tech-savvy proponents of progressive pedagogy from The School at Columbia are offering a stupendous professional development institute.  The institute is organized into single and multi-day workshops that span the range of disciplines and ages.  The focus is not wholly on technology in the classroom, rather the organizing principle is as the name suggests, 21st Century teaching.  Technology is at the heart of the institute, but its multitudinous limbs and organs include: collaboration, essay writing, fitness, assessment design, social networking, co-teaching, design, cultural awareness, and something called "algebraic thinking"-- which sounds scary.   I cannot imagine a day spent thinking algebraically, but the workshops I have attended continue to positively shape my work.  

Two two-day workshops stick in my mind; I most remember the GoogleDocs workshop from 2011 and the Personal Essay workshop from 2012.  Here is why they stick, and I hope you are ready for this revelation: time.  I was allowed (given even!) the time to sit in a room with two Google certified experts and learn all about the Google Apps and then more even more time to explore and create.  My Googlexpertise expanded exponentially (I think I'm using that word correctly) in those two days and a year later I went back to grow my writing chops.  Eve Becker walked us through a speed version of her unit on personal essay writing. With Eve, I was forced to take time to draft and shape my own personal essays.  She insisted that we dig deeply and then write honestly.  As is typical when I'm challenged, I resisted.  I couldn't figure out why I was so cranky though.  After much internal Sturm und Drang, I realized I was just scared to write -- that is when I started writing.  I saw the position of my own students who may be resistant or cranky when offered a challenge and that empathy and the skills Eve presented are going to be a lifelong lesson. This two-day workshop was the kind of whirlwind where you spin, spin, and end up dizzy but in better shape rather than battered.  

Highlights of these weeklong institutes are the daily keynote speakers.  Sitting in a cozy library with three dozen teachers listening to Howard Gardner chat amiably for an hour about his writing process will continue to be my "happy place" during stressy times.  The invited speakers are as varied as the workshops offered and last summer we heard chef Bill Telepan proselytize the power of produce in children's diets.  Not a topic any of us would have argued against, I assure you.   

All of these wonderful things are ready for you at Teach21.  I plan to go back this summer for workshops on conferring with students, co-teaching, and a refresher on GoogleApps.  I hope you'll consider coming along.  Follow them on Twitter for updates and info:  

[Ah!  I forgot about the food!  Breakfast and lunch are included every day and they are well done.]