Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday of Summer

August is the Sunday of summer, and as Dr. Seuss said, “How did it get so late so soon?”

Summer is an important time for me to rest, recharge, retool, and recommit. As August rolls in, my focus on curriculum becomes more intense, and the first few weeks of school begin to gain clarity.

It is estimated that there are 3.7 million full-time elementary and secondary school teachers in the U.S. preparing for the start of their school year, for their first conversation about community, for their first lesson on digital citizenship, for their first science experiment, for the first opportunity to experiment with the new ideas they developed over the course of the summer. 3.7 million teachers! ...and each one of us with our own opinion about what works in the classroom.

Technology and connectivity have certainly changed my classroom, and I am increasingly aware of how it has changed the teaching profession. Educators, now more than ever, need to connect with other educators. Success is hard to come by if we isolate and insulate ourselves in our classrooms. 

As we enter into the Sunday of summer, it is time to give serious thought to reconnecting with colleagues in person and online, and building Professional Learning Networks. Reaching out to connect with other educators allows us all to test new ideas, learn new trends, collect resources, and gather feedback. Connecting with other educators in turn allows us to connect our students to their peers and professionals beyond classroom walls.

Starting with small, manageable steps makes a tremendous difference. For the upcoming school year, let's all consider:
  • Scheduling a regular meeting time with someone outside of our grade level, department, or even building.
  • Attending local, state, and national conferences. Join me at an Ed Camp!
  • Using Twitter to follow an interesting hashtag (#), to seek out others who share your ideas, and to explore ideas that seem foreign to you.
  • Reading educational blogs and posting comments based on your reactions.

Here are some of my trusted PLN resources: 

Twitter, to name just a few:

Blogs, to name a few:

What are your trusted resources for building and participating in a PLN? Share your favorite strategies, conferences, tweeps, and blogs.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Breakfast Unplugged

A little story that will hopefully prove a point.

I was enjoying a breakfast with my family at a wonderful mom and pop restaurant. The place is lively with bright colors and good music. The staff has huge personalities and the cinnamon buns make you smile inside and out.

Just after we ordered a tune came through the sound system. It was a song I knew but I could not recall the artist. I could sing it, to the embarrassment of my daughter, and was frustrated I could not remember the name of the singer.

At this point I could have dug out a device and tapped away for the answer. I did not because I do not have a smart phone. Instead, I waited for the waitress. When this boisterous woman came back I asked her who sang the previous song, providing her with a few harmonious lines as my daughter buried her face into her hands.

Of course, the waitress knew. She gave me the answer that I was looking for. However, her and I went on to have a nice conversation about music, growing up with the radio always on, how much fun it is to sing in public with your children looking on in horror, and how annoying it is to have that song on the tip of your tongue. That exchange would not have happened if I had pulled out a device.

Jarred Haas (@jarredhaas) tweeted, "Johnson’s First Sign of Technology Literacy: Knowing when to use technology and when not to use technology." There are moments when tech integration is essential. On the other hand, there are moments when face-to-face conversations and human interactions are just as valuable. As we learn to navigate the technological landscape we need to provide opportunities for children to be conversationalists, debaters, and collaborators. Sometimes, the meandering path is better than the straight line.

Friday, February 7, 2014


My colleagues have been working to discover ways that we can make our students' digital work more visible. Currently the work lives in students' Google Drive accounts, stashed away in folders. The work is accessed by students, teachers, and parents who are curious enough to pull the login information from their child's long term memory.

Recently, Ben Thrash and I experimented with Thinglink. We have been co-teaching a Russian History unit as part of the Lower School's Global Focus Study. After conversations around community and the Olympic symbol, students began researching famous Russian individuals. We have artists, dancers, musicians, scientists, nurses, leaders, and writers. All played an important role in their community. The students generated short biographies on Drive and now we have the work available on Thinglink. We captured the Olympic Symbol and added labels generated by the students. We think that this platform will be a destination for other classrooms, for families, and for community members to visit to celebrate our students' work. Each group will have uploaded their document. Those that have extra time will use some of the digital tools available to them to create a more dynamic presentation. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Friday, January 3, 2014

2-3 is SOLD on iMovie Trailers!

Here is my looooong overdue blog post!

2-3 underwent its biannual advertising study just before Thanksgiving Break.  Our advertising study generally involves learning about the history of advertising, examining different types of ads and paying attention to certain advertising tricks and claims, all with the goal of helping our students to become more aware of the power of advertising and to be thoughtful and critical consumers.  Over the years we have included a variety of activities and guest speakers.  This year, along with some of our usual activities, we had an "in-house" expert, Ken Matsubara, Sarah's husband, a creative director for The VIA Agency, working with us and touring us through The VIA Agency's workplace, and we also added a little twist to our typical hands-on activities.  We decided to try using iMovie to create our own ads.  It was a resounding success!  We enlisted the expertise and assistance of Page in first  training us teachers and then introducing our students to iMovie Trailers.  Page also worked along with us in helping the students to plan and produce their ads.  The children worked in groups of three to decide on a product or service to advertise, make a poster and then create a trailer to promote their product or service.  Since all of the students were working on their projects at the same time during a couple of different class periods, 2-3 was certainly a bustling hub of activity during those times!  We teachers were in awe of the excitement this project generated, the creativity and ingenuity we observed and how well the students worked together.  The afternoon before Thanksgiving Break, we had an "ad-fest," a showing of all of the ads we had made, complete with snacks.  The children loved watching each others' creations and were very proud of their accomplishments.  With Page's help, the teachers also shared the links to each ad with parents and created QR codes to go along with each ad.  I think it would be safe to say that we will be incorporating iMovie into our advertising study the next time around.  We are "sold" on the usefulness of this medium for children to demonstrate their learning.   Kudos to Page for all of her enthusiasm and guidance!  Check out this example:  

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.