ES Makerspace-Update #2

Awhile back, I wrote a post here about our Makerspace program. Since we are nearing the end of the year, I thought I would write an update of where we are at and a little about what I’ve learned along the way.

First of all, our ES Makerspace has passed budget approval and we are doing some major renovation of the space which I am currently in (formally an ES Tech lab). During the summer months here, we will give the room a facelift. This took an enormous amount of research and work. Since I’m not an architect or a builder, I found it challenging to make decisions on so many little details about the room. I had lots of input and support from my admin and teachers who gave me feedback along the way. I also had meetings with our Operations Director, IT Manger and Builders. After thinking carefully about the functionality of the room, I think we have a near final plan. I used a 3D modelling program to create this and you can see it here (click the 3D tab on the right to move around the space).

 

The idea is that it will have different spaces set up (electrical, woodworking and crafting areas) that are flexible for both storage and workspaces. The side benches on the left are fixed to the wall as well as the shelving above. Along the wall will be peg board and linbin flexible shelving to store tools and materials for kids like below:


The benches and other side tables will be on wheels so they can be moved around when needed. The side storage room is a bigger storage room for all school science and engineering kits and materials.

Now that the space is done, we need to start finding effective ways to utilize it as a school. The idea is that it is a shared space where classes can come and go as they please but also open before school and during lunchtimes where kids can “drop in” to work on Maker projects. I certainly do NOT want it to become a newer age computer lab where formal classes are being held. In addition, we are thinking of ways to have mini mobile maker spaces (on trolleys) that can come into classes as needed. Sort of like this:

makerspace trolley

Other than that, lots of really cool projects have been happening in classrooms. We launched a new Energy maker project in Grade 4 where students used the design cycle to solve an energy problem. They held an Energy Expo for parents and teachers to showcase their work. I really loved how students referred to the design cycle and all the little problems they had to solve. Here’s a few photos of their projects:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Other than that, we held our first Family Maker Day which was a big hit (but a ton of work!). We had 100 students come with their parents and had 14 different stations that they could freely engage in (I think I’ll do a separate post for this).

Here’s a few photos from the day as well:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Chromebooks-a new paradigm shift in schools?

chromebooks-apps-flyout

Next year, we have decided to buy chromebooks as the new 1:1 computing device for Grades 3-5. It was a difficult decision but I feel it was the right one now for a few reasons.

Let’s face it, chromebooks are not that new anymore. However, they have been quickly overtaking iPad 1:1 programs and other laptop programs, especially in the US as reported here and here. As an educator (and Apple Distinguished Educator), I believe its the right device for schools in the future. I’ve worked in 1:1 programs with iPads, Macbooks, Samsung tablet computers, Samsung tablets and soon, Chromebooks. While I’ve enjoyed some of the creativity Apple has given us, I’ve had to deal with the nightmare of managing these devices through iTunes (not friendly outside North America). I’ve also had to deal with the hardware and syncing issues of Windows 8 on Samsung devices…also a nightmare. Both of these options seem to require an enormous amount of technical support and infrastructure.

I honestly feel the software model in schools will be behind us. Most schools are now cloud-based in storage (ala Google Apps or O365) and there are a plethora of online tools that you really don’t need most software. The software model requires an enormous amount of time and money to support (imaging, updates, etc) and it can really detract from student learning. If a teacher finds an amazing software tool to use in the classroom, it needs to get budget approval then requires a technician (or if you are blessed with a proper MDM) installation, updates, etc. By the time this tool makes its way into the hands of kids, the just-in-time learning moment has passed. Mobile apps were supposed to be an answer for this problem but ipads and other tablets also present their own unique set of problems. Navigating through Apple’s legalities with volume purchasing programs and being forced into updating iOS is not easy. I’ve been there and it seems to be even more difficult lately. How often are you forced to update iTunes so it’s compatible with your OS and that in turn is compatible with the iOS you have installed? Times this by hundreds when dealing with student devices. Don’t even get me started with Windows…

So now I’m forced to look into another solution. Chromebooks. Take away the need for software, updates, expensive MDMs, tech support and imaging, and this is what you are left with. The other nice bonus is your get Google Apps for Education (which I’ll admit, I’m a fan) as well as Chrome apps (there are some great ones out there). Throw in the fact that they are 1/4 of the price of any decent laptop on the market and you have me sold. Let’s face it, most software companies have online versions now or you can pretty much find an online tool that does what traditional software does (PicMonkey for online editing, Prezi, WeVideo for video editing, etc). I’ll admit, it was a budgetary decision initially but the more I research and think about this, it really is the right tool for the job.

I’m in no way saying this is no way a golden ticket and not without its share of challenges (yes I know there is no real equivalent of Adobe Photoshop, Minecraft Edu, Final Cut pro or Lego Robotics software…yet). I honestly feel that the pros far outweigh any cons. I also feel its the right tool for kids in Elementary school. In my experience, 95% of what kids do with technology, can be done online. Let’s cut the tether on the educational software model collectively forcing companies to innovate and come up with creative cloud solutions if they haven’t already done so.

Time will tell and ask me in a year how I like them. For now, onwards and upwards!

 

 

 

Minecraft and Grade 2 Farm to Table Integration

Finally a tech-rich unit integration with Minecraft! I’ve been using Minecraft Edu for years but only have been able to use them for mini-projects and activities. Our Grade 2 students just finished their “Farm to Table” unit where Minecraft was essentially the main learning tool for 4 weeks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I wish I could take credit for this but in fact the catalyst came from a teacher who was passionate about trying this. Also, full credit for the ideas comes from Mike Hoffman who did this unit with Grade 2s at TAISM and he graciously shared his plans with me.

It was amazing to see the learning that came out of this unit. Students were actively engaged  and learned concepts of producers, consumers, goods, services, taxation which would have been difficult to teach without a concrete experience. Students learned the basics of Minecraft but also more important skills such as collaboration, reflection, creativity and problem-solving skills.

Tips and Challenges: 

  • Initial setup took a bit of time as we needed to install Minecraft Edu, mods, servers, etc
  • There was a learning curve for some students who had never used a laptop before so right clicking/left-clicking and general Minecraft navigation
  • Partnering up students helped a lot as we had 2 students on each laptop
  • Server-you need a designated computer (where the IP is static) where all the computers connect to
  • Reflection booklets-these were designed by teachers and were great
  • Having specific goals for each session was really important to keep students focussed (build a house, build a farm, etc)
  • You need at least 1 teacher who has a good working knowledge of Minecraft (or willing to learn) as students needed help teleporting to locations or gifting items

Overall, it was great and something that we can really build on. It’s also overflowed to other grades (all great ideas do this and a good way to judge success of new ideas). We are  now using it with Grade 3 in their Math units on Perimeter/Area and Fractions. We are also exploring the amazing coding mod you can add with a Turtle bot.

Let the good times roll!

 

 

 

 

 

 

QR Codes-Linking two worlds

I recently attended a conference in Singapore called Learning Roundtable which was essentially how to effectively use iPads in classrooms and schools. One of the most interesting workshops was by John Wolfe and using QR codes as learning tools.  I really liked it as I could immediately see the educational value of QR codes as it helps link the real world to the digital world and also takes advantage of mobile devices. I had seen QR codes around but really didn’t understand what they were or how they were being used.

So what are QR codes? 

QR codes are a lot like bar codes that on food products. The difference is that they use both horizontal and vertical lines of axis so can hold much more information. By using a QR reader on your phone, you can scan it and it takes you to a digital link.

What possible educational value do they hold?

I think there are so many. Students love codes and there is a certain amount of mystery surrounding codes. Here are some ideas:

Literacy-There are ton of possibilities. John Wolfe mentioned a few ideas on his site but one effective way that he had used them was he had students create 60 second book talks using Photobooth, created a QR code for it and then printed out the code and put it on the inside of the cover of books. What a fantastic way to link print to digital media!

PE-I thought there would be lots of possibilities if you already have iPod touches in your school as you can download a free QR reader and you could use it in PE for orienteering. Have students find the codes around a field which give you clues and directions to the next location.

Social Studies/Humanities- For field trips, students could go to actual locations and using mobile devices, they could record a video or text about what they learned about particular works of art. Then, create QR codes to link this information for other students.

Math- John mentioned that he has seen teachers create QR codes which link to online videos for Math textbooks. What a fantastic way of making textbooks more engaging!

 

Resources

If you would like to start creating your own QR codes, you can set up a free account on Snap Vu which allows you to edit the content but maintain the same code (so you don’t have to keep printing out new codes). It also tracks how many people have actually used your code. The one little glitch is that when you put in your URL sites, make sure they are already shortened by a site like bit.ly as I tried to copy and paste a long URL from my google site (see above) and it didn’t work.

Are you using QR codes? Leave a comment with your idea!

 

Head Fakes and Learning

I recently watched Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture on TED and really got me thinking about learning. First of all, if you haven’t watched it, sit down and grab a coffee and get comfortable on your couch for a really interesting presentation. It is very heart-warming from beginning to end as he talks about his life lessons knowing that he has terminal pancreatic cancer and has 3-6 months to live. It isn’t depressing at all however.

One of his ideas is “Head Fake Learning”  and how vital it is to learning and teaching. He calls head fake learning the deeper and big learning that you learn (sometimes disguised) while learning something else. For example, learning teamwork skills and cooperation from playing saturday morning soccer. I guess I have always been a big proponent of this type of learning as I got into teaching by studying Outdoor and Experiential learning and working at summer camps and Outward Bound. I truly believe that we all should have a head fake learning that should be part of everything that we do. These can be big attitude skills such as perseverance and caring or thinking skills like problem-solving skills or reasoning skills. They don’t always have to be big skills but they should be important. This is the type of learning that happens and slips through the cracks of curriculum but stays with students for life.

How to Create an Effective Technology Lesson

All too often I see teachers who struggle to teach effective technology lessons. Really, an effective technology lesson should mirror an effective teaching lesson but with a few changes.

The Pre-Lesson:
Just like any lesson, you should start with the end in mind. What is the big ideas and smaller outcomes? Keep it specific and too the point. Make sure that it connects with the rest of the curriculum. Long gone are the days of teaching specific skills out of context such as how to format a paragraph (unless you are teaching it in a writing context). In other words, don’t teach technology skills in isolation. I usually think about a project that I want students to work on and then break it up into smaller mini-lessons that will key on some specific skills. For example, one project I did last year with the Grade 3s was designing a Favorite Author poster using Comic Life. I knew that most students hadn’t used this program before. So first I created a sample product on my own. I can’t stress how important this step is. By creating a project of your own, it allows you to see all the steps involved, work out any bugs or potential issues, and see it from a kid’s point of view. If you have already done this before, then no need to do it again unless there have been some significant updates to the program. This step is also important because you want to give a sample that students can work towards. This obviously motivates them and gives them a clear end in mind.

Here is the sample project I gave the kids:

Screen shot 2010-08-12 at 11.38.23 AM

The Lesson (10 minutes max):

You need to hook students in somehow. Start with a story like, “I was reading this book the other day by Lemony Snicket and I realized how much I enjoyed all his books. I decided that I wanted to create a poster to show other people why I like him and promote his books”. Make sure you have a good visual on your SMART board or projector at this point. Then give the challenge to students. Explain the goal and why they are doing the project. Do a “walk-through” of how to create a new one, breaking them down into no more than 5 steps. Review the steps (or have students tell the steps back to you). Sometimes if it isn’t the first time, I let the students who can tell me or show me the steps back go first to the computer as a bit of a reward (just make sure they still listen to the remaining steps). I also like to show a couple of advanced tools and say, “Hmmm…I wonder what this tool does. That would be really cool if someone could discover what it does” This allows for a bit of differentiation and motivates students for extension. I usually go over a checklist or assessment rubric just before they go as well.
Here is an example one I did for a podcast:

Podcast Assessment

Post Lesson:

I like to spend 3-5 minutes at the end of the lesson to wrap it up. This actually is an often overlooked step but essential for meta-cognition processing. Allowing a few minutes to share what they made (show their work if possible) or explain some discoveries of some new features is very important. Always try and make time for this.

So that’s it in a nut-shell. It really just comes down to good teaching practices. It really is a special blend of art and science. The art is in the delivery and the science is the formula and preparation. But if you are unfamiliar with a program or project, you really need to explore it yourself first. Test all electronics out before the kids are there (projectors, cables, etc) so that you don’t have any technical problems along the way. Good Luck!

Does digital media disconnect us from the past?

As human being, we tend to live in the future. What am I going to have for dinner? What will I say in my next meeting? Where should we go on our next vacation? Rarely do we take the time to open up those old dusty photo albums and reminisce about the past. The times that we do can truly be powerful and bring back a flood of emotions. But there is something special about doing so with something physical  and tangible such as a photo album, souvenir, or gift.  It is often more special when you can share that with a friend of family member. The past makes us appreciate the moment and be grateful for the things we have.

Family Album

So why is the past important? As Stuart Mclean, a famous Canadian radio broadcaster, author and storyteller, puts it in one of his Vinyl Cafe stories, Niagra Falls (which I highly recommend a listen)

Sometimes however, when we are lucky, we feel we get to reach out and touch yesterdays both near and far. When we’re very lucky we feel the human connection with those that were hear before us. That’s why we read books, that’s why we study history and listen to recordings of years gone by…

Only very occasionally and only by surprise does the past tip toe behind you and whisper in your ear,  and remind you that we are not alone and there were others before us who laughed and loved too. And when this happens we should stop and salute the ghosts of our past and acknowledge even if it’s with a shrug, the grinding passage of time.

So this brings me to my question. With the development of podcasts, blogs, ipads and online photo albums, do we run the risk of sacrificing a disconnect with the past since we lose that physical and somewhat more permanent component? Of course, blog posts are supposedly saved somewhere in cyberspace and Flickr promises not to delete photos. But having all our memories and connections saved in gigabytes and fiber optic cables seems a tad disconcerting to me. What will the future look like for family get togethers? Having everyone gather around an ipad and view a family wedding as tears of nostalgia stream down. Or will even be in the same physical space? Will we be subjected to merely sharing comments via Facebook such as “LOL, Mom remember when u burnt that birthday cake 🙂 ROFL “?  Time will only tell I suppose…

XEA4MZFTM8FE

Reflecting on the “e-path” traveled

545_Road_Less_Traveled_2

As we are on the homestretch of the school year, I finally have a moment to reflect on the year? After so much teacher technology inservice and so many amazing projects being accomplished by using technology, I ask myself, did we accomplish our goals as a technology team?

One of my main goals as a Elementary Technology Facilitator, was to help teachers, help themselves so ultimately, they can help their own students improve their learning.

Finally after months of hard work, I can really start to see the growth of our school in a technology sense. Initially, many teachers came with a very basic amount of technology skills (most were comfortable with email and websites) and few used some of the innovative software that we had installed on our macs. 2 years ago when I mentioned things like Photobooth and iMovie, I was greeted with blank stares from teachers. In contrast, now many teachers use these tools on a daily basis to create their own class movies and projects. In fact, these teachers are now becoming experts in their own right and teaching other teachers. Here is just a partial list of some of the amazing anecdotal notes I have made about using technology school-wide to improve learning:

  • Teachers spontaneously creating/editing their own iMovie projects
  • Teachers creating their own Google class web site (wiki) and have their students working on their own e-portfolios till late at night
  • Teachers teaching each other how to create Keynotes, podcasts and slideshows
  • Classes using iStop Motion to capture changes in the life cycle of a caterpillar over the course of the day
  • Students coming down to our sound studio with scripts and ideas to create their own podcast shows
  • Students creating and developing their own iStop animation projects and uploading them to YouTube (and checking the “hit status daily)
  • Many teachers (and students) have their own personal and class blog sites
  • Our assemblies have become lively, student-centered, media-rich dynamic presentations using many technology tools embedded in their presentations
  • 8 SMART boards have been used and they have been so popular that over 23 more have been requested for next year
  • Document cameras and projectors have become the expected “norm” for classrooms
  • Parents have got excited about technology and have done inservice sessions on Web 2.0 themes and iPhone apps
  • We have got a class set of iPod Touches approved for a pilot program for next year!

I’m sure there are so many others but sometimes it is always good to stop and look back and appreciate the road that we have traveled rather than the obstacles ahead.

My iPod Touch Apps-

Here are my current iPod Touch Apps. Some of my favorites are:

Instapaper-Great little app that allows you to save web content to read offline. This is great for traveling at airports. You can view all content later while you are flying

Air Sharing-Great file management and for downloading and transfering files between computers. Allows you to add keynotes, ppt, word documents and view them on your iphone/ipod touch.

eReader-Love this one for traveling as well. Same as a Kindle in that you can download books and read them. Makes traveling all that much lighter!

Convertbot-Handy conversion tool for just about anything that you could possible think of including weight, length, volume, currency, speed. Love the interface too!

Drinks Free-This is great for parties and wondering which drinks you can make with which ingredients. You can put in what you have and it will tell you which cocktails you can make with it

iFitness-If you are into physical training, this app is amazing. If you are like me and forget what exercises you have done a few days ago and how much you lifted, this helps a lot. It allows you to view exercises for any specific muscle group, log reps and weights and even graphs performance overtime. Also, has nice photos and even videos.

Team Teaching=Team Learning

“Wow, why haven’t we been doing this all year?” we both said to each other. We are both Grade 2 teachers, passionate about teaching, and had very little time to plan these experiments. Our team had been planning a series of science experiments for our Grade 2 classes. We had the same schedule and so the logical thing was to try and put both our classes together (16 in each) and team teach each experiment. On top of that, we were given some rather mundane outdated science lessons (although very comprehensive). We decided to spruce them up. The results were amazing.

Not only did it enhance the actual instruction we gave to the kids but the students benefited with working with each other through a series of hands-on experiences on Changes in Matter. We had both our classes sit together on the floor of the science lab while we walked them through essential understandings, big questions and had students make predictions. Students were partnered up with their science buddy.

One of the greatest benefits during the lesson delivery was that we could piggy-back on each others questions and ideas. When you are doing a lesson on your own, you don’t have that think time during instruction. The beauty of having another set of teacher eyes and ears is that you could clarify points that the other teacher made or left out. We would also learn teaching ideas from each other. Simple things that sometimes you forget to use as a teacher but seeing it modeled by a colleague with you quickly reminds you of the benefits.

The other benefit was that we could plan ideas to extend the experiments or reteach areas that students were struggling with. For example, we had an extra experiments set up at the back where students could go if they finished early and make observations on shells and rocks, draw diagrams or combine different mixtures. This idea came out of planning together.

Furthermore, we would always have a wrap up whole class(es) discussion at the end where students could summarize their observations and inferences and we could guide them in their understanding. We added some fun to it and would choose “Top Scientists” who made great observations, helped out, answered questions carefully, etc. We would give them little stickers that they put on their science lab books. Although extrinsic in nature, stickers motivated students throughout the lesson and increased the quality of work. Who says stickers are a bad thing? 🙂

Finally, it helped with classroom logistics. Luckily, we had a lab assistant set up all the experiments beforehand. But during the experiments, problems happen. A students spills water or loses their lab work. Having 2 teaching bodies in there allows one to deal with the issue while the other can move the class along.

So the questions remain, why did it work so successfully between our 2 classes? We both have similar constructivist teaching styles which helps. Another reason is that we have a “yes and..” approach. In other words, if one teacher has an idea, the other says yes and builds upon the idea. Will it work with other classes and teachers? Who knows but would love to hear about other success stories.

We are both so excited about the idea that we are now going to team teach Math lessons..in the science lab!