Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Week in Student Tech: Chromebooks, CDs, and Robotics

Who said the week before vacation couldn't be productive?  This past week, I was able to work with my student tech team at Searsport Elementary School on three different occasions, and boy were we productive!  Here's a recap in the week that was in Student Tech.


A new Lenovo Chromebook
One of our 40 new Lenovo Chromebooks.
Just this week, we received a shipment of 40 Chromebooks to be deployed upstairs for use in grades 3, 4, and 5 at Searsport Elementary School. Chromebooks are laptops that operate almost exclusively online, with no programs installed on the computer's memory except for the Google Chrome browser.  These laptops are sleek, portable, and will accommodate what the second floor classrooms do well because nearly everything they do on the computers is online.  Best of all, they are new and significantly less expensive than most other PCs, and SES is now running on laptops that are all four years old or newer (versus last year, where the laptops were between 7 and 10 years old).  Because the Chromebooks are a little different than the MacBooks we are accustomed to, our process for getting them ready is a little different, but basically comes down to:
  • Preparing the new carts and labeling the shelves;
  • Unboxing the laptops, unwrapping contents, inserting battery into laptop;
  • Labeling the laptops and chargers;
  • Wiring the carts/plugging in the chargers;
  • Putting the laptops in the cart
On Tuesday, we began this process with the fifth grade tech team.  In about 40 minutes, they were able to finish unboxing and labeling fifteen of the laptops and chargers, and most of those were wired into the cart.  Both carts were also labeled for each laptop, so students would know where to put them.  The early release day gave me some additional time after school to meet with the members of the fifth and fourth grade teams that volunteered to stay.  The fifth grade team helped fill the fourth grade team in on what they were working on, and they caught on very quickly.  It only took about forty-five minutes to finish unboxing and labeling the rest of the laptops, wiring the carts, and putting the laptops onto the shelves.

Makenzie, in grade 5, leads Justin and Emma, grade 4,
through the process.
Ellis, grade 4, entering the serial number of his group's
Chromebook into the spreadsheet so they can be verified.

Genesis, Justin and Emma, helping to move Macbooks
between carts.
Now that the Chromebooks were ready to go, it was time to move the MacBooks they are replacing. On Friday, four members of the fourth grade team assisted with this process.  The upstairs MacBooks were moved downstairs to replace the laptops down in the Kindergarten wing, since those ones are a little bit older, so we could take them out of the building.  Members of our fourth grade team helped with this step, moving the carts around the building in pairs, adding new labels to the now-Kindergarten laptops, and organizing the extras into piles that I needed to bring elsewhere.

The two Chromebook carts, ready for use.
This summer, I prepared all of the laptop carts in the building, with many of the same steps as we just used on the Chromebook carts.  By myself, some of the carts took upwards of three hours to prepare, but with my tech team, we were able to effectively prepare four carts in about the same time.  When the students return from their break, forty Chromebooks will be ready for use, and we will have 110 laptops in the building total.

Burning CDs

Among our other projects was burning copies of the CDs of the leadership songs the students made with Mr. Cannon.  Our goal is to make a copy for every student in the building to bring home.  That's about 220 CDs!  The CDs take around 3-6 minutes to burn.  Students began helping to make copies last week; the fifth graders on Wednesday and the fourth graders on Thursday.  The good thing about burning CDs is that it can be done in the background while the students are working on something else.  So, they "multitasked" while doing it.  Multitasking can be a challenge for younger students, but I think they did a nice job of managing it overall.

On the early release day, we did some more multitasking (more on that later), and burned about 90 CDs in less than two hours!  Along with what we burned in the previous week, that gave us nearly all the CDs we needed.  Now, we are just waiting for labels so we can apply those to the CDs, and then we can start sending them home.

Robotics Inventory

Mckenzie, grade 5, and Emma working on inventorying
a robotics kit.
While students were burning CDs, they were also inventorying LEGO robotics kits.  Given the nature of these kits and how students use them, pieces get mixed up and lost all the time.  It is important to do an inventory so I know which kits are missing which materials, and replenish them (I have a couple of tubs of "spare parts."  I had four fourth graders and four fifth graders there, so I had each fifth graders partner with a fourth grader for this task.  Each group got quite a ways into the inventory, so I just need to follow up on what they didn't finish.  Still, a great start to the inventory process, as I have ten kits to inventory in total.

As you can see, we were hard at work this past week!  I'm looking forward to what the new year brings!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Students as Teachers and Leaders with Google Drive!

About two years ago, RSU #20 adopted Google Apps for Education, and we've been expanding use ever since.  In my schools right now, about 10 classrooms in grades 3, 4 and 5 are using Google Drive to type and share their documents.  However, it takes a lot of work and time to get these classrooms ready, and it takes the technology integrators to come in and teach students and staff about how to use the Google Suite.

Enter the tech teams.

This year, I decided to try something different.  Last year, I tried doing Google Drive lessons by myself, with a group of 13-18 kids.  Talk about crazy!!  Because there were so many students that needed help with something, it made it very hard for me to get to the next step of the process, because I was constantly having to help students catch up.  This year, I decided that my student tech team at Searsport Elementary School would help me with those classes.  The fifth graders were already trained on Google from last year, so they were all set to go, but the fourth graders were new to it, so I sat down with them a few times to introduce them to Google Drive, so they could turn around and show their classmates.  In fact, the first time I met with the fourth grade team, I also had the fifth grade team there, and they worked with the fourth graders one-on-one.  Then, when it came time to show their classmates what they have learned, I divided up each of the steps that we needed to cover (logging in, creating a folder/document, sharing, etc.), and each student explained their step at the front of the room, showing them where to click as a laptop projected onto the board.

What a positive change!

The lessons this year went so much smoother and were much more efficient.  Students who weren't explaining their step were assigned as "floaters," meaning that whenever a student had a question, they would go over to help.  Now, instead of one person in the room to help guide students through the lesson, I had seven!  Last year, we couldn't even get through all the steps of the lesson without doing the follow; this year we were able to get all the way through, and even have some time leftover for the students to begin typing a piece from their writing folders!!

I also really liked doing our Google Drive lessons this way because of the leadership aspect.  Anytime we allow students to be teachers, we provide valuable opportunities to be leaders.  With our fourth grade team, I set the bar high by letting them know that they would be teaching their classmates about Google Drive; this happened within the first three weeks I began working with them.  And they took it very seriously.  One student mentioned at least three times the morning of their lesson how nervous they were (and speaking in front of your classmates is quite an intimidating thing to do in fourth grade!).  But he did a wonderful job on his piece, and I've seen his confidence and the confidence of the entire team grow.  I am so thankful for my tech teams!!

Today's/This week's tech team projects (weather permitting!):

  • Unboxing/labeling/preparing 40 Chromebooks for deployment, swapping out old carts and MacBooks
  • Burning 140-ish copies of the leadership CD the school did with Mr. Cannon (about 80 done last week)
  • LEGO Robotics kit inventories

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hour of Code Update: A Week Full of Programming!

I am so glad that I wrote my first post about the Hour of Code and got it out to social media!  After doing so, I heard back from some teacher friends on Facebook asking about the Hour of Code and whether they can participate.  Fast forward to this week, and I now have six classrooms taking part!  The most exciting part for me is that many of these classrooms will be taking part in multiple sessions, so we'll even be having some Two Hours of Code!  This week is going to be super busy with my usual routine combined with HoC activities, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what comes of everything.  This week (and next) I will be working with:

Two Kindergarten classes, one at Searsport Elementary School and one at East Belfast;
First grade at East Belfast;
Second grade at Nickerson;
Third grade at East Belfast; and
Fifth grade at Nickerson.

I will try to post pictures and links about our activities later on in the week!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hour of Code

I am really excited about the opportunity to organize some activities for the Hour of Code!  The Hour of Code is part of Computer Science Education Week (December 9-15, 2013), designed to introduce computer science and programming to millions of students across the United States.  The hour of code is just that, one hour during the week (though I do hope it ends up being longer!), and there are a number of activities being organized online.  At the elementary level, I hope to use Scratch with students for the hour of code, possibly through this activity where students will be making interactive holiday cards.  There are a whole host of other activities to engage students in as well.
Why Computer Science?

Simply put, there aren't enough programmers in the United States, and we're not doing much in public education to change that.  Even though computer science is one of the fastest-growing fields in our economy (and one that pays well, too), just 1 out of 10 schools in the country offer computer science curricula.  Furthermore, more and more countries are either requiring computer science in their schools, or exploring the possibility.  And with the number of computer science jobs outpacing the number of computer science students by 2020, our country's competitive edge is at stake.

But, there's good news!
With a wealth of knowledge about computer science and programming available online, we don't really need to wait for our education system to change course to expose students to computer science.  The purpose of the Hour of Code is to spark that initial interest in students; from there, there are a lot of opportunities outside of school for students to continue learning on their own (I started Saturday Scratch Clubs with this in mind). has links to a number of online resources available; I also have a listing of websites and apps for the iPad available on my Scratch Club page.

If you are a teacher interested in getting started with Hour of Code, I hope you've found this post useful.  If you are at the elementary level and might be interested in doing a collaborative Hour of Code via videoconference or other method, please send me an email or leave a comment below!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Check Out These Cool Robotics Projects!

Among the many things I am thankful for during this Thanksgiving week is the dedicated group of individuals I have on my student tech team at Searsport Elementary School.  This past Monday was an inservice day for staff, so there was no school for students (they had the week off, in fact).  And yet, when I asked if any of my tech team students would be interested in helping me with my presentation on LEGO Robotics and Project-Based Learning, nearly all of them volunteered to come in while their friends were sleeping in on that day.  I think that it speaks to what we can create in schools when we establish a culture of high expectations, leadership, and students helping each other (and their teachers too!).  They did such a great job and I heard from many teachers how proud they were of them.  We even had some time to build some pretty cool creations with the additional four kits that we received!  Check them out!

I've also embedded my slideshow below.  Finally, check out the links to the project pages for the spider and the guitar from the videos above.

Robotics Update: Coming Up on the Finish!

Can you believe that we're already near the end of the first session of our After School robotics program?  It's been a whirlwind of a time, that's for sure, but we have just two weeks to go!  After that, we'll be taking some time off, but we'll return with another session in 2014!  Here are some other important updates:

1. We just received four more robotics kits from the Perloffs!  That brings our total up to 10.  I currently have money to purchase two more, but that still leaves us well short of our program goals.  I need somewhere around 20-22 for this year, so if you know anyone who might be interested in contributing to our program, please let them know that they can contact me by email at

2. The last two weekly sessions will be this coming Wednesday, December 4th, and the following Wednesday, December 11th, after school.  In addition, I have decided to offer a Saturday finale extravaganza on December 14th.  We'll have lots to do on that Saturday, including disassembling the robotics kits and doing an inventory.  There will be a pizza party as well!  I am tentatively scheduling this from 3-6 pm, but will have more info later.

3. Though my original plan was to begin the second session of robotics on January 8th, I have decided to push this back a couple of weeks.  We will begin instead on January 23rd, ending on March 20th.  Also, we will be meeting on Thursday for this session instead of Wednesday.

I certainly have learned a lot from this first session of robotics, and I will need the extra time to put all of that learning to work in the second session.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Weeks In: A LEGO Robotics Update

Wow!  It's hard to believe we are already three weeks into our After School LEGO Robotics program at Searsport Elementary School!  The response has been amazing and parent support has been outstanding.  We've come a long way from our first week with nothing but a tub of LEGOs trying to figure out how to put everything together.  Now that we have complete robots, we have started with some introductory programming to get kids to learn how to make their robots move.  I've also had students attempting some challenge courses out in the hallway.  The first one is to try to figure out how to get their robots to start on the green line and finish on the first green line straight ahead of them.  If they complete that one, they then need to get their robot to start at the beginning, turn, and then finish on the green line of the whole course.  Then, if they complete that, they will repeat the second challenge, except they will then be trying to get their robots to return to the beginning and finish on the green line there.  We had a couple of groups who were able to get through the first two challenge and on their way to finishing the third!  Below are some examples of what they've been doing:

It was amazing to see how the students responded to being able to get their robots to successfully complete the challenges.  I think that it helps that the kids are taking ownership of their work, that they were the ones that got them to do what they wanted.  Still, given the world of gizmos and gadgets and video games that we live in, I think it's amazing to see how much excitement students get out of getting a robot to stop on a green piece of tape!

I'm looking forward to the next several weeks of robotics and I greatly appreciate all the support I have gotten throughout this process!

Next week:  the students will be trying the course above, where they will need to start inside the box, drive around the outside of it, and park back inside the box.  Any guesses as to what they'll be doing for the challenge on the right?

What I Learned From ACTEM 13

A couple weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the MainED conference in Augusta.  MainED is put on by ACTEM, the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine, which does wonderful work supporting the state's teachers in their use of available technology.  Over the course of two days, I learned about a number of great technology resources that we can bring into the classroom, but I also had a lot of opportunity to reflect on learning and working with children that has impacted my philosophy of teaching.  Here is what I learned from ACTEM 2013:

1. Integrating technology effectively means asking, what can we have students create?

A common theme of MainED 2013 was that using technology effectively is not about the device itself, but what you do with it.  Simply using the technology in the classroom does nothing to guarantee that it adds anything to students' learning experiences.  It just means that they get practice using technology, which our students are immersed in already.  The real question should be about what the students are created with that technology.  This all lends itself to a discussion on digital literacy, a discussion I hope to be having more of in the district this year.  I like to outline two distinctive forms of digital literacy:  consumptive and creative.  Consumptive digital literacy is the ability for people to read, watch, listen to, and shop, safely and securely, with technology.  Most children and many adults are doing these kinds of activities on a daily basis (safely and securely is another thing), so we need not worry too much about this level of digital literacy other than to encourage digital citizenship and online safety.  Creative digital literacy, on the other hand, is the ability for people to, well, create, using technology.  This includes making websites, video, audio, other types of multimedia, all the way up to programming computers and robots, and creating new inventions that make people's lives easier.  This is the level of digital literacy that we need to focus on the most in schools, as students will increasingly need these skills and literacies to compete in the job market they will be thrust into as adults.

The socioeconomic divide between the middle class and the working poor will be increasingly defined as the difference in peoples' ability to create with technology.

Here's a great example of this.  The US is experiencing a resurgence of manufacturing after a prolonged period of outsourcing coupled with the 2008 recession.  However, very few manufacturing jobs are being created as a result.  The reason has to do with technology.  Technology allows for the production of goods in the U.S. without incurring much of the labor costs that incentivized outsourcing in the first place.  60 Minutes did a great piece on this growing trend.

The moral of the story here is that the middle class manufacturing job of the future is not going to be on an assembly line pulling levers.  The middle class manufacturing job of the future is going to be designing a robot or computer to do the things that used to require people pulling levers to do.  How well are we preparing students for this type of future?

The good news is that effective technology integration can be streamlined into what teachers are doing already.  I am a big proponent of the Backward Design model because it starts by having teachers think about the big picture.  Backward Design asks two big questions:  What will students learn/know; and What will students be able to do?  I've found that effective technology integration in the BD model asks a third, related question:  What will students be able to create?  By thinking about the expectations for the learning experiences and the product that will encompass those experiences, we can see how technology can be integrated into a unit or lesson and then begin to think about the smaller parts and pieces that lead into that product.

This is the first of four posts that I will do on the ACTEM conference.  The second post will be about using technology to share learning.