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!