Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Plea for Your Help

As a tech integrator, it's sort of expected of me to keep current on the latest trends in technology and their impact on education.  While I didn't start out looking to be a tech integrator, and while I still maintain a little (at least I hope it's healthy!) skepticism about how technology is used in education, I've also witnessed a number of educational trends that mirror technology trends in life and in business.  Mostly, I'm really inspired by the growth of the Maker and Hacker movements, where everyday people create DIY solutions to problems and put technology to work making a difference in people's lives, and how that is beginning to be applied in education.  I don't have a lot of knowledge or experience in the Maker movement myself, but I would like to learn and get started, so I can bring that learning to students.  The good thing is that there is no shortage of technology tools out there for kids to get their hands on.  Things like Makey Makey, which let you make game controllers out of everyday objects, or Arduino boards, which let you build and program your own micro-controllers to program robots.  And 3-D printers?  Wow, how awesome would having one of those be?  I think I could help make school a pretty awesome place with this kind of equipment.  But, I have good news and bad news and you when it comes to all of this stuff:

Here's the bad news -- I have access to very few of these things.  

So what's the good news?  I do have access to the Internet, which I can use to connect with you.  So, now that we're here, together (does that sound weird?), I am going to make my shameless plea to you:

I need your help.  

I need better access to materials that let our students be creators and Makers and users of technology that go far and above playing video games and chatting with their friends.  I want students to be connected to the Maker movement.  I want students to build things that are awesome, produce things for other people, and make things that matter.  I want to work with students to stay in tune with their interests, and to pursue those interests in powerful new ways.  So, I've created a Wish List on Amazon to ask for your support.  My goal is to try to find as many things that would support our students that don't cost thousands of dollars, and as I find them I will add them to my Wish List.  I know this time of the year is tough, but if there is anyway that you can help, I would so greatly appreciate it!  And if you do support us, make sure to include your name and a way to get in touch with you so we can send you our thanks!!

If you've followed my blog before, you know that I've been shoulder-deep in LEGO robotics for a year-and-a-half now, and I absolutely love it.  But LEGO robotics is just the beginning.  They enjoy a long and prosperous future at the core of what I do with students around technology.  But I want to go deeper.  My long-term goals were always to bring in the Maker movement into my schools, and I'm having a hard time making that happen.  Hopefully, with the right equipment, and your support, we can make that a reality for the students and schools that I serve.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hour of Code is Back!

One of greatest and most fun projects I participated in last year was the Hour of Code.  The Hour of Code, part of Computer Science Education Week, encourages teachers and students to spend (at least) an hour learning about computer science.  The reasons are obvious:  at a time where computer science is in greater and greater demand in the job market, an alarmingly few number of schools include it in their curriculum.  Hour of Code was designed to pique the curiosity of students everywhere, and then help them access resources to help them learn how to code, whether at school or at home.

Last year, I did the Hour of Code with teachers and students from 6 different classrooms across my four schools.  They joined the nearly 20 million students from across the globe who participated!  Their goal this year is to reach over 100 participants, and I hope that even more of my classrooms will help contribute to that number!

At the elementary level, my colleague Mrs. Hayslip and I created a page with links to the various Hour of Code activities we will be working with on the RSU #20 Elementary Libraries page.  The best part about Hour of Code activities is that there is no experience required for teachers; activities are provided online, and tutorials are baked right into the activities.  And, for classrooms with less access to technology, they even have activities that don't require computers or Internet access!  I am looking forward to bringing this opportunity back to my classrooms again this year!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Takeaways From ACTEM, Part 3

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 3.

Here are links for part 1 and part 2.

I've been wanting to learn about Design Thinking for a long time.  I had heard about it as being similar to many engineering process models, including the Engineering is Elementary model that I have been using with my robotics clubs.  There was always one place that I felt these models fell short, though, and that was a lack of recognizing the end user of the solutions to the problems that students solved in the engineering process.

After attending a half day session by Jeff Bailey and Dan Ryder, the duo better known as Wicked Decent Learning, I was convinced that the Design Thinking process helped to fill some of the gaps I needed to be filled.  They describe Design Thinking as a "student-centered, empathy-fueled, creativity-driven, authenticity-oriented" approach to problem solving that often begins by asking, "How might we..."?  Just like with engineering models, there are a number of Design Thinking models to choose from, but Dan discussed in particular his use of the DeepDT process, which is put out by the Mt. Vernon Institute for Innovation.  The DeepDT process has four primary steps:  Discovering the problem, Empathizing with potential users of your potential solution, Experimenting with ideas, and Producing the solution.  I was especially encouraged with how multi-faceted the empathizing process is.  It requires students to get to know and understand the members of their own team, going out and asking questions and listening to the target audience of potential users, and be able to think about how their users might interact with and use their solution, and how to taylor the solution to individual needs.

I still have lots to learn about the DeepDT process, but I'm very encouraged and excited by what I see.  There is also an important role for technology to play in this process, especially when it comes to tools like Google Apps that allow for group collaboration and communication with people who might be potential advisors and users of the solutions to problems students are working on solving.  Most importantly, Design Thinking ties in well with Project-Based Learning, and specializes in students working on solutions to real problems that matter to them.  As I learn more, I am hoping to integrate Design Thinking for an upcoming challenge that I will have students work on in my technology club.  If you would like to learn more about Design Thinking, check out the links that I've provided above, and also check out the #dtk12chat Wednesday nights on Twitter.  Stay tuned!

Takeaways from ACTEM, Part 2

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 2.

Here are links for part 1 and part 3

Let's face it:  there are never enough tech people to go around!  Working in four schools, I am constantly on the go.  My mornings and afternoons fill up quickly with meetings with teachers to plan projects and help answer tech questions.  I hate having to tell teachers that I can't meet with them until next week or sometimes even the week after, but it does happen from time to time.  But what if there were a better way?  What if there were a way to better meet the needs of individual teachers, to differentiate my work with them much like they do with their students?  And what if there were a way to flip the traditional model of "sit and get" professional development that causes teachers to shudder at the very mention of "PD"?

Potential answers to those questions were at the heart of two afternoon sessions that I attended at ACTEM on Thursday.  The first was led by Mike Muir from the Auburn School Department on a project he is a part of called "Distributed PD."  The purpose of this project is to better facilitate district professional development through a combination of face-to-face trainings and online learning modules, as well as a system of keeping track of what staff are working on, a system to collect information on the needs of teachers, and a system of recognizing them for the work they have done.

There are oodles of resources about the Distributed PD Project, still ongoing, on their website.  There are a couple of things that I found interesting and very pertinent to my own evolving thinking about how to better support teachers using technology.  First, I like the fact that they have classified tech-related professional development into a series of curriculum "buckets," ranging from personal use and classroom and tech management on one end to supporting personalized and independent learning and forging greater school/home/community connections on the other.  I especially like that this continuum hits on a point that I make often, which is that our focus on progressing with the use of technology should be on the pedagogy and learning goals the technology will support, not so much on the technology itself.  This continuum also stresses that the professional development that goes into learning the tech tools should not happen independently of the time spent looking at the greater goal the technology tool is going to be used to meet.

I also found it interesting that they were looking at the use of badging as a means of recognizing staff for the professional learning they were engaging in.  We all know about how badging works; we need look no further than the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts for examples of badges that recognize what the scouts have learned or are able to do.  In the case of professional development, badges would be awarded to teachers that completed certain modules or trainings offered by the district, either in person or online, and demonstrated what they learned or how they put what they learned into practice.  In turn, teachers would have a badge that they could insert and display on their class webpage or elsewhere, and be recognized by administrators and other teachers for their expertise in certain areas.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Werner, the Library and Instructional Technology Specialist at Cape Elizabeth High School (and Twitter superstar), presented a session on alternatives to the college lecture-style nature of many of the PD sessions that we attend.  Jonathan suggests a model of teachers teaching teachers tech, and believes that professional development should resemble more of a support group, where teachers have the opportunities to work as the professionals that they are with each other and to teach and learn from each other.  There are tons of other great suggestions that he offers, and I realize that my post is getting quite long-winded, so please check out the link I provided to his presentation and check those out.

To conclude, my one sentence summary of the afternoon in professional development-based professional development is this:

A more comprehensive, diverse, individualized, and supportive system of district-wide professional development, can help replace a shutter-worthy system of obligation and compliance with a more meaningful system for teachers that meets them where their needs and dreams are, much like we try to do with our students every day.

Takeaways from ACTEM, Part 1

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 1.

Here are links for part 2 and part 3.

The opening half-day session that I attended was about the use of iPads at the elementary level.  The workshop was led by Mauri Dufour, who teaches kindergarten in the Auburn School Department.  As you may remember, Auburn is the district that rolled out a 1:1 iPad initiative for all of its kindergarteners, and received a large amount of attention (and plenty of derision, too) from state media sources and even outlets like Fox News and the Christian Science Monitor, in the process.  And not without good reason; when people think of the iPad, they often think of games and flashy things, not of serious learning.  Mauri, however, showed us that the iPad, along with other Apple hardware and software, have the potential to seriously transform education and increase the amount of individualization and sharing going on in the classroom.  One of the tools that comes in handy is the Apple TV, which we have rolled out at Searsport Elementary, the Weymouth School (which has iPads), and at the two middle schools as part of MLTI.  The Apple TV allows just about any Apple device to connect to a television set or LCD projector wirelessly.  Mauri talked about the potential of the Apple TV to "untether" the teacher, meaning that they can move freely around the classroom without losing their connection to the projector.  And, because the ability to connect to the projector is not dependent on being in one specific location, an Apple TV facilitates sharing by students on their own iPads.

Mauri also uses the front and rear-facing cameras on the iPads frequently, and so do her students!  Her students know how to take video on the iPads, and she shares their learning with parents and guardians through private YouTube videos.  With a special app, the cameras can also read QR codes that Mauri creates for each student, and each QR code takes her students to different activities or videos, allowing her to differentiate and focus on what each student needs to work on when it is time for students to work in stations.  In short, the iPad is a tool (one of many) that allows you to create more "you's" in the classroom.  Technology should not replace you as a teacher, but allow you to extend your reach and target and work with those students who need your support the most.

The problem that often accommodates iPad rollouts in schools is that teachers and students are often unprepared to use these devices in a way that promotes learning.  My first takeaway from ACTEM 14 is that, FROM DAY 1, the expectation has to be set with technology is that it is a learning tool.  This is not always an easy sell with students, mind you.  When I was bringing the iPads we got at Weymouth last year into the classrooms for the first time, the first question I got in every classroom (no joke!) was, "Do the iPads have Angry Birds on them?"  iPads and other devices are getting into the hands of children at younger and younger ages, and their history with technology is increasingly that of gaming and occupying and keeping them quiet in public, and less and less about learning.  If we give in to that impulse early, it is very difficult to get students to see those devices any differently down the road.  Which foot we get started on makes a huge difference, and I know it is a major area of improvement that I need to work on.

I know that I have a lot to learn about effectively integrating iPads into the classroom.  iPads are NOT laptops, and we will not be successful with using iPads if we try to use them that way.  I will be attending Auburn's Leveraging Learning Institute in a couple of weeks, which focuses on iPad use at the elementary grades.  I'm looking forward to expanding my learning around tablet use in the classroom and hope to come back with new ideas for my schools.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Free Rice and Google Spreadsheets: Keeping Track of Helping a Good Cause

If you've never been on Free Rice before, you probably should; the fourth graders at Searsport Elementary School sure have!  During the last couple of weeks of school, the fourth graders have been answering math problems and learning new words to help donate food to those without it all over the world.  In fact, two of our students, Gabe and Caleb, wrote about this project in the third trimester edition of News from Moose ("Students Help the Hungry").  Check out their article!

Throughout this project, students kept track of how many grains of rice we were donating using Google Spreadsheets.  They learned about how to set up a spreadsheet, and what rows, columns, and cells were.  They also learned that spreadsheets can do math using formulas, and we used the Sum formula to calculate how many gains of rice we donated during a course of the week.  While the craziness that goes along with the end of the school year limited the opportunities for students to use Free Rice, they were able to donate a lot of rice in a short amount of time!

During the last week of school, we finally got a chance to figure out how many grains of rice we donated as an entire grade.  We used our Sum formula to figure out how many grains of rice we donated for all the weeks combined.  Once students had that calculated, I directed them to a Google form I created so that they could submit their totals.  After every student submitted their totals, I was able to use the Sum formula to calculate the whole class together.  In just about a month's time, the fourth graders at Searsport Elementary School donated over 225,000 grains of rice!  Wow!  Everybody left that day feeling great about what they were able to achieve together!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

News From Moose Issue 2 is Hot Off the Presses!

A screenshot of News From Moose on the Searsport Elementary School website!
Ever since the beginning on March, when the first issue of News From Moose came out, the fourth graders at Searsport Elementary School have been hard at work preparing a new batch of news stories about all of the happenings at SES, and now, the second issue is hot off the presses!  Read all about the fourth and fifth grade band and chorus concerts, P.E. Helpers, a week with the Junior Achievement program, and much more!

What we like about this issue of the newsletter is that we have some new bylines!  We found out very early that there's a lot to know about what a news story looks like and how we write them, so we have been working on these stories as an entire team.  With these issues, we had a few groups of students take on writing a news story together, and they did a great job!  We have a number of stories written by the whole team, but look out for some special bylines!

Check out Issue 2 of News From Moose!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Supporting Student ePortfolios, and Next Steps

This entry is cross-posted on the 20 Tech Blog.  Check out the posts from the rest of our tech integrator team while you're there!

An elementary school is always a busy place, but we're always trying new things too!  Right now, a number of teachers and I in three different schools have been piloting the use of ePortfolios to save and celebrate student work!  Right now this project is happening in a couple of forms, but the goals are still the same--to bring self-reflection and meta-cognitive thinking skills to the fore, and to increase student engagement and to give them more opportunities to be proud of the work they are doing.

What is an ePortfolio?

Of course, I should probably begin my discussion of ePortfolios with a definition.  An ePortfolio is an electronic portfolio.  It means that we are using technology to build a collection of our work.  Even if that work is not on the computer (maybe it is handwritten or drawn), we can create digital copies of our work with scanners or digital cameras so that we can include just about everything.

Portfolios can be a whole lot of things, both educational and professional.  Generally (and the way we've presented them so far), though, portfolios start as collections of our best work.  In this regard, portfolios are like folders or binders, but what puts them over the top as an educational tool is the use of reflection.  Meta-cognition, recognition of our own thinking, is a key trait for success in school and career, and portfolios are a tool that can help us develop those skills, even in our younger learners.  As we work on implementing ePortfolios in some of our elementary classrooms, we will be working on finding the right questions to ask so that students are able these important meta-cognition skills.

1st Grade ePortfolios in Google Drive

4th grade tech team students at Searsport Elementary School
assist first grade students taking pictures of their writing on
the iPads.
Right now, we have begun a number of pilots that we are hoping to build on for next year.  We currently have four 1st grade classrooms in three schools that are piloting an ePortfolio project using Google Drive.  While each classroom has its different approaches, generally, we are taking pictures of students' best work using iPads and uploading them using the Google Drive app.  Two of the schools have student technology teams, so they are also a part of the process.  The fifth grade students at the Nickerson School and some of the fourth graders at Searsport Elementary School go into the first grade classrooms to help the first graders take the pictures and rename them in Google Drive.

So far, we have observed positives as well as some causes for concern, though both I believe will be helpful to us for implementing next year.  First, we've noticed that most of the students appear to be more motivated to write, even if they already like writing to begin with.  In quite a few cases, though, we've noticed that the students are now motivated to revise and improve their work more than they did before, because we set the standard that we would only include their very best work in the ePortfolio.

4th grade tech team students at Searsport Elementary School
assist first grade students taking pictures of their writing on
the iPads.
In other cases, we have observed that students are rushing to write stories because they want to "publish" as much as they can.  In the future, we will need to make sure that we are communicating more clearly about what "best work" means.  We also may need to space out the frequency in which we are adding pieces to their portfolios (monthly versus weekly or bi-weekly, for instance), and have students pick out one piece out of a number.  I think a "less is more" approach will ensure more quality and also encourage students to think about why they would prefer to publish one piece over another.

In any case, I feel like we have had a successful pilot so far.  The first graders appear to enjoy having their writing photographed, and it also gives them a lot of pride to be able to share their work, especially with the older students on the tech team! 

4th grade and 5th grade Google Sites

While not as far along as the first grade projects, I have also begun piloting 4th and 5th grade ePortfolios.  This project really began at Searsport District Middle School, where Laurie Rule, the tech integrator at that school, has been working on implementing the use of ePortfolios in Google Sites.  Her student tech team "Viking Pilots" were instrumental in that as well, creating "model" ePortfolios for others to learn from, and helping their classmates with building their portfolios and adding artifacts to them.  A couple of months ago, my 5th grade tech team started meeting with the Viking Pilots at the middle school, and one of the things that we set about doing were ePortfolios.  The middle schoolers helped the elementary schoolers create their own ePortfolio using the middle/high school template.  Then, after brainstorming ideas for what an elementary ePortfolio looked like, I was able to create a template that was just for us.

4th and 5th grade students, being older than the 1st graders, are (or should be) able to manage their own portfolios without the kind of support that the 1st graders need.  At the same time, they also need a medium that will help them exercise the meta-cognitive skills that make portfolios a worthwhile educational pursuit.  So, I used Google Sites to create a template ePortfolio that students can build off.  What I like about Google Sites is that you can build template pages that have template subpages built right into them, so I am using that feature to create a couple of page templates for adding a new subject or new artifact to their portfolio that will have instructions baked right into the page.  To go along with that, I have been working on a resource page designed to help students set up their ePortfolios independently.

A screenshot of the SES Student ePortfolio Template being developed and piloted right now.

Fifth grade students piloting that template.
Right now, my fifth grade tech team and the members of the fourth grade tech team who are also in the Extended Learning Program are piloting ePortfolios.  I am trying to have them pilot with as little involvement or direction from me as possible, so that they have to use the resource page I have been building.  That way, I can gather feedback on how helpful that website is, and how closely (or not) they are reading the directions.  The two groups are also piloting two different possibilities for organizing an ePortfolio.  The fifth grade students are focusing on organizing their artifacts by subjects.  For now, I have the subjects divided up into the three types of writing under the Common Core (narrative, explanatory, opinion) as well as math, science and social studies.  I'm also encouraging students to create "optional" subject pages for other subjects like art and music, as well as individual pursuits in and out of school.  Meanwhile, the fourth graders are organizing theirs by methods of thinking.  In the Extended Learning Program, these students have all year with Mrs. Gass, the ELP teacher, in examining how and when they think at different levels.  Toward that end, we created a template based on Susan Winebrenner's model (page 45 in the PDF) that also expands on Bloom's Taxonomy (revised).  Ultimately, the ePortfolio gives us the flexibility to adapt and build templates for each grade level and how each teacher would like to use it.  In the end, we hope to be able to present a couple of different examples of options for organizing an ePortfolio to continue generating conversations around creating and using them in the classroom!

If you have worked with elementary portfolios, I'd like to hear from you.  What were some unexpected challenges that you came across?  Do you have ideas for great questions to ask students in aiding them with their meta-cognition?  Please post your feedback in the comment section below!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Robotics Update: End of Session 2, Looking Forward

LEGO Robotic Ferris Wheel

After a couple of special Saturday sessions (to make up for the HORRIBLE March weather!), we've concluded the second session of LEGO Robotics at Searsport Elementary School!  I'm happy to say that we were able to construct a couple of successful amusement park rides!  It wasn't easy though.  For starters, the students had to know what the rides were, and then figure out how to make one out of LEGOs.  Then, I told students that I was acting as the "safety inspector."  If a ride was not safe (i.e. it went too fast, was flimsy, or in one case had no bottom to it), I told students that they would have to make changes to their ride until it was safe.  We also talked more about the engineering process and how they could relate to every step of the process.  A couple of weeks ago, we even brought a couple of rides with us so we could talk about our program at the school board meeting.  Which brings me to my next point...
Students working on their amusement park for a special
Saturday session of LEGO robotics.

We talked about LEGO Robotics at the last school board meeting!!

At the request of our school superintendent, I made a presentation to the school board about LEGO Robotics on April 8th.  Of course, the most important part of LEGO Robotics is what the students are able to build and program with them, so I was happy to be joined that evening by a handful of students from grades three through five.  It takes a lot of courage to get up and speak in front of any group; this is something most adults have a hard time doing.  Just imagine being 9 years old and speaking in front of a room full of adults that includes the entire school board, the superintendent, assistant superintendent, etc.  But, they NAILED IT!  They did a wonderful job explaining how their amusement park rides worked, some of the challenges and design flaws they overcame, what they learned through their experiences, and what their experiences were like overall.  I left that meeting feeling so proud of my students for confronting yet another challenge that I put out there for them, remaining calm, and succeeding with flying colors!  I just wish I had taken some video (the Republican Journal, though, got the story)!

First LEGO League

One of the goals that I have had for awhile relating to our LEGO Robotics program at Searsport Elementary was the eventual establishment of a FIRST LEGO League team in the area.  FLL is a competitive league where teams have nine weeks to build a robot that will complete as many in a series of challenges on a challenge table as possible in two-and-a-half minutes.  However, robotics is just one part of the whole FLL challenge.  There's also a research project that takes place around the challenge's theme; next year's theme is "First Class," and centers around education, so I am excited about the potential to organize a team for FLL. The Thursday before vacation, I held an informational meeting at the school cafeteria to see how many students might be interested.  We were also joined by videoconference by some very special guests.  The Spruce Mountain Area Robotics Team (SMART) out of the Jay/Livermore/Livermore Falls area supports a number of teams competing in FIRST LEGO League, and one of the teams was nice enough to join us on a Thursday evening to show us what it takes to field a team in FLL.  We've got a lot of work ahead, but a great group of kids that I know will do an awesome job!

A nice group of kids (and parents) ready to tackle FLL.
Connecting with S.M.A.R.T. via a Google+ Hangout.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Student Tech update: Leaders In and Out of the Classroom

If you have been following my updates about my work with student tech teams, you know that one of the big themes that I stress with my teams is leadership.  Leadership means that students are helping others while also modeling positive behavior for those that they are working with.  Leadership also means working together to solve problems and create as a team.  In the last month or so, my student tech teams have been leaders in all of those regards, in and out of the classroom.  Here's a recap of the month in student tech:

Working on 1st grade ePortfolios at Nickerson
A fifth grade tech team student at K. Nickerson School reads
stories written by two first grade students.  Finished stories will
be uploaded into their ePortfolios.
In February I began working with a group of four fifth grade students at the K. Nickerson School in Swanville.  As with the teams in Searsport, their goal is to help with technology projects taking place across the school.  In addition, they help keep me notified of issues with the laptops as they arise, and making sure basic things like homepages are set and all of the icons in the dock are where they are supposed to be.

In the past few weeks, the fifth graders and I have been working with Kate Chapin, first grade teacher at Nickerson, to begin building electronic portfolios where students could store their best writing from first grade for archiving.  We have a few iPads in the building, so we are taking pictures of student work and then uploading them to the student's accounts in Google Drive through the Google Drive app.  The first graders are already familiar with taking pictures with the iPads, so the role of the tech team students is to help them with logging into Google Drive, uploading the pictures that they take, and organizing their Drives as necessary.

One of the great things that came out of this experience was to see the pride that the first graders had in sharing their writing with the fifth graders.  The fifth graders were so awesome with their patience and their listening, and even pointed out a few things that needed fixing.  This has already proven to be a valuable collaborative activity and I'm looking forward to what the next few weeks will bring.

Helping 3rd Graders with their Solar System Project
Fifth grade tech team working with third graders on their
solar system slideshows.

At the beginning of the year, our fifth and fourth grade teams helped the third grade classrooms at Searsport Elementary School get started with Google Drive.  Since then they have been using Docs to write electronically in Google.  Over the past couple of weeks, we have been working with third grade students on another tool available in Google Drive:  Presentations.  As part of the culmination of their solar system unit and project, third graders are creating short slideshows with information about their planets.  Our student tech teams have been there every step of the way, helping the third graders with their questions, inserting pictures and text into their slideshows, and formatting their slides so that everything fits.  It's been quite the effort, as there are three third grade classes at SES and only a handful of tech team students.  But, we've helped them all and they're almost all finished with their slideshows

On a side note, one morning our fifth graders helped me with a project that involved deleting and re-adding all of the upstairs printers on the student MacBooks, as well as updating Flash.  They had lunch at 11 instead of our usual 12, and then at 11:30 we went upstairs to work on this project.  We had all 30 laptops updated before the third graders even came back for recess, and then they helped those third graders with their slideshows.  Their ability to be productive and focused is just amazing!!

5th Graders Beginning Their Transition to Middle School

As we now enter April and approach the end of the school year, the fifth graders are beginning to prepare and transition to middle school.  The fifth grade tech team at Searsport Elementary School is no exception.  A couple of weeks ago, the fifth grade tech team at SES and the sixth grade Viking Pilots at Searsport District Middle School met to talk about what they were doing in each of their schools.  The Viking Pilots are helping to implement electronic portfolios at the middle school, and they have done a lot of work making model ePortfolios of their own, while helping students and teachers with adding artifacts to those portfolios.  We also talked about some possible projects that the two teams can work on together, including a website for the school and a website specifically for the tech teams at the Searsport complex.  We will try to meet once a month for the rest of the year; I'm looking forward to seeing what we accomplish, and watching as my fifth graders become more comfortable with their transition to middle school!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What I Learned at EdCampME, part 2: After the Hour of Code

First off, I just want to say that the Hour of Code is awesome.  In early December, as part of Computer Science Education Week, thousands of classrooms and millions of students from across the country took an hour to experience computer science by engaging in activities that allowed students to learn and practice logical and computational thinking skills.  In my schools, we had six classrooms take up the Hour of Code challenge in grades kindergarten through five.  In these classrooms, we primarily used two web-based resources:  Light-Bot and Scratch, and the students LOVED them!  What was so great about the Hour of Code was the fact that it ended up being so much more than an hour; most of the classrooms I have worked with have continued or are looking to continue along with the Hour of Code, especially Scratch.  I love the Hour of Code for helping to reinforce the purpose of computer science education down the road while providing a series of activities that students can engage and channel their creativity in.

However, the Hour of Code has also left me wondering, what's next?  How do we continue the momentum and support the students who really want to go to the next level with these activities?  Good thing there's EdCamp!  At last weekend's EdCampME, I got to meet Jay Collier, who is program director for Project > Login, a business partnership designed to engage and connect students with technology-based careers in Maine.  Jay helped lead a great conversation about next steps after the Hour of Code.  One of the resources he talked about was the MIT App Inventor, created by many of the same folks who created Scratch.  With a similar interface, the purpose of the website is to provide a child-friendly way to design apps for the Android platform!  You can even test them out on an actual Android smartphone!

When I was elementary school, I loved staying after school for computer club.  While those computer clubs were about playing educational games (Oregon Trail, anybody?), we also talked at this session about computer clubs where the entire purpose was to engage in coding and programming on the computer.  The beautiful part of this idea is that there are so many free, web-based resources out there for students to use (Scratch, and Gamestar Mechanic are examples that come to mind) that, as long as you have computers in the school, you could start one of these clubs with little to no additional cost.  We also learned about CoderDojo, an organization with clubs all over the world designed to provide spaces for students to learn coding for free, together.  What I like most about the CoderDojo concept is their model for asking questions, which has three steps:

1. Ask the person next to you;
2. Ask another student;
3. Ask an adult.

I am really looking forward to using this model in a variety of settings, including LEGO Robotics and using Scratch in the classroom.  For our upper elementary students, it is important that we reduce their dependence on us, as well as encourage students to work collaboratively and independently.  I believe the model above is an effective step toward accomplishing all of that.

I think that this session will help me roll out some new activities and programs with students in the near future.  If you are/were involved with Hour of Code in your school, I'd love to hear the next steps you are looking to take.  Who knows, maybe there's an opportunity for collaboration?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What I learned at EdCampME, part 1: 20% Time

I will start by saying that if you have never been to an EdCamp, you should go sometime.  EdCamps are conferences for teachers using the "unconference" format, which means that sessions are offered by teachers and for teachers.  Attendees can talk about an idea for a session that they could help lead, or they could also ask to see if someone might be able to lead a session about something else.  In other words, it's professional development that teachers can actually use!

There are hundreds of EdCamps held worldwide, and one was just held in Maine this past weekend.  I attended sessions about access to technology in low-income areas, Google Scripts, and more.  But two sessions stood out to me the most, and I hope that I can begin bringing these concepts into classrooms as soon as I can.

The first concept is known as "20% time."  In the first afternoon session we learned about how this concept from the tech sector is being applied to education in amazing ways.  Although it is most famously attributed to Google's policy of allowing employees to pursue side-projects of interest to them, this website credits the idea all the way back to 3M's use of "15 percent" time, which resulted in such creations as Post-It notes and masking tape (follow the link for some great and practical resources about getting started with 20% time in the classroom).  20% time applies very similarly to the classroom; this is the time for students to be learning about almost anything that interests them, or to be applying themselves and their learning to an interest or cause of importance to them.  This concept gets at a number of hard-to-reach ideals in education.  First, tapping into student interests would appear to create intrinsic motivation for learning in schools that is hard to create when most or all of the direction comes from the adults.  20% time would also appear to help students exercise a number of "soft" skills that almost never show up on a standardized test but are so crucial for future success, including goal-setting, learning independently, researching, decision making, and many more.  Students don't necessarily have to commit to learning something "new" either; 20% time could be used for helping a non-profit organization, fundraising, or raising awareness for a cause, all of which help students with other sets of skills.

I also like that we as teachers can integrate opportunities for students to show others what they've learned.  Jennifer Scheffer, who I learned a TON from during the course of the day, helped lead the discussion and mentioned that she used 20% Time for writing, and had students choose what they would write about.  I feel like blogging would provide a great platform for students to write about what they were doing and learning about during their 20% Time.  There was even mention of holding an EdCamp-style conference where the students would get to be the facilitators!  How exciting is that?  If you know me, you know I believe that the element of public presentation in education can be a powerful motivator for students and really increase the quality of the work they produce.  I for one would be really excited to see what kinds of things students will be able to show to their classmates, parents, and, yes, even teachers!  I've got a few at the elementary level who could show me a thing or two about technology already!

I also recognize that there are some challenges to implementing an initiative like this, too.  For starters, I recognize that it may be difficult to get students used to the level of freedom that would come with 20% Time, so it may take some time to get them to realize what they could possibly do with this time.  There was mention at the conference that some students are so motivated to work on their 20% Time projects outside of school that they come in with not much to do during the actual time.  Finally, for the small schools I work at, it would take tremendous effort and organization to coordinate where the students would work on their projects, who they would work with, and also to bring in some people from outside of the school that may provide some expertise and help to the students that we may not be able to do.

Nonetheless, I look forward to learning more about this concept and the feasibility of implementing this in any one of my schools.  If you are reading this and have tried or are doing 20% Time in your classroom or school, I would like to hear from you.  What have you learned from this initiative?  What are some things that people new to the initiative need to know so that it is rolled out in an effective manner?  What were some challenges that you came across during the process?  I really hope to learn more about 20% Time; this was the one thing I learned about while at EdCamp that has kept my mind a-buzzing ever since!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Robotics Update: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we approach the end of our second LEGO robotics session (just two weeks left, can you believe it!?), I thought I'd put out a quick update about what we've been up to the last couple of weeks since I posted, as well as where I hope to go with the time we have left.

In the last couple of weeks we have been trying to put a serious emphasis on engineering.
Engineering plays a big role in robotics and how we use them to solve problems, and so my focus has been on getting our students to think like engineers and to also think of themselves as engineers. Last week we had Pasco Grove, who is a quality control engineer for a company that produces parts for Toyota and Honda, talk about his job as an engineer and solving problems that may arise in the manufacturing of parts. This week we had Claire Guse from Searsport District High School come over to talk about the engineering process. At the end of the session, we discussed how students used some of those processes while working during the session, and how the "cycle" can go around many times until you find the perfect solution to your problem. Ultimately, it is my goal to see our students engage in science and engineering in exciting new ways that will prepare them for fulfilling careers that allow them to find solutions to some of our most pressing issues.

Looking forward, after a couple of weeks building a basic robot and learning how to program, we will be finishing robotics with a little bit of a project. We will be creating a robotic amusement park! This means that we will be doing a little bit of research about some different rides, and trying to build models out of our robotics kits. This will be a new challenge for students as we will be building something that doesn’t come with instructions like our first robots did. I’m sure they will be up to the problem-solving challenge!

This week we will also be joined in the program by David and Sandy Perloff. This is a really important visit because Dave and Sandy are the ones that funded the ten robotics kits that we have right now! I’m looking forward to their visit and I would like for the students to get to meet them and talk about what they are doing with their robots!

There are also a couple of opportunities coming up that tie into robotics very well.  The first is the 2014 Engineering Expo at the University of Maine on March 22nd.  The weekend after that is the 4-H Robotics Expo for Washington County! In the fall, a few families and I attended a similar expo down in Gorham, and I thought it was a great experience for all in attendance. I'm hoping to maybe have a couple of students present their amusement park rides or other creations there!

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Very Silly Thursday in Robotics!

Today's robotics session began with a very special guest!  We were joined by Rusty Emmerton, who volunteers in RSU #20 schools teaching archery and life skills to students of all ages, to talk about his robotic arm.  As I continue with robotics I would like to try to bring in different people and different examples and applications of robotics.  I met Rusty for the first time after robotics last week, and I knew right then that I had to bring him in.  The students had all kinds of questions about how his arm worked, and I also liked that he talked about overcoming the challenges with losing his arm and not letting any disability stop him from doing what he loves to do.

After Rusty's presentation, it was time to return to the robots we started building last time.  Groups that had not finished their robots were able to get those built, and many groups set out adding sensors to their robots.  Others began programming their robots to do various things.  One group in particular set out a challenge that I wasn't planning on unveiling until later:  programming a robot that would get from the art room, where we do robotics, to the principal's office on the opposite side of the school.  In all, it was a very crazy afternoon, yet most groups were able to get quite a bit done.

Then, things got very silly.  Need proof?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Robotics: Session Two is Underway!

Before I end this post I also want to thank Sharon Catus, a parent of two children in Searsport schools and an RSU #20 board member, for helping me to get setup for yesterday's session.  I also work at Weymouth Elementary in Morrill and didn't get back to Searsport until about 2:25.  What a rush!

Ellis and Chase with their completed robot, and a new set of eyes!
After School robotics is back!  Just yesterday we began the second session of LEGO Robotics in the After School Program at SES.  Between the first and second sessions, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do things differently for this second session, and I've made a number of changes even in this first afternoon.  For starters, I decided to look for a simpler robot template for students to begin with (we had been using the template instruction guide that came with the kits), so that we could get to programming sooner, and have more time to add sensors or other projects down the road.  I came across this template for the Simple NXT Robot from Tom Bickford and Maine Robotics.  However, since the education version of the NXT kit does not have some of the pieces needed to design this particular robot, and because I wanted to try something different with the free wheel in the back, I made some changes to the design, made my own tutorial, and posted it on my website for the students to view and use.  I had groups in the first session that didn't have a finished robot until week 3 in the first session; all but one group finished theirs within the first day, and several groups even got to programming their robots!  I'm looking forward to the time we'll get building new things in robotics this session!

The website itself is another big change to this session.  Needless to say, it gets a little crazy in a room with 14 students when they all come to you at once asking for help!  The website is designed to alleviate some of that.  It's not completely finished, but I will have all of my weekly challenges (including next week's programming challenges) there for the students to view.  That way, if I am working with a group of students, I can send another group of students who need help to the website.  I noticed a huge difference just in the first afternoon alone, both in the sense that I wasn't running around as much as I had in the first session, but also that I was getting fewer "smaller" questions, since there was a resource available for students to use to answer on their own.  It made for a much smoother first day, and I'm hoping that trend continues, for my sake as much as theirs!

A third change that I made was the decision to combine all of the kits together.  Previously, each kit had a certain number of each piece, and students would have to borrow from each others' kits if they don't have enough of a part in their own bin.  Instead, I have decided to combine all the kits together, and to sort them out by the type of part that they are (motors, sensors, beams, pins, etc.).  I have two reasons for this.  First, since no group would ever come close to using all of the parts in their kits, I decided that combining all of them together would allow for more people to use the materials without having to purchase as many kits in the future.  The second (and more educational) reason is that by having to have the students get up and move to get the parts, and then to find what they need out of all of the parts on the table, gives me an opportunity to teach students and help them learn the names of the different parts and pieces.  At a LEGO robotics conference I went to earlier in the school year, the presenters stressed that part of teaching the engineering process is using the nomenclature of whatever it is that they are doing.  Therefore, to go along with our engineering theme, I hope to use this setup to get kids thinking and talking like engineers, something else that we can reflect on during our program.

Finally, I have decided that I will begin and end every session with a meeting.  Each afternoon (or nearly every afternoon) will have a theme to it, and the purpose of the meetings will be to introduce the theme and related concepts, and to reflect at the end on how we experienced those concepts.  For instance, week 3's theme will be engineering, and I will be introducing a model of the engineering process from Engineering is Elementary, and asking students to think about how they experienced each step of the process at the end.  My hope is to add some more structure to the program and to make some of the concepts I want to teach to students more explicit as well.

So, after a lot of work and a whirlwind first hour, After School Robotics is up and running and better than ever!  I'll be sure to keep this blog updated as we go along, and share some pictures of the students at work and the robots they are building!  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Coming Soon: Student Tech at Nickerson!

In the next couple of weeks I will be working on establishing a new student tech team at the Nickerson School in Swanville!  I will be trying some different things from what I have been doing at Searsport Elementary School to learn from, but the idea is the same:  to teach students to help their classmates and teachers with technology, and to solve technology-related problems at their school.  This week I will be working with my team at Searsport on how to introduce what they do to our new team at Nickerson, and next week we will be videoconferencing between the schools!  I will be updating this blog in the future to keep you up-to-date and what we're up to at Nickerson!