Monday, December 7, 2015

Help Wanted! Someone to Help Teach and Prepare Young Entrepreneurs!

This past May, I received a grant for a 3D printer.  I have to admit, I was both excited and terrified to get the contraption.  While I thought that the implications for this technology for students and their future was profound, I had no prior experience with these machines, and designing things has never really been a strength of mine.  Since then, I have been learning, slowly but surely, about what these machines can do, and I and a few of my students have been able to print off some pretty neat little projects on the thing.  It is a pretty incredible process to see an object being printed, layer-by-layer, from the build plate up to a finished object.  Needless to say, staying productive while it is working is hard!

In the meantime, I have been thinking about ideas and entry projects to get more students into designing and printing on the 3D printer.  I have also thought about ways to make a 3D printing program at Searsport Elementary School more sustainable, so that we are not relying on taxpayers and budgets to buy the filament and supplies that we need (which adds up over time).  It dawned on me that the best way forward was to accomplish both of those things at the same time!  Students could gain valuable, multidisciplinary, real-life experience in creating products on the 3D printer that be sold to others, with the proceeds going toward expanding the "business," buying needed supplies, and pursuing projects of personal interest to them.  Sounds awesome, right?

There's just one problem.

I don't have any experience starting or running a business.

Of course, I would prefer to not allow my personal limitations from keeping a valuable learning experience from taking hold, so this is where I need your help (hence, the help wanted sign)!

My colleague Mrs. Capwell with a sign I 3D printed for
Pirate Literacy Night at SES.  Awesome, right?
I am looking for somebody with experience in business or in starting a business to help my students write a "business plan."  Starting a business usually requires a capital investment or loan of some sort (at least that's what Shark Tank has taught me), and I would like to simulate that process with the students.  I have lined up our school's amazing parent group (Searsport Partners in Education, or PIE) to provide us with some money to buy the supplies that we will need to start our "business."  It will be up to the students to come up with ideas for what they would like to make, and what they think they could sell to make money while respecting copyright laws and patents.  After that, students will need to get an idea of what they want and need for supplies, and at some point, we will need to throw all of that together into a business plan.  I have no idea what that might look like, so I would love whatever help we can get.

Preferably, I would like for someone within the immediate coastal Waldo county area who can visit with our students in-person to help with this project.  However, I can be flexible, and tools like videoconference and Google Docs make it possible for us to work with whoever, wherever.  If you think that you can help me provide this kind of learning for students at Searsport Elementary School, please contact me by email (gcyr@rsu20.org) or drop by the school.

This is a project that I have been thinking about for awhile.  Please let me know if you can help me make it a reality!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hour of Code 2015: Bigger and Better Than Ever!

The Hour of Code returns to Searsport Elementary School, starting next week!


The Hour of Code is part of Computer Science Education Week, which runs from December 7 to December 11. Participating classrooms commit to taking at least an hour of time to engaging in activities that introduce computer science and programming concepts like sequences, events, if/then statements, loops, and more. Students can try activities that use visual, block-based programming, like Lightbot for younger students or Scratch for older students, or write actual text-based code in Code Combat or Khan Academy as they solve puzzles, make games for their friends, and try their hand at one of the fastest-growing career fields in the world.


In my experience facilitating Hour of Code activities over the last couple of years, I've noticed very high levels of student engagement that extend beyond the classroom. I've also observed that Hour of Code activities have often become "Weeks" or even "Months" of Code, as students and teachers continue to work on these activities long after CS Ed Week has ended.

I have created a page on the Searsport Elementary School website for the Hour of Code.  On it, you will find various activities for students at all grade and difficulty levels.  You'll also find information on the types of devices these activities will run on (with the exception of Android devices, since we do not have any of those at our school).  These are all activities that can be done at home as well as at school, so parents can take part in the Hour of Code too!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Coding and Habits of Mind

This is a discussion forum assignment that I am doing as a blog for EDU 583, a Master's level course I am currently taking at UMF.


Coding is something I feel embodies many of the seven trans-disciplinary habits of mind (Mishra, Koehler, and Henriksen, 2011).  Every year, I help bring the Hour of Code into the classrooms that I work in.  During Computer Science Education Week (December 7 - 13 this year), classrooms participating in the Hour of Code engage in a one-hour activity introducing them to the principles of computer programming and thinking like coders.  The Hour of Code is designed to generate interest in students to learn to code, and to provide them with resources to learn how to code on their own, which is important given how absent computer science education is in most public schools.  With a wide-range of activities for students of all ages to engage in, there is something for everyone.  From learning to program with Anna and Elsa from Frozen, to creating your own Flappy Bird game, to learning actual JavaScript programming in Khan Academy, and even activities that do not require a computer or Internet connection, I have been able to schedule Hour of Code activities in every elementary grade level over the last few years, and students and teachers have enjoyed those activities enough to extend the Hour of Code over multiple weeks and even months.  Here are some examples of how Hour of Code activities that I have done that fit in within the trans-disciplinary habits of mind.


Perceiving and Patterning:  LightBot (PC web browser, iOS, Android)



In Lightbot, your task is to walk, jump, and light up all of the blue tiles on the playing surface.  Starting with getting your robot to go in a straight line, LightBot goes on to add new challenges and commands, introduces procedures, which requires students to identify patterns in the robot’s movement, and teaches about loops, which students must use to program repeat actions using fewer programming blocks.  I teach students to begin thinking and doing like programmers by encouraging to program Lightbot one step at a time.  Students use perception skills to see if they have programmed each step correctly, to determine if they turned their robot the correct direction (a big challenge for kindergarteners!), and to figure out what they must change to finish the challenge within the constraints of the level.


I have done LightBot with students grades K to 2.



Before I even begin LightBot with kindergarteners, I do an activity similar to the Thinkersmith activity linked above.  An alternative to this is to make a real-life version of LightBot in the classroom.  I create command cards using index cards, similar to the LightBot commands, and have students line up to “program” one of their classmates selected to be the robot.  An important concept that kindergarteners have to adjust to in this activity is that a classmate’s right turn might look different from their own right turn, depending on their viewing angle.  As a result, students must learn to see things from a different perspective.


I have also done this activity with second graders.


Abstracting, Deep Play:  Scratch (PC web browser only; ScratchJr available for iOS)



Scratch is an icon-based programming language that is available for people of all ages online.  By using a combination of blocks, or commands, that fit together like puzzle pieces, you can create your own computer program!  While the Hour of Code Scratch activities include tutorials to help you get started, Scratch is also available as an open-ended sandbox where you program whatever you want from, well, scratch!  A number of computer science concepts can be learned here, including the use of If/Then and If/Then/Else blocks to create conditional programming, and the use of variables, which help students turn something that they observe into something a computer can process.  And, with the open-ended nature of the program, student learning is based on inquiry, discovery, and play.

I have done this program with third-through-fifth graders.

Friday, September 11, 2015

New Resource for Students on the SES Webpage!

Great news, Searsport Elementary School parents!  A new resource exists on our school website with a listing of great online tools that your children use at school that they can also access at home!  It's called the "Kids Tools" page, and you can access it by going to the school website (ses.rsu20.org), hovering over the technology tab near the top of the page, and clicking on "Kids Tools."

On the SES page, find the Technology tab along the top, hover your mouse, and then click on "Kids Tools" when it appears.

It's that easy!  Many of the resources that the students use during the day here are linked on the Kids Tools page, so feel free to bookmark this page for easy access in the future!  The page will be updated over time with new resources and websites that we are using for learning at SES!

Look at all these tools!  That's not the end of them either!
The full URL for the Kids Tools page is ses.rsu20.org/technology/kids-tools.  You can also find guides for accessing selected services on my website, under the "Parents and Students" tab.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Exciting New Technology Developments at Searsport Elementary School!

Can you believe it, we're already beginning a new school year?  Where has the summer gone?  It's time to get ramped up for the new year.  There have certainly been a lot of changes for me over the summer, the largest of which is that I go from working in four different schools to just one.  I will miss my friends at the East Belfast, Nickerson, and Weymouth schools, but I'm also excited about the possibilities that working in one school brings that weren't possible before.  Over the summer, I was also able to move into a full-size classroom and now have a base of operations for all of the new things that I want to work on, in addition to working on other projects like my FIRST LEGO League teams.

Home sweet classroom.  Still needs some chairs and I need to liven up the walls and bulletin boards up, but hey, it's a start!

Enough about me though; there are lots of other exciting changes at Searsport Elementary School when it comes to technology.  Here are just a few.

More LCD Projectors

A sample LCD projector cart, with projector, Apple TV, Chromecast, 
iPad, iPad stand and holder, and speakers.

Going back to when I started working at Searsport Elementary School, we've had about 3 mobile LCD projector carts in the building.  With 12-15 classrooms of teachers and students in the school, it was difficult to meet the demand for the projectors.  Getting more projectors in the building has been a goal of mine for some time.

It has also been a goal of mine to increase student access to the LCD projectors.  Having them in the front of the room sometimes makes it more difficult for the students to use it, but having students get up and move with their laptops to connect to the projectors can also be a time-consuming process and a classroom management issue.  That's why, in 2014, I worked with the parent group at SES on a pilot project to equip the carts with Apple TVs, which would allow for students and teachers to connect to the projector wirelessly.  This opened up new avenues for teachers to use the projector carts, as well as provided greater access to the students, who used it to share their work with their classmates or to share interesting things they were finding about a research topic on the Internet.  With an eye on building off our successes with the Apple TV project and better meeting demand for the carts, we were able to double the number of projector carts in the building, making one available for each grade level team!  And this year, they will be packed with even more features, like a Chromecast (Google's alternative to the Apple TV, which provides wireless connectivity for the Chromebooks), an iPad, a stand/holder for the iPad, and actual working speakers!  I have already provided two PD sessions on these carts within the last couple of weeks, and will be offering more going forward as we create more student-centered learning experiences, one piece of equipment at a time.

Student iPads


It has been fascinating to see the transition in students' skill sets with technology when entering kindergarten.  When I started in the district, three years ago, the students adjusted surprisingly well to the laptops, and it was the computer lab desktops that they struggled to use.  Now, I'm finding that young students are having a much harder time accessing and using the laptops, and manipulating the trackpad in particular.  The proliferation of tablets and smartphones has a lot to do with this, as many of our students are coming in having used an iPad or a Kindle, but not necessary a laptop or a desktop computer.  In addition to being more accessible to younger students, tablets also feature multimedia tools, like cameras and microphones, that are more accessible to students than they might be on a laptop or desktop, and don't require separate, often expensive, peripherals to capture the environment around them.  For these reasons, having iPads available to the students has been on my radar for some time, and I'm very happy to report that we will be purchasing a cart of these devices for our students to use this year!  I'm hoping to be able to deploy these devices by October, in addition to providing extensive professional development and support for teachers so that we are able to use them in new, innovative ways.  If we try to use the iPads like we are using the laptops, I believe that it will be very difficult for us to have a successful deployment.

3D Printing


The Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer at work!
I often like to tackle one project at a time, or a small number of projects at a time, new things that I want to bring into the school.  Student technology teams comprised the first couple of projects that I focused on, followed by LEGO robotics.  In many ways, these projects have spawned off new projects, as the number of students in my tech teams has multiplied significantly and I now coach two competitive LEGO League teams in addition to having robotics in the classroom.  Meanwhile, I have been eyeing a new type of project that I have wanted to get into:  3D printing!  Thanks to yet another grant from the Perloff foundation, I now have a 3D printer to use with students, and now have a classroom to house it in!  3D printing will be one of the more challenging things I will pursue this year.  LEGO robotics played more into my strengths because I have the skills and mindset to be able to program them the way that I want.  3D printing incorporates a little more design and art concepts, things I'm not very strong in at all.  Nonetheless, I think it will be a fun challenge and I can't wait to see what the kids can do with it!

The finished product!



Friday, February 13, 2015

Robotics Update: New Program Coming to the East Belfast School!

I'm really excited to share that I will be starting an after school robotics program at the East Belfast School, starting in March!  The After School program at East Belfast serves students from that school as well as the Nickerson School in Swanville, so I am very excited to be working with students from two of my schools!  This program will be modeled on the program that we did at Searsport Elementary School last year, with lessons and challenges based around building robots and learning to program them to use sensors and other inputs.

More information can be found on my website.  The program will run on Mondays from the beginning of March to April vacation, and the program is free and open to all students attending East Belfast and Nickerson schools.  I can't wait to get started on this new venture!

The flyer I sent home with students about the new robotics program!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Year (So Far) in LEGO Robotics

This entry is cross-posted on the 20 Tech Blog.

This year is year 2 for my work with LEGO Robotics, and it has already expanded dramatically from last year. Whereas my efforts were primarily focused on the after school and summer school programs, this year so far has brought summer camps, a new competitive robotics team, new equipment to serve more students, and the beginning of classroom projects bringing robotics to all students in a classroom.  Here's a run-through of what has been done so far this year.

Summer Camps

The line-drawing program the robot uses in this video provides a great introduction
to programming with switch blocks.
With help from the RSU #20 Summer School program and the Searsport Recreation Department, I held two summer camps this past summer as part of a fundraiser for my program.  I held a beginner robotics camp for students who did not have any experience with LEGO robotics, and an advanced camp where I got to try some new things with students making their second pass through.  Many of the beginner camp students went on to do the advanced camp. Some of the new things that we tried this summer included learning about the switch block and using if/then/else logic in our programming, making remote control robots, and even some robotic musical instruments!  We also had a battlebots competition to see which robot was the toughest!  I have plans to run these camps again next summer, with longer sessions and new, fun challenges for the students to work through!

FIRST LEGO League (FLL)

Build and Program Team students work on troubleshooting
issues with the robot on the challenge table.
All team members take part in the research presentation and field questions
from a panel of judges.
It has been my goal since the start of this project to springboard the learning that the students and I were doing with the robots into a competitive team, and we did that this year with Team WALDO!  FIRST LEGO League is a league where students build and program robots to solve various challenges on the challenge mat.  Teams have two-and-a-half minutes to score as many points as they can, and it is impossible to get a maximum score, so teams have to strategize to earn the most points that they can.  They also have to do a research project based on the season's theme which was "World Class," an education theme.  Team WALDO brought together nine students grades 4 through 8 from four different towns and five different schools to work on this challenge.  We competed at the Augusta Civic Center on December 13th against 71 other teams from around the state.  We came in 29th place overall, and finished 5th out of the 14 total "rookie" teams who were there. And, we had a lot of fun, which is the most important part!  We lose two students this year who will be too old to compete next year, but I am looking forward to starting at least one new team for next season as we integrate in the after school program and become even more competitive in the future!

Classroom Projects:  Lunar Rovers and LEGO Towns

Third grade students at Searsport Elementary School work on building their lunar rovers.
A big stipulation of my grant funding from the Perloff Family Foundation for this project was that I would work towards classroom integration of LEGO Robotics.  We began that effort in earnest in December with a project that we dovetailed into the solar system research the students were doing in third grade at Searsport Elementary School.  We actually split the grade into halves; while one half would be working on their research and accompanying slide show (supported by the student tech team), the other would be working with me on building a lunar rover.  We are coming into the closing weeks of this project, and I'm hoping that we'll have enough time to learn some programming and prepare for an exciting challenge I have for them!

After this project is finished, I transition right into a project with second graders, as we build buildings and vehicles and all kinds of cool things as we learn more about communities!

I'm also in the process of making plans for a project at East Belfast and a project at Nickerson for the end of the year.

After School Program

Because my robotics equipment has been tied to classroom projects, it has not been available for use in the After School Program.  However, it looks like there will be a large enough block of time in the year where I can bring that program back, but this time, I will be doing it over at the East Belfast School!  The East Belfast After School program serves the Nickerson School as well, so I'll have a chance to work with students from two of my schools. While I don't have any final plans yet, I am excited at the opportunity to expand the reach of LEGO robotics to multiple schools.

New Equipment

Finally, while the new after school program helps me expand the reach of robotics in different buildings, I've been searching for equipment to help me expand the reach of robotics in different grades.  The NXT kits that I have are great for the upper elementary students, but they are not very accessible to students in kindergarten, first and second grades.  Therefore, I applied for and received a second grant from the Perloff Family Foundation for a series of LEGO We-Do kits!  These kits will allow the younger students to build simple, interesting robots while learning about how gears and other pieces work.  So far, I have distributed kits to a number of teachers to try out on their own, and I will be following up with them shortly on figuring out what we can do with the equipment and scheduling when the kits will be available at the different schools.  I'm looking forward to deploying these new kits and establishing a larger pipeline of robotics-related activities in our schools that "STEM" from kindergarten and work their way up!

One of many examples of crazy things that you can build and program (with help) with
LEGO We-Do kits.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Extra! Extra! News From SES Has a Whole New Look!

Last year, the fourth grade teachers at Searsport Elementary School and I worked on a couple of initiatives to bring the news to students, and help the students bring the news to you.  One news website that is great for students is Newsela.  Newsela takes news stories from reputable national and international news outlets, and differentiates them at several reading levels, all the way down to the elementary level.  They also do a great job of finding a nice cross-section of articles covering important economic stories, international developments, technological advancements, and spotlights on young people doing some amazing things all over the world.

We didn't just want students reading the news, however.  News happens all around us, including in our schools.  So, we wanted our students to report on the news happening where they are too.  So, we began with a newspaper project, and we finished the year with an issue for the second and third trimesters.

But the news industry is changing, and fast.  More and more, people are getting their news from online sources, and news outlets are changing their websites as a result.  News websites now feature multimedia, infographics, interactive charts and data sets, and blogs and community-sourced content.  Content is updated by the hour or minute, not by the day or week (and certainly not trimester).  So, we thought it appropriate to change our approach to our project.  So, I'm happy to announce our brand new news blog!  The blog will feature some of the same features of an online news source, including sections for different types of stories, more pictures and video, and content added as soon as it is ready.  We have established a team of student "editors" who will be taking stories written by their classmates and moving them into the website, adding multimedia captured by other students at different events.  We're also hoping to integrate into the After School Program, with additional students taking on reporting responsibilities.  I am so excited to continue this project, and really feel as though the new website gives us more flexibility to go in all kinds of different directions.

Here's the URL for the news blog.  Please share away, and check in often to stay caught up with all things SES!