Saturday, December 6, 2014

Can We Teach Innovation?

Ever since last year's 4th grade tech fair I've been thinking about this idea of innovation. Can it be taught? What does it mean? I probably need to reverse those two questions to answer them.

I wrote a few posts about it.

We have a tradition at the International School of Prague- a Tech Fair for 4th grade- where students and parents are invited to come and share in the students' research on an aspect of technology. Last year I wanted to bend it more towards showcasing an innovation, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement.

I was initially thinking about a Maker Faire. Something like this:

With about 1/1000 of the people and options.

Speaking of that video, I can't possibly think of Flushing Meadows without thinking of this:
You complete me

But there was something else I was thinking about with innovation. It was sparked by this TED talk:

I was thinking about this remixing, iterative process with my own work.

One of my "Eureka" moments, which I realize is very relative, was when I envisioned the plot of a children's book in graduate school. While I was trying to fall asleep one night in Ann Arbor, I had a kind of a half-awake dream, which led to a story where every time the protagonist acted sheepish, a giant hand would appear and drop a full grown sheep on the boy.

The boy would feel the entirety of the impact.

 And he kept accumulating sheep until he found the confidence to stand up for himself.
Unfortunately the consequences of the new found confidence was tragic. That's kind of how I write stuff, which is derivative of everything I've written since 7th grade. 

But that character was taken from another story I had written while I was teaching in Guinea:
 That story was a little stranger

I thought that "Sheepish" was an original story. But the graphics (because I can't draw) and the genre are completely derivative... and iterative, and each incarnation is an advancement of an idea I had when I was 13 years old. 

Then last week I saw this video:

I love the idea of this.
The idea of structured innovation with their game cards seems very intriguing. I went to Brooklyn Game Lab's website and found some examples:

I also loved the revelation that feedback feeds innovation. This gave me the idea of instead of a summative assessment, an innovation-based Tech Expo could be formative. Whatever a 4th grader decides to present- a board game, a comic, a Scratch video game, or whatever, they can use the Expo's participants to improve their innovation.
They can try out their games.
Or read their comics.
Or eat their new recipes.
And fill out comment cards that can be used to improve their innovations. A Tech Expo would then be one step, instead of a final presentation, for a student-centered project.
In any case, this is just a seed of an idea. Maybe my fourth grade team and I will be able to develop it further in the coming days.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The History of Everything In 45 Minutes

Elementary lectures are tricky.

You're not really supposed to do that if you're an elementary teacher. Give 'em a quick mini-lesson and send them on their way to do something a bit more productive than sitting.

Unless you have a bunch of scribbling behind you. 

But once in a while a good chunk of lecturing can make kids more curious, more excited, and more ready to learn. If you have the right kind of student, a "6 Levels of Moral Development" lecture can be pretty enlightening. Personal connection stories can also be successful. So if I'm teaching personal narratives, I often share stories like this one, or this one, or this one, minus the beverage review.
Last year fifth grade was learning about Malaria, and I can ramble about that one too.

But with all of those I can bring personal experience into it, which makes it infinitely more interesting to my target age group.

You're not my target age group

Today I tried something a little different. We're starting a new unit in 4th grade on Technology and Innovation. I asked the kids to write down what they thought technology was. Here are all their responses squished into one:

"Technology are things that need electricity, for example computer, iPad, iPhone."

This is probably has something to do with how we use the term in everyday life, and a lot to do with us just finishing a unit on electricity.
I decided in order to tell the story about technology, I'd have to go back to the development of us and our migration. And to tell that story, I might as well talk about the distinction of the dinosaurs so that people could have room to evolve. And what the heck, let's just start at the Big Bang. I decided to consolidate some of my favorite resources and condense them. 
Here we go:

Since we've been studying number lines, I wanted to demonstrate a timeline of the universe up until now. Chronozoom has a decent one. But I wanted to show our history more tangible than a quick zoom, and less tangibly than using toilet paper. It turns out that this Crash Course in Big History #1 squeezes all history into 13 years:

Quick Notes:
- If everything that we know can be compacted into 13 years, then 13 years ago our universe was born from the Big Bang.
- The first stars and galaxies were born about 12 years ago.
- Earth formed about 4.5 years ago.
- 4 years ago, the first single-celled life formed.
- 6 months ago, multi-celled organisms sprung to life.
- The dinosaurs went extinct 3 weeks ago.
- Humans and chimpanzees split from their last shared ancestor 3 days ago.
- The first homo sapiens appeared about 50 minutes ago.
- We left Africa 26 minutes ago.
- We invented agriculture 5 minutes ago.
- Ancient Egypt was 3 minutes ago, the Black Death was about 24 seconds ago, and World War I was 2 seconds ago. 

The Big Bang and the Formation of the Universe:
Here's David Christian on the TED stage roughly talking about the same thing. By the way, did you know that the moon was formed because the Earth collided with something about the size of Mars? That's in a later video but that tidbit fits better here.

Quick Notes:
- Everything came into existence with the Big Bang, about 13.7 billion years ago.
- The universe is tiny, smaller than an atom, incredibly hot, and expanding.
- 380,000 years later (twice as long as humans have been around) atoms were born. 
- Stars started igniting into existence about a 200 million years later. 
- When large stars die, they create the elements that are found on the periodic table- the ingredients that were necessary for our solar system to be born, 4.5 billion years ago.
- The goldilocks conditions for life are: the right amount of energy, diverse chemical elements, and liquids. Planets are great for these conditions. 
- 6oo million years ago, multi-celled organisms appeared.
- 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid- great news for a mammalian ancestors. That event gave mammals the breathing room to evolve. 

Earth, not to mention the life that's contained on it, is a relatively new phenomenon. And it's constantly changing. 
I can throw in a gif of plate tectonics to illustrate that:

But I care more about how life has changed in this lecture on this History of Everything in 45 minutes, so I have to choose my battles. Sometime before the dinosaurs, in the Paleozoic period, giant insects were everywhere. Why aren't there giant insects any more? The prevailing theory is that they were conducive to an oxygen-rich atmosphere. With that oxygen started to dissipate, insects couldn't grow to their massive size anymore.

And then the dinosaurs. Did you know that the amount of time horned dinosaurs were around is longer than the amount of time since their distinction? Speaking of distinctions, this explanation from Radiolab is almost as amazing as it gets:

Quick Notes:
- Sometime between June and July 65 million years ago, a meteor the size of Mt. Everest hit southeastern Mexico at about 20,000 mph. 
- If the dinosaurs had the right kind of eyeballs (they didn't) and they were watching this asteroid fall, they would have seen an atmospheric hole rip through the daytime air, revealing the stars behind it.
- The asteroid hit the earth with an explosion of a hundred million megatons. To put that in perspective, 2 tons of TNT will bring down a building. 15,000 tons of TNT was dropped on Hiroshima, a current Hydrogen bomb is a million tons of TNT (1 megaton). To destroy the entire planet, you'd need 110 quadrillion megatons (100 million times 110 million) of TNT.
- The sun's temperature is about 5000 degrees. The point of impact would have been about 20,000 degrees- 4 times hotter than the sun. 
- The asteroid ploughed 20 miles into the earth, and because of the temperature, it turned all of that rock it touched into a gas. 
- That gas-rock shot into the atmosphere. Some of it escaped to the moon and beyond, but about 90% of it was held onto by Earth's gravity, spreading around the Earth. The gas cooled, and condensed it into little droplets of glass the size of sand. 
- There are now trillions of droplets of glass falling around and in the earth's atmosphere, burning up and creating the most magnificent meteor shower ever.
- For each droplet of glass burning up, it's depositing a little bit of heat into the air. Since there are trillions of these things burning up, the heat deposited in the atmosphere is growing and growing, turning the sky red. 
- The temperature in the atmosphere grew to the temperature of a pizza oven (1200 degrees). At this temperature, no matter what kind of skin or scales you had, your blood would start to boil. All dinosaurs everywhere died within two hours of the impact. What would have been more amazing is if the trillions of pieces of glass fell from the earth atmosphere and shredded up everything.

- Ocean creatures within 300 feet of the surface would have also died. Anything below that could have survived.
- Dirt makes a good insulator. You only need a few inches of dirt for protection. Any animals in the ground would have survived. Somewhere in a little hole in the ground on that day was a furry animal that was your great great great great (times a lot) grandma.

The dinosaur extinction gave way for mammals to evolve, until evolution spit out us in Africa. 

- We are an upright, walking, big-brain, intelligent ape. We are one species of about 5500 mammalian species on the planet now.
- We are one species of at least 16 upright walking apes that have existed over the past 6 to 8 million years. Neanderthals existed for about 500,000 years before us, and early Homo Sapiens actually lay with them. However, we are the only upright walking ape that exists today.
- We've only been around for about 200,000 years. Technology has removed the checks and balances of our population growth. We're the only animal that makes conscience choices that are bad for our survival as our species. 

In the past 150,000 years, here's one theory on how we spread:


- 200,000 years ago we were all dark skinned in Africa. Melanin, the skin pigment, protected us from the sun. How we adopted and changed our skin color in such a short amount of time is still a mystery.
- We all share a single ancestor, Mitochondria Eve, who lived 200,000 years ago and who is the mother of all of us today.
- What's even more amazing is that Mitochondria Adam lived about 60,000 years ago. Which means that all of our diversity is only 60,000 years old.
- We started to leave Africa around 60,000 years ago, because of the weather. It was the worst part of the last ice age. Africa wasn't covered in ice, but it was drying out. Ice sucks moisture out of the atmosphere, and the Sahara was much bigger then.
- The human population around then was around 2,000. We were nearly extinct. And we are highly inbred because of this low population such a relatively short time ago.
- Mt. Toba didn't make anything better. The largest volcanic eruption over the last 20 million years in Sumatra created a global nuclear winter.
- Language and becoming more social as a species allowed us to survive.

On our incremental migratory journey, farming and boats let us spread out further. And now I'm at the point in our story where I have planted a few seeds of what else technology could be. In the coming days we'll make a list of some possible technologies, group them, take a field trip to The National Technical Museum in Prague, and refine our definition. Eventually we'll get to a working definition used by this guy:

But that's another story.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Understanding Current Electricity With Conductive Dough

I've noticed something about myself. Between August and October, I don't write much here.

I blame school.

If I had a regular reader of this blog, I would apologize profusely. But since this space likes to pretend it's part of the deep web, even though it isn't, I'm not sorry at all.

I blame this blog.

You hear that blog? I'm not impressed with your superpower choice.

When choosing between the superpowers of invisibility or the power of flight, this blog has chosen invisibility

Onto the program!
After practicing extensively with batteries, lights, wires, and circuits in general, last week my kids made a batch of conductive dough. Why? Well, making food-like products is a great math unit in measurement. Also the dough replaces wires in a traditional circuit, and it's a challenge to extrapolate what the kids learned with current electricity and wires and apply it to another substance. 
How do you make conductive dough? From the squishy circuits website, mix together:
1 cup of water,
1 and a half cups of flour,
1/4 cup of salt,
3 Tablespoons of Cream of Tartar or 9 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice,
1 Tablespoon of Vegetable Oil,
And maybe some food coloring

I gave all the groups a tablespoon, and asked them to choose and rationalize their second measuring tool; either a cup, a 1/2 cup, or a 1/4 cup.
Most groups chose the 1/4 cup. Yay!
For an extra challenge, I asked a couple groups to make two servings in one batch.

I'm dealing with a small sample size, but it seems like every year two things will happen:
1) One group will totally not follow the recipe, and
2) Another group will spill their contents on our carpeted floor. 

Both problems are salvageable. The former can be corrected by adding extra water and burning it off while it bakes, and the latter problem can be remedied by scooping it back in the bowl. 
The end result... before it was cooked, and after it was scooped back in the bowl

But before we try to figure out how conductive dough works, I give them this photo problem:
In the picture, all components are working. The batteries, bulb, wires, and holders all work great. But the light isn't on. Given what you know about electricity and how it flows in a circuit, why doesn't this circuit work?
The crossed wires might be confusing, but that's a red herring

I don't really expect many to figure out what's wrong even with an extensive knowledge of the tools here and a passing knowledge of current electricity.
The reason is because of that red bulb holder. The two pieces of metal are touching, and electricity will always follow the path of least resistance. It's much easier for current electricity to go through a conductor such as metal than a resistor like the bulb. So it takes the easy path. The bulb has no current passing through it to light and heat the filament inside. 

It's a point I'd like the children to internalize. To check if they do, next I give them a glob of conductive dough, a battery pack, and an LED. I ask them to think about this picture, the problem, and the solution, and to extrapolate that knowledge to make a squishy circuit.

They planned it out, made a diagram, drew the path of electricity to the squishy circuit, and most came up with is some variation of this:
"Ryan, I think the bulb is broken"

So I brought them back to the first photo, emphasizing the path of electricity. Then asked them reconsider their squishy circuit. Most then were able to see the problem in a different way, and their trial and error had a lot more purpose. Eventually they reached a conclusion: You have to force the current into the bulb, and sticking it into the conductive dough just won't work.
What does work? This:
I love this lesson. I love not only playing with other materials out of the students' comfort zone, but extrapolating lessons from one set of materials and applying it to another set. If only there was some sort of non-messy liquid conductor that could pose the same kind of challenge through extrapolation...
oh, wait.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why Libraries Shouldn't Replace Books With eReaders... Yet

This year for April Fool's, NPR had the best joke ever. They posted the following headline on their Facebook page.

When you clicked on the link, they showed this:

What made this so brilliant is that NPR was suspecting "that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven't actually read." 

True to form, Facebook followers started commenting on a fake story about how Americans don't read with comments about how of course Americans read. If the commenters would have actually read the article though, they would have learned that it was fake.

In our school there is a small discussion beginning about whether or not we should replace our library books with eReaders. I'm not very involved in this discussion, but I think the arguments for more eReaders in libraries seem to be as follows:

1) In the long run it's much cheaper.
2) It saves space.
3) It's the same user experience as a book.

I can't argue with point one or point two. My problem is with point three, because there doesn't seem to be any long term data to support it. And just because reading on a screen feels the same as reading a book, that feeling is not evidence that it is in fact the same experience. 

It feels cold outside so Fox scientists have disproven global warming

For me though, reading on a screen has never has felt the same. I've read eReaders for enjoyment and for learning, I've read silently and have tried read alouds using eReaders. It's felt convenient for sure, but it's not as enjoyable for me as holding a book. Luckily I'm not the only one. There seem to be at least a couple of old farts like myself who also don't feel the same experience when reading an eReader as when reading a book. 

"But you're old, guy." says You.

I know. I just said that. And I understand that I don't get it. But I do understand the developmental stages of literacy, and what seems to have been missing from the conversation is that even if teenagers and adults get the same understanding when reading an eReader or a book, they've already made the shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Elementary children have not. And we can't lump all readers into the same category, disregarding where they fall on a literacy continuum.

Except now there seems to be some research that supports that we don't actually read eReaders the same as we do books, regardless of what stage you are in your development.

I recently listened to episode 59 of The Gist podcast, "We're Terrible At Reading Online."  Maria Konnikova writes for the New Yorker. Last month she wrote the article "Being a Better Online Reader." The conversation about her research starts at the 11:46 mark.

Here's a summary of the conversation between the host, Mike Pesca and Maria Konnikova:

Maria Konnikova: Reading on a screen (whether its online or with an eReader) is a different physiological process. We tend to skim on a screen way more than on paper. We process and encode text differently depending on the medium. 

Maria Konnikova: The traditional book format has been shown as one of the best ways for our eyes to read.

Maria Konnikova: Even e-Ink- the closest electronic thing we have to ink-  causes us to read and process differently than a book.

Maria Konnikova: When testing reading comprehension, researchers have found that the medium matters a lot. Reading the exact same short story, responses were much more accurate after reading the story in a book than after reading it from an eReader. 

- Mike Pesca: Is it possible in the future that eReaders can equal text in terms of reading comprehension? 
Maria Konnikova: The straight answer is we don't know because there is no long term data about this, but it can certainly evolve in a way that takes all the above points into account and making a better medium than a book.

- Mike Pesca: So is the statement, "Reading on paper leads to better and deeper comprehension than reading on screens" BS? 
Maria Konnikova: For now, that's not BS. 

Her article goes deeper into her thinking. Maybe we need to teach reading on a screen as a new skill and perhaps separate skill- a skill that emphasizes developing our attention. This is a point I agree with and  I've made before.

She points to several studies that show there is no difference between reading on a screen and on paper, but also points out there is no longitudinal data to support one side over another.

And that's really the overall point I'm trying to make too. 

Without longitudinal data I don't see how we can take the leap from the lion's head and risk replacing books with eReaders in a library.
 Indiana Jones Leap of Faith

We just don't know what the effects will be yet. eReaders are cheaper and easier to store, and these are powerful motivators. But when we don't have the long term research to back up any claim that it's best way to serve developing readers, it doesn't matter how cheap or easy to store they are.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What To Expect When You Are Expecting 9 Year Olds

"My ninth year was certainly more exciting than any of the others. But not all of it was exactly what you would call fun."
- Danny, the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl

Danny, surrounded by his dead birds

So begins the "Nine-Year-Olds" chapter in Chip Wood's Yardsticks

I think it's perfect.

Every year at back to school night I spend a chunk of time with parents talking about nine-year-olds.

Then I talk about ten-year-olds.

Then I talk about how I plan to spend 4th grade helping with that transition. 

It is one of the few constants in my practice from year to year, so I thought it was time to make this into one or two blog posts. At the very least it will be a good online reference... for me.

Onto the show!

I've had about a decade to compare Chip Wood's observations with my own, and although by its very definition, its inaccurate to generalize, I'd say a few of his generalizations about 9 year-olds are pretty accurate.

Here are the points that not only ring true but are important puzzle pieces in a 4th grader's year. Also, let's do this rainbow style:

Gross Motor Ability

- Likes to push their physical limits, whether challenging themselves, racing each other, or trying to beat the clock.
How this translates: Whether we want them to be or not, kids at this age are really competitive.

- Restless; can't sit still for long.
How this translates: This is a great age for learning by moving and doing.


- Needs homework related specifically to the next day's work; often asks the teacher, "Why do we have to do this?"
How this translates: 
This is a tough age for longer projects that span over the course of several days or weeks, but that's a skill to learn. 

- A good age for scientific exploration. They are intellectually curious, but less imaginative than at eight.
How this translates: 
You have to push them a little more with their scientific inquiry, and experiments take a little longer than you'd think since it's sometimes challenging for them to think out of the box. 

- Takes pride in attention to detail and finished work, but may jump quickly between interests.
How this translates: 
"Style over substance" can be the mantra. They'd like to spend more time on the presentation than the research.

- Beginning to see the "bigger world," including issues of fairness and justice.
How this translates: 
I've always thought that fourth grade was the perfect age to start asking tough questions and looking at some difficult realities. Not everyone gets it, but this is the age that is good to start planting the seeds of a larger world view. 


- Sometimes reverts to baby talk
How this translates: 
Every year this is true for a handful of students. 

Social-Emotional Behavior

- Very competitive- adult's sense of lightness and fun can help them relax.
How this translates:  
Remember that "gross motor ability" trait of needing to push their limits? I think at least some of this stems from a need for competition. It crops up in all sorts of ways, like the point below.

- Likes to work with a partner of their choice- usually of the same gender. Begins to form cliques
How this translates: 
I think every age group likes to work with a partner of their choice. The important point in this one is that cliques tend to form, and I think it's largely because kids at this age can be competitive. 

- In groups may spend more time arguing about facts, rules, and directions than doing the actual activity.
How this translates: 
Want to try a new student led game in the last half hour of the school day? Better carve out another chunk of time, because they could spend the original time allotment arguing about slight nuances in the rules. 

- Likes to negotiate. This is the age of "Let's make a deal"
How this translates: 
Turn that negotiating power into an asset. Introducing debate in 4th grade can be awesome to witness. 

- Generally worried and anxious
How this translates: 
It's a terrible age for timed and standardized tests. Stress can easily turn to tears and even depression. I would also like to add that this is the age of "What if...?" 

- Very self-critical, and critical of others (including adults)
How this translates: 
I've only had a couple of classes that's been critical of adults on a regular basis, but I've seen it happen. But being self-critical and critical of others is a constant.

- Tend to give up on tasks
How this translates: 
You have to baby sit a little more than you'd expect for kids this old.

I'll try to write a post about 10 year olds next, and how 4th grade can be an awesome year to bridge the gap between the two ages. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

10 New Ways I Used Tech In The Classroom This Year (Part 2)

To complete my 2013-2014 reflection of the top 10 new ways I used tech last year, here are my last five ideas for the classroom. 

If you missed the first five, you can find them here. If you already slogged through the first five and are ready for more then I applaud your masochistic tendencies.

Just hang in there buddy.

5) Makey Makey and Programming

Last year we used Makey Makey with Scratch. This year I plan to have Makey Makey be a big part of my Makerspace during choice time

And since I already talked about both of those things, I'd like to take a brief tangent with this:

My first thought was, "What the hell?"
My second thought was, "Great. More little things I have to blow my money on." Because it looks pretty awesome. You can either buy a starter bundle of 6 modules at $99, or 2 modules for $59. Ridiculous. I'd love it for Christmas.

4) E-Choose-Your-Own-Adventures with Google Forms

I came up with this project partly because I wanted to use Google Drive in an interesting new way, and partly because it seemed like a project that was super high on the Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid.

Oops. This Mr. Bloom Taxonomy's Pyramid Scheme.

Ignore that last pyramid. Here's the right one:
Mr. Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid.

What's great about designing your own Choose Your Own Adventure based on real life scenarios, is that you have to imagine the consequences of various decisions. What's really challenging about designing your own Choose Your Own Adventures is that exact same thing. 
I haven't quite complete my blog series about this yet. I first talked about the genesis of the idea, and then showed how to build it in Google Forms, peppered with my usual Google grumbles of disappointment.
What I haven't talked about yet was what my class did next. Briefly, I gave them a list of invasive species and the effects that they've had on their new environment. Then I told them that for the next story, the character they will design will be an exotic species peddler. Each choice in the story would be between one invasive species or another. For example:

Your name is Jack Silver: Adventurer, Traveler, and a lover of all life. You love plants and animals so much, that often times you can’t help but give them away. You love to travel to new places, explore exotic plants and animals, and sometimes you bring them back home. Sometimes you give them away to friends and neighbors. And sometimes, you sell them. This helps you travel to more exciting places!
You walk into your hut, and see a letter on your bed. It’s from your sister. You open the letter and pull out a card.
The card says.
“Oh dang!” You cry out. “I completely forgot about my nephew’s birthday.” Unfortunately you are 3000 km away and won’t be able to visit him on his birthday. But you can give him a birthday gift!
You have several boxes full of interesting animals you collected on the floor.
“Hmmmmm…” you think to yourself. “What present should I give my nephew?”

A) You decide to give Rick a two lovely cane toads.  

B) You decide to give Rick a few chirpy birds called Starlings

Each path needed to have the animal transported from its native habitat to a foreign habitat. The animal then needed to escape into the foreign ecosystem, breed, and take it over.
There were no "happy" paths, only less invasive ones. 
Because that's life, kiddo. 
You chose... poorly.

Dead ends to the story occurred when the reader chose to peddle the more harmful species. Students had to determine which species was most harmful based on their research.

There's a lot more to write about this project- how I structured it, what went right, and what was challenging for the kids. But I'll save that for a later post, because it's way past time for #3.

3) Professional Development For Parents

I love being a teacher for lots of reasons. One of those reasons is that I get paid to constantly be learning. But why be a hoarder? I go through so much content, that I might as well curate the best of it and offer it to other grownups. 

That was the thought anyway when I decided to use Learnist to keep cool things I found just for adults. The content was based on topics that we were studying in class, but were specifically for grown-ups. I thought it was a cool idea that I'll try to expand this year. 

Learnist is an imperfect platform, but it's much prettier than Pinterest, and I'm all about using and promoting web tools that are designed well... as well as tearing down the web tools that look awful (Seriously, Google? I wrote that post in 2012 and Google Sites looks just as terrible today as it did then).

2) Student-created news shows with iMovie for the iPad.

Here's one I haven't written about before.

At the beginning of the year, the students and I put together a news show called "Good Morning Praha." The students created the content, but I helped them edit it. Half way through the year we got iPads, and editing had a much smaller learning curve. 

By the end of the year, some students decided they wanted to create their own news show again, this time appropriately titled, "Good Evening Praha." And this time they did everything. They thought of the content, filmed and edited it with the iPad. They were already familiar with iMovie on the laptop, and I maybe spent a total of 5 minutes showing them some of the editing features of iMovie for the IPad. The rest they figured out for themselves. 

Next year because the iPad makes this so much easier, I'd like the students to produce more of these during our choice time. 

1) Digital Stories with Tellagami, a Green Screen, and iMovie

I've made digital stories with my class before, but Tellagami gives an added layer to storytelling. This particular project was way too big for any movie editing app that lets you incorporate green screen, so I had to use iMovie on the laptop to put everything together. But my hope is that DoInk will soon be able to handle slightly more robust projects in the future. 

And... we're done.

By the way, did you see those littlebits Cloud modules? Crazy. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

10 New Ways I Used Tech In The Classroom This Year (Part 1)

For the past few years I've written an annual post reflecting on new ways I've used tech in the classroom the previous year.

 But this year... I'm doing the same thing.

And this monstrosity keeps ticking away

For the 2011-2012 school year, I wrote a series of posts starting with this one and ending in this one.

For the 2012-2013 school year, I wrote this post..

So to kick off the 2014-2015 school year here is the first five of my list of 10 new ways, which are now old ways, I used tech in my classroom during the 2013-2014 school year. 

Got that?

10) Expanding my PLN

In the link above, I share the tools I use on my iPad to consolidate my PLN: Zite, Bloglovin, Feedly, and Flipboard. 
The faceless members that make up my PLN

Aside from that though, I created a twitter account for my classroom, @grade4news. I tied an Instagram account to it, and anytime that Apps Gone Free or Appsfire notified me that there was a decent grade-level education app that was free, I tweeted it there. Now the number of parents that actually looked at the twitter feed was about zero. Still, I'll keep it going for next year as well. It's fun to do and maybe it'll become a thing for my parent community. 

9) Playing class review games using Kahoot!

I really like Kahoot! as a review tool, because my kids really liked it. Kahoot! lets you create your own review games. You can show the questions and multiple choice answers on a projector. On each of the kids' laptops (or iDevice), they will see only the symbols for the four possible answers.
After the whole class selects an answer, the student screen will show them if they got it right, and based on how fast and how correct they were, will show them their place in class. 
The teacher's screen shows a "Top 5" leaderboard after each question.
What surprised me was that every review game I made, there was a very different leaderboard of top 5 students each time. What really surprised me was that even my EAL intensive students would consistently show up on the leaderboard. It was huge for their confidence and it was always a lot of fun. 

A couple of times, the game would kick a student out for no reason, and then they'd have to wait until the next review game to participate. 

One thing I wish Kahoot! would do is to randomize the answers. If we play the same review game more than once, I had to manually switch up the answers so kids don't just memorize the answer pattern. Making this process automatic would save me a lot of time. 

8) Using my iPad for everyday classroom use

The link above covers several apps I used for the classroom: Too Noisy (a noise monitor), StrataLogica (a virtual globe), Pinterest (a web curator), Decide Now (a randomizer), Fun Sounds (a sound board), Heads Up (a group pantomime game), Haiku Deck (a presentation tool), and Stage (a document camera app). 

7) Using my iPad for everyday assessment

The post linked above features apps I used for classroom assessment: Confer, Notability, Google Docs, and Explain Everything.

6) Using Aurasma in the classroom

The original Aurasma logo

For the most part I really enjoyed using Aurasma this year. I had some problems with the app losing or dropping or not synching links, so I'm going to experiment with Layar at the beginning of this school year to see if it's more stable. 

Here is a quick list of how I used Aurasma last year:

- "Best Part of Me" project for Back To School Parents' Night

- Virtual Word Wall with vocabulary words linked to kids acting out their meaning.

- Virtual Book Reviews, with book covers linked to the children's review of the books they've read.

- Kid-created augmented reality comic books and instruction manuals.

To start the next year, I was thinking of having a giant map, like this one in our upper elementary hall:

I'd like to invite students (4th and 5th graders) to film something about themselves and the place where they are from and link it to the map. 

My next post will cover five more new ways I used tech last year. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

4 Pretty Good iPad Apps For Classroom Assessment

I've tried my fair share of iPad education assessment tools: Three Ring, TeakerKit, Easy Portfolio, Schoology, and maybe some other junk. At some point I should do a review on them. But the short of it is they aren't the four most important apps on my iPad for classroom assessment. These are:


Last year I wrote up a review of some possible note taking apps for teachers- apps that didn't require typing, but instead focused on note taking through handwriting. My favorite at the time was Noteshelf, because it's design was the cleanest and it improved my handwriting the most.  

So of course since then I've been using Notability for all of my in class notes, especially during book discussions. This is because:

1) My handwriting still looks a little better than my actual handwriting with this app.

2) You can zoom really small on a page. Really small. That means I can fit a lot on the screen.

3) Instead of a finite page like on Noteshelf, Notability allows you to continuously scroll down on a page to add notes. This is a big deal when I'm writing fast. 

I use Notability more than any other app in the classroom because I can use my finger to write with, and I'm much more comfortable writing than typing on an iPad.

Confer is an interesting note taking app designed for teachers. It has a lot of room for improvement, but I did use it to consolidate points after summative assessments. 

Each student has three sections: "Strengths", "Teaching Points", and "Next Steps". 

It's nice because after you type something for one student, the same phrase becomes available for the whole class. So for example if I write that one student's strength is "Represent decimals using Base 10 Blocks," then that phrase automatically becomes an option as a strength for all the other students in the class.

Here's how I wish it worked:
1) If I type something as a student's strength, it automatically becomes an option as a "strength", "teaching point", or "next step." Currently Confer does not do this.

2) The organization is built around having multiple classes, with different students in each class. It's a good setup for middle or high school teachers. It's lousy for elementary teachers. I'd like to be able to create one class, then have folders of different subjects for each student. 

3) The export options are lousy. I can export an entire class as a spreadsheet, or individual students as an rtf file. I'd like to at least be able to export an entire class as an rtf file. This is because I'd like to be able to use it to help with narrative report cards, without having to retype everything, or having to export 20 seperate rtf files. 

On a side note, here's the Confer promotional video. How can someone be smart enough to make an app but then film their promotional video with a vertical iPhone? Turn it on it's side when you shoot video!

But the title of this post is "Pretty Good iPad Apps for Classroom Assessment", and indeed with these limitations Confer is pretty good. It could be awesome, but oh well. 

Explain Everything is good because the kids make their own math tutorials, and then upload them all on a Youtube or Vimeo channel. With those tutorials I can see who is understanding a concept and who isn't. 
When the Google Docs app came out for the iPad earlier this year, I wasn't sure it was necessary. At first it seemed redundant since we already had a Google Drive app. But it works much better. You can write comments and view tables- two things that might have been possible on the Google Drive app and I just never figured it out. But I did figure it out on the Google Docs app, and it's a great tool to use to pull up student's work really quickly in the classroom. 

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