Sunday, October 30, 2011

Geocaching in Education

I'm writing this post as a favor to another educator who asked me about using geocaching as a teacher.  Let me start this post by being flat out honest.  I've never used geocaching in the regular classroom.  A few years ago, I did a geocaching week as an enrichment course in the summer.  This post is bringing together some research I found and my experiences as a cacher.

First, for the caching newbie, here is a quick video to show you what I'm talking about.

Now that you know what geocaching is, let's think about the lessons we can teach using geocaching.

The most obvious lesson learned is about latitude and longitude, but this may actually be a hard concept to teach through caching.  When out in the field, I don't think about my position on the earth.  I follow an arrow to the spot.  Latitude and longitude don't play out in how I cache, per se.
We can also learn about satellite technology and triangulation through geocaching. This would be a great way to explore HOW GPS receivers work.
There are plenty of other areas to explore through caching:

  • Ecology: You learn to appreciate the surroundings you're in.
  • Creativity:  See the video below for creative caches.  Even if you don't get that crazy with the creativity, good cachers will find ways to camouflage their containers.
  • Physical Fitness: You can cache in such ways that you never have to stray far from your car, or you can stretch yourself.  There are caches that require miles of hiking, climbing, caving, swimming, and more.  Some of my favorite cache finds involved some serious physical exertion, but you feel a sense of accomplishment when you're done.
  • World Geography:  Using geocoins, you can track items as they travel around the country and the world.  We dropped a coin off in Seoul, South Korea, and watched it as it traveled back to us in the States. 

Geocaching is an incredible way to teach problem solving.  Puzzle caches are chock full of logic questions ending with the reward of a cache at the end of the puzzle.  I love creating puzzle caches, so look me up here.  You'll see some cool puzzles that I've created.  Then, look up my friend Sled Dog. He's my puzzle cache mentor.

There are some hindrances to geocaching as a normal "classroom" activity.

  • By rule, caches are not allowed to be on school campuses.  So, even though a lot of schools have plenty of great hiding places, cachers may not hide caches there.  That means traveling off campus.
  • While I've never had a serious injury caching, there are plenty of safety concerns: travel, hiking, falling, bee stings, poison ivy.  
  • Time is another issue.  You can't fit a caching run into an hour long period.  You need more time to get the full fun of the activity.
How can you make it happen? 
  • There is nothing stopping you from placing your own caches on your school campus and not post them online.  You can even have the students hide them in groups one day and have the rest of the class find them another day.
  • I once did an intro to caching talk and hid caches in the conference room where we met.
  • Why not start a caching club that meets after school one day a week?
Want more info?  Read up on these links.

Friday, October 28, 2011

iPad Discipline

I just sent my first iDiscipline email.  Boy #1 emailed me an assignment from his iPad.  Just as the email rolled in, I saw him leaning over and tapping another kids iPad.  I shot back an email, "Stopping messing with Boy #2's iPad."  Fun!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tech committee meeting 10/26/11

We had our first Tech Team meeting yesterday to discuss the future of the technology program at our school.  Here are some questions and concerns that popped up during our talk. 

Apparently, some of our high school students are using their iPads for non-educational use during class.  You know... goofing off.  Of course, like passing notes in class, it's not exactly easy to monitor such things while doing everything that a teacher needs to do in class.  Right now the mindset with the teachers is that students will learn to sink or swim with the technology: learn to use it as a toy or a tool, but learn the hard way.  However this all begs a question.  Is there a way to monitor these things?  What techniques are there to "catch students red-handed"?  

More and more teachers at our school are building their own web sites, using whatever platform they want to build it from.  Personally, I use Google Sites, which I find incredibly easy to use.  Some of my colleagues use Weebly, which they claim is incredibly easy to use.  The problem is that parents find themselves having to check multiple web sites for various things.  We are starting the search for a program/web site/app that will handle as much as possible of the following things -- administrative tasks, lesson plans, grade, classroom web sites, parent notices, teacher emails, etc.  What's out there that's good?  What does your school use?

What is the best method for turning work in paperlessly?  If we created a school-wide consistent method what would it be?  Have you played with iCloud enough to know if it works well?  Would you use Dropbox?  My colleague likes SugarSync.  Are you familiar with that?

We're also looking at creating a three year technology plan.  Where does one start with that?  It seems hard to make a plan when we don't know what technology we'll be looking at in three years or what teachers and students will be able to do in three years.  Of course, creating a plan is a whole lot better than letting each teacher decide what cool project they are going to do with the kids.  This isn't entertainment.  It's training our students to be lifelong learners and technology users.  

How do we convince teachers who are overworked and undertrained to use their iPads to the fullest so the students use their iPads?  

Finally, what is one site that needs to be unblocked at school so I can be the best technology collaborator possible?  I'm thinking it's Twitter, but believe it or not, there are some Blogger pages I can't open.  I'm going to fight battles one at a time.  What should be my first one? 

I'm sending out my questions, hoping that some collaboration can happen with tech leaders outside these walls.  Maybe you can't answer them all, but I'd love to hear anything you have on the topics.

Thanks for your help.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Fun Use of Wikis

This was my fifth graders' first use of wiki technology as writers.  I'm quite proud of them.  Check it out!

Friday, October 7, 2011


This may seem to be a simple use of the iPad, but you gotta start somewhere.  Behold!  My kids drew pictures of their favorite scenes from Hatchet.  Then, they took my iPad2 and took pictures of their pictures.  Fun stuff!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Technology Changes How We Teach

I wrote my Master's thesis in 2002.  The topic was professional development for technology integration.  Think about how technology has changed since 2002. It's mind-boggling!

The main aspect of my research revolved around ACOT -- Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow.  Around the turn of the millennium Apple selected a handful of classrooms around the USA to be ACOT classrooms.  Each teacher and student in these classes were given two desktop computers: one for school and one for home.  The teachers were not told what to do or how to teach, but of course were encouraged to use the computers as much as possible however they wanted.  They were to record their thoughts and feelings and frustrations and happy moments.  They also provided support and allowed the ACOT teachers to converse on a regular basis.  The Apple researchers just sat back and watched.

An odd thing happened that most people didn't anticipate.  Every teacher wound up changing teaching styles. Even the most traditional among their ranks became more and more progressive.  Instead of rote learning and teacher-led lessons, more and more project-based real-life learning was happening.  Students were collaborating together more than ever before.  

These iPad initiatives are really a lot like ACOT 10-12 years later.  Teachers are finding themselves with portable easy to carry computers in their hands.  Collaboration is easier than ever before with all sorts of social networking available.  

How will your classroom look different this year than it did 10 years ago?  Here's an interesting article to chew on...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Training Day 2

It's the last half hour of training and my mind is turning mush-like. I have downloaded so many apps these last few days, but I need time to look at each one and decide what I will really use. Not only is there an app for that, but there are multiple apps for that. So part of my learning curve is to decide the apps I really like and ditch the ones I don't.

I'm supposed to be lesson planning right now, but that's hard without actual iPads in the classroom, but I have ideas. Let me explain...

1. This weekend my kids will finish Hatchet which is a great book about a boy surviving a plane crash in the north Canadian woods.  As an end of the book project, I'm going to have them do a PowerPoint presentation.  (I know what you're thinking right now. PowerPoint isn't a Mac program; shouldn't it be Key Note?  Yes and now.  Since my kids do not have access to their iPads yet, I need to make this project PC user-friendly but make it easily transferred to iPad for next year.  May I proceed now?)  Step One is going to be including a picture of the woods in Northern Canada.  I'm going to give them the name Kesagami Provincial Park as a starting spot, but really I want them to see how remote the setting of the story was.  (For future years, I may start the book by having them create a Zapd site with this picture and a short description of the setting.)  Step Two will be picking one chapter from the book (I'll most likely give them a handful of chapters to choose from) and have them include 5 slides telling the story of that chapter using pictures and text.  The objective?  Sequencing, of course.  In future years, I'd like for this to be more interactive with audio and video included, but we need to start small.  Any ideas how I can take it a tiny step beyond this one?

 2.  A number of years ago, my wife and I devised Station Day to use in our classes.  Everyone raves about using centers, but how do you feasibly do that when changing classes?  It seems like a lot of work when very few kids can take advantage of it.  The answer?  Station Day!  Create 6 stations and give the kids time to rotate through all of them in the course of a class period.  Kids LOVE it!  This link will take you to an iPad version of Station Day.  I couldn't find two of the three apps named in the lesson plan, but that doesn't matter. Find three (or four or five) apps that allow them to do some drill and practice or create books or play a spelling game and they get all giddy with excitement.

3.  Picture Book!  What language arts teacher doesn't have their kids create books?!?  The Picture Book app enables kids to create their own book which they can later share with others.  The app is free and comes with a small variety of covers and characters.  Of course, you can purchase a boatload of other pictures and covers if you want.  Another fun alternative is PuppetPals where you can create a puppet show and tell a story.  Again, with the free version you're quite limited with what you can use and are more than welcome to buy more options.  In this case, you're only allowed to play in the Wild West. :)

Wanna see my first Zapd site?  Click here and be amazed!

As I stated in the intro to this post, I started writing this Friday afternoon toward the end of our training.  I finished it about 24 hours later during my daughter's nap time.  I can't seem to break out technology anywhere near her without her wanting to play with Elmo or watch a turtle video.

Last night, my friend Jon -- a former colleague and current tech director at a school in Massachusetts -- tweeted me a ton of apps.  I'll list them all here for you to peruse.  I have some on my iPad already.  Others are foreign to me.  My next step is to download them all, then I have to decide what to keep.  (Thanks, Jon, for the help!)

I want this blog to be a place where ideas can be shared.  If you know a teacher working with iPads, please send them here so we can all help each other figure out the best way to use them effectively.

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