Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Innovation Projects, May 2013

It's the last week of school, and my 7th graders are presenting their Innovation Projects (formerly called 20% Time Projects) for the fourth quarter.  Back in January when I came up with this idea, I was very excited for something I thought was pretty original.  It turns out that Genius Hour has taken the educational world by storm when I wasn't looking.  Even though my grand idea isn't so novel after all, it's great to be part of something new and exciting in education.  I feel strongly that if we give students to learn what they are interested in learning they will get a lot more out of it than they ever thought possible.  I've been blessed to be given the freedom to explore this angle with my Tools for Tech class this year.

This quarter, my students were given the opportunity to build upon their third quarter project or start something totally new.  About half chose to dive into something new.  We had some new GarageBand songs, a slew of websites, a logo hijacker, lots of wallpapers, and a Lego gun/saw.  In every case, I have no doubt learning took place, but I'm fairly certain I should have pushed them a bit harder to create (aka innovate) something new rather than mash up what already exists. Look at the examples below and let me know what you think....oh, and try a few recipes.  I highly recommend the brownies on Kent's page.
Over the summer, I'm going to read up on Genius Hour and connect with some other Genius Hour teachers to try to hone in the happy medium of giving students a chance to pursue what they want to learn while making sure it's a learning experience worthy of one-fifth of our class time.  As always, I'm open to suggestions.

Click here to see the students' original instructions. 

#edtechex -- Summer Schedule

I want to thank everyone who participated in our #edtechex chats this spring.  It was fun to connect with you, even if just accidentally stumbled in not knowing what was going on.

Obviously with summer coming (or here for some of you), Monday mornings at 11:30 may not be the best time for you.  In fact, my summer schedule is so wacky, I have no idea when the best time would be for me.

Let's use the comments section to try to negotiate a time to meet together through the summer.  Maybe you can't make it every time but we might get to visit with you a couple times this summer.  Some things to consider:

  • Every week or every other week or once a month?
  • Morning, afternoon, or evening? 
  • Take a cruise together? 
Thanks!  I'm looking forward to keeping connected through the summer.
The general consensus is that we are all unpredictable in our summer schedules.  I love it!  I could use some unpredictability in my life, and I'm sure you could too.  So, let's put a schedule down and see who can show up at the designated time.  If you miss a week or two we'll be all good with that.

All times 1-2 pm EST.
June 10, 24.
July 8, 22
Aug 5

Toward the end of summer we can talk about a chat schedule for the 2013-14 school year.
Happy summer!

Creation Presentations

This was a quick and fun project I did with my sixth graders.  They were given 10 minutes to explore the Hubble Telescope gallery and enjoy the beauty of space.  After the 10 minutes, they split themselves into groups to make a presentation using five great pictures and one or two Bible verses about the awesome creative powers of God.  I forbade them to use PowerPoint, and in the future I'll most likely direct them from Keynote as well.

The presentations below were originally done as Keynotes, but I converted them to PDFs through Google Drive to make sharing online easier. Here are some of the best!

Even if you're not a creationist, we can all agree that the stars are gorgeous when viewed through Hubble. 

You can view the original instructions here

App Test Drive 4

As we wrap up the school year, I thought it only appropriate to have one more App Test Drive Week with my middle schoolers.  Maybe there is a gem in this list that you can play with over the summer.  Enjoy!

  • Animation Express (3.0 stars out of 5) -- Draw your own pictures, easily animate them and make your own videos.
  • Ask3 (3.0 stars) -- An interactive learning management system. Create lessons, collaborate with your class, upload videos -- The possibilities are endless!
  • Flowboard (3.6 stars) -- Create beautiful presentations and replace PowerPoint with something more dynamic.
  • Haiku Deck (3.4 stars) -- Another presentation software.  This is mostly picture-based with a limit to the amount of text per page.
  • MyHistro (1.7 stars) -- Tell your story using maps and timelines and pictures and video and... You get the idea.
  • NatureTap (3.6 stars) -- An app that lets you see and hear animals.  Make sure you have students wear headphones on this one.
  • Soo Meta (2.6 stars) -- Students can watch videos on Soo Meta that you upload or share with your class.  One student said it was a great way to keep up on current events.

Feel free to check out the raw data and student comments here.

Previous test drives:
Week Three

Monday, May 13, 2013


The end of the year is quickly approaching, and it's time to start retrieving my stuff out of my old classroom.  I left a lot of my belongings in the room for my long-term sub to use this semester, but she'll be teaching in another division next year and won't need them.  I'll still be teaching computers and living in an office while not teaching so I won't need a lot of them either.

I started with my student book library boxing up books that I will probably never use again, but I'm saving them till we see where my wife's career will take her once our daughter goes to school full time.  

As I started grabbing dusty books off the shelves and putting them in boxes, I couldn't help to be nostalgic. There is the Shel Silverstein book a student bought for me when she wore out my original copy. Oh, and a book I read as a boy. There is that book I read to my first class ever.  And, I think I'll bring this one home for my daughter... and ... well, you get the idea.

Long before I was the local technonerd, I was a language arts teacher and a lover of books. I spent many hours and many dollars building a massive classroom library for kids to read in their free time.  I love books!

I rarely read a physical book anymore.  Even my Bible is on my iPad now... but today made me nostalgic for the real deal again.  

Something about a bunch of pixels forming text that doesn't conjure up great memories like my stroll down the lane this afternoon. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tourism Projects

Sometimes I steal ideas.  When I read this post about tourism in English speaking cities, I knew I had a winner I could modify for my seventh graders. 

I broke my class into six groups of three and let them choose one of the top ten most populated cities in the world to research.  However, instead of merely researching and reporting on the city, we added a twist.  Groups had to present this as a tourism sales pitch trying to convince us to visit this city.  

I also gave the students a voice in what the project would look like.  They gave me tons of input about what should be involved, how long it should be, and even the due date.  

Overall, I was very pleased with the final outcome.  They did a great job creating presentations and web sites, mashing in videos and pics, and even bringing in non-techie items (including yummy food!).  Well done!

You can see the presentations below.  (I think one of them is not shared publicly.  Sorry.)

One interesting note about this project. I always give kids a range of time a presentation ought to be. Normally, most students squeak in at the bare minimum time. Not this time. I had a number of groups go over the time range until I had to press the hurry button on the last couple groups.

In case you're wondering about the rest of the procedures, here are the instructions I gave the students along the way.

Monday, May 6, 2013

#edtechex Chat Archives 5-6-13

Here are the archives for our first #edtechex chat. Thanks for joining us!  See you next week! (Mondays 11:30-12:30 EST)

Thanks to Alex for creating the archive.

Lessons from the Parent Side of the Team Meeting

The evaluation came home the day before the scheduled team meeting.  We just about fell through the floor.  Our four-year old daughter was listed as "at risk" in areas such as hyperactivity and aggression.  While I'll be the first to admit there is a dark side to our adorable, cute, loving, and generally obedient little girl, I would never classify her as an ADHD-induced bully either.

I spent significant time with our resource room teacher the next morning trying to get ammunition to help us in this battle.  She produced paperwork about ADHD in young children, how giftedness can present itself as hyperactivity, how students with communication issues can sometimes show negative behavior.  We talked extensively about adoption, ethnicity, and family illness.  (My daughter was adopted from South Korea and is the only minority in her class.  I was sick the bulk of 2012-2013 school year with a rare neurological disease that...well... I don't like the details at all.)

Friday afternoon, we sat down in the meeting with her teacher and speech therapist, the school psychiatrist, and assistant principal.  I was friendly but questioned everything.  I know what it's like to be on that side of the table but was willing to fight for my little girl.

Then it came to that "at risk" section of the evaluation.  When I asked about that, all the school employees mentioned there was no need for concern.  A handful of "at risks" is nothing to worry about.  "Clinically significant" (or some such language) was the issue for concern.  Ohhhh.... So, this isn't what we think it's going to be? My wife and I laughed a nervous laugh and sat back for the rest of the ride.

In the end, we found that our daughter no longer needs speech therapy.  In fact, she no longer has any developmental delays...and...sadly... she no longer qualifies for public preschool education in the state of Kentucky.  

We need to find a private preschool option for next year.  (That's a different story.  I'm hoping we can scrape together enough tuition money.)

As the shock wore off,  I couldn't help wondering about the evaluation process.  How could we be so far off base? How could we have missed the cues?  We went in thinking it was going to be a battle for our daughter only to find out that she's a model student, so good that she's graduated out of the program.

My wife and I are both educators with roughly 34 years teaching experience combined.  The large bulk of that is in upper elementary, but we do know our stuff.  If we misread the evaluation (with its "at risk" and missing key background information) how would a layman parent read it?

I'm stinking proud of my little girl.  She has done an amazing job overcoming a ton of stuff in the three years she's been in our home. In one year, she has gone from talking in 2-3 word phrases to talking nonstop for 10 minutes (which can give me a headache, but I love it).  I'm happy for the great ending.

I just wish the evaluation had been a bit more clear to Mommy and Daddy.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

#edtechex Reboot

It finally happened.  After trying to get other people involved in #edtechex, I finally had someone else post my blog on it. Nicely done, Leah.  I just about gave up!

As you can see in the conversation above, we're trying to breathe new life into #edtechex. 

Here's the basic plan.
1.  Blog a great example of educational technology use.
2.  Tweet it out, and use the hashtag #edtechex.
3.  OR... Pull a Leah move and tweet someone else's example on #edtechex.
4.  Spread the #edtechex love by sharing the hashtag with another awesome teacher.

I would love to start up a regular Tweetchat time where we can share things we've done and things we're learning.   Obviously, with summer coming, schedules will change and our focus will be elsewhere, but it's still good to gather ideas throughout those crazy hot months.

For the month of May, we will gather at #edtechex 11:30 till 12:30 (Eastern time) on Mondays -- excluding Memorial Day, of course.  Once we hit June, we'll try to come up with another time.

See you there!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tinkerbox -- An Intergrade Level Collaboration Effort

As the computer teacher I like to try to integrate my lessons with the regular classroom units.  So, I'll periodically send out emails to see what's going on out there.  When our second grade teacher told me they were looking at motion and force, I knew we hit a gold mine.

My seventh graders (who I see every day) recently did an app test drive on Tinkerbox, so I knew they could help me out.  Having a roomful of second graders on Tinkerbox with only one adult would be a headache for the teacher.  Having a roomful of seventh graders helping the roomful of second graders makes life easier and is great for older/younger student interaction.

During my middle school time slot today, I brought the seventh graders to second grade to show them how to play Tinkerbox.  It was great to see students clustered in groups learning how to use the app and exploring the different levels. 

We need to do this again.

New to Tinkerbox? Each level requires you to move various balls or boxes to different places on the screen. It's your job to place elements on the screen in such a way to achieve your goal.  It's totally a game, but the scientific elements are real enough.  For instance, look at the screenshot below.  The pendulum swings back and forth to hit the switch.  The switch dictates the direction of the conveyor belts. You have three balls, and each one goes in a different tube.  The pendulum acts like a real pendulum; each swing has a lower arc than the swing before. (By the way, I'm stuck on this level.  Can you help me out? Thanks.)