Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Genius Nuggets Round 1 Wrap Up: Part 2. (Good Stuff)

I recently wrapped up "Genius Nuggets" in my upper elementary computer classes, dedicating a month to students creating projects of their choice and presenting them to their classes.  While the students did good work overall, I did write a reflective blog post talking about things I learned through the process and how to make it better.  Now, I want to turn around and look at the good things that came out of the process. This will be a lot happier.

Good Stuff 1:  Parents learned alongside the kids.  This was not an intended aspect of the project, but it happened. It's the nature of the beast. If kids are doing schoolwork at home, Mom or Dad are watching over what happens... and in this case some learning happened with the adults. My personal favorite was with one young lady who thought she sent me her video. Turns out that she didn't.  Mom had to figure out how to publish it to YouTube to get it to me.  It worked. 

Good Stuff 2: Student passions really came out.  I was impressed with some of the topics that came up, not the trendy fare you may expect from preteens.  Here are some of my favorites:
  • Haitian Earthquake of 2010
  • How the Internet Works
  • Behind the Scenes at the Zoo
  • How to Do a Bunny Hop (I needed clarification on this one. It's a bike move.)
  • How to Fly a Remote Control Plane
  • Learning 10 Words in French
There were a lot of good ideas, but the great thing is that students were motivated because they learned about topics that interested them.

Good Stuff 3:  We got to listen to some excellent presentations and see some good learning.  Here are a handful of the impressive ones.  
As the dust settles on this round of projects, I'm already looking forward to the next set of projects coming up in January. I'm so excited to build on this foundation and see students create some truly incredible projects. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Genius Nuggets Round 1 Wrap Up: Part 1. (Lessons Learned)

I believe in the power of Genius Hour. I have used this teaching model in a couple classes in middle school and tried to start an Innovation Class in our middle and high school that never really got off the ground.  Since all my past outlets for Genius Hour have dried up, I decided to bring "Genius Nuggets" to my upper elementary computer classes.

We dedicated a month of computer classes (one hour a week) to what we called Innovation Projects in class. This month wrapped up last week with presentations, and now is my time to reflect on the process while it's still fresh in my mind.  

Since I firmly believe that self-evaluation needs to look at the good and bad, for this first post I want to focus on the things I did wrong.  Don't worry.  I'll post the happy thoughts at a later time.  And I'm going to be critical of myself -- not the kids.  They did great.  

Problem 1: My fourth graders weren't ready for this.  Fourth grade is a big tech year at MVCA.  This is the year we give them their own school email.  This is a process that can't be sped up too quickly.  We need to talk about email etiquette, how to send, forward, reply, and simple things like what to put on the subject line of an email.  How do you explain CC to someone who has never seen a carbon copy?  I also introduce them to OneDrive in the early weeks of fourth grade.  They are normally well-versed in Office products by the end of third grade, but cloud-based computing adds a whole new dimension. It takes time to learn these skills.

I can't stress enough that if I expect students to use a tool to communicate with me, they need to know how to use that tool.

Lesson Learned:  Don't start fourth grade on Innovation Projects in October. Let them learn the tools first!

Problem 2: I had a lot of emails to sort through. I used email and OneDrive quite a bit for this project. Proposals, weekly updates, and presentation shares were all done via these tools. With 62 students working on this simultaneously, I was constantly sifting through my inbox for the latest update or scrap of information.  This was not the most efficient use of my time.

Lesson Learned:Take advantage of OneNote Class Notebook or Teacher Dashboard.  These speed up the grading process with less clicks along the way.  Dashboard is relatively new and I wasn't prepared to use it a month ago.  OneNote would require a lot of work to get students ready for use.  However, both would speed things up for us.

Problem 3: Innovation connotes a creation of some sort.  Most of the students turned this into an oral report with PowerPoint.  This was not at all my intent.  Yes, students learned about topics they were interested in.  Yes, I still think the project was a success.  No, I'm not happy with the "use PowerPoint (ie my comfort zone) to report something I've learned" aspect of the project.

To be fair, there isn't time or space to create (and store) things in our computer lab. Parents don't want to pay a lot of money for supplies.  What I want may not be what we get, and I need to be OK with that.  However, I need to do more to promote expanding horizons rather than allowing students to sink back into their comfort zones.   (I am not anti-PowerPoint and have rediscovered my love for Office products. I just want Innovation/Genius time to be opportunities to grow into new things.)

Lesson Learned: Ban PowerPoint. Push videos, web sites, and other presentation tools like Prezi, Haiku Deck, and Educreations.

Thanks for listening to my thoughts.  I'll be working on the positive sides of the project and share some of the best presentations with you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How a Text Message Helped Keep Me Sane!

I was on my way to lunch duty, when my phone buzzed in my pocket.  I pulled it out and saw a text from my daughter's school.  Nothing out of the ordinary, till I opened the text.

"We received a bomb threat by phone about 30 minutes ago..." 

These are not words you expect to read.  You know evil is out there, and you know other schools have been targets in the past.  You just don't expect it to hit this close to home.

For the next two hours, I went about my normal duties, but with my phone in my hand, ready to hear the next piece of news. We got a total of four messages from scary start till successful finish.  All the while, I felt like the school was sharing the information they could share and I could sanely go about my day.

Remind made this all possible. At the beginning of the school year we were invited to join the schools' Remind contact list and have been getting school announcements via text since the start of school.  However, the administration utilized Remind expertly yesterday, sending out messages in real time so parents knew what they felt we needed to know.

I've known about Remind for a while, but never saw much use for it till the aftermath of the bomb threat. That made me think of uses we could have in our school.

  • Parents want to know what's happening during an actual calamity event. Our own children are rarely far from our minds -- especially when we know there is danger.  Remind could put parents' minds at rest and help them know the school and staff are on the job.  (Seriously, somehow I was relaxed with each text message.)
  • Sometimes teachers need to know information that students don't need to know.  If we had a teacher contact list, that information could be relayed to teachers and keep the kids outside the loop.  
At this point, I've told our administration about Remind, and we'll see what happens.  But I'm so glad that Remind was on my family's side yesterday!


On the non-techie side of the story, all is well.  
  • There was no bomb.  In fact, her school was one of about a half dozen that got similar calls all around the Cincinnati Area about the same time.  The FBI is looking into it. 
  • My daughter's teacher rocks!  She made the decision to not tell the kids what was happening and instead told them it was a drill.  No stress for the kids, even though they were displaced for two hours.  
  • Big applause for a couple of middle school students who joined the first graders the whole time and played games with them to keep their minds off the very long "drill." 
  • The district provided the students (1500 of them) with bag lunches.  This excited my little first grader, which amazes me. She missed stromboli! 
Don't know what Remind is?  Remind is an app that allows educators to text an entire group at a time.  This is one-way communication, so replies are not possible.  It can be used as a means of making announcements (Sign up for parent/teacher conferences) or other reminders.  If you haven't heard of Remind before, check it out. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Getting It Done in 6th Grade

It's Week 2 of our Innovation Projects, and my sixth graders are hard at work. We're learning about sharks, Australia, braids, Legos, Pokemon, and more.  Here are some pictures I snapped with my iPad.

Two weeks till their presentations!  I can't wait!