Teaching

Fostering Project Collaborative Learning

My middle school science classes often just blow me away with their creativity and energy. To capture this, I strive to foster collaborative and creative projects. Specifically, this year, I have been setting up science projects that require students to productively function in teams, more specifically to shine within a team.

Project 1 – Step 1

For the first big group project, I offered students their choice of medium to create a weather “lesson.” Although there was choice in presentation, the group worked in a traditional project team. The students were excited to try out new tech for an audio-visual “Ted-Ed” style weather lesson, but without specific work to coach the soft skills of team collaboration, there were the usual pitfalls of who does what work, how much work, and whether the work was of good quality. The product of the “lessons” was amazing in the style and variety of creativity, but the downside was we didn’t work on improving how the team collaborative functions.

Project 2 – Step 2

The next big group project team experience gave us the reason for the next step in team collaboration a “Team Contract.” Students were to write a proposal for a small cube experiment to travel on a space flight. As students choose their teams, I asked them to review, discuss, and define their requirements to be a successfully functioning team. When we had group class time to work on our “Cubes in Space” projects, students referred to their Team Contract when a team member didn’t meet their work requirements. Students began to hone the essential skills of collaboration and communication that are so vital in our everyday world.

Project 3 – Step 3

Our current project, an Earth Safety Challenge PSA, takes all of the above and moves it beyond team collaboration to group creativity. Students initially completed background research on local earth science events such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Students were grouped into 3 large “company” teams based on their research area. Their task is to create a company and assign the roles of research scientists, engineers, media specialists, and project managers. Their job is to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to inform the public about the science and safety of their assigned earth event. This project is majority student designed and managed. Students are using a variety of skills, research, technology, modeling, communication, collaboration, and creativity. I am so impressed with their level of positive engagement, motivation, and the direction of each company team to produce a creative and effective earth science PSA. Although I can’t wait to the see the final products, I am already extremely proud of the collaborative learning in which these students are engaged.

Lesson Details If you’re interested in the specifics of our Earth Safety Challenge Project, please see my lesson plans here: Earth Safety Challenge Project Lesson Plan

Lesson technology – for this project we utilized the following technology;

Since we are a 1:1 school (students are issued district laptops for the school year), we are comfortable with utilizing technology in our classroom. Class notes, agendas, and group project work is all conducted in OneNote. The final Earth Safety Challenge PSA will be posted in Docs.com for other grade level science classes to review and offer feedback. We also use Class Policy to group team members and monitor technology on task time. Modeling in Minecraft is an awesome way for students to use their analytic thinking in a creative format to make a 3D model – of anything. Making use of student voice was easy with FlipGrid and Forms. FlipGrid offers accessible technology for students to video respond and reply, it is fun and informative. Forms provides an easy means to access or survey online, providing accessible data to share. My students are using a variety of tech tools to make their PSA presentations, including PowerPoint, Office Mix, Sway, and video, to be posted in class collections in Docs.com. If used appropriately, technology can enable and amplify student knowledge and voice on any project. Totally amazing collaboration.

 

NCCE ’17 Review – People Inspiration

Attending and presenting at NCCE this year was a most awesome, information packed, technology infused, and energized event. Over the course of the conference my colleagues quickly shared our thoughts about sessions over Slack, a super easy team building and sharing app. We gained so many ideas for technology, curriculum, learning, networking, and most of important of all, we gained inspiration to continue striving to be awesome educators.

My takeaways for NCCE were mainly threefold, which I will divide into parts over 3 blogs:

  • Part 1 – People who inspire us to do more in the classroom
  • Part 2 – Technology ideas that inspire our curriculum
  • Part 3 – Network of educators who give us confidence to foster higher aspirations for our students

People Inspiration

The NCCE 2017 Keynote speakers were amazingly inspiring, encouraging us to think differently to do more in the classroom.

Jaime Casap, Education Evangelist at Google: ” I believe education disrupts poverty.”

Jamie spoke about the impact of education, stating the impact on students goes on for generations. He reminded us that our national super power was built on the backbone of education. Hearing clearly and concisely “Education is not broken,” was inspiring to hear, especially considering today’s propensity for education bashing by the public.

Jamie also made us think about revising our educational perspective, asking the question, “what is the right path to prepare for a future that doesn’t exist yet?” Today’s generation is not necessarily different, but rather it is how they think about learning that IS different. Simply put, a generation or two ago students waited to be taught. However, today’s generation doesn’t need to wait, they think of learning as a part of their daily routine. Just watch a student pull up a YouTube video to figure out a game or an app. It just may be that we, as educators, need to think about learning differently too.NCCE keynote 1

By now we are all familiar with how rapidly technology changes and updates. There was a time that computers were as large as a classroom and the focus was on teaching basic programming skills. Now we look at data (from much smaller computers) and we need to compare what good learning looks like. Our questions today center around how to implement tech, how embedded tech can help students understand concepts, and how to teach computational thinking and skills to solve problems.

Jamie made us laugh in reflection, reminding us that a few years ago we might have gotten a busy signal when we called someone. If we juxtapose that idea into today’s lingo, we can see how our thinking has changed “I tried to call the internet today and it was busy.” It is important that education is iterative, that we understand what good learning looks like, and we understand how learning will change. So we ask ourselves, do we have the best educational model for our students? If yes, we are on the path to meeting the essential goal of education.

Kevin Carroll, founder of Kevin Carroll Katalyst/LLC, author, speaker, and agent for social change.

Kevin’s keynote focused on story tellers. “Story tellers are powerful, each of us has a narrative.” Kevin illustrated by telling us a powerful story of his youth, family, and life lessons. He shared that he learned that curiosity and play are important in life, finding his sanctuary on the playground with a red ball. He also found sanctuary in the library, which fostered his curiosity for learning. A ball, play, catalyst, connection, and community were the key words of his story.NCCE keynote 2

He spoke of his connections with his community, including his grandparents, highlighting a couple of life gems: First, playing is an important virtue, aptly supported by Plato’s observation that “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.” Second, he grew up with, “lots of talkers and doers, which one are you?” An important question from his formative years that shaped his unique way of looking at the world. Listening to Kevin and considering our own connections, community, and pondering our personal catalysts, it was apparent that play and laughter are the change makers for us as educators and for our students.

Play or joyous connections can provide a venue for discussion afterwards, which is when moments with big ideas, innovations, and inspiration can spring forth. Over the course of his story he challenged us to raise our game, to level up. From this conference, or from any life event, we take away new connections, inspire others, and tell the stories. Our ideas and actions matter. Although my actions may seem small, collectively they are great.

In the end, it is always about a DREAM:

D=dedication

R=responsibility

E=education

A=attitude

M=motivation

 

*Stay tuned for Part 2 – Technology and Part 3 – Networking.

NCCE 2017 Keynote Bios http://www.ncce.org/attend/keynote-speakers

Focus Week: Making of Minecraft – Part 2

Minecraft Part 2 – The How

At International School we have a Focus Week every spring, a one week, one class, CTE (Career Technical Education) focused week of study. The intent is to foster the opportunity for students to have quality work experiences, develop strong relationships with adults, and to cultivate relationships with students outside of their usual social group and outside of the regular curriculum and classroom. This year I offered a middle school “Making of Minecraft” focus week.

The pitch for my Minecraft focus week was: “What does it take to build, develop, test, and market new features in Minecraft? Come participate in a behind the scenes week with the Microsoft Minecraft Education Team. Try your skills at developing, marketing, and pitching your idea for a feature in Minecraft to the makers of Minecraft at Microsoft.”

Coordinating a focus week is as challenging as it is rewarding. The logistics basically mean you must create and schedule a massive, one week long field trip with all the backend planning, paperwork, permission forms, and prepping that encompasses, all while teaching a regular classroom schedule. Once planned and the focus week arrives, you only have one focus and that is what you prepped for previously.

To simplify things, I created a new focus week “class” in Microsoft Classroom and in Class Policy. Classroom allowed me to easily have a class OneNote, an associated Outlook calendar, and to promote group conversations all in one space. Class Policy, on the other hand, is a one-to-one technology management tool. Class Policy allowed me to monitor, and if necessary, lock student screens to help “focus” our Minecraft learning tasks during our daily schedule.

This week, we made creative use of the Minecraft Education Edition. As an Office 365 school district running Windows 10 laptops, we are able to take advantage of the classroom collaboration features within Minecraft.Edu. Specifically, my students found it helpful that they could see their (real) names within their Minecraft worlds and that it was easy to join and work within the worlds we created for Focus Week. Additionally, I also made use of the Minecraft “Classroom Mode tool, which allowed me to check-in on the progress of our challenge builds. Classroom Mode provided me a glimpse of who was where, what world, and what were they were working on, whether it was in the challenge build or in the survival game.

Our Minecraft Education Lead, Meenoo Rami, and I utilized our Minecraft class OneNote to post the daily schedule, warm up prompts, brainstorm pages, and links to FlipGrid questions. Since our focus week was tech-based, it only made sense to utilize technology for ease of communication and collaboration. Being smart with tech was especially important to me since half of my Focus Week students were not in my regular science classes. Since we are an Office 365 district using Classroom and Class Policy, it was pretty easy to do and absolutely essential in getting schedules and permission forms out to students and parents!

As the week progressed and my students were preparing to share their ideas for new features, we created a Docs.com page to foster online sharing with the Minecraft Education Team. My students had two in-person opportunities to present their new feature “Design Ideas” and then later to also do a “Marketing Pitch.” Each student team was responsible for posting their Design Ideas and Marketing Pitches into Docs.com. The Minecraft Education Team members were excellent with their feedback, it was honest, targeted to middle school understanding, and futuristic with helping my student strive to improve. The skills my students learned and practiced were the real deal; they had to figure out how to concisely explain their ideas and they had to be ready when technology didn’t cooperate quickly or when someone forgot to update their presentation. We all learn from mistakes and feedback, and so did my students this week. It was a good week of teacher collaboration between Meenoo and me as well as student to student. It was truly amazing to see the ease of communication, the skill, and the cooperation that happened during our focused week of Minecraft.

 Interested in learning more?

Meenoo’s Focus Week in Review

Minecraft Education

Leveraging Our Stories

Leveraging our stories, utilizing social media in school

Lately I have been hearing the call for educators to tell our stories. Often the news highlights a negative school story while the student success stories are on the back page. We need to reverse this, we need to highlight what really happens in our classrooms. Our students are doing and learning amazing things. Our teachers and administrators are boldly teaching and utilizing 21stcentury skills. The call is for us to tell our amazing stories, because if we don’t, someone else will.

I recently attended the Northwest Council for Computer Education conference, better known as NCCE, in Portland. I had the opportunity to learn from Ginger Lewman , an amazing education consultant and keynote speaker, about “Changing the stories heard: leveraging social media in schools.” She stressed how important it is for educators to share their classroom stories. Every school, every student, every teacher has success stories to share and how it is important for our community to know. In the short time in our NCCE session, the educators in the conference room quickly shared a small sample of what was happening at their schools:

  • creating makerspaces in their school
  • working with their district on an internship to advise the mayor
  • received a $6,000 James Patterson grant
  • received Summer Innovation grants
  • received 7 grants for nonfiction books
  • created classroom libraries of 200 books in each ELA class
  • middle school robotics team placed at a local university competition
  • created a math/science night at their school
  • sponsored a Tech and Art Fair this year
  • started a STEM specialist class
  • worked with community to improve school track
  • created student murals in the hallways
  • and my own story where my middle school students sent 4 experiments in small cubes on a NASA rocket

In less than 15 minutes we shared positive news of what we and/or our school are doing. Unfortunately only our schools or classrooms are aware of the awesome works on this list. So instead of the negative news about our schools being told, we need to tell our students’ stories, our stories, our school stories, it is important to share.

How do we do this?

We use social media to share our stories. But then haven’t we been told we shouldn’t be using social media at school? Social media is where most stories are shared, it is where our students share their daily story with each other through Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. There is really no reason why educators shouldn’t use the same platforms students are using. In another NCCE session, entitled the “Peripheral Learner,” Kevin Honeycutt had a profound quote that resonated loud and clear with me regarding the importance of modeling social media. He stated, “students are on a digital playground but no one is on recess duty.” By sharing our stories, we have the opportunity to model appropriate use of social media for our students and school community. We can also teach digital citizenship skills. If we think about it, we learned citizenship etiquette but it was just on a different platform.

What about privacy concerns?

It is true, social media has changed our views about privacy. Once you enter a public space, such as a football game or educational conference, then you have accepted being public. There is no real expectation of privacy. If we publish news highlighting the athletic achievements of our school football teams, then student information is being shared. So why wouldn’t we share the learning achievements of our student classroom teams? We, our school community, need to decide it is also valuable and important to highlight our classroom learning. Having done so then we can work to ensure privacy and safety considerations once we publish and share. This can easily be done by not sharing names or pictures of individual students unless we have parental permission.

What needs to change is that individual educators and schools have permission to proudly share the stories of learning and thinking happening both inside and outside the classroom. Schools need to have Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Stories of schedules, school updates, and classroom celebrations need to be openly shared. Stories of students creating makerspaces, painting murals, and sending experiments on rockets need to be shared. These stories are important and our parents and our community need to know. We need to model how to share success and how to communicate in private when necessary. Not everything or every story needs to be told, but modeling how to do this is important for the students in our classroom. Let’s hope we can begin leveraging social media to make our stories be heard.

New to Ed-Tech? 10 Steps to Begin.

EdublogsClub – short #7 Listicle for the How To #EdTech

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

Are you new to #EdTech? Here are ten steps to incorporate Educational Technology for Learning in your classroom:

  1. Start small – consider one tech idea or app to increase technology and learning your classroom.
  2. Be willing to move out of your Comfort Zone.
  3. Join the #edtech conversation on Twitter* – contribute to tweet-meets and chats.
  4. Be Inspired to list future #edtech ideas – make the list accessible (see #10 on this list).
  5. Join a #edtech Network – join a school PLC or join an online community such as Microsoft Educator Community.
  6. Be Accountable to yourself – schedule weekly checks with colleagues or create a weekly “To Do’s” checklist and then check off that you tried something new.
  7. Just Do It – don’t wait, jump in and try (see #1 and #2 on this list).
  8. Monitor and adjust – you know your students, if students are engaged and learning then keep the #edtech, if not then don’t use it. Model a Growth Mindset to students that it is okay to try something new, learn what you can and move on if it doesn’t work.
  9. Share – be willing to share your new #edtech with your colleagues and students.
  10. Rinse and Repeat – don’t stop with just one idea, grow your inspiration and focus on student learning and technology in the classroom. Return to step #1 on this list.

*New to Twitter?  See Teacher Twitter 101.

Teacher Twitter 101

 

New to Twitter?  Get Tweeting in 5 Steps.

There is a whole side conversation about teaching and learning on Twitter. Many educators use Twitter to chat, share, and reflect about teaching and learning. There are a multitude of conversations happening involving every aspect of the classroom, some inspirational, some thought provoking, some funny, and some even critical. Following educators and using a content area #hashtag is one of the easiest ways to converse in the Twitter universe.

If you’re interested in joining in the conversation, it is not as daunting as it may seem once you know the basics.

Teacher Twitter 101

  1. Sign up and create a Twitter account Sign up for Twitter – you will need to choose a username. Since Twitter allows for multiple accounts, you can create a personal account first and then a professional or classroom account later.
  2. Add a profile and a picture – these can be updated, so don’t stress about this now.
  3. Write your first Tweet – it can be as simple as “Hello, this is my first tweet.”
  4. Follow others – this is where you begin to connect and learn from others. You can begin with a “who to follow” list, follow a colleague or use a #hashtag for a content area of interest such as #edtech
  5. Reply & Retweet – once you have a few people to follow then jump in and begin a conversation.

To learn more, check out these educator guide to Twitter resources:

New To Twitter – Set up Guides

How to Use Twitter for Teaching and Learning

 Tips for Teachers New to Twitter

Twitter Resources

The Teacher’s Guide To Twitter

Twitter #hashtags Infographic

Challenge of Time

EdublogsClub – short #6 Challenge

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

Time.

The challenge of time: Being full-time Tech and full-time Teacher.

I find the lack of time to be challenging. Specifically, the lack of time to do all the things I want and need to do as an educator such as;

  • synthesize science content into small bite size concepts
  • present engaging technology
  • concoct creative lessons
  • provide timely feedback
  • prep lab activities
  • write student growth goals
  • build routines to solidify learning targets
  • lead SEL (social and emotional learning) lessons
  • formulate efficiencies for grade data entry
  • articulate how awesome middle school students can be
  • encourage participation
  • teach digital citizenship
  • communicate how cool crafting minds can be
  • research and review content and concepts

Full-time Tech

I have always truly enjoyed sharing technology in the classroom. If used appropriately technology can enhance and supplement learning, but it takes time to teach how to use technology for both students and teachers. It takes time to learn the technology of an online curriculum. It takes time to teach teachers how to use digital technology devices. It takes time to walk students through accessing technology resources. It all takes time, but it can be well worth the time to do so.

Full-time Teach

I am a full-time middle school science teacher who happens to love technology. Throughout the school year my students gain proficiencies in using a digital notebook called OneNote, creating presentations in Sway, and sharing and posting on Docs.com. They also build their basic coding skills with lessons from Code.org and create programs from Project Guts in Star Logo Nova. They can successfully navigate within a digital environment whether it is in an online science curriculum with graphs and simulations or even just having fun in Minecraft. Teaching technology skills is important; it is critical for students’ future college and career endeavors. Today’s students need to be able to embrace and command their use of (academic) technology. As important as these skills are, they are not primary to my teaching science concepts that are essential to being a science literate life learner. The art of teaching science content lessons in conceptual chunks that are applicable to a student’s daily life takes time to create and foster. Again, the time is so worthwhile.

Question of Time

The challenge is to find enough quality time for both technology and teaching. The challenge is best solved by setting priorities, being organized, delegating when applicable, and occasionally saying “no” when you can’t do more. Of course, even as I write this, I am multi-tasking which means the above solution is easier said than done. I have wondered what if I cut back on the technology? If I did cut back on classroom technology would I simplify my schedule and create more time? Or if I cut back on technology would I narrow the scope of experiences in teaching science? The question of time is answered over time, for me it is striving to find balance between the “shiny new” technology and the status quo of science content.

To be an educator is to always be learning, particularly learning to master challenges. My challenge is to look for solutions to the challenge of time, learning how others master the time challenge. So, I’m curious, what do you do to master the challenge of time?