Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Meet Davis, a 4th grader inspired by the Global Read Aloud!

Cross-posted to another blog I contribute to, Chromebooks in Education

Sometimes in the everyday, enjoyable chaos that is the edtech world I get a stark reminder of why we all do this.  This always seems to happen when a student is doing something GREAT in school that has a huge impact on them, using tools that have never before been available.  These are opportunities that simply didn't exist for students before the tools and access caught up to our imaginations.

This is exactly the place I found myself when I ran across a 4th grade teacher named Ms. Kaylor Kaemba, who had a student that she told me had found a ton of motivation for reading and writing through their participation in the Global Read Aloud (read more about the Global Read Aloud, created by Pernille Ripp).  So I decided to go meet this young reader, Davis C, so I could feature him and his progress on our blog.  It was the highlight of my week!

So without further ado, I introduce you to Davis!

Davis is a 4th grader at Carthage Elementary School in Carthage, North Carolina.

This year, Davis' teacher, Ms. Kaemba, was exposed to the Global Read Aloud by the Digital Integration Facilitator at her school, Kelly Priest.  Mrs. Priest helped this class get started with the project and assisted in setting Davis' class up to also Skype with a class from San Diego.  The two classes engaged with each other via Skype and through Kidblog blogs, where they discussed the book The Fourteenth Goldfish.

As Mrs. Kaemba reports:

"Davis has so much to share but putting it down in words is not always easy for him. He did not eagerly participate in writing activities, that is, until Davis was introduced to a 4th grade class from San Diego via Skype.  After his experience with one student in that class, Davis began to ask to write on his blog.  He would eagerly check the comments left by students all over the United States.  Davis found motivation to grow as a writer and as a reader."

I found Davis to be an exceptionally bright and articulate young man, who gives an outstanding interview.  Below are the questions I asked him and his (paraphrased) answers.  I hope you enjoy him as much as I did!

How did you start blogging?
We read The Fourteenth Goldfish and got to blog with other people, kids, from across the world.  We were all reading the same book.  The other kids were way ahead of us at times but were nice enough not to spoil it.

What would you write about?
Things like our favorite parts of the book and we would ask questions of the other class.  It was cool to see what they thought about the same book and parts of the book.

What did you like about blogging?
I like blogging because it's really nice to know what others around the world are like and to know their names.

What was your favorite part of connecting through Skype?
We got to see them on the webcam!  There were lots of kids all over the place.  There was a student in the other class named AJ that I really liked reading his posts.  He would talk about his family and what kinds of things he liked to do over the summer.  When we got to see the other class I was really excited to meet AJ since I had read all his posts.  He looked a lot different than I expected and that was neat.

How has blogging and connecting with this other class helped you become a better reader or writer?
Before, I didn't really like to write or read that much.  I did write one comic book but that was about it.  I got to be a better reader because I saw that the things that others were blogging about were really interesting so I started reading all their stuff.  Now I like to write on my Kidblog blog.  And now that I'm reading better, I'm starting to read a series of books called The Amulet and it's really awesome- I can't wait to read the next few after they come back to the library!

So there you have it- it was a great experience for me to sit down with Davis and I can't thank Ms. Kaemba and Mrs. Priest enough for being bold enough to try something new with digital tools to make learning relevant and motivating for students!

And Davis- keep reading, writing, blogging, and connecting!  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Promoting Innovation, Creativity, and Design in our Schools (Pt 2 of 2)

Part One can be found here, where I went through the two main types of innovation we're working on.

Employers and college registrars are speaking loud and clear when they say they need more creative people, more problem solvers, more critical thinkers, and more innovative ideas. Even beyond all that, we know as educators that these are critical skills and we've always worked to build them in our students.  We don't need mounds of surveys and data to tell us these are important skills, but it is important to note that there is a real uptick in the call for these skills as the world economy becomes more information and innovation driven.

Promoting innovation, creativity, and design in schools is not easy.  Many things work against this effort, most of which are frankly out of our control- increased testing and the pressure it creates, stacked curriculum and pacing guides, bell schedules, limited materials, and the very structure/space we have to work with, to name a few.  This effort is NOT easy, but it IS important.  It's what's right for students.

There's good news and bad news about promoting innovation and creativity in our classrooms.  My daughter always tells me to start with the bad news first, so she can leave in a better mood after hearing the good news we'll start with the bad news!

The bad news is that we, as teachers, do many things throughout our day that squash our student's creativity.  Most of these things happen and we don't even realize it.  They mostly stem from the way we were ourselves taught growing up.  Many of them also originate in classes or PD we've been given in the past about how to manage a classroom, how to present lessons, and how to interact with kids.  So that's the bad news.

Now for the good news!  Unlike the barriers listed above that are out of our control- these actions and strategies are totally within our grasp to change. All we have to do is be mindful of them when we're asking students to do creative work and step back!

The teachers I've been able to work with on this have done a fantastic job of identifying a lot of these actions and behaviors and reflecting on how to change them to allow more creativity and innovative thought to flow in our schools.  Here's the list and our reactions and reflections on each.

Things to be mindful of when doing creative / innovative / design work with students:

Instead of…
Think about…
Providing a model of what you want to build
Letting kids start from scratch
Assigning a task (“Build a paper airplane”)
Generating a goal (“Make something that can fly across the room”)
Making kids work alone
Having kids work in partners or small groups
Limiting Materials
Providing a large range and asking kids what else they could use
Teaching kids how to improve their design
Having kids who have had success share their ideas with the class
Starting with research
“Ending” with research, then letting that research generate more questions and ideas for improvement
Stepping in to help/guide as kids build
Stepping back and letting them figure it out together
Providing rewards
Providing feedback
“Fixing” things for kids
Letting kids troubleshoot

In short, when doing creative work with kids:

  • Less us, more them
  • Be less helpful
  • Be open to surprises and new directions that kids want to take you

Good luck and have fun!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Promoting Innovation, Creativity, and Design in our Schools (Pt 1 of 2)

This is Part 1, where I'm writing about the two main types of innovation and their importance in schools....Part 2 is here, where I share ways that we as teachers often accidentally squash student innovation and creativity in the classroom- and how to be mindful of this problem!

Working through my county's digital learning transformation process has been and continues to be an exciting time for all involved.  We're truly targeting meaningful use of devices, listening to teachers and students, and have hired an outstanding team of facilitators.

Production labs, entrepreneurship programs, and makerspaces are cropping up within our county.  Some of our media specialists are starting to rethink what a library / media space should be all about.   Teachers are starting to seek digital tools as ways to encourage choice and personalized learning for students.  Along with this process we've been able to see some outstanding principals make a shift in their buildings toward innovation and creativity and away from standardization and rote learning.  

As part of this, I've been asked to come and speak to a few school staffs about innovation, creativity, and how we teachers often inadvertently squash these things in our classrooms.  It's a topic I'm passionate about because I've seen with my own eyes that when we give kids the opportunity to surprise us, they'll rarely disappoint.  

Before talking about innovation, I think it's important to distinguish between the two main types- sustained (incremental) innovation and disruptive innovation.  Both are incredibly important to focus on with kids.  

One way I share with teachers how these two types of innovation play out is through a design process- namely, building paper airplanes!

We follow the simple design process, Think - Make - Improve (credit to Stager/Martinez), where teachers are given an opportunity and materials to continuously improve their airplane designs.  Through this process I give some explicit instructions and strategies to guide their designs.  The task is to build a paper airplane that flies as far as possible.  Some of the planes they come up with are fantastic, some are plainly disastrous at accomplishing the task at hand.  

So we talk about "what is sustained/incremental innovation?" We land on a definition that revolves around "innovation that continuously improves a product, idea, or process, but does not fundamentally change it."  No matter what we add to our paper airplanes, they're still essentially a paper airplane.  Another example of sustained innovation would be pencil sharpeners.  We can make them electronic, we can make them last a lot longer, we can make them compatible with different sizes of pencils, we can add ways for the shavings to automatically trashed- but at the end of the day, we're still sharpening pencils.

Sustained/Incremental Innovation is extremely important- it's the bread and butter of design and is something we should be actively practicing with all students, in all areas of design (not just building and making, but in how we approach the arts, reading, math, social sciences, and all other subjects).

Disruptive Innovation
We then shift and talk about disruptive innovation.  We kick that conversation off with this video:

So, disruptive innovation is when a product, process, or idea is fundamentally changed so that it looks completely different than what it was before.  Many times, disruptive innovations are scaleable so they have a huge impact on the world.  Some of history's most impressive inventions are great examples of disruptive innovation:
  • The telephone fundamentally changed the way we communicate.
  • Ford's assembly line fundamentally changed manufacturing (and in turn, our education system, for the worse....but I digress).
  • The printing press fundamentally changed the nature of literacy.
  • The idea of democracy fundamentally changed the role and function of government.
  • The World Wide Web fundamentally changed the way we send and receive information.
And on and on....disruptive innovation can happen in a burst of insight or through hard, determined work.  It can often change the world, and quickly.  Or it can also fly under the radar.  But one thing is certain- it takes creativity, imagination, opportunity, and empowerment to happen.  And these are things that we as teachers often accidentally squash- sometimes in very well-meaning ways.

Tomorrow, I'll follow up with part two- how we inadvertently take creativity and innovation out of our classrooms, how to remain mindful of this, and how to approach things a bit differently to stoke these important flames in students!

Books I've been reading that greatly shape my understanding and thinking:
Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner
Invent to Learn, Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez
Making Learning Whole, David Perkins

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Next Level Gamification"

Yeah that's right- I used to lead druids, enchanters, warriors, rogues, wizards, and other misfits in raids on dragons.

So I've been gaming for a long time.  It used to be something folks might turn a nose up on, but nowadays I can wave my game freak flag fly with abandon.  I started with the Atari 2600.  I beat Pitfall, ET (which I don't agree is the worst Atari game ever- that would be Journey Escape, thank you very much), and pretty much owned my brothers and sisters in Combat.  I moved through Nintendo and the Sega Genesis and eventually fell in love with PC gaming.  My first decent PC gaming was on the Apple IIGS, with favorites like Zork and Might and Magic.  PC Games were huge for me and I loved the old MUDs, moving through those like +3 broad swords through butter.  I chewed through many a fantasy RPG, notably all the Baldur's Gates, Neverwinter Nights, Morrowind, etc.  

All of which totally prepped me for my last big gaming obsession- Everquest.  The first MMORPG to make it big, EQ was awesome and there will never be another game like it....ever.  Not because it had the best graphics or interface- but rather because what EQ did was put a bunch of nerdy gamers into a world, without a map, without a handbook, without any spoilers or cheat codes- and we all had to figure it out together.  There were no answers when EQ started.  It was gaming at it's purest and best- people coming together from all over the world to figure out game mechanics, weaknesses, where the best loot dropped, developing strategies on harder encounters, mapping the world out for each other and above all- sharing, sharing sharing.

Yes, I was the nerdy guild officer.  Yes, I led raids on dragons, demonic bastards, and other nasties (I can't be sure, but I feel pretty confident saying I was the only kindergarten teacher on the planet that did this in their spare time...).  It may be surprising to some, but this was actually pretty hard work- wrangling people together, getting the right mix of classes, setting up the right groups, planning and implementing the right strategies, recovering after epic wipeout losses and trying again, making sure folks had the right equipment, getting fair and transparent loot distribution plans in place in case of success, plus loads of other variables made for hard sledding.  

This type of work, to me, is what "next level gamification" in classrooms should be all about.  Unfortunately, and to my huge disappointment, this isn't what many think about when they hear the term....  Last Friday, I went to an informal session during Hack Education whose organizer used that title as the jumping off point for conversation.  I wish I knew the young gentleman's name- he was very passionate about the work he had done with his students to "gamify" his classroom- turning points into XP points, awarding badges for behavior and work, keeping running leaderboards, calling projects "epic quests".  

As he was presenting all of this info and all the research behind it, all I could think in my head was "no no no no....please no...."  If this is what "gamifying" the classroom is all about- badges, extrinsic rewards, and glorifying status- then count me OUT.  I spoke up about my concerns about such a heavy focus on extrinsic rewards, which mountains of evidence shows diminishes human's interest and intrinsic motivation to learn the topic at hand (when you tie extrinsic rewards to behaviors and work, people work for the reward- not the learning or process- if you need more info on that, this guy can certainly point you in the right direction).  To my shock, there weren't many others to share this concern (at least not out loud).  I voiced it again and still the majority of the group wanted to press on to learn more about this gentleman's particular vision of a "gamified" classroom.  I decided to check out and go to another session- I'm not a wet blanket kinda guy and I didn't want to rain on anyone's parade- I just fundamentally disagree with the approach.

To me, the next level of gamification or gaming in the classroom should be much less about badges and much more about group problem solving and promoting the value of failure (or, better stated- iteration).  It should allow kids the opportunity to wrangle a motley crew together, strategize how to conquer a daunting task, give it a whirl.....then pick up the shattered pieces, figure out what went wrong and give it another go.

That's the kind of gamification I'm going to see if I can promote and we'll see how it goes...better than one's first stab at a dragon, I can only hope...

Forgive me blog, for I have sinned.

**Apologies for the slightly Catholic opening (I was, myself, slightly Catholic growing up and parts of it seemed to stick...)**

So it's time to come clean on a couple things:
  • Even though I wrote a book, I don't love to write.  
  • Because I don't love to write, writing a book totally burned me out on writing and I'm only barely recovering.
  • Even though I was always told my ELA-type scores and numbers were better than my math/science, I've always liked math/science a lot more.
  • I've convinced myself that in the past two years I haven't had time to blog much because of all the changeover in getting a new job, having a third awesome little girl, and a million other things.  But that's not true- it doesn't take long for me to share thoughts once I start tapping away.  
  • I like to share ideas, but I wonder how new friends and colleagues will take them.  Not worried, per se, just wondering.
  • I have about 20 draft posts that I've never fleshed out.  Maybe the idea that I have to flesh them out is the problem....maybe just quicker snippets is where I need to head!
So all of this adds up to me not really doing much blogging at all these past couple years.  But being at ISTE again has re-lit a bit of a bug in me to share.  So, blog, I beg for forgiveness for your neglect, gathering dust in the corners of the Ed Tech universe....  but I think I'm gonna drag you back into the light, polish you off, and see what kinds of stuff might pop out.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Top Ten Offline Chrome Apps for Students

cross-posted from a new blog I'm contributing to, Chromebooks in Education

One of the biggest criticisms of the Google Chromebook is that it is useless without a wifi connection.  This, however, is a myth!  There are lots of great and powerful tools that students can access without a wifi connection and the Chrome Web Store is adding more offline apps each and every week.

My Top Ten Favorites (as of now!)
(to explore more on your own, simply visit the offline section of the Chrome Web Store and browse)

Google Drive- A definite must-have.  Enabling offline access to Google Drive allows students to view all of their Google Drive documents with or without a wifi connection.  Also, students can create documents, presentations, drawings, and spreadsheets offline.  The creation process is exactly the same- when the Chromebook next logs in and has wifi access, these documents automatically sync to the student's Google Drive account.  Click here to see how to set up offline mode for Google Drive.

Lucidchart  -  This is a mind-mapping app that allows students to create and edit their maps while offline.  This app also allows students to export their files to their Google Drive account.

Pixlr Touch Up - This is a version of Pixlr that allows simple photo editing and saving while offline.

Gliffy - Another easy mind-mapping app that works well offline.

Google Keep - a quick note-taking app that syncs with Google Drive.

Timer Tab - Includes a timer countdown, a stopwatch, and alarm clock

Pocket - Allows students to save online articles for offline viewing.  This is a great way to have students without home wifi access to still be able to do research at home.  Unfortunately, there is no way yet to store videos for offline viewing, but the word is this will be coming soon!

Sketchpad - Allows students to create posters/drawings.  Students can insert pictures, shapes, text, drawings, and stamps.  Files can then be easily saved to the Downloads folder (jpg, pdf, png, zip) and uploaded back to Google Drive once they are connected to wifi again.

Until AM - Fun little offline app where students can take two pieces of audio and splice them together, add distortions, and remix songs. Only limitation is that there is no way to export or record the new mix (if online, this can be recorded through a Web Store app called "Voice Recorder" which records from the Chromebook's microphone and saves the output as an mp3 file).

Planetarium - This is a nice app to use if students want to explore the stars offline.  It helps that this is an offline app in that it can be used anywhere outside to view and match stars and constellations to the nighttime sky.

There you have it!  My top ten as of today (in no particular order).  I reserve the right to change my mind, as we're seeing more and more great offline apps come available to the Chromebook (Wevideo Next is one to keep an eye on.....).

-Steve J