Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#dinovember in the classroom: My Sea Crew

Over break I stumbled upon a Medium article called Welcome to Dinovember. Each November, two parents grab a handful of toy dinosaurs and bring them to life while the kids slumber. One morning, the dinos were caught eating cereal. One morning, the dinos tried to do the dishes. One morning, the dinos held a Ninja Turtle hostage. The parents seek to engage the wonder, mystery, and imagination of their children. They want childhood to be fun.

What a cool thing to try with seventh graders? Seventh graders like to act tough and pretend they own the world. They dish insults left and right, and act "too cool for school". In the end, they are still kids. So why not have fun? Why not engage their wonder, mystery, and imagination?

Something strange happened the first week of January in Mr M's class. A band of rubber sea creatures self-titled The Sea Crew started to show up most mornings. Look at the trouble they have gotten into.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Kids Really Think of "Break Work"

Ohh, Break Work. Most of us struggled through it at one point. All of us hated it. Yet, teachers see nothing wrong with repeating the same exact offenses they themselves hated as students. 

The excuses for assigning 'break work' come from all over the place:
We don't want students to forget important concepts.
They can't fall behind.
We have too much material to cover.
The other teachers in my school do it.
It prepares them for ... (insert next school level here)

Ultimately, it furthers one end: Students disliking school.

The below conversation comes from my brother-in-law. He is a high school senior in Buffalo, New York. He gets that the work assigned amounts to nothing more than busy work. It is easy to see there is not any real learning being achieved. It just makes one more jaded. 

Do you give 'Break Work'? Am I missing something?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

IFTTT for School Science, Research, and More!!!

IFTTT is taking off! IFTTT stands for If This Then That. It is a way to automatize events on different internet applications or programs. For example, each time you take a photo, it will save the picture to your Google Drive. You can create a recipe so that each time you create a contact in your phone it sends the info to your Google calendar. Interesting idea. Favorited tweets can be sent to Evernote. Maybe I will actually go back and check favorites now! Bottom line, if you can think of a way to connect the over 75 applications IFTTT is compatible with,  you can be as creative as you want!

Over break, I read an article in PC magazine talking about great IFTTT recipes. A few seemed ripe for creative school science projects. I know weather is a major part of grade five CA science standards. Why not use a recipe that keeps track of rain?

Think of the great stuff you could do with this data.

Compare your city's rain total to another.
Compare rain totals in different climates.
Compare one area's rain total with the average for a month, season, or year.
Create awesome Google charts and graphs with the data.

Higher Level

Authentic research projects
Data analysis
Why is rain up or down this year?
You could even prepare reports for scientists, local officials, or the newspaper.

I feel the possibilities are endless.

Here is another weather related recipe, severe weather to SMS.

Just a few thoughts on this one:

What types of weather patterns produce severe weather?
Track severe weather by locations in county or state.
Compare alerts to forecast.
Compare alerts to actual events. Was it warranted?
Going even bigger, set up a program to alert community of severe weather.

These possibilities make me giddy. I have not tried any of these, and it may take me some time to find or create a recipe that fits my curriculum, but there is potential. Do you have any ideas for using IFTTT in the classroom? Please share. If you use IFTTT in the classroom please write a comment about your experience or point me to a blog you write.

I look forward to your creativity. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Education 3.0

Recently, a good friend of mine, Peter Glenn (@PeterJGlenn), forwarded me a very interesting read called, Education 3.0–Where Students Create Their Own Learning Experiences. The author, Terry Heick, wants us to think about curriculum. This is unsurprising. Who doesn't want to talk about curriculum these days?

It would not be a stretch to say kids are defined by curriculum, curriculum they have no say in. Their very success in school is measured by how they respond to 'X' curriculum (you might say the same thing about teachers). A good student means achieving the standards of a curriculum that is forced upon them. What if this was different? 

What if instead of being defined and judged by an outside curriculum, students could define, judge, and build their own curriculum? 

Heick writes:
Pushing the idea further, this kind of “new curriculum” would not simply some abstract matter of curiosity and whimsy, where we throw out any and all learning goals and let students run about, but rather a redefining of what students “study”–goals based on the student, their history, their passions, and their networks and native geographical communities.
Thinking in these terms, a standard curriculum would be useless, outdated, and too prescribed. The "new" curriculum would call for students and learners to leverage interests with practical connections. Students would need to be creators, sharers, innovators, and competent judges of information. They would need to build integrated webs of connections and resources. This web would function as curriculum. Teachers would be partners and facilitators; their goal to help students find networks, tools, and models.

What if the...
"common and viable curriculum” was, rather than content, instead a set of networks, tools, self-directed thinking habits, and accessible learning models?"

I think I can answer this question. We might actually get engaged, motivated, and inspired 21st century learners. School would be an exciting place, a hub to learn from each other and build webs of connections. Your own learning curriculum would be the way to pursue your passions, and literally MAKE YOUR OWN DREAMS come true.


Check out Jackie Gerstein's presentation below:
Education 3.0: Altering Round Hole in Round Peg Education

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Education Resolutions for 2014

I like resolutions, or shall I say, I like the idea of resolutions. I think resolutions make us reflect on our lives and think about how we can change them for the better. Unfortunately, most people do not truly reflect, and therefore resolutions become fleeing exercises in self-vanity. Over the winter break, I had a chance to think over some resolutions for me as a teacher. They are not earth-shattering. They are small things I want to try, or areas I need to improve. The whole point is to provide the best learning environment for my students.

Make my classroom flatter!
We live in an public, sharing world, yet schools are still isolated, self-contained systems. It has never been easier to bring in other teachers, professionals, or leaders from across the world.  Scientists are available to skype and you can follow authors using Twitter. Kids can blog and share their writing with students in all parts of the country. Our audience is not confined to the people within our four walls. This is exciting for students and makes learning relevant and real. We can now open up learning and make the world our classroom.

Eat lunch with my students
Teachers need and deserve breaks throughout the day, but it shows students a lot if you are willing to come down to their level once a week or a few times a month.

Students do not need more tests, pop quizzes, or even exit slips. They do need support and authentic feedback to improve and repair mistakes. I need to make a more intentional effort to really observe my students as they work, build, and learn. As a professional, I can often tell right away when a students may need another resource, a partner, or some other help. I want to be better at supporting students on their learning path.

Explain my ideas
Students deserve to know the why, the how, and the what! How can I better express my ideas, theory, and philosophy each day so they understand why we do things in the classroom? In the process, I hope they share their thoughts and ideas about why as well.

I love this idea.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Invent To Learn

Some books are bad. Some books are good. Some books fall somewhere in-between. Some books are practical. Some books are entertaining. Some books are confusing.

There are some books that cause you to think deeply. There are some books that reveal a skill, idea, or methodology. There are even books that may change you mind about a topic.

....There are a few books that inspire the reader.

Invent to Learn is one of these books.

Invent to Learn is a book that should move every classroom teacher to action. Invent to Learn motivates one to be the teacher we all want to be. More crucial, it gives TONS of references and resources to make the motivation tangible and classroom implementation attainable for the practitioner. This is a living book meant to be a companion and guide for educators. Invent to Learn is a book all teachers should read, and then read again.

Invent to Learn presents a simple, yet powerful, central thesis, "children should engage in tinkering and making because they are powerful ways to learn."

The Invent to Learn 'TMI' Poster

The book has something for everybody. It is a great starting point for a teacher beginning to implement maker concepts into the classroom. I know this because I am one of those newbies. The starter finds theory, background information, resources, project ideas, and easy to digest concepts.

The more advanced practitioner will also enjoy the resources, project ideas, and conceptual philosophy, but will run with the more advanced language and learning opportunities present in corresponding chapters.

More than anything, the classroom teacher will re-imagine learning opportunities for their students. "Teachers hold the key to liberating the learner." Put another way, "A teacher is highly engaged in the art of empowering young people, not getting work done.  This book provides the tools for transforming the classroom experience.

"Making is about the active role construction plays in learner." It [making] is about realizing all learning is personal, regardless of current fads and verbiage. All people ask questions and imagine possibilities. It is time for all students to engage this wonder and actively learn to make sense of the world.


*Author's Note: All quotations are taken from Invent to Learn. I read this as an E-book so do not have precise page numbers. I recommend this book as an E-book due to the number of links and online resources.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Marble Madness, Cont'd

A couple months ago, I wrote some notes about a Marble Madness project I completed with my students. I was overjoyed and humbled to receive a comment from the team at Tinkering Studio. The Tinkering Studio project pages provided the motivation for the projects and was kind enough to leave some authentic feedback. It proves to me the folks at the Tinkering Studio really care about changing learning opportunities for children. So much so they helped a random teacher in Los Angeles. The comment is below:
So nice to see your write-up about trying marble machines with your students. I especially enjoyed hearing that "These concepts.....sprang naturally from the kids tinkering." That's what it's all about! I also really appreciate that you were able to give it ample time. I know that isn't always easy to do in a school setting, but it helps the kids really internalize what they're doing and the understanding that they develop will be much more durable. So, Bravo! 
I'd like to offer two bits of advice for next time: (1) Try double up the pegboard. We sandwich a small 2x2 in between. It does make the boards heavier and harder to store, but they are more rigid and having two sets of holes helps keep dowels from falling out or coming loose. (We'd be happy to Skype and do a Q&A about construction). (2) Don't get really hung up on the slowing down part. While it's true that we like to use it as a prompt to get people started, their own ideas that come out based on things they're building are often much more interesting and a personal challenge ultimately is more meaningful. We just find it helps people get started, because a completely blank piece of pegboard can be pretty intimidating initially. If it's okay with you, I'd like to blog about your post on the Tinkering Studio site. 
Best of luck when you try it again -- I'd love to hear your reflections then too.
-Karen Wilkinson (from the Tinkering Studio)"

The comment caused further reflection on my end. This helped improve my learning as well. My response is below:
WOW! Thank you for taking the time to write and comment. I am usually really good about getting back and commenting, but I have been traveling and enjoying the holiday. 
My original goal was to put the wood behind the pegboard, then I hoped students would do it themselves. This is one key thing I learned. Students are very excited in the building, but resources are key. Not necessarily high budget resources, but "stuff" that is practical, pliable (in the imaginative sense), and ubiquitous. Some students will bring things in from outside school, but most won't. If you want students that are always tinkering, building, and designing you have to give them the tools to do so. As I do this next year, I will really think about organizing and providing maker resources for them. 
I also really appreciate your thoughts on time. Teachers are under so much pressure to force more and more content on students. Maybe it is a reflection of education system, or even the times we live in, that we want everything right away. We still have an education system that wants students to regurgitate answers right away, we want "results" right away, we want our students to "perform" right away. We rarely feel comfortable allowing our students to simply make, play with ideas, and build authentic understanding. It is reassuring to have other people support my thinking in giving students a different perspective on learning. 
More than anything, I found that students cared about their creations, they felt personally accomplished. A number of students said the have never been more frustrated, yet drawn to figure something out. One student even said science was once "stupid" and is now her favorite class. One simple project changed many learners perceptions of themselves. It also generated excitement throughout the school. Younger students flocked to my room at recess to test marbles and check the progress of the machines. They gladly traded recess to play with the machines. This was very neat. I love recess, but also love having to kick kids out of class!
Please use my blog in anyway you see fit. I am going to use it for another post myself. I would also love to keep in contact, especially if your team could skype in at the beginning of next year to pose the challenge and check in throughout. If you would like to personally email me, don't hesitate. 
Happy New Year,Tim

Thank you Karen from the Tinkering Studio for pushing me as an educator and making me better!