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Using Twitter in the Classroom

TwitterIn our twenty-first century world, it is easier than ever to connect with other educators from around the world. There are still some teachers who don’t see the value in expanding their Professional Learning Network (PLN). I am hoping not only to show you why connecting with teachers outside your school district or surrounding communities is important, but how to grow your PLN as well.

One of the easiest ways to connect with anyone these days is through Twitter. Lots of you have never considered Twitter, while others might have signed up and created an account only to abandon it a week later.

I have created a series of videos on how to setup, customize and use Twitter in the classroom.

I hope you’ll keep and open mind and check out this series. The first video is below.

Minecraft in the classroom

minecraftBack in April I posted about using Minecraft in the classroom. (You can check out that post here.) At that time I was taking an online course on using Minecraft in the classroom. I learned not only about the game itself, but how to integrate it into the classroom.

Since April I was awarded a grant to integrate Minecraft into the curriculum. We started the program in October. I would like to share the knowledge I have gained from this experience.

To start with, I found I could ask students to do just about anything and have it completed with little complaining and with a high percentage of completion if I tied it to getting to build in Minecraft.

To elaborate, I’ll explain my project. Students read the book Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in their Language Arts classes. They also studied the characteristics of civilizations in World Studies. So, students knew about Hunger Games and what makes a good civilization. I decided to have the students create a “secret” District 14. This would be the ideal civilization, unlike the rest of the country. But, the students had to keep the civilization probable compared to what they read in the book. With that knowledge, students had to write a one page plan explaining the various aspects of the district and why, with evidence from the book how it would fit into the overall theme of Hunger Games.

Most seventh graders would be complaining about typing a one page paper, but not these students. They saw it as a means to and end. If they got the paper typed, they got to play Minecraft. Some tried to write the paper quickly, without much time and effort. These students found the paper being returned. They did a much better job the second time.

Students, in most classes, worked very well together. They had to collaborate and work in teams to build the various areas of the district. Minecraft experts helped the beginner and novice players. I could hear students tell another, “You work on the wall and I’ll build the roof.” Or I would hear one say, “They wouldn’t use diamonds to build a house.” It was exciting to watch.

We integrated math by building structures to a prescribed size based on the plan. Students really had to comprehend the literature to prove the accuracy of what was planned. Many times we would stop and look around to critique what was being built.

Over all students had a blast and didn’t realize how much they were demonstrating their knowledge. Students really got into the literature compared to years past. Later this year I will get to evaluate how much better students learned the characteristics of civilizations when they complete a civilization project in World Studies.

So, if you have been tempted to try a little Minecraft in your classroom, give it a shot, you won’t be sorry.

(I’ll post some technical information soon on how you can set up your own server in your classroom.)

Twitter

Twitter_logo_blueI know Twitter has been around for almost 10 years, but in eduction, it takes a while for things to work its way into the classroom. I am finding more and more educators using Twitter to connect with students and parents. I love seeing my colleagues tweet pictures and videos of awesome things their students are doing in the classroom.

One use of Twitter that I find teachers still are not embracing is the ability to create Professional Learning Communities (PLC). I know, we don’t need one more acronym. I get some awesome ideas from those I follow on Twitter.

Another place to connect with other educators and build your PLC is in a Twitter Chat. If you haven’t participated in a Twitter Chat yet, you should try it out. Here is a great article about Twitter Chats. I suggest you try one out.

The only way to get better at using Twitter is by using it often. I try to tweet at least a few times a week. I would love to tweet every day or even multiple times a day. But sometimes I get so busy with my students, I forget.

So, look for awesome things your students are doing and tweet them out for the world to see. Suggest your students tweet what they are doing as well. Don’t forget to also connect with other teachers through Twitter Chats.

Happy Tweeting!

Hour of code

Screenshot 2015-12-06 10.20.00This week, December 7-13, is Computer Science Education Week. To celebrate, millions of schools around the world will participate in an Hour of Code. Students spend an hour or so learning a variety of programming skills. Having taught students from grades 3 through 12, I have a fairly good understanding of what works with each level.

So here are some ways to participate in an Hour of Code.

 

Elementary

Code.org (This has some fun programming tutorials geared toward younger students. Last year they had Anna and Elsa from Frozen. This year they have a Minecraft and a Star Wars themed set of tutorials. Code.org has added some texted based programming for older students this year.)

Tynker.com (This has some tutorials and activities similar to Code.org. You can also get an app for a tablet.

Scratch Jr. (This app is similar to Scratch, but designed for younger students.)

Intermediate 

Code.org (See description above.)

Scratch (I love Scratch. It can be used to create simple projects or very elaborate games. Your creativity is all that limits what you can do. Check out this earlier post.)

Junior High/High School

Scratch (See description above.)

Code with Chris (I began to go through this iOS tutorial a week ago to learn how to build iPhone apps. Although I have not finished yet, it has been fabulous so far.)

ROBOTC Virtual Worlds (You will have to download some trial software to program the virtual robots, but I use the ROBOTC in my robotics classes and love it. I use the text based programming, but graphical programming is available as well.)

And there are tons more…

 

There are so many resources to choose from, there is no excuse for not participating in an Hour of Code this year. Take pictures of your students and Tweet them out using the hashtag #HourOfCode!

HAPPY CODING!

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Scratch Creative Computing

Here is a video I created and posted for my students on how to make a flappy bird type game. The ideas came from the Scratch Creative Computing workbook. This is the best curriculum for teaching Scratch that I have found. Although I don’t use the workbook from cover to cover, I do use many of the ideas and techniques in my short Scratch programming unit. I wish I could teach an entire semester of Scratch. I would use this workbook each and every semester!

2015 GAR Foundation Annual Educator Conference

GAR_1In early October, three of my students and I were invited to speak to a variety of educators and school administrators from around Summit County at GAR Foundation’s Annual Educator Conference.

We had the opportunity to speak about the new Robotics program started at Springfield High School and Junior High last year. With funding from the GAR Foundation through a grant I wrote, Springfield Local Schools were granted $15,000 to purchase robotics materials and provide teacher training.

The students were in the Robotics 1 course last year. They used LEGO EV3 robotics kits and ROBOTC programming software to learn a variety of programming skills. Each of the students spoke about how this program has benefited him or her.

The students explained how they learned to problem solve and collaborate with others. They learned to break apart large problems into smaller more manageable tasks. Most of all, student learned to persevere. Even when they wanted to give up, they pressed on to complete the program.

These students and others will be taking a Robotics 2 course which will use LEGO NXT and TETRIX robots as they learn more advanced robotics programming.

I ended the presentation with a challenge for the administrators, “Let me encourage all of the principals and superintendents in the room to take a chance on some of the crazy ideas your teachers may have. Last year I started with around 70 robotics students. This year I am around 120. This is just getting started! Take a chance on your teachers! Support their ideas.”

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A tour guide

In Education, there is a great deal of buzz around the idea of being innovative and creative. As a technology and robotics teacher, I hear words like maker spaces, 21st century skills and STEM. (Okay, STEM isn’t a word, but you get the idea.) Lots of people say they want to allow students to be creative and they want to integrate the STEM principles, but they don’t do it well because of the way their classroom is structured.

This is how I believe our classrooms should be structured.

Each day I am tour guide. Young people between the ages of 12 to 18 come to my school to visit the vastness we call knowledge. Most people feel that as a tour guide we must know everything, but that isn’t true. There is no way for anyone to know everything about everything. Or even as a teacher to know everything about our subject matter. It just isn’t possible. As a tour guide we should guide those who visit to learn for themselves. We need to guide them to love learning by being an enthusiastic and exciting tour guide.

I may not know everything, but I know how to steer students to the knowledge. This plays out each and everyday in my classroom. When a student is working on a project, there is a good chance I don’t know the answer, but I know where to look for it. I can guide him or her to this knowledge.

Do I stand in front and teach the whole group? Yes, from time to time I do. Just as a tour guide has some opening remarks before you start the tour. From time to time I stop the class to give some information about the knowledge we are visiting. Yes, just as a tour guide does when you stop at one of the designations along your route. At the end of the class I close with remarks. Yes, just as the tour guide does when the last destination has been reached.

Many days the knowledge we are visiting is a little different than the day before. Some days we visit it over and over. Teaching isn’t about students consuming the information that I possess. If it were, my students would be terribly disappointed and would leave empty. It is about guiding each of them to the information they need to learn something new.

When I structure my class this way, each student has the freedom to be innovative and creative. Some will take off and run, soaking up more knowledge than anyone could imagine. Others will need me to hold their hand and walk slowly explaining everything along the way. This is how I believe the classroom should be structured and how education needs to look.

 

Inspiration, Collaboration, Innovation

Back in August 2014 I posted about the robotics program (read that post here) that I was introducing to the eighth students in the district where I teach. After two semesters and five classes of robotics I can honestly say that students need some sort of programming course in their schedule.

Watch this short video where my program was highlighted with three other high quality projects.

The trouble with technology is that you cannot sit still. You have to continually move forward working to integrate into the classroom new and innovative ideas each and every year. The plan for next year is to add high school robotics courses to the existing eighth grade course. This will allow more students to take advantage of a robotics course. It will also allow advanced courses for students with more of an interest in programming and robotics. The robots will also change a bit. Instead of using the LEGO EV3 robots, students will couple the LEGO NXT with TETRIX to build more robust and powerful robots.

A special thanks to the GAR Foundation for funding this project. Without the funding this project would never have become a reality.

 

Yes you can… get out of the way!

Screenshot 2015-05-21 18.41.35Throughout the Yes… you can series I have tried to show you that it doesn’t take a tech genius to integrate technology into your lessons. I am certainly no tech genius. What I am is willing. I am willing to try new things that I know nothing or little about. I am willing to allow students to lead the way. Being a teacher means you are guiding students toward knowledge. Sometimes that requires us to get out of the way!

I try to allow my students the freedom to be creative while completing the requirements during a project. I have two projects to share with you that demonstrate what can happen if you are willing to step aside and let the students go.

SCRATCH: This project had a list of requirements, but I didn’t give much direction on how students were to meet the requirements because I didn’t want to limit the creativity and ideas the students would have.  The students knew I had expectations that needed to be met. This students met each one with mastery.

ROBOTICS: This project required students program the robot to complete an obstacle course using sensors. When this group got finished, I asked them to make a video of their robot completing the course. What they made was incredible. Watch and see.

Yes you can… iMovie

imovieFor those of you with iPads, one great tool that I feel anyone can use is iMovie. The iPad version is much simpler to use than the Mac version. Despite it being more simple, it can make a high quality movie.

Currently the seventh graders at my school are using iMovie for the iPad to reenact scenes from the novel they have read in class. Students will write scripts in a group of four. Then students will videotape using the iPad’s camera. In iMovie, students will add the clips, split the clips to remove the mistakes, add titles, add still photos, add special effects and sounds and more. It will take some time, but the final product will be great!

Don’t be afraid to try iMovie. Take an hour with your iPad and try making a simple movie. Don’t be afraid to give your students some guidelines and let them give it a try. You can do it!