To code or not to code, that is the question

scratchEverything I have been reading lately claims we need to add programming, or coding as many like to call it, classes into the k12 curriculum. Being the computer technology teacher, and all around geek, I love this idea. But having been around the educational block a few times, I am skeptical to many of the trends in education. I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth a few times since I started my career.

I have given this claim some serious consideration and have tried to do my homework on the subject. I am convinced that coding is essential to the future of our students. No, I don’t believe that all of them will be come programmers. Maybe only a few will go on to become a professional programmer. But think about it, the jobs the next generation will be applying for will require them to program something. As technology becomes more and more a part of every part of our life, it requires someone to make it work. Also, coding teaches great project management skills.

I have incorporated a small coding unit into my computer technology classes for grades 7 and 8. What I have found is that students learn to break large projects apart to manageable tasks. Students learn to divide and conquer by working on different tasks and putting everyone on the team’s work together to complete a project. I have also found that students enjoy making something move or talk all by itself without being controlled.

One application I used to teach this coding unit was Scratch. I used a couple of lessons found on the Scratched website. This allowed students to become familiar with the application and to see what Scratch could do. I then walked students through the making of Pong. You read that correctly, we made Pong. I can remember playing this as a child. The students LOVED making a video game from scratch. (Pun intended.) I must admit, I cheated and learned how to make the game using the YouTube video below. But as a teacher, I use whatever I can to best prepare for my lessons.

I had hoped students would enjoy making the game, which they did. Student misbehavior was down during this unit. But what I didn’t expect was to have students going home and making their own games using Scratch. One student in particular, who did not complete any assignments in my class except the assignments for the coding unit, fell in love with Scratch. He went on the make his own program where he had cars that drove around a city. It was very complex.  This student had behavior issues and was in a special education class. For this boy, Scratch opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It leveled the playing field for him.

That is what coding does. I plan to do more coding next year using Scratch. Give it a try.




Building student rapport with games

CoC_titlescreenHave you watched as your students have tried to sneak a peek at their phones and you see their thumbs tapping feverishly? I have. And I have taken away plenty of students’ phones for playing games and texting.

I figured out what many of them are doing. They are building their village on Clash of Clans.

I was curious about this phenomenon called Clash of Clans. I have seen the commercials on TV but really never gave it a second thought. I decided to investigate by downloading the free app and setting up my own village. I found you have to build your village and set up storage for your gold and elixir. These are your currency to buy, build and most importantly defend. It’s all fun and games until you get attacked. You cannot be attacked if you are online. I have to admit, I was very tempted to play during class just like my kids.

Although I have worked with these students for years and know them well, Clash of Clans has given me one more thing to discuss with my students in the down times. They love giving me advice on my village. We laugh at how pathetic my village is compared to theirs. I even had a student invite me into their clan. I accepted for a short time and then left after a non-student was uncomfortable with my being in the clan with my limited experience. I created my own clan for teachers only. It is called Teachers Inc. if you are interested in joining.

I found that my students will pay attention and work if they know that they will get just a few minutes to jump on Clash of Clans to collect the gold and elixir and brag to me about their trophies. This is a great thing to do as they pack up with must a minute or so left of class.

A small investment in time goes a long way to build rapport with your students.

Parental Advisory: Apps to watch out for

Having the opportunity to work with JH students, I see and hear about the social networks apps they utilize. It is hard work to keep up with the latest apps and how these apps function.

Common Sense Media has a fabulous blog post on some of the apps parents and teachers should watch out for. (On a side note, I use many of the Digital Citizenship lesson plans Common Sense Media has created. I find these plans to be very effective for teaching Digital Citizenship whether you have access to technology or not. Common Sense Media also has many other resources for teachers and parents. Check them out at

Of the apps listed in the blog post, the app I see the most is Snapchat. I first found about this app when I told a student to stop texting and put away her phone. She said, “I’m not texting, I’m Snapchatting.” My response was, “Texting, Snapchatting, same thing. Put it away!” At first I thought this was just one of those texting apps that allowed students to text from their iPods. After investigation I found the idea of being able to send fun pictures and then have them deleted sounds great, but it opens up a can of worms.

Here is more information curtesy of Common Sense Media.

Snapchat: A messaging app that lets users put a time limit on the pictures and videos they send before they disappear.

Why it’s popular: Snapchat’s creators intended the app’s fleeting images to be a way for teens to share fun, light moments without the risk of having them go public. And that’s what most teens use it for: sending goofy or embarrassing photos to one another. Teens may pay more attention to Snapchats, knowing they’ll disappear in a matter of seconds.

What parents need to know:

  • Many schools have yet to block it, which is one reason why teens like it so much.
  • It’s a myth that Snapchats go away forever. Data is data: Whenever anything is sent online, it never truly goes away. (For example, the person on the receiving end can take a screenshot of the image before it disappears.) Snapchats can even be recovered.
  • It can make sexting seem OK. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing inappropriate content.

Please take the time to read the entire article and keep and eye on your student/child. (The photo at the top of this post was taken from the blog post.)


Screenshot 2014-02-11 10.46.06My district has been working with the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). As part of this professional development, we have learned strategies to incorporate ELA standards into each of our subject matter. This is essential as we all work toward meeting the Common Core standards for ELA.

To help with the LDC, there is a fascinating website called

The website claims “Newsela is an innovative way to build reading comprehension with nonfiction that’s always relevant: daily news.”

Screenshot 2014-02-11 10.46.34

“It’s easy and amazing. Newsela is free for students to explore a world of nonfiction and test their comprehension. Updated dailywith real-world news from major publications, students can participate in conversation about the most urgent topics of our time, all while becoming stronger readers.”

What is fascinating about the site is that it will take the same article and modify the reading level depending on the ability of the student. In today’s classroom, differentiation is a must. Newsela allows every teacher to make such modifications with the click of a button. You can see that even the title of the article changes depending on your grade level.

The abilities levels on the site range from third grade and up. This allows every student to read the same article no matter how well he or she reads.

Newsela also makes a quiz available on some articles. The quizzes are only four questions long. It will provide the teacher a quick snapshot of a student’s comprehension of the article.

To use the website, you must create a teacher account while your students create a student account. Students must enter the class code you provide after setting up a class. This is quick, easy and free. Students can register with a Google email address, which I know many school districts use.

At first glance Newsela looks to be a great tool for teachers in every subject. I am excited to find a great tool to integrate literacy into my technology courses.

Check out Newsela!

Magic mouse


If you own a laptop of any kind you have at least considered buying a mouse. I have a cheap wireless mouse for my Windows laptop. Like most wireless mice, this mouse has a USB receiver that plugs into the laptop. It works fairly well for $15.

Besides that laptop I also have a MacBook Pro purchased mid-August. I hadn’t purchased a mouse for it yet. I have a corded USB Apple mouse provided for me by my school district. I use it with my school issued MacBook.

Thanks to Santa, AKA my wife, I got an Apple Magic Mouse for Christmas. I previously had the opportunity to try one out at the local Best Buy. I had been meaning to get a mouse, but it just didn’t make it to the top of the priority list. I have been considering the Magic Mouse, but at $70 I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money. I can use a cheap one just fine.

After spending a little time using the Magic Mouse I am very happy with how well it works. Here are few of my thoughts on the features.

1.  Bluetooth – The Magic Mouse is bluetooth. No need to keep track of a USB receiver. The Magic Mouse is bluetooth. That means I won’t have to worry about losing it. It paired with my MacBook Pro very easily. The instruction manual claims it can also be paired to another Mac, but I haven’t attempted to pair it with my MacBook.

2. Right Click – If you are accustomed to using an Apple mouse, you know you have to control-click to get the right click menu. The Magic Mouse has a right click option. For a short time I found myself clicking on the right side by mistake. This is because I was used to clicking on the middle of the mouse button since it only had one button to click. You can turn off the right click, but why would you?

3. Gestures – I have turned all of the gestures options on. The mouse gestures works slightly different than the gestures on the track pad, but it is very easily mastered. The best is the scrolling. If you own an Apple mouse with the track ball on top you know the ball breaks easily. I have had many of them break on the Macs in my computer lab at school. There is no track ball to break on the Magic Mouse. I also like using the gesture to move forward and back on a web browser.

4. Zoom – It will also allow you to zoom with the double tap of a finger. I don’t use this very often, but it is an option.

Overall I love the Magic Mouse. $70 for a mouse seems outrageous. If it lasts the life of my MacBook Pro, it will be worth the money. If you don’t use gestures on your computer, the Magic Mouse is not worth the money. Go out and spend $15 for a cheap mouse.


GPS in education


One technology I am trying to find more uses for in the classroom is GPS technology. GPSs have been around for some time, but in many schools this technology is rarely used. Many schools need to think about making the GPS technology a larger component in learning. Technology is a key component of both Common Core and state standards.

In my opinion schools do not utilize this technology because of two reasons.

The first reason many school do not use GPS technology due to the absence of GPS devices. Every school that I know of is on a very tight budget that seems to be shrinking everyday. Buying a set of devices hasn’t been in the budget.

I am very fortunate to work in a school district that not only embraces a wide variety of technology, but I am at school that was awarded a large grant and the school purchased 14 very nice GPS devices. But even in my school, the GPS devices are rarely used. This is disappointing.

If your school or district does not currently have GPS technology there are some places to look.

Is there a local grant opportunity to write the purchase of GPS devices into the project? Garmin makes a low cost device that is very good for entry level at a $100 price point. (I just purchased the Garmin eTrex 10 and love it. I will post a review soon.)

If writing a grant is not an option, will your school or district be willing to purchase one or two devices. This isn’t idea for an entire classroom, but you can still teach with the technology. Years ago used just one GPS, which I purchased personally, with a classroom of 24 students. I developed enough activities to allow each student to hold and use the GPS. It obviously takes more time planning, but it can be done.

Many communities have set up an academic foundation to provide classrooms with extra funding options. Can you submit a proposal? Are there community groups or organizations who not only will let you borrow some devices, but will volunteer to help out during the lesson? This may take some time to investigate, but your students are worth the trouble.

If you are teaching with older students, many may have a GPS app on their phone. Could you allow students to use their phone to teach them about and utilize GPS technology? (What, let students use their cell phone in school, OH the horror!)

But using a GPS isn’t really about learning what a GPS does, but utilizing the tool in the social studies and science classroom to enhance the learning outside of the classroom.

That brings me to the second reason many school do not use GPS technology which is due to the requirement to get out of the classroom and go outside. In some cases this may require going off campus. (Take the students off campus, again, OH the horror!)

The world is full of lessons to learn. Do you think learning about weathering is better learned from reading a book or by going out into the community and seeing it first hand? Is watching a video allow students to touch the bricks of an old building that have the corners rounded because of the wind and rain’s effect over time? This takes time and planning. In some cases it takes money to pay for a field trip, but in most cases, the parents are willing to pay extra for these types of learning experiences.

Open your mind to the possibility that the GPS can be used to teach students a great deal about the world around them. And they will have fun doing it!

Look for a follow up post on using the GPS in education soon.

Robotics Club

It’s 6:30 am and a group of teens huddle around a box. Inside the box are small pieces of plastic. The teens are making small talk and laughing with each other. An outside observer might consider making a quick 911 call. What are these junior high students doing this early in the morning? Typically we can get out teens out of bed before 10:00 am!

These students have gotten up early to come to school to meet with the Spring Hill Robotics Club that was started at their school this year. Students are using Lego’s Mindstorms kit to design, build and program a robot to complete simulated Mars rover missions. Currently, students are working in teams to see who can build the most effective rover which can collect “Mars” rock samples by dragging rocks back to the home base.

These students, which are from special education, general education, and accelerated education programs, are using science and math skills to complete the mission.

One might ask how this all got started. Back in late May of 2012 the robotics club advisor, Robert Lane, and his wife were at a mall in Cleveland, OH. They decided to walk into the Lego store. On the shelf was a Lego Mindstorms kit. This sparked the curiosity on how this could be incorporated into the classroom. After some investigation, and with the help of Lego Education Consultant Ivery Toussant, that curiosity became an idea.

The principal, Mrs. Warner and assistant principal, Mrs. Meadows, gave their blessing to start a club before or after school. The curriculum director, Ms. Phillips, agreed to have the school district purchase one Mindstorms kit to get the club started.

Over the summer Mr. Toussant sent an invitation to a NASA Robotics workshop out to his clients including Mr. Lane. Jumping at the chance to learn as much as possible about integrating the Lego Mindstorms kit into the classroom, Mr. Lane jumped at the opportunity.

During this workshop, which was facilitated by Paragon, a series of six missions were introduced to integrate Lego robotics while simulating actual Mars missions. Missions include clearing the landing field of debris, calculating the amount of light shining on the landing field, collecting Mars rock,

The workshop was extremely valuable to the planning of the robotics club. The knowledge gained prepared Mr. Lane with lessons and ideas on organizing the club meetings. The club has done as well as it had largely due to the experience Mr. Lane had at the robotics workshop.

After a month, the average number of students in attendance each week was 8 students, so the school district agreed to purchase one more kit to allow students to work in teams of 4-5 and compete with each other to see who couple build the most effective robot to complete the missions.

Towards the close of the first semester, the club is typically running at 10 students with at least one new member each month.

Three key objectives that were met during this mission were:
• Students successfully worked in teams to design, build and program the robot.
• Students used the scientific method to hypothesize and test the groups ideas.
• Students used geometry skills to decide how much of a revolution to make the arm swing.

Additionally, students learned how to program some additional behaviors to the robot including playing sounds and turning on small lights attached to the robot.

When should I update?

If you own a mobile device of any kind you have probably asked yourself, “Should I update that app?” or “Should I install the new OS?” Maybe I’m the only one, but I don’t think so.

When making the decision to update an app or operating system you need consider some of the following questions.

1. What are the new features of the update?

2. What are the “fixes” in the update?

2. Do I need the new features of the update? (Better yet, Will I use the new features of the update?)

3. What will I lose from the update?

Let me explain the conversation that goes through my head before I update an app or the OS.

“There is a new version of this app. What is new with this version of the app? Oh that sounds cool. Oh they fixed the unexpected crashing I get once in a while. That would be great. That new feature sounds very interesting but I’m not sure I would use it. They took out the feature I used the most.”

This only takes a couple of minutes to read through the changes in the app, but it will make a world of difference if you ultimately decide not to update. Remember, you won’t be going back to the old version of the app after the update.

Most of the time I update my apps. The updates are not usually made because someone was bored and didn’t have anything to do. Usually there are bugs to work out.

Upgrading the OS should be a more serious decision. For example I just updated my iOS on my iPad. There are many new features that I was interested in using. One such feature was Siri. Now, I am sure I will lose interest in Siri rather quickly because she isn’t really any faster than taking some things on the screen. But it is pretty cool to tell her to write an email or send a tweet. Keep in mind that some features are only available on particular devices. I have the third generation iPad. Siri is not available on the first and second generations.

Sometimes despite your research you find there are things taken out of the update that isn’t mentioned. For instance the new iOS 6 for the ipad removed the YouTube app. This isn’t a deal breaker for me because I’ll just use Safari to get to YouTube, but if you used the app everyday, you might be a little unhappy. My suggestion, wait to update your OS. Read some reviews after others have made the change.

Most of the time the update is a much needed replacement or full of fun new features. It is worth the time to check.


In today’s classroom, teachers are sharing a great deal of material with students over the web. Traditionally we have done this by  uploading our content to a class website, a wiki or a blog. This mode of sharing worked, but it left little room for interaction between the students and their teacher. I believe there is a much better way to not only share content, but interact inside and outside the classroom. Best of all, it is FREE!

The technology I am referring to is Edmodo. Edmodo is a learning management tool that is designed to connect the students with the teacher in a much more meaningful way.

In Edmodo’s words, “Edmodo provides teachers and students a secure place to connect and collaborate, share content and educational applications, and access homework, grades, class discussions and notifications. Our goal is to help educators harness the power of social media to customize the classroom for each and every learner.”

As a new user to Edmodo, I am blown away with how easy it is to use. I have used other tools and this is by far the most straight forward and simple. For districts it means you don’t have to install the system on a school server and tie up man power to maintain the hardware. This is all provided by Edmodo.

After three weeks of using Edmodo in my Computer Technology classes, I couldn’t be more pleased with the features and accessibility. Everything I hand out is done so in Edmodo. Everything the students turn in is done in Edmodo. This means I haven’t had to lug stacks of papers home to grade. I sit on the couch with my iPad (yes there is an app for that) and grade away. I am able to make comments on student work and give it a grade. I can send students a quick note if needed. Parents can also sign up to follow what is done in class.

All of this is done in a safe environment. Only the students with the group code can join my class. As the teacher, I can remove a student from the class if needed.

Overall Edmodo has been a great tool for my class. Try it out, it will be a great tool for your class as well.