Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Iterationists

I would like to give Krissy Venosdale (@krissyvenosdale) credit for the awesome image below, and possibly for coining a new term: “iterationist.”  When I saw the image tweeted by her the other day, I knew right away it would be a new mantra for me.  Considering the experience I described from our robot camp on Monday, Krissy’s quote perfectly states what I need to encourage more from my students (and myself).

“Iteration”  is a word that is used quite a bit when people discuss Design Thinking.  Anyone who has created something of substance will agree that a new work goes through many drafts before the maker feels satisfied.  Those iterations are important to the process; in fact some even argue that they are more important than the final product.

What I learned from my robot camp experience is that I not only need to make students more aware of the importance of iterations, but also how to learn from them.  As I mentioned, some of the teams had no problem trying again when their designs didn’t work. However, they didn’t spend enough time on trying to figure out why they weren’t working, and subsequent iterations tended to be just as inefficient.

In school, we usually don’t give students time for multiple iterations, unless we are preparing them for a standardized writing test or telling them to correct failed assignments. If we could make “iterationism” a habit, rather than a consequence or forced strategy, students would be more comfortable about taking risks and we would see a lot more “bravery.”

by Krissy Venosdale
by Krissy Venosdale

 

Undercover Robots Camp – Pageant Edition

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had our second session of Undercover Robots Camp last week.  The theme was, “Pageant Edition,” with the scenario being that the Dash robots had been sent on their first undercover assignments to the Annual Robot Pageant, where they were to investigate a potential saboteur.

Only a few of the students had attended our first session, Spy School, the week before, meaning that there were various levels of skill.  This is what I love about programming with open-ended challenges, especially with the Dash robots.  The activities allow for the contributions of all abilities.

The week was interspersed with design and logic activities.  Of course, costumes needed to be created since it was a pageant. Puzzles needed to be solved to find the identity of the saboteur.  I even borrowed some ideas from Breakout EDU.

One of the favorite activities was the pageant interview.  The students had to program their robots to respond to my questions – but they didn’t know what the questions would be!  I told them to come up with three responses: a plural noun, a verb ending in -ing, and a name of a place.  I had a set of questions for each robot, who also had to be programmed to come out on stage and then leave the stage.  I embedded an example below (make sure your volume is high so you can hear the robot responses).

The students also had challenges to program their students to do an art project, launch ping-pong balls into cups to gather evidence, and to save the other contestants from the saboteur. The latter is when the students learned that less can be more, as the least elaborate contraption attached the robot actually “saved” the most plastic figures (see the pic with the colored pencils attached to the robot below)!

During the week, we also worked on choreographing a final dance number for the pageant.  It’s good we started early because there were many, many, many flub-ups!  The video embedded below is what we showed the parents.  Unfortunately, it still didn’t go quite as planned; we learned that “tired” robots get a bit rebellious about their programs as their batteries wear down!

I absolutely adored seeing everything the students accomplished last week, and I can’t wait to do Undercover Robots Camp again next summer!

Austin’s Butterfly

My friend, Donna Lasher (@bdlasher), shared this video with me on Twitter earlier this week.  I was blown away by watching how constructive feedback from his peers was used to improve a student’s work dramatically.  In this video, you will see the power of a good critique as well as an excellent argument for giving students more time and options to do multiple drafts until they achieve mastery.  This is what Growth Mindset is all about.  (For more videos about Growth Mindset, click here.)

Screen Shot from Austin's Butterfly
Screen Shot from Austin’s Butterfly

Reflecting on the Whatzit

Critical Squares: Games of Critical Thinking and Understanding, is a book written by Shari Tishman and Albert Andrade for Harvard’s Project Zero.  One of the games I like to use in my classroom is “Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe.”  We generally play it to think deeper about novels that we have read, but I decided to try it as an end-of-year reflection activity yesterday.

We don’t play the game as the rules state in the book.  I put the grid up on the interactive white board and all of the prompts are covered.  The students are divided into teams, and I start the game by uncovering one of the prompts.  Then all of the teams have 5 minutes to write down an answer.

The prompts all have the word, “Whatzit” in them, and we substitute our topic for that word.  So, yesterday, we substituted GT (Gifted and Talented Class) for “Whatzit.”  For example, one of the questions is, “List three important features of the Whatzit,” and the students wrote 3 important features of our GT class.

After 5 minutes, all teams submit their answers without any names on them.  I shuffle them, and read all of the answers out loud, then select the one that “Wows” me the most (kind of Apples to Apples style).  The winning team members reveal themselves and they get a point.  Then they select the next topic.

Students are always engaged when they play this.  Plus, they are super quiet because they don’t want the other teams or me, the judge, to hear their answers.  But what I love most about this game is the variety of answers and what I learn about myself, my class, and the students.

One prompt is, “List two very different kinds of features of the Whatzit.”  The winning team wrote, “Learning and fun.”  I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or cry because this could be interpreted to mean that learning and fun don’t usually coincide in their lives.

I would like to be proud that a team listed me as one of the important features of GT, but that was probably a strategic move more than a heartfelt one😉

I must say that, having dealt with intermittent internet for the last few weeks, I was definitely in agreement with the team that, in answer to, “Which feature of the Whatzit is hardest to understand?” responded, “When technology doesn’t work.”

Yep, definitely top of my list of things that are hard to understand in my class.  Well, that and why kids always move faster when you start counting even when you don’t tell them what number you’re counting to and what terrible thing will happen if you get there.  I seriously will never understand that – but like technology, it comes in handy sometimes…

Whatzit?

Google Slides Q & A

My 5th graders are polishing up their Genius Hour presentations, and one of the students was trying to incorporate a poll into his presentation.  He was just going to switch windows in the browser during his presentation, but I was sure there must be a way to actually embed one into Slides.  We did some research and found a Chrome extension for Poll Everywhere that does allow this.  However, there were still a few more hoops to jump through to accomplish it than I thought necessary, including setting up an account.

The very next week, Google announced a new Q&A feature for Slides.  “Exactly what I was looking for!” I declared, and then proceeded to try to use it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it – and all of the articles I found announcing Q&A’s arrival failed to mention how one could actually activate the feature.  I became more and more frustrated which is taking less and less time lately as the it’s-the-end-of-the-year-you-better-get-it-done-now feeling is currently commandeering more and more of my brain cells each day.

Twitter to the rescue.  Someone quickly responded to my tweet for help that I needed to be in presentation mode to activate Q&A.  And they said it nicely, which was kind of them since I probably should have figured that out in the first place😉

I still don’t think Q&A actually fits what my student and I envisioned, but it does allow you to ask a question and have people respond, with the responses being listed in order of popularity (the audience can “like” each other’s responses).  When you activate Q&A, a link is shown at the top of your slide so the audience can type it in to record their response.  You could also use this as a backchannel where audience members can ask questions or make comments.

This article by Jonathan Wylie gives information about how to use Google Slides with an iPad or iPhone.  You might also want to read this blog post from Google that shows different uses for Google Q&A.  To use Q&A on a desktop or laptop computer, start Presentation mode, and then go to the bottom left of the slide, where you will see a “Presenter View” option.  Click on that, and then choose the tab for Audience Tools. (By the way, there is a new laser pointer tool that’s kind of fun to try, too!)

image from opensource.com on Flickr
image from opensource.com on Flickr

 

#DronesforGood

Monday’s post was about a recent field trip my 3rd-5th graders took to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center that was augmented by adding some drone education while we were out there.  Before we went on the trip, I did lengthy discussions with my students, particularly my 5th graders, about drones.  We have been talking about freedom vs. safety a lot in our class, and this is a real-life topic that fits right into that.

I showed my students a video of how drones can be used for conservation.  It is an engaging and informative TED Talk by Lian Pin Koh. We talked about how there is potential for good and for harm with this technology – just as there has been and will be with any new technology.

After the field trip, I had my students fill out some Depth and Complexity frames about the ethics, multiple perspectives, changes over time, and rules for drones.  I thought I would share some of their work. (Be sure to read the awesome “Dronuts” idea!)

Photo May 12, 2 20 00 PM

Photo May 12, 2 20 06 PM

Photo May 12, 2 19 49 PM Photo May 12, 2 16 42 PM Photo May 12, 2 18 52 PM Photo May 12, 2 19 14 PM Photo May 12, 2 19 25 PM Photo May 12, 2 19 35 PM

You can read more about how drones are being used and may be used in the future in my Drones for Education post.  Also, here is another example of #dronesforgood from the TED blog about how they can help to deliver medicine in remote areas.

15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement

My latest blog post for Fusion Yearbooks has been published.  It’s called, “15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement.”  You should check it out!