Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Be the Last to Speak

Teachers talk too much.  Even though I am aware of that, I still find myself speaking more than I should in the classroom.  I think that I am better than I was 20-something years ago when I first started teaching – but I definitely want to improve in this area.  The great Simon Sinek (author, consultant, and motivational speaker) gives advice about this in the attached video.  Even though Sinek is speaking in a business context, many top educators like Jo Boaler would certainly agree that teachers should be included in the group of leaders who would benefit from this following this guideline.  Instead of complaining that our students are too lazy to problem-solve, we need to ask ourselves how often we actually give them the opportunity to do their own thinking.

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image of Simon Sinek from http://www.amc.af.mil

For more inspirational videos for teachers, here is my Pinterest Board.  I also have one for students (some videos are on both boards).

Not a “Math Person”? Wrong!

When it comes to math and mindset, there are two #eduheroes I refer to on a regular basis:  Dr. Jo Boaler, who is a professor at Stanford and the genius behind the YouCubed website, and Alice Keeler, who many know to be a Google wizard but also has a published book called, Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that they would be presenting a session together at ISTE. (Dr. Boaler joined us through Google Hangouts).

Dr. Boaler wrote the book, Mathematical Mindsets.  Not surprisingly, it includes a foreword by Carol Dweck, the leading expert on growth and fixed mindsets.  Dr. Boaler’s main points are that we need to value the different ways that people see math and have more class discussions about math – rather than repetitive questions on worksheets. According to her research, people become proficient in mathematics when their brains have the opportunity to make connections between visual and numerical representations – not because they are born “math people.”  The least effective way to teach math is through lecture, while the most effective is with Project and Problem Based Learning.

Both Boaler and Keeler agree that we need to dispel the myth that those who can do math quickly are better thinkers than those who reason through problems.  In fact, Boaler says, “I’m unimpressed that you worked through it quickly because that tells me that you are not thinking deeply.”

Another controversial topic we all agree on – homework.  Recent studies have shown that assigning elementary students homework is ineffective.  Boaler and Keeler (and I agree) both believe that this is true for all ages, particularly when the homework is a worksheet of repetitive practice.  A better way to think about math is to do an activity like the one below, where students think about one problem in multiple ways.

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When an audience member asked about the problem of spending time on conversing about math when there is a scope and sequence to follow, both Keeler and Boaler expressed the feeling that it is actually a waste of time to “plow through” topics despite lack of understanding.  In Boaler’s words, “Pacing guides are the worst evil in education.” Amen!

Keeler shared several “Googlized” adaptations of activities from Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, including a nice Slides template for the Four 4’s challenge which includes links to individual slides for students to explain their work.  You can find links to more of Keeler’s templates in her presentation here.

Overall, I was so energized by this session that I was tripping over my words when I debriefed with my colleagues that evening.  I had stayed later just to attend this session, and it was definitely worth my time.  Thank you, Alice Keeler and Jo Boaler!

I want to close this post by helping Alice Keeler to honor her book’s co-author, Diana Herrington, a passionate math teacher who recently passed.  You can read more about Diana and her influence on Alice Keeler here.   One of many great quotes from Diana Herrington on Twitter collected by Alice Keeler is, ““I teach students not math.”

The 6 P’s of Genius Hour

Last week I mentioned that one of the best parts of attending ISTE is meeting up with people who share our desire to make school amazing for our students.  One of those people is Andi McNairan (@mcnairan3).

Until recently, Andi taught gifted students (she now works for a regional service center), and also integrated Genius Hour into her classroom.  We would touch base with each other to share ideas, read each other’s blogs, and try to meet up at TCEA whenever we could.

Andi recently published a book, called, Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry.  In the book, and in her ISTE presentation, Andi talks about the “6 P’s of Genius Hour”: Passion, Presentation, Pitch, Product, Project, and Plan.  At ISTE, Andi went over some of the tech tools that have helped her students in each of these areas.  For example, she provides the students with QR codes for each of the phases.  They can scan these and instantly be on a web page that gives instructions and resources for that phase.  Because Andi also thinks that reflection is vital, she gives the students a QR code that leads to Tony Vincent’s reflection generator – which offers a randomly selected reflection question each time you visit the page.

Do you have students who have difficulty coming up with topics for Genius Hour?  Andi suggests using A.J. Juliani’s “Passion Bracket” to help them brainstorm. On one side, students brainstorm things that they love, and on the other they think about things that bother them.  By the time they reach the middle, narrowing down favorites, they have potential topics for research.

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A favorite tool of Andi’s that I keep meaning to try is Trello.  Trello can be used by the individual students to keep track of their own progress, but it can also be used by the instructor to determine what phase each student is currently working on.  The name blocks under each category can be easily dragged to a new column.

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Andi and I are both keen on students interviewing outside experts for their projects.  To find those experts, she suggests using Nepris, which matches classroom teachers with industry experts for video conferences.  Like many edtech companies these days, Nepris has limited free options and a subscription option.  One great tip that I learned from Andi is to have the students record their interviews, so they don’t have to take notes. This frees them up to look at the person they are conferencing with, and to pay attention to the topics.  She also mentioned that she has the students prioritize their questions before the interview in case not everything can be covered during their 30 minute time period.

You can find out more about Andi’s extremely helpful tips by visiting her website – appropriately titled, A Meaningful Mess – or purchasing her book.

For more Genius Hour resources, here is my page that includes helpful links, my own personal journey with Genius Hour, and some downloadable activities.

Makered at ISTE

For today’s ISTE post, I thought I would cover a couple of the sessions I attended that were related to coding and makered.

Leah LaCrosse (@llacrosse) and Jon Jarc (@trendingedtech) spoke about the ways they have used the design process with their classes as the students worked with digital modeling for 3d printers.  They included a great diagram from nngroup.com that my colleague and I like because it uses arrows to show that the design process is often not linear, with many steps repeating.  We are also hoping to, as they have, find more “problems” that students can try to solve with design thinking.  (They gave an example of 3d printing a piece for the school’s long-broken water fountain.)

An interesting suggestion for introducing 3d modeling to students was to have them begin by making something fairly simple with Legos, and to then ask them to duplicate the design using a program like Tinkercad.  One workflow tip is to have a Google Form for students to enter the links to their print files to put them in a queue (after they have been critiqued) for the 3d printer.

The 3d printing project that really caught my attention was one in which the students designed vehicles that had to fit the following parameters: multiple parts, multiple colors, no glue, and able to roll across a table.  As Jarc described it, this project took nearly an entire semester, but the students were taking precise measurements, iterating repeatedly as they learned more from mistakes, and putting their own creative spins on the designs – making this a deep learning activity that they will never forget.  Another fun idea?  Fitting the vehicles on top of Spheros to propel them across the room!

Another makered session I attended was sponsored by Microsoft.  I know very little about the hardware featured on their “Make Code” website, so I was curious to learn more about at least one of the pieces, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express.  This little kit is actual hardware that you can connect to your computer with a usb cord, and use block coding or java script to program.  Even if you don’t have the physical hardware (only $24.95, but it seems to be out of stock), you can use the simulator on the site to code this fun product to do all sorts of things – such as play sounds and light up.  Here is some advice on getting started.  I had to leave the session early, so I missed out on the awesome magic wands they were making once everyone programmed their Circuit Playgrounds.  However, I loved some of the features of the website – including that you can easily transition between block coding and java, the site can be used on practically any device (though you do need USB for the hardware), and you can even use it offline.  As you can see from the pictures below, there are lots of things you can do with the Circuit Playground.  Since it has a battery pack, you can program it and “wear” it without being wired to the computer.

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Sample Projects from Microsoft that can be made with Circuit Playground Express and MakeCode

Of course, these two sessions were only a small sample of all of the makered possibilities showcased at ISTE this year.  It’s amazing to recall the years when makered was relatively new to the incredible impact it is having on educational technology now!

Chat Pack for Kids

As a parent or a teacher you may find yourself in situations when you need to “kill time.” One tool that I like to use is, “Chat Pack for Kids.”  You can find versions of this from different companies, but I really like this one because it is reasonably priced, the cards are small, and the topics really seem to appeal to people of all ages.  My students who are in robot camp with me this summer enjoy taking out the plastic case that I keep the cards in and asking each other some of the questions, but it’s also a good activity as we wait for parent pick-up.  We all have fun thinking about some of the different scenarios posed, such as what animal we would choose to miniaturize to have as a pet or the one thing that we could change about school.  I try to model creative thinking by offering off-the-wall answers, and we all learn a bit about each other at the same time.  Whether you’re on a long road trip, or just waiting with your class for pictures to be taken, the “Chat Pack for Kids” is a fun way to keep occupied.

I’m going to add this to my Pinterest Board of Games and Toys.

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Chat Pack for Kids

Wow in the World

“Wow in the World” is a new podcast from NPR that brings interesting science and technology topics to families.  Hosted by Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas, this weekly show is between 20-25 minutes long, making it the perfect listening entertainment for carpools, short road trips, and family hangouts in the kitchen.  Designed to appeal to adults and kids, the topics so far range from space vacations to hermit crab wrestling.  With its quick pace, fascinating subjects, and (somewhat goofy) jokes, “Wow in the World” is a fun way to integrate STEM into the busy lives of families. You can listen and subscribe here.

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Click here to listen or subscribe to Wow in the World from NPR

Be Internet Awesome

Google has just released a new, free curriculum designed to teach digital citizenship and online safety.  The program, called, “Be Internet Awesome,” consists of 5 parts:

  • Share with Care – Be internet smart
  • Don’t fall for Fake – Be internet alert
  • Secure Your Secrets – Be internet strong
  • It’s Cool to Be Kind – Be internet kind
  • When in Doubt, Talk it Out – Be internet brave

The curriculum is downloadable, and is aligned with ISTE standards.  There is also a video game for kids to play that supports the lessons.

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image from paul.klintworth on Flickr

I haven’t had the chance to explore all of the resources, but it is becoming more and more urgent that our students receive education in this area at an early age.  The internet and social media are parts of our culture that are not going to go away, and it is our job to prepare our students to use these tools safely and effectively.