Tag: collaboration (page 2 of 3)

Summer Tech Camp Report and Reflections

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Creating video game controllers using MakeyMakey.

Last week wrapped up 3 weeks of summer technology camps. These are the first for our district, and summer tech camps are something I’ve wanted to do for years. We offered students who are entering 2nd through 8th grades the choice between 2 robotics-focused camps or a week focusing on programming and innovation. Each week of camp ran from Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. until noon. Camps were offered free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Approximately 80 students attended. Each camp had 3-5 adult counselors and 1-4 high school student CITs (<–callback for anyone who is a fellow Meatballs fan).

Campers build their first robot.

Campers build their first robot.

For the first attempt, each camp went off as smoothly as I could have hoped, primarily due to my phenomenal camp staff. Students were eager and engaged, and discipline issues were few and far between (Amazing how engagement solves so many of those issues, isn’t it?). Each day started with a quick debrief, then counselors either gave a mini-lesson or simply helped facilitate as students got to work. Robotics camp students initially completed a task involving creating a zip line with Legos. They next built their first, basic Mindstorms NXT robots. By the 2nd day, students were using their robots to complete tasks such as navigating a predetermined path on a Twister game mat. Local firefighters specializing in hazardous substance removal visited students to discuss how robots might be used to assist in their work, setting the stage for campers’ final project. Campers created and programmed robots to navigate a mock city (created by our CITs) and carry out specific tasks, such as obtaining simulated radiation measurements or moving hazardous cargo to a safe area.

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SISD Robotics Camp

The final week of camp focused on programming, digital media, and inventing using MakeyMakey and a variety of household items. Students started this week by creating digital movies based upon the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. They next created short stop motion videos using a free software tool called JellyCam, which I highly recommend. Next, campers explored MakeyMakey and invented their own video game controllers by pairing the devices with a variety of items, from limes and bananas to wires and nails to Play-Do. Finally, students learned the basics of Scratch and created their own video games. An example game by one of our campers is seen below.

I wanted to share a few lessons and observations from this experience, in hopes that they might be beneficial to others planning similar events in the future. I’ve also included a few student and parent comments shared in camp evaluations. I’ve attached both the student survey and parent survey we used.

  • Plan far enough in advance to ensure a smooth, simple registration process. We faced time constraints that made this process very cumbersome. Next year, we’ll be using some form of online registration to streamline things. I’m really intrigued by the Active Networks Camp Manager, which is feature-rich and FREE for organizations whose camps are free.

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    Campers created robots to complete challenges, such as detecting/removing hazardous cargo.

  • There should be a balance between structured activity and creative, explorative play. As an example, I thought that the initial robotics activities were great, but I was never satisfied with the hazardous waste project. I think I’d make that much more open-ended in the future. As one camper stated, “Make challenges more broad, less specific tasks–more thinking.
  • photo3I’m not sure about the age appropriateness of robotics activities for the youngest attendees. I felt as if many of the tasks eluded some of them, and we ended up separating older/younger campers and assigning slightly different tasks. However, one older camper requested that they “be a little more interactive with the younger kids,” and a younger camper asserted, “Little kids can do what the big kids are doing.” Even so, I’m leaning toward creating a very different, separate robotics experience for kids in 1st through 3rd grades next year.
  • I would really like to involve community members as volunteer camp counselors next year, particularly if they have relevant experience with technology (but not excluding those who do not).
  • We needed to create separate Scratch accounts for each student. My thinking was to use a single, camp login, which would put every project conveniently on the same page. Unfortunately, this resulted in chaos due to campers being constantly, unexpectedly logged off. Lesson learned.
  • Efforts should be made to contact families and remind them of camps when registration occurred weeks prior. The further from the registration date a camp was, the lower the percentage of attendance.

Parent comments:

  • “He was challenged and learned more about what computers can do.”
  • “He learned how to make anything control a computer and he’s happy with learning some programming.”
  • “I have been wanting to get my son started on tech knowledge, but I didn’t know where to start. This is a good launching point.”
  • “…make it a full week or 2 weeks at least”
  • “My child came home every day very excited about what she learned daily at camp. It’s great to hear that this camp sparked such an interest with her. Thanks!”

Overall, I was very pleased, and the many requests from parents for another opportunity next summer were very gratifying, as were the requests to incorporate more, similar experiences into the curriculum. Ultimately, I think this gave our students some valuable experiences, and we’ll hopefully see the fruits of the seeds we planted down the line.

60 Seconds to a Better PLN

VERY quick video follow-up to the previous blog post and podcast. Hopefully, this will answer some of the questions I’ve received from a few Twitter newcomers.

The PLN, Twitter, and You

For those who don’t wan’t to invest the full 9 minutes or so involved in listening to my latest podcast, here is my 5-step plan to growing a PLN using Twitter.

  1. Get started. Sign up and get set up to use Twitter with whatever tool you like best. That might be using the Twitter website, a mobile app (I use Echofon at this time.), or a desktop app (e.g. Tweetdeck, Echofon, Hootsuite, Janetter, etc.). Use whatever you find best suits you and enables you to read or post quickly when you have a few minutes.
  2. Learn those hashtags. Some great, general education related tags include #edchat, #education, #edtech, and #txed (particularly aimed at Texas educators).
  3. Read. Search for posts with the specific tags you’re looking for, then read a few. You’ll quickly find someone talking about something that will interest you.
  4. Respond. Talk back to them, and when you do, include their @username and the #hashtag for the conversation.
  5. Follow. Click that button and start receiving regular tweets from folks talking about the things that matter to you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many immediately follow you back, especially if you post good questions and are willing to share.

If you will do these simple things, you will quickly have a burgeoning, online network of educators ready to engage in important conversations.

As an afterthought, a few other little tips came to mind. First, be sure to create a reasonably detailed description when you set up your account. That helps convince profile viewers that you are a professional worthy of following. Secondly, don’t “protect” your tweets. If other educators are window shopping for their own network, they need to see what types of information or questions you share in order to make an informed decision. If you’re primarily talking about teaching and learning, why would you not want someone reading it, anyway? Finally, reply. Unless you are Shaq, you will likely never have more followers than you can reasonably expect to respond to. If they’ve taken the time to address a tweet to you, it is discourteous not to respond. It’s not a conversation until more than one are talking, is it?

 

6 Outstanding New Tools Worth Exploring

The following are some fantastic new resources I’ve stumbled across lately. Each has the potential to be very valuable tools for the teacher wanting to promote critical 21st century skills in the classroom.

Collaboration

GroupMap–Ease of use and high levels of collaboration make this mind-mapping tool a valuable resource. It does require registration to begin a map, but contributions can be added simply by sharing a link and password. The site also offers useful reports of participants’ contributions and activities. The image below is a screenshot of a GroupMap I started by simply posing a question, making it public, and sharing via Twitter.

GroupMap

Mural.ly–This site features a fantastic set of features for brainstorming, collaboration, and collecting and sharing resources. Mural.ly requires registration for all participants. A user creates a mural, adds content via click-and-drag (including images, links, media, documents, etc.). There are also text, shape, and sticker tools. A “spaces” tool allows the mural to be partitioned into separate sections based upon content. Collaborators can be invited by email or username. Think Pinterest, only with greater flexibility and collaboration and less nonsense, such as forced following. Murals can be shared via social media, embedded, or downloaded as images.

Creativity/Innovation

DoSketch–Just a simple drawing/painting tool, but with several key advantages over many other resources. First of all, drawings can be shared via link or downloaded. Many drawing sites do not have the download feature, particularly for free. Secondly, it is written in HTML5, not Flash, and works in any modern browser. Lastly, it requires no registration–just draw, share, or download.

DIY–DIY is a very cool site for kids that challenges them to do creative and innovative tasks. Students get a portfolio page to show off images or video of the tasks and challenges they have completed, and can earn kudos in the form of Skills. Projects can also be shared with DIY’s mobile apps. There is also a very useful parent portal, which allows parents to monitor their children’s activities and achievements. Challenges cover a vast array of subject areas, such as engineering, electronics, biology, cartography, astronomy, and many more. The site could be a valuable tool for teachers looking to give students more control over their learning or for parents wishing to provide valuable learning opportunities at home.

 

Communicating Ideas

Easelly-Infographics are great tools for communicating ideas in a visual manner. They are quite challenging to design and require students to have a high level of understanding of a topic, if they are to be effective. Easelly is one of several recent tools that allow users to focus more on the content and presentation of ideas, and less on the creation of custom graphics. Users can create infographics using pre-designed themes, or by choosing their own backgrounds and graphics. Users can upload their own graphics and text or choose from a selection built into the interface. 11 categories of graphics are already available, including people, animals, icons, landmarks, and more.

Easelly

Deeyoon–Deeyoon is a brand new site that allows two participants to take part in a debate via webcam. Each person offers opening statements, provides evidence of their position, and offers closing remarks. Viewers can vote on which point of view they most agree with. The interface is pretty straightforward–create a debate, open it up to the challenger (I’d have both parties registered and logged in so random challengers don’t jump in.), and start talking. Debates are saved for future viewing and discussion, and they are arranged into “rooms” by topic. This could be a fantastic tool for fostering critical thinking.

Deeyoon

10 Curricula-Spanning, Learning-Boosting, Creativity-Inspiring, Must-Have Apps

Because there are just not enough app lists, I decided I needed to throw in one more. There are tons of lists that tout subject-specific apps for students at all levels. The following apps have broad applications in virtually any subject area, and they promote important higher level skills such as critical thinking, analyzing, researching, planning, and communicating in engaging and powerful ways. The biggest advantage each offers over similar tools on traditional desktops or laptops is their fantastic usability and short learning curves. They can also accomplish these things on the go–at the museum, on the bus, on the camping trip, etc., potentially turning any event into a true learning experience.

  • Catch Notes (FREE) – Fantastic tool for taking and organizing (via tags) text, audio, or visual notes, independently or collaboratively. Notes can be accessed via apps or through the Catch.com website.
  • Pearltrees (FREE) – Pearltrees is a creative social bookmarking tool that lets individuals or groups create collections of bookmarks organized into webs by subject. It is a fantastic organizational tool, and it gives students a powerful visual representation of their saved resources. The app walks you through setting up a mobile Safari plugin that lets you add “pearls” on the go.
  • VoiceThread (FREE) – Still one of my favorite digital storytelling tools, VoiceThread’s app makes the creation process even faster and easier. Still need to sign up for a free account at Ed.Voicethread, but now VTs can be created on the go, using the built-in cameras and microphones of the iPad or iPod.
  • Explain Everything ($2.99) – Simply a phenomenal screen-casting tool, Explain Everything lets students create narrated, annotated presentations that include drawings, images, websites, and videos. Resulting movies can be shared in a wide variety of ways. The applications are limitless and could certainly fit any subject area. This is perhaps the most powerful tool on this list.
  • Spreaker Radio (FREE) – Spreaker is my new favorite podcasting/broadcasting tool. The web-based platform has as good of a free podcast system as I’ve ever seen, incorporating tools reserved for paid services. The app lets you or your students broadcast live Internet shows on the go or record shows for future listening. It’s very intuitive for students and only requires that an account be set up on the Spreaker site to use.
  • ShowMe (FREE) – ShowMe’s ease of use and versatility make it a must-have. Students can create narrated videos explaining anything they can draw, write, or illustrate. Videos are saved on the ShowMe site, also free.
  • Popplet ($4.99) – Popplet is a slick tool for creating mind maps, flow charts, or other graphic organizers. Charts can include text, drawings, or images, and can be exported as .pdf or image files. Use Popplet for brainstorming, group planning, project management, process illustration, or many other applications.
  • Animation Studio ($2.99) – The best animation creation tool for the money, by far. The feature list of Animation Studio is too long to list, but features like text-to-speech, the library of animated characters, music tools, YouTube sharing, etc. make it the best. Students can use this app to create original videos describing, depicting, or explaining anything imaginable.
  • Dragon Dictation (FREE) – Dragon Dictation is an oldie (in iOS terms, anyway) but a goodie. It turns spoken words into printed text, and it does so pretty darned accurately. Great for many applications, such as allowing ESL students to transcribe their English practice or other special population accommodations. Also makes a fantastic note-taking tool (SOME people even use it while driving, I have heard…cough.).
  • Google Earth (FREE) – Still a powerful tool for research, the Google Earth app includes many of the standard maps and search tools, plus a fantastic gallery of user-currated maps and tours. Kids can research settings in literature (using built-in Wikipedia links), map historical events, study geologic or political processes, and more.

That’s my list. What apps would you add that could be used across the curriculum?

TLA 2011 Presentation Links

Links to resources shared at Texas Library Association convention:

PowerPoint on Steroids Presentation

The School Is Flat

We held our convocation last week, which focused on 21st century teaching and learning. Aside from some complaints about the length (We have been spoiled by getting released by 11:00 for a leisurely lunch in the past–this year’s went closer to noon.), I’ve heard numerous positive comments about the subject matter and productive discussions about how to turn the vision into reality. I am very optimistic that more and more students and teachers will be engaging in authentic, relevant, technology-rich classrooms this year.

I had a role in convocation this year for the first time. I was called to a planning meeting a week before the event and asked to assist. My task included creating a video with flat schoolstudents/teachers talking about 21st century learning they had engaged in during the past year, creating a short Polleverywhere quiz about technology and society, and finding a few folks to connect to via Skype to demonstrate how educating our students is a global matter. While this was quite a set of tasks to accomplish in a week (one when students were still out on vacation), it was interesting and amazing that the last, the Skype connection, was probably the easiest. I simply reached out to educators who I had initially come to know via Twitter, asked them to share how students in their parts of the planet were learning 21st century skills, and set up the times to connect. We connected to Jeff Utecht in Bangkok, Thailand, and Sue Waters in Perth, Australia. Both were amazing (despite technical issues on my side–never fails).

Reflect on this for a moment! These are educators I have had the distinct privilege of meeting in person, but only after establishing a relationship through Twitter and Edublogs (Sue is THE go-to person at Edublogs.). A decade ago, I essentially collaborated only with the teacher next door, and my professional acquaintances were primarily limited to the educators in my building. As recently as 4 or 5 years ago, I would have not known either Sue or Jeff if I bumped into them on the street. Now, they are not only people whose ideas and insight I value, but who I can call upon on short notice and have them share their great minds with our educators, despite being separated by thousands of miles! This is the power of today’s technologies. It isn’t about electronic textbooks, interactive whiteboards, iPods, or any other device. It’s about the connections, the relationships, and the collaborations that are possible. It is about viewing the education of our students as a collaborative effort involving the entire global education community, not the teacher isolated in his room. I know I am a better educator because of my relationships with Jeff, Sue, and the hundreds of other dedicated educators I’ve connected with through Twitter, blogs, social networks, and other technologies.

If you are an educator who has never attempted to use any of these technologies, or one who has tried but not persevered, I cannot encourage you enough to jump in and begin to get connected. Twitter is a fantastic place to start, and there are numerous catalogs of educators to begin building your community (e.g. Twitter4teachers). All it takes is finding a few similar teachers to follow, engaging them in conversation, and sharing your thoughts, questions, and ideas. Blogs, education social networks on sites such as Ning are also fantastic tools for building collegial relationships.

Teaching is a noble call that suffers when we practice in isolation and flourishes when we work together, and at no time in history have we had the tools we do today that allow us to work together for the good of our children. When we take the time to learn and embrace these tools, we grow as professionals–I can testify to that wholeheartedly.

Image credits:
South American classroom
Indian classroom
Inuit classroom
Boy with globe
Chinese classroom

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