Tag: inquiry (page 2 of 2)

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.

(Almost) Rapid Response to TCEA Area 7 Conference

I had the privilege of once again attending and presenting the TCEA Area 7 conference up in White Oak, Texas this past Friday. Before they leave my cluttered mind, I wanted to share a just couple of moments of inspiration or semi-clarity that I gained from the event.

Key Notes From the Keynotes

The keynote speaker was the always amazing and inspiring Diana Laufenberg. Diana’s talks are always filled with fascinating and powerful personal anecdotes focusing on the power of inquiry/project-based learning and truly giving students ownership of their own learning. The following are a few of the big ideas and reactions that I noted via Twitter during the presentation (Follow-up thoughts today in green.).

  • School superintendents rank “comfort with no right answer” as least relevant indicator of creativity. So, so wrong!! (Misguided and misinterprets the attainment of 1, single correct solution as the end-all-be-all of knowledge. Innovation does not happen that way. Innovation is filled with missteps.)
  • “We found that the knowledge gained from success was often fleeting while knowledge gained from failure stuck around for years” -NASA
  • “We (teachers) set up barriers around the possible.” Yep–positive, happy, feel-good, self-esteem run amok. (Clarification–fear of damaging the psyches of students leads us to protecting them from failure far too often.)
  • John Dewey –“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”
  • Fostering inquiry by scaffolding curiosity.
  • If you truly value student voice, they must know that their ideas can direct the path of learning. (Too scary for many teachers to venture into such uncharted waters?)
  • “I want them to know what it’s like to stumble.” Yes, yes, yes–failing to succeed!

One Big Idea

Diana also shared a really exciting project where social studies students asked hypothetical “what if” questions about historical events. For example, students might ask:

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aunullah/5563371805

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aunullah/5563371805

  • What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War?
  • What if Prohibition had not been reversed?
  • What if President Kennedy had survived the assassination?

The same type of activity could certainly be applied to science (e.g. What if the earth’s gravitational pull was 25% stronger?), literature, math, etc. To answer these types of questions requires both a great deal of factual knowledge and a great deal of critical thinking, as there are potentially endless ripple effects of changing the world in such ways (Think butterfly effect.).  This type of learning activity is very student-centered and results very open-ended. It promises to be both engaging and very intellectually challenging, and I actually find myself very envious of classroom teachers who might try such a strategy.

That’s it for now–just wanted to reflect and get these ideas out there as soon as I had the chance. I’ll be presenting at ISTE next week–first time for that (Wish me luck!). I look forward most of all to the chance to connect to as many great educators as possible and be further inspired. Hope to see you there!

5 Ways to Elevate Technology Use

Here in Birdville, access to technology is precious. In most schools, teachers and students are competing for time in a single lab or with a laptop cart with an entire campus, often of 700+ students. Like most schools/districts, a 1:1 program isn’t in the cards for us in the near future. Given such limited resources, it’s a significant testament to our teachers and students that they make it work as fantastically as they do. They make lemonade from lemons routinely. The fact that access to technology is so precious may actually have an unintended positive effect, actually. Because so many classrooms can’t even expect weekly access to computers, the Internet, printers, etc., teachers have to be extra judicious about how they use their time and resources. A great number make it count by foregoing routine, mundane use of technology in favor of high-level, meaningful stuff. The following suggestions are based upon my observations of teachers and students doing the really cool and powerful things that maximize the potential of our limited resources.

  1. Start at the top…of the taxonomy. Create, evaluate, analyze. Choose student outcomes that are high-level first, then see if technologies can get them there. Here’s an example. A guiding question for a 3rd grade science unit reads as follows: Describe and give the names of simple machines.  Where can they be found in real life? The action verb here, describe, is at the understanding level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, so students would clearly be meeting the objective by creating a photo slideshow, including labels/descriptions, of images of simple machines found in their homes or schools. However, understanding would be deepened by using Lego robotics to create a machine that will perform a real-world task or by using a tool such as Golems or Scratch to design a machine incorporating simple machines (all at the create level of Bloom’s). Tablet computers offer many animation creation apps that can provide students similar opportunities for designing and sharing practical applications of this learning outcome.
  2. Don’t just report–solve. Inquiry, problem-based learning, project-based learning, challenge-based learning–whatever the name, the central idea behind such concepts is that students are asked to find answers and solve real problems. Rather than giving a report on global warming, for instance, students might be asked to create a web page promoting the responsible use of natural resources or a video explaining reasons why fossil fuels continue to be the predominant source of energy worldwide. These types of activities require students to gather information from a variety of sources, examine often contrasting facts and opinions, and synthesize everything into an effective product.
  3. Encourage collaboration. And by collaboration, I mean real interaction, sharing and critiquing of ideas, and contributions by students with differing perspectives. Tools such as wikis, email, Skype, and other communication/collaboration technologies allow students to expand this and work with students from a more diverse community. Skype in the Classroom and ePals are just two of a growing number of resources that help teachers facilitate this.
  4. Choice. Back in the early days of classroom technology, students had few options when it came to the products they would create. Today, however, the possibilities are vast, and this offers opportunities for students to create projects that are suited to their personal learning preferences and interests. Teachers can facilitate this by introducing students to a variety of possible tools and allowing students to select the technology that will produce the most effective end product.
  5. Assess authentically. Use rubrics to give students a clear picture of what constitutes top-quality work. If students are involved in the rubric creation process, all the better. Rubrics provide students a means to self-assess their work and progress, as well. Rubistar is an “old” tool that continues to be one of the easiest to use resources for generating new rubrics quickly or finding existing ones suitable for many technology-rich classroom activities.
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