Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Drones in School?

My job is so much fun. In the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of watching a group of seventh graders figure out how to operate a drone. Yes, a drone. Last year an amazing teacher at our school had her class writing grants for different science-based change projects. One class was working on raising awareness about and reducing light pollution. They wrote a grant to purchase a drone so that they could take pictures over our city to compare light pollution on different days. But now that project is over.... so.....

The students in my Student Technology Assistance Team (STAT) found the drone and learned how to make it work. They figured out how to set up the wireless network and connect a device (phone, iPad) to it. They figured out how to fly it and how take pictures and videos as they flew it. It wasn't a smooth process. We had trouble remembering to charge the battery, we had a few crash landings, we might have tried to put it together backwards. *grin* But overall, these seven students now know more about drones than any of their teachers.

Which brings me to our next project. The other day the STAT kids shared what they knew with 30 teachers from across my school division. They prepared their presentation and wrote a script explaining what a drone is and how they might be used in society. Then they modeled how to fly the drone. But we all know modeling isn't enough when teaching. So, next, they let the teachers try out the drone for themselves. Teachers had a blast trying out the drone and loved being taught by students.

But now what? We have this really cool drone, we know how to fly it, we know how to take pictures with it. Some teachers know about it. But how can it be used from here? Our students have come up with a ton of lesson ideas which I think are really cool. I'd love to hear more ideas or if you think these ideas are even plausible.

World Language or Beginner English Language Learner classes
  • Use target language to give directions to the pilot
    • Ex: Arriba!
  • Use target language to describe what is being seen

Math
  • Take aerial shots to study perimeters or other geometry concepts
  • Comparing how things look from the side, from above, etc.
  • Make a giant graph, drive the drone to specific points
  • Teach the concepts of X, Y and Z

Civics/Social Studies
  • Debate about privacy rights
  • Take aerial shots to compare to historical maps
  • Practice map skills (north, south, east, west)

Science
  • Understand lift and flight design
  • Aerial shots of erosion, watersheds, etc.

Physical Education
  • Aerial shots of students playing sports for analysis

Technology
  • How does it work?

English
  • Write pro/con debates about the use of drones

Art
  • Aerial shots to draw from
  • To teach perspective

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Messing around with Green Screens

We been having a fun time these last few weeks messing around with green screen technology. It has been a lot of fun and we've learned a lot. (And it gave me a reason to clean out our "studio" - yea!).

If you've never tried green screen before, there are lots of ways to do it. In fact, when we do it, it isn't even a green screen, it is a blue one! The first step is to have a blue curtain or to paint a wall blue. In the past, I've even taped a blue sheet up to a wall and got pretty good results.

Next you add some code to Windows Movie Maker. If you aren't a computer programmer or if coding sounds intimidating to you, don't worry. I found the instructions here: http://www.wikihow.com/Chroma-Key-in-Windows-Movie-Maker super easy to follow. You do need to have the older version of Movie Maker though, the one for Windows 7 doesn't seem to work.

Once you add the Chroma Key, all the rest is a matter of editing in Movie Maker. The directions above take you through the rest of the steps. I've also written them out here: Greenscreen Directions if you are interested.

So besides feeling like a rock star when you figure out how this works, watching to kids videotape and edit is really fantastic!

The class I worked with had prepared skits ahead of time and came in "the studio" ready to film. I had a camera and tripod set up, but they did the rest. The filmed, transfered files from the camera to the computer and followed the directions for editing in Movie Maker.

They loved, loved, loved filming. Their skits were clever and creative and they could have recorded and re-recorded themselves all day. Gotta love 6th graders. TIP: tell students they only get 1 take!

The also loved, loved, loved finding images for their background. We found that color pictures worked best and that anyone that wore a blue shirt in front of the blue curtain disappeared when we applied the green screen! TIP: make sure students wear clothes that are a different color than your background!

Now, when it came to the editing, it definitely required more attention to detail and not all the kids were up for that. But, there were a few kids in each group that shined at this part. Maybe they hadn't been the ham in the skit or the director that remembered all the props, but when it came to understanding the editing process, they were experts. It was really interesting to notice how hard this part was for many students. It made me continue to think deeply about how we can offer more technology process opportunities for students in schools. More students need to be good at this step, understanding how the program works and that they can conquer it.

There is nothing like watching kids create a video that they've created start to finish. Greenscreen is no small undertaking but the outcomes are worth it!

I'd love to hear how others have used greenscreen and their ideas and tips about it!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vokis Can Bring out Student Creativity


(this piece was also posted at: Voki Guest Blogger/)

I still remember the first time I was introduced to Voki, I was at a tech conference. The presenter was showing a number of different fun, new, tools, but Voki stole the day. Honestly, I can't remember the next 20 minutes of the presentation because I was so busy having fun playing with Voki, recording myself, giving myself new outfits, sending emails back to my boss saying things like "Vokis are so much fun!" I was immersed in learning the new tool and practicing my digital literacy and fluency. It is the same for our students.

Voki opens up a world of hands-on creativity for your students.

Show any classroom of students Voki, and you will immediately see them trying it out in a myriad of ways. I had the pleasure of joining a student tech club after school one day and I did a quick demo of Voki. The teacher and I had a plan that they would use their Vokis to introduce themselves to me (a visitor for the day) and then we would share what each student did. It was a nice plan, and the students would have done it. But we quickly realized, we had set the bar way too low, these kids had more ideas about what they wanted to do!

Voki lets you have your Voki speak in several languages.

Some students immediately started playing with the language feature of Voki. While this tech club is in a richly diverse school, where many languages are heard every day, these students still had a great time listening to phrases spoken in languages they had never heard before.

Voki allows you to re-record until you like how it sounds.

Some students probably practiced what they wanted to say 5-7 times before they saved their Voki. This repeated practice is fantastic for English Language Learners and other students working on their oral language skills. Asking a student to re-read passages can be tiresome, but ask them to make a Voki and they will repeat the passage until they like how it sounds, over and over again.

Voki lets students play around with identity.


Let's face it, not all students are pleased with their self-image. I've seen students change their avatar dozens of times to find a "look" that they want to project. Don't overlook the importance of this! As students travel the weary path of adolescence and pre-adolescence, they crave opportunites to try on different looks and personas. Using Voki to do this is a safe and fun way to change your hair color, add an earring or see how a British accent sounds. Letting students play with these avatars as they complete a content-based assignment is as developmentally appropriate as free play in Kindergarten.

Voki is a great way to discuss Digital Citizenship.


Our students might not need our guidance when it comes to figuring out how to make a Voki, but they do still need our guidance about what makes a good and appropriate Voki. Voki is a fun way to get students talking about what make a quality presentation. If the assignment is to have an Abraham Lincoln Voki talk about three of the most important parts of his presidency, showing him with sunglasses on isn't the best way to convey your message. Likewise, students should never use Voki to share too much information about themselves or to embarrass others. It is imperative that we have these conversations with students and why not do it with a tool they love!

Voki can be used in any classroom:
Science: Make a Voki to explain the outcomes of a lab. (I've seen students do this for their Science Fair presentations!)
Social Studies: Choose a Voki of an historical figure and have them give three important facts about their lives.
English: Make a Voki that represents a character from a novel. Have them "saying" the theme of the novel.
Math: There is a lot of vocabulary in Math. Have a Voki provide definitions for key terms.
World Language: Provide a description of a person in the target language, see if the students can make a matching Voki.
Physical Education/Health: Let a Voki give facts about staying fit and healthy.

To get the most out of Vokis, make sure you give your students time to play when making their Vokis, you'll be surprised with the results!

Look! We got Nooks!

More and more eReaders are becoming the go-to devices for readers everywhere. We love the ability to carry 50 books at time with us on the airplane, to never lose our place because our bookmark fell out and to search names of characters to find when they were first introduced. That is why I was so excited when the English Language Arts department at the school where I worked decided to buy Nooks!
We decided to launch the Nooks in a 6th grade co-taught classroom. A number of the students in the class have Individualized Education Programs and many do not think of themselves as readers. Our goals were to get the students more excited about reading and to choose books that closely match students' lexiles (reading levels).
Our first day in the class, the reaction was more than positive. Students loved the layout of the device and had fun discovering all the features available to them. We all love to personalize our devices and Nooks are no different. Students learned (and taught each other) how to change the background image, adjust the font size to suit them and even adjust the orientation to the style they liked best. The ability to make a book their own was a new experience, and it makes a difference, having a book that you can change and modify increases student ownership in the device and increases their interest in reading the text.
Beyond the personalization of Nooks, students were able to practice a number of different during reading strategies. Students can highlight passages that they find significant, much the way readers in a book club will underline sections they want to share of come back to. Students can also use the embedded dictionary to look up words they don't know. For reluctant readers, the ability to find out the definition of new words without asking the teacher or physically using a dictionary (and thus showing the whole class you don't know the word) is a gift. Watching the students read on their Nooks, you can see them smoothly using all these techniques and empowering themselves to be better readers.
As this first class tests out the Nooks and we see the progress they are making, we look forward to expanding the use of the Nooks to more classes and for more novels. Students will be able to check out eBooks from the school library and the public library. We will be able to load novels that specifically match individual student lexile levels and increase their access to non-fiction texts. As we move forward, these devices will continue to give students access to relevant devices, literacy skills and personalized details which increases their interest and engagement with a wide variety of texts.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Next Generation of Presentation Tool

The other day I had the fantastic fun of working with two math teachers and their Algebra and Geometry classes to kick-off their year-long personalized learning textbook project. These two brilliant teachers have crafted an innovative way to both present information in their math classes and have students create meaningful products that show what they’ve learned.

First I’ll focus on the presentation tool. I can take zero credit for finding this tool or realizing its potential. That all came from Mr. and Mrs. Math. In fact, the first time Mrs. Math showed me Nearpod, I didn’t really get it. But now I do!

Nearpod lets you create a presentation on your teacher laptop that is highly visual and interactive, both features we’ve come to expect from 21st century presentation software and apps. But Nearpod takes it to the next level by giving you the ability to send your presentation out to a classroom full of iPads. As you swipe your screen, students’ screens change too. No more squinting at the SMART board, no more craning your neck around the tall kid in the front row, no more turning off all the lights so kids can see the screen. With Nearpod, the presentation is right in front of them, on the iPad screen.

Even better than each student having the presentation showing right in front of them, is the interactive capability of Nearpod. Today when I presented, I put an interactive slide after each content slide I made. In other words, first I talked about using technology appropriately in school, then I asked a polling question where the students decided whether or not a behavior was appropriate or not.  I loved being able to do this all in one device and app! And, once each student had entered a response, I could share the results out to the students. Immediately they could see how their answer compared to the class much like the “clickers” many other classrooms are using.
(Quick math aside: students immediately asked and questioned the use of percentages to display the results – we had a quick, relevant, engaging math lesson on percentages, yea!)

Nearpod also has interactive tools like open-ended text questions, allowing you to ask deeper and more probing questions. As students answer these, you can see each response next to each student’s name. And, if there is a particularly poignant response, you can share that response (anonymously) out to the class. What a quick and easy way for students to see models of the kinds of responses they could craft.

Math teachers will particularly like the ability for students to draw as an assessment. Teachers can upload an image, say, of a graph, and each student can draw over that graph, say, calculating slope. As they submit you see a tiny screen shot next to each student’s name. And, again, you have the ability to choose one of those drawings and share it out to the class. Because it is anonymous when you share, you can easily share common mistakes as well as exemplars. Students really liked this feature. They liked being able to draw their answer (and personalize it with color, etc.) and they liked seeing what their peers did. Let’s face it, in a middle school class, they are so much more interested in what their peers are doing than in what the teacher does!

I think the best part of Nearpod was when students said this after the lesson:

“Can we do that again?”


In terms of explicit instruction and the I do, We do, You do, model, Nearpod rocks the house. I’m really excited about exploring its possibilities for the times when you need to do whole group instruction because it feels so much more collaborative, interactive and personalized that even the most amazingly fantastic Prezi.

More coming on what we did next, and how these students are going to build their own interactive textbooks!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Ask yourself, would you do this offline?

This isn't the tagline from a digital safety website, this is a submission for a new laptop background from a 6th grader at my school. Each 6th grade submission was full of great advice like this. Reading these submissions was so satisfying because it was clear that kids now understand a great deal about what is and what isn't okay to do when online.

I was thrilled that my school elected to spend 4-5 lessons of an advisory period on digital citizenship. Digital citizenship has become more and more important to me as I've watched my own children experiment and explore digital media and as I see more and more teachers using Web 2.0 and social media tools in the classroom.

I am a tech geek so I am excited about the digital world our children and our students can explore. The possibilities for young people to impact the world and to leave a positive digital footprint are unlimited. But we also know that there are many misteps along the way as well. Many a student will upload a silly-to-the-point-of-gross YouTube video of themselves or leave a comment that they think is funny but is actually hurtful. So we need a chance in school to get them thinking and reflecting about what online posting is all about. These 4-5 lessons were a great start.

We wanted a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate and that would loop each year, exposing all students to important topics each year of middle school. Sixth graders would study Internet scams and cyberbullying. Seventh graders would consider copyright and fair use issues in a unit called "Yours, Mine or Ours?" Eighth graders would delve into the murky world of social media and discuss what staying safe online really means. We were able to adapt all of our lessons from Common Sense Media, an organization devoted to educating and advocating for sensible use of today's media.

Common Sense Media's K-12 curriculum was the perfect starting point for our lessons. They had great activities and resources for the kinds of topics we wanted to pursue. We adapted the lessons to fit our time and format and then referred teachers to the website if they needed more ideas or information. Teachers appreciated having the lesson materials and kids liked the updated and relevant activities.

But what I really loved about our units were that each one ended with an authentic assessment. The 6th graders were asked to design a laptop background. The top winners across the school will actually become the background of our school computers next year!

The 7th graders produced "Creator's Checklists" - a list of items students should consider when creating with digital content. Again, the best examples will be used to make a creator's checklist that will become part of the published student agendas for the next school year. That's right, the best checklists will actually be printed in the student calendar/resource that every students carries around every day, all year long!

And finally, our 8th graders were asked to make Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about staying safe online. Now, I have to say that asking 8th graders to take on a task like this in the spring was a major challenge. I am looking forward to moving this digital citizenship unit into the fall for next year when I think we'll get much better responses. *smile*

I am really proud that the staff and the administration at my school understood that we needed a systematic approach to teaching digital citizenship at our school:
  • lessons that every student were exposed to,
  • tasks that were engaging, relevant and authentic, and 
  • materials that any teacher could use and that any students could understand. 
If these desktop background submissions are any indication, our kids have learned a lot about how to be digital citizens now!





Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Website of the Week: ZooBurst

Easily create your own 3D pop-up book, great for lots of uses. The site is free, but requires an email address for registration.

The books are super easy to create, can include a mix of pictures and text. Pictures can be imported from your computer so you can use your own pictures or download pictures from the internet. When you create a book the owner can specify the privacy settings. See the Zooburst gallery for some interesting examples.

I have already had teachers try this format for Science presentations on how the sun creates energy, I could also see using it to:
1) Tell a fractured fairy tale in Language Arts
2) Detail the life of a famous figure from History
3) Give a tour of a cultural region in a World Language class
4) Have English Language Learners tell a story using new vocabulary words.