Sunday, August 30, 2015

Student Lead iPad Squad - The Brilliant Bees

With the school going 1:1 iPads, we need to ensure that we have a manageable, sustainable model as far as supporting the devices go. The district sends an IT person once a week to the site who has to manage all the technology helpdesk tickets that arise. The problems with iPads are not necessarily those that require an IT person, in fact very rarely. Teachers have simple questions such as forgetting a password, or photos cannot be accessed from an app or any other simple query or problem that needs a change in the settings. With that in mind, and the fact that for the first time we have a grade level that has already gone through the 1:1 process last year, hence understands the responsibility and the expectations of them, we decided to run a student-lead iPad Squad.

What? After going through various iterations in my head, I decided we had to use the school mascot, which is a bee, and find a positive word that begins with "b", so came up with the term "The Brilliant Bees"

When? For now, we meet on Wednesdays at lunch.

Who? The fifth graders to begin with. The two fifth grade teachers invited me over to talk about this with the class, describe the process, and we just asked for volunteers. I let the students know that they will be rewarded but that I don't do any food rewards :) The students were super excited about this job and about 15 students showed up.

The first meeting

Collaboration? This takes place in person and online through an official course on Schoology, which the students have used for a year and are used to.

Every week the students will have assignments. The first assignments were those to get them excited about the project. They are designing logos, using their iPads of course, for The Brilliant Bees, and they are creating short movies on the student expectations (for the school). 

The hope is not only to have the students learn to deal with basic trouble shooting jobs, but to also be able to model best practices, digital etiquette, logging in procedures and more, whilst learning to empathize with different groups of students. 

We have to see how it goes. This is work in progress and we are all learning together as we go along. We are trying to implement the lessons we have learned from the last three years to the best of our knowledge. It is a team effort and all the classroom teachers are on board with it. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The School goes 1:1 iPads - FAQ

Three years back the first of PAUSD's classes, two fifth grade classes at Barron Park elementary went 1:1 iPads. This was a huge step. The year: 2012-13 and very few elementary schools had tried 1:1. Given that the iPads had started shipping in April of 2010, the first class to go 1:1 would have been 2010-11 and this was the iPad 1 without a camera. Come Spring of 2011 and the iPad 2 with a camera released. This unleashed a whole new potential for the use of an iPad in education. However, even as I searched for various case studies for 1:1 iPads for a capstone research project on 1:1 evaluation, the really few ones I found were based in high school. 

After going through two years of 1:1 in fifth grade (another two schools in PAUSD are now 1:1 in fifth grade), and seeing the benefits on learning for every ability of student, the fourth grade teachers jumped on board last year, with both classes going 1:1. Based upon the lessons we had learned from the previous fifth grade implementation and given the fact that we were all way more prepared, this particular implementation was successful on several fronts: the teachers using the iPads for creative and daily reference purposes, the daily responsibility that students took on and the really positive student feedback amongst several other aspects.

In the meantime, the primary grade teachers had seen the benefit of using 1:1 iPads in the classroom and had been asking to get them. In order to get the necessary funding, they had to wait a whole year. However, in that year, not only were the teachers ready and asking for the iPads (versus me touting the benefits) but we were also able to go through release day professional development in the spring before the end of the previous school year for iPad integration. We barely talked about apps, as should be the case. The focus was on management and learning objectives. A day in the life of....

School begins next week. Thanks to the district IT, district Ed Tech, school administration and PTA support, the school launches 1:1 in grades 1-5 this year. In order to address questions that may arise as well as to explain to families what we do with iPads, I put together an FAQ. Click here to check it out.

Would love for people's feedback and comments on the FAQ and experiences to share.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Computer Science Week and a Makerspace

Referring to this post written in the Makerspace blog. Click here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Grace Hopper

This is the second year of the Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week. So much has changed in the K-12 landscape for teaching Computer Science. There was a time when there was only Scratch and Logo to use as computer languages for K-5. Granted that Scratch was accessible to all due to the fact that it was free. However, having choices always brings about the best of all. 

The fact is that in time for Hour of Code, several organizations have released products. The most prized possession this year was of our robots, Dash and Dot from Wonder Workshop (read about our first day with the robots here). The other great thing to have happened is our district's purchase of premium accounts with Tynker. And another exciting aspect was that we now have a choice with kindergarten and first grade. They can use both Kodable and Scratch Jr on the iPads. Scratch Jr comes with a variety of online resources. Kodable is a great starting point, particularly because several students are only at letter recognition stage in kindergarten, not reading. Another great product I came across two weeks ago is Trinket because it introduces real Python programming to children in a fun way. 

Two years back, when I started this job of an Educational Technology Teacher on Special Assignment, I had started a noontime Scratch Club because coding was one thing I didn't want to give up with my students as I left my own classroom. At the time, I struggled to find at least one other colleague in our district elementary schools to give me company in terms of teaching coding. I found one soon after I started the noontime club. At about the same time, Tynker had started beta testing and the students now had a choice of programs.

This year, with the introduction of the Makerspace at my school (called the Barron Park Maker Studio), coding was one of the many components of making during lunch. The primary grade teachers had started with the introduction of Kodable in their classrooms as well as the Bee-bots. The second grade and some of the third grade teachers had started with the introduction of Scratch and Tynker in their classrooms. The goal is eventually that teachers have their students work on various coding related activities all year round. So the stage had been set over the past several months. 

In addition to the entire school working on the Hour of Code, like we did last year, we decided to introduce family events. So we now have classroom events, lunch time events, family events and I decided to conduct workshops for our district teachers two days of the week; we called them Educators' Hour of Code. Click here for the activities, resources and schedule for the week.

The week couldn't have had a better kickstart than with one of the kindergarten classes. We were lucky to have two parent volunteers. I also must say that I am lucky to have the trust of the teachers in terms of organizing the activities. They truly go by and trust that I will do the right thing for their students and that is such a blessing. It really helps me work with that goal in mind. The three centers were: Scratch Jr, for early readers and the bee-bots. The students had only worked with the bee-bots prior to this day. 
The idea was to introduce them to new tools so they can adapt and be flexible as regards changes. They had used Kodable regularly for a few weeks and introducing Scratch Jr. gave them yet another tool in their basket. I did have one of the parents run the robot station. 
    The activities for the early readers are fantastic. The students picked them up right away. Rotating through the three centers, they had no clue that their snack time had passed. Our debrief was good. The students talked about what they found hard or challenging (it didn't do what we wanted it to do!).

After recess came the second graders. They had a choice of picking their stations. Again, there were three stations. These students had worked previously with Tynker and Kodable. 

So today, their choices were Scratch Jr, the Bee-bots by creating mazes for them and code. org. While they worked on these, I called a few students at a time to work with Dash and Dot. Since they are second graders, I had to give them instructions before they could start (last week the fifth graders had figured it all out from pairing the robots to programming them). Two of the students made a holiday card as suggested using Scratch Jr. They then came back at lunch to complete the project. That was real dedication.

At lunch this week, the Maker Studio is devoted to just coding related activities. 
Dash and Dot are immensely popular and we had to monitor getting the students to take turns. They worked on a variety of activities using Kodable, Scratch Jr, Scratch, Tynker, Code.Org, Dash and Dot, Bee-bots. Tomorrow, we will have them working on Trinket as well.

After school, there were seven educators from around the district who came to attend a workshop. I was delighted. On a whim on Saturday night I had this idea about conducting workshops during this week so we could capitalize on the excitement and engage and train teachers who hadn't started with this activity as well as provide resources for those who were comfortable with certain others. 

The day was long but rewarding and so energizing for me that I decided to write about it. There are two days when for the first time in the district for the Hour of Code, two schools will interact with each other - a neighboring school's students will code along with the Barron Park students. Everyone is super excited. 

This year I was motivated/inspired to make t-shirts for parent volunteers. 

What is amazing is to see the level of collaboration, cooperation, effort, engagement, motivation, and most importantly, empathy, from all the students. Learning can be so much fun if done right. 

The mission of reaching every K-5 student in the Palo Alto Unified School District seemed long and distant at one point and seems to be coming together slowly and surely. It almost always pays to be optimistic. Happy coding, everyone!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Benefits of Coding in K-1

That coding needs to be part of a student's elementary daily school life has been a passion for me and have been propagating it for a few years in my district now, with the number of teachers attending the workshops growing from 2 or 3 to 8 or 10 (sometimes 20 in a presentation setting) and more teachers implementing the same in their classrooms. 

Last year, with introducing The Hour of Code, it was a great way to introduce coding in classrooms, exciting even the most reluctant educator or those who feel like they are non-tech-savvy as they put it. 

While the students in Grades 2 and up had been using either Scratch, or Tynker or Alice (or in the case of some 5th graders Java and Python), I was wondering what I could do with grades K and 1 to make it meaningful and age appropriate. Along came Kodable to my rescue (and to the delight of the students). I chanced upon it, got hooked onto it and decided it was something that seemed ideal for that age group. Grechen Huebner, one of the founders of Kodable, was gracious enough to share a bunch of resources, and came to work with one of the kindergarten classes once and with a first grade class a few times. The way the students took to it, the thinking, learning, engagement and motivation for each learner was simply fantastic. That then became the students' favorite app to go to when it came to a survey at the end of the year. That was fantastic.

Fast forward to November this week. It is a month away from this year's Hour of Code. We bought the classroom versions of Kodable Class for Grades K-2. It was time to introduce the same in Grade 1. The students are always super excited about learning to use a new application when it involves creativity. I start with the introduction, asking those who were at the school - Do you remember using this app? What does it do? How does it help us?

The first two questions were standard - yes, we remember, we need to get the fuzz ball forward, collect the coins. In response to the last question - the first hand goes up - "We learn how to follow diretions". Applause of course. The second hand goes up - "It makes us think" .

Straight from their mouths, no prompting, nothing. Do we need any more proof that coding at that stage does indeed benefit students and that it is one of the most engaging and critical thinking activities that they can go through at that stage? Of course, now they are off and about on their own, working their way through the mazes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

IPad Interview

Simple lesson idea for all grade levels which will cover the following skills:
- Speaking
- Listening
- Questioning
- Initiating a relevant conversation
- Respecting various opinions
and more based upon usage :)

This is best done as a partner activity with one person holding the iPad and carrying on an interview using the inbuilt Camera app. As students get to know each other in the first few weeks of school, interviewer starts by greeting appropriately, asking the interviewee to list three things about himself/herself. Interviewer then picks one of those three things and delves deeper into that topic. Depending upon the grade level, the depth could be determined, more like the length of the video. Upload finished videos to Schoology. Have class discussions on what went well about the process and what can be done better the next time.

This was done very successfully with Grade 1. It was not their first time handling the iPad video camera.

The same process can be applied to any topic, other than "All about me". Enjoy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Waiting in Line at the Maker Studio

Today's lunch time at the Maker Studio was a little different from days past in that one of our staff members who helps with the sewing machine couldn't make it and we had more than 25 little ones wanting to sew. I have used a sewing machine about thirty five years back when my grandmother had one where one had to spin with one hand and move the cloth with the other. The other adult in the room who normally helps doesn't know how to sew either and a third adult who came in early on doesn't. I do know how to hand sew and used to do a great deal of embroidery. However, I also needed to be available to help with the students who were coding or doing some of the other activities. Most of our customers for the sewing were first and second graders and a few third and fourth graders.

So the staff member who is the instructional aide for the Maker Studio had the students line up and wait their turn to get a needle threaded or fabric selected. One of the students who decided he didn't want to do it that way, took a couple of felt sheets, tied string around it, made it into an airplane and came proudly to show it to me, exclaiming, "Look how the wings flap!", while a few others came to me with the ends of the hand sewn pieces wanting me to knot it or cut some thread or just wanting a pair of scissors. In the meantime, one of our classroom instructional aides got this telepathy that she was wanted. She was on yard duty, knows how to sew and given that there were more than 50 students in the room and the backyard there, she wasn't required as much outside.

She obviously saved the day because she patiently got each student to come and sew. 
Meanwhile, several of them were standing patiently in line.

After the students had left at the end of lunch, the three of us were reflecting upon the situation. My personal opinion was that it was great that the students had learned to wait for their turn, but boy, they were waiting patiently and they didn't mind that they had to wait and they didn't want to give that up for another activity in the Maker Studio. Believe me, they had several other choices. This then lead me to think: What if every activity in the classroom was so compellingly motivating that students were happy to wait their turn, that they were learning to be patient and kind with zero teaching from our side on that front. Just patience and calm from our end too! What a wonderful school day that would be!