Month: September 2016

Engineering History: 3D Printing in a Middle School History Class

Today was the culmination of a year img_0434of implementing a $10,000 STEAM Grant to the 8th Grade Social Studies program at my school.  At our local STEAM Showcase event, we were able to put some of our students in positions to share what they learned in the previous year, what skills they developed, and, as teachers, reflect upon the challenges, successes, and opportunities for growth. We were supplied with 3D printers, supplies, and 3D scanners to outfit our classrooms, but, the knowledge and experiences gained were just as valuable.

The most common question we received today, though, was something along the lines of this: “3D printing…but in Social Studies…in a history class?”  Listen, STEAM concepts are great.  Students should be challenged to use design thinking to combine knowledge from a variety of previously separate showcase1subjects to be creators.  But, shouldn’t these skills be integrated within classes throughout a student’s school day, rather than isolated to a single class that is the designated STEAM area?

Using this belief, myself and two of my colleagues applied for a 2015-2016 STEAM Grant, planning to allow students to create history, designing and making historic landmarks, forts, and innovations that have played vital roles in American History.  Full disclosure: we took a massive risk.  Not one of us had any experience in 3D printing when we applied for the grant.  When we got word that our grant was accepted, there was a definite learning opportunity for not only our students, but for us as teachers.

showcase2Looking back, I learned just as much as my students about trial and error, problem solving, and design thinking.  We actually had some hiccups early on as we were sent a faulty machine, and decided to send all of our devices back to the supplier to select a different model.  This resulted in a delay to our plans to start our implementation in September.  Instead, we were looking at January.

Fast forwarding to today, our students featured our Civil War Innovations project.  Last year, students selected a different Civil War innovation in which they had an interest.  Some students selected weaponry, some selected musical instruments, some focused on uniforms and other accessories, while others decided to direct their attention to technological and transportation innovations.  They began researching the impact and legacy of these items before making a decision on what it was that they wanted to create in 3D form.  They then took to the task of measuring, designing, erasing, re-designing, and sketching their soon-to-be creations.

Another hurdle, though: Students really didn’t have much, if any, of a knowledge base of how to take their sketched designs and transform them into a file downloadable for 3D printing.  The solution: Tinkercad.  Props to my ADE colleagues for recommending this resource!  It was simple to use, as I believe it is really designed for younger learners.  However, my students had to start somewhere, and, after going through a series of quick demos and interactive training lessons, most students were hooked.

Students excitedly worked together, solved each others problems, and made suggestions to each other of how to improve their designs.  What I thought would take a couple of weeks to accomplish really took a matter of days.  Students were anxiously awaiting their prints, which resulted in setting up prints to run after school hours and late into the evenings.  I got into a steady routine of monitoring prints remotely and asking our awesome school custodian to turn of the machine’s power at night before his shift ended.  I would hope that this experience led some of my students to enroll in high school level 3D courses, as they now could visualize their creations in addition to learning history-based content.  So, to answer the question…3D printing…in social studies…in American History?  Yes. Take a risk – why not?

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What Electric Football Can Teach Us About Our Classrooms

I’m a child of the late 80s and early 90s.  I have vaguecam00129_preview_featured memories of watching my older brother and neighbors gather around excitedly to watch a table of plastic move around in an unpredictable fashion.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it.  But, wanting to be “part of the fun,” I, too, sat around and watched.  What created this excitement?  Why was this so engaging?

This era was also the dawn of the video game era.  Ataris, Nintendos, and handheld single-player games came on the scene.  So how could there be a niche for these electric football games.  The answer is simple: seeing, feeling, and experiencing something is powerful.

Draw upon the parallel at play: we are at a time when screens are on the rise.  Like the late 80s and early 90s when children would now sit for hours in front of screens, we now have awesome tools for our students to use, but also place them in front of screens for hours.  So what in the world does this have to do with electronic football?

When we allow our students to get up, move, hold physical objects, touch and feel items, there is a level of engagement that can’t be supplied from simply looking at a screen.  We need to use the “all of the above” strategy that is sometimes mentionedimg_2505 in political debates about energy sources. In my class, we recently were discussing our own city through the lens of why it was such a critical component within the realm of the French and Indian War.  Could we have simply looked at a map of Pittsburgh?  Certainly.  Could we have talked about the geographic features of the region? Absolutely.  But, using the “all of the above” and “electric football” mentality, what would happen if students got to hold physical objects, move around the room, and collaborate.  Students were provided with placards of rivers, physical features, modern day landmarks, landmarks from the 1750s, and flags and given the task of using their own experiences to recreate our city.The end result was a level of engagement in class activities and an inquisitive attitude to “figure it out” as a group.

So, what can we learn from electric football? Even though we have engaging and powerful applications, resources, and ways to amplify our student’s voice in ways well beyond our classroom, sometimes, it can be useful to gather around together, grab some physical objects, and make a lesson come to life within the fingertips and in front of the eyes of our students.

When Imitation is NOT the Sincerest Form of Flattery

The current day classroom is one that is based on collaboration image-1-jpgevery day.  Student collaboration, teacher collaboration, collaboration with experts.  An inherent and essential element of collaboration to make the best possible learning experiences for our students is sharing. Gone are the days where a teacher makes the “perfect test” and keeps that exam locked up in a file cabinet behind his desk (Okay, I know that this may still happen, but let’s pretend.)  Most teachers are now extremely willing to share ideas that work, share lessons and strategies that engage students, and share resources that improve the overall quality of our students’ education.

An underlying question that I ponder: What is collaboration?  I’ll revisit this in a moment.

Expanding our Professional Learning Networks

How amazing and awesome is it to participate in the many chats that are held weekly on Twitter to share the things that are working in our classrooms? How great is it to pick up a few new educational tools and new ways of thinking about a concept or giving your students a new wrinkle in the learning activities they participate in within your class? Or, when you take advantage of an opportunity to attend conferences in the summer to speak face to face with some of your role models in education?  What about when you jump into an EdCamp or local ed tech conference to share best practices of something you specialize in or have a passion in, only to have it be improved upon by someone in attendance sharing an augmentation to that passion of yours? To make a long story somewhat shorter, there are a plethora of ways for us to grow as educators to improve our students’ educational experience and opportunities to find success.  These are things that all educators should strive to take part in to be the best educator they can be.

Hootie and the Blowfish & the Currency of Collaboration

For my colleagues that are Darius Rucker fans, he describes what is needed in order to truly collaborate: Time.  Not expertise.  Not an ungodly amount of skill.  Not some secret society or handshake.  Not a conference registration fee.  Time.  If you want to participate in the educational dialogue, you just need to commit the time needed.  You can throw effort and work ethic in there, too.  Now we have some (as the Donald would say) “yuge” variables here: time, effort, and work ethic.  Teachers have busy lives: kids, aging parents, second jobs, marriages, volunteering gigs, community projects, coaching, etc.  The list of things that intrude on our time and effort levels depend on these items and how much one prioritizes their teaching.  The last variable, work ethic, is one that I want to focus on in the collaboration discussion.

When Collaboration is Really not “Co”llaboration

Let me preface this by saying that sharing the great things that occur in our classrooms and schools makes us all better.  When we build walls in our classrooms, we all stunt our own growth.  Second, teachers all have different skill sets.  For some teachers, they may not be comfortable or at a place where they are ready to share their successes quite yet.  That is perfectly fine.

But, back to my original question.  What is collaboration?  In my professional learning network, I have always felt like we all have some obligation to “pay it forward” at some level.  From new teachers to longtime veteran teachers, we have something to offer to teachers.

What is collaboration?  Is collaboration consistently lifting the same educator’s (or educators’) ideas over an over with no contribution back?  Is collaboration consistently capitalizing on the time, effort, and work ethic that another educator invested or sacrificed even though you may have the basic skills to also innovate yourself?  I love being in a position to share with my colleagues at a school, district, state, national, and, thanks to the ADE Program, an international level.  I am invigorated by the idea that educators are really more powerful than ever in terms of our ability to advocate for better learning experiences for our students and to find others with common passions.  One area, though, still perplexes my mind.  Is it acceptable to define something as collaboration when it is consistently a one way street, paved with stones of a lack of work ethic, time, and effort of others?  Is that collaboration?  In my book, it is not. And we need more collaborators.

 

Unlocking History: Breakout EDU as a Means to Introduce Primary Source Docs

As a celebration of Constitution Day, my classes have officially jumped_img_8477 head first into BreakoutEDU, and it is fair to say that it was an awesome initial experience that left all involved wanting more.  I have never seen students more excited about analyzing, discussing, and thinking about primary source documents and artifacts from outlets ranging from Gilder Lehrman to the Smithsonian Institute’s Learning Lab.  Have you ever had students screaming with excitement when they received a pocket Constitution?  Neither had I.  Until this past Friday.  It happened. Really. But, before getting to the specifics of the lesson, let me rewind to explain how we got here.

The Background

This summer, I, like many other educators attending the ISTE Conference in Denver, Colorado (thanks again, PBS Learning Media!), was introduced to BreakoutEDU.  Social media was full of photos of colleagues posing for celebratory photos on the “Breakout Bus”, signaling that trendy escape room games have arrived in the classroom.

Intrigued by what I was seeing, I figured that I would go to an evening event that BreakoutEDU was sponsoring with some fellow Apple Distinguished Educator folks to learn more about the movement.  Talking there with teachers from around the United States convinced me to give it a shot, despite not being completely sure how in the world I could tie this into my curriculum from a content basis.

Making the Boxes – Gathering Materials

Back in Pittsburgh, I began to look intoimg_1867-jpg ordering items, seeing delivery times of 4-6 weeks from BreakoutEDU.  With the start of the year falling into the same timeline, I figured I could build my own box(es).  So I broke out the table saw, a 1 x 12 oak board, some screws, and I was in business.  A trip to Lowe’s and an Amazon Prime order quickly furnished the supplies and locks needed to complete one box.  But, of course, I needed some graphics, right?  Using a Harbor Freight coupon, I purchased a wood burning kit for about $5.00, allowing me to now transfer graphics onto wood from an inkjet printer.  (Seeing I could do this, my 3 year old daughter, Julia, also asked me to make her a Disney locked box for her Disney Magic Clip dolls, so her little brother could not get to them.)

Um, Now What? Creating a Game

So after making 1 box, I made another.  But, now what?  What did I want to accomplish? Myself and a colleague base our class on some key principles including students interpreting events to create their own stories based on those interprestatic1-squarespace-comtations of history. Students analyze primary sources almost daily in class, as they provide the unfiltered lens into our nation’s past, allowing students the ability to connect to another person’s emotions, fears, biases, and experiences.

Boom.  My students benefit from accessing digitized primary resources from Smithsonian’s Learning Lab, Gilder Lehrman, Library of Congress, National Archives, OurDocs, and more.  Why not create a Breakout Game that required students to access a “clue” from a document or resource from each of those outlets?  From there, I created a game that is now available on the BreakoutEDU.com website: Commander in Mis-Chief.  (Set-up video here)

Commander in Mischief is based on the story that a new presidentimg_8511 has just been elected who does not respect American History.  As such, this president wants to destroy all primary source documents and artifacts to make sure that his/her own version of American History remains unchallenged.  With the foresight that this may happen at some point, our founding fathers locked away the one item that can stop this tyrant is his/her tracks.  Students have 40 minutes to use the clues left by some of the president’s secret service to open the locks, including 3 and 4 digit numerical locks, directional lock, word lock, and key lock before the president signs an executive order to have all documents destroyed.

My next challenge: what could I have locked in the box thatimg_1754-jpg could prevent a president from abusing his/her power? This answer was obvious: the Constitution.  What was not obvious was how I could possibly provide each of my students with a Constitution.  Enter TeachingAmericanHistory.Org.  I had attended some great events sponsored by TAH, and, after reaching out to Monica from TAH, they generously donated 100 pocket Constitutions to be provided to my students.  What makes this more perfect?  I planned to implement this activity on Constitution Day 2016.

Implementation & Observations

I had hinted to my students to be ready for something different on the day prior to our Constitution Day lesson.  They were broken into 2 groups of about 8-13 students, group “Red” and group “Blue.” After being given the ground rules and a quick lesson on opening directional locks, they got started.  Of my 10 groups that participated, 7 were able to open the box by the end of the time, with 6 of the 7 groups opening it with under 8 minutes left.  Ironically, the first group to get into the box in my first period class, performed with the fastest time of the day with around 17 minutes to spare.

Was this worthwhile?  Really, when I wrote that I had never seen students more excited about primary resource research, I meant it.  What was a bonus, though, img_8520were the collaborations that occurred.  Students divided tasks, brainstormed ideas, read and re-read (and re-read) documents, tested theories, laughed together, became frustrated together, and encouraged each other.  At the end of each period, students asked “when can we do this again?”  That made the summer prep worth it.  As a teacher, this offered the opportunity to get to know my students in a setting outside the norm.  Who is a leader? Who is a follower?  Who steps up when challenged?  Who gets frustrated easily? Who perseveres? These are all life-long skills  that we want our students to develop, in addition to content knowledge.

As I told my students, we will certainly do this again in my class.  I’m thinking an election-based challenge as we get closer to the general election.  But, this time, I, along with my students, will be a little more familiar and comfortable with what to expect. Thanks for reading!

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The First Weeks of School: 8 Reflections on a 1:1 iPad Rollout

Amazingly, we have come to the end of our fourth week of the 2016-2017 school year, a year that began with each student in our middle school building receiving an iPad as part of our 1:1 initiative. Excuse the excessively long first post.

With all due respect to the Wongs, I want to focus upon the events of the first weeks of school rather than the first days. Now coming up for air, I want to share some of my observations and reflections about the transition to a 1:1 environment.

1. Students Are Ready for It, Adults May Not Be

I have taught in a classroom that has been the home to a cart of iPads since the 2011 school year. Worries arose from “Will [insert student name here] forget his/her iPads at home?“, “What if students don’t charge their iPad?“, “Will students just be playing games on their iPads?

Through 16 days of my 100 or so students having their iPads, I have had two students forget their iPad at home. Two. Not 20. Two. Set the expectation and treat it as an important piece of the learning environment and students will largely follow suit. I have had one student come to school with an iPad that was not charged. One. What about games? Sure, I have seen students playing games on their devices. I see them playing math and logic games between class periods. If a student doesn’t have a meaningful task to complete, can you blame them?

2.”iTunesU is Awesome. You Can’t Lose Anything.” ~8th Grade Student

There was a great debate between whether to utilize iTunesU or Google Classroom. Both offer certain features that are superior to the other. We are a GAFimg_2062E school but also have many teachers who have a wealth of Apple Education experience. This summer, we decided to proceed with iTunesU to take advantage and fully embrace the Apple ecosystem. Several teachers have jumped right in, and students have offered positive feedback. While Google Classroom has some outstanding features and plug-ins, iTunesU offers a one-stop shop for housing student courses with little to no wait time lag. Teachers have also begun to house their clubs on iTunesU, offering instant push updates to students, a feature that many appreciate. In conversations with students, I had a belief that some may not like having most of their materials in a digital format, instead opting print. When a choice is given, it has been about 90% in terms of students opting to just utilize digital materials with an iTunesU course. But, again, the true power of the iPad lies in designing lessons that allow students to create, collaborate, and respond to real-life questions rather than annotating worksheets.

3. Please work, Apple Classroom

image1Our system is currently set up in Apple Classroom from data pulled from our SIS and managed by our MDM, JAMF. As a result, we do not have the power to manually create classes. Apple Classroom appears to have so many great features, but sadly, I am taunted by this screen each and every time I open the app.

4. More time! Go Formative as an Anticipatory Set

A bonus of students having their own devices and nimg_2017-jpgot having them pick them up from a cart each day and then return them at the end of class is having 3-4 extra minutes of class each day. I have used this additional time to add GoFormative activities to my opening and closing lessons, allowing students to share their prior knowledge with their peers and me as well as reflecting upon what they learned and/or how their views changed as a result of a lesson.

5. Nothing Replaces Relationships

We’ve all probably seen it. Technology is introduced to a classroom and the tech tool (laptop, tablet, iPod, etc.) is provided to students as a lesson delivery tool that completely cuts out daily communication with a teacher. This is simply the wrong way to go about integrating technology. Students needs daily interactions, guidance, and redirection. We can’t expect student learning experiences to be remade if we are simply relying on recorded Keynote presentations and self-grading quizzes. Can those things part of a classroom? Sure. But all of it? No way.

6. Embrace Emojis for Active Reading

On a whim (I would love to say that this was a well thought out plan), I decided to have students break down each part of a reading assignment using emojis. img_2038-2Specifically, each paragraph students read had a theme or a tone. They were to select one emoji that they personally thought did the best job of relaying this theme/tone. What was more important to me? Students were engaged and could not wait to share their verbal explanation defending their rationale of their theme or tone. What may have been a passive reading instantly morphed into one where students couldn’t wait to get to the next paragraph. Embrace emojis!

7. Technology + Physical Objects + Meaningful Task = Purposeful Engagement

This is not some new, earth-shattering idea. Do you remember learning about Jamestown and Salem? I can remember my 8th grade year and I honestly can not. I may have taken a quiz on the early colonies, but, what purpose or meaning did this have to me? Over the past week, students have been creating Stop Motion videos answering one of two questions presented from the DBQProject, using primary sources to explain a viewpoint of historical events. Looking around my class today, the level of engagement was extremely high. Not once did students need to be redirected to the task at hand. Using Stop Motion, along with physical objects like Legos, Play Doh, Toobs, pipe cleaners, and more, students were truly making history and offering their own story in the process. I can’t wait to share what some of my students came up with to share their interpretations in an upcoming post! Want to learn more about how to do this? Download my iBook, Interpreting Primary Sources with Stop Motion for free on iTunes.

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8. Find Solutions

Were there frustrating times during the first few weeks of school? Absolutely. We have two choices as teachers: Find a solution when something doesn’t work or find an excuse. Although finding solutions may not be in our official job descriptions, in the end, we are here to do what is best for our students (or as a former boss would ask, “What’s best for the student?”) Are we serving our students by throwing up our hands when something doesn’t work and making an excuse? No. Model the behavior that you want your students to exude: a work ethic to find solutions to real world problems. You always have eyes on you as a teacher. What attitude are you portraying?

 

 

 

The First Weeks of School: 8 Reflections on a 1:1 iPad Rollout

Amazingly, we have come to the end of our fourth week of the 2016-2017 school year, a year that began with each student in our middle school building receiving an iPad as part of our 1:1 initiative.  Excuse the excessively long first post.

With all due respect to the Wongs, I want to focus upon the events of the first weeks of school rather than the first days.  Now coming up for air, I want to share some of my observations and reflections about the transition to a 1:1 environment.

1. Students Are Ready for It, Adults May Not Be

I have taught in a classroom that has been the home to a cart of iPads since the 2011 school year.  Worries arose from “Will [insert student name here] forget his/her iPads at home?“, “What if students don’t charge their iPad?“, “Will students just be playing games on their iPads?

Through 16 days of my 100 or so students having their iPads, I have had two students forget their iPad at home.  Two. Not 20. Two. Set the expectation and treat it as an important piece of the learning environment and students will largely follow suit. I have had one student come to school with an iPad that was not charged. One. What about games?  Sure, I have seen students playing games on their devices.  I see them playing math and logic games between class periods.  If a student doesn’t have a meaningful task to complete, can you blame them?

2.”iTunesU is Awesome. You Can’t Lose Anything.” ~8th Grade Student

There was a great debate between whether to utilize iTunesU or Google Classroom.  Both offer certain features that are superior to the other.  We are a GAFimg_2062E school but also have many teachers who have a wealth of Apple Education experience.  This summer, we decided to proceed with iTunesU to take advantage and fully embrace the Apple ecosystem.  Several teachers have jumped right in, and students have offered positive feedback.  While Google Classroom has some outstanding features and plug-ins, iTunesU offers a one-stop shop for housing student courses with little to no wait time lag.  Teachers have also begun to house their clubs on iTunesU, offering instant push updates to students, a feature that many appreciate.  In conversations with students, I had a belief that some may not like having most of their materials in a digital format, instead opting print.  When a choice is given, it has been about 90% in terms of students opting to just utilize digital materials with an iTunesU course.  But, again, the true power of the iPad lies in designing lessons that allow students to create, collaborate, and respond to real-life questions rather than annotating worksheets.

3. Please work, Apple Classroom

image1Our system is currently set up in Apple Classroom from data pulled from our SIS and managed by our MDM, JAMF.  As a result, we do not have the power to manually create classes.  Apple Classroom appears to have so many great features, but sadly, I am taunted by this screen each and every time I open the app.

4. More time! Go Formative as an Anticipatory Set

A bonus of students having their own devices and nimg_2017-jpgot having them pick them up from a cart each day and then return them at the end of class is having 3-4 extra minutes of class each day.  I have used this additional time to add GoFormative activities to my opening and closing lessons, allowing students to share their prior knowledge with their peers and me as well as reflecting upon what they learned and/or how their views changed as a result of a lesson.

5.  Nothing Replaces Relationships

We’ve all probably seen it.  Technology is introduced to a classroom and the tech tool (laptop, tablet, iPod, etc.) is provided to students as a lesson delivery tool that completely cuts out daily communication with a teacher.  This is simply the wrong way to go about integrating technology.  Students needs daily interactions, guidance, and redirection.  We can’t expect student learning experiences to be remade if we are simply relying on recorded Keynote presentations and self-grading quizzes.  Can those things part of a classroom? Sure.  But all of it? No way.

6. Embrace Emojis for Active Reading

On a whim (I would love to say that this was a well thought out plan), I decided to have students break down each part of a reading assignment using emojis.  img_2038-2Specifically, each paragraph students read had a theme or a tone.  They were to select one emoji that they personally thought did the best job of relaying this theme/tone.  What was more important to me?  Students were engaged and could not wait to share their verbal explanation defending their rationale of their theme or tone.  What may have been a passive reading instantly morphed into one where students couldn’t wait to get to the next paragraph. Embrace emojis!

7.   Technology + Physical Objects + Meaningful Task = Purposeful Engagement

This is not some new, earth-shattering idea. Do you remember learning about Jamestown and Salem?  I can remember my 8th grade year and I honestly can not.  I may have taken a quiz on the early colonies, but, what purpose or meaning did this have to me?  Over the past week, students have been creating Stop Motion videos answering one of two questions presented from the DBQProject, using primary sources to explain a viewpoint of historical events.  Looking around my class today, the level of engagement was extremely high.  Not once did students need to be redirected to the task at hand.  Using Stop Motion, along with physical objects like Legos, Play Doh, Toobs, pipe cleaners, and more, students were truly making history and offering their own story in the process.  I can’t wait to share what some of my students came up with to share their interpretations in an upcoming post! Want to learn more about how to do this?  Download my iBook, Interpreting Primary Sources with Stop Motion for free on iTunes.

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8. Find Solutions

Were there frustrating times during the first few weeks of school? Absolutely.  We have two choices as teachers: Find a solution when something doesn’t work or find an excuse.  Although finding solutions may not be in our official job descriptions, in the end, we are here to do what is best for our students (or as a former boss would ask, “What’s best for the student?”)  Are we serving our students by throwing up our hands when something doesn’t work and making an excuse?  No.  Model the behavior that you want your students to exude: a work ethic to find solutions to real world problems.  You always have eyes on you as a teacher.  What attitude are you portraying?