Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Consider the Collection Process

collection of flash drives left in the computer lab
It's easy to focus on the process and not consider HOW the classwork will be collected. As several teachers have begun using the computer lab for class related projects, I've noticed that often times the bell will ring and a frantic scurry begins to save documents in a variety of locations. Sometimes this means students can't locate their work at the start of the next session.

I've found it's best to have a clear plan for where everyone will save their work. Then write out clear explanations of how to save their file to the correct location. And finally, plan to spend the last 5-10 minutes of class walking students through the process. If you always use the same routine, eventually students will know where to find and save their files.

Here are a few ideas for collecting digital student work:

  • Flash Drives
    • Pro: Teach kids responsibility, they can take the files home
    • Con: Often left in the computer and can spread viruses.
  • Personal Folder on Server
    • Pro: Students cannot access each others work
    • Con: Younger students may have trouble remembering account login details
  • Class Folder on Server
    • Pro: Teacher has access to all student work and manages the folder
    • Con: Students have access to all student work, watch for deletion and copying
  • Online File System (like Google Drive, Dropbox, or School Management Software)
    • Pro: Digital work is available anywhere through Internet access
    • Con: Younger students may not be allowed an account
Personally I prefer cloud based file sharing services but as my experience now includes elementary grades I'm discovering there are merits to each method. Teachers should consider their time constraints and how they want to access students' work.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwing Cold Water on Ice Bucket Challenge

No amount of ice on my head will help this disease. The latest ALS Ice Bucket Challenge may be well intentioned but misses the point. It has become more of a dousing dare and less of a research fundraiser for a deadly disease.

Pictured are my grandparents. I remember my grandpa caring for my grandmother as she steadily lost her battle against Lou Gehrig's Disease. When she lost her voice, they communicated with notes and pointing. When she could no longer swallow, he ate lunch alone after feeding her through a tube. And one of the few times I've saw Grandpa weep was at Grandma's funeral.

The original dare was to donate money OR doused with ice water. Now kids are just dumping ice with no contribution to the cause. Thanks for challenging me to participate, but I have no desire to minimize my grandmother's struggle with ALS.

Note: should you decide to send money, please read this post first.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Need A Reason

Finally finished checking my kids' math homework at 10:30pm and though I understand the HOW of absolute values and inequalities, I still don't understand WHY.

Rote problem solving is tedious without a compelling reason. Reminds me to develop meaningful keyboarding projects and give dynamic feedback. If I can create the need for good keyboarding skills, students will become excited to learn how to work more efficiently.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lose the Mouse

When using a DualBoard, leave the mouse behind. Besides all the great features of annotating on screenshots and video recording presentations, the most basic feature is often overlooked.

Because the interactive whiteboard's pens also act like a mouse, teachers can walk away from their desk and run their computer right from the board. This puts the teacher squarely back in front of the class. it also adds an element of "cool" as the teacher appears to manipulate screen images with just the touch of a pen.

And then, for those adventurous types, try handing the pen off to a student. There may be a momentary learning curve as they realize the controls are not as sensitive. But remember, never allow a student to use your computer without supervision and permission. Even though DualBoards are interactive, the teacher must remain in control.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Take Command of Wayward Headphones

A teacher in our elementary found a creative way to keep track of headphones using Command hooks. By sticking the hooks on the side of the monitor, students simply hang the headphones up when they are done. It's simple, yet effective.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Family Day at GenCon 2014

Spent a lovely afternoon with the family downtown at GenCon. This year we purchase tickets online, which I heartily recommend to anyone. We only waited about five minutes in the Will Call line as opposed to 90 minutes in the purchase tickets line as in previous years. It also meant we received nicer lanyards and our passes were not generic.

My oldest (pictured here) brought a large deck of unused Yu-Gi-Oh! cards that he traded in for $1.50 - not a lot of money but better than gathering dust under the bed. But don't think he's given up on the game! He still spent an hour and half in the dedicated Yu-Gi-Oh room playing losing to game masters from Japan. He even convinced mom to try a game or two. She was able to win at least one game against a vendor rep who was impressed that she was even trying the game.

Geek Chic was there with plenty to drool over as they combine two of my hobbies: gaming and woodworking. But another small vendor caught my attention: Stonehaven Minatures. Their primary business is miniature figurines (my daughter loved the warrior toads) but they are adding Pop-Up Terrains. These are playable surfaces that use Japanese folding techniques to collapse flat when not in use. Users purchase the file, print the images, then cut and fold. Even their business card is a cut and fold miniature throne!

The gaming area seemed almost twice as big as last year, but the vendor area struck me more like a flea market or swap meet than in years past. There were plenty of new games to try and buy but also a lot of buying and reselling going on. Also, there were hardly any freebies but it was the last day so maybe everyone was out of stock. We did enjoy watching a few rounds of Rock Paper Scissors Spock Lizard, even though my daughter still can't figure out who beats what!

Of course I was stuck with carrying a Minecraft sword - and four different people asked me where we bought it (FYE at the mall). There were lots of Doctors running around with fezzes, Tardis themed dresses and a plethora of steam punk and anime. The craziest thing I saw was a women dressed in a detailed Black Widow costume pushing a baby in a stroller with another preschooler hanging on. Somehow I missed that story arc!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: Star Wars Tiny Death Star

This break we picked up the game app Star Wars: Tiny Death Star. It's quick to learn but the game takes days worth of patience to play.

Built on the premise that the Emperor and Darth Vader need cash to build a Death Star, they decide to start with a few business levels and add on as funds come in. Your job is to manage the growth of the death star by employing people to work, stocking floors and adding levels.

Once we understood the game play, it became obvious that a business plan would help guide our choices. Everything takes place in real time, so when a level requires four hours to build, it literally takes four hours. A casual expenditure can set back production for days. That's where a business plan helps, by keeping goals and priorities in line.

I'm finding that Elizabeth, who regularly plays management games (like Animal Jam and Pet Vet) does much better. Josiah prefers more action in his games, so the long term effort has trouble holding his attention.

Bringing Science Home

With a wife who taught middle school science the last few years and a daughter who loves animals and the outdoors, science experiments often invade our home. But for those who need a little extra help, the Royal Institute has a series of experiments that can easily be done at home.

The web series ExpeRimental is a collection of short videos explaining how to conduct various experiments in your own kitchen. Each video includes a downloadable info sheet and teachers may want to use the free certificates and badges. The videos are colorful and well edited demonstrations of observational science.

Though geared towards elementary age, anyone with a curious mind will enjoy these fun ways of exploring the world around them. Of course, one possible extension activity would be to video record your own experiments, posting the results.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Digital Publishing In First Grade


A fascinating idea, empowering young authors with the ease of publishing their content. But here are a couple observations that may not have had time to be addresses in the video.

Since students used tablets, most were typing with a single finger. While great authors are not always great typists, this seemed like a missed opportunity to encourage

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Move Away From The Desk

image of a Mobi, mouse and keyboard
A Mobi allows teachers to move away from their desktop. When coupled with a projector, teachers can roam the room and still navigate the mouse on their desktop.

This is especially helpful for interactive web sites and programs, or when the teacher wants to simultaneously interact with students. Software examples to use would include Starfall or BrainPop. An adventurous teacher could even allow students to take turns using the Mobi.

There is a slight hand/eye coordination required as the pen and tablet roughly translate to the screen. I also found that it was easier to rest the hand on the tablet. Since only the pen registers, there is no interference with other things touching the tablet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Parent Teacher Communication Tools in RenWeb

image of sidebar menu in RenWeb
The Internet provides great communication tools between teachers, parents and students. Even if your school does not use RenWeb, it is worth every teachers' time to figure out their web based communication strategy.

If your school uses RenWeb online, clicking the ParentsWeb option at the bottom of the sidebar will gives a view of RenWeb as parents and students see it. This is a great way to see how class information is being communicated.

To update web information for classes, use the Web Configuration section. By going back and forth between these two sections, teachers can craft a meaningful web interaction with their parents and middle school students.

Items available to update for each class include: Announcements, Calendar events, web resources, shared documents and pictures. In the ParentsWeb view, select Classes in the sidebar to see how each of these fields appear.