Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hour of Code at NCS

Last week was Computer Science Education Week and throughout the world students participated in a Hour of Code - spending 60 minutes or more learning the basics of computer programming.

Right here at Natomas Charter School students in Leading Edge, PFAA, and PACT learned the basics of coding. Through tools like Scratch, Tynker, CodeAcademy, and Khan Academy students built video games and basic programs while also constructing a greater understanding of how some of their favorite websites and apps actually work.  Students learned about sequencing, what-if and if-then statements, functions with parameters, and using counters with these self-paced and engaging resources. Below are two quotes from Leading Edge students in Jennifer Music's class describing the experience.
"The coding really helps with math, because you can figure out how to critique a problem or to help others. It is just a really good way to help kids and adults alike understand things better, in a creative way." (Dillon Garrett, 7th grade) 
"Within the time of playing with "An Hour of Code" I feel that it was a nice game output and it taught us the mechanics of movement within a game. What I loved the most was learning about the "if" function. I was able to see the actual java-script code too." (Jason Abuda, 8th grade)
While the goal was to spend 60 minutes coding last week, for many the hour was simply an introduction that ignited their curiosity to learn more.  At last night's first NCS Student Technology Leadership Team meeting many of the students described spending many evenings and part of last weekend building their coding skills.

Personally, I have to admit I was too busy last week to participate in an Hour of Code. I put it in my "next time around"pile. However, the excitement and enthusiasm these kids shared caused me to pull out my laptop last night and create the code necessary to navigate my Angry Bird around the squares to capture the pig on Code.org. And that might be the best part of all of these resources. They aren't going away anytime soon. You and your students can start building your programming literacy skills today, tomorrow, or sometime next month.

After writing this post we learned a few things:

  • PACT hosted a code-a-thon on Friday and many of our students were so inspired that they started working their way through the 20 hour self-paced Introduction to Computer Science course for K-8 students. 
  • Star Academy 2nd graders started coding today. Yes, you read that correctly...2nd graders. Aside from an occasional cheer you could hear a pin drop in the classroom as they worked through 15 different levels of the first 20 step coding task.

Joe & Jennifer Music

Friday, December 13, 2013

Elementary Bloggers

Blogging has taken hold at Star Academy! Every single one of our elementary classes at Star Academy is starting to share their learning using classroom blogs.

Why are they doing it? Blogging provides an opportunity for the students to publish together as a class for a public audience. It is also a perfect tool for teaching digital citizenship and the differences between online and print-based writing. Additionally, blogs are handy for building classroom community and for connecting your classroom to the larger world through comments posted by parents, relatives, and other classrooms.

What are Star Academy students writing about? Well, it depends on the week, classroom, and types of activities taking place.  However, here are a few sample posts.

  • Gingerbread People - Students in Mrs. Kahler's class created gingerbread people. Using their classroom blog as a digital container the class posted a slideshow of their creations and visitors posted written feedback.
1st Grade
  • Owl Pellets - Students in Mrs. Luhrsen's class dissected owl pellets and used their classroom blog to share some of the things they learned. This class also used their blog to share their class Skype session with another group of students in Monterrey, Mexico.
  • Currently Reading - In Miss Kloczko's classroom the students used their blog to share reflections on the books they were currently reading. This also shared what they were thankful for during the month of November, including this post on being thankful for our moms. 
2nd Grade
  • Author Erin Dealey Visits - In Mrs. Evans' class the students wrote about their visit from children's author Erin Dealey.
  • Student Technology Support - Mrs. Torres describes how students can often be great technology support staff in the classroom with this story about placing your icon on the Google Map. The class also described their first BYOD technology day.
3rd Grade
  • Friday Report - In Ms. Fraser's class students share their learning each week by writing a collaborative Friday Report. Check out this one from December 13th.
Blogs can really be anything you want them to be - a summary of your learning as a teacher, pictures or digital artifacts from a classroom event, collaboratively written stories created by the class, or posts written by individual guest authors. Your imagination is the only limit. However, regardless of the topic a blog post is always a conversation, so when you have a moment leave a comment on a post for our Star Academy bloggers.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Powerful Chrome Apps

This morning I had the pleasure of working with our VLA staff and like all of my weekly workshops I learned way more than I taught.  As we explored options for setting up Goole Drive Offline (where anyone can view and edit Docs and Presentations without an internet connection using Chrome - check it out), Linda Hoang and the rest of the VLA staff started sharing some of the more powerful Chrome apps they and their students have been using this year. This lead to an amazing 30-minute journey through the Education section of the Chrome App Store.

Chrome apps are usually free and work with any computer (Mac, Windows, Chromebook) in the Chrome web browser.  To download or install a Chrome app you just need to be signed into the the browser (or Chromebook), which means this should only be done on a computer where you have logged in under your personal account.

All of the apps listed below are ones students could easily use at home or school.  Take a few minutes to check them out.  Additionally, we have a Chrome Apps section to the NCS Professional Development Portal.


Desmos Graphing Calculator - If you are around my age you might recall that $100+ graphing calculator you needed in high school and college.  It's now free and available as a Chrome app (...kids these days...).  Similar to your TI-81 users can easily enter equations and individual points to generate graphs.  These graphs can then be saved for later use, printed, or exported as images (all things I don't I remember my TI-81 being able to do).

Daum Equation Editor - Yes, Google Docs does have an equation editor, but sometimes it is a bit wonky and difficult to use.  The Daum Equation Editor allows you to quickly and simply create equations for math or science that then saved as images and easily imported into other documents.

Geogebra - Kristen Miller first introduced me to this a few weeks ago as an iPad app, but Geogebra is also a Chrome app that allows users to create and manipulate functions in algebra, geometry, calculus or physics.  As Kristen showed me it is a handy resource for students to demonstrate their understanding of mathematical concepts in the real world.  Her students are going to be using it for an amazing upcoming project.  I won't let the cat completely out of the bag, but it involves the game Angry Birds!

Duolingo - Interested in practicing your Spanish, French, German or Italian skills?  Are you slightly competitive and like to compete against your friends?  Duolingo allows you to do both in one free and well-designed app.  Once signed up users make their way through thematic challenges where they have to master translation, listening, and pronunciation skills for a given language.  It used to only be a smartphone app, but now it is also free for Chrome.

BioDigital - BioDigital is an interactive, 3D human body where users can explore and peel away different body systems.  Think of it as Google Earth for the human body.  As you click on objects they are labeled and provide different pieces of background knowledge.  The app is anatomically correct, so might not be perfect for all audiences.

Typing Web Tutor - As we all know by 4th grade students have to be able to type a single page in a single setting according the Common Core ELA Standards.  As a result, a variety of typing programs have started springing up.  Typing Web is a free Chrome app that also has a teacher management portion for our technology electives.  Another highly rated one is Typing Club

Statistics for Active Typing - Curious how quickly you type?  Statistics for Active Typing is a Chrome Extension (similar to an app, but always runs in the background) that tracks your typing speed as you conduct your day-to-day activities in Chrome.  It is a bit nerdy, but I have noticed that during the few months I have had it installed my typing speed as increased as I have set personal goals.

Cite This for Me - This is another Chrome extension that provides citations in any format for the webpage on which you happen to be reading.  This citation can then be copy-and-pasted into a document and manipulated (if necessary) to match a particular style guide.  It is a handy scaffold for helping students with their citations.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Doctopus & Goobric - Making Your Google Docs Life Easier

Google Drive and all of the tools contained within it (Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Drawings) are extremely powerful document creation and collaboration resources.  However, when you are using them with 165 students management of these files can quickly become an organizational nightmare.  Anyone who has had to dig through the email avalanche created by six periods of middle school students sharing their essays can completely understand this dilemma.

Doctopus and Goobric.  Yes, you read those words correctly.  Doctopus and Goobric are a Google script and Chrome extension with funny names that can make your Google Docs teaching life much easier.  The Docopus script allows you to create one spreadsheet for an assignment that once complete contains a row for each student with the following information
  • Name, Email Address, and Period 
  • Link to the studnet's version of the assignment
  • Information about when the assignment was last editing
  • Columns for grade and feedback that can emailed directly back to the students
When you set up the assignment spreadsheet using Doctopus you can determine who has editing or viewing rights and even embargo the assignment for grading (each student no longer has editing rights) all with just a few clicks.  Once the project is complete you can even transfer ownership of document to individual students.  Doctopus works whether you're setting up individual or group projects.  The Chrome extension, Goobric simply allows you to attach a rubric to the document that can be used for grading with rubric-based feedback provided to the students.

Getting Started:
Getting up and running with Doctopus and Goobric is quite easy.  Here is all you need to do.
  1. Watch These Tutorials - Doctopus and Goobric by @jayatwood
    • Or come to Tech PD next Tuesday (10/29) if you are a PFAA/Leading Edge teacher.  If other academies are interested we can set up a Doctopus/Goobric workshop up at your site in the next few weeks.
  2. Student Information Spreadsheet - Create an assignment spreadsheet that contains the following information for your students - First Name, Last Name, Email Address, Period. 
    • While you could hand type this, the quicker method is to set up a Google Form and have your students complete it.  Then you will have all of the data for any future projects. Joshua Senge in Leading Edge did this and then shared it with his grade level colleagues for them to use too.
  3. Document Template - Create a Docs/Sheets/Slides template for your assignment.
    • It doesn't have to ahve anything on it, but you will need a document the Doctopus script can clone for each student.
  4. Run the Script - Find Doctopus in the Script Gallery, run it and wait for the magic to happen.
Spend some time and give these two tools a whirl.  You will be happy that you did.  If you need any additional support feel free to join us at the next PFAA/Leading Edge Tuesday workshop on October 29th or let me know and I would be happy to set up a 1:1 appointment.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Simplifying the Hunt with Common Sense Media

Many teachers have described how challenging it can be to find great curriculum resources when developing new units or just giving a unit from last year a digital make over.  I know many of you are starting to plan out or revise units for later this winter and spring.  One resource you should definitely check out is Common Sense Media.  I know you're thinking, "Wait? Isn't that just the digital citizenship curriculum?" It is that and so much more.   Here are three reasons why you should check out Common Sense Media.

1. Media Reviews
Are you looking for a great book, website, movie, or even video game to recommend to a student? Have parents expressed concern regarding the types of media their children are accessing at home? Common Sense Media began as a group of parents wanting to find objective information about books, television shows, and movies and now has more than 18,000 reviews that are great for parents or teachers. I find these handy when I am looking for a book to read to students or for a particular app for the iPad cart. The reviews provide clear, concise information about the age-appropriateness of the media and even summaries in the case of books, TV shows, and movies so that you know exactly what you are recommending.  It is so much better than reading the back of a book or video and trying to make an educated guess.

2. Graphite - Curriculum Resources
This past summer Common Sense Media launched Graphite, a new service for teachers focused on rating games, apps, website, and digital curricula for its use as a learning tool.  Along with reviews by the Common Sense Media editors, the site also contains insight from classroom teachers on the best ways for using these tools with your students. The video below provides a nice overview of Graphite.

3. Digital Literacy & Citizenship Curriculum
Yes, Common Sense Media is the digital citizenship curriculum we have selected as a school and one of the key pieces the Student Technology Skills Committee of the Tech Task Force is using to develop grade level technology standards and lessons for all of our students.  However, it is a great resource you can and should use right now.  If you have not checked out the Scope and Sequence take a look.  You will find quite a few useful lessons that tie nicely into your grade level, especially when you are introducing new digital tools (Schoology, Edmodo, YouTube, Google Apps, etc.) to your students.  All of the lessons are fully customizable and can be easily integrated into your current units.

So whether you are looking for a book, website, or digital citizenship lesson spend a few minutes checking out Common Sense Media.  It is a free resource full of great information to make finding high-quality resources much easier.


Friday, October 11, 2013

CapCUE at Natomas Charter

Two weeks ago Natomas Charter hosted over 200 educators from all over Northern California for the first annual CapCUE Tech Fest.  With sessions ranging from Digital Literacy with Blogging to Using High Tech Tools to Minecraft in the Classroom the conference consisted of more than 45 diverse workshops.  You can find a listing of all of the workshops often with links to session materials by clicking on this page.

Since the event occurred at Natomas Charter School, it was also a great opportunity to showcase the hard work, vision, and innovative teaching you and your students have pioneered. Eleven of our colleagues presented at the conference including Josh Landry, Elise Wallace, Cary Ziereberg, Jeanne Feeney, Jennifer Music, Karisa Bibayoff, Jennifer Kloczko, Kirsten Spall, Joshua Senge, and Juile Torres. By the end of the day attendees were so impressed with our campus and staff that many of them asked if we had any openings.

If you missed the CapCUE Tech Fest have no fear, the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium recorded all of the sessions that occurred in the Library Media Center and the opening keynote.  The videos are posted below in chronological order from when they occurred during the conference and will also be airing on channels 15 and 16 in Sacramento county.

The CapCUE Tech Fest will be returning to Natomas Charter next year, so make sure to keep the final Saturday in September open.


Opening Keynote - Creating the Schools Our Students Need
Joe Wood

Start Up to Advanced - Google Apps for Education
Tyler Johnstone
Teacher, Folsom Middle School

Elementary Flipped Teaching - Using the Cycle of Learning to Innovate CCSS Instruction
Lisa Highfill
Instructional Technology Coach, Pleasanton Unified School District

Students Craft their Own Learning with Minecraft EDU
Diane Main
Assistant Director of Instructional Technology 9-12, The Harker School

Google Forms: May the Forms Be with You
Will Kimbley
Instructional Technology Consultant, Tulare County Office of Education

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Middle School Multigenre Autobiographies

Oh my goodness!  How can it already be the second week of October and yet I haven't posted any EdTech News since the end of July?  It must be the busiest time of the year - Back to School season. Now that we all have a chance to collectively take a deep breath it is time to share all of the exciting instructional technology stories occurring on campus.  To kick us off I thought I share a beginning-of-the-year project that had its genesis during this year's NCS Summer Tech Camp - middle school multigenre autobiographies.

After reading the William Kist article, New Literacies and the Common Core, Cary Zierenberg and Elise Wallace were inspired by Kist's Mulitgenre Autobiography project for preservice teachers and decided to develop their own version for middle school students in Leading Edge and PFAA.  Using questions, such as "What was your favorite movie as child?", "What was your first favorite song?", and "What was the first book you read cover-to-cover?" they took students on a journey cataloging the various types of text that had shaped their literate lives.  The project had three main goals -
  • Have students read and analyze text in its many forms (print, multimedia, audio, graphics);
  • Lay the groundwork for a future conversations about the essential features of genre (audience, purpose, form, content);
  • Build classroom community.
Students could choose the digital medium in which they wanted to publish and many chose videos posted to YouTube or Prezis, but some chose more unique tools such as Padlet.  Below are links to few of the student and even teacher projects where the teachers "wrote along side" their students.
While this project occurred a few weeks ago, Elise and Cary have already noticed differences in the way this year's students are starting to analyze text.  For example, Elise has moved into her next unit on Progress and while in the past her students often treated the video clips as entertaining bits of multimedia, this year she is finding that the class discussions (face-to-face and online) are much richer with students naturally engaging in close reading and deeper analysis.

When you have a moment take a look at the student and teacher examples.  This project is a great example of how we meet the demands of Common Core by creating a culture of literacy that gets students to value, deeply analyze, and create all forms of text.  Or as Rick Gott said during the Summer Tech Camp, "All of us teach reading and writing, including me in my film class."


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Restoring Your Computer

Welcome back to school and the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year!

Over the summer the IT department has been working hard on refreshing your computers and upgrading components of our network.  Below you will find some tips and tricks when you return to your computer for the first time. This information can also be found on this Google Doc which has been printed out and placed inside of your laptop or on your iMac.

Logging In

The system we use for logging into computers (Active Directory) and Google Apps EDU are now linked together.  When you log into your computer for the first time try the following steps.
  • Step 1 - Use your computer login account information from last year (ex: jsmith, followed by the password you used last year).  
  • Step 2 - If that does not work try using 2bchanged as the password.  If you use 2bchanged you will be prompted to change your password.  This change will also update your email password, so here is a helpful hint - use the same password you use for your Google Account.
If Step 1 worked for you and you would like to change your password so that it matches your Google Account follow these steps to update your account.  If you have a laptop please make sure you are connected to the NCS network before doing this.
  1. Go to the Apple Icon
  2. Choose System Preferences
  3. Select Users and Groups
  4. In the window that opens click Change Password and follow the steps in the menu.

Configuring Your Computer - Bookmarks & Drive
This video tutorial explains how to restore your bookmarks and files you backed up via Google Drive.

Restore Media Files from an External Hard Drive (Optional)
This video tutorial covers how to restore your media files (movies, music, and photos) from an external drive.

As always, please let anyone on the IT Team know if you have any questions.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Backing Up Your Data with Google Drive

This summer the IT team will be reimaging all of the teacher computers.  During this process your computer will be upgraded to the latest operating system and have software updates installed including new versions Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop. The reimaging process wipes all data from your computer, so backing up your data is a critical part of this process and Google Drive is great resource for making this happen.

You may have used USB thumb drives or external hard drives to backup your data in previous school years.  However, a handy online method for backing up and organizing your files is through the use of the Google Drive Folder.  This application has been installed on your computer and can be found in the Applications folder on a Mac or the Programs folder on a Windows computer.  Once the sync folder is installed you can easily drag files to the Google Drive folder on your computer and the files will be automatically added to your online Google Drive storage space.  Since the files are in Google Drive they can be accessed from any computer with Internet access.  The tutorial below will show you how to use the Google Drive folder.

Currently, Google Drive provides 5Gb of free online storage and is useful tool for storing Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and PDF files.  Any files you add to Google Drive through the sync folder will not be converted and can be accessed from any computer with Internet access.  If you would like to work from home over the summer using your personal computer you can install the Google Drive folder on that computer and easily access, edit, and save all of your files.  When you return to school in August you will only need to log back into the Google Drive folder on your teacher computer and all of your files will sync to that computer.

While the Google Drive folder is a phenomenal tool, there is one situation where you might still find a thumb drive or hard drive useful.  If you have numerous photos and videos your Google Drive folder might fill up quickly.  Should this be the case then simply save those files to an external hard drive or thumb drive.

If you have any questions regarding how to back up your data for the summer reimaging project please let one of the IT team members know.  We will also be reviewing the use of Google Drive at our next few weekly professional development meetings.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Connecting Educators via Twitter

Throughout the past year Twitter has been mentioned a few different times on this blog.  For example, Jeanne and Kirsten have both described projects where Twitter provided their students an authentic audience.  Twitter can also be used as a tool for your own professional development by connecting you with like-minded educators.

I have actually been a Twitter user since July 2007, but contrary to popular assumptions I do not spend all day on Twitter.  Actually, I probably only average a few times each week and usually I am just quickly posting a resource for others.  For me Twitter is simply a tool for sharing resources and connecting with educators across the globe who share similar interests. I do this through Twitter chats and conference hashtags.

Twitter Chats - Twitter chats are when groups of individuals come together at a scheduled time to discuss a topic through Twitter.  Someone moderates the chat by posting questions with a specific hashtag and participants respond using the same hashtag.  For example, Sunday nights from 8-9pm California educators come together to discuss various topics using the hashtag #caedchat. The conversation that occurs looks like the following.
Moderator: Q1: What tools do you use for hooking students into books? #caedchat
Participant: A1: Google Lit Trips! Check it out http://www.googlelittrips.org/ #caedchat
Most Twitter chats have four to six questions and take place over the course of an hour.  To participate in a chat all you need to do have a Twitter account and follow the chat's hashtag during the scheduled time via a tool, such as the TweetDeck app for Chrome.  Often a link to the complete transcript of the conversation will be posted at the end of the chat.  There are Twitter chats for nearly every type of educational group you can imagine, such as #1stchat (chat for 1st grade teachers), #mathchat (chat for math teachers), #engchat (chat for English teachers), and #artsed (chat for arts in education).  A dynamic and complete list of most educational chats along with dates and times has been curated by two Pennsyvlania educators. Still confused?  This video does a pretty good job explaining Twitter chats by discussing California Ed Chat.  Check it out.

Conference Hashtags - The second way I use Twitter is through conference hashtags.  This works nearly the same way as a Twitter chat, but takes place over the course of a longer period of time - usually a few weeks before, during, and after the conference.  For example, at CUE this year everyone posted valuable resources they learned at the event with the hashtag #cue13.  This summer at ISTE people will do the same thing with the #iste13 hashtag.  If you are lucky enough to attend the event in person these hashtags are handy for finding the good sessions and connecting with people in person.  However, if you are attending the event virtually the hashtags are useful for finding helpful materials.

So contrary to popular belief Twitter is for more than posting images of what you ate for breakfast.  It is a great tool for connecting with other educators and developing your own collection of instructional tools and resources.  To get started simply complete these three steps
  1. Create a Twitter account and follow me
  2. Install the TweetDeck app for Chrome
  3. Select a Twitter chat from this list to check out.  Note: This Sunday's #caedchat is focused on game-based learning and might be a great one to start with.
Finally, next Thursday's after school workshop (5/2 3:15-5:15pm) will focus on using Twitter and Google+ to  develop your own professional learning network.  If any of this post sounds interesting to you simply create a Twitter account and join us.


Photo: Twitter Bird Sketch by shawncampbell on Flickr

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Sometimes you want to show a YouTube video in class or post it on your webpage, but you find that the advertisement that pops up before the video plays or related videos on the YouTube page contain questionable or distracting content.  This tends to happen when the video you are playing is not part of YouTube's Education category, such as a clip from the History Channel or CNN.

In the past the only way to navigate around this problem was to download the video with a tool like Keepvid.  However, earlier today Matt Spiva directed us to another handy resource - SafeShare.tv.

SafeShare.tv is a website that strips out advertising and related videos from YouTube content without having to download the video.  To use SafeShare.tv you just need to copy and paste the URL of the video you want to show from YouTube and SafeShare will redirect you to a page with the same video minus the advertising and related videos.  For example, below are two videos from ABC News

Take a moment and bookmark this resource.  You will probably find it handy in the future and thanks to Matt for finding it for the rest of us!


Monday, April 22, 2013

iPods Can Help Us Write???

YES, they can! I was going to use this for my Area 3 Writing Project demonstration, but I am too excited about it to keep it to myself. It is still a work in progress, but I love how it is turning out so far!

My students can write. They can write a topic sentence followed by 3 detail sentences and 3 supporting detail sentences...and last but not least, the conclusion sentence. BUT...details. Those minute details that can make such a difference when a person reads the paper. It is not unusual for the primary students to forget those details. I use to teach a direct lesson on just writing a detailed sentence - stressing the importance of how details can make a difference. I followed it up with a modelled writing where I would write with lots of detail on a topic. Still, it just was not sinking in for my firsties. THEN...I was sitting in a ELA Cadre meeting. The Cadre meeting consists of teachers from elementary to high school. A fabulous English teacher named Kirsten Spall was talking about how she was wanting to incorporate technology to help her high school students with the editing process. Ding! Ding! That is when the lightbulb went off, and I knew Kirsten had given me a great idea. So much of the ideas and inspiration I get come from other teachers. So, using the inspiration Kirsten gave me, I thought about how I could incorporate the use of the iPod Touch and writing with my firsties. Here it goes...

For the past month or so, we have been conducting quite a few science experiments. Typically, I would break the kids up into small groups (between 4-5 students per group). Each group would have one iPod Touch to share. They assign a videographer and the other group members are in charge of explaining and conducting the experiment. Using the video app on the iPod, the group records their experiment. I have posted some of their experiments in previous posts on my class blog: Live, Love, Laugh, and Learn In 1st Grade! Here is one of our videos on the Rainbow Experiment:

After recording their videos, the groups sit on the rug and replay their video. Then, each student goes back to his/her desk and starts to write down the "How-To" or explanation of the experiment. They always have a chart with the key words to refer to for spelling. Once they have written out their explanation, this is where it typically stops. They usually did not "see" the areas where their writing needed more explanation or detail. BUT NOT anymore!!! Now, I have the students go back and view the video again. The second viewing of the video has done so much to help them realize how important details are. YAHOO!!! Without any prompting from me, the students are able to revise their work. Writing with detail has improved. I am a happy happy teacher. :-)

Now, I want to see how I can transfer this to writing in the other content areas. From their own "Ah-ha!" moments during science, some of my students are able to see the connection of the importance of details. My next mission is to find a way to carry it out into math...probably with their written explanation for math problems. With the shift to the Common Core Standards and the push for our kids to write and explain their thinking, I believe the iPod can help us make that transition a little smoother, more engaging, and definitely more fun!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What the Flip?

When I first heard the term “flipping the classroom,” I thought it was a magical pedagogical phenomenon. I asked myself, “What does this term mean? What does this look like in the classroom? Am I the only teacher who doesn’t know about this magical flipping thing?” So, a year ago, I set out to uncover the mystery of flipping the classroom.  In a nutshell, the information I found at the time involved teachers using videos as homework and class time as review to delve further into student understanding. Over the course of the school year, I have heard many teachers inquire about flipping their classrooms and wanting information about it.  Often, their questions seems like they are asking for a magical, secret formula that will transform their teaching overnight. I have often had the impression that some people think that learning how to flip your classroom is akin to going behind the gates of Willy Wonka’s factory. Oh, how I wish for such a magical formula.

In my quest for this magic formula, I attended a few educational technology conference sessions about flipped classrooms. I was sure to come up with the exact recipe for success to transform my teaching. One particular session at the Annual CUE conference provided the epiphany I was seeking. The session was by Ramsey Musallam who is well known for his innovative way of using flipped teaching in his chemistry classes. I went into the session expecting a magical formula and came out without one. Sounds bad, right? But, it was actually beyond amazing. Through his session and classroom examples, I learned that there is no one formula for success with flipping your classroom. It is really a mindset—one where your goal is how to get your students to think for themselves. His session made me realize that I was bored with my own teaching and if I was bored the kids must be bored. I felt free to try something totally different. Even with Ramsay’s phrase of “discovery is messy,” I was undaunted.

I returned from CUE and switched up my science teaching. Instead of my formulaic notes, hands on labs and then a test, I flipped it around. We were beginning our study of water and erosion so I gave each group a tub of sand and pebbles and we went outside and they “played” with sand. Not exactly. I told them to build a mountain and pour water on it and watch happened. They did this over and over again and they were transformed back into the toddlers they once were. I heard “oohs” and “look at that” and “let’s see what happens” as they all got messy with sand and discovery. I didn’t have to directly instruct them on what happens to water as it moves over land since they saw it first hand.

Over the next two days, I had them create a Comic Life comic about a leaf or a twig’s journey down a river to the ocean. Over two days, every student was engaged in telling the story of what their twig or leaf observed as it moved down river to the ocean. They found pictures to match their text and told the story in the first person as if they were a really smart twig or leaf. As they worked I was able to walk around and read their comics and assess their understanding. They were proud and excited to discuss their journey. In three days, we accomplished a much deeper level of thinking and creating than we normally would have with my traditional instruction.  So, is this “flipping the classroom” or is it just a matter of semantics? For me, flipping the classroom means the freedom to change things up to increase student engagement.

Since that lesson, I have continued to front-load student exploration of concepts and get messy with discovery. All of this has made me think more of my own parents’ education and the schooling that happened in the one-room schoolhouses of long ago. I thought about how in my parents’ schooling, especially through 8th grade, they never had homework. Their homework was usually household chores and playing outside. Both of my parents are smart, resourceful, and great critical thinkers. They didn’t have PowerPoint notes or YouTube videos to teach them. Instead, they used the world around them in their neighborhood to extend their learning. When I was a child, I remember going to my mom’s childhood home in the summers and making mud pies and playing in the dirt for hours just like my mom had as a child. I was learning about soil and erosion the same way she had. I was just being a kid and kids are natural explorers of the world around them. Why don’t I tap into that more? I have begun to question whether that worksheet homework is a valid replacement to playing and creating.

So, even though I wish I could say there’s a magical method called “flipping your classroom” that makes your teaching life fabulous, it simply isn’t true. The truth is that you are free to change how you do things, especially at our charter school. Maybe it involves assigning a brief video for homework to then discuss in class or maybe it involves front-loading a lab or conceptual discussion. Regardless of the semantics, flipping your classroom really translates to flipping your own way of thinking about your teaching.

Feel free to flip it. It’s fun.

Jeanne Feeney

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Publishing for an Authentic Audience - Twitter & the World!

This semester my Technology class had the opportunity to work with the California Emergency Management Agency's (CalEMA) Crisis Communications and Public Affairs Department to create emergency preparedness videos. We were lucky to have their media specialist, Brad Alexander, come out and do a presentation on the importance of emergency preparedness and what CalEMA does in emergencies. Brad also worked with my students on how to shoot their videos with their audience in mind and to focus their ideas and their shots. He worked with each group to fine tune their ideas and encouraged them to be creative in their approach. His invaluable mentoring was inspiring and the students were so excited to get started on making their preparedness videos knowing their finished product would be posted on the CalEMA website for the public to view. The students self-selected their groups and emergency preparedness ideas: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, or fires. The students knew their audience was all Californians of any age and their goal was to teach the importance of being prepared for an emergency.

As the students began their planning, I asked NCS freshmen, Alex Greenlee, to come in to work with my students on planning their shots. My students were familiar with Alex’s brilliant filmmaking already and were so excited to have his help. Alex patiently worked with each group and helped them fine tune their ideas and gave them great advice on how to achieve their goals through effective shots. At any other school this type of mentoring would be impossible, but Alex’s teachers were happy to allow him out of class to mentor my students. His assistance was beneficial to my students but also to him. He is a great teacher and gave my students advice that I could not give.

With the pre-planning done, the scriptwriting began. The students all automatically used Google Docs to collaborate on their “screenplay” for their video. They carefully planned out their shots and what they would say as well as their voiceovers. They worked on this outside of class as well so they could begin filming. Most filming was done outside of class after school and on the weekends and the students all used their own devices. Editing was all done on our classroom computers. Many students came in before school and at lunch to record their voiceovers for their movies. Once the videos were done and uploaded to youtube.com, all classes viewed them and scored them on a Google form. After viewing them, a few groups re-did some of their scenes to make them more audible. We submitted our videos to Brad at CalEMA for their review.

This past week during my 3rd period class I received a tweet from CalEMA about one of the videos:

This tweet was about a fire preparedness video that two of my 3rd period students had made. These two students happened to be very quiet and shy and so I quietly went over with the tweet open on my phone and shared it with each of them. Their smiles were ear to ear and they were glowing! These two had gone to the trouble of re-working their audio after viewing their video in class and realized it needed to be clearer. They never complained or asked for extra time or help. So when they saw that their video was being tweeted about, they knew their hard work had paid off. Thousands of people will see their video because of this tweet! I was thrilled for them since I knew their creative fire preparedness movie would help everyone.

As a teacher, I always enjoy watching my students create engaging videos whatever the educational content. This year, the part that motivated my students even more was having an authentic audience to publish their videos to. Our emergency preparedness video project was a good example of real world learning, mentoring, collaboration, problem solving and creating media for a wider audience. Thanks to everyone involved, it was a huge success! You can view the videos here:
Enjoy and always be prepared!

Jeanne Feeney