Monday, February 25, 2013

Nearpod in the Math Classroom

This week we have a guest post from Alicia Carter.  If after reading this you are interested in using NearPod please let me know.  We are looking into a small group of paid licenses.


One of the great challenges of the modern educator is in how to balance the use of technology and the content of their subject area. Our students are surrounded by a vast array of technology on a daily basis, technology that is an integral part of their lives. For many of us, our students are much more knowledgeable about the technology than we are! So how can we make use of these marvelous tools in a meaningful way that supports the curriculum? In PFAA this year, we are fortunate to have a cart of ipads that we can use in our classes. This is a tremendous opportunity to provide the students with exposure to technological tools!

This semester, I have been working with a new app called Nearpod. This application allows me to design an interactive presentation for the students and to “send it” out to the students’ devices. In my case, we are using the school ipads, but the program also works with phones and other mobile devices. I have experimented with using this program in both my sixth grade math classes and my Pre Algebra classes. At this point, we have used the app to review a chapter just before a test.

Here’s how it works! I open the program on my device and give the PIN number to the students. They use the PIN number to link to my device and then they are connected! Now, whatever I put on my screen is broadcasted out to all of the student devices. I control what they are looking at, and they can interact with the material, sending responses back to my device for me to see. In turn, I can select student responses that demonstrate a strategy I’d like to go over and display that on all of the students’ screens! There are also ways to place polls, videos, websites, and more in the presentations.

In the past, students have reviewed and done test prep by completing a series of practice problems in the book. The Nearpod lessons have been an incredibly effective tool in helping my students review material and prepare for their tests. They are more engaged and on task, interacting with the material, asking each other questions, and staying focused on the problems. Also, it is very easy for me to quickly and easily see which students are understanding and which are not simply by looking at the screen and the student responses. After completing the first review day using Nearpod, I asked the students which they preferred: doing the homework assignment from the book, or using the interactive app. They overwhelmingly responded that the interactive app was very helpful in preparing them for the test and that they felt more confident with the material as a result.

I am looking forward to seeing how this marvelous tool can be implemented moving ahead, perhaps even in the design of interactive lectures!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Connecting Standards Through Student Projects

A few weeks ago I walked into Jeanne Feeney's technology classroom and saw the following scene.

No...those are marionette strings.

Using Lego Super Heroes MovieMaker, Google Drive, and iMovie Jeanne's class developed their own digital media and literacy skills while also creating videos with an important social message.

For this project the students were studying a video genre called stop-motion animation where creators produce videos by snapping images one frame at a time.  Between frames they move the characters arms, legs, or heads and edit them together with audio to create a short video.  This type of production really forces students to slow down and think about the narrative they are constructing image by image.  Cartoon animators use a very similar process.

In the past, stop-motion videos have been challenging to create because the process required each group to have a digital camera, a tripod, and the ability to painstakingly line up shots.  I tried it once in my own classroom and thought, "I will never do this again!" It took forever! However, today many of our students come to school with devices that include a camera.  With the addition of a free app like Lego MovieMaker that helps you line up shots by creating shadows of the previous image on your screen these devices become great stop-motion tools that speed up the process.

The Lego MovieMaker app does have one downside - users cannot add their own audio narrations.  However, if students transfer the video from their mobile devices to a computer using the Google Drive app they can add narrations using iMovie.  This is exactly what Jeanne's students did.  Working in groups of 2-3 students they created the video on a mobile device using Lego MovieMaker, transfered the file with the Google Drive app, and then brought the footage into iMovie to add their own narrations.  Along the way they also created storyboards, wrote scripts, and rehearsed their spoken parts multiple times.

From a standards or learning goals perspective this unit is quite interesting.  In one series of lessons that are part of a technology elective, students are demonstrating the Natomas Charter School ESLRs while also developing multiple content-area, technology, and life-long skills.

  • Students created narrative text with relevant descriptive details and well-structured event sequences (CCSS Writing 6.3).
  • Students produced multiple forms of text in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience (CCSS Writing 6.4).
  • Students planned, revised, edited, re-wrote, and tried new approaches (CCSS Writing 6.5).
  • Students used technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as interact and collaborate with others (CCSS Writing 6.6).
  • Students included multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays (CCSS Speaking & Listening 6.5).
  • Students applied existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products or processes (ISTE NETs 1a).
  • Students created original works as means of personal or group expression (ISTE NETs 1b).
  • Students interacted, collaborated, and published with peers...employing a variety of digital environments (ISTE NETs 2a).
  • Students planned and managed activities to develop a solution or complete a project (ISTE NETs 4b).
  • Students troubleshot systems and applications (ISTE NETs 6b) and transfered current knowledge to learning of new technologies (ISTE NETs 6d).
These are just some of the connections I can make as an outsider observing the unit.  However, this project demonstrates how with some thoughtful planning each of us can easily construct (or digitally make over) units where students develop technology, digital literacy, and life-long learning skills while also building content knowledge and demonstrating the Natomas Charter School ESLRs.  

As you begin planning for next year consider reading through the posts on this blog and the NCS Professional Development Portal to generate ideas for how you can create similar connections in your own units.  I am always happy to sit down and brainstorm with you as well.  Just let me know when you want to meet.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Minecraft in the classroom

Hold up! An article about the popular online game Minecraft in a portal for education??! Yes! It is common knowledge that games are a great way to engage students, and Minecraft is no exception. It can be used in the classroom in many different ways to help students use their knowledge in a practical way. It might look like a stretch, but Minecraft actually is a wonderful platform to achieve several standards of our charter, such as active real-life learning, technology emphasis, differential academic plans, and even high academic expectations!

Many educators have already used Minecraft in their classroom to make their units be both more concrete and dynamic. Here is a (small!) selection of videos showing what has been done with Minecraft in some content classes, but it can be used for cross-disciplinary units as well: 

Social studies: house architecture in different societies, Ancient Egypt
Sciences: environmental issues, gravity and atmosphere
ELA: literacy (esp. for struggling readers), creating literary worlds

Language acquisition: oral skills
NCS school culture: digital citizenship, students taking charge of their own learning,

Minecraft is even easily picked up by the youngest students, as shown by this blog post about a 1st and 2nd grade teacher: So if you are interested in using Minecraft in your classes, let Joe Wood or me know! 

I will finish with this testimony from two Young Adult Librarians in Connecticut explaining how they used Minecraft in their libraries and what they saw teens learn (bold is mine). Even if the setting was not exactly educational, you will see that their teens showed a large variety of skills that we want to encourage in our students, including collaboration, imagination, leadership, critical thinking, planning and decision making, responsibility, restraint, integrity, social justice and conflict resolution.

"Minecraft Programs in the Library; if you build it they will come.
By Erica Gauquier and Jessica Schneider

What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is like a virtual and ongoing game of Legos. Players mine for necessary materials in order to thrive in the game. You simply move blocks and build upon them, gathering supplies as you go. [...] The game can get even more complicated if you are so inclined, allowing players to create their own modifications (mods), which leads to learning essential programming skills.
There is so much you can compare Minecraft to, and yet there is nothing quite like it. The basic need to hunt and gather is so primal and innate in humans that it just clicks with teens. The game is about survival and keeping watch over your property. That natural instinct to look after one's goods is not foreign to humans in everyday society. The critical thinking piece of the game is huge. Players are constantly faced with choices that need to be made. If you don't make good choices, it affects your chances for survival and affects your quality of life just the way it does in real life. Making good choices really is a constant struggle for adults and teens in their own lives on a daily basis.

Getting started with Minecraft in the library
While this was fun, we noticed that what the teens really wanted to do was play in a Minecraft world together. [...]
As with any society, there were, of course, problems. Some teens claimed their own corners of the world and refused to let others build there. Some teens actively "griefed" (a Minecraft term meaning destroyed or vandalized) other teens' creations. In this way the parallels between the Minecraft world and the real world are astounding, reflecting many of the social problems we face every day.
We witnessed amazing collaborations occurring among the players as well as an emerging sense of community and cooperation. Together, teens built a home base area on the server that included a library, a dock area, and a diving board among other things. [...] Teens in the room encourage each other to become more skilled within the game. They give advice when someone is stuck, and willingly share supplies and give directions when other players are lost or in need. They create signs throughout the world with helpful advice or instructions. [...]
We quickly realized we would need to recruit a group of mature and advanced teen Minecraft players to help us monitor the server. Since the players are the ones that know the most about the game, it just made sense that we should enlist their help to advise  other players, and report abuses. [...]
As it turned out, letting thirteen year olds become moderators on the Minecraft server didn't exactly go as we planned. We bestowed a certain amount of responsibility and dependability on the teens. While it worked at first and certainly gave them confidence, they are, after all, younger teens. When they get mad at each other in real life, they take to the Minecraft server, using their privileges to wreak havoc on each other's houses. Their wrongdoings were brought to justice eventually, in a Minecraft court of law. The teens themselves suggested violators stand trial in front of a mock jury of their peers. The trail took place in a Minecraft, which is only appropriate since that's where all of the griefing took place. This taught the teens that just like in real life, they were accountable for their actions and any infractions would ultimately have consequences.
Rather than kicking them off of the server and banning them for bad behavior, they stood trial, learned a lesson and were welcome back after a period of time. This is the way you would teach children in real life, using actions and consequences. Minecraft is just another platform for us to use as a teachable moment when the opportunity should present itself. [...]

Minecraft and Summer reading
[...] Since this past summer was also the 2012 Summer Olympics, we thought it would be a perfect way to combine a great summer theme and a group activity centered around Minecraft.
Before the idea was even fully formed we mentioned it to one of the teens that regularly came to the library to play. A week later he announced that he and two other friends had already begun building their own OlympicMinecraft area. [...]
Our three designers appointed themselves referees, monitoring each event, advising teens who got stuck and keeping everything running  smoothly. [...] The teens were really engaged and excited to participate. They rooted for each other and worked to help one another through each event. Without their help and interest in the game, this program could never have gone as smoothly as it did. This was further confirmation that by brining Minecraftinto our library we made the right choice.
Minecraft provices opportunities for amazing collaborative projects with low access barriers. Anyone that knows how to use a mouse and a keyboard can play the game. [...] The best part is this game has created a whole community of gamers who work to create amazing things together, helping each other regardless of where they live. [...]".

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Game Design Using Gamestar Mechanic

This year I introduced a new unit, Game Design, to my 7th and 8th grade students using a free online program called Gamestar Mechanic.  Gamestar Mechanic is designed to teach game design and systems thinking in a highly engaging and creative environment while also recognizing that the best games inlcude strong narratives. This unit was not only engaging and fun for the students but it tied directly to our pillars: Critical Thinking, Technical Savvy and Global Thinking.

 In Gamestar Mechanic, students get to play, design and share.  Students begin learning the basics of game design by playing through the first quest, Addison Joins the League. This quest begins with a narrative adventure shown in motion comics and mini-games.  As students play and fix games, they earn sprites that they can use to design games in their workshop.  All games are made using drag-and-drop tools, without having to program.  Then, they can share their games in Game Alley, a community where kids review and comment on each others' games. In Game Alley, kids can see how others are playing their games and read peer reviews and comments!

Their final project consisted of telling a story in the format of a game. Students used problem-solution essays they wrote in English as a basis for the scenario for their games.  After they they play-tested each others' games and provided feedback in Gamestar Mechanic, they published reflections about their games on my website.  Below are a few examples.

Take a moment to read their reflections.  Each one provides an example of some of the ways our students are applying problem solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy through the development of video games.  Next year we will build upon this knowledge by incorporating programming through the use of Scratch.

Aleena K - Period 3

"The game that I created represented the story of Samantha, a young Africa American orphan, who is bullied because of her race. The sprites in my game referred to the bullies in Samantha's life. The red blocks were the obstacles that hurt Samantha. For example, the students who made fun of her would be the obstacles that hurt her. My game represented the tough life that Samantha had and each level showed how Samantha grew over time. Samantha had a very challenging life which made it a bit challenging for me to make her story into a game. With all the problems Samantha had in her life, it was hard to choose which ones are the most important. And even after deciding the most important ones, I didn't know how to represent it in game format. I spent a lot of time thinking, but I finally found a way and I feel that it turned out great." 

Jessica- Period 3

"I thought of how dangerous the Japanese Tsunami was so I applied what I learned in Gamestar Mechanic and my imagination and put it on the game board. I had to think of the components used, which mechanics, spacing, goals, and rules. These are the five of the elemental designs that I have learned throughout the games from the website Gamestar Mechanic. As I was playing, each part has a new element or item that I can earn if I win the game and all of it's levels." 

Lauren- Period 4
"The game I created took place in and out doors and has many levels that get harder as the player is further into the levels. The game that I created was called War, and it was about Pènèlope, a 20 year old girl, who enlists in the army and is accepted. She is trained and then fights but gets captured, escapes and celebrates her arrival with people back home. The most challenging part of the design phase was deciding what background I was going to use, how I should place the different blocks, and how the level should look and feel. I was also limited on the types of blocks, avatars, and enemies so that made the process of making my ideas on paper come to life much more difficult than expected.

I wanted my levels to tell a story. The first level she tells her mom she joined the army, second level she goes through training, third level she goes through war, forth level she is captured, and the fifth level was when she celebrates her arrival with friends and family. Each of the backgrounds of each level were represented by the time of day and the level itself. One took place in the dark and that was to make it more 'challenging' if you were in the game.

In some levels I was trying to convey a mood such as scary or happy and enjoyable. I used the sharp red blocks for the creepy levels and used the grass and fluffy clouds for the happy games. The avatar in some levels were changed due to the platform or top down settings. One had a suit and the other was her without the suit. The enemies changed as well. In one level the enemies looked insane, some looked harmless, and in others they looked brutal and mean."

Jennifer Music
Leading Edge Technology Teacher