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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Share the Love 3-Act & supporting language in a Kinder math task

I recently had the pleasure of co-teaching another one of Graham Fletcher's 3-Act math tasks ("Share the Love") with one of my Kinder colleagues, Michele von Richter, giving me a chance to refresh my Kindergarten skills, model open math inquiry in Kindergarten and do some more work around language supports in primary math instruction, because while we traditionally think of math as all numbers, there is a lot of language in mathematics that can become a barrier for mathematics students down the line if we do not support that language instruction early on.

In our district, we've been transitioning to a PLC culture and our focus this year has been on learning targets, how to write them and how to engage students with the targets. So to open our lesson, we started with a learning target. Reading the learning target was a good opportunity for students to practice reading math language, so I pointed to each word while Mrs. von Richter had students choral read the target with her. Then, we broke down the word "strategies" to make sure students understood what we were referring to. Our learning target was also helpful in making sure that the Kindergartners understood their final goal for this 3-Act, without taking away from the open middle (i.e. various paths to finding the answer) aspect of the task.

As I do with each 3-Act, I played the Act 1 video all the way through one time just to hook the kids in the task, and then played the video one more time, this time asking the students to pay attention to what they notice or observe. In order to ensure that students understood the meaning of "notice" or "observe", I sketched an icon for observe on our notice/wonder chart and used a TPR strategy (total physical response), pointing to my eyes each time I told them that they were going to make observations, then defined the word notice before pressing play on the video that second time. In order to support students' responses, I also provided them with speaking stems before our share out. We read each stem through together, whole class, and then asked for students to share out their notices.

Once we'd set up the problem ("If they share the bag, how many M&Ms will each girl get?"), our Act 2 (solving the problem) became a 2-parter. First, we had the students work on figuring out how many M&Ms were in the bag all together. Again, we used TPR to support academic vocabulary, holding our two hands open at our sides and then bringing them together and interlacing our fingers to represent parts to whole while saying the words "all together".

Typically, the next step is to make an estimate before working on the problem. I decided to have students estimate the number of M&Ms in the bag rather than estimate the number each girl would get (since the whole to parts/division aspect of the task was a bit more advanced and I wasn't sure what background students had with estimating). The estimation was a big challenging for some, even though, I discovered, they already do estimation tasks in class. Looking back, I wish I had brought in an actual Peanut M&Ms bag so students could see the size of the bag and the size of one M&M before asking them to make their estimations. Even so, the task provided good insight into each students' current understanding of numbers & their values, as many guessed pretty reasonably while some made guesses like 100 or 1000.

Next, it was time to figure out the actual number of M&Ms in the bag and Mrs. von Richter chose to display the graph depicting how many of each color M&M were in the bag, as she wanted her students to practice their addition skills. It also became a great opportunity for the Kindergartners to practice reading color words, and it was exciting to see the way that Mrs. von Richter used sign language to support students' reading. As we pointed to each color word on the chart, students used both the colors on the graph and the signing that they'd learned previously to remember, or decode, the color word. As a whole group we'd point to each bar on the graph, then point to the word, then say the word while signing it. The combination of kinesthetic, visual and textual clues provided students multiple access points to the language needed for this task.

We brainstormed some "strategies" whole class, and then students got started adding up all the M&Ms. It was exciting to see the different paths students took to total up the candy! While some Kindergartners decided to draw circles to represent each M&M, others redrew the graph making each bar look more like unifix cubes stacked together, while others jumped right into an addition algorithm. As is typical with 3-Act Math, the embedded differentiation of an open task allowed those students who were comfortable working on their own were able to move quickly through the task, giving Mrs. von Richter and I time to support others who needed extra guidance. Anyone that finished totaling the M&Ms accurately was then asked to move forward to determine (and prove) how many each girl would get if they shared the bag evenly... basically a sorting activity, but, also an extension opportunity to introduce division strategies (we didn't actually use the word division here, but rather, prompted students to visually represent their sort in ways that are very similar to early visual representations of division).

Friday, April 20, 2018

Reflecting on my first #SXSWEdu

This year I had the opportunity to attend my first SXSWEdu event in Austin, Texas. It was an experience unlike any other conference I've attended, bringing together educators and school administrators with industry professionals, scientists and engineers, researchers, media and policy change-makers to talk about issues and innovations in education.

"South by" sessions and panels went beyond traditional Ed Tech conference sessions on new tech tools and lesson ideas, to pushing education stakeholders to consider innovative models of learning; future technologies impacting education and the world of work; equity in education and access to information; and global issues in education. Below are snippets of my biggest take-aways from this year's event:

Artificial Intelligence & the Future of Work

One of the most impactful sessions that I attended was a  panel on artificial intelligence and it's impact on the future of work. The panel was made up of professionals from the artificial intelligence and machine learning field, as well as educators from both K-12 and higher ed. One of my biggest take-aways from this session had to do with children's and educator's understanding of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the implications in education and society at large. While many think of artificial intelligence (AI) in terms of Westworld-like androids, really we are already surrounded by AI technologies and many of us use them on a daily basis-- think Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Siri. Recently I heard a talk at another EdTech conference about a 6-year old who used her Amazon Echo to help her do her math homework ("Alexa, what's 6 + 5?") and while it was a powerful talk on how education needs to shift, what wasn't addressed was the fact that in using an AI device to do her homework, some of that 6-year old's data is being shared with Amazon.

And then there's machine learning. Our computers, phones and televisions already use machine learning to track our clicks and web history and use that information to suggest shows, songs, websites and ads that might be of interest to us. But if all we're seeing online is information that we're already interested in (based on Google's or Facebook's opinion, that is), what are we missing?  And how do we ensure that we're seeing or hearing a well-rounded account of stories?

While listening to the panel, I started wondering whether teachers and parents are having deeper conversations with children about AI and machine learning and how those things work. Likely, not, as the biggest barrier to having these conversations is our (educators and parents) own understanding of AI and machine learning.

Reflecting on Cultural Inclusion in the Classroom

Dr. Melissa Crum pushed us to question our "blind spots" and think about our life experiences and how they inform what we see. I was struck by her comment that " is important to think about what we don't think about..." when reflecting on cultural inclusion practices in our classrooms. I may more naturally think about the situations that relate directly to me when designing a culturally inclusive classroom, but do I remember to think about the situations that I don't relate to on a day to day basis? For example, in taking personal inventory of my identities, I may think of myself as a white, middle class female pretty naturally and therefore remember to take inventory of my students' races, genders and socio-economic situations and develop an inclusive environment around those needs. But rarely do I also think of myself as able-bodied (even though I am) and so I need to be more intentional in designing an inclusive environment for those that may not be able-bodied.

Crum commented that "...[someone else's] truth and my truth may not be the same, but they both still live here," and so both need to be considered in our interactions with each other. Our different truths will also impact the different stories we hold about people and our implicit bias. She reminded us that it is sometimes challenging to determine where some of our implicit biases come from, but that working through that process is the first step in ensuring that our implicit biases do not have a negative impact on our students.

The Question of Media Literacy

danah boyd's keynote on the question of media literacy left me feeling, well, uneasy... but also inspired, and was by far one of my favorite SXSWEdu experiences. Boyd commented that we are currently "in a culture war" in which "everyone thinks they are a part of the resistance", and questioned whether, in a society in which the right to free speech also means the right to amplified speech, should we really all have the right to be amplified?
She challenged educators to think about the way we are currently teaching media literacy and suggested that we're doing it all wrong, by dangerously creating a general distrust in students of the media and Internet sources. If we distrust all media, where will we find information that we can trust? Boyd suggested that the conversation shouldn't necessarily be about "fake news" as it's not fake to the people writing the story; the writers of "fake news" and propaganda know what they're doing. Perhaps media literacy instruction needs to focus on identifying our own "fault lines", understanding how media can be manipulated, and being able to critically analyze the information that we read and see in the media. It's not about "fact checking" (as there isn't just one truth or else who gets to decide that truth?) so much as it is about understanding various viewpoints and interpreting the facts.

Further reading/watching:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Awe & Wonder & the Aurora-- a middle school digital making & recycled art project

A couple of months ago, fellow TOSA (teacher on special assignment), Misty Kluesner, and I partnered with middle school art teacher, Kimiyo Cordero, to brainstorm a multimedia art project that involved cross-curricular instructional elements (specifically math, computer science and science) and would challenge our middle schoolers to create something beyond the scripted art projects that they were used to, to design a piece more contemporary, and would push their creative thinking.

Kimiyo's goal of designing around the theme of "awe and wonder" led us to design a project in which students learned about the Aurora Borealis and then designed abstract art from recycled materials, inspired by the aurora and including digital elements programmed by Raspberry Pi computers.

Our learning goals?

    • Students would be introduced to the following Art, Science, Math & CS standards:
      • CSTA 1B-A-5-4 Grade 3-5: Create programs that include sequences, events, loops and conditionals. (Most of our middle school students were working with very little to no programming background, so we centered our work around elementary standards to bring them up to speed.)
      • CSTA 1B-AP-12 Grade 3-5: Modify, remix, or incorporate portions of an existing program into one’s own work, to develop something new or add more advanced features
      • CSTA 2-AP-16 Grade 6-8: Systematically test and refine programs using a range of test cases.
      • MS PS1.A: Gases and liquids are made of molecules or inert atoms that are moving about relative to each other.
      • CCSSM.7.G.A.2: Draw geometric shapes with given conditions. 
      • VA:Cr2.1.8: Demonstrate willingness to experiment, innovate, and take risks to pursue ideas, forms, and meanings that emerge in the process of art-making or designing.
      • VA:Cr1.1.8: Document early stages of the creative process visually and/or verbally in traditional or new media.
      • VA:Cr2.1.7: Demonstrate persistence in developing skills with various materials, methods, and approaches in creating works of art or design.
      • VA:Cr1.2.7: Develop criteria to guide making a work of art or design to meet an identified goal.
      • VA:Cr1.1.7: Apply methods to overcome creative blocks.

First steps

    • Using the Google Expeditions VR kit, students learned about the Aurora and studied the colors and movement in the natural phenomena.
    • Kimiyo also taught the students about geometric and organic shapes, and how both show up in contemporary art.
    • Students needed to develop confidence in creating abstract art. Unfortunately, at this point in their school careers, our middle schoolers are so used to producing work that has been dictated for them step-by-step, that developing a unique piece of abstract art was incredibly challenging for them. Kimiyo and Misty did a lot of work around building creative confidence in students and encouraging them to not be afraid to just start creating and see what happens.
Smiling through struggles

Learning to code

    • I started the grade 7 and 8 students with a few introductory coding & physical computing lessons using the Python task cards I created based on the Raspberry Pi organization's free online lessons.
    • In the process, students also learned basic circuitry and started thinking about how to wire up LEDs and buttons into their physical works of art.
      • It was exciting to see some get really creative with their LEDs right away!
      • Others were annoyed at the initial coding lessons in their physical art class, but once they started lighting up LEDs and Sense HATs they became excited at the possibilities.


    So many cables!
    • Designing an abstract piece of art from scratch was a big struggle for most of the students. 

      • We (the teachers) ended up making examples of recycled art that represented the Aurora to us, with motion or light built in. The ideas started to flow once students saw a few examples of what was possible.
    • At the start of the project, we received a bit of push back from the students. Some didn't like coding at first, and others were willing to give it a try, but didn't see the purpose of learning to code in art class.
    • We had A LOT of technical difficulties during those first few coding lessons... it would have been easy for our middle school students to check out at that point, but they were patient while we spent days troubleshooting to solve our technical problems.
    • Figuring out how to attach the computers and related wiring to the art work; teachers and students both had to be creative in figuring out how to "hide" our electronic components inside or behind the art.
    • Creating a to-do list and project calendar
      Learning to create a plan
    • Timing! We spent about two months on the project, but even with that much time we noticed a lot of students unable to schedule their work plan independently. For that reason, we had to build in a mini-lesson on calendaring out project work, and asked the students to create a plan of action for the remainder of the project. 

Outcomes & Successes

  • We were excited to see an organic collaboration happen between students-- as some were ahead in their own work, they'd offer their help to others (without our prompting!) in class to make sure that all of their peers had a project completed in time for showcase.
    • Students discovered their unique talents throughout the project and offered those to others who needed support with that particular skill!
  • After all their hard work, most students were really proud of the productive struggle they
    endured and of their final projects. 
    • In those last 2 weeks before our art showcase, many put in optional extra work during their breaks and lunches in order to complete their art work! 
    • Several who struggled through learning to code verbally expressed their pride in themselves for working, learning something new and persevering to make it work... for anyone who teaches middle schoolers, you know this kind of unprompted declaration is a HUGE deal!
  • In the end, we organized an art showcase that took place the day before our December break, inviting parents, students, teachers and admin from across the district.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Playing to Learn-- Launching my Digital Makers Playground for educators

Last weekend I had the pleasure of presenting at the CUE NV Silver State Conference in Las Vegas. The CUE NV team did a fantastic job of organizing an diverse event that gave educators in attendance the opportunity to learn a variety of tech skills and teaching strategies from educators/presenters both local and international.

As a frequent presenter, I am continually looking for ways to differentiate content for my audience, who, just like our students, always come to my sessions with varying levels of experience with the content being presented. My session for the Silver State Conference was on digital making and I wanted to find a way to expose people to a selection of resources and tools appropriate for all levels of experience.

My solution-- the Digital Makers Playground!

It was the first time that I'd planned a session of this kind for a conference and I had no idea how it would all work out (especially me traveling to another state with all the equipment that I'd need), but the playground turned out to be a huge success!

I opened with a short overview of what digital making is and what types of tools are out there for digital making. Then I provided a quick description of the tools that I brought along for the playground (Scratch, Makey Makey, Micro:bit, Raspberry Pi) and set participants free to explore at their own pace. I set up my presentation in a hyperslides format, so that those interested could look at lesson examples and read about/watch videos on specific tools. I also brought along activity cards that I've created to help teachers and students get to know a new tool at their own pace. While teachers, played, I had a chance to walk around and answer questions or provide personalized instruction to attendees.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive! Especially because the thing about learning digital making is that the best way to learn the tools is to just sit down and play. Teachers in my session said that even that little bit of playtime (my session was only an hour long) helped them get a better sense of the possibilities. And hopefully teachers also saw the possibilities in the learning format itself, and how we can use the "playground" structure to better differentiate or personalize instruction in our classrooms.

Session Resources 

(task cards are also found on the "STEAM &CS Resources" page of my blog)

Intro to MaKey MaKey task cards

Intro to Micro:bit with Javascript blocks or Python 3 task cards

Physical Computing on Raspberry Pi with Scratch or Python 3 task cards

*Yes, the CUE NV Silver State Tech Conference in Las Vegas did take place the same weekend as the tragic mass shooting on the Strip. I am thankful to report that all of our CUE NV friends, presenters and attendees made it home safe.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Reflecting on TOSAing in the 2016-17 Year & Looking Forward to This Year

Although the 2017-18 school year has already officially started for me, I did want to take a moment to first reflect on my work from last year. As I'm making plans for this school year, it helps to look back at last year's successes as well as areas in which I can improve my work with teachers, staff and students.

So first, the areas of success...

  1. I partnered with eight teachers last year to write project-based digital making & computer science lessons for their classes, in grades TK-5. Working with those teachers exposed both they and their colleagues to a form of making that most had not seen before, and built excitement for bringing more digital making and computer science into their general education classrooms.
  2. The "Math Revolution" as Jo Boaler calls it, has officially made it's way to CambellUSD. I hosted two 3-day long "21st Century Math" PDs early in the year and had unprecedented interest! Nearly 40 teachers signed up for the first workshop series and about 30 for the second...making these the largest math learning circles, by far, that I've ever held! We talked about everything from visual math tasks to inquiry-based learning, blended learning to student choice in math. And with follow-up coaching and co-planning embedded into both learning circles, I was able to watch math lessons evolving first hand last year. Number talks, Which One Doesn't Belong? and Estimation 180 were some of the most popular tasks to make their way into classrooms.
  3. Breakout mania reached my district in the last month and a half of school after I facilitated a
    BreakoutEDU game for our Technology Teacher Leaders. After that game, I helped facilitate 16 Breakout games in classrooms in a matter of just 30 days! (And several of those teachers that I worked with then went on to co-facilitate with others on their staff in those last few weeks of school!). 16 games may not sound like a lot, but when you're resetting locks and prepping Breakout boxes 3x a week, it definitely feels like a lot! I was excited to see so many teachers and students get so excited about their game-based form of learning.
  4. 110 individual teachers-- wow! My colleagues definitely kept me pleasantly busy last school year and I am excited to be able to to say that in just my second year as a TOSA, I was able to learn and collaborate with so many talented teachers in my district.

Next steps for this school year...

As I embark on my 3rd year TOSAing in CampbellUSD, I have a couple of goals for myself this year, based on the last 2 years of work:

  1. I am super passionate about expanding computer science education in my district, and with just 2 more classes to go to complete the Computer Science Authorization for my credential, one of my goals this year is to continue to grow CS instruction in CampbellUSD. I already have one unit in the works with a 4th grade teacher who reached out the first week of school, and I plan to get in touch with a couple more teachers in the coming weeks to see if they're interested in co-planning & demoing for their colleagues a fleshed out CS integrated plan this school year.
  2. Bring CodeClub to at least one of our schools. Unfortunately, bussing schedules tend to rule the world, but I'm hoping to find a way to schedule either a before school or after school CodeClub at one of our sites as a model for others sites. I also want to invite parents and teachers in to join the students at CodeClub so that they can learn more about computer science concepts hands-on and experience the math, science and ela connections in coding that helps some of our students understand those subject areas in ways they may not have before.
  3. Along with my CS goal, I also want to introduce more teachers to in my district to digital making. I've already included a couple of lessons into our new online personalized PD platform (via Alludo Learning) and, along with continuing to demo and co-teach digital making lessons in classrooms, I hope to plan a couple of in-person workshops for teachers to learn more about Raspberry Pi, Scratch, and more!
  4. Focus my support. I was so happy to work with so many amazing educators last year, but
    it's hard to follow up regularly with 110 people. The most impactful work happened during long term projects and collaboration with teachers. There were 2 classrooms last year in which I worked co-planning & co-teaching with teachers over a significant period of time-- those were the classrooms where we saw the most student growth. This year, I'd like to find 2-3 more teachers who want to partake in a similar support model.
I am excited about the possibilities this year brings, and can't wait to get started!