Search This Blog

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Creating Urban Wildlife Cameras with Raspberry Pi in 2nd grade

Our first full Raspberry Pi project with all of the 2nd graders was a success-- well, mainly in that most all of the 2nd graders loved learning how to use the Raspberry Pis and program LEDs and cameras. We were not as successful in getting our projects to work the way that we wanted to, but our students did learn yet again how to adapt when a project is turning out that way that you originally planned.

We launched the digital making project as a part of the ecosystems NGSS & ELA unit that we were working on, as a way of addressing CS standards as well as the NGSS standard that students make observations of plants and animals.

Before diving into making our wildlife cameras, my teaching partner, Terri Hughes, and I did a little background work with students to make sure that they had some understanding of the hardware that they were going to be working with. We read Hello Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer to each of our classes and discussed the difference between hardware and software. We also taught students computer-related vocabulary so they could speak accurately about their machines and the work we'd be doing (monitor, mouse, cursor, inputs, outputs, etc.).

Next, we brought all of the 2nd graders together and launched our digital making project with a  question. We reminded the students that we had watched lots of animal videos throughout our ecosystem unit, and that we noticed their interest in animals on our own campus--so we asked them, "how might we better observe urban wildlife in our own community?"

Before ever mentioning that we were going to make our own wildlife cameras, we had students practice their brainstorming skills by coming up with all the methods they could think of to make observations of nature on our school campus without disturbing that nature. When several started talking about cameras, it was at that point that Mrs. Hughes and I announced that we thought that sounded fun and that Mrs. Haughs had everything we needed to create and program our own wildlife cameras.

Day 1 of digital making involved getting students into teams of 3. I've found that groups larger than that don't tend to work well-- there's not enough for everyone to do.  I told students that we wanted the teams to be balanced, so that each team had a strong coder, editor and builder/electronics person (or, even if they weren't sure they were strong in an area, that at least it was a skill they were very interested in) and then had the students develop their own teams. They did a fantastic job of making the teams themselves, and took the process very seriously, pointing out to me who would be the "expert" in each skill on their team as I approved each team.

Next, we reviewed the parts of the computer that we'd learned with Hello Ruby as a whole group, and pointed out each of those parts on the Raspberry Pi. I asked students what was missing from our Raspberry Pi so that we could use it and they had to list off the other parts of hardware that we'd need (keyboard, mouse, monitor, power). Then we took turns, one person at a time from each team, picking up those materials from our computing corner until teams had everything that they needed to get started.

As for electronics components, I decided to use Pibrella HATs, motion sensors and PiCameras on this project. I put the Pibrella HATs on the Raspberry Pis ahead of time so students wouldn't have to learn that on day 1, and left PiCameras off for the first couple of lessons, while students learned how to setup the code that they needed in Scratch in order to program the Pibrella. The goal was to get the motion sensors up and running first, as I tend to struggle with these from time to time. I've found that they end up being way to sensitive or not working at all, and I wanted students to be able to get over this hurdle in the beginning and leave the "easier" stuff, like the Picamera, for last.

To help students learn how to program each element, I made a Pibrella-focused slide deck/activity card deck that we printed off for the groups. I like the "copy to learn" format for getting students started. With the printed card deck, groups could move as slowly or quickly as they wanted through the project and then customize as they learned how their program worked. This format helped teams worked more independently and try to solve their own problems while I circulated the room.

As I suspected, we ended up not able to get the motion sensors to work quite right, and as we didn't have much time for troubleshooting, we reviewed the term "prototype" and how sometimes in design we put things together as a sample of how the real thing might work, even if it's not exactly how we want the final product to look. Then, we learned to program buttons instead and by the end of the unit, every team was able to program their button to turn on at least 1 LED and take their picture.

In the end, one small set of students wanted to keep working on their project independently and so in their free time they recreated the camera project, adding a Makey Makey and copper tape for touch activation and trying to create some "camouflage" elements to the prototype so that we could more easily hide the cameras somewhere on campus (even color matching our school walls to the paint they used for camera cover).

Saturday, February 2, 2019

How do you teach a 2nd grader to own their own learning?

One of the goals that we had as a site upon opening CSI was to personalize learning by helping our students become more self-directed learners. The question is, and continues to be, how do you teach elementary-aged students to take ownership of their own learning?

When we talk about self-directed learners, we're not talking just about students being able to work independently, but also that they will take initiative in their own learning. Educator and writer, John Spencer, created a simple and concise visual for explaining self-directed (see below & read his blog post "Taking Choice Menus to the Next Level" for more info).

Courtesy of John Spencer

As an elementary school teacher, I fully believe that even our youngest students are capable of becoming self-directed learners. The trick is, how to get them to a place of making their own learning choices, and sticking with those choices when they get tough.

Our First Steps Toward Self-Directed

In my 2nd grade classroom, I've started a few routines to help scaffold the journey toward more self-directed learning. Most of my 2nd graders came to me this year ready to follow directions and complete the tasks offered to them. Asking them to make decisions for their own learning, however, was a bit trickier, and figuring out to support my students' journey towards self-directed learning has become a matter of trial and error. 
Here are some of the more successful strategies that I've used so far:

Learning Targets

This was actually a district initiative, put into place about two years ago as we began our PLC (professional learning communities) training with Solution Tree and as one of our schools became an EL School. I mention all of that mainly to say that I cannot take credit for the idea of learning targets, but I can say that the more that we use them in our day, the more powerful they become for helping students personalize their own learning path by giving them a clear target to achieve. 
The idea of learning targets is to begin each lesson with a statement of what essential skill the students should be able to accomplish by the end of that particular lesson. It is not the same as the standards, as those are typically what we hope for students to accomplish by the end of the school year. The learning target tells students what I want them to accomplish by the end of just that 1 lesson. We review our learning target before and after the lesson, breaking down its parts and defining important vocabulary, and ask students to self-reflect on their progress throughout. And we don't just use learning targets for academic skills, we also write them to help students focus on "soft skill" goals.

When students have a clear target in mind at the start of the lesson, it becomes easier for them to determine the path they'll need to take in order to reach that target. (Leaders of Their Own Learning is a great read for anyone wanting to learn more about this.) As students have become familiar with using learning targets, they even help me write the targets from time to time, now.

Executive Functioning Supports: Our "To-Do" Lists 

Executive functioning skills are so important for helping students to become self-directed learners in our classrooms. Directing their own learning requires some type of strategy for organizing and planning learning tasks, monitoring progress, and determining how they'll demonstrate that learning. 

One support I've put into place this year for my 2nd graders are our monthly to-do lists. Work in our class is made up of a variety of "must-do" work and choice work (using a version of the Cafe/Daily 5 models). Each time a new "must-do" is assigned, we add it to our to-do list. Weekly, we all take out our to-do lists as a class and review what work we've turned in and what we still have left to complete. It's not a perfect system yet, but it is helping quite a few of my young scholars learn how to balance their time between choice stuff and the required stuff.

Choice Boards

Wanting to find a structure that would allow us to better personalize instruction for the variety of needs in our classes, our 2nd-4th grade teams have adopted the Cafe/Daily 5 model as a way of providing student's choice in their learning, and for teachers to provide more small group instruction. Students love having choice during Cafe time and it also becomes a way to help students learn how to make choices that benefit their specific learning targets. 

Because Cafe time is about students learning to work independently for extended periods of time, some training (and ongoing practice) is needed up front on how to maintain focus during work time and on what students can do to help themselves when they get stuck. As suggested in the Cafe trainings, we spent the first several weeks timing our independence and regrouping as a whole class as soon as a few started to lose stamina. We used that whole group time review our progress, record our "stamina times" and refocus on our learning targets. 

We also spend a lot of time reviewing what resources students have in our learning suite to help themselves (instead of always defaulting to asking the teacher) and keep these clearly posted on our Cafe wall. As the year has progressed, students are able to work independently for longer and longer periods of time, and are becoming fairly adept at solving their own problems until I'm free for conferencing with them in a small group or one-on-one.

My Next Steps

While we still have a long way to go, it's exciting to see my young scholars inching their way closer to becoming the self-directed learners that we hope they will be by the end of their stay at CSI. Now that my students are showing more independence during their learning time, I want to take additional steps to allow them even more ownership of their learning, including independently designed "inquiry projects" and student designed learning paths. In the coming month, my hope is to start meeting with students one on one to conference about their growth so far this year, and to help them set their own goals for their learning moving forward. I've created a "Learning Goals" recording sheet where each student can track their current learning goals, their personal assessment plan, and their reflections. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Empathizing with the Enemy: 2nd graders use design thinking to try to empathize with a 'misunderstood' character

"How do you think the character feels?", I asked one of my 2nd graders as she worked on completing her empathy map for our latest design work.

"Mean, callous, cruel..." she replied, utilizing some of the latest vocabulary she had learned in our story.

"Okay, but I think that's really what we feel about the character. Usually people don't describe themselves as mean. So, looking at the character's actions, can we think about what might make the character do those mean things? I'm not a mean person, but sometimes I might do or say something that comes out mean if I'm feeling a certain way. Why do you think that is?"

As we worked on designing for "misunderstood characters" in Cinderella stories this week, it was fascinating to hear how students struggled to put themselves in someone else's shoes, especially when that person is the villain in the story. For 7-year olds, who are developmentally still growing out of their more egocentric mindsets, asking them to understand other people's mindsets and needs can already be challenging, so asking them to empathize with an enemy has been an even bigger stretch.

After reading several versions of Cinderella, I asked my students to choose a character to design for from one of two versions that they had access to in their reading curriculum-- Rough Face Girl or Yeh Shen. Their only constraint was that they were not allowed to choose the Cinderella character. Using templates adapted by my colleague, Kami Thordarson, each student recorded their "observations" of and "inferences" about the character before being asked to write a "needs statement" for that character.

Empathy map
Writing their needs statements was by far the most challenging for my 2nd graders, who always want to jump right into thinking about what they're going to make. In writing their needs statement we guided them to think about a list of verbs to describe what their character needed. Then they would choose one of those verbs and fill in the frame: (USER) needs to (VERB) because (INSIGHT). Initially, many wanted to write something along the lines of "step-mother needs a robot (because for some reason, all of the characters seemed to need a robot...) to do the chores for her". Pushing them to think beyond objects to actions took a lot of conversation and rewrites. However, both the students and I found that struggling through the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rewrites on the needs statements made this the most insightful part of the work that we did.

For some, the needs statements even became a way of communicating aspects of themselves that they don't often understand or share. One of my students, who often struggles with anxiety, wrote that her character needed to "let things go" more often in order to be happier, while another of my students, who has a sibling of his own, focused mainly on sibling rivalry between step-sister and the Cinderella character and how helping step-sister find a place where she might be able to feel noticed and important could solve her problem.

The experience of designing for a villain has also led to some powerful conversations related to the social-emotional learning that we've been focusing on in class. As we think about why our peers might act in mean or teasing or bullying ways sometimes, how can we think a little more deeply about why they acted that way? If a friend gets angry and lashes out as us, do we assume them to be a bad person or try to figure out what really made them act that way and perhaps even try to help? Instead of getting even or feuding with a friend or sibling, how can we assume best intentions and give second chances?

Moreover, developing empathy for others is also helping our 2nd graders learn to understand their own emotions, and how to take time to think about those emotions before they act. How will our actions effect others, and is that the influence that we want to have?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Just because election day's over, doesn't mean the conversation has to end in our classrooms

Just because election day is over, doesn't mean conversations about voting and civics with our students need to end!

With the midterm elections at the forefront of many of our minds this week, I decided to focus last Sunday's #caedchat on strategies and resources for teaching the election and government, and was lucky to have friend, former social studies teacher, podcast host and educator extraordinaire, Ryan O'Donnell, join me to co-moderate and offer his extensive repertoire of social studies pedagogy and resources to the conversation.

We had a great turnout of educators from all grade levels, who shared fantastic resources, strategies and insights to help other teachers get the conversation around the election and the voting process going in their own classrooms. The prevailing theme of the evening? All agreed that more needs to be done to teach students about our government and their role within it. And our chat participants had some great ideas for teaching civics not just in our history classes, but cross-curricularly in all grade levels and subject areas, including articles, lesson plans and protocols from iCivics, Newsela, and the NYTimes, just to name a few.

So to help us do that, below are a few of my own classroom resources for teaching government/election across the curriculum, as well as some of my favorite resources and teaching tips from Sunday evening's #CAedchat:

Introduction to Government hyperdoc for our 2nd graders  

Scratch Project with our 2nd graders: They wanted to create a voting app to help improve the vote counting process.

FYI-- slide deck is an ongoing work in progress based on what my students need as they work throught their project :)

Raspberry Pi voting Booth project-- breadboarding buttons & LEDs 

(created for grades 3-5)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"I don't want to get up in the morning!" -- Design Thinking for Developing Empathy & Community in our Primary-aged Learners

The first day of school at Campbell School of Innovation looked different than first days I've done in the past. Our focus at CSI is on cultivating design thinking mindsets and empathy in our young innovators, so we kicked off the school year in 2nd grade with a design thinking challenge. With the goal of getting students to start thinking about how they learn best, our essential question for the day one quickfire challenge was: "What does your ideal learning space look like?"

Our 1st design challenge was so hugely successful, my teaching partner (@thehughes2) and I were excited to launch our 2nd quickfire challenge last week with the second graders. Born of a "thorn" that came up numerous times during our closing circle meetings, students were this time tasked with the challenge: "How Might We Make it Easier for Our Buddy to Get Up in the Morning?"

First Steps:

Now that we're several weeks into school, students have already begun to make friends and connections, and Mrs. Hughes and I want to continue to push students to get to know everyone in our class a little better, so we started the challenge by partnering students up with others they may not normally socialize with. This also meant that we needed to take time to lead a mini-lesson on how to react kindly to being paired up with someone that they may not have chosen on their own (kind words, kind reactions, kind body/facial expressions)-- "yay!", "thanks" or a smile and a nod were reactions we practiced as students were partnered up (mostly) randomly.

We also introduced students to the idea of innovation, what it means to think like an innovator, what
design thinking is, and what the CSI design thinking model looks like. During these first two quickfire challenges, we focused mostly the empathy piece of the design thinking mindset, or SEEK in our CSI model. What does it mean to empathize? How can we seek to better understand our classmates and those in our community?

Interviewing a Partner:

Our quickfire challenge cycles involve empathy interviews (ask your buddy questions to get to know them better), ideation sketches, prototyping time and presenting to our partners. Before releasing students to work on the challenge, Mrs. Hughes and I acted out what an interview might look like, and what types of questions we might need to ask to learn about our partner's morning. On our first day of school challenge, we had students brainstorm potential interview questions whole class before connecting them with their partners.

After modeling how to interview, we gave students a simple template for recording their learning (based on a template I used at the training at Stanford) and gave them 3-5 minutes to take turns interviewing each other.

Ideating and Prototyping:

Students then took what they learned about their partners and quickly brainstormed their prototype ideas, and sketched and labeled those ideas on their recording sheets. We timed the process (about 5 minutes) to keep everyone on track and moving towards their final goal. After a quick "teacher check" of their designs and reasoning, we launched them into prototyping. We limited the number of materials students were allowed to use to 5 items to start (both for creating creative constraints, but also out of necessity-- we didn't want to run out of materials) and gave them only 25 minutes to put something together.


Before presenting their gifts, we asked our 2nd graders to record themselves in their Seesaw portfolios explaining their projects. It was a great way for us to check in again on their thinking, how well they listened to their partners, and for parents and families to hear how their children spent the day focusing on someone else's needs. As students presented to their partners, the smiles on their faces were priceless. Even more heartwarming was the fact that while many started the challenged bummed that they couldn't work with their friends, by the end they were running up to us asking us to
take pictures of them with their new buddy. We couldn't have asked for a better outcome!

Another success was watching some of my students who regularly do not want to read or write or speak for me in class, jump into to all of those tasks with enthusiasm when it was it was a part of a maker and design task.

These quickfire challenges have also provided great insight for me into which students in our classes need more support with executive functioning skills (like time mangement, organization), which students are struggling with perfectionist tendencies that hinder their ability to get projects done in a timely manner, and which of them are having a tough time thinking divergently or outside the box.