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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dive into the Unknown... Do something with your students that you know nothing about

Earlier this year, Al Gonzales, coach of coaches, shared a very powerful quote by Clinton Anderson (horse trainer extraordinaire) with me-- "Frustration begins where knowledge ends." This idea really
stuck with me because it explains a lot about the learning process-- not just adult learners, who I now
work with mainly, but all learners. When I think about my students, whether they be 5 years old or 40 years old, many get frustrated when they reach a point where they don't "get it" or don't know how to do something, or solve a problem, on their own.

For many, diving into the unknown can be a scary thing. What if it doesn't work? What happens if the students have a question I can't answer? What if it's a management nightmare? What if the students hate the lesson or activity?

These can be concerns for many teachers when trying to decide whether or not to try something in their classrooms that they've never tried before. And I understand the hesitations-- it can be scary to do something you don't feel confident in, and even more so when you decide to teach that tool or skill to others.

As a teacher, I don't tend to get nervous about trying something new. When I hear about an app that I think could be useful in instruction, I'll download it, maybe play around with it a couple of times and then jump right in with students. The first time I decided to do a baking project in class with my
students I had no idea what the outcome would be. I'm a decent baker... at home... in my kitchen... cooking by myself... but managing 6 small groups of students each working on their own batch of cookie dough in an elementary classroom... that's another story!

Did it go perfectly? Absolutely not. Was it messy? Yup. Even with several adult helpers in the room, it was mayhem. But the mayhem didn't bother me because the connections that my students made between math, chemistry and cooking-- and the degree of fun they were having learning!-- was far
more important to me.

So, why should you make it a point to try something new with your students that you may know nothing about?
  • You are modeling risk-taking with your students... and if you're willing to try something new, they will be, too! 
  • Model being a learner... tell your students (whether children or adult learners) that you don't know much about the app/tool/strategy/etc. but see the possibilities and want to learn with them.
  • Often, even if you don't know much about the topic or tool you're incorporating into the lesson, there is a student who will know something and can help. It is so empowering for students when they get to become the experts and show their peers and teachers something new!
  • Believe it or not, our students actually like to be challenged. And there's a big difference between a challenging word problem on a math worksheet that has no relevance to them and asking students to, say, fix the code on a video game to make the character turn the direction that I want them to turn. I may not be an expert in JavaScript, but if I pose the problem to my students I'd guarantee a number of them will already know some JavaScript and could team with others to solve them problem (and maybe learn a little about angles, algebra, and measurement in the mean time).
  • It might be fun! I'd bet that like me, some of you would get bored using the same lesson over and over again. And if I'm bored, my students are definitely bored! If nothing else, try
    something new just to make school fun. Students should want to come to school and want to learn and it's our job to create that experience for them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Use the Super Bowl to create engaging learning opportunities in the classroom!

It's official-- the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will play in this year's big Super Bowl 50
at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Are your students football fans? Then how about using this major event as a learning opportunity in the classroom!

Ad Analysis-- a look at the literary elements of Super Bowl commercials
184 million Americans tuned in to watch the Super Bowl last year, and more than 75% say that part of the entertainment of the event is seeing the Super Bowl commercials. Many Super Bowl commercials are available on YouTube and are a great resource for teaching storytelling, literary elements, themes, and persuasive writing.
(TIP-- don't forget to screen those commercials before showing them to your class... some might be too racy or inappropriate for students in K-8)

Create your own Super Bowl Commercial
With Super Bowl commercials one of the highlights of this yearly event, why not have students create their own! Student commercials can focus on advertising a historical event or place being studied in social studies, or an important object or artifact in literature being read in English class, or can help students practice their persuasive writing techniques. Students can also research the cost to make the average Super Bowl commercial and calculate (or estimate) how much money was spent total on Super Bowl advertising.

The Math Behind Levi's Stadium
There are a lot of numbers associated with Levi's Stadium-- number of seats, tons of steel, acres on which the stadium sits... Why not use those numbers to engage students in some math talks? The Levi's Stadium website has a whole page dedicated to Levi's by the Numbers! Students can create an infographic with all of the stadium stats that they find. My friend Ryan O'Donnell's infographic template ("By the Numbers" template) is a great way to get started!

Football Stats
Can we use math to predict which team will win the Super Bowl? Use data (found online) about the teams and players participating in the Super Bowl to calculate averages, percentages, and the probability of a win. Students can graph player data and poll each other to see who they think will win and why.

Football Helmet Engineering
Student building their helmet prototypes
Have students study the causes and effects of concussions using articles and videos found on sites like Newsela and PBS LearningMedia. Then have students use the engineering design process to design better football (or other sports) helmets and create prototypes of those helmets using recycled
materials and stuff found around the classroom/house. Students can test their prototypes on a fake head (cantaloupe melon works well and we tested by having the teacher or principal use a hammer on the helmet).

Design a Football Stadium
If students could design their own football stadium (or soccer stadium or concert hall... you could tweek this depending on student interest), how would they design it? Have students research more about current sports stadium designs, then use this design challenge to teach students a number of math skills (how much acreage would you need for the stadium and parking, how big does the stadium need to be to house a large group of people...). Students can draw their designs on graph paper or get techy and use programs like Google Draw or Google SketchUp to create blueprints or models of their stadiums (to scale or not). Try and find a local architect that can serve as an expert for students to interview to help with their project and learn more about building design!

You could also provide students with tasks that ask them to determine the amount of parking, or bathrooms, or entrances based on local building codes (current building codes are available to the public online--here's California's codes). An architect friend of mine provided me with two tasks that her company uses in their high school mentoring program. In one, students are asked to determine how much parking is needed for a stadium that seats X number of people based on local city codes. **If Santa Clara City Code requires 1 parking spot for every 4 seats in a stadium, how much parking, then, would Levi's Stadium require if the stadium seats 68,500 in general admission, 8,500 in club seating, and about 1,650 in the luxury suites?

Mapping Travel to the Super Bowl
Have students use a tool like MyMaps to map the distances that the teams will be travelling to the Super Bowl this year. Students can calculate the total distance traveled for each team to get to Santa Clara and then return home, or compare the distances that each team will travel to California. Students could also

Super Bowl's impact on Silicon Valley
With 1 million people expected to be in the Bay Area next week, residents of Silicon Valley are worried about the impact that this influx of people will have on our day-to-day lives (see the two articles from KQED & Wired Magazine linked below). Read the articles below (and the plethora of others on the Internet) with students and then have them ask questions about how the Super Bowl will affect the daily lives of Silicon Valley residents. Can you or the students create a learning task around the students' questions? Here are some example questions that might help guide learning opportunities:

-How will commuters need to adjust their travel routes and times to and from work? Can students use Google Maps or MyMaps to create create alternate travel routes for morning commuters?
-Most visitors will likely stay in popular San Francisco, but then how will they get to Santa Clara on game day and what time will they need to leave in order to arrive well before the coin drop?
-Google is donating shuttle service, but how many people will they be able to accomodate and what will the cost be?
-And how about parking??

Comparing Silicon Valley in 1985 to Silicon Valley in 2016
I found a really great article in the San Jose Mercury News that took at a look back at Super Bowl 1985 in Palo Alto, California and how different it was from the Super Bowl that will take place this year just down the road in Santa Clara. Students could use this article, and do their own research, to compare the Silicon Valley of 1985 to the Silicon Valley of today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

3 awesome apps by Adobe to try now!

Guess who's back...back again...
Well, I guess they were never really gone, but in the world of K-8, Adobe has been pretty non-existent over the course of the last, well... for a long time.

Adobe has been an industry leader in the professional world for years (my photographer dad uses Lightroom to clean up photos; clients I've worked for in my masters program used Captivate for course delivery; I learned about After Effects in my undergrad work as a film production major; and yes, as a design enthusiast, I choose to use Photoshop over other photo editing apps because it provides the best tools for detailed editing work). However, it seems as if Apple has had a stronghold on the world of media production in K-8 education. Adobe products have been the best for design work, but not the easiest to integrate into the average classroom setting. Imagine my 5th graders last year trying to use Photoshop to edit their photos for a collage project... Sorry, we don't have time to get good at Photoshop in a self-contained 5th grade classroom. We need something simple and powerful that students can learn quickly, so that the focus is on the demonstration of our learning, not having to figure out the tool.

But this year, I'm expecting Adobe to give other creation and storytelling programs a run for their money... With the release of apps like Voice, Slate, and Post in the last year, I am excited to get students creating!

Adobe, you have my attention.

  • Adobe Voice
    • Now available on both iPads AND iPhones, Adobe Voice is a storytelling app focused on using images and voice recordings to get your point across. Choose a theme and then start plugging in pictures, icons, and captions to tell a dynamic story. It's that simple. Although you can use text, the focus here is on oral storytelling-- hence the name. With the push of a button, users can record their voice and add background music to create a dynamic, clean-looking video, easily shareable via social media, email, or with a share link.
    • In the classroom:
      • Story retells
      • Explain thinking in math
      • Science lab reports
      • Biographies
      • Audiobook recordings
      • And so much more...
  • Adobe Post
    • Also iOS-exclusive, Adobe Post is a fantastic app for creating social graphics. The beautifully simplistic interface allows the user to choose a layout, choose an image, choose a color palette, and insert text. You can create a graphic from scratch or remix one made by Post. 
    • In the classroom:
      • Favorite quotes from a novel, or quotes that serve as evidence of a particular theme in the novel
      • Graphics of vocab words
      • Goal-setting graphic
      • Poetry writing
      • Presenting math tasks
      • Examples of science in our world
  • Adobe Slate
    • Web-based and available on iPads, Slate is another tool that uses images and text to tell visually stunning stories. String together photos, collages, text, links, and "glideshows" to create a brilliant, and sleek, story. There are no audio components-- you want to think like a photojournalist with Slate. When you finish your story, publish it to your account with the option to publish publicly or privately. You can share the final product on social media or using a share link. 
    • In the classroom:
      • Journal a field trip experience
      • Retell the history of a historical figure or event
      • Capture science in the world around us and explain the concepts we see
      • Document the steps that you use to complete a math problem... something as simple as screenshots with a text overlay can equal magic!
      • Write a story
      • Create a "scrapbook" of the year
      • Chronicle the journey through a PBL unit

The downsides of these amazing production tools?

  • Accounts required. I loathe accounts. This is not easy to set up for students under 13. I highly prefer apps that allow me to download, open, create, save to camera roll--account free. SO much easier for our K-8 kiddos. The work around-- I created one class sign in that all students use. (But teachers should definitely check with the tech directors in their district to make sure they are always in compliance with student-use rules.)
  • iOS only at this time. Crossing my fingers this will change soon! Lots of our schools are going Chromebooks, Adobe... we need Android and/or Chrome versions ASAP. And I'm sure Microsoft wouldn't mind an app or two either...