Monday, November 12, 2018

Minnetonka’s Coding Program for Every K-5 Student Now Assessed on Report Cards

Now in its fifth year, our Tonka<codes> program continues to teach every K-5 student in Minnetonka Public Schools about computer science fundamentals. In kindergarten, teachers use Bee Bots to help students learn the basics. Beginning in first grade, students use the lessons and curriculum on Code.org and work their way through self-paced lessons that teach them about coding and computer science. Students can work collaboratively to help one another figure out what can sometimes be quite complex skills. Code.org even incorporates lessons on pair programming to emphasize the skills for working together when coding. Coding helps our students become better problem solvers and think critically, in addition to teaching them important fundamental skills for their future. Unplugged lessons are taught at all grade levels, which are non tech-based whole group activities that teach students fundamentals of coding, sequencing, computer science and more. Because of our language immersion program, coding lessons are taught in the students’ instructional language (English, Chinese, or Spanish).

Last year Tonka<codes> lead teachers from each elementary school worked with media specialists and Tonka<code> lead Andrea Hoffmann to figure out how to assess students’ coding skills. They used Human Centered Design and small groups of teachers each analyzed the CSTA Standards for grade levels 1-5 and identified the standards that aligned with the Code.org curriculum. Beginning this year, teachers will assign a coding grade on the report card for students in grade 1-5. In Minnetonka, elementary students receive a B (Beginning), D (Developing), or S (Secure) as their letter grades. The fourth grade report card for coding is shown below. Students will receive a grade based upon their successful completion of Code.org lessons for both first and second semester. Lessons that meet the corresponding grade level standards have been identified and teachers follow a scope and sequence to ensure that students progress through the curriculum.

Semester 1:
Lessons 10-14, including unplugged lesson Dice Race
CSTA Standards:
1B-AP-08 - Compare and refine multiple algorithms for the same task and determine which is the most appropriate.
1B-AP-11 - Decompose (break down) problems into smaller, manageable subproblems to facilitate the program development process.

Semester 2:
Lessons 15-20, including unplugged lesson Songwriting
CSTA Standards:
1B-AP-08 - Compare and refine multiple algorithms for the same task and determine which is the most appropriate.
1B-AP-11 - Decompose (break down) problems into smaller, manageable subproblems to facilitate the program development process.
1B-AP-12 - Modify, remix or incorporate portions of an existing program into one's own work, to develop something new or add more advanced features.

This semester is the first time that teachers will formally identify students’ progress on our coding curriculum. In the past we have had teachers self-report progress teaching the curriculum, but not identified students’ achievement. Now we will be able to look at this data overall as a district and identify successes and points of struggle.

In addition to instruction by classroom teachers, Media Specialists teach the unplugged coding lessons for all students in grades 1-5 which are part of the Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship curriculum. First graders learn about going places safely and digital footprints. Second graders learn about cyberbullying. Third graders learn about being a good digital citizen. Fourth graders learn about private and personal information. Fifth graders learn about the power of words (cyberbullying). In addition to these lessons media specialists also support the Hour of Code week in December and teach and support the fundamentals of computer science lesson to grades K-5. Examples of computer science lessons include directional coding, how the internet works, and the parts of a computer.

To help teachers continue to learn about coding, we continue to offer training opportunities offer training opportunities for our teachers to learn more about coding as well as our maker spaces during the summer. This summer was no different and we had both face to face and online training options. Elementary coding offerings included:
  • Code.org Grades 1-5
  • Hub, Deep Dive: Grades K-1, Grade 2-3, or Grades 4-5 
  • Sphero:The Power of a Sphero
  • Sphero: Digging Deeper
  • TinkerCAD & 3D Printing 
Besides using Bee Bots and Code.org, Minnetonka students experience a wide variety of experiences to learn to coed. We continue to use Tynker, Kodable, Scratch, Swift Playgrounds, Finch Robots, Lightbots and more. Each of these experiences are part of the Minnetonka Framework for Teaching and Learning, helping students with critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, the use of technology and more. Some related posts and videos to learn more about coding in Minnetonka Schools are listed below:

Monday, November 5, 2018

Fifth Graders Creating AR/VR Experiences to Enhance Learning


Today I stopped by the Minnewashta Elementary after school VR/AR club. About twelve fifth grade students meet weekly for six weeks to learn and experiment with augmented reality and virtual reality tools with the teacher, Joy Curran. When I was there, students were learning to use a program to create augmented reality scenes and stories using an iPad or Chromebook. Some were creating multiple scenes together in order to end up with a choose-your-own-adventure story. They were testing their creations by loading them onto an iPhone to hold up and see their AR character in action. 

Last year, Joy Curran and Heather Baker were awarded a Teacher Grant from the Minnetonka Schools Foundation to purchase virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) equipment for students to use in the classroom. The video above showcases some of these tools in use. 

In previous weeks of the club, Joy had students create their own 360 degree virtual reality tours using Google Tour Creator.  To do this, "students chose a country they wanted to explore and created their own VR tours using imagery from Google’s Street View. They learned how to add sound, embed photos, and add points of interest to their scenes.  Then they went on a virtual field trip and viewed each other’s completed tours in our VR headsets." Finished tours can be viewed with or without headsets.

Merge cubes is another example of an AR tool students have tried out in the club. We continue to encourage all our teachers to try out more AR and VR tools, such as Google Expeditions (see related posts below). It will be exciting to see what students create as they have more time using these tools! 

Monday, October 29, 2018

How an Apple Pencil Enhances Teaching & Learning

This past summer we refreshed all of our student devices in our one to one iPad program for grades 5 -12 and all teacher iPads K-12 with the iPad 6 which supports the Apple Pencil. We also purchased some Apple Pencils for about half our teachers in order to learn the benefits of this new tool. Using pencils in school, of course, is nothing new but the Apple Pencil exponentially increases the capabilities of a traditional pencil. An Apple Pencil is more than just a stylus. In addition to being able to annotate using digital ink, opening applications, moving objects, and interacting with menus and more using the tip of the Apple Pencil, the device itself connects to the iPad using bluetooth and is pressure sensitive. This means that when used with an application built specifically to  utilize the features of the Apple Pencil, the user can simply increase the width of a line of digital ink by pressing harder with the tip of the Pencil on the same way that you would with a paintbrush. Applications also recognize when the Pencil is in use and can be set up to only accept input from the tip, meaning a user now has the ability to rest her/his hand on the iPad itself while writing or drawing.

At first, this last feature might not seem like a bid deal. However, one high school math teacher who described the Apple Pencil as the biggest change to her teaching in years explained it this way: with it she can now write super legibly while resting her wrist on the screen as she walks around the room teaching from her iPad, wirelessly mirroring her screen on to the projector display at the front of the classroom. Being be out in the class with her students allows her to look at their work and interact with them. She can precisely graph lines and write exponents in equations with fine details and precision not previously possible without the Apple Pencil. She uses the same app that students use--Notability--to work through problems together as she’s teaching and walking around the room. Prior to having the Apple Pencil, she had attempted to use her finger or another stylus but these did not allow her to rest their wrist on the iPad. This resulted in messy handwriting and she just stayed in one place in order to write on her iPad or stayed at the front of the room using the SMARTBoard instead. 

Last week we surveyed the teachers who received Apple Pencils and asked them to provide feedback about their experience so far. Here are some of the comments and feedback collected when asked about the benefits of the Pencil and if/how it had changed their teaching:
  • Everything! I use it for notes in class, for creating video lessons for students, for creating answer keys, for demonstrating to students how to do certain problems. I use it primarily within Notability (also with Reflector) and Explain Everything.
  • I am much more excited about utilizing the iPad. Writing is easier and neater with the Apple Pencil. Students have commented that they appreciate when I teach using the Apple Pencil and Reflector rather than the SmartBoard. I am able to be more mobile during class.
  • I am able to teach from my iPad, allowing me to walk around while teaching. I do not stand in front of the room, but am constantly walking around. The apple pencil allows me to write legibly while writing, especially since we are solving math problems every day.
  • It has significantly minimized the time using the SMARTBoard. I start the lessons with SMARTBoard, but when I do examples, or extended writing, I mirror the iPad. This allows me to freely walk around the room and establish a greater presence.
  • I also use it to create examples of Art and how the iPad can allow the user to improve on current artistic capabilities.
  • The Apple Pencil basically encourages me to use the iPad more and Smart Notebook software less. I use the following apps: Paper53, Notability, ExplainEverything.
  • Notability and Brushes Redux. I use it to manage behavior and meander around the room while I’m working so students feel more connected. I am able to be more involved and do the work along with them, which is very beneficial for keeping pace as I work with special education program students.
  • I have been able to immerse myself in learning more and improve my teaching style. I use the SMARTBoard a lot for writing and math problems but I have small group classes. This allows me to sit among students and work alongside them which improves their engagement. I am able to monitor their learning while I teach rather than needing to stop and meander the room. I also have students who struggle with writing and this has been a big motivator for them (borrowing it).
  • I am able to use Notability and Reflector way more effectively, my writing is clear. I use this for direct instruction. I can write notes/feedback on student iPads more clearly during work time as well. Grading with the Schoology app is much easier as well.
  • Grading!! It is so much more efficient to write feedback for students on their Schoology submissions. I also am better able to model work for students.
As you can see, teachers are finding multiple benefits of the Pencil. When asked how frequently they are using a pencil, 52% of teachers stated that they use it every day and another 19% percent stated they use it hourly.

We have also seen a few students purchase their own Apple Pencils to use with their iPad, too--right now about one or two students per class. This number will likely increase in the months to come. The Apple Pencil design could be improved: not having it be completely round so that it wouldn’t roll off of desks and tables, making the cap attach somehow to the Pencil itself, and making the pencil sturdier to prevent getting cracked or broken when stepped on (although I have yet to hear of this happening). We have also tested out the Logitech Crayon, which cost about $30 less, but unfortunately is not pressure sensitive, so the cost savings doesn't seem worth it. We'll continue to monitor the benefits of this tool and look forward to improvements to the product in the future that likely will yield even more benefits for teaching and learning.

Related Posts:

Monday, October 22, 2018

Instructional Technology Teacher Professional Development without Substitute Teachers

Like many schools across the country, our district often has a shortage of substitute teachers. Sometimes there aren't enough reserve teachers available to cover teacher absences due to illness, let alone cover trainings that take place during the school day. In the past we would offer teachers instructional technology trainings and staff development during the school day. Starting last year began eliminating this practice to reduce the overall need for reserve teachers and this year plan to use zero reserve teachers. 

As I've written about in the past, one of the reasons I believe our 1:1 program has been successful is because of our ongoing, sustained professional development. We are now in the eighth year of 1:1 and still providing all of our teachers with about nine hours annually of professional development related to technology. Whether teachers are in their first or eighth year teaching students with 1:1 devices, they attend multiple training sessions per year. The reason we provide continual staff development for our teachers is to help them use technology in ever new and innovative ways to deepen learning for students and make it more meaningful (see Beyond SAMR Ladders and Pools: A Framework for Teaching & Learning).

To make this happen without reserves, our instructional technology coaches are providing this staff development before and after school as well as online. Sometimes principals replace one or more monthly staff meetings with staff development sessions. This was the case last week at both our Middle School East and High School. At each site, teachers had the option to choose from a menu of options, including instructional technology sessions. Pictured are two high school mini-sessions last week, one on formative assessment with Pear Deck held in the newly remodeled Loft space and the other on Strategies for Improving Feedback in the Online/Blended Environment for teachers in our Tonka Online program. Last spring I wrote about 14 different technology mini-sessions from which high school teachers could choose in place of a staff meeting. Staff at all our sites are asked to attend about two hours of face to face meetings before/after the school day related to instructional technology staff development. 

In addition to face to face sessions this year we are expanding our online instructional technology staff development so all teachers will take two hours of training per semester equaling four hours of training this year. This past summer we increased our online technology related offerings for teachers to 18 sessions and had over 20% of our staff take at least one session using our learning management system, Schoology. Some of these same sessions will be offered once again and our instructional technology coaches are busy creating further sessions for teachers. 

We also offered extensive technology related face to face trainings in August. We have been providing these August trainings since 2005 and the options certainly have increased since that time. Teachers are asked to take at least two summer classes so they end up with about three hours of training in the summer. In the end all these training options add up to the same number of instructional technology training hours we have asked teachers to complete since our 1:1 iPad program began:
3 hours: August training classes online/face-to-face
2 hours: Face-to-face instead of staff meetings or before/after school
4 hours: Online training modules
9 hours: Total 
In addition to these nine hours of instructional technology staff development, teachers can and often do meet with their instructional technology coach or media specialist for additional help and/or to work further on a project. All of these options and work have made it possible to continue to support our teachers and advance their work with students helping to improve the ways that technology enhances learning and teaching. 

Related posts:

                        Monday, October 15, 2018

                        Annual Big Hunt for Ideas: Starting with A Spark by Identifying Problems First

                        This is the eighth year that Minnetonka has had an annual Big Hunt for Ideas to find ways to make education better for students. Rather than developing a strategic plan with a few representative voices deciding district priorities, we use we use a crowd sourced software platform to gather input from all of our staff. Innovation is now our strategic planWe also have student innovation groups that use this process to develop new ideas. Some major ideas over the past few years include our Vantage program, TonkaOnline, Minnetonka Research, Design for Learning program, and Tonka Codes program.

                        Gathering Sparks vs. Solutions
                        This year we are encouraging staff to simply post problems rather than jumping right to solutions. These problems are called "sparks" and are meant to get a conversation going in an effort to empathize with those affected by the problem and identify all stakeholders. From these starting conversations ideas will be generated in the coming months and possible solutions discussed, piloted, and as a result, changes implemented.
                        The video above was produced to highlight this process with a example scenario--a crowded hallway during passing time. The video showcases a wide variety of school employees participating in the spark discussion- classroom teachers, a counselor, a custodian, and a school principal. Together they collectively work to identify the issue and it's impact.   
                        All of our staff participate in this hunt--besides these staff positions highlighted in the video we also have paraprofessionals, food and nutrition services, office support, after school staff and all administrators involved. In just the past two weeks, almost 100 different sparks have been identified with hundreds of comments and views from staff. Pictured is an infographic made by our Innovation Coordinator, Nicole Snedden. The idea hunt is open for another week, so we will certainly have more added with more participation. It will be exciting to discover what new innovations and solutions result from this year's hunt!

                        Related posts: