Monday, November 20, 2017

Dancing Robots Programmed in Grade 6 STEM Class

Sixth grade students in Dan Chies’ STEM class at Minnetonka Middle School West spend one quarter learning about robotics and coding. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Approximately four weeks is spent on each topic. For the coding unit, students learn using Apple’s Swift program on their iPads. For robotics, students use LEGO’s NXT robots. The students love STEM class overall, as it is a very hands on, project driven class.
One student's robot animal with claws and a heart.
For the robotics unit, Dan first taught students the basics of using the block coding program to move and manipulate the robot. He provides guidance and assistance as needed, but leaves a lot of the troubleshooting and problem solving up to the students. Students work in collaborative groups as they learn and then each of these groups creates a product to showcase their learning as well. One of the final projects is for the students to make a robotic animal, such as a giraffe, turtle or snake that uses its sensors to move or react.  Students also had to submit a video explaining their thinking and each step of coding that took place.
The end project of the "learning the abilities of your bot" portion was to make their robot dance. The dance moves had to be choreographed to the music or words of the music. For example, if the words say "to the left" your robot actually moves to the left. The students each had to program their own robot to work collectively as a whole for 15-30 seconds. As you can see in the video, students had fun with this project and worked hard to get the timing correct.
One group's coding block sequence for their robot.
Then during the second half of STEM class for the quarter, sixth graders learn Swift. The app is very user friendly, with each ‘level’ adding another piece of code language or complexity.  As a final project, students design their own level for Swift, creating a story with a problem to solve, providing the user with hints as well as showing at least two solutions. Dan requires that the code contain more complex moves than moving right or left, such as if...else, loops, etc.
In later grades in Minnetonka, students have further opportunities for hands on, project based classes learning coding and robotics. In seventh grade Tech Ed, students once again get to use LEGO robots, as well as a 3D printer (MakerBot), and design with Google Sketchup. Elective classes in eighth grade include Advanced Robotics using EV3s and a Computer Science class in which students learn Java and HTML. These elective options continue at our high school as well.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Simple Tip for Powerful Conversations with Kids: Start with "What if.." vs. "Have you..?"

No one likes to get cornered or be interrogated, kids included! When people feel as through they may end up in trouble for answering a question, they may choose to not be as open or honest with their answers. Relationships between a parent and child, teacher and student, coach and athlete, etc. can be challenging enough already, so here's a quick tip to make things a bit easier that I find works well:
Start conversations with "What if..?" instead of "Have you..?"
This simple tip works well for all types of conversations. For example, when talking with kids about technology, consider the differences between asking the following questions:

What would you do if you saw someone being mean to someone online?
Have you ever been mean to someone online? 
What would you do if a friend wanted to show you inappropriate pictures online? 
Have you ever looked at inappropriate pictures online?
This technique removes the potential fear of a reprimand. I've found it also leads to deeper, more meaningful conversations, too. Variations that might get a bit more personal yet still don't completely corner the person being asked might be "Have you ever seen this happen..?" or "Have any of your friends ever..?" And of course, the questions don't need to be limited to just technology. All sorts of topics are easier to discuss without making them so personal from the get go-- cheating, drugs and alcohol, etc.

Related links:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Family Fun Day- Making Quality Time for Relationships

Spending quality time with others is important to build relationships and deepen friendships. It is critical for healthy families. Technology can certainly help strengthen these connections, and of course, it can also distract us from them. Finding a healthy balance and modeling this for today's youth is important. In the past I have written quite a lot about this, such as Be Where Your Feet Are: #RealTime with Those Around YouTech Free Family Dinners Focused on GratitudeFive Ways to Raise Digitally Balanced JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) Kids in a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) World and much more (see links below). Last spring during one of my Parent Webinars with Mathew Meyers, as we were discussing the need to do things with our children that weren't just screen based entertainment, one of the parents submitted this question: "What are some activities to do without screens?"

At first I was pretty surprised by this question, but in discussing it with Mathew afterwards I realized that for many parents, this is a challenge. Much of our lives are busy and scheduled, and by the time we have common free time together, we may be exhausted! What little time many families do have together is often spent with screens on, either collectively watching TV or a movie, gaming, or each on their own device. Sometimes it can be this way in our home, too, but my wife and I continue to make an effort to not have this be the norm. One super fun activity in our home is called "Family Fun Day."

Family Fun Day is a reoccurring monthly appointment on our calendar. It may be shifted due to conflicting events, sports games, etc., but we try hard to have it happen at least once per month. Basically, each of the six members of our family picks an activity for 20 minutes. We draw names to determine who goes first, second, etc. Activities are a surprise and aren't announced until the start. In the span of a couple hours, we spend quality time together doing a variety of activities such as those listed below. It's not always entirely tech free, such as playing Just Dance on Nintendo Wii, but it is a group activity done together. It is a lot of fun, great conversation time, and great memories are made. I'd encourage you to give it a try--let me know if you do and if you have other fun ideas to try!
  • Minute to win it relays (Google that for hundreds of ideas)
  • Cup stacking
  • Playing with Play doh, Pictionary with Play doh
  • Making brownies, cookies or caramel apples
  • Egg drop in a shoebox from the roof
  • Card games like spoons
  • Board games like 5 Second Rule
  • Darts
  • Paper airplane contests
  • Four square
  • Basketball
  • Touch football
  • Street hockey, ice hockey
  • Bike rides
  • Walk to the park
  • Coloring
  • Wii Sports or Just Dance competitions
  • Mini golf (on a homemade course in the basement)
  • Looking at family pictures from a past trip
  • Water balloons
  • Stacking pennies on tinfoil boats
  • Ping pong, blow ping pong, round robin ping pong, etc...

Related posts: 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Top 10 Tips for Successful 1:1 Implementations

Adobe Spark (45).jpg
Last week at our biannual Minnetonka School District Site Visit, one of the breakout sessions for interested attendees was our Top 10 Tips for Successful 1:1 Implementations. Even though our 1:1 program is with iPads, the tips for success apply to any device or platform.

I have written about some of the tips listed below in the past in detail as an individual blog post. You can view the presentation slides farther below which contain links to further information about each of these tips. I hope ideas listed here are beneficial for you. I also hope to write about each of these tips in more detail in the future.
  1. Execute the Planning & Rollout Carefully & Deliberately 
  2. Flip Student Training
  3. Continual & Differentiated Teacher Training
  4. Make Classroom Management an Early & Continuous Focus
  5. Use tools for Formative Assessment 
  6. Promote Collaboration with Google Apps
  7. Have a robust LMS as the Hub of Student Learning 
  8. Inspire Creation vs. Consumption
  9. Teach Students to Be Responsible & Focused
  10. Parent Education is Critical

You can learn more about our 1:1 program, iPads, and use of technology for learning in the related posts below:  

    Monday, October 23, 2017

    Mirror Mirror: Reflecting on Positive Digital Footprints

    As part of our ongoing focus to help our students be responsible citizens in today’s digital world, the 3,275 students at Minnetonka High School watched this Mirror, Mirror video focused specifically on students’ digital footprints. The video stars students at the school as well as principal Jeff Erickson, and Information and Digital Learning Coordinator Ann Kaste. It was produced by our A/V Specialist Andy Smith. Digital Citizenship themed videos are produced a few times a year for students (see MiPhone X video for another example).

    After the video aired, teachers led discussions in class highlighting some of the important points and asking students for feedback. Teachers posed several of the following questions:
    • Think about someone you know who has started rumors or spread negative information about a friend on social media. Do you trust that person? Do you respect that person? Is it easy for you to stand up to a friend who is making these choices?

    • Colleges and employers often look through applicants' social media feeds and search for everything that they can find about applicants on the internet. What are the implications of this practice?
    • What are examples of positive uses of social media? Going forward, what are some things that you can do to make sure that your digital image is a good one?

    • As you take time to reflect personally about everything you have posted online--on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or even Schoology--think about what would you look like in the Magic Mirror? Would you be smiling, happy and content or would you be a pixelated, blurry mess? Which image do you want to project to others?

    In addition, a link to the video and the information above is being emailed to all high school families tonight in the hopes that there can be continued discussion at home with their child. As principal Jeff Erickson stated, "we are committed to helping our students develop a deep understanding of today’s digital world and the responsibilities that come with it. The student guidelines at Minnetonka High School are for students to do the right thing and represent us well. This includes representing themselves well online."

    Related links:

    Monday, October 16, 2017

    The Importance of Repeating Messages for a Passing Parade of Students & Parents

    Minnetonka 2016 Homecoming Parade
    Often we concentrate efforts on getting out a key message and then think we're done afterwards. We often think we can move on and that it won't need to be repeated or revisited. In education, we may have a building or even district -wide theme around anti-bullying, being peacemakers, learning from failure, etc., or have key points of which we want all parents and/or students to be aware, such as 1:1 policies or digital citizenship guidelines and best practices. Since these messages are important, it is vital to think about the frequency and reoccurrence needed for these messages to be fully known. 

    There are many ways a message or key points in a program can be lost as quickly as the following school year (or sooner). If we fail to remember that new students and families who weren't part of the learning in a prior year don't actually know the material, problems may arise. Also, forgetting that in a few years all students and/or families may have moved on to another building completely leaving no one who was part of an original event/lesson. Yet another reason a message may get lost is because students and their families may not be ready for it, such as a message that is for upper elementary students that doesn't apply to the second grade students/parents.

    Minnetonka 2016 Homecoming Parade
    One of my former colleagues used to remind us to think of students and their parents as a passing parade, and educators as viewers on the side watching them pass. In her analogy, she spoke of the need to repeat the same messages over and over again to each passing grade level marching by in the parade for the reasons previously explained above. This is an important point to remember in education. During Digital Citizenship next week and in all the other upcoming public service announcements and communications this year and in the future, remember your audience in education. You may need to revisit, repost, and repeat yourself frequently rather than checking something off as completed and moving on. Once and done isn't enough.

    Related posts:

    Monday, October 9, 2017

    Switch: Managing and Dealing with Change Effectively

    Image Source
    Last week at the EdLeader21 Conference, I had the opportunity to attend a training on Switch, a book on change by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. The book isn't new, originally published in 2010. At some point after publication I had heard about it in a previous training, but last week's session was a good reminder of its valuable lessons about how to manage and deal with change effectively.

    The authors point out that we all deal with changes large and small such as marriage, a new baby, or dealing with new technology or a new procedure or policy. Some change is hard and some change is easy. As we deal with change, we all deal with the emotional and intellectual aspects of each change. The authors have us think of the emotional side of how we deal with change as a two ton elephant and the intellectual side of how we deal with change as the rider trying to reign it in. 

    It was helpful to learn that the emotional side isn't always the bad side. The "elephant" can be the good guy (such as, "Wouldn’t it be cool to… solve malaria" or "serve every student"). The intellectual side can be the bad guy, too (such as  over analysis, research, no action...) The constant conflict between the rider and the elephant is exhausting. Since self-control is exhaustible, change can wear people out. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. This is important to remember as educators as we deal with students and parents.
    Image Source

    During the training, multiple examples of change and this conflict between the emotional side and the intellectual side were given. The Heaths provide a three part framework for overcoming this internal conflict: 

    1- Direct the Rider
    2- Motivate the Elephant
    3- Shape the Path  

    On the Switch Framework (pictured), each of the options listed has a short sentence with a reminder about a story shared, which would be helpful to fully understand it. You'll need to attend a training or buy the book for this. A quick YouTube search will yield many options for watching videos with the authors which are beneficial. However, the general ideas are still helpful for anyone. The main principles can help you successfully manage and deal with a change, be it in education or elsewhere in life.