Monday, March 25, 2019

2nd Grade Book Creators Publish Their Learning

Last week I was in second grade teacher Traci Preciado’s class as students were working on writing books on a research topic of their choice. Students eagerly showed me their work and read their books aloud. The topics they selected ranged from animals like cheetahs and sabertooth tigers to Native Americans to British Soldiers. Each student was engaged and excited about producing a book on their topic and motivated to write and find images to illustrate their work using the Book Creator app.

A few weeks prior to this, students had been learning about about polar animals, polar lands, and people who live in polar regions. Students had written summaries of each areas and then chose one area to publish as a book. Traci then showed them how to use the Book Creator app and they spent a couple class periods putting in their information. This was practice for their own research project.

The following week students choose an animal, person, or place to research. The wrote questions, researched and read about their topic using Pebble Go, and then wrote about it. They used Book Creator in iPads to type up their writing and insert images. When they finished the class has a publishing fair, inviting in their parents to come in and hear the books being read by students. Traci also emailed each students’ parents a copy of their book electronically as a PDF.

This is a great example of students having voice and choice in their learning as well as creating and communicating their work with an authentic audience, all components of our Minnetonka Teaching & Learning Framework. Traci tied in numerous nonfiction reading and writing skills throughout this project as well. Students were very motivated to learn and use technology to showcase their work.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Amazing Creativity Shown by Student Animators

Animation by Fawaz, 5th Grader
Animation by Sophie, 9th Grader
I'm always amazed by our students and their creativity. When students use their creative skills combined with technology tools they can make some truly awesome products. Whether it is their artwork, skits done with green screens, stop motion, eBooks, or more, our students make some incredible projects.

A couple weeks ago I asked our grade 4-12 students with iPads for creative examples of animated GIFs they had made with the Animatic app. Almost 140 students submitted work. It was hard to choose some to showcase as so many were really well done! Here are over 20 examples to give you an idea of what Minnetonka students have made.
Animation by Ryann, 6th Grader

When asked to explain their work, 90 students stated that they made their submitted animation just for fun. One student wrote, “I watch animators on YouTube, and when I saw this post I was like: Hmm... I should try it! I like drawing and writing, I should like this! And I ended up really liking it, and will probably animate again in the future." Another stated, “I made this animation because, well, I felt inspired! Also, I wanted to show people my artistic abilities that can encompass technology all at the same time.

I spoke with the co-founder of Animatic, Darren Paul, about a month ago. He and his team were very excited to have their app showcased in the Apple App Store and as a result saw an enormous jump in downloads. This, in turn, resulted in a great increase in the number of examples made with Animatic being posted worldwide. They are seeing all sorts of uses of their tool, not just by students but by professionals and adults in the workforce, too. Check out their Twitter feed and website to learn more.

If you'd like to learn how to use Animatic from a professional, check out this four-part tutorial from a Disney animator with whom the Animatic team partnered. I shared these videos with our students, too, so we will likely see an increase in their abilities and created work in the future!

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Five Tips to Manage Technology For a More Relaxing (Spring Break) Vacation

It's the time of year when many people take a week off for a spring break. Perhaps to a warmer location, a ski trip to the mountains, or just a staycation. Minnetonka students will be on break at the end of the month. Regardless of what you may do, consider disconnecting and possibly going off the grid completely to make your time off even more relaxing. If you have kids, help them to do so as well. Consider the following:
  1. Decrease or fast completely from social media for the week. Rather than spending time monitoring what others are doing on their vacation or posting about what you are doing, just enjoy your own time. If this is too hard for you (or your kids), try smaller amounts of time away from social media- perhaps limit time to a couple check-ins per day. While you're at it, talk about FOMO.

  2. Take a break from--or at least not continually monitor--work email. Most likely less than 20% of the email you receive needs your attention anyway. Personal email can wait, too, if not a week at least not more than a couple glances/week. Consider breaks from texting and Snapchat, too, perhaps using Do Not Disturb to create free times and help your kids experience this, too.

  3. Turn off notifications and interruptions on your phone. Remember that each buzz or beep distracts you from relaxing and being present with those around you. Turn off the badge app icons displaying missed messages and alerts (the red circle with the white number in the top right corner of each app). These are designed to get your attention and cause you to open the app to see what you're missing--FOMO again.

  4. Don't check the news. Lately on vacations I've eliminated my reading of the news and avoided apps/sites with headlines. Rather than being discouraged by what's happening, I've found it freeing to not be in the know. Try it. Encourage kids to do this, too, whether it is news, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat.

  5. Spend time with friends and family in conversation without technology in use. Set aside time to play games. Show your kids ways to have fun without needing micro entertainment, apps and video games filling their downtime. If you don't normally keep tech away from meal times, a vacation in a new location is a great place to introduce this practice.
Hopefully these tips will help you better enjoy an upcoming vacation or time off. If you can't get completely off the grid, hopefully you can at least decrease the time you spend on it so you can enjoy a vacation more. Of course, you can do all of these at other times, too, such as an evening or a weekend. It's often easier to implement changes in small increments, but getting a vacation away from devices can be a great catalyst for change. Let me know if you try any of these tips or have your own, too.

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    Monday, March 4, 2019

    Common Sense Media's New SEL Digital Dilemmas Are Excellent!

    Common Sense Media continues to be one of my favorite go-to resources for information about digital citizenship with resources, tips, movie and app reviews, parenting advice and educational curriculum. I frequently recommend it as a resource to parents and schools when I speak and promote it in our Minnetonka Community, too. Our Media Specialists use the Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum in each of our elementary schools and our secondary schools health teachers integrate some of the lessons into their curriculum.

    Common Sense recently released some new Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Digital Citizenship lessons which are excellent and definitely worth checking out. They are in the form of a short one-page PDF lesson. Each of the ten topics, from Sexting to Video Games, begins with a short paragraph scenario called a "Digital Dilemma" which introduces a very realistic scenario faced by teens today. Following this scenario it has Discussion Questions that focus on about four character strengths per dilemma, such as Empathy, Compassion, Integrity, Humility, and Self-Control. Each of these dilemmas is an important topic to talk with tweens and teens about in today's day and age regarding technology use, appropriate behavior, social media, and relationships. Whether you are a parent or educator you can use these Digital Dilemmas to spark great conversations and open the door to talking about these important topics with today's youth!

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    Monday, February 25, 2019

    Technology in the Classroom: Friend or Foe?

    A few weeks ago I was a panelist at the Learnit Conference in a session entitled “Technology in the Classroom: Friend or Foe?” Co-panelists with me were John Short RingDeputy Head of King's College School in Wimbledon and Bani DhawanGoogle Head of Education, India and South Asia. The panel was moderated by Richard CulattaCEO of International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
    We all agreed that technology is a very beneficial and essential tool for learning--a definite friend of the classroom. Unfortunately though, when technology is implemented poorly and not used with intention, it can earn a bad reputation, possibly lead to bad press and generate misconceptions and doubts about its overall benefits. We also discussed some of these ways that technology in the classroom can become a foe.  

    One of the topics we discussed was the need to start small when implementing new technology programs or devices. For example, I spoke about our 1:1 iPad program in Minnetonka, which we began eight years ago by starting with just half of our freshman class of students for six months before deciding to slowly expand it one or two grades each year thereafter. In comparison I have seen some 1:1 technology programs implemented all at once which have struggled--instead of being able to learn, adjust and make changes with a small amount of users, schools have sometimes stumbled, flailed and failed in their efforts, such as the notorious Los Angeles 1:1 iPad debacle years ago.

    Related to this need to carefully plan and deliberately execute a technology roll out is the important and sometimes overlooked need to provide continuous professional development for teachers around successfully integrating technology and using the tools and software. I talked about how this can also sometimes give technology a bad name. One of the phrases I mentioned and have heard over the years of this not being done well is called the "Spray and Pray" philosophy, in which technology is distributed (sprayed) all over the place and then the staff hope (pray) that it gets used well.

    We also discussed the difficulties of determining if technology is having a positive impact on student achievement. There are so many other factors within any given classroom that play into changes in students' scores, from home life to student behavior to other other variables such as new curriculum being implemented, differences in teachers or perhaps other interventions also being implemented. It is often quite difficult, if not impossible, to singularly isolate technology and determine its impact. When we first began our iPad program we did try limit almost all of these variables by giving half of our students in ninth grade iPads while the other half were in a control group with no iPads. Students had the same teachers, the same curriculum, and we purposely had a variety students of backgrounds and abilities in both groups. After looking at the students' scores on the same assessments with the same teachers and curriculum, we were able to positively show that the students in the group using iPads benefited from that technology and scored higher than their peers without it. But often times it’s not possible to run these controlled experiments to determine the effects of technology which this can give technology a bad name.

    As a panelist I also talked about the slowly changing understanding by parents and educators about the difference between educational and entertainment screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics had long suggested limiting a child’s total screen time per day. Then in 2015, the AAP revised their screen time recommendations. They now encourage parents consider the content on the screen itself before deciding whether or not there should be any time limits. The AAP recommends limiting recreational/entertainment screen time to one to two hours per day for children over age two. There is no screen time limit for educational content and use, but many parents still don't understand the difference and have the older limits in mind, which can make them think that technology in the classroom is a foe.

    Related to this I discussed the need to continually share great examples of how technology is a friend in the classroom. A lot of what we need to do is storytelling; educating parents and our community about why we bring technology into the classroom and how the classroom is different from the parents' experience is an ongoing task. As one of my colleagues described it, we need to keep repeating these important key messages because our parents are like a passing parade moving through our system with their children. Giving a message once and hoping it has been heard, changed minds and we're done isn't enough.  

    I found the panel to be a great experience and thoroughly enjoyed discussing these topics with the other panelists. Hearing about the challenges they are facing in education in Europe and Asia was fascinating, too. Each of us believes that technology is a friend of the classroom and is working hard to help others recognize this, too, and not view technology as a foe. Other topics for panels and presenters at the conference were great and globally varied. One I found especially interesting I wrote about a few weeks ago on The Future of Blockchain in Education

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