Monday, February 29, 2016

Easy Ways for Parents to Keep Tech Use Positive- Teacher Conferences Handout

Last spring, Deephaven Elementary Fifth Grade teachers piloted using spring conferences as an educational opportunity to talk with parents about cyber-safety in conjunction with our digital literacy curriculum. The face-to-face conversation was more beneficial than sending out an email or simply sending this information home in backpacks. 

Link to PDF
This year we expanded this practice to all of our elementary schools.  We had a one-page flier of easy ways parents can help their children with technology which we printed and teachers handed to parents at conferences. Teachers were encouraged to take a minute for a personal conversation with parents about the importance of proactively protecting children online.

Spring of fifth grade is a crucial transition stage of children’s lives. We want to encourage parents to do three things:  1) Talk to their children about ethical use of personal devices and 2) install filters on home WiFi and 3) use restrictions on devices. We suggested to teachers that if they had personal experience about the benefits of using the tools listed in the handout that they would share these with their students’ parents.

Our District Digital Health & Wellness Committee has a goal of getting more 
parents to use restrictions and filters to protect children from inappropriate content in a mobile world. We’ve learned that many parents have never considered the possibility of their child accessing porn or other material on personal devices. They assume all devices are filtered, like our school filters the internet, and that is not the case unless parents take responsibility for turning on filters and restrictions.
64% filter home WiFi
We started surveying all parents two weeks ago about technology and included filter related questions. Of the fifth grade parents who have responded so far, 64% stated they have a filter on their home Wifi and 63% have a filter on their child’s smartphone if s/he has one. We will be doing a post survey of 5th grade parents after conferences and are hoping for an increase in numbers after the teachers' conversations with families. 

Related posts: 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Stop Digging Yourself a Bigger Hole & Get Stuff Organized with Things

"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." 
 -Will Rogers 
Things Interface. Image Source
For the past month I've been using Cultured Code's Things program for keeping track of tasks and stuff I want to remember.  I really liked it and have found it to be very helpful. As I've written about before, I find myself becoming more and more forgetful with and ever growing amount of information. (See Dementia of the Preoccupied) It seems I have all sorts of things I want to remember and ideas, questions, and to-do items that pop into my head at inopportune moments, and if I don't make a note of them, I will forget.
I've tried numerous systems over the years, everything from digital notes and Post-Its, the Reminders app on my phone, and other programs similar to Things. Most often I'd just send myself an email, resulting in an ever growing inbox of unorganized items that could not be sorted by importance or categorized. This resulted in major inefficiencies of re-reading the same items and missing important items that were buried. I was digging myself into a bigger hole. Things has changed this.

One of the best things about Things is the fact that it works across all my devices. The app is on my iPhone, iPad and also my Mac. Any item I add syncs across all of these locations. It sounds simple, but is wonderful. Thoughts occur anywhere; access to your lists and tasks should mirror this. It also integrates with Siri, which is super helpful. Anytime I think of something I don't want to forget, I only need to tell Siri to "Remind me to..." and the item is added to Things. I love the convenience of this compared to my past inefficient systems. 
The four buckets in Things. Image from Things.
The features within Things program itself make it so much better than just using the iPhone's Reminders app or Notes. Each item that you add can be categorized in one of four buckets:
  1. Something that needs to be done Today
  2. Items that are Next
  3. Scheduled Items you assign a due date
  4. Items that can be put into a Someday bucket
There are many other features in the program, most of which I haven't even tried out yet. The interface is simple and it was easy to get started. It has a two week trial period, which is a great way to get started. The week I bought the program it was half off the $50 retail price which was a nice plus. 

I first heard about Things in December at the TIES Conference from Mark Wallace. Mark's presentation was entitled, "Redeeming Time: Finding Freedom from Overload" and was one of the best I attended. Mark shared the Will Rogers quote above and it fit my current lack of an effective system. He also mentioned the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson which I had read and liked, so I was hooked. (See a previous post on Crazy Busy: You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul.) 

Mark talked about the "stuff generators" in our lives: email, social media, family, students, home. He pointed out that research has proven we can only hold four to seven things in our short term memories. Capturing and offloading it into the least amount of places is therefore necessary. Then we need to clarify and organizing our stuff into actions and outcomes, which you can do with Things. I am thankful I was at his presentation and saw this solution. Hopefully you find it beneficial, too.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mt. Rushmore 2- Beyond Four Presidents

Nicky's recommendation for Mt. Rushmore 2
Happy Presidents' Day! It seemed fitting that today's post feature a project related to the holiday: 

Minnetonka Middle School West seventh grade social studies teacher Mo Berkowitz had her students imagine they had to persuade a committee deciding who the four new individuals on a second Mount Rushmore should be. Students had to use what they had learned about United States history to choose the four most important people to nominate for the new memorial. Students were encouraged to select individuals who best represented the diverse range of people in our country. Students need to research the individuals who they selected for this memorial to document their research using at least three sources. Then they scripted and created a presentation to show to the committee using a variety of iPad apps.

One student, Nicholas,  selected John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, Rosa Parks, and Ben Franklin for his nominees. "Nicky" used his iPad to create his presentation, and app smashed Pic Collage, Chatter Pix Kids, and Thing Link. After finding images of the four individuals he selected, he used PicCollage to overlay them on an image of Mount Rushmore and then exported this to his camera roll on is iPad. Then, in Chatter Pix Kids he used the individual images and recorded himself as scripted. He then exported this to the camera roll as well. Finally, Nicky used ThingLink to combine his proposed Mount Rushmore image and Chatter Pix videos together into the final product. You can listen to his project by clicking on it above. 

The instructions from Mo for the project are below. She also has shared her rubric, the templates for the students' research, and the instructions she provided for students to complete the app smash. Mo worked with Minnetonka Middle School East seventh grade social studies teacher Bev Antilley on the writing and planning for this project. This is a great student project that incorporates critical thinking, communication, creativity, use of technology, and allows for personalized choice in learning. 

A few weeks ago I highlighted another presidential themed assignment, App Smashed Presidential Rock Bands as Alternative Assessments in US History

Monday, February 8, 2016

BreakoutEDU in Minnetonka for Adult (and Student) Learning

Photo by Andrea Hoffmann

Last week our elementary technology instructional coaches, Andrea Hoffmann and Jeremy Engebretson, began introducing a new learning platform to our teachers called BreakoutEDU. I hadn't heard of this until December when Andrea attended a session at the Minnesota TIES technology conference in Minneapolis where she learned about it. She liked it so much she went out and bought the equipment necessary for using it in training and even had her family try it out over Christmas. Recently she and Jeremy designed an hour long professional development training session for our fifth grade teachers. The teachers loved it and are excited to bring it back to their own classrooms to use this technique with students.

Image Source
Here's how it works: basically one or more groups of students in a room are given the task of unlocking a mystery box to discover what is inside. This box has a variety of padlocks on it which require numbers, keys, codes and more to open. There are some clues that are put in the room where the group is working. They must figure out what these clues mean, how they fit together, and what information in/about these clues will help them decipher the lock combinations or perhaps locations of other clues. The clues and tasks are not random by any means, they actually are carefully selected around a theme by the instructor, such as a history topic or math problem. A countdown timer is set and the group needs to solve these puzzles before the buzzer goes off, or... they don't succeed. Really, it is about the fun of the task itself that motivates the group to work together to solve the puzzle and the timer is just an extra challenge to beat.

Photo by Andrea Hoffmann
Since fifth grade teachers were attending this training session to learn more about how to integrate the iPad into their instruction in their 1:1 classrooms, Andrea and Jeremy specifically designed tasks which required teachers to use a variety of tools and apps on their iPad. One of the tasks was to create video using the Do Ink Green Screen app which we just purchased. This BreakoutEDU exercise was a fun way for teachers to learn how to use that application hands-on without Andrea and Jeremy doing any sort of direct training or instruction on it. Teachers then submitted their green screen video to Schoology, just as they will have their students do in the future.

The theme of the quest was not technology itself, but was our Minnetonka Teaching and Learning Instructional Framework. Teachers had to reflect on topics of Real World Problems, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Global Learning, Personalized Learning, and Use of Technology. There were various clues which used curricular content from fifth grade and with which the teachers were familiar. The teachers used information from this content to find patterns and discover clues within it which helped them unlock the various padlocks on the mystery box. Overall, it was a great professional development activity in which the teachers collaborated and communicated with one another, thinking critically and creatively to problem solve and open the box, all the while learning content along the way. It definitely would have been a less memorable training session for the teachers had it been in a traditional sit and get format.

Photo by Andrea Hoffmann
After the group solved the final puzzle and excitedly open the box to discover what was inside, they debriefed and discussed what they had learned. They also talked through many ways they could use this technique in their own classrooms. Many teachers signed up right away for account, where they can access many pre-made activities to use with their students. Andrea explained that you can also submit your own games. If you submit three of your own games you can get a BreakoutEDU box and locks for free instead of $99. 

Participating in the test group doing this a few weeks ago, as well as watching our teachers go through it last week, reminded me of how important the "hook" in teaching is. The anticipatory set--creating a reason for the students to want to learn the material and content--is so critical. I was reminded of my own classroom 20 years ago when I used some of the InterAct curriculum to do simulations with my students, such as when we were studying about the 13 colonies in fifth grade social studies. Students were so excited about the activities they didn't question of why they had to know the material and instead learned it better than they ever would have in a traditional textbook lesson format. When designing professional development for teachers, it is important we remember that this need for a hook doesn't end when our students are adults. I know we will be incorporating more BreakoutEDU sessions into our future trainings.

Monday, February 1, 2016

App Smashed Presidential Rock Bands as Alternative Assessments in US History

James Madison, "El Matador"
With the Iowa Caucuses this week, it seems like a presidential post is appropriate. However, rather than focusing on today's potential candidates, Minnetonka Middle School West seventh grade social studies teacher Stephanie Battista recently had her students focus on the first five presidents of the United States. Her students were studying about the first five presidents in her U.S. history class. Rather than having her students take a traditional test at the end of the learning, Stephanie came up with an alternative assessment: she had her students do an app smash on their iPads using the camera, Pic Collage, Google Presentations, Schoology and Notability.

The assignment for the students was to imagine they were a manager tasked to make a rock band with the first five presidents of the United States: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Students needed to come up name for the overall band as well as a nickname for each band member. Students also has to select an instrument for each president based on that president's role in history. 

Planning guide for Nate's project.
Students used PicCollage to combine a headshot of the president with the body of a rock musician and the chosen instrument. They placed this image into a Google slideshow along with the information about each musician. Students then presented this information to the class and explained their reasoning for choosing the band name, nicknames and instruments. This project required them to reflect upon their learning. It was a great way to combine critical thinking, use of technology, communication, and creativity. 

Below is one student's final project. Since Stephanie's classes are Spanish Immersion social studies, the example is in Spanish. (Minnetonka has an immersion program for students beginning in kindergarten. Families can choose to have their child be in Chinese immersion, Spanish immersion, or traditional English instruction.) The student, Nate, explained to me that he named the band Los Problemรกticos, which translates into The Problematics. He said he chose this name because the first five presidents "had a bunch of problems to solve as the United States was first forming." As students presented their final projects, they explained their reasoning for selecting the nicknames and instruments for each president with supporting evidence to demonstrate their understanding of the information they had learned.

The instructions for the project translated into English by the teacher.