Monday, December 30, 2019

EDTalks: Screen Time & Student Well-being, January 13 @ 6pm

I'm excited to join Erin Walsh from the Spark & Stitch Institute as we give two inspiring EDTalks on technology and student health on Monday, January 13,  2020, 6:00-7:30pm at the Icehouse in Minneapolis. Register here. Here are the details:

It's Complicated: Students, Social Media and Mental Health 
Students spend an average of 53 hours each week on social media and other technology – more than any other activity but sleeping. While many assume technology is inherently bad for student mental health, evidence suggests that it can either boost or undermine what young people need to thrive. As more and more schoolwork goes online, both the opportunities and challenges are magnified, and educators need to learn how to respond. Erin Walsh will describe the key ingredients for digital wellness and share strategies to help students thrive in a world of screens.

Presenter: Erin Walsh, M.A, is co-founder of Spark & Stitch Institute, which translates brain science into practical strategies for parents and educators who want to raise courageous and connected kids. A national consultant on digital media and youth, she is co-author of the 10th anniversary edition of the bestseller, Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, and lead program facilitator for Youth Frontiers, where she directs retreats for educators on the science of stress and why connection unleashes learning.

Raising Tech-Healthy Kids   
Tablets, smartphones, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and more... technology is a central part of young people’s lives today. Keeping up can be challenging, but a positive and well-informed approach can have a big impact on a child’s future and in creating new habits that lead to digitally healthy individuals. Learn simple tips to help both kids and adults balance the use of technology in our lives.

Presenter: Dave Eisenmann, M.A. Ed., is director of instructional technology and media services for Minnetonka Public Schools and a former classroom teacher. Dave has spoken to over 65,000 students, educators and parents about digital wellness and technology use. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Saint Mary's University Minneapolis, where he teaches classes on technology integration. 

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Monday, December 9, 2019

Minnetonka Third Graders Go to Space (Virtually) in a Weather Balloon!

Last week third graders in Bettina Grund’s third grade Spanish immersion class at Clear Springs Elementary visited outer space! Not literally, of course. They used our new ClassVR headsets to leave earth in a weather balloon, rise up into the upper levels of the atmosphere, and eventually end up in outer space. Once they made it to space, they visited the sun and some of the planets in our solar system.

I was with them on this virtual field trip and students were so excited and engaged. They worked with a partner and took turns wearing a headset. I noticed two students girls, Ellie and Evie, who were holding hands as they took turns using headset for a few minutes at a time. I sat down with them and asked them about their trip. I learned that they had been studying the solar system already in class prior to this journey. Evie showed me her science packet about the solar system and explained that they learned about satellites, planets, orbits, seasons, and phases of the moon among other things. Ellie explained that they had made moon viewers using a paper plate with a hole cut in the center and illustrated the various phases of the moon on the plate around the hole. They liked learning about the planets and especially enjoyed this virtual field trip. 

While riding the weather balloon ClassVR uses virtual reality providing a 360 degree environment to look around. When viewing the sun and the planets, the ClassVR experience uses augmented reality. So this means that a mini version of each planet appears to be floating in front of the students while they simultaneously saw their classmates and the rest of the room. For students who were not viewing something while their partner was wearing the headset, they could watch along on the screen up front. On the screen, the teacher was displaying her ClassVR dashboard, in which she can see what everyone is looking at or display one person’s view. She could also guide the tour by having everyone see the same thing.

Bettina explained that using these headsets was an activity that she opted to give a try. She found it fairly easy easy to use and this was the second day the students had spent about a half an hour of class visiting the solar system. This activity was combined out only with science but also language arts after the students learned solar system Spanish vocabulary using iStation. The ClassVR experience fit in nicely as an extension to deepen their learning.

Thanks to the Minnetonka Foundation, 24 Class VR headsets were purchased this year. Eight headsets are stored in one portable case, so the three cases are available for our teachers to check out and use all together or in smaller sets. 
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            Monday, November 25, 2019

            Minnetonka Hosts Harvard Weekend Code Academy

            Over 30 students attended a Harvard Weekend Coding Academy at Minnetonka High School (MHS) this past weekend. Students of all abilities spent 14 hours working with two students from Harvard to learn the fundamentals of the Python coding language. In addition to learning coding techniques, students developed critical thinking, problem solving, and collaborative skills. They also met new people, collaborated, and had fun!

            The event was organized by Charlie, a MHS senior interested in majoring in coding in college, who had attended a more in-depth Python coding camp at Harvard this past summer. There he heard of the opportunity to bring the experience to his own school over a weekend. He contacted The Academies at Harvard, which is a branch of Harvard Student Agencies, a non-profit business run by Harvard undergraduate students. They set up and take care of the website and registration fees, and Charlie worked with our MHS coding teachers, Nick Bahr and Theresa Hendrickson, to advertise it at school. Charlie put up signs, made morning announcements on the school news show, advertised it on social media and in the school newsletter, and enlisted the help of some parents to spread the word. 

            For the class two college student instructors from Harvard, Shaik, a New York City native and econ major, and Clarence, also from New York and a computer science major, flew in to Minnesota for the weekend to teach the course. Both instructors are teaching assistants in courses at Harvard. Shaik explained that instructors need to go through training and show mastery of all course content as well as have prior experience working with students (such as during the summer coding camps held on campus). Languages and frameworks that can be covered in a Weekend Academy include Scratch, HTML, CSS, Python 3, Jinja and Flask. This particular course was a series of online activities that challenged the students to solve various Python coding tasks. Students learn to use Python in steps as they problem solve and compete each stage. 

            For example, one student named Becca, a MHS junior, was working on Else statements, called Elif statements in Python. She was working to get the words Fizz and/or Buzz to appear in a string of numbers when multiples of 3 and 5 existed. If a number was both a multiple of 3 and 5, students needed to get Fizz Buzz to appear, but not Buzz Fizz. She was enjoying the challenge of coding these “If not this then that…” problems. Becca is currently in the AP Comp Sci Principles year long course at MHS. She’s interested in computer science for a future career and wanted to “dip my toes in and test the water.” Another attendee, Sophie, was a sophomore who also had prior coding experience and wanted to enhance her programming skills. She is currently taking AP Comp Sci 1 and knew some Python from 7th grade. She is good at coding, sees it as a growing field that will be high paying, and wants to see more women get into STEM careers.

            Not all attendees were currently enrolled in coding courses. Freshmen Ketav and Will both thought it would be fun to learn to code and so they signed up. Will, who skipped a Saturday swim team practice to attend, is considering a coding career because he knows “software developers highly sought after.” I heard similar stories from other attendees like Autumn, a junior who loves metalwork and plans to be a marine. She was new to coding with no prior experience. She started at MHS last year and therefore hadn’t taken coding starting in elementary school like most of her classmates. She was working on replicating a half pyramid of blocks (like the one pictured from the Mario Bros. video game). She said it was “fascinating...somewhat difficult in a way, but once you get through it it’s pretty cool.” 

            All of the students seemed to learn a lot and enjoyed the experience learning to code in Python.

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            Friday, November 22, 2019

            20 Examples of Makerspace Projects in Minnetonka Classrooms

            Minnetonka's Makerspace, called "The Hub" is now in its third year. Makerspaces are “are informal places or materials for creative production in art, science, and engineering where students of all ages blend digital and physical technologies to explore ideas, learn technical skills, and create new products” (source).  The Minnetonka Foundation has invested in materials and equipment at each of our six elementary schools plus our two middle schools. More about the Foundation here. Read more about the original launch here.

            To encourage teachers to integrate the materials into their curriculum, professional development has been offered over the past two years, including August classes and even through a summer online course. Teachers have had opportunities to use the materials during these trainings to get more comfortable with the possible activities and gain ideas on how to use them. One page guides on how to use materials in The Hub were created. Some of our Spanish and Chinese immersion teachers even provided translations for the task and challenge cards that were created during the initial curriculum writing phase of year one. We also have a Schoology course for teachers to share ideas with one another. 

            Tarah Cummings, part time Teacher on Special Assignment for The Hub, took 20 ideas our teachers shared using The Hub materials and put them together in a great Adobe Spark VideoAs you watch the video, you'll see some of the great ways that our teachers are integrating Hub tools into their curriculum in actual projects and lessons that have been taught at the elementary and middle levels in a variety of content areas. 

            Each year two sites host a family event with The Hub, too. They were typically held on a Saturday and encouraged the parents to participate with their children to try out various Hub materials and activities that promote coding and making. You can read more about that here. Many of the makerspace activities and materials in The Hub also involve coding and robotics materials. You can learn more about Tonka Coders and Makers in these related posts:

            Monday, November 11, 2019

            Relay, a Great Screen-less Starter Phone for Kids

            Relay (image source)
            A few years ago I wrote that it was best to wait until at least middle school to get a smartphone for a kid. I still believe that and don't think smartphones are needed in elementary school, but understand that some parents may like the ability to contact their kids and/or see where their kids are at any moment--did they remember to ride the bus home, are they at the park, how can I find them to let them know that our plans changed, etc.? There are certainly times where knowing this for our own current and former elementary aged kids would have been really helpful and/or provided peace of mind for my wife and me!

            Over the past couple of years a few friends with elementary aged children have opted to purchase a Relay. It basically is a push-button cellular walkie talkie with GPS and an accompanying parent app. The Relay costs about $45 plus a $10/month subscription fee. Parents and kids can contact one another to talk. The device blinks if the child has a voicemail. Pre-programmed approved numbers can be added. Parents can view the location of the RelayGo on a map in the app, set up alerts marking off a geofence, listen to missed messages and get alerts when the device's rechargeable battery power is low. Kids can name their device, add music and a few other things like a "daily joke" channel, translation channel and voice changer. An armband and a case with lanyard and carabiner can also be purchased. It's water resistant.

            A Minnetonka employee and parent using Relay explained to me that she and her husband wanted to start their fifth grade daughter on a screen-less communication device and not a smartphone. Their daughter wanted to bike on her own this summer. They wanted her to be able to be independent yet also keep in touch with her. The Relay was a way to build trust. They found it to be a great tool. She did mention that calls on WiFi were clear but initially they had to teach their daughter to not hold the Relay right next to her mouth when speaking on the cellular connection so they could understand her. 

            There are other options beside the Relay. Companies like Verizon offer the Gizmo kid's watch for about $130 with a two year contract. I have seen a few elementary students wearing these. If you have experience with them, let me know what you think. 

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            Monday, October 28, 2019

            Mac's New Catalina Sidecar Shows Great Promise for iPads & Education

            Recently Apple’s new operating system for Macs, Catalina, was released. When looking through the new features and debating how soon I should upgrade, I noticed Sidecar. Sidecar allows users with an iPad to use it as a second display for their Mac, either mirroring or extending their desktop. But it also allows way more than that—you can use the iPad itself to control the Mac, sort of like a Remote Desktop program. This caught my attention because we are always looking for ways for our teachers to make the most of the technology tools we have to help deepen learning experiences and make instruction more meaningful. Catalina Sidecar seems like a great new feature to do just that. 

            Back in the early 2000s we installed interactive whiteboards in almost all of our classrooms and trained teachers to use the software. As I wrote previously, SMARTBoards were a catalyst for future technology integration and helped to push our teachers to digitize their curriculum. They helped teachers think about how to make lessons more engaging and interactive. 

            Over the past few years many schools have been getting rid of interactive whiteboards and replacing them with HDTVs. Unfortunately doing this removes much of the interactivity possible and instruction has to move back in time to either pre-made slide presentations or lessons that limit how much a teacher can annotate, sketch and interact with the displayed content in general. There are many instructional benefits to having an open canvas/space to work out a problem, draw with digital ink, mark something up, etc. Having this electronically to be instantly saved, stored and/or shared collaboratively is lost when the interactive teaching tool is removed from the classroom. 

            At our elementary level, much of our curriculum is in SMART Notebook after well over 15 years of use of that program. So as we look toward the future use of interactive displays, we don’t want to just replace SMART Boards with HDTV displays that don’t allow the teacher to interact with the content on it. That would be going backwards and against instructional best practices. 

            Many of our teachers currently use their iPad during instruction and project it wirelessly onto a screen using software like AirSquirrel's Reflector or an Apple TV. Usually they are using an app like Notability to write and mark up something together with their students. But for our teachers with years' worth of curriculum in SMARTNotebook, switching entirely to an iPad would mean a lot of work to change the platform and/or start over rebuilding lessons. 

            In my initial tests of Sidecar as pictured above, SMARTNotebook can controlled through an iPad connected wirelessly to a newer Mac connected by a HDMI dongle to either a projector or a HDTV. The display can either mirror the Mac's desktop or be an extension of it, allowing the teacher to have dual monitors which is super helpful. Sidecar allows the instructor to freely move around the room, write on the iPad and interact with and use the tools of SMARTNotebook (or any other program on the Mac). So not only could you potentially remove the SMARTBoard but keep the interactivity and the software, you gain the ability to move around the room and no longer have to stand at the display. This is very helpful for classroom management (see Tip #5 for a Successful 1:1 Implementation: Make Classroom Management an Early and Continuous Focus).

            All of our teachers have an iPad Generation 6 and many have an Apple Pencil. However, not many of our teachers have a MacBook, let alone the newer models needed--most have a PC desktop connected to a SMARTBoard. So as we continue to test out Sidecar, we will need to weigh the pros along with the costs. But instead of buying replacement SMARTBoards this initially looks much more promising!

            Interestingly, I found one HDTV model we had where this didn't work, and two that did, so be sure to do your own testing. And if you are considering this for classroom use and test things out, let me know what you think. FYI, Apple has detailed instructions for Sidecar here.

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            Monday, October 21, 2019

            Skipper Student Tech Tips Advance Use of Technology for Learning

            SkipperTech Tips started last spring when I decided to start posting some technology tips to all of the students in our grades 4-12 1:1 iPad program. I started this in an effort to increase students’ efficiencies and skills using technology for learning. I began periodically posting a weekly tech tip using Schoology, our learning management system. I included all of our teachers and staff, too, so the tips have the potential to be seen by about 8,000 people.  

            For about the past 15 years we have been sending our adult staff periodic tech tips by email, usually on a monthly basis. This was the first time we brought the tips directly to the students districtwide. One of the reasons behind this was my desire to give the opportunity for all students to be informed of valuable tips rather than hope one of their teachers relay something to them--I haven’t seen this “trickle down” tech tips philosophy be very effective in the past. Posting a quick tip that everyone sees is a much more effective way to get the message out to as many people as possible. The pilot of this process last spring was very positive and I’ve resumed it this school year.

            I also decided to have some fun with it and used my dog as the avatar for the poster. I took a photo of my dog wearing a Minnetonka hat and used that as the avatar for “SkipperTech”. My kids have helped with photo shoots with our dog and an iPad for each tip, and we've added some fun "Easter Eggs" for the observant--such as dog-related websites, tabs, and topics such as the presentation pictured above on squirrels. You get the idea.

            I've used the SkipperTech account to post a request for students to submit their own ideas for future tips using a Google Form. I've received tips related to iPads, Notability, Google, iMove, Siri, other apps, and more. Last spring I had already received over 200 suggestions, so I have plenty of material for future posts. I included a place on the form to ask the students whether or not they wanted to remain anonymous or receive credit for their tip. 

            I've also used the SkipperTech account to provide students with direct links to instructions apps such as Animatic and Stop Motion. A third use of the account has been to collect student work to showcase and share their ideas with one another. For example, last spring SkipperTech asked students to submit creative examples of animated GIFs they had made with the Animatic app. Almost 140 students submitted work. In a previous post, I shared over 20 examples of what Minnetonka students had made. Hopefully SkipperTech will inspire our students to not only use tech better but open their eyes to even more possible ways to use it to enhance and showcase learning.

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