Hour of Code 2014: Day Two

On Friday, December 12, 2014, four of my Honors Civics students stayed after school to participate in an Hour of Code.  I would have had more students, however many students had an early release for the Christmas Dance which was later that evening.

Two of my students came back from the previous day’s activity to continue their work.  This was the first time the two new participants were available to stay after.  All four worked on iPads and used one of the free Lightbot apps available for an Hour of Code.  We continued to use an Edmodo group dedicated to this endeavor as the platform for communication and organization.

I stood back after a brief overview and let the students discuss the events of the previous day.  The two students who participated Thursday opted to continue on with the Lightbot puzzles instead of creating code via PageStudio.  The new students joined in and they began working on individual tasks.  I mirrored one student iPad onto my Interactive Whiteboard, IWB, using Apple TV.

The students were very quiet as they worked on their tasks, which was not what I was hoping for.  The students were super-focused on what they were doing which was good, but I was hoping for more teamwork.  As I observed what each was doing on their iPad, the student who was mirroring her iPad onto the IWB hit a snag and was stuck on a puzzle.  I encouraged her to ask the others for help and reiterated that I was hoping for a group effort.  As she asked for help, the students realized that they were all around the same puzzle and having similar issues.


The four students began to talk, collaborate, and test out possible solutions on their individual iPads, sharing their ideas with each other using the mirrored iPad.  This went on for the rest of the sessions, almost the full hour.  Their ability to work through the increasingly complex tasks increased in speed and the tasks were less tedious as they joked and talked out the solutions.

Overall, the session seemed to be a success.  I posted an assignment in the Edmodo group to add to the enrichment assignment; write a reflection blog post on the Hour of Code, or record a short podcast reflection of their efforts.  I am looking forward to seeing their thoughts on the activities and hoping for honest opinions.  I would like to expand upon this event and getting their opinions on how to improve it is key.  I also offered to continue with activities like these throughout the year if they are interested in doing so.  Hopefully I will find out soon via blog post or podcast if they thought the effort was a success.

My major epic fail for the project was forgetting some Christmas cookies on my dining room table at home that I bought as a snack for the participants.  I did remember to bring juice pouches for them, and had some animal cracker/cookies for snacks, but forgetting the good treats bothered me.

Hour of Code 2014: Day One

Thursday, December 11, 2014, we made our first attempt at Hour of Code 2014.  Hour of Code is an optional enrichment assignment for my students.  To organize the efforts of my students I created a group for them in Edmodo; which I used to survey them via the quiz feature and poll feature.  Links to all resources were also posted there, though I just used Code.org‘s site as the main resource.

Due to scheduling conflicts we all agreed that the only two days this week that we could meet would be Thursday and Friday; with the majority of students only being able to attend one after school session.  For our first day, I had two students stay after school, both have had experience with coding.  They participated in CodeHS last year when they were in Middle School and this November they participated in a Hack Day, I was not the teacher of record for these activities.

The two students came in and jumped on the class iPads and off to Edmodo they went.  Once in Code.org’s site they chose to use Litebot as the tool to complete exercises.   The apps are/were free for Hour of Code.  Both students were gracious enough to answer all of my questions about their coding experience as we worked through Litebot.  They will actually be the main facilitators for this with other students, since they understand coding much better than I, you can see my previous post on this topic.

We were having technical issues with the school wireless that had crashed several times during the day and was currently running rather slowly.  I handed off my iPad to a student and they worked on tasks while I tried to get Litebot downloaded on other devices.  I was successful, but it took most of the time we had to get the iPads set up.  This will make tomorrow easier, although it limited what we could do today.

We projected my iPad screen over the Apple TV, practicing for the larger crowd expected on Friday.  Overall, they seemed pleased with the effort, they will be back for Friday’s session.  For Friday, they can use other code apps to actually work on creating code, while my other students can focus on levels that match their ability level.

I hope to have more to post soon.

Hour of Code 2014: I Hope I Have a Safety Net

This year I am stepping way out of my comfort zone and attempting to learn something new with the help of my students:  CODING.  I have been a technology coach in my district, starting with Pennsylvania’s Classrooms For the Future initiative, CFF, then through an EETT grant.  I would like to think that I am fairly knowledgeable with using technology in an educational setting.  I have had extensive formal training through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a second Master’s Degree in Instructional Design for Online Learning, a rockin’ global Professional Learning Network, PLN.  I have presented at numerous local, regional, and state conferences about ways to effectively use technology in the classroom, not to mention many, many, many Twitterchats, and global virtual discussions on using technology.

That being said, I am not well versed in fixing devices, my Dr. Who Sonic Screwdriver aside, nor do I have much experience building apps and tools for educational use; that is what tech support and edupreneurs are for.  My app building experience stops with the what used to be Google App Inventor and my old Android Droid X phone.  I used the drag and drop technology to make several apps that would take me to predetermined websites using two clicks on the screen.  Oh yeah, I was cutting edge until App Inventor went away, though now it is with MIT I believe.  I also moved on to an iPhone, no App Inventor for that device.

I have been wanting to learn how to CREATE tools that I can use and to understand how the educational tools that I use actually work…no more man behind green curtain mystique.  I am also working with other educators on organizing maker-areas, gamification in the classroom, and planning how I need to adapt to the future of education.  I need to get my head wrapped around coding.  This year I happen to have a great group of Freshman who have been learning the concept of coding, I saw a fantastic opportunity…I need to learn what they either know or are cureently learning.  My plan is to try and learn the how to create code and discuss my progress with them; sharing what I am learning and asking questions about concepts that are difficult for me.  Basically I will be modeling learning, which I have done before, but never with a concept so foreign to me.  My starting point is this week with The Hour of Code.

I am am hoping my students are willing to provide a safety net for this old dog who is trying to learn new tricks.


Collaborative Assignments

So, my students are winding up their collaborative projects that I have posted about previously, click here to view.  The last couple of days students have made a a concerted effort to finish up the projects.  Students have been staying after school, using my open door policy by coming in during their study halls, lunch periods, or any other free time, and asking questions after hours via Edmodo.  While I admire their efforts, I believe that if they started out this focused on the project, there would be no need for as much effort now.  I do realize that the dreaded, state mandated, standardized tests were last week which created a different atmosphere for the start of the project.  Being entrenched in the holiday season and weekly threat of “SNOWMAGEDDON X” from the local weather forecasters has added to the ongoing list of distractions for this project.

Voki and Wix

Today a learning opportunity arose with a student who was working towards completing a project for my Honors Civics class. The student had embedded a Voki into his Wix website. The Voki was showing on the page, but no audio would play.

Several quick tests eliminated browser compatibility issues, java and/or flash issues, and web filter issues. Other students who were in my room from their study hall soon joined in. We experimented a bit, re-recording another Voki, checking the audio in the original, we even looked at the html code, though neither of us know code. None of the experiments turned up a solution, although I noticed that the Voki was being cut off at the bottom on the webpage. Wix does state that html is in beta and not fully supported, but I did not believe that was an issue.

One last trial turned out to be the solution and it was so easy, even an old teacher like myself could do it. We simply clicked on the html widget box,on the edit view of the Wix page, and dragged a corner of the box to resize the widget. We republished the site and found that Voki now had the “Play” button partially showing on the webpage. The student repeated the process and realigned the widget on the page. There were several more alterations needed on the site, but the lesson worked across the pages.

It was nice to see an easy fix to a unique situation. All students involved learned more than just a quick fix to a simple issue. They learned to not stress when things go wrong and sometimes it takes more than one try to fix a problem; even for someone who seems to usually know what he doing with classroom technology.


What to do during New State Standardized Testing Window…Expand Project Week

Well, we in Pennsylvania we have new(er) standardized tests, the Keystone Exams.  It was my distinct pleasure to be permitted to proctor them this year, sarcasm is intended.  I hate standardized tests, but that is a rant for another post.  The state window for testing started after Thanksgiving break and ended a week or so after we got back, sorry, but I do not pay attention to such details, I just focus on when we HAVE to take them in our school.  Our district took the tests right out of the gate  following break; if you have to do it, just jump right in and start. With the majority of my students testing at least one of the three scheduled days I knew I would not be able to accomplish much.  My students would either be testing and out of my class, or coming into class after testing and have their brains fried to a mush-like substance.  All students who missed class would need filled in, and students who had their brains curdled would need remediated…what a world, what a world.

I chose to jump into collaborative project week and expand the assignment by a week.  Each of my subject classes had a different project focus of topic, but similar style projects to create.  Podcasts, websites, videos, to combinations of such things were highly encouraged.  Students were to use the new iPads or their own personal mobile devices to work on the projects.  With a week of near empty classes, or classes filled with zombified students I rolled out the projects.

We started slow, students used Google Docs to sign up for groups, topics of research/presentation, and methods of presenting.  We brainstormed ideas of research together as group, discussing why topics were of interest and should they be accepted.  As usual, Edmodo was used as the mothership platform for communication and organization of the classes.  This first week went well, students were able to accomplish work and decompress from the testing.  The opportunity to collaborate, socialize, and have others to lean on was a major benefit for the students.  Those students who did not have to test benefited from not having to do extra assignments, or busy work as they call it.  As you will see in my next post, students who missed for testing even started the projects while away from class.

While I still thoroughly despise such tests, I now have a worthwhile concept to get my students involved in while we grind out these mandatory requirements.

Computer Room Chaos…or not

I rolled out the students’ blogs last week in three of my classes while my other three classes logged in today.  Overall the students were very productive, they began personalizing their blogs and writing their class expectation blog posts.  The three classes that started last week are almost done with the assignments and ready to move on.

I broke the assignment up for my classes up to keep me from dealing with the potential of six periods of chaos in one day.  Today, all six of my classes were in the computer lab, we all managed to survive the day.  Having half of the classes wrapping up the assignment while the others were starting allowed me to troubleshoot issues so much more effectively.

Speaking of troubleshooting, I did discover that for the most part, the students who had blogs from my class last year had a harder time remembering their log in information…which I anticipated.   Most could log in to Edublogs, a few needed their passwords reset via their Gaggle student email accounts.  A select few needed assistance to log in to both accounts, but this happens on occasion and the students were eager to help each other out while I helped with the administrative tasks.

The students who were new had an easier time, they were given their usernames and they all had a generic password to use.  There were a couple of hiccups with students who were added to my class in the last couple of days, and one or two that I missed when creating the blogs.  I am not sure of it was out school filter or an Edublogs issue, but several student accounts were rough to set up and once they were logged in, they had multiple blogs created from my various attempts to create accounts for them.

Their first task was to change their password to something they would remember.  The students then had to make their blog the primary blog.  This defaults the students to their personal blog instead of the class blog at sign in.  From there they began writing their expectation post and personalizing the space.  The processes were modeled the previous day in class, using the Interactive Whiteboard.  In a couple of classes I had the students gather around a computer while a student modeled how to turn in the assignments or complete a task that was confounding several students.

The assignments were posted in Edmodo along with my classroom expectation post.  I also created a couple of screencasts with Camtasia for Mac for students who may need reminded how to “Turn In” their blog posts and/or personalize their blogs.  The videos are posted on YouTube and SchoolTube for general access, they were also embedded in a folder within my Edmodo classes for easy access by my students. I could not resist name dropping tools so I can add the tags below…

All in all it was a very productive day, with many lessons learned and everyone playing different roles; students as teachers, teachers as learners.  It was what school and learning is supposed to be about.  And the chaos…it was nothing like I had feared.


Edmodo and IFTTT

I recently came across a post about a concept called IFTTT, “If This Then That.” I believe I came across an initial post in Edmodo or Twitter and ran with it from there. My path took me to the following blog post by Laura Gilchrist. In a nutshell, you can preset some basic actions for your computer or smartphone called “recipes.” Recipes can be automatic actions where all you do is sit back and watch the presets play out, or they can be latent actions that need your prompting to begin. A more thorough explanation can be found on their website by clicking here.

I played around with the concept last night thinking how it can be incorporated into my classroom. There are many pre-made “recipes” on the IFTTT web site, I grabbed one to use for my personal use, with just a touch of my smartphone screen. The recipe automatically searches for free children’s Kindle eBooks and sends me an email when one is released by Amazon. I had two emails about free books within eight hours of setting up that recipe.

I also created my own recipe for classroom use in a matter of a couple of minutes. I clicked through the prompts on the IFTTT site to take any blog posted here on my Edublogs site with the hashtag #IFTTT to be fed to an Instapaper account I set up. This step is what made the process take several minutes instead of several seconds. My goal is to find a way to grab information that I either find or create and quickly push it out to my students to work with in my classrooms. This will be my first attempt to see if my recipe is a success.

At this juncture, I wish it bring Edmodo into the equation. Edmodo is not currently partnered with IFTTT, so I do not think information and actions can be pushed directly into my classes. I tweeted

@edmodo would love to see a way to work with @IFTTT for educational use.

My thinking behind this is…(drumroll please)…being able to create recipes to push information out to my students even more quickly and easily than I can currently. Yes, this is stated above, but… The goal would be to create spontaneous learning groups, to get the students to learn outside of the classroom. At first, maybe have the students post a comment about an article I find, or a picture that is posted…all assignments would be voluntary at first and count as enrichment assignments. The assignments could grow into the students posting more than written comments in response to my information. Podcasts, vodcasts, vokis, and other such multimedia presentations can become responses. The end goal would be for students to begin using IFTTT recipes on their own. They could be used for my class, other classes, or just personal use.

As a social studies teacher my ultimate goal is to ensure that my students have the tools and knowledge to be successful in life. This concept will hopefully help build solid citizens in both the physical world and the digital realm that we now live in. I want them to be positive contributors to society, and I believe that most of them are doing just that, however it is important to keep improving into the future.

Student Math Projects

One of our high school math teachers, Kerri Heymann, @kheymann on Twitter, recently had her Algebra students create a neat project to help other students in the school.  The idea is not new, but it is useful; the students created screencasts of math problems and posted them on the Internet for other students to use as a review resource.  You can find the screencasts here.

The process was simple, students paired up, chose a topic, designed several problems and directions to solve them, then recorded their examples.  Kerri then posted the link to the videos on her school Edline page and her Edmodo classroom.  Now for some name dropping to explain the details…

The students set the problems up on the Polyvision Boards using RM Easiteach software, Kerri set up a free account and a channel on Screencast-o-matic, which the students used to record their explanations.  At this time I would like to thank fellow technology coaches, Jason Henry, John Deihl, and Carol Roth who helped with the recording ideas.  I could not find a way to record directly with RM Easiteach, and they helped clarify that you cannot do so at this time and suggested alternatives.  The students then came into several staff classrooms to record their presentations without distractions.

The students were comfortable with using the Polyvision Boards and Easiteach, we run both the Next Generation and older versions in our district.  Screencast-o-matic took them all of about 10 seconds to learn; the process went very well…the hardest obstacle the students had to overcome was giggling or shyness during their presentations.  The best part of the project was the independence of the students.  We sat back and waited to assist if necessary, but the students handled their issues well.

As a first step, the project went very well, we are already planning expanding and improving upon things for next year.  Hopefully the students can help pull other staff members into similar projects next year.  After all, students are the best at pulling hesitant staff into the realm of classroom technology use and making these tools a part of everyday life.