Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Water, Water, Everywhere...Well, Not Exactly

Each year, our first grade students learn about the value of water. They explore the water cycle, scarcity, and do interesting experiments to understand how water impacts our world. Last year, we had the good fortune of Skyping with Splash.org, a devoted group of individuals based in Seattle, Washington but with a team all over the world, working together to bring clean water to children. They really brought to light the efforts that are occurring to ensure that access to clean water is an obtainable goal around the world. We learned about girls who are at a disadvantage having to walk to clean water sources to supply water to their family. We learned about children the same age as our first graders who are so much like us but are suffering for lack of access to clean water. We discovered a variety of different water filtration systems that have been invented to help in these efforts. 

We were so inspired by these stories, very different from our own, that we created our own prototypes of water filtration systems. One of my favorite prototypes involved an apparatus that took condensation from clouds to create access to clean water. Each of the groups shared valuable ideas and worked together toward this common goal. 

This week, we launched our 2018-2019, water initiative by creating a lesson for the first graders to understand water scarcity through an experiential activity. We signed on to join the Junior Water Walkers, which inspires children to learn about water scarcity, adopt a body of water, protect the water, and finally to walk the water. In an effort to learn more about water scarcity, we shared Joanne Robertson's book, The Water Walker, which tells the original story of Nokomis Josephine Mandamin's Native American culture and the valuable role that waters plays and how her culture works to respect water. The last line of the book ends with "What are you going to do about it?". The hope is that it will inspire students to social action. 


Following the telling of Josephine's powerful story, students were put into seven groups and given a "home base". Each individual within the home received a bucket and were assigned a body of water (a section of blue butcher paper laid out on the floor) that they had to journey toward. It was a long walk to their assigned body of water! After all, they had to get to a clean water source, one that was not littered with trash. After reaching their water source, there was so much water in it but their bucket was only so big so they could only fit four drops of water in the bucket. Each water drop represented something different. For example, they could choose a water drop that specified water for brushing teeth, watering a garden, taking a bath, cooking food, drinking water for pets, and more. However, they could only choose four uses for their water as that is all they could contain in their bucket. The decision making was not easy. After they filled their buckets, they journeyed back to their home base. In small groups within their "family", they shared their water selection choices and discussed why they chose what they did, how they prioritized, and what was difficult to leave behind. After having our family meetings, as a larger group, we discussed what we would do tonight to help preserve water. The suggestions were fantastic: turn off the water while brushing our teeth, don't flush the toilet every time when it isn't necessary, and only fill our water glasses with the amount water that we know we will drink because we can always come back for more. 






To conclude the water launch, we watched a clip from the short film When A Town Runs Dry produced by Joris Debeij and shared by the Global Oneness Project. The film is told from the perspective of a farmer, a high school football coach, and a grocery store owner, each of which share their story of how their central California town is impacted by a water shortage. We recognized that water shortages are not just an issue in third world countries but can impact us right here in the United States, again begging us to ask the question, "What are you going to do about it?".

Just as water is part of a natural cycle, we will circle back to water again. Our eighth graders this year will participate in a One Book, One Read program reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. We strive to inspire our community to take social action and hope that the exposure to these stories will move our students to do something about it. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

It's Surreal: Virtual Reality Meets Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes create fascinating worlds for us to explore. In what other reality can a giant egg-shaped figure and a black sheep talk or a wolf blow down a house? Combine virtual reality with the world of nursery rhymes and you have brought a surreal experience to life for young learners, reminiscent of a Salvador Dali painting.  
Humpty Dumpty Sits on a Wall, with All the King's Men Nearby
We had a powerful learning opportunity today. Kindergarten students, who have learned a multitude of nursery rhymes in their current literacy unit, were able to generate their own interpretations of nursery rhymes. Using the virtual reality application CoSpaces Edu, I was able to set up a class, assign students a project to create a virtual version of a world inspired by a nursery rhyme, and "push" the assignment out to the class. In order for the students to grasp the concept of virtual reality, I shared some common examples of virtual reality games, like Pokemon Go. I contrasted the concept of virtual reality with that of going to the movies. At the movies, you are an audience member watching a story unfold but you are not necessarily a part of the story. In virtual reality, the students have the opportunity to become a part of their newly created environment and as a result, their role in the story is one of active participation. They immerse themselves in a new experience. 

With Google Cardboard, an iPod, and access to 1st Playable Production's YouTube creation of The Three Little Pigs in virtual reality, students were able to experience the story of The Three Little Pigs. Once students experienced virtual reality in a world that was created by someone else, they were motivated and inspired to create their own. Their creations were unique and symbolic. A lot of thought went into their final products.
Being able to display their projects on the Promethean board in play mode was an amazing opportunity too. Students were able to narrate their virtual reality nursery rhyme in front of a larger audience by mirroring their work from the iPad using Air Server. Essentially, they became the "tour guide" of their own story for a wider audience. 

The teachers and the students loved hearing what went into each child's creation process. It's fascinating to discover the story behind the story. They shared how they decided to include specific structures, characters, and what inspired their environmental choices, such as weather and scenery.

Need an escape from your own reality? Take your students on a trip to their own Neverland with Co Spaces Edu. It is a journey you won't soon forget.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Mystery Skyping: Comparable to an Air Traffic Control Tower

We had a blast today mystery skyping with a class in Virginia! We won't tell you what city they were in because well, that was the hardest mystery to unravel. Who knows, you may find yourself mystery skyping with them one day and I wouldn't want to take away the fun. Our 5th grade students loved it. We follow the mystery skype process that I refer to as "Paul Solarz style". He is a master at crafting an environment that becomes organized chaos. Similar to an air traffic control tower. Every student knows their role and responsibility, some of which are limited to themselves and some of which are shared responsibilities. While doing our part, we try our best not to run into each other. Somehow it all works out. 




We always have a dress rehearsal at which time we review the roles, choose our parts (or in some cases have them assigned if necessary), learn the importance of mystery skype netiquette, and brainstorm examples of "good" questions that aren't too direct but also help us beat the clock to discover where the other students are located before they figure out where we are located. We even have assigned places within the room so that we each have a home base for our jobs. Jobs include Atlas researchers, Google Earth explorers, a task master, a greeter, a closer, the question askers, the runner, and more. Regardless of one's job, everyone has the opportunity to research and submit possible questions. 

The day of the mystery Skype typically involves covering up our school name and logo information found on our clothing. We file in quietly, assume our positions, and connect virtually with the other class. Even those students and bystanders (sometimes we have classroom visitors) who don't think they will get caught up in the energy, can't help themselves. Before we know it, we are all working feverishly to discover the location before they discover ours. It's high energy, anxiety provoking, totally focused, crazy fun. We love it! If you haven't done one yet, be brave and try it. You won't regret it!


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Light Up Someone's Day with Light Up Pill Boxes

Last year, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Gina Seymour focusing on diversity in Maker Spaces at SxSWEDU. I am a fan of her recent book, Makers with a Cause, which inspired me to try out a new project during a recent Maker Monday. Students designed and created light up pill boxes to donate to an elder care facility not far from our school. 



The supplies needed for this project included the following:

First, students decorated their boxes with craft supplies. I discovered some old stickers in our library cabinets and brought in a large box of washable markers to spark creativity. Then, using a template, students put together their circuit and embedded a button to allow the light to turn off and on. In order to facilitate the process, we pre-cut small pieces of paper for students to be able to assemble the technology to easily fit within the lid of the pill box.

In order to ensure the batteries would not drain, we incorporated the LilyPad button so that pill box users could turn the lights on and off, as needed. Younger students received some help from myself and our media assistant, Lisa Pritchett, to put their circuit together.


This was a great project for students in kindergarten through fifth grade because the little ones could spend their time decorating the boxes and learning about the technology within them. Meanwhile, the second graders and up could spend time decorating their boxes and putting together the technology to install within the box lids. 

After creating 48 pill boxes on Maker Monday, a group of second grade students were able to deliver them to the residents at Somerby Sandy Springs, an elder care facility not too far from our school. We arrived during breakfast and the residents could not have been happier to see us. The students handed out the pill boxes, explained the technology component and how to turn on the lights, and visited with the residents.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that one of our fourth grade teacher's grandmothers is a resident there and delighted in meeting her. What a treat for us all!





Thursday, August 16, 2018

Coding with Little Learners

Welcome back to school! As part of an introspective community that is constantly welcoming iterations shaping how we teach and impact student's lives, I am thrilled to be launching a coding program for our littlest learners this year. Rather than translate into more screen time, this program will focus on coding as a literacy, rather than a technical skill. Having been inspired by Ann Gadzikowski's research as well as the book Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classsroom by Marina Umaschi Bers, our young students have the opportunity to reinforce skills that they are learning in the core curriculum through coding: sequencing and algorithmic thinking. Our first lesson this week involved creating the understanding that robots aren't human but are rather programmed to think like a human. It can be equated to training a dog. We teach (or program) a dog to learn new tricks, similar to teaching (or programming a robot) to perform as a human. We also weave in feelings and emotions through these lessons. Even though robots aren't human, do we still care about them? Even though machines aren't real people, do we still care for and take care of them? Absolutely. We are learning to understand the world around us and translate that to better understand our relationships with objects and other humans. 

Problem-solving and learning to be comfortable not having all of the answers is a key component to coding as a playground. We don't have a playbook for playing on the playground. We decide to explore objects on the playground by trial and error. We are also social creatures. Rather than playing silently on the playground, we connect, collaborate, and discover together. The approach to coding with little ones is similar. Working in small groups, we learn to solve problems together by sharing ideas, trying out potential solutions, and reworking our attempts to move forward. 

To help us in these efforts, we have acquired some new technology. Some of these tools include the Cubetto, Beebots, and Osmo. Integrating these tools into the lessons to reinforce the concepts allows the students to engineer their own learning. As we learn more about the world around us within the framework of coding, we will ultimately produce our own unique projects using the design process shared below. Learners can approach this design process by jumping in at any phase of the project and working from there. It is a flexible learning experience. 


Working in groups of four to five students, on our second day of school, we walk through Cubetto's world on his second day. We explore the environment around us, learning how to get from point A to point B, just like we are learning to do this first week. 
Students orienting Cubetto to help the robot get where it needs to go

Students gain confidence through trial and error


 Students celebrate their success!


This week, learning with Cubetto taught us to persevere, have grit, be creative, and to have fun. Our students can't wait to see what (or who) will be waiting for them next week. We look forward to learning right along their side. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Coding as a Language & Design Challenges

I have embraced the merging of maker activities with literacy. I came across this fantastic series called Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas. Her books tell a fun story that take kids on a mystery-filled adventure while weaving in coding analogies with perfect stopping points throughout the story for mini-hands on design challenges.
Having purchased an ebook copy of the book, I shared the story in increments with the students. Ruby is on a quest to find a total of five gems left behind by her father while he is away on a business trip to help keep her occupied and to know that he is thinking of her. As Ruby journeys through the forest and meets interesting characters that teach about collaboration, loops, variables, debugging, and more, we pause throughout to attempt mini-maker challenges in seven minute increments to help Ruby along on her journey. 
First, students are tasked with building a raft to help her get across the river. With only fourteen toothpicks and two pipe cleaners, resources are scarce. Working in pairs, students have seven minutes to build their raft with these limited resources. Can they do it? 

As the story continues, Ruby realizes she needs a ladder to reach one of the higher gems. Again, students are challenged to build a ladder with only nine toothpicks and two pipe cleaners. No tape allowed. This is probably the most difficult task.
Finally, Ruby makes it to the river but realizes she needs to build a bridge to make it across. To do so, she can use six toothpicks and two pipe cleaners. Did she think to anchor her bridge to the bank of the river?


All of these questions arise as students pause throughout the story and work together to accomplish their design challenges while learning new coding concepts. After each design challenge, we take time to reflect on our process so far: What was easy? What was challenging? What would we do different next time? Would this have been easier or harder with or without a team? As we consider what we have learned along the way, we learn to persevere. 

Third graders loved meeting Ruby and discovering how to collaborate to achieve their goals so that Ruby can obtain all five gems. In the end, Ruby learns that it isn't the gems that matter but rather it is the journey itself that becomes meaningful as she discovers how to work with others and make new friends. Interestingly, the students seem to reach the same conclusion. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Clubbing at The Library

Image result for disco ball
In our library, we like to go clubbing. Or rather, create clubs. Over the course of my eleven years at The Davis Academy, we have hosted clubs of many sorts: book clubs (with multiple variations), newspaper clubs, comic clubs, gaming clubs, technology clubs, and social emotional development clubs. Once we have an official name for a club, we are off to the races with planning and programming. The library media center is the ideal spot for clubbing. With a little creativity and a lot of passion, a club can go a long way in cultivating a strong community vibe. 

I have discovered over the years that the popularity of various clubs ebbs and flows based on current cultural climate, parental influence, and student passion. What worked five years ago may not work now. For this reason, our clubs are constantly in flux from year to year. 














Our Technology club, dubbed The Network Sherpas, started with six members (one girl and five boys) and now extends onto two campuses with a total of twenty-seven members (40% girls and 60 % boys). It's only been around for two years and yet as the participants grow, the opportunities expand. What was once an insular club that remained within the confines of the school walls now has evolved into students presenting at conferences and taking innovative field trips. 

Starting small is smart. Taking a pulse on where students interests lie and being flexible to incorporate those interests into the experience is rewarding. Tomorrow marks our final end of year event for our 2017-18 Network Sherpas. The hope is that they will be inspired to continue serving as technology leaders and experts, serving a wider community and sharing their knowledge with a constant drive to keep learning.