Category Archives: technology

Second Day of School

I teach a technology course for school leaders seeking a master’s degree. Most will become school or division leaders such as principals or curriculum specialists. Normally, the course is fully face to face during the fall semester.

This year, I am implementing a blended, mostly online approach, with weekly synchronous meetings.  We will have three face to face meetings. Last week, we met on campus to get to know each other and make sure everyone was comfortable with the tools we were going to be using to do our work during the semester. More on those tools in another post.

Tonight was our first online meeting using Zoom as our interface. There are 7 students in the class, which seems like a good number for an online meeting, particularly because I wanted to use video and audio. It was good to see their faces, and I think it facilitated conversation. My face to face class is very interactive. My students have a variety of professional experiences related to educational technology that can inform their understanding and provide diverse perspectives to their classmates. We talk a lot about how our work connects with standards and research and practice.

And, we did that tonight. We spent time making sure everyone was comfortable with the Zoom room. We used the text chat and then video discussion to explore the topic of technology transformation. My one technology glitch was that they couldn’t hear the audio on a video. I’ll explore that more this week as I do want us to have some communal viewings.

At the end, I asked what they thought, as many of them hadn’t had an online course or even used Zoom. I got positive feedback and am excited about exploring the possibilities. There are some drawbacks that I will explore in another post.

For now, I am a happy teacher: I had an engaging few hours with some thoughtful, smart educators that allowed me to be closer to my base while they could go home and relax a bit before we connected.

I did do one thing to make sure we would be successful: I am renting office space in the small town next to my farm. The internet at my house is problematic: our potential cable provider has refused to provide us with broadband so we are stuck with DSL, and it is notoriously unreliable. I didn’t want to take any chances with losing connectivity during class. It was the right decision.

I had honestly forgotten what good internet was like…I’ve already messaged the landlord about creating a co-working space. I don’t need daily access but knowing I had a place to go for important meetings and large file uploads would be reassuring.

Confronting the Digital Divide One Kid A Time

I like on the edge of a small, impoverished, underserved town* in a county southeast of Richmond. During a Halloween “trunk and treat” event at the local library, I met the local 4H coordinator for the county who came over to check out my Makey Makey screaming pumpkins and talking hat. I followed up because I have been looking for a way to connect with the kids in my town. It turns out that 4H has a coding curriculum that we could use as the basis for a SPIN (Special Interest) club, a short term group around a specific topic. I agreed to facilitate six sessions around STEM to be held at the town’s community center, which is housed in the former elementary school in the heart of some of the worst poverty.

While the 4H curriculum is good and provides “unplugged” activities that don’t require Internet and computer access, we are fortunate to have decent Internet access, my collection of Makey Makey, and a few laptops including a couple that I bring with me. I ended up creating my own curriculum to take advantage of that access.

During the first week, we experimented with circuits using copper tape and playdoh with batteries and leds. On Tuesday of this week, we spent our hour connecting the Makey Makey to Scratch and making simple switches. One of the five participants had experience with the Makey Makey. The others caught on quickly.

Today was the big day, at least in my mind, as I knew I only had an hour to get them hooked on Scratch. So, we dove in and made a simple game using Barb Ericson’s tutorial.  I had three incredibly motivated students who had zero experience with coding and Scratch. but were eager to make their game.

They played my sample game when they arrived so they had an idea of what they would be creating. We worked through each step, and they were also able to customize their games by choosing their own sprites and backdrops. We still have some work to do but you can see their games here: https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/5887105/projects/

One of the boys, the same one who had worked with the Makey Makey, was able to move forward more independently by following the slides in the printed packet so I could work closely with the other two who needed more direct support. By the end of an hour, all three had working games that kept score. Whew!

I’m worried that they didn’t really have to time to process what we were doing, and I want to take time next Tuesday to review the various pieces that we put together. We will make the games harder and add some sounds, I think.

I would *love* to integrate the Makey Makey by having them create game controllers with switches during the last meeting. I think the town mayor may be stopping by. She helped me connect with the community center director so I invited her to stop by to see what is happening.

This is a small, small step. Three boys who are living in the digital divide and deserve the same access and opportunities of other kids. If there is interest, I am committed to continuing our meetings to explore Scratch and other kinds of programming. At the least, I want to hold a Valentine’s Day Card workshop using this great template from makerspaces.com.**

*Use whatever adjective you like: our grocery store closed several years ago so our food sources include fast food, one or two restaurants, and a couple dollar type stores. No local access to fresh food including vegetables and meat. The closest full-service store is 8 miles away. It’s a long way for people who also don’t have access to their own or public transportation.

**The wonderful woman who serves as the on site director for the center came to me today asking about how she might add lights to flowers to Valentine’s Day.  I told her I would bring my kit of lights and batteries next week and we could figure out how to make it work!

Why I Pursued ISTE Certification

After the conference in December, I posted a public commitment to being more connected, whether it was blogging or tweeting or pursuing my own professional development. In fact, “walking the walk” is my theme for 2019.

I had already made a private commitment earlier in 2018 when I signed on to participate in one of the first cohorts to complete the ISTE Certification.

I am not a full time educator, but I teach School Technology, a graduate course, for University of Richmond each fall, and I have been experimenting with that course to make it more student centered and exploratory than a typical graduate course. Testing my syllabus against the ISTE Standards for Educators intrigued me.

I am pleased to announce that I have successfully completed the certification process and am now an ISTE Certified Educator. As I had hoped, the process, especially the portfolio, allowed me thinkdeeply about my practice in all aspects of my work both in and out of the classroom.

But, the work doesn’t end with the portfolio and the certification. My video reflection was called “Walking the Walk,” and I professed my commitment to connecting online and with my local community. I live in an underserved community and have been looking for ways to connect. The local 4H director introduced himself at the library Halloween party where I was demonstrating Makey Makey. Now, we are working together to sponsor a STEM special interest group. We start next Tuesday. We will be using some of the activities included in the coding curriculum developed by 4H and Google and also exploring Makey Makey and robots.

I am excited but a little nervous as it has been awhile since I have worked with kids. The group will meet six times, and our first meeting is next Tuesday after school at the local community center. I spent the break doing lesson planning. We will be creating LED-lighted name tags as our first activity. I figured it was an engaging and quick way to assess their existing knowledge. We are also going to do an unplugged activity using cards to code a dance and share it. I will let you know how it goes…wish me luck!

A Few Random Notes for the New Year

It is warm enough here on the farm to have the doors open. I sat on the rocking chair on the porch and started reading my first book for the year: Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding. The first chapter pulled me in: an informal history that manages to celebrate not just birds but explorers and wilderness. I am, admittedly, a bird nerd so this may not be general interest, but it goes along with my desire to learn more about some of my hobbies.

I  chose this book as part of a challenge on LibraryThing, a reading community that I have belonged to since 2005. I have met a few of the folks in real life but most are virtual friends who share my love of reading and books. I want to spend more time here in 2019: again, an opportunity to focus on more deeply on reading, one of my lifelong hobbies.

I was surprised and honored to be mentioned by Jennifer Orr who included one of my recent posts in her year end review. I did a bit more blogging at the end of 2018 and knowing at least one person read and thought about my post might be enough to keep me going into the new year. Plus, Jennifer’s reviews provide a great start to my reading list for 2019. I plan to be much more intentional with my online time in the coming year. Less mindless scrolling and more meaningful interaction.

I am most excited about sponsoring a 4H special interest group related to coding in my local community. I live in one of the poorest counties in Virginia, underserved in many ways. But there are champions, and I have been able to connect with a few to sponsor the after school club in January. I spent my holiday break doing curriculum and lesson planning for our work together.

I think my biggest challenge is finding a work/life balance, especially when there is a huge overlap between those two things.

But I also love to play music and want to become more proficient on the guitar and ukelele, maybe even connect with a face to face group of musicians.

And I want to make time to create in all kinds of ways: crocheting, paper cutting, electronics. One of my best moments from 2018 was participating in the local library’s Trunk or Treat event on Halloween and getting folks to interact with the screaming pumpkins and the joke telling hat, both powered by Makey Makey.

Green Screen Practice

For Tuesday’s class, my students are thinking about leadership, vision and the standards. As part of the class, they will work in groups to create a slide about one of the Education Leader standards and how it relates to the other sets of standards. Once they create their slide, they will use Do Ink to narrate the slide in front of a green screen either using video of themselves or paper avatars. I have two green screen stations: one with a table cloth and one with a pizza box. Both items came from @gemilltime  who gave them to me after her presentation about using green screens in the classroom.

My sample was for the ISTE certification course and featured a paper doll of Emily Dickinson talking about flipgrid and how I use it as a check in tool for the genius project. Pretty dull stuff…it was proof of concept to make sure I had a basic understanding of how it works. I’m relying on at least some of my students being familiar with it. I think, as an exit ticket each week, I need to see how familiar students are with the coming tech activities. It will help gauge how far we might go and who might need extra support. I have some pretty techy folks this semester.

We are going to do a “stations” approach next week. There will be five groups–one for each standard–and all of them will spend the first 20 minutes planning their slide and their video. Then, two groups will work on their videos in the classroom while the rest of the students head out to the library to work independently on developing the twitter PLN, part of their passion project. They will find and follow experts in the area they want to pursue, identify potential twitter chats and then spend some time just interacting with Twitter. I feel like I used to as a reading teacher: if I wanted you to read, I needed to give you time. If I want you to use Twitter, I need to give it class time and priority.

As groups finish their videos, the other groups will rotate through with the goal of being done in time to watch them in class. If not, I’ll post them to the course site later.

My own attempt is not for prime time but I may play a bit tomorrow. I have these great paper dolls of famous American writers along with props that would make fun tableau. Maybe Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Mark Twain spend some time chatting.