Playing with nkwiry

Brian Aspinall has done it again!

Brian is rapidly gaining fame as creating free, incredibly student friendly web resources.  The hallmark of his products are ease of signup for teachers who just create a class and the students just use the class.  No collection of student information of any kind is done and no student email is required to use the service.  Too often, concerns about student information are enough to scuttle technology in the classroom plans.  That won’t happen here.

His latest production is called nkwiry.  nkwiry is a very classroom friendly social bookmark curating service.  There are many similar services on the web but they do require some involved account creation and then a bit of work (read explaining grown up sevices to students and the frustration therein) to get started before you can enjoy some success.

Using nkwiry is as simple as the three images below.

  • teacher creates a single account for the class;
  • students are added to the class;
  • students login with the class code and begin sharing.

Brian originally created nkwiry to supplement the inquiry process in the new Social Studies curriculum.

However, as a classroom teacher, you’re not locked into just Social Studies.  Your starter classroom curation looks like this.

Of course, you can add/remove subjects or topics as needed.  Adding a link to any category looks pretty familiar if you’ve used any of the popular bookmarking services.

The only thing that appears missing at this point would be creating tags for the bookmarks.  Perhaps in an upcoming release?

It’s as functional as that.  While the big services may have more features, Brian’s design is specifically for the elementary classroom and provides “just enough” features to do the job.

My first reaction was that this has potential far beyond the single classroom.  Instead, if you’re doing a project with another school, consider adding both sets of students into your classroom.  All that’s needed is the class name and student code.  Perhaps you’re blogging or creating online presentations with another class. nkwiry easily lets you create a functional list summary of all of the participants.

If you’re looking for a simplified interface for curating resources and aren’t interested in having your students wade their way through the features of the current big services, nkwiry may be “just enough” to help you get the job done.

By way of declaration, Brian was a student of mine at the Faculty of Education.  Regardless, I am a fan of his approach to creating simplified tools for the classroom with a minimum of registration and respect for student information.  You can read an interview that I did with Brian here.

If you like what you’re seeing, make sure you check out his other products, all free and specifically written for the classroom.

And, if you are attending the Western RCAC Symposium this Thursday in London, drop by and meet Brian.  He’s presenting in the morning about how he introduces his students to coding.  Maybe we’ll find out that his students actually wrote this?

Classroom Management Challenge

Yesterday, I read and shared this article.  “15 creative & respectful ways to quiet a class.”  It’s packed with great ideas and is a good read.  The best advice appears at the bottom.

Remember there is no “magic bullet” what will get all students’ attention all of the time. Don’t get frustrated! Constantly having to refocus your class is a normal part of teaching. Take a deep breath, smile, and and keep encouraging your students. You can do this! And please, share your favorite tips for guiding students to quiet down in the comments!

My Twitter friend Linda Aragoni was all over this in a heartbeat.

She’s got a point.  I know that when I used to sing a song for my Grade 12s, that would increase the noise as they tried to drown me out.  Back and forth, she suggested…

And even offered to help.

How’s that for a challenge?  So, to you middle or secondary school teachers or college/university professors, how do you quiet a class?

I’ll start with a couple of things that I found worked for me in Computer Science classes.

  1. Consider your expectations.  In my Computer Science classes, I didn’t have the traditional “solve three problems” and then hand them in.  The programming requirements was actually a continuum of things that ran from mid-September until mid-June.  When a student had a problem to be assessed, they just called me over and we looked at it together on their computer.  More often than not, this resulted in students getting to class early, loading their program and asking me to mark it;  (added bonus – no marathon marking sessions…)
  2. Give the students ownership of the society curriculum requirement…instead of me providing examples of computers in society, students were encouraged to bring in their own stories or to talk and assess a current teachnology issue – even how computers might have been portrayed on a television show from the previous evening.  Students do have respect for each other when they own the floor.  As blogged previously, students got to show off their research with bulletin boards as well.

Having said all that, I’ll admit that my Computer Science classes were among the noisiest going but I like to think it was good noise.  There’s nothing better than students working/arguing in groups all the while on topic.  Having said that, there were days when I wished for a magic potion.

So, gentle reader in the older classes, please consider sharing your tips in the comments below.  Linda has promised to promote your wisdom.


A Great Symbaloo Mix

It’s not secret that I’m a real fan of Symbaloo.  I’ve talked about it before and have a number of webmixes tied to my account.  My only challenge is writing about it and making sure that I spell it correctly.  Two Ls or Two Os?

At times, I’ll explore the public webmixes for a number of reasons.  I might add it to my own in a new tab or I’ll use it as an answer when someone asks “Can you recommend something for this…?”  I like to encourage others to create their own.  In the classroom, it’s a very functional and engaging way to direct students to appropriate and pre-selected resources.

For the well connected educator, it’s a great one stop portal to all of the things that might be happening in your classroom.  You know – your wiki, your blog, student blogs, homework helper, YouTube page, …  Anything that transports the class to where they need to be with a single click is great.

During my recent search, I came across this webmix.  It’s a collection of lab links for Oak Grove and Valley View”

Updated this summer, you can be relatively assured that all of the links are active.

For some, this may be too much on a single screen.  For others, it might be just perfect since you’ll be directing students to one particular button during the lesson.  It’s also a good answer to the parent question “What are some websites we could use at home with our child?”

Symbaloo is free; there is an educational version here; there’s an iOS version and an Android version.

There really aren’t any excuses to give it a try!


Programming with Bee-Bot

Computer Studies teachers have known for a long time that there’s something very unique and engaging about assembling instructions to make a computing device do something.  As simple a statement as that is, I think that sums up my entire philosophy of Computer Studies.  The art and craft of the Computer Studies teacher is knowing the curriculum, knowing the students, knowing where to get resources, and then matching all of them to make the best possible learning experience.  My bookshelves are full of books that I’ve bought over the years to build my own library of resources.  By today’s standards, this collection seems quite quaint but, I think like most teachers, it’s just not in my DNA to throw away any book.  Like most teachers, my spouse is forever asking “When was the last time you read this book?”  “Why don’t you get rid of these?”  I just can’t.

I do think “quaint” describes the collection because there is so much readily online anymore.  It’s definitely better and much more modern – whether it be resources, lessons, languages, applications, etc.

At the recent CSTA Conference, I had a chance to meet up with some other CS teachers and solve all of the world’s CS ills in the lounge.  One of the things that we agreed upon was that the greatest of all books remains Oh! Pascal!  In fact, one of the group indicated that it was the standard upon which most modern books are modelled.  It’s difficult to argue with that logic.  But things have changed dramatically since Oh! Pascal! came on the scene.

So, back to making a computing device do something.  I really got into the sessions dealing with programming robots at the conference.  While I’d worked with a number of robots here in Ontario at various grade levels, Finch and Hummingbird were new to me.  I thoroughly enjoyed the presentations and can’t imagine any inquisitive youth not rolling up sleeves and digging in.

How do you introduce the notion of instructions making an object move and do something?  With the current fascination with purchasing iPads for education, I think that it makes a great deal of sense to look for an application that teaches the concepts and yet has an entry point that works for the youngest of programmers.

To that end, I started looking about and found the application Bee-Bot from TTS.  There’s a free version for the iPad to introduce the programming concepts that presumably would be prep for the use of the actual floor robot.

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Playing with the Bee-Bot, involves solving problems of increasing difficulty.  Here’s Level 5.

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I had a whale of a time playing around solving the various levels.  It’s a free download and you’re up to speed in minutes.  Your kids will be up to speed in seconds.  All the while, they’re learning how to create a program or sequence of instructions to make a computing device do something.  I wouldn’t suggest that you describe it like that…that sounds too much like academia.

Just pass the device over and watch the trial, error,  hypothesis, testing, revising, and ultimate success that will happen.

I would introduce this very early.  Grade 3 or 4?  It’s going to work best with students in teams solving the challenges.  (Don’t get lured into it being “easy” by the first couple of levels.)  Treat the levels and the success per level as badges.  And, provide lots of scratch paper, encourage drawing/doodling to solve the problems and be amazed when the students are able to solve the challenges on “the farm”.

Who knows?  You may be inspiring the next batch of programmers.  If not, you’ll be inspiring them to take control of their device to make it do something.

Either way, you’ll bring a smile to your favourite Computer Studies educator.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

As the school year winds down, it’s a time of reflection for educators.  How did my class do?  Why didn’t this student do better?  This student really caught fire.  I was most effective when I …  I was least effective when I …  I need to grow professionally in this area.  My biggest strengths are …

On the Ontario blogging front, I caught some reflections that people chose to share with the world.

Feeling Intellectually Safe – My Students Reflect on Their Year

Heidi Siwak was moved to post after her students were interviewed for a video from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.  I really liked the way that she described her reactions to their comments and thoughts that they shared while being interviewed.  I can imagine that it would be a nervous time – we all wonder why our students say when they go home and talk to mom and dad.  But to be on tape and potentially sharing it with educators throughout the province?



Staying Positive

Aviva Dunsiger notes that the end of the year isn’t always an easy time for everyone.  There are lots of things on the horizon that can be a challenge.  I was fortunate to work in an air conditioned school which makes a world of different in hot and humid Essex County.  In our department, we also had a philosophy of working hard right to the end of the school year.  That’s what we were hired for, right?  In her latest post, she talks about some of the things that she’s positive and thankful for.

It’s been a difficult school year in Ontario and the public elementary school teachers still aren’t out of the woods.  It’s good that she can focus on the positives.



Professional Reading: Summer of 2013

Julie Balen is already planning her own personal professional development.  On her blog, she’s listed 9 titles on her “to read” and “to re-read” list.  As she notes, she has selected a very interesting collection of titles.

As I look them over, I see some that I have read and I’m intrigued by a couple of the titles.


Look for What is Good and Strong

Paul Cornies’ latest post seems like the perfect summary for the blogs referenced above.  Good and Strong, reflective, interested in professional growth and student achievement.  You can see it all!

Thanks to these Ontario Edubloggers for being so visible with your learning and sharing.  These blogs are great reads – take some time to read and enjoy.  The complete collection of Ontario Edubloggers can be found here.

Technology Integration Matrix

The Technology Integration Matrix is an interesting resource.  For the experienced teacher who is using technology well, it offers a confirmation that things are done well.  For the teacher struggling to engage students through the use of technology in lessons, it offers a world of ideas from the simple to the rather complex.  For the new teacher, or especially teacher candidates, it offers a complete interative overview of what should be, might be, could be…

Across the top, levels of sophistication include Entry, Adoption, Adaptation, Infusion, and Transformation.

Each of these levels deal with a type of technology use:  Active, Collaborative, Constructive, Authentic, and Goal Directed.

As I worked my way through the matrix, I found myself agreeing with a great deal of it.  At the same time, I pictured people by name who I knew would argue, not on the concept, but on the label attached.

Regardless, if you’re a technology using educator, a person who supports others using or trying to use technology, or a person who just wants to glean more ideas, it’s time well spent to work your way through the resource.  There are some great ideas along with movie clips to demonstrate the concepts.

Share it with your colleagues.  It may just be enough to push them to the next level of sophisticated use.


Write Your Own eTextbook…

…in fact, you may already be doing most of this.

Recently, I had a conversation with a computer science teacher who was bemoaning the fact that there just wasn’t a perfect textbook for her course.  I don’t think that’s unusual.

I never found a computer science textbook that I wanted to use.  The examples in the ones that I looked at were different from the ones that I would use and the exercises often were too simple to reinforce the concepts that I wanted.  Plus, it’s also nice to have a bank of extra problems to pull out as needed – for review, extra practice, ideas for students, and so much more.

Any computer science teacher that I’ve ever met is the ultimate curator.  Filing cabinets just chock full of problems gathered from here and there; I was always a sucker for online programming competitions.  They are always a wonderful source of problems for class solution or for student problems.  Most are now available on the web and moving to a digital storage is only a click away.

Back to my discussion.  She was proud to indicate two things…first, the students were allowed to bring their own devices to classroom which had changed the way that she used computers – no more waiting for the “master image” to have the language and editors that she wanted.  Secondly, she had moved all of her notes and examples to a WordPress blog.  It was a private self-hosted blog and was just perfect for her purposes.  The students could access the current lesson or problem by visiting the blog.  She had learned quickly enough to have a few lessons published in advance so that there always was something ready.  She was using the comments to a post section as a way for students to ask questions or get clarification when students weren’t in class.

It seemed like a perfect scenario with just one gotcha that was looming for a couple of students.  They didn’t have internet access at home.  It was not a huge problem provided the student remember to go to the blog and grab the topic while at school.  She was considering moving her resources to any of the eBook editing programs that are available but was shuddering to think of the work involved.

As we talked, I remembered BlogBooker.  I’ve written about it a few times on this blog.  Do a search or just read this one post.

Long story short, BlogBooker takes your blog and makes it into a PDF file.  That file, then, can be repurposed for any use that you might have for it including distributing copies to your students.  Why not turn your blog into an eTextbook?  BlogBooker has a great selection of options for formatting…

It sounds just like the sort of thing that any editing process would include.  Since the resulting document is a PDF file, images are embedded nicely, and links you make reference to are live!  If you’d been allowing Comments with one class, you could include them or go ahead an exclude them so the textbook is all you!  There’s nothing more universally assessible by devices than PDF.  And, if you need to revise the text book for subsequent years, you already have all your blogging experience at hand to make the changes.

BookBlogger is the perfect tool for saving a year’s worth of blog posts … those posts could your next best textbook!

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