Exercise Makes You Grow


Disclaimer right up front.  The title of this blog post is misleading.  Hopefully, it drew you in from curiosity anyway.

I am a supporter at every opportunity to get kids, no matter the size, to go beyond the cursory of tap, click, tap and begin to really understand what’s happening when using an electronic device.  The more that we can do to promote meaningful activities the better.

When do you start students programming?  My answer has always been – as soon as it’s developmentally appropriate.  In the big scheme of things, the sooner the better.  If you wait until secondary school, it’s way too late.  And students shouldn’t stop programming.  Now, not all of them will write the next great Canadian application but the more they understand the logic and the way things work, the better they’ll be.  There’s nothing more frustrating that watching someone just wandering around on their device hoping that they’ll find a solution when you know that a little logic and understanding resolves that instantly.

Off the soapbox and on to exercise.

I recently installed an application on my iPad that has the programmer in me obsessed and the educator in me seeing all kinds of application.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a great beginning programming environment.  It’s fun and you stay inside Daisy’s environment to do the sorts of things that Daisy can do.

What can she do?

Well, she can “move”, “turn”, “grow”, “shrink”, “jump”, “roll”, and “spin”.  She can repeat any of the actions and you can press “Play” to start and/or you can control her actions with a tap or a shake of your device.  That’s about it.  Any programmer will tell you that a program is best when you apply some logic and combine actions to get the job done.

When you first start Daisy, you may wish to enter the Challenge Mode to work through a set of challenges devised to teach you everything that Daisy can do.  You and your students will pick it up in a matter of minutes.  Then, it’s off to free-play mode to see what you can do.

In my case, I decided to show Daisy exercising!

The various commands that Daisy is capable of doing appear on the left of the screen – scroll with your fingers to get more of them.  To write your program, just drag the commands onto the program area.

In this case, I did the following:

  • Start when I shake the iPad;
  • For five times, do the following;
    • Move forward;
    • Shrink; (I thought it could simulate rolling up into a little ball)
    • Roll over;
    • Grow; (to get back to the original size)
    • Grow again because we just did some exercise.

To start the program, it’s just a matter of tapping Play.  Daisy appears on the left side of the stage and in this case, she just stands there waiting for me to shake the iPad.  I did and she exercised her way through the above activity.

It’s addictive.  As the program is running, you can follow the steps as the cyan commands turn magenta to let you know what’s being acted upon.  If you’re a fan of Scratch, it’s easy to see this application introducing the concepts.

The application is free and relatively small – 5MB.  It’s well worth the time to download and check out.  You’ll want to see what your students can do with it.

 

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


There was some heavy-duty blog posts from Ontario Educators this week.  They were really thought-provoking and just reaffirmed why it’s so difficult to go it along these days.  Thankfully, we have the abilities to network and troubleshoot among ourselves.  Here’s a sampling of the great reads that I enjoyed.


Important Considerations for Gifted Learners
So, how do you treat the gifted learner in your classroom?  Are they even identified?  Do you have a hunch about what you’d like to do with them?  Do you just give them more of the same or do you use their abilities to push them to even higher levels of thinking.  That was the message in Deborah McCallum’s recent post.

She starts by helping to identify the gifted learner

Once identified, Deborah talks about the sort of activities likely most successful to engage the students.  Everyone has this sort of student – this post may give you some thoughts about moving them to higher order thinking.


Feedback – Helping a Classmate
I think we all like to think that we set environments for this sort of activity.  I know that my wife would jump at any opportunity that uses sticky notes.

It seems like a natural in the art classroom to not only create your own best work but to look at the work of others in a critical fashion.

Colleen Rose described what I’m envisioning as a gallery walk in her classroom.  The description of collages, Powerpoints, and a Prezi shows a nice mix of media with students presumably choosing the best tool for the task.

The blog post quite nicely describes the process.  I really like how she describes that the whole activity was designed to have students look critically at both their own and others’ work.  She really describes how her students own the learning.


Student-Led Conferences
In my mind, there’s no better way to demonstrate that the students own their learning than via a student-lead conference.

Those of us who are parents have done this thousands of times.

“What did you do in school today?”

“Nuthin'”

I often joked with my kids that I was going to apply for a rebate and get my education tax dollars back if “nuthin'” happened.

But, being a parent at a conference led by your child is an experience.  You work it.  From the moment you enter the school, the student leads the way, points out artifacts, directs you to her/his classroom, points out his/her desk, and then proceeds to lead you through a demonstration of what they did, talk about what they can do and then what they’re going to do.

Rick McCleary describes the process perfectly.  What a great experience for students and their parents.  “Nuthin'” should never be an answer ever again!


The Quest for Self-Selection
So, what’s wrong with a library with 44 computers and 7 netbook computers?

Alanna King describes her reality so well.  I can just picture the room.  At one time when the desire was to have a “cross-curricular computer lab”, this may well have been utopia.  Thankfully, forward thinkers like Alanna and her husband Tim are questioning continuing the status quo.

If a library caters to an entire school population, it’s just silly to think that one solution fits everyone.  To drive home the point, she shares this video.

Beyond the humour, replace Sheldon with a good teacher-librarian.  We’ve traditionally looked to them to provide the best books, customizing the reading experience by student interest, abilities, levels, etc.  Why shouldn’t they also customize the approach to technology in today’s Learning Commons?


Stop the Excuses, Your Students Could Be Blogging
It seems bizarre that, with all the demonstrated success, that a title like this even needs to be used.  Shouldn’t it be “Your Students Could Be Blogging More” or “Students Who Blog Write More and Think Deeper” or …

Kristen Wideen shares a wonderful story about success in her classroom.  I think this pretty much sums it up.

I just can’t imagine the Christmas feeling coming from a brand new pencil writing a piece to be read by a single person, the teacher, marked and returned.

If there are any principals reading this post and looking to inspire those wondering if blogging is worth it, send them a link to this blog post.


I really hope that you take the time to read the full posts above.  Great thoughts, folks.  Then, head over to the Ontario Edubloggers Livebinder and read all the rest of the great materials from Ontario Edubloggers.  If you are in Ontario and blogging, please fill out the form there and I’ll add you to the Livebinder.  If you want, I’ll create your own spiffy Ontario Edublogger badge.

Two Posts About Real and Significant Change


I ran into two really good readings that should make anyone stop and think.  There are so many people talking about being on top of things and understanding the latest and greatest.  In this case, it’s Digital Textbooks and Learning Commons.  Absorb these  and be prepared to challenge anyone who comes along and uses the terms in a conversation to see if they are talking about real change or just saying the words.  After all, you can put lipstick on a horse, but it’s still a horse.

The Future of Digital Textbooks
Andrew Campbell’s latest post challenges the notion of what a digital textbook should be.  He addresses some important concepts.

  • Reliable Interconnected Devices
  • Customizable Content
  • Personalized Interface
  • Interactive
  • Facilitate Personal Connections
  • Integrated Assessment

These are certainly major things to consider and should help differentiate between a digital textbook and a text converted to PDF so that it can be easily shared.  My only issue that will require much further thinking is the concept of Integrated Assessment.  At this point, I’m concerned when we take assessment beyond the teacher’s personal toolkit and hand it over to a publisher or external agency.  Nobody knows a class better than the classroom teacher and there’s a real danger of one size fits all stepping into the picture.  So much for personalized learning.

Open School Learning Commons
Follow the link above or enter Dr. Charles Best Secondary School library site here.  In vogue is the term “Learning Commons” and I think it’s at its worst when it’s just a replacement for “Library” and nothing else has changed.

This site features one of the best descriptions of an open Learning Commons appears in the About page.

To be a “real” learning commons, we have to do more than add the latest devices and loosen the no talk, no foodrules of the traditional school library. The spirit of a commons – is a commonwealth of resources shared by a community.  You can call us a School Library or a Media Resource Centre or a Learning Commons, a Learning Community, a Personal Learning Network, but what is the difference?

A commons is open and generous, collaborative, cooperative, transparent and democratic. Public libraries and schools are good example of commons; treasured institutions that are the foundations of our democratic society, open to anyone who wants to learn.

Read on to get the full picture.  I think that the site describes and demonstrates just what a Learning Commons should be in philosophy and design.  It’s much more than just changing the sign over the door.  A Learning Commons is essential to a school.  It seems to me that, if you want real change within your school, you need to start there.

Thanks to both for the blog post and the web resource.  They both made me do some serious thinking.

Nimble Classrooms


For a great read, check out “How Will Classrooms Change With the Use of Computers?

One of the quotes really resonated with me.

“It’s going to be more about teachers having nimble classrooms.”

To me, this means a number of things and many teachers are embracing it already although they may not have considered their classes “nimble”.

I’m seeing:

  • No need for a traditional computer lab which conveys the notion that computers are a distinct subject;
  • Portable computers that are invited into the learning environment at the point of instruction;
  • Engaging students in learning activities that are truly different – not just the same old stuff transposed to a computer;
  • Considering smart phones, tablets, etc. as just another computer;
  • Conversations within and without the classroom with teacher as guide not as the dispenser of information;
  • Creating new content to address expectations where the old content just doesn’t cut it;
  • Students confident in their abilities so that they become the experts and geniuses in a subject area;
  • A blend of face to face and online learning experiences becoming the norm;
  • A classroom that can be reorganized on a moment’s notice as required;
  • Traditional literature pieces replaced by multimedia including podcasts, videos, broadcasts, hangouts;
  • Classrooms complete with a suite of tools where students elect to use the most appropriate one;
  • Students not only using the technology but can describe critically why they choose to use it;
  • This point intentionally left blank – if a classroom is truly nimble, this list should never be complete.

What does “nimble classroom” mean to you?

Three Great Project Ideas


One of the promises of a connected world is the way that it can facilitate guests from the outside coming into classrooms and the ability to collect data and feedback from a variety of locations.  The scope of the projects is only limited by imagination and the abilities of students.

What can you see?
In my opening remarks at the ECOO Conference on Thursday morning, I gave a shout out to @techieang‘s latest project.  She’s got a kindergarten classroom and is using the technology to open doors and windows for her students.  The project is simple in its premise but is only limited by the number of participants and the enthusiasm.  All you have to do is take a look in your backyard.  From her blog, she has made a Quicktime video available showing what her students see.

The video is rich in content and just watching it gives me all kinds of ideas about expectations that could be addressed by the sharing and participation in the project.

Sweet Statistical Computation Collaboration
As I was writing this post, I happened to stumble across another great example.  It’s designed for students a little older and is very mathematics oriented.  I would ask the rhetorical question – has there been a more used piece of candy in education than the M&M?  I know I used them many times for spreadsheet, classifying, and graphing activities.  And, if you’re on the way to doing a workshop and Mac’s Milk is out of M&Ms, Skittles fit the bill nicely.

In this project, students from all locations are encouraged to count the various colours in a bag of M&Ms and share the results with a class via a Google form.  The class even provides a baseline:

According to students at a recent College of Natural Science exhibit at the University of Texas in Austin, the makers of M&M’s state a bag contains the following: 14% are yellow, 20% are orange, 24% are blue, 13% are red, 16% are green and 13% are brown.

So, the results of their experiment could be used to test these numbers.

Food Survey
Finally, continuing on a food theme, what are your favourite foods and restaurants are two of the key themes being collected here.

Later on in the questionnaire, participants are asked in what country they live.  The results offer an interesting challenge, I suspect, when it comes to classify the data since it’s all anecdotal.

In all three cases, I can’t help but think of the engagement that there will be as students look at and analyze the results.

Even a few years ago, surveys like this would be difficult or impossible to take with the potential reach of these.  I like the creative implementation of technology that’s crucial for this to work.  Those that really don’t get it might consider these as examples of integration of technology.  I’d suggest that those aren’t there just yet.  These are examples of how educators use the best tool at their disposal to make it work in the classroom.  You can’t want more than that.

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