Thursday, February 25, 2016

Creativity and Tech Integration in Writing - Part 2

The students are finishing up the fictional narratives that they have been working on for the past couple of weeks. I have been meeting with them and talking to them about their work and their 3D artifacts. It seems to be an engaging and empowering process - to take imaginative ideas and slowly bring them to life and then take them back to the imagination. They created fictional characters in their mind, brought them to life using 3D technology, and then wrote a fictional story. While having a lot of fun, they have been busy crafting their stories, peer editing, proofreading, rehearsing oral presentation, and reflecting on the feedback provided to them.

To get a better understanding of our plan, check out the Part 1 blog post.

Here are some examples of how the intersection between curriculum, technology, and creativity have come together:

Snowy the Easter Bunny



Smokey the Grape

Johnny and Egg Boy

I'm especially proud of the following piece of writing and 3D artifact. It was created and written by a new student in my class. He arrived two weeks ago from the Middle East. He doesn't speak a lot of English but was intrigued by the 3D printer and what the other students were doing. He learned how to use Tinkercad and came up with a cool idea about what he wanted to share with us. He created 'King Boy' and with the help of a few students, wrote a story. On top of being dropped into a foreign culture and immersed in a language he doesn't know, he has taken some big risks. This assignment has provided him with a way to connect with the other students. 


After the students finish up their writing they want to formally present their work and then display their writing and artifacts for others to see. Its been and exciting process so far and look forward to what we do next.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the work we have done. Please feel free to leave a comment!

Coding: Lessons Learned

After reading a little bit about the Hour of Code, I decided to introduce my students to coding/programming. You can read more about our start to coding here and you can see some photos of our work during the Hour of Code here.

We played around a little bit with it before the hour of code. We participated in that and we had so much fun that I decided to get a Sphero BB8 Droid for the students to continue playing around with programming. 

Since BB8's arrival, students have been bringing in their personal devices to play with and program the Droid. They have had a lot of fun learning to program our robot. 

Here are some of the observations I have made over the past couple of months as the students have engaged in programming the robot:

  • There has been more failure than success and the students never give up. They never complain that things are too hard or that they can't do it. They simply keep going, using trial and error to assist them.
  • Many of the students draw diagrams and/or use paper and pencil to write out a plan of action to assist them with their thinking.
  • Students engage in solving problems each time they work with the robot. No session session has gone as planned, yet the students maintained their interest and enthusiasm.
  • It isn't always the same students who bring in their personal device to work with BB8. The students who have a device (e.g. iPad, iPod Touch) and are permitted to bring it in tend to invite students who don't have access to a device to join them at lunch recess to work on coding the robot.

Something else I want to note is that when my coding students seem to be struggling in class, I have been using their programming experience to remind them and encourage them about maintaining to engage in and practice a growth mindset. When things get too tough, I remind them about what I have observed while they programmed BB8. It seems to get them thinking and that is a good thing.

Three students were successful in getting BB8 to move around a desk group without issue. Here is a screen shot of their programming and a video of their successful run.

The students replicated what they had done above after recess as well. They showed their classmates and they talked about the process they followed. It has motivated others to get more serious about the time they spend working with the Droid. 

These three students tell me that their next step is to program BB8 to do more complex things, like going through an obstacle course! I look forward to seeing what they do next as they continue to problem solve and persevere.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Failure & The Joy That Can Come From It

It's become common practice in our classroom to check in on our 3D printing jobs within the first 10-15 of printing. If things are going to go bad, it usually happens within that time frame.

When things aren't going as planned, we cancel the print job and then analyze what went wrong and when it happened (with respect to our design). These are our failures, that is what we call them. 

It's never easy to 'fail' but we always learn something new and share our learning with everyone so we can try and avoid the same problems that led to the fail. I have been enjoying the failures as much as the successes. When I see a flaw in a design I will talk to the student about it and ask whether they see what I am referring to. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they make changes to their design, and sometimes they don't. Some of them need to fail in order to learn and some of them do what they can to avoid it.

Nevertheless, the learning (creativity, collaboration, communication) is great!

Here are some examples of our recent failures:

The failures above have led to the successes below:

I'm thankful for the prompting I recieved to write this post. My students recently asked me if I had shared their failures with all of you. One of them asked if I had written about the creations that didn't work out. They also made a comment about all the photos I have taken of their failures. Apparently I am as excited to photograph the failures as I am of the successes!

I do believe it is important to reflect on and share the good and bad moments of any learning journey. If we frame success around the process of learning and the growth that comes from it, then we are sure to feel a sense of success and accomplishment no matter what the final outcome is. This is something that I am constantly working on incorporating in my life and that of my students lives. It is not an easy task, but it certainly is a worthwhile one.

The students are still working on writing their fictional narratives so stay tuned for a blog post about what they ended up creating and how it helped them with their writing!

Friday, February 12, 2016

What Does Innovation in Education Mean To Me?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Missy Schmidt

Thanks to the likes of +Will Gourley and +Jonathan So (read Jonathan's take on it here), I recently spent a significant amount of time thinking about what innovation in education means to me. What's my take on it? How would I define innovation with respect to the work that we do in Education?

These questions, and subsequent reflection(s), caused me a lot of angst as I considered what my definition of innovation is. As I wrestled with the idea, and stopped trying to narrow my focus to just one simple response, I opened the flood gates and just let everything come out. When all my ideas about innovation were laid out in front of me, I started picking up the pieces and organizing them in a way that made sense to me. 

One of the things I realized was that my definition of innovation was not only connected to my experiences, but to the people I interact with, watch, and learn from on a daily basis. MY understanding of innovation is connected to a variety of people inside and outside of the Educational field. This may not sound earth shattering to you, but it was a significant realization to me as I reflected on innovation.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Tsahi Levent-Levi
Without further ado, here is the cleaned up and edited version of what innovation in education means to me:

It's is about being FREE (fresh, relevant, & exciting)! This approach to innovation is a process, not an event. Based on my experiences, it requires the following -

  • a lot of iteration where things are messy and look bad before they can look good
  • taking risks, failing, and being resilient
  • being open to learning AND unlearning
  • meeting students where they are at and listening to what they want/need
  • being flexible (to bend but not break)
  • making connections to, and using, the best practices of other disciplines/professions/professionals, and
  • becoming a connected educator (social media)
What I have listed above, especially the part about becoming a connected educator has allowed me to stay FREE from the darkness that wants me to remain stagnant and “old school”. I do believe there is a time and place for everything, but I am also a firm believer that educating our students means that we prepare them as best as we can for the unknown. What better way to do that than to model innovation for them so that they can work hard to be fresh, relevant, and exciting with whatever they choose to pursue.
I would love to hear your thoughts about what innovation means to me and more importantly, what it means to YOU.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Creativity and Tech Integration in Writing - Part 1

An informal brainstorming session with +Jonathan So, a good friend and colleague, led my students and I down the road of a character development idea that would fit in nicely with writing. Our talk provided me with some sparks on how to hook my students into doing some writing while having the opportunity to be creative, integrate some helpful technology, and bring their ideas to life.

The task is to create a fictional character and then weave him/her/it into some narrative writing. We started by talking about internal and external character traits and then started to develop our own characters. The students were provided with a graphic organizer where they would draw a picture of their character in the middle and then list their external and internal traits on either side of the character. Here are a few examples:

After the students finished getting their rough ideas on paper, we thought it would be a great to start a Google Doc in order to have all our ideas in a central place where we could look at each others work, share our thoughts, and even grab some inspiration (whether we are at school or at home, an Internet connection is all that is needed to visit the work anytime, any day). I created the Doc and placed it in our D2L (Learning Management System) site. From there, the students could easily access it and start working. This is what it looks like:

As the students recorded their ideas from the work they did on their graphic organizer, they asked if they could include a picture of their character in the Google Doc. Why not? I told them that they could use Google Draw Drawings to recreate what they drew on their graphic organizer - they obliged!

The students have done a wonderful job of using their time effectively and putting in an honest effort. They are enjoying themselves and working hard as they think about their creations and how they want to develop their character. The work they are doing has captured their attention and they are responding well to the failure they are experiencing along the way and to the feedback I am providing them with. 

As they wrap up this portion of their writing activity, they will begin to work on taking their 2D drawings and transforming them into a 3D drawings. They will also start writing their narrative, staring their created character. They will use Tinkercad to turn their characters into tangible 3D products and will receive instruction on how to take their creative ideas and form a short narrative that makes sense and is entertaining. 

Make sure to check back with us to see the awesome stories and 3D artifacts that are created!


Monday, February 1, 2016

Ideas Worth Sharing

We had a TED-Ed Club meeting today and talked about what makes a great idea great. The students did a wonderful job of sharing their thoughts and engaging is some rich discussion. We them took what we learned from each other about what makes a great idea great and then talked about what "Ideas Worth Spreading" means to them.

After some more discussion about the chart we created, they started to talk about their fears with respect to sharing their ideas and passions. Our club is made up of students from Grade 4-8, a range that is quite large in elementary school. I was in awe of how honest they were being and how supportive they were of each other. It is uplifting to see junior and intermediate students interacting in such a supportive fashion - respecting each others ideas and encouraging each other to speak what is on their minds. In that moment, I felt the magic and powerful impact that a TED-Ed Club can have on young minds that are always "on".

After some sharing about their fears and the barriers they find in front of them, we watched a TED talk that I thought would get them thinking about today's topic (great ideas that are worth sharing). We watched Adrianne Hastlet-Davis talk about "What people say when they don't know what to say".

The students were moved by Adrianne's story. They started talking about her idea and started connecting their thoughts about it to our chart about ideas worth spreading. Each student commented on what they learned from her talk and how it resonated with them. 

They were thankful and appreciative for Adrianne's message. Although her talk is a "sad" one, the students said that they were sucked into her talk because of the narrative she provided. They were also very happy to learn that she was the one in a million that would reach her goal. I made sure to tweet Adrianne to let her know that her words made an impact on the students. It was nice to receive a tweet back.

As we continue our TED-Ed Club journey, I look forward to many more moving moments like the one I shared with you above. The students are learning how to take what they are passionate about and form it into their own mini TED talk, but that is only one of the many by-products that will come from being a TED-Ed Club member this term.