Programming with Scratch

One of the assignments for the Learning Creative Learning course I’m taking is to create a project in Scratch to introduce yourself to the other course participants.  Scratch is a visual programming language developed for kids.  I liked the idea of a maze, but I also wanted to try out variables (these are the parts of the game that keep track of the score and the number of lives you have left.)  I started out by looking at the code other basic maze games used.  For most of the rest of the coding, when I encountered problems my fabulous 12 year old son helped me out :-)  I encountered problems uploading images and sounds so almost all of the images were either from the Scratch library, or ones that I drew myself or library images that I edited.  The only image I could upload was that of the unhappy face.  The sounds are recordings of my son’s voice.  When you finish the maze, there is an ‘easter egg’ on the final screen (my son’s idea).  The game is embedded below, but if it doesn’t show up, here’s the link.  To start the game, click on the green flag.  Use your arrow keys to navigate the maze.

 

There were times during the creation of this project that were very frustrating, where I wasn’t able to program the game to do what I wanted it to.  When I was able to solve those problems though, it felt great!  I was really invested in the learning.

The Kindergarten Approach to Learning

I’m toying with participating in the Learning Creative Learning course which starts up today.  I participated last year, but as usually happens I started off with a good head of steam which then quickly petered out.  I’m hoping to have more staying power this time.

This week’s activity is to read Seymour Papert’s essay on Gears of My Childhood and to write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you.  I wrote about this when I took the course last year–you can read it here.  This time around I thought I would respond to the other reading for this week:

In the paper Mitch Resnick argues that the kindergarten approach to learning is an approach that fosters creativity and that it should not be discarded after kindergarten.  With technology we can use kindergarten-style learning with learners of all ages.  Resnick describes kindergarten-style learning as using a process of the student imagining what they want to do, creating a project based on what they’ve imagined, playing with it, sharing the creation with others, reflecting on their experience which leads them to imagining new ideas and new projects.  The image below is from Resnick’s paper and illustrates the process.
I have been using an approach similar to this when introducing a new topic or technology with my students, though I could certainly extend it further in my practice (especially the reflection part).  For example, this year my students are creating their own mini radio shows.  They are essentially podcasts.  I started out by introducing students to the audio recording software Audacity*.  I’m not a big fan of giving really explicit instructions on how to work with a piece of software.  It is probably because that is not how I learn to use new software and because I don’t think it is a realistic approach to use if you want to encourage people to be lifelong learners.  I want to encourage students to play and experiment with software.  So with Audacity, I showed the students the basics; how to record a track, how to delete a track, and how to copy and paste parts of a track.  I also showed them where the effects were located and what some of them were (eg, echo, change pitch, fade in/out etc.)  To keep frustration at bay, I reminded the students that their job is to explore and experiment.  There will be some things that don’t work, and I’m here to help them through that.  There is no concrete object/project that they have to complete at this time.  Then I set them loose with the objective to play and experiment!  I did this last week with a small group of grade 1s and 2s and it was a lot of fun.  The kids had a blast exploring and they were creating interesting audio with a real joy that would not have been there had I given them a recipe of prescribed steps to follow.

With my other classes that are a little further along in this process I see students who are fearless in what they are willing to try.  They create interesting audio, share it with their peers, receive feedback, move on and create something new from what they have learned.  I use this approach with almost all new technology that I introduce my students to (eg Scratch, MaKey MaKey, BitStrips…), but I need to consider if there are other areas where it would work too.

How do you encourage a kindergarten-style of learning in what you do?  Please leave me a comment below, and thanks for reading this!

*Note: I chose Audacity for a number of reasons:
  1. it is free, so if my students really get into using it they can put it on their home computer for free
  2. it works on multiple platforms (PC, Mac, Linux) so again, if students really get into using it they can add it to their home computer pretty much regardless of platform
  3. it does a lot, without being overwhelming
  4. it is open source, which I’m keen on

Do Your Homework

Apparently there is no rest for the wicked.  Even though it is the winter break I have been given some homework to do.  I’ve been tagged by Naryn Searcy (@nsearcy17) in this post.  This is a blog meme that has been bouncing around the edu-blogosphere for the last while.  For the task you are asked to include:

11 Random facts about yourself
11 questions asked by another
11 question that you ask another 11 people in your PLN

It looks like a great way to get to know those in your PLN a little better, be introduced to new people, and (in my case at least) serve as an impetus to get back at blogging.

So here goes…

11 Random Facts about Me

  1. I’m good at putting out small fires (stovetop fires, fondue fire, bedroom curtains on fire, student desk on fire).
  2. I was born close to the geographic centre of BC.
  3. When I was little I thought that my grandparents were wanted by the FBI.
  4. My daily commute used to include driving past three maximum security prisons (Kingston Penitentiary, the Prison for Women, and Millhaven) as well as Collins Bay Institution.
  5. On that same commute I used to knit while I rode the Glenora Ferry.
  6. When I taught biology at South Okanagan Secondary School I had a real human skeleton in my classroom.
  7. The only student who ever fainted in my class did so when I was showing her the above mentioned skeleton.
  8. My first car was a 1982 Pontiac Acadian Diesel.  Yes, a diesel.  No, it was not wicked fast.
  9. I enjoy playing golf, so feel free to treat me to a round ;-)
  10. I am allergic to cats and dogs.
  11. I love running along Skaha or Okanagan Lakes during the fall when the sun is blazing and the sky is blue.

11 Questions asked by Naryn Searcy (here)

  1. How do you balance time spent on face to face relationships in your own district vs online relationships?
    This is an area I have to work on as I swing from one extreme to another.
  2. Where do you want to go in the world that you haven’t been yet?
    Newfoundland.
  3. Are you a morning or night person?
    Night.
  4. What was the last book you read/movie you watched or song you listened to?
    Book: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
    Movie: Elf
    Song: The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme).  My kids are always humming this.
  5. In what school/position do you think you “grew up” as an educator (really figured out how you were going to fill the role of a teacher/administrator etc.) ?
    As a distributed learning teacher at the Home Learners’ Program / ConnectEd.  In this position I got a much better understanding of how the school system works.  I was also exposed to a much wider variety of student learners and their needs.
  6. What is one thing you would miss if you had to leave the community you currently live in?
    My wonderful neighbours.
  7. What is the source you rely on most for news about what’s going on in the world?
    The CBC.  I use other sources too, but this is my main source.
  8. What is your favourite movie and why?
    My favourite movie is Pulp Fiction.  The characters are interesting, it has a fabulous cast, and I love the dark humour and how the different stories intersect.  There are also images from the film that really stick with you such as when Uma Thurman’s character is administered adrenalin via a syringe directly to her heart.
  9. Who will win the Super Bowl and Stanley Cup this year?
    I don’t follow football, so no idea there.  As for the Stanley Cup I’m going to say Chicago.
  10. If your son/daughter wanted to enter the field of education right now, would you encourage them?
    I would definitely not encourage either of my kids to enter the field of education.  Though I enjoy teaching I do not see public education in BC improving anytime soon, it is just going to become more and more frustrating to be a teacher in this system.
  11. What is a good moment from 2013?
    Spending time at Long Beach on Vancouver Island with my husband and family this summer.

11 Questions for Others

  1. What lead to you becoming an educator?
  2. If you hadn’t become an educator, what would you have done instead?
  3. Are you concerned about student privacy and security with regards to cloud computing?  For example, do you have any reservations about students using Google Apps or other cloud based services?
  4. What was the first ‘real’ job that you had?
  5. What is your current favourite book, movie and / or album?
  6. What did you always want to be when you grew up?
  7. What is the strangest food that you’ve ever eaten?
  8. If you could sit down and talk with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why.
  9. How far away do you live from where you grew up?
  10. What is your favourite way to unplug and unwind?
  11. Salty or sweet?

Tag, You’re It!

I don’t like tagging people, but it is a great opportunity for me to share who I like to read and connect with.  So here goes.  If your name is on the list feel please don’t feel obliged…
  1. Errin Gregory @ErrinGreg
  2. Phil Macoun  @pmacoun
  3. Judith King @judithaking
  4. Jodie Reeder @JodieR0808
  5. Starleigh Grass  @starleigh_grass
  6. Darcy Mullin @darcymullin
  7. Todd Manuel @toddmanuel_67
  8. Shawn Ram @sram_socrates
  9. David Truss  @datruss
  10. Lisa Read @LisaRead
  11. YOU!  If you are reading this and are interested in the meme, consider yourself tagged.  Just remember to link back here so that I can read your post.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.

EdCamp Okanagan Reflection

Saturday was the culmination of many months of planning by  Carolyn Durley, Naryn Searcy, Darcy Mullin and me.  EdCamp Okanagan in Kelowna happened on Saturday, and what a ride!

I’m not sure when Carolyn, Darcy and Naryn decided to host an EdCamp, but in the summer Naryn contacted me to see if I would like to be involved.  I’d never been to an EdCamp and was keen to see one occur locally.  Over the next few months the four of us met in Google Hangouts to plan the event.  

Two weeks prior to EdCampOK we only had 20 registrants, and that included the four of us.  We started to get a little concerned!  Registration started to pick up though, and by the day of the EdCamp we had 64 registrants.  I’m not sure how many people actually attended, but it must have been close to 60 (some couldn’t make it, and others registered in person).  This ended up being a pretty good number.  With much fewer than this we wouldn’t have been able to offer as many sessions.  Much more than this and it may have been more difficult to manage; at least for our first time doing EdCamp!  We had a broad range of participants; K – 12 teachers, UBC-O student teachers, principals and vice principals, at least one superintendent as well as a director of instruction, an education consultant, an environmental educator, and a UBC-O professor.  Participants came from Salmon Arm, Sorrento, Enderby, Vernon, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Rossland, Penticton, Okanagan Falls, and Oliver. 

An EdCamp is an ‘un-conference’ of sorts.  All attendees are expected to participate in the event.  The EdCamp starts out with participants suggesting topics, often by writing them upon a whiteboard.  After a certain point people are then asked to vote for topics they’d like to see make it on the schedule.  In our case we gave participants three post-it notes to stick under their top three topics.  We then sent everyone off to an introductory session where Tom Schimmer explained the EdCamp model and answered questions.  During this time we tallied votes and set up the schedule.  Tom must have done a wonderful job explaining things because when it was time for the first sessions to begin, everyone headed off to the discussion rooms and no one looked lost or confused :-)  

 

During the first three time slots we ran 3 concurrent sessions each 55 minutes long.   In the first time slot I attended a session facilitated by Paul Kelly.  He shared his school’s experience piloting Chrome Books and Google Apps.  There was a lot of interest in the relatively low cost Chrome Books and people were impressed with how Paul’s school was using Google Apps.  Interesting questions were raised regarding our responsibilities as educators when we are using cloud computing solutions.  For more on how Paul’s school is using Chrome Books and Google Apps, check out his blog; Eduglean. 

The second session I attended was led by Todd Manuel.  The session was titled ‘Social Emotional Support For At Risk Students’ and Todd shared the shift that his school had made in how it deals with at risk students.  Instead of isolating at risk students when things go wrong (by using out of school suspensions) they started using in-school suspensions and they made an effort to connect the student to multiple adults in the building.  Todd gave an example of a student, Mike (not his real name), who had shown up to school stoned.  Once the whole intervention was carried out Mike ended up being in contact with 8, yes 8 different adults in the building.  As a group we also talked about how just saying hello to at risk students in the hall is one way to start to build up a relationship.  Sure, they may ignore you the first 3, 4, 10 times, but eventually they may start to feel a connection.  Think of Mike; he now has 8 adults in the building saying hi, expressing an interest in how he’s doing.  Pretty powerful!  There was a really big group in this session, but there was still lots of opportunity to for small group discussions.

The third session I attended I was asked to facilitate.  The topic was pretty broad; Technology in Schools.  It was a medium sized group–I think there about 12 of us.  We shared the challenges we faced using technology, why we use technology, and what our ideal technology set up would be.  Lots of interesting discussion and I’m sure if we just had a little more time we could have solved everyone’s Education Technology woes ;-)

I enjoyed each of the sessions I attended.  They all differed in terms of numbers of participants, topics and general format.  I also met a large range of participants–there was not a lot of overlap between the different sessions.  It was also fabulous getting the opportunity to meet face-to-face people that I have known on Twitter for many years; they did not disappoint!

We rounded out the day by bringing everyone together for a session of ‘Things That Suck’ facilitated by Graham Johnson.  The format of this session is described here, but essentially a contentious topic in education is thrown out there and people are asked to stand on one side of the room if they think the topic sucks, the other side of the room if they think it doesn’t and in between if you are in between.  Once people have arranged themselves they are asked to talk to other members in their area about why they are standing where they are.  Then people are asked to share out.  It is a great way to explore different sides of an issue, and some people really get fired up!  It was an invigorating way to end the day.

As things wrapped up, Darcy, Carolyn, Naryn and I felt very positive about how things went.  There are definitely some things we would do differently, but overall it seemed that participants enjoyed the format and the discussions.  We found ourselves saying “when we do this next year…” which must be a good sign.

 

 

 

Summer Reading: ‘Quiet’

Quiet Book imageNext on my summer reading list is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking  by Susan Cain.  This book was a recommendation of one of my students’ parents.  I had watched Susan Cain’s TED Talk on this topic so my appetite was whetted.

Some of the main points in ‘Quiet’ are that:

  • we live in a world largely geared to extroverts
  • introverts make a up a large portion of society
  • emphasis on extrovert characteristics means that we often overlook the important contributions of introverts
  • there is evidence that some of our cherished extrovert focussed methods or strategies are actually not as effective as we might think (eg. group brainstorming)

As I read the book I realized that my classroom was really extrovert focussed despite the fact that I know that I have a lot of introverted students and despite the fact that I am moderately introverted.  I cringed when I read that group brainstorming is not as effective as individual brainstorming; I spent quite a bit of time on group brainstorming this past year.  

Looking forward to the new school year, what I have learned from reading ‘Quiet’ will definitely influence how I do things in my classroom.  I won’t toss all of the ‘extroverty’ things that I do, but I will definitely try and provide an environment that is more accommodating to introverts.

If you’re a teacher, do you think that your classroom environment meets the needs of both introverts and extroverts?  Regardless of your job, does your workplace provide an environment where people all along the introvert-extrovert spectrum can flourish?  Let me know in the comments.

Previous Summer Reading Post: Summer Reading: ‘The Code Book’

Finding My Middle School Mojo

Ok, time to start reflecting on the past school year.  I’m going to start with how I found my Middle School Mojo.

This past September I started in a new teaching position as one of two teachers in my district’s Gifted Program.  The program is for students in grades 1 – 8 and is a pull in program; students spend part of one day a week with me learning in a theme-based program.

bullseye

As a high school trained teacher who has spent most of her career teaching students in grades 8 – 12 this was a big change for me, but one that I was looking forward to.  At the beginning of the school year I found that I connected well with the grade 4 and 5s, but had difficulty “hitting the target” with both my younger students and my middle school students.

Part of my problem in the beginning with my middle school group (grades 6 – 8 ) was that I didn’t really have a good understanding of what the program should look like.  My own children had been in the elementary (gr 1 – 5) program for a number of years, so I had a pretty good idea of what went on there, but the middle school portion was a bit of mystery to me.  In addition, I only had one 1 hour block with them once a week and it was on Friday mornings.  This was challenging for a couple of reasons:

  1. An hour once a week doesn’t offer a lot of time to really sink your teeth into projects.  (Especially when many students would forget and show up part way through the class.  This did get better as the year progressed.)
  2. A lot of leadership and special activities occurred on Fridays, pulling students from my class.

Despite these challenges, after the winter break I felt like I was starting to get into a groove with the middle school class.  They were starting to gel as a group and I was discovering what sort of activities worked well with them.  This class went from being one that I was anxious about, to one that I looked forward to every week.  I started to worry less about having students follow my original game plan and I focussed more on providing them outlets with which to express their amazing creativity.

Near the end of the year we had an extended class where it was evident how much the students had grown and bonded together.  The creativity and confidence of the older students inspired all of the students to stretch and to try and rise to that same level.  They helped each other shoot video ads for their final project, celebrated in each others’ accomplishments and, when there was a bit of downtime, they would sing 80′s songs together acapella.  Nice!

There were a number of the key things that I learned from last year’s experience.  First, that it pays to be patient.  Those first two months I didn’t feel like I was hitting bullseyes very often, but I persisted and tried different approaches.  Second, that it takes time to get to know the students, and in a program like this the real magic happens once you start to figure out students strengths and start to make connections with them.  And third, it is ok to revise your original plan, especially when the revisions are centred around the strengths and needs of the students in your class.  

In a future post I’ll reflect on my steep learning curve with my younger students.  Cheers, and thanks for reading.


Image Credit: bullseye by Emilio Küffer, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

Summer Reading: ‘The Code Book’

The Code Book imageOne thing that I love about school holidays is having the time to read!  The first book I read this summer was ‘The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography’ by Simon Singh.  I chose this book because in the new school year I will be exploring code (cipher) making and breaking with my students.  ’The Code Book’ is a fascinating read!  Simon Singh goes through the history of codes, ciphers, and cryptanalysis with lots of interesting stories about the people involved.  I found the section on the Enigma Machine especially intriguing.  Singh does a wonderful job of explaining fairly complex ideas in an easy to follow way.  The book ends by looking at data encryption.  This may sound like a dry topic, but Singh really makes it understandable and engaging with the stories of the pioneers in this work.  Aside from the content of the book, one thing that I really like is that it has a comprehensive index.  As I read the book I made very brief notes knowing that I could quickly find out more info by going to the index.  If you like non-fiction presented by true storytellers, then this book is definitely worth a look.

Do you enjoy reading?  What are your recommended reads?  Let me know in the comments section!

Summer Blogging

cat stretching

Leeloo stretch by Les Howard, licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

This past school year has been a busy one.  I started a new position and this involved a lot of stretching and learning on my part.  I am happy that I took on this new role and am looking forward to the new school year.

I started a class blog, TWIG, where I posted weekly updates on what we were working on in class, but I haven’t blogged reflectively here on the year and I figure it’s time.  Inspired by Errin Gregory’s post, Intentional Summer Posting Plans, here is what I’d like to blog about this summer:

  • unpacking the past year
  • thinking ahead to what I’d like to do differently this year
  • working through ideas for the new year
    • projects
    • routines
    • communication with parents, teachers, and schools
  • reflecting on summer reading
Whether I am able to cover all of those topics remains to be seen.  I’ve gotten a first summer post out now though, and that’s a start!

Brainstorming with Padlet

This week with my middle school gifted class (grades six to eight) we did a brainstorming session using Padlet (previously Wall Wisher).  We have done some brainstorming sessions already this year, usually set up with small groups brainstorming and with one person as recorder writing the group’s ideas down on paper.  There are benefits to brainstorming that way, but some drawbacks are:

  • some group members are more vocal than others
  • it can be hard to get all of the ideas down on paper as they can come fast and furious
  • even though I always stress the DOVE principle (Defer judgement, Oddball and outrageous ideas, Vast quantity, and Expand and elaborate) it is hard for people to defer judgement, which ends up in silencing some members
So with this class I wanted to use an online tool to provide a different setting.  Part of the challenge was finding a tool that did not require all participants to have an account or an e-mail address.  I did a search and there are some interesting mind mapping and brainstorming tools out there, but most did not meet my e-mail / account requirement.  Then I remembered Wall Wisher.  I had used it once in an online course that in which I participated.  I wasn’t enamoured with it then when we used it as an asynchronous tool, but thought that it might serve my purposes this time.

Wall Wisher is now called Padlet.  To set up an account I had to login with my Google credentials.  Then I set up my ‘walls’.  For each wall I can determine the look and feel as well as the security settings.  For yesterday’s brainstorming session I had a ‘hidden link’ (public link, but hidden from Google and the public area of Padlet) and anyone could write on it.

A screenshot of our invention brainstorm on Padlet.

It was a neat process!  You see what a student is typing on the wall right away.  Sometimes just seeing part of a person’s idea gives you a new idea to post.  Students commented out loud to each other when they liked someone’s idea or asked for more information.  We spent a lot more time on it than we would have the way we had brainstormed in the past just because it was clear that people’s ideas just kept flowing.  The whole process felt less chaotic than a ‘typical’ brainstorm session.  We also have a digital copy of our brainstorming to refer back to!

When we were nearing the end of the session I asked students how they liked brainstorming this way.  The response was overwhelmingly positive!

Some caveats:
  • I had a small group yesterday; with a larger group I could see creating a number of Padlet walls and assigning students to different walls.  
  • My students were very well behaved, I could see this going sideways if some students started posting silly or hurtful things.  I was on my computer monitoring the wall the whole time–deleting posts if necessary (usually just blank notes that were taking up space) and sometimes just giving a gentle verbal reminder to particular students if something inappropriate was posted.  
  • Students are essentially anonymous when they post.  There is no way to really track who said what.  There is a spot to put your name, but students could put in someone else’s name or a nonsense name.  

Overall, I was really pleased with how this went.

Do you have a favourite method for brainstorming with your students?  I’d love to hear your tips and trick in the comments.

Cheers!

Childhood Objects

This week in the Learning Creative Learning (LCL) course one of the tasks is to “Read Seymour Papert’s essay on the Gears of My Childhood and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you”.  I have been struggling for awhile to come up with something to write about.  As a child I played with Lego and I had a wonderful furnished house for my Barbie dolls but neither of these objects affected me in the profound way that Seymour Papert’s gears did.  Then, as I sat down to write this post I realized that what I needed to write about was my Tickle Trunk.

Mr. Dressup

Google Canada Doodle honouring what would have been Ernie Coombs' aka Mr. Dressup's 85th birthday.

If you are a Canadian of a certain age, then you know what a Tickle Trunk is.  Mr. Dressup, a television show for young children, featured Mr. Dressup and his Tickle Trunk.  In the Tickle Trunk were all manner of dress up clothes and props.

When I was a kid my sister and I had a trunk full of dress up clothes, we didn’t actually call it our Tickle Trunk, but that is what it was.  We would get dressed up and play make believe games.  A lot of times we would hang some of the dress up clothing along the edge of a table making fabric walls for our newly created forts.  We spent a lot of time creating and imagining.  I can’t say that the experience helped me to understand mathematical concepts as Papert’s gears did, but I think that it allowed me to practice problem solving.  The role playing also allowed me to become more empathetic; I find myself often trying to view things from another person’s perspective.  But it wasn’t just the items in the Tickle Trunk that were important, it was having another imaginative child–my sister–to play and create with too.

Is there an object from your childhood that strongly interested or influenced you?  Let me know in the comments!