Sunday, October 30, 2016

Breakout EDU

Sketchnote by Sylvia Duckworth
At some point this school year I became aware of Breakout EDU. We had just gone to Escape Haus for Teacher Inservice and team building, so I thought Breakout might be fun to play with students. I ordered the kits and waited for an opportunity.

 A few weeks ago, a Computer Science teacher asked if I could take her classes with a sub while she was at a school competition. She asked if I could teach them research. Well, many of her students had already been in the library with me this year learning about databases and research strategy so I asked to play Breakout with them. She agreed.

 I used a game off the site called "Robot Apocalypse". This computer science games was geared towards a Middle School audience, but it was a great starter for our first try. The classes were so large that I created the game time 3 and had teams race the clock and each other. In the course of five class periods, only half of the teams solved the puzzle and opened the last box.

 Here are some things I observed while we played:

 1. Her AP classes had more game winners than her other classes - All groups in both of the AP Computer Science classes solved the game. In fact, one team needed less than half the time allotted. The regular classes, were less likely to solve the game. It made me wonder, do students who are advanced naturally have the ability to critically think or do we foster that skill in our advanced classes more than in other classes?

 2. Many students do not work well as a team - Some groups had a leader that jumped up and took charge, barking orders to other members. Some groups floundered because no one stepped up to play the leader role. Others were happy to watch a small part of the group do all the work. Should we be teaching group dynamics and team building skills in more classes?

 3. Some students were looking for a shortcut - With some of the boxes, there were ways to force parts of the box open and see inside before opening the lock. Since I had the game setup for three groups, there were teams that waited for someone else to open a box then wanted to reap the benefits of their work. I was naive enough to think that students would play the game by the rules, but I often found myself telling students to do things, like not cheat, that seemed to be common sense.

 4. Some students surprised me - The teacher had let me know about a certain student who has Asperger's. She told me that he would probably take a book and read instead of participating. She could not have been farther from the truth! He jumped in and led his team. When the game was over, he commented how engaging he thought the whole experience was. The teacher was amazed at how well he had played the game.

 I have more teachers bringing classes down to play in the library in the near future. We have not gotten brave enough to write our own games yet, but we will.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Communicate with Comic Strips

Mix it up and use comics strips to communicate. Here is a sample I made for the library:

So it may look complicated, but it was really very simple. I used Google Slides, Slide Carnival and Bitmoji to make this awesome comic. Your students can do it too!

1. Visit Slide Carnival and get a template. I used the Jachimo template. 

2. Make a copy and open it in Google slides.

3. Use the line tool in Slides to divide the slide into the number of squares you want in your comic.

4. Add the Bitmoji extension to Chrome and create an Avatar to represent you. 

5. Find Bitmoji that tell the story you want to tell.

It is that simple!!

Inspired by Sylvia Duckworth

Friday, October 14, 2016

It's Not the Tool, It's the Learning

In all the years I have worked with Education Technology, I have seen a recurring theme. Administrators, Tech Directors and teachers often go to conferences or sales demonstrations and get dazzled by new and shiny things. They immediately come back to their campuses and purchase these items. When the fancy new toys arrive, they say, "Let's write some lessons to use these cool things!"

But what has happened is that they have missed the point. Technology integration is about transforming learning. Buying technology and them forcing it to fit into every lesson is like forcing a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn't work that way. We need to think about learning first and then find the right tool. Otherwise we are spending money on what George Couros calls "thousand dollar pencils".

Be mindful about technology integration by asking yourself these things:

1. Will our network support it? - Schools need a robust infrastructure first. Going from teacher desktops and a few computer labs to a 1:1 or BYOD initiative is overwhelming for a network. Make sure you have enough bandwidth and connectivity before purchasing devices that need wifi. Otherwise, your devices will become expensive desk decorations and discourage teachers from using technology because it never works.

2. How sustainable is our plan? - Your district just got a grant for technology. It sure is nice to have 1:1 MacBooks or iPads, but hardware gets old and must be replaced. How much time will you have before you will be buying new devices? Will you need to hire more staff? Who will pay their salary? These are all considerations before you begin any type of technology initiative.

3. How will we train our teachers? - Giving teachers technology does not mean they can effectively utilize it in the classroom. Just because they can check and send email does not mean they know the ends and outs of that new Chromebook they have just been assigned. Regardless of what technology is adopted, training of staff will need to happen. And training needs to be more than basic functionality. How can the tool be used to transform your classroom?

4. How will it impact learning? - If the technology will not change the way we teach, we are wasting our money. A digital worksheet completed on a laptop and turned in via the internet is still a worksheet. Technology is designed to transform the student experience. It should do more than substitute digital for print. It should connect students with learners in other places. It should give students authentic audiences for their work. It should empower students to be curious and self-driven learners.

We have to pick learning first. Then we can assess what tools will assist in that learning objective. It may not be the same tool for each school or each teacher. But if we are getting our students Future Ready by transforming their learning and building a successful tech-based skill set, we are impacting the future.