It's hard to believe 2014 is coming to a close. Although it had its share of ups and downs, like any year, i'd like to keep believing that there's always something to learn from everything that happens. I feel fortunate to have experienced another year. I'm hopeful, and excited, for what the new year will bring.
I'm so thankful to everyone for being a part of my 2014, for helping me learn and grow. Wishing a healthy, peaceful, and happy 2015 to all. My Top 5 Blog Posts of 2014
Yesterday my colleague, Jen Adams and I, hosted a Twitter party for our staff. Our inspiration came from a blog post that Jennifer Hogan wrote about hosting a Twitter party at her own school. With winter break nearing us, we thought what a great way to kick it off by having something fun and educational at the same time. Maybe our teachers may want to dabble in it over their time-off, if they wanted to. We invited newbies and seasoned Twitter vets to join us. Our goal for our Twitter party was to do a little professional development with our teachers on Twitter, because we find so much value in using it in education. It ended up being that, and more though. It ended up being about teachers having a chance to be with one another, having friendly conversations, AND at the same time learning. We loved what we saw. Twitter in education is something that has so much value in so many ways; building a PLN to learn and share ideas and resources with other like-minded people, sharing what’s happening in your class and school (#engagesms #engage109), exploring hashtags to connect to a wealth of topic-specific information, joining chats to have real-time conversations on topics that you are interested in to contribute and learn more about (#educoach, #iledchat, #iaedchat, #geniushous, #sblchat, etc.), and making some quality connections with people. There are so many things I'm sure I've missed something. Having a fun, light-hearted party was a perfect way to gather with our teachers and learn at the same time.
We sent this invite to all staff:
The party took place in a section of our school's library where there were some tables and smart board. We chose four one-hour time slots, so that all teachers had a chance to stop by when it was convenient for them. Our library director and library assistant were so gracious for letting us host our party there. So, we had a few decorations, snacks (cookies, brownies, crackers, cheese) and a "Twitter Challenge" the teachers took, so we had prizes for that (Starbucks or Target gift cards with some chocolates). For each session, after teachers completed the Twitter challenge, we put their name in a bag and if their name was picked, they won the prize! When the guests arrived, we had them pick up four handouts:
Jen and I worked one-on-one with the teachers, as well as presented some basic how-to’s about Twitter. Teachers worked through the Twitter Challenge, had conversations with each other, and had fun! The overall experience was so positive and well-received. We found it to be a great way for us all to connect and learn together.
Blogging has so many benefits. One of my favorite benefits though, is that blogging gives you "a voice". This goes for both adults, as well as students. One of my favorite examples of this is from within the classroom. We had a native Spanish-speaking student who came to our school part-way through the year as an 8th grader. Starting a new school is scary enough, let alone when you have a language barrier. This young girl knew almost no English at all. This language barrier lent to the her being extremely shy as well, so participation in class was a challenge.
One of her teachers decided she wanted to have students start blogging. To get blogging started, the teacher would post a prompt and students would write and reflect on it. All students had a chance to participate and comment to each other. The teacher asked her Spanish-speaking student if she wanted to try blogging, and the student said she would try. She asked the teacher if she could write her response in Spanish. Without any hesitation at all because she was thrilled the student wanted to participate, the teacher said "Yes!". So the student participated and wrote her entire response in Spanish. This was a great moment. She could participate, just like the other students. This student finally found her voice. This awesome moment had a ripple effect in the classroom. What happened next was so cool. Without any direction from the teacher, the classmates (who were all English-speaking), responded to her and they wrote their responses entirely in Spanish. They did the best they could using the knowledge they had from their Spanish classes as well as from asking other students who spoke Spanish. Her classmates embraced this opportunity to support and encourage. They replied to her, she replied back to them. There was finally an ongoing conversation between all students in class. It was such a great moment and blogging was the reason behind it. Blogging in the classroom can be used in different ways and at different levels. A teacher can have a class blog where:
The teacher adds posts, and students reply
The students have access to add their own posts
Students create their own blogs
Blogging offers all learners a chance to have a voice. Those who have a language barrier, those who are shy and may not participate in class as often as others, those who don't think of the answer right away and want a little more time to process, those who have so much to say and there isn't enough time in class to share it all...all type of learners. Blogging "levels the playing field" and offers a place where a writer can be heard, be a part of something bigger, and be able to find a "voice". We never know the awesome outcomes a learning experience will have until we create the opportunities.
My colleague and I, Jen Adams, presented a session on "Blogging in Education" at a recent in-service. We wanted to add a video about blogging to our presentation, but couldn't find one online that fit our vision. So, we decided to use PowToon and we create our own!
My good friend, and one of the most amazing educators I know,Andrea Trudeau, shared some wisdom with me when I had my baby a couple years ago that has been embedded in my mind ever since. When I first returned back to work after having my daughter, Gia, Andrea and I were talking and she shared with me something her mother had told her about parenting. She said that being a parent is a series of "letting go" moments.That day I returned to work was one of the hardest days of my life. I'll never forget that drive to work and how sad I felt that I had "left my baby." After all, we had been inseparable since the minute she was born, and now I felt I had "left her.” Luckily, that first day was the hardest and it got better after that. One of the things that helped me was that talk with Andrea and hearing her mom's words of wisdom. I started embracing "letting go” as a natural part of the parenting process. With parenting, you're "letting go" at so many stages of your child's life: early on with childcare, their first day of kindergarten, and eventually middle & high school. Then there are instances such as their: first sleepover, school dance, first date, college, and moving out. There are so many things I can think of. I have barely begun this "letting go" journey with my little one, but I'm at least arming myself with an open mindset for "letting go.”
When I learn something that I like and it makes sense to me, I relate it to other things in life. I make connections. That's what happened with embracing this idea of "letting go.” From thinking about it with parenting, I've transferred it to something else that I love so much: education.
I went to a Genius Hour session at an EdCamp this year, and theSelf-Determination Theory was mentioned. The theory says in order to boost intrinsic motivation it is important to focus on three main aspects: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This made so much sense to me because we truly learn something when we have some choice in what we want to learn, can successfully accomplish something, and are able to make some connections.
In the classroom, implementing things likeDigital Badges orGenius Hour would be great opportunities for allowing students to have more control of their learning. Digital badges can motivate students to want to accomplish their own learning goals. And focusing on the "passion-based" tenets of Genius Hour is one way to drive student motivation. By creating learning opportunities like these, we are "letting go" of some of the control, and at the same time empowering students’ curiosity and interest in what they are learning.
As caring adults and educators, we can embrace "letting go" in so many ways, sometimes in our classrooms and sometimes in the way we think. We all know that things change in education all the time. Embracing a "letting go" mindset can help when something is changing that we've known for quite some time. Letting go doesn't mean you stop caring. In fact, it shows you care a lot. Letting go is not easy. Especially when all we want is the best for someone, or for something. It's easy to think well, if I control what's happening, that will have the best outcome, and that is not always the case. What's important is that we instill the necessary values and skills in our children, so that when we do let go, they will be ready and able to succeed in life.
We need to let go, in order for our children to grow.
The list below contains coding resources. They are divided into different categories, have a short description along with the website link, and the recommended age level.
On the computer:
Code.org--Learn the basic concepts of Computer Science with drag and drop programming. 15-25 hours of "unplugged" classroom activities interspersed with game-like, self-directed tutorials starring video lectures by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. Learn repeat-loops, conditionals, basic algorithms, functions, and variables. US students earn awesome prizes for completing all stages!
Tynker--Tynker makes it fun & easy to learn programming. It makes it visual. Kids build games and mobile apps by arranging blocks of code. It removes the need to know programming syntax. Kids transform ideas into animated stories and math art right away. It promotes progressive learning. As kids learn fundamentals, Tynker introduces more advanced concepts including syntax driven programming.
Scratch--With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community. Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century. Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is provided free of charge.
LightBot--Learn core programming logic, starting from super-basic programming, for ages 4+, on iOS or Android (or Web browser) . Learn how to sequence commands, identify patterns, use procedures, and utilize loops!
Age level: Elementary or All ages | iOS, Android (or web browser)
Cargobot Two Lives Left--Cargo-Bot is a puzzle game where you teach a robot how to move crates. Sounds simple, right? It features 36 fiendishly clever puzzles, haunting music and stunning retina graphics. You can even record your solutions and share them on YouTube to show your friends.
Hopscotch--looks a lot like Scratch and Tynker and uses similar controls to drag blocks into a workspace, but it only runs on the iPad. The controls and characters are not as extensive as Scratch and Tynker, but Hopscotch is a great tool to begin helping students without coding experience learn the basics of programming, logical thinking and problem solving.
Age level: 9+
Age level: Middle school + | Modern Web browsers
Age level: High school | Modern web browsers or iPad
CodeHS--Learn the basics of programming with Karel the Dog, a fun, accessible and visual introduction to coding, where giving commands to a computer is just like giving commands to a dog. This tutorial is great if led by a teacher, but can also be done independently.
Grok Learning--An introductory course using the programming language Python for people with no programming experience. Our unique mix of introductory content and challenges will bring you to a thorough understanding of Python and programming itself. We've taught this content to students of varying ages from diverse backgrounds and we're sure it'll suit you too.
RoboMind Academy--Students learn the basics of programming by controling their own virtual robot. The online course is fully self-contained with short presentations, movies, quizzes and automatic guidance/hints to help with the programming exercises.
**KidsRuby--Have fun and make games, or hack your homework using Ruby! Just tell your parents or teachers you're learning Ruby programming... ;). Free and works on any computer. [Note: Desktop install required]
**Learn Ruby--Hackety Hack will teach you the absolute basics of programming from the ground up. No previous programming experience is needed! With Hackety Hack, you'll learn the Ruby programming language. Ruby is used for all kinds of programs, including desktop applications and websites. [Note: Desktop install required]
**Alice--Using an innovative programming environment to support the creation of 3D animations, the Alice Project provides tools and materials for teaching and learning computational thinking, problem solving, and computer programming across a spectrum of ages and grade levels. In Alice's interactive interface, students drag and drop graphic tiles to create a program, where the instructions correspond to standard statements in a production oriented programming language, such as Java, C++, and C#.
MakeGamesWithUs--Know some ObjectiveC? Learn to make an iPhone game in an hour! We'll guide you through the process, to code, test, and play your game entirely in the browser and then share it on Facebook for friends to try! No prior iPhone development experience is required. You must understand what variables, methods, and objects are.
AppInventor--MIT Center for Mobile Learning @ The Media Lab--Entertaining, video tutorials walk you through building three simple apps for your Android phone or tablet. Designed for novices and experts alike, this hour of code will get you ready to start building your own apps before you know it. Imagine sharing your own app creations with your friends! These activities are suitable for individuals and for teachers leading classes.
Age level: Middle school + | Modern browser + Android
Codea Two Lives Left--Codea for iPad lets you create games and simulations — or just about any visual idea you have. Turn your thoughts into interactive creations that make use of iPad features like Multi-Touch and the accelerometer. We think Codea is the most beautiful code editor you'll use, and it's easy. Codea is designed to let you touch your code. Want to change a number? Just tap and drag it. How about a color, or an image? Tapping will bring up visual editors that let you choose exactly what you want.
When I was a baby, I had a Fisher Price Blue Bird Music Box hanging on my crib. I would pull the red string on it, and it would play a little song to help me fall asleep. Being a bit nostalgic, I searched online to find one of these so I could use with Gia, my little toddler. They don't make these anymore, so it was hard to find one, but I finally did thanks to the internet and Etsy! It was used and in good shape, and now it's hanging on Gia's crib. The only little flaw it had was that when I pulled the string, the song would play only part of the song. No big deal, though. It was still so cute, and I was so happy to have it for Gia.
Something really cool happened this past weekend having to do with the Blue Bird. What happened was my almost two-year-old daughter taught me something for the first time! Now, I know I’ve learned things like life lessons from having my daughter, but this was different. She literally taught me something totally new about something I thought I already knew all about. When Gia woke up that morning, I did what I normally do. I walked to her room, opened her bedroom door, and saw her little face light up with a smile when she saw me. Before picking her up out of her crib, we started playing with the Blue Bird. I pulled the string once, and it played only part of the song, like normal. Then, Gia started playing with it and I was just watching her. She started pulling the string, and instead of pulling it just once, she started pulling it about five or six times in a row. Initially I thought, "Woah; please don’t break it" but, I didn't stop her though. I just let her do it. Then she stopped pulling and the song started playing. But, instead of stopping part way through, the song kept playing. The song played the whole way through! My eyes opened wide and I was smiling SO BIG! I was so happy! Because she pulled the string a bunch of times, it made the entire song play. My happiness came not so much because the song played through, but more-so because I was so proud that my little girl taught me something I didn't know before.
After Gia taught me this new little thing, it made me think of so much afterwards....
It made me think that accidents can turn out to be successes.
It made me think that I might have missed the lesson if I had stopped her from pulling the string over and over so many times (which was my first instinct, but I stopped myself).
It made me think that children have so many abilities that we need to allow them to discover and amaze us with.
It made me think that if we put children in the "drivers seat" more often, I think we would be so surprised at what they could teach us.
It made me think of teaching and that we can be ok with learning along with our students especially in this culture of technology which is essentially "their world". We can be ok when learning goes past what we may know and be confident enough to embrace the students who may know more about something than us, and not hold them back. There is so much to learn and understand and we can choose to go along this amazing path together with our students.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the spring EdCamp Chicago this year held at Palatine High School. It was such a fun professional development opportunity! If you haven't attended an EdCamp, they are referred to as an "unconference" because it's a conference that is participant driven. The sessions are not pre-determined by someone else. They are created that same day by the people who attend. People volunteer session ideas and the ideas get plugged into a schedule grid for the day. After the schedule is complete, you choose what you want to go to. The hard part is choosing because there end up being so many great ideas!! Once you get to the session, you along with everyone there can participate. If you volunteered a session idea, you may end up leading the group discussion, but you don't have to have anything prepared ahead of time. You'll find as the session gets going, people will share things they know about the topic, ask questions about it that maybe someone else knows, and it goes from there! It's just awesome being with people who are interested in learning about the same topic as you.
Because I'm such a fan of the EdCamp model, I was super excited to hear about one particular session idea! The session idea was on having EdCamp in the classroom, or an #EdCafe. Brilliant! This session was volunteered and led by Katrina Kennett. I loved it!
Here's a great explanation for What is an EdCafe (more info found HERE):
An EdCafe is a way to structure class that promotes student choice and ownership over learning.
The model was inspired by EdCamp conferences, where participants build the schedule and choose what sessions to attend.
This bottom-up approach shifts energy, engagement, and opportunity for exploration to the students, and transforms the teacher into expert facilitator instead of gatekeeper/manager.
Learning through Twitter will become a part of your life (like breathing).
Twitter has become one of my favorite PLN's for education. Connecting with other amazing educators, learning from each other, and getting inspired by each other, has never been so easy. It really is a whole new world of learning. Beyond following amazing educators and learning from each other, each week there are opportunities to join chats on Twitter. These chats are moderated by different individuals, focus on a different topic, and they run for an hour. If you're using Twitter or the Twitter app on your computer, phone, or tablet, you search (# discover) the specific #hashtag for the specific chat (chat list below). You can also use something like Tweetdeck to customize columns for the chat #hashtag. Then you can view the questions posted by the moderator, share your answers to the questions, and read everyone's responses as well. Using Twitter chats for learning is an exciting way to have educational discussions, and you put professional development in your own hands. I can bet that after joining a chat, you will take away something useful from it, whether it makes you think about something a little bit more, makes you want to try something new, or get inspired about something that interested you.
Below is a great list of all the Twitter chats going on all week long! Choose what and when you want to learn. The benefits from joining the chats with so many educators from all over, who are interested in the same topic that you are as well -- are endless! Weekly Twitter Chats List