Opportunity and Curiosity

Taking advantage of many of the opportunities we are offered is just the beginning of learning to be curious and creative.  Networking with like-minded people or those who expand the ways we think about education are connections that move us forward.

Our first opportunity is coming from a PhD student who can spend an hour or two teaching a small group about the foundation skills and language around coding our wearables.  Now this seems like something I would sign up for.  Before doing a deep dive into the wearables kits that we have purchased, I think this casual, no-pressure overview is a great place to start.  It helps me get my mind around what we are doing, how we are thinking and what the possible outcomes are before we open the more interesting (read complex) kits we have purchased.

For faculty and sessionals, taking the opportunity to visit the Doucette and be introduced to our two newest robots, Jack and Jill, EZ robots with a Calgary connection, will make your teaching and learning a little more fun and engaging.  These robots, investigated by Linda Easthope, are charming and accessible whether you like robotics or need a little nudge to include them in your practice.

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And finally, Tammy and I have an opportunity to visit the new public library.  Looking at the inspirational, flexible work spaces, especially in this library, is an opportunity I just can’t miss.  Looking at this beautiful building even from the outside, inspires me to want to pursue my interests in various spaces inside.  I see they even have sewing machines.  The new library’s space is inspirational for all who are curious and creative.

My advice is to take or make opportunities to move forward in your teaching and learning.  Find out about something new like coding, make an appointment to meet up with Linda, Jack and Jill or just visit a new spot like the library.  Any one of these things can be inspiring and can challenge to move your teaching and learning forward.

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Coding and Computational Thinking

It would seem that the rush to teach coding throughout the K-12 student population might be tempered by a slower, more realistic approach to overall problem solving by teaching computational thinking.

Although pre-service teachers are taught ways to bring coding into their classrooms using LEGO Mindstorms kits and various apps and websites, a single outcome coding lesson pales in comparison to the wide open skill set of computational thinking.

A BBC site defines computational thinking this way: “Before computers can be used to solve a problem, the problem itself and the ways it could be resolved must be understood.  Computational thinking techniques help with this task.”

Problem solving through computational thinking breaks down the problem into manageable parts that a computer or human can understand.  The coding may be part or all of the solution or may not be necessary at all.  But as a sustainable skill, students who are practiced in computational thinking will be able to take on coding in an informed mindset.

Most general resources that I have been reading all agree on four main components of computational thinking:

  • Decomposition – what are the component parts of the problem
  • Pattern Recognition – are there repetitive actions or ideas
  • Abstraction – given this breakdown what now?
  • Algorithms – what can we tell the computer to do?

 

More posts once I learn more.  I would like to investigate the four main components and look at how computational thinking can fit with curriculum outcomes.

Coding for Middle Grades – Some Advice

I recently attended (and presented) at a conference focused on libraries and technology.  So many of the presentations had to do with coding in various library settings in order to entice young people into the library.  There were some learning points that I will take into my own practice.

No Python coding language for the under 13 group.  Typing skills are not at a place in the early years that make typing code a possibility.  With Python being so sensitive to syntax and logic errors, click and drag coding like Blockly and Scratch Jr. are the way to go.  This nugget of truth is changing my thinking about all coding.  Know your audience and adapt your teaching to each group.  It was an eye opener that the presenters from Medicine Hat Public Library had engaged middle school students in a variety of tasks using Raspberry Pi and Python with relatively good outcomes.  Could I learn Python?  Maybe.  I am more optimistic than I once was.  And the teaching of coding by this library staff concentrated on some take away knowledge covering variables, lists, conditionals, logos, functions and threading.  This knowledge is portable and transferable for these students.

Olds Municipal Library staff used CsFirst to engage middle school age patrons at their library.  Although it is a coding program, staff felt they were also teaching students to think logically, problem solve and deal with consequences.  Their goal was to help students learn to communicate with their computer.  Their advice was to print EVERYTHING involved with the lesson you were going to teach and as they had repeated the process a number of times, I would do the same.  This library’s unique position in the community allowed them to collaborate with the local middle school to partner library staff with teachers for a more comprehensive outcome.

The more I hear about coding for K-12 age students, the more I think that there are ways for teachers to include coding in their classroom without having to have a Masters in Computer Science, simple ways to use websites and apps to give a genuine coding experience. Let me know if you are using a unique way to teach coding to pre-service teachers or in another kind of teaching environment.

Play

The Doucette Library has been abuzz with many students coming in for instruction about interdisciplinary learning and indigenous resources.

My partner in crime, Tammy Flanders, mentioned the other day how difficult it is to get any of these students to “play” with the resources.  Of course, the Doucette Library is not only books but also a variety of kits to inspire pre-service teachers to take some hands-on learning into the classroom.

Puppets, circuitry kits, skulls, cells, math manipulatives, games and building materials all have a place on the shelf but even when they are unwrapped and put out purposely for play, even then, students have a hard time picking them up and playing.

What is stopping them from playing?  I’m not sure.  We have played with a good many items as they come across our desks but, indeed, we also read a considerable number of picture books.  In the same way that I feel that you should always read picture books, no matter your age, I also believe that some play every day can be great for your health.

Given the opportunity to play in the library, I would encourage students to take us up on the chance to leave the world behind and play for some of the time.  It may re-ignite that passion you had for learning when you were in school and give you a glimpse of how your students will feel when you are teaching and learning with them.

Drop in.  Come play.  It is an open invitation.

Makerspace 102 – Stuff

Now that your maker mindset has set in and you are thinking that messy making in your classroom is a real possibility, let’s see how we manage to engage students in making.

First of all, having some materials in your classroom to make with is not as difficult as it sounds.  You may put a call out for parents to help with objects that may be in the home or you may have a small budget with which to purchase some consumables.  One of the best ways to collect materials for your makerspace is to have an on-going take-apart station in your classroom or learning commons.  A take-apart station can house electronics or appliances or anything that you feel you can scavenge parts from.

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Books like “Unscrewed” by Ed Sobey help you figure out the best items to take apart and what you can salvage from each item.

You may want to add a few items from the Dollar Store to help students imagine a prototype for making.  Do you put all your consumables out at once? Not a chance.  Everything would disappear before you turned around.   One experience at a makerspace that I had made sense to me.  Once students have designed a prototype and taken a good second look at it, they can present their plan in order to access the materials they need to build it.  That way item are planned to be used and embellishment can be indulged in at the end of the prototyping (if at all).

Next time we will talk about task design.  Task design is one thing about making that is probably my biggest struggle.  I want students to be engaged and invested in the task but making it personal for them is something that is not easy for me.  Let’s look at task design together next time.

The Horizon Report – 2018

Although The Horizon Report for the K-12 environment is the one I most pay attention to for writing this blog, this Horizon Report – Post Secondary has some interesting findings.

Educause has now partnered with NMC to research and publish the Horizon Report but the main areas of interest remain the same.download

This report examines key trends accelerating technology adoption in higher education (long, mid and short-term trends), significant challenges impeding technology adoption in higher education (solvable, difficult and wicked challenges), and important developments in educational technology for higher education (one, two-three and four-five years to adoption).

There is much to read and analyse in this report.  It is especially interesting to see how long post secondary takes to adopt some trends.  For example, one long term trend (five or more years) is to evaluate advancing cultures of innovation. (p.8)  Does this seem like a long time to adopt an innovative mindset within post secondary faculties?  I thought it was but that is my opinion.  Of course, the adoption will vary.  Some institutions and even some faculties within institutions will be faster to adopt an innovative mindset and create more diverse learning opportunities for students.

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The finding that “rethinking the roles of educators” is a wicked challenge is in line with discovery that innovation is a long term trend.  In order to innovate in the faculties of post secondary institutions there will have to be shift in the role of the educator.  As with the K-12 environment, teachers will be shifting from “knowledge experts to learning facilitators.” (p.34) Taking into account that students have knowledge at their fingertips in a way never experienced before in education, instructors and teachers will have to become comfortable with digital communications and guiding students to relevant, authentic data, research and conclusions.

There is so much more to talk about – this post is only the beginning.  I’ll follow up soon with information about Makerspaces and how they are becoming more prevalent in post secondary environments.  Pay close attention to page 40 of the report, “other  institutions, such as the university of Calgary, supply maker pedagogy, resources, materials selection criteria and project ideas.” See the note 208, it is linked to my research guide about makerspaces.  We will discuss the other findings in a new blogpost, later this week.

Baby, If You Love Me…

Not the usual title of one of my blog posts but I have to say that a workshop about improv games last week led me to wonder how this experience can translate into the classroom.action-2483679__340

Considering the time of year that I’m writing this post, I think improv can develop relationships with your students quickly and solidly without the awkward in between time when working groups are hard to form and students are reluctant to commit to any group in the class.

The introductory game was entitled, you guessed it, “Baby, If You Love Me….”  In this situation, we were to repeat to anyone of the group, “Baby, if you love me won’t you please, please smile.”  After that we could do or say anything to get our collaborator to smile.  Our partner would have to say back, “Baby you know I love you, but I just can’t smile.”  Having people concentrate on not giggling while being put on the spot is the purpose of this exercise.  We quickly sorted into gigglers and stone-faced groups that could not be coaxed to smile.

In this way, the group quickly got comfortable with each other and we learned, through various other exercises, to be silly and fun with people we did not know very well.  We also, at times, invaded their personal space.

Resources like 101 more drama games and activities  here at the Doucette can help you integrate some improv into your classes here on campus or to use during your practicum where you can quickly get to know students in your class.

Our leader pointed out that knowing what is a low risk, medium risk and high risk game is important.  Choose the level of risk according to the outcome you would like to see.  I see these risk levels in terms of how “uncomfortable” you want to make participants.  Low risk means most people will be comfortable with the process.  High risk will involve someone possibly being very uncomfortable with the exercise.  For example, saying “Baby, I love you, won’t you please, please smile,” was relatively low risk with just enough of discomfort saying this phrase to a co-worker to make it a real experience.

Start with something easy and low risk and see if you can’t laugh with the group you are working with.  This type of exercise breaks the ice and helps form relationships for everyone in the group.

For the 7 people in my group, we now see each other at work and say, “hello” and know that we have a unique shared experience that helped us get to know each other better.

 

Safety in Makerspaces

Students and staff members who use the makerspace that exists in your school or classroom should have the skills necessary to foresee possible safety issues and it is in everyone’s best interest to anticipate possible dangers.images

Before your makerspace is in full swing, think about setting some boundaries and simple rules around equipment use.  This article, Safety in Makerspaces gives many good examples of simple rules that will make an impact in a small classroom makerspace.

As the teacher, always look at potential problem areas and create short, memorable rules around what could go wrong.  Take time to look at the materials and tools you are using in the space and how students are using them.

Although not all accidents can be prevented, a few critical rules before your students enter the makerspace can be effective at avoiding a mishap.  Stand in your makerspace and walk through what your students will be doing.  How will they access materials?  How many students will be working in a group? Will they be standing or sitting?  What will be plugged in?  Are the cords for the items taped down or a hanging, tripping hazard?  Minimize the amount of clutter and items on each table. It will get cluttered enough during the activity.

Also take a moment to view the room from your students’ perspective.  From that viewpoint you may be able to isolate other problem areas.

Some rules follow the common sense that mirrors being in any classroom.  Walk. Don’t run.  Keep the chatter below “deafeningly” loud.  Watch what you are doing.  Pay attention to what others around you are doing.  Listen and ask questions.  It is okay to fail and learn from what doesn’t work.

Set up your classroom venue for success as a makerspace and then engage your students in making and learning.

 

Makerspace 101

The sun is shining, the temperatures are high and I am not yet on vacation so here goes a mid-summer blog post…

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Back to basics for this post.  This year in your classroom starting in September or when you are on practicum try to add a little “maker mindset” to the mix.  How does your classroom look?  Is it approachable for students who enter it?  Does it speak to the type of community you would like to create within your classroom?

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In a theoretical classroom, where all the students are mid to top performing, totally engaged learners who are innately motivated, setting the scene for making should be fairly straight forward.  In Division 1 through middle grades, a makerspace in your classroom could contain a few fixed spaces where taking apart or putting together can exist full-time in order for students to gain knowledge of how things work.  These foundation skills will help when they go on to do some designing for problems prompted by various curriculum outcomes.

In a secondary setting, making connected to curriculum can still be included in your classroom, even though many sets of students pass through it in a day.  Connect a making experience to whatever literary piece you are delving into or create a game based on the social studies unit you are covering.  It can be a “plussing” exercise where each group of students during the day moves the process forward while handing it off to the next group showing clearly where they are leaving the project.

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The bottom line is to make “making” part of groundwork of your classroom.  Make “making” part of your mindset.  Allow students to prototype the answer to a question just as often as they write or code or say the answer.  Imagine the students that will be engaged and invested in the learning taking place in your classroom. Trust the process.  Stand back and see the learning taking place.  Know your students well enough to give them time and space to do some of their own problem solving and watch the process close enough so that you may ask some pointed questions.  Know the subject well enough to ask questions calculated to move the project along.

And just … try it.  Give it a go and see what works for you and your students.

Radio Jones and His Robot Dad

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Cost: Free

Size: 677.8 MB

Works on: iOS 7.0 or later

Radio Jones and His Robot Dad is an iPad app that is a graphic wordless novella.  Following the story that many kids experience, Radio Jones deals with a workaholic dad who appears to not have any time to spend with his son.

Radio creates a robotic dad that plays and explores and has adventures with him.  As you “read” the story, you will find a few interactive screens.

I won’t include any spoilers here but, let’s just say that Radio and his dad come to an agreement when it comes to the robot dad.

A lovely way to interact with an app in the days leading up to Father’s Day for kids (and for dads).