An Inspiring Story

Hedy Lamarr’s Double life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu

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Now here is the kind of book I would love to see in K-5 classrooms.  While reading through a number of new picture books that came into the Doucette Library over the last little while, this one caught my eye.

This story has EVERYTHING! An accomplished woman, also pictured as a young girl, who loved learning and wondering, a great invention that helped modern day electronics, like cell phones, keep texts and calls private, a Hollywood movie star with a contract with Louis B. Mayer. Hedy’s curiosity led to many personal inventions including a cube that changed plain water into flavoured soda, a ladder to help get in and out of a bathtub.

It is really not about the glamorous life she led or the amazing inventions.  This story captures the curious mind of a girl and a woman about things that were happening around her – in her real life.

After meeting George Antheil, Hedy and George came up with the idea of “frequency hopping” to help torpedoes send fragmented messages not easily intercepted by the enemy.  They co-patented the invention together.  Although this invention would have proven useful, the American Navy put it aside to fight World War II.  Hedy used her Hollywood star power to volunteer to sell war bonds and to meet soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen.

A book like this one in every classroom would be a great addition for children who are tinkerers.  They would recognize themselves in the realistic story of Hedy who, as a child, was interested in life and curious about everything including going to the movies.

“Inventions are easy for me to do.  I suppose I just came from a different place.” Hedy Lamarr

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Freeing the Ed Tech

In September of 2018 and all of this academic year, I have been releasing all the ed tech kits to the shelves.  In a wildly successful experiment, ed tech like littleBits, Sphero Sprk 2.0, ozobots and OSMO are left to fend for themselves on the open shelves in the library.

Other years while I was acquiring the ed tech, I had a conversation with almost every student who took out these kits to use in the classroom.  Although this was wonderful in getting to know students and how they were using the tech, it was not sustainable as a model for taking out technology kits.

As I released the kits to the shelves something wonderful happened.  All of the kits were loaned for classroom use and lesson planning, all the time. Not a one left anywhere.

It showed me that students know how to use these kits in the classroom and are just waiting for a chance to integrate them into their planning.  The initial training on most of the kits is self taught by Youtube and by the other resources the Doucette has like the research guides.  Students are beyond prepared to introduce technology into their curriculum planning.

However, I also noticed something else.  Once the kits are gone there is no back up.  Even when I want to teach with the kits to special groups or classes, I am facing the same timelines as students, putting kits on hold 10 days before any time of teaching.

And so, we are adding MORE of the kits that are most popular to the shelves.  More Ozobots.  More Sphero Sprk 2.0 (and their mini partners).  Thanks to the generous contribution of Werklund School and Dr. Lock, we will have more of everything on the shelf.  Hopefully, this will mean that more students will have more access to more ed tech by the fall.  And if more students are integrating more ed tech into more classrooms, the sky is the limit.  Our next innovators and entrepreneurs will be challenged to take the next steps after technology is embedded in classrooms to make education the most interactive and engaging time in a student’s life.  And that is a very good result.

Cell Phones in (or out) of classrooms

The Ontario provincial government has opted  to ban cellphones in classrooms beginning in September 2019.  There are many points of view on this subject and I’ve been reading through many of the opinions.

I think that phones are a distraction in classrooms but can also be a tool.  Being a proponent of ed tech, I really want to think of a Utopian classroom where phones are used for good and not for evil.  Hearing from a seasoned teacher in this Huffington Post article, you would have to sympathize with the disruptions she sees everyday in her classroom.  But if students had a useful conversation with her about what it means to have their phones in class, doesn’t this mean that some compromise can be made.

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Given how almost every student has a phone, can it be used as a tool in some classrooms?

A discussion about being unplugged for certain classes may have buy in from students to see what it is like.  It gives them a new experience away from the minute to minute updates from their phones.

I think we have to be realistic with students, talking about what having a phone in the workplace looks like and what the expectations and etiquette about phone use is in different environments.  Talk about how having a phone is also a tool that can be used for research purposes and for homework.  Ignoring the presence of phones in the lives of students is not realistic.  Talking about digital citizenship and phone etiquette along with using phones as research tools is realistic and may be a wonderful way to educate students about when to use and not use their phones.

 

 

Coding, Ed Tech and Making: Some new reads

 

Even though I work fulltime in a library, it seems the minutes I get to spend with new books must be intentional and sometimes a bit rushed.  I would love to curl up in a chair with a cart of books beside me to savour new samplings for the collection.

As things are unusually quiet on the desk today, I can take a moment to look at what is new and cool in the areas that I spend the most time with.

My favourite book of the new batch is The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague, written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley.  The subject of this nonfiction picture book is Raye Montague, one of the many hidden figures whose innovation changed the way navy ships are built.  She overcame exceptional odds being a black woman in the 1950s to design, in 1971, the FFG-7 Frigate.  Using her own computer programs, she completed the design of the frigate in 18 hours and 26 minutes.  The accompanying notes, bibliography and time line, all contribute to the wealth of information in this book.  The big problem I have with it is that it is written in verse.  What a shame.  The story would stand better is some well-written prose to showcase the power of her accomplishments.  This book can be included in classrooms up to grade 6 as students learn how to write biographical information, consider time lines of famous people, and collect biographic research about historical figures and just for students to ponder the strength and tenaciousness of this intelligent woman.

Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey would be a great book to have in your classroom.  From grades K-3, girls will recognize the pressure (sometimes from parents) to play with dolls but our main character, Charlotte, incorporates her “making” into traditional play.  Charlotte is a maker and a tinkerer.  Although her house seems full of opportunities for her to indulge her maker imagination, Charlotte’s mother gives her a doll.  Just a doll.  It says “mama.”  As Charlotte puts her mind to it, knowing that a doll who talks must also have a power supply, she unleashes her “making” and inventions and innovations ensue.

Two books have recently come in that would be great “browsers” to have in your classroom to spur students on to learn about innovative ideas.  Engineered! Engineering Design at Work: A fun exploration of nine amazing feats by Shannon Hunt and James Gulliver Hancock looks at 9 different amazing feats of engineering from the following fields: aerospace, biomedical, chemical, mechanical, electrical, civil, geomatics, computer and environmental engineering.  Examples like the Millau Viaduct, a traffic problem solving bridge that was built on time and on budget and solved a major traffic issue in France.  The innovative design is an engineering feat and a work of art.  Innovation Nation: How Canadian innovators made the world …smarter, smaller, kinder, safer, healthier, wealthier, happier by David Johnston and Tom Jenkins, illustrated by Josh Holinaty would also provide a great browsing experience in any classroom.  Pages 124-125 give a two page spread on “How you can be an innovator,”  listing ways to inquire, ideate, incubate and implement ideas and what steps to take within each action to be the best innovator ever.  I also loved reading about the invention and pick up of JAVA script and the plastic garbage bad and something known as the “shrouded tuyere,” a way to stir steel invented by Robert Lee who came up with the idea after tooting in the bathtub.  Innovation is everywhere.  Both these books would be valuable in middle grades.

And now about that edict to have your students coding from k-12.  There are some easy ways to get students coding in your classroom but what if one of the ways was to read a picture book.  How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk, illustrated by Sara Palacios is not an excellent picture book but does present the ideas and vocabulary that are foundational in coding and anchors it to a familiar activity, building a sandcastle.  Look for working definitions of sequence, loops, and “if-then-else” statements.  Having one of these books in your collection is plenty and this one does the job.  Keep this one to the early grades.

Get Coding! Learn HTML, CSS, and JAVAscript and build a website, app and game by Young Rewired State is an attractive sort of book of challenges where you work through various coding recipes to make a website, app and a game.  This book would be great in a classroom where every year now you will be able to reach some of your students through these coding challenges.  Now, keep in mind, that coding books like this are awesome usually for a short time so buy it now and use it.  In September Get Coding2 is coming out and will be full of new challenges. I would say to start kids in grade 3 with these tasks and use this book through grade 9 or 10.

Sometimes when I am looking for a new approach to educational technology I fall back on an old library habit.  See what the new books look like and how can they be used to engage students in new ed tech challenges.  This list has a little something for everyone.  They will be included in the Doucette collection later this week for your use.  And I do feel a sense of renewal now that I have touched a few new books.

 

 

WestCAST 2019 – Calgary

By the time you read this edition, WestCAST will be in our rear view mirror.  I hope you attended and took with you a couple of gems to add to your classroom.  So many of the presentations are timely and current to developing a compelling, interesting, engaging classroom at all levels from K-12.

From virtual reality to microbits and storytelling to experiential learning, there was something for everyone.  It was a great opportunity to get together, meet and network and learn a few new strategies to apply to your practice.  I was so fortunate to present in one workshop and one presentation.

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I participated in “Learning through Making: How do we design and assess the learning?” Following from many successful “making” workshops, this one added the assessment piece to the making experience.  How do teachers assess what is happening in the makerspace with students?  What are the components that make a rich task and that empower students take the reins of their learning and see it through.  Once our participants could experience our Survivor style task and reflect on the skills and knowledge needed to complete the exercise, they could also surmise some of the key assessment elements.  Looking in depth at one specific element helped our participants visualize what assessment of students taking part in “maker” tasks might look like.

During “Let’s see what happens: The importance of being earnestly curious,” we looked at specific resources that piqued our curiosity and made for great workshop or classroom teaching.  We challenged participants to get curious by setting a goal to subscribe or visit a website that would prompt them to be curious about a variety of things.  Curiosity is a habit of mind that can be cultivated so easily with the internet at our fingertips but also can be sparked without any digital media by simply observing, albeit, a little more closely, our busy lives.  Participants who came to this session, hopefully, left a little more curious than when they came in.

If you didn’t have a chance to participate in WestCAST this year, please mark your calendars for next year because it was a great experience and challenged all of us to try a new strategy or two and to include some new ideas in our teaching and our learning.  Next year’s conference will be at University of British Columbia – stay tuned.

 

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.

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.