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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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.

 

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.

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.