Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Great Big Valentine full of Math Puzzles

It only seems appropriate to share this great big valentine full of math puzzles on February 14. Sarah Carter is a high school math and science teacher in Drumright, OK and her Math = Love blog is full of great resources.



Sarah recently created a page with links to all of the puzzles she's shared across various posts going back to 2011. Although many are geared for high school students, some may work for elementary or middle school and adaptions can be made to the basic ideas shared.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Because the hook brings (them) back...I ain't telling you no lie


"Hook" by Blues Traveler is just one of those songs that makes me feel good any time I hear it. I was listening to it around 5:30 this morning as my brain was slowly morphing from dreamland to its educational focus.

Although this song was written more than 25 years ago about music, what hit me today was how it applies to what we do in the classroom. The line "Because the hook brings you back" is exactly how teachers are crafting experience to build long term student engagement.

Dave Burgess has done tremendous work transforming the way educators practice their craft with his Teach Like a Pirate (TLAP) approach. One of key parts of the analogy (I almost wrote metaphor but it uses "like".) is the "hook". Get it? Pirates, hook? It's basically what John Popper is singing about in the song by the same name.

The hook is that irresistible little piece of the lesson that creates instant buy-in. I have discovered several hooks that get our learners amped each week to come to STEM. Sending Legos down a zip line made of fishline is one of our most popular activities. Another is building Lego drones by Flybrix. By hooking them with the unique experiences, I am able to pile on all of the learning like countless reps of going through the design process or analyzing elements of flight at work.

Bonnie Capes from South Brunswick Public Schools in New Jersey has a great blog based around leading her colleagues in a TLAP book study. Her "Crash Course in Hooks" post outlines in helpful details all of the different ways Burgess suggests teachers can  their kids.

Now, let's get back to the music. What I hadn't ever noticed in "Hook" was one stanza that deepens the song's connection to teaching even further (proper grammar aside).
And it don't matter who you are.
If I am doing my job, it's your resolve that breaks.
Yep, that's our job...breaking the resolve of reluctant learners. Math teacher Dan Meyer is famous for describing what he does as "trying to sell a product to a market that doesn't want it but is forced by law to buy it." Check out his Ted Talk and you will see how he's a master at breaking that resolve with a unique tool box of hooks.

So, next time you hear Blues Traveler sing "Hook" think about true it rings in the classroom.




1:1 #SneakChat : Chromebooks, iPads, Running Shoes...It's all the same

Michigan district puts the skids on sneaker initiative.


The following is a fictitious "what if?" account of what usually happens when educators are blinded by the notion that 1:1 solves everything. It was originally posted in September of 2013...and still rings true.

What was initially hailed as a groundbreaking effort by the Rivermont Public School district (Mich.) to fight childhood obesity is now being re-examined and possibly moth-balled by school administrators over concerns of student mis-use. When students arrived at the district's three schools twenty-five minutes north of Grand Rapids this September, each was issued a new pair of Saucony running shoes in the nation's first ever 1:1 sneaker initiative. The district received a special mention on Good Morning America and a framed, hand-written letter of congratulations from First Lady Michelle Obama hangs in the foyer of each building.

Less than a month into the new school year, the district has slammed on the brakes and each teacher is being asked to collect the athletic shoes and store them in a closet until further notice. The holdup you ask?  Apparently the kids are having too much fun in them.

"Our grand vision was that students would use the sneakers for a school-wide fitness program that is guided by a rigorous curriculum of lap running and agility training throughout the day," stated superintendent Eli Tanis. "Our teachers are coming to us and telling us that the kids have no interest in these activities and instead are using the shoes for their own personal activities."

"Never before have we seen so much spontaneous running, noise, or such large groups of roaming mobs playing tag at recess. It can get terribly stressful," said first grade teacher Susan Vanderslice who has been at the same position for 31 years. "Before the shoes were just given to the children without any formal teacher training the playground was much calmer. Children simply milled around. It was very easy to maintain control."

After talking with a few students whose families asked that their identity be concealed to avoid any problems with staff at school, most kids don't see what they are doing wrong.

"They gave us these sweet shoes," says Fifth Grader (we'll call) Jake. "I couldn't wait to get on the court at recess and work on the cross-over dribble I have been perfecting this summer. Our teacher won't even let us wear the shoes outside though because he is afraid they will get dirty or something. He only lets us carry them to the track, put them on to run laps, take them off, and then carry them back inside. Running laps feels like doing penmanship."

Jake's parents echo their son's sentiments. "It seems like they are really missing the forest for the trees. They seem so focused on limiting what the kids do in the shoes. Shouldn't they just encourage any activity and movement at all? Take the time to teach the kids new games and give them time to just enjoy being active, whether that is outside when the weather is nice or inside once winter comes. We think that should be the ultimate goal, building healthy habits."

Rivermont curriculum director Shirley Wolverton defends the district's approach. "We have to insure growth. If we simply let the students play whatever they want in the shoes then there is no way to guarantee teachers will meet the benchmarks we have prescribed. If our lap numbers don't increase, our staff will have failed. The only way to increase a student's ability to run laps is to run more laps. "

A meeting is scheduled for Monday night at the school's board room where a sub-committee has been formed to investigate what modifications might be made to the program.

"We hope to have some answers quickly," Superintendent Tanis explains. "My biggest fear is that we will wait too long and the students will have all outgrown the shoes by the time we return them. We are also missing valuable lap-time on the track. Students need to know though that there is a difference between serious school work and the taxpayers of this community aren't financing just play."

Thankfully the above account is fictitious. There is no Rivermont, Michigan but unfortunately  this kind of thinking is far too prevalent in education. This silly post was the mental fruit cultivated by my hearing that Los Angeles Unified School District is temporarily moth-balling its one billion dollar 1:1 iPad efforts because students have easily hacked the devices' security controls.

Certain school districts seem so worried that students or in many cases staff will use a device for something other than "school work". We are not talking about accessing adult content here, but doing things like connecting with the rest of  the world through social media or making a multimedia project of vacation photos. To me, any time on the device that is not malicious or obviously inappropriate is learning. It is learning to use a tool to communicate and create. It is building comfort and efficiency within the operating system. The more you use it, the better you become.  (Author's Note: I am pumping the brakes on my own thinking here as it has evolved in the 5 years since I originally wrote this and especially in light of my recent post on Chromebook use. While still a believer that play equals better understanding of a device, we need to make sure we are smart about the activities and how we are using the time with the devices. We can design fun experiences that are learning-specific...but a moderate amount of free time is still okay now and then.)

Allowing kids to create content they are passionate about makes it all the more motivating for them to create a similar type of project on something being studied in the classroom. The same is true with giving every kid a pair of sneakers. Running laps isn't the only way to increase the ability to run laps.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

TCEA Speaker Handouts are a Gold Mine of Professional Learning

Someday I would love to attend the TCEA Conference in Austin. In the meantime I will be digging through the absolute gold mine of presenter resources that is freely available on the TCEA site.

Thanks to Tony Vincent for sharing the link to these. At last count there were 529 different session resources posted. Tony's post today really opened my eyes to start making it a habit to go look for session resources from other great conferences held throughout the year.

TCEA 2018 Resources


Friday, February 9, 2018

Clear up the Google Sheets with One Quick Trick

Our district reading specialists are doing a great job by creating individual profiles for all of our elementary students. Those are shared via Google Sheets with other staff so we can best tailor instruction to each child's needs. With that comes a lot of clutter to Google Sheets in the "Shared with Me" section. Add in the fact that I am at four schools and it can get really messy.

I just discovered this trick though. In the search bar simply type "-" and the person's name sharing the multiple files. Everything they have shared with you disappears from the list. You can even type several names if you are trying to de-clutter even more.

I love that information is being shared to tailor education, sometimes I just need it out of the way in order to find the sheet I am currently needing.

The best part is that nothing is actually deleted, just hidden temporarily.

By subtracting certain owners, their shared documents are temporarily hidden.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sports Journalism Class puts the 4Cs in Stop Motion Film Making

A lot of adults say, "You couldn't pay me to be a high school student in this day and age." Sure, I get the sentiment with the way social media has made the minefield of teen social interaction even trickier to navigate.

I think I would still go back...temporarily...just to take "Covering Hawkeye Sports" from Mark Behnke at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Michigan where I teach.

Covering Hawkeye Sports has not only won 11 Michigan Interscholastic Press Association state championships but it is really an example of technology being integrated into learning at its best. Mr. Behnke's journalism class is essentially a college-level sports information department covering a mid-sized high school. They live stream games with commentary. They live tweet games and host social media nights just like major colleges and professional teams do...and these are 9th to 12th graders.
Check out CoverHawkSports.com

One of the coolest things these kids do is recreate game highlights in Lego stop-motion. This is a process where a film starring Lego characters is shot frame by frame and characters are repositioned after each frame to create the illusion of fluid movement. One second of footage can involve as many as 15 of these cycles.

Students have gotten so good at it that they even hosted a camp for elementary kids this past summer to share their craft. Oh yeah, they've also been asked by Oyo Sports to make highlight films of Super Bowl 51 and this year's college football national championship game. Oyo Sports is a major player in the Lego world by creating minifigures of major sports stars and teams. Oyo debuted CHS's Super Bowl video during last year's NFL Draft on its Instagram page.

At its heart the class is all about story telling and a stop motion video is the same way. The "Fours C's" are everywhere when you look at activities like these: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Here's basically how the process works.

  • An entire game has to be broken down into its most important elements and a team of designers has to be able to envision how the plays will be choreographed by minifigures.  (Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking)
  • The geometry of recreating a sports venue in Legos is no easy task, whether that be Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta or the Hamilton High School shot put ring. (Creativity, Critical Thinking)
  • It would be far too expensive to purchase team minifigures for each video, so players are repurposed by Photoshopping uniforms and logos that are printed as decals. Students even hand paint pieces when needed. (Creativity, Critical Thinking)
  • When it comes time to actually shoot the stop action film, an incredible amount of precise math has to be calculated in order complete a scene in an efficient number of still shot. (Critical Thinking)
  • Periodically Jared Jacobs, who is one of the world's top sports stop motion video creators, will FaceTime with class members if they hit a snag in the process or just need some insight into a "How did you do this?" technique. (Collaboration, Communication)
  • Teamwork and student leadership have to be clicking in a project as well. When a group of students can divvy up the task and all stick to assigned roles the work can proceed at a manageable pace. How well a team works together is often reflected in its final product. (Communication, Collaboration)
  • Before the final video can be shared, it is polished through normal video editing with graphics and titles added to complete the story telling. (Communication, Creativity)
Although Covering Hawkeye Sports might seem like a fun class to talk about sports, it is giving kids a chance to develop marketable skills like Photoshop and journalism but more importantly real-world life skills like leadership, empathy, and teamwork.

I just wish this thing had been around when I was in high school. 





Tuesday, February 6, 2018

CS First: Code your own Google logo

Google's CS First program has introduced countless numbers of learners to coding and computer science through Scratch.

One of CS First's newest offerings is a module that teaches you and your students how to "Create Your Own Google Logo" like the Google Doodles that change daily on Google's search page.

The module starts with a plain Google logo and then takes you through a number of ways to modify it and make it more interactive, just like the daily doodles do.


All of the coding is done in the Scratch editor and if students have accounts, the projects can all be saved and modified later.


According to Google, the project should take about 30-60 minutes. This is highly dependent upon the user's previous experience in Scratch though. 

The activities are a great way to use the CS First resources without committing to the full curriculum.