Monday, November 21, 2016

Minecraft Education Edition: Up and Running!

Starting the year, my co-teacher and I had limited knowledge of how to play Minecraft, but we knew what we wanted our students to crate in the program based on the work of a few Minecraft masters that I've followed on Twitter for a number of months.  We figured what we didn't know, we would learn and if our lessons failed, they would fail spectacularly!  From day one in our class, we've been piloting and battling technology with many wins and a few losses and lessons along the way. I felt confident in our ability to troubleshoot to the best of our abilities and our acceptance that we will NOT know everything and that it is okay.  Modeling persistence through struggles has become one of the keystones of our class as we are always trying new things, shaking things up, and sometimes failing spectacularly despite our best efforts.

Despite not feeling entirely confident with our knowledge of HOW to create in Minecraft, we moved forward the sixth week of school with our Module 1 group project where we introduced the inclusion of Minecraft in our class.  To say our students were excited doesn't come remotely close to describing their reactions.  Of the students in our class (35 total students), roughly 10 had played before and 5 considered themselves to be "experts".  There were many students in our class who had heard of the game, but had never actually played.  All students were excited to not only pilot another program for our district, but to also dig into the game that they've heard and read about.

The Project:

Our first module focuses on two questions:
How do civilizations evolve from hunter/gatherers to settlement?
How can we create and establish a civilization?

Our lessons and Module revolve our 7th grade Social Studies standards (Eastern Hemisphere), so we use historical examples as our model for students to examine as we move through development.

Minecraft Lesson 1:

We selected 7 different biomes that were presented on the Minecraft Education Edition website and had our students draw a biome out of a fishbowl for each of their groups.  We had everything from a desert to a jungle as options for this portion.  After they drew their biome, the Minecraft work began.  Students needed to accomplish a few things as a group during this work time:

  1. Determine a name for their world
  2. Tour the biome and discuss any physical features that they saw
  3. Note any changes to physical features/land formations that were needed to sustain a civilization
  4. Take notes on the discussion

Students selected their "Digital Maker" (a group member who would host the Minecraft world and would be the primary builder) and quickly got to work.  Long discussions of safety and water sources were had among group members.  While nothing was built at this point, the close examination of physical features and benefits/disadvantages facing their people due to climate and region created an opportunity for students to apply the knowledge that they learned during their study of ancient Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt.

Check back for lesson 2!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mining though Minecraft Education Edition

I’ve always been interested in using play and games to engage my students in content.  I remember back in my early years as a student playing Oregon Trail and similar games to not only learn computer skills, but to also explore topics and themes presented in the games.

This summer, I was introduced to Minecraft Education Edition at the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert U.S. Forum in Denver, Colorado.  Along with many other exciting, inspiring, and engaging activities, I was able to attend a session on using Minecraft in the classroom.  Previous to this session, my knowledge of Minecraft was extremely limited.  I knew what it was, and that my students absolutely loved the game, but didn’t have a clear picture of how it could be relevant in my class.  Todd Beard, the MIEE in charge of running the session, along with some of the Minecraft Mentors, illustrated some exciting ways to integrate the program into a typical classroom.  I learned the basics during my session, and came away excited to integrate it into my class.

After returning from Denver, I consulted with my co-teacher and school administrator about potentially trying to implement Minecraft into my co-taught Humanities class.  Last year, our year-long project in Humanities (module work) explored the idea of the settlement, organization, and growth in various civilizations.  I knew that Minecraft could be the tool that we needed to step up our “game” in the classroom (like what I did there?) and provide an opportunity for students to apply their learning in a new way.

After garnering positive feedback and support from both my co-teacher and school administrator, the idea, which seemed so great at the time, became daunting.  I didn’t know how to play other than how to walk around and break things.  While I understand that this is really all that you NEED to know, I felt insecure about being able to help my stu
dents with the program.  This feeling of insecurity and fear of the unknown really came to a head as my co-teacher, Steve, and I began planning our modules.  He had absolutely no knowledge of Minecraft and my knowledge was extremely limited.

We looked closely at the model lessons posted on the Minecraft in Education website and started to get excited about the possibilities.  I spent a large amount of time looking at the ‘Support’ page and really trying to conceptualize how this would work in my classroom of 35 students.  In the next few posts, I will continue to explain our journey and will give you a glimpse of the program in action.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Staying Flexible

Always, at the beginning of a school year, there is time for reflection, rejuvenation, and excitement. I found myself taking on a new challenge this school year: piloting a device program for the district. With the addition of the device to my Humanities classroom, I, along with my co-teacher, had to again re-think how we manage the classroom, designed our learning activities, and push ourselves to work differently.

While we aren’t a true 1:1 because our students do not take the devices home, we are making drastic changes in our class in order to utilize technology efficiently, effectively, and with purpose.

The specs of our new learning space:

Class: 7th grade Humanities (blend of Social Studies and Language Arts)
Our device of choice: Surface 3
Quantity of devices in the classroom: 35
Number of students: 35
Projection: Large television mounted over the dry erase board
Teacher Devices: 1 Surface Pro 4 and 1 Surface 3

Flexible Seating

Starting from scratch with a new classroom allowed us to make some physical changes in the space. We added a white board to encourage student interaction with their learning. We also chose to introduce flexible seating to our students right away. In revamping our new classroom (which was once a lab of desktop computers), we found that we had all of these tall spaces that would work nicely for standing work spaces. The addition of three tall folding tables allows up to 15 students to use these standing spaces when students are given work time.

Our mantra for our students is to choose the space that helps them work the best. For some, they stay at their seats. Others move to lay or sit on the floor. Many choose to stand at the standing spaces. If an issue arises (an off-task student), we quietly approach the student and remind them that they need to position themselves in a space where they can do their best work. The Surfaces make this flexibility easy and allows our students to feel comfortable getting comfortable in the space. We are loving the combination of the flexible learning spaces and the flexibility of the Surface! We would love to incorporate more floor “furniture” in the future and rolling desks, but at this point, we are working with what we have.

Why I love flexible seating and the Surface 3:

1. Students are more productive.

Students really work more efficiently and effectively when they are physically comfortable. Allowing them to chose their physical comfy place allows them to put all of their focus and energy on the task at hand.

2. Easy collaboration.

Groups have a variety of spaces to use as their "home" during group work sessions. They can spread out and conquer an entire area, eliminating distractions from other students and groups.

3. Individual interaction.

When students are spread out in the room into different learning spaces, it is easier to chat with each student individually. Granted, this now requires that I sit on the floor, crawl under a table, or stand at a tall counter, but the interactions seem more personal. When I get on their level and talk about the assignment and the task they are accomplishing, students are extremely receptive.

Stay tuned for more updates from room 402 including how we are using OneNote, Skype, and Minecraft in our classroom!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Building Capacity: Instructional Coaching and Office Mix

When I signed on to become our school's only instructional coach (part-time), I knew that training staff members on new strategies and tech tools was going to be a large part of my new job.  Quickly I realized that within the 4 hours I had to "coach", I couldn't possibly address all of my teachers' needs for help with curriculum, teaching strategies, technology help, therapy sessions, etc.  Forty-two teachers were relying on me to deliver information to them quickly and efficiently, but they were all at different points in their use of technology, their experience in the classroom, and their desire to try something (ANYTHING) new.  After being overwhelmed for a short time, I quickly realized that adult learners are just learners.  They need hand-holding, drive by face-to-face interactions, and lots and lots of encouragement partnered with enough scaffolding that they could each be reached at the level of expertise they were currently at.  Differentiation, friends.  It is not just a skill for the K-12 classroom.

On the technology end of things, I had teachers everywhere from proficient and innovative with their use of technology to teachers who still used the ancient (and I thought extinct) overhead projectors.  Teachers who had never even heard of creating file folders to organize their documents or who just stuck with the default title of the document when they hit 'save as'.  And I needed to teach them all and prepare them for the 1:1 digital initiative that will befall our school in a little over a year.  After deep consideration, I discovered my tool of choice: Office Mix.  I've listed the reasons below in true listicle style because, let's face it, things just seem easier in a numbered list.

1.Familiarity and Buy-In 

Office Mix is run through PowerPoint and who doesn't love a good ol' PowerPoint at the end of the day?  I've been using PowerPoint since my 10th grade business class and consider it a trusted friend.  Offering my professional development in a package that isn't too shiny, looks familiar to teachers, and is easy-to-use was key to getting buy-in and support from my teachers.

2.  Self-Paced PD

Office Mix allows me to record myself going through something (screen recording) so that my teachers can play it over and over again until they understand.  When I am introducing a new way to do something or a new tool, teachers are able to go at their own pace through the tutorial and often pause and resume when they feel that they are ready.  This self-paced PD has allowed me to reach more teachers, especially those who feel insecure about using technology.  If we were in a room with them, they would likely just sit and pretend to follow along for fear of looking too lost.  Now, they can work through a tutorial or a technique at their own pace and on their own time.

3. Inking and Practicing What I Preach

By using the inking features of Office Mix, I can help teachers really dive into a strategy or tool while demonstrating good teaching practices.  Teachers like to see handwriting (especially those in the older generation).  Why not show them that it is not dead?

4. PD for Now and Later

I can publish my mixes and share the links for future viewing.  This has been imperative for my work this year.  I often refer back to tutorials that I've used so that teachers are in the practice of consulting them before they email for help.  Teachers are learning to help themselves, which is completely empowering, even in an area (like technology) where many feel that they are unable to help themselves.

5. Analytics, analytics, analytics! 

I love being able to utilize analytics in my presentations.  Adding interactive elements is a quick way to make sure that my audience is engaged in the content, so I love adding them to my mixes.  It gives me valuable data that helps me plan future training sessions.

6. A Personalized Voice

I, like most human beings, hate hearing my own voice on tape.  However, my teachers say that they love hearing ME explain things to them.  There is something reassuring about having the voice of someone you know and trust walk you through a complex task or idea.  I could find YouTube videos on all of my PD topics, but I've found that my teachers love hearing from ME.  It seems more personal and teachers feel a little more compelled and invested in what is being said/demonstrated when that person is familiar.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Every Day Use of Tech in the 7th Grade Classroom

For me, technology in the classroom has always been about extending learning and providing opportunities that wouldn’t (or couldn’t) happen in the traditional classroom.  If the tech tool isn’t doing something more efficiently and effectively than I can by using a traditional teaching strategy, I keep looking.  There are a few tools that have fundamentally changed my 7th grade Language Arts classroom.  A lesson I taught recently over the myth of Icarus incorporates some of my favorite tech tools.

“The Flight of Icarus” is a story in our 7th grade Language Arts textbook.  The topic is always appealing to students (they tend to love Greek mythology), and the responses that I garner from the reading and activities are truly exceptional.  This lesson occurs toward the end of a unit on myths, legends, and folktales and precedes the writing of a piece of folk literature that represents/mirrors a civilization that is studied in Social Studies (the Easter Hemisphere). 

The tools:

OneNote- I have been experimenting with OneNote for over a year and absolutely love the flexibility that it gives me in the classroom.  Paired with Office 365, my students have access to their class work through any mobile device.  OneNote Class Notebook allows me to “deliver” documents to students, create comprehensive lessons, and allow students to collaborate in a dedicated space.  I, as the teacher, can see all of my students work, but they can only see work shared in the collaboration space. 

Office Mix- Office Mix is a PowerPoint add-in that I installed a year ago.  It allows you to take your traditional PowerPoint presentation to an entirely new level by adding opportunities for response questions (and analytics), audio recording, inking, and incorporating screencasting.  This is truly a valuable tool that allows you to “flip” parts of your lesson so that students can work at their own pace and replay any information within the lesson.  The added bonus of being a simple add in to PowerPoint makes this my go-to tool for creating tutorials and quick lessons.
Verso App- Verso is an AMAZING online tool that allows students to have online discussions with one another in a safe and engaging environment.  The key aspect that makes Verso stand out among many other tools like it is that student names are hidden in the program.  The teacher has access to all names, but students don’t know exactly who they are having an online discussion with in the program.  This creates an environment that encourages authentic discussions (not just discussions among close friends).  Students can give comments a “thumbs up” and can reply to other students.  They don’t ever know who they are responding to because all students are called “respondent” in the program.

The Lesson

“The Flight of Icarus” lesson began with students visiting their OneNote Notebook.  They saw directions that asked them to plug in their headphones and click a link to the class Office Mix.  After viewing a video clip of the myth “Theseus and the Minotaur,” students entered responses to constructed response questions about theme and created predictions.

The lesson continued in Office Mix and instructed students to read the selection out of the textbook, looking for key points and concepts.  About half way through the reading (and after a few guiding questions), students were asked to complete a section of the reading by using dyad reading partners.  At the end of the selection, the Office Mix directed them to log in to Verso and complete a discussion question.  Students were asked to respond to the question and reply to two classmates.

Finally, students were asked to combine the two myths (“Theseus and the Minotaur” and “The Flight of Icarus”) into a comic that would illustrate the central ideas and themes present in the paired set of myths.

Things I love about this lesson:

1.       Students get to work at their own pace.

2.       Not all work is independent.

3.       Students discuss their thoughts with some ambiguity so they are free to truly express their ideas.

4.       The product/assessment is a fusion of their understanding of the central concepts from two texts.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Game Changer: The Surface

When I first entered the field of education, my mentor told me that everything in education went in cycles.  Administration, the state, and department heads would lead the charge, fully convicted that whatever initiative, strategy, etc. was popular at the moment was the game changer that education needed.  I've seen this myself in the form of writing programs, a loss of the much adored teaming concept in middle school, and now with the implementation of new technologies.

One such game changer came in the form of an interactive white board (IWB).  Years before I received an official interactive white board, I was using a projector and laptop on a cart and my regular white board.  It was cumbersome and glitchy, but it worked.  Then came the much anticipated IWB.  I no longer had the obstacle of a cart and laptop because I could run things from my teacher computer on my desk.  I could write digitally directly on the board and could save my notes/annotations so that I could print them for students who missed the lesson.  I thought this was it.  This was the thing I needed to make my class more interactive an engaging.  It truly was for about two years.  Then, another game changer entered my life.

The day I opened my Surface Pro 3, I didn't realize what a jewel I had under my fingertips.   My intention was to replace my Surface RT which was used primarily as a personal device and something I carried into classrooms when I did my instructional coaching cycles.  The device, however, inherently changed my classroom in ways I didn't even imagine, and here's how:

1. Wireless Projection

My projector was old, so when I opened the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter and saw that it only had an HDMI port, I was bummed.  I dismissed the idea of being able to tap into my Surface in my classroom until one of our amazing tech department members sat down with me and discussed options.  Through trial and error, we found a converter that worked.  After simply plugging in the adapter and converter, I was up and running in minutes.  Projecting was seamless and efficient.  I could have my screen projected in just as little time as my wired teacher computer, but I was now mobile in my classroom.

My co-teacher currently uses a Surface 3 during our shared class period.  The transition from one Surface to another is quick and easy.  Our dueling Surfaces in room 703 are the envy of many of our colleagues because it is so seamless.

2. Mobility and Engagement

The most frustrating part of using an IWB is that you are basically chained to the board.  You can walk a bit and go back to the board, but you are truly anchored to the front of the room.  Not with the SP3 and Wireless Display Adapter.  I quickly learned the benefits of freedom.  When students were working on notes or a task displayed on the board, I could circulate the room and talk with my students.  If a student had a particularly good response or an astute insight, I could hand them my Surface and they could add their notes for all to see.  If students struggled to find something in our OneNote Class Notebook, I pulled up the notebook and walked them easily through the steps of finding the document/adding a video/inserting a printout while I was physically helping those who were struggling.  An added bonus has been that students LOVE to write on the Surface.  They consider it "fun" to correct grammar with the pen and argue about whose turn it is.  CRAZY grammar fun happening in room 703 all thanks to the SP3 and Pen.

4. Grading

I would be remiss if I didn't add how much I love the SP3 for grading papers.  In my last post, I discussed some of this, but again, it is so freeing as an English teacher to go home without any papers and still be able to get grading done over the weekend.  Digital inking is AMAZING on the SP3!  It is one of the biggest reasons that many of my colleagues have used their hard-earned money to purchase a Surface because it is SO WORTH IT!

There you go folks, my love affair with my Surface explained.