Low Tech but High Engagement

Thanks to a previous post by my fly fishing buddy @RMByrne I found Chris Bergmann. Chris is not your normal science teacher. Well, he’s not like the science teachers I ever had. This guy either thinks out of the box or he is a master of the Googles when it comes to finding creative ways to teach science concepts with his middle school students. Notice I said with. They seem to always be a part of the teaching and learning. Novel concept, right? Let’s just say he gets it and the kids are getting it as well. I am also sure there are plenty of great science teachers out there, but they are not taking heed to what Dean calls the moral imperative, sadly. So, we all lose out.

Watch this video as Chris utilizes a trash can and some Styrofoam cups to teach about the properties of air. Reminds me of an interactive movie I sat through near the Alamo many years back. Watching that canon smoke ring zip through the air held me captive to the content. Low tech, but very engaging. I’m just glad he is documenting his cool lessons to maybe inspire other science teachers around the world.  Check out his YouTube channel here as well for other great videos. If you have any great science teacher video links like this one, please share in the comments below.

“iPhone/Touch App” shared Doc has a new sibling: iPad Only

The Google Spreadsheet for iPhone/Touch Apps by subject area we (over 60 contributors) have been building since November 2009 has been extremely popular. How do I know? Well, the Apple rep said she has been sharing it with all of the other Apple reps and they have requested an iPad only version as well. I actually had that in the works, but I just never got to sharing it out. So, I’m doing that now.

iPad Only Apps spreadsheet is now ready for contributions. I shared it with the same crew who has been editing the iPhone/Touch apps sheet. Hopefully, this one will grow as plentiful and popular as the other. I have a few listed already, but I know there are tons more ready to be added.  Yes, I do realize the iPhone and Touch apps will work on the iPad, but there are some just for the iPad that will not roll backwards and are worthy of attention. Now is the chance for that to happen.

Leave me a comment below or shoot me a message on Twitter (@woscholar) if you want to be added as a contributor on either/both of these. I just need your Google Docs email address.

TCEA Promotes Engineering, Math, and Problem Solving via Robotics

This video was shot during the TCEA State Robotics Tournament recently. It has some great sound bites from the kids how discuss all of the skills they are acquiring through this project. Be sure to attend the TCEA Area 7 Technology Conference in White Oak on June 11th to check out the robot you see in the video.

Ideas to Inspire

Nope. That’s not my title. It is the title of a site by Mark Warner (picked up via Kevin Jarrett). This is a great site to visit when you are trying to find ideas for instruction to engage your students.

Mark has done a nice job of categorizing the ideas by either subject area (core and elective areas) or possible Web 2.0 tool that you are considering using. He has also provided nice, shared Google Presentations to walk you through them. Each slide is an idea. This makes it easy to just keep adding more as they come in.

If you don’t find exactly what you are looking for, there are enough ideas there to inspire something new in your mind. Then you can go back and share your idea with him so it can be added and maybe help the next person looking. That is what the collaborative web is all about.

Visit Ideas to Inspire today. In the meantime, consider these science ideas:

Lead, follow, collaborate, or get out of the way.


Photo Credit: notanalternative

[Background: For some insight into the argument presented below, let me
share this. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) uses a government subset organization called Texas Education Telecommunications Network (TETN) to share TEA updates and other material via a distance learning network. School districts must pay to receive those connections. As budgets have been crunched due to continued shortfall funding by Texas leadership, school districts have had to trim away even the important things. You know, the things you should be getting for free like state mandated updates. This is not a plea for TETN to be free for all of their services. They also offer DL sessions for classrooms that many find very useful.]

Notes from TECSIG, October 2 & 3, 2008:

TEA – Let me begin by saying, I truly respect Anita Givens. Her work on behalf of public education and technology has been tremendous. We are lucky to have her in the new position she now holds. But I believe respect between two professionals is appreciated most when there is some honest pushback and not just a bunch of agreement. (It is the reason I like Gary Stager and the work he does.)

While TEA may rest on the idea/reason/excuse of cash-strapped and man-power lean, the rest of us are in the same boat but are utilizing the free technologies that are out there for us. Government is not thinking that way. Government wants to place a high price tag on what it does because it makes it seem more important, I presume. As a public school district employee, I find it extremely important to have timely policy and program updates from my governing body. Cost should not be an inhibitor.

A few years back I blogged about how another state passed a bill requiring all government offices to consider free, opensource options when looking at alternatives. Texas does not do that. For too many years we have listened to our state’s leadership talk about how transparent school districts need to be. Texas government doesn’t do that either.

So, to TEA, my suggestion is a simple, classic line heard many times: Lead, follow, or get out of the way. And let me add one more to that. Consider this turn of that phrase: Lead, follow, collaborate, or get out of the way. If you cannot make the system better for any of a long list of reasons, let us help. Somehow we are able to harness the free resources that are out there for our schools and classrooms. Let us use those same systems to get the word out about new programs, policy changes, and important deadlines. Don’t claim some false statement of copyright (which you do not have in this instance anyway thanks to Texas Sunshine Laws) and slow down the information superhighway. We are not talking about private conversations here. We are talking about large group policy and program updates. You know, the stuff you and the tax payers expect us to live up to.

While we can go ahead and repost the information without repercussions, it would be nice for TEA to step up and applaud the fact that Texas educators care enough about their state system and local school districts that they are willing to be a part of the solution to make it the best it can be. Why anyone would think or do otherwise is incomprehensible. We do not extend our personal learning just to aggravate the state. We’ve better things to do.

As an aside: Please don’t tell me that TEA has been “telling you for eight years” about a tech literacy assessment. We both know that is a cop out. Sure, NCLB came out then and it is a part of that, but there has never even been a hint of holding anyone accountable until May 9th when you folks shared it with the limited number of people in attendance that day. Even still, the limited funds that MIGHT be lost by ignoring the mandate is not enough to move many districts to act. Why districts would choose to defy assessment now in as an important area as any is ridiculous, with our without the consequences. But I digress. I know it was a statement made as more of a defensive measure than one that was thought out.

TETN – These folks are in a bubble of sorts. They want to be relevant. They need the money stream to stay afloat. Yet, they have become an old version of what we use now with online tools. They are the land line compared to the cell phone. The HBO to NetFlix and iTunes. The post office to email.

What if you propose to place Marco Torres’s decision-making self-reflection on it: “Complain, Innovate, or Quit.” TETN is in the Complain stage. The problem with that? They’re a vendor. How long will they survive in that spot? Relevance is a limited state of being. Remember that. Go for Marco’s second option in that list. Please.

Yes, there was more to those two days in Austin than TEA and TETN, but let’s face it. We all go there to hear what is expected of us next. Yes, Apple did a fine job of professional development the first day. Maria Henderson is always pure genius (even if her old links are dead due to the Mobile.me upgrade. Sigh.). So, if you want to know more about them, go to one of their offerings for school district administrators.

But, if you want to be a part of TEA opening the virtual doors to their massive amounts of information, become part of the solution. If you want to stand in the way because you have nothing productive to do, you’re wasting your time. You cannot hold up progress. The Texas Legislature meets in January. I’ve started my game plan. Have you?

In the Middle and Working Our Way Out

Okay. So it wasn’t the wallpaper of Miguel Guhlin on a computer that got my middle school teachers engaged and excited on Thursday. It was something better.

MacBooks, iPod Nanos, two 165 quart all terrain Igloo coolers, and plenty of Pasco science probes. So it cost a bit to get them going, but it worked. As we rolled in the two huge coolers with boxes stacked on top of each and two rolling carts with a dozen Higher Ground laptop cases, I felt like Vanna White as I unveiled the new tools these educators have at their disposal this year. For the record, all of this was planned and ordered months before my wife ever was hired to teach 6th grade ELA (which I am extremely proud to have her in our school district now). I am already getting the “She is way better than you ever were” comments, and they are right.  🙂

Anyway…..We began with 4 GB flash drives. Each teacher received one with his or her name engraved onto it. We felt like that gave them the true ownership each of them needed to feel free to utilize the thing without fear of it being taken away or whatever. It was a hit to say the least. Michael and I had some grant funds we used for them, and the teachers thoroughly appreciated it.

Next, I handed out iPod Nanos to each table. No, it wasn’t for them to keep. They did get to help me unwrap them and got to play with them for a little bit while we discussed possible uses in the classroom. With two 15 unit docking/synch stations, they should see plenty of action even with being new to teachers. My hope is that they become in such high demand that we must buy more. This is, of course, meaning that they are being utilized in the classroom to improve content knowledge, deeper understanding, and a higher level of student engagement in the entire learning process. See, Gary Stager. I was paying attention.

Then we opened the coolers up and shared some information about the probes inside. Some may wonder why we put them in coolers. Well, we are building a 23 acre nature center (behind our elementary schools in the picture above) for all campuses to use. The coolers will make it easier to tote the tools out to the learning site while also giving some heavy duty protection to the equipment. The pneumatic tires will make them easy to roll over even big brush, rocks, and what have you. For the most part, the only folks worked up here were the science teachers, but that’s okay. I was excited, and I am an English teacher. Well, and a techy (and all of the probes had USB jacks, so that made it click for me). For me, the highlight of this part was having the sixth grade science teacher figure out what the nearly six foot long physics probe bundle was all about. Something about inertia, speed, something, and some other somethings. Truly, that baby is on its way to the high school since they are the real physics folks. That will be true of other probes we bought as well. Our middle school science teachers will be working their way through all of the science probes and helping us move them to the appropriate campus for other teachers to use. Thank goodness for those ladies, because I would have been lost on that sorting deal. I do plan to stick close and learn more about it, though.

Finally, after about thirty minutes of the other stuff, we hit the MacBooks. I had each person grab a laptop, battery (fully charged from the battery dock), and a comfy chair. Since Macs are new to our staff, I spent plenty of time walking them through the basics (icons, Finder, shortcuts, the cool Ctrl+two finger zoom function). We spent a few minutes in each of the iWorks apps: Numbers, Keynote, and Pages. Then we hit the popular suite of iLife: iMovie (I downloaded HD since no one can figure out 08 anyway), iPhoto, iTunes, and Garageband. I showed them how easy it was to record a lecture in Garageband, add a quick audio clip to the beginning as if it were a news show, and export it out as an MP3 file. Then we uploaded it to the Apple podcast blogs we use. I think they were relieved seeing that it was as simple as sending an email. I showed them how easy it was to do the same thing in iMovie with the built-in iSight camera to make a video podcast. Cool enough. They really enjoyed the part where I had one of the teachers use iChat in the back of the room and call into my session. Once they saw how easy that was, I think their attention got even stronger with the Mac. Everyone loves a good video chat.

Throughout the session, I stuck to the same mantra: You now have a very powerful tool in your hands to create, captivate, engage, enthrall, and any other snazzy verb you can think of. You can capture priceless learning with the students. You can provide resources for absent students or those needing remediation. You can allow the kids to teach you.  You can allow yourself AND the students to publish. They NEED a creative outlet to do this.

That is my son. Give him a MacBook (or Legos or piles of scrap whatever) and a little instruction, and he can create like crazy. He will show you how his understanding goes beyond what he might could show you on paper or on a state test. That is my son. He will show you how the right brain can engage in ways the left never can by sharing beautiful bits of himself that his teachers, his mother, and I helped to create by teaching and loving him. That’s my son. He will WOW you with his awesomeness of a sponge-like brain, not by regurgitating facts on a score sheet, but by composing his own score sheet to share with the world. That is my son.

It’s also your son (or daughter). We must provide new outlets for kids to practice and publish their learning. They need to showcase their content knowledge in some way other than a bubble sheet, a test proctor, and a newspaper article reporting the results. When they publish personally in these new ways, there is immediate feedback and reflection and relearning. When their knowledge is judged by one day and a few hours on a test, the only thing they get there is a snapshot result. They do not use that to motivate themselves to learn more, to discuss the successes and failures with peers, or as an opportunity to find a mentor to further their knowledge. The most they get is either a party or extra tutoring (my rant on the state, by the way, not the teachers).

This is the driving force behind what we are doing at our middle school. We are working toward building electronic portfolios (WordPress MU) that the students can upload these types of products to where they can showcase their learning and skills. They can build on them and add new ones. They will be able to edit, recreate, share, and even take the portfolio with them when they leave our district. They will be the models for the campuses they left and the ones they head to. Their expectations will be higher than ever before when they enter a new classroom. They need the freedom to produce, reflect, rethink, and react in their learning. This is their chance. This is an opportunity to collaborate with peers and teaching faculty at a whole new level.

While we work through this process, I will share more of my reflections in this blog.

I want to leave you with the same video I left my middle school staff with (and I shared back in June on this blog). My wife said it tied everything together beautifully (not consciously planned on my part).  My lead in (off the cuff) was that we are the ultimate force in the classroom. How we prepare and present ourselves to our students is ultimately how they decide whether they turn themselves on or off for learning when they enter our doors. Is our focus on teaching the same year of instruction for thirty plus years? Or is it to refocus how we perceive actual learning with today’s youth and offer and foster an environment that promotes their full participation in the process with an open mind and an innovative spirit?

intro_me

Photo Credits: (1) Miguel Wallpaper – me, taken at TCEA office in Austin during Thinkfinity training; (2) Google Earth snapshot of WOISD – me in Google Earth; (3) “I like my voice” – Peter H. Reynolds, scribbled on a napkin if I remember the story correctly.

Drowning in Rice and Other Deep Subjects From CMK 08

Thinking. It is the one thing all of us either don’t do, take too little time to do, don’t have the time to do, or just plain don’t know how to do. So how are we expected to put more time into an already tight school day schedule.

This and more is part of our quest for knowledge at the Constructing Modern Knowledge conference here in New Hampshire. Our first day was loaded with theory, shared wisdom, and even some practice.

Paul Wood and I visited the MIT Museum on Sunday with Gary Stager. Among the things we found were some truly awesome feats of engineering from Arthur Ganson. An incredible thinker and visionary himself, Ganson had multitudes of examples of his “tinkering” on display. When you look at these items of work, you might wonder why someone would spend so much time creating these little glorified table decorations. Some might say, “Why?” I say, “Why not?”

The physics, engineering, math, research, and above all, thinking involved in these pieces of work is astounding. One can look at each and decide it is a simple machine. True enough. But what is so simple about the entire process from vision to creation? Not a whole heck of a lot. Take a look at some of these things in the short videos I shot:

These babies are like throwback to what I did with Legos, but I didn’t have the motors and, oh yeah, Ganson’s worked. But, now I’m an adult who can think, and by golly I want to make one of my own. So, when it came time to “tinker” during the exploration appointment of the day, Paul and I decided we wanted to replicate the rice river piece utilizing the Lego robotics kits, some rice, and a handkerchief. This is what you get with a couple of southern folks get together and attempt to think really hard (pics and video):

Videos:

So there you have it. Three minds, a few cups of rice, a hanky, and some Legos. One simple machine. Maybe we made Ganson proud. Maybe not. But what I do know is that we thought our way through this entire process as a group, out loud, internally, through trial and error, with outside comments, and with pride.

We thought.
We designed.
We created.
We thought some more.
We redesigned and recreated.
And then we thought some more.

Yep. It was a wonderful day, and I’m pooped. Can’t wait until tomorrow. We promised Tally from Israel that we would do whatever project she has dreamed up tomorrow. We might need to rethink that decision. That girl is some kind of smart.

Jacques Cousteau is sitting in your classroom and you just don’t know it!

Let’s face it. Your students love nature. They love computers. They love media. Why not have them create short documentaries about cheetahs, water lizards, polar bears, and more using real video footage, authentic sounds, and background music?

What? Your kids don’t know how to make videos? You don’t know where to get the media for the film? Well, let Nat Geo step in and save the day. Enter the Wildlife Filmmaker. Your kids do not need to be professionals, but they just might turn into them. Using drag and drop technology, National Geographic has done a wonderful job of simplifying the process for teachers (I say ‘teachers’ because the detail could kill us if we had to walk our younger students through the process in MovieMaker or iMovie).

The students will be given a code to write down when they are through to allow them to retrieve the video once they are completed. Now, retrieve means it will bring it back up and play it in the Nat Geo site. I did not see a way to download the video yet, but I am sure it will not be long. A teacher could very easily write the numbers down to create links on his/her web page for parents and students to view their creations.

So, if you are lucky enough to have an administrator order you to teach the things you wanted the students to learn but testing got in the way of, then try this out. The students can preview the animal clips and make a short video or two to try the site out. Then, once they are comfortable with it, they can do some research on the animal of choice and return to the site to make their own Animal Planet documentary short. The side benefit of this is that they will gain some great skills using the video timeline window on the site. It is very much like the software programs such as Windows MovieMaker, Apple’s iMovie, or the more advanced Apple Final Cut Studio we use in our high school.

Awesome tools for science and literacy (digital storytelling), so go give it a try! Let me know what you think about it.