Friday, March 2, 2018

Mass School Shootings: When Will They End?

Time Magazine
May 3, 1999
The world I grew up in was very different. I grew up with sever weather drills, not active shooter drills. Then, in April 1999 the world changed. Two high school students walked into their school and opened fire. To an eighth grader none of this made sense. I think it was even harder for our parents because most of them dealt with a fear of nuclear warfare, not home-grown dangers. Columbine was an anomaly. This type of thing didn't happen and it definitely wasn't normal.

Our school didn't change overnight; students came in the next day and while everyone was talking about the "news" in the hallway, classes continued as always. A week later a letter went home stating that due to an increase in scoliosis, backpacks would no longer be allowed in the school. No one even questioned the timing of this letter however the next year when we were suddenly allowed clear or mesh bags confusion set in. The letter turned out to be a way to ban bags where weapons could be hidden without scaring the community. The school board was beginning to take precautions to prevent the same thing from happening in our neighborhood.

Since Columbine, school shootings have increased at an alarming rate. Now, almost twenty years later school shootings are sadly a common occurrence. I currently work in a school building that was designed to be active shooter ready. The windows are bullet resistant and the doors are designed to let people out but not in without a key. Active shooter drills teach students how to search out the safest hiding place in the event of a shooting. Teachers are trained to help keep those students calm while we are honestly just as scared.

So what can we do? There is more than one issue at play and honestly I think we need to look at this from all sides. The two major issues that come to light every time a tragedy happens are gun control and mental health. I don't want to get political on this blog post so I won't write my opinion on the two topics but I do think they need to be discussed by the politicians. We can't just continue to ignore them and hope the violence ends.

I'm proud of the students in Parkland and across the nation for not just hiding but turning this tragedy into a catalyst for change. I support their efforts no matter what the end result becomes.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Digital Divide

Screenshot of Google search results.
What is a digital native? I've been thinking about this recently as I prepare for the new school year. We're constantly hearing people talking about how our students are digital natives but have we ever stopped to think about what this truly means? A quick Google search reveals that a digital native is someone who is "familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age." Is that the whole definition though? Based on the definition of a digital native, all of our students should be familiar with computers and the Internet. However, this is not true.

While doing some reading on the topic, I found an interesting blog post by Geek Law Blog where he discusses a guest lecture at a law school. That's not the part of his post that interested me. I liked when he talked about his family:
"My wife thinks my sons are geniuses. One piece of evidence she submits in their favor is how well they use an iPad. I agree with her that the fact that my 1.5 year old can use an iPad is a testament to genius. But not his. For me, it is a testament to the genius of the designers at Apple who created a device so intuitive that 1.5 year old can use it. The kid touches a picture, it moves. Congratulations to him!"
Mary Jackson (NASA) one of the
first computer programmers.
Image Source:
To better think about this concept, think back to the computers we grew up with. Remember DOS? How many of you reading this blog post are even older and remember what came before DOS? I don't, and I'm not going to pretend to understand the early computers but I did see Hidden Figures so I know that at one point computers were giant machines that read punch cards of sorts.

A dictionary entry on Techopedia does a much better job of explaining the concept of a digital native for teachers. The entry states that while children today are more likely to be familiar with the terminology of the digital world, it does not mean they will intuitively understand the processes and concepts. This is where teachers come in to play. We must guide our students.

I'm going to play a little devil's advocate for a moment and try to explain the importance of Computer Science by talking about a different subject that our students are required to learn in school. Biology.

From a young age, our students have interacted with living and non-living things. They understand there is a difference between plants and animals. They know that the fish they won at the carnival died and that mom flushed it down the toilet so it could go back to it's family in the ocean (alright, not really but you get the point). So why do we still teach Biology in school? Our students live and breathe Biology every day of their lives. They see it everywhere. Therefore they shouldn't need to learn about it, they already know it.

That is how we should feel about computer science. Yes, our students are growing up surrounded by it but that doesn't mean they have a true understanding of the concepts.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Google's Geo Teacher Institute 2017

The Google bikes are everywhere to get
Googlers from one building to another.
It finally happened. I made it to the Googleplex. This past week, I had the opportunity to join about 100 educators in Mountain View, CA with the Google Earth team. Here we learned about new and exciting ways to use Google's geography tools in the classroom. This annual conference has teachers from around the world hoping to attend.

The nice thing about this event, unlike other "space-limited" conferences, GTI tries to include educators of all skill levels. This allowed for a more diverse group of people. While I learned tons of new tricks, I also was able to listen to what other teachers are trying to learn. Often, as a digital native (Am I a digital native? I'm not positive from an anthropological stand point) I forget that not everything is as simple as it seems to me. Listening to the other attendees helped me grow my understanding of why some teachers are scared to try new things in the classroom.
Googlers taking time out of their
busy day to talk with us.

Another exciting piece of the conference was to talk directly with Googlers. We had a Q&A session with a group of Googlers where they answered most of our questions and also gave us suggestions of ways to motivate our students.

I think Goosechase was one of my favorite new resources. It's a virtual scavenger hunt that a teacher can setup for students. This can be used for a number of things but I like the idea of a field trip scavenger hunt. If you take your students to a museum, arrange a set of challenges so students have to actually look through the museum. They must then post a picture (check museum rules first on photography) to the app to receive credit. You can also use the app for homework in a similar fashion.

Group Selfie
I also really liked the idea of a group selfie. After our group shot we were all told to take a selfie at the same time as the main camera. The selfies are being synced with the group picture to create an interactive display. I can't wait to see the final project.

Some of the other tools we looked at:

  • My Maps
  • Classic Google Earth
  • New Google Earth
  • Street View
  • Time-lapse
  • 360 Cameras
  • KML (language specific to Google Maps)
  • Microblogging

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Pay Attention to the Details, Easier Said Then Done

The embedded YouTube video below has gone viral within the past 48 hours and for all the right reasons. Please watch first before scrolling down as the rest of my text might give away the storyline.

Did you watch? Now you can read the rest of my post.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Upgrading from the Outdated "Traditional" Notebook

An example of an "organized" backpack in middle school.
Image Credit: Ms. Beth Hughes
Every day when the final bell rings, I walk down the hallway to see tons of paper on the floor near the lockers. Students either don't realize they dropped things or just don't care enough at the time. When they do come to class, papers are crumpled at the bottom of their backpacks or missing. Even when I give papers with holes punched, students often forget that the holes make it easy to insert the papers into a notebook.

I think a digital notebook is a great way to help students stay organized. The article discusses using Blogger and making these digital notes public. I actually prefer a highly powerful but very underutilized software. Microsoft OneNote. Never heard of OneNote? It's understandable because it's not as widely used as the other Office Suite softwares but it's there. Think of it as the younger sibling of an over-achieving person. You don't pay attention to it but once you see it in the shadows you'll see it is amazing on its own. Another option is Evernote, but I like OneNote's new classroom features. If you've never seen OneNote, search your computer. I can almost guarantee you have it because it's part of the Office Suite.

I use OneNote in class instead of Smartboard software. Every class has their own notebook and I keep it organized for students. Each day I create a new page and give it a heading that is the objective. Unlike a tradition whiteboard, I never erase, I just scroll down. I can type, handwrite, and insert features. I love the insert feature because students can add images, videos, sounds, or print directly from websites and other files. When my students are working out of the textbook, I can insert the PDF of the page, then call students up to the board to answer the questions.

It's great because students have access via the cloud to the notebook from any computer. This is helpful for when students are absent or forgot their notebooks at school. Parents also like this because they can see exactly what students are doing in school. For language learners, this is helpful because I can also insert audio clips of the class period to payback. They can also easily translate the notes if needed because it's already on the computer. Another benefit is that if I insert video demos, students can rewatch the lesson to catch something they missed the first time.

A sampling of what my weekend might look like.
Image Source: Flickr
The feature I love most but don't actually use (yet)? Class Notebook. My students don't have Microsoft accounts so I can't use these feature in the classroom but it's amazing. Once we have access to this feature, students will each have their own personal notebook that complements the class notebook. Students with devices can use their notebook instead of a traditional notebook. If I assign practice problems in math, each student would get a copy to write directly on. As the teacher, I can see each student's notebook and leave them feedback directly in the book. Much easier than collecting and carrying 50+ notebooks home over a weekend.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Video Games Help Students In Class

Oregon Trail
Strange Loop Games
What have I learned from video games? Well... like most people in my generation I learned that I was likely to die from dysentery. I also learned how to read, do basic math, and more. When I died in a game, I would just hit start and try again. Each time, getting a little better than the try before. I still remember the first time my Mario saved the Princess.

Now comes the real challenge for us gamers. Proving to the naysayers that games are important to the educational process and beneficial to students of all abilities. When students are playing games they need to use a multitude of skills that help them improve in other areas of learning as well. For example, many games use captions to give instructions instead of audio cues. Students need to read and understand those directions to successfully play the game.

Minecraft Edu
Currently, Minecraft is the most popular "not really educational" game for education. Yes, you read that correctly. Minecraft was not designed with education in mind but it has been teaching students of all ages and levels. Even language learners can benefit from playing games because they don't rely on words. The graphics and animation tell the stories. In Minecraft, students can build worlds, hunt, chop wood, and more. The graphics may look simplistic but that's part of the games charm. Students that are interested in learning advanced skills can use Minecraft to learn coding.

Simple logic puzzles such as 2048 or Sudoku can give you a motivational boost while helping to wake the brain up. Five minutes with one of these simple games can increase overall productivity. If a student is getting stressed about their assignment a quick game break might be all they need to refocus with new energy.

All kidding aside, games and simulations can be a powerful classroom tool. I don't remember who said it or where I heard it but "when kids are having fun, they don't realize they're learning." I try to always keep my classroom fun for the students even when doing the more boring topics.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Just Use Duct Tape

Recently, a friend/colleague on Twitter posted an article titled Why Duct Tape and Cardboard Might Be a Better Option Than a 3D Printer. The article spoke about why fancy 3D printers might not actually be helping our students learn how to create. In the article, the author mentions that too many students rely on pre-designed ideas.
Stuck at Prom - 1st Prize
Noah & Jenna
We have a 3D printer, but only a few students know how to use it for creative purposes. Most students download templates and print things out. There’s not much actual creative thought that goes into it.
So how can we help our students bring back the creativity and logistical thought process for design? Duct tape. Simple yet elegant, duct tape can be used for many things in the classroom and creativity is just the iceberg.

I love reading articles like this that help remove the expensive obstacles of new equipment while still teaching the skills that students will need in future careers. In the case of creativity, students can use duct tape and other odd items for a multitude of projects in the classroom. I would most likely use the duct tape for an engineering challenge. By providing students with a finite amount of supplies, they would need to first plan out their project before just building something. This would require them to first create a final idea and then work backwards to decide how to reach the goal. I could then build in a secondary lesson about how it relates to their education in general. We have a final goal for when students reach the end of high school, and teachers, schools, etc. work backwards to determine how to help students reach that end goal of graduation.
John Spencer
Vintage Learning

For ESL students, this type of challenge can remove the language barrier and allow them to express themselves. It will also help students to see that not everything revolves around language. It's one of the things I love about the courses I teach; they are global and can include anyone. In science when we are learning about scientific names, I explain to the students that by using these standard two word descriptions we can remove the language barrier when communicating with other scientists around the world. In math, we discuss that numbers are the same in any language and only the word problems might be different. Whether you say "two plus two" or "dos mas dos", the answer is always going to be 4.