Friday, May 20, 2016

Bringing Ideas to Life in Social Studies

In Social Studies the students spent some time learning about Early Societies (e.g. Ancient Chinese, Greeks, Egyptians, etc). As a whole class, we learned about the Six Indigenous Nations and how they lived. In particular, we examined such things as their family life, dress, food, housing, transportation, technology, and art. After we worked together to learn about the Six Nations, the students were given the opportunity to focus in on an Early Society of interest. They researched their chosen society, created a Google Slides presentation, presented it to the class, and compared their chosen society to at least two other societies that were researched. They also shared a 3D printed object and explained how it assisted with their learning and reasons for its creation.

Together, we created a Slides template of the minimum requirements and then students started to work independently to gather information, make sense of it, and incorporate it into their presentation. The students were also provided with the opportunity to design and print an artifact connected to their learning. The idea was to give the students one more way to demonstrate their learning by using the 3D printer. Many students took advantage of the opportunity to create an artifact - many used the 3D technology but some decided to use cardboard and plasticine. Nevertheless, the majority of the kids were excited and motivated to learn, design, and create. 

As I have come to learn over the span of this school year, the 3D printed thoughts and ideas that have been brought to life are only 1 piece of the learning puzzle. They are proud of the physical representations of their learning. They hold them, manipulate them, and pass them around - they are symbols of their hard work and new learning. I love seeing the excitement on their faces but the best part for me is listening to them as they talk about their artifacts. THAT is where the rubber meets the road. Sure, it's great to see that they successfully took their abstract thoughts and brought them to life using technology and a design process, but when they start to talk about what their artifacts represent, I get a direct route to their their thinking, the connections they make/made, the way they apply what they have learned, and the process they followed to arrive to the end product. There isn't too much prodding on my part, I just ask a question or two and they do the rest of the work. 

Below are photos of some of the cool creations that have been printed and discussed. 

Ancient Chinese food prepared and placed on a platter. Great discussion about Chinese food and how it differs from what we eat today.

Ancient Egypt: the Greek God Anubis who is associated with mummification and the afterlife. Designing this object proved to be difficult for the student so she found a design on the internet and then customized it and printed it.

Medieval Times: Bow, arrows, and bucket for arrows. This artifact was created around the ideas of technology, security, and hunting for food. 

Medieval Times: a great castle that would house royalty and other important people. Protection and architecture were the main themes to come from this artifact. 

Ancient Greece: a vase that is also 'art'. Lots of talk about arts and culture here.

Ancient Greece: a structure that is stereotypical of Ancient Greek architecture.    

Ancient Egypt: a 3D printed camel that aided in talks about transportation, animals, and culture. 

Ancient Greece: Medusa and the stories that go along with her.
With June right around the corner, it will be interesting to see what direction the students take next with respect to the 3D technology in our classroom. It continues to be a lot of fun and a wonderful learning journey. Just last week, a new student joined our class community. As with most new people to our class, she was surprised to see the printer and wondered how it worked. The students had no problem explaining it to her and how we are using it for our learning. One of the students took the time to print her a flexible bracelet so she could see how it works and to have her very own artifact to take home and use to explain to her family. It was a great reminder of the opportunity we have at our disposal this school year. It even led to a powerful classroom meeting about making the most of opportunities that come our way and the idea that we have a lot to be thankful for. 

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. You can also connect with me via email and on Twitter. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

All In A Day's Work

The 3D printer is becoming more accessible to the students as each day passes. Some students are comfortable with the process while others are still in the valley of the learning pit.

This is not a problem, in fact, it is something that we celebrate often - with all the learning that we engage in. Learning is all about taking risks, making mistakes, making connections, and having fun. Incorporating a design mindset and having the technology to bring ideas to life in our class provides the students with wonderful learning opportunities.

A great example of this is something that happened yesterday. During self selected reading time, one of my students read something - causing him to reflect on and create an idea that he had. 

He sketched out a picture of what he saw in his mind: Timothy the Toaster. A toaster with a top hat, moustache, and a monacle. 

After he drew it, he asked if he could grab a Chromebook and use the 3D software to try and replicate his drawing. I told him that would be ok - he would have to squeeze it into our day. He used his time wisely and it didn't take him too long to create Timothy using Tinkercad.

He had completed the "hard work". The students often tell me that printing their work is easy but that getting their ideas out of their heads and on to paper (or Google Drawings/Tinkercad) is the tough part. 

With only about an hour and a half left in the school day, he asked if we could print  Timothy the Toaster. We got things going, shrunk his design to be able to print it in an hour (his original design called for a 5 hour print job), and we were off to the races.

By the end of the day he had his Toaster rounded and was showing his classmates and talking about his ideas for a story that he would like to put together about the Toaster. I asked him what else he might do and he spoke of other characters that would be part of all of this.

With minutes left in our day I asked him about the process he followed around this particular activity. He told me how excited he was when he realized that he could make something that had never existed. He spoke about how much fun it was to manipulate the software to create what he had seen in his mind and drew on paper. 

I told him that I wanted to talk to him about this experience in greater depth after he had some time to think about what he had engaged in, his motivation, challenges he experienced, and his feelings after the fact. 

I look forward to hearing what he has to say, watching him formally share his thinking with his classmates, and seeing/hearing what they do next. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Creativity and Tech Integration in Writing - Part 2

The students are finishing up the fictional narratives that they have been working on for the past couple of weeks. I have been meeting with them and talking to them about their work and their 3D artifacts. It seems to be an engaging and empowering process - to take imaginative ideas and slowly bring them to life and then take them back to the imagination. They created fictional characters in their mind, brought them to life using 3D technology, and then wrote a fictional story. While having a lot of fun, they have been busy crafting their stories, peer editing, proofreading, rehearsing oral presentation, and reflecting on the feedback provided to them.

To get a better understanding of our plan, check out the Part 1 blog post.

Here are some examples of how the intersection between curriculum, technology, and creativity have come together:

Snowy the Easter Bunny



Smokey the Grape

Johnny and Egg Boy

I'm especially proud of the following piece of writing and 3D artifact. It was created and written by a new student in my class. He arrived two weeks ago from the Middle East. He doesn't speak a lot of English but was intrigued by the 3D printer and what the other students were doing. He learned how to use Tinkercad and came up with a cool idea about what he wanted to share with us. He created 'King Boy' and with the help of a few students, wrote a story. On top of being dropped into a foreign culture and immersed in a language he doesn't know, he has taken some big risks. This assignment has provided him with a way to connect with the other students. 


After the students finish up their writing they want to formally present their work and then display their writing and artifacts for others to see. Its been and exciting process so far and look forward to what we do next.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the work we have done. Please feel free to leave a comment!

Coding: Lessons Learned

After reading a little bit about the Hour of Code, I decided to introduce my students to coding/programming. You can read more about our start to coding here and you can see some photos of our work during the Hour of Code here.

We played around a little bit with it before the hour of code. We participated in that and we had so much fun that I decided to get a Sphero BB8 Droid for the students to continue playing around with programming. 

Since BB8's arrival, students have been bringing in their personal devices to play with and program the Droid. They have had a lot of fun learning to program our robot. 

Here are some of the observations I have made over the past couple of months as the students have engaged in programming the robot:

  • There has been more failure than success and the students never give up. They never complain that things are too hard or that they can't do it. They simply keep going, using trial and error to assist them.
  • Many of the students draw diagrams and/or use paper and pencil to write out a plan of action to assist them with their thinking.
  • Students engage in solving problems each time they work with the robot. No session session has gone as planned, yet the students maintained their interest and enthusiasm.
  • It isn't always the same students who bring in their personal device to work with BB8. The students who have a device (e.g. iPad, iPod Touch) and are permitted to bring it in tend to invite students who don't have access to a device to join them at lunch recess to work on coding the robot.

Something else I want to note is that when my coding students seem to be struggling in class, I have been using their programming experience to remind them and encourage them about maintaining to engage in and practice a growth mindset. When things get too tough, I remind them about what I have observed while they programmed BB8. It seems to get them thinking and that is a good thing.

Three students were successful in getting BB8 to move around a desk group without issue. Here is a screen shot of their programming and a video of their successful run.

The students replicated what they had done above after recess as well. They showed their classmates and they talked about the process they followed. It has motivated others to get more serious about the time they spend working with the Droid. 

These three students tell me that their next step is to program BB8 to do more complex things, like going through an obstacle course! I look forward to seeing what they do next as they continue to problem solve and persevere.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Failure & The Joy That Can Come From It

It's become common practice in our classroom to check in on our 3D printing jobs within the first 10-15 of printing. If things are going to go bad, it usually happens within that time frame.

When things aren't going as planned, we cancel the print job and then analyze what went wrong and when it happened (with respect to our design). These are our failures, that is what we call them. 

It's never easy to 'fail' but we always learn something new and share our learning with everyone so we can try and avoid the same problems that led to the fail. I have been enjoying the failures as much as the successes. When I see a flaw in a design I will talk to the student about it and ask whether they see what I am referring to. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they make changes to their design, and sometimes they don't. Some of them need to fail in order to learn and some of them do what they can to avoid it.

Nevertheless, the learning (creativity, collaboration, communication) is great!

Here are some examples of our recent failures:

The failures above have led to the successes below:

I'm thankful for the prompting I recieved to write this post. My students recently asked me if I had shared their failures with all of you. One of them asked if I had written about the creations that didn't work out. They also made a comment about all the photos I have taken of their failures. Apparently I am as excited to photograph the failures as I am of the successes!

I do believe it is important to reflect on and share the good and bad moments of any learning journey. If we frame success around the process of learning and the growth that comes from it, then we are sure to feel a sense of success and accomplishment no matter what the final outcome is. This is something that I am constantly working on incorporating in my life and that of my students lives. It is not an easy task, but it certainly is a worthwhile one.

The students are still working on writing their fictional narratives so stay tuned for a blog post about what they ended up creating and how it helped them with their writing!

Friday, February 12, 2016

What Does Innovation in Education Mean To Me?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Missy Schmidt

Thanks to the likes of +Will Gourley and +Jonathan So (read Jonathan's take on it here), I recently spent a significant amount of time thinking about what innovation in education means to me. What's my take on it? How would I define innovation with respect to the work that we do in Education?

These questions, and subsequent reflection(s), caused me a lot of angst as I considered what my definition of innovation is. As I wrestled with the idea, and stopped trying to narrow my focus to just one simple response, I opened the flood gates and just let everything come out. When all my ideas about innovation were laid out in front of me, I started picking up the pieces and organizing them in a way that made sense to me. 

One of the things I realized was that my definition of innovation was not only connected to my experiences, but to the people I interact with, watch, and learn from on a daily basis. MY understanding of innovation is connected to a variety of people inside and outside of the Educational field. This may not sound earth shattering to you, but it was a significant realization to me as I reflected on innovation.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Tsahi Levent-Levi
Without further ado, here is the cleaned up and edited version of what innovation in education means to me:

It's is about being FREE (fresh, relevant, & exciting)! This approach to innovation is a process, not an event. Based on my experiences, it requires the following -

  • a lot of iteration where things are messy and look bad before they can look good
  • taking risks, failing, and being resilient
  • being open to learning AND unlearning
  • meeting students where they are at and listening to what they want/need
  • being flexible (to bend but not break)
  • making connections to, and using, the best practices of other disciplines/professions/professionals, and
  • becoming a connected educator (social media)
What I have listed above, especially the part about becoming a connected educator has allowed me to stay FREE from the darkness that wants me to remain stagnant and “old school”. I do believe there is a time and place for everything, but I am also a firm believer that educating our students means that we prepare them as best as we can for the unknown. What better way to do that than to model innovation for them so that they can work hard to be fresh, relevant, and exciting with whatever they choose to pursue.
I would love to hear your thoughts about what innovation means to me and more importantly, what it means to YOU.