Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry 3D Christmas!

With Christmas just hours away, I wanted to share our most recent 3D design experiment. At the start of December, the students thought it would be a good idea to stretch our thinking and engage in one last big idea before the end of 2015. 

After some discussion, we decided that we would create our own Christmas ornament - an fun artifact to celebrate Christmas and a great way to end 2015. It was also noted that this artifact would be one that we would revisit year after year - each time we put up and decorated our Christmas trees.

Our learning has provided us with some insight on best practices when it comes to designing and printing objects. Students engaged in discussion about the shapes we might consider, designing it 'big' and then shrinking it to a reasonable size when it's time to print, and they also talked about marking the date on it and whether to include the date by excluding it (cutting holes) vs including it (making it stand out) in the design. 

Ultimately, whatever was to be created in the end had to be easily 'mass' produced so that each student could have one to put in their tree. 

After designing a couple of options, one of the students discovered a tree shape that was available to us in Tinkercad.  The class agreed to go with the tree shape in the app. This saved us a lot of time because all that was left to do was deal with the date and dimensions of the ornament.

Once we made a final decision, it was time to print! Our first version had an issue with the hole at the top of the tree that would hold a ribbon or metal hook that would allow it to hang on the tree. We took a bit of time to move the hole and make it a bit smaller. Here is what our final version looked like:

The ornament is not very thick, but thick enough to make it sturdy and can be printed in about 30 minutes.

We really enjoyed working on this activity. The students thought like designers and considered their knowledge/experience with the software and hardware. They used their understanding of measurement and mapping skills to make final decisions about length, height, thickness, etc. 

I'm so proud of how far they have come and look forward to what they do in the new year.

Wishing you a Merry 3D Christmas and a happy New Year!

Monday, November 30, 2015

We Started Coding Today!

The topic of coding/programming is not a new one to me, I just hadn't felt the need to introduce it to my students until recently. Several of my students have expressed an interest and I think a combination of things/people finally got me to take the first step. I short while ago +Michelle Booth posted about The Hour of Code initiative coming up Dec 7 - 13.

Last week, during our tech time on the computers in the library, the students noticed that I was exploring The Hour of Code website. I was actually coding some Minecraft games and once they realized what I was doing, they were all over me!! They were very interested, they love Minecraft. All of a sudden I had students take over the controls until I regained the mouse and sent them back to their work stations with the promise that I would provide them with more information about what I was doing and what I would be planning for them.

A couple of days later I informed my students that we would be participating in The Hour of Code this year. Also, thanks to the website, I was able to connect with two University of Waterloo students who would be speaking to my students about coding/programming. One of the volunteers will be visiting us in class and the other will be joining us via Google Hangout.

So, why code? What's the big deal? First off, my students are interested. They have been talking to me about it for a while now. The group that I have this year are keen with respect to solving problems and being creative. Coding allows students to be creative, collaborative, problem solve, learn a new language, think logically, and have a lot of fun!! Being able to code/program is the way of the future - it will become common place so to start their journey now is appropriate.

We are only in the introductory phase, and like anything worth doing, we need time to play and experiment. All of this is new to us and we are taking the time to get used to things and gain some useful skills. Once we have a handle on what we are doing, I can begin to make solid connections to our curriculum and immerse the students in activities that will hold their interest and allow them to acquire the knowledge, understanding, and skills that will lead them to academic success.

We started playing today. I introduced my students to a few options that involved Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen. Using blocks of code/demands, they went on adventures and did some cool things that they weren't able to do before.

When the students started working on their chosen activity, I saw some really amazing things. First and foremost, they each had a computer to start their activities. But as time went on, I saw students start to

  • work together to solve problems,
  • grab pencils and papers to write out their ideas and logic - essentially leaving the computer to code without it,

  • actually stand up and physically act out what they were going to do with their code
It was incredible. Actually, what was incredible is that they took the initiative to do what they needed to do to get the job done. All our talks about taking initiative, about being aware that there are a variety of ways to meet a goal, that it is ok to do things differently to get results, seemed to pay off. No one asked me to get pencil and paper, no one asked if they could problem solve with another student, no one asked if they could get up and move around! They had their task and they showed me that they could work on it in a way that would best suit their needs. This is precisely the culture that we are trying to grow in our classroom community and it was quite the reward for me to witness it.

Here are some photos of their work today:

I have a feeling that what we started today is going to lead to many fun and challenging learning experiences. Thank you to +Michelle Booth+Brian Aspinall+Sam Patterson Ed.D., +Jonathan So, and +Andrew Campbell for getting me thinking about coding and a special shout out to my Grade 4 students for nudging me to continue to meet their needs and interests.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mathematics and our 3D Artifacts

In Mathematics the students are adding and subtracting 3 and 4 digit numbers. They are engaged in a variety opportunities to gain knowledge, problem solve, apply their skills, and communicate their understanding, or lack thereof. They are talking, drawing, and using manipulatives as they work through problems. Sometimes they work with others and sometimes they work on their own. As I move around the room I listen to what the kids are saying, watch them work, and ask them questions about their ideas and the processes they are following to solve problems/complete a task. They seemed to be on the right track so I decided to add another layer to their learning.

I put the students into groups and explained that they would need choose a 4 digit number, create a representation of it using Tinkercad (3D software), print it, and then present it to the class. Based on my observations and discussions with the students, this seemed like the perfect time and task to integrate the 3D technology in a way that would allow them to use a design mindset to apply their knowledge and skills to create physical artifacts of their learning - to bring their thoughts and ideas to life. This task would also allow them to be collaborative and creative in order to complete the assignment.

I created the groups strategically. Each group had the following:
  • a natural/compassionate leader
  • someone skilled at using Tincercad
  • a student unsure of what to do
  • confident/competent student with the "Math"
I also let the students know that I would be moving people around if I felt that they had been placed in a group that wasn't working for them. There was a bit of grumbling, but once they got started things seemed to be going smoothly. Once or two group changes were made (personality conflicts) and then things were really underway. Each group had a Chromebook to access Tincercad and as usual they were free to work anywhere they wanted to within the classroom. 

While the students were working I was moving from group to group - listening to them and watching them go through the process of expressing their ideas (discussion, 2D drawings), representing them (using the software to take 2D drawings into 3D drawings), and then creating them (3D printing their representations). I was also listening for references to what they were learning in our current unit of study, past unit, and future units. From my perspective, I got to see and hear the four areas of achievement in such a natural way. The students were providing me with great data about what they know and what they can do as they engaged in this activity. 

The students were given two "Math" periods to collaborate and create and then we printed their work. 

Here are some photos of them working through the process:

Here are some screen shots of their work in Tinkercad:

Here are some photos of their 3D printed representations:

When the time came to present their work, the students were very excited to share what they had done. They talked about what worked, what didn't work, and how they dealt with design problems. They talked about their experience using Tinkercad and about new ideas that have come from this experience. EVERYONE in the group spoke and had something to offer. They even made sure to let me know who they might want to work with next time and who would like to lead :)

This was their first time they went through the entire design mindset process - from beginning to end. They have a lot of experience using the Chromebook and a significant amount using Tinkercad but this was the first time they printed their work. Having printed their work and actually held a product of their thinking in their hands, they now have some insight into how the printer puts together their design and what they might do differently now that they know how the printer does its job. 

This experience has provided my students and I with a new and exciting layer to our learning journey. We could feel a shift, an evolution, as we worked through the task that was given to them. They have a taste of the amplification that this type of thinking and technology can provide their thoughts and ideas. We are looking forward to what comes next and I can't wait until the next time I share our experiences with you.

I would love to hear about your thoughts and ideas about our experience. Please feel free to leave a comment below, and/or connect with me on Twitter or Google +.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Their Own Accord

My students really enjoy engaging with their learning at home. They are accessing their GAFE accounts at home, on their time, without my prodding or prompting.

Each week,  I receive 2-3 email notifications (in the evening) that my students have shared their work with me. They want to share their work and seek feedback. They enjoy using the GAFE tools and are blending their own learning.

As a teacher and parent, I am delighted to see this from my students. I love that they are using their own time to practice what they have learned at school and use digital tools to continue their learning and to share it. Regardless of what I say to them, they take risks and push themselves to "get it".

I have written about this before - when I was teaching grade 2. The grade 4's are taking this to a whole new level for me and had to share again.

We need to keep teaching our students to learn to help themselves. To know that they can collaborate and create when they feel the need and to share so other can benefit from them.

Here is an example of what I received last night:

It always brings a smile to my face!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Today Was THE Day

Today was THE day - the day where things seem to come together in such a way that gives me joy and hope for the future. Let me try and provide you with a window into what was happening in our classroom today. In Writing, the students are working on generating and ordering ideas about a chosen topic in order to communicate their knowledge/interest in a written form. Through modeled, shared, and guided writing, they are experiencing the writing process in order to create great pieces to share with their classmates and families.

Throughout the writing process, many of the students asked if they could type their work out - one of the ways to polish their work and make it look suitable for publication. I introduced them to Google Docs and the cool things they could do to their writing in order to quench their creativity and allow them to collaborate and share in ways that are different than pencil and paper activities.

The students were working feverishly to complete their work - as if they had a major deadline to meet. Every few minutes I would hear, "Mr. Chidiac, I just shared my work with you!" and someone would come over to me and show me their progress and patiently await for my praise and feedback.

Here are some examples of the work that was shared with me:

One student, who proclaimed that he hated writing, completed this activity the other day. In fact, he was the first to reach the word processing phase and set the tone for the other students. As they were meeting with me and revising and editing, he was on a Chromebook smiling and talking about what he was doing as he was typing out his work, searching for images to include in his writing, and sharing his work with me and his mom. I found a moment to make a comment on his work and soon after, his mother, at work doing her job, got an email notification that he had shared his work with her which led her to make a comment on his work (which put him over the moon!).

Today, this same boy spent the first and middle recess writing out a short story about Sonic the Hedgehog. During writers workshop today he said the following to me, "Mr. C, since I am finished my paragraph writing, can I type out the short story I wrote today?". I responded by showing him a digital "Choose your own adventure" story that one of my grade 2 students created last year using Google Slides. I asked him if he wanted to create a digital story by transferring what he had already done - from his paper and pencil story book into a digital format. He said yes before I could even finish trying to sell it to him. Today was THE day that things would change for him.

Here he is, working on the digital version of his story:

Another student, one that has special needs when it comes to writing and not much confidence, learned how to use Google Read and Write today. I have been working one-on-one with this student, building his capacity by chunking his work and scribing for him to keep him interested and feeling good about his progress. Today was THE day that he would discover and use assistive software to get his idea on the screen and have the computer read his work back to him. Today was THE day that he said that HE completed an assignment on his own. Today was THE day that he asked if we could print a copy of his work to take home to his mother. Here is the work that he shared with me today:

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a student feel success and satisfaction while they are in the process of learning. It gives them the boost they need to excel and allows them to build up their resiliency to help them deal with failure. They have so much to offer and need to believe in themselves. They are learning what it means to be 21st century learners - to leverage technology for their benefit, to be creative and share their learning, to work with others to improve their learning and that of their classmates, and to be responsible life long learners who can do whatever they put their mind and time towards. Today was THE day.  

No Matter How Small

I learned something "small" yesterday. It isn't mind blowing or earth shattering, but for my students and I it is an inch of learning that has opened up a highway for us. My students spent some time learning to use Tikercad, a simple, online 3D design and 3d printing tool for anyone and everyone. We got to the point where they wanted to start printing some of their creations but without an input device attached to our 3D printer we had to figure out how to get Tinkercad designs to print on our MakerBot printer. 

A couple of emails and some time to play with the MakerBot software on my home computer and voila - success! I learned how to convert common 3D files into ones that MakerBot recognizes. That afternoon I returned to the classroom and shared my learning with the students. 

I provided them with every detail of the process I went through to solve the problem that we faced. I wanted them to see that the obstacle placed in front of us could be overcome with some time and energy. I wanted them to hear (and they have heard me talk about it) that we could work through this and that our journey this year would involve many obstacles - and that the obstacles we work through will lead to a feeling of success and satisfaction. 

After all my blabbing, they wanted to know what file I converted in order to print via our USB flash drive. Here it is:

It's a bobble head Creeper - a Minecraft character! How could I not oblige my students, they have a love and fascination for Minecraft!! There are three parts to it and it took a couple of hours to print it out. 

Stay tuned for more good learning and some artifacts of our journey!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Online Gold Mine: Connected Educators Create and Share

Have you seen +Kasey Bell 's latest creation? Visit her site,, and check out the Halloween Magnetic Poetry activity she made using Google Drawings. It's absolutely fantastic!

Kasey is a connected educator who creates and shares a lot of great stuff to support educators and students around the use of GAFE. It is not uncommon to run into her tweets or G+ posts on a weekly basis. If you don't catch her sharing her work first hand, you will most certainly see her resources as they are shared and spread around by others.

My students recently started talking about Halloween and have expressed interest in having more Halloween texts in the classroom as they prepare for October 31st. The Halloween Magnetic Poetry caught my eye as it is something that I knew they would love to work with.

During our tech time today, I introduced it to them by placing a link to the activity in our D2L site. I showed the students what they had to do to access the Google Drawing and make a copy of it so they could start writing and reading using this great creation. They were fascinated that the magnetic poetry was created in Drawings. I could see the wheels turning as they started thinking and talking about things they could create based on Kasey's work.

Aside from the reading and writing they were about to engage in with respect to Halloween (a topic that they are very interested in), they have a genuine interest in using digital tools, such as Drawings, to create and innovate.

They have a familiarity with Drawings already so when they discovered that some of the words they needed weren't included they went ahead and made their own words....using the same font! Wonderful to see them think through problems and work together to find solutions.

Here is some of the work that was shared with me today:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Establishing a Design Mindset

In Science we are studying Rocks and Minerals. We have been having a lot of fun learning about a topic that all of us thought was going to be a bit dry. With the help of Google Drawings and Tinkercad we have been having a lot of fun!

We have been using Tinkercad often in order to learn how to effectively use the software. It's safe to say that the students have been thinking about how to integrate it into our learning as much as I have. Well, they came up with a great idea when we were talking about the properties of minerals. The students and I thought it would be a lot of fun to "create" our own minerals. Using the anchor chart on how to identify minerals, the students put their learning into practice by applying what they learned to create their own minerals.

As they considered properties such as lustre and hardness, they started imagining what their mineral would look like. They started using Tinkercad to create a 3D design of their mineral. They worked hard and put the software to good use but it wasn't enough to satisfy them. They seemed to want to do more than just design a rock/mineral.

This is where I suggested we take a step back - leave the 3D software for a bit - and use Google Drawings to create  a design and be able to add text and share their work with me and their classmates. The students welcomed this opportunity and their effort and interest stayed the same.

Here are some examples of what they created:

As the students worked on their task I observed them collaborate, create, and share their ideas, issues, and successes. With many of the invented minerals complete, the students are talking about their designs and how they can apply what they did in Drawings to the 3D software. 

They are establishing a design mindset as they work on taking their ideas and bringing them to life. Having experienced the amazing things students can do when given time to experiment and follow their interests I am making more of an effort to step back and enjoy the ride more rather than focus on our destination.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Like What I See

I dedicated some time today to "digital boot camp" - essentially allowing my students to become familiar with their logins and passwords. This time was also provided to them so that they could continue to discover and figure out the Chromebooks. Generally speaking, I'm noticing a huge difference between grade 2's and grade 4's with respect to the speed at which they can accomplish things and their trouble shooting ability. Coming to grade 4 from from grade 2, I think I am used to a slower process. My students this year are picking things up fast and quite engaged when given "boot camp" opportunities.

I introduced them to Google Drawings today. Drawings has proved to be a powerful app, allowing students to create things that they couldn't create without the technology. I was not disappointed. After a quick tutorial on the basics the students started experimenting and were off to the races. They even shared their work with me and began asking me to visit their work and comment. They were mesmerized by the fact that I could access their work instantly and display it on the interactive whiteboard. I have seen this amazement before and it always brings a smile to my face. It's like a whole new world has opened up to them!

After a bit of time on their own I started giving them specific tasks to accomplish. Some tasks were easier than others but a commonality that emerged was the fact that students assisted each other in getting the tasks done. I would assign it and then they would work on it - and help each other out as needed. This is a great sign, and something that I have seen before.

As the students become more familiar with the tools I will begin to assign tasks that go beyond the tools. I will move them away from tasks that revolve around the tool to tasks that involve design thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. They need to spend time 'playing' with the tools before they can push the tools to their limit as they create and work towards demonstrating their understanding around the learning they are engaged in.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Start of our 3D Journey

Our 3D printer arrived shortly before the start of school. It felt like Christmas as I unboxed it and set it up. For the first few days of school the students and I would walk over to it and examine it. It was a period of investigation and wonder. We had a lot of questions (and we still do) and wanted to turn it on but we knew that we needed a good chunk of time to do this. With the hustle and bustle of start up, there were other more pressing matters to take care of first.

The time finally came at the end of the week. We powered up the printer and started our journey - to harness this amazing technology to assist us with our learning and achievement. As we followed the set up prompts we gained knowledge about the inner workings of the printer. We installed the plastic filament, extruder, and leveled the printing table. The time finally came for us to actually get the printer to create something. We learned that the printer had a few designs already loaded so we embarked on some test prints.

The first print we decided on was a nut and bolt. We wondered what it would look like and how the printer would produce such objects. We started the print and then went back to business in the classroom. Every now and then someone would go over to the printer, take a look, and report back. Near the end of the print job there were some issues. For one reason or another, the plastic would jam and I needed to remove the plastic from the extruder and then re-insert it. This happened several times during the day, which surprised me. Although I had read that this sort of thing happened, I didn't expect it to occur so quickly with a brand new (and expensive) machine.

Our first print completed! A nut and bolt:

As a group we decided to keep things going and decided to print a chain link:

Between recesses and lunch we had some time left in the day and the students decided to print a flexible bracelet:

You should have seen how interested the students were before we set up and turned the printer on. Now that they have seen the capability of the printer, they are very excited about the possibilities. Some next steps involve me learning more about the workings of this machine and introducing the students to design software so they can become familiar with that realm of 3D technology.

With such an eager group of students it is only a matter of time before they truly take advantage of the tools we have available to us in the classroom.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Endless Possibilities: 3D Printing Technology

One of the things I have been working on this summer involves reading about and connecting with people who have experience using 3D printing technology in schools. *My students and I will be on a wonderful journey this year to harness the power of 3D printing in the classroom to bring our ideas to life. My hope is that we will evolve as learners in a way that will allow us to transition our thoughts/ideas in a way that will facilitate the design and creation of tangible products that represent/demonstrate our learning.

The photo above is the printer that we are going to be working with in the classroom. Photo from

This is all new to me and that is why I am taking the time to educate myself as much as I can before I get my hands on the technology. Today I was part of a webinar put on by MakerBot, the company of the printer that we will have in our classroom.

The webinar "MakerBot in the Classroom", provided me with an opportunity to hear about the ways that the technology has been used in classrooms and provided 'grist for the mill' as I reflect on how it would be used in my classroom. The webinar started with some basics, including visuals, which is very important to me. I learn best when I can see examples of what a presenter is talking about.

The presenters talked about a 3D 'kit' which is essentially 3D printed items to be used as examples. I really liked this portion of the webinar because they had examples of designs that didn't quite print as expected due to extraneous factors. This piqued my interest because of the learning component. You design something but it doesn't print as perfectly as expected. Look it over and see where things didn't work out and then think about and create a solution - great iteration model - which is something I try and build into the culture of my classroom.

Information about different design software was also presented and examples of what software would work best in terms of meeting curriculum needs (e.g. art vs math). These are things I haven't even thought of so it was great to be exposed to it.

Overall, this was a great way to sink my teeth into the world of 3D printing with respect to the actual printer I will have in our classroom. I'm already looking forward to the reflection I will engage in after this blog post in order to formulate some questions to assist with my understanding.


* This project is being funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education - Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Win Win Situation

With only a week and a half left in our school year, my students held a classroom meeting to tell me what they wanted to work on to end the school year. As you can imagine, I was scared and excited at the same as I really didn't know what they were going to propose.

Well, they said they wanted to use the Chromebooks to play games on the Internet. I immediately laughed out loud and then noticed that they weren't laughing. In fact, they were dead serious. One of them spoke up and said that they know that I wouldn't allow them to simply "play" so they wanted me to help them attach a writing task to it. They said that it wouldn't be wrong to play Internet games if they were learning something, especially in writing!!!! 

You have to know that this group included many reluctant writers at the start of the school year. They lacked confidence and were uninterested when it came to writing. So, the fact that they want to do some learning/work in writing in order to play some Internet games tells me that they have come a long way and are ready to be challenged when it comes to what they value.

How could I refuse?

We got to it straightaway by creating an anchor chart about 'how to write a journal entry'.

We talked about the requirements and then we created an organizer to help with the beginnings of our journal entries - a guide to help us, a rough draft.

Then we talked about the type of games that we might play. They told me about a race car game so we did a quick google search and found it. It's called Formula Racer. I played the game a couple of times to get the hang of it and then played it to gather information/experience for my journal entry. The students sat on the carpet and watched the interactive whiteboard as I modeled the what to do.

I then completed the rough draft organizer, made some edits/revisions (with their help), and then completed the polished copy. We thought it would be a good idea to add a visual so I grabbed a screen shot and inserted into my Google Doc.

This was such a fun experience! The students and I used our knowledge and experience around the writing process to create expectations for this activity and then scaffold the task in order to lead us to work that we would be proud to publish. Although this is all "my" work - it was part of the the gradual release of responsibility model that we have been using all year.

Now that the students were comfortable with the task, I set them free to research what game they wanted to use and provide them with support and guidance as they went through the process.

As usual, they rose to the occasion. For the past week and a half they have been feverishly working away - researching, writing, playing, editing, revising, and publishing.

Here is what the task looked like on paper - for this particular student it involved an organizer, one rough draft, and a good draft:

Once students had completed a draft considered to be publishable, they grabbed a a Chromebook or a Desktop computer and used Google Docs to create a clean copy with an image to be shared via Google Drive with their friends and family and to be published in our classroom for all visitors to see. Here we have a handful ready for the classroom wall:

Students who finished first were given the option to create another journal entry or assist their classmates by acting as coaches. No one created a second entry, they opted to act as experts and assist their friends with using Google Docs, taking screen shots and saving them to their Drives, and editing and revision. 

Once everyone had completed the task, we put our work up for all visitors to the classroom to see.

Don't tell them this....but in reality they spent 15% of their time "playing" and 85% of their time demonstrating their knowledge and understanding, communicating it to myself and their classmates, applying skills they have learned throughout the school year, and providing evidence of their thinking. I told my students today that the way this task came together and the effort and collaboration they demonstrated was the best gift they could possibly give me and that it is one that I will remember and refer to for a long time to come. 

What an amazing way to end the school year. Activities like this have helped my students develop into creative/innovative thinkers and technologically literate collaborators. They have had fun blending their learning and rising to the challenges that I have provided them with. 

The end of our journey together will come tomorrow. Although it will be sad to go our separate ways, I am filled with joy and excitement for what they have accomplished, for the amazing things they will do, and the unforeseen problems they will help to solve as capable members of our society.