First Lego League – Update from Tournament



What a day!! The ups and downs of any competition is filled with “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” as the saying goes. All 3 teams had strong showings but only the Programming Piranhas advanced to the state tournament on January 23, 2016 in Greensboro, NC. More information at The image above shows them standing in front of the scores being posted. Their last robot run was wonderful and earned the high score of 337 which had them in 9th place. The Robosharks were in 5th place at this time with the Cav Squad being in 14th. As the final scores were posted the teams moved a bit in the rankings. It was only after the judging was added in for Core Values and Innovative Project that the Programming Piranhas secured their spot while the other teams were left wondering where they could improve for next year. The robot competition is only 1/3 of the competition so teams that showed any weakness in the other areas had a hard time making it to the state tournament.

I am very proud of all the teams who worked hard over the last 3+ months. Go Programming Piranhas!


First Lego League – A Grand Experiment

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Our school had our first ever First Lego League team last year when parent, Greg Brown, lead a team called The Robosharks. He worked tirelessly to get the program started and the team went to the state tournament and won The Strategy and Innovation Award for their solution and robot design. A great showing for a new team. Mr. Brown approached the administration of our school and myself after the tournament with the idea of offering an after-school class for students and parents in an attempt to field more teams. After much work by him, we ended up with 25 students and 3 teams. The Robosharks,  Cav Squad, and Programming Piranhas have worked hard since August to get ready for the qualifying tournament on Saturday. The teams have worked hard each Thursday and most Saturdays to solve the missions but also develop their team project and bond as a team. This does not include the countless hours that the parents and teams put in coordinating and supporting their team. I was hesitant to take on the First Lego League teams years ago due to the need for it to be a student run and parent supported structure and not an instructor lead event. I am happy to say that while we have had our ups and downs we have 3 strong teams going into the competition. The team of Programming Piranhas in particular have really risen to the challenge. I am sharing a couple images and a practice movie I have of this team below as I think they show what is possible when you put students in charge. In addition to the teamwork, they have developed an impressive Toy Exchange project that has gained much attention. Read more about that at their Facebook page.


Programming PiranhassmallPiranhas-First-Mission-1dhzmqz.MOV

NPR Interviews Sherry Turkle on Face to Face Conversation



I liked this interview as I listened to it in my car one Saturday morning on the way to the dump, which is a weekly ritual for a person who lives in the country. As it ended, I wrote down the information on my notepad and wanted to make sure I wrote about it as I believe this topic is important to all of us. I do completely agree that we can not have empathy unless we are face to face, but I do believe we need to start there in order to develop empathy.

Turkle, a professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, is interested in how all sorts of new technologies — not just iPhones — are changing our conversations. Her new book is called Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. She is also the author of the books The Second Self and Alone Together.

Listen below or read at


An earlier interview from 2012.

Survey Says Mostly OK

 Image is property of Common Sense Media 

It is quite possible that you saw the survey released by Common Sense Media that discusses their findings on the use of media by tweens and teens. They surveyed 2500 young people.

This link will take you to their survey.

You can create an account, use one of the social media login options. I think we should all have accounts.

Key Findings: Bold are my highlights.

1. On any given day, American teenagers (13-to18-year-olds) average about nine hours (8:56) of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework. Tweens(8-to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily

2. From Gamers to Social Networkers, patterns of use vary widely among young media users.

3. Boys and girls have very different media preferences and habits.

4. Despite the variety of new media activities available to them, watching TV and listening to music dominate young people’s media diets.

5. Tween and teen media consumption is highly mobile. Overall, mobile devices now account for 41 percent of all screen time among tweens and 46 percent among teens.

6. Even among teens, social media use still lags behind traditional media use like listening to music or watching TV.

7. Digital screen media are used for many purposes: reading, watching, playing, listening, communicating, and creating.

8. There is a large “digital equality gap” in ownership of computers, tablets, and smartphones.

9. More parents are concerned about the type of media content their children use than how much time they spend using it.

10. Many teens multitask with media while doing their homework, and most think this has no effect on the quality of their work.

11. There are substantial differences in the amount of time young people spend with media, based on family income, parent education, and race/ethnicity.

This link will take you to Larry Magid’s response (also on Huffington Post). He is the person behind Connect Safely and a CBS News correspondent. He serves on the boards of many organizations helping young people navigate the internet.

I think we need to continue our efforts to teach ourselves and our students how to manage the digital tools in their lives whether we put them there or their parents do. We need to continue to model the behavior we want our students to emulate as they observe what we do daily. Finally, we need to help our students become less consumers of media and more the creators of media. The iPads give us a great tool to encourage creation with an academic focus and a place to fail and iterate fast. There is actually a lot of good information in the report and I believe we see the findings each day here at school.

If I think about the way I used media when I was a tween (it was before it was a word), I would be about the same. I still have some of these behaviors today. What I have discovered in 59 years on this planet is how to balance more of what I do. If any media wants my time and attention, there has to be a real value in it for me. I define that value as either being entertaining or educational for the most part.

How do you manage your time and attention?

Developing Attention and Avoiding Distractions


As we enter our 4th year as a school that equips our students with a digital device we continue to see many opportunities to help our students and teachers manage their attention capital. I created this video and added it to the Digital Device Passport book to help our community discuss and take strategies to develop habits that we help develop a mindful use of devices.

Ideas and Strategies include:

Start Fresh:

  • Turn off all running apps by double tapping the Home button and swiping up. Yes we know that having Safari open will allow you to bypass the web filtering system. It is also a violation of the Acceptable Use Policy and the Honor Code.
  • Turn off apps before you start a class that you know you will not need for the class. Email is one app that you most likely will never need during a class.

Limit Swipes:

  • Create a study page. Only include the apps or folders of apps you use to study.
  • Drag folders of your most used apps to your iPad dock for fast access.
  • If you use multiple apps to take notes, organize those apps in a Notes folder.
  • Some apps may be only used in certain subjects, so make folders just for those apps.

Add Web Clips:

  • Add Web Clips to web sites you use to study and save these web clips on your home screen. 
  • Organize these links in a folder on your study page. 
  • These links will only go to the web site you need to use which can help you from getting distracted.

Corral the Apps You Do Not Use:

  • Put the apps you never use in folders on the last screen of your iPad so you do not have to swipe past them each time you are looking for an app.
  • New in 2015 – 2016 is the ability to not even install the app. Your teachers will request the apps* you have to have for their class. 
  • *The Required Apps must be installed by all students.

Create a Calming Home Screen:

  • Set your wallpaper and locked screen images to something interesting but not distracting. 
  • Perhaps your class schedule (with your name covered) so you know where your next class is.

If these things do not help, I suggest that the student take a proactive path by giving their iPad to a teacher if it is not needed for the class period as a way to help them with choices. This will help students build up some success with their choices without drawing attention to themselves. There could even be a place in the room that distracted students put the device so it is not within arms or synapse reach.

I do believe we also need to look at how our instructional practices have adjusted to harness the digital device. Boredom is the enemy of attention. I have seen teachers integrate the use of a connected device with questions like: Someone tell me what the color of __________ is or what is a diphthong so students have an active role in the instructional process instead of a passive role.

Of course companies like (based in Durham) will also help by using technology to create distraction free periods since our brain can fail us even with our best intentions.

Google Apps Templates Now Available in GAFE


The new Google Apps Templates are great. They showed up in our Google Apps for Education account a few days ago. Explore in Spreadsheets did as well. As the Google Apps services get better and better, there are fewer reasons to stick with the non-cloud based tools.

From Google:

Your best work, your best you 
Creating presentations, crafting newsletters and managing your team’s budget is hard enough without having to worry about making everything look good. With the new collection of templates in DocsSheets and Slides, you can focus on your content while we make sure it gets the expert polish it deserves. Choose from a wide variety of reports, portfolios, resumes and other pre-made templates
 designed to make your work that much better, and your life that much easier.

Learn more at the Google Docs Blog.

Digital Device Passport iBook


As we enter the fourth year of our school’s iPad Learning program I put together this iBook so our students and teachers will have access to the many resources that we use to start the year. In the past, these resources were on a private web site that was not easy to find once the year started. It is my hope that having the iBook on student and teacher iPads will help to show everyone how we can utilize the iBooks app more. We have used more digital textbooks each year and will continue to promote them when they are of high quality and fit the needs of the instructor. I think we can improve the use of digital versions for our manuals and handbooks which will harness the power of a more interactive book.

If you are a parent of a student at my school or anyone else who may be interested, I would encourage you to download this free iBook from the iTunes Bookstore. You will need an Apple ID and either an iPad or Macintosh running OS 10.9 which supports the iBooks app. It is not available for iPhone yet as I will need to redo it using the new iBooks Author software in order to make it work. At least that is what I believe I will need to do as I do not have an iPhone to test it on. If anyone does read it on an iPhone, drop me a line and tell me how it worked.

Coding, Girls, and The Future Needs


For many years I have worked at helping girls to learn to code with a wide variety of tools and techniques. I actually started doing this when I was still a full-time Science teacher many years ago. I think the message that girls get from teachers lead to a perception that they should stay away from certain areas of study. This is of course a great disservice to the girls and the world. Some people call it an unconscious bias. I think that is the wrong way to look at it. As educators we must be aware of the biases we bring with us and work even harder to look at the ones we have due to having grown up in an educational system full of these “unconscious” biases.

I was listening to Leo Laporte on the  Triangulation show interview the Robin Hauser Reynolds the Director of Code: Debugging the Gender Gap documentary (watch or listen here) or embed below. It was a great interview and well worth watching or listening to. I did it in my car on my commute to work as I subscribe to the audio podcast. They covered some of the causes and issues related to why the gender gap exists. As I listened I realized the pace of this gap is glacial as I have been teaching since 1993 and have always tried to improve this notion. They did quote someone who said that biases of this nature take a generation to change. OMG, we do not have that amount of time.

The movie was screened at The Tribeca Film Festival this past week so it is not out in wide release yet. I want to show it to my students today in our coding club (which is about equal female and male) as a way to continue to inspire the girls. Learn more about the movie at and watch the trailer below.

CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap Theatrical Trailer from Finish Line Features, LLC on Vimeo.

Giving Students a Chance to Find Their Voice and Face

Speak Even if Your Voice Shakes

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Mrs. Howes’s students chose issues they care about, conducted researched to support their ideas, and composed and mailed persuasive letters to people they believed could help these changes come about. This VoiceThread extends their persuasive efforts to the world, as they explain their projects and use their voices to advocate for change!

Below you will find the five VoiceThreads created by her students focused on Global, National, Local, School and Sports issues. Please take a few minutes to listen to what these students have to say about changes they would like to see in their world. Leave a comment and let us know how you feel about these issues. (You will need to log in to view with either a free account or your school’s account)

I asked the students to record video comments as I believe we need to help our students learn how to use their voice and face in order to share effectively. Of course, we all have to get over how our voice sounds which is often the largest hurdle to overcome especially in middle school.

Global Issues VoiceThread

National Issues VoiceThread

Local Issues VoiceThread

School Issues VoiceThread

Sports Issues VoiceThread

Summer Time and the Learning is Easy and Fun


With apologies to George Gershwin, but my camps are easy and fun. I forget how many years I have done camps during the summer but know it has been a few as some of my early campers have moved from being a camper to being a helper to being in college.

I employ 2 helpers for each of my camps as I believe access to help is important when needed. While this may sound contradictory, I also believe not helping is also important as it allows the campers to own the learning. I  strive to be flexible and fluid in how I operate my camps. Last year I was set to use a site to build apps. As we began the camp I could tell that some of the campers wanted to have a slightly different experience so I found another tool to use and let the campers choose which one to work with. We all learned how to iterate and troubleshoot as the new tool was just that, new to all of us. I think it turned out really well in the end although that first morning was different then what I have imagined.

Dan Gilson, Director of Summer Programs, told me my post-camp reviews were very high. He sent me this testimonial to share with you:

Karl Schaefer’s summer camps got rave reviews from parents and kids last summer!  Every single person I spoke with about his camps said that they were extraordinarily run, the communication was excellent and the kids had a blast learning all kinds of new programming and coding skills.  Karl takes the time to make sure every child gets personalized attention and has a positive experience, socially and educationally, in his camps.

I am happy to announce that I will again be offering a series of summer camps. Each camp is the same so you would only want to attend one session as we repeat the camps in the second session. You can register here:

Get Tynkering with Mr. Schaefer

Week 4 – June 29 – July 3 – 1:00 – 4:00

Week 7 – July 20 – 24 – 1:00 – 4:00

Tynker is a web-based site which will allow campers to develop the foundational skills of programming through a simple drag and drop interface. Campers with no previous experience with computer programming or game creation are perfect for this camp. Campers will create games that are challenging and fun to play. Campers will learn at their own pace using the step by step guides and interactive tutorials. Campers will be able to create characters and drawings or use any of the thousands of media from the gallery. Tynker is the place to start learning how to code. Once campers master the drag and drop features they can program with Java Script inside of Tynker.

Learn more at

Scratch Programming with Mr. Schaefer

Week 5 – July 6 – 10 – 1:00 – 4:00

Week 6 – July 13 – 17 – 1:00 – 4:00

Imagine, Program and Share are the key elements of what the free Scratch software can allow campers to create. The software is free, the application is logical and campers will be supported in their learning of the programming language by a seasoned crew of instructors. Young people need to be exposed to programming at an early level to learn how the technology behind computers and games actually work and this is a great camp for that exposure. Come to this camp and “scratch” the programming itch!

Learn more at

Become a Code Monkey with Mr. Schaefer

Week 6  – July 13 – 17 – 9:00 – 12:00

Week 7 – July 20 – 24 – 9:00 – 12:00

A code monkey is a term for a novice computer programmer. At some point in every computer programmers life, they were a code monkey. This camp will start at the basics and provide campers with an opportunity to become more then a code monkey. We will start our coding journey with Blocky, an online site developed by Google to introduce programming to novices with a drag and drop interface. As our coding journey continues we will spend two days at Khan Academy investigating the fundamentals of computer science and creating simple programs. Our last stop on our coding journey will be Code Academy where campers will delve into HTML fundamentals in an online course which walks users through each step in writing HTML code as they move to working with CSS, Java Script, and beyond. Campers will leave well equipped to continue being a code monkey.

Please contact me if you have any questions about these camps. I look forward to seeing you there.