First Lego League – Update from Tournament

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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 http://ncfll.wildapricot.org/state 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

Image from: http://www.firstlegoleague.org/

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.

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Programming PiranhassmallPiranhas-First-Mission-1dhzmqz.MOV

Summer Time and the Learning is Easy and Fun

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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: http://da.org/summer

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 http://www.tynker.com

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 http://scratch.mit.edu

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.

Lego Mindstorms Robotics Class

Image from Lego

You have played with Legos for years, now you can learn to build and program Lego Mindstorm EV3 robots. I wanted all of you Lego lovers to know that I will be offering and after-school enrichment starting on January 22nd. We will meet in the Library classroom to build robots and program them on the Library computers. The class will be on Thursdays from 4:00-5:00 from 1/22 – 5/14 (16 classes) with no class on 3/12 and a make up lesson on 5/21 if necessary. You can attend study hall before class at no charge. Students will work in pairs to design, construct, and program robots that perform a variety of movements and tasks. This Spring class will develop the skills needed to join the planned First Lego League competition teams starting in the Fall 2015. All materials will be supplied and stored at school. Class is limited to 8 students as we will have 4 kits with 2 students working together.

Learn more about EV3: https://education.lego.com/en-us/lesi/middle-school/mindstorms-education-ev3/why-robotics

Learn more about First Lego League: http://www.firstlegoleague.org

Send this link http://www.da.org/page.cfm?p=607 to your parents so they can register you.

Explain Everything and Creative Learning

I was so excited, and a bit nervous, after I found out that we would indeed be purchasing the incredible app called Explain Everything. I was nervous because the purchase represented a lot of money and while I knew the app could be a wonderful tool for our students and teachers, I was nervous that the use would be slow and isolated. I did prepare a tutorial for students and teachers after being approached by a teacher about using it in her classroom. She wanted her students to create tutorials that could be used by students and to show they understood the concepts. The old adage of really knowing something only after you try to teach someone else is very apt. One of the best parts of this app is that it does not require students have an account. Instead, we leverage the services we already use to store and share the completed projects. Configuring the accounts to share in Evernote and Google Drive was seamless. Eeoutside2After the initial instruction, students were off recording anywhere on campus since no internet connection is needed while working. The image above shows students outside working on math problems. They are using the Learner 3600 Headsets from ACP Direct. The use of the headsets helped keep the background noise level down and made the process more formal. Students do not need to use headsets if in a quiet room but kids like to be “professional” so the headsets serve that purpose as well.

The video below shows how two-eighth grade students use the app to create tutorials. These were shared in a Google Drive Folder so all students could listen, watch and learn.

My nervousness is gone and my excitement is growing as I know that Spanish and Algebra classes are using the app to create learning opportunities. The support from the company is also fantastic so if you do not yet, have this app, get it now!

Teaching and Learning with the Unlinked Net

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Images from OpenClipart.org

I have been thinking of this post for a while as our students begin blogging more this year. Most all students in the Middle School are now blogging through Language Arts classes using Edublogs. In grade five, students use a teacher’s blog to post with the teacher serving as the editor who must approve both posts and comments. In grade six students and teachers use the class blog feature in Edublogs so that each student has their own blog but are managed under the teachers blog. This system worked well last year as it provides the students with ownership and a place to find their voice. The teachers still serve as editors and must approve all pages, posts, and comments. This systems works well to establish solid writing, collaborative commenting skills, and learning how to interact in an online community. These are important skills that must be taught if we do not want a world of trolls on the internet. Starting this year, grade seven students and teachers will be expanding the use of class blogs with the students starting with restricted publishing as they start the new year. This will soon move to full editing and publishing done by the students with the teacher only serving the roll of monitor. In grade 8, the class blogs have no restrictions for what is posted and commented and the teacher serves as a monitor. While the blogs have different setups, the goals are the same: Write for an authentic audience, Write more, Learn to write collaborative comments, and establish a presence on the internet that showcases your work and yourself. I feel it is important for students to work at creating their own “Google Juice” so they are searchable with results ranging from silly photos to articles written by them. All of our blogs are open to the public and indexed by Google and other search engines.

The idea of cultivating “Google Juice” is also why four years ago we started having students create and manage digital portfolios with Google sites. These portfolios hold not only a link to their personal blog but also samples of exemplar work along with goal settings and reflections on the student’s learning. These portfolios live at the edges of what we do as all of our Google Apps services are private only to our school which means no one outside of our school or any search engine cannot access them.

This leads to the title of this post as I have been asked by teachers the following question: “How will parents find our blogs?” The quick answer was to send them a message with the link. While that works, it does raise the larger question in my mind of how do we expose all of the wonderful learning and teaching going on when it is not linked by our school or not accessible to anyone outside of our school? Should we expose this part of our school to the world? What are the risks? What are the rewards? I can make a page on Veracross which would allow anyone from our school to find the blogs. I do encourage teaches to list their blogs in the Edublogs directory as a way to engage with the world. 

 

Until I figure out the best solution, here is a list of the blogs so far. Some will have a link to class blogs on the side.

Grade 4 – Mrs. KarolMr. Mason

Grade 5 – Mrs. Goldstein, Mrs. Parry

Grade 6 – Mrs. WilliamsMrs. Donnelly, Mrs. Saffo-Cogswell

Grade 7 – Mrs. Howes,  Mr. Michelman (new this year and not doing it yet), Mrs. Engebretsen

Grade 8 – Mr. Sheard, Mr. Michelman (new this year and not doing it yet), Mrs. Engebretsen

Students Remember

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The image above is called “Working Memory” from Openclipart.org which depicts my retained memory each year I walk this planet. I have been teaching since 1993 when I started as a Science teacher at Grey Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, NC. As my classroom became more technological I became a Technology coordinator and ended up leaving in 1999 to take the position I now have at Durham Academy. In 1997, I had a classroom with a variety of Macintosh computers with inkjet printers. We did a lot of hands-on activities and used the computers when it made sense. Today, I work with iPads, Computer Labs and no shortage of the most powerful tools we can deploy for learning. I still think we should use technology when it makes sense.

I became a teacher to help make a difference in the world and over the years, I think I have helped make some dents in the future. This past weekend I had a message on Twitter from a former student who well, just wanted to thank me. I am so grateful that she did this as while I think I have made a difference, it is nice to be remembered. That is a big part of me even as a parent and grandparent; I want my grandchildren to remember me when I no longer walk this planet with them. To have a student find me and thank me is very fulfilling and thought provoking as I try to remember my classroom and this student. I have some ideas as to who she was 17 years ago. Was she the one who made Speedy, the really cool mouse-trap vehicle? 

This is the exchange of messages:

Khaleyremember

Clearly I was concerned about being remembered even in 1997 as the image below shows. Harrison I think refers to how some of my students thought I looked like Harrison Ford, yeah right:)

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Poetry in Place with Audioboo and Cell Phones

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Each year, the 7th grade travels to Washington, D.C. where they engage in many different activities. Last year students did VoiceThreads about Words on Stone. This is one example.  When Ms. Howes and Ms. Starnes approached me this year about an idea, we came up with using Audioboo to record a poem in place. Students were writing and studying poetry so they had to choose a poem to recite in a place connected to the poem. To make it happen, we created a Google Doc that we shared with all students giving them the directions on how to setup the app and record their poem. I was most excited the day we brought the students into the computer lab and told them, “Get out your cell phones”. The looks on their faces was priceless as some thought it was a trick since cell phones are supposed to be in lockers turned off. Many students indeed did run to their locker and got their phone. They download the free app and set it up. Those without phones used a computer or found a poetry friend to record with. I want to find more ways to prove that students carry technology with them everyday that can be harnessed for powerful learning.

I think they turned out really well so I wanted to share them with you. There is an iTunes Podcast feed if you want to subscribe as there are 115 poems. You can view them at the MS Cav Studios Audioboo channel.

Here is one from a boy and one from a girl to give you a taste.  Sylvia S.  and  Jack P.





Students and Me Minecrafting

 
I have long wondered what the big deal was about Minecraft even though I think the power of games are something schools and teachers need to utilize. Over the years I have purchased games for our students to learn with like Gamestar Mechanic, Scratch, and Evolver from Dimensionu. In fact we have run Minecraft EDU at the Lower School for about 2 years now so most of the students now in the middle school have been exposed before they get to me. I no longer prevented students from downloading the Minecraft app so they could play at recess. Both labs are often full or near full because of this change. I had mentioned to some students that perhaps we should setup our own Minecraft EDU server even though I had never played. The students were listening (like they always do) so one day, I got a message that a Google Doc had been shared with me called
BugguCraft Server Proposal. Below is a portion of what was outlined in the now 34 pages outline of why we should setup a BugguCraft Server. Yes, that is 34 pages written with a plan on setting up, administering, creating, rules, contests, and other assorted information.
 

We (David, Tanner, Davi) have been considering making a server to house our mini-games called BugguCraft. We decided to create a server so we could ban, make rules, and make classes and games that are easily accessible and fair. Tanner’s contributions will include adding Bukkit to be able to make this game fun, which will make cheating almost impossible, and it will be more fair. Tanner knows Java so he can program the plugins that go in it. We will be the admins, and we can “Kick” people off of the server if they are being naughty (this means if they are griefing, spamming or cursing in the chat, or not obeying the rules), or “Ban” them, if the rule breach is more serious.

Rules:

No griefing

No swears

No hacking

No cheating

No trolling

Be fair

Be nice

Have fun

The 3 boys have really taken off with this and over winter break they purchased a Minecraft gift code to thank me. They wrote me a nice note about how they appreciate the help of Mr. Beck who setup the server hardware (an old iMac) and myself and how grateful they are. They even gave me a suggested username: Kartuffle. Today, at lunch recess I joined in for my first Minecraft lesson in the labs with the rest of the students. David was very patient with teaching me the basics and kept telling me I was a fast learner. Always nice to hear since I was trying to use the keyboard shortcuts and get a handle on what I was doing. The first thing I learned was that instead of destroying the objects I was harvesting. This is pretty big as most people, myself included, do not see the chopping as a mirror of what our civilization has done for years.

It was a great day and by the way, we are going to offer a student run Minecraft club using some of those 34 pages of ideas and rules. Later, I have to chop some wood!