Portfolios, Reflections, and Change

Goals, Reflect, Artifacts

For 7 years now we have been working on creating student portfolios in the Middle School. We are now on our 3rd iteration from what we started with in 2010. I think this iteration is more efficient and will take the least amount of time to fulfill the potential portfolios offer. To quote a fellow teacher when I asked him if his graphic novel unit was proceeding how he hoped. “It is too soon to tell if the juice is worth the squeeze.” This is sort of how I feel as while some of my colleagues think they are a great idea and support them with time and energy, many have no interaction at all. In fact, I would say most of our school has no interaction with the portfolios. Once students leave the Middle School, the portfolio process ends. I spend a lot time “squeezing” the portfolio process and while I believe firmly that students and teachers should have a place to share and reflect on their learning process, I am willing to stop drinking the juice. There are so many other places I can put my time and energy to develop more student agency that I think this is the last year for my championing the use of portfolios. I still think it is a good idea, but I have failed to inject it into the learning culture of our school. I learned that I needed to get more people on board before starting the portfolio process since I believe that would have helped to institutionalize the process.

This is the message I sent to the MS Faculty yesterday

I just finished setting up all of the portfolios for all new students and each 5th grader. You can view all of the past and current portfolios at this address: https://sites.google.com/a/students.da.org/studentportfolios/  (Private Google Apps so only DA students and teachers can view)

I changed the layout a bit and reworked the reflection prompts as follows:

Setting Learning Goals: Each year you should write some learning goals that will guide your learning for the year. What do you hope to learn at school or outside of school? In order to be successful, you need to write these goals down along with ideas on how you will accomplish your goals.

Prompts for writing learning goals:
I am excited to learn about …
To accomplish my goals I will …
Why does your learning matter?

Writing Reflections: Reflecting is the most important part of the portfolio process, for without it, the portfolio becomes simply a collection of work without purpose. By reflecting on your work, you will engage in meta-cognitive thinking and begin to develop a working knowledge of who you are as learners.

Questions to ask yourself when reflecting:
What is the story of your learning as told by the artifacts you chose to add?
What did you learn about yourself as a learner?
What did you learn on your own?
What did you learn from other members of your community?
What are your feelings about your learning?
What was hard or difficult and how will you overcome similar obstacles in the future?
What advice might you have for other students on how to be as successful in the grade you are completing. Examples: How to use the iPad to be successful, how to study, etc..

Some information is from http://tworeflectiveteachers.blogspot.com/2015/03/slow-down-and-reflect-idea-worth.html with a Tip of the Hat to Ms. Goldstein.

Over the weekend I read this article by Mike Crowley and thought there was some nice alignment with what we hope our portfolios showcase. Of special note was this paragraph about Yale adding 3 questions to the selection process for admitting students.

Perhaps, finally, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the recent news that Yale University is adding three critical, new questions to its selection process:

What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left.
Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something.
Write about something that you love to do.

The old system is finally starting to break. Who you are is more important than your grades. Your development as a person is of greater value than your ability to play the game of school. It is important to have a passion, to make a meaningful contribution.

Creativity, Storytelling, and Graphic Novel Creation

EsmeEmmaBookCovers

This post has been a long time coming as something always seemed to get in the way. This past year, I had the pleasure to work with our grade 8 language arts teachers on a graphic novel project. Students investigated graphic novels in class in preparation for writing their own. Using the awesome Book Creator App on our student iPads they were charged with creating their own graphic novel. We used the comic book template and this Google Slide Presentation to get started. Using Sketchbook Express (iTunes link) or other drawing apps on the iPad, students created images to go with their story. Many students combined their 8 years of art to create amazing images to support the story. Esme (Havoc) created her novel with images she drew in a style that creates a darkness. Esme told Mr. Michelman that she worked the hardest she has ever worked on any project on her novel. She told him that it was not ready as she wanted a little more time to perfect some element. As the school year came to a close we got this message from Esme:

From: Esme
Sent: Monday, May 30, 2016 2:55 PM
To: Ben Michelman
Subject: What Will Become of Havoc?
Hello Mr. Michelman,
Sorry for interrupting Memorial Day, and I know this is terrible timing, but I was wondering what will happen to the graphic novel I made. What should I do with it? Because I want to be able to still edit over the summer, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to do that.
Sorry,
Esme

How many times as that happened in your teaching? The assignment is over, student has graduated, and they want to still work on a project you assigned? This is the definition of engaged and highlights what can happen with student agency.

Emma took a different approach and used models for her drawings. Using her sister and family dog, she posed them and took images. Using the same Sketchbook Express app, she brought the image in on a layer and then used more layers to trace her characters. Once done, she removed the first layer. Her story and images are also well developed and support the happy ending in her story. I submitted her book to the Book Creator contest where she was one of the top ten finalists. She also started creating another book on Romeo and Juliet in order to help students understand it better.

I think both of these students have a future in book writing or whatever they choose to do. The only aspect I would hope they would include next time in their books, is a Creative Commons license so their work can be tied to them as a creator.

A challenge for their future teachers would be to connect to this passion and continue to bring it out. If you would like to read the ePubs you can access them in the shared Evernote note.

STEAM by Design Seminar

Version 3 504 Lab Reconfigured

I am very excited to be offering this seminar next year. The image above is version 3 of how I imagine one of the computer labs being reconfigured. This is a low level reconfiguration as we are not adapting it to a true maker lab as we are not at that point so everything is on wheels and portable. As I write this post, my new 3D printer was delivered. We have 2 Polar 3D printers which are great for prototyping and have served me well with learning about 3D printing, but I wanted the next step as well. I was about to purchase a Makerbot but read about the Sindoh 3DWox. After checking it out online and figuring if the MIT Fab Lab listed it as the printer to get I was not being sold a bill of goods, I ordered it. As fate would have it Zack B. was in the lab next door so was able to see it delivered and we opened it together. He has been coming by lately saying that he has been seeing many cardboard boxes being delivered!

Below is the proposal as presented.

The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) by Design Seminar will integrate the elements of STEAM using Design Thinking (Define, Understand, Imagine, Prototype, Try, and Repeat) during explorations in Coding, Electronics, and 3D Design and Printing. Coding, Electronics, 3D Design and 3D Printing are concepts and industries that continue to shape our present and will greatly influence our future. The STEAM by Design Seminar will explore these concepts and skills using the online resources (Project Ignite by Autodesk and CodeMonkey)

The seminar will be project-driven and feature design challenges.

Computer Science Coding:  Computer code underpins almost everything we use today. Having an understanding of coding language is essential to understanding the many devices and services used in our world. A lack of understanding of computer code leads to what Douglas Rushkoff wrote about in his book; Program or Be Programmed. Students will use CodeMonkey tutorials to learn to write code in a real-world programming language called CoffeeScript. CoffeeScript is a modern open-source programming language that compiles to JavaScript.

Engineering and Electronics: Students will learn to design electronic circuits with 123D Circuits and Arduino kits.  Once designed, students will construct the actual designed circuits.

3D Design and Printing: Students will learn 3D design skills using Tinkercad and other apps as needed.

After learning the basics of 3D design and 3D printing, students will work on a design challenge related to a problem they would like to solve. Students will learn to work independently and in groups as they design, create and make their challenge prototypes. Once designed, students will have the option of printing their prototypes on our school’s 3D printers.

Helping to Make Learning More Active with an Educanon

I Learned it on YouTube

Image from: aisletwentytwo

Going into our fourth year of our student and teacher iPad learning program I want to invigorate the use of videos. Teachers will often play a video in class while the students passively watch it. Since YouTube is blocked at school teachers will share a link for the students to watch when they are off-campus. Of course, once the student is on YouTube how long will they stay watching the video the teacher wanted them to watch? How long would you stay? Me, probably not long especially if the related videos showed up and if I did not really know why I was watching the video. What are the main points that the students is to learn? I have watched as vendors figured out ways to make videos active and not passive. I decided this year to invest in PlayPosit (fka Educanon) after comparing all three of the leading contenders; PlayPosit, EdPuzzle, and Zaption. While all had similar options PlayPosit had the best overall solution and a real business model. They are easy to work with and are founded by teachers so they understand the pedagogy and technology. The service is affordable and they do offer a free version although I prefer to pay a vendor so I can count on them being there for more then a couple rounds of financing. I am just starting to create the training materials and recruiting the early adopters.

First Lego League – Update from Tournament

PiranhasTournamentScoresmall

 

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.

ProgrammingPiranhasphotosmall

Programming PiranhassmallPiranhas-First-Mission-1dhzmqz.MOV

Summer Time and the Learning is Easy and Fun

Summercampflyer2

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

Unlinked

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