Jan 2, 2015

SILLY VIDEO: Minecraft

Creepers > Fractions.

If artistic talent was measured in art work, I'd have a dot-to-dot.
But, I wanted to illustrate the funny side of teaching--you know, to keep from crying.

Jan 1, 2015

SITE: Tackk

Tackk is a simple way to create beautiful pages on the web. It's your very own page, flyer, blog post, or poster. Tackk is a place to connect with friends, share creativity and have conversations. By combining creative moments and social content, we make it easy for users to create and chat about what matters most to them. It’s a fun way to express creativity wherever you are.
A portion of my technology grant proposal explained my plan to incorporate e-notebooks. I will continue to use traditional notebooks--simply because they'll use those from here on out. But I have to try something that will bring back the students. Whether they just don't understand the value or the notes are too unorganized or it's just too much work, many of my fifth graders don't use their notes to help solve problems. They'd rather wing it or expect private tutorials from me. I've used Wix to make pages, but Tackk seems more user-friendly for what I need.

Dec 27, 2014

ARTICLE: Benefits of Gamification

8 Research Findings Supporting the Benefits of Gamification in Education
Kelly Walsh @ emergingedtech.com

There are myriad ways in which "gamification" can play a positive role in the educational setting.

1. Game playing can develop a positive attitude towards mathematics for children.

2. Video games can lessen disruptive behaviors and enhance positive development in ADHD children.

3. Children who construct their own video games experience increased cognitive and social growth.

4. Mature make-believe play provides the most beneficial context for children’s development.

5. Play-based learning increases children’s attention span.

6. Playing scary and violent video games help children master their fears in real life.

7. Chess makes kids smart.

8. Music and movement augment children’s language capabilities during the preschool years. 

Woohoo! I love the idea of gamifying the classroom, but I found that my fifth graders didn't really get into it last year. I can incorporate gaming concepts but that doesn't necessarily engage the students. I need to develop something that works with fifth graders. And, of course, next year, I'll have to revise the entire plan.

ARTICLE: Games Have Impact

Research Shows Games Have Significant Impact on Student Performance
Lee Banville @ gamesandlearning.org

We have an early look at some of the interesting data coming out of a larger report on teacher attitudes around the use of games in the classroom. The numbers hint at wider use of games in the classroom and indicate teachers see the real benefit of games in helping low-performing students.

I agree with those teachers who believe that games benefit the low-performing students. Frankly, it's far too easy for those students to simply check out when the material challenges them. When incorporating games, though, everyone is on equal footing.

ARTICLE: Less-Structured Time

Study: Less-Structured Time Correlates to Kids’ Success
Hannah Goldberg @ time.com

Research found that young children who spend more time engaging in more open-ended, free-flowing activities display higher levels of executive functioning, and vice versa.

Assuming there's causation, what does that mean for the classroom? I don't think it means letting go. It takes a great deal of thought and planning to create a lesson and activity that appears open-ended and free-flowing but satisfies the objective. When a video game is linear, you know that you're in a video game. But when it's open-world, you might forget as you do whatever you want. I don't know what this looks like in the classroom, though.

ARTICLE: Using Digital Games

Teachers Surveyed on Using Digital Games in Class

We have an early look at some of the interesting data coming out of a larger report on teacher attitudes around the use of games in the classroom. The numbers hint at wider use of games in the classroom and indicate teachers see the real benefit of games in helping low-performing students.

I agree with those teachers who believe that games benefit the low-performing students. Frankly, it's far too easy for those students to simply check out when the material challenges them. When incorporating games, though, everyone is closer to equal footing. Plus, games inspire students to retry and retry and retry, facing challenge after challenge, and failure after failure.

Dec 26, 2014

SITE: MixBit

Make multimedia memories. Automatic editing of photos, videos combined with professional themes make your videos look better than ever. 
It was so easy to create a quick video with MixBit. There's an iPod app that the students could use to record their work.

SITE: Twoople

I have this idea of making myself available to my students when they're at home, working on homework. First of all, I don't really give homework. The students are expected to work on multiplication facts every night, and, once in a blue moon, they're asked to finish something from class. However, as I begin working on my proposal plans, I know that the students will have the option of working on their e-notebooks at home, so I want to make myself available to the students as they work. E-mail is too slow. I've considered using TodaysMeet, but I think Twoople offers something that I like: a permanent spot. I won't need to send out a new link from time to time. I can create a Twoople page and use it every day. Of course, the worry is that students will abuse the opportunity to communicate with me. That's not something to keep me from trying.

Dec 21, 2014

Craft a Well-Planned Lesson

Minecraft in the Classroom: Ideas for Teachers
Ilena Parker @ Institute of Play

In my grant proposal, I assured the judges that I'm not using Minecraft for the heck of it. I won't use it as a time-filler or reward. If I don't have a lesson planned, I won't use it. That leads me to this article and the book that it mentions. It's vital that a learning objective is stated and the lesson is well-planned; otherwise, it's too easy for the students to run wild. At the end of the lesson, the students must know what I wanted them to learn.

Each project includes learning objectives, project organization and tasks, and ideas for reflection and assessments. You’ll also find detailed instructions for setting up and running a Minecraft server in the classroom, both the regular and the popular MinecraftEdu versions.

I'm a Bit Late to the Party

Audrey Watters @ Hack Education

As part of my grant proposal, I included 25 versions of Minecraft and the server license. This will allow me to control the world in which the students roam and complete assignments.

The mod comes with a lot of other options too, allowing you to maintain the open-endedness of the original Minecraft or alter it substantially. With the mod, students are able to name their characters, and they can change gender and costumes. There are special blocks for the game too: information blocks that students can click on to get, well, information or instructions; blocks that will teleport students to a particular spot in the world; blocks that can be set in the ground to allow or disallow building on top; and border blocks so that students can be kept in one particular area. It's easier to control the students' characters -- teleporting them en masse to the teacher, or teleporting the teacher quickly to a student, for example, or freezing everyone's characters in place. Inventory is more easily manageable, making it possible to put a particular item in everyone's inventory.

Dec 20, 2014

My Mega-Plan

I included the following in my grant proposal...

In order to learn and retain information, students must be engaged and motivated. For the students, there must be an obvious value to their work and learning. To accomplish this, three things need to happen.

First, I will gamify my classroom. When introducing new concepts, I will present them as challenges or quests. Working individually at times and often in groups, students will solve the problems using online resources and digital tools to present their findings. Collaboratively, they will use Google Apps to interact with one another, creating joint projects--this allows them to work at school as well as at home.

Second, my students will create digital notebooks. While there’s value in using notebooks to record math and science notes, most students are unwilling to refer to them for assistance. They’re simply uninteresting and many fifth graders can’t see their usefulness. Using a webpage creator, such as Wix or GoogleSites, groups of students can transform their notes into digital notes, which will include videos (ShowMe, Educreations, etc.) that they create, solving and explaining the skill. Or, they can use digital photos (using digital cameras or iPads, or KidPix) and voice recordings to create a slideshow that explains the skill. Or, they can create and edit digital movies (using iPads and a movie editor) that show them solving and explaining the skill. Plus, they can embed a variety of Web 2.0 tools (Voki, Blabberize, Prezi, Animoto, ClassTools, Wideo, Bubbl.us, etc.) that help explain the concept, define necessary vocabulary, or offer hints and reminders. 

Third, I want to incorporate Minecraft into my instruction.

Dec 19, 2014

Busy, Tired, and Disappointed

For some time, I've been unwilling to participate in this blog. For one reason or another, I'm ready to get started again. However, I want to stay positive, so I'm going to cut down on criticism and soap-boxing.

Recently, I won a technology grant from the district. I'd like to share my experiences and ideas through the blog. While I fully expect to fall on my face, it might be an interesting read.

Aug 17, 2013

Flipping It - Tools I'm Using

When I started on the Wix webpages, I went a-lookin' for new tools. I knew I'd use Voki, Prezi, Pixton, and Sploder, but I needed more. Here are some finds.

Acapela: This is a short and silly video creator.

Fodry: It's a silly text generator.

Make Pixel Art: The name explains it all.

 Wideo: I had tons of fun with this animated movie creator.

ClassTools: "Create free games, quizzes, activities and diagrams in seconds!"

Dvolver: This is a simple movie maker.

Flipping It - Primes & Composites

Here's the Wix webpage for Primes and Composites.

Flipping It - Factors

Sometimes, you just have to trick them into learning. So, if I want my students to spend time at home previewing math topics, I can't just put out a video and expect them to care. Instead, I've decided to create a Wix webpage for each topic. Those are linked from my school webpage.

Here's the webpage for Factors.

Aug 4, 2013

My "Gamified" Classroom - Rewards

I don't want to give out pencils, erasers, stickers, treats, etc. again. I hate that kind of thing. I don't want a store with fake money or tickets. No more prizes. No more coupons. No more!

That stuff doesn't work. Oh, maybe for a week or two, but it fades fast. For sixteen years, I kept trying it because my class was boring and I was trying to bribe the students into being attentive. I just can't believe that a school like Quest to Learn gives snack cakes or pencils to the students when they are compliant.

Updating my classroom has forced me to consider something else. When playing Xbox360 or PS3, accomplishing tasks earns points and virtual achievements/trophies for the players. Now, whether or not, those prizes existed, players would still play--video games are fun.

So, I've decided to award points, badges, and avatars. Not as bribes. As perks. As part of the theme.

I created these badges using 
I will print the badges on magnet paper, 
so the students can display them on/in their lockers.

After every third level, the students will receive a chunk of a Pixel Person.
Again, I will print the pieces on magnet paper and the students will color them.
Thanks, Mojang and Minecraft!!

My "Gamified" Classroom - Level Up!

As I was designing the look of my classroom, I got to work on the leveling system. First, I made a list of those areas for which I wanted to give points: averages, conduct sheet, student attendance, benchmark scores, parent attendance at meetings, and extra chances. Next, I decided on frequency and points. Finally, I added up points for high achievers and acceptable achievers, and settled on a happy medium (with a lean toward the high end). Here are my Level Up! sheets.

My "Gamified" Classroom - Decor

This year, I want to flip a gamified classroom. And, though I've thought about it for months, I'm just now putting things in place. Oh, it's not procrastination--it's confusion and fear and slow ideas. To get everything rolling, I've already gone up to school and worked in my classroom. Here are some photos.

This was my very first idea.
I wanted my word wall to resemble Space Invaders or Breakout.

I wanted to redo my rules.
I searched online for video game decorations, but didn't have much luck.
Then it hit me: I could use video game characters from GameInformer magazine.

Not only could I cut out characters, I could use the GameInformer covers, too.
These are my most important reminders.

 Instead of a typical border, I cut strips from the GameInformer magazines.

 And, finally, having fallen in love with scrapbooking pages, 
I needed something for the other board.
Every year, I stress the need to learn multiplication facts.
I use FlashMasters and TimezAttack and speed drills, but I don't post them.
Until now. The multiples are mixed up but they make a nice reference, I think.
Plus, I used piq to create my own Space Invaders.

Edutopia: Katie Salen on the Power of Game-Based Learning

From Edutopia: [We] believe that kids can and do learn in different ways outside of school, often via access to digital media and access to kind of online community support. And that if we know that learning outside of school matters a great deal to kids' ability to learn well in school, we have to pay attention to that. So it's a school that from the ground up has been designed to leverage the kind of digital lives of kids, and it also looks at the notion of how games work as learning systems, and it's developed a pedagogical approach that delivers what we call game-like learning.

I can't tell you how exciting game-based learning is to me. Fun, engaging, exciting. I can see where this video might motivate teachers or deter them, though. The equipment at Quest to Learn is way beyond what I have. The challenge to overcome that deficit is just too delicious to pass up. Rather than focus on the technology, I need to remember Ms. Salen's explanation:
So the way that our curriculum is structured in mission and quest based, so it actually builds on that trope from online gaming. And the idea is that quests actually get harder as you move through them, because you're actually developing tools and developing knowledge and developing experiences. And the goal is that you actually can't move to a quest until you've completed one prior. They're proceeding through some kind of challenge and they're getting closer to some kind of end goal, and we have found that that's very motivating for kids, that they know where they're at, they know how far they've come and they know what they need to work on. 
So, what does that look like for my fifth grade math class? I don't know, yet, but I'll let you know.

Edudemic: 9 Wrong And 8 Right Ways Students Should Use Technology

From Edudemic: Technology is a tool. It’s not a learning outcome. Too often do we get distracted by all the activities and action we can perform with an iPad or some other device. We can post to Edmodo! Make a Prezi! Post to Facebook! All exciting things, to be sure. But these are not actually learning outcomes. You could have a 1:1 iPad classroom where your students create a bazillion (it’s a word, I swear) presentations all about how much they’re learning.

I get the point. I do. I'm not trying to be dense or confrontational. How many teachers write, Make Prezis, in their lesson plans, though? Not many, I reckon. At the same time, I doubt many of them are writing, Raise Awareness or Drive Change, either. 

I can't figure out this article/graphic. Is it aimed at noobs or experienced teachers? Is it self-reflection or a condescending observation? With all of the new technology and apps in the world, the author could just be bringing balance to the universe. Maybe?

I just can't believe that teachers are using technology as the learning outcome rather than a prescribed skill. At the same time, I definitely think it's a mistake to pull back on the technology reins. (I know that that isn't what this article is saying, but, for some, it might cause a bit of guilt.) Interest and engagement are just as important as stating a ground-breaking learning outcome.

I hate that title.

Jul 19, 2013

Game-Based Learning Is Probably Worth Looking Into

I love comics. Sure, like many, I'm into Batman, the Avengers, and the X-Men, but I've thoroughly enjoyed books like the Authority, Planetary, and DMZ. As a kid, my folks were good enough to buy me several subscriptions. An avid reader, I mowed through novels and comic books. In the fifth grade, it was comic books that had the more colorful language, and, to use modern lexicon, I was engaged. But, do you think my teachers would have used comic books in the classroom? Yeah, probably not.

Board games and card games have been around for a year or two. And teachers have used both in the classroom. They're tame and adaptable. But, have you ever played a board game made specifically for the classroom? Boring.

Video games have had a tough time of it, but some people are finally taking them seriously. Heck, in 1977, if a teacher had said, "We're going to use the Atari 2600 in our lesson today," I would have thought, "Well, yeah, why wouldn't you?" Kids love them and they're not going away. I love them. I love the worlds and missions and achievements and success. Fun!

Let me get to the point: I'm sold on game-based learning. Obviously, there a many factors to consider and plans will change, but it's something I have to try.

This article brings up the factor that gives me hives.
Timely feedback, relevant goals and carefully designed reward structures may help keep motivation high, while story elements, emotional engagement and permission to fail and repeat could help lock concepts into memory and provide mnemonics to assist with recall.
What to do about the "carefully designed reward structures"? While I spend this summer redesigning my room and approach, I keep coming back to this. I just don't know what that looks like. Fifth graders are a weird group, so I have to find something that motivates them for an extended period of time. If I have to keep changing it throughout the year, I'll go nuts.

Jul 3, 2013


From the site: The ultimate key is simplicity. All you need is to drag, drop and voilĂ ! informative yet stunning visuals can be created with just a few clicks. We at Piktochart strive to make this tool so easy for you that your infographics are created quicker than you can say "infographics"!


From the site: Vocaroo - The premier voice recording service.


From the site: Timetoast is a place to create and share timelines on the web. You can create historical timelines of important events, or build a timeline of your vacation. It's all up to you and your imagination.

Jun 27, 2013

Five Hallmarks of Good Homework

This is really good stuff from Cathy Vatterott--packed full of ideas. I'm going to steal a few paragraphs to demonstrate the potency of the information.
The best homework tasks exhibit five characteristics. First, the task has a clear academic purpose, such as practice, checking for understanding, or applying knowledge or skills. Second, the task efficiently demonstrates student learning. Third, the task promotes owner ship by offering choices and being personally relevant. Fourth, the task instills a sense of competence—the student can success fully complete it without help. Last, the task is aesthetically pleasing—it appears enjoyable and interesting (Vatterott, 2009).

Ideally, homework should provide feedback to teachers about student understanding, enabling teachers to adjust instruction and, when necessary, reteach concepts before assigning practice. Assigning practice prematurely can cause student frustration and confusion.

Projects that require nonacademic skills (such as cutting, gluing, or drawing) are often inefficient. Teachers assign projects like dioramas, models, and poster displays with all the best intentions—they see them as a fun, creative way for students to show what they have learned. But unless a rubric clearly spells out the content requirements, projects may reveal little about students' content knowledge and much more about their artistic talents (Bennett & Kalish, 2006). Even content-rich projects can be inefficient in terms of time spent. Teachers often don't realize how many hours these projects take and how tedious they may be for both student and parent.

If all students are to feel competent in completing homework, we must abandon a one-size-fits-all approach. Homework that students can't do without help is not good homework; students are discouraged when they are unable to complete homework on their own (Darling-Hammond & Ifill-Lynch, 2006; Stiggins, 2007). To ensure homework is doable, teachers must differentiate assignments so they are at the appropriate level of difficulty for individual students (Tomlinson, 2008).

If the homework assignment is to "Study for the test," does that mean memorize facts, review concepts, or learn new material not covered in class? And how do students know what it means? Although a study guide or take-home test that shows students exactly what they need to know is helpful, they don't necessarily have to write or complete anything to study. Teachers should encourage students to create their own best method of reviewing the information, suggesting possible options, such as organizing notes into an outline, writing test questions for themselves, putting important information on note cards, or studying with a partner.

Meaningful homework should be purposeful, efficient, personalized, doable, and inviting. Most important, students must be able to freely communicate with teachers when they struggle with homework, knowing they can admit that they don't understand a task—and can do so without penalty.