Saturday, January 19, 2019

Week 2, dond and done


I have to share that I am SOOOOOOOOO happy to be in our new lab. At the start of the week, we explored bellwork keyboarding options including the speed competition online game "Skychase." Watch this little video of student responses at the conclusion of one Skychase round! Just yesterday, the Promethean Board was installed, and we began our first little dip into the world of computer programming with Minecraft Hour of Code. The 5th graders did the Minecraft Adventurer piece and the 6th, 7th and 8th dived (dove?) into the Minecraft Hero's Journeys. Try them yourself!

Prior to that, we had watched the 9 minute video, "Code Stars," featuring celebrity coders such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and even Chris Hill of the Miami Heat, all talking about how coding has enriched their lives and how they first became enthralled with the possibilities it offers. Heck, watch it here and now:

That was ouru week, and we'll be back at it on Tuesday after our Martin Luther King Day holiday on Monday. May you celebrate by talking about how that great man might be stunned if he were able to
witness the events of today. I will not get political, but I will share that I am stunned daily by them. May we all persevere toward a better tomorrow for our country...

Stay warm and dry as we make it through this physical storm that's hitting us as I type!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Welcome Home, Falcons Tech Computer Lab!


You know if you have followed this blog that I came on board with McMurray in the Fall of 2017. I'm not sure I mentioned that in the job interview (the Computer Teacher position I had previously occupied at Warner Elementary School had been "eliminated"), I had been asked "On a scale of 1 to 10, just how flexible would you categorize yourself as being?" I answered "11."

At the time, I did not realize just how true that would need to be. For the whole of the school year 2017-2018, I taught 5th and 6th grades in the morning at the now-leveled-to-the-ground Annex building, the former decrepit Tusculum Elementary School." I would then hop into Huey, my Smart Car, and drive the half mile to McMurray Middle School, where I engaged with my 7th and 8th grade students within a large room rimmed by long tables on which old Apple computers daily tried the patience of all.

For the first two quarters of this school year, 2018-19, the lab was in a portable, look back on earlier posts for pics and descriptions of how we did our best, almost to a person, to learn in that once again challenging situation. Now? That's behind us!

For the final two quarters in this new year I will try to be diligent in posting weekly to this blog. This week, I met my new room on Monday. The boxes I had packed, 10 or so of them, were stacked in the middle of this beautiful room, there were 4 packed carts of computers and monitors, and my lab cart of laptops was there. Also there were 16 brand new computer tables, wrapped around the periphery of the wall, and 6 groups of brand new student desks in what I came to call the "Common Area." All new black chairs, 60 of them, sat ready to welcome the backsides of my 202 new students. I had work to do. I proceeded to set out all the computers and the single printer which had not been used in two years. I met my new students on Tuesday and Wednesday, A Day and B Day.

That first session of each section, the computers were not yet ready. They had to be replaced, mostly, by newer models, thanks to the hard work of Mr. Mike Law, Director of IT Support Services for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Mr. Law, a graduate of McMurray, provided top tier and crucial support in upgrading our hardware to give us the best computer lab the current budget would support. Over time, I hope that we will be able to do even better, but right now? I am a happy computer teacher.

Hearty thanks also to Ms. Audra Calvo and Mr. Lesley Flowers, both Technology Support Specialists assigned to our school, for their hard work every day this past week to get the computers set up, re-imaged (fresh start), and network connected so that our students can hit the ground running next week in their computer lab class. We will maximize the learning with this lab!

I realize this has been a long post so I'm leaving off for now. Please subscribe to this blog so that you will get updates when new posts are added. I'll be providing you with updates on what each class is doing, why, and how. For now, let's give you a few images of the new lab:
Falcons Tech Lab--in progress

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Quarter 2--Finished and Moving On! Happy Holidays!

I want to start this post by thanking you, parents, guardians, caregivers, and students, for persevering through this transitional half-year. It's been a ride. I always shared with the kids that this was a temporary situation, undersupplied with working computers, underpowered in the portable, underprovided with broadband wireless.

They, by and large, have responded with nothing short of heroism. It's clear that flexibility and patience are two virtues that are not typically attributed to middle schoolers. But these children, aided by my own flexibility and patience, have survived. No one failed, everyone learned, and now they can all look forward to a new Related Arts class in Quarter 3 of the 2018-19 school year.

Move on we will. I'm taking a long-postponed vacation with my dear wife, Lee Ann, over break, and when we return the new computer lab will be home to a new group of kids. Nearly 200 new computer class students will start on January 8. Watch for big changes, more success, and much, much more learning.

Many students were enthusiastic about Minecraft and Scratch this past quarter. Here are a few pictures.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Quarter 2Week 7--coding, coding, coding

It's been a minute since I sat down to blog, punctuated by Thanksgiving holiday and a week of introducing Scratch. There is a great deal of set-up for this introduction, but I we got it done.

Scratch is an opensource (click to learn more about that) software that was developed at MIT Media Lab. It's big. According to the website there are now over 3 million student and teacher created projects shared at their website. Watch this to learn more:

Do me a favor, please. Ask your child two questions: 1) What are they doing in computer lab and 2) Why are they doing it. I hope they can answer to your satisfaction. Please let me know if they can't?   Oh, today and Monday of next week, we are watching one of my favorite tech videos, Warriors of the Net. This 1999 (copyright 2002) video is a masterwork of animation and metaphor. It shows, visually and effectively, exactly what happens when you click on a link I's amazing! Want to watch it? Do that!

The rest of the week next week we will be back into Scratch full force. Watch out!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Week 4 of Quarter 2

While enjoying a Sunday morning of our 3 day weekend at home, my wife working on her own laptop across from me at the dinner table, it would seem to be a good time to update here. The upcoming 4 day week, followed by the 2 school-day week of Thanksgiving holiday, we will be continuing our explorations of computer coding with Scratch.

I've written about the challenges of teaching with older laptops in a wireless setting within a portable, and I'm still happy about our use of the Random Name Picker at to assign computers for each class. I have applied for a Dell Technology Innovation Grant in order to bolster our computer hardware for the move into the new lab in January, but for now we are making the best of what we have.

Two notes in that regard: The district's adoption of RePublic Schools' Computer Science curriculum simply fails us in our current setting. I introduced it to 6th, 7th, and 8th in the lab on Thursday and Friday and all but around a third of students were able to successfully submit answers to the questions posed in the introduction. Since it is Scratch based, I intend to start off with Scratch for those grade levels beginning with its tutorial -- the good news is that Scratch seems much less band-width intensive than the RSCS curriculum itself. I will reference it as a tool to use Scratch and we'll go from there, hopefully providing a solid introduction to computer science along the way.

Meanwhile, this past week we have been working a modified Hour of Code exercise in the lab, using the Hour of Code Learn site as a jumping off place. This site is chock full of resources and activities for students of all ages. Thursday and Friday students completed the pretty-cool "Beginning Java" activity. Let's add some pictures of students hard at work:

The 5th graders are navigating co-ordinates in Microsoft Excel, creating the bird of the month (the turkey, of course) in pixel art:

That's all for now. Keep the faith, whatever that means to you and your family, and enjoy the coming winter weather. It's time, don't you think?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Why Allowing Your Students To Talk Can Be An Effective Strategy

Because it's a surprisingly kind thing to do?

I tell my students, who are currently soldiering on through school construction/remodeling, that anytime I am not talking they are free to do so. It can get a little crazy. But, I have to say that if you want your students to feel that they are ready to accept on-task challenges, they must feel comfortable and respected to talk when you are not. It has worked, mostly, quite well in my temporary portable-based computer lab and I intend to continue the practice when we are in the new building, ostensibly in January. Bring it on.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Q2, Week 2 (or Week 1 'Take Two')

I hope everyone had some quality family time over Fall Break. I did a bit of fishing, but mainly rested and gathered strength for the run to Winter Holidays. It's funny how the school year can be punctuated by the holiday breaks, but is is a thing...

This week we did some review of classroom expectations, emphasizing kindness and focus, both of which will come in handy as we dive into some work over the next few weeks. Learning to type faster and more accurately is our bell work, of course, and that will not change. We logged into our email again and we examined how that works and talked about important aspects of safety and appropriateness.

I break my plannings into "sessions" that for the most part start on an A day and end the next, B, day. For the last session all classes visited and viewed the really-very-good short video on "Online Safety." After viewing everyone took a review Quiz and then emailed that quiz to me. I know, my email "blew up," but that's a good way to evaluate whether any students need some clarification on how to perform this process, which will bring them a formative grade for completion (not for their numeric score). On Tuesday, we will repeat the process but do so with Brainpop's "Computer Programming" lesson, both to bolster understanding and to prep for the work we will begin at the end of the week in grades 6-8 in computer programming. More on that at the end of the week.

A few classroom pics:
Panorama of the classroom with children in action. Click to enlarge and pan.

My kids like to double up when need be.
A WINNER in Sky Chase Typing!