Science Fair in a Digital World?

During the last few weeks I have been an observer in the process of a school science fair. When I first heard about this endeavor, I started thinking about, is there a place in this digital world for an old school science fair? Let’s start with what I observed of this process.

Students did preliminary research regarding their science concept, followed by performing the experiment. Then, they reported the experience with poster board displays.The science fair included hypotheses involving animal behavior, the chemistry of fruit preservation, and electrical voltages. But the science fair was not only about science exploration. Over the course of several weeks, the students had to manage their time, in some cases actually redesigning their experiments, make sure they were only testing one variable, and then they created a visual display of their work. Teachers gave support and even class time to guide the students, and the Fifth grade in this school monitored the process with check-ins andposters of encouragement. The result was a room filled with excited students demonstrating all they had learned to their classmates, younger schoolmates, teachers and their parents!

So let’s look at the science fair process through the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills.

Critical Thinking – the students had to solve a problem of their own design.

Creativity – the students had to design an experiment from a problem they were interested in.

Collaboration – (this one is tricky) while no teams were formed for this science fair that does not mean it could not be a component. I did observe students discussing their projects and getting great feedback from each other.

Communication – the science fair was an opportunity for students to express their understanding in a visual format as well as orally during the actual science fair.

So, to answer my own question, yes, a science fair does belong in a digital world. The hands-on experience and the 3 C’s attest to that. Now would I “tech up” the experience? Maybe in an intentional way not just to add technology. Some students are better with oral communication than visual displays. Maybe a differentiated choice could be that they film their experiment and then narrate it with a video program. Just one thought.

Does your school do science fairs? Do you incorporate a digital component? What about allowing for collaboration? Share with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Friday, 25 January 2019.

Academically or Developmentally Ready?

Had a conversation with a parent last week. She was telling me how she and her husband had just watched Apollo 13 with their 5th grade daughter over the weekend. After reassuring their daughter that the astronauts were going to be fine, they all got really engrossed with the film. The 5th grader asked some great questions that they stopped the movie to look up (i.e. Google). They enjoyed the experience so much that she was looking for other movies like that to watch together. Our conversation continued with us discussing the movies, plays and books that some parents expose their kids to at young ages.

I have noticed that many parents do not take the time to determine if a movie, book or TV program is appropriate for their child. To me it is a question of developmentally ready. Is a child developmentally ready for certain themes, scenes or ideas? Just becasue a movie is based on a comic book, does not mean that it is meant for children. Many comics are intended for adults and the movies made from them contain mature ideas.As a Principal, I was often asked by parents what could their voracious reader read next? Harry Potter? The Lightening Thief? My answer was always grounded in the particular child’s developmental stage.

Multiple factors need to be taken into account when determining if your child is developmentally ready for an experience. A good starting point is the chld’s age. Other considerations are birth order, cultural considerations, child’s temperment, the intended audience, and child’s background knowledge. It is important for each family to make viewing/reading decisions based on these factors as they relate to their family.

Let’s take a moment to look at one of these factors. Birth Order. In my opinion, parents are more likely to take into consideration whether their first born child is ready for the book, movie, etc. (maybe it is a case of… is the parent ready to acknowledge their oldest child is ready for certain experiences). But younger siblings can be made aware of topics and ideas through dinner conversations involving the older sibling. These younger siblings then have the background knowledge to potentially be developmentally ready for a movie or TV program than their classmates. As my sons were growing up, we would often discuss that what we consider appropriate for our family may not be for a friend’s family. And the other way, my husband and I would say that ‘does not work for our family,’ when something was brought to us for approval.

A quick note, the intended audience of the book/movie should be considered. Having observed elementary students at theater productions that are intended for adult audiences, I wonder if a parent is prepared for the questions that may arise. In discussions, I have been told ‘it will just go over their heads.’ If topics will not be understood by a child, then what is the point of exposing them at this point? For some curious children, this non-understood concept may lead to exploration to get the meaning.

So how do you know what the intended audience is? Or what the story involves? There are some great resources out their. Amazon has editorial reviews by librarians and authors. Reading what other customers have said also can inform a parent as to how their child may respond (i.e. temperment). CommonSense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org) has reviews that include age suggestions, how many positive messages or illicit behavior, and a section on what parents need to know.

Also refer parents, and yourself, to the school Librarian, often an underutilized faculty member. Don’t forget that you can and should be a great resource for your classroom or school parents.

Remind parents that there is plenty of time for their child to be exposed to ideas and events. It is important to recognize what their child is ready to understand without overwhelming them or frightening them.

How do you support parents in their quest to determine whether their child is academically or developmentally ready for some media? Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on  Friday, 11 January 2019.

How to improve…Practice!

Want to get better at something? Then practice it! Been feeling a bit frustrated that some educators and parents seem to think that students will improve in reading just because we are assessing their reading skills. No. Some think that students will improve their individual reading skills because they are reading short passages in an anthology once or twice a week. No. Just like all skills, reading must be consistently practiced.

That is not to say that there are not other factors that contribute to reading development. Having plenty of books available for our readers is one. Modeling good fluency and reading comprehension when reading aloud is another. Making personal connections to the story. And there are abundant articles for parents and entire books written to support reading instruction in the classroom.

The bottom line…all the articles, books, and advice have one thing in common. One must read to get better at reading. Set aside reading times in class and at home.

A basketball player is not going to have a consistent 3-point shot without hours of practice. A dancer will not learn a new routine or a new dance move without practicing. A pianist must practice to grow into move difficult arrangements. Gamers practice their digital prowess.

So let’s talk with our reluctant readers about topics they like and show them book after book till they find one they enjoy. Let’s do book talks to introduce new genres and titles to all our readers. Let’s DEAR. Let’s integrate science and social studies into our Language Arts classes through novels. Let’s use picture books to introduce a STEAM challenge. Let’s fill our classroom and school libraries with books!

Mostly, let’s have the students read!!

How are you encouraging reading in your classroom or school? Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Thursday, 27 December 2018.

Loving Legos Again

So let’s be honest, I have always loved Legos! When I say that I am loving Legos again, it is because I have started writing some new Lego Challenges for the schools that I am working with. I am also curating some fun new ones from Pinterest. I will share some of my new ones when I finish creating this batch. No sense in not sharing and using social media for good contributions!

What made me love Legos again? A trip to Legoland-Florida with my nephew and husband. Who can’t be inspired by all the awesome Lego creations through out the park! 

 So, I came home from Legoland and decided that one of my client schools could benefit from Lego Challenges. What are the benefits to Lego Challenges? According to The Scots College in Australia, there are eight important benefits to using Legos in the classroom, https://www.tsc.nsw.edu.au/tscnews/eight-educational-benefits-of-playing-with-lego.For me the three that stand out are Lego develops problem solving and mathematical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. Using the directions supports attention to detail while giving no directions or minimum parameters allows for practice with problem solving. When students are teamed for a Lego challenge, the opportunity to communicate postively and collaborate on a solution is seamlessly integrated in the activity.

And the benefits are not just for elementary students, but for preschool through adulthood. The same advantages to building with Legos that pertain to kids, also applies to adults. What a great way to model positve collaboration than to get involved with solving the Lego challenge with your students. Or invite your parents in for an evening of Lego building.

How to start using Legos effectively as a teaching tool? For me, it begins with creating Lego boxes. On the left are the boxes I put together for a client school. On the right is the set that was put together for a different school. This second school also has a huge bin available for students to use for free builds and for exchanging bricks. 

After the boxes are ready, let the fun begin! Check out Pinterest for some great challenge ideas. Here are some I have adapted from Pinterest and ones I have come up with on my own (determine which grade levels these most apply to in your class/school):

  • Create a musical note.
  • Create a catapult.
  • Create a LEGO sculpture then write a LEGO instruction booklet for others to create your design.
  • Create a helicopter.
  • You were just made ruler over your own country. Design a flag for your new land.
  • Build a bridge out of Legos! Challenge is to build a bridge that can support the weight of 100 pennies in a small cup.
  • What can you build with ___________bricks? (change the amounts to add difficulty)

So start loving Legos again too! Reach out with your Lego Challenge ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Friday, 30 November 2018.

What is your Objective?

Several years ago, I was conferencing with a teacher. She said that she did not have enough time to do all the activities she had for her unit. In fact she had a wonderful new activity she wanted to add to to the unit plan. I stopped her and asked, “What is your Objective?” She then told me what the objective was for that unit and I asked if all the activities were necessary to address the objective. That made her pause for a moment and she answered ‘but all the activities are so fun.’ We then looked at all the activities and decided which ones directly moved the students towards mastering the objective, which allowed for addressing differentiated learning styles, and which gave the opportunity for critical thinking. After this joint review, the teacher had a more manageable and effective set of learning opportunities for this objective. Further, we had identified which of the discarded activities could replace a chosen one in the future for variety (for the teacher).

As I write this post, I reminded myself of a similar post I have written entitled Intentionshttps://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/intentions. In that post, I was more focused on the too frequent use of technology for tech’s sake. I was encouraging educators to decide on their learning objectives and integrate technology resources that align with the objectives. Recently at a Teacher Innovation Day I led, the teachers and I discussed this idea relating it to the SAMR Framework (substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition) of technology integration. It was a wonderful discussion involving the teachers looking at their own tech integrated lessons and how these fit into the SAMR Framework. Yet, one teacher then told me that she had changed how she wanted to culminate an upcoming unit with students creating a diorama. But she was also going to have them video themselves explaining each panel of the diorama. I asked her why the video, and she said it was because she wanted to integrate technology. We discussed how a diorama and a video could both be a culminating presentation that can assess their understanding of the unit. Having the students do both is an example of tech for tech’s sake. She came to the conclusion that she would have the students do one presentation method for this unit and the other for the next, to give the students a variety of strategies for demonstrating their learning. She took it a step further saying that their next teachers could have the students choose which presentation method to use since they would have been introduced to several.

When you begin planning with an objective in mind, you then have the ability to differentiate for your students’ needs. You can identify ways to address their academic differences, their social-emotional readiness, and even how to include their interests into the plan. An objective lets you decide what content and how much content to introduce. An objective will guide you incorporating varying teaching styles to adjust to learning styles. Without an objective, there can be no adjustments to the lessons as these lessons are just activities with no framework.

Starting with the objective should be the guiding force behind unit and lesson planning. How that objective will be met by the students is then decided by choosing the most effective, appropriate resources and activities. Reach out with your thoughts via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 07 November 2018.

Intentional Add-On

 I have been working on a workshop presentation, Digital Citizenship, How Am I Supposed To Teach This? As I work through the segment as to why you should teach Digital Citizenship, I have found myself saying that teaching Digital Citizenship should not be done as add-on lessons but rather integrated into the curriculum. In fact it should and can be integrated into all areas of the curriculum. But… maybe there are times when it is appropriate for Digital Citizenship be an add-on.

Could Digital Citizenship lessons be an add-on, just like mini-lessons about going on a filed trip. Don’t you incorporate a few mini-lessons on how to behave on a field trip prior to going? Reminders to stay with the group and chaperones, to be mindful of the other patrons of the museum (theater, park, supermarket, add your field trip place here), the connection to the curriculum, maybe directions for the activity planned for the field trip. These field trip lessons are add-ons but the field trip is integrated with the curriculum. The lessons are important safety/social-emotional lessons as well. Aren’t mini-lessons about a new website also important safety/social-emotional lessons add-ons.While the actual Digital Citizenship lessons about what information to share on the website and how to navigate to and within the website are not curriculum related, the website was chosen for its ability to enhance the curriculum.

What about lessons on Digital Health? This is related to concerns over screen time and digital addiction. These issues are at the forefront of a lot of parental debate about teens using digital resources in school and out. Is it not a worthy add-on in middle and high school classes? Don’t these types of discussions have potential long range effects on students’ digital lives? So isn’t it worth the class time to make the students aware of their current digital habits and how to manage their future digital habits?

As I have written in a previous blog post, Not Just One Week (https://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/not-just-one-week), Digital Citizenship can not be a once a year set of lessons. To guide students into consistently using the skills and ideas of Digital Citizenship will require practice and feedback over time. By finding ways to “hack the standards” as described by Kirsten Mattson in her book, Digital Citizenship in Action, Empowering Students to Engage in Online Communities, teachers can incorporate Digital Citizenship into the curriculum they are already teaching. When you are using a new anchor chart that you discovered on Pinterest, let the students know that you found this idea in an online community. Teach Keyword searches for a report or presentation research, just as you would explain how to find information in the school library. Give students the choice to create a digital infographic to express their understanding of topic.

Are you integrating Digital Citizenship into your classroom? Would love to hear how you are doing this. Looking for more ways? Reach out via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Thursday, 27 September 2018.

Celebrate the Good

The world seems so much smaller these days because of social media and the ability to contact people anytime anywhere. But walking in schools, I still get the feeling sometimes that classrooms are each in their own silo. Reaching out within a school does not often seem to happen as much as reaching out on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe it is because we are more concerned with having our teaching styles judged by those we see daily? But to build a cohesive culture within our schools we need to reach out to each other for support, encouragement and celebrations.

With this goal in mind, I started adding a new piece in my weekly emails toa school I consult with. I now include a celebration segment. This could be a photo or video or just a description of something that was great or a lesson that went better than expected, or small measure of joyfulness in a classroom during the past week. I am hoping to generate a culture that sees the process and the excitement of learning as a reason to celebrate.

In my former role as Principal in my daily emails to faculty, I would often thank teachers for programs they put on with their students. I felt it that just like students, hearing appreciation out loud should happen frequently. Real praise that states what is being appreciated resonates beyond the moment into those times that we need to remember that we are capable and accomplished.

I have learned that the small successes are what life is built upon. I also tried to encourage the teachers to visit other classrooms to see how certain things were being accomplished. This way I was not the only “coach/expert” in the school. Encouraging teachers to talk about their classrooms with each other made the walls disappear and cultivated not just a feeling of congeniality among the teachers but substantial support for teachers who needed a lift, idea or just a smile.

How do you celebrate achievements or ‘good tries?’ Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter or Instagram, @edtechease. 

Orginally posted on Thursday, 13 September 2018.

Percolating Time

So, when I decided to write a blog, I envisioned myself sitting down at my kitchen table and spending an hour here, an afternoon there, writing. Well, I was wrong. Well mostly wrong. Often I start a blog that way. Maybe a paragraph or just a sentence. But I have learned from writing letters to parents or articles for school newsletters, that I need to think through an idea in my head and then let it flow. So it is with my blog posts. I often find myself getting out of bed and heading to the kitchen and standing at my counter and letting my thoughts push out of my fingers onto my keyboard. Why am I telling you all this? Because I think sometimes we expect our students to be given assignments and expect them to get right down to it, particularly with our writing assignments.

As we get ready to start a new school year, I think we need to take this idea into consideration. How do we include percolating time into our school day? How can we let students create connections to new ideas, concepts, math procedures before they are expected to construct an assignment?

Could you add a minute or two the lesson at the end, just to think about what was just taught, discussed, introduced? Now, you may be saying that the students may not actually think about the lesson. You may be right but giving them a “brain break” may actually give them time to process the information. Eric Jensen suggests “do what you can to give students a way to let the content settle. Ideas include taking time for breaks…” (Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2005).

What about a “brain dump?” Letting the students write down everything they remember about the lesson.

When it comes to writing, give the topic or the writing genre ahead of time. Maybe include the writing assignment in a Morning Message (for all of you Responsive Classroom teachers). This way the students have time to think about what they want to write about for the assignment. Thinking maps are a great way to get the ideas out there before actually writing. Maybe that could be the homework for the night, just writing down ideas. You have then given them time to process the assignment and time to think of ideas in the privacy of their home. For those who get frustrated with classmates who can get right to work, this eliminates one element of frustration.

When I taught Kindergarten, I soon learned which students needed me to do a mental 3-5 count before I prompted their answer. They truly need to process their responses and when rushed to answer immediately when I called on them meant I received no answer or a poor one. This was not an accurate measure of what they knew nor the quality answer they were capable of giving. We need to remember that a “3-5 count” is needed at other times as well.

So after several starts and stops, this blog post is done. How do you let ideas or lessons percolate for students? Share your thoughts (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/ or on Instagram (edtechease). 

Originally posted on  Thursday, 16 August 2018.

Freedom

This week is July 4th week. Freedom is the idea running around in mind this week. What is freedom? So I posted the following on Twitter: 

Been writing a new blog post & July 4th has been on my mind. So I started to write a list of what FREEDOM is then I realized, I would like to ask others what FREEDOM is. So I am asking… some of the answers will be in my next post. 

Here are some of the answers:

FREEDOM to write what you think.

FREEDOM to fail and try, try again.

FREEDOM to disagree.

FREEDOM to be more similar than different.

FREEDOM to be what you are.

FREEDOM to carve out your place.

FREEDOM to impress ourselves.

FREEDOM to educate our kids in ways that suit them.

Here are a few more: 

I finished gathering quotes for this post while watching the Macy’s 4th of July program. So some of the answers came from people interviewed. Thoughts on freedom were chosen with positive in mind. Thanks to all those who helped me write this blog! Share your thoughts on the idea of freedom (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/). 

Originally posted on Friday, 06 July 2018.

Let the Creativity Flow

These days as a consultant, my students are the teachers and administrators in my client schools. So when I have the opportunity to meet with students and model some of the ideas that I am discussing with the faculty, I jump at the chance.

This occurred recently on a consultation in North Carolina. I was demonstrating the ease of use of a fun little robot called Evo by Ozobot (https://ozobot.com/products). I had brought Evo with me to demonstrate how even our littlest learners could code with colors but also how older learners can get really creative with their coding. So, as two administrators and I were “playing,” two middle school girls wandered in the room and instantly became fascinated with the Evo. 

We put a parameter on the tracks that each end had to go to the edge of the paper so that we could connect the tracks.

Listening to the collaboration of each group was a great way for the teacher to get some insight into their problem solving strategies. But the best part for me was the conversations that erupted when we put the tracks together. What their thoughts were when Evo had trouble maneuvering the tracks and when it went smoothly. The ideas for revamping the tracks and of course the pleas for the teacher/admin to buy these for the school so they could do this more.

When students are given the opportunity to let their creativity flow, the learning is not something that can be found in a textbook.

Share your thoughts. (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/)

Originally posted on Thursday, 21 June 2018.