Monday, March 30, 2015

Building Foundation

We talk all the time about how important a strong foundation is.  There's also a quote that expresses this in a slightly different, yet inspiring way.  The goal of parenting is to "give your kids wings, and give them roots."

"They have mastered many skills," she [Marnie Diem] said.
"Just this week, some students and I presented a workshop at the
Michigan Association for Computer Use in Learning.  The teachers
were very impressed with the skill levels of the students.
I felt like a proud mom.  I was in tears, I was so pleased with
what they had learned."  (Yes, I'm a sap!)
I think that we are lucky in Bloomfield Hills.  We have a supportive board, supportive administrators, and now, a fantastic foundation.

The mission of the Bloomfield Hills Schools Foundation is "to support the BHS by engaging with our community in funding innovative and unique academic and enrichment programs that continue our tradition of providing the best in public school education."

In other words, the Foundation is willing to support our roots.

And the grants they award help teachers spread our wings.

I'm lucky, I've been awarded two grants from the Foundation, both of which have drastically impacted the learning experiences in my classroom.  And yes, I just submitted my third grant application.  This would bring a set of iPad keyboards to my Thinkers, making our constant use of Google Classroom that much simpler.

Support comes in many forms when you're an educator - sometimes it's the parent who helped organize the new math materials you ordered.  Sometimes it's the group of parents that organize the class parties.  Sometimes it's the email from a colleague thanking you for your help with something.  Sometimes it's a scribbled note from a third grader proclaiming their love for you.  And sometimes it's in the form of financial support.  Whatever it may be, it is appreciated!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tech Lab? Meet Minecraft.

Tech Lab, new this year, has become quite an experience.  I know that both Ann and I look forward to it each week, and from what we hear from the kids, they also enjoy our tech time together.

Thus far we've done one project - creating app reviews - and explored coding both unplugged and online.  Coding has been a smashing success with the kids, and all of them have taken it home to their own devices to continue trying to decode and create using technology.

However.  We have started a project that is really, really neat.

My Thinkers have been using Minecraft now since January.  They have become quite proficient (who am I kidding, they already knew more than me at day one!) and have completed some pretty incredible projects (more on those later.)

The second graders are currently studying landforms.  Minecraft has lots of landforms.  Can you see where I'm going with this?

Yes!  We spent two weeks with the teams exploring Minecraft in search of landforms.  Once they found one, they took a screenshot of the landform and saved it.  After each team had at least five landforms, we headed into part two.

Part two involved Google Classroom.  The teams created slide shows using Google Slides, showcasing the landforms they found in Minecraft.  They also answered a few questions to connect the project to their overall learning.

Not only was the project fun, technology based, and a direct curriculum integration, it was also uber engaging and totally worth repeating!  The kids had a blast, both grades, and created presentations for which they are quite proud!

Monday, March 23, 2015

MACUL: Presenting!

Would you believe me if I told you that I was a very shy child growing up?  I remember one summer at camp, I was in a theater class (don't know what I was thinking!) and even though I was just playing a barn animal, I was terrified to get on stage!  And in 6th or 7th grade (middle school is all a blur) we had to give a speech a month.  Except I was so terrified of public speaking, that I would be absent the day of and the day after, so I could turn in a written copy instead of actually speak!  I didn't actually give my first speech until junior year of high school, that's how terrified I was.

Which makes what I'm about to say somewhat of a shock, at least to me.

I LOVED presenting at Macul!  It was So. Much. Fun!

I think it also helps that most people at Macul are there because they want to be, and are looking to learn things they want to learn - way different, unfortunately, than most professional development provided by schools.

The first presentation for this year was right after the opening keynote.  It was about Twitter for Teachers - beginner twitter, that is!  I loved this session because like in class, there were so many lightbulbs going off throughout our hour together!  I love being able to expose people to tools that can have such drastic impact on their educational practices!

Friday morning, one of my colleagues and I opened the day with an 8:30 presentation on Tech Lab.  This is something we created this year, and as it's a work in progress, we wanted to share it with others who might be interested.  It was one of those interactive sessions, as the audience was encouraged to share their ideas, too!  

Tech Lab is basically a weekly "special" that my third graders, and her second graders, get together to learn about different technology tools.  Projects we've done include coding unplugged, Scratch Jr., App Reviews, and creating presentations on Google Slides.  It's been such an exciting journey and it was great to share with others!

At this point, we were able to get to ONE session.  Again, it was well worth it, though, spending much of my Macul time presenting and supporting my students.

My final presentation was a favorite one, as I've done it twice before in my district.  I like to call it "iPad as Teacher's BFF" and sharing how my iPad has become my right hand, and simplified life in my classroom is always fun.

Leaving Macul is always bittersweet.  I feel like I'm leaving behind an extended family that is a huge part of my world, despite the fact that I only see most of them on twitter.  On the upside, when I leave, I always leave with "new friends" in my circles than with which I came, and I always feel energized from connecting with "old friends" that I usually only "see" via twitter.

Technology may be a pretty big deal, but it was clear this year, as it is always year, that education isn't about the technology, it's about the relationships.  And Macul?  A wonderful place to build relationships!

See you in Grand Rapids in 2016!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

MACUL: Student Showcase

This year I met my goal of bringing a student showcase to MACUL.  Except.  Well.  I didn't bring just one.  This year MACUL held their first ever MakerSpace, and I had a group of Thinkers showcasing their skills there, too.

The upside?  It was INCREDIBLE watching my students shine on both Thursday and Friday.

The downside?  I scheduled myself out of actually going to presentations this year!  Between presenting three sessions, and hosting two showcases?  Yeah.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely and completely YES!


 The Student Showcase on Thursday was amazing!  I had five of my third grade Thinkers there, and they were presenting their learning adventures on Minecraft.  Here's the thing with this group - because I was presenting right up until 11, and the Student Showcase kicked off at 11, that meant they were on their own for set up.  Yes, their families were there, but the kids were really the ones driving the bus.  And drive they did!

By the time I made it upstairs, not only did they have the laptops up and running, the table cloth on the table, the trifold they created prominently displayed, AND they organized themselves so that each of them was responsible for one aspect of our Minecraft experiences.  That in itself blew me away!  But the way they responded to the audience?  They.  Were.  On.  Fire!

Then, Friday rolled around, and I had five more Thinkers on board.  Four of them were my current third graders, and one was a returning Thinker, currently in sixth grade.  The topic for Friday?  Scratch and TinkerCad.  Two things you don't generally see out of third graders.

Once again, the kids were on fire.  They were the only group of students presenting on Friday, and while we were only scheduled for an hour, they presented for nearly two!  To see these peanuts explaining ThinkerCad, and how they use it to design things for our 3D printer..... and demonstrating how Scratch is for more than gaming, you can also make movies....

I shed more tears at this year's MACUL than one would think possible.  From the moving opening keynote to the two showcases.  I felt like a proud parent watching my kiddos shine!

Best part? They've already volunteered to come to Grand Rapids next year for whatever it is we decide to showcase then!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Goals: MACUL

My first MACUL experience was two years ago when it was at Cobo.  That would be, um, March 2013.  It was Ah-May-Zing!  I felt like I was home!  Surrounded by people who are interested in educational technology from those taking their first venture in to those with enviable experience - those two days were magical!

I went with my friend Erica, who was teaching at a private school in Lake Orion at the time.  On our drive home from day two, I remember very clearly saying that next year, I'd present, and the following year, when it was back at Cobo, I'd bring a student showcase.

Welp.  Here we are.  March 2015.  Back at Cobo.  Goals?  Smashed.

In Grand Rapids at MACUL 2014, I presented two sessions.  One was a two-hour hands on session on classroom websites.  The second was a one hour session on taking baby steps into the world of educational technology.  It was nerve-wracking, presenting to peers from across the state and beyond, but, once again, I found myself among my "peeps," those who are looking to gain more knowledge and experience in the world of educational technology.

That's goal two, checked off the list.

This year.  MACUL 2015.  Back at Cobo.  Goal? Bring a student showcase.  Met goal?


Smashed it out of the park.

Not only did I present three sessions, I also had TWO student showcases.  One on Thursday for the regular showcase, and one on Friday, as a part of MACULs first ever MakerSpace.

Let me tell you, I may not be a parent, but watching my Thinkers sharing their learning experiences with completely strangers?  I did tear up.  Multiple times.  They blew me away.  But that's a whole different post.

It was a bit surreal, to see my goals realized like that.  But now I get to set new ones..... Key note?  Featured presenter?  Not sure yet, but I do know, come Grand Rapids 2016, I'll be back with student showcases, presentations, and this time around, I get to help organize the MakerSpace!