Why Your Elementary School Needs A Blogging Mascot


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Our brilliant librarians have a few cute friends who make appearances through the year and who I personally have enjoyed interactions with.  I still feel terrible about the bacon joke I made in front of Rita the Pig, but she has a great sense of humor.

In teaching what a blog is to younger kids, they’ve often heard the word “blog”, but have little chance to interact with a blog in an authentic way.  Last year, I showed the blog from “Dog with a Blog” and they enjoyed it because many have seen the TV show.  But, still, I wanted to something more personal.  Someone they could relate to, post comments to, and interact with on a more personal level.   Someone whose videos and writings could be what a good blog post is.

Meet Pearl.  Yes, she even has an adorable PreK smock on.  Seriously- just like the kiddos wear.  And now? Pearl’s going to start blogging.  While Pearl is feeling a bit sheepish about joining the blogging world, she’s ready to exercise her voice and model digital citizenship, or what I like to call “global citizenship,” because Pearl is just as kind in person as she is online.  For starters, and what Pearl can help emphasize:

  • She never uses her last name.eh1
  • She never tells the name of her school or home address online.
  • She only shares comments when they are kind, honest, responsible, and respectful.
  • She is hoping she’ll receive comments from around the world, so that our students will understand that a global network means the school, the neighborhood, the world.

Pearls of Wisdom (Thanks for that amazing idea, E.H!) is launching soon to an internet near you.  For now, Pearl is enjoying her last few days of summer lounging by the pool with a good book, The Portait of a Sheep, a book ewe would love.

So, does your school have a mascot that could blog?  Older students could help write the posts, younger students could learn about commenting and interact with the blog.  You could even have a paper version of the blogger that could travel the world to show true global interaction.  The best way to teach our global citizen’s skills is to model for them, and what better way to model them than through a fun blogger that kids will enjoy, written just for them?

Pearl’s hoping she can leave comments for other friends and is going to be building a blog roll.  We hope you’ll join us!







Unless You Want School to Be Boring

I hated math when I was a kid.  Not just disliked it, I couldn’t stand it.  Why? Because I hated doing 800 problems of the same thing.  The repetition and practice was so boring and the unimaginative word problems about apples and cats were even worse.  I honestly think it’s why I still despise textbooks.  I see them as soul-draining devices that suck the fun and joy from learning.

Today I learned more about using Turtle Art.   I realized one thing, I totally shouldn’t have hated math when I was a kid.  Math is all about creativity and problem solving.  Math is art, patterns, shapes, designs, and so much more.  So why was I only exposed to 800 problems on a page?  Because we standardize everything and run kids through the motions. And we bore them.

I’m not a math teacher, and I won’t pretend to be a math expert.  I’m a learner and today when I was learning about coding in Turtle Art, I was amazed at the math skills involved in creating art using this program.

Angles.  Distance.  Greater or Less. Range.  Geometry. Addition. Subtraction. Directions. Problem solving. Patterns. Fractions. Symmetry. Rotational Symmetry. Reflection.

I could go on.  All of these skills, practiced in an authentic way, would have made me fall in love with math.  And you know what?  It would have made those 800 problems bearable. Sure there are skills we need, but if I never get the chance to use those skills in an authentic way?  I really don’t care about them.  Except I wanted my gold star.

Today?  I wanted to know what numbers to put in to make a colorful flower.  I wanted to try things and figure it out.  I needed help, but not too much, because I wanted to figure it out on my own.  Because the way my brain was stretching?  It felt good.  Real thinking, the kind that ends with satisfaction and pride.  The kind that is so much better than an A or a gold star.  The kind that’s real.

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Making Across the Curriculum for Elementary & Primary

Making is not just about STEAM, reserved for science class, or even meant to be just an activity for after school.  Making across the curriculum can change the way students are thinking, interacting, collaborating, and engaged.  Gather some simple materials, offer students the chance to design, create, and dream up a new way to engage and connect with the world.  For example, integrating making into reflecting on a favorite book, creating to demonstrate a concept visually, investigating and interpreting the use of materials to show thinking?  It takes learning to a whole new level, allows students to drive, and best of all? It can be FUN!   It can be overwhelming to look at the products and projects floating around the internet and people often ask, “Where do I even begin?”  Here are a few simple ways to get started with making in your classroom – no matter what subject you teach!

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cropped-chibitronics_logo_textChibitronics Circuit Stickers:  These little LED stickers, when paired with adhesive copper tape can make a super fun way to create light up art. It’s a great idea to sketch out the design first  to help determine where to place the tape.

Project possibilities: Add lighting to a map, design and build a cardboard house and wire it yourself with paper circuits to add lighting – you could even find the area and perimeter of rooms in that house and determine how much it might cost to wall paper it! Create a poem and light up the rhyming words.  Write a book, create the pages, and add lights.  Create a light up graph with your data for a presentation.

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Little Bits: Snap together magnetic modules for instant connection and cause and effect exploration. Power + Input + Wire + Output.  Make adjustments and choices in the module you use, and the possibilities for creative fun and design are endless.  Bits are reusable, easy to tinker with, and ready to go when you open the box upon delivery.

Project possibilities: Create a monument for a famous person you are studying and add a part that spins or lights up.  Choose a favorite book character and incorporate a sensor, Mp3 recording of the character talking, and a speaker.  Instead of just filling in a diagram of the life cycle of a butterfly, create a working, spinning model to show a scientific concept. Develop a weather detector by using the CloudBit, IFTTT.com, and the number output.

Pop Up Circuit Cards:  This isn’t a kit, but there are lots of ideas around the web for getting started with creating pop ups.  Add a few pop up books to spark the imagination, and some plain paper to practice folding, and get started.  Add in some basic LED lights, copper tape, and simple batteries and light up designs make for even more fun.   The Chibitronics shared above could work great for this, too.

Project Ideas:  If one character gave a pop up card to another character, what would it look like?  Create a pop-up Haiku or other poetry.  Instead of a presentation with keynote, design a pop up to tell the story. Experiment with 3d shapes and take math to another level.  Since pop-ups have an outside of the card and an inside, design a cause and effect story, a before and after tale, or an abstract to demonstrate a concept like water cycle or plant growth.

ArtBot:  Using basic parts and some markers, design a robot that moves his way around to create art.  There are tons of project ideas all around the web, and be sure to let kids experiment with different parts, markers, and designs.

Project Ideas:  Experiment by timing the art bot for a designated amount of time, measure the circumference of his design. Analyze the data and create a graph to compare with a friend’s design.  Learn more about friction by experimenting with different surfaces or writing materials. Write a story about the adventures of Art Bot.weareallmakers2
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These ideas will help get your students (and you!) started, but don’t stop there.  As the comfort level increases, open things up even more.  The next time a student asks, “What if I….?”  be open to saying, “Find out!” or if someone asks, “Can I…?”  Ask yourself “Why not?” The most frightening thing as a teacher can be that relinquish of “control,” but the reward for opening the door to student driven learning is waiting – and worth it.  All you have to do is get started.

There Is No Innovation Drive-Thru in Education

nodrivethruThere is no boxed-learning with a huge smiley face. There’s no place to pull up, place an order, and get it at the window in five minutes flat. It’s not quick. It’s not easy. And it’s not even something for sale.

It’s changing the shape of the restaurant, re-routing the delivery of the meal, and serving a variety of open ended, build your own experiences. It’s serving an idea, but having that idea be an ingredient in a whole new meal. It’s more about big questions than detailed plans. The question is more than the appetizer, it’s the meal. To chew, devour, munch, and enjoy. To share with a friend. To add your own toppings, mix things up, and try a variety of recipes.

Because that? It’s where the learning is.  In the process.  When we innovate in education, it’s in the design of the learning experience, not the finished product.   A kit, a boxed experienced, a structured-textbook-lesson offers a bit of knowledge. But learning?  It’s when we turn the chef’s hat over to the kids and see what they can cook up.  The ingredients are the devices, questions, and resources. Combined with creativity, time, space, and support, and kids will create a meal that tastes better than we ever imagined. And you know what? They’ll want to keep coming back for more. And so will we.

The Future Is Here: Apple Watch Excitement

applewatchWhen I look at the technology that’s happening around us, it’s exciting. One day I know we’ll look back on this time as a turning point in education. Technology is no longer an event, it’s become part of our everyday. Devices are a part of our culture. Around us, even wearable.  While we depend on it, we also know it’s not always the answer.  And we’re able to recognize those times when hands on, tactile learning is what our students need. But, we’re also able to recognize through times when technology becomes a means to transform an environment into something we once couldn’t even imagine.

And today’s delivery of the Apple Watch? I’m sure it’s only going to get better.

Glide: Live videos taken with your iPhone, but incoming videos are viewed right on your wrist. Instead of a 30 minute Skype call once a month, your classroom could have an ongoing collaboration with a partner class in another location. Students could share their learning via Glide videos. Imagine the collaboration that would happen? Globally.

HeyDay – The Automatic Photo Journal:  Students could create an ongoing journal of their own learning. Self-reflection through speaking into their watch as a “Quick Note,” taking photos with their iPhone, and it will all be recorded in a day by day fashion that can be looked back through.  That science experiment you’re recording observations for just became data you can easily flip through on your wrist.

Quip: Sync your Google Drive with your watch. Chat about your project with students in another location.

Fitness: There are several fitness apps, so I didn’t narrow down to just one.  But, imagine if Physical Education and recess become times students schedule on their own and their watch records their goals and results? What if a student needs a break and goes to take a jog on the track? Certainly roles in the learning environment would change, but what if fitness had choices involved and recess was full of options?

Organization for All Students:  Executive functioning skills are a struggle for many students. Planning and creating goals becomes easy with the Apple Watch.  Imagine a student getting a gentle tap signal to remind them to head to another classroom, or to meet with a project group, or even to get on the bus.  The Watch suddenly becomes a tool to help students succeed in areas where they struggle, without calling attention to them across the room.  A student with Autism that might need soothing music can cue it up into bluetooth headphones that are just part of the environment. A struggling reader has a dictionary on their wrist for extra assistance. And Siri?  We can ask Siri anything.

And then a few more things that caught my attention about the Apple Watch… Starwood Hotels will allow you to use your watch as your room key.   You can use the Apple Watch as a remote shutter for your iPhone. Set up the shot, move away and take the pic, all while seeing the shot on your watch screen.  Also a favorite? Sick. It will tell you your risk for local illnesses, and even warn you “Attention! You’re near a strep throat report.”

I can’t help but ask a million questions, starting with, “What will this mean for schools device policies? What about teaching as a lecturer versus putting the student in control?  What about providing every student the power to succeed, whether their tool is a set of glasses with video, a smart watch, an ipad to record, or whatever they need.

We’re teaching in a different time.  We’re not preparing for the future. It’s here. And it’s awesome.