Sunday, March 22, 2009

Starting from "Scratch"

On the day after the NJECC conference I participated in a full day workshop on Creating Games from Scratch. Scratch is a free, downloadable programming language, similar in many ways to LOGO which we use through MicroWorlds software in the Lab. Scratch was designed at MIT. According to the official web site (

“Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”

As the workshop progressed it became apparent to all the participants that we had to do a lot of problem solving in order to achieve success at each small level of our projects. I was thankful that I had a LOGO background because it helped with the logical thinking and de-bugging process.

As in MicroWorlds, Scratch can use a figure (a sprite) to animate your project (like the “turtle” in LOGO). Also like MicroWorlds, on other levels of gaming knowledge and ability, projects may be entirely mathematical or language oriented with no visible sprite. We looked at samples of projects that mimicked Pacman, animated soccer games, produced fancy artistic versions of the project-maker's name, and coordinated music with sprite animation. There were also more serious "games:" one that recreated a calculator, one that told you what day of the week you were born on simply by knowing your date of birth, some that informed about holidays, taught lessons about animals, and provided an animated demonstration of the Rubik's cube.

If you'd like to read more about Scratch and someone else's opinion of its value, click here. The One Laptop Per Child computers have Scratch built into them so students around the world are bound to be sharing their projects and building valuable skills for their future working lives.

Whatever type of project a student uses, directly connected to the curriculum or directly parallel to her interests, there's no doubt in my mind that Scratch is a valuable tool students of any age can enjoy. And, after this workshop my brain really hurt!! I hope I have some free time to continue with my project on my own. Scratch certainly gave me an itch for programming!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day at NJECC

There was some wearing of the green today in honor of the holiday, but mostly NJECC's annual conference was a celebration of "Tools and Techniques for Change." Who better as a keynote speaker than Ian Jukes, self proclaimed educational evangelist! Not only did Mr. Jukes give a rousing keynote address but he also presided over a large audience for several hours in the afternoon. His focus was on changing education from a system based on TTWWADI (that's the way we always did it) to one that prepares students for their future rather than our past. Today's students are digital natives. Their brains work differently than those of past generations, mostly by virtue of the barrage of visual media youth are exposed to and choose to use. Digital natives think differently; they think graphically. Did you know that the United States has the shortest school day as well as the shortest school year of any nation with a compulsory education system? As Mr. Jukes pointed out: We're still giving children several months off so they can help with the agricultural harvest of a century ago! In the afternoon session Mr. Jukes was very animated, though admittedly quite exhausted, as he gave example after example of ways in which our current educational programs need overhaul. He continually repeated (and had us repeat) eight key points:
1. Catch up and embrace the digital
2. Teach the whole new mind
3. Literacy isn’t enough; Focus on fluency
4. We need to shift our instructional approach
5, Let students access information creatively via means found in their native environment
6. Let students collaborate
7. Students should be able to create products that reflect content and process
8. Re-evaluate evaluation

Check out Dale's Cone of Learning for a real eye opener!

Another provocative session was titled "Yes You Can! Conquering Copyright Confusion." Kristin Hokanson (Media Education Lab, Temple University) shared lots of information about Fair Use and the best practices for preparing students for media use, both inside and outside the classroom. The purpose of copyright is "to promote creativity, innovation, and the spread of knowledge." Many of us have based our understanding of copyright and fair use on negotiated agreements between media companies and educational groups. The agreements give the appearance of being the law, but they are not. Check out the Media Education Lab's website!

For all the people who attended Lori's and my session on Web 2.0 Tools you can use in your classroom, you can access our presentation below. We'd really appreciate it if you'd also take a few minutes to fill out a survey about Web 2.0 Tools. Thanks so much!

Monday, March 16, 2009

NJECC 2009

Getting ready for the annual conference sponsored by NJECC. We're putting the finishing touches on our presentation, for which we'll provide links on both Lori's and my blogs. I've been realizing, as the day goes by, that motherhood prepares one fairly well for a life of multi-tasking. There were classes without break today, students needing assistance to hook up LCD and speaker systems, students recording podcasts, keyboarding assessments, word search printing problems, default printer settings that were mixed up, no toilet paper in the staff bathroom, first graders doing research, and lots more. This presentation had to take a back seat to everything else today.

Second thing I've noticed is that it's comforting to know so few people ever read my blog that I don't have to worry about posting so frequently :-) Well, I'm sure there will be lots to discuss after the conference, with its variety of speakers and sessions and a workshop to follow on Wednesday. I'm looking forward to it all.

If you attended our NJECC "Web 2.0 in My Classroom" session, please click here to fill out the Post Presentation Wrap-Up Survey

Click here to email me for a .pdf of the "Web 2.0 in My Classroom... Tomorrow!" Presentation

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Week Begins

So, when Monday begins the way mine did, you kind of wonder if you're being presented with an omen. On my way to work I stopped at the bank to deposit a check for my condo association (one of the joys of being treasurer), only to find that there were no deposit envelopes. A ten minute detour that resulted in nothing except a rescheduled bank visit. Back into the car, plugged the iPod into the sound system and five minutes into a classic Satellite Sisters podcast, the iPod screen goes gray, the sound stops, and I couldn't revive it with my free hand. This can't be good! Rummaging around in the console "junk drawer" with my right hand, I located the iPod charger. At the stop light I performed the emergency restart on the now-plugged-in iPod and it came back to life. I was so relieved that I began to relax again. After all, there were two presentations to deliver today.

The omen didn't amount to anything after all and I'm quite relieved about that! The fifth grade class seemed to enjoy my PowerPoint about whales around the world and sharing their own stories of close encounters with marine mammals. The discussion with faculty about Google docs, wikis, and blogs was fine, although a number of people found it easier to joke about Web 2.0 than to embrace it. They'll see... it soon will be impossible to ignore online collaboration. I'm off to compose an email invitation for everyone on the staff to set up gmail accounts as a group activity. Once they do it'll be easy to plunge right in -- I'm determined to make believers of them!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Channel Thirteen Celebration of Teaching and Learning

Here it is, Sunday night, and the to-do list for school isn't getting any smaller. Two presentations, one for students and one for faculty, and a day of classes to plan. I spent Saturday in NYC at the Channel 13 Celebration of Teaching & Learning. What an inspiring group of speakers were at the conference!

Keynote: Temple Grandin, to talk about her autism and the best ways to teach and reach students with autism. "Teach to their strengths" instead of "pounding away at the deficits." Another great quote, "I am what I do more than what I feel." Dr. Grandin is an inspiration because of her achievements and also because she makes difficult topics more easily understood, in her writing and her oral presentations.

Closing speaker: Alan Alda. He's just filled with amusing anecdotes from his own life, his work, and from his new series on PBS that will air in the fall - "The Human Spark." The clips he brought were excellent; promises to be a terrific series. Think about this: What does make us human?

Some of the other sessions I attended were about Darwin (Olivia Judson) and Google Apps for Sharing Best Practices. The teachers and administrators from various NYC schools in the Empowerment program were very impressive. Their descriptions of collaborative work ought to have been heard by Congressional leaders and parents so they'd know how important the public school systems in this country really are.

Last, but not least, let me mention The Electric Company... The "new" Electric Company. My two children were raised by Children's Television Workshop and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Well, those TV shows definitely helped. Sesame Street, TEC and Mr. Rogers reinforced thinking skills, literacy skills, respect and good manners. I'm looking forward to hearing about the part TEC plays in my grandsons' lives!