Sunday, September 18, 2016

Things Learned at the Singapore #GAFEsummit with @EdTechTeam

I'm sitting on a flight fro Singapore to Tokyo at the moment with one of my best buddies, Adam Bellow, right next to me. This is the first leg of a 23 hour trek home. I assumed I would be so tired after a weekend of presenting and countless hours traveling to be part of the Singapore GAFE Summit, but I'm not. My mind is racing with possible ideas and future projects with educators on the other side of the world of me. I wanted to share some takeaways from this trip that I think can be helpful to those that are considering attending any EdTech Team Summit.

1. A very special shout out to my district for letting me attend and present at this conference. I had to miss class and that is never a fun thing to do. However, I have made some amazing connections, got some great ideas from the Singapore American School's library and Makerspace that I would love to see implemented in the space at our school. For admins out there that are hesitant to send teachers out of the classroom to attend conferences, know that the short term investment of a sub and lost teacher instructional time is easily made up in the long term benefits of new ideas, innovation, connections and so much more that can be brought back to your school and/or district.

2. Meeting new people that I'm angry it has taken me this long to connect with over edtech and nerdy culture. I was able to connect with Jessica Loucks. Stop everything you are doing and check out her Twitter account and follow her. Besides being super funny, a pop culture wiz, and filled with great energy, she killed an Ignite talk at the end of the conference. She compared improv to teaching and I was struck at how accurate the analogy was. I was annoyed that I never saw that connection myself. I look forward to connecting with Jessica on future projects and silly events in the future. I know that this connection will make me a better educator.

I also connected with teachers from Singapore and Vietnam. Two are expats from Michigan and are Language Arts teachers. I look forward to finding ways to connect our students through some sort of project. I already know who I am going to connect with regarding a 4th grade class for some fun projects and writing.

These connections are so important as we stress the need for global connections in learning. We need students to stop seeing just "me" when it comes to world, and start thinking "us" more often. Attending this summit is going to help me do that.

3. I learned so much about cultural awareness during these few days of travel and engagement. I had never gone further east than San Francisco and I have never travelled further East than Prague. This was the furtherest away from home that I have ever been and it was amazing. I would like to think that in my travels I strive to understand the culture I'm in and learn as much about it as I'm there, but diving into the Asian Culture is something I have never had to do before and I was uncertain of what to expect.

Talking to teaches at the Summit really showed me how similar their teaching environment is in some ways, and how different it can be at times. No matter if the students are one district over or 13 hours in the future, learning is still learning and sharing what works transcends most cultural boundaries. Sharing teaching strategies with teachers from India, Singapore, China, and other schools was a nice view of the teaching profession and how much we all strive to provide the best education we can for our students. I think it so important to have as much diversity in cultural experiences to help create more well rounded learning experiences.  

4. Taking risks is so important in teaching and attending a conference outside your comfort zone is a huge risk that can pay off in huge ways. Whether it was trying new things to eat (Jellyfish head, soft shell turtle, chili crab, deep fried tentacle, various mystery items), changing your Ignite session last minute to focus exclusively on Zack Morris, navigating Tokyo or Singapore without any electronic support, etc, is really exhilarating and can impact you as a teacher. Taking risks to do something you thing will be fun and engaging for yourself will allow you to try that for your students.

5. Relationships are always key. I had some amazing conversations with people during this trip. They were deep and thoughtful. Sometimes they were about education as a whole and how we are going to change it, other times they were about presenting at conferences and the impact it has on the classroom. Sometimes we just quoted random movies, had nerd arguments over specific fandoms, and just bonded in a way that lets me know these people are there for me if I need anything. Adam, Jennie, Jessica, Mark, Molly, Jay, and James, I could not have asked for a better group of people to spend time with in Singapore, or any country for that matter. You are all amazing educators and I feel truly blessed to have presented with you. I hope I get a chance to do this again.

Traveling to conferences is not an easy thing, but if you can find a way to do it, I encourage to take a risk, pack a bag and see the amazing things that can happen if you are willing to open up and try.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Flexispot Workstation

Even though I ditched my big Teacher Desk a couple of years ago, I was still stuck with my teacher work station. It connects the computer, phone, printer, etc. and I cannot get rid of it. This is where I can sit to take attendance or enter in grades. It is sort of a mess and I have never liked the setup, but I just figured that I did not have other options. I was wrong though. 



I was able to put a Flexispot on top of my work station and move items below it to open up some room and allow me to stand and work if I want.




As you can see, the Flexispot allows the user to adjust the height so you can use it while sitting or standing. There is a nice spot for a portable device to sit, like I did with the iPad, there is a keyboard shelf that holds my keyboard nicely, and there is plenty of room for the monitor, mouse, and pencil holder. I could move my Chromebook there if I needed.

I am able to raise or lower the Flexispot by pressing two handles on the side. It will glide up or down to fit my needs. My items are secure on the top and do not budge as I move it. You need to make sure your wires have enough slack to move up and down. I learned that the hard way the first time I tried to bring it up. :-P

I've been using it for a few days and I have liked the ability to just stand and do attendance or address an email very quickly from another teacher. Also, it is much healthier to be standing than sitting all day. I do not sit much through out the day, but what little sitting I did do, has been nearly eliminated by using the Flexispot.

If you are looking for a change to your classroom desk situation or your home office setup, the Flexispot would be a nice addition to get you working on your feet in no time. Check it out on Amazon to see the great reviews and find the Flexispot that is best for you.


Flexispot did send me one for the purpose of a review, but that does not make it any less awesome and helpful in my classroom. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Learning Fun With @WoWeeWorld Robots

I've been luck to be able to play with a couple of cool robots the past couple of weeks from WowWee. They are the Coder MiP and the Codji. While I thought they were cool, the most important opinion was that of my awesome son Leo. He loved them and I will do my best to explain why he thought they were so cool. I will start with the Coder MiP. 



This little robot packs quite the programming and hardware punch. You might not think that by just looking at it, but it really does. The Coder MiP has the following features that are worth noting.

Beaconsense - This allows the robot to know its surroundings and the situations it is in. 

Gesturesense - It can sense movement in front of its eyes. 

Sound Detection - Coder MiP can be activated by the clap of your hands if you want. 

Gyroscope and Accelerometer - It stands up right on its wheels and can be given directions on how fast to go. 

I was not sure how the Coder MiP was going to balance itself on those two wheels, but once it was connected to my iPad via Bluetooth, it stood straight up without an issues. 

Coding the Coder MiP might sound like a hassle or a tough task, but it is a simple block coding system that is similar to Scratch. Leo, having had used Scratch in the past, simply starting moving the blocks around on the screen to get Coder MiP to do what he wanted. There is also a free drive mode, but Leo really preferred to code the robot to see what he could make it do. Here is a video of Leo using the Coder MiP. 


He had so much fun trying to figure out all of the different things he could make the Coder MiP do. There are plenty of different sounds that the Coder MiP can be instructed to perform and the movements allow for 360 turns and pauses between actions. It is a very simple system for young students interested in robotics. Leo learned about the cause and effect relationship of actions placed in code. Having it try to do a spin before coming to a complete stop caused it to fall over. Adding the pause button would allow it to make the turn the way he wanted. It was fun watching him figure it out on his own. 




The Coder MiP comes with a ramp and a serving dish which can be fun as kids learn to program and complete tasks using the Coder MiP and these extra tools.


The Coder MiP charges using a micro USB and you can get a little over an hour with constant use after a full charge. The app shows you the battery level and is free to download.









If you think that your students or children are not ready to dive into block coding, then Codji is a great place to start. Codji works on using emoticons (Emojis) to send instructions and elicit reactions from the robot. The app has many different features that Leo very much enjoyed plating with during the day. 




In the picture above, Leo is guiding Codji through a street. This is level one and Leo just needed to move him over two spaces. Leo had to count the spaces and select the right arrow twice to move the robot on the screen. As the levels increase, the paths become more difficult and require adding turns and movement in other directions. Leo liked trying to solve the maze each time. 


Here is a screen shot of the driver mode. You can take Codji out for a spin and have emojis show up on his screen/face. Leo loved to use the Devil emoji and have another emjoi stick his tongue out at me. 



This part of the app required Leo to watch Codji's face for an image and repeat the sequence on the app. This was easy at first, but it does get difficult the further along you play. It was a nice challenge for Leo to think about the Sequence of things and how to remember them.

The Codji runs on three AAA batteries and works best on a flat hard surface. Our carpet was ok, but the traction on hard floors is much better.

I think both of these robots from WowWee make a fun addition to any home or classroom looking to introduce students to a very simplified version of robotics. These are they types of toys that can really spark an interest in students and have them excited to follow a more in-depth path to robotics down the line.


WowWee did send these robots to me for the purpose of a review, but that does not make them any less awesome to me or to Leo.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Stay on Target #EdChat #StarWarsEdu

I was watching Star Wars: A New Hope this weekend and something stood out to me at the end of the movie that had me thinking about technology integration and education.  Watch the clip of Luke blowing up the Death Star.


I love this scene because Luke decided to trust his training and use the Force. He shuts off the computer and goes for it. I think this has a nice connection to educators in the classroom. 

We all have had extensive training in various areas of education, but there is this pressure to use more technology to reach our students. Now, there are great things that technology can do to support student learning in ways that are not possible without them. The technology can get us there with the students, but it has to come down to the training to really get the students learning. For Luke, the technology got him to the Death Star, but he needed his training with the Force to complete the mission. 

Do not let technology make all of the decisions for you this school year. They are just tools to help support your training and innovative ideas. When it comes to completing our mission, educating all students, we need to use our instincts. If we do this, we can blow up a million Death Stars. 

Some might think the connection is flimsy and very nerdy, but the idea is still important. No matter what is going to be thrown at us this school year, we need to trust our instincts, believe in our training, and sometimes, hope a Han Solo flies out of nowhere and saves our butt when things are at their worst. :-)

Have a great school year and, as always, 

Monday, August 29, 2016

5 Things Students Should Know About Teachers Starting The School Year

I started lesson planning for the start of the school year yesterday. When I start lesson planning, I go into full teacher mode and start thinking about everything I need accomplish from September through June. I was also struck by all of these things and how most students have no idea what teachers are thinking when the school year starts. So, I thought I would write about the 5 Things Students Should Know About Teachers Starting The School Year.

1. We get anxious at the start of school.

I do not mean that we are looking forward to it, I mean we are driven my that awful feeling in our gut that stems from (sometimes) irrational fears. We worry if the students are going to like us or if the lesson plans from last year will work again. We stress about knowing the names of the students and how badly we will pronounce them. Are there going to be new rules that we have to follow? Will I remember them? What happens if I don't? Am I up for evaluation? Is my teaching certificate up to date? Do I have enough PD hours? Are the contract negotiations going well? We get anxious over all of these things and more and it can make getting out of bed tough, but we do it. We do it because, despite all of those things, we love what we do.

2. We believe all of you can be great.

No matter what your skill level, we know that all of you are going to be great in something and we want to help you find that one thing. It could be Science, poetry, photography, drums, or any other thing we can't think of, but you love it with all of your heart and we will help you with it. Some students make it harder on us to be helpful, but we are up to the challenge and will work with all of you so you can move closer to your full potential.

3. We care more about you than your grade.

It's something that all teachers think about. We want to know that all of our students or doing well. Not just at an academic level, but at an emotional and social level. We want school to be a fun and safe place for all students and we worry about the students who do not feel that way about school. Grade are important in one aspect of school, but your overall wellbeing is most important. We love all of our students in a way that only teachers truly understand. You are our kids once you enter the classroom and will be our kids forever after.

4. We are not kidding when we say, "Come and talk to me if you need anything".

We do not say it because we are told to say it (we're not), we say it because we mean it. We want you to know that we are here for you if you need anything at all. It might seem weird to talk to your teacher about personal stuff, but sometimes, we are the best ones to help. It is cliche, but we were teens once upon a time. Man of the issues you are dealing with have happened to all of us. Teachers deal with depression, anxiety, divorce, substance abuse, and other issues in their personal lives because we are people just like you. Please reach out when you need it.

5. We are going to fail you.

I do not mean you will get a failing grade on the essay. I mean that we are going to let you down in some fashion. It is inevitable. We will not do it on purpose, but we will make a mistake, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, because we are human. It breaks our heart knowing that we are going to fail some of you, but we promise to keep trying and make everything as perfect as possible for every student in the classroom. We can only promise to learn from our failures and come back better, smarter, and stronger the next time around. We will always forgive your failures and we hope you will forgive ours.

There are many more things that run through a teacher's head before school starts, but these are just a few that I think of every year that I want students to know. Feel free to add any thoughts you would like students to know in the comment section below.

Have an awesome school year everyone!

Hugs and High Fives,

Nick