Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Technology…It’s for the Birds

When working with teachers to integrate technology in meaningful ways, I always start by asking what the learning goals and expectations are before considering and recommending any kind of technology. Thinking about how technology has been used over the last couple of weeks here at ESH has had me thinking about different types of technology. Low-tech can be referred to as traditional, “unplugged” or non-digital tools – think arts and crafts materials such as pencils, crayons, etc. High-tech can be referred to as mechanical, computerized, digital tools – think iPads, computers, etc. – though one could describe a document camera, for example, as a low, high-tech tool. If low-tech and high-tech are on opposite ends of a continuum, convergence falls somewhere in between, and is a combination of the two. Describing technology in terms of low and high doesn’t imply good or bad, it’s just a way to identify it as non-digital, digital, or both. What’s more important is trying to identify ways in which technology can be used meaningfully, to facilitate learning and teaching.

Here is a description of a few of the ways we’ve been using technology here at ESH over the past couple of weeks. Try to identify whether it’s low-tech, high-tech, or convergence. More importantly, think about how it’s being used to enhance learning and teaching.
The next round of 2nd grade classrooms is hard at work in the Makerspace as  Ms. Marinho’s class designs solutions to their challenge related to their Pioneer unit. Tasked with designing and building “something” capable of transporting as much weight as possible, in the form of wooden blocks, for a certain distance, over various terrains, students are using materials such as cardboard, skewers, straws, string, tape, etc.
Ms. Gillespie came up with a different problem to solve. Their curious class rabbit, Cookie, has a knack for chewing through cables and hopping up on tables. Using a wide assortment of cardboard boxes and tubes, students are working in groups to design and build 6 separate mazes on 4’x 4’ bases which contain a series of pathways, platforms, walls and tunnels to capture Cookie’s curiosity and lure her through each maze. They’re learning how to score and fold cardboard and are trying out different ways to fasten cardboard using hot glue guns and Makedo (plastic screws and tools).
Ms. Wagonheim’s 1st grade class is also in the Makerspace working on their wind powered vehicles. After a brief introduction to windmills, students were challenged to design and build a vehicle that would harness the power of the wind (an electric fan in this instance) to propel it across the floor. Students have been using cardboard, straws, skewers, bottle caps, tissue paper, foam, plastic, etc.
We have a new tabletop 3D carving machine appropriately named, Carvey, in the Makerspace, which enables us to carve and engrave on a variety of materials including plastics and wood. Using a web-based app, Easel, one can create or import a design, connect to the Carvey, and then “carve” their design.
I’m working with Ms. Neely and her second grade classes in the Computer Science lab to create geometric designs using the software. The designs will then be carved on 6”x6” pieces of acrylic tile.
As part of their 1st grade Geometry unit for Math, Ms. Landry and Ms. Jeon came up with the idea to have their students design and make building blocks for kindergartners to play with and “test”. After learning about geometric shapes, they built and tested 3D geometric shapes for strength through a series of building challenges using materials such as straws, toothpicks, Dots candy, construction paper, tape, etc. Students then examined a variety of existing building blocks and their characteristics. Each student was then tasked with designing a block on paper, taking into consideration functionality, aesthetics, and innovation. After multiple iterations, they then created their paper ideas and designs using, Easel, for the Carvey in the computer lab. Their designs are now being carved 2-up on a block of 6”x12” piece of maple wood. For more hands-on manipulation and elbow grease, students will then glue and clamp the two pieces of wood together to create their block and sand down the edges using a sanding block to smooth over the sides to make the blocks kindergarten safe.
Often times, younger children have the belief that things like phones, iPads, toys, really anything, just magically appear out of thin air. They don’t necessarily realize or make the connection that everything begins with an idea – people’s ideas, and that people make things. We make things and they make things. I visited Ms. Collins’ Nursery classroom and had a delightful discussion about ideas and making. We then explored some ways they could take a small plastic building block toy they have in their classroom called a PlusPlus and design it ourselves in a few different ways using a couple of different apps. They were excited to be able to manipulate and extrude the objects in a 3D space. We then came up to the Makerspace, learned about 3D printing and used our MakerBot 3D printer to actually print it.
Just yesterday, during free choice time in Ms. Luna’s 1st grade class, we explored and extended the concept of electricity/current and open and closed circuits by playing with a MaKey MaKey. A MaKey MaKey consists of essentially a small circuit board, alligator clips, and wires. Your computer mouse and/or keyboard are input devices. When you click or press a key you send a signal to or trigger your computer to do something. Connecting a MaKey MaKey to your computer enables you to turn anything into an input device or touchpad – fruit, PlayDough, coins, people, etc.

For those of you still reading, you’ll see that technology is literally, for the birds. A robin, along with her nest of three beautiful blue eggs, has taken up residency outside on Ms. Wagner’s 1st grade class window ledge. Working with Ms. Wagner and Ms. Kennedy, I positioned a webcam under the existing black paper on the window (to keep from disturbing her) allowing her class to monitor the robin’s activities and egg status throughout the day in real time. Ms. Kennedy is able to take pictures and record video using QuickTime Player. For those of you interested in watching along with us, please email Ms. Kennedy (ekennedy@ucls.uchicago.edu) for the group call link. Please be sure to mute the audio and video on your end once connected. Otherwise, they may be able to see and hear your class. You can keep the connection open on your end so that you can view the robin’s nest at your choosing. It takes about 12 days for the eggs to hatch. Unfortunately, the first egg is expected to hatch Saturday, May 21st.





Monday, March 14, 2016

Skeletons, Green Screen, and Fun

In my role here at ESH as technology coordinator and technology integrator, I enjoy working with teachers and students to meaningfully incorporate technology in order to enhance teaching and learning. Prior to moving here, when I was the library technology coordinator at the Historic Campus, I also enjoyed working with teachers and students in the lower, middle, and high school. One of the many projects I always looked forward to was with Ms. Doyle’s Humanities class on the Colonial period. We incorporated the use of green screen technology into their digital storytelling project. Green screen technology involves using software to combine at least two image or video sources, one of which has been filmed in front of a green screen, thus allowing you to superimpose a subject over an unlimited number of various backgrounds. Think of the local weather forecast on the news. We used iMovie on desktop computers to accomplish this task.

I’ve played with various green screen apps for iPads while here at ESH including iMovie. Recently, I had the opportunity to try the Green Screen iPad app by Doink at an EdTech Teacher iPad conference. Upon returning, I described the app and it’s ease of use to one of ESH’s art teachers, Ms. Mazurek, really just to show her how cool it was. She was intrigued and wanted to see how it worked. After meeting with her to demonstrate it and having her make a few videos herself, she decided that she wanted to extend and add some depth to an existing project the students were working on. We also just wanted the students to have some fun with it. Ms. Mazurek and I demonstrated the process with each of her 1st and 2nd grade classes. They had created a variety of ornately designed skeletons using Model Magic and other materials as part of a Day of the Dead project. Students were then asked to create a background and dialog for a scene within which they would superimpose their subject, or skeleton. The effort and detail that went into creating the backgrounds themselves resulted in beautiful pieces of art. Over several classes while working on other projects, students took pictures of their backgrounds. Ms. Mazurek led students through a storyboarding process by having them chunk their scenes down into smaller parts, adding dialog, and/or descriptions of action. Again, it was a great thinking and creative process for them to go through as it added multiple layers and depth to an already meaningful project.

Students have had a blast filming their movies, and so have I. We set up a makeshift green screen “production studio” in Ms. Mazurek’s closet. We went “low tech” with a piece of green butcher paper taped to the shelves and sticks covered with green paper, onto which we would stick the skeletons while students moved them around as they said their dialog. While we could have taken the pictures of their backgrounds and recorded directly into the Green Screen app, we used the Camera app for organizing the backgrounds and videos since we were doing this with every 1st and 2nd grade classroom. As students completed their recordings they pulled their backgrounds and video from the camera roll into Green Screen and saved their movies.

While I typically never propose a project based solely on an app or piece of software, I do propose the process of moviemaking as an excellent way to foster deeper learning and understanding and the demonstration of that learning. Whether its book trailers, PSAs, informational videos, product advertisements/commercials, Slowmation videos, or scene reenactments, Green Screen is a simple tool students can use to facilitate that process.

Green Screen by Doink costs $2.99. More information can be found here:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Maker Mania

After a brief hiatus (maybe a bit longer than brief), I’m back to talk about the launch of our exciting new space we’ve created for making and tinkering here at ESH this year.

Nursery to Grade 2 students here at ESH make in many different ways all the time, and we had been talking about the idea of creating a space for making and tinkering for some time. 
Early last school year, one of our 1st Grade teachers, Ms. Landry, decided to provide a making/tinkering option for her students during their free choice time. So I started helping make and tinker with a group of hard-core tinkerers and makers in her classroom who constantly challenged themselves and me with questions about how things worked and with wanting to tinker and make. We had fun building all kinds of interesting contraptions such as a conveyer belt, a cable car, fans, electric circuits, paper speakers for an iPhone/iPad, bristlebots, a walking marker robot, and motorized cars and spinners. We also tinkered with and took apart things like a camera, speakers, and an iPad. I was hooked.

But things really started to move forward later last school year and into summer break. Our Primary School principal, Susan Devetski, and Ms. Landry attended a Project Zero conference with a “Making” strand through Harvard last spring. We started having conversations about making at faculty meetings last spring and we held a “Maker Playdate” during which teachers had the opportunity to select from a wide range of making activities such as circuits, building catapults, battery powered cars, cardboard, LEDs and magnets, crafts, and stop motion animation using iPads, to name a few.

Our principal then brought in a speaker on a Professional Development day to continue the dialogue. A Makerspace committee consisting of teachers, the principal, and myself was formed and met at the end of last school year and in the summer to investigate and map out what a space might look like. We identified storage requirements, tools, consumables, and anything we thought we might need. We scoured the building for available spare shelving and furniture, and identified storage bins, tools, and supplies to purchase to get started. We also decided to designate a section of our shelving and storage space to house a reusable section stocked with all sorts of reusable materials such as plastic bottles, cardboard, plastic bottle caps, corks, boxes, tubes, etc. In addition, our faculty summer reading was the book, Make: Making Makers - Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation, with the purpose of coming together to discuss our own experiences and how we might relate to the maker characteristics of the individuals in the book.

As shelving was moved in and set up in our space, and storage bins, tools, and materials began to arrive, the committee met several times to begin to discuss logistics and scheduling. We also reached out to other individuals who already have Makerspaces in place and could provide us with any guidance. 

This past fall, we brought in a Makerspace coordinator from Atlanta and he facilitated a discussion about making and creativity and led all of ESH faculty in a maker activity in which we created an automata, or a hand-cranked cardboard machine.

After a lot of “outfitting the space” work, reading, discussion, and professional development to create a dialogue and reach an understanding of what a Makerspace could be, we still felt there would never be a perfect time to start. So, with some foundation beneath us, we jumped in.

We created a preliminary schedule based on 40 minute periods and asked 1st grade teachers to sign up for two periods per week for approximately five weeks with me facilitating and supporting the project and space. I met with teachers several times during grade level meetings to design a challenge based on a field trip they had all taken to a pumpkin farm. Coming up and agreeing on a focused, yet open-ended prompt that would allow students to use their imagination and be creative was challenging. There was much discussion about what and how much content, structure, and scaffolding to provide. We used portions of the book, Invent to Learn, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager, to help identify what makes a good prompt or challenge. Our prompt was, “Create something to help a farmer transport harvested pumpkins from the field to the barn for curing.” Several teachers signed up for the first round including Ms. Landry, Ms. Luna, and Ms. Wagonheim. 

With students working in pairs, we lead the students through the process of brainstorming, drawing a blueprint, building, testing, and revising their creations. With each class, we varied the introduction of and/or helped explain various concepts such as wheels and axles, wedges, ramps, force, friction, etc., either prior to their building or during as they worked.

Students were excited about the process of making and were completely engaged in building their pumpkin movers. They used baby pumpkins to test and improve their contraptions which ranged from a variety of ornately decorated wheeled vehicles to a hand-cranked conveyor belt.

We all learned a lot and are still learning about managing and facilitating the making experience and the physical space itself and have some new ideas on where to go from here.

More to come…



Friday, March 6, 2015

ICE 2015

I’m back from my annual trek to the ICE Conference. Last week, I attended the Thursday and Friday general sessions portion of the four-day Illinois Computing Educators Conference in St. Charles. Six other teachers from ESH also attended either the general sessions and/or pre-conference workshops.

It’s always great to attend ICE whether I’m seeking inspiration, ideas to bring back to share and adapt, or just to reaffirm what we’re already doing. ICE provides many opportunities to see what other educators and students are doing with technology. There are always plenty of offerings and I always feel like I come back with something to try.

This year’s conference theme, Make the Difference, was literal in the sense that a keynote and numerous sessions were devoted to MakerSpaces and the idea of students “making” in schools and classrooms. For the past few months, I’ve been tinkering and making with some students during their “free choice” time here at ESH and it’s been a great experience. It’s provided another opportunity for students to be creative, hands-on problem solvers as we take apart, explore, design, and build. We’ve been making some very cool contraptions! More on that in another post. I attended several MakerSpace sessions by Sylvia Martinez who is a major figure in the Maker Movement. Takeaways included rethinking schedules, staff roles, subjects, assessment, building a better design prompt, and making connections to Reggio, Montessori, and Design Thinking. I’ve heard her speak at other conferences and I still always come away with something new or a new twist on something.

I’ve been coding with students here at ESH and I’ve introduced some first graders to Scratch Jr. and second graders to Scratch. I took the opportunity to attend a session on coding as I’ve been working on ways to incorporate it into the curriculum. Coding, as with tinkering and making, provides students with the opportunity to be creative, hands-on designers and problem solvers.

I attended an interesting session called Ed Tech Chopped which was based on the Food Network’s show, Chopped. We were split up into groups of 5-6, given a pantry of technology “ingredients” and a list of criteria. Our task was to design/create an activity, lesson plan, or unit and “plate” it up in 40 minutes while meeting the criteria. It was challenging in that each member brought their own expertise to the table so to speak. With a little adaption, I’m looking forward to trying it out as a professional development session with teachers here at ESH.

Another interesting session was with Reshan Richards, creator of the Explain Everything app, about using technology to animate understanding. The session demonstrated how students can use a combination of open-ended media creation apps to visually display their understanding. This is something we’ve been working toward with students and teachers for a while now and reaffirmed what we’re already doing and trying to do. However, my takeaway from it was the concept of students creating their own vs. using existing content to create or demonstrate new knowledge. It prompted me to ask, How can we use and combine created and/or existing images, video, or audio, to spark ideas, to get students thinking, and asking questions? How can and does each student’s personal perspective and experience impact learning and motivation?

A session I attended that relates to the previous question was on designing brain-friendly learning spaces. The session focused on considering classroom layout and how your classroom would be experienced by students. Some things to consider, are there are spaces for students to work in groups, pairs and/or independently? Do our students have easy access to materials with a “less is more” feeling. Do we have too much stimuli to distract the students from the materials on the tables to the amount and way we display information on the walls. Do we strive for a “minimalist” classroom? How is technology embedded into our day to make the curriculum more accessible to the variety of students in our classrooms. As she spoke, it had me thinking, how do we design an authentic and student-centered learning space that creatively inspires students? It prompted me to make connections between the session and the concepts of Universal Design for Learning.

Other sessions on preparing teachers and administrators to meet the needs of future learners, Teacher Revolution, and Digging Deeper into Persuasive Writing were thought provoking and provided some good ideas as well.

Overall, it was a great conference and I highly recommend that you attend next year. One of the best parts of the conference was the impromptu discussion I had with some of my colleagues Friday afternoon after the last session. We discussed our conference experiences, ideas we were excited to explore when we got back to school, and technology use here at ESH. It is these types of discussions that form connections between people and the ideas that can lead to positive change for our students. We hope to continue having these types of discussions now that we are back to work. We hope you’ll join us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


This blog's for you...

It's hard to believe students have been back in school for five weeks now. After a busy summer of supporting the summer program with technology needs, attending several professional development conferences, and making sure school technology was up and working for the start of school, it seems as though they never left. It's great to have them back though.

Why a blog? This is my first blog entry for tESHnologically speaking…and there's so much to write about I don't know where to start. So, I'll start by explaining why I'm finally starting a blog after 15 years of working with school technology. I worked and learned along with students and teachers as we incorporated technology for five years first in the middle and high school here at the Laboratory Schools and now in my second year as Technology Coordinator, here at Earl Shapiro Hall (ESH). Prior to that I worked with technology for thirteen years at a CPS school. I'm still learning.

I started this blog to chronicle the variety of ways in which teachers are attempting to leverage technology to meaningfully support, enhance, and transform learning and teaching here at ESH. As you know, it's not at all only about the technology. It still comes down to learning, teaching, and relationships.

“This is not about technology: it’s about relationships and learning.”
-George Couros, ICE Conference keynote address 2013

I want to share what has worked, what hasn't, and what we're still trying to figure out, in order to help others along the way. I'd like tESHnologically speaking... to serve as a resource of ideas for others, as well as our own teachers here at ESH who are looking for ways to leverage technology in authentic ways as they attempt to create flexible learning and teaching spaces. Flexible spaces which allow us to reach all learners, facilitate and encourage student creation and reflection, document learning and understanding, and promote student choice and student voice.

My hope is that teachers here at ESH will contribute the ways in which they're using technology by sending me photographs, links to student creations and/or projects, and sharing their ideas and comments.