Thursday, May 3, 2018

Fowl Use of Technology

No, that’s not a typo on a title for an article about inappropriate use of technology, but rather a title that literally refers to technology used in a fowl way. About a week and half ago, assistant teacher Ms. Peacock asked me if there was a way we could video stream the incubation and hatching of baby chick eggs in Mr.Torres’ 1st grade classroom. They have been examining and learning all about development and stages of growth. As part of this exploration she set up an incubator with baby chick eggs in the classroom.

Ms. Peacock asked if it was possible to set up a webcam so that students would be able to observe the hatching process live from home. The baby chicks were expected to begin hatching this past Monday so the plan was to contact her parents the Friday before with the connection information to the live video stream so that we could iron out any technical glitches over the weekend and be ready for Monday. However, the first sign of hatching began on Saturday. Luckily, we had the webcam in place so it was being broadcast live as well as being recorded, which will enable us to go back and observe the different stages over time.

It’s a great example of how some fairly straightforward technology, a webcam and video conferencing software, can be used effectively to amplify the learning process and experience and reach far more than the intended individuals. In addition to classroom students and parents, teachers across schools were checking in on the progress all weekend and students from the Extended Day program and other classrooms have been visiting the classroom as well. So far, ten baby chicks have hatched and we’ve repositioned the webcam on those in the heated brooder where they’ll be through early next week.

Students are now in the Creation Station measuring, designing, and fabricating cardboard structures to create what will essentially be a baby chick city for the baby chicks.

If you would like to view the webcam here is the connection information:

There are two ways to connect to view. The first is SUPER easy and we recommend it:
1. On an iPhone/iPad (or Android) go to the App store and download ZOOM Cloud Meetings (free) and install. Click on the meeting link below.
You will be asked, “Open this page in Zoom? Click Open and you’re in.
2. On your computer, click on the same link below.
If you have never installed ZOOM, the (compressed file) will download. Double-click it and it will unpack the zoomusLauncher.
Double-click the resulting zoomusLauncher to install and join the meeting.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Creation Station and More - Looking Ahead

With just a couple of weeks left in the school year, the hustle and bustle in the Creation Station looks like it will continue right up until the last student walks out the door next week. As the first full school year of making in ESH’s Creation Station winds down, in no way does it mean that the on-going process of making and evolving our makerspace itself will be winding down.

In the Creation Station, we lead students through a variety of flexible design process steps, depending on how we structure the problem or challenge, which boil down to an iterative process of THINK - MAKE - IMPROVE, or TMI. This is actually an acronym coined by Sylvia Martinez, in her book, Invent to Learn - Making Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom. We had the pleasure of bringing her here earlier this month for a faculty keynote on making, STEM, and gender issues as they relate to those topics. We also had the opportunity to meet with her and glean some ideas, suggestions, and affirmation that we’re heading in the right direction with our efforts.

TMI is how we’ve approached the process of evolving what has become known as the Creation Station years ago before we had an official “space” or anything in it. This past February, I had the opportunity to attend the EdTeacher Innovation Summit with some colleagues. I also had the opportunity to present a Summit session on the evolution of the Creation Station with our principal, Susan Devetski. In our session we talk about how we approached and continue to approach the “process of making” the Creation Station from a design process, TMI. We’re applying design thinking and an iterative design process to the Creation Station and how we’re using it. It’s in a continuous state of evolution as we reflect and make changes.

As part of our presentation, we emphasized the importance of collaboration and teamwork to the growth and continued evolution and success of our makerspace. The Creation Station would not be what it is at this point if not for students, teachers, parents, facilities, administration, and IS all working together in some way to make it work. Teachers have already started talking with me about ideas they have for next year.

As part of my own ongoing process of reflection and professional growth regarding the makerspace, I’ll be attending a couple of professional development workshops/conferences over the summer. I’ll also be exploring ideas and working on ways to grow my abilities in my other responsibilities here at ESH – working with and providing teachers with opportunities to integrate technology for learning and teaching, managing iPads, and providing technical support.

There’s always something new to learn.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Creation Station Tinkering

There has been a steady flow of activity in the our makerspace, now officially named the Creation Station, by first and second graders here at ESH. In order to provide students with additional opportunities to participate in maker-centered experiences, I've been having a couple of students from each classroom come into the maker space together during their lunch/choice time to tinker with all sorts of gadgets and electronics. They have been tinkering with and taking apart tems such as computers, videocameras, iPhones, keyboards, alarm clocks, and VCRs. We've been exploring how the individual parts and pieces make up the whole gadget, their purpose, and asking questions about how they interact with the other parts. Often times, the challenge has just been trying to figure out how to take something apart. Students have been very determined and resourceful in the disassembling of their gadgets using a variety of tools such as screwdrivers, wire cutters, pliers, awls, and a paint scraper.

I watched one student captivated by the variety of sounds he was making, as he curiously plucked away at the coils of wire in a battery enclosure that he had just removed from an alarm clock. Another student was trying to estimate the length of tape in a VHS cassette that had been stuck in a VCR she was taking apart. Others have discovered that the buttons on a keyboard make great projectiles when popped off at just the right angle with a screwdriver, hence the use of goggles. Others want to wear the goggles just because they look cool.

It's been great to see to see our first and second grade students working together, playing together, and helping each other.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ESH makerspace is now...The Creation Station.

It seems like we just started back to school and here it is the week before winter break. There has been a flurry of activity in the ESH makerspace, now officially named the The Creation Station, by 1st and 2nd graders. Students submitted many great ideas for the name. Names were narrowed down to four and then voted on. The Creation Station was the clear winner. Total and individual classroom voting results in the form of bar graphs and pie charts hang outside the PS office for students to see and examine on their own or with teachers and their classmates.

Students have been working on a variety of problems and challenges in The Creation Station so far this year. Here are a few…Mr. Ratliff’s 2nd grade classroom worked on designing and constructing plant cages and trellises made of wooden skewers, wire, string, and dowel rods for an indoor class garden. Ms. Gillespie’s 2nd grade class designed and constructed a collection of cardboard play areas on large bases for their classroom rabbit, Cookie, who ventures in and out and climbs the ramps. This year, Ms. Marinho’s 2nd grade class has been publishing a digital and print classroom newspaper. For the print version, a rotating group of her students designed and constructed a newspaper vending machine using cardboard.

Ms. Wagonheim’s class has been in working on a neighborhood project. Students worked in groups to design a neighborhood on different plots of land and then transformed those designs into three-dimensional models. In several 1st grade classrooms we’ve explored and played with opened and closed circuits and switches and then connected it to classroom areas of study. After reading a book about the telegraph and morse code, group of students in Ms. Wagner’s class used cardboard, wire, brass paper fasteners, and a battery, to make a working telegraph. As part of a unit on Patterns, Ms. Luna’s class incorporated their knowledge of circuits and switches to create Scribblebots using a motor, battery, markers and a plastic cup. They observed the resulting patterns and marker trails on paper left behind by their creations and how by making subtle changes to their design, they could affect those patterns. Ms. Lee’s class incorporated circuits, simple paperclip switches, and LEDs to add lights to their three-dimensional neighborhood project's buildings.

I’m looking forward to many more classroom collaborations in the coming year.

Best wishes for a blessed holiday season.

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 ( 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…