Category Archives: Tech Tools

Using Tech to Ground & Engage Your Classroom

Often times, technology is touted as either a solution to the problems in education or a growing concern we need to address as students spend more and more time in front of a screen. I want to touch on the idea of tech as neither a solution or a concern, but simply a tool, and a great one to have in your classroom when you want to create a positive environment.

I have found technology to be invaluable tool in helping me keep track of tasks,  organize my schedule, and maintain a good work-life balance as an educator and a professional. Apps like Lift, Headspace, Wunderlist and Supercal, provide support in building new habits, meeting goals, being more mindful and keeping track of everything that’s involved with coordinating technology at my school. I think it’s important to introduce similar, developmentally appropriate, tools to our students to help them see how they can use technology as a tool in their school and home lives to stay healthy and organized.

GoNoodle Brain Breaks

Hurdle Stretch

Stretching Before the 100M Hurdles

I recently learned about a new tool called GoNoodle that offers a variety of free brain breaks that you can use in the classroom. It’s ideal for elementary students but I think some of the activities could be used with middle or even high school classes that need a break or some exercise. One of the things I love about the tool is that it provides different types of breaks (e.g., calming, energizing, focusing) and most of the activities range between 2-5 minutes long. This means that I can easily squeeze a GoNoodle activity into my Maker Club agenda after school or even during a short thirty-minute tech time with students.

Since GoNoodle is web-based, I can access it from any computer, regardless of what classroom I’m in and it really seems to help students get ready for work, especially after recess, when they’re a bit wound up, or at the end of the day when they’re starting to feel tired.

GoNoodle allows you to set up a classroom (or multiple classes if you teach more than one) and choose a Champ to act as your class character/avatar. The champs grow as your class completes more activities, motivating students to participate and try new brain breaks.

Champ_1

GoNoodle has been particularly helpful with my Maker Club students because at ages 5-8, they’ve already had a long day when they come to see me after school and as much as they want to dive into making, they’re often feeling restless, wiggly, and tired. We often do activities with Maximo, who guides the students through yoga poses and helps them focus, or we do one of the Zumba activities to get everyone up and moving! If you have a longer block of time or indoor recess (we have had a lot of them this winter!), you could easily combine a few activities together and get closer to increasing your class champ level.

Using GoNoodle Video

Since I have also been exploring mindfulness for the past year, I really appreciate the “Airtime” break because it helps my students gain an awareness of their breath and take time to just breathe. A number of classes at my school have started using GoNoodle for brain breaks and I’m excited to see each class grow their own champ and begin to develop their favorite brain breaks, just like they have favorite greetings for morning meeting.

GoNoodle is also running a fun contest this month on Pinterest where every week, a teacher will win a GoNoodle Madness classroom pack! To enter, you can pin an image in this post or anything from GoNoodle.com and then tag your pins with @GoNoodleBreaks and #GoNoodleMadness!

Stop, Breathe & Think

If you want to go deeper into mindfulness with your classroom, the Stop, Breathe & Think app is another wonderful (and free!) app that you can use. It prompts students to first stop and assess how they’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is something older students could do independently or younger ones could do with the guidance of a teacher.

You can choose up to five emotions from an extensive list, organized on a spectrum from happy to angry, and then the app provides a list of suggested mediations in response to those emotions. Each meditation is between 3-9 minutes so if you’re short on time, you can always choose a quick one from the list.

The app provides an audio-guided meditation that eases the listener into and out of the meditation with student-friendly language. Similar to leveling up with the GoNoodle champs, you can earn stickers as you complete more meditations in the app. If you can sense a certain mood with a specific student or among your class, you can also go into the app and choose any of the meditations from the list without filling out the self-assessment.

I think the app could be great to use as a whole class in the morning or after lunch and it could also be nice as a center or even for individual use, if you have devices available that a child could take to a corner to find some “headspace” if they’re feeling unsettled.

What kind of brain breaks and activities do you use in your classroom?

Do you have a favorite tech tool you can share to help teachers engage their classroom and create a positive learning environment? 

Why it’s Awesome to Be Hacked … in #TeachTheWeb

The second week of the Teach the Web MOOC focused on remixing. I was excited about this topic because it’s an area I’ve just begun to explore and engage with on the web. It’s interesting how infused remixing is into our daily work as children (e.g., re-making someone’s Lego creation or making  variations of a local building as a fort) or even adults (e.g., remixing a marketing approach to work for your brand) and yet how foreign it can feel when addressed head-on as the focus of an activity or lesson.

When I first thought about what type of project I would remix, I thought it would probably have to be a Popcorn video because the Thimble projects were all personal profiles/bios and they couldn’t really be changed – right?

Then, I joined the the weekly Twitter chat, which began with a focus on remixing. Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) asked a great question, “Can (should) we remix anything?” A number of participants discussed the nuances between remixing something with permission and remixing as a form of collaboration versus remixing as appropriation (with and without permission). When someone remixes your work that you’ve asked not to be changed using a Creative Commons license or when someone hacks in and makes changes for their own enjoyment at your loss, remix become a much less friendly word.

In contrast, @dogtrax took a direct request from me about wanting to be remixed and in true #TeachTheWeb spirit, created something awesome and inspiring. He even sent out a tweet and G+ message encouraging other MOOC participants to remix and hack my Thimble introduction. He created the page below using Mozilla’s X-Ray Goggles from the Hackasaurus Toolkit.

thimble-hack-1

And then Doug Waters remixed that remix!

thimble-hack-2

So of course, now inspired, I had to hack a Thimble page of my own! I chose someone from our #MiniMaker G+ Study Group. Here’s my update to Karen Young’s Thimble Intro:

karen_thimble_hack

After being hacked myself, I had a better understanding of the process and how creative I could be in doing it using someone else’s profile. I had a chance to consider how remixing could help me get to know a person better and how it can be an entry point for using a new tool. Similar to my experience remixing a project in Scratch for the #MediaLabCourse I learned more about the X-Ray Googles and what they’re capable of as well as more about Thimble, by remixing. I’m excited to try Popcorn for my next remixing project and to continue thinking about hacking as we move into week 3 of #TeachTheWeb and discussions of the Open Web.

What Most Schools Don’t Teach … And I’m Determined to Learn

At the beginning of both 2012 and 2013, I named learning to code as one of my goals for the year. Recently, I have been exploring new ways to accomplish that goal and I wanted to share them in case others would find them useful too!

In the past, I have explored parts of Codeacademy and TryRuby. Unfortunately, my participation on both of those sites was too sporadic to really teach me very much, so I have been looking into other ways to learn coding.

This spring, I spent more time engaging with Scratch because I hope to introduce it to my students next year. As I mentioned in January, I have been using the Super Scratch Programming Adventure book to guide my learning. Participating in the MIT Learning Creative Learning MOOC has also helped me to try new projects and actually publish one of my own on the Scratch website. I think having a resource like the Scratch book that I can carry around and explore at my own pace, one that’s engaging and asks me to create something with a purpose (e.g., a functioning game) has helped me to learn more of the program. Having the MOOC community has also made a difference because I have been exposed to a group of people engaged in similar work and willing to post their own work and share ideas. Finally, the hope of using this with my students has been a big motivator in helping me persevere with Scratch.

But what if you’re not looking to learn Scratch? Luckily, I’ve also found some other great resources recently to learn coding that have similar supports. One of them is joining local Meetup groups that supports tech learning and offer coding classes. There are actually a couple of groups in my area and they seem to collaborate together or at least announce events for one another so that I have an opportunity to learn almost any coding language I’d like by attending one of their classes. Unfortunately, some of them are pricey (at least for coding newbies on a tight budget) and they are also often on weekends, which can be a challenge sometimes.

Still, I recently attended a Python class and really loved it! I had no previous experience with Python and after a day long session on a Saturday plus a few hours Friday night, I really felt like I had a foundation for working with the language. I still need to work on learning all of the syntax rules but the logic makes much more sense and I was exposed to some great, free resources, like CodingBat and OpenHatch Wiki. Being in a room full of other learners and facilitators (who were very willing to help and problem-solve!) and having such a large block of time dedicated to learning Python, really made it manageable to dive into the language. Now, I need to get back to Codeacademy to practice and start trying to apply my knowledge!

After winning a contest on Twitter for a free class on Codagogy.com, I also took a two week course with them on the basics of HTML. As they define them it, Codagogy offers “Online collaborative web development courses.” where you can “Learn to code in a small group of like-minded women.

codagogy html image

I have picked up bits and pieces of HTML over the years working on my own websites and projects but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still learned a lot from the basics course. There were answers to little questions that I had always wondered about and wonderfully clear yet concise screencasts about the how-to’s and why’s about things like getting your own domain, finding a server, and adding alt tags to images.

Codagogy in 60 seconds from Susan Buck on Vimeo.

My favorite part of Codagogy courses is how they are structured. You join a two week course but assignments/exercises are only distributed on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, so the work is not overwhelming and is gently introduced. There are also deadlines and points you can gain from completing exercises to help keep you motivated and on-track. This is something I found I struggle with on more free-form sites like Codeacademy. Plus, there are little quizzes at the end of each exercise where you’re asked to check your understanding and also apply your knowledge, so you can walk away feeling confident about what you’ve learned and your ability to use your new skills.

Finally, you are in the course with a limited number of other participants and you have access to a course forum where you can meet/greet those other women, ask questions, and share ideas or resources. This community aspect really brings it all together and makes Codagogy a great  but flexible space to learn new coding skills. Best of all, their courses are very affordable and if you refer friends, both you and they, get $17 off!

codagogy css basics logo

I’m excited to start my next Codagogy course, CSS Basics! In an effort to get more women coding, Codagogy has kindly offered two codes to give away for a free Codagogy class. Even if you’re not looking to code right now, you can sign up for their class on SEO or get notified when Photoshop for the Web is ready.

Enter to win a free class!

365 Days of Glass – Seeking Student & Teacher Suggestions!

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus since the end of #ETMOOC because I’ve been busy brainstorming and trying to prepare for Google Glass! In late March I heard that my Twitter entry was chosen as one of the winners for Glass, which means I can be one of the lucky users to integrate this:

… into education!

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. I think there will be innumerable opportunities to re-examine classroom design and space after seeing things from the eyes of a student and to hack professional development by making it easier to stream events from one person who is out “in the  field” or who simply wants to record her or his own teaching without a lot of imposing accessories.

While these and other ideas are percolating in my mind, waiting for my notice from Google saying I can come pick up Glass, I have chosen one idea in particular to focus my energy on right now. That idea is to try something different with Glass every day for one whole year but I want these ideas to be innovative, creative, and unbiased by my own knowledge of what tech can(‘t) do … so I’ve decided to ask the kids! I created a new blog space on a platform (Tumblr) that I thought would be more conducive to short, image and video-heavy posts once I start using Glass and there I’ve posted a form for students and teachers to submit ideas. So, I will be starting 365 Days of Glass – Inspired by #IfKidsHadGlass!

Glas form

To make this project work, I am looking for submission from students (and teachers) around the world because I would like a global perspective on how I can use Glass in education and with my own students. I’m particularly interested in ideas from young children (Pre-K to 2nd grade) since those are the ages I work with most often but the form is open to anyone! Please pass this project on to any educators and students you know around the world so I can collect as many suggestions as possible! 

You can follow all of the project updates on my new site!