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A Look at Computer Science Education Week

Computer Science Week has been around for about seven years now. In the early years I think most of us didn’t really know how to deal with it. There was talk about doing things similar what what other subjects did for special weeks. But while French departments can attract a crowd by serving crapes and the Latin department can show off trebuchets we don’t have quite the same things in computing. A lot of schools brought in special speakers. I gave a bunch of those talks myself. I’m not sure they made much of an impression with most students though.

Two years ago code.org came up with the idea of an Hour of Code for CSEdWeek and that took off. Between code.org’s outstanding marketing and their ability to mobilize industry and famous people Hour of Code became almost synonymous with CSEdWeek. It continues to create a lot of buzz and media attention. All of this attention is great. But one week, let alone one hour, is not enough to really get things going. CSTA and Code.Org (among others) work all year long to improve the state of computer science education. And that is great as well.

Where do we go from here? By we I don’t just mean CSTA and Code.org and other organization but computer science educators as individuals. As much as CS Ed Week is a great thing my biggest fear is that too many people will think that it is enough. I like to think of it as a boost or perhaps a “kick in the pants” to spur action though the rest of the year.

In the new year most schools start registration for classes next fall. Registration time is a good time to talk to all the students who did an Hour of Code and suggest that they might like a whole semester (or year) of it to do more with it. And while most schools have their program of studies set for next year it is really a good time to look at how more CS could be added to the next program of studies.

Perhaps an existing course could be made better and include more real CS. I wrote a bit about how we changed our school’s applications course and made it more of a computer science course in a recent guest post on the Microsoft New England blog. I think more schools (or their administrators) may be open to that these days in part as a result of the CS Ed week and Hour of Code publicity.

Perhaps a school that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) offer the current APCS Course will be willing to support the AP CS Principles course. Or the Exploring Computer Science course that many schools are adopting. Middle schools could think about offering a CS exploratory using some of the simple tools for teaching CS that seem to be sprouting up all the time. (See here and here)

The important thing in my opinion is to act locally, building on the momentum from CS Ed Week and make changes in individual schools. It’s not easy. In some schools it can be very difficult to add courses. But trying is the only way to find out how hard. We have a chicken and egg problem in CS. Not enough teachers in part because there are not enough courses and there are not enough courses because there are not enough teachers. At the same time since there are not enough courses administrators think they don’t need any courses. Inertia is not our friend. But we can overcome it.

Categories: Planet

Teaching Girls STEAM in Middle School

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 19 December, 2014 - 22:33

Vinnie Vrotny talks with Vicki Davis about teaching STEAM to his students. He uses a makerspace and Mindcraft. Listen now to find out more about using these with students.

Listen to Vinnie Vrotny

Add @vvrotny to your PLN Vinnie Vrotny – Show #62 – Teaching Girls STEAM in Middle School

Vinnie is the Director of Academic Technology at Quest Academy in Illinois. He teaches STEAM courses to girls at a private school. He transformed the computer lab into a makerspace and redesigned the middle school curriculum to include the STEAM courses he now teaches. He has students designing projects using tools in the makerspace. He also uses Mindcraft in his curriculum as both an enrichment activity and as project assessment during the school day. Listen now to find out Vinnie’s current projects with students.

Listen to Vinnie Vrotny

Every Classroom Matters is a bi-weekly Radio Show by Vicki Davis on BAM Radio network with best practices for busy teachers.  SubscribeShow notes prepared by Lisa Durff, Production Coordinator for Every Classroom Matters.

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The post Teaching Girls STEAM in Middle School appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog.

Categories: Planet

Nurturing Wellbeing: Sixth Annual Resilience and Optimism Conference

Darcy Moore's Blog - 19 December, 2014 - 15:45

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” 

Today, and I do feel a little sad about it, was our sixth and last ‘Resilience and Optimism’ Staff Development Day Conference at the Nan Tien Temple. It is time for renewal and in 2015 our school will find a new venue and approach to our last day of the school year. However, today was a fitting swansong for the event.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

The last six years have been fantastic. The ambience at the temple is wonderful and we have had some great keynote speakers who have given us good food for thought at the end of each challenging year. The workshops, more often than not have been really fun and stimulating. Today was no different and commenced with tai chi.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Our focus was on improving wellbeing through motivation, both personal and professional. Dana Perlman gave an amusing keynote which had the audience laughing along with him. I am sure the delegates have some food for thought about what motivates us and why. The school will take up on Dana’s kind offer to work with our students in 2015.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

There was, as always, a good variety of workshops exploring drumming, mindfulness, health apps, personal and professional motivation. Thanks to Catherine Ramos for taking the time to work with our staff in the meditation hall. It was much-appreciated.

There was also the opportunity for new staff to explore the grounds with a guide while reflecting on the first year(s) at the school.

Congratulations to our award-winners – Merrideth McGregor (Innovation), Troy Koghlin (Teaching & Learning), Michelle Quine (Community Service) and Andrew Horsley (Wellbeing) – for their work. These highly esteemed colleagues were nominated and voted for by their peers. They are all truly motivated, inspiring people.

Next year the school will have leadership award as a new category and indeed, our school has a rich abundance of leadership talent.

Fond wishes to all the staff who are taking up new positions in 2015. We all hope you have the best of luck in new schools and offices!

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Featured image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Mara ~earth light~: http://flickr.com/photos/mara_earthlight/6233667832

Where can we have our final SDD in 2015?

The post Nurturing Wellbeing: Sixth Annual Resilience and Optimism Conference appeared first on Darcy Moore's Blog.

Categories: Planet

Where to from here?

Bluyonder Greg Whitby - 19 December, 2014 - 13:55

As another year comes to a close it reminds me of the mechanical process of schooling. Our schools are placed in “mothballs” for six weeks and then the system fires up again in late January.  I wonder if the school year could be significantly different from the last?

It’s heartening to hear AITSL Chair, Professor John Hattie say recently that we are already having an incredible impact on student learning; the best is in Australia all around us.

We have never had better trained teachers, funding, buildings and access to technologies.  The majority of parents have high degrees of trust in their local school to deliver quality outcomes.  However, the challenge for the profession is  ‘where to next?’

As I’ve said throughout 2014, it’s a question that can only really be answered by those doing the work.  When I talk to beginning and experienced teachers, I see people who have great passion; who are not resistant to change (provided they have the structures and support).

Supporting and engaging our teachers more deeply in evaluating and improving their practice is the path that will lead us to the next stage.  It doesn’t happen by accident.  It’s a daily commitment to improving the learning outcomes of each child and an ongoing investment in the professional learning of every teacher. While the work isn’t always easy, the results are always worth the effort.

Since the best is here all around us, let’s share it, learn from it and answer the ‘where to next’ by raising the standards and status of the entire profession.

As always, thanks for reading and contributing to the blog – your comments shape my professional thinking.   A safe and Merry Christmas.


Categories: Planet

The adventures of Mr Whippy

Bluyonder Greg Whitby - 19 December, 2014 - 12:59

Last week, I was delighted to visit the Kindergarten learning space at St Bernadette’s Primary, Lalor Park. It is one of the joys of my work as Executive Director to see talented teachers engaged with vivacious young learners. St Bernadette’s have an excellent practice of asking all students to write to the Principal Liz Devlin regularly, and she writes back! Reading and writing are, as you would expect, highly valued and the teachers use every opportunity for the students to learn in a purposeful way. Little did I know the amount of effort and preparation that went into my visit.

Kindergarten teachers, Mabel-Lynn Buenaventura and Brooke Peterson, used my visit as a literacy activity for their students. I was ‘bowled over’ by the depth of understanding and ability for these children to imagine and write their stories. I asked the Mabel-Lynn and Brooke to reflect on their practice (the bolding is mine):

The children had been waiting all year long for ‘Mr Whippy’ aka Mr Whitby to come to visit our budding Kindergarten authors (Yes that was a lesson in itself hearing all the correct sounds in his surname and clapping out Whitby into two syllables; then making rhyming nonsense words).

Domenic wrote an imaginative illustrated story book (see video) in Term 2 titled, Mr Whippy and the Big Spider. It was a well thought out, sequential story with a good introduction, an interesting plot and a happy ending.

When he had written the story he gave it to our Principal to read and of course that’s how Greg came to visit the school, so that the children could see the main character in real life and invite him to be the ‘audience and the star’.

Greg totally engaged with the reading of the story and the class-prepared ‘Big Book’ (yes all about him and his 7,000 pairs of socks) and a ‘handwritten by every child’ description of the ‘big man’ (tall of course!).

Writing and reading in our learning space is non-negotiable and starts from day one. Creative thinking and spontaneity is encouraged from the beginning and every attempt to ‘scribble on a page’ is celebrated as writing. Imaginative play and drawing is often a catalyst to writing in the early months and every attempt is celebrated.

Before the students commence school we have a five week transition to Kindergarten program where we have ‘observed to be informed’; ‘engaged to build relationship’; and ‘played to honour being a child’. We feel we already know the learners when they begin Kindergarten. There are many individual changes and developments in the two months between transition and the start of the school year so our baseline data starts to fill out and become a little richer and juicier.

At the beginning of the school year we ‘hit the ground running’ with our new learners. We always start with the end in mind; taking each student beyond their personal best so that they surprise themselves and their families with a positive growth mindset to propel them into Year 1 as confident, spontaneous and competent readers, writers, mathematicians and thinkers (philosophers even!).

Our Kindergarten love to write to everyone and anyone. The audience and purpose is very important to a five year old and they love the ‘spotlight shining on them on their own stage’ as they reach new milestones in their own learning. Talking and listening is encouraged by all members of the class community (adults and children) and always as a pre-requisite to clear communication. Greg got a taste of our spontaneous learners with a happy dance performed by Jayden; an ‘I love you’ from numerous children; and a ‘you’re a great storyteller’ by another.

There is nothing extraordinary that sets our students apart from any other Kindergarten students; just as there is nothing that sets us apart from other Kindergarten teachers. Our secret to facilitating enthusiastic, empowered and confident five year old learners is that we simply love teaching and building positive relationships with our little learners every minute of every day.

Yes, we get very tired and our work never seems to end; and we are always looking at their most relevant and recent data to create, reinvent, innovate and modify the curriculum for each student – simply because we want every student to be successful in their learning. Success breeds success.

We are two ordinary Kindergarten teachers working with extraordinary minds; the minds of children!

There was great excitement by Greg’s visit to our school. He was the main character in Domenic’s book and was both the audience, the main protagonist and the purpose for the story. He was a real life action hero and he was at our school.

Domenic is already writing a sequel….his words not ours!

Listen to the book below:

Categories: Planet

Love and Innovation

The Principal of Change George Couros - 19 December, 2014 - 12:36

Maybe it is because it is close to Christmas, and maybe it is because my dad has been on my mind so much lately, but I just needed to write the reflection below.

I love the “30 for 30″ series on ESPN, because they share powerful sport stories that go way beyond a game, and really touch the heart.  I don’t know if it was from “The Guru of Go” about Paul Westhead and the death of Hank Gathers, or if it was “Survive and Advance” about Jim Valvano, his NC State team, and ultimately his battle with cancer, but I heard about the importance of “love” in bringing people together and overcoming so many obstacles.  It made me think a lot about the term “love” and it’s role in schools and “innovation”.  Not “love” in the terms of relationships with a spouse, but that feeling of being truly cared for and caring for others.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the battle people are going through in their own lives, and how that impacts their work.  I love this quote attributed to Will Smith on the subject:

“Never underestimate the pain of a person, because in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Some people are better at hiding it than others.”

There are people that show up every single day, with a smile on their face and not only do great things, but lift others up as well.  This year I have seen one friend openly share their battle with depression, and another friend share that their spouse may have cancer, yet in both cases, not only did they both seemingly have a smile on their face, but they also lifted others up to become better.  Sometimes when people face the most adversity, the easier it is for them to show love to others.

I have also seen others openly struggle and show up every day.  I remember one teacher going through a very tough personal time, and although they did everything they could for their students, you could see the hurt in their heart.  The pain was there, but it was not enough to keep her away from helping others.  Maybe it was part of their calling, but maybe it is often the unconditional love from her students that kept her going each day.

I have been known to have my heart on my sleeve, and I remember when I lost my dog Shaq this year, having to speak to a large group of teachers the next day.  As tough as it was to talk to a large audience, I was honest with them, shared my loss, and when I was finished, I not only received a warm applause (that is the best way I can describe it) from them, but so many hugs from strangers.  It might not be “love” in the sense that we know it, but it was “love” in the way I felt it.  It not only made my work easier that day, but it pushed me to be better.  In a time when educators are asked to do so much every single day, and in many cases so much “extra” stuff that we never planned, feeling and giving love is crucial.

I was reminded of this quote today:

“Every single employee is someone’s son or daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives.” Simon Sinek

Maybe I am being overly sentimental because of the time of the year, and maybe I am just exhausted (I am), but when people know they are cared and loved, they are going to go so much further and push themselves to do better things for kids.  That feeling of safety and belonging is crucial for innovation. Maybe I am way off base on my use of the term.

But then I see this…

This is why being the Lead Learner of #Cantiague is a dream come true! pic.twitter.com/RpU8Cb8l6X

— Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) December 18, 2014

Then I think of my good friend Tony who not only loves his job, but loves his school and his community, and from what I can tell, loves his students. Then you see what they share in return.

Maybe “love” is the wrong word.  Maybe it is something else. But in a time that educators are so often asked to go above and beyond what they are expected to do, especially in a job that can be so emotionally wearing, I think of the word “love” and the place it has in schools.  For our students, for our colleagues, and for ourselves.

In a profession that is so inherently human, there has to be something more than showing up and  “learning” every day.

To inspire meaningful change, you have to make a connection to the heart, before you make a connection to the mind.

Categories: Planet

Can Ipads, Nooks and Kindles Motivate Students to Read More?

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 18 December, 2014 - 22:06

Dr. Craig Union talks with Vicki about using Nooks with primary students to engage students in reading. His research found that students can be motivated by using technology to read and raise reading scores.

Listen to Dr. Craig Union

Add @craigunion31 to your PLN

Listen to Dr. Union

Dr. Craig Union – Show #80 – Can Ipads, Nooks and Kindles Motivate Students to Read More?

Dr. Craig Union researched how e-readers can be used with primary students to raise their reading scores. He found students were motivated to read outside of the classroom and to use Nooks at home and at school. At the end of the school year, these students who had been the lowest performing third grade students raised end of year reading scores above other end of year third grade students at that school. Listen now to find out how Dr. Union implemented the Nooks to raise reading scores and engage primary students in reading now.

Listen to Dr. Union

Every Classroom Matters is a bi-weekly Radio Show by Vicki Davis on BAM Radio network with best practices for busy teachers. Subscribe.
Show notes prepared by Lisa Durff, Production Coordinator for Every Classroom Matters.

Need help listening to the show?

If you’re clicking “Play” on the BAM Radio Site, this often works best in Internet explorer. Or subscribe in a podcatcher. If you need help, use this tutorial.

The post Can Ipads, Nooks and Kindles Motivate Students to Read More? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog.

Categories: Planet

Reflecting on Coding

Chris Betcher - 18 December, 2014 - 11:54

I was at the ACEC Conference in Adelaide recently where I bumped into the ABC Splash team and got chatting with the wonderful Annabel Astbury. We were talking about getting kids coding and the importance of digital technologies in schools. One thing led to another and I was given an opportunity to write a series of three blog posts on the importance of coding for children as part of ABC Splash’s buildup to the Hour of Code.

If you’d like to read them you can find them here…

As well as these three written posts I was also interviewed for a video series on the importance of coding, which was released as part of the Hour of Code promotions.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Thanks to Annabel and the team for the opportunity to contribute to what I think is a very important conversation to have. Our currently education minister has exhibited a good deal of short-sightedness in regard to the importance of technology education in Australian schools, with many people believing that the recent curriculum review has taken a backwards step in the way digital technologies is approached in the national curriculum. Let’s hope if we keep the conversation going that we can keep this agenda on the table, for the good of our kids and the future of Australia as a technologically relevant country.

Related posts:

  1. Where’s the Coding?
  2. Coding for Kids
  3. Teenage Affluenza… This is Serious

Categories: , Planet

Blog Launch Party (Reflections)

The Principal of Change George Couros - 18 December, 2014 - 08:27

I was recently invited to speak to Mrs. Holden’s Class where they had their “Blog Launch Party“.  I spoke to them for a few minutes about my journey into blogging and the impact it has had on my learning and the opportunities that it has created.  It has been amazing what I have learned in the last four years through the process and I was honoured to share it with the class.

What happened after I talked to them was that all of the students commented on to each other’s blogs and they all learned from each other in the process.  It was a great way to get them excited and then rolling into the project.  Such a great idea (again) from Mrs. Holden’s class.

We even talked about my visit to the St. Louis Zoo since their class connected with them this year, so we sent them this selfie:

Hey @stlzoo…I was just with some of your fans here in #psd70. They wanted to say hi!

A photo posted by George Couros (@gcouros) on Dec 12, 2014 at 12:39pm PST

Within minutes, the St. Louis Zoo, responded back and sent them a message from one of their friends:

@gcouros Hi, everyone! Have a great day and come visit us soon! pic.twitter.com/C1SlJhh7xm

— Saint Louis Zoo (@stlzoo) December 17, 2014

It was a great activity and a great opportunity to learn from and with a class.  Thanks Mrs. Holden’s class for a great afternoon!

(If you have the opportunity to comment on some of the student blogs, they are listed on the right of the classroom blog.)

Categories: Planet

Too many Arrows in the Quiver?

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 18 December, 2014 - 03:56

Last week I saw a tweet complaining to Wonder Workshop about them using Blockly to program their robots when (apparently) the Kickstarter proposal said the would be programmable using Scratch. A conversation ensued as it is likely to do. I thought Blockly and Scratch were similar enough that it shouldn’t matter much. The other person disagreed. He was concerned that teachers should be able to pick a tool and stay with it a while. And I can see that point. On the other hand I love learning new tools and like using different ones with students. A matter of personal taste perhaps.

A third person entered the conversation to say that “diversity and competition drives the quality of tools up, teachers and students benefits” which is a notion that I completely agree with. Admittedly it can be hard on teachers though. Especially if change is mandated. We have a large number of drag and drop programming languages these days. My list of tools for Programming with blocks has been my most viewed blog post for the last month accounting for over a quarter of page views. So clearly there is a lot of interest in the topic. Both for using them and for developing them.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well the obvious answer is yes.

A couple of years ago I did a series of workshop using Kodu for middle and high school students. During the breaks I talked to the students about other tools they had used. Most had used either Scratch or Alice (the big dogs in block programming languages) and many had used both. Their preferences were clear. Some like Scratch better, some Alice and some Kodu. They all had reasons for their preference as well. This is not unexpected. People are different and see things differently. So in one sense the plethora of tools offers the opportunity to meet the needs of more people. And that is good.

On the other hand there are a lot of things for a single teacher to learn. There are 17 tools currently listed on that blog post and I hear about new ones regularly. (Let me know if any are missing.)  Knowing them all is really not practical so some choices have to be made. There is not a lot of real research on any of these tools (though there is probably more on Alice than most and some on Kodu as well) so what is a teacher to do? Don’t look at me to tell you which one to pick! I’ll tell people what I use and why but that is not the right answer for everyone. Possibly not for anyone.

Beyond that there are many traditional languages to teach and more all the time. PASCAL was the last language that seemed to have any concession around it. These days there is Java, C++, C#, Visual Basic, Small Basic, other BASICs, Scheme, Rachet, and growing of late Python. And that scratches the surface.

As I have said time and again There Is No Best Programming Language but should we at least narrow it down a bit? I’m not a fan of that idea (limiting teachers to a small number of options) either. After all I even think we need more operating systems!

So what is a teacher to do? Well I think more teachers need to share what works for them and why. Yes, I think more teachers should blog. I regularly enjoy reading about things that Mike Zamansky and Garth Flint are trying and using for example. Two different teachers in two very different schools in two very different parts of the country. I highly value their perspective. I do wish more people blogged their experiences more often.

And of course there are conferences for sharing. I am planning on attending SIGCSE this March as well as the CSTA Annual conference next summer. I learn a lot from teachers at these events. And not just in formal sessions. That they are expensive and hard to attend for many teachers is why I like the online interactions I get on blogs and even Twitter.

The value of all the amazing tools out there is increased when people try them, use them and share what they have learned. Only then can we pick the right tools for our students and also help make our tools better. So ask yourself – what have I learned and how can I share it with other teachers around the world?

Categories: Planet

How to Make a Table of Contents in Evernote [Video]

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 18 December, 2014 - 01:30
Take several notes and make a table of contents note that links to them all. This is a fast way to organize notebooks, projects, and topics.

For example, when you scan your student rubrics or work samples into Evernote, it is best save them as individual notes. This way you can share the note with an individual student or parent if they have questions. I’ve found that you can access it faster as well. But what if you want a quick index of all of the rubrics from one assignment?

In today’s 2 minute tip, you’ll learn to make a table of contents notecard with a click.

Other Uses of a Table of Contents Notecard
  • Create an index of notes on a common topic (used with a tag) – this could be a person, a topic, or a course.
  • Create an index of your journal entries for a particular year so you can quickly go back to a certain date
  • Create an index of your blog posts or other things you’ve sent to Evernote via ifttt.com

Evernote is a versatile notebook service and one of three I highlight in Reinventing Writing. Of the nine ways writing has been reinvented, the electronic notebook is one of the most important for students and teachers.

Want to know more?

If you want to know more about digital notetaking, you might also want to see: Notetaking Skills for 21st Century Students,  PREPS: 5 Steps for Notetaking Success or buy my book Reinventing Writing

Speak Out: What is your favorite Evernote tip? What would you like to learn in the next 2 minute tip? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The post How to Make a Table of Contents in Evernote [Video] appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog.

Categories: Planet

When Santa stole the show!

Santa takes a rest!

For several months, a connection with a school in a rural area of Japan has been formally planned. Test connections took place and we got a glimpse of the classroom without students.

The empty Japanese classroom

This was my first quite formal connection as previous skype linkups have been spontaneous, sometimes unplanned, rather relaxed with some discussion on what we would do and how it would look once we connect. The learning has often been customized by the students and teachers involved as the connection evolves. However, with Mariko, a University colleague from Japan, we had a very formal structure in place with specific briefs and time to be taken for each part of our 30 minute connection.

Meanwhile behind the scenes:

The week before, students decided to organise a KrisKringle with the presents being opened on the day of the organised Japanese linkup. Names were drawn out of a hat so that the girls knew who their gift recipient was to be, would spend up to $10 on the gift and decided to open them prior to the Japanese web conference. Meanwhile, staff decided during the week to have a smorgasboard morning tea on that same day.

Prior to the connection:

  1. On the actual day, I emailed Mariko to ask whether her students would like to hear about Christmas and how we celebrate it here if there was time. She responded yes and suggested we do it at the start of the lesson.
  2. Students collected ‘Christmas’ type items around the school eg the year 5/6 Christmas tree, examples of craft work, printouts of pictures and amazingly found a Santa costume.
  3. Students brought in their gifts and placed them in the Santa Bag.
  4. Printed off individual first names on A4 paper so that the Japanese students would see who was talking to them.

The actual connection

Students completed a survey prior to the connection to share what they already knew about Japan. Surprisingly for me, two or three said that they knew nothing at all. At the appointed time, the skype call came through. We were seated informally around the webcamera, Christmas gear discreetly out of sight and faced a very formal classroom setup with the Japanese students seated in rows, some with masks over their mouths and a couple of girls with a blanket over their knees.

The girls proceeded to introduce themselves one at a time, name tag clearly displayed. Then showed some of the pictures, craft work and the Christmas tree. As this was going on, a lot of noise was coming from the corner of the room. About to reprimand those who were making the noise, I saw that they were quickly trying to dress a student in the Santa costume. With no planning at all, Santa, then grabbed the presents that were placed in the Santa sack, ho ho’ed her way into to the webcamera and did the Kris Kringle on the spot!

Santa opens her gift

There was much laughter and fun as the girls opened their presents in front of the web camera and showed what they closer to the camera. There were chocolates, lollies, lip gloss, cosmetics and jewellery. Curiousity gave way as we had to explain what some of the goods were and compare whether some of the confectionery and chocolates were available in Japan. At times we had to wait to be interpreted, a new skill for the girls to learn.

Talk then proceeded to the food we eat, when I suddenly remembered the leftovers from our smorgasboard morning tea. Leaving the girls to continue talking, I returned with some of the special cakes, chocolates and part of Christmas fruit cake. Britt Gow a fellow teacher shared her fruit cake with them and explained what it was.

Britt shares her Christmas cake

It was then question time. Our girls wanted to know why the boys were wearing the face masks and why the girls had a rug on their knees. Too quickly it was time to say goodbye and despite the fact that we did not follow our original program, the lesson worked, was fun, student led and directed with one of our favourite festivals and Santa taking pride of place!


A masked student

A kitty blanket

Categories: Planet

What do we lose?

The Principal of Change George Couros - 17 December, 2014 - 11:30
View image | gettyimages.com


“We must never assume that an appeal to the masses represents illiteracy. In fact, it implies a high degree of literacy. And in the new century, that increasingly means visual media.” Stephen Apkon

Greystone Centennial Middle School is hosting their fifth “Innovation Week” (if you want to learn more, connect with Jesse McLean on Twitter), where students suggest things they want to learn, create, make, during the week, and have time to explore and develop.  In the last week before holidays, it is amazing how engaged the learning is within the school.  It is a pretty powerful experience for students and it is a glimpse in what school could look like all of the time, not just  a couple of weeks.  From the work that is happening at the school, I know the experience has shaped and reshaped the learning that is happening year round.

As I walked around looking at what the students were doing, I saw one student using a program that I had never seen before called “Blender” in which he was designing a prototype for a car.  It kind of blew me away to see what he was doing and how he was doing it, because I guessed that no one showed him how to use the software before.  When I asked him how he learned to use it, he just simply replied with one word; “YouTube”.

I was quickly reminded of this Will Richardson quote:

I don’t disagree that a lot of professional development monies are wasted. And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn’t either.

The student wanted to learn about the program, so he went and learned about the program.  This is not in this case, but in so many, whether it is learning how to play an instrument, do a dance, or build something new.  There is a ton of learning opportunities out there, they just might not all be related to the curriculum.  Is our job to teach students how to learn a curriculum, or our students how to learn?  Maybe it is more a combination of both, but more importantly, it is the latter.

I then started to think about how so many schools have blocked sites like YouTube because of all the “distractions” that are on the site.  I admit, I can get lost surfing the web and it is easy to get sucked into something totally different than what you first started looking for, but we lose so much when we take such a robust platform full of information away from our kids.

“Among the more than three billion videos watched each day on sites such as YouTube, there is undoubtedly a lot of garbage. But in what medium is there not?” Stephen Apkon

(As I wrote the above paragraph, I thought about how we have so many books in a library that are simply there for the pleasure of the reading, yet we wouldn’t pull out every novel and replace it with non-fiction, because we see reading is directly correlated to learning, whether it is for the purpose of school or not.  Is there a parallel to the videos we consume as well?)

I know that video sites can become a distraction, not only for kids, but adults as well.  It is rare that there are only positives with any form of technology and I wonder what we lose when we block sites like YouTube (and a myriad of other sites that have a lot to do with learning and maybe not so much to do with school), not only from the perspective of preparing kids for the world we all live in,  but also for the powerful learning that can take place. I can guarantee that if I looked hard enough today, I could have found a student using it and being totally off-task from what they were working on. It is obvious that still exists. But if we looked at sites like YouTube as a library filled with knowledge that we still have to teach our students to navigate, would schools still thinking about banning it from their students?

Categories: Planet

YouScience: The Science of Talent, Interests, and Career [Video]

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 17 December, 2014 - 00:47
YouScience is an online research-based program to help an individual understand their personal aptitudes and where they overlap with interests.  The College Success Profile generated by the YouScience program works to tackle these common problems:

  • Why should students go to college knowing so little about their talents? Why do we spend so much money to go into one major without doing any real research on a student’s likes, dislikes, and talents first?
  • Why do we wait until we’re older to find out what we really love?
  • If someone wants to change careers, how can they save time and make sure they will do something they enjoy and can be good at doing?
Do Aptitudes Change Over Time?

According to  co-founder Betsy Wills and the experts at YouScience, at around age 16, our aptitudes are somewhat set (particularly over the next 10 years – they recommend retesting at that time).  What will change, of course, is our interests. They have taken current research and condensed it down into a series of tests to determine your aptitude. Additionally, they survey your interests and help you find their overlap. What I also love is that you’re also tested on how you interact with others (think something similar to Myers-Briggs). The result of the YouScience testing (which takes a little over 2 hours) is a 50 page profile about you.

YouScience is a program to help you learn more about yourself. Our seniors here at Westwood are participating in the program this week. We’re so excited!

While our students are taking the test, I’m also taking it and my college aged children will be taking it as well. Betsy says that many adults looking to change careers also use their comprehensive system.

I’ll be sharing more about my own results and that of my students in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I thought you might want to tune in as I spent 20 minutes interviewing Betsy. I did this on YouTube so we can see Betsy’s screen for ourselves. You’ll see some testing information and some results.

Why We’re Using YouScience at Westwood: To Help Students Study Themselves

I’m excited, most of all, to help my students (and children) make educated choices about their future. We spend so much time studying subjects, but sometimes the most important subject students should study is themselves!

My school is part of a market research pilot program with YouScience. I am also covering this program on my blog and Twitter as part of our participation agreement.

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The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 16 December, 2014 - 22:32
A friend sent me a link to an interesting looking page that the White House set up to tell stories of the history of women in Science and Technology. It is a collection of stores about great women in science and technology. For each person there is a brief intro and picture followed by a recording on a woman on the President’s administration telling the story of a personal hero. Several of the stories are told by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. 

As you might expect there are a number of stories about women in computer science but the women and their fields covers are much broader than that. This may be a site to share with STEM teachers of all disciplines. And with girls you want to inspire to greatness of their own.

They were leaders in building the early foundation of modern programming and unveiled the structure of DNA. Their work inspired environmental movements and led to the discovery of new genes. They broke the sound barrier — and gender barriers along the way. And inspiring more young women to pursue careers in science starts with simply sharing their stories. Let’s write their stories permanently into history.
Categories: Planet

Sometimes it’s you…

The Principal of Change George Couros - 16 December, 2014 - 11:00

Change is hard.

There is a lot going on not only in education, but the world, that can wear down on people. Doing the things we want to do and the things we actually do can be far apart.  Sometimes people can wear on us because they don’t agree with the direction we are going and can be easy to blame others.

But sometimes we need to step back and realize that a lot of times, it’s not them, it’s us. More specifically, it is me.  Life can be tough and it is easy to get worn down, and I have noticed that sometimes it is easy to sit back and focus on what others are doing that isn’t quite making the grade, but many of us tend to look at how we have been “wronged” as opposed to what we can do better ourselves.

This quote cannot be shared enough:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

When it is shared though, we often think about it in the context of others, not ourselves.  If we to look deeper into the quote, we often our fighting our own battles and have to not be so hard on ourselves, but also realize that we all have room to grow.

As this time of year can be so busy and overwhelming, so it is important to not be so tough on everyone else, but to also take care ourselves.

Categories: Planet

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years [Book]

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 15 December, 2014 - 22:58
Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (Thomas Nelson, 2009) So, what if you could edit your life — what role would you give yourself? In this book review of a A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story I share why this book is epic and unsettling. It is also one of my best reads of 2014.

When Michael Hyatt said  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story was one of his favorite books of all time, it sounded odd. Written by the same author of Blue Like Jazz, this book challenges you to look at your life and edit it. In my opinion, it is a must read.

I STARTED THINKING differently about life when I met a couple of filmmakers who wanted to make a movie about a memoir I’d written. I wrote a memoir several years ago that sold a lot of copies. I got a big head about it for a while and thought I was an amazing writer or something, but I’ve written books since that haven’t sold, so I’m insecure again and things are back to normal.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 200

It makes sense. I remember reading some research in the early days of Second Life. (wish I could find it.)  They had found that when they took troubled girls in a program in Florida into Second Life to play out what was happening to them in real life that the girls would make changes. Why? Because they were able to see themselves in third person.

Maybe we should be doing that too.

Interestingly Donald Miller, the author, author takes the elements of story — specifically the need for conflict and the need for the central character to overcome that conflict — the need for a protagonist and other story elements– and encourages us to apply these to life. The thing is – we remember the big days of our lives. Those with monumental events. Those with story.

When Your Life Has Story

Like the day last year I sat and listened to my daughter give her valedictory speech. I didn’t cry because her speech was epic. I cried because of the great story her life told that got her to that moment.

If Steve was right about a good story being a condensed version of life—that is, if story is just life without the meaningless scenes—I wondered if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place. I wondered whether a person could plan a story for his life and live it intentionally.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 530

She overcame the taunts of classmates who told her not to do so well on tests as she was making them look bad. Those who tried to get answers to homework with promises of her being included in events on weekends. She overcame and succeeded.

Great story.

What Role Should You Play Today?

But A Million Miles in a Thousand Years doesn’t have us focusing on our past. It centrally nails us to today. If you look at your life right now. If you look at the conflict, the characters, and the great thing(s) you want to attain. What role should you play?

For me, it is a hard role. I’ve gained fifty pounds in the past 2 years after coming through a very difficult situation that almost caused me to withdraw from social media. I thought about quitting teaching and living life as a hermit. I’d be happy tending a garden, fishing, and writing the next Walden. I really would.

My uncle told a good story with his life, but I think there was such a sadness at his funeral because his story wasn’t finished. If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died. But my uncle died too soon.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 518

But being a hermit standing on a pillar isn’t my story. Every single kid should have one great teacher and I want to be at least one of them. I want to be that pivot point that helps kids find themselves and their passion. I’ve got down the role of teacher and want to play it as long as I can.

Every time I put my head on my desk and wonder how I’m going to make it, I feel the vibrations of tens of thousands of heads on desks of teachers just like me and I know how they feel.

My sister says that these experiences of the tough side of teaching aren’t wasted if I can help others through them. So sometimes the road I travel as a teacher is dark and hard and full of slimy gooey monsters who threaten to steal my joy and life’s purpose. But as I kill the monsters, I can help other teachers kill their own. I can shine a light upon the heroes among us. Teachers are epic. I love them with a deep love. Telling their story is part of telling my own.

I was watching the movie Star Wars recently and wondered what made that movie so good. Of course, there are a thousand reasons. But I also noticed that if I paused the DVD on any frame, I could point toward any major character and say exactly what that person wanted. No character had a vague ambition. It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 1258

But I’m afraid now because my story includes sweat. It includes some more running if I can get my knee to cooperate. Whatever it is, it is going to include not eating the Italian Cream Cake that my son won at the Fall Festival Last night. I may have to shun the ham and mashed potato casserole the lunchroom is famous for and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

If I’m Going to Edit My Life

Because if I’m going to edit my life – I’m going to have to lose this weight. I’m going to have to join my son who has already lost 18 pounds as he loses another 15 or so and I am going to have to become healthy. If I’m going to edit my life.

Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, p 100

If I’m going to edit my life, I’m going to have to not only write this blog and tweet and these other things. But I’m going to have to make time to write the books that are on my heart. I’m going to have to overcome my fears of self publishing or my self-doubt that people may not want to read it. I see where I want to go with these books but I have to go there.

Overcoming Conflict Gives You Purpose

I remember being a sixth grader who was bullied beyond belief. I cried every single day for four years – from halfway through fifth through halfway through ninth grade. It was hard. I was one of those who ran for every election and never won one I couldn’t even get elected to carry the banner for the Homecoming parade.

What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given – it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 719

I remember it was in sixth or seventh grade and Mom and I were driving in the car to Albany to shop. I had my shoes off with my argyle sock clad feet on the dashboard. I told her that I knew deep down I was called be a leader but that no one would let me lead. That I had something to say and no one would let me speak.

Was I going to have to live my whole life alone when I had these things inside me that had to come out? I felt like I was going to explode. I had stuff to share and do. Things needed to be done. And I was invisible.

Overcoming Conflict Writes a Great Story

So, Mom bought me a book. It was my Granddaddy Martin’s favorite book after the Bible. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. She  told me to read it until it made a difference.  I remember keeping the book in the bathroom and reading it while I took the long hot baths that have marked the end of my day since I was in the second grade. I read it. I read it. I reread it.

By ninth grade I understood that thinking of others first was the key. Of course, we all star at the center of our own play – as evidenced by my introspective book review here — but as you look at your goals, looking at others first will help you shape your own goals to be a more helpful person. Genuinely help others because you want to and in the end, you help yourself. You reap what you sow.

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is a character transformation.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 821

I stopped talking about what I wanted and started looking at what others wanted.

For for my next election I asked “What do ninth graders want?”

In my generation we wanted to hang out – boys and girls. Lights off and dance. Not this dirty dancing stuff they do today but in our day our music was considered pretty raunchy too. Careless Whispers and rock stars who dressed like zombies, wore one glove and grabbed their crotch. Naughty stuff, mind you. So, I ran on a platform of more dances. That election and every election after it, I was blessed to be voted the winner. Even through college and beyond. Not because of me but because I learned to think of others.

Transformed character through overcoming conflict. Story.

Overcoming Hard Things Makes Good Stories, Good Stories Make a Great Life

And that story is pretty cool. It is one I could tell my children and they can understand. I always tell my kids —

“Don’t you know we always have to start off with nothing and earn it. That is who we are.”

My Recommendation

I highly recommend this book. While there are some religious overtones, I would recommend it to anyone. There’s great clarity that comes from looking at your life in this way. And that clarity, like this book, is a gift.

Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 1948

Awesome book. Great read. I’ve already given away two copies. It is that good. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is one of my best reads of 2014.

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Categories: Planet

Interesting Links 15 December 2014

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 15 December, 2014 - 22:20

This week is the last week of school for my school this calendar year. We start our Christmas break with Saturday the 20th and will be off until January. I’m looking forward to the break. Though of course like many teachers I will be using a lot of the time to catch up with school work and with work that I didn’t have time for while school was in session. And maybe catch up on a little sleep.

Last week was Computer Science Education week and there was a lot going on. The President of the United States wrote a line of code. (President Obama writes his first line of Javascript) as did mayors and Senators and all sorts of other people. All in all a great week for getting some attention paid to computer science education.

During CS Ed Week, Microsoft New England used their blog to highlight teachers with guest posts by a number of them from New England – including me. Some good posts and also a recognition that CS Education week can be about more than just an Hour of Code.

Meet our Winners of the Faces of Computing Contest! Check out the winning videos for the contest sponsored by the Equity Committee of the CSTA. Some really great videos that you may want to use for recruiting.

A comment on another post led me to this great comic version of the story of Grace Hopper’s live and career.

It's official!! See the new AP Computer Science Principles Curriculum Framework. This new AP exam starts in the fall of 2016. Time to get started looking at it if you want to get it into your program of studies.

Nominate best Portrayal of a Woman in Tech! NEW Google/EIC/NCWIT SET Award!

Media portrayals are just the tip of the iceberg for making young women’s first impression about technical work count. NCWIT resources can help you to encourage young women to act upon their computing interests and to understand why diversity in computing matters: www.ncwit.org/SETresources. For inspiration on pursuing careers in tech and for opportunities to try out coding, check out Google's Made with Code (www.madewithcode.com) site to learn how the things you love are made with code. It features videos of real-life makers who do amazing things with code. For introductory computer science lessons designed by Googlers, explore our CS First program (www.cs-first.com). There you'll find all the materials you need as a teacher or community volunteer to run after-school, in-school, or summer programs. More resources are available at www.google.com/edu.

Categories: Planet

200+ Free Educational Resources for Kids: Video Lessons, Apps, Books Websites & More [Link]

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 14 December, 2014 - 22:33
200+ Free Educational Resources for Kids: Video Lessons, Apps, Books Websites & More Open Culture

If you haven’t added Open Culture to your RSS reader, you should. This list of 200+ Free educational resources is just one reason why. They catalog so many of the open educational resources including:

And so much more. Of course nothing is totally free and curating will take your time. But for those of us working hard to stretch our dollars, these resources can be assembled to create a world class curriculum in many subjects. You might just be surprised. With sites like CK12, ed.Ted.com you can bring the world to your students and they can publish right back.

Remember. Don’t be overwhelmed. Innovate like a turtle! Plod ahead a little bit every day! You can do this!

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Categories: Planet

Abraham Lincoln – Homes [Quote]

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 13 December, 2014 - 22:03
The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people. Abraham Lincoln
Springs in the Valley (Harper Collins Publishing, 2010), Such truth. We need to reinforce and help our homes be strong. We must partner with parents to raise up a generation of well educated, well rounded, hard working people. Priorities matter. It isn’t always about having everything but instead, helping students learn to overcome anything. Times are not easy and homes are more important than ever. I’m a fan of parents. Good parents are heroes as are good teachers. When we partner together, great things happen. Teaching isn’t easy. Neither is parenting. As parents and teachers learn to appreciate one another, we build a connection that helps our children succeed.

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