Thursday, October 27, 2016

Robots in the Elementary Math Classroom!

As we all know, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) has fast become the focus of national and local attention. Skills in these areas are going to be necessary for citizens in our technologically-advancing global society to be successful and productive. Many times however, when we include robotics in our STEM conversations, we think about the wonderful work being done in science. Robots are used to aid in surgeries, create realistic prostheses, find distant galaxies, and even mimic animal behaviors for scientists to learn more about the creatures of our planet.

Mr. Powlen, a 5th grade science and math teacher at Southern Pines Elementary, has found a different way to leverage the power of robots - in his math class! Mr. Powlen recently had his 5th graders use LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robots to master concepts related to decimal place value, while at the same time working through the Engineering and Design Process.

SPES 5th graders testing wheel rotation.
At first, students had to measure the distance of one rotation of their robot’s wheels. They then used their math skills and the engineering process to plan out how to program their robot to travel given distances. Trial, error, and redesign ensued! This led to learning about pivot turns of varying degrees, and finally the challenge of putting all of this knowledge together to conquer a large maze.

Engineering trials...
As educators we can learn so much from each other’s experiences. Mr. Powlen was kind enough to share his thoughts following his math unit integrating the EV3 robots:

Q: What curriculum standards were you hoping to cover with the robotics integration?  
A: Students were having some difficulty in concretely seeing how place value affected the worth of a number and decimals can be a tough concept to get sometimes.  My primary focus with this project was to improve adding and subtracting decimals (5.NBT.7), but we also utilized concepts from powers of ten, rounding, and number comparisons when deciding how to alter the basic program.  While I felt this went pretty well, I think I’ll start it a little later and I’ll definitely be tweaking the homework a bit.  The homework/classroom work revolved in showing the work done during the programming work.

Mr. Powlen's kids testing out their measurements.
Q: How did the project meet/exceed your expectations and in what way(s)?  
A. I was really excited to see how the students enjoyed the project, but students really seemed to process adding and subtracting decimals with greater efficiency.  Also, the level of conversation about how one tenth or one whole made a big difference on how the robot moved was great.  This real world, hands on work seemed to pull in their interest (I was asked daily if we were using robots!) and do more authentic teaching than I could in any given lesson.
Re-programming the decimal commands.
Q. What value do you feel the engineering and design process had in what your kids did during the lessons?  
A. Our lessons lead to making the robot move independently.  The engineering process was in full effect when they went to complete the simple maze I had laid out for them.  Most measured, discussed, and planned what to program.  Some programmed and tested, then discussed what to do next.  There was a lot of testing and improving that occurred!  One of the stipulations I put in was that they only could use the actually maze so much before it would start going against their score, so some went to extremes (i.e. – One group has a student walk the maze while watching their robot run off to the side to mirror its movements!) but most groups were fairly successful.  The fact that they weren’t perfect on the first try was also important.  While I had taught them exacting distances and turns, I wanted them to use this as a beginning point, not the answer, and it worked out so well!

If you need help designing ways to integrate robotics into the subject(s) you teach, don’t hesitate to contact your DIF! He or she would be glad to brainstorm, help plan, and assist you in the classroom in whatever ways will be most helpful.

Keep Calm and Engineer On! -- Kim

Monday, October 24, 2016

Halloween is coming but Mrs. Futral isn't afraid

Integrating technology can be scary. 

Technology is constantly changing. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance. Especially when the computer, iPad, app, robot, chromebook, website (you see where I am going with this) is not working like it should. It is easy to become frustrated. But through it all, Johnna Futral knows that integrating technology is worth the risk. I have worked with Johnna over the past three years and she has become one of my closest allies in the world of digital learning. I know that if there is something new that I would like to take for a test drive I can approach Johnna and she will be eager to give it a shot. Not only is she open to my suggestions, she's an advocate for the benefits of digital learning. I wanted to share her teaching pedagogy that includes using technology to enhance her instruction so that other educators may see that the rewards are worth the risks that you take when you step out of your comfort zone. Here's a piece of my interview with another one of Moore County's finest:

Question: How long have you been a teacher in Moore County Schools?
Answer: This is my eighteenth years teaching. All in Moore County Schools. I’ve taught second grade for seven years, Kindergarten for seven years and two years in fourth grade. I also worked as an assistant for two years.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?
A: My teaching philosophy has always been that high expectations lead to high achievers. I like a lot of movement in the classroom. I like to change things on a whim. I’d like to say that I’m organized enough that I’m effective but if something isn’t working I like to change it on the fly. I’d say I’m a little bit of a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of teacher. It depends on what the kids need. What I think when I’m planning may be different than what happens when I’m actually teaching. I also like a lot of creative in the classroom. I like to integrate arts and science because the kids enjoy it and I bring that passion so then the kids get excited.

Q: You often integrate technology in your lessons. How does technology enhance your instruction?
A: For one thing, when the kids are using technology they are a lot more engaged compared to when they’re talking to their classmates. I think it has a lot to do with the world we’re living in. It enhances teaching when you bring in something they're familiar with. 21st century learners must be fluent with technology to be able to function as an adult. Showing students those skills of creating, collaboration, and publishing prepares them for what’s to come in their future. They still need to be able to talk through their thinking as well. That way we don’t take out the personal connection part.

Q: What are some of your favorite lessons that included technology?
A: I especially enjoyed the solar oven engineering lesson where our students created a plan, then made and tested, as well as improved a way of using the energy from the sun to make s’mores. I also enjoyed the Lego robotics lessons where our students created and programed robots that supplemented math lessons in measurement and comparing numbers. You can see the kids enjoy these lessons and you know the content will stick with them because of how much they enjoy it. Even though some of those lessons are harder to prepare for, it turns out being some of the best lessons. Once we got out there to see that something they created was successful when the sun had melted our chocolate...they’ll remember that forever..

Q: What would you say to a teacher who may be reluctant to use technology with their students?
A: I would say to utilize your resources. If your Digital Integration Facilitator is offering to give you help, you should take advantage of that resource because if you’re not comfortable with technology, your DIF is so you’ll be able to step outside of your comfort zone and then you’ll grow as a teacher. You are more likely to try something new when you’re working with a DIF. Until I see it, I don’t understand how it works. The only way you’re growing to grow as an educator is to step outside of the box of comfort. No one is going to grow until they take risks. Just like we tell our students. I often find that if I do take a risk and fail it’s a good lesson for my students as well. You teach them perseverance and not to give up with some things are hard.

Q: Does your principal affect your motivation or desire to use technology?
A: No. I think he’s very tech savy. It’s something that I do on my own because I think it’s beneficial.

Q: You’re an inspiration to many people, including myself, what inspires you?
A: From the time I was a small child I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was inspired at a young age by my kindergarten teacher. I don’t know exactly what it was but she was a huge inspiration for me. I even did an internship where I went back into her classroom and worked with her.  My children also inspire me. My colleagues inspire me. I get inspired by other educators. I think that my daughter inspires me and that I inspire her as well as my students. They’re so much love in a school building that is enough in itself to be inspiring. I like to have fun. I don’t like to do things like in the olden days. I like to be creative and I think teaching allows me to do that.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a teacher?

A: I think my favorite part is the kids and how much they love you. It’s like having a classroom full of your own children that you mold and shape. Even though you send them home at the end of everyday you still think about them. Why else would you be a teacher? It’s about the kids. I like to see them excited about things. Like today, when they were building their robots today that’s something they were excited about.

This is Mrs. Futral's first year at Cameron Elementary School and they are beyond lucky to have such an amazing teacher. If I had kids, I would love for them to have her as their teacher. She is a phenomenal educator and I absolutely love collaborating with her.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Engineering has Taken off in Mrs. Rallings Class!

   Nationally there is a big push for student interest and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The Moore County School District has embraced this push and has currently integrated an engineering thread into the K-5 science and math curriculum. This thread offers teachers two projects, one with robotics and one without. Lessons were created by staff this summer and are meant to last several days. 
   The teachers at Pinehurst Elementary, in Moore County, have welcomed this new addition with open arms! The students are eager to do science and participate with friends on engineering design. Mrs. Kathy Rallings, first grade teacher at Pinehurst Elementary, has gone above and beyond with integrating STEM into her classroom. Her students not only know the design process, and can recite it, but they have developed perseverance when solving problems related to STEM. "You have to be like an engineer and keep going until you solve the problem", says one of Mrs. Rallings first graders. 

I asked Mrs. Rallings her thoughts on incorporating STEM into her classroom and these were her thoughts:

    1. What did you know about STEM prior to this year?

Prior to this year I really thought of STEM as robotics and activities for older students.

     2. Do you feel the STEM lessons have excited your kids about learning science?

The exciting thing about STEM lessons is that every child is given an opportunity to be creative, be a problem solver and to work cooperatively with others.  So you may see a student that is not engaged in reading or math, but in the STEM lesson this particular student might actually take the lead and excel. This student gets to feel a sense of accomplishment he may never feel during the course of a reading task or math activity. 

    3. What is the most enjoyable part of teaching these lessons to your kids?

The most enjoyable part of teaching these lessons for me as an educator is taking a step back and letting the students take the initiative with their partner or group in solving the problem or challenge with the STEM lesson.

    4. What has been your best memory so far?
Seeing your students guide each other, encourage each other, and work through the challenge of a STEM lesson is a memorable moment for me. Just the other day, I saw a particular student who usually does not work well with his peers and does not work cooperatively with others, showing such kindness and understanding as he helped his STEM partner through the blog questions for our Global Read Aloud book, The Troublemaker. 

     5. Do you have any advice for other teachers thinking about incorporating STEM in their classrooms?

My advice for other teachers would be, go ahead, jump in head first and try at least one STEM lesson each week. Rise to the challenge and your students will guide you through the learning process. That’s what true learning is. It’s the process not the product.

    I look forward to many more STEM lessons throughout this year in Moore County. A huge thank you to Mrs. Rallings on her willingness to try something different and embracing a change in her classroom!

~Deanna Boesch

Let's Animate

Lego Movie Maker has always been one of my favorite Apps. It is easy to create a custom animation with titles, pictures and sounds. With the built in camera, students can easily take still pictures of whatever they choose to animate.

Recently, I co-taught with a 9th grade ELA teacher that used this App to help his students remember the parts of The Odyssey. He provided a few props relevant to the storyline, a title card with the Episode number, and action cards with the main ideas from the story. This was an excellent process because it kept students on task with a directed plan.

Later, the videos could be watched as a review for an upcoming assessment. The sky is the limit with this App. Give it a try.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bringing Elements to Life with Augmented Reality

Cupcakes, Twizzlers, bottle caps.  When it comes to studying the periodic table, these are probably not materials that come to mind, right?  Not the case for eighth grade students at Westmoore Elementary who recently completed a mega periodic table project.  For this project, students were assigned a different element from the periodic table and were required to describe all of their element’s properties on folded piece of paper.  In addition, students created models using everyday materials and pantry items to represent their element’s atoms, with the correct number of protons, electrons, and neutrons in the proper place on the model.
Mega Periodic Table by 8th graders at Westmoore Elementary

Description of the element Fluorine
Thallium atom model

But they didn’t stop there.  After students presented their atoms, they linked photos of their models to their element cards with the augmented reality app Aurasma.   

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) layers content on top of a trigger image.  The content can be accessed by scanning a trigger image with a mobile device that creates a subsequent action. This action can be a video, another image, QR code, or whatever you want it to be.

For the Mega Periodic Table Project, students used the Aurasma app to layer pictures of their atom models on top of their periodic table card.  Now anyone with the Aurasma app can scan each element to view the models!

AR in the Classroom

Getting started with augmented reality in your classroom is as easy as downloading an AR app and printing out an AR trigger.

Here are a few of my personal favorite augmented reality apps and resources:

How can you use Augmented Reality in your own classroom to bring learning to life?


Friday, October 7, 2016

TEACHER FEATURE - Mrs. Henry Uses Recap to Promote Public Speaking Skills

Last year, we were all excited to use an awesome digital public speaking tool called "Movenote."  Unfortunately, that program no longer offers a free educational option.  Have no fear!  A new tool has arrived on the scene!  Recap allows teachers to set up specific classes and assign students activities, where they may record themselves "speaking" an answer instead of simply submitting it via paper.  

When I entered Mrs. Henry's 6th grade ELA classes at West Pine Middle, students were so excited to explore this new tool.  I taught a lesson describing universal theme.  I showed 3 music videos and we discussed possible themes.  One of the best themes of the day was stated by Ally G.  After watching the video "So Small" by Carrie Underwood, Ally said, "Life may be made up of struggles, but they only make you stronger."  Below are other student samples demonstrating the recap tool:

Click HERE to watch video clip

Students learned that it is not easy to speak publicly.  They must eventually learn to only use their notes for talking points and not simply read words from a paper verbatim.   This is definitely a skill, which Recap may assist students in mastering.

The following week, Mrs. Henry was excited to use this tool with her students.  She decided to have them create 5 sentences using the book they were reading, while also implementing new vocabulary words.  That's 3 tasks in one, plus practice speaking publicly!  

The main goals for best utilizing this new digital tool are to:

- ensure students learn how to only look down at their notes periodically
- look into the camera when speaking
- speak with personality and vibrance
- especially speak clearly and with an appropriate volume

Using recap after viewing presidential and vice presidential debates is another effective lesson!
Recap would also be an excellent tool for creating public service announcements!  

How does one set up Recap for their classroom?

It's easy!  Yes, you have to type students' names into each class you crate, but only their first name and last Initial.  It only took me about 15 minutes to create 4 classes containing 25-28 students each.

After adding your students, click "Add Recap"


Then, you type a question or a few questions.  Students answer each question with a video recording.

After clicking "next," select "whole class" or individual students.  This is perfect for differentiating!  You may choose video length allowance and due date too.


After students complete the activity, a teacher may watch each video from anywhere!

We all know that pencil and paper lessons are still extremely necessary!  It is imperative that students learn proper handwriting skills and excellent grammar.

The best part about Recap though even more so than the strengthening of students' public speaking skills, is the excitement on the faces of students when they find out they will be creating a digital assignment.  


You may login to and click 
"login with Google" through your .net account.  
Choose "Teacher," 
and have FUN!

Lets Face It- They Are Smarter Than We Are!

     Let's all say it together. They are smarter than we are. Well, in all fairness they are smarter than we give them credit for. They outsmart us often. I think we all know who I am talking about. Our students.

     We were reminded of this fact this week when the DIFs (Digital Integration Facilitators) were presented with some students that have figured a way around one of the softwares that we use. It wasn't life or death or crashing any systems or networks. In fact it was quite entertaining watching a group of technology "experts" try to figure out how some middle school and high school students had outsmarted us. Now granted, we probably could've figured it out earlier if we were totally focused on doing this very thing every day like our students are. 

     Why would students feel compelled to find a way around a software? What does this have to do with teachers and education?

     Well everything actually. The first step in solving the problem of student distractibility is admitting that they are smarter than we are. These students are digital natives. They were born with this stuff. Point in fact, I am already scoping out robots that I can buy my daughter that is still 4 months from being born. These are the students that we are teaching. A lot of our students had computers and ipads in their hands before they could read. In fact some learned to read with the help of ipads. Long gone are the days where students are entertained by worksheets or flashcards. 

Am I saying that everything that teachers are currently doing is wrong? No. Am I saying that we as teachers have to work harder to engage our students in learning? Yes.  

It is most definitely NOT why they come to us every day. They come to us to learn. They come to us to be enriched. They come to us for guidance. It is our responsibility to know who we are as teachers and to know who they are as students. That is why we have DIFs in schools isn't it? Because schools recognize that there is a need for technological guidance for both teachers and students. 

I had a teacher come to me last week with a very pointed question. "How can I made the periodic table interesting and lasting for my kiddos?" What a great question! These are the questions that the technology integration staff members can help you with . That is what we live for. How can we as educators reach the minds and curiosity of our students with the same material that we learned from worksheets so many years ago? 

Lets face it. When it comes to technology most of our students are smarter than we are. Do we as educators have all the answers? No. Whether or not you use technology every day or once a week, knowing what drives our students and what sets them apart from students even 5-10 years ago will go a long way to helping meet students on their level. Its what they need from us. 

If you aren't sure where you fall on the Digital Native scale here is a quiz. You might be surprised!

Beth Alderson
Digital Integration Facilitator- Moore County Schools