Re-inventing Fun Fact Friday

Fun Fact Friday was a big hit last year at Central Manor Elementary School. It’s a project where students can create slideshows about various educational topics that are displayed in an interactive space for the entire school to see. Students last year put loads of energy into creating some amazing slides about everything from firefighting to jungle plants.

But why stop there? Why not give students the chance to run the project? This year, with my oversight, these five students will be setting up the screens on Friday mornings to display the slideshows created by other students around the building.

There was a question twirling in my mind when I started the program back in September of 2016: ‘how can I make this project self-sustaining so that it can have a long lasting impact on the building as a whole?’ The less interaction I have in the project, the better the chance it will have of standing the test of time. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to think of ways to take myself out of the process and make it even easier to set up.

Currently, each Friday morning I start up the 5 computers and screens and connect to them from my desk where I can control them (like a good IT guy often does with computers). This makes it a very quick process for me, but it doesn’t make it easy for teachers, or other volunteers to do. They would have to go from screen to screen and repeat the same steps, and that would take up too much time.

Today, I talked to the 6th grade teachers at Central Manor about my idea to give some of this responsibility to some students. They loved the idea and each selected a student or two that they thought would be a perfect fit. I promptly showed them how to turn on the screens, open the slides, and set them to loop in full screen.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be gradually granting more ownership to these five students as new topics arise. They’ll get to choose what information is displayed on each screen and sometimes make changes to animation and slide order. Eventually, we might have a classroom make slide for Fun Fact Friday by creating one slide per student in the class. Then, these students might be able to collect those slides and group them in a presentable order for the five screens.

The most exciting part of the new structure is that students get the chance to be responsible for the “infrastructure” that brings creative work to life for the entire school to see. These are life skills in action, inspiring young people to do exciting things.

1:1 May be the best thing that ever happened to an Elementary School classroom.

A few weeks ago, several 5th and 6th grade classrooms around Penn Manor began a pilot program giving each student their own laptop to use for class. As of now, these laptops stay in the classroom, but the students have the same level of access and control as the 1:1 students at the Middle and High Schools.

Until I saw this for myself, even I wasn’t fully convinced that an effort of this scale at this grade level would be as big a win for both teachers and students as it is at the higher grade levels. Of course it would be easier to manage the laptops this way than with laptop carts that are shared across an entire building, but what would education look like? How could a small change like this, from using a shared laptop to using your own laptop, make much difference in the larger scheme of things?

Today at Eshleman Elementary School, it all clicked for me as I watched students lead the way in learning for the future. Here’s what I noticed.

Ownership

Learning happens at a much more rapid pace when you own your education. If you decide you want to know as much as you can about hot air balloons for example, and you “own” the study of hot air balloons, you will find yourself truly enjoying your study time and you will learn much quicker because you have a greater desire to learn.

This 1:1 program does something very similar for the student. A simple thing like being able to change your wallpaper and know that no one else will set it back gives each student the feeling that they are in full control of this device and they can personalize it to their liking. That personal touch is freeing, and soon, they are exploring the world with more interest and excitement than they ever had before.

Stations

In the photo above, the teacher (Mr. Bodde) has divided students in to small groups that can each be working on things that are more targeted to their current learning needs. The teacher can visit one station at a time, and give more direct and personal attention to each student, while not taking away from his view and value in the classroom. This has become a popular way to enhance the classroom learning experience, but when any student in the room can pull out a laptop at any time, the stations method quickly becomes an even more powerful way to teach.

Collaboration

Teamwork can be a challenge at the 5th and 6th grade levels. In a 1:1 setting, collaboration becomes much easier. Imagine students collaborating on a group project where each one has their own laptop, but they are all working on the same document.

One of the projects that Mr. Bodde is working on is a classroom blogging system that’s only visible to the other students in the classroom. In this system, every student has their own blog, and they can post things to it that anyone else in the class can see. This is a project I’ll be keeping my eye on.

 

Even More To Come

This is just the beginning. There is so much more potential in the weeks and months to come, which will be expanded by some of my own efforts like Tech Club, Tech October, and other opportunities that I find to inspire learning.

 

 

1:1 Pilot at Elementary

Yesterday we rolled out a pilot of one laptop per student in a few classrooms around Penn Manor.

The excitement and opportunity for each student could be felt across the room as 5th and 6th graders were assigned a single laptop that would be theirs for an entire school year. This level of ownership will make it easier for students to work on class projects, do research, and create presentations, videos, artwork, essays, and more.

So, how did it go? As always with something new, there were some lessons learned, but for most classrooms, the roll-out was relatively seamless. Some students even started making things in their Google Drive right away.

The opportunities are endless in a program like this, and the coming months will certainly be worth watching.

Last Week of Tech Club – A Recap

In January, I began a journey of exploration. There was a need to educate students on the proper care that should be given to student laptops. It made sense to try an experiment, and give students an opportunity to get more involved in technology. The idea culminated in what came to be affectionately called, “Tech Club”.

Tech Club was divided into 3 cycles between the months of January and May, each lasting about a month and a half. The first cycle was very foundational. Being the very first, there were certainly some things that could have been done better, but I made up for it by doing whatever fun things I could think of, like an introduction to Scratch where they could make their own game, or taking a laptop apart.

Lessons learned from the first cycle inspired the content for cycle 2. This time around we began with the Spheros, a toy designed to introduce kids to programming, and certainly a lot of fun. We then began to look at how computers work, and had a competition to rebuild laptops. I collected a set of laptops that were being retired so we could destroy them without consequence. The children went to work with screw drivers in hand and learned how to fully disassemble a laptop and put it back together in working order!

The third cycle was all about media; video, audio, photography, editing and so forth. I felt it was important this year to see what children can create in this sort of program, to push more into the creative side for future programs of this kind. I pulled out my green screen and we took some video with that as well. I always put the kids at the controls and give them the opportunity to own their project. Central Manor is making a video about bullying, and LeTort is making one about playground safety.

All in all, Tech Club has been a very successful endeavor, requiring little prep time and offering a lot of value. There were ups, and there were downs, but many many lessons were learned. Wheels are turning already to create some similar efforts next year, hopefully efforts that will be even more effective at inspiring the next generation to be creators, engineers, and inventors.

 

The End Begins

Today is the first day of our last of three cycles of Tech Club at LeTort and Central Manor elementary schools this year. So far, this experiment has proved wonderfully successful, and I truly believe it has laid the groundwork for similar programs in the future.

This past cycle, two of my 5th grade students wrote about their experiences. Here they are, word for word.

From Suren,

     Dear readers of Mr. Moss’s blog,
     I am Suren. A tech club member at Letort for the second rotation. Us tech club students at Letort were asked by Mr. Moss to write a paragraph for his blog. So, he is what I have to say.
     Tech club : A place where kids at some of the Penn Manor Elementary schools learn about tech.
     I had tried out for the first rotation of tech club, but I did not get in. This rotation I put my very best into the try-out and guess what? I got in!
     The first week or so of tech club we played with a little sphere robot called cphereo. It was so fun to play, explore, and code with cphereo. After that unit was over, we started to get into parts of a computer. First, we learned about all the parts of a computer. Then came a challenge. All of us tech club students went head-to-head in a race to take apart then rebuild a computer. Cole won and I came in second place. After that day we did a competition called ‘Research race’. In that we are given things to look up, and the first person to find that thing gets a point. I won that race and Cole came in second.
     From there on, well I don’t know because I am typing this on the day of ‘Research race’. So, have a great tech day. I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Bye!
-Suren (A second rotation member of tech club at LeTort)

From Sydney,

     My name is Sydney and I am a member of Tech Club. In Tech Club, we do many fun and exciting things! Like currently, we are working with Sphero robots along with rebuilding laptops. We do many games like research races and draw the computer parts. Every day is exciting and I can’t wait for every Tuesday and Thursday when we have it. Now granted, Mr. Moss thinks that we are a mischievous bunch. We have lunch with him and talk about the different computer parts. Mr. Moss is pretty patient and has a great sense of humor basing off of the fact the we may not always behave the greatest. Today, we raced to see who could take apart and then rebuild the laptops the fastest. I won of course. No, no I didn’t but came in a close second. I will be very upset when it ends!

 

PSSA video

Sarah Repkoe created a song for PSSA testing, it was pretty awesome. Yesterday, I put together this video on top of her song to encourage students to have a positive attitude toward the PSSA tests. This has inspired some interesting ideas about including students in the editing process for videos in the future. It will be exciting to see what the coming months bring.

 

The Super-Power of Slides

Who would have thought that a single application could do so much for elementary students? Throughout this school year, I’ve worked with teachers to guide students in using Google Slides to make presentations about something they are learning. The results have been amazing.

Making slides is an incredible learning tool. It’s a creative outlet where they can make something that teaches others, and reinforces things they’ve learned. But best of all, it encourages children to ask questions, do their own research, and make something of their own from scratch. This isn’t just about producing content, it’s about giving children the opportunity to be inspired and to inspire others.

Students at Penn Manor can make slides by logging in to Google drive and clicking on “New” → “Google Slides”.

ABCYa Review

Today I took a closer look at ABCYa.com, a website on the grow page for all our elementary computers. ABCYa claims to be a “teacher-created” website, and offers a very large selection of educational games that fall into the following categories: Letters, Numbers, Holiday, Strategy, and Skills.

Games on the website are geared for grades pre-K through grade 5. They are divided first by grade level, and then by category.

I was happily surprised to find that there is no need to sign up, and all the activities are free. There is an option to pay to remove ads, but the ads are safe and don’t get in the way.

Here is a glimpse of one of their numbers games that teachers Roman Numerals.

OpenShot – Video Masters

6th grade at Letort finished a video project today. The assignment was to make a video giving a review of a particular book. This was quite a challenging exercise! In order to finish the project, students had to work as a team, crafting slides and props, developing a narrative, recording audio and video, and in some cases reaching outside the box to generate content. Here is a video one of the teams made. This is 100% student generated content!

The hardest job was the editor, who’s task it was to add all the video clips, audio, pictures and other resources to openshot and export a final cut. Some of them learned the hard way that an hour or more of work in openshot can quickly disappear with a simple misstep in where the files are saved.

Techy Talk: Our student laptops take advantage of the guest account for user access, which doesn’t allow files to be saved through reboots. We provide a “student work” folder in the image so that files can be saved there from the guest account. A project in OpenShot is simply a file with references to the locations of the files in it, which saves hard drive space and processing time. If any files are added to OpenShot from a location outside the student work folder, the project will crash when OpenShot opens, and there’s no way to recover it (that I was able to find).

Once we figured out how to work around the glitch, the projects mostly sailed calmly to completion. Finishing a project like this is always rewarding. Students gave great feedback after each video and talked about the things they learned.

This classroom is now ready to tackle a project like this again, hopefully with very little help from me, which they plan to do in late January.

Inkscape in Elementary School

For our video project in 6th grade at LeTort, we used Inkscape to make titles and slides. Inkscape is an open source illustration tool that is surprisingly powerful. Some open source graphics programs are ages behind equivalent Adobe products, but Inkscape is an exception.

Students learned how to create interesting overlays and titles in Inkscape that they will use for their current video project. Computer illustration uses vector graphics. Unlike a photo, vector graphics use points and geometry to draw lines and shapes. Graphics made in vector are infinitely scalable. Below is a title slide that one of the students is working on. Notice the controls they have for choosing colors, size, and direction.

Learning illustration will be a very valuable tool for these students for many future projects in middle school, high school, and beyond. It’s exciting to see their ability to jump in and start creating content like this so quickly.