Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chromebook How-To: Reverse Image Search

Have you ever watched an episode of the TV show Catfish? Each episode details the story of a person who thinks that they have found love online. Over time, they begin to have doubts as to whether or not the person they're talking to is who they really say they are. The results of each show vary, but the investigation pretty much always starts out the same: with a reverse image search!

Knowing how to do a reverse image search is the first step towards identifying fake profiles on social media. I made a video directed specifically demonstrating the different ways to do this on a Chromebook:

Out of all the options, I think that my favorite way to do the reverse search is the simple "right click" method in Chrome! All you have to do is right-click the image, and select "Search Google for Image!" Ridiculously simple!

My 8th graders watch an episode of Catfish as part of our digital citizenship and internet safety unit. We have several essential questions to ponder:
  • How does the anonymity of the Internet allow you to be someone other than yourself? 
  • Do you ever find yourself doing this to any extent? 
  • How would you feel in the shoes of this show's victim? Of the guilty party?

Our lesson ends with going over some tips for spotting a catfish, and about how to take some steps to try and keep our information private. We then try out reverse image search, so we have some strategies for doing our own Catfish-style investigating when communicating online!

What are your favorite tips and tricks for catching a catfish? Do you have any catfish stories of your own?

-Mrs. L.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ONE Simple Way to Start Using Flexible Seating in The Classroom!

One of my points of focus in the classroom this year is to incorporate more choice in the classroom environment, and to meet a variety of needs for students (from both emotional and kinesthetic approaches) in order to make them more comfortable and therefore more engaged in learning. I detailed a lot of the changes that I made to the classroom this year in my classroom tour video.

I know that I've been very lucky in the form of receiving grants and having a super supportive principal who has helped me create a lot of the changes in designing my room. I realize that a lot of teachers and schools can't afford to replace every chair or desk in the classroom in one fail swoop. Therefore, I've been thinking about the kinds of small changes - simple changes, low-cost changes, even FREE changes - that teachers can make in their classrooms in order to start moving towards a future-ready/21st century classroom that utilizes concepts like flexible seating options.

My number one simplest idea for moving towards a flexible seating concept in your classroom would be to bring in lap desks! Students probably already love sitting or laying on the floor or outside in the hallway. You can make things a little easier, a little more productive, a little more appealing by offering up lap desks to use during class. It encourages students to move around more and to get comfortable. 

Both students working in the hallway with lap desks. One student chooses to sit on the floor, while another prefers to bring a stool out into the hallway. 

Students work 1:1 with Chromebooks at my school, and some of them love having the lights off in the classroom while working, but others may prefer light. I allow students to work out in the hallway, which gives students either lighting option while working. I also allow students to listen to music using headphones, if desired, so long as they are staying on task during class (we use Hapara, so it is easy for me to see what tabs students have open at any time, if needed).

I have a rug in the classroom, and four beanbag chairs, so students will opt to sit on the floor, in a beanbag, and even lying on the rug occasionally! All of these options are more comfortable for students if they use a lap desk. The scene in the photo above could easily be any classroom with students working out in the hallway - you don't need fancy furniture to give students flexible seating options to start!

I was able to purchase a handful of laptop desks at the beginning of the year from Amazon using budget money that I had available. Here are some sources and pricing that I've come across:

You may be thinking, "But I have no money at all? How am I supposed to get lap desks for my room?"

...My favorite way to acquire items for the classroom is to ask my PTA for donations! Not monetary donations, but via unused items from home - many families will have a lap desk (or two?) that they no longer use and would be willing to donate to the school. You never know until you ask, right? And best of all, it's FREE!

You may also be thinking, "Students can sit on the floor without a lap desk, why would they be necessary?"

And the truth is, they're really not. But having them makes choosing an alternative seating option more "special," more desirable even, and moving around and having choice will make your students more comfortable in the classroom space. When students feel more comfortable, more relaxed, they're easier to engage in learning and motivate to learn. Even though my room has beanbag chairs and wobble stools, I still have kids who would just prefer to sit on the hard floor! A lap desk makes it just a teensy bit nicer. 

Once your students, faculty, and admin start to see the value of flexible seating (invite them into your classroom to observe!), you'll have a stronger case towards adding other seating options to the space in the future!

-Mrs L.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

How I Use Pinterest Boards for Professional Development

I've been using Pinterest personally for years now... to save images of pretty homes, recipes, fashion, shopping wishlists, and the like. You probably have, too.

But it recently dawned on me that a Pinterest account - a "professional" Pinterest account, devoted solely to teaching - could be incredibly valuable for saving and organizing all of the great articles, websites, and resources that I access all of the time for teaching. It's also an awesome starting point for brainstorming new ideas and lesson plans, especially when it comes to using new technology and tools. Why re-invent the wheel if there are already a TON of awesome ideas to use as launching pads for using our class' Spheros, or Makey Makeys out there (and, for the record, there are!)?

Ok, some of you are probably thinking "uh, I've been doing this for AGES already..." in which case, sorry that I'm tardy to the party! One of my professional goals for the future is to move into an instructional tech coaching position, and I think that having all of my resources saved to different boards, organized by subject matter, makes information and idea gathering SO much easier! Even if I'm not currently teaching math, having a whole board of relevant resources about teaching math makes life easier in the future if I need to help out in that area and brainstorm some ideas. I'm not operating out of a total vacuum.

As I've mentioned before in previous posts, one of my passions in education is learning spaces and design for learning. Pinterest is a HUGE wealth of resources about this very topic! I love how simple it can be to find current content on the subject, as well as links to places to buy equipment, or DIYs to "hack" your own classroom space.

Check out my board on this topic here:

I'm also working on boards for specific subject areas: Math, ELA, Science, etc... and (as a former art teacher) I'm making sure to include "elective" areas, too! I've also got boards going for tech- and maker-space-related topics like tech tools, coding, LEGO, and video production.

Now, when I need to quickly come up with some ideas, I can reference a board that I've already been saving ideas and tips to in order to speed up the brainstorming process!

If you're on Pinterest, be sure to head on over and give me a follow so that I can find and follow you back! I'd love to swap ideas and inspiration with you!

-Mrs. L.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Virtual Classroom Tour: 2016-17

They're here! Our new NeoRok stools arrived on Friday, so I finally got around to making our "Welcome to Computer Lit" video for the 2016-17 school year. Take a tour of the classroom, and see what's new this time around. There's lots to see, and I'm pretty proud of how the room has evolved over time into a pretty fun future-ready learning space!

One of the things that you don't see in the video is how I tried to consider all of the senses when I was designing the space. Our room is in the basement, so the space can get a little... well... musty. So I brought in a wax warmer lamp to make the room smell nice! Students walk in and try to guess the scent of the day!  At present, it's usually something pumpkin-y or fall-related...

In coming up with improvements to the classroom space, I thought about the aesthetics of the kinds of spaces that adults like to work in outside of home or the office - places like Starbucks, Panera, or Barnes and Noble. Soft surfaces, comfortable seating, relaxing music and sounds, and soothing smells. I tried to echo and pull from these qualities to use in my own classroom. 

You can watch our room tour and hear about what's new here:

I turn off comments on my YouTube videos (because YouTube), but I welcome your comments here if you have anything to share!

- Mrs. L.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Classroom Organization for Technology and Makerspaces

One of my strengths as a teacher is my ability to consider the classroom space and to organize materials, furniture, and equipment for optimal functionality. I like to think that it was an after-effect of my teaching art and having to organize a large studio art space (and the corresponding art materials) for 13 years!

One of my passions as an educator is design for learning spaces and classroom environment. If you watch my YouTube video from the beginning of last year, I give a mini-tour of our classroom space (updated version for this school year coming soon with lots of new stuff!). I give a lot of thought to the aesthetics and functionality of the classroom.

When I first made the move from huge art studio classroom to gutted-out former computer lab (the size of a typical classroom), I knew that there were two very important tasks: I needed to paint the room, and I needed storage space for students' books. 

The tables in my room are small. They have to accommodate four students at a time, so there is absolutely no room for books on the floor or tables. Space is precious! So I utilized a KALLAX IKEA shelving unit as "cubbies" for my middle school students to stash their books, trappers, gym clothes, and chromebook cases during the class period. It's been a life-saver!

Shortly after the school year started, I realized the importance and need for a set of USB mice in the room. Some projects (like our Google Draw Avatars) require some precise fine-motor skills, and an external mouse really helps! After a failed attempt to store mice in a plastic bin in individual plastic sandwich bags, I switched to this shoe-hanger technique that's been wildly successful! Not only are my mice organized and tangle-free, I can easily see if they've all been returned at the end of the period. 

I love this method so much that I purchased two MORE shoe hangers this school year to store microphones, mic stands, digital cameras, and video cameras! I hung the shoe hangers on a closet door to a non-functional closet, so the door is always shut, and now this space is functional again!

My next favorite organizational tool is to use inexpensive bins and boxes:

I purchased these small plastic lidded boxes at the dollar store to hold our Makey Makey devices. Each box holds the Makey Makey "controller" panel, the USB cord, and a handful of alligator clip wires. It's very easy now when we work in stations for each group to just grab a boxed Makey Makey kit and get to work! I printed labels out to number our class kits and used plain old packing tape to stick them on. 

IKEA makes the BEST bins for Legos! They're shallow, which makes them good for digging in, and stackable, which allows for easy storage on a cart or shelves. They have lids! And they're inexpensive, too! These TROFAST bins are $3 each for the boxes, and another $1.50 for each lid. I highly recommend these boxes for at-home Lego storage, too! 

Our Legos are mostly used in conjunction with LittleBits electronic building and inventing blocks, which presented yet another organizational challenge. LittleBits come in nice sturdy cardboard boxes, sectioned off for each bit, but my 8th graders couldn't be bothered to figure out which bit went where, and in a hurry, would stuff them any place that they could. I tried a plastic tackle box, like for organizing jewelry, but that, too, was too fussy. I settled on this system, pictured above, which has worked very well so far. It's two plastic 3-drawer storage units, stacked vertically. I think the drawers are about the size of a sheet of paper? I had to search a few different Target stores to find them, but it was well worth the hunt. I labeled the drawers by bit color/type, and that organization seems simple enough even for students cleaning up in a hurry to handle!

The best organizational investment of this school year has been for a couple of gadgets that allow me to charge several devices at once! This nifty rack, shown above, can handle up to 10 USB charging cables! I have a set of 8 iPad minis that need to be both stored and charged, so this was the perfect solution! Pro tip: splurge for a set of shorty USB/lightning cables to avoid a tangled mess of wires!

Here's another charging adapter that will handle 10 USB cords. It doesn't have the organizational "rack" function for iPads like the first one I showed you, but this multi-charger is used for my Dot and Dash robots, which wouldn't fit an organizer system like that anyways. Before I had a nifty multi-charger like this, I was running multiple power strips along the floor of the classroom in order to get them all charged at once!

My newest organizational tool for the classroom is the perfect complement to our wipe-off surface tabletops: magnetic baskets to hold our wipe-off markers and erasers at each table! I bought wire mesh baskets with small extra-strong magnets on the back. My table legs are metal, so this fix is just what we needed, but you could affix baskets via zip ties, velcro, or hooks if you wanted. I love that now each table has their own set of supplies (as opposed to a communal bin of markers and erasers), and they take up very little space, while still leaving the entire tabletop free!

I hope that you enjoyed some of my organizational tips and can find one or more that will work in your classroom. Maybe these ideas could even help inspire you to come up with your own different organizational solutions!

- Mrs. L.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Teaching Technology in the Zone of Discomfort

I see and hear a lot of stories, tweets, quotes, images, and infographics about failure. How it's an important part of the learning process. About how we need to allow for the possibility of failure in our students, and allow for them the ability to reflect, revise, and try again.

I'm on board. Sounds great!

But what about teaching? Teachers need to feel like it's okay to make mistakes, too. We need to embrace the zone of discomfort. We need to feel like we're taking risks, but within reason... a safe risk-taking, if you will. Teachers can no longer wait until they've "mastered" a tool, or feel 100% comfortable with technology inside and out before utilizing it in the classroom. Things move so fast that if we waited, it's likely that the technology would be obsolete by the time we've fully grasped it!

For example, here's my story: I teach 6-week classes. Yep. I see kids for 6 weeks, and then they're gone until the next school year. It's less than optimal, I know, but it's all I've got. The good side of this is that I have the ability to reflect and revise my curriculum and teaching strategies many times throughout the school year. 

The downside? 6 weeks! Ugh. 

But anyways, this year I've been very fortunate to receive two new technology tools for my 6th and 7th grade students: Ozobots and Dot and Dash robots. We're a 1:1 Chromebook program, but I received 8 iPad minis to use with these new tools. Luckily, at home, we're an Apple family. 

Awesome! But uh oh... I have a lot of new stuff to learn! 

Since my "free" time is quite limited, I had to take a different approach to incorporating these new tools into the curriculum: I had to teach it without knowing it 100%! This is very scary for many teachers, and, I'm not gonna lie, it's quite stressful, because there are so many unknowns. But it's also challenging, which is something that actually I love when I'm teaching - give me a challenge! I'm a pretty good creative problem-solver. 

Here's what I did: I opened up the boxes, watched a few video overviews, and made sure that I knew the basics. The VERY basics. I took a set of robots home over the weekend and had my 4 year-old play with them with me. He loved it, and I got a little bit more practice with everything. 


Then, when I went back to school, I had a conversation with my kids: we were going to learn this new thing TOGETHER. Students were tasked with discovering new features and concepts and sharing them with me and the rest of the class. When someone was having trouble, or stuck on a task, we'd poll the class: "Hey, we're having trouble getting our program to load on the Ozobot. How are you guys doing it? Can you show us?"

The same thing happened with advanced coding. I used Codecademy and allowed students to choose a course to take, based on their level and experience with coding. I feel competent enough in the HTML course to provide help to students, if needed, but many of them chose languages that I am not well-versed in, like JavaScript or Python. Basically, I admitted my shortcomings up front: "Hey guys, I am not an expert on these courses, so I can try my best to help, but I cannot make any guarantees. But feel free to try them out if that's the level that you are at. We can also try to find another student to help you out if I can't." 

Students LOVE being the expert on stuff! Bonus points if they know something that the teacher doesn't! It's a real motivator. By the time my first 6-week term was up, I felt way more comfortable presenting to the class the second time around. The sad part is that I'll never quite capture that magic of discovery from the first round again. Yeah, it's all new and exciting to the next group of students, but there's something really fun and special about learning it alongside with your classes. 

My point here is that you shouldn't be afraid to jump in and teach something just because you don't feel like a total "expert" on it. You shouldn't hold your students back simply because you're "not there" yet. It's okay not to know all the things. And admitting that to your students is very humanizing and honest - many of them will respect you more for having admitted your shortcomings.

- Mrs. L.