Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hour of Code 2017 is coming!

Next week (December 4-10) is Computer Science Education Week, otherwise known to many students as that time of the year that we complete the Hour of Code!

I sometimes struggle with ways to motivate and engage students at the middle school level (in general!), so this year I'm trying a special badge/achievement award that I really hope catches on!

To celebrate, all students have the chance to earn a very special locker laurel badge next week by completing the Hour of Code on their own:

​To earn a locker laurel badge, students will need to show evidence of completion of an Hour of Code in a variety of ways:
  • via a certificate from or other coding website 
  • a screenshot/screengrab providing proof of completion 
  • a note from a parent verifying completion of an activity

To sweeten the deal, I have a small stack of special CODE stickers to give to the first 15 students to complete an Hour of Code:

I purchased a whole slew of these online from the store at I may have also grabbed myself some goodies, too, like buttons and a t-shirt! My personal favorite is the "Code Like a Girl" t-shirt. :)

I'd love to have other fun prizes to pass out for the future... what does your school do? Do you have any inexpensive/free-ish ideas that would interest middle schoolers? Let me know!

Here's wishing you a very happy Computer Science Education Week!

- Mrs L.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Free Printable Ozobot Costume Template!

Happy (almost) Halloween! It's my favorite holiday, and I was trying to "dress up" my Ozobots for Halloween. I used some of the extra covers from our classroom kit to make this cute Frankenstein costume, and I used the OzoGroove app to make him dance to the Monster Mash. Here's a short clip:

Then, a couple more bots got the costume treatment:

I had so much fun with this that I wanted students to be able to make costumes for their Ozobots, too! I don't have enough extra Ozobot "shells" to give one to each student, so paper seemed like a logical and simple solution. I searched the internet, only to discover that there really isn't much in the way of paper templates for decorating Ozobots... so I went ahead and made one myself! 

Ok, so my sample decorations aren't exactly super-detailed, but you get the idea. I'd rather students use their own creativity and show ME how they can be used to make their bots awesome! 

Want your own printable template? Click on the image below for the full size pdf file version:

If you do make any Ozobot costumes from this template, I'd love to see them, so please tag me in any posts! Thanks!

- Mrs L.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Invention and Design Cycle

It's parent-teacher conference season, so I get tiny pockets of free time here and there between meetings. I decided to finally try my hand at some sketching on the iPad in the style of sketchnoting/visual note-taking. I used the Autodesk Sketchbook app, which is free!

I'm very pleased with how it turned out! I'm excited to try something similar on my Chromebook next. (I own a personal Chromebook that has a touch screen, so I'm hoping to be able to use it in a similar manner as the iPad...)

Drawing this really got me thinking about the similarities between making art and making/inventing using technology. We all follow a similar thought process of concept - ideas / brainstorming / creating and execution / reflection and revision. Makers, artists, designers, inventors... we're all the same! I think this really helps to illustrate (pun intended, ugh) why I love to live and teach in both worlds: art and computers, and how they're related!

Have a great weekend!
- Mrs L.

p.s. Do you like my new logo? I made it using Google Draw with my 6th graders! 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Even MORE Green Screen Fun Time Ideas!

I’ve been wanting to try out this fun green screen method for a while now. I even got my buddies from my local Starbucks drive-thru to hook me up with a bunch of green straws (those extra-long venti iced coffee straws are perfect for this)!

Disclaimer: this is not my original idea. I got it from one of my favorite PLCs - Twitter!

A lot of iOS teachers love using the DoInk app, which is great if you’re an iPad school… but I’m a Chromebook 1:1 school, so I use WeVideo. Honestly, even if I was an iOS school, I’d still like to use WeVideo because it’s not device-dependent. Anywhere you can access your Google account, you can access and edit your WeVideo projects and video files! It’s so convenient, and they’re constantly adding features and upgrades to the service. I’m hooked.

So anyways, today I set up a mini green screen set: a piece of green construction paper as a “screen,” and a green straw taped to the back of an action figure - like a puppet stand, if you will. Once you add the green screen magic to it, you end up with a video that has an awesome low-tech effect that reminds me of Vitruvius floating around as a ghost in the LEGO movie:

(That visible string from LEGO ghost Vitruvius gets me every time! )

So, I tried out this method (items on green straws) using a Playmobil action figure, a red speech bubble cut-out shape, and a plastic Super Mario figure. I think I surprised myself by how well it worked overall! Can you see the shadow on some? Yeah. Is it perfect? No. Does it do the job? Heck yes! I’m a fan. 

Here’s what my playing around produced:

Fun fact: the skater that jumps off the curb in the last clip is me! I’m trying to teach myself to skate at the skate park. I’m still a very baby beginner, but at least I’m out there trying. :) 

Using the green screen method on a small scale like this is a fun alternative for teachers without space or resources for large green walls or curtains. And you can typically grab the straws for free! 

- Mrs. L.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tips For Creating a Good Tweet

Recently, my district has begun to leverage social media to help showcase positive aspects of our students, schools, community, and teachers. That’s awesome! Yeah, it’s a little tardy to the party, but at least they made it.

One thing I’ve noticed across several districts is that they love to post about professional development. Stuff like:
"Look at this special guest talking to us about assessment and data!"
"Check out our math teachers working on common core!"
"Hey, here’s some administrators watching a Powerpoint at the district office!"
(Not a tweet from my district; faces have been blurred to protect the identities of the innocent)

Typically, these kinds of tweets are accompanied by a photo from the back of a room, showcasing adults sitting at tables. They might be looking up at a screen (so you get that back-of-the-head view), or you might see them in profile looking at each other. Most importantly, neither the text nor the image makes it look the least bit exciting or engaging:

(Not a tweet from my district; faces have been blurred to protect the identities of the innocent)

Argh. The sheer fact that you tweeted it out does not make it GOOD!

So, I thought I’d share some tips for how to increase the quality of your tweets:
  1. Showcase who is there, and how much FUN you are having. Do you have a guest speaker? Take a selfie with them (like here!), or have a teacher give the ol’ thumbs up and pose with him or her. Don’t just stand there with a neutral expression - make it look like you’re having a good time! 
  2. Or, highlight a detail of something actually HAPPENING. Did people get up and walk around? Did you create collaborative charts or posters? Were there high-fives? Laughter? Did you have a book discussion? Take a close-up picture of one of those things, and talk about a specific detail, rather than an umbrella-like generic tweet. 
  3. Another option is to create a whole collage of photos to show the variety of happenings during your professional development sessions, as in this really nice tweet below: 

  4. (Not my tweet; check out the variety of activities being showcased!)

  5. Tag people in your tweets! Include the handles of people featured, or guests present. This increases the likelihood that your tweet will be shared and liked, and therefore gain a wider audience. 
  6. Share something that you learned. A useful take-away or tip for the people who see your tweet is always nice. They couldn’t be there, but they can still share in the goodness. 
  7. Hashtags! Use them. Hopefully, your district has a common hashtag for use, or even a building level hashtag, but be sure to include broader hashtags, too, like #edtech or #makerspace. Not sure what to use? Here’s a whole list of hashtag ideas in this blog post.

    Not my tweet; I assure you this girl is just as happy underneath the smiley emoji! Isn't that the kind of attitude you want to advertise in your organization? 

    As a general rule of thumb, before you post an image to social media, step back, take a look at your image, and ask yourself:
    "Does this look like a picture of somewhere I'd want to be?"
    "Is this an image that I'd like to know more about?"
    ...and if the answer is no, re-take that picture before publishing it to social media!  

    - Mrs. L.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Classroom Tour 2017-18! Flexible Learning Space Design

Don't you just love peeking into other teacher's classrooms to get ideas for how to design your space and set up your room? I know it's not just me. For the third year now, I've made a classroom tour video for my YouTube channel. 

Wanna take a tour? Check it out below!

I'm pretty proud of how I've been able to incorporate a whole variety of flexible seating options in the classroom: chairs, rocker stools, yoga balls, bean bags, sitting on the floor, or even standing! 

Some of these items were purchased via a grant, but others were total freebies or at little to no cost! 

I really love thinking about and designing learning spaces. I have a made up dream job in my head where school districts hire me to do just that. 

Have you done a classroom tour video? Please share!

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Google Classroom Tip I Didn't Know I Was Missing...

I love love love Google Classroom. I've been using it for the last three years (since I moved from art to computer literacy classes), and it is a game-changer in terms of going paperless and making classroom life in general so much easier!

There is a feature, however, in Classroom that I've never used... due dates on assignments. Maybe that sounds weird at first, so let me explain. The way that I grade, there's no such thing as "late" work. Therefore, I don't use due dates. I see kids for a 6-week term, and they either do the work, or they don't. I don't care when it gets turned in... as long as it gets turned in before the end of the term. My husband teaches art in another district, and he runs his classes the same way. We don't assign due dates, because there really aren't any. 

The first year I taught class, I tried assigning a due date based on when we would finish working on it in class, but it only confused students, and I had to keep telling them to ignore alerts from classroom that assignments were late or not done. It was annoying. 

So, for the next two years, I just kept creating assignments with no due date. The problem with this though, is that I never received alerts when students turned in work. Most importantly, if I graded an entire class and someone turned in their assignment AFTER I had graded the work, I never knew to go back and look unless a student took the time to personally email me. Seems like a simple step, but if you've ever taught (or parented) a middle-schooler, you know that every additional step is a huge deal that could possibly (and probably will) get missed. 

I struggled to keep track of work that was turned in after I had already graded the whole class. 

You might be reading this right now and thinking that you already know how to fix this. Well, try not to make me feel too stupid, ok? I'm really comfortable with Google Classroom, and I've even trained others on how to use it! So this was a real light bulb moment for me. 

I could still go in and create the initial assignment with no due date. Then, after I sat down and graded the class, I went back in and edited the assignment to give it a due date of whatever the day was that I graded the work. 

Because I made the date of grading my "due" date, I now receive email alerts after that any time a student turns in an assignment! Why hadn't I figured this out before? 

I was so mind blown by this discovery that I had to tell my husband all about it when I got home. It's a game-changer. So, I thought perhaps there are others out there that might find this helpful, too, and that I'd share. 

Are you familiar with Google Classroom? If not, I have a whole beginner's overview/professional development presentation all about Google Classroom! Check it out here: 

For those of you familiar with using Classroom, what's your favorite Google Classroom trick?

- Mrs. L.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Organizing Student Inboxes with Gmail Filters

One of the best things about being a computer teacher is that I get to teach students super practical skills that are often immediately relevant to a student's needs. This is one of those skills!

Now that most of the teachers in my building are utilizing Google Classroom (yay!), student email inboxes are being bombarded with automatic alerts from the service. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because most of the information is good to be aware of, but it fills up fast!

I like to teach students how to create filters to automatically label those Google Classroom emails, which then allows students to quickly sort them out and archive or delete them.

Once students learn the technique, it's easy to apply filters to other emails, too: library notices, extra-curriculars, or sorting emails by subject areas - whatever method of organization a student prefers.

I searched on YouTube to find a tutorial, but I always end of creating my own because I'm so darn particular. If you're not like that, feel free to use mine in class:

Do you use Gmail filters with students? What methods work for you? 

P.S. Find my other Gmail tutorial about creating custom student email signatures here

- Mrs. L.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

DIY Techie Craft Ideas for Back-To-School

It's that time of year! I'm back after taking some summer time off to recharge, be a mom, and do some home improvement projects over the summer. It's been great, but it's time to start thinking about school again. My five-year-old starts kindergarten this fall, and he loves looking at school supplies. Hmm... I think he gets that from me?

So we were watching some YouTube videos about DIY school supplies and came across some super fun tech-related projects that Iggy and I had to make, and that I just had to share here.  Check it out!

Cord taco vs cord donut. Who will win?

Earbud cords are forever getting tangled, or lost/broken in your backpack or pencil case, amirite? We've got two new different solutions that you can try out this school year! The past couple of years, I was totally pushing the "mint-container-as-earbuds-holder" craft idea, but I've got a couple of new ones that I think are equally as functional and fun.

The first one is a "cord taco" made from craft foam and velcro dots. My son decided to try his hand at the "cord pizza," and loved it so much that he made one for his dad, too. Here he is, hard at work:

He's not exactly coordinated enough for painting (or patient enough!) just yet, so Iggy opted to decorate his foam cord keepers using colorful permanent markers. I used acrylic paint though for mine.

The second item was a "cord donut" made from Perler beads. This is actually where our crafts all started. My son is hooked on these tiny plastic beads that you place onto a pegboard, and then melt to fuse together using an iron. He started out making flat images of Ghostbusters and monsters and such, but has started to graduate to 3-D creations. I was researching the best glue to use when I came across the DIY for a cord donut. How could I NOT try it out? It's a donut!

And once you go down the YouTube rabbit hole of ideas, it tends to snowball. I became obsessed with the idea of a lipstick USB drive, and had to try to make one for myself:

The trick here is finding a USB drive that's small enough to fit into your empty lipstick tube! I got mine on Amazon, but still had to do a little tweaking via a sanding block to get mine to fit just right... but it's super cute, don't you think? 

Here's my complete playlist with the DIY directions on how to make these (and other) fun tech and school supplies!

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw how I made myself the ultimate finger pointer stick for my whiteboard this school year, inspired by one of my all-time favorite movies, School of Rock:

Heavy metal rock hand for the win!

Hope your school year gets off to an awesome start!

- Mrs L.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Slider Images, and How to Use Them in Class

I recently discovered a really fun new (to me) tech tool, and typically when such a discovery happens, I like to brainstorm on HOW I can use this tool in the classroom. Well, this one is no different. I first saw slider images in action on Tony Vincent's blog when he talked about how he uses Adobe Illustrator to create his own clip art.  The original photo and his graphic version were layered on top of each other, and there was a vertical "slider" bar that could be dragged right or left to reveal either of the two images. It's a really good way to show a comparison between two images

Well, I do a very similar graphics project in my 8th grade classes, only using Google Draw (see here). I was showing these "slider" images to my husband (you all know he's a teacher too, right?) and he decided to investigate and figure out how to make them for ourselves! He came across the website Juxtapose, which allows you to create these image overlay "sliders," which I think are extra fun:

Left photo via / Right photo created via Google Draw

Having recently seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I had to make myself a little Baby Groot illustration using Google Draw. But besides the photo-vs-drawing comparison, what else could I do using this slider concept? And I started brainstorming:

 Left photo video still / Right background photo by Arno Smit

In Computer Literacy class, I could demonstrate how green screen technology works during our WeVideo project unit by overlaying an original video still over the same still with color keying added to it, in order to create a fun reveal.

But that benefits myself and my own class. I starting thinking about how OTHER classes and subject areas could also incorporate this into their lessons:

  • You could use this technology in a Visual Arts class to reveal basic shapes in a still life, or reveal the path of movement that a viewer's eye travels within an artwork. You could overlay two color wheels: one "blank" version, and one labeled, for students to quiz themselves on color theory.
  • You could use this technology in a Social Studies class to look at maps: either a blank vs labeled map for locations of geographic features, or two maps of the same area to show changes over time in borders and countries. You could also do a comparison of Presidential portraits showing the contrast between the beginning and ending of a term. Pretty interesting!
  • In ELA classes, you can use sliders to show grammatical corrections of a sentence by using screen grabs or even just photos taken of a white board before vs after corrections. For early readers, you could use sliders as flash cards: a picture of an object could slide over to reveal the word name. 
  • A flash card concept using sliders would also be fun for World Languages. Use the same technique as the early reader concept, only utilize basic vocabulary terms for students to learn!
  • Science classes can use this concept for all kinds of curricular concepts, like cause/effect, before and after, inside/outside, and "virtually" peel away the outer layer of pretty much any object! Think about how fun this could be for biology and anatomy, or earth science!

The Juxtapose site is pretty easy to use:

You copy and paste the URLs of the images you want to use for your slider, adjust any settings as desired, and click "publish!" I like using Google Photos for making slider images, as I can right-click on an image, select "copy image address," and then paste into the URL field in Juxtapose. You can even instantly preview your slider before you click "Publish!"

Once you publish your post, you can either share the link to your slider image, which shows it in a really nice full-screen mode (like this), or you can use the provided embed codes to put it on your webpage.

You can see some examples of slider images embedded into a web page in a Chicago Tribune article here.

What other fun classroom ideas can you think of where teachers could utilize slider images?

- Mrs L. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Green Screen Tricks w/WeVideo

My 8th graders are currently working on their major video unit (I've talked about it before here and here), and we spend several class periods just shooting and editing... which gets me thinking about fun new things to do with WeVideo, and ideas that I haven't seen students try out yet. 

I started messing around with green areas in videos and still photos (like putting green paper over my computer screen, inserting a green panel into a picture frame, or even just holding green construction paper in my hands) and layering and re-combining them in different ways. 

We always think of green screen as removing the background and putting yourself into a different environment... but have you thought of green screen patches as "portals" into another video or object? Or using green objects to reveal what lies underneath? Or stacking green screen upon green screen, allowing you to have an entire conversation with yourself?

...and those are just the first things that came to mind. Check out my sample video here:

I used WeVideo to make this movie - the green screen feature (aka color keying) is probably my most favorite feature of the whole service! Not sure how it's done? It's so easy - I demonstrate the entire process here in under three minutes.

I'd love to hear some of your ideas for using green screen in new ways! Please share below!

-Mrs L.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My Top 5 Classroom Hacks!

I love finding fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to transform a classroom or organize supplies. You can find a bunch of ideas on Pinterest (see my board here), but I'm going to tell you about a few of my very most favorite classroom hacks that I've actually used in my own classroom!

Go figure - these tables already had the ability to be raised to countertop height!

I'm all about flexible seating arrangements and letting students choose and customize their learning environment to maximize comfort, motivation, and overall learning. You can read more about my tips for flexible seating here.

I wanted to get a standing desk for my classroom, but dollars for purchasing new furniture aren't exactly flying through the door. So I thought about it, and envisioned a possible solution for raising my existing tables, like this, using those bed risers commonly found in college dorms. But then... I looked closer at my tables, and it seemed like I may have already had the solution right in front of me. The existing tables could be adjusted and raised to a standing height without any modification at all! So before you go spending money (even a small amount, like those bed risers) on equipment or furniture, be sure that you've already ruled out the possibilities of your existing items!

One of my most popular blog posts is this DIY on how I painted my own wipe-off tabletops. I love them so much! We use them for group work, brainstorming, and even filming title/caption sequences using WeVideo for our video projects!

I am happy to report that these tables have really held up over time! Sure, there are a very few tiny nicks here and there, but nothing that one quick refresher coat couldn't fix for next year. And even if I didn't feel like fixing them, they're still good enough to use as-is!

I'm kind of obsessed with efficient storage and having a place for everything. Tangled cords drive me crazy. Therefore, these wall-hanging shoe pouches are PERFECT for USB mice, microphones, and digital cameras. And because they're clear, I can quickly and easily see that everything is accounted for. For more on my organizational/storage tips, check out this blog post here.

So... this hack really doesn't do a whole lot except make your room look pretty, but I believe that a nice-looking classroom is more inviting and comfortable for students, therefore improving the work ethic and motivation of the class overall. Schools often don't allow fabric curtains because of fire codes, or maybe you don't want that hassle of them getting all dusty and gross, or (in the case of my classroom door) getting caught in your doorway.

I bought some fun contact paper via Amazon that had a horizontal zig-zag print, and cut it to look like a valance. Then all I had to do was peel and stick to the windows! It looks great on my classroom door as well as my "fishbowl" window along the wall that looks out into the hallway.

A super easy way to create large whiteboard panels in your classroom is to laminate sheets of posterboard! You can mount them to your wall, or use them like giant placemats on desks or tables. In the picture above, I've laminated a posterboard sheet and drawn an X- and Y-axis (using permanent marker, so it won't erase) for the purpose of illustrating location coordinates for sprites in Scratch. The scratch cat cutout is stuck to the poster with sticky tack so that I can move him around as needed, but I can also draw and take notes on the posterboard that can be wiped off later!

These posterboard panels are also fun to use for group projects, in place of those disposable giant sticky note sheets, where a group can write on it on a tabletop to work, but then hang on the wall for display and sharing out their work later on.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Those are my top 5 current fave classroom hacks... But wait, I've got one more BONUS hack!

Have you considered using your whiteboard markers on your windows? I used to work with a 6th grade math teacher who let students work out their equations on the windows using wipe-off markers. It was cute because his room faced the front of the building, and I'd pull into the parking lot and see the work done by students in class on the previous day. This extremely low-tech "hack" is smart purely because it's likely going to be something NEW to the students, the same way that my tabletops are exciting to them because they "get to write on the furniture." They're still learning the same content, the same standards... but because they're using an exciting new method, they will be motivated and more likely to remember the whole experience!

Have you tried any of these classroom hacks in your own classroom? Do you have any other favorite classroom hacks to share?

- Mrs L.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Creative Gmail Signatures for Students

Remember that time in January that I had to do a Demo Slam at the Winter Google Summit? One of the slams that really stuck with me was one called Your Email Signature Sucks by Jeremy McBrayer. He showed us a super simple trick for setting up an email signature in Google Docs, and then using copy/paste to your GMail settings to give you a spiffy-looking signature that features both an image and some text (usually, your name and contact info) right next to each other.

I used his trick immediately after returning from the Summit, and I've even used it for my non-professional accounts because I love how the formatting makes my emails look so nice!

My current email signature

I began to think about how this trick could be useful in other applications, and then it clicked: my students need to create signatures for their email accounts, too! Perhaps you're aware of the phenomenon that is students who never remember to put their name on anything... well, it happens with emails, too. And even though Gmail might give me a student's name as part of the address info, it's always lacking a few key components, like grade level or homeroom teacher, should I need to follow up on an issue.

I teach all three grade levels - 6, 7, and 8 - so keeping grade levels straight is often difficult (and gets more and more difficult the older I get!), and my students switch every six weeks... by the end of the year, I've taught 700+ students! So, it's a HUGE advantage if I had a photo to help me match names to faces. Which is why this Gmail signature seemed like an awesome opportunity to teach students a neat tech trick that is also super useful and helpful! I like to encourage them to be creative with both their photo and text info.

Here's what we do:
* Open a new Google Doc. Insert a 2x1 table. 
* In the left-hand cell, insert a photo (preferably of yourself, that's kind of the point?).
Yep, that's my middle school photo. It wasn't originally black and white, it's just scanned that way. Color photography WAS already invented when I was younger...! 
* Adjust the size by clicking and dragging on a corner. You don't want to have a ridiculously huge photo at the bottom of all of your emails. 
* Now, shift the vertical border on the right side of your image's cell to fit your image. That will help keep your text aligned next to your image without an awkwardly huge gap of space in-between. 
* In the right-hand cell, enter your text:
  • Your first & last name
  • Your grade level
  • Your homeroom teacher's name
  • A favorite quote, motto, or fun fact about yourself! (I encouraged students to have fun with this part!) 
* Once all of your information is entered, you will select the table and turn the borders to white, so that they "disappear."

Now, you can select and copy your entire table from Google Docs, and paste it into your Gmail email signature settings, and do any minor adjustments to fonts, sizes, etc. - Don't forget to save!

Once students have created their spiffy new email signatures, I have them send me an email to test it out! I promise to reply to each of them with a Mrs Leban Bitmoji, which is usually pretty motivating. I figure that once I do this with each group of students, by the end of the school year, every student in the building will have an email signature with all of the info a teacher might need right there!

I love that this activity helps motivate students to check and actually USE their school email accounts! And it's just a nifty trick to impress students with, too.

How about you? What's currently your favorite tech trick to show students?

UPDATE (8.23.17): I made a screencast to show you step-by-step how this is done. Sometimes seeing a technique multiple ways can help! Here ya go:

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Innovation Stations: A Middle School Creative Technology Unit

I know I've referenced my 8th grade culminating curricular unit before, which we lovingly call the Innovation Stations, but I thought I'd take a moment to explain how it all gets laid out and run within our classroom!

From a classroom management standpoint, I have students work in pairs during Innovation Stations. I find that groups of two allow for adequate assistance (students have a friend that they can ask for help), but also allows for students to easily take turns controlling the actual tools. No one just sits and observes, or claims to have "nothing to do."

I have three stations that I need to arrange to have all of the students move through: Makey Makey, littleBits, and Sphero. Grouping and time frames are basically dependent upon which tool I have the smallest number of, which at present, is Sphero. I have four of them (and if I'm lucky, they're all working!). That means that up to eight students can be working at the Sphero station. If I have a class of 24, it works out perfectly to have eight students at each station, with four groups each. Of course, this is an IDEAL situation, and I do often have to make adjustments accordingly.

Each tech tool station has a task list of directions for getting acquainted with the tool, and challenges for the students to complete. Last year, these task lists were printed off on paper and I had to manually "check off" tasks for students after they performed them for me, but this year I've begun making these checklists paperless (as hyperdocs!), and having students photograph and document task completion by inserting the images into the doc as proof.

Depending on how much time we have left in the quarter, I will have students spend 2-3 days at each station, and charge them with getting as far as they can on the task lists during that time. The task list is where you'll find fun challenges, like our Sphero maze.

I'm fortunate to have all sorts of tech gadgets to use in my curriculum, and it's currently structured for students to experience technology at my school like this:
  • 6th Grade - Dot and Dash robots
  • 7th Grade - Ozobots
  • 8th Grade - Makey Makey, Sphero, and littleBits

It works out pretty well, because each grade level gets to experience a new tech tool each year. But the Ozobots and Dot/Dash robots are actually new to us THIS year, so my current 8th graders never got the chance to use them. Therefore, I decided to try something new for 3rd quarter and add two more stations to the rotation of tools: the Ozobots and Dot and Dash robots!

I took my longer Ozobot and Dot and Dash unit materials and shrunk them down into (what I hope are) manageable 2-3 day task lists, like the ones I created for the other three 8th grade stations, and now I had FIVE Innovation Stations for students to rotate through! I'm not gonna lie, it's a lot of device management and attention to things like charging/cables/outlets, but it's a fun type of chaos to see all of the students so engaged in the activities.

One of the things that I ended up doing in order to help make these stations run more smoothly was to create short "How-To" type videos for the most common issues that students would encounter when working with the devices. For example, I often found myself spending chunks of the class period troubleshooting our Sphero connections. The solution? Help yourself! See here:

And despite having very specific and clear instructions on how to properly connect a Makey Makey, sometimes it's just more helpful to watch someone else do it: 

The other station that seemed to need a little more one-on-one assistance was the Ozobots, mostly because there's a difference between using them on paper vs using them on a Chromebook and loading them with programs. So I made these:

I found these short videos extremely helpful for running my Innovation Stations unit, as it freed me up to observe and assist in other areas, as needed. I wasn't feeling so much like a broken record, answering the same questions over and over! 

This is one of those instances where teaching a class repeatedly, like in 9-week terms, has its advantages because I can run a unit for students, reflect, and make adjustments like this. It's pretty rewarding to be able to observe how things improve after tweaking a lesson or unit!

Have you used any of these tech tools before? What new tech tools or toys would you suggest adding to our offerings in the future?

- Mrs. L.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Intro to Coding Using Mr Potato Head

It's always nice to hear a student say something along the lines of what I heard today:
"Mrs Leban, why do we do so many fun things in your class?" 

Which made me giggle and reply, "Oh I'm sorry - is that a problem? You need me to scale back?"

But seriously, it's nice to know that the weird things I do sometimes are actually connecting with kids - you don't always get that kind of feedback from middle-schoolers. So I take it and enjoy it when I can.

Today's activity is a super basic intro to the concepts of coding: namely, giving specific and accurate directions. We have students role play and assemble a Mr Potato Head toy. I call it the "Mr Potato Head Challenge!" Here's how it goes:


Students work in table groups of 3-4. You will need one Mr Potato Head "set" per table. In lieu of having enough toys, you could do one whole-class game, or split into larger groups based on what you have available.

Side note: I received ALL of my Mr Potato Head sets for FREE. I asked my PTA to put the word out for Mr Potato Head donations (used or new!) and I got like a dozen in less than a month's time! All I had to do was sort all of the parts out into "sets," which I store in these bins from the dollar store:

Here's how to explain the game to students:

  • One student is the COMPUTER, who puts together Mr Potato Head, and is responsible for following the directions from the CODER. 
  • One student is the CODER, who gives the directions.

If you want to get fancy, make name tags:

The COMPUTER doesn't know what each object is called. It can only recognize colors and shapes, like in Google Draw. The CODER will have to be able to describe the object. (Proper names of shapes, like oval or circle, are ok.)

Pro Tip: Arrange parts in a grid formation, or rows by color, to aid in identifying specific parts based on location/coordinates...

Students will play multiple games, trading roles so that everyone at the table gets a turn. The observers are welcome to help their fellow CODER, if necessary, should he/she get stuck on a direction. What should Mr Potato Head look like when he's done? That's up to the CODER!

In my observations, it's super fun to play the COMPUTER role, because students can purposely play dumb when they receive vague directions: Put this on the top. Turn this to the side. Put this on the face. They really seem to get into interpreting directions in alternate ways, which is actually really helpful when I explain how a computer can only follow the directions that are given, and that computer languages have to be very precise - a mistyped lower or uppercase letter can throw off an entire set of coding commands!

After much hilarity, you can debrief with your class at the end of the activity:

  • What did you learn about giving directions? Was it hard or easy?
  • Discuss with students the concept of coding and how the things that are coded are only as good as the person who did the coding - give examples of microwaves, street lights, etc

This activity is part of a larger unit I complete with students using Google Draw, where students create a "monster" drawing, and then must also type up the directions for a classmate to follow. The unit following this one is on coding, so I find that this unit is a nice way to ease into the concept.

- Mrs L.