Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dear Apple

Dear Apple,
I work at a school that has incorporated iPads from 6-12.  For the most part this has been a wonderful experience. I had the opportunity to show of Numbers to eighth grade Science students.  They were able to easily follow the basics inputing numbers, creating rows and columns, and working basic mathematical operations.  I have one complaint about Numbers, it does not do regression.  We even explored creating scatterplots and can use functions find the slope and the y intercept of the data, but we couldn't add a regression line.  Sure we could plot data based upon the calculated information however that isn't showing a line of data.  Would it be too much to ask for this functionality? Math classes would enjoy it as much as Science classes.  It would be great not to have to find another app.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bring back the Makers

Fabrication Lab at Stanford
This past week I spent two days learning about digital fabrication and the maker subculture.  The conference was held at Stanford University and was called FabLearn.  According to Wikipedia "digital fabrication is a process that joins architecture with the construction industry through the use of 3D modeling software and CNC machines."  The maker subculture is defined as "the technology-based  extension of the DIY culture." (again according to wikipedia).  For two days I spent time on Stanford's campus discussing FabLearn, how to bring these two ideas into education.  How these two ideas are part of the movement in education where students need to be come creators and makers, not just memorizers.  For two days I looked at how creating projects from the design up can help students become better learners.  Many projects were interdisciplinary and teachers spent time teaching other disciplines as well math, art, history, science were all pretty interwoven.  The time spent was giving me flashbacks to my middle school shop classes: woodworking, metal welding, and print making and my home economics classes.  These are the low tech versions of what I spent the time learning about.  These have also seemed to slowly begin to disappear from the education setting.

I sat in a class that was similarly designed like those Middle School classrooms with huge workspace tables where four or five could spread out metal drawers underneath us where tools were stored, and open space.  The difference was that around the edges were 3-d printers, laser cutters, ventilation systems and more than one computer.   We spent some time in processing computer language using pre-existing libraries to design a lamp made from paper (you could make it from other materials but paper is low cost for workshops).

Laser Cutting out the Lamp 
Computer Program (photo by Phyllis Wright)
Our presenter was the creator of the software and a student working on her masters degree at MIT.  We created a "codeable object" as she called it.  I must admit it was a lot of fun.  I was able to manipulate the code using mathematics to build various designs that then using the laser cutter I cut out on paper and built the lamp.  The whole process took about two hours.  There is a downfall that it took a very long time for all of use to use the laser cutter.  Depending upon the design details it took about 10-15 minutes to print, plus the top and the tissue paper that was about 30 minutes per person.  I did not time it but it was a lot of down time, that everyone in the class noticed.  Since it is also a laser, you can not leave it unattended, there must be someone there at all times.  We talked about how some schools have open times where students can come and print, others stager the projects so multiple items are happening at once (this is not as hectic as it seems), others just live with the down time.

I could see having the students multi-task with other assignments for the class they are in.  They could be working on multiple items in the class at once so that during down time they have something else to do as they wait.  Classrooms become chaos but a controlled chaos since you need to plan for this. I could also see use in showing how math, science and art are all intertwined.  Even in history, I saw some amazing 3-D models of historic times such as Rosa Parks on the bus.  All complete in proportion to the space they had.  Could it have been done without the digital aspect? Probably. Did that help add another discipline and learning experience   I tend to think so.

Putting together the lamp (photo by Phyllis Wright)

I loved how math created such a beautiful lamp and with out the science there isn't any electricity.  I saw how we could begin to build interesting engineering and design courses that could give students an idea of how to discover and make their own items.  Find an need and create.  I think that is so important as we have this shift in education, students need to learn how to be creative, they have so many tools at there fingertips it is time we allow them to utilize everything to learn about the world around them and invent the future.

Me and My Lamp (photo by Phyllis Wright)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Technology Integration...

It has been crazy back to school.  We have only been back a week and it feels like we never left.  My plan to become more organized is starting to materialize.  I have created and appointment calendar for teachers to "sign out" the integrators to work with us either one on one or with a class.  (Thanks to google again).

Today, I worked with the Honors French and Honors Spanish begin their trimester long project of creating a magazine.  The project is going to be done in iBooks Author so they can add videos, pictures, text, etc and then publish them for their classmates to read on their iPads.  Today they played with iBooks Author and just tried to get a feel with the program, adding, deleting editing and searching for tutorials.  The girls and educators are both excited about this adventure.  I am going to check in on the class in a few weeks to see how it is going.  By November they should have the magazines finished!  I can't wait!

Thursday, August 30, 2012


I love google.  As I start a new school year, I spent the afternoon showing off google.  I realized that I no longer keep an paper planner.  In fact I haven't kept one for a few years now.  I use a google calendar for each of my classes.  When I first came to my current school, the google calendar was an easy way to follow our 7 day rotating schedule of rotating periods.  It's a crazy hectic schedule and with the classes color coded it was great to see everything. I would add events to the calendar and as I planned wrote the topics in the details. See an example:

The following year, I started sharing the calendar with students and parents by embedding it to my teacher website.  Now that the students have iPads they can add my calendar to their calendar apps and not miss the topics that are going to be covered for the day! Plus with appointments, teachers and students can easily schedule times with me, that I know will work for me.  The set up has taken time but it does work smoothly.  An added plus is I can easily review pacing of the course by flipping back through the years on the information.

This year I also plan on using google forms often in my classes, from surveys, and rubrics to attendance.  Google added a grid to the forms, this allows me to keep track of attendance with each student being a row.  Since it automatically timestamps for me I don't need to enter the date only the period.  I can also add any notes to the day that I want.  If  I need to go back and change someone's absence to be excused, I can edit it later.  This form has become a link on my home page of my iPad.

I am not the most organized person but maintaining the calendars and now the form has given me a chance to be somewhat organized during the day.  So thank you Google for the organization that you have begun to instill in me over the past 6 years.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I am not sure when I downloaded this app.  But for the past two months I have extensively used it as my note taking app and have fallen in love with it.  Notablity is an iPad only app.  Truly designed for those who use the iPad as the main note taking device.  I think the designers had education in mind when developing it.  In imports pdf's from web, dropbox, etc with ease.

It has all the features that I want for teaching math.  Graph paper, ability to free- write and type, insert pictures from camera and from web, and draw figures!! The basic drawing shapes are available and you can place the figure on the paper anywhere.  Here is a basic geometry diagram that I put together in a few seconds.

I love that I can create a drawing and then be able to write over it, with various different colors and highlighters.  This is something my previous note taking app would not do.

I don't like to type my notes.  I like to be able to write them.  Previously it was difficult to stay in the lines.  However with Notability's zoom feature it is easy.  In the draw mode (the pencil), if you tap the magnify glass you can zoom in on the bottom of the screen to where the white box is.  I can then write, as you get to the green section the white box will move over it's full length.  Then as you hit the end of the screen the app will return you to the next line!  It is great to take notes quickly during conferences, and students can manage it in class too!  I also like the added feature that you can move the box to anywhere on the screen by dragging it or using the icons on top of the zoomed part.

Organization of my notes is a breeze as well I can create folders (called categories) and then subfolders (called subjects).  Subjects do not need to be in folders if you don't want.  They can be color coded, searching is easy, I can sort by date and alphabetically.  

I can access items from dropbox, send various ways email, dropbox and autosnyc to dropbox.  This feature is great.  Often students forget to back up the data and only back up the apps, with the autosnycing there is no loss of data!  It is currently 99¢.  Check it out their web page.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

All Girl education and Technology...

Yesterday I got a chance to be on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.  One of the teams and I talked about the programming challenge and all girl education. I was extremely nervous going on the air and I had no idea what he was going to ask. But when asked if the all girl education made a difference my response was yes, and something came to the top of my head about how democratic girls are in the classroom compared to boys. I wanted to take the time to explain more of my perspective.

I have taught co-ed (9 years) and now all girls (5 years), and there are a few things I have noticed. One is girls like to talk, and they make sure everyone gets heard even students who tend to be on the quite side. I have seen girls make sure everyone has a chance to speak (even encourage those who haven't spoken) before moving on, where I didn't notice that in the co-ed setting.  Did it happen, and I wasn't paying attention  Probably, but it is more prominent in the all girl setting. 

Studies have shown, girls might doubt their abilities, if they feel they have struggled with the concepts. They need to learn about how these struggles are what makes them good at certain subjects. They need to feel comfortable to take the risks, they need the encouragement and reassurance to keep going. They need to learn that the mistakes are great for learning and making us a success.  I have become a different teacher teaching all girls. I have learned to celebrate more of the mistakes and explain how to learn from them. Teaching them about having a growth mind set than a fixed one. 

I have also noticed that the relationships are important with teaching all girls. It is important for them to feel a connection to the lessons especially in the STEM related fields. While this is also true for boys, if they don't see the connection most will still try the problems, where most girls become disinterested.  This is why the PBS strand was so important to me. It gave them a connection to younger girls. They were building a game to help others learn math programs that they knew. They discussed about what the girls in our Lower School could benefit from.

Technology classes tend to be male dominated and we need more girls taking and exploring these courses. When I taught co-ed, many of my elective classes were male dominated, in fact some were all boys. Girls in those classes sometimes felt out of place even with a female teacher. I did try to make sure they could work together to help ease the awkwardness (and it is awkward, think about a time when you felt out numbered and out of place).  I like the fact that I get to teach these same technology classes in an all girl setting.  Most of my classes still have the same amount of students in them. In fact, when I moved to an all girl school 5 years ago, I taught the same number of students in each of the classes.  The class that has struggled is AP Computer Science, I am hoping with the changes we have been making to 8th grade Computer class that more students think about taking this course.  They perceive it as a "Hard" class, and they have to do things similar to the 8th grade course that they really didn't understand.  With this project now as the way of teaching in the 8th grade, I am hoping that more  begin to understand that it is challenging but rewarding and fun at the same time.

Again these are only my thoughts, based upon my experience, reading studies and professional development.  They are not perfect, but if recognizing the differences might make me a better teacher and help the under representation of females in the STEM fields then I am all for it!

If you want to learn some more about an all girls' education check out the National Coalition of Girls' Schools

Smart and Radio today!!!

I have SMART training today in NYC to become a certified trainer.  I am excited after using the SMART board for about 5 years now, it's about time I decided to be trained.  In the middle of today's training I am heading to the Brian Lehrer Show to talk about the Stem Challenge!!!

Two of my students will be there too.  Listen to us Live at 11:40 EST

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

STEM Challenge Update...

Last Night the STEM Challenge youth winners were recognized. I got to go down because...

 (yes I wanted to shout that with excitement)
Picture Courtesy of Princeton Patch (Greta Cyuler)

 I had the best time watching 5 young women stand tall and demonstrate they can learn to program and create great games!!! The two games that placed were:  Animal Inequalities and Math Racing Mania.  They were 5 of 28 students recognized for hard work (and the only girls!).  I don't think they or I stopped smiling all night long.  It was a magical experience to see them standing tall explaining their games and how it was the first time they programmed.

Many thanks to the STEM Challenge sponsors: AMD, ESA, E Line Media, PBS Kids and CPB, Microsoft X-Box 360, Joan Ganz Cooney Center  plus the outreach sponsors. These places worked hard to plan, organize, and judge these 3700 games.  I had a wonderful time talking to all of the parents of the winners, the winning students, and all of the people who made it happen.  Thanks Brian and Diane!!!  They aren't officially announcing until 10 am this morning, since the adult winners event is today.  But keep watching the STEM Challenge website, there should be an amazing video from the 28 winners, that made me proud to teach these incredible young women.

Thank you ladies for making an amazing night that will not soon be forgotten, and thanks Greta for getting the one picture of all of us and driving down to DC to write about us!

I will update this and post pictures as soon as I am awake... We all drove back last night.. 6am came around too early this morning...

Monday, May 21, 2012

STEM Conference

Last Thursday through Saturday I attended the NSTA STEM conference.  I got lots of good ideas and had many interesting conversations.  I enjoyed meeting people on twitter.  Many of us tweeted our thoughts when we could.  (AC Convention center really needs to improve the WiFi).  One big idea was that with STEM one should be building both innovation and creativity.  The more we talked about this and how to help student build creativity, the more I realized how this needs to be done.  We need to allow our students to take risks and build the risk taking into our programs.  We need to find ways that the students can step outside their boxes to show creativity is not just in Arts, but can be in Science and Math as well.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ted does it again....

I love TED. Most educators do. I was super excited when flipping through the channels I saw TED on the Science channel. That was the first experience for my family to sit and watch TED videos. Then  edTED appeared on the web. This is amazing website. There are currently 63 TED talks on the site with quick quiz to answer as you go along and some think deeper questions as well. These are great thought provoking questions based on the videos seen.

The great part is by signing up you can create your own pages similarly from any youtube video.  This is an easy way to create the whole package of video, questions (both multiple choice and short answer) for the classroom.  The layout of the page is great and very user friendly.  I plan on using this in my classes.  I  have flipped my first video here.

While this is great there are some issues:
Once published you can not go back and edit argh. That's tough come on ted, make the ability to edit again.

And the student activity part:
The confusing part though is seeing the student's activity on it.  It says that I will be able to see the activity but further reading it appears that students need to have an account.  This is somewhat of an issue because of the need to control accounts and what personal information students are sending out there, especially with Middle School ages.  I hope ted finds away that teachers can create and manage student accounts.  For now I will have my students use my flipped videos without signing in. This drastically limits the open ended questions, as they won't be able to save therefore I can't view.  Hopefully soon this will be fixed!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


The past few weeks have given me time to do some reflection on the class.  I have also spoken to some reporters about the project.  Given that the girls had zero programming knowledge when we started.  I have to say that they did learn some programming concepts. They have an understanding of a random number, variables, if- statements, loops, conditions, and even parameters as a message in scratch.  I have to say that if they went into Intro to Programming in our Upper School they would find themselves successful.   We had 16 class periods (46 minutes) to work on the project (including formal study halls that I took over) over the course of 8 weeks.  We had about 13 games started and 10 completed to some level.  Well 11, one group worked on the levels individually and we had a hard time getting them to work together. (Need to post their levels as they are cool).

The girls learned a lot about problem solving.  The classroom was a very loud classroom since they talked about the problems with each other.  They learned from their failures and found out that sometimes it takes time to get task accomplished.  Some ran into problems and were stuck on the problem for a period or two before they made headway.  Not for the lack of trying, but building from their mistakes, which was great to see.  The majority didn't give up, they wanted to figure it out and get items working.  I also saw many of them give each other praise and support as they finished the games.  They wanted to play each of the games and were always supportive with the comments.

What I plan on doing differently is giving them a fixed timeline of when storyboards and outlines need to be done, making sure that they spend less time with artistic at first and concentrate on the programming so that they can have a game completed then go back and add the items to make the games pretty.  I also plan on having a way to daily chart the group work so that all members of the groups have to do some of the programming.   The equality of the group work is something that is hard to develop and making sure that I have something in place so the girls know that their group dynamic counts in passing the project.

In all, I had a blast with the project and plan on continuing it in my class.  I love that PBS stream focused the challenge to be educational game instead of just a video game.  I think that gave focus to many of my students in the brainstorming and did not become to overwhelmed with the designing of a game.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Games are rolling in...

Tomorrow is the last day of classes and the games are rolling in!  Here are some of them already.  I made a gallery in Scratch to put them in.

Friday, March 2, 2012

One more week to go

It has been a crazy week.  I worked with the Biology classes to create climatograms and with the Juniors to start their poetry blog. In addition, yesterday I utilized advisory's study hall in order to check in with all the 8th grade students before they left today on a field trip to NYC.

The majority of the games are progressing nicely.  In fact two of the games are completed.  They now are adding sound and other animations to make it look nicer but they have the programming done.  Most others should be done by next Friday.  Others... well, there were a few who worked consistently but focused more on the splash page and not on the game and won't be done.  I am not disappointed though.  The majority of the girls worked on the games, and learned some programming.  I am impressed on how hard most of them worked on learning how to program when they had zero programming knowledge when we started.

I did give those who I don't think will be done the option to enter the writing competition.  They felt relieved and said they would write the 1500 word essay.  I am still proud of them they did learn some programming, but also learned about time management.  Many re-arranged their programs to fit within the time constraint.  Others added as they figured out one level and found ways to expand. We started to register.  Now I have to figure out how to upload them to a website, for the competition.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wonderful Colleagues!!!

I was talking to some of my colleagues about my nervousness of finishing on time.  Today I came in to see one of the classes working on their projects.  One of my colleagues gave up her time to assist me.  She had just finished a lesson and instead of starting a new one she gave the girls time to work on their programs.

And the girls got to show off what they have accomplished!!! It was fantastic! I love how we adapt our schedule to help one another out!  Thanks!!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Eureka Eureka Eureka!

Well it's not that they are running down the center of town like Archimedes supposedly did, but there has been lots of WHOO, high fives and YES! in the computer labs lately.  It is wonderful to hear the successes and see the perseverance that the teams are demonstrating to get the programs completed.  We are now in overtime and the girls don't seem to mind that I have taken their study halls for two weeks to finish the games.

The thinking and cooperation that is happening in the class is outstanding.  I love watching them discuss and try different ideas.  They are really starting to develop skills that a programmer needs when working collaboratively.  In addition, many can tell you something about objects, loops, if-statements, parameters (indirectly through messages), and variables.

The best thing I see happening:  those students who thought they could never never learn programming are actually enjoying programming.  Most of the girls (regardless how capable they felt they could be) are really working with their teams to build the games.   Most everyone is offering some suggestions to try when debugging and it is great to hear the passion in their suggestions and the brainstorming that is happening when the debugging doesn't work.  They keep trying; keep rearranging the code and then EUREKA!!  I can't wait to see the finished products.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


This past Thursday and Friday, we had the pleasure of PIWCS coming in.  They came, answered questions for the girls and gave encouraging words of wisdom.  It was great for the girls to have some role models in computer science.  It was a huge help to me as most of the games were in the middle of the programming. The PIWCS young ladies offered great suggestions about variables and how to work with the control statements.  I didn't feel like I was running all around the classroom.

Here are some pictures from the time:

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

The flipped classroom

This is a slightly off topic post.  Yesterday, we had a professional development day.  EdTechTeacher came down to present a series of workshops.  I went to the flipped classroom room and had a great learning experience with others.  Flipping is something I have been reading about for the past four years.  It is basically giving students the time in class to do the most cognitively difficult work.  The idea is to help take out the frustration out of homework.

A few things I took away from the day:

  • Start small if you have too.  Flip one lesson a chapter and build. (I feel the same with new technology)
  • Record some of the lectures in current class.  On lecture days record them and then the record is there and can be refined.
  • Think small bursts of information.  No one wants to watch a 45 minute video about any topic.  This brings me back to idea that I heard long ago about 10 minutes should be max on a lecture before a check in with students is done.  Think short bits that then have them practice the topic, write down questions, journal about the concept...
  • Recording yourself is odd, but the more you do it the more comfortable you are with the sound of your own voice.
  • ScreenCast-O-Matic is a fun tool to play with.  So is the recording in PowerPoint and QuickTime. ScreenCast-O-Matic allows you to add a video of you which would give students a chance to see you as well.
  • VoiceThread is great to have others add video comments to the slides allowing some interactivity in asynchronous class time. Sounds like an oxymoron but it does work.
We got to spend time working on lessons that we have to try to flip them.  Some did examples of problems, review of rubric assessment and what would be a good example, other took some power point slides and recorded voice on them.  It was great to have the time to play and discuss with each other how to incorporate this idea and technology in our classes.  A great day was had (Thanks Rose and Justin).  I can see myself recording some scratch tutorials for the girls and placing them on our class page.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

They are learning Programming!!!

Today one of the big lessons learned was if the groups figure out the first level of the game adding the additional levels would be easy.  I had one group who really began to understand how the variables need to be constantly checked and utilized.  They also spent time refining their knowledge of boolean statement.  I sat for a few minutes to explain a boolean and the team was able to put it to use in multiple places.  It was great to see someone who didn't think she could program actually get the game to work.

This is something that I love about programming.  They get immediate feed back and their confidence grows and they get excited to see the feedback from their work.  I just hope we finish in time.  Some of the programs are coming along others are not.  I hope that they can get everything together in time.  We don't have much class time due to our schedule.

I just sat through a PBS/STEM Webinar and it was helpful to talk about the main components of a game and what makes a game.  Many of which I discussed early on with the girls.  So I am hoping to review these again next week.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fish swims, cars move, numbers appear!!!

I have never been so excited to see fish swim across a stage, a car shrink size or random numbers appear.  Last night our school had a "Feb 13th Celebration", which was a look at where the school is with the progress of the Strategic Plan.  A section of the plan was to increase the awareness of the STEM education.  The evening was great.  After the formal presentations we had students from all divisions highlighting some of the neat activities they are doing: engineering in the lower school, online computer courses in the upper school, math competitions, future cities and the 8th grade computer course in the middle school.

We have had an 8th grade programming course for years, but never to the extent of them having to participate in a gaming competition and such open ended as program a game and learn from the process.  The elementary students talked about the engineering process which we very similar to the process the girls have gone through with their game.  The best part was the two girls I asked to come to the night worked on their project while parents were looking on (that is not an easy thing with all eyes watching).  They were able to get the fish to swim across the stage.

Now you may be saying oh fish swim, that's not difficult in scratch.  But these girls have had three 46- minute periods working in scratch on tutorials.  They worked collaboratively to get the fish swimming and by trying various things figured out how to get blocks of code to happen simultaneously.

The energy continued today in class as well.  We were stuck on how to get multiple variables to be in a say block.  (Did I mention I am new at scratch too).  So working together, I introduced the students to Scratch Forums.  I created a login name and had the students write the questions under me.  Within in minutes we had an answer (Thanks TRocket!).  The girls were so excited to see the answer and within seconds had the program creating random addition problems!!!!  These games are starting to come together for one section.  I see the others coming up later today.  I hope the energy continues.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Scratch and the learning curve...

The girls have started to get into the programming and they are beginning to learn some concepts.  Variables are starting to become clearer.  The idea of storing everything they need, even the wrong answer, has them boggled and overwhelmed.  The scratch environment of finding how to get items to work together is also a challenge.  Working together we have found out how to do some of the items.  We still can't get a sprite to say multiple integers.  The girls want to have their problem appear on the stage and getting that has been a challenge.  It is nice to see them interact when one group has found out how to do something they are willing to share with one another.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The first Game!!!

After writing last night's post, I changed my lesson for today.   Last night I made a simple "guess the number" in Scratch. (If I can figure out how to post it I will!) Using one of the figures, I had the program choose a number and the girls had to guess the number.  It then told them how many guesses they took.  Once they played a few times, I had the class go back and figure out how I programmed the game.

We walked through the program with some guiding questions.  First they thought I had a list of numbers for the computer to use.  When I said no, they looked and someone found the random number block. Then, I was able to then explain the concept of a variable as storage place since we had to store the random number.  We talked about how the variables can be for the individual sprite or for the whole program briefly.  I need to find a way to revisit this, as they start their games. We were able to discuss built in variables such as answer for input.  In addition,  I was also able to discuss conditionals with if statements and the difference between the repeat if and repeat until blocks.

At first it was quiet in the classroom when I asked questions, they were thinking and looking at what Scratch could do. But they did start trying various items; many of them had great ideas of what they needed to do.  They would try something and if it worked a big I know came out. As the game slowly came to life, the excitement in the room began to rise. That was really cool.  They loved that they programmed the game!

My main goal was to get them to start thinking about variables they might need, as I want them included in the storyboards we will start next.

We did have some difficulty when some of the code was on the background and other parts on the sprite.  This led the conversation about what needs to control the game the background or sprite.  So it has begun to get them thinking about objects and how to control various parts of their games.

My weekend will be to finish reading the outlines, and to work on the rubric for the storyboard.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Learning the scratch

The girls have been enjoying scratch.  The past week they have created an outline of the game.  I created a rubric to aid them with the outlining and gave them questions to answer:
  • What math concept are you looking at achieving?
  • What is the game going to look like?
  • What is the back-story of the game?
  • How many levels?
  • What are the rules of the game?
  • How does each level differ?
  • How does a player know that they are going up a level?
  • When do you know you are at the end of game?
  • What age are you aiming for?
They created Google docs and have shared them with me so I can make comments on them.  I am excited to read them.

While I am reading the girls are working on some scratch lessons that I have found on line from shall we learn.  All I am hearing is how cool and fun it is to be drawing the items.  They are also really starting to think about what is happening.  Today I had the conversation with one student about how the different sprites have private variables.  Tonight I plan on making a simple demo to show them what random variables and inputs can do.

Tomorrow is storyboarding and making sure they have a good handle on the games.  I’m still nervous about them transition to actually program the games.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day one went well...

Last week, I introduced the programming challenge to the girls. They were very hesitant about how this was going to happen.  I started them with the NCTM standars for pre-K to Second grade so they would have an idea of the mathematical concepts involved.  They began to relax about the concepts since it wasn't the algebra they were doing.  Many liked the basic facts and idea of factor families.

Before class today,  I emailed the lower school teachers to offer suggestions for games.  They not only responded with ideas that they would like to see, but also with wonderful words of encouragement.  Today the girls brainstormed and began an outline of what they wanted to do.  They focused on the concept, age, and the story behind what they wanted to do.  I tried to get them to focus on having the math being incorporated into the game vs. do problems then you play a maze game.  It took some time to get them realizing that but I think they have some great ideas!! For homework (I don't seem some of them for a week) they had to fully develop the rules and regulations so that next class we can start storyboarding.

However, I think next class will be working in Scratch tutorials, as I read over the outlines to give some suggestions before the storyboarding starts.  Now to find/make a rubric for the outlines to help guide their understanding of the gaming and outlining.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An exciting and terrifying adventure awaits!

This past weekend the Director of Communications asked me to sit in on a conference call about STEM and PBS kids.  I was free at the time so I said yes, and on Tuesday sat in the call to learn about the STEM Video Game challenge and PBS Kids partnership for this challenge.  The challenge is open to Middle, Upper, College age students in addition to Educators.  The goal is to design video games.  PBS Kids option is to design a Math video game for children ages 4-8 deadline is March 12.  Thinking about my 8th grade computer course.  I see this as a great opportunity to get them to program.  It is exciting and nerve racking at the same time.  I told my Director that I would blog about the experience on how this works.

So a little about my class.  The class is a programming class that meets 3 times a cycle.  (which is about 3 times every week an half).  It is a pass/fail class.  The students need to complete the assignments in order to pass the course.  Initially I have begun to teach them Alice.  I love Alice as I can get to the heart of programming concepts without major syntax issues.  However, with the inclusion of the challenge the course is switching over to Scratch.  I have used Scratch before but never in a formal class.  This is my first challenge.   My second challenge is the bigger one.  The course will be focused on the design challenge.  It is a great project based learning opportunity.  This is taking the ownership of the learning from me to my students.  I love this idea and terrified at the same time.  Will they learn what I want them to learn?  How do I make sure they learn the programming concepts and not just the code when multiple projects will be happening at once?  How do I stay prepared for the class and help the girls when they get stuck?

I am relinquishing control of my classroom to my students and becoming a mentor instead of teacher.  This might be scary for them as well.  How can I transition them to understand they have to take the lead and I won't program for them.   This is a great new adventure to be on and I look forward to seeing the end results.  Hopefully by the end of the class in March students will have a working game to submit to the challenge.

Wish us luck!