Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Coding Should be in the Classroom

I remember when I was a school level Technology and Learning Coach, I loved working with the students and coding, whether it was with the 4th/5th Grade “Game Coding Club” that I ran or the events I coordinated for the yearly Hour of Code activities for the school. The students were engaged and showed such excitement while programming the characters to move; it was motivating for me to keep coding going for the school. However, just like other other “cool” thing there isn’t enough time to add in something new and then there’s the idea of how to connect coding to curriculum?

Learning to program/code does not need to just stop after the week of Hour of Code ends. (Which, if you are not aware yet, Hour of Code is the week of December 4, 2017.) This week of introducing coding is just the start of something new for the students. When students are programming/coding, they are given an opportunity to utilize and build skills such as logical thinking, problem-solving, perseverance, creativity and self confidence. These skills are not often found in a day to day lesson, however, these are world class skills employees need to be successful in today’s real world work force.

Let’s start preparing our students for the computer science professions and it does not need to be “just another thing”. I want you to think of a standard where you ask your students to develop and use models. Good teaching practices allows for student choice in how they want to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the new content. Why not add an option for students to develop their “model” through coding/programming? Take SC Science Standard 7.L.3.A.3 for example. In order to show mastery of the content, students should be able to develop and use models to explain how the relevant structures within cells function to support the life of plants, animals and bacterial cells. Coding the model through Scratch, for example, could also allow students an avenue to explain how one thing affects another.  For example, 6th Grade Social Studies Standard, 6-6.6; Explain the effects of the exchange of plants, animals, diseases, and technology throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas (known as the Columbian Exchange). Could a student program the effects to demonstrate their level of mastery using Gameblox? What I love about this idea is that the students are now applying their knowledge to creating content, rather than just consuming it.

So, you don’t know how to code or support the students in this creation, but you are open to giving your students an opportunity to extend their knowledge. Honestly, it is ok that you don’t know coding/programming. Our students tend to be one step ahead of us when it comes to the latest technology, it could be a disservice for us to restrict students because we are not familiar with it. Think of it as an opportunity to practice facilitating new opportunities for students. Here are some suggested websites that are free and can walk you through your first coding/program experience.  

Type of coding
Block coding
Block coding
Python/Java Script
Core levels are free
Block Coding
Java Script
Python/Java/HTML coding
Free trial
Block coding
HTML, CSS, JavaScript
HTML, CSS, Python, JavaSCript
Free courses
JavaScript, Python,
JavaScript, HTML, CSS

Friday, November 17, 2017

Adding value to edtech games

A few weeks ago we blogged about the value of online games in the classroom.  Hopefully it inspired some thinking about the purpose, intentionality, and value the games add to the student’s learning.  We know that there are times where some sort of online game works for classrooms so here are some strategies that may ensure higher quality learning.  

  1. Connect the game to another learning goal.   
If students need to study vocabulary and matching quizlet cards is your only choice, consider providing an activity that requires the students to transfer the learning.  If students must review vocabulary words, assign a follow up paragraph where they use the words in context.  

    2.  If the game tracks points/time, ask students to reflect on progress.     
Asking students to reflect on how they decreased their time to solve math facts or     
match words and definitions allows the kids to think about their thinking.  This also allows teachers insight into what mistakes students may have initially had and how the students addressed those mistakes.

    3.  Ask students to complete a check for understanding.  
If students spend their time working on a game, how does the teacher know what
the students know?  Consider asking students to immediately complete a
formative assessment that is automatically graded through Google Forms or  If students do well, you know that the game may not be the best use of the students’ time the next day.  If the students do not do well, you know how to adjust your instruction.

Hopefully these strategies will allow teachers to take edtech games to the next level of learning for your students.  Ensuring that students make the connections between the games and the unit’s learning is a great way to add value to edtech games in the class.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tell your story

2017 Richland Two Film Festival

What is the Film Festival?
Each year, Richland Two provides a unique opportunity for students and district staff to share their story through video creation. We are excited to be in our 5th year and know this will be a bigger event this year. Our window of opportunity began on November 6th, where students can begin finding a school sponsor, complete the interest form and turn in permission slips. There are opportunities for every person in the district to enter, from Pre-K students to District employees.
The suggested categories to enter a film are as follows…
  • Educational (PSA, informative, or news cast) - If you created a video for school and it fits our requirements, enter the video.
  • Music Video - The music must be original.  
  • Animation/Claymation
  • Storytelling (personal narrative)
  • Short film (documentary or drama)
  • Other
So, what are the benefits of creating videos?
I recently walked into a high school classroom where students were beginning the process of video creation. Their storyline was the same for all groups, reproduce a recent novel into a movie, but they were able to make some minor modifications to the plot, character, setting and story components to make it their own rendition. I felt some awesome energy coming from the students as they were collaboratively writing their scripts and planning for their videos. They were communicating to one another, building off of one another’s ideas, pulling in some “hidden” talents of their peers as they began to talk about the setting they would develop for their 6 minute video. When you think about the entire process of creating a video, developing a goal/idea, writing a script, determining the style of the video, storyboard both the scene and script, produce and edit a video...the skills students use is shocking. Yes, it takes time, but the rigor in their own learning and the grit/perseverance it takes to complete the process is awarding. Believe me when I tell you the excitement I felt and heard in this classroom versus other classrooms I visited, it would make you want to jump into this adventure too.
I am proud of the work the students put into their videos last year. Take a moment to click on the link to see last year's winning videos… 2017 Film Festival Winners

If you are a Richland Two Employee or student, here is some information you need to know. There are opportunities for every person in the district to enter…
Grade Level Submissions
Grades Prek-2nd
Grades 3rd-5th
Grades 6th-8th  
Grades 9th-12th
All District Staff
There is a prize for Best in Show for both elementary and secondary, and one prize for each grade category. District staff are not eligible for Best in Show.

Timeline of Events
NOV 6,
DEC 1,
JAN 19,

For more information, visit our website… R2 Film Festival Blog

Tell your students about the Film Festival today. Give them an opportunity to create an original works to tell their own story.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Gaming in the classroom

It’s November now and our team has been spending a lot of time in classrooms all over our district.  One consistent trend has emerged in our district and in the EdTech field as a whole - gamifying the learning.  We aren’t referring to gamifying the entire process of learning but rather using websites for skill building that reward students with a game feature or websites where the skill building is embedded within the context of the game.

In some examples you see numbers for math facts flying around the screen and students have to quickly capture the numbers that sum to a given result.  In other examples, you see blocks of text with definitions and terms floating around and students must match complementary cards together to receive a point.  

Many teachers love these programs and emphasize the following positive points:  
  • The kids love it!  The kids are engaged!
  • The kids get immediate feedback.
  • The games autoadjust for the kids’ skill level and ability

These attributes may all be true, but in order for these activities to have a true impact on the students’ learning, a little more planning and thinking must be done:

Does the engagement in the game take away from the students’ focus on the learning?
When the timer is running and students hope to beat their previous score, are the students playing the game arbitrarily or are they really thinking through the process?  When we are in classrooms we’ve observed a lot of focus on beating the game at the consequence of the students thinking about their thinking.  

Is the feedback worth anything if the students don’t apply it?
Yes, the games give immediate feedback because students fail to go to the next level or earn a point.  We argue, however, if the student is unable to take that feedback and apply it to her learning process, the feedback is not valuable.  If the feedback is a nasty buzzer but doesn’t allow the student to think metacognitively about what went wrong in her learning, then the feedback doesn’t matter.

Does the teacher know what the students know?
Yes, the game may auto adjust to the student’s ability, but if that data never gets back to the teacher, then is this an instructionally-valuable activity for that child?  Or, if the activity doesn’t require the student to log in or the website doesn’t track progress (many free website versions don’t) for the teacher, then what’s the value?  The teacher must know what the students know in order to make an instructional decision.  If your student is stuck below standard, there’s a scaffold to be provided.  If your student is working beyond the standard, this drill-type game likely isn’t the best use of the student’s time.

In the end, these games can probably enhance learning when used strategically in moderation.  Creating a habit of spending 20 minutes per day on a game where neither students nor teachers use the information to make instructional decisions, however, is not ideal.   

The Influential Parent - Episode 9

  The Influential Parent - Episode 9, Summer Care Tips   With devices going home for the summer in our district, we wanted to take some ti...