Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another Week(s) in Review

Since my last post, several new "things" have been happening in our class and with the students' use of the iPads.  A few are normal transitions in every classroom, a few are progressive in terms of student capabilities, and unfortunately one is simply not desired.

The first is the addition of a few new students and the loss of a few others.  Normally the movement of students tends to cause a fair amount of disruption in terms of new kids gaining skills, "catching up", and  finding a place and balance within the room.  This aspect, fortunately, just doesn't seem to be happening this year.  One new student, having only been in the room for 3 days, has already built two Keynote presentations, created several graphs in Numbers, and used our normal apps of Adobe Ideas, Accelerated Reader, Safari, My Doodle Buddy, Flip It, etc.  Having no past experience with iPads, I was pleasantly surprised at his partner's skill as well as his own in acquiring new knowledge so quickly.

In terms of new apps, I really should keep a list of which apps come and go.  I have seen quite a few music apps appearing lately mostly focused around learning how to play the piano and guitar.  The guitar makes sense as the class as a whole is learning guitar in their general music class but the piano is a bit of a mystery to me.  Several students are still progressing with their Doodle Buddy games and we are starting to see even more development in terms of the planning and background scenery.  Keynote is now second nature to the kids as they have been using Keynote to illustrate grammar concepts using animation to show pronouns, possessive nouns, and how sentences change depending on word choice.

Lastly, the undesirable part of technology.  One thing that teachers, administrators, and students fear is the use of technology in violation of acceptable use, the student who thinks he/she can get away with something.  Unfortunately one student choose last week as the time to see if they could get away with something.  Needless to say, it didn't work and policy entered into the overall occasion.  At this point, there are a lot of folks making the "told you so" type statements, prove that providing access can be dangerous.  Time to ban the technology.  But in response I give this scenario.  Do we ban pencils because one student choose to poke somebody with one?  Or do we treat the behavior.  Do we get rid of chairs because a student leans back a bit to far and falls?  Or do we treat the behavior.  Or, here in Alaska, do we ban recess as one student last week who choose to place their mouth on metal at 15 below zero?  Or do we treat the behavior.

We choose to treat the behavior, have active discussions regarding appropriate use, and make a plan so that we can treat the behavior and provide answers to acceptable and unacceptable use.  Lesson learned, plan made, progress towards the future.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Students React to iPads

[Editor's note: We're excited to welcome our first guest blogger--Katie Mitchell, daughter of Larry Mitchell and an elementary teacher candidate in the UAF School of Education. Katie is undertaking her internship year at Pearl Creek Elementary in Fairbanks. She checked out a classroom set of 15 iPad 2s from the School of Education for a week of exploration in her classroom. She chronicles her experiences below.]

Four days... that was the length of time my multiage class of fourth, fifth and sixth graders were able to use iPads and needless to say, they were sorely disappointed when their time was up. 

Part of the focus for the week was the Oregon Trail because I was in charge of teaching social studies for the week. The first activity we did was walk the "Oregon Trail," while students counted their steps with a iPad. Using the app, Touch Counter, students were able to record each step they made by tapping the screen, while a timer kept track of how long it took them. Students walked the 1/2 mile trail in partners, complaining at the end that their hands were frozen from the 6 degree temperature and needing ungloved hands in order to operate the iPad. However, all the students enjoyed the activity and with the data they gathered, discovered that it took approximately 4.3 million steps to walk the Oregon Trail (only counting forward progress).

Another big activity we used the iPads for was to record student-written Oregon Trail Songs. To the tune of "Home on the Range," students rewrote the verse and chorus to reflect the Oregon Trail landmarks they had researched for a Google Earth project. The songs turned out to be much harder than I had intended, but most of the students seemed to enjoy the process and they really enjoyed getting to record their voices on Garage Band. I had made a recording of the tune using the guitar on Garage Band and students recorded themselves singing to the music. The songs the students made are very fun and reflect a range of musical ability. 

In addition to using the iPads for the above mentioned purposes, students played a variety of math and word games throughout the week. Times Table was a huge hit, with students competing for the top record in the class. Some students downloaded the app on their own devices at home and continued to practice, setting extremely high records over the weekend. Word Abacus and Worcle were also some of most chosen apps. The iPads were also used at the end of math class, which comprises students from multiple classes in the school, for students to practice their skills with math games. The students from other classes enjoyed getting to tell their classmates that they had been able to use the iPads.

My students were all really sad when they realized that the iPads were gone and they keep asking me when they will get them again. So I keep reminding them that we will get to have them for another five days after Thanksgiving. Several students reflected on their time with the iPads, using Moveable Write, writing what their favorite thing was and what they might want to do or learn the next time we have the iPads.

[Editor's note: Student reflections are below exported directly from Moveable Write (click to enlarge) and as converted text-- with a few spelling corrections.]

Student One

I really liked having the iPads because they were fun to use and they had more things on them than the laptops. Thank you for letting us use them! I iced it when we used them for the presentation thing because it was fun not to have to put together a book for it. I also liked singing on them even though I'm terrible at singing. I was playing the song when I hit Hard Rock. It sounded really cool!

I would like to make a presentation on the iPads because it was really fun fun when I did it at school! We should have to make something! Anything!!!!!!! I wish we could have them instead of laptops. Laptops aren't as good as iPads.

Student Two

My favorite activity we did with the iPads was the thing when we walked the Oregon Trail and counted our steps. I also liked the free time when we got to play the games. My favorite game is Worcle.

The next time we get to use the iPads I would like to do something kind of like the counting steps activity. The only thing I didn't like about it was that you had to take off your gloves and your hand got really cold. My hand got sort of numb.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Meet the Designers

Every classroom should provide opportunities for students to pursue their passions and interests. So far this year, we've seen students write and illustrate children's books, compose original music, create podcasts, explore drawing and sketching, and try their hand at game design. Not all of these pursuits resonate with every single student, but every student has found something outside of the regular curriculum that has held their interest for a significant period of time. When students have free time, they can usually be observed returning to their interest and exploring it in greater depth.

In this video, Jerry and Henry talk about some games they have designed and the games they hope to work on in the future. Game design is a complex effort that involves visual aesthetics, story creation, character development, and an understanding of the variables that govern play. It's obviously an area of intense interest for them that will hopefully lead to a pursuit of subjects such as math and physics that are necessary to understand game design on a higher level. They're off to a good start.

Some other students are pursuing games that involve math concepts that they are studying. Hailey is working on a game in which the main character is pursued by a variety of fractions. If the fraction is in simplest form, it won't hurt you, but if it needs simplifying, watch out...