To start off the year, I decided to make sure that all of my 9th graders understand what the Internet really is and how it works before they get their Internet-ready laptops in a few weeks.

When they came in, they had the first five minutes of class to “draw the Internet.” I got a lot of quizzical looks. “What do you mean?” “You can’t draw the Internet!” I said, “If someone asked you what the Internet looked like, what would you draw?”

A few of the Internet drawings.

A few of the Internet drawings.

There were a variety of concepts including connected dots, a globe, drawings of homepages and Internet logos. A few students drew computers, one drew a phone. A few got their phones out and sketched a browser page on their phone.

I explained that while preparing for the lesson, I had been searching for a diagram of how the Internet works to show them and that all I found were pictures of computers connected to a grey cloud that said, “Internet.” I did find a fairly useful, short video that I showed them instead. Many people, I explained, that use the Internet, don’t really even understand what it is.

After watching the video, I asked them who their ISP was and they named Comcast, Verizon and Clear. We then reviewed the concept of IP addresses and the fact that all computers have them. We also discussed how IP addresses are changed into website names. It was, I admit, a lot to swallow and will require follow up lessons, but it was a crash course nonetheless.

After sharing their drawings with each other and comparing and contrasting them, I had the students count off into groups. They were then tasked with creating a chart that included at least one idea from everyone in the group. On the chart had to be two columns. One that said, “I use the Internet to…” and one that said, “I wish I used the Internet to….” They recorded their thoughts on the chart paper. After about 10 minutes of working, I then had each group walk from table to table to see what the other groups had written. We then debriefed and

Students brainstormed ways they use and ways they wish they used the Internet & then did a gallery walk.

Students brainstormed ways they use and ways they wish they used the Internet & then did a gallery walk.

talked about what we saw. I told them that they are in the position to make the things in their “wish” column a reality. I told them that most people use the internet for all of things the students said they did (social media, pictures, music..), but very few people actually make stuff for the Internet. I told them I want them to be makers and builders. I think they dug the idea.

Another fun part about the activity was walking around and listening to them talk to each other. “I wish I could talk to my computer.” “But you can, you can use Siri!” “Siri sucks. It’s not really talking to you.” I also overheard conversations about what they use the Internet to do and discovering common ground. Overall, I think it was a great start to the year and I look forward to digging deeper into conversations about Digital Citizenship and the rights and responsibilities that coming with going online.

 

 

 

Some ways they use and wish they used the Internet:

Internet Chart 2

Internet chart 1

 

 
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My students at last year’s computer fair waiting for the judging to finish.

I have been blessed to have spent the last 3-4 months working with eleven 7th and 8th graders as they create projects for the annual PA Middle School Computer Fair. We are now only a couple of weeks away from the Fair and I can’t help but reflect on the way my role working with these students differs greatly from my traditional role in the classroom.  I  teach a Computer Fair Elective class twice a cycle, and this class is unlike any other that I teach. There are two reasons for this: 1) the students are working on 5 different projects that they developed on their own and that will conclude with a competition against other middle school students across the city. 2) the students and I work as a team to help realize their vision for their project.

While this may sound simple enough, it breaks the mold of the traditional model of having an objective on the board and everyone mastering said objective by the end of 45 minutes. When these students walk into my classroom, they discuss the next steps they need to work on and talk about who will tackle what during the period. I don’t even turn on the projector and there is no class ‘objective’ on the board. They are able to figure out what they will try to accomplish on their own and they delegate work to each other. My job is to rotate from group to group to check in and act as a consultant, making sure that students have the larger picture in mind and that what they are working on will help them meet their desired target. When they need someone to critique their design or double check their code syntax, or re-read their narrative, they ask for help. If they need to learn something, they may use YouTube or even each other. During the 45 minute period, students are working, discussing and giving each other feedback. There are little to no behavior issues and I rarely have to tell someone to “get started,” or to make sure that they are engaged or have “mastered the material.”

Things did not start this way, however.

At the beginning of the project, students had to reflect on what they worked on the last class and create a manageable goal for the class period. I worked with students to rephrase goals like, “work on project,” to “finish the buttons for the game.” I stressed the importance of choosing a goal that is manageable and attainable in 45 minutes. I also gave the students a chance to talk with each other to agree on what each person would work on before getting started. Sometimes this meant that I helped them designate and define roles for each other. It has been magical to watch how teams are now able to see how the work that each person is doing plays into the larger goal they are working towards.

Things are not always rosy, however.

This kind of learning is messy. Since I am no longer the expert in the room, when we hit a snag, students may be derailed from their goal for the day while they search YouTube for solutions or while they solicit feedback or ideas from their teammates. While traditional behavior problems are nearly non existent, we do run into normal issues that every team, no matter what age, run into. Disagreements abound when students are passionate about what they are working on. Sometimes coming to compromise can take an entire class period.

Experiencing learning in this way has been eye opening and energizing. It has also made it clear to me what real student-centered, hands-on, authentic (though I vowed never to use that word again) learning looks and sounds like.

It is messy, time-consuming and unbelievably rewarding.

 

First of all, I have to thank my friend, Kim Sivick for sharing this awesome gadget with me.

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Today I received my Makey Makey kit in the mail and I haven’t stopped playing with it.

First, I opened the box.

Once I had it all plugged in, I immediately got some bananas and got to work.

 

I originally used the Makey Makey Scratch piano: http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/ericr/2543877

Then, the wheels in my brain began to spin. I opened up Scratch  and began to build a program.

Scratch Project

You can view it/play it here: http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/mshertz/2826339

I have only begun to explore the possibilities for this awesome tool. At $40, it might be one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time.

 

This past summer, with the help of my brilliant friend, Kristen Swanson, I took my Technology Curriculum to a place I had never imagined it could go. As a computer lab teacher, there has never been an easy to follow, mapped out path for instruction. As such, over the last 5 years I created a scope of skills and concepts across grade levels to guide my teaching and I had begun to map out what kinds of projects I could use to teach these skills. Still, my curriculum always seemed a bit disjointed and while my students created wonderful work and amazed me with their ability to apply their skills to video, music production, programming and more, I still felt like I wasn’t doing the best job at making it ‘stick.’

Fast forward to today.

This summer, I put together a framework for my curriculum that ties all instruction to four ‘pillars.’ These pillars are the glue that holds the curriculum together. As I told my students, after we had defined that pillars hold up buildings, that these pillars will ‘hold up our learning,’ that everything we learn this year will be held up by one of these four ideas. I am so intent on providing a metaphorical ‘hook’ on which my students can hang their skills that the first week or so of classes will be focused on knowing and understanding these four pillars and connecting them to the technology we use in the lab and in our daily lives. While I named them ‘competencies’ in my curriculum, I felt the word ‘pillar’ would mean more to my students.

The Four Pillars of Technology in the Classroom

Today, my 4th-6th graders and I focused on first understanding the idea of a pillar and what it is, and then we got into the work of unpacking the first pillar, Communicate. Through a ‘Think, Pair, Share,’ they pulled together a definition of what Communicate meant to them. It was thrilling to watch them discuss with each other, often using hand gestures to explain the back and forth of two people talking and sharing ideas. I then gave them the ‘official definition’ as a comparison. They then repeated the Think, Pair, Share activity with the following question: “What are some technology tools we use to communicate?” We then shared a variety of tools, ranging from YouTube to Skype to webcams, to keyboards, to cell phones, and even to pencil and paper. All of this brainstorming was recorded in the note-taking template I provided for them.

After reviewing their class notes and their ‘exit tickets,’ I have no doubt that my students understand how technology allows them to communicate in a variety of ways. This is powerful. We built knowledge together and they reached the learning goal I had hoped to achieve without me having to tell them anything except for ‘think about this question and talk to your neighbor when the timer goes off.’

I can’t wait to hear their thoughts and the connections they make for the other 3 pillars. I hope that these prove to be the glue that holds all of their learning together this year.

 

 

One of the struggles of teaching a “special” is meeting the needs of over 250 students a week, sometimes for one measly 45 minute period. Differentiation in this setting is hard.

Today I won a simple but hugely important battle in this arena.

One of my 7th graders struggles to do anything independently. She is a hard worker and motivated, but with 23 students working on projects and only 45 minutes (less when you count transition times) for me to check in with each one, it never fails that this student feels frustrated at the end of class.

In steps technology to help the situation. And I don’t mean a computer.

We are building projects in Scratch, a free software that teaches kids how program. The many steps and parts of the program are hard for this student to remember and keep track of. I decided to to use the Livescribe pen I scored last year to record directions for building a simple project. I pulled the student a few minutes early to show her how to work it, and during class she was able to tap on a step number and hear me giving directions. She could pause and replay the directions whenever she needed to and she never had to wait for me. After many classes of frustration, she left class today with a sense of accomplishment.

I immediately got to work recording more directions to other Scratch projects for other students who struggle similarly. Ideally I would love to have this resource available to all of my students. It would be like having clones of myself in the classroom or like providing my students with their own personal tutor.

I look forward to finding other uses for the pen to help meet the varied needs of my students.

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One of the struggles of teaching a “special” is meeting the needs of over 250 students a week, sometimes for one measly 45 minute period. Differentiation in this setting is hard.

Today I won a simple but hugely important battle in this arena.

One of my 7th graders struggles to do anything independently. She is a hard worker and motivated, but with 23 students working on projects and only 45 minutes (less when you count transition times) for me to check in with each one, it never fails that this student feels frustrated at the end of class.

In steps technology to help the situation. And I don’t mean a computer.

We are building projects in Scratch, a free software that teaches kids how program. The many steps and parts of the program are hard for this student to remember and keep track of. I decided to to use the Livescribe pen I scored last year to record directions for building a simple project. I pulled the student a few minutes early to show her how to work it, and during class she was able to tap on a step number and hear me giving directions. She could pause and replay the directions whenever she needed to and she never had to wait for me. After many classes of frustration, she left class today with a sense of accomplishment.

I immediately got to work recording more directions to other Scratch projects for other students who struggle similarly. Ideally I would love to have this resource available to all of my students. It would be like having clones of myself in the classroom or like providing my students with their own personal tutor.

I look forward to finding other uses for the pen to help meet the varied needs of my students.

20120202-223212.jpg

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