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Friday Recap: TGIF (especially a 3 day weekend TGIF!!)

You know it has been one of those weeks when I only manage ONE post here all week long.  I think that is an all time low since I started iLearn Technology in 2007.  Just wow. Between starting a school and working out details for the Learning Genome it has been a busy week where I feel like...

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Ozobot: game pieces with brains

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Anastasis Academy, Apply, Create, Fun & Games, iPod, Math, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Science, Secondary Elementary, Technology, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 14-10-2014

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What it is: “Oh my gosh! This is SO AWESOME!!” – Exclamation from a student upon playing with the Ozobot for the first time.

Last week, I got an Ozobot in the mail…I couldn’t wait to play! These little robots are game pieces with brains. They are about the size of a large bouncy ball and kids can interact with these little robots in a variety of ways. Right out of the box, the Ozobot is ready to use. After a quick calibration (which consists of holding down the power button and setting on a “dot” card) the Ozobot is ready to play and learn with. Ozobot reacts to color codes. The color codes have already been programmed which means that your students can use those codes to create their own games and challenges. Red, blue, green, and black markers can be used to create their own challenges, games, and courses for the Ozobot. In addition to your student’s imaginations, the Ozobot website has pre-made mazes and games that can be downloaded and printed out. The Ozobot can also interact with your iPad or Android devices, download the Ozobot app and you suddenly have a lot more ways to interact with the Ozobot!

How to integrate the Ozobot into your classroom for learning: The Ozobot is a great way to teach your students the basic building blocks of coding. While they won’t actually use code to make Ozobot move, the color codes teach students to think like a programmer. Students start to realize that they can make the Ozobot move and react based on their input of different colors. Before you give your students the OzoCode sheet (which can be downloaded from the Ozobot website), use the color card included with the Ozobot and ask your “scientists” to observe this strange new discovery. Students can play the part of scientist and record observations about what Ozobot does in reaction to the different colors and codes on the maze. Can they reproduce some of these behaviors on their own drawings for Ozobot? Next, give them the color code reference chart and let them experiment with the different color codes. IF they make a red and blue dot next to each other THEN what does Ozobot do? Help students think in terms of IF/THEN and not only will they get practice with the scientific method, they will also get some great building blocks for coding. Students can use the color codes to design their own mazes and challenges for the Ozobot, they can even create their own games! The Ozobot kit that I received is from the Competition Series and included two Ozobots and some Ozoskins (so that you can tell them apart). Students could create large self correcting math or vocabulary puzzles for Ozobot to solve. They can write down the question and try to “beat” Ozobot to the correct answer. Each student can create a problem and they can be used as a center game…Beat Ozobot. Ozobot can move, set timers, pause, exit and win, count down, walk backward, spin, zigzag, etc. While it travels to the correct answer on the sheet of paper based on the path drawn, students have to try to solve the problem first. A fun digital buddy to practice math, vocabulary, geography, etc. with!

 

Tips: Ozobot is also a pretty great dancer. It should definitely be included in any classroom dance party!

 

SNAP Learning Close Reading System

Posted by admin | Posted in Classroom Management, Knowledge (remember), Language Arts, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, Spelling, Teacher Resources, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 16-09-2014

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Recently, SNAP Learning invited me to review their Close Reading Portfolio. Wow! I’m so glad they did! The SNAP Close Reading Portfolio is really great.

Close Reading

What it is: SNAP Learning Close Reading Portfolio is a complete online program comprised of a series of interactive exercises that guide students in the meaning of words and sentences, how sentences are sequenced and arranged, and how ideas are developed in a text. The books online are engaging and all of the tools are so well integrated that students learn about strategies that should be employed while reading and are not just left reading text that is online. As a teacher, you can create student groups and assign reading collections to groups based on their needs. Online books can be filtered by Lexile level, FP level, grade level, fiction/non/fiction, etc. Create a collection for students easily and assign it to them so that they can choose a book that interests them within the parameters of their reading needs.

Close Reading

Close Reading

 

How to integrate SNAP Learning Close Reading Portfolio into your classroom: This online program is a fantastic addition to your literacy program.  When I taught 2nd grade, I loved getting to meet with small reading groups throughout the week. My goal was to meet with every group of 4 students twice in a week so that I could guide reading and help students build skills on a more one-on-one basis. While I led these small reading groups, I created tub work that students could work on independently to help build literacy skills (basically literacy centers that came to the students). At the beginning of the week, I would introduce this tub work for students. Each day of the week the tubs rotated to a different group and students would complete the activities. (To read more about how I organized tub work, read this post.) This was a great way for me to keep my students learning even though I was unavailable for guided learning or direct instruction because I was working with a reading group. I would have LOVED adding SNAP Learning Close Reading Portfolio into my rotation on classroom computers. SNAP Learning Close Reading Portfolio leads students step by step through close reading; it helps them build skills to help them understand a text. Students can highlight words that are difficult (that automatically get added to flash cards that help them learn later), answer main and supporting detail questions, and reflect on what they learned through the reading. The greatest part is the way that the program does “guided” reading and reads aloud to students while highlighting words. Truly, this is a great way for students to learn the skills necessary for reading and comprehension. As an add-on to your reading program (and certainly as a rotation for students to do while you work with individual students) it is awesome! The other benefit is all of the data collected for you. You can assign students stories to read, and see which words they highlighted, and all of their written responses. You now have some great background information for when you meet with students one-on-one.

SNAP Learning Close Reading portfolio makes it infinitely easier to collect information about how your students are reading when you aren’t able to sit right with them. This makes it a great companion to any reading program. I like the idea of using it as a center rotation (in classes with one or two computers) or independently in a 1-1 setting. While students are working through the close reading activities, you can work in smaller reading groups or one on one with students. The SNAP Reading portfolio keeps you and your students organized!

Because SNAP Learning let’s students create word lists while they read, each of your students could have a customized spelling list each week. A step into individualizing your curriculum for your students.Close Reading

Tips: There is all kinds of customization within SNAP reading to fit the needs of your classroom and each child. For example: when you assign reading, you can also assign reading timers for first, second, third, and fourth close reading.

You can request a demo of the close reading portfolio here- www.snaplearning.co/request_demo

Archive Pinterest Boards with Evernote Web Clipper

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, collaboration, Download, Grade Level, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, web tools, Web2.0 | Posted on 17-08-2014

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At Anastasis Academy, we don’t have boxed curriculum. This can be both incredibly freeing, and terrifying. If you don’t have curriculum that tells you what to do, what do you DO?! We engage students in inquiry. Inquiry gives students parameters of learning, but allows them to discover and explore within those parameters. Teaching students to properly manage their freedom.

Each 5 weeks, our students engage a new line of inquiry. We follow the PYP inquiry questions (Who we are, Where we are in place and time, How we organize ourselves, How the world works, Sharing the planet). These questions give us good parameters to work within. Each 5 weeks, I send our teachers resources for the inquiry block. Within these big inquiry questions, I provide our primary, intermediate, and Jr. High with different key concept lines of inquiry to explore. These are aligned to the social studies, science, language, and math standards for that age group. Every year I change-up the key concept lines of inquiry just a bit (keeps things interesting and fresh for all of us!).

I create Pinterest boards for our teachers that have a variety of resources for each inquiry block. These resources include ideas, videos, lessons, books, apps, etc. that are related to the inquiry block. They are not prescriptive, but rather offer a launching point for teachers. Then, I create QR code posters that look like this:

Inquiry poster QR code

These get posted all over the school so that teachers and students always have access to the resources (note: we are a 1:1 iPad school).

This has worked REALLY well for sharing resources, as I notice students connect with a line of questioning/inquiry, I can add resources during the inquiry block that the students can use. This creates a whole community that is discovering and learning together. The curriculum is fluid, it is constantly growing and adapting. Teachers often send me links and ideas through Pinterest (I don’t add teachers as collaborators for the boards-even though I could- because I don’t want them to feel obligated to spend their free time the way that I do). Students have begun to send ideas through Pinterest as well…way cool!!

Here is the problem, each year I create 18 inquiry boards. I use the same Pinterest account for personal use as I do for education (you never know when a non-education idea will spark the perfect education idea). As I was getting ready to create boards for this school year, I realized how MANY boards I was going to have to sort through to find this years boards. It is starting to get ridiculous! I needed a good way to archive boards. Enter Evernote. We already use Evernote as a school for ePortfolios, archiving boards using Evernote is the perfect solution!

I used the Firefox web browser to do this, I’m sure this plugin exists for all major web browsers. First, go to “Tools” in your Firefox menu bar and choose “Add Ons.” In the search bar, type “Evernote web clipper” and download the Evernote Web Clipper add-on. After you restart Firefox, this will put the Evernote Web Clipper button in your Firefox tools.

Evernote web clipper

Navigate to the Pinterest board that you want to save. Select all by going to “Edit” in the menu bar, and choose “Select All.” You could also just navigate to the board you want to archive and hold down the command key and letter “a.” Then click on the Evernote Web Clipper button in your address bar. Add any tags that you want to be associated with the board and a note to yourself about the board.

Pinterest board

 

Evernote web clipper Inquiry

That is it! The board is saved to Evernote with all of the images, and the web link is live as well! Verify that the board saved to Evernote correctly and then delete the board. Now you have room for a new year’s worth of boards.

This is a seriously great way to archive any boards that you need to save but don’t need in your Pinterest list right now. I’ve just archived all of last year’s inquiry boards and am ready to pin another year! This is also a great way to create a back-up of your boards or to save and send entire boards to colleagues.

If you just need to save the images from a pinterest board, use that-boy-I-love, (@jtenkely)‘s awesome creation, Pinswiper. This tool will save just the images from a Pinterest board as jpgs on your desktop. Great if you need images that you saved for classroom presentations, writing prompts, etc.

Go Naked for Education

Posted by admin | Posted in education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources | Posted on 16-07-2014

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I take on a lot. Depending on who you ask, probably too much. But when I’m passionate about something, it doesn’t feel like one more thing because it feeds my soul in some way. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the Anastasis alumni girls…really young women now. And I worried about them. I thought about what it was like to be that age and the true awkwardness that I felt. I thought about how often I felt ugly and like I just wasn’t enough. I wrote a post for them in my mind (which I WILL write), but this is not that post. It is just a reminder to me about why I am passionate about this one more thing that I added to my plate.

Rodan +Fields reminds me of what beauty is, and it has the added benefit of giving me great skin that makes me feel confident. That is why I took on one more thing. But then, this one more thing got even better, because my passions are colliding!

Rodan + Fields is hosting a #RFGoNaked Day next Friday, July 25, 2014. This is particularly exciting because just by participating (which is totally FREE) Rodan + Fields will make a $1 donation to empower and educate students in need. Passions colliding! The goal is to raise $30,000 to build a school. Of course, I am beyond excited to support that cause!

It gets better, next Thursday July 24, 2014 I am hosting a kick off Virtual Party. YOU ARE INVITED! :)

This is going to be fun, like girl talk (men, you can come too) and a spa day rolled into one. Rodan and Fields has transformed my skin. I mean seriously, my Bobbi Brown concealer and foundation have dust on them. DUST. I don’t use them at all since I started using Rodan and Fields skin care. I love that I can go makeup free (Note: I am wearing eye makeup in the photo below) and feel confident that my skin is going to look and feel great (this is the idea behind the #RFGoNaked Day). Everyone should love their skin, it goes with you everywhere! Next Thursday, July 24, I’m hosing a virtual party where you can learn more about how to keep your skin looking and feeling amazing. In addition to learning more about how you can love your skin, I’ll have a give away of my very favorite R+F product and we will get ready to “Go Naked” for education!RF Virtual PartyWhen: Thursday, July 24, 2014

Time: 10:00 am MST

Where: From the comfort of your home!

RSVPYou MUST RSVP to be included in this virtual party. It is really easy, just click here and tell me where to send your invitation link.   You do NOT want to miss this!

Then on Friday, July 25, 2014 you can join us in celebrating #RFGoNaked Day and show off your skin for a great cause. Every time a no-makeup selfie is posted on 7.25.2014 using the hashtag #RFGoNaked, Rodan + Fields will make a $1 donation to empower and educate students in need. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!

Details for how to participate are in the flier below:

#RFGoNaked for education

News-O-Matic: New non-fiction delivered to your classroom every day!

Posted by admin | Posted in Geography, Government, History, Interactive book, Interactive Whiteboard, iPod, Knowledge (remember), Language Arts, Math, Primary Elementary, Science, Secondary Elementary, Social Studies, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 14-07-2014

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News-O-Matic: New non-fiction delivered to your class every day!

What it is: Press 4 Kids, News-O-Matic is both a subscription-based app and a free daily email delivered in pdf format. News-O-Matic is a fantastic current event, news source for elementary students. It is a great resource for fresh, non-fiction material for your classroom. Recall, discussion, and comprehension questions are included in each News-O-Matic. You can purchase an app subscription for your class in the 1:1 iDevice setting, or you can subscribe for the FREE daily school edition which is delivered by email. The PDF can be printed out to share with your students, or to keep your class paperless, you can share it on an interactive whiteboard or projector-connected computer.

How to integrate News-O-Matic in your classroom: News-O-Matic delivers a daily newspaper written especially for elementary-age students. Each edition comes with 5 current-event, news stories that cover the latest news, science, sports, and wacky kids stories. Students get a chance to not only read the news, but also rate articles, submit questions, and submit their drawings. News-O-Matic is  a great way to keep your students reading regularly. Each day they will get engaging non-fiction reading that helps build a global perspective. Use News-O-Matic daily, as a class discussion starter. Challenge your students to make connections between the current events they are reading about, and the learning they are doing in class. Integrate geography study with reading each day. If you have a classroom map, put a place marker on it each time you read an article that is location specific. This could also be done virtually with Google Earth. This practice will help students visualize where each event takes place, while at the same time building geography skills.

Tips: All publications are ad free, so you never have to worry about inappropriate content.

The school app edition of News-O-Matic is $9.99 and can be found here.

We choose the moon: assessment without labels

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, Blooms Taxonomy, Classroom Management, education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources | Posted on 10-07-2014

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“With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once; the impossible takes a bit longer.”- unknown

Yesterday, @Kevreadenn shared the quote above with me on Twitter. It had me thinking about assessment and John F. Kennedy’s, “we choose the moon” (embedded above – you should watch it again). The declaration that we WOULD send a man to the moon, that we would do the impossible, seemed like an unworkable task given the technology of 1969. It is astounding to me that the technology I hold in my pocket is significantly more capable than the technology that sent a man to the moon. Kennedy inspired a nation to dream together, to achieve the impossible using the resources that were available. How can we inspire kids in this way as they quest for learning? How can we help those students who look at the goal of reaching the moon and think, “this is impossible, I only have 1969 technology,” to be inspired, to look at their resources in new ways and believe that they can do the impossible?

Everyone wants to know that they are “winning” and contributing to something meaningful. The declaration that a man would go to the moon was a lofty goal. It seemed incredibly  important, as a nation, that we achieve this goal together.

It strikes me as strange that the majority of assessment that we focus on in education only shows lag data. The lag data reveals to us where a student landed in a given moment, but doesn’t offer any opportunity for course correction. It also doesn’t take into account outside influences (not enough sleep, home struggles, lack of nutrition, friendship stresses, etc.). If our goals are lofty, and we want learning to be better, we will stop focusing on the lag data as the most important, and instead focus on the lead data. Lead data shows us what leads up to the learning, it gives us insight in the journey and process so that we can adjust as we go.

The majority of grading systems fail to compel action from students because they show historical data only. Students are left believing, “I’ve failed, and now I have to move on knowing I already fall short. Now I have to continue forward from a deficit.” Or they may be left believing, “I aced this, I already know it all, I don’t have anything more to learn.” Traditional grades tend to end learning. Traditional grades also measure students against everyone else with the goal being a perfect score. (Notice that I did NOT say that the goal was learning.) This comparison can be demoralizing for students who know they will fall short of the perfect score. They begin to label themselves as “stupid” and often arrive at the apathetic stance of, “it’s not even worth trying.” The other scenario is the student that believes the goal of the perfect score signals that they learned everything they need to know. For these students, apathy comes in already having hit the mark. “I know everything I need to about x.” This line of thinking closes down creativity and the drive to learn more. Apathy is the killer of learning. It matters not if you are a straight A student, or a D student, traditional grade systems breed apathy and don’t encourage kids to go for the lofty goals. There will be no choosing the moon.

Grading systems need to be upgraded so that they engage students in the process of reaching lofty goals. When students are able to help set their own goals and the assessment happens as a part of learning, students are continually pulled forward in their learning. Each small win adds learning momentum that begins to snowball into something bigger. For those who struggle, the small victories reveal that they can win and they are making forward progress. This gives the confidence that all learning is possible and worth engaging (even when the end goal feels impossible). The students who find that learning comes easily aren’t halted by artificial ceilings. They aren’t left believing that the learning has ended and are encouraged to keep moving forward.

In starting Anastasis Academy, we quickly found that no traditional grading system could adequately assess students as they were learning. We ditched formal A-F grading and instead used standards based grading. The idea was that if we assessed students based on standards (which we used as some of our learning goals), stakeholders would be able to better map progress as they went. We use standards differently, at Anastasis the standards aren’t organized by grade levels, they are simply a continuum of foundational skills. It didn’t take long before the standards based grading was also falling short. There is SO much more to learning than simply meeting the standard. We were interested in helping students understand how their attitudes toward learning impacted academic progress. We wanted to help them understand how character spills into everything else that they do. We wanted them to see that more important than a “Math” grade, was the ability to think like a mathematician. We wanted students to be able to “choose to go to the moon” and contribute to something meaningful. We needed something more holistic that helped students see the intricacies of how learning works. We wanted them to be able to make correlations between their attitudes toward learning and the outcomes that they could see.

Anastasis Report Card

This is the “report card” that I created. It is our attempt to help kids better understand what contributes to learning. It is a helpful way to show students that they aren’t “stupid in math,” but instead help them realize that they aren’t risk takers in math. The aversion to risk taking in math is what really holds them back.

The Latin root of Assessment is assidere, which means “to sit beside.” At Anastasis, we believe that assessment is more than just a measurement, it is an opportunity for apprenticeship, a time for us “to sit beside” and guide. We’ve used various tools for assessment in our short history, our search was for the assessment tool that would offer a more holistic picture of learning. We’ve used Mastery Connect and Jump Rope, but they fell short in giving us that holistic picture because they were tied to Common Core Standards alone (and limited by grade levels). What our students do at Anastasis every day is SO much bigger and deeper than these standards, and yet we didn’t have a good way to demonstrate that. Beginning in January, we rolled out our own grading system. We call it UpGrade because that is what it felt like, an upgrade!

Our goal for feedback on the UpGrade report is twofold:

1. To give students feedback that causes them to think, engage, and reflect on their own learning process as they learn.

2. To give families a detailed account of the student’s learning journey and forward progress.

The UpGrade reports are designed to explain what students know and are able to do, rather than determining grades based on point averages. This kind of grading allows teachers to more effectively tailor instruction to students based on what they actually know and can do, no floors and no ceilings.

The UpGrade report contains the proficiency marks 1-5 (explained below). These numbers are intended to demonstrate the process of learning, students move through the levels of proficiency as learning progresses. A “1” indicates that a child is new to the learning or requires a lot of guidance. A “5” indicates that the student is able to apply the learning to new situations and make connections to other learning.

1- Novice Concept and/or skill is brand new, student is just getting started in the learning. Student requires much teacher guidance and prompting.
2- Apprentice Some prompting or guidance is needed for the new concept and/or skill.
3- Practitioner Concept and/or skill can be done consistently and independently. Student may require occasional prompting or guidance.
4- Scholar Student can apply concept and/or skill to new and/or different situations with little guidance. Student is ready to build on the learning (next level of standard). 
5- Change Maker Concept and/or skill come second nature and can be used to make connections with other learning. Students understand concept/skill and can apply, evaluate, analyze, and create using the skill/concept. Student can use skill/concept for in-depth inferences and applications.

Of course when you create a report card that looks like this, you also have to craft a grading system to populate the report card. Dang it.

This is where I had to get creative and use my limited resources to make something (that seems impossible) work. I used Apple’s Numbers as the method for creating the grading system. It is tedious work, the user interface is messy, but it allows lofty goals and the impossible.

On the back end, teachers can fill in rubrics, or learning evidence pages. These compile and end up as the final 1-5 on the image that you see above. Why did I use Numbers? It is the only spreadsheet program robust enough to incorporate the graphic above. The evidences of learning (assignments) and scores are the easy part. Getting the rubrics to work the way I wanted them to, not so much! I sent out a call for help the other night on Twitter and had some AMAZING spreadsheet ninjas step in to help me find solutions. I promised to share what I figured out…for those not interested in the technical bits, feel free to skip ahead. :)

Anastasis self-grading Writing Rubric in Numbers

This is the rubric that I was working on. I wanted it to “self grade” and then for the score to transfer as a learning evidence. It seemed like it should be simple, but this honestly stumped me for days. Thankfully my PLN stepped in to point me in the right direction!

I started out by creating a highlighting rule. This is simple in Numbers, just click on the cell(s) that you want the rule on and in the “cell formatting” pane, choose “Conditional Highlighting.” In each cell where teachers could leave a score, I wanted the cell to highlight when the score was added. I chose to add the rule “Text contains” and then the number that corresponded to the row of the rubric. Then I chose a color to highlight.

Next came the tricky part. In the cells full of text, I wanted the last cell to recognize when a teacher had typed in a number, and to add up all the numbers of the row so that we could get a total that would populate on the Learning Evidence sheet. I could find all kinds of ways to accomplish this in a Google Spreadsheet or in Excel, but none of the solutions seemed to work in Numbers. I kept getting a syntax error. I finally solved it by using the following format: =COUNTIF(B2:H2,”=*1″) In each row, I changed the number to reflect the score that it would count. This got me most of the way to what I needed, but it was only giving me a count of how many of the number were in the row, not giving me the sum (=SUMIF didn’t work). SO, I added another column to find the product of the “Countif” with the row number. Success! I’ll hide these two columns for the final grade system and just have the total at the bottom show up. This total is easy to then transfer to the Learning Evidence sheet.

THANK YOU @mathlioness @katieregan88 @mrmatera @alicekeeler @royanlee @jasonschmidt123 @benlouey @malynmawby @thomascmurray, you all are truly wonderful for spending time to help me solve this. I am seriously elated that there was a solution! Anastasis teachers will be thrilled as well! :) YOU ARE NINJAS!!

When people ask about Anastasis, they are usually curious to know how we’ve broken past the barrier of labels. We have students who are dyslexic, twice exceptional, have struggled in school, are gifted, know how to play the game of school, etc. Everyone of these kids chooses the moon. They choose to do the impossible and keep moving forward. They aren’t stifled by the learning labels. They know they are more than an “A” or “F.” They start to understand that learning is not the same as a grade. They begin to understand where their hangups actually are and can work on adjusting those instead of believing they are failures.  It is amazing what happens when you take away the labels and help kids understand that no matter where they start from, there is something to be learned, forward progress to be made. They choose lofty goals. They do the impossible.

Summer Learning: reading, creativity apps, serving with kids

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, Character Education, education reform, inspiration, Language Arts, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, Websites | Posted on 27-06-2014

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If you are an educator, you are aware of the dreaded “summer slide.” Summer break is a much-needed change of pace for educators, but unfortunately it can mean two months without any reading, learning, exploring, etc. For some kids, summer means hours spent in front of the TV, outside play (which is happy!), or hours spent trying to beat the next level of Flappy Bird. Many parents feel ill-equipped, or at a loss for how to keep their kids learning over the summer.

I created the following publication, “a thing or two,” for Anastasis families. I thought that you all might enjoy it as well! Please feel free to pass this on to your own students and families. In this issue there are ideas for summer reading, a review of my favorite 3 creativity apps, and service learning ideas for the summer.

 

Happy Learning!

Sorting Through the Common Core (more to the story than Facebook)

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 26-06-2014

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In the past few months, “Common Core” has become a hot button issue for parents, educators, news media, and celebrities alike. Facebook feeds have been flooded with absurd worksheets, kids homework, and disparaging remarks about how the “Common Core” will ruin us all. The problem is, the “Common Core” really refers to two things. One is the standards and the other is curriculum. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but are being used interchangeably as if they are one and the same.

In recent months, I’ve had parents ask for clarification about what the Common Core is. They want to be reassured that their kids aren’t anywhere near the absurdity that they are seeing online, in the news, or in the new Common Core documentary. Because there has been so much confusion, I created the video above to help explain what the “Common Core” is. I tried to keep it short so that it was manageable to watch without getting lost in the details and losing interest. I recognize that there is a LOT more to this topic than what I laid out. My goal with the video above was to help others understand what the “Common Core” is and what it isn’t.

Common Core Standards are different from Common Core Curriculum. As I said before, the two are not the same. The problem is that news media outlets, Facebook feeds, and celebrities use “Common Core” to describe both the standards and the curriculum. Sometimes they even mistakenly refer to the curriculum as Common Core Standards.

The standards are the United States attempt at bringing more continuity to learning foundations for kindergarten through twelfth grade students throughout the states. They are intended to ensure that all students receive the same base skills to build on in English Language Arts and Math. Most of the United States has adopted these standards and is making adjustments to accommodate the new standards. In the past, individual states each had state created standards. This led to a lot of disparity between the states about what was learned and at what stage it was learned. The result was a chasm between what students in one state learned that a neighboring state had not.

The standards were developed in partnership by a group made up of governors, chief state school officers, education groups, and corporations and foundations. The funding for the development of the standards came from the federal government (part of Race to the Top money) and the corporations/foundations involved. In the video, I show a Common Core Standards “family tree” that breaks this down a bit more. While I don’t love the idea of corporations funding the standards, I recognize that the money to make them happen had to come from somewhere. I wish that the “somewhere” wasn’t tied so closely with the publishing companies who make curriculum. I also noticed that the educational groups were labeled as “advisory.” It seems to me that the government agencies and the corporations/foundations should have been “advisory” and the educational group should have been the chief designers. Because I wasn’t right in the middle of the creation, I can only speculate how this went and hope that it was a true partnership where educators had a large hand in the outcome. Included in the creation were: Achieve (which includes Alcoa, Exxon Mobile, Microsoft), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the National Govenors Association, Council of Chief School Officers, David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba (who sold an educational startup to McGraw Hill), the National Education Foundation, America Federation of Teachers, National Council of English Teachers, and National Council of Math Teachers.

Standards are not a bad thing. They give a baseline and frame of reference to work within. As an educator, I see the importance of having a baseline of foundational skills that we can count on. The standards are written very generally. They are just over 60 pages long (k-12) and when you read through them you will see, they are pretty underwhelming. I like the generality of the standards, they leave schools and teachers open to using a wide variety of methodologies and resources to ensure that students get those foundational skills. They aren’t prescriptive of HOW to teach, they are just a guideline of what should be taught. Do I agree on the every single standard being totally necessary for every single child? No. But I do recognize the value in a society having a common set of baseline skills, the standards are a good beginning for that. One of the biggest problems I do have with the standards is the language used. If these goals are intended for students, shouldn’t they be written in student-friendly language that is easy to understand? Instead they are full of eduspeak and jargon. That should change!

I’m sure you’ve seen these floating around (and more like it):

Common core math problem Common Core

 

This is Common Core Curriculum. The writers of the Common Core Standards do not endorse any curriculum. Anyone can label the curriculum “Common Core Aligned.” ANYONE. This curriculum is designed by publishers. The alignment to the Common Core Standards is a way for publishers to sell more. Publishers know that in the frenzy of states adopting Common Core Standards, there will be an urgency to get schools and students on the same page quickly (after all…testing). They also know that if they stamp “Common Core aligned” on their curricula, schools are more likely to purchase it so that their students are ready for the testing that is sure to follow. Here is the problem, publishers design curriculum to make money. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the money overshadows what is best for kids. The other problem: the same people who write the curriculum, write the tests. This forces a school’s hand to purchase the curriculum so that their kids can pass the tests (which is then incentivized by programs like RTTT). When they don’t pass the tests, the publishing companies conveniently come to the rescue with the latest and greatest new curriculum. The cycle repeats. This is not a new cycle within education, but it is one that is becoming more and more transparent. In 2012 Pearson, the largest publisher of curriculum, developed Common Core Standards tests.

The adoption of Common Core Standards does not require districts and states to collect more data. Unfortunately, the Race to the Top initiative incentivized the collection of more data. You see where this all starts to get really messy. Race to the Top also paid out $350 million to create computerized testing to more efficiently collect data on students. The downfall is that there are many, many schools across the United States who aren’t even well enough equipped with technology to give these tests.

Standards are not evil, but when coupled by unreasonable expectations of a one-size-fits-all system, they can be disastrous.

We use standards at Anastasis Academy, they are a framework that we can build on to ensure that our students are getting foundational skills that will carry them on in their learning. Instead of using boxed-curriculum, we approach the standards through the lens of inquiry, and build our own learning experiences based on the individual needs of every single student. Is it the most efficient it could be? No. But we are dealing with humanity, not widgets. This approach uses the standards in a way that truly does make them the floor and not the ceiling. They are a starting point, but they don’t restrict us. We choose not to use any of the “Common Core aligned” boxed curriculum. The one-size-fits-all isn’t what we want for our students. It doesn’t take into account the individuals that we teach. We choose not to give our students piles of worksheets, but instead give them learning opportunities that engage them as learners and leaders. Our goal is to apprentice our students in the art of learning. This is a very different goal than simply trying to get them through the textbook each year!

I encourage you to read through the Common Core Standards for yourself. You will quickly get an idea of how general they really are. When you see the popup of the Common Core, ask yourself if it is one of those standards that is the problem, or if it is the curriculum that is being used. If you are a parent, I encourage you to get involved with your school. Ask what curriculum is being used and why. Don’t feel bound by the tests (they are a poor measure of who your child is anyway). Encourage your school to look at ways that they can meet standards without being bound to curriculum. When those Facebook posts popup, speak out about the problem with better specifics “this curriculum is ridiculous, where is the real learning experience?!”

If you are a teacher, I get it-sometimes you don’t get to make the choice. If you have wiggle room and aren’t using a completely scripted curriculum, take advantage of it! Connect with other educators who are doing things differently. Look for ways that you can build foundational skills that aren’t tied endless worksheets and practice drills for the next test. Help your kids fall in love with learning. Be transparent, show them why you are passionate about learning.

Pixel Press Floors: draw a video game on paper, snap a picture and play it!

Posted by admin | Posted in Art, Create, Foreign Language, Fun & Games, Geography, Government, History, iPod, Knowledge (remember), Language Arts, Math, Middle/High School, Phonics, Primary Elementary, Science, Secondary Elementary, Social Studies, Spelling, Teacher Resources, Technology, Understand (describe, explain), web tools, Websites | Posted on 18-06-2014

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What it is: Pixel Press Floors is a seriously magical (currently free) app that brings a child’s imagination to life. With the Pixel Press Floors creation platform, students can literally dream up and draw their own video game without any coding. Students draw their ideas out on paper, and the Floors app turns the drawing into an actual video game that can be played. Print out the special paper so that the app can recognize the shapes “glyphs” that are drawn, or use the in app drawing tools. The drawing is instantly turned into a game that can be tested, designed, played, and even published to the “Arcade” where others can play it.

How to integrate Pixel Press Floors into learning: The first step of creation is to download the Pixel Press Floors app on the iPad. Next, go to projectpixelpress.com to download and print the free sketch guide. Students draw up the game of their dreams and then take a picture of what they drew from the Pixel Press Floors app.

The glyphs (shapes) that students draw are magically transformed into game play objects. After glyphs have been created, students can apply a design to the element, test it, and play it. Within the app, students can create games with:

  • Run and jump game play (Mario-style)
  • Create with 14 creator glyphs: terrain, moving blocks, ladders, portals, monkey bars, power-ups, coins, super coins, falling blocks, spikes, exploding blocks, start and end positions, pits and fireballs, keys.
  • Two original themes to get the creativity jump-started: “Save the Parents” and “Fiddleheads: Stones of Eden”
  • Publishing and sharing in the Arcade

Pixel Press Floors is a fantastic “maker space” element to add to your classroom. This app is perfect for prototyping ideas, design thinking (ideation and prototyping), teamwork and collaboration, and to build creativity. In designing games, students learn systems thinking, creative problem solving, art and aesthetics, writing and storytelling, and creates a motivation for further STEM exploration.

There is so much to learn from digital games.  As a player, students learn to think strategically, persist through failure and experience epic wins that can translate to what they do and are willing to try out in real life. As a designer students learn systems thinking, creative problem solving, digital art and aesthetics, and storytelling and writing. Students love being able to bring their creations and ideas to life in the form of a game. Video game creation could be the key to unlocking the storytelling genius in your reluctant writers. It has been my experience that a student faced with a blank paper and a writing assignment can be daunting. Introduce the idea of designing their own game and suddenly a storyline pours forth. It is pretty neat to watch!

Draw your own video games- no coding necessary! Draw your own video games- no coding necessary! Draw your own video games- no coding necessary! Draw your own video games- no coding necessary!

Students can create games that help them build skills. Instead of simply playing those drill/skill games on other websites/apps, they can create their own! This is visual notes 3.0. Instead of simply practicing math facts, students can create a customized game to help them learn and remember those facts! This type of game is perfect for creating games to practice: math facts, spelling, vocabulary, foreign languages, letter recognition, geography, history facts, etc.

Instead of passively playing games in their free time, students can create their own! The blend of the hand-drawn and technology is seamless and brilliant. Kids will have such fun creating their own games and bringing their imagination to life.

Tips: Game Star Mechanic would be an outstanding place to start, here kids can learn the thinking process behind designing their own video games.

Are you using Pixel Press Floors in your classroom? Leave a comment below and share the ways that you use it with students!

Rodan + Fields Consultant

Hooda Math: math fact practice that feels like fun

Posted by admin | Posted in Fun & Games, Knowledge (remember), Math, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, Websites | Posted on 09-06-2014

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Hooda Math: Practice math facts and have fun

Flappy factors: learn math playing games

What it is:  Hooda Math is a fantastic collection of math games that give students the opportunity for math fact practice while having fun. The games are based on other addicting games like Flappy Birds and 2048. Instead of just playing the games to see how far they can get, students also get some built-in fact practice. For example, in Flappy Factors, students maneuver a bird through a maze of pipes. Each pipe has an integer on it, students must fly through the correct factor of a target multiple that is given. Students must avoid the pipe with the incorrect integer. As students advance through the game, a progress report is generated that can be emailed to a teacher or a parent. The Hooda Math site has been created for a variety of platforms…perfect for a BYOD classroom!

How to use Hooda Math in your classroom: Hooda Math is organized by category types: Mobile games, Shopkeeper games, Geometry games, Logic games, Number games, Physics Games, Growing games, Building games, and Escape games. The games can also be organized by grade level, subject, or category. There are over 500 games in all, ensuring something for everyone in kindergarten through high school.

Students at Anastasis LOVE mobile games. When Flappy Birds came out, they were often spending hours (truly!) playing these games in their free time. Hooda Math games are a great way for students to practice math facts and skills while they are playing. Math becomes significantly less challenging when facts become second nature. Hooda Math games are a great way for students to practice their math facts without hours of flash cards. Math practice becomes fun and the challenge is not just in figuring out the trick to the game, it is also unlocking the building blocks of math.

When I taught a computer class, I often had students lament that they would NEVER be able to learn to touch type. I often asked these students, “do you play video games? Do you have to look at the controller when you play to see what to press next?” They always answered, “No! I would lose if I had to look at the controller.” I would follow-up by asking them how they memorized what to do to the controller to win. Light. Bulb. Moment. The same is true for these math games. Students can play these games like they would other popular games, if they know their math facts, they are more likely to “live” longer and win the game.

I learned my math facts when my third grade teacher made up rhymes and a Chinese jumprope game where you had to know your facts to stay “in.” We learned our multiplication tables in no time! (If anyone knows this game, I would LOVE to remember how to play it, leave the link/directions in a comment below.) I suspect that Hooda Math games could have the same outcomes for your students. When the facts are the key to winning, there is a different motivation to know them (beyond just completing the worksheet/test).

In a one to one device environment, students can play the games that build skills where they need them. Students can play at their own level. In the one or two computer classroom, use Hooda Math as a math center rotation. Students can travel from center to center in small groups and take turns playing the games that meet their individual needs.

Be sure to pass on Hooda Math to your student’s families. It is a great way to practice at home and over summer break.

Tips: Don’t forget to have your students send you the progress report at the end. This helps you keep track of their progress without the need for worksheets.

Are you using Hooda Math in your classroom? Leave a comment below and share the ways that you use it with students!

Rodan + Fields Consultant