To Code or Not to Code: That is the If-Then-Else

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

 This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom. – Tron

There has been a lot of interest and talk lately in teaching children to code in school.  One only needs to look at the recent push from Computer Science Education Week and the “Hour of Code” to realize that the topic of coding is something that has garnered much interest in the education and business world. I’d like to examine the phenomenon in more detail.  First, I’d like to provide a little of my history to help you better understand where I’m coming from in this quandary.

Greetings, Programs!

It was 1982 (too bad it wasn’t 1984 or this would be an even bigger nerd post) and I had just witnessed  a cinematic work of genius called “Tron.”  I was immediately immersed into the world of computer programs, programming language, and imagery that inspired a lifelong love of computers and programming.  I was only six years old (a first grade student) but I was ready to learn more.  A lifetime of chronic asthma had already ensured that any sports were well out of the question for me.  My father loved computers and I remember having a Commodore 64 hooked up to our television.

Over the next 10 + years I didn’t really go for any of the typical things that young boys are supposed to go for, instead I logged onto BBS systems, had handles, worked as a sysop, squelched users, went to GWBASIC classes with my dad, taught myself HTML and designed my own web pages, Learned Joomla, WordPress, and PHP, became a Technology Coordinator and teacher, lets just say that I’m a huge proponent and user of technology and that most of what I’ve learned has been self taught. You would think that I’d be a huge proponent of this Coding movement… but I have a confession… I’m on the fence.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Okay, so just about everyone I know is talking about the merits of learning coding. Bill Gates, Code Academy, veteran teachers, hipster teachers (cringe), parents etc. But I have to wonder is Coding as they have attempted to introduce it worth its salt?

Here is the major problem I have with this initiative.  We have a bunch of students, we participate in Computer Science Education Week, and we have our students participate in the hour of code.  Okay, this is great, right? Kids have been shown the backdoor to the underpinnings of the internet, computer programs, iPad apps, etc.   They now have exposure to the “real world” in which they live. But where is the continuation of this initiative in the classroom?  I’m sure Hamlet would identify this as the rub. For all of you teachers that have participated in the Hour of Code, how many of you have continued to teach coding? Has it found its way into your daily conversations, lessons, or other learning opportunities?  I’m willing to bet that for most it has not.

If you are one who has managed to continue, I highly applaud you and I want to hear from you! Please share with the rest of the educational community how you have done this.  What I have observed from school to school is that there was a lot of hype about it and now it is woefully forgotten.  If this is the case, then it was a waste of an hour. It took time away from instructional minutes to help these students master the skills they will need in the future.  I’m not so blind as to say coding isn’t a necessary skill, I just think an hour of introduction is a waste and that we should dedicate more time to coding.

When I was a technology coordinator the term had very loose definitions.  Some were nothing more than glorified babysitters that taught typing.  I actually developed a curriculum of and about technology.  I taught coding as a yearlong course.  We used Scratch to develop our own programs.  My 8th grade students created their own webpages using only a text editor (no dreamweaver here).  I believed in the fact that they could learn but also understood that they needed to consistently hone this skill.  An hour is not enough time to help these students do much other than develop an awareness of coding. If this is the mission, fine. Mission accomplished. But I’d rather spend that hour helping a student that is reading below grade level work toward better fluency.

I’d like an honest response from the community.  How many of you that took part in the Hour of Code and are still teaching coding? Lets hold up the mirror and say, was this worth it, and if so, why?

I great article by Sean Blanda is on 99u.com and can be found here:You Don’t need to learn to code + other truths about the future of careers.  My take away is that “The smartest workers will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it.” But what does that mean? Well, let me try to put this into perspective.  I have no idea what takes place to really make most of my automobile operational. However, I know how to use it.  Should I learn how to be a mechanic? No. I only need to know how to effectively utilize the technology to get what I need from it.  I need to leverage this knowledge to the best of my ability.  I know a little about autos, but not enough to fix them. Should I take an hour of auto repair and expect to be better off?  Maybe, but I’d much rather have a year of instruction that is interwoven throughout my ELA, Math, Science, SS, etc. How much better off would I be if I had actually spent this amount of time on the topic.

I know I’m usually the one to push for change.  After all, this is Revogogy right? But I think that the change that we have witnessed is too little to amount to much good. I don’t want an hour of code; I want a year of code or more. Lets step up and make this a reality. Lets make it work within our Common Core curriculum. Why start small? Lets dream big and make a real difference.

End of Line

So that’s it. Its my rant, my angry shaking fist to the universe.  Let us do more than just an hour of something.  Lets stop falling for these novelty movements. I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail on this. There will be pushback. But honestly, lets do more. Even if you don’t agree with my statements I think you would agree that we should do more than we currently are doing.

After all, if you apply actual coding to the picture above of the Home Sweet Home, you’ll notice its an infinite loop. Its not accurate. If it were in basic it is missing some key components.  “print” should be in the code lines. I’m a major nerd but if you’ve only had an hour of learning would you catch that? Or is the gist that it means home sweet home (non-infinite loop) enough for the average person to know?

Please share your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear the pros and cons (just be civil okay?) I admire intellectual discourse to a heated tear down.  Also, I’m beginning at times to feel that I’m talking to myself on this blog. I value comments and others can learn from your insight. So, please leave a comment. I welcome your thoughts and the I/O it will create on this blog.

Teaching an Egg to Fly

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn how to fly while remaining an egg.  We are like eggs at present.  And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.” – C.S. Lewis

I start this post with the above quote from C.S. Lewis.  We have been eggs for too long my friends and we face the prospect of going bad.  In this regard, I speak about our failure (yes, if we are being honest it is failure) to have every teacher use technology effectively in the classroom.  We’ve been told that we need to teach 21st century skills, yet we are over a decade into the 21st century.  Must we believe that our teaching should encompass 100 years as an acceptable learning timeframe for technology?  Technology changes too quickly.  In the latter part of the 21st century will we really want to know how to operate an iPod or post a video to YouTube? Instead we need to teach this year’s skills and look toward the future. Yet we have failed. There are many schools in which teachers have resisted technology in their classrooms and they are still resisting it to this day.

Far too often I find that administrators focus on what makes their teachers the most comfortable and not on what the students need in the classroom to thrive in our current and future society.  This is the year 2013 and there are still teachers who rarely, if ever, use technology to help teach a lesson in the classroom, let alone providing the students with technology to use in their actual lessons.  I was in elementary school when the Apple IIe was being introduced to schools.  These computers were being placed in schools twenty years ago, yet we still have teachers who refuse to use the technology.  I say refuse, because at this point there really is no excuse for not learning how to use technology and implement it with students.

I think part of the problem emerged with Prensky’s “Digital Native – Digital Immigrant” labels.  At one point these labels may have been true, however I believe the labels have crippled any real progress toward teachers integrating technology.  It is far too easy for teachers who don’t want to use technology to say, “I’m a digital immigrant”.  Once that label is used there’s a sense of entitlement the supposed digital immigrant believes is his or hers.  They need help and we have to take it slow with them. – This is their belief and, unfortunately, the belief of many of their principals.  I’m sorry, but Prensky’s article was written in 2001 and for the term to still be in use over a decade later makes me want to laugh, cry, or both. Think of all the changes that have taken place in the last twelve years with technology, iPhones, iPads, Surface, etc. Technology has moved forward at an exponential rate (Moore’s Law anyone?) yet we have been taking microscopic steps toward holding teachers accountable for integrating these technologies.

Our students live in a world where they go home, use a computer, use a tablet, use a cell phone, video chat, etc. For 16 hours of their day they are surrounded by technology.  The true crime is that for 8 hours of the day we put them in an artificial reality (one devoid of technology) hand them books and pencils and we tell them to learn using almost none of the technology they use on a daily basis. If we think we are doing students any real favors we are deluded. How do we expect our students to be successful in a world that demands the competent use of technology if we hardly ever let them use it in their formative learning years?

I believe its time we stop holding the hands of those who are holding our children back. I cannot sit idly by and allow students to be hindered because an adult feels uncomfortable with technology. It is important that we remember that we are there for the children and not for the adults. The only way that we are going to help the children succeed in their future lives is to have strong administrators and teachers who are ready and willing to stand up for children.

We have to ensure that all teachers are using the tools of today so that our students will be ready to handle the realities of tomorrow.  I ask that you take a look at your own schools and teachers.  I’m sure you will find at least one individual who is fighting the rising tide of technological innovation. We have to get through to these people that the time for change is not now… it was yesterday.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on developing methods of helping students receive the quality education they deserve.  C.S. Lewis was right, we must grow or we face going bad; unfortunately resisting technology doesn’t just cause the teachers to go bad, it also threatens to cripple our students’ future lives.  We should already be learning to fly, but so many of our colleagues are still in their shells.  Its time administrators and fellow teachers make a stand to crack a few bad eggs.

Click here to leave a comment

Image: Artwork and permission to use image granted by Terry Border  http://bentobjects.blogspot.com

Expired: The current state of traditional pedagogy

 

 

Four steps to bring new life into the classroom

Hello again, I recently had the pleasure of attending a professional development seminar by Heidi Hayes Jacobs on the topic of Curriculum Mapping. I’ve long been a proponent for radical changes in pedagogical approaches within our classroom setting and it was refreshing to listen to another expert in the field of education share similar thoughts. While the topic of the seminar was “curriculum mapping” I felt a strong resonance with the underlying educational philosophy espoused during the session. I believe that if one were to choose the most important aspect of the session as a take-home point to remember, it is that we MUST serve our students by preparing them for their future. One of the great questions asked by Dr. Jacobs was to conduct an honest self-evaluation of your school and try to determine (overall) what year you are preparing your students to enter in adulthood. I have a feeling that few could honestly answer 2020 or beyond, which is a huge injustice to the students. After attending this seminar I walked away with a four step program in my head to bring classroom pedagogy into the era in which it belongs.

Step 1. An Honest Look in the Mirror

The first step is taken directly from Dr. Jacob’s question. “What year is your school preparing its students for?” When I gave this serious consideration, I was shocked to come the realization that it was somewhere within the range of 1970-1980 for my school. This era reflected a time when computers did not dominate the work force. When Apple was still just a hobby kit in Job’s and Wozniak’s garage. Now, I teach a great deal of technology in my classroom, in an attempt to prepare students for their future, however when looking at the school as a whole I was forced to come to the conclusion that many teachers still relied on paper and pencil, books, and pedagogical practices that they had been using for the last several decades. This is frightening… after all if Moore’s Law holds true (and it has for quite a while) the rate at which technology increases is exponential and doubles every two years. How then can we say we are reaching our students if we are using pedagogical methods that do not use technology that was created within the last five years? The truth is, a good honest look in the mirror is necessary so that change can occur.

Step: 2 Prehistoric tools for space-age learning

After this look in the mirror you may find that a great many of your colleagues are attempting to use prehistoric tools for space-age learning. It is difficult to fathom how teachers expect to truly prepare students for their future careers using only books, pencil, and paper. I’m sure the argument is that this approach has worked for hundreds of years and therefore should still be adequate for today. However, a hundred years ago we did not have technologies that allowed instant access to information from around the world delivered within seconds of searching for the information. A job a hundred years ago depended more upon your ability to be a skilled laborer or farmer rather than to be able to seek out information and turn it into something that can be used to support a family.

The truth is, our school system is largely outdated and needs a massive overhaul. Jim Grant in his book The Death of Common Sense in our Schools explained that our current school calendar was brought to American in the 1840s from Prussia by Horace Mann. This calendar prepared students for work in factories but also allowed students to return home to help on the farm. Essentially what Grant states is that “our current educational structure is built for a European state and an American farm economy that no longer exist”. This alone is a huge detriment to our students, and change to the calendar year and schedule is something that will take quite a bit of work to revise. However, as teachers, we have the ability to affect change on a much more local level (our classrooms). While its ridiculous to maintain a school structure built on “Expired” political and economic conditions, it is also equally ludicrous to maintain teaching methods and tools from the pre-cold war era in our information age. The truth is, we are supposed to be preparing our students for a future when they will hold jobs that use technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. How are we preparing our students for this future if we are not even using the current technology of today? Its akin to telling a person that they will one day be expected to navigate the internet to search for information effectively, however (for the time being) we are only going to provide them with an encyclopedia and a dictionary…. good luck future web surfer. If we are to truly aid our students in their ability to have successful lives, then we must prepare them for their futures by not only providing them with recent technology, but by surpassing the present to meet their future needs.

Step 3. Surpassing the Present to Prepare for the Future

What do I mean by Surpassing the present? Can it be done? I think it can. The trick is to envision the growth that may occur within the next five years and to provide an infrastructure and pedagogical methodology that enhances students’ abilities to thrive in the future. Dr. David Thornburg in his book Edutrends 2010 made the argument that we should not be striving to put into place systems of the present… because by the time we install and implement these systems, they will have already become outdated (Moore’s law in action). Instead we should be aiming for an attainable point in the future and striving to ensure that our pedagogy, technology, and students are prepared for this time. In that way, we are never trying to “catch up” to the technology trends, rather we are riding the wave and directing our students toward the rich waters of future success. What does this mean for the modern educator who has looked in the mirror and decided that prehistoric tools will no longer be used?

Essentially, it means that we must look at what exists in the present, and anticipate the future. I can easily ask my students to create a youtube video about a topic for their assignment and this will be a huge success in helping students to meet present needs. However, the future is right around the corner and a new service, or medium may arise that causes the extinction of youtube. The key is that educators need to be on the cutting edge. We need to be aware of current technologies and how they are used in the world to create jobs and stimulate the economy. If I am preparing students for their future they need to be prepared for the technology skills that will help them to lead successful productive lives. That means that we must seek to always be on the cutting edge, to embrace change and to prepare our students for a world that is rapidly changing. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center”. I think this philosophy should be adopted by all teachers. If we live on the edge we can peer beyond the event horizon and help our students thrive in the world in which they will soon be living. Life on the edge means eliminating prehistoric teaching methods to give control of the learning environment to the students.

Step 4. From Controlling Students to Student Control

Most of our students are ahead of us when it comes to technology, and for the teacher who lives by the use of prehistoric tools this is a frightening concept. The traditional approach is that the teacher is sitting in what Paolo Freire would term an “Ivory Tower of Isolation” providing passive knowledge to those who are under them. Instead, I argue that it is important for us to acknowledge students’ advanced knowledge and to construct a more meaningful classroom learning experience by engaging them in solving real-world problems using the abilities they possess. I’m highly constructivist in my approach and I believe that students should own their learning experiences. This is difficult for some teachers though. There are teachers who believe that they must teach only from the textbook; what a frightening concept! The truth is, students bring with them a plethora of skills and knowledge that utilizes real-world technologies and that can be used to solve real-world problems. The traditional knee-jerk reaction has been for teachers and schools to bury their heads in the sand and say “you can’t use facebook in the classroom”; “You can’t use youtube”; “you can’t do X,Y,Z” etc. Educators have a long standing bad habit of ignoring the elephant in the room. Our students use technology every day. They are highly adept and efficient in its use. The day is coming when the student who is able to gather and use relevant information quickly and efficiently will be the best prepared for the world in which he lives. If we surpass the present, the future success of students will largely depend upon these skills. Embarking on this four step journey can be scary. Giving up a totalitarian grip on teaching practices is a frightening process for those who have lived by that sword. However, it is our duty to embrace change, to prepare our students for the information age in which they live. To do otherwise is an injustice to our students and our profession.

Your Thoughts:

I’ve been sharing my thoughts on the topic of necessary educational reform at the classroom level. I’ve intentionally kept this short and basic because I’d love to hear some of your thoughts or questions. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.

 

Cutting the Noose- Liberating Teachers’ from the Shackles of I.T. Opression


Photo credit,Ѕolo

Traditional approaches, The Noose

I often write about technologies that can help educators be more effective in the classroom.  However, I’ve rarely taken the opportunity to speak directly to my compatriots in the Information Technology [IT] field of education. Tonight, I woke from a sound sleep and felt compelled to let loose some thoughts. It is my hope that they encourage constructive dialogue and intellectual reflection. I tend to have strong opinions when it comes to technology and how best to implement it in education.  I believe in empowering educators to make the most of the technology at their fingertips.  Few would argue that a teacher should be restricted in their ability to make the most of their resources to help students learn.  Yet, I find that the traditional IT approach has been to lock down computers, restrict installation of new software, and to block URLs behind firewalls that treat our teachers as if they were incapable of making good decisions about their use of technology.

I was born in an interesting time. I remember learning to type on a typewriter, yes with those hard-to-push keys that made your little fingers ache for hours. I also remember the first time computers were brought into the classroom… Oregon Trail any one? I grew up, not playing sports, but attending night classes with my father to learn how to program in GW BASIC on our commodore 64.  I lived during the time of the BBS (bulletin board systems) when a 300BPS modem could take an entire night to download a game or photo. I remember resisting the Internet and thinking that the BBS system would hold its own and my slow conversion to embracing the Internet. Self-taught HTML was a fun pastime. I offer you these memories, because I want you to know where I come from. I don’t believe there is a digital native or a digital immigrant. There are simply those willing to try to learn technology and those who aren’t. With the rate of technological advances, wouldn’t we all be considered immigrants anyway?

My background has afforded me the opportunity to work with many people in IT (not just in the education field). I’ve been known to bypass networks, crack a WEP key or two in order to test the security of my home network, I know the reasons for security in technology (especially in education).  However, the traditional business world approach to IT has been to lock down systems so tight that the IT person can easily diagnose problems, solve them, and put little effort into tracking down what may have gone wrong.   This approach may work well for the business world, however, in education, it tightens the noose around teachers’ necks. The ubiquitous image of the IT professional (portrayed well on Saturday Night Live) as a person in a white shirt who looks at a screen and tells the person having difficulty to “MOVE” so that he may quickly enter two commands that fixes the problem is prevalent among most business IT professionals.  How then do we (IT professionals in education) make a difference?

Turning IT Upside Down

I argue that we need to turn IT on its head. That means we don’t lock down our teachers’ computers so tight that they cannot pull up a useful video from YouTube that would enhance their students’ learning. We shouldn’t lock down their systems so that they can’t install new software that may, in fact, make them more productive.  I know the arguments… If a teacher installs software it may compromise their systemBlocking sites like YouTube is important so that teachers don’t waste time with useless videos…  These arguments may work for the traditional IT person who wants to maintain strict control over all technology within his or her domain, however in the realm of education it only tightens the noose and, just like the way the cell phone companies have throttled their bandwidth, we too essentially restrict our fellow educators’ ability to teach. I also argue that sites like YouTube can be extremely useful to students as long as policies and monitoring is put in place to ensure the protection of our students and that the work they perform is of educational value.

The key is to ensure that we empower our teachers.  Will they make mistakes? I’m sure of it; after all, we do as well. However, these mistakes are valuable learning experiences and training our teachers in the use and implementation of technology can mitigate mistakes. Taking the time to work with our teachers instead of pushing them aside and solving the problems for them like a magician in an ivory tower will help them to make wise decisions.  I challenge my fellow education IT colleagues to cut the noose from around our teachers’ necks. Yes, this may mean you’ll have to format someone’s hard drive at some point and reinstall the OS etc. There will be headaches; there will be challenges. However, I believe that the true spirit of the IT professional is one that loves a challenge.  Those of us who have the knowledge to bypass firewalls and utilize systems despite the noose that others attempted to place around our necks know that there is liberation in being able to make our own decisions about how to improve our productivity.  We owe it to our teachers to do the same.  After all, the end result is that our students will improve their learning because we took a chance on helping our educators understand and responsibly use the technology we give them

As always I welcome your comments and thoughts…

Lesson Planning Moves to the Cloud

A New Kid in Town: Planbookedu

Planbookedu Logo

It’s been quite a while since I’ve added any posts to this blog. The reasons are many but chief amongst them is my work on my dissertation research, enrollment in a new certificate program with LMU, and my first year as an administrator.  For my lack of posting, I apologize… now onto the good stuff…

Nine months ago I spoke very highly of Hellmansoft’s Planbook.  It integrated well with my mac, my iPad, and dropbox.  I still highly recommend the program, however within the time that it takes to bring an infant to term a new lesson planning software has been born.  I introduce to you, Planbookedu. This is the first cloud-based lesson planning solution that I have found to truly be versatile and simple enough for my faculty to embrace and use.  By no means am I denouncing Hellmansoft’s planbook… instead, I offer this review of planbookedu for those who are trying to move an entire faculty (with those who traditionally resist technology) to interactive electronic planbooks.

While I was quite comfortable utilizing the Helmansoft program, I knew that, for some, setting up the lesson plans… creating the schedule…. and the use of CSV files to import standards would be too much for some people to handle.  I was looking for a solution that was as close to the Helmansoft planbook as was humanly possible while providing a format and interface that was intuitive and easily adapted to the everyday teacher (including tech resistors). I also wanted to ensure that there was an easy way to share lesson plans with anyone and to have a centralized repository for the lesson plans so that administrators could easily review them.  After many trials I found the solution, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in revolutionizing their lesson planning.

What’s this? It’s Free?

That was my reaction… when I first looked at the website.  They offer a free plan (with a few features missing that are offered for a paid subscription) so testing out the planbook is really a no-lose situation.  What do you get for free?  lets take a look under the hood:

  • True cloud lesson planning – No software to install – and 24/7 access to your plans
  • Awesome rotation options such as: Weekly, A/B, A/B Week, and 4-6 day rotations
  • WYSIWYG editor -for ease of implementation and use
  • Supported by all major browsers (I’ve used firefox, IE, and Safari with it)
  • iPad and iPhone supported

Not too shabby for a free trial.  Of course they hook you with all the great features that you get when you subscribe to the paid plan. Oh before I forget… you can get a free 14 day premium trial when you sign up for the free plan… that is what got me hooked!

What’s this, the paid plan is super affordable???

Most of the solutions I looked into cost a great deal of money.  If you’re at a school that has the funds then that’s great.  If your at a school that is watching its budget, then you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck.  Here is the rundown of what you get with the paid subscription:

  • Everything in the free plan
  • Ability to attach files to your lesson plans
  • Common Core, State, and Custom standards (built in – No CSV files necessary)
  • Ability to embed your planbook in your website
  • Ability to share your plans with anyone for any specified timeframe
  • Print from browser in single page or two page layouts
  • Export to MS Word or PDF extensions
  • Built in Spell checker
  • Unlimited number of planbooks

Okay, sounds great… but the question is, How much? If you’re looking to purchase it as an individual… its only $25 a year… wow! dirt cheap. For the price of five coffees at the local coffee shop I can have a year’s worth of lesson plans in the cloud.  Hold on… it gets better… Group Discounts are available   the price plan is as follows:

  • 5-14 users $22 a year
  • 15-49 $19 a year
  • 50-250 $16 a year
  • anything over that call them for a quote

In my situation the $22 a year plan worked out great.  For a faculty of 10 the price for a year is only $220.  Outstanding!

There’s one more really great thing you say???

yes… just when you thought it couldn’t get any better… it is completely able to be integrated with Google Apps for education! that means that your faculty will not need to remember new login names or passwords… its all accessible from within google apps.  This was one of the major selling feature that had me hooked. A simple email and they had me set up with my entire faculty.

How does it hold up?

After only one day of training with the faculty (and a great video tutorial from planbookedu) they were off and running.  We’ve been using it for four weeks now with no major issues. Even the most technology resistant teacher has found the ease of implementation and use to be outstanding.

For administrators, we have the ability to view every teachers’ lesson plans as they click the “turn-in” button and to review the standards they have entered.  The ability to attach files to the lesson plans means that worksheets, blackline masters, etc are easily accessible.  If a teacher is absent there is not mad rush to find their plans or to go to the emergency substitute teacher lesson plan folder.  The administrator can simply print up the plans and give them to the substitute.  Even better, they can download any files that have been added by the teacher… no more looking for worksheet pages.   I also envision leaving an administrator account open for accreditation committees so that they can view all of the lesson plans at will as they make their recommendations for school accreditation.

An active Social developer

Another great feature is that “liking” the planbookedu page on facebook gives you direct contact to the planbookedu team.  they are very responsive to suggestions, requests, and questions.  When I was going through the installation process they were extremely responsive and quick to answer and help with any questions I had regarding implementation.  I can’t say enough good things about their product or their customer service.

Your Input

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions about planbookedu.  Have you tried this product? What do you like and dislike about it? How do you think it compares to other lesson planning software? Share your thoughts. This is an exciting time to be in education!

 

Ps. Here’s a video of planbookedu in action:

 

T-shirt Design In the Computer Lab!

JK

Art and Computers
Every year the 8th grade students create a design for their class t-shirt.  For the most part these are usually scanned drawings or signatures with the school initials and a “Class of 2011” etc. listed on the front.  This year, the parent in charge of the screen-printing process asked me if I could be in charge of helping the students create their designs.  I was delighted to accept the request.   As the middle school fine-arts teacher and the technology coordinator, I saw a wonderful opportunity to have students work on a project that would directly impact their reality.  Thus far, this has been the process…

1.    During art class we discussed how screen-printing works (placing the ink in layers upon the surface of the shirt)
2.    We visited websites such as www.threadless.com to examine how modern artists design t-shirts that have high impact with students their age
3.    Then the students were asked to create a rough sketch of an idea they had for a t-shirt

Now, this was great for an introduction in the art class… but I also teach their technology class.  Enter the wonderful world of open source!

In the 7th grade students were introduced to GIMP and Inkscape.  These lessons were basic lessons to familiarize the students with the operation of the programs and their uses. During the next computer class we reviewed the difference between bitmap and vector drawings and how Inkscape could be used to help design their t-shirts.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of Inkscape is its ability to have students work with different layers during the creation of their design. Demonstrating the layering process helped the students to understand and visualize exactly how the ink would be applied to the selected t-shirt.

Today’s lesson was great because I was able to demonstrate how to take a portrait and convert it into a single color rendition for screen-printing… if you’re interested in this process… then read on…

Step 1. Demonstrating the process

Because this was an introductory lesson and I wanted to generate a great amount of interest I began the lesson by demonstrating to the class the process of converting a portrait of a person into an image that could work for a t-shirt.  – The students became very excited and were ready to jump right in…

Step 2. Locating an Image

I wanted the students to get used to the process before working with their actual photographs of themselves, so I asked them to use the Internet to find images that they would like to try to convert. I advised them that a close-up of a face with a light source from an angle would work best.

Step 3. GIMP Begins it all!

After locating the image, students opened it in GIMP… I will now demonstrate the process:

Here is the image opened in GIMP:

JK1

Next, we used the Lasso-selection tool to outline the background and then pressed the delete key to delete the background from the image, and then used the square selection tool to draw a square around the entire picture.

JK2

Next, we selected the “Color” Menu and Selected “Desaturate” and clicked “OK” on the menu that opened up.  This resulted in a desaturated version of the image (basically a greyscale appearance).

JK3

Now we need to adjust the contrast and brightness. To do this select “Color” then select “Brightness-Contrast”.  This opens up a menu with two slider bars.  Move the contrast slider all the way to the right and adjust the brightness until the image looks right. Click “OK” and save the file.  Next, click on “Edit” then “copy” and you can close GIMP

JK4

Step 4.  INKSCAPE TIME

Open the Inkscape program.  Now that Inkscape is open use the rectangle tool on the left to draw a colored rectangle on the first layer and rename the layer “t-shirt”  This represents the actual shirt color. I chose Red.

JK5

Once this is done add a new layer above the shirt layer  you can do this by clicking on the plus sign in the Layers window.

Paste the image you put on the clipboard in GIMP into the new layer you created

JK7

Click on the “path” menu at the top of the screen and select “Trace Bitmap”  This opens a new window in which you must click on “Update” then “OK” After you click on “OK” close the window.

JK8

It looks like nothing happened??  Oh… but it did….

Now use your “select and transform objects” Arrow tool on the left Click on your image and drag it to a blank area of the canvas.  You have now created a screen-printable version of your photo!

JK9

RESULTS:

The students loved this lesson and began working with drawings as well as photographs.  As they continue their progress on this lesson I will post some images of their work.   We also had a great discussion about Open source (that’s right GIMP and Inkscape are Free) and Copyright issues.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?
So, what is your experience in working with GIMP or Inkscape?  Have you used these in your classroom?  Have you found any other methods that work for designing t-shirts? I try to keep most of my classroom software open source so the students can download and use the same programs at home. Have you used any other open source programs that work for this type of project?  Have I missed anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The only Slacker I want in my Classroom!

Slacker

Lunch period has just ended and my computer lab is about to be filled with 7th grade students. I fire up the classroom management software to lock down computer input controls and greet my class as they come in the door. By now, they know the routine.  Each person moves to their usual computer and waits for instruction.  Some fiddle with the keyboard before remembering that the computer will not respond until I unlock them. The entire class is full of energy; lunch seems to always have this effect on students. One of the boys raises his hand and asks, “are we going to have music today?”

While this may seem an odd question in a computer lab setting, my students have come to expect music during their learning sessions.  I have set up a system where the students know that if they are working on-task, I will stream music to the classroom.  They also know that if they are struggling or off-task that the music stops.  I have found that this is an excellent motivator for my class and that it helps to lower the students’ affective filter.  Even some of the most behavior challenging students seem to respond to this little addition to the classroom.  Now I’m not one to implement a pedagogical practice without research to support it.  For those of you interested I recommend reading the entire research article:The effects of background music on primary school pupils’ task performance by: Susan Hallman, John Price, and Georgia Katsarou.  They found that “ in schools, appropriately selected [background] music could be used to create an optimum environment for children to undertake individual work” (p. 120).  The key here is finding “appropriately selected music”.

Enter the Slacker

When it comes to music software I’m sure most are willing to jump right into iTunes and setup a playlist for use in their class.  I’ve used this method and it works rather well, however constantly monitoring and updating a playlist can be a lot of work.  As a teacher, my time is centered around planning lessons, giving instruction, and assessing students; extra time is a luxury that I believe should not be frivolously tossed aside to monitor playlists.  What then is a teacher to do? Enter the world of the slacker.

Now, when I was in High School I had a reputation for being a slacker. Basically, I had the talent and skill to accomplish academic goals, but I lacked the motivation.  I find it ironic that today I turn to a tool named “slacker radio” to help me motivate students within my classroom.  Slacker is a streaming radio broadcaster on the Internet. Slacker allows me to create radio stations based upon an artist, song, or genre of music. It also has a great feature that allows me to turn explicit content off.  This allows me to effectively filter the music that I stream to my classroom. The controls allow me to fine-tune a station by banning artist or songs and by making an artist or song a “favorite” this helps the station become better as time goes on.    One of the great things about using this method is that students quickly pick up that it is a radio station that the teacher cannot control.  After two class sessions, the usual question of “can you play this song, or that song” stops.  They know all I can do is click to a new song that is selected by the station itself.

I’ve had minimal downtime with Slacker and the selection of songs is always something interesting.  When the students are working really well and have a concept fully mastered I can play songs that are more pop related.  When they need to concentrate, I move to classical.  Sometimes I use blues and jazz to help bolster student mood while in the classroom.  I am always amazed when a student comes to me at the end of class and says “thank you” for exposing them to music they would not have otherwise listened to. The great thing about Slacker is that it is free (warning there will be commercials).  However, for a small subscription fee (which I gladly pay) you can get uninterrupted radio without commercials.

Thoughts?

So what are you waiting for? Stop being a slacker and start using Slacker. Its available here: slacker.com.  I’m interested in your thoughts and experiences using background music in the classroom. Have you found it to be helpful or distracting? What other streaming media have you found to be effective for use in the classroom? I know there’s Pandora and Sirius/XM radio, have you used these?  Please share your experiences.  Happy listening!

References: Hallam, S., Price, J., & Katsarou, G. (2002). The effects of background music on primary school pupils’ task performance. Educational Studies, 28(2).