Virtual Field Trips

Traditional Field trips are great, but they do have their drawbacks.  Maybe you don’t like the long bus ride. Maybe you have difficulty getting enough chaperones to volunteer or maybe traditional field trips are just too costly.  Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world to your students without the hassle of a real field trip.

One of the best resources for virtual field trips that I know of is PORTS: Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students.  PORTS is run by the California State Parks and their rangers.  The park rangers will do a video conference with your class that provides real time, two-way communication.  The ranger can answer students’ questions and present a multimedia, live lesson to the students on a topic related to one of the state parks.  The students can interact with the park ranger as if they were right there, even though they are miles away.

Some of the PORTS topic include:

To prepare your class for the video conference, PORTS provides lesson plans, digital videos, digital images, and other media materials on the PORTS website.  All you need is a computer or tablet with a camera, a projector, and a high speed internet connection. PORTS is completely free, high quality, and are constantly adding new topics.  

To get started, go to the PORTS website  and check out the descriptions of the different topic (called Units of Study).  Then fill out the registration form to request a particular topic and date you would like to schedule the video conference.  The ranger or coordinator will get back to you by phone or email. Make your request early in the year, because spots fill up quickly.

Another resource for virtual field trips is the Microsoft Community Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips.  It is also free, is set up similar to PORTS, and uses Skype to do the video conferences.  You do need to set up a username and password to sign in to the site. It has virtual field trips from all over the world.

Lastly California State Parks has partnered with Google to create an experience similar to street view on Google Maps for many state park trails and beaches called Google Trekker.  They did this by mounting a 3D camera to a backpack and walking the trails. This provides a self-guided way to see nature at our state parks without leaving your classroom. Check out all the locations available at this website.  This is also free, but is not interactive with a ranger and is not in real time.

I hope this gives you some ideas of ways you can use technology to bring the world into your classroom and provide an engaging, memorable learning experience for your students.

Improving Literacy with Fluency Tutor

Fluency Tutor logo.Hi everybody! So, I’ve recently been using a fantastic reading app called Fluency Tutor. The app is meant to take the place of traditional timed fluency tests and running records, both of which are extremely time consuming. The app has several tools/functions that make it a breeze to use. First, it is completely Google compatible. You can import classes from Google Classroom and create Google Classroom assignments from within the Fluency Tutor app. You can also assign to individual students or the whole class, all from with the app. It is also very easy to update your class if you’ve had new students join your Google Classroom.

Fluency Tutor also comes with Fluency Passages that are leveled. You can search passages by lexile level or AR level. This is just my personal opinion, but I’ve found the passages to be of high quality. Many are non-fiction and contain interesting topics like the process in which diamonds are created or how your tongue works. I also really like that some of the early-reader passages don’t look like early-reader passages. But the thing that I really like about this app is the digital tools it contains for students and teachers. Students can record and listen to themselves or even save their recording directly to their Google Drive. They can also have the text read to them and there’s even the option to have it read back in a different language! I’m not sure if every language works for every passage but I’ve seen a HUGE list of languages to select. Students can also click any word in the text and get a definition or a picture definition.

The teacher can create a vocabulary list for all of the words a students has clicked. The list features definitions and is created in a Google Doc. Once passages have been graded, students can see their scores  on a graph- there is a words correct per minute score and a ‘fluency score’ which grades them on phrasing, expression, etc.

For teachers the tools make grading a breeze! Once a student has finished their recording you can listen to it (or any past recordings) while looking at a copy of the text. If you click on any word in the text you can mark it as an error. You can also select the type of error, omission, insertion, substitution, etc. Also, when you click a word to select an error, the recording pauses. After you select the error-type the recording resumes. Awesome! You then mark the last word read in the text and fluency tutor calculates the words correct per minute for you. Once you’ve graded all the recordings for a particular passage you can download a spreadsheet (Google Sheets) with all the scores.

My very favorite tool allows the creation of fluency passages. This can be accomplished by the teacher or the student! Once the Chrome extension is installed a page can be turned into a fluency passage with the click of a button. Now, this doesn’t work with every page and will not work with pdf’s but when it works it is amazing. The resulting page typically looks very clean and pictures that were on the page are often embedded within the passage without errors. For older students, this is really fun and puts them in control of what they are reading. I really love this app because of how easy and useful it is. If you’ve ever hated trying to find time to do 20+ fluency tests then I would highly suggest this app. It does cost 99$ a year, but for me it was totally worth and this will be a tool that stays in my toolbox.

Do’s and Don’ts

In past years I covered A LOT of classes, but this year not so much. I get called to cover if a sub position doesn’t fill, if there’s an I.E.P. meeting, and many other reasons. Sometimes it’s for “15” minutes but it’s usually longer. So the one thing I have learned over the last few years while covering a class is the do’s and don’ts of technology in a classroom. Here are a few lists:

DO

*Set the rules before anyone….ANYONE….I mean ANYONE is allowed to even think about opening the computer. Reason why- that one student will go ahead and either use someone else’s account/computer.

Image of students in class.

Students will tell on each other with no reservations.

*Do ask if anyone should not be on the computers. Students will tell on each other with no reservations. If you don’t ask they will be on a computer when their privileges have been revoked and when everyone else has told you repeatedly that that student should not be on the computer, that student will  have a melt down when you take them of the computers.

*List the websites then can go on. If you are allowing Prodigy then list it. Also tell them that these are the only sites you can go on. If you just say educational sites they will find a way to get around the “educational” part. (Student states “Well, my uncle told me I could learn a lot if I looked up……”)

*When setting rules make sure you tell them the volume level on their computers or make sure they use headphones. Also let them know if you allow them to partner up or work with a small group. My suggestion is if it’s your first time covering the class, everyone should work independently.

*Monitoring is still need even if they are all on task and silent. Chances are there’s one or two surfing the web and the ride is a category 5 wave. (Meaning: definitely an inappropriate site).

Don’ts

*Don’t sit and think they are all innocent happy learners. Keep an eye on them. If you hear giggling or noise of trying to talk go quickly but stealth like behind the student so you can see what they are doing.

*Don’t take for granted that the screen they have up is what they have been working on. Nope. Usually they think they can get away with switching back and forth but check the tabs or click on the back arrow to see where they have been.

*Don’t say “This is fun time or free time”. Say “Additional learning time” or “GATE scholar time” It is harder for the teacher to get them back on task when he/she returns to teach.

Picture of Kids throwing paper airplanes in class! Oh my!

Kids throw paper airplanes in class! Oh my!

*Even if your “15” minutes is extended to 30 don’t let them stay on the computer more than 20-30 mins. After 30 mins. they usually are bored and will start to wander  sites or writing notes to someone else in class. Depending on the grade you could wind up with notes that just might make it into an airplane shape that will try to travel the length of the classroom.

I know there are many do’s and don’ts and some seem like common sense, but maybe by reading this post it will be in the back of your mind when you need to cover a class…say for “15” minutes.

Best of luck when you do.

Future Engineers

Project Lead the Way logo.

By Peter Gallegos and Veronica Torres

Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth grade students at Harrison School in Stockton, CA  are off to a running start for their engineering future. Students in Mrs. Merriam’s PLTW Design and Modeling class learn by quickly understanding the importance of an engineering notebook to document and capture their ideas.

Image of students showing their work.

Students working early in the design process.

Students are introduced to the design process in order to help solve problems and understand how their ideas can influence the creativity process of their group and others.

Image of a team of students

Students work in groups and follow the design process from idea to prototype.

One important aspect of this class is students’ discovery of engineering and how the items that are invented within this process can help the populace as a whole. For example, the creation of a prosthetic device and a toy that will help a student with cerebral palsy gives students a greater appreciation of what a special needs student endures on a daily basis.

The academic language that students use during this process would seem unbelievable for students this age.  One can see groups working hard together to solve their design process challenges and coming up with solutions to attain a final product.  This process forces the students to “think outside of the box.” Higher order thinking abounds in this class.

Image of student working.

Students use industry standard 3D modeling software, such as Sketchup Pro and Geogebra

Merriam’s students use industry standard 3D modeling software, such as Sketchup Pro and Geogebra, to create a virtual image of their designs and produce a portfolio to showcase their creative solutions.

When students show proficiency in the modeling software, and are able to complete the design process from paper to virtual image, they will have the opportunity to print their final product using the school’s 3D printer.

Coding for Kindergarteners? Absolutely!

By Maridee Stanley

America is short on computer programmers. Currently, tech companies are recruiting programmers from India, not by choice but by necessity. Don’t we want our own SUSD students to get these high paying tech jobs so we can finally break generational poverty? This can happen if we start our students coding early. How early? High school? Middle school? Intermediate grades? Kindergarten is not too soon. For the past 5 years, my kinders at Kennedy Elementary have successfully learned the basics of block programming and began to think of themselves as the programmers and tech entrepreneurs of the future. Students have fun and the parents love it! “But,” you ask, “ I’m not a programmer. How can I teach coding?” Don’t worry. Coding isn’t as hard as you think. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust me on this.code1

All the instructional work is done for us by Code.org, Tynker, PLTW, or Google, and the beginning lessons are designed for pre-readers. Why wouldn’t any teacher want to do this? You have several options to get your students started on coding. The best known is Code.org, developer of Hour of Code. If your school has Project Lead the Way you have the PLTW computer science module. Tynker has some free content here  or you can sign up for free teacher account for an easy K lesson here. Google will send teachers a free kit to be used with their online material, click here. Even if you supplement with other programs, Code.org is indispensable as it has the most resources and an easy-to-navigate website. From there you can watch videos (Course A for age 4-7 ), visit the educator section and create your account, peruse lesson plans, or print out offline material .

If you and your colleagues want an enjoyable Saturday, attend a Code.org Computer Science Fundamentals PD, learn some tricks and pick up some swag. Or, take the online PD .

Students working with robots.

Students work with blue-bots, robots that the kids can program!

If you don’t have time for all this, simply take your class straight to an Hour of Code classic, Angry Birds, and start coding! I recommend starting offline. I use Code.org’s “Move It” for PE and PLTW as a center activity. Ozobots are a popular way to teach the concept of programming. But my students’ favorite offline activity is the Bee-Bot, a small robot that is programmed with directional arrows on its back. Kinders doing Code.org offline coding for P.E. Tip: Don’t try this on a windy day. Using the directional cards that come with BeeBots and Blue-Bots, kindergarteners write a line of code. Using direction keys, students program BeeBots and Blue-Bots to spell CVC words or order numbers. Bee-Bot and BlueBot programming was a big hit at STEAM Night and Literacy Night at Kennedy. Even some parents got hooked!

Image of student and laptop.

“Look, Ma, I’m programming!”

After the offline warm-ups, students should do Code.org’s Course A followed by Angry Birds and Minecraft on Hour of Code. Some may progress on to Star Wars or Moana, although you may have to tell students the objective …get scrap metal in Star Was and fish in Moana. I don’t recommend Frozen for kinders as this requires knowledge of angles. Many kinders begin to have difficulty when they get to loops, but with patience, persistence and careful counting they can overcome difficulties. Remind students that “fail” means first attempt in learning something awesome.

Coding a Minecraft game is a good incentive to finish ST Math and is an alternative for students who have completed work early. If you have never coded, try some super simple kindergarten block coding on the following Google Doodle celebrating 50 years of children’s coding. https://www.google.com/doodles/celebrating-50-years-of-kids-coding And please, get your students coding. You might inspire the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Google Slides

Google Slides may be great for presentations, but it is also a great teaching tool when parent-teacher conference time comes around. I took it upon myself to conduct student-led conferences with the help of….. Drum roll, please… Google Slides.

I created this template with possible measures in the speaker notes for students to follow along. I also provided a student led conference sample for students to refer to, in case they need some ideas.

I provide my students 10-15 minutes to fill in each slide according to the criteria on the  template. By doing so, students are taking the responsibility to input their scores, strengths, weakness, and setting goals. Aren’t we all working on reflecting and goal setting?  Students were able to be creative by adding a personal photo and style when designing their Google Slide. Students took responsibility for their conference, and I saw a large turnout of parents who showed up. Don’t get me wrong, there were those few parents that didn’t come, but no problem. The slide presentation format made it easy for those students to conduct phone conferences or the presentation can be easily printed out to be sent home, it is up to your discretion.

Image of a student and parent at a conference

Using Google Slides, students are able to lead parent-teacher conferences.

As with anything, when you invest your time during the beginning stages it goes smoothly when it’s ready to be executed. Here were some of my observation from the first parent-teacher conference:

  1. Parents were attentive
  2. Students were excited to share
  3. Students encouraged parents to come to see their Slides presentation
  4. I was a facilitator of learning rather than being the guardian of knowledge
  5. Parent, teachers, and students walked away feeling positive

Note: I did not go over any behavior during the conference, all conferences were data-driven.  

We are moving toward 1-to-1 devices district-wide. Let’s move forward with making the technology and home connection.

If you feel you need some more clarification and help with Google Slides, no problem. Come to my December 19th PD at Adams, and I can support you.  Email me at mtsou@stocktonusd.net, and I would be happy to provide a screencast video instructions based on your needs.