Creating a reading portfolio for the library

How can we better motivate students to read what they get from the library? I often feel like students are only taking out books because they are being forced to by their teachers and librarians. After a discovery discussion with one of the wonderful librarians I work with, I came up with a short list of requirements for a tool.

  1. iPad friendly
  2. Creates an individual folder to store student reading projects
  3. Randomly assign short reading projects.
  4. Provide a method for recommending books and allow students to choose their own books.

The first working prototype of these requirements can be seen here:

The Library Portfolio!

Let me take you through a quick tour of what it does, and how you can use it.

Portfolio

When you first visit the portfolio, you will arrive at a screen similar to above. You will have a missing avatar, your email address will display, and you will get a list of all of the projects in your portfolio folder. This folder is linked directly to your Google drive.

You can see that there was a drawing created in this directory. That can become the student avatar that will show up on the portfolio page. Change the filename to whatever you want, and it will become the name that is displayed also.

Once you have edited this file, you need to ‘Publish to the web..’ before it will display correctly on the portfolio page.

Students have the ability to search the Goodreads database for books of their own choosing. My students can select a book from the library on our campus, then find the book using search and add it to their portfolio using ‘Start Project’.

The real strength of this tool is in recommending books for students who don’t already know what they want. There is a short quiz designed by the elementary librarian that results in 5 suggestions being plucked from a list generated directly by the librarian using Google Forms.

Once you have a recommendation, you can start a new project in the same way that you did with the search feature. Each of these projects generates a separate document in the student’s folder on drive. They contain short activities that can be done with any book that the student selects (we hope!)

This is just the beginning of the project. We have a bunch of other great ideas (and a bunch of bugs to fix in the code!) Please let me know what you think on twitter!

Becoming little while reading The Littles

In my language arts class we are currently reading The Littles by John Peterson. A fun way to involve my kids in the reading is to write our own stories as if we were small enough to live in walls. Plus we have the benefit of living in an age with 1-to-1 iPad programs. Technology allows us to go a step beyond creative writing. We can add a visual creativity to our stories with nothing more than Apple Pages. Here are some that my students made:

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The steps to create your own transparent images with Pages are very simple. You need to start with an image that has a mostly solid background. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but the more solid and better lit you start with, the better product you will end up with. There is a reason that studios have tons of lights and giant green screens! We usually aren’t that lucky in a classroom, so we have to make do. See my example below.

First, add the picture to your document by clicking on the + in the upper right corner:

Next, select the image and click on the paint brush icon. This will open some editing options. You want to chooose ‘Instant Alpha’.

You will need to select parts of the image to remove. Depending on the colors, you can do this little by little or in giant globs. The background that will become transparent will be shown in below as you can see below. Be careful not to remove any of your main image.

In the end you will have something like below. This can be placed on top of another image. TADA! You have superimposed an image on top of another.

 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer… student made video games!

What is storytelling like in the 21st century?

Well, one of the methods of telling stories in the new millenium is through video games! As an English teacher in a 5th grade classroom with students who have never been challenged to write anything in a second language before, they are lacking in the ability to write stories.

However, they certainly have stories to tell! One of my students told me about the program Hopscotch that they were using in their tech lessons. I looked it up and found it to be a very easy to use, drag-and-drop programming app that we could use easily on the iPads. Since they had already been exposed to the app in their tech lessons, it was a simple transition.

The first step was talking with my students about what the “adventures” of Tom Sawyer really were. I decided that we would be trying to turn those into the video games. A few examples are:

hopscotch example
Tom is jealous of the bigger boy because he is rich and has nicer clothes.
hopscotch example
Tom and Huck sneak off to the graveyard together to try and cure warts with a dead cat.
hopscotch example
Tom and Becky get lost in the cave together.

As a project at the end of the year, I could not have been more pleased with how it turned out. My students had a blast putting these adventures into the form of video games that they could play on their iPads.

It has also given me ideas on where to take the concept. Learning about Hopscotch pointed me in the direction of other, similar tools, such as: Scratch, Blockly, and Stencyl. Finding these alternative ways to tell a story makes a great project!

Coding with #COL16

I participated in a Hangout on Air with Daniel Sharpe, and the result was pretty great! We sat down and coded a decent start to an app that displays form responses in the style of Pinterest or Padlet. My internet crashed 4 times during the recording, but despite my terrible connection we would up with a decent product

Probably not for the absolute beginner, but I think there is something in there to be learned for an aspiring coder. (Experienced coders will probably ridicule my lack of style)

Do people want to see more of this? What can we introduce as we go along? Tweet at us @rheajt and @get_sharpe

 

Take attendance with ClassDojo with a single click!

READ ABOUT THE UPDATES I HAVE MADE!

I enjoy using ClassDojo. More importantly, my 5th grade classes enjoy when I use ClassDojo. There is something they really dig about being able to customize their own little monster avatars.

[su_button url=”https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/classdojo-extension/mbhcppckcncdempkomncfipbddlkofio” target=”blank” style=”flat” background=”#189912″ color=”#ffffff” size=”8″ radius=”0″ icon=”icon: send-o” text_shadow=”0px 0px 0px #000000″]Go to my ClassDojo Attendance Extension on the Chrome Store[/su_button]

 

My only complaint was that I was taking attendance on ClassDojo, but I still had to send an email to the school secretary every morning and whenever a student was late. I was basically doing the same job twice, and any programmer will tell you that is a sign of sloppy coding. In this case, real-life coding.

Raising hand

So, during a meeting today I came up with what I think is a solution. A Chrome browser extension! All you have to do is:

  1. Install the extension from the Chrome Webstore.
  2. Input a couple of emails. The person who takes the attendance in your office is the first input box. This person will get the email. The second email is your own email. This is so that the program can blind carbon copy yourself for your own records.
    1. Right-click on the icon in the upper right corner of your browser (see below)  right-click
    2. Input the requested information.
    3. Click SAVE

Once you have done that, go to your class attendance page in ClassDojo. Left-click on the browser icon and the rest is automatic!

Please let me know if you think of any other things you wish ClassDojo could do! These are the kinds of things that I love building. My entire Google Innovator Project is designed about finding the great ideas that teachers have and making them reality.

 

plnnr.net

I have finished my first iteration of plnnr.net as a full MEAN-stack web application. There are even a few of my projects linked into the app. There are still lots of things to tighten up (mobile functionality, bookmarklets page, users…) but as a basic app I am pretty proud of it.

Trheajt_planner teach1he goal of the app is to compile all of the various JavaScript projects into one easily accessible place, as well as provide a system for suggesting new projects. There are tons of ways out there to improve accessibility and functionality for teachers. I have barely begin to scratch the surface.

 

Portfolio Day

We had an English portfolio day at school,and I just wanted to post the pictures of some of the student created story cards. There was a great turnout of parents and I think it all went very well. One thing to take into consideration for next year is how difficult it is to get the students to do a presentation for parents AFTER they have presented for their parents.

20160328_153848Also, Achieve3000 (Kidbiz or Teenbiz, or whichever version you are using) provides a printable page of the various achievements. These are perfect for 5th graders who love stickers, and they can be placed on the covers of their portfolios.

If you have been using Google Drive to collect student work, you need to make sure you print out hard copies of their work! I am disappointed that a lot of the students work was not seen because I did not have a hard copy to show the parents. Yes, trees were saved, which is a great thing, but I am sure there would have been an alternative to leaving the work out completely.

Maybe I will try to devise a Google Script that displays the contents of a students drive folder dynamically…

 

story-collage

 

Lego Robotics TRASHtrek Challenge: Reflections

First Lego League!

This has been my first experience with Lego robotics, and I wanted to share some of my reflections post-competition. There are a lot of things that I learned as a coach that I can improve on, if I am coaching again next year.

  1. Have an extra EV3 brick for the students to work with! I had 9 students on the robotics team, and 1 EV3 brick. That is a terrible ratio for instruction. The kids need (and want) to play with the programs and the motors, but they can’t do it in a group of 9. A group of 3-4 kids would be perfect.
  2. Spend more time on the robot! I felt incredibly rushed at the end to get the robot ready. We used too much of our time planning, and building the models. It would be much better to get a prototype together even one that isn’t a final product, and start working with it!
  3. Make sure your table is clean and stable! We built our board on a table with some dirt caked in, and legs that wobble at the slightest touch. That stuff really needs to be fixed before you put the models onto the table. Even the slightest grain of debris or shake of the table can throw off the trajectory of the robot and lead you to make changes that aren’t necessary.

20160213_093728

Other improvements for our lego robotics team next year!

First, our design this year was very much based on a typical tractor design. All of our attachments were basically just added onto the front of that design. As I have been reading I see a lot of teams build these pinless attachments that can be taken on and off very easily and quickly. I would like to show the students how to accomplish this so that they can implement that strategy into their plans.

Second, using more sensors! It was easy to teach the kids how to do the most basic things of running the motors and configuring them to spin in the correct directions. However, this can be improved significantly with the addition of the ultrasonic sensor for distance, the color sensor to follow lines, and the gyroscopic sensor to more accurately navigate turns. I think the touch sensor can be used to speed up the transitions in base, and even just that would be a significant improvement.