Wednesday, January 17, 2018

SET BC December Update

Can you tell a story with a game?  Our students are making connections between the characters, setting, conflict, rising action and conclusions in stories to the same elements in video games.  So, we are both creating games that represent our understanding of books, and also writing stories about video games we know. 

I have started a Vlog.  Every day or every second day if I am really busy, I will post one thing I am excited about, one thing that I am grateful for, and I will tell one really bad "dad joke".  Usually I will make a connection between what we are learning, and how we are using different technologies to further our learning.  Tune in for a positive message each day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Classroom and our SETBC Classroom Project

This year begins with a bang! We are starting the year studying block based coding, and learning how to use coding to explore our inquiry topics.  This is the first monthly video update introducing the equipment and how we might make use of it.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rapping About the Brain

On Friday, my colleagues studied some brain based learning research and learned about MindUp, an approach to creating awareness in your thinking, and how the brain and emotions affect our learning. One of the tasks was to do a song or skit about a part of the brain. Our group was given the amygdala. This rap is based on the old school Run DMC song "My Adidas." Enjoy!

Me and My Amygdala, walking through the land
Keeping me safe from things unplanned
It's the center of my brain controlling, fight, flight or freeze
'Cause living in the world ain't no easy breeze
Can't clean up your mess just by sprayin' Febreeze

My Amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates
Keeps in check my emotional state
When I'm positive it feeds me thoughts and reasoning
Gives my imagination flavor and seasoning

But when I'm scared, I don't shut down
It turns off my judgment because it's time to throw down!
It protects me from threats, so I can survive
But I still have to manage it, if I want to thrive

ME and my Amygdala!

Mark with Less Effort - Let's Talk About it!

I have been thinking a lot about giving kids feedback versus grades lately. What makes for smarter kids?

I had some students choose their own questions from a list I provided so that they would think more deeply about their novels. Students read novels in groups, and then used these questions to have discussions. The students then proceeded to write answers in their OneNote notebooks that I provided them with the OneNote notebook Class Creator.

 Two-thirds of my students... have a personal device, be it a parent's old laptop, a small android tablet, or an iPad. The rest use the class computer, or do the assignment on paper in point form, and enter it online when they go home where they have a computer.

I can access all the student notebooks from within my OneNote notebook, and when I use the desktop app, I can record my voice into their notebooks using the "Insert Recording" button and my laptop mic! This means I can leave them a personal message with lots of specific details on how to improve their writing. I can give far more feedback this way, than I would when I write it out. Also, I have learned through my research that student listening comprehension is higher than reading comprehension as high as age 13. Seeing that I teach students from ages 11-13, this is an important consideration.

I don't tell them their mark in the recording, but keep their mark in my mark book. when the student wants to know the mark, they have to approach me, and tell me the feedback I gave them in order to know their mark. I have learned that kids only pay close attention to the written feedback if they are negatively surprised by the mark they receive. Often students need to go back and listen again to my feedback, and this has improved their reading and writing skills.

If students are using OneNote online, they need to right-click on the audio file, download, and then playback the comment.

 If they are opening their OneNote notebook in a desktop program or app, they should be able to play it back by clicking on the play button to the left of the recording.

My students have told me they like having personal messages recorded into their homework, and it allows me to provide better feedback, closer to the time the student finishes their work. It saves me time, a lot of effort, and I don't carry papers home with me to mark. Try it yourself!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Next Great Equalizer

The HP stream is my new favorite device.  HP Stream 11-d077nr Signature Edition Laptop


Wait? Whaaaat?

Nope, ya heard me.  Straight up love this little laptop.  It is not the fastest, nor is it the most feature rich.  I love it because it is a great equalizer. 





No, not THAT kind of Equalizer!




I did a side by side comparison with a Chromebook.  A really well made Chromebook.  Both were affordable devices.  Both offered all day battery life.  Both have access to a variety of apps that students will find useful.  Both devices would offer students today a leg up in their education with proper application.  But, I choose the HP Stream hands down, if given the choice.

It runs full on Windows.

Yes you can download and install apps, but for most students, the key productivity apps are found in MS Office.  I can download and install most legacy programs.

It has only a 32 Gb SSD, but this means it is possible to save files to the machine, upload it to a website like my SharePoint classroom, or to your choice of cloud services.

With a full operating system, I can use both installed programs and web based programs.  The Stream can do what the Chromebook can do, and more. 

I can also install Bluestacks which is an android app player for Windows.  This allows me to run android apps on the Stream.  I tested out Angry birds through Bluestacks, and it worked great.


I have been piloting Office 365 with my class.  Students have been making PowerPoint presentations, and the Stream 11 allows them to open the web app with the full featured installed program.  This means they can take advantage of more features than the web app has, and it runs faster as the work is being performed on the local machine.

I couldn’t install Minecraft, as despite it’s simple looking graphics, it is a “hefty” game.  But Kodu and Sketchup ran well on this device.  I have not tested it extensively, across multiple users and with large and complex projects, but for student use I think it will be great. 

I had a number of kids play games on it, with my 9 year old son being one of the chief testers.  He found that games on Miniclip, like Tanki were a bit slow at first, but rapidly caught up (starting at 20 frames-per-second, but quickly moving up to 50 frames-per-second).  My_TankiGames are a very good way to measure the performance of a machine, and if I am realistic, my students want a machine for work and play.  All testers said it wasn’t quite as high performing as their i3 or i5 machines, but it was good enough to be enjoyable.


Also, when it comes to adding pictures, the Stream 11 allows you to save pictures on the local machine or on OneDrive (which is browsable in Windows 7 and 8).  With the Chromebook, my students were able to work in Office 365, but had to save pictures in Google Drive. 


It works like the desktops and laptops we distribute in schools.  This means a shorter learning curve, and that the licenses a district has purchased will be usable on these devices. 

It means better integration. You can hit print if you like.  It also means my students will be familiar with world class productivity software.  I can connect it to our local server drives.

Final thoughts

It costs $250, it can be put in the hands of my students for less than the price of a Chromebook.  If you buy it from “the Microsoft stores, you can get good deals on shipping and most importantly, you can get “Signature” editions of laptops.  This rather innocuous title means no “value-added trial software”, otherwise known as “bloatware” or “crapware.” 

Big box stores will sell you laptops at the same price, but with this bloatware installed, which makes them money. Some even offer a service to “clean up that new laptop” before you take it home.  Should a new laptop need to be cleaned?

I ran it through some pretty demanding critics, my students and my children.  They all agree it doesn’t replace a more powerful desktop, but for day to day use they all agree, it’s a great bargain.


UPDATE: There was a sale.  My friend got one on December 22rd from the Microsoft Store for $179. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Getting to Know Office 365 with my Students

This week I signed up my students on Office 365 as part of a district initiative. I sent home a draft waiver provided for me by the district IS department. 


Office365 landing page

On the first day, I got 22 of 29 responses back, all with a “yes” answer. 

Once I had all the waivers back I created accounts for my students one at a time.  There is the option to bulk upload names of kids all at once in a CSV file, but I chose to do it one at a time so that I could assign the students’ password.  I followed a naming scheme for login ID’s designated by the district, and create a set of passwords for my class that each student would find easy to remember.  Office 365 wants an 8-16 digit password with capitals, letters and numbers.

Unfortunately, even though I assigned the password (as opposed to letting my students choose one), I left the box ticked that told them to change their password after first login.  Because we did this as a class at the same time, I instructed them how to change their password so they could easily remember it.

I asked my four students that have their own laptops (2 have laptops purchased by their parents, two with old laptops from their parents’ businesses), and showed them how to login first during our silent reading.  They logged in, with no trouble. They then distributed a set of Chromebooks on loan from CUEBC (really awesome initiative) to students who didn’t have a device.
Some kids who were watching and waiting, jumped in and logged in on the own.  Kids who could login themselves easily helped kids who were having difficulties, or who didn’t remember where to click.  To make it easy, I put a link on my teacher website.

Our first adventure related to our Math class (which is what we would normally be doing at this time).  Each student open an excel spreadsheet.
I then gave every student $1,000,000.  Using only Black Friday or Cyber Monday flyers they found online,

Using a simple formula, kids added the 12% sales tax to the sticker price of their purchase, and kept a running total as they shopped.

The rules were simple:
1.) Shop only using online flyers
2.) Always factor in the taxes
3.) Keep a running total
4.) At the end of 20 minutes, MR GILL KEEPS WHAT YOU DON’T SPEND.
Students worked independently, or formed ad hoc collaborations.  In a frantic shopping frenzy akin to the real Black Friday sales, kids feverishly scoured the flyers for deals, deals, deals.  Students bought gaming computers, tablets, and leather purses.  This was not making enough of dent in their budget, so they started buying higher end items, like watches and jewelry.  One student found a 4.5 meter tall replica of a the Transformer, Bumblebee. 
I have no idea where he found it.
When they read out numbers, I discovered they were not fluent in reading numbers above 9,999.  This needs to be revisited.   I also found that they were talking about math, and trying to estimate and strategize when they were shopping. 


Overall, we had students on Chromebooks, iPads, Android tablets, and laptops working on Office 365, and it performed well.  I noticed a little lag when Excel was performing a calculation, as did my students.  In some cases it could have been as a result of using lower powered tablet devices.  Or, it could have been our network speed at the time.  I don’t think I can attribute this to Office 365, but more testing over time will tell. 
Also we learned that you don’t have to hit save in the web app.  You can give your spreadsheet a name by using “Save As”, or by just typing it right over the word document.
Students are able to open Office365 documents using apps installed on their local devices, but then they may need to save their work as they go.  But at least it is saved in an accessible location, and needs only a browser to get to their “stuff”. 
Up next: tear-free grammar lessons, and editing dialogue with ease.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mobile in the Classroom: Office Lens

Who uses this handy survival tool? image What does Office Lens do? Something vastly better than taking a picture of a piece of paper.  It takes a picture of a document: image(Actual angle of document in picture) And then it justifies the angle, corrects the color, and makes cropping the picture easy. image It then sends it to my OneNote in the cloud!  (Adds to my Quick Notes section of my Personal Notebook)  On average it takes about a minute, possibly two with slower bandwidth to appear in my Notebook, while I am working in it.   What could be easier?  Putting resources in OneNote means I can then mark it up, write directly on the page, save it as a PDF, and then put it where my students can access it.  Also, OneNote can read the text in photos, so I can extract the text to edit it if I would like! I have been using multiple math sources to cobble together a combined Grade 6&7 curriculum.  With OfficeLens and my Surface Pro 3 and stylus, I can shoot different pages from multiple sources into my One Note.  I can then mark up the page of notes, and post them to my SharePoint at the end of each lesson. One ambitious student checked the notes when he was away from class, and was ready to make up his work when he came back to class.  This saved both of us a lot of time and effort. At conferences or meetings you can capture slides and whiteboard drawings while people are presenting.  Just keep writing notes, and the pictures you take in OfficeLens appear after a bit for you to put in place.  I use it for my daughter who benefits from using technology, and finds working with paper challenging. Other students  in my class that have adaptations for learning disabilities also benefit from using digital copy, and OfficeLens allows me to go from paper to OneNote – where kids can choose how they want to mark up their work.  I just send them the page from my notebook to theirs. Although OfficeLens is available for Windows phone and now iOS, I cannot find it in the app store for my friends with iPhones.  Perhaps this is available only in the US?  Regardless, keep an eye out for this app, as it is a time saver and a game changer!