Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking back at 2015. Reflecting on a Year of Teaching, Tech & Twitter.

My Twitter pal Justin Birckbichler wrote an awesome 2015 reflection (check it out here) and challenged many of us in his PLN to do the same. Although I wasn't planning on writing one, after reading his and the others that have been posted, I realized that a lot has happened in 2015 and it might be fun to revisit the year. So here it goes.


Quote from a student after visiting the STEM Lab.

We have had a LOT of awesome happening at Sun Terrace Elementary but two things come to mind that I am especially proud of as I reflect on this past year. 

Mouse Squad
In January last we assembled our very first MOUSE Squad. Last year's squad was a little over 20 fourth and fifth grader student. This year we have over 40 amazing students! They spend a few afternoons a month learning about the technology that we have at our school. Our squad keeps our computer lab up and running (booting up computers & identifying/solving issues), assists teachers in the lab or in their classes when using technology, and also completes projects for our school such as creating and editing videos for our Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) team. Our squad coordinators Wendy Townlin, Clay Ward, Amanda Young and I run the program and work together to stay on top of the technology needs of our staff and students. Check out for more information about their program. 

STEM Lab/Makerspace
Our school STEM Lab/Makerspace opened up in October and it is a great learning space. As I shared in the blog post Making Our Makerspace, the lab was originally Wendy Townlin's idea. She wanted to create a dedicated science lab for our school. It evolved into a STEM lab, then (with a little help from Twitter) we decided to add in the element of a makerspace. With the support of our awesome principal Kris Martin-Meyer, four of us, Wendy, Amanda YoungClaire Simón and I put our heads together, researched, reflected then began building. The post Growing Our Makerspace has an update on the newest tools are adding to our STEM Lab/Makerspace for 2016.


Me with the incredible Lisa Highfill and Kelly Hilton

To be honest I was not even a little bit interested in educational technology until I discovered Google Apps For Education in 2014. My love for all things Google has inspired me to share the Googley awesome. I share what I find on our school tech site Teaching With Technology and through staff professional development. This past summer I really stepped out of my comfort zone and presented at our district Summer Learning Academy (my first time presenting solo for the district) and shared the power of Google Slides and Hyperdocs.

If I had to pick my favorite tech tool of 2015 it would be without a doubt the amazing Hyperdoc.  To say that I LOVE hyperdocs would be an extreme understatement. Hyperdocs are a game changer for us at Sun Terrace Elementary and at EdCamp TriValley I got the chance to meet two of the Hyperdoc queens themselves Lisa Highfill and Kelly Hilton (Sarah Landis couldn't make it that day). The terrific trio even moderated a #Ditchbook chat (see more about #ditchbook below) and other hyperdoc lovers shared their amazing creations on this shared padlet


To think that I really only started using Twitter this past March is crazy. I can't imagine NOT being a connected educator now. My friend Jen Gabor got me on board the Twitter train at one of her fabulous tech trainings and I haven't looked back. Using Twitter as a professional learning tool was by far one of the best decisions I have made as teacher and learner. There have been so many highlights of my inaugural Twitter year but two groups of people have really made an impact on me this year.

Ditch That Textbook 
I am not even really sure how I stumbled across the bright yellow cover of Ditch That Textbook but boy am I glad I did. Not only is the book amazing (if you haven't read it yet you can get it here on amazon) but the author Matt Miller is a genuinely nice guy who readily shares tons of resources through his blog and on Twitter. Connecting with the author of a book I hold in such high regard was a new and very cool experience that being on Twitter made possible. I am a huge Ditch That Textbook fan and so when Sandy Otto started a Twitter chat focusing on the book I jumped at the chance to participate. Since then I have been honored to help moderate #Ditchbook chats along with Chantell Manahan,  Sean Fahey and Adam Bodley. You can catch the #Ditchbook chat Thursdays from 7-7:30pm PST.

Probably the biggest and most life changing event for me professionally in 2015 was connecting with Ben Cogswell, Kelly Martin and Joe Young and starting#TOSAChat back in July. Ben had the original idea to create a Twitter chat for Teachers on Special Assignment and Kelly, Joe and I jumped on board. Joe has a great blog post all about our Inaugural #TOSAChat and how we got started. Kelly created our website and even got us our own domain Since that first chat the #TOSAChat community has grown into an amazing group of TOSAs who share their resources, expertise, support and of course "fluffy, squishy love". It truly is a fantastic group and I am so thankful to be a part of it. If you want to grow your PLN with some fabulous people visit @TOSAChat and follow everyone we follow, trust me these fantastic tweeps will fill your bucket. You can join us for #TOSAChat Monday nights at 8PM PST.

I feel so lucky to have had such an incredible year and I can't wait to see where 2016 takes me! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Growing Our STEM Lab & Makerspace. New Additions for 2016!

*In an effort to honor the true meaning of a Makerspace, as defined by the ones who paved the way, I want to clarify that our lab is truly a STEM Lab with the element of a makerspace added in. We offer time for our students to tinker, create, play and explore without the constraints of an objective or directions to follow. However, our STEM Lab does have challenges and a little more structure that offers us an opportunity to meet the NGSS (especially Engineering Design) in an engaging and exciting hands-on learning environment. For more information about the meaning of a true Makerspace check out What is a Makerspace by Colleen Graves.

Although our STEM Lab at Sun Terrace Elementary (@SunTerrace1) has only been up and running since the beginning of October we are already reflecting, modifying and growing. We started with some key tools (both high & low tech) when we opened our doors (the post Making Our Makerspace is all about how we got started). However, as we have been observing our students in the lab we have done some research and made a few adjustments and additions in order to make our STEM Lab the most exciting and engaging learning environment we can. This post is all about the "cool tools".  I am working on a follow up post will that will go into the logistics of running our STEM Lab but for now check out the awesome new stuff we are adding!

So what's new for 2016?

Gizmos and Gadgets kits from @littleBits $199.95. A fabulous addition recommended by Wendy Townlin. This kit contains the materials to make tons of cool projects. Even the littlest inventors can create some seriously cool stuff. The step-by-step instructions provide 12 easy to build creations. Our innovative kiddos can use the littleBits app to browse through hundreds of project ideas or they can just start inventing their own!

Sphero Robots from @Sphero $129.99. A very cool app enabled sphere shaped robot. Sphero is super tough and can get moving up to 4.5 mph! Sphero has it's own app for IOS and Android and can also be programmed using the Tickle App (currently only available for IOS). You must have a smartphone or tablet to use these robots so be sure to take that into account when ordering!

MaKey MaKey from @TheJoyLabz classic starts at $49.95. MaKey MaKey is an awesome little inventor's kit that turns almost anything into a touchpad. Plug the board into a computer and use the alligator clips to connect all sorts of fun objects creating your very own mouse and keyboard.

Piper from @withpiper $269.99.  Another excellent recommendation from Wendy is this amazing little kit that includes everything you need to build a fully working computer! It includes a plywood case, 7" LED screen, Raspberry Pi, USB mouse, sensors, lights, buttons, power bank AND a DIY Minecraft controller! Once it's built students can build hardware in real-life to control to build and create in a modified Minecraft world. Piper is an engaging and very effective way to get kids creating rather than just consuming technology.

So there they are, the new very cool "tools" we have available for our budding scientists, technicians, engineers & mathematicians to build, grow, discover, tinker and learn with. We are excited to see what our amazing students create. Follow us on twitter @SunTerrace1 to see our STEM Lab & Makerspace project tweets!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The 411 on Coding in the Classroom: Celebrating the Hour of Code and Beyond!

The Hour of Code is movement that aims to get people all over the world interested in computer science. The Hour of Code will be officially celebrated during the week of December 7-13, 2015. You can register your Hour of Code celebration here if you haven't already. As many of us, including myself, we are looking to our PLN for ideas and resources to get us started. So, in preparation for the Hour of Code #TOSAChat recently focused on Coding in the Classroom (storified chat here) and shared a ton of resources that support teaching coding and computer science! 

Why Code?

Ann Kozma (@annkozma723) shared this quote from +EdSurge @edsurge "Coding is the new literacy. It will not replace foreign languages, but it will be the global vernacular for understanding how technologies work." Why You Should Learn to Code (and How to Actually Do It!) an article from DIY Genius (@diygeniusEDU) that tells us why we should learn to code and actually DOES provide some great resources for how to do it! Still not sold on coding? Check out this "10 Reasons to Teach Coding" sketchnote by the amazing Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth), my favorite reason is "Coding gives you superpowers!".

Celebrating the Hour of Code

How will you celebrate the Hour of Code? There are many, many opportunities for everyone to celebrate and as the movement grows year after year more programs and apps will be available. Rae Fearing (@RaeFearing) shared this amazing Hour of Code hyperdoc that is quite literally a one stop coding resource shop! So many resources to choose from! Also check out Bryan Lachapelle's (@LachapelleB) awesome Hour of Code hyperdoc for students!

New to Coding? No Problem!

Most of us are new(er) to coding and most likely have students who are brand new as well. Luckily there are a lot of resources out there to support those of us who are just getting our feet wet in the world of computer science. Here are some resources that will help get you started including an Intro to Coding hyperdoc that I shared during the chat. 

Online Resources:

Computer Science Clubs/Programs:
  • Google's CS First (Computer Science First) a FREE program that increases students' access to  computer science.

Going Deeper Than Drag and Drop

As JN (@iCoder1978) points out, coding is more than just drag and drop. It's important for students to understand that visual programming, like blockly, is the beginning and that text based code like, Javascript, is next step. Check out "Why does use Blockly, a visual programming language, for its intro to Computer Science course?" which gives a MUCH better explanation than I can here. If you or your students are ready to take the plunge into text-based languages there are many resources out there for you to get started.

Khan Academy has an Hour of Drawing with Code that teaches drawing using JavaScript and ProcessingJS. Check out the intro video to learn more.

If you're a novice yourself but looking for a resource that will take your students farther into the world of computer science check out A sequence of tutorials that uses processing to teach programming. These tutorials are definitely appropriate for upper elementary too!

Amanda Haughs (@MsHaughs) suggests having advanced coders learn through Khan Academy. Students can check out Khan Academy's Intro to HTML/CSS Making webpages. Tutorials start with the basics and build up to challenges and projects. Students can then use HTML on Google Sites! A fantastic way to integrate computer science skills into Google Apps! 

Taking Coding Above and Beyond!

Robots are cool. Drones are awesome. What better way to take coding to the next level than to code a robot to drive or roll or to program a drone to fly? These amazing tech tools give kids an incredibly engaging and fun experience as they are learning to code. Watching students draw a track then reason logically through the steps as they write the code to get their robot to drive on it it is one of the coolest things I have seen! If you are interested in getting your students coding with robots and drones check out these recommendations that are #TOSAChat tested and kid approved.

Dash from Wonder Workshop is an adorable little robot that can be programmed using 5 different apps available on IOS and Android! The various apps make it possible for students from pre-k+ to begin programming a robot. Dash starts at $149.99 and will need an app compatible device to be used with it.

SPHERO makes an app enabled, you guessed it, sphere shaped robots (although Ollie is more cylinder shaped) that work with both IOS and Android. There are a few different kinds to choose from including the new Star Wars robot BB-8! Also check out the SPRK edition made to be used in an education setting to give students a "crash course" in programming with this awesome robot.

Parrot Drones come highly recommended from those on Twitter (like Brian Briggs @bribriggs) who have been using them in education. Need ideas for using Drones to teach? Check out 7 Ways to Use Drones in the Classroom by Edutopia and join the Drones for Schools G+ community.

Have more resources? Please share them in the comments below! 

Happy coding everyone!

#TOSAChat was started by Ben Cogswell (@Cogswell_ben), Joe Young (@Jyoung1219), Kelly Martin (@kmartintahoe) and myself  as a way for Teachers On Special Assignment to connect, share and grow together. Check out to view past chats, storify links and upcoming questions. You can join us at 8PM PST on Monday nights.