Saturday, April 28, 2012

ITEC Conference Extra Credit

I chose to go to the ITEC Convention on the UNI campus as a means of extra credit, but instead I found myself astonished with what I saw. There were hundreds of middle-high school students showing off their technology projects at the UNI Commons Thursday, April 19. The first station I stopped at was a Garage Band project done by two young. I have to say, as someone who has attempted to work with Garage Band myself I was really impressed with the level of creativity of their song. When asked how long it took they both smiled and laughed. At first they both had started on completely different projects, but one lost all his material, and for some reason the other partner wasn't able to finish his first one. So, instead of continuing on their first path they decided to team up and start over. There were several sounds mixed, but what impressed me the most was how cohesive their song was. It all made sense! Their song was very impressive, and sounded fantastic!!

While I talked to around five groups of students, I must say that the last young man I talked to impressed me the most. He and his partner created a robotics project. I wasn't able to get a lot of questions answer by the creator because he was very timid, but I did manage to get a video of their project. They had a car made out of Legos, which was computerized so it was able to follow a path into a garage made from Legos. I wonder the time it took to create a project like this. I also wonder how it was even done. I wish that I could have gotten more questions answered while I was there, but I think that the video below shows how awesome this really was! It's very impressive, and mind boggling that two elementary students were able to create such an impressive project!

VIDEO0007 a video by ChasePiper on Flickr.

It just amazes me that students so young can accomplish so much. I wish I could have stayed at the convention longer, but I had to go to class. This is definitely something I would like to attend again in the future. Seeing students work on projects like this really excites me as an aspiring teacher! Education is changing, and I can't wait to see what my students will be able to teach me someday!

Preparing Our Final PBL Activity

Right away my team and I knew what we wanted to do for our final Project Based Learning Activity for Classroom Computer Applications. Throughout the semester we have been doing a lot of work with the idea that everyone matters. In order to get everyone to believe in that idea it takes kind words. That's it. Yes, it's that simple. In order to get a good start we were able to use our work from the previous PBL activity, and from the podcast we made. We wanted to do something very real, and we definitely wanted it to be relevant for our current classmates. Taking our classmates into consideration, we knew that they would really benefit from the kind words activity we would have them do.

What do you do when you want to help someone in need, but don't know how? Let's say you're not in a position to donate money, then what? Well, my team has come up with a simple solution. Give your words! For our PBL activity we had our classmates focus on giving their kind words to Leukemia patients. No, most of us don't know someone with Leukemia personally, but we don't need to. Imagine yourself lying in a hospital bed feeling completely helpless, and desperate for someone to tell you everything will work out. Being comforted doesn't always have to come from someone close, but comfort can also come from the kind heart of a stranger. Letting someone know that they matter, and that you're rooting for them could seriously change the mindset of the person in the crisis. You see, humans have this thing called spirit. When our spirit is healthy, our physical needs are more likely to be met. Giving kind words from a generous heart can heal a broken spirit. See where I'm going with this yet? Give your words... They're free!!

We decided to introduce our classmates to a website called Glogster. Glogster is an online poster making site that allows you to include a variety of medium. We couldn't wait to teach our classmates about Glogster and to get them thinking about the value of words. Every word we speak counts, and that is something we wanted to remind our classmates of. It's something that, as adults, we forget about from time to time. We forget how much influence words have. If anything, we wanted our classmates to leave the room feeling the urge to help people by using their words. We wanted them to remember that kind words are gifts, and yes that they can change lives! I think we accomplished this!

To whomever might be reading this, please remember that we were put on this Earth to live happily in unison. We're meant to help each other out, not tear each other down. Words were meant to build up, not destroy. So please, give your words to your loved ones, even to acquaintances and strangers. It might be just what they need. Words are the most encouraging, empowering, and comforting gifts we can give. So please, give give give!!

Project Based Learning

When my group and I first started thinking about how to plan a project based learning (PBL) activity, we didn't have a clue where to start. What we ended up coming up with was pretty astounding... I think. In order to think of something great, you first have to get into the minds of your students. Since my group had no students this was a little bit more difficult, but hey we made it work. You have to know what your're students like, perhaps more importantly what they DON'T like. It's important to know what will interest them because that becomes the motivator. PBL is NOT direct instruction. Project Based Learning is completely student centered, but obviously the teacher has a managerial roll to take on. During a PBL activity the student will take charge of his or her own learning. Seems a little risky? Well, it's honestly not. Not if you, as the teacher provide the right amount of structure to the project.

In the case of my group, we decided to create an imaginary classroom which had a learner diagnosed with Leukemia. Click here to see our plan. We used this as the foundation for our project. How do we, as a class, help the learner with Leukemia. We decided to set the guidelines for the project, but most of it was completely student lead. We thought that the fact of helping another individual was a way of teaching Health Literacy. Our PBL activity causes students to learn empathy, and it teaches them the importance of kind words and kind actions. These are both very powerful tools. Without going into the details of our hypothetical PBL Activity let me tell you how creating this project changed my mindset as an aspiring teacher.

One of the things I fear most about teaching is the planning aspect. How can I possibly plan learning experiences for a classroom full of students every day for an entire school year? It just doesn't seem possible to me... yet. Although I know that PBL isn't going to take place every day, learning about it gave me loads of more confidence as a future teacher. It opened up my eyes to all of the possibilities of teaching, and quite honestly gave me fresh perspective on the profession. Learning isn't only about the content, it's also about experience! As learners in this world we live though experiences every single day. Those experiences are what teach us everything we know. Think of it this way, how many facts from all the worksheets you've done in your life do you remember? School can't be about worksheets! School MUST be an environment susceptible for learning EXPERIENCES to occur. Yes, things like worksheets of facts can aid us, but we can't rely on them. It is the job of a teacher to give students authentic learning experiences, and Project Based Learning is definitely a step in the right direction!! 

Global Learning's Effect on Education

Although we only briefly touched on Global Learning in Classroom Computer Applications with Dr. Z, I learned a lot about it in his other class, Emerging Instructional Technologies. While in his other class I had the privilege of working with with the Flat Classroom Project during which I was able to learn  a great deal about the benefits of global learning. Global learning isn't something that I've quite got my head wrapped around yet. When I think of education, naturally I think of my own experiences while in school. Going to elementary school in the 90s and early 2000's definitely did not mean being able to connect with a classroom in a foreign country. Instead, the only cultural diversity teaching I had was reading articles and watching edited videos that showcased different cultures. In my opinion, that isn't really a fair way to learn about the world and it's people. How authentic is reading an article full of facts, or watching a video that has been edited to show only certain aspects of people?

These days global education is a completely different ball game. There are countless programs that let you connect with foreign classrooms LIVE! Wow! The best way to learn about other people is to actually get to know them "unedited" so to speak. As an example I will use the Flat Classroom Project. This project is a program that allows students to connect with other students around the globe to create a project based on the work of Thomas Friedman. Friedman wrote a book called The World Is Flat, here is a video of a lecture he gave about this idea that the world is flat.

As a future teacher, all this talk about global education seems extremely overwhelming. I keep asking myself "how am I going to implement this kind of stuff?" or "How am I going to keep up with the changes in education?" It's important to remember that the teacher is also a learner. If you truly want to give your students a first rate education, then topics like global education are the topics to keep up with. It's so easy to find another teacher to connect with. Do yourself and your students a favor and set up authentic learning experiences with global learning in mind. It definitely has a positive effect on education. We CAN live as one world, we just have to take advantage of our resources to connect and get it done!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Help Our Veterans! Middle JAAR Lesson

The Middle JAAR gave their today in Classroom Computer Applications. They introduced us to a new program called PicMonkey, which is like a cooler version of Picnik. I learned how to use PicMonkey while creating a poster to raise awareness for unprivileged veterans. My poster describes a program called Stand Down, which helps veterans who need food, clothing, or housing. I found this program on the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website. If you have a Stand Down event coming up near you, my poster will tell you how to get the information on the website.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Using Podcasts to Spread the Gift of Kind Words

I believe in the power of words. Words can build up, or they can tear down. They can be used to spread kindness, or used as a tool to destroy. I'd like to make the claim that words are meant to build. Build relationships, personal character, and even a future. Words can be used to make a difference. Even the smallest difference matters; like making someone's day by complimenting something about their appearance for example. As humans, we want to be acknowledged. We need to feel noticed, or else we feel like we don't matter. My team has worked hard throughout the semester to base our projects on the foundational idea that everyone matters. Wouldn't you know it, kind words are the most influential and empowering way to get everyone knowing how much they matter. Not to mention, words are the most cost-effective method as well!!

Angela Maiers is a huge advocate for the You Matter campaign. She is such an inspiration to anyone who follows her work. I stumbled upon Anglea's Ted Talk video called "You Matter" last year, and it literally gave me a new perspective. Her words were so real to me; they were speaking directly to my heart. For the days to follow, I would go out of my way to let my loved ones know how much they mattered to me. This caused a huge turn-around in many of my personal  relationships. I was so inspired by what Angela was saying in her video that I began thinking hard about what the words "you matter" really look like in our everyday lives.

When my team was asked to create a podcast, we thought that Angela's idea of You Matter would be perfect! We spent some time researching a little more about Angela Maiers and her work, and decided to use her as our inspiration! Kind words are the best way to show someone they matter.We didn't quite know how to organize our podcast, but we knew we wanted to keep the entire thing positive. We didn't want to talk about the negative effects of words, but instead focused solely on the positive effects. What we came up with was extremely powerful. Maybe it's due to the fact that by completing this podcast I was required to reflect on my own experiences with kind words, but this podcast refocused my mind on the idea that everyone matters. These days, I am back to letting my loved ones know that I love them every single day.

As someone who grew up being bullied at school, I've experienced how harmful words can be. Words can change someone's life. They can be the difference between happiness and depression, and in some extreme cases, between life and death. When used kindly, words can accomplish so much. These days, I look at words as gifts. They aren't things that we are forced to give, and we have the freedom to say whatever we want to say and when we want to say it. For most, giving the gift of kind words to people we love comes naturally, and somewhat easily. However, giving words of kindness to strangers might be a little more difficult. I want to challenge all of you to say something encouraging to a stranger today. Think of how words have made you feel, which emotion do you prefer? Build someone's day, don't destroy it. Choose your words carefully and kindly.

The other day, I was in Cup of Joe in Cedar Falls and I had the urge to let the manager know how much I loved this coffee shop. I also let her know how much I would miss it when I graduated. I wanted her to know how much I loved the atmosphere of their place, and the look on her face was priceless. I had just made her night. It seemed to be exactly what she needed to hear. Because of speaking a few kind and easy words I was able to make someone's entire night fill with joy. It was very powerful!

Change the world by giving your words! Remember, the best way to make your day, is to make someone else's!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Using Online Collaborative Tools

Early in the semester my group in Classroom Computer Applications had the assignment of creating a survey to gather data. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, come to find out maybe not. Dr. Z had a challenge in store for us. We weren't allowed to speak to each other in person. Everything had to be done thorough online collaboration. How in the heck can we get this whole thing done without being able to, you know, talk to each other?! Come to find out it wasn't as hard as it seemed. In fact, it was pretty simple.

I don't think people realize how much they use the internet to collaborate. As a student at UNI, I use eLearning  (a form of Blackboard learning) as a form of collaboration with majority of my professors. This is where they post my grades, and give me feedback. I also use Twitter and Facebook to get feedback from my friends and family. I'm simply saying that online collaboration is something that majority of Americans have experienced somehow. After realizing how often I already collaborate online this assignment didn't seem so difficult after all.

My group chose to use Google Docs as our main form of communication. It took some getting used to at first while sitting next to each other "chatting" on a Google Doc. I'll admit it felt a little strange, but the more we did it the less weird it felt. It just began to feel normal. It's something that I already did on a daily basis, just not in a classroom setting, or using Google Doc. One critique I had from our method was the use of Google Docs. While I think Google Docs is a fantastic tool, it just didn't work for me for this particular use. It's not really meant for instant messaging. Instead, it's use it better served when each member can edit at different times. I'm the kind of person who likes to have things in order......... very neatly. So, you can imagine how the circus on our Google Doc made me feel. Everyone a different color, a different font, a different size. AHHH! Disaster!!! In the end though, it all worked out and we produced a pretty great project.

Some other ideas for online collaboration could be AIM, Facebook Chat, Skype, ooVoo, or Google Chat. For conversations I would just suggest something that is more friendly to instant messaging. Google Docs is best used for collaborative work on a script, or paper!

Anyways, I hope I helped all my readers realize that online collaboration really isn't all that scary, and it's a pretty useful tool. Besides, odds are you're already doing it one way or another!

As I was writing this blog post, I wondered what kinds of things I could learn about online collaboration. So, since Google and YouTube can pretty much teach me anything I need to know I decided to type 'online collaboration' into YouTube. This is one of the first videos that came up. It's amazing what online collaboration can do! Check it out!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Team Workin' On It's Playground!!

Team Workin' On It's Playground!!:

3D model by
This is our 3D model of a playground. We used Google Sketch Up. It was really neat and fun to use! At first I experienced quite a bit of frustration while using this tool, but overall I think it is awesome software! I thought that this group did a great job teaching this PBL activity. I understood that they wanted us to find a way to design a boundless playground. I thought the use of Google Sketch Pad was a really fresh and innovative idea! I could see myself using this in my classroom someday for projects in Science or Social Studies.

Boundless Playgrounds are necessary in today's world. There needs to be more like them around!

Lincoln Elementary Visit

Photo from personal collection
It's been a while since my Classroom Computer Applications class took a visit to Lincoln Elementary in Cedar Falls. However, the school is definitely unforgettable. It was such a breath of fresh air to see of the amazing things this school is doing with technology. I was completely blown away! Lincoln Elementary is the type of school I want to teach at someday. The teachers all work together, the school climate is unique and welcoming, and the administration and media specialist push the use of technology. Every classroom I went into had some type of technology being used for learning. The greatest part about this experience was noticing the students' reaction to using the technology. In reality, there wasn't really a "reaction" because they were so used to using technology. Students were using Mimio Boards, iPod touches, and PC computers. What was even more astonishing is the students already knew how to use these tools. This proves that motivation is high when cool and new technology is being used freely. Today's students are using technology at home, so why shouldn't they use it at school, too?

Photo from personal collection
The Mimio Boards seemed to be really similar to a Promethean Board, but for a fraction of the cost. The students were able to use this technology freely, and confidently. They knew what they were doing, and it was evident that they were learning. Before this visit I had never heard of Mimio, but it really seemed to be working well for the teachers and students at Lincoln. You can see that the Mimio Board uses the classroom white board and a small magnetic bar (see left) to display the content. The interaction features are remarkable, and the students love working with it. There is, however, a special Mimio pen that must be used to work with it. There are also a lot of websites that offer lesson plan ideas for the Mimio Board!
Photo from personal collection
If I had the chance to go back and spend more time at Lincoln Elementary I definitely would! There is so much to be learned from this school. I believe we need more schools like this one. I am really happy I had the privilege of visiting this school! A special shout out to the Media Specialist for showing us around!!