Tech share: a few quick ideas for your classroom

IMG_5107Through the generous support of the Rowland Foundation, I was able to attend the annual Future of Education Technology (FETC) conference in Orlando, Florida last week.  In a word, HUGE.  Everything about that conference is huge.  True, this is coming from a Vermont girl, but on day one, when I had to walk from the south concourse to the north to check out a second workshop, it was literally a mile and a half.  I saw a Segway at one point and thought, “are you kidding me?”  By the time I reached my destination however, I completely understood.

 

The good thing about huge is that there were a ton of great resources, and I’d like to share a few tools that may help to make your life easier, make your teaching better, and might even inspire you.

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Adam Bellow introducing Tech Share.  Check out his “Buddy, I’m Good” parody on tech overload.

Adam Bellow absolutely lit up the place, along with Kathy Schrock, Hall Davidson, and Leslie Fischer in their Tech Share.  It was rapid fire tech gadgets and tools thrown out by these four tech gurus.  Here are a couple that I’d revisit:

Google Tone: a Chrome extension that allows you to push out a URL to students in your classroom.  Maybe you’re playing a game and need them to check out a site; try this instead of a QR code.

Polaroid camera: If you’re old enough to remember the Polaroid cameras of a few decades ago, this is the updated version and equally cool.  Snap and print instantly.  I remember it being a bit pricey, and this version is no different at $200 for the camera, SD card, and 30 sheets of photo paper on Amazon.  It might be a great Donors Choose request, though.  I’m seeing instant photos of students’ aha moments to share with parents, to document project work, to create an art installation in the hallway…

Raspberry Pi Zero: A five-dollar computer?  For real?  For real.  For $300, you can spring for the full-on machine, but five bucks is a great way to get started.  Makerspaces and code clubs, take note!

Breakout Edu:  I have heard so much about this game platform in the last month, and it looks absolutely amazing.  Open sourced, you can create the kit on your own or order one from the makers themselves.  I love the idea of Escape Rooms, and so do a million other people who are out there participating in them, and this game platform brings the concept to the classroom.  FUN!  I can’t say enough how excited I am to get my kit in the mail.  Yes, I might have ordered one as soon as I returned home from FETC.  Maybe you should, too.

Smarty Pins: I am excited about the possibilities of this game not just for geography’s sake, but for my own game-making interests.  The tagline is “putting trivia on the map,” which is exactly what they do.  Random facts about the origins of history, people, places, etc. are presented for you to nail down on the map.  I can see all kinds of ways to integrate this into classroom challenges, connecting it easily with readings about authors, events, history, etc.  Their snarky responses when you miss an answer are good fun, too.  Not that I missed any.  Ever.

Keynote tools:  Adam Bellow does all of his presentations on this platform.  He shared two of the tools he uses most often: Magic Move and Instant Alpha.  Magic Move is a transition tool that makes it look like an image on one slide is moving onto the next.  Instant Alpha is a tool that allows you to remove the background from any image you want to use.  Bellow usually posts his presentations on You Tube after he’s given them, so I’ll link it here when it’s available.

LMGTFY: “Snarky” might be Leslie Fischer’s middle name, and it works well for her.  She had a slew of useful ideas to share, but I had to mention the one that allows you to have a little fun with people.  As educators, we know that there are no stupid questions, but when you are out of the classroom and someone asks you a question that seems a bit too obvious, head to this website and type it in.  Hand your device to the question asker.  And smile.

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Sean McComb reminded us of this important fact.

FETC hosted some incredible speakers (Sean McComb and Leland Melvin–two fantastic storytellers–were a joy) and a plethora of resources.  I was completely saturated by Friday night, but I left inspired and excited about possibilities.  I also came away with an honest appreciation for the amazing things happening at my school every day, and the innovation happening just down the halls by people like Whitney Kaulbach, Marc Gilbertson, Chris Bologna, Patrick LaClair, and Katie Bryant.  There were some incredible people at FETC, but our little Vermont school has some amazing human resources as well.  Here’s to finding and knowing those in your school.

 

Love affair with design: Blue School in NYC

Blue School - 7I may want to live at the Blue School.  It’s only a slight exaggeration, but let me tell you a bit about what’s so beautiful there, and some ideas you might adapt to your own teaching space.

You may have heard of the Blue Man Group–that cyclone of creativity started in the early nineties.  Their mission to inspire creativity in a respectful environment fit perfectly into the realm of education, and in 2006, they set out on their journey with a parent-run playgroup.  As I write this, they are looking to expand their program next year through eighth grade.  Incredible success in just a decade.

What makes their school so amazing?  This is just one small-town Vermont educator’s opinion, but here is what caught my eye.  First, their space is amazing.  That design I found so beautiful at the Alt School is on steroids at Blue School.  The blue/white color scheme shouldn’t be a surprise; it is, after all, the Blue School, and they embrace circular shapes and airiness as a mainstay.  Circular windows invite light into classroom Blue School - 8doors, circular cubbies house little shoes (and the detritus of parents in this photo), and rolls of colored tape line a section of a maker-space wall.  The font they’ve chosen has a circular quality to it.  It gave me the feeling of continuity–like they are really going somewhere.

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Check out this maker space wall.  It’s begging you to play, right?

And that’s part of what is so great about this school.  Whether the students are 2’s or in middle school, they are respected for exactly what they bring to the table as well as for their potential.  It was a strong reminder to remember that every student comes to school with his/her own unique strengths, and what Blue School does well is celebrate them from the start.  In fact, black and white portraits line the halls next to each classroom door with students’ names and 4-5 adjectives supplied by parents at the start of the year.  What a beautiful way to adorn the halls, introduce students to one another, and set the stage for a place of learning that values everyone’s individuality.  The portraits remain

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Headshots for students.  So New York, right?

there for the year, I believe, and both teachers and students alike can
observe how those adjectives change and grow as their students do.

Time and again, I saw interesting ways to display student work in teachers’ classrooms.  A few ideas for displaying your students’ work in a beautiful, and therefore respectful, manner:

  • find yourself a 3-4 foot piece of relatively narrow driftwood (or grab something from out back in the woods), and suspend it from your tile ceiling with fishing wire.  Wrap fishing line around the driftwood; tie it to binder clips, and use those clips to display work.
  •  colored masking tape is an awesome way to frame student work.  use the tape to adhere it right to those concrete walls or columns outside your classroom.
  • string a line of yarn across a bulletin board and use those binder clips to showcase students’ creations.

I have just a few more things to rave about in terms of the space, and I’ll post again soon about their approach to learning–another equally cool venture steeped in project-based learning.  When you enter the Blue School, the small lobby is unpretentious, but two simple pieces of art caught my eye.  The first was their name–painted on the wall in those big, white circular letters–big and prominent to greet all who enter.  Blue School - 1 (1)The idea of murals on walls has great appeal for me, but the simplicity of the name of your school, placed dead center as you enter the doors really sets the stage.  Thoughts of student art contests to create designs brew in my mind.

Lastly, high up on a wall to the right of the entrance hangs a large poster full of brainstormed scribbles.  Upon further inspection, it reveals itself as a poster of values–words written by students and staff about what students do at the Blue School.  That’s a nice idea in itself, but they took it up a notch by creating word art out of some of those words–literally bending wire into words and suspending them from the ceiling to hang in front of the brainstorm as highlights.  My photo doesn’t capture it all that well, but I hope it provides enough of an idea to inspire your own version. Blue School - 1 (2)

At just under $40k to attend the Blue School kindergarten through middle school, this beauty comes with a hefty price tag.  But there are many takeaways from a design standpoint that can be adapted to just about any public school room.  It is clear that the Blue School respects its students not only by providing them with a beautiful space in which to learn, but also by highlighting their learning in creative and beautiful ways.  Blue School - 6