Why I want to sing with Mr. Jimmy Fallon and The Roots

The other day, I saw Mr. Jimmy Fallon and The Roots singing with the talented Ms. Idina Menzel on Youtube. I posted this on my Facebook status page.

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The next day, I shared my dream with my students. Hearing my enthusiastic declaration, one of my students asked me why I would want to do it. Here were my reasons.

1. Importance of Collaboration

Just by situating himself with a talented group of musicians, Mr. Fallon is expressing the power of collaboration. He invites famous singers into his domain without making them the focal point. Rather than putting on a concert by one, he and his “friends” make beautiful music together. Mr. Fallon is showing his audience how much more fun we can have when we work with others.

2. Importance of Music and Art in the Classroom

Mr. Fallon sings with various musical instruments that can be found in any elementary classroom. By doing so, he is showing the importance of keeping music in our classrooms. With his actions, he is arguing for more music and art in the classrooms. He is clearly using his influence for good.

3. Importance of Having Clean Fun

Often times, the contrasts evident in his videos are the source of fun. By not allowing his guests to take themselves too seriously yet demonstrating the serious talent he and The Roots posses, Mr. Fallon expresses the art of understated sophistication. I often tell my students that one can’t be funny without being exceedingly clever. Mr. Fallon shows how to be light-hearted without degrading himself or his guests. With his fun personality, he shows how to have fun without being vulgar and cruel.

4. Support for Teachers

Most importantly, because he uses what is available in the actual classroom, he is showing tremendous support for teachers. He reminds the public that teachers with limited resources are making beautiful music both with and for our children as was illustrated in this video below.

So how can I not want to be a part of that? I hope someday I will become important and famous enough for Mr. Fallon to invite me to sing with him. If not, maybe he should just do it because he is a nice guy. I can always dream, right?

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Lego Mindstorms Project

A few weeks back, a STEM Outreach Coordinator from Taft College contacted me to see about collaborating with the Coding Club. She brought 24 tubs of Lego Mindstorms NXT and 10 Macbook Pros for my students to use. She also supplied a 10-week curriculum for my students to work on.

After much negotiations, we launched the program on February 21st, 2014. And here are my observations so far.

Lego Mindstorms Robots and MacbookPro Computers

Lego Mindstorms Robots and MacbookPro Computers

Challenges of Sustaining the Club

Even though the Coding Club has been one of the most successful clubs on campus, after our highly successful Hour of Coding event some students began to lose interest. It was partly because of the huge gap between the meetings. Immediately after the Hour of Code event, we were on Winter Break for two weeks. Then I was not in town for two weekends in a row because of my classes and a conference. To make matters worse, we had several Monday holidays in January and February, which made holding the club meetings difficult since they are usually on Mondays.

Furthermore, students were advancing quicker than I could financially support them. They wanted to create complex projects using several Arduino boards and LEDs that required more supplies, which I simply couldn’t afford. This created a huge challenge for the club.

Even though I had all the free tools available, without hands-on projects for the students to work on, learning to code became another “class” for them to manage rather than a meaningful learning experience. Being contacted by Taft college, therefore, was the lucky break that I desperately needed.

Why Lego Mindstorms

On February 21st, 2014, my supplies arrived. It has only been two weeks since we began, but I am seeing amazing things happen.

Students working on Lego Mindstorms

Students working on Lego Mindstorms

1. Name Recognition

Once I began advertising to the student about using Lego Mindstorms robots, I had several new students. They all cited wanting to work with Legos as their reason for wanting to participate. Clearly, the name recognition was working in my favor. Even though a few students have never worked with Legos, they all knew and have heard of them. Because of its reputation and ease of use, Lego Mindstorms provided an edge that neither e-textiles nor Arduino boards had over my students.

2. Practical Challenges that Encourages Students to Play

Rather than simply interacting with a screen, the students must manipulate the materials while working with these robots, which can be programmed to sing, talk, and even “dance.” Although many students are following the designated curriculum, I noticed them simply “playing” with the robot before moving onto the next challenge. One student programmed for his robot to “sing” before turning; another student programmed the robot to flash lights after completing three weeks worth of challenges ahead of everyone else. Because of its reputation as a toy, these robots seem to bring out the playfulness in my students in addition to teaching them engineering and programming skills.

3. Collaborative Learning

While working on the robots, my students constantly communicate with one another. Many of them opted to work in pairs partly because we don’t have enough robots, but partly because they wanted to work with a partner. Even though I tried to encourage them to work in groups, it was not possible while they were strictly learning to program using only the digital tools. I can see that working with these robots facilitates a fantastic social learning environment. It is equally fascinating to see a certain order of information sharing happening in the classroom. I noticed that my struggling students naturally gravitated towards others who already advanced to the next step to get information and guidance, and then passed the information onto others who were still struggling to accomplish the next task.

4. Positive Competition

Since I am aware of the benefits of what Gabe Zimmerman calls the 3-Fs, – Fun, Friends, and Feedback – of game-based learning, I decided to create a “Leader Board” to keep track of my students progress before the project began. I create an area on my board where a student could put an orange star his or her name after accomplishing each task. Seeing others receive stars has done wonders for some students. This became evident when I took a picture of the board to be included in this post. A student said, “Wait, Mrs. Glazer! We are almost done. Please take the picture after we put our star up!”

 5. Rewards for Effort

Since all activities are voluntary and being done after school, some students elected to attend more meetings than others. One such student is a freshman who has spent additional hours during lunch and after school. Even though he is one of the youngest ones in the club, he has accomplished more tasks than any of the other members because he spent the most time on his project. As a result, he has become an informal leader of the group, which has been a great experience for him.

6. Grit

Although these Lego robots can do amazing things, they are also extremely flimsy. My students are having a hard time controlling the robots because all parts are made of plastic. Some of my students have been stuck on a particular challenge not because they didn’t know how to program or construct their robots, but because the back wheel keeps coming off. However, I could tell this has taught them to persevere. Just today, I watched two boys attempting to control their robots while crawling on the floor for nearly an hour. Their robots kept moving out of bounds, which happened at least 15 times, but they kept trying to get it right.

7. Increased Student Engagement

Most importantly, this project has my students’ full attention. Since we began, I have been asked pretty much everyday if I was going to be in my room during lunch and after school. Even though we are only supposed to meet one hour after school on Thursdays and two hours on Saturdays, I had to stay until 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 6th, 2 1/2 hours after school ended. That doesn’t include 1 1/2 hours I stayed after school on Monday, March 3rd, 2 hours on Tuesday, March 4th, and 2 hours on Wednesday, March 5th. Furthermore, students asked if I could stay after school on Friday, and they said they definitely wanted to come at 9 a.m. on Saturday not the normal 10 a.m., so they could spend more time with the robots. Of course, not everyone is coming to every meeting. But at any give day, at any given day I have 3-4 students working on their robots after school.

It has only been two weeks, but I am thrilled to have the Lego Mindstorms robots. I can see how much my students are learning to problem solve and work collaboratively. I am certain that they are learning additional computational thinking skills such as problem solving and programming. They are certainly engaged and focused. I can’t wait to see what my students will do next!

CATE 2014 Conference Reflection

This past weekend, I spent some time at the 2014 CATE Conference. Last time I attended the CATE Conference, Billy Collins read his poems during one of the dinner sessions. I learned so much from other teachers. I felt rejuvenated and excited.

I was also just beginning my doctoral program, and I made a few suggestions as to what the organization could do leverage social media and technology. I had lots of great conversations with key people, and I left feeling pretty good about it.

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Two years later, I was back to do a presentation on game-based learning. I was just as excited to be with fellow teachers who are passionate about education. However, I realize not much has changed in terms of technology. It was still a great conference, but I thought a few things could make this conference that much better next year.

Integrating Social Media

During the registration, I asked what the official #hashtag for the conference was. CATE didn’t have one. Of course, the participants were tweeting about the conference regardless. I suggest that the conference takes charge of their brand by leveraging all forms of social media during the conference, especially Twitter. It will be simple to add the hashtags to the program, and encourage the conference attendees to use them. It should also consider having the Twitter feed during all the main sessions, so that the speaker can interact with the audience.

Intergrating More Technology

I suggest CATE create a place for the presenters and the participants to upload all the presentation materials.  It surprised me that it did not already have such a space. It will be as simple as setting up a Dropbox or even Google Drive. I also suggest that the conference considers doing live streaming and/or recording of the sessions for future use. Of course, this will require the presenters’ consent. But starting with a few and expanding to offer additional webinar could be beneficial in continuing its legacy of excellence. This will also bring in new members into the fold.

Intergrating Hands-on Sessions and Diversifying Session Formats

I suggest CATE diversify the session formats and reduce the number of session per time slot. I also suggest adding hands-on sessions where teachers can demonstrate their lesson techniques and help others to create lessons that can use when they return to their classrooms. Rather than offering 8-10 lecture-style sessions, CATE could offer 4 -5 sessions, and give the presenters opportunities to participate in  a poster session or to ignite talks. This will draw younger teachers or college students who might not be ready to present in a typical one hour and fifteen minute sessions but still want to present at the conference. I also suggest creating a better mechanism for selecting the presentation. I say that because I did not have to submit any sample work for my presentation. Although I think my presentation was excellent, I am not sure whether the committee would have thought that without seeing my work prior to the conference.

Conference Proceedings Publication

Finally, CATE with its existing literary magazine should consider working with teachers to publish conference proceedings as other major conferences typically do. I suggest CATE does this online. I believe this will serve two purposes. First, this will naturally facilitate deeper theoretical and pedagogical discussions among all participants. Second, this will provide opportunities for teachers aspiring to become researcher-scholars, which is one of the organization’s missions.

I think that CATE is a wonderful organization, dedicated to improving the lives of English teachers. Every time I attend the conference, I am struck by how amazing and hardworking all the teachers really are. I hope to contribute to this organization in a meaningful way by doing more presentations and providing suggestions. As a technology doctoral student, I want to help the organization leverage many available resources. I can’t wait to go back to the next year’s conference and many conferences to come! Teaching English is not easy, and we really need each other.

California League of Schools Conference in Monterey

Although I didn’t hear anything “new” per se from Dr. Nancy Frey’s key note speech this morning, it was a nice reminder for me to know that I am not “behind” as a practitioner. Here is her PowerPoint presentation for anyone who is interested.

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One of the issues for me personally, however, is staying current as I develop as a presenter. Of course, there is that question as to whether I want to become one or not, but that is besides the point. I would absolutely hate to speak to the participants who already know and do all the things that I am hoping to share. I am petrified at this point about what I need to add to my presentation when I go to ISTE this summer. I am hoping that it’s okay to simply remind people that they are doing well and doing things right.

Needless to say, I am getting a bit nervous about what is going to happen tomorrow during my session. Hopefully I won’t be wasting anyone’s time.

The Hour of Code Event at Independence High Scohol

The IHS Coding Club hosted the Hour of Code Event today. We had several elementary school students from the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County. I was so proud of my students who ran the event without much help from me.

I know many people consider teaching high school to be a tough job. Believe me when I tell you it can be!

However, I absolutely love my students for their amazing compassion and willingness to help others. And here are some pictures from that event.

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Daily Reflections

One of the benefits of working with high school students is all the laugh I get from them. I absolutely adore my students for making me laugh all the time. I hope you can appreciate what I mean.

I have always believed in having them reflect daily because I feel it’s something that they can really learn to do. Each year I find something interesting when I read their reflections. Surprisingly they are very honest about what I am doing in class, and I learn a lot by reading them.

And they are often hilarious as well. This year, I told one of the students to become engaged in a “dialogue” with himself. So he began writing in his reflection as such. He had the following characters set up.

Student 1 = My normal self
Student 2 = My wise self
Student 3 = My angry self
Student 4 = My critical self

And the following is an example of his reflection.

Student 1 = I told you I would get it under control
Student 4 = What about your “xyz” application?
Student 1 = Uh…darn it.
Student 2 = I’ll be fair. You have finished the rest. That is good.
Student 1 = Of course, I take my responsibilities seriously.
Student 3 = If that’s true, why did you do so poorly last quarter?
Student 1 = I’ll accept my responsibilities there; I just find this “reflection” becoming cumbersome. I understand she wants us to record our thoughts, but honestly, journals are useless to me. What purpose does this serve? I could using this time finishing more important work.
Student 2 = Technically, this is “important” work. It brought down the grade when you didn’t do it.
Student 1 = ….
Student 4 = [Sigh] Imbecile!

Mind you, I never asked him to make his reflections so complicated. I know I am being bad for laughing, but seriously, these students crack me up!!!!! And I love them.

Learning from Others

As usual, when I attend any face-to-face sessions, I am in awe of the talent present in my cadre.

Here are some pictures of the projects my classmates have created. Clearly, I do not possess their level of talent, but seeing them gave me so many ideas. I have never considered myself to be a talented maker or artist. But seeing them enjoy the debugging exercise inspired me to bring the joy to my students. The more I am doing this, the more I am convinced that my place is in the classroom, working and teaching my students. It might sound like I am taking an easy way out, but thinking about bringing this to my students excites me more than making my project work. Now I must look for ways to fund their passion!

Debugging Exercise

Debugging Exercise

Motion Detecting Music Box

Motion Detecting Music Box

Soldering

Soldering

Amazing Light-Up Painting

Amazing Light-Up Painting