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Dec 12 14

Away Team

by Alfonso Gonzalez


Here’s the next installment in the continuing Voyage of the Starship Equinox (the QR code is clickable):

Dec 12 14

Hour of Code Week #HourofCode

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

This week I had all my 6th grade classes try their hand at coding and programming using the great Hour of Code resources. I could have just pointed kids to the part of the Hour Code website with all the tutorials but I decided to make myself an account and add all my 80 students from my three classes.

Had I just let students loose on the tutorials they could have taken it from there. A computer lab or even using our old 1st Gen iPads, iPad 2s, netbooks, laptops and old iMacs would have worked fine. It took a little more preparation on my part to manage all my students’ accounts but I think it was worth it. Here’s their educator resources.

Since I already have all their names on a CSV file, I just copied and pasted whole class lists to my Code.Org teacher account. Then I printed and cut out card sized account links and passwords for each student. They went to the link for their class, clicked on their name from a list with everyone’s name and put in their secret words to log in (I did that because I didn’t want to have to use student emails, which would have made accounts for students where they got to choose their own passwords).

Through my teacher dashboard I can manage all the student accounts and see their progress so I can tell how well they enjoyed their coding practice and exploration. I did a bunch of the tutorials myself and they were fun. It seemed a lot like Scratch, the way you setup the code to move characters around. You also have a choice at the end of each puzzle to see the actual javascript code, which I thought was way cool. Kids were having fun, they were practicing coding, and problem-solving and learning about providing specific directions to get their characters to where they wanted. Every student who has tried their hand at the coding activities has liked it, been engaged and enjoying it!

[Added this after the first draft of this post.] With regards to the teacher dashboard and the student accounts I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong but lately students have been complaining that they do the puzzles and their account does not show them as being done. I check on my dashboard and there also it doesn’t show as done. I have a test student account that I’m using, I always create myself a test student account so I can use it as a student will, and I’m having the same issue of completed puzzles not showing as completed. That has been a disappointment because that’s why I setup the accounts in the first place! My backup plan has been to see the students certificates of completion. They get that after completing a set of puzzles for the different tutorials. There are tutorials for all age levels it seems. I tried one that was too easy and the kids pointed out that it was an 8 year old plus tutorial. :)

All in all, Hour of Code week this year, my first, was a great experience and fun for us. :)

Dec 11 14

Relationships or Taskmaster

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

I struggle with this every, single year. The balance between being a taskmaster and building relationships with students. One way to think of classroom management, according to Lee Canter (Assertive Discipline) is that dealing with kids is like working with your bank account. Building relationships with kids can be seen as depositing money into your bank account. When you need to redirect a kid, or ask a kid to do something he or she doesn’t want to do, or if you need to have a negative interaction, you are making a withdrawal from your bank account. With most kids we can redirect and still have a positive balance, especially if the relationships are positive to begin with you will always have plenty in the bank to draw from if you ever need it. As long as there is a balance in your back account, the interaction with the student will work and remain a positive relationship. Funny thing (funny, no, that doesn’t really fit but I can’t think of a better way of starting this sentence) is that the ones that have the most money to draw from are the ones that you rarely need to make a withdrawal!

Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

But what about those kids who need more redirection? You have to be careful because making a withdrawal when you have no money in your bank account leads to trouble. For these kids you need to make withdrawals more often and they have the least money in their accounts. The idea here is to build relationships with these kids too so that you have enough money to draw from when you need to redirect or ask them to do things they’d rather not do. The trick is knowing how much to deposit and whether or not it’s there when you need to withdraw it. Once you’re in a negative balance either the student will not comply with your requests or your relationship will be damaged. Making more deposits may become more difficult if you let your balance go into the negative too often.

I find my interactions with students to be positive for the most part. Sure there are times when I redirect if I feel kids are socializing too much or doing things that are not appropriate for a Science classroom full of young people. For the most part, those redirections work just fine. I have money in the accounts to draw from. With some students the redirection becomes a balancing act. How do I know when I’ve tried to withdraw too much? In other words, how much can I ask of a student, how much can I prod and ask for work or different, more appropriate behavior for our space and time before he or she has had enough? That is the balancing act that happens for teachers all the time. We ask a student to get back on task, to stop throwing the ball in class, to stop annoying her teammates, to clean up her mess, etc and if she doesn’t we might ask what’s wrong or why not or we might just ask her to change her behavior again. Sometimes that’s okay. I’ve withdrawn just enough and the student changes her behavior and may even get back to work and learn something. Sometimes I will withdraw too much and the student shuts down or gets angry.

Right on the spot we try to deposit some funds into that bank account! How can I help? What can I do? What’s wrong? I try to see how I can help the student. Always the balancing act of how much can I ask of my students before I reach the limit and have withdrawn just enough. It’s much easier to build relationships, or make deposits. I listen as my students tell me about their day. I tell them about my day. We just chat sometimes and laugh together and genuinely enjoy each other. At that point I walk away and check in with other students. But eventually I have to come back and notice that no work is getting done or that some behavior really isn’t appropriate for our time and space. Then what? Do I withdraw what I just deposited?

So I wonder everyday, during every class, how much do I build relationships and how much do I keep my students on task? It’s a balancing act and sometimes I withdraw just the right amount, and some days I try to withdraw too much. Then I have to make sure to deposit some money before I make my next withdrawal.

How much do you build relationships versus keep kids on task? And do the new standards and high stakes tests make you feel guilty when you do spend time building relationships?

Dec 10 14

Navigating Systems for Students

by Alfonso Gonzalez

This past May and just recently in November I was fortunate to be able to present a session at two wonderful leadership conferences for newly certified National Board Certified Teachers or NBCTs. Washington state’s Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession or CSTP invited me to show some of the ways that I was sharing what was going on in my classroom to help those who make policy for education, but don’t work directly with kids, understand what goes on in a classroom. I also shared ways that I have been able to get funding for my students to do Science.

The title chosen for my presentation was Navigating the Systems of STEM. It took a while for that to grow on me and now I think it’s a pretty good title for what I shared. The only part that isn’t quite so accurate is the STEM part because the ideas I share can be used by anyone, in any subject area and/or grade level. So really the STEM should be SHTEAM (adding Humanities and the Arts).

Here’s the presentation I created with links and resources I shared:

Dec 9 14

Rule Out the Klingons?

by Alfonso Gonzalez

star-trek_communique Our class ship, the USS Equinox, was dispatched to investigate the mystery of the destruction of the Bombay when they discovered another destroyed ship, the Tholian Aen’q Tholis. Unlike the Bombay, the Aen’q Tholis was destroyed by what appears to be phaser fire from another starship. Whatever destroyed the Bombay was not responsible for destroying the Aen’q Tholis. The question the crew of the Equinox has is whether or not the destruction of the Aen’q Tholis and the destruction of the Bombay are related in any way?

The only starships near the Aen’q Tholis belonged to the Klingon Empire so Ambassador Jetanien, back at Starbase 47, is questioning the Klingon Ambassador to determine if the Klingons had anything to do with the Aen’q Tholis’s destruction.

To find out what happens next, students found this QR code in the classroom (it is a clickable link for those who are viewing it on the device they use to scan QR codes):

To figure what to do next, students also found this QR code in class the day after finding the above code (also clickable):

Dec 8 14

Personalized Learning

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I found this cool infographic on personalized learning:
Personalizing Learning Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Nov 17 14

Text-Dependent Questions #ccss #ngss

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I read this article in the Instructional Leader on Text-Dependent Questions. As part of the WA STEM PD grant that my school got we are working in our grade level PLC (Professional Learning Community) for one cycle followed by departmental PLC. There’s a different dynamic to PLC work when you meet with your grade level PLC than when you work with your Science PLC. In a grade level PLC we have the same kids but one of us teaches Humanities (Language Arts/English and Social Studies), one of us teaches Math, and I teach Science. I can share parts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are cross cutting with the Common Core (CCSS). Text-Dependent Questions (TDQs) is one such concept that does not depend on subject matter. We can ask TDQ’s in any subject area since it’s all about asking good questions that come from a particular text.

I took the image from the article and embedded links to the explanations of the different types of TDQs for easy reference. I created the embedded links with imagespike and just made webpages of the written descriptions. Just click on the circle thingy near each TDQ type to get the explanation.

I wanted an easy way to remind myself when I forget. Maybe someone else will find this useful.

Nov 14 14

PBIS & Acknowledging Students

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

I had a most enlightening conversation with my advisory group about rewarding, I mean acknowledging, students. Our school is now a PBIS school and part of our efforts to reward positive behavior includes teachers giving slips of paper to students when we catch them engaging in positive behaviors. The slips of paper have the traits we are focusing on this year written on them. Traits such as cooperation, patience, and perseverance are what we as teachers are supposed to notice our students doing then hand a slip of paper to say thanks.

That is difficult for me. I struggle with rewarding students for what they naturally do or what they should be doing anyway. It’s like saying you should get rewarded for being a good person instead of just being a good person. There is another way to see it though. I’ve been trying to shift my thinking to seeing it as acknowledging instead of rewarding hoping there’s a difference (see this post).

I got my advisory group to film short skits demonstrating the behaviors that show the traits so that teachers and students could see examples of what to look for when deciding on whom to give the slips. A few students had mentioned that they often demonstrate the behaviors and have yet to get a slip. They really want to get a slip because if you sign it and turn it in to the office you get selected to win a pizza lunch for you and a friend, or to be principal for a day, or some other wonderful prize. If I was uncomfortable with giving away rewards, I mean acknowledgements, this makes me even more uneasy.

I had an idea and was sure that it was brilliant when I read about it in a couple of the blogs I regularly read. Since it’s so difficult for me to hand out those slips of paper acknowledging students for demonstrating the traits of the month why couldn’t my students hand them out? They see way more of what goes on in school than I do.

I shared my idea with my advisory group that meets on Thursday for half an hour. That group is made up of 6th, 7th and 8th graders and we discuss school climate, among other things, get to know each other, and prepare for student-led conferences in the spring. I was totally unprepared for their reaction. While a few of the 18 kids thought it was a good idea and were on board to choose a slip to hand out many of them thought it was a bad idea.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we could cheat,” was a common concern.

Some thought that kids would just give the slips to their friends. They also thought the slips would be given to friends without the friends actually earning the slip. Then they thought, “what if someone just makes copies of them and either gives them away or sells them!” I have to admit, they made really good points. I tabled the idea until, or when, they bring it up again.

I totally did not expect any of that. I thought they would all love the chance at being able to acknowledge their peers and give slips to those who are missed by teachers yet doing the right thing. I’m still shocked that it turned out the way it did. Here I thought I was going to do something different and help more students get acknowledged and empowered and instead they thought it was a bad idea.

Nov 13 14

Literacy with WoW

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After last year’s failed attempt at using World of Warcraft in Science to have students learn about classifying living things I finally get a chance to try using World of Warcraft to explore the journey of a hero! I thought the Science angle was a good idea but my 8th graders didn’t really take to it. They really enjoyed playing WoW but when it came time to do the Science part, very few of them actually did it.

This year I’m taking my three 6th grade classes for one quarter each on a journey of a hero. Using the WoWinSchools curriculum, minus the reading of the Hobbit, 6th graders will take part in a grand adventure instead of just reading about it. They get to be the hero and make choices instead of reading about the hero’s journey. Thanks to the incredible work of Lucas Gillispie, Craig Lawson (authors of WoWinSchool) and Peggy Sheehy I have the full curriculum on 3D GameLab! I modified the curriculum for a 9 week quarter by leaving out the reading of the Hobbit entirely. I think that there’s plenty of reading and storyline in the game itself. We’re able to play such a pricey game because I’m having students use the trial version for free. That free trial comes with several limits. We can only reach level 20, we can’t use the chat, we can’t use the auction house, and we can only have 10 gold maximum. I’m sure there’s more but we’ll discover them when we start playing.

My 6th graders will be carrying online discussions here and blogging/journaling about their hero’s journey here. This is the presentation I shared at the beginning of the course:

Here’s the information I sent home to parents:

Here’s to having a much better Game-Based Learning experience this time!

Nov 12 14

Following an Energy Trail

by Alfonso Gonzalez

star-trek_communiqueThe crew of the Starship Equinox had to decide whether or not to follow the energy trail from the massive weapon that destroyed the Bombay. After a quick deliberation they recommended to the Captain that he follow the energy trail back to its source to see if they could find what can wield such power.

This was the next segment in the ongoing story of the Chimacum Middle School 6th grade Room 410 Voyages of the Starship Equinox.

Here’s the code that appeared in the classroom for students to scan. (If you can’t scan the QR code, because it’s on your phone, just click on the QR code image):

I also included this as an idea of Star Trek team jobs (I fudged the colors, they are a mix of the original series – TOS – and the Next Generation):

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