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“If you can dream it, you can code it.” As I looked around the huge ballroom filled with eager educators, Hadi Partovi’s words began to energize and excite me. It also seemed Partovi’s words were having a similar effect on the overly air conditioned room, filled with over 500 teachers. Of course, it could have been the delicious spread of food in front of us, too. (The food! OMG.) As Partovi, the founder of code.org spoke, it became increasingly clear to me why we were all here. Our world needs us to engage, encourage and train students for the jobs of not just the future, the jobs of today.
Some interesting statistics about California:
There are 75,612 currently open computing jobs
The average salary for computing jobs is $110,078
Only 25% of high schools in CA offer AP Computer Science
Of those taking the AP test, most are white males
In 2016, the University of California did not graduate any teachers prepared to teach computer science.
CA has no dedicated funding for Computer Science Professional Development
As I finished my velvety chocolate cake and laughed with my cohort of Northern California area teachers, (thank you Sacramento County Office of Education for being our regional sponsor), I knew TeacherCon was going to be an intense five days of learning, discussing and practicing ways to promote and teach computer science. My last thought before falling asleep in my hotel room (alone–we didn’t even have to share rooms) was, “Why aren’t there more teachers here?”
Our first day, (after the amazing breakfast spread), we separated into middle school and high school rooms. I sat down in the Sheraton conference room in Phoenix along with middle school teachers from Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, West Virginia, the list went on. We had gathered here with a similar goal, to learn a carefully scoped and sequenced computer science curriculum.
The problem with computer science instruction, especially in middle school, is that educators traditionally have taught programs that were cobbled together, with no clear path to the AP exam or other courses in high school. The beauty of the curriculum code.org has crafted is that each unit builds on the other from Computer Science Fundamentals (elementary) Computer Science Discoveries (middle grades) to Computer Science Principles (high school). And every bit of it is FREE for teachers to use. Yes, free.
Through the course of the five days of training, we met in groups with our cohorts from high school and middle school to discuss ways to bring more computer science to our schools, but I spent the majority of time in my Northern California cohort of middle school teachers, participating as a student in model lessons, then eventually teaching a lesson alongside a smaller group of teachers. This cohort model allowed us time to really get to know each other, building relationships beyond our own classroom of teachers we could lean on throughout the school year. We will also meet four more times this year for further instruction and collaborating. Honestly, I miss those awesome educators in my cohort already!
Oh and I forgot to mention this. The entire experience was FREE. TeacherCon, put on by code.org is well backed by some serious giants: Microsoft, Amazon, Google, just to name a few. (Find the whole list here.) While I know these companies have altruistic motivations in helping move education forward, they also have a vested interest in creating a future workforce. To the donors, it is money well spent. The need for graduates who can fill jobs in the computer industry is imperative.
The good news is things are moving forward. Trish Williams, from the California Board of Education, hosted a lunch for the California educators at TeacherCon and gave us the latest scoop. My state is expected to pass California’s first ever model K12 computer science standards next month and more changes to curriculum standards are constantly being discussed. Williams assured us that she is fighting to see Computer Science education in all schools.
As Williams reiterated to us, all students deserve to learn computer science and explore if they have an aptitude for it. Even if they don’t want to end up in a computing career, all students need to understand how the digital world they live in is made.
Wrapping up my week of intense learning (and gorging on scrumptious food), I walked away with one very important realization. I am a computer science teacher. As a secondary teacher who has spent most of her career in middle school English, I have always called myself an English teacher. Today, I took the sign off my classroom door that read, “Mrs. Allison–Language Arts.” Tomorrow a new one goes up: “Mrs. Allison–Computer Science and Language Arts .”
Tomorrow, I start back my 15th year of classroom teaching next to at least two teachers right out of the credential program. I love the “new blood” anticipation these new teachers have, the excitement of having your own classroom space, the optimism of changing lives and truly making a difference. It’s a refreshing wash of hope that can bring a staff and school culture a replenishing new start of the school year. Unfortunately, not every campus can be as welcoming or as supportive of our profession’s newbies and so many new teachers are left feeling overwhelmed and lost.
Flittering around on Twitter yesterday, I came across one of my favorite older blogs post from Jennifer Gonzalez. I was reminded of how I need to be a “marigold” for new teachers on my campus. I need to be the one that helps cultivate their growth. It also reminded me that I need to check my own attitude and practices to make sure that I continue to not only be a positive role model for new teachers, but how I should constantly work to surround myself with my own marigolds. Read the post here and think about who you want to be this school year for your colleagues. Remember, we’re all in this together!
If you’re like me, I love engaging students with short videos. I especially love short inspirational videos that get my students to think. I use them as starters for writing, discussions, or even teaching specific concepts. Strangely, most of my videos are advertisements. My students have even begun guessing half way through the video what the company behind the message is. “What are they selling?”
Recently, I came across a blog post by Larry Ferlazzo about StoryCorps. I had never heard of the series which records everyday people’s stories to share with the world and archive experiences for future generations through podcasts. As their website reads, “We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.” And the stories are incredible.
StoryCorps has taken many of these stories and turned them into animations. Watching a few of them, my heart has grown three sizes! As Ferlazzo points out on his website, these short videos are perfect to use in the classroom. Check out Ferlazzo’s blog post here and add StoryCorps to your list of video resources. You might even want to take some time today to get lost in these beautiful shared human experiences.
I am completely fascinated by augmented reality and virtual reality. I mean it is freaking COOL! Of course, cool doesn’t always mean it’s the best tool to use in the classroom. Sometimes a tool is just flashy new gadget, without any real payoff for student engagement and learning. However, I’m following the glitz, the glam, the uber cool technology and wondering, will this be the next big tool to change my teaching? In order to invest time and money, most educators need some serious reasons (data would be good, too) to use any new technology. Hype and flash can only take us so far.
If you are a Google Certified Innovator or Trainer you probably have been bursting at the seams with some serious news! Google is rolling out some amazing updates this coming Fall, and it’s time to share that inside scoop. So what is next for educators who use Google?
First, you may have heard about the updates coming to Google Classroom. A new Classwork page will give teachers more organizational functionality with the ability to group and reuse assignments in one location. Next, the Stream page will get a new look, allowing a collapsed view, so students can see more content. Google has also reorganized so all stakeholders are on one page called People. Settings will also be consolidated, making it easier to use. My favorite update, though, is the ability to create Locked Quizzes in “locked mode.” If you are interested in getting early access to these features, simply fill out the form Google provided.
CS First is a new program brought to educators to teach Computer Science. The curriculum utilizes block coding with Scratch, as well as lesson plans all created around themes. Check it out!
With apps for creativity, the new Staedtler stylus, and VR capabilities with AR coming this fall, Google is excited about the new Acer Chromebook Tab 10. At ISTE, Google also shared locked mode in Quizzes in Google Forms only on managed Chromebooks, and exciting admin features such as Off Hours, where students can bring their own devices and have them managed during school hours. Stay tuned for more exciting news coming this fall.
Google AR / VR
The AR functionality in the Expeditions app enables teachers and students to bring virtual objects into their physical space, bringing abstract concepts to life. Students can see and walk around the object as if it were right there in the room. Watch out for that tornado on your friend’s head!
Tour Creator is a way for anyone to easily create virtual reality tours, using footage from 360 cameras or picking from the existing Street View content. You can annotate it to provide details and facts. Then, you can publish to Poly, Google’s library of AR/VR content (https://poly.google.com/), to be viewed on the web or embed to your website. Later this year, Google will add the ability to import these tours into the Expeditions application.
Applied Digital Skills
Google is also rolling out new free digital curriculum, Applied Digital Skills. The curriculum integrates video-based and blended learning content for teachers to use to enhance their classroom lessons. Plus it has a path for students to practice problem solving at their own pace. Stay tuned for more!
There’s the Google inside scoop. Almost as tasty as a double scoop on a hot July day!
A student is sitting at his desk, face down in his lap, eyes engaged in something on his phone screen. No, he’s likely not texting. He’s probably playing Fortnite, the most popular game of its kind, a third-person cooperative, base-defense game. He’s completely tuned out all round him and doesn’t even notice you standing by his side. How can we utilize this kind of passion in the classroom? If you’re like me, you are always looking for ways to engage students even half as much as their favorite video game. How can we make learning as fun? How can our content be the subject for which a student is clamoring to get to his screen? One way is to create our own games.
While there are plenty of online games students can play, often we find the content is general or not exactly aligned with the standards we are trying to teach. This list of ways to create your own games from Free Technology for Teachers, by Richard Byrne might just be a great solution to add even more fun to your lessons. Plus, summer is the perfect time to explore. Check them out and share out any games you’ve create. Let’s make the classroom the next Fortnite!
As I settled in to relax this holiday week, I thought it was a good time to look back and reflect on the #ISTE18 or rather for me, the #NotatISTE experience. I read lots of Twitter posts during the conference, gathered some great inspiration, but like anything else, most has already been forgotten. I mean, it’s summer. Unless I write it down, these amazing ideas are not going to find their way into my classroom this August.
Luckily, as I was catching up on my my blog reading, I came across Steve Wick’s (@WickedEdTech) post on his site, Know Your Why. Not only does he offer his own reflection, but has many links to Google awesomeness! Check it out here.
And don’t forget to write those ideas down! As you’re learning over these warm months, whether it’s from conferences, posts, books, or Twitter chats, find a way to gather your own thoughts: start a blog, create a Google Doc, add to your Google Keep, or do what I do–write those ideas down on paper. I actually have a composition book specifically for this purpose. Let’s not lose amazing edu-nuggets to the summer abyss.
I’m a digital junkie. I have a phone full of apps, a browser full of extensions, and a device in my hand, on my lap and on my arm. Of course, the one thing I love about summer as an educator are the times where I don’t even look at a screen. Finding that balance of when to put down the device is something adults struggle with, but as educators we are called to teach students to do the same. I find this extremely difficult.
Reading this blog last week by Cal Newport really had me thinking. Is using tech to balance our tech habits the answer? My watch tells me when I need to stand, move and even take deep breaths. Is this what we want for the future? Is this how we teach and learn self control?
Read Cal Newport’s blog here. Do you think tech is the answer to teach us to put the tech down?
As I sit in my living room, trying to press out the FOMO of #notatISTE18, my mind keeps drifting back to the place I flounder as a leader and classroom teacher. Being a Lead Learner for CUE means I get invited to deliver sessions to educators around California for events that districts and other organizations hold. These are paid gigs that offer me the opportunity to share my successes with other educators, as well as learn new concepts and innovative pedagogy right alongside them. As a classroom teacher, these experiences help other educators, but also facilitate my own growth. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to leave the classroom to do this.
Many educators feel this same push and pull. Tom Rademacher, an author, presenter and classroom teacher, wrote a blog this spring that really hit home with me. I have been thinking about it since and felt it was worth sharing. I see it as a real problem with our current system. Take a moment and read his thoughts in: It’s Damn Near Impossible to Be a Teacher-Leader and Still Teach. Is it possible there is a better way?