Thursday, January 9, 2020

Send kids on a big city scavenger hunt with Google Earth

One of the most fun and engaging activities I have developed this school year is the "Big City Scavenger Hunt" in Google Earth. Basically I give students ten things to locate in a given city and they can use all of the tools within Google Earth find them. A Google Slides document is used for curating each found item in the form of a screenshot and a location.

As a way to get to know New York City for an upcoming cardboard skyscraper construction project, teams took on the challenge pictured above.

You can make your own copy of the template slide by clicking here. You'll be able to changes the items to find and make it for any city you'd like. 

I tried to use a combination of ones that could be simply searched like "baseball stadium" but also included some that will really pull at reasoning like "Where in New York City are we going to find a ranger from the National Parks Service?". Some are just totally random like "hot dog cart" that they just have to get lucky searching the streets...although hot dog carts in Manhattan are pretty easy to spot.

There are a ton of curricular adaptations that can be made from this one simple activity:

  • When studying states in a region, simply duplicate the first slide several times, make each one a different capital city of a state in that region and have kids divide and conquer using the Iron Chef Eduprotocol. While we are talking Eduprotocols, have groups create a CyberSandwich to compare and contrast their cities and then compare and contrast things other regions found.
  • Use the same idea above but have kids explore regions of the world or countries that make up a continent.
  • Make the scavenger hunt about famous landmarks around you. Instead of recording the address or location, have them list historical importance.
  • Search for evidence of different biomes or landforms around the globe.
From Young Fives through fourth grade, there really isn't an app that is more universally (pun unavoidable) beloved than Google Earth. My students are enthralled every time they get to explore. It's an easy hook and a great way to make them deeper thinkers and digital explorers. 

This activity works well on both Chromebooks and iPads. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Everything we need to know about teaching is in an 80s movie

On a Saturday way back in 2014 I was honored to present the keynote address at the Michigan Connected Educators Un/Conference. Here are my thoughts I shared with the group. The message is pretty timeless in the sense that six years later I believe this message even more. I have now updated my original post from what I shared with the conference back in '14. It's all still true today.

I started teaching in January of 1995. Who I thought I needed to be in the classroom was a combination of Michigan's legendary football coach Bo Schembechler and Sgt. Hulka from Stripes...and to some extent it was required. I took over a fourth grade classroom for a retiring teacher who had taken every Monday and Friday off the entire first semester. When I had been there eight days, it was the longest stretch of consistency these kids had had all year.

I had high expectations. I was loud with very low tolerance. I expected my students to be exactly like I had been as a student, compliant. Do what I ask when I ask it with few questions...It wasn’t very fun for any of us. I wondered how I would ever endure 30 more years of this.

In 1998 I faced what I figured would be a “make or break” task. I would be teaching a 5-6 split.  I would have six 6th graders who all were academically gifted in one way or another and seventeen fifth graders who hadn’t been selected for the previous year’s 4-5 split, primarily due to academics. How was I going to tackle this?

What got me through it was the power of using project based learning with the sixth graders....primarily to keep them occupied while I tried to get my 5th graders ready for the state assessment....MEAP test. That approach overtook my teaching that year and by June all kids were working on all kinds of projects and learning together in so many ways. It also became one of my favorite years of my career. You can smile and cheer instead of bark and gripe when your kids are constantly engaged.

That small group of sixth graders always reminded of the kids in My Science Project (watch the whole thing on YouTube) and from there I discovered that everything we need to know about engaging kids can be learned somewhere in an 80s movie.

Lesson 1: What makes tech useful in the classroom. I present to you the ultimate piece of educational technology. Just watch this trailer and think about how this phone booth  from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure does exactly what we want our technology to do.  These guys have incredible access to primary sources and get to witness history.  It is total immersion in content. 

If you remember how the film ends, these two put on an amazing rock concert-like oral report. They had the tools to gather information and then presented in a way that expressed the learning through their skills as rock and rollers.

The next lesson is to value the time together. We can not monopolize the time.  Jeff Spicoli actually makes a great point in the following clip from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Mr. Hand shouldn’t be the only one having all of the fun...if we can call it that.

There is probably a better way to set up a "feast on our time" though...but to Mr. Hand's credit, he cared enough about Jeff that he even went to Spicoli's house to make sure his surfing student completed enough work to graduate. Time called Mr. Hand the "original No Child Left Behind Teacher".

Image result for weird science

Lesson 3: Kids love to the make stuff but it’s our job though to channel that energy into the right opportunities. Gary and Wyatt learned the hard way about being  responsible with technology. Okay....this 3d printer might trump the phone booth for top tech honors but we are still talking about technology being used educationally!  Weird Science brings one more thought to mind. Did these "two guys" grow up to be Brian Briggs and Ryan O'Donnell, the Bedley Brothers, Brad Waid and Drew Minock, or Kyle Anderson and Joe Marquez?

Somewhat related to #3 is that kids just love to mess with stuff. Even back in 1983 before anyone knew what hacking was, War Games featured some random teens monkeying with North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) and its super sophisticated computer the WOPR. Then in 1986 a kid who looked a lot like the War Games kid was hacking his high school attendance computer so he could go to the museum and a Cubs game. Poor Ferris. He asked for a car and got a computer. Talk about being born under a bad sign. But....he had Internet in 1986. That's not all bad. I wonder if David Jakes ever bumped into Ferris' principal Ed Rooney in any Suburban Chicago educational circles. Rooney could have learned a lot from Jakes. 

#5 is a concept that took me a long time to get my head around. That inconvenient truth is that in the classroom you cannot use the same approach or lesson design for every kid. You have to diversify your instruction according to each kid's needs. No 80's film better exemplifies this than The Breakfast Club. The principal in the film, Mr. Vernon,  required them to each write a 1000 word essay about who they thought they were. Here is the essay Brian ended up writing for all of them.

Image result for brian's essay from the breakfast club

He is exactly right. Let us never forget that every student is a complex human being and we need to foster development of their whole being.

Final lesson: It's not about you. It's about creating the right environment where kids can thrive. But, that doesn't mean you still can't be right in the middle of the learning fun. Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society comes immediately to mind but I also give a big nod  to Bill and Ted's guide Rufus and quite possibly the coolest teacher ever captured n film, Mark Harmon's character Freddy Shoop from Summer School. 

Get in there and dig around with the kids just like Dean Shareski told us at MACUL back in 2014,

"It's not good enough to be the guide on the side anymore. Be the meddler in the middle."

It's been 25 years in the making for me but along the way teaching has become a lot more of an excellent adventure and a lot of a less bogus journey. All I needed to know about teaching is in the movies of the 80's. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Today Show's Vicky Nguyen Breaks Down YouTube Children's Video Changes

I caught this story this morning on Today about changes that YouTube is making to its platform when it comes to videos that creators tag as being made specifically for kids.

The main changes include doing away with comments, no more live chat, no push notifications, not allowing these videos to be added to a playlist, and ending ads that are based off of browser history.

Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media applauds the changes as a step in the right direction.

The changes however don't create any type of filter to keep kids away from videos not tagged for children.

Check out the full report below from Vicky Nguyen.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Keep the #CreateWithChrome Holiday Spirit Rolling

I just finished collaborating on one of the most fun professional projects ever. Brian Briggs and
Ryan O'Donnell of Check This Out podcast fame asked asked amazing Ontario, Canada
educator Jen Giffen (also a podcaster) to help them build an
advent calendar full of activities that are creative and can all be done on the Chromebook.

Each day featured some Christmas or holiday themed activity, but there's no reason why now that
the lights and ornaments are packed away, that each Chromebook tool can't be utilized for other
purposes. For example, on Day 11 I introduced Wayfair's 3d room planner which lets users design
their own spaces, furnished (of course) by objects available to buy through the online home store's
website. Have kids create the bedroom of a book character or design an original space and write
about why they chose what they chose. 

There are 25 different fun sites to try and only a few are holiday-specific like Elf-Yourself so
most are great tools the whole year round. 

Grab your own copy of the 2019 Create With Chrome Advent Calendar and have fun exploring.
In the meanwhile check out some of the fun projects various Twitter users made and shared this
Christmas season with the #CreateWithChrome hashtag

Saturday, November 30, 2019

STEM Teacher Andy Losik Presents His 2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Bitmoji ImageWhether it's taking the lost art of paper airplane building to literal new heights or it's infusing an ancient art with some 21st century gadgetry, these holiday gifts are geared to engage the hands, the hearts, and the minds of today's kids while eliciting zero moans, groans, or eye rolling.

I've been doing this list in some form or  other for the last few years and every year more and more of my students' parents and local community members tell me how much they appreciate the suggestions. Most rewarding for me is when the kids come back to school after the long break and are excited about something they received that was on the list . Here is the 2018 list and all of these items remain great suggestions. 

I am getting the list out a little earlier this season in time for Cyber Monday as all items are available on Amazon. This also helps procrastinators who can use Prime in a pinch to get gifts in time for Christmas Day or whenever you are exchanging presents. Amazon shopping can be super helpful but please remember to frequent your local retailers, especially ones featuring locally made products.

So....with no further ado let's get into the list.
Image result for 3dux design3DUX Design Architecture Set: $27.99 This company was started by a brother and sister who just love to create and build with cardboard. The set comes with an assortment of cut-out cardboard pieces, crayons, instructions, and plastic connectors for building the house featured on the box. The thing I love about this set and the whole 3DUX approach is on its instruction card.

"The 3DUX/Design architectural modeling sets are about the study of form and function. They are about creativity and design thinking. As such, there are no right or wrong way to work with this set. There are no rules."

Plus, all your kids need to do to expand the set is grab a box and cut some new building pieces. The Worx ZipSnip I featured last year would be a great companion. 3DUX/Design offers several other sets, cardboard refills, and connectors on their website so give that a look for products as well as further inspiration.

Teknikio  Activating Origami Set: $20 Origami is the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, but what makes this gift idea intriguing for the modern kid into gadgetry is the internal circuitry that kids build to "activate" their creations. Each set comes with a stack of folding papers as well as reusable circuitry pieces that allow creations to light up or move. Teknikio also offers on their website  additional circuitry pieces at tremendously affordable prices so once kids master these pieces they can expand their electronics building skills.  

Activating Origami combines paper creations with circuits kids build. 

Power Up Paper Airplane Conversion Kits: $19.99-$49.99 I was really surprised last year when I asked fourth graders to fold basic paper airplanes and they had no idea how to even begin. If there is way to bring back this lost art to the current generation then "smart paper airplanes" that involve electric motors and even smartphone navigation in the air are the most likely way to do that. The basic Power Up 2.0 kit ($19.99) allows the user to add a motor and necessary stabilization pieces to common paper airplanes while the 3.0 kit ($49.99) adds a rudder and flaps that are controlled via Bluetooth. The Power Up website even offers more customization. For $79.99 (website only) you can build and fly the FPV model that even includes a live onboard camera. The thing I like best about the Power Up kits is that many of the parts are made of carbon fiber and designed to be impact-resistant upon crashing.

Take to the skies with Power Up smart paper airplane
Fat Brain Toys Disgusting Science Kit: $19.95 This one is for the hardcore science kid who's between 6 and 11 years old...or maybe you know a kid who just digs gross stuff. Word to the wise though, this gift might just be the best "revenge gift" on the list. A relative of ours gave me a full drum kit when I was 3 years-old and my mom and dad couldn't wait to get him back. Why not send your adorable nephew home to your big brother's house with all of the makings for creating faux sewer gas, farting slime, and all kinds of other things of the like. This is just one of several Fat Brain toy offerings on this year's list and I am sure you know just the kid this one was made for. 
all the fixins for hours of disgusting fun
Squigz - Fun Little Suckers: $24.99-$74.99 Here is a much tamer offering from Fat Brain that is tremendous fun and brain building for all kids. I actually first learned about Squigz from my sister. They were on my nephew's birthday list as they're one of his favorite toys to play with during his therapy sessions for Autism. They can be manipulated in all kinds of way and be stuck to all kinds of things. Wait until Grandpa wakes up in his chair after a  Christmas Day food coma to have these silicon suckers stuck all over his forehead. Squigz are great in the bathtub and are dishwasher safe when they need a quick clean-up. The 25 piece starter pack is $24.99 and other sizes are available on Amazon including 50 and 75 piece sets. They are endless fun because the number of ways they can be engineered together is endless.
Blutrack Toy Racetrack Starter Kit: $33.95 A new spin on an old favorite is the best way to describe what BluTrack has done to the plastic tracks kids have been using to race Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars for 50 years. With BluTrack, cars race side-by-side and there aren't a bunch of short sections to assemble with locking connectors. This starter track rolls up into a 18 foot coil and can be configured into loops and hills according to the builder's imagination. Just stretch the track over household items. The starter set includes wall and floor anchors but no cars. There are additional ramps built by the company, but a couple of soup cans or apple sauce jars will work just as well. The track is designed to accommodate any Matchbox sized car but the BluTrack website features its own cars including ones that can be loaded up with additional mass for scientific experimentation. The company is actively developing deeper dive kits into the force and motion for both play at home and for the classroom so check out their full offerings online. 
Image result for code girls bookCode Girls, The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II: $8.99 Hardcover I always like to toss a book suggestion onto this list whenever I can and Code Girls seems like the perfect fit. Author Liz Mundy explores the work of over 10,000 American women who took on codebreaking missions that provided vital intelligence to Allied Forces fighting the Nazis and Japanese during World War II. Here are a couple of reviews for this, the young readers edition.
"The book reads like a movie script, with interesting characters and non-stop action bringing to life the history these women were making and living...excellent."―School Library Connection (starred review)

"Mundy highlights the lives of the many brilliant women who secretly served the code breaking mission against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.... A solid resource for younger researchers."―School Library Journal
Klutz Lego Crazy Action Contraptions Book and Bricks: $16.59 This one comes highly recommended from one of my top First Grade Lego builders. He'd been bugging me for a couple of weeks about buying one of these sets for the classroom. I haven't done that yet but I am super glad that I took the time to at least research what he was suggesting. A classroom set of these are definitely on the post-winter break acquisition list. What we have here is a guide book that takes readers step-by-step through the construction of 16 different really fun projects with Technic style Legos. The cool thing about these kits is that all of the Lego bricks needed are included and I have seen at least a couple of reviewers state that if you were to just buy the Legos on their own, you'd be paying more than the price of this whole kit. Like any Lego adventure, these project guides are just the starting point for further creativity and innovation. 

Bloxels: $23.94  If you are really looking for something "techie" here's my top pick this year. Bloxels lets kids physically lay out video game worlds and obstacles by manipulating tiles on a board connected to a tablet app. We hear a lot about kids learning to code and all of the benefits from taking part in activities that build computational thinking. As someone who teaches coding, I see the most impactful learning happen when kids can connect something physical to the programing and Bloxels does just that. The ompany is in a bit of transition right now. Bloxels is wrapping up its contract with Mattel and shifting to a more educational focus as Bloxels EDU. Any purchasers of the discontinued kits still available on Amazon can migrate to a free account at the new site.  
Kids build a game board that is captured by the app and then they are able to play their own game creations. 

Fat Brain Toys Timber Plank Set (300 blocks): $39.99 Fat Brain returns to round out this year's brain engaging yet still fun list of great holiday toys. More than just blocks, timber planks provide hours of engineering, problem solving, and creativity. Each set comes with 300 5"x1", 1/4 inch thick pieces of pine that can be built into endless numbers of structures. In STEM these have proven to be extremely engaging from grades K through 4 but people of all ages find planks this size to be incredibly fun and engaging. Building with blocks has proven for years to build logical reasoning and spatial understanding and yields great social benefits when kids create together. Similar planks are even being used in therapy sessions for adults recovering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as in physical therapy for patients regaining dexterity and small-motor control. While other brands of planks are out there, this set is easily the best deal.

Image result for fat brain timber planks
Well, there you have it, Mr. Losik's gift guide for 2019. Many of these suggestions are new spins on classic ideas that are designed to hook into the current generation's interests while still delivering the play and learning benefits that have been engaging kids for decades. There's a little something for everyone in this list and it's my hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Friday, August 9, 2019

Turn It Up to 11: EduProtocols on iPads

Here are the slides for my CUE Rock Star Black Label presentation for Lake Elsinore Unified Schools.

Slide Deck