Monday, February 8, 2021

How Glowforge Brings Joy to Teaching Through this Mess -

On the night of Wednesday, March 10, I won the $2000 METS Idea Slam at the 2020 MACUL Conference in Grand Rapids. Two days later, the doors to our school buildings would be literally slammed shut behind us. 

Since first seeing a Glowforge 3D laser printer demonstrated on its Kickstarter page, I knew that if this device actually became a reality, it could play multiple roles in my elementary STEM classroom. At just under $2500, I also knew it would take some type of minor miracle to fund one and get it into the hands of my students. Having attended multiple METS Idea Slams in the past, I figured it was about time I step up from the audience to see if a minor miracle might be in the cards. All I wanted to do was share from the heart all of the ways I see an intuitive laser cutter and engraver transforming the maker space. I laid out how my kids try to prototype, but we don’t have the tools to create truly meaningful items and I pitched that with Glowforge, entrepreneurial lessons could also be included as kids fundraise off of the things we make...and my spiel worked. Like I had just won the Stanley Cup, I hoisted that big fake check above my head, so excited about how my students would soon be creating with this amazing device. Then they shut the world down. 

As we all attempted to make some semblance of whatever teaching last spring was, I remained buoyed by the excitement of winning the Idea Slam and through REMC’s help, my Glowforge arrived in early May. I did some Zoom demos for students and started to find ways the device could still be part of virtual STEM. One of the last units I taught was on design thinking and I hosted a contest for students in grades 2, 3, and 4 to design a commemorative wooden coin to mark the completion of the 2019-2020 school year in STEM. From the kids’ instant buy-in you would have thought we were designing the next dollar bill. Of all of the activities, I taught during quarantine, this one by far generated the most excitement. In the end Autumn, a third-grader had the winning design and on the last day of virtual learning, kids who stopped by the school were presented with her token. When I asked students this fall what their favorite virtual activity was, the design contest ranked amongst the favorites. Even during the three-month shutdown, Glowforge helped me bring joy to learning.

The start of the 2020-2021 school year in Hamilton, Michigan began with students separated into cohort pods. My STEM room became a make-shift second-grade classroom and all of the materials like Legos and Sphero robots, that typically elicit bounties of joy were all stashed away. STEM time was reduced by 10 minutes per class period and instead of building towers with timber planks and skyscrapers out of cardboard, everything became screen-based. Because I was bouncing to eight different classrooms per day, the Glowforge remained at home.  I was relieved to be back teaching face-to-face, but I was exhausted and I was struggling mightily to find any joy in anything we were doing.

Toward the end of September, Hamilton made the decision to return to full classrooms and to the traditional specials schedule where students would come to the STEM room. With my own room back, Glowforge could finally make its debut. It has not disappointed us.
In the past, we have worked on projects that have taken us months. In the first week of having Glowforge, kindergarteners were designing pumpkins in Keynote, and we were cutting them from birch plywood in the same class session. 

Instantly, the joy had returned to STEM because kids were creating on a screen yet taking something tangible with them. 1st and 2nd graders used the animal shapes in Keynote to create characters they would later write about. They were amazed when they returned to class with their skateboarding gorilla or duck on a motorcycle. 

One of the activities I pitched during the slam was to raise money through Christmas ornament sales. Well, the sales are going to have to wait a year, but every 3rd and 4th grader has already begun to take home ornaments they’ve designed that are cut and engraved during class. 

Wrapping up 2020 and the holiday season was some epic gingerbread house making. We discovered one day in class that Glowforge will even cut graham crackers with incredible precision. The classroom might smell like the Keebler elves forgot to take the cookies out of the oven and burnt down their tree, but it’s all worth bringing joy back to STEM class. Thanks Glowforge...and thank you METS Idea Slam for helping to fund this adventure. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Go Virtual with HyperDocs - One Consistent Pedagogy, Infinite Possibilities.


Your free guide to making HyperDocs the centerpiece of how you teach digitally,
complete with tutorials in Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Forms.

Special thanks to many educators whose ideas are included.

As teachers tackle moving instruction from face-to-face learning to virtual learning, the curriculum needs to be converted to a digital learning environment that utilizes an intentional pedagogy for delivering instruction online. According to Modern Teacher, a strong digital learning environment is organized, engaging, creative and rigorous, supportive, as well as collaborative and connected. By using HyperDocs and the included guided template as the foundation for your new digital learning environment, you will be giving students a digital experience that includes each of those aspects and sets them up with a high-percentage shot at being a successful virtual learner.

The founders of HyperDocs Lisa Highfill, Sarah Landis, and Kelly Hilton describe the concept this way, “HyperDocs, a transformative, interactive Google Doc replacing the worksheet method of delivering instruction, is the ultimate change agent in the blended learning classroom. With strong educational philosophies built into each one, HyperDocs have the potential to shift the way you instruct with technology. They are created by teachers and given to students to engage, educate, and inspire learning. It’s not about teaching technology, it’s about using technology to TEACH.”

When teachers create a digital learning environment that involves using one pedagogical framework that can house unlimited amounts of content, crucial consistency can be achieved.

  1. Consistency in how teachers present materials and how students and their families access materials

  2. Consistency in a manageable set of digital tools in which teachers and students can continue to develop mastery

  3. Consistency in elements of lesson construction

  4. Consistency in expectations for student completion of work

By adopting a pedagogical structure that can house a lesson and be adaptable to any content across any grade level, HyperDocs makes it easy for teachers to build and easy for students to access and navigate. When one method is used repeatedly, teachers get better at designing because they are doing more reps with the same technique. Kids get better at executing the tasks as well due to more reps with the same technique. As the legendary Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

What may seem like a simple doc with links is really a detailed progression of delivering digital instruction. Many HyperDocs follow this basic format that takes students through six steps of a lesson. Google Education Innovator Brian Briggs explains each:

  • Engage: Hook your students, get them engaged, and activate prior knowledge. You might use a fun video, interactive website, or audio recording.

  • Explore: Link resources, such as videos or articles, for students to explore more information.

  • Explain: Clarify the learning objective for your students. This is where you could teach a whole group lesson with direct instruction, or add additional resources for students to explore. 

  • Apply: What do you want students to create to demonstrate their learning? Give instructions for the assignment.

  • Share: Provide a way for students to share their work and receive feedback.

  • Reflect: Pause for reflection (whole class, think-pair-share, etc.) or link them to a digital way to share their thoughts.

  • Extend: This portion is great for early finishers. Provide extra activities, additional online resources, or challenge them with an extension assignment to extend their thinking.

Check out the full guide and begin implementing HyperDocs into how you teach digitally.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Mr. Losik's 2020 Holiday Gift Guide: 13 Great Ways to Engage the Brain this Christmas Season

Normally, I am solidly in the camp of not rushing the Christmas lights, music, or tree trimming until after the dishes are done on Thanksgiving Day, but if rushing the holiday season this year helps increase our joy and gets 2020 off to dumpster of history faster, then pour the eggnog and put Nat King Cole on the record player. It's never too early to be thinking about great holiday gifts that elicit hours of fun and engage the brain along the way. 

2020 has stopped a lot of things but it's not going to stop my tradition of sharing great learning-related gift ideas. This year's list showcases a dozen ideas from a really old school to the adventurous. Also, don't forget about checking out my past lists as well. 

You will want to make your purchases early this year as retailers and shipping companies like FedEx and UPS expect a surge in online ordering due to the dangers of and restrictions from the Coronavirus pandemic. Some of these items are on a lot of Christmas lists so supply could be an issue as well if you wait too long. Links provided are to Amazon listings but by all means, shop around for the best deals.

Classic Spirograph and Spirograph Jr. - $9.99-$21.99

Here's a classic that has made a recent comeback and continues to allow kids to create fun artwork while unknowingly learning all kinds of geometric concepts. First designed and sold by a British engineer in 1965, Spirograph is a great quiet activity for families who just might be spending more time indoors together in the coming months. Just like everything else these days, there are a ton of YouTube videos for cool ways to take art with Spirograph way beyond the instructions.

Strawbees Inventor Kit - $34.99

Maker Kit - $20.99

Strawbees have been growing in popularity with STEM teachers over the past few years and more and more kids are wanting to experience the fun they have with them in the classroom at home. A series of connectors make it easy to build elaborate structures out of straws. A couple of different options are listed here. Like the other great building toys, kids can start with the instruction manual and then create whatever they can dream up.

Back to the Roots Self-Watering Planter - $25

With a Michigan winter ahead of us, watching something green growing in your kitchen brings hope for warmer days long as that green thing isn't growing in a corner of your fridge. Back to the Roots offers all kinds indoor grow kits to explore on their website. Families that buy kits for home this holiday season can also give one to the elementary school of their choice because Back to the Roots will be donating one-for-one to an elementary school of the buyer's choice. Just post a picture of you and your kit to social media and tag it with #GrowOneGiveOne.

Young Modeler Kits - $28 - $32

The wooden desktop modeling kits from Young Modeler are great for the aspiring contractor, architect, or crafter. Young Modeler is a Korean company founded by Yeongjong Park who was an office worker for 20 years but loved building wooden models of boats. He and a friend started the company and now they offer a number of different structures from various homes to cafes to Old West saloons. Models can be left plain or given special paint and customization. One of the best aspects of these models comes with their numerous details like landscaping and other unique building features.

Lego Architecture Kits - $45.99

Speaking of classics and building, check out the architecture kits from Lego. These come in a variety of individual landmarks or full cityscapes. The series originated in 2008 with the Sears Tower and other single buildings like John Hancock in Chicago and the Seattle Space Needle. Over the course of the last twelve years offerings have spanned the globe. Venice, Berlin, and New York City became the first city sets to be offered in 2016. New for 2020 are Tokyo and Dubai. Not only are these great buildings and places to construct, but undoubtedly kids will also want to get on Google Earth and go learn more about what they just built.

BeeBeeRun Construction Kits - $24.98

This one is geared for the 3 to 6-year-old crowd and especially those who love to take things apart and put them back together. The BeeBeeRun kits use the same parts and included tools to build five different vehicles. Well, five vehicles according to the instructions can be built, but the real creativity starts when kids start "Frankesteining" the parts to come up with their own hybrids of different types of cars/plane/copters.

Tello Drone - $99

The big bummer about a lot of drones is how hard they are to fly and also how weather-dependent they are. While the Tello doesn't do well in strong winds, it's super easy to control and is safe enough to fly indoors. In fact, it even has a mode where it will land on your hand. It uses on-board cameras to avoid collisions and will record video and take still photos. For the price, you get a seriously engineered drone at a relatively affordable entry-point. The Tello is my drone of choice for learning in STEM.

Snap Circuits Arcade - $44.97

Electrical engineering has never been more fun than with Snap Circuits. The fun gets ramped up even higher with the Arcade edition of Snap Circuits. Kids use 30 different electronic components that snap into place and are contained in super-safe housing. Just like learning to code doesn't necessarily make a kid a video game designer, I wouldn't let the kids rewire the house after playing with this gift. What you can be certain of is that there is a ton of logic and problem solving that comes from the completion of many of the 200 projects.

Magic Motion Mobile - $19.99Fat Brain Toys is a staple of this list, and this little guy from them earns his place here in multiple ways. This is another gift for the 6 and under crowd, but the technology rivals any toy for any age group. It's a remote control car that doesn't require an app or a controller, just the waving of a hand. Magic Motion Mobile vehicles are motion-controlled cars that are controlled simply by dragging your hand or a ball in front of them. In follow-mode it will track whatever is in front of it. Flip a switch for escape-mode and hovering your hand above the car moves it forward. A hand in front of the bumper sends it in reverse. This is especially great for the younger siblings who see big brothers and sisters playing with more complex RC toys. Now they can be cool like the big kids.

 Marble Run Super Set - $36.99

Here's a great unplugged activity that delivers a ton of learning about physics and problem-solving while providing hours of creative play. Marble run sets are a blast because there's no limit to how many ways they can be set up. Also, they are a nice break from all of the screen time we've all probably had too much of lately.

Bananagrams Party Edition - $14.99

This one's been around since 2006 and was founded by 76-year-old Abe Nathanson as a way to bring three generations of his family together, united by their love of word games. Countless other families, including mine have done exactly that over the years from the Nathansons' invention. Bananagrams has delivered new spins on their classic over the years. Why not check out this holiday season their "Party Edition"? Think Banagrams meets all of the fun strategy cards in Uno like Draw Four or Reverse. Drop a monkey wrench into your opponent's game plans by playing one of several tiles that can really change the game. Bananagrams is a great way to keep everyone's brains working while having a blast together around the table.

PlayMake 4 in 1 Wood Shop - $110.00 

Just like previous list member Worx ZipSnip, this power tool is a game-changer when it comes to kids being able to actually (safely) cut and craft. This one is definitely an investment but at $110, it's still almost $200 cheaper than a Nintendo Switch gaming system. The tool converts to a drill press, a band saw, a lathe, and a sander. Reviews on Amazon are favorable and one parent stated that they are on their second machine because four boys used the first one for six years and it finally gave out on them. We might have to invest in one of these for the STEM program.

Swurfer Tree Skate Swing - $79.99  This final item is going on my "grownup Christmas list" as well. As someone who's stayed stoked since riding my first wave on an air mattress at the legendary Big Surf in 1980, let me tell you that there's something incredibly special about the feeling you get from sliding down the face of a wave. Just like skateboarding and snowboarding deliver that same "stoke" so does this tree swing from Swurfer. The Charleston, SC company offers all kinds of swings now besides the tree skate featured here and why I included these products in an educational toys list has more to do with the sensory aspects that certain types of swings provide. To any swing, there are a bunch of physics concepts that kids unknowingly explore, but swinging can also be tremendously therapeutic. Children with autism benefit greatly from swinging, but we actually all do. That's why there are front porch swings and rocking chairs. You can just sit on the front porch or you can add that gentle motion to relax even further. The Tree Skate provides the simple fun of swinging while giving riders an adrenaline shot if they so desire. The tree skate can handle riders up to 200 pounds and the motion required to make it move is a great core-building exercise.

Christmas and the holidays are bound to be very different this year, but even if it's not what we're used to, there's a joy to the season a global pandemic can't take away. Hopefully, these ideas help with your shopping and deliver some of that joy to your kids this holiday season. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Teach your kids to "Shoot Like a Pro" - Photo Shooting Gallery

 When we literally leave our students to their own devices, they create infinite sums of really terrible photos. It doesn't matter if they are killing time with the camera or actually trying to take purposeful shots for academic projects, the stuff they capture can be pretty terrible.

It doesn't have to be that way. Here is a simple activity that is guaranteed to help kids ramp up their production value when it comes to taking pictures. The Photo Shooting Gallery is based on a favorite activity of mine that teaches students cinematic angles when creating videos. The same principles apply here as this activity is all about framing shots and understanding the visual grammar each one conveys. 

The Shooting Gallery is great for students new to devices, like schools initiating 1:1 programs. It is also a way for remote teachers to get students utilizing their home environments as they capture their worlds around them. Click here to make your own copy of the deck below

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Back to Hybrid Virtual Distance School: Resources for Teachers and Families to Maximize Learning

Back in Mid-March when schools began closing their doors due to Covid-19 and attempting to transition to virtual learning, I shared "A Family Survival Guide for Keeping the Learning Going at Home". My goal was to assemble some ideas and resources for parents who suddenly found themselves in all-new roles as their children's main source of instruction. "Mixed results" is probably the kindest way to describe how families and education, in general, handled March, April, May, and June. Some kids and schools thrived while others threw in the towel long before their scheduled last day.

As schools re-open this August and September, there will be a hodgepodge of plans in place. Whether schools are going back all-day-everyday, in some hybrid model, or fully online, most administrators and teachers have spent a huge chunk of their summer creating digital resources, determined to provide far better online learning experiences than in the Spring. Even schools planning on a traditional opening want to be ready for another possible shut-down or want to have quality materials online in case a student has to miss extended periods of time in the coming year. Schools are also committed to placing fewer burdens on parents when it comes to providing instruction. Parents should be supporters of the experience and not feel like they are the ones delivering instruction.

While assembling my own digital tools and lessons for the coming year, I created the following site Resources for Teaching Remotely. Although it may seem like it is just for teachers, there are a lot of tools families will find useful when helping their kids through their online work.