Education, Technology, and Adventure with a side of Awesomesauce.
From a family of educators comes Rebekah Remkiewicz. She blends education, adventure, and technology to make science and art come alive in the classroom. Here, she offers her two-cents (and more) on education issues as she continues to expand her EdTech know-how.
I may appear to be an odd one, but I actually like Mondays. Mondays are generally good days. They are fresh starts. They provide a long, but wonderful day to kick things up and how they set the tone for the week ahead is entirely up to us. But really, I like Mondays because Monday nights bring TOSA-chats! I love these chats. I only started them a couple of months ago, but the people are wonderful, the information is awesome, and the ideas are ever-flowing. It's truly beautiful. Then, last week, I had the opportunity to meet some of my favorite TOSAs. In that, something struck me.
"Are you a TOSA?"
"Well....I'm only a sorta-TOSA."
In many ways, I function similarly to my TOSA counterparts, but I am not an actual TOSA. I enter a classroom, I write lesson plans for my kindergarten through eighth grade students while also coaching my colleagues, designing PD sessions, learning new things, and planning/co-ordinating our upcoming STEAM Fair.
I started thinking about the #sorrynotsorry that you see periodically on social media. That got me to thinking, perhaps I am a #TOSAnotTOSA. I'm a teacher. My assignment is certainly special. I have had opportunities I never would have imagined and I love the ways I get to bring things back to our school. That's it!! I thought back to my trip in February for the Baldwin County Alabama school visits. It was there that I wrote my "teacher without walls" blog post. I am a #TOSAnotTOSA, otherwise known as a #TWOW.
Let me tell you a little about some of the highlights of being a T-WOW.
Most days, I start by pushing a Chromebook cart into a classroom. I work with the grade level teachers to outline what we will do. A few things we keep pretty standard week-to-week. We begin with some supplemental math activities. With the primary grades, I focus on keyboarding, strategy, and coding. The students are receiving support for math and ELA within these activities as well as with the specific supplemental activities we use (Sadlier-Oxford Math and IXL). With the intermediate grades, we do a nice blend of supplemental activities and guiding them through introductions to some wonderful tools. Additionally, I work with the grade level teachers to team-teach and/or to align an activity to something they are currently learning.
For example, last fall, the fourth grade teacher did a great lesson that included science, history, reading, and writing. We worked together to incorporate some of the new technology available and to use this as an opportunity to introduce it to the students. I introduced the fourth grade class to Google Classroom where I had the technology assignment that went along with the lemons lesson. For my part, I started by teaching the difference between search and research. We had a great discussion then went into Google to search for information where the students then began researching the information they needed for their reports. Another lesson I did with the fourth grade was a variation on my virtual hike lesson. You can read here about how I enhanced a bone identification lab for my seventh grade science class last year. For fourth grade, I stepped back just notch. We went on the virtual hike then they completed an assignment in Google Classroom. We then did a second virtual hike and related assignment where they compared the two hikes. I originally worked with this class when they were in second grade. There are students in this class that respond really, really well to project-based learning. I found that to still be true (no real surprise there). The best part was seeing some students who just jumped right in and who were the first to complete the related activities for the virtual hikes. This allowed some students who normally take a little longer with assignments to get fired up and knock our socks off with their enthusiasm for completing these assignments. The other great part of doing this was that I worked with the students during their Chromebook time which allowed me to model for their teacher different ways to incorporate technology into the learning process. Basically, I taught a lesson for the students that doubled as a coaching session for the teacher. WOW! T-WOW, in fact!
Currently, I am introducing third and fourth graders to Google MyMaps. I worked with seventh grade just before Christmas with MyMaps as well. Seventh graders created their own Santa Trackers. They had an option of creating it fully or creating a model of how they envisioned their Santa Tracker. They viewed existing Santa Trackers, I modeled some of what could be done with MyMaps, and awesomeness ensued.
What I've started this spring with third and fourth graders is a little different. The third grade class has had their introduction and the students started placing markers, adding a photo, writing descriptions. After the break, they will have a chance to create their own map and show one of the trails they have studied this year. Their classroom teacher will cover some more information as far as stops made on the trails so the students can include more details on their trail maps. The fourth graders have had a chance to incorporate MyMaps into what we have worked on with their MyHero projects. I created a map and they have gone in and mapped a significant location, such as birthplace, for their hero. Next stop: Google Tour Builder. Since collaboration (shared editing) for Tour Builder projects is not yet an option, they will work in small groups of three or four and create Heroes Tours. They will submit the main part of their MyHero projects just after the break and then on to Tour Builder we go! T-WOW!
As I wrote about in February post, Google Classroom has allowed me to start (and moderate as needed) classroom discussions even from 2,700 miles from my classroom. It is time for me to introduce this to more of my colleagues, too. As I arrived in town for the CUE Conference, I corresponded some with the colleague who would cover my classes. I sent a screenshot of a Google Classroom assignment so she could see what the students would see. "How do I get this to the students," she asked. "You don't have to," I replied. (That's the short version, of course.) We are seeing things unlike ever before and we all certainly have a lot to learn, share, and experience, teachers and students alike. T-WOW!
The fifth graders have worked on podcasting this year. Their creations are fantastic and I will spend a portion of my Spring Break working on getting some more of them uploaded to Spreaker (great tool in itself!). Recently, I started reaching out to podcasters to come into the classroom and speak to the students. Here's the thing, the visiting podcasters come into the classroom via Google Hangouts. (My first podcast speaker was over 300 miles away!) This has excited the students and watching them learn from it has been amazing! Google Hangouts offers opportunities beyond anything I ever could have imagined back when I was a student. Though, I do attribute my love for breaking down the walls of the room to things like my third grade teacher allowing us to listen to the Challenger launch (1986) on the radio. T-WOW!
I use Instagram to communicate information to students and families, but also to share special moments and celebrate accomplishments. This has been a wonderfully positive thing for all of us. I am thankful that my last year's seventh graders helped me get started. The one thing I would like to do more of with Instagram is have students more involved with posting on the @RemScience one again. I think the students sharing some of what we're doing is even more important and allowing them to share through their eyes is something that will benefit all of us.
As I sit here on Easter afternoon, finally wrapping up this blog post, there is one last T-WOW item I would like to share with you. Our school is on Spring Break. Science Olympiad is next Saturday and I am coaching for the TechTime event. I live about an hour from my students. I could call this week a loss as far as preparation goes or I could use a great tool! I choose the tool! We will meet using Google Hangouts this week to finalize their preparation for the event. (These are two of the aforementioned fifth graders, by the way.) We did a trial Hangout Thursday evening and I think we're all set to go. They initiate the call. For our meetings, we set the time together. T-WOW!
We can create classrooms without walls and some can take it a step further: become teachers without walls.
I'm #SorryNotSorry that I'm a #TOSAnotTOSA otherwise known as a #TWOW!
Please share some of your WOW moments in the comments section!
I drafted the very first post of this blog on March 1, 2015. However, I waited to officially launch it. The second post was written on March 22 and I launched it the following day with a post with a bit more substance to it and my first shares on social media. Today is Edu-Awesome Adventure's anniversary, a blog-iversary if you will. Today, I thank you for reading. There is more awesomeness to come and I am currently working on two new posts. They will be posted within the next few days. Stay tuned. Keep reading and keep on the road of your own Edu-Awesome Adventure!
There is something special, almost magical abut the CUE National Conference. Each year, it brings something new. New to learn, new to explore, new to share, new people, new faces, new friends. This is something that gets people really excited about what they are doing as educators. Going into this year's conference, I was already thinking that I may skip next year. The National Conference overlaps my birthday and next year is a significant one. By the first 24 hours into CUE16, I was already figuring that I should probably go next year. By the end of the conference, I had already determined a good way to commit myself to attending Fall CUE, too. This year's conference was that good, and some!
When a conference opens amidst times where fear and anger are what we hear daily on the news, whatever that conference brings as reprieve will certainly be welcomed, but this was more. This year's CUE offered more than a reprieve, it offered a clear alternative. This alternative is one that we, as educators, need more of in our lives. This year's CUE Conference had a definite theme of HOPE, JOY, and STEAM(punk).
Fewer attended, but I experienced great joy in being a part of the kick-off event on Wednesday afternoon. Those of us who arrived on Wednesday, had the opportunity to view Underwater Dreams. This documentary shows the journey of a small group of high school students who brought together a collection of Home Depot items and created an outstanding underwater robotics project. This group from Arizona accomplishes things they could have only dreamed of and helped lead them to great successes. It was their teachers who helped guide them, but the boys did the hard work and earned every bit of what they experienced as a positive result. This is an absolute must-see for teachers and I suspect many students would feel inspired by it as well. I strongly recommend it. You can view it at home, but what our group on Wednesday night got that you will not have is a panel discussion to follow viewing it. Plus, I got my first (Google) CUE Cardboard and it is pretty cool. (Ok, it's really cool and I showed it off to sixth graders today.) I left feeling on cloud nine and the best part is, I left with HOPE. (Note: If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can check this documentary out right now! Go...after you finish reading this blog, of course.)
Thursday's opening keynote featured Brad Montague, co-creator of Kid President. My son was at school and I was sending him messages through Google Hangouts (I LOVE Google Hangouts, by the way) so that when he got home Thursday, he could see what I got to experience, and hear. I sat on the floor of a crowded overflow room as seating was at capacity in the main room. I was only slightly familiar with Kid President before this. Robby Novak sent a great message to CUE attendees with Montague and Montague spread a wonderful gift: JOY. He shared that gift of JOY by spreading other important messages.
"Treat everyone like it's their birthday," Montague said. He went on to talk about love and sharing love, being love, giving love.
Two important pieces of advice he offered:
1. Choose awesome.
2. Choose to hug the haters.
Wait. What?! Hug the haters?! No way!
But, YES! YES! He recounted a social media story in which he chose to hug a hater and it worked. As it will. I've often thought of the idea, "kill (them) with kindness," but I think I like this even more. After all, it has a much more positive sound to it. HUG THE HATERS. He also says to DANCE and to take chances with what we have.
The general keynote of Friday morning was what I had most looked forward to and by the time it arrived, I was already full of HOPE and JOY. Hadi Partovi, founder of code.org was to address this group that included nearly 7,000 educators. (Remember the overflowing overflow room from Thursday?) I arrived earlier and planned ahead. I excitedly found a seat and got settled in, ready for the big keynote address. The interesting thing about Partovi's address was that it was about far more than teaching kids to code. I received my introduction to #CSforall during this keynote. When you stop and think about it, we would have a hard time teaching everyone to code if they lack the resources on which to learn. I think at times teachers forget that not all students have access to the Internet, let alone a computer. Admittedly, this is something I know I sometimes forget.
I was among the first in my generation to experience the advantages of having a computer at home, thanks to my dad. I practiced math with a special game that my dad had programmed especially for my brother and me. (The things my dad introduced us to with computers growing up was simply amazing!) I started testing out of computer classes in eighth grade and proudly took an old Kaypro (a gift from my uncle) to the dorm with me for my freshman year of college. Computers are wonderful tools for learning. Other technologies take it to bigger and better levels, when used correctly and incorporated effectively. It has now been 25 years since I tested out of my first computer class and if you had told me then what I would be witnessing now, I would never have believed you. Two years ago, I realized I was less of a front-runner and trendsetter and more in a position of playing "catch-up." Full STEAM ahead, I went! There are some who still lack a basic computer and Internet access at home. There are some companies and organizations looking to bridge that piece of the digital divide. There are advocates and lobbyists. Partovi is among them.
Partovi points to the accomplishments of mathematician Ada Lovelace. She created what was essentially the first computer program (1843), 100 years before the existence of the very first computer. And, it turns out she was Lord Byron's daughter. (There's a little tidbit of trivia for you today.) The biggest challenge we face is the gap, the "digital divide," if you will. We all need to work together to bridge that gap. If we are going to effectively use technological tools to educate, then we need to make sure that those we are educating have access to what they need. And, thus, the existence of the hashtag CSforall is essential. We must spread the word and do our part. Computer Science for all = #CSforall. I took this to Google Classroom and created discussions for my seventh and eighth grade students. It required them to go find information and to form an opinion. Then, they had to write it up in our online discussion thread. One thing that our school has done nicely this year is that we have made computers and technology more available to our students. For the first time, the technology lab has regular after school lab hours. Additionally, students can schedule time by appointment for other times during the day, including lunchtime. This helps in part, but there is more to do to make sure that students have access to that which they need in order to be successful in the 21st Century educational environment. We can link back to where CUE started two days earlier. If the boys featured in Underwater Dreams can be successful, then there really is hope for so many. We must remain hopeful, keep joy in our hearts, and pursue all aspects of STEAM.
Later Friday, I would finally venture into the STEAMpunk Playground where there were robots and Minecraft, and coding exercises, moviemaking, and even a Double. I'll admit, getting to check out the double was almost as cool as meeting LeVar Burton two years earlier. Why? Because I totally geeked out. "That's the thing Sheldon used on a episode of The Big Bang Theory," I exclaimed. The representative from Double, a wonderful young man named Justin, confirmed. I wore my favorite Steampunk costume to play in the STEAMpunk Playground. I have already set up an Amazon order to pick up a couple of items for our upcoming STEAM Fair and I am more anxious than ever to get our MinecraftEDU server going. (I have a good number of students asking on a regular basis too.)
The closing keynote on Saturday featured Pearl Arredondo. Listening to her fascinated me. She's from the San Fernando Valley, close to the San Gabriel Valley I once called home. The areas are similar, but she and I definitely had different experiences growing up and we had different backgrounds. She presented her story and the best part included seeing how well she turned out, AND what a difference she is now making in the lives of students back in the place she called home. Arredondo talked about "the four Cs": Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. The point she hammered home was that "it's not about the hardware." We can have the biggest and best technology and yet without hope, without a teacher who will hold onto that hope, without educators who will invest in students, that technology will do little.
"We are the cultivators of intellectual curiosity," Arredondo said.
If we take Partovi's CSforall and combine it with Arredondo's "It's up to us to find that little bit of hope," imagine what we can accomplish. Our students deserve our best.
The keynote addresses, beginning with Underwater Dreams on Wednesday night, threaded the entire CUE National Conference together with HOPE and JOY and STEAM(punk).
The Exhibit Hall was full, as always, with vendors, educators, and cool stuff. I picked up information on programs I am researching, I asked questions, I shared ideas, and met new people. And then I went back a couple of other times. Three sessions especially stood out for me: Girls on Fire, Rockstars on Tour, and To the Podcast and Beyond. To the Podcast and Beyond was the last session I attended on Saturday. Once again Ryan O'Donnell and Brian Briggs shared some creative and inspiring ideas. Added to that were questions asked and ideas shared from others attending, including Ben Cogswell. I took back some tips and tricks from this session and led a mini-lesson with the fifth graders today.
Doug Robertson led the Rockstars on Tour session, introducing Google Tour Builder. I had heard a little about this and started looking for more information on it recently. I have incorporated Google MyMaps into lessons with third and fourth graders this year and am looking forward to expanding what we do with Tour Builder. Robertson shared that it is still in Beta, and there are a couple of things that would be nice to do with it though as yet those things remain unavailable (collaborating on a single tour, for example). Still, the "OH! The thinks you can think" (Dr. Seuss) with Tour Builder look amazing! Tomorrow I will offer a first introduction to the fourth grade class and we will do some awesome things with it after Spring Break!
The big one, though...Girls on Fire. This Friday session had a panel presenting. They encouraged us to talk to those sitting nearby and pushed us to think and participate. This session focused on encouraging girls to pursue awesomeness in the realm of STE(A)M. This is something I not only do with my students, but I do at home with my daughter, as well. In fact, just before going into this session, I received word that my daughter would receive an award for her Science Fair Project. (We're going to the awards night tomorrow night and she still has no idea that she will receive an award.) This is precisely the motivation that a young girl needs. And yet, we need to be careful not to focus too much on awards. I returned home from the CUE Conference with a picture of myself as a nominee for Outstanding Emerging Teacher. It stopped there. The award went to another well-deserving teacher. So, I used it as a lesson. "I am a winner because..." I posted on Instagram sharing with my students all the reasons (they, the students are my biggest reasons) why I consider myself a winner. I also started a dinner conversation with my parents and my children and we each shared at least one reason why we each are winners. Going into Science Fair time and coming out on the other side of it, I tell my children that they are winners because they learn from doing these projects. I hammer that point home and will continue to do so. But, I will also celebrate this award with my daughter. It's the right kind of boost for her. It is an accomplishment worth sharing and celebrating. And we must continue to celebrate and share, to explore and learn. It must continue for years and years to come. The ladies on the Girls on Fire panel, shared this fabulous Verizon commercial. Yes, a commercial. Take a look:
On Wednesday night, I sat down and looked through the Sched for the CUE 2016 National Conference. At times, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of sessions. Then, one-by-one, I found the ones that fit me best. I set aside time to explore the exhibit hall and seek the information i needed, especially with a Technology Committee meeting upcoming. I even remembered to put CUE Karaoke on my schedule. I attended three sessions that were absolutely fabulous simply because of the people I met: #CAEDCHAT Live, The Tweet-up, and Let's Give Them Something to Talk About. If you've read my previous posts, you know that Twitter is a hugely important part of my PLN. The Monday night TOSA chat (watch for an upcoming blog post: #TOSANotTOSA) and the DitchBook chat give me great ideas, allow me a chance to collaborate with others, and explore ways to build on things I am already doing. I love bringing ideas back to the school and sharing them with my colleagues. I love trying new things. At CUE16, I actually got to see some of these people come out of the computer and into real life. What a fabulous feeling! Also, there were badges. All these years, I thought I didn't "need no stinkin' badges" and found out I was incorrect. I do want badges. And stickers. I earned four digital badges and a shiny gold "Social Media Mastery" sticker. Because, I rock! (And you do too!)
Now...we have returned to the jobs that are the reason we went to CUE at all. We brought back our ideas, our literature, our brainstorms, our excitement, our enthusiasm. We returned home with HOPE, JOY, and STEAM(punk) in our hearts. It is time to take this newly downloaded information and complete the install. We can implement the things that make sense for our schools, for our students, for our locations, and for the time. We can start in point A and build our way up to Point B, then C, then X, Y, L, N, Q...and on and on. (Do we really have to go in any particular order? (Now, THERE'S something to think about!)
Made with Google Draw 3/22/16 RR
Let us inspire our students. All of them!
Let us create new things. Let us step out of the way and watch out students create.
Let us go great places and try new things.
In the words of Brad Montague, "Thank you for making the world more awesome."
Let's continue to spread the awesome, the hope, the joy, and the love. Plus more STEAM! Sounds like an EduAwesome Adventure to me!
One final reminder: I believe every teacher (and many students, depending on age due to some language) should see Underwater Dreams. Please take the 87 minutes to watch it and see how it inspires you. Share your thoughts and feedback on it, or on CUE16, here in the comments. Many thanks and love!
A few months ago, I turned to my favorite PLN...Twitter...as I set forth on a STEAM Edventure. A goal I set for our school this year was to start a STEAM Fair. I knew this would include things beyond my areas of expertise. I knew that I would have some very excited students. I needed help though. How does one start such a thing? I had previously considered a science fair, but as I shifted into a new role that included more technology, I saw a door opening for something greater than a science fair. I gathered ideas and observed others. Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn. However, we moved forward, full STEAM ahead.
Step one: set a date.
Step two: share the concept with students.
Step three: set up a Google Form for project submissions.
Step four: incorporate it into the curriculum for the middle school level technology classes.
Step five: announce it schoolwide by setting up a Google Site and making the form available.
Paper airplane launcher
The STEAM Fair will take place toward the end of April. First, though, the seventh and eighth grade students are presenting their STEAM projects in their technology classes. They were allowed to choose any area: science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics. A few students have researched artists and are making a technology connection with the use of QR codes and Google Slides presentations. One group constructed a model house. One experimented with water rockets and baking soda rockets. And there is so much more eduawesomeness happening!
The presentations began today.
A group of seventh graders design a printer in Minecraft then
modeled how to print something on it.
A pair of seventh graders designed and constructed a paper airplane launcher. You should see the planes fly!
Rubik's Cube solution expert
What literally brought me tears of joy today was the accomplishment of another seventh graders. He constructed a Rubik's Cube solver out of Legos and programmed it not only to solve the Rubik's Cube, but to also shuffle it into different patterns. He presented today and going in knew that there might be a hiccup and identified possible factors. Watching him in action with his device was nothing short of amazing. He had not yet decided whether or not he would enter it into the STEAM Fair in April. I encouraged him to do so. In fact, I even talked to his dad after school to explain further how wonderful it would be to have his project on display for our school families to see. I sincerely hope that he will submit it for the fair and I will continue to encourage him.
Presentations will continue into next week. In the meantime, I celebrate this STEAM movement happening at our school and the accomplishments of our fabulous students.
This Edventure with STEAM has demonstrated that if you give students a rather open project and freedom with creativity, they can create something #Eduawesome! I simply direct them with tools and continue to facilitate their learning. Coding activities in December have led to coding being incorporated into projects. What? You like something you've done for years with Science Olympiad? That's fantastic! How can you take it to the next level? Some students have developed ideas from things we did in science last year. Some from art class. There is no end to their creativity. All I did was introduce them to the term STEAM and look at them now!