Friday, January 20, 2017

Curriculum, Literacy(ies), and Coding

Hello, parents, guardians, students, and family members,

Well, we're gearing toward the final week of January and things are hoppin' at Warner Enhanced Option Elementary School. We lost a week of lab exploration to a week (+) of testing online for our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. We only did the online math test, not the online reading one, but by and large our kids did well. Many are struggling in math, and there are a few "I can't do this" attitudes, but we are systematically working to overcome those issues and embed a Can Do attitude into our students' lives. I even have a reminder on my door:
I can!

We will be rolling out implementation of a highly respected computer lab curriculum in early February. The program, called "Structured Learning," is amazingly well-constructed. This will be new to me as I'm well-versed in making it up as I go, a week or weeks at a pop. I do have a respect for the standards (excepting that they are "standard," but I have preferred over the years to work to create a fun, valuable, and exploratory computer lab environment where kids can exercise their curiosity and decision making without all that much "structure." I feel I've been pretty successful at that. However, in this day and age of standardized tests and Common Core, I understand the need to work in a structured way. Engaging students in the more formal way the SL curriculum requires will also build a strong legacy of expectations and performance in the computer lab, a good thing for that day I decide to retire and move away from full-time teaching. Let's do it!

Meanwhile, as I dive into understanding and planning the rest of the year, I have K-2 students all walking their avatars along their own "Learning Paths" in the wonderful ABCMouse, I posted a few weeks ago about this marvelous program, and I want to remind you that if you want to follow along as your child learns, email me at scott.merrick@mnps.org and I'll send you a code to use for your child to work at home or at the library. It's fun!

3rd and 4th graders are plowing into the challenging work of computer coding, using the free version of Tynker.com. If they want to work at home on that, they only need their login for Tynker, and you can call me and leave a message at 615576-0252 for that. I think most will actually know the login in a week or two after class sessions of using it.

Why teach coding? Think of this: In China every student learns computer coding. In the U.S., only 5% of schools include it in the curriculum. By 2020, there will be a need for over 440 million computer programmers in every walk of work. At the rate we are turning out qualified, capable coders, there will only be around 120 million of them. If we are lucky. Need more convincing? Watch this, and have a great week:

Friday, January 6, 2017

K-5 Video about Coding--Why?

Among other topics and skills, we're introducing computer coding in the computer lab to make young minds aware of the possibilities. "Why would you not..."? Just watch:




Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happy Holidays, One and All

I feel blessed to be coming to work at Warner Enhanced Options Elementary School every day, but I have to admit that this two week Winter Break is a very welcomed event. And while I'll be back at school for Teacher Planning Day or Tuesday, January 3rd, then attending for a Professional Development day on Wednesday, you'll be bringing your child back to school for a brand new semester on Thursday, January 5. It's a new beginning, and based on the amazing progress we made as a community of learners over the first half of the year, it's full of promise.

Our computer lab will also be a much cleaner environment for all of us! On our final half-day this past Friday, I took in our monster vacuum cleaner, a Shark, opened all the computer towers, set their cover plates aside, and vacuumed out each and every one to remove the dust that at the very least threatened to overheat the computers. Here are some before and after snapshots:


  
And here's how the lab looked with all the covers off and ready for cleaning (click to enlarge):

I feel we're ready. Now over the next couple of weeks let's stay healthy, surround ourselves with family, and rest up toward fulfilling all that promise the second semester holds for our learning!

Stay safe!
Mr. M.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Two weeks of Coding and Alphabet Work until Winter Break

This week we have been exploring beginning computer coding as part of the Computer Science Education Week's "Hour of Code" program. Why is it evermore important that we get kids interested in coding? As far as reasons, I have 10 of them! Watch...

Our kids, grades 2, 3, and 4 will kick off a lifelong awareness of (and perhaps interest in) how computers are directed to do everything from open up an email to run a refrigerator, a.k.a. "coding!" We'll start at Kodable.com, a fantastic set of exercises that offers several levels of learning from its subscription based collection for this year's National Computer Education Week's "Hour of Code."

Students will work as far as they can as "anonymous student" then exit and save, whereupon they will receive a brief random alphanumeric password that will get them in to pick up where they left off next week. during the Spring months, we'll begin learning some more advanced coding and stick to it. Will anyone be creating computer games by the end of May? It's possible! Stay tuned. Try it yourself! Click "Play Now" beneath "Students - Get Started!"

This week and next, Kindergarten and 1st graders will login to ABCMouse.com to work at earning tickets toward purchasing virtual clothing, pets, and furniture. This is catching on as more students experience the option to shop, a great motivation for them to complete the fun, interactive, colorful, alphabet-based lessons. They need these! And most of them enjoy playing, reading, and singing at the site. Visit https://www.abcmouse.com to explore yourself.

In this time of winter holidays, may yours be wonderful and surrounded with loved ones. Snuggle up, Winter is here!

Here are some pics of kids learning:
     
Hour of Code at Kodable.com and ABCMouse.com successes!
ABCMouse fine motor work and collaboration at Kodable.com





Friday, December 2, 2016

Back from Break and Into December!

We returned from Thanksgiving Break ready to learn and work, and learn and work we did.

Kindergarten and 1st graders signed into their new accounts at ABCMouse.com for the first time last week, and by the end of this week most were well on their learning pathways beginning with the letter "a." Each activity they complete along the way rewards them with a digital ticket, or 2, or more; and they are able to go visit shops built into the platform and "spend" those tickets on items such as pets, clothing, and toys.

Sure, these "purchases" are all digital, but you wouldn't know that from the gleeful expressions on my wee ones' shining faces when they add a new shirt to the costume their customizable avatar is wearing! ABCMouse is a tremendous learning tool for them, and an excellent teaching tool for the computer lab. Visit yourself! Or better yet, have your child take you to see how it works. They won't be able to login to their school account from home, but if you send me your email address (to scott.merrick.mnps.org) and let me know you want that access, I can send you a code to allow you to access from home or library.
The 2nd through 4th graders all got a shot of Internet Safety information this week, first by whole-class viewing of "The Netsmartz Generation and "It's Okay to Tell," two short videos at Netsmartz Workshop. Then they were tasked to go watch at least one other video at the site. The 2nd graders were asked individually about the movie they watched and commented to me one-on-one. 3rd and 4th graders visited a customized Padlet.com page and typed (or in some cases, dictated to me) their comments. Armed with the password "warner," you can visit the page and see your child's work. Many chose only to enter their name and a very few words, so next time I'll up the ante with a minimum length requirement. Still, as preparation for future learning experiences with Padlet, it worked pretty well. Go visit at https://padlet.com/smerrick/zt7paq6u6yqf.

Here are a few images from our week in computer lab:








Thanks for the loan of your lovely children!

Mr. M.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Steering toward Thanksgiving Holidays

Hello, Parents,

It's funny how we all sort of use the holidays to punctuate or lives. After Fall break, though we love our work and our time with your children, many of us teachers set our sights on Thanksgiving break, a holiday where family is of the essence, and we use that deadline as a target mark for what we need to have accomplished with our students.

Most recently, I have begun working on actual skills, specific ones that your children will need to have as they begin to use computer programs for which these skills are real time-savers.

Last week with my 3rd and 4th graders we began intentional instruction and practice with Microsoft Word's "copy-paste" keyboard shortcuts, and this week we expanded to "cut and paste." These actions are controlled by key combinations, and it's easy to forget that they need to be learned. Not having had a computer lab last year, and with dubious skills instruction prior to that, it's been a real eye opener for me to introduce the specifics of the key combinations and then to have students work in documents I have prepared for them to copy and paste color names and item pictures into matching fields and then to "Save As" in a folder on the desktop.

Try it yourself! Do it with your child on your computer! Here's the link: http://bit.ly/warnercopypaste .

 For cut and paste, I made another document just for words to copy in beside their pictures, using Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V.  Try that one.

With K and 1st graders, we're venturing into ABCMouse, a very cool experience that's packed with grade appropriate activities. Students can customize and recustomize their avatars, and as they progress through My Learning Path they are awarded "tickets" that they can go on to trade for digital merchandise--clothing, pets, all sorts of things. Each child in each of these grades has his or her own account. Once it's selected, your child is on the way to a love of learning and a fun time in computer lab!

2nd graders are playing Thanksgiving games at Interactive Sites for Education. Go ahead, try that, too!
from http://abcmouse.com

The Code Club goes apace, our Ronald McDonald House pull-tab challenge has been won by Ms. Wolfe's 1st graders, and yes, we are rolling into Thanksgiving break next week. Have a great one!!!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Into November!

We've been busy in the computer lab, just having finished week 2 of a 10 week program in computer coding with our small group of 3rd and 4th grade pioneers. It's too early to say, but I'd say we will have a good solid number of them completing the code.org work by the end of the CodeCamp. If your child is in the camp, and if you have online access in any way, they should be able to work anytime at http://studio.code.org. Don't just allow that--encourage that!

This week has been all Halloween all day in our lab. I added a Holidays folder to http://www.tizmos.com/scottmerrick and we have been playing games. Playing games, you say? Yes. These games help develop thinking skills, mouse dexterity, and hand-eye coordination, in varying ways with varying games. Visit our Tizmos and click Halloween then go to "Interactive Sites for Education," the very first item in the folder. Here's the direct link: http://interactivesites.weebly.com/halloween.html

I'm particularly fond of the "Marble Lines Halloween" game, down toward the bottom of the screen, which promotes focus and hand-eye work to make high score and travel through the increasingly difficult levels. With my 4th graders, we talk about why this is a good game--what makes it that?
http://www.thekidzpage.com/freekidsgames/games/marble-lines/marble-lines-halloween.swf
 Also in the lab, Mrs. Sandler and I have adopted a group of 4th graders who are pioneering in another way. Our Reading Intervention strategy with these students is based on ReadingPlus, a scientifically designed, results-proven, program used all over the world. Read about its success with Dade County students here.  This is a pilot program I was lucky enough to win at last summer's International Society for Technology in Education conference in Denver, Colorado. I go every year but rarely any of the many many sweepstakes drawings, but this year I got lucky. So did my students!

So stay tuned! As we gear toward the next calendar benchmark, Thanksgiving, we'll be exploring more and more interesting, challenging, and productive opportunities to learn about technology!

And, btw, click to check out our lovely Jack- o'-Lanterns from K, 1, and 2 classes last week!