Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Everything's blocked!"

Hello, Parents and Friends,

We are moving apace in the computer lab as we head into the last 6 weeks of school. All students are learning much more after our adoption of the "Structured Learning" curriculum for computer labs which we purchased around the start of the calendar year.

I want to share a perspective with you. If you have heard from your child that "everything is blocked" in the computer lab, it's because I take very seriously my charge as "in loco parentis" in the computer lab. No, that doesn't mean "crazy parent," it means the adult in the room who is in charge of children.

Students may exercise all sorts of online entertainment options on home computers or other devices, at home or out in the world, which are not permissible in the school setting. I utilize LANSchool in the lab to control what is possible to visit here at school. This is in addition to the ENA blocklist, which limits access to many websites for students of the entire state of Tennessee.

Just so you know, my criteria for blocking websites is fairly straightforward. I block access if...
  • There is profanity, including in user comments
  • There are inappropriate images of any kind, including
    • violent
    • profane
    • bloody
  • There are unsettling images, perhaps not any of the above, but ones which could lead to unsafe feelings or confusion in children--this includes inappropriate ads
  • The site is known to have been unsafe for security reasons, including a history of hosting malware, spyware, or other "scumware" (e.g. ggkids, Roblox)
  • The site is so bandwidth intensive that it threatens the vitality of our internet bandwidth (e.g. Spotify and Pandora)
  • The site is one that is a "clickbait" site--e.g. one that seems to offer games but just leads from webpage to webpage, rolling up click totals in order to charge advertisers for views
In addition to ENA's already extensive list, I have continually added to the local Warner computer lab list as our days have gone by this year and I have seen the need. I just added a site today. In the interest of open communication, I think I'll share it with you here:


Feel free to copy and use this list in any security software you may have. It's continually being updated. That's all for now. And visit my Tizmos safe-start page, which I use in the lab for the scores of websites that aren't blocked!!!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

3rd Grade Self-Portraits in Art Class

In a series of posts dedicated to highlighting the good things going on in other parts of Warner Enhanced Option Elementary School, I offer you today the stellar, evocative, thoughtful, and heartwarming self-portraits 3rd graders created under the guidance of (can I overuse this word?) stellar Elementary Arts teacher Ms. Sheila Crenshaw.

I'll put a few of them here, but you may see the whole set by visiting this Dropbox link. Enjoy!


April Showers Bring May Progress

Hello, Parents,

Just dropping into the blog to note that we are making progress with our technology knowledge and skills, and that the Spring semester change to Professional Learning Communities schedule has given me the opportunity to offer extended ixl.com time to my "class," the K, 1, 3, and 4 homerooms that meet with me at the end of the day once a week in computer lab (while their homeroom teachers spend quality time planning and conferring over data toward improving student learning).

It is beginning to pay off for these children and I'm of the believe that it will do so at testing time. Though I'm not a big fan of standardized testing I realize it has its place as a formative assessment tool, and ixl.com practice will ensure that our kids with that experience are more familiar with online testing and thereby will have an edge come testing day(s).

Just look at this certificate that flew into my inbox just yesterday:
Now, this certificate will live on the wall in our computer lab until it is replaced by one recognizing even greater achievement. We're getting them ready, and we appreciate your sending them to us with positive attitudes and a yearn to learn. On good days during PLC time, we end the sessions by venturing out to the playground for some extra outdoor recess, something else our kids really need. It's a win-win!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Curriculum is Soft-Launched

Hello, Parents,

We are rolling out the Structured Learning computer lab curriculum in our lab, gently. Revising the launch for our students so that they are not overwhelmed, but also so that they begin to understand the transformative potential of learning as much about technology as they possibly can, I'm doing a serious (re)introduction to computer keyboarding. Please talk with your child about how practicing this important skill toward learning it--the goal being to learn to type without looking at your hands, both quickly and accurately--can open up their future to be more comfortable and successful both in school and in life after school. I have a few students who seem unwilling to put forth the effort to do so, and I trust that hearing it from you might just help!

Kindergarteners, 1st-ers, and 2nd graders learned a bit about the difference between input devices and output devices on a computer this week. This is an essential concept for them to understand and most of them worked through the online tutorial at ABCya.com very well. Next week we are slated to work on basic problem-solving skills--how exactly can you solve a problem if you don't immediately know the solution?

I have a few pictures of students working in the computer lab, along with their work, of which they are always proud once its completed.

Free Choice two-player games adds collaboration

Creating Minecraft bots at Kodable.com

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!