Disney Teacher Field Trip

For a first-time Disney visitor, preparing for our recent professional development teacher field trip to Disney World in Orlando was a little like jumping off a diving board and not knowing how far the water was. You trust that it’ll be great, but you’re going in blind and not fully knowing what to expect. Several week prior to the trip, we read The Wisdom of Walt by Jeffrey Barnes, and learned the history of the Disney theme park, the motivation and insight into Walt Disney, and how the themes and attributes of both the park and its founder can translate into the classroom. The book helped prepare me for the Disney experience as much as it could, but experiencing Disney World first-hand was like turning the lights on in a dimly-lit room; the sights, sounds, smells, and vastness of it all was something that I had to experience in order to fully appreciate it.

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The professional development teacher field trip was the brainchild of Andover, KS, Instructional Technology Coach, Dyane Smokorowski, who designed the trip to inspire teachers to take the lessons Walt Disney implemented in his parks and apply them in their classrooms to better engage students. There were 41 teachers from across the country that attended, and each day of the trip consisted of some whole-group activities and small-group challenges within the four parks of Disney World. On the first day, we were tasked to discover how Disney World personalizes the experience for each guest. We had to interview and take photos with cast members, park employees, to hear a variety of experiences on what they do to make each guest feel special. We also had to make character videos with Disney characters within the park. I was able to create selfie videos with Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy, in which we wished my students a great start to the school year. Those videos will go a long way in helping build that trust, excitement, and relationships that students need to be successful.

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On the second day, we embarked on a scavenger hunt challenge at either Epcot or Animal Kingdom. Our tasks included taking pictures with various items or people, trying different foods, or interviewing various cast members. My small group visited numerous country attractions at Epcot, learning about various cultures and customs. The third day had us spending time at the attraction that we had done some mini research on before the trip, reflecting on how this attraction could be used in some way in our own classroom. The attraction that I researched was “It’s a Small World,” where participants are taken on a boat ride through different parts of the world. It was fascinating to see the automated dolls dressed up in traditional costumes from countries all over the world. We also had the opportunity to learn about the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes, an organization that helps provide children with special needs a custom-built costume wheelchair. Many schools and classes partner with the organization to participate in it as a STEM project.

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This professional development experience has impacted me professionally by causing me to pay more attention to how I create an environment of magic in my own classroom. At Disney, I was amazed by how all of the attractions infused sight, sound, smell, and feel. Many of the rides had different scents that went with what was being shown visually, and had sprays of water or gusts of air to add to the experience. What would it look like to incorporate these elements and senses into lessons and projects? I was also struck by how friendly and accommodating the cast members were. Everyone seemed to go above and beyond to help the guests out and make their experience magical. It was a good reminder that the tone we set for our students can go a long way in what they learn and how successful they are in school. We even had various sponsors donate things for our trip, including an anonymous donation of water bottles, t-shirts from The Wright Stuff Chics, Rocketbook minis, backpacks from Buncee, and Dole Whips provided by Brainpop. The Disney trip was a great reminder that if we pay attention to the details and go the extra mile, we can make magic happen for students.

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Developing Empathy with Empatico

Having connected with classes from all around the world over the last few years, I had a pretty good idea of how setting up such a connection would work and how it would impact my 4th grade students. So I was curious to see how using Empatico compared to other connections we had made in the past. Empatico allows classes to connect with one another and explore ideas and experiences that foster student empathy, curiosity, and kindness. Teachers sign up, fill out their available schedule, and are matched with a partner class. With the calendar feature, teachers can see the common availability with their partner class, then use the chat feature to set up a time to connect their classes. There are numerous activities on the Empatico website that teachers can use when connecting with their partner class to help students interact with the other class and share similarities and differences. 

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Our partner class was a third grade class from Nevada. For our first call, we decided to do the activity Weather Out the Window. We were able to video connect with the class directly through the Empatico website. Students in both classes shared about the current weather where they lived and about the climate for each state. That led to a conversation comparing the weather and climate in Kansas and Nevada. Students even discovered that despite having different climates, each state was currently in a drought.

When we had our second call a couple weeks later, we did the Ways We Play activity. On the call, the students shared their favorite recess games and sports they play after school or during the summer. The students discovered that they have far more in common than they had differences. It was great to see each class start to connect with one another over things they shared. One of the things I enjoyed about Empatico was the ease of use. Everything from the schedule and calendar to the activity lessons and resources to the video platform were all located on the Empatico website. It was helpful to have everything located together. My students gain so much when connecting with other classes around the country and world. They develop communication skills, empathy, and collaboration, and widen their perspectives of the world, continuing on their journey to become global citizens. Empatico helps them along that path. 

ISTE 2017 Recap

ISTE 2017 in San Antonio was filled with learning new educational trends, networking with great educators, and sharing the successes of my students in Kansas. Monday began with the IGNITE session. I shared my passions about global collaboration and shared several global projects that my students had participated in this year through Skype in the Classroom. I then shared why global collaboration is important for students, as well as for society as a whole. In part, it exposes students to other people, points-of-view, and culture, and helps them develop empathy. That in turn, makes the world a safer place by breaking down the barriers of fear, ignorance, and the unknown.

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After the IGNITE session, I held a Mystery Skype poster session with two other teachers. Many people stopped by our table eager to learn more about how using Skype and doing mystery Skypes can help students academically and socially. We were able to introduce teachers to all that Skype in the Classroom has to offer students and the many doors it can help open. I then hosted a Skype in the Classroom virtual field trip to Yellowstone National Park in the Microsoft Experience room. It was great to see the expression on the audience members’ faces who were experiencing a Skype virtual field trip for the first time. Later, I spoke at the Buncee booth about how Buncee and Kidblog can be used for student assessments and as a way to communicate with parents.

Tuesday morning I gave a presentation on alternative student assessments. I shared many student examples and discussed why it is important to give students more voice and choice and creativity when assessing what they know on a topic or standard. Overall, ISTE 2017 was a great way to gather new ideas and talk with various education technology companies and vendors. I will take many new ideas with me into next school year!

Cultural Coding Challenge

Computer science is a growing field. The more technology advances, the more jobs and opportunities will become available in the computer science industry. However, there is a wide gender gap in the number of people filling those computer science positions. According to The National Center for Women and Information Technology, girls comprise only 19% of all computer science AP test-takers, and only 18% of all undergraduate computer and information science degrees are earned by women. Technology is used by the vast majority of society, yet if much of half of our population aren’t engaged in the creation process, then we are missing out on many potential innovations.

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In a recent global collaboration project that my 4th grade class participated in, we explored this issue while learning more about computer science and coding. We partnered with an all-girls coding college in Mexico City called Laboratoria. Our classes connected initially by doing a Mystery Skype with one another. Once we figured out the location of each class, then each class issued the other a coding challenge. The challenge was straightforward and simple enough: create something using a coding or computer science program that would tell about your state or country’s heritage and culture.

In small groups of three or four, my students created presentations using the coding program Scratch. Most of my students hadn’t had much experience using Scratch, but it was intuitive enough that they were able to figure it out as they went. The few students in my class with experience using Scratch were also great resources for the other students. They created their programs on Kansas symbols and important landmarks and history of the United States. We were able to take content that we had previously learned and apply it in a new way while exploring more about coding.

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When each class was done creating their coding projects, we connected via Skype again and each small group presented their projects to the other class through the screen-sharing feature on Skype. The students in both classes loved seeing the creations that the partner class had made. The experience was also a great way for my students to learn about issues such as gender equality and global educational access, as well as have discussions about why it is important for more girls to go into computer science-related fields. Below I have linked my class’ Scratch coding projects and the websites that the Laboratoria students created. We look forward to doing this project again in the future!

Here is link to my class’ Scratch coding projects. Mr. Flory’s class’ coding projects

Here are the links to the websites created by the Laboratoria students.

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Digital storytelling

Whenever you read a good book, you often feel the urge to talk about it or retell your favorite parts. In education, teachers do a fine job of having students retell what they have read. Students get in pairs or small groups and talk about various aspects of the book, make connections, inferences, etc. For teachers looking to add more technology into their students’ retelling, there are a number of ways they can accomplish this.

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This past year, my class did a read aloud of the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We partnered with another 4th grade class who was also reading this book at the same time. After every handful of chapters, our classes would retell a scene from the chapters that we had just read and then share them with the other class via Skype. For the first quarter of the book, we used Legos to build scenes from that section. In small groups, students decided on a scene from a specific set of chapters that we had read and then visually depicted the scene with Legos. We then Skyped with our partner class and each small group took turns holding their Lego scene up to the camera, while the other class tried to guess what scene or part of the book they were representing. After each successful guess, the group that created the scene would explain in more detail what the scene was about and why they choose to portray that part of the book.

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For the next section of the book, my students created human comics to retell a specific part of the book. In small groups, students reenacted a scene from specific chapters by positioning their bodies as characters and/or props while another classmate took their photo. The students then saved the photo to their student Google Drive and uploaded the picture to a class Slideshow that I had created and shared with the class. Once they had their picture uploaded, students then added text in speech and thought bubbles, as well as another other picture props they needed for the scene. When we connected with the other class, I shared my computer screen through Skype so that the other class could see our Slideshow. Each group would come up to the camera in turn and explain about their scene to the other class. Here is a link to view our Human Comic Slideshow.

Our last digital storytelling activity we did with the Harry Potter book was with green screen. Small groups of students chose a scene from our next few chapters of the book. Using a green screen and the DoInk app on the Ipad, students posed in front of the green screen as the characters would act during that part of the book. Next, they searched for a background picture that would work in that scene, before uploading it and adding the layer of their green screen photo. Once they saved that layer picture, students uploaded it in a Google Slideshow I created and shared with the class. Once again, students could then add text and picture props to add more to their scenes. When we Skyped with our partner class, I shared my screen and students explained more about their scene. Here is a link to view our Harry Potter green screen scenes.

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Adding technology to our story retelling and giving students a choice in what scene and how they would retell it was liberating for them. They were so excited to recreate parts of the book and to be able to share it with an authentic audience. I look forward to doing this activity again with another book and partner class in the future!

Mannequin Book Challenge

Every so often, there is a social phenomenon or fad that fills society to the brim, grabs the attention of your students, and spills into the classroom. Such was the case recently with the Mannequin Challenge. There were numerous times where I would walk in the classroom from the hallway from the back of the line, and my 4th graders would spontaneously freeze in place after someone had shouted “mannequin challenge!” This would only last a few seconds, and they would find great humor in the fact that their teacher would often participate and freeze in place, as well.

When there is a social phenomenon so engaging that students will voluntarily and spontaneously participate in it in class, it would behoove educators to ask how they can utilize this in their classroom. After some thinking, I came up with the Mannequin Book Challenge. This is a class-to-class partnership activity we did through Skype. Our partner class was Scott Bedley’s 5th grade class in California. My class came up with 10 books that were well known classics or currently popular, books that students in both classes would easily recognize. I shared that list with our Mr. Bedley. Each class then decided on a specific scene from one of the books on the list. We practiced acting, or freezing, out the scene and constructed any props or decorations needed to help set the stage for the activity.

My class acted out the chess scene from the first Harry Potter book. They assigned roles, measured and constructed the paper for transforming the floor into a chessboard, and gave constructive feedback to one another when practicing their parts. When the time came to do the activity, we Skyped with Mr. Bedley’s class and each class took turns freezing in their scene for about 20 seconds. I paused the video on Skype while my students got in and out of position. The other class then had to guess which book and scene we were depicting. It was a great way to pull in a culturally-relevant activity while giving students a creative way to share their knowledge of a book to a real-world audience!

Watch the Mannequin Book Challenge here.

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Learning to Fail

Too often, teachers, myself included, are guilty of giving in to students’ struggles too early. When students are struggling to understand a concept or achieve a goal, the temptation is to help provide a solution too early. But, there is much to be gained from students continuing to wrestle with a problem for an extended period of time. Not only does it help them develop a sense of perseverance and determination, but it also helps students realize that they need to own their learning, that they will not be bailed-out by their teacher, but need to problem-solve.

Recently, I tasked my students with a problem that I hoped would help them achieve those realizations. I told my students that their task was to find a way to fit their whole bodies through a single sheet of paper with the borders still intact.  They could use as much paper for as many tries as they wanted, and use any other resources, including scissors. I didn’t give them any further explanation, and I let them go for it. Over the next 20 – 25 minutes, I watched my students struggle, fail, and try again, sometimes amid frustration. There were many different strategies being used. I had a specific strategy in mind for how to achieve the goal, but a few of my students were able to cut the middle out of the paper and leave just a sliver of a border and were able to squeeze their way through the paper. It was not the correct strategy I had in mind, and it wouldn’t work for all students, but for some it did.

They were able to defy even my expectations and find an alternative, correct method to solve the problem. After about 25 minutes of strategizing and trial-and-error, and some successes as I mentioned, I showed the students the method that I had learned. Through problem-solving, failure, and perseverance, my students were able to discover new strategies that made them successful and explored other possibilities that enabled them to get closer to achieving their goal. The method that I used and showed my students was this method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jBUwH-TfqQ

FETC 2017 Musings

This year’s trip to the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) was brief, but intense. I presented two poster sessions, as well as spoke at the Buncee booth and Kidblog booth. My first poster session was on Alternative Student Assessments and my class’ partnership with Wichita education nonprofit Teach for Life. Teach for Life is an online forum for teachers and students to share teaching strategies and content to others around the world, especially targeting teachers in developing countries who have little or no formal education training. At the Buncee booth, I also spoke on how my students use alternative assessments in lieu of standard paper and pencil tests to show what they know through creative tools.

My second poster session featured the use of Microsoft tools Sway and Skype to create collaborative global projects. Classes around the world can connect with each other via Skype, start a Sway and the teachers can share editing rights with one another. Through Skype, one teacher shares their screen and students can take turns sharing content with one another while other students from both classes collaboratively add content to the Sway. At the Kidblog booth, I shared with educators how my class uses global blogging partners to share about each other’s culture, school system, and class projects, all while building empathy and understanding of others around the world.

Skype Breakout EDU

It is always a special time as an educator when you can watch learning and discoveries happen before your eyes. When students are taking charge of their education, and you can simply help facilitate them during the process. That was the case last Wednesday, when my students took part in a Skype Breakout EDU all-day activity. I had wanted to create a Breakout Edu activity for my students that incorporated Skype, so that students could combine problem-solving and collaboration skills with global collaborative, cultural learning. With the help of Dyane Smokorowski, we developed clues for a Breakout EDU game that led to the students Skyping with a person or class in other countries. 

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In all, my students connected with people in five continents, having to discover each location once they had solved a clue. Students all worked on the same clue at the same time, but worked together in small groups at their tables. For the first clue, students looked at a slideshow with different animals and tried to match the animal with the clue that I had written. Once they found the correct animal, they then had to match that animal with the country where it was the national animal. That box used the key lock. Once they were ready to guess the country, I called my pre-scheduled contact via Skype, and the students guessed what country he was located in. My contact confirmed his location, gave a few fun facts about his country, and then read a clue I had written for him to read that pointed the students in the direction for our next clue. In each box my students unlocked for each clue, they received a piece of a Rebus Puzzle that they would solve and put together at the end to give them their final Skype destination.

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Aside from the animal riddle and slide, clues involved unscrambling words of countries and moving on a map to track directions, a picture coded message, and a South American video with questions on Edpuzzle. My students visited Nigeria, Philadelphia, Ireland, Uruguay, and Tasmania. When we were Skyping with the teacher in Ireland, he was working a few evening hours at a radio station. My students were able to see and hear inside an Irish radio station, complete with the teacher briefly pausing his conversation with us to jump on the air to transition between songs. During our Skype clue with Uruguay, the teacher was holding an after-school cooking class with several students. We were able to see the ingredients on the table for zucchini muffins with parmesan cheese and discuss the process by which it is made. With each clue solved and Skype connection, students were gaining a better understanding of the world and other cultures, while working collaboratively together for a common purpose.

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Skype Collaborations

Years from now, when my students look back on their 4th grade year, I want them to remember connections that helped them grow, learn, and be inspired. Using Skype in the Classroom for global collaboration projects helps sow the seeds of being life-long learners and a feeling of interconnectedness with the surrounding world.

Participating in global collaboration projects helps students to be authentic learners, doing first-hand research instead of simply looking up information in a book or online.

Connecting with others through Skype helps my students become emotionally engaged in the academic material. They are much more interested in learning and better able to retain the information if they are able to have real-world, authentic experiences.

Collaborating with peers in different parts of the world teaches my students to be creative problem-solvers, using communication and critical thinking skills to tackle real-world problems, and empowering them to know that they can change the world.

One of our classroom themes last year was learning about global education access and educational systems. We made several connections to explore this issue. During a Skype call to a class in Guinea in West Africa, my students witnessed first-hand the stark contrast in educational resources, as they saw peers an ocean away huddled around one computer in a room with crumbling walls.

On a call to a school in Nigeria where many students’ families were directly affected by terrorist activity and kidnapping, my students heard testimonials of students risking everything for an opportunity to get an education.

During a Skype call for a writing exchange project with a class in the United Kingdom, one of my shy students was pulled out of his shell by a total stranger who looked and sounded different than he did by a simple compliment on his writing in front of the entire class.

A cultural exchange with a class in Turkey gave rise to two groups of students a world apart sharing traditional songs and dances with one another.

And a Skype Around the World Day, with my class globetrotting to every continent on Earth until midnight, allowed my students to see how students in other countries learn. They saw traditional dresses and games in action from students in India, took a sneak-peak into an after-school cooking class in Uruguay, learnt how to play rock-paper-scissors in Japanese, learnt the rules of cricket from an Australian student, saw first-hand the harsh Antarctic landscape, and learnt how to say “hello” in a dozen different languages.

All of these experiences give my students a glimpse of the world around them, a world that they are a part of and will help shape. We do our students a disservice if all we teach them as educators is what to learn instead of how to learn. By connecting with classes and peers from around the world, students gain a better understanding of our common humanity and realize that information is at their fingertips, just waiting to be seized.

As an educator teaching 21st century learning skills, it is my duty to teach my students to become global citizens. As technology advances, the world is becoming smaller and our students will have greater access than anyone before them to connect with others around the world. By exposing students to other cultures and viewpoints, we are helping to make the world safer by breaking down the barriers of ignorance, fear, and the unknown.

Students learn that there is no “us and them,” but only other peers who have the same hopes and dreams, interests and values as they have; that there is far more that binds us together than keeps us apart. Skype in the Classroom helps to bridge the physical divide of oceans and continents by allowing students to connect on a personal level, developing empathy and learning to recognize a person for the character of their heart.