Showing posts with label Gary Stager. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gary Stager. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2017

Benefits of Cross-curricular Learning

This post was commissioned by Kids Discover Online.

In the course of a typical day you probably find yourself using knowledge and skills from a wide variety of areas. Figuring out how to pay your bills? Math. Taking the shortcut to avoid traffic? Geography. Writing an email to your boss to explain why the shortcut didn’t work and you were late to work? Creative writing. The point is that we apply diverse knowledge and skills to problems in our lives on a daily basis. Yet too often we teach skills in narrowly defined subject areas. That’s why cross-curricular lessons should be a part of our teaching practice.

When I was a first-year teacher I was fortunate to be placed on a team with teachers who were experienced though not so experienced that they didn’t want to try new things. One of the things that we tried that year was to collaborate to create projects in which our students had to draw on the knowledge learned and skills developed in math, science, social studies, and language arts. Thirteen years later I still have former students (now in their late 20’s) comment to me about the project in which they had to make proposals to either increase or decrease spending for Mars exploration. This project was the final one of the year. As the final project it required that students draw on the knowledge and skills they had developed throughout the year. I’d love to say that all of the groups made awesome proposals, but they didn’t. However, it did help many students see that even though they weren’t “math people” or “weren’t science” people, they could use math and science concepts in a way that wasn’t just “solving a problem.” (Bonus fun fact: to celebrate the conclusion of that project we all watched the horribly cheesy Capricorn One in which OJ Simpson played an astronaut).

So why don’t we see more cross-curricular lessons in schools? “Lack of planning time” is a common answer. It often takes more time and, in the case of cross-curricular teams, more coordination to plan a cross-curricular lesson than say a lesson on the Pythagorean theorem. Fortunately, a resource like Kids Discover Online can help you put together a cross-curricular lesson. Kids Discover Online offers units of articles aligned to standards in multiple subject areas. Every article is offered in three versions to accommodate differing reading abilities.

Not every cross-curricular learning activity needs to fall into the category of multiple week projects in order to be effective. In fact, much can be gained from including short cross-curricular lessons on a regular basis. In 2010 National Teacher Research Panel, UK published a paper that included the points that cross-curricular learning can improve students’ comprehension of problems. It can also improves students’ recognition of “thinking skills” tasks. And cross-curricular learning can improve students’ ability to pose multiple responses to problem stimuli.

In reading Cross-Curricular Learning 3-14 written by Jonathan Barnes I learned that cross-curricular learning can can strengthen “left brain - right brain” connections through cross-curricular learning leads to enhanced problem solving abilities. In turn strengthening the sense of achievement that students feel at the completion of a learning activity. In other words, it can help remove the feeling of “I’m not a math person” or “I’m not a history person.” While reading that section of Barnes’s book I was reminded of a video clip that Dr. Gary Stager showed during a presentation about Dr. Seymour Papert’s work. In the clip, available here, Papert suggests that if we all learned mathematics in “Mathland” we would all learn mathematics perfectly well. Papert also thought that teaching the “the three Rs” was an outdated methodology.

Seymour Papert on "Mathland" excerpted from the Squeakers DVD from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


To help students to see topics and problems as more than just a “history lesson” or a “math problem” Kids Discover Online offers a feature called Discover Maps. Discover maps can help students see the connections between social studies topics, math topics, and science topics. It is one of the tools that exists today that I wish had existed when my students undertook the Mars project years ago. Discover Maps are essentially interactive webs of discovery. Students can select any topic in a web and instantly see a new web of more related topics. The webs display related topics from the fields of science, social studies, and math. Each time a student clicks on a topic a new web is generated. Of course, each web also contains links to multimedia articles for students to read.


If you have been thinking about developing cross-curricular lessons, consider availing yourself of the resources provided by Kids Discover Online. It’s not as hard as you might think and it can provide excellent benefits to your students.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The ISTE Presentation Almost Everyone Missed - And Shouldn't Have

The ISTE 17 presentation that I was looking forward to more than any other was Dr. Gary Stager's 50th Anniversary of Logo. I got there early because I genuinely thought the ballroom would be packed. Instead, there were maybe three dozen of us in the room. That's a shame because ISTE attendees missed out on a fantastic tour through the history, development, and role of Logo and programming in general in schools.

For those that don't know, Logo is the basis of some of the most popular programming tools in school today. Scratch, Snap, MIT App Inventor, and many other tools are all rooted in Logo.

Logo Writer was my introduction to computers when I was an elementary school student. As I've said in many presentations over the years, getting to use Logo Writer was the first time that I wanted to stay after school and come in early for academic reasons. I spent a lot of hours in sixth grade programming various animations. Here's a screencast of someone using Logo Writer. (Public domain video from Archive.org).



Turtle Art is software that you can get today for free to do many of the same things that I was doing in Logo Writer. A helpful tip about Turtle Art that I learned from Gary was that you can drag a completed Turtle Art project from the gallery of examples into the software on your desktop and have the program revealed. The challenge to then give to your students is to change the program to create a new design. Gary gave the example of turning stalactites into stalagmites. Go to Turtle Art, get the software and try it for yourself. It's a fun challenge.

Visit Gary Stager's 50th Anniversary Logo Resources page to learn more about Logo, Turtle Art, and the development of programming in schools.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Snap - A Great Way for Students to Try Programming

Earlier this week I Tweeted that anyone who is going to the ISTE conference in San Antonio needs to put Gary Stager's presentation titled Logo at 50: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas on his or her calendar. Understanding the development of Logo is key to understanding how many of the programming apps we have in classrooms today came to be. One of those programs is Snap.

Snap! is a drag-and-drop programming interface designed to help students learn to program. Snap! uses a visual interface that works in your browser on your laptop as well as on your iPad or Android tablet. To design a program in Snap! drag commands into a sequence in the scripts panel. The commands are represented by labeled jigsaw puzzle pieces that snap together to create a program. You can try to run your program at any time to see how it will be executed. After previewing your program you can go back and add or delete pieces as you see fit.

Snap! may remind some people of Scratch. That is because the Snap! developers call their program "an extended re-implementation of Scratch." The potential benefit of Snap! over Scratch is that teachers who have a mix of iPads, Android tablets, and laptops in their classrooms can have all of their students use the same programming interface.

Friday, August 28, 2015

5 Things I Learned While Re-reading Invent to Learn

While book publishers send me many books to read throughout the year, very few ever get mentioned on this blog because I am not in the business of writing book reviews. That said, when I do find a book that I think many of you will enjoy, I'll share it.

When Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager published Invent to Learn a couple of years I quickly read it on my Android tablet through the Kindle app. Then in March of this year I had a chance to talk with Gary for a while at a conference that we were both invited to in Sydney. While there I bought a paperback copy of Invent to Learn. I have now read it two more times and filled it with notes in the margins of the pages (scribbling notes is the best part about having a physical copy of a book). In no particular order, here are five highlights from the notes I've taken while reading Invent to Learn.

1. Avoid the "keychain syndrome" when developing projects.
Martinez and Stager cite Paulo Blikstein for developing this term to describe what happens when students learn to use fabrication tools like 3D printers. The point of the project shouldn't be to learn how to use the equipment (though that is needed) but to use the equipment to create things of meaning to them.

2. Skip the preload.
Stager and Martinez remind us to avoid the temptation to take "just a minute" to explain how a program or tool works. That "just a minute" can quickly turn into 25 minutes of "how to" instruction that students don't need because they are more than willing to push buttons, flip switches, click menus, and generally explore without a fear of not knowing what will happen. I've been guilty of this in my practice and I'm trying to cut down my preload time as much as possible.

3. Collaboration comes in different forms. 
Collaboration doesn't have to mean two or more students working together for the duration of a project. It could be as simple as observing and asking questions of a peer or group of peers.

4. Good project prompts are short and sweet. 
Skip the long-winded "by the end of this project you will have done..." and give students prompts that are clear and concise. The prompt should also give students the flexibility to satisfy the prompt in the way that they see best. I've employed this strategy for years. My experience has been that students who are used to being told, "here's the rubric, here's what you need to get a good grade" will freak out and flounder for a while until they realize that they have the power to respond to the prompt in a manner of their own choosing.

5. Instruction is useful, not everything has to be "discovered" by students.
There is a temptation to make every learning experience about students "discovering" information. Sometimes direct instruction is needed and is just as useful as students discovering on their own. Stager and Martinez give this example,
There is no reason to discover the date of Thanksgiving when you can ask someone. Instruction is useful for learning things that would take an instant or when little benefit would be gained by investigating it yourself
Beyond the philosophical items that I've featured above, Invent to Learn is full of fantastic resources for anyone interested in using the concepts of the Maker Movement, 3D printing, and programming in their classrooms.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Seven Steps for Creating Videos In Your Classroom

On page 76 of Invent To Learn Stager and Martinez write, "The movie can be done without a storyboard or script, the 3D object may not be the most precisely planned out, but the point is to create something that can be shared and talked about." Later in the same chapter they advise avoiding overteaching planning as it can stifle creativity in some students.  

For years my outline for student video projects was outline, gather, construct, revise, and share. In fact, just yesterday I shared that outline in a presentation. After reading and reflecting on Stager and Martinez's advice I'm changing my outline. We're well aware that most students when given some time will figure out how to use a video editing tool. We don't need to spend lots of time teaching that as most of our kids will be biting their tongues as we fumble with things they already know how do or at least feel confident that they can do. Therefore, my new process is as outlined below. (Bear in mind, this is a process for videos that will have a finished length of five minutes or less).

1. Create - let the kids have a crack at making their videos. If some students have a nature inclined to planning first, let them. If others want to jump into the process right away, that's great too. When I make screencast videos I don't always plan them first, I just make them. If the first attempt doesn't result in a polished work, that's okay because now I know what I need to change for the next attempt.

2. Reflect - take a look at what was made. What is good about it? What needs to be changed?

3. Outline - create that outline or storyboard now that you know what to keep and what to change.

4. Create - this is the second attempt at the video.

5. Revise - take a look at what the second attempt at creation yielded. Revise the outline again for the next round of editing or re-shooting.

6. Create - this is the second round of editing or it could be a complete re-shoot of a video.

7. Share - when you're happy with your video (it may take many more rounds of steps 5 and 6) share it with the world. Share it on Next Vista for Learning, YouTube, your classroom blog, or anywhere else that there is a potential audience for your work.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Get a Free Copy of Invent to Learn from Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom is a new book authored by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez. For the rest of this week they are giving away free Kindle versions of the book. I'm looking forward to reading the book myself. I have seen Gary speak on a few occasions and I've always walked away with great new ideas. Click here for directions on how to get the book.

A Kindle book will run on almost every device – iPad, Mac, Windows, Android, iPhone, and Kindle using the free Kindle app. I use the Android app on my Nexus tablet to read Kindle books.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Don't Hate iPads, but...

Last night I re-Tweeted the following from Gary StagerI took my iPad away for the weekend instead of my Macbook Pro and it's not ready to replace the laptop. #notreadyforprimetime. As usually happens when I Tweet anything mildly negative about iPads, some people came out to defend iPads in classrooms. Before we go any farther you should know that I don't hate iPads, but I just don't think they're a good purchase for schools to make them the sole device for a 1:1 program. If you already have a 1:1 program in place then go for the iPad purchase as a secondary device. 


Last spring I wrote that I didn't think iPads should be purchased as the primary devices for 1:1 programs. Since then I have attended conferences and facilitated workshops (combined total of 18 if I counted correctly) in which I saw people trying to use their iPads as replacements for laptops. Of course, I didn't just sit back and watch, I asked questions of the people using their iPads (I've also talked to random strangers in airport terminals about their iPads. Hey, there's only so much a person can do at Newark International or wherever I happen to be delayed).  What I've learned in the past fourteen months is that the iPad is not capable of replacing a laptop for creative productivity. It could be done in most cases, but not without finding apps to replace some of the functionality of some otherwise routine operations. And in a few cases in the workshops I facilitated participants were left out of activities unless they purchased apps. For example, when we were creating Wolfram Alpha widgets for our blogs in one workshop the person who had only brought an iPad couldn't do it. 


Aside from the time and costs associated with getting all of the right apps to replace the creative functionality of a laptop, my concern is this that Gary said well in 140 characters: @rmbyrneSimple - keychains don't sync, needed passwords, iMovie would not import .mov file. Just sloppy, not a hardware limitation. 


The iPad does have a place in classrooms. That place for now is as a secondary device, not as a primary device for 1:1 programs.


To be continued...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Good Guides to Understanding Your PC Inside & Out

Make Use Of is one of my favorite tech sites because almost every day I find something useful on it. Yesterday, I discovered Your PC Inside and Out on Make Use Of. Your PC Inside and Out is actually two excellent guides to understanding the various parts of a personal computer and how those parts work together. Part 1 covers chassis, power supply, and motherboard. Part 2 covers CPU, RAM, storage, video card, and expansion. You can view the guides on Scribd (part 1, part 2) or download them as PDFs from the Make Use Of Guides page. I recommend downloading them as I found it easier to read them that way.

MakeUseOf.com-Your PC Inside and Out Part 1

Applications for Education
As I read through these guides I couldn't help but think of a recent post by Gary Stager and the subsequent comments by me, him, and others. Many things were covered in Gary's post and in the comments, but what I took away from it (and from having heard Gary speak live) was the idea that students should have knowledge of how the technology they use works. While they're probably not going to go out an build their own computers after reading it, Your PC Inside and Out is a good primer to understanding the basic components of how a PC works.