Year3-Week14: Thoughts from the Educational Trenches

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_friday-duty

Year3-Week14: Thoughts from the Educational Trenches

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_friday-duty

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_friday-duty

I like being an educational grunt on the front lines in the classroom and take some pride that what others theorize about, I have to make happen. It might be a fool’s errand, but you can’t tell me what we’re supposed to be doing in the classroom if you’ve never spend any given week teaching in said classrooms. And it turns out that we tend to NOT plan for student resistance.

Twenty-six students per class and all it takes is two or three students committed to NOT following directions to derail the lesson plan. I have to confess that I tend to assume student buy-in, because the subject is so awesome, that I can be thrown off when students decide that they aren’t going to follow directions. Doh!

I was pleasantly surprised this past week when one third grade class followed directions as they began the LEGO WeDo unit and chose to complete the first lesson with minimal drama and almost every pair built their first robot before the end of class. The same could not be said for one fifth grade class that decided not to do their Scratch programming lesson and made it all about their dislike of their assigned partner, such that only one pair out of 12 completed the lesson. Something here needs to be adjusted.

Admin thinks it’s all about classroom discipline and “consequences,” but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Earlier robotics classes floundered because too much was expected with too little time to get the job done. We just ran out of time to get anything done and really have fun with the robots before our four-weekly-sessions were over. So, I simplified things and reduced the number of robot builds and added time to compete and reflect on the process. Conversely, I think the problem with Scratch is that because we’re not programming a physical device it’s harder to make the team thing work. It’s too easy to get derailed and choose to NOT follow directions. Building and programming a robot can be a two or three person activity, but Scratch really works better when everyone has their own computer to program. You wouldn’t know that if you haven’t spent time watching groups of students do the Scratch programming lessons. I should have known this from my Full Sail Labs experiences. Physical devices, like robots, can be group/paired experiences, while programming characters on a screen is better served when everybody gets to use their own computer/iPad.

We’re still spending way too much time just with the login/getting things started process. There are lab-supervision software programs that I really should push for, so that I can have better control of all the computers when I need to do whole class instruction. When I talked to a couple vendors about this, they admitted that they can do everything I need, except control iPads. So I can anticipate having to control iPad access more directly, because some kids are dedicated to derailing things. That said, I would like to see more instruction completely conducted via iPad, so that everyone has a device.

If we had enough iPads, I’d consider switching from Scratch to Apple’s Swift Playgrounds (which is iPad only). We would need five more iPads to make that work. At the same time Scratch itself is going HTML5 in January (and finally leaving Adobe Flash), which finally makes it something that we can do on either iPads or computers. So, I’m thinking that I’m going to shelve Scratch with 4th & 5th graders until January/February, when we can have either enough devices to Scratch is ready to be used on the devices we have.

I posted on one of my classroom walls the giant maps of our neighborhood created by my kindergarteners and first grade classes. I’m thinking that the follow-up activity will be for them to create houses and buildings using the small milk cartons that I collected earlier this month and then Velcro the little buildings to the map… Finally, second and third grade classes are into multiple weeks doing a “Student Learning Goals” research/presentation process (that was originally supposed to happen in one class period). So… lots of room for growth. What was that quote that I used from week two of this year:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, German Field Marshal

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_student-community-maps

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_student-community-maps

Year Three

Year Three


Even though I’ve been running classrooms for 23-years, the challenge of beginning another school year is more than a little overwhelming. As if that weren’t enough, I also closed on my new condo on the first day of classes, so add moving and setting up a new home to the “beginning of the school year” challenges. But unlike the previous two-years, because I was planning on the new home, I didn’t travel this summer and was able to better attack the challenge of getting my whole school up and running on my school’s learning management system, Canvas. Let’s just say that last year my efforts were sunk by the endless challenges of user-IDs and passwords when working with five- to eleven-year-olds. The other two teachers who tried to use the system quit trying about the same time I gave up, in October.

So, this week has been crazy because I have to reset all of the passwords of all the students because that would be the normal first thing that every student would need to do, and did I mention how high the failure rate of logging in becomes when you trust elementary students to set their own passwords? I’ve been working on the password reset for over a week now. This being the first week, I was also re-introduced to the idea that fourth and fifth graders might be mildly challenged to remember their student ID numbers that they’ve been using for over four-years while Kindergarteners and first-graders struggled with just sitting at their computers for the whole 50-minute class period. Oh yeah, being the first week also means that the list of students that I worked with last night might not reflect which students show up for my lab, be on the roster, be assigned to my class or be recognized by the district’s active directory system. Of my 21 classes, maybe only one or two didn’t have a couple students with errors that prevented them from logging in to the system.

So, week one is done. Thirty-six more to go. That may seem like that’s a lot of time, but it really isn’t and it requires careful planning to get anywhere close to our curriculum potential. Six grade levels, five disciplines… the potential is overwhelming. Just teaching Art across six grades levels would be challenging. Just teaching science or math would also be challenging. One of the errors that I made over my first two-years teaching STEAM was that I felt like I needed to cover all five disciplines over the course of the 37-weeks. But with all of the technical challenges and need to work across the huge instructional differences between Kindergarteners versus fifth-graders, and the low reading literacy of all of my students, I felt like we barely scratched the surface and never mastered anything. I didn’t do any robotics with my students the first year and was only able to get my three fifth-grade classes on to the LEGO EV3s last year. Turns out that having two 50-minute sessions with the robots usually means that almost no two-person team finished the basic robot construction and no one got to the programming level. That would be a FAIL in my judgment.

I’ve decided to reserve the EV3s for advanced students and will use the more basic LEGO Wedo robots for grades 2 through 5 with each group getting three sessions with the robots. But now that I think about it, I may need to extend the sessions to four sessions… we’ll see how the first group does and adjust from there.

Speaking of adjustments… you might have noticed that except for prep week Swarm/Twitter/FB check-ins, I haven’t posted any daily STEAMLab check-ins. I’ve decided that, as much as I like the daily 👍 I get for the brief posts, I don’t feel like I’m really communicating or recording our progress. So I’ve decided to do these weekly longer-length posts to my blog (with links on all the usual suspects: Swarm, Twitter & FB). But because of the algorithms used by Twitter & FB, there’s a good chance that you’ll miss these weekly posts. So, if you’re interested in these posts and the work I’m doing, I’d suggest that you subscribe directly to my blog so that you’ll get a notice in your email whenever I post. Go to the blog at http://adventures-in.education, scroll to the bottom of the page, find the “Follow Blog via Email,” click the red “Follow” and share you email address. Thanks for the “follow,” and let’s see how things go for week two of the 2018-19 STEAMLab adventures.