August 12, 2014

SCRATCH for Teachers at MIT Media Lab

In the beautiful facility on the 6th floor of the glass and metal structure that house the MIT Media Lab I joined an invigorating group of 250 international educators here to learn more about using Scratch in learning settings. Over coffee I reconnected with Maureen Tumenas who always has great ideas and latest teaching explorations to share. I met a 17 year old high school student from Mexico who is a budding coder who also teaches coding to "junior school" students. We talked about the issue of encouraging more girls to explore computer science and programming and apparently in Mexico they offer a girls only option after school which I am doing for the first time this winter.

Mitch Resnick started us off with a keynote on where we've been and where we are going with Scratch. One of his key points was that the concept of learning to code is limited, but the true power is coding to learn. We teach writing as a literacy, how can we teach exploring with coding as a literacy? The 4 Ps he emphasizes are Projects-Peers-Passion-Play.

They are generous with breaks to collaborate and meet educators, so far I have met people from Mexico and Italy, as well as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas and New Hampshire. The weather is drawing us outdoors to enjoy the Boston Skyline.

The morning session was presented by the authors of the newly released Scratch Curriculum Guide which is available from: They are working on a younger learners' guide as well as a set of student pages. The title "Creative Computing" stays with the theme of the purpose of Scratch being the individual creative element supporting exploration and not just procedures. 

During the session I learned that one of the ways to have students reflect on their program is to add comment blocks into the program and that I can set up a "studio" to collect projects online.

The afternoon session focused on math concepts that can be explained by creating projects in Scratch. The presenter's resources are at The group discussion included ideas about connecting projects to various subject areas.

July 18, 2014

Teaching and Learning with iPads Course at USM PDC

This week I had the opportunity to share my ideas and learn from 18 educators in a new course at USM: Teaching and Learning with iPads. The site for the course is at: This dynamic group brought various experiences and models to the course. Thanks to Laura Girr for coming in to work with a group on the workflow and particular issues related to 1:1 iPads, as well as Kate Parkin for working with a group on the possibilities of having one iPad for the classroom. Alice Barr helped meet with teachers on the workday on Thursday as each person worked on a project to share on Friday. Friday was an amazing experience of teachers sharing ideas that they plan to pursue in their unique school settings this fall. The networking will continue for the individuals and teacher teams who participated in this course.

While the focus was not specifically on apps, some favorites were (these are all free):

June 13, 2014

Year End thoughts about K-1 iPads

Having 20 iPad for the first grades means that they are usually in sets of four in classrooms. The students have become independent on several math apps, spelling apps and others including Kodable and Doodle Buddy. Some of the time that I am in classrooms I have been able to help students work in pairs to access their Kidblogs and add entries (see We met as a first grade team and winnowed the apps that we are keeping on all the iPads to the ones we agree are most valuable. Every few weeks we collect all of the iPads and use all 20 in table groupings in a classroom. The apps we are using most often are LetterSchool, Teachley: The Addimal Adventure, Word Wizard, Montessori Crosswords, Hungry Fish, Know Your Math Facts, Kodable and TeachMe: 1st grade. Sometimes we are able to access Skoolbo, other times it lags and is too frustrating. While some apps are free we have found that many of them are too limited or have too many ads and we have purchased the full versions.

We were pleased to find Addimal Adventure as it teachers the addition strategies appropriate for first grade and allows us to set up all classes on each iPad. It tracks the individual student’s progress and we had access to a pilot that gives us bi-weekly feedback on the class. The app will remain free next year, but the teacher dashboard will be an online feature by subscription.

We have allocated some time when we return to school in August to map out a plan for apps usage in first grade and look for ways to build more independence by students using the iPads for reading fluency practice and creation apps like PicCollage, KidBlog, Voicethread and Storykit.

The Kindergarten teachers received two iPads for a center in each classroom midyear. They started off with these apps:

  • Teach Me Kindergarten-Math and Literacy
  • Montessori Numbers- Math
  • Skoolbo - Math and Literacy
  • abc Pocket Phonics- Literacy
  • Storia - Literacy
  • Book Creator
  • Educreations
  • Explain Everything
  • Bits Board
  • Sight Words
  • 100s board
  • Word Wizard
  • Everyday Math Monster Squeeze
  • LetterSchool

The goal for the Kindergarten classrooms this year was to familiarize the students with a small number of apps and have students use them independently at a station with minimal supervision. They have found that "guided access" is helpful as then students didn't accidentally leave an app while they were at the station. We will be meeting in August to plan what else they want to do next year including story writing and recording for reading fluency.

One of the most informative experiences we have had in developing our plans and uses of the iPads was attending the Auburn Leveraging Learning Institute in November, 2013. We were able to send teams of Kindergarten and First Grade teachers to a day of workshops and learning from other teachers. This is link to the spreadsheet of apps that Auburn Schools have selected to fit with their learning targets and the presentation below explains the goals and rationale for the Auburn project.

June 10, 2014

"How'd you do that??

The setting: twenty-one 4th graders moving through a Scratch Curriculum that can be found on the ScratchEd community site. There are an increasing amount of resources and ideas for using Scratch in the elementary grades including Wes Fryer's Scratch materials.

The backdrop: Last December we use the Scratch online activity to make holiday cards for the Hour of Code. Middle school students came and helped 4th graders with this introduction to Scratch and coding. In May of this year we did some regrouping for math instruction and twenty-one fourth graders worked on Scratch two or three days a week.

What it sounded like: The most common thing heard in the classroom each day was, "How'd you do that?". The spirit of communication, collaboration and creative exploration vibrated throughout the room.

What it looked like: Adapting the curriculum, I created folders of handouts for students to follow. The lessons are described in this slideshow:

These photos and videos were captured with my cell phone as I was working with students so they are of limited quality, but they portray the activity and learning.
We started with the tutorial on the Scratch website as a review for everyone. Then they were charged with the task of "making something surprising" happen and share it.
Scratch learning is designed to support collaboration and students often worked in teams. With parent permission they were able to join the Scratch online community, upload their projects and view the structure of posted projects.
By the fourth class students were becoming experts at "debugging" scripts and moving on to making mazes, games and stories. At the end of each class students volunteered to share their projects and explain their learning.

This series of classes stands out for me as one of the most enjoyable, stimulating teaching experiences I've had. The students were engaged, sharing their learning and making progress from one day to the next. 

This quote from Howard Gardner was one of my inspirations for this Scratch activity:
High time for an example. We turn here to Scratch, a wonderful application created over the past two decades by Mitch Resnick, a valued colleague at MIT, and his colleagues. Building on Seymour Papert’s pioneering work with LOGO— a prototypical example of constructivist education— Scratch is a simple programming language accessible even to youngsters who have just reached school age. By piecing together forms that resemble pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, users of Scratch can create their own messages, be these stories, works of art, games, musical compositions, dances, or animated cartoons— indeed, just about any form in any kind of format. Moreover, users of Scratch can and do post their creations. Others around the world can visit these creations, react to them, build on them, and perhaps even re-create them in their own favored symbolic system. The genius of Scratch is twofold. First of all, it opens up a plethora of modes of expression, so that nearly every child can find an approach that is congenial with his or her own goals, strengths, and imaginations. Second, educational ends and priorities are not dictated from on high; rather, they can and do emerge from the child’s own explorations of the Scratch universe. In that sense, Scratch brings pleasure and comfort to those who believe in the constructivist view of knowledge. Not only are users building their own forms of meaning and constructing knowledge that they personally value, but they are epitomizing the claim of cognitivists that one learns by taking the initiative, making one’s own often instructive mistakes along the way, and then, on the basis of feedback from self and others, altering course and moving ahead.

Howard, Gardner; Katie Davis (2013-10-22). The App Generation (p. 182). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition. 

March 30, 2014

Lego WeDo Exploration

Third graders are exploring the Lego Education materials called "Lego WeDo"during a set of class periods. The Computer Lab provides an open setting for students to work in pairs to select one of twelve projects. Working together they follow the directions to put together the blocks to make the project. Then they connect it to a computer so that the motor or sensor can follow a program students made using the Lego WeDo software.

This video shows the students working on their projects.


March 20, 2014

K-2 Flat Connections - Building Bridges

Once again we have a classroom participating in a global project communicating and collaborating with students across the U.S. and in some international settings. This year Laura Wetmore is participating with her class and they are posting to the project wiki. All classrooms are posting a multimedia greeting (called a "handshake") and a View from Our Window project. The project schools are divided into three working groups to collaborate on a topic, this year the topics will be Sharing Stories and Celebrations. Teachers are communicating via. email as well as a project "ning" and students are using Google Earth to "travel" to the various locations. This is an example of a project that meets the new Global Awareness theme of the updated Social Studies Framework.

This is a map of the schools in the project.

March 13, 2014

Yarmouth Elementary iPad Roundtable

Today was the first of what we hope will be a series of iPad Roundtable conversations. About thirty educators from area schools gathered at Rowe School from 3:30-5:00. Tara Maker, the regional Apple Sales rep., and Jim Moulton, K-12 Education Development Executive at Apple, provided snacks and managed the registration. We had determined three topics for possible discussion:
 • Using the Book Creator app for students and teachers to make books that are read via iBooks - getting started!
• Using 1:1 iPads - what apps work well, what ideas can we share?
• Using iPads at stations in grades K-5

Groups formed around the three topics with some people moving between groups. There were a mix of technology integrators and classroom teachers from grades K-5. I learned some new tips about using any iPad as well as some good app recommendations.

March 8, 2014

EdCamp Maine 2014

There was a terrific energy for the third Southern Maine EdCamp, held at Waynflete school. It was very valuable to connect with innovative educators from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This event and the fall ACTEM MaineEd conference are the best times for me to connect with others and share ideas. The "unconference" model of EdCamp has become more familiar and there were more interesting sessions offered than I could fit into my day. Meal times and the coffee table were also sources of sharing and conversations that gave me many new ideas for working with students and teachers.

My notes from the day are on a shared Google Doc. One very dynamic person was the K12 integrator from the Wilmington, MA schools. Her session on CCSS Nonfiction Resources seemed valuable enough that I shared it with our K12 Lead Literacy teachers and I have referred to it for ideas for teams at YES.

February 18, 2014

ACTEM Mini-Conference

This year for ACTEM offered a mini-conference for a day during February vacation at the newly renovated South Portland High School. I collaborate with Alice Barr on a session on Enhancing Your Classroom using Google Drive and Kern Kelley on Empowering Students with Presentations, and Blogger for the classroom with tips on using Picasa and YouTube to portray learning in the classroom.

This is the updated presentation I included on Blogger in the classroom:

December 13, 2013

Coding in the Primary Grades

All students in grades 1-12 had an opportunity to participate in an "hour of code" activity that was appropriate to their grade level. First graders used the iPad app Kodable to explore the concepts of planning a sequence, using if/then options and learning to repeat commands. Following the Hour of Code week students have been asking to access the app as one of their options in the classrooms.

Second and Third grades used the coding activities posted at the Computer Science week learn to code page of tutorials. Several students were able to complete the activity, whether they finished or not they all had success with the logical thinking procedures that are the underpinnings of programmming.

This is a slide show of some students at Rowe using iPads and YES learning top program on their laptops with assistants from HMS: