Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How to be a better teacher by accessing professional (but blocked) resources at work

Have you ever clicked a link in your email (or social media), expecting to get a super-cool, top-quality educational article or resource only to find that it's blocked by the school filter? Filters are useful but sometimes block things that don't need blocked. Remind me to tell you about the Christian college who had a peripheral domain for their graduate education program that was blocked as an "adult" site.

Chances are, the site isn't blocked, but shortened URLs or links in emails that redirect to the actual URL (web address) are blocked.

"So how can I get to that super-cool, top-quality educational article or resource, Chad?"

I'm glad you asked. Just install this chrome extension. The next time you click one of those shortened URL's or redirecting links, a new tab will open showing you the actual URL of the resource. Click that link if you think it's safe and now you can be a better teacher!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Timeline from Knight Lab at Northwestern

My students use lots of free online tools to complete projects and show what they have learned. Recently my Evolution of Games class had to make a timeline about the Roman Empire. We found a terrific free timeline tool that makes interactive, professional quality timelines that can be embedded online. The Timeline tool is one of several "storytelling" tools from Knight Lab at Northwestern. It uses Google Sheets to accomplish the job of bringing text, video, audio and images together on a timeline and is so clean and aesthetically pleasing that it is used on such sites as Time magazine and the Denver Post. That is perfect for us since we are a Google school using everything Google: Gmail, Calendar, Drive and Google Classroom.

Timeline is great for academic reports as well as personal timeline stories. It sure beats cutting up mom's old pictures and pasting them on poster board!

This Timeline was completed by Grant Hayden, an 8th Grade Student

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fail to Impress

Failing to Learn

We've all heard that failing is learning, that failing leads to success. We hear it, but sometimes it's hard to believe. Even when we hear it from famous inventors like Thomas Edison it's hard to apply it to us. He said, "I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory."1

2,998 failures is a lot. I like to note that he never failed because he only half tried. He never failed because of laziness. He failed EVEN THOUGH he had come up with a theory that was "reasonable and likely true." He failed even though he tried his best each time. Of course Edison believed that these weren't failures and he certainly wasn't. He would have only failed if he had quit before he had the answer.

As a teacher, I feel I have to be willing to fail. I have to take chances instead of always doing things the way we've always done them. So I shared my own challenge with my classes, and let them watch me fail.

Inspiration to Try Something New

As a technology teacher, I like to try out the latest gadgets and methods and see what works for me. One new gadget is our 3D printer. It gives students an opportunity to create physical models, to print real solutions, to fail and try again. The presence of the printer along with the concept of my new class that focuses on learning by playing games, describing, modifying and creating games gave me an idea.

I've always enjoyed a quick game of Tic Tac Toe, but it is pretty simple. So growing up I began playing Super Tic Tac Toe with our own rules on a 4x4 grid and 3D Tic Tac Toe drawn on paper. A 3D game board would make this so much easier to play, so I began designing my own board and pieces on I sent my first design to the printer, with the three-tiered board being built in one step by the MakerBot. In a mere 22 hours and 6 minutes I would have a game board.
Failed Attempt. Note the thin temporary supports

From Failure to Success 

The MakerBot clogged and failed to complete the project. Thankfully. You see, in order to print the second and third tiers the printer had to fill the empty space between with supports. My board would have looked like a solid block that needed carved out to make the game. A quick redesign included a top tier board and two identical board for the bottom and middle tiers, along with two different types of posts that would be printed 4 times each.  A small mistake meant the top set of posts had to be cut down to fit, but finally we were ready to print the game pieces a small sphere with the bottom shaved off would make a great 3D O and two cones, joined by overlapping their points, would make great 3D X.

Next Steps

3D Tic Tac Toe Sucess
Even though I now have a cool looking 3D game board, that seems to impress people, it could use some work. Placing game pieces in the middle is pretty difficult, so I am designing a set of tweezers that can be used for placing them. I could also redesign the whole thing and make the board a 4x4x4, because the 3x3x3 game tends to be overly slanted towards the player who goes first. I probably won't do a complete redesign; I am more interested in showing my students the steps it took to get here and inspiring them to design and create whatever THEY
can dream up.

1As quoted in "Talks with Edison" by George Parsons Lathrop in Harpers magazine, Vol. 80 (February 1890), p. 425
 (I just found rules for Ultimate Tic Tac Toe!)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Evolution of Games: A Creative Way to Learn

This year, I'm teaching a completely new course, called Evolution of Games, for 8th graders. This course is a total shift in classroom management, teaching and learning, and planning. Evolution of Games is the basic course from Zulama, a company creating courses around technology and games with a project-based learning philosophy. Computer skills are taught and used along the way as the entire course is set up online. Going forward we hope to offer high school students more Zulama courses on 3D-Modeling, Game Design, Programming, Screenwriting,  and Mobile Game Programming.

Each course contains:
  • Interactive class discussions
  • Online and offline activities
  • Hands-on project-based learning
  • WebQuests
  • Formative and authentic assessments

We help students find their passion and give them a framework in which to think, study, analyze, explore, and invent so they can fulfill their dreams. We help teachers and schools manage and embrace change. - The Zulama Mission 

In Evolution of Games, students study six different Ancient Civilizations and how their games were a reflection of their society, religion, geography and technology. They continue to study how games were influenced by Europe and the printing press, then move on to card games, war games, modern games and computer games. Students take charge of their learning, researching what interests them, representing what they have learned in various computer projects. They also cover Social Studies, English and Math standards as they read, research, communicate through online discussions and class presentations. Creative, strategic and higher level thinking is encouraged as students create and modify games.

We started with ancient Babylon and the Game of Ur, creating our own game boards and playing them. Now we are into our second full unit, digging through ancient Egypt and the Game of Senet, comparing it to Checkers and Draughts (international checkers).  Each lesson has an essential question that guides the students thought process through everything they do. Check out the gallery below to see examples of student work so far.

A collage of a student's favorite games
shows a wide variety of interests.

A time capsule encapsulates
the important info about Babylon.

I shared one group's Game of Ur board
on Twitter and got a quick response from Zulama!

This archaeological field journal from Egypt focuses on hieroglyphics. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Getting Started with Your Classroom Blog

I'll go over these steps and tips during the session, but here is a great place to start with videos, even.
By Adrianemporio (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Daylight Saving Time: All the Time, Some of the Time, or None of the Time?

We'll "fall back" and hour on 
Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 2 a.m.
I recently had a discussion with a friend about Daylight Saving Time and it reminded that there is actually a

lot of misunderstanding about it. Most of the complaints I hear about DST come in the fall when it ends. I hear people complain that, with the time change, it will be getting dark sooner, and because of that they hate Daylight Saving Time. They shouldn't "be hating" on DST for the early darkness, because the early darkness is a result of our return to Standard (that means unaltered and un-adjusted) Time.

Why do we use DST?

The rational behind DST is explained simply in the Wikipedia article Daylight Saving Time, "[DST] is the practice of advancing clocks during the lighter months so that evenings have more daylight and mornings have less. Typically clocks are adjusted forward one hour near the start of spring and are adjusted backward in autumn." *There is a whole lot more to the original motivation and the motivation to expand the date range for DST, but I wanted to keep it simple  here. If you really want to learn about DST, check out the link above and do some reading on your own.

When someone complains about DST and says they are not happy that the sun will set at 5:18 pm on November 3, they are actually saying that they wish the sun had set 5:19 on November 2 and 5:20 on November 1, instead of 6:19 and 6:20. (You can find sunrise and sunset times here.) What they really mean is that they wish we used DST time all year long, so that the sun would set at 6:18 pm on November 3 just a minute earlier than it did the day before. DST always means that the sun sets later than it would on ST.

What if we didn't use DST at all?

What would the spring and summer months be like? The chart I shared earlier shows that for Ohio, the sun would be rising at 4:51 am (That's EARLY!)  in the middle of June and setting at 8:03 pm (its latest) at the end June. Daylight Saving Time was instituted to help people use that hour of sunlight between 5 am and 6 am  by moving it to the end of the day between 8 pm and 9 pm, which makes a lot of sense to me.

What if we used DST all year long? 

We could, but it would mean really late sunrises in the winter. The chart shows sunrises as late as 8:52 am in December and January. That seems awful late to me.

What do you think?

When we do time changes in the spring and fall, they feel really drastic and maybe unnecessary, but when we look at what those time changes do for us in June/July and December/January is makes more sense. What do you think? Feel free to comment below and answer the survey below.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Google to Learn, Google to Satisfy Curiosity

I want my students to be able to find information; information to learn, information to help them create, information just to satisfy their curiosity.

I often use technology to learn. I use Google searches, YouTube videos, and specialized apps to learn. I use Twitter and and other social media to connect with informative articles.

This spring, I accidentally crossed the jumper cables jump starting my van in the dark. The van started, but wouldn't drive faster than 10 MPH.  A good Google search (after several trials and errors) led me to a site that informed me that I had most likely blown a $0.10 fuse. It also told me the best possible quick fix was switching the horn fuse to the Electronic Speed Control.

This summer, I cracked the screen on my brand new phone. Google and YouTube came to the rescue, with videos about how to repair it and links to where to order the parts. With the available information, I fixed my own phone for less than $15.

And I use Twitter and Edmodo to connect with other educators and read articles about what they are doing in class to improve teaching and learning.

But sometimes I just use technology to learn because I'm curious. When I'm watching a movie and see and actor or actress I think I recognize, I open the IMDb app, find the movie I'm watching now, find the name of the actor, then see what other projects they have been in.

Eastern Screech Owl
© Wolfgang Wander
And this week I heard a couple of animals calling to each other. The first sounded like a howl of sorts, but the second sounded like a horse, just higher pitched and with a greater frequency. When I went outside to investigate and maybe record the sound, it stopped. I tried searching though sites that offered to help recognize night animal sounds by region, but nothing matched. Today I decided to search by describing what I heard combined with guessing that it may have been a bird. I Googled, "night bird that sounds like..." and Google offered, "... a horse." Two clicks later I had determined that it was an Eastern Screech Owl making its mating call. Here is what it sounded like. (It's song B for the Eastern Screech Owl at the very bottom of the page.)