Hour Of Code

December 5-9 is Computer Science Education Week, and many schools around the world are participating by hosting an “Hour of Code,” where students practice computer coding skills. Computer science and coding not only prepare students for future job possibilities, they also help students think logically and solve problems. Students have to organize their code into the correct sequence of steps to accomplish their goal, and when their program doesn’t work out as planned, they need to make adjustments until it does. There are numerous free websites that provide entertaining game-like interfaces to teach coding skills. Elementary students from kindergarten through 5th grade can learn how to code. Kodable, the website pictured, is great for even your youngest pre-readers. I have listed many of the most popular resources here, and you can search my blog for past coding lessons I’ve taught. Let me know if you’d like me to teach a coding lesson with your class. It doesn’t even have to be during this week. Coding activities are beneficial anytime!


VSTE 2016 Conference

This year the VSTE Educator’s Technology Conference was held in Virginia Beach from December 4-6. My friend, Alfonso, and I presented a session called “EDM: Educator’s Doing Multimedia.” We shared how teachers and students can create videos, animations, and music using free online tools. We also shared several examples of student projects using multimedia (you can find many more examples on our blogs). Since Alfonso and I are DJ’s on the side, we included some of the other EDM (Electronic Dance Music) in our presentation. There was a disco ball, lasers, and glowsticks for the crowd. At the end we collected the attendees’ names using a Google form on our website and pasted them into a random name picker to choose a lucky winner for an iTunes gift card. The random name picker is a great tool to use in your class as well. We attended several other VSTE sessions yesterday and today, but my favorite was one about Google maps by Adam Seipel. I learned some cool tricks and features I didn’t know about and was inspired to redo my own session’s website using the new Google sites (in your Google Drive click New > More > Google sites). Tonight we DJ’d a special reception for the vendors (that’s where the photo in this post was taken). If you get the opportunity to attend VSTE or another educators’ technology conference in your state/country, I’d encourage you to go. It’s a wonderful way to expand your professional knowledge and network.

5th Grade Plants Under the Proscope

Fifth graders at Trevvett Elementary have been learning about vascular and nonvascular plants in Science (SOL5.5). Today students in Ms. Ballou’s class examined different types of plants using a digital USB microscope called a Proscope. First, the students got into self-selected groups, and we distributed the Proscopes and the plants (flowers, moss, celery, and ferns). Then they logged into Google classroom where I posted a Google slides template for them to use to share their findings (you can make a copy of the template here) Students put their names on the first slide, and on the subsequent slides they were to identify each plant as vascular or non-vascualr and upload a photo or two of the plant under the microscope. Proscope makes it easy to take photos by simply clicking a button. Some students also labeled different parts of the plants using the text box and arrow tools. They had a great time seeing the plants in a way they had never seen them before, and they also got some practice making a Google slideshow. You can see their finished slideshows here. Let me know if you’d like to use the Proscopes with your class. Each school has a couple, and I can bring a box of 15 additional ones.

1st Grade Writing about the Past

First graders at Trevvett Elementary have been learning about life in the past in History (SOL1.1) and how to write complete sentences with capitals and punctuation in English (SOL1.13e). Today students in Ms. Fletcher’s class showed off their skills by writing sentences about the past. We used ABCYa! Storymaker because it has a familiar writing paper template and an age-appropriate font. The students got to the website all by themselves by typing “ABCYa” in a Google search, clicking the link, then clicking the 1st grade button, and finding the Storymaker link on that page. First we discussed different ideas they could write about so they weren’t all writing about the same thing. We talked about how they cooked on a fire, traveled using horses and wagons, washed clothes in a bucket or the river, went to school in a one-room schoolhouse, sent letters instead of texts, and many more ideas. The students typed their sentence about the past using Shift to make a capital at the beginning and remembering their period at the end. We encouraged them to use sight words and sound out any unknown words (SOL1.12c). Then they used their newly-learned click-and-drag skill to draw a picture illustrating their sentence. When they were finished we saved them as PDF files (click the Print button). Finally we helped them upload their files to a Padlet (a free online bulletin board). You can see them all here (click each one to view the whole page).

4th Grade Jamestown Maps

Fourth graders at Trevvett Elementary have been studying Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America (VS.3), and they recently took a field trip there. Today students in Ms. Harlow’s class reflected on their trip and what they have learned. I posted a link to My Google Maps on Google classroom. My Google Maps allows you to create your own map (you can also access it through your Google Drive by clicking New > More > Google My Maps). We titled our map “Jamestown,” and I showed them how to find Jamestown by zooming instead of using the search box. First, we switched to Google Earth view (click the box in the bottom left corner) and zoomed into Virginia. Then we found the James River and zoomed into one of the big bends in the river. As we zoomed in, we saw Jamestown appear on the north bank. We continued to zoom into Jamestown until we saw the park and the dock. Students were amazed that they could actually see the ships, the fort, and the Powhatan Indian village. They already knew that the park isn’t the true location of Jamestown, but we were able to find the true location nearby. I showed them how to add markers to different parts of the map. They wrote a description for each marker, explaining what they learned or what surprised them at that spot. I also showed them how to click the camera button and add a photo. Finally we gave our map some finishing touches by customizing the markers (click the paint bucket, and you can change its color and the icon on the marker). We clicked the Share button and shared our maps with “anyone with the link.” The students posted their links to Google classroom, but you can see them all here.

5th Grade Animal Comics

Fifth graders at Laburnum Elementary have been learning about vertebrates and invertebrates (SOL5.5b), so today students in Ms. Hall’s class created comics to help explain the difference between these two types of animals. We used StoryboardThat to create our comics. StoryboardThat is the best webtool around for creating comics because of its huge library of customizable clipart. I’ve used often in lessons (you can search my blog for other examples). The only problem with using it at the elementary level is that its terms of service specify that only students 13 years of age or older can have accounts. So we don’t let our students create accounts, but they can still make comics using the free version, then we save them by taking screenshots. First we created our three scenes (the free version is limited to 3 or 6 scenes). I explained that the first scene needed to be an introduction, the second scene would be about vertebrates, and the last scene would be about invertebrates. The students had to plan out which animals they were going to focus on so they could chose appropriate habitats for the backgrounds. A cool new feature on StoryboardThat allows you to customize the background scene by changing the weather and the time of day (click the blue “Edit Scene” button). Next the students added characters and animals (click the Characters tab at the top, then choose the Animals submenu). You can customize the characters as well by clicking the “Edit Pose” button. Finally we added speech bubbles, called “Textables” here, and typed complete sentences explaining the differences between vertebrates and invertebrates. I showed them how to take a screenshot of their finished comics using the Snipping Tool (or Command+Shift+4 on a Mac), and we shared them on Google classroom. You can see all their comics here.

1st Grade Animal Sentences

First graders at Trevvett Elementary have been learning about animals in science (SOL1.5) and how to write complete sentences with a capital and a period in Language Arts (SOL1.13e). Today students in Ms. Lucas’ class used ABCYa! Storymaker to draw an animal of their choice and type a complete sentence about the animal. First we helped them log into their accounts which, in itself, is a major accomplishment. Then we helped them navigate to the website, and I showed them how to use the drawing tools to draw an animal. We talked about a variety of different animals to help them get ideas and not all draw the same one (everyone seems to love cheetahs)! Next, we clicked the writing button (yellow button on the right side) to write our sentences. I really like how this site uses the lined paper format familiar to first graders and a kid-friendly font. I taught them how to use Shift to make the first letter a capital. I also explained that they should press the space bar once between each word. After they typed their sentences, I pointed out where the period key was for the ending. We pressed the green button on the right side to see both the writing and the painting together. Then we clicked the Print button to save it as a PDF. I wanted to save them all to one place, so I tried out a new feature in Google forms: file upload. I created a short URL to a simple form http://tinyurl.com/lucasform, and we helped the students upload their PDFs to the form. It automatically creates a folder in Google drive where all the files are collected. It worked great! You can see all their hard work from today here.

5th Grade Ocean Tours

Fifth graders at Holladay Elementary have been studying the ocean floor in Science (SOL5.6), so today students in Ms. Haislip’s class created undersea tours with Google Earth and Screencastify. First we opened up Google Earth and I showed them how to put placemarks on the different features (continental plain, continental slope, continental rise, abyssal plain, trench, ridge, seamount, etc). I also demonstrated how they could go “underwater” and change the angle of the view by clicking and dragging the wheel in the top right corner. Once their view was just right, they clicked the yellow thumbtack button to add a labeled placemark on the spot. The placemarks appear in a list on the left side under “My Places.” When the students double-click a placemark from the list, Google Earth automatically takes them to that same view that was saved. Once all the placemarks had been created, it was time to record the tour using Screencastify. Screencastify is a Chrome extension that records the screen and lets you add an audio voiceover. Students worked with partners to “travel” around the ocean floor describing each feature. Screencastify saves the videos to Google drive, so it was easy to copy and paste the links from there to Google classroom. You can take a look at some of their projects here.

5th Grade 3-D Ocean Floor

Fifth graders at Trevvett Elementary have been learning about the oceans and the ocean floor in Science (SOL5.6). Today students in Mr. Hilton’s class created 3-D models of the ocean floor using this webtool. It’s a pretty cool webtool because when you upload a 2-dimensional black and white drawing, it transforms it into a 3-dimensional picture, making the lighter colors higher in elevation (it’s a great tool for teaching about topographical maps and contour lines too). We drew our black and white picture of the ocean floor using Pixie, but you could also use an online drawing tool like drawsave, vectorpaint, queeky, slimber, sketchpad, sumopaint, drawisland, sketchlot, abcya paint, and more (there are a lot of online drawing tools)! You just have to be sure that you only use black, white, and shades of grey. Remember, lighter colors are higher (sea mounts would be white) and darker colors are lower (the ocean trenches would be black). Next, we uploaded our pictures to the 3-D tool and adjusted a few settings on the right side. We changed the Model from “cube” to “plane” and we dragged the diffusion slider all the way to the right to the “1” position. Then we clicked the magnifying glass to enlarge the picture. We used Screencastify to record our screen as we clicked and dragged our model of the ocean floor, identifying the different parts. Take a look at some student examples here. If you didn’t want to make a movie, you could have the students import it into a word processing program and label the parts like this.

5th Grade Green Screen Videos

Fifth graders at Trevvett Elementary have been studying the ocean (SOL5.6), so today students in Ms. Adamonis’ class created green screen videos about the ocean. A green screen allows you to place a different image behind the speaker, making it look like the speaker is standing in or near the ocean, for example. It was a challenge finding a free web tool for making green screen videos (if you know of any, please let us know in the comments). There are several mobile apps that can do it, and Mac computers can do it with Photo Booth (see a similar lesson taught using Photo Booth here), but we needed something we could use on our Dell laptops. Finally I found this, which seemed to work pretty well. Our next challenge was making the green screen background. We used colored plastic tablecloths, but it’s actually better if you have something more permanent and smooth, like a solid colored wall or bulletin board. In order to use this webtool, you need to activate your webcam by following the prompts, then you click on the background and adjust the sliders at the bottom until it looks good (adequate lighting helps a lot). We used Screencastify to record our videos. Screencastify saves the videos to your Google drive, making it easy to share the links. You can see a couple of student examples here.