Thursday, January 18, 2018

Helping the World with LEGOS, Values and Projects

So, what happens when you get a team together and start attempting to solve the world's problems. Amazing things when that group is a combination of 4th - 6th grade students working together. The Highland Acres Hawkbots Lego Robotic team is hard at work for this year's First Lego League Competition. They have been posed with the question, how do we as humans interact with the water cycle, and what impact does that have on our environment. Once they are able to understand the problem that they face, they then have to come up with an innovative solution to solve it.

So you may be wondering what has this dynamic group discovered and attempted to solve? They recognize early on that the runoff water in Bismarck (after storms, melts or during events like cleaning cars) carries with it polutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, oils and bacteria which directly enters our coulees and river systems. They didnt' like that idea and created the "Super Cleaner 8,000." A system, that combines photochataltyics (light filtering) along with compost filtering of contaminated water. An invention created by Dr. Fowler and Portland State University combined with a trusted (old but true) system to filter water.

 But why? Why create this? Ask any of them and they will tell you that they don't like the idea that pollution is entering the coulees in their neighborhoods. They will also tell you how interesting the learning was and is. In all the pictures you can see interviews and research happening with Dr. Fowler, as he came from Oregon, to visit with us about our idea. He even did a Google Hangout with the team. These kids want to make a difference, and even got information from the engineers from the city about this issue. They have created a plan and plan to present it in front of a panel of judges in hopes to advance to the State First Lego League competition.

These students also had to design, plan and program LEGO robotics to interact with mechanical builds. They had to learn core values. And here is the best part about it all. They actually didn't HAVE to do it. They do it because they want to. They chose to be the ones that were a part of a team, solving problems, learning gracious professionalism that the non-profit group FIRST teaches them.
The beauty of First Lego League is that the students are completely self sustaining. They need to read the challenge guide that shares with them all the rules for the project, the robot games and the core values. As the adult coach, I am simply a guide. I can not directly teach, and I have to give up control to their decisions. I am simply the guide on the side. A true example of highly engaging, extremely inquiry based learning, but in a team format. The Hawkbots are changing the world one thought and program at a time!
Twitter Tuesday Questions!

Q1: What inspires you to help our youth create change in the world?

Q2: How have you sustained inquiry in children/young adults?

Q3: How much does it scare you to guide, but not make the final decisions when thinking about how youth experience/design final products?

Q4: Would you lead a team of FIRST LEGO League, or something like it? What would it be for you?

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Student Tech Workers Adding Value to Schools

Whose school is it anyway?

Student Agency!  Success Skills!  Authentic Experiences!  PBL!  

These buzzwords are tossed around often, but what do they actually look like? How can
students learn real-world skills while adding value to a 1:1 school and community?

One excellent example of all of these buzzwords is Legacy’s Saber Cyber Tech Club. Their
goal is to empower students with the ability to choose a direction and run with it, all
while providing valuable community services back to Legacy and providing real world
experiences with technology to the students as well.

What exactly are these real world experiences though?

The students are technology leaders and offer first-level technology support to the entire
school community, including their peers, teachers, administrators, and staff.  But student
tech workers do more than simply offer first-level technology support. These students
have emerged in our BPS community as well-known technology leaders. They possess a
mastery level of skill and knowledge with foundational apps including the Google suite,
Moodle, VoiceThread and WeVideo.  This knowledge of technology allows them to serve
as partners in pedagogy by offering teachers new ideas for instructional strategies and
project-based learning.

The student tech interns are also responsible for keeping the 1:1 Chromebooks in working
order. They perform all hardware repairs, warranty submissions, report any misuse they
see and coach fellow students and teachers on usage, maintenance, best practices, etc.
The real world experience connection doesn't just come from repairing devices; however,
the true connection to real world experiences happens when students become responsible
for the process and procedures. Where do you put repaired Chromebooks vs. damaged
ones? Parts storage? Tracking progress and billing for damage? All of these questions and
more have been worked through by the tech club students, but it hasn't all been perfect.
Every step of the way has been scattered with successes and failures...however those are
the experiences that we all learn from and what really matters!

In short, we strive to give students real-world learning opportunities. Just like an actual
working environment, we expect students to be self-starters, independent and capable
of managing multiple projects. We encourage them to take initiative and develop an
independent learning path centered on technology.   We also encourage them to promote
their team’s services to all school stakeholders. It’s a challenge, but the rewards are well
worth it.

Twitter Tuesday Questions:

Q1:  Welcome to 2018!  Chances are you have one or two Ss that do something within
the classroom that makes your life easier.  Give an example of how you’ve leveraged your
Ss talents or skills within your classroom or school.   

Q2:  What are some ways that Ss have helped contribute to the climate or culture in your
school (tech or not)?   Are Ss problem solving or trouble shooting within your school?  
Role modeling, Peer-2-Peer?

Q3:   How do you help Ss identify what their strengths are so that they can add value
to the school?

Q4:   How do Ss benefit from being able to leverage their passions within the

Q5:  What's a New Year's resolution that you can make to foster Ss passion in your
classroom and/or add value to the school?

Friday, December 15, 2017

May the WeVideo Force be with You

     I don't feel like I could start this correctly without paying homage to a certain franchise that I dearly love, so, "May the force be with you as I share this story."  
     My family and I recently had the experience of being able to travel to Disney World. It is there that they pride themselves about being story tellers. In fact, in the Spaceship Earth ride, it is even a part of the script as you travel through the passage of time. So I couldn't help but think that I want my kids to be storytellers as well. And, in the ride Spaceship Earth, I was reminded that stories can be told in many different ways.
     First things first, a special shout out to the technology department for making WeVideo and all of its components accessible for all students. Being able to share a story in the form of a video is such an intrepid experience for kids. Being able to teach the kids about what goes into the making of a well-informed, well edited piece is so full of risk and reward. The experience as a whole for 2nd grade all the way to 5th is amazing!
     So what is it that I am speaking about? How do you have students share those stories? By speaking about the past and present, as did our 2nd graders at Grimsrud Elementary using Green screens, color keying and wonderful, rich researched writing example. Or, by creating innovative and persuasive commercials for the Holiday Sale at Highland Acres Elementary, while maintaining the key elements of a persuasive work in under a minute. Or, by creating a weather topic forecast in third grade at Roosevelt, while playing the element of weather in the background while sharing about what it is and how it works.
      Being a story teller is so much more than visiting a magical place on earth. It is being able to share experiences that bond us together. Its sharing what we know, and connecting it to elements that are magical, and full of life. It's risk taking, it's rewarding, and it can be done in WeVideo.
     It's not just about what I think, take it from Shannon Chaussee at Highland Acres, WeVideo, "... Gives different groups different skills/concepts to research and learn, then letting them make a video – then posting these vids on google classroom for the kids to watch for homework (a sort of “flipped” student-led classroom)." There are so many opportunities to share, grow and learn with WeVideo!

    Happy storytelling, and teaching about all of its concepts. Perhaps you can share your perspective on Tuesday!

Twitter Chat:

Q1: How is the use of video an effective tool for students to share what they have learned?

Q2: How have, or could you use WeVideo in your teaching practices?

Q3:  What outcomes might you expect students to present using video story telling?

Q4: What kind of space, time and requirements are needed to make it work for T's and S's?

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Computer Science Education Week

This week (December 4-10) is Computer Science Education Week and all over the world, schools are celebrating. Computer science is the language and the discipline of the future, creating 21st Century learners ready for the unique workforce of the future. It opens students to career and interest opportunities that can impact their future profession. Every industry on the planet is being changed or made better by computer science.

Hour of Code

Student using Ozobots to
to learn coding.
Many schools in the area participated in the “Hour of Code”, an
international movement to promote computer science education to students. One hour coding tutorials allow students to create apps or games and code using fun and interactive activities. These free tutorials are found at, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities” ( Some schools even asked area professionals to come assist the students with coding activities.

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are in favor of and help fund This global phenomenon has really taken off in recent years and has been in the news, gaining the attention of celebrities and politicians.

Celebrities, tech visionaries and even President Obama support Hour of Code
  • Every Apple Store in the world has hosted an Hour of Code.
  • Hour of Code has been featured on Apple, Amazon, Google, YouTube, Yahoo!, Bing, and Disney homepages.
  • Celebrities Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba and tech leaders Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, and Jack Dorsey have talked with classrooms in live video chats.
  • President Obama write his first line of code to kick off the Hour of Code in 2014, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off the Hour of Code 2016.
  • Hour of Code students opened the NASDAQ at a special even in 2015.
  • Over 300 partners have come together to support this grassroots campaign, including The College Board, Microsoft, Infosys Foundation USA, Google, Salesforce, BlackRock, Verizon, Disney, Teach for American, Khan Academy,, and more.
from "Hour of Code" flyer (

Code in the Classroom
Student coding using lessons.

Library Media Specialists and classroom teachers can introduce and use computer science and coding to enrich curriculum and engage students. Introducing coding strategies at a young age can lead to greater problem solving skills and in-depth learning opportunities in higher grades.
Edutopia, a nonprofit organization started by George Lucas that promotes a transformation of education, lists the following learning advantages of coding in the classroom:

  • Logical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Persistence
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

This year, a 1st grade teacher was kind enough to let me help teach a lesson using coding. Her students were using number lines in math, so I asked if I could help the students visualize number lines using Bluebots. "But you said minus zero... how do I code the robot to move zero?" The lesson was a huge success, and the teacher can't wait to use coding again in future lessons! I have also used Ozobots to help with a social studies lesson and aided a teacher in using Lego Wedo 2.0 kits for a science lesson. All students K-5 have coded this week using or robots. lessons, Ozobots, Bluebots, Dot and Dash robots, Robotic Lego kits, and many other tools are currently available and are being used by LMS’s and classroom teachers at BPS to enrich lessons and provide unique and authentic learning experiences for students as well as co-teaching opportunities. Computer science education is a reality at BPS!

Happy Computer Science Education Week!

Twitter Tuesday Questions

Q1: What do your buildings do to celebrate Computer Science Education Week?
Q2: What are some ways coding can be used to enhance classroom instruction?
Q3: Who in the community could be asked to help facilitate an "Hour of Code" event at your school?
Q4: What are some coding activities that can be done "unplugged" or without a computer or robot?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

PBL's and Constructive Feedback

Liberty kindergarten students presented their
books to Miss Sparkles at the Bismarck Public Library.
Excited dancing from foot to foot, little arms pulling their moms, dads and aunties into the library,
I witnessed the birth of young writers recently.  I attended a special evening Project Based Learning (PBL) celebration held at the Bismarck Public Library.   After interviewing members of the community, the kindergarten students wrote books about community helpers and presented their writing to the library. 

Young authors' eyes glowed as they learned their classroom book would have a barcode and be checked out by the community!  Their book would be featured in the LOCAL AUTHORS section of the library! Gasps and claps filled the room.

In the process of making their books, the students began to learn about constructive feedback.

How can we help students learn to give
and receive constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback focuses on facts and specific examples that help the students clearly understand strengths and areas to grow.  It lets the other person know that everyone is on the same side.   Its main purpose is to improve the quality of the product.   It offers specific advice rather than general comments.  To be successful, it demands a growth mindset.  As each PBL adventure begins, we always ask, "What do we want the students to know, think and do?"  The challenges we encounter:  How do we meet the standards?  How do we best help the kids attain quality work?   How do we push the students to grow?  How do we encourage them to think deeply and critically?  How do we help them really think and not just spit out facts!  One of the most vital elements to a successful PBL is embedding time to allow students to give and receive feedback on their learning throughout the project.

2nd and 5th Graders were 
"Feedback Friends"
for 2nd-grade Habitat PBL.
High quality student work is a hallmark of Gold Standard PBL, and such quality is attained through thoughtful critique and revision. Students should be taught how to give and receive constructive peer feedback that will improve project processes and products, guided by rubrics, models, and formal feedback/critique protocols. 
from Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning: A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction, by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, Suzie Boss

How can we foster constructive feedback throughout PBL's?  (Not just at the end)

4th Graders collaborated to show
story sequence and plot using Lego.
Arguably, the most important piece of the puzzle, that must be in place before deep learning and growth can occur, is the development of a strong growth mindset culture.  Students must feel safe to fail, ask questions, be frustrated, and try new things.  Once this strong culture is established, only then will kids be able to provide and receive constructive feedback.

Five years ago, when we began the PBL journey, I learned very quickly that students need to be taught how to give constructive feedback.  I vividly remember working with a class of third graders on google slide presentations.   One group was working for about five minutes before they were at each other's throats.  They were defensive, attacking and ANGRY!  "HE CHANGED MY SLIDE!"  I  pulled the kids away from their computers, took a few deep breaths and they began the process of learning how to collaborate and listen to others' ideas.   By the end of the hour, I had goosebumps watching them listen to each other, seeing them take pride in working collaboratively, witnessing them become part of a creative group.  That same group that was ready to draw blood, were working cohesively, effectively and respectfully.   "I'm done typing.   Do you want to add anything I forgot?"  It was beautiful.

What are some tools/strategies for students to
use for self-reflection?  Peer reflection?

3rd Graders presented "Then and Now"
projects at the Heritage Center
Last month, the 3rd graders traveled back to the time of covered wagons, long dresses, and sod houses.   The driving question challenged the kids to decide how they could preserve the past for the future.   Students knew they would be presenting at the ND Heritage Center and took it very seriously.  Throughout the PBL, through constructive feedback check in's (formal and informal), students reflected on how they were meeting their learning targets.  As they worked on their small group projects, students often were naturally asking classmates for feedback.
During presentations at the heritage center, one museum curator joked with a transportation group, "I'd hate to get a flat tire then!"  To which the students replied, "Actually, rubber wasn't invented yet, but they did get broken wheels..."  Several minutes later, the museum curator walked away, extremely impressed with the depth of their knowledge!

What are some successes/challenges
with constructive feedback?

According to Charity Parsons, a BIE blogger, "In Gold Standard Project Based Learning, teachers - as lesson designers and project managers - have a unique opportunity to craft experiences which encourage a growth mindset."   
This leads me to wonder how teachers can also grow through constructive feedback.   At a staff meeting, we recently engaged in a schoolwide "tuning" protocol.   We divided into groups so there was one representative from each grade at a table.  Specialists, PE and Music also spread out so each group had a mix of expertise.  Staff then began the process of sharing their grade level's current PBL driving question, the products, process and the authentic audience.   After a set time, the other grade levels and specialists gave constructive feedback to each project.  At the end, grade levels returned to share the feedback.  All classroom teachers and specialists left with a better understanding of what other grades were doing, ideas of how to support that learning,  while simultaneously getting feedback for their own PBL. 

How can we provide opportunities for teachers to receive constructive feedback throughout PBL projects?

Twitter Questions: 

Q1:  How can we help students learn to give and receive constructive feedback?

Q2:  How can we foster continual constructive feedback during PBL's? (Not just at the end)

Q3:  What are some tools/strategies for students to use for self-reflection?   Peer reflection?

Q4:  What are some successes/challengers with constructive feedback?

Q5:  How can we provide opportunities for teachers to receive constructive feedback throughout PBL projects?