Category Archives: In the Classroom

3 Educational Things – Random Act

Career and Technical Related:

Last weekend, one of our teachers and a student participated in the kickoff event for the Congressional App Challenge. I know that more of our students are planning to participate in this event and events similar to this. It is a great opportunity for students to be mentored by industry professionals and to provide a relevant deliverable that will be judged by others.

Educational Technology Related:

Mailbox is an app that I have started to use lately. I hate to see red flags, or badges on my iPhone, iPad, or computer that indicates a new email. I have started to use Mailbox because I can read what is important or basically snooze the emails that I want to look at later when I have more time. This allows me to not worry about every email in my inbox since I know the emails will pop back up later in the day or whatever setting I snoozed the emails to.

In the Classroom:

I didn’t get to see too many classes today because of a visit to our campus and a few meetings that I was in today. I managed to visit one classroom today due to the Random Act of Coyoteness Award that we give to one staff member or student each Monday. The weekly recipient has confetti thrown on them in front of their students or peers and gets a trophy to keep for the week. It is always a great feeling to see the reaction of the person who receives the award knowing that a staff member nominated them to receive the award. It is a great way to start a Monday.

3 Educational Things – White House Film Festival

Career and Technical Related:

Qualifyor – One of my former students wrote this article on filling the gap between education and employment in Las Vegas. Qualifyor is a big supporter of career and technical education in Las Vegas and I am glad to have a community partner who is helping students transition from school to work.

Educational Technology Related:

Penultimate – I am a big Evernote user and I am trying to branch out into new ways of using tools that will sync with Evernote. Despite the fact that it has been installed for a long time, I started using Penultimate today to take my random notes instead of using a dozen post it notes. Hopefully, I will save a tree or two and speed up my inbox processing every night.

In the Classroom:

This is not as much what I saw in the classroom today, but what I saw outside of it. Groups of freshman working on their White House Film Festival entries all around campus filming with iPods, iPhones, and iPads. While this Business Software Applications often gets bogged down in the boredom of learning Microsoft Office, it was nice to see the students away from their computers and using 21st Century technology to create something new.

3 Ed Things – Contact Groups and More

Career and Technical Related:

While not a direct correlation to career and technical education, I read an article on how Broward County schools are incorporating more computer science into their schools. I know that our district is trying to expand the number of schools that are incorporating a computer science program of study because of the high job demand in Las Vegas. The article gave me a little bit more hope that we can get more high schools in Clark County to have four-year programs of study in computer science.

Educational Technology Related:

I read an article on using contact groups in Google to share documents. Each month I share the program leader meeting agenda with the same 18 teachers. After creating my contact group, I think sharing a Google document with the group instead of typing in each teacher’s name will save me a few minutes and every minute counts.

What I saw in a Classroom Today:

I watched a web design and development classroom today while their teacher was recognized at a school student and teacher of the month luncheon. These juniors were working on creating and editing the code for a WordPress site. It was fun to watch them try to find the solutions to their problems with no specific guidance from me. The students shared ideas, trial and error, and the used the occasional swear word under their breath when it didn’t work. Hopefully, I will be able to visit this class when they are closer to completion.

Screencasts Exercise – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about an idea to have students screencast themselves typing Java code at the beginning of the unit and then doing the voiceovers using the proper vocabulary later in the unit.

My students finished their screencasts last week and it did not work the way I wanted to. The main flaw in my plan was that I over-estimated the video editing abilities of some of my students despite previous video editing assignments during their three years at my school. The result from this was that I had videos that last about four minutes and videos that lasted about 25 minutes.

The videos did not need to be a specific length in time, but the longer videos came from students that did not type well and the video was filled with “dead air” as the student waited for the typing to stop before explaining the next concept. The other part that did not work out well is that some of the students used the default iMac mic instead of plugging a microphone in and there is a lot of background noise. There was a huge quality difference between the students that went to the sound booth or a quiet room to record the audio and those that just used the computers in class.

My goal of having students understand the vocabulary better will be known later in the week when the students take a test on the chapter. Hopefully, despite the technical difficulties and range of quality videos, my students have improved their vocabulary skills.

Trying Student Screencasts to Teach Programming

I am trying something new with the next Java unit that I’m teaching on methods. Through the first part of the year, my students have excelled in actually creating code and getting it to work. Unfortunately, when it comes to seeing snippets of code and explaining the terminology and concepts behind the code, the students are struggling a little bit.

For the methods unit, I have decided to do something new. The textbook that we have in class typically has a full example of code at the beginning of the chapter and then breaks it down into smaller parts as the chapter progresses. Typically my lectures demonstrate the breakdowns and the terminology, but I’m trying to find a way to improve what is going on in my classroom.

This time instead of having students reference the original code at the beginning of the chapter as the unit progresses, I had the students type the code straight from the book and screen capture the entire process without recording any audio. My plan is that as I teach the smaller concepts within the unit, the students will go back to the video and add the appropriate terminology and concepts as audio components to their screen casts. I am hoping that this will reinforce the concepts of the units and the students will be able to explain the code they see better.

I will post updates here, on Twitter, and on Google+ as the unit progresses.

Using Google Docs to Share Modified Assignments

I was preparing a tutorial tonight for our school’s department chairs. We are trying to come up with ways to easily share to additional resources or modified assignments to those students that are struggling through Google Calendars and Docs. The idea is simple enough. The teacher that is modifying the assignment or providing additional resources assigns the student a number or letter. The student knows to go to the class calendar and if he/she sees “Student C” click on this document, he or she clicks on the link to get the assignment/resource.

The catch for us is that the default settings on Docs is if someone has a school Google login, they can see the document. I created the tutorial below to show our teachers how to turn off the “Public” feature, turn it into “Private,” and share it with the student.

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”presentation/embed” query=”id=1IPZ_94XKqvRMTEr-Mp1DjB3UPwRRa41ON60SBQLuIRI&start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000″ width=”480″ height=”389″ /]

Students Teaching Students

In my Game Development II class today, we were learning about the Math class in Java. Of course, this quickly went off topic as I had to explain, again, the importance of math in game development. Once I got the train back on the track and made it through my demo, I explained what the exercises were. I had four different examples of coding using the Math class. I put the students into groups of four and assigned each student one of the exercises.

The students were temporarily relieved that they were only going to have to code one of the four, but that feeling of relief didn’t last long. The students were instructed to explain their exercise to the other group members. I had told the class that they would be presenting an exercise, but it would not be theirs. I would randomly pick an exercise that they had not personally coded to present to the class and I would grade the entire group on how well the presentations went. The chorus of groans was loud and students were asking why was I doing this to them.

I had told them that they were pretty good at getting code to work, but their commenting skills within the code was lacking. I added that if you cannot explain the code and how it works to one of your teammates, do you really understand what you are doing. The students completed the coding portion before lunch and I told them after lunch they would have time to explain the code to the rest of the team. The students came back from lunch and were quickly huddling around each team members project as they explained what was happening in the code. Once the students started to get off track, I announced it was time to start presenting.

I didn’t want to spend the rest of the class period with student rehashing out the same example over and over again so I picked one student for each example. The example they used was my answer key without the comments explaining the code. This threw the presenters off because when they were taught the exercise from a team member, the focus was on using the comments to explain the code and not looking at the code itself. The presenters rebounded well once they took a breath and looked at the code. In the end, they did a good job presenting the exercise.

My goal today wasn’t to trip up the presenters. It was to get the students to be more effective in commenting their code because they had been getting lazy as of late. The second goal was to get the students to understand what the code actually does and to explain it to someone else so that they understand it. I could have done this differently by checking the comments more thoroughly in the code and ask more questions during a presentation, but this gave the students an opportunity to teach and communicate to their peers on a topic outside of the normal high school student conversation.

Students: Utilizing Their Resources

My students will email members in the game industry to get advice on their designs or clarifications on tutorials they find and they usually copy me in the email. It is not unusual for me to receive these emails. On Thursday, I was a little surprised at the email that a student copied me on. The student emailed the district’s chief technology officer (CTO) to request that a game engine get unblocked at our school so that his group can complete their senior capstone project.

This is a site that I have tried to get unfiltered through the normal channels with no progress. To be fair, teachers are submitting sites on a daily basis that should be unblocked that would benefit more students than this one site that would benefit four students. At first, I was a little concerned because this student has tried to bypass multiple layers of bureaucracy by going straight to the top without informing me in advance.

I forwarded the email to my principal to give her a heads-up in case the CTO emailed her asking why her students were emailing her directly. She had replied back that the email was awesome and the student had earned the right to email the CTO. Last year, this student had created an intro video for a technology conference we hosted for 200 7th graders. The CTO was in one of the sessions, saw the video, and was talking to me about how great the video was. I told her that the student who created it was sitting right behind her. The CTO turned around, introduced herself to the student, handed him a business card, and told him to email her about a summer internship with the district. He did take her up on the offer and still works there during the week.

At Southwest CTA, we grade our students based on six tenets that we think will fairly grade the all-around abilities of students and best prepare them for college and a career. One of those tenets we grade is “use of resources.” It is something that we encourage on every assignment, project, and presentation. My principal reminded me that the student was just using the resources he had available to him to advocate for something that he needed to further his education. Despite my concerns about going above everyone’s head to get the site unblocked, he was utilizing a skill that we have been teaching our students for the last three years. We won’t know for a few days if his email worked, but I am proud of what he has tried to do to improve his group’s capstone project.

20% Project Presentations

My students are getting prepared for their first presentation about their 20% Project (details can be found here). Generally, my students have a good idea of what my expectations are for a presentation. In this case, they don’t because there is no “true” rubric. The students only need to demonstrate learning during the project. For some students this will be easy, for others, the process of documenting their work has escaped them.

Many of the students peppered me with questions today and probably ended up with more questions than answers. I wouldn’t give them a time limit, what they needed for a deliverable, or even if they needed a deliverable. My answer to most questions was take as much time as you need and use whatever deliverable necessary to demonstrate your learning. To be totally honest, I am not even sure what I want because this is the first time I have run a project this way.

In the end, I told many of the students that this is no different than any other project – I want to be impressed. This time I don’t want to be impressed with the deliverable. I want to be impressed by what they have learned using 20% of their class time to pursue something that they are interested in. I will post a follow-up after the presentations next week.

Not as Easy as Tic Tac Toe

I generally start off the school year in my 2nd and 3rd year classes by reviewing game design structure. The class reviews simple concepts like objectives, procedures, rules, and outcomes as they relate to game design.

This year my students were confident that they understood the concepts and that I was wasting valuable class time when they could be working on computers. To prove to me that they understood game design structure I asked them to create the game structure for Tic Tac Toe. I figured it would be a fairly easy assignment since everyone has played a game or two of Tic Tac Toe.

As I walked around the classroom, I started to notice small flaws in the procedures and rules from some students. Instead of pointing out the errors, I let the students continue the exercise. After all the students finished, I asked them to find a partner to play a game of Tic Tac Toe. The catch was that they students had to play the game exactly as the game structure document stated. Once they played the game they had to swap directions and play another game.

Ten minutes later, I surveyed the class to find out the results of the Tic Tac Toe games. I wasn’t interested in how many times X won; I wanted to know how many games were actually played. In my 2nd year class, 56% of the games could not be completed and 50% in my 3rd year class. I asked the class how was this possible? It was a game of Tic Tac Toe not Risk.

The errors were simple and small. Some students forget to mention that you needed pen or paper, how to set up the grid, or that the players needed to take turns placing X’s and O’s. We discussed how Tic Tac Toe is a game that they have probably played hundreds of times and the majority of the class could not write the proper game structure. I asked “What is going to happen when you are the only one that knows what is going on in a game you are creating?”

The class discussion turned to how the students need to be more thorough in their documentation and not to assume that the player will know how to play the game. I am interested to see what the students turn in for their first project in a few weeks. Hopefully, they will be more detailed than previous attempts.