Welcome to Jennie Magiera's Technology in Education Blog:

Redefining the (digital) Classroom

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Let it (OK)Go - Inspire your students

You may already be a fan of OKGo - if not, perhaps you may recall them from their iconic treadmill video from 2009. I have been a long term diehard fan of this band for many reasons .. hometown love as they're #ChiTown locals, their heartwarming start as 5th graders in camp, and most powerfully, the impact they've had on my students. In past years OKGo has become one of the most inspiring catalysts for my kids' learning. Let me tell you why.

First off, the adorable story behind how this band started... As 11 year olds, lead singer Damien Kulash and bassist Tim Norwind met at Interlochen Arts Camp. They met, fell in bro-love and kept in touch after camp, sharing mixtapes and ideas. The name of the band came from their camp art teacher, who would say to them "OK... Go!" How lovely and telling that these two children found each other in an environment where they could truly be themselves and have the space to play. As inspiring is that they chose the name of their band based on those simple two words... OK Go. Go Play. Go Explore. Go Get Messy.

Quick Meta-tangent: How often to do we as teachers simply say to our students... "OK... go!" And when we do finally release them to an activity, how free are they really to truly "Go"? What parameters have we set that may limit their "Go"? Have we set up an environment where they feel it's really "OK"? 

Ah, now we're back from that metabreak, let's get into how OKGo is inspiring my students in the here and now. Back in 2009 I remember seeing that treadmill video and thinking "wow... that's pretty cool". Then, in 2012, I saw this video from a seven year old named Audri, inspired by OKGo's This Too Shall Pass video. The incredible lesson of resilience, learning from failure and engineering inspired me to have my own students create Rube Goldberg machines.

I started by showing my students the same OKGo video that whet Audri's interest in this concept, then showed them Audri's own creation. By the end of both videos, they were positively chomping at the bit to begin constructing their own masterpieces. It was a delicious mess, with students bringing in more and more "junk" to school daily to build, refine and rebuild bigger and bigger machines. Students who were normally stymied by failure were cheering one another on each time their contraptions failed, saying to one another "remember Audri did it!" or "do it like they did in OKGo!".

From there we watched OKGo's video, Needing/Getting a glorious celebration of "found sounds" to create music. Driving a car through a musical obstacle course in the middle of the desert, the band members create the percussion to back their vocals. My students immediately set to work finding rhythms in their own school day, taking notes about sounds --- coming to me after school to share ideas for moving carts down the hall to provide bass or girls playing double dutch to add the beat.

Most recently, we explored the newest release I Won't Let You Down. This video's explosion of patterns, rates and shapes inspired my students to dig into the math of music, explore marching band patterns and wonder how to build teamwork in their classmates to accomplish something similar. As we studied the video to decide on a project, one of my students commented, "I really wonder how they all got along so well. Sometimes we can't even line up for lunch - how can we get everyone in our class to team up to do this?" We spent a good 15-20 minutes seeing if we could cooperate enough to time a jumping photo - first in the hall then moving to the classroom as we realized we needed to sit down and literally think before we jumped. So while I set out hoping they'd explore the rates, timing and math of the patterns in the video, it looks like my students are digging more deeply in to the social teamwork it would take to coordinate such a collaborative effort.

After we're done seeing where "I Won't Let You Down" takes our learning, I plan to show them The Writing's on the Wall, a wonderland of optical illusions. Awesome to teach about light, reflection, refraction.

OKGo's innovative music, and music videos have not only engaged my students in my own learning goals but also pushed them to wonder and explore ideas neither they nor I had considered before. OKGo - you may entertain millions of people with your snappy beats but you're making a real difference in the lives of your students by daring to be different and thinking outside of the box. Thank you innovating... and to your Interlochen Art Teacher -- thank you for saying "OK... Go". 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My TEDxTalk: Sorry Sir Robinson... I think I killed creativity

On September 20, 2014, I was fortunate to give a TEDxTalk. The title was "Power to the Pupil" but in retrospect, I wish I'd named it "Sorry Sir Robinson... I think I killed creativity." 

This talk is about what to do once you become inspired to embrace student agency, creativity and exploration in the classroom... but you realize that your students have already become rubric zombies. It's about wondering - what do I do now? Am I too late? 

It's about how to help your students rediscover wonder, rediscover playtime. It's not just about the need for classrooms to become more student centered or joyful... but about how to take that first step to implement these ideas. It's eighteen minutes, and I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creating Google Form Session Sign Up Limits with FormRanger

Lately I've had many instances where we've created sign ups for PD sessions, observation visits or student programming and wanted facilitate this process via a Google Form. However, in all of these examples, we also have wanted to limit the number of people able to register for each option.

Although Andrew Stillman's Google Form AddOn FormLimiter seems like a natural choice, it limits the entire form based on the total number of submissions, regardless of the options selected. We wanted the actual sessions to be limited or closed once they hit their individual maximum, while still allowing registrants to select options that had yet to meet their max.

There may be a more elegant solution out there, but I thought I'd share our workaround. Using another one of Andrew Stillman's Google Form AddOns, FormRanger, and some CountIf and If formulae, I was able to change sessions options to "FULL" in the Google Form once they hit a certain cap.

Note that this doesn't prevent the registrant from still registering for that session, but it does prevent the registrant from knowing what the session was before. When they access the form to fill out, they just see "This session is full, please choose another." If they still select it, that will be session they have chosen in the spreadsheet responses. Should you choose to be kind, you could set up a FormMule email to shoot out an error message prompting them to re-register for another session. In the many instances we've done this, I've never had someone do this.

Below is a screencast walkthrough of how to do this, complete with an explanation of the formulae you need to accomplish it!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pennies to Riches: A little change in the classroom goes a long way

I'm fortunate that as part of my job I am able to travel to various countries, learning and sharing about educational innovations. Over time I've amassed a piggy bank of change and small bills in various currencies. While I used to do my best to end each trip on a perfect zero balance of foreign money, recently I had another idea.

On my last trip to New Zealand, I took my younger sister along for the ride. She marveled at the images on the coins, inspired by Maori carvings. She loved how the bills had clear windows in the paper and were much more colorful than our less flashy green and gray American cash. I realized that I had forgotten to stop and wonder at the history, significance and culture that came into currency making and choices for the size, shape and symbols on money.

So, I decided to take a cue from my sister and bring the change into school for my students to explore. I gave each kid one piece and asked them to tell me everything they could about it. I laid out a few American bills and coins for reference and let them have at it. I didn't give any guidance, tell them where the money was from, nor did I answer any questions. I just repeating, "Tell me everything you can about this money."

They had a ball. While it started off with some pretty funny Google searches ("coin with funny monster face on it"), soon the kids were on a roll, finding fact after fact. From finding out the composition of the paper or the type of metal the coins were forged from... to the name of the currency or the lives of the people whose faces appeared --- the students hungrily analyzed and researched these foreign objects.

The more they discovered, the more questions they had. Some students simply couldn't stop touching the paper, feeling the coins and saying "This came from so far away...." Some wanted to know what they could buy at the local store if they were to exchange it for US currency. Still others wanted to know what they could do to get their faces emblazoned on a coin.

This resulted in the students wondering about our own US currency. They asked "Why we don't have dollar coins?" When they learned we do, they launched into a debate as to why we don't use those instead of paper bills. They had more broad questions such as "Why is paper money always rectangular?"

From pennies I actively tried to avoid, had come this wealth of curiosity and wonder. The questions were limitless as was the learning and ideas for how to improve our current system... all thanks to a little change.