Proud to Be One of the NSBA 20 to Watch in Education Technology

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Last week, some exciting news was released.  I have been named one of the National School Board Association’s 20 to Watch.  I will travel to Atlanta, GA on March 16-17 to meet the other 19 and be recognized.  Each time that a recognition such as this comes my way, I know that it isn’t just mine.  It also belongs to all of the students, teacher, and families that I work with.  It also emphasizes the power of libraries in schools.

It has been so much fun to hear from so many of my colleagues and friends about this honor.

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Here is the official press release from my school district.

Barrow Elementary’s Andy Plemmons Named to the “20 to Watch” Education Technology Leaders by the National School Boards Association

 Writer/Contact: Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, (706) 546-7721, ext. 18271, jimenezan@clarke.k12.ga.us

 (Athens, Ga.) — Barrow Elementary School Media Specialist Andy Plemmons was today named by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to their list of “20 to Watch” top technology educators for 2014-15. Those on the list are being recognized for their ability to inspire colleagues to explore and embrace innovative digital learning solutions that lead to stronger teaching and learning practices.

“It is such an honor to receive this national recognition because it means that my library, my students and my teachers are reaching a wider audience,” said Plemmons. “We are living in a time where now more than ever we can harness the power of technology to collaborate within and beyond our walls. Our students are more than just consumers. They are creators who have a voice, and I am thankful to work in a district where I can walk into my library and expect the miraculous every day.”

Plemmons was also a finalist for School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year, sponsored by Scholastic Library Publishing. Commendations were given to only three librarians in the U.S. He is also Clarke County’s only Certified Google Teacher.

“The entire Barrow community is proud that Andy was chosen as a ‘20 to Watch’ education technology leader,” said Principal Ellen Sabatini. “Andy’s collaborative leadership style supports teachers as they develop their own skills in orchestrating technology-based projects and lessons that engage students in authentic work. With Andy’s vision, encouragement and strong belief in taking risks, we are all expanding our use of innovative technologies.”

Some examples of creative work taking place in the media center under his leadership include:

  • Pre-K students used Storybird to create digital narratives.
  • Kindergartners used Chromville to augment reality and inspire narrative writing. They also used Padlet to write and collaborate with students from other states.
  • 1st Graders used Google Earth to preview a walking field trip.
  • 2nd Graders created a black history campaign using Flipgrid, Smore and social media, and held a Skype celebration with the developers.
  • 3rd Graders studied the art of Jerry Pinkney, took a field trip to the High Museum and used iMovie to publish their own versions of folktales. They also designed and printed 3D gems after a study of rocks and minerals in conjunction with Aurum Studios.
  • 4th Graders created multiple digital projects in an online museum that tied into social studies standards.
  • 5th Graders experienced the events of 9/11 through a day-long exploration using a variety of texts and collaborated on a video with an elementary school in California.
  • Students participated in the nationwide Hour of Code and with the use of Google Hangout, Plemmons collaborated with librarians in five states to plan the day.
  • Students participated in World Read Aloud Day, Poem in Your Pocket Day and more through the use of Skype and Google Hangout.

“Andy Plemmons is an innovator and leader that makes a difference in our district, state and nation,” said Superintendent Philip D. Lanoue. “He sets the highest standard, but what is most impressive is how he seamlessly blends innovative digital learning environments with ensuring he has a personal relationship with each child.”

The school was also one of the featured schools for the 2012 Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education Bus Tour, due to Plemmons’ leadership in the exemplary use of technology. He is also a past recipient of the Foundation for Excellence’s Kathryn H. Hug Instructional Leadership Award.

This is the ninth year of the NSBA “20 to Watch” program, created in 2006. This year’s honorees are being recognized at the 2015 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Conference on March 16 in Atlanta.

“This year’s ‘20 to Watch’ honorees highlight the kind of exciting innovations that exist throughout America’s public schools. These teachers and administrators, with support from their school boards, share a vision for learning that will prepare students for future success,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “These inspirational pioneers are having a positive impact on the districts they serve.”

The Clarke County School District is home to the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Philip D. Lanoue. It is also home to the #1 Career Academy in Georgia (2015), a designation from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. CCSD was named the state’s Title I Distinguished District for closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. The district is a state-level model technology school district, 2013 and 2014 NAMM Best Communities in Music Education and has a nationally innovative Professional Development School District partnership with the University of Georgia. Graduates are offered upwards of $3 million in scholarships annually, not including the HOPE. For more information, please visit www.proudtobeccsd.com.

Writing Folktales with Puppet Pals

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A few weeks ago, I introduced the iPad app, Puppet Pals, to 3rd grade through a tinkering lesson connected with an author study.  After that lesson, the teachers and I started planning an extension of their folktale unit using this app.  Each class chose a folktale to read multiple version of such as Cinderella, Goldilocks, Three Little Pigs, etc.  Then, students wrote their own story using some of the elements that they had noticed in their study of folktales.  In art, students designed characters and settings for the stories that they wrote in writing time.

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Puppet Pals HD is a free app, but if you upgrade the app for $4.99, you have access to so many more features.  My favorite feature is the ability to take photographs of anything and turn it into a character or a setting for your story.  Students used their artwork from art to create the characters and settings in the app.  From there, students took their script and recorded their folktales.  Some students had multiple characters and settings, so it was nice that they could pause the recording to switch out settings or characters.

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Once the recordings were done, we exported them to the camera roll and uploaded them to Youtube.  The app does allow you to name each story, but it doesn’t transfer the name into the camera roll.  I wish we had done the Youtube upload as part of recording because I couldn’t tell which story belonged to which student.  For now, all of the stories are just called “Puppet Pals” in Youtube. We’ll go back later and add the student titles and names.

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Reflections on Google Teacher Academy #GTAATL

 

google-certified-teacherOn June 25 and 26, 2014 I had the honor of attending the Google Teacher Academy in Atlanta.  It was a long road to get to GTA.  The application process is a test in how well you can boil down your practice into the most concise wording and video that represents your innovation and reach.  The application is short with only a handful of questions that limit your response to 800 characters.  One of the most challenging parts of the application process is the video.  In one minute, you have to introduce yourself and show how you foster innovation in education as well as how you have a global impact.  I don’t even know how many hours it took me to craft a one-minute video, but I do know that the process forced me to really think about my practice.  I made multiple versions of the video and got feedback from multiple including Cat Flippen, #GTACHI.  Here’s how it turned out:

The wait to find out if I got into GTA was agonizing.  I won’t lie about that.  Even though I had IFTTT recipes setup to notify when the email came, I still stayed glued to my phone and computer because I was in a professional learning session on announcement day. Once the email came, things started happening fast.  The 35 were invited to a Google Plus community where we could begin connecting.  It didn’t take long for the collaboration to begin.  Here are just a few things that happened:

  • Jennifer Armstrong began making a Youtube playlist of our GTA videos

  • Jerry Swiatek made a Twitter list
  • I created a Google doc where we could begin crafting a shared blog post that we each could share in our own networks to introduce the 35 #GTAATL participants
  • Linda Humes and Corey Holmer started designing a t-shirt for us.  Corey’s design was ultimately chosen, but many people in the group contributed ideas.  Frank LaBanca ordered our shirts and had them all shipped to me in GA so that I could easily drive them to GTA rather than someone having to bring them on the plane

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  • Renee Nolan organized a meetup for most of us on the night before GTA began to get to hangout together before GTA consumed our brains
  • Janna Gibson made a guide to Atlanta to introduce everyone to the food and sights to check out in Atlanta
  • And the list goes on

I loved this because it brought out one of the things that inspires me about collaborating.  We all have talents and expertise, and so many people stepped up to share their talents and passions with the group.

Finally meeting everyone face to face was so much fun.  We only knew one another from our profile pics, social media posts, and blog stories.  We all met at Marlow’s for dinner the night before GTA and spent time just having conversation and sharing the anticipation of what the next two days would bring.

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We arrived at the Google office and waited until the exact time to enter.  After checking in, we were immediately launched into the Google culture, which of course started with food.  We had a great breakfast before moving into our agenda.

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I won’t detail the entire agenda, but share some of the things that stood out to me along the way.

First, the planning team revamped the entire agenda, and we were the first GTA cohort to try out this new agenda.  This was exciting but also a little risky since it meant that we might not experience what we thought we were going to experience.  What I saw was that the agenda focused a lot more  on philosophy than on specific tools.  The idea behind this is that tools come and go and tools change, but if you have an innovative, risk-taking philosophy of teaching, then you adapt to new tools and environments as well as create entirely new environments for you and your students.

We watched the Moonshot Thinking video, which I had seen at a GAFE Summit.  It is always powerful no matter how many times I watch it.

I loved how this framed our entire GTA experience because it set the tone that we as innovators in education we need to be trying things that have never been tried and creating new tools and experiences for our students that stretch far beyond a “next step”.  I loved how this moonshot thinking and “solving for x” brought us into our first experience at GTA.

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This was probably my favorite “activity” that we did over the 2 days.  Prior to GTA, each of us submitted what we felt were our biggest challenges in education.  Those challenges were compiled into themes.  At our tables, we were randomly assigned one of the challenges.  Then, one of our team members had to spin a wheel filled with tech tools.  Our goal was to use this tech tool to address the specified challenge, and to make things interesting, we only had 5 minutes to make a decision.

Problems of Practice  PoP    Google Teacher Academy Resources

My group ended up with “lack of teacher training” paired with “Panoramio“.  Most of us in the group had never used Panoramio, which was perfect!  I felt like it put us in the shoes of our teachers who feel insecure when facing a new technology tool.  I was reminded of teachers who feel frozen when they face the unknown and want someone to just tell them exactly how a tool works before they will try it.  With the clock ticking, we didn’t have that luxury.  Instead, those of us that had used the tool began brainstorming how Panoramio could address teacher training.  Others, like me, frantically researched the tool to see what it was capable of.  At a glance, Panoramio is a collection of photographs uploaded by the community of users and embedded onto Google Maps by location.  You can browse the photographs by location or you can specifically search for topics of pictures.  For me, I was trying to figure out if you could tag images and search by tag.  From my own experience, I’ve seen the lightbulb go on so many times for a teacher when they see something put into practice in a classroom.  Sometimes all it takes to help a teacher feel “trained” enough to try something is just seeing what it looks like in a classroom.  I thought that if we could create a massive social media campaign for educators to upload images of their classrooms into Panormaio and tag those images by the topics that they showcased, then we could support teachers in “seeing” what that specific topic looked like in a classroom.  If we needed specific kinds of pictures uploaded to Panoramio, then we could be specific like pictures of students using social media in the classroom.  I added this thinking to my group, but I loved that others in my group had completely different ideas for how this tool could be used.  This exercise also reminded me that our focus can’t be on the tools.  Our focus should be on our students, teacher, families, and community along with the needs that they have.  There’s a whole range of tools that can support those needs.  If we push our thinking and try something radical, sometimes a tool that seemed like the most absurd idea for solving the challenge actually leads to something innovative.

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Our day was of course surrounded by snacks.  We had official breaks, but drinks and snacks were always within reach.

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Even breaks to the bathroom kept you learning and surrounded by Google culture.

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Throughout the 2 days of GTA, there was time for “inspiring ideas”.  These were short presentations from various members of GTAATL.  We submitted ideas before GTA and were selected by the planning committee to present.  I was the very first one to share, which was a bit intimidating.  I shared various ways that I empower student voice through Google forms as well as how Google forms can help you crowdsource information.

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Other rockstars included Chris Aviles, who shared how he gamifies his classroom.  He has created an entire story line that plays out with his students which even includes getting phone calls from game characters using Google Voice.  Amy Burvall shared how she used Google Plus to give her students a space to contribute to the classroom and crowdsource information.  She also uses this tool to connect people in her professional development sessions.  By doing this, people aren’t sitting passively in her sessions, but are instead, actively contributing during her session and beyond.  Genius!  Hearing from all of these amazing educators during this session was an energy boost during an exhausting day.  I was proud to be a part of this group.

One of the things that I hoped would happen was a preview of Google Classroom.  We heard about the process it took to develop Google Classroom.  I loved seeing a picture from an elementary teacher’s classroom where she had posted about 7 or 8 steps it took to turn in an assignment to the teacher.  This was one of the inspirations for Google Classrooms.  We had a chance to try out the interface and were all excited and blown away by the usefulness and simplicity.  With 35 innovative educators in one room, it didn’t take long for a range of questions to surface.  We definitely surfaced some barriers that people may face in using Classroom, but overall the buzz was one of excitement and eagerness to get this tool in our teachers’ hands.

Our lead learners

Our lead learners

The rest of GTA involved 4 rounds of explorations of various Google tools and themes.  We grouped ourselves into these rounds by common interests in the kinds of challenges we wanted to tackle in our action plans.

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We saw a lot of tools, but didn’t have time to use them very much.  Now that I’m away from GTA, I’m starting to look at what I saw and consider how these tools fit into what I may try in the library this year.  I’m already thinking about how Google Draw can be used as we connect with other schools via Skype and Google Hangout.  I wish that we had spent more time with the various map tools from Google because I think there is a lot of potential with those as well for global collaborations.  I’ll have to take time to do this for myself.

At the end of day one, we all became Google Certified Teachers.  We had a pinning ceremony and a celebration dinner.  It was a great sense of accomplishment, but it was only the beginning of the work and opportunities ahead.

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Day two was time for us to explore our own interests through an unconference as well as work on our action plans.  After GTA, it is an expectation that you create an action plan to facilitate change in education during the coming school year.  My focus is on global collaboration.  Seeing what students gain from connecting with authors, experts, libraries, and classrooms beyond our walls has convinced me that I need to develop even more opportunities for students to have these connections.  This year, I want connecting to be more than a one time thing.  I want to create content with students in other states and countries.  I want students to offer one another feedback and ask one another questions.  I want students to have an opportunity to create projects that matter to them and share those with a global audience.

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Amy Burvall inspired many conversations about hashtags and “showing your work”.

I had many important conversations during GTA about this project.  Amy Burvall and I talked a lot about hashtags and how tags are the “soul of the Internet”.  She helped me to think about how we track our work so that it continues to inform our next work.  We talked about the importance of sharing the whole process of a project and not just the final project.  This is the kind of thing that GTA does.  You may not get to know every single person at GTA, but you make connections with people that you know are going to continue to push your thinking well beyond the 2 days that you spend together.

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Now my attention turns to GlobalTL, a Google Plus community that was started by Joyce Valenza.  Now, I’m working along with Joyce and many other librarians to develop this community that will facilitate global connections.  I know that by connecting and collaborating with librarians, I am connecting my students and teachers with students and teachers around the world.  Librarians work with every student, teacher, and family member in the school.  I think it makes sense to think about how to create a community that connects people.  We don’t know exactly what will happen in the group, but we are going to shoot for the moon to foster global collaboration.

Google Teacher Academy has connected me with 34 other amazing educators, and I know I can call on them for any questions or roadblocks I face.  I’m also now connected to a global community of Google Certified Teachers who are actively supporting one another in their educational spaces.  I’m sure that GTA is only the beginning of a long collaborative relationship with some amazing global educators.

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Photo Credits: Danny Silva (@iteachag)

More University of Georgia #GeniusCon Research Partners

Geniuscon Day 2 (1)Last week a group from Gretchen Thomas’s EDIT 2000 class at the University of Georgia partnered with Caitlin Ramseyer’s 2nd grade class to work on research for the students’ GeniusCon projects.  Students are answering the question:  If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?

Students topics range from improving the lunch menu to healthier options to adding additional playground equipment to eliminating homework to starting school later in the day.  Even students who share the same topic are taking different approaches to what they would change and how they would do it.

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Today, a new group of Gretchen’s students came to work with the 2nd graders.  Last time, most 2nd graders went through their lists of questions and answered them with their own thinking.  Today’s focus was to move to researching online and in books as well as developing next steps.

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I loved walking around and seeing some of the online reading that students were doing with their partners.

I also loved seeing how the UGA students interacted with the 2nd graders and how they helped to keep our students focused and thinking.  Of course, the UGA students learned a lot too about how much our students know about using technology.

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Some of those next steps involved created Google form surveys that could be emailed out.  Some students crafted emails to send out to the lunchroom or the principal.  We asked students to wait before sending anything out.  The main reason in doing this was to spend a little more time thinking through the content of the email or the survey.  For example, one student had one question in her Google form asking students if they would like more access to the 3D printer.  She was ready to send it out, but after talking with me, she realized that if students wanted access to the 3D printer, we would have no idea what they wanted to do with it.  Our conversation pushed her to think more about her survey before sending it out.  Similar conversations were taking place all over the library.

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At the end, Caitlin pulled her class together to debrief what they had accomplished.

Catilin’s students will continue working on this project and our UGA partners will return again.

 

Our 2nd Student-designed 3D Print on Our Makerbot Replicator

Danny Gem (16)Today, the second student who designed a gem using Sketchup was able to print his gem our our Makerbot replicator.  In case you missed the 1st print, you can read about Grant’s history-making print here.

Danny’s gem was quite different from Grant’s.  Danny figured out how to make a square hole right through the middle of his gem.  It was something we had wondered how to do, and he figured it out.  This again brings to my mind the importance of letting go of the feeling of being an expert in everything before we allow our students to explore.  Because Danny was given the freedom to explore Sketchup, he figured out how to do so much more than his teacher and I could have ever figured out on our own.  Now his expertise can support others who want to try a similar design.

Danny Gem (13)Before Danny pressed the bright red M to start the print, we made sure he got to choose the filament color that he wanted.  We now have a selection of filament to choose from:  blue, red, white, clear, black, yellow, orange, green, purple, and black.  Danny’s gem took about 24 minutes to print.  Now that we have an approximate time frame for printing these gems, we are going to try to get 2 printed during each class period over the next few days.  Once again, students flocked around the printer and begged for their gem to be next.

You can watch is gem print process here:

IMG_0280I’ve also been experimenting with a couple of tools that will hopefully inspire some new projects with several classrooms.  One tool is Tinkercad.  I recently used Tinkercad to make a words with wings keychain.  In her new book, Words with Wings, Nikki Grimes has some incredible poems that detail how a single word can help us take flight through its meaning in our lives.  I hope that I can share this poetry with students, have them select their own “words with wings”, and create backpack pulls using Tinkercad.

blokify castleAnother new tool is Blokify.  With this easy-to-use iPad app, students use a series of blocks to make pretty much anything they want.  While the blocks are designed to look like a castle, space ship, or pirate ship, they can really be stacked into anything in a Minecraft-like style.  The files can be emailed from the iPad to be imported into Makerware.  I hope to do storytelling projects with teachers around student-designed settings and/or characters.  With the blocks all being the same size, there is also great potential to use this for perimeter and area in math.

I love how ideas keep naturally surfacing within our standards and explorations.  It’s not about what we can 3D print.  It’s about what we are learning about, what we want to create, and how 3D printing might support that.

Expecting the Miraculous Now and in the New Year

photo (4)Over the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance reader copy of Flora & Ulysses:  The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.  She is by far one of favorite authors because her words always seem to speak to me in some way beyond just the story.  On p. 130, I came across a quote that I have honestly carried with me in my heart and mind since reading it.  In fact, it has become a motto that I embrace in our school library because it exemplifies the brand that our library represents.

“All things are possible,” said Dr. Meescham.  “When I was a girl in Blundermeecen, the miraculous happened every day.  Or every third day.  Actually, sometimes it did not happen at all, even on the third day.  But still, we expected it.  You see what I’m saying?  Even when it didn’t happen, we were expecting it.  We knew the miraculous would come.” ~Kate DiCamillo

Expect the miraculous.  It’s the phrase that I cheezily say to myself as I enter school each day.  It’s what I remind myself of when I sit down to plan with teachers.  It’s what I whisper to myself in the midst of a technology fail.  It’s what came out of my mouth in a recent interview with School Library Journal:

For wary school librarians, Plemmons adds, “My philosophy is, if we don’t expect miraculous things to happen in our libraries, then we’re just limiting ourselves. Why totally shut a door when we don’t know where it leads to?”

I don’t want to put limits on what kids are allowed to do just because I might not be an expert in a particular tool or concept.  I’m willing to try anything new with any age of students and expect that something great will happen even if it’s not what I imagined happening in my head.  In Invent to Learn, Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager say,

“It is unacceptable and unnecessary to deny children the opportunity to work on something they are passionate about because the teacher is not an expert in that particular field.”

Looking back through my posts of 2013, I see so many incredible things that happened in our library because we (myself, students, teachers, families, connected educators, and special guests) expected the miraculous.  Here are just a few:

  • 5th graders working together to design, plan, persuade, collect, paint, and dedicate during the Little Free Library project.  We now have 2 Little Free Libraries thanks to their hard work.  We went into the project with so many unknowns, but we always expected that the libraries would exist in our community.  Check out the posts!
  • 2nd graders developing their writing skills through blogging and connecting with students in Van Meter, Iowa.  This project included a miraculous connection with author/illustrator Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.  Check out the posts!  Post 1  Post 2   Post 3

  • 3rd graders engaging in action research to solve a real-world problem at our school.  Their investigations included webcam observations, indoor and outdoor observation, skyping with Cornell University and a former Barrow Buddy via Skype, and email communication with other experts.  Their work resulted in many attempts at saving birds from crashing into our school windows.  Post 1  Post 2
  • 1st graders using Twitter to write persuasive messages about our environment.  Check out the post!
  • Multiple connections for special events like World Read Aloud Day, World Book Night, Dia de los Ninos, Read for the Record, and Talk Like a Pirate Day.
  • Students purchasing books for our library with their very own student book budgets.  Check out the post!

  • Students from throughout the school crowd-sourcing a poem using Google Forms for Poem In Your Pocket Day.  Check out the post!
  • Our annual Poem In Your Pocket Days live on Adobe Connect with viewers in multiple states and countries.  Post 1   Post 2
  • Kindergarten students becoming experts inTux Paint and making an informational video to teach others to use the program.  They even connected with students in Van Meter, Iowa to share their expertise.  Post 1  Post 2

  • Moving into a brand new library and working together to learn how to use it.  Check out the post!
  • The entire 4th grade working together in the library over several days to research explorers and Native Americans as well as challenge their thinking about heroes and villains.  Check out the post!
  • 2nd graders using Thinglink to publish monster stories.  Check out the post!
  • A Picture Book Month Smackdown with 2 authors and schools in 5 different states.  Check out the post!

  • After our district decided not to buy a 3D printer, we continued expecting the miraculous.  Miraculously, Donors Choose and Makerbot created a partnership and overnight a 3D printer was funded for our library!  Check out the post!
  • Classes in every grade level committed to exploring computer programming during the Hour of Code.  I’m expecting more miraculous things to come out of this one hour experience.  Post 1  Post 2
  • Our very first student-made design was printed on our 3D printer.  Grant and I expected the miraculous (even though we were prepared for failure).  Check out the post!

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When we give kids the space to explore, the tools to create, the connections to expertise and collaboration, and a global audience to share with, miraculous things will happen.  I know that not everyone believes this.  Recently, an article was published in the Athens Banner Herald highlighting out Hour of Code activities.  In the article, I was quoted saying:

“I encourage them to think about how coders aren’t afraid to make mistakes,” Plemmons said. And when they do make a mistake, they work with their peers to fix it.

Even though I try to avoid reading online comments (and I wish I had used the word failure instead of mistake), I was disturbed by one commenter’s post.  She said:

Such a lax attitude is not acceptable in my book. I am afraid to make mistakes in my work so I make sure all possibilities are considered and all details are addressed and included. I also make great effort to anticipate any questions my clients may have and am ready with an answer before I sit down at a meeting. I don’t need to ask others to help me fix any problems; I’ve already fixed them.

It’s good to tell kids to relax and not worry about making a mistake as they learn, but that real work for hire must be near perfect without wasting a lot of people’s time or your own.

The most disturbing part of this comment to me was the notion that giving kids space to fail, step back, re-evaluate, and try again is having a lax attitude.  Many major companies encourage their employees to fail early and fail often. This allows their employees the freedom to be innovative and take risks knowing that those risks are what unveil the latest great ideas. By failing early, learning from failure, and fine tuning their products, companies are able to release the best quality product that they can. In the digital world, companies continue to listen to the consumer and push out updates to improve any mistakes or ideas that they missed. This is the same kind of situation with students. They aren’t publishing final products online that are full of mistakes. Rather, they are attempting to make the computer do what they want it to do, trying some code, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and fine tuning their work. No one sits down and makes a perfect product without first failing.  Expecting the miraculous certainly doesn’t mean that you are expecting things to be perfect on the first try.

I was reminded of the importance of failure when I was recently reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.  Reynolds says:

“The fear of making a mistake, risking an error, or being told you are wrong is constantly with us. And that’s a shame. Making mistakes is not the same thing as being creative, but if you are not willing to make mistakes, then it is impossible to be truly creative. If your state of mind is coming from a place of fear and risk avoidance, then you will always settle for the safe solutions–the solutions already applied many times before.”

“Children are naturally creative, playful, and experimental. If you ask me, we were the most human when we were young kids. We worked on our art, sometimes for hours without a break, because it was in us, although we didn’t intellectualize it. As we got older, fears crept in along with doubts, self censoring, and overthinking.”

In 2014, I am going to continue expecting the miraculous with my students, my collaborators, my families, and my peers.  We will embrace our failures, learn from them, and continue to create innovative work together.

I am going to start 2014 by asking my students, “What miraculous things do you expect in 2014?”  They will record their responses on a Flipgrid.  I invite you to add your own expectations to the same Flipgrid.  Go ahead.  Give it a try.  Expect the miraculous.

Day 2 (3)

Hour of Code Days 3-5

Day 5 (3)This week has just been incredible.  It’s hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago the planning for this week began.

Even with lots of benchmark tests and wrapping up the end of the quarter, our Barrow teachers found time to bring students to the library to participate in Hour of Code.

No matter which class came, I saw similar results:  engaged students, problem solving, collaboration, suspension of time, perseverance.  Exposing students to coding has opened up a new world for them.  I loved having a conversation with students during every session about the importance of coding knowledge in their future.  Who knows what jobs will be out there when these students join the workforce, but coding is very likely going to be a part of it.

During the week, our internet has  been extremely slow, which has given us lots of problems.  It hasn’t stopped us though.  We did have to abandon some of the computer programs like Tynker because they just wouldn’t load on our machines.

Kindergarten and 1st grade continued to explore Kodable.  Second grade started exploring Light-bot on the iPad instead of Tynker.  An interesting thing started to happen with these students because they got up out of their seats and acted out the moves that their robot needed to make in order to visualize the code they needed to put in.  I loved watching the strategies that students developed to figure out the code they needed.

Students have recorded some of their thinking using a Fligrid this week, which was yet another new tool to many students.  They loved making these short videos about their learning.

Day 2 (11)A group of third graders along with the whole 4th and 5th grade explored Scratch to make an interactive holiday card.  The 4th and 5th grade groups were huge because the entire grade level came together.  I kept our whole group time very short.  I stressed the importance of not giving up, messing around to see how things work, using tutorials, and collaborating.  It was amazing to watch a group of 75+ students disperse, find their own work spaces, and get to work.  When they figured things out, they shared.  For the 4th grade group, we did a Google Hangout on Air with Sherry Gick (@LibraryFanatic) and her students who were using Blockly.  During the hangout, we each setup a computer and headset and students were able to talk to one another about what they were doing.  I picked up our laptop and walked around our library to show her students what my students were doing.  Sherry got on the microphone several times and helped some of my students with their questions too.  It was a great experiment that I definitely want to try again because it opened up our walls to student-to-student collaboration across states.  I wanted to try the idea of coders on call, and this was a step toward that for the future.  You can see how the conversations turned out in this video:

Next week, we hope to connect students again with Sherry Gick’s students in Indiana and Shannon Miller’s students in Iowa to share some of their learning and creations.  This week has sparked interest in coding, and I’m sure that coding will make its way into many of the collaborative projects during the year.  Thank you Code.org and Computer Science Education Week for putting together such a great program, inspiring videos, and helpful tutorials.  The word is out that coding is a critical skill needed by our students.

Here’s a glimpse of what happened at Barrow this week: