The Beginnings of a MakerSpace

Posted on

As each WMS student and teacher now has a district-issued laptop, the former computer lab at the back of the library sat empty last school year.  It was used here and there by different classes, clubs and trainings, but this year the space has a new purpose – a MakerSpace!   Last year, along with school budget and grant funds, we acquired several items that were MakerSpace worthy, but we did not yet have a truly dedicated space for our Romo and Sphero Robots, our Little Bits electronic sets, Hot Wheels Speedometry Kits and our MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation 3D Printer.  However, with new building leadership and innovative drive by our librarian and several teachers, Wissahickon Middle School now has their own space dedicated to making, innovation, creativity and design – our MakerSpace!

Although we have many plans for the use of this space among teachers, students and curricula, we are starting with a few teachers and their students.  We have collected a variety of items for our space including the items above plus generously-donated Lego, K’Nex, Snap Circuits, and old electronic items to be used in the future for our “breakerspace”.  One Science teacher has claimed the lab for “Maker Mondays” and another teacher is heading up our “8th Grade Advisory Group” for 8th graders who want to be forefront of our MakerSpace and 3D printer learning.  We put together this MakerSpace Inventory of Interests to gauge students’ knowledge and collect some data before students enter the space.  We plan on having a similar “exit ticket” for students to fill out after they have spent some time in the space… more to come on that later.

So, we are just in the beginning stages of our work in the MakerSpace, but yesterday was our first Maker Monday.  6th grade science students came into the MakerSpace to experiment, learn, think outside the box, be creative and have fun with the items in our space.  We began each lesson with a few guidelines as for our expectations in the space such as it being a space for students to build, discover, create, a space where students work together and collaborate respectfully and a space where thinking outside the box is not only accepted, but encouraged!

Then, based on the interest survey they had taken, we determined that the students knew the least about the robots and the Little Bits so we showed short intro videos to Romo, Sphero and Little Bits before letting the students loose in the space.  Then, students were given the choice to choose what they wanted to experiment with, how long they wanted to stay at each “station” and encouraged to check out multiple things.

Wow!  What a great day!!  The students were engaged, solving problems, asking questions, motivated, and best of all, were learning with and from each other.  It is everything that we hoped it would be and more!  Check out the images below to see firsthand how our students spent their first Maker Monday.

Be sure to follow our MakerSpace in action through our new Twitter account – @WMSInnovates #WMSInnovates and #WissLearns .  A dedicated blog will be coming soon!


Ten Tools for Engaging Learners

Posted on

On Wednesday, September 30th, from 3-6 pm, the Montgomery County Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages (MCAFTL) held its fall conference at Wissahickon Middle School.  I was asked about 6 months ago if I would be the presenter for this conference as they wanted to once again focus their fall conference on technology.  As a former French teacher and member of MCAFTL, I jumped at the chance to share my love of instructional technology with my world language colleagues once again.  When writing the conference presentation blurb in the spring, I came up with the following:

World Languages 3.0:  Technology Tools for Engaging World Language Learners

Come on out to learn about the latest and greatest web-based tools for creating engaging and interactive activities, projects and lessons for your World Language learners.   In this fast-paced, hands-on workshop, participants will be exposed to a variety of tools and resources that can be used for communication, collaboration, creativity, formative assessment, and the blended/flipped learning environment.  Time will also be allotted for participant sharing, so be sure to come ready to share your favorite web-based technology!  Be sure to bring your own device (laptop or tablet) to get the most out of this session.

However, I didn’t really know at that time what tools I would be presenting.  As I really only had about 2 hours of instructional time, and I wanted to be sure to allow the participants some hands-on time with the tools I present, it was difficult to choose not only the best tools for world language learners, but also tools that would be free, web-based, and device agnostic, as we have a variety of platforms, devices, and student access in our county.

So, without further ado, I present “Ten Tools for Engaging (World Language) Learners“.  I put World Language in parenthesis because in no way are any of these tools solely for language class.  Each and every one of the tools below can, and should, be used by teachers from every discipline in every grade level.

What tools would you have chosen?  Please leave your favorite free, web-based tools, in the comments!

ReBoot Camp 2015

Posted on

The hectic beginning of school continues for me as I leave the trenches of Boot Camp and enter into the realm of ReBoot Camp.  While Boot Camp is for the 6th graders of WMS, ReBoot camp is reserved for the 7th and 8th grade ‘upperclassmen’.  They have a year or two of using their  laptops under their belts so they are well-versed in Wiss21.  However, each year it is important for me to meet with them once again (I feel like their Jedi master sometimes) to apprise them of any updates, new technology, and to remind them once again about the importance of digital organization and Digital Portfolio expectations.

For these lessons, I commandeer the classroom of a team’s Social Studies teacher for the day and instead of Social Studies that day, the students get their ReBoot.  The team’s teachers rotate into that classroom all day so that they also learn what the students are learning and are kept up-to-date with technology changes and updates.

Once again, I’ve created a Sway to present the ReBoot Camp.  Check it out below.

Photo Credit:

Wiss21 Boot Camp

Posted on

The second day of school is always an exciting one at Wissahickon Middle School, for that’s the day that about 1,200 students receive their Wiss21 laptops and begin or continue their journey through the challenging yet exhilarating wilds of 21st Century Teaching and Learning.  As sixth grade is the first year that the students are issued a laptop that is theirs and theirs alone that they can use in school and at home, not only do they receive their laptops on the second day of school, but WMS 6th graders begin the first of several sessions of what we lovingly call ‘Boot Camp’, otherwise known as computer orientation.   Read on to learn how Wissahickon School District trains the “troops” to be responsible digital citizens who not only use their computer efficiently and effectively for their schoolwork, but also to be problem solvers and assistants to their fellow students and teachers.

Wiss21 Resource Guide

Before getting into the schedule and content of sessions, it is important to mention the “Wiss21 Resource Guide”.  The Guide is a OneNote Notebook provided to all WMS students and teachers that serves as a type of manual for their computers and the Wiss21 initiative, as well as other goodies such as the WMS Handbook and other school-related topics.  As this notebook is a view-only notebook living on our district’s SharePoint server, content can be added to the Guide at any time that automatically shows up for the students.  In it there are many helpful sections and pages for students, including Quick Reference, Office 365, Creativity Tools, Boot Camp, Digital Portfolio and more…

6th Grade Wiss21 Resource Guide 2015

6th Grade Wiss21 Resource Guide 2015

Boot Camp Session #1 – Computer Orientation

As previously mentioned, students receive their computers on the second day of school. The 6th graders receive their computers first so that they can attend computer orientation later in the day.  That day, during either their science or social studies class (or sometimes both!) the students attend their first Boot Camp session that provides just enough instruction for them to get acquainted with their computers, get the Wiss21 Resource Guide, and learn a bit about OneNote, Outlook, where and how to save files, etc.  The entire lesson is outlined in the Wiss21 Guide and is taught by team teachers who have stepped up to the plate to conduct the orientation.

Session #1 Agenda

Boot Camp Session #1 Agenda

After the second day of school, students are free to take the computers home and use them in classes.  Teachers continue to orient the students to the computers and although some were a bit hesitant during the first few years, the teachers are becoming more and more comfortable with the use of the computers and guiding their students in their procedures and expectations with the laptops.

Boot Camp Session #2 –  Office 365, OneNote & Digital Portfolios

Fast forward to the second week of school.  During this time, all 6th grade students come to the library for two hours to continue with Boot Camp.  During this time, students are taught by me, the Instructional Technology Specialist.  When we embarked on the Wiss21 initiative, we knew that teachers should not be expected to teach all aspect of the computers to their students.  After all, they aren’t computer teachers, they are Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, etc teachers.  Therefore, Boot Camp was created and is continually taught by me.  Because I am the one teaching it, I have the ability to change the content from year to year to fit the most current needs and technology in the district.   For example, this year we are embarking on Office 365 as a district so I am including it in our time together as well as having the students create their portfolio OneNotes on OneDrive instead of on their computers as we’ve done in the past

Sessions #2 and #3 are taught together during these two hours, covering the topics below.  As it was for Session #1, all the information and additional helpful tutorials are included in the Wiss21 Guide.

Boot Camp Sessions #2 & #3

Boot Camp Sessions #2 & #3

This year, I created a Sway for this part of Boot Camp to guide our time together.  Check it out below or at this link here!

This second session of Boot Camp focuses on the creation of what will become their Digital Portfolios to which they will add artifacts and reflections of their learning throughout not only 6th grade, but 7th and 8th grade as well.   As they learn about the Digital Portfolio project and its expectations and requirements, students are also learning how to create and share documents through Office 365 and the basic ins and outs of the program they will use the most – OneNote.    We get their entire Portfolio template set up together and they begin working on their “About Me” page by adding fancy text, images that represent their hobbies, etc.  If you are interested in learning more about our Digital Portfolio project and to see student examples, visit this link.

Digital Portfolio Overview

Digital Portfolio Overview

Boot Camp Session #3 – Digital Citizenship

The second hour of our time together during the second week of school we discuss Digital Citizenship.  Although this part of the lesson has also evolved over the years, I always want to start out with asking them what they already know.  We put the technology aside for a few minutes and the students discuss what they already know about Digital Citizenship, online safety, privacy, copyright, etc., first with each other in small groups, then all together as a larger group.  As the years progress, I’m pleased to find out that the students already know quite a bit that they’ve learned from parents, previous teachers, etc. but am also surprised at some of the gaps and/or misconceptions.

What is Digital Citizenship?

What is Digital Citizenship?

From there, we watch a video from InCtrl called Living in a Digital World and discuss it.

Then, just as the students are getting a bit ancy for being with me for 1.5 hours and talking about some heavy topics, we jump into this game of Kahoot!  to really hit home some of the more important aspects of Digital Citizenship.  I stop the game after each question and discuss the reasons why.  I love teaching this topic this way because I get to see their prior knowledge on EVERY question, and then address the incorrect answers to broaden knowledge and squash misconceptions.  Needless to say, the students LOVE it and even debate some of the answers!  (BTW, if you don’t know about Kahoot! You need to!  Check it out here.)

Digital Citizenship with Kahoot!

Digital Citizenship with Kahoot!

After the game, we end our Digital Citizenship lesson with logging into our Digital Passports.  As the topic of Digital Citizenship is very large, there is no way that just an hour can justify the learning that needs to occur.  Therefore, the students are all required to log into their Digital Passports and earn a badge on all five of the games to be certified Digital Citizens!  They have the entire first marking period to complete their Digital Passports and they receive a grade in their Social Studies class for not just completion, but accurate completion higher than 80% on all games.  The Digital Passport comes from Common Sense Media and although it is recommended for elementary school, is VERY much appropriate for middle school and includes videos and scenarios for the middle school age group.  The students are very motivated by the gamified aspect of the Digital Passport and often play the games even after they’ve earned their badges.

Boot Camp Session #4  – Productivity Tools and #5 – Creativity Tools

After their two hours with me in the library, the students continue their Boot Camp training on Productivity Tools (Office Suite mostly) and Creativity Tools (MovieMaker, SongSmith, Google Earth, SMART Notebook, Sway, etc.) in other classes.  The Science teachers take care of the productivity tools through a unit on weather during the second marking period through which students must track the weather of an adopted city, use Excel to make graphs, create a presentation with PowerPoint, etc.  The Math teachers conduct the creativity tools section of Boot Camp by having their students create review lessons, videos, games, etc. for the Midterm and Final exams.  And lastly, all 6th graders have a class called “iSkills”, either during the fall or spring semester, during which they examine the ISTE Standards for Students and dig deeper into technology integration and 21st Century Learning.

Boot Camp to be Continued

Boot Camp to be Continued

Now that you’ve gotten an overview of how Wissahickon School District provides computer orientation and training for the 6th graders, can you understand why we call it “Boot Camp”?

How does your school or district orient your students to their devices?  I’d love to hear how other people do it.  Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Wiss21 Summer Institute 2015

Posted on

wiss21-white-bkgrdLast week, during the very last days of summer vacation, while most teachers are trying desperately to soak up the last rays of sunshine, riding that last adrenaline-pumping roller coaster, or savoring the cuisine of backyard BBQs, a group of teachers from the Wissahickon School District were devoting their time to personal and professional growth at the Wiss21 Summer Technology Institute.  The Institute ran Monday-Thursday, from 8:30-11:30 am, offering 2 sessions each day on technology integration and 21st century learning.

As technology integration and 21st century learning are large and broad topics, we put together and sent an interest survey in the spring to gauge interest for the Institute and its offerings.  From the list we provided and other “write-ins”, we determined the sessions and schedule for the week.  As we are embarking on Office 365 this year, it was important to include those as topics as well as other Microsoft tools and resources.

Therefore the sessions included:

  • Flipped Learning
  • Office Mix & Sway
  • Formative Assessment Tools
  • OneNote for Beginners
  • OneNote for Intermediate/Advanced
  • 21st Century Learning Design
  • Office 365 Introduction
  • Office 365 for Collaboration

As usual for Professional Development these days at Wissahickon, a OneNote Notebook was created to provide session agendas & slides, resources, areas for participant notes,  and areas for experimentation and exploration.  In addition, the OneNote Notebook is available to any Wissahickon faculty member (or anyone else, including you!) to access, even if they were not in attendance at the Institute.

Front page of the Wiss21 Institute OneNote Notebook

Front page of the Wiss21 Institute OneNote Notebook

For the session presentations, a mixture of PowerPoint, OneNote, Sway and Padlet were used throughout the Institute.  When it comes to tools, it is always best to use the tool to teach the tool, so we did so when it was appropriate.  Check out some of our session resources and presentations below:

Overall, the sessions were well attended, especially the ones towards the end of the week on the newer tools and resources to WSD.  Teachers were engaged during each workshop and are looking forward to utilizing what they’ve learned as they design their learning activities and lessons this year with their students.

Kudos to the teachers who gave up those precious last mornings of summer to come and learn about some of the great tools, resources and best practices for technology integration and 21st century teaching and learning at Wissahickon School District.

welcome sign

Photo Credit