Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)

In the spring of 2015, all students in grades 3-8 & 11 will be given the SBAC summative assessment.  SBAC is aligned with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and is a grade-level, summative assessment (SBAC assessments).  The tests will be administered during the final 12 weeks of school year 2014/15.  For Maine, the scheduled window is 9 March - 29 May 2015 (MeCAS testing dates).

From SBAC:
Smarter Balanced Assessment Design
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has developed a system of valid, reliable, and fair next-generation assessments aligned to the CS in English language arts (ELA)/literacy and mathematics for grades 3-8 and 11. The system includes summative assessments for accountability purposes, optional interim assessments for local use, and formative tools and processes for instructional use. Computer adaptive testing technologies are used for the summative and interim assessments to provide meaningful feedback and actionable data that teachers and other stakeholders can use to help students succeed. For more information, visit

SBAC uses a computer adaptive test (CAT) protocol.  CAT is designed to more precisely measure student content achievement and mastery.  CAT uses algorithms to adjust questions presented to a student.  For example, if a student answers a question correctly, the next question is a bit harder.  If the students answers the question incorrectly, the next question is a bit easier.  SBAC has more information about CAT:  What is CAT? (PDF doc) and SBAC CAT webinar

IT is prepared to assist you as you prepare for SBAC.  We have created an SBAC clearinghouse website to assist you.  Point your browser to sbac.rsu20.org.  We don't have all of the answers, but we are working to get those.  Contact your building tech integrator for assistance.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Protecting PII of students

Protecting PII of students

In the last installment, I discussed personally identifiable information (PII), how it relates to you, and how you can protect your PII. This time, let's explore securing our students' PII. One of the fastest growing exploits is identity theft of student information; specifically, high school and college students (Student Identity Theft). Securing student PII requires the same diligence you would use to secure your own PII. The same pitfalls that can trip up adults trip up our students. While they may be more tech savvy than many adults, they are still children and are often too trusting. That is where we can help.

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was signed into law in 1974. There is much written on FERPA, but in a nutshell it requires schools that receive federal funding to obtain written permission from a parent or eligible student (a student over 18 years old) in order to release student records. This is one reason we have a section on the annual RSU #20 emergency form that allows parents to accept or decline having student information posted on the web. In 1974, the concern was not for student PII being placed on the web: The intent was to protect paper documentation associated with a student. Today, FERPA regulations have increased importance given the use of blogs and websites by staff and students. School districts and staff can be held liable for not following FERPA guidelines. For more on FERPA violations, take a look a these links:

The Title XIII-Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, also known as COPPA, concerns collection of personal information from children under the age of 13. COPPA is directed toward commercial sites such as Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter. COPPA details what a website must have in its privacy policy, what information can be gathered, and how the site must display its privacy policy. If you read the privacy policy for Facebook, you will see a disclaimer that one must be 13 years of age or older to register. That's COPPA. 

From Facebook's privacy policy:

No information from children under age 13. If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for Facebook or provide any personal information about yourself to us. If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible. If you believe that we might have any information from a child under age 13, please contact us through this help page.

Know of any students under 13 that have a Facebook account? 

Information security education is not designed to scare you into no longer using the Internet. It is designed to raise your awareness of infosec issues. What can we do to help our students? First, become familiar with FERPA, if you aren't already. Understand what guidelines we are required to follow to protect student information. Second, practice keeping your PII safe from unnecessary exposure.  Make that part of your daily routine. This practice will help you in your daily routines with students. Third, reinforce with our students the dangers of sharing personal information, regardless of medium. 

Here are some additional sites:

Always Use Protection: A Teen's Guide to Safe Computing.  Dan Appleman.  Apress.  ISBN: 978-1-59059-326-4

Next time: the importance of password protection

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Collaborative ACTEM Post

The tech integrators from RSU #20 all made the trip to Augusta for the 2014 ACTEM conference.  Presented by the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine, this two day conference at the Augusta Civic Center is probably the state's largest gathering of teachers, IT staff, and even students for the purpose of discussion the role of technology in teaching and learning.  We attended some pretty great sessions, and we thought we would discuss each of our takeaways from the conference in this post.

Geoff:  I attended two sessions during ACTEM on staff professional development (pretty deep, attending professional development about professional development, right?), one session relating to models of delivering PD and the other to actually delivering it.  The clear message from both sessions was that every tech decision must be mission-driven.  Technology is useless as a tool if it is used for its own sake; there must be a larger instructional, pedagogical, district-wide or professional goal that it can tie into.  And these decisions need to be made at every level.  Teachers need to make decisions about how technology will support their classroom goals, and IT must maintain the infrastructure and to and make purchasing decisions that support those goals.  And tech integrators must navigate both worlds.  The problem that we as tech integrators face is that there are not enough of us to go around; we could probably double our staff and there still wouldn't be enough of us to serve the needs of all of you.  So, I'll be looking to alternative forms of professional development, including modules that can be accessed online and on your own time, to better serve your needs.  As integrators, we have discussed the use of Atomic Learning for that platform, and I would like to explore it further.

Finally, at Thursday's keynote, it was emphasized that the technology tool is not as important as the learning done with that tool.  So what technologies should we be utilizing?  Richard Byrne, the keynote speaker, said, "The ones that do this:"

One of the sessions I attended was Google Classroom with Kern Kelly.  From that I brought away a terrific video from a webinar showing exactly how to set up a Google Classroom with both the student view and the teacher view.  This is something that I will share with the teachers at BAHS.  The video is about 34 minutes long.  The link is http://youtu.be/7CI_H29AlrA

I also attended a round table session where I saw demonstrated some great applications.  I came away with four applications that would work great for BAHS, all of which need 1-1 and two need ipads.

Socrative--Student Response System, similiar to clickers.  Educators can initiate formative assessments through quizzes, quick question polls, and exit tickets all with their Socrative app. Socrative will instantly grade and provide graphs of results to help you identify opportunities for further instruction.

Baiboard -- Collaborative Whiteboard - Multi-user collaboration on PDF docs in real-time using on iPad.

Explain Everything  -- Shows some of the same features as Doceri but somewhat limited.

EduCanon-- Interactive video where you can embed questions for the students to answer within the video

I also visited one vendor that was demonstrating 3D printers.  He is going to be around the state demonstrating this equipment to schools and when he is in our area he will notify me and some teachers that are interested in 3-D printing can attend his demonstration.  It was tremendous what the bigger machine could do.  It made working gears and adjustable wrenches while I was there. 

Apple TVs in the Elementary Classroom

When it comes to LCD projectors, one thing that I've never been a fan of is how undemocratically they are often used.  And not without good reason, either.  Projectors are for sharing, but the LCD projector is usually at the front of the room, near the projection screen, and the cord is never long enough to reach a student's laptop.  That means that students have to get up with their laptops to plug them in, which creates classroom management issues and could cause danger to the laptop given the trip hazards on every classroom floor.  After speaking to a number of teachers, I found a lot of interest in using the LCD projectors with students, and so I set out planning a project that would use Apple TVs to make that happen.

Connecting to an Apple TV from an iPad is easy!  Swipe up from the bottom of the screen, select AirPlay, then the Apple TV you want to connect to!

There is already precedent for using Apple TVs ($99) for wireless projecting.  As part of the latest Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) deployment of devices at grades 7 and 8, schools opting to go with the iPad solution as well as the MacBook solution were outfitted with Apple TVs as a wireless solution for connecting to LCD projectors.  I opted to go with the same solution.  With the help of the parent groups at Searsport Elementary School and Ames/Weymouth, we purchased Apple TVs for every LCD projector on rolling carts in those buildings.  Moreover, for Searsport Elementary School, which has Chromebooks in addition to MacBooks, Google has it's own wireless "TV" alternative, Chromecast ($35), which we were able to purchase one of as well.  The RSU 20 IT department also invested in licenses for AirParrot software, needed on the MacBooks to connect to the Apple TV because they are a little older.

Weymouth's Apple TV and LCD projector on a rolling cart.  No "dongles" needed here!

Being able to connect wirelessly ensures that students have more opportunities to use the projectors and share what they are finding on the laptops.  As part of a pilot last year, for example, students in Mrs. Manning's second grade class loved sharing interesting facts, pictures and videos with their classmates as part of their animal research projects.

The Apple TV and the iPad, put together, also eliminate the need for other software or hardware.  For instance, by using the camera app while connected to the Apple TV, we have effectively created a document camera without having to purchase additional equipment.  If we use an app like Skitch instead, we are able to take pictures with our new-found document camera, and then annotate them with text and drawings, so students know what they are looking for.

Annotating a photo using the Skitch app (free).
We are only beginning to scratch the surface of things that are possible with an Apple TV and an iPad or laptop (and still kind of working the bugs out, too), but with some effort and professional development, we will be able to use the LCD projectors in new ways, and to make it easier for more students to use the projectors to share their work with their classmates.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Have You Started Training for the Test?

Start now! Talk to your students about the fact that they will be taking the Smarter Balanced Tests this Spring. Begin training them how to use the digital tools. You may find that the "why and when" will be something that you may need to work on throughout the year.

What do I mean? Well, for example, in the test you can highlight in an article, and yes it is different than with other programs. But, you may find that now that your students know HOW to highlight, they still may not be clear on why or when to effectively highlight in a way that will help them solve a question.

We've developed a lesson for students who will be tested in the the Spring to start today. Combining a video from SBAC with hands on practice, students will become comfortable with the digital tools they will encounter on the test. We encourage you to start preparing now and welcome you to use this checklist to accomplish the task.
The lesson had the added benefit of getting students acquainted with the Smarter Balanced Practice area and the 6 areas that are available - though for this lesson we only go to the top 2 training tests. 

Google Classroom

Classroom is a new tool created by Google to allow teachers to push assignments out to students and for students to turn those assignments back in to the teacher. 
How does classroom work?
  • It creates and collects assignments paperlessly,
  • automatically makes a copy of a Google Document for each student,
  • creates Drive folders for each assignment and for each student to help keep everyone organized, 

  • it provides for direct, real-time feedback and grading right in Classroom.
More teaching, less tech-ing

  • Wm

Why use Google Classroom
  • It saves time,
  • Improves organization,
  • Enhances communication and is
  • Easy to set up
Key Features
  • Teachers can assign a Google Doc, Presentation, Spreadsheet, Drawing, a link, a YouTube video, an attachment, OR can just give a text description. Plus, you can add multiple items to an assignment.
  • Students can attach additional items to an assignment, including other Docs and links.
  • When students turn in a Doc, editing privileges are revoked for the student. They cannot see comments until the teacher returns it.
How it Works
  • Classroom manages folders in Google Drive. It copies files to teacher and student folder
  • in Drive, a folder called Classroom is created. Individual class folders are copied into that.

Several teachers at Belfast Area High School and Searsport Middle School have started using Google Classroom and although it has some flaws at present, on the whole, it is working well.  It makes it easy to organize digital work, both for teacher and student, and it also makes it easy to use online grading tools like Doctopus and Goobric - all paperless, meaning nothing for kids or teacher to lose.  
A Google Classroom help site link is going to be put on the staff portal but until that is complete,  the help website can be accessed by following this link:  Google Classroom

MLTI Parent Online Meeting at Troy Howard Middle School

Here at THMS, our parents are required to attend a laptop take home meeting before any 7th or 8th grade student has take home privileges.  This requirement is mandated by MLTI and the MDOE and reinforces internet safety and student responsibility with the laptop.  

This year in particular, the conflicts in schedules with open houses at other district schools and sporting events gave Chris Brinn and I the opportunity to create an online meeting presentation.  The same slide show was presented to the parents as if they attended the meeting live.  At the end of the presentation, there was a link and parents were asked to sign and agree to the acknowledgement form.  This form also made sure that parents read the entire slide show.  By creating a Google Survey, we were able to automatically track the parents responses and keep a running record.  We reached many parents on their timeline, creating an opportunity for flexibility.  It was a huge success and over half of the parents used the online method to complete this requirement.  

Looking ahead to next year, Chris and I are working to make all of the forms for MLTI accessed and signed electronically.  By doing this we are creating the opportunity for students to take their laptops home in the first week of school.  Possibly even create a PayPal account for insurance payments for a great time saver and convenience!

Online Parent MLTI Presentation

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BAHS Student Tech Team Offers Video Services

The BAHS Student Tech Team (Noah Howard, Christopher Lewicki and Brandon Richards) have decided to offer their services to film special events at Belfast Area High School and make these available on DVDs.  The students got started on this venture by filming board meetings.  Word got around and they were asked if they could film the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony in April and make it available to parents.  They were successful in selling eight DVDs at $5.00 each.   This money was put into an account in the office to buy supplies for more projects.  Right now the students are getting ready to film the 2014 BAHS Graduation Ceremony on June 8th and again make available DVDs for sale at a cost of $20.00.  It is the students' hope to film more events next year and use the money to purchase supplies and equipment for the student tech team and in the future provide scholarship money.

This is a good example of students applying what they have learned in school to work situations and it gives them an opportunity to provide a service to the community.

Monday, June 2, 2014

CASS Film Festival

This Friday the Captain Albert Stevens School will hold its second Student Film Festival! On June 6 at 1:30 we will roll out the red carpet and celebrate the acting and editing expertise of the school population. The Festival features over a dozen movies created by the staff and students of the school, and is sure to expose the talent of the future movie makers of America. The films showcase actors in grades K-5 and movie makers as young as age 8. The finale of this years festival will be a school music video featuring the song "Further On" by Bronze Radio Return. Lead singer and guitarist Chris Henderson is none other than Principal Jody Henderson's very own son. This years Film Fest is sure to be a treat and we hope to see you there!

Commercials and Blogs in 6th grade

Sixth graders in Mrs. Jagger's language arts classes are creating commercials for their books that they have read. Each student has chosen a book to read to their liking. The assigned project was to create a commercial to sell their book to audiences of their same age. Students had to give the important information of the book: title, main characters, setting, plot without giving away the story line. Students were required to create a commercial using the required information as well as read an excerpt from their book. The students recorded themselves reading an excerpt using iMovie, Quicktime or PhotoBooth. Creating a video then adding the video to their Google Presentation.

Mrs. Jagger's sixth grade Social Studies class are using Blogger to create blogs for their social studies topics. Each student has chosen an event in time to start a blog about. The students tell the story of the event in detail. Then ask thought-provoking questions. Other students on the class have to respond to each students blog. Mrs. Jagger monitors each blog and post. The students also are learning proper social media etiquette while blogging.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Student ePortfolios: First Steps and Next Steps

This entry is cross-posted on my personal blog.

An elementary school is always a busy place, but we're always trying new things too!  Right now, a number of teachers and I in three different schools have been piloting the use of ePortfolios to save and celebrate student work!  Right now this project is happening in a couple of forms, but the goals are still the same--to bring self-reflection and meta-cognitive thinking skills to the fore, and to increase student engagement and to give them more opportunities to be proud of the work they are doing.

What is an ePortfolio?

Of course, I should probably begin my discussion of ePortfolios with a definition.  An ePortfolio is an electronic portfolio.  It means that we are using technology to build a collection of our work.  Even if that work is not on the computer (maybe it is handwritten or drawn), we can create digital copies of our work with scanners or digital cameras so that we can include just about everything.

Portfolios can be a whole lot of things, both educational and professional.  Generally (and the way we've presented them so far), though, portfolios start as collections of our best work.  In this regard, portfolios are like folders or binders, but what puts them over the top as an educational tool is the use of reflection.  Meta-cognition, recognition of our own thinking, is a key trait for success in school and career, and portfolios are a tool that can help us develop those skills, even in our younger learners.  As we work on implementing ePortfolios in some of our elementary classrooms, we will be working on finding the right questions to ask so that students are able these important meta-cognition skills.

1st Grade ePortfolios in Google Drive

Right now, we have begun a number of pilots that we are hoping to build on for next year.  We currently have four 1st grade classrooms in three schools that are piloting an ePortfolio project using Google Drive.  While each classroom has its different approaches, generally, we are taking pictures of students' best work using iPads and uploading them using the Google Drive app.  Two of the schools have student technology teams, so they are also a part of the process.  The fifth grade students at the Nickerson School and some of the fourth graders at Searsport Elementary School go into the first grade classrooms to help the first graders take the pictures and rename them in Google Drive.

So far, we have observed positives as well as some causes for concern, though both I believe will be helpful to us for implementing next year.  First, we've noticed that most of the students appear to be more motivated to write, even if they already like writing to begin with.  In quite a few cases, though, we've noticed that the students are now motivated to revise and improve their work more than they did before, because we set the standard that we would only include their very best work in the ePortfolio.

In other cases, we have observed that students are rushing to write stories because they want to "publish" as much as they can.  In the future, we will need to make sure that we are communicating more clearly about what "best work" means.  We also may need to space out the frequency in which we are adding pieces to their portfolios (monthly versus weekly or bi-weekly, for instance), and have students pick out one piece out of a number.  I think a "less is more" approach will ensure more quality and also encourage students to think about why they would prefer to publish one piece over another.

In any case, I feel like we have had a successful pilot so far.  The first graders appear to enjoy having their writing photographed, and it also gives them a lot of pride to be able to share their work, especially with the older students on the tech team! 

4th grade and 5th grade Google Sites

While not as far along as the first grade projects, I have also begun piloting 4th and 5th grade ePortfolios.  This project really began at Searsport District Middle School, where Laurie Rule, the tech integrator at that school, has been working on implementing the use of ePortfolios in Google Sites.  Her student tech team "Viking Pilots" were instrumental in that as well, creating "model" ePortfolios for others to learn from, and helping their classmates with building their portfolios and adding artifacts to them.  A couple of months ago, my 5th grade tech team started meeting with the Viking Pilots at the middle school, and one of the things that we set about doing were ePortfolios.  The middle schoolers helped the elementary schoolers create their own ePortfolio using the middle/high school template.  Then, after brainstorming ideas for what an elementary ePortfolio looked like, I was able to create a template that was just for us.

4th and 5th grade students, being older than the 1st graders, are (or should be) able to manage their own portfolios without the kind of support that the 1st graders need.  At the same time, they also need a medium that will help them exercise the meta-cognitive skills that make portfolios a worthwhile educational pursuit.  So, I used Google Sites to create a template ePortfolio that students can build off.  What I like about Google Sites is that you can build template pages that have template subpages built right into them, so I am using that feature to create a couple of page templates for adding a new subject or new artifact to their portfolio that will have instructions baked right into the page.  To go along with that, I have been working on a resource page designed to help students set up their ePortfolios independently.

Right now, my fifth grade tech team and the members of the fourth grade tech team who are also in the Extended Learning Program are piloting ePortfolios.  I am trying to have them pilot with as little involvement or direction from me as possible, so that they have to use the resource page I have been building.  That way, I can gather feedback on how helpful that website is, and how closely (or not) they are reading the directions.  The two groups are also piloting two different possibilities for organizing an ePortfolio.  The fifth grade students are focusing on organizing their artifacts by subjects.  For now, I have the subjects divided up into the three types of writing under the Common Core (narrative, explanatory, opinion) as well as math, science and social studies.  I'm also encouraging students to create "optional" subject pages for other subjects like art and music, as well as individual pursuits in and out of school.  Meanwhile, the fourth graders are organizing theirs by methods of thinking.  In the Extended Learning Program, these students have all year with Mrs. Gass, the ELP teacher, in examining how and when they think at different levels.  Toward that end, we created a template based on Susan Winebrenner's model (page 45 in the PDF) that also expands on Bloom's Taxonomy (revised).  Ultimately, the ePortfolio gives us the flexibility to adapt and build templates for each grade level and how each teacher would like to use it.  In the end, we hope to be able to present a couple of different examples of options for organizing an ePortfolio to continue generating conversations around creating and using them in the classroom!

If you have worked with elementary portfolios, I'd like to hear from you.  What were some unexpected challenges that you came across?  Do you have ideas for great questions to ask students in aiding them with their meta-cognition?  Please post your feedback in the comment section below!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Visual Representations with Word Cloud Generators

Text from Cell Phones=Learning article (Tagxedo)

Recently a teacher asked me to recommend a "word cloud" generator.  In its simplest form word clouds are graphical representations of word frequency in text passages.  Copy and paste some text into the creator and the resulting image shows the frequency of word use by word size.  Wordle has been around for a while but it has Java issues with our image so I did some research for alternatives.  I discovered that word cloud generators have come a long way and are now an even better educational tool! 

Word Cloud Comparison of Two Speeches (Tagxedo)
Clearly word cloud generators are fun and engaging but they can be so much more.   
5 Ways Your Students Can Use Word Clouds has suggestions and ideas for getting started. An example to the left shows two speeches with all words in common in the same colors. This  visual representation of two texts makes comparing a very different student experience.  Imagine using word clouds to initiate student discussion and engagement prior to interacting with challenging text. 

Check out 9 Word Cloud Generators that Aren't Wordle to see some of what is available.  I liked Tagxedo because it was so easy to use and had several fun features that that did not detract from the educational value of word clouds.   

Tagxedo can browse directly to a URL and create a word cloud from the website text. Options include many shapes and orientations, other photos and images can be added, font and color can be changed, particular words can be emphasized more.  I used to think that one or two "wordles" were plenty but after flipping through 101 Ways to Use Tagxedo my mind is changed!

Text from SDMS's URL (Tagxedo)

Text from SDMS's URL inverted (Tagxedo)

More Resources

Students Show What They Know with Google Sites

If you think creating one website might be overwhelming how about creating dozens and dozens and dozens of websites!  All year teachers at Searsport District Middle/High School have been using Google Sites with their students to show evidence of their learning.

Weather Websites - After 6th grade Science teacher Katie Legere explained the learning goals for her weather unit I created a "template" - or web-based graphic organizer - to which each student then added their own project information.  The rubric is built into the template.  With a click both viewer and student can check the expectations for this project.  Students also conducted interviews with a person who has actually experienced a weather event.  By sharing the raw video in Google Drive the students downloaded relevant clips and posted their edited video on their website.  Be sure to click on the Flood Interview with Mrs. Hoffman tab in Daegan's website.  By using Google Sites Katie was able to collect all the student website addresses, view progress at any time and provide numerous rounds of descriptive feedback. 
Daegan's Weather Website - Grade 6

Multimedia This! - High School Multimedia teacher Leslie Gregory sees Google Sites as a way for her students' to display their work digitally while reaching a wider audience.  Once students create their Sites and Leslie collects their URLs she can view their progress at any time.  Her class website Multimedia This! features links to her students' individual photography portfolios and project assignments.  Though Leslie's class assignments are highly visual she also includes a significant literacy component for students to describe, reflect and critique their work.  Everything is easily incorporated into Google Sites while enhancing student creativity and expression.  As their authentic audience, the class would appreciate your feedback on their site efforts.  Check out all of their work but for a quick look see Logan's Photograhy Portfolio with Critique and The Langlais Project.

Logan's Photography Portfolio - Grade 11

Grade 7 PBL Zoo Projects - The 7th Grade Team used Google Sites to create their PBL Zoo Projects.  In addition to basic information about an endangered species, students embedded persuasive essays, a scaled zoo enclosure drawing, video and bibliography.  All three teachers were able to access 48 student websites anytime, anywhere to check on progress and provide ongoing feedback.  See Kimber's and Lauryn's Wildlife Park sites.
Kimber Mace's Zoo and Wildlife Park site
This explosion of Sites started because all of our students created Google Site ePortfolios in the fall for use annually during their spring student led conferences.  While we are still learning we know that these online portfolios and websites provide some new and exciting ways for students to be more self-directed and show what they know.  Here's an example of a 6th grader's ePortfolio - William has really explored the possibilities.  Intrigued and want to know more?  Please contact Leslie Gregory, Katie Legere, Susan Capwell, Laurie Rule or your Technology Integrator.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Free Rice: A Great Cause with Something for Everybody

Free Rice is a website where students can practice things like math facts, English vocabulary, even finding countries on a world map.  While it is in many ways a "drill and kill" website, it is a fantastic resource for students.  Why?  Because students can make a world of difference while they practice!  Free Rice is run by the United Nations World Food Programme and helps support its cause of feeding people who go hungry all over the world.  They do this through the website's sponsors, who fund Free Rice.  The website works by having students answer multiple choice questions.  For every question they get correct, 10 grains of rice are donated by the World Food Programme.  Many of these subjects are self-leveling too, so students can get ample opportunities for practice while also ensuring plenty of opportunities for donating rice.  They do pile up quickly!

I've noticed that Free Rice motivates two types of learners in particular.  Of course, people who are motivated by service and helping others will want to do what they can to donate rice to those that are hungry, but I've noticed that students who enjoy video games and are motivated by achievements and competition are also motivated by Free Rice, as they seek to donate as many grains of rice as they can and to answer as many questions correct in a row as possible.

Best of all, Free Rice offers something for almost everyone.  With subjects like multiplication tables, basic math, and English vocabulary or grammar, even students from third grade on in elementary school are able to get in on what this website has to offer.  In fourth grade at SES, the students are using Free Rice and then keeping track of how many grains of rice they are donating using a Google Spreadsheet.

Free Rice is free to use and doesn't require an account, though you can create one if you are 13 or older (or younger with parental permission).  Give it a try!
In "Information Security - what is it?," we examined guiding principles of information security: C-I-A and your responsibility in maintaining information security in RSU #20.  In this installment, we'll take a look at personally identifiable information (PII).  PII is anything that identifies you: a driver's license number, SSN, credit card number, or fingerprint.  In 2012, there were 12 million cases of identity theft reported in the United States (Identity Theft).  How can we protect ourselves?  Here are some tips taken from Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know:

1. Be careful when giving out personal information.
2. Check your monthly bank and credit card statements.  Review your credit report annually.
3. Properly destroy your personal information: buy a cross-cut shredder.

Phishing and Spyware:

Phishing:  Phishing is one form of identity theft.  The term first came into use in information security during the 1990s.  Typically phishing occurs through email, but also occurs via phone or social networking websites (Scams).  Some phishing schemes are blatantly false or suspect. Have you received an email from a Nigerian prince wanting to give you millions?  Did you contact the prince?  Probably not.  Other phishing schemes are extremely clever.  "I'm stuck in Singapore and I've been robbed,” has tricked a number of people into sending money to assist a friend in need.  In this case, the sending email account, or in some cases Facebook account, has been hijacked by scammers.  This scam uses an unsuspecting victim's email address book (or contact list) to blast out emails asking for money. When the request arrives in your email inbox, you are willing to help, because you recognize the email address as that of a friend or colleague.  How many email addresses do you have in your personal email account?  How many are in the RSU #20 email address book?  What would happen if your email address book was compromised?

Spyware is a broad term for software applications that unsuspectingly monitor your actions on a computer.  Spyware is typically encapsulated in an email, but may be delivered from a website.  In an email, spyware delivery typically requires a user (you) to click on a link, but that is not always the case.  From a website, spyware delivery is typically accomplished through "drive-by" downloads: it is delivered in the background as you view a web page.  At the least, spyware slows down a computer.  At the worst, spyware harvests PII.

How can we protect ourselves?  Here are some tips taken from Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know:

  1. Don't open an email unless you know the sender.
  2. If it looks suspicious or too good to be true, delete it.
  3. Don't provide PII in response to an email or a pop-up.
  4. Don't pirate software.  Don't download programs with which you are not familiar, especially on your RSU #20 computer.  The time to repair an infected machine could run into days just for hardware issues and this does not include the time to repair your credit history should you release PII.
  5. At home, secure your computer.  Block pop-ups.  Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.  Make sure to keep them up to date.

Here are some sites with additional information:

http://www.antiphishing.org/ (check out the resources page)

Next installment: Securing PII of our students

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Field Trip to Unity College

On Thursday, April 17, the applied GIS class at Unity College hosted Mr. Thomas’s AP Environmental Science class from Belfast Area High School in a state-of-the-art GIS computer lab. Three college students and professor Kathleen Dunckel from Unity College guided BAHS students through a tutorial using ArcGIS Online software to construct maps of all the organically certified farms in Maine. The technology allowed students to add and manipulate data for each farm, such as addresses, size of farms, products sold, distances between farms, etc. Students were also able to use program tools to determine distances between farms and Belfast, and also to insert equations to calculate the corresponding carbon dioxide emissions due to transportation. Students concluded that long distance transport of organic food produces significant carbon dioxide emissions, such that it may be more sustainable to buy food from local sources, even if they’re not organic.
BAHS students concluded their work in the GIS lab by exploring other data layers available in the ArcGIS Online database.  The maps generated by students were saved to their Google Drive accounts. While this field trip was merely an introduction to GIS technology, students recognized the potential uses of GIS across disciplines to represent data spatially, for both presentation and research purposes. After eating lunch at the cafeteria, students were taken on a tour of campus.     

Thursday, April 17, 2014

THMS Tech Clubs

6th grade Tech Club members are learning about the keyboard shortcut keys. how these keys work, how and when to use them. Also so the students can then help others to use these time saving shortcuts.

7th grade Tech Club members are learning coding using the website code.org. The club will be moving on to use alice from Carnegie Melon which is educational software for students to learn computer programing in a 3D environment. After building a working foundation, the club will create video games using alice.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Destination Pie Chart

Gathering and interpreting data are skills that fit into any any grade level. Activities that involve polling peers can be integrated into math, social studies, or any number of other content areas.

In a 5th grade math class students created a simple survey using the tool: Google Forms.

 Students designed and shared their work by posting the link in a class document. They also  submitted responses to their classmates questions in one quick 40 minute period. 

For the next class the students looked at their results, sorted and interpreted their data then created pie charts such as this. 

Using the tools in their Google Drive these students were able to do all of these steps simply and still walk away with the essential learning. As an added bonus students genuinely enjoyed this activity!