Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Viking Pilots Lead the Way

The Viking Pilots are the SDMS Student Tech Team. Composed of around thirty 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, they provide tech support and training to their fellow students and teachers, and sometimes assist the IT staff with various duties relating to technology in our building. The goals of this program are to engage students around technology in a positive, pro-social way, to encourage student mastery of technology, and to empower students to become resources for technology in our building. Students are recommended by their teachers and are expected to adhere to high standards of behavior, effort and academics. Because it is not self-selecting, this program provides leadership opportunities for students who wouldn't otherwise put themselves forward.

Each grade level is working on a different project, designed to train their tech skills, develop mastery of key applications, hone their collaboration, and support projects happening in their classrooms. For example, the 8th grade Viking Pilots of creating a 'Welcome to SDMS' video for new students using iMovie. iMovie is used in the 8th grade classrooms for various PBL projects, so these students will both be creating something useful for the school while learning the ins and outs of the software. This means that when iMovie questions arise in their classrooms, they'll be ready to support teachers and students.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Year (So Far) in LEGO Robotics

This entry is cross-posted on my personal blog.

This year is year 2 for my work with LEGO Robotics, and it has already expanded dramatically from last year. Whereas my efforts were primarily focused on the after school and summer school programs, this year so far has brought summer camps, a new competitive robotics team, new equipment to serve more students, and the beginning of classroom projects bringing robotics to all students in a classroom.  Here's a run-through of what has been done so far this year.

Summer Camps

The line-drawing program the robot uses in this video provides a great introduction
to programming with switch blocks.
With help from the RSU #20 Summer School program and the Searsport Recreation Department, I held two summer camps this past summer as part of a fundraiser for my program.  I held a beginner robotics camp for students who did not have any experience with LEGO robotics, and an advanced camp where I got to try some new things with students making their second pass through.  Many of the beginner camp students went on to do the advanced camp. Some of the new things that we tried this summer included learning about the switch block and using if/then/else logic in our programming, making remote control robots, and even some robotic musical instruments!  We also had a battlebots competition to see which robot was the toughest!  I have plans to run these camps again next summer, with longer sessions and new, fun challenges for the students to work through!


Build and Program Team students work on troubleshooting
issues with the robot on the challenge table.
All team members take part in the research presentation and field questions
from a panel of judges.
It has been my goal since the start of this project to springboard the learning that the students and I were doing with the robots into a competitive team, and we did that this year with Team WALDO!  FIRST LEGO League is a league where students build and program robots to solve various challenges on the challenge mat.  Teams have two-and-a-half minutes to score as many points as they can, and it is impossible to get a maximum score, so teams have to strategize to earn the most points that they can.  They also have to do a research project based on the season's theme which was "World Class," an education theme.  Team WALDO brought together nine students grades 4 through 8 from four different towns and five different schools to work on this challenge.  We competed at the Augusta Civic Center on December 13th against 71 other teams from around the state.  We came in 29th place overall, and finished 5th out of the 14 total "rookie" teams who were there. And, we had a lot of fun, which is the most important part!  We lose two students this year who will be too old to compete next year, but I am looking forward to starting at least one new team for next season as we integrate in the after school program and become even more competitive in the future!

Classroom Projects:  Lunar Rovers and LEGO Towns

Third grade students at Searsport Elementary School work on building their lunar rovers.
A big stipulation of my grant funding from the Perloff Family Foundation for this project was that I would work towards classroom integration of LEGO Robotics.  We began that effort in earnest in December with a project that we dovetailed into the solar system research the students were doing in third grade at Searsport Elementary School.  We actually split the grade into halves; while one half would be working on their research and accompanying slide show (supported by the student tech team), the other would be working with me on building a lunar rover.  We are coming into the closing weeks of this project, and I'm hoping that we'll have enough time to learn some programming and prepare for an exciting challenge I have for them!

After this project is finished, I transition right into a project with second graders, as we build buildings and vehicles and all kinds of cool things as we learn more about communities!

I'm also in the process of making plans for a project at East Belfast and a project at Nickerson for the end of the year.

After School Program

Because my robotics equipment has been tied to classroom projects, it has not been available for use in the After School Program.  However, it looks like there will be a large enough block of time in the year where I can bring that program back, but this time, I will be doing it over at the East Belfast School!  The East Belfast After School program serves the Nickerson School as well, so I'll have a chance to work with students from two of my schools. While I don't have any final plans yet, I am excited at the opportunity to expand the reach of LEGO robotics to multiple schools.

New Equipment

Finally, while the new after school program helps me expand the reach of robotics in different buildings, I've been searching for equipment to help me expand the reach of robotics in different grades.  The NXT kits that I have are great for the upper elementary students, but they are not very accessible to students in kindergarten, first and second grades.  Therefore, I applied for and received a second grant from the Perloff Family Foundation for a series of LEGO We-Do kits!  These kits will allow the younger students to build simple, interesting robots while learning about how gears and other pieces work.  So far, I have distributed kits to a number of teachers to try out on their own, and I will be following up with them shortly on figuring out what we can do with the equipment and scheduling when the kits will be available at the different schools.  I'm looking forward to deploying these new kits and establishing a larger pipeline of robotics-related activities in our schools that "STEM" from kindergarten and work their way up!

One of many examples of crazy things that you can build and program (with help) with
LEGO We-Do kits.

QR Codes in the Classroom

Going Google has made our students' work easily accessible ... if you know how to find it. My annual inspiration from the ACTEM conference led my to explore QR codes, and some ideas that stemmed from conversations there. I had a vague idea of what these dotted squares were all about, but wanted to use them in a meaningful way in the classroom. So far we have these two implementations that are making kids and families look at work in a new way!
Grade 2 - Mrs. Nelson's 2nd grade builds their student ePortfolios using Google Drive, but how do you share those projects at home? QR codes, of course! Each portfolio folder is connected to a QR code which was sent home - at conferences she modeled how to use it, and was happily surprised at the number of families that has already accessed it. Now she can share photos, videos, documents and more of what the students are doing at school.
Grade 5 - All 3 of Mrs. Larrabee's science classes create Voice projects for their unit on recycling. The projects were impressive, but how do you share them so everyone can see and hear their presentations? QR codes! Each students connected their project to a QR codes. Now samples hang in the hallway so that others in the school can get accustomed to how it all works - amazing!

Hour of Code

Millions across the country and the world took part in a challenge to celebrate National Computer Science Education Week called the Hour of Code.  The Hour of Code is designed to provide an opportunity for students to delve into something they may have never had the opportunity to do:  computer science.  Even though students have much more access to computers than they have in the past and are more savvy using them, very rarely do they get a chance to learn more about how they work.  The Hour of Code helps students learn how computers operate, and the logic and languages behind some of their favorite applications.

The elementary technology integrators developed a page off of our Elementary Libraries website containing a number of Hour of Code activities that we did with our students.  There is even a "techless" activity where students pretend to be robots while their classmates give them commands, a great pre-teach for other Hour of Code activities like Lightbot.

1st grade students at Searsport Elementary School show off certificates they
received for taking part in the Hour of Code!
Students in our schools from Kindergarten up took part in the Hour of Code and learned some basic programming concepts.  Every student at Ames, CASS, and Drinkwater took part in this challenge, and a number of classrooms at East Belfast, Nickerson and Searsport participated as well.  The work was challenging and required some trial and error as well as vigorous problem solving. The best part? It left most students (and teachers!) asking for more.  A month later, a number of classrooms are still integrating Hour of Code activities into their stations or whole-group instruction, and a few are just getting started now that the crazy pre-vacation schedules are out of the way.  The Hour of Code is one of our favorite activities to do all year, and we are glad to see that so many teachers and students in RSU 20 are enjoying it too!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Troy Howard Middle School Student Tech Team is comprised of 25 students that have completed an application process and have been selected based on recommendations of teachers and their trustworthiness.  Students from every grade level at the middle school were welcome to apply, and there is a great blend of students in grades 6, 7, and 8.  This team has taken on the task of making QuickTime videos and iMovies to support teachers, students and community members with their devices and assist with Google Apps for Education, (GAfE.)

Some of the videos that are being scripted and then recorded will include subjects such as, How to properly take care of your computer, How to use the new Google Drive, and the 10 most common shortcuts on your MacBook Air.  Mr. Brinn taught a lesson on how to use QuickTime Player, so every Tech Team member has the ability to use this application for screen recordings.
The goal is to upload the videos to the THMS website to assist staff, students, and community members by February vacation.

BAHS Student Tech Team

Great News!  Starting this year, members of the Student Tech Team at Belfast Area High School will be able to earn 1 full credit per year for their work with the Technology Department at BAHS.  The students will work for the IT staff under Mrs. Small's supervision.  This will be a pass/fail and not affect the students’ GPA or class ranking. The students are really excited about this.  The fact that their participation as a member of the Student Tech Team will be on their transcripts when they apply to colleges is something the students feel is of real importance.

This is a great opportunity for them as well as for BAHS.  Not only are these students a valuable asset to the school, they are learning job skills.  This also gives them an opportunity to demonstrate meeting BAHS academic standards.  Hopefully this will be an incentive for students on student tech teams at the lower grades to continue with membership at the high school level.

This is the second year of a student tech team at Belfast Area High School Last year we had three students participate and they were a great help.  This year we have added another student to those three and the AWESOME FOUR are a great group to work with--dependable, knowledgeable, polite and honest.  Always there with "What Do You Need Help With?".

Friday, January 9, 2015

Spring MEA (SBAC) update

This spring brings the new MEA (formally known as SBAC) assessments.  For continued updates, visit  This is our clearinghouse of all things MEA (SBAC).

From MDOE:
Once the Test Information Distribution Engine (TIDE) is activated on Jan. 20, DSAs will be able to designate School Test Coordinators (SC) in each testing school. The Maine DOE will provide a series of webinars to support School Coordinators as they prepare for a leadership role within their schools. SCs will in turn designate Test Administrators (TA) who will go through their own online training and certification process. 

RSU #20 MEA timeline: where should we be now?

1. Staff: Our goal was to have you and your students attempt the Training Practice Test and three Practice Tests by 28 February 2015.  Have you been able to begin?  Are you in need of assistance?  Please contact your building technology integrator.

2. Building administrators: If you haven't done so already, you should be designating an SC for your building(s).  The TIDE opens 20 January 2015 and SCs will have an opportunity to attend webinars to prepare for their role.  It is unclear at this time if the webinars are required or how many there might be.