Category Archives: project based learning

Science models

One of my students, Torreyion, was so excited about his chemistry project that he asked me to post it on my blog. So here is a pic of some models that he made and the cool effects of the camera that he got:

My best post ever!

I hinted on Twitter last week that I was anticipating great things. I mean we had our state tech conference and March Madness, but I also had a secret that I hoped would come true.

Well today I accepted a history position at Kent Innovations High. It is a new project based school starting next fall through our county intermediate school district. It is part of New Tech High that is spreading in the mid-west.  This school integrates the curriculum of the four core subjects into student centered projects. It also works with local businesses to give students real problems to solve. This model of school represents so much of what I believe is best about learning.

The crazy part about this job is that it starts right after spring break. The staff gets all spring and summer to get to know each other, be trained,  and design the curriculum! We will actually be given time to be prepared to make this work. The school space is also being re-modeled so that it looks more like a Starbucks than a traditional classroom.

I can not really express how excited I am about this opportunity. There have been disappointments the past couple of years that I did not want to express publicly, but I am seeing that it is all working out for the best now.

I will continue to blog here in a similar fashion, but the focus will naturally turn to what we are doing in this school. I will also probably blog about history more, but will cover all core subjects as our projects will be integrated. I hope we will also be helping students to use on-line tools to collaborate with others and share their learning. I will be calling on my online community to create interesting learning opportunities for my new students. I can’t wait to get started…

Scratching the Surface

I have mentioned the Scratch video games my 8th graders designed with students in Vietnam before. We have finished the project and I want to tell you my evaluation of it. Overall we had some higher quality games created than last year, but we still did not reach the level of collaboration I had hoped for (I tend to focus on the negative as I am always looking for improvement). Here is a link to the mostly completed games that you can try out yourself.

Learn more about this project

The biggest struggle with this project is the time zone difference of 12 hours and lack of time overall for the project. One of the goals we had this year was to try to have students build relationships with each other. Students made and shared videos with each other at the beginning of the project. Unfortunately we never had time to make more videos and one was not enough for them to get to know each other. I would love to use Skype if we were closer in time zones. Students also used email to share their games back and forth but often forgot to send messages or did not explain themselves fully. Designing games is complicated and requires better channels of communication. Some of the groups worked on different versions of the same game.

Learn more about this project

I still believe this project is worth the effort to do and that it can teach students many things about programming and problem-solving while exploring cultural similarities and differences from another part of the world. Improvements would be to encourage students to communicate at home through chat, Facebook, or Skype. We also would like to try some easier activities to build community between our classrooms before we start a challenging project like programming. We also need to stress to the students the importance of clear, daily communication. Perhaps we should use a Google Doc that they could constantly edit their ideas, progress, and struggles in.

Learn more about this project

If you are heading to MACUL I will be presenting on this project focusing on the importance of building relationships in a session called Relate, Collaborate, Create. Stop by and join the conversation.

"Making Waves" Videos

This is a follow up post to my 7th grade Wave Video project. I want to put down my final thoughts evaluating it and how I can improve on it next time.

First of all it took much longer than I expected. We spent about three weeks on the project when I thought it would only take two. It also lacked a bit of focus in the beginning. I did not have any specific examples to show them and it was hard for them to visualize what they were supposed to do. I told them to think about a Bill Nye video how he jumps from talking to video back and forth to make it interesting. I also introduced too many new tools and options to them at once. I think they were overwhelmed by the openness of the project and needed less choices and more structure. That part is really hard for me because I want to challenge them to be as creative and give them as much choice as possible.

The original plan was for them to make a storyboard in PowerPoint as an outline of their presentation. This was not supposed to be their actual presentation. They had a hard time understanding this and did not want to make a second one. The science topic, waves, was also not a particular easy one for them and some of them picked sub-topics that were not really under the main topic such as microwaves and heat waves.

We also had multiple technological problems getting everything to work. I spent so much time on trouble-shooting software that I could not give enough feedback about their ideas and process as we went along.  Unfortunately many of them turned out as screencast slideshows of power point while they read facts from wikipedia that they did not even understand.

I will share two of the best ones, what I like about them, and how I will improve this project next time.

This group got the main purpose of using multiple tools to present the information in multiple ways to make it interesting. They used Powerpoint, Pivot, and a collaborative online whiteboard. They put everything into Camstasia Studio and edited it together in a smooth manner. I wished they would have recorded their narration in my closet so they did not have the back ground noise, but overall it is quality content and work.

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This group used my Pulse smartpen to create a video modeled after the work of RSA Animate such as seen here with Sir Ken Robinson. They wrote out their script and practiced the drawing ahead of time. Then they did it “live” in the hallway and recorded as they drew. On top of the presentation method they explained the topic well and used creative examples. They edited out mistakes in Camtasia for their final product.

One thing that stands out about both of these examples is the creativity of the presentations and using their own words. I plan to show these as examples the next time we do this project. I also am going to make my own storyboard for the first video in PowerPoint to show the students the difference between a storyboard and a finished product. A further thing that will save the students and myself alot of grief is that we will have google accounts and use Documents and Presentations to share work instead of email. Enough of the students did not have email accounts to make this a major pain.

We spent alot of time talking about plagiarism, especially of images. Next time we will also talk about plagiarizing of words and ideas also. I really believe that having student examples will help. I have worked out enough of the technological kinks that next time I should be able to spend more time helping students with ideas and design.

Wave videos

by Today is a Good Day

7th graders in my Tech. class are making videos. I am working with the science teachers in my building on this project. Each pair of students has picked a sub-topic under “Waves” which they are studying in science right now. They are making 2-4 minute videos to present back to their science classes.

The first task was for them to brainstorm by making powerpoint slides for each section of their videos. Although I showed some similar videos from mathtrain to give them ideas the students had a hard time understanding what I was asking them to do. I was throwing a lot of new stuff at them as I gave them multiple tools to use (my wikipage of resource for the students). We have Camtasia Studio 7 on all of the computers in my lab thanks to a great grant from TechSmith. So the students will put their end product together in Camtasia.But they have many options to make it with including screencasts of PowerPoint, my Pulse pen, online whiteboard, webcam, microphones, music, and even Stykz. I encouraged students to use multiple methods of presenting which they will combine in Camstasia. I will write more about some of these tools after students finish, but I will just mention the online whiteboard is a very nice tool that students can email to each other and both write on the same space at the same time.

We have used this opportunity to talk a lot about creative commons and open source. This topic is very foreign to them. For their entire school career they have gotten full credit for plagiarizing from their textbook by “cutting and pasting” the answers to the questions at the end of the chapter. Then teachers get mad at them when they do the same thing on-line. We spent considerable time talking about copyright and the rights of artists. I also demonstrated repeatedly how to use tools like and Flickrstorm to search Flickr for creative commons images. But Flickr is not a good source of pictures about many of the types of waves they were researching so I also taught them how to do a creative commons search in Google and used and wikimedia commons which have more scientific images.

We also talked about slide design in Powerpoint. I showed them how to make a set of slides based on interesting pictures instead of text-heavy with bullet points, clip art, or animations. All of this took much longer to get started actually making the videos than I anticipated, but I think we have learned about many important principles along the way. This week they will get busy making them and hopefully have some great presentations by the end of the week.