Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How are you supporting robotics?
We have had a robotics program in our district for many years and I have always wanted to be more involved in building this program.  I have finally gotten that chance over the last year.  And I am continuously amazed by the things our students do in robotics.  

This past weekend we took our high school clubs to our regional TCEA robotics competition.  I have been working with one of the clubs for the last few weeks trying to help them prepare for this competition.  After making connections with these students it was that much more fun to see them in their first competition.

What I saw were students engaged in problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.  Only they didn't really know they were engaged in any of that.  Mostly because they were having so much fun with their robots!  Having fun when you learn makes such a difference!

My favorite pieces of the competition:

  1. In the arena competition they have to compete in multiple rounds.  In between those rounds they get about 30 minutes to adjust their bot (either through physical or program modifications).  They must work together to identify the needed adjustments, and the divide and conquer to enact those adjustments.  And they must do it quickly in order to test the outcome and make sure they haven't broken anything that was already working.
  2. In the invention competition, they are not only judged on the invention itself, but also on how they present and 'sell' their idea.  They have to create marketing materials, and give an oral presentation.  They also have to show their robot in action.  This is practice that our students desperately need if they are ever going to successfully sell and idea, or a project in the future.
These are skills that aren't measured on standardized tests.  They aren't reflected in accountability ratings.  Yet, they are (in my mind) absolutely critical to our student's success in their future endeavors.  I can't think of many better experiences for our students to have.  And on top of that they are getting a great STEM foundation.  I am very proud the successes we have had (two of our teams even qualified for the state TCEA competition!).  But more than that I am excited about the direction our program is headed. 

So my question to you is:  How are you supporting robotics?  :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Appy' Hour! #edtech

I recently got a great idea from Carl Hooker (@mrhooker) to have an 'Appy' Hour in my district.  Carl has been doing these in his district this semester, and his implementation was influenced by the ideas of Lisa Johnson (@computerexplore).

The idea is to get a group of iDevice users together and facilitate the sharing of their favorite Apps.  One of Carl's great ideas was to create an App menu.  I love this idea as it fits in so well with the happy hour theme, and then it gives the group some specific Apps to explore/discuss.  The App menu is created as a PDF with embedded links to the provided apps.  When you open this PDF in either your iPad browser or iBooks the links are clickable, and the users can easily navigate the App Store to research and install the apps.  This really makes it simple, AND FUN!

My first Appy Hour will be for our Principals.  The apps I pulled together for them focus mostly on note taking and audio recording/translation.  I added in a few creative Apps (like puppetpals) for when they might need a laugh at a staff meeting!  Here is the App menu I have created for them:

I used the open source Scribus software to create this App menu.  It was my first try at using Scribus, but I was impressed.  It took a little getting used to at first, but then it started to go pretty smoothly.  If you are looking for an open source desktop publishing package, I recommend it.

What Apps would you include on your App menu for Principals/Administrators?