Archive | 11:01 pm

Let go… you don’t need to know everything.

21 Jan

I have no prior experience working with robotics. In fact, what I do know when it comes to robotics is basically that I don’t know much at all. I also know that the activities we are doing so far in the after school club are not mind-blowing, world shifting activities that will win us any competitions, be heralded as wildly innovative, or require immediate patent applications (not just yet anyways)… and that’s ok.

We have to start somewhere.

I don’t know much about robots… but I do know a whole lot about kids. I also know an awful lot about problem solving, collaborating, asking for help, experimenting, being resilient, finding experts, locating resources, and mediating conversations. I know about boundaries and high expectations. I know about trust. So when I show up for our new after school robotics program, that’s what I bank on. I do my best to model and teach the skills I do know about and I get out of their way for the rest. So far this plan seems to be working well. See for yourself.

Keep in mind, the students in the club were not selected to participate in the program based on their excellent math or science skills, and they were not selected because they show great promise in any specific academic area or have outstanding GPAs or have consistently good behavior. (Honestly, I have no idea what type of students they are during the school day — which I like.) In fact, the students in the program weren’t selected at all. We are together by complete chance; their previous after school program finished early in the season, they needed something to do, and I came along and said, “Hey, try this with me. I don’t really have a plan but I know we can make it great if we work together.”

In a million years, I could not have picked or selected a more perfect group to start with. They are learning so quickly and they are proof that you just have to jump in and trust the kids to help you figure out where to go to next.

At the end of each meeting, we review our time together and each member shares his or her biggest “take-away” lesson for the day. I’m sure you can imagine how it felt when, completely unsolicited, these are the types of responses students gave:

“I learned that even if its hard at first, you have to try again, because you can figure it out.”

Or how about this comment caught on tape by his teammate, “I was just tampering with the program and I actually figured something out.” (Pay attention to that smile. Its the intrinsic-joy-smile and it’s what keeps me hooked on teaching.)

My biggest take-away lesson learned so far…

Let go. Let go of fears of inadequacy. Let go of the idea that you have to “teach” kids and embrace the idea that you can “facilitate learning”. Let go. You don’t need to know everything

(For the record… I’m a realist. I know there will be a point where my mathematical and scientific knowledge will not be enough. Not to worry. I have a plan. I have a few SMEs standing at the ready and I am in regular contact with a local university partner. When we are ready for the next step, we will reach out for help.)

I promised to share practical classroom tips and ideas so before I say good-bye for the weekend…

Here’s a super easy to implement strategy for integrating technology in your club or classroom:

I keep a Flip Camera available for the students in the club to use when they want to document. Anyone can use the camera, anytime they want. Sometimes I use it. Sometimes they use it. The camera provides a good break for a student who is frustrated. I say, “Why don’t you walk away for a moment and document?” It gets him or her up and moving around, gives him an opportunity to stay involved, and in many cases he ends up observing a peer working through the same problem.

(BTW…This strategy works great with kids who have a difficult time staying still in the classroom. You don’t have to do anything with the footage. It’s more that the student stays involves, continues to learn, and does not disrupt the class.)


When One Door Clozes… Look for another.

21 Jan

Bad pun. I should know better. I couldn’t resist. 😉

Today, we kicked off our first grade robotics lesson with what was supposed to be a quick review exercise of last week’s lesson. It ended up taking almost twelve of our PRECIOUS minutes, instead of the five I had planned for. (Losing seven minutes is huge when you only see the kids for fifty minutes a week and they typically run five minutes late because of lunch.)

The problem was not the kids and their abilities, but the Smartboard technology. The technology couldn’t keep up with them!

This was the original plan. Students would take turns at the StarBoard selecting words from a word bank and sliding the correct words into blank spots in a passage with gaps. If the class liked the selection, they would give a thumbs up. The student at the board would then choose the next student to come up to the board. It was a typical cloze passage exercise modified for an Interactive White Board (IWB). It should have been a fast, fun activity for the kids that would give us teachers the opportunity to assess what the kids had retained from last week.

During planning, I was a little concerned that I had overestimated the reading and vocabulary skills of our first graders.

I used a number of two and three syllable words, and I referred to technical vocabulary such as motor, axle, computer program and commands. My co-teacher mentioned that he thought I was a little crazy to expect them to succeed at this activity.

Boy, were we both surprised. What I had overestimated was the technology’s ability to keep up with this amazing group of young readers!

The kids had no problem with the cloze exercise or the vocabulary. They had the reading skills and they had retained the information from the previous week’s lesson. They were decoding, comprehending and using deduction when they weren’t positive about a word. Unfortunately, the StarBoard software was slow and unresponsive and the exercise ended up taking longer than it should have. Students were frustrated when their words wouldn’t slide into place and too much time was spent trying to manipulate the text on screen. I love IWB technology, but today I wanted to chuck ours out the window.

Luckily we get to teach the lesson to a second group tomorrow.

We reflected after the lesson and decided the cloze exercise activity was a good review and that we didn’t want to cut it, but we needed to find a more efficient way to incorporate it into the lesson and we ideally would like to assess the students on a more individual basis.

Since I want to model a paper-free work environment when possible, I set out to find a program for creating cloze passages that students could complete online using the laptops.

It turned out to be more difficult than you might think. While there are many sites that offer teachers the ability to create printable cloze passage worksheets, few offer a solution for an e-learning environment.

I found a program called Cloze Pro that looks great, but there’s no cash to spend on software. I read a post from Bill Boyd about a free software he uses called Cloze Test Generator. It was super simple and free, but it didn’t have a drop-down menu option or a click and drag option and since the goal was to speed the activity up, I didn’t love the idea of having a room full of first graders struggling to enter text into text boxes.

Finally, after a fairly thorough search I stumbled across J-Cloze from Hot Potato. It’s freeware and fairly easy to figure out. Download it, open it, and use the help function if you need it. It’s not as easy to use as the programs I mentioned before, but JCLoze allows more user control and if you are comfortable with freeware applications, it won’t be a problem.

Tomorrow, students will be working in pairs at the laptops to complete the same cloze passage review exercise we tried at the IWB today. I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out. I’ll report later with details regarding whether the activity was a success or not! Maybe I’ll even do a little before-after. 🙂

Wish me luck!

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