If I Could Only Use One …

This year in the Computer Lab, all of my classes spent some time learning to code or learning coding concepts. As I look back on what they accomplished and learned and think about what I want to do next year, I had a thought. If I could only use one app/program/website, what would it be? Honestly, if I had to pick only one, it would have to be Scratch.


This year, 2nd grade through Middle School used Scratch, among other programs, and I love the flexibility it offers. Here’s some of what my students did in Scratch this year:

Drawing Shapes
Many of the grades created a project that would draw shapes. This was a great project to use for multiple grade levels. 2nd graders could guess and try and when it didn’t work, try again. 3rd graders could think about the math involved and check their guess by multiplying the number of times the loop would repeat by the angle of the turn. 4th graders and above could divide 360 by the number of times the loop would repeat and calculate what the angle of the turn should be. Middle School students could use variables to set the number of sides and set the color to use based on a random number. Check out our Shapes Studio to see student examples.

All About Me
Who hasn’t done an All About Me poster or writing assignment with students? I know I have done these in PowerPoint and in Word. Why not let the students program something about themselves. That’s exactly what my 2nd-4th grade students did with their All About Me projects. This was completed right at the end of the year and unfortunately we ran out of time but I see great possibilities here. What about “All About” a main character in a book or a historical figure?

I don’t know about you, but most of my students love video games. I love that Scratch lets them create their own games! This year, 6th grade ended the year by creating a game of their choice. They ran out of time but had a lot of fun and learned a lot about controlling sprites, keeping score, winning and losing games, etc. You can check out their games in our 6th Grade Scratch Studio – also in that studio are their Shapes projects and a 10-block Challenge Project where they had to create something using only 10 specific programming blocks.

Mission Projects
Every 4th grader in California does some kind of Mission Project. Each year in the Computer Lab, I use Mission Research to help teach students about not plagiarizing and how to credit sources, etc. This year, I decided to expand on that and my 4th graders created a project in Scratch about their missions. Scratch could be used in almost any curricular area and I plan to have more grades do curriculum related projects next year. If you want to check out this year’s projects, head over to our 4th Grade Scratch Studio (which also has their Shapes and All About Me projects) to see them.

If you want to see all of the projects my students did this year in one place, check out our 2013-2014 Studio.

Do you see now why I love Scratch? The possibilities are endless!

You do have to have a log in to save work on the Scratch website and yes, you do need an email address to set this up. My students don’t have individual accounts – at least not for school; some of them do have accounts they have set up at home. I have a single account for the Computer Lab but you could easily have one per class or one per grade, for example. At this point, you can have multiple computers logged in to the same account but my students actually work offline.

We have Scratch 1.4 installed on the computers in the lab and 2nd and 3rd grade have been using that version to create their projects. Next year, I will probably install the Scratch 2.0 offline editor rather than continuing to use version 1.4. For 4th grade and up, students just use the Create option on the Scratch website and Upload (open) and Download (save) their work to their computer in the lab. This is a great teaching moment about why it’s “upload” to open your work and “download” to save your work. When a project is finished then I log in and let the student save their work to the class account. The big thing missing when working offline is the backpack but the few times we have needed this, I just log the student in and when they’re done using the backpack, have them log out again. If you want more details on this, check out my Using Scratch With Class Login Instructable.

Now back to that if I could only use one thing. Yes, it would be Scratch but Scratch isn’t perfect. What is?

  • Scratch isn’t good for students who aren’t reading yet. Scratch, Jr. is scheduled to be released soon but it’s going to be an iPad app which won’t work in our lab.
  • It’s been another teaching moment to have 2nd and 3rd graders use Word to write their text for Scratch so they can fix spelling errors and then use Copy and Paste (must be CTRL+V in Scratch) to move the text into their Scratch project. It would be nice to be able to have spell check built into Scratch to avoid that though.
  • I love the way that the activities at Code.org let you see the code you are writing when you use their block programming environment. This would be awesome in Scratch and in my opinion, would create a truly great transition from block programming to a more traditional programming environment.

Luckily, I don’t have to use only one app/program/website to introduce Computer Science concepts and coding to my students. Even though I have many choices, Scratch will still be one of my primary choices!

Are you teaching coding to your students? What would be your ONE choice?

Edcamp Palm Springs & Thoughts About Session Boards


This was my very first Edcamp as just an attendee and it was awesome to be at an Edcamp and not have to worry about anything except which session I was going to attend. It was great to reconnect with Jen Wagner, Dennis Grice, Karl LS, Holly Clark, Moss Pike, and Jo-Ann Fox (and I’m sure I’m leaving someone out) and it was wonderful to meet Sam Patterson! The organizing committee did a super job – you never would have known it was their first time organizing an Edcamp – kudos to all of you. The day ran pretty much on time, the WiFi was working and they even got Twitter unblocked (Yay!), the Slam! at the end had great what I learned shares, the food was amazing, plentiful, and free and there weren’t super huge lines for lunch either.

AND … I won a Kindle Fire HD!! How amazing is that. Edcamp Palm Springs ROCKED! I’m so excited because I do have Amazon Prime and now I can borrow books from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. I love gadgets and have wanted to get a Kindle but couldn’t justify it.

I didn’t even propose a session – instead, I was able to attend all 4 sessions and here were my choices:

#edcampps Session Board

During pretty much every session time, there was more than one session I wanted to attend. I really hope that people add their resources to the EdcampPS Wiki page so I can feel like I went to more sessions that I did.

While I learned something or had my thinking pushed in each and every session, I found that my favorites were those sessions that were not someone standing at the front of the room using a presentation tool or showing me how to do something. That can be very valuable and I’m sure for some this is what they wanted but to me Edcamps are about discussions. Discussions where no one is the sage on the stage and you’re sitting in a circle to facilitate the discussion or you’re moving around the room. This might come from attending Edcamps where WiFi was an issue so that conversations and discussions were mandatory because the tech just wasn’t there but I think there’s more to it than that. These kinds of sessions just make me think and actively participate more and just feel like an Edcamp to me.

So, why do there still seem to be so many sessions that are “traditional” at an Edcamp? This is the question running through my brain today. Having been an Edcamp organizer for 6 different Edcamps – EdcampOC (2011), EdcampSFBay (2011-2013 though I didn’t attend in 2013), EdcampOCLA (2012), and EdcampLA (2013) – and in charge of the Session Board for 5 of those, I have been mulling over how to improve the session board building process. Even before attending EdcampPS, I had been wondering:

  • How do you get new attendees at Edcamps to propose sessions?
  • How do you involve ALL attendees in the session selection even if they don’t want to facilitate a session?
  • How do you minimize the overrun of the board from people who present all the time at traditional conferences especially because Edcamp attendees often want these people to run a session?
  • How do you make sure that vendors are not proposing sessions about their own products? This has been a problem at a few Edcamps though didn’t seem to be an issue at EdcampPS.
  • How do you help all of this to run smoothly without creating a bottleneck at the beginning of the day?

What do I think could be done to address these things? As I have thought about this since EdcampLA, here are some things that I think might work. Instead of saying the first hour is for registration & socializing, it should be turned in to the Session Board Hour where, of course people can socialize, but they should also concentrate on helping to define the day:

  • As attendees check in, they should be given a session card or a post-it note to suggest What Do You Want to Learn? This wouldn’t be posted on an actual session board with rooms and time slots but in some open space – a wall, a blank board, a table, etc. Changing the emphasis from what do you want to facilitate to what do you want to learn should encourage more participation. Attendees should also be told that their session does not have to be tech-related. Personally, my favorite sessions are usually not tech-related.
  • Attendees should also be encouraged to indicate that they would be available to facilitate (not present or lead) about a topic; this could be the topic they’re proposing or any topic that has been suggested. This is where using a printed session card might come in handy where the card has on it:
    • What do you want to learn?
    • Add your name if you are willing to facilitate this topic:
    • Voting
  • About 3/4 of the way through the hour, attendees should be encouraged to vote for their 4 favorite topics (or however many session times exist) and add themselves as facilitators if suggestions don’t have a facilitator. Organizers will use the voting to determine sessions if more sessions than slots exist or to schedule the most popular sessions at different session times.
  • As attendees are welcomed to the Edcamp and told how the day will work, a group of organizers will need to pull the suggestions into an organized session board. This is where I see problems happening because there’s a time crunch here. The welcome will only take 10-15 minutes and the organizers need to:
    • Put suggestions that are similar together
    • Decide if there are too many sessions and pick those that are most popular or combine things that aren’t quite the same but that could be put together
    • Figure out what sessions should be presented when making sure things like “Things that Suck” are in the afternoon and that the most popular choices aren’t at the same time, etc.
    • Make sure there are facilitators for all sessions
    • Make sure there are no vendors as facilitators of their own product
    • Build the actual session board – or at least the 1st session

We actually attempted something like this at EdcampSFBay in 2012 and there was definitely somewhat of a bottleneck. Part of the problem was that we didn’t have WiFi that day so the physical board became very important since some attendees couldn’t access the online board.

Having only attended California Edcamps and having been an organizer at all but one that I’ve attended, I wonder how other Edcamps are dealing with this … or if this is just me seeing a problem when there isn’t one? I’d love some feedback about this.

Have you attended an Edcamp? What did you think about how the session board was built? Did you feel that everyone had an equal say in what the sessions would be? Did you feel the sessions were different from a traditional conference?

Have you helped to organize an Edcamp? How did your session board building work? Are there things that worked great? I’d love to hear about it. What, if anything, would you change?

Edmodo Quandaries

I began using Edmodo with my students last year and have really liked the way it lets them interact as classes, turn in work, receive feedback from me on their work, join global projects and interact with other students outside of our school, and practice social networking skills.

The quandaries are …

Old Student Profile
New Student Profile
  1. Number of Groups: In the old profile, the student is in two groups but in the new she is in three groups. She is actually in two groups and one small group. Why is this different in the two versions? I feel this should be two groups since small groups are sub-groups not actual groups but in any case shouldn’t the numbers agree? Interestingly, I asked about this issue twice in the Support Community and got two different answers about it.
  2. School Name: This didn’t show in the old profile but does now. The big problem – it’s wrong! It seems to be showing the first school alphabetically of any group my student has joined even those that are currently archived. The school shown is not a school that my student has ever attended; it’s not even a school in our state. Now, I would just remove my student from the old groups but I don’t own them so I can’t reactive them and remove my students. My student originally joined Edmodo in a group I own and logs in through a subdomain which belongs to our school. Why can’t my student show the correct school name or at least a school name of a current, active group to which they belong?
  3. Classmates: My students have been involved in some big global projects which is why they are showing over 500 classmates and a bunch of teachers. The problem here? These groups are no longer active. They can’t view the profiles of most of these classmates because they are no longer actively connected and the teachers have no access to my students at this point anymore either. Luckily, I do show as one of the teachers in the profile but I have seen some examples where I’m not even shown on the profile and I’m the only teacher that they really know. Why aren’t these connections removed if the groups are archived? They aren’t connections anymore.

I have really liked the ability to connect with other schools or in big projects in Edmodo but may have to avoid these in the future if the school name and classmate/teacher issues can’t get fixed. I would like to have parents involved on Edmodo in the future but they won’t appreciate seeing their child being associated with a school they’ve never attended and they won’t understand 500+ classmates when their child isn’t involved in a global project.

Is anyone else running into these issues? How are you handling them?

Student Portfolio Platform Problems

Last year, my Middle School students created Google Sites to use as portfolios of their work in the Computer Lab. We use Google Chrome as our browser at school. All was working well except when students embedded HTML from other sites. Last year they got a warning message telling them that their page had insecure content with the option to load it anyway. This wasn’t pretty but I knew that the message was coming up because Google Sites always load as secure content (https) while most of the embedded content was not secure (http). I really wish there were an option to not use the secure option when viewing a Google Site; I get it when editing but why not just let it be http when viewing?

This year we aren’t even getting a message and there is no way to get the embedded insecure content to load in Chrome at least that I can find. Does anyone know a way?

For some embeds, the embed code can be modified to be https instead of http and it works just fine but not all embeds will allow it – for example, the above embed does not allow this.

Since I can’t control Chrome or how Google Sites are displayed,  I’m debating what to do:

  • Do I let my students continue on with their Google Sites and have them edit or view their sites in Firefox instead of Chrome? This seems rather counter-intuitive since both products are from Google but don’t seem to play nicely together when using embeds from other sites. Do I limit embeds to those they can modify to use https? Who’s volunteering to come and teach my students that not only do they need to find and embed the code in the correct place but now they need to modify it too?
  • Do I turn on Blogger in our Google Apps for Ed account and have them use that instead? What kind of control will I have on those? Is that a good idea for my under 13 crowd?
  • Do I create student blogs here in Edublogs? I know I can control these but I think there are less options to transfer ownership once the student leaves our school.
  • Do I go with a site like Weebly instead? How transferable are those sites?
  • Do I have students add pages to our Computer Lab Wiki? Those wouldn’t be easily transferred to the student when they leave the school but would be easy to do.

What would you do or what do you do to let students share their own work online?

Power Searching with Google – The End

Class 6 – Putting It All Together

I often feel that I struggle with how to wind up a unit in the lab so I was curious as to how this course would be concluded. The lessons today reviewed some of the search features that had been explored and provided some additional resources for refining search skills. It was a wrap up in 3 short videos and 3 activities that practiced combining operators and using Google tools not normally used in research such as Google Maps. I like that the final activity was to subscribe to an additional search resource to continue to learn about search.

Post-class Assessment

I felt that the post-class assessment was definitely more challenging than the mid-class assessment. I found my self questioning some of the questions. For example:

I didn’t think that any of the answers were truly correct since the snippet is a portion of the text on the page and it includes the search terms not just text before and after the search terms.

Once again I don’t feel that the correct answer is included in the choices since most of the choices do not have any keyword to do with volunteering.

No, I’m not going to tell you my answer choices in case you are still completing the course. I did end up with 100% on the assessment so I didn’t over-think anything too much. I’m excited to get my certificate for completing the course and plan to add it to this post once I get it.

Final Hangout

It was interesting to watch the Final Hangout for the class and discover what were the most popular questions asked since I hadn’t had time to look at what had been asked prior to the hangout.

  • I found the drop off of relevance answer interesting because from what I understand Google tends to rate more recently updated pages higher than pages that haven’t been updated in awhile. This can mean that some research topics might have the best information on higher pages.
  • I loved the tip about nesting quotes to avoid the use on synonyms. I didn’t know this one!
  • My favorite part of this hangout was the demo of the Nexus 7; even though I just got an iPad, I really want to get my hands on the Nexus 7.

If you missed this, you can watch it online:

I also happened to catch Google Educast #56 and Tasha Berson-Michelson was the special guest talking about the course. If you’re interested in what Tasha found the most interesting about the course, check out the Google Educast!

Not the End – A New Beginning

It may be the end of the class but for me it’s a beginning – a beginning of trying to put together some search ideas for my classes for the upcoming school year. For my 7th & 8th graders, I’d like to take an approach really similar to this course to review search and to find out what might be missing in their search knowledge. Here’s my plan:

  • Use appropriate videos from the course and make some of my own to use different searches in some cases to make things relevant for my students.
  • Create my own activities that will be applicable to searches my students need to complete. How I am going to do this is very much up in the air. I would love to have access to the platform that was used for this course to create my own course but I’m guessing that’s not going to happen so I’m going to explore a few options:
    • I could use the Computer Lab Wiki to house the course and use Google Forms and Flubaroo for the activities. My students could also use the discussions available on the wiki to help one another, ask questions, etc. but it’s not a threaded discussion which can make it difficult to follow.
    • I could also Edmodo for this since my students are familiar with that platform and it can handle assignments, discussions and quizzes but once again the discussions aren’t threaded and since everything would be on the wall of the group it could be tough to follow.
    • Another possibility would be to set up a Google Site with the videos and links to the Google Forms for the activities. I could then use a Google Group for discussions though I would need to make sure that I have groups set up to allow this on the school domain. Once again the discussions aren’t threaded. Are threaded discussions really needed? Maybe they’re not though I think they can be really helpful when trying to follow a discussion.
    • Another option might be Collaborize Classroom. I think this platform would make for very rich discussions but would be lacking in the ability to do the activities though I could still use Google Forms and Flubaroo for this.
    • I am also thinking about trying out Schoology since this platform seems to have the ability to set up lessons which can include embedded media as well as allowing discussions and having a quiz feature that could be used for the activities.
  • Once the review piece is completed then rather than having a final assessment, I think it would be fun to see what belt the students could earn as a Google Search Ninja.

For my younger students who haven’t had as many previous lessons on search, I plan to use the appropriate level of lesson plans from Google Search Education. I am also tossing around ideas of how I can use Google A Day challenges to hone searching skills all year long.

How are you going to help your students improve their searching skills? If you, like me, are going to be heavily inspired by the format of the Power Searching with Google course, what tools and websites do you plan to use?