By Brian Cook, Worcester County Public Schools
I was like many of you at one time. I knew I had to do more to become a better teacher, and I had the internal desire to do it. But, I wasn’t quite sure the steps to become better. I had a passion for educational technology because it drew me in, like it does for many of my students.
I attended the Common Ground conference in Ocean City and stumbled upon a group called the Maryland Society for Educational Technology (MSET). By attending the conference, I had a one-year membership to MSET, but I didn’t know what that meant or how to get involved. I knew I wanted to get involved though.
Spring Business Meeting 2014
It was a bit of a hectic time of year, PARCC was coming soon, but I needed a break from school as much as the children needed. I decided to take the day off and head to the MSET Spring Meeting in Anne Arundel County. I’ll admit, it was the middle of the day, but it was worth taking the personal day.
I was early and unsure of where I was going, but pulled into the icy parking lot and made my way inside. I was 10-minutes early as people were putting last minute touches on the breakfast items as a foldable table was not being as sturdy as intended. I caught the table to safe the Dunkin Donuts Coffee, but more importantly two other MSET officers came to help me out starting a conversation. One of them I had seen before on Twitter and at a former summer Educator Effectiveness event, but could not remember her name.
As the day went on, I sat and listened to the MSET officers and the back-and-forth banter about EdTech. Everyone in the room was very like-minded to me, which was different coming from a then-employed rural school district on the Eastern Shore. I was finally able to ask questions on how others were implementing blogging in student writing and using formative assessment tools (before 1:1 had become more of a norm).
In the midst of the meeting, I volunteered to serve on the professional development committee, which people thought it was great to have representation from ‘all the way out East’ I recall one person saying. I brought a different perspective the conversation, but more importantly others brought a different to me.
Fast Forward to 2019
Since this moment, I have been a regular at the Common Ground as an attendee and presenter, but more importantly I have made some major connections with a ton of Maryland educators. The relationship building moments over coffee or talking about the ways of middle school students have been invaluable to me.
I now serve as the co-chair of the professional development committee and have been active in resurging the Digital Learning Showcase initiative, that initiative alone has connected me with some amazing educators. The work in the professional development committee, as well as other committees, is plentiful.
I hope you will consider taking a leap of faith and come out to the March 27, 2019 business meeting as I did to meet people back in 2014. It could be an altering moment in your professional career to as MSET has a ton of opportunities to serve.
By Amanda Kremnitzer, Frederick County Public Schools
The ProjectLIT community was established as a result of The Atlantic’s article on the effect of growing up in a “book desert.” The community’s founder, Jarred Amato, has facilitated the growth of the movement through social media. So when, like Amato, I followed my 8th grade students to high school, I knew that social media and engaging books would be the start to a blossoming chapter at Tuscarora High School.
It’s easy to consider Tuscarora a “book desert” as there is not a library within the feeder system. For a student to walk from the school to the nearest library would take over an hour. And so, a social media presence would not be enough to get students reading. We had to work to bring books into their hands.
Our group, which consists primarily of 9th and 10th grade students, use Twitter and Instagram to share updates about readings and donations. Students are in charge of these accounts, which promotes cognition on how to use social media responsibly - especially when representing a group and not just an individual. The students have created hashtags to trend communication efforts and followed other groups to help establish who they want to be.
But behind the books is an incredible system of organization that freshmen and sophomores are still adjusting to on Google Drive. There’s no Google Classroom to label (though we could have used that as our hearht of information). Folders isolate work, and teams responsible for that work know exactly where to go to find what they need. However, the Drive didn’t help us disseminate information to the community - and what’s a community without, well, a community?
The students decided that we needed on place for people to go that included our Twitter feed and updates about out initiatives. And so began our venture into Google Sites. The website let us do just that: update things quickly, share the site out on social media, and make it our hearth for everything we wanted to do. Students have editing rights, which allows them to make a decision as a group, and share the opportunity to update the design. They have updated our site to include our group’s goals and book drives we ran to donate books to one of our feeder elementary schools, as well as wishlists and Donorschoose campaigns.
However, our growth is not quite complete. As we continue to create the foundation of our book club, we’re continually expanding our use of technology. We’re playing with Google Bulletin, a program that runs similar to programs like NextDoor - which limits who can post or see posts based on the area in which you are located. This will come in handy as we plan and share out book club information and can encourage more involvement from our community.
We have dabbled with Flipgrid so that students can share their reactions to our readings in a safe place, and are working to use MyMaps from Google to track where our book club stories take place, where the authors are from, and how the two aspects are combined to create a new perspective in literature. And next year, we hope to add Google Hangouts with authors and other book clubs to enrich our student discussions as well as podcasts and book trailers through WeVideo.
Throughout the process of our book club’s development, I’ve been most impressed with the student’s use of the technology they already know. Students who have designed posters have used platforms they have used in other classes - infographic makers like Piktochart, for example. And students who are working on a t-shirt design, logo designs, or any other image for our club have used software for art that I can’t possibly understand (digital art is such an unfathomable thing for me).
In the end, our community isn’t about technology for the sake of technology. If anything, this book club has taught me that students already think purposefully about the technology they use to communicate and spread awareness. Our book club will continually weigh the benefits of each technology so that we are using the most efficient tech tools in order to get the biggest payoff. And it will continue to work because at the heart of the community is a group of students who care about saturating their community with engaging literature.
By Ali Schilpp, Garrett County Public School
LEGO Travel Buddy is a global collaboration project that started in 2017. I felt that my students needed authentic connections with peers and educators abroad and that is what gave me the incentive to seek out collaborations. It’s so important to learn from other educators and grow your PLN. Working in a small rural district, it is crucial to connect, seek funding and resources to enhance student access. I love to see how digital access can provide my students with exposure to new cultures, people and places. It's the same concept of sharing an object and visually seeing it in another location. It is our take on "Flat Stanley". Global collaborations provide windows (opportunities to observe diverse people and their cultures and develop empathy) and doors (incentive to move beyond one location and seek opportunities, connections and adventures abroad).
Where do I get a LEGO Travel Buddy?
I received my first official LEGO Travel Buddy kit free with a purchase from LEGO.COM shop and took it with me to ISTE in San Antonio and documented the experience to share with my colleagues. The mini-figure in this set has a very distinct space shirt and comes with numerous travel accessories like a camera, suitcase, fishing pole etc. You can still purchase the set on Amazon or BrickLink. Some of the first LEGO mini-figures that we have shared were custom made to look like the participant. I recommend purchasing LEGO Education Community Mini-figures sets if you want to custom make multiple travel buddies! The mini-figures are inexpensive to mail and everyone loves LEGO! We have collaborated with students of all ages, PreK-12 and adults! Also, LEGO is a great representation of our school library where we host FIRST LEGO League projects and teams! Every LTB is unique and they all showcase their adventures in different ways! Adventures range from riding an ATV through the Atlas Mountains of Marrakesh to visiting the ALA International Conference in Dubai to touring the Harry Potter studios in London! Students from abroad who have received a LEGO Travel Buddy have shared information such as “What in the WORLD are you Reading” about their favorite books and where they live!
Need inspiration or just want to follow LEGO Travel Buddy?
Please view the links for sample projects, visit our Going Global MAP and share with your students. Connecting with LEGO Travel Buddy has been a life-changing experience. I highly recommend adding it to your educator/librarian bucket list! Last year, we sent a LEGO Travel Buddy to several different places and made our first connections thanks to the librarians and teachers in Hawaii, London, Australia, China, New Hampshire and Pocomoke Middle in Maryland! We also sent and received postcards from both Sarah Betteridge (Perth, Australia) and Lucas Maxwell (London, England) via AIR MAIL. The postcards are so personal and are displayed proudly in our school library. In an effort to save time and money, we found using digital tools has allowed us to increase our connections instantly and for free! We received beautiful digital postcards from Sarah Betteridge and her students in Australia on a Padlet called “Where in the WORLD do we live?” My students created and shared their own about Garrett County, Maryland using Google Slides! In order to book talk or share information about our locations, our students collaborate on Flipgrid and they post pictures on Twitter.
Current global connections include:
Students have even shared clues using the 5 themes of Geography on a mystery Flipgrid with students in South Carolina! This week, another Mystery Flipgrid location is in the works! I am not allowed to reveal the location but it is a very special librarian that everyone loves to connect with! We are also excited to see what adventures the following librarians will share with us who have recently received an LTB:
Digital and Global Citizens
This is how we become better Global and Digital Citizens, with authentic connections. It introduces my students to new faces and places! We are often surprised that even when our global friends are 4,000 miles away, we are reading the same books! It also inspires us to learn more about our world that we will hopefully have the opportunity to travel. Connecting on Flipgrid and Twitter gives my students exposure to the world beyond the walls of our small community school.
Is there a LEGO Buddy in your future?
After we sent and connected with our friends, we let them decide what to do next. Many of the LEGO Travel Buddies continued to explore. For example, our Hawaiian LTB "Hoa Hele" has traveled over 40,000 miles and is planning an African Safari next! Some passed it on to another teacher or librarian, also a wonderful option. Here at NMS, we are always seeking out new friends and adventures and would love to connect with you. Let us know if you would like to share your own LTB adventure with us by using the #LEGOTravelBuddy hashtag. Our school system allows access to twitter, so this is a great way for us to connect in school where we all have Internet access!
Ali Schilpp is a media specialist at Northern Middle in Garrett County. School Library Journal named her the 2018 School Librarian of the Year. Connect with Schilpp on Twitter at @AliSchilpp
By Ben Hurley, Washington County Public Schools
December is Computer Science education month. The first week of December is the kickoff with Computer Science education week December 3-9. The emphasis on Computational Thinking is becoming more prevalent in education today. Coding is a great way to foster those skills. Over the last 5 years I have been using the website Code.org with my 5th and 4th grade students to teach them the concepts of coding. However, just 3 years ago, at my school, we began an initiative to give all students access to these skills by creating a class that students visit approximately 1 time a week for 50 minutes just like they would go to PE, art, music, or media, that focuses on Computational Thinking and specifically, Coding. The elementary age is the perfect time to begin building the foundation for these skills just like any other academic subject. Once a solid foundation is laid than when they go on to middle school, high school and beyond, they will have a leg-up on those future careers.
Mitch Resnick, creator of the Scratch software, in his TED talk shares about the importance of why kids should learn to code. It’s a way for students to create and use their imagination. They continue to have a sense of accomplishment and it supports multiple standards in math and science. The importance of the process of design and taking an idea and creating something functional out of that idea.
Elementary age students need a lot of exploration and hands-on time when learning to code. With so many resources and materials out there, here a few of my favorites for elementary age.
Ben Hurley can be followed on Twitter at @HurleBen and on his website.