CS Teachers Conference at UWaterloo

I had the pleasure of attending this 3 day conference where I was able to learn some older and new technologies that are available from the university as well as things that other educators are doing in their classrooms daily.  For me, it was an amazing opportunity to learn because I have been focused on my math teaching for the past 3 years.   There were come key themes that I took away and some questions I have for the next steps.

The first thing that I continuously thought about (as well as something that I heard from others) was the desire from our students on instantaneous feedback.  Students want to know how they did, if they need to improve, and how they need to improve as soon as they complete a task.  Although this may sound like exciting news, it is not always as great because some students do not want to think about how they can improve, but rather want you to tell them how to improve.

One way the University of Waterloo and other websites provide a way for instantaneous feedback in coding is through “tutorials” where students do not have to download the IDE.  Some examples we looked at in the conference were CSCircles, Codingbat, and Websheets (this is a newer one where you create your own code).  All of these provide some information on the program, the elements you will be tested on, and then a space to code the program required.  When students “ran” the code, the sites would compile and run test cases against the solution code.  It would give error messages and give results based on the test cases.  I found the test cases very helpful because it allowed to student to see that you need a number of test cases and need to make sure that you test a lot to find subtle problems.  They do not all track the students progress as they are to complement the student learning rather than be the classroom they are in.

The other concept that a lot of teachers were implementing was the idea of using cloud services to submit files and to promote collaboration on code.  One industry tool that is constantly being used for coding and other services is Git and Github.  This is a neat tool that creates online repositories and then allows you to share the code with anyone you allow (free Github makes all code public).  In order to collaborate together, you need to give special permission to the other users.  In our session we were all able to access the code presented in an easy way as we didn’t have to download the files and then locate the package to open.  The only downside was that you needed an account and some boards block the use of Git and Github.  Once I get the handle on this, I will hope to use it in my own classes so that students are able to work together and learn skills that the workplace already uses.

The last take away was not the newest concept, but was something that I would like to practice in my classes (even math) and that was the idea of Genius Hour.  The one teacher took it a step forward and talked about how they implement aspects of project management into the genius hour sessions.  In order to work through their personal project they are required to complete the basic components involved in project management.  Every session also included a basic exit card that had key ideas, such as what they learned, what they did, where they need help, and what their next steps were.

As always it was great to go to a conference that stretched my thinking and made me reflect on where I could go next with my learning.

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GAFE Summit 2014 Day 1 – Mind Blown!

So today was the first day of the Ontario GAFE (Google Apps for Education) Summit in Kitchener.  It was my first time at a summit like this so I was unsure as to what I would expect from it.  I was overwhelmed from all the different sessions that were taking place in the day and couldn’t choose, but I was lucky enough to have some great colleagues and friends who joined shared document to get all the information from as many sessions as possible.  By the end of the day, my mind was blown from all that went on and ideas were flying around with all the things I could do.  Here are some of the major ones that stood out.

The first big thing I learned from today were that we need to look at the SAMR Model when we are looking at using tech in the classroom.

As discussed in the amazing keynote from Jennie Magiera (@msmagiera), when we start using tech we are either at, or slightly below, the Substitution level of the model.  Which as teachers we think is great until we realize that it is not really doing anything but replacing worksheets with iPads or Chromebooks.  To move into the Modification and Redefinition stage we need to think of using tech in the way that Barney and Dora the explorer help young children learn.   I find that since I am early into using tech in my classroom, I am finding myself stuck at the substitution level, which can be frustrating when I want to be able to make tech part of the learning.  I am hoping that with the use of tech in my classroom in the semester I will be able to move away from substitution.

The next big thing that I took away from the my sessions was MIT App Inventor.  This was formerly a Google Labs product, but was later given to MIT to further develop.  The session was amazing because we were able to create a basic app and then test it on an android device instantly.  Any changes that we made would then transfer to the device and we could see the results immediately.  The session brought me to think of the way in which I could use the app inventor with a math class.  My initial thought was to have students make apps to solve the problems we were doing in class, for example solving trigonometric equations.  But later on I realized that this was simply substitution on the SAMR Model, so it’s back to the drawing board on that one (any thoughts on that would be appreciated).

The other two sessions that were incredible were the ones by James Peterson on Google Draw and by Kyle Pace on creating a Google Sites.  This was truly effective because we were taken step by step on how to create something based on the two products.  The two can go hand in hand as well since we can link what we create to the site and all we have to do is change the image if required (no need to re-link).  If you are using GAFE in your school, consider doing what Kyle and his colleagues did by creating easy to use templates for the not-so-savvy teachers who could use a starting point.  Its a simple click in the site settings that saves your current layout as a template for all in your school/board to use in the future.  Learned about some add-ons and sites, like pixlr and clippingmagic.com, that are perfect for getting jpeg images to have transparent backgrounds.

The demo slam at the end of the day highlighted all the amazing presenters and the great things they are doing with GAFE in their classes.  Some of the ones I want to further check out are Google Read and Write, Synergyse, Google Maps Engine, Pear Deck, Google Black Menu and the whole idea of having apps scripts.  I am trying hard to figure out which sessions I will go to tomorrow but it’s going to be another tough choice.

If you have a chance tomorrow to follow the conference because you couldn’t attend, just follow the #gafesummit on Twitter for all the amazing tweets from the incredible sessions going on.