I was able to attend the very exciting, for me anyway, Tech Expo put on last week by West Ada (Meridian) School District as part of the teacher development training the district provides. Besides hundreds of West Ada teachers attending there were also many charter school teachers and a large variety of educational and technology vendors with displays.
My interest lay in attending the various sessions led by teachers and vendors discussing what they were doing in their classrooms.
First up was PrepDog. Developed and ran by current and former Boise school district junior high teachers, PrepDog started out as just a helpful and fun test practice site and you’ll find links to the free version of this in school blogs across the nation. To help individual and groups of teachers plan, prepare, and save lessons from year to year, the teacher version of the program was created, http://prepdog.com/ which helps teachers use, develop, and share on-line student quizzes and lessons geared to common core and other standards. The quiz format can be from multiple choice to drag & drop graphic labeling. Teachers can store documents, audio recordings, and video in their lesson plans and write assignment instructions and provide web links in the lesson editor. Students progress thru the graded quizzes and assignments the teacher selects and the program provides messaging between students and teachers.
Brian Hunicke, one of PrepDogs co-founders, has also been working on project based learning lessons suitable for every age level using inexpensive and easily created marble rollercoasters made out of foam pvc pipe insulation, tape and cardboard. All kids seem to like the building aspect of it and the teacher gets to work in math concepts making it a win for everyone.
I followed up with a session on GeoGebra presented by Margo Gore, one of West Ada’s online teachers. GeoGebra http://www.geogebra.org/cms/en/ , a word play on Geometry and Algebra is a free graphing program, (bye bye TI graphing calculator), that works on almost all devices. Plug in a formula and it graphs it for you. Draw points or lines on the screen, it writes the formula for you. Import Excel data and ask the program to draw you a trend line. Change the formula or move a point and, you guessed it, the program updates and reflects the changes. Nothing special so far? Did I mention you can create animations? Make a line-drawn duck out of angles and curves and have it walk across the screen. Place a sliding point at the top of a curve and let it whoosh down and up the other side. She’s going to have her algebra kids work on rollercoasters this year.
Now if that wasn’t exciting enough then I got to go to a MineCraft session. MineCraft is described as a virtual “sandbox” game. In real life at the beach we’d use wet sand, drift wood, stones, etc and make castles and moats and have fights with the enemy hordes and knock everything down before starting over, virtually it’s the same concept. Last year was Ashley McDowell’s first year using Minecraft http://minecraftedu.com/ in her elementary class and she felt she had really good results with it. Kids were most engaged when they were able to work in groups on the same building project and she used it for her Language Arts units with students recreating scenes from the books they were reading.
Of course with all the sessions the stress was not on letting kids go and play but to use the tool with a purpose often with a plan or theorize here, test there dichotomy. I liked the insight I got into STEM activities taking place in Idaho classrooms and the anticipation of all the teachers getting ready to head back into the classroom was palpable.