Friday, February 27, 2015

The Bloodmobile

A week ago our homeschool group, LEARN, had a fun activity based on They Might Be Giants Here Comes Science The Bloodmobile.  My boys have loved that album forever and we decided to explore some of the songs for deeper understanding.  My hope is that when they listen to the songs in the future they'll remember the hands on activities that made the lyrics make sense. I've written a little bit about the development of this lesson idea already the origin of the idea in Finally Looking Forward and a midweek blog Schoology, Minecraft and Fitbits make Science. I decided to put together a quick video of how the project turned out, I hope you enjoy it!

My  ultimate favorite quote from the interviews of the kids, "I killed germ-bies." (pronounced like zombies, just "germ" instead of "zom")

And because I'm growing tired of listening to myself explain how cool this project was and how it became an inspiring and energizing activity that will lead our future activities, I asked another mom what she thought:

From the perspective of a homeschool mom:

"The bloodmobile was a wonderful educational experience that used multiple platforms of hands-on experiential learning and the utilization of technology.  Schoology listed the assignments and provided instructions including an amusing video and book.  My children are in the beginning states of using an iPad and enjoyed exploring Schoology.  I was impressed at how simple the process was to use and was grateful for the step by step instructions.  One aspect of the blood mobile learning experience was a virtual Minecraft Realm where the kids got the opportunity to explore the human body.  My children have had little to no computer experience and have never used a mouse.  It was awesome to watch my oldest learn to navigate through the human body and recognize the brain, heart, lungs, intestines, stomach, etc.  The last component that brought the entire experience to life was the Bloodmobile homeschooling group session where the video was watched again followed by a red water bead sensory activity that ended with all the students exploring the Minecraft human body simultaneously.  The song from the video is constantly being sung throughout my home as the girls discuss blood cells, plasma, antibodies, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nutrients.  At dinner, my girls explained to my husband how broccoli turns into nurients that feeds the cells.  They were so excited about what they had learned that they wanted to share the video, book, Minecraft body and sensory learning experience with him. I was very pleased with the entire experience."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

EdVentures: a #5Sigma Take-Away

I spent the last two days at Anastasis Academy and learned how their out of the box education format is empowering students. Part of that format is weekly EdVentures (educational adventures).  In the past, I've planned our Friday Field Trips for the school year every February based on the themes we'd be learning and talking about each week in preschool. This coming year I will not be teaching the 3 year old theme based preschool group anymore.  This leaves our Field Trip Friday options open to a new interpretation for the coming school year.
I'm looking forward to incorporating many of the ideas from Anastasis into our LEARN group for the upcoming year. 

Here are the specific types of EdVentures I'm thinking through:

1. Experiential Education - traditional field trips but think outside the box.  Interested in car mechanics?  Visit a mechanic shop.  Interested in food diversity?  Tour behind the scenes of different grocery stores, specifically different cultural grocery stores.  Attend performing arts, theater, speakers and events. Etc.

2. Service Learning - Once a month I'd like to do a service project.  At Anastasis they go to the same location each month (soup kitchen, homeless shelter, retirement community, etc).  

3. Outdoor Education - Sand Dunes, Camping, Black Hills, Local Parks, rock climbing, bike riding, hiking, swimming, etc.

4. Cultural Immersion - Religious Pilgrimages (mosque, Buddhist temple, Hindu temple, go to the experts to learn from them), Local Artists (photography, Music, Spoken Word), etc.

5. Community Building - park days, ice blocking, lunches out, team building activities at each event

Anastasis doesn't plan any of the EdVentures prior to the school year.  They  develop plans for EdVentures based on the direction the kids are taking their learning conversations.  I think it would be a good starting place for the LEARN group to plan a few key activities and perhaps an outline (like Service on the first week of each month, etc).
One of the key components to EdVentures making an impact is allowing purposeful, natural interaction between students and the experience and then reflecting on the process.  Currently, our field trips are more like a fun activity that we get to do.  It was purposefully planned (we'll fly kites the week we're talking about wind and weather, etc.) but it isn't purposefully being reflected upon.  I'd like to take the opportunity to allow ourselves (the adults and the kids) an opportunity for reflection.  Discussing the interesting content we learned (any facts?), discussing things that we were surprised by and how we reacted to different situations and sharing questions and ideas we're pondering after the EdVenture would give the experience a reason to be important in our lives.  And then, just as Anastasis Academy, we need to share our learning.  It's highly likely that in the near future Nexus Homeschool will host a variety of new posts by guest bloggers CJ (6 years old) and EMan (4 years old) about what they are learning. 

Though I'm still developing an understanding of the process of embedding EdVentures with powerful meaning and connections into our school year a little framework will aid in a big change.  Thanks #5Sigma

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Schoology, Minecraft, and Fitbits make Science

I have had a great time learning about schoology and making a mock up first lesson on the platform.  I've even dragged my friends into the process to help me learn to better use it and get unique feedback from parents.  It's been nice to have CJ and EMan also "taking" the class along with us.

In case you're new here, we're learning about blood this week.  We're learning the parts of blood and what blood does for our bodies.

An added bonus: Typing, spelling and critical thinking in an engaging environment
I decided to make a body in a Minecraft world.  It's coming along nicely and I LOVE having help from my super brilliant husband who has explored the game more in depth than I have.  We're on day 3 of our Schoology/Minecraft Blood lesson today.  As a trial run, I think it's working out quite well.  We're certainly fixing things along the way. 
A good friend even stayed after our preschool lesson today to walk through the Minecraft world and make sure she had an understanding of what she'd be doing with her daughter.

Oh, how do Fitbits make Science?  Well, we had a bit of Minecraft OVERLOAD since January 2nd (CJ's 6th birthday: when he received the game).  Steve and I decided that the amount of time they were allowed to play Minecraft would be related to the number of steps they take in a day.  Once they hit 2,000 steps on their Fitbit they are allowed to play Minecraft for 1 hour.  Today they didn't get to play all day long with regular schooling and such taking up most of the day.  So now, at 5pm, they each have 4,000+ steps and are allowed to play for up to 2 hours.  Though I have no solid opinion on regulating time spent on digital devices, I do enjoy the requirement of "breaks" to get some movement in.  

I've not done any direct instruction with our science lesson so far.  They've watched the music video.  Read a book and explored the Minecraft world.  This is EMan (4.5 years old) explaining what he is working on today.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Minecraft Math

As mentioned in my post yesterday, we let CJ demonstrate his math in Minecraft for the first time today.  It isn't advanced, but it's a good place to start.  I was able to identify how making sets of 3 is set up in his mind and how he made a sets of 3 in a long line and then couldn't remember what it was because the sets weren't clearly identifiable.  As we learn more about screencasting and Minecraft I'm sure we'll be able to demonstrate much more.  Thank you in advance for positive feedback in the comments.  CJ would love to hear what you think!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Finally Looking Forward

The past couple of weeks have been rough around the edges.  With the prospect of having someone else dictate my life looming over me (think: jury duty) I struggled to think ahead.  With the news that I'd been dismissed Saturday morning I jumped right into conversation with my awesome husband about ideas I have for the future.  Naturally, he lead the conversation towards Minecraft.  You see, I married a gamer.  He was curious if I had any great ideas that he could help me with.  Specifically: ideas to teach lessons through the Minecraft platform.
The first step I am planning on trying out is giving CJ his math assignment for the week on Minecraft.  He will be studying multiplication by 3's.  As an opened ended assignment he will need to demonstrate the multiplication equations of 3x1 through 3x10 (maybe higher, we'll just have to see how it goes).  This plan, though a great place to start, provided Steve with nothing to work on.  So we brainstormed more.  (A Minecraft snowman is a representation of 3x1 by the way.)
This week I'll be hosting a science class for my homeschool group.  The topic: Blood.  We'll be learning about the parts of blood and the key functions that blood carries out.  It is FULLY inspired by "The Bloodmobile" by They Might Be Giants.
Our conversation turned to the possibilities of creating a block body 100 blocks long with block organs. We discussed using dispensers to shoot out "oxygen" blocks and "hormone" blocks among other things that players could collect as they are acting as blood cells.  Players could then take their items to needy cells and the garbage dump (liver and/or kidneys).  
It's still a work in progress.  We started by taping quite a few graph pages together and then drawing out our model.  Minecraft Realms was the route we decided to go since we were struggling with hosting our own server and I can't get a MinecraftEdu account until I'm actually working for a school district.  I'm not sure how this lesson will develop and be utilized in the end.  However, I'm completely stoked about the possibilities and am using it as a learning experience for myself to create more engaging learning atmospheres for the future.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Castle Blocks - A Lakeshore Learning Product Review

When is the last time you witnessed 4 boys, ages 4, 6, 7 and 9, play with blocks for hours on end?  Today happened to be one of these occasions.  We got this really nifty set of Castle Blocks from Lakeshore Learning and the boys are in heaven.  The blocks are high-quality wooden blocks that are printed on every side with realistic details.  The doors can be laid down and flipped over to make a bridge. There are cubes and cylinders, pyramids and cones.  Certainly enough pieces to make the grandest castle.
Upon opening the package, EMan was immediately enthralled with the blocks.  He was excited about the possibilities and focused on how many different ideas there were presented on the back of the box.  CJ quickly returned with the neighbor boys and all four of them really dove into exploring the possibilities.  
 It was interesting to listen to the collaboration and sometimes dictatorship that was unfolding before me.  I was simply a spectator intrigued by what would happen with this group of boys and the castle blocks. There were strong opinions about how the blocks should and shouldn't be used.
  "This is looking so cool!" says EMan as he jumps with excitement onto the sofa.  Apparently their game has now included Minecraft characters. They have built a castle and a barn and are utilizing their Minecraft toys to make it into a full game.  Each boy is responsible to be one character from Minecraft.  I'd highly recommend either small dolls or characters such as these Minecraft ones to make the building of the blocks into a game of creativity.
 I love how they put "Steve" on top of the castle with a sword.  He is the defender after all. Oh, and the skeleton is trying to get in but can't.  You best still watch out for him though because he might just shoot you with his bow and arrow.
 We were down in the basement (the dungeon of amazing stuff that is disorganized and slightly overwhelming) when EMan noticed the Lakeshore Learning catalog next to my desk.  It featured the castle blocks on the front and he excitedly said, "MOM! Is this where you got the idea from?" It was so cute.  He and CJ then spent the next hour taking turns flipping through the catalog and deciding what we should save our money for next.
Thanks to Lakeshore Learning for making such a fantastic product and letting us test it out for you!  If you want to head on over to get your own castle blocks or find something handy for your classroom be sure to use our coupon! 20% off your purchase good through 3/31/2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

EdCamp Denver

A while back a good friend posted about an education "un-conference" she was going to be at.  She was wondering who would join her.  It peaked my interest and I spent yesterday at edcamp Denver.  BEST un-conference I've ever been to! Ok, honestly... it's the only un-conference I've ever been too.  Nonetheless, it was awesome!  I went in wide-eyed, a little like a dear in headlights.  I wasn't sure what was going to happen or how but my iPad was charged and I was ready for anything.
A great group of people met me in the "newcomer lounge" to help me get set up and ready for the day.  Then I headed to watch the unfolding of the day with my friend by my side.  A shared Google Doc with the schedule was projected on a large screen and everyone with their computers and tablets created the day by adding session titles.  People could add what they wanted to share about or what they wanted to learn about.  Then we looked through the schedule and picked topics that were right for us.

The first session I attended was Minecraft Instructional Design.  The perfect place to be with my Minecraft obsessed children.  It was a fantastic session where we heard about how others are using Minecraft in their classrooms.  Students are teaching the teachers, they're creating book reports, settings, building models of numerals for number sense and recreating Jamestown.  I learned about, WOW! All of these ideas that Steve (husband) and I have been talking about could be created seamlessly through Minecraftedu.  Yay!  Also, a fantastic list of bookmarks were made available.  Plus, I had something to share.  Skrafty, a Minecraft for Homeschool set of classes are a great springboard for more thoughts.  We plan to enroll CJ in Skrafty's beginner class in March.  Maybe you should join us!

The second class I attended was led by my good friend Deanna Duray.  She shared about how she is teaching K/1 with Jeffco Virtual Academy.  As one of very few (if any) teachers who are teaching K/1 online with one contact day a week she had some great insight.  It was interesting to look through her lesson plans online to see how each day was set up.  I love that she has an audio element for students to listen to the written instructions.  She has many assignments where kids do their writing in their writer's notebook, take a picture of it and post it to the class. It is homeschooling made easy for the parent with a teacher leading each step of the way.  I was very impressed and my brain started thinking about how I could use Schoology with Minecraft.  The possibilities are endless.

The third session I attended was about Schoology.  Jeffco Virtual Academy uses Schoology as their platform to share lessons and receive assignments from their students.  The great news is that I loved the platform and realized that Cherry Creek uses the same platform.  Yay!  Now I can learn one system and be literate among many Schoology users. Schoology is the platform I've been looking for.  It is a learning management system.  I've played around with iTuneU and though a great platform for older learners it's not young learner friendly and I'm a preK-6 teacher.  The small session (5 of us) was the best work session of the day.  There were specific questions regarding how to use the system so we spent some time learning how to actually set it up.  I even started making a trial run class.  We also talked about the capabilities of Schoology vs other similar platforms for 2 gals from a district that is considering using it.  It was a helpful session to get me started and now I'm looking forward to spending some time playing around with the system.

After a delightful lunch I witnessed the "Demo Slam" an opportunity for attendees to spend 2 minutes sharing anything innovative they'd like.  What a great time!  The last session of the day for me was about Flipped Classrooms.  An idea I had been reading about but not able to implement yet.  The best clarity for me came from a comment about how a flipped classroom in the primary grades may look more like a video explanation of a center so you don't have to repeat instructions for each group.  This inspired me to start making some of my own screencasts of lessons that I give OVER and OVER and OVER again as a way to help my students and parents.  The first screencast that I made this morning is simply not good enough to be shown, but as I get better I'll be sharing them here.  Yay!

There were many sessions at edcamp Denver that I would have loved to attend.  Ten sessions happening at one time leads you to have to pick carefully.  I'm so glad to have the notes from all of the sessions available for me to comb through.

Overall #edcampDenver was an eyeopening experience that was as energizing as it was engaging and overwhelming.  I can't wait for next year.  Oh, and another new thing.  I'm now on Twitter @BilesAmanda It's completely new to me so please be nice if you choose to follow along :)