This is a weekly summary of what we have been doing in the Middle School computer class. The text will be going out to parents through the new weekly update.
Middle School Update
HTML is a difficult thing to teach kids, and because it takes them a while to wrap their head around the (mostly) totally new language and its syntax, I didn't have more assignments to grade than than the web sites they had nearly completed in addition to their in-class participation in partners (boy/girl in most cases).
The sites produced have been pretty good so far (I've yet to put up a 2010 - 2011 Student Work page, but will get to it soon!), and I've been impressed how well some of the kids found ways to get along in their forced partnerships!
Next we'll be either exploring how the internet works and opening up an actual computer to get rid of the fear of what goes on inside and the assumption that you have to be a trained professional Geek Squad member to open one up for upgrades . . . OR, we'll explore some new advancements in collaborative/social networking apps and how these might be altering the face of education in the near future. (I have to delve into this more myself first!).
End of grading period is here . . . I encourage you to work with your middle schooler to review Grade Book Wizard, find out what's missing (especially 8th grade parents), and help them complete assignments. Push your student to be on time with assignments to avoid any last minute rushes to turn in missing ones at the end - thank you! Both 6th and 7th grades (with the exception of several students in 6th who will present this Thursday), have finished designing & programming their Scratch games and done a fine, creative, sometimes humorous job on their classroom projects.
Yearbook class is in need of your assistance. An email has gone out to parents seeking your assistance in helping to provide any photos that you may have taken of your Hillcrest middle-schooler and their classmates at any events during this past semester (particularly, sporting events, or anything academic). Anyone willing to volunteer to help out with 8th grade Yearbook is welcome to contact me at my Gmail address.
So Scratch seems to have been a big hit with the Middle Schoolers! If they really seemed to take off with programming and want a little more, I've encouraged them to ask their parents if would be able to download it at home (it's free! and from a reputable source, MIT). You shouldn't worry about viruses by installing the program, and the kids can do some amazing stuff with this!
Now we're moving on to some more HTML (introduced last year), but I'm expecting more well-designed web pages this year! I'm introducing more formatting tags so they understand the value of information organization. I'm also insisting on them doing some writing as well for their web pages and taking their own photographs (pushing Language Arts, and Art through Technology!). The final thing I'm insisting on is that they work in teams of two—one boy and one girl. This does happen to keep the noise level a little lower in the crowded MS classes, but also encourages teamwork, communication and patience in dealing with those you might not normally choose to work with (as we adults know, this situation will occur throughout their lives!).
The 6th and 7th grade classes have been working on programming in Scratch. You can download this program from the main web page of this site (it's free!). Scratch is a program designed by computer engineers at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT), which focuses on teaching basic programming concepts through a drag-and-drop interface that is kid-friendly.
The objective of the current project is to design and produce a game in pairs or groups of three, using some custom graphics, original plot or theme ideas, with a way to win or lose (scoring method), and then present to the rest of class. We will be starting presentations this week in the new year. Really creative stuff I'm seeing—and a lot from some of the girls in class which is refreshing, since gaming has a tendency to be more male-dominated. Encourage your girls in Math, and Science, AND Information Technology/computers . . . many find they're good at it when they know they can have fun!
The 6th and 7th grades have finished their presentations, and I've been pretty impressed so far! Presentation itself is a valuable and honable skill so I am having each student present their "Who I Am & Who I See Myself Becoming" PowerPoint project in class, which is part of their overall grade for the assignment.
8th Grade - I've been focusing on Photoshop skills, and getting familiar with the cameras . . . students spent a class last week taking photos around campus and then practicing editing them in a new program I came across called SumoPaint. It's very cool, and free to access as it's a web-based program with many of the tools and features that Photoshop has (and I know not everyone has that at home!). I also assigned a 500 word write-up about their time at Hillcrest, of which the best will be featured in a special yearbook section. [The kids were overall astounded that I'm expecting them to actually w-r-i-t-e for the yearbook . . . previously it seems there's just been photos with an occasional caption.]
The 8th grade class has been focused on planning this year's Yearbook. There has been some lack of structure to the yearbook class in the past which has led to some sub-par yearbooks being produced. This year, I'm trying to change all that by providing some organization to the yearbook class, and raising my expectations for what the kids produce. Not an easy feat, and definitely getting some pre-teen push-back (of course, when in the past it's been whatever the kids wanted to do!).
So . . . you may be hearing some complaints from your 8th grade students on this topic, but rest assured it's because I'm challenging them to produce something of quality (um, yes, this means work rather than goofing off), and actually putting them to task on learning some things about photo quality, color balance, using the right typefaces to convey a particular message, and being accountable for your role on a team.
For those parents interested, rather than printing at the local copy center with cheap binding, I've researched going with online book publishing. There were several candidates, including TreeRing, Lulu and Blurb. I've decided to go with Blurb due to the reviews I found online, the tutorial provided, easy-to-use software to download, as well as the decent price-structuring. On top of that, this IS an IT class . . . so using the latest technology tools in class just makes sense! Check it out - your input is welcome.
Sorry for the delay in updating . . . been real busy with classes so far this year!
The 6th and 7th grades have been busy with a Powerpoint refresher project titled: "Who I Am, Who I See Myself Becoming." Not only is this project supposed to remind them about the capabilities of the Microsoft software application but I wanted to learn a little bit about them as well . . . AND it serves to get them thinking about their futures via their past experiences, and what they may see themselves doing as a career when they grow up based upon their interests and hobbies today. Whew, yes that's a lot to think about but they're having fun with it.
How you can help? Assist your kids with burning some family photos onto a DVD, or giving them a Flash/Thumb drive to bring in images from home to load into their presentation. I want them to make these personal so that the content speaks greater volumes than with generic images off the internet. Many of the kids get a little too wrapped up in the special effects the program provides, but I want to teach the kids that "content is [still, in my book] king." Thanks!
I requested the kids in MS watch several videos to help educate them on the dangers online. If you'd like to see them to discuss with your middle schoolers at home, please go here: http://www.netsmartz.org/resources/reallife.htm
Also, on the same site is a great section for parents with videos covering all sorts of questions that parents ask about online safety. Please feel free to watch these here: http://www.netsmartz.org/safety/drsharon_videos.htm
Happy Fall, parents! I decided that a positive way to start the year was to provide the students with a survey that collected information about their understanding and familiarity of technology, as well as what aspects of technology interested them. I figured this might help me tailor plans that in some ways fit their desire to learn about computers, software and information technology. I will be posting the results as soon as all have participated.
For the first couple of weeks I plan to focus on getting the kids re-familiarized with computer/OS "anatomy," copyright info, online safety and of course, typing! This means Type 2 Learn for middle schoolers, while introducing a goofy-fun typing program to the younger grades perhaps a little intimidated by typing tests and WPM scores: Dance Mat Typing ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/typing/ ), an online program found on The Science Spot web site (under Links in left column). The kids have so far seemed to enjoy it and it helps with hand placement for effective typing. After the first typing test? I'm pretty impressed with the year's first typing speeds amongst the middle school students.
Well open house has come and gone, and it was nice to be able to meet a few of you parents. There were just a few students and parents from both the 6th and 7th grade students. I realize the time was short and you spent most of the time with the home-room teachers, but hopefully next year I will be able to meet more of you!
Not a lot to 'show' parents from what I've been working on with the students as it's been mostly audio work, but I had a short sampling of students' first podcasts available for you to listen to from the 6th graders. I'm still working on the 7th grade compilation of recordings. When the students are all done compiling and editing their second podcast recordings, I will assemble all of them and post here on the class web page for you to review. Eager to get off to vacation? No bother . . . I'll leave it posted over the summer break and even next year so parents can hear and students can get inspired for next year's topics!
These past couple months have been a way for me to see what the kids can create with just a little instruction on how to use the software (Audacity), understand how the different grades handle it, what they need specific help with and their individual learning/working abilities and limitations. (It's also been a time for the kids to see how I teach, and learn what I expect of them.) Next year, I'd like to do more of this with the kids, focusing on more detailed instruction on editing commentary, adding sound effects and working in free music loops as transitions, and of course, tying stories together—that's my journalism background talking!
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