Grade 5 Takes The Lead

At IICS, we have been looking into avenues that allow students to personalize their learning experiences. As a result, MYP students have begun to participate in Exploratory groups where they delve into subjects that they are interested in learning about within a structured environment.

One such group is our student coders. These brave computer scientists are led by Phillip, a tenth grade student, and our Primary Technology Integration Specialist, Claire Wachowiak. These students have begun learning about Java as well as the reasoning behind coding with some unplugged lessons.

Although this time is set aside for MYP students, two fifth grade students, Hanako and Joey, have expressed an interest in coding and have begun to join this group to learn more about Java.

The other day however, Hanako, Joey, and Ms. Wachowiak decided it might be interesting to demonstrate Makey Makeys. So last Tuesday, Hanako and Joey took the lead to teach these eighth and tenth grade students a lesson in Makeys; Joey even used his own game he created in Scratch to show what these invention kits can do. 

The upper grade students were open to learning from the younger ones and overall, everyone was engaged and enjoyed learning. All and all a wonderful day, lead by two innovative fifth graders.


Coding Unplugged

IMG_7261It is wonderful to see students as young as 5 years old become completely engaged in creating simple step-by-step instructions using a program like Scratch Jr or witness an 11-year old solve a problem and move up a level after debugging a misstep within her instructions. But do these students know that this is computational thinking? Do they understand that with these programs they are decomposing, abstracting, searching for patterns, and creating algorithms?

Much like a person would use a recipe when baking a cake, a computer is programmed with a set of instructions to perform a task or multiple tasks. With coding unplugged (no technology devices within the lessons), students are beginning to see the logic and reasoning behind coding. They learn to use symbols to communicate and that these symbols must be clear and precise. Students also learn how to take a big problem and break it down into smaller problems to create basic computer programs.IMG_7548

With coding unplugged, students gain a deeper understanding of computer science while developing the skills of critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and perseverance.

If you are interested in coding for children, the primary school is currently using resources. However, please feel free to explore more resources below:—hourofcodecom-tr?

Hour of Code 2015

When we asked second grade students what coding means to them, they came up with some very interesting responses:

Coding is…

  • giving commands
  • following step-by-step (directions)
  • hard, frustrating
  • being specific
  • happy when you figure it out
  • (following a) pattern
  • figuring out the least amount of movements to solve a problem

Most students who participated this year’s Hour of Code would agree. Students describe coding as the language of computers. Essentially if you are using technology, code is involved.

However, coding isn’t just about learning a language, it is a skill that encourages collaboration and promotes problem solving, including critical thinking. It helps student to develop their logical thinking skills as well as nurture their creativity.

If you are interested in learning more about coding, please check this out for more resources.


After The Hour of Code…

As we look back at the Hour of Code and the next steps we want to take in regards to students and coding, we are asking the questions: Why coding? How can we integrate coding into our curriculum?

on our way to the Asian side...At a recent LTEN conference, Claire Wachowiak and Brycen Davis, our Technology Integrationists, met Bager Akbay. Among other things, Akbay runs a Coderdojo in Kadıköy. A Coderdojo is a community-based programming club for young people. In these free clubs, kids learn how to code, create apps, and explore technology in a comfortable and open environment. How can we bring this to IICS? Ms. Wachowiak and Mr. Davis, along with tenth grade students, Philipp and Ayush, decided to take the ferry to the Asian side to find out.

Upon visiting this Coderdojo, they found an environment of engaged students, many of them using the same tools that we have been using at IICS. Both students and volunteers learned together in a space that invited creativity and learning. As we watched the students collaborate to solve problems, a 3D printer produced student made designs. We witnessed another student using a ‘Makey’ to bring his code to life. It was an atmosphere that encouraged innovation and fun.

Over the next few months, IICS will be looking to bring this energized spirit around coding and computer programming to IICS. We want to thank Bager Akbay and his crew for their generosity in allowing us to visit this Coderdojo.

Talk to your kids about coding! Here are some coding resources if you would like to explore this innovative world.

Talking with Parents About Digital Safety

As part of Digital Citizenship Week, Claire Wachowiak and Brycen Davis, our Tech Integration Team, discussed Internet safety and digital balance with parents during a PTA Coffee Morning. Susan Taylor hosted the event.

Claire speaking with parents

During this time, a lively discussion took place regarding the concerns parents have about their children being online. While understanding that the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, students need to be guided on how to use this incredible tool as its significant functionality also comes with some inherent dangers.  We talked about what IICS is doing to help keep students safe online, including lessons and the Acceptable Use Policies, and also what parents can do at home.

While each home is unique, there are several suggestions below that may help guide students in making smart online choices and to develop healthy screen time habits:

  1. Talk with your child; make sure to check in with your child about their online lives
  2. Create an ‘at home’ media agreement with your child
  3. Talk to your child about Internet safety rules; don’t assume
  4. Keep technology in a central location
  5. Limit screen time
  6. Be a role model for your child in using technology safely and effectively

To help with this, Claire and Brycen have also created a resource page for parents to get information about keeping their children safe online. Additionally, they are currently creating a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) for parents to help navigate this ever changing landscape.

Thank you again to Susan Taylor and the PTA for hosting our Tech Integration Team. It was a lovely morning and we look forward to many more.

Claire with parents

Students Track Their Online Usage

In an effort to get students to reflect upon their daily technology habits and their overall screen time, we asked grade six students what types of digital devices they are using at home and school (Smartphones, laptops, television, tablets,etc.). We then asked students what they were doing on these devices (Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, video games, Google, etc.).From there, grade six students were asked to record their use of digital devices and what they were doing online on an average school day.


why_digitalAfterwards, students explored the reasons behind using digital media. The top three responses were communication and sharing, entertainment, and education and skills.

All students completed the daily log similar to the one above. Then each student calculated the amount of hours they spent using digital media per day. In order to determine a percentage of daily use per student, we agreed that six grade students were awake an average of 16 hours a day. From here, students could compare how much they used digital devices on a average waking day.IMG_4462

As the technology integrator, I found this lesson quite powerful because it gave students hard evidence of how much time they spend using digital devices. Some students reached as high as 81% of their day and others came in at about 30 to 40%. As a class, we asked students what surprised them about the results and if these results made them rethink how they spend their time.

With the understanding that digital devices are effective tools that can play very positive roles in our lives, we also looked at how we could spend our time without a digital device. Could we have a better balance? Are we using these because we are just bored? Could we get outside a bit more? Would it be a good idea to develop some new habits?

student_calculatingOne interesting aspect that come up for me was the high use of YouTube for watching videos and listening to music. Out of 50 sicth grade students, 44 said they used YouTube daily – that is 88% of sixth graders.  YouTube is a fantastic resource, but there are also many alternatives. I recently found an article ‘47+ Alternatives to Using YouTube in the Classroom’ that can be applied to home use as well.

How much time do you spend on your digital devices?

Published in the IICS Newsletter

Teaching Teachers

Recently, I transitioned from being an elementary school teacher into a Primary Technology Integration Specialist. Since I was a classroom teacher for ten years, I tend to think about technology with a teacher’s perspective. As a result, I have come up with three simple steps to help me in working with teachers and creating professional development:

  • Respect the Teacher’s Time/Respect the Schedule
  • Be Timely with Help/Support
  • Be Brief and Relevant

If a person has never been a classroom teacher, it is impossible to describe what busy means. Having worked at other jobs in other industries, I very much understand a hard day’s work. However, teaching is a different kind of intensity. Teaching is rewarding but it is also very difficult. Most notably, your time is not your own. When I get up to get a coffee or just use the restroom when I want to and not after a bell rings, I need to remember this in my new role.

Recently, I gave a presentation to help teachers build their new class sites. This was not an easy task for many who see the sites as a ‘have-to’ with many other pressing issues at the beginning of the year. Did I mention that I had to give my presentation after the first day of school? Yes, this was not an optimal time.

As a result, I simply looked at what needed to be completed on their sites for Back to School Night… that was it. There are so many other neat and helpful things I could have shown them, but I had to think about what teachers needed right then. I laid out my presentation, created videos and other resources that teachers could refer back to, and kept everyone on-task. As a result, the teachers’ sites were built within that presentation time frame. Interestingly, several teachers have approached me since the professional development to ask about the neat and helpful things, such as embedding a calendar or adding a subscription widget. Believe me, I got back to them right away. I want to keep the momentum going.

Teachers are a tough audience with most teachers admitting they are not good students. However, as with any student that is difficult to reach, it’s all in the approach. Make the learning relevant and timely, respect their busy schedules, get back to them right away, and you might just find that they seek you out for more learning.

I understand that I have so much to learn and not all of the feedback will always be so positive, but for right now, it feels good.  It also serves as a reminder that my job is not about implementing the newest technology tools. Rather, a big part of my job is to look at these tools and see if they will help teachers to do their job more efficiently and effectively; to free up some of their valuable time so they can teach.

Here is an example of one of the resource videos I created for teachers:

Below are screenshots of some emails I received after the class site professional development:

Timely Feedback

As much as I would like to meet with students independently to give feedback, it is sometimes difficult to find the time on a daily basis. Commenting with Google Docs came to mind when I was giving feedback on a grade level document. I realized this tool enables me to interact with each student in a timely manner. My students are comfortable with Google Docs and find it is easy to use. With this particular assignment, a theme paragraph, I was a bit anxious because the students were finishing up their rough drafts, and  I wanted to wrap everything up before we began our next class novel. Once I finished commenting on all of the papers, the homework assignment was for students to reply to the comments and then make the revisions or edits. By replying, it enabled students to reflect upon their own writing and thinking. Although nothing tops meeting with face-to-face, the commenting feature allows me to contact each student in a timely manner.

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