Well, I’ve never done that, so when Justin Holladay over at Teacher Created Apps reached out to me and suggested he could write this article, I was interested. I looked at an app he created called Tangram Chess It’s a game that combines two of the most ancient games in the world – Chess & Tangram. By combining both, “Tangram Chess” becomes one of the most interesting and challenging games that you can enjoy for hours at a time. Every game of Tangram Chess has its own story. Some are long-drawn out strategic affairs; others, quick but complicated tactical battles. The winner is the player who can out-think his or her opponent, and make the best plans for attack and defense. The aim of the game is to move pieces across the gameboard and reassemble your tangram in the opposing teams square “home base” on the other side using translations (slides), rotations (turns) and reflections (flips).
This is just the kind of app I like–original, makes students think, and the chess connection is always a plus. I asked Justin to share his experiences on how he builds apps while carrying on a teaching career. Here’s his story:
Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.
Here’s a great question I got from Tracy in South Africa:
I am doing Movie Maker with my Grade 6 girls. (age 12) How would you suggest I assess this?
It depends upon your needs, Tracy. Tech ed is at times expected to be assessed quantitatively and other times, on a qualitative, effort-based platform. If your school requires the former of you, you might want to create a rubric that includes the Movie Maker features you expect to be included (i.e., storyboard, transitions, images, length, integrated sound), make that available as a checklist to students prior to completion, and then let them grade each other. You can then take that completed rubric and use it for your grading. As for the rubric: Here’s a link to one of my posts with some ideas on that.
To ask Otto a question, fill out the form below:
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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.
When you accepted the job to be your school’s tech teacher, you were probably excited, visions of cutting edge equipment at your disposal, training in the latest Google Apps, and a chance to collaborate with colleagues on extending the reach of education.
Well, maybe that happened, but so did a whole lot more. I sat down with about twenty of my ecolleagues over a virtual cuppa and asked them, really, what do they do all day? The answers may surprise you:
- teach classes, anywhere from 22-35 a week (that’s right–35. I offer up a little prayer for that colleague every morning), 30-45 minutes per class.
- grade assignments
- run the school’s tech-based programs (i.e., report cards, grade books, Everyday Math Online, Type to Learn 4 Online, Fountas and Pinnell, the online writing program)
- set up online accounts for teachers (on websites like KidBlogs, wikis, Google Apps, online tools)
- try–and fail–to get teachers to troubleshoot their own problems
- help faculty teach tech in their classes (because they don’t quite understand the geeky stuff)
- help faculty write lesson plans that integrate tech
- troubleshoot tech problems for teachers: tech teachers are the first stop with tech problems. It may start with fellow teachers running into the tech teacher’s class–even if s/he has students–and begging for help. If they can’t solve it (after they’ve spent an unspecified amount of time trying), it gets bumped up.
It’s not taught in any teacher credential program I know. Admin would never pick a history teacher to teach Science, or a PE teacher to teach math, but that’s what constantly happens with tech. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from newly-minted tech teachers–I am the PE teacher, now teaching tech… Last year I taught 4th grade, now I’m teaching IT.
Maybe this is your story.
If you’re a new tech teacher, here are some articles you will like:
I’m having a Google Hangout over at CSG on how to create and use a class internet start page. This is one of the topics many of you were interested in over the summer (which I never got to!). If you’re still interested, click here, scroll down to Week 9, fill out the form…
I’ve updated the Great Resources page on this blog and added categories as well as lots of new tools. Check it out!
Back channel Devices
Most of the teachers I know didn’t set out to be a tech teachers. They got here via the PE department or the 4th grade classroom or when laid off as an IT manager at some small company. Few took college classes to teach K-12 technology, nor did they say, “Gee, I have all the skills to be a top-notch tech teacher at my son/daughter’s elementary school. I think I’ll apply.” Most of us got here because 1) our current job disappeared (the Brits call it ‘made redundant’–isn’t that cool?) and this was the better alternative to unemployment, 2) our Principal offered us what Oprah calls a ‘life-defining moment’.
So here we are, doing our best, minute to minute hoping we can solve whatever catastrophe the Universe throws our way, usually with a solution that has something to do with servers and permissions. Fifteen years into it and still flummoxed on a daily basis, there are a few details someone should have told me when I first crossed the tech lab threshold. I mean, who forgot to mention these:
- You don’t need to know everything. Do what you can and the rest gets kicked upstairs. That’s right. You are human. You don’t wear a cape and you can’t leap tall buildings.
- You can make mistakes in front of the students. Really. Common Core is about problem solving–show how you work through a problem like sound doesn’t work or website won’t load. They’ll see your calm approach and emulate it when solving their own problems
- Tech isn’t a digital puzzlebox, the end of a Mobius strip, or the solution to an irrational number. There are only about twenty problems that occur 80% of the time. Know them and know how to solve them. I’d include them here, but that would make this a massive article. I’ll cover it in my next series (stay tuned)
- Common sense isn’t common. Don’t expect it to be. When a teacher frantically tells you their Smartscreen doesn’t work, start at the beginning: “Is it plugged in?” Every techie I know starts there and after fifteen years, I know why: It works.
- When you wake up in the morning, remind yourself that no one can scare you–you’re the tech teacher. You do know more than the teachers. Don’t start by apologizing because you don’t know what you’re doing or telling her/him how you’ve never seen this problem before. Take a deep breath, think about it, consider the options, and start. Chances are, you’ll figure it out.
- Tech works better integrated into classroom inquiry. Sure, you can create fun projects that use cool tech tools, but learning will be more authentic and scalable if students see you working with the classroom teacher. I use that term loosely–’working with’. Sometimes, grade level teachers barely have time to breathe, much less meet to discuss tech tie-ins. I’ve been known to chat up parents about what’s happening in class, wander through and read room walls, ask students. I’m not above interrupting a teacher’s lunch with ‘just a few questions’.
- Don’t jump in to solve student computer problems. If they’ve already seen a solution, let them work it out on their own. I have three extra computers in my lab and parent helpers always want to move students to a new computer when their usual seat is ‘broken’. I don’t let them. I have the student explain what the problem is and think through solutions. Only if none of them work do I allow switches.
- There are days when coffee and aspirin count as two of the four food groups. Don’t let it bother it. It will pass. Your job as Go-to Geek requires you are always available. Tech teachers don’t get lunch hours or set breaks. When someone has a computer emergency, they need it taken care of NOW. Respect that. They’ve tried to make a tech lesson and now something doesn’t work and they’re frantic. Take care of them. It doesn’t happen that often. I promise.
- Let students redo and make up work. Without taking points off. Wait, you say–I’ll have double the work! Truth, I’ve been doing this since I started and get only a handful of redos for each project. Sometimes I grade it with students and use the opportunity for teaching. The students who really care will really benefit. The others won’t take you up on it.
- There will be days when you and Anything Tech are barely on speaking terms, when you wouldn’t fix another broken digital device if it came with a free puppy. When that happens, talk to other tech teachers. Online is a great way to do that. Join tech teacher groups, share problems, offer suggestions. You will feel brilliant and thankful for the kindness of others.
- A feature is not a bug. The computer or the iPad or laptops aren’t broken when doing what they’re supposed to do, even if the user doesn’t like it. Gently point that out.
As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each week, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!
Q: I can’t read the internet page. How do I zoom out of a browser window?
A: There are a few ways, but here’s the simplest of all: Hold down the “Ctrl” key and move your “mouse scroll wheel”. One direction zooms in; the other zooms out.
There are two other ways:
- Ctrl+ (the plus sign next to backspace) will zoom in one step at a time; Ctrl- will do the same zooming out
- Go to the menu bar. Select ‘View’, ‘Zoom’ and either ‘Zoom in’ or ‘Zoom out’
To return to the original setting, hold down the “CTRL” key and hit the number zero.