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Motivating elementary students beyond the passive act of consuming of technology, and teaching them how to create and express themselves through this digital medium can be challenging task. One has to first convince these young consumers how to move beyond the entertainment value of the medium as a front-end user, and consider taking on the challenge to build with it. As most of us know, creating with technology involves learning the language of the computer, or, how to code the computer. Unfortunately, computer coding lessons has been continuously left out of elementary curriculum, because it was once thought of as too complicated for a young student to learn. But, walk through the computer lab at Myles Elementary School this school year, and you will see some activities happening that are close this gap. Students there have been working with their technology teacher Mrs. Kathy Donovan (seen in photo below working with a student) to get actively involved in using their coding skills to tackle problem-based learning activities by designing games and simple animated stories driven by code; remixing and reconstructing projects, and, most importantly, learning how to apply the basic concepts of math, science and engineering design concepts to their projects. All of this is possible through an open source web programming environment know as Scratch. Scratch is a computer coding software program developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The creators of Scratch set out to design an application to take the complexity out of computer coding, with its seemingly long strings of code and algorithms, and place it back into the “fun” category with a simplified user interface. An algorithm is just a set of instructions explaining specific directions to the computer in a language it can understand, but the complex part begins when a new learner is asked to string these set of instructions together to create a workable end product (ie: games, websites, stories). This is where Scratch has made the process much easier as they have embedded the language code into building blocks that snap together, allowing users to build projects and create projects fueled from their imagination. Users of Scratch learn to make sense of all these blocks and build interactive stories and games, and kids ages 2-99 have the learned to harness the power to create with code. “I have created a great maze game” Myles 6th grade student Garrett says. “I have spent a lot of time with it, going over code blocks, and playing with ways to win and lose the game. The most frustrating part is figuring out when things go wrong! Mrs. Donovan and I have to break apart the code blocks and try to figure out where things didn’t work. It sometimes takes a long time, but when you finally see it, it’s like yes-- I did it!” “ Mrs. Donovan agrees with this process, “Yes, this is exactly what I love about teaching kids Scratch. It keeps them involved in the learning process, not just to pass a test or a course, but to involve them in the experiential process of being a creator.” Mrs. Donovan has utilized the MIT and Harvard School of Education Scratch Curriculum as a lesson guide, and has focused on working with some select 6th graders and two sections of fourth grade classes. This learning unit has lessons introducing kids to the coding blocks by the way of simple Scratch projects, but it also has several “off the computer” coding activities to concretely explain coding concepts to these young learners. For example, to explain the concept of what an algorithm is and how detailed it needs to be, she had kids try to explain to another student, in words only, how to dance. This lesson revealed how complex it can be to write out, or say, a set of instructions, and was a great way to launch an important concept of coding: you need to be efficient in your explanation. It is also important to note that teaching computer coding to elementary students is not just a way to create a group of computer scientists. Although we need more STEM trained workers in the future, it is more about involving kids into thinking creativity, like an artist or scientist, to solve the solutions at hand, and stay with the project until completion. Mrs. Donovan explains, ” As an an educator the most challenging part for me has been to keep students motivated while helping them to work through their frustration. I have told them often that if they are feeling this frustrated than they know they are on the right track!” If you are looking for more information about teaching code in any classroom, one good place is to look at The Hour of Code website. The activities on this site offers many coding puzzles to work through with many videos explaining the importance teaching kids to code in this age of information technology. While Scratch may seem like a technology focused activity, it is actually designed to reach across the curriculum cover all STEM areas. If you want to explore the world of Scratch, talk to the Tech Department and they would also glad to assist you and your students in getting started with this wonderful tool for digital storytelling and more.
 

If you have ever created a presentation with Google Slides, you may have found that cropping images was something that had to be done outside of the app. This made presentation creation often easier with a desktop tool when lots of images had to be manipulated. Luckily, Google recently added some new image cropping tools to Google Slides and Drawings that put these abilties just a few clicks away.

To start using the crop tools, insert or select an image on your slide or drawing. Next, locate the new Crop tool, (see circled area in the screenshot below) that will appear on the Spartan Apps toolbar. Click it and then select and adjust the black crop borders inside the image on how you want to trim it. Finally, hit Return on the keyboard to crop the image as you have specified. To adjust the crop area or image size again, click on it again.


You can also add a mask to an image using the Crop tool. A mask is an unusual vector shape that is used as a guide when the image is trimmed. To do this, simply click on the small arrow next to the Crop tool. Choose a shape and your image will be creatively trimmed to match the shape you selected. A mask can be adjust for size and placement by double-clicking it and hitting Return to confirm it.

The new crop tools in Google Slides and Drawings are welcome options that make web-based image editing even easier for students and teachers alike. Take a look at the options the next time you want to trim images within your presentations and drawings and all without ever leaving your web browser!

 
   
Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers
 
iTunes Content for Your Classroom

Do you wish there was a better way to inform parents and students about about homework, test dates, and other deadlines via text messaging? If so, Remind101 is the perfect tool for you to consider.
 
Remind101 is a free website and mobile app for teachers that allows them message students but does so without seeing or sharing any phone numbers. The service allows teachers to schedule text messages to be sent later or send them immediately. Its also flexible for students and parents who cannot receive text message since they can opt to receive their teachers messages via email. For a great teacher communication tool, take a closer look at Remind 101 today!
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Digital Literacy
KQED

These short tutorial videos which are produced by the Northern California Public Broadcasting affiliate, KQED, are designed to assist educators in using and making all kinds of digital media in the classroom. The videos cover a variety of tools including those for mind mapping, presentation, timelines, blending videos and more. Take a look at these for some great ideas that can be applied in any virtually classroom almost immediately.
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The New Hartford Tech Spotlight is a monthly informational e-mail newsletter published for all faculty and staff of the New Hartford Central School District by Mike Amante & Kathy Donovan. If you wish to contribute to or inquire about the newsletter, please visit here.
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