Saturday, August 27, 2011

Making Kinect-tions in the Classroom

I awoke to the most marvelous message on Facebook this morning. Two of my friends, one in Beirut, Lebanon, and the other in Kandy, Sri Lanka, (it is actually incredible that I even have friends in those faraway places) had connected as a result of a project I had invited each of them to join. Friendships are formed so easily and quickly thanks to social networking. The world is an amazingly different place than it was when I was a child, and I am determined to make sure my classroom is an amazingly different place than the classroom of my childhood.

A new addition to the tools in my first grade room this year is an Xbox 360 Kinect gaming system. That, in and of itself, is pretty remarkable as I would have argued not too long ago that kids spend way too much time playing video games and that they have no place in education. An open mind, however, and exploring shared links on Twitter, have resulted in a complete "360" degree change in my thinking. I can't wait to put the ideas to the test with my young students.

The first game we will use is called Kinectimals. The delightful virtual pet game will undoubtedly be engaging for children, but it can be so much more than that when incorporated into a classroom. We will use the game as a basis for exploring a wide variety of Colorado State Standards for first grade. The characters in the game include various feline cubs such as lions, tigers, leopards, and panthers. Those cubs will be the basis for first grade research and reasoning as the students use a variety of resources to locate information about each type of cat. As they research, they will explore first grade science standards including learning that offspring have characteristics that are similar to their parents' and that living things have physical characteristics to help them survive. Locating the geographical homes of each cub will be an engaging way to satisfy the social studies standard exploring maps and globes as they represent places. The game itself will present a number of opportunities for the kids to write as they describe the cubs and write about the experience. Deeper connections can be made if we explore the type of cat that would be included in the game for our geographical home and create new elements for the game based on their discoveries. Students can compare and contrast the habitats of the cubs in the game to the habitat of our local wild cats. Mathematics skills are easily reinforced using the game. First graders learn about the whole number system and place value relationships to 100 as well as how to solve addition and subtraction problems. The game offers frequent opportunities for students to play games that result in scores. The scores can be compared and graphed. While watching one student play, the rest of the class can reinforce the counting back strategy of subtraction while they count along with the countdown timer! The "kinect-tions" are endless and I am certain the engagement will be high.

I am just beginning my own learning in this area and I'm so excited to see where this takes the children in the coming year. There are many resources online to explore the possibilities. Check out this one: KinectEDucation. Of course, there are many ways to teach, but connecting the standards with physical movement and highly engaging fun seems to me to be a kinect-tion for made for success!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Most Important Thing...

It is now just one week before school starts for the 2011-2012 school year and there is so much to do. A room to decorate, lessons to prepare, changes to implement, collaborations in which to engage, new technologies to try, and the names and faces of new little people to learn. All of this comes at the end of a summer filled with not only relaxing and spending time with family, but also of learning and preparing for teaching. I find as I go through life that often timing is everything, and once again that has happened in my life. Two summer experiences have overlapped this week that will influence my teaching in the coming days. The first is reading Brain Rules, by John Medina. The second is creating a Facebook group for people who grew up in the same small town where I spent my childhood. As my friends and I are all in our 50's and 60's it is interesting to read the memories that our brains recall from those long ago days in that small community. The first recollections posted were all about school. The best and the worst were on the list. Teachers and classroom experiences recalled were all so strikingly similar. That in itself is not so unusual as we all had the same teachers and spent so many years together in classrooms, but out of all those years only certain memories remain for all of us. The common thread to all the memories is emotion.

Beginning a new school year with a classroom full of small children is such a tremendous responsibility. My reading and active recollection of memories from my own childhood and those of my childhood friends just reinforce the importance of taking time in my preparation to realize that each child who enters my room will be an individual person worthy of the best experiences I can provide. Each individual child is the light of someone's life. They all deserve to be treated as such. No two are alike and no two have exactly the same needs. They all learn in different ways and at different rates, but each will grow to be an adult with memories of school. Will I create memories that will last for decades? Our world is changing at a rapid rate as technology evolves to change how we do things, but the needs of people remain the same.

So as I prepare to do my best in presenting curriculum, assessments, and classroom management, incorporating new 21st century methods and technologies, I will slow down and take time to reflect about each child and remember to keep those young lives at the top of the list in priority. They deserve the best and we will, hopefully, build memories to last a lifetime.