PD: Make Apps For That! @ HSTI

Today I’m in Hot Springs, Arkansas presenting a full day hands-on session at the Hot Springs Technology Institute pre-conference.  Participants will become familiar with the new Essentials of Computer Programming frameworks, get some exposure to MIT App Inventor, and take home a set of Android tablets to use in their classrooms.  The full conference begins tomorrow, and I cannot wait!


Full details will come later, but for now you can view the participant agenda.

BYOD Upgrade Cards

I recently posted about my Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) classroom policy, which uses four color-coded levels to communicate to students appropriate and inappropriate uses of their personal mobile devices within the context of they day’s learning activities.  After successfully implementing the BYOD level policy, I figured out I could leverage it as a reward for good behavior.

BYOD Upgrade CardsIn coming up with this, I pondered long and hard the question, “What can I give students that costs me nothing, that they will actually want, and that isn’t a violation of law or school policy?”

With a little colored card stock and a special hole punch from the craft store, I started awarding students punches for positive reinforcement of good behavior.   As long as you adhere to your BYOD level regularly, students will welcome a little flexibility in how they use their devices when they earn an upgrade.

My BYOD Classroom Policy

When I started teaching Mobile Application Development a couple of years ago I knew I would only be successful if students got to install and test apps using their own phones.  Fortunately, my school’s policy allowed for use of mobile devices at the discretion of the teacher.  I put considerable thought into my Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, and here’s what I came up with.

BYOD SignI devised a color-coded scheme to communicate to students at a glance how freely they should use their devices at any given time.  Green, which is never used, allows students free reign over devices — games, texting, social media, anything goes.  Yellow expects students to frequently interact with devices for learning.  Periodic use of a device in Yellow mode for personal reasons is acceptable, but only briefly.  Red expects students to keep their devices put away.  This would be an appropriate context for in-class presentations.  White requires phones not be present at all, for situations like high-stakes testing.

At the beginning of the year I clearly establish what types of behaviors are and are not appropriate at each BYOD level, and I frequently refer to the level when correcting phone-related student behavior.  Consequences are clearly laid out in the policy, which is among the papers I give students to take home at the beginning of the year.

Check back soon for a post about how I integrated the BYOD level into a classroom management reward system.

Maslow’s for Mobile

I shared this on my Facebook page a few days ago, and laughed.  Then, I began to think about how desperate and anxious my afternoon students are when their phone batteries are low.

Battery emojiHave you ever walked out the door without your cell phone?  If you’re like me, you’ll turn around and go get it if it won’t make you late.  And when I am without it, I often feel a little out of sorts.  Magnify those feelings to hormonal teenage proportions, and you see why I think a charged phone is somewhere in the lower two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for the modern student.

In traditional classrooms, it’s simple to say, “No phones allowed,” and consider the problem solved.  Even when it’s in a purse or a pocket, 6% battery still nags at kids.  In a connected classroom like mine, I acknowledge their situation and do what I can to resolve it.

Charging spotI got a great deal on a 24 port powered USB hub last year.  [Note:  This hub only charges iPhones if the hub is connected to a computer]  After putting it in my classroom I noticed a lot of battery anxiety disappear, and students were better able to focus on their work.

I’ve seen some teachers who require their students to turn in their phones at the beginning of class, either on a desk or in wall-mounted shoe holders.  I found that the charging spot worked as a voluntary phone collection spot that the students were happy to use.

Cables on magnets

If you want to go a step further, you can provide USB cables, too.  We use these in my Mobile Application Development class when we create Android apps.  You can get 50 of these round magnets at Wal-Mart for less than $5.00.  They work great for tangle-free cable storage using the side of a filing cabinet or other metal surface.

Each educator will develop his own ways of managing student technology, and I’d love to hear how you do it in the comments section below.  I’ll be sharing my “Bring Your Own Device” classroom policies in a more detailed post next week.



One Mobile Application Development Project

Students in my Introduction to Mobile Application Development class at Bryant High School learn to create apps in a variety of tools — GameSalad, App Inventor, Xcode, and Eclipse.  More than just programming, their assignments also reinforce teamwork, communication skills, project management, and literacy.

Recently, a pair of ninth grade students were featured on a local television news broadcast for making a mobile application to help a new student to our district who speaks only Korean learn the basic words and phrases he needs to communicate within the context of the American school system.

Click to Play

Click to Play

The assignment first asks students to identify a client — someone with a problem that could be solved through the creation of a mobile application.  Next, they must interview the client and draft a problem statement in their own words detailing specifically what the problem is, to be reviewed by the client.

From a pedagogical perspective, engaging students in writing — any writing — builds their literacy skills.  Having them write a document that will be read by a real-life external client about an authentic problem often yields more and better writing than something only to be read by the students and the teacher.

Read on to find out how I make the most of this assignment. Continue reading

High School Computer Science in Arkansas

This post was originally published on the Computer Science Teachers Association Advocate blog on March 31, 2015.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson made good on his campaign promise to “offer coding in every high school” by signing Arkansas House Bill 1183 into law.  It’s an exciting time for the growing community of CS educators in the state as we scramble to help make the governor’s vision a reality.  The Arkansas chapter of CSTA has been an integral part of the achievements thus far, but we have much more to do in the coming months.

The law requires the over 270 public and charter high schools in the state to offer a high-quality Computer Science course which meets standards established by the Arkansas Department of Education.  The law also charges the state’s online high school, Virtual Arkansas, with offering CS courses to all districts in the state at no charge.  Finally, it establishes a 15-member task force to research, review, and recommend curriculum standards and to make recommendations to meet anticipated CS and technology workforce needs.  The CSTA Arkansas president holds one of those seats.

Governor Hutchinson’s ambitious goal is to have students across the state learning Computer Science in all schools by August, 2015.  To make this vision a reality, several efforts are already underway.  Curriculum Frameworks for Computer Science and Mathematics, an introductory computer programming course designed to count as a fourth-year mathematics credit, were developed in late 2014.  Frameworks for Essentials of Computer Programming were completed in early 2015.  Both courses draw heavily from the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, and members of CSTA Arkansas were on the respective committees.  Virtual Arkansas is in the process of implementing both of these courses as well as AP Computer Science A in their online learning environment.

There are also professional development initiatives planned to meet the demand for CS teachers.  First, CSTA Arkansas is working with colleges and universities around the state to offer summer workshops for teachers licensed in other content areas who are interested in learning to teach CS.  The chapter also submitted a CS4HS grant application to request funding from Google to help build our community of practice.  The state’s second Computer Science Education Summit, to be held in October, will feature a track of sessions to support novice CS teachers.  Other ongoing initiatives are also building out the community, including the roll-out of a three-year program of study in Mobile Application Development beginning with tools like App Inventor and GameSalad but transitioning to XCode, Eclipse, and Android Studio.  Training for this program will also happen this summer for 8-10 new teachers.

Arkansas has no teacher licensure system in place for Computer Science educators.  Early efforts proposed by the Arkansas Department of Education would have required Computer Science teachers be No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Highly-Qualified Teachers (HQT) in Mathematics.  As it stands, any licensed educator may teach CS courses, but fourth-year math credit will only being granted to those students taught by NCLB HQT in math.  Arkansas is partnering with Education Testing Service (ETS), which is currently developing a multi-state Praxis exam for Computer Science.  We believe this exam will be required for CS licensure in the future.

It’s an exciting time to be a Computer Science educator in Arkansas, but we have a long road ahead of us.  The role of CSTA Arkansas will be to inform the standards as they are developed and revised, identify and prepare new CS teachers, support existing teachers and CS programs, and inform the new CS Education Task Force.

Daniel Moix has taught Computer Science since 2003 at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & Arts; College of the Ouachitas; and Bryant High School. He is CSTA Arkansas Vice-President, a member of the CSTA Computer Science Advocacy Leadership Team (CSALT), a member of the Councils of Chief State School Officers’ Computer Science Advisory Group, and beginning in June 2015, Daniel will begin work as Arkansas’s first K-12 Computer Science Education Specialist.