Learning about Arduino on Digital Learning Day

DonWilde_tnToday Don Wilde, former Intel engineer, and FLL robotics coach/judge, was here to show our students a different side of programming – the Arduino board.

Don talked about how programming has been invading almost every part of our lives, from cars (which house dozens of computers), and houses to businesses, and libraries. (This session was fittingly held in the library – and I mentioned how students today self-check in and check out their books with a scanner and software).

He also stressed the point of how engineers are needed to design robots, and for online stores, casinos and satellites to function. “Highly-paid work today, whether it is in entertainment or communication needs engineers and programmers, and you could be one of them,” he said.

Don then demonstrated one of the devices he had put together for this, using a off-the-shelf Arduino Uno board. He connected a series of light, touch and sound sensors to show how this plug-and-play device worked.

Board_DLDay2016

By way of comparison, he talked about the Lego NXT robot, itself a micro-controller, with which many students in both 5th and 6th grades are familiar. We have had a robotics program in the school for the past 6 years. Thanks to Don, I have become interested in introducing Arduino to my class. Perhaps someday, we will have programming as a regular class, rather than an add-on to the curriculum!

Micro-controllers_DLDay2016

Teaching them to Code, one block at a time

My colleague and robotics coach, Donna Horn gave me a Wall Street Journal article on Coding that’s worth sharing. It’s about why coding shouldn’t be so intimidating (at least to us teachers who didn’t learn to code).

Titled “We want our children to code, even if we can’t.” it argues why this is a skill we need to introduce early and often. Reading. Writing, and Coding…The timing of the article is not accidental.

February is when Coding fills the news, since Digital Learning Day is on Feb 17th. This year we have plenty to pick from –the usual powerhouses Code.Org and Khan Academy. There’s also Scratch, and other visual programming tools. Plus, there’s Mindstorms, the visual programming language we use in robotics.

Grant Smith, a tech writer for Edutopia makes a god point about teaching coding in schools. We need to set the stage first by (a) Curating the resources into the curriculum  (b) Organizing the classroom to be coder-friendly and (c) Rallying around those who might support your initiative. Including use some of the social media tools to build one’s personal learning network or PLN.

I’m planning on getting experts to come into the classroom, and teach.Ideally I’m thinking of App developers, from surrounding tech companies.

Please contact me if you know of someone!

Starting a Robotics Program? Check this!

Here’s a video I did with Ruben Gameros, a grad student at State University. It’s about what it takes to start a Robotics program.

This was a hot topic in the STEAM Workshop last December in Colombo and Kandy, Sri Lanka. We know drones are changing the game in many areas. How about ‘Swarm’ robotics? Watch Ruben explain!

Bring the robots. Lock up the clocks

So a boy could get handcuffed for bringing an electronic ‘clock’ to school, when it is perfectly OK to bring in, say, a robot? This turned out to be an embarrassing story for the school, and a wonderful one for NASA and robotics.

Are we sending mixed messages here? We urge kids to think outside the proverbial box aka a classroom, but we like them keep their inventions at home.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I’m in half a mind to have a “Bring your clockwork mechanism to school” day. Many students tell me about the experiments they do –from a simple Rube Goldberg contraption, to a Lego robot. Or should I tell them that guess what, you just might be invited to the White House…

Which is what editorial cartoonist, Steve Benson lampooned in today’s Arizona Republic. It’s hilarious.

Who hid ‘Advanced Search’ in Google?

Google does the weirdest things. It’s my favorite Search Engine, but (and perhaps because) it always messes with its algorithm, there are subtle shifts in how we could search.

The only reason I notice this is because I teach a class on Search Engines and Browsers to 4th and 5th grades. And though they use them the time, many are find it hard to tell the difference between a search engine and a browser –as many adults do.

There used to be a feature known as ‘Advanced Search’ – a dashboard on Google’s landing page, and also Yahoo. Now Google has buried it at the bottom of the site, next to ‘Privacy’ and ‘Terms’ – almost a guaranteed spot to be ignored! It is in a menu under Settings.

This dashboard is a very robust tool, letting you filter results by language, and file type etc. I try to break the habit of students type in any phrase or keyword into the search box, and get them to thing through what exactly they are looking for.

  • Is it a set of “Instructions”? O is it a “User Guide”? (For building, say a Solar Oven)
  • Is it the “How tall is the World Trade Center?” Or is it the “Storeys of WTC?”

There are more. The tech terms for these are called Search Operators. But a Dashboard for Advanced Search would simplify things. Over to you, Google!

Technology in Education Predictions. Up in the Clouds?

Patrick Ledesma writes an excellent blog, and this week’s post on “Technology for Online Standardized Testing vs. Technology for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Inquiry” is an excellent read. He was commenting on the Horizon Report.

He makes some big predictions, which you may or may not agree with, but they give us pause for thought. For example he sees the following happening in one year:

Cloud Computing, Collaborative EnvironmentsMobiles and Apps, and Tablet Computing

  • Regarding Cloud computing, he’s dead-on. I know of one school that lets students use software-as-services so well, that they will soon begin to not see the difference between client-based and web-based services. (BTW, I’ve got an aversion to the word ‘cloud’)
  • Mobiles and Apps: We are still a few years away because of privacy and bandwidth issues around BYOD.
  • Augmented Reality, which he places in the 4-5 year timeframe may come sooner. I was at an ISTE conference last year and saw some amazing breakthroughs that have begun to filter down.

Having said that, I have to agree with some aspects of what one of his readers, ‘Terry2449‘ made. The comments were not as Luddite as it may seem at first glance. Terry talks about the humanistic side of educating the rounded child. He puts it this way

“I am not sure I am ready to sever the relationship that we as humans have in order for students to operate a piece of unfeeling/unknowing technology. While I understand that technology is the wave of the future, books on tablets, programs built for students to access from anywhere their technology is I wonder about the socio-economic split that will deepen with the have’s and have nots.”

We (and I am part of this royal plural being a computer teacher) tend to get fixated on the devices and apps, and forget the broader, deeper goals. I have seen students who have mastered apps, or fly through Khan Academy, and not be able to problem-solve simple issues.  I have seen how screen-time (awarded by parents who give their child a tablet to play with in the car on the way to school) affects cognition and attention.

We are desperately in need of a balance, and I could see a time when we will have to build in offline moments into our children’s school day, just to get them to reflect and apply them to real life experiences that, as you point out, is described as a challenge in the Horizon Report.

Finally a thought on the other challenge it highlights: Media Literacy.  And I don’t media Tool literacy. Schools don’t spend enough time on this. If at all they do a ‘Wikipedia is bad’ type session because it’s just plain easy to do. At a time when pre-teens are overwhelming spaces such as Instagram, or using every kind of chat App, there is  plenty of media-related life lessons worth incorporating into any subject that is touched by tech.

I just began experimenting with a unit on ‘Is it True, or is it Photoshop?’ connected to the Civil War. Before we weigh in on cheating and BYOD, there are lessons we ought to preface it with, such as media ethics, copyright, bias etc. Why wait till middle school to do this, when elementary school students are being influenced and impacted by it?

You could download and read the entire Horizon Report here.

 

What if citizens had cameras during the Civil War?

I went down with my family to watch a Civil War battle of Picacho Peak this Saturday. This battle took place in Arizona 153 years ago just about 70 miles from here.

It made me wonder: How would an event like this have been ‘documented’ if more citizens (soldiers, included) had some sort of camera? How would this piece of history been communicated?

This is one of the pictures I took. As you could tell, such battles were chaotic, dangerous, noisy (with injured men, cannon fire etc). Of course I could get close to the event thanks to a piece of technology we take for granted: the zoom lens.

A historical (and local) event like this is a great way to help students look at technology, and its implications for recording and retrieving knowledge. For instance:

  • Do cameras give us access to ‘primary source’ documents?
  • Could a picture be trusted?
  • Could a camera angle reveal the photographer’s bias?

In this picture, I cropped out unnecessary details using the zoom. I could have, I suppose, Photoshopped it. It also looked as if this side (the Confederates) was taking more casualties. The outcome of this battle was  a bit unexpected – the Union soldiers retreated, initially. This was not what some of my photographs revealed!

What if I was a reporter for an Union newspaper? Could my photo story, accidentally or deliberately, have distorted the truth?

Having looked over my pictures I thought of doing an unit on Photography & Media next month for my upper level students, asking them to record an event from differnt perspectives.

This lesson plan could be extended. I discovered an interesting colection of 2d and 3D photos of the Civil War here at the Civil War Trust. They also have some good lesson plan ideas.