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

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Media Illiteracy prevails, and the adults aren’t off the hook

As our modes of communication grow smarter, we seem to be doing a shoddy job of using them. This is not just about the misuse of Twitter, of which dumb tweets are legion. Such as a Time correspondent firing off a tweet wishing for a drone strike on Julian Assange in 2013. This is about young people who have too powerful publishing tools at their disposal. If you like to know more, you will love this compilation!

This week, six High School students in Arizona got themselves and their school into serious trouble, using SnapChat. They got a picture of themselves taken wearing shirts that spelled out a racial slur. They learned, too late, that an app’s ability to ‘communicate’ should not define the message. (If none of them had data-enabled mobile devices would anyone have even bothered setting up the shot?).

An editorial in the Arizona Republic asked how students who have gone through a curriculum that probably included close reading and discussion of the civil war era, could have been so crass.

It’s hard to imagine these girls got this far in school without reading the ugly chapters in American history about the enslavement and oppression of Black people. Did they fail to pay attention? Did they fail to connect the dots to real people?

Let’s not get parents off the hook. How much time are we spending with young people to inform them about media use? It’s easy to be tool literate and media stupid.

Here are some thoughts for parents who may be considering giving a teenager (actually pre-teens, now) a mobile device:

  1. You pay for the phone and the data plan. You own the device; you set the rules. A phone is not like a pair of shoes, it doesn’t have to belong to the end-user.
  2. You better decide on the apps that get on the phone. Don’t complain later when a kid is spending too much time on Insta-brag or Brat-chat. I mean Instagram and Snapchat.
  3. Like your car keys, devices not owned by a child should be stored outside of bedrooms at night.
  4. It’s possible for homework assignments to be completed without digital devices. Really!
  5. Make sure your child makes every effort to not be in a video taken by a fellow insta-bragger.
  6. Finally, make sure your child’s school has a policy that has been updated to match the ubiquity and speed of shared media. It’s no longer valid to call it a ‘social media policy’. It’s a device use policy.

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.

Focus on Word Clouds, QR Codes, and Smart Watches for Digital Learning Day

Today is Digital Learning Day. This is the third year we have participated.

Planning on introducing a new unit to my 5th and 6th grades today – a bit of a challenge!

5th grade: Students will scan a web site (to be announced), and pick up 10 key words that could provide a good snapshot of the topic.

Then they would create a list on a Word document, and be sent to a Word Cloud generator to ceate their own Word Cloud. Topics I will choose form are from this week’s news:
(a) Apple Watch

(b) Will Ferrell ‘plays’ Cactus League – visiting Mesa, Arizona this week!

 

6th Grade: Students will learn the differences (and relationship) between URLs and QR Codes. The challenge is to use 3 web sites and 4 steps to produce customized and usable information. They will:

(a) Visit a web site provided,  and copy the link

(b) Go to Kaywa, the QR Code generator where they will create and download the Code.

(c) Open the image file, which could be a PPG of TIFF, in Pixlr.com (the Photoshop Clone)

(d) Create a poster using Pixlr, with QR Code image and text

Once done, they will save it to a shared folder, and print it out.

See last year’s activity here in my class.

 

Learning from Steve Jobs – Content for your recording

Students seem to be getting truly excited about creating their mini radio shows, using a microphone and Audacity software.

For content, I give them a rudimentary script, to fill in, and improvise. This week, I’m telling them to consider ‘anniversary’ events as talking point. For instance, the launch of iPod Shuffle, 10 years ago, on Jan 11th, 2005.

If you are a student,there’s a lot to learn from Steve Jobs, whose presentation skills were extraordinary. Listen to how he works up the crowd, and keeps them waiting for that “One more thing.”
Fast forward to 1:35, and see what I mean.

  • He uses words like “noodled on it” (where someone else would have used “we researched it”)
  • He introduces a few unexpected pauses, and slows down and speeds up suddenly
  • He uses visual description – comparing the iPod Shuffle to a pack of gum, and contrasting it with coins

Notice how he also stays away from big words, using words like “easy”, “simple,” “thing,” etc. (And yet, peppering his presentation with keywords!)

I bet if this was not available on video, we would still listen to it.