Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Adventures in Pi

Three words to describe my two days of Picademy training in Baltimore - transformative, learning, growing. It was two days of embracing challenges, persevering through setbacks, and collaborating with incredible educators from all over the US. Through hands-on, minds-on workshops full of learning that led to growth, the whole experience was truly transformative. Sponsored by the Rasberry Pi Foundation whose mission is to bring the power of digital making to people all over the world. They believe, as do I, that the complex problems facing society today and in the future will be solved by people who understand and shape our digital world through innovative solutions.

Here's a brief intro:

Chances are you have heard of the Rasberry Pi. If you are like me, I knew it was a $35 dollar computer and was really intrigued by it, but also intimidated. I had even bought one before Picademy to explore, but found myself asking, Where does one even start? What does it do,exactly? How much coding is necessary? How can I bring this to my students?

Until I recently became a Rasbery Pi certified educator, these were all questions that ran through my head.
So, where does one start? My first full day of working with Raspi involved a series of hands-on sessions:
  • make music using Sonic Pi
  • build and destroy towers in Minecraft
  • program Picamera with Python 3 to take selfies
  • operate a motor
  • light up LEDs with a button
The capacity to do all of this comes on the preloaded SD card that gets inserted into the Raspi and connected to a monitor. We explored coding with Scratch and Python 3. By the end of day 1, we were able to combine all of our skills to create a robot - everything from a beanie with a propeller to a car.

Here are some helpful guides to get started:

After a great first day of mini-workshops, day 2 was all about applying, synthesizing and creating.  We had the opportunity to individually reflect on all the Raspi tools in our toolbox and to dream big.  We collectively brainstormed dozens of ideas and ways that we could use Raspi to create something new, something original, something that had never been done before.  Here are some of the incredible inventions that came out from our cohort:

A musical, selfie-taking voting booth coded with Scratch using Picamera, a Raspi, and "Hail to the Chief" composed using Sonic Pi:

A selfie-taking, roaming robot that tweets out random messages celebrating great work being done in classrooms: 

A magic mirror that takes your picture and tweets out random messages to boost your self-esteem such as, "You look beautiful today!"

So, back to my three words...this whole experience of digital making was transformative in so many ways.  It not only transformed my understanding of what Rasberry Pi from something theoretical to something tangible, but transformed something in my imagination to reality. Working together with my team, we were able to learn and grow together through this experience of collaboration.  Ultimately, we celebrated the whole experience - the temporary setbacks, the challenges along the way because it was all part of the 'maker' experience.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Exploring Computer Science

For the past five days, I have been participating in a professional development to bring Exploring Computer Science (ECS) to my district.  One of the tasks was to create an elevator speech about what ECS encompasses, so here it is:

Exploring Computer Science is designed to bring rich experiences to high school students by providing them with opportunities to create, design, analyze, problem solve and engage with data.  These computational practices make computer science tangible, authentic and engaging to them, with many of the lessons accessible without a computer at all.  Throughout the course, students are led through tasks that ignite problem-solving, curiosity, and reflection in a way that transfers deep understanding of a wide range of computer science concepts.  The three strands of equity, inquiry and computer science concepts are woven seamlessly into the curriculum to ensure that all students, regardless of background, have access to a field that has traditionally been perceived as complex and unattainable. The entire program that is complete with an entire curriculum, professional development sequence and pedagogical approach ensures equity and access to the field of computer science in an unprecedented way.

Here is a video I made to cap off the week of learning:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

CS Mentoring

My students have been working on the National STEM Video Game Challenge in pairs and it's been great, but I really wanted them to have access to experts beyond the classroom.  To this end, I invited guests from a Women in Computing organization from a local university to visit.  Wow!  What an incredible time.  We talked about the internet of things, women in CS pioneers, and much more.
Here's a video of our time:
Following their talk with the class, they went around and worked with groups of students.  The conversations were amazing as they guided my students through thinking about their game creation.  They really led them to reflect more deeply on the player and how they would experience the game.  Would a player find this interesting? Challenging?  How can you add more challenge?
Look forward to future collaboration with this amazing group.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


It's time to MYOVideoGame (make-you-own-video-game).  I was inspired by the National STEM video game challenge. More about that here:

The best part about this project is the opportunity to integrate so many skills and practices across the curriculum.  First off, came the two-pronged approach to brainstorming.  Since there are two aspects to this project, it required thinking along two tracks.  One was the STEM content where I had students identify and research a topic on the central theme of explorers/exploration.  There was some useful information on National Geographic on this topic.  The other track was that of the video game design itself.  They had to plan out how the game would run and how the player would experience their game.  These two tracks were then put together into their game design document.  I provided an authentic game design document example from a team of video game developers for them to reference.  Based on the National STEM Video Game Challenge website, I also provided them with a bank of options to choose from as they code their game.  One group actually used Gamemaker and taught themselves C in the process!

Here's the Google Doc I used to introduce the MYOVideoGame challenge, adapting material found on the website.  Their final assessment will be using rubrics to evaluate their Game Design Document and actual video game (with much of the criteria based on the user experience and functionality of the game).
Here's an example of a group of students' game design document, colored fonts and all!


Overall Vision

Our game will be about exploring the ancient continent of Pangea and learning about multiple dinosaurs along the way. You will get to choose whether to be a herbivore or carnivore and will collect leaves or meat accordingly on your journey in order to restore health. Your goal is to learn about as many dinosaurs as possible before the meteor strikes. The game will be a scrolling platformer and you will fight dinosaurs as you try to reach the end of the level. There will be nests throughout the levels with information about dinosaurs that you meet along the way. You will have a time limit on the levels and if you don’t finish the level in time you lose.

Target Audience

This game is meant for children 8 and up, and is made to help learn about dinosaurs.  This is an educational game that will give kids a greater understanding about different types of dinosaurs and their surroundings.  Children and teens of many ages can enjoy this fun game and the well researched information provided.  Both girls and boys can enjoy this game equally and learn, as long as they like dinosaurs.  This game will hopefully be used as a classroom tool since technology is being rapidly introduced into the school system.

Dino Dynasty is a scrolling platformer that will start off as an web game. Hopefully later the game will be expanded to console (Xbox One and PS4). This game also may be made available on iOS and Android sometime in the near future.  We will make this game 2D with simple controls that can be understood by anyone. But also fun and entertaining.

Dino Dynasty is an exploration based platformer game. In the game you explore many different types of dinosaurs/plants on a scrolling platformer. The dinosaur based game is sure to capture a younger audience’s attention and the educational portion will allow children to play it in school.  

Core Gameplay

Core Game Mechanics

The gameplay mechanics will be really simple: you will be a velociraptor trying to gather information about dinosaurs while unlocking the corresponding characters. You will go through different levels fighting other dinosaurs and gaining information on them, you will try to escape the meteor coming to Earth and try to survive.  You will explore the 2D prehistoric world by running, walking, and jumping from place to place, battling other dinosaur or eating prehistoric plants, gaining information on them along the way.


The goal of this game is to eat to survive and gain as much information as possible before the game ends.  To achieve this goal you must battle other dinosaurs, scout dinosaur nests, or examine plants.  Some nests and plants will be hard to reach, and some dinosaurs battles will be harder than others.  Being defeated in battle will delay the player in their mission, but they will be able to respawn close by.  Once the game is completed, there will be a secret level and the player can then explore without a time limit.

There will be food that will restore your health throughout the level, but must be earned by battling other dinosaurs, scavenging, or finding plants. There will also be an array of dinosaurs that you will need to battle in order to reach the next level. There will also be eggs on the levels, and when you walk over to them you will learn more about the dinosaurs inside, and how close they are to hatching.

The left and right arrow keys will be used to to walk to the left or right, the up arrow key will be used to jump, and the spacebar will be used to attack.

Dinosaurs and Info

Spinosaurus: Also known as the spine lizard, which lived during the cretaceous period.  It was bigger than the T-rex and Giganotosaurus, making it known as one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs that ever roamed the Earth.  This dinosaur had long spines sticking out of it’s back known as a “sail”, that could be up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) long.  There has been recent evidence that this dinosaur was the first to be able to swim.  Spinosaurus had short hind limbs, dense and compact bones, wide and flat claws and feet, and a long and slender snout.  Since this dinosaur most likely spends most of it’s time in the water, and has a long and slender snout with conical teeth, it probably eats fish.  Based on the size of this dinosaur and the fact that its size doubled with its sail fully extended, it did not have many predators.  The sail had ball and socket joints, allowing for the dinosaur to arch its back.

Stegosauria: (Stegosauridae) was alive during the Late Jurassic Period, between 150 and 155 million years ago. Stegosauri were herbivores and it is believed that the allosaurus and ceratosaurus were its predators. The ste

Dimetrodon: The dimetrodon lived during the Early Permian period nearly 295-272 million years ago. The dimetrodon is known for the large sail on its back and large spines protruding from its back. It was found mostly in Southwest America and fourteen different species have been discovered.  Its name meant “two measures of teeth” and it was more closely related to mammals than reptiles, contrary to popular belief.  They had a sail on their back and were one of the largest known land species of their time.  Their diet includes freshwater sharks, amphibians and reptiles.  They were most likely cold blooded with a low metabolism.

Pterodactyl: Commonly thought to be a dinosaur, but really is its own species with different sizes, diets and some had teeth and others didn´t. The Pterodactyls being linked to dinosaurs is just popular imagination, though dinosaurs and pterodactyls were around the same time period.  

Tyrannosaurus Rex: One of the most fearsome animals of all time. Its powerful jaw had 60 teeth, and just one of them had a bite with a strength of 3 lions

Procompsognathus: Also known as a Compy these dinosaurs are scavengers

Velociraptor: (Velociraptorinae) Velociraptors lived in the later part of the Cretaceous period.  Their name derived from the latin terms velox (speed) and raptor (robber or plunderer), which perfectly describes the agility and carnivorous diet of this dinosaur.  Velociraptors are the most bird-like dinosaurs, they are small and fast, and have a sickle-shaped claw on the second toe of each foot, along with a bone in the wrist allowing for the dinosaur to snap its arms forward, swiftly grabbing its prey.  Scientists have discovered that velociraptors were roughly the size of a small turkey and had feathers, yet couldn’t fly or glide due to their small arms.  There is a theory that velociraptors had ancestors that could fly.  They had fairly large skulls with widely spaced teeth, along with a long and narrow snout.  The tail was inflexible with hard, fused bones that helped the dinosaur balance on its two hind legs.  They had three hooked claws that kept their prey from escaping.  Velociraptors hunted and scavenged for food and usually ate small animals.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Innovating...the Shark Tank way

My students have been working on a project-based learning module based on Shark Tank.  It's provided an unparalleled opportunity for them to integrate so many skills and concepts that span the academic and interpersonal spheres.  Each company had to sign a group contract and submit individual "applications" for positions within their company - pitch perfecter, CEO, tech guru, designer.  Here are some of the highlights that show integration of purposeful and relevant use of technology alongside standards for teaching and learning:
Each company is creating a website for their business that displays their original logo, designed using Google draw or another graphic design tool of their choice.

Each company was required to do market research prior to selecting their product to prototype.  How did they do this?  By pitching their top three ideas in a Youtube video which they then put into a Google form.  After this, they shared the link to their video with me and I posted it to Google Classroom where all my classes could then submit their vote.

What next?  Well, after they had their market research complete, they got to work on integrating researching, writing and prototyping.  They researched and analyzed what would need to go into their prototype and budget.  The process of prototyping led them into practical application of the design process and iterations upon iterations.  The really neat thing was that during the process of prototyping, they were able to use everything in the classroom - Arduino, LittleBits, Hummingbird Robotics, cardboard, plastic cups and more - to bring their concept and idea to life.
Take Flip-tastic for example - they integrated Hummingbird robotics, and a few hacked LEGO parts to create their innovation:

Looking forward now to the final stage when each company presents their business pitch to some sharks from our community. On top of all the researching, writing and designing they have done, they now integrate speaking and listening skills.  Real world meets real kids - nothing like it!


Monday, April 4, 2016

Making Music

Chrome Music Lab is a fun, hands-on way to explore rhythm, music, art and more.  The most fascinating thing to me about it was the story behind its creation - a collaboration of programmers and musicians paired with the unparalleled accessibility of both the actual music lab and code so that more creating can take place.

So, here it is, my middle school students exploring and experimenting with the lab.
Here's an experimental band...
Here's the oscillator feature...
Now that they had time to experiment, I began to think about next steps.  The music lab reminded me in many ways of things that I have students do in Scratch, so I created a studio in Scratch where they can put in their own music lab creations...random colors while notes play and so on.  They can create their own Kadinsky or Picasso music lab for that matter!

I was also reminded of Ted-Ed Lessons and the many interactive and informative lessons there.  Here are a few that go right along with the music lab:
Rhythm in a box: the story of the cajon drum - Paul Jennings:
A different way to visualize rhythm - John Varney:

Next, I plan to have my students connect the music lab with what they have been doing with coding. The random colors that appear in the Chrome Music Lab?  That reminds me of the "random color" feature in Scratch with the "pen down" block that allows the students to draw.  Adding notes and music to the mix will allow them to create their own music in a music "studio" in Scratch.  So excited about the possibilities and applications!  This is real STEAM in action!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Over-engineered printer or art?

This week's video on America's Greatest Makers available here showcased three makers who are revolutionizing basketball, music and art.
1)  ShotTracker allows basketball players to track their own shot/score stats from anywhere in the court.  Players use the bluetooth and sensor enabled app-integrated innovation to collect valuable real-time data.
Before I even played the first part of this week's video to my students, we started with a class talk about how they track their basketball data.  They all said that their coaches or parents do it by tracking their shots and successful shots with paper and pencil on a clipboard. I then asked them to brainstorm answers to the following questions:
What could you invent to track your basketball shots?  How could you integrate technology to come up with a way to track your basketball shooting data?

It was amazing to hear their responses! As a class, they came up with the same idea as the ShotTracker.  One student said that she would put a sensor in the net to determine whether or not a shot was made.  Another one added that data would be run through an app through bluetooth to smartphones.  When asked how the app would know how many shots were made, a student offered the idea that the player would have a sensor.  I then asked the student where this sensor would be and they all said that it would go on the wrist.

This type of discussion was really productive.  While I usually have my students go through the engineering-design process and actually prototype and test a solution, this was a different type of task but just as useful.  They had the opportunity to actually think like an engineer and dream up solutions to solve a real-world problem.

2)  The next two excerpt on this week's America's Greatest Makers were focused on music and art.  I used these maker stories as an opportunity to bring in a class discussion about science, technology, and society.  Is this art really art, or is it an 'overengineered printer?"  One student said that it couldn't really count as art because it wasn't done by a human.  Others brought out how many of the masterpieces that are hanging in museums all over the world are a result of 'happy little accidents' as Bob Ross would say. Would robot art ever have these occurrences or would they be so programmed that they could only ever produce predictable arts?

We then discussed the music that award-winning musician and composer A.R. Rahman makes "out of thin air" using Intel's Curie-based technology:
I posed questions to the students - does this count as 'real' music?  Does this type of music take away from using physical instruments?  Many students seemed to feel that this type of music doesn't convey the depth of human emotion or feeling that a live symphony does, for example.  While they thought it was a pretty neat performance, they still felt that it could never replace actual instruments.  Perhaps most interestingly of all, we ended our conversations with a question: what if these types of art and music are actually generating a new kind of genre in these areas?  So that in the future, there might be robot/computer generated art in its own section of the art gallery?