Sunday, December 4, 2016

Ever wanted to track Santa?

Now you can! Google's Santa Tracker is just in time for the holidays where students can code a snowflake, track Santa using Google maps and more. New activities and lessons unlock throughout the month of December and are connected to subject areas such as computer science, geography, social studies, and language.  Play, learn, watch, code, and explore! 

Here is a sampling:

Code Boogie - Choreograph a dance for the elves using code

Holiday Traditions - Learn about traditions all around the world from Canada to Ghana, France to Australia.

Learn Languages - See and hear different holiday greetings translated into different languages

Play Present Bounce - Try to get the present to land in just the right place

There are these and more activities to come throughout the month, right here in Santa's Village.  On the 24th, there is an invitation to come back and track Santa all night!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Equity in CS: Empowered to take action

A few years ago, Google came out with a paper entitled, "Women Who Choose Computer Science - What Really Matters." The link to the entire paper is available here.  It's an incredible paper in many ways, but the big takeaway for me was that we are in a position to do something to close the gender gap in education right now. To me, this was incredibly empowering - to realize that there are factors substantiated by research that make a tremendous difference in a girl's life in terms of choosing CS as a degree major. According to the paper, it all comes down to encouragement and exposure. Specifically, this paper found four key influencing factors: social encouragement, self perception, academic exposure, and career perception. Even more amazing was that this research found that uncontrollable factors such as parental occupation play a limited role in women choosing a CS degree.

Armed with this understanding of the impact that exposure and encouragement can have, I started a Girls Who Code club at the middle school I was teaching at. Through this experience, I came to see that Girls Who Code was as much about building community as it was about inspiring the students about computer science. The girls even got to speak at a national STEM conference and sponsor a schoolwide CS event with student council. Fast forward to 2016 and come to find out that research with Accenture and Girls Who Code has found that middle school is a critical time to spark young girls' interest in computer science, coming back again to the all-important role that encouragement and exposure play. This research then goes on to share ways to continue to sustain that engagement in CS through the high school years and on into college where they are inspired toward a career in computing. The link to the article is here. 

Going beyond what was happening just at my school, my district became part of the K-12 Alliance with NCWIT.  Inspired through this partnership, my district has started an initiative called PVWIT in order to address the issues of equity and access in the field of computer science. It's been amazing to see this effort grow, expand and reach students all over. Just last weekend, PVWIT hosted its first Code-a-thon. The way I like to think of it is that the only thing better than creating and coding on your own is to create and code with a community...and that's just what Code-a-thons are all about. I knew that I wanted to gear it toward K-5 students and have middle school students there to help out as well. I invited 14 teachers and the district IT team to host tables: Scratch, robotics, Raspberry Pis, and more. We marketed through social media and teachers sent home bookmarks, paper reminder bracelets and stickers in agendas. I created passports for the day of the Code-a-thon so coders could go around to all the stations we had.

Code-a-thon bookmarks, passports and stickers

I also wanted mentoring to be a part of the whole experience, so I reached out to local industry volunteers with a Women in IT volunteer initiative (in my case, this was American Express). I also reached out to my local university's Women in Computing club with whom I had connected before on class projects and they were also happy to send 5 volunteers. It was great to see industry work alongside university alongside middle school and elementary students - mentoring and community is what it is all about. Or, coming back to the research - we are here finding ways to encourage and expose students to CS as a way to work toward equity in CS.

Code-a-thon 2016

Industry, college and district volunteers

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Get Ready! Hour of Code 2016

I am so excited to share about the more than 200 Hour of Code activities available here.
What is the Hour of Code? It's a global effort to "celebrate computer science" that has engaged communities all over in one-hour tutorials.  It is held during Computer Science Education Week to recognize "Amazing Grace's" birthday. One of my favorite quotes from Grace Hopper herself: "I've always been more interested in the future than in the past." How fitting a statement to describe the Hour of Code as it inspires our future with the wonders and possibilities of computer science.

A really awesome feature on the Hour of Code site here is the filter tool that allows searching by grade level, teacher experience, student experience, classroom technology available (Android, iPad, no computers and more), topic, activity type, length, and language (blocks, typing, or other).

For those with no computers or devices, it is still possible to teach computer science concepts using unplugged activities that can be found here. These are great ways for students to engage with computational concepts such as algorithms, programming, binary, and more - all without the need of a computer.

Wanting to code with robots? You can go here to find Hour of Code tutorials for Hummingbird, Finch, Dash, and Ozobots.

For resources on how to get involved, #HourOfCode on social media. Go here to find templates for emails, letters, stickers, posters, and flyers to print off to promote and celebrate the Hour of Code in your communities.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Computational Thinking for Educators

It's been a while since I first wrote posts about computational thinking and the resources available since those first posts have grown tremendously. One of my favorite ones for educators is the Computational Thinking for Educators course with Google available here.  While the original course is finished, the modules are still available on the website. Here is a brief video introducing the course:

What I love about it is that it really brings computational thinking (CT)into the world of educators. Through simulations and tasks that participants can interact with, learners see that CT can be applied to various subject areas. For example, in the 'traveling problem,' learners experiment with finding the shortest, most efficient path on an actual Google map with the goal of exploring algorithms. There is the opportunity to explore and find patterns in music using an activity created using Pencil Code. With Turtle geometry, learners have the opportunity to apply CT while finding patterns in geometry. 

 I found this course is an incredible way to not only learn about CT, but to experience it and reflect on how to apply it to my own teaching practice. The final task of the course was to create a lesson plan that integrates CT - in other words, applying the course content to teaching real kids. There is a collection of CT lessons created by educators available here. It is possible to search for the relevant subject area and age range to make it easier to find lesson just right for anyone to use and bring CT to their classroom. CT is truly for everyone, everywhere. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

CS Goes Global

In an increasingly globalized world, it is all the more essential that students not only gain knowledge of world around them, but also gain experiences of engaging global collaboration.  Indeed, global awareness is one of the interdisciplinary themes that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills includes in its framework (P21, 2007).  Specifically, this theme includes not only being able to address global issues, but also engaging in global collaboration with others from diverse cultures (P21, 2007).  The thread of global awareness coupled with the theme of learning and innovation which highlights the imperative to focus on creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication (Larmer, Ross, & Mergendoller, 2009) provides a powerful way to approach research into global collaborative inquiry.  Implicit in this is a focus on students’ ability to work in a creative way with others which emphasizes their ability to be openminded to new ideas while incorporating feedback from others into their work (P21, 2007).  Throughout the collaboration, the students learned to view setbacks as opportunities to grow.  
To address these critical areas surrounding global collaboration I tried to come up with a way to weave into it my passion for computer science education along with computational thinking and creativity.  I ended up partnering students in the United States (US) with students in the Bahamas as they engaged in a global computer science collaboration.  Why computer science and computational thinking?  Computer science is ubiquitous in today’s world where programming, developing makerspaces, and constructing are making their way into homes, schools, and communities.  President Obama recently announced a nationwide statement in support of computer science education for all.  In conjunction with this, 90 of the CEOs of the nation’s most powerful and influential companies recently came together to sign a letter outlining the critical importance of computer science education that was delivered to Congress.  Computer science K-12 education encompasses robotics, programming, and computational thinking platforms.
        Through a mutual friend, I ended up connecting with a school in the Bahamas and got a global computer science collaboration underway between a school in the US and one in the Bahamas. At the same time, I got to work building out a website that both schools could use to guide them through the process. Challenges? I knew there would be many. Opportunities? I knew the potential was there for them to be life-changing for teachers and students involved. Benefits? I knew they would be invaluable.  Collaboration has, in fact, been defined as “the condition that occurs when two or more people or organizations join forces over a  long period to produce something neither can achieve alone” (Freeman, p. 33, 1993).  Figure 1 outlines the process I used to develop and implement the platform for global computer science collaboration.  The first phase involved creating the computer science collaboration website along the supplementary resources such as support videos.  

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 5.46.01 PM.png
The next phase involved visiting with teachers to get user feedback on the website and using the feedback to then revise enhance the collaboration experience.  A critical support was added by creating short instructional videos to show and model how to get started with the coding required by the website.  The videos not only supported the teachers, but also the students.  This kind of explicit support provided helpful guidance as schools engage in digital collaboration (Solem et al., 2003).  
FIGURE 1.  Organization of student and teacher support for CS Goes Global
Along the journey of global collaboration, there were successes, as seen in one of the initial emails from the teacher in the Bahamas:
Hello Janice
It went well thank you the kids are really enjoying it. A couple of them got to number 9. We had a few new faces too which was good. Looking forward to next week.
Many thanks
And then there were challenges, as I knew there would be:
Hi there Janis,
The session went well today...... Was kinda disappointed that only 9 students came though ....... The teachers promised me that they will push it some more and hopefully more kids will come out next week.
Here are some Pics that I took today ..... I'll be sure to take more some time this week.
Talk soon
A major challenge facing schools and teachers who are implementing a new project is the time factor.  Teachers are often limited to covering the scope of their curriculum and in order to take on a global collaboration such as this, it requires clear communication, buy-in, and the cooperation of the teachers themselves.  The lead-collaborator stated the following:
So tell me something now...because I have to convince the computer teacher, the computer science teacher now.  Because you’ve done this before, what approach should I take because computer coding is not part of any curriculum here in the Bahamas.  How am I supposed to ...or what...can you give me some advice?  What should I say to the computer science teacher or what should be an angle I approach it at?  Hey, I want access to your computer science kids...what?  You know, this is not in the curriculum.
In overcoming this challenge, I brainstormed with the lead-collaborator various benefits to global collaboration in general and computer science collaboration specifically:
But really, it’s about kids creating, communicating, collaborating and not just using technology but creating with it and that’s powerful when they can really unleash their imagination and create things, create games, not just play them, you know what I’m saying?  Yeah, so, and it really teaches critical thinking, logical thinking, problem-solving skills and it’s really foundational to a lot of other things.  We live in this age where everyone has a cell phone, everybody has a device, but no one really understands how they work or how to program them, so it’s really an essential literacy.
In strategizing how to talk with the cooperating teacher, the lead collaborator tried to approach it from the perspective of getting the collaboration completed during the school day so as not to occupy extra time outside of school:
That’s going to be my approach when I talk with her tomorrow. My first approach is going to be Let’s find some way to get this done in the school day and then the good thing is that in that school, she’s the only teacher, so it’s not like she has to go talk to someone else about it.  She makes up the whole department so I can ask her and if she’s kind of like hmmm… then I’ll go to the club thing. But my goal is to get it as part of the normal school day.
Another major challenge to consider is to how the communication will occur during the collaboration.  The researcher shared her perspective on this topic:
Okay, just because that’s the initial thing we need to figure out.  How they are going to communicate, how they are going to share information. So I’ve tried different ways and it’s you know, tough, when you don’t have a system in place.  
After reviewing various possibilities with the lead-collaborator from Edmodo to Google Apps for Education, it became clear that creating a custom website for the purpose of this collaboration was the best solution.  In order to maintain communication, we decided to use Google Hangouts as well as email as needed.  
It is inevitable that all sorts of situations may arise.  Everything from failed internet connectivity to firewalled websites could occur.  I've learned it is important to enter collaboration with a flexible and persistent mindset.  In this case, I planned to be online when the coding club was meeting in the Bahamas to be able to troubleshoot and provide immediate support.
  Challenges, yes, but how about the opportunities and benefits to global collaboration? In the words of a district leader I interviewed, he shared the following:
When I went to school, my competition was the kid in the seat next to me, but we are in a mobile and global society so when I say world-class thinkers, I’m talking about kids that are bright and can think with the best of them in the world.  So they can compete globally, but they know how to compete globally in terms of interactivity, globally, so on and so forth, so world-class encompasses quite a bit for me.
From this, it is clear that learning on a global scale is of great importance. He goes on to further outline what global collaboration has the potential to bring to students:
My goal is to set up systems and encourage our educators to incorporate thinking opportunities in the class, critical thinking, innovation, problem solving, creativity, all those things that are so critical so that through that process, they have a better understanding of what they are doing and those thinking skills allow them to apply knowledge too.  Inherently, through the process of thinking.
This statement echoes the feeling from the lead-collaborator in the Bahamas, who has an acute understanding of the benefits that such experiences offer the children on her island.  The experience of global collaboration connects to the Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) in that students see their own as well as others’ perspectives.  
Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011)
As the lead-collaborator stated :
One of the main [benefits] was disintegrating stereotypes, you know, and getting kids, especially kids living in developing countries such as the Bahamas - getting them to be a little bit more exposed to the outside world.  Especially when you live on an island, you tend to think often that this is the world and it's kind of easy to forget that there's a whole huge great big world out there and often times kids from poorer countries don't ever get to experience.
As a result of the type of global collaboration offered by this research, the lead-collaborator shared about the potential to transform students’ learning.  This experience connects to the Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) in the areas of investigating the world and communicating ideas.  Through this US-Bahamas collaboration, they gained a deeper understanding of the world through this interdisciplinary experience of computer science, art, and communication as evidenced by the statement below from the lead-collaborator:
I think it got the kids thinking they got the children thinking about different ways. That you can get something done, get a project completed with people that aren't in the same geographical location as you are which I think is extremely important for 21st century learners and for students that will hopefully one day be able to compete in a global world market from wherever, whatever part of the world they live in.
So, while there are tremendous benefits to global collaboration, it does not come without its set of unique challenges.  It is critical to plan out in detail how communication will occur throughout the process both synchronously and asynchronously (Lindsay & Davis, 2012).  I've learned that even with detailed planning prior to the actual collaboration, it's important to be flexible throughout the process as plans may need to be adjusted.  
While challenging, global collaboration yields tremendous benefits.  The global aspect provided opportunities for their students’ views to be expanded while the computer science aspect of it afforded them the opportunity to create with technology and express themselves in a unique way while sharing and communicating their ideas with a global student partner.


"Framework for 21st Century Learning - P21." Framework for 21st Century Learning -

P21. N.p., 2007. Web. 07 May 2016.

Freeman, R. E. (1993). Collaboration, global perspectives, and teacher education. Theory
into Practice, 32(1), 33-39.
Larmer, J., Ross, D., & Mergendoller, J. (2009). PBL starter kit. Buck Institute for Education.

Lindsay, J., & Davis, V. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds: Move to
global collaboration one step at a time. Pearson Higher Ed.

Mansilla, V., & Jackson, A. (2011). Educating for global competence. New York, NY:

Asia Society.

Solem, M. N., Bell, S., Fournier, E., Gillespie, C., Lewitsky, M., & Lockton, H. (2003).
Using the Internet to support international collaborations for global geography
education. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 27(3), 239-253.

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?