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?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Make-your-own-adventure in VR

Virtual reality (VR) is on the verge of gaining a foothold in schools thanks to affordable viewers like Google Cardboard. And with more VR apps appearing every day, it’s likely that immersive VR expeditions will eventually become an engaging way for students to explore everything from historical landmarks, distant planets, oceanic locations to the human body.

But VR can go beyond passive viewing. One way to take VR to the next level is to give students the opportunity to curate, produce and create their own expeditions. By doing so, students create primary source artifacts in the form of 360-degree views they can share with the world.

After an amazing day of traveling all over the universe with Google Expeditions, I wanted my students to be able to do more than have these experiences. I wanted them to create these types of expeditions for themselves and others. Now, using the Google Street View app, they can create their own 360-degree panoramas of any location.

5 steps to creating a VR expedition

To help students create their own expeditions, all you need is a smartphone or tablet with the Google Street View app and Google cardboard headset. Here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Have students open up the Google Street View app on their devices.  
Step 2: Next they will click on “+” to take a photosphere.
Step 3: After selecting a location, they can take a photosphere, or 360-degree panoramic photo, by pointing at and following the series of yellow dots that appear as they move the camera around to capture a 360-degree view of their location. Be sure to tell them to move their device up, down, left and right. This will ensure the most immersive experience.
Step 4: After students take their photos in Google Street View, the image will appear in the gallery with the rest of their photos. Now it’s time to publish their photosphere to Google Maps.
Step 5: Clicking on any photo brings up the Google Cardboard icon in the upper right corner of the screen. They should set their phone into the the cardboard or other viewer case to see the image as an VR immersive experience.

Classroom applications are endless
As an educator, my goal is to get my students creating with technology. With VR, the possibilities are enormous. I have students research a location, artifact or landmark and then create an expedition that they share with others simply by posting their photosphere. This is the perfect opportunity for students to engage in reading for a purpose and then synthesizing what they have read into an informative piece of writing that goes along with their VR expedition.

Students can also view spheres that people all over the world have taken and published to Google Maps. Simply enter a search term by clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the upper left corner of the app for the location they want to see. It will bring up a collection of images of that particular place.

Using these panoramas, students can study the Colosseum up close, analyze the structure of the Eiffel Tower from all angles and delve into the amazing history of the Taj Mahal. Students can pull up a panorama of the floor of the Borneo rainforest and make observations and inferences based on what they see in the image. It is even possible to go into the White House and take a virtual tour of the Red Room, Blue Room and more.

Having an enhanced view of the world through these panoramas leads to rich qualitative observations and sparks lively discussions about the world around us. Students can collaborate in groups to create a comparative study of architecture from around the world and then practice their communication skills to present their findings to their classmates.  

They can also launch discussion in science or social studies class.  For example, students can pull up a panorama of the floor of the Cave on Lokrum in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  They can then make observations and inferences based on what they see. Getting an insider’s look into CERN, a.k.a, the European Center for Nuclear Research is definitely a rich educational experience.

Being able to collect, curate, and share panoramas to create VR expeditions is really the new make-your-own-adventure, taking you and your students anywhere in the world.

Want to learn more about using Google Cardboard in the classroom? Read "Google Expeditions offers stunning field trips without leaving school," a guide to help you choose the right materials and tools you'll need to offer immersive activities in your classroom.