So, the FCC killed Net Neutrality yesterday, and it sucks. The FCC Net Neutrality standards have been what has kept the internet fair and equal for the last few years, and that's all about to die. As soon as Donald Trump was elected, we knew this was coming. Donald Trump is ALL about deregulating and putting power in the hands of corporations. The argument is that companies need to deregulate to afford the cost of innovation, but in reality, its also so they can reap the profits. The biggest issue with this is they did it to a set of corporations were building a startup is impossible and they are universally hated by most Americans. Even with that, they are a necessary evil to be part of the modern world. Who are these hated corporations? They are Internet Service Providers (ISP's), and now they have all the power.
Real basically, Net Neutrality is a rule put in place by the Obama administration that prevents ISP's from making decisions that affect what you access on the Internet. Some of the things prevented by the Net Neutrality rules include massive price hikes on broadband service, pay lanes where a web-based service can pay an ISP for faster speeds, prioritizing services that the ISP may own, blocking services or news that the ISP may not like, and other ways that just prevent the freedom of the internet.
Eliminating these rules put all the power in the hands of companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile, and the few others that can compete at the ISP level. The argument for the end of Net Neturality os that these ISP's need the end in of regulation to innovate, but do you know what innovate means to them? At best, an ISP is a pipe that connects us to the internet. They can make that pipe faster, and all of them were ALREADY doing that. Ending Net Neutrality was going to do nothing to change that. It's all about the money.
It all comes down to the fact that these ISP's want to be more than pipes, and they want to rake in the money that comes with being more. You can just look at the slimy tactics that all of them are taking at the moment to ensure that you use them, but that also allows them to charge higher prices while also making money from the real innovators, developers.
All of the major ISP's are making moves to buy media companies. The purchase of media companies allows them to give you that content for free, but there is nothing to say that they won't raise your broadband price using that material as justification. They can also charge on the other end. Developers that they don't own now will have to pay the ISP a fee to ensure that their site is not throttled. Some examples of these purchases: Comcast bought NBC/Universal, AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner (which gives them control of HBO), and Verizon has purchased both AOL and Yahoo.
Let's take AT&T as an example. AT&T is trying to push a purchase of Time Warner through government regulators. When it happens, it means that AT&T can offer all of their customers HBO for free, but it does not say they won't raise your overall price in the future using that perk as justification. Whose one of HBO's biggest content competitors? Netflix. For Netflix, the end of Net Neutrality means that they may have to pay AT&T a fee to ensure that AT&T does not throttle the speed of their service. On top of that, AT&T can charge the consumer to ensure that you see Netflix in the highest video quality.
The worst of the bunch though maybe Verizon. Verizon has continuously been the one that has pushed for the end of Net Neutrality, and their content plan is a bit different. While Yahoo does have some content pieces, it is also one of the biggest advertisement networks on the internet. Google and Facebook have built empires off of targeted add networks, and Verizon purchased AOL/Yahoo to get in on it. I would be frightened if I was a Verizon customer at this point. It feels like lots of targeted ads and other Verizon garbage are coming.
To me, the ISP's are some of the worst companies on the planet, and at this point, we are stuck with them. Being an ISP takes significant infrastructure spending, and it takes considerable work with governments in order use telephone polls and dig up ground to lay wire. It's also just going to get worse. With the end of Net Neutrality, these companies are only going to get bigger making it even harder to compete. Basically, we are stuck with companies we all hate, and they can take advantage of us even more.
You know what our best solution is at this point? It is more competition, and there are only a handful of companies that have both the innovative spirit and money to be able to do it. Who are those companies? Well, it's the big boys in technology Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook.
I know what your thinking. Why give the big boys more power, and didn't Google Fiber fail? My answers: because I trust them more than the ISP and yes it failed, but it could succeed.
Why should we give the big boys more power? Well, to start their slime (except at times Facebook) is currently less than the ISP's. It also brings more competition to the space, and the big boys could optimize their devices to network connections at a low cost. I am not saying we need to get rid of the ISP's. Put them in a position where they have to innovate or they day. The competition also lowers cost to the consumer.
The other thing to consider here is didn't Google Fiber fail. The answer to that is Yes, but they went the hardcore way of laying cable. This increased their cost exponentially, and it meant they had to have government partnerships to make things work. That failure means that the way for these companies to go is NOT wired. These five companies are some of the most innovative in the world, and it's time for them to do that. For them to join the ranks of the ISP's, they need a technology that allows them to deliver a signal without adverse health effects at a low cost. Twenty years ago we would not have imagined that the smartphone era would be upon us, why can't this be a new goal.
Why would the five big boys want to do this? All of them have taken or are beginning to take Apple's lead with a closed loop on their devices. Why would they not want to add to that closed loop by taking control of the actual network? It would allow them to maximize their device to those network settings, and it would allow them to deliver targeted advertisements through that network. Obviously, the cost is high, but they are the companies who actually have the money to do it. If they come up with a new way to deliver signal that doesn't require digging and government, they can lower the current cost by a bunch.
To sum it all up, the end of Net Neutrality sucks, and all it does is give some of the worst corporations in the US more money. At this point, the only way to ensure things don't get super crazy is to figure out a way to add competition to them. The only companies that have the power and money to do that at this point are the big five (Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon). I hate giving them more influence, but I would much rather depend on them then At&t, Comcast, and Verizon. If anything, it gives you five competitors to the four that are currently in the ISP market. In reality, it's not the best answer, but we can't depend on the government to come up with a good one.
So, let's start this post out by saying I am an Apple nerd through and through. I think their devices are well made, well designed, and I am so deep in my love of MacOS that I don't see myself ever changing. The other thing that will continue to tie me to the Apple ecosystem is how well their devices work together. I can't imagine having devices from different companies and not having things cross over from my various devices like iMessage, AirDrop, and Universal cut and paste.
With that being said, I know the new MacBook Pro's (late 2016 models) have taken some heat for their design. Haters look at them and don't like the keyboard, the lack of slots, the battery life, the giant trackpad, and I have heard a host of other complaints. In fact, my favorite tech podcast, the VergeCast, routinely talks about buying a new computer yet skipping this generation of MacBook, and that is from a crew that traditionally uses Macbooks.
I can see their point of view on a few of the complaints. I LOVE this MacBook Pro! It's everything I was looking for on a computer, and it has some new tricks up its sleeve that make me like it more and more every day. After being on it for a few months, I thought I would take this blog post to write what basically amounts to a review. If you are thinking of buying a new laptop and considering the new MacBook Pro's, this post is for you.
I think a right starting place is to tell you what I use it for. As many of my blog readers know, I am an Education Technology Specialist with Kennesaw State Iteach. Our group is a group of instructional technology coaches that work out in the field with teachers. With this job, I need a machine I am comfortable building and delivering presentations on, something I can communicate with, and something I can use to co-plan and build technology-rich resources and lessons. What I don't need is something that does heavy photo editing, video production, or coding. I use all of those tools from time to time, but I don't get so thick that I am connecting cameras, hard drives, or I am trying to type terminal commands. What I am trying to say is that for my use case, this laptop is fantastic. That may not be the way for everyone else.
With the new MacBook Pro's, you have your choice of 3 basic models. There is a 13 inch without the TouchBar, a 13 inch with the TouchBar (this is the one I have), and a 15 inch with a TouchBar. I chose the 13 inch with the TouchBar because I believe in the TouchBar concept and because I want something portable. The 15 inch is just too big to be an on the go laptop.
Let's start this off by talking about the design. It's not a significant change from the metal bodies of previous MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs. The laptop looks great, and the darker colors available make it stand out even more. The one thing on the outside aesthetics that I miss though is the glowing Apple logo on the outside. That was just a cool aesthetic that made Apple Apple, and it does not make much sense as a design change. The only thing I can think of is that the actual internal components of the screen prevent it, or it could be Jony Ive is just nuts.
The one thing I really like about the design though is the size. I had been working off a MacBook Air for a couple of years, and I had grown to love the small stature of the device. This machine gives me the same little stature with the insides of a MacBook Pro. I like that.
With the screen, I am by no means a screen snob. I am not one of those nerds who is obsessed with resolution and HD. I want a beautiful screen, but I also want a practical screen. I can genuinely say this is the first laptop where the screen was noticeably impressive. Apple is going somewhere with their Nits obsession.
The next thing to look at is what's on the opposite side of the screen in the clamshell, and that includes the TouchBar, Keyboard, and mouse pad. The keyboard is something that is a mild annoyance, but I have gotten used to it. Apple is obsessed with taking the travel out of the keys. That is the amount a key depresses when you push it. If you change it, it changes the way people type. They tried to make it almost no travel with the 2015 MacBooks, and they faced backlash for it. They have been attempting to find the happy medium with this machine, and as I said earlier, it's a mild annoyance. The keys travel just fine, but they are loud! Once you get past the sound though, you get used to it real quick.
The mouse pad is giant, but I don't have many issues with it. It might because my fingers are a bit longer and I can rest on the sides, but I have had little to no problems with it reading my palm as its resting. The one issue I have had though is that dragging has become a bit tougher. At times, I have to use a three-finger gesture to do it, and that is just not practical. Hopefully, Apple can fix that at some point with software.
Then, of course, there is the most talked about add, the TouchBar. Basically, the idea is that they replaced the function keys with a touchscreen to add more functions. My overall impression is that it could be much better, but at this point I like it. The main reason I love it, is it helps me as a presenter. I present out of Keynote, and it lets me go to any slide with just a simple touch. It also allows me to control Spotify while Keynote is playing which I love. I don't have to do that awkward switch over to turn it off.
Presenting is my primary use of the TouchBar, but I do like other things. Having a trash icon where I don't have to right click is also great. The TouchBars could be so much better though. If more apps su[ported it, it could be amazing as a way to pull the standard functions people use out. I know its a pipe dream, but I use some Mac store apps to give me access to Google Calendar, Gmail, and Drive. If those apps supported the TouchBar, it would be AMAZING.
The next thing to discuss with hardware is ports. With the ports, Apple did what Apple does. They adopted a new standard and people have struggled with it. All of this Macbooks ports are USB-C ports. I have heard many struggles with the fact that it does not have things like an SD card slot or regular USB for all of the components folks have already purchased.
I love the USB-C ports. I think it's the future, and I believe component makers will eventually get caught up. I am also someone who does not plug in tons of components or by a whole bunch of third-party components. I love the fact that all the ports are the same. I can plug my charger into any of them, and it works. I can connect my HDMI and VGA dongles into any of them, and they work. It makes it much easier to organize cables. I also think it charges a bit faster.
The one thing that is a bit annoying is the fact that the standards ports are different on IOS. Both my HDMI and VGA dongle have USB ports, so I can always plug in external components that way. What I wish I had was a better way to connect my IOS devices without having to buy new cables. Apple is usually fantastic at things crossing over, but I think the difference of ports presents an issue. My guess is that the MacBook will connect more and more with IOS devices wirelessly.
The last thing to discuss it the battery. I know some folks have also had issues with that, but I have found the battery to be good. It is quite a bit better than my Air was. I also love the fact that I can now charge it with external batteries. The machine pulls so much juice that plugging into a battery won't improve your percentage much, but it will give you bit more time to finish something. All you have to do is get a USB-C battery or get a USB to USB-C cord. I love Anker products, and they will always be my choice to fill this.
I think overall it comes down to Apple making some interesting choices. Some of them panned out, and some of them did not. I think people are always tied to the familiar, and when you make big choices, you risk upsetting those folks. I also think this machine is a little bit of a let down for a particular group. For instance, if you are a photographer the lack of an SD slot is an issue. Many time those folks are the loudest voices.
For me this machine is incredible. It gives me the power of a Pro with the form factor an Air. That makes it worth it from Day 1. The TouchBar has also added functions that help my presentation flow. For me, the price of the machine is worth it (even though I did not pay for it). You just have to decide if that price is worth it to you.
What are using the technology for? That's the open question classroom's today. Many schools and district are filling their classes with laptops and other technology, but how schools are using those devices is different in almost every district and classroom you go in. Many are using the devices at a very low level, and the benefit is just not evident. To get that benefit, we need to up the anty, and the best way to do that is to use our classrooms to teach skills for the future.
So, what skill can help prepare students for the future and can also be part of almost any curriculum? Several answers might fit, but for this blog post, we are going to focus on coding. Coding is an essential skill. It's a skill that almost guarantees a job. It's a skill that nearly every modern business needs, and if you look at the five big companies of tech's job boards it becomes super evident. All of them have hundreds of engineering jobs that remain open because they can't find the folks who have the skills.
This post is going to be one of a couple of posts. Coding is just like learning a foreign language. It becomes easier the younger you start, and if that's the case, why not start with pre-readers! Yes, you read that right. You can start coding with kids as little as pre-school.
If so, how do we do that? It all starts with the coding concept of putting in a digital input and getting out a digital output. For pre-readers, that goes down two paths: drawing lines or punching in arrow combinations. Both hit on the concept that a user inputs some commands to get an electronic response. Thankfully, there are significant tools for both!
The Top 5 Coding Options for Pre-Readers
1. Dash Robots (makewonder.com)
Unlike some other robotics companies, Wonder Workshop is the one that is focused on education and computer science. They are also the only coding robot in my mind that is a complete thought. They hit the pre-reader category all through their companion app Path, but there is also more coming on that front.
Dash is a Blue robot built on what looks like three circular module constructed together with another circular module on top. The module on top has an eye that gives the robot life by making it a character! Dash has a load of sensors within it that make it responsive, it has sound, and it has several apps that allow you to control all of its character and movements through joysticks, linear coding, and block coding.
It's the linear coding that makes it a standout robot for pre-readers, and that all happens through the Path app. Path allows users to draw lines to make the robot go, and then they can drag specific effects icons into the track to make the robot respond. This gives kids practice both inputting a command and having an electronic output as well as adding other commands that can then help them transition to block coding.
2. BeeBots (bee-bot.us)
There are several different versions of coding robots out there that work on arrow commands, but my favorite is the Bee-Bots. They are a bit more expensive than ones like the Blue Mouse, but the hassle of changing batteries in those compared to the Bee-Bots rechargeable battery makes the Bee-Bots worth it.
Bee-Bots very simply are little robots shaped like a bee with arrows at the top. Pre-Readers simply punch in the commands and hit go. The Bee-Bot then will follow whatever commands the student has punched in.
The power of these comes from what you can put under them. You can have tracks, mats, number lines, and a host of other learning materials that can make pre-reader learning content standout. They are also helping kids learn coding concepts by having them input a command and then watching the Bee-Bot do it. To prepare them for block coding, have them string a couple of commands together.
3. Kodable (kodable.com)
Getting software right for pre-readers to learn coding is not easy. It's much easier to hold their interest when there is a tangible way for a child to play. The software also has to be the right combination of learning activity and child-friendly, which can be a hard mix to achieve. There are tons of coding sites out there, but to me, it seems the only software site to get it right is Kodable.
Kodable is a level based directional coding site that asks kids to get what amounts to a cute furball through a course. Kids complete the task by putting the right combination of arrows in to tell the little furball which way to move. It teaches kids coding through the input of commands and having to solve if you made a mistake.
4. Osmo Coding (playosmo.com)
There are two Osmo coding sets, and for pre-readers, I like Coding a little better than Coding Jam. Osmo plays right into using tangible play for pre-readers to learn, and Osmo Coding can even become the first step to the next level of block coding.
The Osmo is a stand for an Ipad with a piece that goes over the Ipad's front-facing camera. That piece reflects whatever you do in front of the stand on a table to the camera. The Ipad then gives you feedback on what you are doing.
Coding uses little bricks to input actions that tell the character of Awbie where to move on the screen. The goal is for Awbie to both finish the level and get as many strawberries as possible. Most of the bricks correspond to some time of movement (like a walking step or jump step, have arrows to tell Awbie the direction to go, and can be completed multiple times based on adding a number to the brick.
This is great for pre-readers because once you give them a small tutorial, they should be able to get Awbie moving quickly. All the bricks are pictures and arrows, so there is no reading required, but by doing this they are learning some the principals of block coding that will let them move to the next level.
5. No Tech
One of the most significant concepts of coding is putting in some command input and getting some command output. For a pre-reader to learn this idea, they don't necessarily need technology. You can do it with just people!
The idea is to make an obstacle course. Then you blindfold one student. Another student then becomes there programmer as they verbally say commands to get them through the obstacle course. They input the arrow commands by merely verbalizing them! It's the first step in coding, and sometimes we just don't have the technology to make it happen!
I meant to write this post in July, but with all the stuff revolving around the new school year, it just has not happened. Oh well, there is no time like the present! This summer showed me a power of technology first hand, and I wanted to make sure I shared it out!
This past summer my summer was filled with maker camps. I was the main driving force behind four different camps both in the Atlanta area, south of Macon GA, and in Alabama. These camps are structured around giving kids the opportunity to make and create using robotics, crafts, circuits, and more.
When you get a camp like this, your first goal is to get students to learn something new. The second goal is to have fun. When you think about it, those should be the same goals of schools! If we accomplish those two things, the camp will be a success!
The one thing you know can happen, but there is really no way to prepare for is getting kids to your camps who have special needs. We experienced it first hand with at least three kids between our two camps at the end of June who fell somewhere on the autism spectrum. What makes that tough, is there is no background on the student. We were figuring it out on the fly, and as we all know there are many different forms and levels of autism that affect a students ability to learn.
The amazing thing is we had tools and experiences built right into what we're doing that all three students were not only able to do, but they also excelled at. Those items got us to our most important goals with those students: learn something and have fun! It was an eye opening experience!
One of the most useful tools we had with those students were our Osmos. Osmo is an awesome platform for learning that uses software and the camera on the Ipad to provide feedback to students as they work with tactile objects in front of the screen. They have games that teach vocabulary, math, financial, problem-solving, and a host of other skills. The beauty of this is that it's not just a traditional quiz based personalized learning platform. There are real world tasks to do, with real objects, which give you multiple ways to get to the same answer.
It was an incredible tool for our autistic students. It allowed them to learn with authentic play in a way that worked for them. One of my favorite things to watch was those students playing Pizza Co. Pizza Company is a game that requires the user to make a pizza that suits a customer (which appears on the Ipad screen), and then give them the required change. Think about the benefit here. You are having students who struggle with social cues practice in a way that they won't be judged or feel threatened. On top of that, they are learning an essential life skill.
Are there other tools that would fit these students? Absolutely! Seeing the benefit that these students took from Osmo just makes want to design more activities for them. This experience opened my eyes even more to the power of authentic play and creation, and I just want to keep the push going!
So, I have had some experiences recently that have really driven home an educational need. I have known this to be a need for several years now, but because of my background, I did not think I would be able to fill it. I know I am not the only one with a lack of confidence though. What is this need? It's the ability to teach computer science in more than just specialized classes, and hopefully, through some of the projects outlined in this post, we might be able to give teachers the confidence to do just that.
I think to start we need to realize what kind of gap we have right now in our schools. Computer Science is in many American schools, but it is in specialized classes. In many of those schools, those classes still have a stigmatism preventing many students from signing up. If core teachers are teaching coding, often it is just as an extra thing. Neither approach is going to be effective in changing the status quo, and that is a change we desperately need.
Schools should be about preparing students for the future, but in reality, we are barely developing them for now. We focus our time on preparing them for a business world that is transitioning. As a country, we are moving from an area that was all about industrial production to an era that has the US leading in consumer technology. You can see it through the fact that consumer technology companies are now the two most valuable. The issue is that these companies and many other can't fill their current jobs. Many times they turn to other countries because the education systems are putting more emphasis on it. That's a shame, and that's something we must change.
The issue that is if it's just in a computer science class, we won't reach enough students (unless that is a requirement for everyone). As much as we hate to say it, there is also still a stigmatism about the types of students that take those classes in many places.
All this is well in good, but how do we change course? I believe the answer is getting computer science activities and curriculum into our regular core classes. We need to use coding as a way to create and as a way to teach standards based concepts. Without the connection to standards, you just plain won't get enough teachers to adopt it.
I think if you asked most teachers if computer science was important, most would say yes. If you followed up by asking if they used concepts, most would say no. This all comes down to confidence. It has just been in recent times that we have had teachers enter the workforce who grew up with consumer electronics as a big part of their lives. It's been even more recent for those who grew up with the internet as a big part of their lives. It means teachers have just plain not learned something like coding, and it can be scary.
I know for me until recently it was scary. I understand that it was important and I could some what do block coding, but getting past that was learning a whole new language. Thankfully, I had a group who sat with me and taught what I needed at the Raspberry Pi Academy, but not all teachers will have that.
That's why today, I am using this post to announce the opening of corecs.tech. The goal of the site is to be an easy to use lesson plan library filled with computer science lessons that can be used to teach core standards. My personal goal is to start working through Georgia standards to fill out the site, and I hope that others can start helping me with other states.
I hope that this can be a one stop shot for core teachers to at least try a lesson based on their standards with computer science. I think establishing confidence is the key to movement, and I know it took me A WHILE!
Whoa, Nelly!! Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Raspberry Picademy in Boise, Idaho, and it was the most helpful learning experience I have had in a long time. It was one of those learning experiences that had my mind RACING, and I think it's been YEARS since that has happened.
So, why did I go? In the past two years, my job at iTeach has become more and more associated with the maker movement. As the maker movement has become more and more prevalent in schools, it has become more and more of an interest of mine. It's something that I NEEDED badly in school, and in the past year, I have had been able to bring it to kids through visits to schools, camps, and more.
Part of our collection of tools at iTeach has included Raspberry Pis. For a while, I have been tinkering with them to try and get a few things started with them. I got as far as changing the OS to make it a RetroPie gaming system. I knew there had to be more, and it led me to apply to the Raspberry Picademy.
What I learned is that I have not even scratched the surface of what the thing can do. I also learned that I can code! Learning both an electronic platform and how to code in two days was intense, and I just wish I could have more time.
The first thing we did was get that first LED on. It all starts with using a bread board and connecting the Pi to it. I have seen breadboards before, but honestly, they have intimidated me. The Raspberry Picademy made this easy. They walked us step by step through the process and code, and I was able to get both lights and a button up quickly! There are so many uses for it! Just with that the Raspberry Pi can be used as the brains for a bunch of electronics projects
The bread board was just the start though as the next step was adding the camera to the Raspberry Pi. This component was a fantastic addition. The camera can take both pictures and video, it can do stop motion, and it even has filters. You can do amazing projects with this as it can become things like spy cameras, animal cameras, picture booths, and so much more. I think it's also a great project to get kids started as the coding is not involved, and they see a result quickly.
Then it was time to add some hats. I did not even know that Raspberry Pi had hats. The hats are basically add on boards that give you tons of other functions. The first hat we added was the SenseHat. The SenseHat added both an LED screen and a bunch of sensors. This allows you to do reactive projects where you can use the sensors and then have some type of digital reaction. That digital result could also lead to a physical one if you hook up motors. This gives you a host of possibilities in almost any content area.
The other hat we explored was the Explorer Hat, and this was all about movement. There are a bunch of different things and buttons that come with the Explorer Hat, but we stayed in the realm of using the motors. Off of that, we were tasked with creating an invention in 15 minutes. My group decided to try to do what amounts to football jugs machine for paper planes (two motors rotating tightly together to get a push). While we weren't entirely successful (it worked but did not push the aircraft far), I think the point was to show us that you could;d do this activity quickly with just a small entry into the needed code. Honestly, for me, this helped me gain confidence in my ability to right real code to make a device work.
Finally, our learning on day one concluded with Sonic Pie. Let's just say I need more practice. Sonic Pie is software that allows you to code music to play from the Raspberry Pi, and frankly, it's way out of my comfort zone. I understood the Python code going into it, but it requires you to know musical notes. I am not very versed in musical notes, and so that part is a bit of a struggle. I do however appreciate knowing it is there and knowing the basics. I think if I have a kid who is versed in music, IU can make Raspberry Pi come alive for them.
The second day was all about getting in a group and building a project. From my standpoint, this was a bit tough. My ideas went less to what I could build and more to how I was going to both present on Raspberry Pi and how I was going to offer it with all of our maker curriculum. That means the project idea phase will come down to the KIDS! When it came down to it, I joined a group, and we just brainstormed. What we came up with was using the SenseHat as a random compliment generator with fireworks and compliments on the LCD that are set to music. I think what was amazing about it is there could be so many off shoots. You could build it into mirrors in school bathrooms, a teacher could use it as a pick me up, or you could even manipulate it to being more of a behavior chart device for students.
I think the biggest thing I took away from Picademy was the possibilities. Computer Science does not have to be in specialized courses in schools because we are in the era of digital making. Students can make almost anything tied to their standards for less than $100. I think with a little help from a monitor, mouse, and keyboard; you could even make these students full on computer. Most things are in the cloud now, so why not give them a computer that can also use to build something new. Really, the need for computer science education is here, so why not build it in EVERYWHERE!
Now that I have had a chance to get back to the blog, I naturally think about the start of the school year. This year is unusual for me because I have moved into a role that is very specialized which means the first month of school is off limits to many of the partners I work with. It means after a crazy summer; August can turn into the summer months where I have some time to reflect and some time to build new content. Well, the new content is coming, but this blog is all about reflection, and to tell the story of where I am it all starts with an administrator.
I have always prided myself on being a good teacher, but just like any teacher, I spent my first few years finding my way. I started my career up in Virginia so that I could get married to my beautiful wife. With that start, I did not have the protection of an administrator who knew me previously and was willing to mentor me. I had administrative supervisors who tended to bully teachers into conforming, and when I came up with new ideas, it trended towards a skeptical eye. It was a tough time that I thankfully got through with some of the best coaching years of my life. It made me think that if I were ever an administrator, I would always treat new teachers with respect and love. If a teacher does not want to get better that's one thing, but if they are putting everything they can into it, it makes sense to help them build into something more. Hopefully, if you are an administrator reading this, that's your way of thinking. If not, hopefully, you can move that way.
My next stop in my career was at Wheeler High School in Cobb County., Georgia Thankfully, at Wheeler I had some protection from administrators knowing my family or me, so it gave me some room to grow and try new ideas. The issue became though is up until my last year there, I lacked that mentorship relationship. I was not a problem, so my supervising conferences tended to be check the boxes conferences mostly. There was very little collaboration on what could take my teaching practices to the next level.
Thankfully, in my last year that changed when I changed supervisors to a man named Bob Downs. That year, it became apparent to me that I had an administrator who understood the technology side of teaching and the power behind student creation. With the knowledge that he got it, I proposed getting several MacBook computers to take creation to another level. He found them, and then he gave me room to use them. For that, I will be forever grateful.
My time at Wheeler taught me to make supervising teachers a collaboration. All good teachers out there are constantly looking for new ideas to improve their practice. Most become so busy that they appreciate just the old pat on the back evaluation, and they don't even realize they are missing the collaborative feedback. It does not have to be an adversarial relationship, and I became that teacher who realized I need the collaboration in my next stop.
My final stop before joining the Kennesaw State iTeach team was at North Atlanta High School, and I had the best supervisor I ever had in Laura Brazil. One of the reasons I left Wheeler for North Atlanta was the technology that would be available to me. The only thing I did not know was what the administration would thing of practices that were starting to move away from the high school norm.
Thankfully, Ms. Brazil was an administrator who just plain got it. I remember many of conference and talk with her that started with "I loved what you did here, but have you ever thought..." To me, it meant a collaboration. She was open to my ideas but also had ideas that really helped me because she got what I was trying to do. I can't ever thank her enough because she gave me that room to grow and experiment.
It did not stop there. Ms. Brazil was the one who encouraged me to get out in the ed tech community. She was the one who encouraged me to join the districts teacher tech team, get out there and speak at GAETC, and get out there and share what I was doing. I can honestly say, that my career would not be where it is today without her. She was that administrator who changed things for me.
I think when you look at administration many look it as a running business. Some folks even see it as having to be a ruthless business.
That's just not true. Administration should be just as a teacher in a classroom. It is a collaborative relationship where you can both learn from each other, and your job as an administrator is to help those teachers grow. My hope is that in the new school year we can have administrators that don't bully and that don't just check the boxes. It should be always be all about collaboration.
Well, this blog has been neglected, hasn't it? It's not for lack of want to. It's simply been a lack of time because of my summer of making. My cup has been filled all summer long running maker camps, and I think this is a great forum to discuss what those camps look like, what we learned, and what the future holds.
The first camp that I led was the on campus middle school maker camp for Kennesaw State University iTeach. This camp was a first for us at iTeach, but in the long run, I think it was an incredible experience. Last summer we did an elementary camp, so a middle school camp was a big step.
Thankfully, with the camp, we had a great group of students! They loved doing things like building Hummingbird robots, Bloxels games, and Little Bits inch worms. What was amazing is that we could give them a project, and then it turned into watching them go. As they got deeper into projects, you could see their imagination at play, and you could see the benefit projects like the ones mentioned above had on students. I wish groups of middle school teachers could see the students reactions. We might have better middle school curriculum!
My next camp was a twofer in Cobb County. We had both a maker camp going on at the same time as we presented a maker space to their summer STEM conference. I spent most of my time with the maker space to talk with teachers about iTeach support in schools, and I left the camp in the hands of one of my most trusted colleagues. From everything I could tell, the camp went incredibly well, and we were lucky enough to have all kinds of teachers come through our space and experience some of the activities we could offer in our mobile maker lab. I think the only thing I would change would be to have the camp and the maker space next to each other. If they were, teachers would be able to see what a difference a maker culture makes.
Even with those two camps out of the way, the biggest two were yet to come. They were the two full weeks of out of town maker camps in July. The first occurred in Wheeler County Schools in Georgia, and the second was at Forest Hills Elementary in Florence, Alabama. They were two very different camps, but both were successful in their own right.
The first camp was the one in Wheeler County. This camp saw us do both the elementary age group for 3 hours and the middle school age group for 3 hours. We had kids doing all sorts of projects including coding with Dash, building chariots, making Bloxels games, Green screen projects, and more. The middle school students also added projects like building Hummingbird robots. The kids loved the camp (many had not had chances to work with robots yet), but I think in the future I would add some more structure to this camp.
Because our numbers were below 20 in each version of the camp, we gave them free maker time. This meant students could go where they wanted, and what we found is this caused a massive bounce around effect. Students who had little experience with tools like 3Doodler, Little Bits, Bloxels, and others were not super willing to put in the effort to learn what they did. I think in the future, I would make them do more of a station rotation the first few days to understand the possibilities of what they can create, and that making takes time.
My last camp of the summer was the biggest and the scariest to plan. It was in Florence, Alabama, for Elementary, and there were 70 kids in the camp! The big number forced my hand into making the camp the station rotation that we needed in Wheeler County, and it worked great! The idea was that students got to participate in a project that everyone did in the morning, and then in the afternoon, they got a station rotation between many different projects. The first couple of days they had to go to the station assigned, but by the end of the week, they got to choose!
We had all kinds of stations Osmo, Finch Robot drawing, Dash Paths, Breakout, 3Doodler, Crafty Stations, Coding Robots for the Younger Ones (BeeBots and Code-a-pillar), and much more. One of our most successful stations though was the one that had been staring us in the face for a long time that we had never done. For many of the camps, we had played a video for inspiration called Caine's Arcade. The basic concept is that a little boy made a full arcade set of games in the front of his dad's store. We had never let students build those games, and it finally hit me that it would be a good idea. The kids loved it! The only thing that I need to do differently next time with it is have more cardboard!
I think our biggest challenge in the camp was chaperones. To save on cost for the school, we only brought two coaches from iTeach, and the school provided the rest of the chaperones. Just like anything, we had some that were incredible, while others we could have gotten a little more out of. I think in the end, that rests on me. Our biggest need for counselors was in the afternoon at the station rotation. There were several stations where we needed them to be at the station and offer a brief explanation. In the future, I need to have my stations decided way in advance, have tutorial videos for them to watch before our arrival, and have them assigned to a station that they can go in deeper with the kids. It's one of those where you learn by doing!
The other learning experience that benefited our future work was knowing which stations kids are interested in and which ones they aren't. With a camp as big as the one in Alabama was, we got to throw a bunch of things at the wall. Some stuck, while others didn't. The audience we had, had been exposed to some coding and robotics especially as they moved into older grades. It made things like drawing with the Finch robots somewhat boring, but it meant that something like the Kano computer kit was incredibly popular. I think in the future, we need to get an understanding of what kids have already been exposed to and structure our stations from that.
Overall, I think there are some key concepts that any teacher or media specialist can take from our experiences, and that is the whole reason for me to write this post.
Those key concepts
If you are interested in having a camp next year, see below!
As an Education Technology Specialist and someone who loves sharing out to the broader education technology community, you have to things that allow you to communicate your message. You have to have places where you can exchange ideas and put yourself out there. To do it, though, you need some great tools. This blog is meant to showcase the ones that I use consistently in my work. I love them all, but if you find just one that works for you, it makes this blog worth it!
Now you may be reading this and thinking, "Well I am just a teacher." That does not mean you don't have anything to share. Many of the best ideas, resources, and tools come from teachers who tried something cool in their class, so maybe this will help you to get that idea out there.
I think you could also look at this regarding your classroom. The easiest way to get in good with your parents is to be good at public relations. All of these tools can be great ways for you to communicate with parents and let them know what's going on in your class. You could even use them as the basis for your student digital hub.
My 3 Favorites
I am a massive fan of this app. It's an Ipad only app, but it is my absolute go to for video production. It's one of the apps I still use consistently, and both my successful Google Innovative Educator video and my hopeful Apple Distinguished Educator video were both made on this tool.
The idea behind this tool is to bring video and the web together. It does that by first giving you a secure video platform to record, and recording is as easy as pressing the record button. I have found the video quality to be pretty good, and if you use a mic plugged into the headphone jack the audio is crisp and clear.
It brings the web part into the app by using their innovative Vapps. These are seen within the platform as video apps, and it puts interactive web content in your video. Those Vapps show up in your video as new style graphics, and they allow the user to use things like websites without ever leaving the video. You can have these Vapps be websites, online video, photos, cloud services, and much more. It makes the video a box of internet content that only requires the user to go one place.
What's even better is that Touchcast is a video tool that has every other thing that you would want in video production for free. Touchcast has annotation features built in. It as a green screen built in. It has a teleprompter built in, and it also has several other functions built in.
From a standpoint of what you can do in the classroom, this tool is so multi-use. To start, it can be an excellent way to share awesome strategies. I use it as my main video component on my site, and with it's Youtube one button touch I can publish higher quality videos to Youtube easily. I think from a classroom communication standpoint it could be an amazing way to do a PR show for your parents. It also is an excellent way to do a flipped classroom type presentation, especially when you take the teleprompter into account.
Finally, Touchcast is ideal for students. It's easy to use, which makes it fantastic for video projects. Students can easily record, use the teleprompter, and best of all have green screen all for free. Even young students can use it because if you don't sign into the app, you can just download the video to the camera roll with no broadcast options.
Of course having a website is an amazing way to communicate. It gives people a place to land on and access resources that they know will always be there. This can be a way to get your ideas out there, and it can also be an excellent way to do that Public Relations that you know are becoming so important. Last but not least, I actually prefer this over a learning management system because it gives me more control.
From a delivering ideas standpoint, the way to start is with a blog. Blogs allow you to provide long-form explanations of your idea in a narrative format. I think the biggest thing that throws people on this is a lack of Grammar confidence. Well, my secret (I am doing it right now) is to use Grammarly which allows me to check my grammar quickly. I also highly suggest paying for the upgraded version as it lets you check things like overused words. You can use Grammarly through the app, or you can use it with a chrome extension that checks your text online.
The other piece I use all the time on Weebly is HTML embed. HTML Embed allows me to grab a gobbledygook code from another tool or site and embed it where it shows up directly on my site. I use this all the time to both organize and bring in tools that I use as a model. One of my favorites is Symbaloo because it allows me to put an organized tile based format with things videos.
From a student standpoint, I prefer this over every LMS because it gives me amazing control. I can organize things in the way I want, and I can create different pages for different groups. One of my favorite pieces was to put a page on my student site with all the pertinent information for parents. It made that PR piece easy as they knew where to find what they need. The other piece is that I can embed almost any learning tool into the site where it cuts down places for students to have to go. Some of those tools include Symbaloo, Touchcast, Nearpod, Padlet, and much, much more. LMS's can't do that.
As I try to get my message across, I need a tool to both expand my scope and deliver short-form messages. That's where Twitter comes in. There are so many social networks out there, but the education community on Twitter is HUGE. There are also several ways to connect with people. It can also be an excellent way to connect with both students and parents. The Twitter can drive your short form communication, and we all need that right?
When I look at Twitter, the first thing I use it for is to get my message out. This all starts with building a community. You have to get out there at conferences and other events and meet people. Not only can they become connections, but they can also become fast friends. You also can meet folks through Twitter chats. These are set times on a hashtag (usually a topic or region you are interested in) where a moderator has a discussion. You then make those connections through discussions. Start with Cybaryman's Twitter Chat Schedule (Click this link) to find a chat that works for you.
The second step to me in crafting a message using Twitter. I think this goes to two steps. The first is establishing your unwritten Twitter rules. Will you add things that are political? Will you use the account as your personal account and tweet things such as replies to companies and sports? I think there is no perfect answer for this; it just depends on you and your audience.
The second step that I use is tagging people and hashtags that will help me get the highest reach on whatever my message is. My first step in that process is creating an image that allows me to use the picture tagging feature on Twitter. Adobe Spark is a great way to create those images. It can give you well done beautiful images quickly. You then add that to your post, and then you use the tagging feature to add ten friends. This is a significant step to expand your scope because many Twitter users don't even look at their timeline. They just look at notifications, and this puts it right in that stream. Of course, you can also add hashtags to expand that scope even more.
While those steps work well to get you edtech message out, they could also be applied to your classroom. You can use Twitter a short form place to connect with both students and parents. You can have a class account which publishes all the great things in your classroom, but I would make sure that you don't put student faces in the account just to ensure privacy. Another way yu could use it would be to have a class hashtag where you could post assignments, reminders, and much more. I used to use to post my Bell Ringer and Exit Tickets as Google Forms to make data collection easy.
I think with Twitter people get overwhelmed by trying to learn it. They also get overwhelmed with the bad of Twitter. I think if you are just getting started on Twitter, sit down with an educator who knows the platform. They can help you cut through the weeds and get things to where you want them to be!
As an instructional technology coach, it's so easy to go into a teacher's classroom with good intentions, and then feel like you completely overwhelmed them. It takes some maneuvering and a relationship to get a teacher trying something new, but what also helps is a tool that has an easy level of entry.
An easy of a level of entry with an education technology tool usually stems from one of two things. The first is that the tool has a simple platform that is easy to understand and use. A great example of this would be many of the assessment platforms. They try to do everything they can to make it intuitive for a teacher to use the platform.
The second is that the tools resemble something the most basic teacher has seen before. When we talk about technology in the classroom, most teachers have seen and used something like PowerPoint as an example. A tool that takes much of the same setup of PowerPoint, and adds some incredible other layers to it can be an excellent way to start.
Honestly, that ease of entry is meant as an excitement piece. By using a tool that a teacher can quickly put their mind around and can easily use, you get a teacher excited about what instructional technology can do. You also build that relationship for the future.
An excellent example of a tool that goes the other way and entry is difficult is Microsoft OneNote Class Notebook. Class Notebook is a great way to create a shared notebook for your students, but the setup takes time to understand, there are several ways to set it up, and the sync does not always work the way you want it to. So for this to work in the classroom, you either have to have someone who is willing to sit with the teacher or a teacher who is willing to work through issues. Most teachers aren't ready to work through issues, so without that hand holding a teacher can become frustrated and often sour on the whole instructional technology experience.
5 Tools that are Easy Entry Points
This is my go to entry point for many of the new teachers I work with. The idea behind Nearpod is that is similar to a PowerPoint on steroids. It's meant as a way to deliver digital content, but in reality, it can be used many different ways, and above all, it's ease of use revolves around its similarities to PowerPoint.
The idea behind Nearpod is that instead of presenting your slide deck in the front of a classroom, the presentation shows up on a device in front of the student. You can then add a bunch of interactive content to the presentation including assessments. It compares to power point because you can actually port a power point over to be the content slides in your deck, and adding content is added just like it would be in a PowerPoint. The similarities to PowerPoint make it a go to starting spot for me as I work with teachers.
2) Kahoot and Quizizz
I know, ALOT of people have already seen Kahoot. You would be surprised though how many people have not heard of it. Quizizzz is very similar, but it can be used a little differently because of the way it's structured. Most people have not heard of Quizizz, so it makes it a great place to get folks started.
These platforms ease of entry all starts with the intuitiveness of their platform. Both of these are assessment/review type platforms, and once someone figures out how to add questions, they are off and running. While these are simple, you would be surprised how many people get so excited about them.
Now if you're reading this, you probably already know what Kahoot is, but if you don't, Kahoot is a multiple choice quiz platform that gives users points based on how fast they respond. It's very teacher led, as the teacher has to change over the questions. Quizizz takes that concept but puts the entire question on the student device. The student changes over the questions which also means you can do them for homework!
Now when you are starting with a teacher, assessment and data are usually a good place to start. Teachers are willing to listen to a tool that will grade things automatically for them and give them data they can use. That is the reason you see lots of assessment tools on this list, and Plickers is our next in line.
Plickers does something that helps so much in getting a teacher on board by only requiring a teacher device to assess. The idea behind this is that you give students a paper card that looks like a QR code. On the middle of each side of the QR code is a letter for a multiple choice response. When they hold that letter on top, that is their answer to the multiple choice question you are showing them. The teacher then scans the room with their app to pick up the answer.
To me, Plickers is that toe in the water for the super reluctant teacher and the device behavior hawks. For the super resistant, this can get them on board with an intuitive platform that does not require them to have to troubleshoot student devices. For the behavior hawks, this gives them a tool to prove that heir life will be better without giving students devices
4. Google Forms
Google is a deep, deep rabbit hole, and forms are no exception. They can also, however, be an easy entry point for teachers. They are easy to create and relatively intuitive to use. The best part though is that if you can hook a teacher on them, they can keep going deeper and deeper on the same platform.
The idea behind forms is to create a survey or digital assessment simply by putting a question underneath the one before it. They can be great ways to both assess and survey, and you get data you can kick into a spreadsheet. Forms can be a perfect place for Bell Ringers, Exit Tickets, Quizzes, and just surveying your students.
You can make Forms more, though. You can use it as the platform for differentiated instruction using the move to sections based on the response. You could use it as digital breakout using the data validation feature, and you can add features using add-ons. All of this makes forms an ideal entry point because you can start small and build.
5. Google Classroom
Yep, it's Google again. When you talk starting places and easy entry you have to have a way to do a digital hub on the list, and Google Classroom is the most accessible starting point of the bunch.
Google Classroom is Google's version of an LMS. It's intuitive to setup in the fact all student's need to join is a class code. It also is intuitive to add assignments to as everything can be accessed by the plus sign in the bottom corner. The teacher then just adds what they need.
Previously, Google Classroom was only accesible for teachers and students that had a Google domain at their school. That's changing! Google just recently announced that they will be adding classroom support for private accounts, so you can soon use it with anyone no matter what the school has.