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!