Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finding Pictures You're ALLOWED to Use

The Wild West culture of the Internet often obscures the fact that much of what you see online is made up of intellectual property that belongs to a person or organization. When something is copyrighted, you are not supposed to use that work, whatever it be (pictures, text, audio, video, etc.) without the owner's permission (or in some cases, pay for the rights to use that property). Now, we all know that that doesn't stop a whole lot of people from using those properties anyway, but as teachers, we should be modeling and teaching respect for ALL intellectual property, particularly if we are already emphasizing things like preventing plagiarism in student work.

More than anything else, intellectual property violations on the Internet come in the form of using and redistributing images. Because it is ridiculously easy to find images on the Internet, people often download, distribute, remix, and use images they find on Google Images and other sources with complete disregard for whether they're actually allowed to be doing what they are doing. So, what are we to do in education, when we require students to go out and find pictures for their slideshows, videos, posters, and other assignments for your class? Here are a couple of ideas to help you (and your students) find the material you need while respecting the intellectual property of others.

Creative Commons logo.  Licensed under 
by Creative Commons.

1. Understanding Intellectual Property and Your Rights

The first thing that you should do, if you are completely unfamiliar with the terms Copyright, Creative Commons, Fair Use and/or Public Domain, is to learn more about how they relate to the rights that you have to use certain material. The Educator's Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons contains a wealth of information about intellectual property and the consequences for using the work of others without their consent. From there, if you are looking to teach your students, Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything has a wealth of resources and teaching materials curated for you to take a look through. I encourage to check these resources out if you are just beginning to learn about these issues.

2. Use Websites That Curate Creative Commons and other Free-to-Use Images

There are numerous websites out there that link to and allow users to upload and share their photos to the world using Creative Commons and other permissive licensing. Richard Byrne has a list of such sites on his Free Tech 4 Teachers site. Three other websites that I would like to add on top of his list are Flickr (though you need to filter for Creative Commons; see below), Wikimedia Commons, and Pixabay.

3. Filter Your Image Searches to Find Images You Can Use

Search engines like Google and photo sharing sites like Flickr allow you to filter your image search results to images that you have permission to use. In a Google Image search, you'll want to look at the top toolbar (just below the search box) for an option that says "Search Tools." Click that and you'll see a number of filtering options. You can filter by image size, color, and more, but most importantly, you can filter by "Usage rights." Click there, and you'll have a number of options to choose from, including by noncommercial use and noncommercial use with modification (these are the two options I usually select). Click on an option, and see your search results change before your eyes!

In Flickr, you'll see just above your search results a filter that says "Any license." If you click on that, you can change your license filter to any number of options.

While we're on the subject, schools should (and often do) treat student work as intellectual property belonging to the students as well. Make sure that you have permission to be posting pictures of students and their work if you are doing so online!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Finding Themes (EDT 598 Reflection)

One of the first assignments for EDT 598 in exploring the Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) model was to come up with 20 "I wonder..." questions, questions about things we were curious about or want to learn about. After completing the “Ask” stage, it is time to move on to the “Discover” stage, where we combine our ideas with the ideas of everyone else to identify common themes that could be delved into further.

I was feeling overwhelmed about trying to identify two overarching themes out of 280 “I wonder…” questions, so I decided to begin with just my own. I used Google Drawings to help organize my thoughts, because it is a simple tool for creating and moving text boxes and adding colors and other elements to help keep things organized. The canvas is also easily expandable so that I can spread my work if I need to. Here are my 20 “I wonder…” questions, unorganized.

Okay. I can do this. I think...

From there, I began identifying my first themes. Here is my first pass.

As you’ll notice, I’ve already violated the “two theme” rule, and I have a question that I wasn’t really able to categorize. And these are just my questions! Whoooo boy.

Rather than continue on recategorizing my questions, I decided to begin integrating in everyone else’s questions.

There were a number of questions that were similar across a number of people, so I did my best to rephrase them to capture the spirit of the original questions. For instance, there was a question about defeating terrorism and a question about getting along with each other. I combined those questions and rephrased to “How can we stop killing each other?”

It was also here that I realized that a number of people had questions about their families, or other personal experiences that could not really be shared across the entire class. I decided at this point that, given the number of questions to sort through, that I would eliminate these questions from consideration. Nothing personal, though!
This was only about a third of the way through.  Yikes!

After looking through the third set of questions, I also realized that I needed to begin combining sub-themes into larger themes. It seemed for awhile like every other question I was creating a new theme, so I needed to begin making this more manageable. So, for instance, a number of questions that I saw were related to learning about technology, or wondering how to keep up with technological advancements. I decided that those could be merged under the DIY/Self-Learning theme.

It was also becoming obvious that numerous questions could have been placed into multiple categories. For now, I decided to point arrows from those questions where I filed them, and to the categories that they could have also been filed under.
Trying to fit multi-faceted ideas into a linear sequence is a lot like trying to run a square peg through a round hole.  And yet, I keep trying to do it.

Finally, I got through all of the questions that everyone in the class posed. That took forever! As I went through, I saw some new themes that arose, as well as themes that needed to be renamed or broken apart. After a review of the questions I collected, further consolidation of similar questions, and one last check to see if I had room for any of the growing mountain of uncategorized questions, I made it up to here.
Totally readable, right?

Ugh! I still have more themes than I did before. Time to rethink things a little.

I tend to visualize things in a very linear manner, as I’m sure you could tell from my earlier screenshots. Now, however, I wanted to try to use my space a little differently to group common themes and topics together to get a better idea of how they relate. I also wanted to begin reimagining the different questions as topics, another strategy for grouping to try to make this whole thing a little more manageable.

And it worked! By moving themes around, changing questions into topics, reclassifying topics, and using proximity to discover similarities between themes, I was finally able to narrow down to two themes. For instance, many of the Tech PD topics could’ve been moved to either the Sustainable Technology sub-theme or the Teachers as Learners sub-theme, but by using a more visual approach, I was able to place them in between the two sub-themes, which is probably where they belong. I was also able to consolidate the IBL/PBL topics into a single topic, which became a part of the “New Approaches” sub-theme (formerly the “Schools of Tomorrow” sub-theme). Speaking of, I thought that name was appropriate for the root-level theme, so everything I’ve just discussed now encompasses a single theme of “Schools of Tomorrow.” The “What Does the Future Hold” and “Making a Better World” themes were also ripe for merger, and I was able to create a second root-level theme of “Making a Better Future.”

That left the Work/Life Balance theme. As it turned out, I discovered that many of my topics here fit in very well somewhere in my other two themes. So, it seemed natural that this theme be the last one to cut. I moved a few more things around, and, voila! My two themes are "Schools of Tomorrow" and "Making a Better Future!"

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Avoiding Tech for Tech's Sake (Or, Boring Things are Boring - EDT 598 Reflection)

Many things stood out to me from this week’s readings, but none more so than the TED Talk from Kayla Delzer (2015):

At about 3:10, when discussing the need to embrace purposeful technology, she mentions that “Using technology just for the sake of using technology, is wasteful” (“Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders”). She goes further, just a few seconds later, when she adds that “If something is boring on paper, it’s still going to be boring when you put it on an iPad.” Yes, Boring things are boring! And yet, much of our technology use is still based on paper-and-pencil activities that students think are boring! Yes, in many cases the worksheets have now become shiny flashcards with virtual trophies at the end of them, but that’s not transforming the classroom. It just isn’t.

I also appreciate Delzer’s (2015) comments about popping the overprotective bubbles we cast around students, and urging students (and teachers) to Google themselves. Students should like what they see when they Google themselves. That means not just keeping all the negative stuff from spilling over online; it also means making sure the positive stuff, the stuff that can get you a job or an internship or a college acceptance letter, is online. Education should engage students with their world. It should connect them to experts and mentors in fields they are interested in. It should allow them to share what they know and utilize their many talents toward the acquisition of knowledge. And, it should allow them to have tangible or digital representations of their learning that can be shared widely, including with people who may be in a position to help them climb a career or educational ladder. Let’s face it; a worksheet is not going to change a child’s life in the way that they need their education to do.

Toward that end, the new ISTE standards for students (ISTE-S 2016) were just released at the ISTE 2016 conference, going on right now in Denver (if you are like me and are totally jealous that you can’t be there, you can follow the #ISTE2016 hashtag on Twitter), and they go a long way in outlining the kinds of things that students need to be able to do with technology to succeed in the 21st century economy. Some of the indicators include:
  • “Students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.
  • “Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
  • “Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.
  • “Students cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world” (International Society for Technology in Education, “ISTE Standards for Students,” 2016).
Now these are the standards we should be using in schools! As a whole, they call for students to take charge of their learning, to think about the world around them, to collaborate with others and learn from experts in the field, and to understand the ramifications, positive and negative, of their online behavior and be proactive in constructing a digital footprint that sets them up for future success.

Or, to channel my childhood nostalgia…

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Remind Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the last of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Previous reviews:
  1. Adobe Spark
  2. Shadow Puppet EDU
  3. Thinglink
  4. Bookopolis
  5. Smoovie
  6. Kiddom
  7. ClassDojo

ClassDojo Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the seventh of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Previous reviews:
  1. Adobe Spark
  2. Shadow Puppet EDU
  3. Thinglink
  4. Bookopolis
  5. Smoovie
  6. Kiddom

Kiddom Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the sixth of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Previous reviews:
  1. Adobe Spark
  2. Shadow Puppet EDU
  3. Thinglink
  4. Bookopolis
  5. Smoovie

Smoovie Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the fifth of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Previous reviews:
  1. Adobe Spark
  2. Shadow Puppet EDU
  3. Thinglink
  4. Bookopolis

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Bookopolis Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the fourth of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Previous reviews:
  1. Adobe Spark
  2. Shadow Puppet EDU
  3. Thinglink

Thinglink Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the third of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Previous reviews:
  1. Adobe Spark
  2. Shadow Puppet EDU

Shadow Puppet EDU Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the second of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Previous reviews:
  1. Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark Evaluation

This post is cross-posted on the EDU 568 Reflections blog.

This is the first of an eight-part assignment for my EDU 568 class.  I will be evaluating eight different communication tools of criteria established as part of an earlier assignment.  You can find those criteria in an earlier post.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Communication Tool Rubric

Update (6/5/16):  Kristen and I added one more category onto our original rubric, an oversight on our part.  Under "User Safety and Privacy," we added "Appropriate Content" as a criteria.  After all, why use an app if it has inappropriate content, or allows students to access it elsewhere?

Kristen Cosgrove and I partnered up on this assignment, with the goal of creating an evaluation tool for examining communication tools for the classroom.  As we discovered, there are lots of factors in choosing the ideal tool, both from the teacher perspective and the IT perspective.  We tried to limit the number of categories as best as we could, but we still ended up with 11 different areas to assess these tools.  Among them emerged a number of themes, however, that allowed us to sub-categorize them under five main categories.  So, in order to get an endorsement from us as a tool for use in the classroom, a tool needs to be:
  • Low-cost or free, easy to setup, and free of third-party advertising;
  • Cognizant and protective of users' safety and personal information;
  • Easy for teachers to use;
  • Easy for students to use, and;
  • Accessible to all
Embedded below is the rubric that we came up with.  We used a single-point rubric on a 1-3 scale.  I believe very strongly that what's most important in establishing a rubric is the minimum floor at which something is considered to be meeting the standards.  I don't think the distinction between not meeting or partially meeting is particularly useful in this instance.  The work or tool being evaluated either meets the standards, exceeds the standards, or doesn't meet them at all.  Ideally, a tool ripe for use in the classroom will achieve a "Meets" in as many categories as possible.  Not meeting certain expectations, especially around safety and privacy, should raise immediate red flags for use in the classroom.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Returning to Feedly... Maybe?

I've been aware of RSS Feeds going back to my undergrad days at UMF, and subscribed to a number of feeds centering around education, technology, and politics.  I, like many others out there, were deeply saddened at the news of Google Reader's scrapping in 2013.  Like many others, too, I turned to Feedly for my RSS Feed fix.  I stayed on for a short time, but ultimately stopped using the service, in part due to what I felt like was a clunky and uninspired user interface, and in part because I was transitioning into using social media sites like Twitter and Google+ as part of my PLN.

Fast-forward two or so years later, and here I am, back on Feedly, as part of a course assignment.  And I have to say, I like what I see.

On the right side of the screen, you can find "Related Feeds" and "Related
Collections." I've found these only in Magazine View
Some of the features are very similar to what I remember from when I first used the program:  easy account creation using Google or Facebook logins; the ability to organize feeds into collections around broad topics; and the no-frills organization of articles by feed.  There are some cool new features, too, like the ability to view related feeds and public collections in magazine view, allowing you to broaden your reading horizons and learn about new blogs without necessarily needing to go hunting for them (or the RSS feed URL).  Speaking of, I'm also enjoying the fact that we can access other users' collections and troll for new feeds and people to learn from; a twist on the social bookmarking that websites like Digg and Del.icio.us introduced as to (though, it looks like creating your own shared collections, along with other features, require a paid subscription).  Integration with Twitter and Facebook is a plus, as is the ability to view articles (with less formatting and fewer distractions) directly in the Feedly window, similar to another service I use, Pocket.  The Feedly Chrome App is handy, too; it allows you to add a feed to your collection directly from the website, instead of having to hunt for the feed URL.  From what I've seen, Feedly has made tremendous strides in succeeding Google Reader as a modern, integrated, social RSS reader.
The Feedly Chrome
App, accessible from
many websites in the
bottom-right corner of
the screen.

And yet, do I see myself continuing on with this service in the long run? Well... probably not, and the reason for why I will likely abandon Feedly in the long run haven't changed from the first time I stopped using it. In essence, social media like Twitter and Facebook already do for me what Feedly does with RSS feeds, and more. While the shared collections feature is nice, that is effectively what social networking is. I am connected with many awesome educators online, and the resources and links that they share with me are basically like an RSS feed, with a wider scope. Many of the feeds that I added to Feedly were based off of accounts for people and organizations that I had already added into lists in Twitter. And, let's face it, it's just plain easier to find a person online than it is an RSS Feed. At the end of the day, when I don't have the time to check my social media and my RSS Feeds, when I have to make the choice about what to do with my time, I'll be on social media, and the unread articles (many of which I'll be reading already) in Feedly will just keep piling on.

Well, since I'm here, and I'm writing this for a homework assignment, here is a list of RSS Feeds that I added to my Feedly account, organized by collection.

3D Printing and Design
Awesome Educators

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EDU 568 Post: Twitter Chat Recap

Twitter chats are something that I’ve been participating in for a couple of years now. I was introduced to the concept back at ACTEM a few years ago, and I’ve been running with it ever since. I’m really pleased with the inroads that Twitter has made in developing a statewide PLN of educators in Maine, but a lot of progress still needs to be made. As it stands right now, there are more students on my 5th grade student tech team with Twitter accounts than teachers in my entire district with Twitter accounts. Outside of southern Maine, there are only small pockets where Twitter has any traction as a PLN tool, and my area simply isn’t one of them. I’ve touted the awesomeness of Twitter as a PLN tool (including some of the reasons I outline in another blog post) to my colleagues when I can, but there just doesn’t seem to be any interest.

I participated in three Twitter chats today. All three of them are chats that I’ve participated in before. #ruraledchat is a chat devoted to discussing issues concerning (but not necessarily limited to--today’s chat was on showing appreciation to everyone within a school) education in rural areas. #gafechat is mostly about using Google Apps for Education tools, Chromebooks and Android devices in education, although the topic of conversation this week was about Project-Based Learning. Finally, I checked in on the #personalizedPD chat, which is actually based on a book of the same name (which I hope to read soon) and is focused on, well, personalized professional development for staff in schools. I don’t really have a lot to reflect on these chats that’s different from any other Twitter chat that I participate in, but I do want to share my thoughts on how the size of the audience (audience? Participant pool? What’s the term that I’m looking for here?) matters in whether Twitter chats work for me or not.

One of the things that make for an ideal Twitter chat, in my mind, is that either the target audience or the specificity of the chat provide for a large enough audience to ensure expertise and enthusiasm in the chat (because let’s be honest, Twitter chats are a hassle when only two people show up and you feel obligated to post something, anything), but also small enough so that following the chat doesn’t become overwhelming. #edchatme has been just the right size for me for a long time, but is almost teetering toward becoming hard to follow because of how many people are participating now. That was definitely the case with #gafechat tonight. Just by itself, I had a hard time following the pace of the chat, and that’s usually not a problem that I have (and I was trying to follow two other chats, too). The other thing about Twitter chats with large audiences is that I feel like it can lead to a lot of grandstanding, of people saying things “at” you instead of “to” you, and while I hear a lot of grand themes and big ideas (and people trying to sell their eBooks or Teachers Pay Teachers wares), I don’t hear as much when it comes to substance and the nuts-and-bolts of how to put those big ideas into action (I fully admit that I am guilty of this myself). #edchatme has always had a more personal feel for me, knowing a lot of the participants personally, and I think that leads to my enjoyment of that chat over some others. Sometimes Twitter chats just feel impersonal and distant, and not being able to respond personally to people because the chat is flying by so fast contributes even more to that feeling. So, with exceptions (like the last #scratchchat I participated in, which was fantastic even with the fast pace), I feel like there is definitely a “just right” size to a Twitter chat that’s somewhere in the middle between too large and too small. At least based on how the chats went tonight, #gafechat might just be too big for me to be involved in regularly, although there were some useful resources posted that I need to explore.

Why I Love Twitter Chats, and You Should Too!

Twitter chats are something that I have been familiar with and enjoy participating in for a couple of years now. There are a bunch of reasons why I love Twitter chats, and I hope that you’ll try some out and love them too.

1. Twitter Chats Keep You Connected.

I work in a district with one elementary school and one middle/high school, with one technology integrator for each building. At last check, there are more fifth graders on my student tech team with Twitter accounts than staff in the entire district with Twitter accounts. For many reasons, working where I am can feel isolating at times; there just aren’t a lot of us geeky folks running around! That void is what Twitter helps to fill. Social media allows for professional networks that extend beyond the walls of the school, and facilitates connections that can be tapped at any time instead of just when everyone is in the same room together (which isn’t often).

There is no shortage of awesome teachers willing to share their secrets and insights on Twitter, either. What I like about Twitter is that you can learn from some of the best and most innovative teachers without even interacting directly with them. Through the use of hashtags, teachers are sharing stories from their classroom like CRAZY! This creates a rabbit hole of archived resources to chase in the pursuit of new things to try in your classroom. The best Twitter chats will leave you with a browser window so chock full of open tabs that you might not even be able to view the title of the page in the window.

2. There’s a Twitter Chat for Everyone and Everything

While I would say that tech and tech-savvy people do a lot to drive the conversation in many of the Twitter chats that I participate in, by no means do these chats have to be centered around using technology. Twitter chats are lot like shopping on Amazon; if it exists, there’s probably a Twitter chat for it. In fact, as this website shows, at the same time as the #gafechat that I participated in on Tuesday is a Twitter chats for using Hip Hop in education (#hiphoped), a chat for teachers and schools using the PBIS framework for behavioral interventions (#pbischat), and a chat for elementary music teachers (#elmused). There are chats for content areas, chats for individual grade levels, and many that are special education-oriented. Are you a fan of the book Teach Like a Pirate? Yep, there’s a chat for that too (#tlap)! There’s even a Twitter chat for teachers who are new to Twitter chats (#nt2t, or “New Teachers 2 Twitter”). Many Twitter chats (including #edchatme) also archive their chats on external websites so you can always check back on the most important stuff that you may have missed). No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a Twitter chat for you.

3. There’s Nothing That Can’t Be Done on Twitter

Now, this is not to say that I label everyone with differing viewpoints as a “curmudgeon”--far from it. In fact, one of the things that I don’t like about Twitter chats sometimes is the lack of disagreement and debate in chats, at least the ones that I’ve been in. Twitter chats have a tendency to function like echo chambers, since they are often topic-specific in nature and lots of like-minded people flock to them. Sometimes I feel like I don’t hear enough perspectives on the pitfalls or things to watch out for when discussing certain topics. This by no means outweighs the many positives that Twitter chats offer, though.

One thing I DON’T like about Twitter chats.

Now, this is not to say that I label everyone with differing viewpoints as a “curmudgeon”--far from it.  In fact, one of the things that I don’t like about Twitter chats is the lack of disagreement and debate in chats, at least the ones that I’ve been in.  Twitter chats have a tendency to function like echo chambers, since they are often topic-specific in nature and lots of like-minded people flock to them.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t hear enough perspectives on the pitfalls or things to watch out for when discussing certain topics.  This by no means outweighs the many positives that Twitter chats offer, though.

My Favorite Twitter Chats

Here are some chats that I’ve participated in that I’ve really enjoyed:

  • #edchatme - Obviously!
  • #pstmaine - a chat connecting Pre-Service and Service teachers in Maine. I especially like the “slow chat” format they use, asking one question every day instead of an entire chat in one hour.
  • #1to1techat - a chat for teachers in 1:1 device schools, although I’ve found that, since I’m not in a 1:1 school, there is more than enough to discuss for me too
  • #ruraledchat - not one I’ve participated in as much, but a great chat focused on education in rural schools
  • #dtk12chat - This is one I definitely need to spend more time in. A chat centered around Design Thinking in education.

One More Awesome Thing About Twitter

Similar to Twitter chats, hashtags at conferences are awesome!  They help provide a backchannel for all of the great conversations that are going on.  Oftentimes, I feel torn about what session to go to when there are two or three I am interested in happening at the same time.  Following the conference hashtag allows me to archive and view resources from the sessions I missed at a later time, so I don’t miss out!  This weekend, I’ll be attending #edcamphmw (EdCamp HMW or “How Might We,” focused on design thinking) in Bangor, and I’ll be sure to keep my Tweetdeck running all day!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Robotics Update: Mother Nature and Onto FLL

Mother Nature has gotten the best of us lately! Arrg! The most frustrating thing about cancellations is that it slows down any momentum that we had going with our robots. We don’t always remember what we’re coming back to when it’s two weeks later!  I have decided that I will be extending robotics club beyond the April break to make up for the two sessions we have lost. Those will happen on April 25 and May 2, at the usual time.

I’m also excited to announce an exciting new opportunity for students that will begin right after robotics club ends! As many of you know, I also coach two FIRST LEGO League teams; this program takes many of the things that we learn in robotics club to a whole new level. Our season doesn’t begin in full until August, but now is a good time to begin recruiting new students to join our teams. One way that I do that is by holding spring practices; while they don’t encompass the full breadth of the FLL experience, they do give students a taste of what being on a team looks like. I will introduce them to the three core elements of LEGO League, show them around the challenge table, and even challenge them to work on a robot to complete some challenges! They can even take the robots that they are working on now and modify them to try their hands at it!

Spring practices will begin on May 9 (the Monday after robotics club ends) and run about the same time (they’ll actually run until about 5, so students from other schools can attend, but they’ll be able to take the 4:30 bus home if they need to). We’ll have three practices in total, up until May 23rd (the Monday before Memorial Day). There will also be an Open House on May 9th, from 5 to 5:30 or so, so that I can introduce you, the parents, to LEGO League and what it means to be an FLL parent.

So, to recap:
  • Last day for Robotics Club is now May 2nd
  • Spring practices for FIRST LEGO League begin May 9th and run Mondays until May 23rd
  • Open House for new/interested LEGO League students and parents is Monday, May 9, at 5:00 pm.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Robotics Club Update: When Mother Nature Gets in the Way

The downside of doing an after school robotics club in the winter is that we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. That was certainly the case last week, when all after school activities were cancelled, including robotics club. When possible, I try to make up after school sessions that are lost to inclement weather. I also try to extend time beyond the original program window if students are close to being finished with a project that I find would be worth seeing through to the end. However, it is not always possible to make up sessions during the week, and so I have in the past held sessions on Saturdays for whoever is able to attend. Attendance at make up sessions is NOT required, and I understand that many students are not able to attend. However, I always believe in providing the maximum opportunities for as many students as I can, whether it be in robotics or anything else.

Looking at my calendar, we have about four weeks left of robotics camp, which ends on April 11th. Between the standardized test window opening, robotics competitions with the Viking Landers, and other obligations, it does not appear that any makeups can be scheduled for a weekday prior to April break. In addition, I have obligations every weekend leading up to break as well, so in all likelihood any makeups that I schedule will be done after April break. Stay tuned.

Speaking on weekend commitments, there is one coming up this weekend and your child is invited! Cub Scout Pack 235 is once again hosting the Waldo District Pinewood Derby this Saturday, March 19th, at the Stockton Springs Elementary School. While the event begins at 1:00, registration and check in begin at 11:30, and that’s a ripe time for demonstrating LEGO robotics to the many people that will be in attendance. I was invited last year to bring some LEGO robots to show and had a blast doing it, and I’m very excited that we have been invited to do it again this year. So, if any after school robotics students are interested in showing off their robots and what they can do with them, please contact me by email (gcyr@rsu20.org) or by phone at the school (548-2317) to let me know. I would love to bring robots with me, but not if nobody is going to be there!

Keep calm and build robots!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Exciting Projects at SES, Part II: Build with Chrome and Google Earth

A few weeks ago, I tried a project with second graders that I've been wanting to try for awhile now.  I started by introducing students to Build with Chrome, a website and collaboration between Google and LEGO that allows you to play with LEGOs on the computer.  It's awesome.  Students started by engaging in the "Build Academy," which taught them how to do almost everything in the program, including picking up an dropping pieces, deleting pieces, changing colors, and adjusting camera angles and zoom.  After that, I gave students some time to build some things on their own, and saw some pretty impressive results, including the beginnings of a hotel/rollercoaster ride, which really, why has nobody thought of this before?

When we had our fill of free-building, I then introduced them to Google Earth, a program where you can access satellite imagery, street views, and user-generated content from around the world.  Students learned how to zoom in and out, pan, and most importantly, search.  Students searched for Maine, Searsport, Stockton Springs, and where they lived.  I then had students choose a building that they could find within the district to make a model of in Build with Chrome.  Some students chose public buildings and businesses like Tozier's Market or the Masonic Hall, while others chose their house.  Students learned how to multitask and switch between windows on their computer using the Command + Tab keyboard shortcut, so they could look at their building first, then switch windows and build in the other.  While we didn't get to the stage of publishing buildings and making them available for viewing in the Google Maps integrating in Build with Chrome, I learned a lot about what is needed to make this project work in the future, and I'm looking forward to doing it again!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Exciting Projects at SES, Part I: Osmo

A drawing a fifth grade student made using the Osmo
Masterpiece app on the iPad.
If you have not heard of Osmo, you need to!  Osmo is a system for the iPad with a stand to hold the device and a mirror that is placed on top of the iPad's front-facing camera.  This allows the iPad to see the table or desk below it, while still allowing you to see the screen.  Then, the iPad has three accessory kits and five apps that allow you to do some really awesome things!  The letters kit and the Letters app have you guess the word represented by the picture on your screen, while using the letter tiles in the kit to spell the word!  The numbers kit does something similar with numbers, and is immediately my favorite of all the kits.  There's also Tangram, where you make pictures based on the shapes you have in your Tangram kit.  Finally, there are two apps that don't require any kits, Masterpiece and Newton.  I haven't had much of a chance to try out Newton yet, but Masterpiece is AWESOME.  With one of the pictures they have in their gallery or with a picture that you take, Masterpiece creates an outline of that picture, overlays it on your screen, and mirrors your table on the screen, so you're tracing the outline on your paper by looking at your screen!  It sounds confusing, but check out the video to the right to see more of what I mean.

Osmo so far has been used by kindergarten and first grade classrooms and by my student tech team.  I've seen wonderful engagement at all age levels.  I especially like the Numbers app for younger students because the kit doesn't actually give you all the numbers, so you have to put numbers together to make a new number.  It's almost as if math becomes a science experiment, and who doesn't like experiments?

A special thanks to Hilary Graebert, one of our kindergarten parents, who helped add to our collection by purchasing three Osmo Numbers accessory kits for the school.  We now have three Osmo kits complete with the Numbers, Tangram, and Letters sets.  Thank you so much for your support!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

FLL Update: The End of One Season, and Looking Forward to the Next

Combined, the teams that make up Searsport-Area FLL.
The end of 2015 brought the end of another exciting FIRST LEGO League season.  This year, we fielded two teams under the Searsport-Area FLL umbrella:  Team 2956, the LEGO Lords; and a new rookie team, Team 17380, the Trash Trekkers.  The season's theme was Trash Trek, and the teams spent the last few months learning about all of the trash we generate, what happens to it, and what we can do to make a difference.  Their research projects were impressive, especially given how young both teams still are.  The LEGO Lords came up with an idea for a dishwasher accessory to help wash plastic storage bags to reduce the amount we throw away, and the Trask Trekkers came up with a campaign to reduce the amount of seals that get caught and killed in plastic strapping.  Both teams presented their projects with great enthusiasm, and came up with songs to support their solutions.  Both teams scored very well in the research component of the competitions.

Teamwork Award, earned by
Team 17380 at the Old Town
FLL qualifier.
Speaking of competitions, we had two of them this year!  Given the growing number of FLL teams in the state of Maine (89 this year versus 72 last year), three preliminary qualifying sites were adding around the state, where roughly two-thirds of the teams from each would advance to the state competition.  We competed at the qualifier in Old Town, and both teams advanced on, despite some issues we had in the Robot Game portion.  Team 17380 also came away with the teamwork award!

The last few weeks of the season were hectic.  Both teams decided to rebuild their robots after the qualifier, and making the programming adjustments for new equipment and new routes went down to the very last second.  The teams also did some last-second research to shore up their presentations, and we added some elements to our practices to help us assess our Core Values.  The hope was to focus on the things we needed to improve on to boost our scores.

Mechanical Design Runner-Up Award, earned by Team 2956
at the Maine FLL Championship (and which they promptly
made a robot out of!)
And it worked!  Team 2956 excelled in the Robot Game portion, finishing inside the top 15.  Team 17380's strong showings in the research project and Core Values helped boost their scores.  Overall, Team 2956 finished in 20th place, and came away with the Mechanical Design runner-up award.  Team 17380 finished in 30th, out of 89 teams in the state, for the season.  I would say that this season was a success!

Team 2956 presenting their research project at the Maine FLL
I'm also excited that students are able to share what they do in LEGO League with others.  In December, team members from SES (all fourth graders) were able to share with their classmates all that they accomplished this year, and I have demonstrations lined up for the East Belfast and Nickerson schools this week!  I'm hoping that Searsport-Area FLL continues to grow and be inclusive and expose students to exciting opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math!

I'm already very excited about next season.  The only thing we know at the moment is that next year's theme is Animal Allies, and knowing how much children love animals, and seeing that one of our teams chose to focus on a Trash Trek project involving animals, I think that this is a wonderful theme that will get students engaged in the research project.

Going forward, we're going to need more help to ensure that our success continues to grow.  I am projecting a need for at least a third team next year, and maybe even a fourth.  I know that I was not the only one among our coaches and mentors that felt overwhelmed with how much was needed to make this season what it is, so please email me if you are interested in being a part of the team next season.  We need you!

Searsport-Area FLL will stay quiet for the next few months.  Preparation for next season will begin sometime in April.  Stay tuned for updates on spring practices, informational nights, team registrations, and upcoming fundraisers!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Week 2: When Things Get Difficult

Playing with LEGOs is easy, right?  With few rules and plenty left to the imagination, you can build anything you want, and don't have to worry about it not working.  LEGO robotics changes that a little bit, because a robot needs to be structurally sound for it to work, but they're still LEGOs, and we start off with a template for students to build before having them try something on their own.

But then there's the programming.  And that's where things get a little messy.

Programming is not easy for students.  You have to know what commands to use, and in what order to put them.  When the robot doesn't work the way it is supposed to, figuring out which command is the issue or what to adjust in the settings can be a challenge.  Moreover, and something that I bring up often in LEGO League, adding programming into the mix brings up a new consideration:  does the problem require a building solution, a programming solution, or both?  All of these considerations make programming a robot a challenge for any robot newbie, even when they're made out of LEGOs.

So, we approach programming slowly in robotics club.  We start with just one command, the move block, which powers the motors.  And we attempt a few basic challenges based on a simple course on the floor.  There are three iterations of this course.  First, the robot must travel in a straight line, starting with the front two wheels on a blue line and ending with the front two wheels on a blue line.  When they are successful here, students then try to make their robot turn left at a 90 degree angle and end on a different blue line, without leaving the boundaries of the course.  Finally, students make their robot turn and go to the end of the course, then turn around and come back, finishing on the same blue line that they started.  For beginners, this is not easy to do, but it is a useful exercise for a few reasons.  First, it promotes incrementalism, the approach that steps need to be tackled one at a time and tinkered with until they work the way they are supposed to.  Second, it promotes a "fail-forward" culture for learning in robotics club that celebrates the struggle that goes into making a robot work.  Natural ability is not a significant factor when an entire group of people are doing a new thing for the first time, so I need to do everything I can to make sure that robotics club is a safe place to "take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"

Still, there is little better than the excitement you see and hear in students when they make a robot move in a straight line.  For all of the video games, gizmos, gadgets, and pure wealth of knowledge they have access to today, the fact that something so simple can be so engaging for young people tells me a lot about how they learn and think, and how we should teach them.

Week 1 Recap: Rules, Regs, and Robots

Week 1 of the After School Robotics Club is in the books!  The first week, day, or session of robotics club involves a lot of me talking, which I don't normally like to do with these clubs, but there are  a lot of necessary rules and procedures that need to be discussed, along with learning about some of the different robotics-specific LEGO pieces, that just make sense to cover at the beginning of the club.  As we go along, there will be less and less of me talking, and more time for students to explore.

Getting ready for this club, I wrestled with a number of things that I wanted to try that were different from previous clubs.  I wanted to provide students more choices for what they could do in robotics clubs, while also ensuring a learning sequence where students are still picking up on all of the foundational stepping stones of building and programming.  I also wanted to provide more supports for students to work at their own pace, to make sure that students who are struggling get the most attention while students who are flying through are not held back.  Finally, I wanted to include more exciting challenges and projects for students to see how robotics apply in the real-world.  All of these combine to result in some pretty significant changes to how robotics club works from before.  I'll outline some of them below.

The biggest change to the program this year is the introduction of badges.  Badges in robotics club will work a lot like they work for the scouts.  Students will undertake a challenge or task, show what they did to conquer that challenge or task, and earn a badge for getting it done!  The added functionality of badges in robotics club, however, is that certain challenges, tasks, and guides are locked away from the students, and can only be unlocked when they've earned particular badges.  If you check out our Badges page, you'll find 15 badges that students can earn during robotics club, and when you look at the Guides and Challenges pages, you'll see that each challenge or guide shows what badges are required to unlock access.  I'm still anxious to see how this system works, but I'm hoping that badges will help me accomplish the balance between choice and learning progressions that I discussed earlier.

Because students have more choices than they have before in Robotics Club, I will be doing a lot less teaching or guiding in whole groups that I have in the past.  Students will reach different stages, challenges, and badges at different time.  At the end of the day, however, there is still only one me, and I have needed to find new ways of supporting students without physically being there beside them.  So, I have developed (and am still developing) a new Guide system with video tutorials to help students at various points in robotics club.  For instance, students who finish building their first robot can access the Beginner Programming guide to see how to make their robot work.  I hope to add more guides along the way, but the end goal here is to help students access support and help on their terms (and to reduce the workload on me).

Another protocol to help students get their questions answered involves activating each other as resources.  One of my rules and procedures is called "C3B4ME," which reads literally as "see three before me."  I am requiring students to see help from at least three students in the room before coming to see myself or another adult.  While implementing this protocol will be an ongoing process, my hope is that students will begin to see each other as experts and sources of knowledge, and that they will do more to work together to solve the challenges ahead of them in robotics club.  There are even a few badges to earn based on using the protocol!

On to week 2!