PrintrBot in Action

The kids have finally worked out most of the kinks and have the PrintrBot working!

The final challenge was levelling the z-axis, which was loosely attached with zip ties on the initial install. With a bunch of test prints the kids caught their mistakes though and quickly took apart and reassembled the z-axis (the video was made before they fixed it so you may notice that the print isn’t level). I have been impressed with the amount of learning that has taken place in the whole process of building this device. It is super labor-intensive, but a great, hands-on project with the tangible reward of a working 3D printer to show for all of the work.

In my next post I’ll describe how we are going to manage the printers at NWS. I worked closely with the students to devise a system that was fair and manageable, but I’m certain that there will be certain bumps in the road as we roll it out. Stay tuned!

Office 365 is no Google Apps for Education

This year has brought about many changes in my professional life, but none have been more challenging than the shift from a Google environment to a Microsoft one. Google just gets it. They have a clear lead in the market and they have the features that teachers want.

To be fair, Microsoft has been slowly updating and easing its services. Students can now download the Office suite for free. This alleviates many of the concerns I’ll outline below, but doesn’t completely remove some of the initial frustrations I’ve felt. Here are some of the issues that I’d like to be addressed in Office 365:

  • There is no way to embed video files. Why do I need 1TB if I can’t easily embed content? This should be fixed ASAP. I’d love it if OneDrive would generate embed codes for videos and image galleries.
  • The OneDrive interface is clunky at best. Do you want to move a file into a parent directory? You will need to use Internet Explorer, hit several buttons, wait for an explorer window to open, then wait. Office 365 should a an easy to use navigation pane for dragging and dropping files. It would also be nice if you could simple drag files into their parent directories.
  • Google has classrooms, Microsoft has Sharepoint. I get it. Microsoft is for business and it wants to break into the education market, but it is going to need to drastically overhaul its ecosystem if it ever intends to stand a chance. Teachers want to be able to share, collaborate with, and collect work from their students and peers. They want to be able to sort shared files. They want to have a place where students can submit work. Microsoft has no solution for this. While their product is great for small groups working on joint projects, it can’t manage a whole class of students. Microsoft needs a product that allows for moderated sharing and collection of documents from individual students. I want a class site with a personal folder for each student that only the teacher and individual student can view.
  • Microsoft’s online suite isn’t sweet. Yes, it has the look of Office, but it is so stripped down that it borders on useless in many cases. Do you want to use Excel online? Don’t try to change the units on the axes because you can’t. Do you want to track changes in a Word document? Forget about it. While these concerns are very specific I feel that Microsoft’s biggest asset has been its apps. They need to find a way to translate these to the web. If an make and online version of Photoshop then Microsoft can get Excel and Word to work in the cloud.
  • Third-party apps are scarce. Using Google Apps is easy. If there isn’t a Google solution to your problem there are a host of other apps that will help you. Microsoft’s education offerings are virtually non-existent.
  • Last, but certainly not least, there is no LMS that offers native integration with OneDrive. This is the real killer for me. I know of only one LMS that is working on this, Canvas, but have not been able to find another.

I’m going to keep trying to innovate and using Office 365 because it does have a ton of potential. In the meantime interested in hearing how other people are using it in their classrooms.

3D Printers in the Haüs

I’m so excited! This week we received our first two 3D printers. We went with two different models:

1. MakerBot Replicator

2. PrintrBot Maker Simple (Kit)

I’m excited about both models. The MakerBot was so simple to use that we were able to make our first print within 45 minutes of opening the box. Although printing was fun, the PrintrBot kit has been far more rewarding. When it came in I told our interest group, and within the first few hours I had a crowd of students at my desk. They had me print out the assembly instructions, then started searching around campus for the tools they were going to need. Later that day they started assembling the machine in shifts. It is an ongoing process, but I feel like it is far more meaningful than our experience with the MakerBot so far. Although the prints will eventually be smaller, and the machine is only made from laser-cut wood, it is giving them the ability to understand how the machine actually works. They are working in a team and building the printer by following a complex set of instructions. These are skills that they will need in the future, and they are developing them by pursuing their own interests.

It seems like our printers are going to be in high demand. In our next EdTech Committee meeting we’ll need to discuss:

  • How we will monitor and support the use of the printers
  • Our overall capacity for printing – how many printers do we need?
  • The cost – monthly/yearly
  • The environmental impact of all the printing
  • How this will impact course offerings

MakerBot Display PrintrBot Assembly

GooseChase Scavenger Hunt: Review and Thoughts

It’s been a few days since my last update, but I finally have a few free moments to add my reflection on how our scavenger hunt went last week. Overall, I’d call the experience a rousing success. There were several elements of the GooseChase that were important to know in terms of planning, so I’ll try to cover them here. First, I’m going to explain in detail how to set up a GooseChase. After that I’ll give my feedback on the process and some tips that you may want to use when planning your scavenger hunt.

I: Setting up a GooseChase

Setting up a GooseChase is pretty easy, but will involve some coordination on the part of the teacher.

To set up the game you can follow the steps in the guide I’ve made below.
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Setting Up a GooseChase Scavenger Hunt

This tutorial will show you how to set up a scavenger hunt in the real world using the mobile app GooseChase. A key thing to keep in mind here is that you’ll be limited to 10 groups unless you pay for more members.

1. Create an account or sign in to GooseChase

1. Create an account or sign in to GooseChase

2. Upon signing in you’ll see the “My Games” screen. Click on “New Game”

2. Upon signing in you

3. Enter details for your game, then click “Save & Continue”

1. Give the game a name.

2. Describe the game objectives, etc.

3. You can password protect the game – this will make sure that only your students have access to the game

4. You can also specify the location of the game.

5. Click “Save & Continue” when you are done.

3. Enter details for your game, then click "Save & Continue"

4. This is your mission list

1. “GooseChase Mission Bank” lets you choose from a ton of pre-configured, generic missions to assign.

2. “My Mission Bank” lets you choose from missions you’ve created in the past

3. This is where you create your missions.

4. This is your mission list

4.1 Create a mission

1. Enter a mission name.

2. Give the description – this is the task you’d like your students to complete.

3. Assign a point value

Additional Details will let you add links and images to the missions

4. Click “Add Mission” if you are ready to move on, or “Additional Details” if you want to add a link or picture.

4.1 Create a mission

4.2 This is the additional details screen. Click “Add Mission” when you are done.

4.2 This is the additional details screen. Click "Add Mission" when you are done.

4.3 When you are done adding additional details, click “Add Mission”

4.3 When you are done adding additional details, click "Add Mission"

5. The new mission will show up in your mission list.

5. The new mission will show up in your mission list.

5.1 This is the GooseChase Mission Bank

There are some great ideas for potential missions here. To add a mission, scroll over it.

5.1 This is the GooseChase Mission Bank

5.2 Click the plus icon to add the mission to your mission list

5.2 Click the plus icon to add the mission to your mission list

5.3 Click the trash can icon to delete a mission

5.3 Click the trash can icon to delete a mission

5.4 This is the list of my previous missions

5.4 This is the list of my previous missions

6. Click on “Start & Stop” when you are ready to get your game underway

6. Click on "Start & Stop" when you are ready to get your game underway

7. Configure your Start/Stop times or invite people

1. Choose a method – either manual or automatic – to start your game

2. If you choose “Manual” enter a duration and click “Start Game” *Note, the clock will start automatically!

3. Before starting the game you will want students to download the app to their Android/iPhone device

  • They should make an account
  • Their user-name is their team name
  • They can search for your game by name

4. You can invite students via email if it’s easier

7. Configure your Start/Stop times or invite people

7.1 The automatic Start/Stop Method

Specify the start and end times. The game will start and end automatically this way.

7.1 The automatic Start/Stop Method

8. In-Game Features

Once the game is underway, you will focus on the In-Game tabs.

8. In-Game Features

9. The activity tab will constantly update as students submit images

9. The activity tab will constantly update as students submit images

9.1 Sample “Activity Feed”, click on an image or the gear in the lower right-hand corner to add a bonus or delete the photo

9.1 Sample "Activity Feed", click on an image or the gear in the lower right-hand corner to add a bonus or delete the photo

9.2 Gear options

9.2 Gear options

9.3 Full view options

You can also easily share an image if all of the students have signed media waivers

9.3 Full view options

10. The leader-board will show you who is in the lead

You can also adjust points manually here.

10. The leader-board will show you who is in the lead

10.1 Sample “Leaderboard”

10.1 Sample "Leaderboard"

11. The “Photos” tab will let you group images by mission, user points, or alphabetically by team

11. The "Photos" tab will let you group images by mission, user points, or alphabetically by team

11.1 Here are the options for grouping the photos

11.1 Here are the options for grouping the photos

11.2 This is what the photos will look like when they are grouped.

11.2 This is what the photos will look like when they are grouped.

The second – and perhaps more important – consideration is the logistics during the game. How will students be grouped? Where will the students go during the game? I highly recommend that you involve parents and or volunteers when running the game. This helps in several ways:

  • You will need someone to monitor the feed as the students complete the missions. This will ensure that they are taking appropriate images and that the images are the ones you asked for. If you want to do this yourself you’ll miss out on a lot of the fun, but will get to watch the activity in real time.
  • You may want to put a parent or volunteer with each group. This can be especially helpful if the activity will take place in public or off campus. Depending on the age of your students, this may be necessary.
  • You can use parents or volunteers to help you by serving as judges. When all of the pictures are collected you may want to have them go through and award bonus points for especially creative pictures or inclusive groups.

Reflection

Overall, this was a great app and the students enjoyed the activity a great deal. They ran all around campus and our neighborhood, had to include everyone in their groups, and were very creative. One thing that was poorly planned on my part was my level of direct involvement with students. I thought that I’d be able to keep track of the score, photos, and bonus points while working with a group, but this was impossible. The mobile app doesn’t really have a way for the activity leader/coordinator to manage the game while in the field. When we do this again I’ll get a parent or volunteer to help with this.

Another issue that came up in our group was competitiveness. Some of the students took the scoring and leader-board extremely seriously. There were times where it wasn’t 100% clear what was worth points for a specific mission. For instance if it says take a picture in front of “X” but doesn’t specify that member need to be in the picture. Do you give points for that? If students are creative and go above and beyond, how many bonus points do you give? Some of these decisions were pretty subjective, and to make this easier I will be more specific in my mission instructions next time.

GooseChase is a great app. I recommend that you try it with your class!

 

Online Scavenger Hunt – Introduction

I’m excited for tomorrow! Last week a team of teachers approached me with a problem. For the past few years they have been doing a scavenger hunt around the school and neighborhood to get students acquainted with our faculty and surroundings. They have always split the students up into groups and given them a list of places to take photos as well as actions to complete along the way. One of the biggest challenges they have faced has been collecting and organizing the images from students.

They wanted me to give them some advice, and were hoping that I’d have a quick tech solution for their situation. My hope was that I’d be able to find a good way for them to gather and organize their photos. In other words, I approached this by first starting small. I wasn’t sure what I’d find and with the relative time-crunch I didn’t want to aim too big. This initial search led me to the site DropEvent.

DropEvent

DropEvent is a great site that lets you create an event, share it via email and then collect and even moderate images. This sounded like it ticked off most of the boxes in their checklist. It creates a central place where users can email their photos and allows for moderation, captioning and even downloading of the images. It also provides a free account for 6 months, which is plenty of time to access and download the photos for longer-term storage.

It also has a pretty simple interface, which lessens the learning curve a great deal:

DropEvent detail

Students drop photos in this event by emailing them to event-specific email address that is generated when you create the event. This allows them to send files from any internet connected device, while the teacher (or student!) can view and later download them from the web interface. Once inside the event it is relatively easy to moderate. The approval process looks like this:

DropEvent Moderation

All-in-all, DropEvent seems like a great option for some activities. However, I wasn’t fully satisfied with the workflow. What’s more, I felt that it wasn’t really a higher-order use of technology. It felt as though there had to be something better out there; something that would be more interactive, fun, and exciting.

My goal for this year (as I mentioned in an earlier post on SAMR) is to try to help teachers create activities that redefine how they use technology in their classrooms. This often entails reimagining the activity itself. In the case of this scavenger hunt that meant a few things had to me modified:

  •  Previously the students completed the tasks in order. The tasks were numbered and groups of students completed them more or less sequentially. Each region around school had a few tasks associated with it, so areas of school were crowded for a short time then empty. This seriously limited the students’ ability act independently or spontaneously.
  • One teacher had to do a huge amount of the work. The students would email one teacher with their images and he would try to create captions and folders to organize the images. This put a lot of the work on one person’s shoulders, and slowed down the processing time.
  • Instructions had to be pretty specific. I like the idea of having open-ended activities that give students the ability to improvise, have fun, and be creative. I wanted an app that untethered students from the task sheet and turned this activity into more of a game.

With these considerations in mind I discovered the world of scavenger apps. First I found Scavify (@Scavify) and it looked flashy, fully-featured, and device agnostic. It had a great looking site and a ton of great features. It uses your phone (Android or iPhone) to track participants progress, and seemed to be a polished and highly usable option when I first signed up.

Scavify

The only problem, and it’s a big one, is that the site costs $2 per user and doesn’t offer a free version. This will certainly raise a few eyebrows in the educator community and definitely will deter most of my fellow educators from using it. If you have the money, it does look great and would be an awesome option.

Enter GooseChase (@GooseChase). I can’t begin to express how excited I am about this site!!! GooseChase has everything I was looking for and is free for personal use – up to ten groups. The interface is slick, it is device agnostic (Android and iPhone), and it turns a typical scavenger hunt into a gun game that others can watch in real-time. In this post I’m going to give an overview of how we set it up, how it works, and how it’ll make our scavenger hunt more fun than ever. In my next post I’ll go over how the hunt went, any challenges we face, our highlights, and student feedback.

Creating a game in GooseChase is easy. After you sign up for an account you will have the option to create a new game. Here is a brief overview of how we created the game:

Tomorrow we’ll be playing this game with our students. I’m so excited. I’ll update this tomorrow to let you know how it goes. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please feel free to reply below.

Gamification 101: What is it?

One of the biggest buzzwords in education today is “gamification.” What is it? Gamification is the process of making your class more like a game by incorporating elements from gaming into the way you organize and evaluate activities.

One key difference between a gamified classroom and a traditional one is in how growth is measured. In traditional classrooms students are often measured in absolute terms. Their skills are rewarded based on what they know, not on how much the learn along the way. In a gamified classroom students earn points, badges, level-ups and achievements as they progress through the game, regardless of where they start on day one. Their growth is measured in relative terms, the object is for them to make progress and improve as the course progresses.

Another key difference between gamified and traditional classrooms is the method of content delivery. A key component of many gamified classrooms is flipping. In flipped classrooms students usually receive information at home and process it in class, rather than the more traditional model of receiving content at school and processing it at home.

Gamification is not without its detractors, many of whom are critical of relying on extrinsic motivation to engage students in learning. I respect this criticism, and don’t think that every classroom should try to become more gamified, but there is a place for it in education. There is no one method that will work for all students, and for some of our most reluctant learners this may be an approach that gives them a reason to engage with the content.

If you want to read more about gamifying, I suggest you read Vicki Davis’ (@coolcatteacher) awesome blog post here.

There are several sites that offer ways to gamify your classroom. Here are some that I’m interested in.

gamify-header-brand

 

Classcraft create an entire new layer on any existing class. They offer most of their features for free, but do have a paid plan as well.

habitrpg_pixel

 

HabitRPG seems like it has a ton of potential to me. It creates a system of gamifying LIFE itself. This will be GREAT for working with younger students as it can create a simple framework for developing time management skills. I know that this does rely on a system of extrinsic motivation, as all gaming does, but it may be a great place to start with more reluctant kids who are easily motivated by these types of games.

Vicki Davis’s podcast, Every Classroom Matters, is great. In this episode she interviews Cat Flippen (@CatFlippen) to see how she is using gamification, and where she sees it going in the future.

 

Day 1 In the Books. Today Was a Good Day.

Technology Meets Courtesy and Common Sense

Two of the cornerstones of The Northwest School (NWS) philosophy are courtesy and common sense. These foundational ideas, while simple, capture two of the key lessons we can impart in students as we prepare them for life in the 21st century. Technology provides the ideal junction of social interaction and personal expression where we, as educators, can impart these values. Most of what schools do today is not based in framework of courteous or common sense use of technology. A majority of acceptable use policies focus on listing punishments and consequences rather than laying out expected uses and outlining potential benefits of technology. Instead of viewing the inherent opportunity that lies within technology, most schools today create Draconian zero-tolerance policies which punish students rather than educate them. Our role should be lift barriers for students, not create them.

Here at NWS, we have the rare privilege of working with a faculty that abhors these kinds of discipline policies, and truly wants to educate and inspire our students. The primary directive of any place of learning in the 21st century should be to find ways to remove limits on the uses and implementation of technology and model its use in responsible and intentional ways. At our school we have just implemented student wireless and Office 365. These tools will make it easier for students and teachers to communicate with each other. They will also make it easier for our users to distribute documents, store files, and collaborate. However, these tools will be of little value if their use isn’t modeled constantly by teachers, based in sound pedagogical practice, and if it isn’t tied directly to our core values of courtesy and common sense.

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. –Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Currently, schools around the country have a flawed view of how technology should be introduced and used. They are often willing to buy new Chromebooks, iPads, or other hardware, but they are seldom willing to implement common sense policies for dealing with teens and young adults. One example of this is the level of filtering that schools place on student networks. Current norms dictate that it is right, or “safe,” to limit students’ access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

Let’s take a moment to consider some of the reasons why schools block these sites. First, they claim that there are liability issues. There is some merit to this line of reasoning. When students post irresponsibly on these, or other sites, there are often real-world consequences that manifest in our schools. I would argue that it defies logic and sound reasoning to completely block students from using these sites because: they are going to use them any way, they are going to do so at school (on their phones if not our networks), and most importantly we should teach them how to use these sites responsibly in school. We should instruct students how to manage their digital footprints, post responsibly, and use social media to enhance learning. We should not hide behind worst-case scenario liability issues that may never materialize if we take the preventative step of educating students how to use technology in the first place.

A second concern that schools have is that student use of technology will put unmanageable stresses on their networks. This concern should be a thing of the past in most major cities. Bandwidth prices have steadily declined and the ability to filter traffic on some sites (with some reasonable limits on non-educational bandwidth hogs like Torrent sites or streaming video) should remove this concern. There will still be times when students find sites that can’t be managed during school hours, but when this happens we should speak to students. We should find out what they are trying to do and see if it has educational value. If it does, we should strive to enable them to view the content and pursue their interests. When it does not we should take the time to speak with them about how the network operates and the times they should avoid intensive use of it. Blocking sites does not prevent students from accessing these them, it inspires students to find ways to hack around the technologies that limit their access.

Common sense dictates that there should be some limits on the role of technology in our lives. We should strive to maintain a balance between our digital and real-world lives. If students don’t learn this in school, a place where they spend a large chunk of their waking hours, where will they learn it? As educators we should model the behavior we’d like students to employ, and teach them how to change their habits when they fall short.

“Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Courtesy is an equally important value for students to learn as they navigate the world of technology. While it is unrealistic to think that students will never err when they comment, post, tweet, and selfie away their time online, it is important that we model courteous and responsible online behavior. Students need to take control of their digital footprints and one of the easiest ways for them to do so is for them to see adults modeling the behavior. They should learn early and often that digital media does not have a shelf-life. It never expires and may come back to haunt them when they least expect it. That said, they shouldn’t be afraid of the internet. We all learn about the dangers of driving when we turn 16, yet we have implemented a rational and regimented process of learning to drive. Very few people would hesitate to sit behind the wheel of car, despite knowing the dangers that come with the privilege of driving. Instead of fearing cars, good drivers drive defensively. They actively watch for the hazards in the road, follow the rules, and trust that if they do so they’ll be relatively safe.

We treat the other drivers on the road with some modicum of courtesy (usually). We do so without knowing them or often without even looking too closely to see who they are. Students need to learn to take a similar approach to the internet. They should learn to recognize and appreciate the other “drivers” on the web as fellow human beings, and act with the same level of courtesy and kindness that they would expect. They should learn that there are negative consequences when they make mistakes and that they will be held responsible for their actions. However, at the end of the day, we should trust them enough to give them the keys and let them take the net for a spin on their own.