Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My Thoughts on Attending Games+Learning+Society 12 (Part 1)

I just returned from the Games + Learning + Society conference held in Madison, WI at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I have to say that of all the conferences that I have attended, this was the most thought provoking one to date.  Any conference that gets you excited to attend when you read the session descriptions had to be awesome! Sessions covered the entire spectrum from designing educational games to using game-based theory in your classroom.  

The opening keynote was Ernest Adams, the designer of the Madden football series.  From the start, it was clear that I was in a gathering of academics and Ernest proved that with his first mention of American philosophy vs. French philosophy.  His talk revolved around the battle between logic and feeling in the world of video games.  Many games that are available now revolve around real life situations as it is easier for programmers to replicate real life than to generate in-depth, emotion evoking gaming experiences.  He also alluded to the difficulty in designing a gaming experience that immerses you in the content rather than passively entertains you.  When I was in the classroom I could relate to that statement.  Often times, games would be used to solely recall information (i.e. flashcards) and not to immerse students in a concept.  Some games have broken that model and use sound pedagogical methods to teach students concepts such as Math Snacks.  Even so, this still shows that most games revolve around logic (math, science) rather than immersive storytelling (english, history.)

The other argument that Mr. Adams made was that computers and their use can be related to the invention of the steam engine.  If you reflect on the invention of steam, you can find amazing contraptions and designs that solved the worlds problems using steam. Now, replace the word steam with computers.  He said that society's push for one technology being used to solve everything is called technological determinism.  How often have we seen the impacts of technological determinism in our classrooms?  I know many of you are shocked to hear the technology consultant carrying on about technology not being the solution to all of our ills, but should you be?  Good teaching is good teaching.  There is still a place for the aha moment that comes from a student mixing blue and yellow water and getting green.  But there is also a place for utilizing technology for asynchronous communications with people all over the world!  As Adams mentioned, we have to find the right applications for this technology and maintain a balance.  Computing technology is the new steam! 

It's amazing how I intended to summarize the conference in one blog post but have come to realize that this is getting lengthy and I haven't even gotten to the other sessions, let alone the other keynotes! Let me finish this post with this thought.  Adams suggested that what the world needs is a game designer who not only knows the technical side, but also has the ability to write a complex, immersive, thought provoking narrative, not unlike the Grapes of Wrath.  How can we help our students become this well rounded developer of the future? 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#BRESATechTalks - 3D printing with JJ Johnson from SeeMeCNC

Announcing the new Berrien Tech Talks podcast! In our first episode, we interview JJ Johnson, Education Lead for SeeMeCNC.  Topics covered include 3D printers, the impact of 3D printing technology in the classroom, how to get started with 3D printers, and much more!

If you have topic suggestions for the future, send them to John at john.phillips@berrienresa.org.
#BRESA Tech Talks - JJ Johnson from SeeMeCNC

Monday, April 25, 2016

EduPaths: Seeking Summer Content Creators

Have you been creating electronic content and putting it online?  Would you like to share those ideas and earn $$ this summer? 
  • EduPaths is looking for educators who would like to create content for EduPaths and share their ideas online and statewide
  • EduPaths will provide you with training and support
  • EduPaths will pay $720 for 1 hour of content that is completed and approved
  • EduPaths will reimburse for mileage – up to 200 miles (round trip)
  • EduPaths will provide breakfast, lunch & SCECHs for your time at the training sessions
  • Find a location near you and put your great ideas and creativity online!
Interested in learning more, check out: https://www.smore.com/a0nq3

Monday, March 7, 2016

How one C.I. Classroom approached Robotics - and What I Learned from Them

I learned today that the state of Michigan has 411 teams registered for the just launched FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics season.  California is in a distant second place with 258 teams.  The robots these teams create are designed, built, and tested by students to complete a challenge while competing against other teams.  They are impressive to see in person.  Maybe too impressive.

I think that teachers often hear the term 'robotics' and believe they do not possess the skills needed to teach students this concept.  Some see a shiny finished product and forget the process involved.  Some are afraid to learn alongside their students.  And some just do not know where to start.  Hopefully this post will give you some ideas.

Steve Swenson and Cindy Chaney teach a cognitively impaired classroom in Berrien Springs Middle School.  They reached out to Berrien RESA inquiring about materials we had to support robotics.  I sat down and talked about using Little Bits Gizmo's and Gadgets Kits and Sphero robots.  They had never taught robotics before, were excited about the topic but nervous.

Their background in teaching their students thematically allowed them to approach robotics in the same way.  They wanted their students to build an understanding and see them in action.  So before they even started building anything they visited Vickers Manufacturing.  Vickers is a local machine shop and here the teachers set the stage for their students see the purpose and usefulness of robots.

When it came time to get hands-on we discussed several starters.  We agreed that the Little Bits were probably the best place to start with the students actually building, as they have very clear directions.  The colorful instructions provided an anchor document for the small, cooperative groups Steve and Cindy utilized.  We knew the students could build a working machine in a relatively short amount of time.  From their they progressed to using OzoBots, Spheros and eventually the Lego EV3 programmable robots.

The students were writing about their experiences throughout the unit and making other curricular connections.  The teachers found benefit in providing their students with some initial time to explore and 'play' with the materials.  The kids needed this exploration time before given a prompt or learning task.

 I think that the approach Steve and Cindy used in their classroom shows a great understanding of student learning.  By creating real world connections for their students, and providing them with authentic tools, they were able to really engage the students with their learning.  In fact, their curriculum director has encouraged them to have the students visit the elementary schools and teach the kids there more about robotics.  I know I learned from their approach to robotics, and hope you will as well.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Start with SAMR ... Not the Tools

Andrew Shauver, an instructional technologist here in Michigan like myself, recently published a blogpost entitled 'The Truth About Instructional Tech.'  It was timed perfectly for my own learning.  The gist of the post is that we must acknowledge that technology tools alone do not solve many classroom issues.  They are not a magic bullet.

I'm not looking to diminish the role of an instructional technology coach like myself, or the tools we help others use - I've got four kids, I need the job.  What I am trying to say, and I believe I'm echoing Andrew's thoughts, is that we must have a solid understanding of what we want the technology to do, and understanding the learning goal we expect it to satisfy, before we implement.  Or better yet, before purchase.

I agree with him when he writes "The poor classroom manager isn't going to become a better classroom manager simply because they use Class Dojo."  I believe that most technology tools are able to amplify, more than they transform.  Class Dojo can both expose the weaknesses of a classroom teachers management issues, as well as increase the reach of a strong classroom manager.  I don't think it transformed either classroom.

Recently, in the 21 Things session I am co-teaching, we discussed emerging technologies.  I stressed to the class to rely on a framework such as SAMR when evaluating the use of technology in their room.  No time is that more important than with new technology.  The size, shape, cost and promise of the technology can be alluring, but as educators we must keep the learning first.

You might think, with the role that I am in, that I'd be the first to embrace a new technology.  I admit that I have found myself under the 'tech spell.'  But  I'm proud to say I have developed a healthy skepticism with technology.  This skepticism has kept me from the bleeding edge of a learning curve more often than not.  As emerging technology matures, like 3D printing, it's now on us to find, develop, and curate the curricular connections.

In short, thinking about the teaching, before the technology, is how I strive to do my job.  It is the most meaningful for the students, and it also honors the skills a teacher brings to the classroom.  Thanks for the reminder Andrew, and for making me think on a Friday!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Getting Started with 3D Printing: Part 2

Congratulations! At this point you have joined the realm of 3D printing and are trying to get started with your machine.  Welcome to the experiment phase!

When getting started with your machine, be prepared to have more failures than successes when you begin.  Think of it like learning how to ride a bike.  You have the machine, in theory it should function, but it is a fine-tuned piece of equipment that you will learn tricks to operating.  While learning the tendencies of your printer you will have many prints that will not work out correctly.  Ask anyone who has been printing for a while and they will have many stories of epic fails, and likely will have a few examples of failed prints around for you to see.

My goal with this post is to share with you a couple of tricks and tips that I have learned the hard way so that you may hopefully learn from my mistakes and save yourself some filament.

Tip #1: Start by printing lots of flat or box shaped items.
https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7322/9519585141_bf80182524_b.jpg

When you get started, the first thing that most folks want to do is download a Yoda model and have it start printing.  While this idea is possible, you may find that Yoda comes out misshapen and/or is missing an ear.  To avoid having a disappointment to start out, try printing some super easy files such as cubes to ensure that the 3D printer is calibrated correctly.


There is the possibility that you will discover some issues with your print such as drooping sides, not sticking to the print bed, or something that looks like spaghetti instead of your object.  Many factors can cause prints to mess up, so I would encourage you to look at this guide.

*Super Secret Tip* 
Aqua Net hairspray is an incredible solution to the "not sticking" problem.  Apply it in a couple of fine layers to your print bed and your sticking problems should go away.  When you finish the print, the hair spray will wash off the bottom of the model in a little water.

Tip #2:  Not all models are created equally.

There are MANY sites out there for you to find pre-made models for you to print on your machine.  Some sites that we have used around here include:

Thingiverse

Pinshape

Instructables

YouMagine

Many of these sites were created by 3D printer manufacturing companies and source models from users all over the world.  That being said, some of the models that are shown aren't actually printable on all machines.  Some of them are really awesome conceptual pieces that lack proper support or bed adhesion to make them printable in the real world without more work being done on them.

To fix some of the models, I suggest using NetFabb, or Make Printable.

Tip #3: Learn to design and print, print, print!

If there is one thing that will make you a better user of a 3D printer, it is understanding 3D design.  There are many sites out there to learn how to design in 3D using autoCad, or other advanced tools.  On TinkerCad.  Tinkercad is a web-based tool that walks you through the basics of 3D design.
e of the ways that I suggest getting started is using the FREE tool called

Another tool from the Autodesk family is Project Ignite.  Project Ignite is intended to be used by teachers to teach students how to design objects in 3D.  The tools and projects that this site offers are beneficial to everyone trying to learn how to create objects from scratch.

Once you are working on your design, the best thing you can do is print, print, print.  By printing, you will learn the best ways to design for your machine, and help identify areas that you need to get stronger with.  

In Conclusion

It's very exciting that you have taken on the challenge to begin 3D printing by yourself and hopefully with your students.  Stay persistent through the challenges and post your designs so we can all try them with you!  If you need any help, feel free to reach out.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Coding with Sphero

'Hour of Code' was celebrated around the world the week of December 7 - 13, 2015.  Hopefully your school participated in this event.  We were out using the class set of Spheros, purchased through a 2014 grant from Honor Credit Union, to help bring coding to life.

Working primarily with fourth and fifth graders we had a set of ten Spheros we paired with a district set of ten iPads.  We made sure the SPRK app was installed and arranged the students into teams of three.  Before coming to the school I had created some mazes on cardboard that was approximately four feet by four feet square.  These mazes ranged from easy to more challenging.

First we provided a brief overview of the functions needed to code Sphero using the SPRK app.  Specifically we took time to really show the 'roll' action and how to set duration, speed, and direction.  Following this it was up to the students to solve the maze - or create a self-driving car - or dock the ship - or whatever other metaphor students developed that day!

The conversations students had was really the best part of the exercise.  The iterative process; repeatedly trying and failing seemed natural, there was no fear at creating mistakes, and there was very little dispute amongst the teams.  To ensure equitable access we provided a timer and the team members had to make sure everyone had 'touched' the iPad.

Coding can seem overwhelming and tough to implement in a meaningful way.  Utilizing Sphero, or other tools like Dot and Dash, or Bee Bots I think it is paramount kids get experience coding something 'to life.'  What I mean is rather than just creating on the screen, kids are getting a real life connection.  So even though the hour of code is over, we would be happy to bring the Spheros out to you and challenge your kids to manage the maze.

Connie Bacolor, St. Joseph media specialist, created a video synopsis of our experience!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting Started with 3D Printing: Part 1

By now, it is likely that you have seen or heard of the concept of 3D printing.  The easiest way to think of it is taking a 3D model off of the computer and turning it into a real life product.  3D printing is an additive manufacturing process so there is very little waste when you make objects.

When you decide to get started yourself, it can be VERY overwhelming trying to figure out which 3D printer to buy and how to even begin.  In this series of blog posts, I intend to share some first hand tips on how to make that process easier and help you avoid some mistakes that I have made.

Finding a Printer
SeeMeCNC Rostock MAX v2

Congratulations, you have examined your educational goals and figured out that a 3D printer would be a good fit for you and your students!  Expect that you will need to have a budget of approx. $700 to $1000 to get started.  That would include the cost of the machine, and a spool of filament.

Here at the RESA we have a RoStock MAX v2 ($1000 for the kit) and a Polar 3D printer ($600.) There are many other printers out there for you to choose from as well.  The ultimate goal, as with any device, is to choose the printer that is best going to suit what you want to do with your students. Be sure to check online reviews, look up how their technical support system works, and ask around to neighboring districts to see what they are using.

In the end, the best 3D printer is the one that works the most consistently with the least amount of additional cost due to break downs.

Choosing your materials
http://product-images.highwire.com/3732778/fillament-spools-2.jpg

When you are purchasing your printer you will need to figure out what material (filament) you would like to use with it.  The obvious answer is plastic, but there are two main types of plastic that are available for use with 3D printers.  The first type is ABS plastic.  ABS is an oil-based plastic that requires higher temperatures to melt and is super durable.  Cars are commonly made with ABS parts.  The second type of plastic is PLA plastic.  PLA is corn based and melts at a lower temperature.  PLA has a slightly sweet smell to it when melting, and is biodegradable.  There are many types of PLA plastic available including carbon fiber, magnetic, and translucent PLA.

We commonly use PLA here at the RESA and have not had any issues at all.  Know that not all filament is equal and cheap filament can cause issues with your printer as the printer is expecting a uniform filament diameter and many of the cheap filaments don't have high quality control standards.

Summary

You are just getting started on your adventure in 3D printing.  Finding the right printer and filament are a great way to get started.  In my next post, I will discuss getting started with your printer and how to find models and things to print.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

3D Design with Students

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been adventuring out into area schools to work with students on how to become makers.  One method that we have been using is teaching students how to design 3D objects using Tinkercad and Project Ignite.

Below you will see some of the examples made by the students at Brown Elementary.  We were amazed by the details that these students were able to add to their designs!  If you look closely, one student designed a farm complete with a silo!

We would love to come do this activity with your students!
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