Friday, February 24, 2017

Tech Age Parenting Q & A

Tech Age Kids is a blog dedicated to helping parents prepare their kids for a positive future with technology. They're currently running a Q&A feature on their blog where they are asking other bloggers and content creators to join in and answer questions about parenting in the current state of technology.

Since I'm both a teacher AND a parent of a five year old, I thought that I might be somewhat qualified to share my experiences in this arena, and decided to discuss the following questions in today's post:


How does your family manage device usage or screen time? (Tablets, Phones, PCs, Consoles etc)

My son, Iggy, has been using an iPad since he was very little, probably around two years old. We owned one iPad - it was a "family" device - but my husband and I each bought our own iPads about a year later, so the old one became my son's. We didn't intentionally buy it for him, it just worked out that way.

He brings it to my mother's house (she watches him during the day), and he'll use it to watch videos or play games during down time. We love the YouTube Kids app, and the Toca Boca and Sago Mini brand games. I bought him the Endless Alphabet/Endless Reader apps, hoping that he'd use them a little more, but he seems to typically gravitate towards other apps instead. That being said, he does know all of his letters, and has started sounding letters out on his own. He starts kindergarten in the fall, and I feel like he's pretty well-prepared.

One of the things I've noticed as a result of him watching videos via YouTube Kids is his vocabulary. He hears words and phrases in videos he watches, like toy "un-boxing" videos, and will then use them in new situations that are not only correct, but often humorous to hear coming out of the mouth of a 5-year-old. We'll be out shopping and he'll say things like, "Oh mom, that action figure is a Target exclusive, and the second of the series." It's pretty cute.

Do you think it’s important to prepare children for future jobs, careers and lives with technology?

I think it's extremely important to prepare children for future jobs, careers, and lives with technology! I mean, it's what I teach on a daily basis, so yeah. I think that it's not important to teach students a specific technology, tool, or software so much as it's important to teach them how to independently problem-solve and navigate technology in general, so that they can adapt and evolve their knowledge to keep up with changing technologies as they happen.

I've come across a lot of adults in my experiences that are afraid of computers... like if they touch one wrong button, it might explode. Sadly, a lot of these same adults seem to have a sense of pride about it! "Oh, I don't know anything about computers..." Like it's something to brag about? It's all very confusing and frustrating to me.

I want students to approach technology without fear, knowing that if they press something "wrong," they have the know-how to go back and correct it or undo their actions, and probably learn something new in the process!

Here's Iggy with his iPad, looking very thoughtful. :)

Do your think your children know enough about how technology works?

For a five-year old, I feel like my son knows a lot about technology. He can troubleshoot and turn the wi-fi on and off for my mom or mother-in-law when they're having difficulty connecting their devices! He can use airplay to mirror his screen to the TV to show my husband and I something.

When it comes to my student "children," I feel like they know a lot, but maybe not enough. Many of them act like they know a lot about technology, but then I see them in action and it becomes apparent that some of them don't know quite as much as they are claiming to, I want them to feel safe to admit that there are things that they don't know! I think maybe because it's middle school, they are sometimes too embarrassed to admit in front of friends that they don't know something, for fear of being made fun of or singled out, so they adapt a "fake it til you make it" attitude. This can be harmful when it comes to things like social media or cyber-bullying situations. They often won't want to tell an adult that they made a mistake, or to seek advice. 

Tell us about your personal experience with technology from your childhood or as an adult.

I feel like my generation (I'm in my late thirties right now...) has the unique experience of being present (and in school) for both pre-internet and post-internet eras. We lived both realities. When I was a junior/senior in high school, it was a SUPER BIG DEAL that our school library had a T1 line and therefore had access to a fast internet connection! Many of us didn't have internet at all; or, if you did, it was AOL and your parents would yell at you for tying up the phone line. I didn't have a smartphone until 2009 - I was already out of college and married!

My students now will never know what it was like to have an original Nintendo - NOT connected to the internet! They haven't had to call a friend's house and to have their friend physically come over to their home in order to play Super Mario Brothers together. If none of your friends were available, you had to play all by yourself! There was no email - you had to write "snail mail," although we just called it mail. :)

It's hard to communicate that, or to expect students to have an appreciation/deep understanding of the pre-internet-era, because internet is all they've ever known. It's weird for sure. 

Do you feel confident to help your children develop tech skills (the T in STEM)?

Because I teach technology to students as my job, yes, I feel confident to help them develop tech skills. If I didn't, I'm probably in the wrong line of work!

I do sometimes have students that are beyond my level of technological knowledge, and I don't hesitate to let them know when this is the case! I try have resources available, like Codecademy or Khan Academy, to allow students to work and learn independently at an appropriate level of challenge. I always caution students that if they're working ahead and get stuck on something, I'll do my best to try to help, but that they probably know more than I do!

Photo by Steinar Engeland

What frustrates you about tech toys, gadgets and educational products for kids?

Lasting power. I did a lot of research before buying my five year old a Christmas present this year because I knew that I wanted something for him that would encourage coding skills. I didn't want to buy something that was too babyish - he'd grow bored and tired of it too quickly. Conversely, I didn't want to buy something above his level that would cause him to give up or lose interest.

We settled on the Osmo system for my son's iPad, because there are a lot of games and options available, and it seems like it will grow with him. I really want to buy the coding pack for Osmo next!

In my classroom, I am really struggling with durability. Middle school students can be kind of rough when handling objects, and things that are fragile, like LittleBits wires, are constantly in need of repair or replacement. I love LittleBits, and I'll probably end up with a set for my son to use at home, one-on-one, but when you have 40+ students using them every day for several weeks, the wear and tear on the pieces are significant, despite all of the preventative measures (like Sugru reinforcements!), organization, and monitoring that you try. I don't have the money to replace pieces constantly.

Some of my other robot gadgets are slowly beginning to have problems with battery life, bluetooth connections, and/or firmware updates... I wish that older versions of some of these things were supported for longer periods of time, as my district won't buy me the latest greatest versions of Sphero or Ozobot every year. I have to make do with the ones that I have. I suppose I shouldn't really complain, because many schools don't get to purchase these gadgets at all.

What are your digital parenting concerns?

I'm mostly concerned about Iggy as an adolescent (granted, it's still pretty far into the future) and navigating social media. We all made stupid mistakes and did embarrassing things when we were kids, but there wasn't an internet to document and preserve it for all of eternity. I think that we need to allow kids to fail at times, and to learn from mistakes... but there needs to be an environment for that, and it's definitely one that does not involve the internet and social media! I worry about my son making good choices, posting appropriately, creating and maintaining a positive digital footprint, problem-solving and utilizing good coping skills for dealing with negative influences, and overall just using the power of technology for good. 

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Want to join in on the discussion? Check out the full blog post here, and use the hashtag #techageparenting on social media!

-Mrs L. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hosting a Cardboard Challenge at Your School

I remember watching Caine's Arcade years ago when I was still teaching art, and immediately becoming inspired and wanting to do something like that with my students, but it never quite came to fruition...

Then, just this fall, I was listening to the TechEducator Podcast about #CardboardEDU and it all came back to me - I remembered how cool I thought the idea of creating using ordinary cardboard material was, and began to brainstorm all over again about how I could use this at my school. Despite being a technology teacher, I absolutely loved the low-tech aspect, and how easy it would be to create a maker-themed event for it.

A quick Google search turned up all sorts of events and projects at schools all over, like the Global Cardboard Challenge, which has been happening since 2012 ... which left me feeling quite tardy to the party! But I still needed to make this happen. I presented the idea to Mr Walker, our art teacher, and we decided to make it a joint effort. We then went to my principal, who was super supportive, and scheduled a short presentation for us at the next PTA meeting, so that we could present to parents and get some support (and supplies!) from their group, too!

The "official" Global Cardboard Challenge is held in October each year, but since the art teacher and I weren't really sure how this would go over, we decided to go ahead and host it in February (at the time, giving us a few months to sort out the details) because it is a relatively less busy time of the year in our building, making it more ideal for hosting events.

In theory, hosting a cardboard challenge event is pretty simple: collect a bunch of cardboard, find a chunk of time, and have students come and make stuff. But of course, in reality, it helps to be a little more organized than that. Here's what we did:
  1. Write a list of supplies to buy, and ask PTA to help fund: cardboard scissors, saws, tape, and glue gun sticks. 
  2. Ask PTA for parent supervision help (if needed, we found that this wasn't needed as much as we originally thought). 
  3. Pick a date (we chose 3:30-6 pm after school on a Thursday), and reserve a space in your building - we chose the cafeteria for the big tables and sweep-able linoleum floors. 
  4. Advertise! We made flyers and asked each teacher to post one in their classroom or on their door. We also went on our morning announcements to try and hype the event. 
  5. Collect cardboard. Lots of it. Have a space to store it all ahead of time. We used the art room, a storage closet, and even a section of basement hallway. Our maintenance team was super supportive (and patient!) with us. Sources for cardboard included parents, teachers, students, maintenance department, cafeteria team... everyone pitched in and it was awesome!
  6. Create a student sign-up system for the event. We used a Google Form to have students sign up in teams of up to four. We asked them to come up with a team name, and encouraged matching shirts, costumes, or accessories. Having students sign up ahead of time was helpful so that we could estimate how much we needed for supplies. 
  7. Decide if your event is going to have a theme, and if not, consider giving some ideas to students for projects: cardboard forts? armor? robots? games? vehicles? sculpture? costumes? We kept our first year open-ended, but I'm considering having a theme next year. 
  8. Awards. Will you have them? For what categories? Who votes? For our first year, we made simple participation medals (out of cardboard, of course) that read: "I mastered the Cardboard Challenge at SMS," and encouraged students to wear them to school the following day.

I was so excited to have over 15 teams of students sign up for our first ever Cardboard Challenge event! There was so much excitement in the cafeteria. Our administrators stopped by several times to watch the action unfold, and many teachers took the time to stop by and talk to students, too! We even had a team of seniors from the York High School "Invite to Teach" program (it's like a teacher internship for students who think they'll go into the education field in college) participate in the challenge!

For leaving the first year's event open-ended, we got some pretty fun and creative results: two massive castle forts, a life-sized robot, a working skateboard, a cardboard V-8 engine, a basketball hoop, a cityscape, and some cardboard shields and weapons were among the finished products!

I think that the students really enjoyed themselves. Several groups took their finished pieces home; a few others left their creations here at school and are on display throughout the building. One of the nicest things to happen after the event was this super sweet and cute email that I received from a student:

I've literally NEVER had a student take time like that to write me an email just to say that they liked something. So this is a pretty big deal for me. I'm saving it in the happy file.

Reflecting on the night's events, there are a few things that I would improve upon for next year:
  1. I need a better clean up system. There was a huge mess at the end of the night. It would be nice to give each team their own waste bin to toss trash as they work. Also, I should pre-set some large cardboard boxes as recycling "bins" for unused larger pieces of cardboard to be returned. 
  2. An adult sponsor for each team. I'm considering having each team include an adult sponsor, like a parent or teacher, to help with building and supervision. It would be a great way to include parents (or building staff), and also help with my #1 item - cleanup. 
  3. Have a snack/refreshment station. Even just cups for water would be nice, but some cookies or granola bars at a table just beyond the builders would be a good place to take breaks a couple of times during the evening. 
  4. Supply organization and safety. Thankfully, everyone was safe and no one was injured beyond a paper, er, cardboard cut, but I would like to feel just a tad bit more organized by having a pre-set "toolbox" for each group next time, probably consisting of cardboard scissors, exact-o knife, glue sticks, tape, cutting mat, etc... This is also where having an adult sponsor for each team would come in especially handy, too. 
  5. Size limits, and plans for display after the event. Giant forts are cool, but don't always fit through the doorway, nor are there a lot of places to store/display them. I think I need to put a cap on size, unless a student plans on taking it with them!
  6. Trophies and a closing ceremony. Our event just kind of ended with a mad scramble to clean up and get out on time. It would have been nice to have more of a show-and-tell time, or awards ceremony. I'd love to make super cute cardboard "trophies" for the winners, too. 

Have you ever been to an event like this, or hosted one yourself? Do you have any advice or ideas? Let me know!

- Mrs L.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Easy Tech DIY: VR Classroom Tour!

One of my 7th grade students showed me how to create a photo sphere of a location using my phone's camera and the Google Street View app (it's available FREE for both iOS AND Android devices). It makes a 360 degree "street view" image, like in Google Maps... OR, if you use your phone with a Google Cardboard viewer, you can view the space in VR and put yourself directly in the middle of the photo sphere!

Of course, I had to make one of our classroom here at school and publish it on Google Maps. I think it's cool that anyone can experience being "in" the computer lit room from anywhere - it's a totally new take on a virtual classroom tour, and a super fun alternative to a video tour!

Here's how I did it... First, I downloaded and launched the Google Street view app (see top of post for links to iOS and Android versions). There will be a little camera icon in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. Click on it, and select "camera" to use your regular old camera phone.

Your live camera view will pop up, and you're tasked with overlaying the circle on the "dot" - holding it in place until the pie-shaped timer runs out. You then rotate around, repeating this circle/dot step until you get back to your starting point. 

Once you've rotated 360 degrees though, you now can tilt your camera UP or DOWN, repeating the 360 turn and the circle/dot routine, until you've basically photographed an entire sphere around you! 

When your photo sphere is complete, you'll get a green check mark icon. You can then select it and publish it to a specific Google Maps listing. Once that step is finished, you can then choose to share your photo sphere via email, messages, etc... You can even embed your image to your website or blog, like I did above!

If you open our classroom photo sphere (here's the link: 360 Sphere of Room 020) using your mobile device, you can choose the "Google Cardboard" view, which works when you insert your mobile device sideways into a viewer. Without a viewer, it just looks like this:

I loved how easy this was to do, and although this has actually been around for quite a while, I'm just catching on now, and thought that it was totally worth sharing. Check it out!

- Mrs L.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Portable, Wearable Green Screen?

I've been asked a few times to give some more information about my DIY portable green screen for video production. Which is actually kind of embarrassing due to the extreme primitive nature of its construction... but here’s the scoop:

I was slated to do the Google Summit Demo Slam, and I had decided that my topic would be color keying, since it’s my favorite WeVideo feature. I was trying to figure out a way to demonstrate how to use a green screen without actually having a green screen, or somehow make it work to setup a green screen within a 3-minute Demo Slam timeframe.

I considered a 3-fold “science fair”-type project board, but this would have still required me to have a surface (like a table) in which to set it on behind me. I decided to instead try and paint a standard piece of foam core with green paint. The original idea was that during the slam I could just hold it behind me and film via webcam, then demonstrate how to do color keying.

I painted 3-4 coats of acrylic paint on the board and let it dry. It did, unfortunately, warp the board a little bit, which was less than desirable. But the color looked pretty good, so I pushed forward.

I logged in to WeVideo and tried recording from my webcam while holding the board behind me, but it became obvious pretty quickly that there was no graceful (or steady) way to hold up the board behind me while filming. Frustrated, I explained the situation to a group of my 7th graders and asked them what they thought I should do. We started brainstorming ideas for mounting or hanging the board behind me (like, “Can we attach it to a selfie stick somehow?” “How about putting it on a backpack?”), which inspired my very rudimentary solution: bend a couple of wire hangers into shoulder mounts and attach it to the foam core with tape!

If you look carefully, you can see the top of the hanger wire (you know, the hook part) underneath the tape.

This is what the final result ended up becoming: a curvy piece of painted foam core with haphazardly bent wire hangers as a shoulder mount. Embarrassingly primitive, but funny nonetheless, so I brought it with me to the GAFE Summit and used it as a prop in my Demo Slam. Fortunately, it got lots of laughs and attention, even if it didn’t end up winning the competition.

I didn’t actually USE the portable green screen contraption to film, as it still has some limitations:
  • It’s not quite large enough to span the webcam’s view all the way to the edges of the frame.
  • The foam core only reaches to the top of my shoulders, making the green screen only useful for neck-up situations, which is… limiting, to say the least. 

Therefore, I have some ideas for improving upon my design for the future:
  • Buy colored foam core and skip the paint part, which would eliminate warping.
  • Use a larger piece of foam core, so it will cover the edges of the camera frame. 
  • Attach a green piece of fabric to the bottom of the foam core, which would create a “cape” of green behind me, which would allow me to film from the waist-up (ish) and still have green background behind me. 

I’m not necessarily convinced that the portable green screen is better or easier than just toting a green fabric sheet around with me (that’d certainly be more compact!), but it does make for a great conversation piece! So there you have it. If you decide to make your own (probably improved!) version, please share it with me!

-Mrs. L.