Thursday, May 30, 2013

Splits Baratta: Adaptive Tech and the Maker's Movement

Contrary to what you may be thinking, Splits Baratta is not an Atlantic City show girl. She is a special needs duckling. Hatched just this Memorial Day, Splits is a champion for the Maker's Movement. She was born with a duck form of hip dysplasia. Hence the name. Other duckling Moms may have given up on Splits but not Angeline Baratta and her duckling mom mentor Beth Ahee. Beth suggested Ang move Splits in with the healthier ducklings when Splits and her sibling, affectionately known as Tumor, were languishing in the incubator. Splits went to Ang. Tumor to Beth. Both were welcomed into their brood. Tumor began to thrive within hours. So much so he was renamed Butterball. Splits made her way to the food dish where she spread out and stayed, making her none too popular.

Cut to Rosemary Barker, the Grosse Pointe Academy's consistently cheerful, ever determined, school nurse. She looked into the duck defect and discovered that it can be corrected with physical therapy. It was suggested that the duckling's legs be taped together. Splits was not at all happy with this arrangement. (Her outrage was adorable though.) So, Rosemary tenasciously tried a number of different everyday objects to force Splits' legs together including a tiny condiment cup and a toilet paper roll. This combo seemed to do the trick. When Splits is in the cup she can move her little winglets to balance and stand. When she is in the toilet paper roll she is calmer but it holds her legs in place. After just a couple of sessions, Splits was walking more normally. We are confident after a few days of physical therapy she has a fighting chance at a quacking good life. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

The maker's movement is founded on playful inquiry.  Rosemary's quest was born of necessity. This makes a powerful combination. Jay Silver, wearer of merry pants and inventor of Makey Makey, An Invention Kit for Everyone talks about all the uses of his whimsical kit in his fascinating TED Talk: Hack a Banana.  Jay shares the story of a father who used his kit to make computers more accessible for his child with Cerebral Palsy. Depending on the nature of the spasticity, many people with CP are limited to a single switch for communication with a computer. This resourceful Dad put the Makey Makey Kit into a glove and used Conductive Paint to create a circuit along the thumb and first finger. Viola! His child now has multiple entry options. The Makey Makey Kit along with Conductive Paint opens adaptive technologies to a whole universe of possibilities.

We will have an Innovation and Design Center at GPA next year, filled with fun things like Makey Makey, Conductive Paint, A MakerBot 3D Printer, and littleBits. I can't wait to see what they invent!

MaKey MaKey - An Invention Kit for Everyone from jay silver on Vimeo.

What is littleBits? from littleBits on Vimeo.

Ayah Bdeir is the inventor of littleBits. She is also the wearer of some cool and funky boots. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interesting Ways to Use Aurasma-Augmented

A couple of weeks ago I attended EdCampDetroit . This is a free and righteous gathering of dedicated teachers coming together to learn from each other. On the first beautiful Saturday after a long Michigan winter no less. While there, I attended an App Smackdown and learned from Erin Klein of Kleinspiration about Aurasma.   Scratch that. I really learned about Aurasma  from the Ted Talk, Image Recognition that Triggers Augmented Reality given by the inventors last year but I had a lack of imagination of ways I could use it in the classroom. What Erin did was share with us ways she uses Aurasma in her second grade class which I will write more about after I explain what it does for those who may not know.

Aurasma is an Augmented Reality App. If you are unfamiliar with Augmented Reality I cannot describe it better than Commoncraft. Check out their entertaining and informative video on the subject here. Augmented Reality in Plain English

It helps to have an understanding of the vocabulary involved in using this App. So here are the basics:
  • Triggers are the static images (reality) that the video or photo content shows through (augmentation)
  • Overlays are the photo and video content (Augmentation) that lays over and plays through the static image trigger
  • Auras are the completed combo of triggers and overlays.
At least that is my understanding at this point. 

Erin told us she uses Aurasma  to teach vocabulary, tapping into kid's natural love of hamming it up. The kids create a vocabulary card with a drawing as the trigger. Then they get a classmate to video tape them acting out the word as the overlay. Once the aura is created by matching the overlay to the trigger, from then out when a student holds an iPad or iPhone on the Aurasma app up to that trigger they see the wee thespian's video. 

Ms. Klein also used Aurasma on Back to School Night to have students introduce themselves and the classroom through their "About Me" pictures. This got me hepped up and thinking. I thought of Tom Barrett's Interesting Ways Series. Tom set up and published for collaboration, Google Presentations of various web 2.0 tools and how they can be employed for learning. The way it works is various teachers simply add a slide to the presentation creating a community garden of useful ideas. I  wondered if anyone is doing that for Apps. A quick Google Search seemed to confirm that for this app at least no one has done it. My apologies if someone has. However, I decided to put it out there and collect your great ideas in one spot. If you would like to add to the Interesting Ways to Use Aurasma in the Classroom Presentation, please do so. 

I have embedded below my How to Aurasma Presentation that I put together to help my teachers feel more comfortable with using it and creating their own Auras. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Merit Pay....Really?
Steve Wampler Photography
Do you know of anyone who went into teaching for the money? Don't get me wrong, I am all for paying us more but most teachers are not motivated by cash. In fact, according to the research people in general are inspired by things other than money. Daniel Pink says what really drives us is autonomy. I would like to add to that recognition, relevance, and appreciation. Even though most educators I know would take a bullet for their kids, they are not martyrs. Pleasers? Possibly.  Suckers? Absolutely. Gratitude gluttons? Come on, who isn't? 

Nine out of ten teachers surveyed say they went into teaching to make a difference, one child at a time. 

Photo by: Megan Black
So when the powers that be talk of education reform and motivating teachers why not use reason and listen to the research. If you want to see us perform better give us the support we need.  Motivate us with merit autonomy. Give us the "Google Twenty Percent Time" during the school day or week. (More things to do at home on our sofa do not count.) Most of us would happily chew gravel to have a week, free from the burdens of standardized testing, meetings, and curriculum mandates. Where we could decide how best spend our time or  improve our instructional ideas.

If you really want to rock our world, give us 3-5 days a school year to select our own professional developments and send us to them. Gratis. With a seasoned substitute at the helm in our absence. 

Merit Massages would be nice too. A brief thank you note will turn a teacher's day around. Coffee... Chocolate... Scotch... 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fabulous Five Free Apps for STEM

STEM...STEAM...Potato...Potato... Whatever the acronym, education in the US these days is focused on improving learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. Wise educators recognize that the Arts are a critical component of this process. How can we build if we can't design? How can we design if we can't imagine? 

There are many great STEM resources out there on the iPad. Personally, I am a bargain fan though so I am highlighting free resources. You don't get any better than free. 

The first three are all created by Autodesk. I believe they must see these apps as an investment in their future employees because not only did they create engaging and visually stunning apps that really make your brain hurt and give them away, but they also provide free training for educators on their STEM website

AutoDesk Digital STEAM Applied Mechanics teaches basic mechanical engineering principles through games in these five topics: Energy and Work, Forces, Loading, Power, and Mechanisms. Players learn these principals by playing games that apply them. I learned that my understanding of forces and loading are far superior to those of Power, Mechanisms, and Energy and Work. I tried playing each of the latter three games several times and each time I lasted less than seven seconds before the game was over and I lost. 

Digital STEAM Measurement is an app where even the tutorial is pretty nifty. You click your way through each of the measurement topics and get a brief, entirely visual introduction to the various forms of measurement. Topics covered include: Linear Measurement, Perimeter, Area, Volume, Angular Measurement, Proportion, Weight, Liquid Volume, Temperature, Mulitple Variables, BTU, and Power. It looks wicked, awesome cool too!

Digital STEAM Visual Design teaches the language and basics of design. Players can wade to their knees in 3D design as well. The Elements explored are: Space, Point, Line, Shape, Form, Value, Texture, and Color. Principals covered are Balance, Emphasis, Rhythm, Unity, Proportion, Contrast, Continuation, and Economy. 

DIY Nano HD helps students investigate the nanoscale through DIY projects. What is the nanoscale you ask?! (Insert maniacal, cartoon-villain laughter.. Moo haw haw..) Why the nanoscale is the scale of atoms and molecules...of course! DIY Nano has three main elements: Activities, Videos, and The activities are fun, well explained and organized, and are simple to do with most materials easily and inexpensively acquired. 

NatureTap fuels the bio science lover's needs. It comes with a grid of various birds from all walks of life. You can see stellar photos of them and listen to their calls while reading an Audobon-esque description. Then you can test your new knowledge by playing games and completing puzzles. With a free registration you can also get the Spiders and Insects grid. For $0.99 you can learn more about mammals, reptiles & amphibians, and wildflowers with more areas slated for development.