Tag Archives: Technology

Our Makerspace

IMG_0290
A panoramic view of our makerspace.

I am proud to announce that our high school’s makerspace is now open for business. Called STEAMWORKS, this space is for students to build and explore new technology (and even take apart old technology). We have spent the last few months finding a space, funding, and materials to bring the maker movement to our students. We were inspired by many of the top schools in the country that have built makerspaces on their campuses. UC Berkeley, Case Western University, Cornell University, and MIT are a few that now have makerspaces for students to explore emerging tech. Overall, recent estimates put makerspaces in 60 colleges throughout the nation where students can do things like learn to print in 3-D or build a drone.

“The Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing.”

–Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager in Ed Week Teacher

John Booske, a professor and chair of the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Madison-Wisconsin had this to say about makerspaces in a recent article: “We’re going to see more and more adoption of makerspaces as institutions are able to. They are one model of a larger trend which is moving towards active learning.” For Booske, makerspaces are part of the trend in education “towards personalized and blended learning, the flipped classroom model and a more collaborative learning environment.” This trend can be easily seen in the student-run makerspace lab on the campus of MIT called “MakerWorks” that opened last year. This lab is a place where “students, faculty, and staff are allowed to work freely on any project they choose” and “consists of prediction, prototyping, and validation tools to support a wide variety of projects.” MakerWorks has become a popular place on MIT’s campus as students have embraced the open culture and accessibility of the technology it contains. It’s imperative that schools begin to offer places where students can direct their own learning while having access to resources not encountered during the traditional school day. Learning to work with classmates, teachers, and members of the community can help inspire students to take charge of their learning while also preparing them for the types of experiences they may encounter in the future.

Below are pictures of our new makerspace. We will offer our first makerspace camp this Saturday morning for elementary students in our school district (it “sold out” in a few hours).

  
  
  

  
  

What do you want to make?

Taking Flight

I have worked in public education for well over a decade. During this time, I have come to feel strongly that providing students with a variety of opportunities is the backbone of the public education system. It is imperative that we as educators continue to introduce students to different and new ideas and activities in hopes that they will positively impact their future. The problem is, the world is changing faster than it ever has, making it all the more imperative that we continue to provide students with opportunities that are relevant  in this technology-rich world. New technology is quickly altering how we live and the types of careers our students will likely venture into once they graduate. While traditional careers like dental hygienist and occupational therapist are still included in top ten jobs lists, newer occupations like data scientist, software engineer, and biomedical engineer are now included as well. In fact, eight of the top ten jobs included in CareerCast’s Top 200 Jobs of 2015 are in STEM-related fields. Many of these jobs require that employees be able to work collaboratively on teams and use critical thinking skills to analyze large amounts of information quickly. Besides these STEM-related occupations, new software and devices seem to appear daily, making it difficult for schools to keep up with the rapid changes that are occurring. It is important that schools give students opportunities to explore cutting-edge technology without waiting for that technology to become a part of a curriculum’s unit of study. The reality is that things can move so fast that by the time new technology becomes part of a traditional course, it can very quickly become old technology. A makerspace can help bridge this divide by quickly bringing students into contact with new technology and ideas in a low-risk, collaborative environment.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 1.58.39 PMAs I’ve chronicled on this blog, we have worked since September to create a makerspace–called STEAMWORKS–here at our high school. The name “STEAMWORKS” incorporates the acronym STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) with the word “works” to symbolize that students will work and explore new technologies as they relate to STEAM. Once the STEAMWORKS Makerspace is completed, it will be filled with things like programmable legos, droids, a 3-D printer, electronic circuits, and just about anything else you can build with. We’ll even have a station where students can take apart IMG_0399technology like old computers to learn how those machines work. Today, the newest addition to our developing makerspace was delivered: a DJI Phantom 3 drone. So, of course a few of us had to brave the cold and go outside to play with it. Here is a video from our first flight (please watch!). The Phantom 3 is incredible. Watching the video footage really makes you feel like you’re flying.

We are hoping for a late winter or early spring opening of the STEAMWORKS Makerspace here at the high school. Continue reading for a snapshot of what the makerspace will have.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 2.12.22 PM

STEAMWORKS Plan

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 2.13.34 PM

We worked hard over the past few months trying to determine the best way to implement this makerspace. We surveyed almost 1,000 students and hundreds of teachers to determine interests and current trends, took site visits to other makerspaces in New Jersey, and conducted research to determine everything from the types of technology to offer students to what kinds of tables should be used. Throughout the planning phase, a number of themes were identified as being marks of successful makerspaces and will be included in STEAMWORKS:

  • Openness
  • Hands-on activities
  • Faculty-student interaction
  • Community involvement
  • Collaborative work stations
  • Unique technology
  • Effective signage (sounds silly but turns out is actually important)

As material and technology start to get delivered, we can see our hard work paying off as our makerspace begins to take flight. The best part about opening a makerspace is that sometimes you get to play with the toys. That’s how a few of us found ourselves braving twenty-degree weather to fly our makerspace’s amazing new drone.

p3s-and-transmitter-angle

 

 

 

Invent Anything

As someone who has spent a lifetime in education, I’m always on the lookout for free or cheap ways to do cool stuff in classrooms. Whenever a new idea comes out, I always try to find ways to lower costs or to get the latest fad for free. I obviously don’t mind spending money on quality products (hello, Apple and WordPress), but I have to be wowed before I can be convinced to splurge on something that costs money. I’m fearful of not spending wisely or spending money on something that could be irrelevant in a year or two. It seems that technology improves so fast that it can be difficult to commit to anything because you fear your purchase might be obsolete in a few months. As David Pogue wrote in Scientific American, “It’s human to fear new technology.” However, you can’t let fear of making a bad decision paralyze progress. You need to take chances and try your hardest to give students all the tools they will need to be competitive in an ever-evolving workplace.

In an edcamp raffle last week, I won a Little Bits Base Kit that comes with everything youbaseBoxAngled need to get started creating amazing inventions. Little Bits says their mission is to “democratize hardware” but I think they have done more than that. They have created a way to bring the spirit of innovation to students by introducing them to circuits, hardware, basic technology, and encouraging them to experiment. I set out to test Little Bits with my seven-year-old son and am blown away by the product. I think a series of Vines will tell our Little Bits story better than words, so here it is:

We opened the box and made a buzzer (you need sound):

We used the dimmer (you need sound):

We made a tickle machine (this is cool and it works):

We made a windmill (I’m most proud of this!):

Watch the founder of the company, Ayah Bdeir talk about why she wanted to democratize hardware. After watching her talk and playing with Little Bits, you’ll realize why they should probably be a cornerstone of every classroom makerspace.

Making the Classics Relevant

This post is by Bree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph High School

While I believe reading classic literature is a valuable experience, helping students see how the themes and ideas in these works are relevant to their own lives can be a challenge. My Ancient_Greek_theatre_Segesta996English IV classes recently finished reading the play Antigone. While no one can argue the value of the play, I wanted to come up with a way for my students to demonstrate their understanding of the major themes while also showing them how the themes are still relevant and how they connect to their own interests. The Antigone Making the Movie Project helped me to achieve my objective.

Antigone

For this project, students were challenged to create a prospectus for a movie connected to one of the themes in the play. Students had to select the theme that was most interesting to them and create several documents including a rationale, a movie poster, a script for a major scene in their movie, and a movie trailer using iMovie. The results were outstanding. One group focused on civil rights and fighting against discrimination. One group focused on a female’s right to play football, a typically male sport. No matter what movie idea the students decided to focus on, they were required to make connections between the theme in Antigone and the theme in their movie. Below you will find two movie trailers my students created for the project. When you give students choices and the power to create something that is meaningful to them, you will be happy with the results.

 

More from our iPad Pilot Program

This post is by Bree Valvano

ipad-air-specs-black-2013

Skitch and ThingLink

As I continued to explore ways to utilize my classroom iPads, I came across two apps that I believe will help make the classroom experience more interactive and fun for my students. After viewing a professional development webinar on using iPads, I learned about Skitch and ThingLink. Both of these apps allow users to pull images from their saved photos and make them interactive.

Skitch allows the user to annotate images. Users are able to upload an image and add text,Skitch Image and Link arrows, stamps, and other annotations. The app could be used to annotate a passage from a novel with students in the English classroom, identify the different parts of a model plant cell in a science classroom, label a map in a history classroom, or record the steps of an equation in a math classroom. The app is easy to use and takes models and annotations to the next level. When users finish adding their notes to the image, they are able to share it via social media or email. While I believe this is a valuable tool, the next app, ThingLink, is just as cool.
image-3
ThingLink allows users to take a photo and add videos. Similar to Skitch, users can upload
an image. However, ThingLink allows users to add video content to the image. Users could use the iPad to record a video explanation to add to the picture. They could upload a prerecorded video, or they could search for a video on YouTube to upload to the image. After adding one or more videos, users can share their creation with others.
What is ThingLink?
While I think teachers could use these tools to create engaging content for their students, I envision students using both apps together when completing a project. For example, when
studying a poem from the Harlem Renaissance, students could start by taking a screenshot of the poem. Next, they could annotate the text in Skitch, making notes and identifying rhetorical devices. After they save the image,  students could upload the annotated poem to Thinglink and add videos about the author, time period, and/or theme. Finally, the students could share their presentations with the class and/or upload it to Blackboard or other social media sites to share with others. The same process could be used in different disciplines when researching or studying a scientific process, a historical event, or a variety of other topics. I am pretty excited to try these new tools out in the classroom, and I hope others try out these new tools too.

Bree is an English teacher at Randolph High School

3 Alternatives To PowerPoint

6599475_f520

Bored of PowerPoint? Consider trying something new in your classes with these three presentation tools you might not be familiar with:

EMAZE

Emaze calls itself “the next generation of online presentation software.” Students can select from different templates to create visually stunning presentations. Presentations are made using proprietary HTML5  software that runs seamlessly on any browser. Emaze is an impressive tool that can help students focus on visuals and the audience instead of text.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 1.00.37 PMPros: Free, very impressive 3-D-like templates, easy-to-use, cloud-based, fluid transitions between slides, easy to incorporate graphics and other media

Cons: Limited number of templates, might not be best for displaying a great deal of data, not optimized for tablets (yet)

Here’s a link to how Emaze works.

HAIKU DECK

Haiku Deck helps users create “presentations that inspire” by limiting text, simplifying a message, and incorporating  images that add depth. It is a wonderful product that is easily shared online and lends itself to visually stunning presentation. It’s as if the coolest graphic designer around created a presentation tool just for you.

Pros: Free, many stock images to use, can upload images and screenshots from desktop, can be used on tablets, perhaps the best graphics and fonts on the web, public notes can be added to slides to help give them context, easy to share online, creates beautiful presentations

Cons: A bit of a learning curve to master software, no videos can be embedded into a presentation

Here’s a link to how Haiku Deck works on a desktop; here’s a link to how it works on an iPad.

Prezi

Prezi is not necessarily a new presentation tool (it’s been around since 2009) but it’s one of my favorites. It’s easy to use, cloud-based and great for including multimedia. Presentations created with Prezi might not be as stunning as ones created with Emaze or Haiku Deck but they can be just as fun and effective. It’s a great product to use with groups since students can edit presentations at the same time and from different computers. Prezi is like an old, reliable friend–one that can still help you create fantastic presentations.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 1.47.35 PM

Pros: Can be modified by different users at the same time, easy to incorporate video files, can accommodate substantial text, fun to use, can be used on an iPad, incorporates motion into a presentation (see cons), will auto-sync your presentations across devices

Cons: A bit of a learning curve to master software, limited space unless upgrading to the paid version (I pay $59 a year for more space and the ability to keep presentations private), too much motion can leave viewers with motion sickness

Here’s a link to how Prezi works.

All three of these tools can be mastered by students quickly and will encourage less text and more audience interaction during a presentation. During a future lesson, consider training17having students choose one of these three tools and create a presentation using them. As students move into college and the workforce, they will likely have to give many presentations. These three platforms can help students develop important presentation skills while also helping them avoid some of the traditional bad presentation habits that can form when using only PowerPoint and Keynote.

The Essentialness of Essential Questions

question-diceIt is clear to me that classes function better when learning goals are framed around essential questions and are continually referred to by a teacher throughout a unit of study. This is not a hypocritical post. I readily admit I did not do this enough when I taught. Now that I get the chance to observe many classes a year, I have come to the conclusion that classes often run smoother, have more engaged learners, and are more relevant to students when learning goals and essential questions are tied to each other and are present during lessons. I find that even the simple act of writing these down on a room’s blackboard can help focus instruction and the students in class.

It is one thing to list what students will learn or accomplish during a unit of study (this will still help!). It is another, more powerful idea, to tie these to essential questions. An essential question is a big idea-type question. Essential questions cannot be answered with yes or no and their answers cannot be right or wrong. They can lead to debate and will hopefully spark further inquiry in students.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.45.54 PM
Grant Wiggins from Big Ideas, An Authentic Education e-journal

In the many classrooms I get to visit, I find that essential questions can help frame a unit of study by giving students an indication about why the information they are receiving is important. As a teacher, think about using essential questions this way: To answer these imagesquestions you will need to learn _____? This exercise can help focus instruction and demonstrate to students why the information they are pursuing is relevant. To further guide students, it is vital that both the lesson’s objectives and essential questions be made available to them. It sounds like a simple thing, but it can make a HUGE difference in a classroom. If I went back in time, the first change I would make as an instructor is to do this on a more regular basis.

If you are daring, try delivering essential questions and learning goals in a variety of formats. Sure, writing them down on a chalkboard will work, but how about including them on handouts, quizzes, or correspondence with students? How about making an iMovie trailer about them? Here is one I put together that includes two essential questions from our district’s world history curriculum to introduce a  unit on the Renaissance:

Be creative with the questions you ask (many curricula today have essential questions in them) and be creative with how you deliver them to students. Refer to them often as you teach. Have students attempt answers as closure at the end of lessons. Most importantly, do not keep these locked up in a closet with your curriculum. Due to their essentialness, make them available to students every day they are in the classroom.