E-Book Apps

For more than six months, I have been looking at e-book apps that suit the K-12 curriculum.  Many e-books are not as engaging as you would think, given the potential of the technology.

There have been a couple of standouts.  Although expensive, the cost could be rationalized by potential student engagement.  In this first case, we are considering student engagement and Shakespeare!  The Cambridge University Press app Explore Shakespeare allows downloading of the play with many add-ons.  In additionimages to full text and complete audio performance, glossaries, word cloud explanations and synopses are also included.  For less than the hard copy book ($7.99), a student has access to so much more information and interesting ways to reflect on an assigned Shakespeare play.

Our Choice is Al Gore’s non-fiction contribution to the climate change discussion. It is noteworthy because of the variety of information embedded within the app. Animations, documentary clips, interactive graphics, and maps are all linked to this e-book. The imgresphotography is exceptional and the subject area crosses many curriculum areas.

And, although I had a hard time coming to terms with this app’s bad timing, I am going forward in my recommendation.  Sherlock: Interactive Adventure begins with The Red Headed League and, along with the story, adds 3D type visuals, mysterious facts, and music. I downloaded the free app which allows access only to a portion of the story.  Although I know the story, the app asks you to pay for the rest of it at a pivotal point, of course.  I was upset that it didn’t just ask me to pay up front for the complete story.  It is worth it.

Finally, I am recommending this one, mostly, because of the story. Gary’s Place, written by Rick Walton, tells the story of Gary who moves from his parent’s quaint home and begins to build his “dream home.”  Did I mention Gary is a gopher? Interesting visuals provides for a reader’s genuine interest in what Gary is doing.  He builds his way to (spoiler alert) disaster.


Keep in mind that e-book apps need more memory than a normal app.  Check this before deciding on a bulk purchase.

3D Printing

Many makerspaces are built around the 3D printer as a main attraction.  Makerbot has made the purchase of a 3D printer and the accompanying software a possibility for some libraries and makerspaces.

The Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary makes use of a Makerbot 3D printer in its Digital Media Commons. Recently, I attended a workshop run by a Digital Mentor to walk through the steps to generate an artifact in 3D.

All the software from Sketchup for the beginner to Rhino and Blender for the more advanced designer is available on the gaming computers located near the 3D printer.

Next, we were introduced to a 3D scanner by Next Engine that scans 3D objects with laser precision for printing.  This scanner is reported to be used by Jay Leno for reproducing small parts for his vintage car collection.

Then, we returned to see how the scanned item was imported into the Makerbot software.  This software is one of the reasons that Makerbot is such a popular trademark.  It is easy to learn and prints good results.

Although a 3D printer is not essential in a makerspace, it does add a bit of novelty to making.  One of the recent items printed at the TFDL was the 3D model of a brain for a neuroscience student.  As she works on the model she is extra careful since it is the image of her own brain.  For unique parts or for those intent on designing unique items, the makerbot delivers.


Makerspace Materials, Part 3

In this third part of materials to include in your makerspace, I would like to focus on the “other” things.  Not technology. Not tools. But raw materials.

This part is easy.  Start with what you like to do.  For our makerspace, I know I can contribute yarn, craft supplies, fabric and even a few pieces of wood.  Cardboard from your recycling bin can be used for many things.  Pencils, markers, crayons, scissors and various “enhancing” tools should be included.

Having a variety of materials makes for easy, unlimited creating or making.  And does every maker artifact have circuits and technology? No. Start with what you know and like and go from there.

So start small. Add what you have.  Make a wishlist.  Document with photographs and journal writing what you are doing.  Voila! A makerspace is created and the sense of community will develop as students collaborate within the space.

Makerspace Materials, Part 2

In many of the makerspaces that I have been investigating, there is another level of materials added to the mix.  These maker materials are an integral part of the experience in addition to any technology tools that are in the space.

The inclusion of tools like a sewing machine, serger, small power tools and other hand tools would make for interesting inventing and design.  Wearable technology is named in the Horizon Report 2015 to be adopted in post secondary schools within two years.  Already we can see the increased popularity of Pebble watches, and FitBit accessories.  Students are curious about the design and innovative technology contained in these inventions.

Having various tools in a makerspace area encourages experimentation and design trials.  Equipping a space with a few power tools and a sewing machine adds creative possibilities to a library makerspace.  What about hands-on materials for creating artifacts?  Tune in next time for a selection of possible “consumables” for a makerspace.images

Naming Names for Makerspaces

There are many, many kits advertised for a makerspace area.  Although we don’t have our “space” yet, we are moving forward to equip the library with some of these kits to heighten awareness of hands-on STEM teaching.  Our initial purchase of LEGO Mindstorms kits have been used twice in classroom wide teaching and in workshops throughout this year.

It’s a great start but there are loads of other kits out there.  The Littlebits kits seem to target the younger classes, perhaps grades two to six, teaching foundation concepts of circuits.  I think these sets, especially with the Arduino Coding Package, would be a great place to start for an elementary school.

For the more advanced students in middle and high school, I think that an arduino computer with some additions would be a great start.  Starter kits are also a great way to go since project instructions and accessories are included. Arduino and Raspberry Pi seem to be competing for the school maker market.

The sky is the limit in terms of technology and programming but a makerspace can include less pricey options.  In my next blog post, I’ll look at some non-technical materials that can be included.raspberrypi

Makerspaces and Libraries

There is a natural relationship between makerspaces and libraries.  Libraries are places to investigate, wonder, study, peruse, browse, dream, and read.  Libraries on university campuses are used daily by students and faculty members to research, collaborate with others and fulfill requirements for courses.  The library becomes a natural meeting place and community within faculties on campus.

It seems like a natural progression to include some hands-on activities in the library.  Interactive libraries began with the introduction of user centered technology, assess to computers, printers and photocopiers. Now, why not continue to build the feeling of community in our libraries by including a makerspace.  Our education library would benefit from introducing our students to the Maker Movement.  Making will become another tool in their education toolbox to engage students in their own classroomshorizonreport2015.

Or are you a student who learns by doing or seeing?  There are many such students who experience learning rather than reading or talking about it. A makerspace allows learning to be a real experience where students are encouraged to work through problems by trial and error testing.  Learning as process and experience.

The Horizon Report 2015 for post secondary schools predicts makerspaces will be adopted into higher education campuses in two to three years.  We would love to be ahead of the curve.

Class Dojo App and Behaviour

ClassDojo is exactly the kind of app that would not be a good fit in most classrooms. This app is advertised as a “behaviour management tool” to be used in elementary school classrooms.  It will apparently “motivate” students to behave in a way agreed on by the adults in the room.  Points can be added for “good” behaviour and subtracted for well, you know…


Student points are displayed on the interactive whiteboard for all to see.  Parents are allowed access by password to see points added and subtracted in a day.

It is very important for children to go to school and behave in a way they feel at that time.  They are away from parents and are expected to act within the parameters set by the class and the teacher.  Building a great relationship with each of your students is essential to promote behaviour and engagement.  Tapping a subtraction point on an app does not communicate what the expectations are or how a student can better handle a situation.  Positive behaviour and rising to expectations should also be discussed in the classroom.  What happens when “Johnny” has a rough day because his parents are divorcing and he is being bounced around from house to house?  Do we further knock him down by subtracting his meager points?  Please use technology in an active, positive, fun way in your classroom.  Use it to motivate, encourage, and include students.   Engage in conversations with your students and let them know that they are always respected even when their actions are corrected.  I don’t see the connecting or communicating aspects of the ClassDojo app.  I would pass on it.

Educators and Learning

The evolution of teaching is turning a sharp corner.  Recently, professional education literature is focusing on student-centered learning, project-based learning, and deeper thinking for students.  Instead of information being provided to students, they are expected to create questions, find information, and use the information to take their learning forward.  The experience of learning motivates many students to dig deeper into their studies to find answers.  Learning should be a challenge, a personal journey to satisfy one’s curiosity.  Are educators ready to provide an environment for such learning to take place?

The Doucette Library is ready to create an environment for teaching students to learn how to make learning personal.  A makerspace within the library to investigate, experiment, and design learning challenges will encourage students and instructors to experience learning as they would in a modern classroom.  Is there a lecture, an assignment, a mark?  Perhaps the joy of learning will motivate the pursuit of answers. Students who experience learning by doing will try to duplicate this atmosphere in their own classrooms.  We are on the cusp of great learning for instructors, students and the students who benefit from our graduates.

Students and instructors can model a new learning experience for classes and schools.  It really does not even have to be all technology based but it should involve pushing a student’s learning to its limits.  Wouldn’t you love to experience learning by doing?creativity

Count Down to Safer Internet Day 2015

One of the most important open forums you can have with your students contains information about being a responsible digital citizen.  Instead of making it a targeted lesson, although this may be a conversation starter, questioning how a post or tweet or photo appears to the general public can model how students can continually monitor their content on the internet.  Mike Ribble’s website offers many great tips on teaching how to be responsible with your own and other people’s information.  His Respect, Educate, Protect lesson is a great start to help students to question the content they are posting.

Stories in the national press that covered the recent Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons cases show high school students the real life outcome of digital responsibility.  In discussing the reaction to information posted by others about these teenagers, students may be empathetic to these situations.  It is not a stretch to think most students have encountered social media scenarios with inappropriate or bullying content.  The need for constant conversation about a teenager’s digital identity is critical and, as an educator, you are in a position to take part in this conversation.

Children as young as grade 3 are beginning to have a digital identity and it is crucial for them to understand the implications of information freely given and posted on the internet.  Again, as an educator, you are positioned to model and mold safe, responsible, digital citizens.  Talk about being social media savvy, today, tomorrow and everyday until these students are safely launched into the digital world.

Safer Internet Day #SID2015

February 10, 2015 is marked as Safer Internet Day: an annual international event organized by InSafe to help promote safer and more responsible use of online technologies.  MediaSmarts.ca is a Canadian website that teachers should know about.  It continually updates Digital Citizenship information for students of all ages and contains lessons, games, and information for all grade levels.

In my opinion, being a responsible digital citizen is one of the most important lessons you can teach your students.  Beginning in the primary grades, students learn to be responsible citizens among their peers and in the school community but by grade 4 some students may already be shaping their digital identity. We would be remiss to not give equal time to modelling and teaching responsible digital citizenship.

Think Before you Share is a great poster download with information about “your own stuff,” “other people’s stuff,” and “fixing things if they go wrong.”  Timely information for many students who are regularly posting everything about their daily life onto Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We are all working with our students on the internet and part of that learning includes being responsible with the information.