Apps of Interest – June 2017

anxietyhelper and Verena by Amanda Southworth

I’ve discontinued App of the Week because, let’s face it, although I look at apps every week, actually reviewing one put a ton of pressure on this blogger.

Now, apps of interest will be reviewed and connected to curriculum when possible.  Overall, reader, you will get a sense of what is out there with a focus on uses in the classroom.

Having said that, the two apps in the article today are here because of a few unique qualities they possess.  The designer and creator of anxietyhelper and Verena is 15-year-old Amanda Southworth.  She came to the attention of Apple and recently attended her first developer conference.

Both of these apps are aimed at the middle and high school grade range and do not, in fact, address specific curriculum outcomes.   They are very timely in that they address the health and well being of this age group.  anxietyhelper addresses mental health including depression and anxiety disorders and how to access help for these illnesses.  Verena focuses on resources for the LGBTQ community.

A recent article in Mashable features Amanda’s story and her amazing capacity to code. As various school boards put an emphasis on coding in the classroom, Amanda is an example of how individuals come to coding on their own and follow their own path. While it is a great skill to introduce to all students, some will excel and some with be satisfied with the basic skills.

Take a look at these apps.  While they are not as sophisticated as some, they have an amazing capacity to reach out to students the same age as Amanda, trying to get guidance and answers to some difficult questions.

Summer Reading

Summer is a time to re-energize and have some time for new learning in a more relaxed atmosphere.  That’s everything I love about summer reading except that the location can and be the beach or the deck.  Set your sights on something you are interested in, get a big set of post it notes and away you go.

This summer, I am recommending two reads to reinforce the notion of the “Maker Mindset.”

Both books, while not published this year, are new enough to speak to the notion of making embedded in curriculum and in school culture more completely than a room called a “Maker Space” ever could be.  That is not to say that having a makerspace in any facility that you educate in is not a great bonus but without a leading edge, expensive maker space, any educator can still advance the notion of making in any environment.

The first book is “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is changing our schools, our jobs, and our minds” by Dale Dougherty with Ariane Conrad.  Beginning with Chapter 1, “We are all Makers,” this book, published in 2016, gives a generous overview of the maker movement and some specifics about how it fits in education and more generally, how it is changing the real world.  Chapter 7 specifically addresses the nature and conditions needed to adopt a “maker mindset.”  This book is a quick read to give educators a great foundation in what maker is and what is looks like within each community.

The second book is by Edmonton’s own, George Couros, “The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.”  This book speaks directly to educators no matter what stage they are at in embracing the maker movement.  He addresses, because of his own experience, just how difficult it is to lead a revolution in a school system.  However, the information contained here will give educators much to talk and think about.  Many questions will be addressed, like how to create meaningful learning while having innovative students and educators leading the way.

Have a great summer and allow these two great books to help inform your practice in September.

Both books are currently being catalogued and will shortly be available in the Doucette Library.

 

 

 

Google Expeditions

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Here we go – into the world of Virtual Reality. The  Google Expeditions app and website is getting great press lately in education circles by partnering with various corporations like National Geographic, the National Parks Service and the American Museum of Natural History to collect more than 500 virtual field trips (including the National Space Station, so not your average field trip) in one place.

The app is free and field trips appear in 3D as long as you provide a pair of 3D goggles like these to your students to view the field trip on and a Smartphone or Android in a recent generation.  This would cost about $400 for a class set of 20 goggles and you can ask parents to donate used iphones and androids, add the app and use with the class.

Or, you can invest in the Google Expedition Best Buy set of goggles, devices and a hand held teacher device for more money.  The Canadian prices are available upon request from BestBuy.ca but the American pricing is in the $3,000 to $9,000 range.

Yes, it is all in one place and can be used for a class of 10 or 20 students and it is hardware that will be obsolete over time.  The concern is that it will be obsolete in a very short time.

The idea is wonderful.  Have your students stay in class and experience other geographical or historical places without actually going there.  Consider what you want to invest in this idea.  Ask yourself some pretty thought provoking questions like:

  1. How many times a term will we use this technology?
  2. Will the field trips be “embedded” in the curriculum?
  3. Is this technology an add on?
  4. How do I see this technology increasing the engagement and learning in my students?

Once you honestly answer these questions then decide on a plan of action and consider looking for blogposts from teachers who have successfully used the technology.

And make a decision about how much you would like to invest in the technology and how far into the future before another shiny new technology catches your eye.

The expensive kit would be a wonderful addition to any school edtech collection but not all schools are ready to commit thousands of dollars to one technology.  Look for a way to try it out without a big price tag.

 

Virtual Reality and Empathy

A recent article in The Star entitled, “Virtual reality project takes student through time at black orphanage in Nova Scotia,”  begins to open up the connection between students and history in a whole new way.  Imagine donning a pair of VR goggles and visiting the inside of the black orphanage while listening to the first person memories of adults who were there as children.  This experience will be piloted in four Grade 11 classes in Nova Scotia this fall with the help of Oculus Rift headsets. A few safeguards will be put in place like advance warnings that the content is graphic and may be disturbing to some students.  The authentic voice given to the reconstruction of this time and place will be a valuable tool in the deep learning of these students.

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In a similar vein, students can use Google Maps to visit Vimy Ridge  using 2D technology or VR.  And Google Expeditions  makes many more global locations a click away for many classrooms.

The Herchinger Report weighed in on the subject of virtual reality with a column entitled, “Can Virtual Reality Teach Empathy?”  And the conclusion of the column was “yes” virtual reality can help students develop empathy and self efficacy when they “experience” various VR scenarios.  The New York Times 360 virtual reality series focuses on the refugee experience in various hot spots throughout the world.  Students become more empathetic to these refugees through a VR lens.  Imagine the learning that is possible as students virtually visit many scenarios that, until now, have seemed a half a planet away.

As learning to solve problems through Design Thinking become more workable in the K-12 environment, VR meets the needs of many students to allow them to experience real empathy for many situations.

 

You Are a Teacher…What Now?

Many of the second year students from Werklund School of Education are on their final practicum and well on their way to setting up their new classrooms in September.

Here are a few resources that may help in the transition from student to working teacher.

First is the recent blog post and short video about 17 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Becoming a Teacher.  Keep in mind #1 – your feet will hurt for the first little while.

John Spencer has an interesting blog to follow and a new YouTube Channel entitled, “New Teacher Academy” that is certainly worth a visit and maybe even a “follow.”  Many of his posts are linked to Design Thinking and innovation in your own classroom.  Much of it is positive and provided in digestible bites rather than large, buffet style dishes.

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If no one gives you a “New Teacher Card,” make one for yourself and use it often.  There is a culture in every school that is unique and you can not be expected to know all the details in that first year.

The Doucette Library is still here for you.  As an Alumni, you have access to our collection to help with your teaching.  Use the resources you have used in the past in your classroom. That goes for research guides and pinterest boards.  You have access to it all.

Find a mentor in your new school that you feel comfortable with and ask them questions.  In fact, keep an on-going list of questions on your desk for the end of the day when you are tired and have forgotten what went on.

Everything will seem new but take some chances anyway.  The best way to innovate is to jump in and see what works.  Try it with one class and assess the success afterwards.

And,  a little tip for you elementary school teachers that not everyone will tell you…buy some heavy coverage funny pjs in anticipation of Pajama Day.  And matching slippers if you can.  Box them up in your closet and take them out for the day!

 

 

Maker Centered Learning

Maker Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds (2017) is one of a few new “maker” resources here at the Doucette.   Making is becoming a hot ticket item in the education field with many publishers and manufacturers jumping on the making wagon.

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Having read some of the literature beginning in late 2014, there seems to be a definite  change in tone and content in this later literature.  Looking back at the Maker Movement Manifesto from 2013, it really was all about the gadgets:  3D printer, soldering, circuits, copper wiring.  It was about setting up a place in which to make with tools that were purchased, usually beyond the budget of the average school.

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There is new hope for those educators who wish to make in their classrooms.  Maker Centered Learning dwells on the benefits of having students make with whatever you have and where ever you are.  Instead of embracing the Makerspace in schools, educators are more openly embracing the maker mindset in the environment they work in.

Although having a dedicated maker space in a learning commons or library is a very desirable location in a school setting, newer literature is encouraging teachers to take what they have to situate making in their learning spaces. In addition, the re-designing of these learning spaces  to make them more flexible for different uses including making and more hands-on activities is showing up more and more in the writing.

Meaningful Making: Projects and Inspiration for Fab Labs and Makerspaces was also received in the library recently and is comprehensive in looking at projects with how-to’s, additional websites and curriculum connections.

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There are many new resources to support making in learning environments. There is a definite change in the focus from buying and equipping a Maker Space to including making in a classroom using what is available.  The emphasis on the hands-on learning aspect of making is coming to the fore and not a minute too soon.

 

Maker Faire 2.0

We are happy to say that we have successfully held our second annual Maker Faire in the Doucette Library.

Amid the bubbles, limbo, musical instruments and dress up clothing, we hosted about 300 students and their prototypes.  For anyone quick enough to think of the implications of this many prototypes in one place, they photographed lesson plans, materials and prototypes for a file of great ideas that may suit their teaching sometime in the future.

What exactly were we doing?  There was method in this madness for many reasons.  We were showing students what a Maker Faire in their school or classroom may look like.  We wanted students to see what kind of celebration students would take part in after working through their own problem solving using the design thinking process to prototype ideas and various outcomes.

We also wanted students to feel the engagement that is prevalent when design thinking is introduced into a project.  Creativity and innovation abound when few boundaries are put in place and students are allowed to draw on their own strengths to research and work through a problem.

We wanted also to celebrate the amazing work that has taken place over the last two years by these pre-service teachers.  As they launch to schools for their final practicum and to jobs in the teaching workforce, we hope they remember the Doucette Library has amazing resources for them to draw upon and that they return to make use of them.

And at this moment, I would like to thank my “partner-in-crime,” Tammy Flanders whose wonderful ideas and willingness to wear a tutu for a cause are second to none.  If you have a partner teacher like my partner librarian, your work life will be a breeze.  And I would also like to thank Dr. James Paul and his continual endorsement of the Doucette Library.  Our Maker Faire was a success because of all of the people involved.

New Maker Resources

After all that Design Thinking work, making seems to be an easy topic to go back and look at.  Two new series are interesting for teachers who have a bit of money in invest in some great resources.

The first series, Be A Maker! Maker Projects for Kids Who Love … (Games, Animation, Robotics, Graphic Design, Music) by various authors feature complete analysis of the area in the title.  For example Maker Projects for Kids Who Love Games gives a brief overview of a few skills, like collaboration, that you will need to be a game maker.  After a two page spread on the history of games and another about the development of Monopoly, discussion around what a games needs to be a game begins.  The first real maker challenge is a “hack,” take apart an existing game and investigate why is works.

After a section that discusses the design process, the next challenge features a few pieces from home or classroom and helps learners develop a game using the pieces.  Through various steps to invent the game, makers are pushed to create with what is available.  In the “Make it better!” section, makers reflect on the constraints of the activity.  Would fewer or more pieces help or hinder the design?

The final section of the book discusses prototyping and testing.  The final task sets makers up for designing a game from beginning to end, testing, revising it and testing again.  In this way, most of the books work through a design thinking process to show students about making.  This series would be great to have in classroom that is set to make.

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The second series, Connect with Electricity, contains titles like How LED’s Work, How Batteries Work, How Sensors Work, and How Conductors Work .  These resources would work best in a grade 4 – 7 class with interest on either side of these grades. These books are considered a very thorough introduction to the subject areas with a table of contents, glossary, answer key, selected bibliography, further resources and index.  Photographs capture the essence of each component as well as the historical context it can be viewed in.  And, I learned things from these books that would help set up a foundation for using electricity in various formats in making activities.  These books would make an excellent addition to your Maker Library of Resources.  They include some projects to build skills and others to promote a maker mindset in the classroom.

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Get your students thinking about making by having resources like these in your classroom library.  Both series make for interesting browsing.

Design Thinking Workshop Prototype

And this is the last peaceful moment we will enjoy at the Doucette for some 5 weeks.  Beginning on Monday, what seems like the sprint to the finish for 2nd year Werklund pre-service teachers will begin with the shot of a starting pistol (only figuratively) and continue at a break neck speed until February 14th.

Not that we, here at the Doucette, have been quiet.  Quite the opposite.  We have been developing a workshop for those same 2nd year students as they test the process of Design Thinking within their grade level and specialty teaching areas.  In order to end with a bang that we are metaphorically beginning with, a Maker Faire will be held here to showcase all of the prototypes of their learning on that final day, February 14.

Back to the workshop.  My partner in teaching, Tammy and I have been generally frustrated by each Design Thinking Workshop we have attended.  We began to visualize what the perfect workshop would look like in order to savour the language and process of Design Thinking.  During the brainstorm of our successes and disappointments, the number one reason for most of our frustrations was TIME.

In infomercial style, many workshops offered complete Design Thinking Training in 30 minutes or less.  And in order to experience Design Thinking, we bought into these workshops to soak up the process we had been reading so much about.   Let’s face it, spending two minutes to empathize with a real world problem is not enough.  Coming up with ideas to alleviate said problem with a 5 minute deadline is dreadful.

Developing our own workshop using the Design Thinking process embedded us in the steps to create a great learning experience for our students.  We decided, (listen carefully), to develop the workshop using the Design Thinking process making the workshop our prototype and having students test and give us feedback.  With me?  Okay, then we developed two humanities based scenarios to work with students through the first three defined steps of Design Thinking: Empathy, Definition and Ideation.

And so we begin the journey of walking 300+ students through the Design Thinking process using our workshop as prototype.  Beginning Monday, I will try to blog at the end of each day to let you know our successes and inspirations to change for new iterations. Notice how the word failure does not appear in this blogpost.  “Inspirations to change for new iterations” is the new failure where failure is, clearly, not an option.

Hang on, it is going to be a bumpy ride!

 

 

Awakening the Maker

Having maker minded people in a maker space makes for a more interesting learning experience for students.  You may invite experts to help on occasion or have students who have more making experience facilitate classes.

Another way to promote a creative atmosphere in a learning space is with browsing materials.  Students make connections through the visual browsing of books and magazines.  Of course, Make Magazine is the first resource that comes to mind.  These magazines focus on projects, makers and ideas. Keeping back issues on tables would be a great idea.

Two new books that have recently come into the Doucette Library also make for wonderful maker browsers.  First, Things Come Apart, by Todd McLellan, a book containing 175 colour illustrations and 21,959 components and 5 relevant articles.  The author has dismantled a variety of items like a stapler, a sewing machine, and a two-seater light aircraft.  He has arranged the component parts in an organized photo display and also photographed the pieces as they dropped through the air, sometimes layering several images to complete the picture.  Articles like, “The Repair Revolution” authored by Kyle Wiens, co-founder of iFixit extolling the valuable learning gained by “tear-downs,” the disassembling of electronics are also featured. Let’s face it, though, the real charm in this resource are the amazing photographs.  Set it beside your Take Apart Station for greatest impact.

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DK has published the “Smithsonian Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects” a resource aimed at the elementary and middle school maker space where definite recipes for project outcomes help students to experience hands-on making and gain essential foundation skills that they can later apply to more creative making.  Photographs show step-by-step instructions and the sidebar always shows “How It Works” to reinforce the science behind each maker project.

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Choose carefully but surround your makers with various resources that they can browse in their own time.  Ideas can come from the exposure to what other makers are doing, creating or photographing.

Visit the Doucette Library to take these and other books out to showcase making in your space.