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Drone, Baby Drone and other Creative Apps at ISTE 2014

“Creative teachers,” said one presenter –whose name I couldn’t jot down because I didn’t have the appropriate app ready to scan his QR code at a 30-foot distance–“know how to sneak the really good stuff into their classroom.”

elementsAs this marathon ISTE conference draws to a close, there were so many sidebars, and concurrent darn-I gotta-skip events, it’s hard to pin-point one big thing. I ran into more creatives (the tablet-wielding types) per square foot than at any event I’ve attended. Students, too. More about that in a moment. And I don’t mean creative types in terms of the iPad-toting app-happy folk. There are teachers who have spent insane number of hours disrupting their lesson plans with science-ish, media-ish, technology-ish, math-ish hands-on work that you’d think they were running non-profit enterprises. (sidenote: I just recalled the afore-mentioned speaker – author of the children’s book, “ish” - Peter Reynolds.) Getting students to produce hand-drawn periodic tables because they work better with Augmented Reality. You get the idea.

This enormous body of work ought to be documented (Ok, Evernoted, Dropboxed, Google docked or Wikiid) for the 18,000 weary souls who will drag themselves to the train station and airport today. So that when we return to our students in August, we could pull up some of these big ideas to implement.

Consider some of the discussions and hands-on sessions. Most people outside of education (that’s where I came from) only hear of Arduino, Aurasma, SkitchReflector, and Qrafter at social media shin digs. Drone Baby droneThe rush (crush) to scan QR codes was so great at one point this morning there were lines of people –smart-phones poised– that rivaled Starbucks. I must’ve been the only tech blogger with an analog device –my notebook.

Most people think Maker Spaces are where wanna-be engineers mess around. One teacher at a small booth tucked away in a corner had practically designed a pinball machine kit for students to experiment with simple machines. No fancy app here, but ‘moving parts’ foraged from Home Depot and her garage: door knobs, furniture screws, bolts, rubber bands and ‘springs’ from spines of spiral-bound notebooks. Creative teachers really know how to sneak in the good stuff, on a budget.

In case you read my post yesterday, yes, this kind of creative pedagogical streak is very different from the cameras, cloud-based tools and Google-glas-ish shiny objects I ran into before.

THEN THERE WERE STUDENTS teaching the grown-ups. Lots of them. One group from Mexico brought a mine-rescue bot controlled by Bluetooth, a piezo-electric floor, a cardboard-model levitation train, and a swimming robot embedded in a large plastic bottle that can take water-samples of a polluted lake. Students! Others were showing off how to turn 2D images into 3D movies –ideal for digital time capsules. That palm-sized quadro-copter (above) is not however a student project, but a company who has STEM-ready drones that I just might use, soon.

One more day to go. I plan to skip the last keynote and go talk to more smart people…

And apps to download before I sleep. And apps to download before I sleep.

 

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Ed Tech surge as educators prep for Common Core and more Science

ISTE_crowd1It’s hard to miss the optimism at the premier Education Technology conference here in Atlanta. Think of ISTE as the SXSW for teachers.

Supposedly attended by 18,000 people, it’s a bit like Disney Land, in some respects, with lines stretching hundreds deep. But the technology on show is extremely good, give and take a few shiny new objects.

For instance:

  • I ran into someone from the University of Penn, who’s got a content curation service that uses natural language processing (or nlp) which uses some kind of artificial intelligence and smart filters that a teacher can adjust to grade level. It made complete sense to someone who gets annoyed to hear ‘search’ referred to as ‘Research’. Google isn’t optimized for education, she said. Google is optimized for advertising and monetization. Duh!

PupppetVid_2b

  • There’s a tech coordinator and science instructor out of Colorado, Kristin Donely, who’s found a neat way to let students produce animated videos using a super-cheap green-screen technique.
  • I met someone using, and sat in a class on Augmented Reality (this app Aurasma is amazing) about bringing science to life.
  • I bumped into a team from New Zealand who has a way to let students improve their reading by a teacher adding drag-and-drop sound tracks of music, ambient sound and sound effects. They will let me try Booktrack for free; I could see a different use of it – to amp up my digital storytelling module.
  • Glass3Then there is the iPad economy – with companies developing apps, attachments, learning/tracking systems, engagement tools. The push to create 1:1 classrooms is huge. Steve Jobs must be smiling up there
  • I did see a few people trying to convince us that Google Glass is God’s greatest gift to pedagogy. This lady, Kathy Schrock told me that she believes Glass would be useful in projects that lets a teacher give new perspective to a lab in progress, and also have her hands free.
  • Speaking of Glass, this very cool camera from EXO Labs is more than a shiny new object –it could double up as a microscope for science projects and also stream images wirelessly. And of course, it works with (only) an iPad.
 
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Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Education, Social Media

 

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Could we kindly protect educators from buzzword-itis?

There are some words that make people eyes roll. Words like ‘cloud computing’, and ‘gamification.’ I won’t go into my favorite list here. Done it elsewhere.

I remember when I first ran into the term “the Internet of things” and wondered if it was some passing techno-babble. I had heard it from someone deeply involved in working on this, while working on an article. Now suddenly it is everywhere. And no surprise it’s cropping up in my profession –in education.

It is in the latest Horizon Report, a sort of annual, state of the Union piece about emerging technologies in education for the past 12 years.

If you scroll down to page 42, the authors remind us that (besides the fact that hybrid learning models and connectedness will be vital to learning), this Internet of things idea will be soon upon us. Well, in about five years. No wonder companies such as Intel have thrown a lot of brains and money on this. Acronyms too – they refer to it as ‘IoT’.

Speaking of buzzwords, I began swooping up a lot of them this week in prep for the ISTE Conference in Atlanta. I don’t blame my tech colleagues in education. They get swamped by the vendors Which suits me nicely because 70 percent of my other job as a tech columnist, involves ridding sensible business ideas of their buzzwords. This kind of sentence, for instance:

“Cloud Services, an open and massively scalable cloud platform purpose-built for the Internet of Things.”

And where do you think this kind of scalable, cloudy language shows up?

The afore-mentioned Horizon Report, aimed at educators, of course!

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2014 in Social Media

 

Chromecast Vs Roku case rests (for now)

While many of you are staking bets on whether to back Germany or Portugal, I’ve been wrestling with another tough choice: Extend my content to other screens using Chromecast, or go with a media player such as Roku.

Chromecast is a slick little piece of engineering, with some issues not well explained when you open the delightful little box. One needs to figure out which platforms support Chrome and find a workaround those that don’t. To make matters worse, the Kindle does not support some apps that are available on other Android devices.

Which made me long for something quicker and needs no workaround. Roku has raced ahead and given us about three choices, so this week it was one hearing on my bench: Roku original, Roku 1, or Roku 2. Actually there are four choices: One’s a ‘streaming stick’ (just like Chromecast), and the other three are nifty little media players.

All this about the same week that the Supreme Court ruled against streaming television content via that other little rogue box, known as Aero. In an earlier hearing, some of the judges wondered if this was not what streaming media from the so-called cloud’ was all about.

 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Media, Technology

 

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From HAL to Watson, AI is now more relevant than ever

Every time I overhear someone talking to Google to do a voice search, I am reminded the usual crop of techno futurologists from Asimov to Arthur C. Clarke to Ray Kurzweil who alerted us to the potential of AI. Just for the record I don’t buy Kurzweil’s funky ‘singularity‘ theory is about how around 1945, we will augment our bodies with super-intelligent machines…

Yet, AI is becoming more relevant. Consider what’s happening around autonomous cars. Hint: Google isn’t the only one in this race.Or consider the pace of robotics.

Sidebar: A few weeks ago I asked some students (2nd through 6th graders at a Montessori school) to design and build robots from assorted parts. Many of them gave them names, though that was not the requirement! They have no qualms about machines that might live’ alongside us. I once took some older students to visit a hospital and see a da Vinci surgical robot. They loved it! A bot that can cut and suture one of your body parts!

Back to AI. That famous ‘machine’ known as Watson, which beat humans in that game show Jeopardy, was able to search a massive databases and respond faster than Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. But that was not all. It also outsmarted them in strategy – that is in picking the categories that would win bigger. It is eerie to watch those rounds and see how a computer sitting in between two humans looks like. (It sounds human too, as it calmly picks a category such as ‘chicks dig me’ to the nervous laughter of the live audience.)

I was intrigued to read about how JWT, the agency that handled IBM and this show, was briefed on how to present Watson. At one time, the inventor behind it, specifically asked that Watson should not bear any resemblance to…HAL. If you know Stanley Kubrik’s and Arthur Clarke’s 2001: a Space Odyssey, you’ll know why. That softer logo ‘Smart Planet’ logo, derived from IBM’s larger project about a smarter planet was not supposed to look humanoid, or scare people.

Even those people who talk to their machines (Siri) or instruct them where to go (GPS).

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Technology

 

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Coding in schools gathers steam, thanks to Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook et al

I began introducing coding to my 5th grade classes this year, and the interest level is truly inspiring. I was planning to up the ante in the next school year. Looks like my timing couldn’t have be better.

Many stories have begun to appear about how Coding is being pulled into the curriculum.

The latter piece (by Matt Richtel, 10, May 2014) weighs in on the pros and cons, especially wondering if there’s something iffy about having big-name backers such as Microsoft and Facebook. The insinuation is that they may have vested interests in this, and not be interested in the bigger picture of inspiring the science in computer science.

That’s being a bit too snarky. After all, the ‘career ready’ jobs that educators talk up so much are in such spaces that the present and future Gates’ and Zuckerbergs will create and nurture. I want these kids to glide into those plum jobs, ten years from now. That the runway is being paved with corporate dollars –and their sweat– is not necessary a bad thing, is it?

Also, teaching students to code is not trying to turn them into over-paid kids working out of a coffee shop. Making computer science a mainstream discipline, not a nice-to-have, is a place to start.

If you really want to know the grand plan of computer science, here is an illuminating document on Computer Science Standards for K-12 by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). Some of the points they stress:

  • CS’s role in “logical reasoning, algorithms thinking, and structural problem-solving.”
  • The value of being closely aligned with business people, scientists, artists etc.
  • Teaching students to work ‘cooperatively’ and ‘collaboratively’
  • Teaching ‘Computational thinking’ –from data representation to problem solving

Sounds a lot like Common Core to me. This is what educators in CS have thought through, calling for us to embed these skills as early as Kindergarten. This is not something that grew out of Silicon Valley.

It’s time we put it into practice. The kids are hungry for this!

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Education

 

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What Computers enable in our second ‘Machine Age’

I just ordered “The Second Machine Age” not because authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee seem optimistic about the ‘digital engines’ that were able to diagnose diseases, talk back, drive cars, and write quality prose. But because they seem to acknowledge the thorny challenges we face as these new machines run our lives.

Think about the recent challenges: We are still surprised by catastrophic weather events, despite the satellites and other climate science tools we have. Our marvelous machines may help us locate a lost phone, but often miss the big things. Just consider what GM’s ‘system’ ignored or considered unimportant in their cars. Then there’s the lost 747. A friend recently commented how, despite all our tools, there’s something humbling about how we don’t have smart enough technology to locate something as big as an airplane.

The book is based on the work at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, at which Brynjolfsson is the prof of management at the Sloan School. I like his description (In a Ted Talk) of what he calls  ‘general purpose technology’ that changes the game.

It’s funny, but this seems to be yet another ‘MIT book’ that has crossed my path that delves deeper into the subject of technology compared to the usual blather about how good things are. Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together was a classic discussion in a narrower field of communication tools and robotics.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Book, Book Reviews, Social Media

 
 
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