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Category Archives: Education

In Robotics, investigating, journaling, and ‘core values’ matter

This week, we selected members who applied to our Robotics club. That’s right, we have an application process which involves a short test, an interview and a contract (the code of conduct) they sign and agree to practice.

Why such a process? Robotics is an after-school club at my school but I wanted members to realize what they were getting into. It’s not just building and playing with Legos. I have done this for 5 years now, and found out that the real value for students is when they get their hands around the broader scope of robotics. They learn to be researchers, problem-solvers, journal-keepers, programmers, and ‘mission specialists.’ They must also become good presenters of their work.

This year, the focus (‘Animal Allies‘) is on Animal-Human interaction. What happens when animals and people interact? Are there problems they could identify, and solve? As FLL recommends, could the solution be beneficial to animals and humans?

If you’re starting out with a team it’s important to know that many of the previous themes have nudged students towards a ‘win-win’ solution.

At the tournaments, teams will be judged on three areas

  • Core Values
  • Project
  • Robot Design

rubric-project

A little neglected fact is that winning the Robot game will not earn the most points. But as we coaches all realize, the robot game is what eats up most of the meeting time. It’s also worth looking at the rubrics for each of these three categories:

Just the Rubric for the Project (right) involves:

  • Problem Identification, Sources of information, Problem Analysis, Review of Existing Solutions.
  • Team Solution, Innovation, Implementation.
  • Sharing, Creativity, Presentation Effectiveness.

In other words, getting into robotics means learning to become an investigator, a problem-solver, learn to be an effective communicator of the science you worked on. It’s exciting to see 5th and 6th graders step out of their comfort zones to do this!

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2016 in Education, Robotics

 

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Smarter than Google? The hunt for a ‘research’ engine

In my attempt to differentiate between Search and Research (a topic that I return to around this time in the semester) I found a current event with a point of focus: ‘Chasing an asteroid!’

As luck would have it, NASA just launched a mission, Osiris Rex, that is basically a space explorer that will be chasing an asteroid for two years, before it grabs a piece of it and hustles back to earth. Students love events like this, and quickly dig deep into finding information around it.

omnityAnd as luck would also have it, there’s a new Search engine called Omnity that promises to do better, providing ‘constellations of meaning.’ Smarter than Google, even! I wish it was true, and plan to find out shortly.

Sometimes ‘research’ involves going down that rabbit hole and unearthing nuggets of information that seldom shows up on a simple search query. Students will find out that although the mission will take 7 years the return trip will take longer than getting there. Why? What determines the timeline? Google sometimes lulls us into being content with unspectacular answers. It makes us unwilling to do probe deeper.

 

After all, it’s not enough to teach today’s students how to use Google and Bing, or even Wolfram Alpha, but emerging tools, as we go chasing after asteroids in class.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2016 in Ed-Tech, Education, Events, Search

 

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In the age of Shodan, cars aren’t the only targets in the Internet of Things

IOT of the Internet of Things may sound like an overblown idea. But it’s becoming a reality, despite the buzz phrase. Consider the millions of controllers in homes that are connected to common appliances such as baby monitors, security cameras, garage doors etc.

I brought this up in a class on Internet Safety, and it’s fun getting students to brainstorm what steps one could take to play it safe when you are connected to the Internet. It opens to door to discussions broader than not clicking on links and pop-ups, or using hard-to-crack passwords. There are software fixes, and there is common sense. Consider how FBI director, says he placed a piece of tape over his laptop camera, to prevent someone hacking into it.

Not many have heard about Shodan. It’s considered a search engine for connected devices – such ‘things’ devices connected to Linksys, Netgear, or Cisco boxes.

This true-life hack of a Jeep is a good way to discuss what ‘things’ might entail in the Internet of Things.

 
 

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Should schools go completely digital?

Odd question. Perhaps a few years too late, but…

Would you want your children to be in a school that’s all digital? Let me paint a few scenarios.

  • Should teachers stop using handouts and publish lessons to be read, watched or listed to on digital devices?
  • Should schools have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy?

There is no shortage of  wonderful, free technologies that stimulate collaboration, and empathy. I have even used some of them in my classes! However, I also know that young people are perfectly capable of learning, creativity, discourse and group work without the help of a shiny object. We hear that ‘Digital Natives’ are wired for learning differently. But are they?

And then there’s the brain development side.

  • There are also the unintended consequences of too much screen time, warns Dr. Aric Sigman. He warns of “permanent damage to (children’s) still-developing brains”. Dr. Sigman is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Read this piece published in April this year by Psychology TodayThis Is What Screen Time Really Does to Kids’ Brains.

A new book about digital natives, Screenwise, calls for more mentoring not monitoring. But we tend to assume too much about digital natives. I like the point made by Jessica Laura (in a blog post at CommonSense.Org) that calls for ongoing, explicit training of digital literacy – and not just ‘screens.’ She says:

People say, “The child’s a digital native,” but that has nothing to do with whether or not they know how to use technology well; that just means they’ve grown up with it. Just because I grew up speaking English doesn’t know I mean everything about English; we still go to English class for 13 years of our lives. 

Digital Citizenship and digital literacy is a fast-updating field. What people in their forties and fifties ‘know’ about digital is probably ancient wisdom. It may not happen in the next school year, but here’s a question for parents and teachers: What would you do if your school goes digital?

My wife runs a school that will probably never go digital. For good reason – it is a Montessori school, a place where, happily, you can’t replace such tools as sandpaper letters, sound boxes and pink towers. But before we know it, toddlers may be needing to know a thing or too about what it means to be a digital citizen – when they get home to their parents’ smart devices!

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2016 in Ed-Tech, Education, Technology

 

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Robotics Season kicks off

Robotics season just got started. If you’re putting together a team for FLL Robotics, here’s the launch video about the 2016 theme.

As we get started in our school to participate, I see plenty of potential in how young people could be engaged with ‘Animal Allies’.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2016 in Ed-Tech, Education, Robotics

 

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Will ‘Little Free Libraries’ do what eReaders didn’t?

Many years ago, in a neighbour’s store-room down Hildon Place, a few of us stacked our books together and called it a library. When the idea caught, we began issuing hand-made library cards. There was no organization to support us, but there was no shortage of kind old aunts who fed the librarians and patrons well.

So naturally I’ve been fascinated by the ‘Little Free Library‘ movement that’s been cropping up outside homes. The library (as you can see here) looks like a large bird house with a door and a plaque.

But will a little box on the curb spur a new interest in reading? We were hyperventilating with optimism when eReaders took the world by storm almost a decade ago.

A little library with no overdue fines looks quaint, but unlike digital trends, these decidedly analog ‘platforms’ (they are raised boxes, aren’t they?) have the potential to build conversations, and bring communities closer. There are some 40,000 Little Free libraries, to date, according to the website’s FAQs.

Starting one is as simple. Owners are asked to register one’s Library making it searchable online. Borrowers are urged to contribute a book for every book borrowed.

Some young people have launched their LFLs with aplomb, having constructed it out of scrap wood or from an old bookshelf. I could see this trend become almost a hobby, as young readers discover that there is more than one way to enjoy a good book.

  • If you like the idea, follow Little Free Library on Twitter @LtlFreeLibrary
 

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Is ‘word-processing’ a misnomer? Or old-school?

Sometimes I wish we could delete update the term ‘word-processing’ from our vocabulary. It has been ingrained in taken up permanent residence in the cortex of our brains, and needs to be dispatched to the storage unit reserved for vintage-tech such as ‘typewriting’ and ‘facsimile.’

It’s not that we don’t ‘process‘ words anymore. It’s just that we use the software to more than highlight, punctuate, or cut-and-paste. Food processors continue to grind and chop things for us, but word processors? We can use them to embedded videos in docs, or create blog posts for heaven’s sake! As far as words go, we could use Word to translate content into, say Hungarian (‘Word processing’ turns out to be Szövegszerkesztés in Hungarian.)

In my computer class at Salt River Elementary, since keyboarding and document creation are often the starting blocks, I try to inject concepts that refer to creativity and publishing in addition to content creation, when dealing with Microsoft Word.

But what else to call it? Any suggestions? 

‘Word,’ which is still listed as ‘document and word processing software’ started out as ‘Multi-Tool Word’ in the same year that Flashdance, and Never Say Never Again was released – in 1983! Today there are many more choices – niche software such as Nitro Pro, and for authors, there’s Scrivener.

So is Word-processing just old-school?

 

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