November 6, 2014

Ollie - On a Roll with Learning

Last summer, I bought a Sphero, "The app-controlled ball that does it all." A bluetooth connected device that you can drive around with your smartphone or tablet, much like a grounded AR drone. Almost as soon as I received it, Orbotix (the makers of the Sphero) announced the Ollie was in development. Well it arrived the other day and it didn't take me long to get it dirty! My five-year-old son, of a similar name, asked if it was his. I said, "No, this is Dad's toy." To which he promptly replied, "But it has my name on it!" Touche.

My interest in these devices is the apps that control them. While a number of the Orbotix and third-party developed apps are entertainment or play-based, there are a few applications that stand out in a learning context. Most notably orbBasic, MacroLab, and Draw&Drive. If we were to scaffold them for stages of learning in school, it might look something like this:

Stage 1: Draw&Drive - This app provides a blank page where users can free-hand draw lines and shapes, assign colors, and the Sphero/Ollie will perform the drawing. This is a fantastic STEAM application.
  • Use line drawings to visualize algorithmic thinking
  • Reinforce mathematics skills relating to ratios and scale, as well as their application to giving directions as a foundation for programming skills
  • For people into photography, this is a fantastic light-writing tool!
Stage 2: MacroLab - As you delve deeper into a programming context, this app allows you to create commands for actions of any level of complexity for your Sphero/Ollie to perform. There is a listing of already developed actions you can use to explore the app's functionality and device response to inform your own development. You choose from a list of commands and define values/variables to build your program, much like Scratch but without the visual interface.
  • Explore the scope of Sphero/Ollie's functionality from the command list to inspire programming options.
  • Explore Geometry concepts, like you may have with Draw&Drive, just with greater levels of precision.
  • Apply algorithmic thinking.
Stage 3: orbBasic - Code your own! Need I say more? If so, see some of Orbotix's lessons in the education section of their website.

September 18, 2014

The First Interview

Such an exciting and eye-opening project for my budding Broadcast Journalism class. This is our school's (American International School Riyadh) first year at our new campus. It being a completely new structure, built for our school, we're still working out some kinks and getting things in place. One of which is the television studio where we will eventually conduct our classes and grow the "Eagle News Network (ENN)". So, until that space is learning-ready, we have great opportunity to focus on research and on-the-ground journalism skills before we dive into the challenges of media production.

The students' first subject-driven assignment has been to conduct a first interview to inform about some aspect of the "New AIS-R", be it a comparison between old and new, existing/evolving programs/procedures, or slice of life pieces that characterize the student experience. The big question here is, "What do you want to know more about AIS-R?"

The assignment has been scaffolded into a three-part set:

  • Stage 1
    • Identify what they want to know more about
      • This should be presented in the form of a question
      • The question should produce an open-ended response
      • The inquiry must be related to school and its purpose will be to inform an audience
    • Conduct background research
      • History of the subject
      • Alternative experiences in other schools
      • What makes this inquiry important or useful?
    • Prepare interview questions
      • Questions should be designed to produce the desired information
      • Questions should NOT suggest a response from the interviewee (avoiding rhetoric and bias)
      • Questions must NOT be confrontational
  • Stage 2
    • Conduct interview
      • Arrange time to meet in advance!
      • Record the conversation
      • Transcribe the conversation
  • Stage 3
    • Compose final story using content from research and interview to support your story's objective to inform an audience about the subject.
Today's lesson was a effort in drafting questions that drew required information in an ethical manner. It was a hard reality for many students to grasp that not everyone thinks as they do. Even more challenging was being able to see how their questions and manner of inquiry could effect the outcome. This resulted in fantastic conversations with students. Can't wait to read their stories!

September 2, 2014

#1st5days - Six Word Selfies

Something needs to change here...soon.
Given the impossible number of permutations oozing from the Six-Word Memoirs movement, I've decided to jump in this pond to help initiate two new courses our Technology department has introduced this year for Grade 9: Digital Photography and Broadcast Journalism.

Each course will be given this task and the approach to this mini-project will go as follows:

  • Compose a six-word memoir statement that communicates a personal story that relates, but is not limited, to the following concepts:
    • Grade 9 as a crossroads
    • Challenging, but necessary, life adjustments
    • Taking control of what you can control
    • What it means to succeed
  • Compose a series of six "selfie" images that observe the following criteria:
    • all images are appropriate for school
    • each image uses a different camera angle
    • each image uses a different light direction or source
    • no post-editing filters or cropping may be used
  • Compile text and images into Google Drawing template shared to their class folder in Google Drive via Hapara Teacher Dashboard. (Click HERE to view template, or make a copy for yourself)

May 25, 2014


It's embarrassing, the number of tabs I have open at any given time and on multiple computers. I have browser extensions that allow me to compare two tabs, group tabs into collections for using later, save pages for reading later, share pages I've already read...the list goes on. Today, I had multiple windows open, each with a row of tabs that were so small, the favicons didn't even show. I follow any number of edtech curated lists and groups (I won't even talk about the freeway system that is my gmail inbox) and furiously spend my time scanning, right-clicking, and opening new tabs. A few hours ago, I found myself just a little burnt (it is May) and overwhelmed with all of the tabs, so I just started skimming. Instead of ideas, connections, and new learning tangents, I found myself occupied with patterns of words.

You see, the day started with a nice little Google+ exchange about the balance between old and new ways. On the heels of having watched the decade-old BBC documentary series "The Century of the Self", and reading a terribly depressing op-ed piece on the direction/derelict of American intellect. So, like the first time I learned about the dangers of high-fructose/hydrogenated anything and began reading every ingredients label I could, I'm currently finding myself taking my edtech consumption a tad less encouragingly...and mainly, it's because of relatively consistent language patterns. I skimmed through the open tabs I had on my windows and found this laundry list of language. What do these words mean to you? enjoy...
...are everywhere...
...everyone has...
...most kids use...
...parents want... boring... exciting...
...the best way...
...captivating... to share... amazing...
...21st century...
...growing in popularity...
...even more true now...
...become meaningful...
...can be successful...
...extend learning...
...make life easier...
...can change the world...
...slick new...
...great little gadget...

To me, this is marketing language. Not education. Without a foray into the 'many hats a teacher wears' metaphor, I ask, "What are we selling and why does it need to be marketed?"

May 19, 2014

Online Audio Production Resources

I'm compiling a list of audio production resources, be they browser applications or open-source resources for download. The idea is empowering students with tools to help them create original audio content for digital media. Pleas feel free to add to this list!

May 13, 2014

Tinkering with HTML5

A week ago today, I broke my wrist in a softball game. Long story short, I was playing catcher and fielding a throw from left field, but caught a base-runner instead. Snap! Ouch! The following two days involved hospital visits, x-rays, an anesthesiologist, and an orthopedist with an affinity for f-bombs. On the second day, I thought I'd start collecting visual documentation of this new adventure for me as I've never broken a bone before.

That's me on the left, just beginning to discover how much this sucks. Aside from my inconvenience, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about HTML5, parallax effect in web design, and a tutorial by Joe Fellows with the Creators Project on how to animate a still image using After Effects. So, while getting a third and fourth x-ray, I started thinking about what I could do with an x-ray image along these lines. Certainly grander than my actual skills, I imagined a landscaping journey of my fractures of the radius and scaphoid bones in my wrist, highlighted with animated tracing of the fractures and descriptive labels. Then, I hopped on a unicorn and flew away on the power of rainbows, making sure to stop at reception for a CD-ROM (!) of the x-ray images. Made with Adobe Photoshop CS6, After Effects CS4, and converted to an HTML5 package with EasyHTML5Video (and hosted on Google Drive), I produced this:

While not exactly a parallax product, it does embrace the concept of animating multiple layers of content. There are lots of free resources and tutorials out there for anyone wanting to learn more about parallax effect. Web Features has a nice little online code generator that could be useful to students learning about how this code works.

April 23, 2014

Infographic Construction Resources

I'm starting a unit on infographics with my Grade 9 students. I've had a similar collection of resources linked in a Moodle page, but I've updated this list, and added to it, using It's a great resource for students to curate content and evaluate using a voting tool. Please feel free to interact and add to this list!

April 3, 2014

The Obstacle - Creating Original Music/Sound

So, a couple of weeks ago, IT arrived in the mail. My first MIDI controller. A little background: In my younger days, my older brother excelled at both the violin and the, this basically means that I took piano lessons too. Hated it. But, it did trigger my initial interest in tinkering. I would later move on to other instruments for greater and lesser durations that included the cello, tenor and baritone saxophones, the bassoon, and baritone horn. This all ended before I was 15. 

Fast forward a quarter century to me holding a 25-key magic machine that will certainly transform me into the singer from A Flock of Seagulls, minus the hairdo. You see, I'm on a mission (not unlike the Blues Brothers) to empower kids with music. And by this, I mean to give them the confidence that they can produce original music or sound to use in their own video creations. I find it fascinating that students will very readily produce video media at the drop of a hat, but seldom follow-through with original sound beyond narration or that which was already captured in the footage. The ad hoc effort here is usually a quick journey to their MP3 or iTunes collection to find "the right" song or downloaded sound byte to fit the piece. It's all well and good that they're making emotional connections with their work, but there are two inherent problems I find here:

  1. The obvious ethical/legal issues of media reuse, and
  2. a possible loss of creative momentum in the overall production.
Now, there are certainly going to be those situations where existing audio is more appropriate for affect and/or meaning. Much of recent debate on the use of published media circles around reuse, and the Creative Commons has dedicated itself to giving producers the option to designate their work as such. For example, the SoundCloud loop above was made using (in addition to my new toy) the Music Boxes VST from SonicCouture, the Combo Model V organ emulation VST from Martinic, and a delay audio effect applied in Ambleton Live 9 Lite. All of these resources allow for the production of music to be published under the user's copyright. This was chosen to be Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SAThat Flock of Seagulls video? Both YouTube and I could easily be issued a cease and desist order as it's a clear illustration of exactly the point I'm getting at. I'm Batman? While the video is an original stop-motion from yours truly, the audio has been pulled from a Hollywood feature and the legal conclusions about reuse of this nature are fuzzy, if not on the side of the copyright owner. So, the rule of thumb: If in doubt, leave it out!

Now, if you're like me, and musical composition is not even remotely near the top of your skill set, well you're probably like most people. You will find those wonderfully talented students than can perform in such a manner and do, but most others wouldn't even know where to begin. I went the MIDI route for one reason, and one reason only: to me, at least, MIDI is an acronym for Press Button, Make Sound. I can plug into GarageBand on my computer, iPad, or a similar app on my Nexus, pick an instrument or sound, and tap away. Really, with GarageBand, I don't even need the MIDI controller, the UI has built-in tools in addition to the computer's keyboard. Not everyone has a Mac, or a lab full of them at their disposal, so what can they do? Well, I've curated the following collection of resources for this purpose (if you're looking for mobile/tablet solutions for audio production see iOS or Droid):

March 6, 2014

Embed Getty's ("The world's largest photo service...") images for free and ethically!

My jaw is dropped at this massive development. A finer point is that the embeddable images will contain a footer with source information. For students and teachers using this content, it makes it easier to include images in work ethically. Spread the word!

Let's Crowdsource Formative Assessment Strategies

I came across this fantastic resource recently shared to Group - Diigo in Education. It's a Google Presentation collection of 56 formative assessment strategies curated by +David Wees. I've made a copy (see below) and shared editing publicly as I'd like to begin collecting exemplars and reflections of these strategies in action, as well as grow the collection. I'm particularly interested in tech connections/integrations employed/able when using these strategies in a 1:1 or paperless environment. Which of these are more or less effective with technology? Click HERE to read/contribute notes, reflections, or new strategies.

February 23, 2014

Why animated GIFs? Because they're art...that's why.

F. Romoli entry to MPP
It seems that London's Saatchi Gallery and Google+ have joined forces to bring us the Motion Photography Prize. Absolutely stunning collection of work here. I've been on the fence about animated GIFs for a long time, more recently against...until now. This will be a fantastic lead-in to my stop-motion project. Find a nice little tutorial about how to make one in Photoshop CS5 HERE. Or, have your students compose and submit their work on Google+ following the directions provided by the Saathi Gallery HERE.

February 16, 2014

SAMR and Project Red Combined

As membership in our community continues to grow - please don't hesitate to get the word out :) - I'm enjoying following links to the work that people are doing. Inspiration for this post comes from #intetk12 follower, +BrandyBixler, who posted posted a fantastic resource in her blog combining the 9 factors of Project Red and Ruben Puentedura's SAMR Model. A principal('s) obstacle to tech integration at the individual level is visualizing it. So, having any level of exemplar like Brandy's matrix really helps to put it into context. While Project Red comes across as very prescriptive, and seems to preach to the choir, it did produce what EdTech had lacked for so long...research. Pedagogically, the SAMR model picks up where Project Red leaves off and, albeit abstractly, paints more of an instructional design picture. Brandy's combination of the two with contextual examples can really be of great use to anyone beginning from either point. Thank you!

iPad Be Nimble, iPad Be Quick | Edutopia

About a week ago, Edutopia posted an article about the integration hurdle of the [iPad] vs. Laptop debate. So true. Our own BYOD program was wrung through such a wringer during the planning phase where the conversation routinely careened into "what you can't do" territory for both device types. It's naive to think that app, software, hardware developers out there are deaf to the "Well, a [insert device here] can't..." paradigm as functionality is improving across the board. However, I believe it's an even greater misstep to not let what a device can do better inform your organization's decision-making. This really is the essence of the transformational stages in the SAMR model.