Archive for MakerEd

Half-Steps, Whole-Steps, Bits and Bytes – ISTE Poster Session Downloads and Resources

The following resources further explain or support my ISTE 2015 Poster Session entitled “Half-Steps, Whole-Steps, Bits and Bytes: Music Fundamentals through Computing.”
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Building Our Values and Mission: Minecraft Design Challenge

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This quarter, I’ve been using Minecraft in Digital Media. For this project, I wanted to give them a design challenge related to the mission and values of our school. Their presentation is below, and if you have a chance to watch it and leave feedback, we would appreciate it!

Design Challenge: Create a world in Minecraft which reflects U Prep’s Mission Statement and Values.

To begin with, the students had to unpack both the Mission Statement (“University Prep is committed to developing each student’s potential to become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world.”) and Values (“University Prep believes that integrity, respect, and responsibility are essential to accomplish its mission and to sustain its vision.”) From there, they brainstormed what kinds of things could be built into Minecraft that would communicate, further or demonstrate those values both for themselves as well as other players who might join their world.

After the mindmap, they did two rounds of prototyping: first drawing a map of their own proposed world, then having to assemble all of them as a class into a physical prototype in our Maker Space. After that, they went to their in-world build. Finally, they presented their work for some of our staff and faculty for feedback. Their presentation is below (~8:00, direct link to slides). If you watch the video, please take a moment and leave feedback for the students on their feedback form. Thanks!

At the end,

Don’t Make(r) a New Computer Lab

Our Makerspace is, as with many schools, located in the room which used to house a computer lab. The transition from pull-out lab-based computing to immersive 1:1 environments has left a variety of spaces available to be used in creative ways. Schools looking to offer Maker and tinker-oriented programs (including robotics or other tech-based activities) can make a natural transition of that space by adding maker tech, and it even makes some logistical sense– these are rooms which are often designed to offer easy access to power and network outlets, and may have lockable storage for peripherals or laptops which can be repurposed for tools and supplies. But in the rush to revise the computer lab, have we recreated “The Computer Lab?” At the Independent Schools Educators’ Network dinner at ISTE 2014, I spent some time chatting with Kelsey Vrooman of the Urban School and Bill Selak, now at Hillbrook, about this very question.

I believe that the most important reason for 1:1 computing in schools is context: students using computers in Language Arts creates a context of use for the computer which places it within that discipline. The message of this style of use is clear: you have a variety of tools that you use to discover, experience and demonstrate the discipline of Language Arts– your computing device is one of them. The computer lab model decontextualized technology use by creating an abstract space, time and skill set for computing use, and we have abandoned that model because it no longer fits with our view of technology an integrated, immersive, just-in-time resource.

The goal of adding a Makerspace is either implicitly or explicitly expressive of some of the same desires and goals of 1:1 computing– “soft” skills or ideals such as creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and authentic work, or concrete curricular goals such as STE(A)M or 21st Century Computing/Technology Skills. As we asked with 1:1 computing, we should ask the same ideological questions about the location or environment of a Makerspace: pull-out, or push-in? Standalone, or immersive? Remote, or classroom-based?

Seymour Papert described the computer lab through the lens of systems and schools in “The Children’s Machine” by calling the lab a school’s attempt to control and homogenize a resource that it didn’t know how to adopt. The lab, he argues, is a construct borne of the school system’s need to clearly delineate expectations, input/output and “expertise” (in the form of a responsible teacher). Many of his observations about the “unknown” nature of tinkering-based learning hold just as true for the Makerspace as they do for computing. To be sure, there are logistical concerns which lead to a separate Maker space (just as, in the pre-mobile days, it wasn’t reasonable to put 1:1 device ratios in a classroom using only desktops): a Laser cutter has to be installed with specific air circulation needs, for example, and isn’t going to be rolled into a class on a period-by-period basis. That doesn’t mean, however, that many of the elements of the Makerspace can’t be mobile: materials, tools, (and more importantly:) skill sets and challenges can be pushed in to classes and contextualized just as we are now doing with 1:1.

We have reached a compromise on our campus of the personalization and contextualization of 1:1 computing for most needs, with specialized resource centers of computers for unique needs beyond that which a personal device may cover. Our publications classroom has specialized software and additional computing power for photo and image processing. The same goes for an art classroom. When Middle School students, armed with iPads, embarked on a MinecraftEDU project, we supported them with a collection of classroom laptops to run that software. The challenge in building our Makerspaces is to strike the same balance: what are Maker activities which require a specialized and purpose-built space, and which deserve to be pushed-in and integrated into class contexts?

My Watch Thinks Everyone Should Learn to Code

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(img: The Very Excellent DC Rainmaker)

Outside of my Education vocations and avocations, I am an avid triathlete. Triathetes have a bit of a reputation already as being tech- and data-geeks of the sports world, and being a technologist by day and triathlete by night, I’m probably not helping the curve. My tool of choice up until recently was the Garmin 910xt, a training computer which helped me analyze all of the various metrics of my training and performance. When the Wall Street Journal asked recently why so many “mere mortals” were conquering athletic feats like the Ironman, training computers like the 910xt were a large factor in their narrative.

Sadly, my “training brain” fell off my bike during a race earlier this year and was lost to the tri deities (or a very lucky course official). It got replaced by the Suunto Ambit 2S, a newer multisport (fancy word for triathlon) watch. Disclaimer: My wife works for a sister company of Suunto. We purchased the Ambit as a replacement in order to “keep it in the family.”

Two Paths Diverged

The Garmin has a feature built into its website that allows you to enter a workout plan ahead of time (e.g. certain distances, speeds or times). The watch will then cue you when it’s time, for example, to run, stop or change speeds. The ability to create and enter these kinds of workouts is a huge part of what makes training technology so appealing– based on modern training science, building more complex but specific and targeted workouts is more effective than “go run for an hour.” Side note: If you want to know more about this, you should contact my wife. She has her MS in this and trained people at the Olympics. I read some magazines and am not going to be in the Olympics. Garmin made this very easy.

 

 

 

 All of the hallmarks of a modern web-based application: Drag-and-drop editing, drop-down menus, bright friendly color-coded interface. This is designed to let you do what you want to do as quickly and easily as possible and get you on your way without ever having to see (as a dear former colleague liked to say) “into the belly of the beast.” So when I was setting up my new Suunto, one of the first questions I asked my wife was how to enter interval workouts like this.

 

“You write an app for that,” she replied.

 

Suunto’s entire backend service for their watch is not the slick “nothing-to-see-here” recipe of the Garmin interface. It’s an Integrated Develop Environment. Users develop “apps” for particular workouts, publish them to an App Store (“App Zone”), download and modify other apps– It’s some part App Store, GitHub and gym locker room swirled together.
This is how Suunto envisions creating workouts. ("Sleep Monitor," by PPIIOOTTRR)

This is how Suunto envisions creating workouts. (“Sleep Monitor,” by PPIIOOTTRR)

To really drive this home: that screengrab above is not from any hidden backend– that’s from the main App Zone page for this App. Suunto is upfront and loud-and-proud about showing you that this is a pile of code, and here’s how this App runs.

Once an App is developed, you have the ability to play with the variables in the App Zone before you download it to your device and execute the workout. If someone has the backbone of a workout that you’d like to do, for example, but you want to change the number of repeats or the amount of time, you are presented with a series of slider bars to customize it for your purposes.

(Customizing "High Intensity Intervals," by Movescount)

(“High Intensity Intervals,” by Movescount)

Again, note the Slider bar labels– those aren’t “plain English”– those are the variable names from the code. Does your average user know what “INTDIST” is?

I’ll admit that I got a little “new device whiplash” when I saw this. As with many rough device transitions, this was an issue of planning and time– I wanted to be out the door in 10 minutes on my run. I did not have time to deal with this new paradigm. So I went through the standard stages of Inconvenience (“I don’t have time to deal with something new!”), Anger/Annoyance (“Why can’t this work like my old tech?”), Dismissal (“This new stuff is ridiculous. Who needs these features?”),  and finally arrived at Open-mindedness (“Okay– What can this do and how does it work, and does it match a need or interest for me?”). Thinking a little more clearly, I can see what Suunto’s going for here– their App Zone is filled with thousands of apps that are far beyond the stock “off the shelf” capacity of the Garmin (or even of what the Ambit ships with). Even just the basic interval workouts have more flexibility than the Garmin template builder, and there are definitely times when I was using my Garmin and got frustrated at wanting to be able to get it to do something that it wasn’t an option in their interface. Suunto’s market differentiation here is giving users the keys to the entire hardware package– all the sensors, monitors, transmission protocols and output, and saying “Go nuts, people.”

With technology in general, there is a continuum which pits convenience/usability versus customization/flexibility. The operating system battles, Internet platforms, EdTech platform/program decisions and user tool choice often boil down to the essential question of “Do I trust somebody else to decide how this technology should work for me, or do I want to invest the time and energy in making it my system?” Neal Stephenson argued passionately in “In the Beginning… was the Command Line” (great short summer afternoon read!) that as a society of computer users we are abdicating the power and willingness to bend the tool to our will and instead making ourselves adapt to dumbed-down versions of consumer tech in the name of convenience. Here’s the alternative, if users are willing to accept the learning curve.

This is Not a Drill

This is not a Kickstart project or a fringe startup trying to muscle into an existing marketspace. Suunto is a well-established fitness technology company. They’ve looked at the market, though, and clearly decided that their direction is going to be in favor of customization and flexibility over ease-of-use and user learning curve. While we debate the role that a universal skill of coding has in our students learning, Suunto seems to have already decided that it’s coming and there’s a widespread enough talent and interest base to support a major product line. Honestly, I wish them luck, but… while I’m ideologically on-board with their plan, and I’m probably pretty far to the tech-savvy side of their user base, I gagged a bit at the idea that I had to either a) write an App myself or b) find and modify an existing one, just to go out and do the workout that I had planned for the afternoon.

This is the first major case that I’ve seen of a piece of consumer tech from an established major company banking on the “codeability” of their user base. As such, I think it’s a fascinating test case for the Internet of things and how hackable manufacturers will make their devices, as well as whether a consumer base will adapt to seeing scripting languages appear in everyday life. If this is indicative of a growing trend, or if this training device has legs (ha!), it may signal that the “should every person learn to code” argument has already left the academic sphere and that the consumer technology market will answer the question for us.

A Hallway MaKey MaKey Drive-by

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We now have a handful of MaKey MaKey units to be used between our Sandbox Makerspace and 7th/8th Grade Project Science. After playing around for an afternoon with them, I decided to put them someplace visible and open-ended to invite people to use them. I was looking for a combination of advertising for the makerspace, easy-entry programming task, and high-visibility play for the school. After a couple hours of experimentation, I had the Pie Plate Programming Platform: a combined demo of MaKey Makey and Scratch that had Middle School and Upper School students laughing, engaging and asking (along with the Faculty) “Are you going to leave this here for a while?”

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New Instruments and Soundmakers

(cross-posted at ChoralNet)

 

 

 (image: commons.wikimedia.org)
The only instrument that can match the sheer range of sounds available to the human voice is the synthesizer. While not capable of the incredible variation of tone, timbre and resonance of the voice, the synthesizer has a similar capability to create a diverse palette of tones and mix them in myriad unique combinations. Over the last 40 years, the synthesizer has been synonymous with the electric keyboard for most people, but now that computing hardware is smaller, more customizable and more economical, the capability to synthesize sounds is breaking out of the keyboard and into a variety of artistic tools. Developments such as Kickstarter, the Maker movement and “hackable” technology like Raspberry Pis and Arduino kits are allowing a whole generation of tinkerers, composers and sound artists to add tools to our musical imagination. While no means extensive, here are some of the more interesting ideas that have risen to the surface in recent months.
BeetBox
This Raspberry Pi-based project measures electrical resistance to generate pitch. Nothing new there– the theremin has done the same thing for years. The theremin, though, doesn’t also help you fill a basic food group.
Ototo
Looking like something from a high school science project, this kit of leads and a processor allow you to make anything into the “keyboard” or playing surface for an instrument (anything conductive, that is).
The Imaginary Marching Band
This tool begs for a collaborative music and dance project: finger triggers for a MIDI synthesizer. Since it’s based on MIDI, it can be run through other sound processors or editors as well, meaning it could be put to endless performance and recording instrumentation.

The Recycled Orchestra

Finally, while not a synthesizer project, a worthy reminder of finding music in odd instruments– and a bit of perspective the next time we all bemoan the state of our funding.