Saturday, March 15, 2014

MACUL n'more (ED504)

Traveling to MACUL gave me the first time to travel with my iPad. When Apple announced that they were going to discontinue the the iPad 2, the price dropped by $100 at Best Buy and most other retailers. The barrier to entry was low enough that I purchased one and have begun using Doceri in my classroom. So, while I was moving from session to session, I was able to take notes, store them in iCloud and easily look at them while typing up the blog-post on the good old PC.

The iPad is a great tool for consuming and creating media. You can record and edit photographs, videos and music. Reading and writing text is something that can be done on the iPad easily. The iPad is touted as an educational tool. However, as a computer, you still can't really programs on the iPad. Making apps for the iPad is hard (both because of the programming complexity and closed App Store ecosystem). The reduction in the cost of computer power means that people have more and more computer power available to them. However, fewer and fewer people know how to create computers. Most of the devices we have are polished, but locked down. People rarely tinker with their laptop or smartphone.

On to the stage comes the Raspberry Pi. The Pi is among the world's cheapest computers. It is about the size of a smartphone, features all the connections to hook up to a keyboard, mouse, monitor and network cable and it only costs $35 (there is an older cheaper one for $25). It runs on free, open-source software recorded on an SD card. It is cheap enough so that students can "afford failure." Most of the computers in a school are locked down; not even the teachers are allowed to install software. The Pi gives students a sandbox to play in. It gives the students the opportunity to create software, not just be consumers of software.

Bill Van Loo has begun using the Raspberry Pi in his school with elementary and middle school students. Students in a week-long summer camp program set up their Pi's and started programming code for Minecraft. This sort of creative activity engages students in higher order thinking and problem solving, but it also gives the students a purpose for learning. In his presentation, Bill Van Loo described the process of building a circular tower in Minecraft. Writing the code to do so required revisiting how to convert polar coordinates (in which it is easy to give the equation for a circle) into the rectangular coordinates (which describes the world of Minecraft).

I was thinking this summer that I might take a vacation somewhere as a reward for graduating. Vacations are expensive, so maybe I will do that next summer. However, I can probably afford to pick up a Raspberry Pi and tinker with it. I'll never teach a programming class, but the Raspberry Pi offers the potential for a club or extra-curricular activity. It also gives me the power to create something more than just an awesome blog, but to create something that actually does something (Like run Doom!).

Returning to my iPad, in another session I came across Explain Everything. It is a video capturing/screen-casting/whiteboard application for the iPad. It allows users to import Documents, PowerPoints, PDFs and a host of other file formats. Then, the users can annotated or mark-up the file before exporting the as images or as an MP4 video. Users can get a similar product for PC's called Jing for free. However, the file format that Jing saves in is difficult to upload and edit. Explain Everything videos can either be immediately uploadable to YouTube or can be loaded into (the free) Microsoft Movie Maker and further edited. Best of all, unlike other videos editing software, Explain Everything only costs $2.99.

For the cost of parking and the gas to drive out to MACUL, I could buy a computer and start learning how to code. For the cost of a muffin at MACUL, I could download Explain Everything and start flipping my classroom.


  1. Greg,

    The idea of using the Raspberry Pi as part of an after school activity reminds me of a session I was able to attend about students building a 3D printer at DeWitt High School. The class started as an advisory period where students chose an area of science or technology to research and turned into an actual course where students research AND develop technology. Right now students are working on 3D printers and something that has to do with electricity currents that are activated by pressure (I don't remember the name!). Anyway, I can see the possibilities for using the Raspberry Pi to allow students to create almost anything. Also, the low cost of the tool allows classrooms to make use of the Raspberry Pi when they might not be able to afford a 1:1 iPad program. Thanks for the insights on this; I will be sure to check it out!

    -Rachael Malerman

    1. I cannot wait until the day that 3D printers become affordable for home use. I am currently trying to build a case to turn my iPhone into an inclinometer for a unit on Trigonometry. Crafting the thing out of wood, tape and screws is a pain. A 3D printer would require half an hour to program and then would spit out a perfect copy of what I wanted before the end of the day.

      I just read an article about technology and economics. The author describes the "winner-take-all" and the "long tail" theories. The author writes about how technology has changed the way that things are produced. For the last hundred years, we have been moving in the direction of "winner-take-all". Transportation technology and mass production has lead to an economy where fewer companies make a given product. He writes about the piano business, although the disappearance of Hudson, Packard and another dozen defunct automakers and the growth of Ford, GM, Chrysler and later Toyota, Honda and Nissan tells a similar story (those 6 companies sell about 80% of the cars in the United States). The advent of digital distribution of media, 3D printers and cheap computing really provides a new model for the economy ("the long tail"). In this model, lots of smaller creators can find their niche and make a living creating something that other people value.

      Is "piezoelectric" the word you were trying to think of?

  2. Greg, thank you for your tour de force! Speaking of which, that is, Le Tour de France and vacationing, I will probably spend my summer back in Europe, most definitely following Le Tour across Europe. I will probably divide my time between Holland and Poland. Please keep in touch; you can stay with me for free! Anyways, back to the MACUL Conference. I, like every other hard-working MACer, am actively searching for a job. Most, but certainly not all of the schools at which I have been interviewing, have asked me how I would incorporate technology into my curriculum. Some schools, the more connected among them, have a 1:1 student/iPad ratio. In fact, some of them have even done away with the “old school” textbooks altogether. I suppose, for better or worse, this is the way of the future. Textbooks are bulky, expensive, and in many respects, outdated. For the time being, however, they are still circulating around the country. I firmly believe that textbooks can still be used, so long as they are supplemented with a wide-variety of other sources, either digital and/or hard-copy. I would really like to learn more about your iPad, especially how you plan on using it your classroom. My most-recent placement, for example, did not even have wireless. So it would be impossible to use that tool in my classroom. But, looking forward, there are certainly other ways to connect with our students, both electronically and emotionally. You teach math; I teach history. But the two need not be mutually exclusive. History, like many other subjects, requires the ability to engage in investigations using different types of evidence and data, including those generated by other disciplines such as economics and geography. Math, as I understand it, is very much a hands-on discipline. Students spend a lot time in class “working out” their mathematical equations. So, looking forward, will this continue to be done with paper and pencil or on your new iPad?

    1. For the most part, I use my iPad as a replacement for the chalkboard. My placement school still uses chalkboards. They're worn out to the point that the chalk doesn't really erase off of them. Also, you can't use vivid colors when writing on a chalkboard, which is important in a math class. The iPad is also a better option than sitting behind the doc-cam. I have the ability to move around the classroom, making better use of proximity.

      For the students, I can just hand them the iPad and have them work out a problem. It is safer than having students go up to the board. There isn't that intimidation of standing in front of the class. Also, it is easier to write on than using the doc-cam. You don't have to worry about whether your paper is under the camera. Furthermore, when students use the doc-cam, they have a tendency to put their paper under the camera and say "this is what I did". Using the iPad lets students show their work step-by-step.

      One of the biggest complains about textbook is their size. I remember showing you the old US History and Geometry books that my grandfather had. The Geometry book in my placement (made by Holt) is six times the mass and volume but contains no additional value.

      Oh yeah, one more additional thought. Doceri is blocked on my school's wireless network. So, I had to work around that to use the iPad in my classroom. It required setting up an "ad hoc" network and a whole host of other tech-stuff that I had to scramble to figure out the first day that I tried to use the iPad in school. It is one of those things where school spend thousands of dollars to deploy technology and then spend most of their time disabling features.

      Best wishes to you have you complete your studies. You will be missed on Thursday nights.

    2. Nick (Greg), I would very much like to hear more about the "ad hoc" network that you set up. I, too, am baffled by the tech issues that arise from something or other being blocked. I have been trying to set up a class blog for each of my students--well, have them set it up in class, for use in class as an online writing journal that could serve as a write-to-learn forum and tool for modeling and improving digital citizenship. In the meantime, I have decided to first set up, as a potential scaffold, a "Not A Blog" blog that uses Google Docs. I got the idea from one of my students who, just recently having been introduced to Google Docs, was intrigued by the ability not only to co-edit a doc but also to comment. So, I am probably going in that direction for the next few weeks while the IT people in my school's district figure out why we can, at times, access the blog site, but lose access at other times in addition to lacking access to the "sign up" page. So, anything you can share about the "ad hoc" network would be much appreciated.

    3. Normally, my computer would connect to internet, my iPad would connect to the internet and then the two would use Doceri to talk to one another. With the "ad hoc" network, we cut out the middle-man. The wireless card on my computer connects directly to my iPad (without either of them being connected to the Internet). It works for that application. I'm not sure if it would help you (if there were different restrictions on the network that teachers connect to from what students use, maybe I could see a ethically ambiguous use of setting up an "ad hoc" network). Your best bet is to get in touch with the IT people and see what they can help.

      The idea of using shared Google Docs as a "Not A Blog" Blog seems like a creative solution and might have the added privacy benefits not associated with blogging on the real internet.

  3. Greg,
    I'm curious to know if you preferred Doceri or Explain Everything? I've had a quick look at the latter but have not really delved into it.

  4. Sorry for the slowness in my response. I delayed, in part, because I did not have much to say on the topic. I've read about Explain Everything, but I haven't taken the plunge and purchased the app yet. I want to work with making recordings in Doceri before I try something else. So far, I have only played around with making recordings. I haven't actually made use of it in the classroom.