Monday, January 31, 2011

Professional Development from Scratch

Maggie Wachtl, a chemistry teacher at MTA, wanted to learn whether she could use Scratch to create manipulatives to enhance learning about Dimensional Analysis. Her students needs to understand for stoichiometry calculations. She has laminated cards to create a manipulative that she'd like to implement in Scratch. In two hours, we moved from an introduction to Scratch to code snippets that get sprites to show a proof-of-concept: inversion of fractions to make reciprocals, sensitivity to the color on which the sprite is drops. She seemed pleased with the start and progress.

I introduced and reinforced the concept that we could get students to share our desire to have them experience differentiated learning. At several points, I said honestly that middle school students could answer some of her questions better than I could. I hope we can quickly move to get both teachers and students to recognize the opportunities in developing projects that the probability spinner that Matt Lunt requested and that Coby, Cole and Charlie are developing.

Working Outside the Bubble

We don't have enough time during CET and after school to share as much as some students can. I needed to meet with the volunteer coordinator at the Topsham Library about preparing for Capstone opportunities. I took that opportunity to meet with Coby. We reviewed:
  • Attribution challenges and the underlying cause.
  • iMacro as an approach for us to implement for ourselves.
  • AppInventor with the emulator to see whether we can generate interest.
  • David Shenk's approach to developing expertise.
Coby gets the concept of ITeam and is ready to develop more cases.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Full After School ITeam

A nearly full complement of 7th and 8th grade students participated in ITeam yesterday. For the most part, they attended well to experienced ITeam members sharing their projects. We spent most of our time sharing the projects that exemplify the directions in which we are encouraging ITeam to move this year: Green Screen, Creating the Scratch Spinner App, Alice, presentations to MLTI conference, ... .

New students spoke up when they had questions or when we asked for opinions. They were quiet when we sought suggestions for feedback and improvement. I gave brief meta feedback to students who shared. Cole, Coby and Charlie talked about their project, then worked on it while Drew, and Ariel shared Alice. By the end of our time, they shared progress on the spinner project. Clearly, we have got to find ways to build on students' interests in order to capture and sustain engagement.

Today Jen, Ariel, Laurel, Drew, Coby, and Evan thought that we should continue to encourage feedback as the best way for us to improve. Evan came a little later than others because he had difficulty locating his device. When he arrived, we met individually and he told me about his experiences programming robots. He might be part of a core-group on robotics.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nova: Making things Smaller

The PBS show Nova has created a new series of four hour-long introductions to exciting new developments in material sciences. David Pogue hosts the show in his quirky and engaging way. On January 26, they aired the Making Things Smaller segment. They introduce nano robots that will help doctors to treat patients. The segments support the work that we have started with ITeam on using smart phones and AppInventor to control Lego NXT robots. Initially, they provide video to the 'trailer.' But eventually they will provide the entire segment.

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

They also provide activity resources that we should explore. While we are waiting for the full video, we can use a selection they provide as resources for education.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Japanese Knotweed (Bamboo) on Harpswell Neck Road

Luke is interested in human impact on local environments. We needed a context shot for the Capstone Pilot video clips. The invasion of Japanese Knotweed (Bamboo) on school grounds and here, along Harpswell Neck Road illustrates an important human impact on our local environments.

View Vital Signs Japanese Knotweed in a larger map

Can Capstone Projects help to educate people and manage invasive species?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Capstone Images and Visual Search

As I worked on developing resources to support the Capstone Project Pilot, I saw periodic updates that Doug Ware and Dawn Prindall were also contributing. This morning, I learned that Dawn also searched for an image of capstones that she could use in a presentation for the Capstone Feedback Project (a set of four study circles). She found an image she liked and included it in a Keynote presentation that she shared on the PBWorks site.

I couldn't find any attribution on the image so I used Google Goggles to see if it could find the source. Goggles found the original image on the first try and I was gratified to see that she used a CC Licensed image from Wikimedia.

Stone Arch Bridge in Yuanmingyuan

By Shizhao (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

I like her image more than the ones I found which are associated with burial mounds. Perhaps I focused too much on the search term "capstone" rather than "arched stone bridges". But it also may be that she has identified a "keystone" rather than a "capstone".

When I added the Shizhao's image here, I learned that Wikimedia has also improved its support for appropriate citation of licensed materials (place the cursor over the image to reveal complete citation information in the title that displays over the image). These are tools that ITeam members can master and share with teachers as part of our efforts to support digital citizenship.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Capstone Planning and Video Clips

We are working to establish better means of communication and collaboration to support students in their work on their Capstone Pilot Projects. But the deadline for presentations to the faculty and School Board are pressing. So, I resorted to any means available: email, Facebook message, and face-to-face explanations of this challenge.

Thank you for your willingness to help develop the concept of Capstone Projects at Mt. Ararat. The MTA Capstone Committee has made progress specifying characteristics of the Capstone Project and Pilot ( ). We hope the Capstone Study Circles that some of you have also chosen to join will help to explain and help to refine those ideas. Clearly we still have more work. I suspect that you have many questions. Please come to MTA 107 during AST if you want to discuss the process and your plans.

The Committee is preparing to present a summary of their work to the MTA Faculty during the professional development day at the end of January. The Committee wants to convince the faculty that Capstone Projects will be valuable learning experiences. Then they will present to the School Board. They very much want to have brief video clips (literally 10 seconds) from each of the participants in the Pilot about their project plans. Since several of you are going out into the community to do your projects, we'd like to include an image from your work (if you have or can take one) as part of the clip. We will film in MTA 107 during AST blocks for those who are able and by special arrangement for those who have other commitments.

Please consider what you might say in 10 seconds about yourself and your plan for a Capstone Project. Sara has already started hers so I can guess what she might say:

"Hi, I'm Sara. I am in the health careers program at the Region Ten Tech Center. For my Capstone Project, I'm job shadowing a radiologist at Parkview Hospital to learn whether I'd like to specialize in that field." [Cut to an onsite picture of controls for a CAT scanner at Parkview.]

CAT scanner for simulation
Credit to Liz West with a Creative Commons License.

If you don't know what to say, then come to 107 and we can figure it out together. I work both at the high school AND the middle school so send a reply so that I'll be sure to be there to meet with you.

Stephen Spaeth
Student Projects Coordinator

Clearly, we need to improve this facet of the operation if we are going to develop a sustainable program.

Capstone Images

The new Google Science Fair illustrates the use of site templates for students projects. The MTA Capstone Pilot could use a similar approach. So I searched for some Creative Commons licensed images to include in a template. I like this one because it shows many capstones mutually supporting one another.

Drystone Wall Capstones

Credit to Paul Walker at Flickr

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Karen Cator: Professional Development Needs

Karen Cator spoke at Education Week's Leadership Forum "Unleashing Technology to Personalize Learning," held October 5, 2010, in Washington, for district-level personnel charged with maximizing the effectiveness of technology in education.

As part of her presentation she described new strategies for professional development. She said (starting at 1:22),
Every profession today needs to be a learning profession.
We need to get more thoughtful about the kinds of professional development that we provide. One kind ... that we need to provide is professional development in how to create a new generation of assignments. What are the most compelling, interesting and engaging assignments, where the students can leverage the technology to do those assignments and get that work done? And, it doesn't mean the teacher has to be an expert on what to point and click on within the context of the technology but that they are really expert on how to create engaging and compelling assignments for students.
View the entire video at this link.

How do we leverage the work of teachers innovating and ITeam members who are ready and willing to help prototype assignments?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Green Screen Collaboration and Elaboration

Frau Adams teaches German at both Mt. Ararat Middle School and High School. Several weeks ago, she encouraged middle school students to create a variety of multimedia submissions. ITeam members who had worked with the green screen chose to use it for their assignment. Ms. Myers, Chair of the Foreign Languages Department at the High School, learned from Frau Adams about the green screen project her students had done. She thought that it would be a useful approach for one of her upcoming assignments: Picnics in January.

Ms. Myers started sending students down to check out the video production studio. On Friday, Emma and Molly asked two interesting questions:

First, if we wear green, can we make parts of us disappear?

Yes, during our work on the middle school "Das Wetter Projekt," Alyssa wore a green shirt. We learned that we "saw" through her torso. The shirt didn't match the screen color exactly but was apparently close enough to cause parts of her to disappear. It may be tricky to get the lighting right for a convincing special effect but matching color may help. Here is the link to the product description at the fabric store that supplied the green screen fabric.
The color is "lime green."

Second, can we superimpose video on top of video or only on still images?

I didn't know the answer to that question so, we quickly prototyped the idea with a video clip of Molly and Emma and superimposed it on a clip of middle school ITeam members building their green screen. While the lighting (script, set design, ...) need work, it is clear that concept works. With repeated additions of green screen tracks, the program may have some challenges with audio tracks.

Emma and Molly discussed how they would work that into their project as they returned to class. I'm eager to see what they create!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Capturing NXT-AppInventor Work

Screen capture of a blog post viewed on my phone.I've been programming my phone to collect data from sensor and control motors connected to the Lego NXT brick using AppInventor. I am motivated to invest this effort because my students find the Lego robotics connection motivating and engaging. The picture shows how I am able to capture browsing of the blog post about Ariel using the program to control a simple robot she created. I see them doing science, technology, engineering and math because they want to explore robot control.

This is a very powerful combination of prototyping and research tools. So far, I have focused on the development of tools rather than capturing high quality images of the interface. So, despite the low quality, I have simply used the iSight camera, a small digital camera or even an iPhone to snap photos of the display on my Android phone. The images show finger prints on the screen, and reflections and strange colors, ... But this weekend I generated some results that deserve better representation. So I re-searched for ways to capture screens of Android phones. Gary LaTraille at AbsolutelyAndroid surveyed several methods for capturing Android screens and recommended the Dalvik Debug Monitor (DDMS). It is included in the Android SDK but I had not taken the time to learn how to use it.

I put the Android SDK in the MyApps folder of my MLTI laptop and clicked on the DDMS application in the "Tools" folder. The DDMS does much, much more than screen capture but I can block out most of those distractions. I wonder whether the complexities might overwhelm some middle school students.