Monday, February 28, 2011

Sensors and graphing to support STEM learning

Jan Mokros at the Maine Math and Science Alliance advocates use of charting real-time sensor data to help students develop understanding of charts as symbolic representations of physical phenomena. Unfortunately, at Mt. Ararat Middle School, our sets of probes and sensors are aging and replacements are expensive. So, I have been exploring alternatives that ITeam members could help to implement and in so doing learn and share their learning.

From bottom clockwise: Physical data board, the flex sensor, board application, laptop application and visual display.

Demonstration of visualizing physical computing. A bending sensitive sensor (Piezo) connects to an Arduino Uno input pin. The Arduino Sketch outputs the measured values of bending. The Processing Sketch reads the stream of inputs and changes the location of the dots. The visualization is one that came with the sample code. Its meaning is in demonstrating capacity of these tools for interesting work. I wonder whether the Scratch or html5 crews are up to creating more meaningful charts of displacement v. time.

Credits (Shared via Creative Commons or Public Domain Licences):

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Arduino Merit Badges

Todbot gave a class in using piezo elements to create drumset midi interfaces. He awarded students a merit badge:
Each student in my Spooky Arduino class was awarded one of these badges by Mark from Machine Project.

Arduino class merit badge

I wonder whether Emily or other ITeam members might be interested in work along these lines. Element 14 produced this similar project on the Make Project Site. It includes processing sketches to augment the interface. challenges- Chrome developer tools

I looked a little further into the problem of getting Modkit to program the Arduino. I used Google Chrome's Developer tools to look at the kinds of errors that might be causing the "error programming/compiling" messages. It seems as if several are XMLHttpRequests that cannot load. The Modkit/editor seems to be trying to get information from a local host server ( A localhost server is one that runs on the device on which the browser is running.

XMLHttpRequest cannot load Origin is not allowed by Access-Control-Allow-Origin.
sendFailed to load resource
receive:-1Resource interpreted as script but transferred with MIME type application/json.
XMLHttpRequest cannot load Origin is not allowed by Access-Control-Allow-Origin.
sendFailed to load resource
receive:-1Resource interpreted as script but transferred with MIME type application/json.
getStateNamesFailed to load resource: the server responded with a status of 404 (Not Found)
XMLHttpRequest cannot load Origin is not allowed by Access-Control-Allow-Origin.
registerEventFailed to load resource

For security and control, Apple and MLTI limit the use of MLTI machines as servers. I don't find anything in Modkit's rudimentary documentation (they say it is still under development) about requiring that the Modkit/editor has an active web-server. So, I guess we have to wait for updates and or more documentation at Modkit.

Neither Safari Webkit nor Firefox were any more successful in resolving the issue.

Update 2011-3-15: The latest releases seem to have resolved several of these challenges. I am able to read an analog input (potentiometer) and make the LEDs change in response to the changing input. I'm looking forward to being able to save and load code. These changes come from both improvements in the tools and improvements in my understanding of how to use them. Look for my contributions to the community of learners on the Modkit blog.

Friday, February 25, 2011


The Html5-based Modkit editor for Arduino, excited me because it seems like another gradual step for middle and high school students to learn important science, technology, math, arts and engineering. So far, we have elementary students starting Gamestar Mechanic and continuing with Scratch, or Alice; Modkit or AppInventor; and iOS SDK. They should be ready to start work on Java in high school with much better preparation.

I got an Arduino Uno (~$30 fully assembled and tested) to help evaluate the system over vacation. The Modkit team recently released a public beta associated with the publication of the latest version of Make Magazine. A comment from the Modkit team about the release of the public beta indicates that it should be possible to program other pins, too. But when I try to program it, I only get a "Programming device" followed by "error compiling" messages. Arduino literature says I should choose /dev/tty.usbmodemXXX but I see /dev/cu.usbmodem621. Could that be the problem?

So, I decided to wade into using Arduino programming tools directly. That seemed to me to be a less than optimal solution for students but it would allow me to troubleshoot the failure transfer and run simple programs. I hesitated because I don't have time to learn another language. But I discovered that Arduino developers have created an environment that reminds me of the early days of learning how to code html pages: examine and copy source, modify to get the desired result, and share. When I open the Arduino monitor, it says that it is using /dev/tty.usbmodem621. Could that be the reason it works for Arduino and not for Modkit?

In any event, I suspect that the MAMS ITeam html5 group can easily work at this level. Then when we figure out how to use the Modkit, then the more experienced users can help the new users to get started.

Analog Input
Demonstrates analog input by reading an analog sensor on analog pin 0 and
turning on and off a light emitting diode(LED) connected to digital pin 13.
The amount of time the LED will be on and off depends on
the value obtained by analogRead().

The circuit:
* Potentiometer attached to analog input 0
* center pin of the potentiometer to the analog pin
* one side pin (either one) to ground
* the other side pin to +5V
* LED anode (long leg) attached to digital output 11
* LED cathode (short leg) attached to 110 ohm resistor to ground

* Note: I use the Uno Arduino's built-in LED attached
to pin 13 on the board, as the second LED.

Created by David Cuartielles
Modified 4 Sep 2010
By Tom Igoe
Modified 28 Feb 2011
By SC Spaeth

This example code is in the public domain.



int sensorPin = A0; // select the input pin for the potentiometer
int ledPin13 = 13; // select the pin for the LED
int ledPin11 = 11;
int sensorValue = 0; // variable to store the value coming from the sensor

void setup() {
// declare the ledPin as an OUTPUT:
pinMode(ledPin13, OUTPUT);
pinMode(ledPin11, OUTPUT);
// open the serial port at 9600 bps:

void loop() {
// read the value from the sensor:
sensorValue = analogRead(sensorPin);
// print the value from the sensor:
// turn the ledPin on
digitalWrite(ledPin13, HIGH);
digitalWrite(ledPin11, LOW);
// stop the program for <sensorValue> milliseconds:
// turn the ledPin off:
digitalWrite(ledPin13, LOW);
digitalWrite(ledPin11, HIGH);
// stop the program for for <analogInMax - sensorValue> milliseconds:
delay(1023 - sensorValue);
Now I see a small flaw in this system where the html transfer converts the 'less than' and 'greater than' brackets of the html into ampersands and code in the last few lines. It does however show up in the rendered blog page as written in on the Arduino resource page. That can be fixed with an adjustment to documentation style. Not bad for a few hours of tinkering!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Robotics at MTA and MAMS

Dr. King announced new course offerings in a post on his blog that included an elective on Robotics. This slightly more detailed description from the Program of Studies document provides details about the tools they plan to use. I'd also like to know who is developing the course and planning to teach it.
Prerequisite: Science I
½ Credit;
Recommended level: 10-12
Robotics is the science and technology of the design, manufacture and application of robots in various applications, including space exploration, surgery and everyday living. In this course, students take on the roles of mechanical engineers, computer scientists and electrical engineers. Students research dynamics, kinematics and sensors. Subjects such as motion planning and obstacle avoidance, and velocity and acceleration are covered. Students put the knowledge into practice through lab settings where robots are created with teams. Students will have the opportunity to use VEXX robotics and/or Lego Mindstorm. COURSE #1490
I hope this will get students started in projects that will turn into exciting Capstone Projects. I know some middle school students who are ready to start pre-capstone work.

James Smallwood, a Mt. Ararat alum who owns a small IT business hints at the opportunities for our students:
I grew up in Topsham, Maine and attended Mt.Ararat for a few years and if I had a learning tool such as a robot while I was being taught computers basics in 7th grade, there's no doubt in my mind that learning would've been a lot less complicated and much more interesting.

Another ITeam logo?

Coby spontaneously created a logo for ITeam and then updated it with a revised version. I have been exploring the possibility of helping students to create a participatory logo. AdaFruit's MiniPOV kits seem like an exciting possibility.

Zach Rattner, an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech got aMiniPOV device. He had some time on his hands and some expertise in Javascript, CSS and Html so he created a web-based program that helps people write the code to display messages and images on the MiniPOV devices.

I used his tool to create a draft of another logo for MAMS ITeam. I didn't have enough room for MAMS-ITeam so I used the next best option (ITeam [MSAD]75) that fit within Ratter's scheme. I suspect that ITeam members could find ways to improve the logo. In doing so, they would learn more about digital representation and images, e. g., in the grey area below the controls, you can see the binary codes that his program generated. He opens the code to inspection so it might be possible for ITeam students to modify the Javascript code and get something that works even better for us. The wonders of an open-culture!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Share the road

During winter break, I have been exploring resources to support customization of learning. I found excellent tutorial resources at AdaFruit for a variety of low-cost projects. On one of their tutorial pages for their SpokePOV devices, they included links to documentary photos that people had shared. This one intersects with one of my other interests:

SpokePOV Share the Road
Photo license: Sparr0 - Attribution, Share Alike

This project depends on interesting biological and mathematical concepts. Does work on projects like this transfer to better understanding of important learning outcomes? Could we use bikes as mobile billboards to generate support for the Topsham-Brunswick Trails Project and other regional trail projects: Merrymeeting Trail?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Making stuff smarter- Invisibility cloaks

When this show aired on our local station, I wanted students to see parts of it to compare with our work on MAMS ITeam. I hope that it will show the connection between our activities in ITeam and activities in places outside of school.

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Here, I am testing to see whether it is possible to deep link into the content of strongest connection so that it will draw them in to watch more. Yes, the embed code contains an easily identifiable parameter 'chapter=n' that can be changed (in two places) in order to start the video at the beginning of a section. This strategy is not as precise as deep linking to time-code values but it embeds easily and provides context for what the viewer will see. This illustrates another service that the ITeam Html crew can learn and share.

Developing a culture for Capstone

In our meeting this morning, the Capstone crew reflected on the Capstone Celebration meeting. They appreciated Mr. Ottow's presentation the most because he spoke directly to them. I asked them if they were willing to have me post the clips of their presentations on the Capstone Facebook site. They accepted. I also told them about the response from the School Board that I described in this post and sharing with MAMS ITeam members.

They generally reacted negatively to the idea that principles of Capstone should be extended earlier in high school and to the middle school and beyond. Zach said that while it is great to have more choice in the selection of projects, it still is yet another thing to do and a source of stress for students. Others nodded in agreement. We discussed the issue of whether Capstone will substitute for other graduation requirements. They seem to be waiting for an authoritative answer to this issue rather than seeing the opportunity they have to help influence design.

I told them explicitly that I am writing about our process as part of my contribution to the development of Capstone. I think they were surprised to hear me reflect on their contributions to the discussion. Dan backed off a little on his position regarding time logs. He explained how he had used them extensively in learning to play piano but now doesn't need logging. Allie reiterated her position on design for each student. Since this is consistent with mass customization of learning, it seems like we should try to find a solution to this challenge.

Simulations and Games for STEM

The National Academy Press recently released this review of and plan for research on the use of simulations and games for enhancing the learning of science, technology, engineering and math.

I tried to use the NetLogo simulation of Ants ( ) to help MAMS ITeam members understand our need for more structure and feedback on their work. We had some challenges in getting the right version of NetLogo (the MLTI image contains regular, hubnet, and 3-D versions that students found). The tool did not engage them in the way that I had hoped despite my effort to connect it with an authentic challenge we face together. But maybe it is my challenge rather than one they perceive to be their challenge, too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Discussing the Plan & Prospects for Capstone

The Capstone Committee met all Fall with the goal of presenting first to the MTA faculty and then to the M.S.A.D. No. 75 School board. Members of the Committee, including student and parent representatives, presented the plan for Board consideration. Members of the Board took the opportunity to give preliminary feedback about the plan. One board member wanted to make sure that students who might not be ready to speak to large audiences would find some accommodation.

Claudette Brassil pointed out that students' access to individual laptops has made it possible for student to find alternatives to rhetorical skill. She says that students can prepare presentations, or videos or other ways to give evidence of their learning.

Board member Kim Totten cautioned against too much reliance on technology as a crutch. She cited the parallels between Capstone Projects and Eagle Scout Projects. She noted that the scouting program helps students to prepare for the presentations of Eagle Projects over an extended period of time, "they are earning all their merit badges to build toward doing their final projects." Several of the merit badges a scout completes (including communication) prepare scout candidates for the presentation. She favors a good measure of face-to-face presentation skills.

Scott McKernan observed,
"That it is really encouraging to see how all the various components and philosophies behind the Capstone Project really mirror all of the 21st Century Learning Skills ... that we, from day-one, were trying to incorporate as part of the Comprehensive Strategic Planning Committee. It is really encouraging to see that and I am really eager to see how these Capstone Projects turn out especially as they roll out to an entire class. ... It will be really encouraging in five to ten years down the pike to see some applications of those concepts rolling down into the middle school and possibly further. With the proving ground being this program."
Craig King elaborated by saying how difficult it is to lift such a project the first year but that eventually it can become a part of the culture of the school. Kids anticipate homecoming and proms, they anticipate AP exams. He hopes they will learn to anticipate Capstone Projects.

Dr. King elaborated further on the theme by pointing out that the design includes having students see presentations of older students so that a culture of anticipation develops. I have advocated an even stronger form of building awareness and anticipation. Scouts developing their Eagle projects actively recruit younger scouts to help with the implementation. Younger scouts develop insights into what it takes to create a successful capstone for their scouting experiences than they would just by listening to presentations. We can learn more from the scout model.

I hope we don't have to wait five to ten years to develop that kind of culture of anticipation. Part of my design for the work of ITeam at the middle school is to establish that culture of anticipation now. We have students who have already started work on their precapstone projects!

I recorded parts of this discussion and used the recording to reconstruct the record here. I tried to upload it as part of the evidence for this post but the Blogger software only gave a spinning wheel of perpetual processing. It may not accept the .amr file type that audio recording app in my phone produces.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feedback on Draft Capstone Proposal Template

I created a document, MTA Capstone Proposal, to copy and share with individual students for them to have a framework for proposal preparation. Shared the request for feedback via email message to the Capstone Pilot Facebook Group and directly to other students who choose not to use Facebook accounts. Dan said that it looked okay to him but asked when they are 'due' and turned to the group for their opinions. Others nodded and no one objected to the goal of producing a draft immediately after returning from winter break.

We used the remaining time to meet with students individually for updates on their progress. Several students (Nick, Michelle, Haley) are a little frustrated by the lack of responses to their email queries and form submissions to potential mentors or volunteer coordinators. Michelle wants to help resolve this challenge by studying local volunteer opportunities. I told her about starting that process with the Topsham Library last week and that an expansion of that effort would be a great service to peers and the community.

When I copied the Proposal 'template,' I seem to have lost Sinjin's Capstone Logo. It seems as if it should copy over to the individual copies but I'll need to confirm that in subsequent distributions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reactions to Time Logs

The Capstone Committee has requested that students keep both a time log and a reflective journal of Capstone process. When I told students about it today, some were outraged. One thought that it made more sense to do rather than keep tedious records of time. Alex said that he understood the motivation to have some kind of record of activity but that differences among projects mean that no one solution would work for everyone. Allie reminded us that the whole point of this is for students to take responsibility.

Can we use a default plan, keep either a time log or a reflective journal or some combination of the two? If participants think that does not work for them, then they are responsible for describing and developing a solution that meets their needs and advisors.

Inspect Sidewiki

Nils started to develop this course course for P2PU in the School of Web Development. He opened the challenge of creating an assessment extension to a nascent community of practice. He describes collaborating by difference.
He refers to a mockup of the assessment tool using Google's Sidewiki. I learned that the code for Google's extentions to Chrome are open for inpection so that it might be easier to morph Sidewiki into an assessment engine than it would be to create one in Firefox.

in reference to:

"We've expanded the idea to "Peer Review the Web" a means for learners to solicit feedback on any webpage. We made a couple mockups for a competition (one uses Google Sidewiki), and are offering this course to co-learn about creating extensions and in particular our application."
- Creating a Firefox Extension | p2pu (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jameson Presents His Perspective on Capstone to MTA Faculty

Jameson Bryant and Brooke Smith, juniors at Mt. Ararat High School, have served on the MTA Capstone Committee and provided students' perspective on the design and development of the Capstone Project. Jameson helped present the plan to the MTA faculty during part of a Professional Development day at the end of January. Brooke helped present the plan to the School Board at one of its regular, televised meetings.

In this clip, Jameson describes and reflects on his service on the committee. I hope this is a sign of the culture we develop!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Capstone Pilot: getting the idea of design with students

If we really want students to take ownership of some portion of their learning, then it is essential that we encourage them to take part in the design of that experience. I'm hoping that the Pilot can include a significant amount of design-with rather than just design-for the participants.

Some of the students in our meeting this morning recognized that this is a real opportunity for them. For example, Dan recognized that if the Capstone Committee's documents are still a draft, then the members of the Pilot Project still have an opportunity to influence the design. He wanted to make sure that decisions of the Committee don't get formalized in ways that limit the kinds of project students can choose.

Student also reiterated their desire to be able to use the AST portion of the block schedule for its intended purpose. They have worked out systems to get the assistance that they want and need and don't have good alternatives other than the scheduled Advisory time. I met with Craig, Josh, and Claudette and we agreed to reassign students for both AST and Advisory. So, the Capstone Pilot will not face-off against academic support. Phew!

Capstone Pilot Documentation Dev.

The Capstone Pilot seeks to help develop and share Mt. Ararat High School's approach to capstone projects. Future students will be able to create better capstones if they can see some examples of strong capstone projects. The more we can document both the process and the final presentations, the better will will understand what we need to support all students to be able to learn from their capstone projects.

For example, you gave mini presentations for the video clips. Some describe closely what you plan to do while others indicate that you are still developing your ideas. We appreciate your willingness share developing ideas because that is part of the process. Your work is an important part of developing our understanding of MTA's Capstone!

The Capstone Committee has developed some resources to support Capstone projects and shared those at: . The document is a draft that will improve with your testing and suggestions for improvement. We also need places to develop and share our perspectives. Where would work best for you?

The link to the MTA Capstone 11 site listed above gives this summary of our next steps.

II. Guidelines

A. Each participant will draft a written proposal that addresses the following:

  1. Area of interest
  2. Extent and description of work
  3. Potential community partner(s)
  4. Specific timeline
  5. Goals ( connected to the four standards of the mission statement)

What progress are you making on this part of the Pilot?

The linked document also specifies that we use a shared spreadsheet in order to explore how to manage record keeping:

Time Log of Work:

I. Entered via a Google Spreadsheet which is shared to the school facilitator. This would help school facilitators to easily organize and manage the large amount of information.

This link to a Google form is one approach to collecting these logs. Alternatively each student can get a copy and manage an individual list.

Public version for students who choose not to use social media and others who may be interested in our development process.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ITeam Project Support

Last spring, ITeam built a green screen to support projects. From that modest start, students and teachers across our district have started to use green screen technologies.

Ari Bader-Natal blogged about Education 2.0 being on the Radar. From there, I found Dale Dougherty's blog and links to Make Magazine. We often borrow tripods and make do. Could ITeam members make projects like this, too?

Mobile Document Camera Stand

Jacob and Ian created windblades that were a similar level of complexity for the Maine Windblade Challenge. So, I suspect we need to find the right matches of projects and access to resources. We have a similar challenge in finding ways to support the matching for Capstone Projects. In fact, Make Magazine, or other venues like it, could be both sources of projects and places to authentically share innovate Capstone Projects.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Progress building capacity - Capstone

Met with both Capstone Pilot students and with MAMS ITeam today and got encouraging signs of students developing their understanding and capacity to undertake more challenging work:

  • Sara inspired us with her descriptions of Capstone work she already has underway.
  • Several students have already sent out inquiry email messages and have been waiting patiently for responses that have not yet come. They are ready to pick up the phone to see whether they can get better responses that way.
  • Dan said that his jazz ensemble had just produced a performance CD. They are now looking for more gigs. Noted the challenge of getting members out of school for Capstone performances. We briefly discussed video and other ways to share the performance part.
  • Haley described what she wants to do and Sara was able to help her with knowledge and experience that she has developed from her parallel work at Maine Region Ten. Sara offered to introduce Haley to her teacher at Maine Region Ten. We paused to reflect how this is a very important example of how we can scale this operation: share knowledge and share process so that others can appreciate it and extend.
  • Nick described his plan to find and execute off-season conditioning but then went on to say that he planned to integrate his work in the WebTeam class with his Capstone Project. He (and others?) will build a web site to share appropriate parts of his conditioning portfolio.
  • Luke tried to contact the Marine Resources Officer in order to get expert assistance with learning about and working on the invasive species challenges.
  • ...

We are using a Facebook group MTA Capstone Pilot to support some of our work on the Pilot. We chose Facebook because students already use it and check it more frequently than other ways of communicating. Since Facebook limits access, we will need to make a special effort to share with broader communities.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

TinEye- Image search for exploring attribution?

I wrote about using Google Goggles to find the source of the image that we used for Capstone visuals. ITeam members were impressed when I showed them how my phone could find the image. But they typically don't have smartphones that are capable of running Goggles.

In reviewing Nevit's contributions to WikiMedia Commons, I learned about, a browser-based reverse search engine. I want ITeam members to get some experience with powerful applications of technologies that will help with a problem they face in school. So, I tested TinEye on the same photos that Goggles found. When TinEye could not find the modified image (arrow added to point to the keystone), I cropped back to the largest part of the unmodified image.

An Awesome screenshot annotated to show the contrast with Goggles results.

Contrast it with the original:

Stone Arch Bridge in Yuanmingyuan

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

If TinEye can survive the competition with Google Goggles, then I suspect it will be able to locate photos like this. While we wait for the dust to settle, TinEye provides some Cool Searches that illustrate the power of artificial intelligence for current and future challenges.