Saturday, October 13, 2018

Using Anki's Vector in the Classroom

** Update- Anki, the makers of Vector, are going out of business. Cloud services to support the Vector platform is currently up, but nobody knows for how much longer. Vector is still being sold, but I would strongly advise not to purchase.


I'm bringing a new device into my classroom that I'm really excited about and have had my eye on for a while in one form or another. As a computer science teacher, I am always looking for new and engaging ways to create opportunities to show my students how the code that they are learning how to write can be used in the real world. I'm hoping that Vector can be one of those tools that help to get my students even more excited about learning how to code. Don't get me wrong, I feel like my students already enjoy coding, but there is something about seeing the code that they are writing on their screens come to life on hardware.


Previously, I had seen a couple of other products offered by Anki and was interested in their line of devices. At the Ohio Education Technology Conference in Columbus last year, one of the sessions that I attended had mentioned the use of the Cozmo robot, an Anki product, in the classroom. I had always thought of the Cozmo robot as more of a toy but with the addition of the block-based coding functionality that was added to the Cozmo app, this created an educational opportunity. An open SDK was also released for Cozmo allowing consumers the opportunity to code in Python to create new programs for the device, unlocking another dimension to the device and opportunity for classroom application.


Now comes the latest product from Anki called Vector. I must give credit to the discovery of this device to the Stacey on IOT blog. The blog post was written by Kevin C. Tofel and introduced me to the new robot offering from the Anki company. Anki was crowdsourcing funding for the device through a campaign on Kickstarter.

I showed this video to my students and told them about my plan.

Using Vector in the Classroom

I plan to make this entire process into a teachable moment. Before I showed this video to my students, I explained the crowdfunding process and Kickstarter.
After we watched the video, I asked a lot of questions to my students about the things they saw in the video. The video does a really good job of selling the product and I made sure to bring up that point with my students. 

The video talks a lot about Vector becoming a "part of the family" and having emotions and that started our discussion. Can a robot really have emotion? In the world that my students are currently living in, talking to hardware devices is a part of daily life. As part of my classroom, I do use a Google Home Mini as a hands-free way to use timers, set alarms, ask general reference questions, and occasionally lighten the mood with a joke. Through the use of this device, I have created a number of teachable moments.

One of the most interesting things that I have tried to incorporate into my classroom is AI or artificial intelligence and machine learning. One of the most unique features that Vector provides is the real world application of machine learning. I have introduced my students to some of the Google AI experiments such as Google's "Quick, Draw!" and "AutoDraw". Vector does this in a cute and cuddly package that has already captured the intrigue of my students. Since I have shown the Vector video to my students, not a day has gone by that I have not had multiple students asking me if Vector has arrived, no matter how many times I tell them the delivery date.

I've got their attention, now to capitalize on it. One thing that I remember vividly from my early education was a class pet that we had in 2nd grade and that is the approach that I have taken with Vector. To be honest, I'm not sure that this was the best approach to take but it seemed like a similar experience.
Image from Anki Vector Kickstarter Campaign

My students are aware that Vector is not a living thing and that what seems like emotion is really just lines a code that makes the robot react in the way that it is programmed. It still is a device that needs to be treated with respect and care as I spent $220 out of my own pocket and I would like it to last as long as possible. It has led to a lot of really good discussion and the robot hasn't even been delivered yet. How do you speak to a robot? Should you be polite? How does a robot learn? Can you hurt its feelings? If you can't hurt its feelings then how should you interact with it? These are just some of the many conversations that I have been having with my students in the class. Is this preparing them for the world that they are going to be living in? In my opinion, yes. Smart assistants and robots are going to be a part of my students' lives and if I can get my students excited about coding and computer science I feel like an can inspire the future generation of computer scientists.

Let's face it, the job market looks a lot different than it did just a few short years ago. With the advent of automation through artificial intelligence throughout many areas of our current workforce the job market is going to look radically different than it did for me. As an educator, my job is to prepare students for the real world and if Vector is the tool that engages and inspires than I am willing to make it a part of my classroom.

This process is all an experiment. Could this become a distraction in my class? It could, but my hope is that the opportunities for learning that it creates far outweighs the negative.

My plan is to blog about my experiences, both good and bad, and share how I use Vector in my classroom. It hasn't been released yet, but access to the SDK is being given to those that took part in the Kickstarter campaign. I'm hoping to give my students the opportunity to create their own code and add it to Vector. In addition to this blog, I will be using the Twitter hashtag of #VectorEDU to document my experiences and I encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas. Vector arrives on Monday and I will be documenting the experience right here on my blog. Stay tuned for more coming very soon.

Creative Commons License

Friday, June 15, 2018

Google Educator Certification Level 1 Boot Camp

Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools is hosting a Google Certified Educator Level 1 Boot Camp at Tuscarawas Valley Middle School starting on Monday, July 23rd through Friday, July 27th. If you would like to learn the fundamentals of using G Suite for Education in your classroom, we would love to have you. For more information, please go to the Google Boot Camp website for details and registration. Hope to see you in July!

Friday, March 30, 2018

The New Landscape of Tablet Computers in Education

Over the past week, we have heard from both Apple and Google about their ideas for what the future holds for tablets computers in the classroom. Full disclosure, the device that really sparked my interest and began my journey in educational technology was the iPad 2 back in 2011. With this device, along with an Apple TV, I fundamentally changed the way that I was able to engage my students.
It opened up my band classroom to a wide range of resources that I previously was unable to access. I could record audio, take pictures, record video, display video, play musical examples, and show music excerpts on the large screen display. My music scores were saved on the iPad where I could annotate and leave notes that would shape my future rehearsals. Using a tuner app, I could wirelessly walk around the room and tune instruments. I utilized the metronome app to program a click track to speed up and slow down when the tempos fluctuated in the music. I really fell in love with what the device could do and its potential.

The New iPad

Fast forward to today, and not a lot has changed. Processor speeds have gotten faster, storage sizes have increased, the camera takes higher quality video and images, screen resolution has improved, more apps have been created, but at its core, the device remains the same.

Don't get me wrong, the iPad is an awesome device for the classroom. With newer apps like Apple Classroom and the Clips app along with a slew of other great apps, it is a really creative and powerful tool.

But why is it such a difficult device to manage? Why hasn't Apple devised a better way to manage these devices? If Apple wants to play such a major role in education, why are the devices so expensive? Apple says they are revolutionizing the way students learn, but why do I feel like they are falling short.

After watching Tuesday's Apple Keynote, I was disappointed. The speculators leading up to the Apple Keynote event, held at Chicago's Lane Tech High School, anticipated a price drop in the device to make it more affordable for the education marketplace. I thought to myself that finally, Apple was going to make a play to reinsert themselves as a competitive player in education. After viewing Tuesday's keynote, I now feel quite the opposite.

Not only did Apple not lower the price of the iPad, $329 normal pricing and $299 educational pricing, the same as the previous generation, but the big selling point was adding Apple Pencil support to the non-iPad Pro model. Apple Pencil pricing is $99 normal pricing and $89 educational pricing. In order to utilize the full features of the device, they essentially increased the overall price. Add the Logitech keyboard case and the price tag jumps another $100. This makes the fully outfitted device around $488. I can't help but feel that Apple is pricing themselves out of the education market. Add the additional headache it causes to manage these devices and why would this be the device of choice for most schools? Especially when you are trying to compete with the much cheaper and easier to manage Chromebooks that already have an overwhelming share of the market.

Enter the Chrome OS Tablet

The day before Apple unveiled their new device, Google and Acer confirmed what had been rumored at the BETT show in London. A tablet device running Chrome OS. Where Apple has stalled, Google has been revolutionary in its Chromebook devices. First, in 2013, Chromebooks started getting touchscreen capabilities with the introduction of the Pixel Chromebook. By itself, not completely game-changing, but in May of 2016, Google announced the integration of Android apps and Chromebooks. This fact, combined with touchscreen capabilities, meant you had a device that had touch interface with the ability to run many of the same apps that could be found on the iOS App Store for a more affordably priced device than what Apple was offering with its iPad. Apple would eventually lower the price of the iPad to help them compete, but currently, you can find touchscreen 3-in-1 devices, like the eduGear CMT, that has access to the Google Play store for $10 less than an iPad. Comparing apples to apples, to have an iPad with a keyboard would cost $399, over $100 more than the similarly equipped eduGear Chromebook.

Being more affordable is definitely a plus in the education market where funds are already tight, but couple that with the ease of management that Google provides with the Google Admin Console and you got yourself a device that has positioned itself to change the game once again. The new Acer Chromebook Tab 10 brings all the benefits of the Chrome OS to the tablet form factor.
It even includes a stylus for no additional cost. How does the price compare? It is priced the same as the newest iPad, that doesn't include a stylus, at $329.

I've always felt that the tablet form factor excelled in the younger grade levels and I feel like students in the K-3 grade levels are really the target audience for tablets. Touch is so much more intuitive for younger learners. The fine motor skills that the keyboard requires is not the optimal interface method for these students.

When you take into consideration the tablet form factor, price, and ease of management, I really believe that Google has created a formula for a hugely successful device. Google has been able to achieve what Apple has not over the past several years. They have been able to innovate and create products that are changing educational technology in new and innovative ways. I still have fond memories of that iPad 2 device that changed my career seven years ago, and I still hold out hope that Apple will deliver that next magic bullet product for education, but unfortunately, they are missing the mark. I hate to say it, but it feels like Apple is following in the footsteps of Microsoft and because of it, is losing its innovative edge, especially in education.

Monday, February 26, 2018

One of My Favorite Google Drive Keyboard Shortcut

Keyboard shortcuts are a quick and easy way to get things done on your computer without having to take your hands off the keyboard. If you become really proficient at them you can end up saving yourself a lot of time. But not all keyboard shortcuts are for efficiency. Some shortcuts can give you additional functions. One of those functional shortcuts happens to be one of my favorites for Google Drive. It is the shift + "Z" shortcut.

The shift + "Z" shortcut, as stated by the Google Drive Help webpage, says that this key combination allows the user to, "Add a selected item to an additional folder". This explanation wasn't the clearest to me, so let me explain it in a way that made more sense to me. Shift + "Z" allows the user to take a Google Drive file and place it in multiple different folders.

The reason why I think this shortcut is so great is that instead of making multiple copies of the same file and dropping a different copy of the same file in each folder, I can have the same file dropped in multiple folders. What this means, is that if I make a change to the one file it will appear that way in every folder. Instead of trying to remember which files I've updated, I can update one and know that it will show up that way in all locations. I use this all the time. If I'm working on a new presentation for a conference, I create a new folder with the name of the conference on it. Sometimes I'll use the same presentation at multiple conferences. Instead of making a copy of the presentation for each conference folder, I'll just save the same file in each folder.

Here is a quick video on how this works:

Monday, January 29, 2018

Using Google Forms to Help Monitor Diabetic Students

Google Forms, used as it is intended, is a tremendous tool but with add-ons, it can become even more powerful. One of the ways that I have found for using Google Forms is to help students and staff monitor the blood sugar levels of diabetic students.

In my district, we have one school nurse for four different buildings spread across the district. To better help her monitor those students with medical needs, I created a Google Form that allows multiple staff members, as well as the parents of those students, to keep track of blood sugar levels throughout the school day.

Here are the steps to creating your own blood sugar monitoring Google Form:

1. Create a new Google Form and collect only the information that is needed. The key to this is to keep the form short and to the point so as not to waste time when a student is recording their information. The two bits of information that the nurse was interested in was the student’s blood sugar level and the corrections that were made to adjust for those levels. Because the Google Form is time-stamped automatically with the date and time, it is not necessary to have the student input that information. (I recommend creating a separate form for each student individually to be sure that each student’s data is being kept separate.)

2. Once the Google Form has been created, the next couple of steps take place in the Google Sheet that records the information collected by the Google Form. Click on the responses section in the Google Form and click on the green Google Sheets icon to link the form to a new Google Sheet.

3. In the form responses Google Sheet, we need to manipulate some of the data that was collected by our Google Form to present it in an email notification that we will be creating in a later step. To use the date and time data in an easier to use format, we want the time to be in to display in the 12-hour format, use the formula shown below. Create a new column called “Time and Date” and insert it into row 2 of that newly created column.

=text(A2,"h:mm am/pm on M/DD/YYYY")

4. This next step we will be using two Google Sheets add-ons:
  • copyDown - This add-on allows you copy the formula used in row two to all of the other rows that will be created by each Google Form submission.
  • formMule - This add-on allows you to create and send a mail merged email that takes the information collected by the Google Sheets and inserting that information into an email template.

5. Before moving to the next step, enter test data and submit the Google Form. The copyDown add-on requires at least one row of data to work properly.

6. In the form responses Google Sheets, click on the add-on for copyDown. Using this add-on is pretty straightforward. Click on copyDown settings and turn switch to “on” and set the formula row to “2” if it is not already selected by default. It should detect your formula. Click on the “save settings” button to complete the process.

7. The next add-on that we will be using is the formMule add-on. This add-on will allow us to create an email that can be sent to multiple people upon submission of the Google Form. This add-on is a bit more involved than the copyDown add-on but it does a good job of leading you through each step.

8. Click add-ons and select for formMule add-on from the list. Hover over the “setup” and click on “Choose source data and select merge type”.

9. In the first section, select “Form Responses 1” as the source data and set the form trigger to “Send on form submit”.

10. Click on the blue button in the lower left corner labeled “Next: Templates and send conditions”.

11. In this step, leave the unique template set to “1” and you can name your email template. In this example, I named it “Form Notification”.

12. In the bottom right corner, click on the blue “Save template settings” button. Once that is saved, you can then click the blue button in the lower right corner labeled “Next: Edit templates”.

13. In the image listed below is an example of the email template that you might use. This email is HTML friendly so you can use HTML tags throughout the message to enhance your message. Enter all of the email addresses of those who need the notifications in the “To:” box. In the reply box, I put the email address of the school nurse. In the body of the message, you will see that there are merge tags. By clicking on the buttons on the right side, the tags will be placed based on the location of your cursor. The information inside the “<< >>” will be replaced with the data collected from the responses recorded by the Google Form. I used the HTML tag <strong> </strong> to bold the text contained between those two tags.

14. At this point, you can click the “Preview this” button to view your newly created message. If you are happy with everything, close the pop-up window and your form should be working. You will want to do a test run to be sure that all parties are receiving the message. Warning: Be sure to send a message to all parties letting them know that you are testing the form.

Congratulations, you’ve created a Google Form to help monitor a student’s blood glucose levels. I did have a couple of concerns about collecting students medical data, and I did speak to our school’s nurse about my concern. She shared our method with other medical professionals and they said that they felt this was an excellent way to solve this problem. Be sure to consult the parents to be sure to that they approve.

I had a parent that had a preference for a text message over an email. It is possible to convert an email to an SMS message. A guide on how to do this can be found here.

To view a video walkthrough of this tutorial watch the video shown below.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Welcome to EdTech Ohio

It is such an exciting time to be in education. The paradigm shift that is taking place in teaching and learning is causing revolutionary changes in the field of education. With the ever improving ease of accessibility to information, made possible by the world wide web, today's classroom is becoming a much different place.

The stand and deliver method of teaching today's youth does not apply any longer. Teaching 21st-century skills is what is necessary to prepare the youth of today for the world of tomorrow. Preparing students to be communicators,

critical thinkers, collaborators, and fostering creativity is of the utmost importance. The Prussian model of education that served our country well in the late 18th-century is no longer relevant to the demands of today's society. New ideas on how to educate today's youth are emerging and that, to me, is what makes my job so exciting. It fuels me to learn as much as I can to better myself. There are as many ways to teach students as there are teachers on the planet and the purpose of this blog is to share the ways that I am using technology to change the way I do my job.

I have a passion for educational technology. Technology is a tool that makes the way I teach and the way my students learn more engaging. It allows for new and exciting ways to be creative and to share those creative ideas with others. That leads me to why I decided to start this blog.

I have learned a lot during my 14-year career as an educator, but I can honestly say that I what I have learned over the last few years has made the largest impact on my career. I attribute this to my personal learning network. Over the course of the last three years, I have jumped into the world of blogs, vlogs, and podcasts. The digital connections that I have made through Twitter and Facebook have put me in contact with people I never would have had the opportunity to learn from otherwise. My greatest inspiration and the reason why I wanted to start a blog of my own is largely due to the work of Eric Curts. Eric sparked my interest in the world of Google and opened my eyes to what was possible with the G Suite of applications. His work inspired me to become a Google Certified Educator and then on to become a Google Certified Trainer.

Most educators receive the calling to become educators themselves from inspirational teachers they have come into contact with throughout the course of their education. During their careers, those educators hope to have a similar impact on their students. I am no different. I hope that through the course of this blog that I can inspire others to utilize technology in ways that allow them to inspire their students.