Picademy 2018 Reflections

The Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive (about $35) credit-card-sized computer, designed to make access to coding and digital-and-physical making much more accessible.  To support this mission, the Raspberry Pi Foundation conducts two-day “Picademy” workshops, to give educators of various experience levels on board with the power of Pi! I was honored to be selected for one of this year’s workshops, in Jersey City, NJ.

Picademy is not about having the most skill, or aptitude, or experience with programming.  Instead, Picademy is all about being willing to learn something new, and find ways to apply that newfound skill to solve problems.

I made the light turn on!I had a good bit of experience with the Scratch blocks-based programming language going in, and that helped.  I had almost no experience with the Python text-based programming language going in, and that was okay.  I had some experience with other text-based programming languages, and that had its advantages and drawbacks.  Drawbacks: I found myself thinking first of how I would accomplish a task with other programming languages I know, and I felt like I didn’t have enough time to break down and understand some of the sample code snippets I was typing.  Advantages: programming concepts like loops, functions, and variables were familiar to me, and I was prepared for the sometimes-frustrating process of troubleshooting a snippet of code that is not working properly for that one little mistake that is breaking the whole process.

"Two Live Mikes" - Mike Marotta and me.As luck would have it (it was pure luck, unless the application reviewers did a lot of homework on the applicants), I happened to be at the same session as Mike Marotta, someone I have followed on Twitter for a long time, and learned many things from over the years.  Mike is an Assistive Technology expert, the 2017 ISTE Inclusive Learning Network Outstanding Educator award recipient, and he serves schools in the state of New Jersey as an Assistive Technology resource. We had never met face-to-face that either of us can remember, despite so many common interests, so this was a treat on multiple levels.  We got to work together, and get a chance to get to know each other face-to-face.

You might think that an event like Picademy would be filled with people who have largely the same background, interests, and ideas for using the Raspberry Pi.  But the group was exceptionally diverse. I met STEM teachers, university educators, media specialists, classroom teachers, published authors, tech directors, and professional development coordinators, and having a chance to hear some of their stories was a great benefit of the time spent there.  I met some wonderful people, and my Twitter family has grown!

Building the book-holder-page-turner.The group work time made this even more powerful.  Day Two of Picademy was focused on groups developing their own project ideas.  One workshop participant (a classroom educator from Detroit, MI) had an idea for a device that would help turn the pages of a book for someone who was unable to do this on their own.  Mike Marotta and I thought that sounded like a great idea for a project, with lots of opportunity to put our newfound knowledge to work on a problem we were both very familiar with. So, we joined that team and began working with the physical materials we had available.

My Picademy project group, with our book-holder-page-turner!

If you are looking for a fast-moving workshop experience to challenge you, I certainly recommend applying for a 2019 Picademy.  And, if you don’t want to wait that long, there are lots of free online tutorials available right now!

I am not sure where all this road will lead me next.  I want to infuse some of this into the Coding Across the Curriculum workshop I have developed.  I want to make much of what I learned an integral part of the makerspace I will be helping to implement at Felicity-Franklin Local Schools starting in the 2018-2019 school year.  I’ve already been asked to develop a presentation on more possible uses for the Raspberry Pi as Assistive Technology.  And that’s a large part of what the Raspberry Pi is about… plenty of valuable options.

Everyone can learn to code – not just the kids!

 

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Finding Meaningful Work For Young Adults With Autism

On Tuesday, , May 8, 2018, I was making the 90 minute drive from Felicity, OH, to the Dayton Metro Public Library.  I was on my way to an audition for this year’s TEDxDayton event, coming in October.  (I’ll let you know if I made it or not.)

On my way, I was listening to “Here & Now” on WVXU, 91.7FM, from Cincinnati.  The show included this feature on finding meaningful work for young adults with Autism.  I found it very fitting, since my proposed TEDx talk is about lessons I have learned from my daughter, Amelia, who was diagnosed with Autism just before her 3rd birthday.

The archived audio version is below.  I remain very hopeful that by the time my daughter is ready to graduate high school that there will be more options for her to be a contributing member of the workforce than a sheltered workshop.  That possibility has more to do with the system understanding her strengths than her fitting into the system we have created.

https://player.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/05/08/meaningful-work-autism

Another Podcast?

Historically, I have not been one of those “New Year, New Me” kind of people.

I don’t typically make New Year’s Resolutions.  I don’t set annual goals and post them around my home, car, and office to remind me to work toward them.  I do set goals, but I don’t formalize them in the same way many others around me do.

In recent years, I have become more intentional with some of the changes I want to make and new things I want to try.  This blog was one of them.  A still-unfinished book manuscript (7,500 words and counting) is another.  My newest “Hey, there’s an idea, let’s try it and see what happens” project… a podcast.

At ISTE 2017 in San Antonio, I talked briefly with my friend Luis Perez about this idea.  At the time, I was only thinking about how much would be involved in creating such a podcast, and how many podcasts already existed.  His advice to me?  “Do it!”  In truth, the barriers I was seeing were the same ones I had already talked myself through in starting this blog and in starting to write my book.

So, those of you who are visiting my blog get a “sneak peak”.  I am planning to start this podcast as a regular series in 2018, but I have a rough cut of episode one ready to preview.

Cincinnati Zoological and Botanical Gardens Director, Thane Maynard, taught me years ago that you can say a LOT in 90 seconds.  His “90 Second Naturalist” radio spots are some of my favorite listening – as much for how they are structured to convey a little important information quickly as for what information they contain – so with a nod to him, here is Episode 001 of “The 90 Second Integrationist”.

So far, I have used a reasonably inexpensive (~$50) Blue Snowball Ice microphone and the powerful open source Audacity software to create my audio files.  I found a piece of intro music I liked from freemusicarchive.org.  The next step (once I produce a better quality m4a/mp3 file) will be to create the necessary rss file to submit the podcast to iTunes.

If you have 90 seconds, check out Episode 001 and let me know what you think!

(**note** – One of my biggest hesitations about starting a podcast was my self-imposed requirement that I provide a transcript with every episode.  Some of my best friends and biggest influences in education work with students who are hearing impaired and/or are themselves hearing impaired.  I could not in good conscience provide a product that they were unable to consume.  On the blog post, a transcript appears below the audio controls.)

Mopping Stinks, and How They Fixed It

If you love to mop, stop reading.  This post will make you mad.

If you hate mopping, channel that rage into what you’re about to read, and enjoy a journey through the design thinking process.

In his 2012 book “Imagine”, Jonah Lehrer opens the book with a story about mopping.  For me, mopping is an occasional hassle and a detested chore.  And I couldn’t really tell you why.  It just stinks.

A lot of people felt the same way, and Procter & Gamble knew it.  P&G makes millions of dollars per year on the floor cleaning industry.  So, they put their world-leading chemistry department on the job.  Come up with a better floor cleaner.

After months of trying, and failing, the company with more Ph.D.’s than Harvard, MIT, and UC-Berkley (combined!) reached its last dead end.  P&G shifted focus and gave the problem to an outside consulting company for a fresh perspective.

David Kelley, founder of the company IDEO and Stanford University’s d.school, once spoke of the design thinking process as “a series of buckets” from which to draw useful strategies to addressing problems.  Three of those strategies (“ask an expert”, “observe users”, and “build a prototype”) led to a breakthrough in the mopping industry.

The consultants spent tedious hours watching people mop.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Watching… people… mop.  The trick is to watch people mop and pretend you’ve never seen anyone mop before.  By watching people mop and talking to them about their experiences, they learned two important things: 1) Most people spent more time cleaning their mop than cleaning their floor with the mop, and 2) People used easier ways to clean up smaller messes.

These two observations led to an idea, and that idea led to a prototype: a disposable paper-towel-like head on a plastic handle.  People didn’t get it, until they tried it.  When people were told about the plan to put a disposable head on a mop handle, focus groups were unimpressed.  So, rather than try to explain it better, they built one and let people try it themselves.  Then the focus group participants wanted to take it home with them!  The Swiffer was born, and it generated over half a billion dollars in sales within its first year on the market.¹

What is your mop?  At school, at work, at home… what is that task or that chore that takes up our time, and that we have just come to accept as “part of life” with no way to improve it?  Maybe you have the beginning of the next Swiffer!


¹ – Information about the development of The Swiffer comes from Jonah Lehrer’s 2012 book “Imagine”.  The book was recalled by the publisher over admissions by the author that he fabricated quotes and other material in a section of the book about Bob Dylan.  I scored a copy from the Canadian imprint online.  The book sold about 200,000 copies before it was pulled from shelves.  It is generally readily available used on Amazon.

The Most Significant Barrier

The most significant barrier that many students with disabilities face in school is not their disability.

In actuality, the most significant barrier that many students with disabilities face in school is a lack of support from the system toward accomplishing greater things than they ever thought possible.

Sometimes, the system (that includes the teachers, the administration, and the family) just doesn’t have a basic belief that the student has a path to accomplish great things.  Sometimes, the belief is there that the student could achieve great things, but there is not adequate support (either in type or quantity) for the student to make it a reality.  Both of these situations perpetuate a longstanding myth that students with disabilities are unable to achieve the same curriculum goals that typical students are expected to reach.

This perspective becomes magnified when students are expected to “qualify” somehow, behaviorally or academically, before being given access to the very technology that could unlock a world of learning for them.

If you have a 1:1 program, but you don’t include the kids in a resource room or other placement besides the typical classroom, I’m sorry, but you don’t really have a 1:1 program.

Chrome logo with accessibility symbolIn my work as an instructional technology coach this school year, I have been supporting Felicity-Franklin Local Schools with rolling out Chromebooks to all students, grades 5-12.  Some of the students have difficulty (for various reasons) using the Chromebook in its typical setup.  Through a variety of accessibility features, students are using their Chromebooks in a variety of ways to accomplish tasks.  Here are some of the most useful for us:

  • Zoom – Native to Chrome OS (and the Chrome browser) is the Zoom feature.  Press [Ctrl] + [=] to zoom in (make things bigger).  Press [Ctrl] + [-] to zoom out (make things smaller).  And when you get lost playing with that, press [Ctrl] + [0] to return the browser to the default zoom. [Pro tip: Use [Cmd] instead of [Ctrl] for Chrome on a Mac.]
  • Speech-to-text in Google Docs – Google Docs has a built-in speech-to-text tool called “Voice Typing” that lets you talk to your word processor instead of typing!  This is a great help for students who struggle with keyboarding speed, and students who struggle with spelling.    In a Google Doc, click “Tools” → “Voice Typing” (or use the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl] + [Shift] + [s]).  A guide to input by dictation and voice commands is available at https://support.google.com/docs/answer/4492226.
  • Text-to-speech with texthelp’s Read&Write – Some students greatly benefit from having on-screen text read aloud as they follow along visually.  Far from being a “crutch” that permits students to consume content without developing decoding skill, text-to-speech supports developing readers by highlighting individual words as it “reads”, giving students a multi-modal experience. Get the Read&Write Chrome extension.
  • Closed Captions in YouTube – Many typical students prefer video to reading, especially for longer passages of material.  For students with hearing loss, video can be a huge barrier.  Make sure the videos you provide for your class have accurate captions, or at least an accurate transcript, available.  YouTube will try to auto-generate captions for a video that does not have them provided, but these can be woefully inaccurate. [Pro tip: In YouTube, click the “More” (three dots) button below the right edge of the video, then click on “Open transcript”.  Click on any line in the transcript, and the video will jump to that timestamp! Great for searching for a particular word or phrase in the video!] 

All of these tools, and many more that are used for more specific circumstances, have one great thing in common: they address learner variability by “adding to” rather than “taking away”.  Strategies like removing access to technology and reducing academic expectations do more harm than good for students who struggle with typical curriculum (even in electronic formats!).

When a student struggles with the technology we are making available to every student, we must remember that the barrier is not in the student, but in the technology.  The first best question we can ask is, “What can we add to this situation to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of this barrier for this student?”

STREAM? Why not STREAMMSSFLPE?

The following article was originally published by Daniel Mares at https://www.mrmares.com/stream-why-not-streammssflpe/.  It is re-published here with his permission.


Full disclosure. I am a former social studies teacher. I have also taught math and engineering. I dabble in computer science with my students as well.

Textbook with highlighter and glassesI recently was invited to a webinar that was focused on STREAM education. Many are familiar with STEM and STEAM. But STREAM was new to me. The second part of the title of the webinar was “R for reading.” Reading. We have to add reading to acronyms for education. When did reading leave the classroom? Did we start to focus so much on science, technology, engineering, and math that reading was left out of our schools!

I understand the initiative to bring more focus to the science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum. Especially when we are forecasting jobs of the future to be reliant on those skills, along with problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Reading should be baked into everything that we are doing in our classroom and our schools. It is fundamental to achieving everything else in our classrooms.

Math Equations on Chalk BoardIf we are going to add reading to our STEM or STEAM initiatives, then why not add music, social studies, foreign language, physical education, and everything else that we teach in our schools? STEAMMSSFLPE. Even with a focus on stem education, reading should not have gone away from our classrooms.

I understand with the A in STEAM, but if we continue to add letters to STEM it will lose its purpose. If we are to really begin to focus on bringing awareness to our STEM skills, we need to ensure that we keep it simple with acronyms. STEM is fine the way it is. STEM does not say, “do away with all other subjects.” STEM is just a focus. We can’t lose sight of the other subjects as we want to have well-rounded students that really can read, write, communicate, create, think critically, and collaborate to be successful in the economy we believe is coming.


Daniel Mares is an Instructional Technology Coach in Coloma, Michigan.   He blogs at http://www.mrmares.com He is on the short list of “people I have never met face to face but would love to sometime.”

Ten Best “Must-Try” Free Tech Tools for 2017-2018

Welcome to the start of the 2017-2018 school year!  The new year brings with it a new opportunity to try new things to support learning for all students.  Here are my top ten “must-try” free tech tools for this year!

10. Flipgrid – The “flip” in “flipgrid” comes from the concept of a flipped classroom.  Ignite discussion by creating a “grid” where students make video of their thoughts and ideas on a topic you post.  Super Cool Hack: Use this in language classes (foreign language or ASL) to post source material and translations!

9. Seesaw – A digital portfolio system for your students.  Students can submit materials as typed documents, photos, drawings, video, or links.  New to Seesaw, students can log in with their G Suite for Education account instead of scanning a QR code, and students can submit material from their Google Drive!  A great solution for early elementary students who are not ready for a full-blown LMS!

8. Read&Write for Chrome – You have to be using Google Chrome for this one, but the benefits are so good!  The free version gives you high-quality text-to-speech within Google Docs and PDFs.  Teachers can submit their e-mail address to get a free one-year (renewable) subscription to all of the paid features as well.

7. Edublogs – Your students can write for a global audience.  That’s a scary thought to many teachers, but the potential benefits are too vast to ignore.  If we want students to reflect on their learning, become effective communicators, and create authentic products, blogging is a great way to reach all students.  Built on the popular and powerful WordPress system, Edublogs provides an easy way for a teacher to create a single class blog and invite students to become contributors.  The teacher retains ultimate control of what becomes public, and students learn digital citizenship alongside of the content they are creating.

6. Canva – Digital Publishing and Graphic Design calls us to merge our content knowledge with creative expression.  But, basic productivity tools still assume an 8½”×11″ (or A4) format, based on the tyranny of printed paper.  Canva gives you “Publisher” type templates to start from, but in Infographic or other formats that defy traditional size restrictions.  Smash the boundaries!

5. Feedbro – I have rediscovered the value of RSS feeds!  Yeah, I follow certain people on Twitter or other social media platforms, and I learn a lot from them.  But, I can still miss important posts from certain people or organizations, and I don’t want to have to remember to visit their pages every day/week/month to see if there are any updates.  Feedbro lets me enter the RSS feed address for my favorite feeds and keep track of updates in one convenient location.  Versions available for Chrome or Firefox.

4. Iorad – Creating step-by-step tutorials and screencasts can be a great way to familiarize people with a long series of steps to perform online tasks.  Trouble is, these tutorials and screencasts can be very time-consuming to create.  Enter Iorad.  Start Iorad, and perform your task.  Iorad keeps track of where you click and what you type, and produces both a step-by-step tutorial with screenshots, and a screencast of the procedure you just performed.  Turn hours of tutorial production into minutes!

3. Recap – Recap takes multimedia student interactivity to another level by shifting the focus away from the teacher’s questions and to the student’s questions.  Queues, Journeys, and Video Responses offer exceptional flexibility in using this tool to provide asynchronous communication opportunities, and promote deeper thinking by students who interact with the system.

2. Book Creator – Book Creator has long been one of my favorite tools for the iPad and Android tablets.  Giving students the ability to create their own multimedia e-books can ignite a passion for learning, to become “published authors” with expertise in their chosen content area.  Now, this capability has been extended to the Chrome browser with the release of the newest version of Book Creator! Anything from short, simple picture books, to comprehensive advanced math and science texts (with built-in video examples!) can be produced with Book Creator.  And, if you need a powerful ePub reader to view your completed eBooks, try Readium!

1. iCivics – Anyone else out there seeing a renewed interest in civics education and how government works?  Just me?  Okay, then….  The mission of iCivics.org is to provide students (and anyone else, really) with immersive simulations into how government works, across all branches, at all levels from local to federal.  With Constitution Day coming up on September 17, iCivics is releasing a brand new version of its most popular game, “Do I Have a Right?”  Infinitely playable and replayable, the simulations at iCivics are great for introducing students to the complex and complicated world of representative democracy!

Which of these have you tried?  Any others that you love for 2017-2018?