Learning Out Loud: Playing with Arduino

It is summer and it is a perfect time to try out some new things.  The Arduino is a platform that I have brought into the classroom to help engage students who were interested in digging deeper into circuitry and electronics.  This past year I was inspired by my Grade 9 students who fearlessly took on the challenge to use the Arduino to support their science projects.  This summer I wanted to revisit this platform for myself and reflect on this learning experience.  Here are some of my initial thoughts.

Learning was driven by the need to overcome failure…

Even with the construction of simple circuits, the drive to have them work in the face of failure was critical in my motivation to learn more about circuitry and coding.  All of a sudden, I found myself tinkering with components and even reading through code in an attempt to make sense of the programming language.

Problem solving at its best…

The approach that I used to troubleshoot this project really reminded me of the scientific method.  There were certain aspects of the project that I identified as being potential areas to investigate.  The resulting “bug” or error in my project could have been the result of a faulty or missing connection.  An error in the code or even a defective component could have also resulted in this non-functional project.  Ultimately, each of these areas became a variable that I would explore individually in an attempt to systematically identify and correct the error.

What next?

At the conclusion of this project I could not help but think about what else I could change or build.  After tinkering with the code, I started playing around with different values and variables.  What if I changed a number here or a value there?  What other sensors could I use instead of the ultrasonic sensor?  How could this apply to devices or objects that are around us in our daily lives?

I get it.  I get this now.  Building, failing, tinkering and persevering.  It felt like learning to me.

K. Takahashi

ScreenCastify: Annotate and record your Chromebook screen

Screencastify Set UpA quick tip for those looking for a screen capture solution for the Chromebook.  ScreenCastify is a Chrome application that allows the user to record their browser tab or desktop.  This is a fantastic option for students who are looking to create, record and annotate projects (ex. Google Slides, Google Drawings, etc.) that they have created on their Chromebook.  Recorded videos can then be saved and exported to Google Drive or YouTube to be shared or submitted as part of an assignment or formative assessment.  There is a free version of ScreenCastify that will allow you to record projects that are under 10 minutes long.  For those who are familiar with the Explain Everything app for iOS, Windows, Android and Chrome, ScreenCastify is a simple and handy alternative for educators and students.

– K. Takahashi

123D Circuits: An online circuit builder and emulator (Tech tip 8 of 31)

123D Circuits (from Autodesk) is a free, online tool for designing, building and testing a variety of different electrical circuits.  Working within their web-based Electronics Lab, you start with an empty, virtual circuit breadboard.  A pop up menu reveals a variety of electronic components that can be quickly added to your breadboard.  Batteries, resistors, capacitors, servos and motors are just a few of the components available to the user.  There is also an option to use and program a virtual Arduino board and incorporate it into your circuit.

Testing and running circuits is done quickly as you run the simulation online and allows for quick troubleshooting and feedback.  Projects are automatically saved to your account and can be shared with other users.  New accounts for 123D Circuits are free to create or users can opt to login using an existing FaceBook, Yahoo, Microsoft or Google account.  As this is a web application, 123D Circuits works well from any Mac, Chromebook or Windows PC but as of the date of this post there are no dedicated applications for Android or iOS devices.

 

Drag and drop components; draw in your wires and then test your circuit!
Drag and drop components; draw in your wires and then test your circuit!

For teachers looking for a new and innovative way for students to learn about and play with electrical circuits, you are going to want to check this out.

– K. Takahashi

Google Drive: Prevent other editors from changing permissions for your file or folder (Tech tip 5 of 31)

When you share and provide editing rights to a Google document (Docs), spreadsheet (Sheets), presentation (Slides) or drawing with others they also inherit the ability to add other people as viewers, commenters or editors.  Similarly, they also have the ability change the accessibility permissions to the Google file.  This may be problematic for the original owner (or author) if they want to retain ultimate control over who has access to the document outside of their shared group.

Fortunately, there is a feature within the Sharing Settings that allows the owner to prevent other editors from sharing the file with others.  This also stops their ability to change or edit current user permissions around accessing and editing the file.  Keep this in mind when sharing your next document, spreadsheet or presentation with other peers, educators or students.

To stop other editors from further sharing your files, access the sharing settings by either right-clicking on the Google file in your Google Drive or by opening the Google file and selecting the Share button.  When you are in the Share with Others menu…

  • Select the Advanced button in the lower right corner
  • Along the bottom of the next screen that appears, look for and select the Change button beside the statement, “Editors will be allowed to add people and change the permissions.
  • Toggle the sharing setting so that only the owner can change permission

These steps can also apply to other non-Google files that you have stored in your Google Drive as well as file folders that you wish to share with others.  Note that this does not prevent other editors, commenters and viewers from making a copy of the file for themselves.

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– K. Takahashi

Use IFTTT to coordinate your favourite apps and platforms (Tech tip 4 of 31)

There are about 180 different platforms that can connect to the IFTTT service.
There are about 180 different platforms that can connect to the IFTTT service.

IFTTT allows the user to connect different online platforms and applications by establishing conditional relationships between them.  IFTTT stands for “IF This Then That” and it nicely sums up how one connects two applications together.  Changes in one application or platform will trigger an action in another.  These simple chains or strings of commands are referred to as “recipes” and they can be shared to other IFTTT users looking to do the same thing with their own respective applications.

IFTTT does a great job in walking new users through the process of creating their own recipe.  Currently, IFTTT can connect to about 180 different online applications or “channels” that support productivity, social media, home automation and wearable technologies.  As a result, one can create some unique recipes that can combine and automate applications that would otherwise work independently from each other.

Examples of some possible recipes include:

  • Save and document all of your Twitter posts to a Google spreadsheet
  • Save your Instagram photos to DropBox
  • Automatically save Gmail attachments to either Dropbox, Box or OneDrive
  • Receive a SMS text message if any new post appears on your Tumblr blog
  • Download SoundCloud tracks to your Google Drive

IFTTT is also available as an app for iOS and Android. The developers at IFTTT have just released their DO applications that allow you to connect action items to their DO Button, DO Camera or DO Note apps. If you are looking to automate and coordinate your favourite applications, you will want to check out IFTTT.

– K. Takahashi

Find out what is streaming on Netflix, Hulu, etc. (Tech tip 2 of 31)

Search for a title across several streaming platforms at once.
Search for a title across several streaming platforms at once.

Searching for a movie or television show within and across different streaming services (ex. Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, etc.) can be a painful and lengthy process.  If you know what you want to watch but have no idea what streaming service is currently offering the title, check out Can I Stream.it.  This is a free service that also allows you to search for titles available as digital rentals, digital purchases as well as disc purchases.  Can I Stream.it is also available as an app for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Chrome.

– K. Takahashi

iPad vs Chromebook: Different Devices, Different Uses

Questions and comparisons around Chromebooks and iPads continue to grab the attention of educators as schools look to make decisions around the purchase of new classroom technology.  In this blog post, we take a closer look at the inherent strengths of both the iPad and the Chromebook in order to better appreciate how each can support learning in the classroom.  Each device also presents its own unique set of traits that may impact its viability in a school or classroom.  Let’s take a look…

The iPad and iPad Mini

iStop Motion iOS app
The iPad has access to a rich library of applications that have been designed with a touch interface in mind.

Apps designed for touch

Since the iPad was released back in 2010, app developers have been exploring the use of touch as a viable (and in some cases, preferred) alternative to the keyboard and mouse.  As a result, the iPad has access to a wealth of applications that are optimized for a touch interface and in many ways provide a user experience that benefits from unique and instinctive gestures.  This experience ultimately lends to the overall appeal of this device with users both young and old.  For the classroom, the touch interface helps to improve access to technology for our younger students (and students with special needs) who may struggle with the keyboard and mouse.  Doing away with the keyboard and mouse also helps to make the tablet an extremely portable form factor where the device can be used and operated in the hands of the user while sitting, standing and moving.

iPad accessories
When it comes to iPads there is no shortage of accessories that can extend the use of the tablet.

Creation apps

Apple’s recent move to market the iPad as a tool in the creative space draws attention to applications that focus on producing and creating media.  Apple’s own iLife (iMovie, iPhoto and GarageBand) suite of applications help to illustrate the creative potential of the iPad.  Recording, editing and sharing media from one portable device is a very compelling strength of the iPad.  This helps to advance the integration of technology in the classroom towards learning tasks that are about synthesizing and applying new learning.

3rd party accessories

The popularity and consistent design of Apple’s iPad (and iPad Mini) lines have generated a wealth of 3rd party accessories for these tablets.  There are no shortage of cases, keyboards, stands and docks that will support the iPad in a variety of different learning environments.  Ultimately, these accessories allow one to best outfit an iPad for a primary classroom, a science lab or a gym class (to name just a few).

The Chromebook

Supports Multiple User Accounts

The Chromebook supports multiple accounts as users can login using their own Google accounts.  As a result, users will have access to their own Gmail, Google Drive and any other applications that they have applied to their Chrome browser.  Logging into to a Chromebook with personal Google accounts provides a multiple user experience that is not yet available on the iPad where there is nothing to distinguish one user from another user accessing the same iPad.  For the classroom, the use of individual accounts helps to maintain a secure learning space for each student where their work and media are not accessible to other students.

Samsung Chromebook
If you are familiar with the Chrome browser and already have a Google account, then you are already well on your way in using a Chromebook.

Google Drive, Chrome applications and extensions

With access to Google’s cloud-based productivity tools and the ability to add applications and extensions to the Chrome browser, the functionality of the Chromebook now extends beyond the use of a simple web-browser.  This now allows the user to connect to some of their favourite 3rd party services and applications using the Chromebook.  Evernote, DropBox, Snagit and Prezi are but a few of the thousands of Chrome applications that you can install to your browser.  Extensions are smaller programs that add more functionality to your browsing experience in Chrome.  Some extensions may add some additional security to your web browsing while others may add helpful tools to capture, view and share content.

Keyboard and Track Pad

Touchscreens are great but sometimes I find the best interface is the old keyboard and trackpad.  For extended periods of typing and word-processing, a laptop form factor may still be the most appropriate tool for the job.  The attached keyboard and trackpad ultimately impacts the portability of the Chromebook when compared to a tablet but this again signifies the inherent differences in how these devices are used.  Where the iPad lends itself to be held and operated in the user’s hands, the Chromebook is best used when resting upon a table or desk.

Other considerations

Management

The management of iPads and Chromebooks also presents some important points of difference between the two platforms.  Chromebooks are managed through Google’s Management Console while iPads (and iOS devices) are managed through Apple’s Configurator.  Each platform will have its own take on the deployment of devices, the purchase of applications and the creation of user accounts that may impact the model of IT support within a school or across a school district.  Although the details around the management of iPads and Chromebooks cannot be explained within a short blog post, it would be wise to become acquainted with the management mechanisms behind these devices.

Chromebook ports
With most Chromebooks sporting at least one USB port and SD card slot, it does provide the opportunity to quickly add certain peripherals and easily add additional storage.

Internet Connectivity

User experience on both the iPad and Chromebook is optimized when these devices are connected to the internet.  Arguably, even with the ability to do some offline work on the Chromebook, Google’s laptop is much more reliant upon the internet for access to cloud services and applications.  Consequently, the iPad (and other iOS devices) offers access to many applications that do not require internet connectivity.  In classrooms that only provide wired internet connectivity, the Chromebook does offer the option to connect to the internet via ethernet port or USB adapter.  With the limited number of port options on Apple’s tablet, the iPad does not have the ability to connect to the internet through a wired connection.

Price

With the iPad Mini providing the most affordable iPad option at $299 US ($319 CDN), it still marks a gap with the entry-level chromebooks that tend to come in at around $199 US (Acer C720).  With that said, schools should be wary of opting for the cheapest alternative without first considering the ultimate purpose and intent behind the purchase of a technology for the classroom.  Even with the starting point of $199, Chromebooks start to increase in cost as you start to look for increased processing power and the addition of a touch screen.

Now what?

My apologies to those looking for a straightforward answer around the decision to purchase either a Chromebook or iPad.  Ultimately, we want to purchase technology that supports the learning needs and tasks within our respective classrooms and schools.  Both the iPad and Chromebook provide unique and compelling features that may set one above the other but there are other factors that may also serve to influence our decision.  In the end, educators will have to decide for themselves how all these factors rank and prioritize themselves against the need to best support student learning and achievement.

– Kenji Takahashi

Google Forms in the classroom – A great place to start

Google Drive connects to a large suite of Google productivity applications (Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Drawings, etc.) that may be a bit intimidating to educators who are looking to get started with Google in the classroom.   Before creating lavish presentations or setting up students with their own shared folders in Google Drive, perhaps the best way to bring Google into your classroom is to start with Google Forms.

What is Google Forms?

Google Forms is another part of Google Drive that allows you to set up online surveys and then share them with others.  Results are then automatically collected and compiled on a Google Spreadsheet.

Why start with Google Forms?

Besides being easy to create, using Google Forms presents a great way to acquaint newcomers to the potential of Google Drive and its accompanying productivity applications.  Here are some other reasons why using Google Forms in the classroom is a great place to start…

  • Facilitates student participation – The nature of the online form is to request the participation of others.  Google Forms is a fast and easy way to engage students and provides opportunities to place technology in the hands of students rather than at the front of the classroom where the teacher may be the only person interacting with technology.
  • Cross platform – Any device with a browser and internet connectivity can potentially be used to access and complete these online forms.  For a school that supports BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) this is a great way to leverage the variety of different devices and platforms brought into the classroom.
  • Participants do not need to have their own Google account – As the creator or administrator of a Google Form, you have the ability to share the form in a number of different ways.  Forms can be sent out via email, shared as a link or embedded on your own website.  When you share the link or embed the form it is open to the public and as a result, participants will not need to have a Google account to access and complete the form.  This helps to get around the problem of having to ensure that all of your students have a Google account.
  • Results are immediately compiled and accessible – Google Forms is a great way to gather and assess student feedback quickly and easily.  As soon as students begin submitting responses, a spreadsheet is automatically generated for the form and is accessed through the creator or administrator’s Google Drive.  The form can be a quick exit card for students to complete at the end of a lesson or they can be used within larger tasks or projects that require student input or feedback.  Google forms can also be generated quickly on the spot so teachers can create and deploy a survey when the unexpected need arises.
  • Viewing the results together – Perhaps one of the most powerful features of the online form is the ability to use and share the results with the entire class.  The spreadsheet of responses can be displayed on a large screen or shared to the class for viewing on their own devices (you can provide viewing rights to the spreadsheet).  Sharing the results can help facilitate discussion, generate some new ideas or even determine next steps for learning.  The possibilities are endless…

Get started with Google Forms

If you already have a Google account, you just need open your Google Drive, select Create and then choose Form.  Have a look at the video below for a whirlwind tour of Google Forms.  If you are still running into some problems and questions, have a look at the links below for more in-depth help from around the web!

 

More Resources?

 

Create a survey using Google Forms

https://support.google.com/docs/answer/87809?hl=en

Google Forms 2014 Tutorial

http://youtu.be/8NNTGlwh11k

 

– K. Takahashi

Review: Chromecast in the Classroom

The Chromecast is a small, portable streaming device that is backed by Google’s Chrome browser.  A winning combination right?  But how does it fit within the classroom environment and infrastructure?

Strengths

Small form factor – The Chromecast looks like an oversized thumbdrive that essentially plugs right into the HDMI port of a data projector or display. This makes for an easier installation as there is no need to stow or mount the hardware.

Works across different platforms – Since the Chromecast works through the Chrome browser and other Google services it provides the ability for different platforms (ex. Windows, Mac, Android and iOS) to connect with this streaming device.  In a modern classroom where it is not unusual to see Windows desktop computers working alongside iPads and Android devices, the Chromecast places itself in a unique position where those different devices can be supported.

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Limitations

HDMI only – Similar to the Apple TV, the Chromecast is only able to connect to displays (monitors, televisions) and data projectors through an HDMI port. This will be a challenge for classrooms with older projectors and displays.  HDMI to VGA converters threaten to undermine the compact form factor of the Chromecast and there is no guarantee that a converter will work.

Power via USB – Another potential drawback in the set up of a Chromecast is the need to provide additional power via a USB cable.  Although the Chromecast comes with an AC-to-USB power adapter (and a fairly long USB cable), it can still serve as a challenge to power the Chromecast if there is no powered USB port or available AC outlet near the data projector or display.

Different platforms, different functionality – Although the Chromecast brings the ability to support different platforms, Chromecast functionality and features differ as you move from Windows PCs and Macs to Android tablets and iOS devices.  A Chrome browser running on a Mac or PC will allow the user to broadcast their browser and mirror their entire desktop (beta feature) to the Chromecast.  On the other hand, iOS and some Android devices will only be able to connect to the Chromecast through specific, supported applications.  So for those looking for an all-in-one, classroom solution to project the screens of different devices (mirroring), the Chromecast is not able to do this for iOS and specific Android devices… at least not yet (see the next section below).

Consider this…

Google’s I/O 2014 event unveiled some encouraging plans for the Chromecast.  Most notable were the updates around mirroring and connectivity across different wireless networks.  Mirroring functionality is currently being extended to certain Android devices and will allow for the broadcast of an Android device to another display through the Chromecast.  As mentioned above, this is a feature that PCs and Macs currently enjoy through the Chrome browser.

Future Chromecast features that would allow devices to connect across different wireless networks is a function that seems to rely upon technologies that allow for devices to locally connect to each other.  It will be interesting to see if this feature will support a BYOD environment where personal student and teacher devices connect to a classroom Chromecast residing on a secured wireless network.  Ultimately the news around Chromecast at Google’s I/O 2014 event helps to assure users that there is still more in store for this device over the next year.

K. Takahashi

 

 

 

 

 

A multiple user solution for your classroom iPad? Try Google’s Passcode Lock

Welcome to Google Drive

iPads (as well as the iPad Mini and iPod Touch for that matter) can be compelling tools for learning but as teachers look to use an iPad or group of iPads among a group of students and across several classes, these iOS devices do not initially present themselves as a tool for multiple users.  Essentially, media files saved locally on the camera roll or photos application are accessible to all users.  Currently, iOS 7 does not have the ability to discern between different users.  Restrictions settings in iOS 7 offers some differentiation between an iPad administrator (ex. teacher or IT administrator) and the student, but that is more for limiting access to core features of the device and operating system.  When it comes to providing separate accounts for students to save and access their own work on an iOS device, iOS 7 falls short.  As we look to iOS 8 for a hopeful solution, a handy feature called Passcode Lock is found within some of Google’s applications for iOS and provides a temporary solution for teachers and educators.

What is Passcode Lock?

This is a setting that is found within the Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Sheets applications for iOS.  This feature allows a Google user to lock access to their Google Drive using a 4-digit code.  Even if several students log into their Google account through either the Google Drive, Google Docs or Google Sheets app on an iOS device, having each student set their passcode will ensure that only they will be able to access their work and files.

How to set up Passcode Lock

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What Google Drive and Passcode does right…

Google’s execution of the Passcode feature illustrates the proficiency of the Google account (and Google Apps for Education) and the ability for Google to quickly push new features and coordinate settings across their apps.  Case in point, the Passcode Lock was quietly introduced through a simple application update for Google Drive for iOS (and Android) back in April 2014.  Since the passcode is linked to the user’s Google account, once the user opts to activate this feature on the Google Drive app it automatically applies to the user’s account when accessing the Google Doc and the Google Sheets applications as well.  If a student forgets their passcode, they can simply remove their account from the application and sign back in again with their login and password.

But keep in mind…

Passcodes are set locally to the iPad so if a student moves to another iPad they will also need to set another passcode for that iPad.  This may require some coordination on the part of the teacher if they are looking to have certain groups of students linked to specific iPads.

For those looking for a comprehensive multiuser experience on the iPad, Google’s Passcode Lock feature will really only apply to accessing files from the Google Drive application as well as creating and editing Google documents and spreadsheets.  Unfortunately, Passcode Lock will not extend to other 3rd party applications that also link to Google Drive as a cloud-based storage.

In the end…

With Google Classroom due for release in September 2014, Passcode Lock adds a small yet important feature for those looking for a more secure way to manage multiple users and Google accounts.  Google I/O 2014 provided some insight on some upcoming features for Google Drive including better support for native documents created in Microsoft Office.  Ultimately, there are some exciting new updates and features in store for Google Drive and with that, the Passcode Lock is a great feature to support this in a multiuser environment.