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

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

Apple TV in the Classroom: Naming and managing Apple TV (Tech tip 6 of 31)

Customize the name of your Apple TV so it is easier to find

If you are in a school with several operating Apple TVs, it may be necessary to a use a naming convention that is more specific (and more appropriate) than the stock labels that Apple provides (ex. Office, Living Room , Kitchen, etc.).  Create a custom name for your Apple TV in order to make it easier to identify it from other units.  Typically, I have always recommended using room numbers as labels as it helps to easily and quickly identify the appropriate Apple TV.

Navigate to SETTINGS and then select AIRPLAY.  Next choose APPLE TV NAME and then scroll down to the CUSTOM option.  Go ahead and name your Apple TV with a label that easily distinguishable form other Apple TVs on the same networks.

Turn ON either ONSCREEN CODE, PASSWORD or DEVICE VERIFICATION in order to manage user access to the Apple TV

Now that students and teachers can find your Apple TV, it is time to manage who can actually connect to it.  Activating either one of these 3 settings (ONSCREEN CODE, PASSWORD or DEVICE VERIFICATION) will help determine who can stream to your Apple TV.  This is another helpful feature to consider when setting up your Apple TV within a classroom or school.

Go to SETTINGS, select AIRPLAY and then navigate to SECURITY. From here you can opt to select and set up ONSCREEN CODE, PASSWORD or DEVICE VERIFICATION.

Onscreen code will ask users looking to connect to the Apple TV to enter a randomly generated 4-digit code that is displayed on the screen. I find that this is a great option for a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment as you do not need to share a password with other users.  Password makes use of a password that is generated by the Apple TV administrator where users are then prompted to enter it when their Apple device looks to connect to the Apple TV.  This is not a bad solution if you are working with a class set of iPads that you will want to have access to the Apple TV without having to enter an onscreen code every time. Device verification works in the same way as password, except that the user enters an onscreen code once in order to verify future connections to the Apple TV.

Apple has posted a number of great resources on the Apple TV.  Find them HERE.

– 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

Status Board: A simple solution for school digital signage (Tech tip 3 of 31)

Drag in and arrange a variety of different panels including DIY panels.
Drag in and arrange a variety of different panels including DIY panels.

It is not unusual to see a mounted LCD (or LED) panel in the foyer of a school as a way to display school updates and information for students, parents and teachers.  Some schools may choose to display a school website, loop a PowerPoint presentation or employ a 3rd party digital signage software (ex. http://www.ucview.com/digital-signage-markets/k12-schools) to help manage how the information is presented on the screen.  For those with an older iPad and the means to connect the tablet to an LCD (or LED) display, Status Board (Panic Inc.) may provide a simple and interesting solution for you to display information to your school community.

Status Board ($11.99) is an iPad application that allows the user to create and customize a digital bulletin board that is mirrored to a display.  There are a variety of elements or panels that you can use to populate your board.  Calendars, weather updates as well as RSS and Twitter feeds can be added as panels and arranged around the canvas of your board.  For the more technically inclined, you have the option of creating and sharing your own DIY panels.

– 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

Find out what is using up your storage on your iOS device (Tech tip 1 of 31)

iOS devices with smaller storage capacities can quickly fill up with a variety of recordings, projects and media. The installation of some applications may also use up large amounts of storage space as well. Inevitably, there will come a point where the storage capacity of the device will fill up and decisions will need to be made on applications and media that may need to be deleted, backed-up or uninstalled in order to free up more space.

Go to your storage management settings in order to quickly determine the applications that are currently using up the most amount of storage on your iOS device.

  1. Go to SETTINGS
  2. Select the GENERAL menu item
  3. Find and select the USAGE menu
  4. Then go to MANAGE STORAGE

In the MANAGE STORAGE section, you will be able to see the amount of storage still available on your device as well as a list of all your apps and the amount of available storage capacity. You may be surprised to discover the amount of storage that certain apps use up. With that said, this information can help you determine which applications to attend to (ex. delete or back up) in order to recover the maximum amount of storage space on your iPad, iPod or iPhone.

– K. Takahashi


Why 1 of 31?

In an attempt to start my own everyday project, here is my modest attempt at trying to complete a 31 day project.  At the end of day 31 whether this daily project is successful or a complete failure, I want to be able to reflect back on this experience and articulate what I have learned.  Since my work currently involves the support and exploration of technology and its support of classroom instruction, I am going to post a quick tech tip each day.  Here we go…

– K. Takahashi

Creating Vine videos for the classroom: Less is more

Vine is a video sharing service where users can upload, edit and share a 6 second clip of looping video.  Even with such a short length of video playback to work with, Vine hosts some pretty compelling and engaging loops of video.  The concept of the short video is not limited to Vine, as Instagram also provides creative videographers the opportunity to post and share up to 15 seconds of video.  In November 2014, Ocho was launched as another social networking platform allowing users to share video clips of 8 seconds.  15sectech is a web-based technology show (hosted by Amber MacArthur, Jeff MacArthur and Lara Killian) offering technology tips, reviews and news within an episode running time of (you guessed it) 15 seconds.

The question for me, does the short video format have any value for education and student learning?  What can you say, describe or explain in 15 seconds?  8 seconds?  6 seconds?  After spending some time on Vine, Instagram and 15sectech, it would seem that you can convey quite a bit of information. These short video platforms host a variety of engaging and innovative scenes and demonstrations lasting mere seconds. Will the creation and sharing of these condensed forms of video work in the classroom?

My first Vine video!  Animation took a bit of work but basically it was created using a series of PowerPoint slides that I exported out as pictures and then assembled in iMovie.
My first Vine video! Animation took a bit of work but basically it was created using a series of PowerPoint slides that I exported out as pictures and then assembled in iMovie.

Well here is my first attempt.

I picked a concept from our Grade 9 science curriculum within the biology unit that specifically deals with ecosystems.  The term I picked out was biomagnification and my task was to create a Vine video that explained this concept.  I anticipated that the task itself was pretty straightforward.  After all, how long could it take to create a 6 second video?

I quickly found out that creating a short, compressed and comprehensive video takes a lot longer than I thought.

It wasn’t enough to find and recite a definition of biomagnification from a text book or website because I had to create an explanation that accurately described and defined the term within my 6 second timeframe.  I realized that I also had to figure out what I was going to show during this 6 second video.  Simply posting a screen shot of a chart or diagram was not going to work because the viewer did not have enough viewing time to explore the visual themselves.  Much like my script, the visual component of my video needed to be concise and explicit.  Ultimately, I had to cram in as much information as possible into this video and it would require a careful combination of what I was saying and showing during my 6 second clip.

My finished product is not going to rock the educational world by any means but what was remarkable for me was the amount of research and thought that went into this single video.  The short running time forced me to identify the critical components and information that needed to be conveyed around the term, biomagnification. Wording of the definition had to be carefully selected and the decision to create an animation provided me the best way to illustrate this concept.  Add to the mix that there was this heightened incentive to get it right because this video would be posted for the world to see.



Reflecting on my finished product, this experience raises new questions for me if I were to try this again. What did I learn about biomagnification? Was my explanation complete? What could I have done differently? Does it move too quickly? Does the looping format of Vine help the viewer understand the content by giving them a second, third or fourth chance to see the video? What would be an appropriate follow up video?

Adding to the conversation around the use of Vine to support classroom learning, I can appreciate that the educational value is in the process of creating a short video.  I would definitely recommend educators to try this for themselves and see if the creation of short-length videos has potential in your respective classroom.  Give it a try!

– Kenji Takahashi





Google Trends: A springboard for Inquiry-Based Learning

When it comes to inquiry-based learning, we want to avoid engaging students with questions that can be easily “Googled”. However with that said, our searches on Google can tell us a lot about what is on our minds as a region, a country or as a global community. Looking at the trends around these Google queries can be a source for fantastic, student-generated questions of inquiry.

Using statistics on search queries, Google.org uses this information to gauge flu activity for region.
Using statistics on search queries, Google.org uses this information to gauge flu activity for region.

Google.org gauges flu activity country-by-country by looking at the Google searches from within each region. Looking at their global map, we can quickly see that the flu is much more prevalent in certain countries and continents. As a science teacher looking for opportunities for student inquiry, this graphic alone provides a compelling prompt for more student questions. What are the factors that cause a country or continent to become more susceptible to a flu outbreak? Why do we not see the flu across all regions and countries? How does a flu change? What impact do seasons have on the flu? What makes a flu particularly contagious?

Consequently from this one graphic alone, different subject areas may be able to draw upon different streams of student questions. Topics around geography, history, business, etc. may connect to different concepts and content pulled from the information on the map. Ultimately, it will fall upon the teacher to artfully connect and draw the potential flood of questions towards specific learning objectives and curriculum. But the formation of questions, the discovery of new information and the formulation of answers will be driven by student inquiry and curiosity.

Once in Google Trends, select the menu icon and browse through the different types of compiled information.
Once in Google Trends, select the menu icon and browse through the different types of compiled information.

Discover this for yourself by visiting Google’s Trends. Select the menu icon and browse through the different trends and charts around Google’s search statistics. Selecting the Explore menu item will allow you filter information by region, category and/or time. The results you get back in return may be surprising and provocative, and it is then where new questions begin.

What do you use to inspire student inquiry?

– K. Takahashi