Hour of Code Wrap-up

It’s the last day of school before we head off for the holidays. This past week was a busy one celebrating International Culture Week as well as Computer Science Week. It was wonderful sharing coding with children in all of the elementary grades this week. I loved using the Hour of Code this week because the courses are really accessible with lots of scaffolding. Succeeding in the Hour of Code activities is about observing, reading, trying/testing, problem solving, analyzing, redoing, and paying attention instead of the syntax of programming because you use blocks, not text to code. I did the Angry Birds course during Hour of Code last year and did the Frozen one this year. I felt that the Frozen Tutorial provided much of the code, letting the user add in only one or two lines of code at each stage, in addition to selecting angles and distance.

The most difficult part of the Hour of Code for my elementary students was the abstraction required to work with conditional statements within a loop. Again and again, I spoke with children trying to explain that they could consider the program as a whole (with a choice made at every step) rather than just thinking sequentially about what to do. It’s a difficult concept, and developmentally, most of the children that I work with aren’t at that stage yet.

 

My favorite thing about Hour of Code is watching the quiet and/or jubilant victory dances that students do as they emerge victories at the end of a puzzle. My second favorite thing about Hour of Code is watching different children take the lead in demonstrating how the code works with other children. I look forward to continuing to explore Scratch beyond Hour of Code with Grade 4 students when we return from holidays.

Net Neutrality

What if your internet provider decided to prohibit you from accessing the Internet on all Apple devices, or Windows devices, etc.? I bet you’d be upset. If you don’t want your Internet Service Provider to regulate your access to Internet based on platform, domain, service, or charge you different amounts for the same bandwidth use on different sites, you should care about Net Neutrality.

There have been several campaigns to educate the public about net neutrality. I took screenshots of a website participating in this campaign on September 12, 2014. The aim of this particular campaign was to highlight how a lack of net neutrality could create a disparity in access to different online sites/services.

net neutrality

Experience on a website as part of an awareness campaign in September 2014.

net neutrality 2

Luckily, Common Craft has released a video which explains net neutrality in plain English. Watch the video for an explanation of net neutrality.

Get Coding

I’ve been talking about Hour of Code with elementary teachers at my school for the past few weeks. Hour of Code is part of Computer Science Education Week from December 8 – 14, 2044. We had a little preview in a Grade 2 class last week where students used Tynker as an introduction to Hour of Code. We tried to do something similar in Grade 1 yesterday but unfortunately, the app crashed every time the character got to the jelly bean.

Participate in Hour of Code whether you’re an adult or a child. Today (Friday, December 5) is the last day to sign up to win prizes for yourself, classroom or school. Don’t be intimidated even if you’ve never done any programming before. There are a number of resources that you can use. The platforms mentioned are available all year round but many of them have put on special activities for hour of code. For example, Code Studio has recently added in an actiivity where you can code with Elsa from Frozen.

For all ages

Lower Elementary

Upper elementary (Grades 3+)

Interested in learning more about Hour of Code from a teacher’s perspective? Check out this webinar from Brainpop. Their computer science resources are free this week.

 

Dancing Lampshades

This beautiful choreography of human and quadcopters inspired a sense of wonder and inquiry in me. I checked out the behind the scenes video and got insight into the creative process, but my questions weren’t answered. Were the drones very carefully programmed in sync with the human? Were there independent people controlling each of the quadcopters? Are all quadcopters technically classified as drones? How expensive is this technology?

I think that videos like these are great for classroom room. Here are five reasons why:

  • inspire a sense of wonder in students (and teachers)
  • provide a context for exploring the language of inquiry and questioning
  • demonstrate the usefulness of technology as extension/transformation
  • activate research and exploration (online, contact an expert, etc.)
  • writing prompt for a blog post/ prompt for an open classroom conversation

And a bonus, for pure enjoyment.

 

Cross-posted at http://blogs.isp.cz/esit/2014/09/24/dancing-lampshades/.

Google Docs Adds Suggestions

As I was using a document in GoogleDocs the other day, I noticed a new button which said Editing. Curious what is was, I clicked on it to find out what it was:
gdrive-modes-26d12g2

If you’re a Google Apps user, you’re probably used to Viewing and Editing documents in Google Drive. A recent addition to GoogleDocs adds the functionality to see your own documents as those with view only access would see it. Suggestions adds the ability to color code edits in a shared document.

suggestions-sh6zcv

This lets the collaborators on a document accept or reject changes made to the document. This can be very handy for collaborations where individuals may review a shared document. The collaborators may go through the document together, deciding to accept or reject each addition as they work towards a final version.

It seems that this update to GDocs was actually done in June (while I was away from civilization with no Internet). The official Google Blog explains that suggestions will be able to be made by anyone with Editing or Commenting privileges, and can be accepted or deleted by any editor. Suggestions can be seen by everyone except those with View Only Access. Viewers also won’t be able to seen comments made in the document.

I think that these changes can support collaboration. It’s important to help students create agreements around edits, additions and deletions whenever they are collaborating on a project. Agreements are an important facet of collaboration in GoogleDocs where it is not immediately obvious what changes have been added/deleted to a document.

 

Cross-posted at http://blogs.isp.cz/esit/2014/08/27/google-docs-adds-suggestions/.

Now Crop Images Inside Google Documents

New Feature Alert

New Feature Alert

I’ve often added in an image to Google Docs, only to realize that it needed to be cropped. It’s been a source of annoyance to me that I had to crop the image in another program and re-import it to Google Docs. This problem no longer exists!

 

To crop an image that you’ve inserted in a Google document, select the image and select Crop from the Format menu.

Crop an image inside Google Documents

Crop an image inside Google Documents

I think that this is a great enhancement to Google Docs. How much will you use this new feature?

Cross posted at http://blogs.isp.cz/esit/2014/05/07/now-crop-images-inside-google-docs/

10 Reasons for Parental Guidance in the Use of Handhelds

Cris Rowan has recently written a Huffington Post article that outlines 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12. I acknowledge that she makes some important points but I do not agree with her conclusion:

Point 1: Children under two are experiencing rapid brain growth which could be impeded by use of technology devices

I take no issue with this idea.

Point 2: Technology use can delay a child’s development and learning

The research referenced in Ms. Rowan’s 2010 paper show a lack of parental guidance in technology use and overuse of technology in non-educational ways. The research also showed the importance of touch, connection and movement in development. The conclusion presented by Ms. Rowan is a ban of handheld technology, but an approach of meaningful technology within a balanced family and education environment (outdoor recess, storytelling, playing sports, etc.) is not addressed.

Point 3: Epidemic Obesity

I think that it’s important for schools and parents to provide children with engaging environments and adequate guidance so that they are not spending all their time online. Certainly, technology provides an alternative to engaging in physical activity. As a child, reading books was a challenge to my physical activity and I can remember my grandmother telling me that I had to put the book down and go outside to play. My point is that it’s the job of parents and other caring adults to model engagement in physical activity, and to provide frameworks for children so that they are physically active. One family rule may be that children are not allowed to use digital devices during an afternoon play date; a school rule could be that children cannot use digital devices for entertainment during recess.

Point 5: Sleep Deprivation

The issues raised in the article are that of inadequate parental supervision of children’s technology use and children having technology access in their bedrooms. Using an approach of finding a best fit of solution to problem, parents could create technology use contacts with children and have children turn in/turn off technology at a certain time each evening. This approach is more difficult than prohibiting access to technology.

Point 6: Aggression

This point raises the question, for me, of how we can protect children (under 12) from violent media content. In an elementary school setting, we wouldn’t select violent media content for use in class. Technology contracts with children should include details about quantities and types of media consumption/creation.

Point 7: Digital dementia

Have a balanced approach to life. Alzheimers.net list five things that people can do to fight digital dementia. We do all of them within our elementary program. There are many good reasons besides digital dementia for parents and children to do them also.

Point 8: Addictions to technology

Given that the problem here is that parents are addicted to technology and consequently detach from their children, it seems the solution should be to ban technology use for adults. If parents aren’t building strong attachments with their children, how do we fill that void? We need to address the problem (children need attachments with their parents) not the solution that children are finding for consolation.

Point 9: Exposure to radiation

Much of the research is on cell phone use. What do we know about radiation when using handheld devices? We don’t typically hold our handheld devices in close proximity to our heads like we do our cellphones.

Point 10: Unsustainability of our current approaches

I agree with the point but not the solution. The solution is to build a stronger culture of citizenship, not to simply disallow handheld use.

 

Finally, none of the 10 problems are confined to handhelds. This leaves me feeling that handhelds have become the scapegoat technology. It may be more difficult for parents to regulate and supervise handheld technology, but I’m a strong proponent of modeling citizenship to children and involving children in experiences where they get to make good citizenship decision with adult guidance. I think that it is more important to grapple with the difficult issues of allowing children under 12 to use handhelds within a framework where they are guided and supported than to ban all use of handhelds by them. This may mean having very strict guidelines about when a child can use a handheld device (e.g. during a long trip in the car but not at a family picnic; at home during set times but not during dinner). Parents also need to decide when they need to turn off WIFI on handheld devices, and whether or not it is a good idea for a child under 13 to have constant internet access provided by 3G.

Much of the research is on recreational technology use. Where does education fit into this discussion. Studies have shown that not all media consumption is equal (e.g. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-dobrow/screen-time-for-preschoolers_b_4184335.html). It seems a reasonable extension that different uses of technology affect children differently. This is an area requiring further research.

 

Link for Parents

Managing Media: We Need a Plan – http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/managing-media-we-need-a-plan.aspx

Who Wrote That? Authority Online

On January 22, Google added a feature to search to help you verify the authority of publishers online. This information automatically shows up in your search results when “when a site is widely recognized as notable online, when there is enough information to show or when the content may be handy for you”. Read the Google blog post to see what else Google had to say about this change.

I was trying to share this feature with a colleague today and it had dissappeared. Well, not really. As it turns out, the extra information showed up when I performed searches on google.com but not when I used a regional google search page such as google.ca or google.cz. This extra information shows up as a grey hyperlink to the right of the site URL.

google search

The search on the right is done in google.com; the one on the left is done in google.cz.

When you click on the grey arrow, a dropdown box provides information taken from Wikipedia about the organization responsible for publishing the web page, as in the case of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences shown below.

Image showing drop down box providing information about the website responsible for publishing the page.

Image showing drop down box providing information about the website responsible for publishing the page.

I think that this is  a great feature to help people evaluate websites. However, one shouldn’t depend on it too much. For example, the Missouri botanical gardens is likely a reliable source on water pollution but my search didn’t provide any gray indicator of additional information to suggest credibility.