Friday, July 29, 2016

Arduino Coding with AT Tiny

We are almost at the beginning of a new school year and it is time to get going planning what I want do with my students, which new and exciting  learning experiences I want to offer them, and how I am going to share with them the latest knowledge I have acquired during this summer at the Kodiak Virtual Learning Conference.
I have 2 plans I want to implement this year:
  1. Integrate paper circuitry activity in my Italian language online course.
I have decided to use my Italian 2 course for this integration because it is my smallest class and it will allow me to test this plan in a easy to handle environment. The Italian courses I am offering this year are not using any pr-canned curricula, but I have developed  on my own using some principles of TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) and other second language acquisition strategies. One element of my courses will be weekly creative writing, in which students will be asked to write reflections in the target language building up writing skills that will enable them to create short stories.  I want to use these short stories to be the environment for introducing paper circuitry. Depending on the response of the students I will see how far we can go with the complexity of the circuits and possibly to the coding.  
For these storytelling with paper circuitry I want them to use a blog for sharing their work and give them the opportunity to have an exposure and interact among them commenting and providing critical feedback.
The idea is to integrate Italian scientific vocabulary in the course and build up from there the use of tools that correspond to the language learned. The integration of paper circuitry will also allow the creative expression enhancing student creative writing and storytelling.
My plan is to have students create a monthly story with paper circuitry.
  1. Develop an high school level 1 semester course on Paper Circuitry & Arduino coding.
This is an idea that I have been discussing with Jeannine Huffman, David Cole, Nicole Fuerst, and Dr. Lee Grahm. The plan  is to be bale to create a course for introducing students to coding in a fun and playful way. It would be great if we could create a CTE course with dual credit, high school and college credit as well. This idea does not have a specific planning yet since it involves several people, however  I am looking forward to collaborating with all of these amazing individuals.
I would like to use this coming year for defining this course so that we could offer it to students next school year.
I believe that this course will be a valuable resource for our students for approaching coding in a fun way. At this time my school district does not offer any coding courses, however they recognize the important of this need for our students. My goal is to offer this course statewide so that all our students will have equal opportunity to accessing this resource and develop important skills for becoming 21st century global citizens.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

AKTeach Virtual Learning Conference 2016

This was my second year attending the AKTeach Virtual Learning Conference, and I have to admit that I am just so amazed and jazzed by the quality of the learning opportunities offered during the 3 days of this event. I would like to thank the AKTeach team, specially Phil Johnson and Nicole Fuerst for their work in putting together this small, yet powerful event, offering fellow Alaskan educators the opportunity for connecting and learning, in a very stimulating and interacting environment.
This year  presenters were amazing educators who worked with the attendees for 3 consecutive days sharing their expertise and helping us growing in skills and creativity, important aspects to bring back to our classrooms next month when we will start a new school year.

The session  have chosen this year was on Advanced Paper Circuitry presented by Jeannine Huffman and David Cole. The reason why I wanted to attend to this session was that I wanted to learn more about Arduino coding for using ATTiny processor with the paper circuity. Jeannine was awesome in guiding us though the process of the creation of paper circuits that could support t he movement mechanism managed by the ATTiny processor.
I loved the freedom of creativity we had during the workshop and how some of us took off in different directions more relevant to the domain of their work. We all were very engaged although we all were focused on different goals. This process made me think about how we teachers often expect our students to work on the same task at the same pace, while we should give them the freedom to make a task/project relevant to their own reality. I love being in the shoes of a student because helps me keep in mind their prospective when it comes down to my classes.

Something I really liked about this session was learning about how to create advanced paper circuits with movements regulated by a coded microprocessor on a budget! These days we all have to deal with cut to education and is very challenging to find the money for supporting cool and innovative educational experiences. For this reason I think that it is particularly relevant to find way to bring innovative and engaging STEM experiences to our students with a minimum cost!!!
 I personally feel so excited about what I have learned and I can't wait to share it with my students and my colleagues!

My take from this conference is that there is so much we can do with students and it is very important to network with other educators across the state and the nation for supporting, helping, motivating and sharing with each other the resources, great ideas, success and failure stories that can help all of us in being better educator and support and motivate our students.

If you have never been to the AKTeach Virtual Learning Conference I would strongly recommend to mark it on your calendar for next year. It s not a "major production" conference, however it is very rich and very powerful!

From Ideas to Planning... Reality Check!

I get very excited with new ideas and I start thinking of the many way I can share hat I am learning with my students, however there is a point that I find always very difficult, however very important and needed... the reality check of making a plan!

There are 2 different ideas that I would like to implement, the first is a short term plan, while the second is a longer term plan.

1. Integrating paper circuitry as a creative element in a world language course.
When is time for planning the implementation I like to start small, working with a small number of students, which helps in managing and reviewing the plan as it evolves. My smallest class next year will be a second year of Italian.
With this class I am planning to have students work on a notebook for a weekly creative writing in the target language.
Once a month they should create a short story in the target language and this story should be illustrated and over-layered with Paper Circuitry. During the first semester I would use Paper Circuitry without any addition of coding. During the second semester I would like to introduce the coding and offer them the option of a final project with creative writing/speaking illustrated by the graphic and Paper Circuitry with or without animation (with Arduino coding).
I want to leave this as an option because I want students to enjoy this activity and not seeing it as an imposition and despise it.

The World Language AK standards are so general that I could find a few standards I could tie to this activity. However what I am looking more closely are the ISTE standards that I think are very important for 21st century students.
1- Creativity and Innovation
4- Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making.

2. Create a CTE Paper Circuitry/Arduino coding course for high school students.
This course could be delivered either online, or in a traditional classroom, or using a blended format.
In my school district at this time there are not coding courses offered to students and our district office is looking into adding this type of courses. There is the need for it and this is a good thing! :)
I have discussed this idea with Jeannine Huffman, David Cole, Nicole Fuerst, and Dr. Lee Grahm, and I am looking forward to collaborating with all of these amazing individuals for creating this course.

I am really excited about the second idea because this is what would finally get the attention of my school district to the Paper Circuitry activities and all the potentials they have to offer.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

What a creative mind!

In California, a community college professor creates a class for day laborers in a Home Depot parking lot.

Money, Money, Money.... Teaching and "Making" with or without them

My brother and I grew up playing with Lego all the time since it was made by simple solid plastic blocks. I remember the excitement when we had the first hollow pieces that were allowing to create some sort of articulation. Back then we did not even fathom the possibility of robotic Lego able to be complete action based on kids generated code...what a fantasy!
My brother at 10 poses proud next to the
robot he build using simple Lego blocks.
25 years later he published this picture in
the first page of his robotic engineering
P.h.D. thesis.
Interesting enough from playing with Lego my brother kept moving in this direction becoming a biomedical robotic engineer, while I have taken a very different route focusing on humanistic studies leaving Lego and constructions behind. In the recent years I was fascinated by the level of technology Lego has developed and I giggle to the idea of "playing with Lego" as I knew it because my nephews will have quite a different experience from what my brother and I had.

In schools across the country and worldwide robotic courses are offered to all grade levels, using programmable Lego robotics. What an amazing tool for learning in a playful and engaging way, isn't it?! The only down side is the cost that this material has. Yes educators can hunt for grants, when available, or engage in creative and extended fund raisers using tools such as or still not always these money show up and in those cases there is just a lot of disappointment and great creative ideas are put back in storage for that "one day" in the future... What a sad alternative, isn't it?

This summer I had fortune to participate to a 3 workshop on advanced paper circuitry offered by Jeannine Huffman and David Cole organized by AKTeach, Kodiak Island Borough School District. This workshop was following up a year of training with paper circuitry building up to this advanced level requiring coding and soldering a microchip to a paper circuit for activating an hand made (cut and colored) paper robot.... yes a PAPER ROBOT!!!
Jeannine Huffman's paper robot.
As you can see from this image of  Jeannine's Panda bear, you do not need even a fancy laminated paper-stock, but you can already create a simple robot drawing on white paper  and cutting out the image created. Yes you need some pieces of technology for the movement but definitely the difference in cost between this time of robotic creation and the Lego creation is quite remarkable... wile the creative experience and the coding experience is not that different!
Now the point I am trying to make is not that expensive technology is bad and cheep technology is good, but that you do not need to have a lot of money for offering students a creative, engaging, and technology rich learning experience! My personal approach is plan for no money and celebrate for whatever you can get!

In Alaska these days school districts are quite tight in finances, so this option of using simple and very low cost material is very appealing to teachers and administrations. I am personally planning to try to use a combination of fund raisers web tools such as and for purchasing the low cost material, so that I could use these money for offering this type of learning experience to a much larger number of students.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Social Media and Makers Movement in Classrooms

We are in the second haft of the second decade of the 21st century and Social Media are still a frightening reality in many classrooms, we can't deny this, however often the reason for this fear can is that educators of all levels, from teachers to superintendents, do not really know what to do with them and how to handle these tools in a safe environment for their students.

I have taught in schools in which many classroom doors post clearly "Cell free zone", "No Electronics Allowed", and so forth. In my classroom I have always had a big sign "Bring Your Own (Electronic) Device", and next to it a guidance of rules for the use of them. In my opinion it is important to encourage students in embracing technology in a mature and responsible way. A smartphone is such a powerful tool and has great potentials when used in the correct way in a classroom... this is why it is important to teach our students this very valuable skill.

Smartphones are the most common and efficient tools for using Social Media, and let's be honest at least 95% of our students have them in their hand for most of their waking time of the day. In spite of this, our students rarely realize that they could use these tools for "learning"!!! Did you have had students asking you some bizarre question? Absolutely, right! Now how many times you have replied "Google it and share with everyone what you find."?  It is amazing how kids often do not think right away of the potentials of this small device they "pet" all day long.

I really like the idea of Social Constructivism proposed by Dr. Richard J. Light of Harvard School of Education, stating that learning happens more effectively when there learners interact with other learners. a couple of years ago I read a few scholar articles presenting studies made in both secondary and post-secondary level education institutions analyzing differences in learning outcome of students who did and didn't use of social media in their classroom environment. The results were consistently in favor of the use of Social Media.

Let's now consider the great motivation boost that Social Media can offer to students when they can share with others their ideas and the what they create... what a powerful experience! Think of the opportunities they could access to if they were given the opportunity and the guidance for using for instance Twitter for connecting directly to they favorite authors, scientist, doctors, artists, engineers, asking questions and sharing their ideas and products... the potentials are really unlimited!

Educators have always to deal with budgets way too small for their dreams, however sometimes Social Media can be a way to reach out far and high at a low or no cost and at the same time it can offer the opportunity for marketing good ideas and products, creating a potential revenue that could support further "exploration".  This is a process that dos not happen overnight, but I believe that it is very important to initiate and promote for the good of our students, if we really what them to be successful 21st century global citizens!