Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oh! Ozobot

My children have been quick to remind me this week that this is the worst Spring Break ever. Everyone else gets to go somewhere and we are at home. Today, though, we spent a fair amount of time - at home - getting to know Ozobot. I am leading a coding camp for kids going into grades 4, 5, and 6 for a week this summer and the Ozobots will be featured on at least one of the days. In preparation for the camp, I compared several codable robots and Ozobot won out. Here's why.

It's plug-n-play right out of the box. My almost ten year old daughter loves art, so I knew Ozo would grab her attention because it follows lines that you can draw with ordinary markers. When the lines change color, the Ozobot's light changes color too. There are many color combinations that cause the Ozobot to spin or turn or flash and so on. Very basic coding with markers and paper. My daughter started with a colored line design, but then created a sign that Ozobot could trace. Here is the video:

Then I showed her how to use Ozoblockly (Blockly coding at the Ozobot website) to make the robot move without the colored lines. She has a little experience with Blockly from Hour of Code activities, so she was off and running in no time. After she wrote a few lines, I showed her how to touch the Ozobot to the screen and touch "load" so the program could move from the website to the robot. You can actually load three Ozobots with the same program at the same time. [An aside: While the program was loading into the 'bot, I couldn't help think of the TV show "Chuck" from a few years back. There is all this flashing and the robot is programmed. Maybe it becomes the intercept. ;) ] Then we created a maze to try to program the Ozobot through the maze. Here is the video:

My daughter is a pretty typical fourth grader and loved experimenting with Ozobot, both with the colored lines and the Blockly coding. It seemed like each time she mastered one aspect, she quickly moved on to another thing that she could try. With almost no coding experience (two "Hours of Code"), she was simultaneously challenged and inspired. A perfect combination.

And I like a couple other things about Ozobot too. First, the price is right. At only $60 ($50 with the education discount), this is a pretty affordable robot. Second, it's small. And I like that because it won't be crazy disruptive when we program it to move through mazes or whatever they dream up. The small size means we can do that on tabletops, on big sheets of paper. Finally, I love that there is an education discount, lesson plans available, and professional development and webinars available for teachers. We didn't yet explore the printables that are available on the Ozobot website, but that is another set of things to explore. 

Our Spring Break hasn't been a dream vacation, but it was nice to pull out a robot today and have some fun with it. Sure, they didn't get to go anywhere today, but the Ozobot sure did! My daughter kept talking about how much she liked Ozobot and hoped to add it to her permanent collection. I am glad this one is in my permanent collection. I am not sure yet how I will use it to teach chemistry, but when I figure that out, I'll be writing about it here! 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Short and Sweet: A Comparison of URL Shorteners

Last weekend I mentioned in a post that I had taught a Google class that finished with a "what's the one thing you can't wait to share" Slides show. A couple of the class participants selected shortening URLs as their one thing. A URL is a Uniform Resource Locator or, in regular words, the web address you type to get to a website. A URL shortener allows users to take a long, crazy web address and shorten it down to fewer characters that are easier to type and remember. For teachers, this means we can get down to business faster.

In the class, I used the Google URL shortener, goo.gl. Since the class is about Google, I feel compelled to use as many Google tools as possible. There are many other URL shorteners, though, so I thought I would compare a few of my favorites in chart form. As you will see, they all have slightly different attributes. Which one you choose will depend on what you need.

Here is a bonus one-sentence "loves me, loves me not" summary of them too.

I love that goo.gl is associated with my Google account and that a QR code is created when I shorten it, but I don't love that Google uses O and 0 and I, l, and 1 that all look alike in fonts without serifs.

I love the bit.ly allows for customization and analytics.

I love that tinyurl.com allows for customization but I don't love that there isn't an account to search previously shortened URLs.

I love that fur.ly allows me to cluster several URLs and shorten them together (this would be so great for school projects with students), but I don't love that the account seems finicky.

I love that ow.ly is simple and easy and integrates with other Twitter tools.

In the reflection papers that the Google participants wrote, several mentioned how handy a shortened URL would be in their classrooms. In fact, one teacher wrote: 

My students, who are fourth graders, some of whom are extremely low, struggle to type in those long web addresses.  And then, once they get the address typed, they have missed a period or a put in a space and all of their work is for naught.  Their hand goes up and there they sit until I can rescue them from their long wait and point out their error.  Time lost is learning lost. 

I love that the URL shortener will create more time for learning.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Play Learn Interact Xplore

An intriguing email arrived in my inbox this weekend from ck-12.org. If you aren't familiar with ck-12.org, you should take a look, especially if you teach math or science or coach teachers who do. They offer free resources for teachers to use in order to try to personalize and maximize learning for all students. The email this weekend invited me to check out the Limiting Reactant PLIX. Not sure what that was, so I gave it a whirl.

PLIX is an acronym for Play Learn Interact Explore. This is the latest addition by ck-12, a set of interactive tasks in math and science. They are sorted by discipline. The math topics include algebra, geometry, probability, statistics, analysis, and calculus. The science topics include Earth science, physical science, life science, biology, chemistry, and physics. Each topic has many interactives; I counted 61 for calculus alone!

The lessons within chemistry are numerous and varied. Some are simple and straightforward topics, like accuracy vs precision. Others are challenging abstract concepts, like the atomic emission spectra. What I really liked about the ones I tried was that they are short and sweet: try a couple of interactive tasks and answer a few questions about them.

There were two limiting reactant tasks. One is an activity that asks you to build hot dogs out of buns, sausages, and cheese slices. After you do it, you answer a couple of questions - which reactant was limiting? how many hot dogs did you make? The second task was a particle model. A reaction is provided and you follow the reaction to build product molecules. Similar questions follow. I loved the particle model, but this one is more complicated than the hot dog example. First, the balanced equation and the particle model don't match (C2B should be C2B4). I don't think this is a total deal breaker, but since students need to picture the particles that match the coefficients and subscripts, I would feel compelled to mention this if we were using this PLIX. Or, at the very least, ask the students to find the error. Second, when the products are made, neither reactant is entirely gone. That makes it hard to determine what is limiting, but that might be a good extension of a model building activity my students do in class.

PLIX would be great as a conversation starter in class, as a station in a station rotation, or as a quick homework assignment. They are free, appear to be device-agnostic (I tried laptop and iPad), and interactive with quick formative assessments. I am looking forward to familiarizing myself with more of them, adding them to my repertoire, and watching for them to be polished up when they are no longer in beta.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Nearpod Author's Week

I have written about Nearpod - and how much I love it - many times before. Nearpod is a presentation platform that allows for interactive feedback activities to make lessons engaging for students and teachers. I am a Nearpod Author and Nearpod PioNear (PD Specialist). 

As an author, I have written 17 presentations that are available in the Nearpod library - some are free and some cost $3. Some of my lessons are focused on content; others - like the one pictured here - focuses on the process of science with an experiment you can do in your classroom using my provided information or your own materials. This is Nearpod Authors Week, so author's content in the store is 25% off. That's Buy 3, Get 1 Free. If you are a chemistry teacher, you might want to check out my content. If you teach something else, check out all of the amazing resources waiting for you in the content store.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Your Network of Bookmarks

If I were to name my gateway webtool, the tool that got me started in trying anything and staying informed in what is available and useful to educators, it would have to be the social bookmarking service at diigo.com. If you haven't ever heard of or tried diigo, the service allows you to save your bookmarks to the cloud so they are available from any computer on the planet. When you bookmark to the service, you can add tags to make them easy to search and find later and a blurb about why you saved it. As powerful as all that is, diigo goes a step further and also allows users to follow each other and join groups to share bookmarks. When I bookmark, I choose whether I am bookmarking only to my account or sharing my bookmark with one of several groups I have joined.

Diigo actually does a whole lot more than facilitate social bookmarking. You can annotate and highlight webpages and PDFs, add sticky notes, and create a pile of things to read later. This is a great service with a robust free plan and great benefits for the educator's account, including create accounts and special links for students to use. Every time I teach a class, I always highlight diigo because it is a great service with a social component.

This week I read a post to the blog at diigo.com about whether diigo should keep the social aspect of their social bookmarking service. People ask me all the time how I find all the things I share, how I find time to look at all the resources I know about. Most times my answer comes back to the social aspect of diigo. When I was a new diigo user, I joined several groups (iPads in Education, Google in Education, Science Education, and, of course, the Diigo in Education group) and quickly found individual users whose interests matched mine and then I followed them. These follows led me to great, innovative educators who I now also follow with other social networks while I reap the benefits of what they share in diigo. Where some educators may shy away from social networks like Twitter or Facebook as professional tools, diigo has a strong professional feel to it and allows people to join a PLN that doesn't have the inappropriate stuff you might find on Twitter or Facebook.

So should diigo keep their bookmarking service social? My answer is a resounding YES, please. If you feel the same way, please let them know.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Highlighting the Best of Class

At the end of a two-day Google workshop I teach at a local college, I ask the participants to collaboratively create a presentation where each person makes one slide that shows the thing they can't wait to show someone else. I typically make a slide too because each time I teach the class, I find something new that I really like. This weekend that was the Google Docs Add-on called Highlight Tool.

The Highlight Tool was created by a high school student to help a teacher who wanted a better highlighter for Google Docs. When the add-on is installed, the user can select different colors and make a key that shows what each color represents. 

Then, while reading, highlighting can be done in several different colors. For example, a paper's thesis could be highlighted in one color and the supporting details could be highlighted in a different color. To try out the highlighter, I started with a Google Docs version of the ISTE NETS-T and highlighted of textual examples of different teacher expectations. Highlighting is easy - select a portion of text and click on a colored bar in the add-on pane while working in a Doc. The image at the top of my post is a screenshot of my highlighted text.

While this was incredibly easy to set up and do, I really wouldn't need an add-on for what I have described so far. You can use the text color function in the menu bar to highlight in different colors. The next steps that I describe are what really sold me on this interesting tool. After you are finished highlighting, you have a very colorful document, but the add-on doesn't stop there. Next you can export all the highlights in one of two ways.

Export by sequence allows the user to export all the highlights into a new Google Doc in the order that they were highlighted. This would be handy to look over the text for a pattern in ideas with the visual assist of color. For example, if you are looking at highlights of a research paper to see if there is evidence throughout the paper, you would be looking to see if the color representing evidence is present periodically throughout the exported highlights.

Export by color allows the user to export all the highlighted text into a new Google Doc organized by the category that the colors represent. This would be handy for grouping all the similar ideas or evidence from a reading together. After the highlights are grouped, the reader could look for patterns and big ideas.

I don't often ask my students to highlight text as they read, but this tool could change my mind about that. I do ask my students to check that the notes they take target the objectives listed in each textbook section. I could ask them to highlight each objective in a different color. Then, if they share the exported highlights with me, I could check to see how they are doing with that.

I recently participated in an inservice where the presenter led us through a rubric analysis and asked that we highlight various aspects of a rubric in different colors. What differentiates a 4 from a 3 or a 3 from a 2? This add-on would be great for doing that work as a class or in small groups and saving the exported highlights as a summary of the activity for future writing reference.

Another way to use this tool would be to designate four colors for each member of a four-person group. Each person could read a work looking for a different aspect of writing and then the highlights could be exported and shared.

This simple but useful tool was definitely the one thing I couldn't wait to share. I hope that you might find it useful too.