Thursday, July 19, 2018

Lots of Fun with Numberella

While wandering around the expo at ISTE, I stumbled upon a board game. A board game, at a technology conference. A longtime lover of board games, I was immediately intrigued. Numberella is a game designed to increase skill level and engagement in mathematics. I watched for a while and eventually played. In just a few minutes, I was hooked.

Numberella has two basic ways to play. For players that are evenly matched, the game is pretty straightforward. Players, in turn, roll dice, choose cards, and questions or follow directions. Correct responses earn ANT coins. After a certain amount of time, the person with the most coins wins. When players are unevenly matched, other elements of strategy and luck are introduced so that players who struggle with math can still outwit and outlast others. By including "fortune cards" and "magic," the winner will not necessarily be the student with the strongest math skills. This built-in differentiation levels the playing field to help build confidence and determination. The game is available in three levels, so it provides practice for students at various levels from second grade through early high school.

Questions on the cards in the game are varied in style. Take a look at a couple of examples:

The small but mighty rule book includes teaching tips. One of the Fortune cards allows a player to hijack another player's turn. The teaching tips suggest that a teacher use this if they see a student really struggling so it can "take the heat off" the student and save the embarrassment of not knowing. The teacher can hijack the turn and explain how to solve, teaching a mini-lesson during the game. Or intervene in whatever way makes sense. I love the idea that the teacher is playing the game! Another tip is about time. Turns can be timed, but the teaching tips indicate that timed turns should only be used when players are very confident. The game also includes some DIY cards so teachers or students can create their own challenges.

When I sat down to play at ISTE, I had no idea about the educational nuances. It just looked like a fun game. Numberella was designed by Alexander Newberry and has a delightful British vibe. Lose a turn is called "Miss-a-go;" quirky characters adorn the game cards and box and create a charming backstory for the game. 

So what was this board game doing at the educational technology camp? There is an app that accompanies it. With the app, teachers can track student progress, create leagues and houses (because British!), have a leaderboard and more. In fact, Numberella has initiated a launch challenge via Twitter and the app. Teachers are competing for a chance at winning some free sets of the game and our progress is being tracked in the app. Wish me luck. I am currently in fourth place.

I already had a post in the queue for this clever game, but this was the perfect time to make it live because I am taking Numberella with me to TMathC this week. My new friends at Numberella donated the game so it could be played by amazing math teachers this week at camp. Thanks, Numberella. We are grateful!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Coding with Micro:bit (ISTE Gem #4)

I definitely want to dig deeper into coding in the next year, so I prioritized coding activities at ISTE. To that end, I had signed up for a ticketed (but free) session called Creating with Micro:bit and it was a highlight of the conference for me.'

Micro:bit is a very small, inexpensive, programmable computer that can be used for all sorts of things. I had no experience with micro:bit before the session, but I did have some experience with coding. I lead a coding camp for kids where I use predominantly free resources available online and some other coding gadgets. Most of what I help kids with at camp is block-based coding.

Upon entering the session, each participant received a micro:bit! That was a tiny computer and a USB cable for attaching it to the device we brought with us to our session. [Note: there are iOS and Android apps for the micro:bit that use bluetooth to connect to a device so it would not require a USB connection] We were directed to a website where we could start using blocks or Java to write a program.

We started by creating a program that would run when the lights dim, so the first command was if the light is less than a certain level, the program would run. Like all block coding experiences I have had, once a basic program has been achieved, participants quickly start adding other blocks to try to accomplish other things.

We used Microsoft MakeCode to write our programs, but micro:bit can also be programmed with Python or Scratch and some others. As you can see in the above image, MakeCode looks a lot like other block coding languages and has many options (input, music, radio, loops, logic, and so much more) to explore. Even with all these options, it was so easy to get started and incredibly gratifying when it worked!

Once the program is written, you click the save button. Then open the folder where it is saved and drag it to the micro:bit (which is connected via USB) to copy it. Then the program will run on the micro:bit. I created a program that would spell out the letters of my name:

I'm still not exactly sure how I will use this in my chemistry classroom, but I am going to find a way. I am toying with an idea for a new PBL when students have to animate a chemical process using a combination of making and coding. Maybe this is a good place to start. Micro:bit does have teacher resources available on their website as well as lots of other information for getting started.

Are you using coding in your science classes? Please share your ideas.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Photo Editing with Aviary (ISTE Gem #3)

When I became aggravated with the lines at ISTE (and getting closed out of sessions), I began to dedicate more time to the Vendor Expo. Lots of booths have small demo areas set up for sessions to take place right in the Expo. It was at the Adobe booth that I saw Leslie Fisher present on several Adobe tools, including the mobile app Aviary.

Aviary is a mobile photo editing app (iOS and Android) that Leslie described as an underused tool. Indeed, I had not heard of it, so I quickly downloaded it (it's free!) and began to follow along. Import a picture from your camera roll or take one within the app and then start editing. There are SO many ways to edit - enhance, add effects, crop, adjust, change the orientation, transform the image, add text, draw on the image, change the focus, add vignettes or stickers or frames or overlays, touch up blemishes and red eyes and whiten teeth, add a color splash, and create a meme.

I added a variety of effects to a photo I took of two turkeys and made a GIF out of the images. It is inserted below so you can get an idea of just a few of the possibilities in this free tool:

It is very easy to tap an effect and fiddle with the controls. Then Apply if you like it or Cancel if you don't. I especially like the splash of color option. My daughter played with the app for about five minutes before she declared, "I love that photo app!" 

When you get the image exactly the way you want it, you can save it to your camera roll and/or share it via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or other apps like Messages or Mail. If you're looking for an easy, free photo editor for your mobile device, this is a great one!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Computational Thinking with Polyup (ISTE Gem #2)

One of my favorite takeaways from ISTE was a new (to me) app called Polyup. Polyup calls itself a "free and open computational thinking playground. Modify expressions, functions, and algorithms to discover the beauty of math." Whatever you want to call it, it's a lot of fun!

The premise is that a machine will complete computations with numbers and operator blocks. Each time the machine must be modified to get a correct output. Watch this one minute video to see how the machine operates:

It's very fun (and a little addictive) to keep modifying the machine to achieve a particular number. The mobile app comes with a game called Number Practice that has five games per level, each level with a new number goal. Number Practice is also available on the web version of Polyup and all are free to use. There are many other ready-to-use Polyup games for grades 3-12 that you can load on a device with a scannable QR code.

One of my favorite features of Polyup, though, is the ability to create levels yourself. The GIF I created above shows all the operations your custom levels can contain. You could easily use this to help your students practice some very sophisticated math. Or, better yet, you could have your students create their own levels to demonstrate their computational thinking or help their peers practice. Again, these custom levels are shareable with QR codes like these:

A little digging around on the website shows that they count Jo Boaler among their advisors, so they are getting great advice! Whatever you call it, however you use it, I think students will be engaged by Polyup and you will love it too. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Let's be Fab@School (ISTE Gem #1)

Over the next several days, I'll be blogging about the things I saw at ISTE that I cannot wait to try in my classroom. The first of my ISTE gems is the Fab@School Maker Studio by FableVision Studios.

When I saw the title of this session ("Paper Prototyping Bootcamp") and the presenter (Paul Reynolds of FableVision), I made it a priority to attend. In fact, I was the fifth person into the room for the session! I have been a papercrafter since I was in middle school, so anything involving paper or cardstock automatically intrigues me. The Peter Reynolds book The Dot is one of my very favorites, so combine the Reynolds brand with papercrafting and this was destined to be a fave. 

Peter and Paul Reynolds are doing really cool things at FableVision Learning, the resource for creative educators. One of those cool things is Fab@School, a very easy-to-use maker studio software that is web-based, inexpensive, and appropriate for all ages.

In the video below, I demonstrate in two minutes how easy it is to model a cube that can be printed and cut out.

There are so many more options than what I demonstrated in that two minute video. There are simple things like copy and paste and rotate. You can add a graph paper background if you need one. You can free draw with a line tool. You can add text. You can hook many shapes together and then "weld" them into one big shape. You can also "unweld" shapes into component parts (including shapes from the Fab@School ready-made projects). And so much more.

When you have a project just the way you like it, you can print, cut and fold it. Or, and this is the part I really love, you can send your page to a Silhouette die-cutting machine ($150 on today) and it will cut on the cut lines and perforate the fold lines. How awesome is that! Kids are using Fab@School in combination with Silhouette cutting machines to prototype everything from simple 2D masks to complicated, scaled models of their schools. Fab@School has a library of projects, lesson plans, and tutorials.

My sister got the Reynolds brothers to sign a book for me
at the NSBA conference. It's a treasure!
A single license for Fab@School costs $25, so for $175 plus the cost of some cardstock, you could have unlimited fun with paper! Where many typical Maker Space tools could cost thousands, these tools offer a low cost option for some seriously creative fun. Plus, if you are working with an economically disadvantaged population, ask for a discount on licenses. I bet you'll get it.

I'm hoping to incorporate a project this year where students design components of a chemical "scene" with Fab@School. Then we'll print them out and automate them with a coding or robotic component of some kind. Stay tuned. It's going to be awesome.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

It's ISTE Time!

Next week at this time, the annual ISTE Conference will be winding down, but this week everyone is gearing up for a BIG five days of educational technology.

Last year I wrote this post about the Google + Community #NOTATISTE. At almost 2200 members, it's not as big as the conference that will take place in Chicago next week, but in many ways, that's better. The people who participate are very interested in sharing with and learning from each other. If you will not be at ISTE, I highly recommend this community. I have participated in the community for the last two years - lots of the fun of a conference without the expense! Currently people are introducing themselves and making badges to post to the community. There are daily challenges that people can answer via Flipgrid (or just by posting comments) and a very impressive wheel of door prizes.

I am headed to ISTE this year. I am going to attempt to blog from my sessions, so hopefully I will post next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I'm planning to focus on coding and am really looking forward to a session on Micro:bit. I'll be bringing one home (Thanks Microsoft, Micro:bit, and Fair Chance Learning for that!), so I'll be able to practice what I learn there.

What are you doing to get ready for ISTE or NOTATISTE? Maybe we'll connect at the conference or the community!

Sunday Saves 6.10.18

Here's what I bookmarked this week:

1. SpeakerDeck: This is an online host for slide decks. Start with a PDF and turn it into slides. Then use the service to present or share as a link or with embed code. Here is a deck I made to try it out (using the embed code to post it to my blog - not sure how to make it smaller!):

2. Crayon: A very bare bones (still in alpha) collaborative whiteboard space. Very easy to use! Click the Get Started button and then type in a name and a room name. To ask others to join, provide the link or just share the name of the room. Then users can interact on the board.

Note in the image above that it shows the names of who is on the board at the top of the screen and shows what color ink they are currently using. Crayon is not fancy, but it is easy. 

3.  What does an atom look like? A good video from PBS Nova:

Monday, June 11, 2018

Making Math Graspable

When Dan Meyer invites me to try something (ok, even if the invitation wasn't directed strictly at me), I try it. That's why when I saw this

I tried this:
This crazy magic is Graspable Math and allows you to use some basic gestures (drag, tap, double tap) to do algebra. After I made the clip you see above, I showed it to my high school freshman son and his eyes twinkled. "Wow, Mom. That's awesome."

Or is it?

Dan described some reasons to be skeptical about the tool. You can (and should) read his post here; Dan postulates that perhaps this tool makes math too easy and reinforces tricks, and perhaps misconceptions, through its use, especially when it is used before students master the content on which the tool is based. I can't disagree with those contentions, but I'm still excited about this tool and here are a few reasons why:

In my class, we solve problems like this:    

With some prodding, my students always figure out how to set them up, but some of them really struggle with how to solve the equation after it is set up. Or they have the general idea of how to solve, but they make a mistake getting to the answer and become discouraged about chemistry because of an algebraic mistake. I like the idea of using Graspable Math to solve because then the math wouldn't slow down their understanding of chemistry.

I also love the idea of using Graspable Math to make videos of my solution steps (for problems like the above or any problems). Sure, I can do this with lots of tools, but I thought it was very easy to quickly solve the problem and record my iOS screen. The strength of Graspable Math over other tools is the speed with which I can make expressions that look like textbook math and not like my messy screencast handwriting. Kids could watch the videos to see each step of the algebra I did in class, in the order I did it, to help them at home. Or if they missed class entirely. 

Graspable Math also has potential for teaching inquiry lessons. I wonder if the tool could be used to demonstrate a certain property or process in order to ask students why the process makes mathematical sense. Or, given several similar equations, kids could use the tool to solve and then deduce what they all have in common.

This next idea relies on a perfect world. In a perfect world, I like the idea of using Graspable Math to teach students to check their work. I can see where, especially with students that struggle to make sense of algebra, this tool makes checking work at home, with parents who might want to help but don't feel equipped, a cinch. And, sure, kids could take the value they found for x and plug it back into an equation to check it without Graspable Math. Except that 99% of students won't actually do that and if they have made an algebra mistake on the way to the answer, they are probably equally likely to make one checking the work.

Once upon a time I enrolled my two children in Montessori school because of the public school kindergarten requirement of a calculator. In the same way that I didn't want them to learn operations via calculator, I wouldn't use Graspable Math to teach algebra. Still, it looks like a neat tool, one that I hope I can incorporate at the right time in my teaching. If nothing else, it's good for teachers to know that it's out there because our students will find it. And use it. With our help, maybe they will use it for good.

Here's what I read Jun 3-10 that was worth saving:

Capsure:  Take photos (or probably any images as jpegs) and add captions with text or audio. Share on one private board or on many boards or with the whole world. Create a timeline even. This tool has loads of educational potential! Bonus: Capsure donates a portion of profits to Alzheimers Association because they prioritize preserving memories.

Google Tour Creator: Danny Nicholson posted to his excellent blog some excellent information about using Google's Tour Creator to make a virtual reality tour. Nicholson highlights the basics about creating a tour.

Two articles that reference the 2017 NAEP (Nation's Report Card):

Are American Kids happy in school? Published in the Washington Post, this article looks at the answers to two questions (Are you happy in school? Do you feel awkward in school?) by fourth and eighth graders who took the 2017 NAEP. The data shows that eighth graders are less happy at school than fourth graders.

How do we know if ed-tech even works? Education Week reports that according to the 2017 NAEP data, US students showed little progress in math and reading. Teachers will search for a solution, probably try some educational technology, but what do we really know about its efficacy? The article concludes that districts should rigorously evaluate technologies, perhaps in pilot groups, before adopting them widely.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Google Augmented Reality Expedition

Last year, Google embarked on Expeditions where they previewed their virtual reality experiences with their now signature cardboard viewers. This year, in a similar fashion, they are previewing augmented reality experiences. My school participated in one this week, so I thought I would share what it was and how it went.

First, to invite them to my school, I filled out this form with some general information. I knew Google was in my area at the time I requested the experience, so I probably lucked into the Expedition. Timing is, after all, everything. 

Google responded to my request with one of their own: respond to their invitation email with a complete schedule of teachers who would rotate into two rooms for the Expeditions over the course of a school day, leaving a one hour break for lunch. I invited anyone in my school to participate; a great cross-section of teachers responded positively. An art teacher, a French teacher, three science teachers, and a computer science teacher agreed to bring their students during our abbreviated testing schedule. A math teacher and our interactive media teacher wanted to come, but I couldn't work them into our schedule.

Imagine one of these dinosaurs in your classroom!

On the day of the visit, a representative arrived at our school. He quickly setup rooms for the Expeditions - 11 phones on selfie sticks for students to use, one similar setup for the teacher "guide" and QR codes on sheets of paper scattered throughout the room. The teachers came down for 30 minutes of training where they learned the ground rules and experienced the Expeditions.

Each of the QR codes triggers an augmented reality object from a set of objects in the Google app. There are many to choose from, some really amazing (Mars, dinosaurs, mitosis) and some not really worth exploring (periodic table), and they often match up with the virtual reality Expeditions to make a cohesive combination. The teacher uses the app to select the set of objects to be explored. The app seemed very easy to use - swipe through the objects and tap play for students to explore it. Teachers can also tap and hold a place on the object to create a spotlight that students can hunt for (to highlight something) or make the object really big (very cool for dinosaurs) or very small. Students can move all around the objects, zooming in by moving the viewing device closer to the object.

The students who participated were very engaged and enthusiastic about the experience for the most part. They eagerly explored objects, often sitting or kneeling or laying down on the floor to get a better look. They also called out what they would like to see from the extensive list of options. This experience came at the end of a week devoted to state testing and I think they were grateful for a completely different type of experience.

The form is still live for teachers to request the experience. I'd recommend trying it out for sure. Hopefully, these Expeditions will allow for fine-tuning of the app before this version is released for all. There is also a form available to volunteer to create augmented reality experiences. I'm really intrigued by this and am considering filling it out. I think there are many possible intriguing chemistry experiences that this app doesn't capture yet. The possibilities, though, for capturing things we can't see or interact with directly are amazing.

Want to learn more about it? Click here.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Science . . . the Write Way

Twice I have been honored to contribute to Larry Ferlazzo's Education Week column, Classroom Q&A. This tweet at the right announcing the most recent contribution is getting a bit of attention tonight, so I thought I could put together some references about science writing.

First, please visit and read Larry's column. He includes ideas from a variety of teachers so there will certainly be something of interest to all educators. This particular column addresses "ways to integrate writing into science classes" and features my ideas alongside Mary Tedrow, Maria Grant, and Diane Lapp. I also participated in Larry's BAM Radio Network program with Maria and Mary and you can listen to that program here.

I have written two posts to my blog about the way I incorporate writing into my chemistry classes with lab reports. I have twice modified testing rubrics so that my students receive regular practice at writing using a standardized test rubric to guide their practice. In this way, I can reinforce what they practice in English class and help prepare them for their state tests. If you could like to read my post about the modified PARCC rubric, click here. If you would like to read the post about my modified AIR rubric (Ohio test), click here. In both posts I share my actual rubrics. Feel free to use them if they suit your needs!

How are you integrating writing in science class? Please leave your ideas in the comments below.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Screencasting . . . with iPad!

I can't believe that it took me this long to try screen recording on iPad, especially since it is my device of choice. Today I made my first screen recording and it was very easy.

First, I had to find the controls to screen record. Go into Settings and select Control Center. Then tap Customize Controls. You will find a list of things you can add to your Control Center. Tap the green + to the left of the Screen Recording icon.

Once you do this, it will appear in the list of things included in your Control Center.

That's all there is to it. Exit Settings. Open your Control Center. Tap the Screen Recording icon to begin recording. Demonstrate whatever you want to show on your iPad. Tap the Screen Recording icon again to stop.

If you try it and your first screencast doesn't have any sound, you have to enable the microphone. To do that, tap and hold the record button (pictured above). When you do, you will get a pop-up that allows you to turn the microphone on! Thanks to Ken Krott who commented on that below!

This would be great to model an app that you want students to use or show the features of an app they will explore. I am definitely going to start making use of the feature!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Copying Images in Adobe Draw App

This year I am, again, participating in Sketch50. Last year when I did it, I started using Adobe Draw on my iPad and mostly I use my index finger as a stylus. I like Adobe Draw a lot because I can draw on different layers and then delete layers while I work. This is nice if I want to trace an image and then delete it. This week we drew sketchnotes about technology and today I wanted to weave all of my images together into a story. Rather than draw them a second time, I thought copying them from one project to another would be easiest, but I didn't know how to do that.

It turns out that it was very easy. Layers in Adobe Draw can be pasted into other projects. Basically, you grab the layer you want and click and drag it to the center of the canvas. Then close that one and open another, all while holding it, then let go when you're inside a new canvas. Then you can resize and move. I made a 1 minute video about the process you can watch:

I used this process to take my sketches from here:

and drop them into here:

Now that I know how to do this, I'm going to keep practicing so I don't forget! This definitely adds functionality to Adobe Draw for me because instead of drawing some images over and over, I can just grab them and move them into a new project. 

Are you sketchnoting? What apps do you use? What do you like about them?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lightening up our Standards

Have you seen these light boxes around? I keep seeing them all over the place. From my view in the aisle of the store, I was feeling pretty "meh" about them until my daughter received one as a birthday gift. She was so excited to get one that it was one of the first things she opened. Now that I have seen it outside the box, I admit that I, too, am quite taken with it. And, as with so many things, I keep thinking of things I could do with it in my classroom.

One idea I had is to post my standards on it each day. A standard light box comes with a small set of letters - maybe two of each letter and a few extra of the vowels. That probably wouldn't be enough to write an entire standard. I got to thinking that I could type the standard in a large font size, print it, and use the copy machine to make a transparency. Then trim it to the right size and slide it into the tracks for daily viewing. I like the idea of this because it would emphasize the standard in a way that's fun. The light draws attention to it. I mentioned this idea to my daughter and she said she appreciates that her ELA teacher posts the "I Cans" every day and she thought the light box would be great for that.

Of course, the light box could have other classroom applications too. Maybe it could announce birthdays. Kids would get a kick out of that, I think. Maybe reminders could be posted. Or homework assignments. Or station directions. It's a little gimmicky, I guess, but I think these have a place in the classroom. Are you using one in your classroom? Do you have ideas for how you might use one?

It's almost Teacher Appreciation Day. A light box is on the top of my wish list. I'll let you know how I use it if I get one.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Two More Possible Padlet Replacements

Doug Robertson definitely wins the "best tweet of the day" for his suggested Padlet replacement: giant pad of paper and sticky notes. I love it!

There have been lots of other free suggestions today, like using Google Docs, Slides, or Drawings as a replacement. Everyone's fave Richard Byrne blogged about 5 Alternatives on Free Tech for Teachers today.

Still, I poked around and looked at two more possible Padlet replacements: Pearltrees and Stormboard.


Pearltrees was not new to me, but I was prepared to hate it because in my previous use of this tool, I found it to be not intuitive. I am usually willing to give a tool 15 minutes. In that time, I either find value or decide it's not worth the time. I'm glad I took a fresh look at Pearltrees because within 15 minutes I could see teachers using this one. It's much different than I remembered it.

The interface is pretty simple. Click a plus sign and you can add a collection or an image, file, link, note, or import things from Drive, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, or your computer. Collaborators can be invited through email. Collections are embeddable. Here's the one I made:
You can also share your collections via link, through email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and by QR Code (nice touch for education!).

Pearltrees has a free and premium service with special packages for educators. The free package comes at a cost - all collections are public. For only $25/year, you can change the setting to private and get full customization.

Pearltrees has an iOS app, an Android app, and a web clipper Chrome extension or Firefox add-on that you can use to add things to your collections from anywhere on the web.


Stormboard was a new tool to me, so I was excited to try it out. I saw a few people recommend it on Twitter yesterday as a possible replacement. It's really designed to be an online brainstorming, collaboration tool, but could be used with students in a Padlet-y way, I suppose.

You start by creating a "storm," a board where you will post ideas and perhaps encourage others to do the same. They have ready-made templates that serve many purposes, including some education specific templates to help students write 5-paragraph essays or compare and contrast two topics. Once you name your storm and choose a template, you can click to add an idea in the form of text, a whiteboard, an image, a video, an index card, or a file. "Text" is a sticky note and I quickly mastered that. You can color code the sticky notes and create a legend for what each color represents. I struggled mightily to get the whiteboard to work (I managed a sad scribble eventually) and almost started cursing when I tried to delete my index card. Video and image were much easier. If I used the tool a lot, I'm sure I would get the hang of it, but I didn't find it to be intuitive. Here is an image of my final product:

You can share storms, and invite collaborators, via link and email. If they are embeddable, I did not find that option. When you are finished with a storm, you can close it, but they can never be deleted.

Pricing is a little tricky. There is a free Personal plan that gives a user 5 open storms with 5 collaborators each. For $60/year, the Startup account gives unlimited storms and collaborators. There is an Educator package also which allows for unlimited storms and collaborators with more storage and features; it is free until June 30, 2018. Not sure what happens after that date.

There is an iOS app, Android app, and Microsoft app, but I did not find a browser extension or add-on. That makes sense for what this tool is designed to do. It's more about brainstorming and not so much about curating.

Bottom line: For me, I would choose Pearltrees over Stormboard, but depending on what you need, they each have potential.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

After Padlet, There's Wakelet!

Padlet users went into mourning today when the inevitable happened: Padlet become a lot less free. Beginning today, if you used Padlet, you received a message about how many more free walls you could create. If you create a Padlet account today, you can choose between a free account (3 free walls, ads, 10 MB file limit, and standard support) or a $99/year plan where you get unlimited walls and lots of bells and whistles.

In fairness, and before I suggest an alternative, I'll say a few things in Padlet's defense. First, if you want a tool to grow and stay awesome, that takes people and ideas and infrastructure and those things have a cost. The expression "there's no such thing as a free lunch" definitely applies here. Second, in the letter I got from Padlet, it implied that I could have a total of four free walls (based on my usage), but if I created four and wanted a fifth, I could delete one that I no longer use. This suggests that it's not that I can create three more, it's that I can have four total. Also, you can pay by the month. For only a month if you need it for a month. Finally, Padlet is providing some extras in the Padlet Basic (free forever) account like Search, Themes, and Premium Wallpapers.

Still, for many teachers, $99/year to use Padlet is too much to spend on one webtool, so people began looking for an alternative. My pal Sarah Rivera suggested Wakelet, so I investigated that tool tonight. Here is what I found out:

Wakelet is similar to Padlet in that you can curate items together into collections. In my experience Padlet looks more like a bulletin board and Wakelet doesn't necessarily look like that, but beyond the aesthetics, the idea is basically the same. In fact, you can choose among a couple of different views for your collections and there is a grid view that can give the illusion of a bulletin board. Ish. Take a look at a collection I built tonight (you can embed them!):

Wakelet Features You Will Like

Wakelet is free.

Click a button to create a collection. Click in the header to upload or choose a cover image. Same for background images. Click to add a link, something from Twitter, and image, or text. When you have your collection just as you like it, click Save or Publish. You can have a private, unlisted, or public collection and you can add collaborators by email.

There is a Wakelet iOS app, an Android app, a Chrome extension, Firefox add-on, and Safari extension.

You can import your collections from Storify (which is shutting down as of May 16) which is kind of a cool feature. I didn't use Storify all that much, but I went ahead and imported what I had there just to try it out.

In short, Wakelet is not a perfect substitute for Padlet, but it is free, easy to use, can be collaborative, is embeddable, and has many of the shortcut tools that Padlet offered. It's definitely worth a look!

PS I'll make a comparison chart at some point . . . after a few more alternatives emerge.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Goophy Addition to Google Docs

While exploring Add-Ons to Google Docs today, I found one that I think will be a lot of fun called Goophy. Goophy allows you to insert animated GIFs into Google Docs! If you are creating a word processing document that you plan to print and copy, inserting a GIF is probably a useless idea. If the document will be static, you might as well insert an image. For documents that will live a digital life, inserting a GIF might serve many different purposes.

While working in a Google Doc, head over to the Add-Ons menu and drop down to get add-ons. When the pop-up window opens, search for Goophy. Install it. Then go back to the Add-Ons menu and drop down to Goophy and click on Start Goophy. When the sidebar opens, you can search for a maximum of three words and then GIFS are found. Want to put one in your Doc? Just click it. Once it's in the Doc, you can change its size or move it around just like you would a static image. Except this one is an animation.

Here is an example of a Doc I made with some GIFs (plus some ideas for using them):

I like the idea of using GIFS in Docs as a way to capture attention. I might use a follow directions GIF near the procedures of my labs or a safety GIF to highlight safety features. I might add a GIF near the title to illuminate the concept of the lab. I would also entertain the idea of inserting a GIF that I could use as a visual for a test or quiz question. With my colleagues, perhaps a GIF could lively up a boring agenda or make a to-do list seem less laborious. 

I think kids would like to open a Doc and find an animated surprise. A quick warning: If you're planning to show this one to kids, tread lightly. The GIFs are not all school-appropriate. A search for "chemistry" revealed the ones I used above, but also revealed GIFs that said Sexy Chem and included curse words. 

Like any other strategy, if overdone, this would be tuned out. Still, for me it seems novel today and I am looking forward to trying it out at school.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nominate an Outstanding STEM Teacher for the PAEMST

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of STEM teaching. The nomination window is open until April 1, 2018. With just 11 days left, consider nominating an outstanding STEM teacher for this prestigious honor.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I won the PAEMST for Ohio Science in 2015. I was first nominated, though, in 2013 by an assistant superintendent in my school district. My first reaction was surprise (Who knew she thought I was doing a great job?), followed by fear and dread (This looks really hard. I'm not sure I can do it). I never would have applied without her vote of confidence; I am incredibly grateful that she believed in me so much that she nominated me.

It wasn't that hard!

The application process includes some application paperwork, letters of recommendation, a 30 minute video of a lesson, and a narrative reflection on the lesson and your teaching practice. If you have achieved your National Certification, you will know how to attack this. Step 1: Read through the narrative questions. You will reflect on why the content is appropriate, why you chose the strategies you used in the video, how assessments guide your practice, how you reflect on your success and challenges, and how you lead outside your classroom.
Step 2: Decide on a lesson where you can showcase the skills you want to write about in the narrative questions. Look for something where you facilitate great thinking, deep learning. Capture 30 minutes that will show some variety - small group and large group or lecture and lab or discussion and experimentation. 
Step 3: Make arrangements for videotaping. It doesn't have to be professional (my mom followed me around with a Flip camera to make my video), but if you have an expert, use one! Allow for mishaps. I had my whole plan in place and then learned there was a scheduled tornado drill! Give yourself plenty of time to write the narrative, collect the letters of recommendation. Applications are due on May 1.

Why bother?

Teachers receive so little recognition, and so much criticism, that any opportunity to celebrate educators is one worth taking. I will never forget where I was when I opened the email that told me I was a finalist for Ohio. Or when I opened the email that indicated I had won the award. All of the winners traveled to Washington, DC in September 2016 for our awards trip. Meeting so many talented, passionate STEM teachers was an incredible experience. I continue to follow many of these teachers on Twitter for inspiration. We were treated to professional development, networking opportunities, a beautiful awards ceremony, and a tour of the White House. You can read more about my PAEMST trip hereAgain, if you have achieved your National Certification, you probably don't need to be convinced. You would do this for the same reason you went after that. The video and narrative offer a chance for deep reflection into your teaching practice. It is so validating to have a group of your peers evaluate your work and find it to be noteworthy.
Ohio's Math and Science PAEMST winners, 2014 & 2015

Like with the National Board Certification, winning the PAEMST put me into a select group of STEM teachers who will be offered opportunities to contribute to the field. I have been invited to serve on selection committees at the state and national level and contribute to various PAEMST efforts to spotlight great teaching. I would love to be able to help shape educational policy and winning the award makes that more likely. I am facilitating a science specialists network to inspire continuous improvement and innovation while honing my own teaching.

In 2018 the PAEMST winners will be K-6 STEM teachers. There is a probably a terrific K-6 teacher in your life. Maybe it's you. Take a quick minute to nominate. For me, the nomination was the nudge I needed toward my own Nobel Prize in teaching.

Monday, March 12, 2018

$1 Merge Cubes: Easy and Cheap Handheld AR/VR

I went to Walmart yesterday, looking for Merge Cubes. A friend had mentioned them to me as a cube that triggers virtual reality games and I was anxious to see one and try it out. According to Google tonight, Merge Cubes sell for between $5 (eBay) and $15 (Target), so imagine my delight when I found them at Walmart for $1! I scooped up four of them and headed home to try them out.

I was immediately impressed by the product. The Cube is made of material a little tougher than a stress ball, so it can be dropped and tossed and will not break or break things. Each side of the black and silver cube is covered with designs that will trigger holograms in the apps that will Merge with the Cube. It comes packed in a little plastic case; it's not fancy but will store the cube nicely.

If you haven't tried out augmented or virtual reality, here is how the Merge Cube works. You get an app and launch it on your mobile device. Then, inside the app, point the mobile device at the Merge Cube. The designs on the cube trigger augmented and virtual reality experiences - games, activities, and more. The Merge Cube apps work with a mobile device or by pairing a mobile device and a VR headset. 

I tried out two apps as soon as I got home - Mr Body (FREE) and Galactic Explorer (FREE). My Body is pretty cool. You are greeted by a stick figure guy whose organs you can see. Tap the organs and you see that one close up. Tap the buttons on the organs and you can read some information about it. Flip the cube and you can see Mr Body (and his organs) from different angles. The graphics (seen below) might look cartoon-ish but the information is pretty sophisticated.

Galactic Explorer is an exploration of the solar system. I tapped the record button inside that app and made a quick video you can watch to see how this one works. In the video you can see my hand as I flip the cube and turn the solar system. I am tapping and untapping planets to zoom in and read information about them.

Here are some descriptions of a few of the other educational apps that are available:

57˚ North: A choose your own adventure app where two cousins are shipwrecked and decisions must be made in order to survive ($2.99).

Anatomy AR Plus: Hold the brain, heart, and lung in your hands and explore them in incredible detail ($0.99).

Cube Paint AR: Choose from several animals, paint them any way you want, and watch them move with their custom paint job (FREE).

Dig: Mine and build holographic worlds that you can hold in your hand and share with others (FREE).

Dino Digger:  Dig for dinosaurs with famous paleontologist Jack Horner. Uncover fossils and learn interesting dino facts ($1.99).

My ARquarium: Choose from among 55 types of fish to fill your virtual aquarium.

There are lots of games apps too.

If you have wanted to explore virtual or augmented reality, this is a durable and easy-to-use product that is available at Walmart for $1. It's definitely worth the price!