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.