Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cool New School Tech and Robotics Update

New Tech

The MicroK12 TechFest Conference on October 15th was a great conference to check out the new technology offerings that are applicable to the classroom. After listening to the Keynote speaker, I was reminded to read the Horizon Report.

The coolest new tech I saw at this conference was Virtual Reality that can be used in the classroom called ZSpace. This works with Cyber Science 3D. I had the opportunity to try a couple Electricity Modules, which asks students questions and leads them through some problem solving situations. I was surprised how much collaboration this encouraged, since there was one person "driving," or using the software, while others of of wore 3D glasses and were encouraging him in how to solve the problem. Zspace also has a heart unit where you can feel the heartbeat through their stylus. They have done a great job on the software, so you can learn vocabulary. Every part of the heart you select with the stylus highlight the name of that part in a vocabulary box on the screen. This is definitely worth a closer look for high school and colleges.

Mimio has a Device called MimioPad, a wireless pen/stylus tablet that will integrate with existing projectors, including the Epson Interactive Whiteboard. They also have an app called MimioMobile, which you can use with every student device to interact with the lesson displayed on the Interactive Whiteboard. Both of these aim to get the teacher away from the front of the classroom, as we head away from a "sage on stage" view on teachers, so we can help teachers become mentors of individuals as they wander through the classroom.

If you need a cart to store wireless devices like Chromebooks and iPads, Anywhere Cart is a family-owned company that is definitely worth looking into. The workmanship is very nice. I especially like their smaller unit that stores about 12 devices. It is stackable, so it's perfect for classrooms that do not quite have 1-to-1 devices, but hope to move in that direction eventually.

FIRST Lego League Robotics

This week, our FIRST Lego League Robotics table arrived. Randy Hunt and Ernie from the Whidbey Island Wildcats Robotics Booster club assembled the table and delivered it. High school mentors helped me re-arrange furniture in my classroom so that it will fit and still leave ample room for teaching. It's sitting on top of a few two-drawer file cabinets, so I don't need legs. We rolled out the field mat. Next week, we'll begin putting the Lego "Mission Models" in their correct locations. Simultaneously, we'll finish building lego "Mission Models," "Basic Robots," and begin learning the Lego Mindstorm programming software.

A gentleman from our Information Services Department came to help load the Lego Mindstorm software on them. That was a little tricky because the location of "My Products" is not intuitive to locate when logging into the Lego Education website. It worked out, and once the software was loaded, he put the computers into deep freeze so the students can't load other software onto them.

I am coaching two teams simultaneously. In addition to the Robot Game, students are required to complete a community project related to a theme. This year's theme is "Trash Trek." Both of the teams will be helping to perform a "Waste Audit" of our school as part of the process to become a Washington Green School. In the cafeteria, we'll have students put their food waste into 5 gallon buckets and only non-food trash in the trash can in order to weigh this different amount of trash. At the end of one school day, we'll take the trash and paper recycling from eight classrooms, and sort and weigh that. Since we already have a recycling program at our school, the sorting should not be too difficult.

We had two wonderful guest speakers talk with the teams about their prospective projects. Gene Clark, Island County's Recycle & Hazardous Waste Coordinator, spoke to our Blue Team about batteries and the importance of recycling them. In the future, we will also have someone from Pacific Power Batteries talk to this group. I am not sure what Innovative Solution this team will design. It may be as simple as making posters to educate people about the importance of recycling batteries with information of where to recycle these.

Janet Hall, Washington State University's Waste Wise Coordinator, spoke to our Green Team about composting. She has already worked with two other schools in our district to install compost systems, including Hillcrest Elementary which won a "Green Ribbon Award" from the US Department of Education.

At an earlier meeting, we went around a circle, stating things we had thrown away that day, students realized most of them had thrown away food scraps at lunch, except one student who said he saved his banana peel to take home to put in his compost system. After that, a few of these students, completely independently spoke with the principal about starting a compost system at our school. The principal said she thought that is a great idea. To support the students' efforts, I've proposed a grant to the Oak Harbor Education Foundation for helping with the cost of installing a compost system in our school.

I've spoken with the founders of Bug-a-bay about their compost system, as this is the system that they use at Hillcrest. Bug-abay will be sending an educational video they've created called "Garbage to Gold." Bug-a-bay is a local company, and their worm-bin compost systems are different than others, because they are dug into the ground. This allows all food scraps, including meat products and even bones to go into the compost system. This compost does need to be covered daily to avoid attracting rodents. Since we are working with young children, we will be covering the compost with Peat Moss. The other option is aged manure, but peat moss is a cleaner option when working with children. Since this system is dug into the ground, it drains and breathes, so it does not have to be aerated and turned like other systems.

Once I get notification on the acceptance of the grant, we will move forward with installing this type of worm bin. It's turned into a busy and exciting year! Stay tuned for more updates.

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