If your reading this post, I would imagine you have an interest in programming, and you would probably agree with me that it is one of the few skills that we can teach kids that is "future proof." It doesn't take much to find all the open positions that currently go unfilled, and it doesn't take much to see that those numbers are just going to grow unless we do something about it. The issue is how do we teach it?
It might be a bit easier to teach if every teacher had a programming background, but that's just not the case. We are a long way off from any era that looks like that, and in the end, we may not ever get there. So, what do we do? We need to teach computer science, but we only have a precious few teachers who actually know how to do that.
There are tons of companies out there that are trying to change that, but many make a critical mistake. Many companies have computer science experts build their platform, and they create it for what they needed. They don't think of the student, and they especially don't think of the teacher. The platform should be centered on students and teacher first, and if it's not it just plain won't stick.
You have to have a platform with a user experience that makes sense for both teachers and students. I think that's what Tynker does exceptionally well. It's incredibly easy for students to get straight on the platform and know immediately what to do, but the best part is that it is also that way for teachers.
From the student side, I have seen more coding interfaces then I can count, and the thing that drives me craziest is the number of clicks it takes for students to find what they need. The idea that comes in second is the number of platforms that throw students into the deep end and end up like Nike by saying "Just do it." Tynker doesn't do that. As kids start learning the platform, they are greeted by a command box where they can see all the commands. The clicks are incredibly limited. They also have tutorials and lessons for almost anything a student wants to do. Kids can then remix those projects, or they can take what they learned and make something new. The best part is they can do this starting at kindergarten and stay on the same platform all the way through 12th grade, and that's all while using whatever device they have.
Where Tynker really excels though is with teachers. Coding and computer science should not be a just sometimes thing, but for it to go wide it has to be easy to start, and it has to drive towards curriculum goals. Tynker is the only platform that does that. Tynker has an interface that makes it easy to pick lessons, assign, and give feedback on that student work. My favorite part is that it is also incredibly easy to show them off and get peer feedback. The best part though is that this can easily be a platform to let kids create for content. There are tons of lessons in Math, Science, Social Studies, and ELA already built into the platform, but you can always make your own to connect it to almost any topic you want. Everything is created with the teacher in mind, and you just can't find that elsewhere.
Coding is like a world language. The earlier you start, the better off you will be. It also can get you to the ideal in the classroom: teaching content while also teaching a "future proof skill." If your interested in learning more, just fill out the form HERE.
If you have read my previous post, you know I am making a significant change in my life and career by joining the team at Tynker. I am so excited for the move, and I think it also marks an excellent point to phase out the Big Guy in a Bow Tie brand. I know some of my faithful followers love the brand, and I know many have started just calling me big guy because of it, but I think this marks a great time to transition it to be just my name. So officially today, the site and all my social media accounts will convert to Lockhart Ed Tech.
I am making this change because I have to broaden my appeal a bit. The Big Guy branding was great as a way to get in the door and as a way for people to remember me by, but I as I transition to a role that requires me to have high-level professional conversations, I need something that is a bit more professional. I also need something that is sustainable for the future. I have been in the Ed Tech game for a while now, and I just can't see myself using the branding when I am 60.
By transitioning the brand, it also helps me practically. Let's be honest....ISTE in the heat of summer with a bow tie wasn't the most practical thing I have ever done. I also don't want to try to have to figure out how to transition from a bow tie to Tynker gear as my new role brings about different responsibilities.
It does not mean the site is going away. I will keep bigguyinabowtie.com for the foreseeable future, and the URL will redirect to lockhartedtech.com. I am still going to write. I am still going to present. I am still going to be me. Above all, I am still going to wear bowties; this just takes the pressure off of having to wear them all the time.
I am making a significant change in both my life and career and this post is meant to show you why. I am joining the fantastic team at Tynker starting October 1st. I have thought for a few years now that a move to private industry is where my career was headed, but the difficulty has been finding the right company. Thankfully, God works in mysterious ways, and I found that company this summer in Tynker.
Those of you who follow me and know me, know that I have been involved in coding, making, and computer science for a few years now. I believe coding is a future-ready skill, and I know I am not the only one as it has become one of my more popular presentations at conferences. Being in that space means I was aware of the great things Tynker was doing, and I even featured them in my coding presentation. I had not however made a connection with anyone in the company.
It all changed this summer. I was presenting at AETC in Alabama, and I had the fortunate luck to meet one of their executives. He was aware of me because their community manager and I were "Twitter aware" of each other, and because of that our conversation continued into dinner.
That dinner changed my trajectory. I got to learn more about the company as a business, more about its founders, and where the company was headed. It all got me excited and hopeful that an opportunity might come down the line. I learned Tynker is a company that is successful (which is hard in ed tech), has a great product (I already thought that, but learned more), is the leader in the field (which becomes apparent when you look at their partners), but most importantly is made up of people who have the same values that I have. A couple of months after this meeting, an opportunity came knocking. Tynker was looking for people to be regionally based who could do both a mix of sales and community and thankfully they thought of me to cover the Southeast. Things progressed, and I accepted a role that I think is an excellent step in my career.
So, why did I pick Tynker? It all starts with its focus on computer science. It's evident that learning how to code is a skill that is inherently needed in the real world, and that it is a skill whose need is only going to grow. In fact, if you search the five big boys of tech job boards (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook), you will find thousands of engineering jobs that are open. It's such a need within these companies that all of them are involved in the immigration debate because they need to reach outside the United States to fill those needs.
It also doesn't take a genius to see that businesses today have to have developers and programmers on the payroll to survive. Just this past summer we saw an iconic brand (Toys'R'Us) die because it did not move online fast enough. You can also look at a business like Delta and see the enormous need. Most people would see Delta as an airline company, but I would venture to say that programmers and developers make up a considerable percentage of their workforce. Think about it. They have to have someone program their app, someone program their website, someone program and repair the computer parts on their planes, and most importantly someone who programs and fixes their reservation system. Without one of them their business halts.
With this changing world, states, districts, and schools are starting to realize the importance of teaching programming. Almost every state is in the process of adopting standards (just this year I saw two friends sit on committees in California and Kentucky), and most states have adjusted graduation requirements to include computer science as a possibility. The issue though is that there are very few teachers who are trained as programmers, and so they need GREAT TOOLS. Tynker fills that need perfectly.
There are several coding solutions out there, but Tynker is one of the only ones that approach programming from an educators mindset and with pedagogy leading the way. The whole idea of Tynker is to get programming into core classes, make it as easy as possible for the teacher, and most importantly get students into the ideal learning situation: STUDENT CREATION.
Computer Science is just like a world language: the younger you start, the better off you will be. It also takes practice. To get kids both, we have to be able to include computer science not just in a specialty class but also in core classes. Tynker is the only platform that makes this possible. Within the platform, there are coding lessons that teachers can assign in Math, Science, Social Studies, and ELA. They allow a teacher with no coding experience to both teach to the needed standards and include this all-important future skill. It makes Tynker a go-to platform for not only this future skill, but it also can be a go-to platform to teach content.
As a teacher, you can also use Tynker as a creation platform. Creation is the idea that we should all be striving to, and by using Tynker, we are also teaching students future ready skill. I know in my time as a teacher having an animation platform was so important. It allowed students who did not want to be on camera for any reason to still have a platform to tell their story and share their voice. Tynker can be that platform, and there are some great lessons to teach kids the skills they need to make those stories their own. Tynker also allows students to create slideshows, music, drawings, games, apps, and much more. You can't go wrong with a platform that teaches future skills while letting students create.
I think the classroom benefit is the main reason to use Tynker, but it also always helps to have a platform that is easy to use. From a teachers perspective, all you have to do is pick the right lessons and assign them. It allows you to set up classes to get those lessons out quickly, and it is the only coding platform that connects easily with LMS systems like Google Classroom. It also gives you great data to analyze and make those instructional decisions that matter.
From a student perspective, you can also see the care that went into the user experience. Many platforms require students to dig and find the things they need. They require multiple clicks, and they lack some of the instruction students need to get started. Tynker has lessons that get kids easily started, it cuts down on clicks to find commands, and it has little shortcuts here and there that make it easy to teach and use. Basically, it's easy to see that educator feedback built the user experience rather than what came out of a programmers brain.
As you can tell, I am excited about this change because I believe in the product. We need great platforms that teach students computer science, and this one not only does that, but it also makes student creation the heart of its mission. Ever since my days in the classroom, that's what I thought it should be about.
This change in my life is so exciting, but any change is also a little bittersweet. It's a change I need to make for a multitude of reasons, but it also means I have to leave the incredible team at KSU iTeach. I have spent four years of my life with iTeach, and I would not even be close to ready for my new role if iTeach had not given me the room to grow and learn. I can't thank my boss, Stephanee Stephens, enough for the encouragement, love, and respect she has given me over the years. Stephanee is like a sister to me, and I know that friendship will continue to grow whether I am at iTeach or not. If you are looking for some great instructional coaching especially focused on personalized learning, I don't think there is a better group you can call.
If this post has sparked interest in Tynker, don't hesitate to reach out. I would love to chat about bringing coding to your school or district.
When you think about what Google is doing with their cloud services, it might be one of the most exciting things in technology, and it has a dramatic effect on what schools can use those services for. There are not many companies in the world that would open up their services to outside developers to add extended features. Google does it in almost everything. Chrome can still have apps even though they are a little harder to get, and it can also have extensions that extend its capability. Nearly all of their native Drive apps (Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides) can have add-ons to make them just that one step better.
In today’s post, we are going to discuss the most widely used of those add-ons because I would argue its the most commonly used of Google’s Cloud apps. Let’s talk about Google Docs Add-Ons! You can find my favorite five below, but I think it’s essential to cover where to find them first. You may be reading and saying that’s a no-brainer, but there are always some who may still need it.
Add-onsns aren't a hard thing to find. In the menu bar at the top of every document, there is a menu that says add-ons. Click that and then click get add-ons to access a whole app store of extra capabilities. When you add them, they will then show up in that same add-on menu for use when you need them. The vast majority of them bring up an extra toolbar on the right side of a doc to give you added capability, but that depends on what that add-ons intended function is.
My five favorite add-ons include
Joe Zoo Express:
Rubrics and feedback can be a hard thing to get right. In the end, anything that requires a rubric also requires a subjective assessment. There is no getting around a teacher having to add personalized feedback to it. To do so, you need a tool that simplifies and streamlines both the process and workflow. That’s where Joe Zoo Express can help
Joe Zoo is an all in one feedback add-on for Google Docs that gives you many of the capabilities you need to provide positive feedback to students. To start, it has a rubric builder that is quick and easy. You build a rubric within their web portal, and the add-on allows you to insert that saved rubric and use it. You can also add comments and see insights. It indeed gives you a great feedback option.
Another feedback tool that gives you options. The idea is that you can record audio feedback that you can then add to a student's Google Doc. If you have ever had the text you have written lost in translation, you know this tool is excellent. The add-on simple lets you highlight text within the Google Doc and record your voice. The students can then see and click on those audio files as they open their document. You can then save that comment to reuse it on other students work.
This way of commenting has to advantages. To start, students can hear things like the tone in their feedback. This gives them an added layer of insight that allows them to improve their writing. It also can be a bit quicker than typing. Just highlight and speak, and you can add those comments to the doc!
Google actually offers Google translate as an add-on directly in Docs. From a teaching standpoint, this is incredibly helpful. If you have have been teaching long enough, you have had a student in your class where a language gap between you and those individual students can impede their learning. It’s no fault of either person, but the reality is that it makes the situation tough.
What if you could have that person write in their native language, and then you could translate it in docs? Translate allows you to both embrace their native language as they learn the countries language of choice, and it could even give you a place to allow students to comment and explain things in their native language that they may not be able to find just the right words for. While most people see the value in learning the language of choice within a country, they are living, having the option of a native tongue provides both comfort and understanding. Tha’s exactly what we want kids to have. We want them to be comfortable in our classroom, and we want them to understand what they are trying to learn.
Docs to Form
This is one that I think on the surface doesn't look that helpful, but when you drill it down to the assessment level, you realize that it can be incredibly beneficial. Most teachers operate from a standpoint where they have content specific notes and notebooks somewhere. They also have to give assessments which can be done effectively in Google Forms. This add-on makes the process of going from one to the other reasonably straightforward.
When you start the add-on, it pops a menu on the right-hand side of the screen that lets you build forms directly from the information you have in Docs. You still have to copy and paste stuff from Docs to the add-on, but having the add-on means I don’t have to have a whole other browser window open. It allows me to copy content directly from my notes into an assessment format within Google Forms, and anything that makes my life easier is an incredible tool for me.
GradeProof: Proofreading with AI
This is the one that I think is a bit off the wall, and to get the full value it does cost a bit. If your teaching writing or writing on a regular basis, it may be worth it though. The primary function of GradeProof is to proofread things within your Google Doc. It also checks plagiarism in the premium version which may be of incredible use to teachers who are having students write on a regular basis.
The program works by using AI to check what is in your paper. It checks everything from spelling, to grammar, to phrasing, to eloquence, to in-depth analytics about what the document contains. It can give both a teacher and incredible student insight on how to improve their writing. The price could be a little restrictive for some (it’s $120 a year), but its one of those things which I think can be used consistently. Consistent use makes $120 worth it.
Let’s take this post to talk about Virtual Reality. VR is one of those spaces in education technology that is still a wild, wild west. There are so many education technology companies that have dipped there toes into the VR pool, and there are so many startups that are trying to gain a foothold in schools. Just last year at ISTE, I saw Google add to Expeditions, companies that let students create VR, and companies that give students an all in one headset. This year we have seen the explosion of Merge (the Cubes have led to headset purchases) and Google getting into the VR creation field with Tour Creator. All of it’s impressive and at times hard to follow, but I think the most impressive maybe what Oculus did. I recently purchased an Oculus Go, and at present, I think it might end up being the winner of the VR race to the middle.
When you look at every company participating in the Virtual Reality field, I think one thing is for sure. The middle is where it is at. For the past couple of years, you only had two choices to get into VR. You could use phone-based VR which requires that your phone is inserted into a headset to be used as the lenses for viewing, or you could use the intensive VR of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive which requires expensive kits and a costly gaming PC. There was no middle ground. No version did not need a substantial financial commencement or a cell phone. That’s beginning to change, and I recently obtained the most mainstream of the middle ground devices, the Oculus Go.
To start, the Oculus Go solves a multitude of problems with Virtual Reality. To start, it is a standalone headset that just needs a phone to set up. Once the setup is finished, the headset is connected to wifi and works almost entirely without it's accompanying mobile app. You can run virtual reality software, purchase new experiences, and connect to the web all from inside the headset. It's really the first headset that you can describe with ”no fuss, no muss.”
If you're talking about content, the best way to describe it is decent. Oculus Go connects to the Oculus store which was already built out somewhat because it's the same company that makes and supports the Samsung galaxy gear. There are plenty of options as far as apps go especially if you are willing to pay. From an education perspective, there are some excellent options revolving around the human body, space, travel, and places in the world. I wish it had access to Google’s content though. The Rift has a Google Earth with street view option on it but is nowhere to be found on the Go. From what I can see, it's either a lack of processing power on the Go that keeps it off, or it's just Googles lack of willingness to support one of their main competitor's products (Facebook owns Oculus). Having Street View and Expeditions on the Go would genuinely make it a must-have for education, and I would also love to see a native Youtube 360 app. You can access Youtube 360 through the Gos browser, but getting there takes just way to many steps. Getting Google content on Go may just take Google and Facebook playing nice, but I would not hold my breath.
Hardware wise it's certainly the most accessible option, and it could be one of the best options for schools. To start, it's only $200. I don't know that we will ever see a full headset get lower than that. When you think about what it includes, it's a lot of bang for your buck. It contains what amounts to an Android display setup on its interior, speakers, storage, and a computer with a decent amount of processing power. All of those hardware specs can be described as better than average when compared to other devices, but the key is that it puts it all in an accessible VR package. There will be some who will knock things like the screen resolution and processing power, but in reality, it's good enough for most.
I think when you look at new hardware a whole lot of folks also miss the little things when judging a product. With this headset, that includes battery life, phone pairing, and comfort. From a battery life perspective, it's again decent, but I did not expect much else. VR takes processing power which can quickly drain a battery. I noticed that it lost around 20% of a charge in about an hours use. I don’t think that’s a major issue though as charging is a simple micro USB, and you could wear the headset while it is plugged in if necessary. The headset also needs a phone to begin its setup process, and I found it’s pairing with my iPhone 8 to be seamless. The Oculus Go app prompts you through setup, I didn’t have to go through Bluetooth settings to do so, and adding software is incredibly easy in both the app and the headset itself.
Comfort wearing can be a make a break or break thing for VR headsets, and this headset does the best job it can to make things comfortable. Naturally, it’s going to be heavy on your face. It has computer components and battery built directly into it, so those things are going to add weight. I have noticed the weight, but it is not so much it's unbearable. The straps also adjust, fit well, and they are comfortable. I was a bit concerned that the straps would fit my large head size, but they did so effortlessly with room to spare. I can’t say the same about every other headset. The piece that sits flush against your face is also soft, and it looks like it can quickly be taken off for cleaning.
Overall, I LOVE the Oculus Go. There is not anything even remotely close to it on the market at the moment. I still don’t think I would recommend it for extensive school use yet though. I think there are just too many factors in the VR game at the moment that can change quickly. Many companies are still trying to get to that middle, and that middle is going to start on the consumer side. It’s going to take VR companies (including Oculus) time to see the education value in their product and have a team that focuses on education issue and content. There is value in the educational content that is already on Oculus, but it needs to continue to be flushed out to make a real school impact. If they both companies wanted to (and that’s a huge if), it could start with Google’s education-oriented VR. I think you also could also run into issues with the Go as the company does not recommend use for children under 13, and it could make some queasy. If there is any place for this to start in schools, I think it may be having 1 or 2 in a media center at the high school level to experience destinations of study, and I think it absolutely has a place in higher education. Really, Oculus Go is not the all in one VR answer schools are looking for, but it one of the best places to start to get close.
Bird Brain Technologies is an incredible company, and they have some impressive new tricks up there sleeve. Bird Brain makes both Finch robots, and they make Hummingbird robotics kits. Out of all of the kits and maker supplies I have tried, Hummingbird is easily one of my favorites, and now they have added Microbit!
Hummingbird kits consist of a custom Arduino board, lights, sensors, and motors. The idea behind them is that a student can take the board, wire it with whatever they want, and add the electronic components to something they have made out of arts and crafts materials. It means students can make almost anything with them including some awesome robots. I have seen middle school students make coffee drinking robots, police cars, dioramas, UFO’s, and more. It is genuinely a maker activity that gives students endless possibilities.
Adding Microbit capability takes it up one more notch. A Microbit is a $30 board that gives students a the ability to program its onboard LED’s, buttons, power ports, and sensors. Microbit has it's it’s own blockly coding program, but it also works with Python as well. Adding it to the Hummingbird gives you the ability to run the Hummingbird “headless” which can open up a world of possibilities.
Running it “headless” basically means that you can run the Hummingbird without it being attached to a computer. In the past, you would always have to connect Hummingbird to a computer through a USB cable and run its programming through one of the many software platforms it supports. Running it headless means I can create the program ad detach the board to build standalone robots and items such as intruder alarms that use the Hummingbird sensors to take actions. It makes the Hummingbird kit more than just an incredible maker activity because now I can build tools for the real world that I can reuse. That’s important to show any kid!
Check out Hummingbird HERE
Cubelets are an exciting concept for a maker tool. They are basically big blocks that in some way have similarities to Legos. You build a new creation with them. The key to it all though is that each of them has some sort of function. You have some that drive, some that are Bluetooth, others that spin, and a whole lot more. The entire goal is to build a robotic creation that you can also code.
Anytime you work with Robots you also need a great lesson library to help you in support. Thankfully, Modular Robotics helps you with that! Check it out HERE.
It’s time for a quick blog about video creation, and you can’t talk about video creation without We Video. Apple has always taken the lead on content to creation with Adobe being a close second, but the issue is not every one has the device or expertise that is needed to make videos on those platforms. Chromebooks are taking over the world, and there has to be a way for students to create a video with it, and thankfully We Video fits the need.
We Video is a full video production suite online. From a production suite standpoint, it is a somewhere in between iMovie and the professional suites that Adobe puts out there. More importantly, though it's entirely web-based, it also apps on both significant platforms to indeed make WeVideo about the only tool you can teach no matter the device
Check it Out HERE
Google is being Google, and they are in the process of shifting one of their approaches to their suite of tools. Google’s strategy has always been to put something out there and then iterate on the design. They are in the process of iterating on Chrome, and those iterations are something Google schools (especially with Chromebooks) need to know.
The main iteration is that Google has started to phase out Chrome apps, and they are filling that need in a couple of different ways. They are porting Android apps over to Chrome, encouraging developers to develop dynamic web apps, and they are helping developers to add apps to Google Drive. That last one is what this blog is all about. We are going to discuss my 5 favorite Google Drive apps. Of course, everyone knows about Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms, so we will skip those. To find the ones we are talking about, go into Google Drive, click new, and then click more.
We have started the heart of the summer season for schools. If you are out of school, you might be enjoying some relaxing time with your family by the pool. If you're like me, you're running through events both for you and your kids. Summer can also be a season though for learning, and my friends at Common Sense have curated some both some excellent books and podcasts to check out
Find the Books HERE
Find the podcast HERE