Monday, May 21, 2018

What Story Are Your Kids Living Out in Fortnite? The Importance of Avoiding Violent Video Games

Fortnite Weapon Choices
Fortnite has been a popular game for quite a while, but it seems like just recently its made it to the headlines in educational news organizations as a problem for schools. If you don’t know what it is, it is basically the latest video game craze that tweens, teens and even 20 and 30 year old adults love to play or just watch others play for hours. It’s a mix of Minecraft and Hunger Games in a really engaging, well designed environment where up to 100 players simultaneously work to build up their own defenses while at the same time trying to eliminate all other players--the last person alive or small team of one or two players wins. The boundaries of this virtual world even shrink over time  so people can’t hide out through a storm that players have to avoid. More on Fortnite from Common Sense Media.

Nintendo Wii Just Dance- Fun Without Violence!
I’ve never been a fan of violent video games. When our oldest kids were in elementary school we purchased an original Nintendo Wii which they still occasionally use. Our games are pretty basic such as Mario Cart, Wii Sports, and Just Dance. We never purchased any of violent games, and managed to avoid getting a Play Station or X Box or having our kids play a lot of video games online in general. We’ve always tried to limit their entertainment screen time to about 60 minutes per day and have discouraged any sort of violent video games with guns and killing. I know this doesn’t mean that our kids haven’t ever played these games at a friend's house or more recently through their phone. Games are now easily accessible through mobile devices with high quality graphics in an experience that rivals what used to only be available on the external game consoles. But it does mean they've spent a lot less time gaming and in simulated violent environments which we believe is better for them. Although you can find studies that will back both sides, I've read enough about the negative effects of playing violent video games that makes me believe avoidance is important.
Checking Battery (App Time) Use

Recently our sons were playing Fortnite, so I sat down with them and talked about the content of the game, its objectives, as well as the pretty realistic graphics as players kill off opponents. We talked about how playing something repeatedly conditions ourselves to be less affected by violence. I know there are certain games that are much more violent and gory than Fortnite, and I’m very thankful that we our kids haven’t been into those or wanted to play them. I asked them to cut back on their time playing Fortnite and encouraged them to try to stop playing this type of game altogether. I had each of them go to their phone's settings and look at their battery usage, which lists the total amount of time spent per app. I’ve use this technique in the past as a good tool with my kids to review and talk about what they’re doing on their phones and how much time they are spending on entertainment and social media. I had them take a screenshot of their battery usage and asked them to hold on to that so we could refer back to it in a week and compare their usage overall.

What story are your kids living out in their video games?

Two weeks after this conversation, I'm thankful to report that both boys have stopped their playing of the game altogether. I hadn't expected them to both stop
 completely so soon. I know this isn’t always the case and that some kids will have a much harder time stopping their play of a fun, addictive game. Mathew Meyers, a licensed marriage and family therapist with whom I've done some parent webinars, specializes in helping young people with video game addiction, and begins by having them track their time spent gaming and gradually reducing this. Years ago I heard Dr. David Walsh talk about the dangers of having kids play violent video games and how every game teaches you a storyline. He stated that "Whoever tells the story defines the culture" and asked, "What story are your kids living out in their video games?"  I think these are important questions to continue to ask ourselves and as parents and work to not let our children spend their time in the culture of violent video worlds. We try to limit our exposure to violence in our movie and TV media and news channels as well. This is tough, especially when something like Fortnite is so popular. But as parents, we need to help our children learn to have a healthy balance in the amount of time spent on entertainment and video gaming and steer them to experiences with more positive story lines. They'll be better people in the long run. 

Check out Common Sense Media's tips on How to Handle the Violent Videos at Your Kid's Fingertips

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Equity Maps Make Discussion Assessment Easier

Sometimes it’s amazing when you realize how difficult a task is prior to use of technology. One example of this for teachers is the assessment of student discussions during literature circles or Socratic seminars. Peter Gausmann, seventh grade language arts teacher at Minnetonka Middle School East, recently showed me a technology tool that has made these assessments so much easier, it’s hard to imagine going back to non-tech solution.

Recently Peter began using the Equity Maps app on his iPad during student discussions. After uploading his class lists for each hour, he simply opens the app before a discussion and drags the kids’ icons around the table “map” of the seating arrangement for the discussion group. He then taps a record button and begins tracking the conversation and discussion. Tapping on each name around the table automatically tallies the number of times each student speaks as well as places a marker in the audio recording for ease of access when listening to the recording later. In addition to this, Peter can make notes about the comments and quality of things each person says. At the end of the conversation there is a nice visual map showing how frequently people have spoken, who hasn’t, who has dominated the conversation, the gender equity balance, and more. That visual infographic can help guide the students to learn about their performance and improve in future discussions.

Peter explained to me that this tool has made assessing class discussions much less of a daunting task. Using the Equity Maps tool allows him to better provide his students with feedback about their performance. He can actually focus on the content of what’s being discussed rather than having to worry about tallying who said what when and for how long. This is just another example of ways that technology enhances instruction and learning for both students and teachers!

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Spring Brings Hatching Duck Eggs & Raspberry Pi to Minnetonka First Grade Classrooms

An annual tradition in all Minnetonka first grade classrooms is the hatching of duck eggs. Each year, these eggs are carefully raised in an incubator and eagerly watched by the students. Eggs are "candled" with a flashlight to see what is inside and if there is any movement. Students and teachers take care of the eggs, watching the temperature and humidity levels, and teachers even come in on the weekends to turn the eggs. Eventually the students get to see the result. Sometimes they are fortunate enough to be present in school when the eggs hatch and other times they miss out on seeing it live. Fortunately now this problem has a solution which includes Raspberry Pi.

This annual project is one my own children loved when they were in first grade. Eight years ago when my oldest son was a first grader, we put together a video highlighting the process and what happens to all the ducklings after school is out for the summer--students were very concerned about this unknown! The video was done in Spanish and English as well as translated into Chinese for our immersion students.

Two years ago, Hsin-Yi Liu, a first grade Chinese immersion teacher at Excelsior Elementary, was awarded a grant from the Minnetonka Foundation to get some new equipment for this project. She received funding to purchase three automated incubators and LED candlers. After a successful test of the equipment last year, this year she received money from her school's PTO to get the equipment for the remaining first grade teachers in her building as well as a Raspberry Pi 3 Starter Kit and electronic Raspberry Pi Camera Module for each classroom.

The new model of incubator makes it easy for students to observe the eggs and greatly reduces the amount of work and worry for teachers and students, plus the hatch success rate increased from 30% in the old, styrofoam incubators (pictured in the video above) to 80% using the new automated model pictured. The new incubators manage temperature and has temperature alarms, lists days to hatch, automatically turns and rotates the eggs, has fan-assisted airflow to evenly heat eggs, and the egg chamber has clear sides for students to view the hatching eggs.

The LED Light Egg Candler makes it easy to candle the eggs and display the images of the embryo rather than using an overhead projector. Students enjoy checking the eggs every day and recording new observations in their lab journals. A camera running with an inexpensive Raspberry Pi computer set up by our Technology Department allows for a live stream feed on YouTube (view here- select one labeled “Live Now”) so students can see the eggs at night and on the weekend, which now means no one has to miss the exciting moments when the eggs hatch!


Watch video: Wild ducks- not hatched in an incubator-
also come each spring to one of our elementary schools

Monday, April 30, 2018

Behind the Code: Using Spheros in Middle School for Deeper Learning

We continue to look for opportunities to provide our students with experiences coding. Recently seventh grade students at both of our middle schools had the opportunity in our gifted and talented program to work with Spheros. These devices are much more than round robots that can be controlled remotely through an app. They have a number of features that really allow students to learn and practice complex coding within another separate app.

Students can begin coding with Spheros using blocks that can be dragged and connected in order to program the robot to move around with commands such as turn, move forward, etc. Within these various commands there are options for the number of degrees to turn or how far forward to roll in time or distance. In addition to this block coding, students can also directly edit and type in code as JavaScript text. Students can also switch between the two to see the code behind the blocks they have compiled. One of the teachers, Deb , at Minnetonka Middle School East, explained that this was a great differentiator for students--it allowed those who were fairly new to coding to get comfortable with it and allowed others with more experience and knowledge, as well as seeking a greater challenge, to work directly with JavaScript.

Sphero Jackson Pollack Art Activity
The teachers had the students program their Spheros to move through mazes, which proved to be more complex than students initially realized. They quickly learned they had to factor in variables like uneven floors, initial starting location and angle, and even debris on the floor that would change the Sphero’s trajectory. Students also programmed their Sphero to paint a picture (see the time lapse video above made by Andrea Hoffmann) and held Sphero Olympics with a slalom course and curling. Adding even more complexity, students learned Morse Code and programmed their Spheros to display messages through the blinking links in Morse Code, then read one another's messages. The complete outline for the nine day unit is below.

Sphero Olympic Curling
Deb explained that she found this project to be so much fun for her students that it really motivated her to do all the extra work learning about coding and Spheros herself as well as put in the additional preparation time needed for the activities. “It was one of the best things I’ve done in teaching!” she said. She came up with a number of workflow strategies which were important to ensure successful activity results. Deb plans to continue to explore new activities to include in the unit and introduce formal instruction in text coding in the future. She explained that they will need to address redundancy that may occur in regular courses as more and more middle school teachers begin using the Spheros.

“Alien Attack” Simulation:
Students used Spheros 
to deliver the anti-venom to animals
 but avoided humans as the venom was toxic to humans.
At Minnetonka Middle School West, teacher Margaret McDonald at Minnetonka Middle School West also found that her students really enjoyed the coding activities with Spheros. One of her students told me it was his favorite activity of the class this year. He liked all the hands on activities using the Spheros and seeing the actual results of the coding.

Students have further opportunities to learn coding in middle school, including using Apple’s Swift program on their iPads. Students also use LEGO’s NXT robots as well as a 3D printer (MakerBot) with Fusion 360. Elective classes in eighth grade include Advanced Robotics using EV3s and a Computer Science class in which students learn Java and HTML. These elective options continue at our high school as well.  
Day 1   Introduction – get acquainted with the SpheroParts – diagramHow it worksDownload appSet-up accountShow video diagram of insides of a Sphero          
Day 1-2        Learn basic commands of: Roll (variables – heading, duration and speed), Color, SoundMake a square  
Day 3  Maze Mayham  move through a maze 
Day 4  Secret Message Morse Code – light series of dots & dashes 
Day 5  Martian Attack – game using X/Y coordinates (code the bot to knock down pieces) 
Day 6  Sphero Olympics – Slalom Course: code the bot through gates – fastest person wins  
Day 7  Sphero Olympics – Curling: Working in teams, Code the bot to land in the circle, receive points offensive and defensive knock opponents out of circle.  
Day 8  Sphero Olympics – Hockey coding the bot to hit another object (wiffle ball) into the man-made net (shoe box)  
Day 9  Sphero Art:  Jackson Pollack and Art Activity – make a mural using paint and the Sphero with or without the nubby Sphero cover.
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Monday, April 23, 2018

More Ways to Inform Parents of How Technology Changes Learning

In a continuing effort to inform parents of how technology is used for learning in school, our  instructional technology coaches in Minnetonka keep exploring new ideas and formats for this communication. In the past I’ve shared about the Minnebytes that have run in our weekly high school newsletter for the past two years with hundreds of examples. At the beginning of this school year, I shared the middle school version of this Minnebytes newsletter for parents and teachers highlighting Minnetonka iPad Integration.

The challenge of grabbing parents' limited attention seems greater than ever. Parents are bombarded with all sorts of messages and information on a daily basis, whether it’s from school, sports, work, or their personal lives. Messages need to be short and to the point, and of course, catchy and attention grabbing. So often it is difficult for parents to understand how technology tools are being used because they remember school before these tools existed and don’t have a background knowledge or understanding of technologies possibilities in education. It is our continued hope that by keeping parents informed of the many ways we are using technology in school for engagement and deeper learning they will better understand its importance and continue to support its use. 

In an effort to better reach parents, recently one of our middle school technology instructional coaches, Sara Hunt, has been creating infographics using Infogram. Three examples are included below. In these infographics she focuses on one specific technology tool students use in our one to one iPad program. She explains what it does, how it is used, includes a link to a video about the app, and includes one or more examples of our students or teachers using this tool for instruction. 

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