Monday, August 28, 2017

The Hub: Minnetonka Makerspaces Launch

Makerspaces are launching at Minnetonka Schools this year! Makerspaces are “are informal places or materials for creative production in art, science, and engineering where students of all ages blend digital and physical technologies to explore ideas, learn technical skills, and create new products” (source).  The Minnetonka Foundation has invested in materials and equipment at each of our six elementary schools plus our two middle schools. The Minnetonka Foundation has been raising funds for Minnetonka Schools since 1986 and has an Endowment Fund to support large, long term projects like this. (More about the Foundation) We are excited to get Makerspaces for the students in our schools.

This process actually began a year ago with initial talks and a lot of planning and research. Staff at each site started meeting and brainstorming to decide how and where to begin. Staff who participated in this process included students, parents, teachers, principals, media specialists, design for learning representatives, Tonka Codes building leaders, high potential teachers, middle school STEM teachers, instructional technology coaches and district administrators.

The initial site conversations narrowed down the scope, including the arranging the makerspace by themes: structural, electrical, digital media, robotics/coding, artistic. Each site’s makerspaces will primarily be mobile, with a wheeled storage cart (pictured) or a larger wheeled cabinet for each theme that teachers can check out from the media center for use in their classroom. Since most of our sites are tight on space, this mobile solution was the preferred choice. It will also encourage teachers to embed makerspace activities into their curriculum and have students demonstrate their knowledge in all curricular areas instead of view it as an add on or place students would have to go to experience.

In the spring and over this past summer, staff began researching products available and deciding what to purchase. Teachers also began planning lessons and units for their students using the makerspace materials so these curricular materials would be ready to go for colleagues to get started instead of having to start from scratch. Over the past week before teacher workshops, teachers have been attending makerspace classes to learn more. The Minnetonka Foundation set up all the materials in a showcase room for teachers to explore who have been attending summer trainings.

Minnetonka Makerspaces have been branded as "The Hub" and the carts have been wrapped with this logo as pictured. As part of their duties, two teachers will also work to support the makerspaces, guide the development of the program, provide teachers with professional development, research, and find innovative resources to enhance the program. Expanded Maker Faires are being planned for the coming year as well as other activities that will get our students tinkering, creating, designing, and more. It will be an exciting year!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Video & Voice Editing About to Make Fake News Even Harder to Decipher (& Change History, too)

The topic of Fake News is certainly in The News these days. It's also a hot topic for educators as we reflect upon how and where we teach students about recognizing whether or not something is The TruthRecently Radio Lab, one of my favorite podcasts, dealt with the topic in an episode entitled Breaking News. I found the information they shared both fascinating and frightening, and believe it's important for all educators to be aware of these latest developments and future capabilities that will further alter our future and make it possible to edit history, too:
Recent advances in technology have made it possible to edit both voice and actual video recordings more easily than ever. This includes the ability to say anything at all and have either the audio or the video (or both) be incredibly convincing. 

First, audio editing:
Adobe has a new product called Voco which enables you to drag and drop audio recordings, type in new text and nearly instantaneously press play to hear very real sounding results that are difficult to decipher as fake. With just 20 minutes of audio recording of a speaker's voice, such as a politician, celebrity or even you, the computer can pretty much create any imaginable recording from your script. More about concerns with this new tool.  

Even more startling, video editing:
As you can see for yourself in these videos, researchers are working on technology that allows them to map the facial expressions and movements of anyone from video footage and replace that with actual new edited footage created from a simple WebCam recording of another person. Basically this means anyone can be like a puppeteer. So you could take the video footage of a politician or celebrity and replace it with video of whatever you acted out in your recording. The preliminary samples demonstrating this technology online or certainly not seamless or indecipherable from something that would be authentic, but you can quickly realize the ramifications of this technology.

As I wrote about last week, things are advancing faster than we can keep up with it so it's highly likely that within the next year or so this will be in use. As stated in the Radiolab podcast, not only will this technology soon to be made available, it will likely be available as an app on all of our phones, making it possible for anyone to use. Later in the episode they discussed the difficulty experts will have deciphering whether or not these files are real or fake, explaining how it can take days now to figure the authenticity of a single photograph thought to be altered with Photoshop. Audio and video will be even more difficult.

This certainly has far-reaching implications for our future. In education, we need to be aware of these latest technological advances and inform students of it. I'm not sure exactly how we will teach students to know whether a current video or audio recording is authentic, or even whether a historical clip from decades ago is legit, altered, or completely fake. It will be necessary to teach them to research the source of something as well as the reputation of that news service, website provider, host, and/or company. A few weeks ago I wrote about the need to teach ethics within computer science. Teaching ethics and strong moral values are definitely needed with advances like these voice and video editing tools in our near future!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Accelerating Changes Needed in Education

Technology is changing faster than humans can adapt to it. According to Thomas Friedman, humans need to accelerate in our abilities to learn and govern in order to catch up with technology's exponential growth, and I agree. As the graph pictured above from Eric Teller (CEO of Google's X Research and Development Lab) in Friedman's book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations illustrates, "the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes. Many of us cannot keep pace anymore." 

For example, Friedman explains that companies like Uber disrupted the market for traditional taxis and public transportation, "but before the world can figure out how to regulate ride-sharing, self-driving cars will have made those regulations obsolete." Friedman explains what used to take generations for societal or technology changes to happen now happen in about ten to 15 years. However, technology is changing at a rate faster than that, right around five to seven years. Since slowing down technology is not an option, one solution is for humans to "enhance our ability to adapt even slightly" which would make a significant difference.  

So where do schools fit into this? Friedman explains that we need to be lifelong learners, not just K-12 or K-college learners. We need to be agile, "willing to experiment and learn from mistakes", quickly innovating and reevaluating to keep up with the speed of change today. We need to help our students learn this important mindset. It will only hurt us if today's students see their education as ending upon graduation. It is also imperative for today's students to learn to adapt and change faster than ever before in order to keep up with the technological changes happening both now and in their future. It seems like the easiest way to start making these mindset shifts occur is for today's educators to not only be aware of them, but begin addressing them in their instruction. Start including this in conversations, discussing it, and modeling it. Be a lifelong learner, flexible and adaptive, and instill the importance of this on today's students!

Image Source: Radiolab
Another great example from headlines and current events besides ride sharing is CRISPR. CRISPR is a DNA editing tool--learn more from one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab. It's actually a couple years old, but changing things faster than humans are ready to handle. Many people still even haven't heard of it. Last week I wrote about The Need for Computer Ethics to be taught in schools and cited many other great examples for powerful classroom discussions on the topic. With the rapid pace at which things are being invented, evolving, and adopted, it is more important than ever that we not only teach and discuss the ethics of these changes and inventions with students, but also help them learn to deal with all of it at an ever accelerating pace.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Beyond Coding and Computer Science in Schools: The Need for Computer Ethics

MIT's Moral Machine
For the past three years in Minnetonka, we have been teaching computer coding in our schools starting in kindergarten. Last year we changed the curriculum from simply coding instruction to include computer science principles in our lessons for students. This year we are adding and integrating maker spaces with our coding (more on this in a future post). 

Recent rapid advances in technology and stories in the news have got me thinking about what will be next in our coding program and needed in the future of computer science in schools. I believe that computer ethics will need to be added to and integrated in our teaching. Computer ethics is defined as a part of practical philosophy concerned with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct. We need to start presenting our students with the complex issues and dilemmas that they will face in their future (if not already) to get them thinking about these problems and the bigger picture beyond lines of code. From advances in medical technology to robotics, today's students will be faced will all sorts of new problems that will require them to think about and figure out innovative solutions in entirely new ways we haven't dealt with previously.

A great example to illustrate this instructional need for is the self-driving car programming dilemma pictured above: in an unavoidable accident, who should the car be programmed to allow to die? A morbid yet necessary decision. The nuances of this question and all the possible scenarios would make for great classroom discussions and debate. (Does the age and number of people involved change the program? What about the social status of the individuals involved? What if the pedestrian involved is jay walking? etc...) MIT has a great "Moral Machine" scenario website for this. Having students do their own research on this will yield more resources, such as this recent article, Here's How Tesla Solves A Self-Driving Crash Dilemma.
"It is *because* some ethical choices are difficult, or difficult to understand as ethical choices, that they need to be taught to students." (Source)
We need to have these discussions with students and get them thinking about these complex issues. They need to be become aware of these ethical dilemmas so that they can face (and solve) even more complex issues that they will come across in the future. One nice resource for this is the University of Notre Dame’s John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values. For the past four years, they have published an annual "list of emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and technology." Besides autonomous cars, issues include "robotics, neuroscience, education and medical management." (Source) Again, having students research and find these issues will result in countless options, such as The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics and this discussion board on Ethical dilemmas faced by software engineers. As they leave our schools to head out to the next stages in their lives and careers, we need our students--our future leaders--to understand and consider the ethics involved in their actions, decisions, and inventions. 

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