We recently had the opportunity to talk with Illah Reza Nourbakhsh (author of Robot Futures) about robots now and in the future.  As robots are getting easier and cheaper to make, Illah describes the growing problem of robot smog:

We talk a lot about smog in general as kind of a pollution, this haze that is a distraction from what you hope, in terms of what you want to see around you, and the air you breathe that has long term health consequences.  And one of the interesting things about robotics is that [] you can build robots.  But as more and more people build robots of every kind, the physical world that fills with robots of our own creation feels more and more like the digital world when people started making all sorts of websites with really bad flash animations on them…

You can get a 3-D printer – and they’re getting cheaper and cheaper – and now you can start building these things.  And you have your Arduino, so you have your brain for your robot, and now you can have a body, and yeah, wifi is getting cheaper, [] so your little robot that you build on your 3-D printer can be online relatively quickly, it can be controlled online, it can send pictures online, it can move around in the physical world.  And oh, by the way, it can fly.  Flying robots are getting cheaper really fast.  For $10, $15 you can make a robot that flies.  So now you go take a walk in the park, and the walk in the park is like looking at really bad flash pages on the web.  You keep seeing these moronic robots.

Immediately, I began to draw parallels in education.  As schools have greater access to technology and online tools, there is a real danger of creating edtech smog.

EdTech smog happens where students use technology with no real purpose or aim.  There might be a hope that students will better understand technology concepts and operations in using a specific tool.  However, no matter the enthralling wonder that the tool summons from limited student attention, we are still left with an educational outcome that has no real purpose.  As moronic robots have the potential to fill our physical landscape, moronic technological distractions can also fill our digital classrooms.

Edtech smog is nothing more than using technology as a distraction from what you hope your students should learn.

Illah has some ideas of how educators might have students use technology to solve a real problem. Listen to this clip to hear his thoughts that speak to appropriate technology integration:

[download clip]

P.S. In his blog, co-host Dale Basler puts Voki and Animoto at the top of #EdtechSmog list.  I think I can easily add Blabberize and Prezi to that list.  What’s on your list?

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need help switchWhile traveling over the holiday break, we stopped at a new gas station that had a peculiar feature in the bathroom.

Most public restrooms have a sign that says “Please notify employee if this bathroom needs servicing.”  Of course, that isn’t always convenient, and is sometimes embarrassing.  This discreet switch can eliminate all of that.

Imagine if we could duplicate this concept in the classroom.  Consider that many kids don’t ask for help because they are afraid of peer judgement – so remove this barrier and students could summon their teacher without ever raising a hand.  We don’t even need to install elaborate wiring in the classroom, as students could easily use their smartphones, tablets or laptops to accomplish this.

Last spring, Vernier Software and Technology released the LabQuest2 - a device that collects data from a variety of sensors and has the ability to share this data wirelessly with any device that has a browser. To me, this is a game-changer in science education.

I decided to test it out this year while teaching phase changes.

In the past, I’ve had kids collect data while ice water is being heated over a bunsen burner, with the goal of identifying the melting and boiling point of water.  Students often get lost in the data collection process, or tune out until after the data is collected (as if something magical will be revealed upon completion).

So I decided to do this as a demo, where students could use mobile devices (I have a classroom set of Motorola Xoom tablets) to access the data as it’s being collected.  I also had my iPad mounted to the lab table with a Hoverbar. Using the camera app, I mirrored the video via the AppleTV hooked up to the projector so students could see what was happening.

As there is significant downtime while waiting for the water to boil, I had them login to Edmodo and respond to a question after I lit the burner:

Students can touch and manipulate the data with the browser as it’s being collected.  And they can determine the time and temperature by simply touching the graph (or any X and Y axis variable).

What I really liked about this approach is that I could guide students through the data collection process, and match it to their visual observations.  For instance, I was able to ask “when did you first notice bubbles?,”  and “at what temperature did that happen?”.

After the lesson, students responded to the Edmodo question again – now with the hindsight of what they actually observed, complete with data.

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While in school one day, I caught my son playing with a document camera.  I was amazed by his adventurous curiosity; he had no fear playing with the ELMO – trying to figure out what it can do and how it works.

To me, there is no better professional development in learning new technology than to simply get your hands on it and see how it works.

That’s my advice as a technology integrator - go ahead and play with it.  Figure it out.  See what it can do.

After that, we’ll see what else we can do with it and how it can transform your teaching.

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explodingsink.com has been nominated for a 2012 Fascination Award.  Cast Your Vote for the Most Fascinating Science Teacher Blog of 2012!
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I’ve been playing around with mirroring content on my iPad2 to my classroom LCD projector (with an Apple TV connected).

But now I’m becoming greedy.  I also want my MacBook Air to mirror its desktop content as well.  Why didn’t Apple support AirPlay for Mac OS X when it was released last summer?  That would simply be too convenient to connect a computer to a projector, eliminating the need for 25+ feet of plenum-rated cables running through our classroom ceilings.

Coming this summer, it looks as if I might get my wish.  Mac’s next OS upgrade – OS X Mountain Lion – will feature AirPlay support.

Now that this dream will become a reality, I am still not completely satisfied.  Why can’t we get LCD Projectors with AirPlay support?

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When the first iPad debuted on the scene, a math teacher asked me if there was any way that students could easily sketch math problems within an email message or chat.  Of course, there are some ways – but they require a few steps to get there.

But in December, Google unveiled Scribbles for Gmail, allowing users to add drawings to their electronic messages.  I instantly thought of how Google has provided an easy interface for things that can be sketched more easily than typed – like math and science problems.

Here’s how it works:

In the compose view, users click on the scribble button to open the drawing window:

The drawing is limited to the touchscreen sensitivity of the device, but is quite easy to use.  Images are inserted as .png attachments.

At the moment, this feature is only available in Gmail for the mobile web browser and the Gmail app for iOS.

Scribbles is a compelling reason for school districts to allow student access of Gmail or even setup Google Apps for Education.  But I am excited to think about the future of Scribbles in other products; imagine a sketch tool built-in to Moodle, Edmodo or other similar educational products.

Build it, and watch the math and science teachers flock to it.

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As meet manager for many swim meets, I know the importance of having instant results displayed on the scoreboard.

But a new iPhone app is starting to make me think differently.  At the 2012 FVA Boys Swimming and Diving Meet, we turned on Meet Mobile – a fantastic new feature in Meet Manager 4.0.

Meet Manager Run Menu

Let me explain a little bit of swim meet management.  Hy-Tek’s Meet Manager (a part of the Active Network) is the industry standard for running swim meets.  Swimmers and teams are entered into the program before the start of the meet, and the computer interfaces with the touchpads (we use both Daktronics and Colorado products in our district) during the meet.  At the end of each race, Meet Manager harvests the data, where times are matched to swimmers.  The software also scores the meet, and you can print out and email the results to the local paper.

But it gets better.  With an internet connection (our district has a guest Wifi network), Meet Manager 4.0 allows you to send your results live to an iPhone app called Meet Mobile.  This free download from the Active Network displays each heat’s and event’s results sorted by event or by swimmer.  The app even allows you to view splits and places for every swimmer in the meet.

Here’s a sample of what you might see with the app (in three screens):

  1. Select the correct meet when you open the app (sorted by date)
  2. Select swimmer or event
  3. View results (complete results and splits are also available)

It was fascinating to watch the fans trying out this app in the stands – they were mesmerized by the instant results they could find.  And coaches loved it even more, as they put down their stopwatches and stopped subtracting splits on the fly.

So who needs a scoreboard anymore?

 

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After using the iPad2 and the Apple TV to mirror iPad content through my LCD projector, I realized that this setup can be used as a wireless document camera by using the built-in camera app on the iPad2.

The Setup:

First of all, I setup a ‘stand’ for the iPad, so that it could project anything underneath it.  Being a science teacher, I have access to plenty of lab stands and clamps (I actually wrapped the two metal rods in electrical tape to protect the iPad2 from scratches).

I gently rested the iPad2 on the stand, being careful to center the camera on the lab table below, and secured it with a large rubber-band.

I found that I needed a wide stand so that students could fit their whiteboards underneath without difficulty.

This system is also flexible, as it is wireless.  I can carry it back to the lab and showcase individual student work to help direct a laboratory investigation.  Taking a picture, I was even able to annotate over a photo by importing it through an app like the Educreactions Interactive Whiteboard app.

 

 

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Chemistree 2011

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