Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stop the Madness: There is a Difference Between 21st Century Tools and 21st Century Skills

In the past year I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools and attend a number of conferences. In the process I have witnessed and met many incredible, talented and committed teachers.  However, in the same vein, early on I witnessed what appeared to be a seemingly simple and innocent mistake.  Unfortunately, within this same year I witnessed this same mistake too many times to be considered completely innocent.

Many times I would observe a classroom, complete a walk through or sit in a session at a conference.  Each of these events had one thing in common.  Each of these teachers, whether in the classroom or presenting at a conference were all promoting "21st Century Skills."  Please understand, I think that we not only need to promote these skills but students need to be immersed in them.  So, what is this seemingly simple and innocent mistake?  Let me provide a list of the "21st Century Skills" I witnessed:

1) QR Codes
2) Doceri
3) Reflector
4) Socrative
5) Prezi
6) Animoto
7) Poster Maker
8) Glogster
10) Voki
11) GAFE (Google Apps for Education)

Does this look like a list of skills?  More accurately, this is a list of web based tools.  Granite, these are some really unique and powerful web based tools, but they are not skills.  Far too many times I have witnessed  well intentioned and good teachers refer to using these as 21st Century skills.  Let me makes this point very clear; these are tools to engage the 21st century student, these are not 21st Century Skills!

What we need are teachers who can utilize these 21st Century tools in a way that will challenge and grow our students in their use of 21st Century Skills.  Before moving forward it may be best to first list what the 21st Century Skills, as recognized by P21. (non profit group tasked with creating the list):

Life and career skills, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, information, media and technology skills as well as the core subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Looking back at the tools that were being used to ENGAGE the 21st Century Learner, how can we use them to incorporate these skills?

I would suggest that communication, collaboration, creativity as well as information, media, and technology skills can be natural fits for many of these 21st Century tools.  Let's look at how GAFE (Google Apps for Education) can be the catapult for students and teachers alike to use and master these skills:

Collaboration - Google tools are designed for collaboration.  Google Doc's and Presentation allow students to collaborate with one another while working on an assignment.  This collaboration can all be done online both asynchronously and synchronously.  Students have the ability to work in two different locations, view the exact same document, manipulate the document in real time and "Chat" with one another during the process.  Google Hangout's will allow up to fifteen people to participate in a video call at the same.  Each participant will have the ability see each other and speak to one another.  Also, it is possible to open Google Drive, open a Google Document and have every participant manipulate the document in real time.

Communication - Google tools also provide multiple opportunities to communicate with all stakeholders in the organization.  For example, a student, class or school can create a Google Site (webpage).  The student, class or school can post all relevant material they wish the public and all stakeholders to know on the website.  Google Mail will allow users to email any individual with a G-mail account for easier communication.  Google Calendar has the ability to create an event, invite individuals to the event as well as share the calendar with anyone who has a Google account.  For example, school X has created a Google Calendar for all of the events occurring at the school this coming year.  If I am a parent and if I have a Google account, I can actually connect my calendar with the schools calendar.  When that occurs every school event will show up in my calendar.  To make it even easier, the school events will show up in a different color then my events helping me to quickly identify the school events.  Also, a teacher can create a class calender.  The teacher can post that on Friday, August 15th the class will have a test.  To enhance the experience even more, Google Calendar allows users to attach a document to the event.  So, a teacher could attach a study guide to the August 15th event.  Parents who have access to the calendar would know their child has a test on Friday August 15th and would also  have access to the study guide!

Creativity - Schools can use Google Sites to help promote creativity.  Students can create their own site and develop their own content.  They can be as creative as they like in the process.  Picassa is a Google tool that allows users to find, edit and share photos. Teachers could take pictures of student work, presentations, or field trips throughout the year and quickly turn them into a slideshow that you can play at Open House or during parent conferences. Students can create a historical photo album by taking pictures of themselves in historical costumes and settings. Then apply sepia tones or black & white effects to make them look like old photos and print them out.  Journalism students can keep all photos for each edition of their newspaper or magazine in one location on their classroom PC, adding descriptions and captions that make them easy to find, re-use, and share.  Students could use Google Sketchp to design 3D drawings (houses, building, bridges, etc...) and then print out the blue prints.  If possible, students then could send the rendering to a 3D printer and actually print out a 3D scaled version of the drawing.  Other ideas for Sketchup include: Visualize geometry and other mathematical concepts, create model buildings and learn about architecture, design full-scale 3D environments, recreate historical settings and illustrate theoretical concepts.

Information, Media and Technology Skills - Feedly and Google Books are wonderful ways for students to find and consume information.  Google Search Engine will allow students to search effectively and efficiently.  The Google Add-On Easy Bib will allow students to determine the credibility of the sources they are viewing.  You Tube (yes, it is a Google owned media) allows schools, teachers and students to create their own You Tube channel.  The user then has the ability to make videos and share them to a private or public audience.  Google Doc's has a research portion of the menu bar making it much more efficient for Google Doc users to research, organize and evaluate information.  Many of the tools already discussed will allow students to communicate the information they have learned.  Google Plus will allow users the opportunities to communicate and network with a wide audience beyond their classrooms and schools.

This is of course a very short list of all the potential uses of this 21st Century tool.  That being said, the 21st Century Skill that has not been covered is Critical Thinking.  This is a little trickier.  These tools can certainly be used but it requires more thought.  To do this properly, I believe, educators need to incorporate both the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge.

This will be the subject for the next blog!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Let's Give Him a Hand - Completed!!

As of this writing, the prosthetic hand for Riley has been completed.  It is a functioning hand that will provide Riley more usability than the older prosthetic.  Since it has been completed we have received a good deal of publicity.  Below are links to Fox News coverage as well as some local articles:

Pioneer Crestline satellite students lend helping hand to Shelby student

Fox News Video                                Richland Source Article                        Mansfield News Journal

What is most exciting about this project is that we changed lives.  Riley's life was changed, his mothers life was changed and our students lives were changed.  As I stated in an earlier post:

Education = changing lives one child at a time.

The other exciting piece of this project is the list of curriculum and skills the students attained.  They learned: 1) how to use design software, 2) how to operate a 3D printer, 3) team work, 4) how to collaborate, 5) how to speak professionally with professionals in the industry, 6) how to use critical thinking skills to identify problems, 7) how to creatively think through and solve problems, and a host of others.  The students had a chance to learn all of that while completing a community service project that changed lives!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Let's Give Him a Hand II

In a span of two weeks Mr. Sticklers class had a model completely printed out and pieced together.

This is a STL file of the hand the students created and printed out on a 3D printer.

Pictured below are a number of Mr. Strickler's students who are infiltrating the parts.  In other words making the pieces of the hand hard.

Below are pictures of Mr. Strickler at Riley's school with a model of the hand.  He went their to make sure that the hand will be the correct size.  After spending time their he and his students realized that more tweaking needed to be done.  That being said, when Riley saw the hand, he began to run in place.  Let me restate that, he began to run in place!  


As you can see, Riley's wrist is very small.  It has not been used as much and has not developed.  This has added a layer of difficulty.  The STL files will not work as they are.  The students need to measure Riley's wrist and reverse engineer the parts of the hand that will fit around the wrist.   Recently, we came into contact with a company that has a 3D scanner.  We have been invited to visit this company.  Once there, we will have the machine scan around Riley's wrist.  The machine then will send the image/file to computer as a STL file.  Then we can really have a much more accurate measurement of Riley's wrist.  This will help immensely.  It is unbelievable the people and companies that are excited to work with us on this project!

As a side note, Mr. Strickler discovered a way to turn an X-Box 360 Kinnect motion bar into a 3D scanner!


Friday, January 24, 2014

Let's Give Him a Hand (Literally)

Two weeks ago a You Tube video made its way to a mother in Shelby, Ohio.  It was a three minute segment.  It was a very powerful three minute segment.  The video was an older CBS Nightly News segment.  It was a news story covering a father with a son who had one hand.  The father was able to get access to a 3D printer.  He then designed and printed out a hand for his son.  A almost fully functioning hand:

Enter Riley.  An elementary student in Shelby, Ohio.  Riley's mother (Kelly) had viewed this video and wondered if something similar could be done for her son.  She is a teacher at Shelby Middle School.  Another teacher at Shelby High School is married to one of the most innovative teachers I have ever know.  He is a Pioneer Career and Technology Center employee.  He happens to have a 3D printer...

Enter Keith Strickler.  As I stated earlier, he is undoubtedly, one of the most innovative teachers I have ever known.  Riley's mother asked Keith if this was possible.  Keith, being Keith, said it was.  That evening Keith emailed and text me his idea.

After hours of searching online, an open source software coupled with design plans for a similar prosthetic, was discovered.  Keith immediately jumped into action.  The mother and I were contacted.  To be honest, at first I was nervous.  I don't mind when my teachers and students try something new and fail.  Failure is a part of life that must be embraced and learned from.  That being said, I was not going to tell Riley that we could make him a functioning hand, get him excited just to find out that we can't.  That was a failure I was not willing to accept.  Keith assured me it was possible and that he and his students would get this done.  Keith has never let me down.

A picture of Robo Hand.  This is similar to what we will create.
Only ours will look like Iron Man's hand (per Riley).

Within two days of being contacted Mr. Stickler's class had designed and printed out, on a 3D printer, a piece of the prosthetic hand.

Here are the students working with Mr. Strickler on the 3D printer.

This is the first piece printed that will
eventually be assembled into a
 prosthetic hand.

Next, an occupational therapist was recruited.  It is imperative we understand the functionality of Riley's wrist.  The design we have in mind will allow Riley to open and close his prosthetic hand by moving his wrist up or down.  Therefore, we need to know the flexibility and movement capabilities of his wrist.

After talking with Riley it was learned that after a whole life of not having a hand, Riley, wanted a hand that other kids would be jealous of.  Enter Kurtzman's Creature Corps. Rob Kurtzman owns one of two colleges in the nation that specializes in make-up and costume design as well as special effects for Hollywood movies.  Rob Kurtzman is a star in the industry.  His wife, happens to be one of my teachers.  His work can be seen here:

Creature Corps

The goal, is to have our students design, using Sketch Up Pro, the pieces of the prosthetic hand, print them out on the 3D printer, assemble the pieces using piano wire and stainless steel bolts.  This will be our prototype of the hand.  If this design is functional we will then send the design to Pioneer's main campus and print another prosthetic hand on a much more robust 3D printer.  The end product of this printer will be much more durable and will last longer.  When this is complete, have our students work with Alan (vice president) from Creature Corp to make the prosthetic look like the Iron Man hand.

Left, Alan from Creature Corp working with
our students, Riley and Kelly (right).

Enter Yanke Bionics.  As I thought about this project more I realized there is more learning opportunities for our students.  Yanke Bionics is a national chain that create prosthetic's.  They are most known for their participation on America's Extreme Home Make Over.  On the show they made a prosthetic, free of charge, for a veteran of the Iraq War.  They are no stranger to community service.  I made contact within three days of this project.  I am not looking for them to design and print the pieces of the hand for us.  I want my students to do that.  I want them to serve in a mentorship role.  If we get stuck on a design issue I want my students to turn to professionals.  I want my 17 year old students communicating with highly intelligent and successful professionals in this field.  I also want my students to know what they are doing is also a potentially lucrative career.

Not only do we want to make him a prosthetic hand that will be functional and one that will make other kids jealous, we also want to make a hand that is more normal looking.  This way Riley will be able to choose what hand he wants to wear each day.

The goal is set and achievable.  The plan is in action.  The player are in place: Pioneer Career and Technology Center, Keith Strickler, Riley and his mother, Crestline HS students, Alan (Creature Corps) and Yanke Bionics.  It truly is amazing what a three minute YouTube video, a text message and a 3D printer can produce!  Of course, you need to have people who care and are motivated to serve!

What an amazing learning opportunity that represents what 21st Century learning should look like!  What an opportunity for our students to both learn and serve at the same time.  What an opportunity for local businesses to work with and alongside competent high school students and change lives.  What an opportunity for a wonderful, innocent, loving and truly appreciative young man and his mother!!

EDUCATION = Changing lives one child at a time...

Please, stay posted as this amazing lesson, story and life changing event continues.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A New E.R.R.A. for Edcuation

The advancements in neuroimaging is advancing the field of education.  Who would of thought that a group of nerdy doctors would have a greater impact on education than the late Steve Jobs and Apple, but they have.  These advancements, moving from CT Scans to Functional MRI's, has allowed scientists to see what is happening in the mind as students learn.  For the first time scientists and educators are uncovering what is happening "Inside the Black Box."

These advancements have great potential for educators in a number of fashions.  I would like to focus only on one in this post.  I believe that we have the technology to create a new E.R.R.A in education.  E.R.R.A. is an acronym for Engagement, Retention, Retrieval and Application.

Teachers can improve student achievement if they consider this acronym when creating lesson plans.  First, teachers need to engage their students.  This can be done a number of ways.  For example, having a "Do Now" for students to complete when they enter your room.  Teachers can also create activities that compliment their students learning styles.  Teacher can create a presentation that has a "Hook" for students in the beginning of class.

Once students are engaged the teacher needs to plan the lesson so that when the content is delivered the student will be able to retain the information.  Neuroscience has opened up a number of doors with regards to this.  To do this a teacher must enact a students Hippocampus.  Consider starting the class with an activity that is a review of yesterday.  It is important that students are able to build new knowledge on top of existing knowledge.  Reviewing previous learning sparks the Hippocampus and enables the students to build new information on their current schematic.  Also, consider attaching emotion to the content.  The Hippocampus is sparked when the students emotions are heightened.

Once the content is delivered teachers need to ensure that students have the ability to retrieve the information.  Neuroimaging has taught us that when a student learns he or she is creating neurons that connect to other neurons.  This is the "spark" that is created during learning.  When a student is learning multiple facts or concepts the neuron attaches to another neuron then to another neuron and so on.  This process has created what I refer to as a neuro-superhighway.  Students are best able to retrieve the information if they travel that same highway when asked to retrieve the information.  The concept of station dependent learning is that students are able to retrieve information best if we ask them to retrieve the information the way they retained the information.  Therefore, if, as a teacher, you provided a lesson that has students writing an essay to process the information then students would be assessed best if they were asked to write another essay. Also, students are able to retrieve the information if they travel the same high way over and over.  This can be seen as repetition in the classroom.  Once the teacher covers a topic it is important to cover and review the topic as much as possible.  

Lastly, for any new information to be considered "enduring learning" students need to see the value, the relevance and apply the information.  Once the information has been processed, retained and students have the ability to retrieve it teachers should ensure that students apply the information in a relevant, real world scenario.

Of course, this is a brief summary and it sounds much simpler than it is.  However, the art of effective teaching is very difficult.  If it was simple, anyone could do it!