Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hour of Code

"Hour of Code" is coming up! It is a great opportunity to give kids of all ages an introduction to code. "Code" is a scary word for many (me included), but after looking at the website for the "Hour of Code" I think it is intriguing!

Check out the website:

It has great ideas for every level of skill, and every age learner; from 4 to 104! The website has several videos to get students (and teachers) excited. There are 1 minute, 5 minute, and 9 minute videos starring some well known coders, and some well know non-coders who are coding for the first time.

The "Hour of Code" will take place December 8-14, and the plan is to get as many people coding that week as possible. The goal is that tens of millions of people in over 180 countries will code for 1 hour that week.

You can participate in "Hour of Code" as an individual learner, as a teacher with your class, or facilitate the whole school. There are activities all set up to go and available online for computers, devices, and there are even ideas for classrooms without internet access. You can do the activities on one to one devices, pairs, or small groups. The activities are very flexible, and they have ideas for all!

Check out the "Hour of Code" website and start planning! Your Ed Tech will help you. Engagement, Engagement, Engagement! Students will love it and learn to code while they play.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Paper Slides

Looking for a low-tech, creative way for students to present information without having to stand in front of the class? Check out Paper Slides. Paper Slides is a technique that uses paper, markers, and students' creativity!  The slides are made then filmed ONCE without editing (practice is crucial), and can be uploaded to YouTube and shared on Canvas. Paper Slides can be used as an individual or group project on any subject! Make sure to give the students guidelines (# of slides, time frame to create, filming limit, etc). Watch the video to learn more about Paper Slides.  For more guidelines and a storyboard template, check out this website

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Power in Social Media

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a couple of different customer service experiences that I had that reminded me about what our customers (students, teachers, principals) should expect and deserve from us as EdTechs.

I want to follow up on that just a little to share another lesson learned from that experience. In the second example I talked about a company that I thought was not giving me unsatisfactory customer service. I worked with customer service representatives for two days and felt their solutions were not in my best interests. I ended up telling them that I would send back the product and they could just refund my money including shipping costs I had paid. After 12 hours I still had no response to even that request.

At this point I had enough dealing with them in that way. So I took to social media to express my frustrations. I sent out a simple tweet including the company's twitter handle. It expressed my frustrations and that I would no longer be giving them my business or recommending them to others.

Within 5 minutes the person manning the twitter account of the company reached out to me and asked what was wrong. Within another 10 minutes she had resolved my issue in an extremely satisfactory way. It completely turned me around on the company again.

Now the more cynical may say, well it was a case of the squeaky wheel getting greased. Perhaps it was. But the social media person at least reached out to me quickly and acted decisively on behalf of her company. Sure they don't want that kind of negative publicity out there for others to see, but they really could have soothed me with about half of what they did. This person went the extra mile to make sure that I returned to the fold, so to speak.

Now the moral of the story might seem to be that if you want to reach a company for customer satisfaction hit them in their social media account first. I really reached out in that forum mainly to let others know that I felt their treatment of me as a customer at that point was so lacking that I was willing to withhold any further business from them. However, because of their social media presence they were able to turn the situation completely around.

They went from letting me tell their story in a negative way, to getting them to tell it in a positive way. That is what it should be like for our schools, use the power of social media to tell our own stories and get others to tell them in a positive light because of the service we can provide to our customers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Want to Teach Programming or Coding? Try One of These....

Want to teach computer programming and coding in your classroom? Do you know where to start?  Do you even know anything about computer programming and coding? I have discovered that many teachers, like me, love the idea of teaching computer programming and coding but have absolutely no clue where to begin. Let's also not forget about the comfort factor.  It can be incredibly uncomfortable and scary to teach something to a room full of students that is unfamiliar and intimidating. One thing that I have come to appreciate and love about education is that there is always someone willing to do the dirty work, and then share EVERYTHING they have created.

I want to tell you about Google CS First, SPRK and Livecode.  Three programs I have had the opportunity to interact with and as a result have finally found some great starting points for introducing computer programming and coding to my students.  

Google CS First

CS First was developed by Google and focuses on increasing student access and exposure to Computer Science (CS) Education.  This program has been developed to capture the interest of students with various likes and interests. The wonderful thing about this program is that the curriculum (aka Club Plans) and materials have already been developed, created and are ready for implementation.  The CS First club plans target students in grades 4 – 8.

Scratch Game Design, Scratch Music and Sound, and Scratch Storytelling are three club plans that have been fully developed and ready for implementation.  Word on the street is that by the end of the 2014 - 2015 school year there could be an additional six club plans added.  The CS First program is something that you hold before or after school, during the summer, or as part of your regular computer lab time.  Google will even help you find volunteers (that they call gurus) in your community to come in to help and/or teach the CS First program.

To get started with the CS First program, go to the CS First website and sign in with Google account.  The first time you sign in you will be asked to identify your role and location.  You can then create a club, choose a theme, and set the specifics for your club. Everything you will need to make this program successful is outlined, and for the most part provided for you by Google.

Check out this example of a video game created by a student who participated in the CS First program.

SPRK (Schools Parents Robots Kids)

SPRK was created because the developers of this program believe that play is powerful.  To participate in this program all you need is a sphero.  A sphero is a small white ball that can be be programmed to perform specific tasks.  SPRK lessons have already been developed and are ready to be downloaded and used. The lessons are detailed enough that anyone can either teach the lesson or learn on their own.  In addition to the SPRK lessons, there are also SPRK challenges.  These challenges are designed to get students solving complex problems and working as a member of a team.  Students will have the opportunity to create, share, and discuss concepts learned.SPRK lessons tie to different common core math standards for 4th and 5th grade. Such as:
  • Percentages - mixing colors at different levels to change the color the sphero glows.
  • Simple Geometry and Anglesmake the sphero drive a square, pentagon, or rectangle to recreate learned shapes.
  • Fractions – provide a specific fraction and have the students calculate how to adjust the sphero to get the exact color.
  • Math operations – command the sphero to drive in a square, then use a multiplier or divisor to double or halve the square size.
  • Logic – command the sphero to preform a sequence of steps to navigate a course.
            To get started with the SPRK program first you will need to order a sphero. (Be sure to ask about educational pricing!)  Once you have received the sphero, download the apps MacroLab and orbBasic to an android or an iOS device, and download the SPRK lessons.



       Livecode is a program that you can use with those students (and maybe even yourself) that are already somewhat familiar with programming and coding and are ready to create an app for multiple platforms. The best part of Livecode is you code the way you think.  Livecode uses everyday words in it's coding and not symbols like the Xcode and C++.  The Community Edition of Livecode is a free download and a great option when you are just learning and starting to create apps. When you get to a point where you would like to distribute your app, Livecode allows you to upgrade to the Commerical Edition. Livecode provides different training options listed here
     Check out the app Science with Tom - Matter.  It's an app developed by a coding novice and created in Livecode. 

Striving for the Best Customer Service

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by

As an EdTech team, our priority goal is to provide our schools with the best customer support possible. This week I have had two experiences with customer support with a couple of vendors that I have supported with personal purchases. These two vendors illustrate the point I hope to make here.

Vendor 1 is a small operation, but produces some products that I have found very beneficial to my work and productivity at work. A piece of a device that I purchased from them has gone bad. I purchased this device almost 3 years ago. It was really just that the part had become loose, it did impact the use of the device slightly, but didn't make it unusable. I contacted the vendor just to see if there was a way I could tighten the part to make it better.

This vendor got back to me within 20 minutes to let me know he was sorry that there was a problem. He then asked for my contact information and informed me that he would ship out a new part immediately. I sent him my info and 5 minutes later had a shipment confirmation with tracking number for the new part. The vendor didn't ask me to send back the old part, he didn't question what had happened. He just knew that this was a problem for me and he took care of it. This small company has a customer for life and I will recommend their products to anyone.

Vendor 2 is a pretty large company. I have personally spent a lot of money with this company and have directed a lot of others to it as a great vendor. In using them for the past 5 years I have really not had any problems. A couple of months ago I was looking for a new travel bag. I use this bag on a daily basis to haul all my gear. (Yes, I keep a lot of gear with me at all times, I know!) I searched the web for what I thought was the perfect bag for me. I found it at this company.

I have used the bag for about 6 weeks. It came with a limited lifetime warranty, which is one of the reasons I bought it. Yesterday as I wheeled the bag into the office and tried to put the handle down, the handle buckled at a joint. I straightened the handle out and put it away but when I pulled it back out to check it the handle separated from the bag on one side. Not disastrous except for the fact that I am leaving for a trip in 8 days and really need the handle functioning.

I immediately went to the company website and requested an RMA with the explanation that I needed the replacement within a week. I waited all day for a response for the company. Strike 1! The response finally came and their solution to take care of my problem was to purchase a new bag, then return the current bag for a refund. Strike 2! So to take care of a warranted problem to get what I need in a timely manner, I get to make a new purchase, pay shipping (again) for that purchase then pay to return the defective merchandise. I almost somewhat politely responded that I was not satisfied with this solution. Now nearly 18 hours later I still have not heard back from the company. Strike 3! Are they out, I am not sure yet, I love this bag, but their lack of a timely response to a problem has me very turned off at this point.

So what does this have to do with Educational Technology. As EdTechs in Canyons School District, as I started this piece with, our priority is to provide the best customer service possible. Do we succeed all of the time, probably not. The second company I mentioned, this may be the case with them. Maybe my problem is the 1 in 100 where they dropped the ball. However, we will always try to provide our customers, the students, teachers, and staff of Canyons School District with the best customer service possible.

If you feel this is not happening for you please let us know.  We will work as hard as the first company I talked about to make things right for you. We love our customers and are so appreciative of the work we get to do with you and for you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thinglink for Education

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so how much would an interactive picture be worth? Thinglink gives you the opportunity to find out.  Thinglink is an amazing tool that allows you the ability to easily create and share interactive images. You can add hotlinks from your images to text, video, websites, presentations, etc. making your images come alive!

Check out this Thinglink example created about the Boston Massacre.  It was easily created by logging in, uploading an image, and then clicking on the image to add the hotlinks. The Thinglink was saved and added to the gallery for public viewing.

Besides being so easy to use, the best part about Thinglink is that it is free.  Teachers can create their accounts using Thinglink for Education, and then create student accounts.  Students accounts can be created with or without a student email address, so it is a great tool for both elementary and secondary classrooms. 

Thinglink is fun, engaging, simple, and it is just one of those tools that can enhance any classroom.

Tech Club at Quail Hollow Elementary

Tech Club is up and running at Quail Hollow Elementary.  With the help of fifth grade teacher, Nic Heinz, 29 students in fourth and fifth grade have been introduced to the world of coding.  Students began the 8-week club doing a hands on activity that required the students to create a code, instructing other students to stack plastic cups in a desired way.  This activity, My Robotic Friends, helped the students understand the importance of clear direction and will be beneficial when they begin computer-based coding. The next activity brought the hands on experience to paper.  Graph Paper Programming also prepared the students for coding and really challenged the students to carefully direct one another to a desired destination.  Both activities were provided by TinkerSmith. We are excited to start the computer based coding using Hour of Code and K-5 Computer Science. Each week, we will guide the students though the lessons and encourage them to continue on in the wonderful world of coding!