Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Creating a Digital Citizenship Program for the Classroom

As a principal I was always shocked by the surprise people had when students would test the boundaries of technology by searching for innapropriate material, or use communication to be mean to others.  I was surprised because this is to be expected from students that have very little exposure to technology and even less training on how to act while using technology.  Imagine a student driver that was never given the rule book to the road, shown how to operate a motor vehicle, and was then given keys to a car and told to put as many miles on it as possible.  I envision them running through red lights, crashing around corners and bumping into other cars.  They would have no real reason (aside from common sense) to expect that any of these actions would be detrimental.

In schools today we expect common sense to keep our kids safe.  We tend to spend very little time with digital citizenship because our students are expected to automatically understand how the digital world can impact their life.  We assume they will be the same kind of citizens online as they are offline.  And when you think about it we are not even doing a great job teaching them how to be citizens offline.   But that is another topic all together.

Start with an objective.  Essentially, write a mission statement that guides and directs the purpose of your Digital Citizenship program.  Here is an example

Students should be able to utilize technology for the purpose of acquiring knowledge and information, creating and distributing content, and communicating with others, without interference, obstruction or destruction by the inappropriate actions of others.

List your stakeholders.  Determine who the Digital Citizenship program will apply to.  Then list off what responsibilities you think each of these stakeholders will play in the achievement of your mission statement.

1. Administrators
2. Teachers
3 Students
4. Parents

Get familiar with the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship.  These nine elements help to simplify the complex digital citizenship landscape by breaking them up into sections.

1. Digital Access
2. Digital Commerce
3. Digital Communication
4. Digital Literacy
5. Digital Etiquette
6. Digital Law
7. Digital Rights 
8. Digital Health
9. Digital Security


If you spend some time reading through each of the nine elements from the website above, you will realize just how large the scope of this topic is.  It also illustrates that as teachers and administrators we have a responsibility to practice what we preach.  It doesn't carry much weight in our classroom to tell students that they should not copy thoughts from Wiki-Pedia when as a teacher we illegally copy materials and distribute them to students.  As an administrator we cannot tell teachers to act appropriately on social media and then post party pictures on our twitter.  If we want good classroom behaviors, we have a responsibility to lead by example and that can sometimes be achieved through holding ourselves to a higher professional standard.

Understand some key topics:

2.Stealing (Copyright Information)
3. School Responsibilities 
4. Equipment Care
5. Social Networks
6. Sexting
7. Identification
8. Digital Dosier

Of course we don't want our kids to be cyberbullying.  When people think of digital citizenship, this is often the first thing that comes to mind.  There is so much more to it than that however.  We have to teach students about their digital dossier as an example.  How much better off would some of today's hollywood starlets like Jennifer Lawrence be had they really known that anything you put into digital form is possibly out there for the world to see.  The event that happened to Jennifer is happening today to students all over the country, with just as devastating of effects.  When an image goes viral, it doesn't always have to be to the entire world.  A photo that is passed around a school via text message can be just as devastating.  

Social networks can sometimes ruin a students chance at getting a job.  It is hard to believe, and to a student that has not yet entered the work force it seems impossible.  But the actions that students take when using technology even at an early age can have a negative impact on their future.  But there is good news as well.  When used properly, social networks can be utilized in the exact opposite way.  By teaching students how to post portfolio information, any amazing achievements and demonstrating skills on a social network, you set them up for success.  You give the world a first impression of greatness.  This is one reason it is important to consider not blocking social media in schools.  It should be something that is taught as a way to prepare students for life outside of school, instead of a forbidden place where you are expected to act inappropriately.  

Equipment care is also a chance to impart wisdom on your students.  There is lots of research that shows when people are given something for free they don't always take the best care of it.  Any teacher that has spent time collecting textbooks knows this to be true.  Many teachers actually work very hard at making sure textbooks are well handled.  They start with teaching students how to build covers for them.  They correct them in the hallways when they see misuse.  Some teachers even have periodic checks to make sure that books are not being written in.  Yet when we implement technology in schools we sometimes forget all of this.  We simply hand out technology without any expectations of its care.  It is a good idea to establish good care practices, just as with your paper materials.  It demonstrates to the students that the devices are important to the teacher, and this will help minimize damage in the long run.

Web Filtering, it isn't just for school anymore.  Remember that there are several stakeholders involved in your technology programs.  Schools filter internet content.  Some parents would like to have the same controls at home but don't always know the best way to make that happen.  One of the ways you can build a positive report with your parent groups is to find materials that help them help you.  When your parents are feeding your students the same kind of quality information about digital citizenship that you are giving them in class it goes a long ways.  Every once in a while however you run into some tough situations.  Some parents don't know how to get a grip on a students desire to seek out inappropriate information and they need a way to help filter content at home.  (Please keep in mind cell phones as they now have data plans and sometimes this can negate any attempt to block websites at home and in school)  One great method is using OpenDNS.  This service allows a parent to block web content before it even hits the home router.  In effect, any device plugged in, or using wifi in the house would be filtered according to the rules that are set up with the OpenDNS service.  

Create a list of resources for all stakeholders to use.  Not everybody knows what Tinder is, or why it is one of the most quickly adopted social media platforms by our youth.  Many of your parents might not know about Secret or Whisper.  Find information for your parents, students and school cohorts.  Make that information available for everybody.  Use this information to inform students of dangers and risks.  Teach them to be good digital citizens, regardless of which tools they choose to use. 

One last thought. School is a place to learn.  We don't come to school knowing all of the answers and being perfect at everything that we do.  Your students are not always going to be perfect digital or analog citizens.  It is important to impart skills and knowledge about digital citizenship to all your classes so the learning curve isn't always trial and error.  We want all of our students to succeed and grow in a digital world.  Although not all mistakes they make will be equal, we can work to prevent as many of these mistakes as possible.  In the process, you will be creating a generation of students that will act appropriately with their digital tools. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learning to Code in Lua using Roblox

Lua is a simple programming language that is used to create custom features in the game Roblox.  If you have not heard about Roblox, my money is on the fact that you will soon.  Students these days gravitate towards games that operate in a sandbox environment.  The success of Minecraft has demonstrated the power of games that have no beginning or end, where the joy comes from creating problems and solving them in whatever way you imagine.  It is a great language that will help your students learn to code something real and substantial, and will translate to skills they can use throughout high school and beyond.

A little about Roblox:

Roblox is a game platform, not a game itself.  Users and developers create and use tools within the framework of the system to design game worlds and create rules for play.  These completed games are then distributed via a web interface where the entire world is presented the opportunity to play the game designed by a user.  

The end result of Roblox is amazing.  You get a game that teaches scripting, is more open world that Minecraft, and offers the ability to appeal to both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Every month 3.3 million people play Roblox.  This is pretty substantial when you compare it to World of Warcraft that currently has 6.6 million subscribers.  50,000,000 hours per month is spent by users creating just about anything they can imagine.

A little about Lua:

Lua is a scripting language that works on many platforms.  It was created by members of the Computer Graphics Technology Group in Brazil.  It is an object oriented language that is influenced by C++.  It is an easy to learn language that Roblox offers substantial support in helping users learn the basics to modify their game.  Those students that learn a little Lua are able to create entire playable games in Roblox.  In fact most “games” in Roblox are created by users, not by a development team, making it a creative and remarkable world.

What you need to create a program at your school:

To start, head to the Roblox Education Blog. This website keeps up to date information on Roblox and a variety of happenings.  In addition there is some information for parents that may have questions or concerns.  As with any new impactful technology to come out, it is important for everybody to know exactly what they are getting into.

The next step is to create a Roblox account.  These accounts are free, however there are items like the Builders Club that cost money.  Roblox uses a currency called Robux, which is used to purchase a variety of products from the website.  Robux can be purchased, or earned in game.  It is important to know how all this works, but you will not necessarily need to spend money.  Once you have the account you will be able to download the application.  You will use this application to launch the Roblox Studio which is where you will begin working on your coding project. 

The next step in learning how to build things in Roblox is learning Lua.  You will want to get a book about Lua scripting.  This will give you a good place to work from when teaching and learning Roblox.  Your students at first will maybe resent the fact that you have to use the old paper book, but in the end they will be motivated to use it so they can build what is in their imagination.  In addition there is a complete wiki devoted to Lua for Roblox.  This site is an excellent teaching resource that your students will want to bookmark and use for later reference.   And finally, don’t forget about YouTube.  People love to share how to do things, and there are many excellent video tutorials on how to learn Lua. 

Now that you have all of your software and lesson materials, you will begin using the Roblox Studio.  This is essentially a software development kit that allows you to take 3D objects, place them into a world and add scripts to tell those objects what to do and how to react.  There is a large amount of pre-designed objects to work with, but you can always build your own as well.  It is a wide open world where anything goes.  

I hope this gets you started on your adventure with Roblox and Lua.  I think you will find that it makes an excellent coding opportunity for your students.  Teach it as an after school program or use it as part of your classroom instruction.  I look forward to seeing all the cool stuff you teach.  If you have questions, send them to @principalcross.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

5 Apps for Teaching Early Education Coding

Teaching students to code is a challenge that many classrooms are begging to take on.   The toughest part of this challenge is finding out a good place to begin.  What software is needed?  What skills should they learn?  Which language is most common? 

Having taught coding at the sixth grade and high school levels I tried many different approaches.  I worked students through HTML and then eventually into Java and Visual Basic. Students experienced various levels of interest and success with the programs I was offering.  One simple fact was clear.  They needed pre-requisite skills in coding just like they had with reading and writing.  They didn’t need to know everything, but they needed to understand some basics that would help them grasp the concepts needed for the skills I wanted them to learn.  Students that had these pre-requisites, thanks to parents or after school programs, were light years ahead of my other students that needed the fundamentals.  If there was only a way to integrate some of this learning in the younger grade levels…

Good news!

There are some excellent choices for teachers of K-5 programs out there, with more on the way each day. I have outlined some software apps that help students learn some core coding skills.  While nobody expects students to be building complete software applications in kindergarten, you would be surprised at what they are capable of even before they know how to read.  As they gain some basics, other apps move students up to more difficult work, eventually to hard coding simple applications using real syntax.  The best part of introducing some of these apps to your classroom is that they don’t have to take away valuable core subject time.  These can be worked into projects or simply used as a reward for a job well done.  Most of these apps are engaging and very rewarding.

Here are the apps that help you start learning to code with K-5th Grade Students:

The first application that I am going to outline for the Kindergarten through 2nd grade program is Hopscotch.  I have seen this application used by students that have not mastered reading yet.  While most of what you will accomplish in this application is very simple in nature, the concepts are strong.  Your students will learn the basics by choosing a character and teaching that sprite what to do.  The rules are very much modeled after if, then statements that give the program rules.  Although you can start off with simple activities for the younger students, you can create challenges for your older, more accomplished students.  These challenges will create the effect of massive amounts of critical thinking.  You might see smoke coming from their little minds.  

The second application, Kodable,  that works for younger students, but also provides challenge for slightly older students.  It is much more of game style system that makes it an excellent choice for teaching programing ideas as a reward.  The application works a little like Angry Birds in the sense that you earn stars as you progress through levels.  The more efficient you are at solving the puzzle, the more stars you complete, and the more challenging the content becomes.  This game is really about the building blocks of coding and how pieces of code build upon themselves to achieve the desired result.

The third application that offers up an amazing game experience is Lightbot.  Like Kodable it has more of a game feel, but the challenges become more difficult as you progress.  Lightbot becomes very challenging at the point where you are being asked to not only move your character to the proper location and have them light up a square, but you need to do it using functions that you create in advance.  Just like in creating Hopscotch challenges, at the higher levels of Lightbot your students are learning how blocks of code can be called upon repeatedly to produce the desired effect in the most efficient way.  

The fourth application that I want to highlight is called Tynker and it is one of my favorites.  It has a similar style to Hopscotch in that it offers blocks of code that are put together Lego style to create a program that is executed.  This offering however is brilliant in the way it is able to engage the student with excellent graphics and colorful animations.  The other excellent factor is that this app utilizes the reward system that is similar to Lighbot and Kodable.  Your students will have an easy time staying engaged to this rich content and it will prepare them to move into Scratch as their skills grow.

The fifth application that I would like to mention isn’t even available yet, but I am very excited about it.  It is called Jaxi the Robot.  What Jaxi does is combine many of the same ideas of the application I have already mentioned with the need to type in code.  Instead of using blocks of code that have already been scripted, you use commands just as you would when coding a real application.  These commands based in Java Script tell Jaxi the Robot how to interact with her digital world.  This application promises to be engaging and fun, while also being very useful in teaching students just what it means to be a top notch computer coder.  

I wanted to leave you with a road map that will help guide you on your quest to teach coding in the earlier grades.  Below is a diagram that visually shows how these applications lead to bigger and brighter things. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Stylus Options for You and Your Classroom

When it comes to writing on a tablet, many prefer to use a stylus over a finger.  This isn’t a big surprise as most of us have years of training on how to utilize a pen, but only a couple finger paintings to our credit.  We can do more precise work with a stylus, and ultimately we want this to translate to our tablet experience.  While there are some tablets that utilize a stylus as part of their core philosophy, multi-touch tablets like the iPad are very popular and do not come with a stylus out of the box.  Finding the right stylus for your needs can be complicated, but here is some information to demystify your decision. 

Here are a couple important terms to know before I share a few stylus options:

Palm Rejection:
Applications and some Active Stylus options allow the prevention of the palm of the hand acting as an additional “touch” to the device.  When palm rejection is active the user is able to more mimic the pen and paper experience.

Some stylus tips are smooth and made to glide along the service of the tablet with minimal resistance.  Other stylus types attempt to mimic the level of resistance offered by tractional writing tools.  For example a rougher, more sticky stylus will offer feedback to the user similar to a pencil or crayon.  Giving younger students a stylus with resistance can sometimes be a help in learning handwriting. 

Passive or Capacitive Stylus:
This is a type of stylus that works to act just like a finger.  With this type of product the device will treat the stylus just as if it were a finger which means any device features, such as multi-touch, will operate the same using a stylus as they would using a finger. 

Active Stylus:
This type of stylus will have greater functionality, but will vary based on device and application type.  Some of these active stylus options will provide pressure sensitive input, buttons and features that attempt to mimic real life mediums.  As an example, some active stylus products when combined with supported apps, can turn off the multi-touch properties of a tablet.  This allows for palm-rejection which helps people have a more natural writing style when using a pen.  Many people experience improved writing accuracy in this mode.

Active Stylus Options:

Multi-touch doesn’t lend itself very well to the use of a stylus.  When you place the stylus and the palm of your hand on a tablet screen at the same time, it reads that multiple inputs are connecting at once.  This usually triggers one of the multi-touch tools or options. 

These stylus options work to fix some of the problems created by writing on current tablet solutions.  Most of these choices offer palm rejection via bluetooth operability.  While this doesn’t work for all apps on the IOS, some of the best productivity apps have built in this functionality.

Paper by Fifty Three is a neat little app that allows for some creative work to take place.  The minimalistic feature set actually is a benefit because it provides an easy learning curve and keeps you focused on creating content.  As an added feature the team that created the app also has created a pencil.  This pencil has everything you would expect from a traditional pencil, an eraser tip, streamlined body and a tapered tip.  What it adds is bluetooth functionality that helps this pencil communicate with the tablet for pressure sensitivity and palm rejection.

Wacom’s business is tablets for art work and creativity.  It only stands to reason that they would make a stylus that is designed to help people be productive on their tablet.  The Intous is labeled as a professional grade stylus that offers pressure sensitive operation and palm rejection.  It works with many great apps including Autodesk, Procreate and Goodnotes.

This is a fine point stylus that offers up some features to make your writing experience as smooth as possible.  It has pressure sensitivity for control over your line thicknesses, shortcut buttons for app operation, and palm rejection.  It works with several artistic  apps including Adobe Sketch, Adobe Line, and Procreate.  It also was made to take excellent notes with Goodnotes, Noteshelf and PenUlitimate.

The Cregle iPen is a complete stylus solution that turns your iPad into a “Precision Weapon of Mass Creativity”.  It features palm recognition and boasts a faster drawing speed than traditional stylus products.  The result is more control over your note or artistic space.  When designing this product effort was placed on creating a more realistic writing experience. 

Passive or Capacitive Stylus Options:

This stylus features a comfortable and familiar grip.  It’s triangular shape is made to help starting to establish a proper grip.  Combine this stylus with the right app, and you have a great tool for building a foundation of writing skills.  It has been my experience that many younger students when given the choice prefer the feel of this type of stylus over some of the other more pen/pencil options.  It is important to note that palm rejection will need to be an application specific solution for this type of stylus.  Since not all applications offer this as part of the application, you will always have mixed results with this stylus. 

While you will need to be careful that this option doesn’t actually end up in the sharpener, it offers a look and fee of a traditional writing utensil.  It will allow students to learn the correct grip, while offering a slightly smaller tip for greater accuracy.  The biggest concern is that traditional teaching is to rest the palm on the paper.  Once you do this, you will send you app into a tailspin.  Some apps have tried to combat this by offering a feature that creates a place on the page where the palm can connect with the screen, but it will not treat it as a multi-touch.  Look for this feature in your application, and if it offers it, this pencil might be a great solution to your stylus need.

This stylus is not like a traditional writing utensil.  It is sort of like a giant crayon or marker, but with a more pointed tip.  The idea behind this product is to create a device that writes fluidly on a multi-touch display without the need for the active stylus complexity.  It attempts to allow the user stronger control through its shape so that palm can hover more effectively without the jittery writing that can sometimes occur with traditional stylus types.

I hope that you find the right stylus for your classroom.  If you have questions about this article please contact me via twitter @principalcross.