#BeBoldForChange

(an article written for the Somerset Times)

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8 March, 2017 is International Women’s Day. This special day is an international call for action to “…help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world”. The lack of diversity in leadership and in the technical industries is recognised to be a major barrier for future potential economic growth. Women’s advancement is increasingly heralded as a way to grow our nation’s innovative capacity and to improve gender parity. The International Women’s Day campaign theme is asking everyone to #BeBoldForChange.

This year Somerset College has experienced a doubled increase in students electing IT in grade 9 with 39% girls’ participation. This has resulted in more diverse lessons that focus on inclusive and authentic learning experiences. Both boys and girls are excited to learn how to develop startup solutions with app and web development, and an introduction to robotics using Lego Mindstorms EV3. We have invited our IT students to #BeBoldForChange and to design and develop technical solutions that cater to our diverse society.

To further encourage girls’ participation in IT we have invited them to come together outside of school hours to innovatively develop apps to help the community. I am pleased to announce that Somerset College will be registering four teams in the 2017 Search for the Next Tech Girls Superhero competition. Registration opens on 8 March, 2017 to coincide with International Women’s Day. This competition is part of the Tech Girls Movement founded by Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen. Our four Tech Girls teams comprise of 19 girls from grades 7 to 11 and they ask you to #BeBoldForChange!

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EV3 Robotics

I have been interested in robotics for a while now. My son has owned a Lego Mindstorms EV3 Home edition model for a few years. I have taught robotics units in the past with Mindstorms NXT2 and Mindstorms EV3. This year I am teaching a robotics unit to both grades 9 and 10 using Lego Mindstorms EV3 Educational kits.

I spent time this weekend developing robot activities and testing basic EV3 programs. Here are some of my resources which should give you ideas about how to use EV3 at home or in the classroom.

Square travel with smooth corners using a loop

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Bumper bot – using the touch sensor

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Lift arm – using the medium motor – makes me think of park ride mechanics

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Colour Sensor – using the colour sensor, loop, switch, variables, wiring, display, sound, concatenation, increment

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Remember, building and programming robots is more fun when you’re working with a friend, colleague or a team. I attended a Lego Mindstorms EV3 workshop recently run by mta. It was a good review of Mindstorms for me and a fun way to spend some time with my colleague.

EV3 workshop

Tactiles IQube REVIEW: crowdfunding & startup product testing

Crowdfunding is a great way for startups to raise awareness of their new products/ideas and to get funding from many people around the world. Crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter help startups to create a product campaign, to attract funding and to engage with customers/funders easily.

I have funded a few startups via crowdfunding sites this year. Almost a year ago I supported Tactiles IQube on Indiegogo. It has been interesting reading about this startup’s challenges and successes throughout the year via their sporadic email updates.  Their product is an electronics learning toy, similar to the popular LittleBits.

My IQube junior kit finally arrived this week, in a senior kit box. We tested it today and I’m certain my daughter will not be “playing” with it again!

BIGGEST ISSUE: the software crashes OFTEN!  Also, the majority of the projects that worked were very simple.

We got FRUSTRATED very soon after we opened this toy.

The software crashed a lot. The blocks were super dodgy; working sometimes, not working other times, and sometimes it worked better if we squeezed the blocks together hard.  There are serious connection issues with this product; both with the blocks themselves and with the software.

The wording used in the software is not at an appropriate level for young children.

The sequence of information given is quite strange and needs work. One of the first things that LittleBits describes in their booklet that comes with their kits is the purpose of the colours used; however, IQube takes a long time to get around to informing the user of this.

Project 20 has MAJOR issues!  We must have spent a good 10 minutes trying to debug this Project and make it work. The software doesn’t recognise the cubes.  We followed the instructions for the order of these cubes but still had problems. We couldn’t even just SKIP this part; why is there no SKIP or NEXT button?  Surprisingly the last project available, #21, was so easy compared to project 20. I am not impressed with how unreliable this toy’s connections are and I think there should be more complex projects included.

Overall, I would NOT recommend this product to anyone at the moment. I am hoping that this product is being improved.  Supposedly the owners are developing 100 projects in total and I expect there to be more complexity in these new projects.

When I first decided to purchase this product I had liked the fact that it could be linked to a handheld device, like an iPad or phone. Unfortunately an app has not been developed yet for this toy.  I can’t help but wonder what they have been doing in the last year?!  Including simple NEXT or SKIP buttons on every screen should exist, it shouldn’t be something that the user wishes existed!  It’s not like this was a free toy, I paid US $115 for it.  But I guess that’s the risk you take when you support new startups.  They should make the code OpenSource so that we could play around with it and try to make our own apps that connect to these blocks; this would also open up the market for this product to older students who are learning to computer program.

My daughter (9) has no interest in ever playing with this toy again. She found the experience of completing the projects & quiz questions to be either lacklustre boring or frustrating due to the many connectivity issues. However, I will definitely use this product at school as an example of a startup and it makes for a good example in how to test a product. Maybe in the future there will be an app and the software will work nicely; however, I don’t know if this will help the obvious connection issues that we experienced with some of the blocks.

Innovation Tech Paradox in Education

(This is something that I have been thinking/reading/talking about for a while now & is the likely start of my journey into beginning a Masters degree.)

Governments are throwing money at Innovation initiatives ($405 million in Queensland).

Big Business are constructing innovation labs in their offices to promote innovative startup thinking from their employees.

What is Education doing?  Oh don’t worry (note: I am prone to sarcasm!), the education sector is swamped with business-driven technology marketing; we go to conferences and educational Tech exhibits to be bombarded by salespeople who can help us teach better via their new learning management system, their suite of applications, or a range of tech toys. Our government further supports all of this by mandating and prescribing the digital technologies curriculum from primary through to secondary schooling and expect all teachers to hop on board!  Teachers are given training here & there, but not many experience a real in-depth learning into computer science or how to integrate digital technology authentically into their teaching.  Actually, there are many teachers and leadership who probably don’t even know what I mean when I write “integrate digital technology authentically” because you need to first have IT skills and also have good understanding of how technology is used by our students and in society’s workplaces.  The IT skills and IT training experience of teachers is so widely different depending on who you talk to.  I am also quite alarmed by the many leaders at schools who have professed to me that “all” of their teaching staff educate with a “digital pedagogy”!  This is quite a statement and it doesn’t take long to realise that it is simply untrue. I feel sorry for good teachers (with little IT skills) who then feel completely let-down by the school when they realise their students’ parents expect that they teach in a highly digitally integrated way.

What’s the problem?  Why are there many teachers who are not getting adequate Digital Technologies training?

We are told to INNOVATE and to embed digital technologies in teaching and learning in authentic ways.  When I was at University a few years ago finishing up my degree, I was told numerous times that I, and other “new” teachers with IT background, will be “change agents” (and I believed it!).  The idealistic story that we received from both University and many researched articles, were that new IT-skilled teachers were the change agents that would come in to schools, disrupt them and start the magical educational transformation that would finally allow schools to catch-up to the realities of society and our digital workplace. Ha!

What they don’t talk much about at University, at least not in my experience, is the overall, slow pace of change in our education systems.  The majority of schools that I have taught at, or schools that my friends & family teach in, generally have the same thing in common; a school culture that is based on a traditional organisational hierarchy. Obviously, the problem here is that most of the “change agents” that arrive in schools are on the bottom of this hierarchy!  Of course there are some exceptions; I have talked to some schools that have true open-door policies and a culture that celebrates innovation and implements change quickly however, this is not the norm.

To increase the digital technology performance, skills and knowledge of a school will require that teachers have time to learn, play and understand technology. Leadership needs to support this, not just once here and there, but in a big, long-term way.  Unfortunately, many school leaders work in the same way as big businesses (due to their traditional hierarchy setups), their business model (how they get things done!) is based on incremental innovations. So they focus on the business they already have, push the same product but make small adjustments (innovations) to it incrementally. Davila & Epstein (2014) warn in The Innovation Paradox that “When new ideas do surface, a narrow focus on enhancing current strategy can contribute to an organisation’s failure to capitalize on those opportunities. Companies simply get stuck in their old ways, while markets shift and form around them.” (p. 25)  Teachers, does this sound familiar?

I think I stumbled on this hierarchy problem first when I was on Practical experience while completing my degree: Do Teachers Eat their Young?

So, what do these “new” idealistic, transformation-driven teachers do?  How do they cope?  Do they stay in the profession of teaching, or do they leave?  I’m especially interested in the experience of IT teachers with IT industry background.  I have met a handful of us and we all seem somewhat disillusioned about our roles in education. I think eventually some of us leave the profession and some of us get used to hearing “slow down”.  I have met some that eventually get into leadership roles which allows them more flexibility, but of course with more power comes more responsibility (supposedly).

It is interesting that our Government tries to attract industry professionals into teaching and yet there doesn’t appear to be any support mechanisms to ensure that we stay!

Drones & learning to fly

I am interested in drones. I think they look cool and futuristic.  I also tend be interested in new technical things that inherently scream ‘I am disruptive’.  Listen to or read some of the media around drones and it is easy to find negative and positive viewpoints.  Organisations excitedly go out and test how they might use drones for their business (Australia Post & Uber are a couple of businesses that have done this recently).  Government organisations scramble to put legal limits on who can fly and where you can fly, while at the same time, people post Facebook messages to community pages about the drones they find crash-landed in their backyards.

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A photo of me holding my first drone on the right and the Quattro on the left.

Earlier this year I watched Dr Catherine Ball, Telstra Queensland Business Woman of Year 2015, present on drone technology, women in technology and the ethical issues surrounding drone use.  My interest in drones grew.  Then 4 ½ weeks ago I bought my first drone, controller and goggles from my awesome Grade 11 IT student who taught himself to build race drones.  I was so excited I took my drone out for its first test flight that night!  We went out as a family on the following weekend with both my drone and my husband’s new drone that he had bought earlier that morning.  I’m still not really sure what happened, although I am happy that we were flying at a field with lots of bush and a creek around it, but the end result was that I came home that night without my drone!  I put it down as a learning experience but my husband was already ‘hooked’ and proceeded to buy up half the drone stuff on eBay (slight exaggeration).

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Dad is flying his race drone in the distance while our 8 year old flies the Quattro on her own

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We stuck our GoPro on our drone & watched the live feed on our phone

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The drone my Grade 11 IT student built. We have lost this one but we learned a lot about being cautious!

4 ½ weeks after buying my first drone from a student, my husband and I own 5 drones; 1 easy flying aerial drone (Quattro; great for the kids) and 4 race drones, which includes the one that we DIY built at home.  My husband has a mechanical engineering background that has definitely helped a lot with getting us into drones quickly. If something breaks, he knows how to fix it or he knows what part to buy. He now also knows which parts are likely to break and so he has spares on hand. He just purchased a bigger aerial drone (500) and also some cool LED drone lighting parts for it.

Here is a video of my husband explaining the parts of our first drone build and how he used them.

People have asked me whether building drones is easy. Well, I couldn’t do it without my husband’s help at the moment. I think I would need to build a few more before I was comfortable with all of it. Soldering is not difficult but it’s finicky and I’m still learning how to solder efficiently.  Some of the trickier jobs is setting up the drone with the software; I’m guessing this would become easier as I build more drones.

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Dad teaching our 8 year old how to solder

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Building our first drone. Lots to learn!

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Our first DIY drone build; very exciting to see this fly!

My favourite is the Spedix drone. It’s a fun, colourful drone with cool programmable LED light strips at the back. The lights are really handy to help me know where the back of the drone is facing when it’s high up and in the distance.

The hardest part about flying drones is finding the free time to ‘fly’ and this is one of the reasons why I have begun to avidly read about businesses that use drones. I am particularly interested in how women use drones and I am fascinated in their business startup stories. There are not a lot of women in drones currently (similar to the lack of women in IT); however, if you’re interested in finding out more about us or if you want to talk to another woman who flies drones, make sure to check out She Flies @shefliesau #sheflies Don’t be shy!  We all have different experiences and stories. You don’t have to be an expert; I’ve only been flying for 4 ½ weeks and I am still learning.

First flight test of the drone that we built:

Girls explore Arduino

Two Grade 9 girls were given Arduino kits to ‘play around’ with for 4 weeks (9 lessons). The girls were told to explore, create, inquire, think critically and develop a simple introductory guide for other students. The rest of the class (all boys) were learning the fundamentals of Object Oriented Programming and the Python programming language. The girls had already learned the basics of Python in a Code Challenge that I had coached them through last term. I was confident that the girls could mostly teach themselves the basics of Arduino by using the instructional books that come with the kits and also from watching Youtube videos.

Here are their introductory guides on Arduino. I particularly enjoyed reading their reflections at the end.

I think it is important for teenagers to know that they are capable of learning something on their own. When one girl came to class to show-off a cool project, I could see the interest grow in the other girl. They were not competitive but their interest and excitement definitely helped to motivate each other.

Go to my previous post to view images and videos of their Arduino creations: https://elketeaches.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/girls-shake-up-gender-stereotypes-with-physical-computing/ 

Good Gaming

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Leveling Up in PokemonGO game

There are an estimated 15 million active gamers in Australia.  Gaming is addictive because it can make the gamer feel great about the ‘work’ and the successes that they experience in a game. Games reward the gamer and give immediate feedback, which engages and motivates the gamer to play more.  There are numerous potential benefits of gaming, such as improving educational learning, maintaining memory in the elderly, increasing human happiness, bringing people together, promoting problem-solving skills and gaming for social innovation.

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Gaming with friends is fun! Gaming builds relationships.

Games have been around forever! People have played board games, card games, ball games, etc. for many centuries. Playing games is a great way to socialise. Think about the common characteristics of card and board games, or ‘sports’-type games. Most good games require practice, specific skills, concentration, communication and problem solving.  Digital games are the same! Whether I am playing pool or playing World of Warcraft (WoW), I need to concentrate, problem-solve, think critically, practice and communicate to improve my skills in these games. Both games can be frustrating and yet once I achieve a goal, like hitting a ball in the pocket in pool or leveling up in WoW, I feel exhilarated and I ‘whoop’ out loud; this feeling is fiero!

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Playing pool is challenging & it feels great when you hit a ball in the pocket! Practice is key!

 

Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity. You know it when you feel it – and when you see it. That’s because we almost all express fiero in exactly the same way: we throw our arms over our head and yell. – Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken.

 

I like to teach Game design & development in IT subjects because teenagers likely already have experience and prior knowledge of gaming. It is easy to relate to my students because I know of (and sometimes have played) the games that they play and I also understand some of their frustrations around gaming, such as dealing with the common perception that gaming is a ‘waste of time’ and results in addictive, anti-social behaviour. Yet, there are numerous reports and studies that link gaming to improved academic success, better learning and improved attention span. Games increase happiness, reduces stress, improves problem-solving skills, and promotes creativity and innovation. Businesses and organisations, like the military, have been using game design principles in simulations that improve employee performance in their given field of work. Some games have been designed specifically to encourage gamers to collaborate together to solve difficult problems in society and in science; here is one example: https://www.engadget.com/2016/09/19/gamers-beat-scientists-to-protein-discovery/

Games are fun to teach and it is very possible that my students may work in the gaming industry in the future, especially given the size of this industry. The digital/video gaming industry has been around for a while and I first got hooked on it when I was about 8 years old when I received my first handheld Donkey Kong game.