Exploring Cape Cod

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Now that my semester is just about over and my projects are essentially done, I’ve been taking advantage of the extra free time to explore my surroundings. That is one thing I wish I did in my undergrad years. I figured while I’m here, I might as well explore what the east coast has to offer.

Today we took a mini day trip to Cape Cod. Our original plan was to go all the way to Provincetown but then we decided on a random city called Sandwich. We headed out later than we planned on, and realized that the sun would be setting by the time we got to Provincetown.

It was a little tough at first trying to find a beach that didn’t having a ridiculous parking fee. ($15 for a day?! No, thank you.) We drove around aimlessly for a bit and ended up finding one kind of tucked away that had free parking.

We had to cross this bridge to get to the beach and Walter was terrified. I had no idea he was so scared of bridges/heights. He planted himself down and wouldn’t budge, and we ended up having to carry him.

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The beach itself was a little cold but I didn’t mind. It was less crowded. It was also nice to see a different landscape. I was also surprised to see that Gordie and Walter were jumping and running in the water. My brother FaceTimed me and he was also at the beach in Pacifica. We thought it was hilarious that we were both at the beach at the same time, albeit on opposite sides of the country.

My youngest brother is coming to visit this week, and I’m really excited to explore Massachusetts further and show him around. One of the places we’re exploring is the New England Aquarium. The Boston Public Library has a free museum pass program and I was able to reserve a pass for one of the days he’s here.

On that note, there probably won’t be as much academic content on this blog for the next month or so. All my fall courses ended last week, and other than a project presentation this week and turning in some final papers, I’m pretty much done until I start my winter session in January.

I do plan on updating this blog about my winter adventures, though!

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Our First Friendsgiving

Classes are over, final projects are winding down, and the holidays are upon us. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed.

Holidays can get a little lonely when you’re used to huge family gatherings. It’s simply not within our budget to fly home for the holidays. Also, it’s hard to travel with pets and find sitters. So, needless to say, this is our first time celebrating the holidays on our own.

I’m very grateful for the community and camaraderie I’ve encountered at HGSE.  Even though we’re far from home, we’ve been able to get together with friends and feel like we’re with family.

Today was our first Friendsgiving, and it was amazing. Pretty much everything was made from scratch and quite delicious. It was our friends’ first Thanksgiving and first time hosting, and I’d say it was a success.

(I would have taken more pictures of the food but I was eager to eat it.)

When we drove home, it started snowing. We were reflecting on how crazy it is that we are here. It still feels very surreal.

I’m thankful for our family back home, but also for the family I’ve found here. I’m thankful to be with someone who supports me and my crazy dreams, and doesn’t think twice about leaving everything we know in search of a grand adventure. Even more important, that he doesn’t think twice about staying when things don’t go as planned. I’m thankful for my fuzzbutts as well, even if they sometimes chew up my favorite things. I’m grateful to be alive and to be able to have these experiences.


(that’s not a pimple on his nose, by the way! I’m not sure what that is because there’s nothing on his nose!)

Hope you all had happy holidays as well!


(My brother got me this awesome cat sweater and I love it.)

T509 Project: EdTechTeacher Self-Paced Course on Formative Assessment Tools

It was so great seeing people’s projects at the T509 Project Faire! I wasn’t able to see everyone’s but the ones I did see were amazing!

In case you weren’t able to make it to ours, I wanted to post an update. Additionally, if you’re a teacher, it would be great to get your feedback! For those of you who gave us feedback today, thank you so much!

Here’s a link to our project. 

In an earlier post, I mentioned a bit about our project challenge. We (Bobbi, Valerie, and me) were working with EdTechTeacher to create an online self-paced learning experience using their existing assets. The challenge was we had to create something that would be self-sustaining and would require no moderation. We had the freedom to choose the topic, and decided on formative assessment. We looked through their assets and compiled a list of free tools that were accessible on any device, and then surveyed teachers about which ones they would be most interested in. Socrative, Google Forms, and InfuseLearning were the top three.

Most of the feedback we received from teachers were that they wanted to be able to skip to what was relevant to them. They wanted to be able to learn something and immediately be able to try it in their classrooms. They also wanted a space where they could get guidance or feedback.

The biggest challenge we faced was trying to create that collaborative space that would require no moderation from ETT. While many teachers are on Twitter, it’s very difficult to archive all activity. With Facebook, while things are archived, you get that endless scrolling. Someone would also have to moderate that. We thought about Pinterest but we didn’t see how we could create an open board that anybody could pin to. While an open Google+ community is something we are thinking about pursuing, some initial moderation may be needed.

So, our solution was Reddit. We were initially thinking about creating a separate subreddit for each tool, but ended up creating an EdTechTeacher subreddit. On reddit, you can create it so anyone can add content and users can upvote/downvote it. You can also search for specific topics within a subreddit. This platform could be used and require little to no moderation on ETT’s part. Users could just upvote/downvote. If there were really active users on the subreddit, they could be promoted to moderators. Additionally, you can create a wiki for a subreddit, or set it so that anyone who adds to the subreddit can add onto a wiki based on conditions, either that they have a specific amount of points or that their account is at least x days old:

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We’re not sure how ETT feels about Reddit, but I think it’s an avenue worth exploring. There was some concern about teachers not using Reddit – but there’s actually a pretty active Reddit teacher community.

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There’s over 22,000 readers and plenty of recent content.

Additionally, there are plenty of other educator subreddit communities:

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I think tapping into this existing space could be really neat. These teachers are already active on Reddit, and if they were to take our course, they would probably post on Reddit. There’s also many spaces within the subreddits to promote ETT.

Anyways, that’s where we’re at. Based on the feedback we receive, we’re going to make some changes to our site and give some recommendations for ETT.

The Odin Project

After hearing much buzz about The Odin Project, I decided to check it out. Part of my personal learning while I’m here at Harvard is to build skills that will make me more hirable. I’m still exploring possible career paths but generally, most of the things I’m interested require a better understanding and familiarity with the technical side of things.

The Odin Project is a free self-paced course on web development. This is from their site and explains their project:

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I think that’s a pretty cool concept. I don’t know exactly how many people are using this site, but I think it has the potential to be a massive space.

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While not all the lesson pages have user discussions, I think it’s great that on the ones that do, there’s interactions and exchanges between users. I also think it’s great that the site has a section on forming in-person study groups and providing resources to connect with other learners. I think it helps address the issue of isolation when learning something on your own. It’s nice to be able to interact with others.

I’ve only explored the first section, but here’s what I like:

  • Simple design – everything flows really well
  • The information is categorized in a logical manner with learning goals for each section
  • Built in user comments/discussions
  • Validation on progress

I really love this progress bar. As you go through each page, the circles fill up and you see the percentage of content you’ve finished looking at.

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I also really like that you get to “check” each lesson as you complete it.

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I’m a huge fan of the design and overall information layout.

Has anyone else tried this out?

User Testing at TEDxBeaconStreet

I previously mentioned a game concept I was working on with my group in T550 and T522. We are trying to address the STEM gap by creating STEAM learning games for kids. Our project presentation for T522 (Innovation by Design: Projects in Educational Technology) is this Friday. While we were getting great feedback from our peers, we really wanted to get feedback from our target users – kids.

We were able to user test this past weekend at TEDxBeaconStreet.

It was a little hard at first because we were competing for their attention. There were so many awesome booths near us – legos, interactive sand boxes, art materials – and we didn’t want to take away from their experiences with those things.

We were able to get feedback from about 15 kids ranging from ages 5-11, so that was good. We had put together a portfolio folder with each screen, and had kids tell us what they thought as we flipped through the pages.

Overall, the response we received was positive. They really liked the concept of being able to upgrade and customize their ship after each level. For the most part, they thought the interface and gameplay was intuitive.

They also gave us some pointers, such as how some of our designs didn’t make sense. In our STEAM lab, we had a screws icon but no screwdriver. They also said it would be cool to get to “choose their own monster” that they battle. We came away with a lot of neat ideas for more advanced levels.

We also learned a lot from hearing their thought processes as they looked at each screen. For one, it seemed no one was really paying attention to the menu bar. They also thought they had to use all the crates on the dock. Things like this give us a better idea of how to change our designs.

Another thing I learned from this experience is the importance of user test survey tools. Ours wasn’t the best. One of our goals with these games is to teach kids about math and science concepts, so we wanted to get a feel for where kids were at.

Most of the user testing was done with one of us asking kids questions, and the other taking notes. We originally started by showing the kids a happy/sad face scale and asking the following questions:

  • How do you feel about science?
  • How do you feel about math?

The first few kids we asked picked the happiest face each time, and we were starting to wonder if we were getting accurate feedback as some were taking a while to respond. We thought maybe they felt like they are supposed to love math and science, and felt like they should feel the happy face no matter what.

We decided to experiment and change our technique. This time, we asked the questions first before showing them the scale. Then we showed them the scale. We got much different results. I think this method allowed students to think about their feelings first, and then that made it easier to choose a face.

The other thing we realized is that we should user test with other student demographics. While there was some diversity in the user demographics at this event, the majority of students there seemed to come from more affluent communities and their parents were very educated. Most of the students we talked to felt confident with STEM subjects and had no trouble figuring out our game play.

Based on the research we did for our project, minority students typically struggle with STEM subjects and we would like to get feedback from them, since those are the students we are trying to help.

This is a pretty fun project and we’re going to try and pitch it to the i-Lab or HIVE.

Technology, Access, and Equity

Lindsey’s post on the digital divide and media literacy touched on some issues that I have been thinking about since I was a teacher. These are issues that pushed me out of the classroom, and drove my decision to come to HGSE.

Like Lindsey, I am also a huge proponent of media literacy. I think it’s very important for people to be critical consumers of media instead of passively consuming everything that’s being thrown at them. I think it’s also important for students to develop the skills to craft their own messages, and to be able to participate in our digital culture as creators.

I think this isn’t really an issue for schools that have the proper resources and support. However, for schools like the ones I have taught in, it’s a huge challenge. Access is a huge issue. The schools I worked in, for the most part, didn’t always have the infrastructures in place to run more updated software. There was also a lot of disconnect between the IT department and schools. Teachers didn’t really have any autonomy over the software that could be installed and used on classroom computers, but then the process for getting technology approved could take months.

(I remember how if I wanted to show a YouTube video in class, I would need to email it to a specific department that would review it, and if they found it acceptable, they would upload it to a server and email me the link. This process sometimes took weeks, which wasn’t really efficient. And this was the process for something that is ideally simple – the process for getting software/programs approved could take months. It took a whole year to get the Oregon Trail app approved.)

Then, even if schools have access, the technology itself isn’t enough. Most of the time, what ends up happening is thousands of dollars in technology sits unused in a warehouse for months because there wasn’t much consideration or thought put into how it was going to be implemented. Or, the technology is rolled out, but teachers don’t receive much support in integrating it effectively.

Technology often ends up being re-appropriated into what’s already being done. If we’re to look at the SAMR model developed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura, we can see the various levels technology can be used. From my experience in low-income districts, much of the use was still in the substitution and augmentation levels. While that’s a start, I wonder how we can push technology integration toward the redefinition stage.

I recall going to various edtech conferences, such as CUE, and being both inspired and frustrated by the things I saw. There are some novel and innovative things being done in this space, but what is frustrating is that it isn’t always accessible or scalable in urban schooling environments or areas where access is an issue. Sometimes this lack of access was due to cost, and other times because of the bureaucracy of school districts.

I often wonder how MOOCs could be a game changer in this. It seems that MOOCs want to increase access to quality education, but I wonder – access for whom? From most of the readings and things discussed this semester in T509, it seems most MOOC participants are usually already educated and looking to advance their careers. So MOOCs enable them to do this, and that’s awesome for them. However, I wonder how we help those who don’t fit that description? Whose responsibility is that?

I also wonder how I can play a role in this. I often struggle with this and what career I would like to pursue. I want to create awesome edtech products for low-income schools, but how can I do that if they don’t have access to it? How do we increase access? How do we help school districts build themselves?

Learning Unity: Progress So Far

Learning how to build a game in Unity for our T522 project has basically taken over my life.

I don’t know if we will have a complete game built by the end of the semester but we will at least have part of it done.

The part I was working on was getting the crates to be clickable and draggable. It’s still not totally perfect but considering where I started, it’s pretty neat to see how I have progressed.

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Attempt 1: The crates would change color when you hovered over them and you could click and drag them, but there wasn’t any physics component.

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Attempt 2: The crates have physics attached to them but kept falling through/not landing on the boat.

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Attempt 3: The crates are landing on the boat but there’s glitches in the coding. Some crates go toppling/flying/replicating.

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Attempt 4: The crates aren’t as glitchy but some aspects still need to be tweaked.

Next Steps:

  • Set up colliders/hit boxes so the crates “snap” to a specific part of the boat
  • Set up event triggers for animations – the boat will change position showing how its balanced or unbalanced depending on how the crates are placed

Our overall project concept is a one-stop STEAM shop with interdisciplinary learning games. This is one of those games, tied to the objective of learning one-to-one correspondence.

The objective of this game is to balance the boat by placing the crates on it, and taking those to the Science Lab. The crates are filled with materials that can then be used to upgrade your ship. The bigger your ship is, the more crates you can carry, and the more customizable options you will have.

I’m also working on the Science Lab component with another of my project mates in T550.

Here’s some concept art one of my project mates put together:

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The idea is that the user will be able to draft/piece various parts of a ship together onto a blueprint and see it in real-time.

So far this has been a really awesome/frustrating experience. It’s awesome because I’m learning so many new things. It’s frustrating because I want to get it to work right away, and it takes many attempts to get something workable.

My experience has made me think about fixed and growth mindsets a lot. Prior to being at HGSE, I would have never thought or even attempted to make a game. I just didn’t really see myself as being able to develop those skills. Truth be told, I’m kind of a perfectionist and it really frustrates me when I can’t get something the way I want it to be right away. The more I think about my own learning I realize that the things I have learned to do – crocheting, for example – have been experiences where I failed over and over again. While I may have initially been upset/frustrated at “not getting it,” I started to look into solving those problems. I knew I could do it, and it would just take practice and different techniques to find what worked.

I’m also thinking about some of the concepts we’ve been learning about in T509, such as connectivism and learning networks. I don’t think I would have made progress as quickly as I did if it weren’t for the Unity community and forums. Whenever I had an issue, I could just google it and there would usually already be a thread about it with solutions. When I first posted in the forum about my plans, an user pointed me to some resources that were extremely helpful. There are also TONS of video tutorials on YouTube. It’s so awesome.

For anyone who is also working in Unity, or plans to, I highly recommend the Unify Community Wiki. Users post their various scripts/solutions for others to use, modify and adapt. The Unity forums and Unity answers are also helpful if you are having problems.

The Unity Asset Store is also incredible and amazing. There are many free, open-source assets you can download and import into your own game. You can also buy assets. This saved me a lot of time as I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel – I could just take something and modify it to fit my needs.

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I know I still have so much to learn but I’m really excited about how far I’ve come.