Gridding up

I was turned onto this rather cool new tool that I think has a ton of great potential in the classroom. It’s called Flipgrid. It’s a way to collect short video responses to a prompt. As well as looking great, it works on mobile (with the Flipgrid app), doesn’t require a login, and is super simple to use!

I’ve embedded a link to an example. Just click the container below and it will take you to a topic page. Then just click the big green plus button to start recording (and you’ll probably also need to click “allow” to give permission to your camera). Then just record your message, add your name and a poster frame, then submit it. As more people submit theirs you can revisit the site to see what they add. Give it a go!

After you click the button, say who you are, where you’re from, what you teach, and how you might use this with your students. You have 60 seconds! Go!

The direct link to the topic page is https://flipgrid.com/2a35ea

The administrator of the grid has a lot of control over things like moderation and approval of comments before they go live, whether replies are allowed, whether likes and plays are shown, whether auto transcription happens, and more. This tool is well designed for classroom use!

I see this as a great way to collect feedback from students, allow them to share their learning with the rest of the class, reflect on an activity, brainstorm ideas, and so much more. What suggestions can you come up with?

PS: If you’re on mobile, grab the Flipgrid app for Android or iOS. I love that it works so well on mobile as well as the web. Well done, Flipgrid!

Header image: Sprites by Thomas Quine via Flickr CC BY

 

Announcing the 2017 Sydney Google Innovator Academy

Innovator Academy

Certified Innovator Sydney

Back in April 2011 I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Google Teacher Academy held in Sydney, Australia.  As part of this first Australian cohort, I was so excited to be part of this amazing team of educators from around the world and we spent two days deeply immersed in all sorts of Google nerdiness mixed with teaching inspiration. It was at this event that I saw a Chromebook for the first time, played with Android for the first time, learned about a bunch of new Google tools that I wasn’t really aware of, and most importantly, met an astoundingly talented group of educators who shared brilliant ideas about pushing education forward. To say that this event had an impact on my life would be a huge understatement. Becoming a Google Certified Teacher (now know as a Google Certified Innovator) was not only highly relevant to my work at school, it also opened up opportunities to do work with EdTechTeam, travel the world presenting at Summits and workshops, and eventually lead to my current role as their Director of Professional Learning.  So when I say that the Google Teacher Academy changed my life, I’m not exaggerating at all.

So I’m excited to let you know that the Google Innovator Academy (what was previously called the Google Teacher Academy) has just been announced again for Sydney!  The program has morphed and changed over the years, becoming far less about just the tools and much more about developing moonshot thinking about some of education’s biggest challenges. The program asks you to consider ways in which you can truly impact your own educational context, to think big about it, and to work on a project to make a 10x difference. In the process, you get connected to a simply amazing group of innovative educators that can, and probably will, change your life too.

If you love what you do, if you want to push education forward, if you think you can make a difference, if you want to be challenged and inspired, if you want to connect some powerful tools with some powerful pedagogy, then you should think about applying for the Google Innovator Academy.

It’s an application process and there is some work to do in applying.  You need to fill out an application, make a video and do some work. There are limited places. Many apply, and only some are selected. But if that’s you, trust me, it can change your life.

Find out more, and apply, at https://edutrainingcenter.withgoogle.com/certification_innovator

  • May 9 – Applications open
  • June 26 – Application Deadline
  • August 16, 17, 18 – Innovator Academy held at Google Sydney

And good luck! Be awesome!

Meet Felix

Doing a photo shoot can be tricky. Setting up the location, finding the props, getting the lighting right, etc, can be time consuming and sometimes expensive. If you want a specific picture of an object in a particular setting, you usually need to get that object, set it up, light it, and photograph it.

So I’m finding a new beta from Adobe quite interesting. Called Project Felix, it lets you assemble 3D objects and render them into a Photoshop file. I’ve been having a play with it and it’s pretty simple to use, and has lots of potential.  Just drag objects from the library into the canvas, use the move, zoom and rotate tools to assemble the scene just the way you like it, then render as a finished image. Export that image into Photoshop as a PSD file and keep working on it.  Lots of possibilities.

Check the minimum system requirements though… the rendering process can be pretty computationally intensive. Rendering even a relatively simple image on my MacBook Air with an i7 processor took quite a l-o-n-g time. Still, it got there in the end.

Check it out at http://www.adobe.com/au/products/project-felix.html

OK Google

You probably realise that when you search for something on your computer that your browser keeps a history of those searches (and page visits).  You can of course clear that browser history at any time.  (For those of you with paranoid tendencies, perhaps you should be using Incognito Mode?)

You might also realise that a full history of your search and web browsing activity is kept by your search provider. In my case, that’s Google. This search history is not kept on your own computer, but rather on the search engine’s servers. You can also visit your web history page online to review (and delete if you wish) your search history or the pages you’ve visited.

But what I think is not very well known is that you can also see the full history of all the voice searches you’ve ever made using your phone.  Yes, every time you pick up your phone and say “Ok Google”, then ask a question, that search is recorded.  And by recorded, I mean the actual recording of your voice asking the question. Naturally you can have full access to these recordings and listen to, or delete them if you wish.  Personally, I find them fascinating to go back and listen to.

I recently visited my voice search history and then used Audio Hijack to record them to a file, and Audacity to tidy them up a bit.  I removed the gaps, tightened them up and placed them all back to back. I was struck by not only the number of searches but the variety of what I was asking for.  I remember asking most of them, and funnily enough I remember getting reasonably useful answers to most of them too. I often get told I’m a fairly curious person, and when these voice searches are all compiled in one stream like this, it becomes fairly obvious.

If it’s possible to ask – and I mean literally ask – your “curiosity questions” about basic facts and get quick answers, then we really do have to rethink the nature of what we ask our students to do in schools. When “fact recall” is simply the low hanging fruit of knowledge, we can (and must) change the way we think about information and knowledge building. I’m not saying that “knowing stuff” doesn’t matter. Of course it does. And a well rounded, knowledgable person should “know stuff”. But when our ability to find a basic fact quickly becomes so simple, surely we need to think about asking better, more interesting questions.

And it makes you wonder, to whom did we direct our many daily “curiosity questions” before Google came along?

Header image: Curiosity by Mohammad Abdullah  CC BY-NC

The Power Of Spreadsheets

I had a knock on our front door a few weeks ago. It was a young English guy going door to door for an electricity retailer, trying to get me to switch my power company.  As it turns out, it was his first day so he didn’t really know a lot about what he was selling and couldn’t answer many of my questions in detail. To be fair, I can be a bit analytical about these things and I don’t think he was prepared for so many questions. His spiel was basically “You should switch to us because we are better”, but when I asked about the rates they charge, all he could respond with was “We have really good rates”.

If you ever come knocking on my door, whether you’re trying to get me to switch energy companies, or convince me that Jesus loves me, you better be prepared to engage. I ask lots of questions. You better have answers.

So I grabbed my most recent power bill, and asked him exactly what their rates were per KWh. He had never heard of a Time Of Use meter (TOU), which our house uses, so I had to explain the concepts of Peak, Shoulder and Off Peak rates to him. As we compared the rates, we both learned that his company’s “really good rates” were not quite as good as he had been led to believe.  Compared to what we were currently paying, they were slightly cheaper for Peak and Shoulder, and quite a bit more for Off Peak.  It was an interesting discussion and I told him I would take the data he provided and think about it.

When I think about data, I do it with a spreadsheet. I often amazes me how few people really understand the power of a spreadsheet to analyse numbers. Even with just a few simple formulas, it’s possible to dig into numbers and see what they really represent.  Especially with consumer level data – like knowing how much things really cost – it astounds me that more people don’t know how to make sense of the numbers for their basic expenses.

So I knocked up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets. I transferred the KWh usage from my last power bill onto the sheet (which was a little tricky as there was a rate change part way through the quarter, so I had to calculate the different rate amounts and add them together for the total) but in the end was able to correctly derive the exact same $429 figure as I actually paid. Just that part of the exercise was useful as it helped me understand exactly how my power bill was calculated. (Do you understand how yours is calculated?) I then projected the amount of my next quarterly power bill – $529 – assuming the usage was the same, but with the latest rates.

Then I copied the usage data and plugged in the KWh rates being quoted to me by my door knocking friend. His company was offering a 15% pay-on-time discount on the bill (but only on the actual power usage, not the supply charge, as I found out later by reading the fine print). As it turns out, his company – Simply Energy – was indeed cheaper than my current provider, coming in at $439 for the same usage and a saving of $89.88. Not bad.

But wait, it got me thinking. Could I do even better? A quick internet search turned up a power provider called Red Energy. Red Energy was highly recommended by Canstar, so I found their rates and plugged them into my spreadsheet. Their KWh rates were cheaper, however they only offered a 10% pay-on-time discount, but it was on the whole bill not just the consumption component.  Can you see why you really need a spreadsheet to analyse this data if you want to make any informed decisions? I’m sure that companies deliberately calculate their charges using different formulas to their competition, just to make it harder for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons. Thank goodness for spreadsheets and knowing how to use them.

Red Energy was not actually the cheapest option, but they were close enough and the one I felt best about as they are a 100% Australian owned company. So I called them, and made the switch.

And then the fun started. Yesterday I got a call from Energy Australia, my current power provider, telling me what a valued customer I am and how much they wanted to keep my business. So much so that they offered an ongoing 26% (!) pay-on-time discount on my power bill. While that certainly sounded like an attractive deal, their actual rates were still higher, so how can you tell?  Yes, with a spreadsheet.

As the Energy Australia rep was wooing me with enticing offers I was able to say “Hang on, I have a spreadsheet!”  I quickly entered their data into the sheet and was now discussing the options knowing exactly what I was talking about. Having data is powerful.  Turns out it was a good deal, so I decided to remain with my original provider (although I was a little bit annoyed that you need to threaten to leave them before they suddenly discovered they can offer me a discount!)

Now I had to call Red Energy and tell them I was cancelling the switch. But, surprise surprise, Red has a customer retention department as well and they didn’t want to lose me as a potential new customer either. So they upped the ante to a 12% pay-on-time discount AND a $100 rebate on my next bill. Into the spreadsheet that new data went. And it turns out that when you take all of that into account, Red wins – by $6.34 annually.  So I decided to stick with my decision to switch after all.

You can check out the spreadsheet I made here if you are interested.

I think there are a couple of lessons here…

  1. If you want to be a canny consumer, you need to have the facts. Many companies give you information that is confusing, incomplete or just misleading. Take the time to analyse the data for yourself so you know the reality of their claims.
  2. If you want to save money on basic bills, then leave your current provider (or at least threaten to). Switching your power, phone, gas, or other service to a competitor is likely to get their customer retention department calling with a much sweeter deal than you currently get.
  3. Learn to use a spreadsheet! They are a simple tool, but oh so powerful. I can tell you, at least anecdotally, that most people I meet have absolutely no idea how to use one. Don’t be one of those people.
  4. If buying locally matters to you at all, do some research. Turns out that Energy Australia, despite the name, is a wholly owned Hong Kong company. Red is 100% Australian owned by the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Foreign ownership of Australian companies is an interesting can of worms.

Here the educational part of this blog post…

As a teacher, I see this kind of thing as a brilliant activity for students. What if you gave your learners the basic skills of calculating numbers with a spreadsheet, and then a bunch of different rates from different competing companies and simply asked “Who is offering the best deal?”  This process usually raises lots and lots of questions, and will certainly make them better consumers, better at understanding data, and better users of spreadsheets.

For an example of the kinds of ways you can take this convoluted consumer experience and turn it into a reasonably useful learning task for students, the links below are from a task I have used with my Year 11 students looking into how to figure out the best mobile phone plan. As you will see from looking at the task, it tried to take account of the complexities of the word “best” by introducing a user-centric approach (best for who?) and encouraging them to really dig into the information being provided to make sense of it. I’ve also included a grading rubric to give you an idea of how I graded this task.

Is This Thing On?

Hello?  Is this thing on? Anyone?

That’s how it feels at the moment with my blogging. Or non-blogging. I can’t believe I have not written here since July! That’s 5 months, and the longest time I have gone without writing here since I started this blog just over 10 years ago. But August – my 10 year ‘blogaversary’ – came and went and I still just didn’t seem to get around to it. Not sure why. Partly being busy with my work with EdTechTeam. Partly being busy with other stuff. And partly, I think maybe just a little bit of a need to disconnect from this online space, and reconnect with the real world a little more.

I have good intentions of writing again. I enjoy writing, and as I’ve said on many occasions, writing is my way of thinking out loud, of throwing ideas around in my own head in a public space so I can be kept accountable for them. But lately I just haven’t felt motivated to do that.

I think it’s partly the impact of social media. It’s now so easy to just throw an idea out there, usually in a few sentences (or 140 characters), so that it feels pointless taking the time to express it here in a longer form.  It may be partly because I read other blogs that are full of ideas that seem so timely, so eloquent, so contemporary, that even when I’m thinking along the the same lines it feels kind of redundant and derivative to bother expressing it.

But I need to remind myself that I still have my own voice, and I can still make contributions to this ongoing global conversation in my own way. I forget that sometimes.

So I just wanted to assure you that I’m still here. Still alive. Still with a head full of ideas, thoughts and questions. And I plan to start writing here again. Honest. There, I said it. Now it has to happen.  Bring on 2017.

Oh, and a belated 10th birthday to Betchablog and to the many readers like yourself that have made the last 10 years such an amazing experience in learning together.  I appreciate you all.

Header image: Microphone by Alex Indigo
Creative Commons CC BY

Code4Kids – Building a Simple Scratch Game

I had the pleasure this week to be a guest on Code4Kids, a webinar series with Kelly Moore. Kelly is a teacher and tech coach in Melbourne, and she asked if I’d come on the show and talk about the use of Scratch to help teach computational thinking and coding. Well, you might know I’m a bit of a Scratch fanboy so I didn’t take too much convincing!

Rather than just talk about theory stuff, we actually created a classic but simple guessing game in Scratch during the live show.  I thought this was a good example because it uses quite a few fundamental programming constructs such as sequencing, looping and branching, etc. It also makes good use of Boolean comparisons, if-then decisions, and reassignment of variables. Throw in some simple maths like random number generation, greater than and less than operators, and it’s the start of some simple yet sophisticated Scratch coding.

It was nice to get some comments from the livestream viewers that they learned something from watching.

If you’d like to check out Kelly’s channel and her other videos, head on over to her Code4Kids playlist

And if you’d like to check your own Scratch skills, you can take the 15 question Scratch Quiz I mention at the end of the video… just head to bit.ly/scratchquiz and take the quiz… your results will be emailed to you immediately thanks to Google Forms and Flubaroo!