Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why Merge Cubes are only $1 at Walmart

Back in October educators in different communities to which I belong were posting about Merge Cubes and how cool they are. And they were cheap - only $15. If you bought the headset then they pushing the $85 range, but you could have a cool augmented reality (AR) experience without it. And I kept thinking about getting one, even thought about giving them as gifts at the holidays, but for some reason I didn't.

Then, Tuesday morning my Facebook feed was full of people saying "Merge Cubes at Walmart for $1!" And by lunch time I had ten of them. Today I brought two of them to the library and played with one for a bit only to find that my Samsung phone is not entirely compatible with it. So I handed the Cube to a student who is in my help desk course and asked him to play with it for a bit.

First, a bit about the student. His semester-long project is focused on practicing and modeling project-based assessment techniques, particularly ones that involve technological applications, that could be used across the disciplines. He is hoping to model for both his teachers and his peers ways in which students can demonstrate learning and growth in ways that aren't commonly used at the school. In short, and closer to his words, he wants to make doing projects fun and interesting while convincing people he has learned something. And, he is starting with AR.

Back to the Cube. He played with it for about 30 minutes, said "Thanks! That was fun." and went to his next class. A couple of hours later he came back and brought a friend. He said, "I was hoping I could show him that Cube." I handed them two cubes and got out of the way.

In the span of 45 minutes here is what happened:

1) The two students were joined by four more. And this was a group of average students, a little bit techy, into games, fairly studious, athletic, well-liked and respected.

2) They installed a dozen games on their phones (mostly iPhones).

3) They played and laughed a lot and loudly.

4) They figured out how to share a game code and play together.

5) They didn't care when I brought teachers over to watch them play. And they didn't care when the teachers were a bit disinterested and walked away.

6) One of them took a picture of one of the triggers and turned his phone to another student. That student scanned the image of the trigger and launched a game. And they all stopped playing.

7) They gathered around the table and took pictures of all the sides of the cube. They loaded the pictures into a Google doc, printed it, and folded the sides into a paper cube.

8) They scanned it and it worked.

9) They rejoiced.

10) They hypothesized.

11) They went back to the Google doc, enlarged one of the triggers, printed it, scanned it and launched a game. Their hypothesis was proven true: the larger trigger rendered a larger AR experience.

12) They planned: "If we take one trigger, cut it into smaller pieces, enlarge all the pieces on the copier, and reassemble it, then we can lay it on the floor and take a tablet to the second floor and scan it from there for a massive display!"

Who knows if that will work. But, the last comment one of them made was:

13) Let's make our own game.

I sent them home to learn Metaverse.

A side note: I hesitated writing this blog post because these students entirely hacked a commercial product. They exploited it for its full potential and then owned it. And there may be some copyright violations in there somewhere. But I decided to write this anyway, because OMG: they exploited it for its full potential and then owned it, in forty-five minutes. And it was so cool to watch. And if you notice in the numbered steps above: they played, collaborated, planned, inquired, theorized, tested, reassessed, prototyped, and had fun while doing it. It was a great way to end the day!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Media Literacy, Emotional Intelligence, and a Slumber Party

At the Google Innovator Academy we were presented with a rocket ship metaphor: as the academy was ending we each had a rocket ship on a launch pad. How would we fuel it? When might it take off? Into what uncharted areas would we navigate and explore? For a little while now, I have been feeling as though my rocket ship is fueled up and ready for ignition but ground control is waiting on favorable weather conditions to authorize a launch. And the weather has been inclement for way too long. Houston, we have a problem.

To address the problem I have had irons in many fires lately. Or, perhaps a better (still fire-related) metaphor is that I have been striking lots of matches to see which burst into flame.
  • I offered an "Appy Hour" at my school for teachers to learn about my Innovator project and join if they were interested. One colleague met with me and invited me to pitch my "social media think tanks" to his Humanities class: 55 ninth graders. 
  • My town library is preparing a series of adult seminars on media literacy and a colleague referred them to me as a presenter. I have been working with one of the other participants to prepare a workshop for this event.
  • As a result of that public library's interest in the topic of media literacy with adults as the audience, I have contacted other are libraries and will be meeting more adult programming coordinators in discuss workshops for the adults raising digitally engaged teens. The focus will be on media literacy and digital citizenship.
  • And the book is heading to print! With my friend and former colleague, Michelle Luhtala (@mluhtala) I wrote a book on media literacy full of lessons and strategies for library media specialists and classroom teachers to use with their students.
Despite these cool opportunities, I am still feeling less effective than I want to be. Media literacy is such an important skill but so little direct attention is paid to it. Content is still King and the content is still being delivered in traditional text forms and digital media (not too mention social media) in the classroom is rare. As schools undertake 1:1 and BYOD initiatives, there are movements in my area to ban cell phones in schools. So I am left looking for small pockets of opportunity and my rocketship feels like it is turning into a package of mentos and a diet coke bottle.

Once again, I am returning to the powerful "How might we..." question stem that Les McBeth (@lesmcbeth) of the Future Design School, used in our design thinking work at the Google Academy. How might we:
  • amp up the good? (One teacher is letting me pitch my idea to his class!)
  • remove the bad? (Create an optional non-tech school within the school)
  • explore the opposite? (Teaching media literacy to adults as well as teens.)
  • question an assumption? (Let's teach class virtually through social media!)
  • go after adjectives? (Online spaces can be safe and educational.)
  • find unexpected resources? (Public libraries!)
  • play against the challenge? (Encourage more teachers to engage in social media for learning)
  • create an analogy from need or context? (Make school spaces and interaction like social media)
  • change the status quo? (Make digital media reliable information for learning and being informed)
  • break point of view into pieces? (Address teachers by discipline or by grade level)
And all of this got me thinking about emotional intelligence. If that seems like a stretch, stick with me. Back in December, I attended at Digital Citizenship conference hosted by Connor Regan (@ConnorRegan), a program manager for Google for Education and Be Internet Awesome, where one of the presenters, Kerry Gallagher (@KerryHawk02) from ConnectSafely spoke about the connection between Emotional Intelligence and media literacy when it comes to recognizing and unpacking sensational material and good habits of digital citizenship. Her message resonated with me because increasing mindfulness was an underlying principle of the digital citizenship lessons we created for our ninth graders this year.

How can increased emotional intelligence help us (adults) understand how we respond to student cell phone use? And understand why students are using their phones with the frequency or in the manner that they are? How can learning about emotional intelligence help students understand their digital interactions better? AND, how can increased emotional intelligence help all of us navigate digital media?

To begin finding answers to these questions I am attending the RULER parent training offered by Marc Brackett (@marcbrackett) and his team at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. This morning I took advantage of having a gaggle of high school seniors hanging at my house after a slumber party to have an informal conversation with them about social media, school, and friends. What they said about Facebook didn't surprise me, and they were nuanced and insightful in their explanations. What they said about SnapChat did surprise me as did the fact that some of them are on Twitter.

Here are some of the highlights regarding Facebook:
  • "I didn't join Facebook until I had to set it up for school."
  • "You can't do anything at school without Facebook. Sports are there, clubs, and everything. We set up groups for our classes and that is really helpful. We can ask each other questions about assignments and deadlines or just vent about the class."
  • "Facebook isn't obsolete because it has a purpose like business. There's no room to be creative. If you post pictures they just get lost in the stream."
  • "Who has 60 friends? I don't."
  • "Parent presence is there."
  • "My nana likes everything that is posted that I’m tagged in."

And about SnapChat:
  • "I hate streaks."
  • "I never have streaks."
  • "Streaks feel like a chore."
  • "Sending a Snap is more personal than a text."
  • "I use it to actually talk to someone one."
Then I explained that I don't think most teens are addicted to their phones. Rather, I think most teens have an emotional need to be connected to their friends and from the outside that looks like an obsession with their device when in reality the device is the means of friend connection. In response to that they said:
  • "People who are always on their phones, it's the whole FOMO thing."
  • "That’s what I don’t like about it. I don’t want to know if I wasn’t invited somewhere."
  • "People will post just so that people know they are doing something."
  • "They just want certain people to know what they are up to."
Admittedly there was nothing scientific about my collection of these perceptions and insights. And I'm not sure yet how I will proceed with this information, but I think there is a lot of room for a Google Innovator in the social media and emotional intelligence spaces.