Sunday, March 27, 2016

Appsmash: Google cardboard +Tinkercad+Sketchfab

I am going to be totally honest here. When I first heard about Google Cardboard I figured that this was not for me. What could this contraption actually provide for my students that a video could not do? However, all that changed for me while attending the DeeperLearning Conference and landing, almost by mistake, in Carrie Lawrence's "Virtual Reality in Education using Google Cardboard" workshop.

We started with what I thought Google Cardboard was all about. Giving access to far away or impossible places that are now at our student's fingertips. Having never done the VR thing, that in itself was actually quite fun, and the apps she shared were cool. Here are some of the sites she shared and a couple more that I found after the session (all for Android, but I'm sure you can find the same or similar ones in the Apple store). Disclaimer, several of these work better on some devices than others, but don't let that deter you; find one or two that work for your device. Many more are being published.

VR Apps (Android), by mrsgarciaserrato

Now, if you have read my blog before, you know that I am more of a "student create stuff" kind of teacher. I liked the idea, but I was still not particularly enthused. However all of that changed an instant later when she began talking about 3D modeling. You see, there are a couple of tools that when used together enable students to create VR 3D models. This is how it goes:

It starts by you assigning a project that results in a digital 3D model. For example, my eco-house project.

Your students create their model in Tinkercad. This would be my go to since it is free, but I am assuming that other options would work (SketchUp or Minecraft). The limitation is really that the "output" needs to be compatible with our next step.
If using Tinkercad, once your students are done, they would click on Download for 3D printing, and select either .STL, .OBJ or .VRML.

That was the hard part. The next step is simply to upload the file to Sketchfab.

The students can tinker with it some, following these helpful tips from Sketchfab so the VR experience they create is "just right".

And just like that, the students, their parents and yourself can now use Google cardboard to virtually walk all around their model!

Google cardboard can be bought for around $10.00 from Google or Amazon (search for Google cardboard), and they work with any smartphone and even iPod touch devices. Students will also need to create accounts in both Tinkercad and Sketchfab (both free), but check with your IT first to verify that they are whitelisted.

Two additional "mini-hacks" before I go:

- Add a rubber band to the "crease" where the phone goes to prevent it from slipping out.
- Make sure you take the phone out of its case. This allows the use of the "trigger".

Get your "Google Cardboard" on!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Is it cross-curricular?


I was in a PD the other day, and we were asked to provide examples of units that were cross-curricular. A couple of teachers started sharing how this particular math lesson was cross-curricular because the students were reading an article. Other teachers shared lessons that specifically said "cross-curricular integration" and used fancy fonts and colors to identify cross-curricular connections. I started thinking, all this is fine and good, but is something really cross-curricular simply because we added a reading? Is a science lesson on density cross-curricular because the students use math skills to arrive at an answer or perhaps included a couple of graphs? If students draw pictures or build dioramas, can I check off the "art" box?

By now, you have probably figured out that my answer is no. This is simply adding stuff. Even if during a science lesson we claim things like students provided textual evidence for their answers, thus "This lesson addresses CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.", unless the skill was specifically taught and assessed as part of the lesson, we cannot say the lesson cross-curricular (or integrated) Science and ELA. It seems really like a happy coincidence. 

So then, what do we mean by cross-curricular integration? A lesson, or unit that is:
  • Based on individual subjects, and their specific standards.
  • Developed by individual teachers, with excellent subject knowledge, working together to connect different subject matters in authentic and explicit ways.
  • Requires sustained collaboration between all participating content area teachers. Not only is pacing of content delivery necessary, but also the teachers involved need to have a relatively deep conceptual understanding of the different subjects being addressed. Going back to our previous example, the science teacher must know just how the "citing of textual evidence" looks like and is taught, while the ELA teacher must be able to explain photosynthesis using the same language as was used in the science classroom.
  • Provides opportunities for students to develop one end product that demonstrates mastery of the content in all the subjects that were considered as integrated. This means for example, that the essay assigned in Language Arts is assessed for craft and structure by said department, but for concept mastery in Science.
In short, cross-curricular integration requires work. This is not something we can do by simply "tweaking" and adding a couple of standards to the list. Let's provide the time for teachers to really develop cross-curricular units. Let's embrace PBL and provide students ways to demonstrate mastery in meaningful ways. The students will reap the benefits!