Sunday, December 14, 2014

Learning to Code with eTextiles

Learning to Code

This is Part 2 of a series I'm working on learning to code with eTextiles.  To learn WHY I think that eTextiles can provide an onramp for learning to code check out Part 1 (Preparing to Code using eTextiles) 

Photo Credit: Pixabay
So you're ready to learn to code your eTextile projects.  The process of learning to code will take you down a circular learning path that will have you cycling from a state of  "fuzzy understanding"  to a state of "clarity and aha's".  

This is because there is so much front loading when learning to code.  
There is a certain degree of "take it for granted"  that THIS BUNCH OF CODE has to be in every program. Don't ask why  just make sure its there!
This drove me crazy when I first started to learn to code.   

The teacher in me wanted to not move on until I understood each line of code and every piece of syntax in that line of code.  
Eventually I learned that I had to let go of that need to know what each word meant.  

~ I had to trust that I could create an understanding of what was happening based on the experiences I was about to go through. .  

~ I had to accept that for every new line of code there was so much "foundational" information that I was not ready to learn that it would feel fuzzy at best.   

~ I had to  make a deal with myself that it was okay that my  understanding of a phrase was fuzzy and that it was okay to move on as long as  I had a general idea of what that line of code does or why it was there. 

This was not so different than learning English.  When I first went to school,  I only knew six words in English.  We grew up speaking French in our home.  But that didn’t stop me from going to school.  Nobody pulled me aside and made sure I understood every word the teacher was saying before I was allowed to move on.  I started to  hear certain words in context more often than others.  I gained a general idea of what words went together.  Eventually my brain started to recognize patterns and I was able to use those patterns when I wanted to communicate with those around me.  So now I had to trust that my brains ability to recognize patterns would help me learn to code in a similar way to my learning English. 

So for now I'm going to proceed with this series of post with the assumption that this is okay. 
So I'm working on a premise that it's okay to 

1) Have some lines of code that you just accept on blind faith that they need to be there. 
2) Have some lines of code that you have a general idea of what that line does and why it's in the program
3) Want the code to make sense and seek out some tutorials that will help you learn how code works in manageable chunks

That's where these tutorials come in.  My plan is to create some mini lessons that have you building your understanding of coding concepts using some fun eTextile projects. Soon you'll be able to apply your new understanding of code to your own eTextile projects.  You'll  be able to apply  with other people’s code to personalize your own projects and also write your own code to create fun whimsical or practical eTextile projects. 

This will probably make some computer science teacher shudder  and I welcome anyone who understands computer science vernacular to correct and clarify in the comments.  I won't take it as criticism and welcome learning the correct language to accompany my understanding of what's happening in my eTextile project, and I will make the necessary corrections to my blog post. 

-------------------  Lesson 1:  The Anatomy of  Your  Arduino Program ---------------

We're going to start with a very simple program that will light the LEDs in my Pom Pom of my Christmas hat.   I twisted together the positive leads of 3 green LEDs   and then twisted together the negative leads of those same LEDs.   I tested my new circuit using a simple battery and some alligator clip.

Unfortunately,  you can't learn to code using a simple parallel circuits made out of LEDs, batteries and alligator clips.   You're going to add a "mini"  computer" to the mix.  This is where the LilyPad  Arduino board comes in.  The Lilypad  Arduino Simple contains a tiny microprocessor chip that you can program along with some several pins in the shape of eyelets that you can sew conductive thread to.  In the next few lessons you are gong to learn how to CODE the Lilypad's  "mini" computer take your eTextile projects to a new level.  

Let's take a look at the Lilypad.

Notice that there is a place to connect your negative and positive leads.
There is a place to connect a battery.
There is an off and off switch to preserve your battery.
There is a place to hook up a special FTDI connector that is used to attach the Lilypad to your computer using a a mini USB cable .

I created some simple directions for setting up your LILYPad with your  laptop/desktop computer here.  Once your LilyPad is attached to your computer, you'll be ready for the rest of this tutorial.

Let's connect the positive and negative leads from the GREEN POM POM to our LILYPAD board.

Hook the one Alligator Clip onto the positive leads of the LEDs and unto PIN 6 of your LilyPad.
Hook the other Alligator Clip from the negative leds of the LEDs and unto the PIN marked NEGATIVE on your LilyPad.

There is no need for a battery, since your computer is providing the power.  (But it's okay, but unnecessary to have a LIPO battery attached now, but you'll need it later).

Now let's COPY the following CODE (in yellow)  into the CODE Area of you ARDUINO software.
This is a very simple program I wrote to make the Green LEDs light and to introduce you to some CODING basics.

//------------------------------------------------------- the whole program -------------------------------

//Pick a name that you will use to refer to the PomPom  LED bunch
// Tell the LilyPad which pinhole the PomPom Led is attached to

int ledPom =6;  // LEDS in the pom pom

The following commands are used to SETUP your Lilypad each time it runs
and only run once when you power up your lilypad and run your program
Tell the Lilypad whether each pin should send OUT info or take IN info
To light an LED you have the Lilypad has to send OUT info from the pin
void setup()  
  pinMode(ledPom, OUTPUT); // set up the ledPom pin so it sends OUT info

// Start a program running that will LOOP over and over again 
void loop() // start the loop running over and over again
{ //beginning of the loop
 digitalWrite(ledPom, HIGH); //turn on 3 green leds in pom pom

} //end of the loop

Let's Take a CLOSER LOOK. 

This tutorial was created to help you understand that every part of the Arduino program is made up of a few basic sections.  Once you understand that each program has different sections, you will start to look for them and see patterns in what type of information belongs in each section.   

Take a look at the diagram below and look for the sections that are COMMENTS only.  The computer ignores comments, but humans who read the program love COMMENTS.  It helps us understand what is going on in in language that we humans can connect with.   There are two ways to add Comments to your code. 

The rest of the computer code above had 3 sections. 

The Getting Started Section

This section will organize some key pieces of information that my program needs to fun. I won't go into all the types of information that can go in the Getting Started section,  but I like to think of it as the "getting acquainted" part of the program.   In many activities in life we get started by introducing each other.   Once we know each other's names, we can get down to business.  

In our program above, our Getting Started Section as some comments (which the computer ignores)
and it has one additional command 

int ledPom =6;  

Notice also that the command above is followed by a comment.  The computer ignores the comment.  But you should always READ the comments.  They were meant for humans, not computers.  They will help you understand what your program is doing. 
int ledPom =6;  // LEDS in the pom pom

The SETUP Section

void setup()  
  pinMode(ledPom, OUTPUT); // set up the ledPom pin so it sends OUT info

Notice that this sections always starts with the words void setup() 
It also contains two braces {  }  one at the beginning of the section and one at the end. 
Everything in between these two sections is all the SETUP work that the computer needs to do when it starts the program.  All the commands inside these braces need to run ONCE and ONLY ONCE when the program starts.  Notice that each command ends with a semicolon 
Be careful to include these or not accidentally delete them.  Missing semicolons are the most common mistake when starting to code.

pinMode(ledPom, OUTPUT);

The LilyPad pins are very flexible.  They can be used as INPUTS  where they sit around and LISTEN for information  to come in as IN to them  or as OUTPUTS where they send OUT information.  
The command above tells the computer that the PIN that we named LedPom should be an OUTPUT pin.  It will be used to send OUT information.  

Some of us are pretty good listeners.  Others are good talkers.   If you were a pin on the LilyPad would you rather "listen"  or "talk"?  Remember that you can't do both.    What would the command look like if you chose LISTEN?   What command would you write if you changed your mind and wanted to be a TALK instead of LISTEN? 

Here is how I would program myself to be a listener and wait for information to come to me
pinMode(Lucie, INPUT);

The LOOP Section

void loop()
    digitalWrite(ledPom, HIGH); //turn on 3 green leds in pom pom

This part of the program is run over and over and over again nonstop 
It starts with the words 
void loop()

and it also as two braces  {  }   one at the beginning of the loop and one at the end.   I sometimes add a comment after the braces to remind myself where the beginning of the loop starts and where it ends.  Computer programs can get quite long and its easy to lose track of which brace goes where.    

Every command that needs to be done over and over should be put inside the LOOP section. In our small program we only have one command.   This command tells our computer to turn the POMPOM  leds ON.   The digitalWrite command means "send out this information"  in the Parentheses ( )  we are told which pin should send out information ledPom and what information it should send out  HIGH  (notice the semicolon); 

digitalWrite(ledPom, HIGH); 

We know that pin 5 was named ledPom in the Startup section.  
We know that the positive lead of our Pom Pom LED's are hooked up to pin 5.
So when pin 5 sends out a HIGH level of electricity, the PomPom LED attached light up! 
(as long as their negative lead is also attached to ground (negative)  
See earlier lessons for  how to complete a circuit.  

Here is the Loop section with comments

void loop() // start the loop running over and over again
{ //beginning of the loop
 digitalWrite(ledPom, HIGH); //turn on 3 green leds in pom pom

} //end of the loop

Finally you've written your first eTextile program
Here is what the whole program looks like.  In the next section we will learn how to make to turn off the LED's,  make them blink,  make them light in a certain order and more. 

//------------------------------------------------------- the whole program -------------------------------

//Pick a name that you will use to refer to the PomPom  LED bunch
// Tell the LilyPad which pinhole the PomPom Led is attached to

int ledPom =6;  // LEDS in the pom pom

The following commands are used to SETUP your Lilypad each time it runs
and only run once when you power up your lilypad and run your program
Tell the Lilypad whether each pin should send OUT info or take IN info
To light an LED you have the Lilypad has to send OUT info from the pin
void setup()  
  pinMode(ledPom, OUTPUT); // set up the ledPom pin so it sends OUT info

// Start a program running that will LOOP over and over again 
void loop() // start the loop running over and over again
{ //beginning of the loop
 digitalWrite(ledPom, HIGH); //turn on 3 green leds in pom pom

} //end of the loop

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Preparing to Code ~ Using eTextile

While millions of students all over the world are learning to code during Hour of Code week,  I'm brushing up on my coding, too.  I've set a goal to learn to code using e-Textile and to also come up with a strategy to introduce coding to students through eTextile projects.  It's my belief that this will reach a different group of students than traditional coding curriculum.  MOTIVATION is the first step in learning anything.  For some,  making a turtle move across the screen or having "Hello World" flash on your screen does not provide the motivation to learn the idiosyncrasies of coding.   eTextiles get students who learn with their hands involved in the end results of their code first.  They can visualize their project, and start building it right away.  As it starts to look like their project, their mind imagines endless possibilities for what the code could do (if they only knew how).  I think this will work, we'll see.  I welcome all comments, suggestions, help tips -- especially from computer science teachers.  The terms I use might not be as precise as the ones you would use. I don't want to cause misconception, so please add your feedback in the comments.
First, I'm  going to provide a series of post that describe my understanding of the code of my current
eTextile  project  (A Christmas hat).  Then I'm going to follow up with what I hope are some projects that are targeted at leading students through some important coding concepts.

The steps leading up to this post included

1) Set up the Lilypad so it can communicate with your computer. 
I  chose to use the Lilypad ProtoSnap Board from Sparkfun.  Here are  some great directions for hooking it up to your computer. The trickiest part was to make sure I had the right drivers for my computer. One suggestion I have is to use two Lilypad boards.  I took the suggestion of my friend, Dayle Payne, and used two boards. One for prototyping and one for building.

2) Play around with some cookie cutter code that produced the desired results on my LilyPad protoboard. 

No sewing.. just playing with other peoples' code and seeing if I could get it to make lights blink and music play on my LilyPad.  Do NOT snap the components apart. By plugging the LilyPad development board directly into your computer intact, you KNOW that all the pieces are properly connected and you can focus on seeing that your code workds.  (No faulty wiring to worry about).  Also, don't worry about changing any of the code yet.  Just see if you can load up some sample Ardiuno code.  I'll create a whole separate blog post with some of my favorite GET STARTED CODE SNIPPETS for beginners.  Including some challenges for tweaking the code to get different results. 

3) Planning a design for the Christmas hat LEDs.
I started with a battery, some alligator clips,  jewelry wire and 3 green LED's and played around with getting the pom pom to light up. I learned that twisting together the leads from the 3 LEDs into one would create a parallel circuit.

Encouraged by my initial success of creating a basic circuit, I was inspired to expand my design with some sewable LEDs. I used LOTS of alligator clips and safety pins to come up with a design where the LEDs would be sprinkled around the hat.   This stage required me to go deeper with my understanding of parallel and serial circuits.

5) Sketch out your circuit design on paper.

Alligator clips are great, BUT  they are all insulated and you don't need to worry about 'shorts'.  As soon as I started to sketch out my design, I realized that my design was quite complex.  How was I going to stitch all the positive and negative leads back to the Lilyboard without creating a short.   I had no idea how to strategize this.  It was like a huge puzzle piece and I kept staring at it and started to feel that it was impossible.

I had two choices.  Simplify the design, or move forward and work through the puzzle and deal with the issues as they came up (knowing darn well there would be issues).  My husband's tip to do all the positive leads first helped.  Your positive leads have more constraints. Your goal is to get them from POINT A to POINT B without crossing.  The negative leads don't all have to make it back to the Lilypad board.  You just have to find a way back to another negative trace, and as long as you can avoid those positive traces, you're good.  So that part of the puzzle has several possible solutions.  And if you get really stuck,  you can always come up with a way to add a little insulation (more on that later).

 I moved forward and came up with a rough sketch of the positive and negative traces.

 6.  Start sewing. 

Finally I could avoid it no more.  Out came the conductive thread, the needle and the beeswax (to keep the thread from tangling so much).   My husband gave the advice to start planning and sewing the positive traces first.  It was great advice.  I also used a green marker to keep track of my negative traces.  I, also, used alligator clips to connect each LED's negative trace and my freshly sewed positive trace to a test battery.  This switched  LilyPad battery holder worked great for this.

7.  Jump for Joy

And if all goes right,  when you sew your last LED, and turn the switch on your battery to on, and all the LEDs LIGHT UP,  I assure you you will squeal and jump for joy!  And voila, you now have EXTREMELY HIGH MOTIVATION to Learn to Code!

Next Post ~  Learning to CODE!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Hour of Code ~ Monday (Create Local Pride in Vermont)

Are we ready for HOUR of CODE!  You betcha!

I have worked extensively with  Vermont Agency of Education, Vita-Learn (our Vermont ISTE affiliate) and Google Educator Group ~ Vermont to set up place for Vermont schools to showcase their participation in Hour of Code.  Check it out at

With the amazing resources already set up by Hour of Code,  why set up a special place for Vermont participants? The resources compiled where professional quality resources that were some of the best FREE educational resources I've seen.  The marketing campaign, also immensely professional,  drew in 15 million participants. 

My goal was to tap into local pride and  have our students, educators, community see themselves as part of the Vermont educational landscape in a very visual way.   Look who we are?  Look what we are doing?  The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts! 

Using Blogger, I set up a web presence where our teachers could automatically POST BY EMAIl and add their pictures and videos.  Look at those beaming faces!   Even if they aren't your students, don't you feel proud to have them part of our learning landscape in Vermont!

Along with the interactive visual gallery we  set up for our educators to add to, a group of us also worked to assemble a series of Guest Speakers of Hour of Code week.  The Agency of Education,  Vita-Learn, and Google Educator Group teamed up to offer this great lineup of role models via Google Hangout on Air.  Each day this week, you will find a great Hangout on Air to watch with your students that not only has one or more role models from industry for your students to listen to and ask questions to,  but each hangout also features one Vermont school as co-host.  Come check out what your fellow students and teachers are up to by watching the Hangout on Air live or checking out the archived video.

But you can do more than WATCH  and LISTEN  to partake.  You can actually create games and share them via a special Vermont Hour of Code  Arcade that we set up using  Do your students have a game they have created that they'd like to share?  Or would they like to play  one of the games other Vermont students created?   Then check out the Vermont Hour of Code Video Arcade! 

Check it out at

Code on, Vermont students and teachers!  I'm so proud to be part of the Vermont Learning Landscape!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On the Road Again

For those of you who follow Lucie, you probably know that I  gave up my apartment on May 1, 2013 and started living mobile.  We moved into a 1983 vintage Bluebird bus and started to live and work mobile full time.   The bus stayed in Vermont for 6 months then started started traveling South where I began blogging about LIVING and LEARNING MOBILE.  The blog chronicles both our traveling when the bus is moving as well as lots of blog post about Lucie's new learning.

After 6 months, the bus looped back towards Vermont to spend time enjoying Vermont weather and landscape,  play with the grandchildren, and engage in professional development with the Vermont education community.  

This month the bus is moving again, so I'm picking up the blog.  If you are interested in following along, check out our blog which will be filled with stories of our living and learning mobile.  I'm crossing the first blog post from year 2 on the road below.

---------- cross posted from Living and Learning Mobile ---------------

On 11/11 at 11:00 a.m.  we hooked up the Saturn+car dolly to the bus, started her up and plugged in Savannah Georgia to the GPS which let us know we'd be there in 1111 miles.   Three days after leaving our campsite in Shelburne, Vermont,  we arrived at Skidaway Island State Park  just after dark (6:00 p.m. ) and boy was it dark.  So dark that it was impossible to tell where the campsites were, so we  are boondocking for the 3rd night in a row.

Our first night on the road we made it to New Jersey when we blew a tire on the dolly along the New Jersey Turnpike.  The good news was that the service area just a few miles down the road had an OPEN Tire Shop -- Talk about captive audience!  Wondering if that cement construction barricade that caught our tire was strategically placed?  Even though the service area was slated for 2 hour parking, there were plenty of truckers spending the night and the mechanic who hooked us up with not 1 (but 2) new dolly tires assured us that nobody checks and we'd be fine to stay the night.

The next night we made a planned overnight stop at a Walmart in North Carolina, and enjoyed a chance to stretch our legs as we restocked the fridge.  This morning I woke up and declared that I was moving my birthday forward one day so I could do something more exciting a little more exotic.  So for this year - my birthday will not be celebrated on November 13.

But I did do something I really liked on my birthday,  I created opportunities for teachers and students by connecting amazing people using
my very mobile office and the incredibly robust wireless network that my husband has hooked up to keep me connected  to the Internet while driving down the road.  I worked on connecting teachers and professionals interested in increasing the number of girls in tech to see if we could launch Vermont's first Girls Who Code Club;  I worked on connecting innovative educators through a project I started a few years ago (PROJECT IGNITE); I worked on connecting Google using educators through our newly launched  G+ Community of Vermont- GEG (Google Educator Group);  I connected with members of the  Maker Space of which I'm a a member of (The GENERATOR) using Google Groups; and connected with members of the ENable Google+ Community where I had a nice chat with a super smart high school senior girl  from New Brunswick who has just "3D printed an eNable hand that she plans on automating by using Servo motors and a programmed Arduino chip and a 5 button panel to individually control which finger is bent and to what degree it is bent"; and much more.   For those of you who read the signature line on my emails, you aren't surprised that this is how I like spending my days.  And for those of you who are wondering... this is the quote at the bottom of each of my emails.
Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.
- James M. Barrie
So on the first three days of our Year 2 journey, while Craig burned through about $393 worth of diesel during our 1111 miles, I burned through 4898 mb of data.  The good news is that we have purchased 70 gigs of data between (AT & T and Verizon's double your data October deal).   With Craig keeping his Verizon plan and my keeping my AT&T plan we hope to be able to connect to most places we travel. (Although I was not smiling when I first drove into  this dark forest to see no bars on my phones - which means no birthday calls --good thing I moved my birthday to tomorrow ;)

Tomorrow we'll walk around the camp ground and pick out a site to spend the next 6 days based on many factors (from cell signal to flat enough to keep our 35 Bluebird Wanderlodge level).  Craig will catch up on the service tickets that have backlogged while he's been busy driving and get his school in good shape for the upcoming end of the trimester learning showcases.  I'll post next week's modules in my two online classes and provide feedback on final projects.  And then my guess is we'll go find a nice place in Savannah for a belated birthday dinner.

Stay tune for this year's journey out of Vermont as Craig and Lucie continue to Live and Learn and Mobile as today's  technology provides us the opportunity to work from anywhere.  Hope its as safe and enjoyable a journey as last year.

November 2103 - May 2014 in our 1983 BlueBird Wanderlodge
May - 2014 - November 2014 we enjoyed Vermont from our Travel Trailer at Mallet's Bay Campground. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Our Vermont students are Making a BIG Difference with their 3D printer

Last week I was so honored to be invited to visit the STEM Academy at Essex High School to see one of the project inspired from the CREATE MAKE LEARN Summer Institute in full swing. As an ambassador for Creativity and Innovation in our school, I just had to write this piece for the eNable newsletter and post for the Create Make Learn blog. Create Make Learn Summer Institute was the third large scale professional development project I designed with the goal of inspiring creativity and innovation in our schools. When I see this type of authentic learning emerge, I become so inspired and leave re-energized to look for more ways to bring opportunities to teachers and students. 
------- cross post from Create Make Learn blog ------

“It seems so little but its making such a big difference”  described a STEM Academy student as he snapped together components of each finger printed from ABS filament off the uPrint 3D printer located in Room D-104 of Essex High School. He described that the 3D printed hand his team was assembling was going to help a 17 year old boy from Washington state.  

When I walked into the room, minutes before class was about to start, I noticed 4  lunch trays, some pliers, a hammer, and a few other tools  strategically placed on round circular tables. Each lunch tray contained 32 ABS parts that had been printed over the previous  few weeks.  “This one part took 22 hours to print” explained STEM Academy leader,  Lea Ann Smith,  as she held up the largest piece in the collection.  

Lea Ann Smith and Doug Horne,  dedicated teachers who have put in countless hours to make sure that the each part was  successfully printed and ready for the weekly advisory meeting time of the STEM Academy students greeted their 17 students with a look of anticipation as they walked through the door.

Although their teachers,  Mr. Horne  and Mrs. Smith,  were also learning the process outlined by the eNable community for assembling the hands, their years of experience brought many skills to the process, ranging from an understanding of technical 3D modeling software like Rhino to classroom management in a  project based learning environment. Mrs. Smith learned about the eNable community while attending the CREATE MAKE LEARN Summer Institute last summer and saw this as the perfect authentic project for her STEM academy students. Together with her co-teacher, Mr. Horne, they skillfully administered just the right amount of direction and scaffolding to guide the students successfully to the next step of the process -  not an easy tasks for a class that meets once a week for 30 minutes.

Just last week the students had used RHINO to scale the pieces and prepare them for the printer. One STL file had to be scaled to fit a 3 year old child, the other a 17 year old boy, and the last two were going to help a 58 year man who had lost fingers on both hands. The students were matched with their recipients by a community of volunteers collaborating to match those in need of fingers with 3D printer enthusiast called eNable. (Learn more about them at Enabling the Future)

Mr. Horne created a smooth transition from last week’s class by gathering the students quickly into their seats  facing a wall sized slideshow of the printed parts.  

With only 30 minutes of classroom time per week,  the students knew they had little time to waste if they were to stay on schedule with their plan to eNable each of the hand donors with a newly assembled 3D printed hand.  The students took a few minutes to review the instructional video from eNable volunteer, Jeremy Simon, demonstrating how to work with the snap screws and individual components of the hand.   

After  reviewing some key components of the video,  the students grabbed a set of clearly printed directions, and quickly grouped around the lunch trays and
went right to work moving their 3D hand assembly to the next level.   Meanwhile  Mr. Horne and Mrs. Smith answered questions and  encouraged each group to write a short paragraph providing the donor with an update of the progress of their eagerly anticipated hand.  

The 17 students taking part in these 4 eNable hand assemblies  are part of the Medical Advisory portion of the STEM Academy  at Essex High School in Essex, Vermont.  The STEM Academy  currently consists of 50 students and seven faculty members.  The purpose of the Academy is to give students an opportunity to experience STEM disciplines in a deeper and more meaningful way than is typically available in the classroom.  The major elements of the program are enrollment in the weekly STEM Advisory, attending STEM Lecture Series events, participating in an internship and creating an independent project.  Students in the STEM Academy will be exposed to a wide variety of new ideas and hands on projects.  They will meet people who share their interests, both in their high school peer group and in the community, and they will learn how work collaboratively and creatively with these people to solve interesting and relevant problems.

Communication,  collaboration,  close reads, technical skills, career education,  along with a feeling of contribution to quality of human life were all part of this powerful carefully designed instructional experience that aims to make a BIG difference from such a small but precious time slot in the week of these Vermont students. Follow them on Twitter @EssexSTEM

Monday, October 27, 2014

Share it JUST in TIME

Distributing resources to your class in a quick and effective way has always been part of a good teacher's skill set.  The quicker you can do this, the more time you and your students have to spend learning. As many of our resources have become digital resources that live in the cloud,  teachers need a a way to organize and distribute  these digital resources as efficiently as they can hand out a pencil, a booklet, or any other classroom resource.

A portal, a class website, or a learning management website  are a great way to organize resources for your students,  but every good teacher "monitors and adjust" lessons quickly and sometimes updating your website or LMS on the fly is not the most fastest way to lead an audience to a web resource.  This is when URL shorteners and QR codes can contribute to AGILE learning.

A URL shortner takes very LONG URLs and makes them SHORT so they can be more easily copied down or take less room to display.  A QR code is one that uses a special app along with your  device's camera to quickly locate a web web resource. 

Adding a SHORT URL or QR code to a poster, a website,  a handout,  a chakboard, or bulletin board, or even on a physical object can not only provide a quick and easy way to give students, parents, and audience quick access to a needed piece of information or to rich multimedia resources that enhance the experience.  One of my favorite tools for creating BOTH  short URL's  and QR codes is   For example the SHORT URL for this we page is

Learn to create both short URL's and QR codes with the Chrome App. 

I can quickly write this SHORTened URL anywhere for anyone to quickly access simply by typing it into their WEB ADDRESS bar.  It is important to use the actual WEB ADDRESS bar and NOT the Google search bar since it was created only minutes ago and a Google search will not find this address.

Or I can save, copy, and/or print the QR code to be used on a handout, a bulletin board, or even a physical object.

A quick and easy way to gain access to this tool is to install the Url Shortner Chrome Apps extension

From this extension you can quickly create and copy a shortened URL in one step or create a QR code.  When properly set up it will even keep track of  the details of this short URL or QR code (added to history) that you can refer to simply by going to  Here you can see all the other short URL's you have made, their QR codes, and more details like how many times they have been clicked on.

QR codes are easily accessible from most mobile devices using a QR scanner app such as  i-Nigma for many other QR reader apps.  But did you know that there are QR apps for your Chromebooks also.  Just search the app store for QR readers and install  ScanQR or other QR readers Chrome Apps so that your students can use their Chromebook cameras to read QR codes in books, on walls, and more.

Simply find your QR reader in your collection of Chrome Apps and click on it to turn your laptop or Chromebook's camera into a QR reader.

One of the most powerful coolest use of a QR code  I've seen is a painting with a QR code that brings you to a time lapsed movie of the piece of art being created.

Put these tools in your student's digital toolkit and you may soon find learners adding QR codes to their finished products that lets the audience view a movie of the process OR of the learners reflecting on the project.

What are your favorite tools for shortening url's or creating and reading QR codes?  What innovative ways have you found to use these tools to support teaching and learning? 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Is a B- okay?

So,  yesterday I caught up with some of my friends who managed to complete the 30 blog post in 30 days challenge by TeachThought.   I started to write (unfortunately, I completed the 30th blog post on day 37, not day 30).   If 30 in 30 is 100% success, I would assume 30 blog post in 37 days is 81%.  So if numbers matter, I give myself a B- on this challenge.  

What stopped me from completing 30 in 30?

Many of my reflections took me down a road that was intriguing and I kept going.  Hours later I took the time to add hyperlinks and look for pictures that would make it more visually attractive.  I remember, a well known education blogger preaching that we all should blog and that it only takes him 10 minutes to whip up a blog post.  Well, it DOESN'T take me 10 minutes!  And sometimes it doesn't take our kids 10 minutes to complete the assignment that we think should only be 10 minutes of homework.

I remember a story my son was writing in 4th grade.  After an hour he still was not done his homework.  He was working from a story map he had created in class, and he was only on the second item of his story map at bedtime, but had 5 pages written.  I tried to convince him that he could hand it in tomorrow and  call it a Chapter of a book.   Frustration and tears were certainly part of our bedtime routine that night, yet when I read through his 'chapter'  my eyes filled with pride at the amazing detail in his writing and and the way his writing lead the reader to visualize the scene.  How many times have the  'parameters' we set resulted in lost opportunity.   Sometimes those parameters are set by others, sometimes by ourselves.

But I think its important to keep an eye out for times when we (or our students)  might be better off extending the deadline parameter to produce something deeper, more inspiring,  or even something different.

Another thing that kept me from completing 30 in 30 is that I am the type of person that takes side trips in my journey and sometimes I get lost in the inspiration of those side trip and don't make it back on the trail quickly.  During this past month,  I have had many of those side trips, and most of them have been so enriching that I would NOT want to have missed any of them.  (Like a sudden inspiration to do a communal 3D printer build at Champlain Maker Faire).    We need to encourage more side trips in our learning journey, and that probably won't happen as we refuse to accept 'late' assignments.

Photo Credit
Recently my friends encouraged me to join them for a 25K cross country ski tour.  It took most people 4 hours;  it took me 6 hours.  I discovered that a very old injury to my lower back was aggravated by the motion my body made going uphills.   At the 20K marker,  some suggested I grab a ride home from the snowmobile taxis that were there to taxi folks.  I refused.  "I made it this far, I'm going to cross that finish line!" I answered stubbornly.

I'm okay with accepting a B- because I understand my own goals and can appreciate my own learning and can move on to the next exciting piece of learning that life's journey will bring.  But to many of our students (and educators)  a B- means you are not 'quite'  where you need to be.    What can we do as educators to keep an eye for those students whose would be discouraged by that B-?  How can we keep an eye out for lost opportunities from the students who will always score an  "A"?

The parameters of this challenge kept me going at a pace that I would not have kept up with, had it not been for wanting to cross the finish line.  But the ability to balance other's expectations and your own expectations for when and how to make it across the finish line is an important part of learning!  Let's help learners cross their personal finish lines!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

If I Were Not Afraid

The last prompt of the 30 day Blogging Challenge from TeachThought "What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?"

After several false starts in reflecting on this prompt,  I realize that I'm already doing lots of what I would do if I were not afraid.  I have given up my apartment, left the security of the K12 education system,  moved into a vintage 1983 BlueBird Wanderlodge and given myself a new title "free-lance educator".  I'm letting my passion, curiosity, and interest lure me to my next adventure.

However, I realize that if I were NOT afraid.. I would just "LEARN"  all the time and "GIVE away my LEARNING" to anyone who was interested in having me help them Learn.   The part of me that keeps me from doing that is a certain degree of FEAR that as I get older I will have financial needs that I won't be able to meet.  We just celebrated my husband's grandmother's 100th birthday.  The day after she turned 100 she got a letter from the president and an eviction notice because she had run out of money.  Haunted by fear that I don't want to be a burden to my children, and the desire to be independent, I still charge for some of the things I do -  but because I'm MOSTLY unafraid,  was able to let go of the constraints of a 180 day teaching contract and the constraints of living in a house and gain the freedom to do lots of things because they are fun - thus the term "free-lance".  

For example,  this weekend I had a vision to lead a communal 3D printer build.  I tried for a little bit to find some sponsors, but then decided to not be afraid and JUST DO IT and ordered the kit.  And because I was unafraid,  lots of people learned and were empowered.   They weren't necessarily empowered "to build a 3D printer" - they were empowered because they had a chance to help "MAKE" something that would really be used.  Many left thinking... "wow if people make 3D printers,  what else can we make -- what do I want to make?"

Speaking of challenges, this post completes the Te@ch Thought's 30 day blogging challenge .

I must admit, I'm about a week late in completing the challenge, but I decided that completing all 30 prompts should count!  Part of not being afraid is making up your own rules, right! ;-)

The Day EVERYTHING Changed in my Classroom


Teach Thought Blogging Challenge #29 How have you changed as an educator.

I feel like this prompt could easily turn into a memoir. My whole career is a trail of change. I have always called myself a change agent and I could right chapters about each change and how it has changed me.

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change -”. ― Heraclitus. 

So I'm going to select ONE of many ways I have changed as an educator and identify the the one event that was the catalyst to that change -


  • That fall I stopped being the person who decided what my students would learn, carefully planned the curriculum and designed each lesson. 

  • That fall, my students came back to school filled with ideas about what they wanted to know about because it had been a summer of inquiry for them. 

  • That fall, I put most everything I had planned aside and followed their passions and saw the most wonderful learning happen in my classroom. 

I say I put MOST everything aside - because I still had a "invisible hand" in what we learned. I knew what I wanted them to learn, but I also knew that I would be able to engage them in ways previously unimaginable. My classroom would never be the same again.

It's Not About the Tools, but......

TeachThought Blogging Challenge Prompt #28
Your thoughts: Should Technology drive the curriculum or vice versa?

Technology should definitely not DRIVE the curriculum,  but Technology can make some curriculum possible or even imaginable.  

For example  Michael Hathorn's course,  Recreating Vermont History in 3D is not a course about technology, but the technology does play a significant role in driving this curriculum.   3D printing makes this course possible, but this course leverages 3D printing towards a much broader curriculum goal.  

Certain technologies make some things possible.  

For example,  Google tools makes certain types of collaboration possible that you could not imagine without without the technology.    So when I offer my course Google Tools For Schools, many people think its about the technology, but soon find out that it's not.  Amazing teacher designed curricular projects come from this course.   It's about  the type of  teaching and learning that  is possible with the use of Google Tools.  So in this case, you might say that the technology drives the curriculum,  because the goal is to introduce the power of amazing tools that have the power to change the culture of your school to one of collaborative learning.   But if you offered a curriculum in collaborative learning, many people would assume they know what that looks like.  Few would  imagine that they would need such a class because they had no idea what is possible using today's technology. As you can see the answer to this question can be quite circular in nature. 

When I discuss  the REDEFINITION level of Ruben Puntedera's SAMR model,   I think that if we did not have some technology driven curriculum in the mix, most of us would never reach redefinition level because we would not be able to imagine what could be possible.