MACUL 2019: Student Created Smart Assistants Using Raspberry Pis and Python

Education, Technology

Thanks for checking out information related to my 2019 MACUL Conference workshop.

If you’re just here for the giveaway, leave your name, school, and grade taught (for my curiosity) at the bottom of this post to enter.

Presentation Slides
Resource Sheet

Student Resources

Google Earth, Expeditions and More in Social Studies

Education, Technology

I recently attended a excellent workshop from Alyssa Marcangelo on integrating Google Expeditions and Google Earth within the classroom. These were tools I was familiar with but thought that they never really found their place within K-12 education, as many of Google Earth’s features are now baked into Google Maps, and low-resolution, static pictures were just not that compelling within Google Expeditions. Yet I took this opportunity to take the time to really consider curricular connections where they might fit in. In a first attempt to provide a context to homeroom teachers for using these tools, I turned to a Fourth Grade Social Studies unit that has students using the Design Thinking process to tackle U.S. regional issues. I thought it might be a good fit to give students a birds-eye view of some of these problems during the Empathize/Understand phase.

Creative Computing Lesson Reflection

Coding, Computational Thinking, Creativity, MSU MAET, Technology

During a recent session of our Art and Science Teacher Workshops, I engaged in action research by implementing and reflecting on a lesson on the use of computers for creative means, namely creating visual art. The participants explored the work of Sol LeWitt, who created instruction based works intended to be carried out in a variety of contexts. Brain Pickings has provided an overview that shows how various artists have approached this idea. LeWitt’s instructions can be implemented using traditional technology, but in this lesson I chose to use two newer tools, Scratch and Processing, to introduce how computers can be tools of creative expression through programming and play.

Modelling Algorithms

Creativity, MSU MAET, Museums, Technology

If an algorithm is itself a model for understanding how to accomplish a task, the difficulty lies in creating a model to represent what is a model already, just as I found when trying to abstract an abstraction. Not surprisingly, the two skills of modelling and abstraction rely on each other, as a model is a useful abstraction. To accomplish this goal, I’ve decided to focus on the transition from algorithm to implementation, or in computing, creating a program based on an algorithm. Part of this process is accomplished by a person, the rest by a computer, so this lends itself well to computational thinking.

To gain a better understanding of how an algorithm is transformed into a program, I created a model that views this across physical scale, from the large to the very small; transitions from digital to physical; and demonstrates changes in logic, from the abstract to the specific. It elucidates what occurs behind the scenes when a program is executed, and shows how layers of abstraction in a computer provides human with the ability to intuitively instruct them.

Visualizing A Good Night’s Sleep

Computational Thinking, Creativity, MSU MAET, Technology

I’ve begun a project that will allow students in a high school psychology class conduct a simple sleep study in their home using an Arduino and an accelerometer. The accelerometer will be attached to their body to record body movements during the night, in an attempt to discern when they are in deeper sleep cycles as they lay relatively motionless, and when they may be tossing and turning. I’ve tried this a few nights myself to see how well it worked, and have begun to try different ways of analyzing the data.

LightBot Illuminates Computational Thinking

Computational Thinking, Education, MSU MAET, Technology

I thought an app designed to develop programming skills in elementary aged children would not pose a challenge to someone twenty years older. Yet once I reached levels in LightBot that required you to create loops or make function calls with limited memory, I couldn’t mindlessly drag and drop instructions to have the bot behave correctly. I had to identify what movements the bot would take repeatedly or how to break the instructions into meaningful chunks. LightBot was already testing my computational thinking in several ways with these challenges.

From the very start, I had to think abstractly, which Grover and Pea (2013) identify as the “keystone” of CT, that which differentiates it from skills in other disciplines.  My first problem was figuring out how to give instructions to the robot. The app confined the problem, requiring that I drag and drop predefined instructions such as movement and lighting up a square. This showed me that the designers already had to think abstractly on what tools to provide in order to solve give instructions, and I would have to think along the same lines. If I could define my own instructions, such as teleporting several blocks away or duplicating myself, this would be an application of my ability to abstract.

MAET: Passion and Curiosity in Learning and Teaching

Education, MSU MAET, Technology

When I was in the fifth grade, my class took a field trip to a hundred-year-old one room schoolhouse.  We marveled at how desks were arranged in an evenly-spaced matrix, drew on a dusty blackboard at the front and flipped through readers that were primarily used as a learning tool at the time. Yet the classroom we returned to at the end of the day was not that different, nor are classrooms I visit across Michigan today. Students still are often made to sit so they can focus on the instructor at the front of the room.  Only recently have chalkboards or whiteboards been supplemented with interactive smartboards, many of which are used  only as expensive whiteboards. Textbooks, pencils, and paper are still the primary tools used by many students.

MAET: Technology Integration at the Cranbrook Institute of Science

Education, MSU MAET, Museums, Technology


In my experience, teaching can often feel like you are working within a bubble. While you may discuss your teaching practices with coworkers at short meetings, there is little chance during the day to truly share your ideas, including those on effective use of tools within the classroom. To alleviate that sense of isolated teaching, I prepared and sent out a survey to my colleagues at the Cranbrook Institute of Science on how they use technology to support learning. Seven of the educators, or just over half, responded to thirteen multiple-choice questions, and while the sample size was small, there were a few questions where there was a clear consensus which could be useful. I don’t see our workplace as having cutting-edge technology nor do we often consider how to effectively use what we have at our disposal, so I see this survey as a starting point for further discussions on integrating effective tools for learning in our programs.

Maker Faire How-To: Pinball Wizards

Education, MSU MAET, Technology

Can visitors of all ages start to code in a Maker Faire/festival style environment? A group of MSU MAET students known as the Pinball Wizards tackled this challenge and presented the result at the Michigan State Mini-Maker Faire on July 2, 2014. We felt this was a particularly relevant time to attempt this. Many students have been introduced to computer programming this past year thanks to the Hour of Code initiative, and Google has recently begun an initiative to get female students interesting in coding with the Made with Code program.

CEP 810: Lesson Plan 5.0

Education, Technology

I’ve devoted significant thought to the revision of a lesson plan called Folds & Fractals. I began by examining the relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy knowledge within the TPACK system. Next, the lesson was viewed from the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) vantage point, looking for ways to fundamentally address the needs of the diverse group of learners teachers serve. Finally, I examined how both my and students’ personal learning networks (PLN), those people and resources we turn to when seeking out knowledge, can assist with learning in the context of this lesson. I think the unique constraints that outreach education works within require specific solutions to achieve effective learning in diverse environments. I identified several opportunities for improvement within the lesson plan.