Build a Bigger Wall?

Do you know what happens when you build a huge wall in front of students and tell them that they can’t? Yup. They spend all of their time and energy trying to find ways over, under or around that wall.

flickr photo shared by Dani_vr under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

And what happens when students are no longer constrained by those walls, because they’ve graduated or gone to another school or just gone home for the day? What happens when they go out into the “real world” without the self-control or the management skills or the sense of instilled values because the huge wall kept them “safe” so they never needed to learn these things and we felt like we never needed to teach them?

Yes, of course I’m talking about filtering and articles like this one in eSchool News make me sad and angry. I understand there are a lot of strings attached to E-Rate dollars (I’m looking at you CIPA) that I have the luxury of not worrying about because I’m overseas. But technological solutions to behavioral problems are not a sustainable or scalable way forward. Students (and teachers) will always – yes, always – find away to circumvent filters. [Side note: I remember teaching in LA in the late 90s and we had Bessie the internet filter. How did I get around it? I created an AOL account and used the built-in web browser. I think one of my students told me how to do it…]

Instead of building a bigger wall to keep our students sheltered safe, why don’t we teach them the skills they need to make decisions that are good for them and give them the opportunity to make mistakes (and learn from them!) in the relative safety of the institutions charged with helping them learn???

Help Needed: Robotics Triathlon Ideas

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Clint Hamada

I’ve been thinking for a while about how I’m going to structure my upcoming (and first ever) robotics unit here at YIS. The other night, as I was laying in bed around midnight, I had a spark of inspiration.

First, a little backstory…

Last year we purchased 10 EV3 kits and decided the best starting place was to introduce a middle school activity. The kids who participated really got into it and we did well at our local Robo Sumo Friendly, sweeping the the top 3 places! We’ve continued the middle school activity this year and have our sights set on the next round of Sumo!

Last year I also attended the EARCOS Weekend Workshop on Robotics at TAS and have been thinking long and hard how I can incorporate units of robotics into our MYP Design classes (rather than full-on robotics classes). We are limited by space and resources here at YIS and are trying to find ways to get our foot in the door of robotics.

I have just ordered another 14 core kits, which should give me enough robots to put Grade 9 students into of 3 or 4.

I’ve been looking for a way for students to be able to work both collaboratively and independently. My initial thought was to have each group build a simple base robot (such as the Riley Rover) and then get each member to write their own programs to complete a quest. I could never quite sort it all out in my head though.

Back to my idea…

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Clint Hamada

Last night I thought about creating a team challenge. (I’m still not 100% sure how I will assess it in the MYP flavor, so don’t ask me about that yet!). What if the students competed in a Robotics Triathlon? Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • The three events will be based on speed (a timed 10 meter drag race), strength (a mini sumo tournament), and intelligence (completing an unknown maze challenge).
    • The speed challenge will be focused on engineering and using gear ratios to improve performance.
    • The strength challenge will be focused on design, possible use of gears to improve torque, and simple programming to stay on the board and to seek out opponents.
    • The intelligence challenge will be focused on programming and using the sensors in combination.
  • Each team will work to design three variations of the base robot for each event.
  • Each team will work to code three programs for each event.
  • Each team will be given access to the full array of sensors (ultrasonic, touch, color, gyro) and motors (2 large, 1 medium) to use as the wish.
  • A scoring system will be devised to determine a class champion. Since I teach three sections, we can then have a Tournament of Champions at lunchtime once the class champions are determined.
  • For the final evaluation, teams will need to give a 5 – 10 minute presentation on their robot, their design and programming choices, and what they would do differently now that they are done.

It’s still not a fully fledged unit, so I need your help. Can you give me any suggestions or feedback on the events that I’ve chosen? Any ideas on how I could assess this, both as a group grade and as individual grades? Any links to resources that I might find useful, or that my students can use to help build and program their bots? I’ve still got a few weeks but your help is greatly appreciated!

Thanks to the conversations that I’ve already had on Twitter. Frank Hua has suggested some sort of robot soccer game (possibly controlled via the iPad EV3 app) and Geoff Derry has suggested a color block challenge. Jeff Layman is in on the maze idea and I’m interested to hear what he’s done in his MYP classes with the EV3s.

The Dragon’s Arcade

The Dragon’s Arcade

When I started at YIS, I knew there were certain things I wanted to get involved with: 3D printing; robotics; programming. I’m happy to say that, after my first year, all three of those things are well on their way!

At the start of the second semester, my Grade 9 students embarked on a journey to learn some basics of programming. Most of them had never even considered coding and were only introduced to it through the Hour of Code. There were a few who had taught themselves the basics of JavaScript, and a few others who had taken a course at a previous school or at a summer camp. By and large though, we were all novices!

We started with the question “How can we create a simple computer game that keeps the needs of the user in mind?” I really wanted to focus on the concept of designing for the user rather than the creator so I came up with the idea of creating educational computer games for the students in our Kindergarten. You can read a detailed version of the process that we went through in order to complete this unit on my school blog. One of the highlights of the process was bringing  the Grade 9 students into the Kindergarten to interview their potential clients and get an idea of what they were learning and what their interests were. There is nothing better than seeing the interaction between the high school and lower elementary students in your school!

The culminating celebration for this project was The Dragon’s Arcade. We invited all of the Kindergarten and Grade 1 students up to the high school to play the games that the students have spent the last 2 months creating. There were math games, spelling games, telling time games, music games, art games, all kinds of games! (I’ve add all of them to a Scratch Studio if you want to check them out.) It was a great opportunity for the Grade 9s to celebrate their learning and their creations.

I’m now wondering, besides repeating this unit again next year, what’s next? Where do we go from here in order to build on this experience? App building? Arduino/Pi programming? Any and all suggestions are welcome!

I’ve added a few photos of the day here. You can also check out the entire album on Google+. Below the photos, I’ve embedded a couple of games that I was really impressed with. If you get a chance, it would be great if you could leave them a comment or two! (You can find all the games here.)

Shin shares his game


A table of fun!
Rohan helps a Grade 1 student
Jennifer shares with the kindergarteners

The Math Tower

Underwater Music Quest

Baseball Math

Railing against ‘digital natives’ (again)

All plugged in…

On a discussion forum for my M.Ed, another teacher just asked me why I hate the term ‘digital natives’. Here is my response:

Where to begin?

  1. It was coined by Prensky at the turn of the century (2001)! While an interesting and helpful construct 13 years ago, it is now outdated. Why?
  2. It is binary. Really? Just ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’? Those are my only options?
  3. I won’t go into the baggage behind the terms…
  4. It’s usually used in the same breath (or at least the same paragraph) as “21st century learning” (or, as we call it in the 21st century, um, learning) and/or the phrase “we’re preparing them for their future not our past.” I generally like the sentiment surrounding that second one but it has become part of the set of cliches thrown willy-nilly into conversation to show that the speaker is down with the #edtech movement.
  5. Did I mention it’s binary? Where’s the nuance? Where are the shades of grey? Yes, students in our schools have never lived a day in their lives without Google and all the joys that it brings. But many/most of those students have never actually been taught how to find the joy that Google brings.
  6. Mostly, I think the term “digital natives” is used as a cop-out by some teachers to not do anything. The number of times I’ve worked with teachers – both as a math teacher and as a tech coach – who just magically think students are able to make a good movie about the rise and fall of Mesopotamia because they are in middle school, or with teachers who complain about students using Wikipedia for research but who don’t take the time to actually teach students who to search effectively (or to do academic research), because they are “digital natives” astounds me.

“Kids these days” are really good at staying connected with each other through facebook, or reblogging content through tumblr, or watching cat videos on youtube, or finding the latest meme on 9gag. That doesn’t mean they understand how to repurpose those skills in an academic setting or how to use those skills ethically and responsibly. That is our job as teachers and parents. Yet, the term “digital native” is now used with flippancy (not by all, but by a lot in my experience) to absolve teachers and parents of their responsibilities to teach or parent.

Uncle Ben (or Voltaire, if you prefer) once said “With great power comes great responsibility.

Punya Mishra once said, “Go to Google for information; come to me for wisdom.

I think the term “digital natives” now undermines both of these thoughts…

What do you think? Too harsh?

Image Credit: Photo by me, licensed under Creative Commons

The difference between Education, school, and learning

For my Masters course on Leveraging Technology, I had to write a paper that addressed the following prompt. I thought, instead of just sharing it with my professor, I’d also share it with you. It’s based on a blog post that has been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder since after Learning 2.010! I’m still not entirely happy with it, but it’s a start. At least it’s out of my ‘drafts’ folder now…

As an expert on the use of technology in education, you have been called upon by a United Nations committee to ‘testify’ on the impact and efficacy of technology in education. Prior to the session, you are provided with the four questions the panel will ask so you can adequately prepare your answers. Please do so.

A. Based on your experience and passion, what is your personal vision of education?

B. Please explain how technology currently informs that vision.

C. What emerging technology trends will impact your vision of education in the next three years?

D. If you were appointed as the global technology czar, what would be your first order of business? How would you know if you were successful?

I believe that Education, school and learning are three disparate concepts that are often conflated. As has been noted by speakers such as Ken Robinson, the industrial age of Education has used schools as the factories by which the “learning” has been the output. All learning took place in schools and all schools existed within the sphere of Education. If we were to diagram it, it might have looked something like this:

With the rise in opportunities afforded through the continued integration of technology, I believe that that diagram is shifting. There still exists overlapping areas between the three concepts, but I think it is a mistake to assume school implies learning, or that learning implies organized Education. In fact, I believe that the state of Education, school and learning currently looks more like this:

There are a myriad of opportunities for learning to take place outside of the formal institution of Education and outside of the formal setting of schools. This has always been the case, but increased access to technology has made these opportunities more abundant and more obvious. In fact, as we continue along this path, I believe that we will see an increased shift towards the center, where the overlapping areas of these three concepts increases:

Technology has had two major effects on knowledge. First, it has significantly decreased the half-life of facts. According to Samuel Arbessman, “we must admit to ourselves that a large fraction of what we learn is going to be obsolete within a few years” and that “we need to constantly reeducate ourselves, avoid memorization, and start looking up facts to make sure that we have the most updated knowledge.”

Secondly, technology has made the effective value of knowledge zero. It used to be that people would pay huge sums of money to attend prestigious universities so that they could learn from the professors there. Now, top-tier universities like MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford are making their content available for free online through services like iTunes U or through MOOC providers like Udacity.

Individuals have access to all of that ever-changing content because of advances in technology. The increasing hyper-connectedness of our world means that we have quicker access to more information than ever before and there are no signs that these trends will not slow down.

Over the next three years, I think the continued refinement of Massively Open Onlie Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) will have a huge impact on learning, schools and Education. While there are currently many who believe that this free content will not live up to its hype, I believe that these disruptive innovations will continue to be refined and that they will reach a ‘tipping point’ within Education.

In conjunction with this, I believe that the Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges Initiative will play a huge part in ‘legitimizing’ the learning that is taking place outside of the traditional institutions of Education and brick-and-mortar schools. These badges will be used by experts to endorse others for the skills that they possess and the learning that they have shown. Open Badges will be recognized by schools, institutions and even employers to meet requirements for entry, graduation or hiring.

As Global Technology Czar, there are two areas of immediate focus for all students and teachers. The first is the need for an extensive information literacy and search curriculum to be developed and implemented. In this age, it is important for learners of all ages to be able to find appropriate information and to critically evaluate the its veracity, context and applicability. As Clay Shirkey famously remarked, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” As more and more information becomes accessible every day, it is important that we teach how to sift through it all in order to find what they need.

Some rights reserved by Clint Hamada

The second is develop and embed the concept of connectivism within our schools, as developed by George Siemens. According to Siemens, “Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing (emphasis added).” All learners should be shown how to develop their own personal learning network, de-emphasizing the role of the school and of the classroom teacher as the sole source of knowledge and empowering learners to seek outside experts and opinions – on a local and global scale – in order to satisfy their own passions for learning.

Success for either of these initiatives cannot be measured by test scores. They will not result in higher standardized test scores or result in a change in PISA rankings. I believe that success can only be measured through an extensive audit of school curricula and learner behavior. Both areas of focus will require an overhaul of ‘traditional’ school curricula to put further emphasis on critical thinking skills and less emphasis on content. In short, a school’s curriculum must become ‘Google-proof.’ This audit should also reveal a greater emphasis being put on creating and maintaining global connections, first facilitated by the school and then maintained by the learner as they mature. These connections can take many forms, including classroom connections, collaborative projects, and peer review and assessment. It will require the learners to leverage technologies such as social media and self-publishing in an authentic and open manner and will, in turn, require schools to actively teach and promote digital citizenship as a core value of the learning environment.


Bringing Robotics to the Curriculum

A lot has been going on since my arrival at Yokohama International School in August. As the newly appointed Head of Department for MYP Technology (soon to be Design) I’ve been, naturally, thinking a lot about how to grow the department in ways that can take advantage of the current trends in education and in technology. The three most obvious areas are 3D printing, coding and robotics.

I’m currently running units with my Grade 9 and Grade 10 classes focus on the first two areas. (More details to come, I promise!) We also were lucky enough to have the budget to purchase to Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits (starter and expansion kits) and I have been helping to run an after-school activity for middle school students focused on exploring the possibilities. It currently consists of 7 Grade 6 boys and 2 Grade 9 boys who are acting as student leaders and mentors (since they have the most robotics experience on campus I think!). We’re hoping to enter at least one YIS team in the local Robosumo Friendly taking place in the spring!

This past weekend I was able to attend an EARCOS Weekend Workshop at Taipei American School focused on robotics in the curriculum. For those who don’t know, TAS has an amazing robotics program throughout their K12 curriculum that they have been building over the past 7 years or so. Leanne Rainbow, who was a Learning2Leader in October focused on robotics, and Andrew Vicars did a great job of explaining the history of their program and sharing some strategies when thinking about how to start a robotics program in your school. They also gave us big chunk of play time where I got to go hands-on with the older NXTs and some of the more advanced/engineering-heavy VEX machines. While we didn’t get to spend too much time building, we did get an introduction to RobotC (of course, it’s only available on Windows and we are a Mac school; apparently PROS can be used to program VEX in a Mac environment.) and the process that students go through in order to prepare for an in-class tournament.

I’m really excited to think about how we could be bringing robotics into our curriculum. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered though.For example:

  • How many kits will I need in order to run this successfully in one grade next year? Does each student need their own kit?  Can they work in pairs to design and build, and then write the program individually? How will this fit in with the MYP Design curriculum?
  • How do we bring this into the curriculum and keep the activity going strong?
  • We’re focused on the EV3 for now. How long until we start moving into the VEX kits for the older students?
  • How do we bring this down into the elementary school? What can we do to provide some sort of continuity in the program? How far down can we go? (For example, I know some KG teachers are using Beebots already but is anybody else?) Who is going to support robotics in the ES and how does it fit into PYP Units of Inquiry?
  • Where are we going to find the physical space to do all/any of this???

None of these questions are deal breakers, of course, and I’m really excited to see where this journey takes our students and our school. Have you implemented a robotic program in your school, either as part of the curriculum or as an activity? Any suggestions?

Image credit: All images by me. Feel free to use these and more under a CC license.

3D Printing is Here!

Grade 6s, watching it print

This is a blog post that I wrote for our school newsletter/blog at YIS.

Of all the new technologies that have become available recently, few have created as much buzz as 3D printing. We are reading about doctors creating implants with 3D printers and engineers creating houses with 3D printers. Last week, we unpacked our first such desktop device – a MakerBot Replicator 2 – at YIS and it is generating a huge buzz amongst students and teachers alike!

As these machines become more accessible, there are two huge changes that are occurring:

  1. Everybody is a designer. Using free tools like SketchUp or Tinkercad on your computer (and tools like 123D Creature on your iPad), we all have the ability to design objects and then print them out.
  2. From consumer to creator. Instead of buying what somebody else things we want or need, we now have the ability to create what we want or need. If our initial design doesn’t work the way we hoped, we can improve it and print it out again.

With online communities like Thingiverse, you can find just about anything you can imagine. From phone cases to dishwasher parts, bike light mounts to miniature dinosaurs, it’s all there. You can even take those designs and remix them to suit your own needs since all files are uploaded under a Creative Commons license. I’m currently printing out accessories for the new printer that I found on the site!

Plato’s five famous solids, printed from Thingiverse

In the second semester, Grade 10s will be designing objects and printing them out on the 3D printer to test if they work as imagined. We’re also exploring how middle school students can create buildings in a virtual Minecraft world and then print models of those buildings on the printer. There has been great discussions about printing objects and testing their strength in Science or creating a set of characters that can be used in a storytelling unit in the ES. The possibilities for authentic inquiry truly are endless!

Our goal is to make this technology accessible to everybody: from Kindergarten to Grade 12; in Tech class as well as English class. If you have any ideas about how you’d like to use the 3D printer, or if you are a parent who uses 3D printing at home or at work, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

The Futility of Filters

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Zach Klein

My new principal just shared this NPR article with me about LAUSD students hacking their shiny new iPads to access blocked content (like facebook) and to disable software that “lets school district officials know where the iPads are, and what the students are doing with them at all times.” The original LA Times article seems shocked and awed that students would hack the devices so they could use them “for personal use”.

I understand the need to focus on student privacy and safety, particularly in the U.S. where CIPA and COPPA. But it is totally unreasonable to give locked-down iPads to students (any students!) and expect them to not find ways around the blocks. Even the Chief Information Officer of LAUSD thinks so:

The district’s chief information officer, Ronald Chandler, says he wasn’t really surprised that students bypassed blocks so quickly. He says that hacks happen at all levels, whether it’s secured parts of the federal government, or student iPads.

“So we talked to students, and we asked them, ‘Why did you do this?’ And in many cases, they said, ‘You guys are just locking us out of too much stuff.'”

To the credit of the the school district, it sounds like they will review their policy. They have, however, currently halted the home use of iPads “until further notice.” Hopefully this is so they can find ways of finding a more student-centered policy rather than finding another way to lock down the devices.

The questions I have are these:

  • What is LAUSD doing to teach students how to act responsibly and how to make good decisions while using technology?
  • How was LAUSD envisioning the use of iPads by students (and teachers) with all of the blocks and filters in place?
  • How much time and money were spent setting up that doomed-to-fail system?

If you know anybody who is working in LAUSD, I’d love to hear from them. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear those too!


A Template for APA Style

So I’ve just started my third class towards an M.Ed. in International Education Administration through Endicott College. (I’m currently knocking out a course per week thanks to the extremely accelerated summer program in hot and sunny Madrid.) This third class is entitled Research Methods and is one part statistics, one part searching, one part analysis, and two parts pedantry. A major course aim is to teach us – or at least familiarize us – with the ins and outs of how to cite, reference, and format in proper APA style.

Since every assignment for this course needs be completed with a cover page and reference page as per APA guidelines, I decided to save myself some time and whip up a document to use as a template (link to .docx file below). I saved it as a personal template (see a video tutorial here) and now anytime I need to write a paper that needs to be formatted as per APA guidelines, I only need to create a new document from the template.


  • 1″ margins
  • 12 pt Times New Roman Font
  • Double spaced
  • Running header on cover page
  • Header on subsequent pages
  • Page numbers throughout
  • Hanging indent on References page (If you are copying your citation from another source, use “Paste and Match Formatting” and it should keep the double spacing and hanging indent.)

I hope you find it useful!

DownloadAPA Template

PowerSearching Your Google Drive

It’s probably because I’m changing schools, but I’m currently obsessed with finding efficient ways to manage and transfer ownership of Google Docs. To be fair, I really started thinking about it at ASB Unplugged in 2012 when I had an awesome conversation with Jeff Plaman, Simon May, Aaron Metz and Andrew McCarthy about “exit strategies” for teachers. But I digress…

About three weeks ago it started with this:

Looking for ways to transfer ownership of lots of #GDocs. I thought changing ownership of the folder would do the trick, but it won't!
Clint Hamada

As with most things Google, @jayatwood quickly joined the conversation and he offered some great tips for PowerSearching within Google Drive:

@ Dropdown arrow at right of search box. There's "Not Shared" under the visibility options.
Jay Atwood

Thanks to Jay and a bit of interneting, I quickly discovered how to find documents owned by me and shared to another specific person:

Search Google Drive

It was useful, but it still didn’t answer an important question:

@ Nice. Is there a way to search for all files owned by me that I've shared?
Clint Hamada

I think I just found the answer. The key is in the difference between “Private” and “Not shared”. As best as I can tell, “Private” means that it has been shared to a specific list of individuals (as opposed to anybody in your domain or anybody in your domain with link) and “Not shared” means, well, not shared. So, by using this search

GDocs Search


I’m able to call up all the documents that I own and have ever shared with any specific individuals and can then transfer ownership as needed!

What other Google Drive tricks have you found?