Friday, October 30, 2015

MIE Expert Wannabe!

I am applying to become a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. What's that, you say? MIE Experts are advocates for using Microsoft technology to improve student learning. I have to say, being an Educational Technology teacher, I've been impressed with Microsoft lately - Hololens and many of the new features of Office come to mind.

I use a number of technologies in my daily life as a teacher. Most recently, Microsoft helped me deliver a unit on Robotics from start to finish. First, I initiated and guided the unit through the use of Mix, which is a great platform for creating dynamic lessons with interactivity. Next, my students wrote their "pseudocode" (robotic algorithms written in plain language) in Word, then they shared it with each other and me via OneDrive. They also used Sway to document the design process associated with their robots, creating effective and engaging presentations.

As a last step, students were required to design and 3D print a custom piece to be added to their robots (either functional or ornamental). We used Microsoft's 3D Model Repair service to ensure that our prints were error (and frustration) free.

If I have the opportunity to become a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, I will be able to tap into even more great Microsoft resources and connect with other like-minded MIE's who have a passion for educational technology like me. Fingers crossed!

Monday, October 26, 2015


This school year has been incredibly busy so far. I can't believe its almost November already. In the past two months, we have essentially built our new "makerspace" and I have been busy learning all of our new toys (Orion Delta CNC 3D Printer, Roland Stika vinyl cutter,  Little Bits, Arduinos, etc) and finding ways to incorporate them in a challenging (yet fun) manner into our new program.

Students assembling our new standing desks (this is a makerspace, after all)
Most of our efforts in Digital Media Design (DMD) - we're working on a new name for this course as it doesn't quite fit what is now taking place in the room - have been focused on robotics. Namely, EV3 Mindstorms robotics. This is now my 3rd year working with this platform and I absolutely love it. I have worked with VEX, Fischertechnik and Tetrix robotics kits and while they all have their merits, I feel that LEGO EV3 is superior, due to ease of use, flexibility, robust design, and endless possibilities for application across disciplines and for scaling.

Our latest projects in DMD involve students working in design teams (usually 2-3 people) to take on design challenges or "briefs." I have included a video below that quickly showcases a couple that have been very successful: the ARTBot and Robo-Dragsters.

The ARTbots are tasked with creating abstract art (in the vein of Jackson Pollock). They must raise and lower a drawing implement (or two) using a mechanism of the designers' choosing. Some utilized levers, some utilized rack and pinions, for example. They must also use sensors to avoid collision with the frame and operate autonomously. The requires students knowing how to program using loops and sensors to accomplish the task.

Lastly, our Robo-Dragsters challenge design teams to leverage gear ratio to make their bots the fastest. Teams experiment with different combinations of gears to find the right balance of speed and torque. Rather than have the bots operate autonomously, students control their dragsters via smartphone using the EV3 Mindstorms App, which is free. We then have a showdown in the hallway, which we all love. Design teams compete in heats to win the Spartan Summer Nationals (Nitro burning funny cars this Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!!!). The next time I run this challenge, students will be required to have their dragsters run autonomously, using sensors to both avoid collision and measure overall speed.

Check out the video below to get a better idea: