Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Geek Summer

It all started with a workshop this past June on teaching (and learning to use) Scratch, a programming language for teaching kids to code.  Scratch was designed by MIT and, in conjunction with Harvard School of Education, they have a website for teachers called ScratchEd.  I had heard about this application and was planning to look into it, having dabbled in game programming with some of my students a couple of years ago, using GameMaker, as well as many years ago when I worked for a computer company.  I received a message somewhere about this 6 week workshop, so I signed up.  The workshop was all online, using Google+, Google Groups and Hangouts.  So I not only learned Scratch, but finally started using Google+ and Hangouts.

The workshop culminated in a day long symposium at Harvard, where we learned more about Scratch, got to collaborate in person with other teachers from all over the country as well as from a few foreign countries. We also got to see and play with Makey Makey and Lego WeDo, additional products that can be used with Scratch.  I was so taken with the Makey Makey, which is a sort of controller board that can be used to make anything into a computer key, as long as it conducts electricity, that I bought one.  I had already started using Scratch with some of my students who wanted to learn to program games.  I brought in the Makey Makey too and had my programming students play with it.  But I think it has great potential as an alternative technology, for people who cannot use the keyboard keys, but could use objects to control the computer.

I also did a little research online on Maker camps.  I watched an episode where they were talking about making alternative music. I collaborated with the music teacher to have the students think about different ways they could make music and showed them the Makey Makey banana piano too.

I also had the chance to try on Google Glass, attending a Meetup of a group devoted to developing applications for Glass.  It was held at an electronics company called Dyn, after work, but the energy of development as well as a few employees were still there. It looked like a great place to work, in a renovated mill building in the historic Millyard of Manchester, NH, with great open spaces and multi-levels and even equipped with a game room! It made me long for the days when I was working in "high tech" and we were building 8MB workstations and the excitement of being a part of creating these new products which would change the world.

Next I went to an edcamp for my first time. Not that they are specifically about technology, but they use technology to organize the schedule and it was a common topic.  I learned how to make a trailer using iMovie.  Then one of the sessions was about Raspberry Pi, the mini computer board, that costs $35, which you can use to teach electronics and programming. That was the topic of discussion, how can Raspberry Pi be used in schools?  I had seen an article on it a couple of years ago, but didn't think too much about it. But now that I knew that Scratch can be used with the Pi, I decided to get one.

I was reading about the Maker Faires and located one in a town not too far away.  I went to it, and having seen the schedule, knew there was an exhibit on Raspberry Pi there, so I set out to find it.  It was informative, especially meeting the author of the book "Raspberry Pi for the Evil Genius" (Don Norris, a programming professor at Southern NH University).  Of course I bought the book, which I am reading now, and it appears to be very informative and easy to understand. It has sample projects with instructions to complete them too. I also saw some other interesting inventions, including a one handed typing machine and several 3D printers that could be made from kits.

So now I am collecting stuff to stock my Hacker Space in my classroom. I would like to get some Lego kits for building robots to use to program with the Pi too. It will be a learning experience for myself as well as the students.