Monday, January 29, 2018

RocketWindow Revolution!

The RocketWindow Revolution
How to take your Rocketbook the next level

I recently presented at an EdTechTeam Summit, At the summit they gave away a notebook called a Rocketbook. Now I’ve heard about these Rocketbooks before but I've never actually had one, so I didn't have a chance to see what it can actually do. I started playing around with it to see what all the fuss was about. Now if you don't know what a Rocketbook is, it's a notebook where you can write traditionally with pencil and then at the very bottom of each page, there is a QR code with some tokens. With these tokens, you can bubble them in and with the Rocketbook app it will scan the traditional written pencil and paper diagrams or notes that you are writing and can send them as a PDF or JPEG to anywhere on the internet. Well, when I say anywhere on the internet I really mean to a cloud service that has a storage such as Microsoft 365  OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox. So I started doodling on the page and configuring the app to link each token to a place where I wanted to send my images/notes I was drawing. To my surprise, instantly once I scanned the image with the app, the drawings and notes that I was taking truly did port right over to my cloud service.  I was amazed and then I started thinking about all the possibilities and opportunities this gave to me and my staff at my school.  I know there are a lot of teachers out there who still love traditional writing. I know there are a lot of teachers out there that want to try technology but don't want to take away from a students opportunity to write in a traditional notebook-style environment.  Rocketbook gives the opportunity of Blended learning to allow students to take notes the way they like best (online or traditional) and still send them over to their cloud service of their choice. These digital documents can then be turned in to Google Classroom or placed on a student portfolio to be viewed by others. This is a great opportunity to allow teachers a chance to try traditional and digital in the same setting. Blended learning at its best.

Now if you know anything about me, of course, I didn't stop there.  To me, developers of apps don't truly see everything their app can do. It's teachers like us that take the app and find a way to bend it, to mold it, to make it fit into our classrooms for each of our students. We hack the apps. With this mindset, I decided to hack the rocketbook. My first step was to figure out what the app was actually on the page. Was the app scanning the entire page or just the tokens? What was causing the app to fulfill its function?  So I searched online for Rocketbook pages and to my surprise rocketbook the company was actually giving away free downloadable PDF pages on its website. On the blog where these Pages were available rocketbook states that it wants to give away these pages because it allows people to test out their app before actually buying a notebook. These pages entice teachers to want to use them and possibly purchase a rocketbook of their own. So I took these pages and began to manipulate them. I placed the jpg version of the Rocketsheet and placed it in Google Draw. I took a white square and placed it over the lined writing space, this making a blank rocketbook page with nothing to write on except a blank page.  I wanted to test to see if this blank canvas would truly allow me to put anything in the middle and allow me to use the app and send it over to my Google Drive, and to my amazement it did.

Through all this, I discovered the only thing you needed to have the rocketbook app work is a solid black border, the QR code, and the tokens. With this new information, I decided why should I stop there? If a blank Rocketpage works on a traditional 8.5 x 11 notepaper, could it work on something bigger? It was from this idea that the rocketboard came to be. I already had large whiteboards that my students use for jigsaws and collaborative learning, so I thought if I could put a black border around the edges and then take the QR codes and enlarge them, could I turn this whiteboard into a rocketboard. I grabbed some black masking tape and taped all the edges around the Whiteboard. I took the QR code and the 7 tokens and I enlarged them up on a piece of paper and printed them. I carefully cut them out and laid them at the bottom of the black border whiteboard. I then wrote something on the whiteboard and then use the app to scan. Once again the app and hack worked flawlessly. I stood back and thought, “This it's something new. This could open up so many possibilities.” This was the rocketboard.

Of course, again I couldn't stop there. How could I? You see a lot of teachers don't have whiteboards pre-cut which they can hand out to their students. Most teachers only have a large whiteboard in front of their class. What if students are doing work on that? How could we allow students to take their work and Rocket it right to their drive? I thought, if a rocketboard works, what would happen if I cut out the entire workable section out? What if I just had a black border and then at the bottom of that frame was the QR code and the tokens? What if I created a window? That's that's where the idea of a RocketWindow was born.  I headed out to the office supply store and bought a 3 pack of 20 by 30 foam boards. I placed a 1 ½  inch black border around the foam board and then placed my exploded QR code and Rocket tokens at the bottom. I then carefully, with a box cutter, cut out all the white around the rocket board creating a window. To make it stay on the whiteboard I placed 4 button magnets on the back.  I placed the window on the classroom whiteboard, wrote in the window space, and amazingly it worked.  From this board, I was left with a medium sized white cut out. I don’t like to be wasteful so I wondered what could I do with this. I measured it and found if I cut it into fourths I'm left with 4 smaller 8 x 11-inch rectangles. I thought I wonder if I could put an inch of the black border around there and they smaller printed QR code with tokens on the bottom. I wonder if that would work. I went to work and this created four RocketWindow minis. These RocketWindow minis can be placed over any student work of any paper they have in class. Now ANY work can be rocketed their Digital Drive and can be placed anywhere in Google Classroom to be turned in or on a website digital portfolio for later use.

As you can see, by this time I was super excited! Something new out of rocketbook. Something new for a teacher to use. Something new that's beneficial to all educators! I thought wait a minute, there could be more. When I looked in the app there was more than just an option for a scanning the image over as a PDF or jpeg. At the very bottom of the app, it gave you the option of creating an animated gif. I thought. I wondered. Could I use this on the whiteboard by writing a small word at the top scan the image, write another word beneath it scan the image, another word scan, another word scan, and then hit send?  To my amazement, it created an animated gif of my work! How awesome is this?!  Now students can show their work on math on the board and have an animated gif when they turn it into you. They can write the problem at the top, step number one, step number, then rocket the animated gif to the drive of their choice, then turn it in to Google Classroom to show their work!

Finally I wondered, could anything be placed in this window? Does it have to be something written? Does it have to be something with the pencil or marker? Or can a 3D object be placed in the RocketWindow? To test my theory, I placed the RocketWindow on the floor and then I placed some 3D objects within the RocketWindow. I scanned it and it worked! I thought this is a great opportunity for littles who can’t fully write yet but can manipulate objects. Thinking of them I placed some foam letters into the RocketWindow and spelled cat, it worked!  I put up the RocketWindow on my whiteboard and put some magnetic letters to spell dog and it worked.  And yes, the animated gif option works on this as well. How cool will it would it be to show these young students spelling out words for the first time in a step-by-step process that is scanned by you in an animated gif? How fun would it be to show this to their parents so the parents can see their child in the act of manipulating objects and spelling out words. I think this would be really cool to see in a K-2 classroom.  

If you're reading this blog and you try some of these ideas or if you make a rocket window and you're trying your students I would love to see it! Try using the rocket window with 360 math! Try using it on your own daily agenda you write on the boar each week. If you try anything I would love to see pictures or to hear your story about what you are doing and how you're transforming your classroom with these new RocketWindow tools. At this point, you might feel excited, but some of you might be thinking how does Rocket book feel about all this?  Well, I was thinking the same thing. I was hoping they wouldn't be upset. I was hoping they wouldn't see that I'm infringing on their app. My answer came in the form of a single tweet which said “Genius. #MindBlown.” So I'll take that as their blessing.  In closing I want you to remember that your classroom is unique, your students are unique, and sometimes the developers of educational technology tools don't see the true power their app can have on your students.  Sometimes you have to bend the app to your will. Sometimes you have to manipulate the app to benefit your students. Sometimes you have to Hack the Apps!

How to make the #RocketWindow. Watch the video, then read the instructions.

Supplies to make a RocketWindow Frame:

Box Cutter

On the 20x30 foam board place a 1 ½ inch black border on the top and sides. Place a 1 inch black border on the bottom. Place your enlarged QR codes and tokens just above the 1 inch black border on the bottom (make sure the tokens are laminated to allow marking and wiping of the tokens.  With the box cutter, cut along the inside of the black border to create a window. On the back of your window, place one button magnet on each corner. Adhere the magnets with zots.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Raising the Bar

Raising the Bar

Why Digital Device Training Is Needed in Public Education

I started my teaching career as a 20 year old football coach 16 years ago for Alta Sierra Intermediate. I was hired to help out with the offense and defensive lines, setting up drills, and planning our defensive strategies. I loved the 5-4 defense since I played nose guard in high school and believed the pressure would work well at our level. Needless to say, over time, keeping the same defense scheme game-in and game-out just didn’t work. I discovered the importance of preparation, and realized using a defense I loved didn't always work. I discovered my defense needed to change for the offense that lay ahead, not the formation I knew best. I discovered my coaching skills needed to evolve and expand to ideas outside of my comfort zone so that my players had the best possible chance to be competitive.

Let me keep my sports theme going a bit before I get to my point. Hypothetically, let’s say there is a high school track and field coach and they have coached the high jump event for their entire career. They are in fact the best high jump coach in the state, and have produced many top athletes through their instruction. They are approached by a new head coach and asked to also train his/her high jump athletes in the pole vault. For the purpose of this hypothetical, we will say the pole vault is not an event which scores any points for the team. In an effort to get the coach willing to take on this new responsibility, the head coach shows him the side by side description of the “high jump” and the “pole vault” events as seen below:

High Jump: The high jump is a track and field event in which competitors must jump unaided over a horizontal bar placed at measured heights without dislodging it. In its modern most practiced format, a bar is placed between two standards with a crash mat for landing.

Pole Vault: The pole vault  is a track and field event in which competitors must use  a long, flexible pole (which today is usually made either of fiberglass or carbon fiber) as an aid to jump over a horizontal bar placed at measured heights without dislodging it. In its modern most practiced format, a bar is placed between two standards with a crash mat for landing.

The coach insists he/she loves the high jump for its practicality and unaided format. Only human will and skill are needed to do well in the event. The coach explains that with the pole vault, the athlete needs a device to do well, which can distract from the true skill of the athlete. If he/she takes on this other task, he will not have enough time to truly train his athletes in the event that matters and gives the team points in the actual competition. The coach also explains that he has coached the high jump for many years and all his athletes do really well at the end of the year championship meets, so why train them in this new skill? Why change a good thing?

This seems like a very reasonable argument. Why should a seasoned  high jump coach change and try something else? Why train athletes for an event which is not even counted at the schools competitions?  Well, let me put a new spin on this situation. What if the coach was informed that only 11% of his athletes would be competing in the high jump in college and 89% were being asked to compete in the pole vault. On top of this, none of the athletes would be given coaching instructions on how to compete or prepare in their new event. Now do you think the skills gained through high jump would prepare the athletes to compete in pole vault? Sure, some would instinctively adjust to some degree, but without coaching, many would struggle. Because of this, “College Studies” would show that incoming athletes perform better in high jump competitions than pole vaulting competitions. Is this a fair comparison? These are two different events, with very different skills needed to be successful. Yes the event descriptions seem to be similar, but the act itself is very different.

Of course this is an extreme hypothetical situation. No high school track and field program that I know of has a high jump event and not a pole vaulting event. But think about this for a second: if our goal as educators is to prepare our students for what is to come, shouldn’t we include the skills in our everyday instruction to prepare them for this change? If the hypothetical situation above was in fact real, shouldn't the coach be preparing his athletes for the event they will most likely compete in while in college?  Of course by now you are beginning to see where I am going with is post. In college today 89% of our students are using digital devices to complete work, create notes, and communicate with other students and faculty on a daily basis. Most of these students have learned how to use the devices, for better or worse, themselves with no coaching, support, or guidance on best practices. If we know the challenges that lie ahead for our students in college, why do we insist on not truly embracing the digital device in our public K-12 system?

Now I know this is a generalization. There are many schools and lone wolf teachers truly embracing the digital device. But the reality is the vast majority of public K-12 classroom instruction is still paper & pencil, fill in worksheets, and drill-kill-skills practicing. Many teachers feel the digital device becomes a distractor for their instruction and antagonist to their students’ learning. But the digital device IS NOT GOING AWAY. It will always reveal itself outside of your classroom and in the halls of instruction at college institutions.
I say to you now, WE NEED YOU to help our students understand how to take your mastery concepts of reading, writing, and arithmetic and port those over to tools we know our students will be utilizing in college. We need you to get out of your comfort zone and #DitchThatFEAR of change to better help our students succeed once they leave our instruction. If we continue to ignore the device they will be using to learn tomorrow, we are shackling the skills we hoped would empower them today. As with high jump and pole vault, we need to RAISE THE BAR and do what is right for our students.

Now let me address the elephant in the room. Without a doubt, studies have shown handwritten work to be more beneficial to student recall than typed work. I do not refute these studies, but I do wonder “Why?” Why are these the results we are getting? Is it the way the brain works? Is it the tactile feel of the pencil in one's hand? Or is it something else? Maybe it’s because the students have been solely trained to high jump, then asked to pole vault with no instruction. You see, these studies take students who have taken notes using paper-pencil for 10+ years and put them against students who are using a digital device with possibly no educational training. We are asking high jumpers to compete in a completely different event, with a device they must learn how to use on their own. Maybe the reason these studies are so consistent is that K-12 teachers see them and use it as a reason to not allow/use devices in their classroom. This completes a feedback loop, a self-fulfilling prophecy, limiting the use of devices in many K-12 classrooms. I would love to see a study from students who have been properly trained how to use a digital device for 10+ years… hmmm doctorate thesis anyone?

Now I could very well be wrong. After years of testing and studies we may find that indeed, handwritten work is be the best form of learning. Fantastic! But this fact will not detour our students from using their devices to learn. This fact will not reverse the tide. Our students now and forevermore will be using digital devices to communicate, collaborate, create and complete work. So even if the studies show paper and pencil to be best, we STILL need to train our kids on using digital devices in their everyday learning. If we don’t  they will be left to their own devices (pun intended). They will be left to fend for themselves. They will become an athlete without a coach. For this reason, we must train our students how to master their digital devices, even if you yourself do not see an immediate benefit for your class.For this reason, I applaud AVID.

AVID, as many of you know, has a mission to prepare all students for college readiness and success. When AVID noticed the growing number of students utilizing a digital device in college, they had to rethink some of their methods in implementing their strategies.  As a result, AVID has created a Digital Teaching and Learning (DTL) pathway to help students and teachers maximize their strategies through digital means and proper educational training before they set foot on a college campus. This forward thinking approach helps to bridge the learning gap created by the great leap from high school to college.

One final caveat; technology is NOT the savior of education. YOU are. What will have the most powerful impact on your students is your willingness to evolve year after year to be the best teacher you can possibly be; your willingness to see the world changing and your eagerness to change with it; your sensibility to see what our students will be up against and take the challenge head on. We need not to change the way we TEACH our kids, but rather, change the way we REACH our kids. We need to see past the noise, past the studies, and see clearly the path that lies ahead for our students. The digital device is not going away. Our students are not reverting back to paper and pencil. We need to do our best to prepare our students for THEIR future, not our past. We need to truly ask ourselves, “If we know our students will be competing in pole vault in college, would we continue to only train them in high jump?” I hope the answer is no. I hope the answer is clear. I hope you will raise the bar.