Playing with Lightbot


I was unable to attend the 2015 ACSE Conference but thanks to the #ACSE15 hashtag and the Twitter messages from @pbeens, I was able to follow along.  It sounded like another great conference.  Hopefully, resources will be added to the website after the presenters get home and realize the powerful messages that they shared.

As I write this post, in another tab, I’m playing with one of the resources that was shared as an introduction to logic that leads to programming.  The program is called Lightbot and runs in a browser (Hour of Code version) and on iOS and Android devices for a modest fee.

The premise is very simple.  You start with minimal instructions and you use the instructions to navigate the Lightbot robot around the desktop and light up the blue tiles when you land on them.  As you increase in levels, you add more functionality to your robot.  This is going to be my Sunday addiction.

Of note, at the bottom, look for the link to additional resources.  And, a teaser about a new game on the way…

Exploring and Wasting Time


For me, it started yesterday by checking my Facebook timeline.  A high school friend had posted this article “What Color Is This Goddamn Dress?”  (Choice of words theirs…)

I looked at it – yellow and white, what’s the deal – and then moved on to do other reading.  I flipped on the morning news as I’m reading my Twitter timeline and this thing had gotten out of hand.  The story was everywhere and, in fact, trending on Twitter.  I walked the dog and came home and the talk was still going.  This is weird.  The current wisdom was that those that saw the colours gold and white were wrong and that, in fact, the colours where black and blue.  Yeah, right.  I know what I saw.

I went back to the original Facebook post and, son of a gun, the dress did look black and blue now.  How could this be?  Then, It occurred to me.  The first look was on my Macintosh computer and I’m now looking at it in Ubuntu.  Same browser – Firefox.  This truly was strange.  Then, I remembered that each computer can be configured with a colour profile.  On Ubuntu, it looks like this.

On the Mac, I had gone into the advanced calibration when I had originally set it up and had a “warmer” setting.

Could this be the difference?  I played around with a bunch of settings which made for some slight changes.  OK, maybe there’s something in this.  After all, I wasn’t looking at the original dress.  I was looking at a digital picture that had had who knows how many loads and saves.

Well, as you know, things had exploded with all kinds of theories, people looking at the image together, bad words being said to others!  I remembered back when I got my first pair of glasses.  The eye doctor had this test with the big E in black and showed it on a red background and then a green background and the question was “which looked sharper?”.  I hated to admit it but black on red always looks sharper to me.  It didn’t matter how much flipping with the equipment that he did.

But the media continues to explode with stories, theories, and scientific explanations.  “This Might Explain Why That Dress Looks Blue And Black, And White And Gold“.  Interesting scientific theory.  My original view was done in the dark and my second visit was next to a patio window with the blinds open.  So many variables.  I then tried it on my iPad and could see both colours depending upon what angle I was looking at the screen.

The posts keep on coming.  There were two where you could see the white/gold colour in one and black/blue in the other.  Enough is enough.  As my science consultant friend often said “There’s got to be a workshop in there somewhere.”  I saved both images to my hard drive and opened them in The Gimp.

Side by side, I can clearly see two different colours.

But, if you look closely at the bottom, I’ve had to resize the yellow/gold one to get them to be about the same size.  So, the originals weren’t necessarily the original image.  Even for this side by side, I’ve introduced some error into the picture.  And, besides, they are now both on the same computer with the same colour settings and yet appear different (at least to me…)  One of them has already been doctored to make the point.

The colour picker will get to the bottom of this.

         

I should have gone into forensics. 

So, I could do a little editing on my own.  How about green?

As I was doing this, I was thinking of a couple of lesson activities.

  • In the Comm Tech classroom, could you take the two images and adjust the settings so that they look the same?  Or, if you took one, could you make it into the other?
  • In a digital literacy class, it’s a perfect example of how you can see the same thing in two different ways?  It’s a solid reminder to question everything you see online!
  • In the science classroom, there’s probably a whack of scientific principles at work.  I’m just not a science teacher.

As I wrap up this post, I realize that I had left the search for #TheDress open in another tab.  There are hundreds of messages that have come in since I started this post.

The online world loves a good argument.  I’ve been online long enough to remember the classic nerd arguments.  “Who’s the better captain?  Kirk or Picard?”

(I’m solidly in the Kirk camp…)

Anyway, enough exploring and wasting time.  There’s better things to do.

These Wheels are Hot


Hot Wheels are really one of those enduring toys that have spanned generations.  I can remember putting together pieces of track from the coffee table in the living room, doing loops, crashes, etc. as a kid.  I even had a case to store them and carry them to friends’ places to have our own auto show.  It was through Hot Wheels that my goal in life is to own a Camaro.  Still working on that one, but I have driven one!  In my day, Hot Wheels were replicas of real cars.  Today’s versions have certainly surpassed that.

Although we didn’t know or appreciate it at the time, there’s just a whack of scientific principles that go into how Hot Wheels work.  I have known teachers who have incorporated them into their science classrooms.  Just think of all of the learning and inquiry that they can provide.

I was really excited to see this offer on their website.

What a deal!  There’s a form to make the request.  I checked the URL and it does land on an en-us page.  That led me to wonder if Hot Wheels does have a Canadian site.  It turns out that it does.  You can find it here.  Search as I might, I couldn’t find the same offer on the Canadian site.  But, the US pages doesn’t indicate that it’s for US schools only.  It might be worth a shot.  The program does, however, seem to be directed at the STEM initiative in US schools.

Even if the kit is not available, there are still a couple of resources worth investigating.

Faking It


There is a great deal of media this morning about the pending update of the new sex curriculum in Ontario.  Is there really something new under the sun?

Actually, quite a bit since the release of the original document. 

One of the emergent technologies since then has been the abundance of affordable technologies and students are using them in ways never dreamt.  One that we hear of quite regularly is using text messaging to send all kinds of messages.  Bullying, of course, but the one that hits centre in the discussion is of sending sexual messages.  It’s even spawned a new term “sexting” which I try not to focus on since it’s just one piece of the puzzle.  Yet, it seems to be the one that hits the top of the discussion.

There will, undoubtedly, be all kinds of resources generated but we need to keep in mind the sophistication of today’s youth.  They’ll immediately get turned out if it’s just a one way lectures about the evils or yet another worksheet.

A resource that might prove to be helpful is ifaketext.  It’s an online generator to create a text message conversation that looks like a screen capture from an iphone discussion.  It’s simple to use and the results are very good.  Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Sylvia Duckworth.  I did go old school and sent the request to her via, gasp, email.  But, had I been on top of technology, I could have sent her a text message with the invitation.  Here it is, had I done so, recreated in ifaketext.

and the result….

You’ll notice that the output is pretty darned accurate.  Once created, the resulting image can be repurposed in a number of ways.  I really like the concept of embedding it into your class wiki.

Just keep in mind that the resulting image lives on their site.  (Privacy Policy)  The other concern is that the service providers that you choose from are not available in Ontario.  Maybe this is a resource that OSAPAC should license to have modified with Canadian carriers.

Of course, there are all kinds of ways that you could incorporate this into your classroom in meaningful ways. By itself, it’s a pretty straightforward way to generate impressive looking results.

My Kingdom to Code


Writing that silly little program yesterday reminded me of how grateful I am that I learned to code.  I have no memory of why I signed up for Mr. Cook’s Grade 11 computer class.  It was the first time that it was offered and he was making it up as he went along.  There certainly wasn’t a curriculum we were following.  And, we were learning Fortran!  Not the good Fortran that we used at university.  It was pretty primitive and there was a great deal of unlearning and learning again in order to tackle Fortran IV and Watfor.

It was a classic case in action “They won’t remember your content but they will remember how you felt”.  I still remember the rush when a program was returned and I got 10/10.  There were no rubrics then and, quite frankly, I can’t remember how they were marked.  I do know that he was doing the programs along with us and compared our results against his.  We would get out cards back wrapped in our printout with the mark written in pencil on the outside.  Given all that I’ve learned about assessment and evaluation over the years, I can only think of one way to describe it – quaint!

But the marks have faded from memory.  I know that I did well in the course, took it in Grade 12, and then took plenty of computer science at university and went on to teach it in the classroom.  But what remains in memory was how good I felt to get a program to run and how he shared in the excitement.  It’s one thing that I tried to replicate when I had classes of my own.

Now, I’m not about to suggest that any student, new to the discipline today, should be thrown to the wolves and begin to learn with an industrial strength programming language.  But realize that no student shows up on the first day of class wondering what computers and computing is about.  They’ve had the experience of interaction with computing devices for years and experienced their own level of satisfaction with feedback from whatever they’ve experienced.  I would suggest that it makes that introduction to computing more difficult than ever.

Fortunately, we have great programmers at work trying to enhance that experience.

I ran into a reference to a new experience released in January this year through UKEDChat.

The program starts a just another game.  You know the type; move your character around the school with your cursor keys.  But quickly, you can see the introduction to programming coming through.  Interactions with characters and later on the constructions are in the form of Javascript.

2015-02-14_1814

Minecraft users are going to love this.  Students can create and share their own environment with others.  Development is done in Javascript.   Read about all that you can do in this environment here.

I think that there are probably very few students that will get excited and have fond memories if they cut their teeth on hard core coding.  But, in a game and presentation environment like Code Kingdoms, they just might!

 

Chillin’


OK, it’s darned cold out there.  On the weekend, our outdoor thermometer sensor stopped working and we saw -.- when we looked at the thermometer.  The morning dog walk revealed that it really was cold.

As I write this, the thermometer is working again.  It says -26 but anyone who walks a Husky knows two things….

  • cold is just an excuse to want to walk further
  • the real story is in the wind chill factor or the feels like temperature.

According to the Weather Network, it’s just going to be a peachy dog walking day.  At least the winds are going to be weaker today.  It truly was brutal yesterday for life in the Sun Parlor.

This led me to a little investigation to answer the day’s inquiry “How do they calculate the “Feels like” value”?

An interesting answer is found here in Yahoo! Answers.

But it’s not cut and dried.  Looking on the Wikipedia shows that there isn’t one simple answer.  In North America, we have the original calculation and the “new” one.  In Australia, they have an “Apparent Temperature” calculation.

Instructions and the formulae for the calculations, presumably in North American can be found here.

There are even all kinds of all kinds of applications on the web to do the calculation.  Here’s one.  Now, I can’t vouch for the validity of any of the calculations, but the reading and the formulae are interesting.  Then, I thought of the old adage – “everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it”.

Well, Computer Science teachers do!

There isn’t a Computer Science teacher alive who hasn’t demonstrated or assigned a program to accept a temperature in either Fahrenheit or Celsius and had students output the conversion to the other.

So, why not construct a program to do this?

Wind chill temperature = 13.12 + 0.6215 × T – 11.37 V 0.16 + 0.3965 T V 0.16
In the above formula,
T is the temperature of air calculated in degree Fahrenheit or in degree Celsius
V is the speed of wind calculated in miles per hour or kilometers per hour

Thanks, http://www.howany.com/

Now, something like this doesn’t require a big, fancy program and compiler to work.  All I need to do is enter a Temperature and Wind Speed and do a calculation.  I had just read Alfred Thompson’s Monday “Interesting Things” blog post so I must have had Alfred on the mind.  I remembered a few years ago he told me about Microsoft’s Small Basic.  That seemed like the perfect tool.  I rebooted to run Windows and fired up the program.  Of course, there was a little bit of a learning curve to get the syntax correct (although Small Basic is really helpful as you’re writing the code).  So, I wrote the program, ran it, and got the answer that the Weather Network had generated.  How’s that for verifying that everything is working OK.  It’s somehow comforting to know that the algorithm, my coding, and the test data all converged.

Now, to convince the dog that it’s too cold to walk…

This Might Change Everything


Like many folks, I suspect, I’m a creature of habit in the morning. 

At least until the coffee kicks in and the dog is walked. 

I like doing some reading for my own purposes.  I’ve always done this and tucked the best of the stories away for future reference.  My Diigo account is the perfect place.  The stories are there for later research and also my first place to go when I need to do a search on a topic since I’ve already vetted the content.

For the longest time, Zite has been my go-to reading application in the morning.  A while ago, it was acquired by Flipboard but it’s still alive and well giving me my morning reads.  However, as noted in the blog post, it’s not going to be around forever.  I always lived in fear of the day that the other shoe would drop and I’d have to change things.

Zite is an application for the iPad and Android.  For my morning reads, I grab my coffee and sit in my chair and do my reading.  Like many iPad owners, I’m frustrated with the state of the wifi and the recent iOS upgrade did nothing to fix it.  The problem is well documented and the chain on the Apple Support Forums is the longest that I’ve encountered when I turn there looking for a solution.  I’ve tried all of the suggestions there but there are, quite frankly, days when I can’t use the iPad because of problems.  It’s not that it’s a long distance from the WAP to the iPad (maybe 25m?) and I do have a technique for at least a partial solution by orienting it in a particular direction but that’s not always successful.

However, there’s good news!  I’ve always known that I’ll have to move to Flipboard but that move may be sooner rather than later.

I logged in and poked around.  This really looks promising.

All my created content, of course, is there.

It’s not that I’m new to using Flipboard.  All the topic areas that I would normally follow on the iPad are there and ready to read.

The presentation is a bit different.  Rather than flipping through the stories like you would on the iPad, it takes advantage of the infinite scrolling ability of a modern browser.  I’ll need the discipline to set a limit on the amount of scrolling time rather than testing out the definition of infinite.

Most importantly, I’ll be able to ditch the iPad for reading and just use a laptop instead.  It doesn’t suffer from the wifi woes.

I am excited about this movement.  Zite has promised to incorporate some of its searching technology into the Flipboard product as part of the acquisition.  This promises to give the best of both worlds and, without the wifi frustration, what could be better?

That’s just about me.  This might be the tipping point for schools as well.  Rather than trying to maintain a webpage with new content, the school’s web person could create a Flipboard magazine for the school and flip resources and content there for parents.  With both mobile and web options, a Flipboard solution become readily available to everyone.