Saturday, December 18, 2010

"On the Twelfth Day of Tech-mas"

While most schools mail out holiday greeting cards to all the schools in our district, my school has sent out a video holiday greeting card since 2006. It's been my responsibility to record and produce what has become a holiday tradition for us. This year, our school has acquired a variety of new technologies to support student learning, so it seemed appropriate to change the lyrics to a holiday song and give it a technology spin.
Rather than write it myself, I decided to crowd-source the lyrics to our staff. On our white board in the teacher's lounge, I wrote: "On the twelfth day of Christmas, we got technology," then numbered from 12 down to 1. By the end of the day, most of the lyrics were completed by the group, thanks to our contributors. I then began recording each of the various short segments over a three day period during lunch and after school. I shot the video using my Sony HDR-HC3 mini-HDV camcorder, in 1080i resolution. The on-camera mic was sufficient, so I did not need to use my back-up recording I made with my Zoom H2 digital recorder. Although I did not use the Zoom's recording, it is always a good idea to have a back up.
At first, the lyrics focused too much on the actual technology items we received, such as new laptops, our LCD projectors, and the like. The problem was, the song read like a stale list of "stuff." It felt empty. As soon as we focused on the verbs, the song took on a more animated and lively feel. It felt more like our school and the way we attempt to integrate technology. For example, instead of saying "11 interactive whiteboards," we said, "11 kids engaging;" instead of saying, "9 new printers," we said, "9 students printing." These subtle adjustments gave the song a much more student-centric vibe, which is more like "us." Enjoy! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stick Pick: Coming Soon to iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch

About a year ago, the idea of an iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch app that would combine equity sticks (you know, those popular popsicle sticks?) and question stems (based on Bloom's Taxonomy) crept into my head. Many of you know that I have been working on this app for quite some time, but for those of you who do not, I'd like to share with you my journey, and for the first time, a summary of Stick Pick.
When the idea first hit me over a year ago, I bought little 3x5 cards and began drawing screen shots and jotting down anything related to my idea. Then, I registered to become an iPhone developer and downloaded the iPhone SDK (Software Developer's Kit) from Apple for $100. 
Being a life-long learner with a knack for technology, I figured I could teach myself the "coding basics" and be on my way to developing my app. Wrong! I naively bought myself a "Teach Yourself" book: C++ Without Fear: A Beginner's Guide That Makes You Feel Smart by Brian Overland. Although it is well-written and easy to understand, it quickly went over my head after the first 100 pages or so.
Frustrated yet determined, I bought another book: Teach Yourself iPhone in 24 Hours, but just like the other book, the author lost me by around page 100. I became even more frustrated. I wondered if joining a user group would help. I found a nice group of developers, designers, and iPhone enthusiasts who meet in Irvine, CA, which is about 30 minutes from my home, every Tuesday night. I visited a few times and met some good folks. About five months ago, the organization sponsored a Saturday event called, "Hello Universe." It was a whole day devoted to iPhone SDK, design, and coding. I shared my app idea for the first time, publicly, and it was then that I decided to call it "Stick Pick."
By the end of the day, I went home with an iPhone sketchbook I had won in a raffle. I also had a renewed vigor towards getting my app done. I spent a few more frustrating hours trying to understand the iPhone SDK, but it was to no avail. I finally decided to hire a coder. In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, the author postulates that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a master at something. I realized that I don't have that kind of time to become a skilled coder -- not if I hope to have my app developed in this lifetime. On a recommendation from a friend, I found a developer through E-lance, an online conglomeration of software developers. After a ten day bidding war, I awarded the job to a developer, who incidentally, is married to a teacher!
In the following weeks, I spent countless hours drawing sketches, designing screen shots and working out the UI (user interface) in my head, flushing it out on paper. I scanned my sketches and arranged everything into a PowerPoint presentation in an effort to make it easy for my developer to understand. I conducted research on Bloom's taxonomy, learned the difference between Bloom's and Bloom's revised taxonomy, read Benjamin Bloom's historic handbook, interviewed teachers, spoke with publishers, consulted numerous textbooks and teacher-tools, and came up with my own question stems and developed my own rubrics.
A summary of Stick Pick: Stick Pick is a tool for teachers, by a teacher, that promotes equity among all learners, builds higher order thinking skills across all cognitive levels, and supports English language development. Here's how it works: After a teacher names a class (soup can), he or she can start adding students (popsicle sticks), one at a time. Stick Pick supports up to 12 classes and up to 50 students per class. For each student, the teacher selects a "question starter" mode. The choice of modes are Bloom's, Bloom's Revised, ESL (English as a Second Language), and Stick Only. The teacher then sets the default degree of difficulty for this student. For example, In Bloom's mode, the teacher can pick from among the six levels of Bloom's Taxonomy: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation; (Knowledge" is at the bottom and "Evaluation" is at the top of the hierarchy). In ESL mode, the teacher can pick from among the five levels of Engish language development: Beginning, Beginning Intermediate, Intermediate, Early Advanced, and Advanced.
After all students have been added to the class, the teacher can view the soup can and "swipe up," tap," or "shake" to randomly select a student's stick, which then suddenly appears at the top of the screen. Below the stick are several, appropriate, question stems, such as "Who is...?" or "What is the main idea of...? (depending on the student's skill level previously set by the teacher). After the teacher asks a student a question, the teacher can either mark the stick as "used" (which puts the stick in a special used can), or "reset" the stick (which places the stick back in the can). 
Stick Pick will also allow teachers to track students' performance. Instead of marking the stick "used" or "resetting" the stick right away, a teacher may choose to mark a student's answer as correct, incorrect or opinion. Furthermore, in Bloom's and Bloom's Revised mode, teachers can even evaluate their student's level of understanding using a 0-5 point "critical thinking rubric"; and in ESL mode, teachers can evaluate each English language learner's response on a 0-5 point "elaboration rubric". With one-button ease, each student's performance data can be e-mailed to interested individuals, such as a parents, colleagues, or the principal.
Stick Pick is currently in beta-release ONE, which means, my developer has completed the first draft of the app. It is not yet in public release. I installed the app on my iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, and have been field-testing it in my own classroom and sharing it with friends, family, and colleagues for the last two weeks. Recently, I spent about 25 hours drawing up revisions, tweaks, and changes. Beta-release TWO will be coming out any day now. Then, I will have another week or so to suggest any minor changes. Shortly after that, my developer will release the final version, which I will promptly submit to Apple for approval. I imagine it will be available in the iTunes app store by either the end of December, 2010, or early January, 2011. 
Look for tweets, promotions, a new Stick Pick website, and other app-related news in the coming weeks. If you are a blogger/teacher and would be interested in beta testing my app when it's in beta-2 release, let me know and I'll ask my developer if he can "provision" your device. Tweet me or comment on this post for more information. I love it when my passions are aligned with my day job. It's like that saying: "When your work is play, you won't work another day."