Teaching with Amazon Alexa

Alexa is a voice-activated, cloud-based virtual assistant, similar to Siri on Apple devices, or Google Assistant. Alexa is an umbrella name for the cloud-based functionality that responds to verbal commands. Alexa uses artificial intelligence to answer questions or control smart devices, and has a range of “skills” — small programs that you can add to increase Alexa’s capabilities.

Many teachers are experimenting with using smart devices like Alexa in the classroom. Like most other Amazon features and products, Alexa is primarily designed for home use, anticipating that users will be household members. So in thinking about Alexa in a classroom, keeping this in mind will help determine the best educational uses.

Alexa is most often accessed in three ways:

  • Smart speakers – Echo or Echo Dot devices are small stand-alone speakers that listen for Alexa commands and respond to your requests.
  • Smart displays – Echo Show and Echo Spot incorporate video displays.
  • Smart devices – Other devices such as Amazon’s Fire tablets or Fire TV allow you to use Alexa commands to control them.

Echo Line

The Echo was the first Alexa-enabled smart speaker from Amazon. Today, there are several versions of the Echo that you might consider, and Amazon continues to expand the options. All Echos offer the same Alexa voice capability, with most of the differences in the Echo lineup due to the quality of the speaker and the ability to control smart home devices. The better the speaker, the bigger the device and the higher the price tag. The Echo Dot, which is about the size of a hockey puck, and Echo Flex, which plugs into the wall, are the smallest, with speakers that are adequate, but are not going to impress with sound quality.

Echo
Echo (4th Generation)

The Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Studio all easily fit on a desk, and offer increasing sound quality at increasing prices. The Echo Plus and higher priced models add a built-in Zigbee controller, meaning you can control compatible smart home devices.

Alexa Smart Displays

The Echo Show line of devices add video capability to the baseline Alexa device.

These devices offer an easy way to do video calling, including Skype, and connect to other apps like Spotify, Amazon Photos, and more.

How Alexa works

When you say “Alexa” – your Alexa-powered device automatically starts listening to whatever is said next and starts recording. This recording is sent over the internet to Amazon servers which use Artificial Intelligence to understand what has been said. If the recorded message is understood, Alexa responds with information or performs the requested task. If it doesn’t understand, it will respond with something like, “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” or “Sorry, I didn’t get that.”

The default setting is that these recordings are saved on Amazon servers. Amazon uses them to improve the AI and responsiveness of Alexa. You can access these recordings, delete them, or turn off the feature completely.

What can Alexa do?

Alexa has a number of basic capabilities without adding any skills, and many of these may be useful in the classroom.

  • Play music – You can set music to play, ask for specific songs, or play from a playlist. You can play background music, or even white noise.
  • Timers, alarms, and reminders – You can ask Alexa to set a countdown timer, or a recurring alarm for the same time every day. Reminders add voice, you can ask Alexa to remind you to feed the class hamster at the same time every day. These can be set in the app or by voice.
  • Random – Alexa can give you a random number between two numbers, or you can ask Alexa to roll a die (or even two dice), so it could be used for choosing students or as the dice for a game.
  • Quick math – Ask Alexa to solve problems without getting out a calculator or using the internet. Alexa can also do things like convert currency, tell you what time it will be in 24 minutes, and many other simple calculations.
  • Words – Alexa can spell out words, give definitions, synonyms and more. It is not perfect with homonyms, for example if you say, “Alexa, spell write” it will respond with R-I-G-H-T.
  • Fast facts – If you need to know the capital of Korea, you can simply ask Alexa, who not only knows the answer, but gives you the correct answer for both North and South Korea. It knows things like capitals, population, distances between cities, science facts, and can read Wikipedia entries out loud. Just say, “Alexa, wikipedia: topic
  • Weather, time zones – Alexa can tell you what the weather is anywhere in the world now or in the future, and tell you what time it is in most cities.
  • Fun and games – Alexa can tell jokes and has some funny built in responses if you ask things like, “Alexa, how are you today?”
  • Reading aloud – Alexa can read aloud books in your Kindle library, even if you haven’t purchased an audio version. It uses text to speech technology so the reading is somewhat mechanical, but it is free.
  • Volume control  – You can ask Alexa to turn the volume up or down, or stop whatever audio is playing.
  • Control smart home products – If you have the right devices, Alexa can control home automation products like smart lights and thermostats.

Setup

Alexa-enabled devices have a simple setup mode that starts when you plug them in. For most devices, you will need to download the Alexa app to complete the setup and connect your device to a wifi network. Follow the specific directions for your device and Alexa will announce that it is ready to listen to your commands. Devices that have displays will allow you to complete the setup without an app.

Alexa features are tied to one specific Amazon account. It will use this account for all shopping, purchases, location information, and more. Think carefully about the need to have a separate Amazon account for school vs. your own personal account.

If you are using Alexa in a classroom, one of the first things you should do is turn off the shopping capability of Alexa, called “Voice Purchasing.” Since Alexa is typically used in a home setting, one of the things it does best is allow you to purchase products through Amazon simply by asking it to. Voice Purchasing is enabled by default so this should be part of the initial setup you do, since this is something you don’t want happening in your classroom! 

Alexa App

The Alexa app is the control center for Alexa and Alexa devices. You can download it from your phone’s app store. All settings are accessible from the app, so you will want to explore those settings to make sure every Alexa device is configured properly. The app also allows you to perform almost all functions that the voice-activation commands allow, so if it’s easier for you to look at menus instead of talking to a device, you can use the app. It’s much easier to discover and enable new skills on the app.

Purchasing

There are two aspects of purchasing to consider:

Voice purchasing – You can turn off voice purchasing for products found on Amazon through the app settings. However, this still allows items to be added to your shopping cart. You can also control voice purchasing by setting a PIN code. This allows you to purchase items by saying a preset four digit code. This code will only be accepted from a voice that you have trained Alexa to recognize, which should prevent someone from simply overhearing your code and trying to buy things without you authorizing it.

In-skill purchases – Some skills offer enhancements that cost money. For example, the Disney story skill has a few free stories, but if you want more, they cost money. You can configure the “Kid Skill Purchasing” in the app settings. This will let you completely turn off purchases in Kid Skills, or you can set it to send a text or email to you to approve requested purchases.

Skills

Skills are added capabilities that enhance Alexa. There are thousands of skills in the Amazon Alexa Skill store, accessed on the app or via the Amazon website. Skills range from serious to silly, and while many are free, others cost money or have features that you can purchase. Some skills enhance the native capabilities of Alexa. For example, a basic Alexa capability is that it can set a timer or tell you the time, but there are skills you can enable that have more capabilities, such as a countdown timer that has the sound of a rocket blasting off at the end.

It is important to read the descriptions of skills and any reviews. Skills are created by external developers, just like phone apps, and their quality varies widely. If you don’t like a skill you’ve enabled, you can just disable it.

  • Quizzes – There are many quizzes, trivia games, spelling bee, or flashcard type of test skills.
  • Music & Podcasts – Alexa can play music from your Amazon Music Library, but many music providers and streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, and others allow you to tap into your existing music or podcast accounts. There are also speciality music sound skills like white noise or relaxing sounds.
  • News, weather, and radio – There are skills developed by a wide variety of news organizations that increase Alexa’s ability to read headlines or get weather alerts. Radio stations are also streaming through Alexa skills. Alexa allows you to define a “Flash Briefing” that will customize your news sources.
  • Stories – there are many skills that offer stories read out loud for kids, including interactive or “choose your own” stories, or stories that allow you to customize aspects such as inserting your own name into a story.

Check these carefully for inappropriate content warnings, some skills say they are for “Mature” audiences, but many have no information. Some say they have “dynamic content” which means that the developer can add content at any time. You also can’t search Amazon skills for these kinds of ratings which is not very useful.

Blueprints – Make your own Skills

Create your own skills with Blueprints. Use the Amazon Blueprint site or the Alexa app to make your own skills that can be accessed through any Alexa device, or even shared with others. To make a Blueprint, select one of the templates and start to customize it. For example if you wanted to make a skill that randomly chooses a student name, you would start with the “Whose Turn” template. This template could also be used for playing a game, or randomly choosing who has to take out the trash, or other choices. You can then add custom names to the template, add sound effects and custom responses, and then name your new Blueprint something like “Random Student Third Period.”

When you are done, Alexa will create a new skill that you can use on any of your devices. You can also publish it to the Alexa Skills Store, although if you use student names, you may not want to do that. You can use the “Share” button to share a link to your new skill with others.

If you are using FreeTime, you will have to go to the FreeTime settings in the app, or to the Parent Control panel online to share the new skill with a child’s profile.

Managing Kid-Friendly Alexa Features

Since Alexa is designed for home use, there are many features created with kids in mind. Some of these can be a little confusing because the features overlap, and there are multiple ways to access the settings. For example, there is a stand alone FreeTime app, but also a Parent Dashboard. You can turn off voice purchasing via the app settings, but FreeTime does it automatically. Once you get your device set up, you should be able to leave it alone.

Kid Skills

Kid skills are skills that have been identified by the developer as having been designed for  children under age 13. Kid skills require permission from a parent before they can be used. You’ll be asked to give permission the first time you attempt to use a kid skill. After you’ve given permission, you will receive a confirmation e-mail.

Now, just because a developer says that a skill is for children under 13, that doesn’t mean you will always agree. Check the skills in action to make sure they are appropriate for your students.

Kid skills may offer digital products for sale that can be accessed or used within the skill, such as additional stories or trivia questions. You can manage your voice purchasing settings for kid skills in your Alexa app. If you’ve turned off voice purchasing, no one will be able to purchase these skill add-ons.

FreeTime

FreeTime mode changes Alexa capabilities to be more aware that kids may be listening. You can set up FreeTime on most Echos and Fire tablets. When you enable FreeTime on Alexa, Alexa will play music or movies, answer questions, read stories, tell jokes, and more with younger ears in mind. It will block searches it deems inappropriate, and will not play music with explicit lyrics. Voice purchasing is automatically turned off and Alexa Communication is limited to only within the household or with contacts you select.

You can set up and manage FreeTime in the app settings, or the Amazon Parent Dashboard, which also allows parents to see their child’s FreeTime on Alexa activity, including which skills their child has used.

FreeTime works by adding a child profile to your Amazon account. Amazon accounts let you define a “household” with up to two adults, four child accounts, and four teen accounts, each with different settings. Things you can customize include the child’s age (to limit content with age ratings), limit time allowed on the device, limit the ability to make and receive calls, and more.

For a classroom, it will not be possible to have a profile for every student, so it is more practical to just create a single child account with a fake name. You can then add skills and set controls for that child account that are consistent with all classroom use. Be aware that a device either has FreeTime activated or not. You cannot switch between a child account and an adult account, so if you activate FreeTime, you may not be able to access some Alexa features. To go back to an adult account you will have to go into settings and turn FreeTime off.

There is also a paid version of FreeTime called FreeTime Unlimited, that gives the account free access to a lot of children’s content including books, movies, songs and more.

Privacy

Anytime Alexa is used in a classroom, privacy of students should be a concern. These recordings of student voices raise questions about who can access them, and how they might be used in the future. There have been reports of some recordings being sent by email to contacts, and in some cases, police and government agencies have asked for recordings from phones and smart devices as part of an investigation.

Students have a reasonable right to privacy, and having an “always on” microphone should not only be something that you let parents know, but also students. As students become citizens, it is important that their rights are respected, and that they are informed when something is done to them that might infringe on their rights.

Voice recordings

To turn off voice recording, use the Alexa app and go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data. From here, turn off the toggle switch that says “Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services to Develop New Features.”

Deleting voice recordings

This year, Amazon announced two new Alexa commands that will let you delete your voice transcripts by asking Alexa. Just say “Alexa, delete everything I said today” or “Alexa, delete what I just said.” 

If you prefer to delete your entire history, open the Alexa app and go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History > Delete All Recordings for All History.

Location privacy

Alexa uses the address associated with the connected Amazon account for location information. This affects how it responds to requests for local weather or news

A small school solution – Using Alexa devices in multiple classrooms as an intercom

If you are running a small school with a few classrooms, it is possible to set up Alexa devices to assist with classroom communication as if you had an intercom, in addition to utilizing voice commands. If you have Echo Dots in multiple rooms, you can use the Alexa app to either “Drop in” or “Announce” to one or more other devices.

  • Drop in enables a two-way communication between you and a specific device in another room. The other device can hear what you are saying, and you can hear anything going on in the other room.
  • Announce allows you to create a message, and then send it to all your Alexa devices. The other devices will chime and play your message.

Running multiple devices in different rooms gives every room access to the Alexa voice-activated features, plus they will share all products, skills, blueprints, and other custom features you create on your Amazon account.

The Future of Alexa

Amazon is incorporating Alexa into new products and will continue to do so. Even today, rings, eyeglasses, fitness trackers, earbuds, and more have Alexa capabilities. The possibilities for learning and for adding these devices to the everyday life of classrooms is something we will all be grappling with sooner rather than later!

Writing about learning

I run a publishing company called Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. At this time, we have twelve books published, most of them written by educators. These books represent a wide array of content, but all are about creating modern, creative learning opportunities.

Educators often ask me about writing their own books, and I highly encourage it. I’m not just looking for new authors, even though I’m happy to talk about joining the CMK Press team. I believe that there are multiple benefits to writing about education, both for the world and the writer.

  1. The world needs to see real models of learning. I hear all the time about how all schools are boring test-prep factories and that will never change. Yet I talk to educators daily who are breaking the mold and doing amazing, creative, wonderful things with students. People don’t believe it because they can’t see it. You can fix this.
  2. Nobody else can do this. The New York Times or Oprah is not coming to tell the story about how wonderful your classroom is. We can’t wait.
  3. It will be eye-opening for you. There is nothing like trying to write down what you do every day to make you think deeply about your own process.

What’s stopping you?

  1. I don’t like bragging. Teachers especially worry that talking about what they do looks like self-promotion. Get over it, it is self-promotion. But that’s different than bragging.
  2. What I do isn’t special. I talk to teachers EVERY DAY who start by saying, “Well, this isn’t that great but…” and then proceed to tell me a fantastic story.
  3. It’s hard. Yes it is. So are most things worth doing.

Getting started

If writing a book seems impossible, do it a step at a time. You know the saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. No one sits down and writes a book all at once!

Blogging – Blogs are perfect platforms for compiling a book. A typical book is about 50,000 words. Most blog posts are about 1,000 words. That’s 50 blog posts. If you write once a week, you will have enough for a book in a year. You do not have to attract a following or be “popular.” It does not matter if no one ever comments on your blog. You are the audience.

Podcasting – Similar to blogs, podcasting is a way to start small and work your way into more content. If you want to turn your podcasts into a book, there are amazingly inexpensive transcription services that can take your audio files and send you a document in no time at all. Most people speak at about 150 words per minute, so if you make a 20 minute podcast episode, that’s about 3,000 words. Let’s say 2,000 because there is always extra stuff in podcasts, so that 50,000 word book is only 25 podcast episodes.

Find your way – Both blogs and podcasts have an advantage of spacing out your thoughts and letting you find new ways to express yourself. You may find that as time goes on, you start to focus in on different aspects of your topic, or find a new topic that consistently comes up. Be flexible. Don’t restrict yourself to only what you think you “should” write.

Presenting – If you have ever spoken at a conference or event, one great exercise is to take each of your slides and try to write 1,000 words about each one. Since you have already gone to the trouble of making slides and thinking about what you want to say, this is a jumpstart into writing.

Play with genre – There are LOTS of different ways to write a book. Not every book about education is the same, there are plenty of ways to capture your topic. Think about the variety of books that influenced you at various points in your own journey as an educator. Or you may want to try to write a how-to book about a particular method, tool, or model you use.

Be the expert + share your passion – These may seem like two different things, but they are a matched pair. You won’t get far if you aren’t passionate about your work, and the reader won’t find it compelling if you don’t present the tale, or share the content with a confident voice.

Getting over your fears – One of the hardest parts about writing is that it exposes everything you worry about yourself. I’m not interesting, I’m not good at writing, I never have the right words, I can’t spell, my grammar is terrible, there are thousands of people better than me to say this, what I want to say has been said before… the voices in your head will pound you into the ground. The only way to get over your fears is to write anyway.

Outlines – I’m honestly not a fan of outlines as ground zero for starting a book, I think it’s unrealistic and a bit of a straitjacket, making you feel unnecessarily guilty if you have to deviate from the path you thought you had perfected. It often takes time to figure out what it is you want to focus on, and getting started with the writing is the best way to work it out. For my own work, I tend to write some, and then “chunk” it into sections, sorting what I’ve got into 5-7 piles and seeing what those piles turn out to be.

Just do it – Don’t worry about having the perfect idea, the right software, or a fully fleshed out plan. The only way to get started is to get started.

Aren’t books over?

You might think that in this digital era, books are not the best way to get your message out. But, actually, books are exploding. Books give people a way to dive into a subject, to read, think, jump around, and really dig in. Around the world, book sales continue to climb, while e-book sales have plateaued. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t offer an e-book version of your book, in fact, many people tell me that they have purchased Invent to Learn in both paper and e-book versions, and use them both for different reasons.

However, there has been little take up in interactive books like Apple’s i-book platform which was supposed to “revolutionize” book reading, and then “revolutionize” textbooks… and then didn’t.

Will it make a lot of money?

No.

Do I need a publisher?

No, in fact, I think it’s a better idea to start with your own ideas and start the writing process yourself. Now, if a publisher has approached you and asked you to write a book, that’s a different story!

There are multiple options for publishing a book, and only one of them is with a traditional publisher. It used to be that a publisher was the only way to get your book into stores where people could buy it. Now, there are many options for publishing, because there are more options for buying. I’ll share some of these options in a future post.

Pre-Service and Inservice Professional Development Papers (open access)

Teachers and teacher educators are facing great challenges teaching during this worldwide pandemic. With many conferences either cancelling or postponing their events, these sources of ideas and best practices are not available when critically needed.  

SITE-Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education shifted its spring conference to an online event this past April and which featured many timely sessions on the challenges of teaching during the pandemic. I keynoted this conference on the topic of making, hands-on, and PBL during this crisis.

In order to support teachers and teacher educators around the world who are working through the COVID-19 crisis, a collection of papers, many from the conference, documenting best practices have been published in a special issue of SITE’s flagship Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (JTATE).

This JTATE Special Issue highlights numerous and varied efforts by teacher educators, researchers and practitioners across the globe as they rapidly responded to remote teaching and learning.

View this special issue

CMK 2020 Cancelled – Save the date for CMK 2021!

CMK logo

It is with great sadness that we are forced to cancel Constructing Modern Knowledge 2020, our annual summer institute. We have waited for months to make this decision, hoping that the COVID-19 crisis would end and we could all learn together in Manchester, NH this July. Sadly, many states have closed school for the year, travel may still be limited in July, and it would be very difficult to maintain adequate social distancing during the hands-on activities of CMK.

This breaks our heart. CMK is our life’s work and is needed now more than ever. Each year, educators like yourself prove your competence and creativity while demonstrating that things need not be as they seem. The lineup of guest speakers we assembled for July 2020 was spectacular. Our hearts go out to our colleagues in Reggio Emilia, Italy who have also suffered unspeakable tragedy and are unable to join us in July.

The good news is that Constructing Modern Knowledge 2021 is scheduled for July 13-16, 2021 in Manchester, NH. All of the guest speakers scheduled for this summer have been invited to return next summer. Equally stellar replacements will be made if necessary. Our colleagues from Reggio Emilia should be able to join us as well for a spectacular workshop on documentation. We hope we can count on you to join us and help spread the word once life returns to some level of normalcy.

If you would like to learn more about CMK 2021 and other learning adventures as we move forward, please subscribe to our occasional newsletter.

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ISTE 2020 – Accepted and waitlisted sessions

I’m honored to have the following proposals accepted for the ISTE20 program. ISTE 2020 will be in Anaheim, California in June 2020. I will be leading two sessions, maybe more, if some of the waitlisted sessions are accepted!

Maker 2.0 – Now What? 
You have “making” going on in your school, or maybe even a makerspace! Congratulations… but now what? This session will help educators, both teachers and administrators, build a roadmap for their own making and makerspaces programs that will succeed now and in the future.

  • Scheduled:
    • Tuesday, June 30, 9:00–10:00 am PDT (Pacific Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here! 
Let’s time travel fifty years forward to see what science, technology, engineering, and math will be like, and the prominent role that the arts, design ,and creativity will play. This session will provide entertaining and thought-provoking insight into the challenges of adapting today’s classroom and curriculum for the future.

  • Scheduled:
    • Wednesday, July 1, 8:30–9:30 am PDT (Pacific Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

Waitlisted proposals

I was very excited about this new session on ethics, empathy, and educational technology. It wasn’t accepted, but is waitlisted, so maybe it will have a chance!

Ethics, Empathy, and Educational technology 
Go beyond digital citizenship to innovative technology to help students develop ethics and empathy for others. Breakthroughs in AI, algorithm bias, bio-hacking, face recognition, digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, robotics, media manipulation like “deep fakes,” and digital fabrication offer interesting opportunities for students to learn about cutting edge of science and math, and how ethical decision-making can make the world a better place for all.

This session will dive into the role and responsibility of the educational technology community to offer be leaders in how students learn ethics. Ethical behavior is an outcome of identifying with other people, and students of all ages can learn about ethics in the context of cross-curricular projects that include both digital and physical components. This has always been part of school – we want students to understand how their behavior impacts others. But the new role of technology in every aspect of life expands this mandate.

In the past, ethics has been taught to younger children in the context of personal responsibility – knowing right from wrong, behavior, etc. As children grow up, they are exposed to a larger sense of the world – are laws fair, what is justice, how can we make good decisions as a local or global community. In this transition, the child gains a view of the world that grows from the self to the community.

However, the world is changing. There are now decisions to be made about the ethics of systems, of technology, and of inventions that have yet to be invented. How will our children learn about these? How will they make decisions and not feel powerless in the face of this uncertainty? And what can we as educational technology leaders do about this?

Other Waitlisted submissions (panels submitted by others)

  • Bringing Bio into the Makerspace: Accessible BioFabrication and Biomaterial Explorations 
  • Hot or Not? Trending Topics in EdTech Judged by… YOU! 

New report – Long term potential of making and makerspaces for learning

Makerspaces for Education and Training: Exploring future implications for Europe

A new Science for Policy report from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service aims to provide evidence-based scientific support to the European policymaking process regarding making and makerspaces in education. (PDF download)

Yes, it says “Europe” and you may not be in Europe, but it’s likely there is something in this report that will support making and makerspaces in any organization world-wide. Around the world, educators are working to implement makerspaces as part of long-term strategy for educational change—not just as the latest fad that will be tossed out when the winds shift.

From the abstract:

“This report explores the long term potential that makerspaces and making activities can bring to education and training in Europe. Through developing four scenarios with an outlook to 2034, the report supports anticipatory thinking and helps policymakers, makers and educators to better envision and debate the added value that makerspaces and making activities can offer for education and training in Europe. The report outlines three unique aspects of makerspaces which make them appealing to education and training.

  • Firstly, making activities naturally combine disciplines that are traditionally taught separately
  • Secondly, while exploring real world problems individuals acquire new knowledge and create meaning from the experience
  • Thirdly, due to informal ways of social interaction in makerspaces, a diversity of flexible learning arrangements are created (e.g. peer learning and mentoring, peer coaching). “

While focused on European makerspaces and making in education, this report has some interesting ideas about how to frame the benefits of making in both formal and informal learning settings. One of the issues with incorporating making in education is understanding how different it is, for example, to have making as a separate class, making incorporated into other subjects, or making in drop-in or extra-curricular activities.

This is a useful, extensive report that covers a wide variety of these different forward-looking scenarios. The report also introduces “drivers of change” as a way to envision these possible futures that may be useful for many different organizations working towards a longer term vision of educational change. It also manages to include issues of equity and inclusion, plus the often overlooked aspect of community and culture that grow around makerspaces.

Future scenarios for makerspaces and making in 2034

Finally, it offers drivers for policy conversations. It nicely integrates some of the seemingly conflicting goals of many “maker” implementations—for example, how can a makerspace be both exploratory and compulsory? How can making be about personal goals and social innovation and building job skills?

This report is nicely balanced between research, policy, and excellent examples of real-world making experiences. It’s well worth reading!

Let’s meet at FETC 2020 – Miami in January!

I hope to see old friends and new at FETC 2020 in Miami, Florida, January 14-17, 2020. I’ll be talking Biomaking, Inclusive Makerspaces, STEM/STEAM, The 4th Industrial Revolution, Creativity, Disruptive Leadership Lenses, Ethics & Empathy, PBL for Making, What’s New/What’s Next for STEAM, and more.

If you can’t make FETC – check out these new Invent to Learn workshops in February in Florida!

This is a new city for FETC – after many years in Orlando, the conference is moving to Miami. FETC is always a terrific conference, attracting an international audience with stellar keynotes, a huge exhibit hall, and featured speakers in multiple tracks for a wide variety of educator interests.

Future of Education Technology Conference | January 14 - 17, 2020 Miami Beach Convention Center, Orlando, FLA.

My sessions – collect them all!

Wednesday January 15, 2020

W151$ | Disruptive Lenses for School Leaders: Making, Agile Development, Design Thinking

  • Room: Lincoln Road C
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C024 | PBL Gets a “Make” Over — Prompts and Assessment for Maker Classrooms

  • Room: 224-225
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 1:00 PM – 1:40 PM

C065 | STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here!

  • Room: Lincoln Road C
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 3:20 PM – 4:00 PM

Thursday January 16, 2020

W205$ | Grow is the New Make: Bio-making and Bio-hacking

  • Room: 238-239
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C150 | Making for All: Inclusive Maker Projects and Makerspaces

  • Room: 224-225
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 11:00 AM – 11:40 AM

C228 | Ethics, Empathy, and Educational Technology

  • Room: Lincoln Road C
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 2:00 PM – 2:40 PM

Book signing – NEW edition Invent to Learn – Main Exhibit Hall

  • Exhibit Hall Booth 2740
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 12:15 PM – 12:45 PM

Black Friday sale on CMK Press Kindle books

Our book publishing company, Constructing Modern Knowledge Press is having a Black Friday sale! From Black Friday( November 29, 2019) to Cyber Monday (December 2, 2019) all our Kindle books will be available for $1.99!

All Kindle versions of Constructing Modern Knowledge Press books, including the newly revised 2nd edition of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the ClassroomThe Invent to Learn Guide to 3D Printing in the ClassroomMaking ScienceThe Inner Principal, and Education Outrage will be discounted up to 80% from November 29 – December 2, 2019! (Offer good at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk)

Florida – Invent to Learn Workshops

Florida workshop map

2020 Florida Workshops
Feb 10, 2020 Fort Lauderdale, FL

Feb 12, 2020 Jacksonville, FL

Join me and Gary Stager as we host one-day workshops on coding, making, and physical computing in Florida.

This workshop will focus on the amazing opportunities for students to code and make across the curriculum using new micro-controllers like the BBC micro:bit. Even better, every participant will go home with a micro:bit of their very own!

More details and registration links. (Bring a buddy and save!)

Leveraging Emerging Trends to Produce Future-Ready Students (webinar)

A Q&A with FETC presenter Sylvia Martinez 

Originally appeared in District Administration magazine online

In this brief Q&A, Martinez shared insights on the key emerging trends in schools, thoughts on technologies like AR and AI, and classroom practices that are working best to leverage this tech. Read on for an introduction to some of the ideas you can expect to explore in her webinar and FETC session.

The recent advances in the area of physical computing make it something that can be introduced into classrooms in every grade level and subject area. Physical computing is the intersection of the digital world and the physical world. It incorporates things like robotics, but goes much further to include all kinds of things like wearable technology, understanding sensors, collecting and interpreting real world data, and more. Students who are interested in any subject, not just STEM subjects, can investigate physical computing projects that support their interests. New microcontrollers like the BBC micro:bit, combined with new easier to use software make building computer-enhanced inventions easier and more affordable than ever.

Allowing students to invent and be creative with technology does not mean that we favor technology above all other means of expression. We are simply adding tools to the creativity toolbox. If we believe, for example, that puppet shows are good (and they are), why shouldn’t the puppets have eyes that light up, or sensors that trigger sound effects, or have an AI module embedded in them? These opportunities invite all kinds of students to express themselves and make meaning in the world.

For technologies like AR, AI, adaptive computing, robotics,and other emerging tech, what is the key to making them relevant in education? In other words, how do we make sure they are enhancing learning instead of distracting from it?

New technology innovations will be adopted in one of two very different ways by schools. In some schools these innovations will be used to deliver old lessons with new bells and whistles. However, if new technologies possess educational “nutritional value,” it is incumbent upon us to find ways to use the new gizmos to expand what students can do. Using AI in a Scratch program you write, or building your own AR or VR simulation is enhancing learning. Using AI or VR to deliver a lesson, grade a quiz, or make a virtual frog pop out of a textbook is not.

The challenge is for schools to keep offering students real and relevant experiences and not fall back into ingrained habits. The focus needs to be on what students do, not what we do to students. Educators who have embraced technology can say “yes, and” to new things that are entrancing schools while keeping the focus on student-centered constructive creativity. 

What is one classroom practice you’ve observed that is working especially well to leverage emerging trends for the benefit of students?

Using students as tech leaders and mentors has enormous benefits in classrooms. One of the issues that educators face when introducing emerging technology into the classroom is the simple fact that there is a lot to learn, and it seems that technology changes so fast that there is never enough time! This may lead to procrastination hoping that someday it will all settle down and there will be time to figure it all out before introducing it to students. Unfortunately that day may never come.

Teaching students to become mentors for peers or near-peers offers tremendous benefits to all involved. Mentoring is a tried and true practice that helps both the mentors and the mentees. Students who are mentors learn confidence and become leaders in their schools. Teachers benefit from not having to be experts in everything, handing off responsibility to students. This also walks the talk of student empowerment and encourages the idea that invention and creativity come from everywhere and everyone in the school community.

Webinar archive

Sylvia Martinez’s sessions at FETC 2020

Wednesday January 15, 2020

W151$ | Disruptive Lenses for School Leaders: Making, Agile Development, Design Thinking
Room: Lincoln Road C
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C024 | PBL Gets a “Make” Over — Prompts and Assessment for Maker Classrooms
Room: 224-225
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 1:00 PM – 1:40 PM

C065 | STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here!
Room: Lincoln Road C
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 3:20 PM – 4:00 PM

Thursday January 16, 2020

W205$ | Grow is the New Make: Bio-making and Bio-hacking
Room: 238-239
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C150 | Making for All: Inclusive Maker Projects and Makerspaces
Room: 224-225
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 11:00 AM – 11:40 AM

C228 | Ethics, Empathy, and Educational Technology
Room: Lincoln Road C
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 2:00 PM – 2:40 PM