Friday, January 25, 2019

Immersive Reader in Virtual Reality

Immersive Reader is one of my three favorite Microsoft products (the others others are Hacking STEM and Flipgrid). Today at the BETT Show I got to try a new implementation of Immersive Reader. That implementation is in virtual reality.

Immersive Reader in VR is a beta product. In fact, I was told by representatives of Microsoft that Immersive Reader in VR has only been shown to the public this week.

Immersive Reader in VR brings the experiences of Immersive Reader including line highlighting, syllable differentiation, and text read-aloud to a VR headset. According to the Microsoft employees that I spoke with today,  early trials of Immersive Reader in VR have proven to improve focus of readers by blocking out distractions. It has also been proven to make text accessible to readers who have previously been unable to access documents for a variety of reasons including vision.

One of the things that impressed me when I tried Immersive Reader in VR today was the ability to put up "walls" around the VR experience. Those walls were simple white walls that made the VR experience feel less enclosed that some other virtual reality experiences that I have tried. I generally start to feel trapped and unbalanced by VR experiences if I'm in them for more than a minute, I didn't feel that way when I implemented the "walls" option in the Immersive Reader in VR experience.

When Will It Be Available?
That was the question that I had for Microsoft's representatives today. They didn't have a firm date that they could share. I'll be sure to share it as soon as I know.

2,000+ New Stickers and Emojis Are Being Added to Flipgrid

Today at the BETT Show I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Charlie Miller. You might not know his name, but you probably know the company he founded, Flipgrid. In our conversation I mentioned the Ed Tech Fitness Flipgrid that I created and how I would love it if they added some fitness or exercise stickers like runners, bikers, and skiers. It was then that Dr. Miller told me that next week almost the full range of emojis that you find on your iOS and Android keyboards will be available in Flipgrid!

Adding more stickers or emojis to Flipgrid won't fundamentally change the way that you or your students use Flipgrid. That said, I think that it will be nice to have more options to express a reaction to a video or to decorate a video. After four weeks of using Flipgrid almost every day for the Ed Tech Fitness Flipgrid videos, I've found myself longing for more sticker options so I welcome the addition of more stickers. I'm sure that students will appreciate having more sticker options too.

On a related note, if you are new to Flipgrid or you're trying to introduce Flipgrid to other teachers at your school, please take a look my complete guide to using Flipgrid.

I Don't Like Vegetables - A Free Book About Eating Vegetables

One of my favorite parts of the BETT Show is the section called BETT Futures. BETT Futures is comprised of small stands of small start-ups. It's in that section that I have found many neat products over the years. Today, I found a small stand owned by a woman named Debbie Coggan who was featuring her book I Don't Like Vegetables. Her book is available as a free ebook on Apple Books. You can also purchase copies of it directly from her website or from Amazon

I Don't Like Vegetables is a beautifully-illustrated book that features the "Vegetable Pack." The Vegetable Pack includes characters like Tommy-Mateo, Hugh-Cumber, and the duo of Brock n' Ollie. These characters provide a fun introduction to where vitamins come from and the benefits of eating vegetables. 

If you have a Mac, iPad, or iPhone download the book for free via iTunes and if you like it, you can support an independent author with a great mission by purchasing a printed copy of the book. I'm purchasing a copy for my toddlers. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Three Good Places to Find Hands-on STEM Activities

On a fairly regular basis I'm asked for recommendations for hands-on STEM activities. In fact, just this morning I answered an email from a reader who was seeking that recommendation. Here are three of my go-to recommendations for hands-on STEM activities.

Microsoft has two excellent and free resources for those who are seeking ideas for hands-on STEM lessons. The first is MakeCode. MakeCode offers free programs that students can use to develop their programming skills. These include coding with LEGO Mindstorms, Adafruit, and Micro:bit. Checkout the MakeCode YouTube channel for great project ideas.

The second offering from Microsoft is called Hacking STEM. The idea behind Hacking STEM is to make low-cost or no-cost hands-on STEM projects accessible to as many people as possible. You can follow Microsoft's directions as written or modify the projects to use other materials to build the projects. In the following video I explain how I modified one of the Hacking STEM projects. So you might say that I hacked a Hacking STEM project.

Science Snacks from Exploratorium has been a recommendation of mine for a few years now. Science Snacks are activities that can be conducted with inexpensive and readily available materials. Each Science Snack comes with a materials list and step-by-step directions. Science Snacks are also accompanied by a written explanation of the science at work in the activity. Many Science Snacks, like Penny Battery, include video demonstrations and explanations.

Working with Arduino circuit boards is a fantastic way for students to develop programming skills. Students write programs on their computers then see their programs "come to life" through the lights, motors, and robotics connected to their Arduino boards. The Arduino project hub is full of project ideas for beginner through advanced programmers. If you're new to Arduino and wondering what hardware to purchase to get started, there are many inexpensive kits for beginners. I'm partial to this Arduino hardware kit for beginners.

Share Rubrics and Other Improvements to Microsoft Teams for Edu

Back in August rubric grading was added to Microsoft Teams for Edu. With that feature enabled you can attach rubrics to assignments for students to see before and after completing an assignment. Equally important, you'll be able to grade an assignment using that rubric without having to open multiple tabs or windows. This week at the BETT Show Microsoft launched new features for Microsoft Teams for Edu including improvements to grading process in Teams.

Microsoft Teams for Edu now lets you share rubrics with your colleagues. This means that you can share a rubric with a colleague, get feedback on it, and collaborate on editing a rubric.

If you spend more time using your tablet or phone than you do using your laptop, you'll be happy to know that you can now grade assignments on the Teams iOS and Android apps.

Microsoft's Grade Sync now integrates with popular SISs like PowerSchool and Infinite Campus. This means that you'll be able to easily move grades from Microsoft Teams for Edu into your student information system. Watch the following video for a short overview of how this will work.

Finally, Turnitin users can use that service within Microsoft Teams for Edu.