Thursday, February 7, 2019

Download 360 images

My 3rd grade classes have been learning about 360 videos. We've discussed how 360 videos help you feel like you are in a location and not just talking about it. We viewed a few 360 videos on YouTube, which still feels like you are watching a 2D video because you can still see the real world around you.

We then tried a few 360 images on our Oculus Go headsets using the Gala360 and 360 Stories apps. These were much better because with the headsets you can literally look all around you and see the new location. We liked this much better because it truly felt like we were there.

I now want the learners to create 360 experiences rather than just viewing them. We are using CoSpaces EDU to create our virtual worlds which we will be able to view on the Oculus Go headsets. We first needed 360 images (also referred to as equirectangular panorama) that can be uploaded into CoSpaces. Finding these images is actually very difficult. Most 360 images are captured by professional photographers and naturally have to be purchased.

One free resource I came across was through Flickr. These were pretty good, although it was hard to search for specific locations as opposed to just browsing through them. I also found some downloadable images at this website. The collection seems pretty nice, but the downloads are only panaroma photos and not true 360 (all around including above and below), which is what I wanted. There are also some great ones at PhotoPin website.

I also came across a great Google Chrome extension called Pano Fetch which downloads the full 360 images from Street View directly from the Google Maps page. I have been testing it out this week with the 3rd grade classes and it seems to work really well.

After installing the extension you'll see the yellow Peg Man icon in the Chrome toolbar. It will stay gray until you land on a location in Google Maps where there's a 360 image available to download, at which point it will turn yellow to let you know its active.

In Google Maps search for a location you want to view. In the description that appears on the left side scroll down to the Photos section and locate the photos with the 360 logo on it. That's the Street View that contains 360 images.

Some of these have been uploaded by web users rather than Google itself. The Pano Fetch app will only work with images uploaded by Google (I assume because of licensing or privacy issues).  If you are on a 360 image but Peg Man stays gray, then it was probably uploaded by a user. You can still find nearby Street View 360 images uploaded by Google by clicking the Street View map in the bottom corner. Blue lines indicate Street View and you can navigate to those areas.

Once you find the Street View 360 image you want to download, click the Peg Man extension button.  You can choose the quality from 1 (very low) to 5 (very high). The extension will download the images tiles and compose the equirectangular panorama and automatically download the final image. These images can be renamed and organized any way the learner wants.

For our purposes we can then log in to CoSpaces and upload the images as an environment. My idea is to have the learners collect a few 360 images, upload them as different scenes in CoSpaces, and then create a way to navigate between the scenes, including descriptions.

My initial experiments with this process worked flawlessly. We'll see how it works in a real classroom setting over the next few days.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Hour of Code

NOTE: A version of this blog post first appeared on the CUE-NV website.

Computer Science Education Week was held December 3-7 this year. It was started several years ago as a way to showcase the importance of learning computer science. It is held annually in December in honor of Admiral Grace Hopper, who was born on Dec. 9, 1906. Grace was a fantastic woman who accomplished much in the field of computing during her time with the Navy. was asked to help out with CSEdWeek and introduced the concept of Hour of Code, relatively short coding activities anyone can do to learn code, even if they’ve never had any coding experience before.

At Lomie Heard Elementary School, A Marzano Academy, I teach coding to all students in all grade levels from 1st through 5th grade. Our school is a STEAM+Coding magnet school, so we embrace CS Ed Week and Hour of Code in a big way. Which is actually funny, because if I teach coding to all students every week anyway, why would we focus on Hour of Code?

To answer that question I met with @mstechie17 and @carr_8, two very supportive and creative facilitators at my school. We recognized that even at our school not all facilitators are comfortable with or even knowledgeable about coding. Not only that, but since I am the coding facilitator and already do coding with every single class, it’s easy for them to dismiss any coding activities as already covered by my classes. If all facilitators weren’t involved in some way, then coding would become a “side job” that learners continued to do in the silo of my class.


To achieve our first goal of getting everyone involved we decided to model our Hour of Code after a favorite National Reading Week activity called Drop Everything And Read, or DEAR. DEAR involves selecting a specific time each day of the week when everyone in the entire building stops anything they are doing and reads for a designated amount of time. Everyone is involved: administrators, office staff, facilitators, etc. This activity creates a sense of community because everyone knows everyone else is involved in the same activity. It also highlights the importance of reading and the fact that everyone can do it.

The acronym we came up with for our coding version of DEAR is SNAC, which stands for Stop Now And Code (and snacks are kind of like small bites, which is a homonym for byte, which is related to coding - get it?). After selecting the designated times each day we created a list of resources teachers could choose from for their SNAC activity.

Facilitators were provided 3 options: unplugged activities, online options such as those found on the Hour of Code website, or have a guest speaker, which I’ll talk about in the next section. We gave facilitators time to explore the resources and choose what they wanted to do each day. These were recorded in a shared document for accountability reasons and so they could see what other classes were doing.

At the designated time each day an announcement was given over the PA system and then the magic happened! As learners came to me throughout the week for their regular classes, they were eager to share what they did in class.


Our second goal was to inspire our learners and let them see what real jobs in coding look like. To accomplish that we needed programmers and game developers on campus. We reached out to a local developer Meetup group and asked any willing developers to sign up for a time to visit our classes. We provided a link to a Google Form to let us know when they were available, their area of focus, and to make sure we had any equipment ready for them.

As developers signed up we added their available days and times to another shared doc that facilitators used to sign up. In the end we had at least 6 different developers sign up to visit classrooms. Some developers spent several mornings visiting classes, others came only once or twice as their regular jobs allowed, and one even Skyped with a class instead of a physical visit.

All of our visitors were very excited to share their craft with our students and they were certainly received very well by our learners! I don’t know how much time was spent in preparation, but they all did a fabulous job with the classes. All of them have agreed to return again next year.

Ken Devellis showing Augmented Reality
Ken Devellis shows 4th graders how Augmented Reality works. 

Family </Coding> Night

Our final goal was to involve our families. One evening during the week we organized a Family </Coding> Night where we invited the families to visit the school and experience the same coding activities their learners experience and try their hand at coding. The idea was to make it as hands on as possible so the families could understand what their learners do each week.

We started the evening hearing from four different developers, who had 5 minutes each to share their story about coding. These developers signed up to present at our Family </Coding> Night by using the same Google Form. Each developer represented a different field and really showed learners and their families how successful developers could be. They excited and inspired the crowd.

Presenters for our Family Coding Night.
Our presenters included Duana Malone, a mobile app developer, Zecharia, a 13-year-old game developer, Damond Pleasant, a web developer for, and Scott Stevens, an interactive specialist for Victory Hill Expeditions.

Families were then able to visit 6 rooms with different activities. During their weekly rotation to my coding class each grade level experiences a different coding environment from block based coding with Scratch, to text-based coding in HTML, to game development with Unreal Engine. We set up each room with a different coding activity representing each of these coding environments.

One room had unplugged activities from such as Binary Bracelets, Dice Race, and Conditionals With Cards.

Binary Bracelet unplugged activity.

A teacher at the high school our school feeds into sent several of his students to our school to show how to use Unreal Engine. This is a coding platform our 5th graders are becoming familiar with.

Eldorado High School students teach Unreal Engine.

In another room families could try out our Oculus Go headsets. Our 3rd graders are learning how to create VR environments and this was the perfect opportunity for families to see what that was like.

Trying virtual worlds with Oculus Go headsets.

The fourth activity gave families the chance to code using Scratch, a block based coding language our 2nd graders are learning. We had Chromebooks available along with task cards with simple coding activities anybody could follow along and try.

Families tried their hand at Scratch programming.

A teacher at another local high school, Equipo Academy, heard about our event through the developer’s Meetup and asked if her high school students could help out. Since they had experience with Code.og we set them up in a computer lab where they ran several activities for families to try out.

Families learned how to use

In our final room families were able to try their hand at HTML, which our 4th graders are learning. We had a simple web page pulled up on each of the Chromebooks and families could change some of the values to see how that changed the web page.


Each of our CSEdWeek activities brought our focus of coding to the forefront. There was lots of buzz and excitement around the school all week and it helped students experience coding in a variety of ways. The success of the whole week could be summed up by the thoughts of one parent at our Family </Coding> Night.

Towards the end of our Family </Coding> Night our principal was talking to one of the fathers and his learner about the presenters. She pointed out that the learner could one day grow up to be just like those presenters - successfully doing what they love. In reply the father said, “That’s why I drive 2 hours every day to bring my son to your school.”
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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Storytelling with Toonastic 3D

There are a few apps that I absolutely love using with students. One of them is Toontastic 3D, a storytelling app that lets students animate and narrate their stories.  I wrote about it several years ago and included some graphic organizers and other resources I created then. Back then the app was super awesome. After Google purchased it, the app has only improved! It now supports scrolling backgrounds and 3D characters and settings.

The app works best on a touch device such as an iPad or Android tablet, but there is also a version available in the Google Play store that runs on select Chromebooks. I'm not sure how well the touch interface translated to a web-based version, but I've got students testing it out.

I recently used Toontastic 3D with 3-5 grade students in a weekly explorations class. After exploring the app and creating a very simple (beginning, middle, end) story, students used this template to develop a story following the 5 part story arc used by Toontastic. Students then spent several sessions narrating their stories and bringing their characters to life. Below are a few of the original stories students created.

Click the playlist icon (3 lines) to see more videos in this playlist

What went well

  • highly engaging - Students were very excited to use the app. They stayed on task and focused on telling their stories. Students that finished the required story early were eager to move on and create more stories.
  • ease of use - The first session we met I demoed the app, showing how to add a setting, characters, and record my voice. That was all I needed to do. Students dived right in and were able to show me a few tricks, like adding their own face to a character (that became a huge hit).
  • sharing - Students were motivated by their desire to share their story. When I first introduced the app I let them create a simple BME story and then played it to the class via AirServer on my laptop.
  • creativity - This is the reason I love apps like this. Its very open-ended, allowing the students to be creative. As you can see from the stories above, the stories varied widely.

What I want to fix

  • story development - The problem with engaging apps like Toontastic 3D is that students want to jump right in to the creation part without developing the story first. Usually they end up with a lot of sound effects and fights, but little story. This was a short 6 week course, meeting only once a week for 50 minutes. I tried having the students complete their stories at home so they would have more time in class to record, but they tended to forget their script and had to start over. If this were done in a regular classroom setting where I could stay on top of them, I'm sure the quality of the stories would go way up. 
  • best on a touch screen - Because of the way to manipulate the characters on the screen, this app is best used on a touch screen device like an iPad. Unfortunately at my school we are 1:1 with Chromebooks, so I had to scramble to get enough iPads for everyone. There is a version that can run on Chromebooks, but I could already see that the screen was smaller. I'm not sure how the well it will work for moving the characters.
  • voice volume - When it comes to recording their voice some students become very shy and talk softly. Plus there were a lot of us in the room so it was easy to pick up each other's voices. The best way to record your voice is with a headset, but I didn't have enough for everyone. You can tell the quality of the sound between those that used it and those that didn't.
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

#mysteryskype prep activities

Students generally have a difficult time conceptualizing how the U.S. is divided into states (let alone where those states actually are) and how states are divided into counties. Playing Mystery Skype can be daunting for students who are unfamiliar with U.S. geography. Concepts such as regions, compass directions, and states physical relationships can sometimes confuse them.

I found it necessary to do a few activities to help my students become familiar with state names and locations. In Nevada U.S. geography is covered in 5th grade so I wasn't too concerned about them memorizing states and capitals, but I did want them to be familiar with state names and how to locate those states on a map. I used the following activities within the first few weeks, hopefully before our first Mystery Skype.

States and Capitals Interactive Notebook (free)

I love using interactive notebook so when I saw this idea I immediately wanted it. Unfortunately the blog author never responded to my request so I ended up creating my own. I found the perfect region maps on this teacher's website. Students use the foldable to identify the state and record the name, abbreviation, and capital. You can download the file here. Directions for cutting out and gluing into the notebook are on the first page.

I Have, Who Has States Game ($3)

This is an easy to prepare game that helps students easily recognize the states and their shapes. My students loved it and asked to play it several times. Distribute state cards to each student and pick a student to start. That student reads the Who has (Arizona)? question at the bottom of the card. The student holding the card depicting Arizona stands up and asks their question. Play continues until all states have been played. This resource can be purchased from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Me On The Map ($6)

I found that my students had a hard time with the perspective of where our state is in relation to the rest of the nation and the world. This resource helped to bring terms like city, county, and state into perspective. The original was very generic and didn't have pictures of our state or our counties and city. So I provided my students with this file of maps specific to Nevada that they added to the respective sheet. The update resource can be purchased from Teachers Pay Teachers.

State Name Word Search (free)

This is a very DOK Level 1 activity, but I felt my students needed to become familiar with the state names in some way. So I used the worksheet generator at A to Z Teacher Stuff to create these word search worksheets. I let the students work in pairs to find all the states. You can download 3 different versions here, here, and here.

Find the States Showdown Game ($3.50)

I love everything Laura Candler does and this game was no exception. From her TpT store:
Find the States Showdown is a game for reviewing state names and locations, and it can also be used for reviewing state capitals and abbreviations. Students can play the game with the states in a single region, or play a challenge game with all 50 states. Find the States Showdown can be played as a whole class, or students can play it within cooperative learning teams.
You can purchase this resource from her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

These were the resources I used this year to prepare my students for Mystery Skype. What activities do you use with your classroom?

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

#mysteryskype interactive maps with

One of the necessary tasks when doing Mystery Skypes is to track which states your class hooks up with. In my classroom I put up a poster size map of the United States and strung little papers to each state we had Skyped with. Students referred to it often to determine what states we might still be Skyping with.

The problem with the poster was that it took time to update and could only be seen while in the classroom. Parents couldn't see it and neither could my admins. I looked for a few different digital solutions so I could post the same info on our class website. I finally came across, which turned out to be an easy-to-use solution and very useful for many other applications as well. is a mapping creation website. Its free and very simple. The user selects a map, color codes it, then exports the map as a jpg file that can be used anywhere. Map data can be saved and modified later.

The steps I outline here are the ones I used to create my Mystery Skype map, but the steps are the same for any map you want to create.

First click the United States drop down menu and select States.
The 3 easy steps to create a map are on the left side of the screen (or the bottom if it's a very wide map). Start with Step 1 and choose a Fill color. I selected only green because I only wanted to show one level of coloring (the states we Skyped with). If I were to compare different areas, regions of the United States for example, I would need to select multiple colors. There are other options to choose as well.
In Step 2 type a label for each color that appears on the map. Since I didn't want the user to be confused with the default color I added a label even though I was only using one color.
Step 3 is for downloading the map and saving it for later use. To download a jpg file click on Convert to Image and then Download. It saves a jpg you can use anywhere - class website, in Twitter, email, etc.
To save the map data to update later click on Save-Upload Map Configuration. On the next screen click the Save Map Configuration button and the map data is saved as a simple text file.
After the next Mystery Skype its time to update the map. Open the text file you downloaded earlier, copy all of the text, and paste into the bottom half of the screen shown above. Your earlier map configuration will appear and you can add the additional states or make whatever edits you need.

As you can see, this is an easy-to-use solution for tracking your connected states. I always sent out this updated map to the parents so they could be reminded of the friends we made during our Mystery Skype sessions. What methods do you use in your class?

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#mysteryskype recording book

Last school year I made it my goal to have my 4th graders Mystery Skype with all 50 states. We first Mystery Skyped the second week of school. Our last Mystery Skype was the second to last week of school. Unfortunately time and curriculum got in the way and we were not able to reach all 50. We did Skype with 21 different states and a few states multiple times. Here's a map of the states we made friends with.
We Mystery Skyped with all states in green.

Besides not Skyping with all 50 states, my only regret was not having the students research a little about each state after we met them. In Nevada the 4th grade social studies curriculum focuses on Nevada while the 5th grade studies the United States. Because of that I wasn't too concerned about it during the year, but in hind sight I think it would have helped students gain a national perspective by doing some simple research.

With that thought in mind I've created a template students can use to record basic state information. I created it in two different formats, depending on the resources available in your classroom. In both formats I created a cover page, a page with instructions for the students, and a template page that can be copied for each state.

In my class we had 1:1 iPads with Book Creator installed. The students absolutely loved using Book Creator and used any free time to create books. This would be a natural fit for them. The video shows what the 3 pages in my Book Creator template look like. You can download the ePub file used by Book Creator here. The elements on the template page are locked so students can't move/delete them. They can still double-tap inside the text box to change the text.

Since a lot of schools are using Google Apps for Education I decided to create this resource in Google Slides format as well. Slides doesn't have a way to lock elements, so students just need to be careful when clicking on elements so they don't accidentally move or delete them. The format is pretty much the same as the Book Creator one. You can make a copy of this template here.

If you use Google Classroom either format is super easy to distribute to your students. You can either attach the Book Creator ePub file which students would then save to their iPad in Book Creator. Or give them the URL to the Google Slides template and they'll be prompted to create their own copy.

Both templates are fully editable so you can change what information you want your students to collect. Whenever we did a Mystery Skype we asked the other class questions and my students always gravitated toward questions like:
  • name of the town
  • name of the school
  • school mascot
  • how many students in the class
My students also like to keep track of who guessed first. All of these might be fun to keep track of, although they aren't specific state information.

Let me know what you think of this resource or share ideas you use in your classroom.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

In search of best practices to teach coding to elementary students

image from The Scheme Team
For the 2017-2018 school year I will be working at Marzano Academy at Heard Elementary School. Marzano Academy is a brand new magnet school in the Clark County School District focusing on coding. While my official title is Humanities teacher, my focus will be teaching coding to the students in grades 1-5.

The first tasks I was given was to develop a scope and sequence for the coding program, define the materials needed, and plan activities and resources for students with a diverse set of coding skills. As I discussed these ideas with the admins we felt that all decisions would be guided by two main principals.
  • all students should be exposed to all coding platforms taught at the school
  • students need resources to continue their learning outside of class time
As I considered various coding platforms and activities I came up with a list of various coding platforms that I feel all students at Marzano Academy should be exposed to. These platforms, or environments, include Javascript (Kodable/Tynker/ Avengers), Scratch, robotics, HTML/CSS, and mobile app creation. Some coding environments, such as HTML/CSS, are too difficult for some grade levels and would not be taught in all grades. Others, such as robotics, would look completely different in younger grades than in the upper grades.

I love the idea of teaching students different coding environments because it exposes them to different skills, syntax, and applications for coding. For myself, I love working with HTML and CSS to design websites. If I weren't in education that might be a field of work I would pursue. If we were to focus on just robotics or Scratch, students would miss out on other environments that might appeal to them. 

Defining these different environments was the scope of our project. But creating a sequence becomes a little harder. In order to give ALL students the opportunity to work in ALL coding environments, I can see the curriculum taught in one of two ways.

In the first way students in each grade level would be exposed to each coding platform during an 8 week period. The structure might look something like the diagram below.

The pros for this would be:
  • students in all grade levels work in each coding environment
  • students are given multiple opportunities to work in each environment over their time at Marzano
The cons for this structure would be:
  • students would only scratch the surface of the coding environments
  • with limited time in each environment students wouldn't have time to apply their skills or create something of value
  • its hard to define how the coding experience would be different across grade levels. i.e. how does robotics look different from 4th to 5th grade? 
A second approach would be to assign coding environments to specific grade levels, as pictured below.

The pros for this would be:
  • students have more time to go in depth in each environment, experimenting and applying concepts and skills learned
 The cons for this structure would be:
  • students at the beginning of their time at Marzano would miss out on some coding environments. For example, under this model 5th graders would only learn how to create mobile apps and would miss out on robotics or working in Scratch.
  • designing enough engaging activities to keep the students interested in a platform for an entire year (approximately 34 weeks) 
In my quest to find coding resources I've found plenty of resources to teach coding. The following websites have a lot of potential and I'll probably end up blogging about them. They provide a variety of visual activities and games to help students understand coding syntax.
But there's not a lot out there that describes the best sequence for teaching coding to students.  What skills or platforms are better for younger students in grades 1&2? What about older students?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Which approach above seems better to you? Or am I completely off base on these? Is there something I've missed or haven't considered?

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