Sunday, 18 June 2017

Digital cinematology published in Canadian Living

In a recent study, it was estimated approximately 10% of the Internet contains text; the other 90% is images.  With the explosion of social media and all the different ways we take and use pictures now, it is no surprise that everyone wants to be the next YouTube star.  However, just like there is a difference between Dad and the old camcorder and Steven Spielberg, your highly viewed YouTube videos are all professionally done with top-notch equipment.  That does not mean, though, your child can’t make a good quality video.
The three key pieces of equipment is a good digital camera, a voice recorder and directed lighting.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking a well-lit room will do the trick.  Natural lighting is always good with the sun directly behind the camera.  Otherwise, a room with lots of windows and an afternoon sun is your second choice.  If you need to go with artificial lighting, use a minimum three halogen floodlights or reflective material around fluorescent lighting.  Make sure they are up high shining down on the studio.
Most people will shoot their videos with their phone or a tablet.  It doesn’t take long to figure out who has done that.  The resolution will be low, the sound will have an echo, and the orientation will be confusing.  With a standard digital camera and tripod, you will get good resolution and orientation.  Finally, a voice recorder is a must.  Put it in the person’s pocket or behind the backdrop and record the entire thing.  With a proper movie editing program, you will get the audio you need to make a truly great movie.  Of course, you can always just create a slide show and add some music to get the same effect.
As to the type of movie you make, most videos fall into a few categories.  You have your live action movies, slide shows, animation, stop motion, green screen, performance, and lecture.  Most children seem to like making live action, stop motion and green screen movies.  One of the exciting things with these types of movies is the assortment of characters you can use.  A really neat movie I recently saw with my son involved a Dad and two boys with a bunch of Nerf guns.  To my 10 year old son, they are the coolest characters going.  Not the people, though, but rather the guns.  He loves the variety of guns and names them all when he sees them in Walmart. 
The key thing to remember, though, be prepared to shoot a lot of video.  Like anything else, practice makes perfect.  Your child will inevitably get too close to the action with the camera and will need to learn angles and lighting.  I normally go through the camera every month or so and delete out the weak videos with my children after talking about what makes it good or not.  Otherwise, you will use up your memory pretty quickly.
Once you have a few good movie clips, it is time to start putting them together.  Every big operating system has its own movie editing program and while I prefer Windows Moviemaker with YouTube music, it is primarily due to just being used to it.  Apple has iMovie, YouTube has its own program, and Google has Wevideo.  Each program has its own quirks and takes a little bit of work.  Ultimately, though, I prefer storing the videos on YouTube versus any other place.  Setup an account and you can put any length movie on there.  I have posted up to 60 minute videos on there.  Just make sure you respect the copyright laws associated with it.  For your personal videos, upload them into your channel and set it to private or unlisted.  Upload the video and then from video manager, change it to private or unlisted.  I prefer unlisted because I can then still email the link of the video to any person.

While it is important to remember that it is only the top 1% of professionals who actually become YouTube sensations or movie/TV stars, there is lots of benefit in participating in digital cinematology.  I am convinced going forward, storytellers will be telling their stories in film not print.  My grandparents used speeches to tell stories, my parents used letter writing, I use my computer, but my children will be using their cameras to tell their stories.  

Game Creation published in Canadian Living

In the last five years, IT sector jobs have been the third fastest growing sector in Canada and number one in terms of university degree employability.  As children growing up in Canada, the best way to prepare for these jobs is through learning how to program or code.  Once you know how to program, the world truly is your oyster.  Whether you go into banking, security, design, insurance, manufacturing or marketing, you have to know how to code.
Thankfully, though, IT companies have recognized this and are providing this training for youth free of charge and with lots of support.  They understand their company's’ future depends on developing the next generation of programmers and are constantly seeking new and bright minds.
One of the quickest ways to get the attention of these companies is create your own game and post it on the Apple store or Android.  If for no other reason, learning how do project management, tell a good story, linking antecedent and result, or entering into the world of business are all valuable skills to learn.
So, how do you get started in the world of gaming?  You can start as early as ages 5 or 6.  If you go to Kodable  on any tablet, the child will learn how to virtually manipulate direction and coding.  Even Pokemon Go or Geocaching will give you the same skill set.  Once the child learns the key is all in the sequencing and the basic commands, they are ready to move up to the next level.
As in any story, the two main elements are the characters/setting/time and the journey through conflict and resolution.  In the next level, most of these programs provide you with one of the two elements and you create the other.  Scratch 2.0 by the folks at MIT is the classic example of being given the character and you create the journey.  Sprite the cat needs commands in order to move.  You can bring other sprites in and manipulate them to tell your story.  The versatility of Scratch, though, is pretty amazing.  There are lots of games on Amazon, Android and Apple that were created through Scratch and it is very easy to setup your account to do so.  And they do require parental consent for any developer under the age of 14.  Minecraft by Mojang is the other huge program.  What I find fascinating about Minecraft is how it lends itself to collaboration, doesn’t need Internet, and you create both the characters/setting/time and the journey.  Obviously, the tutorials and virtual world around it are more than sufficient in getting anyone started on it. i Microsoft has its Kodu program.  While it is interesting, it is certainly a step down from the other two programs.  You use their robots and create the journey.  And you can figure it out, but the support is pretty limited.  Apple has just recently hopped into this world with Swift Playgrounds which I consider to be another level up.  It certainly has a sense of Apple familiarity with it, but it is very focused on the journey.  While the tutorials and support are great and clearly Apple is spending money on it, it is not very visually pleasing and is about teaching computer languages.  Coding with Chrome does the same thing.  The nice thing about these programs is they give you the programming window and the action window right beside each other just like Scratch.  As soon as you code something, you can see the result.  All of these programs tend to use the Blockly language which seems to be the basic language of choice today.  Most robotics, led by Lego Mindstorms, use the Blockly language.  And like any language, once you learn one, it becomes easier to learn others because of the similarities.  Finally, for your high school programmer, the Unity platform is now being offered for free.  And once your child is programming at this level, they are now at the professional level.
If you are more interested in the character, there are lots of options for that as well.  As simple as or avatar maker or as complicated as Sculptris, there are lots of choices in this area.  I prefer TinkerCad which lends itself to 3D printing and is the basic form of AutoCad, the most popular program today for design engineering.  If you go to Thingiverse, you will get a sense of what can be done with Tinkercad.

With all these choices offered, your daughter or son will quickly lock into their level and preference.  Depending on your setup and wifi access, you may find some of these choices aren’t realistic and that is fine.  As long as your child gets started on something, they will learn the skills they need for this next generation.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Robotics article published in Canadian Living

In our schools or media today, you may have seen the acronym STEM or STEAM.  In Canada, there is an acknowledgment that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are cross-curricular or related to each other.  There is also a recent development where Art is also understood to be connected.  Canadian economists see the fastest growing industry for the twenty years to be STEM related jobs which is why the Ontario Ministry of Education is now focusing on numeracy instruction.  However, as parents, it can be difficult to stay up with all the new developments happening in this field.  Well, don’t worry, you don’t need to know it all, because all the resources you need are readily available.
I believe you should always look for items that are well established and have good tech support.  In the world of robotics, Lego continues to lead the pack.  Every techy child knows how to build with Lego and Lego gives you the entire schematic right on their website.  And because they are so well-known, there are Youtube videos for every question you can imagine.  Lego is phasing out the NXT model so don’t go cheap and buy from Kiiji.  You don’t get any support and good luck getting replacement parts.  The easiest thing to do is buy the EV3 basic kit for $400 which will provide you with everything you need to participate in the Robotics Competition that happens every May in Ottawa  And you program it from the Lego Mindstorms program which can be done right from the brick or any standard laptop.  If you don’t want to start that expensive, I would suggest the Dash robot from Wonder which sells for about $200 at Toys R Us.  Don’t get the Dash and Dot kit.  Dot doesn’t do anything.  The reason I would suggest this one is because of the related apps.  Wonder provides the Go app, Blockly app, and Wonder app free on both Android and Apple.  The Go app basically runs it like a remote-control robot and fabulous for the beginner.  Blockly allows the child to learn how to program and Wonder is essentially game creation.  The Blockly language is the most common type of beginner coding.  The best part is once your child learns Blockly, they will be able to apply this learning in a lot of different areas.  The reason I like Wonder over the other 100 robots on the market, though, is the support they provide.  There are online contests your child can participate in, loads of tutorials online, and actual people who will reply to your questions.  They are new but seem to have the lead right now on this market.  And like I said, you can always go to Lego later if necessary. 
Robotics lend themselves so well to STEM education.  With Lego, you can start with the large blocks in kindergarten, go to the smaller blocks in grades 1-3 and then start building your robot in grades 4-6.  Most robots I see are basically vehicles.  What the child doesn’t realize is they are learning about automotive engineering, using math like patterning and symmetry and figuring out what creates speed and force.  On top of it, they also learn coding and programming through universal languages.  And the best part for parents is they don’t need to know anything.  Every child I have worked with will inevitably ask me how to do something.  I always reply, “Figure it out yourself.”  If they come back a second time, I tell them, Look it up on Google.”  I haven’t had a child yet who couldn’t figure it out eventually.  In our school system today, the emphasis is on inquiry learning or discovery learning.  The students are expected to figure these things out independently.
When you consider an 8th grader has never lived in a world without smartphones, STEM is here to stay.  The reason our children are so much more comfortable with technology then we were is simply because it is all they have known.  As an elementary math teacher, when parents ask what should they be working on at home, I tell them “Don’t worry about the times tables, look at buying some Lego.”

Rob More is a tech writer for Canadian Family magazine, a Capital Region Educator Finalist 2016, member of the Centre of Excellence in Mathematics and Computing, and lead instructor of the Beckwith Summer Tech Camp.

MakerSpace article published in Canadian Living

Most of us know that we live in a digital world today and the internet has made the world a really small place now.  However, when you stop and think about the fact that a fifth grader has never lived in a world without smartphones, it is enough to make us 30 and 40 something parents wonder how do we prepare our children for the future.  Well, one method gaining a lot of popularity is MakerSpaces.  But do you realize you can easily make your own relatively inexpensive MakerSpace right in your home?
The concept of a MakerSpace is to allow a child to discover and create on his own normally in the world of tech and science.  The public MakerSpaces you see today will normally consist of a 3D printer, a laser cutter, a computer with a bunch of apps, and maybe some type of robotics.  For your tween and teen, though, go simpler.
For a personal MakerSpace, go with robotics, movie-making, coding, experiments starting with robotics.  I include drones, remote control cars and helicopters and all levels of robots in this category.  Essentially, if you can program and maneuver a device through an obstacle course of some type, you are doing robotics.  You can create your own obstacle course in a room using cardboard, wood and other materials and then have timed road races with your remote control car.  You can also go to your local park or playground and navigate your helicopter through it.  Once you get good at controlling your helicopter, it might be time to look at drones which is basically a programming helicopter with a camera.  There are actually professional drone tournaments you can participate in but don’t go cheap if you are doing that.  For robots, I love  Anything you can think of, they have.  For starter robots, look at Ozobots, Spheros or the Wonder Dash robot.  All three of these robots are durable, easy to use and loads of fun with good support.  And, of course, the Lego Mindstorm EV3 is best in class for your higher level robot.
Next, get your movie making studio setup.  All you need is a lime-green sheet of fabric, a good halogen light and a tablet with the free Stop Motion app, the $7.99 Do Ink app, the free Pic Collage app and a Youtube account through gmail.  Lego characters have made stop motion movie cool again and they are so easy to do if you are willing to spend the time.  I have seen ten year olds spend weeks creating their 10 minute stop motion movie.  When you consider you need to take 300 photos and about 30 seconds for each photo to create a 30 second stop motion movie, this will keep your child occupied for hours.  Upload into Youtube, add the free music and voila you have a Youtube star.  Pic Collage is a precursor to Adobe Photoshop and super easy to use.  For that child who has an artistic eye but can’t draw, Pic Collage will allow them to really shine.  Finally, green screen is the intro to computer generated imaging which all movies are using now.  With Do Ink, your child can put any image in the background, add in animation, and create a really cool movie.  It is becoming so popular, celebrities like Jean Claude Van Damme provide free moving images or gifs on Youtube which you can add into your green screen movie.  All you need is that green fabric and a good light to get rid of shadows.
For coding, any laptop will work.  Start with Hour of Code or Kodable.  Once they get the hang of that, go to the next level.  Windows Kodu, Apple Swift, MIT Scratch 2.0, Minecraft, or Google Coding with Chrome are all fabulous programs with great tutorials to walk any child through how to do the programming.  I prefer Scratch 2.0 because it is online and works with any system with Minecraft a close second.  Both have been around a long time so every question possible has been answered online somewhere.  Apple will also provide IT support for Swift as well.
Finally, don’t be afraid to play the Mad Scientist.  On Youtube, I love Crazy Russian Hacker or Quirkology and copying their experiments.  My two favorite sites, though, come from New Zealand.  Powder Toy is a free downloadable virtual chemistry program with every chemical you can think of.  You can mix anything together and then measure any type of reaction.  For easy home experiments, go to Science Kids.  I have done all these experiments, most of which are on my Youtube channel, and they truly work.

I find once the child has an opportunity to get exposed to these different fields, they tend to focus on the one, two things they are really passionate about.  By the time they hit high school, they are ready to go to that next level up from these suggestions.  And when they do that, you have achieved your objective because they don’t need your help anymore.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Final Collection of MakerSpace Camp

Here is our video highlighting all the really cool things we say made these three weeks.

Video about MakerSpace Camp

Friday, 26 August 2016

Wk 3 Day 5 Final Game Creations

Here we are at the end of MakerSpace Camp.  We finish it off with some amazing games on Kodu and Scratch.  If you can get an free account and join their communities, check out our games and enjoy!
Final projects

On behalf of Marc and Scott, it has been a pleasure getting to know your children and trust they learned a lot that they can use going forward.

And keep an eye out for our final blog next week.  We are creating a video montage of everything we have done these past three weeks to let people know just how cool these three weeks have been.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Wk 3 Day 4 Coding with Unity

Today, we installed the Unity platform and got started on the first tutorial.  A very time-consuming, challenging project but  we made progress!