Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Hovercam Solo 8Plus For The Remote Learning Win #EdTech

One of the hardest parts of doing remote learning is allowing the students to see what you are doing in a way that mimics, as closely as possible, what they might see in the classroom if they were there in person. The camera in your computer is nice for showing your face and you can screen share, but the teachers that need to show physical objects are left holding it up to the camera and hoping that the camera can focus long enough for students to see what you want them to see. Well, the new Hovercam Solo 8Plus is here to solve these problems. 

I was sent a demo unit to test out in my space and I was blown away at everything it could do. As a makerspace director and someone that needs to show lots of physical objects, having a good camera that can really showcase the details is important to me. Out of the box, here is what the Solo 8Plus has,

Few wires is so important for teachers. They can get in the way and they make it tougher to be mobile. One cable that powers and connects to your computer makes it so much easier. Also, installing the software you need is an easy as plugging into the port. 

The port on the left is used when you plug into your computer for the first time to download the software. If you are on a PC, a prompt will appear and you can follow the steps to get the correct software. For a Mac, you need to go to the Finder and open the document camera to access the files to download the Mac software. The entire process took less than 2 minutes. Once the software is downloaded, you just plug the cord into the port to the right and you are ready to go. For Chromebook use, there is a Google Chrome extension you can download

The box also contained a green screen mat which is perfect for anyone looking to do some green screen work. It fits nicely on the desk and my space is ready to get to work. 

As you can see a bit above, the zoom feature is amazing. I'm showing off the new micro:bit v2 here. I am able to get up close and personal with the device to really show all the aspects of the updated micro:bit. I have good lighting in my space, but if I needed more light, the Solo 8Plus has lights on the top that you can turn on as needed. The 13MP and 4K really make a difference. 

One of the other things I love most about the Solo 8Plus is the Picture in Picture option. The camera uses your webcam to place an image on the top right of the screen. This is perfect if you are recording your screen for a demo for class or something similar. 

Lastly, I want to point out the Zoom integration. You can log into your Zoom account or join another meeting. For teachers that are using Zoom for their remote learning, this is huge. If you are not a Zoom user, that is still ok because you share your screen from the other video apps and the image is perfect. I couldn't be happier with the quality. 

As of now, the PC software has more options than the Mac version. The digital whiteboard and annotation features are amazing and you can check them out here. I am hoping that those useful tools will be coming to the Mac version soon. In the meantime, I can use the Google Chrome app for the annotation. 

Overall, this is an amazing document camera that will get lots of use during our remote learning phase, but also, lots of use when students are all back in the classroom. I recommend you consider the Hovercam Solo 8Plus if you are in the need of a top notch document camera. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Are Due Dates Important During Pandemic Learning?

Like many educators, I am experiencing remote and live instruction at the same time in my school. It is not easy, but it is possible if you are willing to make some tough changes to traditional practices. The one that has been most effective has been due dates. 

Traditional models of school have assignments due on a hard date. Anything after that date is considered late and will have points taken off. The argument has been that students need due dates because work needs to be graded in a timely manner and students need to learn about due dates because they will have them in the “real world”. I know I have made a statement like this before. 

Well, this approach to learning is not going to be effective right now. In the past, a teacher could get a sense of how a student was doing and if they needed extra time on their work. When the student is on the other side of the screen, it is near impossible to really know how things are going for them. Extending due dates for those students can help ease their anxiety with remote learning and allow them the grace they need to complete assignments. 

If we are going to do that for remote learners, why not for all of the learners. What have I found by doing this, students are still getting the work done, they are better at communicating with me on struggles they are encountering, and some are tackling bigger projects because they know they will have time to finish it. I tell students that projects need to be submitted by the week before the end of the marking period so I have time to provide feedback and the students are very understanding. These middle school students work hard and get the work done at a reasonable time. It is only a couple of students that really need the extended time to complete the work.

Another great reason to give everyone extra time to submit work is that it removes the stigma some students might feel for asking for extra time or not turning something in on the due date. Everyone turns in their work at roughly the same time, but it is not weird for a student to need an extra class or two. Nobody thinks twice about it. That is the type of environment I want to create for my students. Nobody should feel bad about needing more time. Everyone should feel comfortable about the pace they learn. That is how we can ensure our students can be successful. 

I understand that due dates are tough to move away from and the culture of learning in your school might not allow for it across the board, but I encourage all of your to consider implementing in some way to support your students at home and in your classroom. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Saturday, October 10, 2020

#WorldMentalHealthDay - Teacher Thoughts

Today is world Mental Health Day. It seemed fitting that I would ease back into social media today. I stepped away for about 3 weeks because there was too much going on all over my life and I just didn’t need to see the dumpster fire of the world in one more spot. 

I am teaching face to face with students who are joining remotely. It is a high anxiety situation. Not because of the fear of contracting Covid-19, but of not being the best teacher I can be in these circumstances. I have always taken pride in putting my best effort in to any problems at school and not letting things get in my way of providing the best educational experiences possible for students, but there are times I will fail and I still, after 15 years, still let it get the best of me. Trying to turn a design class into something that works in person and remotely has been tough and every obstacle has caused me stress and anxiety. I am better off than I was 3 weeks ago and I think it is a combination of things that made it possible. 

1. Supportive Admin and Staff

I cannot stress enough how important a supportive staff and administrative team can be in helping teachers cope with anxiety. I don’t think I’d be teaching in another environment if it were not for their hard work, attitude, and empathy. As things got tough, they were there to offer support and, sometimes, problem solve. As teachers, we cannot be left to fend for ourselves. I have friends that are dealing with serious vacuums in their leadership and it is causing more issues than can be shared. My heart breaks for them. 

2. Stepping Away

Taking the break from social media is important and I recommend it to everyone. It was tough not connecting with friends and letting them know what is happening in my world, but I needed to go cold turkey if I wanted to really step away. More than anything, those minutes I saved were used for self care techniques I’ll share in a bit. Those minutes add up and I will be looking to keep the minutes I add back to a minimum. 

3. Meditation 

I use the Calm app to help me quiet the noise in my head. I do it almost every night and I could not be happier. Taking the time to just empty my skull of the nonsense of the day and focus on breathing and wellbeing makes a difference. During some of my most stressful anxiety driven moments, meditation helped me through it.

4. Therapy

It might not be for everyone, but it is for me. If people are comfortable, they need to share more often that therapy is a part of their life. There is still a stigma out there about people who go to therapy. It is a shame. Therapy is a great way to talk through issues with a neutral third party. I am lucky to have health insurance that covers therapy visits. 

5. Distraction 

Finding something that distracts you from the noise can be helpful. I used to run, but my knees and back are starting to disagree with that form of distraction. I game fairly regularly at night. Shooting ghouls can help calm the nerves. I listen to podcasts as well. Welcome to Nightvale is amazing and I also love Fake Doctors, Real Friends which is podcast by Zach Braff and Donald Faison. Scrubs is one of my favorite shows of all time and those two are rewatching the series during lockdown and sharing their memories. If you love Scrubs, you will love this podcast. 

The world is not going to be getting easier in the next month. In November, about half the country is going to be very angry and teachers will be on the front line again to support the students who need it. I might need to add more things to help me cope, but I know I can do it.

For those of you reading that do not deal with mental health issues, but have friends who do, here are a couple of things you can do.

1. Listen

Just listen. Don’t solve problems, just listen to them.

2. Don’t isolate them even if they want it

They are going to push you away, ignore your texts, and try to ghost you as much as they can. Be persistent, but not annoying. Checking in every few days lets them know you are still thinking about them and are there. I know it is more work, but your friends need the extra help right now.

3. Love them

Let them know how much you love them and how important they are to you. If you can, give them big hugs. The fact that we have a strict no touching policy in this country to keep everyone safe is making it very hard for those who deal with mental health issues who need hugs. It seems silly, but there are plenty of studies that show how important hugs can be to the body. If it safe and you are in bubbles, just giving them a hug or holding them can help so much.

I hope all of you will take a few moments to connect with your loved ones, let them know you love them, and share this with anyone you think needs help. 

I love and miss allot of you very much. 

Hugs and High Fives,