Free online tools: Stencyl video game maker

Do you want to really impress your friends this summer? Tell them you’re developing your own video game.

It’s easy with Stencyl, a drag-and-drop video game creator that you can download.

Check out some of their showcase games.
Stencyl has a crash course for beginners.

Even better, they have a free educator’s kit to get you started with students.

Have fun creating a game, and then invite your friends to play your game on their iOS or Android device!

Free online tools: Thimble HTML and CSS remixer

Have you always wanted to make your own website, but felt intimidated by HTML?

Thimble, an online environment created by Mozilla, lets you play in a sandbox with HTML and CSS code. You can swap things out and see what happens, so you’re learning in an exploratory manner.

To get started, select a project to “remix,” like a Keep Calm poster, HTML burger, or My Six Word Summer.

The remix environment includes a tutorial if you’re lost, as well as a lesson plan to help get you started with students.

You can post your remix and share it with others!

Free online tools: Storybird online book creator

Want to work on your creative writing skills? Storybird makes it easy to get inspired and write picture books, longform stories, or poetry.

In Storybird, you select curated artwork that inspires you, and use that as a launch pad to write. Read The Homework Monster as an example.

Educators can create accounts for students, giving them a different way of expressing themselves. Storybird also posts monthly challenges, making it easy to incorporate as an option in your Makerspace.

Take a few moments and write a witty story to send to your friends and family!

Free online tools: Coding with Scratch

It’s a great time of year for professional development… especially if it’s free! This month on the blog, I’m writing about four free online tools that you can explore when you have a few moments. With these tools, you can learn more about coding, writing, HTML/CSS, and video game creation. And you’ll be ready to help your students learn with these tools when school starts back up! All of the tools also let you share what you’ve learned with your friends, family, and colleagues. Maybe you’ll inspire someone else to learn something new and be a maker this summer, too!

Want to learn to write code? Scratch is to the rescue.

Scratch is simple to use, with drag-and-drop bits of code that animate a “sprite” on the screen.

If you’re new, Scratch provides lots of step-by-step tutorials to get you started.

And if you’re looking for inspiration for your students, check out these downloadable Scratch cards.
Make a greeting card and send it to a friend or animate your name and share it with your family!

Ethics: Can ethics be computed?

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have been working with Nao, a toddler-sized robot, to see if we can program robots to make ethical decisions. Even simple tasks, like reminding someone to take medication, have ethical consequences. What does the robot do if the person refuses to take the medicine?

Questions to discuss with students:

First, present a common ethical dilemma to students, such as the trolley problem. Have students discuss the possible outcomes and the consequences of the choices made.

Do you think robots can be programmed to make similar choices? Would you want them to? Why or why not?

Ethics: Effect of technology on economics

“The robots are taking over!” Although that’s a line out of many science fiction books and movies, it is undeniable that robots are becoming an increasing part of our world. One area we’re seeing more robots is in jobs. As robots become less expensive, they cost less than a human doing the same work. In manufacturing, robot sales have jumped 32% since last year in the U.S.

Inevitably this will lead to job losses for humans. But what else will we lose? This author discusses how doing “menial” work actually helps employees become better as they learn and grow in their careers.

Questions to discuss with students:

What menial chores or tasks do you do at school and at home? What do you think you’re learning from doing those jobs? What if a robot did them for you? How would that change your daily life? How would that change your future?


Ethics: What about privacy?

Does your school use Google Education apps? More than half of the students in the U.S. currently do. But what is Google doing with the data it is collecting from schools?

In a New York Times article, author Natasha Singer talks about how Google is setting itself up for brand loyalty with students. But even more troubling is its lack of transparency over what it is doing with student data.

“Unless we know what is collected, why it is collected, how it is used and a review of it is possible, we can never understand with certainty how this information could be used to help or hurt a kid,” said Bill Fitzgerald of Common Sense Media, a children’s advocacy group, who vets the security and privacy of classroom apps.

Google declined to provide a breakdown of the exact details the company collects from student use of its services. Bram Bout, director of Google’s education unit, pointed to a Google privacy notice listing the categories of information that the company’s education services collect, like location data and “details of how a user used our service.”

Question to discuss with students:

What is privacy? Why is it important? What steps can you take to maintain online privacy?


Ethics: Social effects of technology

“Smart” cities are on the horizon. Just like people have “smart” houses now, with thermostats and refrigerators that can communicate and be controlled through the Internet, entire cities will be digitally connected in the future – “smart” hospitals, “smart” schools… but what will living in that kind environment be like? This writer says it will be lonely. Research is showing that the mere presence of a smart phone affects relationships in a negative way. If so, what will an entirely connected city be like?

Question to discuss with students:

Is technology contributing to loneliness? Can you give some examples of when technology has changed how you communicate with others? What can we do to make sure that technology is not becoming a barrier to connecting with people, especially our loved ones?

Ethics: Addition or subtraction?

Discussions about ethics is a crucial part of your makerspace, and an excellent learning experience for students. This month I’ll be talking about five ethical questions related to making. Just because we can make something, should we?

Whenever we are making, an important consideration is whether what we are creating is adding value, or taking away value. Often new inventions are actually doing both at the same time. Self-driving cars add convenience, but are also a safety concern. Smart phones put the Internet at our fingertips, but are also quickly changing social dynamics.

Question to discuss with students:

Let’s talk about delivery robots. They can bring your take-out to your doorstep or to your office. But are they in the way, especially in high-traffic areas, like tourist attractions? Are they a safety concern for the elderly? Do they add more value to our world, or do they take away value?