muse: n. a source of inspiration

Augmented Reality

A is for . . . Augmented Reality. What’s augmented reality and why use in education? Augmented reality is just adding a digital layer of information over the physical world. Using a device of some kind, like an iPad, a user views something that exists in the physical world (like a piece of paper, a building, or a magazine ad), but sees more. Imagine being able to view a building and see what it looked like 100 years ago? Or scanning a photo of a person and then seeing a movie where he or she is speaking? There are some terrific apps that take advantage of augmented reality – here are just a few:

  • ColARMix. Download and color the coloring pages from the ColAR website and then view them using the ColAR Mix app on an iPad. You can even pick up the items!
  • Aurasma: Aurasma is considered by many people to be the granddaddy of augmented reality apps. It’s actually pretty easy to use – just create your content (what you want people to see via the device), take a photo of the trigger (what you want people to scan), and layer the two. Then, when people view the trigger via the app, they’ll see the content you created!
  • AR Flashcards: With AR Flashcards, you point your device at the printed flashcard, and a 3D image will appear. You can even tap on the image to hear its name and get more information.
  • ARISGames. ARIS, in development at the University of Wisconsin, gives developers the ability to create digital scavenger hunts that can be played remotely or on location. See this post to find out more about Purim about three years ago when I developed a scavenger hunt that allowed students to converse with Esther and Mordecai. If you want more information about ARIS, please see me (or take my workshop at the upcoming ICE Conference).

How could you use augmented reality in class? What about recording raps to teach vocabulary words that appear when the word is scanned on a word wall? Or book trailers that play when you scan the cover of a book? How about recording yourself giving instructions to complete an exercise when an assignment is scanned?


December 9, 2014 Posted by | Augmented Reality | , , | Leave a comment

The Programming Dilemma

Like everyone else, I’ve been reading all the back-and-forth about the need to teach programming. Like everyone else, I’m wondering when we’re supposed to find the time to do it. “How many languages can we teach in one day?” I ask…

An article in Mother Jones addresses this issue, stating that “computer literacy is the key to winning the 21st century.” I’m not exactly sure what winning the century means, but I found the article a fascinating read.

During this past school year, I had the opportunity to run two specials for 6th graders who were interested in coding. As it happened, one was a small group of boys, and the second a small group of girls. The differences were interesting. For example, the boys were mostly interested  in designing games via Gamestar Mechanic, and the girls were more interested in a methodical class in an actual programming language; working through Khan Academy’s JavaScript course. Differences aside, one thing that I did observe across the board, though, was that we needed a lot of time to go through the lessons.

Time? We just don’t have so much of it.

One way our school addressed this was to start an extra-curricular Code Club run by parents. Students sign up (and pay separately) and come to school on a Sunday evening to learn how to code. It was immensely popular…with the kids who were interested in coding. Obviously, since this was a self-selected group, it was, well, great for the kids who identified an interest.

But it occurs to me that “winning the 21st Century” needs to be about getting everybody on board, or at least more students than the ones who self-identify as wannabe programmers.

The article at Mother Jones brings up a different tactic, one that I’m interested in exploring; the principle of computational thinking. This intrigues me. It’s about teaching kids how to approach solving problems in a systematic, logical manner.

I recently worked with our 7th graders to design digital scavenger hunts using ARISgames. It’s a terrific platform, and requires no programming skills. But it does require some careful thinking about what needs to be in place in order to make things happen. It also requires careful attention to syntax (and what 7th grader cares about syntax? Slashes…we don’t need no stinkin’ slashes…).

Most of the kids loved it.

Maybe that’s the way to go…computational thinking, not programming. If they want to learn to code later, so be it. But maybe, for now, we’ll teach them how to create, how to use systematic thinking to solve their problems and get from here to there.

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Programming | , , , | Leave a comment

Interesting Questing, continued

If you’ve been following this blog for any time, you know that gaming in education, especially of the digital kind, is a big passion of mine. I was fortunate enough to be able to explore a variety of ways of doing this with the support of an iCenter iChallenge grant this year, and I even managed to figure out how to work digital hunting into my ILP (Individual Learning Project) that I’m doing for my certificate in Israel Education through the iCenter and Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies.

I recently presented on Interesting Questing at the annual conference of the Illinois Computing Educators. My wiki page can be found here and my Livebinder is here.

So – what did I actually do? I created and ran two quests so far this year:

The first was for about 300 6th graders. They used mobile devices to scan QR codes to read instructions, watch videos online and seek out various locations in a local synagogue while performing tasks such as making a map of Israel with their bodies and making up bag lunches for a soup kitchen. The students were divided into groups of about ten students and used their own devices – iPods, SMART Phones and iPads – to read the codes. They had a lot of fun doing it. The buzz was unmistakable as they entered the synagogue and saw the codes posted. The code shown here is the one to the opening video.

The second was far more complicated. I used ARIS, which is being developed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It’s in development, so some wonkiness should be expected, but it’s reasonably stable. The user interface is pretty straightforward. There’s a pretty minimal online user guide and a community forum, but I found the easiest way to learn the software was to just jump in and use it. The Flash-based editor must be used on a computer, and the game is played using iOS devices. I created a hunt that had seven stations in the school, with a task to be completed at each station. The app features data collecting tools such as audio and video recording, so kids had to complete tasks such as uploading a recording of themselves singing “Ha Kova Sheli” or a photo of the group with a particular item. ARIS allows you to create characters, which made it a great choice for a Purim-themed game. Some screen shots are shown here.

The other incredibly cool thing about ARIS is that you design it using a Google map, which allows you to put clues in the real world. Literally, you can sit at home on your couch (I speak from experience here, people) and place the clues wherever you want them. Additionally, you set the range so that you can determine precisely (well, sort of – see below) where a person needs to be when a clue becomes visible to them.

ARIS allows you to have the player interact with a character, get clues, pick up or give items, so a game designed in ARIS can have all the qualities of a regular scavenger hunt with the addition of immediate gratification.

The Purim quest was designed to take place during a 35-minute rotation, in which the students were guided through joining the school network (which had been opened for the event), downloading the app and creating a user ID. They were given a brief demo on how to use the tools and access the camera, recorder and QR code scanner (called the decoder in the app). Because we were concerned about the interaction between the devices’ GPS location services and the game we made extensive use of QR codes rather than relying on the range settings in the maps.

What did we learn?

Like all activities that involved the Internet, always have a plan B. The biggest problem with the Purim quest was that our bandwidth was really stretched to the limit, which prevented the kids from uploading the media they created (such as the movies or audio recording). Unfortunately, most of the logic for the Purim quest involved uploading media before the next clue could be seen, so if the kids couldn’t upload their media the game was stopped. Luckily I had created seven different versions (for purposes of staggering the groups) with QR codes as opening plaques, so we were able to get the students started on new games when the one they were on stopped.

The other thing we noticed with the QR code scavenger hunt in the first case was that groups of ten were too large. It’s not like a group of kids following a scavenger hunt on paper; the lure of the electronic device is just too strong – if the kids can’t touch the device at least part of the time, it loses its appeal.

The other issue was the accuracy of the devices’ GPS systems. When we tested ARIS on various devices – iPads, iPhones and iPods – we discovered that the accuracy of their GPS systems varied tremendously. Not surprisingly, phones seemed to work the best. I don’t know if that was because of the devices themselves or the fact that we were in the school building, but since the game was going to be played in the building, we felt we needed to compensate for the inaccuracy by setting the range pretty wide. This, of course, causes other issues in when clues showed up where they weren’t supposed to. To avoid that we used QR codes, rather than rely on the clues appearing automatically.

Designing in ARIS takes a lot of time. There’s a lot of testing involved, and it can get tedious with placing the items on the map. But it was a blast! The kids were excited to be using their devices in school, and the “coolness” factor is terrific. It’s definitely worth working with, and I’m excited to figure out where to use it next.

March 11, 2012 Posted by | Interesting Questing, QR Codes | , , | 1 Comment

Interesting Questing

Interesting questing logoA new interest for me is developing digital quests. These might be digital versions of old-fashioned scavenger hunts, or more complex activities like city-wide activities using GPS navigation devices. When I was in Vienna this past summer with Centropa, we went on part of a geocaching tour that was created by middle school kids. What a great activity, both for the people who are participating and the kids who prepared it.

What’s super exciting for me is that I’m going to getting support from the great staff at the iCenter as part of my iChallenge incubator grant. There are three projects which I’m working on:

  1. A pretty straightforward digital scavenger hunt to be held in the synagogue building.
  2. A digital quest for Purim.
  3. My preconfirmation (8th and 9th graders) “Finding the Jew in You” quest. My students and I will be creating a digital quest for Chicago-area teenagers to use. The quest will include going to various Jewish sites in the Chicago area, performing tasks and collecting student reflections

I’ve started to compile resources on my wiki. Here are a few of my favorites:


SCVNGR is an app which is widely used commercially. It has a clean interface and it doesn’t seem terribly complicated to create challenges. Free accounts are limited to five challenges, but the developers graciously granted me an increase to 25 just for the asking. The editor is online, and the user needs to download an app to play.

ARIS is a platform developed at the University of Wisconsin. The site is impressive and extensive, with user docs and samples. Players can interact with virtual guides and collect artifacts (which can then be annotated using voice or a smartphone camera).  The learning curve on this product looks steeper than SCVNGR, but there’s great documentation. Like SCVNGR, the user needs to download a free app in order to play.

QR (quick response) codes are not software per se, but rather digital tools. You create a QR code to encode some kind of data, such as displaying text or directing someone to a website or to create an email. There’s been a lot of discussion on how to use them in education, including digital scavenger hunts, links to podcasts and students portfolios and more. Users with smartphones, laptops or computers with webcams can use QR code scanners to read the code.For a video on how you can use QR codes in school, check this out.

Need some inspiration?

Getting a grip on the tech side is one thing, but there’s nothing like a little show and tell to get you going. Here are a few videos that might help:

Aris demo


And for a real dose of inspiration, check out Global Kids. Their New York City Haunts game will blow you away!

If you’d like to share what you’re doing, or what you’d like to do – please let me know!

September 14, 2011 Posted by | iCenter, Interesting Questing, QR Codes, Technology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: