Inspiration from “The ON House” Milano #thisismyclassroom

I was lucky enough to find out about this house through a parent of the school and visited it today. The ON House has been created by Simontech to demonstrate the various home and office automation products that they sell and how they can be integrated together via an overarching web app.

As you might remember from previous blog posts I am gathering inspiration, student wish lists and researching classroom design in order to develop a classroom with a clear Computer Science identity and purpose. In short I want a classroom that can be customised to suit particular learning and teaching tasks but also become integrated into the lessons I teach.

I plan to take some of my students there so they can also gain an insight into what is possible with current technology. What I particularly liked about The ON House was that the technology was not obvious or overwhelming however the integration of the technology made the house more accessible and customisable.

During the visit I thought about how some of the technology could be integrated into a Computer Science classroom. For example the ambient lighting presets could be used to indicate and suit different learning activities. Programmable colour changing LEDs in the ceiling or floor could also be accessed directly by students in their programming lessons. I think there would have to be a way of allowing access to these lights during lesson so that my classroom did not become a disco when a student got home!

The ability to change the machines that were displayed on the short throw projector via an app would also be very useful in class. At my previous school a custom SMART panel was used to switch sources which meant that any changes required software updates from the company. It also meant that if the panel broke – it cost a lot to fix it and rendered the AV unit useless. Multi-platform applications that perform the same function as a custom panel would, I think, allow changes in the future to be made much more easily. Also replacing an android tablet or iPad mini would be much cheaper than a custom SMART panel.

Simontech also explained that access levels can be set within their system and I think that this could be fantastic for lesson preparation. If you have the lighting, AV, etc. set appropriately for a particular task or topic you can quickly save this as a preset at the end of a lesson and recall that preset the next time the class comes in leaving you free to start the lesson without fiddling with the technology.

There were other interesting components built into The ON House including electric privacy glass. On returning to school I trawled YouTube for a while and found a great short video showing this in action.

In the video you can see that when the glass is set to white you can project on the surface and, if you think it’s useful, add a touch screen too. This could allow you to open out a classroom with few windows so that more natural light was let in and also function as a display space.

Another aspect they discussed was security. In their kitchen demo they showed that their app could prevent doors into other rooms as well as individual cupboards and drawers from opening depending on the preset.

I have linked a few videos and articles about the ON house below so you can find out more about it. If you are in the Milan area and would like to visit it you can send an email to theonhouse@simontech.it or phone +39 02 40043548.

On wellbeing

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It’s fairly commonplace to be self-reflective at this time of year and, for teachers anyway, the holidays are usually when we consider how to improve our own wellbeing. Recovering from a draining term, it has definitely been on my mind…

teacher5adaySlowChat

I was intrigued by the Twitter discussion #teacher5adaySlowChat over the past few days however decided to lurk instead of post. Long-time Twitter friend Robert Macmillan wrote a fantastic discussion piece yesterday on teacher wellbeing. I found this section particularly jarring:

If you are naive enough to believe the pundits and the politicians, then we’re treated quite well. Indeed, the ‘Get Into Teaching’ website preaches that as a “valued professional” you can look forward to:

Job satisfaction, “competitive salary, generous pension”.

It goes on to tell about long holidays in which you can: “pursue your interests, travel and spend time with family and friends.”

Not for them the lower life expectancy that has seen several of my former colleagues die just after retirement.

I wouldn’t paint all schools with this broad brush but have experienced the highs and lows of working in locations where teacher wellbeing is either a high priority or completely ignored. Teaching is a career that can completely overwhelm all other aspects of your life and needs careful attention to ensure that you don’t spend your long holidays recovering from illness, fatigue or stress. My family spent most of the last term swapping bugs which left us all exhausted by Christmas and I’m sure a lot of other teachers would have been in the same boat around the world. Even one week in we’re nowhere near 100%. Hence my preference to lurk and consider at the moment – at least I’m managing to spend time with my family…

Milan traffic ban

Milan is a beautiful, vibrant city with so much variety to observe and explore. However what I found most striking recently was the (non-peak) ban on vehicles in the city. Yesterday the city was eerily quiet between 10am and 4pm for the first time since 1999. I had imagined it would be reminiscent of traffic levels when we arrived in early August, when most of the Milanese head for less stifling heat, however it was completely different. I walked with the kids to a local supermarket and saw a handful of low-emission cars quietly whirr past on the way but was delighted to see how many people were out on the street chatting to neighbours, walking slowly, enjoying the winter sun. For someone who is used to everyone moving quickly and with purpose, it was a unique and enjoyable experience. I don’t know if the vehicle ban is going to help current smog levels to be honest, but it appears to be improving the quality of life for its residents in other ways.

How to be happy

The Guardian article “New year, new you – how to be happy” by Rachel Kelly didn’t contain anything that hasn’t been said before however it groups advice from yoga techniques through to recent screen time recommendations in one easy-to-reference list. I don’t agree with the “60% rule” heading but do feel that sometimes our perfectionism forces us to overwork.

The pros and cons of digital connections

While some of us decide to take regular digital detoxes to improve our wellbeing. While I agree that you need balance between online and offline activities I disagree with the idea that you need to force yourself to take a month off to realise:

The other thing that struck her was just how much pointless “digital noise” there was in her life. “When I got back home, I realised I didn’t have any messages that were actually important, that needed me to do anything. No one had died.”

Without our regular Skype or Appear.in chats with family back in the UK, my Facetime and iMessage discussions with friends and teaching colleagues I would certainly feel very isolated as suggested by the Ages 2.0 project.