Friday, December 21, 2018

#CreateWithChromeBooks - is a game changer in the graphics game

For years I have struggled with removing backgrounds in portraits. My old standbys have been the Instant Alpha tool in Apple's Keynote and the magic wand selection tool in Pixlr. Both take time with janky workflows and neither produce the perfect final product.

Along comes the new website that works in a web browser like Google Chrome but also on mobile devices in the browser and without a standalone app!

While arguably not 100%'s as close as I have seen and way faster than anything I have tried. As the site says it works "100% automatically - in 5 seconds - without a single click". Just select your image by uploading or by entering a URL and watch the magic happen.

Here is a picture of my wife and me on the train in Northern California and with the background removed by the site. I then used Pixlr and layered that on top of an image of Times Square at midnight on New Years Eve. Being crammed in the cold with a million people, in the immortal words of Old Blue Eyes, is our "idea of nothing to do" but nobody on Instagram needs to know all we did was eat a dozen pizza rolls and go to bed at 10:15.

Screenshot of the user interface
Happy New Year

The iPad user experience is almost identical. Images can be imported from your camera roll. Transparent images are then downloaded back to your camera roll and available in your favorite graphic design apps that support layers. In this example, deleted the very complex background of the real Times Square. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday, December 10, 2018

Listen: My Conversation with John Sowash on The Chromebook Classroom Podcast

John and Me...somewhere in this group photo from the rooftop of Chicago's Google offices.
Earlier this Fall I had the honor of joining Google Education expert John Sowash on his "Chromebook Classroom Podcast". We had been fortunate enough this past summer to spend some quality time together in Chicago during ISTE.

While at the edtech mega-gathering we talked a lot about my "Chromebook Crisis" post and made plans to continue the conversation on the podcast.

Here you go: "Do We Have a Chromebook Crisis?"

In the episode we address that big question but also talk about ways how teachers can foster more creativity with a bevy of tools in the Chromebook environment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mr. Losik's Christmas List: Best Holiday STEM Gifts for Kids 2018

I get asked by parents year after year what gifts I recommend that kids will love....and maybe still learn something along the way.

After much deliberation and after many discussions with my Pre-K to 4th grade students, here's the list for the 2018 Holiday Season. Sorry kids, the iPhone XS Max didn't make the list although many of you told me it was on your wishlist. Good luck with that.

This year's list contains a real balance of totally techie gifts and completely unplugged, completely old school toys still beloved by parents and grandparents. What they all have in common is that they build skills and provide experiences that every kid needs in order to live a well-rounded life both in and out of school.

Monthly STEM Crates from KiwiCo - Guaranteed to be a lot more rewarding than the Jelly of the Month Club, each month a new crate arrives in the mail with a fun activity to build and enjoy. Kiwi offers KiwiCrate for kids ages 5-8 and TinkerCrate for ages 9-15. Recent crates we've sampled included an arcade claw game from Kiwi and a fun to build arcade catapult game from Tinker. The subscription price ranges from $16.95 to $19.95 per month depending on length of commitment. Thoroughly check their site though as numerous specials are offered. A recent offer featured 3 months for $39.

MakeDo Cardboard Construction Tools - By the far the best value on this year's list is a fun tool set that will lead to endless hours of creative adventures...and you won't have to figure out what to do with all of those boxes after all of the gifts are unwrapped. It's just $12.50 for the starter set and then you can add-on more screws and tools if you need them. The cardboard box is in the Toy Hall of Fame for a reason. Kids love to create with them. This really ramps up their abilities because now they can attach individual pieces or secure a whole bunch of boxes together. You can order sets from the website as well as get really cool project ideas.

Worx Zip Snip Cardboard Cutter - $34.00 from - This amazing cutter is the perfect companion to the cardboard construction tools as it is way safer than the typical steak knife that many kids end up using to cut their cardboard boxes down to the desired size. The Zip Snip is very safe. It's not 100% accident-proof but it's close as the blade opening is very small. With a little attention from the child doing the cutting and some adult supervision, it's almost magical how slickly this thing cuts. It's great for all kinds of jobs including opening up plastic packaging and for even cutting gift wrap.
GoPro Hero Session 8.0 MP Waterproof Sports & Action Camera with Standard Housing and 2 Adhesive Mounts (Certified Refurbished)GoPro Hero Session 8.0 MP-
$114.00 If your kids really want a GoPro-type camera it’s best to go with the name brand but for most families (unless your kids are really into filmmaking) the entry level model will be plenty of camera. There are some key points to consider however. There is no viewfinder. You use an app on a phone or tablet to set up a shot or to review clips. The free GoPro apps are really great for framing of shots, reviewing shots, and for doing some quick editing of short clips. The footage files though are really big and will fill up phone and tablet space quickly so you will want a computer to edit longer footage.

Also, tons of fun accessories like bicycle and helmet mounts can be found quite cheaply at Amazon as well. In STEM we've found these to be just as reliable as the GoPro branded ones.

Parrot Mambo Drone - $66 - Amazon - I am also being asked an increasing number of questions about which drone I recommend for kids. Personally, if I was going to buy drones for us to use in STEM, my choice would be the Mambo from Parrot. There are a couple of reasons. For the price, the quality, reliability, and out of the box ease of use set this model apart in an increasingly crowded market. Secondly, the coolest thing I find with this one is that there are tons of coding activities kids can complete to control the vehicle. Talk about taking command through learning. Coding is more than just creating games. It's all about doing high-end math and solving problems. We know that the more puzzles kids do, the better they do in math. Coding to make these things fly is a type of puzzle guaranteed to grow a few brain cells.Parrot Mambo Fly - Code, Pilot and Play Sphero- The Bolt ($149) with its LED display panel is on a bunch of wish lists this year but the Spark+ ($99) and Sphero Mini ($49) are also more affordable options. The thing about Sphero that I love is that it ties coding to something tangible. When a kid can see a physical object react to their programming it makes coding far more meaningful than just moving objects on a screen. Note about the Mini: They are much more fragile than the others. Keep them on the floor. We’ve had some casualties from them falling off of the tables in STEM. All are available from Amazon.

Lincoln Logs - $26 to $85 from Amazon. Kids love these very old school analog building toys. They provide hours of unplugged creativity and parents and grandparents love the nostalgic connection they feel when they all build together. Construction toys are so important for boys and girls to play with because we learn common sense and laws of physics. There are lots of stories from female engineers who discovered when they got to college they were at a disadvantage because their male counterparts had so much more experience putting things together. Whether our kids are headed to become engineers or not, the hands-on experience of working with these gems is something everyone should experience.

Legos are also a timeless favorite but can be really expensive. Just as apps like Mercari and Poshmark have made dealing in new, used, and vintage items easy options, and are cool third party Lego marketplaces. The Lego Fire Plane 4209 set retails for $68.99 across the web but can be had on BrickOwl for as low as $37.50. We all know that the sets are great but if you can get lots of random blocks for original creations, they'll grow even more creatively. There are new and used bricks so do some research before buying.LEGO Fire Plane Set 4209

More Old School - Every year it seems like our kindergarteners come to us with less and experience with being creative with stuff like construction paper, scissors, and other craft supplies. This is evident in reduced fine motor skills, lower social skills when it comes to creating together, and a need for teachers to prompt more children who simply state they don't know what to make. It's easy for us to blame this on too much screen time but lives of little kids can be bubble wrapped and ultra-organized. Many kids get less and less unstructured "just build it time".

Go out this Christmas and buy lots of things you used to use to just make things. Who's daring enough to buy their kids glitter? Are you ready for a trip to the real danger zone? Get them a hot glue gun to really ramp up the crafting and construction game. How about a real workbench with a hammer and saw like this one from Stanley?

We as educators and parents know that technology is great for helping kids learn and yes, enjoy life. Let's occasionally take a step back and look at what type of balance our children's lives are seeing. They need to explore, document adventures, learn new things, and they need to create with other kids and family members. By putting any of these suggestions under the tree, you'll be helping your kids make that happen.