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TOOLS FOR LEARNING - Hands-On Handheld Tools: Getting a grip on some great technology for learning

By Victor Rivero - Posted May 1, 2017
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The world is in transition. From physical to digital, from real to virtual, from what we see and feel around us to what we simulate on a screen instead, there is a shift taking place. Before we get completely swallowed up in a digital world, let’s get a grip on some of the technology we can still “kinda, sorta” touch. Here are somewhat physical artifacts, actual or nearly actual objects that you can pick up and use. They have some weight, they involve dexterity, they are extensions of our hands and minds, and they do well to serve us in learning and experiencing the world around us. Some take us places, some help us inspect the places where we are. All of them are useful in forwarding the aims of education: to bring us to new understandings about life, living, surviving at a higher level, helping others around us, and finding our true purposes in the universe. Before you explore, have fun exploring some of the tools that will help you do so.

zSpace. You’ll never forget what it feels like to put on a pair of glasses, pick up a stylus, and start playing with a human heart floating around in your hand. The zSpace learning experience is a perfect blend of real and virtual. zSpace technology combines augmented and virtual reality to create lifelike experiences that are immersive and interactive.

LEGO Education. Catering to preschool, elementary, and middle school, but enjoyed through high school and beyond, as well as by fun-loving adults, there’s a lot more to LEGOS these days than infinitely interconnecting little plastic bricks. With MINDSTORSM EV3, WeDo 2.0, and Machines & Mechanisms, students can enjoy playful, hands-on learning experiences, make coding a reality, and harness the power of maker.

Nearpod. This company has inspired a movement and found a way to bring students the world. If you’re old enough, you may remember those little red View-Masters complete with a white insertable disc and clickable advancer. Well, think of Nearpod as a modern-day update. Imagine taking students to the Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Louvre, or the Great Wall of China. With a VR headset and smartphone, this is awe-inspiring learning; the best thing it brings is a smile to a learner’s face.

Arduino Education. This is tinkering, making, and exploring—and more than that, through a program called CTC (Creative Technologies in the Classroom), this company has introduced thousands of students to the foundations of programming, electronics, and mechanics. It provides an entire ecosystem to empower educators with hardware and software tools to create hands-on, innovative learning.

Dremel 3D Printing. It’s all the rage, and for good reason—bringing anything you can think of into the physical world is like giving birth to a child. But where to start? This company offers curriculum-based lesson plans aligned to Common Core standards. Instruction guides allow teachers to integrate 3D printing into classroom learning. Check it out for yourself.

Texas Instruments. Synonymous with scientific calculators, this company has been going strong for decades. It produces learning tools that include graphing calculators, provide for real-time assessments and sharing, help with all kinds of math and science, allow for powerful data collection with sensors and probes, and all fit nicely in the palm of your hand.

Osmo. A game system that changes the way children interact with their tablets by opening them up to hands-on play, this is a great way to pull a child out of the screen and back into the physical world. With lovable monsters, numbers, coding, and even great games to unleash the inner artist in a child, this is an excellent blend and great balance of screen fun and real-life manipulatives for kids that is very kid-friendly.

Labdisc portable STEM lab. From Boxlight Mimio, here’s a great tool for science classes: If you’re conducting inquiry-based learning in biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, geography, or probably a few other fields, this is the perfect little portable for connecting, engaging, and gathering data. With 15 built-in sensors, the Labdisc is a wireless handheld with 150 hours of battery life that helps with everything from plant growth to weather experiments.

einstein K–12 STEM Solution. Here is another great science data collection system, one that is very student-friendly and is really a system of interactive apps and data collection devices for elementary, middle, and high school. This is the way to go when setting up a digital science classroom. Find out more at the website.

HoverCam. This company creates document cameras and scanners specifically for education and at an affordable price. The quality is remarkably high and very impressive to any user. When we speak of handhelds, in this case, the devices free up your hands and allow you to hold things, easily share objects with others, and to really inspect and look at whatever it is you want to learn more about.

Padcaster. This is a tool that doesn’t stop in the classroom, but if it starts in the classroom, it can help any student become a professional in our current audiovisual age. Students can turn an iPad into a mobile media powerhouse pretty easily. It’s simply a handy little piece of hardware, an extremely versatile and heavy-duty, purpose-built frame for an iPad that allows for mounting of just about any accessory you may have. You have to see it.

There’s a ton of handheld technology out there, and in this day and age, we’ve come to a point where it’s all worth exploring—you just need to start with a purpose and pair that purpose with the right device. The rest will follow—learning, experimenting, seeing, and believing in the power of new information to bring meaning into your life and those around you. Happy exploring!

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