Karen Bosch on episode 288 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast
From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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Karen Bosch explains why Merge Cubes are so hot, how they are being used in classrooms, and how she’s using them to build critical thinking and creativity in her school. Join Merge Cube Mania!
A big thank you to Karen. She couldn’t stand that I wasn’t able to get the Merge Cubes in my local Walmart and sent me one! I got in the mail TODAY (Tuesday) as I’m prepping this post to go live. Thank you Karen for not only being an amazing educator but a kind, thoughtful person.
Merge Cube Mania in Middle School
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e288
Date: April 11, 2018
Vicki: Today we’re talking to Karen Bosch.
She, I just found out, was MACUL 2017 Tech Using Teacher of the Year. So she is in Michigan. Today we are talking about Merge Cube Mania in middle school.
So, Karen, what is a Merge Cube?
Karen: So, a Merge Cube is an augmented reality device. It looks like a cube, a black cube. It’s squishy, foamy, very flexible. And it looks like it has a QR code on each side of the cube.
- See also Merge Cube Mania Blog post by Karen Bosch
A Merge Cube is a 3D augmented reality device
Those codes serve as a trigger. When you scan the cube with your mobile device — it will work with an iPhone, an iPad, and it works with Android, but you have to have the Merge Cube app on it.
When you scan the cube, and you’re holding the cube in your hand, when you look at it through the iPhone, instead of seeing the cube, you’re going to see something else in your hand. It might be a human heart. It might be a fire. It might be a castle.
But it is very, very cool to see something else being held in your hand. It’s a little bit different than a lot of other augmented reality. A lot of times, with augmented reality, you have a trigger that you print out and you scan it flat.
But because this is a three-dimensional object, you can turn it and interact with it. So it’s pretty interesting.
It allows you to take photos and videos of what you are seeing
And it also has, within the apps, the ability to take photos and to take videos. So you can actually video and document what it is that you are seeing through the augmented reality.
Vicki: So we’re kind of looking through the screen — and we’ve done shows before that we’ll link to about augmented reality. You’re looking at this cube. And it probably doesn’t look like a cube.
- Other Resources:
Karen: It doesn’t.
Vicki: It could like like all different kinds of things. So what’s an example of something it might look like?
Karen: So there are things where it will look like maybe a castle, or an aquarium, or it might look like a human skull. They have probably about a dozen or so different apps that you can download — and many of them are free.
There are several apps for it, and most of them are free
Some are interactive games.
So you might find something like Tiltball, where there’s a marble that’s rolling down the different faces. As you turn it, the marble rolls different directions.
Or there’s a Starfighter one, where you’re actually doing like a little space battle. As you turn the cube, your little starfighter will move in different directions.
They’ve also got apps — one’s called Dig. It’s kind of like a little mini Minecraft, and you can actually create things by tapping onto the cube and you know, build holes and different things will appear.
One that I really like is a Choose Your Own Adventure Story. This is called 57 Degrees North. It starts out, the cube looks like a crate.
But as you turn it, the story opens, and you see inside of the cube you see a scene, and you hear a voice of somebody talking and narrating the story.
As you turn the cube, it will say, “Which direction do you want to go? Do you want to do this or do that?” As you turn the cube in that direction, then that box opens to show you the next scene.
I would LOVE to have my students be able to program something like that and create their own stories. I think that would be pretty neat.
They also have interactive — more learning type games — called Mr. Body, where you see a human body, and as you tap on different parts of the body, the organs will open up, and there will be some information about it. Again, with the cube, you can turn it so you can see the things, all from all different angles and sides.
My favorite one is one called [Galactic] Explorer, which is a solar system. It actually looks like you’re holding a spinning solar system in your hands. I was doing this one last week with some preschool students, and I said to the teacher, “You’ve got to come over and see this!”
My favorite one is the one about the solar system
And she was just blown away, because she’s been trying to help her preschoolers visualize what the solar system looks like.
And you know, a poster on the wall is one thing, but to be able to take this cube, and use the augmented reality.
She was projecting it up on her screen, and now she can tap on Jupiter, and Jupiter will come up. She can turn it, and they can see the moons and all the different aspects of the different planets. So that interactivity is pretty, pretty neat.
So there are a lot of things that you can do with them that’s pretty cool!
Vicki: Incredible! OK. Now, we had never heard of Merge Cube, and now all of a sudden, everybody started talking about Merge Cube.
So how did this Merge Cube mania start?
This Merge Cube mania came out of nowhere! What happened?
Karen: About a month ago, I started seeing stuff on social media. I saw Leslie Fisher first talking about it, and then I saw all of my friends talking about it. The Merge Cube was originally about $15-20.
But WalMart had an overstock, and so they were selling them off for $1.00 each.
Karen: And so, you know? Technology is expensive.
But when you can — for $1.00 each — put something into the hands of everybody? You don’t have to share. You don’t have to do it in stations. You don’t have to have partners. You know, for a dollar, you can’t go wrong.
So everyone was out buying hundreds and hundreds of these Merge Cubes. I ended up buying 32 of them. I figured even if I just do one lesson with them, I can get my dollar’s worth of use out of each one. So that’s kind of how it started.
Did you get any of them, Vicki?
Vicki: I couldn’t find them in my WalMart.
Karen: Oh no!!!
Vicki: Of course, I’m in the middle of nowhere. And I’m like, “Why do I not see these things?” And they just weren’t there. And by that time, there were pretty much just pictures of educators with them in their shopping carts everywhere, you know.
Karen: It was crazy.
Vicki: So here’s the question. If apps for the Merge Cube are limited right now. You said there are like eight or so apps…
Vicki: How…? Your favorite thing is the solar system. Do you have any other ways that you are using it with your middle schoolers?
What can we do with these, besides marvel over them?
Karen: Well, what I decided to do is… It’s not so much right now what you can learn with the cube, but I think that there’s a great learning process that you can go through with your kids, again because in their hands, everyone has one, and the threshold to get them started takes about 3 minutes.
I demoed it. I said, “Skip the activation code. Skip the login. Say, “YES,” when it asks if you want to use the camera and the photo. Here’s the little tutorial. Run through that.”
That basically was all the instruction I needed to give. Then I said, “OK! You’ve got a bunch of apps on your iPad. Figure it out yourself. Explore. Find out what you can do.”
And so they basically were learning to use the technology themselves, which is what they’re going to have to do for the rest of their lives.
So I didn’t have to put together tutorials. They just explored.
And what I started seeing happening was, “OH! How did you do that?” or “OH! Did you know you could do this?”
They started discovering things. “OH, we can download this. We can do that.”
They were just totally engrossed in learning how to use the cube, just exploring all the depths of it.
That was Part 1. That was Day 1.
My students played one day, and then I had them write reviews of it
Day 2 was they had to document it. So each of my middle school students has a blog. So they had to write a review. They had to include media in the review. They had to tell what they learned about how to use it. They had to give some examples. They had to give their opinion of it. What were some of the plusses? What were some of the minuses?
They started putting together the media, again because they could just take photos and videos through the apps themselves. So some of them just put a lot of videos and pictures and clips in. But some of them said, “Could I combine a bunch of videos together in iMovie?”
Or you know, “Could I use the Apple clips app?” And that was even better because then they started adding narration onto their videos. They added titles. They added annotations. They added closed captions.
There were a variety of different ways that the students put together their reviews. But again, it wasn’t so much WHAT you could do with the learning right now, but it was just that whole process of learning how to use it, and then being able to document it in a way that you could share with an audience.
You know, so my students have programmed in augmented reality using something called MetaVerse, which is awesome. But this really gives a way to anchor physical objects into your augmented reality app.
And then the other thing you’re doing is you’re app smashing…
App smashing is where it’s at
Vicki: So you’re combining things that you can do with the cubes — with other apps — to kind of make these fantastic new experiences where the kids are in it, but they’re interacting with objects that it looks like they’re holding, but they’re not necessarily holding.
Karen: Absolutely. I’ve seen some people use the solar system one as a background for green screen. I’ve seen people using the solar system as part of clips where they’re, you know, giving reports on planets.
But again — yeah! Because you can record media with the apps, there are just a lot of different ways that you can use that to smash it together.
Vicki: So, we can link in the Shownotes to the Merge Cubes, but this is augmented reality, and it’s continuing to grow as so many of us are learning about it, playing with it, and really helping our kids with that computational thinking of experimenting, app smashing, trying things out.
So let us know how you’re using your Merge Cube.
How are you using YOUR Merge cube, teachers?
Well, for me, I just played with it. It was just very fascinating to see.
It IS a big wow, where kids can hold something in their hand and then look at it, and it looks like something else. I’m hoping, maybe, to be able to have these older kids bring them in with younger kids and partner with them to get them started.
And then I want to do this whole exploration thing with some of my other grades — with my 3rd and 4th and 5th graders — where they just “go at it!” and learn about it on their own.
Because I do think that that’s part of transfer of skills. Taking skills that they’ve learned in one area and then learning how to successfully navigate a new technology but finding similarities with what they already know and putting it into a new context. That’s pretty important for kids today.
Thank you, Karen!
Karen: You’re welcome! It’s been fun talking to you!
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Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford firstname.lastname@example.org
Bio as submitted
Karen Bosch Is the PreK – 8 Technology Instructor at Southfield Christian School in the Metro Detroit area, a position she has held since 2001. Her roots are as an elementary classroom teacher where she utilized technology as an integrated part of the learning environment. She enjoys helping both students and teachers to creatively use technology tools to extend and share their learning in meaningful ways. Her recent learning adventures with her students have included exploring sketchnotes and 3D printing.
Karen is a 2007 Apple Distinguished Educator. In 2016, she was selected to be a Dremel 3D Printing Ideabuilder Ambassador. She was named as a 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator and serves as a Book Creator Ambassador. Recently, she was recognized as MACUL 2018 Technology Using Teacher of the Year.
Karen’s website called “Creative APP-titude: iPad Multimedia Tools for Creativity” contains a wealth of iPad resources and student project examples. You can locate her resources at http://tinyurl.com/ipadcreate/. To learn more about how her students used Merge Cubes, check out this blog post at her Middle Pages blog: http://blogs.southfieldchristian.org/middlepages/2018/03/merge-cube-mania/ .
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