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August Educator of the Month: Ken Kaplan and the Green Screen Coding Machines

This month, we are charging up for back-to-school, and we have a very special Educator of the Month to announce! Allow us to introduce Ken Kaplan.

We originally connected with Ken when he reached out to us about an exciting project for which he is leading the charge… Which involves the charging up of Ozobots for use completely offline in a whole other country… but more on that later!

As we began conversations with Ken about that particular case study, he let us know about this other awesome project he did with high school students as their main work with Ozobots this past school year. We LOVE multi-subject, cross-departmental, STEAM-and-beyond collaborative lessons, and this endeavor checked all those boxes. 

First, watch the story entitled “The Icing on the Cake,” then read on to learn more about how it came together!

Tell us about yourself! What has been your chosen career path thus far?

I’m a special educator and have been at Byram Hills High School for 22 years. I formerly taught in New York City for 8 years, so I have been working within the education system for about 30 years now. 

What made you want to become a teacher?

Well, years ago, when I was working in real estate, I did some volunteer work with the Literacy Volunteers of America. It’s a program that taught adult illiterates and I did that volunteering for a couple of years. Actually, the director of the program came up to me one night and said, “What do you do for a living?” I said, “Well, I work in real estate,” and he says, “You should be a teacher.” So I said, “Okay, let me think about it,” and I thought about it, then slowly changed career paths and segued into the education field.

How did you think of creating this project?

It was a great collaborative project. The woman who was instrumental in developing the stories is Kourtney DeRosa. She was a partner of mine in the project, and our students had a story writing unit in their class with her. I had seen online that somebody had the Ozobot go through a story on a piece of paper and someone narrated it. I was actually going to get some props from the theater department and we were going to film with props. 

Then, I was chatting with a gentleman named Michael Chuney who runs our film classes and he was the one who first gave me the idea. I told him I was just going to animate the stories with markers and paper, then he said, “No no no, I’ve got a better way for you to do this,” continuing on to say he’d set us up with a green screen and we could go from there. He brought me upstairs and showed me how the green screen works. It was a mini green screen, so we lit it, took a test sample down to another gentleman named Brian Melso, our resident editor at the local TV station at the high school called Bobcat TV. He worked with one of the students involved in the project and they edited it together. 

This project was a total collaborative effort with a number of different people. I just want everyone to know that projects like this are cross-disciplinary. Kids did the film-making, got help editing, recorded voice overs; everybody had a role to play and it just turned into a great final product.

How did you first learn about Ozobots or start getting into coding yourself?

I taught a science elective class with a co-teacher several years ago called Science Technology Society, phased into four different units including forensics, a medical technology unit, etc. Then one year after we’d done it for a number of years, we decided to do a robotics unit. We utilized the VEX robots, which are sort of higher-level; you build them and code them using script coding. I think they used Panther or Java, one of those. So, I had a lot of success with that. Then, with some of my students in other programs I teach with learning differences, I wanted something a little more entry-level. They utilized Ozobots at our elementary school level, and one of the teachers there introduced me to them. 

I really liked, first of all, the ease and simplicity of the entry into coding, which is the color-based understanding of coding, and then we segued from there with my class into the block coding and went through a number of the online lessons

Then, at the end of every unit that I teach in my learning differences program, I like to have a big finish. So as I mentioned, their English teacher, Miss DeRosa, had them working on writing stories, and that’s when I said, “Why don’t we animate them with the Ozobots?”

In addition to having a blast with Ozobots, what do you want educators and kids who may recreate your project to know about it?

I had lessons designed in my mind to get my students to the point where they understood the functionality of the Ozobots. Then it was, “Okay, now you know how they work. Let’s do something with them.” That’s how the process went. So by the time we had filmed the videos, they were functional on the Ozobots, both with color coding and Ozoblockly coding. Then we added in the storytelling aspect.

There’s a sort of simplicity to this project. If I was going to tell someone how to go about it, I’d say it’s a collaborative project with the English department at whatever level you’re at. Develop storylines. Recognize the functionality of the Ozobots and what they can do. Discuss with your film department for the utilization of a green screen. Understand the editing process. Then finally, work with recording the voiceover to put it all together. 

Besides creating with code, what is your favorite hobby or interest to geek out about in your free time?

I am a Star Trek fanatic. I’ve watched every episode of anybody that’s ever worn a Star Trek uniform, whether TV show, movie, etc. Now, I sit with bated breath waiting for the Picard unveiling of 2020. So there you have it, my geek-nerd admission!

Have you told any other stories with your bots? 

I just started working with Ozobots one year ago and this was our major project for the year. Next year, I’m going to get more into the block coding, because the new functionality of being able to input the code through Bluetooth as opposed to the flashing system from before has made things much much easier. The flashing wasn’t always 100% successful with some of our Chromebooks, but this new way with the iPads is much better.

To end on a note that we couldn’t have put better ourselves, allow us to conclude with this direct quote from Ken –

“Students of all abilities, all learning styles, can benefit in one way, shape, or form from the utilization of Ozobots, whether they have a strong foundation coding, or whether they have literally no concept of what robotics or coding is. It offers an amazing entry point for people to enter the robotics world with little other necessary tools. You don’t need iPads, don’t need laptops, don’t need wifi – you don’t need anything other than paper, markers, and your imagination. Once you get that, you can do a lot of different things, cross-disciplinary too. I think there are a hundred different ways you can use these. It’s just a matter of laying the foundation for the understanding of their functionality, and once you do that as an educator, start looking around and saying, ‘Where else can we do this? How else can we learn from this?’”

We’re grateful to Ken for inspiring creativity and coding in his high school students! Stay tuned later this fall to see more of Ken’s students’ Ozobot creations coming up. And remember…

Coding is Creative!

Tech skills alone don’t spur big ideas—creative visions do. That’s why education at home and in the classroom should span science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (think STEAM, not STEM). Whether you see yourself as a future artist, astronaut, or entrepreneur, our goal at Ozobot is to kick start your creativity and coding skills with playtime that strengthens your whole mind.

To learn more, explore Ozobot’s 2 Ways to Code:

OzoBlockly >

Color Codes >

For Educators and Students:

OzoBlockly Basic Training >

Color Codes Basic Training >

150+ STEAM Lessons >

Educator of the Month – Official Rules