Tuesday 9 January 2018

Merge Cube - AR in your hand

Late last year, I was reading someones Christmas wish list and it included a Merge Cube. This was from a thread about AR on twitter. My interest piqued, I did a quick search for Merge Cube. It was brand new, Augmented Reality and looked like a lot of fun.

Quickly searching all the online retailers in Malaysia and I couldn't find any, a quick check of Amazon found a seller that was willing to ship to KL (it was about 3 times the price you can get them in the US). I figured it was still worth having a look at. To my extreme pleasure the Merge cube arrived in less than a week.

The Merge Cube is a foam cube about 7cm by 7cm it acts like an AR projector screen. Using any of the Merge Cube apps, you can project a 3D image on to the cube, as you move the cube the image moves.

The kids and I got straight into it, we started downloading some apps and started playing. Some of the apps were not available on the Australian or Malaysian App store, but we still managed to find a few.

One of the first apps we played with was Anatomy AR+

It was pretty cool to be able to hold a beating heart in your hands or to turn a skull around to see it from every angle. The cube is very responsive and tracks the image very quickly.

We then downloaded Things for Merge Cube this is basically a set of 16 demos and game, you select the demo by turn the cube and selecting the game you want to play. My son loves the fireworks demo and my daughter loves being able to see the moving people and cars in the city
We downloaded a few other apps Mr Body and Defused, but the above two are my kids favourite.

My son who is in early years (3 and 4 year olds) wanted to take the Merge Cube to class to show his teacher because they were learning about bones. Once we showed the teacher she got excited and asked me to bring it back so the whole class could experience holding a skull when their grade 6 buddies came to visit.

We used an iPad air in a stand so that the kids didn't need to hold the iPad and the cube, sometimes they found it a bit tricky to see the image and hold the cube, but they got there in the end.

The kids had a blast, holding different body parts, turning them around and experiencing first hand what a heart, brain and skull look like. The next best thing to actually holding these things (not that any of us want to hold an actual beating heart)

It was just good timing that the Early Years class were learning about the human body when the Merge cube arrived.

My next challenge is to try and find a way to get reasonably priced cubes here in Malaysia and explore other apps that could be used in other classes and subject. It would also be very cool to use a Merge cube in a breakout.edu and maybe even get a merge cube VR headset.

Sidenote - I just started playing with defused and it is excellent, great problem solving - this is one app I want to use in class.

Thursday 4 January 2018

Emoji Stories

My kids love their Rory's Story Cubes, there is even an app (I haven't purchased it yet as I prefer them rolling real dice and telling stories to each other in real life). Story Cubes are fun, creative and improve literacy. Story tellers roll a set number (usually 6) of dice and then you attempt to tell a story using all the images on the dice.

The cubes are not cheap, but they are lots of fun and are a great classroom activity. I have seen teachers make their own paper story starters using random images and distribute these to their class.

This got me thinking, could this be automated using Google Docs, Sheets and some add ons?

I started playing and created my own Emoji story workflow. Users (students) fill in a form with their email address and they are sent a Google doc with six emojis they use to write a story.

For the story writer it is as simple as that, enter your email address and get a set of emojis.

Because it is a Google Doc, the writer can either type directly into the Doc or use the voice typing option to dictate their story. As the teacher I am the original owner of the doc so I can see what my students are writing.

Try it here

How I created this awesomeness

The basic workflow is Google Form to Google Sheet, then copy down a formula to randomly select an emoji from another sheet. These emojis are then inserted into a Google Doc using Autocrat and the Google Doc is shared and emailed to the email address entered in the form.

1. Google Form

I created a Google Form with two questions

  • Do you want an emoji story?
  • Email address

(I probably don't need the first question at all)

That is the easy part

2. Template

I then created my Google Doc template, this template composed of a simple title with a six column table, in each column I put the merge tag

3. Emoji list

In my Google form responses sheet I created a new sheet called emojis, this is where my library of emojis is stored. Basically it is six columns of emoji, these are the emojis (images) that are randomly selected for each box in my Google Doc. One Emoji is selected from each column.

To find and insert the Emoji into a Google Sheet I created another Google Doc and used the Insert Special characters tool
Then searched for Emoji that I wanted to be available for the Emoji Stories
I could then copy and paste from the Google Doc into each column of the Google Sheet. Here you can add different Emoji and set it up the way you like. You might want to have 2 columns of characters and two columns of objects, or just use three emoji picked at random or one column of 100 emoji picked six times. 

In my version there are 16 emoji in six different columns, that gives a possible 16777216 different story combinations.

4. Random selection of emoji

In my Google sheet, I added 6 extra columns numberd 1-6 (these match the Merge tags in the template doc)

In each cell I used the following formula to randomly select an emoji from the emoji sheet. 

=index(Emojis!$A$2:$A$17, randbetween(1,counta(Emojis!$A$2:$A$17) ) )

index returns the contents of the cell selected from the range A2-A17 on the emoji sheet. 
randbetween randomly select a number for the second part of the index formula.
counta counts the number of cells from cell A2 to A17 (I could have just put the number 16 in here)

As you add the formula to each column, make sure you change the reference (where the formula will be searching) to reflect each column in the emoji sheet. i.e. change is from A - B - C

5 Copy Down

Once you have created your formulas, you need to set up the copy down add on. This add on copies the formulas to the next row once a new Google Form response has been added. This is important because Google Forms doesn't add the data to the next row, it inserts a new row with the data. Copying the formula all the way down your sheet will not work. (You could use an array formula on another sheet to do this, but copy down works well)

Copy down is pretty easy to set up and there are plenty of tutorials and help online.

6 Autocrat

Autocrat is a Google sheet add on that allows you to run merge jobs on a Google sheet that does a variety of tasks.

I use it to create a Google Doc from the Merge doc and then share the doc with the email address shared. It also sends an email saying that you now have an Emoji story ready to write.

That is about it, pretty simplish and it can be used as it or make your own from all the resources here.

If you create your own you get to set it up the way you like and you become the owner of the Google Docs that are created, that way you can easily view and give feedback on the stories they create.

A few classes here at IGBIS have been using it and the kids love it, as long as they put in their correct email address.

Have fun and play and please share any thoughts or your own version of Emoji Stories.