Technology & Skype Connects Students With Experts In Religious Education

As a Presbyterian College, all students at St Andrew’s attend weekly Religious Education classes. At Year 9, the course provides an overview of the Christian narrative with a focus on the life and death of Jesus.

Vanishing CorpseIn Term 3 this year I have been teaching an inquiry unit entitled The Case of the Vanishing Corpse which is supported by the novel of the same name, where students explore the various theories about what might have happened to Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. In previous years, students compiled a paper-based “Police Dossier” with their evidence, however now that we are a 1:1 BYOD school using Office365, students use Microsoft OneNote instead.

The OneNote Class Notebook Creator has been especially useful here, allowing teachers to create a “master copy” of a student workbook, and then for this to be easily copied into the individual student sections:

OneNote Overview

Teacher templates in the “Content Library” that students can easily copy into their personal sections within the Class Notebook for editing

Two pages from the PDF version of the OneNote - click to download

Two pages from the PDF version of the OneNote (click to download the entire dossier as a PDF)

Alongside the novel that we are reading as a class, we are watching snippets from the award winning documentary series called The Son of God presented by Jeremy Bowen, a former BBC news correspondent based in the Middle East.

Students can access the ClickView video through Moodle using their Single Sign on credentials

Students can access the ClickView video through Moodle using their Single Sign on credentials

To enable students to re-watch critical sections, this is being watched through the video library service ClickView and embedded into the College Moodle site for ease of access to students.

The documentary presents a number of alternative theories about what might have happened to Jesus, mirroring the investigation of the fictional Ben Bartholomew in the novel. These theories need to be evaluated by students and include:

  • Jesus’ body was stolen either from the cross or the tomb to “fake” a resurrection (e.g. his disciples wanted others to believe what Jesus had said was true)
  • Jesus never actually died on the cross but was administered a powerful anaesthetic (possibly the root of a Mandrake plant) so he only appeared dead, and then recovered in the tomb and escaped
  • The alleged appearances of Jesus after his death were brought about by a mass hallucination caused by intense grief at his death
  • The traditional gospel account: that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who was killed and then resurrected.

To encourage critical thinking of these ideas I have tried to bring in external experts to discuss various aspects of the case. Recently, Dr Martin Swan talked over Skype with the class about the physiology of crucifixion and what likelihood existed that someone could survive this method of execution:

Mr Dave Moskovitz

Mr Dave Moskovitz

From this we learned it would have been extremely unlikely for anyone to have survived crucifixion.

We also Skyped with Mr Dave Moskovitz, a former President of the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation – Temple Sinai  and the current Jewish co-chair of the Wellington Council of Christians and Jews. He provided a fascinating insight into Judaism for the students over a 30minute question and answer session. Importantly for the student investigation, he confirmed that it was common practice for Jews in the Middle East to bury their dead before sun down on the day of death, meaning it was unlikely Jesus was left on the cross.

Previously, we have Skyped with Reverend Dr. Andrew Nicol from St Margaret’s Church for a traditional Christian explanation of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lastly, after a number of attempts to contact the New Zealand Skeptics Society for a comment on their views on the possibility of resurrection, we were able to Skype in class with committee member Mr Michael Edmonds:

His focus was on encouraging critical thinking with students and he introduced the idea of using Occam’s Razor to try and go with the simplest answer with the least amount of assumptions (this was in response to a particularly complex conspiracy theory put forward by one student). Additionally, he discussed how Confirmation Bias may have impacted recollections from an event or shaped the narrative.

With the expert opinions out of the way, students completed a SOLO Evaluation Map to help them explore the feasibility of their preferred theory about Jesus’ resurrection. Again, they completed this template in their OneNote:

SOLO 1

SOLO 2

COMPLETING THE ASSESSMENT:

Instructions in the Moodle Assignment.

Instructions in the Moodle Assignment.

The final element of the unit was an in-class assessment where students had to write a letter to conclude their police dossier into the “Investigation of the Vanishing Corpse”. This was written in their OneNote Notebooks and then submitted for marking through the use of a Moodle Assignment.

The overall quality of the work was very high from students in their final written assessment for this unit – here are two examples from Mitchell and Russell:

SUMMARY:

This is always an interesting unit to teach because it deals with one of the most well known narratives from the Gospels – the death and claimed resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year, by getting outside experts to share over Skype their perspectives and expertise, students have been forced to critically analyse a wide range of sources, run this through a SOLO evaluation map, formulate a personal opinion and then collate that into a written answer under test-like conditions.

Throughout this process, technology has been pervasive: whether it be the recorded Skype conversations, accessing content on the class Moodle site or watching a critical section from the Son of God DVD in ClickView, through to note taking and assessment writing in OneNote. However, this has all been to support and facilitate the students to critically think about the content at hand and to formulate a personal opinion. Because after all, isn’t that what teaching is all about?

Book Week Activity Augments Reality

Entrance to the Preparatory School Library celebrating Book Week 2015

Entrance to the Preparatory School Library celebrating Book Week 2015

The St Andrew’s College Library Manager, Mrs Cathy Kennedy, runs an annual Book Week for students across the College to engage in. Each year this week includes many competitions and prizes, with at least one activity having a ‘tech focus’ for students. 2015 was no different with the students encouraged to create “Auras” for books that would link to video content or book review trailers through the use of Aurasma Software.

Aimed at our Preparatory School students, the challenge for them was to promote some of their favourite books by creating interactive posters which contained a “trigger” for media content to display over the book cover. To achieve this, a smart phone running the free Aurasma app could be held up in front of the book cover or poster, and then the video content would start to display.

Sound confusing? Here are some screenshots of what it looks like:

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The rectangular content “overlaid” on the book is the augmented reality video clip used by students and displayed via Aurasma

The winning poster submissions and a number of books with Auras waiting to be scanned

The winning poster submissions and a number of books with Auras waiting to be scanned. Note the Aurasma bookmarks indicating books that have an Aura

Helpfully, Mr Wilj Dekkers had introduced his Year 6 class to using Aurasma earlier in the year, so Mrs Kennedy had some students familiar with the technology. To assist the others, she:

  • Sparked interest by creating an example Aurasma interactive poster in the library (that linked through to this Animoto Video)
  • Created a number of instruction sheets around the library
  • Ran a lunchtime tutorial for those wanting some hands on assistance

With two year group categories for judging the winners, students in Years 4-6 and 7-8, created around 40 Auras which was excellent. A key learning experience for Mrs Kennedy and the students was understanding that students and staff that wanted to see the Auras needed to be following the “standrewslibrary” Aurasma account before scanning an Aura worked correctly. As Mrs Kennedy explained:

Aurasma works a bit like Twitter – just like you need to be following a Twitter user to see see their Tweets, you need to be following an Aurasma user to see their Auras.

With this cleared up, students could happily see what their classmates had created. By using a shared Aurasma account to create the various Aura (to ensure they were collated under one user and therefore easier to find), opportunities for reinforcing good Digital Citizenship practices emerged. Among these were:

  • Students could not edit/remove the Aura of another student
  • Students had to still clearly name their Aura so they were identifiable

Pleasingly, the students were very good at the above and this created a positive culture of creating and sharing Auras that promoted a wide range of books.

The back wall of the library was beautifully themed to celebrate book week and contained a poster celebrating the start of Book Week that doubled as an Aura that students could scan:

Library Back Wall

Reflecting on this activity, Mrs Kennedy noted that the task was actually quite complex and required a fair amount of work and persistence from the students, therefore it was pleasing there were so many submissions. Whilst a paid account with Aurasma is quite expensive, it is something that she would consider in the future since it would open up a wider range of sources to link to, such as website links and YouTube videos (the free account only allows linking to content uploaded to Aurasma).

The winning student posters promoting a book with an Aura are:

Teacher Perspectives On The Surface Pro 3

Six SurfacePro3 for use in classrooms at St Andrew's College

Six SurfacePro3 for use in classrooms at St Andrew’s College

As we approach the first anniversary of the Surface Pro 3 release in New Zealand, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that we now have 26 staff members using them across the school. An earlier update on how how teachers have been using the Pro 3 in their classes remains one of the more popular posts on this blog and in anticipation of teacher demand for tablets in 2016, I have surveyed those staff members who use a Surface Pro 3.

The overall satisfaction rates of teachers with the Surface Pro 3 is very high

The overall satisfaction rates of teachers with the Surface Pro 3 is very high

Using SurveyMonkey I have collated some interesting feedback from teachers and share it here for the benefit of other schools that may be interested in exploring the tablets for their teachers.

Whilst it is not always easy to ask the “right” questions when it comes to getting useful feedback I have tried to get staff to compare the key features and functionality of a Surface Pro 3 with a traditional laptop that the College has issued to teaching staff:

Laptop v SP3

An interesting comment to the above responses from a teacher was:

What is not mentioned above is the functionality – the Surface is far more functional than a laptop as it doubles as a tablet, when needed. This is the huge advantage of a Surface over a laptop.

It is important to acknowledge some of those “niggles” that teachers have experienced because no device is perfect. Here is some feedback from staff highlighting some of the challenges of the device:

The keyboard needs to be taken off and reattached to remedy glitches. The keyboard is small and I often hit the caps button. Consider body posture when using the Surface Pro 3 so that you are not hunched. Before putting a plastic box on the desk and under the tablet, I would wonder why I had a sore neck/back/eyestrain.

The thing I really don’t like is a cheapie-feeling keyboard and how I keen hitting two keys at once … lack of USB ports is really annoying too

Some issues with it freezing when in sleep mode. Need to force a restart when this happens

We have done a significant amount of experimentation with wireless projection at St Andrew’s College and a future post will cover what we have settled on, however currently only 41% of our teachers with Surface Pro 3 tablets are using wireless projection (this number is skewed as well because the majority of our SP3 users are in our Preparatory School because of where their lease renewal occurred). However, 96% of the teachers said they would use wireless projection if it was available in their class, with the following breakdown showing how significant it is to their teaching style:

Wireless Projection

Clearly, the ability to roam a classroom “untethered” from the front and a data projector cable is a big drawcard for teachers and a trend I see only growing as the technology becomes more reliable.

One of the key features of the Surface Pro 3 is the great accuracy of the pen and the ability to “write” into OneNote very easily; a feature that is consistently praised by our teachers. This question specifically asked about the usefulness of the pen:

SP3 Pen

Some departments at St Andrew’s College would love to change the requirement for students that all devices must support “inking” in some format, and it’s easy to see why: subjects that involve diagrams, formula and equations would be significantly easier for students if they could simply handwrite directly into OneNote.

Whilst the Surface Pro 3 is experiencing favourable feedback from teachers, we are also looking at “convertible laptops” that allow for the handwriting on the screen such as the HP Spectre x360 that folds back into a tablet. Historically, our testing of units like this have been disappointing as the accuracy of the inking on these hybrids just could not compete with genuine tablets like the Pro 3. That said, the attraction of a proper keyboard and a larger screen appeals to some of our teachers:

Laptop v Tablet

Ultimately, the value of any device to a teacher can be measured in whether they would recommend it to their colleagues: on this point, the teachers were almost unanimous.

Recommendation

One interesting comment from a teacher in the Preparatory School reflects the uptake of tablets in their class by students, purely based on what they have seen from teachers using the devices:

A number of staff in the Prep School who opted for laptops now regret their choice and given the opportunity would switch to a surface. 8 students in my class now use surface tablets – 2 having switched from Mac.

How has the practice of our teachers changed with the Surface Pro 3?

This is a difficult question to get answers to in some ways but a critical one to understand what, if any, impact on pedagogy a technology shift has had for our teachers. Up until the introduction of the Surface Pro 3 the teachers at St Andrew’s were all given identical laptops. By introducing some limited choice it has increased the support costs of maintenance and spares, therefore it was hoped there would be some positive changes or improvements in teaching practice. Here is a selection of some replies from teachers:

My practice has not changed, but the mobility of the Surface and the fact that will do all I ask of it has adapted my style. I am able to work with the students annotating a piece of writing or work through maths problems using the stylus and each child is able to revisit this learning through OneNote. The mobility, wireless projector connectivity and stylus allow me to get away from the desk and be with the students when teaching. Most importantly – the students use of the Surface to share with others is powerful. They take my surface and use it to explain concepts to a group when linked to the projector and when used in conjunction with OneNote, students collaborate in real time on a piece of learning using their stylus on their own Surface tablets.

Maths Teacher

A reply from a Preparatory School teacher suggests it can lead to MORE work:

I probably end up doing more work from home as it is much more portable [than a laptop]

Preparatory School Teacher

It has not changed my practice, but has complemented it very well. I already used my own Surface in conjunction with a school laptop. Before the Surface, I used my phone to do many of the same functions, complemented by a laptop. Having a Surface provided by school has meant operating fewer devices for the same outcomes, making it easier when you don’t have your own classroom.

Science Teacher

More movement around the class, use of pen and writing has enhanced the annotation ability, marking and so forth, integration of technology, ease of OneNote and working 1 on 1 with students. light, easy to move around with especially when wirelessly not connected to data projector

English Teacher

I don’t write on whiteboard anymore – I write directly onto my OneNote page so students can access this

Science Teacher

Much easier to use in PE settings ie with pen and tablet. Therefore I am more likely to use it, and complete observation style tasks more frequently. Easier to mark / use OneNote – I can mark and make comments quickly using the pen

PE Teacher

Less time at my desk and more time with students. Ability to take teaching outside the classroom, faster and with more resources. Being able to show examples of preferred practices with ease and ability to document past/current teaching and interactions with the students has been key. Students are assisted by this to become more reflective learners. (ability to revisit work via OneNote).

Preparatory School Teacher

A recurring theme comes through in these responses in terms of how a tablet, with the ability to ink, enhances the value of Microsoft OneNote, a key tool that is being used at our College.

The above information is important for the ICT team to understand. Like many schools, we lease our teacher laptops/devices and renew these every three years. The teaching staff leases are split into three, so each year we replace 1/3 of the devices (around 45-50), and I anticipate that the majority of our teachers who are up for a new device in 2016 will want something they can write on. The above information will be disseminated to those teachers to help them make informed decisions and also assist the ICT department in providing the best support possible.

Guest Post: Arduino Adventures

This is a guest post written by three Year 8 students from the Preparatory School: Imogen, Archie and Marshall.

ArduinoLast week, twenty students from Year 8 were part of an Arduino day run by FutureInTech. Arduinos are open source microcontrollers that can be programmed to do various things. The fact that they are open source means that anyone can use the software and hardware for whatever they want, as long as they follow the license.

There were five tutors from Airways, Dynamic Controls, Allied Telesis and Meridian Energy: a computer scientist between four, working in pairs. We took turns programming and plugging into the microcontroller. Our first project was to make a LED flash. From that, we progressed to making the LED flash at different speeds, using a button to make the LED flash, and connecting a buzzer. In the end, some of us had managed to make a doorbell: when you pressed a button, a LED would light up, the buzzer would go, and on the screen would appear “Someone’s at the door!”

detail 2 (Small)

Overall, we had plenty of fun on the day and learnt some new skills. We would definitely like to do something like it again if we had the chance.

Preparatory School Racing Ahead with Robotics

During Term One and Two this year Miss Bryony Marks, among a number of other projects, initiated a Robotics club at Year 5 in the Preparatory School. Initially the club was open to 15 students, using Lego Mindstorm EV3 to build and program in groups of 3. The purpose of the club was to introduce Year 5 students to Robotics, thus setting the groundwork for future expansion of robotics as these students progress through the college.

IMG_4672In response to overwhelming demand and interest form other year groups, it was immediately obvious that an expansion of resources was needed. The extremely supportive College PTA was approached for support in this area, and generously responded with $5000 funding for a further 8 sets – allowing whole class robotics for the first time. This now allows all children in the Preparatory school the opportunity to engage with this exciting technology, and to authentically apply their basic block programming skills to robotics.

The next logical progression in this rapidly evolving programme was to enter teams in the Canterbury Regional 2015 RoboCup Junior competition. This national competition requires students to use their programming, engineering, and creative skills to entertain, delight, and thrill an audience. They must design up to three robots that are used in a 1 to 2 minute themed performance based around either robot theatre, or rescue. robotics2At Year 5 and Year 7, all interested children were given the opportunity to ‘trial’ for these competition teams, with Miss Marks looking for children with a range of skills such as organisation, programing, robot building and creativity.

The two Year 5 teams were chosen after a ‘Loop Walk’ challenge which required them to self-teach and apply their new knowledge in small groups to program a robot to walk a square course in the style of their choosing.

Year 7 teams were chosen through a Little Red Riding Hood Challenge, which required them to program a Robot to navigate from Grandma’s house to Red Riding Hood’s garage, while stopping to look for cars. and then reversing into their garage.

The final team is a two person Year 8 team that was selected based on previous experience. James has an interest and experience in programming, while Ethan has a passion for Robotics.

On Friday all five teams spent the day preparing for the competition. Over the course of the day they conceptualised, built and programmed their robots. The room was a busy hive of activity throughout the day, as student groups worked independently on the numerous challenges involved in such a task.

IMG_4673James and Ethan are entered in the Research and Rescue Challenge which requires their robot to follow a black line across the performance area, sensing and responding to green squares. Finally, it must grab a tin can from the center of the area, eventually returning it to the beginning of the course.  James noted that his biggest challenge of the day was applying his previous block programming experience through Scratch into the new platform; EV3 Mindstorm. Ethan’s main challenge was trouble-shooting the challenges that the colour senses proved, as they initially struggled to perform as expected.

Ethan and James' robot

Ethan and James’ robot

It is challenges like this that prove the relevance and importance of robotics. Miss Marks noted that “Children are required to self-manage, problem solve and think logically as they respond to various challenges throughout the build. Competitive Robotics combines creative writing, engineering, arts and crafts, DIY, coding and programming – everything that our students love!”

Click below to see a short video of an early prototype from the day! We wish all St Andrew’s College Teams well as they continue to prepare for the regional competition on August 16th!

 

 

Using Online Simulation Gaming to Improve Student Literacy

The Year 12 Business Studies course at St Andrew’s College aims to introduce students to entrepreneurship, and help develop their knowledge and skill in running a business. The course is deliberately designed to be very hands-on and students work in small groups to run all aspects of their own small businesses. While many students taking the course have strong entrepreneurial skills, those who do not supplement the Business Studies course with Year 12 Accounting have often struggled to understand the financial impacts of decision making within a business, and the flow-on effects of this decision making in a business context.

Upon reflection by the Commerce Department, it was identified that a number of Business Studies students were struggling with the financial literacy requirements of Business Studies; particularly in the area of question terminology such as ‘Fully Explain’.

In an attempt to remedy this, Business Studies students were tasked with running a small online business. The Small Business Game is a free online simulation that provides the experience of running a small business. In the gam, students experience the start-up and management of a business, learning both from their mistakes and from their successes. The game uses the platform of running a merchandise business for a club from NZ’s ASB Premiership – the highest level of domestic football in NZ.

Students choose one of the Premierships teams and then they manage all aspects of the team’s off-field performance such as staffing, pricing, and advertising.

Small Business GameBusiness Studies teacher Steve Aldhamland has seen high levels of engagement in the game from his students. Students played the game during one class period a week in Term One, though Steve notes that

“Most students played the game in their own time too; some even completed the whole 52 week simulation in a couple of weeks!”

Success in the game is principally measured in the financial surplus that the player manages to generate, but there are other indicators such as worker well-being and health.

In conversations with educators I have heard many skeptics of the value of games in classrooms comment that improved engagement is all well and good, but is it enough? This is where this Business Studies task excels.

workbook

Building on the high levels of engagement that he saw with the game, Steve created a workbook that combines examples from the game with examination style questions and exemplar answers. The booklet reinforces students’ understanding by modeling correct responses, and analysing the structure of these answers. By combining the game with literacy tasks, students can take content that they have engaged with throughout the game, and use that content to deliberately improve the complexity of their written responses.

It is always pleasing to find teachers who are willing to engage with a new technique in the classroom. What I particularly like to celebrate is when this new technique is directly in response to student need – leading to authentic student learning.

Office 2016 Arrives for Mac Users

maxresdefaultSt Andrew’s College is an Office365 school, making extensive use of the Microsoft OneNote application in particular and we are also compulsory BYOD from Year 9 (we still allow choice of Windows / Apple). Over the last two years we have seen increasing amounts of Apple laptops coming to school with the students and one of the frustrations has been the old Office 2011 available for Macs.

This has changed with Microsoft’s release of Office 2016 for Mac last week, announced on their blog here (see below for the release video) and for the first time it also includes OneNote (for a long time unavailable and then only released via the Mac App Store).

It is strongly encouraged that students remove Office 2011 before attempting the install of the new version – detailed instructions are available here to do this. A video showing the complete installation process of Office 2016 for Mac can be seen here:

The new Office 2016 is distinctively “Mac” in design and brings the feature set much closer to the Windows 2013 version (although, frustratingly, some of the best features of OneNote are not there still). Here’s hoping that updates will improve this so that both Windows and Apple users have comparable functionality.

Another feature that appears to be missing from the new Office 2016 Powerpoint is Office Mix – a fantastic plugin that allows teachers and students to easily record narrated screencasts.

Overall, it’s a big step forward for Mac users and one that I am confident many of our students will download to their BYOD devices since it remains free for our students at St Andrew’s College

Promotional Video for Office 2016 for Mac: