Robotics: From No-bots to Go-bots

This post was originally published on the Interface Magazine Online website – you can read the original post here.

Briony Marks

Miss Briony Marks

Last year was my first teaching robotics. We began a Robotic Club using EV3 Lego Mindstorms, which quickly found its legs and became firmly established across the Preparatory School. It was a fantastic learning experience; the children were enthralled, writes Briony Marks, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch.

We began with construction and attempting to understand the components. Identifying the sensors and motors was a key factor. Discussing wheel size and rotations formed part of our initial learning. With time, we began to program the Lego Block. Hanging to the instruction booklet like a life raft, the students and I navigated the early concepts.

Whole-school programme

Our confidence grew and, when asked to make a presentation to the PTA in Term 2 about the benefits of a widespread robotics programme, I was able to talk confidently about the phenomenal learning that had happened in our club. Our students were measuring in degrees, centimetres and metres; calculating turns; programming and sequencing and all within a couple of 40-minute sessions on a Friday lunchtime.

We were fortunate enough to receive another eight sets of the Education Edition EV3. This was to enable us to roll out robotics on a class scale (allowing one robot between two in our maximum classes of 26). The year saw a huge transition, from a small group of 15 experimental and brave Year 5 students to a school-wide project.

RoboCup Junior NZ

robotics1At the beginning of Term 3, we decided to enter the RoboCup Junior New Zealand competition (robocupjunior.org.nz). This was an ambitious plan with only five weeks to prepare. We selected five teams (from Years 5, 7 and 8) and with two full days blocked out and about two extra hours a week we went from unpacking and building to choreographing a piece of Robot Theatre.

The time frame was tight, with little opportunity for instruction in even the basics. However, the students managed to self and peer teach to eventually put together four very different theatre pieces. We were incredibly pleased with their hard work. From ‘Mazerunner’ to ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Jurassic World’ to ‘Pink Panther’, students’ ideas and creativity came to life with MDF, plenty of paint, papier-mâché, some poorly mixed soundtracks and, of course, the robots!

Positive student feedback

Following RoboCup, I asked them to take an anonymous survey. I was delighted to read the overwhelmingly positive responses. As a general comment, the students enjoyed the independence, working creatively and intuitively to overcome problems, and saw the experience as enriching rather than disheartening. They listed their interpersonal skills with comments such as:

“I learnt to take turns at things and not always be the leader”

and

“You can save time if you work together as a team.”

My reflection and advice

Three weeks prior to RoboCup I attended a training day with the fantastic Sandy Garner at the University of Otago. Her easy-to-use booklet allowed me to grasp huge concepts of programming. This structure has driven the way I now introduce the robots to my classes. Her website Learning with robots (learningwithrobots.weebly.com) hosts a wealth of resources that will help focus your planning for establishing a robotics course.

The greatest challenge I found was trying to structure lessons that allowed for creativity and continued success to maintain student engagement.

Term 4 saw us expand Year 4s, who have been chomping at the bit all year long to get their hands on a robot! These young masterminds blew me away with their ability to problem solve (as I become a more confident teacher of robotics the children are encouraged to experiment more).

I’m incredibly proud of the reaction of the students and parents, and of myself for being able to understand and teach others to use the robots (mostly) with success. I hope that I’ve managed to inspire some future robot engineers, modelled a ‘growth mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed one’ … and also that I might have broken down some stereotypes about women and tech along the way!

Five-week sampler course, by Briony Marks

  1. Introducing routines below and allow students to discover how to go forward, backwards and turn
  • Where things are kept;
  • How to save your files to avoid confusion;
  • The basics of programming and downloading your code to your robot; and
  • Rules, such as ‘never run your program with the robot on a table!’
  1. The Arch Challenge – Students must navigate through a simple arch maze. They must not cross the lines and must perform a ‘trick’ at the top. This allows them to experiment with different turning styles and the sound and image function.
  2. Complete the Arch Challenge and start the Red Riding Hood challenge. This is from Sandy’s booklet, which shows a sweet challenge where students must navigate safely from Grandma’s house to Red Riding Hood’s garage. She must stop at the main road, check left and right and then navigate the maze to reverse safely into her garage without being eaten by the wolf!
  3. Complete Red Riding Hood
  4. Introduce the Ultrasonic Sensors and loops to create a program that lets the robot navigate the classroom without crashing.

 

Briony Marks teaches at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch. Learn more about her work at her blog missmarksblogs.wordpress.com

Inducting Students into a 1:1 Laptop Programme

As the new school year begins, the 1:1 laptop programme at St Andrew’s College continues to grow. As the year begins, all Year 8-11 students are required to bring a laptop to school each day. With the number of Senior College students voluntarily bringing laptops to school growing each year, we are ever closer to all students in the Secondary School having a laptop with them each lesson.

Staff feedback from the first two years of the 1:1 program raised some concerns around two main themes:

  • The first was about the amount of class time that some teachers felt could be wasted at the start of the year, getting all student’s computers successfully connected to school systems, and the class OneNote Notebook.
  • The second concern raised was around the the lack of familiarity of some students with their particular device.
Students working hard on the task

Students working hard on the induction task

In response to these concerns the decision was made to invest some time in the first few days of the 2016 school year to actively try and get Year 9 students more familiar with their own computers, and the systems that we use here at St Andrews College. In consultation with Middle School leadership, it was decided that students would have four periods to complete such a task – with the time being split over the first two days of the school year.

Creating the task

With over 200 Year 9 students the range of ability and engagement with computers was always going to be extremely varied. For this reason I decided to create an induction task that used a single platform, OneNote, as the base, with a range of other resources linked into it, such as instructional videos and surveys.

In an attempt to gain some preliminary information all students were asked to complete a short online survey. Of most interest to me was their responses to the following two questions.

Initial Survey

The results from these two questions particularly gave me the confidence that such a programme was incredibly important for our incoming Year 9 students. While approximately half of our Year 9 intake are from the Preparatory School, where we know they receive a thorough grounding in all things IT; the remainder of our intake arrive from a wider range of feeder schools; from across the city and beyond. A major aim, when writing this task was to ensure that all students gained a basic understanding of both their computers (keyboard shortcuts, power saving settings, and our systems such as printing, emailing and online storage.

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The basic premise was to write a task that was based in OneNote. To make the task more contextual, the ‘how to use your computer’ material was woven into a basic inquiry-based task that required each student to design their ultimate teenage space in the Christchurch city rebuild. Within the induction task each student was required to complete a wide range of tasks including:

  • Accessing their College email to gain access to the Onenote Notebook
  • Access a variety of video resources around computer care, computer use, and IT systems used at StAC, and complete tasks to reinforce this learning
  • Add preliminary ideas to the Collaboration Space in OneNote about a potential Youth Facility in Central Christchurch
  • Collate and analyse the best ideas from the Collaboration Space, in their own area of the Class Notebook
  • Add audio to their own area of the OneNote, critically analysing their best ideas
  • Learn how to print their work
  • Hand their work in using the Assignment activity on their classes Moodle Page

Upon completion of the task the feedback from the students was extremely positive. A number of individual students commented on the benefits they saw from completing the task:

This task was good because it helped me learn how to use my computer.

I liked how we could try some of the things by ourselves and the demonstrations from the videos.

 

student feedback two

Similarly,Year 9 Tutor staff, who were involved in supporting the students during their induction sessions, were also asked to provide feedback. It was particularly pleasing to see the high regard with which they held the assistance that they received from IT staff during the Staff feedback.

Moving forward

On reflection I am very happy with how this task went. As with doing anything for the first time, I will continue to reflect carefully on all aspects of the task and try and identify the improvements that can be made. Obviously providing adequate IT support over 13 classrooms and over 200 devices is an acknowledged difficulty, but I really hope that the teachers of Year 9 will notice an improvement in the confidence, and capabilities of their classes as the school year gets underway.

Making It Easier To Read & Write with OneNote Learning Tools

Few would argue against the fact that technology should support teachers and learners in the classroom to achieve better learning outcomes and comprehension. Sadly, too often the technology is shoe-horned into learning environments simply to “tick the box” that eLearning is happening. By creating a role of eLearning Integrator that is filled by Mr Tom Adams, St Andrew’s College has committed to supporting our teachers maximise the benefits of the technology available.

Therefore, it is very pleasing to see that Microsoft have recently released some tools for OneNote to further support the literacy of students by making it easier to read content and improve their writing. The Learning Tools For OneNote, a free download, provide a set of extended features that will help improve learning outcomes for all students.

It’s a game changer.

Mr B. Clark (Head of Learning Support)

From the website:

  • English language learners can increase their fluency.
  • Emerging readers can feel confident when reading material at a higher level.
  • Students with learning differences like dyslexia can decode text more easily.

Learning Tools

Watch the above Office Mix Video to see Learning Tools in action.

Features

New features in the OneNote Learning Tools

The downside of this new tool set is that it is currently only available for Windows clients of MS OneNote, leaving Apple Mac users and OneNote Online web clients out in the cold. Nevertheless, when Mr Adams talked with St Andrew’s Head of Learning Support about this new feature, he replied “It’s a game changer.”  

As a result of this positive endorsement, which was echoed by our Head of English Ms Tam Yuill Proctor, the ICT services team will be deploying the OneNote Learning Tools (download directly here) to all laptops/desktops managed by St Andrew’s whilst also encouraging students to install it on their BYOD devices.

I look forward to hearing from students and teachers alike how these new tools are supporting positive literacy outcomes.

The Power Of Data

PowerBIIncreasingly, most organisations are seeking to “do more” with the data they collect and store and in this respect, St Andrew’s College is no different. For the last two years I have been looking at a number of tools that would allow us to easily collect, analyse, display and share critical information amongst key stakeholders.

As part of this investigation we have looked at tools such as Crystal Reports, Tableau and Microsoft Excel connected via MS-Query to our MS-SQL server and outputting pivot tables for analysis. Here are some examples of this:

In the end, we decided to progress with Microsoft’s PowerBI solution, which is described on their website as:

Power BI transforms your company’s data into rich visuals for you to collect and organize so you can focus on what matters to you. Stay in the know, spot trends as they happen, and push your business further.

Some of the reasons we selected this solution include:

  • It’s browser based – you can access it from “anywhere” and see live data. You can also bookmark certain reports in your browser for near instant access.
  • There is also an app available (iPhone/iPad/Android/Windows10) so the data is accessible anytime / anywhere
  • We can tweak reports / visuals quickly and easily, based off feedback from stakeholders
  • Being browser based, you don’t need a local file on your computer that is “out of date” once a new version with improved features is built. What you see is always the “latest version”
  • It’s part of our existing Office365 Suite, so our existing username/password logs you into the reports.
  • Security permissions are centrally managed based off AD users and role based groups.
  • It connects to our on-premise MS-SQL Server, allowing for scheduled data updates (hourly / daily).

To best demonstrate the power of this tool, we built a proof of concept based around analysing NCEA student achievement, in particular University Entrance requirements and course/subject endorsement. Here is a screencast walking through the tool:

Note: identifiable data such as student names / ID numbers have been blurred out in this video.

To accelerate the development of some of this reporting, we have:

  • Partnered with DataCom New Zealand and are getting expert advice from their Business Intelligence team in terms of configuring the ETL process via Microsoft SSIS, building a tabular data model and connecting to PowerBI in the cloud for presenting the data to staff.
  • Hired a new staff member to join the ICT Services team in the role of Business Intelligence Report Writer. The responsibilities for this role will be to interface with the various business units in the College (e.g. Academic Data, Enrolments, Development, Communications etc), understand their reporting requirements and then build the reports in PowerBI.

The key with any Business Intelligence project is to help inform the decision making process and not just be contented with pretty visualisations. To that end, a robust conversation and scoping of what is required to be seen by the stakeholder needs to be established. However, with a wide range of visualisations being added regularly to PowerBI, there is a number of ways to present data in an easily comprehensible format. One of my favourites in a 3D, interactive globe that significantly improves on the PowerMap in Excel (see above):

This visualisation could be very useful in mapping where our current students or Old Collegians live or identifying where donations are coming from globally mapped either by volume or value for example.

We are in the very early stages of this project, yet the potential is very obvious to the leadership teams at St Andrew’s. The focus over the next few weeks will be configuring the backend infrastructure: the ETL processes (Extraction, Transformation, Loading), the Data Warehouse and the connectivity into PowerBI. Subsequently, the rapid development of reporting dashboards will proceed.

If this interests you, please do check back regularly on the blog for updates or drop a comment below to discuss further.

Microsoft Video Showcases Innovative Educators

On the 23rd November 2015 Microsoft NZ arranged for a TV crew to film and interview a number of staff and students at St Andrew’s College. The focus of the day was showcasing how the Surface Pro 3 and OneNote were being used creatively within the College. The three teaching staff interviewed were Mr Wilj Dekkers (Year 6 class teacher in the Preparatory School), Ms Tam Yuill Proctor (Assistant Head of English) and Mr Ben Hilliam (Assistant Head of Maths).

These three were chosen as they have been using the Surface Pro 3 since our initial trial group was formed in late 2014 and also because they have recently been named as Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016:

St Andrew’s College’s three Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016 from left to right: Mr Ben Hillian, Ms Tam Yuill Proctor and Mr Wilj Dekkers

All three have featured on this blog before, with some of my favourite posts about their teaching being:

What impresses me about these teachers is how natural the integration of technology and eLearning strategies are. As I noted on the post about Mr Hilliam above:

Whilst the phrase “ubiquitousness of technology” is over used, this lesson did demonstrate that when used effectively, the technology is not at the forefront of the lesson. It was not gimmicky or flashy, instead it provided functional improvement to what was already a great lesson.

Certainly, the technology available to achieve this integration is available and well supported at St Andrew’s, something that Ms Yuill Proctor noted in a blog post published today:

At StAC I count myself very lucky to have the technology, infrastructure and guidance available to try new tools to enhance the learning programs and assist with day to day teaching.

Having access to the tools and support increases the confidence of teachers to try new things – sometimes this is simply at a “Substitution” level on the SAMR scale of technology integration – but often it goes deeper into Modification and Redefinition:

SAMR Diving

These three teachers, recognised externally by Microsoft for the innovative work they’re doing in their classrooms, along with our eLearning Integrator Mr Tom Adams, need to function as change agents and ambassadors within the College in 2016, sharing their pedagogy and encouraging colleagues to follow their lead.

In 2014 St Andrew’s introduced the 1:1 Computing Programme to Year 9 students, making it compulsory for all students in that year group to bring a laptop. We have now successfully concluded the second year of this and, in 2016, are rolling back this requirement to Year 8 students in our Preparatory School as well.

Both Mr Dekkers and Mr Adams have been heavily involved in planning the rationale and support for the Year 8 programme. The result of this is that close to 700 students in Years 8-11 will be required to bring a laptop to school each day: clearly the need for eLearning leaders such as those recognised above is critical to ensure staff and students can maximise the value of this technology.

I am really pleased that this video, and the recognition from Microsoft of these three teachers, reflects the huge amount of effort and planning that goes into teaching with technology at St Andrew’s College.

Footnote: One of the happy outcomes from the day Microsoft spent filming was the chance to interview Toby, a budding game developer in Mr Dekkers’ class. This led to a followup Skype interview that I blogged about here

Toby 3

Tech Evangelist Encourages Student App Development

Toby 3Today Mr Wilj Dekkers and Year 6 student Toby Skyped with Hannes Nel from Microsoft New Zealand about a game called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” that Toby had built in Scratch.

It was a great chat aimed to help Toby identify some next steps for his game development and when Hannes asked what his plans for it were, Toby’s answer was simple:

I want it to go on an app store so that it can make lots of money!

Toby’s game is called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” and is based on a traditional platform style game, revolving around moving a “dot” from one side of the screen to the other, progressing past increasingly difficult obstacles.

Toby demonstrates how to play “The Adventures of Mr Dot”

SuperMarioBros

Super Mario Bros screenshot that Hannes likened Toby’s game to.

Hannes, who has assisted in development of apps for Trademe and TVNZ, likened playing the game to the Super Mario Brothers games he played as a child.  He went on to explain to Toby that there are three different stores that his game could theoretically be published to:

  • The Windows Store
  • Apple’s App Store
  • Google’s Play Store

The challenge was going to be migrating the game from Scratch to a platform that could be published to these online app stores. Hannes made the suggestion that using Construct 2 would allow for this and that since most app developers were gaining success through publishing to apps for smart phones, Toby might want to think about allowing a touch interface to control “Mr Dot”.

Mr Dot

A screenshot taken from Toby’s Surface Pro 3 showing some of the coding he has done in Scratch to build his game.

Toby, who has spent significant time over the last month developing his game, was immediately up for the challenge and considering how he could convert the keyboard controls to a touch interface. Other students in the Year 6 class with Mr Dekkers have been informal “beta testers” playing many of the existing levels, finding it a fun and addictive game to play. Toby aims to write 100 levels for the game that would result in significant gameplay.

I’ll keep an eye on the development of this app and hopefully we can see it make it through to completion and publication on the various app stores.

Toby_gear

Microsoft kindly gifted Toby a backpack with some tech gifts to encourage him to keep up the programming (this did not include the Surface Pro 3 which is Toby’s personal device)

Bringing Experts into the Classroom

One of the main purposes of this blog is to raise awareness within the college of innovative pedagogy, with the overall aim of inspiring others. I was excited this week to spend a bit of time in a Year 6 Religious Education classroom, where I saw evidence of exactly that.

At the recent conference of the New Zealand Association of Religious Education Teachers and Chaplains, our Preparatory School Religious Education Teacher, Mrs Jillian Fenton, found herself reflecting on the possibilities of tapping into the expertise of others, and bringing that into her classroom. This reflection was in conjunction with the 2016 Religious Education curriculum review which was aiming to continue to make learning in this particular curriculum area as authentic as possible.

As part of this process Mrs Fenton also thought back to her Year 6 student’s end of term reflections from Term 3. Within these she noted that a number of children raised some very interesting questions that they wanted the opportunity to ask.

Accessing an Expert

Mrs Fenton had seen what was going on with Skype in the College, with Mystery Skypes, intra-college lessons, and asking an expert; and she really wanted her students to have the same opportunity. She approached Dr Jennifer McLeod, a Physics, Science and Religious Education teacher at John McGlashon College in Dunedin.

Both Year 6 classes were given the opportunity to connect with Dr McLeod and have their questions answered.  My observations of one of these session illustrated the extremely high levels of student engagement as they asked questions such as

“Does God’s power have a limit?”

 

“What proof is there of God’s existence?”

Mrs Fenton notes that “It was brilliant to give children the opportunity to ask those questions of someone they perceive as an expert.”

I thought it was great to see this example of a teacher thinking carefully about how she could use approachable technology to give her students such an engaging and authentic learning experience.