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:

Code Clubs @ StAC

2015 has seen two Code Clubs start at St Andrew’s College with Mr Phil Adams running one in the Secondary School since the start of the year and Mrs Vicki Pettit alongside Mr Wilj Dekkers starting one in the Preparatory School during Term 2.

Preparatory School:

CodeClub_LogoThe Preparatory school are using the resources provided via Code Club Aotearoa and there are around 20 students that attend regularly, within which there is a reasonably even break down of beginners and intermediate coders with 2-3 advanced coders.

The resources on the Code Club Aotearoa website are perfect for beginning and intermediate students however, Mrs Pettit is exploring options for the more advanced students and in what areas they can possibly start to apply their skills e.g. robotics, Raspberry Pi projects and possibly entering them into the Canterbury Core Education Digi Awards. The other pathway recently made available to these Prep students is Monday lunchtimes with Mr Adams in the secondary school code club.

Secondary School:

In Term 1 2015 Mr Adams started the Code Club for students that were interested in learning more about programming and were prepared to attend during their lunchtimes. His motivation was twofold:

  1. There was currently no option in the Junior curriculum (Years 9-10) for programming which means when students can take this at Year 11 they are often being introduced to the concepts for the very first time.
  2. There were a number of very keen students who did not have an avenue for support in their coding unless they persevered by themselves and were essentially self-taught from online.

Whilst there was an initial surge of enthusiasm from students, this settled into those that were committed, keen and prepared to give up a lunchtime to learn more. Having looked at the formal code clubs that existed (such as Code Club Aotearoa above), Mr Adams also reviewed online offerings such as Code Academy and Code Avengers which were useful, particularly Code Avengers which aligns with the New Zealand NCEA standards. Ultimately, however, he decided that students could continue to access these in their own time and that the focus of the Code Clubs at StAC would be slightly different.

python-logoThis alternative was to focus on teaching the students the very basics of Python so that they could create their own scripts and taste success early on. The reason for Python was quite simple as Mr Adams explains:

As a text based language the syntax is not complicated and it is very logical. Therefore, the learning curve would not be too steep for our new students. An alternative language such as C or C# would be too challenging for them to start with.

As students learnt the basics, Mr Adams focused on creating a team culture where students could learn from each other: the beginners seeking help from more advanced students, who in turn could reinforce and demonstrate their understanding of Python by teaching the beginners. Through this approach, it is hoped the Code Club will become self-perpetuating and independent with a positive and interactive culture.

With a few weeks of the basics out of the way, the goal became to progress students with the introduction of logic into their coding e.g. a basic guessing game such as this one:

An example of a number guessing game from Hana

An example of a number guessing game from Hana (click to download the Python script)

Hana, who created the above script, had the following to say about Code Club @ StAC:

I used to do coding at my old school, Selwyn House. There, it was a big thing and we did robotics and Hour of Code. The code club at StAC is super fun. Mr Adams is a really good teacher and he always lets us figure out why our code hasn’t worked. 

Coding a basic guessing game is not too difficult and yet it can easily be extended with the introduction of more logic that would require students to be able to calculate the average number of guesses it takes people to correctly guess the number each time. To support this extension, Mr Adams has created numerous tutorial videos on his YouTube channel that students can access, such as this one on how to create a list within a list using Python:

Paper, Scissors, Rock by Louis (click to download the code)

Paper, Scissors, Rock by Louis (click to download the code)

Louis, who also attends the Code Club @ StAC, created a game of Paper, Scissors, Rock in Python. Like Hana, he is also enjoying attending:

I am attending the Code Club because I enjoy coding in my own time (I also have done some robotics coding and other things) … 

I have learned things with Mr Adams (We are doing python at the moment, I have many other languages including: HTML, CSS, PHP, UNIX Terminal, Command Prompt, and JavaScript)

Next Steps:

Mr Adams has some clear next steps identified for the students in the Code Club, with the ultimate aim getting them to work collaboratively on a project together, all contributing code to a repository such as GitHub. This would enable replicating a “real world environment” where multiple people all work on much larger projects. This mirrors the message from Old Collegian Claudia Pottinger, who shared her experience as a Google Intern writing code in Python last summer. It is apparent that some of the students in the club are already thinking that far ahead, such as Jack who is in Year 9:

I go to code club because it is something I feel will benefit me in the future, and it is my intended career path. Computer programming is one of my passions, it is something that I enjoy doing in my own time.

It is extremely fun, learning new things and being able to help others who do not know so much.

A project I just finished recently was the year 12 internal exam, where you make a program in python that allows a user to select, order and store different pizzas with a range of flavours and prices.

I feel that in the future Programming will be a large part of nearly every job.

Jack's Pizza Ordering script (click to download)

Jack’s Pizza Ordering script (click to download)

Another idea to extend the students is to introduce activities from Project Euler – a website that describes its motivation as being:

The motivation for starting Project Euler, and its continuation, is to provide a platform for the inquiring mind to delve into unfamiliar areas and learn new concepts in a fun and recreational context.

To complete the activities on the website, students will need strong mathematical ability but also programming skills. One example from this website that Mr Hilliam, Maths and Statistics teacher at St Andrew’s, has used with his students is to write code that identifies the sum total of all prime numbers under 1000.

With keen students in the secondary school, along with increasing numbers of students coming through from the Preparatory and other feeder schools, providing an avenue for students to learn coding at St Andrew’s College is essential.

Old Collegian Shares Google Internship Experience

internshipsFormer student Claudia Pottinger (class of 2013) returned this week to share her experiences of being a Google Internee with Mr Phil Adams’ Year 13 Digital Technologies class. I was fortunate to be able to listen in on this session and record a few reflections.

Claudia attended St Andrew’s College for five years and during that time never studied programming or computer science, instead focusing on the ‘two Science, two Maths and English’ approach. When she started at Auckland University it was to studying for a degree in Engineering and a BA in Logic and Computation. It was in Computer Science 101 that she was introduced to the language of Python – something that was going to prove very helpful when it came to apply for the Google Internship.

Having seen a link online offering Google Internships for “under-represented groups in the technology industry”, Claudia applied, sending off a CV. She was eventually contacted and went through two different phone interviews to see her suitability for this role before being hired for the summer of late November 2014 through to February 2015.

MAIN ROLE AT GOOGLE:

The project Claudia was assigned to for her internship was to work in the Network Operations Corp and she worked on creating visualisation tools showing availability, packet loss and latency between Google offices and data centres. Her primary role was to retrieve this data from existing systems in place at Google, organise it into a useful format and then another internee helped to present this with web coding in HTML and JavaScript.

Licensed under Creative Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons

Google allowed time for the interns to become familiar with the environment and understand how work happens within Google (took about 3 weeks) and the project was completed before the end of the 12 week internship. In responding to questions from students in the room, Claudia noted:

  • The work environment was terrific – she was provided her own desktop (running a Google customised version of Ubuntu) and was also given a ChromeBook so she could work away from her desk.
  • There was flexibility in terms of what application she coded in e.g. she could use eMacs if she liked or other software platforms if she preferred.
  • Security was very tight – she was given an ID badge to enter/exit doors and also USB devices to authenticate onto computers.
  • The security around customer information was very tight, however she could browse code from different projects if she wanted to.

GOOGLE LIFE – THE PERKS!

The students at St Andrew’s were amazed to hear of all the perks Google employees had access to and even Claudia was impressed that as an internee she was also given full access to these. These included:

  • Gaming rooms – a wide range of consoles from various versions of Playstations, X-Boxes, Pinball Machines and even an old Nintendo 64!
  • Micro Kitchens – located usually no less than 50metres away from any workspace, these had snacks, candy and other food and drinks.
  • Four different restaurants each with unique menus and a smoothie bar
  • Rock climbing wall, pool tables, table tennis tables etc for recreation.

All of this was provided free for the employees and interns.

Click the image to go through to a gallery of photos from the Sydney Google offices.

Click the image to go through to a gallery of photos from the Sydney Google offices.

A typical day for Claudia was described as walking 40minutes to work from the provided accommodation, having breakfast and grabbing a smoothie for her desk before signing into work and checking her emails and then getting down to coding.

Whilst not required, Google encouraged the various teams to lunch together regularly, after which she might relax in one of the games rooms and then return to code till around 6pm. One of the four restaurants was open for dinner for staff.

In response to a question on whether there was close monitoring of work hours / effort, Claudia said that provided staff were delivering the outcomes required for their projects in the time frames set there was no questions asked about long lunches or breaks to play games etc.

KEY MESSAGES FOR STUDENTS:

Throughout the internship there was a lot to learn and some of the key messages that were passed on to current students at St Andrew’s College included:

  • Other people must be able to read your code – keep it clear, clean and use lots of comments in your code.
    • All code she produced had to be signed off by a colleague before it could be committed and for this to be accepted the code had to be readable.
  • Use the Coding Style Guides provided by Google to assist with this
  • Document what you’re coding about as well – be as clear as possible.
  • When applying for internships, include information on your interests and involvement in life outside of just programming.
    • Mr Adams reinforced this as well after his visit to Google in Mountain View and New York last year. He mentioned that so many of the applicants are simply brilliant academically that one way to stand out is to show what you’re passionate about and involved in outside of work.

CONCLUSION:

It was great to have an Old Collegian return to share with our students about the possibilities of internships and how to go about applying. To round out her experience, Claudia is likely to return to Google in Sydney at the end of 2015, but is also considering internships at alternative companies such as Microsoft.

This experience has also helped to shape her future career ambitions, focusing in on possible jobs in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Her final message to the students was that you don’t need to have everything decided right now and that by being a life long learner you can change direction within your degree and even into your career.

Guest Post: Digital Disruption – A Millennial’s Perspective

This guest post first appeared on iStart – Technology in Business (please click through to read the preface by Ben Kepes) and features an insightful summary by Year 10 student Yonni Kepes on the impact of technology in society today.

Yonni

Yonni Kepes

“As the world goes through a digital transformation and disruption, we must remember what will actually be changing. For me digital transformation means changing from an old manual way of doing things to a new system that uses technology to do business in new ways. Jobs will be replaced by new, different applications of technology and it will be my generation that will be filling many of these posts.

“I think the biggest challenge for us will be understanding the extent of the transformation. For example, we weren’t around when taxis were one of the main types of transport for hire, so we never saw the industry fully function with no Uber to challenge it. And although we are in this transformation we will never see the end result – it is part of an unprecedented, continual and rapid change. I believe that makes it a lot harder for my generation to understand the changes and to know where they should look for and find good jobs which are secure. A good company attracts good employees to enjoyable jobs. Employees who are flexible and like learning new skills, and employers that support them are what make a good place to work. If my generation wants to still be employed in jobs like these, then we need to learn these new technology-based skills and use them as best we can. It is also important that customers get to have a say when looking at business. Since my generation is the future consumer, we can offer great advice that will help shape the future of businesses.

Future-technology-300x200“I also believe that as we slowly transition in to a digital world of some sort we will have our lives changed a lot by digital innovation. People now have too many “devices” in their homes, with the average number per person at nearly five. It’s a worry that more household items will be swapped for more devices with some sort of transmitter in them. The reason for my concern is because the devices will ‘take over’ people’s lives. Although having more devices per person is, in my opinion, a bad thing, they do have their benefits. These devices can now stay in contact with their owners and tell them, for example, when dinner is ready, what’s happening with the washing, or the temperature of the bath; little things in isolation, but with the potential to completely change our lives when combined. If this is happening now, then what will be happening in 20 years’ time?

“I think the biggest challenge for us will be understanding the extent of the transformation.”
Yonni Keeps, 15-year-old millennial

“It’s interesting that my generation is so fixated on what sort of phone we have but we don’t even stop to consider what digital disruption is doing to some businesses and what this could mean in terms of the way we live our lives. I believe that when my generation does see what digital disruption is doing they will simply pull a weird face, as they don’t understand it or what it is doing to the world since we will be viewing it from inside the middle of the transition. Then again, digital disruption will offer opportunities for us to look at companies and say ‘I think I can do better than them’. From there we will be able to build businesses taking advantage of other people’s lack of technological understanding. This will help to build a better system for future business.

Yonni & his father Ben Kepes who chaired the conference in Melbourne on Digital Disruption

Yonni & his father Ben Kepes who chaired the conference in Melbourne on Digital Disruption

“I believe that once my generation actually sees what is transforming then this world could turn in to a place where lots of different concepts will be used to make our life a lot easier.

“I’m very excited as this will offer many new opportunities which weren’t afforded to the generation before. I believe that with a good mindset my generation can use digital disruption to our advantage and make the world a much better place.”