Teaching The Teachers: A Visit From Wolfram Research

Wolfram research

Craig Bauling from Wolfram Research

Craig Bauling from Wolfram Research

This afternoon St Andrew’s College hosted Mr Craig Bauling from Wolfram Research as he gave a presentation to a number of teachers from the Canterbury Maths Association. The opportunity for this presentation came about after Craig had seen a post I had written in June 2014 entitled Wolfram Interactive Models Bring Learning To Life and distributed it amongst Wolfram employees. He also offered to present to interested teachers when he came to New Zealand in September. I reached out to Dean McKenzie (Head of Maths at St Andrew’s College) and Stephen McConnachie (eLearning Co-ordinator at Middleton Grange School) and together we managed to get this session promoted amongst Canterbury schools. Over twenty staff from different schools around Christchurch listened to Craig’s 2 hour presentation where he covered:

Mathematica:

This is a powerful desktop application that allows teachers and students to do a range of different things, including writing text books, creating and sitting assessment as well as making Powerpoint-like presentations. It utilises the power of the cloud based WolframAlpha to return some results / graphing abilities, and one of the key strengths is students can enter questions in “natural language.” The programme then interprets this and formats it into the correct syntax for Mathematica to complete the equation.

This makes it very easy to learn, and there are a number of “palettes” that guide teachers or students through the correct syntax of more advanced formulas. The state of Victoria, Australia, has provided Mathematica to students from Yr4 up in schools to help them across all curriculum areas, not just Maths (Craig said Physics and Chemistry are the biggest users of Mathematica, followed by Maths, but English and Social Sciences also make use of it).

Wolfram Alpha:

Demonstrating the power of Wolfram Alpha search

Demonstrating the power of Wolfram Alpha search

Possibly this was the one tool that most of the teachers attending had been exposed to before. Rather than functioning as a search engine like Google or Bing that traditionally return thousands of pages that might contain the answer to your search query, WolframAlpha tries to provide the actual answer to your question.

One of the examples given was “What is the boiling temperature of water on Mt Cook?” Pulling on information stored in the databases WolframAlpha has access to, it knows both the height/elevation of Mt Cook, and the scientific principle of how elevation affects boiling temperatures. It returned: boiling temperature What was neat to see was the results returned in the metric system – using Geo-IP technology, it knew we were in New Zealand and returned results accordingly.

Another fascinating example was the results returned to the esoteric question “What was the weather like on Keith Urban’s 24th birthday?” Again, drawing on the extensive meteorological information WolframAlpha has access to, it showed the results for Christchurch, New Zealand (again, recognising our location based on IP Address):

Wolfram Demonstrations:

These held quite a bit of appeal given they could easily be embedded into a school’s Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or Ultranet – here is the video I created earlier showing how to do this:

Installation of CDF Plugin & Embedding Wolfram Demonstration Model into Moodle

The interactive nature of these models, where students can manipulate the input or data, make them perfect for embedding into a Moodle Forum or Assignment activity, allowing students to submit answers directly into Moodle without needing to use any other software.

What was reassuring was that all demonstration models are vetted for accuracy by staff at Wolfram, source code must be made available so teachers could modify the models if they wished to, and the model can be downloaded as a separate CDF file or embedded directly into a web page. Here are some examples of different Wolfram Demonstration Models:

Selection of Wolfram Demonstration Models

Members from the Canterbury Maths Association enjoy the presentation

Members from the Canterbury Maths Association enjoy the presentation

The feedback from the teachers that attended was very positive about the session and I am sure that many will go away and look at the free products and also evaluate whether licensed products are purchased for teaching staff and/or students.

Office Mix – The Evolution Of The Whiteboard?

We are fortunate at St Andrew’s College that there are a number of teachers that are “flipping the classroom” in various ways and using a number of different technologies to support this. Examples already blogged about include:

One of the common tools that has been used by a number of these teachers is the ageing Microsoft product called Community Clips. This has been a reliable piece of software for creating screencasts however it has struggled with new devices, failing to support the native resolution of the Surface Pro3 devices we are trialling with a number of teachers in various classrooms.

Enter Office Mix

This relatively new product is a free plugin for Microsoft Powerpoint that allows you to record your screen, voice and video all at the same time. Additionally, it allows your Powerpoint to become interactive, with students able to complete quizzes directly within a slideshow.

The key feature that appealed to Mr Hilliam was the recording of his screen in full, native resolution and the ease with which he was able to launch recording. Whilst the older Community Clips also allowed you to select a section of the screen to record, this is far easier in Office Mix:

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(As an aside – the above screenshots were all taken on a SurfacePro3 using one of the handy features – double clicking on the top of the pen/stylus automatically takes a screenshot and places it in a OneNote notebook).

Because Office Mix records native resolutions the files can become quite large – it’s not unusual for these to get up to around 400MB for a 10minute video clip. However, because most of the teachers at St Andrew’s College subsequently upload them to YouTube.com the size is less relevant. YouTube automatically streams the best quality video that the user’s internet connection supports, so those with high speed can comfortably watch in HD.

I recently asked Mr Hilliam to demonstrate this combination of Microsoft OneNote and Office Mix recording to a visiting delegation of Principals and Senior Leaders from the Independent Schools of New Zealand and this is the video he made on the fly:

Basic example of solving algebraic equations

One of the downsides of using the SurfacePro3 is the noise recorded by the sound of the pen writing on the glass – for best results, a firm connection is required and this noise is picked up by the microphone and audible in the recordings of Office Mix. Additionally, if the SurfacePro3 is flat on a desk any movement of it sliding around on the desktop sounds very loud.

These noises could be alleviated using a headset and microphone, although none of our teachers have progressed to this set up to date. When recording during class, Mr Hilliam typically holds the tablet and wanders around the class using Miracast to wirelessly beam his screen through the projector for the class to see. Here is a good example:

Year 9 class solving algebraic problems

SUMMARY:

St Andrew’s College has interactive whiteboards in every classroom in the Preparatory School from Years 4-8 and these are used widely by the teachers and students. However, these units, projectors and associated software are expensive to purchase and install.

It’s intriguing to see how alternative configurations can deliver equivalent functionality, but also extend on it in two important ways:

  1. The teacher is not “tethered” to the front of the room – with Miracast technology they can roam around the room, allowing students to write on a tablet and have that displayed on the “whiteboard” at the front of the room for all students in the class to see.
  2. Through shared OneNote notebooks, all students get a copy of the examples, working and dictation from the teacher (if the Office Mix recording is uploaded to YouTube and the link shared in the Notebook).

Pro 3 WritingWhilst SurfacePro3 tablets are not cheap, we are currently trialling them with five classroom teachers across Maths, English and the Preparatory School. The initial feedback is that they would happily hand back their school-supplied laptop and use the SurfacePro3 as their primary and only device full time.

I was pleased to hear this, especially after I have set the challenge of writing school reports on the 12″ screen of the SurfacePro3 and only using the web interface of our Student Management System (Synergetic).

ScreenBeam Pro for Education

ScreenBeam Pro for Education

We have also pre-ordered a number of ScreenBeam Pro for Education miracast units. These units have additional security enhancements for classrooms, and also come with a VGA / HDMI converter so existing older style VGA projectors do not need to be replaced immediately.

From what we have seen these units also hold the wireless connection more reliably and are easier to connect to than the existing miracast units we currently use.

These technological advancements are definitely contributing to a smarter, and more evolved version of the traditional whiteboard.

Guest Post: Yr8 Mystery Skype

MysterySkype

This post was guest written by Noah, Harry and Angus from Year 8C

Last Thursday, 8C was part of a ‘Mystery Skype’ with another unknown school in the world. We didn’t know what to expect because we had never experienced this before. A ‘Mystery Skype’ is an activity where a random class or school in the world Skype us in order to find out our location and our school name. It is a competition between the two schools to identify each other first.

A day in advance, we had to prepare. We had to split into different groups, consisting of questioners, answerers, atlas mappers, poster mappers, Google mappers, note takers and photographers. Every group had 2-4 people working on it.

Firstly, we had to have Mr McNeill (our school Director of ICT) set up the webcam and project the Skype video onto the classroom interactive whiteboard. Once that was all ready, we were prepared to make the call. Just before we made it though, Mrs Preston told us some heartbreaking news: the teacher from the mystery class had told his class that we are in New Zealand. This made it so much easier for the opposition to find where we are. Anyway, there was no looking back. We made the call. The teacher from the other school greeted us warmly. But, they also greeted us with a very well known accent. The teacher had a classic, Aussie twang to his voice. As well the students had their school logo on their jerseys

As our first question we asked ‘Are you from Australia?’ as it was obvious from the accents. The reply was yes and then they asked ‘Are you in the South Island?’ The answer was yes.

After a few questions they asked ‘Are you in Wellington?’ we had a bit of a laugh while replying ‘No.’

As we closed in, we found out that they were from Tasmania, Hobart and that they were only aged 8-9 years old [which helped us knowledge wise].

We managed to successfully guess they were from St Virgil’s College in Hobart

Then as we started to wrap up the Skype call they started to talk about their sport and the Tasmanian tiger and devils. Then the Skype call ended. As a class we talked about the pros and cons and what we could we improve on.

In conclusion, our class enjoyed this experience and would like to do it with another class one time but would hope for older, more experienced classes our age.

Noah, Harry and Angus.

Full video of our Mystery Skype with St Virgil’s College

Exploring A Digital World Of Kiwiana

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

This morning the students of Year 6S were presenting their inquiry research into Kiwiana and extended an invite to Mr Bierworth (Deputy Rector and Principal of the Preparatory School) and myself to attend.  Over the last few weeks they have been conducting an inquiry learning project around the question “What is Kiwiana?”

To spark enthusiasm the students visited the Canterbury Museum and toured the Paua Shell House, before looking at other Kiwiana icons.  There was also some cross-curricular learning happening here, with students working on area and proportion in Maths, where Mr Dekkers tasked them with designing their ultimate Kiwi bach (holiday home).

The students jumped at this challenge as it was a chance to use Minecraft in class for learning! They started to look at old family baches their families owned or visited, brought photos to class and asked the question “what would the ultimate bach include now?” Students had to include certain criteria such as:

  • Where would the BBQ live? (afterall, how could it be a Kiwi holiday home without a BBQ?)
  • Where would the mountain bikes and surfboards be stored?
  • What was the access to water going to be? (sea / river / lake etc)

Having gained experience in Maths using Minecraft, this was extended to the inquiry topic where the challenge was to research iconic Kiwiana features of New Zealand and then include them into a Kiwiana theme park.

Being adept at using OneNote for research and planning, the children worked collaboratively to identify their iconic images and locations and record their research in a shared OneNote notebook. Here is a fantastic example of one:

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What impressed me so much about their use of OneNote was:

  • Using “Tasks” that could be ticked off when each job was completed – this meant they knew exactly who had to do what.
  • Having the “show contributors” turned on so the initials of each group member was alongside their work, meaning they could see who had contributed what to the research.
  • Storing images in the notebook as examples for when they started to build their Minecraft theme park.
  • Use of highlighting – key words / concepts were highlighted to ensure they would be include in the theme park and oral presentation.
  • Using their iPads and OneNote to read their notes from during the actual presentation.
  • Mr Dekkers writing feedback directly into their OneNote notebook during the presentation so by the time they finished they would see his comments.

Group Presentation On Kiwiana Theme Park Using Minecraft & OneNote

Using a SurfacePro 3 to provide feedback into student OneNote notebooks

Using a SurfacePro 3 to provide feedback into student OneNote notebooks

One of the skills that Mr Dekkers was focusing on as part of this Inquiry unit was synthesising information found as part of their research with their own ideas, discussions and information from their parents.

This allowed the conversation to include plagiarism and why this is a serious issue – a great way to remind students that being a good Digital Citizen includes protecting and respecting the intellectual property of others that has been shared online (see this post for more information on Digital Citizenship).

The presentation skills of the students were excellent, and it was delightful to see them seamlessly switching between presenting to their classmates using their iPads / OneNote for reference, whilst also navigating through their Kiwiana theme park designed on Minecraft. I am sure they would have been delighted with the feedback they received:

Feedback written by Mr Dekkers on his SurfacePro3 - available immediately to the students

Feedback written by Mr Dekkers on his SurfacePro3 – available immediately to the students

SUMMARY:

  • Whilst plenty of technology was being used in this unit and presentation, it was very much in the background. It was not being seen as a distraction, but rather a tool to get the job done.
  • Students made great use of OneNote as a shared document that was accessible anytime, anywhere for them to record their research.
  • Students were accountable to one another and their teacher as it was evident who had contributed what to the notebook.
  • Interest, engagement and enthusiasm from the students was very high – they loved the “gamification” of their learning by being allowed to use Minecraft to design a theme park.
  • Students were keen to share their learning – they wanted their Principal and Director of ICT to see their learning – they were proud of their efforts.

This kind of cross-curricular learning, with deep and authentic integration of technology is incredibly pleasing to see in our classrooms.

Recording & Blogging: It’s What I Do Now

Solo Tasks: around the Law of Reflection with extension work on Moodle

Solo Tasks: around the Law of Reflection with extension work on Moodle

Mr Matt Nicoll has been a regular contributor to this blog, providing one of the very first posts on recording his lessons for later playback by students, to presenting to the CORE Education eFellows, and his very active role in the development of Twitter usage amongst staff and the #edchatnz conference organisation.

I had wanted to sit down with him and see how his videoing of the teaching moments in his lessons had evolved from when we chatted in October 2013 and took the opportunity to do so after the #edchatnz conference. It transpires that in someways he has stuck with the successful recipe he had developed in 2013.

Mr Nicoll still remains the primary blogger for his classes, sharing the content, notes and videos on the class blog. His rationale for this was simple:

I am still traditional enough to want to retain control over the quality of the key concepts and ensure that they are being explained correctly. The big win, however, is that the students don’t need to write notes in class meaning they can spend more time on the activities.

SOLO

Two obvious positives from this are:

  • More time is spent in class discussing the quality of the answers e.g. what does multi-structural thinking look like compared to relational thinking (in terms of the SOLO thinking taxonomy)
  • Students benefit from this because their understanding of the SOLO taxonomy, which is used widely at St Andrew’s College, is deepened and their ability to explain their answers improves.

Despite being the Year 9 Dean and the associated workload that comes with that role, Mr Nicoll has found that keeping up the blogging and recording of his lessons has not added to his work. If anything, he believes it has allowed him to gauge where his students are at more accurately, since there is more time spent discussing the learning, than copying down notes. Student workbooks (or computers), are used primarily for writing down ideas, notes or discussions they have had in class – not for copying content off the whiteboard.

Separating suspensions using filtration

Computers are used in class, mostly for research and communicating overall answers for a lesson – shaping the learning into a formal reflection. Again, choice is provided to students – they could use MS Word, Powerpoint, OneNote or a graph in Excel for example. Because the “nuts and bolts” of the lesson are covered off in the form of comprehensive, quality notes on the class blog, students can simply:

Think like a scientist. Investigate like a scientist.

NCEA CLASSES:

Mr Nicoll’s blogging and recording practices extend to his NCEA classes as well, and he states that this allows him to better gauge where his students sit in terms of Achieved / Merit / Excellence in the respective standards they are working towards:

If a student is struggling to remember facts, I direct them to the blog where they can review the content. If they are struggling to articulate answers at a level required to move from Merit to Excellence, then I engage them in discussion.

RECORDING THE TEACHING MOMENTS:

The NZ Science Teacher website blogged about Mr Nicoll’s methodologies earlier this year, and since then some of his processes have changed:

  • Gone from using an Android smartphone to a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. This has allowed the uploading and editing of video content to become much easier as it is all on the one device. Being physically larger than a smartphone has also allowed the student recording the lesson to hold the device steadier, meaning the quality of the video footage has improved.
  • He is now using the Surface Pro 2 to record experiments in the classroom fume cupboard and display that on the classroom projector wirelessly using Miracast (similar to how Mr Hilliam does this in Maths)
  • Approximately three times a week he will record 8-12minutes of teaching and experiments and upload them to his YouTube Channel
  • When away from classes for an extended period of time, such as Winter Sports Tournament Week, he pre-records teaching concepts for his students. He then books laptops for the lessons if required, emails his students to bring their headphones along, and they can watch along in class.

Combining oxidation and reduction half equations to give a balanced overall equation (example video left for students during tournament week)

Matt has been increasingly requested to share his methods in different forums including at the #edchatnz conference which he had helped co-ordinate, and also to visiting Senior Leaders and Principals from the Independent Schools Senior Leaders Forum that toured the Christchurch independent Schools on the 16th September 2014. He summed up his approach to blogging and videoing his lessons with the following definitive statement:

It’s what I do now – it’s not going to change.

Students explaining the Law of Reflection

Maths! Cameras! Tessellations!

I love it when I get tip-offs from teachers about something they have seen or heard from another class, as this shows our staff are increasingly sharing what is happening inside their classrooms which is excellent.

Recently I was told to check out what Mr Hayden Shaw, Year 7 teacher and Head of Preparatory Sport, was doing with his Maths class. It was suggested there were enthusiastic students hunting around the College for examples of tessellations and then taking photos of them. I have to admit that I didn’t remember my own primary school maths, and the nature of what exactly a tessellation was eluded me.

A quick catch up with Mr Shaw reminded me of exactly what a tessellation is:

an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together, especially of polygons in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping.

It transpires that towards the end of a unit on Geometry, Mr Shaw grouped his class based on who had a smartphone with a camera in it. There were eight students with one, and so in groups of three they set out to explore the campus hunting for tessellations. These are just some of the examples they came across:

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The idea behind this fantastic kinaesthetic learning activity came after Mr Shaw read a report on one of his students from Socially Speaking (an organisation that provides services for children with social, sensory or communication difficulties). The report suggested that some students would benefit from taking photos of their homework and then talking about it, rather than physically writing it down every time.

From this came the “tessellation hunt” activity, with students required to snap a photograph of a tessellation they located on the St Andrew’s College grounds and text it to Mr Shaw back in the classroom. When the students returned, he then displayed them all to the students via the classroom interactive projector.

I asked how comfortable he was having students take out their cellphones and use them for learning activities and he related a story that reinforces the College’s approach to Digital Citizenship. There had been an issue with some students taking photos of others in the playground without permission and so discussions took place in the classes reinforcing that phones were:

  • Only for ringing / texting a parent.
  • Permission was required from the teacher before they could do this.
  • If a student took it out twice without permission it was confiscated.

This eliminated the inappropriate use straight away. Once students understood the boundaries, teachers were then able to get them using their phones to support their learning such as this example, knowing that the students would be responsible.

The students in the class loved the opportunity to get out of the classroom and see the practical examples of tessellation in their school environment.

Film Festival – Celebrating Student Talent

“Identity Crisis” – 2013 winner of Overall Best Film

Each year since 2009 St Andrew’s College has run a Film Festival – an evening dedicated to celebrating the diverse creative talents of our students and their film making ability.

Originally accepting all student film submissions, over the years the event has been refined to a showcase of the top ten student entries, interspersed with a number of “5 second films” which are usually humorous in nature. When I met with the Media Studies team to find out more about this festival, I learnt that it was originally a student initiative as they looked for an opportunity to showcase and celebrate their work, and this was supported by head of Media Studies, Mr Simon Williams (whose TV & Film events I’ve blogged about before).

An example of a 5 second film

Poster designed by Sophie Wells to promote the 2014 edition of the annual St Andrew's College Film Festival

Poster designed by Cultural Captain Sophie Wells to promote the 2014 edition of the annual St Andrew’s College Film Festival

It has subsequently evolved to include a red carpet style experience, with the Cultural Captains functioning as the presenters / MCs for the event, whilst other students involved interview attendees as they arrive, with these being broadcast live through to those already in the Theatre. Along with these interviews, there is an invitation for all attending to dress up and make a night of it, which all contributes to the special feeling of this occasion.

The Film Festival celebrates student creativity and is intended to be an inclusive event for a wide audience range with the expectation that all films can be viewed by the students’ younger siblings and grandparents. This helps ensure the themes and content remain in good taste with films vetted for unsuitable content. Consequently, a good size crowd comes along for an enjoyable evening and it is seen as a chance to appreciate these films quite apart from the assessment criteria upon which they are usually judged. Additionally, part of the success of this evening is the length – it’s usually all over in an hour.

When asked why they like the Film Festival, the students involved commented:

People all love movies – you can’t go wrong with a film festival!

 

It’s a chance to promote our creativity, a payoff for our hard work.

 

It’s nice to premiere our films in front of our family and friends – seeing the films on a big screen, with big sound and a real audience is awesome.

From a teacher’s perspective, showcasing the films in this way adds a sense of gravity to the production of them – if over a hundred strangers are going to watch your film, you’re going to try that little bit extra.

A slightly longer example of a 5 second film

The majority of entries come from students involved in the Media Studies and TV classes and typically represents the culmination of nearly two terms worth of effort. Students may spend up to twenty hours in the filming production, combined with up to thirty hours of post-production editing. This editing is done on a range of devices, with some students preferring to use their own laptops, often MacBook Pros using Apple Final Cut Pro, whereas others use the College computers and Adobe Premiere Pro.

College equipment available for use by our students includes:

  • 2x Sony HVR-Z7s cameras which run mini-DV tapes
  • 4x Sony HVR-NX cameras which run SD cards
  • Professional tripods, lighting and rigging, and a range of quality microphones and cabling

Support is also available from staff member Mr David Jensen (who filmed our Mystery Skype Session with Singapore), who has worked on a number of feature length and short films including Netherwood, as well as the other Media Studies teachers.

On the night the Cultural Captains have significant responsibilities: from welcoming the guests, to MC’ing the event, introducing each nominated film and interacting with the audience. They come up with their own monologue, often putting significant effort into this.

Behind the scenes there is a technical crew of up to twenty students and staff that ensures the event runs smoothly – this involves organising the lighting and making sure the films, often submitted in a diverse range of digital formats, all play successfully on the night. This team is co-ordinated by Mr Williams who continues to play a key part in the ongoing organisation and success of this event.

Finally, there are some small prizes that recognise winners in different categories including:

  • Best overall film
  • Best actor / actress
  • Best lighting
  • Best costume / makeup
  • Best camera work

These awards are not the focus of the evening, but add to the sense of a film premiere that the students have worked towards creating. The titles of the nominated films are announced in advance, with a promotion in a full school assembly to build anticipation for the event. Media Studies teachers meet a week before to judge the films and agree on the prize winners.

Many of the students involved in the Film Festival are regularly volunteering their time in other College events, providing technical sound and lighting expertise for assemblies and the massive event of our annual prize giving. I also love the fact that this festival provides an opportunity for the wider community to come share and celebrate in the success of our students’ work.

The evening is seen as a chance for students to celebrate their shared passion for film and media and for all these reasons, it is a very popular event on school calendar.

The Film Festival will be running on September 12th 2014