Students Catch The Blogging Bug

Isla Evison and Harrison Cooper (creator of the blog for the trip) at Brockenhurst

Isla Evison and Harrison Cooper (creator of the WW1 European Tour blog for the trip) at Brockenhurst

The StAC eLearning Blog is now over 18 months old, something that I find amazing when I pause to reflect on all the incredible stories we have been able to tell about innovative and engaging eLearning happening around the College. One thing that I am especially pleased about is the increasing number of “tip offs” I get from teachers – suggestions to go and chat with other teachers they know that are doing amazing things in their classrooms with their students. Additionally, more teachers are now telling me they regularly check out the posts and find they are motivated and challenged to try new things in their classrooms too.

In the last week of Term 1, Mr Simon Williams (Head of Television and Media) mentioned that he had been sharing this blog with some senior students who were about to head away on a WW1 Commemorative Tour of Europe in the holidays and he asked if I could help them set up a blog to record their journey. Excited by both the nature of the trip and also the possibilities of students engaging with their co-curricular learning via blogging I met with Harrison Cooper to discover more of what he was hoping to achieve.

Together, we settled on using a WordPress blog (similar to this blog) and we discussed the various themes and how some would potentially engage the readers more than others. We agreed that whilst some of the fancier themes were very cool, with menus that minimised completely to avoid distractions, some of the readers of the blog might not be able to navigate as easily around the blog. This was going to be important, because I taught Harrison how to use category pages within his menu structure, so that posts could be dynamically filtered based on the different locations they visited e.g. Gallipoli, France, Belgium etc. Here is the end result:

Note the names of locations under the main image - these are dynamic pages filtering and displaying blog posts only from those locations.

Note the names of locations under the main image – these are dynamic pages filtering and displaying blog posts only from those locations (click the image to visit the blog).

The other conversation we had was around image ownership – whilst there are many photos on the internet from WW1 that would serve as an excellent banner image, most were copyright and could not be used. This was an excellent chance to discuss Digital Citizenship and link back to one of the three core values in our Digital Citizenship policy:

Respecting the ownership and intellectual property of content they find online by accurately referencing the owner or site they obtained content from and by not engaging in piracy of software or other digital media

creative commons licenseTogether, Harrison and I did a quick google for images that were licensed by Creative Commons and quickly found websites such as the Wiki Commons WW1 Images and a Flickr WW1 Gallery from Oxford University that was licensed under the CC BY meaning the images could be shared or adapted provided appropriate credit was given. I left it up to Harrison to find the final images that he wanted for the blog, along with showing him how to use tags to help label each blog post by author and topic. I mentioned to him that once his blog was ready, I would put it on the front of the College Moodle site to increase the visibility amongst the students at St Andrew’s.

A number of students have contributed blog posts whilst the trip has been ongoing and even our Rector, Christine Leighton, has written a reflection on the trip as well as thoughts on the moving memorial at Brockenhurst a site in south east England where 21,000 wounded New Zealand soldiers were cared for during WW1. This visit was picked up by TV3 News and you can read the full story here and see a video of this here:

Click the image to load the TV3 news site and video

Click the image to load the TV3 news site and video

The WW1 tour blog quickly gained over 80 followers, who would receive an email update each time a blog was posted, and showing just how engaging the content was for readers, it has received a number of comments for the various posts. This one shows how appreciative readers are of the student’s blogging about their trip:

Thank you for the various articles and photos. It is a great way to follow the trip and also share your travels and observations with my family and friends. We are all very impressed by the way your group is representing our country and remembering those brave men and women who fought in WW1.

The WW1 European Trip blog is not the only blogging that has been happening by students at St Andrew’s College over the Term 1 holiday break. Twice a year, students head to Cambodia as part of the College’s commitment to community service and for the last few trips, students have been blogging about their time in Cambodia:

Cambodia

The students take turns co-authoring a blog post in pairs, providing an overview of what activities they have participated in and seen as well as personal reflections – some of which are very moving, an example being reflections from the trip to the Orphanage:

The orphanage was one of the biggest highlights of the trip, and a day that has been highly anticipated by the group … During the day, we as a group witnessed how little we had to do, to make one of these kids smile … As we said our goodbyes and headed onto the bus, hugs, handshakes, presents and tears were exchanged through the windows. The experience was amazing, tiring, emotional and rewarding. The only downside was that we didn’t get to spend more time with them.

It is pleasing to see these two examples of student-led blogs reaching a wide and authentic audience, providing a platform for students to meaningfully reflect on their experiences. There are other teachers who are encouraging their students to blog as well and based on the success of these two, I anticipate more teachers may explore this as an option for student writing as well.

Developing Connections with Business Mentors

Callum StewartAfter a lifetime of interest in Computer Science, and a more recent involvement in online forums with people from communities less privileged than his own, one St Andrew’s College student has an idea that he hopes will provide a platform for small investors to fund small start-ups in the Third World through a web-based business, tentatively called uEarn.io

Year 10 student, Callum Stewart’s enthusiasm for the cause caught the eye of his Business Studies Teacher, Steve Aldhamland. Quickly identifying the potential benefit, for Callum, of a Business Mentor Steve contacted Robyn Frey, the ‘Head of Special Projects’ at the Young Enterprise Trust. Robyn kindly put Steve in touch with an Alumni of the Trust, Josh Daniells. Josh is currently the Head of Platform and Investor Growth at the successful equity crowdfunding platform, Snowball Effect.

Capture

A screenshot from the Skype session Callum and Josh had, hosted in the Boardroom at St Andrew’s College

Earlier this week, to initiate this mentor relationship, Josh and Callum participated in a Skype session. This session allowed Callum to speak to someone with industry experience and Josh was able to give the young entrepreneur some valuable advice about potential regulatory barriers and the importance of balancing interests between investors and companies.

Reflecting on potential future mentoring within Business Studies

Mr Aldhamland immediately saw the benefits for Callum of this session. The main positives were that it was a medium that allowed each party to see and respond to the body language of the other throughout the conversation. I believe that this was a factor in Josh quickly identifying that Callum has genuine entrepreneurial potential and that he is deadly serious about his business idea.

He is also excited about the future potential of using Skype more regularly in Business Studies, with the ability to connect with business mentors nationally, and even globally.

Reflections on a Term of Integration

As the first term of the school year draws to a close, I find myself increasingly reflecting on the first ten weeks as the eLearning Integrator here at St Andrew’s College. Due to the fact that this position was newly established at the College, there was always a bit of a sense of the unknown.

Hitting the Ground Running

Almost immediately, I was struck by the willingness of the College’s staff to embrace change in their pedagogy, and the overwhelming acceptance that eLearning has an important part to play in this development. While, obviously, staff are at differing stages of their experimentation all have been extremely welcoming and responsive to whatever assistance they have received.

OneNote in the Classroom

By far the major focus for staff has been the continued use of OneNote in their classrooms. With a compulsory 1:1 laptop programme now covering all Year 9 and 10 students the majority of secondary staff have been extremely keen to use OneNote in their classrooms. Feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive and success with its use to manage and improve student feedback in English and the potential of student collaboration have already been blogged about this year.

By far the most significant development for staff, has been the launch of the OneNote Classroom creator tool. Numerous staff have mentioned to me how they have appreciated the streamlined organisation that this tool facilitates.

The other major developments that has impacted on our student population are the improvements to the complexity of the OneNote app for Mac. Approximately 65% of our students are using Apple laptops and, although the functionality of the app is still not equivalent to that of the Windows Client version, the improvements have helped to raise the engagement levels of students with the software.

Skype developing

A second area of growth within the school has been the use of Skype. Within the senior syndicate of our Preparatory School especially, Mystery Skypes have been popular. Teachers have found them a great way to make initial conact with students in other areas of the world and also as a valuable way to investigate questioning strategies – not to mention they are great fun!

This term has also seen us experiement with other ways to utilise Skype in the classroom. On World Read Aloud Day 8C jumped at the opportunity to connect with a children’s author, Jennifer Swanson via Skype. SwansonThis session was really motivating for the students and it was great to see them having the opportunity to ask their own questions to an experienced author.

“I think that it’s pretty cool that although Jennifer Swanson is so far away we felt like she was right there in the room thanks to Skype. I think that the whole class enjoyed this experience and we all want to do it again!” Elena, 8C

A final development has been the number of staff in the Senior College beginning to experiement with the potential with Skype to supplement the learning occuring in their classroom. A Year 13 English Teacher, Tam Yuill Proctor, is teaching a course based around James Bond. As part of this I am endeavouring to confirm an academic from the Film and Media School at Aberysthwyth University to join the class in an expert capacity. A second example is from our Commerce department who are beginning to develop relationships with business mentors through Skype. Stay tuned for a future blog post highlighting this!

Staff redefining their own boundaries

Elsewhere in the school, it has also been pleasing to see a number of staff experimenting with other aspects of eLearning. Examples of this has seen Google Earth being used to effectively study setting in English, and Excel being used in conjunction with OneNote in the Preparatory School. It has been really rewarding for me to see increasing examples of staff developing the confidence to conceptualise, develop and implement such tasks in an increasingly independent manner!

Fundraising For Vanuatu – New & Old Approaches

Damages from Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu. Creative Commons: UNICEF Pacific, 2015

Damages from Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu. Creative Commons: UNICEF Pacific, 2015

UPDATE March 30th: New photos have been supplied from Onesua College – scroll down to see them.

Over the weekend of 14-15th March 2015 a Category 5 cyclone cut a path of devastation across the Pacific, with the island nation of Vanuatu experiencing some of the worst damage from this massive storm.

St Andrew’s College has a strong relationship with Onesua Presbyterian College located on the north-eastern side of the main island of Efate, having sent annual Community Service trips there for over a decade. Onesua is a boarding school with around 350 students and suffered extensive damage from the storm:

With the 2015 Community Service Trip to Onesua College scheduled to depart in the first week of the Term 1 holiday break, the timing of this Cyclone resulted in the cancellation of this trip. The leadership team at St Andrew’s College reached out to Onesua immediately to see where we could help and heard from their Principal, Mr Kalmar a week after the storm:

Onesua is badly hid by the cyclone, a lot of classrooms lost their roofs and also staff houses. My office and house roof also flew away. The students are all out of school. Water and food will be a problem. I thank God that not even a single soul was lost during the cyclone at Onesua. We were all safe.

At the moment the school is out of telephone and internet services. I am emailing from Port Vila.

We immediately explored how we could channel existing fundraising approaches to help our sister school in Vanuatu.

UPDATE March 30th: new photos from Onesua College:

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Online Donations:

We setup an online donation option through our existing ticketing and donation platform from PatronBase.com which allowed our community members to make a credit card payment directly to the funds being collected for Onesua:

Online credit card donations for Onesua College via PatronBase.com

Online credit card donations for Onesua College via PatronBase.com

Online Ticket Sale Top-ups:

St Andrew’s has been selling tickets to College events online for 12 months now, and currently both the Senior Production (Urinetown – The Musical) and Style At StAC have tickets selling fast. We were able to include the opportunity for our community to “top up” their ticket payment with a donation for Onesua College:

An option donate to Onesua is provided during the checkout process with ticket sales for St Andrew's College events

An option donate to Onesua is provided during the checkout process with ticket sales for St Andrew’s College events

Mufti Day & Disco:

More traditional approaches to fundraising were also undertaken which included:

  • A mufti-day where students in the Secondary School could come in tidy non-uniform attire. For this event, the College encouraged students to go beyond the usual gold coin donation, and instead gift “folding money” towards Onesua College.
  • Preparatory School Disco. This is the annual fundraiser organised and run by the students going on the annual Community Service Trip, and aimed at students in Years 4-8 to attend a tropical themed disco.
  • Collection raised at the Middle School Chapel service

Total Donations So Far:

By combining both new and old ways of collecting donations, particularly with the ease of online credit card payments, we have been able to reach a wider section of our College community who have been incredibly generous.  Today, St Andrew’s College was able to transfer NZD$10,000 to Onesua Presbyterian College to help them rebuild their damaged school and replace their destroyed teaching resources.

With a number of remaining smaller fund raising activities running into Term 2, there will be a second payment of the remaining funds raised gifted to Onesua.

A huge thank you to our entire community for contributing so generously. In his latest email Mr Aldo, Principal of Onesua, said:

Thank you very much for this much needed support. I thank God that Onesua has build a relationship with STAC.

The Onesua community has set up a working group  consisting of teachers and ancillary staff and carrying out rapid response operations in the college.

This means that they are putting up temporary classrooms and staff houses and dorms to gather for the classes next week. We are all eager to begin classes though we lost a lot of materials.

We will start with what we have available hoping that support will definitely come. Please thank all your community for your support sincerely.

Exploring Film Settings Through Google Earth

An example tour created by Year 10 students

Last week I was invited into the Year 10 English class of Ms Tam Yuill Proctor to observe her students creating virtual tours within Google Earth of the key settings in the film Karate Kid they were studying. Creating these tours is something I’ve blogged about before, however this is one of the first times I’ve seen it being used in English to specifically map out the locations of a film or novel.

I sat down today with Ms Yuill Proctor to learn more about the process and find out what worked well and what could be improved on for next time.

SETUP & GOAL:

The goal of this exercise was very simple: for students to arrange themselves into groups of three, of which one student must have knowledge of how to use Google Earth (and ideally, how to create tours in them). Fortunately, many of these students had done a similar exercise in Religious Education the previous year and were able to draw on prior knowledge to help.

Once in their groups, they had to identify around ten scene locations from the film that they considered important. The criteria included:

  • Why the group thought the location was important within the context of the film
  • How the location is significant to the country itself

Once they had identified these locations, they were to record a guided tour through Google Earth, highlighting their rationale for their choice of locations and then share it with the class via the collaboration section of the class OneNote Notebook.

GROUP WORK & TIME FRAMES:

The students were only given 1.5 lessons to complete this task and it was interesting to observe the efficiencies that various groups gained through their approach to managing the task requirements.

Students researching and operating Google Earth

Students researching and operating Google Earth

One of these was finding a website called Movie Locations that listed off the key scenes from the film. This allowed them to immediately locate the scenes within Google Earth quite accurately and narrow down their selections. The groups also largely assigned different roles for the members, typically:

  1. A researcher
  2. A Google Earth “operator” for identifying the various locations and creating markers for the tour
  3. A script writer – who would narrate the voiceover with relevant information for each location.

Whilst many groups chose to all use their laptops at the same time, others preferred to gather around a single device and share their ideas more directly with each other. Due to the short time allowed for this activity, Ms Yuill Proctor was quite explicit in encouraging students to manage themselves when it came to sharing the workload and ensuring all tasks were completed (Key Competencies – Managing Self) Amongst the students it was decided that one would need to allocate some homework time to meet the deadline.

Students recording their tours in quieter spaces outside the classroom

SHARING THE TOURS:

One student setup a new section in the class collaboration area in OneNote and then each group created a sub-page where they shared their tour. This did create some problems as students had often found third party recording tools to make their tours in, resulting in some file formats that did not work on all devices.

Reflecting on this Ms Yuill Proctor and I agreed that having a student submit their work via a YouTube link or Office Mix recording would probably be best in future.

Despite these problems, it provided an opportunity for problem solving amongst the groups in terms of how best to record the tour, with many finding different solutions to this. Interestingly, the boys that are into gaming on their devices tended to be quicker at finding solutions in this area, again perhaps based on their prior knowledge they possessed.

The collaboration space in the MS OneNote Class Notebook - note each page on the right represents a group

The collaboration space in the MS OneNote Class Notebook – note each page on the right represents a group

REFLECTIONS:

Students working groups

Students working groups

The overall engagement levels from the students was very high – when I was in the classroom observing there was a quiet hum as students worked in groups to achieve the various tasks and there was no one clearly off task. Given it was quite a different way to explore film settings than they had previously been exposed to, students enthusiastically approached the work. Ms Yuill Proctor noted:

The students now have a visual picture of the settings and locations of the film – this is easier for them to remember than simply writing or typing the locations as a list in their NoteBooks.

However, she was quick to point out that she continually asks herself “do students need to be using technology for this particular task, or can they do it in a different way?” She is conscious that often our students in Years 9 and 10 are using their laptops for most lessons each day, and so will often use more practical activities (such as using scissors to cut out paper SOLO hexagons) .

Students using SOLO hexagons in class

The final step for the students is to individually choose a scene they feel is important and to write a paragraph on that location, linking it back to the overall themes of the film itself.

It’s remarkable that students were able to come up with these tours in under two lessons of class time and reflects their growing competencies with their devices (having used them in many classes throughout 2014). It also highlights how an engaging activity can hook students in and set them for strong involvement for the rest of the film study.

Staying Connected With Ultra Fast BroadBand

In my first post of 2015 I mentioned that St Andrew’s College had recently invested in a second fibre optic internet connection. A number of people have asked me what that actually means and so I thought I would write a brief blog post to cover this.

In the world of IT, huge effort is often expended trying to remove “single points of failure” within a network. This can be defined as:

A part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. SPOFs are undesirable in any system with a goal of high availability or reliability.

An example of a Single Point Of Failure (SPOF)

An example of a Single Point Of Failure (SPOF)

Many businesses and schools invest significant resources and efforts to build “redundancy” into their networks to reduce the risk of a SPOF and this can take many forms, for example:

  • Having spare hardware such as network switches / servers to replace a faulty unit (this is known as hot/cold because one unit is running, whilst the other is off and waiting to be used if required).
  • Having multiple units running together at the same time in what is known as a High Availability pair (HA). Whilst these can be configured in different ways, it typically means limited manual intervention is required (if any), to switch over to the backup hardware in the event of a systems failure.
  • Having alternative power supplies, such as generators, to keep critical network systems running in the event of a wider power outage.
  • Replicating critical systems to off site locations (for example, our Student Management System (SMS) database replicates changes every 15 minutes to a server in a data centre in Auckland)

The one area where schools and businesses have typically had difficulty eliminating dependency on a single system is around internet connections. Historically, there has usually been only one available internet feed accessible, or the cost of additional connections was prohibitive. As eLearning has increased at St Andrew’s, and with the introduction of the 1:1 Computer Programme in 2014 for all Year 9 students, the need for a dependable, reliable and fast internet connection has become paramount.

StACNot only is it our teachers and students that rely on this, but also our support and administrative staff with more and more communications, financial transactions and payroll taking place via the internet. St Andrew’s College is geographically located on a corner of the busy Papanui Road and Normans Road, resulting in the option to have diverse fibre feeds becoming available in late 2014. Previously, no fibre existed in Normans Road, but as part of Enable Networks fibre roll out, we were able to explore removing our internet connection as a Single Point of Failure.

I looked at  various options with different Internet Service Providers (ISP) and in the end remained with Snap Internet who have provided good service over a number of years to the College.

A typical morning of bandwidth usage at StAC

A typical morning of bandwidth usage at StAC

Whilst our existing fibre connection remained largely unchanged, coming off Papanui Road and terminating in a building on the eastern side of our campus, a new, second fibre from Normans Road was connected into our Preparatory School on the western side of the campus. Both of these follow a diverse pathway to different termination points within the Enable / Snap networks:

Red is the existing fibre on Papanui Road. Blue is the pathway of the new fibre down Normans Road

Red is the existing fibre on Papanui Road. Blue is the pathway of the new fibre down Normans Road

The IT team at St Andrew’s have carried out testing in conjunction with Snap network engineers and the “fail over” time from one fibre connection to the other is less than 5 seconds.

So what does this mean in reality? In the event of something like a contractor’s digger cutting through the fibre on Papanui Road, our internet connection will automatically fail over to route down Normans Road. Conversely, when that connection is repaired and back online, our network will automatically “fail back” to the primary connection (this is managed by BGP routing). The speed of this failover should in all likelihood be transparent to our students and staff – they won’t even know it has happened.

By having the fibre termination points at different locations on our campus we have further tried to reduce the points of failure e.g. if a building was closed / rendered unsafe for any reason. This has allowed us to have multiple fibre pathways around our campus, connecting most buildings in at least two points:

Black lines represent the various ducts that fibre exists in, connecting our buildings  around the campus

Black lines represent the various ducts that fibre exists in, connecting our buildings around the campus

More work is to be done to continue to remove all Single Points Of Failure, however this step towards ensuring high availability Ultra Fast Broadband is a significant step forward for the College.

Making Global Connections on World Read Aloud Day!

Students in the Preparatory School have been continuing to experiment with using Skype in the Classroom for mystery Skype sessions, most recently blogged about here. I have been increasingly keen to try and use Skype in different ways to help our students connect with members of the wider, potentially global, community.

World Read Aloud Day is an annual event that aims to encourage and celebrate the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories. This day is not one that has traditionally been marked at our College, but one Year 8 class, 8C, jumped at the opportunity to use this day as an opportunity to connect with a children’s author via Skype.

Swanson

Jennifer Swanson is a Florida based author of over 20 nonfiction and fiction books for children, increasingly based around Science and Discovery. I contacted Jennifer through Skype in the Classroom, which had a number of authors available to speak to classes on Read Aloud Day. Jennifer was really accommodating towards us, regarding the time that she was available and the structure that the Skype session would take.

PREPARATION FOR LEARNING:

In preparation for the meeting, the class spent some time investigating Jennifer’s website and learning more about her as an author, and the books that she has written. They also created a wide range of insightful questions that they wished to ask Jennifer, practicing literacy skills around question techniques and reflecting on the book writing process.

SwansonImmediately prior to the call, an excited bunch of students made final preparations to their respective rolls during the call. Immediately upon connection of the call, Jennifer showed her awesome levels of experience in this medium. She read a fascinating passage from one of her books, Uninvited Guests.

After the reading, Jennifer kindly engaged with our students by answering a variety of questions from the students in 8C about a range of writing-based topics. The students showed great listening and judgement skills in their questioning and it was a continuation of the total engagement they showed throughout the conversation.

STUDENT FEEDBACK:

Immediately after the call, the class reflected on their learning and this will continue. As part of their reflection one student, Elena, noted:

I think that it’s pretty cool that although Jennifer Swanson is so far away we felt like she was right there in the room thanks to Skype. I think that the whole class enjoyed this experience and we all want to do it again!

It was great to see the students so engaged in this Skype chat, and I look forward to creating similar opportunities for other classes!