Hashtags Connect NZ Educators

scichatNZ logo

@scichatnz Logo

Twitter is changing the way that teachers access professional development – a trend I’ve highlighted in earlier posts already – and teachers from St Andrew’s College are helping to lead the way.

Strong evidence of this is the recent #edchatnz conference which a number of our staff attended and were inspired in various ways to try new things in their teaching practice. A great example was our Year 4 & 6 students skyping with Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a Nanogirl – a connection forged at #edchatnz conference.

Another outcome from this conference is #mathschatnz and #scichatnz – two new Thursday night Twitter sessions similar to #edchatnz that promise to deliver “PD in your PJs” (the sessions run from 8:30pm to 9:30pm and beyond). What is really exciting for St Andrew’s College is that a number of our staff are helping to promote and facilitate this: Matt Nicoll Year 9 Dean, Chemistry and Science teacher (who I’ve already blogged about here and here), Ben Hilliam a Maths with Statistics teacher (who demonstrated using OneNote, Miracast and a Surface Pro so well here) and Dean McKenzie our Head of Department for Maths.

#mathschatnz

It was interesting talking with Mr Hilliam and learning about the genesis of this new Twitter chat. Whilst it emerged from the aftermath of the #edchatnz conference, Danielle Myburgh (founder and moderator of the original #edchatnz twitter sessions) had already foreseen the need for a math focused chat session – #mathschatnz. Chatting with Mr Hilliam and Mr McKenzie at the conference motivated them to get it up and running and leverage the already strong community of teachers in the Canterbury Mathemathical Association (CMA).

Mr McKenzie emailed all other Math Heads of Departments in Canterbury and Stephen McConnachie (who inspired this post about Wolfram Alpha) helped promote it through Twitter and the VLN Maths and Statistics ICT Community.

These Twitter professional development sessions follow a similar pattern: there is a moderator who asks questions (usually prefaced by Q1 or Q2) and those involved provide their answers prefaced by the relevant question number e.g. A1 or A2. This helps sort through the flow of tweets and make sense of it all. Tweets must also contain the hashtag of #mathschatnz to “connect” the tweets into the conversation.

Mr Hilliam had agreed to moderate the inaugural #mathschatnz session and created the following questions:

  • Q1. Introductions: who are you? Where are you from? What levels do you teach? #mathschatnz
  • Q2. What did your students learn today? #mathschatnz
  • Q3. How did you come to be on #mathschatnz tonight?
  • Q4. What do you want to get out of #mathschatnz ?
  • Q5. What has been your best experience teaching maths this year? #mathschatnz
  • Q6. What’s something new you’ve learnt in maths this year? #mathschatnz
  • Q7. What’s something new you would like to try in any of your classes this year? #mathschatnz
  • Q8. Final question of the night: what would you like the theme of future #mathschatnz to be?

Given this was the first time the #mathschatnz session had run, Mr Hilliam had modest expectations of perhaps 10 people joining in, mostly from the Christchurch region where personal connections helped the promotion of the event. Pleasingly, however, around 20-30 people joined in, for at least 4 of them it was their first time ever on Twitter, and regions represented ranged from Gore in the south, to Auckland in the north.

A mix of primary and secondary teachers were involved in the chat and a number of people were lurking (following along, but not actively contributing to the chat). When asked what he hoped #mathschatnz would achieve, Mr Hilliam stated:

To inspire and motivate maths teachers … it’s less about the nuts and bolts of what happens in the classroom … it connects teachers to a wider network to provide ideas and encouragement … it also provides a hashtag for non-maths teachers to ask questions of maths teachers if they need help.

Moving forward, it is likely that Mr Hilliam, Mr McKenzie and Mr McConnachie will rotate the moderating responsibilities.

#scichatnz

Like #mathschatnz, the motivation for the #scichatnz fortnightly twitter PD sessions came from a conference. In this case, it was the SCICON2014, a biennial event that was hosted in Dunedin this year. Mr Matt Nicoll couldn’t make it along in person but did track the highlights from the various sessions on Twitter.

He picked up that another Chemistry teacher and Twitter user Rachel Chisnall first suggested the use of #scichatnz to promote a hashtag for teachers to seek help and discuss various ideas.  She also hoped it might become a regular chat session similar to #edchatnz and with the help of Mr Nicoll, they established there was enough interest to progress it.

The very first #scichatnz session ran on 31st July and was moderated by Mr Nicoll (who will take turn about with Ms Chisnall). The questions asked were:

  • Q1: What are your feelings when you recall science at school?
  • Q2: What do you love about teaching science?
  • Q3: What do you see as the biggest barriers to student enjoyment of science in school?
  • Q4: How do we keep students engaged in science?
  • Q5: Why do students (and the community) perceive science as “hard”?
  • Q6: How does your current science teaching cater for students’ inherent passions/interests in science?
  • Q7: Primary students seem to love science. How can secondary/specialist teachers support science education in primary schools?
  • Q8: How do you maintain your love for science?

A more detailed review of the actual session can be found at this article at the website of New Zealand Science Teacher and Mr Nicoll personally reflected on it over here. He commented to me that:

There are only so many professional development opportunities you can get along to and attend, and there are also only so many hours in the day. One of the big benefits of Twitter PD is that you can share the learning with others who couldn’t make it to the session … you can also review it in your own time by checking out the links and resources shared

Reflection:

Both #mathschatnz and #scichatnz run on the alternate Thursday night to #edchatnz (and in case you wondered, there is an #engchatnz out there for English teachers), meaning there is a wealth of opportunities for teachers to engage in free, challenging and motivating professional development on a regular basis. It is also a great way to network with other teachers in your curriculum area.

From St Andrew’s College perspective, having three teachers involved in the promotion and moderation of these opportunities reflects their commitment and skill, along with respect amongst their peers in which they are held. As always, it is the students at the College that end up benefiting from this type of ongoing learning, since the ideas discussed and the inspiration received, filter back into the classroom.

 

Keen Young Scientists Collaborate with “Nano Girl” Via Skype

Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. Nano Girl Skyping with our students in Year 4 & Year 6

Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. Nano Girl Skyping with our students in Year 4 & Year 6

Collaboration. There is that word again – it’s proving to be a recurrent theme running through some of the recent blog posts I’ve written and this post epitomises the value of collaboration amongst teachers and the wider education sector.

Ten staff from St Andrew’s College travelled to Auckland earlier this month for the #edchatnz conference and a popular speaker was Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. “Nano Girl.” Ginny, who teachers across both the Preparatory and Secondary schools, talked to Dr Dickinson at the conference suggesting it would be great if she could connect with our students in some way.

Quite independently, Mr Wilj Dekkers and Mrs Penny Munro-Foster had heard an interview on the radio with “Nano Girl” and also reached out to her with a request to Skype with our classes in Years 4 and 6.

Mrs Munro-Foster’s class had been looking at science in a range of different areas throughout the year, exploring ideas such as:

  • The rhythm of nature
  • Electricity, including making basic parallel circuits
  • Chemical reactions
  • Superconductors

The students had demonstrated their knowledge and understanding to their parents during a Celebration of Learning Evening much like this one with the Year6 students.

A focus was on developing rich, open questions as part of their oral language skills development and being inquisitive of the world all around them. The students had been very inspired by the TED talk given by Dr Dickinson, actually asking to re-watch the clip multiple times over the last few weeks, and each time they were getting different understanding from it:

This concept that “science is everywhere” connected with our students and led to Ginny receiving confirmation of a chance to Skype with the Year 4 and Year 6 classes today at 11:30am. With many excited students, not to mention teachers, the Skype went ahead.

Here is the first question being asked by a Year 4 student, and Dr Dickinson’s reply (the full Skype session can be seen further down the post):

Talking with Mr Dekkers and Mrs Munro-Foster after this Skype session, they both described their students as “super excited” “incredibly inspired” and “absolutely buzzing” from their chance to listen to a world class scientist working in the field of nano technology.

The Full Skype Session With Dr Michelle Dickinson

Reflections:

I am personally very excited by learning stories such as this one.

In this instance there are three different teachers, from different syndicates and departments across both the Preparatory School and Secondary School collaborating to connect with an external expert to bring rich, authentic and inspiring learning opportunties to our students. Obviously “Nano Girl” actually works in a cutting edge technology sector, but behind the scenes there is lots of great technology making this type of learning possible.

Earlier in the year we have skyped with Vikings in York in the United Kingdom as well as connecting via Skype with an international school in Singapore through a Mystery Skype session. Today’s session builds on these earlier initiatives and highlights our teachers willingness to extend their students’ knowledge and connect with true experts in their field to inspire our learners.

RectorWhat could be more exciting than that?

At the beginning of this year the College Rector, Mrs Christine Leighton, observed in her opening address in Regulus

I am always mindful that we cannot sit still and simply enjoy the benefits of success. William Pollard (Episcopal priest and physicist) wrote in the 1960s “Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

 

In this light, we have adopted the theme for St Andrew’s College in 2014 of Innovation and Collaboration – two qualities that are at the heart of 21st century learning.

I am thrilled that our teachers are picking up on this challenge and actively innovating and collaborating both internally within the College, and like today’s session with Dr Michelle Dickinson shows, further afield. For some of our staff this was their first time using Skype in the Classroom:

Based off the success of the session today, I am confident more teachers will look further afield to connect in this way.

UPDATE: Student reflections from class 4T on the Skype Session:

Dr. Michelle Dickinson of the University of Auckland also known as ‘Nano Girl’ Skyped us and answered our science questions. We all agreed that we felt both very excited and nervous at the same time. It was our first experience in a Skype classroom and we were going to talk to our science hero. We have followed her experiments, conducted our own chemistry experiments and explored electrical circuits. We were so excited that we knew about electrical currents, static electricity and chemical reactions and we could understand the conversation. Below are some extracts by 4TMF students, reflecting on their learning in a Skype classroom.

“I was very inspired when Casey asked his question and we found out that it could be possible to really fly, and you need really cold shoes.” – Maddy

“When I asked my question about super conductors and how cold the shoes would need to be to make the shoes fly, Nano Girl said -109 Celsius. The material she would use to make the boots is Yttrium, which acts as an insulator inside her shoes so that her feet wouldn’t get cold.” – Casey Continue reading

Reflections from the 2014 #edchatnz Conference (Guest Posts)

edchatnzEarlier this year Mr Matt Nicoll started introducing a wider group of staff at St Andrew’s College to Twitter, and how they could use this as an expanded Professional Learning Network (PLN) to support their teaching practice. As part of this, he introduced them to the fortnightly #edchatnz “teacher chat” which is sometimes referred to as “PD in your PJs” since it runs between 8:30-9:30pm on a Thursday night.

edchatNZ MissionsAs wider momentum built nationally behind this regular chat, plans for a conference grew, coming to fruition over the 8-9th of August at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. Matt Nicoll was part of the #edchatnz organising committee, and St Andrew’s College sent ten staff to attend this, a mixture of Preparatory and Secondary teachers and our Library Manager. They all committed to blogging some reflections and you can see them in their entirety here. I have selected just a few observations to include below:

Vicki Pettit – Head of Learning Preparatory School:

Mrs Pettit started with a tour of Hobsonville Point Primary and reflected:

From hearing all the talk about modern learning environments it was great to see one in action [at Hobsonville Point Primary] … What we saw continually reinforced by staff and students at HPPS was the students being at the centre of the learning … Learning is visible and by visible, all stages of the planning and process are displayed as you move around the different spaces … It was interesting to talk to the students and hear them articulate where they are at in the learning process.

She went on to reflect about how personalisation of learning is instrumental:

Personalised learning in Action and lies in designing a curriculum that truly engages the learner. And of course to do that, personalisation is the key. Would your students still come to school, or to your class in they didn’t have to? The answer should be a resounding “YES” … A great two days spent with an inspiring group of educators!

Ben Hilliam – Maths and Statistics Teacher:

Like Mrs Petitt, Mr Hilliam started out with a tour, but this time it was of the brand new Hobsonville Point secondary school. He observed:

The campus is unlike any secondary campus I have ever visited. It is built to accommodate 1350 day students, but currently it has a roll of around 120 year 9s … The feel of the building is much more in line with what a modern library, university campus or software development company office might feel like. It is physically set up to encourage openness and collaboration …

The potential challenges of teaching in an environment like this was not lost on him, but there was abundant evidence that learning was taking place:

There are no classrooms, form-groups, timetables, bells, periods or subjects. As a teacher from a ‘traditional’ school, the question begs, how on earth does anything get learnt?! (or taught) … Yet, despite the apparent lack of structure, the year 9s were busy doing all sorts of things. The walls were covered with examples of student work … What struck me a lot within the way students self-direct themselves was the way they are encouraged to be self-aware of their goals and what they will have to do along the way to achieve them.

This final comment is telling in terms of the emphasis placed on students to be responsible for their own learning:

Such a pedagogical structure places massive amount of responsibility on the individual student. This is not a fact lost on the staff at Hobsonville Point.

Continue reading

Flipping The Classroom Or Simply Utilizing Modern Technology?

PhysicsTechnology has been a disruptive force in education for a while now, allowing for educators in all sectors to re-examine how content is delivered to, and consumed by, students of all ages.

A very popular concept is that of flipping the classroom or flipped teaching – the basic concept being students watch a pre-recorded “lesson” by the teacher in their own time for homework, and then use the class time for discussion / assistance. Usually, some form of Learning Management System such as Moodle is used to deliver this content, however sometimes it is simply a link to a YouTube clip.

This came up in conversation recently with Mr Kevin Barron, a Science and Physics teacher here at St Andrew’s College who commented:

I find it amusing that we give some fancy jargon like “flipping the classroom” to something that is, to me, merely exploiting modern technology driven by a common sense need.

He went to on to identify the quite legitimate factors that are increasingly taking students out of the classroom such as field trips, sporting and cultural activities and international exchanges. Recognising this trend, he went looking for some solutions and came across the relatively obscure Microsoft product called Community Clips.

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This tool has allowed him to record narrated explanations of scientific concepts whilst illustrating them in Microsoft PowerPoint, and his library of explanatory videos has now exceeded 200. He then applied this concept to his NCEA Physics classes too:

I further made NCEA examples for Senior Physics and noticed that I could really think through the key points I was trying to highlight without being under any stress.

This process is not dissimilar to what Mr Hilliam does in his maths classes, although one of the key differences is Mr Barron is recording these sessions outside of the classroom, allowing him greater time for thought and clarity, as well as providing learning opportunities for the students before they come into the lesson itself.

In some ways, this is not new for his students: he has always uploaded course content, handouts and links to Moodle beforehand. The difference is now these handouts are enhanced with voiceovers and key information, students can go over these as often as they like or require. From experience, it appears that the optimum length of these videos is around five minutes, as this caters for attention spans and also keeps file sizes manageable for uploading to the College Moodle site and Youtube.

Explaining Electricity to Yr10 Students

Monitoring Outcomes:

Moodle was designed first and foremost as a Learning Management System (LMS) so it has a number of easily accessible reports that help identify levels of student participation and engagement with content in the course site. Mr Barron utilizes these reports to see which of the students are viewing the content in advance of lessons:

One of the issues is tracking use and increasing uptake. One of the mechanisms to achieve this is to write Moodle Quizzes that test the knowledge on the videos, and adds the grades straight into my mark book … a quick quiz at the start of the lesson can accomplish a similar result.

This monitoring and visibility of what students are viewing online and that which they can demonstrate understanding through assessment is critical, and the combination of Moodle and Youtube videos facilitates this. Anecdotally, it appears that those students who watch key videos as “pre-reading” before classes appear to pick up the complex topics quicker and are more familiar with terms prior to the lessons.

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Thinking Aloud When Marking Assessment For Students:

In 2013 the St Andrew’s College Pipe Band departed for the World Championships in Scotland, and won the event (see their triumphant return here). This resulted in a number of Mr Barron’s students missing the preliminary exams, and they were required to catch-up exams and internal assessments. To assist the students who had missed the teaching time whilst away in Scotland, Mr Barron “narrated aloud his thinking process” whilst marking their assessments and recorded it for them with Community Clips.

This resulted in a very targeted and condensed teaching moment for these students and was a very effective catchup for them. He was then able to extend the usefulness of this process to others:

With student permission, I asked if I could use these videos as model answers to support a wider audience

Tips For Managing This Style of Teaching:

  • Get students to bring headphones to class – they can re-watch some of the videos to reinforce learning in class if they have not grasped the concepts the first time. This allows for differentiated learning  as students can be extended or supported as necessary.
  • Use playlists within YouTube – it keeps topics of videos together and a simple hyperlink to students gives them access to all relevant videos. This can be further enhanced by using playlists for each year level of work.
  • If a student is requesting extra tuition, an expectation can be set that they have viewed the relevant explanatory video before attending the tutorial.

Using Third Party Videos:

When an excellent explanation of a concept is found online, Mr Barron will still consider using this, for example an explanation of Alleles for Level 1 Biology:

Explaining Alleles for Level 1 Biology

 As mentioned above, to ensure students have viewed and comprehended the video before a class commences, the use of a simple HotPot test in Moodle can achieve this. Here are a selection of basic questions used based on the above video:

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Conclusion:

There are some clear next steps to extend this type of teaching, and Mr Barron suggested one he is targeting is filming the practical experiments conducted in class. This would be similar to what his colleague in the science department, Mr Nicoll, is already doing and which I’ve blogged about here and here. This final comment from Mr Barron is telling:

I hope that it becomes a “pull” [by students] rather than a “push” … it is not a silver bullet, but rather just another resource and tactic to use in an effective teaching programme. The more complex and demanding the classroom becomes, the more effective this approach can be … it puts a real emphasis on the student make the best use of the resources provided and it takes away some of the excuses.

 

Television & Film Studio – Published Article in Interface Magazine

This article was published in the July Edition of the Interface Magazine and is reproduced with permission.

4

St Andrew’s College has been running the only professional television studio in a New Zealand school for almost 20 years, writes Simon Williams.

Professional? Well yes, in that we use TV industry equipment and systems, it’s run by two people who have a background in the industry, and professional people look after it in a technical and production sense.

Of all the classes who use it, the Year 8 and 9 students are the ones I enjoy most. They’re so full of energy, they learn fast, nothing’s impossible, and they run a show just like the pros.

When a class of Year 9 performing arts students bounce though the door three times a week to make live television shows, they’re using the same sort of gear and systems that the industry uses. The studio has recently updated its cameras, while film classes have almost new Sony NX-Cam cameras, professional sound and lighting gear, with Adobe Premiere CS5 and CS6 to edit with.

The Year 9s spend a term in the TV studio and a term in drama, just as the Year 10 performing arts students do. The younger group makes live shows that will include three or four live musical items, an interview or two, perhaps six recorded items all introduced by hosts or presenters. The shows run live – in other words without stopping. The Year 10s also make short films to run in their studio shows.

Teaching professionalism and performance

3The whole idea is to teach team work, leadership, discipline, problem solving, the safe and effective use of professional gear, and, of course, on-camera performance. To watch a 13-year-old director driving a show, with her or his vision switcher, sound, lighting and videotape operators, floor manager, and four camera operators, plus performers, is one of the reasons I enjoy the role.

We recently had a delightful young director who understood that a performance in a studio is far more than
the performers – that it’s about the whole
team. I watched this young boy speaking

to the camera ops before the how, telling them exactly what he wanted them to do, getting them to show him, before thanking them. This boy had the crew in the palm of his hand. They wanted to do whatever he asked of them.

It’s like watching the Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum in action.

Command and collaboration

2A cover of Colbie Caillat’s song ‘Bubbly’ (fizurl.com/bubbly) shows one of the 11 items in the live unrehearsed show. Just look at the way the cameras are moving, the way the vision switcher is mixing at just the right speed, all under the command of a director who is only 13!

Senior NCEA media classes also use the facility. This year the Year 12 TV class made a children’s show in collaboration with the St Andrew’s Preparatory School, using the studio linked to a second facility set up there, all linked by an outside broadcast truck. Continue reading

Exploring St Andrew’s College Through Virtual Tours

The desire to showcase the beautiful St Andrew’s College campus and facilities was behind the initiative by Francesca Eathorne (Head of Communications / Strategic Analyst) to engage with Google Photographers to create a number of virtual tours.

With a strong tradition of boarding at St Andrew’s, along with growing numbers of international students, not all parents or prospective students could come for a tour on site with the College Registrar. These tours helped bridge that gap in ways traditional printed media could not. By clicking on the images below, you can navigate through the new Boarding Houses opened by John Key in 2013:

Thompson & Rutherford Boarding Houses:

Additionally, the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010-11 impacted significantly on many schools, with various rebuilding projects underway.  The new Preparatory School buildings had actually been completed just before the earthquakes, and were officially opened by the Governor General Sir Jerry Mataparae in early 2012. This building had survived the quakes very well and can be virtually “walked through” here:

The Preparatory School:

Whilst St Andrew’s College has students from Years 1-13, the Preparatory School and Pre-School are quite self-contained, separate from the older students whilst still being part of the same campus. Choosing to have a Google walkthrough for the Pre-School helped highlight the special environments these students enjoy:

The Pre-School:

Some of the factors that influenced the decision to go with Google included:

  • Their standard of work was very high, and the initial tours they had done in the Boarding Houses were excellent.
  • We could embed the tours directly into our online platforms (as I have done in this blog post) so they were very accessible to our community.
  • They are dynamic – the user can choose where they wish to navigate to and are not restrained by a rotating 360 degree view only – this encourages them to interact with the tour, as if they were actually walking around the campus and exploring the buildings.
  • The ability to split the tours into different sections, rather than have one long tour you had to navigate around. This way you can easily go straight to the area or building of interest.

Strowan House & The Quad:

One of the decisions Ms Eathorne had to make was whether to include students in the tours. Case studies had suggested that virtual tours should include members of the school population to make it more realistic, but in the end she decided not to as it was more in keeping with the College policy of managing student image consent.

These tours are a great example of using technology to promote the College to a wider audience. Perhaps less formal ways to explore the campus have been created by our Prefects over the last two years, including the Giant Thistle:

This was inspired by the hugely successful “This is Us” lipdup video that toured the majority of the campus and involved hundreds of students performing in various ways:

Students Lead a “Celebration of Learning” Evening – Then Quiz Their Parents!

A number of our Year 6 classes have moved away from the traditional Parent-Teacher interviews towards a “Celebration of Learning Evening” which was held recently and the students grouped together to present their learning to around 90 adults who attended.

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

The students had completed a unit on various aspects of Chinese culture, including calligraphy, fan dancing, paper cutting, cookery, lion and dragon masks, children’s games and kung fu. This was the same unit that our Year 12 students had filmed and presented in their Fusion TV Show that I blogged about earlier.

The learning had taken place within the new inquiry learning framework developed by the Preparatory School for their students, and the children were excited to be presenting this learning back to their parents.

The adults moved around the various displays over the course of the hour, with numerous groups seamlessly including technology into their presentations, using a range of tablet devices to show how they had collated their research into sections in their MS OneNote notebooks, along with sharing cooking clips, kung fu moves and music. The parents could also try their hand at calligraphy with different apps being used on the tablets to support this.

Nearing the end of the performing arts section, one of the students ask Mr Dekkers if they could create a quiz for the parents using Socrative.com, a tool that allows for real time quizzing within a class and one that I’ve blogged about before here. The aim of the quiz was to check parents had been reading all the work the students had on display, and included a number of multi-choice and short answer questions:

  • What does the colour red mean?
  • When were the first Chinese masks made?
  • China is a country with up of about ___________ years of culture and history?
  • What are the dances that are well known in China?

Parents were then asked to use their own smart phones to access the quiz online (the students guided them through this process, showing how simple the technology actually was). You can see some of the answers below (parent names removed!):

The parent answers to a quick Socrative.com quiz created by students during a "Celebration of Learning" evening in the Preparatory School.

The parent answers to a quick Socrative.com quiz created by students during a “Celebration of Learning” evening in the Preparatory School.

When I heard about this from Mr Dekkers I was delighted by the initiative demonstrated and that our students are starting to see technology as “just another tool” that can both help with their learning, but also to demonstrate their learning. I mentioned in this earlier post that:

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.

I see this example from the Preparatory School as reinforcing this – it was the student voice and presentations that was the true celebration of learning, the technology used merely augmented this.

As the confidence of students increases and they identify a wider range of applications for technology in their learning, I anticipate more examples such as this emerging from our classrooms.