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.

Year 8 Students Engage With #kidsbookchat

This morning Mrs Bridget Preston’s Year 8 class joined in with a multi-school Twitter chat focusing on books. This was organised by a Year 8 class at Selwyn House and was set to run similar to the #mathschatnz and #scitchatnz sessions, with a number of questions being posed for students to answer.

There were seven questions up for discussion that had been posted on the blog of the Selwyn House class site and these were:

  1. Q1: What is the best book you have read this year
  2. Q2: Who is your favourite author at the moment?
  3. Q3: What is your favourite genre?
  4. Q4: Do you have a class read aloud/ novel at the moment? What is it?
  5. Q5: What is your favourite spot for reading?
  6. Q6: How do you find books to read?
  7. Q7: Recommend some titles you’d like to share.

The students in Mrs Preston’s class were excited to be participating in this form of dialogue, and soon grasped the key skills of including the hashtag #kidsbookchat in each tweet, and also starting their replies with the question number they were answering.

I’ve collected a few of the hundreds of tweets that were sent during this 40minute chat and you can scroll through them below (the first tweets are at the bottom):

Throughout the chat Mrs Preston was engaging with the students, reminding them of the need to maintain appropriate replies in their tweets and also making the connection how this is a great way for the students to find out new titles to read. When it came to question six (how do you find good books to read?), many of the students tweeted our fantastic library manager Mrs Kennedy was a great source for finding new books. Many of them even included her Twitter handle showing they grasped this form of communication very quickly.

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A number of the students were tweeting from their own devices – a range of  laptops and tablets – and had set themselves up on a variety of furniture in the classroom, some even getting comfortable on beanbags. The attention and focus from students was high throughout the session with a number saying towards the end “This was so cool” or “this was great fun!”

During the debrief later in the afternoon Mrs Preston stressed the elements of trust involved in an activity like this, not posting silly or off-topic tweets. One thing the students requested was the ability to include their first name or initials in their tweets, rather than having all replies coming from @StAC_8C. When asked directly what sort of learning takes place from an activity like this some of their responses included:

  • Being open to new learning
  • Managing impulses and staying on task/showing appropriate behaviour
  • Learning how to use twitter/twitter handles and hashtags
  • Gained new knowledge about books – what books to read
  • Taking on a role and responsibility within the chat
  • Communicating with other students around NZ
  • Sharing their knowledge of books

They expressed an interest to run their own Twitter chat on a different topic at a later point in the year.

It is always pleasing to see a new initiative work out successfully and for the students to be able to identify their learning from an activity like this. This class is also going to try their first Mystery Skype later this week as well – more fun and engaging learning opportunities powered by technology.

UPDATE: This #kidsbookchat has been summarised in the following Storify recount as well.

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.

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4 Classroom Posters Supporting Digital Citizenship With Our Students

During Term 4 2013 we ran a full day training session for those teachers that would have Year 9 classes in 2014 – our first fully BYOD cohort. From these sessions a number of classroom posters were requested that would help students and teachers discuss the concepts of Digital Citizenship and appropriate usage of devices in the classroom.

The Deputy Rector (Mr Roland Burrows) specifically addressed the THINK poster in the final assembly of Term 2, 2014 and so I thought I would post these here.

Designed to encourage students to pause and THINK before posting content online.

Designed to encourage students to pause and THINK before posting content online.

A key message that we try to impart to students is that once they have posted content online, they are no longer in control of that image or text. Pausing to consider whether they really want that message “out there” is a critical step and may help to avoid future problems.

A simple poster that can be referenced during the class to help students know when device usage is appropriate or not.

A simple poster that can be referenced during the class to help students know when device usage is appropriate or not.

A concern from a number of the teachers that emerged during the sessions last year was whether students would know when to shut off their devices. Having a poster like this allows for visual cues to be used, either through pointing or a comment such as “we are in orange for the next 20 minutes as I primarily want you focusing on discussion, not research.”

Ask 3

Very simply – students are encouraged to ask three other students before the teacher.

This poster stemmed from the debate on whether teachers would be “technically savvy” enough to be able to show students how to do everything on their laptops. A common theme that emerged was that students are great at helping each other with new concepts on their devices, so why not just encourage the students to ask at least “3 before me” to figure out how to do something on their computer.

Digital Citizenship

A summary of what it means to be a good Digital Citizen at St Andrew’s College.

This Digital Citizenship poster is less targeted for regular student reading on the classroom wall, but more of a promotional summary of attributes we look for that make up a good Digital Citizen. It also contains our vision for eLearning at St Andrew’s College

Learners connecting confidently and actively within their communities

Introducing these ideas to students is never a “once and done” approach, but something that needs regular reinforcement from all levels of the school. These posters will be used in both our Secondary and Preparatory schools.

Behind The Scenes at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games with Moodle

Mr Bradley Shaw, member of the BlackSticks at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow

Mr Bradley Shaw, member of the BlackSticks at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow

Mr Bradley Shaw, our very own Year 8 teacher in the Preparatory School, has been selected to represent New Zealand at the upcoming 2014 Commonwealth Games hosted in Glasgow.

Already a proficient user of Moodle and OneNote in his classes, he contacted me asking if I could help set up a dedicated Moodle page that he could keep updated throughout the Commonwealth Games. Due to the strict social media policies in place by many of the teams competing at the Games, Mr Shaw could not blog on a publicly accessible page, or use social media such as Facebook or Twitter either.

However, by setting up a password protected Moodle course here that requires students to enter an enrolment key, he would be able to keep students and staff updated and provide a unique “behind the scenes” view of life as an athlete at a world class sporting event. I was keen to support this as it ties in with part of our wider strategy of creating globally connected Digital Citizens of our students. The Moodle course has two forums in it currently where students can:

  • Ask questions of Mr Shaw (or other athletes he may be able to track down) of what life is like at the Games, and
  • Send messages of support to the BlackSticks and other teams that Mr Shaw can pass along.
Live Twitter feed on the #Glasgow2014 hashtag

Live Twitter feed on the #Glasgow2014 hashtag

There is also a photo gallery plugin where new images will be posted from time to time. I also embedded a Twitter feed on the hashtag of #Glasgow2014 to ensure regular updates of images, results and news from the Games directly within the Moodle Course (see this blog post about embedding content such as Twitter feeds into Moodle) Additionally, I noticed that Hockey New Zealand has a Twitter account where they post results from games so I embedded that too:

Live updates from the @BlackSticks Twitter handle that will give game scores and results.

Live updates from the @BlackSticks Twitter handle that will give game scores and results.

I always like to see Moodle being used for non-academic purposes as it highlights the versatility of this Learning Management System, and we have a number of co-curricular courses such as this one being used now. Here’s wishing the Black Sticks and Mr Shaw all the best at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games!

Teaching the Teachers: Professional Development Between Schools


I was invited to speak today with staff from Catholic Cathedral College who were part of a Professional Learning Group (PLG) that is focusing on the impact of technology in the area of literacy.

Unfortunately, I could not be physically present after having knee surgery, so made use of Skype and Screenflow to record the videoconference that took place instead. A wide ranging discussion took place over the next hour and I’ve edited this down to the following:

An Orwellian World of Surveillance and Digital Monitoring

Earlier this week I was invited to speak to a Yr13 English class that are currently studying the George Orwell classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four. It’s a novel high on big government surveillance and low on individual freedoms and so the teacher asked me to share a few thoughts on this and how this impacts on our daily lives from an ICT perspective.

I decided I’d start with this humorous clip from the 2010 film Four Lions, a film about some try hard jihadis who fear the “feds” are constantly watching them under surveillance, so consequently they go to extreme ends to defeat any tracking attempts from “big brother”

Whilst portrayed in a funny way, the reality is the tracking through cell phones and GPS satellites is very real; the police located sports presenter Tony Veitch after his attempted suicide a few years ago by tracking his cellphone and more recently, the efforts to locate missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 via satellite pings.

From this broad and high level introduction, I tried to personalise it and asked the students who had uploaded a photo to the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a Blog etc) within the last month – virtually every hand went up. I then asked them to clarify – who had uploaded a photo taken on a traditional camera, either a pocket camera or SLR – only 3-4 hands this time. Who had used a smart phone (virtually all which add GPS co-ordinates into the photo) – the vast majority of hands. With the platform set, I showed them this video clip:

What surprised me was that for many students they simply did not care if other people knew where they were taking photos, nor that they had the ability to track down their location. There was a disconnect between the perception of retaining a degree of anonymity with their online behaviour and profile, with the increasing ease that strangers or online companies like Facebook could build a digital footprint of them and start connecting that with a “real person.”

This led to a good discussion around Digital Citizenship and what measures were reasonable to undertake to keep safe online. Trying to personalise the experience further, we discussed what activities students undertook all the time at St Andrew’s College that contributed towards a digital footprint that could be tracked or analysed. Things such as the following all revealed their physical location at any time:

This last one proved particularly useful as I pulled up a real time map of the third floor of the Arts Block and it showed the students who had smart phones that had automatically associated with the wireless access point in the classroom:

The 3rd floor of the Arts Block showing devices connected wirelessly to the network

The 3rd floor of the Arts Block showing devices connected wirelessly to the network

Using this example, I also showed how easy it was to create a digital trail showing where a user had walked during the day, with their phone or laptop automatically associating with each wireless access point along the way. Here is a copy of the classrooms my work smartphone connected to as I went about my day on the campus.

The rooms my phone automatically connected to during the day.

The rooms my phone automatically connected to during the day.

Finally, to complete the “monitoring” picture of internet usage at St Andrew’s College we looked at the real time logs of our firewall reporting tools (Fortinet’s Fortianalyzer) and I showed them how many attempts by students were currently being blocked – the amount of Facebook requests elicited a laugh from the students present.

In the end, it was an eye opener for most of the students just how much of a digital footprint they create, even just during their time on campus here at St Andrew’s. What I tried to emphasis was their wider online presence and how this was creating a profile that companies like Google, Facebook and others will use in a variety of different ways.

There is, of course, a tradeoff. Many of the most useful and well liked tools we have come to rely on require “location aware” services and are provided either free or very cheaply, because advertising is supporting them. The question I left with each of the students was this: just how much of their privacy are they prepared to “give up” in return for the benefits and convenience of these internet based services.

Unlike Orwell’s world in Airstrip One where dissenting views or attempting to evade surveillance was seen as a thought crime, we still have a degree of choice in how much of a digital footprint we leave.

Here is a copy of the powerpoint I used, or embedded below:

Digital Citizenship

Different Facets of Digital Citizenship at St Andrew's College

Different Facets of Digital Citizenship at St Andrew’s College

I have published a copy of our Digital Citizenship statement here for you to view.

Andrew Churches from Kristin School and Netsafe NZ have contributed significantly to current thinking in this area, and we have incorporated the main ideas into our approach at St Andrew’s College. These are:

  • Respect and Protect yourself online
  • Respect and Protect others online
  • Respect and Protect the intellectual property rights of others online.

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