Guest Post: Arduino Adventures

This is a guest post written by three Year 8 students from the Preparatory School: Imogen, Archie and Marshall.

ArduinoLast week, twenty students from Year 8 were part of an Arduino day run by FutureInTech. Arduinos are open source microcontrollers that can be programmed to do various things. The fact that they are open source means that anyone can use the software and hardware for whatever they want, as long as they follow the license.

There were five tutors from Airways, Dynamic Controls, Allied Telesis and Meridian Energy: a computer scientist between four, working in pairs. We took turns programming and plugging into the microcontroller. Our first project was to make a LED flash. From that, we progressed to making the LED flash at different speeds, using a button to make the LED flash, and connecting a buzzer. In the end, some of us had managed to make a doorbell: when you pressed a button, a LED would light up, the buzzer would go, and on the screen would appear “Someone’s at the door!”

detail 2 (Small)

Overall, we had plenty of fun on the day and learnt some new skills. We would definitely like to do something like it again if we had the chance.

Preparatory School Racing Ahead with Robotics

During Term One and Two this year Miss Bryony Marks, among a number of other projects, initiated a Robotics club at Year 5 in the Preparatory School. Initially the club was open to 15 students, using Lego Mindstorm EV3 to build and program in groups of 3. The purpose of the club was to introduce Year 5 students to Robotics, thus setting the groundwork for future expansion of robotics as these students progress through the college.

IMG_4672In response to overwhelming demand and interest form other year groups, it was immediately obvious that an expansion of resources was needed. The extremely supportive College PTA was approached for support in this area, and generously responded with $5000 funding for a further 8 sets – allowing whole class robotics for the first time. This now allows all children in the Preparatory school the opportunity to engage with this exciting technology, and to authentically apply their basic block programming skills to robotics.

The next logical progression in this rapidly evolving programme was to enter teams in the Canterbury Regional 2015 RoboCup Junior competition. This national competition requires students to use their programming, engineering, and creative skills to entertain, delight, and thrill an audience. They must design up to three robots that are used in a 1 to 2 minute themed performance based around either robot theatre, or rescue. robotics2At Year 5 and Year 7, all interested children were given the opportunity to ‘trial’ for these competition teams, with Miss Marks looking for children with a range of skills such as organisation, programing, robot building and creativity.

The two Year 5 teams were chosen after a ‘Loop Walk’ challenge which required them to self-teach and apply their new knowledge in small groups to program a robot to walk a square course in the style of their choosing.

Year 7 teams were chosen through a Little Red Riding Hood Challenge, which required them to program a Robot to navigate from Grandma’s house to Red Riding Hood’s garage, while stopping to look for cars. and then reversing into their garage.

The final team is a two person Year 8 team that was selected based on previous experience. James has an interest and experience in programming, while Ethan has a passion for Robotics.

On Friday all five teams spent the day preparing for the competition. Over the course of the day they conceptualised, built and programmed their robots. The room was a busy hive of activity throughout the day, as student groups worked independently on the numerous challenges involved in such a task.

IMG_4673James and Ethan are entered in the Research and Rescue Challenge which requires their robot to follow a black line across the performance area, sensing and responding to green squares. Finally, it must grab a tin can from the center of the area, eventually returning it to the beginning of the course.  James noted that his biggest challenge of the day was applying his previous block programming experience through Scratch into the new platform; EV3 Mindstorm. Ethan’s main challenge was trouble-shooting the challenges that the colour senses proved, as they initially struggled to perform as expected.

Ethan and James' robot

Ethan and James’ robot

It is challenges like this that prove the relevance and importance of robotics. Miss Marks noted that “Children are required to self-manage, problem solve and think logically as they respond to various challenges throughout the build. Competitive Robotics combines creative writing, engineering, arts and crafts, DIY, coding and programming – everything that our students love!”

Click below to see a short video of an early prototype from the day! We wish all St Andrew’s College Teams well as they continue to prepare for the regional competition on August 16th!

 

 

Sharing Science Over Skype

Yesterday Mr Bevan Jones’ Year 9 Science class demonstrated a science experiment with Mr Bradley Shaw’s Year 8 class. The unique aspect of this was that it was shared entirely over Skype – the two classes were not physically in the same room.

Talking this over with Mr Tom Adams, the College eLearning Integrator, we initially puzzled as to why this was done in this way. However, we concluded that had both classes been in the same room, inevitably many would not have been able to see the science experiment easily since there would have been over 50 students from Year 8 & 9 crowding around to watch. Additionally, by doing it over Skype, it removed the 5minute walk between the Preparatory and Secondary Schools.

Unfortunately, whilst the clarity of the video was excellent, the audio on this occasion was not so good, something that we will iron out in future. St Andrew’s College does have a Middle Years programme that aims at increasing the connectedness of students in Years 7-10 as they transition from the Preparatory School into the Secondary School, and joint science classes like this help support that.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(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.

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

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.