Hosting a TeachMeet at St Andrew’s College

This week, St Andrew’s College hosted the first TeachMeet event in Christchurch for 2016 and over 40 staff from 15 different schools attended. If you’re unsure of what a TeachMeet actually is, you can find more at the website http://www.teachmeet.co.nz  but in short:

A TeachMeet is an organised but informal meeting (in the style of an unconference) for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching with technology.

Participants volunteer (via the TeachMeet website) to demonstrate good practice they’ve delivered over the past year, or discuss a product that enhances classroom practice.

Source: Wikipedia

To help promote the event, I took to a new tool I’ve been using recently called Canva which allows you to very quickly and easily develop stylish posters, images and social media banners through their website:

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One of the key reasons TeachMeets are successful is that presenters are limited to only 2minutes or 7minutes for their presentations. This results in a fast-paced event and a range of different ideas and solutions being shared. It also means that preparation for the volunteer presenters is kept at a minimum – it’s not onerous to share something you’re already doing in your classroom or researching to give a go.

From the slides above, you can see there were seven presenters who shared on the following topics:

  1. Wilj Dekkers (St Andrew’s College) Using MineCraft and OneNote for Creative Writing
  2. Tom Neumann (Riccarton High) Using an alphanumeric self marking video game in Moodle to review content of Yr11 Economics
  3. Sue McLachlan (Hagley College) Using OneNote Learning Tools in the classroom
  4. Tam Yuill Proctor (St Andrew’s College) Using OneNote as a Digital Teacher’s Planbook
  5. Karyn Gray (Haeta Community Campus) The Quest for Personalisation of Learning- My Thinking, My Research, My Questions
  6. Schira Withers (Our Lady Of The Star Of The Sea) How we as educators can help students with low working memories improve their self-management skills using digital technologies, thus  allowing them to experience success and move from a fixed to growth mindset.
  7. Donna Jones (St Andrew’s College) Using a 3D app to inspire creative thought and ideas for creative writing.

When one of the presenters was unable to attend at the last minute, I added some thoughts on using Google Earth to create personalised tours to round out the afternoon.

A number of attendees contributed on the designated Twitter hashtag of #TMChch and you can see the entire timeline here with a small selection being:

Continue reading

Guest Post: Mr Wilj Dekkers Attends Microsoft Educator Exchange

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This post was written by Mr Wilj Dekkers who attended the Annual E2 Conference. He is the second St Andrew’s College teacher to be invited to this global conference, after Mr Ben Hilliam attended in 2015.

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Mr Wilj Dekkers

Microsoft Education hold an annual event that celebrates the achievements of educators who combine pedagogy and technology in their classrooms and schools.  The event is held in a different global location each year, with 2016 seeing Microsoft Innovative Educator experts (MIE experts) converge on Budapest, Hungary.

I was fortunate to be selected as one of five New Zealand educators to attend this year.  The E2 educator conference ran during the week of March 7th and was based at the Corinthia Hotel in the heart of Budapest.

300 educators from across the globe were given opportunities to collaborate and share our experiences integrating technology within our schools in ways that enhance and move learning forward.

As with every conference, a series of keynotes and discussion panels provided all delegates with inspiration and thought provoking ideas.

Picture3Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, spoke to us about recent trends and the move towards 21st century skills in education.  His keynote reinforced that the world our children are growing up in will require new skill sets; that employers are looking for collaborative, critical problem solvers.  I was impressed that all the concepts discussed came from a pedagogical background and never placed technology above learning but made it an integral part of the lifelong learning process.  As Anthony said, “What we’re here to do is help every student on the planet achieve more.”

Two of the highlights of the morning keynotes were Stephen Reid and Jacqueline Russell.

Stephen runs a company called Immersive Minds and for the past 20 years has been using technology as a learning tool in classrooms.  Stephen works with students and teachers to create new learning environments though a mix of digital and real world tools, developing confidence in the learning process on both sides as well as competence in the use of technology to support pedagogy, classroom management and assessment.  Stephen presented how he uses Minecraft to help develop Key Competencies through History and Science.  I attended one of Stephen’s workshops and spent time speaking with him about my own use of Minecraft to enhance literacy and accepted his kind offer to help us at St Andrew’s with ideas we are developing using Minecraft as part of the school centenary.

Jacqueline presented a keynote focussed on the Surface Pro 4.  Before leaving for the conference, Jacqueline sat with her daughter and talked about where she was going and together, mother and daughter used the Surface and stylus to research, collate and create a digital scrapbook within MS OneNote.  This was an honest representation of the power and ease of this tool when placed in the hands of children.  This reflected my own views as detailed at the end of last year when Microsoft interviewed and filmed teacher’s perspectives of the Surface device being used as a learning tool.

Picture1The workshops this year were diverse with subjects such as flipping your classroom using OneNote, Surface and digital inking to engage students; Minecraft application throughout Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM); building a world in Project Spark that reflected the collective understanding of the ideal learning environment; digital literacy and creative programming in the classroom.

One particular workshop was run by Nikkie Laing, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow from Opaheke School in Auckland.  Nikkie’s workshop centred on the use of Office 365 SharePoint Sites.  In detail Nikkie shared how to minimize the time teachers spend collating and preparing resources and the time learners spend looking for materials and get on with learning.  Her presentation and workshop was so well structured and delivered that she won the prize of best presentation of the conference.  An overview of Nikkie’s workshop is below.

Office Mix

The conference also provided opportunities to showcase what each educator had been working on back in their own countries. I shared the use of Minecraft and OneNote to write detailed pick-a-path narratives. A large number of delegates were quite interested in what the children in Year 6 had achieved with Mike Tholfsen, the Product Manager for OneNote recognising what the children had worked on.  Mike was very interested in how OneNote was being used for learning at our school, being particularly excited by the inclusion of Minecraft in the writing process.  A journalist, Jordan Shapiro also came over, interested in what was happening at St Andrew’s. This has led to a mention in his article for Forbes magazine:

Another teacher tells me how he uses Minecraft to teach creative writing. “I used to tell them to write a story and they’d give me these blank stares. Now I ask them to act out a story in the Minecraft world first and then, together, we figure out how to articulate it in writing.” He describes how the virtual block world lets him walk his students back to specific locations so he can interrogate them about the details. “I encourage them to get more descriptive and specific; I tell them to imagine how things might smell, what the grass might feel like under their feet.”

Overall the experience has both reinforced my beliefs in the importance of integrating technology purposefully in learning and motivated me to expand upon my own pedagogical learning.  The people I met have continued to amaze me with their enthusiasm and creativity.  The New Zealand and Australian contingent have remained in contact post conference, having developed both a close network and long lasting friendship. We are already planning continued collaborative, cross Tasman learning opportunities for our students.

Collaborating With The Future Schools Expo

This week I was excited to receive correspondence from David Colville, from DataCom Australia. He was present at the 2016 Future Schools Expo in Sydney. His request was that a group of St Andrew’s College students could be made available to share ideas with small groups of students from Mount Sinai College, Sydney. These students had been taking part in one of four future challenges as part of the Maker’s Playground of this conference.

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Collaborative Skype Session with Mount Sinai Hill College

The 4 Challenges:

  1. There was a tornado in Sydney last year. Some houses were destroyed. What sort of house could survive a tornado?
  2. We know that you learn better at school when you are happy, but some times you come to school sad because you might have had a fight with your brother or got told off by your Mum. How can we cheer students up when they get to school so they are ready to learn?
  3. We love Lego, but cleaning up the pieces and finding the right one can be difficult. Is there a way to sort Lego pieces out quickly and make packing up our lego kits more effective?
  4. We don’t have enough refs for our netball games. How can technology help our shortage of refs?

After a quick bit of organisation from preparatory school eLearning expert Wilj Dekkers, it was decided that our recently formed Year 8 Gifted and Talented group would be perfect for this opportunity. This group are working with Mrs Julie Rogers as part of the College’s GATE program.

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew's College

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew’s College

With only a few minutes preparation time afforded, it was great to see this small group of students independently agree to use the Collaboration Space on a OneNote Notebook, set up a dedicated area of this space so that they could collaborate on their ideas during the Skype Call, and then test the functionality of this space. This setup was all done independently of any teacher input and took only a few minutes.

The structure of the Skype conversation was simple. A small group of Mount Sinai students explained their solution to one of the problems described above, and the St Andrew’s students responded with their critiques, ideas and encouragements.

During the activity the students from both school were extremely engaged. They listened carefully to the input from all students and the questioning and reasoning on show was impressive. This activity was a really great example of students, in two different locations, displaying their collaborative and teamwork skills in an unfamiliar setting.

I liked the future problem solving Skype, because I enjoyed helping them with their problems to come up with better solutions. I also enjoyed discussing these problems with our group. We all put our solutions together to make the best one. Our group of year eights all had an input to help improve their solutions, because even if we didn’t want to say out loud, we had our OneNote to write our suggestions on, so our other group members could say it for us. – Maya, St Andrew’s College Year 8 Student

Here, at St Andrew’s College, we enjoying using Skype to connect with other Educators or Students across the globe. We have enjoyed a number of Mystery Skypes, have engaged with a children’s author, and brought experts into the classroom. We all look forward to the next opportunity to use Skype to help complement the other great learning that occurs in our classrooms!

Sprout – An Almost “Magical” Technology

This week I’m in Melbourne, Australia and yesterday I spent the day at HP’s Experience Centre seeing a range of products (more to come on this), however there was one technology that genuinely blew my mind with the wide range of possibilities for application within Education.

This technology was Sprout by HP.

To get an idea of what this looks like, check out this promo video:

In short, Sprout by HP is an all-in-one computer with a touch screen but also has a built in downwards facing projector above the screen that doubles as a 3D scanner and an interactive mat that functions as a second input device and soft keyboard. This combination of technology allows you to do some crazy things, such as:

  • Take a photo of any “real world” object by placing it on the mat and then immediately start interacting with it in the software and adding it to other artefacts you’re collecting
    • Example: you find a photo of a skirt you really like on the internet, but you want to see what it would look like if you made it in a fabric pattern you already have. Place the fabric on the mat, scan it, and then by drawing an outline over the skirt in the photo you can “punch out” the original skirt and insert the fabric pattern you just scanned.
  • Place a real object on the mat such as toy or wrist watch, scan it into the Sprout, and then start interacting with it in various ways by adding colour, textures and other filters.
    • Example: you could scan a real world object, make some basic modifications, and then output these to a 3D printer so you can effectively “clone” real objects
  • Create collages with a combination of both existing digital images you already have, but add in scanned physical items around you and then mark up with text
    • Example: in NCEA English students need to create static images (e.g. AS.90855 at Level 1) – using a Sprout they could truly combine all physical and digital artefacts and allow their creativity to take over.
StaticImage exemplar

An exemplar of a traditional Static Image for NCEA Level 1 English. A Sprout could revolutionise how these are created by combining both physical and digital artefacts

What was clear from the demonstration presented by Paul Burman from HP was that the Sprout is perhaps not the best tool for creating incredibly detailed and accurate finished products, but it is unparalleled in combining a range of features that would normally require exceptionally high skill levels in programmes such as Photoshop or AutoCAD.

For this reason, there is significant appeal for a device such as this in all year levels of schools, as I can see that students in our Preparatory School could easily apply their creativity to using this tool in effective ways. Likewise, Secondary School students in a range of curriculum areas could engage with this to very quickly create engaging conceptual designs using a range of media.

Below are some quickly taken videos from the presentation yesterday that illustrate a range of functions of the Sprout and, hopefully, how easy and relatively simply it is to quickly use. In the room watching was around 10 ICT Directors and Managers and all were riveted – most filming the presentation on their phones too – highlighting that this technology appears to bridge the traditional design / 3D print space and allow creativity to just flow:

Visualising a skirt re-designed with a physical fabric swatch

Scanning a physical object into a 3D model with Sprout by HP

Editing a photo from the web quickly with Sprout by HP

Making It Easier To Read & Write with OneNote Learning Tools

Few would argue against the fact that technology should support teachers and learners in the classroom to achieve better learning outcomes and comprehension. Sadly, too often the technology is shoe-horned into learning environments simply to “tick the box” that eLearning is happening. By creating a role of eLearning Integrator that is filled by Mr Tom Adams, St Andrew’s College has committed to supporting our teachers maximise the benefits of the technology available.

Therefore, it is very pleasing to see that Microsoft have recently released some tools for OneNote to further support the literacy of students by making it easier to read content and improve their writing. The Learning Tools For OneNote, a free download, provide a set of extended features that will help improve learning outcomes for all students.

It’s a game changer.

Mr B. Clark (Head of Learning Support)

From the website:

  • English language learners can increase their fluency.
  • Emerging readers can feel confident when reading material at a higher level.
  • Students with learning differences like dyslexia can decode text more easily.

Learning Tools

Watch the above Office Mix Video to see Learning Tools in action.

Features

New features in the OneNote Learning Tools

The downside of this new tool set is that it is currently only available for Windows clients of MS OneNote, leaving Apple Mac users and OneNote Online web clients out in the cold. Nevertheless, when Mr Adams talked with St Andrew’s Head of Learning Support about this new feature, he replied “It’s a game changer.”  

As a result of this positive endorsement, which was echoed by our Head of English Ms Tam Yuill Proctor, the ICT services team will be deploying the OneNote Learning Tools (download directly here) to all laptops/desktops managed by St Andrew’s whilst also encouraging students to install it on their BYOD devices.

I look forward to hearing from students and teachers alike how these new tools are supporting positive literacy outcomes.

EPIC Adventure for Year 7 Students

The EPIC Centre the students visited

The EPIC Centre the students visited

Earlier this term a number of Year 7 students from St Andrew’s College were able to visit the EPIC facility in the central city, as part of a visit co-ordinated by Miss Briony Marks. EPIC stands for Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre and is described on their website as:

EPIC connects New Zealand’s high-tech entrepreneurs with each other and their counterparts around the world

EPIC (Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre) Christchurch serves as a bridge between innovation focussed companies of all sizes. Connecting business with investors, Governments and technology hubs around the world, whilst fostering a collaborative environment for Christchurch business and social communities to work together

The various inquiries that the students have participated in this year have shared a technology focus and so the opportunity to connect with the wider technology and innovation community was too good to pass up.

I asked whether the students who visited EPIC could write a few reflections for this blog and so they used Microsoft OneNote to brainstorm what they had seen. A number of similarities were identified between EPIC environment and that of St Andrew’s:

epic-brainstorm

Here are the reflections from the students:

Students arriving at EPIC

Students arriving at EPIC

On Thursday 5th November we took the bus and we went to EPIC. EPIC (Entrepreneurship Precinct Innovation Centre) is a large building in the centre of town, this building houses several different companies that work in high tech industries. When we got there we had a tour guide, Jalanda. We got taken to a little seating area to get talked to about the whole place of EPIC, the values and the ideas behind the building.

EPIC was set up because many tech businesses in Christchurch lost their buildings, hard drives and files because of the Earthquake. So they all were squished and cramped together in a small building close to the airport. This situation, although unfortunate, brought many of the companies together and soon after, they started collaborating and sharing their ideas with each other, to make their projects better. They all figured out that this was a better way to work, so 2 years ago they built EPIC, where more than 20 businesses now work. Even though now they have more space, the heads of the building have decided to build the toilets and kitchens in communal areas, so that people will bump into each other in the hallways and share ideas. Even Google was in on the idea and donated a coffee machine to the building because everybody needs a coffee break at one point during the day so you’ll meet new people who you may not work with directly.

Getting creative at EPIC

Getting creative at EPIC

We visited four different companies; they were called SLI Systems, Cerebral Fix, Red Seed and Meta Digital. All of the companies were downstairs except SLI Systems which is upstairs. All the companies are based on technology, and web or game designing and one had a green screen.

SLI Systems

These guys worked to get your website on the front page of Google. They worked with searches and helping people navigate your website easily.

SLI was the biggest company that we visited and it had a lot of work space. Each group of employees had their own office. The offices were really personalised and someone was even doing work whilst on a treadmill. SLI had a lot of fun; there was a competition where they got an old chair and they had to redesign it. The winning chair, a Darlek was in the corner of the office. We noticed that the people working there all had Nerf guns, they had Nerf wars and they planned raids against other companies.

SLI has offices in Japan, London, Australia and the USA. There are also heaps of people from different companies that work there. They had all their flags up on the wall and they celebrated all the different national holidays to make their staff feel welcomed. When we went they had just had a Halloween party. There was an iPad that was on a skateboard Segway that could move around the office. This was controlled by people in the offices abroad so that they could talk “face to face” via Skype.

Red Seed

RedSeed help people get better at their job. Red Seed are an online training provider, this means they run training for lots of big shops like the Warehouse. Their clients sign up to courses online and can learn on the go by watching videos at home or on their mobile phones. The bosses can see who has watched what.

The lady who set up the company used to go to different companies and help train the staff in sales and customer services, but this was not very efficient as staff changed over a lot. So she decided to try to record some of the videos online. This became really popular and is how Red Seed was born.

It was cool to see the green screen and see people teaching and learning outside of school.

Cerebral Fix

EPIC_3Cerebral Fix make video games and they were the coolest company! They are a video game designer for Disney and DreamWorks and have made games for lots of films. They make apps and other mini games as well as some larger ones. There were lots of people working there on Macs and Windows systems; they chose which they preferred or sometimes had to design for a certain platform (iPhones, Android etc).

Cerebral Fix were really interesting. It was great to see a game company for real and to talk about how long it takes to make a game. It was great to see the process involved in making a game, from ideas to the coding and testing. Sometimes they can get 95% through making a game and then it doesn’t work. They just have to start over and try again.

To get their ideas they play lots of games and talk about what they like and what they don’t like. They don’t just play video games; sometimes they play board games and use the ideas out of them to help design video games.

Meta Digital

EPIC_4Meta Digital were web-site designers. This was a very small company and office but they all seemed to work together and get it done. Each person had their job to do and they were able to speak and work together because of their smaller office. They had a maximum workload of 4 projects at one time, when we visited they were doing 3.

Clients would ask the people at Meta to design them a web-site. Meta have a “look” to their designs meaning they look similar, people would come to them because they like their look and then the designers talk to the clients and ask heaps of questions to make sure they get it right. Then once it’s been designed they start to program it and hope the clients like it!

EPIC and School

EPIC was quite like school because the building had lots of open corridors and places to work together. They shared their kitchens like we share our lunch space and the donut seating areas. This means that people get to chat in a less formal environment and you don’t just have to hang out in your office or classroom. These small businesses are a bit like all our different classes; they were all working together well. They could use their space to collaborate or shut themselves in to focus and work on their own. We bump into other people in different classes in the corridors and on the way to the toilets and get to know each other in the same way. Also, EPIC and School both have coffee machines for people to meet at. Teachers and parents have coffees in our café and the workers meet at the machines too.

Open break out spaces similar to what is available at St Andrew's College Preparatory School

Open break out spaces similar to what is available at St Andrew’s College Preparatory School

Working at EPIC

I would like to work at the EPIC building because they were very relaxed and it didn’t look stressed. The working environment was really fun. People had lots of Nerf gun wars, dress up days, design a chair and competitions to see whose eye was whose. It’s not very normal…. we think that they did these things to meet each other and have fun within the building. People concentrate better when they have fun and get break time to recharge. Meeting other people means having more ideas and getting to share your thoughts with others.

All these businesses needed creativity, all over the building there are artworks from Weta and video game landscapes. In the offices, employees brought in items from home that they loved (statues, toys, games, pictures and stuff like that). They had their personal things in their offices and dogs could come to work.  This made people feel at home and inspired to be creative. Without creativity work would be boring and they would make lame products, but if you are creative it means your work would be unique.

 

#CEM15 Guest Post – Explore The World With Mystery Skype

MysterySkypeThis post was written for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog as part of Connected Educators Month of October 2015. You can read the original post here.

Mystery Skype is a fun activity being played by classrooms all over the world and presents a fantastic opportunity for students to become “global citizens” as they meet other students from around the country and globe. On their website, it is described as:

Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

SkypeThe St Andrew’s College Preparatory School has completed many Mystery Skype sessions now, ranging from students in Year 3 through to Year 8 and the students always thoroughly enjoy the challenge of guessing the location of the other classroom. So far we have played with schools in:

Given the time zone of New Zealand, there are many parts of the world where it is virtually impossible to connect (although check out this Skype we did with the Viking Museum in York, where students came before breakfast to connect)

The Mystery Skype to Russia was one of the more exciting and challenging Skypes, as the class was very small and every student appeared to have a different nationality. It turned out that it was an International School set up by Shell Oil and all of the students had parents involved in the oil industry. Here is a video of our Mystery Skype (If you’re interested in recording your Skype calls, check out this affordable plugin):

It’s interesting seeing how different teachers have prepared their students to play Mystery Skype – the American schools often have very formalised “jobs” where some students are researchers, others are questioners, whilst others hold up signs confirming if a question was answered correctly or not. Ultimately, it’s up to each teacher how they choose to play, but preparing students to think about how to ask effective closed questions is critical since answers can only be “yes” or “no”.

The temptation for students to zoom in and ask very detailed questions is almost overwhelming. For example, given the amount of American and Australian television we have in New Zealand our students can guess the accent of the students very quickly, but they tend to then ask very narrow questions such as “Are you in Los Angeles?” or “Are you in Sydney?” Teaching the effective use of atlases is really helpful and can then lead to more useful questions such as:

  • Are you landlocked?
  • Are you north of the equator?
  • Are you on the West Coast?

One of the real privileges I have had helping classes with Mystery Skype is the sharing of Māori culture with other schools that may never have seen any aspects of it before. The students in our Preparatory School jump at the opportunity to sing waiata and perform the College haka and invariably the students overseas love it:

Mr Craig Kemp, the teacher at the school in Singapore and an ex-pat Kiwi, tweeted the view from his classroom:

CONCLUSION:

Mystery Skype is a fun way to connect with classes all over the world and I would really encourage you to give it a go. It is easy to find other classes thanks to the Mystery Skype website and our experience has been the other teachers are thrilled to find classes in New Zealand because they are often “so far away.” Once a connection is made, it is fun to then re-connect and ask questions of the other class for curriculum related topics e.g. if you’re studying weather patterns or transport, why not Skype that class in the US and find out their experiences or views on these things? Finally, Mystery Skyping is contagious – once classes find out their friends in different classes have done it, they start asking their own teacher to get involved. Have fun!

Mentoring Year 4 Students in Mihi Development

WIN_20150901_135752Throughout the year, all Year 9 classes spend some time being introduced to basic Te Reo and Tikanga concepts through a number of lessons taken by Ms Yoder – the TIC of Maori Studies. One aim of this series of lessons is for the students to develop confidence in introducing themselves, through the delivery of their Mihi. Once developed and practiced, these Mihi are recorded onto their OneNote. They can then be listened back to, to check, and improve on, pronunciation and the flow of the speaking.

A great feature of College life in 2015 has been an increasing amount of collaboration between classes in the secondary school with those in the Preparatory School. This has been blogged about previously in Science here, and digital citizenship here. In order to further foster relationships between the high and prep schools, Mr Dekkers, and the Year 9 teacher Mrs Urmson suggested to the Year 4 teachers, Mrs Munro-Foster and Miss Haisty, that there was the possibility of her group mentoring the Year 4 students to develop their own Mihi.

During this activity pairs of Year 9 students mentored small groups of Year 4 students, and were tasked with helping them to develop their own Mihi – based around the template below.

mihi sheet

The template used by Year 4 students to develop their Mihi

The Year 4 students had already spent some time, during Maori language week earlier in the term, developing their Mihi. The role of the Year 9 Mentors was to increase the confidence and fluency of these children. A real strength of this task was the clarity of instructions for all students so that the older students had a clear understanding of their role within this activity and were able to provide feedback that clearly improved the Mihi delivery of the younger students.

Mihi instructions

Mentor students were given clear instructions that made them more confident in their role

Reflecting on the value of the task, Miss Hastie commented that her Year 4 children enjoyed looking up to children older than them for advice and support.

After a few practice runs, and guidance and feedback from their Leaders, the Year 4 students were ready to record their Mihi. The highlight of the task was undoubtedly the recording phase. Once their Mihi delivery was confident all students were given the opportunity to be recorded in the Preparatory School TV studio. These recordings were then shared with their whanau community through their OneNote ePortfolio.

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A Year 4 student recording her Mihi in the Television studio.

Throughout this great collaborative activity Mrs Urmson noticed that her students really rose to the challenge of acting as leaders to younger pupils. The task was a great opportunity for students to practice, and display, important NZ Curriculum Key Competencies such as Managing Self, Relating to Others, and Participating and Contributing.

“It was fun – because the boy knew all the words that I didn’t know!”

Technology & Skype Connects Students With Experts In Religious Education

As a Presbyterian College, all students at St Andrew’s attend weekly Religious Education classes. At Year 9, the course provides an overview of the Christian narrative with a focus on the life and death of Jesus.

Vanishing CorpseIn Term 3 this year I have been teaching an inquiry unit entitled The Case of the Vanishing Corpse which is supported by the novel of the same name, where students explore the various theories about what might have happened to Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. In previous years, students compiled a paper-based “Police Dossier” with their evidence, however now that we are a 1:1 BYOD school using Office365, students use Microsoft OneNote instead.

The OneNote Class Notebook Creator has been especially useful here, allowing teachers to create a “master copy” of a student workbook, and then for this to be easily copied into the individual student sections:

OneNote Overview

Teacher templates in the “Content Library” that students can easily copy into their personal sections within the Class Notebook for editing

Two pages from the PDF version of the OneNote - click to download

Two pages from the PDF version of the OneNote (click to download the entire dossier as a PDF)

Alongside the novel that we are reading as a class, we are watching snippets from the award winning documentary series called The Son of God presented by Jeremy Bowen, a former BBC news correspondent based in the Middle East.

Students can access the ClickView video through Moodle using their Single Sign on credentials

Students can access the ClickView video through Moodle using their Single Sign on credentials

To enable students to re-watch critical sections, this is being watched through the video library service ClickView and embedded into the College Moodle site for ease of access to students.

The documentary presents a number of alternative theories about what might have happened to Jesus, mirroring the investigation of the fictional Ben Bartholomew in the novel. These theories need to be evaluated by students and include:

  • Jesus’ body was stolen either from the cross or the tomb to “fake” a resurrection (e.g. his disciples wanted others to believe what Jesus had said was true)
  • Jesus never actually died on the cross but was administered a powerful anaesthetic (possibly the root of a Mandrake plant) so he only appeared dead, and then recovered in the tomb and escaped
  • The alleged appearances of Jesus after his death were brought about by a mass hallucination caused by intense grief at his death
  • The traditional gospel account: that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who was killed and then resurrected.

To encourage critical thinking of these ideas I have tried to bring in external experts to discuss various aspects of the case. Recently, Dr Martin Swan talked over Skype with the class about the physiology of crucifixion and what likelihood existed that someone could survive this method of execution:

Mr Dave Moskovitz

Mr Dave Moskovitz

From this we learned it would have been extremely unlikely for anyone to have survived crucifixion.

We also Skyped with Mr Dave Moskovitz, a former President of the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation – Temple Sinai  and the current Jewish co-chair of the Wellington Council of Christians and Jews. He provided a fascinating insight into Judaism for the students over a 30minute question and answer session. Importantly for the student investigation, he confirmed that it was common practice for Jews in the Middle East to bury their dead before sun down on the day of death, meaning it was unlikely Jesus was left on the cross.

Previously, we have Skyped with Reverend Dr. Andrew Nicol from St Margaret’s Church for a traditional Christian explanation of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lastly, after a number of attempts to contact the New Zealand Skeptics Society for a comment on their views on the possibility of resurrection, we were able to Skype in class with committee member Mr Michael Edmonds:

His focus was on encouraging critical thinking with students and he introduced the idea of using Occam’s Razor to try and go with the simplest answer with the least amount of assumptions (this was in response to a particularly complex conspiracy theory put forward by one student). Additionally, he discussed how Confirmation Bias may have impacted recollections from an event or shaped the narrative.

With the expert opinions out of the way, students completed a SOLO Evaluation Map to help them explore the feasibility of their preferred theory about Jesus’ resurrection. Again, they completed this template in their OneNote:

SOLO 1

SOLO 2

COMPLETING THE ASSESSMENT:

Instructions in the Moodle Assignment.

Instructions in the Moodle Assignment.

The final element of the unit was an in-class assessment where students had to write a letter to conclude their police dossier into the “Investigation of the Vanishing Corpse”. This was written in their OneNote Notebooks and then submitted for marking through the use of a Moodle Assignment.

The overall quality of the work was very high from students in their final written assessment for this unit – here are two examples from Mitchell and Russell:

SUMMARY:

This is always an interesting unit to teach because it deals with one of the most well known narratives from the Gospels – the death and claimed resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year, by getting outside experts to share over Skype their perspectives and expertise, students have been forced to critically analyse a wide range of sources, run this through a SOLO evaluation map, formulate a personal opinion and then collate that into a written answer under test-like conditions.

Throughout this process, technology has been pervasive: whether it be the recorded Skype conversations, accessing content on the class Moodle site or watching a critical section from the Son of God DVD in ClickView, through to note taking and assessment writing in OneNote. However, this has all been to support and facilitate the students to critically think about the content at hand and to formulate a personal opinion. Because after all, isn’t that what teaching is all about?

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.