Digital Image Manipulation in English

Earlier this year I was approached by Ms Tam Yuill Proctor, the Head of Department for English. She was interested in the potential for students to use digital image manipulation during their study of static images. I thought that this an exciting project to assist with, but immediately recognised that this is an area that I had very little experience in! What was particularly exciting is the potential to expose Year 9 students to the concept and then progressively up-skill them through to Year 13 where the requirements are obviously a lot more challenging.

static

Challenges in Digital Manipulation

My limited previous experience with students in their area has taught me that students primarily fall into two categories. In any class there will be a small number of students, typically 2-5, who have extensive experience, and interest in, digital manipulation of images. These students have typically used Photoshop, and are relatively advanced in their capabilities. The second, much larger, group of students have virtually no experience in this field – and they can often be intimated at the prospect.

Finding a tool

Here at St Andrew’s College we have a range of devices in each classroom as part of our 1:1 program. As an IT team we felt that there were three main criteria that any product we were going to recommend must meet:

  • Able to be used on Mac and Windows laptops
  • Be free to download and use
  • Be complex enough for Year 13 English students

Based on these criteria we decided to investigate the potential of GIMP as a platform for these tasks. gimpEarlier in this post I mentioned the two categories that students fit. The same is true of staff. I fell, very clearly, into the second category – totally inexperienced. It was great that here was a situation that was forcing me to upskill in an area, ready to help students investigate and apply the potential gains to be had using such technology to display their understanding of curriculum content. I found Gimp to be intuitive, relatively easy to use, and it was pretty easy to apply its basic manipulation tools.

“It was great that all students were using the same platform and that they had access to technical support.” – Mrs Helaina Coote – English Teacher

Year 13 Task

The focus of the Year 13 unit of work was for students to create a 8-10 minute presentation or visual essay that explores a theme from the film studies; in this case Tsotsi. Students were being assessed against the Achievement Standard 91477 ‘Create a fluent and coherent visual text which develops, sustains, and structures ideas using verbal and visual language.’

“This standard forces students to develop grit, resilience and perseverance. Progress does not always come easily or immediately.” Mrs Helaina Coote – English Teacher

In previous years many students were attempting to use Photoshop to complete this task, but were becoming bogged down in the detail of the product, with staff frustrated that they did not necessarily have the skills to assist. This year, the decision was made to directly teach students how to use the tool, and support them during class time to use it effectively.

Prior to beginning the task students were introduced to GIMP and instructed on how to use the basic functionality of it. An important part of this was giving students time to experiment with some of the more fundamental functionality of the product such as overlaying images, changing block colours and cropping images.static2

Having had an introduction students were then in a position to begin work on their production. What was particularly important here was that students, who may have no experience in digital manipulation, felt supported. I predominantly spent time in two classes; taught my Ms Helaina Coote, and Ms Phoebe Wright.

Once the students had created a number of different images most of them chose to import them into PowerPoint so that they could add music and animations to ensure that they met the requirements of the assessment task.

capture3

For me personally what was particularly interesting was seeing the skill progression and increases in confidence that all students showed. It was also great to see the upskilling of staff as they learnt next to their students. This was echoed by both teachers involved:

“Teacher shows students willingness to learn. It is good for students to see that help is accepted. Students are supported to learn the tool.”

 

Future Challenges

This is a Challenging assessment task. On reflection there were some students who became a little engrossed in the details of each image, particularly as they we learning the tool. These students found it difficult to work fast enough to create the required number of images. Hopefully, the fact that a number of classes ranging from Y9-Y12 were also introduced to Gimp this year should hopefully enable those students to approach this task with more fluency as they progress through their English education.

This task is a perfect example of how eLearning is integrated into classrooms here at St Andrew’s College. I believe that as students add to their skill year year-on-year we will see further improvement in the complexity and quality of the digital images they are able to create. It is also a great way to support students, and staff, in learning a new tool.

Using Analytics To Profile Classes

A 12minute guided tour of the new Class Profile reports in PowerBI

Over the last twelve months St Andrew’s College has invested significant resourcing into developing web based reporting tools delivered via Microsoft’s PowerBI.com interface, to be used by both teachers, managers and administration staff alike. It’s worth reading some earlier posts about the rationale and features of why we have gone down this path, however some of the key reasons we settled on this solution include:

  • It’s browser based – you can access it from “anywhere” and see live data. You can also bookmark certain reports in your browser for near instant access.
  • There is also an app available (iPhone/iPad/Android/Windows10) so the data is accessible anytime / anywhere
  • We can tweak reports / visuals quickly and easily, based off feedback from stakeholders
  • Being browser based, you don’t need a local file on your computer that is “out of date” once a new version with improved features is built. What you see is always the “latest version”
  • It’s part of our existing Office365 Suite, so our existing username/password logs you into the reports.
  • Security permissions are centrally managed based off AD users and role based groups, including use SQL Row Level Security.
  • It connects to our on-premise MS-SQL Server, allowing for scheduled data updates (hourly / daily).

Throughout the duration of Term 3 the team have been focused on delivering a new set of reports for Mr Dean McKenzie one of the Assistant Principal’s at the College with responsibilities for Data Analysis. He had provided some concept designs for how he would like to see the reports look, along with the location of the majority of the data in our Student Management System (Synergetic). Additionally, there had been changes to how the Grade Credit Average (GCA) was going to be calculated moving forward, which would see individual subject’s have a GCA calculated for the first time along with more rigid definitions of how various credits would be counted.

All of this logic had to be encoded into the ETL process that transferred the raw data from Synergetic’s MS-SQL database and into our Data Warehouse, automatically calculating the results on a daily basis and making them available to staff via the web interface of PowerBI. The end result is the following pages in a single report:

Subject GCAs Per Student:

 Showing the results for a student in the current year and the previous year (click to enlarge)

This report is designed to allow a teacher to quickly select a student in their class and compare their GCA subject by subject, along with seeing how they performed the previous year. If you click the left hand image above to enlarge you will see numbers which represent:

  1. A selector for the current or previous year of GCA data for a student
  2. The teacher code (for full time classroom teachers this is automatically locked to their username meaning they only see the students in their classes. For Academic Deans or managers, they can see across a wider set of students).
  3. A year level filter, allowing a teacher to quickly narrow the selection of students down by the year level e.g. their Yr12 Maths students or Yr13 History students.
  4. The list of students arranged alphabetically that are taught by the teacher in the year level they have selected. Note these are colour coded pink/blue to give a visual cue to the teacher if they are looking for a male/female student in their class.
  5. A table showing each subject taken by the selected student, and their GCA (either current year or previous year depending on selection in #1 above)
  6. A bar graph visually displaying the same data as #5 but designed to quickly identify subjects of particular strength or weakness for the selected student. Note that the subjects are listed alphabetically and not by highest GCA to lowest, allowing for a “cityscape” effect.
  7. The name of the current student that is selected and the class code of the teacher who is browsing the report (useful if a teacher happens to teach a student a number of different classes).

The aim of this report is to allow a classroom teacher to quickly scan through the students in their class and identify their relative strengths/weaknesses in different subjects. It also enables them to answer a common question of teachers “I’ve a student who I think is underperforming in my class – how are they doing in other classes?”

GCA – Then and Now:

gca-then-and-now

This report allows a teacher to quickly see the individual students in their class ranked by GCA from highest to lowest and compare the current year GCA in the teacher’s subject with the student’s overall GCA from the previous year. This allows a teacher, at a glance, to see who are their best performing students based off completed assessment but to also pick up if there is significant variance between previous and current performance.

In the above example, the top bar graph shows the 4th ranked student in the class (in pink) was actually the 6th ranked student (relative to the class) the previous year. Whilst this is a very small sample size, what this can show is a student who is possibly underperforming or showing improved performance relative to the students in their class – all helpful information for a teacher to consider.

The red numbers in the report are:

  1. Showing the classes taught by the logged in teacher. Note that this also includes co-curricular options that the teacher coaches/manages, allowing them to review academic performance for all students that they have contact time with (this was actually the #1 request we had from teachers after launching the Tutor Quadrant Dashboard earlier this year – the ability to see results for students in all areas of their involvement at school).
  2. A gender score card. This is simply showing the number of males / females in the class.
  3. Bar graph (ranked) showing students by GCA, highest to lowest for the subject taught by the teacher and in the current year.
  4. Bar graph (ranked) showing the same students but their previous year GCA across all subjects, again ranked highest to lowest.
  5. A table giving a break down of the students in the class and their GCA in individual subjects. This is helpful if a teacher wanted to compare how a student was doing in a similar subject e.g. an English teacher seeing if a student was performing comparably in other literacy intensive subjects such as History.

Comparative Scores:

This was perhaps one of the most complex and ambitious pages to put together as it was potentially combining academic data from Yr9 Entrance Testing, PAT results (Yr9-10), MidYis Results (Yr9-11) and NCEA data by GCA. Additionally, this needed to give a break down of priority learners based on identified learning needs as well as ethnicity.

The real challenge was thrown down by Mr McKenzie when he said in an ideal world he would like a teacher to be able to select from any of the historical data and have it displayed on the same graph. We explored a wide range of ideas on how we could best implement this vision and in the end the following is what was achieved:

 Showing the results for a Yr13 Calculus class; on the left is the students’ Yr9 English Entrance testing and on the right their Yr13 Calculus GCA (click to enlarge)

Visually, there is a lot going on in this report and it will take the user quite some time to fully understand how best to extract what they are looking for. For this reason, all pages on these reports have user guides in text boxes and we have labelled each selection field numerically in the order that a teacher should select their data. This helps guide them through the process. In the left hand screenshot above (click to enlarge) I have added red numbers to highlight features of this report:

  1. The academic “score type” and “sub-score type” the teacher is wanting to see. If a teacher chose Yr9 PAT then the sub-score type would automatically display what options were available (i.e. English, Maths and Vocabulary). Similarly, if a teacher chose GCA as the score type they could choose the GCA for whatever subject they wished to check. The recent addition of search boxes from PowerBI make this process far easier to manage when there is a lot of options to choose from.
  2. Priority Learners – this is still being developed, but for now it highlights any students with data recorded in Synergetic, from diagnosis through to strategies to use in the classroom to support their learning.
  3. Ethnicity breakdown for the students in the class displayed in a pie chart and table below, along with the names of Māori and Pasifika students in the two boxes in the bottom right of the report.
  4. The bar chart that shows the students ranked by whichever score type the teacher has selected. Note that there are no axes on this graph, a necessary requirement given the academic data does not always share identical measures/scores. However, by placing the cursor over a student you can easily see their score e.g. a stanine for a PAT test, or a 2 decimal place GCA score for NCEA results. Additionally, there are visual cues on this graph that further help identify students with listed learning support needs or who identify as Māori or Pasifika.

A reminder that all of this data refreshes automatically each night so the teacher is always seeing the latest information on their students. Should a student leave/join the class the data is refreshed to reflect this.

NCEA Results Analysis By Standard:

One of the most requested features by the Senior Leadership Group and Heads of Department at St Andrew’s is an easy way to compare, standard by standard, how our students and teachers went compared to similar schools around New Zealand (similar schools has been defined as Decile 8-10). One of the challenges has been getting access to neatly formatted data that contains all NCEA standards, not just individual results which could be downloaded from the NZQA website.

After working with NZQA’s statistics team, we have been able to obtain this data and run it through our ETL process into the data warehouse, thus allowing this comparison to be easily done by classroom teachers:

ncea-analysis

Again, a classroom teacher would select a class they teach, and then narrow it down to a NCEA standard they wished to compare by following the numerical work flow selections on the left hand side of report. Once completed, this presents the four horizontal bar charts that show:

  • Top left = All students being compared, the top bar is comparative schools nationally (all students who sat this NCEA standard in Decile 8-10 schools). The middle bar is the performance of the St Andrew’s cohort, in this case all other Yr12 history students taught by all teachers. The bottom bar is the performance of the students in this teacher’s class.
  • Bottom left = Performance of Māori/Pasifika students (again broken down by national data, cohort and individual classroom teacher).
  • Top right = male students.
  • Bottom right = female students.

The results for these standards can be filtered to show either internal assessments only or formative assessment results for not-yet-sat external exams, providing students with a comparative score with the national data for that external standard from the previous year. This could work as a motivator for them before their external exams.

The red numbers in the screenshot are:

  1. Search box for the teacher to select the class code they want to analyze (again, searching is making this really easy), There are two pre-selected options visible which are the previous year’s national data and the StAC cohort data. A teacher could, in theory, turn these off if they simply want to display only their own class results and not compare them.
  2. Once a class is selected, this table automatically shows only standards that have a result recorded in the Synergetic database. This helps a teacher know which standard number to search for.
  3. Using the knowledge above, the teacher searches for the standard they want to analyse e.g. “HIST2” would show all Level 2 history standards allowing a teacher to quickly click through their results.
  4. The comparative graphs (as explained above). One of the neat features of this is if a teacher wanted to drill down and see which students in their class gained a certain result, they need only click the result and the list of students in the table filters immediately:
filtering-ncea

By clicking the silver “merit” grade in the bottom right graph (females) the table down the bottom filters to show the name of the student(s), allowing a teacher to quickly search through student names by result.

Detailed NCEA Results By Standard:

This final report is another one that is designed to quickly profile the range of ability of the students a teacher sees. However, it also delivers on one of the other most common requests from teachers e.g “I want to know how my Level 3 Geography students did in Level 2 Geography at the start of the year / or an internal assessment so I can better differentiate the teaching to meet their needs.” To date, we have struggled to graphically display a ranked past/present comparison tool for teachers and the security relationships is actually quite complex (just because you’re teaching the student for Level 3 Geography, for instance, does not mean you were their Level 2 Geography teacher).

This has now been displayed in the following reports:

 Showing the results for a Yr13 Geography class internal assessment 3.3 (91428) on the left; on the right is the students’ performance from the previous year for the internal assessment 2.3 (91242). (click to enlarge)

These reports contain a number of visual cues. In keeping with all our NCEA reporting in PowerBI, the colour coding is consistent: Gold = Excellence; Silver = Merit; Bronze = Achievement; Red = Not Achieved. Additionally, the bars are varied in height and ranked highest to lowest allowing a teacher to very quickly pick up the grade spread of their class at a glance. The red numbers in the screenshot on the left (click to enlarge) are:

  1. The teacher selects the NCEA standard they wish to analyse
  2. They select which of their classes they wish to filter by (many of our senior teachers teach two of the same year level/subject so this is helpful). The list of classes is pre-populated automatically, based on the username the teacher signs in as making this a very simple process.
  3. The bar chart orders the students by result, highest to lowest (as explained above).

Concluding Thoughts:

As evidenced above, a huge amount of work and effort has gone into these reports and they certainly represent the progression of thought over the last few years in terms of what is the key data we need to be able to provide to classroom teachers. A key objective of this analytics project at St Andrew’s is to provide easy access to the data for teachers on an “anytime, anywhere” basis and for it to be easily comprehensible.

As more teachers start to use these reports on a regular basis I anticipate feedback will flow and new feature requests will emerge. The beauty of the setup currently is we can release this version of reporting to teachers and then easily add new features which will become automatically available to teachers next time they log in – there is no need to update or install new files for the teacher. To further support teachers, we are now embedding a “Tour of the Dashboard” video into the landing page of each new report:

dashboard-tour

One of the great things about being browser based is the ability to embed third party content, in this case a YouTube video explaining to teachers how they can use this new report.

These embedded videos mean that should teachers forget how to use the report, or are new to the College, they can essentially “self-train” on how they can use the report with their classes.

I am genuinely excited about this level of reporting and the benefits it will have not just for our teachers, but for our students too!

 

Managing Minecraft In A School

minecraft-bannerNote: this is quite a lengthy and, at times, technical post about configuring and deploying Minecraft in a school when choosing not to use the new Microsoft Education Edition. The following is the structure of the blog if you want to jump to a particular point of interest:

  1. The Background Situation: existing Minecraft usage and identified problems.
  2. The Opportunity: what we felt we needed to deliver to run our own Minecraft server securely and easily.
  3. The Technical Setup:
    1. Server
    2. Mods
    3. Client Installation & Deployment
  4. Where To From Here:

Minecraft, the hugely popular game with students of all ages, is described as:

A game about placing blocks and going on adventures. Explore randomly generated worlds and build amazing things from the simplest of homes to the grandest of castles.

The Background Situation:

houseA number of our teachers have already integrated Minecraft into teaching units in the past, most notably Mr Wilj Dekkers with his creative writing units and Kiwiana-themed parks and Ms Donna Jones exploring a Centenary related project.

Despite this initial success there has always been some problems with administering Minecraft, particularly around easily and securely allowing student interaction and collaboration in these virtual worlds. To date, teachers have had to rely on students using the Minecraft Personal Edition meaning it was essentially single player mode only, removing the ability to collectively work on a project together. To promote greater student engagement and allow the key competencies to be fully utilized in learning through Minecraft, alternatives needed to be identified.

In late September 2014, Microsoft purchased Minecraft for $2.5billion which held out the possibility of a deeper integration into Office365 and Microsoft’s wider Education strategies. It took just under two years before Minecraft Education version was released, during which time an alternative Minecraft Edu was essentially shut down and absorbed into Microsoft’s new Education version. This was a shame as the Edu version was very good, allowing the use of numerous custom mods (modifications to improve/customise the game play) and it could be run on a hosted server, not just on the student’s personal device.

Surprisingly, the announced version of Minecraft Education in January 2016 ended up having some key functionality removed, arguably for the sake of simplicity:

  • There was no ability to host the game on a stand alone server – now it would be installed and hosted via the teacher’s laptop computer (this raised significant security concerns for us and ultimately was a show stopper).
  • There was no custom mod support whatsoever. Over time, it was the ability to modify and customise the game play that had contributed to the enduring appeal of Minecraft and without this, the default game play was less appealing.

The upside, however, was that licensing was incredibly easy to manage and, if you were prepared to overlook security concerns, deployment for a teacher in a basic network would also be simplified.

An example of students using Minecraft Pocket Edition in previous years

The Opportunity:

After the initial disappointment of realising we would not deploy Minecraft Education as soon it was released, Mr Wilj Dekkers engaged in a number of discussions with myself and Mr Joshua Harrison from the St Andrew’s College ICT Services Team to explore how we might progress forward with Minecraft. Very quickly, some key features were identified:

  • Teacher Control: teachers would need the ability to easily manage students within the game. Without this, the chances of students running amok and getting into mischief was very real. This would require third party mods to achieve and a strategic plan around how Digital Citizenship teaching could be included into the Minecraft worlds.
  • The Minecraft server needed to be hosted centrally so that it could be controlled by the ICT services team, whilst still allowing the delegation of in-game management to teachers and to those students identified as leaders who could be student administrators.
  • Teacher/Student administrators needed the ability to maintain / deploy approved mods and perform low level administration work e.g. restarting worlds, creating/deploying new worlds.
  • Finally, the issue of how to deploy a pre-configured client onto student BYOD devices in a quick and simple manner, without disrupting any existing installations of Minecraft they may have already installed.

The above list of requirements needed addressing if we were going to be able to  build a sustainable environment for integrating Minecraft into the eLearning strategies at the College. Joshua decided he would explore various options based on his prior knowledge administering various Minecraft servers in his own time and see if there could be some suitable solutions to use at St Andrew’s.

Technical Setup:

Server:

For the proof of concept, we decided to use an existing HP Compaq 6000 that was spare. The specifications of this machine were pretty light weight, having only a Core2 Duo CPU and 4GB of RAM. It remains to be seen if this will be sufficient and we anticipate needing to increase the resources of this machine as more users and worlds join.

After exploring various different versions of Minecraft, Joshua settled on 1.7.10 1.10.2 (this version is required to be compatible with Sponge. The earlier version was needed for supporting Bukkit which we are no longer using – see below). To support the deployment of these mods, two frameworks were necessary:

  1. Forge 
  2. Bukkit This has been replaced with Sponge due to a potential copyright issue; this has resulted in dropping KCauldron as well.

These are essentially APIs that allow other mods to run on the Minecraft server and normally a Minecraft administrator would use only one or the other of Forge or Bukkit. However, as will be seen, it was necessary to use both and to achieve this an additional third party tool called KCauldron was necessary to enable the use of different mods on the same platform to work nicely together. With the use of Sponge, there is no need for third party tools like KCauldron, as Sponge integrates directly into Forge.

Minecraft Server Dashboard

Minecraft Server Dashboard

Another important tool was MC Dashboard which allowed Joshua to use a graphical user interface (GUI) rather than a traditional command line interface (CLI) to administer the Minecraft server. This tool provides easy oversight into server resource usage, connected users and other important information.

Mods:

As mentioned earlier, it is really the mods that create the key appeal of Minecraft in schools, as it allows for customisation of the worlds and gameplay and, sadly, was something that Microsoft chose to remove from their Education edition. It’s easy to see why, however, because mods are also one of the trickier components and can easily lead to problems of version compatibility and contribute to a poor user experience. There are three key mods that Joshua has deployed for the StAC Minecraft server:

  1. Multiverse: Project Worlds: (Project Worlds replaces Multiverse due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This is a key one as it allows us to run parallel worlds on the same server, whilst enabling teachers and/or students to jump between worlds at will. Put practically, a teacher could create a world for a collaborative social studies project where students need to work towards an assessment or project, whilst having a separate world for “free play” and experimentation. Without Multiverse, projects would need to be separated spatially within the same world which would inevitably lead to problems, such as having to walk a long way to go from one project to another – it all takes time!
  2. PermissionsEX: PermissionManager: (PermissionManager replaces PermissionsEX due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This mod allows for differing levels of user permissions groups, and the following four were setup for school usage:
    1. Student – a basic user who can only do the default game play such as build/place etc
    2. Student Administrator – have slightly elevated controls such as the ability to move other student users around, freeze them and do other temporary modifications. These permissions are designed to support a Digital Citizenship component where students can be educated and entrusted to self-manage as much as possible within the game. The assigned permissions here were carefully selected by Joshua to prevent a student who had prior knowledge of how Minecraft administration works from being able to execute any command.
    3. Teacher – has access to most of the Minecraft server administration, can create new worlds, can kill off users, teleport users between worlds and other main administration functions.
    4. Administrator – aimed at superusers and, at this stage, reserved for ICT staff to support the server installation as necessary.
  3. ICY Admin: The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod (This was used to replace ICY Admin due to the version change of Minecraft) This is the key mod to bring the above together into a user-friendly GUI allowing for in-game administration from a graphical menu for the above user groups. The available menu options in ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod have been built from scratch by Joshua and are controlled by a config file on the Minecraft server itself. Users access the menu system during game play by hitting the tilde key (~) and this replaces the need to execute console / CLI commands within the game. This makes it significantly easier for new users to engage with the game and reduces the barrier-to-entry for teachers who may wish to administrate but know none of the commands.
    1. Some of the controls available via ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod include things such as “freeze” a user/all users in place (useful if you effectively want to pause the game for a break), teleportation of a single user / all users to a shared starting point or, for example, if you wanted them all to be in the same place to work on the same project. Additionally, environmental settings can be controlled in this way e.g. make it rain or snow, or set it to always be night time.
sponge-gui

The control interface for teachers and student-admins when using The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod (which replaced ICY Admin)

These three core mods are what allows the overall setup and administration and, through conversations with Mr Dekkers, are probably sufficient to enable most scenarios of how Minecraft might be used at this stage. Two in-game mods specifically requested by Mr Dekkers were IndustrialCraft and ComputerCraft both of which allow for significant learning opportunities. IndustrialCraft supports things like electricity generation and storage through batteries and transferring into different parts of the game, whilst ComputerCraft is essentially a full programming language accessible by computers in the game.

 

Client Installation & Deployment:

Windows installation batch script

Windows installation batch script

With the setup of the Minecraft server achieved, the final part of the solution was how to easily deploy this to the individual student BYOD laptops. St Andrew’s College has a choice within parameters for BYOD, meaning students can bring either a Windows 10 laptop or an Apple MacBook running OS X.

It was important that there was an easy, stress-free way for teachers and students to install this version of Minecraft onto laptops that did not necessarily need to involve the ICT Services helpdesk team at the College. Joshua was pretty confident he would be able to write some batch scripts for Windows and I suggested he check out OS X’s Automator  as a way of scripting installation for the MacBooks. Interestingly, he found that he was able to script the installation on MacBooks with Automator in about half the time it took to write a batch file for Windows.

The tasks in the Automator script to install onto a MacBook running OS X

The tasks in the Automator script to install onto a MacBook running OS X

The key to making this happen was Minecraft MultiMC, an open source launcher for Minecraft that allows users to run completely separate installations of Minecraft with ease, meaning that we could confidently encourage students to install this version without affecting any other installation of Minecraft they may already have on their laptop.

MultiMC Interface

MultiMC Interface

Essentially, a student is provided with a USB key that has an installer launcher that copies MultiMC and a Java installation into a new folder, whilst setting up short cuts in their Applications folder so they can run the game.

Interestingly, Joshua opted to not include a copy of the Minecraft client application itself within this installer file, instead relying on students having to enter their own Minecraft credentials (linked with their personal paid licensed copy) which would then trigger the download of the client application of Minecraft. This way, we are not distributing any commercial software illegally and the download only adds 1-2minutes to the overall installation process. The key benefit, however, was that MultiMC is already configured to point the installation to the College’s on-premise Minecraft server meaning there was no additional configuration required for students. Additionally, Joshua set this up to run on a non-standard port so that if other students were using Minecraft at school they could not accidentally connect to the school’s Minecraft server and become a nuisance.

All up, it takes less than 5 minutes for a student to install this version of Minecraft from a USB key provided by the teacher.

Where To From Here?

industrialcraft-windmill-and-furnaceI am always really happy when members of the ICT Services Team have an opportunity to use their prior experience or personal interests to contribute to the teaching and learning at the College in ways like this. It is one of the unique things about delivering ICT in schools compared to other environments and the ability to be involved in this way is enjoyed by the staff. Talking with Joshua he admitted to being a bit worried about how to deliver what needed to be a very simple solution that could be managed by students and teachers whilst still being secure and stable:

I had a huge sense of personal satisfaction with the finished solution because I was a bit worried about how I would be able to deliver all of this at the start, or even if it was possible. Ultimately, it was ICY Admin that made it all possible and this was something I found only through researching for this project. It’s nice to know that the hundreds of hours I’ve spent administering Minecraft servers in my own time have paid off and could be used in an educational context.

Mr Joshua Harrison

For me, it is pleasing to know that we have a secure, robust and extensible platform which teachers will be able to use relatively painlessly thanks to the efforts of Joshua in this area. It remains to be seen what interesting curriculum uses arise from this and I’ll certainly be posting a followup blog highlighting this.

Of course, as Microsoft continue to develop their Augmented Reality HoloLens solutions, then perhaps the future of Minecraft will be 3D as this video shows:

eLearning Through The Lens Of Key Competencies

EdTech SummitIn the last week of Term 2 I had the opportunity to present at the NZ Tech Advance Education Technology Summit hosted at Massey University’s Albany Campus. Key topics and subjects discussed include:

  • Inquiry | Creativity | Collaboration – The role of technology in modern learning
  • Developing teacher understanding and encouraging implementation of collaborative and digital learning methods
  • Integrating and encouraging digital technology adoption in curriculum and classroom
  • The new narrative: IT training and computational thinking
  • Building technology into the curriculum – lessons, challenges and what we’ve learnt along the way
  • Collaboration at the forefront of today’s teaching environment

When preparing what I wanted to share at the 40 minute session I had been given, I decided on using the Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum to explain why some examples of eLearning from four St Andrew’s College teachers had been successful. Additionally, I wanted to use authentic student voice to highlight this – fortunately, having been blogging on this site for over two years now there was plenty of examples I could draw on.

If you are interested in an independent view of my session then you can see this micro blogs from Nathaniel Louwrens here and this brief reflection from Andrew Corney here. You can download a full copy of my slides from the presentation from this link on dropbox.com.

The Key Competencies are at the heart of great teaching and learning in New Zealand and are the bedrock upon which effective eLearning can be built on.

Key Competencies

The Key Competencies from the NZ Curriculum

It’s worth reading over the entire descriptions of learners who demonstrate the 5 Key Competencies but some highlights I pulled out to share at the conference included:

  • Thinking: is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas … Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency … [Students] reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.
  • Using Language, Symbols and Texts:  Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed  … Students who are competent users … can interpret and use words, number, images, … and technologies in a range of contexts … They confidently use ICT to access and provide information and to communicate with others
  • Managing Self: This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners … It is integral to self-assessment.
  • Relating To Others: Students who relate well to others are open to new learning and able to take different roles in different situations … By working effectively together, they can come up with new approaches, ideas, and ways of thinking.
  • Participating & Contributing: This competency is about being actively involved in communities … They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity … to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.

I started the session off by highlighting the fact that often ICT is talked about in terms of risk. This can come from security breaches, budget blow-outs and ICT project cost overruns, not to mention distracted and off-task behaviour when using technology. I then posed the following questions:

Questions.png

I wanted to highlight how some of the best examples of effective eLearning from teachers at St Andrew’s College was firmly rooted in Key Competencies. I chose examples from the following four teachers:

Teachers

Combining OneNote & MineCraft To Create Pick-A-Path Stories:

This example is explained in more detail here and the basic Learning Outcomes are displayed below with the relevant Key Competencies included:

Learning outcomes from this unit:

  • to produce interactive pick-a-path adventure stories
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
  • to work collaboratively online to produce an end product
    • KC: Relating To Others
  • to create stories to share online with a wider audience
    • KC: Participating & Contributing

As mentioned above, I wanted to use authentic student voice as much as possible so I included an abbreviated version of the following video so that the audience could hear students articulating their learning and the impact that technology had made:

An insightful quote from the student called Harry was:

The goal was not to just make something pretty in Minecraft, it was actually to improve the quality of your writing … after writing the story, the idea was to look back in Minecraft and see how you could improve the writing you had already completed.

SAMR DivingTo assist teachers at St Andrew’s College with integration of technology into their teaching and learning, we have adopted the SAMR taxonomy that you can see on the left.

This is a really useful way for teachers to conceptualise how technology might assist the learning outcomes for their students as well as provide them some aspirational goals for extended use of technology. Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, has recently written in detail about effective use of the SAMR model which is definitely worth reading if you are new to it. During the presentation, I introduced the audience to a relatively new product from Microsoft called Pulse. This enables the audience to provide real time feedback on a session as well as allowing the presenter to push out questions for quick polls. I asked the audience “What level of SAMR do you feel the Minecraft/OneNote example was operating at?” and below is their response:

Pulse SAMR

Using Microsoft Pulse for instant feedback from the audience

Inspiring Creative Writing Through Constructing Digital Worlds:

The next example I shared was again around creative writing, this time from the High School instead of a Year 6 class. The full reflection can be found here, however the high level overview of the task was as follows (with Key Competencies inserted):

Learning Tasks For This Unit:

  • Write a short story of ~600 words with a theme of “conflict”
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
  • Students Must produce at least 4 “drafts”
    • KC: Thinking
  • Drafts must be shared with peers for feedback/feed-forward & act on appropriate advice
    • KC: Participating & Contributing

What was different about this activity is that students had to build their digital world before they started their writing and use it as a source of inspiration and planning, not just as a reflective tool for editing. Settings were constructed in Sketchup, Paint, Minecraft and the source engine of the game Counter-Strike. Here is a student Ralph talking about his world which I again shared with the conference audience:

Again, I find the language used by the student here informative, with some of his comments being:

  • I wanted readers to grasp that the bombs had come from the bank itself”
    • Clearly, the reader’s experience is at the forefront of his thinking when he is designing his digital world.
  • He blended his natural enjoyment of the game Counter Strike with his school work and learning – a win/win situation!
  • Ralph talks about adding a backstory to the real events of the London Bombings, demonstrating a wider awareness of global communities
  • “As I was designing the level I was constantly thinking of ways I could make the story more interesting.
    • This was not just technology for the sake of it – it was clearly shaping and informing his understanding of the creative writing task that was the key learning outcome here.
    • This was manifested through his drafting process where he removed a lot of the dialogue to improve the narrative flow and added more descriptive text such as the sound of the gunfire

This impressive learning came on the back of an earlier, easier task where the students in the class had leveraged an existing digital world (Google Earth) rather than having to create their own. Through the lens of the SAMR scale this makes perfect sense – the students build their knowledge and experience of digital toolsets in the lower levels of SAMR and once mastered they can progress to more difficult tasks. Here is a write up of the earlier task where students had to explain the significance of setting in a film, and this is a student talking about their comprehension.

Again, it’s important to pick up on the student’s language – the technology is integrally linked to the learning outcomes, it is not merely there for entertainment or distraction. By requiring students to record their personal reflections in this way, students are using a number of Key Competencies.

Communicate Musical Intention By Composing An Original Piece of Music Inspired By Art:

The final example I shared with the audience came from Level 3 Year 13 Music. On the first day of the conference I had been asked to be part of a Q&A Panel about integrating technology into schools and one question from the audience was essentially around what are real world examples of great technology usage in NCEA subjects. The heart of the question was around the challenge of adapting existing assessments to be technology rich and I answered it by a brief description of this example from Mr Duncan Ferguson our Head of Music.

  • Using AS.91419 (3.4)
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Texts
  • Students are required to reflect on their composition and explain the connection with the art that inspired them
    • KC: Thinking
  • These are largely independent projects that the students need to work on themselves
    • KC: Managing Self

Here is the video of the student reflecting on their learning:

Flipping The Maths Classroom:

I wanted to allow some Q&A at the end of my session so I ran out of time to share this example from Mr Ben Hilliam, so I’ll briefly reference it here. In this example, the key learning outcomes included:

  • Year 9 Maths: solving Linear Equations
    • KC: Using Language, Symbols & Text
  • Students were required to watch the instructional videos and then attempt the practice questions
    • KC: Thinking
  • Students needed to regularly complete check lists indicating their progress
    • KC: Managing Self

Here is an example video made by Mr Hilliam:

What I most liked about this example is that students were not left on their own to just work through it, the teacher is still involved through the process, despite the availability of the instructional videos. The following screenshot is from a OneNote Class Notebook showing how the student has completed their progress reports and the teacher has provided feedback:

Work eg2

I used MS Pulse to ask the audience whether they personally felt that using a “flipped classroom” genuinely created more opportunities for differentiated and personalised learning during class time. Their response was overwhelmingly “yes!”

Flipping The Classroom

An alternative way to show poll results from MS Pulse

I concluded my session with the following thoughts:

Concluding Thoughts

I really enjoyed the opportunity to present at the NZ Tech Advance Education Technology Summit and was fortunate enough to receive some positive feedback from the session:

Digital Scavenger Hunt Celebrates Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori

Te Wiki O Te Reo MāoriThis week St Andrew’s College has joined in the national celebrations of Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori with a number of different activities. For the first time, we decided to run a Digital Scavenger Hunt that was aimed at getting ākonga (students) and kaiako (teachers) engaging in the celebrations in a fun way through using technology.

This was achieved using a Digital Scavenger Hunt, whereby students had to complete a number of tasks that accrued points based on the level of difficulty or effort required. The following poster was created using Canva and posted around the College and also on the news stream of our Moodle LMS

1 Point Challenges

Pikau

A handwoven harakeke pikau was 1st Prize

Initially, I was unsure of the best technology to get students to submit their photos and videos to a central location easily, and without needing a specific app or account. I tried to crowdsource some suggestions through my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter, with ideas of using Padlet, Cluster, Instagram and Google Drive all being suggested. I also thought about setting up an open course on our Moodle site that students could submit photos and videos for the competition through, however the reality is that it is still not super easy from a mobile phone to do this.

In the end, I settled on using the relatively new “File Request” feature that is available free with a Dropbox.com account. The beauty of this is that it significantly lowers the barrier of entry for students as:

  • They did not require a personal Dropbox account themselves
  • They didn’t need a specific app on their phone – it worked through a mobile browser on any platform (we tested on iOS, Windows and Android). We used a QR Code and shortened URL to make it easier to type on a phone – http://bit.ly/stac-mlw 
  • Any files they submitted were visible only to me as the Dropbox account – students could not see the entries of anyone else which was important.
  • Students entered their name and email address when submitting files, so all entries were easily identifiable and Dropbox emailed me as the account owner when a submission was made.

To assist students with how to submit their entries, I made an instructional video using ScreenFlow 6  and a nice new feature in version 6 is the ability to record the screen of your mobile phone. This allowed me to show what to do on the phone to upload photos and video, whilst simultaneously showing what it looked like on the Dropbox account as the files were submitted:

Video showing how to submit photos for the Digital Scavenger Hunt directly from your mobile phone

The competition proved most popular in our Preparatory School, with the majority of entries coming from Year 7 students. Here are a couple of example photos that were entered:

Future Ideas:

I had a chat with Mr Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, at the end of this competition and we both agreed that this is an idea that could be recycled easily for other purposes. Now that we know that Dropbox File Requests is an easy way to submit and receive files via mobile phones this could be used for other Digital Scavenger Hunts with a different theme.

One idea could be an orientation programme for new students, aimed to get them going around the campus to learn where different places/services are located. There are some specific apps aimed at doing this, such as Scavify, but building your own would probably not be too difficult either. In the end, this was a fun and relatively easy activity to build into our celebration of Te Reo Māori at St Andrew’s College.

Guest Post: Mr Dekker’s Journey With OneNote & Minecraft

This is a repost of a blog on the official Microsoft Education blog where Mr Wilj Dekkers, a Year 6 teacher at St Andrew’s College and Microsoft Innovative Educator, recaps the journey of his classroom over the last two years with Microsoft OneNote and Minecraft.

OneNote is central to the pedagogy in my classroom and school. When you walk through the building you can witness the everyday use of the application from Year 4 to Year 8. You will see Active Boards where teachers annotate writing samples in the Content Library for students to use as a reference for their own learning. Students are huddled around their laptops debating which sources of information are most relevant to include in a shared notebook, and staff are reviewing meeting notes shared through a Professional Learning Group’s OneNote.

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

St. Andrew’s College uses a custom designed Inquiry Pathway—the core of which is built around helping students develop a collaborative approach to learning. The approach is question-driven, encouraging students to find the answers themselves, coming to their own conclusions. As a teacher, this is exciting; we plan and facilitate but cannot predict the final outcome.

Having planned an inquiry around national identity in the 21st century, I had posed a problem to my class: The Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 had left a long lasting scar on both the economy and identity of the city. Tourism was dwindling, with visitors flying in and quickly moving on to other parts of New Zealand’s South Island. I challenged my students to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a Kiwi in the 21st century?” and also find a way to bring tourists back to our city.

OneNote Minecraft 1

Students formed collaborative groups and created their own shared notebooks. They planned, questioned and researched their Kiwi icons. They interviewed parents and discussed how families from a variety of cultural backgrounds celebrated being “Kiwis” and what being a New Zealander meant to them. All of which was documented in each group’s shared OneNote Notebook.

Students began asking if they could book laptops to work together in our shared learning spaces outside the physical space of the room. They loved having the flexibility to be able to work together around a PC or laptop and then continue collaborating using OneNote at home, completely away from the physical space of the school, in the evenings. Students were so enthralled with the inquiry unit and ability to work together in real-time through OneNote. Parents even began commenting on how they had never seen their students so excited to return from school and get started on their homework.

Part of the inquiry was looking at how we could bring tourists back to Christchurch. This was where Minecraft was introduced to the class. Students brought in devices running the pocket edition and connected to shared realms via the school’s Wi-Fi. As well as working as a team to answer the big inquiry question, members of each group had individually focused on an aspect of Kiwi culture. I asked the students if they could build a theme park with Kiwiana-themed rides that incorporated elements from their inquiries.

Before long, the class was a buzzing hub of self-directed learning. Students were writing presentation speeches from their inquiry notebooks while Minecraft experts built bigger and better Kiwiana rides to showcase their learning. In the evenings, groups continued developing and improving their learning in preparation for the big day.

By the end of the third term of 2014, OneNote became a standard classroom tool. Having seen the benefits, families had started purchasing laptops for their students to use in our class. This again caused a chain reaction. Students with access to their own devices were using OneNote more, which in turn meant that more students began arriving with laptops.

This had to be managed carefully, since having a laptop in Year 6 is not required. I was wary of technology being used as a substitution tool and made sure that in my planning any use of OneNote or any other tools we were using was in ways that enhanced or allowed learning to take place in a way that could not be done without a device.

OneNote Minecraft 2

It was around this time that Sam McNeill, Director of ICT for the college, brought in six Surface Pro 3s to trial, and I was fortunate to be asked to use one in the prep school. Having always been a believer in the creative power of the pen, I was instantly won over by having the best of both worlds at my fingertips—a fully functional Windows tablet with a stylus that allowed me to write down ideas, thoughts and comments directly into my OneNote Notebooks. It did not take long for a few students to begin arriving with their own Surface tablets!

In the final term of the 2014 school year, we focused on our use of narrative; enhancing writing features and broadening our vocabulary. Using both OneNote and Minecraft seemed like a natural fit.

As a class, we read through “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain,” written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in 1982. This book was one of the first “single-player gamebooks” and was the first of what was to become a successful series of pick-a-path gamebooks called “Fighting Fantasy.”

OneNote Minecraft 3

The students loved it. We discussed modern game worlds, from Fable to World of Warcraft. How could we emulate those fantastic “Fighting Fantasy” stories using the technology at our disposal, and how could the technology enhance the quality of our writing? We wanted our readers to have the same sense of choice and adventure we had experienced reading “Warlock,” while being able to share our writing without needing to produce any form of print media.

“Minecraft brings out the creativity in me. I love remaking my story Minecraft and improving my writing.”
—Mila

Through the insertion of hyperlinks connecting pages, students found an easy way to provide choices for the reader, and as notebooks stored on Onedrive could be easily shared, the audience for their writing expanded quickly. Students were sharing and collaborating on their adventure stories by allowing editing rights to certain classmates deemed to have the relevant skillsets to be seen as official class editors.

The inclusion of Minecraft was thanks to Ms Tam Yuill-Proctor, a Year 10 English teacher in our college. Students in Tam’s creative writing class had used Minecraft and other 3-D authoring tools to create worlds for their stories.

“Using Minecraft made my imagination go wild with thoughts!”
—Kinda

Our Year 6 students took Tam’s idea and expanded upon it by using Minecraft to both plan and develop their writing, as well as to review and revise the content, descriptive phrases and vocabulary. As their Minecraft worlds grew, so did their stories, which were housed in OneNote. In some cases, we had 10-year-old boys who were not big fans of writing producing 5000-word interactive pick-a-path stories. We published a blog entry detailing the OneNote and Minecraft pick-a-path story.

“Minecraft was helpful because it made me notice all the little details in my narrative that were never in my original bubble plan.”
—Padric

By 2015, most teachers in the prep school had embraced OneNote. The superb OneNote Class Notebook app creator was now an important element of Office 365, and students were appreciating the structure of the Collaboration Space, Content Library and their own personal sections.

Teachers were appreciating the organizational simplicity of adding resources and lessons into the Content Library for students to use in their own sections. Within my Year 6 class, multiple students arrived at the beginning of the year armed with Surface Pro 3s.

OneNote sections became collaborative planning spaces for groups designing games and interactive narratives; students naturally made use of the Collaboration Space to form group sections for our prosthetic hand designs for the 3-D printer.

This was also the first year that I started using Minecraft in Math. The students in my group weren’t huge fans of math. I knew they were capable of so much more, but their personal attitude towards the subject was that it was hard; comments at the start of the year were mostly, “I’m not good at math.” My focus was to change their attitudes to that of a growth mindset where they say, “I’m not good at math, yet!” Continue reading

Putting the R in SAMR

One of my on-going goals is based around the successful implementation of eLearning into my teaching of Year 13 Geography. In my role as eLearning integrator at the College, it is important that I am seen to be visible in this area, and that I can show that I too am implementing some of the strategies and tools that I am advocating to other staff.

SAMR

The SAMR Model

SAMR is a popular model used to help teachers infuse technology into teaching and learning. The man behind the model is Dr. Ruben Puentedura, an Argentinian academic. The SAMR model is based around a planning progression that aims to transform learning experiences so they result in higher levels of achievement for students. We have previously blogged about the SAMR scale here – a great post that thoroughly describes the model.

Alternatively you can listen to Dr Puentedura explain the SAMR model on this video. 

Hearing Dr Puentedura Explain his Model

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Dr Puentedura here in Christchurch. During the presentation he spent time analysing the structure of the SAMR model, by modeling how the model could be used in the teaching of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The way we were challenged to think about the model was as a SAMR Ladder.  A unit of work must involve a deliberate progression through the stages of the SAMR model, with each learning activity building on the complexity of student understanding generated by the last.  This ladder analogy was the crucial aspect of the presentation for me, and really consolidated my own understanding of the model and the most appropriate way to implement it.

The second part of the presentation was time spent working in small groups implementing the model into a unfamiliar situation. In my case it was helping Year 5 students consolidate their understanding of correct notation in Mathematics. While, as a senior Geography teacher, the context was unfamiliar, this actually proved beneficial as the exercise consolidated my understanding of the importance of a deliberate progression of learning activities required to move through the ladder, thus improving student engagement and understanding.

Takeaways from Presentation

I found Dr Puentedura’s presentation the most engaging I have attended recently. On reflection, my main takeaway’s are:

  • The SAMR model is designed to be implemented progressively across a long unit of work, rather than used to justify the planning of an individual task.
  • Think of the SAMR model as a ladder, and plan to progress your students and their learning.
  • The challenge for teachers is to move beyond Augmentation to Modification

Putting it into Action – Queenstown Tourism Development Unit

S

My Ideas for a SAMR Unit on Tourism Development

Upon returning to school I felt compelled to put my new learning into action. Next week my Year 13 students begin work on a new unit of work; Tourism Development. The aim of the unit is to help students demonstrate understanding of how a Cultural Process shapes a Geographic Environment; in this case Queenstown. During this unit they will study the historic and contemporary role that Tourism Development has played in the life of Queenstown.

Whilst technology has previously played a part in my teaching of this unit, this will be the first occasion where I plan to implement the SAMR model this deliberately throughout a unit.

Four levels of Task Development

Because OneNote plays such a big roll in my class it was easy to identify tasks in the unit that are clearly Substitution. Particularly with the recently added Classroom Notebook Add-in to OneNote it is now incredibly easy to ensure that class notes are easily distributed to all students in an organised, and deliberate way.

The second level of the scale is Augmentation. These are tasks that technology acts as a direct tool substitute, but there is a level of functional improvement. A good example of this will be a task that I have previously used during this topic where students use the Placemark functionality within Google Earth to investigate the Spatial Patterns of accommodation and attractions in Queenstown. This task could just as easily be done with a paper map and felt pens, but the functional improvement comes from the ability of students to turn the different layers on and off, and add text detail to each of the Placemarks.

Task Modification is where the real challenge lies for me in this unit. Google Earth makes another appearance on this list, as the program is so useful for students to visualise an environment such as Queenstown; so there are two further tasks that utilise its potential. The third task is aimed at utilising the potential of the site Canva which we have recently discovered in our team as an easy site to use to create visuals.

The final step in my ladder is based around task Redefinition. At this level the technology must allow for the creation of a new task, one that was previously inconceivable. In this case I plan to have my students create a revision website that will be made public. We have previously blogged about student produced websites and I feel that this is an authentic purpose for the students to challenge their organisation and, most importantly, their learning.

The unit of work is planned to take approximately 5 weeks of class time – and with the amount of content material that is demanded of Y13 students it will be interesting to see the progress that I am able to make through this plan. I feel particularly optimistic at this stage however, as the substitution aspect of my providing notes for students to annotate, rather than copy, frees up huge amounts of time to complete more in-depth tasks.

At the conclusion of the unit I will revisit its success – watch this space!