Encouraging Growth Mindset in Students with Robotics

In 2015 our Preparatory School teachers began integrating robotics into the curriculum. We have blogged about it previously here, and here. 2016 has seen the continuation of introductory sessions with all year 7 classes, where they investigate the basic functionality of their EV3 robots – such as making the robots move forward, and turn.

Of particular interest to me, was how has this initial enthusiasm for robotics manifested itself into the everyday curriculum delivery of the Preparatory School. I was excited to hear about the way a Year 7 teacher, Mrs Kelly McBride, was

Mrs Kelly McBride

Mrs Kelly McBride

utilising the robots to help her students apply their knowledge of regular polygons.

Developing Growth Mindset Through Perserverence

Having spent some time teaching her students the characteristics and properties of various polygons, Mrs McBride set the class a challenge – ‘Can a robot draw a perfect polygon?’

In order for Technology to be appropriately integrated into planning, it is important that the tool selected complements the desired learning outcomes. Having introduced the new learning, the children were now required to apply it, and integrate it with their basic knowledge of robotics.

The development of a Growth Mindset is facilitated by resilience, and a love of learning. The first lesson in this series became a trial and error session as students had to persevere to respond to the slight differences in response between individual robots, in terms of the amount of turning they observed in response to particular programming commands.

“It was great to be able to develop a task that incorporated three different aspects of learning; a growth mindset, application of Robotics, and their learning about the properties of Polygons” – Mrs McBride

Robotic Polygon

Year 7 Students drawing a square with a robot

Getting the Robot to Draw

Once the students had ironed out the nuances of their robots they were able to meet their first challenge – to get their robot to draw a perfect square. This challenge required even more perseverance for the students to complete perfect right angles with their squares. Mrs McBride observed students completely engrossed in their tasks, as they strove for perfection.

“It was fun having to actually calculate the degrees and try and get the robot to do it – try and fail, try and fail….then finally succeed.” – Grace, Year 7

For the groups that tasted success early, they were presented with a second, and much more complex, challenge – to get their robot to draw an oval, or a hexagon. This challenged the students to apply their understanding of these different shapes, and the properties of each, before then programming their robot to produce the shape.

“Instead of boring old maths, we had fun working out how to get the robot to draw for us”  – Reeve, Year 7

Successful Integration of Technology into Teaching

It is easy to introduce an engaging tool like Robotics to students. What is more difficult, and what I am much more interested in celebrating, is when a teacher can take that tool, and create a series of lessons which authentically integrate that particular technology into the curriculum. I feel that that is exactly what Mrs McBride has achieved here. She has planned an engaging, relevant, and scalable task – which has challenged her students to contribute to their own learning.

“The students lost track of time they were so engaged – working until they had solved the problem” – Mrs McBride

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

Introducing Blair McHugh – Teacher of Digital Technologies

Licensed under Creative Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons

Recently I took the opportunity to sit down with Mr Blair McHugh, our new teacher of Digital Technologies at St Andrew’s College and discuss his previous experiences and vision for the subject. What became apparent was Mr McHugh’s passion for the subject and how his approach to teaching programming aims to dispel the common misconception of a sole programmer working in a darkened room eating pizza!

Prior to joining the staff at St Andrew’s, he had taught for 9 years at Burnside High School and before that at Cashmere High School. Importantly, however, he has industry experience with Fujitsu NZ primarily in networking and infrastructure and it is these skills he aims to impart to students at the College.

A coding language is just a tool – if you’ve not solved the problem before you begin the actual coding,  then you’re probably not going to solve the problem.

Mr McHugh will be teaching students the Python coding language, however as the above quote suggests, there is significantly more to this subject than just learning one of the many programming languages that exist these days. The steps students are encouraged to follow are:

  • Plan – understand what the requirements of the job are, ask the right questions and formulate an approach to solving this before you start coding. Analysis like this early on helps to ensure future success in the project.
  • Code – once you have fully analysed the problem and planned an approach, only then attempt to write some code.
  • Test – execute the code and see if it works!
  • Review – check how it has all gone
  • Repeat – go back to the planning and analysis to see what may need to be improved, re-work the code accordingly, and test it out. Keep repeating this process until you have it working and the problem is solved and the key outcomes from the planning stage are met.

One of the key messages Mr McHugh has to remind students of is the need to avoid “programming on the go” as this almost invariably leads to wasted time:

Time is the biggest and most precious resource available to students. There is little cost in ‘real’ resources when churning out code, but time spent aimlessly coding is too important to waste

To achieve an Excellence in Level 3, students need to demonstrate real efficiencies in their code – there should be no “blind corners or dead ends” – and the easiest way to avoid this is effective planning and regular reviewing of the code.

To further enhance the students ability to plan efficiently, he promotes a very open, collaborative environment where students are not just expected to participate and inter-relate with each, they are required to. This is supported by the banning of headphones in class – students can not be an individual silo separated from the rest of the class. The rationale behind this is that increasingly in the workplace, programmers need to be talking to stakeholders, clients, fellow programmers and communicating effectively to all of these individuals.

Sec_T1

The Term 1 2016 DPR Value of “Honesty” works very well in Digital Technologies

Whilst discussing this, Mr McHugh pointed out how well the Term 1 DPR Value (Developing Positive Relationships) worked in his class. He expects students to be honest when they’ve struck a problem with their coding or analysis and be able to ask other students for input.

Key Competencies

The Key Competencies from the NZ Curriculum

 

Consequently, the Key Competencies from the NZ Curriculum play a major role in his classes, in particular  Participating and Contributing and Relating to Others as students interact and collaborate together. In the words of Mr McHugh:

 

No one codes alone in a silo in the real world – being part of a team and coding on a bigger project is a critical skill to learn in school.

To further support this, students practice sitting around a table, asking questions of each others’ projects. Asking the right sort of questions is an essential part of problem solving and developing critical thinking skills. Along with these skills is the continued importance of a strong mathematical foundation to be a successful programmer.

Too often, students do not think maths or physics are necessary in coding, however to start doing advanced 3D graphics a strong grasp of matrices and geometry is critical:

Students can still do 2D platform style games, Angry Birds etc, without strong maths. However, it’s the 3D graphics in games like Halo that really spins their wheels and attracts their attention … BUT you need great maths ability to do that sort of thing.

Following on from the work of Mr Phil Adams, Mr McHugh will continue the lunchtime Code Clubs for those students who are not taking Digital Technologies as a subject.

I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the projects that students will work on this year and hopefully writing about them on this blog.

Robotics: From No-bots to Go-bots

This post was originally published on the Interface Magazine Online website – you can read the original post here.

Briony Marks

Miss Briony Marks

Last year was my first teaching robotics. We began a Robotic Club using EV3 Lego Mindstorms, which quickly found its legs and became firmly established across the Preparatory School. It was a fantastic learning experience; the children were enthralled, writes Briony Marks, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch.

We began with construction and attempting to understand the components. Identifying the sensors and motors was a key factor. Discussing wheel size and rotations formed part of our initial learning. With time, we began to program the Lego Block. Hanging to the instruction booklet like a life raft, the students and I navigated the early concepts.

Whole-school programme

Our confidence grew and, when asked to make a presentation to the PTA in Term 2 about the benefits of a widespread robotics programme, I was able to talk confidently about the phenomenal learning that had happened in our club. Our students were measuring in degrees, centimetres and metres; calculating turns; programming and sequencing and all within a couple of 40-minute sessions on a Friday lunchtime.

We were fortunate enough to receive another eight sets of the Education Edition EV3. This was to enable us to roll out robotics on a class scale (allowing one robot between two in our maximum classes of 26). The year saw a huge transition, from a small group of 15 experimental and brave Year 5 students to a school-wide project.

RoboCup Junior NZ

robotics1At the beginning of Term 3, we decided to enter the RoboCup Junior New Zealand competition (robocupjunior.org.nz). This was an ambitious plan with only five weeks to prepare. We selected five teams (from Years 5, 7 and 8) and with two full days blocked out and about two extra hours a week we went from unpacking and building to choreographing a piece of Robot Theatre.

The time frame was tight, with little opportunity for instruction in even the basics. However, the students managed to self and peer teach to eventually put together four very different theatre pieces. We were incredibly pleased with their hard work. From ‘Mazerunner’ to ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Jurassic World’ to ‘Pink Panther’, students’ ideas and creativity came to life with MDF, plenty of paint, papier-mâché, some poorly mixed soundtracks and, of course, the robots!

Positive student feedback

Following RoboCup, I asked them to take an anonymous survey. I was delighted to read the overwhelmingly positive responses. As a general comment, the students enjoyed the independence, working creatively and intuitively to overcome problems, and saw the experience as enriching rather than disheartening. They listed their interpersonal skills with comments such as:

“I learnt to take turns at things and not always be the leader”

and

“You can save time if you work together as a team.”

My reflection and advice

Three weeks prior to RoboCup I attended a training day with the fantastic Sandy Garner at the University of Otago. Her easy-to-use booklet allowed me to grasp huge concepts of programming. This structure has driven the way I now introduce the robots to my classes. Her website Learning with robots (learningwithrobots.weebly.com) hosts a wealth of resources that will help focus your planning for establishing a robotics course.

The greatest challenge I found was trying to structure lessons that allowed for creativity and continued success to maintain student engagement.

Term 4 saw us expand Year 4s, who have been chomping at the bit all year long to get their hands on a robot! These young masterminds blew me away with their ability to problem solve (as I become a more confident teacher of robotics the children are encouraged to experiment more).

I’m incredibly proud of the reaction of the students and parents, and of myself for being able to understand and teach others to use the robots (mostly) with success. I hope that I’ve managed to inspire some future robot engineers, modelled a ‘growth mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed one’ … and also that I might have broken down some stereotypes about women and tech along the way!

Five-week sampler course, by Briony Marks

  1. Introducing routines below and allow students to discover how to go forward, backwards and turn
  • Where things are kept;
  • How to save your files to avoid confusion;
  • The basics of programming and downloading your code to your robot; and
  • Rules, such as ‘never run your program with the robot on a table!’
  1. The Arch Challenge – Students must navigate through a simple arch maze. They must not cross the lines and must perform a ‘trick’ at the top. This allows them to experiment with different turning styles and the sound and image function.
  2. Complete the Arch Challenge and start the Red Riding Hood challenge. This is from Sandy’s booklet, which shows a sweet challenge where students must navigate safely from Grandma’s house to Red Riding Hood’s garage. She must stop at the main road, check left and right and then navigate the maze to reverse safely into her garage without being eaten by the wolf!
  3. Complete Red Riding Hood
  4. Introduce the Ultrasonic Sensors and loops to create a program that lets the robot navigate the classroom without crashing.

 

Briony Marks teaches at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch. Learn more about her work at her blog missmarksblogs.wordpress.com

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.

Microsoft Video Showcases Innovative Educators

On the 23rd November 2015 Microsoft NZ arranged for a TV crew to film and interview a number of staff and students at St Andrew’s College. The focus of the day was showcasing how the Surface Pro 3 and OneNote were being used creatively within the College. The three teaching staff interviewed were Mr Wilj Dekkers (Year 6 class teacher in the Preparatory School), Ms Tam Yuill Proctor (Assistant Head of English) and Mr Ben Hilliam (Assistant Head of Maths).

These three were chosen as they have been using the Surface Pro 3 since our initial trial group was formed in late 2014 and also because they have recently been named as Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016:

St Andrew’s College’s three Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016 from left to right: Mr Ben Hillian, Ms Tam Yuill Proctor and Mr Wilj Dekkers

All three have featured on this blog before, with some of my favourite posts about their teaching being:

What impresses me about these teachers is how natural the integration of technology and eLearning strategies are. As I noted on the post about Mr Hilliam above:

Whilst the phrase “ubiquitousness of technology” is over used, this lesson did demonstrate that when used effectively, the technology is not at the forefront of the lesson. It was not gimmicky or flashy, instead it provided functional improvement to what was already a great lesson.

Certainly, the technology available to achieve this integration is available and well supported at St Andrew’s, something that Ms Yuill Proctor noted in a blog post published today:

At StAC I count myself very lucky to have the technology, infrastructure and guidance available to try new tools to enhance the learning programs and assist with day to day teaching.

Having access to the tools and support increases the confidence of teachers to try new things – sometimes this is simply at a “Substitution” level on the SAMR scale of technology integration – but often it goes deeper into Modification and Redefinition:

SAMR Diving

These three teachers, recognised externally by Microsoft for the innovative work they’re doing in their classrooms, along with our eLearning Integrator Mr Tom Adams, need to function as change agents and ambassadors within the College in 2016, sharing their pedagogy and encouraging colleagues to follow their lead.

In 2014 St Andrew’s introduced the 1:1 Computing Programme to Year 9 students, making it compulsory for all students in that year group to bring a laptop. We have now successfully concluded the second year of this and, in 2016, are rolling back this requirement to Year 8 students in our Preparatory School as well.

Both Mr Dekkers and Mr Adams have been heavily involved in planning the rationale and support for the Year 8 programme. The result of this is that close to 700 students in Years 8-11 will be required to bring a laptop to school each day: clearly the need for eLearning leaders such as those recognised above is critical to ensure staff and students can maximise the value of this technology.

I am really pleased that this video, and the recognition from Microsoft of these three teachers, reflects the huge amount of effort and planning that goes into teaching with technology at St Andrew’s College.

Footnote: One of the happy outcomes from the day Microsoft spent filming was the chance to interview Toby, a budding game developer in Mr Dekkers’ class. This led to a followup Skype interview that I blogged about here

Toby 3

Bringing Experts into the Classroom

One of the main purposes of this blog is to raise awareness within the college of innovative pedagogy, with the overall aim of inspiring others. I was excited this week to spend a bit of time in a Year 6 Religious Education classroom, where I saw evidence of exactly that.

At the recent conference of the New Zealand Association of Religious Education Teachers and Chaplains, our Preparatory School Religious Education Teacher, Mrs Jillian Fenton, found herself reflecting on the possibilities of tapping into the expertise of others, and bringing that into her classroom. This reflection was in conjunction with the 2016 Religious Education curriculum review which was aiming to continue to make learning in this particular curriculum area as authentic as possible.

As part of this process Mrs Fenton also thought back to her Year 6 student’s end of term reflections from Term 3. Within these she noted that a number of children raised some very interesting questions that they wanted the opportunity to ask.

Accessing an Expert

Mrs Fenton had seen what was going on with Skype in the College, with Mystery Skypes, intra-college lessons, and asking an expert; and she really wanted her students to have the same opportunity. She approached Dr Jennifer McLeod, a Physics, Science and Religious Education teacher at John McGlashon College in Dunedin.

Both Year 6 classes were given the opportunity to connect with Dr McLeod and have their questions answered.  My observations of one of these session illustrated the extremely high levels of student engagement as they asked questions such as

“Does God’s power have a limit?”

 

“What proof is there of God’s existence?”

Mrs Fenton notes that “It was brilliant to give children the opportunity to ask those questions of someone they perceive as an expert.”

I thought it was great to see this example of a teacher thinking carefully about how she could use approachable technology to give her students such an engaging and authentic learning experience.

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.

 

Integrating Student Data Into Moodle

moodleMoodle is the Learning Management System (LMS) used by St Andrew’s College at all year levels and is renowned for being very customisable due to it’s Open Source code base. Recently, we partnered with Catalyst NZ, experts in Open Source Software (OSS), on an integration project to extract data from the College’s MS-SQL based Student Management System (SMS) called Synergetic and display this to students directly in Moodle.

The project started with a request from the Deputy Rector, Mr Roland Burrows, for students to be able to see their Fortnightly Notes scores directly. This form of reporting is new in 2015 and the rationale behind these Fortnightly Notes is explained by Mr Burrows:

They provide the opportunity for teachers to regularly report to parents on the contribution that their son/daughter is making to his/her own learning through their attitude and effort

Parents can log into the Parent Portal to see a PDF summary of these scores that looks something like this:

A redacted example of a student's Fortnightly Notes score

A redacted example of a student’s Fortnightly Notes score

As the name implies, the Parent Portal is not available to students directly, so choosing Moodle was an obvious choice to display this data to students. Whilst considering the possible layout options of this data, we decided against replicating the table view that parents see above and instead decided to present a line graph to students that would visually reflect their attitude and effort in each subject across the entire year. Additionally, displaying Student Attendance information on a per-class basis, along with NCEA results-to-date would add real value for students at St Andrew’s so these features were added to the scope of the project.

CONFIGURATION:

To achieve these outcomes, we needed to partner with Catalyst for the Moodle configuration, and they proceeded to write a custom plugin that would extract data from the MS-SQL database powering Synergetic, import it into Moodle’s mySQL database and then present it to the students. To achieve this, three custom SQL views were created that collated only the information to be displayed in Moodle: NCEA summaries, Attendance percentages and Fortnightly Notes scores. A sample of this data can be seen in this gallery:

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New navigation options under Site Pages

New navigation options under Site Pages

Lastly, the Moodle theme used on the St Andrew’s College Moodle site was modified to include new navigation for students to access this information. Extensive testing was then completed on our development Moodle site to iron out bugs and ensure that the information was being displayed correctly.

DISPLAYING THE DATA:

It was decided to graph a student’s Fortnightly Notes score and Attendance information at the top of each course page in Moodle, so they could immediately see their effort and attendance on a per-class basis. This can be seen in the following animated GIF image as the graphs are generated in real time:

Gif1

An animated image showing the Fortnightly Notes line graph and Attendance pie chart being generated on a student’s course page

However, to also replicate the Parent Portal summary view, a student could see the scores for all classes on a new page added under the “Site Pages” navigation menu:

Summary

Summary view of Fortnightly Notes scores and Class Attendance

For students working towards NCEA they can now see their recorded grades directly in their Moodle account:

A Yr11 Student's NCEA resutls

A Yr11 Student’s NCEA results

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Working on this project was exciting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was our initial attempt to extract meaningful student data from our SMS and display it elsewhere. Secondly, we believe that providing this information to students visually, and displaying it to them every single time they log into their Moodle course pages, will encourage them with their effort and attitude in class. Lastly, it represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is possible to present to students in Moodle.

In many ways, this was a proof of concept: could we extract data and present it meaningfully to students in one of our primary learning platforms? Thanks to the customisation options within Moodle, we were able to achieve this and with other recent testing of Microsoft’s new Business Intelligence platform called PowerBI, we anticipate being able to add even more visual information to students in this way (for those interested, the animated graphs are powered by the open source rGraph tool).

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?