Creative Writing With OneNote & MineCraft

Harry reading his story and showing the world he created in Minecraft

Creative writing can be a topic that even the most competent students find challenging. For the children of Mr Dekkers’ Year 6 class, added motivation was provided by the introduction of “Pick a Path” stories as the format for their creative writing. For those unfamiliar with this genre, the reader is regularly presented with a choice at the bottom of a page – depending on which option they select, the outcome or ending of the story can be quite different.

I was pretty excited by the idea of using Microsoft OneNote to create these stories ever since I had stumbled across the idea in October on the Partners in Learning Network which outlined the learning objectives of this activity as:

  • to produce interactive choose your own adventure stories
  • to work collaboratively online to produce an end product
  • to create stories to share online with a wider audience

I shared the link with a few teachers who I knew would be interested and the timing was perfect for Mr Dekkers’ Year 6 students who were embarking on creative writing as part of an English unit. Already competent OneNote users, the student did have to figure out how they were going to hyperlink between pages in their notebooks, and with this problem solved, the writing began.

Hamish made this cover image using Paint.Net and merged three different images.

Hamish made this cover image using Paint.Net and merged three different images.  CLICK IMAGE TO READ THE STORY

To encourage his students to reflect on their writing and be as creative as possible, Mr Dekkers asked them to draw a picture of a scene or the world they were describing, or alternatively to recreate it in Minecraft. In doing so, the students could literally visualise what they were writing about. Their editing from this process was reflected in their OneNote Notebooks by highlighting changes made as a result of their picture or Minecraft world.

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Due to the ease of sharing NoteBooks in OneNote, students were able to read and comment on the progression of the stories and provide feedback to one another or suggest ideas for the direction of the stories.

Desert of Terror

Harry’s story Desert of Terror. CLICK IMAGE TO READ THE STORY

With the writing complete, the class had the opportunity to read them all and then voted for the three stories they enjoyed the most. Izzy, Hamish and Harry’s stories were chosen and I had the pleasure of hosting them in the Board Room in Strowan House for a reading of their Pick a Path stories.

 

Izzy's Pick a Path Story called The Black Death Maze. CLICK IMAGE TO READ THE STORY

Izzy’s Pick a Path Story called The Black Death Maze. CLICK IMAGE TO READ THE STORY

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, albeit very challenging to complete the stories successfully without coming to a gruesome end by choosing the wrong path! I do encourage you to click on the cover images on the left and read the stories yourself. This is possible because the three students shared their stories in read only mode in OneNote.

When I queried Harry about the reason for using Minecraft he said:

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.

Their ease and confidence in using OneNote was evident and so I took the opportunity to ask them about how they found using this tool in their learning in general.  Hamish commented:

OneNote is really good because we can all go on it at the same time – we have even done debates on it!

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Teaching The Teachers: St Andrew’s College Staff Delivering Professional Development

StAC Logo WhiteThe end of the academic year is a busy time in most schools, but also a time that many teachers engage in professional development. It is no different at St Andrew’s College where three hour, small group sessions were organised for all secondary teaching staff as a refresher on eLearning. This professional development was run by Arnika Brown, an eLearning Integrator from Cyclone Computers who has previously worked with teachers in our Preparatory School.

This year has also seen increasing requests by other schools and organisations for our teachers to deliver professional development in the area of eLearning and technology use in the classroom. An example of this is earlier this week our Assistant Head of English Ms Tam Yuill Proctor was invited to deliver a keynote at the Dunedin English Big Day Out conference. The title of her message was “Putting the “E” of E-Learning into Teaching and Learning” and as a summary reflection of presentation she recorded a terrific Office Mix overview (click the slide below to view):

Tam Office Mix

The topics covered in the keynote included:

  • Teaching and Learning: knowledge building, learning communities, practice
  • Office365: Office Mix, OneNote and OneDrive
  • Inquiry Learning: putting it into action with Year 10
  • Blogs and Twitter: effective use of these in professional development.

Other examples of our staff delivering or facilitating professional development in eLearning recently include:

It is excellent to see teachers from St Andrew’s College being invited to share their expertise and experience with the wider teaching community, as it highlights the value our own students are receiving in their tuition. As well as requests to speak at events, the College has hosted numerous staff from other schools on visits to see eLearning in action in our classrooms.

To build on this momentum, St Andrew’s has created a new position starting in 2015 called eLearning Integrator. This role will focus on supporting innovative and best practice in eLearning amongst our teachers and I am confident this will lead to even more teachers being asked to speak at future events.

Narrating Teaching Moments with Office Mix

office mixEvery Thursday lunchtime throughout Term 4 I have been running lunchtime professional development for our teaching staff. I’ve been pleased with the uptake from the teachers, who can book a place in the lunchtime sessions via Moodle using the Booking module we have installed.

Each session focuses on one of the following topics:

  • The new OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool which many teachers have wanted to learn more about.
  • Using Office Mix to record lessons or explanations on critical concepts for students.
  • Using Moodle Forums to assist students with revision for examinations.

In this blog I am going to cover a neat feature of Office Mix – the ability to upload a Mix to Microsoft’s platform, and how permissions can be managed to control the visibility of the content. I have blogged about using Office Mix as a digital whiteboard already and how the ability to narrate ideas and concepts is helping some of our teachers flip the classroom, like Mr Kevin Barron.

The Office Mix add-in for PowerPoint is a new way to tell your story with voice, video, inking, screen recording and interactive magic.

It’s important to distinguish the two types of recording available in Office Mix:

  1. Record: This feature will load up whatever Powerpoint presentation you have open, and allow you to narrate and annotate via “inking” each slide as you progress through the deck.
  2. Screen Recording: when this is selected Mix will return the user to whatever application they were last in before going to PowerPoint and allow you to start recording everything on your screen even if you change between applications.

MixThere are some excellent screen recording software options on the Apple platform and I have used Screenflow for recording many tutorials for staff ever since I saw a Year 13 student record a narration of his musical composition using Screenflow:

However, there have been limited options in the Windows environment, and certainly no great ones for free. Office Mix does change this by allowing staff and students to easily record and share screencasts. The icing on the cake is the built in ability to upload directly to the web for sharing of the recorded Mix, without the need to publish to a third party video platform such as YouTube or Vimeo.

Whilst both Mr Matt Nicoll and Mr Kevin Barron are both comfortable creating playlists in their YouTube channels, for other teachers the ability to publish directly from Office Mix holds big appeal. The following video provides a great overview of how to upload and share a Mix:

As the video points out, Mix offers four levels of sharing to help teachers and students decide what the best level of visibility is:

  1. Organisation: Essentially, only teachers or students at the school would be able to view the Mix
  2. Limited: Users might be outside of the school, but would still need to sign in using a Microsoft account to be able to view the Mix
  3. Unlisted: Anyone with the direct link could view the Mix, but it was not searchable on the internet
  4. Public: Anyone can search and view the Mix.

The only downside with the above is that if you want to embed your Mix into your Moodle class site then the sharing settings must be set to either Unlisted or Public.

After the most recent Thursday training session, our Assistant Head of English Ms Tam Yuill Proctor was keen to give it a go and created her very first Mix to help her Year 11 English class with the basics of writing an essay. She blogged about the experience here and you can watch the mix below:

Tam Mix

In this Mix, she recorded it on a Surface Pro 3 as part of the trial group we have going at St Andrew’s College and used the inking features to highlight different points as she went through them. The initial feedback from her students is that it was really helpful to have this visual and aural guidance especially from their own teacher and not just a random clip off YouTube.

SUMMARY:

It is really pleasing to see our teachers attending professional development sessions and then giving it a go and implementing new technologies that will benefit the learning outcomes for our students. As most teachers will confirm, it’s not always easy to record and publish your teaching moments for others to replay again and again and yet it is precisely this type of resource that can help cement student understanding of complex ideas.

I am encouraging our teachers to embed their Mix recordings into their Moodle class sites as well, since this will allow them to use the reporting tools within Moodle to see precisely which students have actually watched the clip, and how many times.

Whilst having the ability to write on the screen during the Mix recording through using a Surface Pro 3 is a nice feature, there is plenty of applications for this in other areas with a traditional laptop as well, such as:

  • Recording how to create a spreadsheet or graph in Commerce classes
  • Recording tips and tricks in subject specific applications such as Photoshop or Sibellius
  • Recording how to write up a bibliography in History
  • Recording how to change certain network settings in Windows 7 or 8 to improve wireless performance.
  • And the list goes on!
  • UPDATE: Darrell Webster, an Office365 & Microsoft MVP, suggested some other useful ideas for recorded Office Mix by teachers: to record an overview of the course or promote an upcoming assessment or project. Excellent idea! Darrell has also recorded a good introductory overview to Office Mix that you can see here. 

I am excited to see which directions our teachers will take this functionality in 2015 and I know that many of them will also encourage their students to use it as well. With changes to English standards, students no longer need to stand in front of their peers to deliver a speech – they could record a presentation like this using Office Mix for assessment instead.

Finally, as useful a tool as Office Mix is, it is clearly no substitute for the teacher. If anything, it reaffirms the central role the teacher plays in guiding students and assisting with the clear explanation of complex ideas. Many eLearning tools allow students to listen and watch again a key learning moment from the teacher and in the end, this must help with knowledge building.

iPads In The Junior Department

A student using an iPad in class

A student using an iPad in class

In 2013 the Junior Department teachers at St Andrew’s College decided to trial a number of iPads in their classes of students (Years 1-3). The initial motivation was to trial some 21st century technology in their classrooms and to also ensure that as teachers, they were keeping up to date with changes in classroom teaching tools and practice. I met with Mrs Jane Egden (who was also involved in our first ever Mystery Skype) to see how this initial trial has progressed and learn how the iPads have been used with students.

As most of the teachers in the Junior Department had used Apple devices previously, they felt they would be a great product for the students given their intuitive interface and wide range of apps that could be installed to support learning outcomes. The initial trial saw each teacher given an iPad with three “floating iPads” that could be shared amongst the classes in the Junior Department.

“The iPads are wonderful for independent learning during maths times.” (Junior Department Teacher)

Teachers were initially managing the installation of apps onto the iPads themselves, experimenting with free apps and purchasing the occasional paid app too. It was quickly apparent that this was time consuming and frustrating as there was no consistency of apps across the iPads. In my role as Director of ICT, I suggested to the teachers that if the fleet of iPads was going to grow beyond the 10 being trialled, that it would be preferable to use a centralised management system to deploy apps.

cycloneIn 2014 another 10 iPads were purchased and I decided at this point to explore the JAMF Casper Suite for managing Apple devices. With limited in house experience in centrally managing Apple devices, the College partnered with Cyclone Computers to assist in this area and we settled on a hosted solution of the Casper Suite which would allow us to easily configure and deploy identical apps and settings onto all the iPads in the Junior Department.

“It is a real bonus having 20 iPads all with the same apps on them at Discovery Time on Fridays. I hear children sharing opinions of the games. Also when they work on the same app they can compare results and ideas, as well as compete with each other.” (Junior Department Teacher)

Whilst there were some initial technical problems with the deployment of Casper and configuration of the iPads, the benefits of being able to easily deploy an app across all 20 iPads by pushing them out wirelessly is tremendous. This has completely removed the time and effort from the individual teachers, allowing them to focus on how to use the iPads to support learning outcomes.

The main curriculum areas the iPads are being used in are numeracy and literacy based activities, with apps support reading and maths.Letter School A new app that has been purchased and added to the 20 iPads to support handwriting skills is called Letter School. Outside of apps, the students will occasionally use the iPads for research on the internet (content filtered via our Fortigate 600c UTM firewall), and taking videos of students reading for teacher records of progress.

“The children really enjoy the iPads during reading and maths time to reinforce the strategies they have been learning or to scaffold their knowledge.” (Junior Department Teacher)

The response from students to the iPads in their classes has been very positive. Mrs Egden said that there was virtually no instruction required on how to actually use the iPads themselves as most of the children had used them before at home. They have been very good at sharing the iPads responsibly and also being accountable for their actions on them. Self management skills are required to ensure the iPads are returned to where they are stored so they can be charged for other users as well. Interestingly, the teachers do not offer the use of the iPads as a treat for good behaviour, but instead they are used as a regular part of the teaching practice.

 SUMMARY:

Whilst many students bring their own MacBook in the Secondary School, St Andrew’s does not have College owned or managed Apple products in any other area of the school, apart from these iPads in the Junior Department. Consequently there has been a learning curve to understand how best to manage and deploy these for use in the classroom. With the Casper Suite in place, we can easily add additional iPads to the fleet with exactly the same settings and apps on them.

Additionally, as the Junior Department teachers identify new apps that will support their students, we can add these very quickly when requested. The final comment comes from a teacher using these in her class:

“The iPads have been a wonderful way to create a diverse learning environment where a range of learning styles can be catered for … they are so user friendly there is little instruction needed for a followup task or a practice activity. With the range of apps we can download there is a learning activity to suite a huge range of learning intentions.”  (Junior Department Teacher)

St Andrew’s Teachers Named Microsoft Innovative Educators

JYO

Earlier this year Microsoft advertised the availability of nine positions throughout New Zealand for teachers interested in being recognised as innovative educators in their use of Microsoft products. St Andrew’s College was the only school to have two staff members selected into this programme:

BHIThe evaluation criteria to be selected included:

  • Ready to share your passion for Microsoft with peers, both face to face, and through social media, blogs and videos
  • A creative, innovative technology advocate
  • An educator interested in developing strategies to benefit and share with other educators
  • Energised, with a friendly and outgoing personality
  • Able to work autonomously and within a team
  • Display confident and articulate presentation and written communication skills
  • Full-time educator in Y1-13 or in a higher education faculty of education
  • #1 fan of Windows devices and services – 3+ years’ experience on a Windows device using Microsoft Office and other key Microsoft applications
A training session in Microsoft's Sydney Offices

A training session in Microsoft’s Sydney Offices

Each applicant was required to submit a written application, and those short listed were interviewed via Skype and needed to present a 5 slide Powerpoint. Having been selected, Mrs Yoder and Mr Hilliam were presented with a new Surface Pro 3 to keep, along with a number of other rewards, including an all expenses paid trip to Sydney, Australia for an intensive weekend with other Innovative Educators from around New Zealand and Australia.

Mr Hilliam has written a reflection on the weekend in Sydney that can be read in full here, but a small quote is:

It is amazing that there are so many incredibly passionate teachers out there who are showing incredible competency in how to become more competent! These teachers all know they need to continually update their practice and push the boundaries to improve the success of their students …

I had a wonderful time, met some wonderful people and was left inspired by some wonderful ideas. I can’t implement everything all at once, but I will start with something small.

Mrs Yoder added:

It was incredibly exciting to attend the forum with a group of teachers who were constantly seeking out innovation in their teaching practice through collaboration and embracing new ideas within e-learning.

As part of the weekend they were able to tour the Microsoft offices and see their flexible working environment:

It is very pleasing to see these two teachers recognised for their efforts in successfully integrating technology into their teaching practice and their stories are ones that we have shared regularly already. Mr Hilliam’s work with OneNote, Miracast and a Surface Pro was blogged about here, along with his experimentations with Office Mix in the classroom.

Meanwhile, Mrs Yoder was an original innovator with OneNote at the College, heavily influencing other English teachers such as Dr Jeni Curtis which was blogged about here and more recently an article was published on her teaching practice in the College Regulus Magazine.

With the creation of a new role of eLearning Integrator at St Andrew’s starting in 2015, our goal is very much to take the practice of our innovators and make it commonplace across all our classrooms.

Storybird Helps Young Authors To Fly

The annual Preparatory School Book Week Parade

The annual Preparatory School Book Week Parade

I’ve mentioned a few times how exciting it is to get tip-offs from staff about the awesome things happening in the classrooms of their fellow teachers, and this time it was our Library Manager Mrs Cathy Kennedy providing the inside scoop.

She mentioned that Year 5 teacher Mrs Mary Leota had been using a product called StoryBird to promote writing amongst her students in the lead up to the annual Book Week festivities that happen at St Andrew’s College. I took the chance to talk this process through with Mrs Leota and it was interesting how the process of story writing had evolved for her students as they learnt the fundamentals of the editing process and also the relative strengths and limitations of Storybird. The Storybird website describes it’s services as follows:

Storybird lets anyone make visual stories in seconds. We curate artwork from illustrators and animators around the world and inspire writers of any age to turn those images
into fresh stories.

The students in Year 5 were keen to write picture books for the students in Year 1 – many of whom were siblings of the older children.

The First Draft:

They started out writing their drafts in their exercise books as they normally would and then attempted to write them into Storybird. One of the great functions of this product is that key words generate suggested images e.g. if the story was about a rabbit then a range of illustrations of rabbits would be presented for the students to choose from.

Whilst this was great, what they soon realised was that they could only choose a single artist’s collection of artwork per story – they could not mix and match. As they discussed this perceived limitation, they realised the value in this: the story would become quite disjointed if the images were a mixture of styles and themes.

The Second Draft:

Having learnt from this, the students abandoned the first draft and instead looked through the collections of artwork from the various artists and then chose a set of illustrations they wanted to work with. They then used this collection to inspire their story writing, matching the narrative to the individual pictures they had selected.

Here is an example of a story called Sara Couldn’t Find Her Way Home:

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Discussing Digital Citizenship:

One of the great features of Storybird is that it allows the stories to be published online for reading by a wide audience. This realisation generated both excitement and some problems for our students as they had to learn two important lessons:

  1. Once you hit “publish” you can’t edit your work anymore. This reinforced the need to hone the drafting process – proof reading and checking they were happy with the story before they hit the very tempting publish button!
  2. Feedback through the comments option needs to be constructive. Even throw away comments like “eww that is stupid” are unhelpful and when these comments can be read by anyone, not just other members of the class, they quickly learnt to be more measured in what they posted as comments.

These conversations were talked over at length with Mrs Leota and from my perspective, are critical things to weave into the wider learning experience that was taking place here. Whilst the focus of the class was on writing stories, the use of technology, appropriate ways to feedback online and the importance of editing drafts were all part of the learning outcomes for the students. Here is another story called Hannah’s Adventure:

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Final Thoughts:

One of the most pleasing aspects of this process from Mrs Leota’s perspective was a piece of feedback she received from a mother of one of the boys in her class who told her:

My son is such a reluctant writer and hates having to write anything and yet I could hardly get him off the computer at home last night because he was so keen to finish writing his story in this way.

It is always pleasing to see technology contributing to the motivation of students when it comes to literacy focused activities, and this echoes parent feedback that Dr Jeni Curtis received when introducing MS OneNote to her students in Year 9 this year.

The other upside of using Storybird was that it allowed Mrs Leota to see all of the work her students were doing from a single web page, and she could add comments for them to consider during the writing and editing process.

Judging by the success of this project I am sure there will be other teachers in our Preparatory School keen to try out Storybird for themselves!

Update: Teaching With a Surface Pro 3 In The Classroom

Six SurfacePro3 for use in classrooms at St Andrew's College

Six SurfacePro3 for use in classrooms at St Andrew’s College

UPDATE: a survey of teachers using a Surface Pro 3 at St Andrew’s College has collated their feedback and you can read the blog summary here.

Judging by the search engine queries related to teaching with a Surface Pro 3 that end up on this blog, there appears to be significant interest in the wider education sector in how teachers are using these devices in the classroom. We started a trial of 5 teachers with Surface Pro 3 tablets across Years 6&7 in our Preparatory School and the Maths and English Departments in our Secondary School on the 1st October and today I asked them to meet and discuss how it’s working out for them.

I’ve broken the feedback down into a few main areas:

  1. Student Interaction / Feedback
  2. Explorations into the Windows 8 App Store and other software being used
  3. Ongoing issues / challenges
  4. Changes to pedagogy being explored

Student Interaction / Feedback:

  • A number of students have been asking our teachers whether the Surface Pro 3 would be a good device for them to buy – both for those coming back to school next year and those heading to tertiary study in 2015. They are attracted to the combination of both typing and handwriting and the demonstrated use of Microsoft OneNote by the teachers and the ease with which they file notes.
  • Students in Year 11 English have commented about the increased movement of the teacher around the classroom as they are “freed up” from using resources on a computer that is connected to a projector. The wireless use of Miracast has given the teachers more freedom to roam, whilst still having the key resources available.
  • In the Year 6 class the teacher commented that when he is not personally using the Pro3, his students are – they are writing directly into their own OneNote Notebooks which have been shared with the teacher so he can access them.
    • He gave an example of the students working on a decimal place exercise via BBC Bitesize Math – they were solving the problems with their pen and paper but were passing the Pro 3 around to allow them to enter results into the website to progress to the next problem, whereby the next student could enter the results (all shared on the classroom projector via a ScreenBeam Education Pro Miracast device)
  • Our Year 7 teacher trialling the Pro 3 mentioned the speed at being able to turn it on/off to accomplish small tasks is seeing her use it more frequently but for shorter periods of time, compared to setting up her laptop and working on that.

Explorations into the Windows 8 App Store and other software being used:

  • Fluid Math is now in the Windows 8 App Store and has been explored by our maths teachers
  • Prezi.com now have an app in the Windows 8 App Store as well, and Prezi is a tool that is used by quite a few of our teachers.
  • MS Office Mix (which we’ve blogged about before) is proving very popular and I will be running two training sessions for our staff on this over the next month,
  • The Radial Menu as part of the OneNote 2013 App

    The Radial Menu as part of the OneNote 2013 App

    A distinction was made between:

    • OneNote App (lightweight version of the app and has the Radial Dial which allows for rapid access to contextual menus.
    • OneNote Desktop App – the full version of the application that comes with MS Office.
    • It was apparent that both could be used – they sync perfectly and the lightweight app has a better full screen option to reduce distractions
  • OneNote Class NoteBook Creator will streamline the setup and deployment of NoteBooks for students and make the ongoing management of these significantly easier for the teachers.

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Office Mix – The Evolution Of The Whiteboard?

We are fortunate at St Andrew’s College that there are a number of teachers that are “flipping the classroom” in various ways and using a number of different technologies to support this. Examples already blogged about include:

One of the common tools that has been used by a number of these teachers is the ageing Microsoft product called Community Clips. This has been a reliable piece of software for creating screencasts however it has struggled with new devices, failing to support the native resolution of the Surface Pro3 devices we are trialling with a number of teachers in various classrooms.

Enter Office Mix

This relatively new product is a free plugin for Microsoft Powerpoint that allows you to record your screen, voice and video all at the same time. Additionally, it allows your Powerpoint to become interactive, with students able to complete quizzes directly within a slideshow.

The key feature that appealed to Mr Hilliam was the recording of his screen in full, native resolution and the ease with which he was able to launch recording. Whilst the older Community Clips also allowed you to select a section of the screen to record, this is far easier in Office Mix:

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(As an aside – the above screenshots were all taken on a SurfacePro3 using one of the handy features – double clicking on the top of the pen/stylus automatically takes a screenshot and places it in a OneNote notebook).

Because Office Mix records native resolutions the files can become quite large – it’s not unusual for these to get up to around 400MB for a 10minute video clip. However, because most of the teachers at St Andrew’s College subsequently upload them to YouTube.com the size is less relevant. YouTube automatically streams the best quality video that the user’s internet connection supports, so those with high speed can comfortably watch in HD.

I recently asked Mr Hilliam to demonstrate this combination of Microsoft OneNote and Office Mix recording to a visiting delegation of Principals and Senior Leaders from the Independent Schools of New Zealand and this is the video he made on the fly:

Basic example of solving algebraic equations

One of the downsides of using the SurfacePro3 is the noise recorded by the sound of the pen writing on the glass – for best results, a firm connection is required and this noise is picked up by the microphone and audible in the recordings of Office Mix. Additionally, if the SurfacePro3 is flat on a desk any movement of it sliding around on the desktop sounds very loud.

These noises could be alleviated using a headset and microphone, although none of our teachers have progressed to this set up to date. When recording during class, Mr Hilliam typically holds the tablet and wanders around the class using Miracast to wirelessly beam his screen through the projector for the class to see. Here is a good example:

Year 9 class solving algebraic problems

SUMMARY:

St Andrew’s College has interactive whiteboards in every classroom in the Preparatory School from Years 4-8 and these are used widely by the teachers and students. However, these units, projectors and associated software are expensive to purchase and install.

It’s intriguing to see how alternative configurations can deliver equivalent functionality, but also extend on it in two important ways:

  1. The teacher is not “tethered” to the front of the room – with Miracast technology they can roam around the room, allowing students to write on a tablet and have that displayed on the “whiteboard” at the front of the room for all students in the class to see.
  2. Through shared OneNote notebooks, all students get a copy of the examples, working and dictation from the teacher (if the Office Mix recording is uploaded to YouTube and the link shared in the Notebook).

Pro 3 WritingWhilst SurfacePro3 tablets are not cheap, we are currently trialling them with five classroom teachers across Maths, English and the Preparatory School. The initial feedback is that they would happily hand back their school-supplied laptop and use the SurfacePro3 as their primary and only device full time.

I was pleased to hear this, especially after I have set the challenge of writing school reports on the 12″ screen of the SurfacePro3 and only using the web interface of our Student Management System (Synergetic).

ScreenBeam Pro for Education

ScreenBeam Pro for Education

We have also pre-ordered a number of ScreenBeam Pro for Education miracast units. These units have additional security enhancements for classrooms, and also come with a VGA / HDMI converter so existing older style VGA projectors do not need to be replaced immediately.

From what we have seen these units also hold the wireless connection more reliably and are easier to connect to than the existing miracast units we currently use.

These technological advancements are definitely contributing to a smarter, and more evolved version of the traditional whiteboard.

Film Festival – Celebrating Student Talent

“Identity Crisis” – 2013 winner of Overall Best Film

Each year since 2009 St Andrew’s College has run a Film Festival – an evening dedicated to celebrating the diverse creative talents of our students and their film making ability.

Originally accepting all student film submissions, over the years the event has been refined to a showcase of the top ten student entries, interspersed with a number of “5 second films” which are usually humorous in nature. When I met with the Media Studies team to find out more about this festival, I learnt that it was originally a student initiative as they looked for an opportunity to showcase and celebrate their work, and this was supported by head of Media Studies, Mr Simon Williams (whose TV & Film events I’ve blogged about before).

An example of a 5 second film

Poster designed by Sophie Wells to promote the 2014 edition of the annual St Andrew's College Film Festival

Poster designed by Cultural Captain Sophie Wells to promote the 2014 edition of the annual St Andrew’s College Film Festival

It has subsequently evolved to include a red carpet style experience, with the Cultural Captains functioning as the presenters / MCs for the event, whilst other students involved interview attendees as they arrive, with these being broadcast live through to those already in the Theatre. Along with these interviews, there is an invitation for all attending to dress up and make a night of it, which all contributes to the special feeling of this occasion.

The Film Festival celebrates student creativity and is intended to be an inclusive event for a wide audience range with the expectation that all films can be viewed by the students’ younger siblings and grandparents. This helps ensure the themes and content remain in good taste with films vetted for unsuitable content. Consequently, a good size crowd comes along for an enjoyable evening and it is seen as a chance to appreciate these films quite apart from the assessment criteria upon which they are usually judged. Additionally, part of the success of this evening is the length – it’s usually all over in an hour.

When asked why they like the Film Festival, the students involved commented:

People all love movies – you can’t go wrong with a film festival!

 

It’s a chance to promote our creativity, a payoff for our hard work.

 

It’s nice to premiere our films in front of our family and friends – seeing the films on a big screen, with big sound and a real audience is awesome.

From a teacher’s perspective, showcasing the films in this way adds a sense of gravity to the production of them – if over a hundred strangers are going to watch your film, you’re going to try that little bit extra.

A slightly longer example of a 5 second film

The majority of entries come from students involved in the Media Studies and TV classes and typically represents the culmination of nearly two terms worth of effort. Students may spend up to twenty hours in the filming production, combined with up to thirty hours of post-production editing. This editing is done on a range of devices, with some students preferring to use their own laptops, often MacBook Pros using Apple Final Cut Pro, whereas others use the College computers and Adobe Premiere Pro.

College equipment available for use by our students includes:

  • 2x Sony HVR-Z7s cameras which run mini-DV tapes
  • 4x Sony HVR-NX cameras which run SD cards
  • Professional tripods, lighting and rigging, and a range of quality microphones and cabling

Support is also available from staff member Mr David Jensen (who filmed our Mystery Skype Session with Singapore), who has worked on a number of feature length and short films including Netherwood, as well as the other Media Studies teachers.

On the night the Cultural Captains have significant responsibilities: from welcoming the guests, to MC’ing the event, introducing each nominated film and interacting with the audience. They come up with their own monologue, often putting significant effort into this.

Behind the scenes there is a technical crew of up to twenty students and staff that ensures the event runs smoothly – this involves organising the lighting and making sure the films, often submitted in a diverse range of digital formats, all play successfully on the night. This team is co-ordinated by Mr Williams who continues to play a key part in the ongoing organisation and success of this event.

Finally, there are some small prizes that recognise winners in different categories including:

  • Best overall film
  • Best actor / actress
  • Best lighting
  • Best costume / makeup
  • Best camera work

These awards are not the focus of the evening, but add to the sense of a film premiere that the students have worked towards creating. The titles of the nominated films are announced in advance, with a promotion in a full school assembly to build anticipation for the event. Media Studies teachers meet a week before to judge the films and agree on the prize winners.

Many of the students involved in the Film Festival are regularly volunteering their time in other College events, providing technical sound and lighting expertise for assemblies and the massive event of our annual prize giving. I also love the fact that this festival provides an opportunity for the wider community to come share and celebrate in the success of our students’ work.

The evening is seen as a chance for students to celebrate their shared passion for film and media and for all these reasons, it is a very popular event on school calendar.

The Film Festival will be running on September 12th 2014

OneNote To Rule Them All

JYO OneNote

This post first appeared in the August 2014 edition of the College’s Regulus Magazine

It started as a way to help her students organise their notes, but Year 11 Dean and English teacher Jacqueline Yoder quickly found that Microsoft’s OneNote had a lot more potential.

“It has an extensive collaborative capability which allows students access to all my folders, and lets me see their work,” she says.

By using OneNote, an electronic version of a traditional binder, Jacqueline can access students’ online exercise books so if a student has a question she can see what they are working on and make suggestions, especially if she notes they are going off track.

“I didn’t want a place just for storing documents. I wanted kids to interact, not to struggle to use their devices, and to have a ring binder in the sky.”

With some help from Director of ICT, Sam McNeill, Jacqueline created a folder on OneDrive to which she uploads everything.

“My two English classes don’t have books they only use OneNote – that’s their method of storing all of their work and assessments.”

Jacqueline also does all her marking online making her classroom effectively paperless.

“The students hand in nothing. I do a lot of colour coding in my feedback so they get back a far more visually enhanced assignment. I am also experimenting with oral feedback.”

This involves inserting a video into her feedback providing a medium for more detailed analysis. It’s a different way of marking and works for students who struggle with English and find it difficult to read a marking schedule.

But does it make better English students?

“The evidence of my first trial group who have gone into Year 11 is that teachers say they are doing very well at NCEA. OneNote doesn’t replace teaching, it’s a tool to help students organise their work so they can find everything they need. It gives me a way of providing more informative feedback on a regular basis because I can literally comment immediately.”

It’s this combination of staying organised and engaging feedback consistently over time rather than
just at the end of an assignment, that Jacqueline says makes the difference.

Another attraction is the software’s collaborative potential. Because work is stored in the cloud, it offers opportunities for students to work together. Jacqueline’s Māori students are working on shared presentations and movies.

While the thought of adopting technology can be daunting, Professional Learning Groups are available. Jacqueline is keen to share the knowledge among StAC teachers that the software is more than just a word processor.

“It makes learning seamless. When it’s time to write reports I have all the information at my fingertips through those shared notebooks. Parents have real time access to their child’s learning so they can see what they’ve done during the day. It’s a triangle of student, teacher, parent, which is a powerful way to make learning happen.”

For Jacqueline, using technology such as OneNote is about the student owning the learning – transferring the ownership of the learning from being teacher centred to student centred.

“It’s a move from where the teacher owns all the information on the student in a folder to the student having the ownership of the learning and being able to access to look and learn from it in real time.”

Increasing use of technology also fits in with the school’s commitment to lifelong learning.

“Because technology is evolving all the time, you can’t think you’ve ever mastered something. It’s exciting to push the system and discover where it will take you next.”

Rector Christine Leighton says it is exciting to see how St Andrew’s teachers are embracing opportunities through e-Learning.

“Teacher voices are really powerful and to be able to share that voice with other teachers, as well as parents and greater numbers of students is very effective. Teaching is not staying enclosed in a classroom.”