Microsoft OneNote Usage At St Andrew’s College

This post was originally written for publication at the official Microsoft OneNote In Education blog.

2014 was a year that saw significant increases in usage of Microsoft OneNote at St Andrew’s College and there were a number of factors that contributed to this, including:

  • Continued promotion of OneNote by earlier adopter teachers such as Mrs Jacqueline Yoder which led to uptake amongst her fellow teachers in the English Department and beyond. Her story was eventually published in the College quarterly magazine in an article entitled OneNote To Rule Them All.
  • The transition from Microsoft Live@Edu to Office365 that occurred at the end of 2013 allowed for tighter integration of cloud hosting of OneNote notebooks, thus increasing both the access to notebooks from any device as well as promoting true collaboration between students and teachers.
  • The release of the more fully featured OneNote for Mac application was significant as this allowed students at St Andrew’s that owned an Apple Mac to be able to connect to Notebooks hosted in OneDrive for Business. Approximately 50% of our students in the 1:1 laptop programme brought a Mac to school so it was imperative that they could use OneNote natively on their laptops.
  • The ongoing trials with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 highlighted the benefits of a pen / touch interface when using OneNote, with teachers committing to using OneNote more effectively in the classroom, in anticipation of getting a Surface Pro 3 in 2015.
  • The release of the OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool finally showed an easier way to create notebooks for teachers where every student could easily see and share content. Prior to this tool, teachers were receiving up to 27 shared notebooks from students per class making it unwieldy to manage class notebooks.
  • Ongoing professional development sessions were being offered to staff both formally and informally, allowing them to learn how to use OneNote in their classrooms more effectively or for collaboration with other teachers in their Departments or Syndicates.

Old to NewWhilst the above reasons have all contributed to increased usage of OneNote amongst staff and students I believe that one of the biggest reasons for the success of OneNote is the interface. The layout is reminiscent of a traditional ring binder folder with coloured tabs that all students and teachers can relate to. Additionally, the “blank canvas” approach to the notebooks means users are not confined to dimensions of a page and can arrange content, text, images, hyperlinks and comments anywhere they choose. This freedom is appealing, whilst still being supported by optional page templates and the ability to insert lists, to-do items and other organisational elements. As Mrs Yoder noted for her English students:

“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.”

Curriculum Areas Where OneNote Is Being Used:

St Andrew’s College is the equivalent of a K12 school and one of the most pleasing aspects of the Office365 deployment has been the uptake amongst our Preparatory School. Whilst this has mostly been in the Years 5-8 classes (students aged approximately 9-12yrs old), some of the usage has been incredible. Below is some examples of OneNote usage across the school in different curriculum areas:

Preparatory School

ePortfolio in OneNoteMr Wilj Dekkers joined the College in 2013 and immediately embraced the benefits of using OneNote with his Year 6 students both in class and also for their home learning (homework). I was talking to some of his students in late November after nearly a year of using OneNote and their ease and confidence in using the programme was evident. A student called Hamish commented:

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

Another called Izzy noted that whilst the other Year 6 classes were using traditional exercise books for their home learning, they weren’t:

We have not done one piece of home learning in a book all year – it has all been completed in OneNote.

Mr Dekkers did take time to help the students setup an individual OneNote notebook at the start of the year which they then shared with him. He could then see all students’ notebooks and his planning directly within OneNote on his computer.

Titles in red have been added to highlight different features of the ePortfolio

Titles in red have been added to highlight different features of the ePortfolio

With the platform in place, students were then able to use OneNote as a planning and collaboration tool in a variety of different learning areas such as writing “choose your own ending” stories within OneNote. Below is a video showing a student reading his story and also navigating through a virtual world in MInecraft he created based off his OneNote writing:

You can read the stories they wrote directly in OneNote Online since they shared them with guest access – Desert of Terror, The Black Death Maze and Island Adventure. There was a strong focus on effective editing throughout the creation of these stories, with students using the highlight feature in OneNote to indicate passages they had reworked (often through visually “seeing” their world they had created in Minecraft). Similarly, students were encouraged to share their drafts with their classmates so they could receive feedback and suggestions on the development of their stories.

Another usage of OneNote by students in Mr Dekkers’ class was during an inquiry learning project on Kiwiana – features that are unique to New Zealand. Again, there was significant usage of a range of features offererd within OneNote:

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What impressed me so much about their use of OneNote was:

  • Using “Tasks” that could be ticked off when each job was completed – this meant they knew exactly who had to do what.
  • Having the “show contributors” turned on so the initials of each group member was alongside their work, meaning they could see who had contributed what to the research.
  • Storing images in the notebook as examples for when they started to build their Minecraft theme park.
  • Use of highlighting – key words / concepts were highlighted to ensure they would be include in the theme park and oral presentation.
  • Using their iPads and OneNote to read their notes from during the actual presentation.
  • Mr Dekkers writing feedback directly into their OneNote notebook during the presentation so by the time they finished they would see his comments.

To watch a video of the students sharing their Kiwiana Minecraft world and reading their presentation from OneNote on an iPad click here.

English Department

Corrections and comments on student work via OneNote

Corrections and comments on student work via OneNote

In many ways, the English Department have been leaders in OneNote usage at the College, with a number of teachers tightly integrating it into their classroom teaching. The Rector of St Andrew’s, Mrs Christine Leighton, commented that it is exciting to see how teachers at the College 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.”

It is precisely in these areas of collaboration and sharing that OneNote excels, with Mrs Yoder saying It started as a way to help her students organise their notes, but she 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 … My two English classes don’t have books they only use OneNote – that’s their method of storing all of their work and assessments.”

She 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. For her work with OneNote, Mrs Yoder was named a Microsoft New Zealand Innovative Educator (along with Mr Ben Hilliam from the Maths Department) and in the following audio clip she explains how OneNote has helped her students:

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/58349924/Blog%20Data/Jac%20OneNote.m4a]
Video Response to Introductory Letter

Video Response to Introductory Letter

Another teacher in the English Department making extensive use of OneNote is Dr Jeni Curtis who set herself a goal with her Year 9 students in 2014 to be completely paperless by using a combination of OneNote and Moodle. She found that through using OneNote her students’ engagement and enthusiasm for writing actually increased.  Her use of recording video and audio comments directly into the notebooks of the students was particularly well received, especially from parents with one taking the time to send her the following the feedback:

I must congratulate you with using OneNote for marking the children’s writing. Callum showed me the video clip commenting on one of his assignments. It was really impressive and useful. It is such a great use of technology and had helped Wayne and I appreciate the use of technology in classroom environment … I have seen [Callum’s] shifts of interests from not liking writing to enjoying writing in the last 2 assignments, which is wonderful.

As any teacher will confirm, receiving unsolicited feedback like this from parents is both rare and extremely gratifying and was a great encouragement at the beginning of the year for Dr Curtis to progress with her “paperless classroom” goal. Continue reading

Teaching the Teachers: A Visit From Microsoft Australia’s National Education Specialist

This post was guest written by Mr Ben Hilliam after St Andrew’s College hosted Mr Travis Smith, Microsoft Australia’s National Education Specialist in December 2014.

In December 2014, St Andrew’s College had the privilege of hosting Microsoft Australia’s National Education Specialist, Travis Smith. He spent a week touring New Zealand talking to educators from primary through to tertiary sectors about how they can use technology to improve learning outcomes. Although this sounds like an arbitrary topic for a speaker from Microsoft, Travis focussed continually on how improved learning takes place and the technology was very much an accompanying instrument to this drive.

Travis SmithThe Power of The Pen:

Travis spoke very broadly at first about how we need to target where we want to see innovation in using digital technology, otherwise, schools’ pedagogical progress can be flapped about by what any particular teacher wants to focus on at any time. The challenge is to get 80%+ of your educators being actively innovative in their practice. A hurdle that Travis identified to this goal is the way we educate our educators.

As teachers we can be quite innovative with the way we teach content and facilitate inquiry for our students, but ask us to do the same for our co-workers and we get into lecture mode. Travis suggests that when it comes to getting educators to become innovative in their practice:

  1. They first need to become familiar with the technology they are going to use.
  2. Secondly they need to develop a skills base with that technology.
  3. Then finally, they need to have be given the time and opportunity to implement it into their learning/teaching processes.

That three step process seems simple, however, most school professional development opportunities miss out steps 1 and 2 and jump straight to 3.

The technology that Travis spoke at length about in his presentation, is one dear to my own professional development: The Power of the Pen. We have been in an era of digital technology for 40+ years now. Computers have been in schools in some way or another for well over 30 years. For the last 20 years every high school student by the time they have left school has spent quite some time using a computer. And now probably the majority of schools run some kind of BYOD or 1-1 computer programme. However, for certain aspects of learning, digital technologies have made very little progress on changing or adapting the way they are taught. My subject area, Mathematics, being one of the main unaffected areas. The reason for this is because many types of thinking are best supported by pen and paper. Travis cites this research in support of this.

Personal Reflections On Using A Pen In Mathematics Teaching:

I would like to reflect on how my innovation process worked with my adoption of the pen (or stylus) and Microsoft SurfacePro when incorporating digital technologies into teaching and learning:

  1. Becoming familiar with the technology: As I sit and write this post at my parents-in-law’s house during my summer break, it is here where three years ago, my brother-in-law showed me his iPad with a stylus. I had a play around with an app called Paper. The stylus was quite good with the iPad, but had the drawback of not working when your palm rested on the screen. However, it was enough to whet my appetite and I could immediately see the advantage of a digital canvas in a world with cloud sharing. I convinced my school to let me be a forerunner with this technology and after I put the case to them, they invested in an iPad and stylus for me to use in my classes.
  2. Building skills with the technology: My iPad became my new whiteboard and notebook. I could cast my screen to my projector, deliver my content that way, and still have a copy to share with my students afterwards. I still had the frustration of having to have a magazine between my palm and the screen, but I felt I was moving in the right direction and feedback and marks from my students did not contradict me. I moved to a new school (St Andrew’s College) which was Microsoft only, so I needed to adapt. They provided me with a SurfacePro and I continued as I had with the iPad with some added advantages: I could now write naturally with my palm on the screen, my notes were always live and organised through Microsoft OneNote and I had a fully-fledged computer at my fingertips. Here is an example of how I used it.
  3. Implementing technology into my teaching and learning process: I am now able to approach 2015 running, with three of my classes now in a 1-1 computing environment. My students can have their learning their own way, either my “chalk and talk” projected in class, or watched again afterwards having been recorded and posted using OfficeMix or in some cases watch content in advance. On their own devices they all have a communal OneNote along with their own personal OneNotes that I have access to as well. And for those students also with a stylus enabled device such as a Microsoft SurfacePro or a Lenovo Yoga, they can toss their paper books aside.

As I reflect on how this process has played out for me, I can see I have built an innovative practice into my everyday pedagogy and it is now embedded. However, this whole process has taken around two years and required support from my successive HOD’s, senior managers and IT staff. If schools want to emulate this process they first need to create an environment where these things can all come together.

Further Information:

To watch a similar presentation to the one Travis presented at St Andrew’s College, watch the YouTube clip below:

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)

Design A House: A Rich Task Example In Maths

This is a story of what happens when a Maths teacher looks around for real-world inspiration and then is prepared to “give it a go” when it comes to integrating new technologies into the classroom. The results and learning outcomes are, quite simply, staggering.

The design brief given to students.

The design brief given to students.

Ms Briony Marks, a Year 7 Maths and Languages teacher at St Andrew’s College, had a plan to enliven a Maths unit on Ratios and Proportions, by creating an extension task that required the students to design a house. Using a planning template from the Buck Institute for Educaction the class discussed the assessment criteria and outcomes and included a wider discussion on how the Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum were going to be included into this unit. Here is the completed template used by the class to plan:

Project planThis was a timely project because a number of the students in the class were having new houses built for their families during this unit so they could immediately connect with the learning. By designing a floor plan, the students had to decide on the ratios and proportions of three key areas in their house:

  1. Living Areas
  2. Sleeping and Bathing Areas
  3. Storage and Access
Task l

Task List to help the students focus

To spice up the project and totally hook the students into it, they given the option to use Sketchup, Build With Chrome or Minecraft to design their house in. Ms Marks also created a simple task list of the required jobs that needed to be done to assist with scaffolding this project for the students.

With the task defined, students got to work by initially looking at concept plans by local builders such as Mike Greer Homes, and shading in the different areas they were going to have to design into their own houses. The maths, at this point, was tightly integrated into the inquiry – there was a need by the students to use conversion to change floor plans between millimetres, centimetres and metres. There was also teaching on calculating the perimeter of a house plan and of course the area of the various houses.

Ms Marks classified these as “unexpected extras” in the area of maths that supported the main focus of the unit on ratios and proportions, and there was also other skills being learnt by the students at the same time. One of these was formal communications, with a number of students contacting architects and house builders via email to obtain more information. Class and group discussion covered appropriate email etiquette, and emails were duly sent off, for example:

A Year 7 student's email as part of this design project.

A Year 7 student’s email as part of this design project.

Floor plans designed in Sketchup by Tim and James

Floor plans designed in Sketchup by Tim and James

Student enthusiasm and engagement in this unit was incredibly high throughout, to the point that a number of students essentially self-taught themselves how to use Sketchup so that they could design a more professional looking home. Two of these boys, went on to present at the Burnside Learning Community Cluster professional development session as I blogged about earlier here.

Summary:

Some remarkable learning took place during this Maths unit that took just under three weeks to teach. It was notable that none of the students in the class had ever used any design software before and to that end, neither had Ms Marks:

I was just prepared to give it a go and learn alongside the students. I had a play with Sketchup in the library one afternoon and two of the boys saw me. By the following Monday they were sufficiently skilled in it to be able to teach others in the class the basics.

Attitude is key here: approaching a new technology with a positive and willing attitude to learn is invariably more successful than being afraid of not being an expert at it.

What really impressed me about this was the natural integration of technology into the learning area, and how deeply embedded the core maths skills were into everything the students had to do to achieve the chosen outcomes. The fact that students had input into the planning at the outset undoubtedly helped with their sense of engagement in the learning process too.

Following the conclusion of this unit, Ms Marks was asked to present a summary of it to at a Preparatory School staff meeting. This is a link to her powerpoint and it covers off her planning and running of the unit.

FOLLOW UP:

Other students in the Preparatory School were invited to come and view the final designs and vote for their favourite. Over 120 votes were cast amongst the students and staff, resulting in the awarding of certificates for the following three categories:

  • Architect’s Choice
  • Teacher’s Choice
  • People’s Choice

Well done to Ms Marks and all her Year 7 students who gave it a go.

Teaching The Teachers: Year 7 Students Show Off Sketchup Skills

On Monday 29th September, teachers from the member schools of the Burnside Learning Community Cluster met at Fendalton Open Air Primary School for a teacher-led conference on teaching and learning with digital devices.

Earlier in Term 3, Fendalton’s Principal Mr Paul Sibson had visited St Andrew’s College and together we saw saw some Year 7 students teaching Year 6 students in Mr Wilj Dekkers class how to use the design software Sketchup. Upon seeing this, Paul asked me if I could organise these students to present to teachers at the BLCC conference on teaching and learning with digital devices.

The two students, Tim and James, having already self-taught themselves when designing house floor plans for a maths unit were keen to help out.

Floor plans designed in Sketchup by Tim and James

Floor plans designed in Sketchup by Tim and James

The two had even created instructions in OneNote to share tips with other students and teachers that included things like:

There Are things that you can benefit from using this program like…

  • Helps get an understanding of what the real world designers use
  • Uses a great skill level and can help with the ability for some designers in the making
  • Great for some house designing projects
  • Helps with 3D shapes, measurement, geometry, angles, percentages and ratios
  • And finally you have fun creating with your imagination
Sketchup instructions from James and Tim

Sketchup instructions from James and Tim

Two laptops from St Andrew’s were supplied to the boys for the conference and together they ran a session for around 15 teachers and a number of students from Fendalton Primary who were also in attendance. They taught the teachers the basics of Sketchup, explained the toolbars and icons and gave some examples on how Sketchup could be used in class.

From time to time Mr Dekkers added additional information to the teachers present so they could further understand how Sketchup was integrated into the Maths unit focusing on percentages and proportions.

Explanation of key tools in Sketchup from instructions stored in OneNote

Explanation of key tools in Sketchup from instructions stored in OneNote

The session was well received and was right in line with the goals of the BLCC which include:

  • establish shared, ongoing, professional learning programmes for teacher effectiveness and the collaborative leadership of learning across the cluster
  • Initiate a teacher-led conference, at which teachers from all BLCC schools will be enabled to run a mini-workshop for their colleagues on some aspect of TWDT.

Here are a selection of photos from the presentation at the conference:

It is excellent to see some of our students confident to show their skills in using software and present that to other teachers in the wider Burnside Learning Community Cluster who can then go on to use this technology in their own classes.

Well done James and Tim!

Guest Post: Reflecting on ICT In Maths Through The Lens of SAMR

This post was written by Mr Ben Hilliam and was originally posted on his blog here.

Throughout this year I have been using Microsoft OneNote with my students at St Andrew’s College. Sam McNeill has a fair account of how I have been using it here with my year 9 one to one computing class, and I have been constantly reflecting on how I can continue this journey.

Using the SAMR model, I have currently been operating in the Substitution and Augmentation stage, where technology replaces some traditional aspects of teaching, such as “Chalk and Talk”, but with some added advantage. In my case, having examples, notes and work always live and accessible to students through Microsoft OneNote and also recording my lessons as I deliver them and link them back to my class OneNote. This is a very teacher orientated model and I would like to see students more empowered through their use of technology.

In the last topic I covered with my year 9s, Geometry, I took OneNote to a new level, setting up my students with their own editable OneNotes within the class OneNote:

Capture

Here you can see the topic tabs up the top and the lesson pages down the side. You might also notice some tabs to the right of the topic tabs with names on them. These belong to my students. In their OneNote, they can only see their own OneNotes and edit them, whereas I can see them all as tabs and also edit them with the purpose of giving feedback.

Here is a sample of some student work:

Capture1

In this case the student is investigating circle geometry, with a triangle whose hypotenuse is also the diameter of a circle. Incidentally the program used for drawing the circle, triangle and measuring the angles is Geometer’s Sketchpad. While there is nothing revolutionary about the learning happening here, the thing I really like about it is the efficiency. When this task is done without digital technology could easily take up a whole lesson, but this task took no more than 10 minutes. With Geometer’s Sketchpad, the student was able to investigate the properties of the triangle by fixing a triangle’s diameter into a circle, then vary the two shorter sides while measuring all the angles.

He was able to quickly copy and paste some questions and a sample of their drawing. This gave the student a framework to explore a rich aspect of geometric reasoning. I like that in this case, time can be given to this rich task, where many mathematics teachers would simply draw the example, say the rule and get the students to copy it down.

When I reflect on where this task sits in the SAMR model, I feel that to an extent it is still mostly Augmentation. But there are aspects of modification. The ability to investigate a geometric rule using Geometer’s Sketchpad has modified the way I teach the topic in so much as it is a much more containable and manageable task within the confines of a 50 minute period. However, the way the student articulates themselves by pasting and commenting in OneNote is augmenting what they would do with pen and paper (and scissors and ruler and compass).

It will be interesting to see how my students perform in their next Geometry assessment. But I feel they have had more time to grapple with why these rules work rather than just apply them to a situation.

In terms of moving towards Redefinition on the SAMR model in this context, at the moment I am not sure how I would go about that. Perhaps I could get groups of students to explain different Geometric rules then the class can share their results using OneNote.

Teaching The Teachers: A Visit From Wolfram Research

Wolfram research

Craig Bauling from Wolfram Research

Craig Bauling from Wolfram Research

This afternoon St Andrew’s College hosted Mr Craig Bauling from Wolfram Research as he gave a presentation to a number of teachers from the Canterbury Maths Association. The opportunity for this presentation came about after Craig had seen a post I had written in June 2014 entitled Wolfram Interactive Models Bring Learning To Life and distributed it amongst Wolfram employees. He also offered to present to interested teachers when he came to New Zealand in September. I reached out to Dean McKenzie (Head of Maths at St Andrew’s College) and Stephen McConnachie (eLearning Co-ordinator at Middleton Grange School) and together we managed to get this session promoted amongst Canterbury schools. Over twenty staff from different schools around Christchurch listened to Craig’s 2 hour presentation where he covered:

Mathematica:

This is a powerful desktop application that allows teachers and students to do a range of different things, including writing text books, creating and sitting assessment as well as making Powerpoint-like presentations. It utilises the power of the cloud based WolframAlpha to return some results / graphing abilities, and one of the key strengths is students can enter questions in “natural language.” The programme then interprets this and formats it into the correct syntax for Mathematica to complete the equation.

This makes it very easy to learn, and there are a number of “palettes” that guide teachers or students through the correct syntax of more advanced formulas. The state of Victoria, Australia, has provided Mathematica to students from Yr4 up in schools to help them across all curriculum areas, not just Maths (Craig said Physics and Chemistry are the biggest users of Mathematica, followed by Maths, but English and Social Sciences also make use of it).

Wolfram Alpha:

Demonstrating the power of Wolfram Alpha search

Demonstrating the power of Wolfram Alpha search

Possibly this was the one tool that most of the teachers attending had been exposed to before. Rather than functioning as a search engine like Google or Bing that traditionally return thousands of pages that might contain the answer to your search query, WolframAlpha tries to provide the actual answer to your question.

One of the examples given was “What is the boiling temperature of water on Mt Cook?” Pulling on information stored in the databases WolframAlpha has access to, it knows both the height/elevation of Mt Cook, and the scientific principle of how elevation affects boiling temperatures. It returned: boiling temperature What was neat to see was the results returned in the metric system – using Geo-IP technology, it knew we were in New Zealand and returned results accordingly.

Another fascinating example was the results returned to the esoteric question “What was the weather like on Keith Urban’s 24th birthday?” Again, drawing on the extensive meteorological information WolframAlpha has access to, it showed the results for Christchurch, New Zealand (again, recognising our location based on IP Address):

Wolfram Demonstrations:

These held quite a bit of appeal given they could easily be embedded into a school’s Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or Ultranet – here is the video I created earlier showing how to do this:

Installation of CDF Plugin & Embedding Wolfram Demonstration Model into Moodle

The interactive nature of these models, where students can manipulate the input or data, make them perfect for embedding into a Moodle Forum or Assignment activity, allowing students to submit answers directly into Moodle without needing to use any other software.

What was reassuring was that all demonstration models are vetted for accuracy by staff at Wolfram, source code must be made available so teachers could modify the models if they wished to, and the model can be downloaded as a separate CDF file or embedded directly into a web page. Here are some examples of different Wolfram Demonstration Models:

Selection of Wolfram Demonstration Models

Members from the Canterbury Maths Association enjoy the presentation

Members from the Canterbury Maths Association enjoy the presentation

The feedback from the teachers that attended was very positive about the session and I am sure that many will go away and look at the free products and also evaluate whether licensed products are purchased for teaching staff and/or students.