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.

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.

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.

Recording & Blogging: It’s What I Do Now

Solo Tasks: around the Law of Reflection with extension work on Moodle

Solo Tasks: around the Law of Reflection with extension work on Moodle

Mr Matt Nicoll has been a regular contributor to this blog, providing one of the very first posts on recording his lessons for later playback by students, to presenting to the CORE Education eFellows, and his very active role in the development of Twitter usage amongst staff and the #edchatnz conference organisation.

I had wanted to sit down with him and see how his videoing of the teaching moments in his lessons had evolved from when we chatted in October 2013 and took the opportunity to do so after the #edchatnz conference. It transpires that in someways he has stuck with the successful recipe he had developed in 2013.

Mr Nicoll still remains the primary blogger for his classes, sharing the content, notes and videos on the class blog. His rationale for this was simple:

I am still traditional enough to want to retain control over the quality of the key concepts and ensure that they are being explained correctly. The big win, however, is that the students don’t need to write notes in class meaning they can spend more time on the activities.

SOLO

Two obvious positives from this are:

  • More time is spent in class discussing the quality of the answers e.g. what does multi-structural thinking look like compared to relational thinking (in terms of the SOLO thinking taxonomy)
  • Students benefit from this because their understanding of the SOLO taxonomy, which is used widely at St Andrew’s College, is deepened and their ability to explain their answers improves.

Despite being the Year 9 Dean and the associated workload that comes with that role, Mr Nicoll has found that keeping up the blogging and recording of his lessons has not added to his work. If anything, he believes it has allowed him to gauge where his students are at more accurately, since there is more time spent discussing the learning, than copying down notes. Student workbooks (or computers), are used primarily for writing down ideas, notes or discussions they have had in class – not for copying content off the whiteboard.

Separating suspensions using filtration

Computers are used in class, mostly for research and communicating overall answers for a lesson – shaping the learning into a formal reflection. Again, choice is provided to students – they could use MS Word, Powerpoint, OneNote or a graph in Excel for example. Because the “nuts and bolts” of the lesson are covered off in the form of comprehensive, quality notes on the class blog, students can simply:

Think like a scientist. Investigate like a scientist.

NCEA CLASSES:

Mr Nicoll’s blogging and recording practices extend to his NCEA classes as well, and he states that this allows him to better gauge where his students sit in terms of Achieved / Merit / Excellence in the respective standards they are working towards:

If a student is struggling to remember facts, I direct them to the blog where they can review the content. If they are struggling to articulate answers at a level required to move from Merit to Excellence, then I engage them in discussion.

RECORDING THE TEACHING MOMENTS:

The NZ Science Teacher website blogged about Mr Nicoll’s methodologies earlier this year, and since then some of his processes have changed:

  • Gone from using an Android smartphone to a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. This has allowed the uploading and editing of video content to become much easier as it is all on the one device. Being physically larger than a smartphone has also allowed the student recording the lesson to hold the device steadier, meaning the quality of the video footage has improved.
  • He is now using the Surface Pro 2 to record experiments in the classroom fume cupboard and display that on the classroom projector wirelessly using Miracast (similar to how Mr Hilliam does this in Maths)
  • Approximately three times a week he will record 8-12minutes of teaching and experiments and upload them to his YouTube Channel
  • When away from classes for an extended period of time, such as Winter Sports Tournament Week, he pre-records teaching concepts for his students. He then books laptops for the lessons if required, emails his students to bring their headphones along, and they can watch along in class.

Combining oxidation and reduction half equations to give a balanced overall equation (example video left for students during tournament week)

Matt has been increasingly requested to share his methods in different forums including at the #edchatnz conference which he had helped co-ordinate, and also to visiting Senior Leaders and Principals from the Independent Schools Senior Leaders Forum that toured the Christchurch independent Schools on the 16th September 2014. He summed up his approach to blogging and videoing his lessons with the following definitive statement:

It’s what I do now – it’s not going to change.

Students explaining the Law of Reflection

Flipping The Classroom Or Simply Utilizing Modern Technology?

PhysicsTechnology has been a disruptive force in education for a while now, allowing for educators in all sectors to re-examine how content is delivered to, and consumed by, students of all ages.

A very popular concept is that of flipping the classroom or flipped teaching – the basic concept being students watch a pre-recorded “lesson” by the teacher in their own time for homework, and then use the class time for discussion / assistance. Usually, some form of Learning Management System such as Moodle is used to deliver this content, however sometimes it is simply a link to a YouTube clip.

This came up in conversation recently with Mr Kevin Barron, a Science and Physics teacher here at St Andrew’s College who commented:

I find it amusing that we give some fancy jargon like “flipping the classroom” to something that is, to me, merely exploiting modern technology driven by a common sense need.

He went to on to identify the quite legitimate factors that are increasingly taking students out of the classroom such as field trips, sporting and cultural activities and international exchanges. Recognising this trend, he went looking for some solutions and came across the relatively obscure Microsoft product called Community Clips.

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This tool has allowed him to record narrated explanations of scientific concepts whilst illustrating them in Microsoft PowerPoint, and his library of explanatory videos has now exceeded 200. He then applied this concept to his NCEA Physics classes too:

I further made NCEA examples for Senior Physics and noticed that I could really think through the key points I was trying to highlight without being under any stress.

This process is not dissimilar to what Mr Hilliam does in his maths classes, although one of the key differences is Mr Barron is recording these sessions outside of the classroom, allowing him greater time for thought and clarity, as well as providing learning opportunities for the students before they come into the lesson itself.

In some ways, this is not new for his students: he has always uploaded course content, handouts and links to Moodle beforehand. The difference is now these handouts are enhanced with voiceovers and key information, students can go over these as often as they like or require. From experience, it appears that the optimum length of these videos is around five minutes, as this caters for attention spans and also keeps file sizes manageable for uploading to the College Moodle site and Youtube.

Explaining Electricity to Yr10 Students

Monitoring Outcomes:

Moodle was designed first and foremost as a Learning Management System (LMS) so it has a number of easily accessible reports that help identify levels of student participation and engagement with content in the course site. Mr Barron utilizes these reports to see which of the students are viewing the content in advance of lessons:

One of the issues is tracking use and increasing uptake. One of the mechanisms to achieve this is to write Moodle Quizzes that test the knowledge on the videos, and adds the grades straight into my mark book … a quick quiz at the start of the lesson can accomplish a similar result.

This monitoring and visibility of what students are viewing online and that which they can demonstrate understanding through assessment is critical, and the combination of Moodle and Youtube videos facilitates this. Anecdotally, it appears that those students who watch key videos as “pre-reading” before classes appear to pick up the complex topics quicker and are more familiar with terms prior to the lessons.

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Thinking Aloud When Marking Assessment For Students:

In 2013 the St Andrew’s College Pipe Band departed for the World Championships in Scotland, and won the event (see their triumphant return here). This resulted in a number of Mr Barron’s students missing the preliminary exams, and they were required to catch-up exams and internal assessments. To assist the students who had missed the teaching time whilst away in Scotland, Mr Barron “narrated aloud his thinking process” whilst marking their assessments and recorded it for them with Community Clips.

This resulted in a very targeted and condensed teaching moment for these students and was a very effective catchup for them. He was then able to extend the usefulness of this process to others:

With student permission, I asked if I could use these videos as model answers to support a wider audience

Tips For Managing This Style of Teaching:

  • Get students to bring headphones to class – they can re-watch some of the videos to reinforce learning in class if they have not grasped the concepts the first time. This allows for differentiated learning  as students can be extended or supported as necessary.
  • Use playlists within YouTube – it keeps topics of videos together and a simple hyperlink to students gives them access to all relevant videos. This can be further enhanced by using playlists for each year level of work.
  • If a student is requesting extra tuition, an expectation can be set that they have viewed the relevant explanatory video before attending the tutorial.

Using Third Party Videos:

When an excellent explanation of a concept is found online, Mr Barron will still consider using this, for example an explanation of Alleles for Level 1 Biology:

Explaining Alleles for Level 1 Biology

 As mentioned above, to ensure students have viewed and comprehended the video before a class commences, the use of a simple HotPot test in Moodle can achieve this. Here are a selection of basic questions used based on the above video:

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Conclusion:

There are some clear next steps to extend this type of teaching, and Mr Barron suggested one he is targeting is filming the practical experiments conducted in class. This would be similar to what his colleague in the science department, Mr Nicoll, is already doing and which I’ve blogged about here and here. This final comment from Mr Barron is telling:

I hope that it becomes a “pull” [by students] rather than a “push” … it is not a silver bullet, but rather just another resource and tactic to use in an effective teaching programme. The more complex and demanding the classroom becomes, the more effective this approach can be … it puts a real emphasis on the student make the best use of the resources provided and it takes away some of the excuses.

 

An Orwellian World of Surveillance and Digital Monitoring

Earlier this week I was invited to speak to a Yr13 English class that are currently studying the George Orwell classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four. It’s a novel high on big government surveillance and low on individual freedoms and so the teacher asked me to share a few thoughts on this and how this impacts on our daily lives from an ICT perspective.

I decided I’d start with this humorous clip from the 2010 film Four Lions, a film about some try hard jihadis who fear the “feds” are constantly watching them under surveillance, so consequently they go to extreme ends to defeat any tracking attempts from “big brother”

Whilst portrayed in a funny way, the reality is the tracking through cell phones and GPS satellites is very real; the police located sports presenter Tony Veitch after his attempted suicide a few years ago by tracking his cellphone and more recently, the efforts to locate missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 via satellite pings.

From this broad and high level introduction, I tried to personalise it and asked the students who had uploaded a photo to the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a Blog etc) within the last month – virtually every hand went up. I then asked them to clarify – who had uploaded a photo taken on a traditional camera, either a pocket camera or SLR – only 3-4 hands this time. Who had used a smart phone (virtually all which add GPS co-ordinates into the photo) – the vast majority of hands. With the platform set, I showed them this video clip:

What surprised me was that for many students they simply did not care if other people knew where they were taking photos, nor that they had the ability to track down their location. There was a disconnect between the perception of retaining a degree of anonymity with their online behaviour and profile, with the increasing ease that strangers or online companies like Facebook could build a digital footprint of them and start connecting that with a “real person.”

This led to a good discussion around Digital Citizenship and what measures were reasonable to undertake to keep safe online. Trying to personalise the experience further, we discussed what activities students undertook all the time at St Andrew’s College that contributed towards a digital footprint that could be tracked or analysed. Things such as the following all revealed their physical location at any time:

This last one proved particularly useful as I pulled up a real time map of the third floor of the Arts Block and it showed the students who had smart phones that had automatically associated with the wireless access point in the classroom:

The 3rd floor of the Arts Block showing devices connected wirelessly to the network

The 3rd floor of the Arts Block showing devices connected wirelessly to the network

Using this example, I also showed how easy it was to create a digital trail showing where a user had walked during the day, with their phone or laptop automatically associating with each wireless access point along the way. Here is a copy of the classrooms my work smartphone connected to as I went about my day on the campus.

The rooms my phone automatically connected to during the day.

The rooms my phone automatically connected to during the day.

Finally, to complete the “monitoring” picture of internet usage at St Andrew’s College we looked at the real time logs of our firewall reporting tools (Fortinet’s Fortianalyzer) and I showed them how many attempts by students were currently being blocked – the amount of Facebook requests elicited a laugh from the students present.

In the end, it was an eye opener for most of the students just how much of a digital footprint they create, even just during their time on campus here at St Andrew’s. What I tried to emphasis was their wider online presence and how this was creating a profile that companies like Google, Facebook and others will use in a variety of different ways.

There is, of course, a tradeoff. Many of the most useful and well liked tools we have come to rely on require “location aware” services and are provided either free or very cheaply, because advertising is supporting them. The question I left with each of the students was this: just how much of their privacy are they prepared to “give up” in return for the benefits and convenience of these internet based services.

Unlike Orwell’s world in Airstrip One where dissenting views or attempting to evade surveillance was seen as a thought crime, we still have a degree of choice in how much of a digital footprint we leave.

Here is a copy of the powerpoint I used, or embedded below:

Microsoft Release OneNote for Mac

OneNoteI’ve been in two minds about writing a blog about Microsoft’s recent release of OneNote for Mac. On the one hand, this has been the biggest request on our “wish list” for a long time, yet on the other it falls short of being comparable in functionality to the Windows equivalent.

I’ve blogged in the past about how teachers are doing great things with OneNote at St Andrew’s College and consequently my ICT support team and teachers alike were excited with the announcement that OneNote had arrived for Mac at long last.

Students can download a version from the Mac App Store here and the price is great too: free.

The issue from our standpoint is synchronisation. As a College we have made a big push to have all students and staff using the OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive Pro) feature of Office365 – this allows sharing of documents easily (through real time searching of the College Active Directory) and allows stronger management from an ICT perspective.

The new Microsoft OneNote for Mac only allows synchronisation of notebooks with the OneDrive Consumer service – a great thing, but unfortunately lacks the tight integration into the rest of the Office365 suite on offer at St Andrew’s College.

We hold out hope that this synchronisation with OneDrive for Business will come in a future release and, in doing so, give our students (approximately 50% of them use a Mac) equal access to the fantastic product that is OneNote.

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