Digital Image Manipulation in English

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

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Challenges in Digital Manipulation

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

Finding a tool

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

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

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

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

Year 13 Task

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Future Challenges

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

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

Using Analytics To Profile Classes

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

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

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

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

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

Subject GCAs Per Student:

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

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

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

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

GCA – Then and Now:

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

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

The red numbers in the report are:

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

Comparative Scores:

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCEA Results Analysis By Standard:

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

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

ncea-analysis

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

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

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

The red numbers in the screenshot are:

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

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

Detailed NCEA Results By Standard:

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

This has now been displayed in the following reports:

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts:

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

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

dashboard-tour

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

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

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

 

Fostering Lifelong (e)Learning in Staff

Earlier this year I profiled Ms Donna Jones from the English Department. One aspect of that profile was a mention of her embarking on a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning). She is the first staff member at the college to be enrolled in this qualification, so as she nears course completion, it is a perfect time to catch up with her regarding her progress.WIN_20160816_14_23_01_Pro

Collaboration with colleagues

One of the most pleasing aspects of the course for Donna has been the ability to collaborate with colleagues from a variety of different schools, and teachers of other year levels. These opportunities for collaboration are an important aspect of educational postgraduate study like this, as Donna describes:

‘It has given me a much clearer understanding of the big picture educational landscape across Canterbury. Engaging with teachers from all sectors has been both enlightening and inspiring.’

A second aspect of the course that Donna has particularly enjoyed is the hands-on time that is spent learning through technology. Donna has thoroughly enjoyed working with stop-motion, robotics, and AR. This increased awareness has manifest in a new-found interest in the potential of concepts such as gamification to help raise engagement and achievement in her English classes.

Finally, she has gained a greater understanding of the theories of leadership, particularly Transformational Leadership in 21st Century Learning.

Applying Learning in the Classroom

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Students making stop motion

Whenever staff attend Professional Development courses, one measure of success of the applicability of that development, is the impact that the new learning has on classroom practice. One particularly pleasing aspect of Ms Jones’ participation in the course is the immediate applicability of her new learning.

She has already been able to develop different ways of assessing existing concepts. An example of this is the use of stop motion as a way of assessing understanding of theme within a novel study. She has recently done preliminary work to investigate the use of an ‘Escape Room’ with Year 9 students which complements her implementation of a cross-curriculum project solving real-world problems; used last year.

‘The course has been a reality check and reminder that if we as teachers don’t engage with 21st Century technology and integrate these into ou programmes, we are not providing students with the correct preparation for their future. The pace of change in classroom technology is both exciting and frightening.’

Putting the R in SAMR

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

SAMR

The SAMR Model

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

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

Hearing Dr Puentedura Explain his Model

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

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

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

Takeaways from Presentation

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

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

Putting it into Action – Queenstown Tourism Development Unit

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My Ideas for a SAMR Unit on Tourism Development

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

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

Four levels of Task Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosting a TeachMeet at St Andrew’s College

This week, St Andrew’s College hosted the first TeachMeet event in Christchurch for 2016 and over 40 staff from 15 different schools attended. If you’re unsure of what a TeachMeet actually is, you can find more at the website http://www.teachmeet.co.nz  but in short:

A TeachMeet is an organised but informal meeting (in the style of an unconference) for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching with technology.

Participants volunteer (via the TeachMeet website) to demonstrate good practice they’ve delivered over the past year, or discuss a product that enhances classroom practice.

Source: Wikipedia

To help promote the event, I took to a new tool I’ve been using recently called Canva which allows you to very quickly and easily develop stylish posters, images and social media banners through their website:

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One of the key reasons TeachMeets are successful is that presenters are limited to only 2minutes or 7minutes for their presentations. This results in a fast-paced event and a range of different ideas and solutions being shared. It also means that preparation for the volunteer presenters is kept at a minimum – it’s not onerous to share something you’re already doing in your classroom or researching to give a go.

From the slides above, you can see there were seven presenters who shared on the following topics:

  1. Wilj Dekkers (St Andrew’s College) Using MineCraft and OneNote for Creative Writing
  2. Tom Neumann (Riccarton High) Using an alphanumeric self marking video game in Moodle to review content of Yr11 Economics
  3. Sue McLachlan (Hagley College) Using OneNote Learning Tools in the classroom
  4. Tam Yuill Proctor (St Andrew’s College) Using OneNote as a Digital Teacher’s Planbook
  5. Karyn Gray (Haeta Community Campus) The Quest for Personalisation of Learning- My Thinking, My Research, My Questions
  6. Schira Withers (Our Lady Of The Star Of The Sea) How we as educators can help students with low working memories improve their self-management skills using digital technologies, thus  allowing them to experience success and move from a fixed to growth mindset.
  7. Donna Jones (St Andrew’s College) Using a 3D app to inspire creative thought and ideas for creative writing.

When one of the presenters was unable to attend at the last minute, I added some thoughts on using Google Earth to create personalised tours to round out the afternoon.

A number of attendees contributed on the designated Twitter hashtag of #TMChch and you can see the entire timeline here with a small selection being:

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Guest Post: Mr Wilj Dekkers Attends Microsoft Educator Exchange

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This post was written by Mr Wilj Dekkers who attended the Annual E2 Conference. He is the second St Andrew’s College teacher to be invited to this global conference, after Mr Ben Hilliam attended in 2015.

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Mr Wilj Dekkers

Microsoft Education hold an annual event that celebrates the achievements of educators who combine pedagogy and technology in their classrooms and schools.  The event is held in a different global location each year, with 2016 seeing Microsoft Innovative Educator experts (MIE experts) converge on Budapest, Hungary.

I was fortunate to be selected as one of five New Zealand educators to attend this year.  The E2 educator conference ran during the week of March 7th and was based at the Corinthia Hotel in the heart of Budapest.

300 educators from across the globe were given opportunities to collaborate and share our experiences integrating technology within our schools in ways that enhance and move learning forward.

As with every conference, a series of keynotes and discussion panels provided all delegates with inspiration and thought provoking ideas.

Picture3Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, spoke to us about recent trends and the move towards 21st century skills in education.  His keynote reinforced that the world our children are growing up in will require new skill sets; that employers are looking for collaborative, critical problem solvers.  I was impressed that all the concepts discussed came from a pedagogical background and never placed technology above learning but made it an integral part of the lifelong learning process.  As Anthony said, “What we’re here to do is help every student on the planet achieve more.”

Two of the highlights of the morning keynotes were Stephen Reid and Jacqueline Russell.

Stephen runs a company called Immersive Minds and for the past 20 years has been using technology as a learning tool in classrooms.  Stephen works with students and teachers to create new learning environments though a mix of digital and real world tools, developing confidence in the learning process on both sides as well as competence in the use of technology to support pedagogy, classroom management and assessment.  Stephen presented how he uses Minecraft to help develop Key Competencies through History and Science.  I attended one of Stephen’s workshops and spent time speaking with him about my own use of Minecraft to enhance literacy and accepted his kind offer to help us at St Andrew’s with ideas we are developing using Minecraft as part of the school centenary.

Jacqueline presented a keynote focussed on the Surface Pro 4.  Before leaving for the conference, Jacqueline sat with her daughter and talked about where she was going and together, mother and daughter used the Surface and stylus to research, collate and create a digital scrapbook within MS OneNote.  This was an honest representation of the power and ease of this tool when placed in the hands of children.  This reflected my own views as detailed at the end of last year when Microsoft interviewed and filmed teacher’s perspectives of the Surface device being used as a learning tool.

Picture1The workshops this year were diverse with subjects such as flipping your classroom using OneNote, Surface and digital inking to engage students; Minecraft application throughout Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM); building a world in Project Spark that reflected the collective understanding of the ideal learning environment; digital literacy and creative programming in the classroom.

One particular workshop was run by Nikkie Laing, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow from Opaheke School in Auckland.  Nikkie’s workshop centred on the use of Office 365 SharePoint Sites.  In detail Nikkie shared how to minimize the time teachers spend collating and preparing resources and the time learners spend looking for materials and get on with learning.  Her presentation and workshop was so well structured and delivered that she won the prize of best presentation of the conference.  An overview of Nikkie’s workshop is below.

Office Mix

The conference also provided opportunities to showcase what each educator had been working on back in their own countries. I shared the use of Minecraft and OneNote to write detailed pick-a-path narratives. A large number of delegates were quite interested in what the children in Year 6 had achieved with Mike Tholfsen, the Product Manager for OneNote recognising what the children had worked on.  Mike was very interested in how OneNote was being used for learning at our school, being particularly excited by the inclusion of Minecraft in the writing process.  A journalist, Jordan Shapiro also came over, interested in what was happening at St Andrew’s. This has led to a mention in his article for Forbes magazine:

Another teacher tells me how he uses Minecraft to teach creative writing. “I used to tell them to write a story and they’d give me these blank stares. Now I ask them to act out a story in the Minecraft world first and then, together, we figure out how to articulate it in writing.” He describes how the virtual block world lets him walk his students back to specific locations so he can interrogate them about the details. “I encourage them to get more descriptive and specific; I tell them to imagine how things might smell, what the grass might feel like under their feet.”

Overall the experience has both reinforced my beliefs in the importance of integrating technology purposefully in learning and motivated me to expand upon my own pedagogical learning.  The people I met have continued to amaze me with their enthusiasm and creativity.  The New Zealand and Australian contingent have remained in contact post conference, having developed both a close network and long lasting friendship. We are already planning continued collaborative, cross Tasman learning opportunities for our students.

Encouraging Growth Mindset in Students with Robotics

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

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

Mrs Kelly McBride

Mrs Kelly McBride

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

Developing Growth Mindset Through Perserverence

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

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

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

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

Robotic Polygon

Year 7 Students drawing a square with a robot

Getting the Robot to Draw

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

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

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

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

Successful Integration of Technology into Teaching

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

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