eLearning Through The Lens Of Key Competencies

EdTech SummitIn the last week of Term 2 I had the opportunity to present at the NZ Tech Advance Education Technology Summit hosted at Massey University’s Albany Campus. Key topics and subjects discussed include:

  • Inquiry | Creativity | Collaboration – The role of technology in modern learning
  • Developing teacher understanding and encouraging implementation of collaborative and digital learning methods
  • Integrating and encouraging digital technology adoption in curriculum and classroom
  • The new narrative: IT training and computational thinking
  • Building technology into the curriculum – lessons, challenges and what we’ve learnt along the way
  • Collaboration at the forefront of today’s teaching environment

When preparing what I wanted to share at the 40 minute session I had been given, I decided on using the Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum to explain why some examples of eLearning from four St Andrew’s College teachers had been successful. Additionally, I wanted to use authentic student voice to highlight this – fortunately, having been blogging on this site for over two years now there was plenty of examples I could draw on.

If you are interested in an independent view of my session then you can see this micro blogs from Nathaniel Louwrens here and this brief reflection from Andrew Corney here. You can download a full copy of my slides from the presentation from this link on dropbox.com.

The Key Competencies are at the heart of great teaching and learning in New Zealand and are the bedrock upon which effective eLearning can be built on.

Key Competencies

The Key Competencies from the NZ Curriculum

It’s worth reading over the entire descriptions of learners who demonstrate the 5 Key Competencies but some highlights I pulled out to share at the conference included:

  • Thinking: is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas … Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency … [Students] reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.
  • Using Language, Symbols and Texts:  Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed  … Students who are competent users … can interpret and use words, number, images, … and technologies in a range of contexts … They confidently use ICT to access and provide information and to communicate with others
  • Managing Self: This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners … It is integral to self-assessment.
  • Relating To Others: Students who relate well to others are open to new learning and able to take different roles in different situations … By working effectively together, they can come up with new approaches, ideas, and ways of thinking.
  • Participating & Contributing: This competency is about being actively involved in communities … They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity … to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.

I started the session off by highlighting the fact that often ICT is talked about in terms of risk. This can come from security breaches, budget blow-outs and ICT project cost overruns, not to mention distracted and off-task behaviour when using technology. I then posed the following questions:

Questions.png

I wanted to highlight how some of the best examples of effective eLearning from teachers at St Andrew’s College was firmly rooted in Key Competencies. I chose examples from the following four teachers:

Teachers

Combining OneNote & MineCraft To Create Pick-A-Path Stories:

This example is explained in more detail here and the basic Learning Outcomes are displayed below with the relevant Key Competencies included:

Learning outcomes from this unit:

  • to produce interactive pick-a-path adventure stories
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
  • to work collaboratively online to produce an end product
    • KC: Relating To Others
  • to create stories to share online with a wider audience
    • KC: Participating & Contributing

As mentioned above, I wanted to use authentic student voice as much as possible so I included an abbreviated version of the following video so that the audience could hear students articulating their learning and the impact that technology had made:

An insightful quote from the student called Harry was:

The goal was not to just make something pretty in Minecraft, it was actually to improve the quality of your writing … after writing the story, the idea was to look back in Minecraft and see how you could improve the writing you had already completed.

SAMR DivingTo assist teachers at St Andrew’s College with integration of technology into their teaching and learning, we have adopted the SAMR taxonomy that you can see on the left.

This is a really useful way for teachers to conceptualise how technology might assist the learning outcomes for their students as well as provide them some aspirational goals for extended use of technology. Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, has recently written in detail about effective use of the SAMR model which is definitely worth reading if you are new to it. During the presentation, I introduced the audience to a relatively new product from Microsoft called Pulse. This enables the audience to provide real time feedback on a session as well as allowing the presenter to push out questions for quick polls. I asked the audience “What level of SAMR do you feel the Minecraft/OneNote example was operating at?” and below is their response:

Pulse SAMR

Using Microsoft Pulse for instant feedback from the audience

Inspiring Creative Writing Through Constructing Digital Worlds:

The next example I shared was again around creative writing, this time from the High School instead of a Year 6 class. The full reflection can be found here, however the high level overview of the task was as follows (with Key Competencies inserted):

Learning Tasks For This Unit:

  • Write a short story of ~600 words with a theme of “conflict”
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
  • Students Must produce at least 4 “drafts”
    • KC: Thinking
  • Drafts must be shared with peers for feedback/feed-forward & act on appropriate advice
    • KC: Participating & Contributing

What was different about this activity is that students had to build their digital world before they started their writing and use it as a source of inspiration and planning, not just as a reflective tool for editing. Settings were constructed in Sketchup, Paint, Minecraft and the source engine of the game Counter-Strike. Here is a student Ralph talking about his world which I again shared with the conference audience:

Again, I find the language used by the student here informative, with some of his comments being:

  • I wanted readers to grasp that the bombs had come from the bank itself”
    • Clearly, the reader’s experience is at the forefront of his thinking when he is designing his digital world.
  • He blended his natural enjoyment of the game Counter Strike with his school work and learning – a win/win situation!
  • Ralph talks about adding a backstory to the real events of the London Bombings, demonstrating a wider awareness of global communities
  • “As I was designing the level I was constantly thinking of ways I could make the story more interesting.
    • This was not just technology for the sake of it – it was clearly shaping and informing his understanding of the creative writing task that was the key learning outcome here.
    • This was manifested through his drafting process where he removed a lot of the dialogue to improve the narrative flow and added more descriptive text such as the sound of the gunfire

This impressive learning came on the back of an earlier, easier task where the students in the class had leveraged an existing digital world (Google Earth) rather than having to create their own. Through the lens of the SAMR scale this makes perfect sense – the students build their knowledge and experience of digital toolsets in the lower levels of SAMR and once mastered they can progress to more difficult tasks. Here is a write up of the earlier task where students had to explain the significance of setting in a film, and this is a student talking about their comprehension.

Again, it’s important to pick up on the student’s language – the technology is integrally linked to the learning outcomes, it is not merely there for entertainment or distraction. By requiring students to record their personal reflections in this way, students are using a number of Key Competencies.

Communicate Musical Intention By Composing An Original Piece of Music Inspired By Art:

The final example I shared with the audience came from Level 3 Year 13 Music. On the first day of the conference I had been asked to be part of a Q&A Panel about integrating technology into schools and one question from the audience was essentially around what are real world examples of great technology usage in NCEA subjects. The heart of the question was around the challenge of adapting existing assessments to be technology rich and I answered it by a brief description of this example from Mr Duncan Ferguson our Head of Music.

  • Using AS.91419 (3.4)
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Texts
  • Students are required to reflect on their composition and explain the connection with the art that inspired them
    • KC: Thinking
  • These are largely independent projects that the students need to work on themselves
    • KC: Managing Self

Here is the video of the student reflecting on their learning:

Flipping The Maths Classroom:

I wanted to allow some Q&A at the end of my session so I ran out of time to share this example from Mr Ben Hilliam, so I’ll briefly reference it here. In this example, the key learning outcomes included:

  • Year 9 Maths: solving Linear Equations
    • KC: Using Language, Symbols & Text
  • Students were required to watch the instructional videos and then attempt the practice questions
    • KC: Thinking
  • Students needed to regularly complete check lists indicating their progress
    • KC: Managing Self

Here is an example video made by Mr Hilliam:

What I most liked about this example is that students were not left on their own to just work through it, the teacher is still involved through the process, despite the availability of the instructional videos. The following screenshot is from a OneNote Class Notebook showing how the student has completed their progress reports and the teacher has provided feedback:

Work eg2

I used MS Pulse to ask the audience whether they personally felt that using a “flipped classroom” genuinely created more opportunities for differentiated and personalised learning during class time. Their response was overwhelmingly “yes!”

Flipping The Classroom

An alternative way to show poll results from MS Pulse

I concluded my session with the following thoughts:

Concluding Thoughts

I really enjoyed the opportunity to present at the NZ Tech Advance Education Technology Summit and was fortunate enough to receive some positive feedback from the session:

Digital Scavenger Hunt Celebrates Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori

Te Wiki O Te Reo MāoriThis week St Andrew’s College has joined in the national celebrations of Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori with a number of different activities. For the first time, we decided to run a Digital Scavenger Hunt that was aimed at getting ākonga (students) and kaiako (teachers) engaging in the celebrations in a fun way through using technology.

This was achieved using a Digital Scavenger Hunt, whereby students had to complete a number of tasks that accrued points based on the level of difficulty or effort required. The following poster was created using Canva and posted around the College and also on the news stream of our Moodle LMS

1 Point Challenges

Pikau

A handwoven harakeke pikau was 1st Prize

Initially, I was unsure of the best technology to get students to submit their photos and videos to a central location easily, and without needing a specific app or account. I tried to crowdsource some suggestions through my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter, with ideas of using Padlet, Cluster, Instagram and Google Drive all being suggested. I also thought about setting up an open course on our Moodle site that students could submit photos and videos for the competition through, however the reality is that it is still not super easy from a mobile phone to do this.

In the end, I settled on using the relatively new “File Request” feature that is available free with a Dropbox.com account. The beauty of this is that it significantly lowers the barrier of entry for students as:

  • They did not require a personal Dropbox account themselves
  • They didn’t need a specific app on their phone – it worked through a mobile browser on any platform (we tested on iOS, Windows and Android). We used a QR Code and shortened URL to make it easier to type on a phone – http://bit.ly/stac-mlw 
  • Any files they submitted were visible only to me as the Dropbox account – students could not see the entries of anyone else which was important.
  • Students entered their name and email address when submitting files, so all entries were easily identifiable and Dropbox emailed me as the account owner when a submission was made.

To assist students with how to submit their entries, I made an instructional video using ScreenFlow 6  and a nice new feature in version 6 is the ability to record the screen of your mobile phone. This allowed me to show what to do on the phone to upload photos and video, whilst simultaneously showing what it looked like on the Dropbox account as the files were submitted:

Video showing how to submit photos for the Digital Scavenger Hunt directly from your mobile phone

The competition proved most popular in our Preparatory School, with the majority of entries coming from Year 7 students. Here are a couple of example photos that were entered:

Future Ideas:

I had a chat with Mr Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, at the end of this competition and we both agreed that this is an idea that could be recycled easily for other purposes. Now that we know that Dropbox File Requests is an easy way to submit and receive files via mobile phones this could be used for other Digital Scavenger Hunts with a different theme.

One idea could be an orientation programme for new students, aimed to get them going around the campus to learn where different places/services are located. There are some specific apps aimed at doing this, such as Scavify, but building your own would probably not be too difficult either. In the end, this was a fun and relatively easy activity to build into our celebration of Te Reo Māori at St Andrew’s College.

Guest Post: Mr Dekker’s Journey With OneNote & Minecraft

This is a repost of a blog on the official Microsoft Education blog where Mr Wilj Dekkers, a Year 6 teacher at St Andrew’s College and Microsoft Innovative Educator, recaps the journey of his classroom over the last two years with Microsoft OneNote and Minecraft.

OneNote is central to the pedagogy in my classroom and school. When you walk through the building you can witness the everyday use of the application from Year 4 to Year 8. You will see Active Boards where teachers annotate writing samples in the Content Library for students to use as a reference for their own learning. Students are huddled around their laptops debating which sources of information are most relevant to include in a shared notebook, and staff are reviewing meeting notes shared through a Professional Learning Group’s OneNote.

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

St. Andrew’s College uses a custom designed Inquiry Pathway—the core of which is built around helping students develop a collaborative approach to learning. The approach is question-driven, encouraging students to find the answers themselves, coming to their own conclusions. As a teacher, this is exciting; we plan and facilitate but cannot predict the final outcome.

Having planned an inquiry around national identity in the 21st century, I had posed a problem to my class: The Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 had left a long lasting scar on both the economy and identity of the city. Tourism was dwindling, with visitors flying in and quickly moving on to other parts of New Zealand’s South Island. I challenged my students to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a Kiwi in the 21st century?” and also find a way to bring tourists back to our city.

OneNote Minecraft 1

Students formed collaborative groups and created their own shared notebooks. They planned, questioned and researched their Kiwi icons. They interviewed parents and discussed how families from a variety of cultural backgrounds celebrated being “Kiwis” and what being a New Zealander meant to them. All of which was documented in each group’s shared OneNote Notebook.

Students began asking if they could book laptops to work together in our shared learning spaces outside the physical space of the room. They loved having the flexibility to be able to work together around a PC or laptop and then continue collaborating using OneNote at home, completely away from the physical space of the school, in the evenings. Students were so enthralled with the inquiry unit and ability to work together in real-time through OneNote. Parents even began commenting on how they had never seen their students so excited to return from school and get started on their homework.

Part of the inquiry was looking at how we could bring tourists back to Christchurch. This was where Minecraft was introduced to the class. Students brought in devices running the pocket edition and connected to shared realms via the school’s Wi-Fi. As well as working as a team to answer the big inquiry question, members of each group had individually focused on an aspect of Kiwi culture. I asked the students if they could build a theme park with Kiwiana-themed rides that incorporated elements from their inquiries.

Before long, the class was a buzzing hub of self-directed learning. Students were writing presentation speeches from their inquiry notebooks while Minecraft experts built bigger and better Kiwiana rides to showcase their learning. In the evenings, groups continued developing and improving their learning in preparation for the big day.

By the end of the third term of 2014, OneNote became a standard classroom tool. Having seen the benefits, families had started purchasing laptops for their students to use in our class. This again caused a chain reaction. Students with access to their own devices were using OneNote more, which in turn meant that more students began arriving with laptops.

This had to be managed carefully, since having a laptop in Year 6 is not required. I was wary of technology being used as a substitution tool and made sure that in my planning any use of OneNote or any other tools we were using was in ways that enhanced or allowed learning to take place in a way that could not be done without a device.

OneNote Minecraft 2

It was around this time that Sam McNeill, Director of ICT for the college, brought in six Surface Pro 3s to trial, and I was fortunate to be asked to use one in the prep school. Having always been a believer in the creative power of the pen, I was instantly won over by having the best of both worlds at my fingertips—a fully functional Windows tablet with a stylus that allowed me to write down ideas, thoughts and comments directly into my OneNote Notebooks. It did not take long for a few students to begin arriving with their own Surface tablets!

In the final term of the 2014 school year, we focused on our use of narrative; enhancing writing features and broadening our vocabulary. Using both OneNote and Minecraft seemed like a natural fit.

As a class, we read through “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain,” written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in 1982. This book was one of the first “single-player gamebooks” and was the first of what was to become a successful series of pick-a-path gamebooks called “Fighting Fantasy.”

OneNote Minecraft 3

The students loved it. We discussed modern game worlds, from Fable to World of Warcraft. How could we emulate those fantastic “Fighting Fantasy” stories using the technology at our disposal, and how could the technology enhance the quality of our writing? We wanted our readers to have the same sense of choice and adventure we had experienced reading “Warlock,” while being able to share our writing without needing to produce any form of print media.

“Minecraft brings out the creativity in me. I love remaking my story Minecraft and improving my writing.”
—Mila

Through the insertion of hyperlinks connecting pages, students found an easy way to provide choices for the reader, and as notebooks stored on Onedrive could be easily shared, the audience for their writing expanded quickly. Students were sharing and collaborating on their adventure stories by allowing editing rights to certain classmates deemed to have the relevant skillsets to be seen as official class editors.

The inclusion of Minecraft was thanks to Ms Tam Yuill-Proctor, a Year 10 English teacher in our college. Students in Tam’s creative writing class had used Minecraft and other 3-D authoring tools to create worlds for their stories.

“Using Minecraft made my imagination go wild with thoughts!”
—Kinda

Our Year 6 students took Tam’s idea and expanded upon it by using Minecraft to both plan and develop their writing, as well as to review and revise the content, descriptive phrases and vocabulary. As their Minecraft worlds grew, so did their stories, which were housed in OneNote. In some cases, we had 10-year-old boys who were not big fans of writing producing 5000-word interactive pick-a-path stories. We published a blog entry detailing the OneNote and Minecraft pick-a-path story.

“Minecraft was helpful because it made me notice all the little details in my narrative that were never in my original bubble plan.”
—Padric

By 2015, most teachers in the prep school had embraced OneNote. The superb OneNote Class Notebook app creator was now an important element of Office 365, and students were appreciating the structure of the Collaboration Space, Content Library and their own personal sections.

Teachers were appreciating the organizational simplicity of adding resources and lessons into the Content Library for students to use in their own sections. Within my Year 6 class, multiple students arrived at the beginning of the year armed with Surface Pro 3s.

OneNote sections became collaborative planning spaces for groups designing games and interactive narratives; students naturally made use of the Collaboration Space to form group sections for our prosthetic hand designs for the 3-D printer.

This was also the first year that I started using Minecraft in Math. The students in my group weren’t huge fans of math. I knew they were capable of so much more, but their personal attitude towards the subject was that it was hard; comments at the start of the year were mostly, “I’m not good at math.” My focus was to change their attitudes to that of a growth mindset where they say, “I’m not good at math, yet!” Continue reading

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

S

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!

Microsoft Video Showcases Innovative Educators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAMR Diving

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

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

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

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

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

Toby 3

Guest Post: Collaborative Composition In Music

This guest post today comes from Mr Duncan Ferguson, Head of Department of Music here at St Andrew’s College. Previous posts have featured his work integrating technology in his practice that you can read here and here. Today’s post looks at his Project Based Learning (PBL) with his Year 10 Music Options class. You can read the original blog post here.

Over the last five weeks I’ve been trying a new way of running collaborative composition in my year 10 Option Music class.

This year I’ve been blessed to have a large class of highly motivated and talented students, so they were the perfect class to take a risk and jump into what is for me a new way of teaching composition.

The basic summary of what we did is that I divided the class into five groups.  In the first week each group had to start writing and recording a song (in a rough demo format).  In the 2nd week the groups swapped songs and continued on with what another group had started the previous week.  We did this for five weeks so that in the end, every group had been involved in the composition process on each of the five songs.

Initially the students were very nervous about this process as I’d done very little in terms of how to actually write songs.  However, that didn’t worry me as within each group of five members I knew that there were people with various strengths that when combined would make the process go smoothly.

Prior to this we had done a little work on what makes a good chord progression (mainly analysing four chord songs) and an effective melody but within the context of their own personal compositions, which they recorded/sequenced in either Garageband or Studio One Free.  It wasn’t much, but it proved to be enough to get the students on the way with the process.  What was critical to the process though (which I didn’t realise until we got a few weeks into the process) was that a strong knowledge of how to use technology and specifically MIDI keyboards/guitars with software sequencers made all the difference to the success of students being able to pass on their work to the next group (only a few students in the class had strong notation/theory skills so technology bridged the gap very effectively).

Here is a little video where I show one of the songs and how each group contributed towards it week by week:

And here some of the songs created by the students (please keep in mind that these are only supposed to be at ‘demo’ quality… we still intend to record them properly at a later date):

This whole process has been an incredibly empowering experience for the students and is a great demonstration of the high end of the SAMR model:

SAMR Diving

Software like Garageband and Studio One has enabled students to achieved a huge amount in a very short time and made it possible for this separate group collaborative thing to happen.  Students that recorded audio onto iPhones or wrote down music with traditional notation were no where near as effective in the sharing of their music with others.  By far the best way for this process to succeed was for students to compose using MIDI for the instruments and microphones/audio for the vocals… all along with a click so the music could be easily edited and rearranged by different groups.

Here are a couple of short videos watching students in action as they were creating their songs:

For other teachers who are wanting to run this sort of unit I’ve found that the following will make the process go very well:

  • Ensure that each group has at least one person who plays the following instruments: piano, guitar, drums, voice.  Often drummers don’t have a huge amount to do in the first week or two but as the weeks went by I discovered they were increasingly taking charge of the projects… running the technology (i.e. the computer DAW/sequencer)… which was critical when it came to restructuring ideas previous groups had come up with into coherent song structure of intros, verses, choruses, etc
  • Try and have a computer with a MIDI keyboard and a microphone setup in each room.  If you are using student laptops instead make sure you have a dedicated USB drive that holds the files that they work off… minimise copying of files between computers.  We ended up a losing a complete work from one room that students were working in as they mistakingly copied the wrong files then deleted the proper one.  The most successful songs were those that came out of rooms that had dedicated computers that students used each week.
  • Use the note pad facilities of your DAW (like Garageband or Logic) for writing down chord progressions, lyrics, ideas, etc  Don’t have things on scraps of paper as they may get lost.  Keeping everything with the DAW file is an elegant solution for keeping everything in the same place.
  • Don’t record piano/guitar ideas as audio… try to record them as MIDI.  This will enable successive groups to edit what was recorded.  If it’s audio, they’re stuck with it and are unable to improve upon it.

For me this process has been such an eye opener.  The students surprised themselves with what they could come up with.  The loved the process (they always arrived early from lunch so they could start as quickly as they could) and they grew so much as the weeks went by.

I will be making sure that this way of composing will be incorporated to NCEA composition at our school.  It will grow the numbers of students taking music and will help to break down the perception that you must be an orchestral musician who has been learning since you’re seven years old to be able to succeed in NCEA (even after five years at my school I’m still trying to destroy this myth!).

But overall… it was a heck of a lot of fun.  And that is what teaching and learning should be… shouldn’t it?

Innovation & eLearning at St Andrew’s College in 2015

2015 is shaping up to be another exciting year at St Andrew’s College, as we welcome a second cohort into the 1:1 Computing Programme that debuted in 2014. A number of things have been done to support the growing numbers of students with devices at the College including:

  • The creation of a new role called eLearning Integrator, that has been filled by Mr Tom Adams. Tom’s focus will be supporting teachers and students to use technology more effectively in the classroom and the role is a logical extension of the 1:1 Computing Programme that was first planned in 2012.
  • The hiring of an additional ICT help desk staff member, Mr Brodie Dickinson. Brodie joins the team from Adelaide, Australia and his appointment means there will always be quick and friendly ICT support for students and staff when they need it.
  • snapA second fibre optic internet connection has been installed, with support from our ISP Snap Internet. This means the College now has two diverse internet feeds available, so in the event of a fibre cut or outage, the College internet connection will automatically fail over to the secondary connection, ensuring almost seamless internet access for students and staff.

I can see that this year there will be a number of trends that the ICT team will focus on supporting in the classroom and growing the confidence and competence of a wider range of our teaching staff.

Creating An Environment Where Innovation Can Occur:

RectorOne of the themes from the Rector in 2014 was to help create an environment where innovation can occur and in her opening address in Regulus she noted:

I am always mindful that we cannot sit still and simply enjoy the benefits of success. William Pollard (Episcopal priest and physicist) wrote in the 1960s “Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

In this light, we have adopted the theme for St Andrew’s College in 2014 of Innovation and Collaboration – two qualities that are at the heart of 21st century learning.

To support that goal, a Research and Innovation Group was set up that has laid the groundwork for the 2015 Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) that will drive teaching staff Professional Development once again this year. Furthermore, to help create an environment conducive to innovative teaching practices certain things need to occur:

  • Innovators need to be encouraged, rewarded and celebrated. At St Andrew’s this has been done in a number of ways, including creating a new billboard area in the very busy pickup/dropoff zone celebrating teacher excellence. This is the inaugural poster in this area:

Jac and Ben

  • Innovators need to be closely supported – provide them with access to the latest equipment, software and professional development as it becomes available. Ensure that when they experience frustrations there is timely support, as the classroom can be a very lonely place for teachers when technology fails them!
  • Monitor closely what is happening at the “bleeding edge” of technology in education – what’s happening on the fringe today will quite possibly be mainstream in a number of years.
  • As a school, settle on “innovation within parameters” – there is now so much choice available, that there must be some rational decisions made about the broad direction a school is heading in. (I touch on this in my #CENZ14 blog post comparing the choice of Google Apps For Education vs Microsoft Office365)
  • Support innovation at all levels – even the aspirational “first steps” by teachers, and then provide a framework for them to grow their attempts e.g. the SAMR taxonomy
Explaining the SAMR model through coffee

Explaining the SAMR model through coffee

Pulling The Majority Forward:

Innovation Adoption LifecycleSt Andrew’s College is lucky that we have a number of teachers that are routinely trying new things in their classroom. We celebrate this in a number of different ways, including postings on this blog, whilst occasionally these teachers are also recognised externally for their innovative teaching practices. This was the case with Mrs Jac Yoder and Mr Ben Hilliam who were recognised for their innovative work with Microsoft products towards the end of 2014.

Additionally, we are now starting to get requests from other schools, teacher training institutions, subject association groups and other organisations for our staff to present or facilitate professional development in the education sector. Whilst this is very pleasing, the staff involved represent a relatively small subset of our wider teachers – as the diagram above shows, they would be seen as innovators or early adopters. Amongst the remainder of our staff, the early / late majority, most are very keen to try new things but may lack the confidence or support to try new things in their classroom, particularly when it comes to technology.

For this reason, our new eLearning Integrator has the goal of growing the size of our staff innovating and who could become early adopters of technology and best practice in the classroom. Sharing the successes (and challenges!) of these innovative attempts is imperative as it will encourage all of our teaching staff to give it a go.

Tools To Help With Innovative Practice:

An important point not to lose sight of: it's the teacher, not the technology, that makes the difference!

An important point not to lose sight of: it’s the teacher, not the technology, that makes the difference!

I recently saw the image on the right retweeted by one of our staff and it is a timely reminder that for successful learning outcomes the teacher and the student are the critical components in the process. Technology, as great as it is, merely facilitates the learning, as I mentioned in this earlier post:

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

With this in mind, there are some tools that I expect to see heavy usage of from our staff this year, including:

  • Pro 3 WritingThe Microsoft Surface Pro 3building on our earlier trials, this year we will see over 20 staff using a Pro 3 as their primary device, no longer having a school issued laptop, but instead the excellent Surface tablet. I am personally excited to see what innovative practices come from this relatively new technology in the classroom.
  • notebook creatorOneNote Class NoteBook Creator – this is a big step for St Andrew’s as a largely Microsoft school, and is something I’ve blogged about before. What is especially pleasing is the responsiveness of the developers of this product who have now added the major feature requested by teachers: the ability to have multiple teachers sharing a class notebook.
  • moodleMoodle – freshly upgraded to the latest version (2.8.2) this will continue to be a key platform for teachers and students to access course content, share ideas and submit assessment.
  • Skype – Whilst a number of classes have now enjoyed skype_logothe fun of a Mystery Skype session, the call to Alabama and kapa haka to Singapore among my favourites, I would like to see more collaboration going on between these classes – the logical progression from simply connecting.

Invariably, other tools, websites, apps and services will emerge throughout 2015 as teachers at the College try new things. With the first Mystery Skype session scheduled for February 5th with a class in Oklahoma City, the year will be underway before we know it.

I am looking forward to sharing the stories on this blog for others to read and comment on, with readers having visited the blog from over 100 countries in 2014 (the top three being New Zealand, USA and Australia):

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