Collaborating With The Future Schools Expo

This week I was excited to receive correspondence from David Colville, from DataCom Australia. He was present at the 2016 Future Schools Expo in Sydney. His request was that a group of St Andrew’s College students could be made available to share ideas with small groups of students from Mount Sinai College, Sydney. These students had been taking part in one of four future challenges as part of the Maker’s Playground of this conference.

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Collaborative Skype Session with Mount Sinai Hill College

The 4 Challenges:

  1. There was a tornado in Sydney last year. Some houses were destroyed. What sort of house could survive a tornado?
  2. We know that you learn better at school when you are happy, but some times you come to school sad because you might have had a fight with your brother or got told off by your Mum. How can we cheer students up when they get to school so they are ready to learn?
  3. We love Lego, but cleaning up the pieces and finding the right one can be difficult. Is there a way to sort Lego pieces out quickly and make packing up our lego kits more effective?
  4. We don’t have enough refs for our netball games. How can technology help our shortage of refs?

After a quick bit of organisation from preparatory school eLearning expert Wilj Dekkers, it was decided that our recently formed Year 8 Gifted and Talented group would be perfect for this opportunity. This group are working with Mrs Julie Rogers as part of the College’s GATE program.

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew's College

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew’s College

With only a few minutes preparation time afforded, it was great to see this small group of students independently agree to use the Collaboration Space on a OneNote Notebook, set up a dedicated area of this space so that they could collaborate on their ideas during the Skype Call, and then test the functionality of this space. This setup was all done independently of any teacher input and took only a few minutes.

The structure of the Skype conversation was simple. A small group of Mount Sinai students explained their solution to one of the problems described above, and the St Andrew’s students responded with their critiques, ideas and encouragements.

During the activity the students from both school were extremely engaged. They listened carefully to the input from all students and the questioning and reasoning on show was impressive. This activity was a really great example of students, in two different locations, displaying their collaborative and teamwork skills in an unfamiliar setting.

I liked the future problem solving Skype, because I enjoyed helping them with their problems to come up with better solutions. I also enjoyed discussing these problems with our group. We all put our solutions together to make the best one. Our group of year eights all had an input to help improve their solutions, because even if we didn’t want to say out loud, we had our OneNote to write our suggestions on, so our other group members could say it for us. – Maya, St Andrew’s College Year 8 Student

Here, at St Andrew’s College, we enjoying using Skype to connect with other Educators or Students across the globe. We have enjoyed a number of Mystery Skypes, have engaged with a children’s author, and brought experts into the classroom. We all look forward to the next opportunity to use Skype to help complement the other great learning that occurs in our classrooms!

Tech Evangelist Encourages Student App Development

Toby 3Today Mr Wilj Dekkers and Year 6 student Toby Skyped with Hannes Nel from Microsoft New Zealand about a game called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” that Toby had built in Scratch.

It was a great chat aimed to help Toby identify some next steps for his game development and when Hannes asked what his plans for it were, Toby’s answer was simple:

I want it to go on an app store so that it can make lots of money!

Toby’s game is called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” and is based on a traditional platform style game, revolving around moving a “dot” from one side of the screen to the other, progressing past increasingly difficult obstacles.

Toby demonstrates how to play “The Adventures of Mr Dot”

SuperMarioBros

Super Mario Bros screenshot that Hannes likened Toby’s game to.

Hannes, who has assisted in development of apps for Trademe and TVNZ, likened playing the game to the Super Mario Brothers games he played as a child.  He went on to explain to Toby that there are three different stores that his game could theoretically be published to:

  • The Windows Store
  • Apple’s App Store
  • Google’s Play Store

The challenge was going to be migrating the game from Scratch to a platform that could be published to these online app stores. Hannes made the suggestion that using Construct 2 would allow for this and that since most app developers were gaining success through publishing to apps for smart phones, Toby might want to think about allowing a touch interface to control “Mr Dot”.

Mr Dot

A screenshot taken from Toby’s Surface Pro 3 showing some of the coding he has done in Scratch to build his game.

Toby, who has spent significant time over the last month developing his game, was immediately up for the challenge and considering how he could convert the keyboard controls to a touch interface. Other students in the Year 6 class with Mr Dekkers have been informal “beta testers” playing many of the existing levels, finding it a fun and addictive game to play. Toby aims to write 100 levels for the game that would result in significant gameplay.

I’ll keep an eye on the development of this app and hopefully we can see it make it through to completion and publication on the various app stores.

Toby_gear

Microsoft kindly gifted Toby a backpack with some tech gifts to encourage him to keep up the programming (this did not include the Surface Pro 3 which is Toby’s personal device)

Bringing Experts into the Classroom

One of the main purposes of this blog is to raise awareness within the college of innovative pedagogy, with the overall aim of inspiring others. I was excited this week to spend a bit of time in a Year 6 Religious Education classroom, where I saw evidence of exactly that.

At the recent conference of the New Zealand Association of Religious Education Teachers and Chaplains, our Preparatory School Religious Education Teacher, Mrs Jillian Fenton, found herself reflecting on the possibilities of tapping into the expertise of others, and bringing that into her classroom. This reflection was in conjunction with the 2016 Religious Education curriculum review which was aiming to continue to make learning in this particular curriculum area as authentic as possible.

As part of this process Mrs Fenton also thought back to her Year 6 student’s end of term reflections from Term 3. Within these she noted that a number of children raised some very interesting questions that they wanted the opportunity to ask.

Accessing an Expert

Mrs Fenton had seen what was going on with Skype in the College, with Mystery Skypes, intra-college lessons, and asking an expert; and she really wanted her students to have the same opportunity. She approached Dr Jennifer McLeod, a Physics, Science and Religious Education teacher at John McGlashon College in Dunedin.

Both Year 6 classes were given the opportunity to connect with Dr McLeod and have their questions answered.  My observations of one of these session illustrated the extremely high levels of student engagement as they asked questions such as

“Does God’s power have a limit?”

 

“What proof is there of God’s existence?”

Mrs Fenton notes that “It was brilliant to give children the opportunity to ask those questions of someone they perceive as an expert.”

I thought it was great to see this example of a teacher thinking carefully about how she could use approachable technology to give her students such an engaging and authentic learning experience.

#CEM15 Guest Post – Explore The World With Mystery Skype

MysterySkypeThis post was written for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog as part of Connected Educators Month of October 2015. You can read the original post here.

Mystery Skype is a fun activity being played by classrooms all over the world and presents a fantastic opportunity for students to become “global citizens” as they meet other students from around the country and globe. On their website, it is described as:

Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

SkypeThe St Andrew’s College Preparatory School has completed many Mystery Skype sessions now, ranging from students in Year 3 through to Year 8 and the students always thoroughly enjoy the challenge of guessing the location of the other classroom. So far we have played with schools in:

Given the time zone of New Zealand, there are many parts of the world where it is virtually impossible to connect (although check out this Skype we did with the Viking Museum in York, where students came before breakfast to connect)

The Mystery Skype to Russia was one of the more exciting and challenging Skypes, as the class was very small and every student appeared to have a different nationality. It turned out that it was an International School set up by Shell Oil and all of the students had parents involved in the oil industry. Here is a video of our Mystery Skype (If you’re interested in recording your Skype calls, check out this affordable plugin):

It’s interesting seeing how different teachers have prepared their students to play Mystery Skype – the American schools often have very formalised “jobs” where some students are researchers, others are questioners, whilst others hold up signs confirming if a question was answered correctly or not. Ultimately, it’s up to each teacher how they choose to play, but preparing students to think about how to ask effective closed questions is critical since answers can only be “yes” or “no”.

The temptation for students to zoom in and ask very detailed questions is almost overwhelming. For example, given the amount of American and Australian television we have in New Zealand our students can guess the accent of the students very quickly, but they tend to then ask very narrow questions such as “Are you in Los Angeles?” or “Are you in Sydney?” Teaching the effective use of atlases is really helpful and can then lead to more useful questions such as:

  • Are you landlocked?
  • Are you north of the equator?
  • Are you on the West Coast?

One of the real privileges I have had helping classes with Mystery Skype is the sharing of Māori culture with other schools that may never have seen any aspects of it before. The students in our Preparatory School jump at the opportunity to sing waiata and perform the College haka and invariably the students overseas love it:

Mr Craig Kemp, the teacher at the school in Singapore and an ex-pat Kiwi, tweeted the view from his classroom:

CONCLUSION:

Mystery Skype is a fun way to connect with classes all over the world and I would really encourage you to give it a go. It is easy to find other classes thanks to the Mystery Skype website and our experience has been the other teachers are thrilled to find classes in New Zealand because they are often “so far away.” Once a connection is made, it is fun to then re-connect and ask questions of the other class for curriculum related topics e.g. if you’re studying weather patterns or transport, why not Skype that class in the US and find out their experiences or views on these things? Finally, Mystery Skyping is contagious – once classes find out their friends in different classes have done it, they start asking their own teacher to get involved. Have fun!

Technology & Skype Connects Students With Experts In Religious Education

As a Presbyterian College, all students at St Andrew’s attend weekly Religious Education classes. At Year 9, the course provides an overview of the Christian narrative with a focus on the life and death of Jesus.

Vanishing CorpseIn Term 3 this year I have been teaching an inquiry unit entitled The Case of the Vanishing Corpse which is supported by the novel of the same name, where students explore the various theories about what might have happened to Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. In previous years, students compiled a paper-based “Police Dossier” with their evidence, however now that we are a 1:1 BYOD school using Office365, students use Microsoft OneNote instead.

The OneNote Class Notebook Creator has been especially useful here, allowing teachers to create a “master copy” of a student workbook, and then for this to be easily copied into the individual student sections:

OneNote Overview

Teacher templates in the “Content Library” that students can easily copy into their personal sections within the Class Notebook for editing

Two pages from the PDF version of the OneNote - click to download

Two pages from the PDF version of the OneNote (click to download the entire dossier as a PDF)

Alongside the novel that we are reading as a class, we are watching snippets from the award winning documentary series called The Son of God presented by Jeremy Bowen, a former BBC news correspondent based in the Middle East.

Students can access the ClickView video through Moodle using their Single Sign on credentials

Students can access the ClickView video through Moodle using their Single Sign on credentials

To enable students to re-watch critical sections, this is being watched through the video library service ClickView and embedded into the College Moodle site for ease of access to students.

The documentary presents a number of alternative theories about what might have happened to Jesus, mirroring the investigation of the fictional Ben Bartholomew in the novel. These theories need to be evaluated by students and include:

  • Jesus’ body was stolen either from the cross or the tomb to “fake” a resurrection (e.g. his disciples wanted others to believe what Jesus had said was true)
  • Jesus never actually died on the cross but was administered a powerful anaesthetic (possibly the root of a Mandrake plant) so he only appeared dead, and then recovered in the tomb and escaped
  • The alleged appearances of Jesus after his death were brought about by a mass hallucination caused by intense grief at his death
  • The traditional gospel account: that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who was killed and then resurrected.

To encourage critical thinking of these ideas I have tried to bring in external experts to discuss various aspects of the case. Recently, Dr Martin Swan talked over Skype with the class about the physiology of crucifixion and what likelihood existed that someone could survive this method of execution:

Mr Dave Moskovitz

Mr Dave Moskovitz

From this we learned it would have been extremely unlikely for anyone to have survived crucifixion.

We also Skyped with Mr Dave Moskovitz, a former President of the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation – Temple Sinai  and the current Jewish co-chair of the Wellington Council of Christians and Jews. He provided a fascinating insight into Judaism for the students over a 30minute question and answer session. Importantly for the student investigation, he confirmed that it was common practice for Jews in the Middle East to bury their dead before sun down on the day of death, meaning it was unlikely Jesus was left on the cross.

Previously, we have Skyped with Reverend Dr. Andrew Nicol from St Margaret’s Church for a traditional Christian explanation of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lastly, after a number of attempts to contact the New Zealand Skeptics Society for a comment on their views on the possibility of resurrection, we were able to Skype in class with committee member Mr Michael Edmonds:

His focus was on encouraging critical thinking with students and he introduced the idea of using Occam’s Razor to try and go with the simplest answer with the least amount of assumptions (this was in response to a particularly complex conspiracy theory put forward by one student). Additionally, he discussed how Confirmation Bias may have impacted recollections from an event or shaped the narrative.

With the expert opinions out of the way, students completed a SOLO Evaluation Map to help them explore the feasibility of their preferred theory about Jesus’ resurrection. Again, they completed this template in their OneNote:

SOLO 1

SOLO 2

COMPLETING THE ASSESSMENT:

Instructions in the Moodle Assignment.

Instructions in the Moodle Assignment.

The final element of the unit was an in-class assessment where students had to write a letter to conclude their police dossier into the “Investigation of the Vanishing Corpse”. This was written in their OneNote Notebooks and then submitted for marking through the use of a Moodle Assignment.

The overall quality of the work was very high from students in their final written assessment for this unit – here are two examples from Mitchell and Russell:

SUMMARY:

This is always an interesting unit to teach because it deals with one of the most well known narratives from the Gospels – the death and claimed resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year, by getting outside experts to share over Skype their perspectives and expertise, students have been forced to critically analyse a wide range of sources, run this through a SOLO evaluation map, formulate a personal opinion and then collate that into a written answer under test-like conditions.

Throughout this process, technology has been pervasive: whether it be the recorded Skype conversations, accessing content on the class Moodle site or watching a critical section from the Son of God DVD in ClickView, through to note taking and assessment writing in OneNote. However, this has all been to support and facilitate the students to critically think about the content at hand and to formulate a personal opinion. Because after all, isn’t that what teaching is all about?

Sharing Science Over Skype

Yesterday Mr Bevan Jones’ Year 9 Science class demonstrated a science experiment with Mr Bradley Shaw’s Year 8 class. The unique aspect of this was that it was shared entirely over Skype – the two classes were not physically in the same room.

Talking this over with Mr Tom Adams, the College eLearning Integrator, we initially puzzled as to why this was done in this way. However, we concluded that had both classes been in the same room, inevitably many would not have been able to see the science experiment easily since there would have been over 50 students from Year 8 & 9 crowding around to watch. Additionally, by doing it over Skype, it removed the 5minute walk between the Preparatory and Secondary Schools.

Unfortunately, whilst the clarity of the video was excellent, the audio on this occasion was not so good, something that we will iron out in future. St Andrew’s College does have a Middle Years programme that aims at increasing the connectedness of students in Years 7-10 as they transition from the Preparatory School into the Secondary School, and joint science classes like this help support that.

Developing Connections with Business Mentors

Callum StewartAfter a lifetime of interest in Computer Science, and a more recent involvement in online forums with people from communities less privileged than his own, one St Andrew’s College student has an idea that he hopes will provide a platform for small investors to fund small start-ups in the Third World through a web-based business, tentatively called uEarn.io

Year 10 student, Callum Stewart’s enthusiasm for the cause caught the eye of his Business Studies Teacher, Steve Aldhamland. Quickly identifying the potential benefit, for Callum, of a Business Mentor Steve contacted Robyn Frey, the ‘Head of Special Projects’ at the Young Enterprise Trust. Robyn kindly put Steve in touch with an Alumni of the Trust, Josh Daniells. Josh is currently the Head of Platform and Investor Growth at the successful equity crowdfunding platform, Snowball Effect.

Capture

A screenshot from the Skype session Callum and Josh had, hosted in the Boardroom at St Andrew’s College

Earlier this week, to initiate this mentor relationship, Josh and Callum participated in a Skype session. This session allowed Callum to speak to someone with industry experience and Josh was able to give the young entrepreneur some valuable advice about potential regulatory barriers and the importance of balancing interests between investors and companies.

Reflecting on potential future mentoring within Business Studies

Mr Aldhamland immediately saw the benefits for Callum of this session. The main positives were that it was a medium that allowed each party to see and respond to the body language of the other throughout the conversation. I believe that this was a factor in Josh quickly identifying that Callum has genuine entrepreneurial potential and that he is deadly serious about his business idea.

He is also excited about the future potential of using Skype more regularly in Business Studies, with the ability to connect with business mentors nationally, and even globally.