Reflections on a Term of Integration

As the first term of the school year draws to a close, I find myself increasingly reflecting on the first ten weeks as the eLearning Integrator here at St Andrew’s College. Due to the fact that this position was newly established at the College, there was always a bit of a sense of the unknown.

Hitting the Ground Running

Almost immediately, I was struck by the willingness of the College’s staff to embrace change in their pedagogy, and the overwhelming acceptance that eLearning has an important part to play in this development. While, obviously, staff are at differing stages of their experimentation all have been extremely welcoming and responsive to whatever assistance they have received.

OneNote in the Classroom

By far the major focus for staff has been the continued use of OneNote in their classrooms. With a compulsory 1:1 laptop programme now covering all Year 9 and 10 students the majority of secondary staff have been extremely keen to use OneNote in their classrooms. Feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive and success with its use to manage and improve student feedback in English and the potential of student collaboration have already been blogged about this year.

By far the most significant development for staff, has been the launch of the OneNote Classroom creator tool. Numerous staff have mentioned to me how they have appreciated the streamlined organisation that this tool facilitates.

The other major developments that has impacted on our student population are the improvements to the complexity of the OneNote app for Mac. Approximately 65% of our students are using Apple laptops and, although the functionality of the app is still not equivalent to that of the Windows Client version, the improvements have helped to raise the engagement levels of students with the software.

Skype developing

A second area of growth within the school has been the use of Skype. Within the senior syndicate of our Preparatory School especially, Mystery Skypes have been popular. Teachers have found them a great way to make initial conact with students in other areas of the world and also as a valuable way to investigate questioning strategies – not to mention they are great fun!

This term has also seen us experiement with other ways to utilise Skype in the classroom. On World Read Aloud Day 8C jumped at the opportunity to connect with a children’s author, Jennifer Swanson via Skype. SwansonThis session was really motivating for the students and it was great to see them having the opportunity to ask their own questions to an experienced author.

“I think that it’s pretty cool that although Jennifer Swanson is so far away we felt like she was right there in the room thanks to Skype. I think that the whole class enjoyed this experience and we all want to do it again!” Elena, 8C

A final development has been the number of staff in the Senior College beginning to experiement with the potential with Skype to supplement the learning occuring in their classroom. A Year 13 English Teacher, Tam Yuill Proctor, is teaching a course based around James Bond. As part of this I am endeavouring to confirm an academic from the Film and Media School at Aberysthwyth University to join the class in an expert capacity. A second example is from our Commerce department who are beginning to develop relationships with business mentors through Skype. Stay tuned for a future blog post highlighting this!

Staff redefining their own boundaries

Elsewhere in the school, it has also been pleasing to see a number of staff experimenting with other aspects of eLearning. Examples of this has seen Google Earth being used to effectively study setting in English, and Excel being used in conjunction with OneNote in the Preparatory School. It has been really rewarding for me to see increasing examples of staff developing the confidence to conceptualise, develop and implement such tasks in an increasingly independent manner!

Making Global Connections on World Read Aloud Day!

Students in the Preparatory School have been continuing to experiment with using Skype in the Classroom for mystery Skype sessions, most recently blogged about here. I have been increasingly keen to try and use Skype in different ways to help our students connect with members of the wider, potentially global, community.

World Read Aloud Day is an annual event that aims to encourage and celebrate the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories. This day is not one that has traditionally been marked at our College, but one Year 8 class, 8C, jumped at the opportunity to use this day as an opportunity to connect with a children’s author via Skype.

Swanson

Jennifer Swanson is a Florida based author of over 20 nonfiction and fiction books for children, increasingly based around Science and Discovery. I contacted Jennifer through Skype in the Classroom, which had a number of authors available to speak to classes on Read Aloud Day. Jennifer was really accommodating towards us, regarding the time that she was available and the structure that the Skype session would take.

PREPARATION FOR LEARNING:

In preparation for the meeting, the class spent some time investigating Jennifer’s website and learning more about her as an author, and the books that she has written. They also created a wide range of insightful questions that they wished to ask Jennifer, practicing literacy skills around question techniques and reflecting on the book writing process.

SwansonImmediately prior to the call, an excited bunch of students made final preparations to their respective rolls during the call. Immediately upon connection of the call, Jennifer showed her awesome levels of experience in this medium. She read a fascinating passage from one of her books, Uninvited Guests.

After the reading, Jennifer kindly engaged with our students by answering a variety of questions from the students in 8C about a range of writing-based topics. The students showed great listening and judgement skills in their questioning and it was a continuation of the total engagement they showed throughout the conversation.

STUDENT FEEDBACK:

Immediately after the call, the class reflected on their learning and this will continue. As part of their reflection one student, Elena, noted:

I think that it’s pretty cool that although Jennifer Swanson is so far away we felt like she was right there in the room thanks to Skype. I think that the whole class enjoyed this experience and we all want to do it again!

It was great to see the students so engaged in this Skype chat, and I look forward to creating similar opportunities for other classes!

Mystery Skype With Russia Extends Students’ Borders

 Today the Year 6 students at St Andrew’s College had a unique experience, engaging in a game of Mystery Skype with students from a school in the very remote location of Sakhalin Island International School, off the east coast of Russia and north of Japan.

This was arranged by Mr Wilj Dekkers who happened to know the classroom teacher in the International School run by Shell Oil. In fact, the Skype session happened over two days, with the initial session struggling for consistent internet connectivity (they had experienced a massive snow dump the night before which may have contributed to the problem). If anything, this taster added to the suspense for the students and also allowed Mr Dekkers to coach the the students on formulating effective questions, listening carefully to the responses given from the students and using the various atlases and computers to research more effectively:

Students talking to a class on Sakhalin Island, Russia via Skype.

Students talking to a class on Sakhalin Island, Russia via Skype.

When the students managed to reconnect, the quality of the call was significantly better, allowing the two classes to freely ask questions back and forth with these having a strong focus on geographical locations such as

Students in the the school in Sakhalin Island

Students in the the school in Sakhalin Island

  • Are you north of the equator?
  • Is your country land locked?
  • Does it snow often in your country?
  • Do you use the Euro as a currency?

The students were required to ask closed questions that could be answered as “Yes” or “No” and quickly realised from this that there was a real skill in being able to formulate a useful closed question.

In the end the students from St Andrew’s College managed to guess the capital city of “Moscow” leading to the inevitable question of “Are you in Russia?”, whereby our new friends followed with “Are you kiwis?” They then shared some interesting facts about their school, including:

  • It’s an international school with all of them being there because their parents are connected with the Oil Industry
  • There are ~140 students in their school, made up of 33 nationalities
  • They were about to head outside and play in the snow and it was -10 Celsius (it has to get to -20 to -25 degrees Celsius before it’s too cold outside to play.

The St Andrew’s students then performed a rousing waiata to finish off the very enjoyable Skype session:

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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Guest Post: Year 6 Mystery Skype With Alabama School

This post was written by a student in Year 6SD after a Mystery Skype session in Term 4.

On November 21st 6SD was involved in a mystery skype with another Year 6 class.

As soon as they spoke we knew that they were in America, so we had to guess what State they were in. To make it more interesting and more challenging, we were only to ask yes, no questions. We were allowed to use our devices to check information and it didn’t take long for us to ask if their State had a starting letter between A and L.  We asked if their capital city was Montgomery and they replied yes. We found out on our devices that they were in Alabama.  Ben played on his electric guitar, Sweet home Alabama and they told us we were right!

They found out we were in New Zealand. After we both knew what Country/City each other was in, we asked them questions about Alabama, like what their favourite sports teams were. We found out some very cool facts about Alabama like that they get to wear mufti every day while we had to wear uniforms all the time and also that at 9.10am on Friday morning it was only 2.10pm on Thursday for them.

Overall it was a great experience and we would love to do it again.

By Henry

This post was also displayed for students to see on the College Moodle site

Culture Connecting Classrooms: Kapa Haka Via Skype

A student from Avondale Grammar in Singapore asking a question of Year 4 students at St Andrew's College via Skype

A student from Avondale Grammar in Singapore asking a question of Year 4 students at St Andrew’s College via Skype

On Friday last week our two Year 4 classes in the Preparatory school engaged in their first ever Mystery Skype, something other classes have done before with schools in Singapore and Australia. For those unsure of what a Mystery Skype is, here is a good explanation:

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.

This Mystery Skype was again with Avondale Grammar in Singapore, but with different classes, neither sets of students knew where in the world the other class was. It was terrific seeing the students asking intelligent questions, using atlases, globes and trusty Google to try and locate where the other school was. I was impressed with the students from St Andrew’s asking questions such as “Are you an island?” and also picking up clues such as the names on the school uniforms of the students from Avondale.

This culminated in our Year 4 students being the first to correctly guess the country and the school which was a very exciting “win” for them. To help out the Avondale students, the St Andrew’s College students decided to perform the school haka:

Year 4 students from St Andrew’s deliver a passionate haka over Skype to students in Singapore.

Mr Craig Kemp, the teacher at Avondale Grammar that helped co-ordinate the Mystery Skype was really impressed with the haka from our students, sending out a tweet with a photo of how it looked via Skype from their end.

It was quickly decided at this point that a followup Skype between the two classes should happen, as Mr Kemp was keen for his students, who had been learning some Kapa Haka themselves, to see more from the St Andrew’s College students. This happened today and we again captured the action as the two classes shared performances with each other:

Year 4 students from St Andrew’s College and Avondale Grammar exchange kapa haka performances via Skype.

I was really thrilled to see this “re-connect” between the two classrooms as it builds on the connection established via the original Mystery Skype and allows both classes to share cultural performances they have been practicing, in this case, kapa haka. It’s awesome to see that New Zealand teachers around the world are taking aspects of tikanga Māori with them into their classrooms and sharing it with their students.

A view from the St Andrew’s College classroom as Year 4 students perform the classic waiata “Toia mai te waka nei”

It’s incredible that technology such as Skype allows this sort of cultural exchange to take place so easily and I am pleased that teachers like Mr Kemp from Avondale Grammar in Singapore, and our own Year 4 teachers Mrs Penny Munro-Foster and Mrs Anneke Kamo are open to making these sorts of connections.

Mr Kemp noted at the end of the performances that former All Black rugby captain Tana Umaga was coming to visit the school only an hour after the Skype session and this was a great warm up for his students who were going to perform the haka for Tana.

Students from Avondale Grammar practice their kapa haka via Skype before a visit from former All Black rugby captain Tana Umaga

This connection creates an awesome example for other classes at St Andrew’s College to take up the challenge and try Mystery Skyping for themselves!

Suspect: The Murder Mystery Musical

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Mr Duncan Ferguson, Isaac Shatford and Ms Ginny Thorner.

Mr Duncan Ferguson, Isaac Shatford and Ms Ginny Thorner.

UPDATE: This story profiled on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp on Friday 24th October and can be seen here.

The buzz around St Andrew’s College lately has all been focused on the annual Middle School Production, largely for the fact it has been mostly written by Year 13 student Isaac Shatford, with contributions from a number of other senior students in the area of lyrics and plot. I knew something like this would always involve significant use of technology as the Musical Director was Head of Music Mr Duncan Ferguson, and was actually the first person I interviewed for a story for this blog.

Consequently, I sat down for an hour with him to learn what was involved and was impressed to learn that the following tools were just some that were used during the composition and performance of Suspect:

Quite a list! So how exactly were these being used?

Selection of Scenes from Suspect for Seven Sharp

COMPOSITION & REHEARSAL: 

Noton on iPad

Notion on the iPad

For starters, one of the challenges was that the orchestra members and cast needed to start rehearsing before the score was actually completed and with extensive collaboration ongoing between Isaac, Mr Ferguson and Ms Thorner there needed to be some way for them to see updates.

The answer was to use a combination of a shared folder in Dropbox, which was storing the score files being written in Notion. This allowed the three contributors to always be able to see the latest edits of the score at any time and also contribute edits and corrections that the others would receive immediately. The use of Notion also allowed Mr Ferguson to check the tempos and help the students ensure they were keeping accurate time with their playing. He did note, however, that the one drawback with Notion is that it doesn’t automatically update when the source files change. This was overcome by the notifications from Dropbox which would alert each of those working on the score that new changes were available.

As the product was used on both MacBook laptops and on an iPad, Mr Ferguson could use the iPad to play the score directly during rehearsals. He also used a Bluetooth foot pedal which would automatically “change pages” of the score on his iPad when playing, and if there were any changes required during rehearsals he could make them directly on the iPad, with the changes being synchronised back to Isaac in real time. This process created a great digital workflow for the writers and I asked Mr Ferguson to walk through how this looks:

“Loves a Lie” a song not completed in time for the show but will be included in the professional soundtrack recording in November.

There were a number of benefits of using Notion which included:

  • It resulted in far less printing of scores, as the digital sharing via Dropbox enabled real time collaboration to take place. In the future, it would be ideal if all orchestra members had iPads so they could also get updated copies of the latest scores in real time.
  • Because of Mr Ferguson’s other departmental commitments he could not attend every rehearsal of Suspect, but because of the excellent quality sound recordings created by Notion then the other staff involved in running rehearsals could work with the correct tempo music (particularly important for the dance choreography).

Tempo Advance AppNotion does focus on orchestral sounds and was not so strong in drums and bass, so Pro Tools was used to round out the music in this way. During orchestral rehearsals Mr Ferguson used an iPad app called Tempo Advance which allowed him to program the tempos for all the songs into a playlist and just work through them directly.

Technology has definitely allowed for the streamlining of the writing process of this show, resulting in a remarkable nine month period between the conception of the idea and the production of the show. As mentioned above, rehearsals had to start before the script was completed and to aid the students in practicing, video clips of the songs and music were embedded into a dedicated Moodle course to increase access e.g.

Moodle MusicSongs and lyrics were also distributed via Moodle in this way – with a nice mention about respecting copyright ownership of Isaac Shatford (Digital Citizenship should be taught in all classes after all!)

Moodle was later supplemented with a closed Facebook group for cast members, allowing for even further reach for sharing and practicing. Here is an example of the theme song recorded by senior students for the Middle School cast members to practice with:

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/58349924/Blog%20Data/1%20Murder%20in%20the%20night.mp3 ]

Murder In the Night – practice recording

This reveals one of the benefits of doing a show like this that was written by a student at the College: the ability to work directly with the score, modify and share it with cast and orchestra members directly. This is simply not possible with major productions that are licensed for performance (such as the Senior Production Guys and Dolls performed earlier this year).

I questioned Mr Ferguson how common this sort of “digital workflow” is amongst other schools and he believes it is essentially unique within New Zealand, describing it as the perfect model for other schools to consider implementing. He did admit, however, that working with Isaac made it easier:

Isaac is a musical prodigy, a stunning musician and I’ve never know another student who was able to produce this amount of work to this quality ever before. He’s written great songs, but it is the sheer amount of songs he has written that is just unheard of. There has been nothing to this level that has ever happened before to the best of my knowledge.

PERFORMANCE ON THE NIGHT:

Set design for the stage show Suspect

Set design for the stage show Suspect

Due to the complex set design, members of the orchestra could not all see the stage (see image to the left). To help get around this, Year 13 student Ella Harris came up with a simple, yet ingenious, workaround as explained by Mr Ferguson:

I had the iPad Mini beside my keyboard near the orchestra, and I placed an iPhone at the back of the auditorium that could easily see the entire stage. Before the performance started I simply started a Skype video call between the two devices, meaning I could see everything happening on stage at any time.

It is this type of thinking, use of technology and problem solving, that typifies what happens in the music department at St Andrew’s College. It was also during live performances that Mr Ferguson used MainStage 3 with a Midi keyboard plugged into his MacBook Pro to play the glockenspiel during performances.

During the first performance of Suspect Head of Culture Sophie Wells and Mr Dave Jensen from the TV & Media Studio, were tasked with using HD video cameras to film the show with some close up shots. Whilst the final performance was going to be filmed by the College’s TV & Film crew, it would be shot only from the back of the auditorium making close up shots challenging. With the performance captured, Mr Ferguson used Final Cut Pro to edit the two camera feeds into a rough mix of the entire show and then shared it with the cast members via the closed Facebook group.

This allowed them to reflect on their performances and actually see and hear in detail what guidance they were receiving from Ms Thorner and Mr Ferguson about their performances and to truly “get” the message.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/58349924/Blog%20Data/More%20than%20just%20a%20friend.mp3 ]

More Than Just A Friend – practice recording

 SUMMARY:

It’s pretty clear from this blog post that significant amounts of technology are deeply embedded into the practices within the Music Department at St Andrew’s College, and that they serve to enhance the creation and production of top quality music.

It’s worth reiterating that when talking to Mr Ferguson it was very clear that the use of this technology was always targeted around efficiency gains in collaboration and never simply because “they could.” Ultimately, this is how technology can assist learning outcomes – when used authentically and deeply integrated into the learning it is a fantastic tool, and in this case one that made the production of a show possible within only nine short months.