Robotics: From No-bots to Go-bots

This post was originally published on the Interface Magazine Online website – you can read the original post here.

Briony Marks

Miss Briony Marks

Last year was my first teaching robotics. We began a Robotic Club using EV3 Lego Mindstorms, which quickly found its legs and became firmly established across the Preparatory School. It was a fantastic learning experience; the children were enthralled, writes Briony Marks, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch.

We began with construction and attempting to understand the components. Identifying the sensors and motors was a key factor. Discussing wheel size and rotations formed part of our initial learning. With time, we began to program the Lego Block. Hanging to the instruction booklet like a life raft, the students and I navigated the early concepts.

Whole-school programme

Our confidence grew and, when asked to make a presentation to the PTA in Term 2 about the benefits of a widespread robotics programme, I was able to talk confidently about the phenomenal learning that had happened in our club. Our students were measuring in degrees, centimetres and metres; calculating turns; programming and sequencing and all within a couple of 40-minute sessions on a Friday lunchtime.

We were fortunate enough to receive another eight sets of the Education Edition EV3. This was to enable us to roll out robotics on a class scale (allowing one robot between two in our maximum classes of 26). The year saw a huge transition, from a small group of 15 experimental and brave Year 5 students to a school-wide project.

RoboCup Junior NZ

robotics1At the beginning of Term 3, we decided to enter the RoboCup Junior New Zealand competition (robocupjunior.org.nz). This was an ambitious plan with only five weeks to prepare. We selected five teams (from Years 5, 7 and 8) and with two full days blocked out and about two extra hours a week we went from unpacking and building to choreographing a piece of Robot Theatre.

The time frame was tight, with little opportunity for instruction in even the basics. However, the students managed to self and peer teach to eventually put together four very different theatre pieces. We were incredibly pleased with their hard work. From ‘Mazerunner’ to ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Jurassic World’ to ‘Pink Panther’, students’ ideas and creativity came to life with MDF, plenty of paint, papier-mâché, some poorly mixed soundtracks and, of course, the robots!

Positive student feedback

Following RoboCup, I asked them to take an anonymous survey. I was delighted to read the overwhelmingly positive responses. As a general comment, the students enjoyed the independence, working creatively and intuitively to overcome problems, and saw the experience as enriching rather than disheartening. They listed their interpersonal skills with comments such as:

“I learnt to take turns at things and not always be the leader”

and

“You can save time if you work together as a team.”

My reflection and advice

Three weeks prior to RoboCup I attended a training day with the fantastic Sandy Garner at the University of Otago. Her easy-to-use booklet allowed me to grasp huge concepts of programming. This structure has driven the way I now introduce the robots to my classes. Her website Learning with robots (learningwithrobots.weebly.com) hosts a wealth of resources that will help focus your planning for establishing a robotics course.

The greatest challenge I found was trying to structure lessons that allowed for creativity and continued success to maintain student engagement.

Term 4 saw us expand Year 4s, who have been chomping at the bit all year long to get their hands on a robot! These young masterminds blew me away with their ability to problem solve (as I become a more confident teacher of robotics the children are encouraged to experiment more).

I’m incredibly proud of the reaction of the students and parents, and of myself for being able to understand and teach others to use the robots (mostly) with success. I hope that I’ve managed to inspire some future robot engineers, modelled a ‘growth mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed one’ … and also that I might have broken down some stereotypes about women and tech along the way!

Five-week sampler course, by Briony Marks

  1. Introducing routines below and allow students to discover how to go forward, backwards and turn
  • Where things are kept;
  • How to save your files to avoid confusion;
  • The basics of programming and downloading your code to your robot; and
  • Rules, such as ‘never run your program with the robot on a table!’
  1. The Arch Challenge – Students must navigate through a simple arch maze. They must not cross the lines and must perform a ‘trick’ at the top. This allows them to experiment with different turning styles and the sound and image function.
  2. Complete the Arch Challenge and start the Red Riding Hood challenge. This is from Sandy’s booklet, which shows a sweet challenge where students must navigate safely from Grandma’s house to Red Riding Hood’s garage. She must stop at the main road, check left and right and then navigate the maze to reverse safely into her garage without being eaten by the wolf!
  3. Complete Red Riding Hood
  4. Introduce the Ultrasonic Sensors and loops to create a program that lets the robot navigate the classroom without crashing.

 

Briony Marks teaches at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch. Learn more about her work at her blog missmarksblogs.wordpress.com

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)

EPIC Adventure for Year 7 Students

The EPIC Centre the students visited

The EPIC Centre the students visited

Earlier this term a number of Year 7 students from St Andrew’s College were able to visit the EPIC facility in the central city, as part of a visit co-ordinated by Miss Briony Marks. EPIC stands for Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre and is described on their website as:

EPIC connects New Zealand’s high-tech entrepreneurs with each other and their counterparts around the world

EPIC (Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre) Christchurch serves as a bridge between innovation focussed companies of all sizes. Connecting business with investors, Governments and technology hubs around the world, whilst fostering a collaborative environment for Christchurch business and social communities to work together

The various inquiries that the students have participated in this year have shared a technology focus and so the opportunity to connect with the wider technology and innovation community was too good to pass up.

I asked whether the students who visited EPIC could write a few reflections for this blog and so they used Microsoft OneNote to brainstorm what they had seen. A number of similarities were identified between EPIC environment and that of St Andrew’s:

epic-brainstorm

Here are the reflections from the students:

Students arriving at EPIC

Students arriving at EPIC

On Thursday 5th November we took the bus and we went to EPIC. EPIC (Entrepreneurship Precinct Innovation Centre) is a large building in the centre of town, this building houses several different companies that work in high tech industries. When we got there we had a tour guide, Jalanda. We got taken to a little seating area to get talked to about the whole place of EPIC, the values and the ideas behind the building.

EPIC was set up because many tech businesses in Christchurch lost their buildings, hard drives and files because of the Earthquake. So they all were squished and cramped together in a small building close to the airport. This situation, although unfortunate, brought many of the companies together and soon after, they started collaborating and sharing their ideas with each other, to make their projects better. They all figured out that this was a better way to work, so 2 years ago they built EPIC, where more than 20 businesses now work. Even though now they have more space, the heads of the building have decided to build the toilets and kitchens in communal areas, so that people will bump into each other in the hallways and share ideas. Even Google was in on the idea and donated a coffee machine to the building because everybody needs a coffee break at one point during the day so you’ll meet new people who you may not work with directly.

Getting creative at EPIC

Getting creative at EPIC

We visited four different companies; they were called SLI Systems, Cerebral Fix, Red Seed and Meta Digital. All of the companies were downstairs except SLI Systems which is upstairs. All the companies are based on technology, and web or game designing and one had a green screen.

SLI Systems

These guys worked to get your website on the front page of Google. They worked with searches and helping people navigate your website easily.

SLI was the biggest company that we visited and it had a lot of work space. Each group of employees had their own office. The offices were really personalised and someone was even doing work whilst on a treadmill. SLI had a lot of fun; there was a competition where they got an old chair and they had to redesign it. The winning chair, a Darlek was in the corner of the office. We noticed that the people working there all had Nerf guns, they had Nerf wars and they planned raids against other companies.

SLI has offices in Japan, London, Australia and the USA. There are also heaps of people from different companies that work there. They had all their flags up on the wall and they celebrated all the different national holidays to make their staff feel welcomed. When we went they had just had a Halloween party. There was an iPad that was on a skateboard Segway that could move around the office. This was controlled by people in the offices abroad so that they could talk “face to face” via Skype.

Red Seed

RedSeed help people get better at their job. Red Seed are an online training provider, this means they run training for lots of big shops like the Warehouse. Their clients sign up to courses online and can learn on the go by watching videos at home or on their mobile phones. The bosses can see who has watched what.

The lady who set up the company used to go to different companies and help train the staff in sales and customer services, but this was not very efficient as staff changed over a lot. So she decided to try to record some of the videos online. This became really popular and is how Red Seed was born.

It was cool to see the green screen and see people teaching and learning outside of school.

Cerebral Fix

EPIC_3Cerebral Fix make video games and they were the coolest company! They are a video game designer for Disney and DreamWorks and have made games for lots of films. They make apps and other mini games as well as some larger ones. There were lots of people working there on Macs and Windows systems; they chose which they preferred or sometimes had to design for a certain platform (iPhones, Android etc).

Cerebral Fix were really interesting. It was great to see a game company for real and to talk about how long it takes to make a game. It was great to see the process involved in making a game, from ideas to the coding and testing. Sometimes they can get 95% through making a game and then it doesn’t work. They just have to start over and try again.

To get their ideas they play lots of games and talk about what they like and what they don’t like. They don’t just play video games; sometimes they play board games and use the ideas out of them to help design video games.

Meta Digital

EPIC_4Meta Digital were web-site designers. This was a very small company and office but they all seemed to work together and get it done. Each person had their job to do and they were able to speak and work together because of their smaller office. They had a maximum workload of 4 projects at one time, when we visited they were doing 3.

Clients would ask the people at Meta to design them a web-site. Meta have a “look” to their designs meaning they look similar, people would come to them because they like their look and then the designers talk to the clients and ask heaps of questions to make sure they get it right. Then once it’s been designed they start to program it and hope the clients like it!

EPIC and School

EPIC was quite like school because the building had lots of open corridors and places to work together. They shared their kitchens like we share our lunch space and the donut seating areas. This means that people get to chat in a less formal environment and you don’t just have to hang out in your office or classroom. These small businesses are a bit like all our different classes; they were all working together well. They could use their space to collaborate or shut themselves in to focus and work on their own. We bump into other people in different classes in the corridors and on the way to the toilets and get to know each other in the same way. Also, EPIC and School both have coffee machines for people to meet at. Teachers and parents have coffees in our café and the workers meet at the machines too.

Open break out spaces similar to what is available at St Andrew's College Preparatory School

Open break out spaces similar to what is available at St Andrew’s College Preparatory School

Working at EPIC

I would like to work at the EPIC building because they were very relaxed and it didn’t look stressed. The working environment was really fun. People had lots of Nerf gun wars, dress up days, design a chair and competitions to see whose eye was whose. It’s not very normal…. we think that they did these things to meet each other and have fun within the building. People concentrate better when they have fun and get break time to recharge. Meeting other people means having more ideas and getting to share your thoughts with others.

All these businesses needed creativity, all over the building there are artworks from Weta and video game landscapes. In the offices, employees brought in items from home that they loved (statues, toys, games, pictures and stuff like that). They had their personal things in their offices and dogs could come to work.  This made people feel at home and inspired to be creative. Without creativity work would be boring and they would make lame products, but if you are creative it means your work would be unique.

 

#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!

Guest Post: Arduino Adventures

This is a guest post written by three Year 8 students from the Preparatory School: Imogen, Archie and Marshall.

ArduinoLast week, twenty students from Year 8 were part of an Arduino day run by FutureInTech. Arduinos are open source microcontrollers that can be programmed to do various things. The fact that they are open source means that anyone can use the software and hardware for whatever they want, as long as they follow the license.

There were five tutors from Airways, Dynamic Controls, Allied Telesis and Meridian Energy: a computer scientist between four, working in pairs. We took turns programming and plugging into the microcontroller. Our first project was to make a LED flash. From that, we progressed to making the LED flash at different speeds, using a button to make the LED flash, and connecting a buzzer. In the end, some of us had managed to make a doorbell: when you pressed a button, a LED would light up, the buzzer would go, and on the screen would appear “Someone’s at the door!”

detail 2 (Small)

Overall, we had plenty of fun on the day and learnt some new skills. We would definitely like to do something like it again if we had the chance.

Code Clubs @ StAC

2015 has seen two Code Clubs start at St Andrew’s College with Mr Phil Adams running one in the Secondary School since the start of the year and Mrs Vicki Pettit alongside Mr Wilj Dekkers starting one in the Preparatory School during Term 2.

Preparatory School:

CodeClub_LogoThe Preparatory school are using the resources provided via Code Club Aotearoa and there are around 20 students that attend regularly, within which there is a reasonably even break down of beginners and intermediate coders with 2-3 advanced coders.

The resources on the Code Club Aotearoa website are perfect for beginning and intermediate students however, Mrs Pettit is exploring options for the more advanced students and in what areas they can possibly start to apply their skills e.g. robotics, Raspberry Pi projects and possibly entering them into the Canterbury Core Education Digi Awards. The other pathway recently made available to these Prep students is Monday lunchtimes with Mr Adams in the secondary school code club.

Secondary School:

In Term 1 2015 Mr Adams started the Code Club for students that were interested in learning more about programming and were prepared to attend during their lunchtimes. His motivation was twofold:

  1. There was currently no option in the Junior curriculum (Years 9-10) for programming which means when students can take this at Year 11 they are often being introduced to the concepts for the very first time.
  2. There were a number of very keen students who did not have an avenue for support in their coding unless they persevered by themselves and were essentially self-taught from online.

Whilst there was an initial surge of enthusiasm from students, this settled into those that were committed, keen and prepared to give up a lunchtime to learn more. Having looked at the formal code clubs that existed (such as Code Club Aotearoa above), Mr Adams also reviewed online offerings such as Code Academy and Code Avengers which were useful, particularly Code Avengers which aligns with the New Zealand NCEA standards. Ultimately, however, he decided that students could continue to access these in their own time and that the focus of the Code Clubs at StAC would be slightly different.

python-logoThis alternative was to focus on teaching the students the very basics of Python so that they could create their own scripts and taste success early on. The reason for Python was quite simple as Mr Adams explains:

As a text based language the syntax is not complicated and it is very logical. Therefore, the learning curve would not be too steep for our new students. An alternative language such as C or C# would be too challenging for them to start with.

As students learnt the basics, Mr Adams focused on creating a team culture where students could learn from each other: the beginners seeking help from more advanced students, who in turn could reinforce and demonstrate their understanding of Python by teaching the beginners. Through this approach, it is hoped the Code Club will become self-perpetuating and independent with a positive and interactive culture.

With a few weeks of the basics out of the way, the goal became to progress students with the introduction of logic into their coding e.g. a basic guessing game such as this one:

An example of a number guessing game from Hana

An example of a number guessing game from Hana (click to download the Python script)

Hana, who created the above script, had the following to say about Code Club @ StAC:

I used to do coding at my old school, Selwyn House. There, it was a big thing and we did robotics and Hour of Code. The code club at StAC is super fun. Mr Adams is a really good teacher and he always lets us figure out why our code hasn’t worked. 

Coding a basic guessing game is not too difficult and yet it can easily be extended with the introduction of more logic that would require students to be able to calculate the average number of guesses it takes people to correctly guess the number each time. To support this extension, Mr Adams has created numerous tutorial videos on his YouTube channel that students can access, such as this one on how to create a list within a list using Python:

Paper, Scissors, Rock by Louis (click to download the code)

Paper, Scissors, Rock by Louis (click to download the code)

Louis, who also attends the Code Club @ StAC, created a game of Paper, Scissors, Rock in Python. Like Hana, he is also enjoying attending:

I am attending the Code Club because I enjoy coding in my own time (I also have done some robotics coding and other things) … 

I have learned things with Mr Adams (We are doing python at the moment, I have many other languages including: HTML, CSS, PHP, UNIX Terminal, Command Prompt, and JavaScript)

Next Steps:

Mr Adams has some clear next steps identified for the students in the Code Club, with the ultimate aim getting them to work collaboratively on a project together, all contributing code to a repository such as GitHub. This would enable replicating a “real world environment” where multiple people all work on much larger projects. This mirrors the message from Old Collegian Claudia Pottinger, who shared her experience as a Google Intern writing code in Python last summer. It is apparent that some of the students in the club are already thinking that far ahead, such as Jack who is in Year 9:

I go to code club because it is something I feel will benefit me in the future, and it is my intended career path. Computer programming is one of my passions, it is something that I enjoy doing in my own time.

It is extremely fun, learning new things and being able to help others who do not know so much.

A project I just finished recently was the year 12 internal exam, where you make a program in python that allows a user to select, order and store different pizzas with a range of flavours and prices.

I feel that in the future Programming will be a large part of nearly every job.

Jack's Pizza Ordering script (click to download)

Jack’s Pizza Ordering script (click to download)

Another idea to extend the students is to introduce activities from Project Euler – a website that describes its motivation as being:

The motivation for starting Project Euler, and its continuation, is to provide a platform for the inquiring mind to delve into unfamiliar areas and learn new concepts in a fun and recreational context.

To complete the activities on the website, students will need strong mathematical ability but also programming skills. One example from this website that Mr Hilliam, Maths and Statistics teacher at St Andrew’s, has used with his students is to write code that identifies the sum total of all prime numbers under 1000.

With keen students in the secondary school, along with increasing numbers of students coming through from the Preparatory and other feeder schools, providing an avenue for students to learn coding at St Andrew’s College is essential.

Old Collegian Shares Google Internship Experience

internshipsFormer student Claudia Pottinger (class of 2013) returned this week to share her experiences of being a Google Internee with Mr Phil Adams’ Year 13 Digital Technologies class. I was fortunate to be able to listen in on this session and record a few reflections.

Claudia attended St Andrew’s College for five years and during that time never studied programming or computer science, instead focusing on the ‘two Science, two Maths and English’ approach. When she started at Auckland University it was to studying for a degree in Engineering and a BA in Logic and Computation. It was in Computer Science 101 that she was introduced to the language of Python – something that was going to prove very helpful when it came to apply for the Google Internship.

Having seen a link online offering Google Internships for “under-represented groups in the technology industry”, Claudia applied, sending off a CV. She was eventually contacted and went through two different phone interviews to see her suitability for this role before being hired for the summer of late November 2014 through to February 2015.

MAIN ROLE AT GOOGLE:

The project Claudia was assigned to for her internship was to work in the Network Operations Corp and she worked on creating visualisation tools showing availability, packet loss and latency between Google offices and data centres. Her primary role was to retrieve this data from existing systems in place at Google, organise it into a useful format and then another internee helped to present this with web coding in HTML and JavaScript.

Licensed under Creative Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons

Google allowed time for the interns to become familiar with the environment and understand how work happens within Google (took about 3 weeks) and the project was completed before the end of the 12 week internship. In responding to questions from students in the room, Claudia noted:

  • The work environment was terrific – she was provided her own desktop (running a Google customised version of Ubuntu) and was also given a ChromeBook so she could work away from her desk.
  • There was flexibility in terms of what application she coded in e.g. she could use eMacs if she liked or other software platforms if she preferred.
  • Security was very tight – she was given an ID badge to enter/exit doors and also USB devices to authenticate onto computers.
  • The security around customer information was very tight, however she could browse code from different projects if she wanted to.

GOOGLE LIFE – THE PERKS!

The students at St Andrew’s were amazed to hear of all the perks Google employees had access to and even Claudia was impressed that as an internee she was also given full access to these. These included:

  • Gaming rooms – a wide range of consoles from various versions of Playstations, X-Boxes, Pinball Machines and even an old Nintendo 64!
  • Micro Kitchens – located usually no less than 50metres away from any workspace, these had snacks, candy and other food and drinks.
  • Four different restaurants each with unique menus and a smoothie bar
  • Rock climbing wall, pool tables, table tennis tables etc for recreation.

All of this was provided free for the employees and interns.

Click the image to go through to a gallery of photos from the Sydney Google offices.

Click the image to go through to a gallery of photos from the Sydney Google offices.

A typical day for Claudia was described as walking 40minutes to work from the provided accommodation, having breakfast and grabbing a smoothie for her desk before signing into work and checking her emails and then getting down to coding.

Whilst not required, Google encouraged the various teams to lunch together regularly, after which she might relax in one of the games rooms and then return to code till around 6pm. One of the four restaurants was open for dinner for staff.

In response to a question on whether there was close monitoring of work hours / effort, Claudia said that provided staff were delivering the outcomes required for their projects in the time frames set there was no questions asked about long lunches or breaks to play games etc.

KEY MESSAGES FOR STUDENTS:

Throughout the internship there was a lot to learn and some of the key messages that were passed on to current students at St Andrew’s College included:

  • Other people must be able to read your code – keep it clear, clean and use lots of comments in your code.
    • All code she produced had to be signed off by a colleague before it could be committed and for this to be accepted the code had to be readable.
  • Use the Coding Style Guides provided by Google to assist with this
  • Document what you’re coding about as well – be as clear as possible.
  • When applying for internships, include information on your interests and involvement in life outside of just programming.
    • Mr Adams reinforced this as well after his visit to Google in Mountain View and New York last year. He mentioned that so many of the applicants are simply brilliant academically that one way to stand out is to show what you’re passionate about and involved in outside of work.

CONCLUSION:

It was great to have an Old Collegian return to share with our students about the possibilities of internships and how to go about applying. To round out her experience, Claudia is likely to return to Google in Sydney at the end of 2015, but is also considering internships at alternative companies such as Microsoft.

This experience has also helped to shape her future career ambitions, focusing in on possible jobs in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Her final message to the students was that you don’t need to have everything decided right now and that by being a life long learner you can change direction within your degree and even into your career.

Guest Post: Digital Disruption – A Millennial’s Perspective

This guest post first appeared on iStart – Technology in Business (please click through to read the preface by Ben Kepes) and features an insightful summary by Year 10 student Yonni Kepes on the impact of technology in society today.

Yonni

Yonni Kepes

“As the world goes through a digital transformation and disruption, we must remember what will actually be changing. For me digital transformation means changing from an old manual way of doing things to a new system that uses technology to do business in new ways. Jobs will be replaced by new, different applications of technology and it will be my generation that will be filling many of these posts.

“I think the biggest challenge for us will be understanding the extent of the transformation. For example, we weren’t around when taxis were one of the main types of transport for hire, so we never saw the industry fully function with no Uber to challenge it. And although we are in this transformation we will never see the end result – it is part of an unprecedented, continual and rapid change. I believe that makes it a lot harder for my generation to understand the changes and to know where they should look for and find good jobs which are secure. A good company attracts good employees to enjoyable jobs. Employees who are flexible and like learning new skills, and employers that support them are what make a good place to work. If my generation wants to still be employed in jobs like these, then we need to learn these new technology-based skills and use them as best we can. It is also important that customers get to have a say when looking at business. Since my generation is the future consumer, we can offer great advice that will help shape the future of businesses.

Future-technology-300x200“I also believe that as we slowly transition in to a digital world of some sort we will have our lives changed a lot by digital innovation. People now have too many “devices” in their homes, with the average number per person at nearly five. It’s a worry that more household items will be swapped for more devices with some sort of transmitter in them. The reason for my concern is because the devices will ‘take over’ people’s lives. Although having more devices per person is, in my opinion, a bad thing, they do have their benefits. These devices can now stay in contact with their owners and tell them, for example, when dinner is ready, what’s happening with the washing, or the temperature of the bath; little things in isolation, but with the potential to completely change our lives when combined. If this is happening now, then what will be happening in 20 years’ time?

“I think the biggest challenge for us will be understanding the extent of the transformation.”
Yonni Keeps, 15-year-old millennial

“It’s interesting that my generation is so fixated on what sort of phone we have but we don’t even stop to consider what digital disruption is doing to some businesses and what this could mean in terms of the way we live our lives. I believe that when my generation does see what digital disruption is doing they will simply pull a weird face, as they don’t understand it or what it is doing to the world since we will be viewing it from inside the middle of the transition. Then again, digital disruption will offer opportunities for us to look at companies and say ‘I think I can do better than them’. From there we will be able to build businesses taking advantage of other people’s lack of technological understanding. This will help to build a better system for future business.

Yonni & his father Ben Kepes who chaired the conference in Melbourne on Digital Disruption

Yonni & his father Ben Kepes who chaired the conference in Melbourne on Digital Disruption

“I believe that once my generation actually sees what is transforming then this world could turn in to a place where lots of different concepts will be used to make our life a lot easier.

“I’m very excited as this will offer many new opportunities which weren’t afforded to the generation before. I believe that with a good mindset my generation can use digital disruption to our advantage and make the world a much better place.”

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?

Guest Post: Our Coding Journey – The Beginnings

This guest post comes from Miss Briony Marks who has guest posted here before with her work in maths. Today it is her story of working with Year 7 students in our Preparatory School, introducing them to the basics of coding. You can see the original post here.

One of my goals for this year was to learn something (anything!) about the world of coding and how teaching coding in schools can benefit students.

January came and I started with trepidation and a sense of awe as I scoured the Internet looking for ideas and where to begin. I was utterly overwhelmed by the amount of information available. I want to share this journey with you in the hope that it will help others along their way!

I’ve been working with a Year 7 class who had no prior experience with coding. I’m hoping to survey and interview them about their experiences towards the end of this term.

Where we began:

I began with the students in the same place that I started as a teacher; looking for information on the benefits of coding and why we should be encouraging students to learn how to code.

I found myself reading guest articles by Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) on Splash ABC,  “More than a game; why coding will help kids for life” was just what I was looking for.

I copied the article onto our OneNote Content Library and asked students to read and highlight key information.

The article was in our content library ready for students to copy across and annotate.

The article was in our content library ready for students to copy across and annotate.

Students then worked in pairs to discuss the article, ultimately posting three reasons why we should code onto our Collaboration Space, this was a great exercise in using OneNote to work collaboratively and to share ideas as well as encouraging students to see the benefits in coding.

Our shared space (again experiencing a few syncing errors)

Our shared space (again experiencing a few syncing errors)

Students were able to identify benefits such as:

  1. Kids should code because they would like to see what happens when you are doing something on the computer.
  2. kids should code because it is a new experience for them.
  3. kids should code because they need to know what do when they don’t know what to do.
  1. Learning to think the computer way can help solve other problems, whether it be Maths or English.
  2. To learn on different websites like Scratch, and without noticing, go through failure repetitively to find the solution.
  3. Not just to develop understanding of coding, but to help students see the big opportunities open to them.

Other students identified being able to get jobs in the IT Industry as a key factor, being able to write your own apps, create websites or blogs.

Despite this shared knowledge the students were still asking me “what is code?” and “what does it mean?”. They had been told what the benefits of coding were without knowing what it really was (other than it was to do with computers!).

To tackle this question I used a PE lesson. I was still a little wary of where to begin with computers so was grateful for the opportunity to delay the inevitable!

I wanted to show them that coding was essentially a series of very specific commands so we set up obstacle courses. Armed with stacks of cones and hurdles and a box full of blindfolds we constructed two obstacle courses. Students had to come up with a list of commands to navigate a blindfolded partner through the maze. The blindfolded partner could not think or act for themselves. They had to be told exactly what to do.

The results were great – students were highly engaged and were frustrated when their sequence of commands weren’t interpreted as hoped! We had started to test and re-write our code and there wasn’t a computer in sight.

Even now as we make our projects in Scratch I remind the students of this experience and how important it is to have an eye on a goal and to write clear, specific instructions as to how to get there.

A great post from Miss Marks and we will certainly post updates about how the students are getting on with their programming challenge.