Managing Minecraft In A School

minecraft-bannerNote: this is quite a lengthy and, at times, technical post about configuring and deploying Minecraft in a school when choosing not to use the new Microsoft Education Edition. The following is the structure of the blog if you want to jump to a particular point of interest:

  1. The Background Situation: existing Minecraft usage and identified problems.
  2. The Opportunity: what we felt we needed to deliver to run our own Minecraft server securely and easily.
  3. The Technical Setup:
    1. Server
    2. Mods
    3. Client Installation & Deployment
  4. Where To From Here:

Minecraft, the hugely popular game with students of all ages, is described as:

A game about placing blocks and going on adventures. Explore randomly generated worlds and build amazing things from the simplest of homes to the grandest of castles.

The Background Situation:

houseA number of our teachers have already integrated Minecraft into teaching units in the past, most notably Mr Wilj Dekkers with his creative writing units and Kiwiana-themed parks and Ms Donna Jones exploring a Centenary related project.

Despite this initial success there has always been some problems with administering Minecraft, particularly around easily and securely allowing student interaction and collaboration in these virtual worlds. To date, teachers have had to rely on students using the Minecraft Personal Edition meaning it was essentially single player mode only, removing the ability to collectively work on a project together. To promote greater student engagement and allow the key competencies to be fully utilized in learning through Minecraft, alternatives needed to be identified.

In late September 2014, Microsoft purchased Minecraft for $2.5billion which held out the possibility of a deeper integration into Office365 and Microsoft’s wider Education strategies. It took just under two years before Minecraft Education version was released, during which time an alternative Minecraft Edu was essentially shut down and absorbed into Microsoft’s new Education version. This was a shame as the Edu version was very good, allowing the use of numerous custom mods (modifications to improve/customise the game play) and it could be run on a hosted server, not just on the student’s personal device.

Surprisingly, the announced version of Minecraft Education in January 2016 ended up having some key functionality removed, arguably for the sake of simplicity:

  • There was no ability to host the game on a stand alone server – now it would be installed and hosted via the teacher’s laptop computer (this raised significant security concerns for us and ultimately was a show stopper).
  • There was no custom mod support whatsoever. Over time, it was the ability to modify and customise the game play that had contributed to the enduring appeal of Minecraft and without this, the default game play was less appealing.

The upside, however, was that licensing was incredibly easy to manage and, if you were prepared to overlook security concerns, deployment for a teacher in a basic network would also be simplified.

An example of students using Minecraft Pocket Edition in previous years

The Opportunity:

After the initial disappointment of realising we would not deploy Minecraft Education as soon it was released, Mr Wilj Dekkers engaged in a number of discussions with myself and Mr Joshua Harrison from the St Andrew’s College ICT Services Team to explore how we might progress forward with Minecraft. Very quickly, some key features were identified:

  • Teacher Control: teachers would need the ability to easily manage students within the game. Without this, the chances of students running amok and getting into mischief was very real. This would require third party mods to achieve and a strategic plan around how Digital Citizenship teaching could be included into the Minecraft worlds.
  • The Minecraft server needed to be hosted centrally so that it could be controlled by the ICT services team, whilst still allowing the delegation of in-game management to teachers and to those students identified as leaders who could be student administrators.
  • Teacher/Student administrators needed the ability to maintain / deploy approved mods and perform low level administration work e.g. restarting worlds, creating/deploying new worlds.
  • Finally, the issue of how to deploy a pre-configured client onto student BYOD devices in a quick and simple manner, without disrupting any existing installations of Minecraft they may have already installed.

The above list of requirements needed addressing if we were going to be able to  build a sustainable environment for integrating Minecraft into the eLearning strategies at the College. Joshua decided he would explore various options based on his prior knowledge administering various Minecraft servers in his own time and see if there could be some suitable solutions to use at St Andrew’s.

Technical Setup:

Server:

For the proof of concept, we decided to use an existing HP Compaq 6000 that was spare. The specifications of this machine were pretty light weight, having only a Core2 Duo CPU and 4GB of RAM. It remains to be seen if this will be sufficient and we anticipate needing to increase the resources of this machine as more users and worlds join.

After exploring various different versions of Minecraft, Joshua settled on 1.7.10 1.10.2 (this version is required to be compatible with Sponge. The earlier version was needed for supporting Bukkit which we are no longer using – see below). To support the deployment of these mods, two frameworks were necessary:

  1. Forge 
  2. Bukkit This has been replaced with Sponge due to a potential copyright issue; this has resulted in dropping KCauldron as well.

These are essentially APIs that allow other mods to run on the Minecraft server and normally a Minecraft administrator would use only one or the other of Forge or Bukkit. However, as will be seen, it was necessary to use both and to achieve this an additional third party tool called KCauldron was necessary to enable the use of different mods on the same platform to work nicely together. With the use of Sponge, there is no need for third party tools like KCauldron, as Sponge integrates directly into Forge.

Minecraft Server Dashboard

Minecraft Server Dashboard

Another important tool was MC Dashboard which allowed Joshua to use a graphical user interface (GUI) rather than a traditional command line interface (CLI) to administer the Minecraft server. This tool provides easy oversight into server resource usage, connected users and other important information.

Mods:

As mentioned earlier, it is really the mods that create the key appeal of Minecraft in schools, as it allows for customisation of the worlds and gameplay and, sadly, was something that Microsoft chose to remove from their Education edition. It’s easy to see why, however, because mods are also one of the trickier components and can easily lead to problems of version compatibility and contribute to a poor user experience. There are three key mods that Joshua has deployed for the StAC Minecraft server:

  1. Multiverse: Project Worlds: (Project Worlds replaces Multiverse due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This is a key one as it allows us to run parallel worlds on the same server, whilst enabling teachers and/or students to jump between worlds at will. Put practically, a teacher could create a world for a collaborative social studies project where students need to work towards an assessment or project, whilst having a separate world for “free play” and experimentation. Without Multiverse, projects would need to be separated spatially within the same world which would inevitably lead to problems, such as having to walk a long way to go from one project to another – it all takes time!
  2. PermissionsEX: PermissionManager: (PermissionManager replaces PermissionsEX due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This mod allows for differing levels of user permissions groups, and the following four were setup for school usage:
    1. Student – a basic user who can only do the default game play such as build/place etc
    2. Student Administrator – have slightly elevated controls such as the ability to move other student users around, freeze them and do other temporary modifications. These permissions are designed to support a Digital Citizenship component where students can be educated and entrusted to self-manage as much as possible within the game. The assigned permissions here were carefully selected by Joshua to prevent a student who had prior knowledge of how Minecraft administration works from being able to execute any command.
    3. Teacher – has access to most of the Minecraft server administration, can create new worlds, can kill off users, teleport users between worlds and other main administration functions.
    4. Administrator – aimed at superusers and, at this stage, reserved for ICT staff to support the server installation as necessary.
  3. ICY Admin: The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod (This was used to replace ICY Admin due to the version change of Minecraft) This is the key mod to bring the above together into a user-friendly GUI allowing for in-game administration from a graphical menu for the above user groups. The available menu options in ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod have been built from scratch by Joshua and are controlled by a config file on the Minecraft server itself. Users access the menu system during game play by hitting the tilde key (~) and this replaces the need to execute console / CLI commands within the game. This makes it significantly easier for new users to engage with the game and reduces the barrier-to-entry for teachers who may wish to administrate but know none of the commands.
    1. Some of the controls available via ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod include things such as “freeze” a user/all users in place (useful if you effectively want to pause the game for a break), teleportation of a single user / all users to a shared starting point or, for example, if you wanted them all to be in the same place to work on the same project. Additionally, environmental settings can be controlled in this way e.g. make it rain or snow, or set it to always be night time.
sponge-gui

The control interface for teachers and student-admins when using The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod (which replaced ICY Admin)

These three core mods are what allows the overall setup and administration and, through conversations with Mr Dekkers, are probably sufficient to enable most scenarios of how Minecraft might be used at this stage. Two in-game mods specifically requested by Mr Dekkers were IndustrialCraft and ComputerCraft both of which allow for significant learning opportunities. IndustrialCraft supports things like electricity generation and storage through batteries and transferring into different parts of the game, whilst ComputerCraft is essentially a full programming language accessible by computers in the game.

 

Client Installation & Deployment:

Windows installation batch script

Windows installation batch script

With the setup of the Minecraft server achieved, the final part of the solution was how to easily deploy this to the individual student BYOD laptops. St Andrew’s College has a choice within parameters for BYOD, meaning students can bring either a Windows 10 laptop or an Apple MacBook running OS X.

It was important that there was an easy, stress-free way for teachers and students to install this version of Minecraft onto laptops that did not necessarily need to involve the ICT Services helpdesk team at the College. Joshua was pretty confident he would be able to write some batch scripts for Windows and I suggested he check out OS X’s Automator  as a way of scripting installation for the MacBooks. Interestingly, he found that he was able to script the installation on MacBooks with Automator in about half the time it took to write a batch file for Windows.

The tasks in the Automator script to install onto a MacBook running OS X

The tasks in the Automator script to install onto a MacBook running OS X

The key to making this happen was Minecraft MultiMC, an open source launcher for Minecraft that allows users to run completely separate installations of Minecraft with ease, meaning that we could confidently encourage students to install this version without affecting any other installation of Minecraft they may already have on their laptop.

MultiMC Interface

MultiMC Interface

Essentially, a student is provided with a USB key that has an installer launcher that copies MultiMC and a Java installation into a new folder, whilst setting up short cuts in their Applications folder so they can run the game.

Interestingly, Joshua opted to not include a copy of the Minecraft client application itself within this installer file, instead relying on students having to enter their own Minecraft credentials (linked with their personal paid licensed copy) which would then trigger the download of the client application of Minecraft. This way, we are not distributing any commercial software illegally and the download only adds 1-2minutes to the overall installation process. The key benefit, however, was that MultiMC is already configured to point the installation to the College’s on-premise Minecraft server meaning there was no additional configuration required for students. Additionally, Joshua set this up to run on a non-standard port so that if other students were using Minecraft at school they could not accidentally connect to the school’s Minecraft server and become a nuisance.

All up, it takes less than 5 minutes for a student to install this version of Minecraft from a USB key provided by the teacher.

Where To From Here?

industrialcraft-windmill-and-furnaceI am always really happy when members of the ICT Services Team have an opportunity to use their prior experience or personal interests to contribute to the teaching and learning at the College in ways like this. It is one of the unique things about delivering ICT in schools compared to other environments and the ability to be involved in this way is enjoyed by the staff. Talking with Joshua he admitted to being a bit worried about how to deliver what needed to be a very simple solution that could be managed by students and teachers whilst still being secure and stable:

I had a huge sense of personal satisfaction with the finished solution because I was a bit worried about how I would be able to deliver all of this at the start, or even if it was possible. Ultimately, it was ICY Admin that made it all possible and this was something I found only through researching for this project. It’s nice to know that the hundreds of hours I’ve spent administering Minecraft servers in my own time have paid off and could be used in an educational context.

Mr Joshua Harrison

For me, it is pleasing to know that we have a secure, robust and extensible platform which teachers will be able to use relatively painlessly thanks to the efforts of Joshua in this area. It remains to be seen what interesting curriculum uses arise from this and I’ll certainly be posting a followup blog highlighting this.

Of course, as Microsoft continue to develop their Augmented Reality HoloLens solutions, then perhaps the future of Minecraft will be 3D as this video shows:

Office 2016 Arrives for Mac Users

maxresdefaultSt Andrew’s College is an Office365 school, making extensive use of the Microsoft OneNote application in particular and we are also compulsory BYOD from Year 9 (we still allow choice of Windows / Apple). Over the last two years we have seen increasing amounts of Apple laptops coming to school with the students and one of the frustrations has been the old Office 2011 available for Macs.

This has changed with Microsoft’s release of Office 2016 for Mac last week, announced on their blog here (see below for the release video) and for the first time it also includes OneNote (for a long time unavailable and then only released via the Mac App Store).

It is strongly encouraged that students remove Office 2011 before attempting the install of the new version – detailed instructions are available here to do this. A video showing the complete installation process of Office 2016 for Mac can be seen here:

The new Office 2016 is distinctively “Mac” in design and brings the feature set much closer to the Windows 2013 version (although, frustratingly, some of the best features of OneNote are not there still). Here’s hoping that updates will improve this so that both Windows and Apple users have comparable functionality.

Another feature that appears to be missing from the new Office 2016 Powerpoint is Office Mix – a fantastic plugin that allows teachers and students to easily record narrated screencasts.

Overall, it’s a big step forward for Mac users and one that I am confident many of our students will download to their BYOD devices since it remains free for our students at St Andrew’s College

Promotional Video for Office 2016 for Mac:

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.

Teaching The Teachers: St Andrew’s College Staff Delivering Professional Development

StAC Logo WhiteThe end of the academic year is a busy time in most schools, but also a time that many teachers engage in professional development. It is no different at St Andrew’s College where three hour, small group sessions were organised for all secondary teaching staff as a refresher on eLearning. This professional development was run by Arnika Brown, an eLearning Integrator from Cyclone Computers who has previously worked with teachers in our Preparatory School.

This year has also seen increasing requests by other schools and organisations for our teachers to deliver professional development in the area of eLearning and technology use in the classroom. An example of this is earlier this week our Assistant Head of English Ms Tam Yuill Proctor was invited to deliver a keynote at the Dunedin English Big Day Out conference. The title of her message was “Putting the “E” of E-Learning into Teaching and Learning” and as a summary reflection of presentation she recorded a terrific Office Mix overview (click the slide below to view):

Tam Office Mix

The topics covered in the keynote included:

  • Teaching and Learning: knowledge building, learning communities, practice
  • Office365: Office Mix, OneNote and OneDrive
  • Inquiry Learning: putting it into action with Year 10
  • Blogs and Twitter: effective use of these in professional development.

Other examples of our staff delivering or facilitating professional development in eLearning recently include:

It is excellent to see teachers from St Andrew’s College being invited to share their expertise and experience with the wider teaching community, as it highlights the value our own students are receiving in their tuition. As well as requests to speak at events, the College has hosted numerous staff from other schools on visits to see eLearning in action in our classrooms.

To build on this momentum, St Andrew’s has created a new position starting in 2015 called eLearning Integrator. This role will focus on supporting innovative and best practice in eLearning amongst our teachers and I am confident this will lead to even more teachers being asked to speak at future events.

Narrating Teaching Moments with Office Mix

office mixEvery Thursday lunchtime throughout Term 4 I have been running lunchtime professional development for our teaching staff. I’ve been pleased with the uptake from the teachers, who can book a place in the lunchtime sessions via Moodle using the Booking module we have installed.

Each session focuses on one of the following topics:

  • The new OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool which many teachers have wanted to learn more about.
  • Using Office Mix to record lessons or explanations on critical concepts for students.
  • Using Moodle Forums to assist students with revision for examinations.

In this blog I am going to cover a neat feature of Office Mix – the ability to upload a Mix to Microsoft’s platform, and how permissions can be managed to control the visibility of the content. I have blogged about using Office Mix as a digital whiteboard already and how the ability to narrate ideas and concepts is helping some of our teachers flip the classroom, like Mr Kevin Barron.

The Office Mix add-in for PowerPoint is a new way to tell your story with voice, video, inking, screen recording and interactive magic.

It’s important to distinguish the two types of recording available in Office Mix:

  1. Record: This feature will load up whatever Powerpoint presentation you have open, and allow you to narrate and annotate via “inking” each slide as you progress through the deck.
  2. Screen Recording: when this is selected Mix will return the user to whatever application they were last in before going to PowerPoint and allow you to start recording everything on your screen even if you change between applications.

MixThere are some excellent screen recording software options on the Apple platform and I have used Screenflow for recording many tutorials for staff ever since I saw a Year 13 student record a narration of his musical composition using Screenflow:

However, there have been limited options in the Windows environment, and certainly no great ones for free. Office Mix does change this by allowing staff and students to easily record and share screencasts. The icing on the cake is the built in ability to upload directly to the web for sharing of the recorded Mix, without the need to publish to a third party video platform such as YouTube or Vimeo.

Whilst both Mr Matt Nicoll and Mr Kevin Barron are both comfortable creating playlists in their YouTube channels, for other teachers the ability to publish directly from Office Mix holds big appeal. The following video provides a great overview of how to upload and share a Mix:

As the video points out, Mix offers four levels of sharing to help teachers and students decide what the best level of visibility is:

  1. Organisation: Essentially, only teachers or students at the school would be able to view the Mix
  2. Limited: Users might be outside of the school, but would still need to sign in using a Microsoft account to be able to view the Mix
  3. Unlisted: Anyone with the direct link could view the Mix, but it was not searchable on the internet
  4. Public: Anyone can search and view the Mix.

The only downside with the above is that if you want to embed your Mix into your Moodle class site then the sharing settings must be set to either Unlisted or Public.

After the most recent Thursday training session, our Assistant Head of English Ms Tam Yuill Proctor was keen to give it a go and created her very first Mix to help her Year 11 English class with the basics of writing an essay. She blogged about the experience here and you can watch the mix below:

Tam Mix

In this Mix, she recorded it on a Surface Pro 3 as part of the trial group we have going at St Andrew’s College and used the inking features to highlight different points as she went through them. The initial feedback from her students is that it was really helpful to have this visual and aural guidance especially from their own teacher and not just a random clip off YouTube.

SUMMARY:

It is really pleasing to see our teachers attending professional development sessions and then giving it a go and implementing new technologies that will benefit the learning outcomes for our students. As most teachers will confirm, it’s not always easy to record and publish your teaching moments for others to replay again and again and yet it is precisely this type of resource that can help cement student understanding of complex ideas.

I am encouraging our teachers to embed their Mix recordings into their Moodle class sites as well, since this will allow them to use the reporting tools within Moodle to see precisely which students have actually watched the clip, and how many times.

Whilst having the ability to write on the screen during the Mix recording through using a Surface Pro 3 is a nice feature, there is plenty of applications for this in other areas with a traditional laptop as well, such as:

  • Recording how to create a spreadsheet or graph in Commerce classes
  • Recording tips and tricks in subject specific applications such as Photoshop or Sibellius
  • Recording how to write up a bibliography in History
  • Recording how to change certain network settings in Windows 7 or 8 to improve wireless performance.
  • And the list goes on!
  • UPDATE: Darrell Webster, an Office365 & Microsoft MVP, suggested some other useful ideas for recorded Office Mix by teachers: to record an overview of the course or promote an upcoming assessment or project. Excellent idea! Darrell has also recorded a good introductory overview to Office Mix that you can see here. 

I am excited to see which directions our teachers will take this functionality in 2015 and I know that many of them will also encourage their students to use it as well. With changes to English standards, students no longer need to stand in front of their peers to deliver a speech – they could record a presentation like this using Office Mix for assessment instead.

Finally, as useful a tool as Office Mix is, it is clearly no substitute for the teacher. If anything, it reaffirms the central role the teacher plays in guiding students and assisting with the clear explanation of complex ideas. Many eLearning tools allow students to listen and watch again a key learning moment from the teacher and in the end, this must help with knowledge building.

Teaching The Teachers: Year 7 Students Show Off Sketchup Skills

On Monday 29th September, teachers from the member schools of the Burnside Learning Community Cluster met at Fendalton Open Air Primary School for a teacher-led conference on teaching and learning with digital devices.

Earlier in Term 3, Fendalton’s Principal Mr Paul Sibson had visited St Andrew’s College and together we saw saw some Year 7 students teaching Year 6 students in Mr Wilj Dekkers class how to use the design software Sketchup. Upon seeing this, Paul asked me if I could organise these students to present to teachers at the BLCC conference on teaching and learning with digital devices.

The two students, Tim and James, having already self-taught themselves when designing house floor plans for a maths unit were keen to help out.

Floor plans designed in Sketchup by Tim and James

Floor plans designed in Sketchup by Tim and James

The two had even created instructions in OneNote to share tips with other students and teachers that included things like:

There Are things that you can benefit from using this program like…

  • Helps get an understanding of what the real world designers use
  • Uses a great skill level and can help with the ability for some designers in the making
  • Great for some house designing projects
  • Helps with 3D shapes, measurement, geometry, angles, percentages and ratios
  • And finally you have fun creating with your imagination
Sketchup instructions from James and Tim

Sketchup instructions from James and Tim

Two laptops from St Andrew’s were supplied to the boys for the conference and together they ran a session for around 15 teachers and a number of students from Fendalton Primary who were also in attendance. They taught the teachers the basics of Sketchup, explained the toolbars and icons and gave some examples on how Sketchup could be used in class.

From time to time Mr Dekkers added additional information to the teachers present so they could further understand how Sketchup was integrated into the Maths unit focusing on percentages and proportions.

Explanation of key tools in Sketchup from instructions stored in OneNote

Explanation of key tools in Sketchup from instructions stored in OneNote

The session was well received and was right in line with the goals of the BLCC which include:

  • establish shared, ongoing, professional learning programmes for teacher effectiveness and the collaborative leadership of learning across the cluster
  • Initiate a teacher-led conference, at which teachers from all BLCC schools will be enabled to run a mini-workshop for their colleagues on some aspect of TWDT.

Here are a selection of photos from the presentation at the conference:

It is excellent to see some of our students confident to show their skills in using software and present that to other teachers in the wider Burnside Learning Community Cluster who can then go on to use this technology in their own classes.

Well done James and Tim!

Collaborating With The World: From Twitter, to OneNote Online, to Lync, to Yammer!

This is a story of collaboration.

It’s also a success story – of starting with a problem causing frustration and then ending with a solution that was shared with a wider community for their benefit.

In between, a whole range of different technologies were used to facilitate the collaboration and problem solving sessions including Twitter, OneNote Online, Lync and Yammer

Given that the New Zealand curriculum places a strong emphasis on participating and contributingI thought I would share this story to show that teachers, and not just students, actively engage in collaboration.

Starting The Ball Rolling With Twitter:

It all started with a frustrated tweet by me which quickly got a reply from a recent connection and fellow fan of Microsoft OneNote I’ve made on Twitter, Marjolein Hoekstra who replied:

Marjolein is based in the Netherlands, and soon helpful ideas were coming in from Arizona in the United States courtesy of Ben Schorr:

The basic task I was trying to accomplish was sharing a “template” OneNote Notebook with students who could take their own copy of the NoteBook and then edit it, either within the desktop version of OneNote (for students with Windows 7 or Windows 8 computers) or via OneNote Online (for students that had an Apple Mac). This shouldn’t have been too difficult, but given the reduced functionality in the browswer based version of OneNote, it was proving challenging.

As you can see from the above tweets, I had been including Darrell Webster, a Sharepoint Trainer from ShareThePoint.com who joined the conversation with:

He then followed up his initial tweet with the key suggestion to move this conversation to a platform that supported more than 140 characters in one message that Twitter was restricting us to:

Extending The Conversation With OneNote Online:

Darrell quickly provided a link to a shared Microsoft OneNote Online notebook where we could all contribute more fully. I’ve included some pictures of this collaboration below:

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At this point, Ben signed off with an offer of further help if required:

Coming Up With Solutions Via Lync:

OneNote Online did a great job of helping Darrell and I understand what the real issues were, but then we wanted to extend this further to trying practical work around solutions. He sent me a Lync Online meeting request where his screen was shared and rather than just typing and sketching within OneNote, we were able to talk directly with each other as well.

Over the course of 40minutes we established what the issues were and some potential work arounds. During this, Darrell recorded the Lync session and later published it privately on YouTube so that Ben and Marjoelein could review it later (by this stage, both had gone to bed because of time zone differences).

 

Sharing a couple of screenshots of the Lync session does not do justice to the power of this tool. Keep in mind I was doing it all through a web browser on my MacBook Air – there was no desktop application involved.

With a possible solution in place, I went away to do some more experimentation, and then created a screencast tutorial of what definitely worked. This was aimed at my students so they could carry out the task at the start of Term 3, but also helped solidify my understanding and meant I could share it with Darrell, Marjolei and Ben easily.

Sharing the Success With Yammer:

Earlier this year a New Zealand Microsoft New Zealand Educators Yammer group had been created and it has quickly resulted in a number of experts and enthusiasts sharing information. Given the significant input I’d received from Darrell, I knew I had to share the results of our collaboration wider, and so I posted it into this Yammer group:

My post and screencast in Yammer

My post and screencast in Yammer

This got a couple of replies:

Feedback

Reflections:

In the end I got what I wanted – a relatively straight forward way to share a format-rich OneNote Notebook with a class of students so that they could edit their own individual copies. It’s not as straight forward as it probably should be, but there is simply no way I would have achieved this outcome without the significant contributions from people all over the world.

I also doubt whether we would have been able to collectively understand the details of the issue without the use of technology like OneNote Online and Lync. Sure, Twitter connected us and Yammer allowed me to share the successful outcome with others, but the bulk of the “heavy lifting” of this collaboration was all achieved through typing, drawing and eventually talking, over Lync and OneNote.

A big part of teaching is encouraging students to be resourceful and to collaborate with a wide range of people to achieve a successful outcome. It’s important that as educators, we can model how this can look in “real life”. I am passionate about education and the role that technology can play to facilitate this and I think this example demonstrates how easily expertise from all over the world can be accessed to achieve a great solution for our students.