Three computer whiz kids in Year 8 are acting as technology mentors for the entire Preparatory School student body, and even quite a few teachers. Caleb, Cameron and Mitchell run twice weekly Fountain of Knowledge technology training sessions, with students able to book appointments on a sophisticated website set up by Caleb. “I took over the project from its founder Ward (now Year 10) when I was in Year 6. We have seven mentors including the three of us, and are training up some Year 6 students so they can run the sessions next year,” says Caleb.
The students help with everything from setting up the internet on laptops, phones and tablets, to installing anti-virus software, and helping students to get the most out of OneNote. They also teach students how to use the cameras and other equipment in the TV studio. Their teacher Ms Melissa Rennell says she sometimes has teachers knocking on her door seeking technical help from one of the boys, or asking for assistance with their Activboards. “They often go to these students first before the ICT Department.” Caleb has even rebuilt an old laptop from the Preparatory School and connected it up to an active board on which students can share their projects.
As they get ready to hand over the Fountain of Knowledge at the end of the year, Caleb, Cameron and Mitchell are thinking about which equally enthusiastic young technology experts they will pick as its new leaders, and are already training Year 6 student Nicholas. “We’re proud of the programme and have had a lot of support from Mr Dekkers, who will be the teacher in charge of it again next year,” says Caleb.
Cameron says he enjoys technology but isn’t planning on a career in the field at this stage. However Caleb and Mitchell hope to one day own their own technology companies, “like Apple, or Google”.
Note: 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:
The Background Situation: existing Minecraft usage and identified problems.
The Opportunity: what we felt we needed to deliver to run our own Minecraft server securely and easily.
The Technical Setup:
Client Installation & Deployment
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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:
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!
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:
Student – a basic user who can only do the default game play such as build/place etc
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.
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.
Administrator – aimed at superusers and, at this stage, reserved for ICT staff to support the server installation as necessary.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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?
I 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:
Inquiry | Creativity | Collaboration – The role of technology in modern learning
Developing teacher understanding and encouraging implementation of collaborative and digital learning methods
Integrating and encouraging digital technology adoption in curriculum and classroom
The new narrative: IT training and computational thinking
Building technology into the curriculum – lessons, challenges and what we’ve learnt along the way
Collaboration at the forefront of today’s teaching environment
When preparing what I wanted to share at the 40 minute session I had been given, I decided on using the Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum to explain why some examples of eLearning from four St Andrew’s College teachers had been successful. Additionally, I wanted to use authentic student voice to highlight this – fortunately, having been blogging on this site for over two years now there was plenty of examples I could draw on.
Thinking: is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas … Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency … [Students] reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.
Using Language, Symbols and Texts: Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed … Students who are competent users … can interpret and use words, number, images, … and technologies in a range of contexts … They confidently use ICT to access and provide information and to communicate with others
Managing Self: This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners … It is integral to self-assessment.
Relating To Others: Students who relate well to others are open to new learning and able to take different roles in different situations … By working effectively together, they can come up with new approaches, ideas, and ways of thinking.
Participating & Contributing: This competency is about being actively involved in communities … They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity … to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.
I started the session off by highlighting the fact that often ICT is talked about in terms of risk. This can come from security breaches, budget blow-outs and ICT project cost overruns, not to mention distracted and off-task behaviour when using technology. I then posed the following questions:
I wanted to highlight how some of the best examples of effective eLearning from teachers at St Andrew’s College was firmly rooted in Key Competencies. I chose examples from the following four teachers:
Combining OneNote & MineCraft To Create Pick-A-Path Stories:
to produce interactive pick-a-path adventure stories
KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
to work collaboratively online to produce an end product
KC: Relating To Others
to create stories to share online with a wider audience
KC: Participating & Contributing
As mentioned above, I wanted to use authentic student voice as much as possible so I included an abbreviated version of the following video so that the audience could hear students articulating their learning and the impact that technology had made:
An insightful quote from the student called Harry was:
The goal was not to just make something pretty in Minecraft, it was actually to improve the quality of your writing … after writing the story, the idea was to look back in Minecraft and see how you could improve the writing you had already completed.
To assist teachers at St Andrew’s College with integration of technology into their teaching and learning, we have adopted the SAMR taxonomy that you can see on the left.
This is a really useful way for teachers to conceptualise how technology might assist the learning outcomes for their students as well as provide them some aspirational goals for extended use of technology. Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, has recently written in detail about effective use of the SAMR model which is definitely worth reading if you are new to it. During the presentation, I introduced the audience to a relatively new product from Microsoft called Pulse. This enables the audience to provide real time feedback on a session as well as allowing the presenter to push out questions for quick polls. I asked the audience “What level of SAMR do you feel the Minecraft/OneNote example was operating at?” and below is their response:
Using Microsoft Pulse for instant feedback from the audience
Inspiring Creative Writing Through Constructing Digital Worlds:
The next example I shared was again around creative writing, this time from the High School instead of a Year 6 class. The full reflection can be found here, however the high level overview of the task was as follows (with Key Competencies inserted):
Learning Tasks For This Unit:
Write a short story of ~600 words with a theme of “conflict”
KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
Students Must produce at least 4 “drafts”
Drafts must be shared with peers for feedback/feed-forward & act on appropriate advice
KC: Participating & Contributing
What was different about this activity is that students had to build their digital world before they started their writing and use it as a source of inspiration and planning, not just as a reflective tool for editing. Settings were constructed in Sketchup, Paint, Minecraft and the source engine of the game Counter-Strike. Here is a student Ralph talking about his world which I again shared with the conference audience:
Again, I find the language used by the student here informative, with some of his comments being:
“I wanted readers to grasp that the bombs had come from the bank itself”
Clearly, the reader’s experience is at the forefront of his thinking when he is designing his digital world.
He blended his natural enjoyment of the game Counter Strike with his school work and learning – a win/win situation!
Ralph talks about adding a backstory to the real events of the London Bombings, demonstrating a wider awareness of global communities
“As I was designing the level I was constantly thinking of ways I could make the story more interesting.”
This was not just technology for the sake of it – it was clearly shaping and informing his understanding of the creative writing task that was the key learning outcome here.
This was manifested through his drafting process where he removed a lot of the dialogue to improve the narrative flow and added more descriptive text such as the sound of the gunfire
This impressive learning came on the back of an earlier, easier task where the students in the class had leveraged an existing digital world (Google Earth) rather than having to create their own. Through the lens of the SAMR scale this makes perfect sense – the students build their knowledge and experience of digital toolsets in the lower levels of SAMR and once mastered they can progress to more difficult tasks. Here is a write up of the earlier task where students had to explain the significance of setting in a film, and this is a student talking about their comprehension.
Again, it’s important to pick up on the student’s language – the technology is integrally linked to the learning outcomes, it is not merely there for entertainment or distraction. By requiring students to record their personal reflections in this way, students are using a number of Key Competencies.
Communicate Musical Intention By Composing An Original Piece of Music Inspired By Art:
The final example I shared with the audience came from Level 3 Year 13 Music. On the first day of the conference I had been asked to be part of a Q&A Panel about integrating technology into schools and one question from the audience was essentially around what are real world examples of great technology usage in NCEA subjects. The heart of the question was around the challenge of adapting existing assessments to be technology rich and I answered it by a brief description of this example from Mr Duncan Ferguson our Head of Music.
Using AS.91419 (3.4)
KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Texts
Students are required to reflect on their composition and explain the connection with the art that inspired them
These are largely independent projects that the students need to work on themselves
KC: Managing Self
Here is the video of the student reflecting on their learning:
Students were required to watch the instructional videos and then attempt the practice questions
Students needed to regularly complete check lists indicating their progress
KC: Managing Self
Here is an example video made by Mr Hilliam:
What I most liked about this example is that students were not left on their own to just work through it, the teacher is still involved through the process, despite the availability of the instructional videos. The following screenshot is from a OneNote Class Notebook showing how the student has completed their progress reports and the teacher has provided feedback:
I used MS Pulse to ask the audience whether they personally felt that using a “flipped classroom” genuinely created more opportunities for differentiated and personalised learning during class time. Their response was overwhelmingly “yes!”
An alternative way to show poll results from MS Pulse
I concluded my session with the following thoughts:
OneNote is central to the pedagogy in my classroom and school. When you walk through the building you can witness the everyday use of the application from Year 4 to Year 8. You will see Active Boards where teachers annotate writing samples in the Content Library for students to use as a reference for their own learning. Students are huddled around their laptops debating which sources of information are most relevant to include in a shared notebook, and staff are reviewing meeting notes shared through a Professional Learning Group’s OneNote.
Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model
St. Andrew’s College uses a custom designed Inquiry Pathway—the core of which is built around helping students develop a collaborative approach to learning. The approach is question-driven, encouraging students to find the answers themselves, coming to their own conclusions. As a teacher, this is exciting; we plan and facilitate but cannot predict the final outcome.
Having planned an inquiry around national identity in the 21st century, I had posed a problem to my class: The Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 had left a long lasting scar on both the economy and identity of the city. Tourism was dwindling, with visitors flying in and quickly moving on to other parts of New Zealand’s South Island. I challenged my students to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a Kiwi in the 21st century?” and also find a way to bring tourists back to our city.
Students formed collaborative groups and created their own shared notebooks. They planned, questioned and researched their Kiwi icons. They interviewed parents and discussed how families from a variety of cultural backgrounds celebrated being “Kiwis” and what being a New Zealander meant to them. All of which was documented in each group’s shared OneNote Notebook.
Students began asking if they could book laptops to work together in our shared learning spaces outside the physical space of the room. They loved having the flexibility to be able to work together around a PC or laptop and then continue collaborating using OneNote at home, completely away from the physical space of the school, in the evenings. Students were so enthralled with the inquiry unit and ability to work together in real-time through OneNote. Parents even began commenting on how they had never seen their students so excited to return from school and get started on their homework.
Part of the inquiry was looking at how we could bring tourists back to Christchurch. This was where Minecraft was introduced to the class. Students brought in devices running the pocket edition and connected to shared realms via the school’s Wi-Fi. As well as working as a team to answer the big inquiry question, members of each group had individually focused on an aspect of Kiwi culture. I asked the students if they could build a theme park with Kiwiana-themed rides that incorporated elements from their inquiries.
Before long, the class was a buzzing hub of self-directed learning. Students were writing presentation speeches from their inquiry notebooks while Minecraft experts built bigger and better Kiwiana rides to showcase their learning. In the evenings, groups continued developing and improving their learning in preparation for the big day.
By the end of the third term of 2014, OneNote became a standard classroom tool. Having seen the benefits, families had started purchasing laptops for their students to use in our class. This again caused a chain reaction. Students with access to their own devices were using OneNote more, which in turn meant that more students began arriving with laptops.
This had to be managed carefully, since having a laptop in Year 6 is not required. I was wary of technology being used as a substitution tool and made sure that in my planning any use of OneNote or any other tools we were using was in ways that enhanced or allowed learning to take place in a way that could not be done without a device.
It was around this time that Sam McNeill, Director of ICT for the college, brought in six Surface Pro 3s to trial, and I was fortunate to be asked to use one in the prep school. Having always been a believer in the creative power of the pen, I was instantly won over by having the best of both worlds at my fingertips—a fully functional Windows tablet with a stylus that allowed me to write down ideas, thoughts and comments directly into my OneNote Notebooks. It did not take long for a few students to begin arriving with their own Surface tablets!
In the final term of the 2014 school year, we focused on our use of narrative; enhancing writing features and broadening our vocabulary. Using both OneNote and Minecraft seemed like a natural fit.
As a class, we read through “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain,” written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in 1982. This book was one of the first “single-player gamebooks” and was the first of what was to become a successful series of pick-a-path gamebooks called “Fighting Fantasy.”
The students loved it. We discussed modern game worlds, from Fable to World of Warcraft. How could we emulate those fantastic “Fighting Fantasy” stories using the technology at our disposal, and how could the technology enhance the quality of our writing? We wanted our readers to have the same sense of choice and adventure we had experienced reading “Warlock,” while being able to share our writing without needing to produce any form of print media.
“Minecraft brings out the creativity in me. I love remaking my story Minecraft and improving my writing.”
Through the insertion of hyperlinks connecting pages, students found an easy way to provide choices for the reader, and as notebooks stored on Onedrive could be easily shared, the audience for their writing expanded quickly. Students were sharing and collaborating on their adventure stories by allowing editing rights to certain classmates deemed to have the relevant skillsets to be seen as official class editors.
“Using Minecraft made my imagination go wild with thoughts!”
Our Year 6 students took Tam’s idea and expanded upon it by using Minecraft to both plan and develop their writing, as well as to review and revise the content, descriptive phrases and vocabulary. As their Minecraft worlds grew, so did their stories, which were housed in OneNote. In some cases, we had 10-year-old boys who were not big fans of writing producing 5000-word interactive pick-a-path stories. We published a blog entry detailing the OneNote and Minecraft pick-a-path story.
“Minecraft was helpful because it made me notice all the little details in my narrative that were never in my original bubble plan.”
By 2015, most teachers in the prep school had embraced OneNote. The superb OneNote Class Notebook app creator was now an important element of Office 365, and students were appreciating the structure of the Collaboration Space, Content Library and their own personal sections.
Teachers were appreciating the organizational simplicity of adding resources and lessons into the Content Library for students to use in their own sections. Within my Year 6 class, multiple students arrived at the beginning of the year armed with Surface Pro 3s.
This was also the first year that I started using Minecraft in Math. The students in my group weren’t huge fans of math. I knew they were capable of so much more, but their personal attitude towards the subject was that it was hard; comments at the start of the year were mostly, “I’m not good at math.” My focus was to change their attitudes to that of a growth mindset where they say, “I’m not good at math, yet!” Continue reading →
To help promote the event, I took to a new tool I’ve been using recently called Canva which allows you to very quickly and easily develop stylish posters, images and social media banners through their website:
One of the key reasons TeachMeets are successful is that presenters are limited to only 2minutes or 7minutes for their presentations. This results in a fast-paced event and a range of different ideas and solutions being shared. It also means that preparation for the volunteer presenters is kept at a minimum – it’s not onerous to share something you’re already doing in your classroom or researching to give a go.
From the slides above, you can see there were seven presenters who shared on the following topics:
Wilj Dekkers (St Andrew’s College) Using MineCraft and OneNote for Creative Writing
Tom Neumann (Riccarton High) Using an alphanumeric self marking video game in Moodle to review content of Yr11 Economics
Sue McLachlan (Hagley College) Using OneNote Learning Tools in the classroom
Tam Yuill Proctor (St Andrew’s College) Using OneNote as a Digital Teacher’s Planbook
Karyn Gray (Haeta Community Campus) The Quest for Personalisation of Learning- My Thinking, My Research, My Questions
Schira Withers (Our Lady Of The Star Of The Sea) How we as educators can help students with low working memories improve their self-management skills using digital technologies, thus allowing them to experience success and move from a fixed to growth mindset.
Donna Jones (St Andrew’s College) Using a 3D app to inspire creative thought and ideas for creative writing.
On the 23rd November 2015 Microsoft NZ arranged for a TV crew to film and interview a number of staff and students at St Andrew’s College. The focus of the day was showcasing how the Surface Pro 3 and OneNote were being used creatively within the College. The three teaching staff interviewed were Mr Wilj Dekkers (Year 6 class teacher in the Preparatory School), Ms Tam Yuill Proctor (Assistant Head of English) and Mr Ben Hilliam (Assistant Head of Maths).
What impresses me about these teachers is how natural the integration of technology and eLearning strategies are. As I noted on the post about Mr Hilliam above:
Whilst the phrase “ubiquitousness of technology” is over used, this lesson did demonstrate that when used effectively, the technology is not at the forefront of the lesson. It was not gimmicky or flashy, instead it provided functional improvement to what was already a great lesson.
Certainly, the technology available to achieve this integration is available and well supported at St Andrew’s, something that Ms Yuill Proctor noted in a blog post published today:
At StAC I count myself very lucky to have the technology, infrastructure and guidance available to try new tools to enhance the learning programs and assist with day to day teaching.
Having access to the tools and support increases the confidence of teachers to try new things – sometimes this is simply at a “Substitution” level on the SAMR scale of technology integration – but often it goes deeper into Modification and Redefinition:
These three teachers, recognised externally by Microsoft for the innovative work they’re doing in their classrooms, along with our eLearning Integrator Mr Tom Adams, need to function as change agents and ambassadors within the College in 2016, sharing their pedagogy and encouraging colleagues to follow their lead.
In 2014 St Andrew’s introduced the 1:1 Computing Programme to Year 9 students, making it compulsory for all students in that year group to bring a laptop. We have now successfully concluded the second year of this and, in 2016, are rolling back this requirement to Year 8 students in our Preparatory School as well.
Both Mr Dekkers and Mr Adams have been heavily involved in planning the rationale and support for the Year 8 programme. The result of this is that close to 700 students in Years 8-11 will be required to bring a laptop to school each day: clearly the need for eLearning leaders such as those recognised above is critical to ensure staff and students can maximise the value of this technology.
I am really pleased that this video, and the recognition from Microsoft of these three teachers, reflects the huge amount of effort and planning that goes into teaching with technology at St Andrew’s College.
Today 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”
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”.
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.
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)
Entrance to the Preparatory School Library celebrating Book Week 2015
The St Andrew’s College Library Manager, Mrs Cathy Kennedy, runs an annual Book Week for students across the College to engage in. Each year this week includes many competitions and prizes, with at least one activity having a ‘tech focus’ for students. 2015 was no different with the students encouraged to create “Auras” for books that would link to video content or book review trailers through the use of Aurasma Software.
Aimed at our Preparatory School students, the challenge for them was to promote some of their favourite books by creating interactive posters which contained a “trigger” for media content to display over the book cover. To achieve this, a smart phone running the free Aurasma app could be held up in front of the book cover or poster, and then the video content would start to display.
Sound confusing? Here are some screenshots of what it looks like:
The rectangular content “overlaid” on the book is the augmented reality video clip used by students and displayed via Aurasma
The winning poster submissions and a number of books with Auras waiting to be scanned. Note the Aurasma bookmarks indicating books that have an Aura
Helpfully, Mr Wilj Dekkers had introduced his Year 6 class to using Aurasma earlier in the year, so Mrs Kennedy had some students familiar with the technology. To assist the others, she:
Sparked interest by creating an example Aurasma interactive poster in the library (that linked through to this Animoto Video)
Ran a lunchtime tutorial for those wanting some hands on assistance
With two year group categories for judging the winners, students in Years 4-6 and 7-8, created around 40 Auras which was excellent. A key learning experience for Mrs Kennedy and the students was understanding that students and staff that wanted to see the Auras needed to be following the “standrewslibrary” Aurasma account before scanning an Aura worked correctly. As Mrs Kennedy explained:
Aurasma works a bit like Twitter – just like you need to be following a Twitter user to see see their Tweets, you need to be following an Aurasma user to see their Auras.
With this cleared up, students could happily see what their classmates had created. By using a shared Aurasma account to create the various Aura (to ensure they were collated under one user and therefore easier to find), opportunities for reinforcing good Digital Citizenship practices emerged. Among these were:
Students could not edit/remove the Aura of another student
Students had to still clearly name their Aura so they were identifiable
Pleasingly, the students were very good at the above and this created a positive culture of creating and sharing Auras that promoted a wide range of books.
The back wall of the library was beautifully themed to celebrate book week and contained a poster celebrating the start of Book Week that doubled as an Aura that students could scan:
Reflecting on this activity, Mrs Kennedy noted that the task was actually quite complex and required a fair amount of work and persistence from the students, therefore it was pleasing there were so many submissions. Whilst a paid account with Aurasma is quite expensive, it is something that she would consider in the future since it would open up a wider range of sources to link to, such as website links and YouTube videos (the free account only allows linking to content uploaded to Aurasma).
The winning student posters promoting a book with an Aura are:
The 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.
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:
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.
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.
This 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 (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)
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) …
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)
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.
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.
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
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: