Posted in coding, Digital Technologies, Professional learning, Teaching and Learning

Introducing forces and making mazes

This term I have picked up a Year 7 Science class (mostly due to timetabling changes) and we have started the term with a ‘Bikes and Trikes’ topic, which is essentially aiming to cover levers, simple machines and forces. I had this class once, which was mostly a let’s get to know each other a bit better (we did flipgrid introductions with mixed success, but it was a good way for me to figure out the more digital literate and confident students, and the students who can follow instructions more easily than others). After this, I walked through a colleagues class, and saw their students blowing ping pong balls around using straws, and thought to myself ‘I’m poaching that’ for lesson 2. It was an easy way to introduce the ideas of the lessons, which were

  1. A force is a push or a pull
  2. Forces can change an objects speed and direction (or velocity…. it is yr 7) or forces can change an objects shape

We wrote some notes (still a good settling activity, especially this brand new class I had meet once) and did a think, pair, share activity on any ‘forces’ they could think of. There were lots of star wars themed answers, and a few space themed ones to. We then watched some videos of rollercoasters etc…

And then I let them lose with ping pong balls and straws, and they had a ball. I set them a challenge of getting equal and opposing forces acting on the ball, so it stayed still. This proved a bit too challenging as many students just couldn’t resist blowing a big puff to knock the balls off the center.

I then thought about getting students to design mazes that they had to get their ball to travel along. This was much more successful at getting the idea that the direction of the force, as well as the size of the force is important. And I was amazed by the effort that went into some of the groups mazes, they tried and failed, and tried again, decided things were too easy or too hard and really got into it.

The groups of students who worked more collaboratively were able to get their ping pong balls to the ends faster than others, because they positioned themselves around the maze so each person had a different direction to direct the ball.

And if I had thought about it a little more, I ought to have put some computational thinking ideas in there – how many breathes/blows to get the ball to the end, what direction does the next breath need to be etc. How could you get the ball to the end of a maze with the least breaths possible? It would have been a useful little exercise similar to how I have seen sphero’s or bee bots used to get students designing instructions/algorithms to get a sphero out of a maze.

And for when I do this next time, I will think about how I can get the idea of direction change a little more explicit in the preparation for the maze, and how I can follow up (I left it too late and it was basically an oh crap, the bell is about to go, packing up now please…… so working on timing is obviously important too)



Posted in Uncategorized

On burnout, moral injury, tiredness and I’m not sure……

Today is the middle Tuesday of the 2 weeks easter break. Today was a fabulous autumnal day filled with holidays chores like getting a hair cut, chimney sweeps, gardening etc. And marking. And then some-one popped round which was a very welcome distraction from marking. I was talking to them about how I had felt burn out after the last term, which isn’t like me because I usually have pretty good coping strategies etc, and how frustrated I was with teaching and education in general and she introduced me to to idea of moral injury (see the youtube clip below). Moral injury has been mostly explored (from what a quick google search could tell me) from a military perspective, where those who had gone into a war zone (or other traumatic place/experience) but is increasingly being used in health and in education. 


For what ever reason, it has really hit home. I am not burned out, and I do not need a well being program in my school to make me feel better – I need education to be better. And society too!

Easier said that done right 🙂 Sigh

From what I could find (in a brief search where I can’t access a whole of of journals due to pay walls etc), the idea of moral injury is a real thing. For example, this paper gives an example of whether to exclude a student or not – something I know that I have grappled with as an educator when I am struggling to understand the steps my school has taken (or not taken)

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 8.56.04 PM.png
Source –

It is the very classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario…. for schools, for school leaders, for teachers and for communities……

Another example is HERE, where a teacher just didn’t want to come to school after a decision was made that they didn’t agree with. The post goes on to talk about how to find ways to still enjoy your job.

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 9.08.04 PM.png
Source –


And the hopelessness is real. Knowing that change could be made, but constantly feeling hamstrung by the very system you are battling against. Knowing that there must be good reasons for decisions being made, but not being privy to them, or not agreeing with them.

So I’m going to have to re think how I look at systems, and system change, and if nothing else from today, I have found a way to be kinder to myself and to my colleagues. Because there is shame attached to burnout is a thing. And I have often wondered why some people blow out and others don’t. As the video said, when we think of burnout, we wonder what strategy or resilience did they lack? Or was it simply the case of the straw that broke the camels back? We teeter around on tiptoes not trying to upset some-one to try and avoid things getting rough again, or shift classes, or re-arrange time-tables without ever addressing the underlying reasons why people are struggling.

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 9.25.33 PM.png
Source . –
Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 9.28.35 PM.png
Source –


And then sometimes the world just does get too much. Illness, moving house, relationship issues, there are rafts and rafts of reasons why people sometimes struggle at work. And they perhaps need to be made more seperate from when the reason some-one is struggling at work is because of the work, rather than another life event.

Another friend said to me last week in when I was catching up in chch when I said I wasn’t sure I still enjoyed teaching ‘well, there is a reason people get paid to go there, not many people would if there was no money’. So where is that line between being ‘precious’ and actually being fulfilled enough to be content. When do I need to remember I am paid to do a job, and I should (sometimes) shut up and do it……..

And I guess I still don’t have an answer, and I’m still not sure where this thinking might take me. It is another reminder I need to do better by my family and myself. Make that time. Just make it. But if you are out there, feeling ‘burnt out’, you are not alone, and maybe, just maybe, you are not as burned out as you think.

Keep swimming


And I really wanted to read this article, but it was locked behind a paywall – 





Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Redox demo

So, a short and sweet post about one of my favourite low tech demonstrations for redox – I don’t even know what it is called, and I learned it from the fabulous Murray Vickers who was my associate teacher when I was a trainee teacher 10 (oh my goodness 10!!) years ago. It is a really nice demonstration as it shows not just the reaction occurring, but can be linked back to the composition of the air we breathe and the different amounts of gas.

All you need to do is get some steel wool, and put it in the bottom of a longish thinish tube. I used a gas jar this time, but a measuring cylinder also works well. You then need to put some water in the tube, so that when you upend it, and stand it in a container of water, there is still some water in the tube. The pictures below show it much better than me trying to write it out. But you need just a little bit of water in the tube. I put a line around where the water level was at the start


The gear was then left over the weekend, and as the oxygen was used up the water rose up the gas jar.


And as you can see, the water has stopped about 20% of the way up. Because Nitrogen makes up almost 80% of the ‘air’, and oxygen is just over 20%, the reaction will have stopped/slowed because there is no oxygen left to react with the Fe (iron) in the steal wool.

Often reactions with gases are hard to visualise – we also burned steal wool (makes great wee sparks) and you can’t really ‘see’ the oxygen being reacted. In this cause, you still can’t ‘see’ it, but you can see that something has happened to the gases.

Posted in Digital Technologies, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Putting some technology into our digital technologies module

Last year, Kevin and I taught a yr 7 digital technology module based around the digital technology curriculum. (If you like, you can read about our efforts here and here). Part way through last year we got a new Technology HoD, who has ‘encouraged’ us to include more from the technology curriculum, and we are reporting based on the technology curriculum rather than the progress outcomes like we did last year. This was a real challenge for me and took me a bit to get my head around – being a science teacher I knew the sci curriculum pretty well, and I have spent a lot of time working on being more familiar with the digit tech curriculum. But the technology curriculum was a whole new experience and initially I really struggled to get my head around it, especially ‘planning for practice’.

So, I went and tried to learn up. And slowly but surely I think I’m finding my way – a work in progress shall we say.

Planning for Practice

The CD for Tech (who is awesome, fyi, it has been good to be challenged and have crunchy conversations and to try new things) asked if we could ‘assess’ on planning for practice so across all the yr 7 and 8 modules they have a range (our modules are 6-7 weeks with 4 periods a week).

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 8.22.37 PM.png

And with a bit more detail, thanks to TKI

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 8.49.02 PM.png

I also used this resource from TKI which explains planning for practice in a bit more detail, and got some exemplars from TKI and from the other technology teachers in the school

Essentially, I figured out that Kevin and I already did some of this without making the learning explicit. To try and make it more explicit, I modified a TKI resource and asked the students to do a little more planning around the minecraft design than last year.

We got some nice examples of planning and work 🙂


But (there is always a but!!) there were a couple of things that hindered us this time. One was the students got SO excited building in Minecraft that they often forgot to record changes they had made, or progress they have made into their Onenote. We have a policy of if it isn’t in the Onenote it doesn’t exist, but in this case there has been some fabulous learning that didn’t get recording. So I am having a wee think over the next 2-3 weeks (before we get to this in the next module which starts on Thursday) of how else I could record this? There were such rich discussions occurring with the groups building collaboratively that I just didn’t capture…..

AND I need  to modify our template a little more. I hadn’t used one like this before for this purpose, and see now it doesn’t quite fit….And we also ended up running out of time to do this properly, we thought we had 6 full lessons and ended up with 4 (because schools have things come up!) so we will try to get a full 8 lessons for the next module

Fortunately, we also did some planning with algorithms and coding with the microbits so we can make a holistic judgement around students abilities to reach an outcome from their evidence portfolios. And we will tweak it for next time 😉

Technological systems

So, again to ensure that across all the junior modules, we adapted the module to cover inputs, transformations and outputs.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 8.23.40 PM.png

And again some more details from TKI

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 9.16.10 PM

This was way easier to incorporate, given we had already been doing a lot of it without realising.

Through out the module we spent a little more time on inputs and outputs around the microbit, and when introduced the topic. We also included some questions in the ‘form’ we used for an assessment


Progress outcomes for digitech

We still also incorporated progress outcomes from the digitech curriculum around computational thinking. We covered data representation with binary and ASCII code. We walked through algorithms (love making toast) and did some coding. with hour of code and with the microbits. Kevin put some of this into the assessment as well so we had a bit more ‘hard data’ around whether the students understood the aspects of code in addition to their evidence portfolios. It wasn’t a memory test, students were encouraged to copy the code and test it to see what it did.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 9.54.19 PM.png

What the students thought

We gave an end of module survey, and generally got positive feedback. Minecraft was a clear favourite with the students

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 9.57.07 PM

And it was really heartening to see that some students picked up on prototyping and multiple ways, although most felt they gained skills in simple coding and using office 365 (which is awesome, as these students are new to TC this year and getting them upskilled with office 365 is really awesome as an ‘offshoot’ of the module.)

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 9.57.16 PM.png

So overall I think it was a good first go. We do need to tweak the planning template, and I’d like to find a way to get students to design a success rubric (we ran out of time this time round). And I’ll keep working on building my own confidence and understanding of the technology curric.

Would love any ideas/feedback as we work through, or happy to talk it through if you are doing something different

Have fun







Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Having a go with flipgrid to explain graphs

I have been a little bit slow to jump on the flipgrid wagon – I have used it a few times when I have been part of a project to give my response, and have had a look at other peoples flipgrid ‘grids’ when they have gathered responses. You can learn about flipgrid from the website When I used it, I made a tab in my classes ‘team’, as the flipgrid app is one of the apps supported by Microsoft Teams. This meant students could use the app within the teams app on their phones, or some of them used the flipgrid app on their phones too. Both apps were quick to download, and while some had a few issues with the different between a microsoft account and an office 365 account, most were quickly logged in and found the app easy to use.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 10.35.48 AM.png
There are loads of apps available to use within the teams environment, this is the apps I use most often

The tasks I asked my students to complete was around graphing. I have a competent class, and drawing lots of practice graphs was getting pretty dry pretty quickly. So I asked my students to make some videos explaining what a ‘good’ graph should have.

And they (mostly) did really well. Some students took some chalk outside and drew some graphs on the concrete to demonstrate the important points. Some just used some example graphs in their books they had previously drawn. Some drew new graphs, and one group drew a ‘bad’ graph on the white board to demonstrate what you should not do.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 10.48.42 AM.png

It was a really nice way to check for any misconceptions, and while most students enjoyed the task (and some REALLY Loved it), all of them feedback that the talked about and thought about what they needed to do for graphing more than if I had just given them another practice graph. It also made for a really nice piece of work to share at our recent parent teacher evenings, just a 30-90 second snapshot of some of the work we have been doing.

So my class agreed that this was a ‘sometimes’ activity for everyone, and a few of the students asked if they could use it more often, as they found it really useful going back and looking at other peoples videos and seeing how they explain it. My next step will be to try it with my yr 8s, giving each group a different type of ‘cloud’ to explain, and hopefully we can get some cool cloud videos for the group to share.

Have fun



Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Boiling water

Today I got a gentle reminder to look through my students eyes a little more often that I do. It was timely as all those classroom routines and tasks start to bog down all that beginning of the year energy.

On Tuesdays I have my delicious yr 13 Chemistry class, followed by my energetic yr 8 Science class. Yr 8 start the year looking at weather, and today I had planned to boil some water so they could learn, be reminded, or I could check that they could read a thermometer. It also gives a chance to practice drawing a graph. But really, in my eyes, boiling water is as dull as a dull thing, and I remarked to my yr 13 Chem class about how I wasn’t especially looking forward to yr 8’s and boiling water, pondering how else I could practice using thermometers. And one chap piped up with

‘I loved doing that in year 8’

I looked at him to see if he was being sarcastic, and he wasn’t. In response to my raised eyebrows he reminded me that back then Bunsen burners were super exciting, and it was new to him and he did really enjoy it. Lighting a match was fun, and they all used to fight over who got to.

I suppose it was also a timely reminder that just because you have done something before, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it again. Obviously there might be tweaks or changes you make, but making sure I make those changes for the correct reasons.

So, when the year 8’s filled the room as my yr 13’s left it, I had an increased spring in my step. We set up gear, lit matches and measured, and compared tap water with water with ice cubes. The students did love it, as they do every time. And I enjoyed it more than I might have, because I remembered to look through the eyes of a year 8 learning new skills rather than a 36 year old teacher who has done it before.



Posted in Digital Technologies, random ramblings, Techie stuff

Reflections from the PPTA ICT committee meeting November

Edit – since I first published this blog, the friendly folk at NZQA got in touch with some answers and responses to my ponderings below. I’ve put their responses in italics and separated it out from the general round robin info. 

At the end of last term I attended the PPTA ICT committee meeting in Wellington. Due to the end of term mad rush, this post is a bit delayed sorry – time just flew. As usual, this is my recollection of the meeting and what was said, I am very happy to be corrected if I have made an error, and very happy to take any concerns you may have to the committee in my capacity as a representative. To recap, there are reps from each PPTA region, Te Kura, low decile schools, DTTA, Maori/Kura/immersion schools, as well as PPTA exec members and people who work for the PPTA there. This meeting we also had a group from the Ministry talking about the student information sharing initiative.

Round robin

We started the meeting with a round robin of concerns and questions from the different reps present.

Points of note were

  • Chromebooks – what to do with them once the three year less is up? What to do with older devices in general? And what to do when device choice limits software choices or use? As schools who were early adopters move forward, the number of older devices is increasing, and leasing definitely appears to be the model of choice for many schools. There does seem to be an enormous amount of ‘e-waste’ being generated though, I wonder how we could do this more sustainably….


  • Linked to that was some schools are still struggling to get enough devices into schools, and access is still an issue for some. Feel like they are getting further and further behind. There is no easy answer to this sadly. Linked to this discussion was accessing MoE PLD – relief costs are not built in so there is still a cost to schools, and schools struggling to get relievers can’t always make full use of this funding….
  • And then the chestnut of managing online exams – some schools are ready, some are miles away. Some have there head in the sand, and by doing this are slowly the whole process done. Confusion still there re 2020 deadline – it is apparently happening, even though NCEA MIGHT look quite different? Or I made a cynical point of is it worth significant infrastructure and PLD investment for an assessment model that might exist in a very different form after the NCEA review. No-one had any clear answers, so as I understand it, all NCEA level one exams (with the exception maybe of maths) will be online in 2020. And schools have the responsibility to ensure this happens, including having a computer technician on site to help with any issues (challenging if you don’t have a tech at ALL, or if you have one that works part time or is shared between schools…..)

NZQA got in touch re the points I’ve raised, and gave the following clarifications.

NZQA can provide some clarification on a few of the points above and are happy to provide more information to the group:

In terms of why do this with the NCEA Review happening “We are tracking closely the ideas generated in the public discussion and the platform is flexible enough to accommodate exams or portfolios / projects and scale up or down for whichever subjects or levels are offered as part of NCEA and the time of year they are assessed”.

  1. As digitally supported teaching and learning is increasingly happening in the classroom, NZQA is reflecting this by making NCEA examinations available online. After four years of working closely with schools on co-designing, trialling and piloting online exams, we are starting formal implementation on a new platform with the delivery of 14 NCEA exam subjects in 2019, comprising 35 exam sessions across Levels 1-3.  These subjects represent around a third of the exams that are mainly text based. NZQA will further expand the range of subjects in 2020 and beyond.
  2. NZQA is adopting a planned, staged, managed approach to the NCEA Online programme. As schools gain confidence in completing text-based exams and technology evolves, we will look at those subjects where special characters are required, such as mathematics, science and music. We are working with schools and students to ensure technology delivers a good user experience for a particular subject before it is offered as a digital assessment that counts towards NCEA. 
  3. We also recognise schools are at different stages regarding their approach to digital teaching and learning and digital assessment needs to be in sync with that. We will continue offering the paper-based exams as schools transition towards digital education.
  4. We will be supporting schools to prepare for digital assessment through:
         Familiarisation – showing students and teachers the features of electronic examinations

Digitised examination papers from 2018 – for the 35 subjects available in 2019   

School readiness – working with school staff to assess school and student readiness for digital assessment
Training – providing Exam Centre Managers and Supervisors with the knowledge and skills to administer the assessments.

Schools considering participation in the 2019 digital examinations can view technical requirements and other considerations here


And back to my ramblings 🙂

  • Some issues with TELA are ongoing – the basic devices are not fit for purpose for many teacher needs. Schools need to be aware of this, and manage costs. I’m also going to follow up on whether training on devices was included in the final contract awarded….
  • Digital citizenship – interesting debate around how this is taught in schools, and who is responsible. Is there sufficient training for teachers (some of whom have fallen prey to online scams themselves!!) Where does this fit? Is it a schools responsibility? Also software such as ‘Family Zone’ and controlling filtering for students on site and off it – is this a schools responsibility? Will it just encourage kids to find ways around the filters that put them at more risk…. Linked into later in the meeting with a summary from Peter Cooke from the recent crossroads conference. Managing online bullying, and easy access to pornography and the ‘normalisation’ of unhealthy relationships and expectations this can promote, seems to fall on schools – are we equipped for this. There was a general feeling that the recent Netsafe resources fell short, although I have not seen them myself.
  • Continued threats to ‘libraries’ was discussed, whether due to exams, classroom rebuilds or just insufficient space and staffing, many schools present felt their libraries were being under used and are consistently undervalued. The provision of ‘special areas’ for special exam conditions especially seemed to fall repeatedly onto libraries.
  • Staffing issues continue in many schools, especially for technology classes, and some schools are genuinely looking at not offering classes because there is no-one to teach them. 😦
  • The DTTA rep updated us on the new achievement standards, which have been released to help with planning. There are a whole lot of resources they are working really hard to finish off to be released on December the 6th – keep an eye out for it.
  • There was also some discussion around COLS – linked into sharing of data, which fits in a bit later on

So there was lots of interesting discussion, but not too much action really….

MoE digital strategy overview

Before the meeting, we were emailed a copy of the overview document, which was an overwhelming read. We were then asked to consider how this will in our schools, and what needs to happen to make it so. I was massively overwhelmed trying to read through, so was pleasantly surprised by the presentation.

From what I understand, there has been significant funding to ‘digitize’ education in New Zealand – this included things like N4L, ‘snupping’ of schools, getting broadband in etc. There is now a planned shift to move student management systems into an all encompassing online database with the following intent. (The images are the slides that were shared, taken on my phone, so apologies for some of them that are not the best quality)

Screen Shot 2018-12-04 at 2.50.19 PM.png

Sisi was put forward for the reasons below……

screen shot 2019-01-28 at 9.19.03 am

And has been ‘rebranded’ as Te Rito

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 9.22.30 AM.png

Which I think really embraces the idea of putting the learner/child in the center so that the system works to help that student.

I really do think the intent of the system is very good. There are a lot of perceived benefits, and the presenters were aware that the roll out of the system would need to be carefully monitored and PLD would need to be provided for all users to make the roll out as user friendly as possible.

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 9.24.28 AM.png

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 9.28.11 AM.png

There was also acknowledgement that different pieces of information should have different levels of accessibility and some should not be put online at all

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 9.29.03 AM.png

And that the access and privacy need to be well managed

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 9.31.07 AM.png

And there are data governance guidelines in place (which makes the ‘big brother’ feel slightly less)

screen shot 2019-01-28 at 9.33.05 am

Early stage roll out is being run this year – with one group focussing on the yr 7 and 8 ‘technology’ cohort – as this is where school systems can sometimes fall down. So when a school sends students to another school for technology (hard materials etc) sometimes absences etc don’t get noticed immediately. Or it is difficult to follow up on an behaviour or health issues. So by utilising Te Roti which both schools would have access to, this information can be accessed and used much more easily.

Some concerns and questions asked were along the lines on

  • How will we maintain consistency between schools – some schools might have different systems or ‘hierachy’ of issues (eg not doing homework might be a bigger deal in some schools than others)
  • What else might this information be used. There was a suggestion that this information could (voluntarily) be shared with employers…. but I had some concerns around this as even it is voluntary if you chose not to you may be negatively impacted.
  • Data security – is always a risk, but I believe the design team is working very hard to ensure data safety
  • Will it be all schools – short answer yes – private schools can opt in, and early childhood can
  • there will be the possibility of storing portfolios of student work, so there are plans for Te Roti to be an LMS too.

So a big piece of change, but I really did get the feeling there has been consultation and careful thought – but best laid plans can also go awry. The intent is great, and I am looking forward to seeing how the early roll outs go.

IT support in schools

I brought forward a concern from a member around IT support in schools. In the gazette last year there were several positions for ‘e-learning’ specialists with varying amounts of renumeration and time allowances. And then some schools do not have ‘computer’ technician, and other schools or teachers have digital technology teachers who are getting overwhelmed with the updates of the digital technologies curriculum.

This was discussed and we came to the conclusion that we really need to find out what schools ‘need’ and then want. Some different schools will have different requirements.

So I’m looking at gathering a group of merry people who would like to put a PPTA paper together to assess needs, as well as learning about what schools already have and how schools fund these

Tom Haig

Tom talked through some of the changes and reviews that are occurring – there are lots that are documented in other places. Linked to this, is that the Teachers contract is perhaps not fit for purpose anymore due to changing contact hours and changing teacher roles. So the PPTA is looking at how this might look, which is a comforting thought that there is at least some forward thinking. My feeling is that teaching will look significantly different in 10 years, so there will need to be some changes and some flexibility, but also there do need to be provisions to protect teacher work loads. I have decided to set up an auto reply for the weekends this year – I do work on the weekend but my own personal feeling is I need to have some more boundaries for myself on better balancing my time.


So there you go, sorry it is so late, and as always I am happy to answer any questions, be corrected if I have made any mistakes, and put you in touch with the relevant parties if you wish


Good luck for the new school year


Posted in Digital Technologies, Professional learning, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Integrating digital technologies – computational thinking, designing digital outcomes, and Dichotomous keys

As my inquiry this year, I have been trying to explore ways to incorporate aspects on the digital technologies curriculum strand into ‘my’ classes in a meaningful way. I have had a play with my Level 2 chemistry class by focussing on pattern recognition and algorithms we were exploring solubility rules, and then also with some mystery skypes to work on students questioning ability. I have also had a play with some stop motion videos for polymers with my chem classes (trying to be brave and branch out into the designing digital outcomes strand rather than just the computational thinking strand of the digital technologies curriculum!! I am definitely less confident with this strand… and I am still working to find ways to incorporate programming specifically into my Science classes, my own knowledge of programming is still holding me back a little). My yr 8’s have had patchy lessons here and there as I tested out little activities trying to get my head round things. As I have grown more comfortable with the ideas, and the levels to pitch to different students, I am planning to incorporate a more learner centered approach with my yr 8 Science class for our plants topic. Specifically around incorporating computational thinking to pattern recognition, algorithms and plant identification, and then designing a digital outcome for the students final plant identification tool.

Almost every person who has ever done any science at school will remember seeing a dichotomous key – a flow chart with this or that answers that you works your way through to identify a species of plant or animal

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 9.17.37 AM.png
A dichotomous key for identifying sharks – thanks wikipedia 🙂

The key is dichotomous because it there are two choices, does the shark have this or that. So it is like a binary system, with only 2 options. Which is essentially how all computers work, because the only have the two possible options. To be able to draw a key like this, you need to have identified the patterns and traits that are unique to each species, and then order them in such a way so that each species can be identified.

In the past, I have focussed on ‘teaching’ my students how to interpret these keys rather than getting them to build their own. There is often a key in an end of topic test, and (being a bit brutal on myself) it was an easy way to get some students over the line.

This year, I’m allotting a bit more time and the plan is.

  1. spend some time learning how to identify plants.

Using the plants around us, the plants that we see at the Sinclair wetlands (we go on a great field trip there, spending the day ripping out gorse and planting trees and shrubs and watching all the bird life in the occasional moments the students are quiet enough to not scare them all away) and some online resources, I’m ‘hoping’ that students will learn more about the different features of the plants, and why these adaptations are important. An easy example would be deciduous compared to ever green trees – NZ natives do not lose their leaves in the winter compared to many introduced trees. Why might this be? Or why do our local sand dunes have different plants to the river bed a few metres up.

There will be a bit more direct instruction in this section. I watched with interest the debate over learner centric and teacher driven teaching and learning, and I think, like all things, you need to find a happy medium between the two. So we will go over what some adaptations are, ideas to look for, how environment impacts growth etc.

2. Look specifically for different patterns occurring with the various traits of the plants.

So, as we look at the adaptations, what do all the plants that have ‘spiky’ leaves have in common? Are they related or not? How can we tell the difference between the two different types of leaves and the plants they represent? How can we begin to group plants together based on similar patterns, traits etc.

If we get time, we might get into some abstraction. What adaptations would a plant living in this environment have? If the climate continues to change, what adaptations do you think the plants in different places might need to make. Could the plants do this fast enough?

3. How could we help some-one else identify the different plants? Making a dichotomous key.

So, designing a flow chart seems simple enough right. I’m hoping not. I’m thinking there will need to be some good leading questions, and some iteration involved to get the best possible outcomes. What yes no questions could we ask to identify 10 different plants that are common about the school? How could this be done in the least number of steps? How can we cut down on repeating questions? What is the best way to ask the questions clearly.

4. How do we present our keys?

I’m sure some of the students will want to do this in minecraft (they are minecraft crazy!!).  I might be brave and try doing a java based program with those that are keen. And those that are less confident I am thinking we might do some options with a powerpoint – using the hyperlink function to jump between slides to mimic bringing up the next question in the key. Or I am sure the students will have some other ideas about how they can present their work.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 9.56.40 AM.png
The over view for digital outcomes for the NZ digital technology curriculum


So this ‘unit’ of work will hopefully tie in some of the learning I have done around the digitech curriculum, and allow me to more specifically focus on the designing digital outcomes strand. My holiday project is to modify the classes onenote so all the plant adaptation content is there, as well as spending some time on the digital design outcome strand to sure up my knowledge of this area.

And I will report back on how it goes in Term 4.

Have fun




Posted in Digital Technologies, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Integrating computational thinking – Mystery Skype.

When I first did a mystery skype with Kyle Calderwood, I remember thinking this is a great way to encourage students questioning skills as well as for them to learn about other people and places. The premise is that during a Mystery Skype, students will ask questions to locate where the other class or person is. You skype a class, ask some questions and figure out where they are. (Or you could figure out which element they are, or which historical figure…..) These questions have to be yes or no questions – for example where do you live is not an acceptable question, but do you live in the southern hemisphere is. When prepping students for mystery skypes, and supporting them during, I’ve tried to focus on what sorts of questions can narrow down answers and what information can you use to ask more useful questions. What I didn’t realise until recently was I essentially showing the students how to build an algorithm to narrow down a search term to find a specific piece of information. Which fits really nicely with the expectations of the curriculum.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 12.22.45 PM.png
Computational thinking (as defined by the New Zealand Digital technologies curriculum)

A beauty of this is that the ‘algorithm’ or questions asked change depending on the circumstance. So, for example, I have ‘trained’ my students to ask are you in the northern hemisphere (yes/no) and it is between 12midnight and 12 noon, or after ‘noon’ so they can figure out a possible area (time zones are more important for the northern hemisphere calls when you are from NZ – most of the southern hemisphere except Australia is in night time during our school day). But then as you zoom in on a location, the questions have to match the area (eg are you south of this city, or this highway, or river), so no set of questions is ever quite the same. But you are still breaking down the questions, coming up with yes/no answers and using evidence to inform your next question.

It is also a really useful way to support students to use search features on their computers really well, as well as how to look a geographical features. Not only for where they are searching for, but where they are. In order to answer truthfully, kids need to know where places are in relation to them, and so learn more about their own place as well as learning about others.

So I thought I would try a mystery skype for our last digitech lesson as part of the current module. In preparation for todays call, I got my students to pair up, one with a laptop searching where the other class was, and one looking for us, to make sure we gave truthful answers for where we were based. We practiced yesterday by guessing where in the world Mrs Chisnall was thinking of (The new Optus Stadium in Perth… I am a cricket fan). It was a good chance to review algorithms, how to ask specific questions seeking the important information (eg are you in a park is a very vague question, as lots of things could be a park. But then a student asked do you have to pay to get in which was a helpful question around what to search for attractions in the area.)

And so even though todays call was a flop because of connection issues (I suspect our internet or firewall was to blame….) the students still did get something out of the practice we did, and I will definitely look to try again with the next digit tech module. And next time I do a mystery skype with a ‘general’ class, I will focus my prepping questions slightly more towards the thinking behind asking the questions, and how computational thinking and algorithms can be used to solve problems.


Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Reflections from the #NZMIEEHui18 Part 2

So, aside from just catching up with some of my favouritists teachery people, and meeting some new ones, I actually did learn a few new things to take forward. This is a summary of those I guess, for me to come back to and check in to see where to next

  1. Zoom in powerpoint.

You know how sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. This was a definite case when I was chatting to Steve and he was showing me some of the online resources he and his colleagues have set up for their biology students. Steve is ‘big’ on visible learning and we were talking around how to make this possible I guess. I saw a ppt and was like, hang on, how did you do that, I want that. And so I learned about zoom. It is a feature in powerpoint where you can have a summary page, or a ‘list’ of pages and/or sections of ideas from a ppt presentation. I could instantly see this would work really well for our upcoming Chemical reactivity topic, so I have been having a play


Step 1 is to go to insert and then hit zoom


then select the sections (or slides) you want

Screenshot (37).png

Which then gives you a summary slide, which you can then click on to go into more depth into that section

Screenshot (39).png

I’m still putting this together, but I really like the visual ‘these are the things you need to know’ and then click into them to get more detail. So this resource will just be online for the kids to use – kind of a flipped learning resource I guess – rather than for me to use in class. So it was a really good little techie tip when I was talking to Steve about making learning more visible.

2. 3D paint and mixed reality

Sometimes there are things you know you don’t know, but don’t have time to go and learn more about them. I’d seen little demos of Paint 3D and mixed reality, and gone, I must look into that, but never made the time. Then at the hui, I didn’t get the time, but thankfully there were some shared slides and I got onto having a go once I was back home. Why, oh why, have I not had a go with this sooner.

Paint 3D is a windows 10 app, and it is really rather grunty so a non art specialist. It lets you mock up little pictures, and with the digital inking of a surface if was super easy to sketch up a little kiwi

But then you can sketch in 3d, and get a 3D kiwi using shapes and sketching, and with a slick of a button, your sketch is quietly standing on your trousers as you are sitting on the couch having a play.

There is also a pretty cool library of shapes and other animals via the mixed reality viewer…. Mr 5 Loved the shark swimming through his book

And I quite liked the solar system just sitting there

So my immediate goal is to get some of my chemistry students to use this to make shapes for revision for 2.4 and 3.4…. as well as to share the solar system with the yr 9 teachers at my school who are doing space this year. I’m glad I took the time to check this out properly, there is a wealth of resources and ideas just sitting there, and I think it could really help to visualise some of the more abstract ideas around chemistry. If nothing else, it will make reading the shark book for the millionth time much more enjoyable.

3. Putting some more puzzle pieces together re the digital technologies curriculum and classroom integration.

I’ve been pondering for a while about how I can both best integrate the DTC into my own teaching and learning programs, AND help other teachers, both in my school and everywhere, do the same. There is still a real ‘unknown’ quantity out there, were teachers either don’t know about the new curriculum, or are afraid of it, or simply think – oh, someone else will do that. It wasn’t till earlier this year that I had a wee ‘light bulb’ moment that you don’t need to do everything at once, and different areas of computational thinking and designing digital outcomes can be slotted into lots of different places in out fabulous New Zealand Curriculum – and in actual fact many people already are without realising it.

So by half listening in to the keynote sessions (not because I was slack, but I was busy doing loads of other things) from the fabulous Becky Keene on computational thinking, and then the equally awesome Iain Cook-Bonney and Chris Dillion on the digital curriculum, by popping in and out of sessions in the afternoon and then the keynote on global thinking and the UN sustainability Goals in education from the inspiring Koen Timmers, a few more little pieces started to fall into place for me. They are nicely summed up in some of the tweets from the hui


























And there were many more fabulous little ideas and snippets floating around the conversations, tweets and presentations. They are weaving themselves into a stronger sense of possibility for the new curriculum and how we can better support our young people to be the very best they can be. What models and exemplars could be made to support staff as learners of these new ideas? How can we insure we are meeting the needs of all our learners, and embrace the rich cultural aspect that the NZC supports?

So I had a fabulous weekend. Some specific learnings, and some big picture where to next learnings, ponderings and dreams.

Bring it