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

Finishing off digital technologies… till we start again next week :)

It is almost a month (where does time go) since I posted about the start of our digital technologies module, and as it finished tomorrow I thought I should remind myself and share how it has gone. It certainly has been a bit of a wobbly path the last couple of weeks, not helped by us being newbies to modules and getting the finishing dates wrong! But we were gained a week, rather than losing a week, so this meant we got to give Minecraft Education Edition a go, as well as doing some hour of code and doing some super cool projects on the microbits. All and all, I think the students have enjoyed it, I certainly have, and I have learned loads :). We have already started making plans for a digital technologies module for yr 8, and how it might look through into yr 9 and 10…. very exciting. Hopefully we can find a way to carry it on right up through the school, and to integrate the ideas more into all subjects rather than being stand alone. But that is a discussion for another post!!

Hour of Code

So, we had just finished up with some basic commands on the microbits, covering ACSII codes and binary when I last blogged. Due to some technical issues getting minecraft to work, we segwayed into using the Hour of Codeย minecraft tutorials. I was not quite prepared for how much the students would enjoy this. But they really did, and it was a great follow on from the simple coding we had done of the microbits.

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Feedback from students indicated that hour of code was a real winner ๐Ÿ™‚

In 3-4 lessons, most students finished all of the minecraft tutorials, which reinforced programming tools such as loops, and introduced more complex ideas like functions. Once students had completed each tutorial, they could insert their certificate into their onenote pages to let us know what they had gotten up to.

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I got to learn about functions too ๐Ÿ™‚

A really important part of these three lessons was students using trial and error to build their code. Because there is the visual representation right there on screen, it is easy to see where the code went wrong. It is not always easy to fix it!! But Kevin and I tried really hard to make sure we encouraged kids to try things, and then fix them – could they work out where they had gone wrong? What else could they try? What had someone else done that worked?

Then the class had an hour to do an hour of code of their choice, most choosing the starwars option, but some chose frozen (which has come lovely maths/numeracy links) and other made an angry birds game.

Back to microbits.

We then went back to the microbits and set a couple of challenges (Kevin set the challenges, and I struggled to do some of them too…..) The first was could the students make their microbit keep score in a rugby game? This involved using the buttons on the microbit so explored in more depth the idea of inputs.

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A screen shot of Issac’s code to use the microbit to score a ruby game

The next challenge was could we make the microbit do a times table. I REALLY struggled with this one, and was ‘accused’ of writing ‘ugly code’ by Kevin (in a tongue and cheek kind of way) But this was because I ‘forced’ the microbit to show all the 2 times tables one after the other, instead of using a button press. Some students used functions, but then I also learned that making the code too complicated in this way creates problems too. So it was a great lesson for me about keeping things simple without writing things down over and over and over.

Some different examples of students code from their onenote portfolios – some are ‘prettier’ than others. It was a challenging task, but it allowed for a lot of extension for those that wanted to:)ย 

We then had a play with some speakers on the microbits. I think this my favourite, although some of the tunes got old pretty quick. But the students LOVED the sounds, the more annoying the better. Thankfully the speakers were very quiet.

Kevin ordered some ‘cheap’ speakers and some crocodile clips – the speakers were surprisingly robust, but sadly 2 crocodile clips were harmed in the making of music ๐Ÿ™‚
The interface allowed students to create their own tunes… which could be amazing for music classes looking to integrate technology into their lessons.

We then set the students some challenges for (what we thought was) the last week


The snow globe was a great idea, students loved making these and making their own patterns, and then adding tunes to go with them. Which was a nice ‘friendly’ extension for less confident students.

Some of the more able kids completed the ‘hard’ challenge on the first day, and then went further….

and then still further. Which then also dragged other students along as they wanted to replicate what they were seeing.


We then figured out that we had a bonus week, so we put in a BIG effort on the night of parent teacher interviews to update all the laptops in between interviews. It meant that there was finally a class set of laptops that had minecraft EDU on them, and the students were delighted.


It also meant that I got to properly try the code builder, and the pre built world is PERFECT for what we need to do, especially for the first time. As I get more confident I might tweak it or build our own challenges (or get kids to build it with me, or to show me how really…) that maybe replicate more closely something from their lives. For example, rather than getting an agent through a maze, can you get a yr 7 student to the canteen for a juicie!!

So for our first crack, I think it went pretty well. Student feedback indicated they had enjoyed the course, learned some things and they gave us some ideas for what we can do next time.

A few asked for easier instructions, and so I’m working on putting together some screen shots and instructions to go into the onenote so if students are lost they can refer back to it. And most didn’t enjoy learning about binary/bits, even though I thought we aced this part of the course. I guess we could have worded the question differently…. but we will still have a think for the next module.

We also asked the students about generic computer/office 365 skills they picked up

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Remembering back to my surprise at the lack of typing skills the students had, I think it is important to integrate the skills we want students to have into the programs. So hopefully this module has set the students up to be able to email, insert pictures etc, and therefore help them be more confident using technology in other subject areas, and help other students to so to.

So overall, I think for a first go, Kevin and I did a pretty good job of our first digital technology module and our first crack at co-teaching. We did put a lot of effort in, but the next modules will be easier as we tweak and refine and work out exactly how it works for us. I am looking forward to making my code prettier, and getting more stuck into the code connection for minecraft education in the next module. Bring it

Posted in coding, Minecraft, Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

Digital technologies, digital fluency, the New Zealand Curriculum and maybe even some fun….

The New Zealand curriculum got an update of sorts recently with the introduction of a new digital technologies strand. As a teacher interested in using digital technologies to enhance learning, I was really quite excited to see what it would look like, and how it might be integrated into the curriculum. The NZC digital technologies strand was released with much fanfare but (IMHO) limited information for what it might look like for schools. Through my roll with the PPTA ICT committee, I have heard a bit more about the process and am in awe of the people who have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes – especially it seems to have been a made rush to prepare some draft NCEA Digital technology standards for term three this year. I have meet some people at workshops and online who have been generous with their time and ideas. We (my school partner in crime Kevin) and I have come up with some ideas about how we can introduce digital technologies into our school as a module for yr 7 & 8 students, what we are hoping the students will get out of it, and how we think it fits into the goals of the standard. I am really stoked our principal is using this as an opportunity to reflect on technology teaching school wide rather than just putting it in the technology department bucket, and we are possibly looking to review this in the next year or so. He also is of the view that all teachers need to be teachers of technology, not just the ‘technology’ subject teachers. (Hope you don’t mind my quoting you boss man)

This blog is to try and cement some of the ideas in my head after percolating some of the info I’ve read and reread over the holidays, to share some of my thinking and hopefully get some feedback on what other people/schools are doing and how we might improve our plans.

Where did I get the information…

if you have some resources – please feel free to share them and I will add to this list ๐Ÿ™‚

Finding (useful/readable) information on the curriculum proved a bit of a challenge – that really is ongoing because the curriculum is still in draft formย and this is quite recent. So get in and read up and get some feedback in HERE!!

There are some workshops being held around the country, so if you haven’t seen them and want to go, the info is HERE.

Currently, the learning progressions are in draft form (see the link above to submit feedback) and you can check out the ‘NCEA’ levels HERE,ย (This link came from THIS TKI site). (Incidentally, learning progressions is going to be put in curriculum wide… rather than curriculum levels – a tidbit from the PPTA ICT meeting)

This page is particularly important for us thinking around our course for yr 8.

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And to put it in simpler terms, this is the best diagram I have seen (it makes sense to me) for how we wrap those thing together


(This is a screenshot, and a thousand apologies, but I can’t find the original link to the article…..)

How does digital fluency and computational thinking tie in?????

So, to me, computational thinking is just another way of talking about thinking critically, and it strongly ties in for what we are also trying to achieve with the Nature of Science and science capabilities. I wonder if really we could simply say, lets try and get kids thinking!! (shock horror). Because it might be nature of science in Science, computational thinking in digital technologies, algebra in maths, design process and prototyping in fabric tech or DVC etc…..

But back to the task, there are some lovely resources about computational thinking on the TKI page, including the video below


Digital fluency is a slightly different beastie, here is a snapshot from the same TKI page

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So digital fluency is not just about using the computers, it is about everything. And this is where I think my principal hit it on the head when he said ALL teachers need to be teachers of technology. We need to be able to apply different technologies to our different specialities and then explain why they give us a desired outcome.

So we want to be encouraging our students to think critically about the technology they are using to complete tasks, have an understanding of the limitations and strengths of those technologies, and how to create their own digital solutions to problems.

Sounds easy right….

Our ‘plan’

Our plan is for a module for Year 8 (and possibly yr 7 too if we can squeeze it into the best that is timetabling in a secondary school) that will have approximately 32 lessons/hours (depending on the timetable. We have a very loose plan at the moment…. mostly because 1) we aren’t sure who will be teaching it, although Kevin and I would like to teach it together – perhaps 2 hours a week each… again depending on the timetable… 2) We are not super sure of the skills the students will bring with them (sounds a bit like students coming in fresh to Science classes right… ) 3) we are waiting to see if we can get all the licences, resources etc we need.

If we get a course at Yr 7 too, we would re jig both programs so there was also an explicit focus for some of the course on the digital applications and devices/infrastructure themes we have ignored below.

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Rationale behind our choices….

Without wanting to sound too much like I am getting paid (which I am not) by micro:bits, they are easy, not too expensive (about $30 each) and they are web based so it doesn’t really matter what devices you have to use them on. We ordered some from HERE, and hats off to PB tech, they arrived in a week. I attended a session on the microbits at E2, and was really impressed. I bought the one I was given home, and the kids who had a play were also really impressed.

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A yr 8 student was doing this about 20 minutes after I gave the microbit to him to try…ย 

Then I handed it to Kevin, and didn’t get it back ๐Ÿ™‚

Some other advantages include you can see the ‘prototype’ on the coding screen, so students could also build code at home, then bring it to school to see if it worked, or you can debug before you download the code, and you can alternate between a drag and drop and java code etc.

There are also some cool 3D printable casesย (from thingiverse) you can make for them too ๐Ÿ™‚ AND there is a massive wealth of ideas at the microsoft educator communityย microbit page – you don’t need to be a microsoft user to use them though ๐Ÿ™‚

Why Minecraft? Mostly because WHO does LOVE minecraft!!!!! But the education edition is a really nice way to ease into coding, and games for learning too. I know some of our students love using minecraft, while some are not so keen, so really it would just be another tool in this tool box to try and engage as many learners as possible. The biggest issue with this will be having enough mice – playing minecraft with a laptop trackpad is not the same as playing with a proper mouse. So this will impact where we can take these lessons, and depend on what we can organise. That said, I’m sure we can find some old mice somewhere to use.

We are deliberately steering clear of Scratch as it is part of the yr 9 program on information management all students at our school do. So trying not to double dip on the tools. That said, if a student wanted to play, we wouldn’t stop them.

We will also look at using hour of code for some extension acitivities – mostly because the game design is very explicit in the tutorials. I have used hour of code in my science classes a few times, and most students really enjoy it, and all of them like playing the games the all make. This also has the advantage of being available in different languages.

I got the idea of the post it notes game from Julie during the OMG tech rangers day I went to earlier in the year. She explained how she gets her yr 8 students to make a binary alphabet, and then write a post it note with their name and something about them. Students then swap notes and decode. I thought this was a really nice started activity because 1) It helps me get to know the kids, 2) it isn’t on the computers do it stresses the it isn’t just about computers angle, 3) it has a nice literacy link and 4) most kids LOVE post its- ย and so have stolen it (with her permission). Julie also did a bag tag activity, but I’m not super sure all our kids (am I being stereotypical when I think ‘boys’) might not be so into this….. but perhaps we could adapt it somehow…

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This is Julie’s name in binary – the blues are spaces, which she explained is not technically correct, but helps clarify where the code starts and stops. I had MASSIVE envy ๐Ÿ™‚

We included the OR option in terms of designing an app OR researching how tech is used to benefit humans because we are well aware that some students will be more interested than others about the actual coding while others will be desperate to get in and make something.

What’s next?

This week we are talking through what we have so far, having a closer look at how it fits around everything else that is happening in school, and trying to sort out all those pesky logistical issues (like which classroom will be used, and what budget does it come under.) As I said at the start, I’m am still processing the ideas and how to best implement them, and welcome any feedback. I am thinking we would run a trial class in Term 4 – my year 10 Science class might become some testers of tasks and lessons. We will also have some staff attending the information days, which might also inform our choices.

In the mean time, I’m having fun playing with the microbits and learning more about what they can do. ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in coding, Minecraft, Professional learning

Getting my code on at #kiwipycon

This morning I stepped out of my comfort zone and went to a session at the Pycon conference being held in Dunedin. I have been playing around with coding for a little while without ever really getting a grasp on it, and thought this would be a great opportunity to spend some time on it. Python is a language that can be used with Minecraft, the conference was in Dunedin, it didn’t require relief as it was a Saturday morning, it cost $10, perfect professional learning really. And I learned loads.

I took this photo partially to hide my confusion – it has been a while since I went to a conference where I knew NO ONE to talk to…. thankfully there was tea ๐Ÿ™‚

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Firstly, I meet lots of cool people. The session was a mix of people which meant a range of skills. I was a little disappointed there were only 2 other teacher there…. but there were several programmers looking to find ways to help schools, or to help their kids learn how to code. So there was a whole lot of skill in the room.

We were working on computer that we running off a raspberry pi. I knew those we machines were grunty, but I didn’t realise how so.


To start with , we got a series of tasks to work through – it was based on this book which I have now ordered.


Doing this task I learned about the language around programming. For example, how important syntax it – I kind of new this, but a lowercase where an uppercase letter should be causes chaos in the code. But it was cool to be fluffing around and getting the hang of things. And teleporting all around the map was cool to – Sitting next to a pro programmer meant I got some additional help and got into writing some loops (this said, I was able to show him how to move around in Minecraft… was awesome). He also teleported to 0,0,0 and got stuck as he went to where the world was generated from (we think…).


We also learned how to create blocks – which was very exciting for me as I would like to make some ion blocks and use minecraft for Ionic formula. So I am going to talk this through with my Yr 10s next week and see what they can do ๐Ÿ™‚

The second part of the task was AWESOME.We got to ‘hack’ into the raspberry pi and do a little bit of electronics stuff using a bread board.

After a couple of false starts (including putting the LED in the wrong orientation – teacher fail) We got this little puppy flashing ๐Ÿ™‚ So very satisfying ๐Ÿ™‚ Especially when changing the times meant the flashes slowed down or speed up ๐Ÿ™‚


I didn’t get up to the stage of then turning the LED of and on in Minecraft as I ran out of time, but I will ask the robotics teacher at school if we can set this up so I can have another go.

So it was an amazing 90 minutes. I got to play around with some of the tech people keep talking about and actually see what it can do. How easy it could be to do the same activity in a classroom – and I am sure my kids would be way ahead of me.

So moving forward, I want to make some time to keep playing around. And for next year, re think how I teach our electronics unit for yr 10 – currently we build some circuits and solder a device that gives an electric shock. But if we can solder up an arduino and then incorporate some programming into it, it would SUPER rock.