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.
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.
When I first ‘meet’ computational thinking about 18 months ago at a presentation by Lisa Anne Floyd, I was hooked!! I wanted to dive straight in, and as such my first few attempts at using computational thinking frameworks kind of fizzled with my classes. (you can see my earlier post on computational thinking HERE) It has taken a while for my understanding to percolate and over the course of the last 18 months I’ve done some reading, some talking (thanks Nikkie and Kevin mostly) and some teaching and come to realise that you don’t need to do all the parts of computational thinking at once. For example, as part of the yr 7 digital technologies course I am teaching, we focus on algorithms and data representation (so a little pattern recognition, we might need to make this more explicit) with very little on decomposition and abstraction. As the new digital technology curriculum in New Zealand has a focus on computational thinking, I’ve been wondering how I could incorporate this more into my science classes. I was original thinking solely of juniors, at mostly around some add in activities such as hacking STEM lessons, or some maker space activities, or using MinecraftEDU. But have decided to be brave and have a go with my Level 2 NCEA Chemistry class with the AS 91162 identifying ions in solution standard.
I’ve decided this after learning a little bit more about computational thinking. some of this comes from being in digital technology class with Kevin teaching the yr 7’s. In my own learning, some of the resources I used included this great wee course aimed at kids via the bbc bite size site. Then there is the Computational Thinking course on the microsoft educator community, which had a link to this blog piece written by Janette Wing (and a link to the original viewpoint article, which is 10 year old)
There were also some videos I watched, while a little ‘cheesey’ this was a favourite… the idea of sorting puzzle pieces appealed to me, I always sort the edges first, then colours or a pattern.
But what it took for me to finally get my head to get to this point was a conversation with Nikkie about teaching kids to read, and using pattern recognition to identify words. The next night, I was with my Mr 5 as he read his story book and he read in his book look, looked and looking (On a seperate topic, my goodness kids books are insanely dull at times…).
I had an mini epiphany. It was simply that simple, and I had been making it too hard in my head. Not everything needed to be done at once.
So, what might this mean for my Level 2 Chem class and identifying ions.
Usually, I teach this by starting out with the solubility rules which make up a flow chart the students can follow during the internal to identify the ions. Depending on time, we might have a play with the solutions and see what patterns we can find, and what ions form precipitates with others. Generally though, I rush this step, so I can spend more time on balancing ionic equations and the justifications around the steps which students require for excellence.
Because I had finally gotten my head around (decomposed perhaps) the idea that I didn’t need to do ALL of computational thinking to teach computational thinking, what could I include?
The obvious one is algorithms – as there is already a flow chart in place.
But I wondered why I couldn’t let the students design there own flowchart…. maybe not to use in the assessment because I’m not sure it would pass moderation…. as a way of learning how to use a pattern to make an algorithm. And exploring the patterns of solubility (for time I might get a group to do everything with Cl-, and another group to do everything with I-, and then compare notes) we can do a fairly good job of pattern recognition. This group activity might also fit nicely into knowledge building and collaboration, and hits all the nature of Science stuff.
I was talking this through with Kevin and of course he said – well, you could make some sort of scratch program based on the flowchart – a series of yes/no questions to find the ion. So I will put the option to the students – there are a couple who are also in Kevin’s Robotics class – that if they want to make a program, they can. Again, I’m not sure they would be able to use this in the assessment, but if it works, I might find out more about this for next year…..
So I am starting smaller this time, and aiming for pattern recognition and algorithmic thinking. Students will work in groups over a lesson or two to identify which of the required ions for their assessment react with what. We will compare data and look for trends (and then compare to the solubility rules). Then design a flow chart to determine for an unknown – which might need some iteration along the way. And of course, as they are working on this, I’ll throw in that they have to write the correct balanced ionic equations for precipitates and for the complex ions formed. I’m really hoping that by asking the students to write their own flowcharts, they will ace the part of the assessment where they need to justify their ‘choice’ of ion, as they should develop a thorough understanding of the idea behind it.
I’ll also give the option of the scratch program. And if time allows (it probably won’t…. sigh) I would like to go more into the pattern recognition of why some salts are more soluble than others, linking back to atomic and ionic structures and energy….. oh the places we could go
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 Code 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.
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.
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.
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:)
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.
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.
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
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
Partly in response to the new New Zealand Digital Technologies curriculum, my school is offering a Year 7 module for Digital Technologies for the first time this year. It almost didn’t run as it fell prey to the beast that is secondary school timetabling, but I am super glad it did. We (Kevin and I) did a little bit of planning last year, but of course things change (we got yr 7 instead of yr 8, and about 20 lessons rather than 30). It has been a really good learning experience for me, trying to keep abreast of the changes in the New Zealand Digital Technologies curriculum, watching with interest the changes happening at NCEA level one so that we can try and tailor our program so that students can have a pathway to those qualifications, and we want to do a good job so we can get a yr 8 digit tech course into the timetable, and then on up through the senior school. I have an interest in coding and Computer Science, where as Kevin teaches L2 Robotics and has much more experience than me with coding etc, although I’m pretty sure I could kick his butt in Minecraft. We are both fairly good at driving the microbits, although Kevin has an advantage as he is better at coding in general. We are also using Microsoft Teams, which is new to the school this year. It is also my first go at co-teaching a class, which has (so far) been fabulous…. because we both have different skills sets, terrible senses of humour, and have helped each other out.
So, before I go too much further, I do need to acknowledge Kevin Knowles. He and I are co teaching this module and (between you and me) I think we have been ROCKING it. Being our first go, there are off course some things we will change next time, and I have learned loads (Kevin was kind enough to say he had learned one or two things).
Our first lesson had a very simple objective – get everyone logged into Office 365. Because it was the first lesson, we had less time than usual as it took a we while to get all the kids where they needed to be. And we learned for next time we need to print off a sheet with all of the log ins and passwords 🙂 Going through Kamar for pretty much every new student took a wee while…. but also hopefully by module two this won’t be such an issue as the students will have had 5 weeks to get used to logging in. Once logged in, students sent us an email, so that they knew our email address and so the very few who didn’t know how to do this could learn how.
Next we focussed on algorithms – how do you make toast (an idea poached from the fabulous Cathy). We did this as a class, then the students had to do an algorithm to get dressed in the morning – which lead to an introduction of if this, then what type questions (eg, if Monday-Friday – wear school uniform, if Saturday go back to sleep). The students where surprisingly passionate about little details – what order to put on socks and shoes, or top half then bottom half first – which gave Kevin the opportunity to talk about (and me to learn about) the fact that sometimes order in programs is important (eg socks then shoes) and other times it doesn’t matter (sweater or pants)
Getting started with Microbits
We then hit a bit of disruption with some students going to camp – so we had 1/3 of the class absent over the next 5 lessons. But by the end of it, everyone could (and almost everyone DID)
code a microbit to say spell out the letters of their name
Take a screen shot of their code and put it into their onenote
Get the microbit to do something else (some did AMAZING things with no input from us)
Then when we had everyone back together again, we covered loops/repeats – trying to get Santa to say ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’
Thinking about Data representations
Once everyone was back, we doubled back a little I guess to go over data representation. I have to say it, Kevin NAILED this. The kids did maths without knowing they did maths!! And it got kids thinking about what number and letters are actually representing….
Kev started with counting in base 10, with a ‘ones’ column, a ‘tens’ column and so on, which got the students thinking about what the number represent. Then he moved onto binary using the same table…. and away we went. Kids just picked it up.
Kev did share some tricks, eg 15 is 1111…. you don’t need to count it up, because it is just one less than 16, which would be 10000. and so on. And if the last number is a 1, you know the number must be uneven. Some of the kids who have brains that like patterns picked up a few more, and I spend some time helping less confident kids go through adding up the different numbers.
Kevin had found a scratch game for the students to do for the remainder of the lesson, and they were SO keen on it we started the next lesson with it too.
Which then lead into ASCII coding…. a brief demo on the board and then we gave the students a code to solve and then asked them to write them names in ASCII in their section of the onenote
Where to next?
We have about 2 more weeks to go… and are still tossing up about giving the code builder in Minecraft education edition ago using some of the ideas from the introduction to comp sci course. Because of timetabling issues, we haven’t been in a fixed room yet, and on different laptops each time, so it is only now that I can get minecraft up and running on them all. So tomorrow I am going to try and install everything to get it going, and then off course I’m out on tuesday for a cricket tournament…..
Alternatively, we will carry on with the microbits, we have some speakers we can attach so we can explore the concept of inputs and outputs. And there are LOADS of cool projects we can do with the microbits. (You can see some HERE). So Kev and I are sitting down on Monday to talk it through.
We do need to report on progress made…. which is one reason we have encouraged students to put their work into the OneNote we can gather a portfolio of evidence of the code they have built and the tasks they have completed. We are also going to make a couple of Microsoft forms to check students can 1) read an ASCII code and 2) interpret simple program commands such as loops. So we will have evidence on understanding of data representation, algorithms and programming to report to parents about. Which only covers 3 of the 6 ‘themes’ I guess, but is not too bad for a 5-6 weeks module we hope.
For next time
Next time we will make some subtle changes. Hopefully students will be already confident at logging into office 365 and using teams and/or classonenote, which will save us some time at the start. We are also going to rejig the onenote slightly, we started with sections for each of Minecraft, microbit, ASCII etc… which lead to extra clicks for the students. So we will just have one section, with pages for each, which the students can then add to (also means less clicks for marking). We will also make the front page the place were we put the links for students… we started having them in the conversation but they got lost in the chatter, and then having them as a tab in the team means they open in the team, which is rather a small window/space.
We will also survey the students (using forms) at the end of the module and use their feedback to tweak the second module through. At which point I think we would make any bigger changes if they were needed.
Successes and challenges
I think every teacher in New Zealand right now is probably desperately wishing for a ‘normal’ week. It will be week 7 before I have a full week at school with no disruptions… and then I am away on camp in week 8, and then hit the 2 short weeks around easter. So juggling the disruptions when we are trying to introduce a new course has been a bit of a challenge, but also a relief because it has given us a bit of breathing space to think about what the best next step is.
Something I didn’t expect was the typing skills (or lack there of) that the students have. A number of students were turning the caps lock button on and off to capitalise one letter, and didn’t know to hold down the shift button. While I’m not a ‘touch typer’ (and I have terrible spelling both in my handwriting and typing) I can use more than 2 fingers. So we might need to include some sort of upskilling process so the students are not slowed down by their typing speed.
A real success (I think, Kev can speak for himself) has been how Kevin and I have worked together. As we move throughout the year, we will definitely be more confident and so maybe need to communicate less, but we really have worked together quite well. We have taken turns at being ‘good and bad cop’, and we are both able to reach different students at different times. We have pretty much both been in the room for the whole time, but it hasn’t felt crowded. Kev has definitely got more expertise, but I now feel confident that I could tackle all of the concepts myself next module. As we move through the year, we will probably be in the room together less, but it has worked really well for starting out, especially as I grasped some of those programming concepts.
And another success was the absolute buzz in the room after Kev introduced binary numbers. It was maths, it was abstract, I was worried it would be ‘hard’ but the kids nailed it. And seemingly LOVED it. The cheers around the room as the worked their way through the levels of the binary game where awesome, I kind of just stood and stared as the kids just nailed it. You don’t always get those moments as a teacher, so it was worth savouring, even though Kev had done all the work for that lesson.
The biggest challenge I think for us will be getting this option carried forward into yr 8, 9 etc. Or finding some room for it among another curriculum area… so we will press on and try to get it fitted in to the timetable one way or another.
If you are teaching a digit tech course, or using the code builder in minecraft, I’d LOVE to hear from you. Either on twitter or flick a comment on the blog and I will be in touch (probably late). If I have made a mistake you have spotted, please let me know so I can fix it and learning from it. Or if you are wanting any more info, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’m definitely learning as I go, and am happy to help out as much as I can.