This is the second year that Kevin and I have co-taught a yr 7 digital technology course, which runs for about 24 lessons on a rotation. (You can find previous reflections on this course (the first one is from this year when we introduced a greater focus on the technology curriculum here, here and here). We have used the BBC Micro:bit from the start. Micro:bits are reasonably cheap, there are LOADS of resources and ideas available, and the microbits offer lots of different ways to adapt coding for students with different ability and confidence levels. We generally work through some data representation and algorithms before introducing the microbits and coding – sometimes (depending on time) we also include some of the hour of code tutorial activities for a more self directed introduction.
About half way through this year, we introduced a ‘micro:bit monster’ after Kevin saw the idea from a school in Queenstown – he is currently on camp so I apoligise I can’t acknowledge this as much as I’d like. We liked the idea and saw it as a way to get a more authentic brief design and planning for practice task into the course. And so Kevin wrote up a brief design plan for the onenote, and away we went
The currently module group is our third iteration of the project, and I think we have got it ‘right’. Judging by the hour I just spent with 28 yr 7’s who were all working with an engaged hum, they think so too…..
To start, we have a onenote template that scaffolds the expectations for the students – essentially what evidence they need to show to meet the planning for practice learning outcomes.
We then ‘let the students loose’ for want of a better phrase as they complete their own designs in their own sections
Then the students get to be creative and build their micro:bit costumes 🙂 It is a bit messy, but super fun, and gives some little iteration ideas – like making holes for the buttons, or for the leads to attach speakers too. And create the code for the micro:bits
Some cool costumes made for the micro:bit pets and/or monsters – the blue and red one with the leads coming out of it had to be modified so the speakers could be attached, so it got ‘spiky’ teeth
We then ask the student to make little video clips of their microbit monsters and pets to show us what they could do, which the upload into their onenotes.
These little monsters have been a really fun way for the students to incorporate some code while fitting the technology curriculum goals. We have found students really engaged in this project, and they all push themselves along – one group decides their monsters would use the radio functions and get their monsters to play paper scissors rock with each other!
Half way last term, I got to accompany some students to a digigirlz event that was hosted by the fabulous Phillipa Dick At Balmacewen Intermediate. The girls where given a ‘challenge’ and then quickly showcased a variety of digital tools they could use to make a solution. One that grabbed my eye was Thunkable, a drag and drop ‘app’ builder. So while the students I was ‘looking’ after went to work, I sat and had a play with Thunkable and found it easy enough to use and quickly built a small prototype app for identifying ions in Chemistry (which is an internally assessed achievement standard for L2/yr 12 Chem that I have previously had a go with adding some computational thinking in around algorthims and scratch. ). The I got ridiculously busy, and didn’t think to much about Thunkable again until I got to this standard with my Chem class, and I gave them the challenge of building an app. Using thunkable was much more accessible for students who did not already have the coding experience of confidence to use scratch, and it also took less time.
I am SO impressed with the app that the students built. Below are some screen shots
This work was completed in addition to the class work – about 5 girls worked on this app, almost completely independently of me. They said they really enjoyed doing something a bit different, and the other students in the class soon realised that while it was a bit more work, it was also some really good skills to learn, and rather fun being able to work together on a project like this.
This standard is changing for next year, and after toying with the computational aspect for a couple of iterations now I am feeling confident that I could incorporate the digital technologies aspect more completely into the unit of work, rather than having it as an optional add on. The new achievement standard specifications have a component where students need to describe why (or why not) an ion in a solution might be harmful (or useful) – so perhaps students could each research a different ion as part of the learning, and then combine this knowledge into the app….. still pondering how it might look, but excited for possibilities.
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
A force is a push or a pull
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)
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).
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 😉
So, again to ensure that across all the junior modules, we adapted the module to cover inputs, transformations and outputs.
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.
What the students thought
We gave an end of module survey, and generally got positive feedback. Minecraft was a clear favourite with the students
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.)
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Sisi was put forward for the reasons below……
And has been ‘rebranded’ as Te Rito
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.
There was also acknowledgement that different pieces of information should have different levels of accessibility and some should not be put online at all
And that the access and privacy need to be well managed
And there are data governance guidelines in place (which makes the ‘big brother’ feel slightly less)
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.