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 🙂

Finding (useful/readable) information on the curriculum proved a bit of a challenge – that really is ongoing because the curriculum is still in draft form 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, (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… 

Then I handed it to Kevin, and didn’t get it back 🙂

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 cases (from thingiverse) you can make for them too 🙂 AND there is a massive wealth of ideas at the microsoft educator community microbit page – you don’t need to be a microsoft user to use them though 🙂

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-  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 🙂

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. 🙂

Posted in Minecraft, Professional learning

Week one of a Minecraft MOOC (& getting to experience Microsoft Classroom as a student)

I have been playing around with Minecraft in my classroom for over a year now without ever really getting fully into it myself. I have mostly allowed students to use it as a tool for their learning if they chose, and some students did amazing things like build a chem lab or a heart, or some electrical circuits using redstone, or spawn a million chickens (currently a pair of yr 8 students are using minecraft to make a model water cycle…..). To keep up with what the students were doing I joined in occasionally, learned more than I care to admit about setting upservers while still having no idea how to set up servers, did a course at pycon on coding in Minecraft and generally had some fun without ever getting a full grasp of what was available. When MinecraftEDU was available with a microsoft Office 365 login, I wondered some more about how this would work in class. So when a MOOC course popped up for MinecraftEdu I thought ‘Ha, I should get me on to that’.

And as always, the very best learning has not been exactly what I expected. The very best thing about this course is that it is being run through microsoft classroom so I get to experience classroom as a student – which is super helpful as we are currently rolling out classroom for our whole school (I am running some whole school PD on it tomorrow!!).

To start with, the MOOC runs for 3 weeks, and involves 3 webinars. The first was a little laggy (A consequence of living on the other side of the world….) but still packed with some useful tips and tricks, and it is always nice to connect with other educators. There was some admin like getting logins sorted, a preach to the converted about why minecraft is pretty cool, some basics around moving about (it is funny how quickly the wasd key muscle memory comes back when playing minecraft), a walk through of the tutorial world and then we were off. We had an assignment and a due date and the time of our next call.

So my first error came through the assignment, I heard midnight Sunday as the due date and went sweet, that means Monday for me. Which is did, just not Monday Midnight. Hopefully they don’t mind it was late…. but he first assignment was one of three options based around putting yourself in the place of a beginner and trying a world through their eyes.

So I did the tutorial world, as part of the reason I am doing the MOOC is I don’t know what I don’t know. It was actually really good to walk my way through it, and I did make some mistakes…inlcuding breaking the lever that opens the door – luckily I could just smash through the door 🙂

But there were lots of other fun things to do, and I do think that if you have never played Minecraft before, the tutorial world via the Minecraft EDU site is a great place to start to see what it can do…..

So once I had (a bit of a rushed due to my assignment being late….) look around the world I completed my assignment (again, once I had learned how yo export the screenshots I took…. mild panic there) and uploaded them into the assignment section of microsoft classroom

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We also had to share our assignment on to the collaboration space of a shared notebook and comment on each others experience. This was really cool, reading about what other people had done and seeing some more experienced users than me and what they could do – definitely super awesome stuff right there….

So already it has been a really worth while course, and I am looking forward to webinar 2 this week. And I will definitely not be leaving the assignment so late this time 🙂

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 🙂

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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 🙂

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 🙂 So very satisfying 🙂 Especially when changing the times meant the flashes slowed down or speed up 🙂


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.






Posted in Minecraft, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning, Uncategorized

Playing along with gamification

Gamification is a word I don’t like very much. It has been used a lot in an educational context (simply searching gamification in education gave over 1 million hits) around making learning more: fun; engaging; relevant; real life contexts etc. I have yet to decide whether for me it means actually building games, or just utilising games in a teaching and learning setting.  As I explore my ideas around teaching and learning to do with creativity, innovation and play, games seems to be a big part of this. The popularity of games in my classrooms confirms that students value them and often they learn without ‘realising’ it. Which is where I think my current mind block is occurring….

if one of my main focuses for the year is to get my students thinking more about their learning than their test scores, why am I taking steps to make the learning less explicit by including games?

So I have been thinking a lot about the games I use or have used (this post has been written, off and on, over about 3 weeks) and what I see the students having gained from them.


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I learned about swots at T col. In fact, I was chosen to demonstrate it… standing up the front with a fly swot in my hand, I couldn’t help but whack my lecturer with the fly swot while she explained the rules. So I also learned more about ‘death’ stares that day (FYI – there were no hard feelings and I still work with this particular awesome lady often). Essentially, you draw some ‘answers’ on the board, line students up in teams and call out the questions (students get really excited about calling out questions!!) For a quick fire way to set up some competition in a class, it works really well. Downside is there is often a group of students who don’t participate as fully and kind of stand around when waiting for their turn or who don’t take it seriously. That said, for circuit components, functional groups, formulas to use… pretty much anything you need to need to just learn off by heart, swots is a good way to do some formative assessment and get the kids up out of their seats for a bit. Students also get creative with their questions to try and trick the other students. So while I definitely play swots more for some topics than others, I do like it because students are moving, practicing recall, having the opportunity to take a lead with asking questions and they definitely get enthused about it. If students are shaky on their knowledge, it can help to sure it up if they pay attention to the answers others are giving, but ONLY if they are paying attention the whole time.


My students LOVE kahoot and would play it every lesson if they could. Again, it is a really nice way to test recall or for simple problems (I am setting up some mechanics Kahoots for example). Looking online, it seems lots of other people love Kahoot as well, there are multiple public quizzes on all sorts of things. Being able to search NCEA Level 1 Acids and Bases and get multiple hits is a nice last minute filler (yes, I am guilty of needing the occasional filler….) The nice thing for me about Kahoot is the graph to see what percentage of the class got the answer right after each question. If more than 25% get it wrong, I (usually) make a note to go over this in the next lesson. But again, this game is more about formative assessment than learning – although I do feel that with the feedback I am able to learn a little more about where my students needs are. Students might pick up on where they went wrong as well, but I think most of mine are just pushing on to the next question rather than reflecting on how to get it right next time.


This is getting a special mention because my students loved it sooooo much last year. A hammer, a crunchie bar, some-one asking questions, get it right, no smashy, get it wrong, smash the crunchie. So everyone gets a crunchie bar, it just depends how smashed up it is. Fun for revision, but again not really deepening understanding other than being able to clarify answers as we went… although if students are asking the questions it is also a good indicator of their knowledge and understanding.


I’m adding this in here because the idea of a quest or task kind of fits into my idea of gaming and games in the class room. There are multiple apps and sites (because I’ve been doing electricity with yr 10 all those type spring to mind) that you can use. However, I feel again that lots of these apps are again just testing recall rather than deepening understanding. PhET animations are an exception to this I suppose… although I had an animated conversation with a colleague who now barely uses lamps and power packs in teaching this unit in favour of using digital models. For me there is still real value in building a circuit by plugging in wires and seeing the brightness of bulbs change in series and parallel. Or making esters and getting to smell them (and understand why you add in a carbonate to neutralise the remaining acid BEFORE you smell them) rather than just watching a video of it.

By putting animations in an office mix and then having a quiz after it I can see that students do gain some understanding from them as indicated by their results. But I am fairly certain I could have got that understanding in other ways.


Having used the three different softwares above, I can definitely say it is a horse for courses situation. Some students love them, others are ambivalent, while others just straight out don’t do them. The are really useful for revision and do allow students to work through at their own pace. Yet the best success I have had with education perfect (which I do like, although it is not perfect despite what the name suggests) is setting up class competitions. Students really do like that competitive element, and will work hard to get more points than others. Which is great, but again goes against the ‘students should value learning and be intrinsically motivated’ thoughts running through my head.


I blogged on this last year with hour of code. When the students made their own games using the code they had learned it was really interesting watching them design their game, then play it and not like it so go back and change it. They got very competitive amongst themselves about whose game was the most popular. Games that were overly complicated fell out of favour for simpler games. We had some excellent conversations about the games that were too easy or too hard – and how to be satisfying the games had to be ‘just right’. So in this exercise the students learned some coding, and thought about the psychology behind building games. And I had a good opportunity to introduce them to iteration and talk about being persistant

With my more recent forays into using minecraft in my lessons, this iteration idea has really stepped up. The ability to be creative and make new things is a big positive. It is also impressive to watch a group of students working really well together on a group task – because the scope and scale of the task provides plenty of independent tasks to do to contribute towards the whole project. When students designed the heart and lungs, it also contributed to their knowledge of which chambers are which, which arteries go where etc. But (and I hate this but) I’m not super sure it helped students increase their understanding of how the heart and lungs work together to supply the body with oxygen for respiration.


I am sure there are others games I play or use in my class room that just aren’t popping into my head right now, or things I do that others might consider a game that I don’t. But so far I feel like I am using them in a shallow way to really promote the deeper learning I am trying to acheive. Yes they are engaging students, yes I need students to have the ability to do basic recall, yes skills being learned/displayed (collaboration, iteration, problem solving, leadership, empathy) are more important than some of the things I am supposed to assess but they are hard to measure other than my gut feeling about it. (My gut feeling about it is good by the way). I lurked on #edchatNZ last night (way to many things to do for today…. ) and really liked this tweet from Matt Nicoll

So how can we find a way to value the ‘other skills’ that games in the classroom promote? I really hope we don’t fall into linking value to assessing them 🙂 And also, how can I ensure my students are getting a deeper understanding rather than just spouting back what is required for an assessment?

Am I sure I am playing the right games?






Posted in Minecraft, Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

A Sneak preview of #minechem

All of the work here is from Dave Warren and his son Angus. I think it is seriously awesome and have been having a wee play with some of the mods myself.

Also, I can’t say enough how awesome Dave (and Angus) are for sharing all of this with me and my class. We are just getting servers etc set up so we can share it with everybody, but there is a list of all the mods used at the bottom of this post if you want to have a go at setting up something similar yourself. And a big ups to all the people that made the mods too – sorry I am not sure who you are to acknowledge you.

This is the ‘decomposer’ that can break down rocks into there raw materials.

This is a tour of the world Dave and Angus created

And this is the treasure chest of goodies you can break into bits 🙂

Our next steps for this are

  1. to get this set up on a server so we can share it. To this end, Ben (a yr 10 student) has been working hard all weekend to learn how to get this to work, our trial run yesterday was super)
  2. To get some coding done and see if we can make some ionic compounds with the molecules we can break up. You would have seen you can get your sulfate ions in the decomposer videos, it would be awesome if we can use this so students can see the stoichiometry of these molecules more clearly and therefore have a way to assist students to learning ionic formula 🙂 So Dave is coming back to school in thursday with a PhD student who can do some Java and we will look into this then

Thanks again to Dave and Angus for letting me share this and test this, my students and I am loving it 🙂

If you are interested, here is the list of mods used in the set up

#minechem mods