Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Feedback is like echolocation, and I’m a little bit lost without it

My ‘inquiry’ focus for this year ‘is’ around making sure I’m giving the best feedback to students I can. I had made a start in this post  around how I could use the data collected from Microsoft forms better, and make sure it was usable to the students. I have some draft posts about insights in teams (It is awesome!!) and the feedback features in Education perfect (which is pretty good) and how I have used these during lock down and will hopefully push through into more of my ‘day to day’ teaching routine.

Yesterday I had an online class, and a few kids where there. They all dutifully muted their microphones when I was presenting. They asked a few questions, and there was some chit chat, but I really missed that classroom ‘vibe’. It made me think about the feedback I get from my classes everyday that I often don’t quantify or think about, but is so vital to what I do.


I think we all do this in various ways, and why a face to face conversation is so much more powerful than a phone call. I am missing that feel you get when you are explaining something, and something snaps or some-one sighs, and you know you need to find another way to explain it. Or the little gasp of recognition that shows it is clicking for some-one – usually followed by a stare of disbelief from some-one not there yet. Or the kid interupting with a slight side track question that strengthens understanding. The moving around a room, making yourself available to check in, look over shoulders, watch facial expressions and body language. Watching students doing practicals ‘spark’ off each other. Or just watching kids being kids….

So it a good reminder that I don’t only have to think about the feedback I am giving the students, but how can I use the feedback the students give me. And not just the asked for feedback, but those subtle (or not so subtle) actions that I have been really missing.

Take care out there


Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Giving feedback/feedforward: Upping my game with Microsoft forms

A focus for me this year (and really every year!!) is around getting useful information on where my students are at, and making sure the feedback is useable, useful AND not lost. I have tried various methods for this in the past, and one of the best methods I have found is taking an image of a hand written exam question, popping it in to powerpoint and recording myself marking it. This works well in terms of right then, and for students as individuals, but is a little difficult to track a class as a whole. So this term I am trying to use Microsoft forms and quizes for checkpoints, and then using the feedback feature. Students can see this at the time. I can see if a whole class has missed a key idea, or just a few individuals and so plan revision accordingly. If students pick the wrong answer, they get instant feedback as to why. But then I can download the student responses from the microsoft form into an excel spreadsheet, and mail merge them so each student can also get an individual sheet of their results and the feedback they were given. I can then pop these docs into their class notebook sections (still love me some onenote!!) via teams (I’m still working on a faster way to do this! any ideas welcomed)

So far it has worked well

I can still see how the class as a whole has answered certain questions


Students who got an answer wrong can get (hopefully helpful) feedback on why that answer wasn’t the best choice

instant feedback

I can click on review responses to give individual feedback to students, which they can access by re clicking on the form. I can grade (I usually don’t bother, but the option is there) and comment on individual answers.


And then I can take the data from the excel spreadsheet and using mail merge make a page with the students answers and my feedback (I’ve generally just picked the longer answers for this – the short answer questions get the instant feedback). It did take a couple of goes to get my ‘template’ working, as the questions from the quiz did not show up in the merge, only the answers.

Once you have the documents, you can either email them to the students (their emails are saved with their responses in the form) or print the pages to onenote (I’m still looking for a faster way to do this than one by one)

I have done this a couple of times now, and have been getting faster each time. I’m certainly appreciating that I have access to feedback given to students, and being able to track progressions more closely. There is also a slight element of accountability, I can show that students have or haven’t completed set tasks, and I have (or haven’t) given them feedback on next steps.

Students have found the system easy enough to use, and have been reasonably receptive to the idea. So, so far, it has been a success. Fingers crossed it stays that way

Have fun


Posted in Digital Technologies, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Giving Yr 9 digitech a go

This year I have been tasked with teaching Yr 9 digitech. Which has been a real challenge, but hopefully I’ve now got a handle on what we are doing. I have leaned really heavily on the AMAZING Gamefroot resource at that Dan Milward and Gerard Macmanus put together, it was a real life saver for me as a non-specialist.

The course itself is a compulsory module that runs for 3 hours a week for 10 weeks. But, as with any school, by the time you factor in the odd public holiday, athletics day or camp, we have budgeted on about 26 hours of class time. A open book of do what you like was given. So after having a think, both about what I am comfortable with, and managing the work load, game design as a context was picked, and we are focusing on outcome design and evaluation, as well as Technological modelling.

tech curric 1


We (a colleague is teaching the other class running in parallel) started with a fairly simple lets learn some things about games, about formatting, and about algorithms. We snuck in some hour of code in week 2 as it was a useful activity as we had different groups of students out for various camps and orientation events which then didn’t end up happening because if the weather!

tech curric 2

My colleague was very proud of the horrendously awful doc he made for the students to reformat!! And the students generally did a very good job of spotting most of the errors. We gave them the doc via an assignment in teams.

tech 3

And now we are in to the task. I really like the idea in the Gamefroot game design about incorporating a New Zealand myth or legend, but wondered how I could make it more local. So we have set the students the challenge of making a game to teach myself and Mr G the local place names around the Taieri Plains.

tech 4

We decided to include the history as well as place names in English and Te Reo, because there are several mountains named for Cheifs, as well as street names and park names that are linked to early settlers to the area.

And what they need to do.

tech 5

We decided that the games could be physical board or card type games because while their might not be a direct ‘coding’ aspect, students still need to look for patterns, write algorithms or instructions and extend ideas, as well as use a mixture of inputs. And there is the block coding component, which could be a dice on a microbit. Or perhaps the coding used to build a world in minecraft.

The students have been set this as an assignment in teams, and the whole doc is formatted so the title page is interactive so they can click to where they need to be

tech 6

Students can work individual or in twos/threes (a 4 was split into 2 pairs!) Each group has been assigned a private channel in teams, so that they can work together but I can keep an eye of them.


The elevator pitches will be completed using flip grid, so that students who are uncomfortable sharing up front don’t need to, but also it means that feedback can be placed by multiple people which will assist meeting the responding to feedback requirements.

The check points will hopefully help students scaffold their project, and give me evidence of planning

tech 8

If you are interested, here is a link to the whole doc (let me know if it doesn’t work for you)

We are also super lucky that our amazing Librarian Lauryn came to my rescue when I was panicky about how to support the students with their research of place names. She deflt provided me with two books on the history of the Taieri Plains, one including some excellent maps. So this has made life so much easier. The fabulous Lauryn also suggested having a show case of the games in the library at the end of the module, perhaps with some other games in her collection, so we will be working through this to make it happen.

So, students were given the task last week. Already they have started exploring and planning what they can do. Some are wanting to use Minecraft, others are using scratch, a pair is planning to make a Taieri Monopoly, while another group of girls who are into Saloon car racing are thinking of a racing game. Some were just spending some time thinking about what games they had played before that had maps so they could explore them. After being so nervous, it was a positive start. Hopefully the students have some fun, learn some things, and we make it to the end of the module in one piece.

Have fun and wish me luck.


Posted in coding, Digital Technologies, Teaching and Learning

Microbit ‘Monsters’

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

Screen Shot 2019-11-13 at 11.50.29 AM.png
This student had some awesome ‘paint’ skills
Screen Shot 2019-11-13 at 11.53.11 AM
This student opted for some different inputs using the tilt/shake functions

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

And then using the makecode site for the code

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!

So this cool little idea that Kevin found has worked really well for us 🙂 There are some much more developed ‘pets’ than ours at if you wanted to have a look, and some really great examples on youtube

Have fun


Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Recording learning – how do I get this right?

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how I/we/the system records learning. My thinking on this has been challenged a few times, and was kicked into gear way back in 2015 when I saw an amazing learning conversation around a thermos flask take place, that these students couldn’t write down but could explain very clearly, and link other ideas they had learned. (a reflection from the time is here )More recently, this has been playing on my mind as my yr 10’s have been completing a Science capability task.

Now Science capabilities can be a tricky thing when you get to the nitty gritty of them, but are also amazing simple too. I don’t feel our school has really got to grips with them yet (although we are certainly improving all the time), and we are certainly too focussed on the ‘paper trail’ evidence for assessing them. Which has got me back to thinking more explicitly about how I gather evidence for learning.

With this Science Capabilities task, the context was ocean acidification and how increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere increases the dissolved CO2 in the water, which decreases the pH/increases the acidity of the ocean. This then has an impact on creatures in the ocean with carbonate shells or exoskeletons. We investigated the impact of concentration on acids on the reaction rate for carbonates. Reaction rates really sits at NCEA Level one rather than yr 10, so we have tried to scaffold the prior learning and expectations around reaction rates for students final answers.

As part of the task, students where asked to design an experiment that gave them ‘quality data’ (reproducable, no overlaps etc). Students were given a range of material to try and design their method, as we had previously used gas displacement, a lime water test, amount of bubble produced by adding dish washing liquid etc. There was much fun as the bubbles produced from the highest concentration of acid shot out of the test tubes and all over the bench tops and floors. But this is where the really rich conversations started happening, as students realised that this method was the ‘most fun’, it did not produce the more reliable results. Then others discovered that if they used small volumes of acid, the lower concentrations stopped reacting before the amount of gas produced was detectable. Others found it difficult to distinguish between the two most concentrated acids because the times were very similar.

The learning conversation between the students and the students and myself over these 2-3 hours were amazing. It felt really good, I was excited to be in class, the students seemed to be enjoying it, and the frustrations and successes were palpable. Students were really gaining knowledge from the various practical tasks as they were trying to ascertain the best method for them to use. Students saw that they got ‘the same’ end result while using a different method to another group, and had conversation around which way might be better or worse. The conversations around the ‘why’ the reactions where proceeding that way were amazing.

And yet, while it was a valuable learning experience for me and the students, I feel a lot of that valuable learning was lost. How do I record those conversations that were had? How do I translate that into the students written work, or scaffold the questions better so they are encouraged to incorporate more of that learning into their answers?

Or, do I need to? Is it enough that those conversations took place, and they do not need to be included in the gathered data for reports and feedback?

And, how to I replicate those conversation in other settings?? How do I get students to see more explicitly that there is often more than one way to come to a similar answer, and that discovering the path is often much more exciting than getting to the end of it. How to I make sure more of the learning experiences I offer are open ended??

And how do I ensure I capture the ideas that students don’t write down??




Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Modeling ‘microbes’

This year I ‘swapped’ classes to pick up a yr 7 class part way through the year. It has been an interesting challenge, for two reasons. 1) I have not taught yr 7 Science before, and 2) I found it ‘difficult’ to pick up a class when expectations and routines had already been set. It took a while before this class felt like ‘my class’, and that challenged me to think about the concept of ‘ownership’ of a class, and who should meet whos expectations.

Anyways, we have recently starting a topic on microbiology. After a typically energy filled monday lesson (For reasons I am still working on, when I have this class on a Monday they are such a different class to Tuesday. They take longer to settle, are disruptive, noisy, and just a bit off on a Monday compared to a Tuesday. I’m still working on the why, and trying to plan activities to make the most of it) I was a little apprehensive about how Tuesday would go – we were going to build some model bacteria based on what they had learned the day before.

And, to be honest, they blew me away. Absolutely blew me away. I had been convinced the lesson before had been a right off, and no-one had learned anything. But the class could tell be that a baceria had a cell wall, a cell membrane, some had flagella, some had a capsule, all the ‘stuff in the middle’ (DNA) and that funny c word (cytoplasm). So, despite the noise, and the seemingly off task carry on the day before, they had still mostly achieved the learning objectives around knowing what the parts of a bacteria were, and what they did.

And they made some fabulous model bacteria displaying these features, and as I went about the room we had some excellent discussions about what the different bits did.


bug 4.PNG
The girls that made this model not only listened the day before, but made different coloured sugar to bring to show the different layers….


So it was a really good reminder for me that, even though I know learning doesn’t need to be quiet or tidy, that in this case the students did really did learn while being noisy and slightly outrageous. And that many of them really enjoyed the chance to be creative and collaborative, rather than doing a work sheet or a computer animation. That even though I didn’t think they had listened, they had, and had taken on board the key points.

Well played yr 7, well played. Bring on bread mould this week.

Posted in Digital Technologies, Professional learning, Teaching and Learning

Making a Chemistry App with Thunkable

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

The welcome screen – which type of ion are you trying to identify?
Based on that result, this is the possible ions – do this next (and fix the NaOH) formula


Screenshot_20190808-103004 (1).jpg
All of the final you got this ion have some cheesey pictures the students photo shopped themselves





And, if you didn’t follow instructions……. for example pushing ‘no’ here
you got ‘Rickrolled’

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.

And so proud of the mahi my students did

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

Introducing forces and making mazes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Redox demo

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

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


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


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

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

Posted in Digital Technologies, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Putting some technology into our digital technologies module

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

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

Planning for Practice

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

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

And with a bit more detail, thanks to TKI

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

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

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

We got some nice examples of planning and work 🙂


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

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

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

Technological systems

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

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

And again some more details from TKI

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 9.16.10 PM

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

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


Progress outcomes for digitech

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

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

What the students thought

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

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 9.57.07 PM

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

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

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

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

Have fun