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

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

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

Hour of Code

So, we had just finished up with some basic commands on the microbits, covering ACSII codes and binary when I last blogged. Due to some technical issues getting minecraft to work, we segwayed into using the Hour of 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.

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Feedback from students indicated that hour of code was a real winner 🙂

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

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I got to learn about functions too 🙂

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

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

Back to microbits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Thoughts on Computational Thinking

I’m not super sure when I first heard the term Computational thinking, but the first time I took proper notice of it was in March this year when I was fortunate enough to hear Lisa Anne Floyd speaking at E2 this year. Even then, I thought, this is nice, this is a way to get people thinking about thinking and problem solving, rather than, this is life changing. But as I have delved a little deeper and been planing our digitech module for next year, I’m really liking the ideas behind computational thinking, and the links I can make to multiple other ‘thinking’ thunks, like Nature of Science, or using taxonomies. To my mind, the ‘computational thinking’ strategies seem a little more visible, maybe because they are based around problems and finding solutions, rather than just meta cognition and thinking about thinking. I then read this fabulous paper about a pedagogical framework for computational thinking which got me onto other papers and other ideas.

So what is computational thinking? There are lots of fancy definitions, like this one

‘an approach to solving problems, designing systems and understanding
human behaviour that draws on concepts fundamental to computing’
Wing 2006″

but to my mind, it is breaking a problem down into a flow chart, and working through the steps to solve it, with some iteration or corrections. A bit like this

Core education also has a nice page and video with Tim Rice talking about Computational thinking… and I have shared this video before but it is still a good one


So, how can I link this to my ‘Science lessons’? Lets say I want to know how the pH of an acid effects how quickly a piece of magnesium corrodes. There are various ways I can measure this . -how long it takes for a piece of Magnesium metal to disappear. Or how long it takes for a jar or test tube filled with water to be displaced by Hydrogen gas. I would need to ensure both of these measures were ‘fair’ so I could need to use pieces of Magnesium that were not only the same mass, but they same surface area. i would need to start the stopwatch at the same time and stop it at the same time. I would need to use the same gas jar or same water displacement to measure Hydrogen production. I would need to do a test run to check I could accurately measure the timings or that the volumes produced where sensible.

And then you get to the fun stuff of how do you accurately measure the pH of a solution anyway? In junior school we use universal indicator, but when you get into the senior school this isn’t specific enough – both HCl (a strong acid) and CH3COOH ( a weak acid) turn red in universal indicator. Yet CH3COOH has a lower pH because not as many Hydrogen ion dissociate, which you can pick up using a pH probe or different indicators. So while 10mL of 1 mol/L HCl and 10mL of 1mol/L CH3COOH will make the same mass of magnesium metal corrode and disappear, and the same amount of Hydrogen gas to be produced, the HCl will happen much faster, due to the lower pH/high concentration of reactive particles in the solution. Or do I just use different concentrations of HCl and test the impact of decreasing pH that way?

If you don’t teach Science, chances are the above 2 paragraphs make no sense at all. Even though I am pretty confident that every student in NZ in the last 60 years has put some magnesium metal in some acid and maybe done a pop test, you are definitely excused for not following

So if I put these steps into a flow chart, they become clearer…. and the steps required to determine each factor that might impact the conclusion become more explicit. And like the friendship algorithm above, it can be amended or changed if the process doesn’t work. The ability for iteration to be used and not perceived as a failure is massive.

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So while this might not have been the best or clearest example to use, it is one that came to mind. A simple junior science experiment that is actually a lot more complex than it appears, or we even teach it. And when I ask my yr 13 chemistry students to do this, they get a bit a stumped. They have been taught fair testing in terms of nature of Science, but not how to go back and find a solution is the results are inconclusive, or what processes are available to find solutions.

I think these also applies to writing frames and other tools we use to organise our students thoughts, and try to get them to think about their thinking. Perhaps I have been using aspects of computational thinking all along with out realising it, but this now just means I can refine it and make it more explicit when I am trying to get my kids thinking ‘scientifically’ and following a process.

And this isn’t to say that computational thinking is the answer to everything. One thing I really like is the idea (to quote my colleague Kevin) if you can put a problem into a flowchart, a computer can solve it. If you can’t, then the problem needs a person (or several people). People have the ability to think creatively, which is also so important to problem solving, but only if you have a robust system in place to identify the problem.

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 Professional learning, random ramblings, Techie stuff

Dunedin Maker Party

After a fairly tough week, it was a massive effort to get up this morning and head to the Dunedin Maker party hosted by Hive Dunedin at Port Chalmers School. But I am soooo glad I did. It was an amazing day – mostly because I didn’t really have a set job so just got to cruise round talking to kids and learning new stuff.

So first for the stuff that I learned and/or really enjoyed.

  1. Mozilla X-ray goggles.

This is an add on for web browsers that lets you alter the html code behind the page. For example, Grumpy cat has something to say about the NZQA home page

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It is (of course…) not real or permanent. But I learned more about HTML coding in the few minutes tinkering today (and watching the kids tinker) than I did in several concentrated efforts previously. And had a rad time doing it.

You simply click it open, click on a feature on the web page and the code pops up, and you can change it to whatever you like 🙂

2. Holograms

I have seen these super cool holograms on my facebook and twitter feed and always gone Man, I need to try that – and then never had.

Today I did, and it was AWESOME. So simple, so fun and so effective. I even got a pic on my phone.

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If you are looking to do this in class – I’d recommend putting the whole tablet/phone and acetate projector into a cardboard box lined with black paper – that is how it was done today and it made it really stand out well.


So these super cute little robots rock. Like really rock. They were a bit fiddly and I know the helpers running them had a few issues with them dropping their connections, but they were so simple and cool. My wee man Ollie had a go and LOVED them.

while the robots themselves were cool – I really liked how they were being used. The robot was a bit of a hook to get the kids thinking about how to problem solve around a maze they designed themselves – even down to getting the robot to do some little jumps. This required a run up, and changing the speed of the sphero made it easier to navigate the jump, but then made it harder to steer round the rest of the course.


This was just good timing. Great in fact as we are leading up into our fun physics topic for yr 10 and I want to build lots of catapults and trebuchets and other things that make stuff fly through the air.

The cardboard models will be perfect for making on mass in class – I’ll consider building  a wooden one…. but we are also looking at modelling some on minecraft…

All the other things

There was soldering, stop go animation, nerves, drones, lie detectors, potato batteries, explosions, a steam engine and kids climbing trees. It was soooooooo awesomely awesome.

So awesome in fact it is making me a bit down about what I will go back to on Monday.

Today I saw 60 kids all engaged, learning, having fun and not a single kid acting out.

On Monday, I go back to reviewing a test sat on friday and kicking off an internal that we will be rushing through to try and finish before the end of term, revising for a test on Tuesday, some calorimetry and (thank goodness for both my soul and for my enjoyment of the day) some more setting up minecraft servers and inquiries with my yr 10 class. I have a couple of unit plans to update this weekend.

Why am I putting myself through that? Why am I putting my students through it? Why does secondary education seem so immovably entrenched  that despite best efforts I struggle to move away from the content delivery model. Worse for the mood is I know I am one of the ones trying to at least explore and employ different teaching and learning strategies (even if I do still use the odd worksheet of practice questions). How can we shift our education system so that I can see my students having as much fun as school as they kids did today? How can we stop the flow of teachers away from our profession? How can we strengthen teachers and students voices to get positive change in our system?

So today was a great day, with amazingly dedicated and passionate people, some great learning for the students and for me. It was filled with hope that change can happen and change is coming. There were some amazing teachers there it was awesome to meet and connect with to keep growing my PLN and the circle of people I can bounce ideas off.

If only it wasn’t just a day….. but it will come.