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!
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??
It is poetry week at my school this week, linked to New Zealand’s (I’m assuming it is New Zealand’s, it might be all over…) poetry day this friday (23rd August). I am currently avoiding others tasks, but have been spotting all sorts of beautiful poems on twitter, and it has made me think of some of my favourite poems, what they mean to me, and where I remember learning about them. While I often get frustrated with my own stuttering prose and find expressing myself clearly a challenge (not to mention sending my grandmother round the bend with my appalling spelling) I love reading, and greatly admire those who can work their words with such magic.
And after writing the above, I realised I have already written about two of the poems on my mind, all the way back in 2014. It is funny how the past comes back….. and how despite meeting these poems in high school some 20 years ago, they are still with me.
‘So, it is day 2 of Ulearn, and we have been given some time. Time is so precious, and I always struggle to use it wisely. Or I get so caught up in tomorrow I forget about today, or last year, or even before that.
One of my favourite poems is about time
Time out – Hone Tuwhare
Can not catch up with you, Time.
You precede me
like the echo of sad footfalls in my heart,
as I turn back
to find the solace
in a resolute search
for my space
It is resonating with my right now, as I think about the English teacher who first introduced me to it, Ms Fowler. Fowler was hard arse – she reminded me off the teacher Katie Novak talked about in the keynote. Fowler made me work harder than I ever had, and unlocked some potential. I argued with her, got cross, got disheartened and then picked myself up and tried again. I learned to love poetry as a means of expression rather than to loathe it as yucky english – even if I still can’t spell to save my life. I learned resilience, perseverance, and the importance of sticking to you guns despite what others say or think. To go with your gut feeling. That can again be described by a poem (this one I found specifically for a ‘read allowed’ assessment we had to do, I didn’t fully understand it at the time) – she taught it to her classes after which I found amazingly flattering. We ‘bumped’ into each other online recently, and she is still doing amazing things.
The Riders in the Stand
There’s some that ride the Robbo style, and bump at every stride; While others sit a long way back, to get a longer ride. There’s some that ride like sailors do, with legs and arms, and teeth; And some ride on the horse’s neck, and some ride underneath.
But all the finest horsemen out — the men to Beat the Band — You’ll find amongst the crowd that ride their races in the Stand. They’ll say “He had the race in hand, and lost it in the straight.” They’ll show how Godby came too soon, and Barden came too late.
They’ll say Chevalley lost his nerve, and Regan lost his head; They’ll tell how one was “livened up” and something else was “dead” — In fact, the race was never run on sea, or sky, or land, But what you’d get it better done by riders in the Stand.
The rule holds good in everything in life’s uncertain fight; You’ll find the winner can’t go wrong, the loser can’t go right. You ride a slashing race, and lose — by one and all you’re banned! Ride like a bag of flour, and win — they’ll cheer you in the Stand.
Even 5 year on, and maybe always, I often think of these poems. I am thinking specifically of the riders in the stand – I need to work to my standards, not the standards of others. It is so easy to look at others and think, they aren’t doing this or that, so I won’t. Rather than thinking this is where I want to be, now get there.
Another poem on my mind right now is Epiphany by Ted Hughes
From the collection Birthday Letters, which won the Forward prize in 1998
London. The grimy lilac softness Of an April evening. Me Walking over Chalk Farm Bridge On my way to the tube station. A new father – slightly light-headed With the lack of sleep and the novelty. Next, this young fellow coming towards me.
I glanced at him for the first time as I passed him Because I noticed (I couldn’t believe it) What I’d been ignoring.
Not the bulge of a small animal Buttoned into the top of his jacket The way colliers used to wear their whippets – But its actual face. Eyes reaching out Trying to catch my eyes – so familiar! The huge ears, the pinched, urchin expression – The wild confronting stare, pushed through fear,
Between the jacket lapels. ’It’s a fox-cub!’ I heard my own surprise as I stopped. He stopped. ‘Where did you get it? What Are you going to do with it?’ A fox-cub On the hump of Chalk Farm Bridge!
‘You can have him for a pound.’ ‘But Where did you find it? What will you do with it?’ ‘Oh, somebody’ll buy him. Cheap enough At a pound.’ And a grin. What I was thinking Was – what would you think? How would we fit it Into our crate of space? With the baby? What would you make of its old smell And its mannerless energy? And as it grew up and began to enjoy itself What would we do with an unpredictable, Powerful, bounding fox? The long-mouthed, flashing temperament? That necessary nightly twenty miles And that vast hunger for everything beyond us? How would we cope with its cosmic derangements Whenever we moved?
The little fox peered past me at other folks, At this one and at that one, then at me. Good luck was all it needed. Already past the kittenish But the eyes still small, Round, orphaned-looking, woebegone As if with weeping. Bereft Of the blue milk, the toys of feather and fur, The den life’s happy dark. And the huge whisper Of the constellations Out of which Mother had always returned. My thoughts felt like big, ignorant hounds Circling and sniffing around him. Then I walked on As if out of my own life. I let that fox-cub go. I tossed it back Into the future Of a fox-cub in London and I hurried Straight on and dived as if escaping Into the Underground. If I had paid, If I had paid that pound and turned back To you, with that armful of fox –
If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage – I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it? But I failed. Our marriage had failed.
I was sitting in the staff work room listening to a spirited discussion between two English teachers – they both taught yr 13 classes, one was doing Ted Hughes, and the other Sylvia Plath. I was listening purely from enjoyment as they argued their points about the intricasies and styles of the writers, the different possible interpretations, and how had we really changed in our expectations and realities of relationships since the 1950s and 60s. As an avid fan of Slyvia Plath, I had avoided Ted Hughes, but as there two English teachers teased out ideas I began to become more familiar and would occasionally skim read a poem or two. The ‘team Ted’ English teacher read this to me, and as two people with our own young families discussed how life had changed so much, that risk was now so much harder to take… that consequences were suddenly so much more real. And that epiphanies often strike when you least expect them. (I feel I need to add we are both still with our significant others, and seem to be weathering the occasional twists and turns of life reasonably well)
I also wonder if I’m thinking about this poem because I feel like I am running from a few ideas at the moment. I had a good conversation with a teacher friend yesterday about how I still can’t find a way to pull myself out of assessment driven teaching. How I am uncertain about how to build learning for L2 chemistry next year as the standards are changing. Have I, too, left the fox cub on the bridge and taken the ‘easier’ path that is safe and known??
And last, but not least, Dunedin poem, but Janet Frame. My favourite work of Janet Frame is excellently terrifying ‘The Bath’, but many of her poems pop into my head sometimes.
I thought of this poem yesterday, as I too went to the beach, and stared at the waves, and stood in the sun.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
I have been a little bit slow to jump on the flipgrid wagon – I have used it a few times when I have been part of a project to give my response, and have had a look at other peoples flipgrid ‘grids’ when they have gathered responses. You can learn about flipgrid from the website https://flipgrid.com/. When I used it, I made a tab in my classes ‘team’, as the flipgrid app is one of the apps supported by Microsoft Teams. This meant students could use the app within the teams app on their phones, or some of them used the flipgrid app on their phones too. Both apps were quick to download, and while some had a few issues with the different between a microsoft account and an office 365 account, most were quickly logged in and found the app easy to use.
The tasks I asked my students to complete was around graphing. I have a competent class, and drawing lots of practice graphs was getting pretty dry pretty quickly. So I asked my students to make some videos explaining what a ‘good’ graph should have.
And they (mostly) did really well. Some students took some chalk outside and drew some graphs on the concrete to demonstrate the important points. Some just used some example graphs in their books they had previously drawn. Some drew new graphs, and one group drew a ‘bad’ graph on the white board to demonstrate what you should not do.
It was a really nice way to check for any misconceptions, and while most students enjoyed the task (and some REALLY Loved it), all of them feedback that the talked about and thought about what they needed to do for graphing more than if I had just given them another practice graph. It also made for a really nice piece of work to share at our recent parent teacher evenings, just a 30-90 second snapshot of some of the work we have been doing.
So my class agreed that this was a ‘sometimes’ activity for everyone, and a few of the students asked if they could use it more often, as they found it really useful going back and looking at other peoples videos and seeing how they explain it. My next step will be to try it with my yr 8s, giving each group a different type of ‘cloud’ to explain, and hopefully we can get some cool cloud videos for the group to share.
Today I got a gentle reminder to look through my students eyes a little more often that I do. It was timely as all those classroom routines and tasks start to bog down all that beginning of the year energy.
On Tuesdays I have my delicious yr 13 Chemistry class, followed by my energetic yr 8 Science class. Yr 8 start the year looking at weather, and today I had planned to boil some water so they could learn, be reminded, or I could check that they could read a thermometer. It also gives a chance to practice drawing a graph. But really, in my eyes, boiling water is as dull as a dull thing, and I remarked to my yr 13 Chem class about how I wasn’t especially looking forward to yr 8’s and boiling water, pondering how else I could practice using thermometers. And one chap piped up with
‘I loved doing that in year 8’
I looked at him to see if he was being sarcastic, and he wasn’t. In response to my raised eyebrows he reminded me that back then Bunsen burners were super exciting, and it was new to him and he did really enjoy it. Lighting a match was fun, and they all used to fight over who got to.
I suppose it was also a timely reminder that just because you have done something before, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it again. Obviously there might be tweaks or changes you make, but making sure I make those changes for the correct reasons.
So, when the year 8’s filled the room as my yr 13’s left it, I had an increased spring in my step. We set up gear, lit matches and measured, and compared tap water with water with ice cubes. The students did love it, as they do every time. And I enjoyed it more than I might have, because I remembered to look through the eyes of a year 8 learning new skills rather than a 36 year old teacher who has done it before.