Posted in Digital Technologies, Minecraft, Teaching and Learning

Getting started with Digital Technologies

Partly in response to the new New Zealand Digital Technologies curriculum, my school is offering a Year 7 module for Digital Technologies for the first time this year. It almost didn’t run as it fell prey to the beast that is secondary school timetabling, but I am super glad it did. We (Kevin and I) did a little bit of planning last year, but of course things change (we got yr 7 instead of yr 8, and about 20 lessons rather than 30). It has been a really good learning experience for me, trying to keep abreast of the changes in the New Zealand Digital Technologies curriculum, watching with interest the changes happening at NCEA level one so that we can try and tailor our program so that students can have a pathway to those qualifications, and we want to do a good job so we can get a yr 8 digit tech course into the timetable, and then on up through the senior school. I have an interest in coding and Computer Science, where as Kevin teaches L2 Robotics and has much more experience than me with coding etc, although I’m pretty sure I could kick his butt in Minecraft. We are both fairly good at driving the microbits, although Kevin has an advantage as he is better at coding in general. We are also using Microsoft Teams, which is new to the school this year. It is also my first go at co-teaching a class, which has (so far) been fabulous…. because we both have different skills sets, terrible senses of humour, and have helped each other out.

So, before I go too much further, I do need to acknowledge Kevin Knowles. He and I are co teaching this module and (between you and me) I think we have been ROCKING it. Being our first go, there are off course some things we will change next time, and I have learned loads (Kevin was kind enough to say he had learned one or two things).

Getting started

Our first lesson had a very simple objective – get everyone logged into Office 365. Because it was the first lesson, we had less time than usual as it took a we while to get all the kids where they needed to be. And we learned for next time we need to print off a sheet with all of the log ins and passwords ๐Ÿ™‚ Going through Kamar for pretty much every new student took a wee while…. but also hopefully by module two this won’t be such an issue as the students will have had 5 weeks to get used to logging in. Once logged in, students sent us an email, so that they knew our email address and so the very few who didn’t know how to do this could learn how.

Next we focussed on algorithms – how do you make toast (an idea poached from the fabulous Cathy). We did this as a class, then the students had to do an algorithm to get dressed in the morning – which lead to an introduction of if this, then what type questions (eg, if Monday-Friday – wear school uniform, if Saturday go back to sleep). The students where surprisingly passionate about little details – what order to put on socks and shoes, or top half then bottom half first – which gave Kevin the opportunity to talk about (and me to learn about) the fact that sometimes order in programs is important (eg socks then shoes) and other times it doesn’t matter (sweater or pants)

Getting started with Microbits

We then hit a bit of disruption with some students going to camp – so we had 1/3 of the class absent over the next 5 lessons. But by the end of it, everyone could (and almost everyone DID)

  • Do some coding with the makecode microbit site
  • Download the code and get it onto their microbit
  • code a microbit to say spell out the letters of their name
  • Take a screen shot of their code and put it into their onenote
  • Get the microbit to do something else (some did AMAZING things with no input from us)

 

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Kevin 3d printed all the cases last year – colour coded for 1) easy grouping of students and 2) easy to check we get them all back

Then when we had everyone back together again, we covered loops/repeats – trying to get Santa to say ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’

Thinking about Data representations

Once everyone was back, we doubled back a little I guess to go over data representation. I have to say it, Kevin NAILED this. The kids did maths without knowing they did maths!! And it got kids thinking about what number and letters are actually representing….

Kev started with counting in base 10, with a ‘ones’ column, a ‘tens’ column and so on, which got the students thinking about what the number represent. Then he moved onto binary using the same table…. and away we went. Kids just picked it up.

Kev did share some tricks, eg 15 is 1111…. you don’t need to count it up, because it is just one less than 16, which would be 10000. and so on. And if the last number is a 1, you know the number must be uneven. Some of the kids who have brains that like patterns picked up a few more, and I spend some time helping less confident kids go through adding up the different numbers.

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Kevin had found a scratch game for the students to do for the remainder of the lesson, and they were SO keen on it we started the next lesson with it too.

Which then lead into ASCII coding…. a brief demo on the board and then we gave the students a code to solve and then asked them to write them names in ASCII in their section of the onenote

 

Where to next?

We have about 2 more weeks to go… and are still tossing up about giving the code builder in Minecraft education edition ago using some of the ideas from the introduction to comp sci course. Because of timetabling issues, we haven’t been in a fixed room yet, and on different laptops each time, so it is only now that I can get minecraft up and running on them all. So tomorrow I am going to try and install everything to get it going, and then off course I’m out on tuesday for a cricket tournament…..

Alternatively, we will carry on with the microbits, we have some speakers we can attach so we can explore the concept of inputs and outputs. And there are LOADS of cool projects we can do with the microbits. (You can see some HERE). So Kev and I are sitting down on Monday to talk it through.

Reporting

We do need to report on progress made…. which is one reason we have encouraged students to put their work into the OneNote we can gather a portfolio of evidence of the code they have built and the tasks they have completed. We are also going to make a couple of Microsoft forms to check students can 1) read an ASCII code and 2) interpret simple program commands such as loops. So we will have evidence on understanding of data representation, algorithms and programming to report to parents about. Which only covers 3 of the 6 ‘themes’ I guess, but is not too bad for a 5-6 weeks module we hope.

For next time

Next time we will make some subtle changes. Hopefully students will be already confident at logging into office 365 and using teams and/or classonenote, which will save us some time at the start. We are also going to rejig the onenote slightly, we started with sections for each of Minecraft, microbit, ASCII etc… which lead to extra clicks for the students. So we will just have one section, with pages for each, which the students can then add to (also means less clicks for marking). We will also make the front page the place were we put the links for students… we started having them in the conversation but they got lost in the chatter, and then having them as a tab in the team means they open in the team, which is rather a small window/space.

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The teams interface works well to keep the students in the one browser window, but it does reduce the size of the usable space for coding… The expand tab does give you some more space, but still not a full window (and Yr 7’s struggled to find the 2 little arrows on the top right….)

We will also survey the students (using forms) at the end of the module and use their feedback to tweak the second module through. At which point I think we would make any bigger changes if they were needed.

Successes and challenges

I think every teacher in New Zealand right now is probably desperately wishing for a ‘normal’ week. It will be week 7 before I have a full week at school with no disruptions… and then I am away on camp in week 8, and then hit the 2 short weeks around easter. So juggling the disruptions when we are trying to introduce a new course has been a bit of a challenge, but also a relief because it has given us a bit of breathing space to think about what the best next step is.

Something I didn’t expect was the typing skills (or lack there of) that the students have. A number of students were turning the caps lock button on and off to capitalise one letter, and didn’t know to hold down the shift button. While I’m not a ‘touch typer’ (and I have terrible spelling both in my handwriting and typing) I can use more than 2 fingers. So we might need to include some sort of upskilling process so the students are not slowed down by their typing speed.

A real success (I think, Kev can speak for himself) has been how Kevin and I have worked together. As we move throughout the year, we will definitely be more confident and so maybe need to communicate less, but we really have worked together quite well. We have taken turns at being ‘good and bad cop’, and we are both able to reach different students at different times. We have pretty much both been in the room for the whole time, but it hasn’t felt crowded. Kev has definitely got more expertise, but I now feel confident that I could tackle all of the concepts myself next module. As we move through the year, we will probably be in the room together less, but it has worked really well for starting out, especially as I grasped some of those programming concepts.

And another success was the absolute buzz in the room after Kev introduced binary numbers. It was maths, it was abstract, I was worried it would be ‘hard’ but the kids nailed it. And seemingly LOVED it. The cheers around the room as the worked their way through the levels of the binary game where awesome, I kind of just stood and stared as the kids just nailed it. You don’t always get those moments as a teacher, so it was worth savouring, even though Kev had done all the work for that lesson.

The biggest challenge I think for us will be getting this option carried forward into yr 8, 9 etc. Or finding some room for it among another curriculum area… so we will press on and try to get it fitted in to the timetable one way or another.

Reach out

If you are teaching a digit tech course, or using the code builder in minecraft, I’d LOVE to hear from you. Either on twitter or flick a comment on the blog and I will be in touch (probably late). If I have made a mistake you have spotted, please let me know so I can fix it and learning from it. Or if you are wanting any more info, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’m definitely learning as I go, and am happy to help out as much as I can.

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Posted in Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

New Onenote Addins (stickers, forms and immersive reader) are making me smile

I am already a big fan of Microsoft OneNote. My school uses OneNote with most of our classes, and our Science department in particular has shared Onenote resources stored on our share point site. We are using Microsoft Classroom, which makes the classnotebook really easy (as long as you go to the manage tab in classroom) and the students can always find them. Distributing work to the class, or groups of students is easy, and really helpful for setting relief. As we are not a BYOD school, the new addins for the online version of onenote are especially useful. ย (On a side note, I am at times frustrated with the difference between OneNote desktop, the OneNote App and the online version… hopefully they might be all the same soon. Still love onenote though).ย Our students like OneNote because it keeps everything in the one place, and works well with the Office 365 suite of apps. So far I have had a play with stickers, the forms add in, and the online immersive reader.

Stickers

This tool is fun, and my juniors in particular love it. There are stickers that are customisable so you can tailor feedback. So while not super efficient, or super powered pedagogy, they are fun for the teacher and the students, who enjoyed seeing them on there work. Even the boys liked them ๐Ÿ™‚

An example of the feedback I gave to students reflections on the topic. I also used the voice recording option with inking.

Forms addin

This is mostly just a time saver – it is really convenient to just click the button and add the form. If you have one already made up, you can slot it in there. Or you can make a new one. Making a new form opens a new tab – it would have been super nice to have it in the same side bar so you could look at the content on the page as you write the questions. That said, it is super easy to split the screen (especially on the surface) and get the same effect when writing the form.

I like using forms for quick formative assessment on content – it means I have more time to talk to students during class while still getting that data to inform my next teaching steps.

Immersive reader

I have already gushed about the learning tools function in OneNote and the other accessibility option that are coming for the Office 365 suite of software. But with this now being available in OneNote online (and word online) it is now so much more accessible for our students to use – again coming back to we are not BYOD so having the tools online is so valuable. They flexibility of this tool is amazing, with a click or two you can change background colour, font, font size and spacing, and highlight part of speech

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the tool captures the text on the page, and give you options to change it
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You can easily change the back ground colour and spacing
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There is a read aloud option, and you can make the voice go fast or slow
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You can also ID parts of speech

I am currently working with our RTLB (resource teacher – learning and behaviour) for how this tool can help students with learning difficulties access the material, and have been really impressed with how staff at my school are already using this tool (especially our ‘shop’ teacher who won’t let me specifically share his work, but he is doing amazing things with some of his students to help them get trade qualifications and a real sense of achievement and success)

Posted in Professional learning

Reflections from the #E2 Global educator exchange

I was fortunate enough to attend the Microsoft E2 global educator exchange held in Toronto, Canada last week (March 21-13). It was a truly global event with over 250 educators from over 80 countries in attendance, as well as product developers, Microsoft partners, school leaders and some representative students!!! E2 had so many highlights and I am still processing the 3 days. But here is a brief (actually long.. but skimming the surface of lots of deep ideas) summary

Day 1 – Tuesday.

The keynote included welcomes from lots of important people and some areas/ways that Canada is trying to boost its eduction system. Then John Myers talked aboutย Edsby – a cloud based learning management system, which looks pretty cool but I am not sure how it would fit with Kamar in NZ. Then Lisa Floyd spoke about computational speaking and the importance of problem solving in classrooms. I loved her presentation and the idea that computational thinking doesn’t need to be based around computers – she didn’t use it but the analogy of knitting patterns to coding definitely came to mind.

Then I meet my ‘educator’ team who I was mentoring for their challenge (design a hack for a classroom problem) and had some training on how we would be judging the challenge entries.

After lunch it was presentation time!! I as so glad to be on the first day. I was a little bit nervous, but enjoyed Velichka’s presentation on the importance of diversity in computer Science. ย Then it was me (which I will write about in another post), and then Marisolย shared about bridging the gap between neuroscience and technology. My take home from her talk was around providing adequate choices for learning as every brain is different. Amanda‘s presentation on Active learning was crammed full of useful tidbits geared toward making a student centred learning environment.

Then it was hanging with my team and basically watching them do their thing – right from the get go they worked together really well. I almost felt I was in the way of them working on their challenge!! It was fun to talk to them and learn about education in their countries. I also had a great chat with the Microsoft classroom team about how we are using this is my school. It was a great opportunity to talk to the developers and how we are using it, how we could use it better and how they could tweak it to make it easier to use. There are also some really exciting developments coming.

On Tuesday from 5pm I had some STEM training. This was TOTALLY AMAZEBALLS and so much fun. Other people at my table were not as confident as me with both the language and just ripping in and giving things a go, so I found myself to be the expert of the table. Which was cool to be helping people get the same buzz I got, when things started to click the excitement in the room was massive

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Building this was SOOOOO MUCH FUN!!!!!

Tweemeet – the Tuesday night was the #MSFTEDUCHAT tweetmeet. So there was a party with wines and beers while we tweeted. This was sooooo different to my normal experience talking to the crew from the other side of the world. So there was real chat, and virtual chat, and it was rad.

Then it was dinner time. Sadly I missed the APAC dinner because I did the tweetmeet, but I went out with Steffie and Mike and caught up with the Europe crew afterwards – there was much merriment ๐Ÿ™‚

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Big smiles ๐Ÿ™‚

Wednesday

Luckily the keynotes on Wednesday Morning were AMAZING as I was a tad jetlagged (and hung over…. blaming the Irish….).

If you are interested, you can sign in and watch the recorded session HERE. Essentially, the whole keynote was a plethora of new ideas and challenging thoughts.There was a showcase of We.org around how you can become involved with this program, students from the Queen of Heaven school spoke about their experiences helping others gain an education. The awesome Meenoo Rami spoke about Minecraft in the classroom and Mike Tholfsen talked about his 10 favourite ways with OneNote in Education.

The presentation that really struck me was Daniel McDuff and emotion sensing machines. Essentially, the technology is there to track emotions of participants completing tasks. This could be used to track student engagement or learning, or even alter the task in real time to meet the students needs. I am still not sure how I feel about this – is it too ‘big brother’? Could it be useful for students to learn about how they learn? Would it help break down barriers of students not feeling confident to ask for help? What are the ethics around measuring this data as students complete set tasks? It was a really though provoking presentation that challenged my assumptions around education and big data.

Then it was off to learn about microbit – these little beasties are super fun. Drag and drop code, cute interface and very user friendly. I had a great time pretending to know how to use Java script – I am getting better but still a way to go.

I then went to listen to fellow Kiwi Steve. This session had 4 speakers. Lieu talked about building communities.ย Steve talked about using Onenote to personalise learning using student accessible language and the importance of involving students in choosing the level they learn at. James Gill gave a great overview of how he personalises learning in a multi aged, diverse learning needs classroom that really resonated strongly with me – learning is not always perfect and we need to find ways to engage all students and their families in learning. And then there was a great example of Minecraft in the classroom from Miroslavย – I was VERY jealous he had been able to commit 3 months to this amazing project of building his school in Minecraft.

I then sat my Microsoft Office Specialist exam (word) and passed – although I didn’t get 100% so room for improvement there. I then went and check on my team, but they were well on track and Koen had arrived by then so they had been well supported. They got their pitch in on time and I hope they enjoyed the experience of working together and learning about each other.

Then there was the technology showcase, which I saw very little of as I was busy helping people with the Hacking Stem project. Looking back, I think this was some of my favourite E2 moments – the joy on peoples faces as they got their sensor to work was awesome. For some, this was a completely new experience and it was an amazing privilege to be part of it.

And I was so tired that I can’t even remember if I got dinner or not. I must have, but I have no recollection of where or what it was ๐Ÿ™‚

Thursday

Keynotes – The keynotes kick started with Actiontec talking about screen beams. I LOVE my screenbeam and how this tech allows me to be be able to move about my classroom. It is especially great for putting Science demos or examples on the big screen. There was also a session on accessibility tools – Microsoft has really put a huge focus on this area and the array of tools is growing all the time. Then Lakesha Kirkland talked about how her students had gained certification with the Microsoft imagine academy – which is definitely worth our school exploring further.

I then went to listen to fellow Kiwi Arnikaย talk about her experiences ‘letting go’ and how her students participated in the design process for the Margaret Mahy playground in Christchurch. Then I popped into to visit the Pearsons group to talk about the Microsoft Certified Educator exam and give some feedback on the updates the are making.

Then it was time to judge the group challenges. This was a very tough job – it was amazing what 5 random strangers could put together in 2 days when they worked together. I think everyone should have got prizes…. sigh

After Judging I popped into the learning market place – which was an overwhelming mix of amazing education ideas. All the Kiwi crew did a great job of presenting their ideas, and I saw some pretty cool other ideas too.

I then went and got a coffee with Steve, and we were joined by Koen Timmers. This hour of quiet ‘chat’ (punctuated by terrible puns and bad jokes) is definitely my best memory of the conference – while there were amazing presentations and lots of learning, in the end this always comes back to people and the connections and relationships you build.

Thursday night was the awards dinner and party – and party we did. There was spirits on the bar and great company and music. It was an awesome celebration to finish off a great week.

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Koen, Steve and Me at the awards dinner – it was a great night ๐Ÿ™‚ there were loads more photos, but they got a bit blurry as the night progressed

So a MASSIVE thank you to everyone that contributed to my having an amazing week. The people I meet and reconnected with really made it an exceptional week. Massive shout outs to James, Amanda and Koen (and Steve….) for giving me my key takeaways and friendships, as well as the whole kiwi (and ANZAC) crew for being so inclusive and fun. Massive respect for Sonja, Becky and the team for putting it all together and the STEM microsoft team for an amazing experience (and cheesy T shirt). And too everyone I meet, thanks for being awesome and being you – keep rocking it ๐Ÿ™‚ Ka Kite An0 – till next time….