CEWA LEAD Awards for Excellence 2016

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A photo with my Principal, a passionate advocate for our makerspace and robotics program.


A few weeks ago, my library colleague and I accepted, on behalf of our school, a prestigious Catholic Education WA LEAD Award for Excellence in Learning. This award recognized our work in establishing our school’s makerspace and robotics program, which includes a research partnership with the Schools of Education and Engineering at Curtin University. Unfortunately, due to a family emergency, my library colleague was unable to attend the awards event.

Working in a girls’ school, we are primarily focused on engaging and empowering our students’ interests in digital technologies and engineering. After setting up our library makerspace late last year, we were introduced to several researchers at Curtin University, who were interested in researching the impact of makerspace projects on girls’ engagement with Science, Technologies, Engineering, and Mathematics. As a result of this connection, we have hosted several “STEM makerspace workshops”, facilitated by pre-service teachers and engineering students. Earlier this year, we created our after school “Maker Monday” program, run in the school library, which provides interested students with the time and space to pursue design and engineering projects – going beyond tinkering with electronics and robots. At the start of 2016, I also established our competitive LEGO robotics program. As you can probably imagine, it has been a rather busy year!

Our makerspace and robotics program is very much in its’ infancy, but our curiosity, risk taking, and experimentation are beginning to have a real, positive impact on our students’ learning and engagement with digital technologies. We know we have a lot to learn, and we have a long way to go before what we can meaningfully integrate the makerspace philosophy and pedagogical approach across our school. We are indebted to our school leadership team, both past and present, for without their support these projects would never have happened.

Having our work acknowledged by our system as an example of innovation and excellence in learning means a great deal, and it is a huge confidence boost as we continue on what has been a challenging, but ultimately very rewarding, teaching and learning journey.

 

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Facing the Challenges of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum

As schools around Australia prepare for the implementation of the new Digital Technologies curriculum, teachers are starting to come to terms with some difficult new terminology, content, and skills. While Western Australian schools have been given two years to implement a slightly more user friendly version of the national Digital Technologies Curriculum, we are facing a number of significant challenges in common with our interstate counterparts.

Challenge 1: Explaining the difference between Digital Technologies and ICT

There is a common misconception that ICT and Digital Technologies are the same, and teachers who haven’t read the curriculum are in for a shock.

While ICT focuses on the use of technology for learning, Digital Technologies focuses on empowering students to be creators, producers, and developers of technologies through the development of computational thinking. 

For example, students use ICT skills when they make movies, podcasts, and digital stories. They develop understandings of digital technologies when, for example, they explore the role of hardware and software in their smartphones;  and when they use computational thinking to code digital solutions to problems – e..g. programming a robot.

A good way of defining the difference is comparing ICT General Capabilities to Literacy Skills, and Digital Technologies to the English learning area.


Challenge  2:  To integrate, or isolate, that is the question.

At the start of 2015, we introduced major changes at my school. In line with the purpose and goals of the ICT General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, classroom teachers became responsible for integrating ICT across the curriculum. There were two reasons for this change. Firstly, we believed that learning with ICT should not be isolated in the computer lab, segregated from the rest of the curriculum. Secondly, building our school’s reputation for high-quality ICT and digital technologies programs will rely on the expertise of every member of the school community, from the Principal down. Can schools really afford to reply on one expert? What happens when they leave …?

In our school, many teachers are exploring the power and relevance of ICT and digital technologies to their classroom teaching. I’ve watched teachers become the most excited learners in the room, empowering their students’ creativity and problem solving through digital storytelling, coding, and robotics – and starting to see authentic connections to maths and literacy.

My coaching experiences this year, and discussions with teachers (through Twitter and ISTE), raises an important question in regards to the implementation of the Digital Technologies curriculum.

What is the point of teaching students to collaborate, think computationally, and solve real world problems in one lesson a week outside of everyday classroom learning?

Yes, this may be appropriate for a technologies extension program, but surely these skills are important and applicable for all students, across a range of learning areas?


Challenge 3:  Supporting Teachers’ Engagement with Digital Technologies

The implementation and integration of the Digital Technologies curriculum will be a steep learning curve for most teachers. Some of the concepts in the new curriculum are scarily new, especially the parts about binary language and coding. Yet, others are familiar. For example, we use algorithms for problem solving, cooking, and giving directions / instructions in English , Science, and Maths. We use spreadsheets for collecting and making sense of data in Maths and Geography. These learning activities provide an authentic, relevant context for the integration of digital technologies.

As indicated by the WA curriculum writers, it makes sense to integrate Digital Technologies at the primary level – both through classroom learning activities, and through your library makerspace (if you are lucky enough to have one). If we learned anything from last year; however, it is that teachers are going to need a lot of support, both through collaborative PLCs and resourcing, to become comfortable teaching this new curriculum.

At my school, I have been working as a part-time teacher coach, supporting teachers’ integration of ICT and digital technologies in the classroom. This approach is most empowering for those teachers seeking help to develop their relatively limited technology skills, and those keen to push pedagogical and technological boundaries. I know that most schools can’t afford to fund this kind of role, but I would suggest that teacher relief for collaborative planning, classroom observation, and targeted professional development in Digital Technologies would be money well spent. I’d start by developing the skills and capabilities of a small group of interested teachers across a range of year levels, and then giving them time and space to share their learning with their colleagues. I am hoping to do this in my own school this year – it is just too hard to lead this change process alone.


Challenge 4:  Finding resources and fellow pathfinders.

As we begin our Digital Technologies journey, I take a great deal of comfort in the knowledge that we’re not alone. Around the country, and around the world, teachers are developing resources, activities, and tools that we can adapt for use in our school.

As schools begin their familiarisation and planning with the Digital Technologies Curriculum, it is important to consider what tools and resources they already have available, e.g. iPads; and plan for strategic investment in edtech tools which add value to the curriculum, such as BeeBots, Dash (Wonder Workshop), Sphero, and MakeyMakey. I’d add LEGO EV3 robotics if you can afford them!

For developing skills in computational thinking and coding, there are a range of free resources and communities available online, including:

If you’re interested in developing your understanding of the curriculum, or if like me, you’ve been tasked with leading its implementation, I’d highly recommend connecting with your local ICT subject association, joining Twitter, and exploring the CSER Digital Technologies MOOC. With the rest of Australia (except NSW) implementing this change from 2017 (2018 in WA), things are about to get really interesting!


 I’m learning as I go, and I don’t have all the answers.

Leading the familiarisation and implementation of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum in my school is probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career to date; and I’ve learned some valuable lessons.

You don’t need to have all the answers when you’re starting out. If you can develop a basic understanding of the concepts and tools, don’t be afraid to learn and experiment alongside your students. It took me months to overcome my fear of learning in front of my students and colleagues, but I soon discovered that the more I threw at our girls, the more they came back and surprised me..


 Leading curriculum change isn’t easy, but its worth fighting for.

You will treasure those little moments … Watching a girl who struggles in class successfully code a robot for the first time . Noticing that a group of students have continued the Hour of Code 2015 activities independently through their Christmas holidays. That time I sat down with a Year 5 student and asked her how to explain how she did things I didn’t know were possible with Scratch.

At the end of the day, my students are the reason I teach.

Looking back on a year with @adobevoice

In March 2015, I wrote about an iPad digital storytelling app that was beginning to have a transformational impact on my teaching practice. At the time of writing, I wasn’t aware just how big an impact it was going to have on my Early Childhood colleagues’ practice as well. Over the course of the year, our teachers and students in PP, Year 2, and Year 3 used Adobe Voice extensively, across a range of learning areas.

I love Adobe Voice for its simplicity, and especially how it makes it so easy to find Creative Commons / Public Domain images and backing soundtracks. Our students love it because of its ease of use, especially in pairs (they take it in turns to record a slide). I wrote extensively about our pedagogical approach and suggested teaching strategies in March, and on The iPad Creative Challenge wiki, so I won’t rehash those comments here.

Here are some of our Adobe Voice highlights of 2015: 

Celebrations – Year 2 (Student Blogging Challenge)

Keep Australia Beautiful – Year 3, Persuasive Writing

 Time – Year 3 Maths

 

“Thank You Mr Faulkner” – Year 3 English (Narrative Retell)

Demystifying Coding and Programming – Just Scratchin’ Around

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Jenny Ashby @jjash may not know it, but her Sydney #slide2learn session on Beebots and coding gave me the push I needed to take a risk, and experiment with Scratch programming in Years 4 and 5 in late 2014.

Openly acknowledging in class that I had next to no idea of how Scratch worked, and what it could do, I set my students a challenge to create a game, or tell a story. With the help of YouTube tutorials, older siblings, and coding enthusiasts amongst their classmates, the girls merrily set to work planning, problem solving, and coding their projects; and they were only too happy to teach me in the process!

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The Task

Challenge 1:

Use Scratch to tell a simple story which includes at least one talking character (sprite), and at least two settings or backgrounds.

Challenge 2:

Create a simple game where the user or player has to choose a key on their keyboard to make the sprite move or perform an action. This game could be a maze, a guessing game, or your own idea. It needs to include at least one Sprite (object/character), and a background.

Self Assessment Criteria

I have:

  • Storyboarded what my story / game will look like, and what will happen.
  • Created a simple story or game using Scratch
  • Included at least one Sprite and background
  • Used code blocks to require user/player action – e.g. IF the player clicks their mouse or presses the A key, THEN ….

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Some Results

Arcaine

Press ‘s’ to start, then use arrow keys as per in-game instructions.

Super Grandma!

Press the following keys to progress the dialogue: a, c, e, r, q.

Ask Katy Perry

Start by clicking on the green flag.

Fun Maze (Year 4)

Click on the green flag to start, then use your arrow keys to navigate.

What did we learn?

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Introducing Scratch programming to my students was a huge professional risk, as to the best of my knowledge, it had not been formally taught at the school before. It was also the first time I had ever attempted to run a coding/programming project, something which I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying before #slide2learn.

Through this project, I learnt a great deal about the power of play – allowing students to explore, experiment, tinker, and collaboratively solve problems as they pursued their coding projects. I was surprised by the level of student engagement – both in, and outside of class. Many went home to ask their older brothers and sisters for help and advice in coding their projects! I was also really impressed with the power of peer teaching and support in class, as we even brought some Year 4 students into a Year 5 class to explain how they used a particular Scratch tool !

Next time I run this, I intend to more formally stress the need the storyboard and planning aspect of the project, and include some higher level coding skills in the assessment criteria (drawing upon the Australian Digital Technologies Curriculum). I’d also like to try and provide better summative feedback to students, beyond the whole class discussion and reflection sessions we ran last year. The peer teaching and problem solving approach worked very well for most students, encouraging them to think and learn from eachother.

Later in 2015, I am hoping to introduce Beebots and coding apps into Early Childhood maths / procedural writing, and explore how to integrate Scratch programming into other learning areas in upper primary. We are at the very early stages of teaching coding / programming at our school, but I am very curious to see where this little experiment takes us over the next few years.

Powerful Learning with iPads – iMovie Book Trailers in Grade 3

As I look back over the past six months, one teaching and learning experience stands out as a true highlight – the Year 3 iMovie Book Trailer Project, which was developed and brought to life by the amazing students of Year 3B, and their wonderful teacher. 

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The Process

This project was run in Term 3, 2014 as a team-teaching project over six weeks, with roughly 90 minutes (2 lessons) each week. Neither the classroom teacher or I had ever done anything quite like this before, so it was very much a collaborative learning experience – and not just for the students!

Students worked in small group “book clubs”, choosing their favourite book from the Australian Children’s Book Awards Shortlist for 2014. They worked to identify the main events of the story, holding detailed discussions about the book as they set about creating visual storyboards.

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When we started this project, we weren’t sure if we’d have students’ filming scenes from the books, or using Creative Commons/Public Domain images off the Internet. We eventually decided to go with the (somewhat) easier option – filming. Prior to formally filming book trailer scenes, we gave students time to simply play with the iPad camera, Photos, and iMovie app, discovering how they all worked. The stage was set for one of the most intense, but rewarding teaching experiences I’ve ever been a part of.

On filming day, I knew we were in ‘trouble’ when I discovered a group of students setting up with piles of cardboard boxes in the library – before school had even started! Students brought in costumes and props, and set to work filming their scenes. This proved to be a fascinating process for us as teachers, as we noticed some groups found it much easier to work with each-other than others. We tried to maintain a hands-off, over the shoulder approach, and let the students work through the creative process relatively independently; however, we did have to step in with one group on several occasions.  We weren’t overly sure how many lessons we’d need, and eventually spent about three (very intensive) hours in total.

The Results

Our students blew us away with their passion, creativity, and sheer enthusiasm; and the videos they produced were of exceptionally high quality. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask for parental permission to share them on my personal blog, and I ran out of time to put them on the school website! Next year, that won’t be such an issue, as student publishing will be one of our major whole-school ICT focus areas.

Reflections

As this was very much a collaborative ICT integration project, I asked my partner teacher to share her thoughts on our teaching and learning process –

It was a pleasure to work with Michael on this Book Trailer project. His excitement was shared by the children and myself. I came to the table with little experience so he was involving me in the learning process along with the children. With his guidance the main elements were discussed as a whole and then the children were encouraged to play and experiment. Other Book Trailers were critiqued by the children, the children became confident critics and through the process the children developed an eye and an understanding for what was required to produce a powerful and successful Trailer.

The children were supported with their learning at all times by Michael as he moved with ease from one group’s individual need to another. Michael allowed the children to be creative and encouraged them to solve problem themselves learning from each other. The parents were impressed with their children’s enthusiasm for the Book Trailer project. Some children asked to have a permission note for their parents, to allow them to come to school early so they could get started on their filming. The project was then able to be viewed by all parents during Open Night. It was a huge success where we got to how learning became fun and effortless for all involved.

The children came into this project with no experience with this type of technology or using iPads in a collaborative project. The children chose to be in a group that they had a common interest, the interest was their favourite book from the Book Week nominations. As a result group sizes were varied along with a variation in literacy ability. This could have been very challenging for most teachers but through this project I believe we got the most from all our children. They are looking forward to the next project with Michael.

My Thoughts

As I look back at this project, I am immensely proud of what we achieved in a relatively short space of time. I was blessed to work with a gifted, enthusiastic classroom teacher who was prepared to take risks, letting the students take the lead in their learning. We were able to forge a close working relationship, building on our respective strengths and expertise to enable our students to create something special. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what we can do together next year!

Challenging Students to Respect Copyright

Many students, and many teachers, are unaware of, or not completely informed about how copyright law works online, and most have never heard of Creative Commons or Public Domain media. Yet, these concepts are critical to developing understandings of digital citizenship, and form part of the ICT General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum.

As part of my classroom program, I designed this presentation to clarify some of the key issues, and developed a reference list for PD/CC sites suitable for use in middle to upper primary. Creative Commons and copyright awareness is one of my ICT priorities for 2015.


Copyright is Messy: An Introduction to Creative Commons – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Other Teaching Resources

These infographics are quite handy for explaining the difference, and I have personally used the Creative Commons one in upper primary classes.

Source – http://www.gcflearnfree.org/blogbasics/6.2

 

Infographic: "Creative Commons - What does it mean?" (by Martin Missfeldt / Bildersuche.org).

Infographic: “Creative Commons – What does it mean?” (by Martin Missfeldt / Bildersuche.org).

 

Examples of Student Solutions to Copyright Challenges

Faced with the challenge of respecting copyright in their work, two groups of Year 4 students excelled themselves in thinking outside the box, creating their own images for their iMovie book trailers. For some other excellent copyright friendly iMovie examples, please see my recent post “Lessons learn working with iMovie in Upper Primary“.

Lessons learnt working with iMovie in Upper Primary

In Term 3, 2014, I spent half a term working with Years 3-6 students on various iMovie projects. While I plan to blog about my Year 3 and 4 students’ creations later on, I am in a position to share and reflect upon my experiences working with the upper primary classes. The Year 5 and 6 students were set a challenge – to create an iMovie ‘explanation‘ or advertisement for a chosen audience.

As I wrote in my planning document, the iMovie project was intended as an introduction to digital storytelling, one which will

“develop students’ skills for telling powerful stories through the use of images, text, and sound. Students’ final product will be an iMovie book trailer / explanatory video (depending on year level), which will require them to create planning storyboards, identity and cite Creative Commons images and music, and edit a video presentation.”

At the time, being new to the school and teaching ICT, my planning for this project was more closely aligned with the ICT General Capabilities than the new Digital Technologies curriculum, of which I am starting to develop a working knowledge. The project ran for just under 5 weeks, which in hindsight, was barely enough time to complete and submit the finished products!

The Challenge

I challenged my  students to plan and produce an iMovie which respected copyright through the use of Creative Commons (CC) images and (optional) soundtrack. Stressing that the completed works were highly likely to be published online (which will be a new initiative at the school), I tried to build my students’ understanding and awareness of copyright and online privacy, encouraging their use of CC images rather than live footage of themselves. I was also very keen to emphasise that the time spent planning and scripting the iMovie was just as important as the actual filming – countering the expectation that students could  just jump in front of a webcam and perform with little to no preparation.

The Year 5 students, with the benefit of the detailed project framework, came closer to achieving these goals – although approximately half of the teams didn’t take on the challenge of using images instead of live footage (some had permission to do this). The Year 6 students, set the much broader challenge of creating an advertisement, had more freedom with the use of live footage; however, were expected to demonstrate that they could plan, produce, and edit an iMovie which respected copyright laws.

How did we go? 

Year 5

Given this was not an ICT integration project, and only loosely aligned with the classroom English curriculum, I wasn’t overly worried that many students created procedures rather than explanations. What I did find fascinating; however, was how some groups responded to the challenge of using still images rather than live footage – by creating and using their own photos.

Amongst the Year 5 projects, there were some truly stand out examples of creativity, collaboration, and learning – including explanations of life cycles, the formation of igneous rocks, and how to paint your nails (I work in a girls school!). Some of my personal favourites are the recipes for cakes, brownies, and chocolate balls; the best of which I will be seeking parental permission to share later on.

In the meantime, I can share a selection of my Year 5 students’ iMovies which illustrate a wide range of iMovie production skills, and an emerging awareness of Creative Commons. Some of these have been edited to protect students’ privacy.

Year 6

My Year 6 students, despite some initial hesitation, responded brilliantly to the challenge of planning and scripting their iMovie presentations. I suspect the purpose and usefulness of writing the script / scene plans was made a little clearer due to their participation and intensive preparation for the upcoming Year 5-6 dramatic production, based on The Amazing Maurice, by Terry Pratchett.

Set the broad challenge of producing an iMovie advertisement which respected copyright, students set about collaboratively creating advertisements for the Royal Show, gymnastics, the Garden City Shopping Centre, and the school production. I had students spread out across the school – some were interviewing the Principal, Deputy Principal, teachers, and younger students, while others were filming gymnastics on the front lawn. The resulting advertisements reflected students’ unexpectedly high level interview skills, and a wide range of iMovie production skills, including the very clever use of effects, and a classroom wall as a rudimentary greenscreen.

Considering that students were primarily encouraged to work out how to use the iMovie tools amongst themselves, I was thrilled with the results. Unfortunately, as most of the Year 6 videos feature students’ faces, I can’t share them on my personal blog without parental permission. I can share one though – which if the students’ had included a ‘hook at the end’, would have come close to being one of the best advertisements in their class.

So, where to next year?

I will take a great deal of confidence and learning out of this teaching experience, which is technically the first major upper primary ICT project  I have planned, taught, and assessed. I now have a much better understanding of my students’  iMovie planning and production skills, and have a fairly good idea of the topics I will need to teach and reinforce in 2015.

Some notes that I’ve made along the way include:

  • There is a real need to explicitly focus on the use & referencing of Creative Commons media (music, images, etc) in ICT. This was a brand new concept this year, so it is not surprising that many students are still coming to terms with it.
  • I will need to continue the emphasis on prior planning and scripting, with some more work on storyboarding, especially with next year’s Year 6s. We will likely use Google Docs for this.
  • Never assume students know how to export and submit iMovies via Edmodo or Dropbox. (This is a mistake I won’t make again!).
  • I will also be focussing on the introduction of more advanced iMovie skills, especially the use of title / text overlays to convey meaning, and how to adjust volume and length of film clips.

Overall, this was an invaluable teaching and learning experience for me, and a great way to start my ICT teaching journey. I know I have a great deal to learn, but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and especially proud of my wonderfully creative students – who never cease to inspire me as a teacher.

A Little Adventure in Teaching ICT

Grade 1 Kidpix "Imaginary Creature"

Well, some of those visiting the blog over the past few weeks may have noticed a subtle change to the title of this blog. It is hard to believe, but I’m four weeks into a temporary ICT Teaching & Integration role at a wonderful girls’ school in Perth, Western Australia. 

It has been a busy time, in which I’ve been exploring digital citizenship with my students, helping prepare our new iPads for rollout (next week I hope!), and working with colleagues to set up collaborative iPad project plans.

I am extremely grateful for the warm welcome I have received at my new school, and now, as I start to settle into my role, I feel like I’m on an exciting little adventure into the wonderful world of teaching and learning with ICT for the remainder of 2014.

Here’s to an interesting journey, wherever it may lead.

 Netiquette Activity

 

 

Science, ICT, and the Global Classroom (#CONSTAWA33 Keynote)

Last weekend, I presented the Dinner Keynote at the Science Teachers’ of Western Australia conference, exploring the topic: Science, ICT, and the Global Classroom: Exploring the Possibilities. 

Our Challenge: Engaging Students in Science

As a primary school teacher & global education specialist, being asked to present to secondary science teachers was an interesting experience 🙂

The central theme of the presentation focussed on the use of technology to enable teachers and students Engage, Connect, Communicate, and Collaborate in secondary Science – via connections with external organisations, experts, and science educators around Australia, and around the world.

Building Bridges with REAL Science

My most memorable science teachers were those who were passionate about their subject, and who went out of their way to CONNECT their students to REAL science. As was posited to me on the night, these connections should, and indeed MUST begin, in the primary school classroom, but I was interested in exploring the possibilities at the secondary level.

You DON”T have to be an Expert (when you’re part of a community)

I was also very keen to point out that teachers don’t have to be ICT experts to engage & connect their students in Science. The keys to success lie in keeping an open mind, and and being willing to learn and collaborate with colleagues and experts beyond your classroom walls through engaging in online communities, such as the Scootle Community and Twitter.

I finished up by sharing a crowd-sourced Google Doc, containing links and ideas for Secondary Science teachers interested in exploring the possibilities of ICT and global connections in their teaching. You can access (and contribute) to that document via the short link: http://bit.ly/CONSTAWA2013.

 

Post Conference Reflections

I was rather pleased with the reception I received at the CONSTAWA Conference. It was rather challenging to walk into an unfamiliar conference audience, but the feedback was very positive.

I’ve learnt a great deal through the experience … not just about how much work and preparation goes into these kind of presentations, but how I can personally integrate ICT and global connections into my own Science teaching in the future. The connections I’ve made … the lessons I’ve learned … will help me a great deal when I eventually find my own space and own classroom – one day.

Thank you to the long list of teachers, scientists, and experts who helped make this presentation possible. I am indebted to you – for your support … and inspiring example of what is possible when you ‘explore the possibilities’ of Science, ICT, and the Global Classroom.