KidzTek Article

Earlier this year I was invited by Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria (DLTV) to consider a role as Associate Editor for their online journal. I was quite flattered by this offer, as I have worked closely with DLTV and one of its founding organisations, ICT in Education Victoria (ICTEV), for many years. Of course I accepted! In accepting this position, I decided to write an article for their upcoming journal about my KidzTek program, to share my thinking behind how it was formed. Please find my full article below.

 

KidzTek logo

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KidzTek: Full STEAM Ahead in the Early Years Classroom

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

Last year, after a number of years teaching older students, I made the move to a grade 2 class. Towards the end of 2013, I requested this change due to my observations when working with the junior levels as a Digital Learning coach. I saw a need for more support and guidance in using technology in creative and innovative ways. Having led the 1:1 iPad program in grade 6 for three years, where students used their iPads as a way to enhance and showcase their learning, I felt it was time to provide the younger students with this same opportunity.

 

Walker Learning Approach

One of the biggest differences I noticed in my move to an Early Years level, since the last time I taught grade 2, was the implementation of the Walker Learning Approach. This is an Australian developed pedagogy, designed by Kathy Walker, that engages students in personalised learning experiences. For more information about this learning and teaching approach, please explore the following links:

During the Walker Learning Approach, or Investigations, as we refer to it at my school, students are tuned into their learning experiences for the day, move to and between a number of centres (with intentional provocations) where they investigate a range of skills, then reflect on their learning at the end of the session. The centres the students explore include reading, writing, mathematics, science, collage, construction, block construction, dramatic play, sensory and tinkering.

Art-BallerinasThroughout the year, I noticed how much my students loved working at the mathematics, science, collage and tinkering centres. My students often asked if they could draw pictures at the writing centre too, which led me to setting up an art centre. Having an art background myself, I would often talk to my students about their personal interests, then share artists and art works they may be interested in. For example, my students interested in ballerinas explored the works of Degas.

These experiences and conversations helped me see that my students were keen to explore STEAM concepts, aka Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. I thought long and hard for quite a while, trying to develop a way to build on my students’ interests in these areas so they moved between centres similar to the Walker Learning Approach, yet had more freedom in selecting what they wanted to do and explore. This is how KidzTek was formed.

 

KidzTek

KidzTek was created primarily to expose my students to elements of STEAM. Unlike the Walker Learning Approach, the centres, or rather activities, don’t necessarily include skills the students are learning or consolidating throughout the day or week; the activities actually reflect the students’ interests on that particular day.

When I first introduced KidzTek to my class last year, I asked my students if they knew what STEAM stood for. They didn’t know, which is what I expected. I wrote the letters down my whiteboard, with the corresponding learning area represented by each letter. I asked the same question again. After many guesses and prompting, my students were eventually able to identify most of the words. Engineering was Stop motionthe one they stumbled on. We listed the types of activities they could undertake in each area, and, not surprisingly, many of the activities reflected those already at centres for Investigations. As a result of this, and as a means of providing my students with new opportunities, I listed a few additional activities. These included coding, stop motion, K’Nex, marble runs and Rube Goldberg machines, which were actually part of my initial brainstorm, as documented in my KidzTek blog.

My students were really interested in knowing more about these activities, as they had heard about some of them, but hadn’t seen or explored them. I thought about talking through each activity, so my students had a clearer picture of what each was about, but decided not to. I felt that this would have impacted on my students constructing their own learning and collaborating with their peers to work through any challenges. I did, however, share a short clip with them, Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap, as way to reinforce design, construction, prediction, evaluation, perseverance, resilience, failure, success and reflection. The clip was a big hit and, you guessed it, my class was buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm to explore, create, learn and share.

 

2014

During term four, when I introduced KidzTek to my class, I ran the session weekly – each Friday afternoon. My students were always excited to participate, often coming back inside from their lunch break with a clear intent regarding what they were going to do.

easyblogjrEarlier in the year, I set up a class blog, after being contacted by an app developer. The app, Easy Blog Jr, allows you and your students to post text, photos and videos directly to your blog with only a few taps. Please refer to my posts for more information. I wanted to capture my students’ learning and thinking during KidzTek, so I decided to link the app to my KidzTek blog too. Each week, my students would ask for my iPad, take a photo, voice record a recount or reflection, show me for approval, then press submit. I loved the way my students were becoming global authors. They would often play back their recording and record themselves again if they felt their message wasn’t clear, prior to sharing their post with me. I embraced this independence and reflection, and encouraged my students’ ability to take control of their learning.

Last year, one young boy, who transitioned to my class during term four from my school’s onsite support (specialist) centre, was the first student to create a closed circuit that lit a globe and played music. Through perseverance, he also made the ‘helicopter blade’ fly. You can’t even begin to imagine how proud he felt when the class cheered on his effort and achievement.

Coding3Two students decided to explore some coding apps on my iPad. During the following session, one of these students connected my iPad to the Apple tv and began teaching a larger group of students who wanted to learn how to code. She demonstrated what to do, then passed my iPad around, watching the tv screen and providing support. Coding became quite popular after that session, with around 10 students gathering each week to learn to code together. The amazing thing about this is that I did not show any of my students how to code. I only showed them where the coding apps were located on my iPad.

This experience, or rather program, has shown me “what is possible”. I have seen my students welcome STEAM concepts and thrive on exploring them further, on their terms, at their pace.

 

2015

This year I have introduced KidzTek to my new class. They, too, have welcomed the experience. Surprisingly, though, they have different areas of interests. Maker spaces and tinkering is more their style. My classroom is bursting with boxes and old circuit boards. My students’ parents are amazing in topping up our supplies. Active imaginations also run high. One student pulled apart a circuit board and used the parts to create a remote, similar to the one in the movie ‘Click’. It was great when his peers and family played along with his ‘invention’ and commands, e.g. pause, rewind, fast forward. Another student made night vision goggles, whilst another made a Transformer.

DashandDot-LabeledforReuse2I’ve shared with my class my interest in robotics. I have ordered ‘Dash and Dot’ and cannot wait for them to arrive so my students can have a play. In the meantime, I am setting up some ‘simple robots’ kits. These include materials similar to those I used during a workshop I attended at the FutureSchools Expo in March. Shortly after working with Daniel Green and Dr Sarah Boyd from the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre, I came across a kit posted by Tinkerlab on Facebook – Make Your Own Tinker Box & Build Robots. This has been my inspiration. It contains many items you can purchase from stores like Jaycar, e.g. springs, wires, globes, magnets, plastic ties, etc. Mine also includes battery holders, hobby motors and insulation tape. I’m looking to add copper wire too. I cannot wait to see what my students create when I introduce them!

 

I haven’t been able to run KidzTek sessions as frequently with my class this year, due to timetable constraints. This, however, hasn’t affected my students’ enthusiasm. If anything, it is feeding it. Interestingly, my students from last year have asked if I plan to run KidzTek as a lunch time club. I am definitely considering this, as clearly there is a need to provide students, particularly primary aged students, with opportunities to explore STEAM concepts. Imagine the possibilities these experiences will create!

Future Schools Expo

Last week I was fortunate to have attended the Future Schools Expo in Sydney. The expo was amazing, in that there were five conferences running at the same time. I signed up for the ‘Teaching Kids to Code’ conference. I listened to some amazing presenters, including Gary Stager and Martin Levins, and came away with some new ideas to trial in my classroom 🙂

A few of my highlights include:

  • book01meeting and chatting with Gary Stager at the Expo book store. I purchased his book, Invent to Learn, written with Sylvia Libow Martinez, and must admit I was a tad star struck when Gary signed my copy 😉 I also purchased the ever-talented Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Project Book. If you haven’t watched any of Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Shows, I suggest you do. Sylvia sure is one clever young lady who has achieved massive success through making, tinkering and inventing 🙂
  • creating a little robot using a battery pack, two motors, some wires and insulation tape. Although my cute little guy didn’t move sideways in a straight line… nor stand upright, it showed me just how easy it is to bring robotics into the classroom. robotAfter participating in this hands-on session with Daniel Green and Dr Sarah Boyd from the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre, I came across this kit, posted by Tinkerlab on FacebookMake Your Own Tinker Box & Build Robots {STEM Project for Kids}, and chatted to my brother, who studied robotics at university. I’m keen to set up a kit similar to this… and to look through some of the text books my brother has kindly lent me. robotkitI can’t wait to see what my students create… and what we learn together through making and tinkering 🙂
  • participating in a Scratch workshop with Martin Levins. As someone who studied programming in high school, and majored in programming during my Post Grad, it was fantastic to make connections between the languages I used all those years ago, with Scratch. I’ve explored Scratch a few times in the past… and my students love using Scratch Jr… I just haven’t really sat down to take everything in myself. Before I knew it, I was writing scripts and drawing on my prior knowledge. I was debugging errors and including variables. scratch01
  • Wow! I was really surprised at how quickly things were coming back to me. For many years after graduating, I remember teaching my students how to code, as I’ve written in a previous post, I just can’t believe I’ve allowed myself to push this passion aside due to time constraints and an over-crowded curriculum. Sometimes, I think, you just need to listen to your heart and do what you think is right. After all, it is the students who will benefit from learning this skill 🙂

Whilst at the conference, I bumped into a lovely lady I connected with at the schoolstechOZ conference last year, Leanne Cameron. During our chat, I shared details about my KidzTek program. Leanne passed on to me a flyer relating to a STEM progam, co-ordinated by Dr Megan Vazey. The program, which involves completing online modules based on computational thinking, really sparked my interest. So that night, I emailed Dr Vazey and we have since been in contact. I cannot wait to build on my new connection with Dr Vazey, and learn from her, as she is an amazing lady 🙂

Overall, I would have to say my Future Schools experience was, as Sylvia puts it, AWESOME! I connected with some talented people, I saw what is POSSIBLE… and I now have a clearer picture as to how to move forward with coding and robotics in my classroom! 🙂

Hello 2015

I am always amazed at how time flies. I tell myself that I will be able to post weekly, or even fortnightly, yet, due to the demands of my job… and the down time I need to recover and re-energise… I am seeing a pattern where my good intentions just aren’t happening.

This year looks to be the same. I cannot believe we are in March already… and the end of term 1 is nearing!

To give you some background information, this is what my role involves:

  • I am a grade 2 classroom teacher and the grade 2 team leader.
  • I lead 8 staff and approximately 110 students.
  • I am my school’s eLearning leader and I assist my school’s Assistant Principal with the direction of eLearning within my school.
  • I am a Digital Learning Leader (coach). I am released an extra 3 hours a week to coach staff with integrating iPads in their learning and teaching program.
  • I support the other Digital Learning Leaders in my school with how to coach, as up until now, I’ve been the only one in a formal ICT peer coaching role.

Add to this the conference presentations and consultancy work I do external to my primary position. This makes it clear for you to see that I am quite time poor. In saying this, though, I do need to make a change… a change for me… a change where I can stop to smell the roses, whilst still pursuing my passions.

 smell-the-roses-live

So, for me, it is clear that I need to write down my goals and share them with the world. I believe this will make me more accountable towards achieving what I want and need to do…

Here goes… This year, I will:

  • post to my blog at least once a fortnight
  • continue to explore STEAM and introduce new approaches with my class
  • continue to explore coding and provide my students with opportunities to expand their skills
  • reconnect with my passion for robotics and provide my students with opportunities to create simple robots
  • continue to run my KidzTek program and share the successes and challenges my students and I face
  • ensure I have some down time so my work/life balance is not so one-sided.

I look forward to sticking to my goals and sharing my journey with you. Please feel free to comment and ask questions along the way 🙂

My Programming (Coding) Journey

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about coding lately and am trying to think when it was, over the past 5+ years, that I actually stopped incorporating coding in class with my students…

I remember when I began teaching in 1997 teaching my grade 2 students how to design web pages using html and how to create multimedia projects in MicroWorlds. In the years following, with students in grades 3 to 6, I continued to incorporate html and MircoWorlds programming into my learning and teaching program. I recall introducing my students to Scratch, too, when it was first released…

microworldsscratch

So why, more recently, have I moved past sharing a passion of mine with my students? Could it be because of an overcrowded curriculum? Maybe I’ve had a greater focus on creativity through the means of graphic design, movie making, song composition and spatial relations (Eden, Minecraft). Either way, it’s time to change, it’s time to get back in touch with a passion of mine.

Not many people know that I actually majored in engineering mathematics and computers in my Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree, and programming and multimedia design in my Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Education degree. I studied computer science during my secondary education too. I actually recall my friends in my year 10 computer science class joking that I wrote the text book because the programs I jotted down in my notebook always worked when we typed them up and ran them on the computer. I guess being considered “talented” in mathematics enabled programming in the “top down” approach easy for me to understand and apply. It was something I enjoyed and something that came natural to me.

Over the years, I have programmed scripts using a variety of languages, including:

  • Logo
  • Pascal
  • Virtual Basic
  • C++
  • MicroWorlds
  • Scratch

Logo programming is a favourite of mine and I can still remember my grade 6 teacher, back in 1985, introducing my class to the “turtle”. Isn’t it amazing that almost 30 years later, the logo language is still embraced and widely used in schools… and it is still something I remember!

Throughout my programming journey, I would have to say that Seymour Papert has had the greatest impact on me. Whilst studying my Post Grad, I read a number of Papert’s texts. If you are interested, I highly recommend Mindstorms and The Children’s Machine. Papert’s take on the constructivist approach to learning, whereby students play a more responsible and active role in constructing their own knowledge, really made sense to me. I actually feel this approach has helped me become the teacher I am today. I also believe it is at the core of my teaching.

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”

Seymour Papert

Another quote of Papert’s that I live by is “teach for one day, not just tomorrow.” I remember reading these words in an article online where Papert discussed the need to look beyond providing students with the skills they need to thrive and survive in society in the short term… He was suggesting to move beyond that, to the long term… to the future. Again, these words have stuck with me and, again, I believe it is a quote that helps guide me as a 21st Century educator.