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! 🙂

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.

Kids Collaborate

When I first started this blog two and a half years ago, I also set up a wikispace and Facebook page that shared the same name – “Kids Collaborate”. I registered a business with this name as well. For me, at that time, I was very keen to establish a space for educators around the world to “connect, create, collaborate and communicate”. This idea was put on hold back then, as I started a new venture, integrating iPads in a 1:1 setting. Now that I have that under way, I am very keen to pursue my initial plan 🙂

Today, I spent some time updating the Kids Collaborate wikispace. I’ve listed some global projects my students are keen to be part of. If you and your students are also interested in participating, please get in touch with me. More details can be found at the site.

At present, five projects are listed. I call them the “My School” series 🙂 They include sharing images about:

  • your school
  • your classroom
  • a playground in your school
  • the items in a student’s lunch box
  • the view from a window in your classroom

Inspiration for the projects have come from my students, as well as Professional Learning sessions I have attended in the past.

My students are keen to create presentations using the images shared.

This space is available for you to list your own global projects too 🙂

Massive Minecraft Build Challenge

Last week, a student asked me if we could have a “Massive Minecraft Build Challenge”. I had no idea what this meant, but being a fan of Minecraft, I agreed. This student assured me he’d organise everything. He’d even lead the session. Now, how could I refuse a request like that!? 🙂

In the morning, my student beamed as he told me how he spent most of the night before clearing the land in the world we’d be using, and setting up a target board. The target board included topics for the builds. These were to be selected by shooting an arrow. This sounded amazing! I couldn’t wait for the session to happen.

During the day, the class was informed of our plans and tweets were sent out via our class account. Word spread amongst other classes too. Excitement was in the air!

The time came and we projected the world on to the whiteboard so everybody could see and hear the instructions. It seems we came into some problems, though. Only some students could access the world because they had the updated version of Minecraft. Also, only five students could access the world at one time. On the spot, my capable student suggested the class form groups of 4 or 5 to complete the task in their own worlds. The class accepted this idea and my student shot the arrow. It landed on the ‘castle’ square, so the topic was set.

For the next 40 minutes, there was a hum of engagement in my classroom. My students worked together to build their castles and chatted amongst themselves to assign tasks. Students who wouldn’t normally work together were co-operating and respecting each other’s comments and suggestions. I loved this! It was clear they all shared the same vision 🙂

As home time was nearing, students buddied up with peers from other groups to share their creations. They explained their builds, as well as their plans for improvements. I had already mentioned they could continue to work on their castles next week, hence their forward thinking.

Although the session didn’t go exactly as my student had planned, the ‘Massive Minecraft Build Challenge’ was a success. We faced some obstacles, but know what to expect next time.

 

Digital Stories

I have always been a firm believer that “a computer is not a typewriter”. This is why, since I first started teaching, I have always encouraged my students to publish their work in creative ways, digital or not.

In 2008, I attended my first professional learning session with Marco Torres. Wow! What a true inspiration! I will always remember that day and the way Marco’s students created digital stories, aligning pictures, music and sound effects to their scripts.

Since that day, I have encouraged my students to produce work of a similar nature. To my surprise, my students have always stepped up to the challenge. They have followed the writing process in class, i.e. planning, drafting, revising and editing… and have selected how they’d like to publish their story in digital form.

Last year, I was truly impressed by the song my students wrote and recorded during our poetry unit. This year, I am just as amazed by the narrative my student has published. She has integrated a number of apps and skills to create the outstanding digital story below.

I love how my students take the idea and make it their own 🙂

 

 

1:1 iPad Program – Tips and Advice

It’s hard to believe I’ve been working in a 1:1 iPad classroom for over two years now. At first I recall feeling overwhelmed by the unknown. I’d been in 1:1 laptop programs for the three years prior to this shift and honestly didn’t know what to do or where to start. At the time, I didn’t even own an iPhone – I was a Sony Ericsson fan, so I couldn’t rely on knowledge or experience from a ‘like’ device as a start. It was daunting, yet also exciting! I found myself in a position many of my colleagues had found themselves in, that being thrown into a 1:1 setting with unfamiliar technology. This was a true first for me!

So, what did I do? I actually thought back to the conversations I’d had with past colleagues and took my own advice, as outlined below:

 

Discovery time

Let your students explore apps. Allow time each day for students to see what they can find out, especially something they think nobody else knows. Use this time to explore apps as well.

 

Share time / Reflection

Promote share time and reflection. Encourage students to share what they have found out with you and their peers. Also ask students to explain how they built on their knowledge of the app. Share your experiences too.

 

Collaboration

Promote collaboration and working together. After all, two heads are better than one.

 

Experts

Highlight the expertise and talents of all students. Make them the “go to” person for the app/s they are familiar with. You don’t have to be the bearer of all knowledge. Don’t be afraid to learn with and from your students!

 

Purpose

Always think about the purpose of the activity. What do you want your students to learn? If technology can support this, fantastic! If it can’t, then don’t force it.

 

Pedagogy is the driver

Just reinforcing the tip and tweet above 🙂 Always focus on the learning!

 

Stages

You are going to go through different stages, as outlined in the SAMR model below. That’s okay. Your students are going to work through different stages as well. By allowing time to share and grow together, you will get there. Be proud of what you and your students accomplish and try not to compare yourself with others and their journey, as hard as that may be.

 

Student voice / Student choice

Promote student voice through student choice. Set the task, but don’t set the way to complete the task. Ask students to share how they plan to complete the task, i.e. the app/s they are going to use. This will help those students who are unsure of where or how start. It also reinforces class experts and supports students’ learning preferences and needs.

 

Creativity

Motivate students to be creative. Ask them to think about what makes an awesome graphic, game, web page, etc. Ask them how they can replicate this in their work. Encourage your students to “WOW” you and “Do better than their best!” Be honest and tell them you won’t accept an image and some text. The results will amaze you!

 

Cloud technology

Take the time to set up a shared space where students can save and share their work. I use Dropbox. I have set up a class folder that all students access, as well as individual folders that only each student and I access. There are many sites available that provide the same service. Find the one that best meets your needs.

 

Learning with iPads

Last year, my colleague, Jessica Gallagher, and I were extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to present at ULearn, an international learning and teaching conference held in New Zealand. We presented how we integrate iPads in a 1:1 setting. Our hands-on workshop was booked out. Throughout the conference, attendees thanked Jess and myself for inspiring them and suggesting purposeful ways iPads can be integrated. They loved our list of free apps too.

This year, Jess and I are presenting a similar session at the ICTEV conference. Shortly after our abstract was accepted, we were approached by ICTEV to write an article about our session for a publication about mobile devices. We are flattered that we’ve been recognised as innovative educators who promote student voice and student choice through effective ICT integration.

Please read our article below.

 

Learning with iPads – By Jessica Gallagher and Michelle Meracis

Manor Lakes P-12 College is a government school in Wyndham Vale, a rapidly growing residential area. The school opened in 2009 with 450 students. Today, the school has approximately 1600 P-11 students and 200+ dedicated staff. The College is set amongst large grounds with numerous active and passive play areas.

Manor Lakes P-12 College strives to provide a personalised learning program through a rigorous curriculum that integrates the use of Information and Communication Technology. Currently, students in years Prep, 1, 6, 7 and 8 participate in a 1:1 iPad program and students in years 9-11 participate in a BYOD model. This allows for learning to take place anywhere, anytime. Mobile devices have not simply replaced pen and paper; they have rather enhanced student creativity and collaboration.

iPads were first introduced to grade 5 students in late 2010 when the college was asked to take part in the DEECD iPad trial. In the very beginning, apps were mainly used to support and reinforce concepts covered in classes. They were introduced during warm-ups as a way of tuning students into learning and, in some cases, to front load students. Now, iPads are a tool used to support the learning process when and where students see fit. Teachers set learning tasks and students choose how to complete and present them.

 

Literacy

Staff and students at Manor Lakes P-12 College use a number of apps to support and reinforce literacy skills, particularly in the areas of vocabulary building, note-taking, planning, drafting and publishing. Many of the apps have been suggested by staff, but most have been discovered, tried, tested and shared by the students.

Some of the apps we use during the first 10-15 minutes of literacy lessons, our warm-up/tuning-in time, include Chicktionary Lite, Whirly Word, Story Spine, Mad Libs, Words with Friends and Hanging with Friends. All of these are free. Chicktionary Lite and Whirly Word are both anagram based games. They require students to create a number of words out of the given letters. Story Spine and Mad Libs both focus on the strategies and skills required for creating an interesting narrative. Mad Libs reinforces parts of speech too. Words with Friends is a game similar to Scrabble and Hanging with Friends, as the name suggests, is similar to Hangman. In our classrooms, we alternate between using the Apple TV to explore these literacy apps as a whole class and giving students quiet time to work independently.

Many students prefer to take notes on their iPad using apps such as Popplet Lite, SimpleMind+, Corkulous and Lino. These apps allow students to record notes in a speedy manner, move them around and alter where necessary. They are also popular for planning written texts, as are Bamboo Paper and Idea Sketch. Sound Note is another great note taking and planning app as it allows students to verbally record their ideas, as well as type and draw them. As teachers, we love that our students are planning and organising their ideas using these apps, but we encourage them to write in their books too. There is a time and a place for writing straight on the iPad; it is all about the purpose of the activity.

In terms of publishing, iMovie, Storyrobe and Explain Everything are at the top of our students’ lists. Students find it easy to import text, images and photos into these apps and voice record over them. Toontastic is another app that students enjoy using. Its layout complements the 7 Steps to Writing Success program and reinforces the sequence and strategies necessary for composing a correctly structured narrative. We have heard some students say that they like how Toontastic has clear steps for them to follow, making the process of writing and publishing so much easier.

Another great publishing app is Wattpad. This app allows students to publish their work to a global audience and read the published pieces of those also signed up to it. We have noticed that students who generally refuse to write anything are suddenly motivated to write and publish their work. The published pieces are sorted into genres, making it easy for users to locate something of interest.

During independent reading, students have the option of selecting physical or digital texts to read. In many cases, students read pieces from Wattpad. They also read iBooks, eBooks, online books and material from web sites, such as newspapers and history based texts. As teachers, we roam and engage in conversations with our students to ensure the texts they are reading are appropriate for their reading level and age group.

 

Numeracy

Similar to literacy, we use a number of apps to support and reinforce numeracy skills. Many of these apps are discovered by students and shared on a daily basis. In most cases, these fun and addictive games are played during the warm-up/tuning-in time at the start of each lesson. Currently, the most popular math apps include MathBoard, Mathletics, Math Dragon, Math Ninja, Math vs Zombies, Number Battle, Pick-a-Path, Shuttle Mission Math and Speedo Math.

One particular app we have found to “stand out” from the rest in terms of supporting and reinforcing student learning is Virtual Manipulatives. This app is an interactive fraction wall that can be viewed in fraction, decimal and percentage form. Students can drag tiles out to a main working space for simple comparison and manipulation. Equivalent fractions, decimals and percentages are all in the same colour too, making the connections easier to see and make. Students of all ages and abilities have benefited from this app.

Drawing apps have been useful during small teaching focus groups. Rather than students writing on paper or a small whiteboard, students complete equations on their iPad in a drawing app and save their work directly to their camera roll. This image is then inserted into their digital portfolio or used as the background to a voice recording that outlines the steps undertaken to complete the problem. In the beginning, students used Reel Director, Splice, iMovie and Storyrobe to create their tutorials. Over the past two years they have moved onto screen recording apps like Explain Everything, Educreations and ShowMe Interactive to produce the same result.

In the beginning, students kept their tutorials on their own iPad, sharing their work with their peers and teachers only when prompted. Now, students export their tutorials to their camera roll and either email them to their teachers or upload them to a shared folder in Dropbox. Our students really enjoy watching and listening to the different ways they each learn. We are currently collecting the student made tutorials so we have a bank to select from to support student learning across the college, as well as to front load students in a way similar to a flipped classroom; the main difference being that these tutorials have been created for students, by students, using “kid speak” rather than “teacher talk”.

An idea we have been looking into is having a student video record their teacher on an iPad during the introduction of a lesson to later post to a shared space, i.e. Dropbox, YouTube. At present, students take photos of the examples completed on the board to refer to, but if someone records their teacher, an immediate tutorial can be created for students to watch and listen to again, anywhere, anytime. As an alternative to this idea, because not everyone likes to be videoed, teachers have started to connect their iPads to an Apple TV and then record themselves using a screen recording app introducing the lesson. A tutorial is instantly created and, during the lesson, it is uploaded to Dropbox for students to refer to. Students are encouraged to view the tutorial prior to the following lesson to reinforce the concepts and skills already covered.

 

Inquiry

For inquiry based work, students select the apps they feel best meet their presentation needs. This may include using one or a number of apps. Over the years, we have seen a big shift from a picture and some text in Keynote to top quality graphic designs created in PicCollage. Some students take these designs one step further by importing them into iMovie to produce digital masterpieces including voice recordings and original music composed in GarageBand. Like all lessons in each learning area, as a class, we discuss the apps that can be used to complete certain tasks, to model thinking about our thinking, as well as to assist those who may be a little unsure of where to start. Ultimately, though, the choice is up to the student as to how they present their work.

A very popular app amongst students of all ages and abilities at the moment is Haiku Deck. It is very similar to PowerPoint and Keynote, yet adding images as backgrounds, positioning text and rearranging the order of slides is much easier. Its simple features make it an effective and powerful app to produce impressive presentations.

 

Collaboration

Since the beginning of the 1:1 iPad program, we have been amazed by the natural transition towards collaboration and peer coaching amongst students. It is common for students to sit on the floor in small groups to assist each other and discuss the tasks they are completing. The design of the devices lends themselves quite easily to students passing iPads around to share and showcase what they’ve done and how they’ve accomplished this.

This has been particularly evident in the iBuddies program, where classes in grades prep and 6 pair up and participate in purposeful lessons that provide students with opportunities to work collaboratively on their iPads. Over the past two years, we have observed the preps learning and practising foundation skills and the grade 6s strengthening their peer coaching and leadership capacity. A bonus from last year’s experience has been the way this year’s grade 1 students have supported their current teachers with using the iPads to enhance their learning by selecting appropriate apps to complete class tasks. This has been very helpful in supporting the grade 1 teachers, many who are new to the college, with effectively integrating the technology in their learning and teaching programs.

It is evident that student voice is a strong component of our 1:1 program. A large part of its success stems from students having the freedom to choose the app/s they want to use for a task and then being able to explain why they chose it and deemed it to be appropriate. This emphasis has really strengthened our students’ abilities to articulate and reflect on their learning.

 

Cloud Technology

With a major focus on digital learning environments, we have needed to explore ways for students to share work completed on their iPads with their teachers and peers. In the very beginning, this was through email. Every student at Manor Lakes P-12 College has an email account. Over the past two years, we have moved across to using Dropbox. Within Dropbox, teachers create one shared class folder that all students in that grade are invited to access. Teachers also create individual folders for each student that only them and that student access. This set up is made possible by students having their own Dropbox account. Managing work this way has proved to be less time consuming as teachers don’t need to scroll through and open copious emails to download attachments, they can rather access student folders and view submitted work on any connected device.

A number of classes are also using Edmodo and Google Drive as mediums to share and submit work. Teachers at Manor Lakes P-12 College work with their students to select the preferred space to use and work within, again demonstrating the college’s focus on student voice.

 

The use of iPads in classrooms at Manor Lakes P-12 College has certainly opened up new and exciting ways for students to create, collaborate, connect, share and reflect. They have allowed students of all abilities to feel immediate success and produce work of an outstanding quality.

Google All The Way

This year I decided to go down the path of setting up a Google site for my class web site (https://sites.google.com/site/6michelle2013/), rather than a wikispace. I’ve been using wikispaces for the past 4+ years, but last year the layout changed when viewing wikispaces on iPads, which lead to some confusion amongst my students.

I’ve adapted well to using Google sites; it isn’t much different to wikispaces. I must admit it is a lot easier than html coding… the way I used to create web sites in the mid to late 1990s… Oh, the memories! 😉 I loved the programming side of things back then, though, as I majored in programming in my Post Grad… and I do often resort to coding when I want to tweak a few things on a web page, i.e. height and width of images or embedded objects.

This year, I’ve decided to use more Google apps and features with my class. In the past, I’ve embedded Google calendars and forms in web pages, and linked to Google docs, but seeing I’m using Google sites, I think it is fine to say that it is now Google all the way! 🙂

Google apps and features have also flowed through to my team. Last year, my team and I began to use Google docs for planning. This year, I have set up Google templates for all of our planners and term overviews. This allows everyone to access and collaborate on all documents with ease… anywhere, anytime 🙂

Welcome to 2013!

It is hard to believe this term is almost over… I just don’t know where the time has gone!?

I must admit, my students and I have had an amazing start to the year. Being part of a BYO iPad program, I was a little worried during the first week of school when only half of my students had their own device. My nerves soon settled over the following week when all but three students had access to one… Phew!

This is my third year now in a 1:1 iPad program. Each year I am blown away at how easily the students adapt to the technology. My class this year has taken to app selection to complete tasks like fish to water. They have been able to articulate their choices and learning to class visitors clearly, something I truly didn’t expect so soon. They are able to navigate our class site (https://sites.google.com/site/6michelle2013/) and Edmodo group with ease, as well as email me work or upload work to their shared Dropbox folder. All of this in five weeks!!! It is outstanding!!! I am so proud 🙂

We’ve set up a class Twitter account, but it is going to remain protected. We’ve been tweeting over the past few weeks and next week, we’re going to set up individual accounts. Each student will only be allowed to follow the main class account, no one else. I’m purposely putting this restriction in place to allow parents the opportunity to see how we use Twitter as an educational tool to post responses and reflections to lessons to demonstrate our learning.

 

Reflection on 2012

I have been thinking about writing a post based upon my experiences last year regarding all things iPads for quite a while now… I just don’t know where to begin! Last year was amazing, thanks to the awesome group of students I taught 🙂 It was one of those years where everything fell into place – the learning, the ideas, the choices, the voices, the risk taking, the sharing, the collaboration, the respect (for one another). I was blown away by the way my students supported each other in doing “better than their best”. They set their own high standards and continued to surprise me each day. An example is the video clip two very talented students published. During our poetry unit, these boys asked if they could write a song to the music of the 80s rock classic, Sweet Child O’Mine. Of course I said they could… they were enthusiastic about this idea! For me, learning is about embracing my students’ interests, listening to their voices and allowing them to make choices. When students are excited about an idea, they are engaged. Learning comes naturally then, it’s not forced. Well, this choice worked for these two young boys. Word soon spread about their video clip and within days they achieved rock star status! Take a look for yourselves…