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.