Saturday, 15 October 2016

A Cool Little Task in Problem Solving

While I was attending a great workshop at Ulearn16 based on Coding and Robotics I was introduced to a very cool little task in problem solving by Nicki Tempero and Jess Bond from CORE Education.  This involved using the printable coding cards from the Teacher's Resources found in the Scratch Jr website to begin the students thinking about coding and how it can work.

We undertook this task as a class yesterday afternoon, with the students discovering many things but most importantly their need to work together (collaborate) in order to complete the task I had given them.

They thought it was an easy one to do - choose one person to be a 'robot' then programme your robot to walk a square 4 steps x 4 steps.  We discussed the meaning of each of the programming blocks first - what could this look like as they created the program.  Then they were set to work.  Easy quickly became challenging with lots of discussion about which blocks to use.  As they discovered the blocks giving their 'robot' the ability to hop, say 'Hi', jump a number of times and so on their squares became more elaborate with actions added in at each corner.  Various methods were used to have their 'robot' move in the direction they needed it to, although as they begin to program the robotic kit creations yet to come there will again need to be some re-thinking.  Once the programming time was over they shared their programs with the class, looking at success and new learning that came from the failure to create the assigned shape.

For some it was the first time they had come across block programming in any form, for others it was a re-introduction but one still requiring some thought and problem solving.  It will not be the last they see of this activity as it is one we will use again in other ways.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

And the Journey Begins... Again!

Once again my learning is moving on.  This time I am on a learning journey with my students.  While I have some knowledge of the waters into which my class and I are about to sail, I will be as much an adventurer as they are.

As a new teacher into the class I currently learn alongside at the beginning of last term it was important to build relationships and establish where their learning journey's were at.  Now it is time to get into the nitty gritty of my Teaching as Inquiry.  With the assistance of the Grassroots Initiative, established by the Ministry of Education, we have been and will be able to purchase the tools we need to make this journey.

Ulearn16 has also provided plenty of material to reflect on, implement and consider what learning we need as we make our journey.  There will be separate posts as I reflect on the Ulearn16 breakouts and keynotes over the next few days.

Currently, I have three different robots to begin to learn how to program - the students and I will learn together once I have taught myself and them the basics.  The future purchase of a couple of Makey Makey kits, a couple of conducting-dough electronics kit, and eventually a Raspberry Pi will begin our journey.  Using online coding tools such as Scratch, the new Apple app Swift Playgrounds and those available through the Hour of Code the intention is to introduce the students to tools they have not used before.

Minecraft is also on our radar, particularly with the imminent arrival of the EDU version, but to be used in ways different to what the students are used to.  This is definitely one tool where I will be the tuakana and they the teina.  An old favourite, Kodu, will be placed on the existing Windows desktops.  The use of my old Samsung S4 will assist in the introduction of Virtual Reality alongside Google Cardboard.

I am getting quite excited about the coming journey as we sail off into the somewhat unknown to make new discoveries and explore the possibilities that come with the acquisition of these skills.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

How Well Do You Really Know Your Students?

For me relationships are key to building an effective environment for learning.  But what does this really mean? Are we really doing enough to find out about our Māori students, their background, the hopes their whānau have for them and what the iwi graduate profile might be? Are we making ourselves equally familiar with the families and their aspirations of our Pasifika students? For us to truly know our students this is indeed what we should be doing.

A friend and past CORE Education colleague raised my awareness of the need to know not just the surface features of our Māori students - pronouncing names correctly, knowing their whānau - but knowing the iwi to which they belong and all that this entails. For all of that knowledge goes into understanding and building a relationship with our Māori students. Janelle Riki-Waka presented at CORE Education's Emerging Leaders summit in Wellington which I was fortunate to attend in July. She also presented a similar message at Ulearn16, reviewed in a blog post by Nichole Gully - 'Engaging Māori Students and Whānau in Future Focused Education'. The 'guts' of it is the need for us as teachers to really understand and know our learners outside the classroom - their giftedness beyond academia, their language and values. When I say 'our learners' I mean everyone - another learning from my time with CORE is that what is good for students requiring differentiation in any way shape or form is good for all.
How has this looked in my classroom? Over my first weeks with the students I did begin by learning names and ensuring correct pronunciation but quickly moved on to finding out which iwi they are affiliated with, which marae they see as home and how involved they are with it. Three weeks into my time I was able to meet parents at the scheduled parent interviews. A key question for them was what they hoped for their child by the end of 2016. This was noted and considered as I look at where to next.
I also let my young man of Tongan descent know I was aware of the likely expectations his family have of him. He was most surprised to find I had the understanding I did. Our conversations, even the serious ones, are peppered with laughter and fun in the nature of talanoa. He still takes away the message intended and works harder on his own learning as a result. He was able to lead during Tongan Language Week and I find ways for him to lead - whether it is assisting the junior students or leading in sport. Giving his service to the school has and is happening in a myriad of ways. I look forward to the new surprises the rest of the year has in store for me from him.