Wednesday 30 November 2016

Itching to Tell A Story

I had a wee brainwave over the weekend in the place I get most of my brainwaves - the shower!  Let's actually take this itch we have begun to create with Scratch as our tool and demonstrate how well they can use technology to demonstrate their learning in literacy.  Let's retell a story - any story that is not an original.

Some students have chosen nursery rhymes, others Māori legends and still others fairy tales.  Their parameters also include the use of original sprites, backgrounds and, if required, voice overs.

The original sprites have prompted students into using Google Drawings with some students using this tool for the first time.  We have also begun to explore an online drawing tool called DrawIsland which works with greater functionality on the laptops than the iPads. I have yet to have a whirl at it on the Chromebooks.

Students are experimenting with the ability in Scratch Jr to create your own sprites with some very unique results.  Most are complaining loudly about their lack of skill with tablet art - another area for further exploration, along with music creation, in the future.

A question I was asked by some students as they selected stories has raised another possibility for a passion-based project - using Scratch to create an autobiography.  Yes, they wanted to tell their life story.

There are still questions flying around the room and answers coming from all quarters as varying students acquire, use and dispense knowledge.  I am now looking forward to seeing the final products of their endeavours.  Pictures to come....

Friday 18 November 2016

Scratch That Itch

The Hour of Code has led us into exploring Scratch as a programming tool similar to the blocks of code used last week.

Today was simply about exploring Scratch.  Students who generally work on either Chromebooks or the class Mac laptops set up accounts using the website with me acting as their parent or guardian to approve and keep track of passwords.  The iPad users are experimenting on the free version - Scratch Jr.  We will look at budgeting the full version of Scratch into the 2017 app purchasing plan.

True to form, the students proved quick learners, collaborating to advance their knowledge of both the use of the programming blocks and adapting the avatars.  Questions rang out around the class with answers coming from all directions - except me.  It was a powerful example of tuakana-teina at work.  Not all of the newly created 'experts' in one area were able to be 'experts' in another, seeking help from those who were.

While at this stage the initial introduction to new ways ad tools of learning are being teacher directed, once the students get their teeth past the initial stages they are taking agency over what and how they learn it.  It is great to stand back a little and become one of the learners in this part of the journey we are taking together.  It is fast getting to the point where the students will outdo the teacher.

There has been discussion amongst the students already about how they could use this - aiming to direct these ideas to help them demonstrate learning will become my challenge.

Now that they have 'dipped their toes' into Scratch it is time to let the itch spread - learn more about the way this coding tool can be used for creation and share their creations with each other.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Hour of Code

Following our cool wee task in problem solving the students were introduced to the Hour Of Code website.  As a school, Waiouru has a bit of a passion for Star Wars so the students chose to work through the 'Build A Galaxy with Code' activities.

It was great to see all students have such a huge sense of success as they worked their way through the levels, working out where the programming blocks used last week looked similar to those being coded with this week.  They quickly deduced that different blocks had different purposes, how they needed to change numbers on movement blocks, begin with a start command and build their ability to code ever increasing requests of their characters.

The students who initially struggled were placed in a support-buddy combination to get their feet off the ground with the block coding format and, as the coding became more challenging, to assist with the knowledge of angles and repeated coding sequences to be successful.  Problem solving their way through these challenges resulted in a sense of achievement some were not accustomed to in such a short space of time.

So what does this mean as far as my inquiry goes?  The introduction to coding has been received with greater enthusiasm than I have seen in past classes, albeit they had slower internet, less flipped learning and not as many devices.  Another difference I found was the girls being equally as engaged as the boys, with some being quicker to solve problems than the boys.  There was great excitement as the students problem solved their way through the levels, with a slight air of competition developing among some students also.

Discussions after working with the activities revealed the students had enjoyed the challenges presented and found the videos that assist at various stages a big help.  They liked the block coding and the opportunity to fail before succeeding as tasks got harder.  They had a greater understanding of the concept of FAIL - First Attempt In Learning, and took the perseverance from their gaming world into coding.  The students who initially struggled were surprised at how quickly they were able to learn the basics of coding, enjoying the power found in collaboration.

I am looking forward to extending these findings further as we transfer their learning into Scratch and other programming formats to create games and control our newly acquired robots.  The 'don't know' from 'They don't know what they don't know' is shrinking as the term progresses.  Bring on the next level of challenges.

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.

Thursday 1 September 2016

Thinking in Keys Olympiad

As I arrive in the class and contemplate how to get to know my new learners I have hunted for a way to discover the level of their abilities in a real learning setting.  The Olympic Games provided just such a context to see them all in action.  The tool I chose to use was a tweak on an Olympic Thinker's Keys series of Olympic tasks.

I chose to create an assignment in Google Classroom, which they assured me they could use confidently.  This was the first assessment as it turned out.  Some students were able to use Classroom with ease, sending questions and messages using the assignment set as their tool.  They were also able to hand their work in this way at the conclusion of the timeframe given.  Others had to be shown and still others insisted they had handed their work in correctly, but had actually shared the Google Doc into which they had worked with me.

The next assessment turned out to be their ability to research for those keys that required researching.  I did not want to give them a straight out project to 'find out about the Olympics'.  Rather they needed to research in order to complete tasks, analyse their information and use thinking processes to reorganise their findings in order to fulfil the requirements of the assignment. This was something some coped with well, checking their understanding of the task with me before they completed it.  A large group blindly guessed their way through a number of tasks and did not understand the thinking required of them.  Of this group some were able to redirect themselves with encouragement, while others merely completed the finding out phase rather than the deeper thinking they needed to do to process the information and complete their task.

The assessment of the tasks saw me providing feedback to them via the comments function in Google Docs, while also adding suggestions to let them know the value placed on surface features such as grammar, punctuation and spelling.  As these were returned to the students several came to see me and thank me for the depth of feedback they had received.  This has allowed them to identify their next steps in learning and focus on the points I had made in the order they choose.  I should have had them record these reflections in blog posts of their own, but their blogs are yet to be set up.

The biggest frustration of the whole exercise was the lack of regard for deadlines that most of the students had.  Much of the time in class was spent with me trying to refocus a number of students to actually complete tasks they had begun rather than spending a great deal of time off-task.  This led to discussion about why it was important that they meet the deadline given in preparation for the assessment practices they will encounter as they move on to secondary schools.  Some were completely unaware that this was the case.  It has also led me to assess the need for scaffolding time management techniques in future to allow students to build their skill level with this key competency.

What else did I learn?

  • Feedback, in-depth while sharing learning steps, is welcomed and I hop will be acted on by this group of students.
  • Thinking skills should be scaffolded as part of future learning tasks.  A large number of students demonstrated only low level thinking skills, so teaching the higher level thinking skills must be a focus in the future.  When challenged to attempt these skills during this assignment the reactions ranged from acceptance of the challenge to tears, resistance and refusal to even try.  Some way to go I feel!  
  • Listening skills must be developed, particularly in relation to following instruction and interpreting the task completion scaffolds that are offered by both myself and classmates.
  • Continued and scaffolded use of Google Classroom is required so students are able to hand work in correctly, access the resources shared and, in some cases, actually find the assigned tasks.
  • Research skills are needing to be taught.  Many students copied straight from their first source of information, without ensuring any accuracy, plagiarising the work they handed in. Others were able to do this but unable to reorganise their information to complete the given task.
  • Surface features within writing require some attention.  The best way to do this is now upper most in my contemplations.  Do I teach specific skills as I have in the past or do I teach to the needs of the student as I notice them arise?  Or do I combine these teaching methods?
The use of Tony Ryan's Thinker's Keys has had the intended effect - assessment of the students in many ways.  Now those Keys have me thinking - what is the best way to manage the learning I have had about my students?