This week is National Science Week in Australia and to celebrate I am sharing several blog posts dedicated to how I have used popular technology tools to enrich science learning. In today's post, I share how a simple thematic connection between Lego We Do and the Year 5 STEM unit resulted in an afternoon of fun, problem solving and cooperative learning.
While browsing the IOS app, I happened upon one of the investigative units, Plants and Pollinators, which made a nice thematic connection with the Year 5 STEM unit this term. Students are using the alarming decline in bee populations around the globe as a lens for problem-based learning. During the unit students study the anatomy of bees and flowers and the important role bees play in producing the food we eat. It is more than honey! Without bees a variety of fruits and vegetables would no longer be produced. Students watch Vanishing of the Bees and several other documentaries to discover the threats to bee populations. Colony collapse disorder, Varroa Mites, diseases, pollution, habitat destruction and agricultural pesticides are all contributing factors.
Last year, the Year 5 students decided to make bee homes for native bees in the area. This year, students are developing pollinator gardens to support the native bee hives on our collage campus. Raising awareness is also a major part of what the children wish to do and so they are hosting a special "Bee Aware Day" at school.
The greatest benefit to the students in relation to this project was the cooperative learning and problem solving the build presented to them. It was a tricky one to complete (intermediate level) and students worked in pairs to accomplish the task. The interpretation and visualisation of the build, as well as the construction, challenged students. Perseverance was essential. The students were totally absorbed and had so much fun with the task. Further learning opportunities suggest then having students innovate on the design, create alternative pollinator models or expand the model to demonstrate cross pollination.
The lessons on the Lego Education Website have some great ways to link with not only Science, but also other STEM subjects. As well as being great tools for facilitating the instruction of coding and design, sets are flexible and are only limited by your (or the student's) imaginations.
How have you used Lego WeDo at your school? Please share below in the comments!
This week is National Science Week in Australia and to celebrate I am sharing a blog posts dedicated to how I have used popular technology tools to enrich science learning. In today's post, I share a series of lessons exploring how popular robots, Ozobots, were used to explore the moon's orbit around Earth and how eclipses occur. Read on to learn more...
Lately I have been interested in finding ways technology tools can connect with and enhance classroom curriculum. With an increasingly crowded national curriculum, developing rich learning experiences that address several objectives at once is a way classroom teachers can work smarter. Utilising engaging technology tools and layering up skills and knowledge produce highly effective learning experiences for students. A recent mini unit with Year 3 students made use of Ozobots, a tool that I have historically reserved for teaching coding. I cannot take credit for this concept at all. The lessons were based on educator resources found on the Ozobot website. I highly recommend you check them out. As teachers, we do not always have to reinvent the wheel (as the saying goes), but it is always good to innovate on it and adapt it to your context....and that is what I did.
In the end, a very small unit of a couple of lessons had a big impact on students. The video below was a culminating project of sorts.
Connecting with Classroom Content
Lesson 1: Learning to use Ozobot Colour Codes
Lesson 2: Exploring Lunar and Solar Eclipses
The Celestial Mechanics lesson on the Ozobot website provided the resources and inspiration for the lesson. We blacked out the track for the "moon" and programmed the earth to spin on the spot using the suggested code. We used torch light as the rays of the sun which created a shadow, beautifully simulating how eclipses occur. Students were also able to identify the difference between solar and lunar eclipses from this activity. They captured video of the model for later use.
Lesson 3: Learning about gravity and orbital momentum using Ozocodes
Teaching Year 3 students about angular momentum seems to be pitching a little high, but students understood it easily with our second task. We actually spun a student on a chair in the classroom, getting them hold their arms close and further away, illustrating how the speed of the spin changed. This kind of exercise was very relatable to students and from this we were able to simplify that the moon moves faster in its orbit when it is closer to Earth and slows down as it moves further away. Students then used basic Ozocodes to program the moon's elliptical orbit to represent this. An example is shared below.
Lesson 4: Sharing our Learning
Why Test Online?
The biggest advantage for us is the tailored testing which will show us what our students can do, not what they can’t. We look forward to analysing the improved data that NAPLAN Online will bring.
The majority of the students actually said they enjoyed it. The tests were definitely more visually stimulating than previous years.
This was also mirrored in feedback from Year 7 teachers:
The students appeared to be on task and there was little required interaction with them once they got started.
Technical Readiness and Requirements
The success of conducting NAPLAN online greatly relies on having the technology and infrastructure to support it. This was something we worked very hard to have ready. The college invested in significant upgrades to WiFi capability across the campus to ensure a strong and stable connection for a large number of simultaneous users. Come test day, we encountered no connectivity issues whatsoever. The platform loaded quickly and was responsive between student and teacher devices.
From an ICT Manager’s perspective, and as it is with most things, adequate strategic planning, preparation and testing is required to ensure a smooth run. The main things to consider are internet connectivity (LAN or wireless), devices (BYOD vs school-owned), venue (shared hall or classrooms).
Despite an existing BYOD program from Year 3 upwards, the college selected to administer the test from school-owned and managed devices. This was to ensure a consistent and quality experience for the students. College owned devices were Microsoft Surfaces, which are a 2 in 1 device, incorporating a touch screen, a well-sized detachable keyboard and active stylus. These features were considered important for our students to have access to for NAPLAN online. We allowed students to bring a USB mouse if they wished, but found that very few did as the students were already comfortable working on touch screen devices. ACARA recommends student familiarity with the device of administration for the test. Our current BYOD program requires students to have a touch screen Windows device. Part of the decision extend our 1:1 BYOD program down to Year 3 was to allow our students to become familiar and feel comfortable with the technology. During delivery of the test, I was very pleased to see the children interacting with the touch screen, pinching to zoom in as required and making use of built in tools. Exposure to other online platforms in the classroom appears to have equipped students with general transferrable understanding of common interface elements.
It was pretty easy to do the test (on the computer). I knew how to go forward and back. It wasn't hard to figure out how it worked.
Staff and Student Readiness
There was a small amount of training involved. Coordinators were trained by ISQ and QCAA staff. We then trained the teachers administering the test at a school level. This was followed by a student preparation stage which was relatively simple and fast. This involved familiarising our students with the NAPLAN Portal. We were extremely impressed by how adaptive our students were.
Teacher Observations and Reflections
Testing online was conducted over two weeks. This was due to the number of school devices we had available to use at one time. Several teachers agreed that having the tests stretched out over a two-week period was quite disruptive and that they would rather have the testing completed quickly over the traditional three days. To do this in the future, we would have to make use of student owned devices, which would present more challenges in preparation and ensuring a consistent experience. Despite this feedback, general observations and reflections were positive.
I was unexpectedly happy with the whole process. I thought it was going to be far more painful than it was. When we had a technical problem it was easily solved and there were no major hiccups. I liked that it was paperless and that once the kids finished the tests, that was the end of it for the teachers.
I was impressed with the quality of work our students achieved during the delivery of the test online. Our dedicated teachers worked extremely hard at ensuring our students were familiar with the platform and that they understood their responsibility to pace themselves the same as they would during the paper version and not get ‘click-crazy’.
It ran very smoothly. Preparation is definitely the key. I think that using College devices meant that we had much fewer connectivity issues but it did mean that we had sessions running for the whole 9 days as we couldn’t run many concurrent sessions.
Thoughts on Typing Vs Hand-written
There continues to be much debate around students completing the writing task online. Perceptions in year 7 and 9 are more positive than in earlier years of schooling. Wendy Jurss, Director of Teaching and Learning, commented that student output appeared greater on the writing test than it had in previous years. With students in the high school now having taken part in a 1:1 BYOD program for the last 3 years, it could be suggested that a developing competency with technology contributed to this.
Year 3 teacher Robyn Behr is of the opinion that the writing test should remain hand-written in year 3:
Typing does present an added cognitive load to the process. The move toward online writing assessment appears to be allowing the results of prioritised literacy skills to somewhat rely on underprioritised technology competency. Despite there being General Capabilities relating to ICT skill and Australian Curriculum subjects focused on computer science, technology is still regarding as an "extra" in classrooms. Many schools engage with little more than a superficial implementation of technology in the early years of schooling.
If this is to be the future of NAPLAN and other external assessments, schools are going to have to very seriously consider their technology integration in the primary years, which is severely lacking in many right now. Insufficient exposure to technology tools could potentially hamper student ability to perform to their full potential in online testing. This is not a case against teaching handwriting or a call to replace books and pencils in schools with devices. Fundamentals are important and always will be. Similarly, this is also not the only reason for improved technology integration in schools and is in fact a very small part of the argument*. Nevertheless it remains a consideration that I encourage schools to consider as we move towards the full implementation of NAPLAN online.
*Further discussion on the typing vs hand-written debate can be found in a previous blog post here.
The Age of Digital Texts
A similar argument could be made in relation to the reading tests. Previous experience interacting with digital texts could be beneficial to students completing the reading test online. Year 3 teacher Robyn Behr highlighted a potential issue relating to the random assignment of reading material during the test:
There were six pieces of reading (each one at a different level) and students received them in random order. Some got the hardest piece first. For those confident readers the order was not an issue but for those students whose reading is average or below average it would have been very off-putting and potentially detrimental to their results.
Observations during the reading test did reveal some limitations of the interface. The texts were long and quite small on screen. Many digital reading platforms allow students to flick through texts as you might do in a physical book. A lot of students are accustomed to this. Students were zooming in on texts which raises questions as to how well they are actually reading the text or if they are even reading the entire text. There were several instances where students had zoomed in to texts and then lost the frame with the questions. Improvements to the size and presentation of digital texts on the platform would improve user experience.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Our experience with NAPLAN Online was a positive one. I believe this is greatly due to the hard work of our staff in preparation for the test and ensuring that the technology could support the event from an IT perspective. Student exposure to technology through our BYOD program appears to greatly reduce technology related anxiety and complications. There remains the question of exploring the use of student-owned devices in order to complete tests in a shorter time-frame. A more targeted and mindful approach to developing typing may enable students even more. Further development into the interface will help ensure students have the opportunity to achieve their best. Despite our feelings and experiences conducting the test itself, the outcomes are what we will be paying the most attention to. It will be very interesting to compare student data once it is released.
Special thanks and credit to the staff of The Springfield Anglican College who contributed their feedback to help inform this article:
Earlier this week at their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple showcased developments with their ARKit. Two exciting developments were the Measure App and their collaboration with Lego. Both of these present possible applications in educational settings and suggest where AR in education is heading.
While many may think of this as a nifty extra on their iPhone or iPad, it represents a huge possibility in how AR can be developed to support mathematics and other subjects in education. Imagine setting children the task of calculating length, perimeter or volume of real-life objects. Add in the ability to ink onto a screen capture or record mathematical process over the top and you have a great way for students to demonstrate their understanding. This is pretty much achievable now, with a few steps in between, but what would be really good to see is a few developers jumping on this capability and honing it to educational needs.
To see the demonstration of Measure, check out the video below.
AR and Lego
I love Lego and was thrilled to see this partnership showcased in in the WWDC keynote. The Director of Innovation from Lego shared how they have used ARKit 2 to develop a new app allowing 3D object detection with Lego Creator Sets. Children can see their Lego world expand right before their eyes and interact with it in exciting ways. Built in challenges and the ability to add extra elements to the scene take play a little deeper.
You can see the Lego AR demonstration in the video below.
What really stood out for me was the collaboration that was enabled through Shared Experiences, a new feature of AR Kit 2. Up to 4 players could share in the experience of the Lego world. Another example produced by Apple was an interactive game between 2 players which also allowed others to observe. This got me thinking about the potential of collaborative student projects and demonstrations in AR. Again, there is a need for developers to mindfully harness this capability for educational purposes.
AR in Education
Examples such as these set my mind buzzing. We now need to see this technology move beyond the simple substitution of what we can do in real-life and offer added functionality or allow students to work in more transformational ways with it. Shared Experiences is promising for collaborative tasks and AR Measurement tools could be harnessed to enable deeper understanding or application of mathematical concepts. I am looking forward to some innovative developers bringing these tools to education.
To see the full Keynote from WWDC, click here.
Do you have any thoughts or ideas about AR in Education? Leave a comment below!
Over the past two weeks, the students at my school have been among the first in the state to take NAPLAN (National Assessment Program of Literacy and Numeracy) online. Traditionally these are a paper-based assessment. Students completed the writing test on computers, as well as numeracy, reading and language conventions (spelling and grammar). I was so happy (and relieved) at how well things went. This event highlighted ongoing debate among teachers in relation to the impact technology is having on the development of student writing skills. It is a topic I have been throwing around in my mind for some time now and in this blog, I share some of my thoughts....
My experiences as a writer
I wasn't the best student in Primary School. I remember with clarity the ordeal that writing was for me. It wasn't easy. I was a weak speller and I struggled to compose writing that flowed. My mother would have to stand over me to get me to finish my weekly homework project. I remember rubbing out pages until they'd tear and starting pieces of writing over and over again until my hand ached. My handwriting, in contrast, was beautiful. A more gorgeous page of student writing would be rare to find and yet the minute you actually read it...well, it was pretty average. Many primary school teachers of course know that you don't judge a piece of writing by how it looks on the page, but I am fairly certain it helped me fly under the radar as a child.
This continued into junior high school until my family got a computer...and I distinctly remember things changing at this point. Composing text became easier. Editing and improving my writing was quick and didn't require me to start over. Spelling didn't hold me back and I learned new ways to say things with the built-in thesaurus. I could set out a few ideas and pad them out. Something about it just worked for me. Fairly quickly, my writing improved. I even started to enjoy writing! By the end of high school, I was an A student in English...who went on to be a teacher....and now a blogger! (That is not me saying that I am a good writer, just that I enjoy it more)
It is for these reasons (based on my own experiences) that I do not see technology as the evil that many others do. I do not feel that using a thesaurus or spell checker is cheating. My spelling and vocabulary improved with the help of these tools. I actually believe that the online Writing NAPLAN test should allow students to use all of the tools that a real writer might have access to in a platform such as Microsoft Word. If you want to test grammar, spelling or punctuation - do this in the language conventions test and let the writing be about ideas, structure and fluency.
I acknowledge that this may not be the same for everyone. I just know it worked for me. In saying this, I challenge those who are inflexibly single minded on hand written composition to consider that it may not work for everyone also. With so much talk about enabling learners, individualisation and differentiation why are we not allowing students to benefit from technology tools?
Writing goes digital
Looking towards the future, not towards a test
It is worth considering what we should be preparing our students for. Years ago, the ability to write pages and pages was required for students to survive standardised testing. With tests such as NAPLAN now moving online, it begs the question if this kind of gruelling endurance is required anymore. When I think about my day-to-day life, even working as a teacher I do not write out a lot of things by hand very often apart from the odd sticky note. There are very few paper forms I have to complete these days. I am currently working on an essay for university and there is no way that I am hand writing that! This is just not how things are done anymore.
It's not about one over another - it's more about the what over the how
I am getting over so many binary arguments in education - it's not always one or the other. With so much technology bashing lately, I felt like I had to make the argument for typing but the reality is that both methods still have merit and application. The most important thing is what is being written, not how it is being written. Different tools suit different purposes. Sometimes it is good to scribble some ideas out and to this day, I still love a hand-written letter. But sometimes when you are trying to piece together a more complex piece of writing, you just need the flexibility of digital text.
I'd love to hear your perspectives on this topic. Please leave a comment below!
A school Facebook page post some positive news to their Facebook page (such as a recent sporting victory). A teacher from the school, who is following the page, then likes the post as does parents and students of the school. Parents or students of the school may then notice the like and follow through to the teacher account, which then (depending on many varying settings) may allow them to see photos, videos, page likes, posts from friends or apps....the list goes on. In addition to this, teachers can then be put in the awkward situation of receiving friend requests or private messages (which can be sent without actually being a friend on Facebook). I have experienced this situation myself.
In most cases people do not understand how deep you have to dive into Facebook's settings to ensure your personal information stays personal. It can be very difficult to control third party apps and other people tagging you in posts. If you are like me and have been on Facebook for over 10 years, some history literally has to have settings change individually. Similar scenarios can also occur on Twitter or Instagram accounts (that are not set to private).
Personal Vs Professional
So many teachers just avoid social media and that's a shame. I am constantly acknowledging the benefits of engaging in the PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) I have become a part of on social media platforms such as Twitter. They have opened doors and provided great opportunities to engage with some amazing and inspirational people. I also love social media for the same reasons everyone else does - sharing and connecting with my friends and family and to explore my hobbies and interest areas. Teachers can have the best of both worlds on social media. I do this by maintaining both a personal and professional identity on social media platforms. This may sound like lots of work, but it really isn't. Jumping between accounts is remarkably easy across many platforms.
Tips for juggling identities....
This isn't a perfect recipe. This is what I have found works for me and it may not be the solution that works for you. I feel that Social Media has so much to offer people personally and professionally. If you agree, this approach might be worth a try....
As a teacher, how do you currently manage your presence on social media? I'd love to know. Leave a comment below!
A heroic ideal of leadership, which excludes women and is deeply rooted in Australian cultural mythology. Historical accounts and popular folklore have elevated our belief in the redemptive powers of solitary, courageous men who triumph through endurance, stamina and self-reliance.
If our notions of leadership are socially constructed and based in Australian white-settler mentality, what does this mean for women aspiring to leadership? AND should women even be aspiring to be that kind of leader?
Leadership is associated with the lone and powerful, self-reliant male. Notions of collaboration and collective leadership are viewed as weakness. Women in leadership roles that I have experienced have succeeded by perpetuating this image. Does that mean that unless women adopt this approach, they can never really succeed in leadership?
Statues from ancient societies remind us of the awesome powers of goddesses and high priestess. Mythology around the Amazons and Valkyries also painted women as fearless and powerful individuals. Yet, over time these models faded as patriarchal forms of authority became the norm. These were the result of a range of factors, including the different modes of economic production and the impact that then had on family structures.
As we move towards a more global, networked society where information technology is becoming a predominant tool, allowing a highly collaborative and flexible workforce that is valuing innovation and creativity, will our current notion of leadership begin to change?
By definition social construction refers to commonly accepted models and understandings that are results of social or cultural practice. They are jointly constructed, widely accepted and so difficult to change. Having now considered the structure of our schools, I actually find it perplexing. Education serves a civic purpose, so why is that in our schools, which are supposed to be preparing students for a democratic society, we model anything but? If anything, we model a very watered down version of democracy which may be considered consultative or delegatory. This autocratic power model perpetuates right down to the classroom level, where teachers reign over their students.
Despite the lack of transformation of leadership structures into the 21st Century, the role of the Principal or Head Teacher has grown and more closely resembles the role of a CEO. They are responsible for marketing and image management, external performance evaluations and the running of the school as "business" on top of being the leading professional practitioner. It is also easy to understand hesitancy to relinquish power when accountability is higher than ever.
This discussion raises far more questions than it answers. While different educational models exist, they do not represent the norm and still adhere to an autocratic leadership model beyond the classroom. Who is to say that a transformation of leadership structures would transform education itself? My inner classroom teacher senses the potential for chaos while my inner educational activist says "giddy-up!"
This year I am starting my Masters in Education. Despite specialising in Information Technologies, I have also decided to commit time to studying Education Leadership. It was my talents with technology that threw me into my current leadership role. Over the last few years, I have had to work hard to grow into the leadership side of my position. While I exhibit some characteristics, I am not the classic type A personality that so many leaders are and I recognise that it is a skill I want to develop further.
As I commence my first subjects this week, I found myself reflecting on my understandings of leadership in education. To be a successful leader, you need a deeply thought-through philosophy about leadership. You also need to constantly interrogate and re-evaluate your leadership practices and beliefs.
What is Leadership in Education?
I believe that leadership is a process and not a necessarily a position. While leadership positions exist in educational institutions, individuals can be leaders without any formal authority. Leaders are people who initiate change and growth. They are people that can see possibilities and develop a vision. It is for this reason, I feel that creativity can be a valuable skill in leadership. Leaders build culture, inspiring engagement and collaboration, and they maximise the potential of the talented individuals around them.
I do think there is some difference between being a leader and being a manager, although admit that many educational leadership roles require skills in both. Leadership is about producing change and growth by envisioning and designing strategies to move forward. Management is more about enacting these strategies, ensuring order and consistency. Management is more tactical and hands on while leadership is strategic and visionary.
What is the purpose of Educational Leadership?
Educational organisations have obligations to society, the needs of their learners and the requirements of other key stakeholders. Leadership in Education is somewhat responsive to these needs and obligations and responsible for driving them. People in these positions need to develop strategies and point their schools in the right direction after analysing industry trends in relation to their context.
Where do we gain leadership knowledge and skills?
Leadership skills are something that can be improved over time through study, mentorship and experience. Leaders are individuals who develop interpersonal and communication skills, build relationships and become more self aware. Learning more about the "business of education", change management, educational policies and compliance are key in becoming an educational leader. Many also model their leadership styles after those they have experienced themselves. Mentoring can be highly valuable to beginning leaders. Transparency within the organisation also permits a view inside and an opportunity to learn.
The tricky part can sometimes be, knowing what to use for different purposes. Here is my quick guide to using the different communication tools on Class Dojo.
DO: Keep this feed very visual - parents will keep coming back for more! Try to avoid posting just text messages – that is more what the “all parents” broadcast feature is for in Messages.
DON’T: Post a stream of individual photos of children. Parents will get annoyed at 20+ notifications and having to scroll through a river of posts. They only really want to see their own child. Groups of children and collages of photographs are better. Individual shots can go on individual Student Stories.
DO: Teach students to post themselves! Don’t worry, you approve all posts before they go live. Use it to document evidence of learning for reporting descriptors, to collect formative assessment and as a student reflection tool.
DON’T: Use this as a way to send messages to parents. The students can see this themselves.
DO: Use it for quick text reminders instead of posting them to the Class Story.
DON’T: Use informal language. Although it feels a bit like a chat interface, keep correspondence professional at all time.
Read all about my thoughts on teaching in the 21st Century, my experiences with technology in the classroom, running a Maker Space, launching STEAM and Design Thinking with students, coding, robotics and much more!
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