Friday, June 16, 2017

A Little Bit of Cross Campus Collaboration

Over the last few weeks, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to do some collaborative learning with our local Secondary School - Ormiston Senior College (OSC). One of the teachers there, Mr Chandar K, has been using the Sphero robot in his teaching and had heard that we were using them as well in the primary school. He contacted us and offered to take a small group of our learners and do some activities with them, to teach them how to code the Sphero Robots.

I've had a couple of Spheros (and two Ollies) and have been letting our learners use these all year, but I wanted to learn how I could use these a bit more. We were a bit limited by our small numbers, so the opportunity to use 8-10 of them in another setting was very enticing. We asked the 90 learners in our habitat which were interested and got 18 who were keen to make the once weekly trek through the Junior College to go learn about how to code a robot.

For the past month or so, we've been learning and developing our coding capabilities and I've been getting lots of ideas as to how you can manage a robotics curriculum in a school.

On the teaching side of things, Mr Chandar K started by letting the learners free drive with the sphero. This was the last time he let them do this. We had a couple of races to get them used to how the sphero moves and what it is capable of doing.


From there we did some simple coding - making the Sphero roll for a short amount of time, at a specific speed in a specific direction.



That was the end of week one. When we came back the next week, we tried another challenge: to make the robots go in a square (and then back again). This proved difficult for some learners as they had to change the directions (so we learned a bit about angles), and adjust the speed or time so that the sphero would go the correct distance. Some were able to complete the task AND make the robot retrace its steps.



The third session involved our learners trying to program the sphero around three objects inside a square - so essentially they had to program a triangle. This was also difficult, but many managed to do it.



Our most recent session involved the learners coding the sphero to go in an L Shape on the carpet. We had some difficulties today and discussed concepts like friction (the carpet was pretty bumpy itself, but the little markers used for the shape were slowing the sphero down a bit and knocking it off course) and fractions, ratios & proportions (when trying to adjust the distance the sphero would go). As a learning coach, I am starting to see a lot of the mathematical applications with using a sphero.


As you can also find out in the video, we learned about putting a delay between roll blocks so that the sphero goes in straight lines, instead of curved.

So why was this helpful? Well, just on the surface this was great for my learners because they got to experience these robots and learn in ways that we cannot yet provide (with only my two personal sphero at our school) and I was given a great starting point for what I can do with them and lots of ideas as to where we can take this.  But there are deeper implications from this experience. At Ormiston (and I mean the three schools combined) we have a great opportunity for some great collaboration between all people (leadership, learning coaches and learners) and this was a great example of what could be done. I know Mr Chandar K is also working with the Junior College. This will hopefully provide future opportunities for the adults at the three schools to sit down and figure out what we want to teach when it comes to robotics and to start to share knowledge and resources.

As for next steps in the coding, I'd like to start introducing some looping functions and then eventually if statements. There is a lot that can be explored in this coding and the doors are starting to get a bit wider for me.

If anyone out there has any other innovative ways to use these robots, please share in the comments!




Friday, May 26, 2017

Organizing an ILE (Part 1?)

So one of the things that has been very apparent in my first term and a bit anchored in a Habitat at Ormiston Primary is that organization is both key and very messy. The more innovative things you try, the harder it is to actually make them work because there are so many moving parts. Over the last few weeks we have introduced a lot of choice for our learners and a few issues have cropped up.


  1. We want to make sure we know (and the learners know) where they are going and when without having to stop and call out every learner individually or write all 90 learners every day
  2. We want to make sure that every learner actually does attend workshops (a common question we've had from educators who we've spoken to)
  3. We didn't want chaos or to spend lots of time sorting it out.


So with some ingenuity (and lots of trial and error!) I've found something that is working (for now). This is a multi step process, but once it was up and working, it's actually quite quick to sort out.

The first step is that in our weekly meetings, my fellow learning coaches and I choose the workshops we are going to offer (based on a variety of factors, which could be its own blog post). After that is decided (usually during our Tuesday meeting) we then make up a Google Form with those choices:


Now comes the fun part.  Initially I had just sorted them out by alphabetizing the results. But that took more time than I wanted to spend, so I used the filter formula in Sheets to get from this:


to this:


I made a separate page for our literacy and our math workshops.

For those of you interested, the formula was essentially this:

=filter('Form responses 1'!B:B,('Form responses 1'!D:D="Ideas"))

With Ideas being the name of the workshop. I've further simplified it by using this formula and only changing the headings as necessary.

=filter('Form responses 1'!B:B,('Form responses 1'!C:C=A2))

The A2 just references the top of the list. By separating these into lists it was very easy to cut and paste them into another document for displaying in the habitat:


The next trick was to make sure that our learners were able to look at these and know in advance where and when they needed to be. Having Apple TVs on all of our Habitat TVs proved to be a slight advantage. While I couldn't get our Google Slides to play sans device, I was able to use Flickr to create albums each day so that all the relevant information would cycle through the TVs throughout the day so that the information would always be accessible.


Each week, to save work, we "Copy to" the sheets we sort onto (eg. the Math Workshops) into the new Spreadsheet created for the new form.


But I wrote above that we also wanted to make sure we'd have all of our learners choosing workshops. One (clumsy) solution was for us to go in and check them one-by-one. But I don't like that and it takes a lot of time (and it's not visual).

So I did a bit of googling and found a very useful formula "on the line."

=IF(ISERROR(MATCH(A1,'Form responses 1'!B:B,0)),"Not Registered","Registered")

Essentially what this does is it checks the value in A1 (or A2, A3, A4, etc when you copy it in every line) and sees if it has turned up in Column B in the initial responses. So all I had to do was get a list of all of our 90 learners and put it in Column A and then copy this formula into all of Column B, add a quick conditional formatting (Green if it's Registered, Red if it's Not Registered) and this is what we get:


All but one of our learners have registered this week (and the one who hasn't is in Queenstown).

So that's how we're currently organizing our workshops. It seems like a lot, but once set up, it's very easily copied into a second, third, etc week. Hopefully this has been helpful. I'll make an attempt to share more of my organizational tips on here and if anyone has any ideas of how to improve this system, I'd love to hear from you!



Nature of Learning Conference

A few weekends ago, I was asked by the associate leader of learning at my school, Ormiston, to assist in presenting at the Nature of Learning conference which was being held at the neighbouring Ormiston Junior College. I was more than happy to join in and help out, as well as attend the other sessions.

The biggest learning for me in this process was actually preparing our presentation and our school tour. The group of us that was presenting talked over many of the founding ideas and principles that went into designing how our school works and functions. Particularly of interest was the OECDs 7 Principles of Learning put out in its Innovative Learning Environments Project. Our school tour was based around those seven principles while our other presentation was based around the other three elements of that report:
  • Action Learning
  • Guided Learning
  • Experiential Learning
What was quite interesting is that though I was previously mostly unaware of those 7 principles and three main areas, I found that I have been following the majority of them throughout my teaching career. Of the three main areas, we found that two of those are well developed or on their way to being well developed.


Action Learning fits in extremely well with our iExplore time, during which learners choose driving questions to answer and then work in small groups to answer them. As a habitat and as an individual I have been part of a very interesting journey with this idea over the last couple of years. My first go at it was something of a disaster, where we didn't even finish anything. Last year at a new school, I tried once again and was able to get some good, quality work from my students. This year at Ormiston I have been able to start sparking some projects that go well beyond the research and make a slide variety. We're getting some real, meaningful and deep projects.

Guided learning is basically the typical reading, writing and maths. And again, over the last few years, I have been individually and collectively on a journey to find out the best ways to do this. Am I there? Definitely not, but I feel like at the moment, we're giving the 90 learners in our habitat a variety of choices and opportunities to reach their potential.

The Experiential learning is what we are still working on, though the preparation for this presentation was very helpful in clarifying what that means.  Essentially how we have been running these is like topic, though we have been providing choice. Ideally, we should be giving our learners some sort of provocation and then let the learners explore what they want in that topic. The suggestion given was bubbles. Some learners may choose to do art with bubbles, some may learn about soap and how that works, others might look at light and why the colours are the way they are. Others still may want to look at why bubbles form or why they float. With many topics there could be several directions they could go.

Preparing the tour was also interesting. We created a series of videos or slideshows that could be viewed using QR codes throughout the school. You can find them all here, explaining how we use the 7 principles of learning daily at Ormiston Primary.


As for the presentations, I did find some of them difficult as they were all people talking and talking. Interesting that a conference on the way in which people learn is set up for only one way of learning. I did get some really good ideas and thoughts from some of the presentations. I attended a workshop from a school that has vertical teams, meaning instead of having all the Year 3-4 teachers in a team, they have Year 1-6 teachers. I thought that in an ILE a vertical Habitat would be a pretty interesting idea, with year 1s and 6s all in the same space. It also gives the potential of having the same learning coaches their whole time at a school while also having different peers every year.

Another helpful presentation I attended was from our friends on the other side of town, Hobsonville Point Primary. They discussed how their learners have individual time tables and how they get lots of community involvement in their workshops. This is something that we have not yet explored and is very relevant as we would rather have more small workshops to give better attention to interests than the ones we have at the moment. It's all food for thought and these are ideas that have been thrown into the constant churning of my brain. It was definitely an experience that has helped me think about what I do and why I do it.

Friday, May 5, 2017

We Broke Out!

After famously attending three sessions on Breakout EDU at the Google Summits in Auckland and Wellington (and attending one with a fellow Habitat Learning Coach) we decided to give it a go in our Habitat to get a positive start to term 2 this year.

For those of you who don't yet know what it is, Breakout EDU is a classroom version of escape rooms. Learners are given a task which involves finding clues to open up locks to break into a box. Each game has a story to go with it to make it interesting and often the clues are related to a specific are to help the learners consolidate their knowledge.
Given that we had 90 learners we decided to split the children into 4 groups and run two sessions concurrently and then two more later. We chose to use a game based off of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, but changed the objective that a mouse had come in and stolen some of my lego, which was locked up in the box.

Though I've played several games before (ISTE 2016 Champion) and even helped out with facilitating one, I had never done so by myself before. So I was very nervous and very worried I might make a mistake. The great thing about Breakout EDU is that they have very detailed setup instructions including a step by step video. Once I sat down with all the materials, it was quite easy. I really enjoyed hiding the clues throughout the habitat.

The actual implementation of the game went alright. We had a number of adults in the room who had never experienced it before and we discovered many issues with the way the clues were set out (they had a particularly hard time figuring out that a pot of pencils was actually a clue. But, as we stepped back and gave them tiny little hints, they did manage to figure out all of the clues and open the locks. As was to be expected, the learners didn't really talk to each other about the clues. One of them had decoded a message as to where something was, but didn't understand the message. She left it and walked away but didn't tell anyone. Later, when some other children were told of the clue, they immediately understood and found the key. It was a good talking point when we had our post-game reflection.

This was a really good chance for our learners to learn some real world problem solving skills. They had to think in ways that they hadn't had to previously. They also had to work together and talk. I think when we do this again, there will be a marked improvement in their communication skills (and the way they look at the clues).


So my next plan is to keep on doing these every now and then - the learners enjoyed them and I enjoyed doing them. Eventually I would like to start making my own games. At the moment they seem a bit complicated, but all I really need is a few hours to sit down and think when my brain isn't worried about other things. Given that we're making some big changes in our habitat at the moment, it's not likely that will come about any time soon, but one never knows... 

Google Summits - Times Two!

This year I was fortunate enough to be accepted to present at both the Auckland AND the Wellington Google Summits put on by the Ed Tech Team.

Since the beginning of the year, as can be evidenced by my lack of posting regularly on here, I have been very busy and overwhelmed with the implementation of new ideas at Ormiston School where I was put into a habitat for the first time. So a lot of the drive that had previously been in me had slowly disappeared.

But these two Google Summits gave me my drive back. It's funny how you don't realize what's missing until you get it back, but I had mostly disconnected myself from my core online PLN and was suffering because of it. Coming back to these summits and spending four days with my tribe was extremely helpful in sparking my drive to make innovative change.


My four sessions went fairly well. Two were on how to use Mystery Hangouts (or Skype) in the classroom to connect with other classrooms globally and to promote critical thinking skills and problem solving, while the other two were on how to use Google Forms to make Choose Your Own Adventure stories. After some sessions last year that were more of me talking than of the participants actually, you know, participating, I made some changes and made sure that the majority of each session was a chance for my colleagues to try something new. For the Mystery Hangout session we ran a mock Mystery Hangout. For the Choose Your Own Adventure session we actually made our own Choose Your Own Adventures. Further to this, it gave me more ideas of what I could share in the future (and I'm going to keep some of that on the down low for now).


One tangent that these sessions sent me on was to create some sort of resource for teachers to connect with each other so that they can do a Mystery Hangout. I had used a padlet in my presentation to collect details of classrooms that might be interested, but on my long drive home from Wellington and after a suggestion from one of the attendees there, I am currently working on a small website for NZ teachers to find each other for these Mystery Chats (not trying to favour one over the other). So hopefully I'll find some time to complete that task soon and then share it with my PLN to get a global group of people who want to connect with NZ schools.

I also had the opportunity to attend several sessions at the summit which have led to some new thinking and tools for me to use in the classroom. Over the four days, I attended three (yes, 3) sessions related to Breakout EDU. Two which let me experience the game play (I've done it a few times before, admittedly) and once where we got the chance to brainstorm and look at the process of designing games. I'm actually quite interested in using this in the classroom (and we actually trialled it this week - but that's another blog post) so it was good to get my brain thinking about what we could do and how we could do it.


Another session I attended included using the G Suite Apps on iPads. This has long been an issue for me in the classroom/habitat. Often we say we have 40 some odd devices (for 90 learners, mind you) and 10 of those are iPads, which don't have the same functionality as chromebooks. However, we were given some tasks to try on the iPads and I managed to figure out how to do a variety of things on it that I had previously thought would be difficult to do.

There were also a few sessions on Computer Science and coding. One was a reiteration of the CS First session I attended last year, and this helped reaffirm the need for coding in the classroom. They have a variety of modules that learners can go through to practice coding. This got me thinking about the ways in which we can add coding to the curriculum and embed it through other subjects. I've made some tentative plans to work towards some practical, hands on coding in all areas. A second session I attended shared lots of resources for higher level coding. One resource that stood out in particular was the Khan Academy and Pixar joint venture: Pixar in a Box. Mainly geared towards older learners, there are certainly some aspects that can be used at the primary level. And don't think I haven't contemplated learning how to digitally animate and change careers! Probably not though...


I also finally attended a session put on by Angela Lee on Virtual Reality. Having worked with her for ages and ages, I've never actually gone to see her present. It was very helpful in that I now know how to use both Google Expeditions as well as another application that allows learners to make their own 3D virtual world: CoSpaces. These are two things that we're examining to add to our curriculum throughout as many areas as possible.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the four days at the summits - and I quite liked the drive as well (it's always nice to see the green of New Zealand). It's given me a new focus going forward and sparked that fire in me that has recently been in hiding.

Friday, March 31, 2017

PMA Conference

Last Saturday I attended the 25th annual Primary Maths Association conference at the beautiful Waipuna Conference Center. Though I don't recall it being said (that of course, doesn't mean it wasn't said) there was a clear theme running throughout the day: Proportional thinking. Now this doesn't necessarily mean proportions, ratios and percent - but it does refer to multiplicative thinking. This, according to many speakers, is something we need to focus on as many learners are yet unable to think this way.

The keynote speaker, Shelley Dole, spoke of a three-step process of representing mathematical thinking for learners. The first is enactive - acting out the problems. This is probably something that is lacking in my practice at the moment. In the week since, I've tried to bring this back into my problem solving. The second is iconic - using diagrams or manipulatives that represent real life things. For example, this would be using things like counters, place value cubes, etc. I've been doing this to a degree, though including diagrams is something that I will work on adding (pun intended). The last is symbolic - which is using numbers and symbols to represent those mathematical ideas. This is something that we rely on quite a bit, and while necessary, it's important to remember that that doesn't have to be the only thing we do.

To be honest, a few of the big ideas in the sessions were not new to me, but it's always good to get a reminder of these things AND there were some practical things that I can use in my teaching.

One session I attended, called Learning Through Play, had a few ideas of things we as educators could use to make the learning of our learners more interesting. There was a lot of talk about using literacy to connect with mathematical ideas. A lot of this was about using stories to create math investigations. I like this idea, though it was very juniors based (read: Year 2 or under). It did remind me of the wonderful (American) resource of the Math Start books. Despite the obvious issues with the currency books, these are really great. I've brought my set back into school and am planning to share them with my learners shortly.

Another really important tip that was shared in this session was that learners should be encouraged to answer their questions in full sentences  - not just in one-word answers. The facilitator mentioned that this can have wonderful effects across all learning areas.

The last session of the day included a massive amount of practical real world maths problems. The facilitator gave us heaps of example questions using ratios and proportions that are real world problems. What I liked best about this session was that we had time to go around and have a go at solving them (note to any presenters out there: get us doing stuff or at some point, most of us will just tune out).

It was a good day to spark some thinking in me. I've always enjoyed math as a student, though that can be a challenge when it comes to teaching learners who don't share my excitement. I hope to use a good deal of the ideas in the coming weeks!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Down With Rainbow Vomit!

Recently, I read an article online about how much decoration on classroom walls is useful. It has been a long-standing observation that the majority of learners, while they do notice things occasionally on the walls, don't really care too much whether or not they are decorated in what can colourfully be described as rainbow vomit (a term which was not coined by me, but by a former colleague of mine - also, that pun was completely intended).

I wouldn't say that I've been one for a classroom full of white, bare walls. No, I think every learning area does have to feel inviting and warm. But often, I feel like there is a lot of pressure to make things look good, just for the sake of them looking good and bright and shiny. Style over substance, in other words.

As someone who can easily get distracted, the main points in the article are very relevant to me. Too much visual stimulation (or auditory stimulation for that matter) can actually make it difficult for learners (or in my case, adults) to stay focused on the task at hand. The researches actually tested this theory and had two sets of children in two classrooms - one bare and one decorated. Their initial findings were that the children in the bare walls room retained more of the information given during the lesson. Obviously this needs to be replicated on a bigger scale, but it makes sense.

For what it's worth, I've taken a multitude of approaches when it comes to what's on the walls in my classroom (sadly, though, I don't have many pictures of these to share and those that I do have are hidden away in the maze that is my file structures on Google Drive and my external hard drive). I've had the big displays to get children interested. I've tried individual spaces on the wall for learners to display what they've wanted to display (which turned out to be a lot of work for me as many of those spaces were in inaccessible spots or too high). I've put up work in progress.

My personal opinion, based on my patented logical thinking and looking at the situation from many angles is that anything put on the walls has to have a purpose - and that purpose begins and ends with the learners who are in the environment. Everything put up has to be for them. Not for leadership, not for the parents, not for ERO.

I think walls should be always changing, with the learners taking ownership of the majority of things on them. Obviously there needs to be organizational things on them, but that shouldn't take up too much space. The environment should be clean and welcoming. One thing I'd like to add is plants, or other calming things. Leaner made art should be put up (though I would argue that if you have 25 or so copies of almost the exact same thing, it's not really art).

This has come at an interesting time when we're trying to decide collectively as a team what to put up in our Habitat. This has certainly given us something to think about.