Friday, November 3, 2017

Coding Across the Curriculum: Update 1

Since I returned from Sydney in August, my work on my Innovator project has been somewhat uneven. I initially did a lot of planning but had lots of work at school to do. During the school holidays I got a good amount done, but have since slowed down. Still, I've managed to make some pretty good progress and follow some pretty interesting tangents to my project so I thought I would share my journey up to this point.

The Good News
I've managed to make two videos. To be honest I didn't think that I would be this far along at this point, so that's pretty good. Both videos were shot and edited during one week, so if given the time, I know that I can produce these at a fairly good rate.

I've also received mostly positive feedback from the educators that have used the videos, and many are looking for more. So that's also exciting. One of the bits of feedback I got was from Tim Bell, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Canterbury who has been significantly involved in both CS Unplugged and the creation of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum here in New Zealand. I had also previously attended one of his workshops in Christchurch (CS4PS) that has been instrumental in my understanding of computational thinking. So that was a pretty big deal for me. His advice was extremely helpful and will hopefully be seen in some upcoming videos.

I've also had a chance to try out one of my videos with my own learners, which was part of the reason for picking that idea. The early responses were very positive. The children were able to complete the task, with very little extra input from me, which made it much easier for me to manage another group (see some comments below about that). The idea of teaching this way is probably something that is going to increase more and more in the future. It frees up educators to do what educators do best: guide children. It allows children to learn at their own pace. Some people may say that getting a robot to do an educators job will not be as good, but I say that they've made educators do robots' jobs for so long it's about time we did what we can do to be more impactful. I'm not saying videos should be used exclusively, but if a child can learn from a video of me doing something, that allows me to teach a lot more children and frees me up to support them in other ways rather than just content delivery.

Another thing that has come out of this is that I'm learning a lot more skills for producing videos. There has been a quick learning curve and I imagine that as time goes by I'll have to learn more out of necessity. Already I have been looking at ways to improve sound quality and I want to work on video quality as well (I'm not so sure filming with an iPad is the best way to go, so we'll see).

Overall I'm extremely please with the progress so far.

The Bad Stuff
One of my biggest frustrations at the moment is time. There is just not enough of it to do everything I want to do AND have a life outside of school. For various reasons, most of my out of school time has been focused on non-school activities - which is the way it should be, to be honest. That means though, that I have been much slower at putting the videos out that I thought I could be after making the first two. My plan was actually to have three done before school had started this term because I was teaching both ideas and it would have allowed me to see how two different videos would work in a classroom setting. That being said, it's probably best not to pressure myself too much, as I've also managed to create some other things on the side, due to the skills I've learned making these videos.

The Interesting Tangents
At least two other projects have come out of this journey so far, and I'm planning a few more as well.  The first one (which I've actually written about already) was the digital breakouts I've been making. The second, which may actually have the potential to be more impactful on education than either of the others is that I've started making a series of videos to show a variety of math strategies. It was a convergence of a lot of things all at the right time that got me started on this and when I shared the first 8 videos (they're a lot quicker to make) the response was more positive than any of the other resources. But these resources will be shared in more depth in a further blog post.

Other things that have been happening as a result of this is that I'm getting contacted by more and more outside agencies and people (which reminds me I need to get back to them). This is certainly an area that I'm looking towards developing as my focus is shifting from my own classroom to a larger scale (potentially global at this point).

Where to Next
For my project, my future plans are to continue to make the videos. My next one (which I've got the script half finished) will be on making stories with Scratch, while the fourth will shift gears a bit and focus on debugging (which has come out of some discussions with others about the new curriculum). Beyond that we'll see. Hopefully that can be completed before the end of the school year (December) and I can use the holidays to make a few more. Ideally this will be alongside more breakouts and maths videos.

I also want to start looking at Phase Two of the project: starting meetups for educators who want some support or who want to share. In the coming weeks I will put some feelers out through Twitter and Facebook to see who is interested and will hopefully be able to plan something for late January or February next year. I'm getting a bit excited about this as bringing more people on board might make this project take off a bit more.

I've got to remember that things start slowly. If I only have two videos it's not as useful as if I have a whole collection. Once things are made it will be a bit easier to have an impact, but like I mentioned above, it's all about finding the time.

I'm going to leave you with the two videos I've produced so far. Feel free to share them and use them as much as you'd like. I always appreciate feedback on what I've done so that I can improve what I'm making. Subscribing to the MakerEdNZ YouTube Channel would also be greatly appreciated and make sure you got emailed about new videos.



Friday, October 20, 2017

Digital Breakouts!

About a month or so ago, I made a digital breakout for Maori Language Week. I had been wanting to do one of these on my own for a while now, and there was an opportunity to do so, so I took it. I even wrote about it here. Though the children that tried the breakout at my school (well the ones that tried it initially) gave up very early on, I enjoyed the creation of the breakout so much, I decided to do another one for the New Zealand election which was the following week.



Sharing these two resources that I made on the New Zealand Primary Teachers' Facebook group got me lots of positive feedback - and lots of schools using them. I thought the logical thing would be to keep on making them, since I liked the act of creation and others liked using them.

 Basically a digital breakout is a Google Form embedded on a Google Site. The form has special data validation which stops users from submitting the form if what they enter doesn't match the criteria I set. Thus, I can create a digital lock. The form is embedded on a site, where clues and links to clues are also embedded. There is no exact science to how the clues work and I have had varying success on finding clues that are hard enough to keep learner interest, but not too hard that they frustrate everyone and, to quote one my learners, make them "rage."

 In future posts (and most likely at the New Zealand Ed Tech Team Google Summits as well as hopefully at ISTE 2018) I'm going to share how to make these more in depth. I'm currently designing a workshop for learners on this idea - which will start next week - so that will give me the chance to make it very clear. So for now, I'll leave the HOW I did it. What was very interesting to note (and I know I've spoken about Breakouts and BreakoutEDU before), was the evolution of how my learners approached the breakouts.


Initially, the learners gave up quite quickly when it was obvious they couldn't get things straight away. I've noticed this with a lot of the children in other settings, so I wasn't that surprised. On further attempts, some of the learners got really into it and worked hard to solve the clues (though some tried the guess all the numbers approach, which worked when the number was low, but not so much when it was high). They began to share what they got and work together. Then others picked up on what to look for. Suddenly, clues that I thought were too hard were getting solved rather quickly by the children. They were beginning to look at things in a new way, looking for those hidden patterns.

The last one we did as a whole habitat (Roughly 90 learners in four teams) was quite difficult. Most groups were unable to even get one clue, even with multiple hints. I guess what I need to do as I continue to create more, is to find a way to level them. Some are obviously harder than others. I probably should be collected data on the people who break out based on their ages, that way I could at least get an idea as to how difficult they are (the Diwali one, which caused my learners so much trouble was actually solved by quite a few others).


At any rate, the engagement level on these has been pretty high in my experience and with a lot of the feedback I've received from other educators across New Zealand. I'm looking to continue making these until I've exhausted all ideas (or I can sell them all and live off the interest on the profit). If you have any ideas for me that you want me to make, put them in the comments and I'll add it to my list. My learners have enjoyed helping me make these (though I'm pretty clever at not revealing the clues or locks to them) and they are loving it too!

Until then, have a look at the breakouts I've made. Try them. See if you can break out. Share them with your friends or your students. You won't regret the engagement that comes out of it!


Friday, October 6, 2017

Stop Motion Movies

This past term I ran a Stop Motion workshop at school for a writing project. I had about 50 learners from my Habitat sign up for this choice, so I was pretty excited for that, though a bit wary of managing the groups.

We only have 10 iPads (plus a few BYOD devices) so through necessity I had to put the children into groups of 4, though at the smallest, I would have had three, so it worked out pretty well. I let them choose their own groups because I wanted them to be mixed up as much as possible. I figure (and have figured for a while) that they all have something to bring to the table. Even if they are not great writers they still have some great ideas. Grouping them helps ensure that they'll come up with some amazing ideas and that they'll likely have the skills they need to do what they want to do. Or at least a better chance of it.

Previously, we had offered Stop Motion as a choice and it had turned into something of a disaster. For starters, we were unable to properly support the learners in this endeavour when it came to planning out a story or in actually filming it. This term we had decided to give less choice (but still some pretty awesome choices - the two other workshops that ran were making a newspaper and making storybooks) so we could focus our direction. So I started this term with having the learners plan out their story roughly. I did give them the option of using a variety of materials, but all the groups but one chose to use Lego in the end (which was great because I had just brought all my childhood Lego back from Canada).

Here is how I had them plan out the story. I decided that I wanted them to have more than 1 scene, and since we all love the 5 parts of a story, I gave them five boxes. But what I didn't do was tell them that the story had to have specific parts (eg the introduction, build up, dilemma, resolution and ending - or whatever five parts you call them). I wanted to make them think that things had to be in a sequence, but at the same time I didn't want to limit them.


The next thing I had the groups do was to write a script. I gave them an example, which included stage directions. To me, this was important. While I did want the learners experimenting with the Lego to come up with their story, I also wanted them to put some good thought into their story beforehand, so they didn't start the story without knowing where it was going. This writing took a while, but in the end, the discussions that came out of it were incredible and the quality of the stories definitely benefitted (for the most part)

Not all scripts were this good, but I particularly liked this groups' because they put lots of directions (and if you watch their movie they may have actually said the directions as well - which was helpful in determining what was going on).


The last part of the project (ok, it was actually two parts, but the second part of this was much easier than the first) was to teach the children how to actually use the technology (which in this case was an iPad and the Stop Motion App). The biggest issue the learners had had when they had worked without guidance was how to actually film the video. They would often just take a picture while holding the camera and then move somewhere else and take another picture. The videos were all disjointed and didn't really make sense. So, with 50 children all around me, I showed them how to set up the iPad so that they didn't need to hold it - thank goodness for Airplay! I showed them how they need to make small changes for each picture, not big ones. They mostly took the advice (as can be seen in the videos) so I was pretty happy with how that turned out.

The last part of the last part was to add sound. This was fairly easy once they discovered how to do that. We had a few issues with groups recording the sound, previewing it and then nothing else because they didn't realize they had to click Accept. A frequent frustration that came out of this part of the project was that the people went too fast. Perhaps I didn't quite capitalize on this realization to teach them about how long it really takes for people to talk when you're filming frame by frame. But for the most part the managed to improvise (most just slowed down the speed from 5 frames per second to 4 or even 3).

Have a look at some of their finished projects here:






During the last week of term we had a sharing day for all of the writing projects. We put the videos on a loop in our Media Space and it was quite the popular event. It was really amazing to see their final projects up on a biggish screen and to see them enjoying each others' work.


Overall I was extremely pleased with the results and with what was seen during the process. A lot of the really great bits of learning probably won't even come out of the videos. The sets and stories they came up with orally and the problem solving they had to do with the filming were amazing to watch. At one point during writing time a fellow learning coach and I remarked how we could have walked out of the room and the children probably wouldn't have noticed. They were that engaged and independent.

The one thing that was probably missing was a way to decrease the feedback loop. I probably should have set up a way for groups to share their plans and scripts with each other so that they could get a critical eye and some suggestions. This potentially could have happened throughout the filming stage as well as afterwards to help them in any future projects they might make. That being said, they were working collaboratively so they did have at least an element of feedback from their groups.

So if you have any lego lying around, my suggestion to you is to try this. It's not the first (and definitely not the last) time I've used Lego to try to get my learners engaged and every time the same thing happens: lots of children excited to tell a story! Watch this space for more of the things I do with Lego and learning!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pen Pals: Connecting Across Oceans

This past term, after a few years of saying I will do it, I finally got some learners to write letters to children in another country AND sent the letters. Two things happened in June that made this possible, three months later: 1) I met some very willing partners at ISTE (hey, there is a theme going through a few of these posts, isn't there?) and 2) My team back in New Zealand also wanted to connect with other schools. Having the support on both sides proved crucial in getting this off the ground.

Part of the reason I wanted to do this was that all too often, writing is done for the sake of writing. I wanted to give my learners a chance to write for a purpose (in this case, communicating with someone and fostering a long-distance friendship, maybe), and to connect with children around the world.

So as a whole habitat, we did a lesson early in the term on writing letters and all of our children wrote a draft (albeit, none of them actually had set buddies at the time). I was able to work out through one of my ISTE connections 11 learners in the US (North Dakota to be exact) who could receive letters. So a week or so ago, I had my 11 learners write their good drafts, filled an envelope and sent them off. I've gotten word that they arrived (thank goodness my handwriting wasn't TOO bad!) and the responses will come back shortly. I'm pretty excited for that. Here are the letters that my learners have written:


One of the biggest difficulties in this whole thing was arranging buddies. Some of my fellow learning coaches had some schools to write to, and some of them fell through. I was only able to (currently) connect with one other classroom (though I am still in talks with some others at a school in North Carolina). I think though, that I'm going to continue to be persistent. I'm still looking for some buddies, so if anyone is looking for some pen pal buddies (anywhere in the world), leave a comment here or a DM on twitter and I'll get back to you!

International Dot Day

One of the connections that I made at ISTE 2017 was with the Global Collaboration Network and some of its members (thanks to a night of karaoke). A few weeks ago I was sent this tweet:
I was interested in making some more global connections, so I clicked on the link. Having heard a lot about Flipgrid recently but not really being sure of what it was, I decided to give this one a go and changed up my reading plan last minute to read the book (by watching the video below) and having my learners respond to it.


To be honest, while I really liked the book and its message, I was a bit confused as to what my learners were meant to do. Being in New Zealand, we had started looking at this on Monday, which is Sunday in the US, so there had not yet been any entries to the flipgrid yet. So we bumbled about what we were doing for a few days. I had the children make a picture about how they would make their mark in the world. What was interesting was that even though I didn't really give them that great instructions, they all interpreted differently and had some really interesting things to say:




The actual use of Flipgrid was interesting. Essentially there was an online board setup where anyone could post videos (though many of the other videos had a lot of filters on them, which didn't really seem useful) and respond to the videos with videos of their own. My impression beforehand was that this was a tool for flipping a classroom, but obviously the potential of this is far beyond that. Some of my learners did receive some feedback from others and while it wasn't necessarily very deep, it was interesting to see them connect with others around the globe. I like this idea and perhaps I can use it with some upcoming projects I'm trying to plan with some schools overseas. It definitely has the potential to help learners connect with each other.

It is not a completely free resource (though it does have a free version), so I have to do some checking to see if I can get by with the free version, but certainly it is something worth checking out. Global Collaboration, on the other hand, is something I definitely recommend!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Maori Language Week 2017

This week was Maori Language Week in New Zealand. Though I have always tried my best to learn about all things Maori since I've lived in New Zealand, this year I have been lucky enough to be teaching with Bev Aerenga who has helped me expand my horizons and I felt like I've been able to contribute in a lot of ways this year. 

The first thing I did this week was help put a spotlight on some successful Maori citizens. As a Canadian who has not only lived in a multicultural society most of my life but who also went through teacher training there, where a main focus was on multiculturalism, I sometimes felt that ethnicities were reduced to songs, dances, music and food. I wanted to highlight some Maori people who had had success outside of these areas. So we each chose a person and made a short slide to highlight them each day. To be honest, I like the concept, though I'm not so sure my execution was great. Yes, we did share some people, but I'm not entirely sure the concept sunk it. It will give me some more thoughts for next year - though again, hopefully one does not wait a whole year to highlight successful Maori people. Here are the slides that we created for our learners:



Another thing that our habitat did (admittedly, I was not the driving force behind this, but I did support) was prepare a waiata for the whole school Waiata Sing Off. Our learners worked so hard to learn the words and the actions. I may be biased, but I think they were the best habitat at the sing-off. Here's what they did:


The third and fourth things we did this week involved me making some digital resources. Our school had our termly Curious Community Day, so I created a couple of Kahoot! quizzes (unfortunately, you can't really embed or share them, but if you look for my user name, mrdavidson, you'll find the two I made) as well as a digital breakout. I love using breakout and this was a chance for me to make my own. I thought the clues were quite simple and straightforward, but clearly they were difficult. Most of the learners at Ormiston who tried the breakout gave up before they even solved one clue. I do know, however, that after sharing this with the New Zealand Primary Teachers' Facebook group, that several other schools did attempt it and some were even successful.
If you want to have a look at it, the picture below links to the breakout. I won't give any clues, so you'll have to try it for yourself. But I can say that you don't need anything but what's there to figure it out. 

I actually had a lot of fun making this breakout (and the Kahoot! quizzes). My plan now is to work on another breakout (I've actually already started it) on New Zealand elections and the electoral system, so hopefully I can get that done in time for the run-up to the upcoming election. Probably best to check my twitter if you want to see that one...

It's definitely been a good week for me in that I've become a lot more comfortable with teaching these things and creating resources. I can attribute that to having a nurturing and helpful semi-mentor working alongside me in my habitat. So thanks Bev! And I'm looking forward to continuing this journey.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Fourth Time's a Charm, or I'm a Google Certified Innovator

Three times before I have applied for the Google Innovator Academy and three times I have received the rejection email with varying degrees of dismay. But each time I refused to give up, knowing that if I kept at it, I would be selected. That being said, I was still quite nervous for this current round, since it was in my part of the world.

I was not to be dismayed this time. While on vacation in New York City, I had a flurry of activity on my phone, which all indicated that I had been accepted. I was extremely busy at the time so it took a while for everything to sink it. After my holiday, I came back to a very busy school term, so was also quite rushed for time.  That being said, I still managed to get everything done in time for the academy, which was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had.

If I had to choose what my favourite part of the two and a half days, I'd have a real problem. Pretty much all of it was incredible. The best I can do is point out two aspects of the academy that will likely be instrumental in going forward: The connections with other innovative educators around the globe and the design thinking process.



With me at the academy were 36 other educators, and many coaches and other EdTech experts. My close team, the Lucky Unkos made immediate and strong bonds with each other, and functioned not only as a well-oiled machine in all the activities we did, but also ended up winning quite a few things (or coming close seconds). By going through the process together, we formed something of a family group together and will now have each other to lean on through difficult times. One of my good online (and in person) colleagues was actually placed in this group, so it was nice to have that, but it was also nice to work closely with others in this capacity.

The whole point of the academy was to help each of us work on an identified problem in education and to develop a solution to it through the design process. Though I had had some experience with this, clearly I didn't know enough, because over the 2 and a half days I was immersed into the world of design thinking in a way that I could never have imagined. We started from the beginning by looking at all of the reasons why the problem exists and then examining the person (or people) to whom our solution is directed at. We spent lots of time slowly developing our ideas and giving each other feedback. Eventually we all developed a prototype of what our solution will be.

This process was absolutely amazing and I've already brought in many of the ideas into my practice. In our iExplore block, I've taken four of my groups and run through a watered down (but still pretty robust) version of this with the projects they had been working on.  Already the results have been pretty positive with all four groups working on some pretty interesting solutions (so watch this space in the coming weeks when I'll have time to share what they did in more depth).


My actual project is based on helping educators integrate coding into the curriculum. Here in New Zealand, computational thinking is meant to be part of the curriculum next year. Before the academy I did a survey and found that many educators were not teaching it (about 50%) and those that were had had very little training or support. So I wanted to change that. After the whole process at the academy, I decided on making a storyboard of a video for my prototype. I'm currently in the process of turning that storyboard into a script which will then be filmed. It has been a busy few weeks since I came back (mostly taken up with ERO and some big personal things), so I'm hopefully going to find some time in the coming week to work on it. At any rate, I was matched with my mentor today, so that's another great step in this whole process. I look forward to sharing with everyone how this project is going in the future!