Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Lego WeDo 2.0

This year I took on the role of STEAM facilitator for my area. This hasn't been too large a role, but has prompted me to pay more attention to what we are teaching and programming in the STEAM subjects. I have also been considering how to make connections between the STEAM subject areas, and how to set tasks for students that will involve them in solving problems using skills and knowledge from a variety of the subject areas. With this year's Science Week theme "Drones, droids and robots" we thought we would take advantage of this to get students involved in robotics.

Towards the end of Term 2 we purchased a class set of WeDo 2.0 Lego sets. With these sets students can build and modify a variety of Lego robots and programme them using the WeDo 2.0 app. I can't recommend these sets enough - they are simple to use, the app walks you through what to do and they don't take too long to build and enjoy! Students collaborate while working with them and learn to solve problems together, make adjustments and get creative in their designs. They learn basic engineering and programming skills and explore scientific concepts through experimentation.

Getting Started

When the sets arrived the Lego pieces arrived in their little plastic bags and needed to be sorted into the sections of the container. We had purchased 12 sets (a class pack) and so this was no quick job. I managed it by taking a few home at night and sorting while I watched TV! The benefit of doing this sort yourself is that you quickly learn where the pieces are stored and how many of each piece there should be. This means you are better able to help students find what they need when they get stuck.

In preparation I also charged up the Smarthubs and numbered each kit with a sticker for the lid and base. I followed the instructions from the manual (available on the website) to rename each Smarthub to make it easier for students to connect to the right robot. I learnt the value of this the hard way! I kept the cardboard boxes to store the kits in and found somewhere to store them.

Introducing the Kits

I introduced these kits to my students and walked them through the first couple of sessions to teach them the basics. They built their confidence with this and then I guided them in coaching the other Year 1 classes using the Kids Can Coach approach described here. I explained the importance of taking care of the kits and gave instructions on how to organise the workspace when using them and how to pack up properly at the end.

Science Week

Once each class had completed the basics with their coach from my class (1.5 hrs), we were ready to attempt another project. We found a project related to some science we completed earlier in the year, which involved building a tadpole and transforming it into a frog (1.5 hrs). Two classes paired up and went through the process together. I used the interactive whiteboard to walk students through the early steps in the project - thinking about the changes during a frog's lifecycle and documenting these changes - and then let them go when we reached the building stage.

The app takes students through building a tadpole and then adding the back legs. It is then up to them to consider what changes to make to turn it into a frog. It was exciting to see the variety of ideas students used for front legs and the modifications that were made as they began programming their robots to move. For those who progressed quickly through these stages I suggested thinking about how the robot could "see" (using the sensor) and croak (using the sounds available).  Students explored the programming side of things, initially beginning with the code provided and then making modifications to suit what they were wanting to achieve.

To finish off the week we had a timed challenge where 2 students from each class built and programmed a frog in 25 minutes and then raced them in front of the grade. The tension was great as the frogs raced off and classes cheered for their representative!

Going Forward

My plan now is to find opportunities where the robots will link in to the science units we are covering in class and to add it to the programmes for next year. We will also use the sets in our STEAM lunchtime program with students in Kindergarten and Year 1. Our students are very excited to use these sets and are benefitting from the learning experience.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

More Movement

I made another big move this year, but this time it wasn't just my place of employment. 

Rather, we packed up all our belongings and moved state. As always, there's been a bit of an adjustment period but now we're coming out the other side and I feel like it's easier to do the day to day living as well as take on the challenges that spark interest and infuse energy into my teaching practices. 

I'm very happy with the school I've landed in. The people are friendly, the students energetic and easily motivated, and the resources are fantastic. When I look at what we're doing and where we're headed it sits well with me. 

This post is really just a quick one as an update, but I hope to put a few more out in the coming weeks to share some of the new things I've been trying with my teaching. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tech Tips Tuesday

Pair Programming

I have been further dabbling with code and programming in my classroom using Scratch. My students got on board and are enjoying trying it out and creating new things. They've taken to it quickly and have found ways to add complexity to their designs.

This week I wanted to have my students working with a partner on their programming. This was in part for the benefits of learning together, and in part due to the limited number of computers. I found this amazing video about Pair Programming at Code.org, that explains the process so well, and in terms the students can understand. We watched it through before I gave my students their task.

Their task in this lesson was to create an animated greeting card for Christmas. I admit, my idea for this was not entirely unique, but rather inspired by the Ted Talk by Mitch Resnick: Let's teach kids to code. Mitch Resnick went looking for a Mother's Day card for his mum on Scratch and found a whole collection students had created. I thought I would carry that across to Christmas.

Students enjoyed working in this way to solve problems and create something new. They changed "drivers" often, allowing each to have an opportunity to work the mouse for some parts of the process. It was great to see the collaboration, and watch the knowledge spread across the class between pairs. Someone would call out in frustration "Ugh! I can't get my penguin to talk!" and within moments someone from another pair was helping them out. They learn together.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tech Tips Tuesday

Kids Can Coach

I've discovered a method to help teachers integrate ICT in the classroom, that takes some of the heat off the teachers themselves. I'm calling it "Kids Can Coach".

Here's how it works:

Planning: Teacher 1 and Teacher 2 (and even Teacher 3) agree on something that they would like students to learn to do with ICT - this might be new skills in a familiar app, or a brand new app.

Preparation: Teacher 1 learns to do this themselves, and has a practice.

Lesson 1: Teacher 1 teaches Class 1 with a demonstration and then supports students as they learn the new skills. Teacher 1 and Class 1 are now experts, and become the coaches for the next lesson.

Preparation: Explain to Class 1 what coaching looks like, and what is expected of coaches. Coaches are told "explain, don't do" and provided with a guide (success criteria) to ensure they cover all task requirements.

Lesson 2: The lesson is repeated with Class 2/3. Teacher 1 gives the instructions and demonstration, and Class 1 students are paired with Class 2/3 student/s to coach.

Results: All students have exposure to the new skills, and students from Class 1 have become experts. In future lesson series, the coaching class should be varied in order to allow all students to experience being the coach/expert.


  • Teachers 2/3 could also join in during Lesson 2 and learn alongside students.
  • Cycle could be more along the lines of: Teacher 1 teaches Class 1, then Teacher 1 teaches Teacher 2 and Class 2 with Class 1 coaches, then Teacher 2 teaches Class 3 with Class 2 coaches.

Here's an example of how my Year 3 teaching team did this:

Planning: We decided we wanted students to learn how to retell a familiar story (with innovations) in a multimedia presentation using a drawing app (Sketchbook pro) and iMovie. I taught a similar lesson to groups last year, so this was an extension of this idea. I was "Teacher 1" and my class was "Class 1" for this example.

Preparation: I created a Storyboard worksheet for students to use to plan out their story and images. I introduced the project and told students we would be retelling the story of the Three Little Pigs. (We did extensive work with innovating this story earlier in the year). Students did the written part of their Storyboard.

I demonstrated drawing and colouring in Sketchbook Pro
Lesson 1: I demonstrated how to draw with Sketchbook Pro, including how to "crop" so that parts can be reused for additional pictures. Students got started with their images. As students started to get close to the iMovie stage, I stopped the class and brought them back together to explain how to export the images to Photo Library and then import to iMovie. I explained the key steps I wanted them to take when editing the video and adding audio. Students produced their movies with my support.

I demonstrated how to crop pictures to add to another picture.
 (See how the pigs are the same.)
Preparation: I talked to my class about the coaching process, and made it very clear that when we coach with ICT we try to keep our hands back. This is because the other person will learn so much more by doing it themselves than by watching someone do it for them. I listed the success criteria for the finished movie and displayed it on the IWB in the room for Lesson 2 so that students could refer to it when determining if there movie was complete.

Lesson 2: We gathered together with the other two Year 3 classes. I demonstrated the basic steps and tips for the project and then students were let loose to create. I moved around the room and monitored how groups were going. Students were engaged in the task and I was pleased to see that the coaches were allowing the others to do the work. I think it helped that they had had the chance to work through the whole creative process themselves in the previous lesson. They could then appreciate that this was not their personal creative work, so they felt free to provide support instead.

Results: Not all students completed in the lesson time, however they were able to work on these further during consolidation time. Students were very excited to share their movies in the special Movie Session we had the following week. All students developed the skills for using the programs and teachers gained some of these skills as they saw the process and assisted students.

Students worked in a group of three, with one coach.

This coach is trying REALLY hard not to touch the iPad!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Calculating the Cost of a Simple Summer Wardrobe

After our lesson Maths Fun - Exploring Real Data with Excel students were eager to have a play with Excel themselves. We were reading Onion Tears by Diana Kidd, and had read about how the main character Nam-Huong had arrived by boat with only the clothes she was wearing. We undertook an investigation to find out how much it would cost to get a simple summer wardrobe for Nam-Huong.

We began by considering the items of clothing that Nam-Huong would need and made a list on the board. After much discussion, and a last minute addition of a dress, we were ready to move on!

I put my students into small groups and each was given an iPad and access to a desktop computer (because we didn't have a spreadsheet app on the iPads). They were also allocated a shop to use for their pricing. We used Target, Kmart, Big W, David Jones and Myer. Students found the online catalogue for their store and searched through to find the price of the required items. They then added these to their spreadsheet.

Once they had all their totals, they used the formula =PRODUCT(B3:C3) and filled down the column. Once they had all totals they used the formula =SUM(D3:D12) to calculate the grand total.

Once everyone had finished, groups shared their results with the class and we were able to compare the grand total of each store. As always, when using real data the "answer" is never straightforward and this led to some great discussion. For example, one store didn't have all the required items in the catalogue and even when they searched the store online they were unable to find the price for a pair of socks. Another group had trouble finding a hat, and ended up settling for a Santa's elf hat. And one group was paying $25 per pair of underpants - severely impacting on their total cost. When asked, they said quite innocently, "They were frilly." I'm sure they were exactly what Nam-Huong needed when she arrived in Australia...along with her Santa elf hat! I'm not going to tell you who came in cheapest - you'll have to investigate that yourself. ;)

Further discussion arose about the need to monitor your online presence as a business to succeed in the market place. We talked about how many people now shop online, making it essential to have a website that helps people to find and purchase what they need. From our experiences there are some stores better positioned in this marketplace.

We had a lot of fun with this maths investigation and students rose to the challenge and learnt new computer skills. The following week we set a homework task where students could collect and represent their own data. One of my students decided to calculate cost and labour for a new pergola using Excel!