Using Scratch in Middle Years Maths classes

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Prior to Victorian Education Week  (May 17th to 23rd) my Year 7 and 8 Maths classes are participating in the “Crack the Code with Maths” challenge. The challenge is to create and upload one or all of three projects in Scratch.  Scratch is simple-to-use software, that allows users to create animations using drag-and-drop commands. I am using this free program, pre-installed on our government school laptops, as part of our geometry learning this term.

Scratch is an open-ended platform, allowing students to be imaginative and create an infinite variety of characters (called ‘sprites’) and backgrounds. The ‘sprite’ performs on a stage, which is based on the Cartesian Co-ordinate system, with (0,0) at the centre. The user creates an animation using simple drag-and-drop commands, such as ‘go to (x,y)’; ‘move 100 steps’ or ‘turn 90 degrees’.

The following links are some examples of what can be achieved with Scratch.

Some general, transferrable skills that you can learn with Scratch:

  • Logical and creative thinking
  • Systematic reasoning with instant feedback
  • Communication and collaboration with peers
  • Problem solving
  • Developing patience and persistence
  • Greater sense of control and responsibility for the learning process

Students can learn many maths concepts using Scratch, such as:

  • Cartesian co-ordinate system
  • Identifying, creating and naming angles (acute, right, obtuse, straight and reflex)
  • Identifying, creating and naming polygons
  • How to calculate the perimeter of polygons
  • How to calculate the area of polygons

Below I have documented the various Australian Curriculum standards that can be learned using Scratch tasks:

Year 4

  • Compare and describe two dimensional shapes that result from combining and splitting common shapes, with and without the use of digital technologies (ACMMG088)
  • Create symmetrical patterns, pictures and shapes with and without digital technologies (ACMMG091)
  • Compare angles and classify them as equal to, greater than or less than a right angle (ACMMG089)

Year 5

  • Calculate the perimeter and area of rectangles using familiar metric units (ACMMG109)
  • Describe translations, reflections and rotations of two-dimensional shapes. Identify line and rotational symmetries (ACMMG114)
  • Apply the enlargement transformation to familiar two dimensional shapes and explore the properties of the resulting image compared with the original (ACMMG115)
  • Estimate, measure and compare angles using degrees. (Construct angles using a protractor) (ACMMG112)

Year 6

  • Introduce the Cartesian coordinate system using all four quadrants (ACMMG143)
  • Investigate, with and without digital technologies, angles on a straight line, angles at a point and vertically opposite angles. Use results to find unknown angles (ACMMG141)
  • Investigate combinations of translations, reflections and rotations, with and without the use of digital technologies (ACMMG142)

Year 7

  • Describe translations, reflections in an axis, and rotations of multiples of 90° on the Cartesian plane using coordinates. Identify line and rotational symmetries (ACMMG181)
  • Classify triangles according to their side and angle properties and describe quadrilaterals (ACMMG165)
  • Given coordinates, plot points on the Cartesian plane, and find coordinates for a given point (ACMNA178)

Year 8

  • Investigate the relationship between features of circles such as circumference, area, radius and diameter. Use formulas to solve problems involving circumference and area (ACMMG197)
  • Plot linear relationships on the Cartesian plane with and without the use of digital technologies (ACMNA193)
  • Define congruence of plane shapes using transformations (ACMMG200)

More Scratch Links:

Hour of Code

This week millions of students in over 180 countries are participating in “Hour of Code” to raise awareness about the importance of computer science around the world and in celebration of Computer Science Education Week. I have been a bit reluctant to embrace coding in my classes, thinking that it was all too difficult and unnecessary. Just like the driver of a car can get from A to B without knowing how a combustion engine works, a computer user can operate the device without knowing how to code. However, every driver can benefit from some basic mechanical knowledge and every computer user can benefit from some knowledge of basic coding – and they may even find it fun and interesting!

There are many “Hour of Code” resources available for teachers and students, making it very easy to introduce coding in your classroom, no matter what age your students are. I have curated some links to resources at the end of this post. At Hawkesdale College, students from Grade 5 to Year 9 used Code Studio to create their own Flappy Bird game using simple drag and drop commands. Many of these students progressed to creating Angry Birds mazes and Frozen snowflakes.

“My favourite game was flappy birds because I learnt how to make a game which I enjoy playing. It was fun because I was trying to get a massive high score.I created a flappy bird game and a frozen game, but I did not like the frozen game as much as the flappy bird game.” ~ Patrick (Year 9)

“I made the flappy bird and angry birds game. My favourite was the angry bird one because the scene and characters change throughout the learning and it’s a bit more challenging.”~ Catie (Year 8)

“I created snowflakes in the Frozen game, which was quite fun.
I like experimenting with the Flappy Bird and the Angry Bird codes.
I like the idea of putting codes together quite easily and customising the game to suit us. I would like to do more of this stuff in our daily classes.” ~Vesna (Year 7)

“I made a flappy birds game and an angry birds game. The flappy birds game was quite fun but I liked the the angry birds game better. I like how things change around during the angry birds game. It was good to learn and it really tests your brain.”~ Hannah (Year 8)


3D Printing for VCE Biology


I have been fortunate to attend the Quantum Victoria Centre several times since it opened in 2012, participating in 3D Printing and Gaming workshops with students from Year 7 to Year 10. Hawkesdale P12 College has also been lucky to receive a 3D printer, which has been installed in our Systems and Engineering shed. This week I have exploring opportunities to print scale models of hominid skulls for use in Unit 4 Biology. These models are useful for demonstrating to students comparisons of canine teeth, brow ridges, sagittal crest, protruding jaw and cranial capacity. The African Fossils site has the best models I have found for 3D printing hominid skulls, which need to be .stl or .obj files.

I have found files for four of the skulls shown above, although we haven’t been able to print any successfully yet. I’ll keep you posted!

DLTV conference key note – “Creating New Connections”

I had a difference of opinion with a colleague that I would like to share with you. Deon thought that it would be a great idea if every student had some kind of bar-code or implant, so they could wave their arm in front of a scanner when they came to school and we wouldn’t have to waste time marking the attendance rolls. We have the technology and it would be very efficient, but I disagreed. When I mark the rolls in the morning, I like to look each student in the eye and make a connection with them, say “good morning” or “how are you?” or whatever. I think such an idea dehumanizes people, and if we don’t treat students in a human way, they won’t act in respectful ways to us or each other.

The theme for this inaugural state conference is “Creating New Connections”, so I hope you take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to meet new people, chat with old friends and connect face-2-face with people who you might know well online. I love this theme, because you can “create new connections” on may different levels. On a microscopic level, we create new connections between neurons when we learn, constructing a network of pathways that help us to make sense of the world around us. On an individual level, we create new connections to people, places and objects. For example, I associate past ICTEV conferences with Melbourne Grammar, hot soup and the smell of coffee wafting through the courtyard. On a global level, technology has enabled us to create new connections with colleagues, peers and others across the world, that would not be possible otherwise. So this keynote is about the interface between humanity and technology.

Ray Kurzweil is an American author, scientist, inventor, futurist, and is a director of engineering at Google. In March this year he did a fascinating TED talk titled “Get ready for hybrid thinking” about the advance of technology, the limits of biology and the future of the human species. What fascinates me about this talk, is that he combines some of my favorite things: biology, evolution, how the brain works, learning and technology. What scares me about this talk, is the potential for exponential growth of, what Ray Kurzweil calls “non-biological thinking”. He describes access to almost unlimited computational power, using nano-bots to connect our human neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud, providing an extension of our neocortex.Why it scares me is because the rate of development of new technologies has outstripped our cultural capacity to adapt. We already have too many examples of technology used in unethical and inappropriate ways. Phone hacking, phishing, bank fraud and other crimes that boil down to a lack of humanity. This brings me to the point of my talk – “Don’t forget what it is to be human”. Professor Thomas Suddendorf states that what makes us human is

“Our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on different situations, and our deep-seated drive to link our scenario-building minds together.” 

In other words, our ability to connect concepts in the past, present and future and our desire to connect with others to explore these ideas. Books, film, art, music and science are all examples of the ways we do this. So, what I would like to consider over the next (less than) 20 minutes is the values that make us human.  The following slides, at the risk of anthropomorphizing, show animals that demonstrate human characteristics. If you were an animal, what would you be and why? David Attenborough thought he was a slow-moving sloth, I think I’m a bit of a bower bird, basically a loner, but collecting lots of pretty things. Or a mallee fowl that scratches around and makes a huge mound of temperature-controlled humus. I’d like you to turn to the person next to you and exchange your animal egos.

It is our responsibility as teachers to impart good moral values – ‘cultural norms’ – to our students. In addition to knowledge and skills, teachers are helping students to form attitudes and opinions, which inform their behaviour. We teach students to connect, to communicate and to collaborate. Collective knowledge construction is the next step, which enables us to work in teams to solve the big problems – like responses to climate change, global inequality and disease prevention. So the following slides represent values that I think are important to pass on to the next generation.

You are a role model Balance Slide20

1. You are a Role Model, so demonstrate Balance and Present yourself well

Firstly, as a teacher you are a role model. You all know the reasons why Facebook is banned in most schools and a shocking time-waster in many businesses. My thoughts are that Facebook is a bit like a ghetto – (almost) anything goes – completely false ‘factoids’ and pseudoscience goes viral, embarrassing and inappropriate images are shared and some people make hurtful comments, without consequences. My suggestion is that if we had more mature and respectful people using social media, they would act as better role models to others. If we, as so-called responsible adults, present ourselves well and act the way we would be like to be treated, hopefully others will follow suit. It is not an ‘online’ issue, it is simple respect for others.

2. Empathy and Respect

A lot of early adopters of technology bemoan the fact that others refuse to take up digital tools with the same enthusiasm. I suggest we give them a break. Everyone has their strengths (and weaknesses) – a teacher at my school, a self-confessed Luddite, rarely opens his emails and baulks at online assessments and OHS modules. However, he is an outstanding outdoor education teacher, who is a great judge of character and has a wonderful rapport with students. He takes kids bushwalking up mountains and sleeps in caves and gives students valuable experiences that I can’t. So, maybe the ‘blockers’ at your school are doing the best they can and have other talents to offer?

Slide03 Slide04

3. Organisation and Preparation

A well-organised and well prepared teacher demonstrates to students that you care. I use digital tools to keep myself organised in ways I could never do before – my filing system is ‘P’ for paper or ‘B’ for bin. Some people ask how I get the time  – I’ll be honest, I haven’t got a clean house! I also use my blog like a journal, doing my unit and lesson planning online. So all my resources can be linked online and students have access to them 24/7.

Slide06 Slide05 Slide07

4. Have the Courage and Confidence to try something new

I am lucky to be from a small school with great leadership, where I am supported to try new things. There can be a fine line between confidence and arrogance, so beware that some people might see you as the latter. You need confidence to try new things, but over-confidence can get you into trouble too! Try not to bite off more than you can chew, but if you do, spit it out and start again. As long as you reflect on your experiences and act in ways that end in better outcomes, you haven’t made a mistake, but a negotiated a learning challenge.

Slide12 Slide09 Slide08

5.Persistence and Resilience

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6. Be Flexible and Respond to Change

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7. Partnerships and Teamwork

You may have heard the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go long, go together”. Partnerships, with experts, peers, organisations or community can enhance your teaching and make for authentic learning in your class. Use social media to connect with people with similar interests and invite them to speak to your class – I’ve had Catherine Anderson (@genegeek) and Mags Lum (@sciencemags), who I met on Twitter, Skype into my class and present to students on “DNA for dummies” and “My career as a metallurgist”. They were able to answer student questions and bring some different expertise into my classroom. In my first year of teaching Year 12 Biology, I have connected with the Gene Technology Access Centre, who deliver a box of hands-on experimental materials and use Polycom to beam into my classroom and deliver a lesson – great professional development for me, ans excellent learning for my students.

Slide17 Slide18 Slide19

8. Communicate, Collaborate and Share

One of my past students, Chloe, is now in her fourth year of a biochemistry degree at Melbourne University. I had Chloe in my Year 8 Science class nine years ago. I asked the class to choose a disease and prepare a digital product explaining the cause, symptoms and treatment for the disease. Chloe chose Malaria and produced an excellent slideshow with simple text and great images. I uploaded the presentation to Slideshare and it has since had over 50,000 views and 1,200 downloads. You might say the disease slideshow went ‘viral’? My explanation for the huge numbers (it is, each week, the most viewed of all my many presentations) is that it is being used in developing countries as a teaching resource, which would be a fantastic outcome – an authentic task that, by sharing, has benefitted many.

 Slide14  Slide21 Slide23

9. Have Passion and be Transparent about your Priorities

 Slide22 Slide24

10.  See Opportunities and Take Risks

Video-conferencing with VCE Biology

Teaching Unit 3 and 4 Biology for the first time in a small, rural school is a big responsibility. Although the class is small (only eight students), they are all keen to do their best and achieve an ATAR score that enables them to be accepted into the tertiary course of their choice, including nursing, physiotherapy and a Bachelor of Science. Although there are plenty of paper-based and online resources available, there are few other teachers in the local area to share ideas and teaching strategies with.

In Melbourne, beginning teachers have the advantage of the Biology Teacher’s Network and professional development at locations such as the Gene Technology Access Centre. Our class was invited to attend the “Body at War” program for the World Day of Immunology at GTAC this year. For our students, this means getting up at 4.00am, travelling up to one hour to the Warrnambool train station and then a three hour train trip, returning home at about 11.00pm, after the three hour return trip. Otherwise, an overnight excursion, staying at the Melbourne Metro YHA, which adds to the significant cost of travel.

This year, our Year 12 Biology class has had two opportunities to participate in video-conferencing using the Polycom equipment, connecting with the Gene Technology Access Centre. There are several programs available, and we were able to access the “Signalling Molecules” and “Hendra Virus” workshops. Both sessions included hands-on activities and student worksheets, with resources provided well in advance by GTAC. Both presentations were delivered by experienced teachers, with excellent images, animations and explanations.

The excellent image quality and audio allowed the GTAC presenters to see and hear all that was happening in the classroom, asking and answering questions just as if they were in the science laboratory. Although students were, at first, a little reluctant to interact with the presenter, this is how they would react with a guest speaker in the classroom as well. Students agreed that both sessions were valuable learning experiences that assisted them to understand and apply biology concepts. For me, it is an excellent professional development opportunity that enhances my ability to teach the Unit 3/4 Biology course. And all without leaving Hawkesdale P12 College!

Week 3: Vocabulary

Learning new terms and definitions is critical in senior science and it sometimes feels like a whole new language to students. Here are some tools and strategies for teaching and learning new vocabulary, especially in science subjects.

1. Quizlet
One of my favourite digital tools for learning new terms and definitions is “Quizlet”. “Quizlet” has a database of user created definitions for terms and allows users to choose from these or create their own. Once you have created a list of terms and definitions around a specific topic, you can use these in several different ways – flashcards, matching games, cloze sentences or true and false questions.

2. Padlet
Use this digital word wall to collate a bulletin board of terms and definitions. Each student may be responsible for looking up two to five words and their meanings and post them to the “Padlet” (formerly Wallwisher) wall.

3. Word Clouds
Create a word cloud using “Wordle” or “Tagxedo”, with the list of required terms. Use the colourful image created to discuss new terms and definitions. Ask students to choose several terms to look up to create a glossary.

4. Biology-Online dictionary
The “Biology-Online Dictionary” allows students to look up biology terms and definitions using a search window.

5. IPad apps
There are several Biology dictionaries available including “Biology Dictionary” (free) and “Biology Glossary” (0.99c). “iCardSort” is an app where you can label cards and then mix and match terms and definitions.

6. Hangman
Jefferson Lab’s “Science Vocabulary Hangman” allows students to choose from a range of topics and play Hangman against the computer.

What tools and strategies have you used to successfully teach and learn new terms and definitions?

Week 2: Goal Setting

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Goal setting is an important way to focus time and energy on improvement and a lifelong skill that can assist students to achieve their ambitions. Make sure you introduce the handy acronym ‘SMART’ goals and discuss examples (and non-examples).

  •  S – specific
  • M – measurable
  • A – achievable (or attainable)
  • R – realistic (or relevant)
  • T – timely

This Kids Health site has five great tips for goal setting.  I like to provide some guidelines to students and suggest 3 academic goals, 2 skills and a personal goal for improvement. We also created a rubric based on the “You Can Do It!” framework – Confidence, Organisation, Persistence, Resilience and Getting Along. Students rate themselves from 1 to 5 for each of these attributes and then choose a couple to work on. Again, it is useful to give examples, such as 1 = I talk to a special friend about my ideas, 3 = I can speak to small groups of about 10 people about my ideas,  up to 5 = I can confidently speak to a room full of over 50 people about my ideas.

 1. Use Padlet or Linoit for students to create a wall of goals

Each student posts their goals on a ‘sticky note’ on the wall. You can save this wall embedded in a blog or wiki to return to at the end of the term, semester or year. 

2. Create a form in Google Drive

Again, this way you can save and store all your student’s goals for review in Semester 2 or at the end of the year. Students also need a copy to refer to, so make sure they have saved them.

 3. Create a poster or infographic with your goals.

4. Create a video about your goals.

Repeating goals out loud and recording them are powerful ways for students to remember and solidify their goals. Investing time and energy into creating a video about their goals assists students to make them authentic, relevant and purposeful. As simple as recording a student reciting their goals or as imaginative as creating an animation, this task is open enough to allow students of all ages and abilities to get engaged.

 5. There’s an app for that!

Of course there are hundreds of apps that can be used to support goal setting – whether your goals are to break a bad habit, get fitter, lose weight, read more or whatever. This is a comprehensive post for free and paid apps that can assist. The top free apps for goal setting are “Way of Life – the ultimate habit maker and breaker” and “Everest – live your dreams and achieve personal goals”.

What are your tools, strategies and ideas for student goal-setting?

Week 1: Icebreakers!

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My aim for 2014 is to write a blog post each week that includes a range of teaching strategies that can be used to engage students in their learning. The focus will be on the learning goal, using a variety of hands-on strategies, web tools and mobile apps. For week one I am suggesting a range of strategies to be used as ‘Icebreakers’.

Since Christmas Day, 52 passengers and 22 crew members have been stranded in pack ice near Antarctica – three icebreakers have failed to reach them and finally a helicopter is being sent to rescue them. Classrooms can be a bit like ships sometimes – students with different interests and abilities are grouped together with a common destination. The goal is reached more effectively when everyone gets along and demonstrates good organisational skills, persistence, resilience and teamwork. Setting high expectations in the beginning and clearly communicating those expectations is important in an open and trusting environment.

At the beginning of each year, teachers will benefit from getting to know the students in their new classes – their interests, strengths, experiences and skills. To build trust and respect in your classroom, students need to get to know each other too. The following activities can be used to help participants feel comfortable in the classroom and assist in creating and maintaining a successful learning environment.

1. Create an avatar

Avatars are small images that can be used to identify users online. There are a huge variety of online sites to create your own avatar, including

2. If I was an animal, I would be a…..

Students find a picture of an animal that represents their character. ARKive  and Flickr are two great sources of animal images. Students then describe the characteristics of the animal that they have. This is a question sometimes used in job interviews, so it is worth thinking about. A monkey might be considered agile, intelligent and curious; an ant is hard-working and part of a team; a tortoise might be slow-moving, but thoughtful and persistent and an elephant is strong, loyal and has a great memory.

3. Self Portrait

Students draw/sketch/paint/collage themselves and display their image. Digital tools that can be used include:

4. Use word clouds to create an image

Wordle and Tagxedo are two web2.0 tools that students can use to create an image using words they choose to describe themselves. WordFoto is a mobile app that can be used in a similar way. Lois Smethurst explains the process of using Tagxedo and WordFoto on her blog, “My ICT Journey”. Ask students to choose at least ten words that they think describe themselves. An alternative might be “Ten things you didn’t know about me”.

5. My five best qualities

Students trace around their hand and for each finger nominate a characteristic that they are proud of – some students might need prompts, so perhaps you could brainstorm a list as a class to start with. You can also use Padlet or Linoit to complete this activity (each student posts their five characteristics on a sticky note on the digital ‘wall’ or ‘pinboard’). Here is a list of 555 personal qualities that students may find helpful.

Some more ideas for Icebreakers can be found at Educational Technology and Mobile Learning – Ten Techy Icebreakers for the 21st Century Teacher.

My Edublogs nominations

Grasmere Primary School is a small, rural school in SW Victoria, doing great things with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Project. As well as being freshly rebuilt, they are sharing their garden activities with families and friends via the freshly planted Grasmere PS Kitchen Garden Blog I am nominating this blog for the “best new blog” in the 2013 Edublogs awards.

The blog includes recipes, images from the amazing garden and updates from students. What a great way to connect the community and learn about seasonal planting, healthy eating and home cooking all at the same time!

For the best teacher blog, I would like to nominate Edna Sackson’s “What Ed Said” for frequent posts that make me think critically about teaching and learning. Edna shares her reflections on a variety of teaching strategies and inspiring examples of great learning in her school and beyond.

In the “best Twitter hashtag” I would like to nominate “#reportpyne”, because of timing and location. It won’t be relevant to anyone outside Australia, but means a lot to all teachers, students and parents who care about equitable funding for schools. The federal education minister, Christopher Pyne, has reneged on the government agreement to fund public and independent schools using the Gonski model. Stakeholders from across Australia have written insightful, sometimes humorous, report cards on his performance.

Actions for Earth Global Youth Summit

In January 2014, VCE Environmental Science students have the opportunity to participate in a four-day international conference in Singapore, the “Actions for Earth – Global Earth Summit”. The “Actions for Earth – Global Youth Summit” is a youth-led global platform for students to network, discuss and initiate innovation for sustainable solutions to protect children, fresh water and the natural environment from further destruction. The theme, “Waste Not” empowers young people under the guidance of environmentalists, educators, entrepreneurs and researchers to collaborate locally and globally to plan and implement innovative initiatives to overcome the natural environment challenges. We would like our students to have the opportunity to share their learning and achieve collective knowledge construction by attending this conference.

In order for our students to participate in this valuable learning experience we are seeking financial assistance. Including flights, conference registration, meals, accommodation, transfers and travel insurance the cost will be $2500 per student. We have received a generous sponsorship from AGL Energy Limited – Macarthur Wind Farm, that will enable ten students to participate, with each student contributing $500. However, we have eighteen students enrolled in VCE Environmental Science in 2014, who would like to attend. I genuinely believe that our rural students would receive enormous benefits from travelling to Singapore and participating in this exciting event, including developing an international perspective on sustainability, meeting and working with students from a variety of cultures and experiencing a very different way of life to rural SW Victoria. It will be a memorable experience that will benefit their VCE learning by opportunities to learn about ecologically sustainable development, waste management, renewable energy and environmental management.

If you can assist me to provide this wonderful learning experience for my VCE Environmental Science class of 2014, I (and my students) would be very grateful. I have posted the project on the new crowd-sourcing site for education in Australia, @ProjectEdAust. You can contact Hawkesdale P12 College at (03) 5560 7225 or use my email at brittgow (at)