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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)


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

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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?

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.

Minecraft in Maths

I have written about Minecraft in education before, following a trial at my school with Year 7 boys who built models of different types of bridges. This year I set a task for another class of Year 7 students in which the boys found it particularly engaging. Many of the boys had played the game before and a few were ‘expert’ users. It happens that these boys usually don’t experience success in the Maths class – they struggle with some concepts and despite offering a range of different activities, often don’t seem to enjoy Maths. Minecraft classes allowed these boys to experience success and share their talents and experience with their peers – finally they were excited about Maths!

The task was to create their name in a Minecraft world, using the familiar cubes that we deemed to be 1m x 1m x 1m in volume. They then had to calculate the surface area and volume of their name and send me a screenshot. Some students had not played Minecraft before, so there was some terrific sharing of expertise and discovery learning going on. As students watched their peers constructions take shape they changed their designs, incorporating different colours and textures. As the environment changed (day became night and it started snowing in some worlds) students sought out flaming torches and built verandas to protect their constructions.

Surface area and volume can be easily taught with a textbook and, for the more adventurous, going outside to measure real-life objects in the school yard. However, Minecraft allowed me to engage some of my more difficult students and give them opportunities to shine in the classroom. Now I need to start thinking how I can teach algebra with Minecraft! Have you had success with Minecraft in your classroom? What outcomes have you achieved with game-based learning?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Web2.0 ideas for getting to know your students

Today I presented at the “ReThink, ReImagine” conference organized by Simon Perry for teachers and pre-service teachers at Deakin University. It was a great way to kick start the year and inspire teachers to try some new tools, new teaching strategies and new ways of learning.

Greg Whitby was the keynote speaker, who challenged us to put “faces to the data” and make sure students are at the centre of learning. What better way to start the year than to ask students to describe themselves and their goals for learning? So here I describe some ways that students can use web2.0 tools to tell you and their peers about themselves.

(1) Thinglink is a web2.0 tool that allows users to upload and image and add annotations, including links to other web pages, YouTube videos – in fact any content with a web address. So students can take a photo of themselves and add links to their blogs and other online digital content. If they aren’t authors of digital content yet, they could write short notes about their strengths, interests and goals or link to pages that interest them.

(2) Tagxedo is a web2.0 platform for creating word clouds using text. @loisath had the great idea for students to upload a photo of themselves and write a short description that can be copied and pasted into the Tagxedo window. Students can choose the colour, fonts, orientation and images to create beautiful word clouds. Print them out to display around the room, post them on student or class blogs or save them for a student portfolio.

(3) Create a student survey using Google Docs (forms) about student interests, characteristics, favourite subjects, hobbies, sports and questions and concerns they may have about the year ahead.

(4) Create a Wallwisher asking students to post five things that describe themselves. You may like them to post anonymously and other students can guess who has written each post (I suggest you set the Wallwisher to moderate posts in this case) or make sure each student signs in to Wallwisher so their name is attached to each post.

(5) If your students are bloggers, they can write a blog post – “Ten things you didn’t know about me”. They may like to put this is an email and send it to you (I have a gmail account separate to my school email for students to send work to).

(6) If you have iPads, WordFoto is a great app to use for getting to know your students – upload an image of the student and they then use ten words to describe themselves (the image above was created in WordFoto).

What web2.00 tools have you used to get to know your students at the beginning of the school year?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Minecraft at Hawkesdale

This term, a group of Year 7 boys from Hawkesdale College have had the opportunity to access the Quantum Victoria Minecraft world each week. This is part of their “Skills for Living” class, in which the remainder of students have been learning to dance. The idea of a “Skills for Living” class is for students to have time to think about and document their learning goals, reflect on their achievements and areas for improvement and to target specific knowledge and skills that require more work. In addition to the “Tribes” framework, our school uses the “You Can Do It!” principles to discuss appropriate behaviors and attitudes for effective learning. It has become apparent during our participation in Minecraft activities, that this gaming platform is an excellent tool for students to demonstrate their understanding and application of the five “You Can Do It!” principles – Organisation, Persistence, Confidence, Resilience and Getting Along.

Organisation – Registering and setting up a Mojang and Minecraft account to access the Quantum Victoria Minecraft world is a complex task, requiring several steps. It took all students at least one period, and usually two, to complete the process. Students were required to remember usernames and passwords on three separate sites, so those with good organisational skills had much better success. Those students that had difficulty learnt that recording your usernames and passwords in a safe place was a helpful strategy to avoid frustration.
“Stuff you make in Minecraft is made in a similar way in real life.” – Chewy12345

Persistence – Some students came across many obstacles on their journey into Minecraft, but by Week 5 all students had access. Several students demonstrated remarkable persistence each week, attempting logins, waiting for updates and connections and repeating procedures to allow them to participate. The “carrot” was there, so finally they were all able to jump in and start creating.
“It takes time and effort to make awesome stuff.” – PorkChop
“Eventually you can do it, even if it looks too hard” – EaterofBacon

Confidence – Some of this group are lacking in confidence, which is one of the reasons they would prefer not to participate in dance, which is enjoyed by the more outgoing and self-confident students. Minecraft does not require the memory and full-body co-ordination that dance requires, but fine motor skills, problem solving and creative thinking. This group of boys are not all highly skilled sportsmen, but have gained remarkable skills in finding their way around the Quantum Minecraft world, working out the rules and how to play the game and creating structures that they didn’t believe they could.
“Not everything is as hard as it looks.” – GeneralCheese

Resilience – We did have some issues when one week we were unable to access the Quantum Minecraft server and the computer technician allowed us to use the school server which had been set up for another class, the Year 9/10 Gaming elective. Despite being warned about “griefing” – a gamer’s term for stealing and/ or destroying another gamer’s virtual property – some of the boys raided a treasure chest of tools and damaged a house that had been built by another player. When their misdemeanors came to our attention, we asked that the culprits stay inside during recess and lunchtime until the gamer’s property had been restored. Both parties displayed resilience by bouncing back and returning to the game with a lesson learned.
“You shouldn’t damage or steal other people’s stuff”- MVS999

Getting Along – This is the principle that gives me the most pleasure – to see these boys, some of whom have difficulty working in teams and accepting each other’s differences, sharing tools and strategies and helping each other plan and construct houses, bridges, towers, tunnels and railroads, is fantastic. The buzz in the room as they make suggestions for improvements, give and receive materials and laugh at the possibilities in a virtual world, is delightful.
“When people annoy you, you can go somewhere else.” – Bippy14

Thanks to Paul Taylor from Quantum Victoria for supporting our journey into their Minecraft world. Thanks to our computer technician, Nathan Calderwood, for setting up the school server, downloading the software and supporting Minecraft at Hawkesdale College. Thanks also to my delightful class of Year 7 boys who kept on trying, even when I didn’t know how to help them! 

“What’s Web2.0?” at Apollo Bay

Image created with ThingLink

Thank you for inviting me to your lovely, country P12 college today! As a small, rural school in SW Victoria, Hawkesdale P12 College is a very similar school to this. We have about 250 students, mostly from farming families, arriving by bus each school day. I imagine you have similar concerns with isolation from major centres, distance to services and lack of multicultural awareness that comes from living in small, rural and regional communities. Today we are going to look at some tools that we have used at Hawkesdale P12 College for connecting, communicating and collaborating with the world.

Wallwisher is a free, easy-to-use site where you can post digital sticky notes. It can be used for exit slips, brainstorming, reflection and sharing ideas.

Wordle is a site that allows you to create beautiful word clouds from text. Tagxedo is similar, but allows you to choose the shape of your word cloud. Use it for introducing a unit or finding out how much students know about a topic. is another fee site where you can create concept maps. Students need to register to save their work.

Voicethread allows students to add text, voice and annotations to images. You can create multimedia presentations using your own images or upload creative commons images from Flickr.

Blackboard Collaborate is free for DEECD teachers and enables virtual classes, meetings and professional development. You can be teaching a class and within 10 minutes be participating in a education conference with teachers from around the globe, without leaving the staffroom. You and your students can link up with experts, such as Scientist in Schools partners or Melbourne Zoo staff, without hiring a bus or organizing permission forms. Please click on this link to access the Blackboard Collaborate Virtual Room.

What did I take home from ICTEV 2012?

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the 2012 Internet and Communication Technology Education in Victoria annual conference at Melbourne Grammar School. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet many members of my online personal learning network from Twitter, together with like-minded educators from around Victoria (and beyond).
Although some of my colleagues thought he was somewhat underwhelming, the keynote speaker was Alan November. He stressed the importance of peer teaching – a strategy I have often used in science teaching, especially the “kids teaching kids” program used at environmental conferences and the “60 second science video” competition. Alan gave an example of a student produced screen-cast showing how to create a prime factor tree – possibly using an app similar to “Show Me Interactive Whiteboard” on the iPad.

My first session was “IPads, QR codes and Augmented Reality” by Nathan Jones (@elearnjones) which was an amazing start. Nathan demonstrated the use of “String”, “Dinosaurs – Live”, “Butterflies” and “Heart Cam”, each of which bring a 3D object onto the screen when focussed on a 2D “trigger”. So, for example, students can have dragons climb out of the table, spiderman battling a crook in front of them or a dinosaur charge through the window. “Aurasma” is another app that you can use to create your own augmented reality triggers. So, for example, you might draw a picture and then add a video of how you mixed the colours or where you got your inspiration. Nathan used this app with his students for book trailers – so each student recorded a video of their book review and used the cover of the book, or a similar image, as the trigger.

Stephen Heppell spoke briefly about education environments, but I found his most interesting point was a graph of PISA scores against interest in science for countries around the world. Finland, usually recognized as having an outstanding education system, has very high test results in science, but a very low interest in the subject. Likewise, Australia has medium to high test results, but low interest in the subject – disappointing!

Stephen Heppell also spoke at the K12 Conference this week and the tweets were running thick and fast! I created this Storify to capture some of his wisdom.