Archive for the category “education”

Trying to keep up

Phew!

The Victorian Curriculum is trying to kill me.

I’m 42. I was once (until just after Y2K) a professional web developer. I can read code, but if I was any good at writing it, I would probably be earning more than a teacher’s salary.

With completely unfounded confidence, I created a new subject at my school called DigiTech – Web Development. In it, I teach my Year 9s about the separation of Content and Design, file handling and management, how to create and manipulate a database and the various security and people-related issues surrounding the creation of software solutions for small businesses.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. We needed a hard-core programming subject to offset the animation and game design subjects and I desperately wanted to tick off some boxes on the Victorian Curriculum.

At the end of my first semester teaching the subject, I feel a certain amount of pride in my accomplishments, and a great deal of dread in the idea that I will be doing it again next semester.

I told my students at the start of the semester that they would be guinea pigs. That we would be trying a number of different ideas out and seeing what they could handle. That being said, I knew that I wanted them to be able to use CSS and some basic database concepts. I worked with our amazing IT techies to put together a virtual machine with PHP, SQL and FTP capabilities, running only within the school network for safety’s sake.

And then I added people into the perfect solution and watched it explode into chaos.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Students don’t read instructions.
  • The ftp command line is painful.
  • codecademy.com is a beautiful thing.
  • I don’t know as much as some of my students.
  • I DO know more than most of my students (phew).
  • Differentiated learning is absolutely necessary.
  • Students don’t read instructions.

My initial idea for a major project was to have the students create a house system where teachers could add or subtract house points from a database, and the resulting scores would be displayed as beautiful hourglasses a la Harry Potter.

The boys decided within seconds that they would prefer to create an order system for the school canteen – a fantastic idea which has worked very nicely.

My next idea was that small teams would work on their own versions of the project and the canteen staff could choose their favourites at the end of semester.

The boys decided that they wanted groups of seven or eight, all with different jobs. After a single lesson watching one person work while six others stood around him making jokes, I capped teams at 3. The customer is NOT always right.

I decided on three basic roles:

  • content creator and client liaison.
  • Programmer
  • Designer

This allowed for each group to have one person who hated programming, but could still be involved and active in the creation of the site. The programmer would work on the PHP and SQL. The Designer would work with HTML and CSS as well as Photoshop. The Content Creator would collect information, write up process and instruction documents, complete reports for the client and keep the project plan on track.

This necessitated different assessment rubrics. Each team member would be marked on their skillset. Again, this has worked very well. If the team was less than three, and one person was taking on two roles, then they could tell me which role they wanted to be assessed on.

Today, I am working with one very keen student who completed all of the programming over the weekend and has brought the thing into school on a virtual server on his USB. Again, liaising with the tech department, he will have the virtual server installed on the school network and then testing can begin.

The rest are still working on their login screens.

As with any project I ask my students to undertake, I have created my own version of the task. I am creating an order system for the school’s Breakfast Club.

I have FileZilla for FTP. I have Notepad++ for code creation. I have Stackoverflow and w3schools for the many issues that come up every time I try to run a script.

And I’m ready to become a full time History teacher.

Never ask your students to do anything  you’re not willing to try yourself. The number of Professional Development sessions I’ve been to in regards to the Victorian Curriculum where I’ve been told “You don’t need to know it to teach it.” Yeah, OK, maybe that is true. But I’m not an empathetic person. I am quite sympathetic. I don’t have a lot of empathy.

Doing this myself has allowed me to solve a number of problems for my students.

Doing it myself means that I have greatly modified my expectations of what they should be able to achieve.

Doing it myself means that I can look them in the eyes and say “Yeah, but if I can knock this off in ten minutes, then you should be able to get it done in three hours.”

Just think: eventually  you are going to need to know how to do this stuff, if you are going to teach it. Kids can tell when you’re out of your depth. That’s where bad behaviour comes from. Jump in the deep end now and give it a shot.

And ask for help. Help is everywhere.

All the extra reality

pokehatePokemon Go has polarised my Facebook feed. Half of my friends are right into it. The other half are groaning over the next Bulbasoar picture. I downloaded the app four days after it was released in Australia, got my wife and daughter hooked and haven’t looked back. I justify this because as the Head of IT at my school I need to know what’s popular in technology. I justify this because as a father, I am looking after my daughter’s health by increasing our exercise while hunting for new species of Pokemon.

I justify this because it’s a very engaging game with a strong community of followers. And it’s fun.

But it has brought to the forefront a conversation that I have been having for years about the value of AR and VR. That’s Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for the uninitiated.

VR booth from the early 90s

Dactyl Nightmare VR game from 1991

Virtual Reality is the replacement of our reality with another, complete, world. You wear a headset or a helmet and when you move your head, your virtual head moves as well so that you can look around. In the early nineties, this was going to be the next big thing. I spent hours in bulky armour carrying a pistol and shooting pterodactyls on the VR system at a games arcade. I did my major project for my Bachelor of Computing in VRML, replicating the (then) new Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre so that people could go on a virtual tour of the space.

VR and VRML were going to replace the Internet and television and movies would never be the same.

Fast forward twenty years. VRML is nowhere to be seen – a victim of optional plugins and varying standards. VR went into hibernation until the Occulus Rift dragged it kicking and growling from its den.

And now, twenty years after I foolishly specialised in online 3D navigation, we are finally ready to have the VR and AR conversation again.

At this year’s DLTV DigiCon, my favourite keynote speaker was Josh Caratelli, a game designer from Big Ant Studios. The point I took from his keynote was this: VR and AR are not the future of technology. Getting involved in this now isn’t early adoption. We should already be on top of this.

Oh, and holograms aren’t that far off either.

So, racing to catch up to where I was twenty years ago with my MSAC model and my exploding pterodactyls, how can I introduce/use AR and VR into our curriculum?

Here’s a couple of ideas:

Scavenger hunts

We have school tours come through on a pretty regular basis. We have Grade 5 Come and See programs where primary students spend the morning doing Year 7 subjects to get an idea of how the school works. We have orientation days and art exhibitions and parent information nights. If we could enhance the school using AR we’d save on paper and showcase the brilliance of our student modellers and programmers.

My plan:

I’ve made a list of things around the school that could easily be modelled. I’ll hand one of these to each of the students in my Year 8 Engineering and Design class. They’ll create these models. We export them into Aurasma – an excellent AR tool for IOS. We match them to their real life counterparts and as parents move through the school with the app open, 3D models will pop up, with the name of the student next to them. Instant exhibition space.

Exhibition Spaces

Speaking of which…

We have regular art exhibitions at the school. If a parent held their phone up to the picture, an information sheet with an explanation of the work, their photo and maybe some sketches could pop up on the screen to add information to the picture.

qr_code_without_logoOr we could go old school and instead of having the student’s name and homeroom, we simply have a QR code, which links to an online space with their production journal and concept art scanned in.

The boys would set up their own pages, demonstrating competency across a number of DigiTech areas.

Value added Literacy

Book-e-mon. Gotta read ‘em all.

When you use Aurasma on Small Gods, it will pop up a review.

AR book reviews

This is the slogan I want for Book Week this year. I’m going to have my class all create an image with a book review for their favourite book. Add in pictures and their names. And then put each of these into Aurasma. The teachers can do the same. As students return and review books, the librarian can check to see if the book is one of the enhanced versions and if it is, the student wins a prize.

In the near future:

Other possibilities would be having a Microsoft Hololens when they finally come out. The Arts department could run virtual sculpturing sessions. We could add AR instructions to woodwork classes. Minecraft club would suddenly be a LOT more interesting.

I’d also take a look at the new HP Sprout.

And that’s just Augmented Reality. What about replacing reality altogether?

VR

Mecha-PTBIn Year 10 we run VET Creative Industries in partnership with the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. We also run Game Design, using Game Maker and Unreal Engine. My plan is to get hold of a HTC Vive system and start building models that we can import into that virtual world. I’d get the boys to recreate the school and run virtual paintball sessions created by the more active Game Design classes. We could run virtual tours of the school.

Enhancement and Acceleration

All this extra reality is a great way to enhance our educational possibilities. AR and VR give the students opportunities to excel beyond the regular curriculum restrictions. Posters could become multimedia extravaganzas. Teachers could walk through a real life recreation of an Egyptian pyramid. We could split the atom in Science without blowing up half of the school.

I think the other big point I took away from this year’s DigiCon is that we need to stop limiting our students and instead let them learn in the best way for them. The other thing I learned is that I have a LOT still left to learn.

Another Education Today Article

acara-imageI’m published again.

I won’t say too much about it, beyond that it is about Digital Technologies. I’ve been doing a LOT of research into how it will work while I plan next  year’s curriculum. This article is a basic summary of that research. I hope it helps.

Digital Technologies – beyond the panic

 

Creators not Users

I usually talk about cyber safety. Today I say to you: the best way to be safe in the cyber-world is to be a creator and not just a user.

creatorsThe new Digital Technologies curriculum is coming into place next year. ICT capabilities (using word processors, spreadsheets, answering emails, creating wikis) will be incorporated into the rest of the curriculum. It is now assumed that students will know these things but if a History teacher wants a Word document handed in, they’ll have to check to make sure that the student is using styles for headings and not just pressing space a hundred times to get the heading into the centre of the page. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you get Word to auto-create a table of contents using the headings from your report?
  2. Could you create a budget in a spreadsheet program that automatically updates as your financial situation changes?
  3. How would you find out what the Iranians called the Iranian Hostage Crisis?

This is stuff the students should know by the time they hit Year 7. Obviously, that means the teachers need to know it as well. That’s beside the point. We’re not teaching this stuff in IT any more, unless we need to as students hand in reports on the new DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES curriculum.

The idea behind Digital Technologies is that in a rapidly changing technological world, teaching students how to use Word is teaching them software that will be outdated by the time they hit the workforce.

We need to teach them how to think. That’s the concept that underpins Digital Technologies. Students are going to become creators rather than users.

If you know how to break down (decompose) a problem into smaller manageable pieces, and then create a series of steps (algorithms) that can solve each of the steps in an ordered way (computational thinking), allowing for the possibility of change in scope, then little things like working out how to do a mail merge in Word become easy, because you know the steps to solve that problem (Google it).

http://xkcd.com/627/This cartoon by XKCD sits above the desk in my office. It is guaranteed to turn anyone into an IT support person in seconds. Live by it. (link: http://xkcd.com/627/)

The easiest way for students to demonstrate computational thinking, decomposition and the creation of algorithms is to code. There has been a massive push in around the world to make sure the younger generation can code. It has finally made it to Australia and from next year (if they haven’t already started) students in primary school will be coding as part of their curriculum.

Where does that leave us? The secondary classrooms that haven’t been explicitly coding? We need to do some catch up. It might take a few years for us to be teaching the Year 7 curriculum. And that’s fine. It won’t take our students long to pick up on the concepts they missed out on.

And why am I doing this spiel on a blog? Because as parents (or teachers), you can help. Let’s get our students introduced to coding in a fun way before they need to do it in class. Start them on the basics so that they can take on the more structured lessons as they progress.

Here are some resources being thrown about at the high school level:

  • https://www.codecademy.com/ – This is a great resource we’ve been using with our Coding Club. It has courses in Javascript and Python – two very popular languages out in the world.
  • https://codecombat.com/ – learn to code while killing goblins and orcs! You tell your character what to do using code and learn while you’re at it.
  • http://Code.org/learn – The Hour of Code is a fantastic starting point. There are coding hours starring characters from Star Wars, Frozen, Minecraft and Angry Birds. Students can create their own Flappy Bird game, mazes and puzzle games as they progress.
  • https://bitsbox.com/ – good for Year 7s, but probably not much further on from there. You can subscribe for printed booklets with hundreds of little coding activities.

 

3D Curriculum

me in 3dHello, my name is Damian Perry and I exist in 3D. My eventual goal is to have myself completely replicated in 3D and sit at home playing computer games while my avatar teaches my classes for me.

This happened because I was at the DigiCon conference and was chatting to Dr Michael Henderson from Monash University. He had a Structure Sensor attached to his iPad and kindly offered to scan me for the purposes of beginning my digital journey.

I have previously tried to turn myself into a computer model. But this is new and exciting and can be attached to an iPad!

A 3D scanned me.

A 3D scanned me.

I like new and exciting. I am head of Technology at St James and have plenty of scope to test out the new stuff that comes up at IT conferences. But 3D isn’t new any more. It’s here to stay and it simply pulses with opportunities for extending our students’ learning opportunities. And yet, it’s new enough that there is very little out there in the way of curriculum.

So I had to make my own.

This year, I started by focusing on getting my Year 8 students engaged and up to scratch with the technologies. We have a couple of 3D printers in the school We use Autodesk Maya in Year 1o for a Certificate II in Creative Industries through AIE. Maya will be installed on all of the computers by the end of the Year, but I still wanted something simpler for the Year 8 students. logo-tinkercadTinkerCAD was an easy choice. It is free. It’s backed up (now) by the power of Autodesk. It has extensive tutorials built in. And it runs purely from within an Internet browser (unless you want to use Explorer – but who does?).

So with the software chosen, I looked for something to print on it. 3D printing is about being able to work in the 3D space and translate that into a physical object. Using that within the Technologies and ICT frameworks, I also needed the boys to follow a process and solve a problem. Starting small, I challenged them to create the following:

  • a pencil holderA container – this needed to be hinged or otherwise able to open and close.
  • A game piece – recreating a real game piece or creating something new for a made up game.
  • Something bigger than 15x15x15cm – this is the footprint we had to deal with. There are plenty of ways to extend this, through joints and clips and pegs and such.
  • Something that moves – gears, wheels, springs. They had to try and create something that would do something.

a play park attractionTo finish off, I borrowed (stole) an excellent idea from Kilvington Grammar. At last year’s DLTV conference, they presented the idea of having the students create a play park. They had to research parks, environmental issues, flow through within the park and materials that could be used. And then they would plan the entire park in a group and design and print one piece each to put the park together.

Jurassic Play Park

Jurassic Play Park

This worked really well in the first semester this year. The boys were engaged. I had them come up with their own assessment criteria and promoted self-and-peer marking. They decided that complexity, originality, aesthetics and practicality were the most important attributes for a model.

But we were still only barely breaching the surface of the 3D printing mine of ideas. In this, our second semester of 3D design in Year 8, I decided to expand the possibilities, and created 3D Bingo.

3D Bingo

My students have to complete a line of the grid to complete this unit. They can go sideways, up and down or diagonally. They’ll create four models from the white section and one purple. I don’t expect a lot of research from the models in the white grid, although they obviously could be used in that way. My students use these options to hone their skills and work towards the purple square. The star in the centre can be used as a wild card – they can choose any other square to complete, even if it isn’t on their chosen line. I have chosen pieces that cross most of the curriculum areas in the school to give other teachers some ideas as to how the printers can be used in their learning areas.

And then the boys need to complete their purple square.

maths concepts

Exploring Maths in 3D

This is the Major Project square. This is the “research and present” part of the assessment. Fingers crossed, but this should be where the boys explore a concept and THEN make the model.

The four squares on the right come from a challenge by Thingiverse. Those along the bottom come from my brain, apart from the previously mentioned Playground Piece. The students will research the idea, look at possible solutions, present their research and then create and evaluate the model.

And STILL we are only touching the surface of the possibilities. 3D printing companies are starting to get on board, creating curriculums based around their specific printer, but focusing on 3D printing in general, rapid prototyping, materials and research as well as practical exercises. There are games and activities that can be wrapped around the 3D concepts.

The conversations that came out of DigiCon15 were numerous, but some of the more pervasive ideas were:

  • Getting schools to pay for the technology
  • Getting learning areas other than IT to use the technology
  • Costs of consumables and
  • Being on board with another possible flash-in-the-pan fad.

First up, I bought our first 3D printer – an Up Mini – for $600. Less than the cost of a good laser printer. I used the roll of materials that came with the printer for the rest of the year without running out. I worked out that most of my prints would cost about $2. Money shouldn’t be a concern when offset against the possibilities for enhanced learning.

If buying the printer is still an issue, consider pooling your resources with other schools in the area. I know that our printers aren’t running 24/7. Maybe look into a partnership with the local libraries or community centre. Public makerspaces are becoming more common and are a viable alternative to buying your own printer.

Why not 3D print your frog?

Why not 3D print your frog?

Secondly, I was chatting with the woodwork teacher, who had just helped a student put together a cabinet for his mother. The overall cost for the project in materials was about $60. This is perfectly fine and expected in a practical subject involving specific knowledge. Science pracs involving frogs and rat cadavers and other materials all cost. Art supplies are consumed at a remarkable rate. And don’t even get me started on photocopying costs.

The solution to having the technology used by other learning areas was to not have it hidden in the IT labs, but located in a central “making space” that is visible and accessible to all learning areas. It is an excellent way to promote the school during tours and it takes away from teachers needing to ask the IT person for access or permission, needed or not.

Finally, there is no doubt that this technology will change and grow over the next few years. I’m absolutely sure that my state-of-the-art printer will be obsolete before I’ve gotten my money’s worth. But the concepts – the ideas behind this technology – they are here to stay. And I’m sure that my boys will make their way into the future with skills that they will absolutely use in our 3D printed world.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to creating the voice sync software to allow me to teach from home in my pajamas.

Some Resources

Printers

  • UP! – A number of very clever, cost-effective machines. Used at a number of schools and well within the budget of even the home hobbyist.
  • Stratasys – Our Mojo produces some gorgeous prints. Definitely not a hobbyist machine, but takes 3D modelling to the next level.
  • MakerBot – One of the big players in 3D printing aimed at the low end and upwards.
  • Make your own! Take a look at the RepRap.org wiki.

Curriculum

Digicon15

DLTV DigiCon 15 (the #digicon15 summaries)

Twitter is a marvellous beast. We can only go to one session in every slot during a conference, but thanks to Twitter (and the teachers using it) I have resources from dozens of sessions that I couldn’t make.

Over the two days, we discussed a number of technology issues and heard from some very clever and entertaining educators. I’m going to philosophise about a few things and post some links about the things we found out as I try to unpack all of the information shoved willy nilly into my brain. Please feel free to add to/dispute any of the information I place on here. And enjoy.

First up, something I picked up from my first VITTA conference: Storify. I typed digicon15 into the search bar, pressed SHOW MORE about a hundred times and then stuck all 2000 tweets into a storify article. From that point, I could start to order what happened over the two days and create:

https://storify.com/DamianPerry/dltv15#publicize

WHAT I LEARNED DURING DIGICON 2015.

Risk is not a dirty word!Teachers in general are a risk-averse bunch. And fair enough – we are providing a product to parents and we are accountable for our stuff-ups to a number of different groups. However, technological innovation is all about risk taking. And surprisingly, people rarely die from taking risks in this arena. So go for it.

Similarly, we are scared of letting our students take risks. But we need to relax and let them free. Just make sure you’re a member of the union first. Wrapping your students in bubble wrap means that they are ill-equipped to deal with the outside world.

Don’t tell your kids “Be risk takers!” and then “…but don’t do this because you might get hurt!” Schools have too many rules.  Set them free. If they fail, if they get hurt, they’ve learned something and will do better next time.

On the subject of failure, Anne Edmonds performed for us. She’s a very funny comedian and she extolled the virtues of failure as a learning device. Risk and failure = success (eventually). But only if you learn from your failures and don’t let them beat you down.

Hamish Curry played games for us, ate a banana on stage and was from that point on part of #bananagate, which I still don’t completely understand. During his keynote, the sales of Duet, Paper Fox and Monument Valley shot through the roof.

Four RussiansWhen you’re planning lessons, Corrie Barclay (@CorrieB) introduced us to the 3 Russian Brothers and their cousin:

Morov, Lessov, Ridov and Tossin.

What do you do that works that you can do more of (Morov)?

What do you need to do less of (Lessov)?

What do you need to completely get rid of (Ridof)?

What else can you toss in (Tossin)?

He made some excellent points about authentic assessment and enquiry learning. His Doomsday website shows what students can come up with when they aren’t limited by teacher expectations.

The philosophy of being a teacher came up over and over. One of the better quotes that popped up on the screen during keynotes and Spark events was: There is no such a thing as a teacher or a student; there are only co-learners. Especially in IT, we learn as much from our students as we teach them, and the successful teacher is the one that is willing to take the new on board and have a student explain it.

As for the venue, Swinburne is a great place to hold a conference. The wi-fi was flawless, which is usually where these days fall down. The food was delicious and plentiful. Winthrop provided us with free “real” coffee for the two days. And apart from getting up way too early on a Saturday morning, the public transport was a doddle.

And I reinvigorated my company pen collection:

pens

Specifics

ICT v Digital Technologies

how to make a paper plane

My instructions

Digital Technologies = Producer. ICT = Consumer

In one of our sessions, we made the distinction between DigiTech and ICT by making paper planes. I had to make a plane, write down the instructions, post the instructions to Twitter. Then I found instructions from someone else and followed their instructions to make a plane myself. Digital Technologies involves the creation of a product. ICT involves using a product that someone else has created. This activity allowed us to do both.

Implementing Digital Technologies presents the age-old problem of where to stick it. Do we create a separate Digi-Tech class at a year level? Or do we break it up and stick it into a number of different classes?

The instructions I had to follow

The instructions I had to follow.

Technological Innovation

I attended a session about getting students out of school using technology. The idea is that one a couple of days each year, or semester, whatever the school is comfortable with, the students stay home from school and the teachers present classes digitally. There are a great number of reasons why this would be a good idea. Just as many reasons not to do it, especially in our risk-averse teaching society. But it’s an interesting concept.

The teachers at Nossal High School send their students home twice a year for a school free day. The teachers timetabled on for that day teach their regular period via online teaching. They use webcasting, pre-recorded content and online assessment to present and assess their classes.

This was a daunting task for a number of teachers, but through collegiality, a bit of courage and a good implementation plan, the program worked – and continues to work – well.

I’m not saying that we should all send our students home for the day twice a year – I think our parents specifically would have a kitten over the idea – but there is definitely merit in using a collegiate approach to upskilling the teachers in our schools and getting them to embrace technology. Maybe a Digital Day twice a year where students take classes digitally at school. Something to think about.

Coding

I didn’t make it to any of the coding sessions, but I got a great deal of feedback from the other teachers from my school, as well as a friend of mine and of course the multitudes of Tweets.

Some of the better results:

Coding = repetitive failing until you get something that works. – @rissL

Programming, or “coding”, is simply making a list of instructions and having them executed.

I saw someone “coding” a human being. This sounds like a great introduction to the concept.

3D

A 3D scanned me.

A 3D scanned me.

The 3D offerings at DigiCon15 were phenomenal. The ideas I saw put forward will completely change the way I run the curriculum next year. There’s too much to go into here, so I’ll put up a separate blog post on the subject (and link to it when I’m done).

Questions without answers

How can we shape lesson and curriculum design that keeps us as teachers engaged, creative and innovative? – @CorrieB

So many benefits for teaching students the Arts. How can we make schools value this more? – @wongmichy

Links

Corrie’s session: Redesigning Curriculum for the 21st Century.

DigiCon15 on Youtube

And finally, the teachers at Northern Bay being superheroes for the sake of education:

Differentiation

A fish climbing a tree will fail.

OK, I lied. Here’s the picture

I’m writing reports. I’m too tired to go and find all of the tired tropes teachers traipse out every time they talk about differentiation.

Wow, massive alliteration bomb right there.

Einstein and his tree-climbing exam comes to mind immediately.

The focus for our school in the upcoming years is differentiation, and the first goal is to explore the concept and see what comes out of the dialogue. I’ll dialogue later. I’ll monologue now.

Like an evil villain. Mwahahhahahahahahaha!

See? Tired.

And I worry that, if I create a different lesson plan for each and every one of my students, and then have to mark each one differently to allow for their special abilities, that I’ll be a lot more tired later. Of course, if I spent more time marking work and less time writing blog posts, I might be less tired. But, what can you do?

Here are some thinking points:

  1. Most schools do a great deal to try and raise the grades of students on the left hand side of the bell curve.
  2. What are schools doing to extend those students at the upper end of the scale?
  3. Bored geniuses are… genii? Grant me wishes? I’ll look it up. Bored geniuses (obviously not me) are often discipline problems. They tune out because the work isn’t challenging, or isn’t relevant.
  4. Extending the high achievers definitely involves more work for teachers and will be a bone of contention in planning meetings, even if nobody says anything out loud.
  5. A lot of current educational methods are being made redundant by new technologies.

I’m not offering solutions just yet, just offering points to think about.

If you’re making students answer questions from a text book, differentiation will be difficult. Luckily, this isn’t such a prolific practice as it was when I was younger.

OK. Enough rambling. What are the solutions?

First up, look at the questions you are posing in your assignments. Are you asking students to do something that they can cut and paste from Google?

“What were some of the effects of World War 2 on the world economy?” can be typed into your favourite search engine verbatim, and students can pick and choose a variety of answers to submit as their own. There is no reason to extend myself as a student. My answers might be better than the lower kids’, but I don’t have the motivation.

Essays such as this should be put to rest. Anything that can be Googled needs to be removed from the curriculum. Try this: “Create a radio news broadcast from a specific day in 1946. Include local and world news, sports, business and weather reports”

They can Google the information but they still need to use it in an original way. You’ll have already taught them about how to be web-search literate, finding accurate and relevant information from authoritative sources. They’ll rationalise their choice of information in their updated bibliography.

They can be assessed on ICT knowledge, History knowledge, speaking and listening in English and hopefully group work.

Secondly, create tiered assignments based on your knowledge of the students. Each tier should have opportunity to stretch themselves, allowing the teacher to move them up for the next work task.

My Engineering and Design class is called The Evil League of Evil. Students start off as Minions, and work towards becoming SuperVillains. The first tasks have them following instructions and showing me that they can gather evidence. It also allows for a variety of responses, allowing those with higher skills to show this. The boys create Lego robots, designing and planning before creating, and finally evaluating their own and others’ creations.

The second task is split into three. They can Build a Robot – if they still need more help – using instructions and continuing to record evidence. They can Design a Robot – Henchman level work that gives them some autonomy but still working on a task I’ve set them. Or they can Invent a Robot – the Villain level work which lets them create a bot from scratch with no intervention from me.

From there, I can shift boys up and down the ranks, depending on how they respond to challenges. They know where they are at all times, and have the impetus to try and reach that highest level.

And of course, we finish the semester with an all in Robot Battle Royale, for those who have achieved a high enough level. Once reports are done. To keep them going for the last two weeks. There are prizes. It’s great.

I know people are thinking “But yeah, practical subjects like that lend themselves to differentiation! And think of all the extra work you just did!”

First up, I’m using Stile, which I love. It allowed me to simply copy the activities into different classes, and I could simplify the language for the minions and add a couple of bonus activities for the Villains. So, not so much extra work.

stile2 stile

Secondly… Well, sure,  you might have a point. Differentiation is easy in practical subjects. But I can come up with dozens of ways to differentiate an English or History lesson off the top of my head.

Leading to my final point in this mad ramble. One that I’m sure you’ve heard from me before: Collaboration. Nobody should have to do all of this work alone. I have a great team working with me in Technology, so assigning tasks and year levels is easy and the results are fantastic. Use your team. Have a regular spot in the morning briefing, in every staff meeting. Have one staff member share a success story in differentiation. It doesn’t have to be subject neutral. But it could give the rest of the staff that spark that lets them do the same in their classes.

I want to go into depth here. I’ve been working with differentiation for over 10 years. But I also want to keep this under 1000 words (or one picture). So I’ll stop and add more later.

Five words to go! Whoo hoo!

…Damn.

How to annoy a teacher

There are hundreds of ways to annoy a teacher. Sometimes it depends on whether the annoying person is another teacher, an administrator, a reporter, parent, relative or person on the street.

My uncles delight in telling me that I can’t complain because I have too many holidays. I could argue that until the cows come home and it wouldn’t make a difference, so I won’t bother.

I get annoyed when meetings are called (or cancelled) at the last minute. I get annoyed when I don’t see a class for three weeks due to unfortunate timing of holidays and sports days and correction days and any other multitude of days. But it’s something that happens. I’ll live.

I was unnecessarily infuriated when another teacher told me that one of the extra-curricular activities I undertake was part of my teaching loadangry teacher. OK, annoyance again was warranted but the strength of my reaction was a bit over the top.

If you’re not a teacher, or not a secondary teacher, here’s some background knowledge. Primary teachers all over the country will look at what I’m about to say and join my uncles in telling me secondary teachers are paid too much, but here goes.

We have a teaching load. Looking at my timetable I have 19 periods of teaching a week which is 15 contact hours (I think). I have five yard duties and two emergency yard duties over a fortnight. I have a couple of possible extras a week. I have time allocation for my Position of Leadership, and a couple more for IT-related work. The rest of the time we’re at work is planning, marking and other teaching miscellany. I totally admire the primary teacher who has their classes all day, except for specialist times.

We also have responsibilities. We have to show up to meetings – staff meetings, beginning and end of term training days. We have to attend some information nights and we are expected to participate in certain extra-curricular activities related to our discipline. For example, I am part of the Arts faculty, and therefore I take part in the College production. More to the point, I love the College production and therefore I take part in it (but I would be expected to do so even if I didn’t).

I teach at a smallish school. We have a dedicated staff and we’re never short-handed for any activities that are run. Because we like to get involved. Because we like to do things to enhance our students’ learning experience.

Not because we’re being paid to do it. Not because it’s part of our job description.

I’m not getting paid any more than the teacher who gets in at 9 and leaves at 3.30. This morning I started work at 6.45am and I’ll finish at around 11pm.

It’s not part of my load. And it devalues what I choose to do to say that it’s part of my job description. It took me awhile to figure out why I was so angry at the suggestion, but there it is.

This next bit will sound a bit more like a resume letter than a blog post, but I think it’s important to blow your own trumpet every now and then. Not for other teachers, who already know how much work is involved in what we do, but for my uncles.

Here’s the short list of my extra-curricular involvement at the school:

  • Debating coach (five evenings, plus finals, plus lunchtime planning sessions, plus research and planning, plus professional development and the associated catchup)
  • Creative writing club (lunchtime meetings, plus excursions, plus research into competitions and publishing opportunities, plus proofreading and lesson plans – purely for the boys’ enjoyment and not part of school, plus Write-a-book-in-a-day (8am-8pm))
  • College radio before school at the community radio station (getting up before 6 for a 7-8am show, once every three weeks)
  • College production (don’t even ask, especially on years where I have a more active role)

Not paid for any of it. And apart from the College Production, not even expected to do any of it.

And I really don’t care. I love doing it all. I love being a part of these activities and I don’t begrudge the time spent making them work well (although my wife might sometimes).

But I want to be a bit selfish. I want people to look at what I’ve done and say “look at what he’s done for these kids – that’s pretty special” rather than “meh. It’s part of his job.”

OK, rant over. I just wanted to work my way through an extreme reaction to a simple comment.

my jobAnd now, back to work. Playing with Lego, making movies, creating robotic animations, printing out 3D Pokéballs and taking photos.

My life is soooo hard.

Technology and Distractability

I’m writing this at parent teacher interviews. As an IT teacher, I’m not in as high demand as the English and homeroom teachers. Most of the students in my class are there because they want to be. So I have time.

I can mark work, prepare lessons and write articles.

When I do manage to talk to a parent, sometimes they’ll find out that I had a lot to do with implementing the iPad program at the school and invariably I’ll get the comment: “How do I stop him from wasting time on the iPad?”

There are a few options here, depending on how diplomatic I’m feeling. For the most part, these work both in the classroom and at home.

1. Not at all diplomatic: You’re the parent. You rule the roost. Put some rules in place that mean that he doesn’t do things he’s not meant to do.

2. Slightly more diplomatic: Have a conversation with your wayward child. What are they using the iPad for? How important are the various different activities? How much time does he realistically need to properly stay in touch with friends and have some leisure time? And then come up with a mutually negotiated timetable for class use versus leisure use. And of course, if the timetable isn’t upheld, you stop being diplomatic and go back to step 1.

all the wonderful things an iPad can do.

3. Very diplomatic: If the work your son is required to do on his iPad isn’t challenging enough or hasn’t been explained properly, then a confused student is a student who ends up on social media. Tablets are incredibly powerful machines. With the proper motivation, students could be inspired to create a movie, make an interactive app or design a scavenger hunt. With no motivation, they can Google the answer, copy and paste work into a Keynote and hand in a Pages document called Blank 43 (which is probably very accurate).

The reality is somewhere between all of that. You are the parents, and you do have the ability to place restrictions on your child’s use of technology at home. The teachers at school are in a similar situation. Any restrictions placed on a student should be made in conjunction with the student, to limit the amount of resentment and rebellion involved.

Your job as parents is to be aware of what your child is meant to be doing and what they’re actually doing and modify the ratio between the two so that the work gets done.

Our job as teachers is to make sure that the work that they do on their tablet is valuable and stimulating and not just busy work that we don’t want to mark as much as they don’t want to do it.

Sorry, did that answer the question?

Cyber Safety discussion

Extras CoverEverybody wants to be famous. We are rapidly moving towards a world run by a reputation economy. Don’t believe me? Read Scott Westerfeld’s Extras. It’s not that far from today’s reality. Basically, the more friends you have and the more Likes you get on a status update or a photo, the more important you are and the “richer” you become.

And we could argue the merits of this for ages and not get anywhere. The world of social media is a world that considers privacy an outmoded concept. The Internet knows where you are and what you are doing at all times, and the majority of teens have no problem with that.

Your digital footprintI’m not judging. I have a very large online footprint, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn. I even have a MySpace page (although I haven’t opened it in ten years). Being online isn’t evil. Promoting yourself isn’t wrong.

The conversation that has to be had between parents and students is the quality of your online reputation. Ask your child (and for good measure, ask yourself) how they think they are seen on Social Media. What are the words people would use to describe them? What sort of pictures and status updates are they posting and how does that make them look to the outside world?

Over the past few years, St James has made it a priority to talk to our students about the importance of knowing who you are sharing your information with. It is a fact of life that many of the “friends” our boys have on various Social Media sites are people they have never met, and in some cases, people they don’t even know. Logically, if you have 1500 friends on Facebook, some of them will be strangers. Again, try not to judge. The concept of “Friend” on social media is different to the traditional meaning of the word. A more accurate term would be “Contact”. These are people who share their interests, even if they haven’t met IRL (In Real Life). Unfortunately, Facebook’s insistence in using the term “Friend” gives users of the site an artificial sense of familiarity with these strangers they have invited into their lives.

Again, this is where it is time to talk to your child. Ask him how many contacts he has on various Social Media sites. How many of these people does he know IRL? What information about him can they find out from looking at his profile information, pictures and posts? And what are the possible dangers involved in giving strangers access to this information?

Talk to him about Privacy settings. Most of the boys I have talked to over the past few years have an excellent grasp of privacy settings and actually do care about keeping private information from strangers. The problem is, they don’t consider their 1500 friends “strangers”, even if they have no idea who some of them really are.

brave new world coverOnce more, and as I will do at the end of each of these articles, I must stress that a knee-jerk “the Internet is evil and I must protect my child from it!” reaction to Social Media could do more damage to your son or daughter than simply talking to them about issues and trying to understand this Brave New World. A few simple safety precautions and conversations will do far more for your child’s safety.

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