Paul's Place of Musings and Insights

the journey of a techno-meddling teacher

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Fun Play

I’ve just acquired a box of Lego for my classroom. I’ve always been jealous of classes in huge younger years who have access to these little blocks and I’ve always thought about how I could use them in upper primary. Through a discount website (the kind that sells you stuff you generally don’t need) I picked up a box of 500 assorted bricks for a decent price.

This is the result:

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The kids rushed to my side and the end of individual reading became a hub of creativity. Lines of conversation included
- make the pictures on the box
- no, make whatever you want
- let’s make the characters from Animal Farm (our novel study)
- gee, Mr Huebl, your building thing is amazing (I might have heard that in my own head)

I’m happy with the attitude the kids have had towards the blocks. I am mindful now of how to maximise the benefit if their use as well as making the use of them equitable.

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Commenting is sharing the teaching

One of the things that most teachers will say is hard to feel motivated about doing all of the time is marking. So often, marking can consist of really just checking that students have done the right thing. While this is necessary, it hardly feels like I am contributing to the learning process in a meaningful way!

One of the things I have liked about student blogging, is that your marking takes the form of commenting, and receiving comments is what can motivate a student more than any other factor. One of the routines I have introduced is the process of having students in my class comment on each others’ work. This form of peer feedback and assessment is valuable because it not only exposes students to new perspectives as they read each other’s work, but provides a genuine, real audience for it.

I have created small laminated cards, with a picture of each student on each side, with a QR code linking to that students’ blog on the other. I use these to distribute to students and assign their lesson/daily/ weekly blog to comment on. I also have the QR codes without the photos, so that we can play ‘mystery commenting’.

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#minecraft: Playing to Learn

The latest app that we have pushed out to the kids is Minecraft. If you have kids, or work with children then you will be familiar with this game. It is a sandbox style game that has both survival and creative modes and has become a prominent tool in education (see here, here, and here for examples.) We will be implementing this app as part of a Design unit in Term 3 but we have given it to the students early so we can establish their skill set with the app before they require it for their learning.

iPhone Screenshot 1This action by us is what this post is all about. Training the students in particular skill sets has been common practice for us as we have used the iPads this year. Obviously, we can’t expect the students to do stuff if we haven’t explicitly provided them with the skills to do so. With Minecraft though, we will not be explicitly teaching the students how to use the app. (This has nothing to do with the fact that most of them know far more about it than we do…) For this app/game, we are tasking the students themselves with devleoping their own skills. They will do this through playing.

The beauty of Minecraft in our eyes is that it has so many uses. As it is a game, we figure that it should be played. As the students become skilled in playing, they will certainly be better equipped to apply the world of the game to the specific learning tasks that we give them. (Andy in fact created a preliminary task for the students that you can read about here. It was an extension on some Engineering work we were doing earlier in the day and it was a natural extension of that task to have the students replicate their work within Minecraft.)

We are very interested in hearing from others who have used Minecraft in schools, especially in Upper Primary and with iPads.

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Computational Thinking – for me and my students

I’ve never been taught explicitly how to program or code. Over the years I have developed my skills as necessary to maintain and share teaching and learning materials. I’ve managed to learn what I need to know as I need it, and then I inevitably forget it. I have also (sheepishly) used a similar approach in teaching these topics to my students. I have shown then what they need for a task and they have no doubt also forgotten the skills.
With the new Digital Technologies curriculum I now have scope to explicitly teach computational thinking to my students. I will be using the Scratch program in the first instance, as I recall finding it useful myself. This is the realisation that inspired this post – I only know a little bit more than my students. Now, the gap is still very wide, but it is closer than I am familiar with. What it will allow me to do though, is to be more immersed in the learning process that I am offering my students, as it will be much more relevant to me. I will have a greater appreciation of what they a re going through. This is something that I have not experienced for a while as a teacher, and to be truthful, is something that I find quite invigorating.

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Long morning run

I saw a Kangaroo this morning. Running along Long Ridge, I was scanning the sides of the trail with my head torch. It was pitch black you see, but I did see two pinpricks of light about 3m off the trail just ahead. As I approached I realised it was a Kangaroo. And it was actually five or six Kangaroos. Good times.

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The beginning

So I am, amongst all my other commitments, going to run an Ultra Marathon later this year. I find that running, especially on trails in the hills near where I live is meditative and relaxing. Now running 56km up and down mountains is not a logical progression from that, but I have a good friend training me and… what the hey. Not sure how closely I will follow my training on this site, but from time to time I may throw something on here if I feel inspired. This morning was the first day of my new regime.

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Leading Light

I was fortunate enough to be honoured by EdTechSA when they awarded me with a Leading Light award at their recent AGM. I usually wouldn’t make a big deal of this sort of honour as its not the kind of thing that is a motivator. For me, the focus os always on the learning of my students. The fact that other think that what we achieve is worth a mention is a real bonus.

The other thing that is a little bit cool is that my school mentioned my achievement on their Facebook page. What resonates with me about that is that for years I have been wanting to be at a school that embraces new technology rather than shies away from it. My school’s willingness to support this approach is a large part of why I am personally able to do so much with technology in my own classroom. So I guess that fact that there is a Facebook page to share it on is what I find exciting. Anyway…

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#ozprimschchat 27/2/14 AITSL Standard 4

Last night’s #ozprimschchat discussed AITSL Standards 4: Create and Maintain Supportive and Safe Learning Environments. Three main topics were discussed;

1. Student Engagement
The beginning of the chat explored what it meant for students to be engaged. The responses revolved mainly around the principles of inclusion and student enjoyment. The big idea I got from this part of the chat is that engaged students are able to articulate their learning. Other common responses were “Kids feel like they can be themselves – no pretence, no cover-up, just truly be themselves” (@Innov8rEduc8r); “they feel safe enough to praise achievements & share shortcomings.” (@WesHeberlein) and “The Ss look happy and often don’t want to finish tasks they are enjoying. They want to come back at lunch” (@VivienTuckerman)
In my eye, these types of replies spoke to more than the interest level of the students with whatever task they were undertaking. They represented the learning behavious of students who were involved and an integral part of their own learning. For me, this ownership goes beyond academics but also to the social and emotional domains. At the moment, it is particularly relevant to my Learning Space…

2. Learning Spaces
I have been a big advocate of dynamic learning spaces over the lasr couple of years. I have gradually been making my classroom less traditional by providing options for students with regards to where and how they work. This year, being lucky to have a 1:1 iPad program, we have taken away quite a lot of the desks and replaced them with couches, bean bags, cushions, stools and low desks that the students have embraced. There is still the ability for every student to have a chair and desk space (we make good use of bench space here) when needed, but on the whole they are left empty. While this is not for everyone, it suits the type of learning that we are doing with the mobile devices. It is important though to match the learning environment with the type of learning that is occurring. Learning Spaces are just part of the jigsaw – many elements contribute to a supportive and safe learning environment.

3. Safe and Ethical use of ICT
This is represented by Standard 4.5 and is something that I feel is delivered very well in my classroom. I teach students to respect one another and I model responsible use of ICT. We actually study a Unit of Inquiry in Year 6 called Digital Citizenship. Especially with the iPads this year, it is so vital that children understand the full ramifications of what using the Internet represents. It is more than an interface on a screen – it is connecting with others. This is a powerful concept that can often go over the heads of children. I see it as a responsibility of mine to enforce this idea and allow my students to understand that their real life is intertwined with their online life – they meld together to create a greater identity that will define them as people as they grow older.

The Storify of the chat can be viewed below of at this link.