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Home tutoring for students that can take the pressure off teachers

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(L to R) Amaya Gallen, Danielle Matheson, Mark Gallen and Sarah Matheson

While in-home learning supports and reinforces what is being taught in schools and fills in the gaps that are missed, encouraging and developing home learning is often challenging for both parents and teachers.

Queensland-based father of four Mark Gallen says many school students face challenges understanding the complete Maths and English curriculum and could fall behind, become discouraged and lose interest in learning. Even though a few wrong answers on tests might not seem serious to parents, especially in junior primary years, Gallen warned that as students move through each year of the curriculum the problems become more obvious.

Recognising a lack of quality resources available to help his school-aged children, Gallen sought an at-home solution for K-12 students who require additional learning support. His newly-formed company, Yolo Tutoring, offers an inviting way to encourage student learning at home with the release of its student software resource, the Maths and English Wiz A-PLUS Incentive Program.

“If all school students thrived in the schooling system the only reason for in-home learning would be to provide additional avenues of learning not provided by the school,” he said. “The fact is though, many students need assistance to grasp the concepts taught in school.

“The curriculum is sequential, with each topic building on the one before, so concepts missed are generally missed forever unless there is intervention in the form of tutoring or in-home learning opportunities.This is true for both primary and secondary students because any concepts they do not understand are not typically revisited in the classroom.”

Gallen says providing in-home learning gives students the chance to gain proficiency of the curriculum in a private setting, away from the distractions and challenges of a classroom environment.

“In an in-home setting, students are active rather than passive, and assume greater responsibility for their own learning,” he said. “They become less dependent on the teacher and take greater responsibility for learning, planning and organization skills.

“Students become accountable to themselves and become independent thinkers, learners and risk takers.”

Gallen said a positive relationship between teachers, parents and students can improve a child’s attitude, behaviour and motivation towards homework and in-home learning.

“Teachers should encourage the parents to continue with in-home learning by mapping out the benefits and giving them useful tips for creating the right environment and balance,” he said.

Yolo Tutoring focus on Maths and English from K-12, science for senior high school and the Maths Doctor diagnostic tool, which enables parents to easily identify learning gaps and support accelerated learning.

Gallen said with the pressures put on teachers to manage large classroom numbers and with ‘mid-point’ teaching strategies focusing on the central 60 per cent of student ability, Maths and English Wiz offers a comprehensive way to support both the bottom 20 per cent and top 20 per cent of students.

Meet Jacaranda learnON, the first online course for Years 7-10

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As a pioneer in digital learning, Jacaranda relentlessly seeks new ways to innovate. This year, we are proud to introduce Jacaranda learnON, a collaborative, customisable, media-rich online course designed to improve learning outcomes and extend the physical and social boundaries of the classroom.

With Jacaranda learnON, students and teachers enjoy the following key features and benefits:

  • Everything in the one place: a seamless and engaging learning experience
  • Collaboration: students can collaborate with their peers and teacher, 24/7
  • Visibility and immediate feedback: every student’s performance is visible to the teacher
  • Customisation: students and teachers can add and edit their own content

Jacaranda learnON is available for all core Australian curriculum subjects.

Click here to experience the power of Jacaranda learnON now

 

Study highlights challenges of primary teachers

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A Queensland study has shed light on the challenges primary school teachers face dealing with children starting school with different abilities.

Conducted by Associate Professor Linda Graham from the Queensland University of Technology’s School of Education, the study has revealed teachers forced to teach a curriculum children are not ready for, with some students unable to hold a pencil or even know the difference between numbers and letters.

Graham said the pressure put on students to learn literacy and numeracy at a level they are not ready for could cause them to disrupt the classroom, further increasing the strain on teachers.

“One of the biggest challenges is that teachers are expected increasingly these days to be able to get students to a benchmark standard,” she said. “Since we had NAPLAN, and My School, there’s more pressure on teachers to say the child is going to be reading by the end of the year. Now when you’ve got children who come to school and clearly have had very little exposure to print, if they don’t know the difference between letters and numbers, they are starting from so far back and I don’t think that there’s enough recognition of that.

“The difference between children from advantaged backgrounds and children from disadvantaged backgrounds is incredibly stark. When we started this project last year, even I was taken aback. We have teachers saying they have children who don’t know how to hold a pencil, and even though I’ve been interviewing teachers and principals for years who have been saying that – with myself actually going into schools and doing the developmental assessments with these children, doing language assessments with them, I was stunned.”

Graham said teachers need time to be able to work with these children through more specialised classroom activities.

“These children are often getting in trouble for things that they can’t control and they don’t understand why then begin to believe that their teacher doesn’t like them,” she said. “Depending on the classrooms that these kids go into that can be a very real thing.”

The study is seeking to understand the contributions that the actual pedagogical context makes to different student outcomes. The study consists of 250 Prep students across south-east Queensland, across seven different schools and approximately 18 different classrooms.

“What we’re trying to understand is if you take these children who have got all similar abilities – so we’re developing profiles of children – and we’re investigating longitudinally how those children fare relative to other children who started off like them in a different context,” she said.

“We’re looking at what’s happening in the classroom and we’re already finding that children are doing better in environments where the teachers are a bit more understanding, where the teachers are more pro-active and where there is some real warmth in the relationship.”

So far the study has found that the level of emotional support, the process of relationships in the classroom and the quality of teaching all influence student outcomes in the classroom.

“Principals generally know when they’ve got great teachers and when they’ve got teachers that need to improve and I think that there needs to be far more emphasis on developing teachers – there can’t be teachers who are allowed to opt out,” Graham said.

“We have seen some absolutely outstanding teachers, and the outstanding teachers were the ones who were quite self-critical and were the ones who were very keen to develop – they were the ones who needed the least to develop but were more inclined to do so. But the teachers who are not so outstanding and really needed to develop thought they had a lot of strengths and that they did not need to develop.”

Graham said the teachers performing well in their classroom took on a responsibility to make a difference in their classroom, and that the current discourse surrounding ‘classroom-ready teachers’ is the wrong focus as the study has also revealed mid-career teachers struggling the most.

“The three highest performing teachers in our sample were early career teachers,” she said. “We had two teachers that had over 30 years of experience and the three early career teachers, one of whom was in their first year out of university, were up there with the 30-year teachers.

“That’s a problem that we need to solve – when there’s been some burnout and there are some teachers that are still in the classroom when maybe they shouldn’t be – what do we do about that? Harassing universities about teacher education isn’t going to solve anything.”

Digital marketing success, step two: How your website will work

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In my last article here on Education Matters, we discussed the importance of planning for your schools digital marketing. In this article, we’ll discuss the ‘functionality’ of your website; how it will work, what it will do, how can we help our audiences achieve the goals we’ve set out for
them.

Most people inevitably dive into discussions around the schools visual elements, before they discuss what a website will do. As much as design and aesthetics are very important, how your website will function, and what information it contains is just as important, if not more so.

Create those goalposts

We’ve defined our audience and goals in the previous article. Now is the time to pin those up, and take a good hard look. How can we create a website that not only makes these audiences do these goals easily, but actually encourage them to do so?

For example, let’s just say a goal is to have prospective student families enquire about enrolments. Rather than bury this down to a secondary or tertiary level, we need to ensure this is right at the top, and prominent throughout all navigation.

You may wish to consider an attractive focus area on the homepage with an active headline such as ‘Enquire about school places today’ and ensure that every page has a standard navigation menu (a must have) with ‘enrolment enquires’ as a major menu item.

Navigation design

Navigation consistency is vital. Having a navigation menu which changes on different pages confuses website visitors, who are looking for consistent locations of elements. The advent of touch devices such as iPads make navigation menus even more important – drop down menus are difficult to manage on a touch device, so stick to simple navigation with secondary menus within sections if required.

Form design

The enquiry format is likely to be a web-based form. Pay particular attention to any forms within your website – do they have the absolute minimum of fields as mandatory to be able to process the enquiry, are they designed and do they have clear instruction?

We’ve found that reducing your form by a few fields often equates to more forms being completed.

Think of your own behaviour; if you go to a form that is complex and requires lots of information, you are more likely to pick up the phone or worse still, not make any contact.

Event calendar

We find that school website visitors are big fans of event calendars. You can create an interactive calendar that allows people to search for an event, see a week or month at a glance, and even have these events sent in RSS format, so they could subscribe to updates. Event calendars are useful for prospective families as well; they show a dynamic community with lots of events, if they are kept up-to-date.

Adding ways to pay online

Many schools deal with lots of different payments, such as school fees, uniforms, event tickets and even school lunches and more. For many, the lack of alternative payment options, such as credit cards, actually put a burden on families to either withdraw cash from their banks, or find the cheque book which gets barely any use nowadays.

Adding a secure payment form on your website is far easier than you are likely to expect. We have seen many clients increase their invoice payments, or reduce their average days to pay significantly by having an online option. Better still, in most cases, having an online payment form means less administrative time.

Improve the enrolment process

An objective many school websites has is to provide information about enrolments and to encourage enquiries about future enrolments. Rather than a ‘download this year’s fees and call us for more info’, we can be far more effective than this.

Consider adding an enquiry form which links to an email auto responder, which fires off a personalised cover letter and attaches a PDF of your school overview documents, or you could have the email siphon into a central enquiries list for processing.

Using this process means you could set up auto responders at intervals, and create reminder lists, such as a few weeks out of enrolments closing for next year. At the very least, a web form could ask information that saves your administrative staff time in dealing with new enquires, such as child age, year to be enrolled, previous school and the like.

Parents & Community Section 

Most content management systems allow you to have multiple users being able to edit different sections of your website, based on security levels. Using this, you should consider offering your P&C a page or section of the website that they can edit and post content to. This will mean better engagement with parents, and keeps your website more current.

Summary

In this article, we’ve gone through some thoughts on how your website could work. Now that we’ve determined the functionality, and how we’ll engage with your audience and meet the goals we set out in the previous article, in my next article, we’ll take is to start considering what content and tone your school website will have.

Miles Burke is an Author, Public Speaker and Managing Director of Perth-based digital agency, Bam Creative. His team has created websites and digital marketing campaigns for dozens of schools, and their work has been featured in the media, won plenty of awards and most of all, helped schools demystify the digital marketing space to attract enrolments and better communicate to their communities.

Flipped learning – a journey not just a destination

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Secondary school teacher Jeremy LeCornu shares his experiences of ‘flipping’ the classroom to improve teaching and learning outcomes.

Flipped learning or the flipped classroom is where students watch instructional videos at home and do the typical homework in class. The term ‘flipped’ is used to refer to the reversal of the traditional classwork and homework. The basic premise is that direct instruction, which is often referred to as lecture (though it is not necessarily the same thing), is not conducted in large groups. In flipped learning, the direct instruction is delivered individually, usually – though not exclusively – through teacher-created videos. This time shift then frees up face-to-face class time for richer, more meaningful learning experiences for students1.

So, why flip? The big misconception

Flipped learning is commonly thought of as ‘all about videos’ – but this is simply not the case. Flipped learning is ‘all about class time’. The driving question that should motivate a teacher to flip their classroom is, ‘What is the best use of face-to-face class time?’ There are many valid answers to this question, however many believe that having the teacher spend the majority of the time ‘lecturing’ to a whole class is not one of them. In this era the teacher can and should be so much more than simply a lecturer of information. Class time is best used applying knowledge with the support of the teacher and this doesn’t happen often enough in a traditional classroom.

One of the pioneers of flipped learning, chemistry teacher Jon Bergmann, highlighted this point during his keynote speech at the Future Schools conference held during March in Sydney. Bergmann explained that the time allocation of a traditional classroom is largely based upon Bloom’s Taxonomy.1

Most ‘traditional’ class time is spent with teachers focusing on remembering and understanding concepts and information. The students are then given homework tasks where they apply and analyse this information. The issue with this model is that the applying and analysing is essentially the hard stuff and at home there is no expert (the teacher) to assist with this.

The time allocation of Bloom’s Taxonomy in a flipped classroom is modified.2

In the flipped classroom, it is the remembering and understanding of concepts and information that becomes the homework. This is where videos fit. In the flipped learning model, in order to recuperate class time, video lesson content is sent home with the student. But the video content is just the tool that makes flipped learning possible – it is certainly not the focus. The focus is on the use of class time. Most class time is spent on the hard stuff – applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. This makes much more sense as the teacher is available to support and guide the students and to work more individually/personally with them.

In the simplest sense flipped learning enables teachers to speak with every student in every class every day and consequently this enables the development of deeper relationships. This is simply not possible in traditional classrooms and it is this that I feel is the most compelling case for flipped learning.

My personal experience

I flip my senior Biology classes and I love it. I used to ‘lecture’ all the time and I rarely had time for practical activities and helping students to apply knowledge to exam-style questions. Now I spend most class time on these things, however this change has certainly not been an instant one. In fact, it is a continuous journey – but the journey is brilliant!

I discovered the flipped learning idea early in 2013. I was already aware of some fantastic teachers on YouTube and I decided to follow their lead and produce my own videos. I started out using an iPad app called Explain Everything. I made some pretty good videos using this app and posted them to YouTube for my students. Whilst these were a good start, I wanted to do better. I had admired the work of an American YouTube chemistry teacher named Tyler DeWitt. DeWitt’s technique uses two video cameras to produce highly interactive videos with himself in the picture speaking directly to the student, and this is the preferred style according to DeWitt’s 100,000+ subscribers.

Through a stroke of good fortune, I made contact with DeWitt online and he invited me to the US to meet him and observe his recording studio set up and filming techniques. I visited in July 2014 and when I returned I immediately set up my own home recording studio:

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I am now producing videos that look like this:

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Since adopting this technique, I have produced 30 videos and have over 650 YouTube subscribers and 65,000 views.

While I’ve had great success, it is important to remember this has been a continuous journey rather than an instant change. It has been two years since I began producing video lesson content and I am a long way from finished. In fact, I have only made videos for about one-third of the South Australian Year 12 Biology coursework. However, there have been benefits for my students ever since the very first video I produced. While it took a long time for me to be able to ‘fully flip’ significant sections of the Biology course and receive the full benefits outlined earlier, it was still very beneficial for students to have access to video lessons. They could use them to recap concepts that were covered in lessons, or if any students missed lessons they could use them to catch up. They also make fantastic revision tools for tests and exams. A great aspect is that once a video is recorded it is captured forever and this means the time spent on planning and recording them can be utilised perpetually. Undoubtedly there is a major time outlay required to get started with flipped learning, however there comes a point where this investment is very handsomely repaid.

Video production tips

From my experience, I can provide some advice when it comes to producing video lesson content.

  • You should make your own videos and you should appear in them, which allows you to ensure that you deliver the content exactly as you want to and it helps you to develop relationships with your students;
  • Keep the videos short and concise (10 minutes maximum);
  • Pick the recording technique/tool that best fits the purpose – there are a range of different techniques/tools and I outline these in the section about our whole school program;
  • There is no need to use music in the background as this tends to be an unnecessary distraction; and,
  • Just hit record and have a go! It can be daunting (and a little strange/unnatural) the first time you record yourself, but the more you do it the easier it gets.

The important questions

There are some very relevant and necessary questions that come to mind as part of the flipped learning conversation. I will try to address them and how they can be overcome.

How will the students watch the videos?

Flipped learning works best if students have their own device. This device can be anything from laptop to tablet/iPad to smart phone. With one of these devices, the students can access the videos through the internet. If they don’t have a device you could copy the videos onto a DVD or USB and they can watch them on their home computer or DVD player.

What if students don’t have home internet access?

Flipped learning works best if the student has home internet access as you can provide your videos via YouTube or any other online service. However, not all students have internet access at home and this cannot be a barrier. There are several ways around this issue. The videos could be stored on the school server or they could be provided through a cloud storage system such as Google Drive. Students would then just need to download the videos at school and store them on their personal device. Again, at the very least DVDs or USBs could be used as a method of deployment. Any of these methods will ensure that the videos can be viewed by students offline.

What if students don’t watch the videos?

This is a very common question. Although I don’t see this as a flipped learning question, it is more so a question about homework in general. Yes, there are students who don’t complete homework. There are many strategies which we can use to deal with this. The first thing to bear in mind is that these videos tend to be a more engaging homework task than traditional tasks. They are also not as difficult and students have the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward as necessary. As in any homework situation there needs to be a consequence for non-completion. In my case, students are not able to enter the learning environment unless they have completed the required viewing. They are either isolated in a corner of the classroom to complete the viewing or sent to a study room while the rest of the class work on the application style lessons that I deliver. In my experience, it only takes a couple of these exclusions before students realise that there is a significant disadvantage for not watching the videos and they soon conform.

What if they don’t understand the videos?

This is a very valid question. This generation is sometimes referred to as the ‘YouTube Generation’. However, most of the videos they are watching are about things like ‘funny cats’ and not many students actually know HOW to watch educational tutorial videos. You need to teach your students how to watch your videos. This involves identifying and extracting the key information. They will need to learn to pause and rewind when necessary. They should be taking notes and writing questions that they need to clarify with you in class. A general rule of thumb is that it takes students around double the total duration of a video to complete this successfully. The teacher must provide some time at the start of each lesson to address any clarifying questions that students may have.

The whole school program

After sharing my experiences with our school leadership team, we set up a teacher recording studio in our new Bright Learning Centre so that our teachers can produce high quality video lessons at school:

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From the beginning of this year we embarked on a flipped learning program across the whole school. Teachers have formed small (3-4 people) Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs) and their goal is to produce recorded lesson content and flip their classrooms. Obviously, with 103 teachers at our school the teacher recording studio was not going to be the technique of choice for everyone. As you can probably imagine, it is right down the far end in terms of complexity.

It was important to provide our teachers with a range of different tools and techniques for producing video lessons. All of our teachers have a MacBook and an iPad and they are extremely powerful tools for producing recorded content. There are several very effective and very simple techniques we are using.

  • Keynote and PowerPoint presentations – so easy to make, or to take pre-existing presentations and record narrations to bring them to life! Export it as a video and voilà! – you have an anytime, anywhere resource for your students.
  • Screen recordings with Quicktime or Screencast-o-matic.com – With a screen recording, your imagination is your only limitation. With either of these two tools it is very easy to capture a recorded lesson/tutorial. Anything you can do on your computer screen, can be recorded. The great thing about screencast-o-matic.com is that it is free on any platform and it can access your computer’s webcam so that you appear in the videos.
  • iPad Apps – With apps like Explain Everything teachers can produce quality recorded content. It is very simple and effective.

The key aspect to this professional learning program is TIME. We have dedicated two two-hour sessions per term and two of our four full day professional learning days (student free days). Teacher engagement has been great so far. I think all teachers are motivated by a passion to collaborate with each other and improve their pedagogy – which is exactly what our flipped classroom program is all about. I am very confident that passionate teachers coupled with time to collaborate and produce content will lead to some exciting and powerful outcomes for teaching and learning in our school.

Where to from here?

At this early stage in our whole school program the aim for teachers is to master the techniques and produce a collection of video resources. As I have found with my own experience, this will take time. Once they start to produce these videos and use them with their students we will be able to turn our attention to the key question. What should face to face class time look like? The will not be the same for every teacher but the conversations around this topic will be powerful. It is an exciting time in our school and we are moving in a great direction. I hope to have conveyed in this article that flipped learning is not an instant change and requires an investment of time and training. However the great thing about it is there is as much to be gained from the journey as there is from the destination.

References:

  1. Flipped Learning – Gateway to student engagement by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, published in 2014 by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
  2. http://whitman.syr.edu/wsmhelp/faculty-resources/instructional-design-delivery/teaching-pedagogy/blooms-taxonomy.aspx
  1. http://www.happysteve.com/blog/the-curious-case-of-the-flipped-blooms-meme.html

Jeremy LeCornu is the Digital Learning Coordinator at Brighton Secondary School in South Australia. He is passionate about making curriculum content readily accessible to students anywhere and anytime by producing video lesson content for his Biology students. Jeremy has had great success through publishing these lessons on YouTube and anytimeeducation.com.

As much as Jeremy loves to use video content to enhance his own teaching, he is equally passionate about inspiring and helping others. He has been responsible for leading the implementation of a whole school flipped classroom approach at two schools in Adelaide. You can read more about Jeremy’s experiences on his blog https://jeremylecornu.wordpress.com/

Brighton Secondary School has been recognised as an Apple Distinguished School and Jeremy, along with fellow staff member Sam Moyle, has been recognised as an Apple Distinguished Educator.

 

Projects for a new paradigm

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Innovation Integrator at St Columba Anglican School (SCAS), Meridith Ebbs, shares some of the ground-breaking ways technology has been incorporated into the curriculum at the school.

St Columba Anglican School is in it’s 14th year and is located in Port Macquarie on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Four years ago the decision was made to migrate the school to the cloud and implement a voluntary bring your own device program and during this time there has been significant investment in technology and staff training. Many staff now use technology on a daily basis. Implementing technology also requires a commitment to evolving pedagogy. To assist all staff to continue to evolve their teaching methods requires continued support for staff financially and physically with training and flexible resources.

Being a regional school attending professional development in the city can be costly so the school committed to employing skilled and innovative teachers to lead the school into the 21st century. The decision to employ skilled and innovated educators has resulted in new approaches to teaching and learning. The challenge now is to maintain the passion and continue to evolve pedagogy for all teaching staff.

Coding in a primary school

Four years ago coding in primary schools was not common and it was difficult to locate resources. Microsoft Kodu was one of the few resources with tutorials and teacher resources suitable for primary-age students. At this time the Director of Curriculum agreed to the idea of teaching coding to Year 4.

Now in its fourth year, each Year 4 group has been taught coding for a term. The outcomes are linked to Maths and English.

The coding program is now beginning to expand to:

  • A primary girls’ KodeKlub;
  • A primary boys’ KodeKlub;
  • SCAS has recently commenced an extension program using the Google Computer First Coding Club in schools in the learning centre;
  • A robotics program in Year 9 Science;
  • Computational Thinking elective in Year 8;
  • Coding is used to teach angles in secondary Mathematics;
  • 20 hours of code is taught by Year 6 teachers in Mathematics; and,
  • The Head of Primary agreed to allow 500 K-6 students participate in Hour of Code during the last week of school in December 2014.

KodeKlub

Why a different KodeKlub for boys and girls? Two years ago when the lunchtime KodeKlub commenced there were fifteen students and two were girls. In 2014 I decided to implement a girls club to see if I could increase the participation of girls. The number of girls increased significantly, there are now approximately fifteen students on each club roll. To be a member of the club there are two prerequisites – you must be able to log on and you must be able to read. I have had students as young as Year 1 through to the occasional visit from secondary girls.

Hour of Code
Hour of Code is an international initiative to encourage students worldwide to learn to speak the language of computers. To implement this in a school of 500 students was difficult. To ensure equity with school devices we ran it over two days. Students who had already completed the 20 hours of code were given the role of ‘techsperts’ and peer tutors. Two students were sent to each class to assist teachers with problem solving and provide technical support. The event was very successful and the students and staff were very positive about event. It is hoped this will become an annual event in the school.

Year 5 Science

This term Year 5 are looking at the science unit, ‘Earth’s place in space’. As a part of this thematic unit we are using the science connections material available through Scootle. To supplement this program we are working through some computational thinking projects to investigate the scale of the solar system. This has included:

  • Location of the distances of each planet from the sun (research);
  • Discussion of different forms of measurement used when discussing the solar system, kilometers, astronomical units and light years (maths);
  • Identifying the best unit of measurement to use for a scale model of the solar systems;
  • Plotting the solar system on a one-metre long piece of grid paper (maths);
  • A scale plan of the Solar System plotted on a football oval – students are required to located distances of planets from the sun then calculate the scale of the solar system should it be reduced to 100 metres – once the model is plotted on the football field, we fly a drone over the students to capture a bird’s eye view (maths);
  • Research the diameter and scale of a planet of their choice (research and maths); and,
  • Create a scale model of the planet of their choice – students are required to research their chosen planet’s dimensions and then create a scale model of the planet – students use the medium of their choice e.g.: paper mache or create a virtual 3D model and print it using the 3D printer (problem solving, research, maths).

During each of these activities students were given the basic task and time to locate key information and solve the problems, initially with minimal instruction. Some students were very successful at locating the required information and then working towards a solution. Those students requiring additional assistance were given more direct instruction to assist with the process in a small group away from the main group. The results were checked as a class and then the process revised to ensure all students understood how the answer was obtained. The benefit of completing the task in this manner is that students are given the opportunity of locating information without being given the answer. It provides an opportunity for students to work collaboratively to solve a problem.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

This year, the Director of Curriculum requested the development and trial of a STEM course with three Stage 2 classes. The requirement being it must be hands on and be linked to outcomes in Mathematics and Science. Students focused on construction and engineering structures with strength. The students were given open-ended tasks and resources and they were then required to solve the problems. The activity was interspersed with short sessions of direct instruction to demonstrate skills and discuss the theory behind their task. Some of the activities students have completed this year include:

  • Constructing a games arcade using cardboard boxes;
  • Constructing 3D shapes using only newspaper and sticky tape – we had competitions on the tallest and the strongest;
  • Constructing a structure to support a book using playdough and toothpicks;
  • Design and construction of a solar cooker – this had thematic links to the science unit of Heat it Up;
  • Circle Geometry on Pi Day – an American celebration on 14th March, 3/14/15 – this year was particularly special as the American date was 3.1415; and,
  • Reviewing games and identifying what makes a game great, then using this information to create their own computer game using CodeKingdoms.com or kodugamelab.com.

“STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.” (Hom, 2014)

The STEM course has been a fantastic opportunity for students to collaboratively solve problems. Students have been very excited and proud of their constructions. Pi day was particularly interesting as circular geometry is not usually taught in Stage 2. Students quickly learnt the importance of accuracy when measuring the circumference and diameter to try to achieve the number 3.1415. The measuring task required accuracy in millimeters. This activity was so popular the school is planning to run the activities again in Term 3 as July 22nd is the Australian equivalent of pi day – 22/7 is the closest fraction to calculate pi.

Online course in Computational Thinking – Year 8 elective

What is Computational Thinking?

Computational Thinking is the process of finding a solution to open ended problems. Computational Thinking is usually associated with computer science, however it incorporates the way we set problems in all key learning areas (Google for Education). The four stages of computational thinking are:

  • Decomposition, breaking a large problem into smaller parts;
  • Pattern Recognition, identifying similarities and differences;
  • Pattern Generalisation and Abstraction; and,
  • Algorithm Design, step-by-step strategy for solving a problem (Google for Education).

On Computational Thinking, Jeanette Wing of Carnegie Mellon University believes, “It is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add Computational Thinking to every child’s analytical ability.” (Wing, 2006)

Schools have been teaching Computational Thinking for many years by way of procedures, data collection, decision charts, programming and problem solving. The Digital Technologies Australian Curriculum formalises Computational Thinking and provides learning opportunities and a deeper understanding for students. New South Wales is currently the only state not to have begun the endorsement process for this curriculum. This means the state has limited formal outcomes that can be used to specifically address Computational Thinking. Fortunately these skills can still be taught using outcomes in most of the existing and new NSW curriculums.

Computational Thinking is often linked to computers and coding. While it is a problem solving method that uses computer science techniques, it is possible to teach these skills offline using other technologies. Computational Thinking can also be taught using Mathematics, Science and English.

The course

This year the opportunity arose to create a new Year 8 elective that uses a blended format – a combination of face-to-face and online delivery – and were thus offered the elective Computational Thinking. The course is being facilitated online over a semester. Students are timetabled to attend classes and all content is delivered via a Google Classroom and a Google Site. The course being offered is cross-curricular and offers the opportunity for students to develop skills in Computational Thinking, writing and reflection, covering outcomes from the English and Computer Syllabi.

The purpose of the course is to encourage students to explore areas of interest with a focus on problem solving and logic, through to personal research projects.

Some of the proposed projects include:

  • Learning to program – beginning with a tutorial program called ‘20 hours of code’ and continuing onto a personal coding project;
  • Coding a game using online game builder in both visual programming and Java;
  • Robotics with Lego Mindstorms; and,
  • Building a remote-controlled lawnmower.

There were no prerequisites for this course. To be successful in this project students will need to be self-motivated.

Students are monitored through a learning journal and are required to keep a personal blog. Students are provided with a set of sample questions they can use to discuss their ideas and learning experiences, and will be required to take photos, movies, screencasts and/or screen shots of their progress. These should then be used as stimuli for discussion in the blog. Students are also required to comment on the blogs of their peers. They are required to provide constructive and positive feedback to projects.

Assessments

The course will have two assessments.

  1. Student blogs will be assessed for use as a learning journal and marks will be allocated for use of documentation of the learning process, media, grammar, punctuation and spelling. It will be worth 50% of the overall mark.
  1. There will be a student presentation. The format of the presentation will be determined by the student, in keeping with the self-guided philosophy of the course. Students may do a slideshow, YouTube clip, Screencast, demonstration or speech and incorporate student peer assessment with a value of 50%.

Rather than creating content consumers, this course allows students to become content generators. They take a topic they are interested in and then create, model, build or research it, in a similar fashion to a major work at HSC level. The documentation is done via their blog. The response from the students has been very positive.

Digital Citizenship Program

In 2012 I designed and developed a K-12 Digital Citizenship Program (DCP) at SCAS. The content, sourced from free programs available on the web, includes lesson plans for teachers and covers a range of topics.

The topics for the Digital Citizenship Program include:

  1. Access: full electronic participation in society.
  2. Commerce: electronic buying and selling of goods.
  3. Communication: electronic exchange of information.
  4. Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure.
  5. Identity: creating a positive digital footprint and online presence.
  6. Health & Wellness: physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.
  7. Literacy: process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology.
  8. Law: electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  9. Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.
  10. Security (self-protection): electronic precautions to guarantee safety.

The outcomes were drawn from various syllabi. The outcomes came from syllabus units related to personal safety, physical safety, emotional and mental health, relationships, writing online, safe use of technology and ethics.

  • Personal/Development (PD/H)
  • Technology
  • Economics, Business Studies
  • English

The lessons were compiled into a scope and sequence. Primary has a yearly cycle, secondary has a two-year cycle. Primary teach the content during PD/H and secondary teach the DCP during pastoral care and PD/H.

The roll out of the DCP began with professional development of staff. Initially there was some resistance as staff were unfamiliar the concepts and skills required, but with support and comprehensive lesson plans the DCP was implemented and is now taught across the school K-12.

The internal Digital Citizenship Program as SCAS has also evolved into running digital citizenship conferences for other schools through the Professional Excellence and Innovation Centre (PEIC) due the interest it has generated. The conference has been run twice now and will be run again in Term 4, 2015. The conference instructs delegates on considerations for the development of a digital citizenship program.

The digital citizenship conference runs through definitions, policies, principles of digital citizenship, and resources. The response from delegates from each event was very positive. All delegates are given resources to take with them and have the opportunity to share in a private Google Community, on an ongoing basis.

Below are some resources that have been created and are curated by Meridith Ebbs in her work at SCAS:

kodeklubbers.weebly.com

inspireslearning.weebly.com

elscas.weebly.com

observelearndo.blogger.com.au

 

Meridith Ebbs BSc. DipEd. MA

Meridith is the Innovation Integrator at St Columba Anglican School, Port Macquarie, NSW. She has a blended role, teaching classes from Years 3-10 and working as an e-learning integrator to support the e-learning programs within the school.

Meridith is a key staff member of the Professional Excellence & Innovation Centre. She develops and facilitates conferences and workshops. Meridith acts as a consultant in digital citizenship, in the use of technology to enhance 21st century pedagogies and social media. Meridith speaks at conferences and at Newcastle University on digital citizenship, coding, technology and pedagogy.

Successful projects include: 

  • Developing and trialling a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) course for Years 3 and 4;
  • Developing a new elective for Year 8 in computational thinking;
  • Developing and trialling an online course for secondary students;
  • Developed courses, applied and gained approval to provide school-based registered professional development for All Standard Descriptors of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers at the level of Proficient Teacher;
  • Development and rollout of a K-12 Digital Citizenship Program;
  • Facilitation of ‘superclasses’;
  • Differentiation of tasks for superclasses;
  • Project-based learning;
  • Edu-gaming with Minecraft, CodeKingdoms and Kodu;
  • Establishment of a two coding clubs; 
  • Introduction of coding to teach maths and literacy in Stage 2;
  • Development of lessons to differentiate maths in Year 1 using iPads;
  • Use of cloud-based applications for learning;
  • Curating resources for computational thinking – inspireslearning.weebly.com;
  • Developed a resource for teaching coding –  kodeklubbers.weebly.com;
  • Maintenance of an educational blog for students – elscas.weebly.com; and,
  • Maintenance of an educational blog for educators – observelearndo.blogger.com.au

Other projects outside of school:

  • Participant in CSER Digital Technologies MOOC Implementing the Australian Curriculum Learning Area, May – June 2014;
  • Social Media Facilitator CSER Digital technologies MOOC Implementing the Australian Curriculum Learning Area, Dec 2014 -Feb 2015; and,
  • Participating in the CSER Digital Technologies MOOC, Next Steps years 7 & 8, May – July 2015.

References

Google Education, http://www.google.com.au/edu/resources/programs/exploring-computational-thinking/

Hom, E. J (2014) http://www.livescience.com/43296-what-is-stem-education.html

Microsoft Kodu, www.kodugamelab.com/resources/

Wing, J 2006, ‘Computational Thinking’, COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM, vol. Vol. 49, no. No. 3, March, accessed 7 February 2015, <https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~15110-s13/Wing06-ct.pdf>.

 Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the teachers of St Columba Anglican School who support me and are willing to try new things with their classes. Lisa Gooding (Director of Curriculum) for her encouragement and support of new and innovative projects. Janet Geronimi (Head of Special Projects, PEIC) for her vision, encouragement and support. Janet Geronimi, Emma Cooper (Marketing), Geoff Lancaster (Head of Innovation) and Chris Delaney (Head of the Learning Centre) for their support with planning with the Computational Thinking Conference.