Our Interschool STEM Day

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In 2016, two of my colleagues worked together to hold an Interschool STEM Day, to encourage local Year 6 students to work in teams to create a solution to a problem.

Using resources from the IET Faraday website, they adapted and orchestrated a mammoth day for the students to build a device to move one litre of water from the Stadium floor, into a bucket which sat on a platform. It was a challenge designed around pumps, water wheels and water pressure.

This year, one of my colleagues was on paternity leave, so I stepped in to help his teammate. Together, Jodie and I researched a new challenge for the day based around medical engineering – build a device to conduct a remote operation to pick up a ‘kidney’ and a ‘heart’ and place them in the correct place on the body.

We had 75 students from 12 different school register, 24 teams in total. The ideal team number was 3, however a few schools only had 4 Year 6 students in total, which we allowed. The stadium was set up with medical themed decorations, x-rays, lab coats, and medicinal charts. There were ‘Research Stations’, with laptops playing videos on loop with ideas and strategies that may give students inspiration. A hot glue gun station was set up, as was our STEM shop, where all of the building materials for the day were ready to be purchased by the teams.

The day started with a video about medical engineering to put the day into context, how operating theatres rely on robotics and other technology to assist them in procedures. Students were asked to sketch in their Challenge Workbooks a way to move an object from one place to another without physically touching it with their body. We introduced the ideas of forces – push/pull, levers, scoops, suction etc.

Each team was given a budget of $150 STEM dollars. They were required to plan their design, keeping their budget in mind. They were to assign roles to each group member and also create a ‘Learning Log’ using an assigned iPad, to create a documentary-style video of their manufacturing process.

Our school Kitchen Garden coordinator provided us with lunch and students received a small show bag with water and snacks for recess and their workbooks. We operated on a continual scoring system using Google Sheets so that both of us organisers could access to add scores and annotations throughout the day. Students received scores for their design briefs, their sketches, accuracy of their account balance ledger, effectiveness of their design and their teamwork skills.

After lunch, students packed up their tables and we sat down to perform 24 mock heart (ping pong ball) and kidney (ping pong ball) transplants. An iPad was placed above the operating table, where our cardboard cutout body and his foil tray organ chambers lay waiting. This iPad was to live-stream the action on the table, not just for the audience, but for the ‘surgeon’ operating the device. Just like in an operating theatre, the surgeon would be using the large screen to guide his actions while his vision to the cardboard body was blocked by a curtain.

Students had to work around certain parameters – the device must be able to reach a distance of 50cm, it must be able to pick up and drop objects accurately and both heart and kidney must be transplanted in just 90 seconds – it’s life or death for our cardboard body!!

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The winning team was gifted with a set of 6 Makey Makey kits to take back to their school to encourage creative and critical thinking to assist on their STEM journey!

There were many different designs – some more successful than others. There were many levels of teamwork and many different conversations that filled the stadium. The teachers who accompanied the teams from their school were pleased to see such collaboration and skill – not just for those students who excelled in the classroom.

Go Team STEM!

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Using iPads in Literacy Rotations

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Many classrooms use the concept of Literacy Rotations in their classrooms, but struggle to find a way to keep each group engaged while they work with a focus group.

Below are some iPad-based ideas for Literacy Rotations, which of course you would use with a combination of non-iPad rotation activities, we know that just because you can do things on an iPad doesn’t mean it’s better!

  • ReadTheory – free to sign up, create classes and individual student logins. Students start with a pre-test to assess their initial reading level, by reading short passages and answering comprehension questions. By getting questions correct, students earn points and badges and teachers can consistently monitor progress. Fantastic for independent reading time. A colleague has been using this in her Year 8 English class and the students are loving it!
  • Pobble365 – free to use without an account, this website features a picture prompt for every day of the year, with a Story Starter for students to continue, or Question Time for students to answer questions about what they’ve just read. For independent Literacy Rotations, I would use either of these sections for the students to visit on their iPad – they could copy and paste the Story Starter into a Google Doc to continue writing, or create a Google Slide with their Question Time questions and answers. If students work in pairs, they could create an interview using the Camera app & iMovie, with one student being the interviewer and the other the interviewee.
  • Book Creator – there is a web version of this coming out soon, but the app works well for almost any subject! I loved using this in Literacy Rotations after the students had done a Guided Reading with the teacher to create a Book Quiz, for the other members of the group to answer. Students would take photos of the book, insert them into their book and then type their quiz question on the page. I then asked students to use the audio recording function to record the answer, so students completing the book quiz could find out the correct answer if needed. We often talked about Head, Heart & Hands comprehension questions to encourage more critical thinking. I also like the idea of creating an interactive dictionary using this app, by students recording words that are new to them, or really interesting words and using the audio function to record their definition, or explanation in their own words – plus images if they need! Other ways I’ve used Book Creator can be found here.
  • Popplet – I’ve used Popplet in so many different ways, from brainstorming character qualities, to spelling. I love Popplet as you students can use the pen function, insert images from the camera roll and export their finished Popplet. In my lower primary class, I use it to help segment words into their individual sounds.

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  • PicCollage – I used this for descriptive writing, in this blog post, but have also used it to create a collection of words that all start with the same letter, by taking photos, or looking for the same sound in magazines and newspapers.

This is just a tiny drop in the ocean of the multitude of different ways that you could integrate iPads in the Literacy block!

Book Creator ideas for lower primary

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Let me preface this by saying these are not JUST for lower primary. Heck, you could use them anywhere, but the examples I’m including are from a lower primary perspective.

Story Journal:

I had an ASD student, who brought in his Zhu Zhu pet Zak and treated him like a class member during Term 1. This student HATED writing with pencil and paper and wasn’t overly fussed by using the iPad to write either. Enter the iPad camera and Book Creator. I told him that I thought it would be cool if Zak kept a diary of his adventures at school, so Zak could show all of his other Zhu Zhu pet friends…(bear with me, I know, it’s a bit funny that I was fully communicating with an inanimate object). To my joy, the student went for it and thus, this book was created. You’ll notice that the spelling isn’t correct – we were focusing on the sounds her could hear, rather than perfection, and these words became words we focused on spelling correctly later. You’ll notice that some of them aren’t even full sentences, but as he recorded himself speaking, he was experimenting with expression in his voice. Small steps for some, HUGE steps for this student.

Procedural Writing:

Like cookbooks, procedural texts are often better with photos. This same student (who still hated writing during Term 3) was reluctant to write a procedural text on how to make a Magnetic Fishing Game that all students had created in class. I instructed him to use Book Creator to get the job done, but typing was too much for him. He verbalised all of the wording direct to me while I typed – word for word (and he checked, his reading skills were fabulous). He took all of the photos by himself (except the ones where he featured – I was told exactly what to photograph!), to match the text on his page and then he recorded the audio for each page. This was emailed straight home to mum and dad – he was so proud and shared with the class in the afternoon.

Maths Journals:

This year with my Prep class, I am hoping to integrate technology more into authentic learning, rather than stand-alone lessons. Using Book Creator on the iPads, the task for the Preps will be to create a Nature Number Journal – by taking the iPads outside, creating all of the numbers to ten using natural materials, photographing it, recording the audio and writing the number, to reinforce correct number formation.

If you don’t already, follow Book Creator App on Twitter. They post great lesson ideas and resources!

Digital Technology Mentoring

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Part of my role this year is to meet weekly with each Primary School teacher for mentoring them in the area of Digital Technology. Last week was my first week actually carrying this out and I found it so exciting!

What does it involve? Anything the teacher wants – whatever sort of technology skills they are hoping to improve, or implement in class with their students

As a GAFE school, the focus on using GAFE properly is high. I helped one teacher create a Google Doc, name it, locate it in her Google Drive and create 2 folders for different subjects. Within the Google Doc, she inserted a table AND merged cells. And boy, was I proud of her! She didn’t write the instructions down, because she made 3 Google Docs and we’re going to continue it this week. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I chatted with another colleague about where she’s going to fit the Digital Technologies into her weekly timetable. Her class will have 1:1 iPads and we looked at integrating them into problem-solving in maths, through coding. She told me that she didn’t really know much about coding, so I directed her to the Hour Of Code. We talked about using ReadTheory in the classroom as well, which some of her students used last year.  For those higher achievers in Literacy groups, I suggested using Book Creator with the task of creating a book quiz to promote higher comprehension thinking skills.

One of my colleagues was busy running the SRC last week during our meeting time, so I’ll be meeting with her for the first time next week. She got started with Google Classroom last year and I’m excited to see what plans she has for it this year, especially as her co-teacher in the adjacent classroom has Google Classroom on her agenda – how can she use it, what can she do with it, etc. That’s her goal, so I’ve been busy delving through Alice Keeler’s blog and emailing her some links for her to check out before we meet next.

Unfortunately Primary School swimming interrupted my meeting with another colleague, so we’re taking a raincheck. It’s her first time teaching the year level she’s got this year, so she’s looking for new ideas and ways of doing things – I’m keen to see where this takes us.

Which leaves me with one colleague – the lady I’m co-teaching Prep with this year. We’ve already set up ClassDojo purely for the Class Stories feature, instead of sending home a paper newsletter full of photos from the week. We’ve already had most parents join and interacting with the photos. I started the week of by uploading the photos myself, but my colleague uploaded photos herself yesterday – win! Last year, she was logging onto the 4 classroom computers for the students – but this year, we’re going to get the students to do it themselves. Yes, it will be slower to start, but upskilling them in the process. We also discussed the BigCat book iPad apps for Literacy groups, and Book Creator for creating a book about numbers to 10.

What else is on my agenda? I’ve been encouraging a few staff to check out the Google Certified Educator Training – not necessarily for the ‘title’, but for the skills. I’ve also been given a timeslot at our weekly staff meeting to talk about technology – new apps, websites, ideas…and hopefully getting staff to present at these too!

I love my new role!

Setting technology guidelines

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This year, I teach Year 7 Digital Technology. For the first 3 weeks of school, there have been no devices for students to use due to updates, new configurations and a broken internet server, meaning that simple tasks such as checking emails have been testing the patience of all the staff!
These 3 weeks have given me ample opportunity to explore the type of technology guidelines that the students think are appropriate. It was important to me that these students formulate the guidelines themselves, giving them ownership.

Students will be using 1:1 iPads, but also have access to a class set of Macbooks. I gave the students a handout containing 4 examples of technology rules and guidelines from other schools. Their task was to highlight the rules that they thought would be important to use at our school and then use these to write their own set of guidelines. Most students came up with lists that were fairly similar to each other, but we needed a purpose to our guidelines.

Enter: our school values. This year, as part of the Positive Behaviour 4 Learning (PB4L) program our school is focusing on: Success, Respect, Integrity & Compassion.  As a class, we split the student-formulated ‘rules’ into those 4 values, which led to a great discussion about how most of them covered more than one value. My scribbled columns on the whiteboard weren’t going to make the most attractive poster to refer to, so I spent a few minutes after class putting it together as a Venn Diagram, which I used in the following class.

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This poster will be displayed in the classroom where we have all of our classes and I have encouraged all other teachers to develop a similar set of guidelines with their Primary School class, or their Digital Technology class. As we all know, technology is used across a myriad of subjects, so the guidelines need to be instilled and agreed upon.

How do you come up with technology guidelines or rules at your school?

New year, new apps

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I download so many apps onto my iPad and only use a small percentage of them. I don’t download all of them for my personal use – I like to be able to recommend apps for others to use, that they may find helpful or interesting for them or their students.
By recommending apps to others, many people in return have given me recommendations of their own. Many of them I have used but not really made the most of it, so I’ve decided to write a list of apps that I want to give a red-hot go in 2017.

  1. Smiling Mind
  2. Buncee
  3. Seesaw
  4. Adobe Spark.

Not a huge list, but these are apps that I’ve had other teachers tell me about, or found out about through my fantastic Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter.

Stay tuned for updates on how I’m using these apps in the school setting…not just the classroom, as my 2017 role is going to be broader than a classroom!

In memory of Carly – the importance of online safety.

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Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of true crime podcasts, which isn’t the most uplifting of choices, but I love a good mystery.
The latest series I’ve been listening to is called ‘Felon True Crime Podcast’ and the other night, this episode grabbed my attention, as it focused on social media, which is part of what I have been researching at school, through the Digital Citizenship program I’ve been helping develop. 

It features the story of Carly Ryan, who was the first girl in Australia murdered by an Internet predator. Back in the days of the social media platform MySpace, it details elements of teenage romance and rebellion, which ultimately lead to tragedy. This story took place in 2007 – I was in my second year of uni…and a prolific MySpace user. If someone had told me to stop using it, I wouldn’t have. But it’s a situation reliant on positive digital citizenship, which is impacted by peer pressure, social norms and seemingly important communication. 

Since Carly’s death, her mother has started the Carly Ryan Foundation to educate young people on the potential dangers of online interactions and has released an app called Thread, which can be found in the iTunes App Store. 

Given that there are so many more social media platforms available these days, just 9 years since Carly’s death, I urge you to listen to the podcast and talk to your teenagers about online safety & digital citizenship.

But HOW do I make iPads about learning, not games?

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At the start of my career, I was a self-confessed worksheet girl. I photocopied every morning and every afternoon, had folders for each day with all the worksheets I would need, complete with binders of resources that I’d collected from multiple teaching placements. I probably killed a few million trees…sorry trees.

Since I was introduced to iPads in the classroom, or for that matter any digital technology, my printing and photocopying has decreased.

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But how do I teach maths now? What do I get my students to do instead of worksheets? If we don’t glue a worksheet in their book, or upload it onto a digital portfolio, how will parents know they’ve learned anything and how will we as teachers, assess them?

It’s simple:

  • teach them how to use the technology using simple instructions.
  • focus on creation apps, rather than consumption apps – make the students think!
  • give them time to explore (not ‘play’, explore) what the app can do.

To get you started, I’ve created 4 different task cards which can be used for whole class or small group work in maths. They are based around students creating and applying their knowledge, with a focus on sharing their work with their class and teacher, through taking screenshots, sharing on the big screen, or adding to a collaborative Google Slide. You can download them for free here.

The power of Classroom Connections

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In my second year of teaching, I began a classroom blog. That was my first adventure into classroom connections using modern technology…penpals had been a less than successful experiment in my first year!

In my fourth year, I was still blogging and came across @misskyritsis on Twitter. I have a feeling that we connected our classrooms using a Mystery Skype format and then a few weeks later, we connected with another Year 4 class to discuss and share our Christian Studies presentations about Religious Festivals. We Skyped @misskyritsis again, plus another class to share our Genius Hour ideas and progress. Kids love talking to other ‘real’ kids!

My Year 4’s began participating in the 100 Word Challenge (#100wc), giving and receiving feedback on other students writing. How powerful!

Last year, I was still blogging, Skyping and sharing comments and blog posts with classrooms all around the world. My Year 2s helped me write draft comments, reply to other blog visitors and broadened their geographical knowledge of country location due to the variety of people visiting our blog!

This year, I teach Preps on a Thursday afternoon. We do a poem and craft related to the sound of the week and then visit the library. Throughout the year, I stumbled across a Prep blog, which I showed the class. They loved seeing other ‘real’ Preps’ work and writing, so we began commenting. We Skyped them and their teacher @kaz_phi and talked about the similarities and differences between our school – their school is near a beach!! During our Bookweek, they Skyped us to share a picturebook that they had reflected in their artwork…so we listened to the story and created our own artwork too!

Yesterday was my birthday and the highlight of classroom connections is receiving a gorgeous audio message of a class of Preps singing Happy Birthday to me- we’ve never met in person, but it was so beautiful to hear it!

Why SHOULD you connect with other classes?

  • geography skills
  • authentic speaking and listening skills
  • to share ANY aspect of your learning
  • to learn from another class
  • to widen your audience for class presentations
  • debating purposes

Why AREN’T you connecting with other classes?

Being ESmart

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Part of my current role is to coordinate our school’s journey to become an ESmart accredited school, through the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

Today I ran a staff induction to bring them up to speed on what the program is about, what we have already accomplished and where we need to go from here.

I’ve been doing hours and hours of research to find videos and resources for students to view to make them aware of the positives and negatives of digital technology, mainly around the concept of a’digital footprint’. I thought I’d share some of the fabulous videos that I’ve come across – some are suitable to show students, others are probably not…use your discretion and common sense. If you have any other gems to share, I’d love to hear your list!

I began today’s staff session by showing Jigsaw, by Think You Know (UK).

As part of our curriculum for 2017, certain year levels will be viewing and analysing the short film, #GameOn, from the ESafety Office. Here it is below.