The Skinny on Scratch

It’s been a long time between blogs, but thought this would be a useful platform to reflect on my learning experiences in one of my final courses (EDP 4130) before I finish my education degree. This course focuses on the concept of technology as it is presented in the Draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority[ACARA}, 2013). It is important to remember that the concept of technologies in this curriculum addresses both design technologies (e.g. thinking creatively) and digital technologies (e.g. computational thinking).

The first activity introduced us to Scratch, a website designed to teach basic computer programming skills (computational thinking). I have always been interested in the idea of introducing kids to coding (see Sploder,   Game based learning, and Consumerism vs Creativity) and providing opportunities for them to be creators of content rather than just consumers.

I set up a free account and  followed the directions from studydesk to manipulate my sprite (the cat in the image below). The functions are stored under different headings (e.g. motion, command, sensing etc) and then the programming component works on a drop and drag function. I found that like most of my experience with digital technologies, trial and error are a big part of learning (despite the fact there are clear instructions with illustrations) but there was a sense of satisfaction when the sprite did as he was told.

scrat scratch 1

                                Click on the screenshot above to view the finished product

The second task was based on an Etch a Sketch program written by Stephen Houghton, and allowed the user to experiment with drawing polygons using direction, line, width and angles. As you become more familiar with using the building blocks, you begin to appreciate the precision required for order and sequencing to manipulate the sprite.Katie Reed made a similar assertion in her blog. If you don’t program a stop or repeat then the sprite won’t perform the way you want it too, and problem solving becomes time consuming albeit a learning experience as you scroll back through the block formations to find out where you went wrong. For example I had not proved a block to clear the previous work, and found a plethora of ways not to clear the screen but also discovered a few extra features that I may not have been exposed.

polygonetch 2

How could you use this program in the classroom?

I am an advocate for teaching computer programming from the very beginning of a child’s education, and this view is supported by other educators and students, as highlighted in an article by Judith Burns entitled “School ICT to be replaced by Computer Science Program.” This article identifies the short term goals of maintaining student motivation and log term goals of future employment, however the target audience for this type of digital technologies education is aimed at students in the middle years. I believe younger students will only be capable of coding once they understand the terminology associated with digital technologies and the concept of following instructions as in a procedural text, to solve technical problems that may arise. This type of hands on learning aligns quite nicely with game based learning in that students will be learning on their feet. The role of the teacher will be one of facilitator (which means they have to know how to operate the software) so that they can ask relevant questions that will help students solve problems for themselves. Although ultimately it would be ideal for students to consult other online platforms such as tutorials, FAQs and forums to solve their problems and subsequently help others solve similar problems. Therefore the understanding of terminology and concepts need to be in place before students can experience success with programs such as Scratch.

And before I conclude this long winded post here are the final two activities assigned for the week, a car racing game and the all time Grandfather of computer games “pong.” Just click on the screenshot to be taken to the site.

carspong

Corrine Owen has also blogged about Scratch and ventured beyond the learning activities to create an animation, another feature of scratch and one that is sure to keep students motivated.

PicLits- Another great edutainment tool

Oh it seems the blogs are accruing at a rapid pace, but there is a a lot to say and resources to be shared! It is no surprise that Kelly Tenkely’s blog entitled iLearn Technology was promoted by our EDC 3100 lecturer and has been awarded several times for highly relevant educational content. It is blogs like this, full of insight and feedback that allow good teachers to become great. This author has provided many resources available for use in the classroom and well worth bookmarking if you haven’t already. For example:

Science of Everyday life– videos and interactives that help kids learn about the science around them and make connections to what they are learning in school

Smithsonian Quests-This site encourage students to explore learning through discovery and collaboration.  As students learn, they earn digital badges for their quests.  Students can explore their own interest through a series of online activities while incorporating knowledge and skill-building in the online quests.

But I would have to say that one of my favourite posts by iLearn Technology was about a free download called PicLits because it can be used with younger students. One of the things I focused on while at prac was writing more descriptive sentences with a year one class. When the computers were working we were able to use this site to create more descriptive sentences, using the pictures provided and a categorised wordbank. By the categorized wordbank I mean, the words are listed under their grammatical heading, e.g. nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. The object is for the students to place the words in the right order and ensure that it makes meaning. There are drop down boxes attached to each word in case the tense of the word needs to be changed, for example play can become playing. This activity was practiced for a week as part of literacy rotations and then students were challenged to compose their own sentences, and I am pleased to say that the results were amazing! I guess if I had to make a suggestion for educational purposes to make this activity more user friendly for the lower years, I would recommend providing a more simplistic wordbank which could be selected.

Here is a screenshot of a PicLits sentence we  created in class using the picture of the sunflower as a stimulus. If you look really closely you may be able to make out some of the words we had to choose from

piclit

Bring on the competition

Nothing like a timer to create a little competitive fun. Mrs Pouter, and Kylie Walsh have all blogged about the benefits of the online timer. I used one of these fun timers whilst on prac, the kids loved it! The online timer was used when students would have to work in small groups or when their fruit break was finished, and the final 10 seconds were a lot of fun. However like everything in a year 1 class there were rules:

  • Writing must be neat and able to be read
  • Noise must be kept at a minimum for the final 10 seconds
  • If you do not finish the assigned work before the timer, then it will be completed during lunch- student choice
  • If there is a question of relevance, the timer will be paused while the question is answered and clarified.

 

I wouldn’t use this method for literacy groups or maths groups because students may deviate their focus from the learning at hand and focus on the time left on the timer, which may result in learning objectives not being achieved. However, as I have observed the Year 1’s response to the implementation of the class Dojo and Fun timers, it would seem that a little competition can have some fantastic results.

Click on the screen shot below to be taken to Fun timers.

dyno

Positive Mojo with the Dojo

I wish I could take credit for this fantastic download, but it was Mrs Frinzilas who blogged about the Class Dojo first. This little gem was perfect for several students who presented with disruptive behaviour during practicum experience. I think many teachers have exhausted the distribution of stickers for good behaviour or outstanding work. Funny how the kids with the worst behaviour end up with the most stickers at the end of the day, not because they have done anything outstanding but simply because they have been pacified with yet another sticker on their shirt, so they don’t disrupt the class. Where do these stickers go at the end of the day? Through the washing or in the bin, maybe a sticker book at home? The sticker has now become an expectation, not for outstanding work but for not being bad, which I know is difficult for some, but to be honest I think its loosing its appeal. This observation brings me to the benefits and behavioural outcomes of Class Dojo. This free down load allows the teacher to create her class, and each student is represented by a cute little monster type avatar. There is generic positive and negative behaviours which are installed as part of the program, but the teacher can also add positive behaviours, which are specifically focused on in the class. For example, students in full uniform received a point as did students who read their home readers. It was interesting to observe how the focus on good behaviour and gaining points became a bit competitive, but as a teacher it was fantastic! The number of home readers being read doubled by the end of the second week.

 

dojoThe teacher can also deduct points for off task or inappropriate behaviour, which I liked because it reinforced the notion of students taking responsibility for their own behaviour. This option worked particularly well for those behaviour students who did not want to fall below the yellow line so to speak. Like Mrs Frintzilas, I displayed the 1P class Dojo every afternoon, so that we could tally points and remind students to read their home readers. The boy and girl with the most points at the end of the week would be permitted to pick their classroom job of choice for the following week and the partner they would like to do it with, plus 20 mins free play on the computer. It was also important to highlight the positive behaviours being demonstrated when awarding points, as this had a domino effect. I downloaded the app and all I had to do was pick up my mobile phone, and students who were off task were suddenly on task.

I liked this application for its simplicity and visual component. Students didn’t just know how they were performing but how they were performing in relation to everyone else in the class. This is something that the sticker reward system failed to convey, but I’m sure that like the stickers it may loose its appeal in the future. Hopefully like technology itself, the Class Dojo will continue to evolve and support the behaviour management issues of the classroom

Insights from prac

Wow, this is the first Sunday I have really engaged with my children for the last 3 weeks, thankfully they didn’t notice my absence thanks to the diligent efforts of family and friends. Now back into the swing of blogging and a question posted by Jamie Robbins caught my attention, and inspired the thoughts presented in this post. Thanks Jamie! Her post entitled Ipads, Laptops or Tablet encourages the reader to consider how ICTs have been embraced or ignored within different practicum contexts, and what the ICT preference of the school for which you attended prac. For example did they prefer to integrate ipads or laptops, and how were they used. The school I attended had an interactive smartboard and 4 laptops clustered in a corner of the classroom. These computers were used to engage in independent tasks associated with literacy groups and maths groups (e.g reading eggs and mathletics), but not conducive to group work associated with self directed learning.

I guess it wouldn’t matter what type of technology was being implemented in the classroom as long as students were able to explore the potential of ICTS with the guidance of the teacher. Although the school I attended was considered low socio economic, I wonder how many students had access to the internet via a mobile phone? I was really disappointed, to learn that many parents did not permit their children to access the internet at home, despite the students pleading with their parents to show the sliderocket we had edited during class, or the hyperlinked website we had used to explore MAB blocks (National Library of Virtual Manipulatives). It seems that the students who are permitted to explore and practice the ICT capabilities prescribed by The Australian Curriculum may be at a slight advantage for future learning. Perhaps this represents a fixed vs flexible mindset explored earlier in this course??

Learning on your feet

I am using this post more as a reflection and way to organise what I have learned so far while on practical experience. Today is the end of week 2, I had great visions of blogging the journey on a more regular basis but sadly fatigue has gotten the better of me and sleep was deemed more important. It has been an amazing 2 weeks, and a roller coaster ride. I’m hoping I’m not the only one with those lesson plans that looked amazing on the template, but flopped in the classroom, even after reflection I can’t figure it out, except to say that behaviour management and time restraints are not always compatible.

The year 1 class is limited to a Smartboard, which still manages to hold their attention provided the resource or activity is engaging. I guess if you put a big colour screen up in any context, there is going to be an audience (e.g. doctor’s waiting rooms etc). So I have used that focus to introduce and reinforce new concepts. My mentor is always amazed that the exact right resource for the exact purpose and context is available on the web. I know we all thought the workload for EDC 3100 was very heavy but now I am starting to think that it was just a preparation for things to come. I have become very reliant upon the resources that are available on the internet to engage the learners in new content and activities that require controlled input from classmates before making a selection. If the activity was enjoyable then it is often used to motivate students to complete work of a satisfactory standard.

The class blog has been used a couple of times during literacy groups, but has had little exposure through the home, which is unfortunate, because I think many parents would be surprised by their child’s motivation to learn, communicate and respond. It is somewhat deflating to keep contributing posts when there is no feedback (I know from the edublog site that we are contributing to for edc 3100, I love a comment or ping back). But just when I thought it was hopeless there was two little words posted by Boston- a tornado! This post was in response to a question I had asked of him on our blog about the types of natural occurrences that could be detrimental to a farmer’s crops. Sometimes just that one response is the motivation to persevere.

This is the first time I have felt truly comfortable in the role and its responsibilities, and I think volunteering a few months before the commencement of prac was definitely beneficial. I am hoping you are all enjoying your experiences and am looking forward to reading about them

Paddock to plate

This is the theme for my upcoming prac, which spans the entire semester. Needless to say I am diligently working away on lesson plans (that integrate ICTs in a meaningful way) to prepare for the onslaught. This is essentially a science unit, but the rationale is that all subjects can be integrated using the same theme. I will be using the NSW curriculum with the Year 1 class and using this post to organise my thoughts as well as rally for additional ideas from my EDC 3100 cohort.

Maths (This is quite prescriptive and there is a different focus each day e.g. measurement, shapes, number etc)

Measurement- Using informal units to measure different foods (paddock to plate reference here) and interactive balance scales on the whiteboard

Number- Adding/ Subtracting objects with a farm type theme (e.g. cows, sheep etc)

Groups- Again Paddocks and animals (e.g. each paddock has 4 sheep- there are 4 paddocks how many sheep altogether?) Might be able to create an animated resource to give students a visual component

Shape- Shapes found on the farm/ on your plate- This one is pretty self explanatory

English

Procedural texts- Students will be learning how to write a simple procedure (How to make ice cream sundaes)

In a follow up lesson students will write a procedure for “How to make a video” and create a video about how to make an ice cream sundae, using footage taken from the previous lesson (I think there might have to be a lot of scaffolding, but I am confident this generation of learners are tech savvy and capable of achieving both the procedural text and making a video component of this lesson

Nouns- associated with the farm and the products they create

Verbs- associated with the farm and the products they create

Adjectives- associated with the farm and the products they create

From this they can create a narrative on Little bird tales that includes these word groups and can be uploaded to either Edmodo or our class blog and shared with the school community (I am thinking about trying to get another class at the school to set up a blog so that we can share our learning)

Science

I am thinking along the lines of the process different foods go through to get from the paddock to the plate (I know again its pretty self explanatory). I would also like the students to explore the humanitarian aspect of consuming animal products- (perhaps by Skyping an expert or emailing the RSPCA with well constructed questions. The same activity could be applied to conversing with a farmer. Some activities might include an interactive timeline or  infographic highlighting this process with information uploaded and stored on an instagrock (curation tool) for easy access.

 Image Attribute Flickr user Kerri711

If you think I have missed a great resource or learning activity please let me know. It would be great to put all of our ideas together

Edmodo!

To keep with the theme of Topics of Interest, introduced in last weeks learning path, I have decided to explore the potential of Edmodo. I remember seeing someone use Edmodo for their webquest, but knew nothing about its application. Can I just say WOW! Just when I think the class blog is truly engaging learners in an online environment, I come a cross a platform like this that manages to implement content and considerations I had not even considered. The basic concept is one of an online classroom, that can be accessed any time of the day and from any device with an internet connection. Don’t get me wrong the class blog has been a terrific addition, and it seems parents are becoming more comfortable with allowing their children to add posts, which is encouraging. But Edmodo offers that and a whole lot more! It’s like Facebook for teachers. For example:

  • You create a class and invite your students using a unique code
  • You highlight all of the content areas you are interested in (e.g. maths, english, technology) and you can collaborate with other teachers who might share their expertise on that subject
  • There is a calendar to input important due dates and class eventa
  • There is a tab to upload books that students are required to read (I hadn’t thought of that one) or just as a way to give students access to books and resources that they may not otherwise have.
  • You can create online quizes for your students
  • You can provide online rewards for your students
  • Parents are also part of the classroom community and have full access to the content of Edmodo (For those of us with school aged children this would be a nice addition to “Mum knows everything” status)
  • Upload homework
  • Upload assignments
  • Provide feedback
  • Student/ teacher/ student collaboration and communication
  • Upload quizes
  • Online polls rating the effectiveness of a learning activity
  • Create small groups
  • Upload folders containing content
  • Privacy and security settings along with a sample letter to be sent home to parents
  • Sign up is simple and it’s FREE ( my favourite word)
  • There is even an area for Professional Development
Edmodo would be a great addition to any classroom, the question is now will I have enough time to prepare content and activities for the upcoming prac?

 

It seems great minds think alike this week as Mrs Frintzilas has also blogged about the use of Edmodo in the classroom!

More on Building the Brand

The other day this link came to me via twitter, and seemed relevant. It seems many educators have authored blog posts that address the topic of branding, which aligns closely with a blog post I wrote previously. Franchesca Warren of the Educator’s Room encourages teachers to identify who they are and what they value. After having to reapply for her teaching position folowing 10 years of service, she realised that teachers have to build their brands so they aren’t dependent  on a district to validate their professionalism. Terry Heick asserts that branding is an exercise in identity, and in competitive landscapes this requires knowing who your competition is.

Essentially building a brand is about trust. If you say you’re a teacher then that should automatically elicit thoughts of someone who is hardworking, dedicated and accessible. In this profession, your class becomes a product of that brand. To use yet another Apple metaphor, an educator might be the apple logo, and their class the iphone 5, your product grows and develops over time, and should always make a statement about who you are as a teacher.

Image attribution Flickr user Gero

Integrating ICTs when all you have is an IWB

This week the edc3100 cohort has develop some “Topics of Interest” which we are to explore and blog about in more detail through research and online collaboration. Using the Interatcive White Board” was one of the topics that I wanted to explore in more detail, especially when the IWB is the only form of technology available in the classroom and how to truly integrate its use to support learning.

Peter Kent, Deputy Principal of Richardson Primary School, has written a response which highlights my case and point, regarding how IWBs are different from using an overhead projector with a computer.  He asserts that teachers who embrace this form of technology are capable of finding ways to integrate IWBs to support learning. He provides several reasons why IWBs will be more effective than overhead projectors connected to computers, and describes the main advantage of IWBs as technology for the masses.

#1 IWBs allow access to ICTs for those students that up until now have alienated by ICTs, ie the early childhood children and the special education children. These children have not the fine motor skills, or they have found the ‘complexity’ of using ICTs overwhelming, which brings us back to the relevance of the Universal Design philosophy discussed in an earlier post.

#2 IWBs are a very effective and comfortable way for teachers to integrate ICTs into classroom practice. Teachers often use and can think of an IWB as a whiteboard with the possibilities of a computer. They know how to incorporate whiteboards into the classroom and so they feel comfortable with IWBs. As time progresses they evolve their teaching to take into consideration the potential of the ‘computer aspect’. A computer and projector can be thought of as a computer with a very large screen, but it is still fundamentally a computer, not a whiteboard. While this might seem a difference in semantics it makes a big difference in practice

#3 IWBs are more interactive. Computers and projectors are more didactic in approach. Computers and projectors are good with presentation (ie PowerPoint). Information can be presented in sequential formats. Admittedly, computers and projectors can take advantage of digital convergence (CD ROMs, DVDs, the Internet) to add a rich environment to the presentation. However once the presentation is prepared only the person at the computer can operate it, change it, or annotate it. Often doing any of these tasks is quite difficult if you are not technical. Pre-set PowerPoint presentations are not good at catering for multiple intelligences in the class. In these cases either the divergent thoughts are glossed over, or the presentation is stopped so the new direction can be explored, usually in the form of a traditional discussion, maybe supported by access to information on the Internet, or another piece of software. In this context however, it is to annotate the new information, and take notes of the discussion. With an IWB teachers can still prepare pre-set lessons, yet they can also comfortably allow digressive thoughts and ideas to be catered for seamlessly in the lesson. This allows for a much richer ‘interactive’ teaching and learning environment.

#4 The use of IWBs allows for collaboration and multiple users to contribute and annotate the displayed information, objects or programs. A group can gather around the IWB taking turns in a quick fire manner to interact with the content displayed (e.g. reading eggs). With a computer and a projector all the aspects of control are located at the computer (often away from the display of information) this creates serious barriers to collaborative interactions, assuming that the children have the skills to interact via a computer in the first place .

#5 The IWB can be thought of as providing the link between technology and teaching. As the resources for the IWB are constantly and consistently evolving, it is expected that the range and scope of pedagogy is likely to develop. The projector and computer do not off the same advantages and potential

#6 There is evidence that the use of IWBs improve the learning outcomes of most students, however the same cannot be said of the computer and projector.

Essentially the meaningful integration of the whiteboard relies on how the teacher is using its potential. Many teachers openly admit to using more traditional forms of delivering content. I attended a prac not so long ago where the black board alone was being utilised despite the addition of an IWB in the classroom. The blog by Deepti Sawhney has sparked an online debate about IWBs being glorified whiteboards or truly interactive. I’m sure she would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

It seems appropriate here to acknowledge the research of fellow bloggers from edc3100, including Mrs Poulter who has provided a number of online links to IWB resources, and Mrs Twidale who has reported on the benefits of the new and improved Promethean board. In addition I would like to add the link I found to a professional development site that explores ICTs and the curriculum, there is even a link to a professional development course to enhance your use of the IWB. Click on the screenshot below to be taken to the PDST site

 

References:

Kent, P. (n.d.). How IWBs are different to using the projector with a computer? Retrieved from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=cache:pMUtvz8HidEJ:http://www1.prometheanplanet.com/forum/attachment.php%3Fattachmentid%3D1120%26d%3D1162806322%2Bintegrating+ICTs+when+you+only+have+a+IWB&oe=UTF-8&redir_esc=&hl=en&ct=clnk