STEM Invention with SAM Labs

I recently was lent a SAM Labs kit from MTA, so I decided to design a unit for an upcoming STEM class. I normally beta test these with students before I blog, but I couldn’t wait to make these available, and maybe you can give it a go.

The unit is wide open, with a lot of work in having students identifying a problem that needs to be solved or how life can be improved with some kind of IOT device. While this has always been my dream, its probably only for the brave and perhaps a hackathon in a restricted context is wiser.

I have also used Blockly via Workbench, which is starting to complement Makecode nicely. The standard environment for SAM Labs is their proprietary App which is a node-based coding environment.

The unit also uses Agile project management and team problem solving for all those 21st Century soft skills. These are also mapped into both the Digital and Design Technologies syllibi.

The unit can be downloaded as a Onenote or PDF and other goodies are available on the DigTech page.

Enjoy!

Makecode Mindstorms EV3

I have previously blogged my Makecode fandom and now I have played with LEGO Mindstorms. I must note that very soon LEGO will be replacing their EV3 lab software with EV3 classroom, which will be based on scratch. The good news will be that the learning resources for Makecode can be easily ported to Scratch and vice versa. Therefore, the unit that I have developed should be pretty sustainable, no matter which platform you end up using.

I have uploaded, both a Onenote and PDF of a unit that takes students through the basic and then has them managing a team project for a Sumo bot challenge. I also have the EV3 lab versions in Onenote and PDF. These and other goodies are available on the DigTech page.

Enjoy!

Minecraft Education Edition Remixed

I have blogged previously about my love of all things MakeCode and one of my favourites is coding in Minecraft. Recently, I have remixed the lessons from Minecraft Education Edition to fit them to my context.

I have remixed ‘Coding with Minecraft‘, for year 7, with a portfolio of tasks as assessment:

http://www.throughtheclassroomdoor.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Coding-with-Minecraft.pdf

My other mix, drawn from Intro to CS with MakeCode, is for a year 11 Applied ICT class with a project as assessment:

http://www.throughtheclassroomdoor.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Animation-and-Games.pdf

NOTE: The latest updates, revisions and OneNote files may be found in the DigTech Resources menu link above

Creative Coding with Blocks

Why Blocks?

The Digital Technologies Syllabus emphasizes designing algorithms, testing, evaluating and refining them. I find block-based coding environments very effective for this. I also developed this workshop for years 5-6, so text-based coding is not stressed particularly.

The limitations of Scratch, also, only serves to emphasize the validity of text-based coding as the destination. For example, Scratch does not have For loops, so Repeat Until loops need to be utilized; and then there is no > than or = to facility. This workshop is all about turtle graphics, but there is no fill block or function; necessitating turtle python or processing.

Why Creative?

Logo (for those old enough to remember) was my first introduction to programming and it really got me hooked; so I’m hoping it does the same for my students.

I also purchased a Makelangelo Art Robot as one way to output their designs. I also plan on 3D printing, Laser and CNC Etching and Machine Embroidery with Inkstitch. Maybe I will get back with the results.

Here is the Workshop, enjoy!

Creative-Coding-with-Blocks

NOTE: The latest updates, revisions and OneNote files may be found in the DigTech Resources menu link above

Embedded Systems with MakeCode, CircuitPython and the Circuit Playground Express

The BBC Micro:bit

For younger students, we use BBC Micro:bit to introduce them to programming and connecting the physical inputs and outputs needed with embedded systems. We do this mainly based on the learning resources we have access to, which generally target younger students. Otherwise, the BBC Micro:bit is very comparable to the Circuit Playground Express.

The Circuit Playground Express (CPX)

The reason we use the CPX for years 9-10 is because Adafruit provides such good support via MakeCode , CircuitPython and their own learning system. Their projects are also a little more advanced and challenging.

From Blocks to Text

I like to have students design and prototype their algorithms in a block-based programming environment. I find this to be easier and more efficient when cycling through several iterations of solution design and testing. It’s also a more visual and coherent experience. With CPX, I start with MakeCode and have students implement their final solutions in CircuitPython. Interestingly, Adafruit went with MakeCode and not Edublocks. Edublocks uses python, while MakeCode uses Javascript?

The Unit

Embedded-Systems

NOTE: The latest updates, revisions and OneNote files may be found in the DigTech Resources menu link above

Transitioning from block code to Python

I have recently written a unit for year 7, to transition them from block coding to text-based coding in Python. In years 8-9, I continue this somewhat by using block coding as my algorithm designer. Here, students can design their solution, test it and then refine it to make it more efficient. For example, instead of a series of sequenced commands that repeat, students can get the sequence working and then refine the algorithm with loops; and then test it again. I find the drag and drop nature of block coding to be a better environment for prototyping because you can work on several iterations of a design quite quickly and its a more visual experience as well. In particular, its probably a superior environment for beginning with embedded systems, such as the BBC Micro:bit or The Circuit Playground Express. In fact, these environments have a text coding view as well; facilitating the transition to text-based coding.

In this unit, I introduce students to python via turtle graphics. Here is my Unit; enjoy!

The-Art-of-Code-2D

NOTE: The latest updates, revisions and OneNote files may be found in the DigTech Resources menu link above

Cognitive Verbs within Digital Technologies

command prompts

I front-load my curriculum, by backwards mapping my summative assessment; starting a unit plan with what I want to summatively assess and then breaking the knowledge and skills required into formative chunks or topics. Each topic is then based on the learning intentions and success criteria of the summative assessment task. Therefore, I put a fair bit of effort into mapping the Cognitive Verbs from the syllabus (ACARA Digital Technologies, in my case). I also concentrate on the assessment prompts and the questions I need to ask.

To make sure that this is both rigorous and effective, I have developed a place-mat that I can quickly refer to:

The first file is a template that can be used for any subject area and is based on Marzano’s Taxonomy. The definitions can be gained from the QCAA Glossary of cognitive verbs. The second is one I developed for Digital Technologies and it has the inclusion of the problem solving process.

I hope you find this useful.

Solving Digital Problems

[“digitalism” by orvalrochefort is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

I have just finished developing a unit of work around solving digital problems. This is targeted at year 10 Digital Technologies and is a foundation to year 11 Digital Solutions, Topic 1: Understanding digital problems.

I am indebted to code.org for their Computer Science Discoveries course for the bulk of the curriculum resources. I have adapted them to align to the Pedagogical Framework that I use when teaching Digital Technologies.

You can access the Scheme of Work here.

 

Explicit Instruction, Problem Solving, The Middle Way and other 21st Century Skills

I have spent the year trying to make inroads into Project-Based Learning and I have decided that it doesn’t fit my needs or context. On top of this, it seems to have dubious efficacy for A-E outcomes and learning by inquiry has a low effect size (0.35). It probably is very good for developing a Growth Mindset and other ‘soft skills’, such as collaboration and social and personal skills, but these are not measured by any standards in any syllabus that I use. So, for next year, I am going to focus on ‘The Middle Way’.

Why Explicit Instruction?

Explicit Instruction is my Pedagogical Framework and common language of instruction. It is important that I maintain this learning culture and support my colleagues by being consistent in my practices.

Hattie’s Effect Size 2016 Update reiterates the significant effect of Direct Instruction and adds collective teacher efficacy as making a big difference.

Why Problem Solving?

Teaching problem solving has a higher effect size than Direct Instruction. In the Technologies learning area, we use the Problem-based learning framework. [Digital Solutions 2019 v1.0 General Senior Syllabus – QCAA]

Why 21st Century Skills

This should be a known factor by now, but some recent articles are:

The New Basics – Foundation for Young Australians

The Commonwealth Bank jobs and skills of the future report.

Australian Curriculum General Capabilities

Read also: Digital Solutions 2019 v1.0 General Senior Syllabus – QCAA

What is the Middle Way

A balance needs to be struck between:

  1. Explicit Instruction and learning by Inquiry
  2. Teacher directed and Student directed
  3. Projects and Project-Based Learning (PBL)

The balance between Explicit Instruction and learning by Inquiry

The majority of research backs the effectiveness of Explicit Instruction; particularly for A-E data. Inquiry-based teaching has an effect size of 0.35 (below 0.4 significance), compared with 0.6 for Direct Instruction.

However, being able to inquire is an important 21st century skill. As part of their place in our contemporary world, students need to be able to define what they need to know and plan a search to find the answer; locate data and information; and select and evaluate the answer. Another important 21st Century behaviour or quality is for students to be self-managing and self-directed.

The Middle Way strikes a balance between the two by modelling and guiding students through the inquiry process. With the gradual release of responsibility, the goal is always to impart these skills so that students can apply them independently.

The balance between Teacher directed and Student directed

It is clear that Teacher led instruction is more effective than purely Student led learning. However, in the Technologies learning area, the problems that we want students to tackle are often complex and don’t benefit from teacher imposed constraints. To account for this, we will head the advice in Digital Solutions 2019 v1.0 General Senior Syllabus – QCAA:

In technologies:

– problem-based learning is an active process of knowledge construction that uses open-ended problems as a stimulus for student learning

– problems that support problem-based learning should challenge and motivate students to engage their interest

– provide opportunities for students to examine the problem from multiple perspectives or disciplines

– provide multiple possible solutions and solution paths

– require students to comprehend and use a breadth and depth of knowledge during problem-solving

– recognise students’ prior knowledge

– recognise students’ stage of cognitive development

– provide opportunities to allow all students to explore innovative open-ended solutions

– relate to the real world

– the learning environment is organised to represent the complex nature of the problems students are required to solve, e.g. the learning area values collaboration using teamwork and brainstorming, as these are strategies used during real-world problem-solving

– the teacher is responsible for scaffolding student learning and cognition during problem- solving as a coach, guide or facilitator to maintain the independence and self-directedness of student learning

– self-directed learning does not mean students are self-taught; instead, teachers balance their participation so that students maintain responsibility for learning, e.g. students make decisions about the knowledge and skills they require to effectively solve a problem, supported by the teacher’s questioning and cueing strategies

– the perception of student self-direction in the learning process is fundamental to problem- based learning.

Problems

Central to problem-based learning is the provision or identification of suitably challenging, subject-specific, context-relevant, real-world problems. Student engagement with these problems facilitates student learning of Digital Solutions subject matter. Problems suitable for Digital Solutions:

– are identified as any human need, want or opportunity that requires a new or re-imagined digital solution

– are identified by teachers, clients and/or students in situations related to unit-specific and subject-relevant technologies elements, components, principles and processes

– promote purposeful analytical activities undertaken in response to an identified real-world related problem that requires a digital solution

– are resolved using the problem-solving process.

The balance between Projects and Project-Based Learning (PBL)

The big difference between “Doing Projects” and PBL is the process. Amy Mayer has compared the two:

[What’s the Difference Between “Doing Projects” and Project Based Learning ?Image attribution flickr user josekevo; The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning; © Amy Mayer, @friEdTechnologyThe Original WOW! Academy,www.friEdTechnology.com]

The main factor that separates the two is rigorous assessment. PBL is excellent for fostering 21st Century and “soft skills”, but these are not ultimately measured and have no standards in syllabus documents. Every year at ABW everyone agrees that they see anecdotal (students are actively engaged in activity) evidence of good learning outcomes; and these are mainly “soft skills”. But when you drill down, the learning is not linked or assessed against any curriculum standards.

The main pillar of PBL is student led inquiry and this has been shown to have a low effect size. In my own attempts at PBL, I ended up scaffolding the process for rigorous assessment so much that it became much closer to Teacher led Explicit Instruction. PBL may be very effective if it is overlayed on a learning culture with a growth mindset, student agency and self-management and students have well developed social and emotional skills.

The middle way strikes a balance between the two and marshals explicit teacher guidance throughout the problem solving cycle, with constant formative assessment, coupled with the gradual release of responsibility for summative assessment. 21st Century and future skills and behaviours are still embedded throughout but they are explicitly modelled and taught. Students need spaced practice and the gradual release of responsibility to formatively master these skills before being released on their own and summatively assessed. Likewise, with the problem solving cycle. Students will need to go through several iterations before they can work independently.

The balance between Explicit Instruction and Blended learning

Blended learning works well when there is a high level of students agency and self-management, coupled with a Growth Mindset. However, if you are not quite there yet, try Not Quite Blended learning.

In the technologies area, there are many online self-paced courses; that even have learning management built in. There are others that have a series of video tutorials to follow and you can easily create a schedule for students to follow. To increase the effectiveness of student learning with these, it is a good idea to leverage both Pair Programming and the Gradual Release of Responsibility within Explicit Instruction. To do this, start off modelling (I do) the process of watching an instructional video or interactive presentation, pausing and reproducing the instructions within the application or development environment. In pair programming, this would be one screen for the instructions and one for the development environment. Then students can follow (We Do) until you are confident that they can keep going independently (You Do). You may need to keep going with this process from lesson to lesson with the below proficiency students, while the above proficiency students may go off ahead; effectively differentiating and personalising learning.

Continue Reading…..

 

Digital Content Linked To The Australian Curriculum: Start Using Scootle Today!

Introduction

Scootle (http://www.scootle.edu.au) provides access to more than 20,000 items of digital curriculum content published by Education Services Australia. Most of these link directly from The Australian Curriculum website. For example, when seeking resources for ACSSU113, there is an obvious link to Discover resources at scootle:

Otherwise, by going directly to scootle, teachers can find interactive learning objects, images, audio files and movie clips via browse, search and filter technology. Then they can create personal lists of favourite resources for quick access.

Discovering Learning Content

You can find the content that you need by performing either a Basic or Advanced search. My advice is to consult the Scootle User Guide as this is a skill in itself, but one worth investing some time in. Another place to find help is within the Scootle users demonstrations, Education Services Australia, YouTube playlist. Again, the best way to discover content is to find content by Australian Curriculum. Then your search will yield all digital curriculum resources that fall within the curriculum content and year level that you are seeking.

Learning Paths

Probably the best feature on the scootle site is the ability to create and manage Learning Paths. A learning path includes a sequence of learning content, interwoven with teacher comments and descriptions and delivered to students either online (by use of the student PIN) or offline (by using an exported learning path spreadsheet or PDF). This system stops just short of being a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard. I would still use it to sequence my learning and link to it via my Virtual Classroom. I can’t emphasize enough what a great system for sequencing learning this is. If you are contemplating using it, I highly recommend consulting the Scootle User Guide and the Scootle users demonstrations, Education Services Australia, YouTube playlist.

Collaborative Activity

Learning in a collaborative or interdependent way provides students with a social and intellectual context for greater levels of critical thinking, motivation, peer review and self-reflection. These opportunities are outlined in the ACARA General Capabilities.

ACARA General Capabilities

Scootle’s has big range of collaborative activities in an environment where students collaborate to build understanding, express their learning and receive  feedback. Some of the features of Scootle’s live workspace that support collaboration are:

• a dynamic environment – Students can add their own text, comments and online resources, and rearrange the workspace to build a structured, collaborative response to a task.
• feedback – Ongoing feedback is available from the teacher at any time for student reflection and meaningful formative assessment.
• online identity – Students choose nicknames and avatars for themselves in the live workspace.
• Scootle chat – Chat in real time, with all discussions recorded and available for feedback and reference for students and teacher.
• file upload and sharing – Students can upload their own files and resources to attach to a learning activity

Assessment resource

Many of the digital content items available are assessment resources. These can be used as a check for understanding as part of a Learning Path. I have also seen them used in a summative way as well. I would use these because they are linked directly to the Learning Goals of my content area of the Australian Curriculum and therefore rigorous. It also means that I don’t have to create an assessment item, print it out and mark it as it is all online and automated.

Start using Scootle today!