Saturday, 17 November 2018

Raranga Matihiko 6 months in: Is there a 'too old' to start creating with DTs?

Raranga Matihiko has been running for 6 months now here at Waitangi. It's one of these things where time just flies. I look back and can't help but think 'wow, what a ride'! There are a lot of different ideas swirling around in my head at the moment; I have decided to spread them out across a few blog posts to keep clarity in my own head and hopefully for any readers.

Further to my last post where I came to the conclusion that it's never to early to start using DTs for creating and for sharing your learning, I want to give some serious thought to an upper cutoff age. While I am an advocate for lifelong learning, does there come a time when it's too late, no longer worthwhile?

My own children have had differing experiences with DT use during their schooling; the eldest, first year uni in a Software Engineering degree, has taken his laptop to high school in years 11-13, mainly for his illegible handwriting (he had SAC). He experienced some more innovative use of DTs when in Y12 English all work went through OneNote, but from what I have seen, most of his experience would have been at Substitution-Augmentation level. The middle child had one year of compulsory BYOD at a high school which aimed for Modification level, years 9-11 have seen him bring a Chromebook to school and activities mainly at Augmentation level. The youngest had one year at a Manaiakalani primary school, Modification+ level (first year MK for that school), in his 3 years at high school he has chosen not to take a device to school instead he relies on the school-supplied devices (he is the only of our children who is not taking DCT beyond year 9). To me the activities appear at Augmentation level.

My boys go to a well-reputed local high school, I know that the school has spent a lot of time, effort and money on improving teacher confidence & competence and the school network, and while some teachers do some fantastic work incorporating DT use into learning, what I see appears to be on average at Augmentation level. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places? Yet I am from this field, so if I don't see it, who can see it then?! To date the school has not chosen to make BYOD compulsory; is this the reason for the way DTs are used in many classes? What is the point for primary schools to operate at Modification - Redefinition level, when high schools go back to Substitution - Augmentation??? [Please don't misunderstand me, my boys are getting a good education at their school, but I wish there was a chance they would use DTs more innovatively].

I could imagine that some primary schools might want to focus on their younger or middle learners with technology adoption. Surely that way their students will have the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge for several years, even if their future schools don't use DTs to the same level. What about the older children missing out? 

We had a discussion in the news media over the last week about a primary school cancelling their prizegiving for what sounded like very valid reasons; some of the arguments against were that students had to get used to it in preparation for high school. This so reminds me of the arguments against computer use at upper primary / lower secondary school, "students have to learn to hand write for 3h for their NCEA exams"...
Arguments like that really get to me, it is as if high schools were these unmovable institutions that everything and everyone else would need to fit in witn and fit around. When I work with Y13 students (in my other role), I often try to get them to derstand that when they leave school, they don't just join society, they shape society with their actions and decisions. High school can and do change, too!

If it was up to me, students would start using DTs to create knowledge and to share their learning from ECE onwards, in age appropriate doses. I think an 'upper age limit' is set when there is a lack of innovation in our teaching and assessment practises. Lack of time, hige workloads, lack of suitable PD all contribute to this, quite likely also a fear to let students down with a yet unproven learning and /or assessment approach - and sometimes a lack of understanding why such a change is needed. That upper age limit can also be caused by a lack of communication, lack of knowledge, by assumptions about what happens in regards to DT use at the next school.

If my conclusion is that there is no cutoff, that it's never to late to get started: What do we need to make this happen?

* With the inclusion of Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko into our national curricula, there are many high quality PLD programmes available to teachers. Start by checking out the information on this Ministry of Education website:
* Seek out your colleagues in your school, your Kahui Ako, your subject association, online communities etc. Just like I think it's never too late for students to start using DTs for creating knowledge and sharing learning, it's never to late to learn for us as teachers.
* If you haven't done so yet, make contact with your contributing schools or the schools your students move on to after they leave you. Try to establish commonalities and differences in pedagogy and approaches to learning.
* If these connections don't lead to common approaches, even if you feel your students will not continue with DT use at their next school at the same level as they do with you, there is no reason why you shouldn't have your students work with DTs to a high level; they might well persuade and encourage their future teachers & classmates.
Financially many schools struggle to afford digital technology, and some schools are not prepared to make BYOD compulsory due to the financial burden on the parents and whānau. The Manaiakalani approach of providing affordable finance solutions has a lot of merit to me. Donations and grants are another avenue. I'm not sure on the status of initiatives like Computers in Homes, but they have done some very good work at one of my past schools.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Raranga Matihiko 6 months in: What is the best age to start creating with DTs?

Raranga Matihiko has been running for 6 months now here at Waitangi. It's one of these things where time just flies. I look back and can't help but think 'wow, what a ride'! There are a lot of different ideas swirling around in my head at the moment; I have decided to spread them out across a few blog posts to keep clarity in my own head and hopefully for any readers.

What age is the best age to start creating with Digital Technologies?

We have been working with students between year 1 and year 8 over the last six months. The majority of classes participating have been year 5-8, during Term 4 we have for the first time worked with students as young as 5 years old. A conversation with a lovely Teacher Aide has prompted me to think about ages more deeply. I often get asked about what age students are best suited to enrol in Raranga Matihiko. So what age is the best age to start creating with Digital Technologies?

One of the ideas behind Raranga Mathiko is to create a group of experts in the schools (students and teacher). The two year programme gives more face to face contact in year 1 than in year 2. In an ideal world you would get both the same students and the same teacher for both years (or at least the one or the other). If you want to work with the same students for both years, you might avoid picking this year's seniors. To ensure your experts are able to share their learning, you might choose students of a certain maturity / age, therefore selecting year 4/5 or year 6/7 makes a lot of sense in that regard.

You can take a different approach and start with the teacher - someone who has a high level of digital fluency and can take the RM ideas further, someone who is good at sharing their learning with colleagues, someone who can benefit from a boost to their digital fluency - or how about someone who is simply curious, keen to try something new? All of these are perfectly valid reasons for joining the Raranga Matihiko programme, and by default, whatever the age of their students, they will become the RM class.

There is no answer here yet... Sometimes it's a good idea to turn a question upside down: What age is too young (or too old???) to start creating with Digital Technologies?

I feel the word creating is key here. Young children are inherently creative, they can use anything in their environment to show their creativity. Digital Technology is just another tool for this. The Progress Outcomes in the Digtal Technology | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum scaffold learners from teacher-led activities (PO 1) to increased independence. This can make using DTs both harder and easier for teachers of young learners: Harder, because students quite likely require more active guidance; easier, because the teacher has more control over the tools they use. Admittedly, young learners might be less well equipped to actively teach other students around the school, but their example shared with thr others can inspire them ("if 5y olds can do this, I can"). With ongoing guidance these young learners can challenge their future teachers (and new classmates) to lift their digital fluency, too, they learn by necessity of having to keep up.

Coming back to the original question: So what age is the best age to start creating with Digital Technologies? I don't believe there is a best age, rather that any age is best. This is not about abandoning creativity outside digital technology, this is not about spending hours in front of a screen every day. It's about realising that there is benefit in utilising digital technology for creativity, as one of many tools, in a methodical, scaffolded way, in order to give our students the opportunity to create and share knowledge and learning. Our challenge as RM facilitators is to work with students of any of these levels appropriately (e.g. some weeks we jump from year 2s to year 7s and back). The key is not the age of the students, it is about knowing how to integrate digital technologies with the rest of their learning.

Despite the challenges for us with switching between ages, I am so thankful for the wide age range, it gives me hope that we will end up with a diverse, digitally fluent student & teacher population here in Northland which benefits our Tai Tokerau communities as a whole.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Raranga Matihiko 6 months in: Working with schools

Raranga Matihiko has been running for 6 months now here at Waitangi. It's one of these things where time just flies. I look back and can't help but think 'wow, what a ride'! There are a lot of different ideas swirling around in my head at the moment; I have decided to spread them out across a few blog posts to keep clarity in my own head and hopefully for any readers.

blogged about RM back in June, before our first class was due to come in. So what has changed?

My current elevator pitch has slightly morphed into something like: "I work with teachers and students, and together we apply computational thinking and we create digital learning objects (DLOs) so that students can share their learning with others in their whānau, their community, Aotearoa / New Zealand and the world. Through this experience students and teachers pick up and share skills that are necessary for learners to be successful in the future, no matter what field they enter after they leave school."

You might see above that my most recent elevator pitch doesn't focus on museum content, because in Raranga Matihiko we try to build on whatever the class is already learning at school. Ideally (for us) the topic fits easily with what we have on display here at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, but we have found many connections with less obvious topics like Space, Kauri Forests, Patterns, Story Telling, Forces etc.

Some people might find it surprising that at museum which ultimately is in the business of  the past and 'old things', we use all this modern technology in our work with students. There is more to it, though: Museums are in quite a unique position to enhance the learning at school with their special artefacts and displays across a wide range of contexts. Looking at the six Future Focused Themes, museums can be very valuable partners in learning. To retain relevance in 21C, museums are looking at digital technology to help them engage young (and older) visitors. And thanks to the vision of Tara Fagan and her team at Te Papa, Raranga Matihiko has brought together a team of passionate facilitators who want combine the old and the new, while supporting the implementation of Digital Technology | Hangarau Matihiko. For me personally it's ultimately bringing together many aspects of previous roles: Supporting teachers by working with them and their students, using digital technology to effectively share their learning about things that matter to them, supported by the taonga and exhibitions here at Waitangi.

Over time we as RM facilitators have also developed our own understanding and skills further (see my previous post on Computational Thinking). Sometimes trying to figure out how to make the children's ideas work is half the fun :) We work across platforms and OSs, and over the last six months here at Waitangi we have regularly used the following apps and programs with our RM classes:

  • SculptGL (a digital sculpting web app): Allows you to sculpt, carve and paint 3D objects and add backgrounds to these objects. We often export objects as .obj to import them into Tiltbrush (VR) - though be warned, the mesh file does not transfer, so all SculptGL objects arrive in Tiltbrush in white. Note: We prefer to use the downloadable standalone version (available here) as it works best with the Surface Pro pens; when children experience success with this technology they are more likely to persevere even on a device where they need to use the mouse or a track pad for the sculpting.
  • Paint 3D: Many of us have used Windows Paint in days gone past, Paint 3D is taking this a completely new level. A Windows 10 application, it combines the good old painting functionality with 2D and 3D objects, stickers, textures a library of existing 3D models etc. The use of the Surface pens makes painting really easy for the children, but the coolest part in my eyes is the integration of Mixed Reality MR! Now if they could only add an 'export as .obj' option, that would make integration into Tiltbrush possible...
  • Tinkercad: Creating 'regular' 3D objects is quite easy with Tinkercad. While it is officially a 13+ programme, we monitor use very carefully, and the only reason for the age restriction I can imagine is the option allowing you to send your file to a 3D printing company and / or the option to share a screenshot of your creation to Facebook. Again we export .obj files from here to Tiltbrush. I have a couple of wishes on my list for Tinkercad, I would like to be able to add a background image to a 3D creation, and while you can create projects (folders) within your account, I would like the creations to be only visible within these projects (we currently have more than 200 creations in our account, and trying to find anything in there is a nightmare).
  • Dash robots: Most children love them, they look very cute and programming them is very easy via the Blocky app. We looked at some of the other compatible apps, but this one seems the most versatile for our purposes. While the app works on smartphones, the screen is rather small so you might struggle with a long algorithm. Every now and then I have run into issues with the program disappearing when another window opens on top, maybe someone can explain to me how to save a project in a way that you can return to it later to continue it?
  • My favourite app for Green Screening was and still is Green Screen by Do Ink, the best investment ever of NZD4.99. Even young children find it very easy to use this app. None of the other program we have experimented with come close regarding ease of use. I have gone away from videoing children within the app, sometimes I get better video quality just using the native camera app on the iPad (or another device), and then we just use the Do Ink app to put it all together.
  • Stopmotion animation: We started out with Clapmotion, a Chrome app, which I still like but you have to watch for it freezing. Also, the resulting stop motion clip saves as .ogv and then needs to be converted to .mp4 - doable when you are confident with technology, but a hassle if you are more reluctant / less confident. We have lately started using Stop Motion Studio which is available across several platforms and it looks promising.
  • Tiltbrush (VR): Most children love 'the VR', and Tiltbrush has become an important finishing tool in our kete. Depending on the topic and the paramenters given by the teacher, we can use it to combine objects and images created in different other programs into a finished product.
  • Occasionally we have also used Google Drawings, esp. when a school has Chromebooks for students, and sometimes we use Moana from Hour of Code in addition to Blockly and the Dash Robots.
While a lot of time is spent on Designing and Developing Digital Outcomes, every child gets to explore some form of coding during our Exploration (Tutu) Session; while they create their DLOs, they also apply a lot of Computational Thinking CT (see my previous post). However, for the second year of the RM programme we plan to make CT the main focus.

I just had a quick look through our Google Drive for some of may favourite projects, and it's so cool to be reminded of the hard work the children put in there. Please remember that we have been working with 5 - 12 year olds, the older they are the more freedom they were given to complete the projects how they wanted to do them. Here are some examples, all of them videos sitting in our Google Drive, so please follow the links:

Stop Motion Animations:
Telling stories:

Whole class projects:
  • Patterns (whakairo=carvings, kowhaiwhai paintings, tukutuku panels and waiata performance combined in VR)
  • The legend of Moehuri (Tinkercad creations, Paint 3D images, Tiltbrush drawing, SculptGL carvings, Google Drawings)
  • Te Whare o Paparore 
There are plenty more examples, apologies to all our awesome creators whose work is not on the list above! 

So what's the point of all this?
  • Students get away from Waitangi with a deeper level of learning, closely linked to what they have been learning at school.
  • They get opportunity to explore = tutu with new digital tools which they might not normally have access to.
  • They get to make decisions about how they will share their learning with their audience (which might be their school community, their whānau / family, the wider community, Aotearoa / New Zealand or the whole world), including using the best tool for the purpose.
  • Teachers and students gain more confidence integrating digital tools in 'everyday learning'.
  • They become experts for the rest of the school to support the other students and teachers with integrating Digital Technology | Hangarau Matihiko into their learning.
I think I have the coolest job :) and we are making a difference - what more could anyone want?

Raranga Matihiko 6 months in: Computational Thinking

Raranga Matihiko has been running for 6 months now here at Waitangi. It's one of these things where time just flies. I look back and can't help but think 'wow, what a ride'! There are a lot of different ideas swirling around in my head at the moment; I have decided to spread them out across a few blog posts to keep clarity in my own head and hopefully for any readers.

I feel I now have a better understanding of Digital Technology | Hangarau Matihiko in the NZC. During Term 3 I had the opportunity to run a PLD session on Computational Thinking (CT) with local Manaiakalani Teachers, and in preparation for this I had a good look at the many examples where aspects of CT are already applied in current classroom programmes (especially Progress Outcomes 1-3):
  • For example in Numeracy, when we start teaching "double 2 is 4" and especially when we move to multiplication, iteration is applied (Progress Outcome 3).
  • In Literacy, when we look at word families such as "-ake" and we end up with words like "make, rake, lake, cake", or when we learn rules like adding a suffix to a word such as "hope -> hopeing" and "hop -> hopping". Also in music where we expect that the chord progression I IV V will lead us back to the tonic I - or as simple as the prompts we give our children, e.g. to the teacher's chant "eyes on me" the students will respond "eyes on you". In all these cases we are using prediction (Progress Outcome 3).
  • Sheena Cameron and Louise Dempsey's Oral Language book (which I have sadly misplaced, it seems permanently...) has lots of examples of giving and receiving (non-computerised) instructions (Progress Outcomes 1 and 2).
  • We put steps into logical orders in many contexts, from sorting pictures or text into a logical sequence from ECE onwards to creating an art work to completing a science experiment (Progress Outcome 2). Depending on age, task or medium, different pathways to solutions are acceptable and appropriate (Progress Outcome 3).
  • Debugging can also happen in many contexts : A Kapa Haka routine (tītītorea, waiata-a-ringa, haka), tying shoe laces, mixing colours etc.
You might wonder, if we are already doing all this, is there anything missing at all? Why did we need CT added to the NZC? IMHO, I think that for many teachers the connection between existing activities that use aspects of computational thinking and the application of CT in the world on computer science, programming, software engineering etc. is not clear yet, and if it is, there is still a gap between what we might do at primary school and what professionals do in the work force. And somewhere between primary school and university we are still loosing our girls and our Māori and Pasifika students.

Occasionally I speak with students about who makes our Dash robots and computers in general work. usually we end up with the same old stereotype of nerdy geeky young Pākeha men (I have one living in my house, perfect example). We can only changes this perception is if we continue to give our students of any gender and all cultural backgrounds opportunities to explore and apply CT throughout their schooling. I love our little Dash robots, they appeal to learners of all ages, and such robots are a really good way to visualise coding. But in isolation, without understanding how all the little bits like unplugged activities, block coding, text based coding, AI etc. fit together, we are not going to get far. Cut through the 'fluff' of the Progress Outcomes (see this previous post) and sit down as a staff to map out how your students will learn about Computational Thinking at your school.

On a side note, I don't believe the lower Progress Outcomes for CT are placed quite right yet, but it was always said that the placement of these against the Curriculum Levels was subject to change. Just this week I worked with a y1 class, that is 6 year olds, and once they were introduced to the idea of using a repeat block to move Dash, they saw no need to return to using individual blocks. Iteration is first mentioned in Progress Outcome 3 which sits at Curriculum Level 4, and while this is a good example of a Progress Outcome offering the teacher a 'pick'n'mix' of aspects (rather than a Achievement Objects which always has felt more final, everything had to be achieved before one could move on), I think many students are very capable of applying iteration much earlier than CL 4.

While I am glad that Digital Technology incl. Computational Thinking is now explicitly mentioned in the NZC, I am still worried about that fact that this sits inside Technology. If I was still a high school music teacher (and had not gone through the amazing journey I have been privy to over the last 15 odd years), I doubt I would pay much attention to what it said in a different subject area's part of the curriculum. We have to change this!

(Shameless plug :D) If you teach y7 - 10 (any subject) and you are interested in finding out more about how this can fit into your learning areas, join us for a free DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES & COMPUTER SCIENCE TEACHER PROFESSIONAL LEARNING EVENT at Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Tuesday 27 November, 9:30 - 2:30pm. Register at