Coding for Kids

While not every student might want to write their own software, understanding the big ideas of coding is a skill that all students would benefit from, even the very young ones. Understanding the key ideas of computational thinking – identifying patterns, thinking algorithmically, manipulating data, solving real problems, etc – is an important step in helping our students build mastery over their world.

This presentation aims to take you on a guided tour through some of the resources available to your students to help them learn the principles of creating code.  It starts by looking at a range of desktop and mobile apps suitable for teaching very young students to program, right through to tools and websites that can help your older students learn to hack code, and much more.

If you do actually try any of this stuff out, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

PS: This is my fourth contribution to the K12 Online Conference, and I think it’s a great format for an online event. I like how it drip feeds out a bunch of presentations over a 2 week period online, but continues to make them available as a permanent archive. There is quite a collection of presentations in there now. Check them out!

Breathing Easy

OxygenIt’s been said that you know when a 1:1 computing initiative is truly working in a school because you stop talking about it. The conversation stops being about the hardware – the computers, the tablets, the wifi, the network, etc. When all that stuff works the way it is supposed to, it begins to fade from the conversations that take place in the school. We stop talking about the devices and start talking about the learning that takes place with the devices. We stop thinking about the infrastructure required to make the technology work, and we just use it, fully expecting that it “just does”.

A good 1:1 program should be like oxygen. It becomes so ubiquitous that you start to forget it’s there. Students and teachers begin to blend the use of technology into their daily routine in a way that becomes so seamless that it feels natural. Taking the technology away would be almost like taking oxygen away. You don’t notice it until it’s not there.

How do you get to that point? Obviously the important infrastructure needs to just work. Wifi needs to be robust and ubiquitous. Servers need to be fast and responsive. Computers and devices need to be simple to use. Software needs to be intuitive and flexible. All that is important, and need to be the first priority of the IT teams that put those things in place. But once those things are in place, we need to stop talking about them.

Learning should be the goal of a 1:1 program. Not devices or wifi or policies or “the cloud”. That stuff is important, sure, but the primary focus of a school needs to be on learning, not technology.

In the excitement of putting technology into schools, it’s amazing how often we overlook that.

This post has been crossposted from its original publication on the Hot Topics section of the Microsoft Partners in Learning blog (http://www.pil-network.com/HotTopics/1to1learning)
CC Image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/HAZMAT_Class_2-2_Oxygen.png

Changing the Bathwater, Keeping the Baby

Throwing the baby out with the bathwaterIt’s clear that there is quite a lot about this thing we call “school” that probably needs to change and that there are many schools around the world that are embracing and leading that change with some really innovative ideas about teaching and learning.

However, from what I can tell, innovation and genuine change for the better in education is still rather patchy and relies greatly on the passion and drive of individual teachers, many of whom fly “under the radar” in order to make positive change in their own educational circumstance. There are certainly schools that are, as a single organisation or even a whole system, making giant strides towards reinventing what modern education should be about, but if I was able to randomly drop you into one of the many millions of classrooms around the world to observe what’s taking place inside it, I think it would still be fairly hit or miss as to whether you’d find teaching and learning that was modern, contemporary and representative of the change that many of us want to see happen in education.

We talk a lot about reinventing school. We sometimes declare that school is a “broken system” and wonder about what it would be like to start with a clean slate. We feel the weight of tradition, of a school system based around an agrarian calendar, of a system that was born in a pre-digital age and we dream about changing it. We embrace technology. We build charter schools. We try lots of ideas for making schooling not only different, but hopefully better.

But you know something? Many of the smartest people I know are a product of this “broken” system. Many students emerge from their 13 years of schooling as perfectly normal, well adjusted, happy individuals, ready to embrace the task of making their own dent in the universe. So despite that fact that we like to declare schooling to be in dire need of an overhaul, it seems that it still produces many people who do just fine, thank you very much. This broken system, for all its faults, does actually work for some people. I’m well aware that it does NOT work for many others, and that it could probably work better even for those that emerged from it doing ok, but it got me wondering what aspects of school DO in fact work.

I’m as keen as anyone else to push education forward, to help rebuild it into something that is better and more able to meet the needs of even more students. To make it more “21st century”, if you will. Like so many of my colleagues around the world, I want to be an advocate for the change we need to drag our school system, often kicking and screaming, into the current millennium.

In the process, I’m wondering what, if anything, we should try to keep.

I once asked a group of students to imagine what school could be like if we could wipe the slate clean. What would “school” look like if we could start again, with no preconceptions about what school should look like. I was trying to prompt them to imagine what would happen if we took EVERYTHING about school, burnt it to the ground and threw it away, in order to rebuild the very notion of “school” from the ground up. Their answers were interesting; some were clearly unable to imagine anything that was much different to their current reality, and others really took to the idea of school with an axe, questioning everything and leaving very little that resembled school as we know it.

If we COULD wipe the slate clean, if we could just scrap everything about school and education as we know it, is there anything that you would keep? Despite the claims that our schools are not serving the needs of our current students, is there ANYTHING we do right now that we would NOT want to lose?

I understand that society, technology and the world around our students is changing at a pace greater than at anytime in history, and I appreciate that we really do need to get on with the task of reinventing schools to make them places of learning designed for our students’ future, not our own past, but perhaps we also have to be careful we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So let me ask you… What do you think are the valuable, enduring and timeless aspects of education?  What are the things that, no matter how much we end up reinventing this thing we call “school”, you would not want to lose?

Discussing the Australian Curriculum: Technologies draft

On Ozteachers the other day, we were informed that the Draft paper for the new Australian Curriculum: Technologies has been released for review and ACARA, the government body charged with overseeing its implementation, is looking for feedback during the consultation period.

Figuring that I should probably know more about this document than I currently do, I thought it might be a good idea to set up a Google+ Hangout On Air, and invite whoever wants to talk about it together for a discussion.  It was also a motivator to get me to actually read the document first!

Thank you to those that were able to join in, in particular Bruce Fuda, Jason Zagami, Roland Gesthuizen, Nicky Ringland, and Matt Wells, as well as several others who dropped in and out during the call like Tim Wicks, Maurice Pagnucco and MaryAnne Williams. There was also some good discussion taking place in the backchannel on Google+, so visit that too if you’re keen to read a bit more.

I’m still getting my head around the relationship between Google+ Events and Hangouts on Air.  I probably should have read this article first, but I’ll know better for next time.

Taking the Long View

I was recently given the privilege of giving a short keynote talk for the upcoming Flat Classroom Project cohort. The Flat Classroom Project is a wonderful professional learning program run by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay which focuses on getting teachers and students working together on global collaborative projects – connecting classrooms around the world to work together. Julie contacted me recently to ask if I would be interested in doing it and I jumped at the opportunity.

I was fortunate that I started doing some really full-on global collaborative projects with students back in the late 1990s, thanks to a program that was run by AT&T called Virtual Classroom. Although the format of the VC program was meant to be competitive – teams of three classrooms from around the world worked together to build a website on an agreed common theme – the essential principles of working together online were very much ingrained into my brain over the three years we worked on these projects. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the experience of doing these projects not only helped me to understand how to be a better teacher, but it’s what kept me involved in, and enthusiastic about, teaching. Without those few intense years of seeing the power of connecting, communicating and collaborating together across the world, it’s a fair bet that I would not still be teaching today. It was quite literally my “peek over the pail” to see exactly what education could really be all about, and it’s influenced almost everything I’ve done since. Those projects had a significant long term effect on me as an educator.

Those students I worked with back then are all in their late 20s now and I often wonder if they experienced the same sort of long term benefit from our global projects. So when Julie and Vicki asked if I would do this keynote I thought it might be a great opportunity to find these guys and actually ask them that question. Although I haven’t kept in regular contact with all of them over the years, I managed find several of them on Facebook to ask them whether they felt it made a difference to them. Just the fact that they were so willing to talk to me and reminisce about what we did 15 years ago, I think says a lot about the relationships and connections that these projects created.

And really, it’s in those relationships and connections, and being able to play a part in creating ripples of influence that reach far into the future that make teaching so different to so many other professions. It’s why those of us who love it, love it.

Anyway, the keynote video is on the Flat Classroom Project site, but (with Julie and Vicki’s permission) I thought I’d share it with you here too.

Special thanks go to Daniel, Richard, Peter, Chris and Laurie. You guys were awesome back in school, and you’re just as awesome now. Thanks for helping me learn what it means to learn.

I also want to say how grateful I am for my co-teacher partners in crime from those days – Janette Wilmott, Janet Barnstable, Mariko Yana, Hajime Yanase.

If you’ve never tried working globally, do yourself a favour and give it a go. Get involved in Flat Classroom Project, or even checkout the Global Virtual Classroom (what the original Virtual Classroom Project morphed into)  If you just look around, there are so many opportunities for collaborating online together… just find one and dive in. You won’t be sorry you did. Just ask my students.

In None We Trust

I wonder how many teachers would be prepared to gather all their students together at a school assembly sometime and say the following to them …

“Look, we just need you all to know that we do NOT trust you. We’ve talked about it, and we think that given the opportunity, you will all get up to no good and make poor decisions. Because of this, we plan to closely monitor your every move and to make sure that you don’t get away with anything, ever. We plan to prevent you from doing common tasks that are probably perfectly fine and safe. However, since we are, after all, assuming that you won’t be able to make your own good decisions about those things, we have taken the liberty of making those decisions for you.

Essentially, we think you are all a bunch of thieves, cheats and liars with no sense of morals or ethics, and you probably spend all your time looking at pornography anyway. We have no intentions of assuming anything other than the worst… as I said, we really just don’t trust you.

Thank you, that is all. You may now go to class.”

Nah, we’d never do that to our kids, would we?

Now, here’s your locked-down school-supplied laptop. Have a nice day.

Philly to Sydney with Year 2

If you like, you can skip right to the bottom of this post and just watch the video, but I always find the story behind the story kind of interesting. So I thought you  might like to know a little bit about how and why this video was made.

It started out with a simple tweet from my buddy Kim Sivick in Philadelphia.  It started a conversation that went something like this…

Do I know anyone who might make a quick Welcome to Australia video?

I sure do.

And besides, I owe Kim a favour. When I was running blogging workshops with our staff last year I was hoping to tap into the experiences of some very blog-savvy educators by getting them to Skype in and talk to our teachers about the realities and the practicalities of using blogs in the classroom. When I asked for volunteers on Twitter (where else?) Kim Sivick  was one of those who generously responded and agreed to spend time talking with us to share her expertise.

I also got to meet Kim in person at ISTE in Philadelphia last year too, so it was nice to “close the loop” on our virtual meetups.

Kim’s idea was deceptively simple. Get our kids to make a short video about a virtual trip to Australia, and in return her classes would make a video about a virtual trip to Philly for us.

With virtually zero planning, I dropped into one of our Year 2 classrooms and asked the teacher there, Lisa, if her kids would like to make a video for these students in Philly and she jumped at the chance. In no time, Lisa and I had a bit of  a brainstorm on what sorts of things we might do, and she started working with the kids to write a script using GoogleDocs. The script gradually evolved and took shape over the next few days.

I’d been wanting to do some work with chromakeying, or greenscreening for a while, but had just never gotten around to it. It wasn’t something I’d done before, but I suggested to Lisa that if we shot the video of the kids in front of a greenscreen, then it might be fun later to try and drop in the images of various parts of Australia as backgrounds. She thought that sounded pretty cool, so I went to our IT Director and asked if I could buy an inexpensive greenscreen kit. It was one of those things we’d talked about buying for a while, but never quite got around to it. With a reason to need it now, we went online and ordered it on the spot.

When it eventually arrived we set up a date for the shoot. The classroom was transformed into a studio for the morning with lights, camera, and plenty of action. I used iPrompt Pro on my iPad to transfer the script, and then held it up just under the camera lens as a  scrolling teleprompter so the kids could read the script as naturally as possible. We shot it on a Sony HiDef camcorder at 1080i/50. It took a few takes to get things right, but the kids really worked hard to do it was well as possible. Being able to repeat a section over and over in order to get it right was a valuable part of the learning experience.  When it came time to shoot, we all had fun calling out things like “Quiet on the set!” and “Rolling!”  and “Action!”, and running things just like a real movie set. I think the kids had a lot of fun recording it.

I took the footage back to my desk and dumped it all onto my MacBook Pro to ponder out the best way to edit it.  Although I definitely do want to get the kids doing more video work themselves, getting them to edit the footage was not really the learning goal for this particular exercise… it was all about their performance for the camera. After some experiments with iMovie I eventually decided that I’d cut it together with Premiere Pro instead. Premiere Pro was certainly not a program that I knew well, but this seemed like a great chance to get cosy with it. I’m glad I did… it’s a very impressive NLVE tool and I like it a lot more than Final Cut Pro 7.

I always try to make sure we set a good example for students regarding copyright, so it was important that all the background images were available under a Creative Commons licence. I think it’s really important that we demonstrate to our students that you can actually make worthwhile digital media without continually breaking copyright law. All the background images are CC licensed, as are the two pieces of music that I included, both from jamendo.com. The two videos were not released under CC, but using their YouTube contact address I wrote to the owners of both and both were more than happy for us to use their clip. One even offered to send us the hi-def footage! Most people are pretty generous if you just ask. Remember, Copyright doesn’t mean “you can’t use it”, it just means “you can’t use it without permission”, so if it’s not CC, then do the right thing and get permission! It’s just not that hard. (Publishing works under a Creative Commons license makes it much easier of course because it’s essentially an “up-front” permission which is pre-granted as long as you stick to the uses stipulated by the copyright owner)

After a couple of days of editing over the weekend, I did the final render to a 720p .m4v file and uploaded it to YouTube as a private link so the Philly kids (and our kids) could see it the next day.  Here’s the finished product…

It always nice to ceremonialise things that are a bit special, so we set a date for a premiere screening and invited all the Year 2 mums and dads in to watch. When the Year 1 Philadelphia kids watched it, they all wore Aussie bush hats and set up their classroom like the inside of a plane to watch the video.  We had our screening this morning and the movie played to a packed classroom of excited Year 2 students and their parents. Proud parents. Excited kids. Performing for a real audience. Making opportunities to create and practice and iterate. Immediate feedback. And lots of fun and laughs. An authentic learning experience?  You better believe it..

Kim tells me that her kids are working on the sequel for us, showing us their virtual trip to Philadelphia, so we are looking forward to that.

Lisa, our Year 2 teacher, now keeps asking me when we can do our next global project, and is coming up with lots of cool ideas for how it will fit into next terms syllabus.

Overall, I think I’d consider this whole thing a win, wouldn’t you. 🙂