Projects for a new paradigm - Published in Education Matters

21st Century Learning
Projects for a new paradigm

Innovation Integrator at St Columba Anglican School (SCAS), Meridith Ebbs, shares some of the ground-breaking ways technology has been incorporated into the curriculum at the school.

St Columba Anglican School is in it’s 14th year and is located in Port Macquarie on the mid north coast of NSW. Four years ago the decision was made to migrate the school to the cloud and implement a voluntary bring your own device program. In the past 4 years there has been significant investment in technology and staff training. Many staff now use technology on a daily basis. Implementing technology also requires a commitment to evolving pedagogy. To assist all staff to continue to evolve their teaching methods requires continued support for staff financially and physically with training and flexible resources.

Being a regional school attending professional development in the city can be costly so the school committed to employing skilled and innovative teachers to lead the school into the 21st century. The decision to employ skilled and innovated educators has resulted in new approaches to teaching and learning. The challenge now is to maintain the passion and continue to evolve pedagogy for all teaching staff.

Coding in a primary school

Four years ago coding in primary schools was not common and it was difficult to locate resources. Microsoft Kodu was one of the few resources with tutorials and teacher resources suitable for primary-age students. At this time the Director of Curriculum agreed to the idea of teaching coding to Year 4.

Now in its fourth year, each Year 4 group has been taught coding for a term. The outcomes are linked to Maths and English.

The coding program is now beginning to expand to:
  • A primary girls’ KodeKlub;
  • A primary boys’ KodeKlub;
  • SCAS has recently commenced an extension program using the Google Computer First Coding Club in schools in the learning centre;
  • A robotics program in Year 9 Science;
  • Computational Thinking elective in Year 8;
  • Coding is used to teach angles in secondary Mathematics;
  • 20 hours of code is taught by Year 6 teachers in Mathematics; and,
  • The Head of Primary agreed to allow 500 K-6 students participate in Hour of Code during the last week of school in December 2014. 
KodeKlub
Why a different KodeKlub for boys and girls? Two years ago when the lunchtime KodeKlub commenced there were fifteen students and two were girls. In 2014 I decided to implement a girls club to see if I could increase the participation of girls. The number of girls increased significantly, there are now approximately fifteen students on each club roll. To be a member of the club there are two prerequisites – you must be able to log on and you must be able to read. I have had students as young as Year 1 through to the occasional visit from secondary girls.

Hour of Code Hour of Code is an international initiative to encourage students worldwide to learn to speak the language of computers. To implement this in a school of 500 students was difficult. To ensure equity with school devices we ran it over two days. Students who had already completed the 20 hours of code were given the role of ‘techsperts’ and peer tutors. Two students were sent to each class to assist teachers with problem solving and provide technical support. The event was very successful and the students and staff were very positive about event. It is hoped this will become an annual event in the school.

Year 5 Science

This term Year 5 are looking at the science unit, ‘Earth’s place in space’. As a part of this thematic unit we are using the science connections material available through Scootle. To supplement this program we are working through some computational thinking projects to investigate the scale of the solar system. This has included:
  • Location of the distances of each planet from the sun (research);
  • Discussion of different forms of measurement used when discussing the solar system, kilometers, astronomical units and light years (maths);
  • Identifying the best unit of measurement to use for a scale model of the solar systems;
  • Plotting the solar system on a one-metre long piece of grid paper (maths);
  • A scale plan of the Solar System plotted on a football oval – students are required to located distances of planets from the sun then calculate the scale of the solar system should it be reduced to 100 metres – once the model is plotted on the football field, we fly a drone over the students to capture a bird’s eye view (maths);
  • Research the diameter and scale of a planet of their choice (research and maths);,
  • Create a scale model of the planet of their choice – students are required to research their chosen planet’s dimensions and then create a scale model of the planet – students use the medium of their choice e.g.: paper mache or create a virtual 3D model and print it using the 3D printer (problem solving, research, maths).
  • Build a model of a habitat for a planet.

During each of these activities students were given the basic task and time to locate key information and solve the problems, initially with minimal instruction. Some students were very successful at locating the required information and then working towards a solution. Those students requiring additional assistance were given more direct instruction to assist with the process in a small group away from the main group. The results were checked as a class and then the process revised to ensure all students understood how the answer was obtained. The benefit of completing the task in this manner is that students are given the opportunity of locating information without being given the answer. It provides an opportunity for students to work collaboratively to solve a problem.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

This year, the Director of Curriculum requested the development and trial of a STEM course with three Stage 2 classes. The requirement being it must be hands on and be linked to outcomes in Mathematics and Science. Students focused on construction and engineering structures with strength. The students were given open-ended tasks and resources and they were then required to solve the problems. The activity was interspersed with short sessions of direct instruction to demonstrate skills and discuss the theory behind their task. Some of the activities students have completed this year include:
  • Constructing a games arcade using cardboard boxes;
  • Constructing 3D shapes using only newspaper and sticky tape – we had competitions on the tallest and the strongest;
  • Constructing a structure to support a book using playdough and toothpicks;
  • Design and construction of a solar cooker – this had thematic links to the science unit of Heat it Up;
  • Circle Geometry on Pi Day – an American celebration on 14th March, 3/14/15 – this year was particularly special as the American date was 3.1415; and,
  • Reviewing games and identifying what makes a game great, then using this information to create their own computer game using CodeKingdoms.com or kodugamelab.com.

“STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.” (Hom, 2014)

The STEM course has been a fantastic opportunity for students to collaboratively solve problems. Students have been very excited and proud of their constructions. Pi day was particularly interesting as circular geometry is not usually taught in Stage 2. Students quickly learnt the importance of accuracy when measuring the circumference and diameter to try to achieve the number 3.1415. The measuring task required accuracy in millimeters. This activity was so popular the school is planning to run the activities again in Term 3 as July 22nd is the Australian equivalent of pi day – 22/7 is the closest fraction to calculate pi.

Online course in Computational Thinking – Year 8 elective

What is Computational Thinking?
Computational Thinking is the process of finding a solution to open ended problems. Computational Thinking is usually associated with computer science, however it incorporates the way we set problems in all key learning areas (Google for Education). The four stages of computational thinking are:
  • Decomposition, breaking a large problem into smaller parts;
  • Pattern Recognition, identifying similarities and differences;
  • Pattern Generalisation and Abstraction; and,
  • Algorithm Design, step-by-step strategy for solving a problem (Google for Education).

On Computational Thinking, Jeanette Wing of Carnegie Mellon University believes, “It is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add Computational Thinking to every child’s analytical ability.” (Wing, 2006)

Schools have been teaching Computational Thinking for many years by way of procedures, data collection, decision charts, programming and problem solving. The Digital Technologies Australian Curriculum formalises Computational Thinking and provides learning opportunities and a deeper understanding for students. New South Wales is currently the only state not to have begun the endorsement process for this curriculum. This means the state has limited formal outcomes that can be used to specifically address Computational Thinking. Fortunately these skills can still be taught using outcomes in most of the existing and new NSW curriculums.


Computational Thinking is often linked to computers and coding. While it is a problem solving method that uses computer science techniques, it is possible to teach these skills offline using other technologies. Computational Thinking can also be taught using Mathematics, Science and English.

The course
This year the opportunity arose to create a new Year 8 elective that uses a blended format – a combination of face-to-face and online delivery – and were thus offered the elective Computational Thinking. The course is being facilitated online over a semester. Students are timetabled to attend classes and all content is delivered via a Google Classroom and a Google Site. The course being offered is cross-curricular and offers the opportunity for students to develop skills in Computational Thinking, writing and reflection, covering outcomes from the English and Computer Syllabi.

The purpose of the course is to encourage students to explore areas of interest with a focus on problem solving and logic, through to personal research projects.

Some of the proposed projects include:
  • Learning to program – beginning with a tutorial program called ‘20 hours of code’ and continuing onto a personal coding project;
  • Coding a game using online game builder in both visual programming and Java;
  • Robotics with Lego Mindstorms; and,
  •  Building a remote-controlled lawnmower.
  • A universal controller to control multiple remote control cars.
There were no prerequisites for this course. To be successful in this project students will need to be self-motivated.


Students are monitored through a learning journal and are required to keep a personal blog. Students are provided with a set of sample questions they can use to discuss their ideas and learning experiences, and will be required to take photos, movies, screencasts and/or screen shots of their progress. These should then be used as stimuli for discussion in the blog. Students are also required to comment on the blogs of their peers. They are required to provide constructive and positive feedback to projects.

Assessments
The course will have two assessments.

  • Student blogs will be assessed for use as a learning journal and marks will be allocated for use of documentation of the learning process, media, grammar, punctuation and spelling. It will be worth 50% of the overall mark.

  • There will be a student presentation. The format of the presentation will be determined by the student, in keeping with the self-guided philosophy of the course. Students may do a slideshow, YouTube clip, Screencast, demonstration or speech and incorporate student peer assessment with a value of 50%. 
Rather than creating content consumers, this course allows students to become content generators. They take a topic they are interested in and then create, model, build or research it, in a similar fashion to a major work at HSC level. The documentation is done via their blog. The response from the students has been very positive.

Digital Citizenship Program

In 2012 I designed and developed a K-12 Digital Citizenship Program (DCP) at SCAS. The content, sourced from free programs available on the web, includes lesson plans for teachers and covers a range of topics.

The topics for the Digital Citizenship Program include:
  • Access: full electronic participation in society.
  • Commerce: electronic buying and selling of goods.
  • Communication: electronic exchange of information.
  • Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure.
  • Identity: creating a positive digital footprint and online presence.
  • Health & Wellness: physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.
  • Literacy: process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology.
  • Law: electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  • Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.
  • Security (self-protection): electronic precautions to guarantee safety.

The outcomes were drawn from various syllabi. The outcomes came from syllabus units related to personal safety, physical safety, emotional and mental health, relationships, writing online, safe use of technology and ethics.
  • Personal/Development (PD/H)
  • Technology
  • Economics, Business Studies
  • English
The lessons were compiled into a scope and sequence. Primary has a yearly cycle, secondary has a two-year cycle. Primary teach the content during PD/H and secondary teach the DCP during pastoral care and PD/H.

The roll out of the DCP began with professional development of staff. Initially there was some resistance as staff were unfamiliar the concepts and skills required, but with support and comprehensive lesson plans the DCP was implemented and is now taught across the school K-12.

The internal Digital Citizenship Program as SCAS has also evolved into running digital citizenship conferences for other schools through the Professional Excellence and Innovation Centre (PEIC) due the interest it has generated. The conference has been run twice now and will be run again in Term 4, 2015. The conference instructs delegates on considerations for the development of a digital citizenship program.

The digital citizenship conference runs through definitions, policies, principles of digital citizenship, and resources. The response from delegates from each event was very positive. All delegates are given resources to take with them and have the opportunity to share in a private Google Community, on an ongoing basis.

Below are some resources that have been created and are curated by Meridith Ebbs in her work at SCAS:

Meridith Ebbs BSc. DipEd. MA

Meridith is the Innovation Integrator at St Columba Anglican School, Port Macquarie, NSW. She has a blended role, teaching classes from Years 3-10 and working as an e-learning integrator to support the e-learning programs within the school.

Meridith is a key staff member of the Professional Excellence & Innovation Centre. She develops and facilitates conferences and workshops. Meridith acts as a consultant in digital citizenship, in the use of technology to enhance 21st century pedagogies and social media. Meridith speaks at conferences and at Newcastle University on digital citizenship, coding, technology and pedagogy.
  • Participant in CSER Digital Technologies MOOC Implementing the Australian Curriculum Learning Area, May – June 2014;
  • Social Media Facilitator CSER Digital technologies MOOC Implementing the Australian Curriculum Learning Area, Dec 2014 -Feb 2015; and,
  • Participating in the CSER Digital Technologies MOOC, Next Steps years 7 & 8, May – July 2015. 
Successful projects include: 
  • Developing and trialling a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) course for Years 3 and 4;
  • Developing a new elective for Year 8 in computational thinking;
  • Developing and trialling an online course for secondary students;
  • Developed courses, applied and gained approval to provide school-based registered professional development for All Standard Descriptors of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers at the level of Proficient Teacher;
  • Development and rollout of a K-12 Digital Citizenship Program;
  • Facilitation of ‘superclasses’;
  • Differentiation of tasks for superclasses;
  • Project-based learning;
  • Edu-gaming with Minecraft, CodeKingdoms and Kodu;
  • Establishment of a two coding clubs; 
  • Introduction of coding to teach maths and literacy in Stage 2;
  • Development of lessons to differentiate maths in Year 1 using iPads;
  • Use of cloud-based applications for learning;
  • Curating resources for computational thinking – inspireslearning.weebly.com;
  • Developed a resource for teaching coding –  kodeklubbers.weebly.com;
  • Maintenance of an educational blog for students – elscas.weebly.com; and,
  • Maintenance of an educational blog for educators – observelearndo.blogger.com.au
  • Other projects outside of school:DEPT///21st Century Learning
References

Wing, J 2006, ‘Computational Thinking’, COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM, vol. Vol. 49, no. No. 3, March, accessed 7 February 2015, <https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~15110-s13/Wing06-ct.pdf>.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the teachers of St Columba Anglican School who support me and are willing to try new things with their classes. Lisa Gooding (Director of Curriculum) for her encouragement and support of new and innovative projects. Janet Geronimi (Head of Special Projects, PEIC) for her vision, encouragement and support. Janet Geronimi, Emma Cooper (Marketing), Geoff Lancaster (Head of Innovation) and Chris Delaney (Head of the Learning Centre) for their support with planning with the Computational Thinking Conference, June 22.




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