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Learning like a Child

When was the last time that you tried to learn something by yourself. I know that when I want to find out something new the first thing I do is google it. I look for a youtube clip or a tutorial or a weblink or anything that is there that has already done the learning that I want and I use it as a starting point.

You see, last week I brought home the Lego WeDo kits and wanted to see how to really Lego Gearsuse it. I have made things with them before and had my students do the same, but we had followed a set of instructions and made what someone else had created. We had made, not created, we had followed a set of instructions, not designed and to me creation and design is the essence of Lego. The instructions are a starting point, but they need to lead to somewhere else to really unlock the joy of Lego. If you give me bricks I will design and build, wheels I will create a car or mini figures and I will animate, but a set of gears, motors and axles and I am at a loss – I have not learned how to use them with independence.

So the kits sat there for a week and I did not interact with them. But, early this morning, IMG_9530while the rest of the house was asleep, I awoke and crept into the lounge. I took the kits to the rug in the middle of the floor and like a child with a new toy I began to explore. Beginning with a motor, axle and a gear I began to build. I became lost within the experience. What I experienced was what I want my students to experience and it took me back to similar experiences as a child.

Slowly my creation began to take form. There was no purpose to my creation other than learning how the gears and wheels and axles fitted together and my only goal was that once I added the motor many different parts would move at different speeds and in different ways and directions. I experienced frustration after frustration then success followed by a failure. The design was built up only to be taken down and modified. When the family surfaced at half seven I realised that I had just been immersed in learning for 2 straight hours of bliss – yes I awoke at 5:15 to play Legos – and when they saw the joy on my face the did not even laugh or tease me.

It took me back to a seminar with Simon Breakspear about design thinking in education. Naturally when a child plays with a toy such asdesign-thinking-fo-educators Lego it is the design model that they are using – the discovery, interpretation, creation, experimentation and evolution. I went through all these steps and although there was not a product in mind there were constant evolutions as I tried to add new components or found a different way of doing things.

How will this change my teaching and use of WeDo and Mindstorms in the class? First let them follow a plan – build something that someone else has designed, let the students come to terms with the way the components fit together and how to code them, but the second exposure will be without any instructions or preconception of what someone else has created. They will test, try, fail, fail, succeed and fail and maybe they will create something new, but they will develop an understanding of what it takes to create. They will be able to take the ideas from the imagination and have the opportunity to express themselves and their thoughts.

What is my next step? Well, I am going to Google. Now that I have my own experiences I am going to look to the ideas of others. I need to research to improve my skill set and understanding just like any good designer would.

What has it taught me? Play. Approach new learning like I did when I was a child. Try new ideas and just try and work out how things work. Keep being inquisitive and take the time to do so. It may not be the easiest way in our world of knowledge at your fingertips, but it is so much more rewarding.

The video is of my creation. It does nothing except for what I set out for it to do – move and allow me to learn about how gears fit together.

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Do you travel? Give something back to other travelers. 

I’m a traveller. I like nothing more than visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. It doesn’t bother me if I can’t speak the language or it is a bit uncomfortable, I just love the experience of being somewhere new.

In the past few years when ever I ask Google a question about what to do or where to eat it has been TripAdvisor that answers all my questions. It is normally on the money with its recommendations and is worth its weight in gold. So, as if I am to be this digital citizen and content contributor that I talk about with my students I need to take my travel experiences and share them with other travellers. I have joined TripAdvisor, earned my first badge for 5 reviews and I hope that I will help others in the way that they have helped me. I urge you to do the same, as it doesn’t matter if you are an intrepid traveller or don’t stray far from home, if you have a smart phone you can reward that amazing coffee shop, restaurant or holiday accommodation with a review. 

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Education’s best kept secret – teaching at International schools. 

I assume that all who read this blog are teachers or somehow involved in the education game. What might make me different to you is that I no longer teach in my home country, but choose the life of a teacher in the international school world. This stint has been for 2 years and I can’t see it ending any time soon as it is providing a life far richer in experience for my family and I than could ever happen back in New Zealand. Yes there are things that we miss and the distance from family and friends is difficult, but I would not change it for the world.  

 

You see, as I write this post I am sitting at a quiet restaurant next to my hotel in the quiet Vietnamese town of Hoi An – a place I had never heard of, let alone thought I would ever visit. Christmas holidays were spent in Rome, Florence and London and last year we traveled to Singapore, Taiwan and many places throughout our home base of China. While we are travelling around the world and exposing our daughters to different cultures, cuisines and ways of life we are still paying the mortgage back home and saving some money for a rainy day. 

My daughters are receiving an world class education that is on a par with unaffordable private schools back home. Working hard and focusing on your learning is the norm and expected by both students and teachers. They are learning to speak Chinese in an environment where they get to speak the language every day. Their school trips so far have been to Cambodia, Fujian, Vietnam and Brazil – not quite a hike through the beech forests of New Zealand, but unforgettable life experiences. 

As an educator there are draw backs; professional development can be hard to find and you may have to learn a new education system, but when learning and students are the focus it is easy to find a work around any problem. A few friends and I are in the process of planning Nanjings first EdCamp, so I guess PD is what you make it and blogs and Twitter are always there to inspire and challenge you. 

So I guess the point of this is to say, if you are stuck in the grind of teaching back home, feel like a new experience and challenge send me a message and I will be happy to answer any of your questions. It’s not the right choice for all, but it might be the choice for you. 

Pano Gamification

learning about civilisations with computer games

While investigating the Incas a question was raised “How did they get so big and the why did they disappear when they seemed to be such a big empire?

The next day a student said, “There are lots of civilisations that got really big and powerful, but what happened?”

Another replied It’s like Clash of Clans, but real! If you fight someone and you are not strong you could loose it all or if someone stronger attacks you there is not a lot that you can do. The stronger your civilisation gets and the bigger your army the longer your civilisation will last”

Thank comment brought me back to the early days of multiplayer games and Age of Empires was my favourite. Your strategy, patience, planning, resource management and research was the difference between a successful civilisation or destructionIMG_7791n. So I searched for a copy of the game and installed it on the iMacs and off we went.

Lesson 1 – Play & Explore (45 minutes – Paired)
Learning Intention – learn to control the game.
In pairs they set off to explore the game. There was not a lot of instructions from me other than some basic mouse controls and off they went. There were a lot of aha moments (Mirriam Webster Dictionary: a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension) as they stumbled upon different tasks or ways of doing things. Then, like a game of Chinese Whispers, the new found skills and tips world spread around the room.Reflections

At the end of the session the students reflected on the lesson. The successes, the failures and the problems that they faced. The identified the need to spread their resources, to plan for their development, to act strategically rather than spur of the moment and they found out that as their civilisation became bigger it became tougher to control and keep track of.

Lesson 2 – Multi-Player Chaos (60 minutes – Individual)
Learning Intention – work out what makes a good ‘Virtual Civilisation’.
The next day I set up 16 computers linked through a LAN and spaced out the class. I wanted them to have the opportunity to learn through each other, but also have to rely on themselves. They randomly joined one of 2 8 player worlds and had an hour to survive, dominate or fail.

This was a great session as it leveled the abilities of the children. You could really see Pano Gamificationthe gamers in the group and those who were unsure of how to play these sorts of games. As they were all playing each other and the world map was black if you had not explored there were a lot of children caught off guard by others. There were no tears or tantrums, but there were students being suddenly attacked and wiped out by others.

This post game reflection was the best as every action and reaction was personalized to the student. Their choices and planning effected the outcome of their civilisation. Some talked of defenses, others talked of resource gathering and they all identified they needed an army for defending themselves and removing their rivals.

Lesson 3 – Leveled Multi-Player (1 1/2 hours – Leveled to three groups: Beginner, Intermediate and Highly Competitive)
Learning Intention – Create a successful civilisation.
This is where the real competition began. From the previous lesson there were three clear groups – those new to gaming, those with some experience and those who were very experienced and competitive gamers. We set up three worlds and each student was evenly matched.

Characteristic CardsTo give the competitive group an extra challenge we created Civilisation Characteristic Cards that were based upon our previous learning. We brainstormed different characteristics and then categorised what teach characteristic would look like in the game. There was the peaceful civilization, a raiding civilisation, a civilisation that had the goal of a large arm of an academic civilisation where research and learning was the goal. They randomly drew their card and had to secretly play the game based upon the civilisation that they had been given.

At the end we again reflected and the statements that were made showed a far superior and deeper understanding thank I had expected. All I asked them was “What to you now know about the rise and fall of civilisations?” Here are some of the groups responses.

  “In the beginning it is easy to have a small group of people, but as a civilization gets bigger there are a lot of problems that happen. You need to have enough food and you need to control people.”

  “You need to change the way that you do things. It is easy to grow food for a small group of people, but you have to farm better when you are growing food for a whole city. Like how the Incas grew their food on terraces.”

  “You have to choose where you live carefully. If you live in the wrong place there might not be many resources or much food. Also you might not be able to defend yourself if you choose the wrong place.”

  “Civilisations needed to become educated and improve to survive. If they did not they would be destroyed by other civilisations. This was how the Incas were beaten by the Conquistadores because they had weapons like guns, swords, crossbows and armor, but the Incas only had leather armor and spears. Small numbers can beat large numbers if they have better technology” 

So at the end of this week of exploration I know 100% that there has been some amazing and deeper learning happening. It is my first attempt into gamification of learning and I know that there is much for me to learn and to improve on. It was personalised, the students made connections that they would not have made otherwise and they will remember this lesson for a long time. There was complete engagement of students and they were able to make clear parallels between the real world, virtual world and the past.

As I this lesson sequence was almost completed I had a Twitter conversation with Mark Anderson and Phillip Cowell. Phillip Cowell sheared with me his post Sim City – it’s a Simulator, not a Game. If you are interested in this type of lessons I urge you to follow the link and read Philip’s  post.  It has a lot of good points and ideas. I prefer the idea of naming it a ‘simulation‘ rather than playing a game. Looking at how cities are planned and what cities need is a great topic and all students seem to cover at some point in their primary schooling no matter what education system you are in.

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WeChat – Essential back channel communication and free!

You may or may not have heard of the app WeChat, but if you have not it is something Add me!that you need to try out. You have Viber and WhatsApp and Messenger and iMessage and… but WeChat just seems to be that bit more. Plus, as the servers are hosted in China, you are able to access it without the need of a VPN. It is available on iTunes and Play Store and you can get desktop versions for Mac and PC.

So what other than the lack of VPN makes it good?

1. Simple and free messaging service, but it is not just text, you can also audio messages.

2. Video and Audio calls. I Video called my daughter in San Paulo Brazil from Nanjing China last week and the quality of visual and audio feed was spectacular.

3. The use of QR Codes to share contact details. If you scan my QR code and it sends me a friend request. Scan the image beside this text and I will send you a message back.

4. You are able to use it like a mircro-blog. This is the social media choice for my youngest daughter and shares her ‘moments’ with her friends on her own page.

5. It is request only. You can choose who you choose who you are in contact with and the level of what you share. You can also connect with people through groups and not be required to be a friend with them. You can also easily delete and block other users and share the way that people can find you – great security settings.

6. You can have a group conversation and you have a pretty limitless supply of group chats. I am in a Cricket and a Touch Rugby group and a China Tech Teachers group and it keeps everyone up to date with the information. If you get sick of being contacted every time a message is sent you can mute notifications, but if you have a question everyone in the group sees it and you get a reply pretty quick.

I am trialling a WeChat Group with my Under 12 Touch Rugby team. On the bottom of the latest parent letter  I copied a QR code for a group that I had just created. Parents just pull out their phone and scan the code when they get the code and they are added instantly to the parent information group – so far in 24 hours I have half the parents joined.

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24 hour Skypathon #pvSkype24

Today we were lucky to be part of the 24 hour Skypathon (#pvskype24), which is theFynn talking across the world masterpiece of Beverly Ladd (@BevLadd).

We sat with baited breath waiting for the call at our set time and spent the next 40 minutes sharing and questioning each other. The time difference was exactly 12 hours behind and it was magical to connect Nanjing China with Wilmington North Carolina.

We began with answering the host classes generated questions, which raised a lot of post Skype discussion. Then we moved onto on the spot student generated questions and the connections and comparisons grew. They sang to us and we taught them Chinese finger counting. Next my class were greeted by a Chinese American girl and the Chinese Finger Counting lesson - Number 8language switched to Chinese for a few minutes.

There were connections, new learning was made and thoughts and comparisons were pondered long into the day. I look forward to hearing the students comments on Monday morning once they have had the weekend to think them over. It was a great example of global learning and I take my hat off to Beverly Ladd for arranging and to the students of Pine Valley Elementary School for opening their classroom to the world for 24 hours!

Check out the hashtag on twitter to see the amazing connections.

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Makey Makey

Today I received my first Makey Makey and I am excited about the possibilities and seeing what my class will be able to do with it.

Created by Eric Rosenbaum & Jay Silver at the MIT Media Lab.

If you have no idea about what a Makey Makey is then follow the link to the official website, but in short you connect it through your USB port and then using Alligator Clips and the Makey Makey board you have an external Key Board. The innovative and awesomeness begins when you choose what you will use to make the key board connections. Look at the website, watch the video below and give it a go. Better yet, get a couple for your class and see what your students can do :) As soon as my class have a play I will share with you all what they have done ;)

This is a great link to get you started guide with your Makey Makey at Spark Fun.