A pretty amazing year…

With only a day and a half left I have been reflecting quite a bit lately and have to admit that this year was probably one of my most enjoyable in the past 16 years in the Education Game. My class was small with on 15. Although only one was a native English speaker there was no language barrier and every one of the class (they are 10 year olds) spoke at least 2 languages fluently and I had one wee lass who spoke French, German, Polish and her English and Chinese are getting pretty good too!

So how has the year been? Highlights? Successes? Achievements?

Code Club got started up and I have got many students from Year 1 – 11 interested in Coding. I am in no way an expert, more someone who has an interest, but maybe one of these students will get hooked and be a coder of the future.

For the first time in my career I was a tutor teacher and my teaching assistant completed her teacher training and has been an amazing asset and friend as well as making me think reflectively constantly.

I got my first Makey Makey – SO MUCH FUN!Makey Makey

I got to play with Lego NXT robots and ran several 10 week sessions with high school students. As each lesson progressed my knowledge grew and so did the passion and enjoyment of each student.

I tried out for the ADE 2015 intake and although I missed out it was the most reflective thing I have ever undertaken.

With a colleague we started an after school Touch Rugby team and entered many under 13 tournaments. We lost, then lost again and lost many more times, until our final tournament in Suzhou where we left with the winners trophy.

Awesome School Trip to Anhui where we stayed at a monastery and picked tea and grew as a class.

For a bit of fun I took a Year 1 robotics class for a few weeks using Bee Bots – So much Bee Botsfun and a lot of opportunities to develop students understanding of beginner robotics.

Taking part in Beverly Ladd’s 24 Hour Skype-a-thon was pretty epic.

I rekindled my love of blogging after a years absence and I hope to keep it up for the rest of my teaching career.

Although there have been many more it was yesterday, in the second to last day of term when I knew that the year had been a success. I showed the class a quick slide show of the year, the events, the students who have left, what we have done and what we achieved and then said “You now get the opportunity to share your highlights of the year. I do not mind how you share and you have until you think you are ready”.

Organised Chaos of Creation
Organised Chaos of Creation

Students scrambled off to create posters and slideshows and speeches and movies and booklets and animations. They worked individually, in pairs and in threes. They were focused and determined and collaborative and creative. They worked collaboratively and independently. The class was a mess of play dough, coloured card, kids on bean bags, crayons and felts, lego mini-figures and focused kids. In short it showed me that I had helped instill in my students the skills that I think they need to have, the mindsets that are essential for their learning development and as a bonus – They were all smiling!

So here is one of the animations. Some of it may not make sense, but the creativity of these two girls from two very different cultures and backgrounds just makes me feel proud to have been their teacher.

When you have everything just fall into place

I have taught a Lego Robotics Club for the past year as an after school activity and there have been good times and bad. There have been the great successes and aha moments, but they have been overpowered with lack of space and resources or havingMondstorms - Smiles kids who do not really want to be there.

Today was the beginning of a new session of ASAs and I had a senior student group of 17 kids. I was a bit worried, but I was prepared. I booked my classroom as the venue and made sure that there was enough resources to cover the group -living in China has it’s benefits and Taobao is one of them as I was able to pick up two new NXT Mindstorms sets quickly at a really cheap cost and no importing hassles. I collected a series of inspirational clips from YouTube showing what can be done with Mindstorms and WeDo and off we went.

I must say that it was a huge success and even though I could have used another kit or Makey Makey Pacmantwo it was clear through the engagement of the students that all is good. They were enthusiastic, questioned, worked together and built. When the groups of 3-4 began to look like they were too big I pulled out the Makey Makey kit for its first exposure to the students and they were wowed. Tea light candles became the buttons for Pacman and there was laughter and a whole new round of wows and aha moments. The board in the back ground continuously screened mammoth lego machines in action and there were sighs and cries of ‘Nooo…’ when I informed them it was time to pack up.

Additionally, this was the first time that I had had girls sign up for the club and they Mindstorms - Girls at workwere into it and more focused.

Next week – complete building and begin learning about programming. My main goal is to keep them focused and enthusiastic, but I feel that a few Makey Makey challenges will suit the purpose and do the job.

End result – 17 students developing an interest in Robotics and computer science and one teacher feeling very pleased about how his club went.

Here is their favourite of the motivational clips…

A quick lego hack to save a few dollars

I always like the idea of taking something and hacking it into another and as you may know I am a Lego geek. After playing with lego gears and motors from the WeDo set I cam across the video below and it looked like a pretty fun way to try and create something new for a virtually no price.

Small gearTake a 50cent motor from your electronics resources, a peg to star technic connector, a small gear and a hot glue gun and a AA power source. Glue the peg to the drive shaft of the motor and make sure that it sets straight. Wait five minutes and you have a mIMG_0218otor. Now the motor is very simple and a bit too powerful, but I am sure that with a bit of gearing down you can make it work quite nicely.

It is as good as a store bought motor? No, but it is always a lot more fun and rewarding when you make it yourself.

Watch the video below and give it a go or show your class and let them have a go 🙂

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.

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. 

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. 

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.