Really getting into Coding with Scratch

It has been too long since I have written here (there are dozens of unfinished posts over the past 3 years, but few published). I am now in Vietnam and teaching ICT, rather than a classroom teacher, and it has been a whirlwind of difference. It is a much bigger school, but as I teach most of the students I get to know them all and it allows me to be the kind of teacher that I normally am.

Big change as been, other than having access to Google again, the amount of coding that I teach using Scratch and it can be upwards of 15 hours a week. I feel that I now dream in Blockly and ‘if then’ or ‘forever’ loops. It is like being immersed in a language and it has increased my knowledge beyond all belief.

Year 1 throughscratch-music 3 are using the offline editor and are learning to make instruments play a tune or making balls bounce around the screen and play a recorded sound when they collide. Year 4-6 are making playable video games and now beginning to realise that they are able to create games in their own time (such as the final scratchgame).

Scratch has recently introduced Educator Accounts, for which you need to apply and get approval (a day to wait), but this now allows you to manage multiple online classes, reset their forgotten passwords, add or remove students and sign them up without the need for email addresses to login – such a time s
aver and it may help me keep my hair a few more years.

There are scores of resources out there, any question that you have is answered by a forum post or YouTube tutorial and once you give it a go your students will love it. I know that when they get to Secondary they will be problem solvers, better at logic and reasoning and have a good understanding about how code is laid out and how to change variables and create loops and conditionals.

My first successful game (Even though it has a glitch or too)


This game was created by a student as part of his International Week homework to teach visiting year 2 and 3 students about Ecuador in a fun way.


For 2013/14 I will teach… My pledges for the next school year.

As I am now officially in my summer holidays (although I have a chilly -2 outside) I am ready to post the goals that I have set for myself for the rest of the 2013/14 school year.

For 2013/14 I will teach…5107173769_8cee35848b

…with clarity and purpose.

Taking into account what I have taken away from my time with Gail Loane and Kath Murdoch with regards to writing and inquiry teaching I will make sure that within my teaching I will have the outcome and purpose clear all of the time, not just most of the time.  Additionally I am also wanting to use Guy Claxton’s Split Screen concept with greater openness with my class.  Letting the content have just as much importane as the concept and skills that are being developed within the lesson – I want my students to build their own thinkers toolkit as the the year progresses of knowledge, skills, learning approaches, thinking styles, reflective tools and ways of questioning.

…like a builder.

I remember talking to  my Grandfather as a wee lad and he told me that when you finished work for the day you always needed to clean up so that when you come in the next day everything is in order and ready for the day to begin.  So at the end of each day as I leave my class I will make sure that my tools are stowed away and that what needs to be done is done or if it is not completed it is added to a list and given a priority rating and a deadline.

…with connection.

I have already joined the Global Classroom, looking to rejoining the Travelling Rhino Project, thinking about Mystery Skype and will be blogging up a storm with my new class – Connected! 

…with innovation.

As technology moves along I wish to move with it, not two paces behind. I want to look into augmented reality as a way of getting students to share their learning with visitors and peers.IMG_0471-150x150

…like a Pirate.

Don’t just teach a lesson, create an experience.

P     assion
I     mmersion
R    apport
A    sk and Analise
T     ransform
E     nthusiasm

…without walls or barriers.

Other than the connection that happens through the web and technology tools (Skype, Blogs etc…) I want no walls (figuratively) between home and school, the environment around us and the classroom. This will happen through parents and experts  in the classroom, learning not confined to a text book, but in mand different contexts and 2013-2014-season-tease2taking every learning opportunity that comes my way.

…to the needs of each individual student.

As per normal, the needs of the individual, not a whole class approach. I am a firm believer that to reach equality in the classroom everyone must be treated differently.

Many of these things I already do, but I feel that with each of them I could do it better and that each of them could have more clarity and consistency, so they are my pledges for the next school year, but what are yours?

Does your class require students to be extroverts?

Susan Cain’s TED talk on the Power of Introverts has really made me think – “a third to a half of the population are introverts”. Like her, I have had to force myself to be an extrovert in professional situations and I avoid large social situations, and the staffroom, like the plague as I do not enjoy the multiple conversations bouncing around the room.

I am a firm believer that, as a teacher be you introvert or extrovert you have to be out there, teach with passion and flare, or Teach Like a Pirate as Dave Burgess says, and hook your students into learning and develop that passion for knowledge and curiosity. But, then do we always allow that space or opportunity for the introvert to operate within the class?

I have quiet working spaces and caves. Provide opportunities to work outside or use earmuffs to remove the background chatter.  I allow wait time with students, so they have time to process their response and make sure that I have a quiet chat with each student every day.  As a class we have modelled and pulled apart co-operative, paired and individual learning and I allow opportunities for student to choose how and where they work. I would like to think that the needs of the introvert is catered for in my classroom, but am not 100% sure.

Now to the next tricky question. How often is the introvert teacher shut down in the  staff room or in meetings by the extrovert teacher? Or, how often

Click to Enlarge - Borrowed from Twitter, but can'f find where.
Click to Enlarge – Borrowed from Twitter from @Psychology.

is the introverts idea squashed because it is not out there enough? Or, more commonly, how often does the introvert teacher not contribute in staff meetings because they just do not feel comfortable? I do not know the answer to those three questions or even if they are real issues, but they are things that we need to think of as educators.

We need to nurture and empower the introverts in society or schools or staff rooms and allow them the opportunities to be who they are and allow them to become the person they will be, not force them to become extroverts because we think it is the way we all should be.

Applying the SAMR Model to my classroom

After refocusing myself with my blogging process and jumping back to the beginning with my students I have been looking quite closely at my integration of technology within my classroom. I have just read a posting by Jackie Gerstein discussing how many schools Teach Web 1.0, claim 2.0, but should be aiming for Web 3.0. She uses the term Heutagogy and lifelong learning . Then in a chat with a colleague on twitter it was raised that we say 21st Century Learning, yet we are into the 13th year of the 21st Century, so should we just now call it learning?

When visiting Point England School in the Manaiakalani Cluster in Auckland last year there was a presentation from the school ambassadors, a group of year 6 students who welcome the many visitors to the school and share the learning and vision of the school. Each child shared their education story and had a paint drawn picture on the projector behind them. Their pictures included images such as the iPhone and Steve Irwin. They then asked us why they had chosen those images, as they were there for a reason, the reason was that those things, the first iPhone, the death of Steve Irwin, happened in their first few weeks of education. The then articulated that prior to these things, quite big events in our lives, were just history like we view World War 1 – they were their past, and things happening before them were not a part of their life. They are here now and want to be taught in the now, not the past.

So how do we see the effectivness of our teaching and use of technology? Other than observing students, their creations and their progress, we can apply the SAMR model to our classroom. Are we enhancing with Substitutuon or Augmentation or are we Transforming the learning with Modification and Redefinition?

My Class as of Week 7 Term 1 2013
Publishing writing on Word: Some feel that this is not nessasary, but my kids love it, get to learn skills like typing, text modification, digital layout of a page and inserting images. (I could almost argue that it was Augmentation)
Monline Basic Facts Games – Great for taking into deeper levels of knowledge and for kids to learn without really knowing that they are learning, but could almost be as effective with board games.
Learning Based Games Such as Mathletics and STEPs to Literacy: Direat data is availible to me as the teacher and able to design the learining to the individual students. They are also able to use at home.
Blogging: Like buddy classes that you would send letters to and recieve back 3 months later if you were lucky, of often that never returned.
Email and Text Messaging: Notes would usually get home, phonecalls would usually get the parent, but an email is quick and easy, as is the text message, and communication is instantaneous and a connection is made.
Audioboo and Soundcloud: Takes the 20th Century tape deck and records instantaneously to be ombeded in blogs.
Blogging: The walls of the classroom are torn down and parents now get to see what is happening. They have the cues to discuss with their children as they hae seen the images of the firld trip before the clild had gotten home from school.
Skype: You are now inside another classroom and connecting with them. responding directly to their questions and asking your own.
Digital Creation: At the moment this is Modification, but I hope that by the middle of the year it will have moved onto the redefinition stage. iMovies created by 7 year olds to share with Quad Blogging classes on the other side of the world what our school looks like and why it is special.
Digital Photos and Digital Photo manipulation.
…now this is where I am lacking and where I wish to head towards. Movies at the moment are teacher directed, as we are still learning some of the skills, but when they become a tool for sharing their learning, when the music on the clis was created bythem or sources by them from Creative Commons sites, oh the creation will be very different. I feel that once they take ownership of the learning and take the skills that they have developed and make their own meaning then I will have reached the Redefinition stage and this is where I aim towards.

OK, so I’m here. I’m a teacher living and teaching in the 21st Century, not a 21st Century Educator, heck I graduated in 2002 and began Teachers College in 2000, so have not ever trained or taught in the 20th Century. I feel that I am Enhancing with my use of technology and branching into Transforming and though assessing my practice I have a clearer Idea of where I am and where I want to go.
I finish with a quote I read today “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking”.


Learning Spaces a week later

A lot of time and effort was put into class design this year. I visited other classes, researched papers, discussed with peers and parents and I think that for the beginning of school year Room 6 was an exciting place to be. The week before school began I posted my journey so far on this blog and Tweeted it out for comments and suggestions. All were positive and helpful; I had comments from teachers with links to their journey, was sent articles from journals and newspapers on the subject to help with my ideas and even had comments from designers with an interest in education. In a day the posting went around the world several times and I was sure that I had all bases covered.

I had spent so much time setting it out mentally and physically that when the parents and students arrived on the first day I was just so excited to explain and have them explore and test and trial and critique my design and when they arrived they did…

Parents thought that it was fantastic and that the idea of their children getting to work out what type of environment suits their learning best was nothing but a positive. Strangely, most parents wanted their child to either work next to their BFF or in a cave, where there was no distractions from the other ‘noisy’ children. I think that this could be a separate posting by itself.

Many of my past students were very excited in the furniture and design, but what I had not taken into account was the excitement than many of the younger children place on moving up to where you have your own desk with a space inside that is just for you. Initially having a tote tray for your belongings (book, hat and pencil case) and baskets to keep all of your subject books in was not acceptable in the eyes of the Year 3 students. It was if they felt slighted by me trying to be innovative and attentive to their learning needs.

At the end of day one I looked at the way the class had been used for the day and saw that 75% had claimed a space of their own and marked it with drink bottles, stationary and clothing. The other 25% loved it and were trying anywhere and everywhere that they could find a space to work. It was quite disheartening but I knew that it was early days.

The next day I removed a few of the desks and added a standing table and began to scaffold the students understanding of the different learning spaces, as I realised that what was missing was the understanding of how they worked. We spent the day working in different places, moving around, reflecting on the work output in regards to quality and creativity and the on-task nature of each student in each space. The next day it had swapped and only 25% were sticking to the same spot.

Now a week and a half later the design is working and the class is humming. A few of the boys have found it so successful working in a cave type environment that they do not want to leave and we have had a lot of reflective circles at the end of the day discussing how we need to learn to work in all environments. The research and preparation is paying off so far although the journey is still in its early days.

Next steps are getting the kids to identify what spaces work for what type of learning and to get some of the learning language being developed around their environment. Additionally, I would like the class to take control of the design spaces and where they are set up, but that will not be untill later in the year.

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Trying to create a diverse learning environment

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With the beginning of a new year and 80% of my students moving onto the next year I have decided that the learning space of Room 6 needs a drastic change.  The two catalysts for this change were the Central Lakes ICT Cluster visit to schools in Auckland last year and ICOT thinking from last week. Stonefields, Summerlands and Albany Senior College use their space in such a way that students get to take ownership of the learning and also find a space that fits their learning need whether it is collaborative, paired, whole class of independent.

Professor Peter Barrett of Salford Universities research paper on the analysis of the impact of classroom design on students learning identifies the learning environment as a huge part of a student’s ability to succeed or struggle.

The paper claims that various built environment factors have a significant impact on the learning progress of a pupil. Comparing the worst and best designed classrooms in their sample of 34 classrooms across 7 different UK schools, differences in learning progression are 25% on average. Or in short: well-designed classrooms can increase the learning progression of a pupil by 25%.

Taking this into account and looking at the theory of ‘Caves, Campfires and Watering Holes‘I have tried to make the classroom as accommodating for every child.  Although restricted by fixed items such as walls, IWB and wet area I have attempted to add various spaces within the classroom as interesting as possible.

Several trips to the local Wanaka Wastebusters has gained me some inexpensive furniture of an armchair, couch and library corner.

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By getting the handy caretaker to modify some soon to be scrapped pin boards I have created some study booth type ‘Caves’.

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And then the rest of the class has been laid out into cafe tables with stools, kneeling tables, group tables and collections of desks.
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In conclusion, there are a few other small differences this year in comparison to previous years… there is not enough desks for each child. Yes there are enough working spaces within the classroom and there are actually 33 spaces for 25 children not including couches, the floor or outside, but there are not enough physical desks.  This came about by reading Stephanie’s blog post about initial classroom set-up where she pointed out that when space was a premium there was not need for all to have a desk, as rarely do they all use them at the same time, and that by not all having a desk the students must actually share and co-operate together to decide who works where and in what learning area.

But now the classroom is set, the first day is ready to begin and I look forward to trying to articulate to my students why there is not a desk with their name on it.

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