Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


Project Pokémon! Year 1 #PBL inquiry into Australian insects and Japanese pocket monsters.

This week I’m launching my first whole class project with my year 1 class, the @Lionfish1L for 2015. The idea came from a recent trip to the Daintree Rainforest over the summer holidays. Whilst there, I was lucky enough to see my first ever Rhinoceros Beetle, cruising around the rainforest retreat where we were staying. Being a lover of insects and social media, I naturally picked the fine specimen up to take photos for my friends on Instagram.

IMG_4732 IMG_4668   IMG_4719

The photos sparked a Twitter conversation between myself, @pipcleaves and @debimoa, both of whom are experienced Japanese teachers. They informed me that Rhino Beetles, known as kabutomushi or helmet-bugs, are popular childhood pets in Japan. Pip said that at one point she and her children had three of them living in their house! We got to talking about how cool it would be to have one as a class pet and pretty soon we had formed the basis of a class project all around Rhino beetles, Australian insects and Pokémon.

I started looking into where you could buy rhinoceros beetles in Australia and found that they can be quite tricky to source. During my research I found a company in North Queensland that sells Rainbow Stag Beetles, a tropical rainforest beetle that’s similar to rhino beetles, only much more spectacular in colour. I’ve set up a terrarium and currently have a lovely specimen living in my home. They really are marvellous creatures, albeit nocturnal and somewhat shy. It’s been a bit of a learning curve trying to keep the terrarium at the right temperature and humidity and figuring out how to get it to eat.

IMG_5074IMG_5066 IMG_5089


The project outline is below. The basic premise is that students learn as much as they can about Australian insects and Pokémon, as well as how to draw cool cartoons. They will then create their own Pokémon based on an Australian insect of their choice, draw some awesome cartoons and put them on a blog to share with a class from Tokyo – I’ve managed to connect with year 4 class, @TISGrade4 on Twitter and they have already studied the project outline with interest!

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 10.30.10 pm

I’m going to launch the project tomorrow by showing my class their new beetle, letting those who are keen to check it out, and getting them to play a flash game on ABC Splash in which you explore an Australian garden searching for insects. Needless to say I’m excited about this project and can’t wait to see what fabulous creations my class come up with over the following weeks!

Leave a comment

Setting up your OLPC XO to display on an IWB.

For the past year, stage 1 one students at my school have each been allocated an XO laptop for class use. They’re pretty cool little laptops, with a bunch of ‘activities’ installed’ on their ‘Sugar’ Operating System for students to use. Some of the activities I use most frequently in class are ‘Speak’ – a text to voice application with a funky interface which speaks out any words that are typed into the machine. I find it useful for students to use during guided reading activities. Any group that I am not reading with can type in unfamiliar words and have the Speak activity say the word for them, without me having to be alongside them to help them. Of course, this doesn’t help them know what the word means, but for that, I get them to keep a log of the words they don’t understand, either in their books, on some paper, or using the Write application (below).


The Speak activity (image credit: http://one.laptop.org/about/software)

Write is basically a simple word processor for students to write with. For guided reading, students have a file called ‘Tricky Words’ into which they can type any words that they don’t understand for us to clarify together later. Of course, students can use this for any writing activity to be saved for later as all student activity is automatically saved in the machine’s journal until deleted.


The Write activity (image credit: http://laptop.org/en/laptop/start/activities.shtml)

Another activity I really enjoy using, particularly later in the year is Scratch, for teaching basic programming skillls in a really kid friendly way, but I’m guessing (and hoping) that most of you have heard of that.


Scratch activity (image credit: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scratch_(Programmiersprache))

Anyway, as good as some of the activities are, I find that mostly we use the XOs for accessing the internet so that we can get to our class Weebly or log in to our blogs in order to draft and publish posts. To teach stage one students how to do this, as well as any other work that requires a step-by-step process, it’s quite handy to have the teacher XO displayed on the IWB so that students can follow along and learn how to do it. This prevents the necessity to bolt around the class, trying to assist each student one by one.

To display your XO on the IWB requires a minor install on the machine itself, through some basic commands in Terminal and depending on whether you use Mac or PC, installation of some Virtual Network Computing (VNC) software.

In the interest of helping you out, here’s what you will need to do.

Most of the process is outlined on this wonderful post, but there are a few additional steps that I will outline below so that you are all set to go!

1. Firstly you will need to download Vino, the package that allows you to open up your XO for screen sharing through Terminal. You can do that here – just download the latest one.

2. From here you need to istall Vino by running the following command in Terminal:

sudo yum –y install vino

If you are with the DEC, you will need to do this whilst connected to your network at home or through a hotspot on your phone.

3. Once installed, you then need to run the following command through Terminal:


and modify the settings according to the post I linked to above.

I have found that you also need to add the requirement in preferences that users require a password in order to connect. I’m not sure why, but I’ve found that without adding that requirement, I have been unable to establish communication between the devices, and I have connected several now at work.

4. Once you have done that, you need to go back to Terminal to find your ip address by typing the following command:


This brings up the following info. The only thing you need to know is the number string highlighted.


5. The next step is to open your XO for screen sharing. That’s right, through Terminal again! Using this command:


You can then hit F3 to get back to the Sugar home screen.

6. If you are using a Mac, you then need to connect to your XO by screen sharing through the Finder -> Go -> Connect to Server menu. Type in your XO’s ip address which you found in step 4, and make sure you include vnc:// at the beginning.

If you are using a PC, you need to download and install some screen sharing software. I have been using RealVNC Viewer, just follow the installation and connection instructions provided when you download it.

OK, so now you should be good to get your XO up on your IWB. Hope it helps! :-)

Note: you will need to go into Terminal to find your ip address each time you want to connect to your XO, by typing


You will also need to open up your XO for screen sharing via:


If you’re not using Terminal very often, you should be able to do this simply by pressing the up arrow, finding the right command and pressing enter.

Happy XOing!

Leave a comment

3 reasons why having a connected classroom is awesome, important and necessary.

Back in the days before I was a teacher, one of the things that really got me interested in the profession was some of the epic things Bianca was doing with her classes – connecting them with people and classrooms outside of her immediate context, sharing what they had been doing and collaborating on things. For me, it showed how much school had changed since I was a student, how much potential there was now with ICT and social media to do stuff that really stretched beyond the classroom. I saw how excited Bianca used to get about the things she and her classes were doing, and suddenly school became more interesting to me.

Having had my own class full time for a year now, and having done some cool stuff connecting my class with others, I’d like to share a few reasons why, for me, having a connected classroom has been really cool.

1. Purpose/audience and engagement.
You could technically say that these are two separate reasons, but anyway…

Gone are the days in which students wrote things in workbooks to be marked by the teacher and then left in a tray, collecting dust, only to ever to see the light of the day in between leaving the classroom and being thrown in the bin. My students do the majority of their writing for an audience outside of their classroom. They may still use workbooks, but these are mainly for the purpose of drafting blog posts and other writing to be posted online, for drafting scripts for videos and screencasts. Here is a little list of some of the things my little K/1 class did this year, and who for.

♦        Paper Slide VideosPromise Road Kinder Panthers in Indiana

♦        The 20/30/50 WC   — Outback Turtles from North Star, also @Beyond57

       Blog posts              — @Beyond57, Coffs Harbour PS, South Grafton PS (and other mid-north coast schools), 3B Bees.

       Stories                    — Converted into picture books by @Beyond57

       Minecraft Videos    — Mid-north Coast kids, @Beyond57, Everyone

       Graphs & Maths     — @1RFirstGrade

Now obviously everything that my class created here was for an audience and clearly had a purpose beyond just submitting to me to ‘mark’ and give feedback. In addition to this, however, I find that this sense of purpose increases engagement, not only for myself as a teacher, but also for my students.

I personally find it more exciting to be making stuff for people who are interested in what I’m making, who are going to respond, and I find that students are too. I ask them, “Why are we doing this?” and, “Who for?” and students can tell me. They want to please their audience!

2. A meaningful context for kids to start thinking about the world around them, and the people in it.
Every time we connect with a new person or classroom, I discuss with my class where they are from. We open up the location on the IWB, discussing where it is in relation to us, distance, differences in climate, culture and food, proximity to places that they have visited and much more. Now I could stand in front of the board and do this any day of the week, but having classes from all over the globe connecting with mine provides a meaningful reason for us to be having these discussions.

Next February, when school goes back, I’ll be Skyping with a class from Canada to help kickstart the year. I know my students are really going to enjoy it, and it really will open up the world for them.

Check out this vid from the Kinder Panthers to K/1MEPS to see how little kids actually know about countries from the other side of the world and how connecting classes is an awesome way to teach them some more. (go to 2:00).

3. In a shrinking, globalised world, kids need to learn early how to collaborate on connected projects.
I have a few friends who work in academia and I’ve found that at the moment, the push for Open Science is quite strong. One of the reasons for this is that, currently, a handful of publishers have the dominant hand over what is published by hard working academics. This is problematic, not only because of the high profit margins under which they operate but also because open projects, in which all are able to contribute, modify, critique and publish tend to get meaningful stuff done much more quickly.

Have a look at some of the stuff that Matthew Todd at USyd has been involved with to get a better idea of why I think Open Science is important, and how connected projects are an essential part of the process – and the way of the future.

I believe that opening up the classroom, even if it’s as simple as by connecting classes from as early as K-2, is an important step in getting some meaningful work done and helping students realise that their learning can, and in some cases does, have implications beyond the four walls of their classroom.

There you go, I reckon the connected classroom shredz.

Leave a comment

Taking action through project-based learning.

A couple of years ago, I learned a cool little acronym related to project-based learning, service learning, or any other form of pedagogy which involves students tackling real-world problems and, in particular, taking their learning outside of the classroom in order to attempt some kind of meaningful social change.

This acronym is the ‘The 3 As’.

I learned the acronym from Suzie Boss, who is a legend, and I’m pretty sure I’ve written about them here before, but it’s taken me quite some time to figure out a good way to implement them well with my class.

So what are the 3 As? Let me explain.

A real world problem or issue is identified and students take action in order to address it.

Students raise awareness of the issue, how they have taken action to address it.

Students advocate for others to also take action toward solving the problem.

In the last term of school my class decided to clean up the school by collecting rubbish from around the grounds. We categorised the rubbish we collected, tallied up the data over a period of three weeks, and made bar and line graphs with the data we had collected. These were the first steps we took toward taking action on the issue of cleaning up the school.

IMG_3444 IMG_3292 IMG_3294IMG_3444

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 4.59.55 pm4

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 5.08.58 pm

My students then used the information they had gathered and graphed as stimulus for a few blog posts in which they appealed to other classes in the school to clean up the playground and reduce their littering. We also shared our graphs and blog post with a school over in Boston, Massachusetts!




I think that these are some cool examples of kids doing some really meaningful stuff at school at a very early age. We were also epic enough to get an article in one of the local papers. My students were heaps excited to see that what we had been doing was cool enough to have interest from the media.

In terms of advocacy, I was particularly pleased when a student who had been found littering was brought to my class in order to see what we had been doing, and why he might like to think differently in future. My students presented their work to him and explained why it was important to look after the environment. As he left the class, one of my students  said, “So next time you see something on the ground, pick it up and put it in the bin. Look after the playground, yeah?”

K:1L Article

Anyway, it made me happy. :-)

Leave a comment

Celebration of learning: #Davo2MEPS.

This year my class has been collaborating with Bianca’s class of year 7 kids from Davidson High School. During term 1 and 2, @Beyond57, as they call themselves on Twitter, would pick the images for our 20/30/50 word challenges, read our responses and choose a ‘writer of the week’ to whom I would would give a book reward in order to encourage reading and writing.

In term 3 they collaborated with my class on a picture book project by choosing digital images for the stories we had written, embellishing the narratives in some cases and transforming our stories into awesome picture books using a variety of tools such as Word, Powerpoint and Storybird. We published these books by ordering softcover copies of those made in Storybird, or simply colour printing and binding the other ones at Officeworks.

The culmination of this year of learning together came last Thursday when my wife, along with her lovely class of year 7 students travelled by bus over to Merrylands to read the picture books to my class, watch our Minecraft movies, eat lunch and play games together. It was great.

We started the day by getting together in my classroom and listening to my students present their Minecraft projects to year 7. They did so well and I was so happy to see how confident these little K/1 kidz were presenting their work in front of a whole bunch of ‘scary’ big kids. I got all emotional and honestly almost teared up while I was watching them present, like a big wuss!

IMG_3733 Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 6.51.58 pm IMG_3734

Students then got into groups and the Davo kids read the picture books to the MEPS kids. They planned short plays in which they reenacted the stories for the rest of the class in the MEPS ‘amphitheatre’! Some of my students’ parents had visited for the event and they were very happy to see their children read their stories and act out the narratives.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 7.08.53 pm IMG_3736 IMG_3738

Following this we watched some stop motion animations that were made by @Beyond57, had some lunch together, and said goodbye. My students had such a wonderful time, they told me that they wished the older kids didn’t have to leave. Again, I almost teared up as they left. What an awesome way to end a cool year of PBL.

IMG_3747 IMG_3746 IMG_3749

Leave a comment

Project-based learning and #Minecraft mayhem: 6 epic videos made by my K/1 class.

So the year is coming to a close and I find myself madly trying to get everything done before I say goodbye to my wonderful K/1 class. This term we’ve been working on a couple of really cool projects; one on collecting data on the amount of waste around the school each week, and another about how kids can demonstrate their learning in the sandbox game, Minecraft. I think they’ve both gone really well, but I’ll tell you about the Minecraft project now.

The driving question for this project is, “How can K/1L show their learning in Minecraft?” and the project outline is below.

The idea is that students think about what they’ve been learning in class, either recently, or at any other time throughout the year, and build a representation of what they have learned. If you think about that, it might seem to some 5-6 year old kids like a tricky thing to do. In order to be successful, students have to know enough about a particular topic in order to write about it, build something in an abstract, 3D environment in order to represent it, and to plan, script and narrate a video walkthrough of their build in order to demonstrate what they have learned and made.

For this reason, it doesn’t seem that surprising to me now that when I first introduced the project many of the kids in my class looked at me like, “WTF – I don’t get it.”

This situation was easily rectified, however, by watching a whole bunch of YouTube videos together as a class, showing how other students had done similar things in Minecraft at school. With a bit of discussion, think, pair, sharing, it wasn’t long until all of my class had decided on something that they felt confident in building. Below I’m going to post the videos that my class have made with a brief description of what you will see in each clip.

Just briefly, could I please say that, in my understanding, an important component of project-based learning is supposed to be getting students to create a product of ‘real world value’, for a public audience outside of the school classroom. Now you might ask what sort of  ‘real world value’ a video about Minecraft could possibly have. I urge you to scrape even just a little under the surface where you will find a whole world of massively popular YouTubers (such as YOGSCAST, Captain Sparkles and  Tobuscus) who have made a name for themselves doing exactly that.

Anyway, here are their awesome videos.

Minecraft Maths Game

Now, I put that video up first because there is actually quite a lot to discuss. My students describe how the game works in the video, so I’ll let you watch that to find out, but here’s some stuff that we had to figure out together.

  • How do we make the game challenging? The questions get harder as you get through.
  • How do we put in aspects of chance and consequence? If you get a right answer, you get a new question. If you get a wrong answer, you go into a room with a horrible monster.
  • Why would you want to complete the game? You get a chest filled with goodies at the end.
  • How do we stop evil mobs from destroying the house? Set to /MobGriefing False
  • How do we stop players from escaping the house by breaking it? Switch to /gamemode 2

And many more. Problem solving central! Equal Groups

For this video students really had to know their number of groups VS number in each group distinction. I think we got there. I love the excitement in their voices when they finish the video and the collaboration and support for each other you can hear in the group narration – beautiful.

3D Shapes Houses

This group had a pretty cool team leader who really supported the rest of her team get through. Originally they had decided to build 2D shapes but we realised that they had actually built 3D shapes with their houses and discussed what shapes they had built, revising space and geometry from earlier lessons throughout the year.


Another important aspect of project-based learning is student ‘voice and choice’. Now during the class discussions I mentioned earlier, one of the groups said, “We can teach people about dragons!” We hadn’t actually been learning about dragons in class but I didn’t want to crush their freedom of choice. We went on to learn about dragons, particularly the difference between traditional Eastern Vs Western depictions in mythical literature. They tell you in the clip.

Also, this team worked fantastically well together and were first to finish at every stage of the project. I attribute this to a number of things, such as joint interest in the project, task complexity and limited parameters around what they had to build – but also to extensive discussion around what makes a good team member, referring to the class poster below!


Silkworm Life Cycle

Early in the term I brought a bunch of silkworms into the classroom and we did the standard lessons around life cycles and tried to keep them alive. They died, but I like to think that they live on forever in this video and it’s great to see that my students have totally nailed the concept whilst being creative at the same time.

Anyway, that’s some of what my class has been doing this term with their project-based learning. We do have one more video to upload, I’ll update the post as soon as we can get it done.

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE: The final group took a little longer than the others to finish their video due to absences and overseas travel. I’ve posted it below and, just like the rest of them, it’s awesome!

Leave a comment

My class is digging Minecraft. I’m digging ‘stealth assessment’.

Ever since my kids started playing Minecraft a few years ago, and beginning my teaching degree, I’ve been wanting to use Minecraft in the classroom. Way back in 2011, when my son was in his final term of year 1, he made this epic video on how to make a cannon in Minecraft.

For me, this clearly demonstrates how Minecraft can be used in and outside of the classroom for kids to meet a wide range of syllabus outcomes and, more importantly, demonstrate their learning in a way that’s clearly engaging and enjoyable for them. I wrote a blog post about this some time ago, and looking back at it, there is so much more that this game allows students to do that I didn’t even go into in that post. Anyway, like I say, I’ve been thinking about Minecraft in the class for a while and, luckily for me, I was given a folder towards the middle of last term which allowed me to get Minecraft up and running on the school computers.

At first I just kinda used it in a carrot on a stick fashion to motivate student writing. I set up a K/1L Minecraft world in which students were able to begin building their own houses, all linked to each other along a K/1L world cobblestone pathway. Students had to write blog posts for me, telling me what they were planning to build in our world, drafting them in their books for me to mark before posting them on their individual KidBlogs. This was fun and was quite effective in getting them to write and in increasing the volume and quality of their writing, but this term I wanted to do a little more group work with Minecraft by including it in this term’s project-based learning.

Some of my students are also in their final term of year 1, just like my son was when he made a screencast of his Minecraft work back in 2011, so I know that they’re capable of doing something similar. They’ve been doing #PBL for a while now, so their teamwork is pretty good, and I’m confident that my year 1s can help their kindy peers do what they need to do in order to get through what they need to do for the project, too. The project outline is below.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 9.21.44 pm

Initially when I floated the idea of ‘sharing their learning’ in Minecraft with them, they all kinda looked at me with blank faces like, “What?” I tried speaking with them about what we’d been learning in class and all of the stuff we’d been doing in Minecraft. We spoke about what some of the other classes we have connected with have been doing and they were still like, “What?”

The thing that finally made it click for my students was sitting together as a class and watching a whole bunch of Youtube videos of kids that had used Minecraft in school and what they had done. I don’t have the links handy, but if you have a bit of a search around, you can find some cool stuff. We then had another discussion about what we had been learning and I asked my class if they now thought they might be able to think of something they could build.

Immediately one of my students said, “I could probably build equal groups”. Great! She is now in the Equal Groups team building stuff with her peers. At the moment I have 6 teams for this project, and the things they are building are 2D and 3D shapes, the silkworm life cycle, dragons, castles, the equal groups I just mentioned along with something that I think is really abstract and awesome – a maths game.

The game goes like this. You walk into a house and you are met with a series of signs telling you the instructions for the game. You walk on and find another sign with a maths problem. Behind the sign are 3 doors, each with a sign above them displaying a potential answer to the problem. If you choose the door with the right answer, you are allowed to pass through into another room in which you are met with another maths problem. The questions get harder as the game progresses. If you choose any of the doors with the wrong answer, you are locked inside a room in which you get attacked and killed by Minecraft nasties! It’s evil, sadistic and I love it!

So far this project has been really fun, and as an added bonus, it’s allowed me to formatively assess the kids on a range of topics in a non-obtrusive and engaging manner, without them really even being aware that I’m testing them. For example, with the maths game group, one of the students said, “At first the questions will be easy like 1 + 1 and then they’ll get tricky like 20 + 20″. I explained to the student that people should be able to answer that easily just by counting by tens and that so should he and he was like, “Oh yeah!” and we decided to come up with questions that would challenge students of his age at maths. Now I have a really good idea of where he is at with addition and subtraction and how to extend him.

This is called ‘Stealth Assessment’ in the research literature – the notion of embedding good assessment within video games. You can read about here and here, I think it’s great.

Below are some screenshots of some of our builds, including our developing dragons and maths game! I can’t wait wait to get started on the screencasts and uploading them to Youtube. A cool way to end the year.

IMG_3247 IMG_3248 IMG_3245


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,236 other followers