Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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Minecraft across the curriculum: K-6.

A few weeks ago I presented at a teachmeet at the the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, AKA the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The topic was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) + X (STEM+X). The idea was to share some of the things you have done and/or are doing in your classroom or workplace around integrating STEM with other KLAs, for example, a STEM and PE project would be STEM + PE.

When I was asked to present, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share how I’ve been using Minecraft in my classroom over the last few years and how it really can be used across all subject areas. Just like the ‘play’ within the game itself, what you do with it in the classroom is only limited by your own creativity and that of your students. Below I will share some of the cool things that my students and i have done and how they link to KLAs across the curriculum.

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Science

Above are some screenshots of some science projects that I have run with my students. Last year, my students completed a project with the driving question, “How can K/1L show their learning in Minecraft?” One of the groups made a representation of a silkworm life cycle by building the different stages and then sharing a screencast and overlaid audio to demonstrate what they’d learned.

Now, not only does this video demonstrate sound knowledge of stage 1 science outcomes, it also demonstrates how my students have achieved outcomes in the English syllabus by creating multimodal texts and reflecting on their own and others’ learning.

The other screenshots are of the seven buildings my year 1 class made during a science project in which they had to build a city in Minecraft. The driving question was, “Can mini MEPS people design a dream city?” Again, this crosses outcomes across both the science and English syllabuses. There was even a bit of stage 1 mathematics in there as we discussed the different areas and volumes of the buildings and had to count and measure distances between windows and doors with pinpoint accuracy. Plus it was loads of fun. My class still love visiting Lionfish City!

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Technology and Engineering

Above are some screenshots of some work done in a Minecraft mod called Computer Craft. With this mod you program a little computerised turtle to build and dig for you. I made mine build a house for me and at the moment I have students from year 1 through to year 4 working regularly on Thursday mornings and within my year 1 class on a Friday to challenge themselves to do the same. Some of them are up to the point where they can get it to build four walls, and I will be teaching them how to write a ‘for’ loop in Lua so they can get the turtle to change inventory slots when it runs out of blocks.

It’s a really cool mod, because unlike more basic programming tools like Scratch, you can actually switch between  a visual, block style editor and a programming editor which allows the keener kids to get a sense of what’s going on with the actual language itself. If kids can understand that, then they are taken a decent step towards a proper understanding of programming.

Now, computer programming isn’t in the NSW primary curriculum yet but there is strong talk to suggest that it soon will be, and kids who are doing this kind of stuff in Minecraft are already ahead of the curve.

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Mathematics

I have been using Minecraft a lot this year for extension in mathematics. For example, if a kid in my class totally nails what we are working on during our first lesson, there is no need for them to be sitting with the rest of the class who need further practise or additional (pardon the pun) help from me. In many cases I set them a Minecraft challenge, such as building a clock to show me a certain time to the half hour (as above) or showing me the difference between two numbers by building a series of towers and writing the number sentence on a sign (as above).

As with the videos shown above in the science section, last year my K/1 class made some maths themed Minecraft videos in order to demonstrate their learning. One group made houses out of 3D objects such as rectangular and triangular prisms, another shared knowledge of equal groups (multiplication), while another made a truly impressive and remarkable maths game in which are presented with a series of addition problems which increase in difficulty as the game progresses. Watch the video to see how it works. Again, these videos cross outcomes across several KLAs.

So, that’s the STEM stuff covered with Minecraft, how about the + ‘X’? Well, my friends, read on to find out!

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English

I’ve already mentioned how making videos in Minecraft is great way to work with the English syllabus. There’s a lot of teaching and planning that goes into each video as kids storyboard and write scripts to plan for what they will be saying over each video. Of course, as they speak over each video, they have to make sure what tey are saying is clear and audible – hence, talking and listening!

Above are some screenshots of videos about Minecraft castles and dragons made by the K/1 Koalas last year. We read a bunch of stuff about castles and dragons and watched a whole bunch of videos to make sure we knew enough about each topic to speak over our videos. Again, it was loads of fun. Who wouldn’t want to learn about castles and dragons!?

My students also do a lot of writing about what they do in Minecraft. You see screenshots of a Minecraft story written by one of my students very early in the year using Storybird, as well as some great writing by another of my students using Kidblog. It’s a cute little Minecraft love story which she wrote at home and then brought in to school so she could type it up on her blog and search for digital images to add to it.

I also teach my kids to search for images that are ‘labelled for reuse’ so that they are aware that it’s inappropriate and illegal behaviour to go around breaking copyright laws. All this at age 6!

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Visual arts

Now, there are any number of ways you can link art with Minecraft. You could get kids to do cool Minecraft paintings and artworks, or you could get them to make some interesting visual art themed builds based on their favourite artists. The limit is only placed by how creative you are in your thinking.

With my class, I decided to make an epically large, life sized gigantic creeper out of cardboard boxes and papier mâché. It took weeks and we had heaps of fun and made A LOT of mess. I still need to finish off the ‘pixels’ on top of his head and make it waterproof with some outdoor acrylic varnish. The kindy kids at school want to use it to post sight words on and do a weekly creeper hunt to find him located in random spots around the school. See, there’s that cross-curricular Minecraft stuff in action again – sight words!

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PDHPE

Above you can see screenshots of a video I made for a year 3 class a few years ago, all about sun safety. It’s all about a zombie who sets off to go fishing with his friend, Ralph. He is a very sun smart zombie and before he leaves the house he makes sure to put on his sunscreen and a hat. When he meets Ralph, he discovers that he is not so sun smart and has forgotten to protect himself. He subsequently bursts into flames!

I made this as a lesson intro but you could quite easily get students to make similar videos about a range of health related issues, such as healthy eating and hygiene. Again, the only limit is your creativity.

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Music

More videos made by me. One is of a cute little Japanese song called ‘The Frog Song‘ which I learned with the same year 3 class for whom I made the sun smart zombie video. I made the song by tuning note blocks in Minecraft and linking them to pressure plates to walk across. I then took a screencast of me walking across them to play the song. The other video is one I made of note blocks being linked to red stone circuits in order to play the intro Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’, I got the timing a bit wrong, but hey, it was my first attempt and red stone circuitry is tricky!

I am yet to do this with a class, but when I do, I would love to teach them the frog song and get them to go and build it Minecraft using red stone circuitry, maybe when I get a stage 2 class. It will be loads of fun.

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21st Century Skills

By now you would have heard a lot of talking about the need for kids to be equipped ’21st Century Skills’ such as communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital citizenship and ICT capability. How do we teach these skills? The ICT capability component is quite obvious with Minecraft, kids need to be able to navigate their way around a 3 dimensional computer world, using computer controls, while learning basic coding skills and knowledge of things like ip addresses in order to log on to your class server. However, what about some of those other skills?

There is a lot of ‘incidental learning’ which takes place on a Minecraft server. For example, in the screenshots above you can see a wither (a three headed Minecraft monster which flies around shooting flaming skulls at anything that moves). Now, obviously you don’t really want one of these flying around your server shooting at everyone and destroying all of your builds. Last year, however, one of my students purposely spawned one of these creatures in our class world, and it set about causing destruction. This prompted a server shut down and a lengthy class discussion around what it means to be a good digital citizen. How your online actions affect the online experience of those who share the same space. My students agreed that the wither spawning had not been a good idea and the student involved went on to write an apologetic blog post about what he had done and why it had been a bad idea. A blog post by a year one student regarding digital citizenship!

I also run a school Minecraft club on Wednesdays and Fridays in which I set club challenges using a Minecraft challenge generator. The amount of collaboration, communication and problem solving which goes on in these short meetings as students work together to meet these set challenges is amazing. Sometimes I jump in the world to help them solve these problems, but mostly I’m just there in the background watching as they work through the challenges together, all the while creatively mining and building away.

So there you have it, these are just some of the ways I have used Minecraft ‘gaming’ in my classroom and I’m sure I’ll find more awesome ways in future. You can see my presentation below if you’re interested, but I’ve basically just written you through it. Thanks for reading!

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1tFqVc9A-ezVC73hkkkFA8rInyMLQTAi0_gcmbaMvVIU/edit?usp=sharing


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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!


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Planning for project-based learning in primary school

Below I am going to post a .pdf of one of my typical programs for a primary school #PBL project. I’ve been asked to share this before and have previously given this link to Drew Perkins from the BIE, but I thought I’d also post it up here so that I can more readily look back on my awesome in years to come – lulz.

K:1L PBL

 

 

 

 

 

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You should be able to download the .pdf from the link above the photo, but failing that, you can get it via the link to the google doc here.

You will see that up the top, along with the project outline showing the DQ, need to knows, product and audience are a bunch of syllabus outcomes. These are here because, as a responsible teacher, I like to plan with the curriculum in mind. In actuality, not all of this content was explored as well as I would perhaps have liked, but it’s good to aim high! Also, as is always the case with #PBL, there is content that unexpectedly sneaks its way into the project, leaving you surprised and stoked with what has naturally and authentically been ‘covered’, with purpose.

I also like to plan for proper project-based learning, so you will see that I have outlined how the 8 essentials will be given the respect and consideration they deserve. As Bianca and I have said on numerous occasions, if you’re not including ALL of the 8 essentials, you’re not doing PBL. You might be doing elements of, but not the actual ‘thing’, ugh.

You will see that I have also attempted to give a weekly run down of what the class is expected to be doing. This is, of course, fairly vague and open ended because project-based learning is considerably less teacher driven and students are expected to have greater ownership over the learning process. If the program had a massive chart of explicit lessons, it would look like a traditional unit of work, not PBL.

To give an example of what I’m on about, I’ll briefly explain what’s happening with my current K/1 project which has unexpectedly become bigger than Ben Hur.

Last term we were working on some imaginative stories for a class of students in Wagga Wagga, NSW. I went overseas, the class over in Wagga were very slow in communications, and the project kinda went downhill. When I returned I started thinking about how I could ‘rescue’ the project and still keep it PBL. I decided to share the stories with Bianca’s year 7 class and we are going to publish them as a compilation of short stories with illustrations made by her class. We’ll be sharing them with our local libraries.

As we’ve an assembly item approaching, I thought it would be nice to perform one of the stories for the school. We have chosen our story and started practising and making costumes and props. I have had close to zero creative control over the process of costume and prop creation, aside from making a couple of templates for dragon wings and some of the complex Sellotape engineering required in order to keep them intact. You can see some of the works in progress below. What my little 5 and 6 year old students have done has truly astounded me. Powerful, student-driven #PBL #FTW.

No amount of lessons plans could have predicted that this!

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Observation at another PBL school: a kinda ‘out-of-body experience’.

Today was a great day. Bianca and I were lucky enough to be asked to visit the International Football School on the Central Coast. The IFS is a recently established independent school with a focus on project-based learning and, as the name suggests, football – and when I say football, I mean the type of football which many of us call soccer.

Basically, kids who attend IFS are kids who have demonstrated a strong interest in and talent for soccer and are committed to training every day in the interest of pursuing a career in soccer. They train for two hours every morning, under the tuition of professional soccer coaches before going to class to learn the NSW syllabuses under a project-based learning pedagogy.

Bianca and I were asked to visit the school for the day to share our own approaches to and experiences of project-based learning, before observing classroom practice to give general feedback and suggestions.  I enjoyed the informal, casual approach to the day, the learning that I witnessed occurring and, perhaps most selfishly, the opportunity to be in a PBL classroom other than my own and see first-hand how this works.

Below is the brief and informal presentation I gave to Shane, Karen and Todd in the morning to introduce myself. Basically we just spoke about of some of the reasons for doing PBL, things that should be included when planning a great project, and some outlines of projects I’ve either done or am doing, before jumping straight into teaching and learning.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XRtcey-8xTZhuVm-sfjYcOmksLRuiMiEztvdqK7rkXU/edit?usp=sharing

The project that Shane, Karen and their students are working on atm is based around getting kids to design and develop their own ‘Sideshow Alley’ – the kind of thing you see at places like the circus or Luna Park where you get to place ping pong balls into clowns’ mouths and throw darts at balloons. The students, all in stage 3, have to research and design their own versions of these games, build them, before advertising, promoting and hosting their own sideshow alley for the younger kids at the school.

I was honestly impressed with what I saw. The enthusiasm, engagement and self-direction of the students was fantastic. If I were to offer any word of constructive criticism for Karen and Shane, it would be to consider how they could make the audience for their project more public. Perhaps by approaching a local operator of a business similar to a sideshow alley, Timezone or something.

Anyway, I should probably address my somewhat hyperbolic ‘out-of-body experience’ reference.

For me, visiting Shane and Karen’s classroom felt very much akin to that. It seems that there are increasingly more educators leaning toward PBL here in Australia, all at different levels of knowledge, expertise and experience. There’s no official ‘training agency’ for PBL and I think that’s the way it should always be.

PBL is about inquiry, and the very nature of inquiry is that you don’t have any or many of the answers. So you can never be an expert at inquiry unless you are willing to admit that you know very little. To be an ‘expert’ at PBL, you have to be an expert of the, “I know very little” mindset.

Another thing about PBL is that as a teacher you are constantly moving around. There is constant discussion, chatter, collaboration and noise. You’re involved and invested in all of this and, at times, not entirely sure of where all of it is heading. It can sometimes feel quite chaotic and it’s not until the project is finally over that you have some time to thoroughly reflect on how it all went.

Today, observing was a release from that. I was able to watch other PBLers in action, to speak to the kids and teachers, to learn with them and from them; to watch, listen, engage with and feel what it’s like to be in a PBL classroom. It was like having a bird’s eye view of my own class – an ‘out-of-body-experience’.

Coming from MEPS, I was also interested in how students were engaging with the open and flexible learning spaces. You can see some photos below. I particularly liked the spaceship table that the students had set up for collaborative learning.

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Later,  I visited the stage 2 classroom. I’d introduced Todd to genius hour earlier in the morning and he was enthusiastic about the concept. So much so that he decided to launch it with his class straight away.

After lunch at IFS, students have a bit of  ‘quiet time’. Today, this took place in terms of independent, personal interest research – AKA #geniushour, #AdventureTime, or whatever else you want to call it. I walked into a class of learners researching their genius hour projects and this is some of what I saw.

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I also saw students independently researching spiders, football players, basketball, NRL, Minecraft, fortune-tellers and dinosaurs.

Next,  students showed me some shelter designs for their ‘Survivors’ project. You can see them below.

 

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Take from this what you will. I took a further enthusiasm for learning.

 


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The best kinda structure’s no structure at all.

I’ve probably said this before but I reckon I’m pretty lucky to be working at Merrylands East Public School. It’s an innovative school in many ways; we have the change in opening hours (based on research) to support student learning, the absence of school bells, but perhaps the innovations that I find most valuable are the focus on student-centered  pedagogies.  At MEPS we have been allowed the freedom to experiment with alternative approaches to curriculum delivery, with the support and encouragement of the executive. My students have been relatively successful with project-based learning and I’ve now run cross-KLA projects with students in kindergarten, year 1, year 2, and year 6 on a range of focus subjects such as science, history and English.

As this year I’m on infants with a K/1 class, one of the things I’ve been encouraged to introduce is play-based learning. I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the topic and from what I’ve read, play-based learning involves providing students a range of opportunities for play, observing as they gravitate toward the activities which interest them, and building the curriculum around these natural interests by introducing inquiry questions based on what the kids are doing. I like how this article describes it as the emergent curriculum.

I thought awhile about the best way to implement play-based learning in my classroom. Some had suggested different ‘learning stations’ – tables with a range of different activities to which students rotate on some kind of timed system, with a chance to explore each activity. I thought this sounded OK and started thinking of ways the @K/1MEPS kidz could start getting bizzie wid play.

I found this cool thing posted on fb and these cool things at a local department store:

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I also like the idea of adding some dress ups and having a science style station where kids can plant their own seeds into some little clay pots that they can decorate and watch as the seeds sprout and grow into awesome little seedlings for them to care for. I’d like them to eventually plant them in the school garden so we can continue to care for them at school but if they want to take them home, I’d be down with that, too. 🙂

Anyway, not having everything that I wanted for them to get stuck into and not exactly sure how I wanted to introduce play-based learning into my class, here’s what I did.

We’ve been ordering heaps of organic veges and getting them delivered to our house and as a result have been accumulating a heap of cardboard boxes. I decided Friday was going to be the day so I brought them to school in Kombi Wheezer along with my newfound love – the Stickle Puffs! How did I structure the process?

I put the Stickle Puffs on a table with a cloth so kids could start to stick them together and create stuff and I put the boxes on the classroom floor. I chose some kids to go over to the Stickle Puffs and some to play with the boxes. Then I sat back and watched for a bit  before eventually helping them with their creations.

The kids were really into what they were doing. I didn’t get a single student ask me to leave the classroom to go to the toilet or get up to get their drink bottle from the back of the room. They were too interested and engaged with what they were doing. In addition to this there was natural problem solving going on.

Some kids had decided to make cardboard cars and others had decided to make stages for puppet shows. Both of these activities necessitated that students find the best way to keep their creations stable enough for proper use. Kids were experimenting with which materials and designs worked best for this. They were down on the floor, cutting away at the boxes, sharing sticky tape, staplers and opening up PVA glue; changing designs and materials as they saw appropriate.

Students were moving in between groups deciding who best to collaborate with and how they could help achieve the best design. They were naturally grouping themselves in pairs, triplets or quadruplets – based on their interests and approach to learning. I saw kids who wouldn’t normally choose to work with each other happily working away together trying to get their creations off the ground.

When it came time to go home, they didn’t want to pack up!

So with little to no structure at all my students have shown me in which way to direct their learning. The best kinda structure’s no structure at all. Of course, I’ll be facilitating and supporting their learning along the way, but I’m looking to continue taking a back seat. I plan to support them through channeling their inquiry – see questions below.

It says in this epic article, “Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment.”

I agree with this statement. Not only have I seen this in action in the play of my two sons, I could already see it in action in my classroom during our brief foray into play-based learning yesterday.

I also agree with the sentiment in this article that all too often educators expect children to behave like miniature adults when they think fundamentally differently to adults and their brains simply aren’t wired to think in this way. Kids need play.

Here are some of the questions I plan to introduce as we continue our classroom play in future. I’m sure that many more will arise.

Why is that box leaning in that way/collapsing?

How can we make it more stable?

What are the best materials to use/why?

Have you ever been to the theatre?

Shall we look at some stages?

Why do we need more than one wheel?

Why did you choose to put that there?

What will your puppet show be about?

What other materials do we need?

What can we do with the cars once they’re built?

Anyway, that’s enough rabbiting on from me. Check out some photos of my wonderful students as they were hard at play yesterday afternoon! 🙂

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And here’s a photo of something I made with Stickle Puffs with my nine year old last night – just for fun. I’m hoping my students will make something like this for their future puppet shows. Play-based learning #ftw!

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Kindy PBL: paper slide videos.

This year I have been fortunate enough to be given a temporary block with my very own class of kindergarten and year one students. For this term I have designed a project around the weird and wonderful creatures that are native to Australia. It’s been a joy to implement and watch as my students have been engaged and learning about some of the creatures we have here in our country. They have been researching with stage 3 students, using a range of paper and web-based texts, compiling their information and are now at the stage where they can put all of their learning together to make an informative video for some kindergarten students in the US who know very little about Australia in general, but much less about the creatures we have over here. If you look at the video below, you’ll see what I mean. Polar bears! #Lulz, #adorable.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibudekMTHic

Anyway, we’ve been working really hard to get all of the videos planned, designed and created so that we can upload them all before the end of term so that the Promise Road Kinder Panthers can view them when they get back from spring break. We’ve used this rubric, and whilst the language of the instructions is probably not suitable for children as my students, I didn’t bother changing it as the basic concept is all they need to understand. Put down your plans for each slide in the boxes provided, write down what is going to be said and who is going to say it. In future, I’d probably simplify the language but I don’t think it’s a massive issue as all of my groups have managed to plan their videos. You can see some examples of the planning below. It’s actually been quite good as a formative assessment tool to see how much students have learned about the content, as well as for basic reading, writing and spelling skills.

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As is always the case with project-based learning, I’ve found that some groups are progressing through the project more quickly than others. So as it stands at the moment, I have some groups who have yet to finish their slides, some who are practising for their video, and one group who has managed to finish their video. You can see it below, I think they did really well!

I love how you can hear them collaborating and whispering to each other as they remind each other of who is the next narrator! To make things fair and to ensure that everybody gets a role, I’ve made sure that the kindy kiddies in each group have been assigned at least one slide to illustrate and narrate. In this video there are two kindy kids in the group. One kindergarten kid narrates the opening slide and the slide with the information about what bilbies eat, whilst the other (quietly) narrates the final slide, followed by a repeat farewell from the whole class! The rest of the slides are narrated by year ones.

So anyway, there you have it, children can engage in project based learning as early as kindergarten. And they can enjoy it!

Thanks for watching!


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So we’re all eggs? Collaborative levelling up, @K1MEPS stylez.

Last year I had a go at using the K-2 teamwork rubric, generously provided by BIE, with the class I was working with at the time. I wrote about it, you can read it here.
Anyway, after my experiences working with the rubric there were a few things that I thought I might like to change a little to make it more effective for my class.

Some of these were:

Changing some of the icons to make them a bit more visually appealing, relevant and perhaps more personalised for any of my future classes. Don’t get me wrong, the icons on the BIE rubric are fine, but as with anything, it can always be better adapted to better suit individual contexts. If you read the post I linked to earlier, you would have learned that one of students had asked, “Why is the man shouting at the lady?” when we were discussing the ‘share my ideas’ icon, bless!

So with what I’ve just created, I decided to go with pictures of the Australian echidna at a few key stages in its life cycle. I did this for a few reasons:

1. We’ve been working for a little while on a project about Australian animals so I knew these images would be relevant to my students.

2. We recently learned that a baby echidna is called a ‘puggle’ and I couldn’t resist incorporating that word into our regular classroom discourse into whatever way possible. For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until a week or so ago) ‘puggle’ is the name given to a baby monotreme (echidna or platypus).

3. The different stages in the life cycles of monotremes show quite visually the levelling up process that I’m hoping to occur as students get better at collaborating with their peers. It goes: egg < puggle < echidna. My students are very young and respond well to visual cues, so I thought this would work quite well.

From experience, last time I also thought it would be helpful to add a space to put some comments and suggestions on how to get better. Last time we ended up flipping over to the back of the rubric and using that space for comments. However this time I added some space under each of the criteria to put some goals for the next time students work in teams. It’s not much but I think it will help.

One of the other changes I decided to make was adjusting the criteria for what constitutes a good team member. Again, it’s not that any of the criteria on BIE’s rubric are in any way deficient. it’s just that I think that any specified criteria would be more powerful, effective and relevant to students if they came up with the criteria themselves. My theory is that students are more likely to take ownership over any criteria and be more committed to working toward it if they themselves had come up with it, rather than having simply been given it at the beginning of a task or project and expected to live up to it. So that’s what we did.

We had a class discussion about what it means to be a good team member. I reminded K/1L that we’d be beginning to work increasingly in teams as we draw nearer to the end of our project, and that success with their paper slide videos would be dependent upon everyone in the team working together to complete the video. I reminded them that if any individual failed to complete their part of the video, they would be unlikely to get it finished, so we needed to consider how best to work in a team. This is the criteria we came up with:

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So at the end of today we went over the criteria again. I explained that we’ll be referring back to it regularly and that as we all get better at teamwork we’ll get greater team privileges and responsibilities. We discussed the progress from egg through to echidna. I think it was received pretty well.

One of my students asked, “So we’re all eggs?” and I said “Yes. Even I’m an egg. We’re all on the same team here and we all need to get better. I need to listen to you, you need to listen to me and we all need to work together.”

You can see the current version of the rubric below. I’m looking forward to us all becoming collaboration echidnas, with our epic spikes of teamworky goodness!

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Lessons from the bowl: bringing skate culture to the classroom.

Positive peer assessment and feedback is something that I really want to nail in my classroom. Well, perhaps more correctly, this is something that I want my students to be really good at. Whilst I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to achieve this, or what it’s going to look like, one thing I do know is that I would like it to look very similar to the kind of interactions seen at your typical local skate park.

Now if I ask you to conjure up images of skate culture in your mind, you could be forgiven for thinking of long-haired, scruffy looking dudes with tattoos and extremely casual clothing and for perhaps even wondering why I would want to bring anything like that into the classroom. Sure, you do see scruffy looking dudes down at the skate park, but if you’ve ever noticed the consistent positivity and supportiveness of the interactions between skaters, you’d probably understand why I think skate culture is perfect for the classroom. I’ll explain what I mean.

Both of my sons have been learning to skate for several months now. They started by going to some lessons at a skateboarding school called Gromtown, not far from where we live. My boys are now confident enough with their craft that we pretty much have our boards in the back of the car full-time and are making regular trips to Kierle Skate Park down in Manly. We even took the boards with us in a packed car on a recent camping trip, knowing that at some point we’d stop for a skate along the way! Here’s a short Instavid of my 9 year old son having a bit of fun at a sweet little park up in Queensland.

Anyway, whilst hanging at various skate parks with the kids, I’ve noticed a lot about the learning culture in what might be described as an outdoor, teacher-less, peer-guided classroom.

Embracement of failure, support through error while learning:

Making mistakes is a massive part of learning pretty much anything, but this is especially true while learning how to skate. It’s not like anyone gets on a board and can straight away drop in on a half pipe, quarter pipe or bowl. On the contrary, it’s fucking scary, and fraught with danger! Skaters are aware of this, and typically support each other through the process of whatever it is their peers are trying to learn. No one laughs or jeers when somebody repeatedly fails to lay down a new trick, no one taunts another skater for failing to complete a personally created track around the bowl.

In fact, it’s the complete opposite. I’ve seen it repeatedly now and I’m consistently impressed by the positive discourse of the bowl. When a skater fails at whatever they’re trying to do, the standard response is something like, “Aw, so close!” or, “You almost made it!” This is often followed with a discussion about how they might be able to improve what they’re doing and a repeated attempt at achieving their goal. And this goes on, and on, and on throughout the day!

There’s a lot of empathy in this, too. I watched recently as a couple of older, quite adept skaters worked for quite some time on some tricks that they were each independently trying to achieve. As one of the pair repeatedly failed to complete a particular thing, his learning partner said in an understanding tone (albeit in a funny fake voice), “frustrrrrrrrating.” He knew his friend’s pain.

Collective commitment to improvement and the challenge of getting better:

No one’s at the skate park to become worse at what they’re doing. They’re there because they want to be a better skater. I think this explains a lot about the aforementioned empathy and supportiveness. Skater kids know that learning to skate is hard, they know that mistakes are potentially painful; the experienced remember what it was like when they were less experienced, they remember what it took to get better. They empathise with their fellow learners and they try to help each other along the way. There’s a collective commitment to improvement; skater kids get it.

Along with this commitment comes a recognition and acceptance of personal and peer challenge. I watched recently as one skater said to another, “I’ll give you 5 bucks if you can get it in the next 5 goes.” Now, of course, I don’t condone financial incentives in the classroom, and I’m not particularly a fan of contingency-based classroom behaviour systems, but I saw this as an awesome moment of formative assessment. This stranger knew where the skater was at, where they wanted to go, and provided some incentive for getting there – he set the challenge. If this skater fell short from a teaching perspective, it was perhaps from providing some instruction, but the way I see it, all involved knew the goal (learn move), there were at least a couple of potential medals (peer commendation, $5) and with each attempt, those in the surrounding section of the park provided feedback and missions. Positive, supportive learning environment #ftw

Purpose and investment:

Skating means something to the learners at the bowl. They’ll typically go down there with particular goals or foci, and they’ll keep going back until they achieve what it is they’re focussing on. My kids have been trying tying to learn how to perform a 50/50 for a few sessions now, they keep asking to go back and will continue to ask to go back until they nail it – there is real personal investment in what they’re trying to achieve.

I think this is possible with classwork too, in particular PBL projects. I believe that if you make the project interesting enough, provide an audience or expert whom students respect and whose feedback they value – if you have students work toward making a product that they consider worth sharing, that they will invest in learning what it is they need to know to get it off the ground.

Peer feedback:

I briefly touched on this above, but at the risk of reiterating I think it’s worth emphasising that skaters are absolute guns at peer feedback. They go to the bowl with cameras to photograph each other and check visually on how they’re going. They’re constantly giving each other tips, challenges and extra motivation to get better.

I’ve tried to give advice to my kids on how to get better at certain things with their skating, and as is natural with children, sometimes they might not take on as much of the advice from their parents as their parents would like them too. The saving grace of the skate park, however, is that the parent can simply advise their child to ask for advice from their peer skaters. As my kids have been trying new things and getting frustrated at times with their skateboard-based learning, I’ve often suggested they ask one of the kids that is pretty good how to approach what they’re trying to do. I’ve then watched as some older stranger happily shares with my kids whatever advice they can offer, gives a few demonstrations, watches my kids attempt to replicate and then offers some extra advice.

So anyway; as I’ve said, I’m not exactly sure how I’ll get there, but I know for sure that the approach to learning inherent in skate culture resembles in many ways the learning culture I’m gonna work damn hard at developing in my classroom.


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How can we use Horrible Histories to teach others about the Federation of Australia?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my final week at Merrylands East Public School. It has been a fantastic school to work at for so many reasons. Amazing staff, great kids, a real sense of communion between classes, with students across stages and projects contributing to each others’ learning. What has been particularly awesome for me is the strong focus on project-based learning. It should come as no surprise for me say that I think PBL is awesome. I live with Bianca,  who’s been living and breathing the stuff for a few years now. We always talk about it, try to share our experiences with PBL with others wherever possible, for instance via #PLSM13 or Teachmeet. If you want to know a little of the reasoning behind why we thinks it’s awesome, you might be interested in reading a recent interview I was asked to do for Educational Experience here.

But anyway my last few weeks at MEPS have seen me working with students from TheWaterhole6, with the awesome Lisa Sov and Solange Cruz. Before going into the class I was asked by the teacher who I was relieving, @Holidaydreamer_ to get the kids to learn some Australian history, focusing on the Federation of Australia. Having discussed some ideas for a history project at PLSM13 earlier in the year, I though that this would be the perfect opportunity to see how the kids would go making a federation themed episode of Horrible Histories. The project outline is below.

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On the first day that I walked into this class of year 6 students I really had to think on my feet. Lisa was away sick and Solange had to take the morning off for reading recovery. So armed with the above outline, some links posted to edmodo during the holidays by Holidaydreamer_, and supported by a casual teacher I set to work introducing students to the concept and getting them to begin their inquiry. I was immediately impressed with how independent the students were and how quickly they took to the task of learning what they needed to know to begin the process of producing some hilarious skits. Sure, you had some groups working more productively than others, and some kids walking around trying to do less than what they perhaps ought to have been doing; however, at least they weren’t sitting there idle, becoming brain-dead listening to me speak boringly about events that happened years ago, and about which I know very little!

Having said that, I have done some learning about the federation myself, and to help students think about what they might like to produce, I made the below video giving a rough timeline of the events leading to the Federation. It has some errors, which I pointed out to the class – nobody’s perfect, especially not me!

The kids are now at the stage where they are either editing, filming, or just about to film. I’m getting excited about the final product and I look forward to sharing it soon. We are going to have a screening in the school library (or hall) this coming Thursday, it’s going to be well smashing.

Here are some things that I would change if I had my time running this project again.

1. Set deadlines for each stage of the project from the outset so that the students know where they should be heading to, and by when.

I didn’t know this class at all before beginning this project, so I was unsure how they’d go with the whole thing, and how much time they would need to do what was needed. In retrospect I probably allowed too much time for researching/inquiry and not enough time for students to create awesome. I still think, however that the final episode is going to shred and I can’t wait to see it. Also, when I did see that too much time had elapsed between inquiry and production, I set an assignment on edmodo for groups to come to class and present their work – they came through in an impressively reliable fashion. Having students present their learning before moving on to making stuff is a great avenue for formative assessment, I’ve now discovered.

2. Make smaller groups

The Waterhole, whilst it at times seems like one class, is actually two. There are around 52 students all learning together, in an open learning space, created through the removal of a dividing wall between two classrooms. This means that there must always be at least two teachers on class and also makes group work potentially more difficult to organise.
When I came into the Waterhole, they already had pre-established PBL groups, so I had students work in those. There are seven PBL groups, meaning there are around 7-8 students in each group. They’ve been doing really well, however, if I were to begin the project again, I’d probably make more groups, perhaps ten, with five or six students in each group. I think that this would allow each group member to have a legitimate and purposeful role, and minimise the likelihood of students losing focus, thereby passing more work on to their teammates.

3. Choose a connecting class in a more convenient timezone!

I managed to speak with Stephen, who is awesome, about connecting with the Waterhole so that we could share our learning about the Federation. However, as they are in New Hampshire in the States, the time difference makes it impossible to talk or connect during school hours. Things like this can be worked around by creating introductory videos, etc., which I’ve done in the past, but this is extra work that we just didn’t have time for – a Skype connection would be more convenient. We will be posting the final video to the project website and I’m sure that Stephen’s class will watch it, enjoy and comment so the integrity of the public audience will be maintained.

Anyway, I think it’s going well. As I’ve mentioned, the final presentation takes place this Thursday. Students have been given a deadline of this Tuesday to submit their video files to me so that I can edit them and put them all together to make the final episode. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’ll post more here after everything’s done! In the meantime, here is a photo I took of one of the groups as they worked on filming their skit. Fun times.

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MTeach is over. Now back to school!

Last Friday I submitted the final assessment for the Master of Teaching (Primary) degree at the University of Sydney (USyd). What an excellent feeling it was to think that the next time I walk through the gothic, sandstone entries to the quadrangle at USyd it will most likely be to graduate and say a final, triumphant and emphatic, “Goodbye!” to Hogwarts. I must admit, having spent so much of my adult life around USyd, it was kinda sad to be saying goodbye, too. My kids have both been going into USyd on a regular basis since they were both in prams! My youngest used to sit and watch Batman DVDs during developmental psychology lectures in my undergrad years.

Any way life goes on and in my case, I’m going back to primary school!

So for term 3 I was on a 9 week internship for my final professional experience. The reason I haven’t been doing much posting over here of late is due to the fact that most of my blogging has been going on over at the #MEPSMarkets project weebly. That’s basically where a lot of the stuff I did during my internship happened.

I was working with an awesome group of year 2 kids at Merrylands East Public School. We learned heaps about gardening by calling in a gardening expert to help us revamp the school garden, grow some veges and run a farmers’ market. It was loads of fun. The expert, Brenden is coming back tomorrow so the kids from 2C can tell him about everything they’ve learned. He’ll then help the kids as they harvest all of the things that are ready so that they can sell some yummy food at their own farmers’ market on Wednesday. I’m getting quite nervous thinking about how it’s all going to go but hey, I’m sure it’ll go well. What could possibly go wrong? Haha.

The harvesting of the veges and the farmers’ market are not the only reason for my return to school this week. I’ve been very fortunate to have been offered a five week block of work at MEPS, and this is where it gets really interesting. Firstly, I’ll be moving from year 2 up to year 6. “Fine, that’s fair enough, fairly regular sort of occurrence”,  I hear you say. Secondly, I’ll be going into class with the lovely Solange and Lisa, where I’ll be filling in for @holidaydreamer_ while she is away on long-service leave. Basically, I’ll be in a big, open learning-space doing a lot of team teaching. “OK, open learning-space, team teaching. This is starting to sound more interesting,” I hear you say. Yes, it is, and I have the feeling that I’m going to learn a great deal while I’m there, is my reply. Thirdly, and finally, my eldest son is going to be in my class. Yep, that’s right, you read that correctly – my eldest son is going to be in my class.

Now this is going to be interesting, in a good way. Both of my kids are awesome and we get along really well, plus if he doesn’t do his work I now get to make him pick up papers in the playground. Win win.

Seriously though, I definitely didn’t think that when I decided to become a teacher I’d end up in the classroom with my son on my first week out. I know from experience, however, that having your own kids at school with you is awesome. Both of my boys have been in classes at MEPS while I’ve been there and it’s been really cool to go up and say hello to them while they’re in the playground. I’ve really enjoyed having them come up to my classroom at the end of the day before heading home via the service station to get a Slurpee.

For the next 5 weeks I won’t have to wait very long for them to get to my classroom. One will already be there and the other will only have to walk straight across from next door. Like I say, life goes on. 🙂