A Traveller’s Tale: Chasing the Light under the Shadow of a Global Pandemic. #photography

In the words of my travel agent, my 2020 travel experience “will be one to tell the grandchildren”. This post marks a break from the traditional content on this blog, as I’m taking some time to reflect on what it meant to me, as a photographer, to ‘chase the light’ in a world overshadowed by a global pandemic.

There is no particular narrative to these photos, but they are broadly chosen around a theme of light. I share them in the hope that they will provide others with a little light and hope in these dark times.


“I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical.” Trent Parke

In January 2020, I handed back the keys to my rental property, put my life possessions & LEGO collection into storage, and packed my bag. The “plan” was to spend six months to a year traveling through SE Asia, North America, and Europe before pursuing a career in international teaching. Alas, I was soon to discover that the ‘best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’.

A trip years in the making would last just 10 weeks.

Singapore 

After brief visits to Melbourne and Adelaide, I started my overseas adventure in Singapore, during the Chinese New Year. I stayed in Chinatown, where I was out on the streets for the midnight  Lunar New Year countdown.

Singapore … a city of gardens, high-density urban living, and such incredible food. The Gardens by the Bay, in particular, were breathtaking. Stumbling across the nightly light and music show amongst the Sky Trees was a happy accident; and the amazing digital art exhibition at the Art Science Museum was well worth the admission.

I loved Singapore, and I was especially thankful to @traintheteacher’s students for the tour of their wonderful new school. Sadly, this was the only international school visit that went to plan – for reasons that became painfully obvious later in the trip.

River Hong Bao Festival, Chinese New Year

Gardens by the Bay

Art Science Museum


Thailand (January 2020)

Arriving in Thailand, I joined what will be the first of many G Adventures tours I undertake when the world calms down in years to come. We started out in Bangkok, took an overnight train to Chang Mai, and then traveled overland to the Thailand/Laos border.

Thailand was, to put it mildly, overwhelming. There is real beauty there, but it was hard to find amidst the crowds, air pollution, and deluge of tourists. While it is true that we only had five days to barely scratch the surface of the country, I am also not sure if/when I’d return.

After dark in Bangkok Chinatown

Temple Flames

Ringing the temple bells

I almost broke a leg here … I slipped on the tiles and damaged my kneecap. Thankfully, it didn’t impede my ability to walk – and most importantly of all, I saved my camera. Despite that rather painful memory, I loved the sound and shadows of the bells here.


Laos (Jan/Feb 2020)

I learned a valuable lesson in Laos. Going off the well-trodden tourist trail, with the support of a reputable, community-focussed tour operator is worth the time and investment. Yes, the roads were utterly appalling (frightening and deadly), and the country is extremely poor, but I fell in love with Laos. Friendly people, amazing food, and one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries I’ve ever explored with a camera. Oh, and two days sailing down the Mekong River wasn’t nearly enough …

It was also the place where I made a million to one connection with a dear mentor and colleague from back in Perth, Australia. We didn’t know we were in the same country, yet we quite literally ran into each other by a remote waterfall near Luang Prabang. This led to an invitation to join a teacher training workshop in a Laotian village, which was a truly humbling experience.

Pak Beng, on the Mekong River

Kuang Si Falls, near Luang Prabang

Roadtripping in Laos 


Vietnam (February 2020)

Vietnam. A unified country with very distinct cultures, architecture, and history in the north and south. Arriving in Hanoi on a cold, misty night felt like I was walking the streets from Bladerunner. I was, sadly, too exhausted to take my camera out for a night shoot there – and when I hopefully return, that will be high on my to-do list.

Halong Bay, Hue`, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) … so very different. The scars of conflict are still visible … and visiting the Chu Chi tunnels was a very sobering and dark experience. Yet, Vietnam is a country that refuses to be defined by a war … It was a photographer’s paradise, and I barely scratched the surface. I’ll be back.

Alley cat, Hoi An.

Hoi An

A stunningly beautiful and photogenic city – unfortunately, overrun by tourists.

A friendly resident of a bombed-out Royal Tomb complex, near Hue`

Hang En Cave Expedition, Phong Nha

Over the past year, I have had several defining life experiences. Skydiving over Uluru in Central Australia (and surviving an emergency landing on a multi-million dollar art installation) in October 2019 was one. A 22km jungle hike and camping overnight in Hang En, the world’s third-largest cave, was another.

Camping here, wading through above and under-ground streams, climbing 70m high rockfalls, and swimming in a cave pool … it’s an experience that is hard to describe. The climb out of the jungle was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. With the help of a very patient local guide (who made the climb look easy), I was able to push through and beyond what I thought I was physically and mentally capable of. @OxalisAdventures – thank you for an adventure of a lifetime.

Son River, Phong Nha

I stayed at a homestay that is co-owned by one of the most incredibly humble gentlemen I have ever met – Mr Hồ Khanh- the man who discovered the internationally renowned Son Doong cave, the world’s largest. I spent my last two days in Vietnam taking in this view, and talking to some of the local expats who call Phong Nha home. I have fond memories of this place … where I met a fellow Australian (from my hometown – another small world moment), and a member of the famous British cave expedition team who helped explore and map the local cave systems.


Seoul, South Korea (Late Febrary, 2020)

Leaving everything behind to travel the world sounds like a wonderful dream; however, there are times where it can be very difficult indeed. As I arrived in Seoul, world events were starting to spiral out of control – and they took a severe personal toll. The weather was bitterly cold and depressing; and the men in white bunny suits disinfecting the streets and responding to a suspect coronavirus case at a nearby hotel didn’t do much to improve the mood. There was a climate of fear which was hard to shake.

It wasn’t until I climbed a mountain (both literally and metaphorically) that I realized why I was there. I had the night shoot of my life on top of Mt Namsan, capturing the juxtaposition of ancient and modern Seoul. I would have loved to have further explored the natural beauty of South Korea, but cutting my trip short due to impending border restrictions in Japan, I found photographic contentment in the maker’s markets and diverse neighborhoods of Seoul.


Japan

Visiting Japan was the fulfillment of a twenty-year childhood dream. It was a world away from the climate of fear in Seoul – although almost all of the public museums and monuments I was hoping to explore were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. After negotiating the health checks at the border (which was rather stressful as I was recovering from a four-week-long chest infection), I was allowed to enter the country.  I soon felt right at home.

Starting my journey in Osaka and Nara, I traveled south to Fukuoka, before traveling extensively through Kyushu, reaching the very southern tip of Japan – Kagoshima, and Yakushima Island. I then headed north to Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Nagoya, and Kyoto- before sadly being forced to rush to Tokyo to catch the second last Qantas flight out of Japan.

As a photographer and avid hiker, Japan was a wonderland. From busy metropolises to beautiful remote forests and ancient pilgrim ways – it had it all. I spent many happy hours hiking misty forest trails, and I covered thousands of kilometers on the regional and shinkansen rail networks – including one very memorable 500km day trip in Kyushu. Hiking Japan helped me cope as I came to terms with a dream journey coming to a premature and hurried end.

So many experiences, so many photos, so many stories.

Osaka Train Station

Hiking and Geocaching near Nara.

The road less traveled, overlooking Nara.

Early Sakura bloom, Osaka

Fukuoka Diner

Purification Water at an old Shinto Temple near Fukuoka

The Hitetsu Orange Railway – a most memorable seaside railway segment of a 500km day trip!

Witnessing a volcanic eruption on Sakurajima, Kagoshima Prefecture

Mt Kuromidake Summit – Yakushima Island (elevation 1381m)

Yakushima Island – off the beaten tourist path, and a place of wonderous beauty.

Nagasaki trams

Nagasaki – the City of Lights

Hiroshima – A Bomb Memorial

Visiting Hiroshima (and Nagasaki), and paying my respects at the Sadako peace memorial, was a profoundly moving experience. I will return to Hiroshima – heading back to the little countryside inn outside the city limits, which was one of my favorite stays in Japan.

Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

You would not believe how hard it was to take this photo without people. It’s a beautiful shrine, and worth seeing – but it’s hard to appreciate when you can’t move for the crowds.

Traditional Travellers’ Rest on the first stage of the Nakasendo Way

Leaving Japan far earlier than planned, I was unable to undertake the long hike I’d planned through the Tohoku region in the North. As a substitute, I walked the first 23km of the historic and very beautiful Nakasendo Way, an old pilgrim walk between Kyoto and Tokyo. I hope to return to walk most of the Way on a future trip, staying in the old post towns. It was a taste of the real, traditional Japan – far removed from the big city lights. The gentleman running the teahouse helped make my final sad days in Japan that little bit brighter.

Kyoto Imperial Gardens

A moment that brought me to tears … Seeing the full Sakura (cherry blossom) blooms on my second last day in Japan. I didn’t want to go home, but with Canada and the USA closing their borders, and major transit hubs closing to foreign travellers, I was forced to head back home to Australia. Sadly, the dream was over.

Homeward Bound


As hard this year has been (and continues to be for reasons which I won’t go into here), I am extraordinarily thankful for having had the opportunity to travel so extensively before the unprecedented shutdown of international travel caused by Covid-19. I learned some incredibly valuable lessons on the road – and I grew significantly as a photographer.

Not only did I gain a deep appreciation for light, I learned a great deal about composition, depth of field, and long exposures. I’d like to thank Randy, a Canadian photographer I met on the G-Adventures tour, and Kevin (@MadforMaple), a Twitter educator and photographer in Japan, for so willingly sharing your expertise and photographic works. I’ve learned a great deal from you both, and my creative works are richer for it.

So, in closing … I don’t know what my next steps will be, or where. But, one day soon I’ll be out there ‘chasing the light’.

Designing #microbit Virtual Pets & Monsters – So many possibilities!

At the end of last year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to test two new design technology / makerspace projects utilizing MakeyMakey and Micro:bit. This is the second project, and it’s one that I am very keen to reteach and extend in the future.

I ran this project with one Year 4 class, starting out with some very simple instruction and exploration of the basic functions of a BBC Micro:bit. These students were familiar with Scratch visual programming, but this was their first time using the Microsoft MakeCode editor. Due to their age and this being a design technology project, we deliberately kept the programming requirements simple – although students were welcome to experiment with more complex functions.

 


The Scenario

Welcome to the wonderful world of toy design. You have the important task of designing and building a prototype virtual pet or a “monster” for a classmate. 

Please note: You will likely have to share a micro:bit, so please make sure you can easily remove the devices from your constructed projects. 


Success Criteria 

  To succeed in this task, you will need to:

  • Program the LED screen to display information or emotion (e.g. smiley/sad faces)  
  • Use the physical buttons and/or accelerometer to enable owners to interact with the virtual pet (e.g. feeding it, putting it to sleep)

  Complete this engineering design journal by  

  • Defining the problem
  • What are the pet owner’s needs/desires? 
  • How will the owner interact with their pet?
  • Listing the required tools and materials
  • Constructing and testing the virtual pet, seeking the new owner’s feedback.
  • Reflecting on the success of the design process 

If you are interested in extending your visual programming skills, you are welcome to experiment with the following:

  • Use the accelerometer to make the pet respond to being picked up or dropped
  • Discover how to use the Broadcast and Receive feature to make two Micro:bit Pets communicate with each other. 
  • See if you can work out how to use variables and timers to program your robot to express loneliness or hunger when it is not picked up or fed for a certain period of time. This might be quite a challenge!

Inspiration Resources

https://makecode.microbit.org/courses/csintro/making/project

https://make.techwillsaveus.com/microbit/activities/micro-pet-advanced


Identify the Problem

After some micro:bit tinkering time and research into existing virtual pet toys, students interviewed their ‘client’ partner and recorded their design requirements.


Planning

Design Solutions

Most students were able to program the Micro:bit buttons and LEDs. Some experimented with the accelerometer functions (shake, pick up, drop), and two girls took a deep (guided) dive into the use of variables for a background countdown timer (For example, if the pet isn’t interacted with for 60 seconds, then it will be ‘sad’). Most students succeeded in using the MakeCode editor to enable their pet to emote and/or respond to user input.

Exploring the use of the accelerometer (shake) and button input.

Use of buttons and exploration of countdown timer variables.


Final Thoughts

I am very proud of how students interviewed their clients regarding their product needs, and how they shared and sought verbal feedback on their prototype designs at the end of the design cycle. This was an extremely powerful learning experience for the students and resulted in a diverse range of products.

It would have been more efficient if we had required students to design their projects on paper and upload a photo to the OneNote. We made an accidental and extremely useful discovery that it was possible to directly embed shared Microsoft MakeCode projects within the OneNote editor itself  – this will be a requirement in the future. I would also provide students with 6×6 grid paper squares to help them work out how to ‘draw’ faces on the micro:bit with the LEDs. Finally, I’d take more time at the start to more effectively model the use of the LEDs and accelerometer, ideally with my own demonstration Micro:bit pet.

Overall, this project was a useful introduction to Micro:bit for Year 4 students – with the scope for improvements in the design documentation and programming complexity.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Accessible Game Controllers – A @makeymakey #design project

At the end of last year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to trial two new design technology /makerspace projects utilizing MakeyMakey and Micro:bit. This first project was inspired by an experience I had at the @Questacon Makerspace as part of the 2018 STEM X Academy. It was designed for Grade 4 students, but can be adapted to suit a range of year levels and learning areas, including Digital Technologies.

Building our own Accessible Game Controllers (STEM X 2018, Canberra)


The Scenario

Gaming is FUN. You play games all the time – on your computer, games console, but have you ever stopped to think about the game controllers you are using to play your games? For example, you might be using a keyboard, a mouse, a Playstation or Xbox console controller, or your finger on a touch screen. 

These controllers usually require two hands to operate and have many buttons that need to be pressed. These features make them very difficult, if not impossible, for children and adults with disabilities to use. We all love playing games – whether it be Roblox, Minecraft, or No Man’s Sky (Mr. Graffin’s favourite), so do children with different physical abilities.

The Task

Your challenge is to design an inclusive game controller for children with different physical abilities, empowering them to become AbleGamers. You may choose to design your game controller for one of the following groups of users:

One-Handed Game Controller 

AbleGamers with muscular dystrophy can find it very difficult to move their hands and arms across a keyboard. Your challenge is to use a MakeyMakey to design a mini-keyboard or joystick for the WASD keys (W = up, A = left, S = down, D = right), along with the arrow keys, spacebar (in some games this is jump or shoot), and enter button. The user must be able to operate the controller with one hand without having to move their arm.

Giant Tactile Game Controller 

AbleGamers with cerebral palsy can find it very difficult to control their finger movements, such as those needed to hit buttons on a keyboard or game console. Your challenge is to use MaKeyMaKey to spread out the WASD keys, along with the arrow keys, spacebar, and enter buttons. These game controllers need to be big, use materials which are comfortable to touch, and the buttons/keys need to be spread far apart.

Foot Controllers

Some AbleGamers have limited mobility in their arms and hands. Some may be missing a limb – possibly through an amputation due to an injury. Your challenge is to design a MakeyMakey Game Controller that can be used with your feet



Success Criteria 

To succeed in this task, you will need to:

 Design a Makeymakey Assistive Game controller for a chosen group of people with different physical abilities. 

Complete this engineering design journal by

  • Explaining the problem you are trying to solve
  • Listing the required tools and materials
  • Building and testing your game controller
  • Reflecting on the success of the design process. 

Identify the Problem


Explore


Planning


Designs


Instructions


Reflections

Due to end of year preparations, not all students were able to complete their reflections. Students tested their designs and presented their prototypes and reflections on the process to their class. Stability underfoot, choice of materials, and scale were identified as areas for improvement.


Final Thoughts

Overall, I was very happy with this project. Students took a deep interest and pride in their work. The use of OneNote to document the design process was new for these students, and the presentation/demonstration of their designs to the class was a valuable assessment opportunity.

For those interested in adapting and taking this idea further, I would highly recommend investigating and potentially contacting AbleGamers or connecting with local disability support organizations. Thank you to the @Questacon Makerspace Team for inspiring this project.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Fostering a Love of Mental Maths with #microbit – A STEM Project

Why, hello.

Exploring Hang-En Cave, Vietnam with @OxalisAdventures

To cut a long and eventful story short, this post was originally drafted last year, prior to my leaving my school to pursue my long-held dream of traveling around the world in 2020. It was time to move on to something new, and explore the road less traveled.

Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, what was planned to be my ‘year on the road’ ended far earlier than planned. I was one of the lucky ones… I had an incredible photographic adventure through Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan before world events spiraled out of control. I’m now back home in Australia.

So … I’m going to take some time to finish documenting some of the STEM projects I co-created and taught with my amazing colleagues over the past few years. In 2019, we finally succeeded in making hands-on, cross-curricular projects a normal, vital part of our Junior School’s teaching and learning practice. I’ve had a few blog posts floating around in my head for some time, and it’s time to get them published!

Making Maths Fun with Micro:bits!

For years, I have wondered how to meaningfully integrate the maths curriculum with Digital Technologies, given that advanced visual programming skills in Scratch and robotics require a sound understanding of number. algebra, and mathematical operations. Looking for advice, I turned to my good friend @brookssensei, who suggested a mIcro:bit maths game project. So, my Year 6 colleagues and I took a risk and ultimately created what is probably the best STEM project I’ve ever facilitated.

Some Background

The Year 6 students had previously undertaken a series of lessons where they were responsible for learning about the hardware of the micro:bit (e.g. LEDs, accelerometer) and how to make it work using the MS MakeCode editor. We used a jigsaw grouping strategy, and students were then asked to teach their peers what they had learned. We differentiated these groups based on Sem 1 assessment data, as we had students with a very wide range of comfort and ability in visual programming – ranging from complete beginner to Year 8 high school level.

I created a Class OneNote template page providing a scaffold for the project and our expectations regarding the project timeline. We spent most of the year emphasizing the importance of design documentation as a record of learning (and accountability). Most of the students worked in pairs, but each was held accountable for the design documentation and input into the process. This was monitored through Microsoft Teams; as well as by adding a short informal interview and product testing as formal steps in the design process. This allowed us to give students both oral and written feedback, and (time permitting) a chance to improve their designs in response to user testing.

We tried to offer some flexibility in how to use the OneNote design template. Many students found it easier to plan on paper and import photos into OneNote, while others drew within the app itself. Similarly, some students were more comfortable using Flipgrid to record their project reflections, while others preferred to write their answers.

We were blown away by the students’ response to this project. The Year 6s loved the opportunity to interview their younger buddies, and they particularly enjoyed overcoming some of the design challenges along the way – “How big do you make a headband/wristband that fits a Year 1 student?”. “What maths do Year 3 students learn?”. The younger students loved testing and giving feedback on the game designs. The wearable games and the modified “Mental Maths Twister” project were particularly well received.


The Task

Design a Micro:bit controller for a mental maths or dice board game.

Your game should be suitable for your chosen audience – either your Yr 1/2 buddies OR your Yr 6 classmates. You are welcome to experiment with wearable tech, and/or to create your own gameboard/legend – but please keep these simple due to the time constraints.

Success Criteria

Beginner

  • Uses the Micro:bit buttons to input numbers or display results
  • Randomly selects and represents numbers using the LEDs – e.g. dice , numbers
  • Completes this engineering design journal by
    • Defining the problem
    • Choosing an appropriate game and focus maths concept for their target audience
    • Designing and constructing a simple physical game controller (this may be wearable).
    • Building and testing a program for the Micro:bit, seeking feedback from users

Intermediate

  • Uses the Radio Broadcast and Receive feature
  • Allows the user to input the numbers and select the operation on the Microbit using the buttons and/or accelerometer
  • Uses variables to store numbers (e.g. keep score), or for maths operations in the program (e.g. input 2 x 2, display answer = 4).
  • Displays the results of the mathematical operation on the screen

 

Defining the Problem

Explore

Connecting to Prior Knowledge, Researching Existing Solutions

Design

 

Sample Code

A big focus for us was teaching students to add text comments in their code to help others understand it. Not only is this standard practice in real-world programming, but it also demonstrates students’ understanding of how the code actually works. While the micro:bit coding and the comments weren’t perfect and mostly at entry-level, we did have some students experimenting with more advanced functions, drawing upon their learning in previous Scratch units.

Random Number generator

Choose an operation, answer the mental maths question

Using the accelerometer to select the operation & countdown to show a random sum.

Experimentation with the use of Broadcast and Recieve (Heads Up / Guess my Number)

Game Design Products

Student Reflections

 

My thanks to my former colleagues for helping bring this project to life. It was a wonderful way to wrap up my time working at IJS.

Snapshots of Learning, Making, and Inquiry in my STEM Makerspace

 

In 2015, I was inspired to establish our school makerspace as a result of my experiences and learning at the International Society for Technology Education Conference. As I have reflected in past posts, it took me years to understand that effective STEM programs were built on inquiry learning pedagogy, curriculum integration, and hand-on ‘maker’ learning experiences. I’ve spent the last two years learning how to apply this key understanding in my own teaching, and share it with my amazing classroom teacher colleagues.

This year, I designed, team-taught, and supported my colleagues’ development of a wide variety of integrated, cross-curricular STEM projects. My major goals were to:

  1. Explicitly teach and embed the engineering design process across Years 1-6 through the use of “STEM Journals” (virtual and hard-copy)
  2. Learn how to effectively facilitate guided inquiry projects, and
  3. Provide my students with opportunities to physically make prototype solutions using a range of tools and technologies.

As the year draws to a close, I am immensely proud of what my colleagues and I have achieved, as reflected by our students’ high engagement, deep learning, and curiosity in STEM. We’ve finally succeeded in creating a space and learning culture, which in the words of our students, is built upon ‘hard fun, making, teamwork, and problem-solving’.

Student survey responses: “How would you describe your learning in STEM?”

 

STEM Snapshots – 2019

These are a few of the highlights from our STEM projects this year. I hope to explore several of these in more detail in future posts.

YEAR 1

Students designed and built a prototype insect hotel to try and encourage environmentally beneficial insects to take up residence in our school. They researched existing solutions, drew up plans and a list of materials, and constructed a full-scale prototype using a range of recycled and found natural materials.

My classroom teacher colleague created the Windproof House design project, supporting students’ Science inquiry into the weather. While LEGO bricks were the most popular option (in hindsight we wouldn’t have allowed their use), some of our more adventurous students experimented with plastic and cardboard constructions. It was rather funny to watch them testing their designs using a hairdryer. While we managed to get one house to blow away, apparently LEGO houses are indeed “windproof”.

 

YEAR 2

Junior FLL – Aqua Adventure

Students inquired into the journey of drinking water from the catchment to the tap, working in small teams to learn about water conservation issues. They identified a range of problems relating to the water’s journey, such as leaky pipes, taking lengthy showers, and built incredibly detailed LEGO models demonstrating their proposed solutions to these problems.

Fairytale STEM

My colleague introduced me to the wonderful, mad world of Fairytale STEM projects. I loved helping the students built marshmallow and cocktail stick bridges to help the Gingerbread Man escape the hungry fox – although they weren’t overly impressed with my attempt to “look after” the marshmallows (I can’t imagine why!). The students also worked together to design chairs for a bear (Goldilocks) – exploring the properties of 3D shapes and simple materials (cardboard, paper, masking tape).

 

Puppetry

Our final, end-of-year project involves students using the engineering design process to create beautiful stick and sock puppets to tell stories of their own devising. We are looking forward to seeing the students’ complete and perform with their puppets in the coming weeks.

 

YEAR 3

Underground Mining Robots (LEGO WeDo)

As part of our exploration of LEGO WeDo robotics, we introduced students to the world of underground mining robots – facilitating an inquiry into how robots could be used to meet the needs of underground miners. Teams designed, built, and programmed prototype robots with the goals of detecting obstacles using a sensor, covering rough terrain, and keeping miners safe in an emergency. Students documented their design process in engineering journals – which proved to be a fabulous resource in our assessment interviews.

 

Junior FIRST LEGO League – BoomTown Build

During the 2019 Junior FIRST LEGO League Challenge, students are working in small teams to explore how architects, engineers, and construction workers work together to design and construct buildings and public spaces. Kicking off the inquiry with a community scavenger hunt, teams have engaged in a variety of LEGO build challenges focussed on designing houses to meet people’s needs, and accessibility for people with limited mobility and wheelchairs.

 

YEAR 4 

Mapping Place

My Year 4 colleagues created and ran a 3D mapping project, which provided students with the opportunity to define and create a detailed map of a place of personal significance to them. Students’ significant places ranged from their grandparents’ house to their favourite holiday camping ground, and they used a range of technologies (including Microsoft Sway) and materials to bring their places and learning to life.

 

Micro:Bit Pets & Accessible MakeyMakey Game Controllers

This Term, I am running two experimental projects which I’ve been thinking about for some years. One class is designing Micro:Bit Virtual Pets and Monsters for their classmates (bringing back memories of the Tamagotchis of my childhood). The other class is designing and constructing accessible MakeyMakey game controllers for children with disabilities, inspired by this amazing provocation from Microsoft. I’ll blog about these in more detail later.

 

YEAR 5  

I am particularly proud of my Year 5 colleagues for taking the lead in designing and collaboratively implementing inquiry-based learning in STEM this year. With four teachers working together, we were able to combine the three classes to run a range of differentiated projects, teaching students how to collaborate, document their learning using engineering journals, and define inquiry questions.

Space Exploration

Last year, our Space STEM project focussed solely on colonizing Mars. This year, my colleagues and I were inspired by the 2018 FIRST LEGO League “Into Orbit” Challenge to broaden the scope of the inquiry and give students a much greater say in their choice of topic . Using the FLL project video as a provocation, students worked in differentiated, colalborative teams to develop inquiry questions in relation to the broad theme of “physical and social problems relating to human space exploration”.

I’ll write this up in greater detail in coming weeks – but as a sneak peek – some of the questions our students designed solutions for included:

  • How do we deal with poo and wee in space? (My personal favourite)
  • How can we grow fresh produce on the Moon?
  • How can we improve the flexibility of space suits so astronauts can move and work outside the rocket?
  • How can we help astronauts deal with isolation on the Moon?

 

A Robot Companion Pet for Astronauts on the Moon

Improving spacesuit gloves with the ability to move your fingers

The composting space toilet for the ISS

 

YEAR 6

“Counting on Katherine” Scratch Game Project

After reading a storybook about Katherine Johnson, an amazing NASA Mathematician and “Human-Computer”, students used game design templates to create amazing games and quizzes inspired by her life and works.

 

Micro:bit Mental Maths Games

Inspired by a Twitter suggestion from @brookssensei, this project required our Year 6s to interview younger students (or their classmates) about the concepts they were learning in mathematics, and then use this information to design and construct mental maths games incorporating a BBC Micro:bit. Solutions included wearable headsets, giant board games, and a mental maths version of the popular Twister™ game. It was a massively successful project – one which saw many students giving up their Monday lunchtimes for weeks to work on it.

Immigration & Refugee Inquiry

As the year draws to a close, it has been a pleasure to support my Year 6 teacher colleagues as they facilitate their STEM “Immigration” Design Thinking project. I am working with student teams as they design and produce podcasts, movies, story tours, and 3D printed translation earbuds to help raise awareness of immigrants’ stories, and ease the linguistic and cultural barriers they face when they come to Australia. I look forward to sharing some photos from the students’ STEM Expo – which will be held later this year.

 

Overall, it has been a challenging but very rewarding year. I am incredibly proud of what my students and colleagues have learned this year, and I have loved the opportunity to design, create, and celebrate these amazing projects with them. After all these years, the vision and dream of establishing a vibrant STEM culture and learning environment within our school are finally becoming a reality. This is something that I will treasure as I embark on the next adventure … Stay tuned.

STEM Connections – Building a Professional Learning Network (#primarySTEMchat)

This article was originally written in collaboration with Rachael Lehr (@rachaellehr ) for the 2019 STEM X Academy cohort, on behalf of the Australian Science Teachers’ Association. I’m republishing it here with Rachael’s permission.

For more information about STEM X, please visit https://asta.edu.au/programs/stemx

For many of us arriving at STEM X, we are one of the few, if not the only, educators in our schools with a passion and interest in STEM. We are the ‘lone wolves’; and at times this can be a lonely and frustrating experience. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The concept of a Professional Learning Network, or PLN, has been around for some years. It is founded on the idea that “We are better together”; that in order to help us be the best teacher we can be, we want to continually improve our practice and be lifelong learners. Creating an online PLN of passionate educators interested in STEM is a great way of doing this. 

In a constantly changing technological world, the STEM learning landscape is always shifting, and through a connected online world, we can keep abreast of these new developments. It is rare for a teacher to ever have a unique teaching idea that hasn’t been based on something already done; and through an online PLN we can share and improve on others’ ideas that will enhance our practice, giving credit where it is due. 

When we share our teaching ideas and our students’ learning through various online platforms, we provide our students with an opportunity to showcase their learning, and connect with real world experts beyond the classroom walls. This helps us as teachers to be focused on creating truly engaging and authentic lessons that we would be proud to share. With the focus on STEM learning being about ‘real-world’ problem solving, belonging to various social media platforms often provides inspiration for these real world problems that students can address.

As connected educators, our online personal learning networks have empowered us to reflect on and improve our practice over the years. We use different social media platforms and online events to access specific and targeted professional learning. We use our networks to ask questions, seek inspiration, and find new ideas – anywhere, any time. There have been times where we’ve participated in online events in our PJs – in one memorable case, at 3AM in the morning.

Engaging in online networks has enabled us to form connections and friendships with educators around Australia and around the world. These connections have allowed us to meet, work, and present alongside our online colleagues face-to-face. We like to focus on our students developing 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication and through being involved in online PLNs we can build and model these skills for our students.

 

Where to begin?

By just being selected for the STEM X Academy, you have become a member of one of the most vibrant and influential STEM professional learning networks in Australia. Use your time together to connect, swap stories, and follow each-other on social media. These connections can make a real difference in years to come.

The following social media platforms and resources might be helpful as you start out on your connected educator journey. As connected educators, we use a range of platforms for different purposes. In order to avoid being overwhelmed, we would recommend you start out with just one or two, ideally Twitter.

Twitter

You can use Twitter to connect with Australian and international STEM experts and scientists in the field, and to keep up to date with ongoing science exploration missions – from the Amazon rainforest, to Antartica, or beyond Pluto with the New Horizons team.

You can also follow conference events, and join online chats using hashtags like #STEM #STEAM #STEMed #STEAMedu #DESTEM and chat hashtags like #aussieED #21cEDChat #PrimarySTEMChat and then connect with educators who participate. Look for passionate STEM educators and follow people they are following.

STEM Educators Twitter List – https://twitter.com/rachaellehr/lists/primarystemchat

 

Twitter Chats

  • #21cEDChat Tuesdays 9:30 AEDT hosted by @ScitechPL and guest hosts
  • #PrimarySTEMChat Thursdays 8:30pm AEDT hosted by @rachaellehr and @aidancornelius
  • #aussieED Sundays 8:30pm AEDT hosted by @aussieEDchat @MRsalakas @ZeinaChalich @hollis_k_ @madgiemgEDU

Join in live or contribute your ideas after. These chats generally follow to process of a question being posted every 10 minutes and participants respond with their answers at the time. Chats can get quite busy so using an app like Tweetdeck is incredibly helpful. This allows you to follow the host and the hashtag in columns and assists in keeping up with the conversation.

#PrimarySTEMChat creates a story of the chat after and @rachaellehr posts this to her Twitter feed and this is great way to review everything that is shared during the chat in your own time. These are also available via Wakelet https://wakelet.com/@RachaelLehr1293

 

Instagram

Instagram hashtags work similarly to Twitter. You can choose to follow hashtags, or search for, and follow STEM teachers in your areas of interest -e.g. robotics.

 

Facebook Groups & Communities

STEM Teachers Australia – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1466726270300197/

 

Blogs

Top 100 STEM Blogs & Websites 2018 https://blog.feedspot.com/stem_blogs/

 

Pondering Dan @ponderingDan

http://www.ponderingdan.com/

 

Teaching with Game @claireseldon_ed

https://goo.gl/aBWjch

 

STEM in Primary @steminprimary

https://steminprimary.blogspot.com/

 

Global Education STEM @STEMigo

https://globaledstem.wordpress.com/

 

Podcasts

STEAM Up the Classroom – Tori Cameron

https://www.steamuptheclassroom.com/

 

MOOCs

Joining MOOCs can open connections with participants from around the globe.

STEM is everywhere https://www.class-central.com/course/independent-stem-is-everywhere-12074

CSER University of Adelaide Digital Technologies MOOC

https://csermoocs.adelaide.edu.au

 

Connect with Us

 

Michael @mgraffin

Michael Graffin is a STEM and Robotics specialist working in Mosman Park, WA. He is an International Society for Technology Education Emerging Leader and STEM X 2018 Alumni. Michael works with classroom teachers to design, teach, and assess integrated STEM projects. He specializes in LEGO robotics, with a particular emphasis on FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Junior. He has presented on PLNs, global connections, STEM, and robotics at conferences in Australia, Qatar, and the USA. He blogs at http://blog.mgraffin.com.

 

Rachael @rachaellehr

Rachael Lehr is a science specialist and digital technologies lead teacher in Perth, WA, where she teaches science with a strong hands-on inquiry and STEM focus. She embeds digital technologies into her science program, as well as assisting class teachers with using digital technologies authentically in their classrooms through coaching and in class demonstration lessons. Rachael also teach students coding, runs a Minecraft club and is passionate about engaging girls in STEM fields and hosts an after school STEM club for the senior girls. Rachael is a co-host and founder of #PrimarySTEMChat – a weekly Twitter chat focused on various topics surrounding STEM.

Inquiry Learning & The Engineering Design Process in STEM

18 months ago, I had the privilege of attending the prestigious STEM X Academy in Canberra. In January 2019, I was one of four STEM X Alumni invited to return to Canberra, with the job of mentoring the Primary Teachers’ cohort, and sharing my experiences post STEM X 2018. It isn’t often that you can say you get to live a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ twice.

I had planned to write a whole series of posts about the STEM X Academy, but life and work got in the way – it wasn’t an easy year.

So, a year and a half later, its time to have another go at sharing what I learned.

Inquiry & Problem-Based Learning Pedagogical Approaches

Structured Inquiry, Controlled Inquiry, Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry

From “Personalized Learning Using the Types of Student Inquiry” by Trevor MacKenzie.

STEM: “A Way of Thinking and Doing”

Writing for the ISTE Empowered Learner Magazine in July 2018, I argued that “STEM is fundamentally a way of thinking and doing, an opportunity to explore and pose solutions to real-world problems using design thinking and the engineering process”. For us, inquiry learning and the engineering design process are central to the development and implementation of meaningful STEM projects.

From our experience and research evidence, effective STEM / inquiry learning projects:

  • Place equal emphasis on the learning process and the curriculum content.
  • Are built on effective formative assessment of students’ prior knowledge and skills, and explicit teaching of key curriculum concepts and skills before and during the STEM process.
    • These concepts and skills may come from multiple learning areas – e.g. Science, Geography, Technologies.
  • Promote a culture of curiosity, wonder, and questioning, by both teachers and students. In this environment, teachers need to be comfortable being lead learners.
  • Where feasible, offer students the opportunity to connect with real-world experts in relevant fields.
  • Give students a voice in their learning e.g. negotiating inquiry questions around a central theme, or giving students a choice of differentiated options for presenting their learning.
  • Enable students to actively and collaboratively construct understandings through hands-on learning experiences, shared research, and sharing their learning in different ways, including constructing prototypes.

 

 

Here are some examples of what STEM is starting to look like in our school:

 

Year 3 “Mission Moon” (Junior FIRST LEGO League, 2018)

The Junior FLL Challenge has proved to be a fantastic & relatively cheap ($30/kit inc shipping) introduction to inquiry learning in the early years. Through the Junior FLL process, students participate in a guided inquiry, investigating and designing solutions to real-world problems relating to the theme. We have now had classes participate in the AQUA Adventure (2017 – water conservation) and Mission Moon (2018 – lunar colonisation) challenges. This year, we’ve heavily adapted and improved the Aqua Adventure challenge as our Year 2 STEM unit; and my Year 3 colleague is keen to participate in the 2019 BoomTown Build Challenge – which will focus on problems relating to sustainable cities.

The Mission Moon project, which required students to design and build a LEGO Moonbase, was hands-down one of my all-time favourite STEM projects that I’ve run at this school – and it was a big hit at our community STEM Expo in Term 4, 2018.

 

Year 5 “Mission Mars” (2018)

This was our first attempt at integrating LEGO Mindstorms robotics into a classroom STEM project. We used the Mission Mars LEGO Challenge and adapted the provided project ideas to suit ourselves. We started the project using the question generation process I learned at the STEM X Academy. Students brainstormed questions relating to broad problems that would face a human expedition to Mars, including food production, space medicine, physical exercise in space, and dealing with isolation on long-duration missions. In groups, the students narrowed down their questions to pick a topic and problem of particular interest to them. Many teams were curious about food production on Mars, and one team opted to explore space medicine and surgery. Documenting their research and learning process in STEM journals, teams went on to build physical prototypes of their solutions, which they shared at our first Junior School STEM Expo in Term 4, 2018.

We are planning to rework this unit of work for Semester 2, 2019 – either focussing it on the establishment of a lunar colony or looking at human space exploration more generally.

Ongoing Projects (2019)

Year 3 Underground Mining Robots (LEGO WeDo)

The majority of our Year 3 cohort are familiar with LEGO WeDo robotics programming, in terms of being able to build the base robot and make it move forwards and backwards. This year, we taught the students how to program the distance and tilt sensors using Scratch (with the new LEGO WeDo Bluetooth extension); and offered the groups the opportunity to work out how they could engineer improvements to the base robot to meet the miners’ needs. As a result, we have groups working out how to ensure mining robots can travel over uneven ground, transport equipment and/or mined materials using carts, and provide protection and seating for miners travelling underground.

Year 5 Bushfire Project (2019)

In preparation for the Term 3/4 Space Exploration STEM Challenge, the Year 5 teachers and I are trialling a differentiated inquiry project focussed on Bushfire Safety. In this project, students can demonstrate their learning about bushfire safety in three different ways:

  1. Design and build a prototype fire alarm system using Micro:bit that activates in response to an emergency radio broadcast sent out by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA.
  2. Design and construct a prototype bushfire prepared house, with a bushfire emergency response plan.
  3. Design and present a public awareness campaign video, Keynote presentation, or Scratch game about Bushfire safety.

 

References

Lutheran Education QLD, (n.d) https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/media/1360/lutheran-education-queensland-inquiry-based-learning.pdf

Victorian University Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (n.d). https://ciel.viu.ca/scholarly-teaching-practice/viu-council-learning-and-teaching-excellence/2016-2017-council-action-groups/types-inquiry

 

The STEM X Academy – Day 1

Let’s not mince words:

The STEM X Academy was a once in a lifetime learning experience.

 

In late 2017, I received a wonderful surprise – receiving word that I was one of just 70 Australian teachers selected from 390 applicants to attend the 2018 STEM X Academy in Canberra.

The STEM X Academy is a five-day residential teacher professional learning program run by the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA), in partnership with Questacon and CSIRO. Its appeal lies in its unique emphasis on empowering participant teachers by teaching them how to design, develop and implement their own STEM-based teaching resources, rather than presenting them with a pre-made package of activities (http://asta.edu.au/programs/stemx).

In preparing my application, I reflected on the professional hurdles I faced last year, and particularly my approach to integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM). 2017 was an experimental, learning year, but I felt like something was missing. I was the STEM Coordinator in a girls’ school, yet I wasn’t confident in my understanding of what STEM is, and how to teach it effectively.

So, in the second week of January, I flew to Canberra, joining 18 other Western Australian teachers attending the #stemx18 Academy. Many of us met at the airport, flying via Sydney on the smallest (and bumpiest) plane I’ve traveled on to date. We were lucky. Due to extreme heat and a broken baggage system at Sydney Airport, some STEM Xers arrived without their luggage, and others missed flights and were rerouted via the Gold Coast 🙁

Upon our arrival, we settled into our (terribly overheated, non air-conditioned) accommodations at Bruce Hall at Australian National University, and participated in some icebreaker games.

Day 1

We were up bright and early for breakfast on Day 1. Most of us hadn’t had much sleep due to the lack of air conditioning in our rooms, and jetlag wasn’t helping much either. Lack of sleep would become normal over the course of the week!

As primary teachers, we spent our first day at the CSIRO Black Mountain Laboratories, where we worked with the excellent CSIRO Education Team to explore and participate in an inquiry-based approach to teaching STEM.

Our base at @CSIRO Black Mountain Laboratories

We started the day exploring the Global Megatrends identified in the Australia 2030 Report, which attempts to outline the global challenges and future scenarios we may face in the coming decades. These megatrends can provide a framework for student inquiry and investigation into real-world problems.

We also had a brief insight into the current research areas at the CSIRO.

Future Scenarios Project

Our first major CSIRO learning task saw us split into teams, with each team assigned a global megatrend to explore and design a solution for. Our team worked with CSIRO Education expert Emily, and Dr Ashmita, a CSIRO Senior Research Scientist specializing in ecohydrology. In my understanding, her research focusses on the relationship between land use and the health/management of water systems.

Photo credit – Olivia B

Using an open inquiry process, we brainstormed questions and potential areas for our inquiry, choosing to categorizing them under global, regional, and local contexts. We were challenged to narrow down our inquiry to one quality question we could research and take action on. This was a harder and more complicated process than I had realised.

After extensive discussion, we decided to focus on the use of robotics and digital technologies for improving irrigation efficiency in agricultural crop production. We ultimately prototyped a mobile phone app, which would use data from ground moisture sensors and weather data to help farmers improve the efficiency of their crop irrigation practices. The sensors and weather information already exist, but we wanted to try and present the data they provide in a more practical and useful way on a mobile device.

After several frantic hours of intense collaboration, we pitched our idea and mobile app prototype to the rest of our primary group.

We ended the day with a visit to the CSIRO Discovery Centre, followed by a dinner back at the Australian National University. The highlight of the evening was a science show by Dr Graeme Walker, featuring vacuum cleaner bazookas, putting a doll’s head in a vacuum chamber, and blowing teddy bears sky high using compressed (and explosively released) liquid nitrogen! We were exhausted, but it was quite a show!

 

2017 in Review: Teaching Amazing Girls

As 2017 draws to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to look back on what learned this year.

Designing and testing STEM Projects

Learning about the water journey through Junior FLL

I spent the 2017 school year trying to develop a meaningful personal understanding of effective STEM teaching practice and projects, testing out some ideas and approaches in both collaborative and specialist teaching contexts. We ran some promising experiments with the use of robots to teach basic maths concepts (angles, measurement of distance) in the early years. I particularly enjoyed collaboratively teaching our first Junior FLL AQUA ADVENTURE season in Year 2. I also experimented with teaching marble runs (Year 4), cardboard automata (Year 5), and Scratch storytelling and game design (Years 5 and 6).

Overall, I learned some positive lessons this year.

  • Effective STEM projects are hands-on, collaborative, and underpinned by the design process. Students need time to tinker with ideas and materials, before applying their learning and conceptual understandings to design, build, and refine a solution to a problem.
  • Specialist STEM rotations are a fantastic way to teach foundational Design/Digital Technologies concepts and skills, but for this to make a real difference, students need more opportunities to apply their learning in other curriculum areas – for example, providing students with the opportunities to explain Science concepts using a Scratch animation.
  • Next year, I’d like to try and explore opportunities to better integrate my STEM and robotics projects with other curriculum areas. I am also keen to improve my teaching of design thinking and the design process.

The Tinkering Studio @ The Exploratorium

One of the highlights of my year was spending six weeks touring the USA, where I attended ISTE in San Antonio TX, ran a Scratch game design workshop in Chicago, and visited The Exploratorium in San Francisco. This trip was a priceless opportunity to visit friends old and new, and my visits to one of the world’s greatest science discovery museums in San Francisco were particularly valuable. I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Wilkinson, the Director of the Tinkering Studio, and touring their work and tinkering space.

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The Tinkering Studio felt like the spiritual home of the maker movement, and their book – The Art of Tinkering inspired our experimentation with Cardboard Automata (mechanical toys), marble runs, fused plastic fabrics, and marble runs when I returned home. The Automata project was one of the hardest yet most rewarding STEM projects I have facilitated to date, resulting in a significant growth in students’ understanding of mechanical principles and the design process.

I was also fascinated by the major Cardboard sculpture exhibition in The Exploratorium, and I hope to explore the possibilities of guided, large-scale cardboard construction in 2018.

 

Coaching RoboCup Junior

From March to August 2017, I helped coach two former students through their first RoboCup Junior Dance competition. One of the best aspects of RoboCup Junior is its emphasis on the learning process, especially its recommendation that participants maintain a robot design journal or engineering log. This journal, while not compulsory, proved to be one of the best things we ever did, and the girls went on to win Second Place Secondary Dance at the WA State Tournament.

I took a few big takeaways from RoboCup Junior, which I hope to better implement into our robotics program next year

  1. Explicitly teach the engineering design process & how to keep an engineering journal
  2. Build your own robots – not something you’ve found in a book. You learn so much more this way.
  3. Remember to have FUN! (Even when your team drops and destroys the robot an hour before the practice tournament).
  4. Tournaments are fantastic networking and learning opportunities for the children (as well as the coaches). The more time they spend talking to and sharing ideas with other teams, the better.

 

An epic FIRST LEGO League season

In the latter half of the year, my life felt like it revolved around preparations for the FIRST LEGO League “Hydrodynamics” season. In our second season, we once again fielded two teams – “No Signal” and the “Robotic Rebels”. Our goals for this season were to improve our robot design, engineering documentation, and raise the standard of our project research and solution. We invested more hours (mostly on weekends) than I’d care to admit, and while our robot games were a demoralizing disaster, the girls performed remarkably well overall. One team won the Project Presentation Award, and the other, against all expectations, won the Regional Championship Award. We flew to Sydney in early December for the National Tournament – which was an eye-opening learning experience.

The Hydrodynamics FLL season is one that I will remember for many years to come, and not just because we brought home some really nice LEGO trophies. I’ll remember it for the girls I coached, and the lessons we learned during the course of the season. Perhaps the most significant of these is that the FLL Core Values matter. 

In my estimation, we fielded two of the top 5 teams in our regional tournament, but the one which qualified for the national competition was the team which fully embraced, and communicated their experience with the FLL core values. During the year, and especially in the first few weeks of the season, these girls seriously struggled to work together, let alone be kind to each other. We did a few core values activities, had a few rather blunt conversations about teamwork … and gradually, I saw signs of real change. It was extraordinary to watch their transformation over the course of the season. It was an insight into the true spirit of FLL, and one which I will treasure.

Some of our other takeaways

  • While we made significant strides in our engineering documentation and robot design, consistent robot performance was a major issue. At nationals, we learned to use a minimum of two sensors at all times, with the wall being a sensor. While we were making extensive use of wall squaring and line align techniques, differences in the competition table contributed to inconsistent robot performance. Using a touch sensor to confirm we had hit the wall would have been helpful.
  • At nationals, we were lucky enough to receive a masterclass in advanced robot and attachment design from Project Bucephalus, one of the best teams in Australia. We were really intrigued by the possibilities of having a small base robot and large-scale attachments which could complete multiple missions in one run. This is something we will endeavour to explore further next year.
  • We made fantastic improvements in the project research component, but designing innovative solutions to the problems is something we will work on next year. We have started teaching design thinking skills this year – and hopefully, the girls will be better prepared for this component by the time we start our 2018 season.

Teaching Amazing Girls

So, in closing, I’d like to dedicate this post to the amazing children I taught this year, especially my Scratch addicts and my FLL robotics girls. Your passion, and willingness to share your learning with your peers and myself gave me a reason to push through and try out new ideas. I’d also like to thank for my (now former) Principal, who inspired me through her words and actions to become a better teacher. In a year of massive change within our school community, your example and leadership were greatly appreciated.

While there are more significant changes on the horizon, I hope 2018 will be a better year.

Empowering girls’ learning & creativity through @Scratch #scratched

Over the course of the 2017 school year, my approach to teaching Scratch changed dramatically as I came to better understand how to support my girls’ learning and engagement with Scratch visual programming.

As I have previously explored here and here, my students thrive on challenging, authentic visual programming tasks which focus on storytelling and game design. One of my professional learning goals this year was to bring my students’ up to the year level C standard for visual programming, assessed against the WA version of the Digital Technologies Curriculum. I also set out to develop a scope and sequence of Scratch skills and assessment tasks for each year level.

We made a great deal of progress, although at times, I felt like a victim of my own succcess. In addition to our classroom projects, it was not uncommon for students to spend many happy hours in their own time exploring and building Scratch projects of all kinds. In addition, my lunchtime Scratch club proved to be so incredibly popular that I had to split it across two sessions due to overwhelming demand.

So, as the year draws to a close, I thought I might share what I’ve learned, and take this opportunity showcase my students’ learning and creativity in Scratch.

Our Scratch Progression (A Work in Progress)

YEAR 3

Various storytelling and simple animation projects using Scratch Junior on iPads. Scratch 3.0, to be released sometime next year, will no longer require Flash, and will be iPad friendly. I can’t wait to use it with my students!

YEAR 4

Projects: Animations, Storytelling, Maze Games

Skills / Teaching Points

  • Create and edit sprites in Scratch
  • Create and edit backdrops
  • Use the switch backdrops control block to switch scenes/screens (instead of a strange combination of key presses to progress a story)
  • Script and code a conversation between two sprites
  • Explicitly teach how to use the arrow keys to make sprites move, eg. through a maze.
  • Use repeat blocks to repeat a sequence of steps (e.g. a dance)
  • Informal introduction to IF/THEN branching and use of clickable buttons to enable user interaction with stories or games

Relevant Scratch Tutorials

  1. Getting Started with Scratch
  2. Animate Your Name
  3. Let’s Dance
  4. Make it Fly
  5. Fashion Game
  6. Hide & Seek Game
  7. Create a Virtual Pet
  8. Create a Story

Example Projects

(Note: You may need to enable Flash in your browser to view these.)

 

YEAR 5

Projects: Choose Your Own Adventure Stories, Character Animation, Simple Games, Teach/Explain/Model a Concept (2018), Scratch Geometric Art (2018?)

Skills / Teaching Points

  • Explicitly teach use of flowcharts and IF/THEN, IF/ELSE control blocks (branching)
  • Explicitly teach how to use coordinate position to control sprites location on the screen, and arrow key movements (up/down, left/right).
  • Introduce use of sensing blocks to detect colour or other sprites (essential for game design)
  • Explicitly teach how to use Broadcast and Receive blocks (better to do here than in Year 6).
  • Encourage experimentation with Pen tool, variables, operator blocks, and user input sensing blocks (e.g. question and answer)
  • Experiment with the use the random operator block to affect my sprite’s movements and position on the screen

Relevant Scratch Tutorials

  1. Race to the Finish
  2. Hide & Seek
  3. Catch Game
  4. Create a Pong Game

Example Projects

YEAR 6

Project Ideas: Game Design (In-depth), Storytelling, Quizzes, Scratch Art

Skills/Teaching Points

  • Reinforce appropriate use of IF/THEN branching, Broadcast and Recieve event blocks
  • Explicitly teach how to use sense, IF/THEN, and operator blocks to create quizzes, games, and stories which require user input through the use of clickable buttons and text entry – catering for multiple possible answers.
  • Explicitly teach use of Pen and Data (variable) blocks.

Game Design Resources

I created a Scratch game design website for my ISTE presentation in June. Please take the time to explore, and feel free to share it with your networks – http://bit.ly/scratchgamedesign17.

 

Example Projects

 

A Quick Note on Scratch Educator & Managed Student Accounts

Scratch now has Education accounts, allowing teachers to create user accounts for their students without the need for email addresses. We created Scratch accounts for our students based on their anonymised usernames for another site and taught them how to protect their online identity when participating in the online Scratch community. Despite one or two teachable moments, overall our girls really appreciated receiving constructive feedback from other Scratchers – both within and beyond their school.

While our experience with managed student accounts was broadly positive, they are a nightmare to manage and transfer at the end of the school year. If I were to create student accounts over again, I’d create Scratch classes for each Year/Grade Level – e.g. Year 5 2017. At the end of the year, the class can then be renamed, and new students added. Students are taught to add their projects to Scratch Studios, although I will need to think through a proper naming convention for these as well – as they are visible to all students in our school.

 

So, where to from here?

It has taken me nearly two and a half years, but I finally feel like I am starting to understand Scratch and how to teach it in a way which is accessible to students with a range of experience and confidence with visual programming. It was wonderful to see students achieve success with Scratch, even if it took some of them considerably more time and help to start realising its’ potential. I am indebted to my early adopter students for both showing me what is possible with this programming platform, and for helping teach their peers and teachers. The power of peer teaching, and the wealth of tutorials available on YouTube and Scratch Online are not to be underestimated!