Notes on a failed lesson

DIY Board Game by San Jose Library, CC BY-SA 2.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjoselibrary/4788007123/sizes/m/in/photostream/
DIY Board Game by San Jose Library, CC BY-SA 2.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjoselibrary/4788007123/sizes/m/in/photostream/

 

At the very start of this session I used the idea of simple games to get to know my Higher Computing class and clearly define the importance of rules, structure and boundaries when problem solving. They had the option to play War, Shove Ha’penny or Penny Football and learn how to win (or at least how to avoid defeat). My class were well motivated by the opportunity to spend around 80 minutes exploring, in some cases, these >new< games! The intended outcome, relating to computer programming, seemed to be an easy step for them and I noted that the students, having spent the time playing those games, were able (in the main) to use them as a reference during the remainder of the unit. So far, so good.

In the next unit I returned to the games analogy when tackling the Fetch, Execute cycle (which relates to the internal workings of a computer processor). Instead of having the Higher Computing class play simple games which relate to the need for boundaries I gave the class the boundaries and rules involved and set them the task of coming up with their own paper-based game to reinforce the intricacies of the Fetch, Execute cycle. I asked the students to create rather than consume and hoped that the freedom I gave them to come up with their own ideas (in groups) would result in some interesting interpretations. It did, but not as I’d hoped.

I made a few big mistakes:

Firstly, the subject matter may have been a bad choice for this kind of task. Higher Computing exams tend to require regurgitation of the Fetch, Execute cycle steps – there is no scope for scenario-based problem solving here – so it’s all a bit too abstract really I suppose. In the past I’ve employed other kinaesthetic methods for teaching this – usually involving bouncy balls or whiteboard pens being passed around the class and ending up being aimed at a target (a clean metal bin is perfect for this and gives reassuring auditory feedback). Each student had a role to play in the transfer of data from one part of the room to another. A major drawback was (I felt) that they were consuming another game and perhaps not engaging with the subject matter as deeply as they could – hence the change this year.

Secondly, I hadn’t asked the class to create a paper-based game for me before. I hadn’t modelled it either. Really daft when you think about it actually and I’ve already identified a few opportunities to introduce paper-based game creation during the programming unit for next session.

The resulting game ideas (no group finished their game in the allotted 80 minutes, although they were all keen to continue creation for the rest of the week!) all had one thing in common. None of them related to the Fetch, Execute cycle at all! The students had concentrated on the game mechanisms before thinking about how they were going to reinforce the subject matter. After “letting go” and listening to (and attempting to guide them a little in)  their discussions I knew about 40 minutes in that they were going about it the wrong way however I held on to the hope that they would suddenly “get it” and produce the goods. You already know that this didn’t happen and I ended up looking at a deck of cards, monopoly board and snakes and ladders board. No group had any inkling how they were going to create a structure for their game.

The intended outcomes of the lesson were to be able to correctly sequence the Fetch, Execute read and write cycles and use the correct terminology when doing so. However by diverting the focus from the content to the means of delivery I undoubtedly failed the class that Monday morning.

So I spent the next two hours of non-contact time creating my own example game (which, in retrospect I should have done anyway!) that mimicked the process of the Fetch, Execute cycle and forced the players to use the terms and sequences to make progress. I tested the finished game out with some of the students later in the week and, although it had a few flaws, I feel they learned about the subject matter. This was what I really wanted from the class in the first place, but I also wanted them to engage more deeply by creating their own resources. I wanted them to create rather than consume. Next time I’ll remember that if I want students to change, they need help and mentoring to do so.

CPD 2011-12 Summary

With one week to go until school session 2012-13 I thought I should summarise and categorise my CPD blog posts this year. I think, to be honest, that I should have posted much more about my offline reading and twitter conversations but I struggled to fix on a method for sharing my thoughts. However I set out to make an impact at my new school and to push for changes which would benefit my learners and I achieved this with a lot of help and support from local and international colleagues so THANK YOU for your tweets, emails, discussions and blog posts: I owe you a coffee when we meet in person!

Please click on the link to CPD 2011-12 to see a summary list of all my blog posts against my initial CPD plans. Also please feel free to post a comment linking to your own CPD reflection or pass on tips of how to nail those targets every time!

Reflection on use of Safari Photo Africa as stimulus for P7 writing

Over the last few weeks I’ve been using Safari Photo Africa with a P7 class to inspire their writing. As I see them once a week we have been creating podcast material since August but the interest was definitely beginning to wane. I decided that first-hand experience of an African safari would inspire them to create a script for their final task: a short section for a whole class radio show.

I gave them the option of imaginative response, factual writing or poetry. I also allowed learners to write notes while watching others play the game. In later weeks I let some of the class move on to the machines to type up their scripts or begin to record their podcast as I noted some of the class were disengaging with the task, rather than being inspired by it. Here’s a section of my notes which were jotted into my iPod straight after the class left in week 2.

Audio cable connected to smartboard, sound much better. Took class through giraffe level. Less appropriate as took long time to find creatures so class disengaged. More wanted to do silly things and show off which at one point required game to be restarted. Teacher in class to see resource being used impressed by potential. Tighter planning required to keep class engaged. Some good extended responses to questions: whats a hyrax? (An antelope); where do vultures nest? (In rock crevices) – new learning for many pupils (and me!). End of lesson feedback: class agreed elephants level was better as more happened. Would have been good to have class in groups to play game while others worked on recordings.

After reflecting on the second week I decided to spend a lot more time with the game before the final session with the P7 class. By this point two-thirds of the class had played the game and more than half had made significant progress with their writing. I wanted to take on board their feedback about enjoying the game more when things happened (I’ll admit, finding your way down off a mountainside is a good challenge (the giraffe level, week 2), but in an hour-long lesson where pupils were taking turns it just didn’t suit) and to provide the class with an action-packed finale! I played through the game for another six assignments and found two excellent scenarios to place the class in: a helicopter safari where the character didn’t have to move, just take photographs (quickly – which made it very challenging and a great team level), and a night-time lion hunt where the photographer could be as easily eaten by a lurking crocodile as pounced on by a lion.

The helicopter assignment was very successful as there was a lot of action, audio instructions and animals to take photographs of. I also changed the structure of the lesson so those who had already written their stories or poems could make progress with typing up their scripts then begin to record the last part of their podcast. This worked really well as it allowed me to help those who were struggling with storage space for their recordings while entrusting two game experts to guide those who hadn’t played the game before.

I had also made sure to work through a few extra levels and save games at exciting points. This allowed me to change the game quickly to a night safari during the second half of the period. The night safari follows a lion hunt and is a much more challenging assignment. The remaining pupils had to restart the level quite often as they got too close to the pride or one of the crocodiles lurking in the dark depths of the river.

Over the three weeks there were many successes – I noted a high degree of co-operation between peers and a levelling of the playing field with regard to general knowledge as well as game-playing technique. One pupil who regularly struggled with podcasting skills became one of the game experts and patiently explained the controls to his classmates to allow them to make the most of their time as the photographer. Another pupil shared her surprisingly detailed knowledge of the animals appearing on the screen. Surprising that is until she told me that she had been to Kenya on holiday with her family and had gone on a real safari. She regularly commented on the accuracy of the game in its portrayal of the environment and the actions of the animals roaming them. Two weeks on from using the game, the podcasts are nearing completion and sounding fantastic! The variety of writing has surprised: poems, stories, news reports, even a few raps!

There were a few technical hitches too. I had originally planned to have two pupils play the game at one time (inspired by Dawn Hallybone’s posts on using a similar game on Nintendo Wii) by setting up an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse controller for the pupil controlling the camera. The other pupil was to use the laptop to move the photographer around the environment. As I explained in my last post on Safari Photo Africa, I managed to set this up successfully at home but due to interference in the classroom the virtual wireless network regularly dropped out so the iPod could not be used. If I used the game again in future I would make sure I had a wireless mouse / Gyromouse rather then the convoluted virtual networking setup.

Safari Photo Africa, although released in 2006, kept a demanding P7 class enthralled in the main and certainly inspired their writing (which I’ll share in a future post along with some podcast snippets if I can). An added bonus to using the game was that as well as allowing situated cognition and development of themed writing each photo the pupils took within the game was saved to the laptop hard disk, meaning that good shots can be printed for wall displays, added to pupil work in future or added to blog posts (like this one!). In fact I intend to use them to create African-themed Christmas cards and calendars in the final session with the class before the holidays.

Getting ready for a safari

Tomorrow I take my laptop, preloaded with Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth, to the Junior school to immerse the class in a scenario closely linked to the work they are doing with their primary teacher. I only have an hour with them, so want to make sure everything is set up to work as quickly as possible.

Originally I had wanted to make use of a Nintendo Wii with Wild Earth African Safari but this was not possible (or affordable) as a proof of concept in the timeframe available, so I found an old copy of Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth for PC and installed it on my laptop.
It looks brilliant when displayed on the data projector and allows the players to take part in a virtual animal photograph safari – taking shots for magazine articles. The photos taken in the games are automatically saved to the user’s My Pictures directory on the PC, meaning that they can be used in other applications at a later date. I think this is also possible in the Nintendo Wii version of the game but imagine it’s a little trickier to get the images onto a PC.

 

When you complete an assignment your photos are inserted into a magazine article = instant reward!

 

The main advantage of a Nintendo Wii over a laptop is that the wireless wii controller supports exploration of the game by groups of learners sat in front of the SmartBoard. I’ve read posts by Dawn Hallybone and Nicky Newbury who maximise the interactivity of the class by pairing up learners and having one pupil move and the other take the photographs. The laptop could allow this but would mean a lot of moving around and swapping places, so I wanted to try and find the best way to interact with the game wirelessly. There is a GyroMouse in my classroom but no sign of drivers or installation CDs and I wanted to be able to use the keyboard wirelessly as well. Then I remembered reading about using an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse and found Logitech TouchMouse, an app which not only allows users to control the mouse pointer on the PC using the portable device but also access its keyboard. I installed it and after a little bit of fiddling with Windows 7’s firewall settings (you need to allow it to access the Private networks, not Public – go through Control Panel for this) I got it to work!

The only issue with using the iPod Touch as a wireless controller is that it needs a wifi connection that is shared with the laptop to communicate. This is a real issue in school where there are no wireless routers and a very tight rein on network security. When I was Mobile Learning Leader for Inverurie Academy I investigated using the school’s MacBook White to set up ad-hoc wifi networks to allow iPods to access the Internet. There was little success with the Internet-access part, but the iPods were all able to communicate with each other. If only there was a way to do this in Windows 7 I thought – and luckily enough, there is!

After a little Google searching I found Virtual Router – a freeware program which allows your laptop to be set up as a wifi hotspot with the intention of sharing its Internet connection with other devices. Set up is incredibly simple – you give your ad-hoc network a name and a password and it uses WPA2 encryption to ensure no rogue devices interfere with the laptop!

“at this moment i am typing part of my blog using the ipod touch wireless keyboard – i have turned off all connection to the INTERNET and only had to restart the logitech touchuse wireless server!”

It seems to work best if you access the iPod app before starting the Logitech TouchMouse wireless server. If you don’t you may find that the devices don’t connect.

Unfortunately although the keyboard presses do get sent to the laptop, using the keyboard for games control seems impossible. Neither Logitech nor HippoRemote Lite allowed me to control the game character so I may need to allow one child to use the laptop. This may mean one learner is looking at the laptop screen instead of the SmartBoard but if I can position the laptop in a suitable place it may be a minor issue.

I ran through the first assignment on my own and it took about 40 minutes – too long for the lesson tomorrow but if I can set up saved games to allow the class to jump in at appropriate points (meeting the elephant herd for the first time, giraffes grazing, the swimming crocodiles around the elderly elephants) I feel that the class will be able to generate excellent material for their podcasts.

If you have been using computer games to augment your teaching and learning I highly recommend you visit the Consolarium site. This service, offered by Education Scotland (new name for LT Scotland) aims to explore and share how the appropriate use of computer games can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. It has received international praise and attention, and for good reason.

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.

FIFA Thursday

It is nearly the end of term and the assessments for the year are finished. The restructured S3/4 course has been designed so that the pupils are engaged in creating their own multimedia applications – hence there have been few calls for a rest day as they have been making and playing each other’s games for the last few weeks. More on that in another blog post I think as their work this year has been pretty inspirational…

I set up an old laptop (resurrected by my Advanced Higher pupils a year ago and still working well!) as a machinima station in my class, permanently hooked into the data projector feed to record walkthroughs from the ps3. The plan is to allow pupils to explore Fifa 2010/11, collaborate in multiple player games and coach new players (including me!) in how to play well. I also wanted them to try recording matches or training to build up video guides or to edit game highlights.

The two PS3 consoles were set up at either end of the classroom allowing space for the class to move around freely. It also allowed those not playing to watch or use the iPods or their own PCs. Too late I realised a selection of games (including FIFA) could have been preloaded on to the iPods. A large number of the audience chose to play The Sims 3 while waiting and I observed the same kind of peer coaching between small groups as occurred with FIFA. They organised a fair length of game (3min each half) and an inclusive practice to ensure as many of their classmates got the chance to play a game within the single periods.

Two pupils brought their own controllers and supplied the FIFA game disks which allowed at least two players on each PS3. Compared to the single player Heavy Rain which I used (selectively) with my Higher class earlier in the year and Little Big Planet (which allows multiple players but is viewed by a number of pupils as too childish unless they are building their own levels) I felt that the pupils were sharing more expertise, were more deeply involved in the experience and that the audience got more out of passive participation. For example, a number of the songs in FIFA 11 interested pupils enough to complete a complex web search to find the track and look for further songs by the same artist.

Discussions about local teams were also well informed. One pupil was attempting to show me how to round the goalkeeper by using L2 and the right analogue stick – a skill I have yet to master – and he softened my failure a little by pointing out that Aberdeen players in Fifa are probably too slow to manage tricks successfully!

If there was an obvious difference between the two main games played in my class today it was that the girls in the class preferred The Sims 3 and were more vocal in their coaching. The majority of the boys played Fifa silently, even when they were on the same team! They all responded well to the challenges set by the game and I can safely tell you that even after a free period of practice I was only hitting the net 20% of the time. Pupils will be running virtual rings around me for a while yet!

TeachMeet Aberdeen 2011 reflections (part 1/2)

One week on from TeachMeet Aberdeen I wanted to jot down my impressions of the evening, record links and any available presentations, and pass on contact details of the presenters.

I was made aware of TeachMeet Aberdeen 10 (SE) at the last minute and unfortunately could not attend but in the 12 months since I’ve been able to log into live webcasts of a number of TeachMeets around the UK. I’ve been inspired by the presenters and the organisers of these events and made use of their tips in my day-to-day lesson planning – improving the experience for pupils in my classroom. So when Stuart Brown asked if I’d like to help to arrange TeachMeet Aberdeen 11 I jumped at the chance.

Our decision making and delegation centred around email and twitter communication channels and was very successful. If anyone tells you that you need to look a co-organiser in the eye to effectively plan an event, tell them they’re living in the dark ages. Stuart was an excellent colleague, coordinating press coverage and the finer details of venue arrangements (the MacRobert building at University of Aberdeen: home of the Education faculty) without breaking sweat. We met in person for the first time at about 5pm on the day of the TeachMeet, which I think is fairly mind blowing as by that point pretty much everything was in place (including Stuart’s radio interview for the next day!).

Thanks too to Jim McCracken and Linda Stephen from University of Aberdeen who organised the wifi logins, tea and coffee, room booking and even a bit of cleaning! They were brilliant hosts and incredibly supportive and enthusiastic. Disaster seemed likely half way through the evening when the laptop ran out of charge due to fact it was streaming video onto the Internet. Without Linda sourcing a few power adapters in under five minutes we would have lost more than half of our audience! Jim even pitched in with a presentation on a resource recommended by one of his students. Saying “thanks” doesn’t seem to be enough.

The video of the evening is currently available in hour long chunks at http://www.livestream.com/teachmeetaberdeen11 but I am in the process of editing them into their individual presentations. It’s unfortunate that the Livestream studio is slightly blocked within the Aberdeenshire authority at the moment – something for future TeachMeet organisers to check out before using their service.

Martin Coutts (@mcoutts81) kicked off proceedings with a presentation on how he uses an iPad to engage secondary pupils in his mathematics classes. He even used his iPad to give the presentation and showed how this device could be a godsend to classroom teachers. Earlier in the evening Martin also demonstrated how his iPad 1 could record video by using separately purchased camera connection kit – it actually allows the user to capture in a better resolution than the iPad 2! Martin also showed the audience how he uses http://www.mangahigh.com and games-based learning to augment his learning and teaching to inspire his students. A great start!

[youtube http://youtu.be/vTyclpbbaFE]

Kirsty Marsland (@kirstymarsbar), currently studying for her PGDE in Modern Studies, gave an insight into how she uses Wordle to highlight learning intentions and generate interest in her lessons.

[youtube http://youtu.be/B4cGeRZf9Gw]

Stuart Brown (@stuart_g_brown) was up next and described some of the challenges he faces in using ICT effectively in the classroom. He also offered excellent probationary advice to the students in the audience (real and virtual) and mused on the impact his support philosoraptor had on the attainment of his pupils and why he would let pupils use mobile phones for learning in class. This was an excellent, well considered presentation that only got better with second viewing. Highly recommended!

[youtube http://youtu.be/QbbkYyQ5jpg]

Charlie Barrow (@charliebarrow) rounded off the first half by showing how he uses augmented reality at Portlethen Primary to make learning magical. He uses the mobile phone application Junaio and a lot of preparation to turn pupil-generated paper images into content activators which when scanned plays an associated video or takes the user to a particular web page. It looked amazing and although my set of iPods do not have cameras (which is unfortunately de rigour for augmented reality) I hope to speak to him further about his project and see if a link to secondary could be made.

[youtube http://youtu.be/DpOLNS729hc]

I’ll add the second post once all the videos have been uploaded to YouTube and my notes turned into something resembling a coherent train of thought!