Thursday, April 3, 2014

Science Selfies

In this social media/mobile learning age, what better way to get students to share their enjoyment of Science than allowing them to take Science Selfies during their experiments. These can be shared with their parents, teachers and each other.

And a challenge for all adult readers - we are forever trying to raise the profile of Science - lets get actual scientists posting Science Selfies on Twitter and Instagram #scienceselfies! (I thought this was an original idea but there are loads out there already. At least this is good for Science :)

iPads in Science Experiments

There are thousands of iPad apps being flogged for Science education but what are the best ways to use  iPads to compliment Science pedagogy. To me, the best and most obvious way is to use iPads or other mobile devices in Science experiments and inquiry. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Get the students to record the teacher demonstrating an experiment before they attempt it themselves. That way they can listen back and make sure they haven't missed anything whilst not wasting time writing. Revisiting the video for homework or in later classes the students can use it to help them to formally write up the experimental method and for various literacy exercises.
  2. Get students to take photos of the teacher's experimental apparatus plus any diagrams on the board. Again, why waste precious class time copying them down.
  3. Most importantly, students can video themselves performing experiments, orating their procedure and capturing their results as they happen. This is particularly empowering to students with poor writing skills. And seriously, does every experiment have to written up formally? Why not a video blog instead?
  4. Use the stopwatch facility for the plethora of experiments that require measuring time. (Quick anecdote - years ago I would forever be forgetting to order the stopwatches for experiments and was too afraid to go to the lab technician late. Instead I would ask the students to use the stopwatches on their old clunky mobile phones I knew they had hidden on their person. It was breaking school rules, but to benefit learning. This was the beginning of mobile learning).
  5. Make Science Selfies!!!
Read Authentic Learning in Primary Science to see this in practice.

Authentic Learning in Primary Science

This week I was again fortunate enough to run some Science lessons for some Primary students from  St Felix Primary School using the Science labs at La Salle College next door. Rather than simply blasting them with mad Science experiments (check out last year's fun: Bunsen Burners, Flame Tests and iPads with Years 4 & 5), the Principal Lisa Harbrow and myself were determined that any experiments would compliment the students' units of study. Accordingly, I decided to do some electrolysis with Year 5 who were studying 'Gold' and thermodynamics with Year 6 who were studying 'Antarctica'.

Y11/12 Chemistry with Y5

Year 5 had been learning about the gold rushes of California and Australia, alluvial gold and how to pan for it. Now the chemistry of gold is not particularly exciting, but the extraction of other metals is! Consequently, I decided to get the students to perform an electrolysis experiment to electroplate 5¢ coins with copper extracted from copper sulphate solution. Now this is Year 11/12 Chemistry, certainly requiring secondary schools equipment. However, we were fortunate enough to have access to a lab at La Salle College next door thanks to Principal Mick Egan plus the most amazing lab technician in the form of Margaret Croucher (who is also Chairperson of ASETNSW - Association of Science Education Technicians, and treasurer of SETA - Science Education Technicians Australia). With this quality of support we were able to sort out the appropriate WHS for Y5 students to perform such an experiment.

No paper instructions or worksheets were issued. Instead, students recorded myself performing the procedure using their school's iPads, photographed the equipment and also diagrams on the board to assist them in carrying out the experiment themselves. More importantly they filmed themselves performing the experiment. (In follow up lessons back at Primary school the students would be using the video footage to help write up their experiment as a literacy activity). I also demonstrated the electrolysis of water using a Hofmann Voltameter, igniting the hydrogen produced for a nice squeaky pop! And, with a bit of time spare at the end of a great Science lesson, what more motivating activity could we do than take Science Selfies!

Y9/10 Physics with Y6

In studying Antartica, Year 6 learnt in particular about the features of animals that lived there plus the issues of global warming with regard to sea level rises. These two aspects leant themselves perfectly to some experiments more appropriate to the Year 9 and 10 syllabus. To build on what the students had learnt about the use of blubber and layers of feathers in various Antarctic fauna (plus fur in Arctic fauna) we performed the classic insulation experiment using warm water (not hot water due to being Year 6), soft drink cans as calorimeters, thermometers and various materials for insulation to compare between the materials. This was a wonderful scientific exercise in understanding controlled, independent and dependent variables. Again the iPads were used in a similar way to before (including selfies!) plus this time as stopwatches too.

Whilst this experiment was taking place the students had another experiment running. Now this is an experiment I made up. Taking 2 beakers we filled one with 100ml of water and placed an ice cube on a gauze across the top of the beaker. The other we also filled with 100ml water but this time added an ice cube and poured out a small amount of water to bring it back to 100ml. The point of this experiment was to highlight the important difference between glaciers (ice cube on the gauze) melting and icebergs (ice cube in the water) melting. Many people think that both cause sea levels to rise. However of course, when an iceberg (or floating ice cube) melts the water level stays the same due to Archimedes Principle. When a glacier on land (ice cube on a gauze) melts then water levels do rise due to the input of additional water - obvious when you think about it.

Most importantly with these thermodynamics experiments, any Primary school could perform them, they need only purchase thermometers, plastic beakers/measuring cylinders/jugs and basic materials such as wool, cotton wool, aluminium foil, bubble wrap etc.

Authentic Learning in Science

IMHO this is authentic learning in Science. The students cross-curricular units of study determined the experiments. The learning was in real world contexts. Just because the students are in Primary school there is no reason why they shouldn't engage in higher-order scientific inquiry and experimentation. In fact they loved the fact that they were performing senior Science experiments. Many thanks go out to Lisa, Mick and Margaret plus the Primary teachers including Maree Elchaar and Margaret Stelmach, and of course the wonderful Year 5 and 6 students!

Monday, March 24, 2014

eLearning Advice for Beginning Teachers

Recently I ran a twilight workshop for beginning teachers. The main purpose was to educate the new teachers on their rights and responsibilities when using technology in school (and home). Referring to our acceptable use and social media policies I highlighted that as long as they know that 'Big Brother' is watching then they should behave accordingly. With regard to social media we discussed the challenges facing teachers, young teachers in particular, but also the opportunities.  

Below are the slides that I used. They are self-explanatory (although I must point out that I didn't realise the pun I gave slide 12 until later :)

Friday, March 14, 2014

ACU TeachMeet

I was due to attend and present at the ACU TeachMeet but was unfortunately unable to make it yet again :( However, below is a short video I made in lieu of me presenting. Well done to Leanne Cameron and Miriam Tanti for hosting yet another great TeachMeet at ACU! The back-channel can be found at #TMACU.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bunsen Burners, Flame Tests and iPads with Years 4 & 5

Recently, as a favour to a local primary principal (and to fulfil my own need to teach some science), I ran a day of science lessons for Years 4 and 5. As a wonderful example of cooperation, the neighbouring secondary school had provided the primary school with access to a science lab for the year. Having the unique opportunity to use secondary science equipment with primary students I set  about designing a fun and worthwhile hour to be repeated with the four classes. 

Now primary students are always itching to study science once they get to secondary (although this enthusiasm often wanes by the end of Year 7...), and what they want to use most of all are Bunsen burners. To this end, I chose to:
  1. teach the students the parts of a Bunsen and their function
  2. get them to light a Bunsen safely
  3. perform flame tests on various metal salts.
The preparation was made possible by the wonderful lab technician at the secondary school, Margaret Croucher (who is also Chairperson of ASETNSW - Association of Science Education Technicians, and treasurer of SETA - Science Education Technicians Australia). With my secondary chauvinism it didn't occur to me that primary students might not be allowed to participate in the experiments. Thankfully Margaret came to the rescue, and after a lot of negotiation with the Health and Safety people we established that although we couldn't use solid salts we could use 0.1M solutions soaked into paddle pop sticks.

When the students arrived, much to their delight, we got them to wear lab coats and safety goggles. We then discussed the parts of the Bunsen, their function, how to light a flame and the different types of flame. Then the moment of truth - every student got to light a Bunsen. [Aside - during the introduction I pointed out that the box of equipment for every group had a famous scientist on it. However, of the 10 scientists only 2 were female (Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin), why? One boy tried to explain that men were smarter and was quickly rebuked. After a several hints (surprisingly many) we extracted that historically girls and women weren't given the same access to education. However, I challenged both the girls and boys to capitalise on their fortune in accessing high quality education in a country of opportunities such that in 100 years they might be the famous scientists in a 5/5 split).]

Once every student had successfully lit the Bunsen I brought them back together to demonstrate how to perform a flame test. Subsequently, they each got to perform a flame test with a different solution within their groups, filming proceedings on their iPads and recording their results. Chuffed with the timing of the lesson I brought them together to go through the results.

This was a wonderful day that couldn't have happened without the vision of Lisa Harbrow, Principal of St Felix Primary School, the support of Mick Egan, Principal of La Salle College, the Y4&5 class teachers, particularly Maree Elchaar and Ashley Azzopardi, Ritz Balzarno - Science Coordinator at La Salle, and of course Margaret Croucher. As a follow up activity, Ashley got her students to blog about their experiences. Please see below, it is very cute as they practise their letter writing to each other, signing off sincerely. Please do add you own comments on their blog to feedback to the students. Well done Year 4 & 5!!!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Future of Technology in Education

I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to present at the 2013 ACEL Conference: The Future is Now in Canberra. The motivation to present was the prestige of the conference, my current work on what future schools will look like, plus building on previous work such as Welcome to the Future ...Today and What does it mean to teach in a technology-rich world?. Accordingly, I chose to present on The Future of Technology in Education. Below are the abstract, the presentation itself and an explanation of the slides (those that attended should note that fuller explanations of slides 27-30 are included below).

If we are to prepare students (and for that matter, teachers) for their future, what will the future of education look like? What new technologies are on the horizon and which ones will become de rigeur? Are there ‘futuristic’ technologies already being used successfully in schools? Drawing on the latest research, this presentation will look at the future directions of technology in education, inside and outside the classroom. 
Future opportunities and how they might be capitalised upon e.g. teacher collaboration will be discussed. Examples of the innovative use of contemporary technologies in teaching and learning, K-12, will be demonstrated. The emerging challenges surrounding technology that are facing education leaders, such as professional development, accessibility, evolving societal pressures, and how they might be overcome will also be discussed. As the saying goes, “do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time”

Slide 1 - My ever present opening slide. What is wrong with this slide? Nope, it's not the kid with the slate (get it! :) the image is back to front, the writing on the board goes from right to left. 

Slide 2 - Background: Senior eLearning Adviser to 17 secondary schools in southwest 
Sydney and the Shire.

Slide 3 - It is important that this whole presentation is ground in the latest research. The most obvious and important choice for future technologies in education is of course the annual Horizon Report

Slides 4&5 - The 2013 DEAG Report, commissioned by the Australian Government, makes some important recommendations to prepare schools for the future of learning.

Slide 6 - With the end of the Federal funding in the DER we must not lose the momentum created thanks to the embedding of so much technology in schools. Equally, we must learn from the various evaluations of the DER by DEEWR, DECNSW and (as a shameless bit of self-promotion) my first and second papers. 

Slide 7 - Before Google, the teachers were the sole bastions of knowledge. Post-Google, students can find out simple facts using simple Google searches, Wikipedia (copying, pasting and plagiarising) and even acquire skills e.g. learning the guitar via YouTube, all on mobile phones that are banned in most classrooms. From about 2016 according to the Horizon Reports (or 2020 according to Wikipedia), the Semantic Web will be all-pervasive with a far more personalised online experience.

Slide 8 - Consider the new NSW Board of Studies Syllabus for Australian Curriculum History. If we only ask simple questions of facts, students can answer these in seconds.

Slide 9 - However, if we ask deeper, higher-order, personal, subjective questions students will not be able to google the answers.

Slide 10 - Ask Ungoogleable Questions (a phrase I heard from @ewanmcintosh). I am not saying Google is bad, but in its simple form it is pretty low-order (as shown in Bloom's Digital Taxonomy). We need to offer students higher-order questions and opportunities. At the very least we should extol the virtues of 'Advanced' Google searches.

Slide 11 - Whether within or outside the classroom, students can collaborate with their teachers and each other, importantly receiving immediate and regular feedback through cloud computing apps like Google Docs and Edmodo.

Slide 12 - Teacher Collaboration: teachers can also take advantage of these technologies and collaborate too, not least with collaborative programming for the Australian Curriculum using Google Docs.

Slide 13 - Teachers don't need to rely solely on formal professional development or the collegiality of the teachers they work with. Through TeachMeets and the networks that ensue, teachers can be proactive in their own professional learning in a fun, informal and highly beneficial environment. (Check out

Slide 14 - Quick plug for all English and Drama teachers, K-12, to attend the English Australian Curriculum TeachMeet at the State Theatre Company. Should be a great Friday night out! See for details.

Slide 15 - Hand in glove with TeachMeets is networking with fellow educators through Twitter. On Twitter there is a whole variety of awesome teachers willing to collaborate, share resources, converse with and even mentor. On this slide is an all too brief (and nepotistic) list of some of the people I collaborate with and learn from. They represent educators from government, systemic Catholic and independent schools, interstate and overseas.

Slide 16 - Teachers need not feel isolated as they can now tap into thousands of expert and similarly specialised teachers via Twitter. One way to find specialist colleagues is via 'hash tags' on Twitter, some examples of which are listed here. These allow for subject based conversations that can be searched for easily. The list on the left shows global conversations. The list on the right shows Australian hash tags. In both cases these conversations are sometimes organised for specific times in the week.

Slide 17 - A couple of Prezis to help teachers and principals with Twitter and understanding it's power for collaboration and online presence.

Slide 18 - Other ways teachers are collaborating include using things like Pinterest to find teachers from the same subject area to follow, post and share resources with. In the example shown, my colleague Bettina, from All Saints Girls Liverpool, is a Spanish teacher isolated in a local network of Italian teachers. She uses Pinterest to find and connect with other Spanish teachers form North America.

Slide 19 - With most, if not all students having a mobile phone (check out the ABS stats), why are they banned from most schools and classrooms? Now that the Digital Education Revolution has ended and the Federal funding stopped, how are we going to maintain the momentum of embedded technology in the classroom. One answer is to let the students bring their own mobile devices. There are solutions to the issues of cost and equity, not least schools supporting the minority of Australian families that cannot afford any device. There are also technical solutions for the techies. Several schools are running pilots of BYOD, including some I work with in low SES areas, plus @aliceleung's school, again in a low SES area. 

Slide 20 - A great image that passed my way that sums up the power of mobile devices and their underutilisation.

Slide 21 - A lot of people do not realise that many students already have programming skills and enjoy coding. Under the guidance of my colleague Jason at Good Samaritan College Hinchinbrook, there are Year 10 girls and Year 11 boys writing literacy and numeracy apps respectively for the neighbouring primary school students. The older students are using the actual NSW Board of Studies syllabuses to create and differentiate the questions for the littlies. This is an amazing story - well done to Jason and students!

Slide 22 - Identified in the 2013 Horizon Report was the emergence of 3D Printing over the next four to five years. 3D printing uses computer-aided design (CAD) software combined with a plastic extrusion-like process to create tangible, three-dimensional objects. Despite the timeline suggested, it should be noted that several schools have all ready purchased and are using a 3D printer. For example, Clancy College in West Hoxton, is using its 3D printer to make topographical maps in Geography, molecular structures in Science, mobile phone cases in Design and isoloc hybrid joints in Timber only possible in CAD.

Slide 23 - Game-Based Learning: why not use Angry Birds to teach projectile motion as this pic from @aliceleung's classroom shows? There is also a great blog post by Wired on this.

Slide 24 - Taking GBL to the extreme, Michael from Freeman College Bonnyrigg is using WWE Wrestling on the XBox to teach literacy! The students have to write correct instructions on their moves and counter moves. Based on their writing the moves are then entered into the game to simulate the fight. As an incentive, a couple of students get to play at the end of every lesson.

Slides 25&26 - Global Citizenship: These slides were videos from All Saints Girls Liverpool and a school from China (thanks to Jenny from Liverpool). With Skype in the Classroom and online sharing through things like Dropbox and Google Drive, students from two different hemispheres can collaborate together. The Liverpool girls sent video footage to China of themselves acting out Cinderella. The Chinese students overlay the audio, in particular the dialogue, as part of their study of English. The Chinese students then shared back the finished product which was very funny and a great exercise all round.

In the second video, the Chinese students sent over footage of them playing hide-and-seek around their homes. What was particularly interesting for the students from southwest Sydney (a low socio-economic area) was how salubrious the homes were of the upper-middle class in China. This was a real lesson in global citizenship.

It is important to note that this happened in 2011. With the Asian cross-curriculum priority in the Australian Curriculum from 2014, is this kind of collaboration happening in every Australian school? If not, why not?

Slide 27 - Getting into the more extreme predictions of what schools will look like in the future, Neil Selwyn of Monash University discusses in this article things such as smart drugs, haptic technology, robot teachers and moveable and modifiable schools. 

Slide 28 - Spreading their bets, the OECD present 3 pairs of possible scenarios for schools in the future in this article. I am fearful of the first pair i.e. maintaining the status quo. There is a lot of research (including some of my own) plus plenty of anecdotal evidence, not least the proliferation of the industrial model of schools, that would suggest this may well be the case. Many educators will prefer one or both of the second pair 'Re-Schooling' which "would see major investments and widespread recognition for schools and their achievements". Futurists may prefer scenario 3a in 'De-Schooling' with "the abandonment of schools in favour of a multitude of learning networks". Capitalists may prefer 3b where "many new providers are stimulated to come into the learning market, encouraged by thoroughgoing reforms of funding structures, incentives and regulation".

Slide 29 - A great quote from Halverson and Smith (2009, p.52) warning of the institutional mindset in many schools and systems that manipulate new technologies to maintain the old paradigm and status quo:
“schools seemed to pick up on affordances that reinforced institutionalized priorities. Rather than opening up new opportunities to reframe how teachers teach and students learn, it seemed as though instructionalism bent technologies to extend existing pedagogical, curriculum delivery, and assessment practices” 
Slide 30 - To the contrary, Weston and Bain (2010, p.14) highlight that technologies can be used as a catalyst for a paradigm shift in proactive schools:
“[technology] initiatives can be fertile ground for the creation of new-paradigm schools, schools that are self-organizing”
Slide 31 - The 13 references used (8 of which from 2013).

Slide 32 - 
Augmented Reality by turkletom, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  turkletom 
My ever present final slide: a fantastic augmented reality pic to prove the point that if students aren't engaged they will find very creative ways to use their technology instead. Combined with this picture was the quote, often (though not definitively) attributed to Rabindranath Tagore:

"Do not confine your children to your own learning, 
for they were born in another time"