Sunday, 9 June 2013

Creative Computing - Design Notebook

A requirement of the course is that I keep a design notebook of my progress through the course.   The suggestion is that we use Google Presentation or another Google Docs program but I have decided to use my blog.

This week's task was to complete a simple About Me scratch project.  This is a very similar task to something I asked my students to do earlier this year and so it was relatively easy task for me.  To challenge myself I have tried to do something I am genuinely proud of using animation, my blocks and broadcasting. The finished product is below but you'll need to visit the website to 'see inside'

Currently I feel a little behind in the course as I only joined on the Friday of Week 1 and have spent today catching up with the work required of me.  Hopefully later today and tomorrow I'll have some time to review the work of others and participate in the conversation.

In reviewing the work I've others I'll be taking my lead from Lucy Barrow (a fellow Victorian participating in the course) and this blog post she wrote.

Creative Computing Online Workshop

This week I joined the Creative Computing Online Workshop.  The workshop is a six week online course for educators who wish to learn more about Scratch 2.0.  At present there are over 900 people enrolled and I look forward to spending time working with these educators as they learn more about Scratch.

While I'm already relatively confident with Scratch I'm hoping the fact that the course is run by people from MIT and includes many people far more experienced with coding than myself that I can learn more about how to teach coding to my students.  I'm hoping the course will also allow me to make valuable contacts from around the world that can aid me in my journey and hopefully I can be of assistance to people while I'm at it.

The biggest challenge for the workshop will be to keep up to date with not only the tasks but also as an active member of the boards and the community.  There are also some 'office hours' sessions (google hangouts) that are on at pretty extreme hours for my time zone so hopefully I can be a part of these.

Creative computing website
Workshop Google Group
My Scratch Account

Thursday, 14 March 2013

How long do you spend?

This year I'm making a real effort to integrate coding into my ICT lessons, it is a skill I think it essential to at least understand the basics of to be computer literate.  However, I'm also mindful of the ideas of students completing meaningful tasks and producing products for a wider audience.

Recently I read this blog post by Jake Levine, the general manager of @digg.  He talks about coding for a purpose and 'making things' which he argues is so much more fun than learning to code.  On the whole I agree with him and it fits the idea of producing meaningful products in the classroom. Where I run into conundrum is with his line "If you don’t know how to build the first version of your product in a weekend — a usable working version — don’t try to build it."

This philosophy is all well and good for somebody who already understands the basics, has tried things before and knows what coding is capable of and what work is involved. But how does it manifest in schools, specifically a primary school ICT class, if I took this approach with my students we would all still be creating PowerPoint shows each week.

Obviously that's not the case and I am there to help the students gain a better understanding of coding (mainly using Scratch and Mindstorms).  But when a student enters the class for 45 minutes a week where do you draw the line between teaching some skills and encouraging them to make a product.  Where possible I challenge the students to create their own Scratch projects and work around the room to help students solve their own coding problems.  But I still find myself spending around 25% demonstrating the skills at the start of the class.

So this leads me to my question, how long do you spend teaching an ICT skill that is entirely foreign to a student and how long do you spend letting them create a product?  Too much time teaching a skill and you run the risk of being boring and not challenging students, too little time and students don't have the knowledge to know what they are capable of.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Inspired by a student

Earlier today one of my students posted this video on our year 5/6 Edmodo group.  Her comment read "It's so cool to be a computer programmer. We're so lucky to learn about Scratch. Thanks Mr. Lowne!"  

I'm really pleased that the student found and shared this video and I hope it inspires more students with Scratch, Mindstorms or another programming application this year.

I urge everybody to visit the video creators website (  It's got lots of resources about teaching programming including some really basic guides to get you started.

It does sadden me to look through the ICT learning focuses in AusVELS and find that programming doesn't make an appearance until Level 5.  Personally I'm teaching Scratch as low down as Year 2 (level 2) and the students are engaged, motivated and capable.... so why should I be waiting until these students are in high school to let them develop these skills?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Starting from Scratch

When I first started teaching I was really excited to try Scratch with the students. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to use it and my grand ideas of students discovering and teaching me didn't really work out like I hoped.

Two years later and with experience in Lego Robotics under my belt I thought I'd give it another go.  My motivation for this came from a few different sources:

  • A push from leadership for programming in the school (a shift that since planning has now moved back to 'why aren't students making movies?')
  • An understanding of the links across programming languages used in our school (Scratch, Mindstorms, WeDo and Kodu)
  • A desire to work with more 'higher order thinking' skills with students. 
  • The realisation that it's not as hard has it seems and develops student's skills in programming for Mindstorms. 
  • The vain hope that maybe I'll start a student on the path to App Store millions, they'll remember their first programming teacher and share their fortunes with me. 

I've also decided to teach it across the year levels from year 2 to year 6 in the hope that I can develop a culture of programming in the school and have students working together across the levels on games.  It  already has a big take up in year 3 and year 6 plus a few students in years 2 and 4.

I've also found I needed to be far more explicit in my teaching.  In the past I have been a big believer in the Sugata Mitra studies but with Scratch I've found that students bring next to no knowledge of programming to the table and invariably gravitate away from the script to spending hours editing the same sprite over and over.  Instead I provide a piece of code to all students and challenge them by asking them to modify it, fix errors or generally make it better.  I find this still challenges the less advance students while I get to spend more time with the high flyers who can be pushed to develop further.

Scratch has also impressed me greatly with it's ability to tie in with external inputs such as Lego WeDo and Xbox Kinect (check out and for help getting the Kinect working). Both of which i've used with students to further their interest in the program providing a wow! factor. However, I'm still yet to see students really do something exciting with those inputs.

The next few weeks will be interesting with my lessons switching from a generic approach to specialised groups of either Game Making or Storytelling/Animation depending on the students interests and passions in Scratch.

So far my biggest criticism of Scratch is its reliance on literacy skills.  Despite only doing it with year 2 and above I still find the program is simply not accessible for students struggling in literacy in the same way WeDo, Kodu or even Mindstorms is.  In addition to this Scratch 2.0 is in Beta mode which will be a great opportunity for the students once it's out, unfortunately I want the community function sooner rather than later and might have to settle for the old community set up.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Teach Meet Presentation: Kodu Game Lab

Yesterday I presented at the 5th Melbourne TeachMeet, after attending the first one I was so keen to present and wanted to share what I'd been learning and trying in my classroom.  I went with something that I haven't heard very many people talk about in education Microsoft Kodu Game Lab.

I had a great time and it was an awesome feeling to see nods, smiles and positive comments coming from the audience.  Throughout the 7 minute presentation my phone buzzed away in my pocket with people commenting on twitter and sharing my links.  It was even better to have the chance to talk to people through the break and on twitter after the event.

You can find the presentation PDF's (Notes and Keynote slides) at The Melbourne TeachMeet Wiki

The short video I used at the end of the presentation is here:

Tony from The Ed Tech Crew also streamed the event and you can see the video at: (I start at around 13 minutes but there is a good MineCraft discussion first)

Is my job necessary?

Ok, so this might seem like a strange post especially considering I'm a second year teacher, on contract (so not assured of work next year) at a school that is possibly going to be overstaffed in 2013.  At this point it would probably be wise to keep my head down until staffing decisions are made. But I've been thinking about this for a while now, should we have ICT specialists?

Firstly, the school I work at is a team environment, we don't have individual neat classes of 20-25 students, instead we have anywhere between 2 and 6 teachers working with groups between 40 and 90 students.  The school has had it's ups and downs with ICT but at the moment I think we're really on the up, staff are trying experimenting across the school, our infrastructure is improving and students are beginning to push the boundaries.

Since I attended my first conference (ACEC2010) I have been a firm believer in ICT being an integral part of the curriculum but definitely NOT a subject on its own.  It should be a tool that students use to research, sort and display their understandings.  A tool for creativity and a tool for students to engage with the world beyond their classroom.

In 2011 I was a 100% ICT specialist seeing almost every student once a week but sometimes for as little as 20 minutes.  This year I teach ICT for two days a week (I'm in the yr56 unit for two days and spend one day teaching robotics).  I see most students once every 2-3 weeks.

My curriculum has changed from animation, film making and Trimble SketchUp (formally Google) to whatever the teachers ask me to teach based on their projects in the classroom, i.e. Virtual Worlds, QR codes, augmented reality, research skills.  Honestly, I'm loving this way of doing it my students are not making things in my class, instead their getting some skills that they can take back to their class and use, but more importantly teach other students.

With that in mind, is the ICT specialist role necessary?  If it exists it gives teachers an excuse to not do ICT and leave it to the specialist. Without the role it is the responsibility of the teacher to get ICT into the curriculum. Sounds challenging? Yes, and of course some teachers will baulk at the idea saying it only adds to their workload, but if they see ICT as something they can use to help students express their understandings then it is more feasible.

Of course there will still be times when the students need a dedicated ICT workshop to get the skills but that's when the team (of teachers) looks within to see if the skills already exist. If they do, great, if not then it's time to switch teachers for a morning to bring in somebody who can. Alternatively, we know the power of peer teaching so maybe the teacher hands it over to the students (maybe from different year levels) to take the class and teach the students and the teacher.

There are of course issues with this idea. Who are the teachers with the skills required? Who are the students? How do we get the students timetabled to take other classes? But honestly they seem like mini hurdles that we can overcome with a little communication.

I'd like to hear what others think? Would this work in your school? Are you an ICT specialist happy in your job or do you think you're days are numbered?