Thursday, 29 August 2013

Long Time Coming.

This is another one of those posts where I am going to begin by apologising for being a bit lax in my posting of late. Life just seems to get really busy sometimes and the first thing to go, it seems, is my written reflections here. A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks so this is probably going to be a bit of everything kind of post and probably reasonably long.

I will start with the freshest in my mind, relational thinking with my year 8s. I just finished another 90 minutes with the students in Minecraft trying to visualise a thinking process to solve a problem, despite my concerns that other week regarding their inability on a Friday afternoon. Upon reflection on that lesson and those that have occurred since, and also after talking to students about it and getting their feedback as to why they thought it did not go well, I have concluded that perhaps I left the exploration phase too long for those who couldn't do it so they disengaged.

So what have I done since then to improve the situation? Well I have had both paper/pen classes and Minecraft classes. In both we discuss possible strategies for solving problems, try to visualise them and share our ideas. Also I think that perhaps the multiplication relational thinking is a bit harder to visualise in Minecraft than the other operations, I am not sure why I feel this way yet, I just do. More reflection required.

Also I moved away from the restrictive format I had the students in, where they were working in a group, in a closed space and then had to share. I ran a open world where students could put their own 'decorations' around their calculation, so if the problem and thinking got too much, they could distract themselves by building rather than turning off completely. I also gave students a range of problems to choose from, rather than forcing them to do a particular one.

On top of those alterations I also kept a closer eye on how students were progressing, to the point today where I had 5 or 6 'experts' roving around the room helping students who were stuck. I think giving those students the responsibility of teaching others not only reinforces their own knowledge, but also gives them a sense of pride. Even better, the students who didn't get it were not upset to be taught by other students, in fact many students were extremely happy to see how simple it could be to solve the problem.

Now onto the Pre-CAL Numeracy world. Things are progressing nicely, more students are doing more homework and worksheets than I initially envisioned, which is awesome. It also means that a lot of the students are 'cashed up' with thousands of dollars to spend. So we are really starting to focus on getting loan applications and business proposals in. Students seem to have the percentage work well under control, so it is time to move onto the next topic, which I think will be costing things, be it their house, business or whatever, but also doing it effectively in a spreadsheet. I wanted to be so much farther along with this project than we are, however I think that the inconsistency of many students attendance is what is slowing us down and unfortunately there is not a lot I can do about that.

The last topic to cover today, and thanks if you have gotten this far, is the Braille Periodic Table. It has been a great success in helping the student see it the Periodic Table the way it is designed to be seen. We sent off an explanation and pictures to our local supplier of vision impaired materials and they sent the info out to the south Pacific region. I am offering these for sale, so if you happen to know someone or a school/library/provider/foundation that would benefit from this please get them to email me at eduelfie @ gmail . com (without the spaces) and we will sort something out. I can ship worldwide, so as long as they use Unified English Braille this will be suitable.

As always thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below and please if you know anyone who is vision impaired and would like to see the Periodic Table as it is designed to be seen let me know.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Grinning From Ear to Ear.

I could not get the grin off my face during class today. I got a homework sheet completed and it had a letter to me on the back.

I absolutely love the way he signed this letter, "one proud student." What more could I ask for? He even took more sheets home today to do over the weekend. I really feel like I am getting somewhere with these students. They really value this project, having asked them why I get responses like "it makes maths more fun" or "we get paid for doing work, but we actually have to work, it is not just given to us."

It might sound silly but it is letters like this, and comments like those that make all the hours I put into creating and maintaining this project well and truly worthwhile. To be able to get 16 year olds who dislike Maths engaged and active not only in class but also out of it is a great feeling.

Another student was building and costing his house in the creative world during class, and he came to me (or shouted across the room :D) with a blow by blow on how he was working out how much veranda he had just laid and how many blocks were in it. He knew his house was 17X19 squares and he added a 4 wide veranda all the way around. After he started explaining what he needed to do I gave him my whiteboard marker and asked him to draw it on the board and explain it step by step to me.

Another massive grin moment occurred as he did this. He went through processes that I would not have expected and he was way too focussed to even give me a high five as he finished one part of his calculation, he was too busy trying to figure out the next one.

Well that is the good, now onto the not so good, the subtraction relational thinking lesson did not go anywhere near as well as the addition one yesterday. I am not entirely sure why, but I think it may have been to do with the time of the day, or perhaps it was that the students could not see a relationship. So after a bit of time I went through the idea that students could trade one diamond block for 10 gold and then let them at the task again. Some groups got there in the end I think, but we will share our thoughts next week and I will be asking for a bit more feedback from the students as to their thoughts about the lesson. Perhaps one solution would be to ask any student who had a solution to come up and share with the class next week and discuss those strategies with the class.

As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Relational Thinking WIN!!

Today was the first attempt at getting students to visualise their thinking in Minecraft. Some students had a bit of trouble finding the link, they relied on calculating the answer, which is not an incorrect way of doing it, I just had to push them a bit more to try to find the link or relationship. What really blew my mind was the student that came up to me at the end of the lesson and said "I wrote my way of working it out in a book, would you like to read it?" So I headed over to her in-game, she handed me her book and I asked her to come sit beside me in the room and talk me through her thinking.

The discussion and her explanation were so outstanding I had to tell the rest of the class, and even though they had a few minutes of free time they all listened (mostly attentively) to the explanation and could see how that relationship tied the numbers together. The great thing about this students explanation was that it ties in perfectly with the next lesson, at least as a way of getting the students thinking about the links between the numbers and how they can be used to make solving questions easier.

I had to publish that small section of the footage from today straight away, I couldn't wait until I found the time to filter through all the footage that I recorded today.

Here is the video

So tomorrow we explore the relational thinking of subtraction and next week we look into multiplication and division. I was not entirely sure how long it would take the students to complete the tasks I set but it seems that about 45 minutes is right. In the end I decided that I would group the students into groups of no more than 4 and each member of the group would have the same problem to work on for 10-15 minutes and then they would discuss their thought process with the other members of their group. The group then needs to come to an agreement as to the process they would share with the class and build what they need on the centre platform.

After this, each group had to come up the front of the room and explain their process to the rest of the class. After each group we had a discussion about their way of solving it and went over the visual on the board together. One group could not come up with a way to solve the problem except for calculating, so as a class we helped them use some of the other methods that had already been shared.

I am looking forward to seeing how they go tomorrow with subtraction so expect another blog post after that class is finished. Today I also got to run the Neurotransmitter 2.0 map (from a good 12 months ago if you have not read that far back in my blog) and it worked very well, there were some good discussions about the limitations of my models, the students were engaged and having fun while learning.

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Braille Periodic Table Complete.

Over the weekend I finally managed to finish printing the Braille Periodic Table. It is more awesome than I ever imagined when it is together. I had only printed trial parts and had not even come close to seeing the whole thing, or even imagining what it would look like when it was put together. The 7 parts all fit together perfectly and I glued the pieces together into the 2 halves to make for easier transport. It is around 45cm long, 15cm wide and 2cm high.

There are some changes I would make if I were to print it again, one, that I would run past the student before hand would be to decrease the height of the Braille to 0.5mm instead of 1mm, as that should still be easily readable, but also less likely to break. The second was suggested by the integration aide, at the moment the 2 halves slot together, but do not clip, she suggested a clipping mechanism (which I could quite easily add) to help hold the table together when in use.

Here are some pictures of the completed print.

 The whole table together.
 It splits into 2 halves for a more friendly transport shape.
 The height mapping of the different groups of the periodic table, to help the teacher teach the Chemistry behind the groups.
A close up of the Braille.

On the MinecraftEdu front, tonight I am hoping to design the relational thinking activity for my year 8s ready to implement and trial in my class tomorrow. The year 10 Pre-CAL Numeracy project is steaming along, I have some ideas on redesigning the 3 market floors to make it a better visual. I am waiting until the students have done the calculations for the sales floor before I implement that. As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Friday, 9 August 2013

What Just Happened????

I am not entirely sure what happened this afternoon in the Pre-CAL Numeracy class. Last class on a Friday, I made a couple of worksheets that students were to complete using information in the Numeracy world. I made it a competition, and maybe I talked it up a bit too much. The activity, a 5 minute challenge, worth a $100 bonus in game. I waited until they were all on Edmodo on their laptops, so they could easily find link to submit their answer. I made them all wait on the desktop and not get into MinecraftEdu on the school computers.

Some students were having computer troubles so I explained the task verbally, gave the students the sheets upside down and stressed that they were not to turn them over until I said so. I thought the sheet was pretty easy to follow, I had planned it out, set it out exactly the way I wanted them to 'think' about the problem and thought it was an easy task and sheet to complete, hence the 5 minute time limit on the challenge.

So I hit the post button on Edmodo, shouted "go" to the students and insanity ensued. But it was not a normal Friday afternoon, students unfocussed, off task and bored insanity. It was a learning insanity, completely unexpected animation and engagement on a Friday afternoon. Students were running around the room, yelling for help, trying to find out the answer, all to get the bonus for being the first to submit the correct response. The 5 minute challenge was not as 'easy' as I hoped for the students. I had another maths teacher in the room, so after a while I asked her what the issue with my instructions and worksheet was. Her response, "They are just too excited to actually read it."

Now that was unexpected, as was the level of excitement over what I thought was a measly $100 in-game cash. I had no idea of the 'power' (I cannot think of a better word to describe it right now) that the in-game currency would have. It has changed poor behaviour, encouraged students to become better organised and even prompted students that have never considered doing school work at home to do some.

I had two activities organised for the lesson, but the 5 minute challenge took up pretty much the entire 45 minute lesson. So now I have a new plan, consolidate the learning from today on Monday by doing another question with the students, only explaining why we do each step. Then requesting that they do a couple of similar questions on their own after that. Then we will move onto task 2, where the students will, again after an example we do together, be asked to work out what the sale price of an item will be if it is to be 18% lower than the purchase price on floor one.

The reason I designed these tasks was to get students working on percentages, as they are soon to be applying for their loan and will need to calculate interest cost and weekly payments for their application. I think that sums up what happened in the lesson, so feel free to leave a comment below, and thanks for taking the time to read.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Visualising Thinking.

The next topic for the year 8 maths class is 'relational thinking'. For those of you not maths trained, the idea behind this kind of learning area is to get the students making connections and looking at the relationships between sums on either side of an =

An example question is 24+14=?+16

The idea being that you are not supposed to work out what 24+14 is on the path towards working out what number the ? represents but instead look at the overall relationship between the two different sums. One way of looking at it is that if you add 2 to the 14 to get 16, you must take 2 off the 24 to get the ?

Now relational thinking, in terms of what I need to teach the students, applies not only to addition but to  all four basic operations.

So I have a couple of students, very bright students, who have completed the work for the current topic, so I took them aside today, gave them some of these types of questions and requested that they work together, next to me, so that I could listen to their discussion as they tried to complete these questions. There were 4 sheets, each one with a different basic operation on it. I suggested that they begin with the addition sheet, and let them attempt the first few before giving them a friendly nudge to look at the relationship between the 2 sides rather than calculating the answer, as it would be easier for them.

Once they had the relationship down, we sat at my computer, in a Minecraft world and discussed a way of visualising that relationship with blocks. Once we had agreed on a way that it would work, they continued onto the subtraction questions while I recorded a quick video, while it was still fresh in my mind, detailing the way of visualising that relationship. Rinse and repeat for all four operations and I now have a student approved, teacher certified way of visualising the relational thinking processes in Minecraft. The next step is to work out a classroom implementation of it, in a fun and engaging way.

I am also running this by the Numeracy guru at my school to see if she agrees that the visualisation is correct, and also to ask for her input into any other ways of visualising the relationships.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below. I will be publishing the video to youtube shortly, so if you are interested please keep an eye on my youtube channel.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Wins So Far.

As I regularly do with any new project, or MinecraftEdu world, I have been reflecting on what has been accomplished in the time I have had with my Pre-CAL Numeracy class, and the 180 minutes that the students have had access to the MinecraftEdu world that I have created. The more I think about what has happened over the last few weeks, and chat to the EduCrew folk about what they heard during their Skype the happier I get.

If I reflect on the process of learning, using something called the e5 instructional model, which for those not in the same educational system as me is "a reference point for school leaders and teachers to develop a deeper understanding of what constitutes high quality teacher practice in the classroom."(follow the link to see the model). The first step is to engage, only once students are engaged can quality learning happen.

A primary focus of the project was to engage students in a different kind of learning. The level of interest and engagement seen during my classes is higher than anything I have seen at this level of schooling, keep in mind that I am not a teacher of the 'cool' subjects that the majority of students enjoy, like Physical Education, or Wood Work, but Science and Maths. So when I say that the students are involved in a Maths project, and wanting to be there, that is a huge win.

Students are reflecting on what they want or need to be more successful in the project. There are students, who have never done homework before, doing homework to gain extra cash to buy more items in the game. They are focusing on tasks for 90 minutes, normally these students would not be able to focus more than 5-10 minutes in a standard classroom. Not only are the students more conscious of their own behaviour, they have put forth requests for me to add additional fines and rewards to balance out the system. In essence they are showing investment into the project.

So the students are engaged, the next step on the e5 is to explore. Now this is natively in Minecraft, but students are already exploring the worlds market. They are beginning to explore ideas about what business they would like to run in the world, that will get them more money. They are exploring how to cost jobs, how to convert a 2d floor plan into a 3 dimensional building. Students are also exploring some of the tools available to them to manage finances, like Google Spreadsheet.

What about explain? Well students are working towards explaining their house costing, justifying their loan application. Just through managing their budget they could explain what some of the key terms mean; income, expenses, fines, balance, budget, unit cost. As we move further along with the project what students will have explored, and be able to explain, should grow much larger.

How are students going to elaborate as they move through the project? When students are writing their loan application, or business application, they are going to have to not only explain their budget, but elaborate on how that budget shows that they can afford the loan they are applying for, or how they business is going to be profitable.
The final part of the e5 talks about evaluating. Students will be evaluating their budgets weekly, reflecting on their purchases, were they the right purchase to make, or should they have done something different. They will be evaluating their business for viability, and hopefully if they decide that it is going down the gurgler, so to speak, they will jump ship, or begin another business to help prop themselves up a bit longer.

So if I were to write a list of what I have seen the students accomplish over the last 3 weeks it would look like the following.

Creating a safe learning environment:
No swearing
No bullying
Don't deliberately break things
Don't hit others
Support others

Life skills:
Bring all required equipment
Be on time
Be respectful to all
The value of money (even virtual)
The value of work
Managing accounts and passwords

Unit Cost
Bulk Cost
Bulk Discount
Think about purchases
Costing a job

Where to from here?? Well I want to see this list grow. Hopefully by the end of the project this list will take up a lot more space and there will be some serious Maths learning in there. The next topic, now that the basics are set up, and most of the teething issues are out of the way, is percentages. This will be incorporated into the students loan applications. Following that, plans, isometric and 3D drawings. Inadvertently along the way students have picked up, or will pick up, the applications of area and perimeter to buildings and costings.

Another activity I will be getting the students to do is to work out what the bulk purchase discount is in my store, as a percentage. How much more authentic can a task get without paying with real money? If a student undercuts my prices later on, students will be asked to work out how much money they can save by purchasing from the student rather than me for different amounts.

Thanks for reading, I will try to reflect more often on the learning happening within this project and share the additions to the above list. As always feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 5 August 2013


Well after being away for the last half of last week on a school camp. Which I found out that I needed to go on Tuesday, as the staff member who was going got sick, and we left on Wednesday, I returned to school this morning to a 90 minute session with my Pre-CAL class. It was mayhem, students are still having trouble remembering passwords. They have not filled in their budget enough for that to be a fluent thing, so instead of spending 10 or so minutes on their budgets, for some it took nearly an hour.

That being said once the budget was out of the way, the students were back into the Numeracy world collecting their pay, and then spending it. More importantly they were putting purchase details into their budget for the week. Some students spent the lesson fishing, one student managed to score himself 18 fish, so now I really need to spend the time getting the sales floor sorted and ready to go.

Other students continued working on their houses, with a deadline for costing being the end of this week, then next week loan applications. All in all, for being a young project, still with teething issues, I think it is going well, and I think my learning outcomes will be met. I even have one student who has already begun her letter of application for a loan, she has costed her house, has chosen to build it herself, and is now in the process of collating the costs for tools, land and materials ready to put into her application.

I also have given one student the job of being a 'helper' and offered other members of the class the same opportunity, however they need to write a job application. The first student does not, as he has shown time and again that he is able to help. One students first response when I asked her why she wanted the job was "I need the cash." This gave me the perfect opportunity to bring back a comment that a guest speaker made only last week to this group of students, that if you ever apply for a job, never say that you want it for the money.

Also since I have been away, I have decided not to spend more time on the Transcription/Translation lesson with my senior Biology students, but I may give my Year 11's a go later in the year when we are preparing for their senior year.

That is a quick update, thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.