Saturday, July 30, 2016

Pop coding .... can drag and drop be too easy

I read this interesting article by Idit Harel and it started me thinking, especially now that New Zealand has given the green light to the year 0-15 Digital Technologies curriculum.

I am a huge fan of 'Scratch' and all the other drag and drop coding apps there are out there - marketed well and connected to the current pop culture and interest of children. Yet I also recognise that Idit makes a valid point when she refers to "pop computing" the "light and fluffy version of computer science" as being "a superficial response to the increased need for coders in the workplace."

Idit draws a distinction between "coding tutorials" and "computer science" and notes a difference to "playing with coding apps" rather than "learning to design an app using code." As she points out "building an app takes time and requires multi-dimensional learning contexts, pathways and projects" .... and "it can't be done in an hour or two, with a few simple drags, drops and clicks."

The concern is understandable and real. Knowing how to use 'Scratch' or 'Tynker' is not knowing how to code ... it is a beginning .... and a very engaging beginning which has transformed the role and the popularity of coding but in itself it is not computer science. Too often I hear teachers express that their students ... "know how to use 'Scratch'".

Seymour Papert (Mindstorms, 1980) identified the need for programming languages (used in educational technology) to have a 'low threshold and high ceiling (LTHC)'. This refers to making programming languages easy to get started with but also flexible enough so students can create increasing complex projects as they progress. 'Scratch' also included the term (in addition to low floor and high ceiling) of having wide walls so that a wide range of projects can be created to include all learning styles and interests. 

There is no doubt that drag and drop is an essential tool in a teachers' computing 'tool-box' but not if the original intent from Papert of having a high (or no) ceiling is not embedded in teaching and learning programmes. It is important that, as teachers, we don't let ourselves, or our students, sit inside a comfort zone where they can make an app or game as a simple linear process that may only take one lesson.  Instead we need to push that ceiling as high as it can go, allowing our students to fail and learning from their failures, and including the whole process of prototyping, identifying and solving problems, collaboration and critical and creative thinking - regardless of whether drag and drop or text-based languages are being used. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Mind Lab - Week 32 - Activity 8

Practising Teacher Criteria and e-learning:
As I continue to develop as a teacher e-Learning and innovative technologies continue to change how I teach and the tools I use. 

A tool I am currently enjoying using is Google Classroom. I use it at quite a simple level and I suppose even more as a management/housekeeping tool rather than a pedagogical one. I have no doubt that it could be used in more powerful ways than I am currently using it but, as a teacher who takes withdrawal groups of students rather than a home class, I find it an invaluable way to set tasks and broad assignments, especially where there is a specific format to be followed. Back in the old days (like a couple of years ago) I used to make a doc share it with students and get them to create a copy and share that back with me. I am sure many people can empathise with the overload of emails that comes as a result of that. Using Google Classroom (for those who haven't used it) I can create one doc, and send it out to all the students and Classroom automatically creates a copy of the doc, nicely named with each student's name. These are all in a nice tidy folder for me to be able to provide comments for feedback and feedforward to students. A wonderful paperless system that saves me heaps of time managing docs and gives me more time to interact (online and offline) with students.
Google Classroom also enables me to set more flipped classroom style tasks, a quality pedagogical approach that support student learning. Flipping tasks means I can set a task to be done, and students can complete a first draft independently which can then enable the meaty discussion to be done in class time. The conversation stream in Google Classroom also allows a range of interactions among students - they can ask questions or seek clarification, and the appropriate use of such tools similar to chat rooms can be modelled by teachers.
Google Classroom links to the PTCs in a number of ways. 
  • Google Classroom helps me to develop relationships with ākonga through a anywhere/anytime learning approach.
  • Through modelling appropriate digital citizenship use I demonstrate my commitment for the wellbeing of ākonga.
  • Google Classroom helps me plan and deliver quality learning experiences in a platform that is relevant and engaging for ākonga.

An issue that I continue to grapple with is how I can use e-learning and innovative technologies to create a more culturally responsive classroom which supports the bi-cultural nature of New Zealand. 

A question I am constantly reflecting on is whether or not my use of eLearning and digital environments supports the integration of Māori world views and the development of curriculum that fully integrates Māori students' identify, culture and language. In the past, and something I plan to do again, is use 'Scratch' as a tool for retelling traditional stories but I hope, that I am able to do this in a way that is authentic rather than tokenism. I don't wish to be just focusing on content but rather want to ensure the context and teacher/learner experience and relationship is not compromised when using e-Learning. I acknowledge, and am still exploring, the incorporation of Māori cultural practices into eLearning and reflecting on how whakawhanaungatanga (the building of respectful relationship) looks like in the eLearning context where feedforward and feedback may be at times given via a virtual pathway rather than a face to face.

Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai and Hanas Tikiwai, (2010) A Literature Review focused on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and e-Learning in the Context of Te Reo Māori and Kaupapa Māori Education.

Curriculum integration

This post for the Mind Lab course begins with a discussion of different integrative approaches for curriculum and how my understanding of this has developed over my years of teaching.

I have always fully believed in integrating the curriculum as much as possible, but over my years teaching the idea of what this means has developed. This development was largely due to many years teaching in a PYP (Primary Years Programme of International Baccalaureate) school. There I was introduced to the term transdisciplinary and this challenged my concept of integrated curriculum.

Teachers perceive integration of curriculum in a variety of ways and using a range of terms. Broadly, these terms fit onto a continuum with a single disciplinary approach at one end to a transdisciplinary approach, situated beyond single curriculum areas at the other end. A transdisciplinary approach transcends traditional curriculum boundaries and draws together knowledge, skills and understandings from a range of curriculum areas in meaningful ways.

Achieving this of course is a lot easier said than done. Key strategies that can be used to support this approach include:
  • exploring overarching themes and concepts and using these to drive the curriculum rather than siloed disciplines
  • backwards planning design
  • curriculum tracking - rather than having a skills checklist
  • focus on the front-end of the curriculum
  • problem-based or project-based curriculum
  • student-led learning
Things to avoid in the drive to achieving a transdisciplinary approach include:
  • a rigid timetable
  • skills teaching for 'just-in-case' rather than 'just-in-time'
I have included below a very quick mind map of how robotics can be used in an transdisciplinary approach where the focus is on robotics or automation and artificial intelligence. This is in no way an exhaustive or ideal list but just the beginning of thinking - and ideally, these transdisciplinary connections would be made by students, engaged in exploring real world issues in authentic contexts.

And professionals I connect with outside education in my role as a robotics educator.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Social Media in Teaching

There is no doubt that social media is a powerful tool to enable children to connect beyond the four walls of their learning space, or beyond the confines of their school. 

The Education Council has some valuable resources on their website to guide teachers in their use of social media. It is recognised that harnessing the power of social media to allow both learners and teachers to connect and collaborate with other teachers, learners and experts, greatly enriches the learning experience for all. Modelling and giving students the opportunity to engage in safe, responsible and respectful social media use will also help to ensure students grow up using social media in the same way. 

While the power of social media to enhance teaching and learning is only limited by the imagination of teachers some uses that are beneficial include:

  • sharing learning (video, audio, text etc)
  • commenting on the learning of other students
  • collaborative projects with students in another part of the world
  • using hastags to convey key ideas
  • connecting with scientists, authors and other experts - asking questions of relevance
  • learning about other cultures, languages etc
  • using virtual classrooms either for your class or for more than one class
  • meeting diverse learners in shared social spaces
  • collating of ideas and artifacts
  • organising of shared resources
From this (not at all exhaustive) list one can tell the power of social media is (of course) that it is social - based around communication and collaboration both synchronous and asynchronous - and that it is not just limited to one type of media but includes a range of media enabling students to select the best media type by which they can convey their message.
It is important to include parents in the conversations about using social media with students. Depending on their own personal beliefs and experiences parents may see use of social media in a negative or a positive light. Rather, social media itself is value neutral, it is how we use it that can have negative or positive connotations. 

It is important that parents understand the reasons behind why social media is used in the school and the classroom, what social media platforms are being used and how they are being used. When parents sign an agreement on enrollment that they are happy for their child's photo or learning (for example) to be used it needs to be made very clear to them exactly what that encompasses, how this can benefit their child's learning and what safety parameters and expectations are in place to ensure the appropriate level of confidentiality. 

Over time, social media is changing and developing so it is essential to keep parents informed as to how these changes are being adopted in the classroom so that parents are active participants in the process, and can support and model similar appropriate use in their homes. 

Education New Zealand, Teachers and Social Media

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ethics - Many Shades of Grey

A post for the MindLab course ....

A potential ethical dilemma that interests me is the use of student photos, comments or work on social media forums that teachers use as part of their professional learning networks. These are accounts that teachers using primarily or totally to connect with other teachers around the world with the purpose of improving their teaching practice.

Should teachers be able to use student work, images or comments for this purpose even when students are not identified? Some parents think not. But there is no doubt that this type of sharing and connecting across networks is very powerful PLD for teachers.

Opt out or Opt in policies:
Schools have policies with regard to the use of students' photos in digital media. Some of these are opt in policies where parents or caregivers need to specifically sign to allow their child's photo to be used on the Internet and other schools have opt out policies where as part of the enrollment it is assumed it is permissible to use students' photos unless parents specifically sign that they do not want their child's photo used. As school websites, class blogs and digital newsletters have moved from 'not the norm' to being 'the norm' opt out policies have become more common.

I have been involved with recent examples of a parent accepting use of children's photos on the school website or in the online newsletter but not being happy with the photo being used on a teacher's Twitter account where it was used as an example of sharing practice as part of a professional learning network.

As discussed in 'Ethics of Teaching with Social Media' social media was not designed with classrooms or education in mind, but it has become a valuable tool for teachers to use, both with their students and as part of their professional learning communities. As teachers use this, and may share examples of student work, or student comments on this we are sharing this in a public or semi-public forum. Is this what parents and students anticipate when they give permission for work and photos to be used by the school in publications, including publications on the Internet? For the majority, probably not.

Yet, for the professional development, and connectedness of teachers, to be able to share via social media as part of an authentic context, is powerful in enabling teachers to learn from others and make connections with other teachers outside their immediate 'real' world context. In addition, this enables teachers to connect with other professionals in related fields.

One of the main issues here seems to be one of trust. Parents need to trust that teachers are bound by both their personal/professional code of ethics as well as the Teachers' Council Code of Ethics.

There are four fundamental principles that govern the ethics of teachers:
  • Autonomy - to treat people with rights that are to be honoured and defended
  • Justice - to share power and prevent the abuse of power
  • Responsible care - to do good and minimise harm to others
  • Truth - to be honest with others and self
So considering these it is important that:
  1. Students are able to withdraw consent from having their work used in a public forum;
  2. Teachers take care to share student work that is positive and causes no harm to the students' involved;
  3. Teachers, who have for example a Twitter account they use for professional connections, take responsible care with who they follow and who their followers are;
  4. Teachers need to be explicit on their social media account about their profession and education interests thereby acknowledging the purpose for which they share student material, and
  5. School social media policies are explicit in how student work and photos may be used so there is no confusion, and social media policies should be reviewed frequently as the rate of change in this area is so rapid. 
But even more important I think is teachers, parents and students developing a shared understanding of the power and purpose of digital connectedness and how this can benefit all, within a safe a respectful digital environment. 

Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers.Retrieved from

 Hall, A. (2001l) What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. Paper presented at the IIPE Conference, Brisbane. Retrieved from

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness

For this MindLab assignment, rather than just focusing on the school I currently teach in I am using a compilation of schools I have taught in over the past few years.

When discussing a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations Russell Bishop refers to how the educational disparities experienced by Māori people in New Zealand is something they have in common with indigenous people around the world, due to the impact of colonialism/post-colonialism. As a result, there is a large portion of the population who are not achieving to the extent that they should be.

As a country, we are obliged to correct this disparity as recognised by our responsibilities under Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi. Relationship based pedagogy that is responsive to the child and their culture and is based on knowing students and caring that all students learn is the key to creating a caring learning relationship.

Culturally responsive pedagogy of relations

Firstly I shall address how cultural responsiveness is addressed with regard to the vision, mission and core values of schools. It is important to note that this reflection is from my own experience. Exploring the vision, mission and core values of these schools I ask myself do they truly represent a bi-cultural New Zealand, or have they taken very 'British' values and ideals and just translated these as best as they can (or not translated as the case may be) into Māori? This begs the question that even in what may be a very English or European community to what extent should the vision, mission and values encompass New Zealand as a bi-cultural nation and include indigenous values and beliefs. There is no doubt they should because regardless of the cultural makeup of different communities across New Zealand, New Zealand is a bi-cultural nation and is becoming more and more a diverse multi-cultural society and it is essential this is expressed in school vision, mission and values to create an inclusive and culturally responsive environment.  With a wealth of visionary and value statements encompassed in whakataukī these could be useful to explore when revisiting school vision, mission and values alongside consultation with the community and understanding of the wider bicultural nature of New Zealand.

With regard to school wide practices this is often an aspect where indigenous knowledge and cultural practices are included with the result that many of the school-wide events and formal occasions are enriched by the recognition that New Zealand is a bicultural nation with a multicultural society.

How do schools ensure these activities though move beyond tokenism and are legitimate expressions of New Zealand as a bi-cultural nation? Even though Cowie, Otrel-Cass, Glynn, Kara, Anderson, Doyle, Parkinson & Te Kiri (2011) are referring to the science curriculum they make a point that is also valid with regard to school-wide activities and that is the importance of valuing the diversity in the community, acknowledging, accessing and affirming the expertise in the community and ensuring that people from all the cultures that make up the school community have their culture recognised as part of the culture that makes up a school. As said by Jimmy Carter "we become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic..."

There is no doubt that this is a process that cannot be rushed and cannot be forced as developing understanding of culture different from our own, and ones we may not experience on a daily basis, takes time and a willingness to listen, connect, communicate and have the openness necessary to be able to celebrate the diversity of practice, values, beliefs and understandings present in our communities.


Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T. & TEddy, L. (2009). Te Kotahitanga: Addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5), 734-742.

Cowie B., Otrel-Cass, K. Glynn, T., Kara, H., Anderson, M., Doyle J., Parkinson A. & Te Kiri, C. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki. Wellington: Teaching and Learning Research Initiative.  Retrieved 28 May from

Maori Proverbs, Whakataukī. Retrieved 26 May from

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trends shaping education

While there are many trends that are currently shaping education there are a couple that I am going to discuss for the purpose of this MindLab assignment.

There is no doubt that the number of robotics in the world in increasing and there is a range of jobs that robots are taking over. Where I first became interested in educational robotics, robots were great at doing the jobs that were 'dirty, dull and dangerous,' basically the jobs that people didn't want to do.

Now as well robots are venturing into areas that surprise many people. For example robot journalists are great for churning out articles that can be written on the basis of a lot of data and encompass a rather formulaic style of writing. White collar workers had presumed they were protected from having their jobs taken over by 'robots' but robots are also venturing into the role of such professions as law. But rather than actually having robots taking over these professions it is more that the professions are changing to integrate automation and machine intelligence. We need to acknowledge that automated technology (robots for example) are a lot better at dealing with big data sets than human beings are, and if a task is something that is basically an algorithm then it will probably be done more accurately and a lot quicker by a machine than by a human. But for something where a creative solution is required then I do think that humans still have the upper hand. And, of course, the increased demand for robotics and automation will mean a huge rise in jobs in these fields.

Nowadays robots are also becoming more visible in the classroom as a teaching and learning tool (not replacing the teacher yet). As with all curricula just having some robots in your class that students can use or build and programme is not enough. Learning outcomes need to be clear and the robot kits (presuming most educators purchase robot kits) need to have the capacity to involve students in a range of activities that are as close to real world as possible. Less expensive kits may not be as customisable, there may be a smaller range of sensors, they may be limited in the ways they can be constructed to interact with the environment and they may only be programmable in limited ways. There are also a range of Communities of Practice around different robotics systems and this can either support or limit teachers depending on the range of resources and the strength of the support community available. So, before schools invest in having robots in the classroom I would suggest they explore the range of robots now available and choose one that meets the learning outcomes they desire.

With the rise of the Internet and social media there is no doubt that the world has become a smaller place in many ways. Globalisation is all about integrating at a global level - many say this is a positive aspect with increasing possibilities for all, but cynics see it as just another way for the 'haves' to exploit the 'have nots'.

So what does this have to do with teachers?

  • How do we provide a global education - and not just the three f's - food, flags and festivals - but one where students develop an understanding of their rights and responsibilities as global citizens?
  • How can we provide our students with real world opportunities to develop the skills necessary to use social media to support citizen engagement and make the world a better place?
  • How do we provide opportunities for students to cooperate with others outside the walls of their own school?
  • How do we include global issues such as climate change and urbanisation in our curriculum?
  • How do we enable students to develop understanding of the multiple perspectives held by different cultures and peoples, and to accept and celebrate the differences and diversity?
  • How do we do all of the above, but still connect to self, understanding local issues and make the connections from these to global perspectives?
These are all questions that as an educator I continue to explore as an educator and I hope, that as long as I am striving to answer them, I am somewhat heading in the right direction.