It is very nice to be appreciated in this way - it really made my day!
Also included this very cool mug:
It is very nice to be appreciated in this way - it really made my day!
Also included this very cool mug:
Over the past year, my 2009 model 15 inch Macbook Pro had been gradually getting slower and slower. I had upgraded it to El Capitan which is the most modern OS that a laptop of this vintage can successfully run. But it was struggling to load things, the coloured spinning wheel of death was becoming a more frequent occurence. Then it got really serious.
A restart would take ten minutes, and the display would just hang until one night it just refused to start up. I had been thinking that maybe this year I would have to bite the bullet and buy a new laptop but the prices were looking very pricy to replace this one with something of similar ilk - something like A$3500 unless I was prepared to look at a Macbook Air or a 13 inch model to drop a $1000 off the RRP. But I really like this laptop - I have looked after it and the big beautiful screen and the clean minimally scratched aluminum body was still in good shape. If it could be rescued in some way....
The other thing was that I hadn't done a backup since February. I am not a technical person at all and hadn't actually used Time Machine for over 12 months when I decided to do a backup onto an external drive because well, it was overdue, and just like servicing a car, it is what a sensible computer user should do ... just in case.
I sought out the technician at school for some advice - someone who knows the inside of computers really well and he said he'd have a look during his lunch break. He confirmed what I was suspecting - the hard drive was dead. But he suggested that I could give my MacBook new life because as I mentioned earlier, the whole laptop was still in good physical condition and apart from an ailing battery and a noisy fan (cured by blowing out 8 years of accumulated lint and dust), everything else still looked in good shape. He recommended that I buy a larger capacity SSD hard drive which he would help me to swap over. I went to a computer parts retailer MSY and got a Crucial 525G SSD for A$195 which doubled my storage and would be superior to old drive by being better than new. The technician got it swapped over and described the process I would need to do to recover and restore the laptop.
I used my old DVD of Snow Leopard to install a fresh OS and then tried to download a fresh install of El Capitan from the Mac App Store. For some reason, I could not get this to work, as the Download button was greyed out but a search through some Mac forums uncovered the issue (which I can't recall right now!) and got me back on the right track. I learned how to boot the Mac into Safe mode, how to format the new SSD drive ready for the new OS, and then finally I managed to bring back all of my files and content from my February Time Machine backup. Any files or changes I had made between February and June were lost but 95% of what I had feared gone (including things as trivial as auto-fill passwords for e-banking) were back! Even my son's YouTube video originals which were dumped when the old 250G hard drive was nearly capacity were there although Josh had no desire to see embarrassing creations from 18 months ago when he thought being a YouTuber was the coolest thing on earth.
The tech at school also suggested that a new battery would be a relatively simple upgrade for me to have a go at. He pointed me to eBay and advised me not to go too high in costs as there might not be much difference in quality when getting a non-genuine but compatible replacement. So for $40, I had a replacement battery sent to me from Sydney (via China probably) and I checked out a couple of how-to YouTube videos before unscrewing the base and disconnecting the old battery and putting the new one. I got a bit confused about how to successfully calibrate the battery - the YouTube videos had one method geared towards the battery they were promoting and the one I had bought had its slightly different process. I was meant to let the battery drain down initially to 2% before charging it back to full as letting it completely drain first up would cause battery life damage according to the enclosed pamphlet. I was watching it carefully but it discharged a bit more rapidly than I anticipated and basically went from 7% to flat without warning! Anyway, I am now just using it as normal now and the battery does not seem to have a particularly long life - maybe around 90 minutes but considering the old battery would barely last 20 minutes off the charger, it is a marginal improvement and certainly I am no worse off for a laptop that I mostly use when kicking back on the couch with easy access to the power cord as required.
I am pretty pleased - for an outlay of less than $240 I have given my MBP a new lease of life and hopefully helped to dodge planned obsolescence for a few more years. I am a bit more confident about backups and re-installs and know that for anything device based there is a solution on the web somewhere that will most probably solve the problem. If I could do this, then it means that almost anyone else could.
In my new role here at Prospect North I have to provide some non-contact lessons for the classes here but the good thing is that it can be delivered flexibly and all teachers want it to be of a STEM or Digital Technologies flavour. This is good because it is an area I am pretty comfortable in and quite frankly, an expected part of my role. The school is still building up its STEM resources (another reason my role exists) and is a focus school in a partnership with Social Ventures Australia.
So, I have spent today planning for the upper primary classes as I will deliver 4 x 90 minute sessions spread over the next six weeks and I thought I would start with using Sphero as an introduction to coding. I have used Spheros quite a bit over the past two years and so thought I was working in familiar territory. The school had bought 24 new Sphero SPRK+ robots prior to my arrival and so on Friday I thought I had better charge them up ready for the coming week and check the iPads in the area to ensure that the apps I wanted to use were all there.
Looking at the new SPRK+ my initial thought was that they were very attractive with the clear exterior of the standard SPRK model with a blue equatorial stripe. They also appeared to be the same size as the standard white Sphero as the SPRK models I had bought at WGS were slightly smaller, meaning that covers were a little loose and it spun inside the plastic chariots without moving. I hooked everything up and left them all to charge in the library for a few hours.
After lunch, I checked by with my iPad to start the labelling process that I had established before and picked up the first fully charged robot I could see and went tap tap on the bench to wake it up. But ..... nothing happened. I tapped a bit harder but still no response. I assumed that maybe it hadn't charged properly so I dropped it back on the charger and tried the next one. Same result even when I dropped it directly onto the carpet. I thought that maybe the Spheros were in deep sleep mode and went through the process I thought would bring them out of that mode. No deal and nothing was being detected when I looked at Bluetooth on my iPad - something was not right here so I headed for the internet.
On the Sphero FAQ page I found the following:
Does SPRK+ work with other Sphero apps?
Modified on: Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 3:12 PM
Currently, SPRK+ is only compatible with SPRK Lightning Lab application which you can download at https://sprk.sphero.com/d, and the main Sphero app.
I could feel my plans and accumulated knowledge of relevant apps crumbling into dust in my mind. I couldn't use Drive, or Draw'n'Drive, or even Tickle if I was to believe this post. I quickly rushed over to see the school technician before he wasted his time trying to find the now-outdated apps for the iPads!
So I went over to my previously ignored Lightning Lab app to see how it would all work. Straight away I could see a new feature for connection that was a big improvement from the past. Simply you open up Lightning Lab and choose SPRK+ from the Tap a Robot to connect menu and I was away. No more opening up Bluetooth and looking for the three letter colour code to connect. No more accidentally bumping a Sphero and waking it up in transit and wasting valuable battery. Even better, there is now a battery life indicator on the main page.
Through this app, the user can progress through a Learning to Code series of mini-lessons and activities although you need an account to access this feature. This worked fine at home but there were some issues on Friday on the school network. A workaround might be to get the kids to sign up on their own laptops and follow the lessons in a self paced self managed style that would suit quite a number of learners, as long as the website isn't filtered on there as well. Something to negotiate with the IT department but unlikely to be resolved in the short amount of time before I want to use these with my first class.
Within Lightning Lab you can use joystick style controls which essentially makes the old Drive app redundant. That was good and even better was the option to code by Draw which meant I still have access to the same capability that the Draw'n'Drive app provided. I then went onto the Tickle app site and found out that they do support the SPRK+ on the latest version which sent me hurrying back to our IT support to change my order to include that as a required update. Finally to make my day, two staff members came through the library where I was starting to pack up the charged Spheros and asked if they could borrow one for the weekend. They downloaded Lightning Lab on their phones and were already buzzing with the possibilities as they had to give the Spheros a run around before heading off for the weekend.
So, this is a greatly improved Sphero. After getting over the fact that its improvements had made some familiar apps and processes irrelevant, I can see that this is a more focussed_on_learning_that_is_fun product with less connection to pure entertainment which can cloud the learning potential for some students. I am looking forward to see how the students engage with these robots and perhaps show me some new possibilities with their learning.
Moving on from a school to a new role gives me some mental space in which to reflect on how this teaching career has panned out so far. I think I've been pretty fortunate to work in some very interesting places under some unique circumstances with many extraordinary educators. I mean, I have heard about some teachers who can't seem to take a trick, finding themselves in untenable situations in dysfunctional sites but that hasn't been my experience. Maybe it's a positive outlook but that has been made easier through a large number of factors. So, let me check back through the years.
When I was an early career teacher seeking out rural contract positions, I managed to end up at Miltaburra Area School for a year and a term. This is a school in the middle of a paddock, near a set of crossroads intersecting the Eyre Highway - the result of a compromise between four closing community schools. It was also pretty new when I worked there so that was a great experience.
When I gained my permanency and lobbed at Willsden Primary in Port Augusta, I had the unique experience of teaching one of my cousin's kids in my Year 3 classroom. And when I applied to head back to Adelaide after four years of country service, I had to list down all of the schools I was keen on transferring to. I didn't know Adelaide very well so I started by looking at where golf clubs with affordable membership were located. That really was my sole reason for listing Flagstaff Hill at No. 1 on my list and again, what were the odds of scoring the nearby school as my new destination? Also, what were the odds of being located in an open space classroom next to a teacher whose beliefs and innovative drives were so similar to mine that we would collaborate on everything for the next eight years and he would become a life long friend?
Sometimes other people's lack of engagement can be personally beneficial. Flagstaff Hill had a great computer room at that time but very few teachers were that interested in using it much, leaving me to take my class over there more frequently than what my fair share should have been. My enthusiasm was noticed by the ICT coordinator who started moving more computing equipment to my classroom's vicinity because he could see it would be used well, and cultivating my technology skills as a consequence.
On the family side, our first son was born and there were factors at play that had me seeking to looking for a role closer to home. We still had the "ten year tenure" here in SA which moved teachers onto new schools after their tenth year without much choice. I didn't like the idea of not being in control of my own educational destiny and with some encouragement from my teaching offsider and the ICT Coordinator, I started looking for Coordinator leadership roles. Well, would you believe it, a school less than five minutes drive from home were looking for an ICT Coordinator and there was no incumbent?
From this role, I also got to work with more incredible teachers and learn from one of the most knowledgeable and switched on principals I have had the privilege to work under. We got to become a Microsoft Innovative School and I got to go to Melbourne and network with other like minded educators from around Australia. Then my boss went on long service leave to Europe and I got to act up as Deputy for the term. The normal deputy (acting as principal) and I went out to a leadership hubgroup held at the brand new "superschool" at Woodville Gardens during that term, where we met in the conference room and I said hello to their ICT Assistant Principal who I knew through edtech networks. My colleague elbowed me in the ribs and said, "You know he's retiring at the end of the term? You should find out about the vacancy he will leave behind."
I did, so through that comment and chance encounter, I ended up in my next level leadership role at a school that was so new that the grass on the oval hadn't even grown through yet. A school that was a relatively blank canvas technology wise for me to nurture and grow - a responsibility I have never taken lightly and with a lot of second guessing. Again, I got to be part of an amazing leadership team and I can't describe the enormous personal growth with enough emphasis. This was my first chance to experience the process of line management where fostering and seeing professional growth of teachers under my care is as satisfying as the progress of any students I have taught over the years.
So, that's why as I take the next step to a new school in a new role from next term, I am pretty confident that my luck will hold out.
It has so far.
Brendan Jones has a new post up about setting up his own classroom which is a really good read. He talks about getting his first room in many years of teaching (he's a PE Specialist) and how he ditched the teacher's desk as well as trying to set up the room without any budget at all. The main point I got out of the post though was the point that in this modern trend of re-designing learning spaces for optimum learning, it is a really good idea to involve the students in those decisions, which Brendan is well on the way to doing.
My school has spent a lot of time looking at the concept of re-imagining classrooms and learning spaces with the help of some focussed professional learning with Lisa Burman a few years ago. Most teachers have had a go at embracing the concepts outlined by Lisa, and to try and deconstruct some of the sacred cows of classical classroom set-ups. When our new principal arrived from country SA at the start of 2016, she remarked that classroom set up was a concept that really stood out to her a newbie in a way that her previous schools had not. A year on now, she had a conversation with me about how different teachers had embraced the letting go of some of the traditional arrangements of a classroom and how others thought they were but were still clinging to elements that left the teacher in control.
I'll tackle one of these elements. Furniture is one area where things can be re-imagined significantly. Our school is only six years old but there is a couple shed full of traditional furniture as teachers have tangled with the idea that you don't need 30 identical chairs and 15 identical desks to have a functioning classroom. But some teachers have worked with their students to co-design their classroom together while others have given their classroom a makeover that can look very pleasing to the eye but where the students have had very little input. And it doesn't mean that regular classroom furniture can't work - antique tables and cushioned chairs don't guarantee anything except for a rustic look. One of our best teachers still uses our standard furniture but negotiates the set up with her students, designates wall spaces for learning purposes and talks through their effective use with her students. There isn't eye-candy decoration in that classroom but a real feel of inclusion and belonging, purpose for learning and pride in a collaborative space that the kids share with their teacher.
Purpose is really important. Throughout our department, there have been a large list of schools receiving STEM grants. We are not one of those schools, having been judged to have facilities already that will fulfil that function. We do have a suitable learning space called the Da Vinci Studio which was built with a Science focus. In 2011, it had tall tables and science chairs but they have all been nabbed across the school to create the re-imagined classroom spaces where there is a variety of seating choices. The room itself fell into neglect, becoming a spillover area for students working on "stuff", a place to dump junk and so on because back in 2011, STEM was not really high on the educational radar. I arrived mid way through the year and had my hands full getting laptops to work, raising my game in student achievement data and becoming a rosters guru. But as the years have progressed, the school has supported some of its innovative teachers by investing in robotics gear, makey-makeys and LittleBits for buddy class technology projects. You can see some of that here. With the ICT Committee, we formed a working party that has a plan to claim back and renew this space as our school STEM/Makerspace HQ and I've assumed the responsibility for moving this concept forward. So, to get to the point, we've cleaned the space out and chucked a lot of accumulated junk in the skip. I have cleared the room of excess furniture and thought about how the purpose behind the learning we want to happen in the classroom should dictate the furnishings. The working party got hold of a few classroom furniture company catalogues and gushed over some of the beautiful pieces in there. Things like tech bars, soft ottomans and makerspace storage cabinets looked really cool but were really expensive. Also, did they really serve the purpose of the space? So, hopefully through the end-of-life furniture replacement process (there are a bunch of tired looking tables and regulation plastic chairs) I want to get the following. One of those large roadmap carpets for gathering and discussion, plus being ideal for programming robot routes is on my list, flip tables with whiteboard surfaces so that set ups are quickly deployed and stackable stools. That way, the classroom can be set up as needed for a variety of purposes and not be locked in.
As Brendan found out and points out:
I quickly realised that it was in the arrangement, not the type of furniture, that made all the difference to the kid’s disposition in my class.
With that in mind, he really can't go wrong. But it sounds like he still has to convince a few colleagues.
"The end is near for paper-based newspapers."
I can see this on a local level. I am offered a free local Advertiser regularly when grabbing a few groceries at Foodland. This weekend, two plastic wrapped papers were left on our front lawn. I initially thought that maybe there was a home delivery mistake until the offer from News Ltd was in the mailbox was opened. Both papers went straight into the recycling bin without being read.
Interesting turn of events - we certainly need news and reporting, but accessing it in paper form, not so much.
I've been playing in the educational social media space for nearly 11 years now, and I would have to say that my enthusiasm to be plugged in at all times and have my finger on the pulse has waned in the last few years. Networked learning enthusiasts were fewer back then and much less mainstream than what I see today out in the two main areas of interaction for me, blogs and Twitter.
There are heaps and heaps of teachers on Twitter these days. Finding relevant, interesting voices to connect to is harder for me now than it was back in 2007 when I first tried out the platform. Maybe it is because I am getting older but I feel my impatience overriding my enthusiasm at some of the things I see posted in the name of professional learning. I find #edhashtagchats still leave me cold. It is difficult for me to follow conversations and I rankle at the formulated posing of questions that allow precious little time for full meaningful interaction. Yet some of these #edhashtagchats want to promote the idea that they are open and inclusive of all educators.
Mostly, I hate the Twitter shoutout. When someone posts a string of @mybestmate names for a question or an invitation or an idea, it feels like the "in crowd" reminding me that I am not one of them, my input is not valued or even wanted. That probably isn't the reality but that is how it comes across. And a lot of the time, there is a thinly veiled undercurrent of self promotion. Names that attach other names to TechCompanyEducator statuses, shout out congrats on the new book deal, or come to this great PD event featuring the tweeter as presenter or keynoter. It makes me feel very cynical as networked learning was where I went to be inspired or have my ideas challenged, but I find that hard to do nowadays.
Maybe I need to go search out that new tool that hasn't been taken over by the cyber-narcissists. Or maybe, if I don't "get" the people who populate my Twitterstream, it is time to unfollow, comb through my lists to see who actually does contribute to my learning and try again.
I attended a day hosted on behalf of our partnership on PAT Data today as one of my school's representatives. Student Achievement Data is one of the key parts of my role as Assistant Principal and this testing system is one that I have made the effort to become familiar with. I have blogged about some of my work in this area before so for me, the presenter was going over some familiar ground in her introduction. As she spoke, I started typing up questions that were forming in my brain about this form of testing and the data it produces.
Does standard equal average?
How do these standards then translate into comparisons for Australian schools v. other countries?
Do we set standard as average which can be variable according to the cohort (even an Australian wide cohort as measured by ACER) or is it political when standards are determined externally and then we measure whether our students are above, below or matching?
Interesting that in a multiple choice test, a correct guess is measured as evidence of student achievement – so, should we discourage the “just have a try” method if it is likely to end up with a guess?
If a child guessing produces a scattered graph where the easy questions are wrong, are the guessed correct answers of greater difficulty discounted in calculating the score?
I got answers to most of these questions along the way, but it led me tonight to pondering about the concept of making a difference.
I was lucky enough to attend EduTECH last week for the fourth time, taking a team of seven colleagues with me. For me, the highlight was a presentation and then a workshop from EduChangemakers, Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner, totally focussed on the concept of making a difference for students. If you read this blog and/or follow me on Twitter, you will know that I have complained about the term "edupreneur" and expressed concerns about its wider connotations. So, I was surprised at myself to be blown away by this duo's authenticity and story. We had just sat through a middling presentation by a private school who had done a makeover of their learning spaces, struggling to come to terms with terms like "non-selective" (code for they don't screen potential students for academic standards prior to enrolling, no different from the vast majority of government schools) and "double streaming" (they have more than one Year 2 class - we chuckled that we must be quadruple streaming Year Twos at WGS!) and then Dave came up on stage and told us the story of his first day at Halls Creek District School where the first student he encountered looked at him and said, "What the f#^& are you looking at?"
All of a sudden, we had someone in front of us who understood disadvantage and battling disengagement, who was telling us about how to empower teachers to solve problems in new ways. I did a complete 180 degree turn in my thinking and even went down straight after the presentation to buy their new "Edupreneur" book. Both Aaron and Dave were down there at the time and were down to earth and friendly to talk to, and they both encouraged me to come to their workshop even it was officially full. The workshop was a whirlwind taste of their full day workshop change process which uses Design Thinking as its basis.
No, now I am reading the book which is focussed on teacher-led innovation. As the title of this post suggest, this is all linked to the innate desire of most educators to make a difference. This can be on a small or major scale but it is surely a driver of any teacher who participates in any form of professional learning or self improvement. It is also the desire of systems who choose testing systems like PAT.
What making a difference looks like can wax and wane over time. I know it has for me. Even when I see some educators on Twitter participate in self-promotion and in-crowd shoutouts, I know that they are only seeking to make a difference for their students. I was probably like that a decade ago, full of idealism and a desire not only to make a difference but to be seen to be making a difference. But time can erode self confidence and the bravado and self righteousness of youth can be replaced by doubt. Every now and again, it is good to take stock and re-ask the question, "How can I make a difference for the students I work with?'
In my second year here at WGS, I had a conversation with the Primary Head of School about how we might cater more effectively for some identifiable students with mathematical talent in our school. She was wondering out loud whether the Westpac Maths Competition would be a good idea. But then I remembered entering students from my previous school in the Mathematics Challenge For Young Australians (MCYA for short) and how I thought that it was a well constructed competition that focussed on the application of mathematics to problem solving situations, rather than being an exam type scenario conducted within a day.
We tried it out that year across several year levels, and the students really found it engaging. We even had a group of high ability Year 4 students who we entered into the Year 5 division. I remember sitting with this group, explaining how the challenge worked. You had four worded problems to solve, you had three weeks to do the challenge, you could work with others, you got to work independently, you had to show your working out, you sometimes had to explain your answers and so on. Later that week I checked in on the students and one boy made the comment to me with a smile that showed his keenness, "This is hard. I'm not used to maths being hard - usually it's easy for me."
Interestingly, this same group of boys are now in Year 7, midway through this year's Challenge. I was talking to their teacher, Jasmin, tonight and she was telling me how much they loved doing the MCYA. They were begging for more time to get back into it, and so we were thinking that we might enrol them in the Enrichment section. It has also been a great validation for other kids - one that I can recall was a girl from a very disadvantaged background who downplayed her abilities in front of her peers to the point where she started to believe that she was not much more than average. We put her in the competition and with a bit of gentle encouragement she slowly warmed to the expectations and realised that finding the solutions was well within her capabilities and that she could see possible strategies that remained invisible to her peers. And her friends got on board and told her what they already knew but she was trying hard to deny - she was really smart and Challenges that privileged kids take for granted is theirs for the taking, were well within her grasp. She ended up with a Distinction. For me, this is a really great competition that gets mathematical kids stretching beyond memorised algorithms. I like the fact that it allows and encourages collaboration. I like how it draws out kids who are a bit dependent on their after school Kumon diet into thinking about not only what is the solution but WHY is that the solution.
Thank you, Australian Maths Trust and the University of Canberra. You put out a first class offering for our talented Maths students and in this age of STEM heightened awareness, I am surprised that your competitions and challenges are not more widely touted.
I forget sometimes that my iPhone 6 has a camera and thought I would video one of my playing partners today who likes to work his drives from left to right, and see how he would adjust for the howling northerly that was coming off his left. I then noticed the slo-mo option which I had never tried, and took footage of our whole group on the last tee. My friend Ian kindly filmed mine and it is amazing that my swing is still very long (not the shot, the swing!) even though I am rapidly approaching my half century.