We started the 2018-2019 school year with some beliefs about how we will use data (or evidence) to enhance student learning. A few key beliefs were that:
learning is deepened when educators and learners act responsively to a variety of evidence,
in using agreed, school-wide protocols and processes to collect, analyze, take action, and reflect, and
teachers and students should be empowered to engage meaningfully with evidence.
To help make progress in this area, a voluntary Evidence-based Learning Committee was formed (click to see the members) which met a number of times and collaborated with many teams around the school using a new, school-wide protocol for looking at evidence objectively to decide upon next actions. The committee also developed some goals and action steps towards these goals for the 2019-2020 school year.
Trial a clear evidence-based framework, that students, teachers & leadership use for learning and decision making processes.
For teachers and students to use and interpret data from formative assessment to evaluate learning objectively and inform the next steps of learning.
To understand and support students (learning and wellbeing), we will utilize structures and processes (e.g. the Evidence to Action protocol) to make informed decisions.
Developing a shared culture of evidence-based conversations.
The committee is very much looking forward to making even more progress next year.
Year Five students are involved in a “How the World Works” unit where the central idea was “Exploration and innovation in robotics is changing society and the environment.” Students are inquiring along these lines: exploring and investigating robotics, impact of robotics on society and the environment, and creativity and innovation in robotics.
One theme we see in student thinking is how robotic innovation can solve problems. One of the tasks of the unit is to have students design something to solve a problem. They do this by prototyping with physical materials together with SAM Labs wireless electronic ‘blocks’ such as buttons, light sensors, motors, and LED lights. Solutions involve inputs, processing, and outputs. This is one of the fundamental parts of computational thinking. Students are also learning problem-solving by decomposing big problems into smaller parts in order to create a solution for each of the parts. They also find that iteration helps to reach a solution and that it is best to change only one thing at a time to see the effect.
This month, Mr. Cristóbal González took his Year 7 Spanish class on a tour of Madrid, without leaving the comfort of his own classroom, through the use of Virtual Reality (VR) and Google Cardboard. The students were learning Spanish vocabulary around cities and directions, so the tour was perfect to immerse them in this language and put it all in context.
The tour showed the students many famous sights in Madrid, with an oral tour in Spanish, so the students could look around and listen to an explanation of these famous places. Many students were standing up, looking around the city, commenting on the different landmarks and helping each other find the interesting features of the tour. As you can imagine, this was an extremely memorable learning experience for the students and another example of how our teachers at NIST are innovating the learning in their classroom.
Coding. Everyone is talking about it. Experts are saying that we need to teach our kids to code to prepare them for jobs of the future. But what is coding? Coding is transforming actions into a symbolic language which can be run by a computer. The fundamental concept that underpins coding is computational thinking, made up of four main skills: decomposition, pattern recognition, pattern generalisation and designing algorithms. Experts say that strengthening skills in computational thinking, which can be taught through coding, will prepare students with the skills they need for the future.
Many people say that computational thinking is now just as critical as knowing how to read. Computational thinking is an essential skill for future careers, so we believe that every child at NIST should have the opportunity to explore coding and robotics. But what about in the Elementary School? Computational thinking is simply the ability to follow a step-by-step process to solve a problem. We do it every day in our daily lives- when we tie our shoelaces, when we make a sandwich, or even when we get ready for school every morning. Algorithms, or step-by-step procedures, are a part of our daily lives and they don’t have to be taught using computers or robots. Unplugged activities, using physical, concrete approaches, are a great way to introduce the idea of coding and programming to our younger students. Computational thinking skills are then further developed using apps such as Kodable, Osmo, Bloxels, Scratch and Swift Playgrounds, where students explore concepts such as sequencing, conditional situations, repeat loops and variables. Dash and Sphero robots also provide our Elementary students with a chance to write programs and see the effects of their programming.
Over the past two years, we have worked to develop the Computer Science program in the Elementary School at NIST. While computational thinking is vital to prepare for future work skills, we have been mindful to integrate learning experiences into the curriculum. Computational thinking connects to the curriculum through the IB Approaches to Learning (thinking skills, social skills, communication skills, self-management skills & research skills), Maths (shape and space, algebraic thinking, algorithms, logical thinking, problem-solving) and Literacy (giving & receiving clear instructions, writing using words & symbols, positional/directional language and procedural writing). What does computational thinking look like in the Elementary School? Coding activities create opportunities for students to plan, take risks, problem-solve, iterate and persevere as they design, build and solve problems in a playful way. In the Early Years and Year 1, students have had a lot of fun exploring communication skills and directional language through coding unplugged activities (offline, concrete activities), such as checkerboards, maps, and cup stacking. Students as young as Year 1 have learned to write code and use symbols to communicate directions. These learning experiences have helped to develop mathematical communication skills through visual, concrete approaches related to mapping, the position of objects in space, and the relationships between different objects in space. Our younger students have learned to give clear directions, follow directions, and develop critical thinking skills. While working together in partners and groups, they have developed their cooperative skills and gained greater empathy for others. Debugging (identifying and correcting errors) also requires a lot of persistence and analysis, which helps students increase their metacognitive skills and develop perseverance.
After exploring coding unplugged activities, Elementary students have had the opportunity to further examine computational thinking, such as sequencing and conditional situations, through coding apps such as Kodable and Osmo. Our Year 2 to6 students have continued to develop their coding skills by exploring Bloxels, Scratch and Swift Playgrounds on iPads, leading up to more advanced coding capabilities, such as loops and functions. Dash, Sphero and Beebot robots have also been used to support Units of Inquiry, Mathematics units, and storytelling. Year 5 and 6 students programmed Spheros to perform tasks and move through mazes, while Year 4 and 5 students have used Dash robots to create polygons, solve riddles and draw figures using coordinate grids. Students in Upper Elementary have also explored the Swift programming language through Swift Playgrounds, which can be used to build their own apps.
This year, many Elementary students have been fortunate enough to work with Ms. Kim Tresohlavy, our Secondary School Computer Science teacher. Year 5 and 6 students have had the chance to program Sphero robots in the Robotics Club, and Year 5 students have created robotic solutions to problems around the school or in the world around them, using SAM Labs components. Elementary students with a passion for robotics and coding have also had a chance to advance their skills further, delving deeper into Kodable, Bloxels, Scratch, and Swift Playgrounds.
Coding may be the latest buzz word, but there’s more to it than that. We’re not only developing computational and mathematical thinking, but also literacy, social and metacognitive skills too. Computational thinking is a part of our daily lives and everyone can learn to code!
Our fabulous Year 2 students recently completed their How the World Works unit where they explored the central idea of “understanding the properties of materials allows people to design and create”. Through the conceptual lens of form, function, and change the students inquired into the properties of materials and how they behave, how we can manipulate, change, and combine materials, and how we use our understanding of materials to design and create.
The Year 2 team thought this would be a perfect chance to partner with Ms. Stephanie, the music teacher on a musical instrument building project. The students were able to take the knowledge and skills they were learning in both their homeroom and music class, and combine them to design and build a musical instrument! As you can imagine this was no small feat!
The students first spent time engaging in activities that helped them develop the skills necessary to build a musical instrument. The students also spent time learning and applying the design cycle, which they will continue to develop throughout their IB educational journey. After a couple of weeks of skill building, the students were ready to design and build their instruments! The students were able to utilize the newly acquired design cycle resources and protocols to help them in this process. As the students began to build, they helped each other to improve their instruments by giving feedback, sharing insights, and communicating their new learning. In the end, the students designed and built some seriously impressive instruments… from scratch!
Year 5 students recently embarked on a transdisciplinary project where their schedule was flattened for a week. The learning engagements were designed by students and teachers to help students see the connection of maths in real life and between disciplines through authentic maths experiences. The experiences helped build confidence and mathematical identity, as well as promote positive mindsets in all students as mathematicians. They provided students with long, uninterrupted periods of time to go deep with their learning and follow an interest through a maths lens. These “deep dives” helped instill a more significant curiosity and love for maths.
Students participated in a range of inquiries centered around mathematical concepts found in measurement, shape, space, data handling, as well as pattern & function. Projects such as ‘Collect Data, Change the World,’ ‘Amazing Race,’ ‘Art Attack,’ ‘Codebreaking and Cryptology’ and ‘Roblox Game Design’ were offered to Year 5 students. The learning experiences focused on developing skills in self-management, as well as thinking skills, social skills, communication skills, and research skills. The experiences opened students eyes to maths in the real world and had a lot of fun along the way.
Check out the learning from Year 5 Maths Week on Twitter @Y5NIST with the #Y5MathsWeek hashtag.