Welcome back for part two of the view of session two of the FutureSchools conference. If you missed the previous article, you can find it here. Following Peggy Sheehy, was Glenn Carmichael, who described the school in which he teaches as “…a smallish high school…” called St Michael’s Collegiate School in Hobart, speaking under the title STEM Projects with real world applications.
Michael spoke about how he heard the question “…when will we use this?” on a regular basis from his students, and that it seemed as thought mathematics was the subject in which this question was asked more in than any other, which I think is true. From my own schooling, I would not have even considered asking that question in English, science or creative arts, yet in mathematics, it seems like it is asked on a regular basis (read this interesting and thought-provoking article on the topic).
Glenn discussed how the school wanted to embed STEM in the school in a manner that it had intrinsic value to students and spoke about two projects that were utilised to put that in place. The first project required students to develop an iPhone app that had meaning and practical use for them. From a programming perspective, xcode was utilised as it is free and is a real coding language, not a kiddy language with excellent tools for student planning including a storyboarding facility and the ability to simulate the app in its current state to debug and test various iterations. The students, after much discussion, concluded that they would develop an app for use at school to fill in a lot of the gaps in information that students required for getting around.
Glenn related how student timetables were not particularly informative, with a time, room code and a teacher code being the sum total, and that the teacher code did not necessarily mean that you knew who it was before your first class when you first arrived. I remember my first timetable in year seven, and it had a timeslot, room identification and the teachers name (Mrs Smith etc). This particular teacher coding, from what I recall of what Glenn said was a series of letter from their name. Students decided they wanted an app that provided a mapping function so that you could work out where rooms were, and the easiest route from where you were to where you needed to go, teacher’s names and their photo, a to do list, and useful links.
The project had inherent usefulness and significance to the students involved in the project and as such, the natural engagement in the project was high. The decision was made that simply embedding Google Maps would not be sufficient, as it would not provide the specific room locations, or the ability to allow for second level rooms, that a custom map would, which meant that students had to create their own maps with all of the mathematical skills and concepts that go along with that.
The students were also required to create and present a sales pitch to gain experience in considering factors such as cost/profit margins, clients wishes against what the developer wanted (colour schemes to fit with corporate designs etc.), modification of prototype to meet client demands, determining cost of production and then what a fair retail price would be.
Glenn did indicate that the learning curve on xcode was incredibly steep and that the success and failure rates of students in completing particular tasks needed to be balanced. As a result of the challenges from learning xcode, xcode Edu was created, a more manageable version for use with students.
The second project was a 3D Printing project where students utilised Google Sketchup with two add-ons; one called Solid Inspector and the other being Sketchup STL. Once again, students were required to treat the project as a business project and determine the real cost of the final product, including time, plastics, general wear and tear on the 3D printer itself, electricity (which introduced unit conversion), packaging and handling.
Glenn spoke very well and was apologetic at having to rush through his presentation, openly admitting that he had a number of short videos that he could not show due to time constraints at having to start late.
After Glenn’s brief talk, it was the morning break which was followed by the roundtable sessions. Last year, I was not very impressed with how the roundtable sessions had been organised from the perspective of the physical set up. None of the issues have been addressed or remedied in preparation for this year, and if anything, they were worse. My first roundtable was with Glenn and I was excited to be able to hear him speak further and hopefully glean some of what he had been forced to omit in his conference presentation. It was not to be.
Once again, the round tables were tucked at one end of the expo hall, where the concrete floor combined with the cavernous size of the overall space to create an annoyingly loud echo chamber with multiple conversations overlapping creating a cacophony of noise. I was again standing at the back, approximately three metres away from Glenn and could not hear him. At one point, there was someone at the other end of the table speaking, and I could not hear them, and when the person in front of me, who was sitting down, asked a question, I could not hear them very clearly. My total notes from the session consisted of the FutureLearn online professional development side could be useful for coding and STEM-based learning as an educator, and a something which I did manage to hear, as it was very early in the roundtable, when he said “this is bigger than I thought; it was meant to be a small group.”
I gave up after about ten minutes, as I was gaining nothing other than a headache, and spent the remainder of the session speaking with Brian Host, Paul Hamilton and Alfina Jackson, who introduced me to Meredith Ebbs, which from my perspective, was quite productive. I did not attend the second roundtable I had nominated as I strongly suspected it would be the same, and the conversation with Brian and Paul was, for me, valuable. I received a few pieces of advice, including the use of Blendspace as a host for flipped videos as a work around the NSW Department of Education block on YouTube, TeacherTube and Vimeo, and also a contact name regarding the inability of Android devices to connect to the DoE wi-fi.
I can only hope that with FutureSchools moving to Melbourne for 2017, that the issues with the roundtable sessions are properly addressed and those sessions are more beneficial for attendees. When you pay a significant sum for a conference (and I was not the only person that I am aware of who was there having self-funded their attendance) you expect all the sessions to be well managed. At this point, with the advice that FutureSchools is moving to Melbourne, and EduTech is moving to Sydney, I do not know which event I will attend as I have not been to EduTech previously. A decision for next year.
I hope you have gained some benefit from this article, and as always, thank you for reading. The next article will cover the penultimate session, with presentations from Shireen Winrow and John Burfoot.