Friday, 27 March 2015

Resilience - moving beyond the learnt helplessness

Starting life in a new school is often one that is busy, trying to figure out what is happening, how things are done and the culture of the school.

We have these Habits at our school, the Hobsonville Habits. Unpacking these takes time and is part of the focus on the extended hub time.
Resilient: I don't give up when times are tough.
Curious: I am inquisitive and playful. I explore in search of awe and wonder.
Creative: I am imaginative and I explore the what if. I dream. I view things in different ways.
Reflective: I look back to look forward
Adventurous: I am will to take risks and look for opportunities which may not yet exist. I give everything a go.
Purposeful: I do this with intent and determination.
Contributive: I make a difference by using my skills, thoughts, and ideas when working with others.
Compassionate: I work with and learn from others.
Responsive: I am empathetic, aware, and flexible when making decisions and taking action.
resourceful: I use my initiative to seek our resources and use them in different ways.
One of the habits that I suppose I have seeked out to work with the students is one around Resilience.

Developing problem solving and resilience to combat learnt helplessness in Digital technologies.

I have been now teaching Digital Technologies for a number of years now and I have seen varying degrees of learnt helplessness. 

But what is learnt helplessness, it is a strategy for getting other people to solve problems for you. In the classroom, for pupils it may be getting the teacher, the teacher aide or other pupils to solve the problem for you.

In digital technologies, learnt helplessness can be seen in different ways. Sweet helplessness often manifests to the teacher as a pupils putting in a sweet helpless voice and declaring they are stuck. Aggressive helplessness manifests with a cross tone and the implication that they think the work is "stupid" or they don't get it. Being stuck is never a problem, but if you ask what they stuck on and the pupil cannot tell you or describe the problem of they give vague indications that they are stuck on everything, then there is a good chance they are using learnt helplessness to get you to solve their problem. Similar strategies will often be used with their peers, tailored to make the problem solver feel valued, superior or pressured into helping.

The problem us that many teachers and pupils will respond to this strategy in digital technologies by solving the problem for the pupil. Often excellent teachers, who wouldn't dream of doing work for pupils in other areas of the curriculum, will jump in and solve the problem for the pupil. The fact that so many pupils use learnt helplessness suggests that it has been a successful strategy for many.

Getting someone else to do the work for you would be an issue in any subject, but it is the antithesis of computer science with its emphasis on problem solving and debugging. In fact to solve a problem for a child is to deny them the opportunity to debug code or fix algorithm and as such is debilitating.

How has it come so prevalent in digital technologies? It is suspected that it has grown out of teacher fear or unfamiliarity with the subject material coupled with a belief that pupils know more about technology that adults combined with a n emphasis on the finished product rather than the process. All these factors have lead teachers to fix things for pupils rather than steer them to find solutions for themselves.

If we recognise this as an issue, how can we counter this and encourage resilience and problem solving.
  1. Recognising that this is an issue is the first step. We can't effect any change without recognising that something needs to change.
  2. It helps to know that this will take time to change your own practice and move students onto better strategies. 
  3. Establishing a positive class attitude towards problem solving. Computer science is very useful in that it calls errors bugs and find errors debugging. Although all bugs are caused by humans, the language is much more impersonal than mistakes which imply blame or fault. Using bug and debugging language is helpful. It is also important to let students know that mistakes/bugs are a normal part of digital technologies, they are to be expected, that professional programmers write code that have bugs all the time and that you will not be cross or upset if their work has bugs/mistakes. This needs to be made explicit in those first few weeks of class. This is part of the process.
  4. Even though it is a job of the teacher to help students through the learning, it is not the teacher job to fix their algorithms or debug their code. It is the job to provide useful strategies they can use to fix themselves. So that when they come to me they know they are looking for strategies to find and fix things themselves. 
  5. For those students that are transitioning from learnt helplessness to useful problem solving, they need to see what they are doing. Are they trying to get me to fix their code? Or are they trying to get me to solve the problem for them? In the same way we cannot move on until we recognised the issue. Of course good teachers will do this tactfully and with regards to the pupils known issues, but an element of challenge is inevitable to identify the issue. Warm and demanding. 
  6. Encouraging the class to not solve problems for others. They can describe what to do, but are not allowed to fo it for them, or give them the full solution. As you model this they will reflect this attitude to their peers. Having a ban on touching anyone's else keyboard or mouse is a good start. This could be compared to writing in someones maths or english exercise book.
  7. Moving students away from the language that personifies digital machines. "My computer hates me," is typical. If we look at Deterministic algorithms if we continue to put in the same inputs, we will get get the same outputs. We need to encourage students to think that an answer might not be available due to the logic of the computer, which is a attitude that is anti problem solving and incorrect.
  8. Have the other teachers in your class, including the teacher aide using the same strategies. Train them to help using good strategies and hints rather than solutions. 
If we don't identify the problem nothing will change. Is there a learnt helplessness within the other staff in your department or faculty. Is it worth the hassle to challenge this? We need to be tactful and recognise the good practice of teachers and the good problem solving strategies of other curriculum areas. 

Being Resilient: I don't give up when times are tough.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

mytime challenge

I have been busy over the last few weeks coming up with a weekly mytime challenge. One it is challenging for me in setting it up, but the other challenge is in the students knowing their community.

"Finding your way"

Each week students are given a challenge that is based around orienteering. Something that I found fun and exciting that still attracts me to the sport today.

I have had

  • the students do a photo challenge around the school.
  • A score challenge in which students have competed to find the most points
  • Had the students try and make their own score challenge
  • A orienteering course - solo
  • GPS based course in groups

I have been doing some research, and in an area that keeps changing due to construction of a new community it is a challenge. From cranes delivering panels, through to an asbestos clean up down at the point, each week throws up new challenges. But also new areas that can be added in.

I found an orienteering map from 2011, and also found out that Hobsonville Point was the first place to have an orienteering map 42 years before.
After a 2 year lapse, British athlete and Orienteering champion Gordon Pirie got a group interested and on 19th June 1969, N.Z.'s first official orienteering event was conducted at RNZAF Hobsonville; 1:25,000 map, bomb dump included! (

I will keep the challenge going, this week by entering Hobsonville. An area beside the school in which there a few historical challenges that can be included for the students.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

opportunity around N4L POND

A year ago, I was invited to be part of an opportunity to help give some guidance to a new product. The Network for Learning were developing a portal for teachers to share resource, best practice, learning and ideas. The portal that was being developed was to cater for New Zealand teachers and education providers. Being one of the educational advisers allowed me access to its early release last year, to put in items and think how this could help other teachers who are working on developing new courses for NCEA or junior units. A pioneer educator event provided discussions with the developers what worked and what didn't through an awesome day with other teachers and the development team. A lot of what you see in POND now came out of that day.

Tonight, was a large release in the eyes of N4L POND. I was invited to see this release in person. This has seen months of work come to life around 5pm on Tuesday. When Maintenance Mode was initiated. This is also the same screen that you see when things go wrong. During the last couple of months Ian and his team have been busy working on developing POND to see new ideas, new frameworks and of course the teachers feedback be developed. Through the software development methodology, agile, this allows for features to be added as the product is being used. Rather than a build it all and then release it, N4L POND has been developing a working solution for the past 330 days (going by the new stats available for every POND user). This means that bugs are fixed and new features added almost every two weeks. This means that users are getting to have input on how they use the N4L POND and what features they would like added to make it a product that works for all. This is where feedback is important, if you find something that doesn't work or would like a feature added, Feedback. It's as simple a clicking the Feedback button, clicking how you are feeling, what type of feedback you are commenting on, they do like feedback on what is working for you as well with a Compliment. The feedback is shown on a TV screen in real time right beside the developers desks, where at 10am every morning they go through the feedback.

Tonight was no exception, through a variety of Quality Assurance tests while developing and in the past couple of months a number of developments have been made. When a release goes live, the developers are in straight away testing to make sure that the database, registration and common features are tested to make sure users get the experience that they have always had. It is surprising that a number of new features work on the Quality Assurance server and not on the Production server. During the two hours down time that users were experiencing, POND was running, you just couldn't access it. Final testing was being completed and a whole re-index of the database was happening. From version 6.0.0, 2 hours later version 6.0.7 was running for POND users to access. This is rather a stressful time, as you don't want your product to be down for too long.

Throughout the walls of the office in N4L POND are the next developments, the ideas, screen shots, posts it notes giving thoughts and ideas on design and features. Whiteboards have timelines drawn on them and I must say there are some pretty good features coming out in the next couple of months that will enhance N4L POND.

complex digital media

One thing I am often asked about demonstrating understanding of digital media, is what is complex?

To me, it is around understanding someones else's code and having to implement it.

Case in point KAMAR web portal, the authentication is in the top of the page, however when you have a full banner, as most schools do, the authentication information, i.e the button to hit logout is in hidden the the bannar.
You need to be able to change it, you need to be able to read someone else's code and change it.
      <div id="wrap">  
           <div id="header">  
now the {auth_head} which is a function needed is required to be moved to another location in the code.

The other example is being able to use a front-end framework.

What is a framework?
A framework is a standardized set of concepts, practices and criteria for dealing with a common type of problem, which can be used as a reference to help us approach and resolve new problems of a similar nature. 
In the world of web design, to give a more straightforward definition, a framework is defined as a package made up of a structure of files and folders of standardized code (HTML, CSS, JS documents etc.) which can be used to support the development of websites, as a basis to start building a site 
Most websites share a very similar (not to say identical) structure. The aim of frameworks is to provide a common structure so that developers don’t have to redo it from scratch and can reuse the code provided. In this way, frameworks allow us to cut out much of the work and save a lot of time.

bootstrap, angularJS are two frameworks that I use with students, why, because they need to be able to understand how to get these going and what can be done to support the website that you are creating. Be it responsive or adding in some extra control.

NCEA Digital Technologies, Digital Media looks like, simplified,

Level 1 basic, create a website using a text editor, add some css into it.

Level 2 advanced, start to use more complex css and HTML5 to design a webpage.

Level 3 complex,
Complex tools and techniques may include:
Web page design: HyperText Markup Language / Cascading Style Sheets (HTML/CSS), scripting (manipulating content), dynamic data handling, interaction between user and content, multiple device outputs

Some schools introduce php and mysql here, however to me that is level 2/3 information.

Without specific advice and guidance, this is a very hard area to plan and develop to work within your course. Looking at where I want my students to go, I want them to work down this pathway. The conversations I have with industry/polytechnic/Private Training Providers this seems to be the pathway that they would like students to go down. It means that students have understanding and demonstrate knowledge around this area.

The knowledge based standard is intended that students explore at least two complex digital media outcomes in order to discuss complex tools and techniques, and associated design elements, legal and ethical considerations used in relation to the requirements of the outcomes.

I am getting students to look at Network for Learning POND as a case study around this, as with the videos they can start to understand the design elements, the release notes provide some understanding on changes that have been developed and the whats coming section allows for students to see what is coming up. I hope soon that student access will be made available so students can develop a better understanding.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Classrooms, what might a pen and paper look like in digital

I often wonder what it would be like to work in a classroom, where you have your desks, chairs students sitting in rows and working on a task. A chair fails, you get another chair, you don't have a desk for a student as your numbers grow, you grab another desk. A student arrives without a book you can grab them a piece of paper and they can carry on.

Now imagine you are in a computer lab, a computer stops working and you need it fixed? No access to do that, have to wait for the technician.
Your numbers grow in your class and you need another computer? No.
The students need the same piece of software to learn a new skill that is part of a teaching and learning programme that you have asked for weeks before to be installed, it hasn't been done yet as it is further down the tech's schedule of work, and you are hoping it will it be fixed by Monday.
You can't move furniture around a room because the desks are screwed to the floor.
You want to take your students down a path where they are interested to get them to learn more about the world wide wide through ports. Nope, locked down by a school firewall.
Get students working on robots where they need to connect a USB Cable to a computer? No, locked down by the technician.

This has been a great issue with teachers ever since the introduction of the computer lab in schools. They are locked down so students can't cause any trouble with the equipment. They normally are the last to see any tech hours to fix issues because there are wider infrastructure issues at play. This is essential in our jobs, how can we say to a student, sorry you can't do your lessons today as the computer doesn't have the software installed even though all the others in the room have it. That we can't teach you web development it has a perceived security risk as the students will be accessing a server.

Five years ago new digital technologies standards were introduced, where an level 3 assessment task on TKI asks students to install and manipulate a Content Management System. This is something that is widely used today by many websites on the internet. Something you think would be quite easy to do? With the introduction of php and mySQL at NCEA Level 2 as well. Getting students to create dynamic websites. Getting students understanding what they are about and how to create them. If a school does not have a LAMP stack on a server with access for students it is pretty hard to deliver what is an essential part of the curriculum.

There are ways of doing this with USB sticks or Local admin rights on computers, but when you are a byod school using chromebooks, these will not work for teaching web development.

You need a good relationship with your schools technician to make these things work. To ask for a web server to be created and setup in such a way to make it work on the network, things like opening up firewall constraints and port 22 to allow students to ssh into the server to create their mySQL database in the terminal, and port 21 to allow FTP traffic, as well as DNS to access the server name and HTTP traffic to allow a student to actually view their created content.

How do teachers manage to ask for these things to be done, that is now almost essential to deliver to students to get them to develop a understanding of the world wide web, digital information and programming. As I say, this is our classroom, the book, the pen and the paper to be able to innovate, engage and inspire. Are schools listening?

I had a question why port 22, the reason why having students having the ability to access this port allows them to work on a newer version of python for programming, as the chromebook apps that we have managed to find are at version 2.72 rather than version 3.4.x in which all other devices can support. So being able to do development using a server would support more students.