Journeying in a Sandbox: Learning Spaces

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For some time we have been considering how schools can innovate their learning spaces. I must stress here that while we are talking here about changing our spaces what we are really talking about is changing, or adapting, our pedagogy to the changing needs of students, teachers and the community in general.
This was my blog entry in May 2013: A Different Direction – Thinking about learning spaces.
https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/a-different-direction-thinking-about-learning-spaces/

When I attended the Edutech Conference in June this year I had the pleasure of listening to a couple of educators talking about how their school had started to think about innovating their learning spaces.

“A couple of the leadership team from Margaret River Primary School told a compelling story. Their presentation started with a parody which set the mood for their entertaining presentation. The learning environment that they have created, at Margaret River, was really engaging and exciting. Their simple incorporation of Caves, Waterholes, Campfires and Mountain Tops as a natural part of the learning environment was impressive. Some great ideas from these inspired educators.”
From my earlier blog entry: Two Days in Brisbane – Edutech 2014 https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/two-days-in-brisbane-edutech-2014/

Also visit Margaret River Primary here: http://mriverps.wa.edu.au

We have also been very interested in the work of Stephen Harris (Northern Beaches Christian School). https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/29167837/Edutech%20Brisbane%202013_Harris.pdf

https://rhp123.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/16ce0-stephen-harris_virtual-pedagogical-physical-space-21st-century.pdf

Additionally we have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools to look at learning spaces. Some of these were independent visits and others via http://cefpi.org.au.

These visits inspired this post: Two Different Learning Space Concepts
https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/two-different-learning-space-concepts/
And also Exploring Spaces – Lite: https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/exploring-spaces-lite/

We have also met regularly throughout the last couple of years with a small group from our school community to discuss innovation. We had discussed the idea of sandboxing a space / spaces ahead of a more general redesign / building program. The basic rationale for this is described below.

“A sandbox is a place where you have the power and control to quickly iterate and gather feedback that you can use to grow your established business. A familiar concept to software developers, it’s an isolated environment that you can update quickly and where you don’t have to worry about breaking anything. Beyond merely a test framework on top of your existing site, this is a completely separate space that might share content and functionality with your main site but which can be experimented with and run independently from your main site, with you and your marketing team in charge. It might look a little different and it might work a little different, but it’s still your business underneath. You get to dictate the priorities, you get to dictate the pace and you get to fail fast.”
(Ref: http://www.wizecommerce.com/thinking-lean-marketing-team-sandbox/#sthash.2L27dX5V.dpuf )
In many ways this isn’t a new concept we have used the idea before in our initial iPad trial where we tested the iPad in our environment and then resolved issues prior to a much wider application.

All of this has culminated in a meeting with a company – Furnware
http://www.furnwareaus.com.au/furnware%20showcase

We intend trialling some furniture in both an Infant and Primary classroom to see how we can innovate our learning spaces. We recognise that different age groups require different environments so we have elected to trial in Year K and Year 6. Furnware will help us in the process of design. We have asked Furnware to look at the two spaces (double classrooms) and suggest ideas based on their experience. We will then use these ideas to help formulate our own design in consultation with teachers. In the case of the space for the Primary invention involving the children in the design process will also be important.
In the spirit of the ‘Sandbox’ we accept that some things will work really well and that others won’t and we hope that we will invent spaces in the future which will reflect this learning.

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Stile: A Few Impressions

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Early in Term 3 we commenced a trial of an application called Stile. You can read in more detail on a previous post https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/a-stile-ish-journey/
Since my first introduction to Stile, over a year ago, I have toyed with doing a trial. I think, now that we are concluding our trial, that Stile might be the truly robust teaching / learning solution that we have been seeking to team with our iPad Program. I must stress here that nothing is ever perfect. I still like Edmodo, Dropbox and iTunes U etc. I also keep stumbling on great new options like the new Glogster app. Possibilities are growing and the ground is constantly changing. One of the things that appeals about Stile is that it can easily fit into an eclectic environment like ours. When choosing something new, to use across K to 6, we need to take a firm step particularly as this application (Stile) will cost the school money.

When we came to undertake our trial, during Term 3, we needed a reasonable amount of time to really get the trial up and running across the K to 6 classes. This was provided. We also needed to run our trial across all of our classrooms. We wanted to know whether Stile would be suitable and be adopted by all age groups and potentially by all teachers. We wanted to know if Stile would make a significant difference wherever it was employed. I must say that the Stile team have been very helpful and supportive throughout and their willingness to accommodate our needs has helped to make our trial a meaningful one.

As our trial has drawn to a close we have sought teacher impressions. These are provided below via an exit survey which we posted in Google Forms. We sought responses from teachers who had really engaged in using Stile as part of their regular classroom activity during the trial period.

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Towards Digital Technologies

We have been employing our Year 6 Student Technology Committee to run a Minecraft Group. The group meets twice a week and the Year 3 and 4 participants have been actively involved throughout. The Year 6 students have worked as mentors / teachers and have created lessons and worlds for the younger students to help them to learn and expand their understanding. We chose to purchase several user accounts for the online version as opposed to the less expensive iPad app. I really liked the dynamic of using the older students to lead, manage and enable the younger students. It also enabled me as a Minecraft beginner myself. The creative and collaborative nature of the game has made this group very exciting to work with and I have really enjoyed seeing the interactions and authentic learning occurring.

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As we start to grapple with the “Digital Technologies” aspects of The Australian Curriculum applications such as Minecraft may provide a vehicle which could be integrated into learning programs.

The Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies (F–10) comprises two related strands:

Digital Technologies knowledge and understanding – the information system components of data, and digital systems (hardware, software and networks)
Digital Technologies processes and production skills – using digital systems to create ideas and information, and to define, design and implement digital solutions, and evaluate these solutions and existing information systems against specified criteria.

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© Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

Next term we will have a group that will work on Lego Robotics. Another group will be learning to create special effects in movies. These too will hopefully add to our digital skill repertoire and will marry to Curriculum more directly in the future.
I have had several students starting to independently develop coding skills and a few have successfully created apps using Xcode. I can see that coding could be very effective across the Curriculum.

Whilst we have moved to a 1:1 iPad program we have realised the need to provide other devices as a part of the learning environment. Limiting ourselves to just iPads, as brilliant as they are, would be counter productive especially if we want to work in higher end applications such as Minecraft, Adobe, Xcode etc.
One of the things I noticed with the Year 3 students using Minecraft in our activity group was that some had no laptop capability. We have provided some fast, new MacBooks and Windows laptops in technology hubs in a couple of locations and clearly we need to expand access and continue to up skill our students. As we reinvent our learning spaces we need to ensure that students have access to many different devices in addition to their primary device (which at this time is an iPad).
Last week I attended a Microsoft teacher event and I felt that both Windows 8, Windows 365 and the new Surface seemed to be coming of age. I also got the impression that “365” might be adopted more widely in NSW schools later this year. Clearly providing a wide range of opportunity and capability is crucial.