Grounds of future play

21 09 2010

Two weekends ago I went to an education resources expo at the Brisbane Convention Centre – mainly as a bid to get freebs. I arrived a little late but still managed to catch some of a seminar, a few free posters, petted a snake and a lizard, and entered in as many lucky draws as possible (and possibly signing my boss up for swades of spam – sorry…).

Two things caught my eye in particular. And I’ll share one now – The SmartUs Digital Playground (their Finnish website).

The whole set up is very futuristic. Kids are issued with RFID smart cards that can be recognised by readers scattered throughout the playground. They login at the main portal and are assigned a task (run from point A to B via C three times, or something more complex) and the computer records their time. This time is recorded on an international online network where kids from different schools, or even different countries, can compare each others times and records.

Additional tasks and learning can also be integrated by assigning different nodes answers to a multi-choice quiz. This also comes into play by the presence of a dancepad hooked up to the main video monitor of the playground as well. This can be used for quizzes, fitness, dancing or simon-type games.

In Finland, it even became the basis of a family/children’s gameshow which involved celebrities and national atheletes, called FunTzu. Again, these TV scores were uploaded online, so schoolkids could challenge their idols. Unfortunately I can’t find any videos of the TV show – but after some searching I have found a news item of Asia’s first SmartUs playground in Hong Kong which shows how it works.

Tapping into children’s natural competitive behaviour, and then combining it with social media and massively multiplayer gaming Lappset have really hit the mark (or market). The only real downsides to it I can see are the initial outlay costs (which you can guess would be quite high) and also the pitfall of having ‘standardised cookie cutter playgrounds’ that don’t have their own individual community flavour. There also might be other hudles here in Australia given EQ’s stance on students and social networks.

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Some teachers are pricks, and then some

12 09 2010

A simple investigation experiment looking at the pH of blood at a Tasmanian high school has turned into a biohazard scare after teacher somehow thought sharing needles would be totally fine for adolescent boys. In some muddled form of defence the teacher did “attempt to sterilise the needle with methylated spirits between tests.” (Methylated spirits its not really suitable for sterilizing).

Pretty much any official is saying that this was a major balls up by the teacher, and I’m finding hard to believe that with all the red tape (in the for of occupational health and safety) present in Australian workplaces these days, that this investigation was ever approved. I have no problem with hands on experiments. In fact, I think these should be encouraged. On top of that, if we expect to have smart and scientifically literate graduates from high school, experiments involving potential biohazards should be allowed. However (or even because of that) it still very important to recognise that risks are involved and the appropriate precautions be taken.

Do read the comments on The Mercury article too.

There seems to be some sections of the world who are somehow thinking that the teacher has not done anything wrong, because there are no schoolboys in Tasmania with bloodborne infectious disease. Perhaps they could do well to investigate the Health and Ageing website which show that historically (prior to vaccinations) they have been one of the highest risk groups for Hepatitis (which is probably the largest worry in this instance, rather than HIV). Blood-borne transmission is probably the number one risk that health organisations try to minimize to prevent the spread of disease.





Let’s Dance

18 08 2010

Beach Ballerina Girl by Mike BairdOne of the things about being prepared to teach primary school is that, with a few exceptions¹, you are expected to teach across the curriculum in every area of learning.For many of my fellow students this meant the fear of being asked to teach Maths, Science, and Technology. No sweat for me, I’m a biologist. But how about something like the Creative Arts?

Luckily, I consider myself a bit of a homo universalis – and dabble a bit in the Arts myself. I was on Australian Idol, thank you very much. You can look at my Flickr to see I enjoy visual arts – mostly photography, collage and sometimes drawing. I also did senior Drama at high school, enjoy the occasional roleplay, and will compulsively consume any movie available to me. But then there is the final dimension of the Arts – Dance. Now some people might consider my singing pretty bad, but that’s nothing compared to catastrophe produced by the uncoordinated disrhythmic spasms of my lanky frame to sounds.

Despite around four years in the schools music tour group, the grace to perform dancing more complicated than a rocker’s headbang tended to elude me. Luckily though, it was gracelessness, not denseness that prevented me from carving up the floor, so the general theory of dance as well as handful of moves from country, jazz, ballroom, hip-hop and other genres still lies buried within my neocortex – so I can fulfill the age old teacher’s mantra – Those who can’t, teach.

Below is my basic dance lesson for middle to upper primary students (8-12 year olds), which could probably be adapted for lower secondary. I used it in my government interview portfolio to demonstrate, that while I am the highly desired young, male math and science primary school teacher, I am oh so much more (and modest, too!²)

Using curriculum language, the lesson aims to give students the opportunity to create with peers a series of simple rhythmic patterns of swinging movements with various body parts to a 4/4 time signature to synthesise a short movement sequence for presentation to the class.

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It is voting time again

17 08 2010

That’s right, I am crawling back to blog about important happenings this week in Australia.

It’s National Science Week.

It seems I’ve missed out on alerting you to vote for your favourite Aussie scientist for the Eureka prize (I would have been supporting Evans and Smith for proving the intellectual and communicative exploits of chickens).

But it is not too late to start voting for your favourite new Aussie species discovered this past year. Given that this year’s theme is biodiversity it’s a pretty appropriate poll.

Place your vote here.

Nominees are:

  • Opera House Barnacle (Calantica darwinii)
  • Kimberly Froglet (Crinia fimbriata)
  • Sea Spider (Paranymphon bifilarium)
  • Steve Irwin’s Tree Snail (Crikey stevirwini – I kid not!)
  • Spinifex Ant (Camponotus triodiae)
  • Pink Handfish (Brachiopsilus dianthus)
  • Cape York Amber Fly (fossilized) (Chaetogonopteron bethnorrisae)
  • Bacchus Marsh Wattle (Acacia rostriformis)
  • The Bandalup Buttercup (Hibbertia abyssa)
  • Truffle-like Mushroom (Cribbea turbinispora)

More new species and biodiversity stuff at the bushblitz website including a free teacher booklet (just in case your school somehow missed out, or your from another country).





Some of the world’s finest teachers

17 08 2010

Part of our requirements to achieve successful teacher registration and qualification is to complete a professional learning profile, which must include a log of professional development activities.

This might include current or previous jobs, research, volunteer work, PD sessions, or even trawling through youtube and teachers.tv

So for those of you who might need something to add to those personal development logs, or just gain a clue in the classroom watch these global experts at work.

Embedded videos below the fold.

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Taking the buzz out of life

28 07 2010

Nature has an interesting article exploring the ramifications of a world without mosquitoes.

Overall the benefits appear to outweigh the negatives – but they are still given their credence. Mosquitoes, and their larvae, may be physicaly miniscule, but they are big players in the scheme of things. Their removal would have effects on food chains containing birds and fish, plus wider ecological effects – such as plants losing pollinators and changes to deer migration, and also possibly cause over-population in already stretched human communities.

Image: mosquito by tanakawho (CC by A from Flickr)





Game: I wanna play forever

30 06 2010
Kids hard at learning.Image: sean dreilinger (Creative Commons)

Play-based learning is used in the Early Years to provide children with an intuitive learning environment suited to activities that little kids do best – playing around with stuff.

This tends to be phased out around the end of year 3, as we move into constructive activities and even, ‘oh noes’, direct instruction. This is something one the children I look after lamented now he is in a year 3/4 class at his new school, “We never play anymore”. Boo hoo, little Johnny, boo hoo. You don’t think I don’t not want to not play games too, yeah?

With gaming returning to an acceptable past time for adults – just listen to Kevin Butler¹ at this year’s E3 – shouldn’t this be reflected in our schools and curriculum? Many of the kids I taught respond to questions like “What’s your hobby?” or “What do you do in your spare time?” with some form of console or another. Many child care centres, and even libraries, these days have consoles available for visitors to use. And if you want to get into economics, I’m sure you can go and find your own figures on just how much this industry is worth.

Games in the classroom do present some problems, mostly to do with moral panic. Firstly just about “games” in general – with some of the students I’ve worked with not allowed to complete teacher-set homework on Mathletics at home because carers won’t let them². Others more serious and understandable moral panics about inadequate classification, excess violence, and depictions of sexual and criminal activities. The ethics and other social issues surround video gaming culture and industry is probably enough to design a unit (or three) all on your own – but what I am interested at the moment is what recreational video games are out there that could provide the stimulus material for an entire trans-disciplinary unit on there own.

As this Dueling Analogs strip illustrates games today are becoming more and more complex – not only in gameplay and graphics – but in background stories, character development, dialogue, and even the style or genre of storytelling themselves (also known as interactive fiction). These components should make it easier to take a single game and safely stretch it into multiple learning areas.

Below the fold are just some ideas:

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