In Australia, Minecraft, Kangaroos, and E-Portfolios

Opinion | 21st Century Skills

In Australia, Minecraft, Kangaroos, and E-Portfolios

from Microsoft Education

By Noelene Callaghan     Dec 8, 2015

In Australia, Minecraft, Kangaroos, and E-Portfolios

Noelene Callaghan is a Teacher of Technology at Rooty Hill High School and a Councillor of The Teachers’ Guild of New South Wales, Australia. Here is a day in her life.

6:00 a.m.

It’s 6 am and the alarm on my mobile phone is playing the most horrific sound. I reluctantly pick up my phone, let my Fitbit app know that I am awake and check how disruptive my sleep was. I check my emails to see if anything “urgent” was sent to me (nothing's all online shopping opportunities). I check Facebook to see if anything remotely exciting has happened to my friends, check the notifications on my Twitter account, and check Instagram to see what my daughter has uploaded after I told her “lights out” the night before. Then I check the news and finally the weather—warm and sunny.

It's now time to leave home and drop off my children at their school.

7:30 a.m.

I arrive at my own school to hear that there is a kangaroo on the playground. This is NOT normal, hence I, like the other 1,200 bodies in my school, flock to the playground to take photos. Like any good digital citizen, I immediately upload them to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Then I sign in (attendance) digitally via my phone.

8:45 a.m.

It’s Period 1, and I have Year 7 TAS Multimedia. TAS stands for Technology and Applied Sciences, and in addition to multimedia, includes trades such as IT, woodwork, metalwork and engineering. I mark the roll online (parents receive an immediate SMS if their child is absent) and begin my lesson by connecting my laptop to the projector.

I love this class. It’s a support class and the students try so hard. Today, we begin the lesson by completing a “Do Now Activity” that is designed to hook students and help them make connections between what they already know and what they are going to learn. We play—a fantastic online game that can be customized to suit your learning space. I create my own Kahoot games and use them to pre-test what my students already know about a topic, and to reflect on what they’ve learned. My students beg me to play another game. I make a promise that I will create a game for another day and we begin the lesson.

In this class, I use Project Based Learning to complete the course work. Today, we are using Google Sketchup to design our “dream houses.” Students can select any location in the world to build their houses, researching local environments and ascertaining what resources are available there. California, Hawaii and Sydney are popular selections. They create three designs that they are going to embed onto their e-portfolios. These portfolios align with Australia's new curriculum capabilities. Whilst we are designing, Justin Beiber is playing from my computer.

Before the lesson ends, we screenshot our designs, crop them and save them using Adobe Photoshop. They are then uploaded onto the e-Portfolios and students write a short blog reflecting on today’s work.

10:20 a.m.

We have an assembly immediately after Period 1 to inform all students that the kangaroo has been captured and is OK. He has been taken somewhere safe and we can go on about our day as normal.

10:55 a.m.

It is Period 2 and I am teaching Year 8 ICT, which stands for Information, Communication and Technology. Today I am assessing the skills of all of my students against some of the Australian ICT capabilities, looking at how students use Microsoft word processing tools independently and collaboratively and if their skill in using these programs has improved. I use Google Forms to collect the data. All students pass with ease and they are equally proud of themselves and each other.

11:55 a.m.

I am not teaching this lesson, but have a meeting with a deputy principal about the direction of the school’s ICT platforms and curriculum. Australian schools are moving from having a standard computer room and a school server that is backed up periodically to using a cloud based operation. Students are encouraged to bring in their own devices. All work—created by both teachers and students—is now saved in the cloud and can be accessed at any time. This is a massive change for everyone at our school; it gives our teachers much more flexibility in completing their administrative tasks and gives students more responsibility, allowing them to complete their work outside of school hours.

We are moving in the right direction, though a lot of teacher training and support is still needed so that all students fully benefit from the program. My own role is to assist teachers with digitizing their teaching programs and help them develop tasks that require students to use their laptops as they would use their exercise books.

The meeting is very motivating and productive; all of our notes are documented on a PDF document—a template that we use to record school meeting minutes. We share the document and work on this collaboratively.

1:10 p.m.

It is time for lunch and my Animé Club. I realize that I have not eaten or had any water yet, so I grab my Thai laksa soup and a bottle of water and head down to my classroom. As I enter, there is a group of students who are quietly drawing Manga, reading Manga texts and watching Animé made by members of their group. I have a real soft spot for these students; in my opinion, they are the quiet achievers. They barely speak to anyone and never ask for help. They can have a tough time making friends or trusting anyone that they haven’t known since kindergarten. And they are just gorgeous!

1:55 p.m.

It is now Period 4. I have Year 10 Commerce, a high school business class in which 14- and 15-year olds get an overview of basic business topics. Two groups of students present their Business Simulation tasks, which are just incredible. They have been asked to create a fake company and write a business plan using set parameters, identifying a target market, creating a SWOT analysis, writing a promotion plan, creating a market research project, etc. This is an extension/gifted and talented group of students, which means that they continuously amaze me. Before teaching in high school, I lectured at university and I often tell my students that the quality of work that they produce is of a higher standard than that of my undergraduate students.

After both groups finish their presentations, we begin using our class blog to revise literacy and writing techniques. Students are given a set of questions with scaffolds that they are to answer. The most fantastic thing about using a blog is that I am able to give students immediate feedback; they can also be peer assessed. I believe that students learn more from each other than from teachers, so using this technique is much more powerful than me writing a few comments.

3:05 p.m.

It is time for Minecraft Club. These are THE most eager students I have ever known. They line up outside of my classroom in record time (if only they lined up like this for their normal timetabled classes) and wait patiently until I arrive. As I open the door, they push one another to get into the classroom and begin their weekly challenge. Today we are adding redstone to the community that we have built.

I soon realize that it is already 4:30 pm; it is time to save today’s progress. I have quick final chats with my students about more ideas that they want to add to our world and then run out the school gate.

4:30 p.m.

I try to beat peak hour traffic, using the Bluetooth capability on my in-car navigation system to call my mother and let her know that I am on my way (and have a nice chat before I get to her house as we are often interrupted by my children). I arrive at her house, collect my kids, go home, cook spaghetti for dinner, negotiate unpacking school bags, homework and showers, and put the laundry machine on with a load of school uniforms (compulsory in Australia) before we sit down to eat and discuss our day as a family. I look forward to the extra hours of sunlight that Daylight Saving Time will bring, when we’ll be able to eat dinner in the backyard.

6:00 p.m.

As we begin to unwind, I download iMovie onto the family iPad for my daughter in order for her to complete a school assessment task and then help another daughter with her high school assessment task on Ancient Rome.

7:00 p.m.

It's time for one of my favorite activities of the day. I sit down with my boys and they each take a turn reading with me.

My children and I then use Skype on our Surface Pro 3 to video call my husband and wish him goodnight. (He is a policeman doing the night shift.)

7:30 p.m.

It is now time to get some school work done.

I start by marking the remainder of my Year 10 Commerce assessment tasks and enter those marks online. I record some comments on each of the students’ tasks that I will use at the upcoming Parent Teacher Night and in their Yearly Reports.

I have been asked to present on how I use Minecraft in the classroom and in our school club to a group of principals in a nearby region (district). Very few schools here use gamification in the classroom. I love Minecraft; the students are engaged and they come to class eager to use it. I don’t recommend it as a stand alone tool, but only alongside other ICT tools.

I have presented on this topic quite a lot lately, so constructing this presentation on Sway will be rather simple. I love that I have the opportunity to share my knowledge in this area and know that if I weren’t an MIE, I would not have such opportunities.

8:30 p.m.

I check my emails; there are over 150.

I go onto Twitter. I use Twitter purely for professional purposes, for my own learning and to assist other teachers. I have many alerts sent to my emails and begin reading these articles to determine what I will tweet to my followers. If there are articles that I can use in my classroom, I add them to my class websites so students are able to use them as part of their learning. I also see what is trending and read up on the latest #MSFTEDU and #MIEExpert15 tweets. I love seeing what my peers are doing in the classroom and often use their ideas in my own teaching and learning environments.

10:00 p.m.

It's time for bed. Naturally, this is when I remember that I had put a load of laundry on; I run out of my comfy bed to hang the wet uniforms. Electricity costs here are ridiculous, so if I have the central heating on I’ll hang the uniforms out and they'll be dry before we wake. I return to bed and let my Fitbit App know that I'm going to sleep. I promise myself that I will wake up early and go for a run. (Yep, I'm laughing too.) I shut my eyes feeling accomplished and looking forward to what tomorrow brings.

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