Arduino –an introduction to robotics

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I would like to give students the opportunity to learn about Robotics.  This is a fairly new area for me so to upskill I want to attend some professional development with MindLab in Auckland.  I’m also trying to contact Chris Hamling from RoboCup and hopefully with some outside help get a team of students to the RoboCup competition in September later this year.   

Arduino is an accessible and affordable robotic platform which has lots of online support,forums and active communities.  It is used in schools and  comes with a recommendation from MindLab as being suitable for entry level but with the capability of developing some complex programming.  As this was the first year we will be using robotics,I think the concept and prototype assignments will be a good fit as students will not need to have specific content knowledge but it will give them exposure to this type of programming.  


Professional development workshops are offered in April this year and I’m planning to get underway with using Arduino in class at the beginning of term three.    I’ve enrolled in an Arduino and Robotics course with Mindlab in Auckland in the April school holidays. Further professional development is available through the lecturers at MindLab and through the Robotics group Robocup. I have also been put in touch with the Deputy Principal at Aorere College in Auckland who are on a similar journey.  Introducing students to Robotics in term three will work in well with student’s prototype assignments.  

Arduino in a snapshot

We bought 10 Arduino kits from which was a fraction of the cost they would have been from a New Zealand company.  Each kit cost around US $ 24.00.  We also purchased 20 servo motors and 20 wheels so we could create 10 two wheeled robots.  New Era installed Arduino and Ardublock.  

I decided to use the Arduino just with the senior students for the first year.  The boys really took to using the electronic hardware and enjoyed being able to build something with their hands before then coding and programming.  


The combined Level 1,2 and 3 DTY did not take so well to Arduino.   The biggest success came from the combined level 2 and level 3 DTY class,all the boys participated and built their own recycled robots.  Level 2 students had to design a robot from recycled materials that could move forward and back.  Level 3 students had to develop an educational resource for junior students that might inspire them to take an interest in robotics.  

Ardublock (pictured on the right above) in combination with Arduino (picture on the left) gave students a visual entry to coding their robot.  It was a good follow on from Scratch and allowed students to drag and drop sections of code.  From Ardublock the script was then uploaded to Arduino Sketch.

Student’s arduino set up

One Year 13 student really took to this project and led much of the learning himself.  He researched how to solve programming problems online and together we asked Mohsen from MindLab for some expert help to get the LCD scanner working.  Here is a link to his final assessment which has his video link at the end.  Getting him to complete the documentation was a struggle but his hands on effort and application was at a merit level.  

Another Level 3 student got an Excellence with his Arduino robot prototype.   The image to the left is a picture of his robot build using Arduino sensors,the motherboard,engine and servos.   Here is a link to his work.  

I do think Arduino has been a successful introduction to our course as an entry level robotics programme.  Over the holidays I am planning to re-think how this course can be improved.


Student centred learning –putting it into action

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I found this post from Richard Well’s really good,student centred learning part 2.He’s got a lot of interesting information about how to make the shift from a traditional teacher led class to a student driven class. I particularly liked his idea to use google forms as a way of tracking students each week and in a combined class of Level 1,2 and 3 students this is something I’ve been struggling with so I’m keen to try it.

Developing senior internal assessments

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In previous years,assessments had often been stand alone tasks which often seemed devoid of context or relative to students’ interests.   In discussion with a Digital Technology teacher at Tikipunga,Excellere College and reflecting on the assessment options suggested at the technology day in Whangarei I have decided to incorporate the Concept Design assessments from the Generic Technology curriculum.  This should hopefully give students the opportunity to work on a project for the whole year.  

Utilising guidelines from NZQA,Tikipunga High School and Tamaki College assessment exemplars I wrote the concept design assessments for Level 1,2 and 3.   Hinerau Anderson (Head of Digital Technology) from Tamaki College was a great help too,she shared with me some excellent assessments that were rich with embedded learning resources which linked back to the marking criteria.    

Setting up all the assessments with hyperlinks to learning resources and marking criteria was a lot of work initially but hopefully going forward into 2018 it is robust enough to be carried over without too much modification.   Here is a link to the Level 2 Brief Assessment.    


I do feel I have achieved this goal,the senior internal assessments have been developed to include a comprehensive design course starting with the brief,then the concept design,prototype and potentially the digital outcome.  In my opinion this is an improvement on the stand alone assessments which happened in previous years and often seemed devoid of context or relative to students’ interests.   




Personalising student’s learning

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My subject goals for Digital Technology in 2017 are to give students more choice and to work towards personalising their learning to suit their interests and ability.

  1. Develop senior DTY assessments
  2. Integrate a Robotics and Arduino programme for senior DTY students
  3. Increase understanding of technological literacy

The reason why I have chosen the goals listed above is to raise student engagement and to align the Digital Technology curriculum.  I am also mindful of the need to constantly upskill with emerging technologies and to keep current with what is offered in other schools throughout New Zealand.

The integration of robotics and Arduino (open source computer hardware and software) into the Digital Technology curriculum will give students an opportunity to experience hands on programming and is ideally suitable for kinetic learners.

The focus on literacy to increase students’ understanding of the vocabulary used in technology.  Ideally provide weekly reading and exercises for each year level specific to technology practice.


Building literacy

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Today at our staff meeting colleagues shared teaching practices they are using in their classes to help students improve their literacy.

One teacher gave an example of a group task.  Students within the group are assigned specific words related to the topic.  They must then try and spell the word.  Students are then instructed to find the word with it’s meaning in the room.  (Words and their definition are already printed off and placed around the room). Using the printed definition and their given word they go back to their group and share what they’ve learned.

Another colleague shared her strategy where students are given a large word bank and told to circle any words they don’t know.  They are then instructed to search the meaning and write a definition in their own words.

People hunt

Create a table with 12 squares or 3 x 4.

Put a question in each square related to the learning.   Students need to go around and find someone who can answer the question,they then write that name down in each question,NOT THE ANSWER.

Personal word banks

Gives students a list of words, They need to circle all the words you don’t know,then find the meaning of the word and write it in their own words.

Developing vocabulary in English

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One collaborative strategy I have used which is proving to be quite effective is getting students to create a vocab list in a shared document.  We’ve been focusing on creating two lists,one of common words and one of specific words which relate directly to the text or our topic.  In this instance students are writing a film review for Tama Tu.  From this list their aim is to try and incorporate more ‘specific words’into their review.   Having created the word list students then copied the words and went to where they created a new list which automatically populated definitions for the words.

This task was quite successful,all students were engaged for a considerable amount of time and all were contributing to the google sheet.   Working on a shared document enabled the lesser ability students to see real time modelling from their peers and they quickly caught on to what they were supposed to do.  There was a bit of time spent discussing appropriate commenting and word use but generally this was a positive exercise.  It also gave the class a good base of specific words which we used for spelling tests and students tried to include as many of these words in their written answers.

Education Perfect

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To support my Year 9 English class I’ve decided to trial Education Perfect.  Mitchell from Northland College brought my attention to it last term and I’d have to say first impressions are impressive!  I thought I would use it as a “Do Now’or lesson starter but the students loved it so much we ended up using it for the whole lesson.  It was wonderful to see one of my students (with a curriculum level of 2 or 3) doing so well.  He called me over and with a beaming smile said ‘look Miss I got all of these right!’ The instant feedback was a winner for him,he was engaged and completely focused.  The report breakdown you receive on student’s progress is very comprehensive and this term I’m planning to run a diagnostic test.  From that test,Education Perfect will create an individualised stream of lessons for students on areas they need to work on.  The support is from Education Perfect is quick and personalised,I think they’re really onto something here.

Arduino and Robotics

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I’ve been waiting for a while for the right opportunity to find out what all the fuss is about Arduino so when a workshop came up at MindLab in the last holidays I jumped at the chance.  I love that the programme software is open source and the electronic components are relatively inexpensive to buy.  Here’s a video of a recycled robot I made.

Think VR and Augmented Reality

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My husband,son and I were having a conversation the other day about which was going to be bigger Virtual or Augmented Reality,we were split.  My son (a Virtual Reality developer) went for VR and from a marketing perspective I think he’s right.  My husband on the other hand,thought AR but I went for a mix of both depending on the context.  Virtual Reality has so much potential for a truly immersive experience and in education I can just imagine the potential of medical students working on patients,engineers understanding the inner workings of machinery or artists being able to put themselves inside their painting.  Augmented Reality where information is conveyed as overlays on the real world,would I think,be great for group work maybe VR is as well but the cost and fitting of all the equipment surely puts it at a disadvantage?  Either way the potential of this immersive and interactive technology is compelling.  I came across this interesting article today,The Top Ten companies working on Virtual and Augmented Reality in Education Can you imagine what Science would be like if the teacher has the tools from the Starship Enterprise at her fingertips!  If only I could figure out how to bring those hologram figures into the classroom,I’m sure someone’s already onto it…(any leads or thoughts welcome 😉

Critical Inquiry

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Use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their professional practice

Key Indicators

i.    systematically and critically engage with evidence and professional literature to reflect on and refine practice

ii.   respond professionally to feedback from members of their learning community

iii.  critically examine their own beliefs,including cultural beliefs,and how they impact on their professional practice and the  achievement of ākonga

Level 1 Digital Technologies Teaching Inquiry

The focus of inquiry for 2016 was with my Level 1 DTY students,I taught one class at school and one class online through FarNet.  I was particularly interested to find out how effective my assessments were in terms of students’interest and engagement.   In previous years I had observed the single outcome assessments (which were provided by the previous Head of Department) were not always enjoyed by students and they struggled to see the relevance.  In discussion with a colleague from another school I tried a multi-outcome assessment in term two and the results were encouraging.  Students enjoyed having a choice around not only the topic but also with how they presented their work.  Achievement Standard 91047 requires students to develop a digital prototype to address a brief using this assessment.

2016 Teaching Inquiry Level 1 DTY:AS 91076

2016 Teaching Inquiry Level 1 DTY:AS 91071

2016 Teaching Inquiry Level 1 DTY 2016:AS 91075