We had a lovely Saturday morning last week at the Microsoft supported Redefine Learning event in Glasgow.
Held at the Rookie Oven offices in the old Fairfield Shipyards buildings and organised by the ever-inspiring Ian Stuart, the event was refreshing and informative from start to finish. The surroundings helped – the beautifully converted high-ceilinged space was filled with light on a perfect June morning. Every windowsill and shelf held an example of past technologies, demonstrating the evolution of tech over the decades. We spotted a pristine SNES, ancient iPods, a Gamecube and some early Macs, but we didn’t spy a ZX Spectrum (although there was probably one about somewhere).
In this welcoming space, over 70 educators from around Scotland had gathered to listen to other teachers telling us how they were using different MS tools in their work. After a challenging but rousing introduction from David Cameron (no not that one) we selected our workshops from the list on offer, including Sway, Office Mix, Kodu, Skype, OneNote, and Minecraft Edu.
We opted for Office Mix, Kodu and Minecraft Edu, and we weren’t disappointed.
Gareth Surgey from Queen Anne High in Dunfermline gave us a quick tour of Office Mix. This tool, allowing you to create slick multimedia resources from PowerPoint, makes flipped learning so much easier. As both a tool for teachers and a tool for learners it has loads of potential, and Gareth is using it to great effect with a range of classes, who have taken ownership of their own learning and along the way generated screeds of valid and high quality evidence for assessment. Our only quibble is that some local authorities’ schools don’t yet have access to the more recent versions of Office that allow Mix to be used, another symptom of the unbalanced playing field we work on when it comes to access to technology in Scottish education. It doesn’t matter if it’s free if your local authority’s managed service will charge to upgrade your systems.
We then moved on to Kodu, an early coding/computational thinking app. The friendly user interface and high quality cartoon-like graphics make this an ideal first step into coding for younger learners. The presenter, Kiersty Travers, suggested that Kodu was ideal from mid-primary onwards, but both of us can see our own children (pre-school and P2) getting a lot out of this already. With the ability to simply create attractive Minecraft-like landscapes, adding characters and programming their actions, we can immediately see the appeal of Kodu. We were both able to download it to our hybrid Windows 10 devices, and although it was a bit buggy to begin with, it’s such a fun app to play with that we’re keen to persevere – a definite winner for developing coding and logic skills in children, and, like almost all of the applications being looked at during the event, free to use.
But if it’s skills you’re interested in, there’s not much to beat Minecraft. In a hugely inspiring session, Andrew Minshall showed us what his class has been doing with Minecraft, and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the potential of Minecraft Edu. We are hoping that this will soon be available for Scottish schools to access via the Glow login. As a conduit for creativity it’s hard to beat. Andrew talked about how his class visited and measured Paisley Abbey, used physical blocks to help plan their design, used squared paper to create a blueprint, and then recreated the Abbey in Minecraft – this engaging process develops too many skills to begin to list across so many curricular areas in a real life context – absolutely outstanding. We were also shown the class’s recreation of their own school, down to the last detail, an amazing feat of cooperation. Andrew told us about the ready made recreations of landmarks and historic structures that can be downloaded and explored in the game, such as the Titanic and the Egyptian pyramids, bringing a whole new dimension to learning about the past. We’re so excited about the possibilities in Minecraft Edu (as keen players ourselves) and we really hope whatever purchase deal is announced is accessible to all. We’d hate to see this as yet another addition to that uneven playing field.
We learned so much during this short morning and it’s always great to meet other teachers and share ideas. Events like this are good for the soul, and especially valuable at this time of year when we’re counting down to the end of another session – it’s good to have a reason to look forward. There’s a second event in Dundee tomorrow morning . We wish Ian and all the presenters the best, and for anyone attending, you’re going to have a great morning!