Stories of Practice: Clive Robertson

Clive Robertson is leading Digital Technologies at his school, College Street Normal. From dabbling in robotics to supporting teachers in their classrooms to integrate the revised curriculum content across all learning areas, Clive and staff at College Street Normal see this curriculum as enhancing learning opportunities for their students.

In this video, hear how Clive and College Street Normal is integrating Digital Technologies into their learning programme.

(On screen introductory video and music plays of children and teachers in classrooms)

(Text on screen - Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko Digital Readiness Stories of Practice)

(School bell is ringing) (Text on screen - College Street Normal School, Engage | Explore | Empower, School & Community Hall) (Students and teacher are in the classroom preparing for a lesson)

Teacher - Does it work?

Student - Kind of.

Teacher - Are you aligning it over the middle?

Ko Tararua te maunga / The mountain is Tararua

Ko Manawatū te awa / The river is Manawatū

Ko Kurahaupō te waka / The waka is Kurahaupō

Ko Reuben Mackenzie Robertson taku tama / Reuben Mackenzie Robertson is my son

Ko College Street Normal taku kura / College Street Normal is my school

Nō Papaioea ahau / I am from Palmerston North

Ko Clive Robertson ahau / I am Clive Roberston

Tēnā koutou katoa / Greetings to you all.

Hi. My names Clive Robertson. I’m a teacher at College Street Normal School. I’ve been teaching here for nine years. This year I’ve been getting involved in Digital Technologies.

The main reason I sort of got into it and had a passion for it is I can see the value to kids. That's been my teaching philosophy, since I was first beginning as a teacher, was trying to make memorable learning experiences for children. I think that through Digital Technologies and previously e-Learning (or whatever you want to call it) there is a lot of scope for that, especially with kids creating digital outcomes.

To me, I love the problem solving aspect. I love that there’s normally multiple solutions and ideas that can come within the curriculum area, through computational thinking or 3DO. I think that the possibilities are endless for teachers, students, our world we live in. Personally I’m passionate about robotics. The story of me getting into that was basically it was a group of children I was teaching four to five years ago that wanted to have a go at it and we didn’t have anything like that at the time because it cost too much money. I encouraged them to take a risk and put a proposal to the Board. They did and got funding. All of a sudden I’m a robotics teacher/coach and I remember being at our first competition and I didn’t even know how to turn it on. From there the kids lead their learning completely. They taught themselves how to code. They taught themselves the rules to build. I think that’s probably one of the most powerful aspects of Digital Technologies is that students will lead the learning. They already are the consumers of technology. They already are the creators of their own technology. We’ve got eight-year-olds creating videos and blogs. I just love the energy that it gives to kids and the opportunities that are out there.

I think the biggest success we’ve had with Digital Technologies in terms of children and students has been the engagement of children who maybe a little bit more distracted during class time, learning time. It’s quite a powerful thing to see children absolutely engaged in what they are doing 100% focused, asking questions, taking risks when they are creating content and then seeing the confidence to share that. Not just with their classmates but maybe with their parents and whānau. To me that’s a huge success. That’s all we want for our kids is for them to be confident and have a go at new things.

We’ve been on a bit of a journey as a school, a bit of a transition from e-Learning, ICT, technology, to Digital Technology. That’s taken a little bit of time to unpack. We’ve run a few staff meetings where we’ve given teachers a go at some different activities and they’ve come up with themselves, different ways they could integrate it into the classroom. My role has been working alongside a number of teachers across the school. We started that half way through last term and basically I’ve been working in a classroom with them for a block, an hour and a half, where we’ve created together. Normally it is something that they are doing in class and we’ve just added a sprinkle of Digital Technology onto it.

One of the biggest things we realised pretty soon was we didn’t know what a lot of the different year groups were capable of. I was lucky enough to be able to work with some Year 1 and 2 students. We brought them in here, I was working with groups of 15 to 20 kids at a time trialling different things. There was a lot of failing, there was a lot of troubleshooting in terms of ‘Okay these robots didn’t really work with the Year 1s and 2s’ so maybe that’s something we don’t use. But then there were some surprises as well. In terms of the coding side of it there were a lot of kids who were already having a go with coding at home in their own time. They were actually experts in that so I got them to start helping the other children.

Teacher - Do you think you can work out what we are going to be doing today? Student - Yes. Yes. Teacher - Right have a guess. Who wants to have a guess at what we are doing today?

We used the Kia Takatū resources, the Pīkau with the staff after we did the digital readiness survey to see where we were at. A few teachers went away and just started using it off their own back. I think a lot of teachers get curious about things and when something new comes along some of them are early adopters. They’ll go away with absolutely no instruction and just start having a go with it. That’s one of the great things about teachers here and around New Zealand, we do have a go. We also used TKI, going through progress outcomes and trying to make links between other subjects and how we could smooth it out so it doesn’t become another curriculum area. We don’t want to be doing half an hour of Digital Technology a day. It needs to be real, genuine, integrated into curriculums that already exist so writing, maths, reading, PE.

Some of the ways I’ve been incorporating Digital Technologies into the classroom has been through existing curriculum areas. For example we’ve been doing a small, mini unit on Māori myths and legends. The children got to choose a different, I suppose you could say it was an app to communicate their learning and modernise some of the traditional Māori myths and legends that we all know. The children were having a go at creating and the idea was to have an end user which was a Year 3 class to be able to read, watch, understand and learn the myth from what they’ve created.

We used things like Pixel Creators and they came up with little animations, they came up with dancers, they came up with lots and lots of different things. They were creating a way of using technology to communicate with the Year 3s. Minecraft was probably one of the favourite ones. It was something that was relevant to the children, where as yes they can read a book, yes they can watch some that are already created on YouTube but actually knowing the person that has created it, you’ve got a connection with them that makes it a bit more real. You could see some of the little kids really excited about looking at something thinking ‘Oh this is created by…’ ‘Oh wow, you did this!’ Then they also ask ‘What was this about?’ ‘It was about Māui and how he hooked the sun.’ It was powerful. It was a different way of doing it.

Utilizing the experts in the room and they ended up helping a lot of the other students so that was a good surprise. I think we needed to do that because, you know whilst there is normally ‘This is recommended for Year 5 to 6 children’ or ‘This is recommended…’. Until you’ve had a go with it you don’t actually know. We found that straight away some of the existing resources we had in terms of robots and devices were applicable right across the school. From using simple things like Bee-Bots with Year 6s through to using Edisons and Spheros with Years 1s and 2s.

Working alongside teachers with Unplugged activities. One of the biggest misconceptions with Digital Technology is that you have to have devices and you have to have the flashest robots and the flashest kit available where as I don’t necessarily believe that. I think some of the most powerful learning can come from Unplugged activities.

I think one of the main challenges we’ve had at our school in terms of implementing Digital Technologies has been time. As we know teachers, schools, we are time poor so adding another thing to a really full plate has been quite hard. I think through working with the digital leaders I’ve been able to talk and find how other schools and other people are approaching this. As I’ve previously mentioned a lot of schools have taken the approach of integrating it through other curriculum areas. The sharing I’ve been able to pick up from them has been very beneficial.

The challenge we’ve found is acquiring the right technology. There’s a lot of products that have come onto the market now. There’s a lot of different platforms for coding and types of coding. As a school and as a DT leader I felt responsible to make sure I picked the right one for our school. That was quite stressful. I think through talking with other people, and sharing ‘This is a really good robot but it runs out of batteries every two minutes’ or ‘This one keeps breaking, if you drop it it’s no good’, that’s really helped as well. Just being able to share those experiences with other leaders who are going through the same.

As a school when you approach something new it is quite daunting to make sure that you have a plan that is sustainable. To make sure that we can actually implement it into our already busy school year. Through the digital leaders course we were able to talk to experts that had some ideas, were able to share some ideas that they thought could work. Having other people to bounce ideas off and just finding out ‘Hey there’s not one way of doing this’ at every school it will look different.

A piece of advice I’d give to other digital leaders or teachers that have been placed into that role is to not feel the pressure to create amazing exemplar staff meetings where the activities the teachers are doing blow their minds. I think letting teachers share some of the things they are already doing and making connections to the curriculum, to Digital Technologies, is actually a more powerful way of doing it. If you want to do some creating with them that’s also cool but maybe do it in a smaller workshop where the ones that are interested come along. Also focus on the children. I think too many times in the past where we’ve started new changes to different curriculums we’ve focused on the teachers, bombarded them with a lot of information and ideas and activities when we should actually be focusing on the children. If you can get children passionate about it and interested in it they are going to go away and work on it in their own time and then they can become the experts.

(Music plays)

(Text on screen - Thank you to Clive Robertson for sharing his experiences and advice) (Text on screen - Also a big thank you to the staff and students of College Street Normal School) (Text on screen - Access free resources at kiatakatu.ac.nz) (Text on screen - Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko Digital Readiness)

(Music plays to the end of the video)

(Text on screen - Brought to you by Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga 2020)

What opportunities do you see for your students in Digital Technologies? Explore your ideas with other teachers on Ngā Kiriahi / Community of Practice.