Category Archives: My Resources

Teaching & learning resources created by me.

Hong Kong Lyrics Mix

Hong Kong, the amazing city that I call home, has featured in songs from many genres and decades. Over the years I have meant to put together a playlist of songs in which “Hong Kong” features in the lyrics, as a tribute to this amazing city, its history, people and culture. What I really like is the different ways in which Hong Kong is portrayed in the various songs: R&R stop, finance hub, travel stop.

After many false starts, here is that playlist. It’s a short start, but hopefully people will make some suggestions here, which I can add in. I am sure there are a bunch of songs that I have missed out, but these are the ones that come to mind, and the ones I could find online.

If you want to listen on Spotify, click here.

Binary Wall Art

Binary Wall ArtSo, you’ve been to my classroom, scanned my binary wall art QR code and landed here. Want to know what it is all about? Keep reading!

Computers store and move information in binary, that is, using only the numbers 0 and 1. The reason for this is that it is much easier to build electronics to store 2 states, instead of say 4, 10 or 12. We are so used to counting in decimal (0-9), that the binary counting seems alien to us. However, the principals are just the same, as shown in the videos below.

What you see on the wall of my classroom are two numbers written in binary:

  • 01001001
  • 01000011
  • 01010100

These three numbers can be converted into binary to give:

  • 73
  • 67
  • 84

However, in this context, they are not representing numbers, but rather, are representing the letters, using a character system called ASCII. In ASCII (pronounced “ass-key”), each binary numbers are used to stand in for letters using the following conversion table (click to enlarge):

ascii-binary-chart

So, if you can locate the three binary sequences that appear on the wall, using the table below, you can turn them into letters, and unlock the secret message. Good luck!

Image Credit: the binary chart and videos are from http://www.mrhamlin.ca/home/programming-11/binary. The chart carries no copyright information, but Google Images shows it as Creative Commons, so it is used on that basis.

Relative vs Absolute

scratchIn ICT we see the concepts of absolute and relative in a range of situations, including URLs, spreadsheets and programming. Although hard for students to grasp, the distinction is important. With absolute referencing, we always know what we are going to get (e.g. go to coordinates 0, 0). With relative, we will get a different result, depending on our starting position (e.g. take 10 steps forward).

With absolute references we have a sense of certainty, and know we will get the same result every time. Conversely, relative references allows us to use changing circumstances to our advantage. Neither is better than the other, but it is powerful when students see the difference, and can make clear decisions on which approach to use.

In the past I have taught my students about this concept, using examples in Scratch. It has worked, but never that well. Today, for the first time, in teaching Programming 101, I put the image below on screen, and asked students to think about why I had divided the commands into two groups. There were some good guesses, and some students claimed to know but not be able to explain (fair enough, it is tricky ; ). One student observed that the commands linked horizontally, which was very astute. When the image was unpacked, with a role play example based on turn vs point in direction, students seemed to have a much clearer understanding.

Absolute vs Relative

The Learning Zone

When we are too comfortable we do not need to learn. When pushed too hard, we are not capable of learning. In between is the small zone, different for each of us, in which learning takes place. This theory of the learning zone (or as Vygotsky said, the Zone of Proximal Development), is widely used at my school, and reminds us that in any class we will have kids spread over all three zones. Hopefully, with skill, we can pull our students into the learning zone for more of their time, thus helping them become more effective learners.

As there were no good Creative Commons version of this graphic, I have produced the one below, so please feel free to use it.

The Learning Zone

Hands On Stuff

HandsOnStuff0At the end of last school year I asked my students for some feedback. One of the things that came through loudly was a desire for more hands on time. This was most acute in Year 8, where I had simply tried to sneak in a little too much theory. In response I turned two theory-heavy units into one, trimmed down the content, and gave more time over to hands on exploration. One of the new additions was a lesson where kids could just teardown and rebuild old electronics, which I put at the end of a unit spent fixing and driving remote control cars. Below are some photos of what was a really energetic and well-received lesson, in which I did relatively little teaching. Aside from promoting some individuals to think about what components were for, and why things were design in a certain way, I really just asked kids to think about why we throw so much away, instead of fixing it.

 

Strimming With Students

StrimmerStrimming, weed whacking, weed eating, call it what you like, it’s a crazy process. Take a piece of nylon string, use a 2-stroke petrol engine to spin it around real fast, and then use that force to hack away at vegetation. As part of my Art of Physical Labour programme, I try to get students to understand machines, how they are useful, why they are potentially dangerous, and what their limitations are.

So, after a session of hand weeding, I thought I would introduce something new, and have students look at, pull start and (for the more responsible) use a strimmer. If you have never used a strimmer before, you could be forgiven for underestimating how intimidating they are to new comers. It’s not just the danger of being lacerated, but also flying stones, the noise of a 2-stroke engine, the heat, fumes, vibration. This is not something to approach lightly.

At first sight of the strimmer, students were excited by the prospect of using a power tool, but at the same time I could see some trepidation from some of the younger kids. I asked them some questions as to what this thing was, how it worked, and why it could be dangerous. We discussed the measures we could take to protect ourselves, including being sensible, knowing the machine, wearing safety goggles, long trousers and closed toed shoes. For extended use we discussed the importance of ear protection, and on sandy ground, or when going right down to the ground, the importance of a heavy apron.

Each student then had a turn starting the strimmer, using the pull cord to manually ignite the full. This is not an easy process, and every student in the group underestimated the force required. After starting, students used the kill switch to stop the machine, which we also discussed in terms of safety. Once all of the students had a go starting the machine, three students were selected to whack some weeds. I worked individually with each of them to make sure they machine was handled correctly. I helped them load the started machine onto their backs (not as easy as it sounds), and then worked to direct them to safely operate it (form a safe distance of course). All three students clearly enjoyed the process, but came away a little shaky at the power and heat of the machine.

All too often, schools attempt to keep students safe by banning supposedly risky activities. However, this is a very short-term fix, as students are shielded from potential danger, and so never learn how to judge, mitigate and handle danger. I love this activity precisely because it exposes students to danger in a well managed, safe way. They learn to appreciate the danger of powerful machines, but also that this power can be harvested and used wisely.

Next lesson? Power drills, working up to hammer action.

Image Credit: Strimmer image by David R. Yeo on Wikipedia, shared under CC BY.