Apollo – God of wisdom? Visionary space missions? Teachers ultimate tool?

I was also presenting at the Vietnam Tech Conference on the topic of digital citizenship… Caption competition on this picture though – submit your entries in the comments section 🙂

Over the last weekend I was at the Vietnam tech conference. This is held at UNIS Hanoi and generally attracts many educators from the more prominent international schools in Vietnam. One of the workshops I went to was by one of my own schools MS math teachers, Eric Schoonard. Eric and his colleague Mark Crowell have for the last three years been running a math curriculum which is a less formally collaborative yet perhaps more structured version of what I am trying to achieve. This is their third year developing this program, and so have developed an excellent syllabus that works for their students. Hearing Eric talk about these problems I had a few take aways which have helped me consider what my next steps are before rolling out:

  • Scheduling was difficult for students, and actually spreading it out in a way which is both not too slow for high achieving students, and not too slow for the weaker students. To help with this I am going to integrate into the topic selection screen an option to set dates by which they will complete those modules. A later update to this will be that when confirmed that a topic is complete on time, students will get additional points/badges etc.
  • Retention was also something Eric had said students struggled with. my system inherently tried to promote retention through modules like flashcards, which will at timed intervals bring up flashcard repeats. This also dissuades students from cramming as flashcards can only be done once the night before. I will however consider how other systems could be implemented to increase retention. The idea is to essentially build the revision process into the normal learning cycle.
  • Learning is a social process. This was something I had always considered in my program design but have thought about more closely since. I have started devoting much more time to building the social element, which is the peer assessment and help features (which tell you where to go in a room to get help).

So the project in a nutshell is summarised in my previous post, but to summarise the aims now with annotations to show how I believe this fits in with my new knowledge:

  • Aim: To create a greater level or learning autonomy with students – sage on the stage down to a fraction of class time with little direction from me. This technique should decrease this substancially, but what should be considered is if there is knowledge that I want to present in a more traditional style, then it needs to be considered how appropriate this might be when all students are at different points.
  • Aim: To allow students to work at their own pace and earn a grade which is representative of what they DO know as opposed to how well they can write a test. Students were reported in Erics work to be prone to ‘poor decision making’. Students learning at their own pace is risky for those students who think their last minute study skills are all they need. The system has a few inbuilt features to help prevent this, such as the requirement to peer assess work, and perhaps a turn-off-time, so students cant work after a certain time at night. This could make students more cogniscent of the fact they need to be working in class throughout to get the work done.
  • Aim: To allow high achieving students the chance to really extend their learning. This method will fully allow high achieving students to further their understanding, but what impact does this have on the teacher when it comes to assessments? How, in a non standards based environment do you account for post-curriculum material?
  • Aim: To allow me a greater amount of time to work with the students who really need my help understanding the material. The focus definitele should be on how students can help the other students learn the material.
  • Aim: To give students a choice in how and what they learn.

So these were somethings I have had to consider moving forward with my project. It was nice having that ‘just in time’ feedback to help me improve my own plan 🙂


So to keep you fully updated, I have now upgraded the name on this project, and it is now codenamed Apollo. Why Apollo? Firstly Apollo was a god of knowledge in Greek and Roman mythology, and really, knowledge is the outcome of this project (in both my students and myself). Apollo was also the name given to the space mission that first landed human beings on the moon. Its a name that indicates some kind of big leap or change in the way we understand a field, and so for me this felt appropriate. Since my original post there have been some big improvements to the site, including curated and timed flashcards, a new design, [borrowed] icons, and a half completed simulation section (which can be very rapidly converted into an experimentation section) – its not going hugely fast but it is going!

One of the aims of the software is to allow students to learn in a way that they enjoy – whether that be experimentation, videos and note taking, or a combination of both. It is highly curated, which could be a problem or a gift (and might be a question to ask at the end of the unit).

My deadline is about the 7th April, with the final COETAIL deadline being the 30th April. The course itself is about 5 lessons long which is two weeks in my classroom. There will be a written test two lessons after the last content lesson which means the 25th is the day I get my final data. This leaves 5 days to finish blog posts, video production etc.

Great strides have been made in the design since the last update. Flashcards are designed to only show every x days depending upon how frequently you answer them correctly.

Each module has information on how to achieve points and how to learn. The three icons in the top right flag this work as being ready for peer assessment, or that you might want to get or give help on this topic.

For me now there are a few key elements I need to have in place before the topic:

  • Experimentation, Simulation and worked example modules. The worked examples will at this stage be mostly wordy examples, but in the future they will become more image based.
  • Collaboration and peer assessment. The cornerstone of this system is how students interact with one another and each others work. Each piece of work will have the ability to be opened up to and commented on by others, and students are forced to be philanthropic with their knowledge in order to progress.
  • Scheduling. As the head of Grade 10 I am responsible for the advisory program, and something our students struggle with is managing workload. If there was something built in to help them manage this time then that would be highly beneficial to our students. I am also toying with the idea of having an “active timer” where it tells them how long they have been on the site, and how long they have been active on the site (so like a procrastination measure), and also an “off time” so students are unable to work on the site past a certain hour (10:30pm).

So these are my goals moving forwards. There are definitely lots of other things I would like to add in, and will with time – but for now this will do as a prototype system. I feel more every day like this is a project with real potential to help students both in my classroom and beyond.

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5 Responses

  1. Alex Bunting says:

    “This invisible box is worth a lot of money, all you have to do is sit through this 20 minute presentation on why what im saying isn’t a pyramid scheme to get one”.

  2. This is an impressive final project and is very complex! I wonder how this would work for an elementary classroom math unit. I feel like it could for sure be done and would be very engaging for students, but do you feel it would be realistic with planning/time? Also, I heard about the Vietnam Tech Conference for the first time in September and was really interested in going, but the dates didn’t work out. How was it? Was it your first time attending? Would you recommend going next year? Good luck with the last few weeks of Course 5!

    Caption contest: “Now, everyone show me on their hands how important you think digital citizenship is.”

  3. Alex Bunting says:

    Thanks Abbi! 🙂

    In terms of elementary I think it would take a while for them to understand fully as there are a few skills that I think the high schoolers had which made this work better than if they hadn’t. I think with elementary it would be a greater run in time, actually using each of the apps within the website as a class and helping them use it to learn. For example, how do you make good notes on a video? Or how do you play with a simulation to learn?

    It would need changes too, for example some of my weaker students have struggled with some of the vocabulary expectations. This has been more the ‘hey there is this word I dont know and have NO IDEA what to do about it’ students, as opposed to my ‘hey lets get a dictionary’ students – but I feel like this would also be something that needs to be taught to younger students before starting with it autonomously.

    In general though it could work, you really do need the right videos and content though. In its current form it wouldn’t be engaging enough for students that young, but thats not something that is impossible to change and would just require collaboration between me and elementary teachers.


    • Alex Bunting says:

      Oh, and planning and VTC!

      Planning time took AGES, because you really have to select the right stuff, and there is no admin interface right now – its just me in the database. But now its there it will work for every year and only needs additions and changes which you can do as you go along.

      The VTC is good, but it isnt L2. Its a lot smaller, and because of the smaller region it attracts the presentations are less good (hence why I got to do one ;-)). I enjoyed some of this years, and I think next years will be better – the keynote for next year is meant to be very good, and the TED style talks are always good. If you are in Vietnam or nearby, maybe try it next year – it is cheap, and reasonably good, and if you don’t enjoy it at least you get to hang out in Saigon for a weekend 😉

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