Coding Education Schools

A Teacher’s guide to the Amazing Annoyatron

We’ve personally used the Annoyatron in a holiday workshop format so are happy to provide some recommendations on how best to use it as a teaching tool.

One of the first questions teachers are keen to ask is whether they can use the Annoyatron without sound. While kids love the idea of making a burglar alarm, the reality of 25 children all running an alarm project at the same time would be frightful for most – unless everyone has a set of earmuffs (and for the teacher possibly earplugs under the earmuffs).

The good news is that with the Annoyatron there’s a range of projects that use LED lights or can simply output results to a monitor. In addition many of the projects that do involve sound, for example, the burglar alarm, mostly can be replicated to work with sensors triggering a light rather than emitting an alarm noise.

Where you do want to run projects with the buzzers, to take the edge off the noise involved with multiple being operated in the one room you can dampen the noise by putting tape over the top of the buzzer, or taping on a small amount of dense dampening material like a strip cut off a pencil eraser.

The second most frequently asked question is how does the Annoyatron align to the curriculum. Below lists a number of Content Descriptions out of the Australian Digitial Technologies Curriculum where the Annoyatron may be used by teachers.

Foundation – Year 2
ACTDIK001 – Recognise and explore digital systems (hardware and software components) for a purpose.
ACTDIP004 – Follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems.

Years 3 & 4
ACTDIK007 – Identify and explore a range of digital systems with peripheral devices for different purposes, and transmit different types of data.
ACTDIK008 – Recognise different types of data and explore how the same data can be represented in different ways.
ACTDIP009 – Collect, access and present different types of data using simple software to create information and solve problems.
ACTDIP010 – Define simple problems, and describe and follow a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve them.
ACTDIP011 – Implement simple digital solutions as visual programs with algorithms involving branching (decisions) and user input.

Years 5 & 6
ACTDIK014 – Examine the main components of common digital systems and how they may connect together to form networks to transmit data.
ACTDIP016 – Acquire, store and validate different types of data, and use software to interpret and visualise data to create information.
ACTDIP019 – Design, modify and follow simple algorithms involving sequences of steps, branching and iteration (repetition).
ACTDIP020 – Implement digital solutions as simple visual programs involving branching, iteration (repetition) and user input.

Years 7 & 8
ACTDIK024 – Investigate how digital systems represent text, image and audio data in binary.
ACTDIP028 – Design the user experience of a digital system, generating, evaluating and communicating alternative designs.
ACTDIP029 – Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict the output for a given input and to identify errors.
ACTDIP030 – Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language.

Years 9 & 10
ACTDIP039 – Design the user experience of a digital system by evaluating alternative designs against criteria including functionality, accessibility, usability, and aesthetics.
ACTDIP040 – Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in structured English and validate algorithms and programs through tracing and test cases.
ACTDIP044 – Plan and manage projects using an iterative and collaborative approach, identifying risks and considering safety and sustainability.

News Schools

It’s YICTE time – pull out your Annoyatron!

Each year in Australia there is a program run called Young ICT Explorers or YICTE as it is commonly known. The YICTE program encourages kids to work in teams to use technology to solve real world problems. At the heart of most YICTE projects will be a programmable computer board. For those that have an Amazing Annoyatron you’ll be well on your way to having some pretty handy skills for getting a project up and running.

What’s great about the Amazing Annoyatron is that using it’s brain box isn’t just limited to the projects included with the kit. Kids are able to grab parts from their Annoyatron and use them to make various projects. An example of this was a year 6 team from Kooringal Public School in Wagga Wagga who last year built a fire detecting robot that integrated heat sensors to locate fires in factories.

Last year EduKits went to support the Wagga team and check out the YICTE action at the NSW state final for years 5 and 6 held in Sydney. It was awesome to see the diversity across the entrants. There were kids from public schools, private schools and from the city and the country. The winning entry for the final went to kids from the regional town of Kempsey who had come up with a system for monitoring the accessibility of fire trails using drone technology.

As an event the finals are an awesome experience for kids. They present their entries to the public and the judges in a science fair type scenario with each team having their own booth space to decorate and demonstrate how their solution works.

With the 2018 YICTE competition now open, it’s a great opportunity for kids to form a team at school and to start thinking about what problems exist in the world around them. A key date to be aware of is that registrations for the competition close on 10 June 2018. More information on the YICTE program can be found on their website.

YICTE Annoyatron Board RobotThe Fire Safety Alert Robocar. 2017 YICTE entry by Toby and Jayden from Kooringal Public School

Education Schools

Why teachers should care about engaging their students with STEM

For those of us who have been exposed to STEM for many years, or even for those who have been working with it for a little while, the idea of STEM seems pretty straightforward. We all know and understand what it is, its applications and its importance as we move into the future.

However, when you first say STEM to a primary school student, chances are that they’re probably not going to start jumping up and down and getting excited about all those cool employment prospects they’re opening up. They’ve probably never heard of it before, and at that stage, they probably don’t even care about opening up doors to more employment opportunities.

And if you think about it, a subject that stands for ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths’ makes you really start to wonder whether it was teachers or the geek squad that are running the STEM show.

This is just one of the reasons that student engagement is key when working with STEM. Teachers need to be able to show students that it isn’t just 4 nerd-subjects someone slapped together to make things confusing, but rather that it encourages critical thinking and problem solving skills, not to mention that it can also be super-fun!

But one of the biggest things standing in the way of all this may be something that we don’t think about all that much – student’s self confidence. For students who don’t academically perform well in science, technology, engineering or maths on their own, their lack of self-confidence can stand in their way and lead them to make the early assumption that STEM is not a path they would like to go down. After all, for some students, a letter going home every 2 years from NAPLAN telling that they are well below the national average in, for example, maths can lead to them to think that they’re hopeless, and that STEM will be something that they’re no good at either.

I believe that, for this reason, there should be a focus in the classroom not only on the applications and uses of STEM, but also on motivating and encouraging students to get involved and showing that they can achieve by giving them personal help and attention as well as projects that they will actually be able to do. There’s no point in teaching a student anything if they are constantly in the mindset that it is impossible for them.

However, the problem-solving nature of STEM means that students are going to constantly be faced with failures before they are able to succeed. It’s important for them to learn throughout this process that failing is always okay, as long as it is used as a tool to help them learn where they go wrong and to do even better each time.

In terms of engagement, hands-on activities are, I believe, the most effective in developing a growth mindset, communicating ideas, developing critical thinking skills and motivating students to learn and explore. One of the other great things about hands-on learning is that it turns behaviours linked with distraction, such as fidgeting, that can be a problem in theory-based subjects such as English or maths into a tool to help them learn and discover. This is really what STEM should be all about – encouraging students to solve problems using concepts from a combination of subjects and skill areas. It’s an opportunity for them to be able to really get involved with their learning and see their results instantly in front of them.

Another great thing about this form of teaching is that it also allows the students with low self-confidence which I discussed earlier to feel like they are actually doing something, and can give them something to take home and show their parents on some occasions.

But the single most important thing when teaching STEM isn’t the resources you are using, those cool learning tools you bought online or even what topic you are looking at – it’s you, the teacher. As a student, I know that your passion and your enthusiasm for what you are teaching is going to be what engages students the most and drives them to learn.

If STEM was a delicious Sunday roast, then the secret seasoning on top would be your teacher enthusiasm. With seasoning, if it is positively putrid, it doesn’t matter what you put it on. No-one will be interested in eating it. With teaching, if you aren’t enthusiastic, then how can you expect students to get excited and want to learn from you?

And fun fact: even if you’re teaching your least favourite topic in STEM, if you are trying to be super-enthusiastic about it, then you will find that you will actually enjoy it more yourself and it will become easier to teach.

Something that I believe goes alongside this need for enthusiasm is a personal interest in STEM on the teacher’s behalf. You don’t have to suddenly become a professor in astrophysics, but I think that it is important for a teacher to have some kind of active interest in a STEM area to be able to teach it properly.

This can mean going home and teaching yourself to code, subscribing to blogs to find out what excites and motivates kids today, learning how to build strong bridges or even building a tiny motorboat that floats in a pool. This is a fantastic excuse for spending your Saturday night searching through Pinterests.

All these things will not only increase your knowledge in STEM, making you instantly a more valuable teacher, but will also help to fuel your enthusiasm for the subject.

Overall, I believe that improving student engagement is the single most important factor for effective teaching.Teachers need to understand the way students behave in the classroom in regards to STEM and also need to have strategies in place to address these.


STEM Academy – Showcase in Wagga Wagga

Today EduKits attended a Sydney University STEM Academy showcase event for primary school teachers, which was held in Wagga Wagga. At the event EduKits founder Michael Nixon presented a short talk on how teachers can engage kids in STEM learning. A version of that talk you can read in our blog here.

Over the course of the day teachers and students from the various partner schools were able to share their about their STEM programs and experiences and generally learn from each other. A key message from Michael was that in teaching STEM be mindful that for most kids the idea of Science Technology, Engineering and Maths it is more intimidating than it is exciting. Giving kids great first experiences with STEM is vitally important to helping them overcome many of the difficulties and frustrations they’ll experience in working through STEM projects which often don’t work first time or as planned.

If you are a teacher and want to find out more about Sydney University’s STEM Academy you can get more information here.