Earth Day 2022 – Activity Ideas

(Updated with new content and adjusted links for Earth Day 2022)

As I write this, today, April 22,  is the 52nd Earth Day.
Mount Sinai’s “6 Kinds of Best” goals include encouraging our kids to be the “Kind to the Environment” – a goal of students and staff alike to improve the environment where they can.

I spent some time collating a few activities where students can use technology to learn about our natural environment, or ways they can contribute to global sustainability.

NASA Globe Project

The NASA “Globe” project has millions of observers around the world, including many schools, sharing what they see in their own playgrounds. These contributions are analysed to help scientists understand how the natural world is changing.

Contribute some information about your local environment – it might be as simple as photos or measurements of the trees outside, or the weather – to help with the global observations of the change of the world through the NASA “GLOBE Observer”. They are also guided how to use mathematics to measure the height of a tree based on their own height and some other measurements they can do from the ground.

The kids can see their observations being added to all of those taken today or over time.

Google Earth Time Lapse:

Google Earth’s amazing “Time Lapse” feature helps children understand the changes of our planet over time and its natural beauty . There are now satellite views of the landscape from 1984 until today and Google has created Guided Tours of parts of the world. Some of the changes are man-made and great for helping students understand urban vs rural.

As an example – the expansion of the cities in Dubai, or the Urban Growth is such a great representative of the change over the past 30-40 years, and can lead to great discussions about increasing population, habitat destruction and human impacts on the earth.


Micro:bit “Do your bit”

If you’re lucky enough to have some Micro:bits – there are terrific coding activities as a part of the “Do Your Bit” website – sharing activities that are linked to the UN Sustainability Goals. These activities on the “Do Your Bit” look at ways that kids can learn to code prototypes of systems that scientists use like Animal trackers.

If you don’t have micro:bits or enough to go to every child- the activities can be done online in the Makecode software and tested out in the Simulator which is like a fully-functioning Micro:bit – including its’ sensors.

These could be used as starters for larger projects with Design Thinking activities – encourage kids to think of ways that simple coded robots could monitor Climate Change, clean up waste or help people think about what they are throwing out.

This year we’re going to follow up a combination of projects – we’ve recently bought a Micro:bit Weather:bit and Spark:fun Weather station, and are going to use this to build a weather station at the College. A combination of the Weather station and the “radio” capabilities of Micro:bit are so great – to share the results we receive outside to an internal device.

SparkFun micro:climate kit for micro:bit - v3.0

Minecraft Sustainability City

Minecraft has some great activities on Sustainability in their “Sustainability City” World. The Sustainability City lessons explore a wide range of issues, including the components of a sustainable home, managing waste products, clean electricity generation, responsible forestry, and more.

Using GarageBand in music tuition

At Mount Sinai College, our music program is an intrinsic part of the school with over 200 of our 320 student body learning an instrument each year.

One of our wonderful music teachers Chris Wilson uses GarageBand for private tutition students to help them by planning for performances, practicing the timing of songs and giving all students the taste of the recording process, even beginner students!  Chris shared with us some of the ways he uses Garageband to assist.

GarageBand is used by Chris because it is an efficient tool he can use instantaneously during a lesson “There are a lot of advantages to going through the recording process if it can be made efficient and speedy within the lesson time. For really tidying up pieces and making them work, it is a great tool.”

Chris uses GarageBand to assist students who are planning to perform a duet. Each student records their parts separately during their lesson with Chris and then he puts these together in GarageBand. This assists students in having a better understanding of what the piece should sound like when their partner is accompanying them. In this way, technology is redefining the practice experience of a group performance. Students can essentially practice on their own and together without being in the same room at the same time. 

Chris sometimes records beginner students in GarageBand playing a simple riff. He then adds extra instruments to create a complete sounding song. This way students who are at the very early stages of learning the instrument can still experience the thrill of recording a song and they are also able to get an idea of what they might be able to create one day if they continue learning their instrument. 

GarageBand is also a great tool to assist students who are having difficulty with the timing and the rhythm of a song. Chris says that providing bass and drums tracks for a student to play along with, “really give a great context for students to engage with rhythm in a really close way, almost as if they are playing with a small ensemble.”  

Chris recorded some videos discussing this process.

Transforming Learning

We spoke to some of our teachers to find out how technology has changed teaching and learning in their classrooms. While some started their teaching journey with just an overhead projector, others began teaching more recently and have always had access to the same technology we use today. However, all of our teachers have changed the WAY they use technology. iPads are no longer just seen as a replacement for a textbook. The internet is no longer just a way to show educational videos on YouTube. Our teachers today are using technology to push the boundaries of the traditional classroom. They use it to engage learners, facilitate collaboration and connect our students with the real world.

Embracing our community with technology

Over the course of a year we want to share what our students have learned, be it expos, concerts or Jewish festivals with the wider community, and embrace technology to redefine what an event looks like. We want to share the skills that our students have built while at MSC in effective ways. Some examples in recent times have included:

Mount Sinai Art Show

We held an Art Show where our students shared their digital photography with Augmented Reality overlays, and turned student iPads into animations of spectacular mathematical concepts

Dancing through the decades

Our concert involved the retelling the history of our school, Israel and Australia through the 20th and 21st Centuries. We retold historic events with content the teachers and students had created using Green Screen technology and amazing editing and music – and everyone gets involved.

Reinventing Assemblies during online learning and lockdown

Our assemblies are always multimedia events – including singing, performances and videos that have been created over the week, but when we were forced to lock down, we didn’t want to stop being a focal point of our Community.

In an effort to remain a focal point of our community – we completely rethought assemblies. Our entire school cohort were encouraged to participate in a Zoom craft activity to make a Poppy to commemorate ANZAC Day, with our student leaders making Clips videos showing them how to make them. Another week, our students moved their iPads into the kitchen and engaged in a traditional Challah Bake on a Friday afternoon.

And why not have a dance competition – with students and their families submitting videos of themselves dancing and collate it into a fun video mosaic using the Keynote app:

“Light Up” Hannukah with technology

Each year we come up with fun ways to celebrate the Jewish festival of light with technology. These include coding robots to make Hebrew Symbols from light, converting pencil drawings into Augmented Reality Artworks celebrating Hannukah and composing music on DIY Instruments made from Makey Makey and GarageBand and coded to make music together.

Day Of Notables Year 6 Event

Our Yearly “Day Of Notables” event is a culmination of an entire term’s work by our Year 6 students and our whole College are invited including Year 6 families. This includes multimedia aspects including Augmented Reality, Keynote animations and video creation.

Mrs Jacobs shared an account of our Day Of Notables community event at two separate blog posts which are linked here:

Wellbeing and Healthy Messages at MSC

When we’re trying to remind students to wash their hands, stay eSafe, eat well or deal with stress – a regular classroom lesson can only do so much.

At our school we have been exploring using animations and multimedia as innovative ways of sharing important health messages. These have been created by both teachers and students and have been shared on the signage system around the school. The feedback from this project demonstrates that it is an effective way of teaching students about the importance of staying healthy and safe.

Innovative Ideas for PDHPE at MSC

In this video I speak about 3 lessons I’ve created including using 360 cameras to promote healthy eating and using a collaborative Keynote to have our students critically analyse the stereotypes in cartoon movies.

Wellbeing Wall

Our student led wellbeing committee chose to create a ‘Wellbeing Wall’ to promote positive ways to deal with stress. Our committee created short clips which played around the school to spread awareness and positivity. The screens do not play audio so the students were challenged to communicate without sound. This is a compilation of their end products which played thoughout the school hallways.

Ways to stay Covid Safe at MSC

When our students returned from home lockdown, a team of our teachers put together this fantastic video using Keynote, sharing some best-practice habits for keeping safe and well at our school.

The Keynote “line draw” feature is an amazing way of recreating how the animation was drawn and gives a fun, attention-grabbing way of delivering a message.

RU OK Day at MSC

After the success of our Wellbeing Wall, our Year 6 students created these videos to promote R U OK Day.

We’ll continue to think of ways of sharing messages and helping the students think about their own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others.

Love to hear about ways you share in your classrooms: http://twitter.com/joelw123

Joel Weiner

Minecraft: Soma Cube

I recently came across a very interesting puzzle called the Soma Cube. It was invented by a Piet Hein, a researcher who was feeling bored during a lecture by Werner Heisenberg in the 1930s.

The Soma Cube

The puzzle is a 3 x 3 x 3 cube made up of seven pieces. Six of the pieces are all possible arrangements of four individual cubes, not counting rectangular prisms. I gave my students centicubes and asked them to see if they could come up with all 6 unique pieces:

All six pieces, plus the odd-one out (Piece V only has 3 blocks, whereas all the rest have four).

This led to rich discussion about piece A and B. They are mirror images of each other and there is no way to rotate or twist piece A to look like piece B, or vice versa. (Fun fact: this property is called “chirality“)

Once we made the pieces, we attempted to assemble the Soma cube. This tasks takes a lot of patience, some luck and a good head for working systematically. For example,

  • How do you know you are not attempting a previously failed solution, just rotated?
  • Is it possible to be “one cube” away, change a single block, and complete the puzzle?
  • How do you document your solution?
Paper pieces look cool and allow you to see inside.

Some students completed the cube three or four times, and others eventually gave up and followed a guide. I saw that some students who followed the guide ended up creating their own unique solutions once they saw that it was possible.

Indeed there are around 250 unique solutions to the Soma cube, as well as an entire library of alternative shapes you can construct from these pieces:

One question that came up frequently was “How do we share solutions?” This was a good question. It is not easy to take apart a structure built with centicubes layer-by-layer as opposed to piece by piece. One idea I came across in a text book was to teach students the idea of a height-map.

A height-map allows you to see a 3D object in a flattened 2D view. What if instead we replaced the heights with the colours of the blocks themselves? Then, anyone who wanted to recreate a student’s solution could simply copy over their colour pattern and build the blocks from the ground up. I wondered what the best way to do this would be…ENTER MINECRAFT!

I created a Minecraft world and called in “Soma World” (download link). It gives students a world where they can build their Soma Cube solution in a collaborative and easy way (much easier than if they didn’t have access to this technology) and share their solutions.

The engagement and interest in this topic was off the charts. As time went on, I made characters inside the world of my students who had become Soma Cube masters (I think at one point a student had come up with 14 unique solutions to the cube!)

Soma World! This is the introduction area which revises all the concepts taught thus far

Minecraft allowed me to think about my learning outcomes from a SAMR perspective. Let’s pause and have a look at what SAMR can tell us about using Minecraft in this context:

  • Substitution:
    • Use Minecraft to build a Soma Cube by yourself.
      • As you can see, this adds almost nothing new to the experience. In fact I would argue this detracts from the core learning of using your hands and eyes to feel, turn and join blocks into coherent shapes. Abstracting this important task into simple taps on glass is a poor substitute.
  • Augmentation:
    • Use Minecraft to build a Soma Cube collaboratively with a friend
      • Teamwork is a critical outcome woven through every skill strand in the curriculum. Minecraft is not essential for collaboration but watch students work together inside a world and you will see incredible levels of engagement and teamwork.
  • Modification
    • Re-create your Soma cube in Minecraft. Take pictures to show each face and then write an instruction manual in Minecraft. Share your book with a friend. Swap cube instructions and try to build each other’s solutions.
      • Ok! Now we have a task that asks our students to transfer their knowledge from one setting to another setting: IRL to Minecraft. Then, we ask them to select what parts of the cube are relevant and create instructions. This is about as far as I got with my students for this mini-project.
  • Redefinition
    • “Code an agent in Minecraft to build your Soma Cube Solution”
      • We never got this far, but as you can see the ability to climb up the SAMR ladder is easy when you are using software that encourages emergent play. Coming up with ideas for “redefinition” is often challenging, and it should be! By virtue of the fact that redefinition tasks should be “previously inconceivable”, creating learning experiences that redefine what is done in the classroom takes trial and error.
All my students working together on a tasks that sits somewhere between Modification and Redefinition.

Once students finished the world they were very proud of themselves and each one came away with deep knowledge about the content. As I teacher, I also had an assessable piece of work: the student’s exported PDF journal. These were constructed with rubrics we made before hand and allowed me to give direct feedback to my students.

You don’t have to print out their work in the digital space, and there is probably arguments to be made for reasons why you shouldn’t. However I have found that there is nothing quite as engaging as written feedback from a teacher, even for work that is almost 100% digital.

In fact, when you do this your students will also start to view Minecraft the way you do, as a learning tool. This has lots of benefits as you progress down the road of incorporating Minecraft into your classroom.


Creating Fitness Video Games

One of the greatest challenges of teaching PE is engaging students of all skill levels and interest. If we’re to achieve our overall goal to create a love of physical activity and movement, then it is so important to have early positive experiences in lessons. It’s important that students understand that sport isn’t just about being the best, winning or scoring goals. One big way to achieve this is through the use of technology.

Our older students tried to create fitness video games using keynote and a green screen. In our first attempt, the students faced the camera and had objects flying in from different parts of the screen. While this was fun to create, the students struggled to follow unpredictable animations while playing the games they created.

By rotating the experience 90 degrees and having the students running in a side-on direction, (like the old-school Mario games!), the animations the students created were more interesting, could be more complex and easier to follow for the child who was excercising.

In order to build the illusion of movement, we created a background video in Keynote which objects that moved at different speed. This was exported and then reimported as a background loop.

One area of concern was how to manage students as they waited for their turn. After assigning a few roles to the students (green screen helpers, iPad duty) I found that all the students joined in behind the scenes and copied the actions even if they weren’t on camera!

How-to guide for creating Keynote animations

Once you find your way around the animations, you simply chose a theme and let your imagination go!

Exploring the use of Classwork App in our classrooms.

I have been thinking of all the ways I can get my students to express themselves and their learning and to reveal more about what they love and how they learn. 

Of course, teachers need to measure what a student knows at any given point, but a large part of that is knowing how they process and are able to express their learning best. And there are so many ways… How to keep up?!

I have found myself using platforms and tools that make a space for multimedia expression. Often, I make template slide decks in Keynote for the students to work within – adding text, voice and sounds recordings, video, images, hyperlinks and even animations. 

So, where does Classwork come in?

At MSC, our iPads have a school-created Apple ID. Because I am signed in with that ID and my students have signed with theirs also, I am able to see and connect to my class in both Classroom and Classwork apps.  Classwork is known as Schoolwork in other countries. TIP: Get your kids to put a selfie as their ID profile picture so you can always tell who is connected. 

Classwork app is a platform that allows me to assign the Keynote slide decks I have created, to my students, as a task. I can choose to assign tasks to my whole class, a single student, or a group of students for differentiation. For each task I am able to set a due date, write a title and description (oftentimes instructions); and for students to be more independent I am even able to include a video of myself giving instructions / modelling an example of how to complete the task. 

What about Formative Assessment & Feedback?

Much like the Classroom app, when entering Classwork as a teacher I am able to see the list of students under an assigned task and enter into their work remotely to see how they are doing. Once, when my students were working on a task and I was sticky-beaking, I chanced upon the happy discovery that I could leave students voice recordings inside their work! I began to use this tool as a way to give real-time feedback inside the work they were creating, while the class was quiet and concentrated. Tip: it’s also fun to add digital stickers of encouragement/acknowledgement, in this same way. 

Once a student has completed their work, they are able to click ‘Submit’. Once submitted, their work becomes fixed and un-editable. Note: If students accidentally hit ‘Submit’ it’s OK! They can hit the ‘delete’ button without actually deleting any of the work they have created. Phew!

If you can talk to your students directly, what is the benefit of digital feedback?

I am constantly having mini face-to-face conferences with students about their work. I love these moments and often wish I could reach more students within the given time. Having the option of flipping the classroom with the video modelled instructions and being able to give digital feedback on a students’ work without disrupting them, can help me as a teacher reach more students. Sometimes I will have one or more students sit with me and watch my process of giving digital feedback to another student’s work, making visible the things I am looking for, and how others are approaching the task – two quality feedback moments in one! 

Extra tips:

  • You don’t need to set a due date! Students can work on a task for the duration of a whole term and don’t need to submit their work for you to review it. 
  • It’s possible to share all sorts of file types through Classwork app, not only Keynote decks.
  • If you are using a keynote deck and creating templates that require students to upload images or videos, I suggest using a ‘place holder’!  

History, English and Technology combine to share Notable Australians – Day Of Notables Exhibition – Year 6

In Term 2, as part of the History and English component, Year 6 participate in the Day of Notables Project. This involves many different components that students submit, however the main part of this ongoing interactive project is writing a biography on an Australian notable. This involves submitting a proposal to the teachers, ensuring they have justified why they would like to write about this notable Australian and thoroughly researching this person on their iPads at school. At the end of Term 2, students present their biography at the school’s annual Day of Notables Exhibition, dressing up as their notable and presenting a creative and interactive background display that parents/carers come to see.

Students use the Pages app on their iPads throughout this process to structure their biography. This allows them to set out their biography neatly and with subheading to help them organise their information.

The use of iPads is an especially great tool to use for students who experience difficulty reading, as the accessibility options allow students to have the iPad read any highlighted information to them.

Music Component using Garage Band app

This project is studied throughout many key learning areas, including Music. During Music lessons each week, students work on the app Garage Band to compose music that represents their notable. This music is then used in the background of their interactive timeline.

Artivive and Interactive Timeline on Keynote.

As part of their project, students study cubism in art and learn how to draw cubist portraits of their notable. These portraits are then coloured in and are used in the app called Artivive.

Students are then asked to create an interactive timeline on Keynote where they can animate and add the music composed for their notable in the background. This is a fantastic way for guests who visit the Day of Notables exhibition to learn about all the notables in a very easy and efficient way using their device.

In the Artivive app, students can take a picture of their portrait and link it to their timeline and recount video. Once this is done, guests can hover their devices over the portrait with the app, and the student’s interactive timeline pops up for them to watch. This has been a very popular tool used at the Day of Notables and all the parents and visitors have found the process easy, convenient and a lot of fun.

The Artivive App – Click this app if you’d like to download and try out some of our artworks below
Hovering over the cubist portrait plays back the student’s video – recounting the history of their Notable. During the Expo – the students are dressed in their Notable’s outfit
Cubist portrait of an Australian Notable .
You can use the Artivive app on your own device if you’d like to watch the student’s content.

After the interactive exhibition is over, students write a reflection about the day and how they felt the whole process of preparing for the day went. This is then uploaded on the Seesaw App so parents can view students work.

The Day of Notables is a wonderful annual event that is a rite of passage for our Year 6 students, and the way technology enhances their work is an example of the fortunate nature of working in an Apple Distinguished School.

For more information on our “Walk Of Notables”, as a part of this fantastic day – see this other post Creating a Reality Composer “Walk Of Notables” For A Parent Expo

Adaptations Unit – Designing a new animal or plant

In Year 5, we’ve been evolving our Adaptations unit to focus on the growth and survival of plants and animals in a environment, to engage our student’s creativity and develop their design skills.

Our project comprises the design of a new animal or plant, which is to survive in a particular environment. Students consider the environmental threats and needs of different animals and plants.

A Numbers document is used as the scaffold and the students are offered multiple ways of designing a new animal.

The Numbers document includes both explicit teaching as well as ways the students can extend themselves

The project has opportunities for support and enrichment in an attempt to cater for all student’s learning needs. Not only do students design their new animal or plant, they write an explanation on the physical, behavioural and physiological adaptations the animal/plant needs in order to survive in the environment.

Student Choice

Students can either choose to build their design using different materials such as Lego spike robotics, 3d Printing or modelling clay.

The Doodle3D Transform App is fantastic at growing 2D Shapes that students have drawn with their Apple Pencils, and extending the content to a 3D shape.