Friday, 14 December 2012

Science with Santa

To finish off our Physical Science unit on forces and to have a bit of festive fun we conducted an experiment to see which surfaces would be easiest for pulling a sleigh across.
The children were introduced to the idea via a letter from Santa which told them that Rudolph was too sick to pull the sleigh this year so he was going to have to use one less reindeer. To make it easier for the remaining reindeer, Santa needed to know which surfaces were the best for pulling the sleigh.
You can read about our experiment from the students' point of view on my class blog.
The first lesson involved the children discovering the letter from Santa and then thinking about different surfaces that Santa might travel along (when he wasn't flying, of course). We are seriously lacking snow and ice in Brisbane this Christmas!
The next lesson was very fun and creative. The students has to design their own model Santa sleigh to be used in their experiment. We had round tubs for them to use as the base. A more rectangular shape might be a bit easier (such as a margarine tub) but we needed something that we could get 24 the same.

In the following lesson we used spring balances to measure the force in Newtons (which was not really in the Year 2 Science curriculum but it was fun anyway and it did allow them to do a real experiment with simple measurements). If you would like to use the experiment worksheet we used, it is available from my TPT store.
The final part of the lesson sequence was to write a letter back to Santa with the findings. One of my students who struggles with writing used the iPad to record his letter instead.

This was a great assessment of the students' understanding of Science. It was interesting to see which students clearly understood the purpose of the experiment and were able to articulate this in their letter to Santa. A few of my "super-competitive" types were at first confused because they decided that the surfaces that had "the biggest number" must have been the best. It took a little while for them to realise that they were looking for the surface that needed the smallest number of newtons because they needed the "easiest" surface.
Since we had no icy surfaces, we used soapy lino to make something slippery that might be similar to ice.
The children's measurements were not exactly accurate and they didn't quite grasp the idea of having to keep the weight the same each time but they seemed to get the idea that some surfaces were easier to pull things along than others, which was the main aim. And they had a lot of fun!

Poinsettias for Christmas

During the last few weeks of school we did a number of Christmas related activities based on some beautiful Christmas books I own.
The first of these is The Legend of the Poinsettia which is retold and beautifully illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

The story is set in Mexico and tells of a little girl whose mother falls ill just before the town's Nativity celebration. Her mother is unable to complete the family's gift for the baby Jesus and the little girl is unable to complete it on her own. Luckily a Christmas miracle occurs and the girl has a beautiful gift for the baby after all.
This story is a good Christmas story because it opens up conversations about gift giving at Christmas and how it is "the thought that counts". It also explains one of the Christmas decorations - the poinsettia and introduces the Christmas colours of red and green. We had a discussion about how the people in Mexico celebrated Christmas in the story and how this is the same and different from some of our own Christmas customs. We are a catholic school so many of the children do go to the Christmas mass and take part in the nativity so it was nice to see how another culture celebrates this idea.
To reflect on the story and to brighten our classroom, we made a very simple Christmas craft: a poinsettia.

I prefer to use painted paper because it has a richer texture than coloured construction paper and it is fun to paint the paper yourself. Each child painted one A4 sheet of red and one A4 sheet of green on one day and the next day they used this paper to assemble their craft. We re-used paper from our classroom to make the activity even more environmentally friendly.
I make hand-drawn "star" templates on light card in red and green and write "cut 1" on the green and "cut 2" on the red. The green one is slightly larger than the red one. If you are not game to free draw yours (even though I think they look better) you can print this image. (You will need to adjust the size to suit your paper.)
I make only enough templates for about a third of the class for each colour (about 8 red ones and 8 green ones for a class of 24). It doesn't take them long to trace the shapes and it is good for them to be a bit patient and practice their turn taking skills.
They turn the paper to the "white side" before tracing in case they make a mistake and they push the star to the edge of the paper so the leftover pieces are useful for other Christmas crafts later on. They need to be careful so they fit two red stars on the same page. 
To assemble the craft, simply stack the two red shapes on top of the green on and turn them slightly so you can see the different points from behind. A little dab of glue in the centre is enough to hold them together. I give them little squares of yellow crepe or tissue paper to scruple into balls for the centre of the flower.
They are really simple to make. It took me longer to explain it than it does to make them.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Does my classroom reflect my teaching philosophy?

Last weekend on Twitter, @whatedsaid tweeted an excellent question along the lines of "Does your classroom environment reflect what you believe about learning?"
At the time I thought this was an excellent question and wished I had time to do it justice in a reflective post.
As luck would have it, this week I was asked to give a presentation on a similar topic so I managed to create time to reflect on what I do and whether this matches what I say I believe.
Here is what I found:

Even though what I do, I could do successfully in a different system, my philosophy of teaching is based on my foundational belief in the dignity of the human person. I believe that every child is made in the image and likeness of God, and that every child deserves to feel safe, have fun and to enjoy learning experiences that suits their needs.
 Learners in my classroom are usually busy doing. Of course there are times when they gather to listen, reflect and recap, but I try to allow opportunities for hands-on exploration, discussion and experimentation as much as possible.
 I am very proud of the way that my students are able to speak about their own learning and why what they are doing is of benefit to their learning needs. This year I have implemented the Daily 5 program for the first time. I have found that this program which fits my philosophy well, provides a structure for my practice in Literacy, and that the students and I have been able to transfer the best parts of this practice into other curriculum areas.
 Right from the beginning of the year, I work hard to establish a sense of community through special shared experiences, predictable routines that highlight the identity of our class community and behavioural expectations based on mutual respect. A few years ago I convinced my school administration to allow us to move to a resources levy system instead of a text book list so that I can set up shared resources in my classroom. When students have individual belongings and pencils cases I find that usually by the end of the first semester, many of the twist-up crayons have been turned into pea shooters and half the class can't seem to find a pair of scissors when they need them. Since moving to the shared tubs, I have discovered that students are more responsible for the resources since they don't see them as belonging to them, but as necessary for our class community.
 If you spent a week in my classroom you would notice how much and in how many ways technology has transformed the way that I work with students in my room. I use my projector and laptop as an essential part of many of our routines. I use a bank of student laptops (shared among a few classes) for individual and collaborative activities. I use a set of shared iPads for a range of purposes, and use my own personal iPad and iPhone for capturing student learning on a daily basis.
 I try very hard to allow all learners to engage in challenging activities at an appropriate level by providing differentiated learning experiences and open-ended tasks. I use K-W-L charts and pretests to determine the students' individual and collective knowledge and interests prior to learning experiences and use this information to guide my planning.
 The General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum are at the heart of what I do. I regularly reflect on how I am offering my students opportunities to develop in these capabilities.
Although I am restricted to the furniture I was given and a reasonably small classroom with no "break-out" space, I have tried my best to arrange the furniture to suit the kinds of experiences I want students to have in the room. I have set aside a large carpet area so all the children can gather in front of the IWB and so there is enough space for games and movement. I have arranged the desks into pods and students know that even though they have a "home desk" which houses their books etc, they can work in a variety of spaces within the room, sometimes for flexible grouping, sometimes by their own choice. In the corner, I have had the old whiteboard installed at floor height so that students can use this space to write questions, reflect on learning, practise their spelling or express ideas in pictures. The PE teacher has loaned us an exercise ball and students love to sit on this either at their desks or around the room. My teacher desk is pushed right into the corner of the room so it doesn't take up more space than it must. I rarely sit at it anyway. My students sit on my "teacher chair" more than I do. I'm always on the move!

I really do think that my classroom reflects my teaching philosophy. Of course it is a "work in progress" and changes as I reflect on how I can improve, and when I am inspired by other great teachers who share their ideas.

Does your classroom reflect your beliefs about learning? I'd love to see more ideas!

Remembering what not to forget...

Today is Remembrance Day. The 11th day of the 11th month is set aside to commemorate the end of World War I and also to remember those who died and suffered in all wars and armed conflicts.
As a teacher, I have an important role in helping my young students to develop an understanding of what we are pausing to remember.
We pause to remember the young lives that were wasted, the families who suffered and the enormous cost of war to both sides. War is nothing but a tragedy. There are no winners in a war.

I have worked all year on the way that my students talk about war and its real effects on our society. 
At the beginning of the year my boys particularly would roll on the floor with their pretend machine guns made from their hands. 
They would cheer at the sight of soldiers and guns in images they saw. They would see war as a game from which you can easily walk away (an idea they get from exposure to video games and movies) or they would see it as something far away that happens in countries where the people are bad and "coming to get us". Luckily for these students, they have not been affected by war in a way that they understand what it really means.
Through our history studies and most recently the contact with their grandparents, the students now speak about war as a time of great sadness, of difficulty for the troops and the families left behind and the ongoing cost to a society that lost so many of its strong young people and who were filled with grief and sadness even if their loved ones returned. 
The children know that their grandparents were affected by the war even if they were born after the war or were too young to go to war. This message came through strongly in their letters. 
They know that WWI was called "the Great War" not because it was fantastic but because it was so big and affected so many people. They know that their predecessors called it "the war to end all wars" and that they had truly and deep down hoped it would be - even if reality seemed to far away from this dream. 
My students have considered a future without war and have discussed how they can learn to work together. Through our quadblogging experience they have looked for similarities in people who look different from them on the surface. We do this so that they might be the generation who finds a better way to solve problems.
I share a message of peace - a message about a future full of hope for all humanity.
These students are our future and we owe it to those who did give their lives to make sure this generation does not repeat the mistakes of history. 
I'll do my bit and hope it works. 
Lest we forget.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Teaching Old Stuff with New Tricks

This year has been a year of new ideas. Firstly, this is the first year I have fully implemented the History subject within the new Australian Curriculum. Secondly, it is the first year that I have used iPads in my classroom as a tool for learning and assessment.
Looking back at the year which is rapidly coming to an end, I am excited about the success I have had in using iPads with students to engage in historical inquiry in ways that would not have been possible without digital technology.
Digital technology has enabled me to collect numerous photographs of our local area that students have been able to explore, sort, order and select. Using the iPads, students have been able to examine the images closely. The photographs have inspired questioning, imagination, inquiry and inferring. Photocopied images in black and white would have reduced the quality to the point that many of the photos would have been unrecognisable. Using the original images (if I could even get hold of them) would be impractical and could be potentially damaging.

At our planning meeting for Term 2, we had agreed that students would be required to create a sequence of images and describe how our local war memorial had changed over time. Teachers not using digital technology gave their students three small, poor quality photocopies of images preselected by the teachers and had the students glue these in place and write about the changes. The many students who struggled with writing gave little detail in their descriptions and could only show limited understanding of what this local site reveals about the past.
Students using an app called Sonic Pics on the iPads were able to self-select and sequence three to five images from a collection of about twenty images that they believed best revealed particular aspects of local history. They then spoke freely about the images they had selected, justifying their choices and describing in detail things that had changed in the local area and the significance of the war memorial for the community today.
The iPads enabled young learners to employ higher level thinking skills and to express their own opinions about what they believed was important in the story about the past.
This term, students have been exploring changes in technology (particularly toys) and how these changes have affected the ways people work, travel, communicate and play.
Students are now using Pic Collage (a free iPad app) to manipulate and annotate images before transferring them to Sonic Pics to add audio explanation about how toys and games have changed. Students are able to search for their own images so their choice of subject is much more personal and not restricted by the teacher’s choice.
Of course, the historical inquiry is not restricted to what is able to be done solely with the iPads. Students have examined artefacts from the museum and those brought in from homes, and they have also written to their grandparents and posed questions to them. The grandparents (and aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers who have also responded) have been an invaluable historical source for the students. All of this valuable information collected by the students is now able to be skilfully collated and presented by the students who have become experts in using technology to create and communicate their ideas.
As a teacher, this year’s journey into the past using technology of the present, has been a great learning experience. For the students, using technology has empowered them to participate in genuine inquiry and to share their ideas with others within the classroom and beyond. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Express Yourself!

In any classroom attempting to hear everyone’s point of view is a challenge. In a class discussion only a small number of children can share before the responses are exhausted or the attention has dissipated. Attempting to visit each individual to hear discrete responses is time consuming and impractical. Individual interviews also rob the students of the opportunity to learn collaboratively. By the time I get around to my fast mathematical thinkers and ask them to explain how they reached their solution, the moment has passed and their responses are usually along the lines of “I just knew it”.

This project aimed to explore ways that digital technology could be employed in an early years classroom to allow gifted learners to express their knowledge and understanding in different subject areas by capturing thought processes and ideas in a timely manner and establishing a means of sharing ideas.
The group of learners targeted in this project are capable young students with an energetic thirst for variety in their learning experiences and a cheeky sense of creativity. These students are keen to share their opinions on issues and are capable of lightning fast thinking, particularly in Mathematics. Without a challenge the have the propensity to become challenging, hence, their super-powers must be harnessed for good, not evil.

My challenge became discovering ways that I could capture my students’ thought patterns and opinions and provide them a platform for sharing their thinking with an audience beyond their teacher.

Through this project, I experimented with a number of hardware and software options in order to discover ways that the students could successfully communicate their ideas. Often the first experiences needed to be heavily scaffolded, but the idea behind the project is to assist the students in developing the skills so they can work more independently later.

We used laptops, digital cameras, microphones, and iPads in our experiments but the iPad became the tool of choice due to its ease of use, portability, and availability in our classroom.

Two projects were most notably successful in allowing the students to express their ideas with a degree of independence: an enhanced poster with a short persuasive video embedded via a QR code, and brief explanations of mathematical thinking captured using the Explain Everything app.

Our first success was the result of a great number of failed attempts. As the teacher I was definitely in the learner seat on this project. The children were enthusiastic about learning and were happy to be part of the experiment. They were not easily put off by our setbacks. The process which eventually resulted in success involved the children combining quite a number of the skills they already had as well as integrating a few skills that were new to me as well.

The students had been involved in a whole class inquiry into how people, pets and native animals can live together sustainably. Towards the end of our investigation the students suggested a number of ways that we could change our behaviour to make our school and home environments more friendly for native animals.
Working in pairs, students selected one of the class suggestions and came up with three supporting reasons for their proposal. They created a visual image using a free iPad app called Pic Collage.
The pair of Year 2 students then worked with some Year 5 buddies to turn their ideas into a short persuasive speech. The Year 5s had developed some good persuasive writing skills due to copious amounts of NAPLAN preparation earlier in the year so we decided to put these skills to a much better use.
The Year 2s then used the iPads again and an app called Sonic Pics to record their speech using the image they created earlier in Pic Collage app as an illustration.
The students have used Sonic Pics for a number of projects throughout the year so this was a more practical choice than iMovie or other similar apps.
Once the students had created their recording I helped them upload the file to my YouTube channel.
Since it was the first time I had created QR codes with the students, I assisted them in doing this, but now they know the process, they may be able to do this step themselves in future tasks.
The students designed posters to promote their message and painted these. Once dry, they fixed the QR code onto the poster.
We displayed the posters around the school, and as part of the Australia Post Kids Teaching Kids Week activities, the Year 2 students demonstrated to a class of Year 1 students how to use the Scan app on the iPad to read the QR code and watch the movie they had created.
The students were so proud of their achievements that we later showcased this work again for our parents. If you would like to see their work, visit our class blog. The students love to receive comments about their work!

This experience with flexible and creative technology will now allow me to set more interesting challenges for the students, with confidence that they have the technical skills to share their ideas and thoughts with others.

Our second project involved a small group of students who are particularly talented in Mathematics. These young students competently add three-digit numbers requiring regrouping in their heads and have developed their own strategies for dealing with more complex calculations and larger numbers.
Even though I have worked with the whole class on using a variety of addition strategies in Mathematics, these students had difficulty explaining how they were getting their answers. Their responses were either: “I just knew it” or they would give me the name of a random strategy that we had discussed in class but couldn’t articulate why that had helped.
I was keen to assist these children in developing some skills in explaining their thinking because I know that they are going to be asked to “show their working” many times in their schooling.
There seemed little point in holding them back with the regular Year 2 curriculum when their mathematical reasoning appeared to be beyond this level, but I also wanted to be confident that their methods were grounded in logic and that they had a variety of effective strategies for basic calculations.
Rather than limiting their thinking about addition to one rigid algorithm and subjecting them to hundreds of repetitions, I encouraged them to use a variety of strategies and to attempt to explain what they were doing to demonstrate their mastery of the basic concepts.
At first the explanation process was awkward and slow, often not making sense to anyone but themselves, but since they were able to capture their thinking using Explain Everything on the iPad and play it back, as well as access the thinking of other students in the group, they eventually improved.
The next stage of this project will be to give these students an audience and purpose beyond having to justify their thinking to a teacher.

I plan to use the QR code idea again to create a series of “help posters” that can be used by other class members who might need further explanation on a particular strategy. Another future project might involve creating a “Maths Expert” blog as a platform for the students to showcase their thinking but also provide a service to a much wider audience.

The challenges in exploring this project were not related to the students but involved the limits of the technology in the setting. With no carpet and an unsealed dividing wall, the classroom is not the ideal location for creating good quality recordings. I experimented with many options for improving the sound quality and have still not discovered the ideal solution. Also, since the iPads are shared across the school and we get access to different iPads at random, tracking down the students work or continuing on saved work presented a number of challenges.
Despite these limitations, the project was successful in discovering new ways of capturing student thoughts and ideas and in empowering young learners to express themselves.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

#LMSLifeGroup on Twitter

Our school (and education system) is taking on a product called Life as a Learning Management System.
Through my efforts to find other people who are on the same journey learning about Life as I am, I have discovered some great educators who want to share ideas.
The UK seems to be quite well along the way in co-ordinating their support network but we Aussies are at the beginning of an exciting journey.
If you want to share in the excitement, tweet @connectedtchr with the hashtag #LMSLifeGroup and start sharing your journey with us.

Our Marvellous Toys

To assess the students listening skills this week we listened to an old song about a marvellous toy by Peter, Paul and Mary.

The first time we listened to the song, the students sat on the carpet with their eyes closed and concentrated hard on listening for key details that told them what it looked like and what it did. (Listening for key details is one of the English skills identified for Year 2 students in the Australian Curriculum.)

After that, they returned to their desks and we listened to the song again, this time pausing it after each verse and chorus so they could write down what they had heard in a concept map.

The third time they listened I let them draw what they thought it looked like based on what they had heard in the song.

While they were drawing I walked around and checked their work quickly to identify who had heard particular details. Fortunately I have a student teacher at the moment so she was able to scribe for my student who wasn't able to record his own ideas.

I explained to the children that the toy is imaginary so there is no "right" answer but we discussed the features it needed to have to be the toy from the song.
Finally we watched an animated version on YouTube and also read a book about the same marvellous toy the next day. The children really loved the song.

Here are our pictures of the marvellous toy:

We have started a written task as a follow up as well. Once they have finished I will have them post their descriptions on our class blog.

This was an enjoyable way to quickly assess their listening skills and to discuss different artists' impressions.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Toys Past and Present

Our History study this term will focus on how toys have changed over time.
This investigation will address the third point in Historical knowledge and understanding in the Australian Curriculum for Year 2:
The impact of changing technology on people’s lives (at home and in the ways they worked, travelled, communicated, and played in the past) (ACHHK046)
The children have written letters to their own grandparents, posing questions about the past, and tapping into their grandparents' wisdom as a source of historical knowledge.
We have also borrowed a collection of "artefacts" from the museum and of course, are using books and other written resources as further sources of historical knowledge.
One web-based resource which has been very useful in introducing some basic concepts is the Welsh produced web site: How toys have changed.
I have created a number of worksheets that I have used with differentiated groups to collect information from this website.
These worksheets are accessible from my google docs.
Worksheet 1 - Simplest sheet - scaffolded sentence writing.
Worksheet 2 - Collecting information about one toy from one period
Worksheet 3 - Collecting information (writing keywords) about a variety of toys from different times.
I hope these resources might be of use to you.

The Meaning of LIFE

Today I attended my second day of training in the LIFE Learning Management System. In spite of my own reservations about the suitability of this product for my particular needs over other available software by this afternoon I felt much more confident about how this product might be used in my school to enhance teaching and learning.
I have three main concerns about this learning management system and the way that it is being rolled out across the system I am working in (or at least in my own school).
Firstly, the package is not as useful for my early years classroom as it might be in other settings. I see that LMS can be very beneficial for tertiary and secondary educational settings,  in organising coursework, communicating between teachers and students and allowing collaboration between learners with flexible timing, however, I am currently teaching Year 2 (7 year-olds). Simply plonking something that it great for adult learners into an early childhood setting is not necessarily a good idea.
The process of logging in to the program, digging through the pages to the activity of the day is not simple and is made frustrating by the very slow loading. The "one-stop shop" package presents some advantaged in keeping the activities in one place and some uniformity across activities, but the tools themselves are not as useable and useful as other Web 2.0 tools freely available on the web, and much simpler for my young learners to access.
Secondly, the program is being forced randomly into our practice, rather than being used to address particular needs. At my school there are three teachers who are being trained in the first round and trying to implement the package. Due to the physical distance between our classrooms and the fact that we are in different grade levels spread across the school, it is difficult to feel like we are being supported by each other through this process. In our school we are expected to plan in Year level teams
(consisting of around 4 teachers) but each of us trialling LIFE are in different teaching teams, so we plan units, activities and assessments with our team and then go off on our own and try to "invent" reasons to implement LIFE into our planning and do this on top of everything that the other classes on our year level are doing. If our whole team was using LIFE then needs would arise during the planning phase (e.g.: how can we get our students to collaboratively brainstorm their initial thoughts on the topic) and then some of these needs would be able to be met with LIFE. The use of technology should be to solve an existing problem, not to create new ones. Our current approach is arbitrary implementation to use technology for technology's sake.
Finally, I strongly believe that the strength of technology (including LMS, Web 2.0 tools, iPads and the like) is the ability to enable true collaboration amongst learners. The LIFE LMS system is a walled vault. No-one from outside can see what my class is doing and they can't communicate with anyone beyond those that they could easily turn their heads and talk to. Where is the point in using a cumbersome program to talk to the person who is sitting beside you? How is this providing students with a real audience and a sense that they are part of a global community?
As learners ourselves, the program restricts teachers from easily sharing ideas about what they are doing. I can't view the great activities that might be being done at other schools within my system and I can't make contact with other teachers who might be working through the same issues as me.
The team implementing the LMS at a system level created a collaborative workspace for staff. One of the team wrote a post on a discussion board inviting questions and discussion. After my first training session I responded to this post and asked a question and also started my own conversation thread. Two months later there have been 7 views of the original thread (mostly by me) and only one view of my starter (which I think was me also). No-one, even the person who set up the collaborative discussion board, has bothered to read or respond to the conversation threads. Why are we hell-bent on having our 7-year-olds collaborating using the software if we don't see a place for such collaboration in our own professional learning?

So, this morning I voiced my concerns (quite strongly because I was feeling very frustrated) and to the credit of the person facilitating the training session, by this afternoon, I truly felt that my concerns had been heard and that there is some future for this initiative after all.

I am proposing to our principal that we change tact from our original implementation plan (which, in fairness, was devised before any of us knew much about what we were doing). I propose that the teachers who are in the initial implementation phase be placed in a single year level teaching team to address the concern that it is being treated as an adhoc and ill-fitted addition to our existing planning. I would suggest that year level would be older than Year 2 to increase the likelihood of initial success. Finally, I have proposed that we begin to use the tools as staff for our own collaborative planning so that all staff begin to develop a sense of what the program offers and how to use it before they are expected to implement it in their own classes.

After today, I am very confident that the LIFE Learning Management System can have a positive impact on the teaching and learning in my school.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Kids teach Kids with iPads!

Our school has decided to take part in Australia Post Kids Teaching Kids Week this year for the first time and so far it has been a great success. It is always exhilarating to see children enthusiastically explaining what they have learnt about something with other children, younger or older.
My colleague next door has written a great poem and a short play that her children are presenting this week to a variety of audiences. It is a fitting celebration of the learning we have been doing this term about sustainability.
Other classes have shared work that they have created throughout the year and this has been as beneficial to those showing the work as it has been for their eager audiences.
Students in my class have created (very) short videos using the iPads to showcase some of the ideas they have been developing about how people, pets and native animals can live together sustainably.
They worked closely with their Year 5 buddies (who are experts in writing persuasive texts thanks to their NAPLAN experience) to develop a short text to persuade people to do more to live harmoniously alongside native animals.
The Year 2s then used the iPads to create their videos.
The first app they used was Pic Collage (a new favourite) to create an image that would support their spoken text. Pic Collage is so simple to use. This was the first time many of them had used the app (although I have shown them how it worked a couple of weeks ago). They quickly worked out how to take their own photos, find images on the web, manipulate text and images, and change colours of backgrounds. The bright colours made their creations instantly appealing. With a bit of practice and a little guidance, I am sure they could produce some great work with this versatile app.
The other app they used was Sonic Pics (another favourite) to record their spoken text. I much prefer Sonic Pics over iMovie for use with my young students as it is so simple for them to use once they have used it a few times. They can talk for as long as they need and change pictures when it suits them which is easier than having to manipulate the length of play for images in iMovie. iMovie has lots of great features which allow users to do more exciting things, but for simplicity with young students, Sonic Pics seems to be the answer. It was also relatively simple for me to upload their recordings to YouTube so I could post them onto our class blog.
The next step for me is to create QR codes that link to the YouTube clips so that my kids can use the iPads to easily share their work with other students.
Check out a sample of their work in this video clip.
My future challenge is to work out how to cut out the background noise that emanates from our busy classroom. My iPad can record quite clearly in a quiet room and when I project voice clearly towards the mic, but seven-year-olds seem to have trouble with voice projection or suffer from stage fright, and try as I might, I can't seem to find a way to get the surrounding noise to a reasonable level for long enough, with 24 excited little people moving around a classroom.
I have yet to find a mic that will plug in to the iPad but I am open to advice from anyone with a solution because I would like to use the iPads a lot more for recording their reading and other assessments.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

iPads in the Classroom PD

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go to an excellent PD presented by Spectronics about the use of iPads in classrooms, particularly for differentiating instruction.
I was really, really lucky because my wonderful principal let me take along three colleagues.
I am an iPad convert. I have been using Apple products since I was seven (that's over thirty years - wow - I am old!) and as each new innovation has been launched I have been lucky enough to have at least been kept in the loop by my father, who lives and breathes Apples.
But the iPad has me really interested. I truly hope that it is the tool that will help me to become a better teacher. I want to transform my teaching so I can take my students on learning journeys we never before thought possible - and I think the iPad might help me do it.
I will admit that before I went along to the PD yesterday I was a little afraid it was going to be an "iPad for Dummies" session and that I would come away without learning anything, but Greg O'Connor managed to engage his audience that included everyone for self-proclaimed "iPad virgins" to techno-geeks.
He was honest, interesting and intelligent.
He said out aloud many of the things that I have been thinking for a while. He even said many of the things that I have been saying.
After about an hour, I was very impressed, very glad I came along and very happy that it turns out I am not as crazy as I thought I might have been.
Greg demonstrated a few simple things that could be done with an iPad - not too much to overwhelm people who were just starting out, but enough to inspire thinking about how else these devices might be useful.
He was upfront about the limitations and challenges: ICT stands for "It Can't Teach" and quality teachers are more important than ever; It's the pedagogy, not the tool that makes for good learning; learning to work with new technology is hard work.
Tomorrow my colleagues and I are planning to share some of what we learnt with other staff at our school. We all came away from the day inspired to keep on learning, and I think that is the mark of a quality PD!

Great work, guys!

At the end of my first ever month of teaching I remember reflecting on what a lonely occupation it seemed to be.
In spite of the 24 or so little people that I got to spend time with each day, and the occasional parent who popped in to help out with reading, or quick chats in the staffroom about the weather, I was surprised at how isolating teaching could feel.
At uni I was constantly engaged in conversations surrounding assignments, readings and lesson ideas. During my prac I had supervising teachers watching my every move and giving me feedback about what I was doing every step of the way.
When I got a "real job" I was left on my own, in my own little world, with no-one to watch what I was doing, ask me questions or give me advice. My principal dropped in one day not long after I started to say "G'day" but I wondered how he would know if I was doing a good job or not.
I was really surprised by the loneliness.
I was a new teacher eager to learn more from my more experienced colleagues but they didn't seem overly keen to discuss pedagogy or to share their great ideas.
I was in need of reassurance, suggestions, encouragement and inspiration, but I was teaching alone.
Doing relief teaching and short term contracts for my first few years turned out to be a great blessing since I got to go inside the secret caves of other teachers and glean ideas from things they had set up in their rooms, or from activities they had left for me to do.
Occasionally in my early years of teaching I was lucky enough to work alongside some great teachers who also seemed to think that teaching was something worth talking about, worth exploring, and worth trying to get better at... but for the most part I felt out of place since not many seemed to share my need to share.
Then came the blogging world, and Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and PLNs!
Suddenly I discovered that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't (so) crazy and that there were other teachers out there who are very dedicated to the profession.
Thankyou! Thankyou! Thankyou!
Thankyou to those of you who blog and share your great ideas. Thankyou to those who blog, Facebook, tweet and pin your thoughts, plans and aspirations.
Thankyou to those very brave souls who share their failures with others so that we can all realise that we are not alone, and so we can continue to learn together.
Suddenly I am not alone. Teaching is a community. Teachers are dedicated to their students and to ensuring that they keep learning themselves, always being challenged and always pushing the boundaries.
Great work, guys! You make me proud to be part of the profession!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Black Hat, Green Hat: Thinking about 1:1 iPads

For the past few months I have been exploring the idea of 1:1 iPads in my classroom. I have read articles, listened to podcasts, played with apps, attended PD sessions and spoken with colleagues at other schools and institutions doing or considering similar programs. The recent QSITE conference at Coomera was an excellent opportunity to engage with other like-minded professionals and helped me to feel that maybe my dream is not as crazy as it seems.
My own friends and colleagues remain skeptical about the necessity of such a huge leap. My proposed experiment (and that is how I see it since we don’t yet have enough experience or data to prove that 1:1 iPads will have a positive impact on learning outcomes) is expensive. At about $500 for each student (to get a basic iPad2, a sturdy case and a handful of apps) could run to $12,000 for a class of 24 students.
Genuine questions arise about why do I think I need 1:1 (rather than a shared class set between a few classes or a small bank in my own class room – two legitimate alternatives that might be somewhat less expensive). Other intelligent queries relate to what would I do with all these iPads that I can’t do already, and is the teaching and learning in my classroom going to improve enough to justify the expense.
I have been grateful to my colleagues and friends, as well as parents in my current class and my principal who have asked me so many “hard” questions over the past few months as this “black hat thinking” is critical to me when I am refining my ideas and formulating my plans.
My principal is reasonably supportive of the idea but has many way-too-sensible questions about where the money is coming from and who is responsible for insurance, breakages and other problems. Those are the really “not-fun” parts of the project, and probably the reason that I am the teacher and not the principal, because at the end of the day I can hand those problems over to someone else (I hope).
So, to answer “That’s a good question” Number 1: Why 1:1 iPads?
Essentially, iPads are a personal device. Once you own your own iPad, you personalise the device to your settings, assign it your email, sign into your DropBox, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook etc. When you play a game with multiple levels, the device saves your settings. Due to the options that most apps provide for sharing files and creations, it is way simpler (particularly for young students) to have a personalised device.
A shared set of iPads is problematic for a teacher trying to do many pedagogically sound projects with students using iPads. In order for a student to continue working on a project they have started, they need to get access again to the same device they had last time. This can be problematic, particularly when different children require different amounts of time for completing projects.
Excellent applications for the iPad2 potentially use images, movies and sounds which are all saved on the individual device. Remembering exactly which device was used to take a photo three weeks ago at an excursion could be problematic.
To me, one of the biggest advantages of 1:1 devices would be that students would have access to the tools when they needed them. In a learner-centred classroom in which the teacher is responsive to the needs of individual students, the ability to use the right tool at the right time is paramount. I don’t always know a week ahead, a day ahead or even an hour ahead when my learners are going to be ready to use the device and for how long they might need it. Sharing the devices across many classes and being restricted by booking regimes and timetables can take the flexibility and spontaneity out of the classroom. If the devices are seen mostly as a “toy” or and “activity” then it is possible to “book in” some time but if these devices are seen as a “tool” to allow for learning, creativity and problem solving, then sharing the devices across multiple classes is inadequate.
Many people assume that “1:1” means that all students will be using the devices almost all of the time. Anecdotes and evidence from classrooms involved in 1:1 programs indicate that this is far from the truth. A 1:1 program allows teachers and students the flexibility to choose the right tool for the task at hand. If the iPad is the right tool for that student for that task, then they use the iPad; if another tool is the best choice, then that is what is used. It alleviates the over-use of the devices for meaningless or inappropriate tasks when teachers and students use the device for a task simply because “this is our hour with the iPads this week”.
iPads used effectively in learning are tools for discovery, creativity and communication. Students are not just game-players or users – they are designers and creators.
To get the files they create to the teacher from a shared device from many great apps can be a very complicated, multiple step process which means that with younger students, particularly, the teacher ends up with the job of chasing down the device, searching for the file and uploading it to the correct place. If this process took about 5 minutes for each of the 24 students each week, this time quickly adds up, and as they say in the business world, “Time is money.” I know my time is valuable and I want to make sure that the time I do have with students is spent on quality teaching and learning, not organising files.
Other “maintenance” issues such as uploading apps, maintaining the camera roll and daily charging are onerous tasks when needing to be done on multiple devices and knowing who is responsible for this maintenance on shared devices could cause some issues.
In a 1:1 program, these tasks could be passed onto the individual (with assistance from parents where necessary). Individually the tasks are not cumbersome, but en masse they are tedious.
I would propose that the 1:1 iPads were the responsibility of the individual (even if the ownership is retained by the school). Anecdotal evidence from the early 1:1 iPad trial in Victoria suggested that the introduction of the iPad program was a fantastic conduit for improving home-school relationship because the parents became very interested in what was happening in the classroom and were happy to assist in installing new apps and ensuring the iPad was sent to school charged.
Assuming that we were to purchase the base model iPad with 16GB of data, if every iPad needed to have every app that might me used by different students in different classes and year levels, and students and individual teachers would not be able to delete movie files and images that didn’t belong to them (in case it was something important), the devices could fill up quickly. Personal devices would assist students in establishing more thoughtful approaches to file management, even from a young age.
Personal devices would also allow teachers to install apps for particular students on the individual device only. Specific apps may be extremely useful to one or two children in a class but irrelevant to others so it doesn’t make sense to have a “one size fits all” approach to purchasing apps, because even at only $1.99 each they can add up quickly across a large number of devices.
That brings me to “That’s a good question” Number 2: Wouldn’t it be cheaper to have 1:2 or 1:4 or some other system?
After reading, reading, listening, discussing, reading, thinking, reading, discussing, listening and thinking a lot about the cost of a 1:1 Program compared to other models, I have come to the conclusion that once everything is taken into consideration, the cost of 1:1 iPads might not be that much more than the alternatives.
Schools instituting 1:1 programs usually have some kind of cost to the parents. Sometimes the parents are expected to buy the device themselves for specific use by the student at school (at least one Gold Coast school is using this model). Other schools charge a levy that means that the parents are paying for all or some of the cost over a number of years. Our initial survey of parents suggested that the majority of parents would consider paying some cost towards a 1:1 program for their child. Anecdotal evidence from colleagues at other schools is that most parents are generally happy to subsidise the program in some way.
I am not sure if as many parents would be happy to subsidise the program if the access to the device was shared.
My second point to defend the cost of the program would be to point out the “uncharged” cost on teachers in file management issues and maintenance like charging. Making sure that the iPads are locked away securely and being charged each night would be just another task to add to my never-ending list of things to do each day.
I would also suggest that the ability to purchase only the apps that are needed for a particular child could save money also. New apps could be purchased by a small group of children who are using it for a specific purpose and if the app is found to be useful to others, they can purchase it later. This could save buying apps that look good at first and then turn out to be not all they seemed.
Charging 100 or so iPads each night might not cost a fortune but I am sure this cost would add up over time. In a 1:1 program, iPads would be charged at home, meaning a small saving for the school in the electricity bill.
Not so silly question Number 3: Why use iPads with early years students?
My response to this question depends on the alternative being offered or the question behind the question. Some people think that technology use is a higher priority for older students; they should get access first. Many people are concerned that the students are too young for the responsibility that comes with using or owning an expensive device that allows them access to the big, wide world of the Internet. Some people think that laptops or iPods might be a more suitable alternative; and of course, for many purposes they might be right. Some people are concerned that when students have greater access to ICT they will not develop other skills such as reading, writing and the art of conversation.
I think that access to appropriate technology, when coupled with excellent pedagogy, is important for all students regardless of age. By suggesting that we use iPads in the early years (as one tool for learning) I am not detracting from the importance of technology for other learners. I’m advocating for the nurturing of responsible digital citizens and implementation of quality pedagogies that utilise technologies in meaningful ways.
The “fear factor” when it comes to trusting students with expensive hardware and access to the world of the web is massive amongst both parents and teachers. Some of us seem to cling to the hope that if we delay and limit access to ICT for as long as we can we will protect them (and valuable equipment). I am not proposing open slather and no supervision. I believe that as educators we have an important responsibility to teach (this is why we are called “teachers”) our charges to treat the equipment with care and respect, and to develop skills and awareness that will put them in a better position to make responsible and safe decisions when using the Internet. I fear that if we don’t take the opportunity to educate our students about Internet etiquette, cybersafety and responsible digital citizenship before they begin to access these things on their own, we are letting our students down.
Why iPads over laptops or iPods? iPads are a happy balance between being small enough to be easily portable and big enough to do some great stuff. They are reasonably affordable and quite robust. Having no keyboard or hinges means less parts to break. iPad apps are well-priced and easy to access. There is less “wait time” when powering up and the battery life is comparatively good. There are some things that are best done on a laptop or an iPod but the iPad offers enough flexibility for some very creative applications.
I would relish the opportunity to “play” in a 1:1 iPad classroom so that I can learn and discover some of the possibilities with my students. The “black hat thinkers”, while necessary and important, are not asking the “green hat questions” that plague my mind. What can I do with these devices? How can I embrace this technology to challenge and transform my own teaching so I am improving my own pedagogy, and therefore opening up a new world of possibility for my learners? How useful are these devices in monitoring the learning of my students? How will a 1:1 environment enable me to differentiate learning experiences for individual students? Which apps are going to help me provide opportunities for my students to think, create, design, develop, collaborate, explore and learn?
These are the questions I really want to answer. Now I am just asking for a chance.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Class blogs to explore

Thinking of blogging with your students? A Class blog can be a great way to create interesting contexts for reading and writing and provide a real audience for their creativity.

Here is a list of class blogs to explore as examples. They use a variety of blogging platforms, and have a variety of purposes. It seems there is no “one right way” to blog with students.

If you read something you like, feel free to leave a comment. Kids love to know someone has been reading their blog!

Useful reading and links for blogging with students

Here are some links to sites that are useful when considering blogging with your students.

Learning about Blogs FOR your students (I highly recommended reading this series!)

Mrs Yollis’ class talk about blogging

Mrs Yollis’ class talk about writing quality comments

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Working on Writing

Over the past few weeks I have been busy blogging with my class on our class blog. We have had the pleasure of blogging with a few other classes in our Quadblogging project.
While this experience has been great for my kids and they have gained heaps from it, I think I have also learnt a lot from getting a glimpse into what other teachers are doing with their classes.
One of our buddy classes, Swanroom 9, have done some fantastic writing that has made me have a serious think about how I am teaching writing in my room.
They were given a story starter and then they had to write the setting description for the story. They had to write about what the character could see, hear and feel. What they came up with was fantastic.
Since listening to their story settings, my students have been inspired to write some of their own, and I have been inspired to rethink my teaching.
I have also managed to put in place many of the great ideas in the Daily 5 book (yes, it took me a while, but I LOVE it now that we are doing it).
I am going to use the 7-up Sentence idea (download my freebie sentence starters here) that I have seen all over the web to work on our writing in the next couple of weeks since we are nearing the end of term. Then, next term I am going to try to become a better writing teacher.
So, what is a 7-up sentence? Simply a way to encourage children to write more interesting sentences by making a sentence with seven words or more! Simple enough to work - I hope...
Students start with a three word sentence that is obviously boring. Then they alter it by adding adjectives, phrases, substituting synonyms etc to create a sentence that is worthy of publishing. I am going to introduce the idea to my students and then get them to write their sentences on our blog as replies to a series of comments.

Missing in Action?

Life seems so busy at the moment. With reports and student teachers and excursions and house sales, there always seems to be something to do.
Although I must say that having the student teachers I have had this term (Claire one day a week for 10 weeks and Melanie a four week block prac) my kids are noting that I could probably have a holiday! It is great to have someone else to organise the millions of things that go on in my classroom and do the planning, teaching etc but somehow I still manage to find enough to keep me busy all day!
They both finish up this week (Claire on Thursday and Melanie next Monday). It is going to be hard to know what to do without someone to bounce ideas off all the time.
Maybe I'll need to blog more again...

Monday, 30 April 2012

School Writing - An iPad App Review

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of the School Writing app by demografix to trial with my class. After only two weeks of playing around with it, I feel I am only beginning to uncover the possibilities of how this fantastic app can be used with my students.

School Writing is a well-designed and thoughtfully planned app that can be used to assist children in developing handwriting, word recognition and spelling skills.
The app is comprehensive and packed with useful features but is still simple to use.
On first downloading and opening this app I was pleasantly surprised that it allowed me to quickly and easily add enough users for my entire class, as well as a “teacher” user that I created so I could play with the app myself and become more familiar with its many features.
School Writing comes preloaded with plenty of lessons to keep a class busy for a long time, but then it also allows teachers to create their own lessons to suit a particular focus or need.
Even though the name suggests that it is for teaching and practising writing skills only, it has prewriting activities (traceable shapes, mazes and dot to dots) as well as some numeral activities.
For early learners, the app could be used to develop tracing skills, numeral and letter recognition and formation skills.
Some of the preloaded activities include lists of Dolch words, word lists based around sounds and pairs of opposites.
The font setting can be changed to match Australian, New Zealand, US and UK school fonts in both print and pre-cursive styles. For print fonts there is also a choice between solid, dotted or outlines with starting points marked in.
I used this app in my classroom with some of my struggling spellers. I was quickly and easily able to add in my weekly spelling list and had the option of replacing some or all of the letters with dashes to make it more challenging, as well as recording the spoken word, with a sentence if preferred. This gave them an opportunity to practise their writing at the same time as their spelling. As soon as they finished the lesson, the app emailed me a file that I can view on my computer to check to see how they went.
Adding the list to one iPad with multiple users was a very simple process, and with the ability to import and export word lists via the demografix website, DropBox or iTunes, adding the weekly spelling list to multiple iPads is probably relatively painless too.
My brain is ticking over with the possible applications for this app in my own classroom in the future. Having individualised spelling lists in the past has been difficult to administer and time-consuming, but with this app it would be possible to set up customised lists. If the words were entered as blanks and the word and sentence was recorded in the app, then my students could take their spelling tests on their own and they would be emailed to me once they were done. This would mean that the students who worked more quickly would not be frustrated while waiting for the slower ones to finish and the child who invariably doesn’t hear the word due to distractions and is three words behind the rest of the class every week could listen to the word as many times as they needed and not feel pressured by everyone else who needs to move on. Also, any child who was out at the time of the test could take it at another time.
I am wondering if this app would work through a VGA adaptor so that students could write the words on the IWB. I don’t have a VGA adaptor, but if I did then having students trace the words in enormous letters would be another fun way for them to practise their spelling and letter shapes, and would be a good “midline-crossing” exercise.
Lessons to focus on word families and rhyming would be a cinch to create using School Writing.
The ability to record the student’s voice enables teachers to assess sight word recognition, or oral sentence construction using a list of words as well.
Because of the number of ways that this app can be customised, its application in the classroom or for home learning is extremely flexible and I am sure that as I become more familiar with the range of settings, I will find many more ways to use the School Writing app to support my learners.
If you are interested in finding out more about this app, visit the demografix website

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Cows Moo Softly - Variables in Science

When teaching science I try very hard to make sure that we are truly doing science and not just another English lesson with a Science theme. I also try to help my students to make connections with the scientific process we are using by using a similar format (question - hypothesis - method - results - conclusion).
I introduce scientific words in context as I think my students are ready for this. They love the big words!
One of the important scientific ideas is setting up a fair test. In order to do this children need to begin to understand variables and how we can control these when we are doing a test.
Cows Moo Softly is a mnemonic for Change - Measure - Stay the Same and is easier for my students to grasp than "independent variables" and "dependent variables".
I have made some new charts that can be used to help kids to think about variables when they are doing science.

There are some that can be printed onto coloured paper and laminated to use as class signs. I pin this type of sign to my board (using blu-tac or magnets) and write next to it. That way I can reuse them over and over and my board work is a bit more pleasing to look at than my own scribble writing.
I have also squeezed the three parts onto one page that could be photocopied and used for individuals or groups to plan their experiment.
If you would like these files for your room, you can download them for free from my TPT store.
Click here for the signs.  Click here for the worksheet.
The cow is by Scrappin' Doodles - isn't she cute?

Learning through Movement

We all know how hard it is to get kids to sit still for too long so it is great to get fresh ideas for teaching through movement. That's why it is so exciting to be part of the Move to Learn Linky Party at Minds in Bloom!
I am always careful to structure my sessions so we go from the floor to the desks and back again at least a few times so that we can regather and refocus as we need to.
A while ago I made this simple game to reinforce the difference between proper nouns and common nouns with my students.
It is basically a PowerPoint presentation that you play on the IWB or projector and the students bend low for a common noun, and stretch high for a proper noun (as in low for little letter and high for capital letter). Download it for free here.
It is simple to play and is a good brain-break at the same time as reviewing a key concept.

Other games I play with my kids to get them moving while I introduce or consolidate concepts are:
Columns, Rows and Cells: I use this for spreadsheets or tables. Stand tall with arms up high for columns, spread arms out wide for rows, squat (into a little box) for cells.
Head, body, tail spelling: To highlight letter shapes, I spell out a spelling word (usually the children can see the word on the board at the same time) and they stretch up for a "head" letter (such as b, d, k, l, h, f etc), stand normally for a "body" letter (such as a, c, e, o, u, m, n etc) and squat for a "tail" letter (such as g, y, j, p etc).
Obtuse, acute, right: To practise angle words, students make the shapes with their arms as I call out the words.
All of these games can be played quickly as a warm-up, review or brain-break, or as an elimination game, and best of all, they require no special equipment or preparation so you can use them any time.

Check out the other great ideas at the Move to Learn Linky Party