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Archive for the ‘digital learning activities’ Category

As our school heads down the path of being a 365 learning environment, I’m starting to expand the range of learning tools I’m integrating into lessons. It also helps that my department has improved access to computers this year so suddenly, digital learning becomes more achievable!

Sway is a Microsoft app that enables teachers to create audio visual presentations for students, parents and colleagues. The best place to start is with a Microsoft in Education tutorial. The Teachers Academy site provides dozens of online tutorials which talk you through the various features of a range of Microsoft apps as well as providing some great professional learning opportunities  and subject-specific resources.

Having used Office Mix, Sway is quite similar but, from my way of thinking, more aesthetically exciting. It’s a fantastic way to flip or tilt learning by providing students with key concepts while catering for a variety for learning styles and then providing opportunities for students to consolidate their learning through quizzes or other activities. You can embed tweets, stack pictures, embed video and podcasts.

My first attempt is pretty basic and is based on the novel The Outsiders by SE Hinton for a Year 10 class. I’ll use it at the end of the year as a revision tool.

I used a template and then customized it through the design tab by selecting a colour scheme and font I thought would work best for my class. The next step is insering title slides followed by text slides to break the presentation up into sections. You can then insert pictures selecting from Sway’s recommendations or uploading your own. In the same way other media such as YouTube videos can be inserted. The navigation bar sits at the left of the screen with the work space in the middle. You can easily flick between the two or expand various sections and hide others.

Progress can be previewed at any stage to check and tweak the layout. You can also select remix from the top tool bar and let Sway work its magic on your presentation by applying it’s own design and layout.

My first Sway features a mix of content, set activities and extension activities. Like Office Mix, there are examples on the Sway website of other presentations. I recommend browsing in case there is one that could work for your class – or perhaps for a relief lesson if you need one at short notice.

Your finished presentation is saved on the Sway website and stored on the cloud. From there, it’s just a matter of projecting and playing or sharing the link in a Class Notebook (you can embed directly there) and letting students work through at their own speed – just make sure they have headphones first!

 

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With our seniors heading into practice exams next week, there’s been the usual flurry of emails this weekend from students in various stages of panic. While I am more than happy to give feedback to students who have come to class, contributed, met milestones and generally brought something to the learning table, it’s a little harder to know how to help those with questions like”Can you help with dystopia? I’m really confused.”

Like I said, difficult to know where to begin.

We’ve a got a few months yet ’til externals so I hope their questions will become a little more refined in the near future! In the meantime, I’ve had a go at summarising an Achievement Standard via a web based presentation tool called mysimpleshow. This allows you to explain topics using a range of templates to create a short video. You supply the script (there’s a word count limit per slide so it tests your skills in brevity). The programme then matches your words with visuals which you can keep, delete or replace and even reads the script for you. If you don’t like the male American script readers, you can record your own. Each step is navigated via a set of tabs at the top of the page logically labelled: Summarise, Visualise, Add Audio, Finalise.

I’ve used similar tools in the past – ShowMe is a great one to use on iPad. I’ve used it for Slide the Corner,  The Whale Rider and Level 2 ConnectionsOfficeMix will do similar for Microsoft people. These programmes enable you to project directly off the site or if you’re worried about WiFi connectivity, you can download and save your presentation. Another plus for time-poor teachers is these sites feature collections of presentations made by others so you might find what you need ready to use! (A bit like SlideShare).

Curation sites such as ScoopIt, which I love for students looking to elevate their thinking and make independent reflections on the text, are also helpful at this time of the year. It’s also handy for saving all the sites you bookmark for a topic in a more visually appealing space.

Mysimpleshow combines text, visual and audio elements catering for a range of learners. You can elect to turn subtitles on or off – I put them on – and choose the speed of the speaker. I view it as a starting point to get students focused on key concepts. For my subject area at least, students will always have to engage with material, develop their knowledge and then synthesise and express their ideas via a well structured written response but as we all know, starting if often the hardest bit!

Next time I teach these topics, before writing a practice essay, I’ll get students to hone their thoughts by creating their own  Simple Show – flipping the learning should enable them to reflect on the content in a meaningful way AND ensure they create their own revision resource for later in the year.  I’d call that a win:win.

 

 

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I’m not one for fads and one I’m hearing a lot of at the moment is mindfulness. At a recent English Teachers’ conference in Christchurch, keynote speaker Nathan Mikaere Wallis gave an entertaining presentation on the adolescent brain – pre-frontal cortex development, gender differences and the now widely-accepted fact that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the early to mid-twenties. At the crux of his presentation was communicating with young people in way that validates their feelings, and hence we hope, increases the likelihood of forming the types of positive relationships that are so crucial for learning.

Nathan’s three tips are:

  1. Calm the brain stem
  2. Validate emotions
  3. Cognitive training

I started thinking a lot about the first step in regards to a Year 10 class I teach this year. My class of 27 learners have many and varied literacy issues which makes English a challenge for many. Their not naughty so much as really challenged/intimidated by the subject content. They arrive late, take ages to settle, need lots of bathroom breaks (?), struggle to follow simple instructions and do not readily engage with many of the activities we’ve trialled this year – and we try lots. To be honest, some days, I feel as if I am in a scene from Monty Python…

In your writing journal X…

The one you write in …

Because we are writing ..

No about your holiday, not my holiday …

No not refill, your journal. With the red cover…

No you can’t go and get it from your locker, we’re 20 minutes into the lesson …

Okay, just use refill …

Yes you can use some of mine!

The amazing thing is that despite these challenges, our relationship is still generally positive. But I feel a sea change brewing. At the mid-way point, I fear I’m in danger of losing them as assessments mount and frustrations rise (for all of us).

I scribbled in my conference guide mindfulness activities and then, in a very unmindful manner, rushed off to the next workshop for more Aha! moments but never enough time to put them all in action. To be honest, I think I mentally shelved it after returning to school, surviving Week 1 and thinking, those kids will never go for that bumph.

But if the status quo isn’t working, you are forced to look outside the square. After scanning a set of podcasts, giggling at the image of practicing mountain breathing together, I’ve found a site I can see working. Not only will it enable me to incorporate mindfulness into the lessons, I can link activities with curriculum goals. The site is Mindful Teachers and it features heaps of ideas and resources. Here’s a few that could work for my cohort:

Five senses activities – precursor creative writing. Some of these we already do (like the eating one) and some we have trialled before (going for a walk and making lists of what you hear etc) but some are new (love the rainbow walk idea).

THINK Questionnaire – I plan to teach formal writing skills this term around cyber bullying using some really awesome NetSafe DVDs that will hopefully connect with a talk all Year 10s had last term from local police on this topic. The questionnaire will be a great starter and the focus questions can become quick writes for their journals (or refill?!) As these students often struggle with developing ideas, the more thinking they do around the subject, the better.

Non-competitive games – goes without saying that these guys prefer to be moving. They also have some pretty dysfunctional relationships and I’ve noticing more cliques forming in the class as well as the odd put down so anything that encourages a sense of unity/team building could also be helpful.

Community service projects – After hearing Jo Weggery (Mt Aspiring College) present at an Otago English Teachers’ Association day out last year, I’m very keen to do similar. Jo had also noticed how disconnected with the wider world her Year 10s were so developed a community project idea that involved a series of planning and promotional activities allowing some scope to tie in with required assessments but also build their sense of self-worth and community links. After exams last year, my Year 10s attempted their first NCEA Level 1 assessment, the Static Image task. It was a disaster. None of them passed (great intro to NCEA), we were moving around classrooms after a fire in the school hall meant our normal class had to be used for NCEA exams (and will gain this year). I would much rather do an activity like this later in the year. They can still make a static image but not for assessment. Because Taieri College is located in a small community outside Dunedin, there is plenty of scope for community service projects. We already have links with the Mosgiel community and just need to tap into them more. I see this as being more meaningful than a half-hearted attempt at a poster and much better for their personal growth and development as they prepare to head to NCEA in 2017.

So lot’s of scope there and I’m sure there are plenty of other resources with opportunities to look beyond bell ringing meditations to stimulating some synapses, calming that brain stem and awakening that pre-frontal cortex. I’d love to hear about resources others have tried too.

 

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Back in May, I shared my plans for a Year 9 film analysis assignment using Microsoft 365’s Notebook and Office Mix. The last week of term was probably never the best time to execute this ambitious plan but nothing ventured nothing gained!

Overall, the class of able, very self-managing learners completed comprehensive analysis of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi via shared pages in a class notebook. The notebook also supplied them with extra reading on the role of religion in the film and commentary on coming of age genre as well as podcasts of interviews with both Ang Lee and Yann Martel so plenty of extra activities for early finishers 🙂

I’ve uploaded half a dozen of the finished products to the Mix Gallery and on reflection, now the dust has settled, I’m pretty pleased with their efforts. We skipped an essay assessment (which we’ll complete next term) so the overall learning objective was for them to create a presentation that showcased their knowledge and understanding of the film, it’s messages and the effects of film-making techniques. (I’m hoping the hyperlinks work because you generally have to sign in to Microsoft to view stuff. If not try searching under Other – Life of Pi).

I briefed the students thoroughly before we embarked on the Office Mix creation about the need to help each other out, be patient when waiting for my assistance and encouraged them not to panic if technical issues prevented them from completing to the standard they wanted. This made a huge difference to how the next three lessons progressed as they proactively supported each other so was far less stressful than previous my experiences with other learners. In short, they are the exact right group of stuents to trial such learning opportunities.

I’ll summarise the pros and cons and you can judge for yourself if this was a worthwile use of two weeks of a jam packed term:

Pros:

  • all five key competencies were demonstrated by all students
  • students have a comprehensive set of class notes for revision later in year
  • range of learning needs and styles catered for
  • students worked at own speed
  • collaborative environment flourished – students became teachers as we trouble shot technical issues together
  • students had a chance to work in a team and create an interactive presentation that will also form part of study notes (and may be easier for some to keep track of!)
  • when I was away for a day, this assignment was ideal for relief

Cons:

  • some groups had issues working on the shared PowerPoint consecutively, especially when doing tasks for homework
  • some groups were unable to save their finished product to the school network (saving issues)
  • audio option was random – cut off while some students were talking. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the random cut offs – some recorded fins for over a minutes some cut off at 38 seconds?!
  • we used streams not surface pros so no access to stylus for annotating the plot graph although some tried free hand
  • I still have to teach them to write an essay!

Our next step will be to talk about creative commons. Only one group attributed their use of content from a secondary source. If this type of assignment becomes the preferred method to consolidate learning, it seems we need some school-wide education about the use of third party content.

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Following my last post (soapbox more than sharing sorry) I realised something. Aside from the very real pressures preventing teachers from using digital technology effectively, have we been blinded by science? What if we all take a big step back, right back to the NZC, then maybe forward a bit to our curriculum area’s learning objectives and then inch forward slightly to our department’s goals. Is it possible to start from the purpose of the lesson and THEN consider the place of digital learning tools?

Here’s an example. My Year 9s are going to close view Ang Lee’s stunning film Life of Pi this term. Close viewing a visual text (being a critical media consumer) is a core skill in English. We want students to be able to infer meaning from a visual text, to consider how the director uses a range of film techniques for a specific purpose, to analyse how those big ideas are incorporated in the text and reflect on the importance of those ideas in their lives, their community and the world.

To attain those objectives we generally:
1. Watch a film and review key scenes
2. Explicitly teach a range of film techniques
3. Discuss and analyse ideas in the film
4. Discuss and analyse the director’s purpose
5. Relate techniques to purpose
6. Reflect on the film’s messages for individuals and for society

So, you watch the film, you do term:definition matches and you write an essay that demonstrates you can apply knowledge and express ideas.

How could digital technology enhance that process?

1. Close view – Use the best TV you can with best sound system available. Use pause and slow mo.

2. Techniques – take screen grabs using a snipping tool, print image to A3, get students in groups to label the techniques or use phones/ipads to go out and replicate a few scenes to help embed techniques and effects. Make the key literacy terms interactive and competitive – try quizlet, Kahoot, Edmodo.While it might take 30 minutes to make your quiz, if you make it generic, you can reuse.

3. Ideas – upload background notes on your LMS. Then give the students opportunities to work through a range of tasks (character analysis, themes analysis, narrative techniques) online, in any order they choose, over a week.
4.Director’s purpose – check: has your DVD got interviews with director at end? Are they on YouTube or the film’s official website? These can be viewed as a class or online with headphones as a close listening activity. I’m going to use an interview with Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) on RadioNZ as an extension activity.

5 and 6. To consolidate their knowledge (moving from Bloom’s understand and apply to analyse, evaluate and create) students choose their groups (student choice) and complete an assignment requiring them to collaborate and create.

If you go right back to Bloom’s Taxonomy (or Solo or whichever theory resonates), it’s a matter of starting with basics then working up to the higher order thinking by creating opportunities to independently analyse and avalute. I’ll use One Note on 365 because that’s the platform my school uses. It took me about two hours to set up a shared content library, individual student folders and a collaboration space (the basic tenants of One Note). The aim is to use Office Mix (an add on to powerpoint enabling students to add audio, quizzes and drawings) to create a presentation they will then present to class providing an opportunity for some public speaking as well.

If we start with the big picture, consider core skills, learning objectives and key competencies and plan from there, then digital technology simply becomes a means of getting there – while also allowing students to develop digital literacy skills.

Of course it takes time to learn how to use One Note, Office Mix and Quizlet but it also takes time to create paper handouts and worksheets. My advice for the over or underwhelmed is pick one class or one unit of work. Start with a big bit of paper, mind map the big picture goals/objectives/competencies then consider possible steps. For me, taking time to make sure the folders I create for students in our class notebook match those in the content library and are in a logical order is vital to ensure students can navigate their folders easily. So forethought and curbing a tendency to add extra folders after I’ve set up the directory under the guise of “extras” are crucial.

And as for the essay? My students will still write essays this year (a core skill as that is how they will be assessed for externals in NCEA) via written text studies so will practice that skill again before exams. Risky strategy possibly but if they can see the assignment through, hopefully they will have gained greater insight into the text and thus have more to write about.

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I had a great conversation recently with a primary school teacher friend who’s also a literacy specialist/enthusiast/guru. What quickly became clear through our lengthy couch meanderings was that a lot of the challenges students face at secondary school are not due to lack of effort and energy expended by our primary colleagues earlier on.

Primary teachers have amazing depth of knowledge when it comes to breaking down concepts for students, modelling skills and providing awesome opportunities for them to develop their writing. Here’s an activity my 9 year-old son did at his school last week using James K Baxter’s My Town poem as a starter. And here’s Harrison’s poem:

The town

The town was usual enough; it had

A dairy,a bridge,a creek,a sky

Over it, and even a school that I never went to.

Me, my brother and Dad

Did what boys

Do best, made huts, biked

To the park, dodged the creepy old man

Who lived in our neighbourhood.

We jumped off the bridge,bought lollies

And chomped them down, scootered

To the beach

Doing nothing important.

By Harrison

Inspired by James K Baxter

Why then are so many of our students struggling with basic literary skills at secondary school? Are they simply reaching a plateau and stalling? Is the stagnation in written skills directly related to a drop off in reading? Is their inability to delay gratification a hand brake on truly engaging with the writing process? Did video kill the radio star?!

Among the many awesome suggestions my friend shared was The Literacy Shed website. I was drawn to the visual tasks available in the music videos “shed” and the animation “shed.” (Sheds being section on the site). A quick skim of suggested tasks yielded heaps of great ideas that we could use around novel studies, literary responses and tasks to inspire creative writing. There are also several sheds related to genre which could be helpful for secondary teachers.

While some of the content targets a younger age group, over the past three weeks I’ve been using clips and ideas from the music video and animation sheds as part of a unit on creative writing with my Year 10s. This group of learners is loosely referred to as “low to middle ability” but really, they are low – Level 1-4 of NZC currently based on beginning of year samples around writing, spelling age and reading. This prompted a complete rethink of several tasks I had planned to do with them.

The Literacy Shed has enabled me to implement differentiation in a meaningful way. For clips  used, I have tapped into some of the suggestions on the website then developed them further for a Year 10 audience. I felt it was also important to tell the students that I don’t expect all of them to complete all the tasks – they are quite open with where they are at currently and a quick word in their ear is all that is needed to get everyone underway.

We start each lesson with our writing journals and a clear learning objective which is on the board and stated verbally. This has ranged from “Today we are going to look at good ways of describing how people feel” to using words with clear connotations etc. We watch the clip once and I ask 4-5 focus oral questions to ensure we all know WHAT happened. This in itself can be an hilarious exchange of ideas …
I then project a series of journal tasks ranging from straight forward identifying to retelling to describing to more sophisticated skills such as point of view writing or dialogue or continuing a narrative. My big objective is to prepare them for a creative writing assessment in Term 2 where their task is to describe a character independently. By the end of this term they will have been exposed to:

  • Adjectives and adverbs
  • Strong verbs and neutral verbs
  • Synonyms and antonyms
  • Connotative language
  • Emotive language
  • Characterisation
  • Show Don’t tell

This leaves me the first few weeks of Term 2 to work on sentence structure, sentence starters and types as well as some basic punctuation. I also need to get them concentrating on their writing independently for longer periods of time, a big challenge for kids with such a large range of learning needs. Even if they are making small gains in their learning progressions, they are certainly all coming to class with their journals, ready to go and feeling as if they have achieved something. And hopefully, they are gaining some enjoyment out of the process.

Below are a couple of sample “lessons” you are most welcome to use:

 David Guetta – Titanium

In your journal DESCRIBE the opening scene, use show not tell. Do a OR b OR c:

a) draw and label scene

b) create a word bank

c) write a paragraph

2.Discuss with a partner. At the end:

Who is to blame?

Why?

Is the boy acting in self-defence?

Can he control his powers?

3. In your journal, do one:

  • If you could have any superpower what would it and why?
  • You wake up one morning and find you have incredible physical strength. What would you do? How would your life change?
  • Draw, design and label your own superhero. What power, name and costume would they have?
  • Write a newspaper report of the events that happened in the video. Include interviews with the teacher, parents and police-officers.

 Don’t Go – short animation

  1. Use adverbs to describe Pinky’s actions E.g: Danced vigorously
  1. Use adverbs to describe the cat’s actions E.g: Sprang menacingly
  1. Write a set of instructions as a list of bullet points on how to avoid being caught by a cat
  1. Retell the story from the cat’s point of view. Use strong verbs and adverbs to describe how events unfold….

I was minding my own business when suddenly, Pinky dashed in front of me…

Emile Sande – Free

  1. Make an emotion graph to show how the boy is feeling at different points in the video
  2. Summarise by writing a sentence that explains how the boy was feeling at the start and at the end
  3. Create an adjective bank to describe the boy’s feelings
  4. Create your own similes and metaphors for the boy’s actions

Eg: He flies like a bird.                                           He is as free as a bird.

  1. Research 5 facts about Jokke Summer

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The last two weeks of school flew by and the old conundrum of how to keep the juniors focussed was resolved via using game-based learning as a springboard for creative writing (see previous post).  Overall I’m pleased with the outcome. Students were engaged, problem solved, clearly enjoyed the rewards system and options via levels, built glossaries of new words, received individual feedback and most importantly – all wrote a narrative based on the game. Technically, they weren’t all brilliant but most displayed a great deal of creativity and more than a bit of black humour …

The results are now proudly displayed on the back wall ready for another year.  I’ve included an excerpt below from a student (with her permission) who excelled in the task. Definitely on my list for next year …

photoI jumped as I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket. The message read “A new murder case has opened up, Rookie. Come down to the station and be prepared, it’s pretty gruesome. – Grissom.” My first ever case in the field and it’s a murder…great. I threw a jacket on and fumbled with my keys as I unlocked the car. In a few minutes, I had arrived at the station where I could see the team packing some equipment into the car as they hurried to get to the crime scene.

“Hey!” I yelled, catching Grissom’s attention.

“We’re almost done packing the car and we’re about to head to the crime scene.” said Grissom as he jogged over to me.

I followed him back to the car and got in the back with Agent Catherine Willows, Crime Scene Investigator and Firearms Examiner.

“So what’s happened?” I asked.

“A female’s body has been discovered in the forest by a few runners. The body has been mutilated and her lower half has been severed from her body.”

I was stunned by this horrific news and sat in silence as the car started up and we began our journey to the crime scene. I was suddenly nervous and was dreading what I was going to have to see. The blurred buildings outside the car window slowly changed to tall dark trees as we began to enter the forest. The car stopped a few meters away from a fence of police tape. I sat there looking out the window as cops ran around the scene.

“You coming Rookie?” questioned Grissom.

“Oh.. um.. yeah. Sorry.”

“It’s fine. The first murder case is always the hardest. Take your time.”

His words comforted me and I slowly took off of my seat belt and stepped out of the vehicle. I reluctantly wandered over to Willows, who was standing a few feet from the body. The victim’s tongue hung loosely from her mouth in the absence of a lower jaw. Dark and thick congealed blood covered her top half and was dried into her hair. Her lower stomach and legs were completely separate from her body and had been tossed to the side. Her intestines and stomach were lying on the forest floor around where she had been split in two. She was looking up at us with dead pleading eyes. I felt dizzy looking at the horrors of the murder. From the corner of my eye I could see a cop walking towards me.

“We haven’t found any ID but we’re guessing she’s in her early twenties. The estimated time of death was around 3am.”

I looked down at my watch. It was 9:30am.

“What about the runners who discovered the body?” I asked.

“They’re over there by the police car.” He said, directing me in the right direction.

I wandered over to the vehicle. Two young men were sitting in the back of the car under a blanket, trying to hide from the cold morning air.

“Hello. I’m Agent Stefany Howard. May I ask you a few questions?.”

They slowly nodded, both of them keeping their eyes to the ground.

“Thank you. What are your names?”

“I’m Rick and this is my friend Greg,” answered the dark brunette one, motioning to the sandy blonde.

“Nice to meet you. How did you discover the body?”

“We were going for our usual morning run and Greg noticed some blood on the fronds of some ferns that surround the forest track. He followed the trail and came to a small clearing where she was lying.”

Greg seemed to turn another shade paler as Rick retold the morning events.

“Have you ever seen this woman before?”

They both shook their heads in reply.

“What did you do once you discovered the body?”

“I called the police and I guess Rick heard me yelling so he came over to see what had happened,” whispered Greg.

“I see. You two have had a rough morning, but I’m afraid you’ll have to come down to the station with us for further questioning.”

They both nodded as they stood up and followed me to the vehicle. They sat down in the back seat under the blanket, like two frightened little kids.

“I’m going to need to collect some DNA from you,” I said.

“Go ahead.”

I took out some equipment and collected both of their fingerprints, a swab of their cheek cells and some hair from both of them.

“Thank you.”

I wandered over to Grissom, “Need any help with anything?”

“Not really, Rookie, the team has everything covered. Did you collect DNA evidence from the two runners?”

“Yeah I’ve got it.”

“Ok you head back to the station with Greg and Rick, we’ll be taking the body with us for a full autopsy and see if we can find any clues on her.”

I went back to the car and waited for the rest of the team to get in. Soon we were all set and Grissom drove us all back to the station. An old man with a bad leg was waiting for us at the station. It was the Chief Coroner, Dr Al Robins.

“Take the body inside and we’ll start the autopsy. Rookie you’re coming with me.”

I followed Dr Robins inside as the others carted the body in on a gurney. We lay the body down on the autopsy table and I started to sterilize the equipment. I noticed the alcohol in the sterilising tray was shaking slightly.

“Hey! I think there’s an earthquake!”

We ducked under the table but the shaking didn’t stop. Muffled screams could be heard through the walls of the station.

“What’s happening?!”

“I don’t know!”

I sprinted through the door and out into the station lobby. A red light was bathing the empty room. I could see the rest of my team standing outside of the station, staring at something.

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