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Archive for the ‘ICT’ Category

Time to get the Emperor some Clothes

Like many schools, mine is heading down the path of offering our students more opportunities to use digital technology. I trained relatively recently and, in what now seems ironically like a blessing, spent the first four years of my teaching career in four different schools. This meant I’ve had to spend  lots of time teaching myself how to use a range of platforms, systems and programmes. From wiki first then to moodle followed by ultranet and now Microsoft 365. And those are just the LMSs I’ve encountered. I also spent a year teaching and learning with an iPad class. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention although it’s not a path I’d recommend.

Secondary teachers are often accused of lagging behind their primary teaching colleagues when it comes to adapting 21st century learning tools. But what I’ve observed over the past six years is that many are often totally overwhelmed by HOW to incorporate digital technologies in their daily teaching practices which is not the same as being somehow philosophically opposed to the idea. They don’t always have access to hardware in their classrooms in which to seamlessly integrate those devices into their lessons, there is next to no tech support and scant opportunities for PD. It’s a lot to ask of people who already work long hours, many of whom have families young and old of their own to support outside of school.

It’s no wonder many are left feeling overwhelmed (or worse underwhelmed) by decrees to use digital technology, more, now. The pressure caused by such demands should be addressed – surely as part of the current emphasis on teacher wellbeing because if we are stressed and overwhelmed than it stands to reason that our students, with less resilience and coping strategies, are even more so.

Solutions could include teacher release days to ensure staff have opportunities to investigate and explore what works for them, dedicated tech support staff in schools to take the onus of teachers with IT interests and ensuring those offering workshops (often suppliers of software) are up to date with issues faced by individual schools when it comes to adapting technology – wifi access, hardware access, financial constraints, infrastructure needs such as access to powerpoints etc. in short, funding and expertise.

Not everyone teaches in MLEs where devices are freely available to students 100% of the time. Not all of our students have access to the internet at home and no, they don’t all have smart phones (surely that’s a piecemeal solution anyway?).  Instead of pointing fingers at classroom teachers and putting so many under so much pressure, bigger issues around access to hardware, software, support and PD must be the focus.

Every day I see teachers achieving remarkable feats through dedication, intelligence, effort, talent and sometimes, sheer bloody mindedness. There are young innovators  and wise old(er) heads and every one of them has something of value to offer pedagogically speaking. But even the most passionate educator is no magician. If we are truly serious about giving students opportunities to become connected, collaborative, creative lifelong learners, than we have to ensure their teachers are afforded the same opportunities. If we don’t, the current inefficiencies, stresses and tensions will continue to fester resulting in burnout and more missed opportunities.

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I’ve been following with interest discussions around the concept of flipped learning.  Flipped classrooms were named after a paper published in 2000 (so not entirely new) by Lage, Platt and Treglia where the authors sought to encourage students to learn by doing by giving them access to learning materials before they entered the classroom. This is a concept readily used by tertiary institutions although often I suspect it becomes a way of catching up on missed lectures rather than actively choosing to bring something to the learning table… .

Flipped classrooms freak me out. Not because I’m against the concept which clearly resonates with the NZC value of creating lifelong learners who are active seekers, users and creators of knowledge. Not only do they need to learn stuff with us, they need to learn how to learn. My anxiety stems from concerns around access to technology both outside and inside school for many (most?) of our state educated secondary students. In others words, love the theory, can’t get my head around the practice.

So it was with some delight I came across the related concept of tilted classrooms vie www.edudemic.com.  The more I read, the more I saw opportunities for applying the concept as well as some aha moments where I recognised I have been tilting for several months! Edudemic sums up the difference between the two approaches as:

“…flipped learning is about transferring control to students to make them more involved and more responsible for their learning process, sideways learning is about making learning and study tools accessible to all students.”

Tilting a classroom still uses online resources but blends those with group work, classroom  discussion and after school learning. So far so good. But what might it look like?

1. Proactive use of a LMS: We use ultranet as an LMS. Others schools use moodle and/or wiki. Rather than an online repository for word documents, I aim to include videos, podcasts, quizzes and links to online sites to both extend and support students’ learning. I’m not saying they are all regular users but by showing them the site often in class, there are at least some using this option.

2. Reusable videos: There are some great sites around covering ideas, concepts, texts and can be included in lessons. Kahn Academy, Teacher Tube, TED Talks, the Vlog brothers Crash Course clips and  Upworthy are worth searching and bookmarking. Recently, I used clips off YouTube from a Sunday TV programme on boy racing as a starter for Year 10 formal writing. We also discussed the case of the 4 year-old boy who was killed by a boy racer in Christchurch. This generated a brainstorming session and then planning essays on A3 in groups. Their homework was to write an introduction independently.

3. Mini-lectures: I’ve become a fan of Showme this year. These presentations are easy to create and can be added to a LMS via a link so  students (yes with computer access OR smart phones with data credit!) can review in their own time. The combination of visual and oral cues works well especially with lower literacy learners who definitely prefer this to note taking. Be warned – you’ll need your best radio voice!

4. Interactive online resources: Why recreate the wheel? These are also a great option for tilting learning. This week, I used readwritethink’s persuasion map and essay map with my Year 10 class. We were half way through a formal writing assessment when I judged they were all still struggling with the basics. So I abandoned mission, lucked it with a booking for laptops, got them to complete both planners using their assessment topic and print the results. They have been much more focussed since. We also used the BBC skillwise site as a starter going right back to sentence construction and punctuation by talking about the rules then playing games. I did them first and then challenged students to beat my time. (Yes some did!)

So even in a learning environment where access to technology is not a given, there are ways to at least tilt learning. As well as promoting deep level thinking (SOLO anyone?), encouraging self-management and inquiry based learning, there are other benefits to teachers. This approach enables us to spend more one on one time with students (and let’s face it, core subject classes are large in most state secondary schools), is a less exhausting way to teach and once you have created/bookmarked a few videos/sites, you can reuse them so is less stressful.

None of this is rocket science. In fact flipped learning is based on core pedagogical tennants of relevancy, differentiation and engagement.  And whether you’re a cautious tilter or a committed flipper, developing new ways to enhance learning outcomes is at the very least pause for thought.

 

 

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Over the past few weeks, the #hackyrclass community have been sharing ideas about #blendedlearning and #differentiation. The challenge is how to walk the talk in the teaching and learning environments many state and state integrated secondary school teachers operate in on a daily basis. While it’s easy to get enthused sharing ideas with your online community of fellow teacher geeks (sorry guys) it’s often a different story back at school the next day. I think if we were to be completely honest, many of us would admit that our physical resources including access to ICTs often put a big hand brake on making these worthy ideals a reality.

That said, rather than focusing on what we can’t do in small spaces with minimal available technology, I’m hopeful it’s the little things we can do that will set in motion the paradigm shift needed to make blended learning the norm. So here are a couple of small things I’ve tried recently with a trusty data projector, internet and an iPad:

Creative writing
1. Brainspark app projected off iPad as starter – you can use words or pictures to get them writing
2. Storystart app’s photo gallery projected for students to select a setting to write about
3. Showme tutorial to reinforce the concept of showing not telling when writing creatively. There is a Showme app as well which has loads of potential for students to create their own tutorials too.
4. Gave iPad to student to take a couple of pics outside for a writing assessment. He just couldn’t find a way to start otherwise.

Reading
I’ve now got most of my Year 9s signed up to taierihotreads and they are starting to blog about books they are reading. We developed a set of class rules around commenting and these are displayed in class. I also developed a help sheet to get them going which included making the actual steps clear, pointers as to content, some starter sentences and a word bank. Quality and depth of reflection varies but I’m still hopeful this is a step in the right direction for encouraging reading, developing critical literacy and writing for publication. I have found the hardest thing has been getting them to remember passwords and logins. Think I’ll design credit card sized card for them all next time to keep handy.

It’s been great to have a few people outside the class commenting on posts. This really bolsters their confidence and helps give the students ownership of the site which is the ultimate aim.

Keeping it current
I couldn’t pass up these opportunities to make links outside class with seniors:
1. YouTube clip of well-known Americans reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings following Maya Angelou’s recent passing. Used with Level 2s who are focusing on texts that fit the theme of The Voiceless this term.
2. Used start of this Radio NZ flashback to 1994 including an  interview with Rena Owen prior to viewing Once Were Warriors today (heard it previewed in car on way to work – #alwaysworking)
3. Used The Boy Who Danced With a Tank poem by Adrian Mitchell to coincide with 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square rebellion. Watched TVNZ item broad cast last week for background.

It’s a start.

 

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A reflection for where digital learning sits currently at my new school…and a chance to refresh my prezi skills!

 

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Those pesky videos…

Earlier this year I recorded some Level 1 speaking and listening activities on my iPad. Seemed like a good idea at the time but of course I then had to figure out how to get the 3-6 minute clips off my iPad and onto the system in case of moderation.
Enter WiFi Album. A colleague (and Media Studies guru) put me onto this great free app that was quick to install and easy to use. Once you have WiFi Album downloaded, it generates a unique http address that enables you to access files on your iPad. So you type that address into the URL space on your pc (or mac 🙂 and voila, instant access to all your saved videos and photos. A quick click and they download to your PC.
It took a while for some of mine to come through (the bigger the file, the slower the transfer) but I got there in the end and it was quite a relief to know I had them all stored safely on hard drive as part of the end of year tidy up process.
Here’s a link if you’d like to know more but I can highly recommend this app for ease of use and practicality.

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I first came across Scoop.it last year via Peter Mellow of Curtin University. Like many good ideas, it got put on the back-burner until recently when I made time to have a play – and I’m glad I did.

Scoop.it is a great online curation tool that enables us to share relevant information with students in a visually appealing, easy to use format. “Creative consumption” according to the folks at Scoop.it.  Previously I’ve shared links to websites with students via koodle/wiki/email but Scoop.it enables creators to “scoop” several sites onto one page (or online magazine).  It pays to show students the page to pique their interest.

There are plenty of reasons to love Scoop.it including:

1. One click and you’re there – saves time

2. You can include sites that appeal to a range of learners – yes, differentiate 🙂

3. You can critique each site in a separate thumbnail that appears under each previewed site for comments like “great for revision” or “has a quiz”  – saves time

4. It’s a fantastic way to extend those hungry for more than you can cover in class  – feeds the mind

5. Each site is presented visually so it looks good – holds attention

6. You can arrange the sites from most to least important – makes sense

7. It’s easy to create a topic – intuitive

And even better for time poor teachers, if you aren’t inclined to create your own page, simply search on Scoop.it and it’s highly likely someone has beaten you to it. Working smarter not harder right?

So far I have shown my level 2s a link via koodle and hope like heck they’re visiting this weekend (you can check site stats) before next week’s exams.  My iPad class should have all bookmarked and, wifi willing, will create their own pages on Romeo and Juliet next week. There is an app for iPad users to use Scoop.it too.

It’s easier to supply your students with a link to your topics as they could be searching a while otherwise .  Anyhow, check it out yourself.  Here are links to my Hone Tuwhare, To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet pages. Enjoy.

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If you receive the New Zealand Teachers’ Council’s weekly e-letters, you’ll be aware the council has just launched its Teachers and Social Media website – yeeha.  And if you’re lucky enough to be on holiday you might have even had a look at it! The site aims to promote discussion about the relationship between the registered teachers Code of Ethics and social media.

It’s important that all teachers are familiar with the code and being relatively fresh out of training, I’d read it fairly recently. The site is structured around the code’s four stakeholder groups so commitment to learners, parents/families, the profession and society are all covered in relation to social media usage.

Home page of NZTC social media website

The resources section features animated videos that pertain to each of the four groups and deal with scenarios such as texting students, blogging, Facebook and digital footprints. Under the resources tab, you’ll also find guidelines and docs (including a staffroom-friendly social media map explaining what social media is), a presentation framework enabling schools to use the videos etc for PLD, FAQs and links.

True to form, under the reources tab, the guidelines and documents page features a prezi with tips on how to manage and recognise ethical dilemmas when using social media.  A lot of information is repeated throughout the site so what you read in the prezi (don’t set to auto play unless you’re a speed reader!) also features in a downloadable poster. The same page also includes a link to a seminar that was held a few months ago where the site’s developers discussed its content with teachers.  It’s 58 minutes long but interesting to see the initial response to what was essentially a focus group for the new site.  As I’d already explored the site, I found the teachers’ comments in the chat box in the side bar of more interest that the presentation itself.  Some pointed out that their schools still had firewalls blocking the use of Facebook and other social media – these comments were not always picked up on by the moderators but I suspect those and the usual access to technology issues will ensure some of the scenarios discussed are a long way off being reality for many teachers.

My favourite section is  Your Stories under the pink tab where teachers share experiences about using social media tools – yes. That’s what I was looking for!  So far there are only four posts but obviously that will build over time.  I’d used all the tools discussed except pinterest but it’s always good to learn how others are using Facebook, Twitter etc to engage their learners.  The links page in the resources section provides more hands on assistance with the “How do I…?” questions rather than the “What will I do if…?” focus that is the site’s raison d’être.

Overall, it’s a great site and one that is long overdue. I love the resources, enjoyed the stories and have bookmarked many of the links as well as adding #educhats to my twitter feed.

My only concern is the emphasis on the “What ifs…?”.  Because teachers want the best for their students, and possibly due to some of the bad press the profession has received this year, we may be over thinking things somewhat. I’m not trying to be blase about the importance of ethics, a subject I’ve taught most Fridays this year to my aspiring journalism students.   Ethics is all about shades of grey. There’s no way the NZTC can develop a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts to cover every possible scenario that might (or might not) occur.  I guess that’s why the site focuses on linking the existing code to the social media environment so that if members are in a position of having to justify their decision-making, they can refer back to the code to explain themselves.  But surely that’s the same for countless decisions made in every classroom, every day? I guess also for members, this approach provides protection against potential critics.  But should professional protection be at the heart of discussions over usage? Certainly we need to have those conversations but it would be a shame if developing pedagogy that encompasses social media is driven by fear of stuffing up. And that’s ethics too – there is no right or wrong so even with the best of intentions, we might have to accept that sometimes we get it wrong. Hopefully if best professional judgement is applied, those mistakes won’t be career ending, hangable offences.

If we wait for an elusive list of dos and don’ts, we might miss a golden learning opportunity. Digital tools are evolving at such a rapid pace, by the time we work out how to use them ethically and acquire the technology (and skills) to use them, the next tool is here. This results in teachers being in a constant mad scramble to keep up, make lessons meaningful and head off every ethical issue imaginable before it happens.  It’s easy to see why social media ends up in the too hard basket.

It shouldn’t be that hard and it shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of classroom teachers to find ways to successfully embed social media into their schools’ learning programmes. Let’s not forget that social media is all about interactive community building. One teacher in the webinar said when a negative post was made on his school’s Facebook page for parents, before the school worked out what to do, other parents had (diplomatically) shut the negative, naysayer down.

And that’s what it’s all about really – yes we need to be careful and well-informed in everything we do and say with our students BUT we also have to have a little faith that social media, if used wisely, will enhance communication, strengthen communities, engage learners and keep our jobs interesting and personal commitment to lifelong learning relevant.

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