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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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It’s been an exciting start to the year at a new school, topped off with the privilege of being allocated a trial ipad class of Year 10 students. This post is really an extended reflection of where I’m at, there they’re at and where we might be heading with ipads in an English classroom.

The first challenge was setting up the device. This entailed getting myself online via the school server as well as ensuring it would work at home. This was made simpler by my Year 11 students who completed all of the above in about 15 minutes – how they remember all the relevant settings is beyond me but I was grateful for their help!

The next step was familiarizing myself with navigation. Enter two ipod touting sons who quickly showed me the in and outs of finding my way around the device, uploading apps and creating folders on the desktop. ūüôā

So what have we achieved? At this stage baby steps.

My class has access to a dedicated Koodle page via the school website. I update this weekly and promote it visually in class. Having an LMS is one thing but as I’ve learned, getting students to use it is another. To be specific – be explicit. They need to see it to connect with it. I also promoted the site to parents via email. Their page includes an introductory section with a document featuring links to websites I recommend students bookmark on their iPads. This includes online dictionaries, visual thesaurus, reading support sites, writing support sites, search engines as well as grammar and punctuation sites with interactive games – such fun!

Now this might not seem ipad specific yet but hang in there! At this stage my aim was to integrate the ipad with existing technologies in a bid to ensure students could hook into technologies relevant to their needs. I should add they are a mixed ability class. One of the big pluses of ipads has to be helping teachers provide differentiated learning opportunities. Now you’re interested?!

Next I set up a wide reading blog. Initially this was private and I emailed students invites to their school accounts. Part way through the term, take up was just two students out of 24 so I made the blog public to make it easier to access. This blog has examples of wide reading responses, suggested texts, links to sites about reading/books and the odd You Tube clip students could use for a visual response.

Although I later discovered we don’t accept posts as responses (schools have different policies on this – it is permitted in the Achievement Standard), the blog is a good resource if students are stuck for inspiration. I also promoted the blog to parents during interviews, many of whom were unsure what a reading response was.

In the first term we covered creative writing and a novel study. My big goal was to use a web adventure based on CSI investigation for them as a starter to their creative writing assessment. Unfortunately, I planned this unit of work over the summer holidays before I had the iPad so was gutted to learn the website wouldn‚Äôt load on an iPad because it needed flash ūüė¶ Note to self: never talk up a digital learning opportunity until you’ve tested it…

I really think the class would have enjoyed a game-based approach to learning about characters and setting, and using that as a starting point for their writing. Similarly, the fantastic BBC Skills website I intended to use for grammar and punctuation doesn’t work on iPads so I had to find alternatives. Moving on (!) I incorporated iPads into lessons for:
1. Grammar and punctuation ‚Äď Grammar Monster
2. Poetic devices testing– Quia
3. A shared glossy for novel – used EverNote to create and asked students to do the same using Evernote, Penultimate or Scratch. I placed a link to my glossary via Koodle in case students were away/behind.

Term 2 planned uses:
Now that I’m aware of applications and shortcomings, I plan to use the ipad more regularly in lessons. My aim is to do this as seamlessly as possible. At this stage I’ve earmarked the following apps/websites:
1. Quizlet ‚Äď novel terms and content testing
2. Spell City ‚Äď interactive games using the glossary created in term 1
3. Prezi ‚Äď for a presentation on theme for film study
4. Animoto ‚Äď as above
5. Four Pics One Word ‚Äď general starter
6. Cartoon Studio ‚Äď plot summary film/character study
7. Auto rap ‚Äď turning film reviews into rap.
8. TED ‚Äď as a start for non-fiction writing

9. Socrative – range of uses but the great thing is it can be used in real time by teacher and students.

Later in the year, I hope to use the ipads for sharing/analysing essays via Drop Box or Noterize. I‚Äėm also hoping to create a private twitter feed for a character study of Romeo and Juliet, and would also like to use iPads collaboratively when preparing for exams.

So has it been worthwhile? I guess it’s early days. For me, the biggest thing has been upskilling in “my spare time” but as with all digital learning, sometimes trusting students to sort out small glitches i.e encouraging them to be the experts is the best way forward. Being brave and giving things a go is also really important. Not everything I planned worked so you just have to move on and find an alterative.

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge to date is not technological but around appropriate usage in the classroom. If you thought FB was bad, wait until you have to deal with snapchat/tumblr. That’s an issue we’ll be working through this term with discussions underway about developing consistent rules across all subject areas. I’m not sure what that will look like in practice but if we don’t address that issue, the ipads are doomed to become just another device to police in the classroom which would be a real shame.

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ÔĽŅ

A prezi slide show I adapted that could be used as an icebreaker at the start of the year.¬† Prezi¬†is an option for students¬†completing Snr English¬†research/presentation achievement standards. I’m still unable to embed this so a link is best I can do for now.¬†

There is text with each image in the slide show but sometimes you have to pull back when viewing (using the arrow keys forward and back to progress show, up and down to enlarge or reduce each slide).¬† There probably is a way of fixing this but I’ve spent far too long as it is – fortunately I have time to burn right now!

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I think anyone that has been on the receiving end of the education system in recent years would relate to some of the comments highlighted in the above clip.  Power point is not a new tool but it is done to death these days Рsometimes quite badly.  But in spite of this I have to admit to being a bit of a fan Рwith a couple of provisos. A well constructed power point  (less of the nauseating transitions and lame sound effects), can help present information in an engaging and hopefully memorable way.

Ideally I believe a good secondary teaching power point devised to support a unit of work¬†should be used¬†in bite sized chunks.¬† So present say 5-6 slides per lesson¬†and make sure to include some video, audio and activities.¬† You can include instructions in the power¬†point¬† as well as definitions¬†and other key points for note taking.¬† For me¬†it’s a tidy way to summarise your key learning objectives in a visually pleasing, interactive manner that caters for range of learning styles and abilities. In a nutshell the point of a power point should¬†be to educate and stimulate.

But wait there’s more.¬† As teachers, we’re looking to work smarter not harder, and hopefully if we are approaching our profession in a collegial manner, are happy to share our own resources occasionally.¬†¬†¬†There are a range of websites around which enabling users to upload presentations¬†or download others.¬† The only problem¬†is that with some of the sites noted, ¬†you get the most¬†basic version of the presentation¬†so the links to audio, video etc don’t work. Still if you’re looking for something¬†generic, such as an introduction¬†to Shakespeare’s¬†London, there are plenty of resources waiting to be discovered in the wonderful world of Web 2.0.

Sites for sharing (downloading and uploading) presentations include slideshare, authorstream and slideboom.

The advent of Web 2.0 has also seen the development of online presentation applications. These are web-based slide-sets which are built and managed online so no need for clunky desktop publishing programmes.  In theory these are more accessible, more dynamic and sometimes, more interactive.  Online creations tools include sliderocket ( really like the look of this one Рvery slick), 280 slides and Zoho.

The darling of online creations tools currently has to be prezi.¬†This application lets you write, zoom and arrange words, images. It’s like power point¬†on steroids (or red bull and vodka perhaps). The only word of caution¬†here is not to overdo the extra functionality.¬† Too much zooming in and out¬†or simply using gadgets for the sake of it¬†runs the risk of the students loosing focus, missing the point or even worse¬†feeling nauseous.¬†Let’s not blind them with science because¬†we can – the best prezi presentations¬†are intuitive, logical and seamlessly integrate¬†a range of ideas and concepts. If it helps – story board¬†your ideas¬†first the old-fashioned¬†way with pen¬†and paper to logically think through how you want to present key teaching points.

Why would you use prezzi?

  • To help students analyse long sections¬†of text
  • Zooming in and out helps students to focus on what’s important¬† (reinforce key teaching points)
  • The many layered approach allows you to expand on the meaning of a key word or concept
  • You can visually associate images and words
  • Explain concepts, diagrams and timelines in more detail
  • Help students understand relationships, sequences and options

Here’s a link to my first attempt as once again I’m having trouble embedding this basic work of art into this post! I haven’t quite got the zooming sorted and am missing a few images but from go to whoa¬†took me about 90 minutes.¬† Obviously practice makes perfect!

So up to you Рpuffery or packaging? In my humble opinion, content is the most important component of any lesson. The above tools (or toys if you prefer) are simply presentation or delivery methods although some do enable more deep level thinking than a simple chalk and talk approach.  They could also provide a good option for students to synthesise and represent information at the end of a unit of teaching.  If done well, they should help us make that first and most difficult hurdle Рengagement.

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