Saturday, June 30, 2012

eLearning in the Junior Classroom - Get In!

One of the things that has become apparent over the past few years are the issues facing our early years and junior school teachers. They are the ground-breakers of teaching - their job is multi-faceted and rather tricky. Into our schools come the new children, ready for some new levels of play. Their lives up to this point, have been education based on play-learning, socialising and language experience. Then school hits them between the eyes like a good old 4-by-2.

Letters.
Words.
Numerals.
Addition.
Subtraction.
Written language.
Books.
Reading.

These children come into the world of the classroom and they are bombarded with new expectations, new knowledge and a whole new way of communicating. There is pressure. There is rigor. There is someone who is not happy unless the rules are obeyed and the work is done. They have entered the workforce of life and it is usually not what they expected. Well, most of them were hoping to come to school and just continue playing, but this is not what they had pictured, not at all!

Our early years and junior teachers are also faced with the task of introducing new things every day. New learning comes at them from every side and a few years ago, someone had the gaul to suggest that they might even need to integrate eLearning into the game. Throw in the key competencies and a whole new set of National Standards and we have melt-down.

Many, many junior school teachers are re-examining what is important. They know that they have to teach the foundation of pretty much everything and that the buck well-and-truly stops with them. They know that there are a broader set of skills to consider now, but many of them are already overwhelmed with the tasks of teaching in a high pressure cooker, that they are almost set to explode anyway?

What I would love to suggest is this: take a look at some of the teachers who are integrating the key competencies into their classrooms from day 1 of school. Go to conferences such as ULearn and Learning@Schools and get to the seminars led by junior teachers. You will quickly see that there are a million simple ways to integrate eLearning into the junior classroom. Many junior teachers seem to be blinded by the list of things to teach, swamped in the chores of everyday life in a junior room - so much so that they are missing out on how much EASIER eLearning can make things in ANY classroom, how much time can be freed up to work with students one-to-one, how individualised a programme can be through the eLearning model!

Here are some of the key people to follow on twitter to glean ideas from - and don't be afraid to connect with them or to ask them every dumb question you can think of - because there ARE no dumb questions!!!
NZ Education Twits! (click on the link!)

And here are some great Junior class blogs to follow! Start by writing comments to them and then go where the wind may carry you!

http://room32010.wikispaces.com/ 
http://educational-blogging.wikispaces.com/Web+2.0+Tools
http://nzedublogs.wikispaces.com/NZ+classroom+student+blogs
http://www.muritai.school.nz/pages/classes.php#junior
http://theinsandouts.co.nz/
http://mrsbizzys.blogspot.co.nz/
http://mrstinaschmidt.edublogs.org/
http://pointviewschoolroom3.blogspot.co.nz/
http://openthedoortob4.blogspot.co.nz/
http://room5waiuku2012.blogspot.co.nz/

They also contain some incredible resources to access - why reinvent the wheel? Just create a link and let the kids use what has already been found for you!

And teachers who are involved in Global Connections and Global Classrooms - check out what is going on around NZ and around the world. Get started - just adopt one idea and throw everything into making it a part of the classroom!

Junior teaching is fun and fast, real and really hard, tricky, challenging and so much more. But integration of eLearning is really enhancing what already happens and it is about using the tools of the time to equip the learners of the time. I can assure you that the children in your class are already ahead of you - they are in the water and swimming happily. You just have to do a bit more than dipping your toes into the eLearning water - dive in and you will never look back!







Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Flipped Classroom?


The catch-phrase of the moment in America is the concept of 'the flipped classroom'. It is the source of many twitter #edchats, the content of many blogposts and the idea behind many discussions and forums. However, the whole concept seems to be slightly unique to some countries because of their existing curriculum.

In NZ, a flipped classroom would look very different. Our curriculum is one where the whole child is supported. Text books in our primary schools line the odd shelf and gather dust while teachers toil over the important aspects of student engagement and toil over authentic learning journeys!

In our primary schools, a flipped classroom is simply where the students lead the learning and where teaching and learning is shared equally between student and teacher. The only things have really flipped are the planning (student-driven) the assessment (context-led) and the content (student-led). The responsibility for the context of learning and the content of the teaching is now firmly in the hands of our students as the curriculum lends itself to a whole-child and student-led approach.

In our secondary schools, however, I believe that the flipped classroom that is talked about in the States, has a place. Our secondary schools are largely content-driven, teacher-led, talk-and-chalk facilities, driven by the sole purpose of gathering results. We all accept the need to test and to be able to benchmark learning, but it would seem that our high schools are essentially still the place where creativity is largely killed while kids are shoved at high speed into the exam-box in the quest to get them to Uni. Now I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, but the cold hard facts speak for themselves. Our secondary students are in need of a change of style and a modern approach to an age-old problem. How do we turn an exam-based curriculum into a student-led, life-relevant classroom?

Enter the flipped classroom! Students do their learning online at home and then come in to the classroom where the teacher simply supports the new learning. Next learning steps and problems are solved through videos and online tutoring, while the teacher is able to be a guide and mentor.

Perhaps we need to look at this concept more closely in New Zealand. If free education really exists, then free tutorials and free lessons are really the way of the future.



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Fix What Isn't Broken?

When National Standards arrived, I sat in our staffroom and said to everyone, "Watch out - league tables such as in the UK will be next." Today, I said to my colleagues, "Watch out, standardised testing such as SAT's in the UK will be next."

Why fix what isn't broken?

If the goal of National Standards was to level the playing field, the Ministry are fools. There is no level playing field. Inside our kids beats the same type of heart, the same lungs breathe and the same brain cells grow in their head. But their parents are different people, their homes are different, their diets vary, their family's routine and rules are different. We teach them the same types of skills, broadly, but we teach to their styles and we tailor the learning to suit their interests and knowledge needs. There is no level playing field in a million ways because we are all different. Education isn't about making everything the same for everyone - it's about teaching and learning a broad set of skills that are carried throughout our lives, skills that enable and empower us. If National Standards were suddenly supposed to cure autism, reduce child poverty, give unemployed parents a job, provide 2 parents to those who have one, build a home for those living in state homes, provide breakfast for the hungry kids and stop truancy, then I for one, would be all up for it. I do not oppose National Standards, but I fear for what comes next after league tables.

When I taught in the UK, there were simply no mainstreamed children in the schools that I worked in. Those children would lower the percentages and reduce the school's chance of being high on the league tables. Half of the year in Year 2, Year 6 and Year 10 was spent teaching to the test. The children were pumped, preened and primed to be able to (hopefully) pass this test. The league tables were useless without standardised testing, so the children suffered for it.

Why fix what isn't broken?

We are the envy of many nations around the world. They look at our incredible, child-centred curriculum and they envy what we have. They glance at the Key Competencies that underpin our teaching and they wish that their governments and Ministry of Education could emulate that sort of holistic approach to learning. They see the integrated programmes and they wonder if their systems could ever support that type of thinking. We are luckier than we realise and the risk of National Standards was always that league tables would follow and then standardised testing would follow that. And what is the next tumble on effect? Back to chalk and talk as we attempt to pump irrelevant and ridiculous test information into children so that we can look like we have achieved well as teachers because of a silly league table.

Why fix what isn't broken?

Because perhaps not enough of the RIGHT people don't realise how incredibly well-contructed our curriculum is. Well, teachers and students do. But I just don't know if that's enough any more.




Saturday, June 16, 2012

BYOD - the pros and cons

Having reached critical mass with the number of devices that arrived in my room last week, it has set me to thinking about the biggest challenges and the pros and cons of the BYOD system.

So, we have been collaborating with a number of schools globally and my class sent our mascots, the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo's Child (mini-Gruff) to Singapore and Lebanon. This, in essence, was the easy part. The challenge came when we realised that cute soft toys were all they were without the story! These global buddies had never heard of Julia Donaldson or her characters! What now?!

After a few brainstorms where I indicated that we didn't want old snail mail involved again (it does become expensive quickly!) the class decided to create a book for their buddies using StoryJumper and also to make their own iMovies of Julia Donaldson's books to put on our shared blog. When we worked through the planning process it became evident quickly that we needed more than our 1 iPod, my iPhone, the dusty old digital camera and 5 shared iPads to do the photography!

Enter...BYOD! Now, we do have up to 7 iPods and 3 iPads brought on any given day. Several of the children have assisted technologies so this meant that I needed the others to bring their devices too.

On the day that we began, it looked like a few iPods had mated in my office, and the resulting off-spring were many. There were 17 devices, meaning that we effectively had almost 1:1 devices. The photography was spectacular, the uploading of photos chaotic and the ensuing cries of, "Where are the cables?" "I can't find my charger!" and so on were ringing around the room for quite some time!

So here are the pros and cons after a frantic few days of iPodPad-ding madly to create the iMovies!

Pros:

  1. 1:1 devices - wow. There is actually nothing like it. Enough said.
  2. Ownership and self-esteem - the children really loved being in charge of their device and being able to share what apps they have and tips and tools with one another. Powerful stuff!
  3. Photography - it was so easy for them to edit and change their own photos as well as quickly build their skills.
  4. Instant learning - they were controlling their own learning and their was so much instant sharing and collaborating with their skills. Kids teaching kids is amazing to see!
  5. Video is easy to create - they were able to create, evaluate and delete quickly as they were not waiting for anyone else. The video is their own and the decision to share it is their own too.
  6. No waiting for turns, no rostering, no wondering if the device will be charged (they are VERY diligent when it's their own!) No worrying about whether the iPods have gone missing - they are quite careful and know exactly where their own devices are!
Cons:

  1. The network has to be ultra-reliable to withstand a sudden surge of extra usage.
  2. The children all need to be set up on the network - ARGH! Time consuming - but only once!
  3. You MUST have a rock-solid BYOD policy already in place in the school to safe-guard yourself and the children from misuse.
  4. You MUST have a signed contract between the students, parents and school, deliberately defining the standard use and rules/procedures around BYOD at a school, including internet responsibility, passwords, online safety, responsibility and storage for the devices and so on. This is an absolute.
  5. You need safeguards in place for the students and the school around the use of the school's network with uploading etc. A strong plan should be in place in every classroom for ongoing cyber-safety and responsible global citizenship to ensure that there is teaching and learning to safeguard (as much as possible) our students online when they are using their own devices. Some schools actually only enable the students to have access to the schoolwide intranet so that there is no need for this.
(In the end, an educated child is the safest child. We cannot guarantee that their device will not be damaged, broken or stolen but we can assure them that we will take care of their devices WITH them, doing all within our power to teach personal responsibility for their belongings and helping them to manage themselves online.)

Personally, I still love the learning power that comes from the students bringing their own devices but I do realise the pitfalls and do all that I can to reduce these. One of the biggest negatives which is not on my list is the one that so many parents talk about: what about the families who are disadvantaged by not being able to provide a device for their child? Well, I am fortunate enough to be in a school where we are able to provide 1:3 devices in my room before the students BYOD, so for me it poses no issue. 

We have worked around this as a class and I have made it very clear right from the beginning of the year that I understand that many of them will simply not be allowed to BYOD or may not have them. The sharing culture within our school means that they are very used to sharing a device with someone else and they are happy to do so, which means that there are seldom issues. I tend to underplay the BYOD when it happens so that it's become the 'new norm' in our room rather than some amazing 'wahoo' moment whenever we end up inundated with devices. My iPhone and laptop get regularly tossed around and they are used to the hilt by my students who don't BYOD. That type of sharing culture is more important than student ownership of a device. My iPhone is known as the 'class iPhone' and they respect my device and always return it charged and in perfect condition. It does not make it a perfect solution, but it works perfectly for us.

I would love any other ideas for pros and cons that you think I have missed and also ideas for how other schools are tackling this issue.







Thursday, June 14, 2012

Creating Your Own Path

When I was a student at school I spent years feeling like a failure. My sister is extremely gifted as a learner and was diligent and studious. She possessed all of the learning behaviours that were simply perfect in the 70's and 80's. While the chalk wrote, the textbooks turned and teacher rattled on, she sat absorbing information like a massively absorbent sponge. She was a teacher's dream.

Somewhere, far from that perfect picture, loomed her less-than-perfect sibling. My parents described me a 'challenging' child. Not so much because I was horrendously behaved, but because I challenged everything, agreed with little, was motivated by nothing in a traditional classroom and basically bounced around like an ADHD child on coke. Nobody recognised a bored learner.

You may wonder why I dwell on what would seem to be a negative experience, especially someone who ended up being a teacher! But the reality is, I am better teacher BECAUSE of my struggles as a learner. They did not break me or define me as a failure, they simply created a natural problem-solver. You see, if my teachers asked us to do something that I thought was a waste of time, I would spend my learning time working out different and better ways to achieve the same goal. I also spent a lot of time out of the classroom having been removed because I asked too many questions. It gave me a valuable tool as a teacher because questioning is a strength that is essential!

Instead of my own learning experiences damaging me, I had a great family who grew me as lifelong learner, regardless of my difficulties at school. I still chuckle at my old school reports which are filled with statements such as: needs to talk less and she would achieve more; needs to follow instructions; does not have all of the answers, in fact, does not have anything but questions; would achieve more if she was interested. But where were the moments of celebration for the unique and perfectly normal learner? Well, my parents were behind me the whole way and I certainly managed to get through the rigors of exams just fine. In looking back, I realise that actually it was because I was willing to forge my own path REGARDLESS of the ideals that education presented (and that I constantly fell short of!)

But it makes me also wonder how much we do now to ensure that each child's path is clear and that they are able to truly forge their own way. I believe that as educators we should try to recognise and embrace the ones who stray from the main path, and help them to journey regardless. I had a family that empowered me to achieve and to learn, but many of our own students lack that support and it's essential for us to be their cheer team when no one else will or no one else can.

Creating your own path is a challenging and wonderful thing. I took almost half of my life to realise that I was a learner and the other half of my life has been dedicated to helping others realise their potential too.




Wednesday, June 13, 2012

School Visits

We seem to have a lot of visitors through our school. Over the past 3-4 years, this number has increased dramatically and I believe it is because we are a school who have always been at the forefront of new learning, new ideas and new initiatives. I have written previously about leadership that empowers, and I seriously believe that with leaders who have real future thinking and vision for change in education, then a school will move forward, grow and change constantly, fostering growth, excitement and change in its staff and students. Because of our school being one that has embraced innovation and change, specifically in eLearning, we seem to have lots of teachers and school leaders visiting us.

They come to look, they come to question, they come to observe and listen. They see learners engaged in purposeful learning and teaching that supports and nurtures this. I am lucky to be able to step back from my class while they self-manage and collaborate around me, to talk to these visitors. But more than that, my students talk and explain their learning to the visitors. There is nothing quite as powerful as 'student voice'. They communicate their thinking, they speak easily about how they are discovering, what they are curious about, why they have chosen certain tools to help them. They discuss what is important in their learning, how they specifically like to learn - whether with others or alone, whether they are a visual learner or a problem-solver and so on.

Visitors come with the expectation that they will see computers, ActivBoards, iPods, iPads and gadgets and gizmos. But they leave knowing that these tools are only the tools. They are NOT the learning. And our students can still collaborate, think, problem-solve, problem-create, self-manage, communicate and much, much more, without the tools and regardless of what gizmos there are available. But they can also use all of these skills to create, present, collaborate, think, organise, interact, communicate, resolve, evaluate, self-assess with a huge variety of tools and apps too.

(image/diagram above from http://www.tki.org.nz/ )
Our visitors come with an expectation and I think they leave with a bigger picture. Our students all around the world are going to be able to use a million amazing apps and tools that we know nothing of, but the skills we teach them towards our Key Competencies with ensure that they are truly broad thinkers and lifelong learners. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Class Swap

Today one of the other teachers and I swapped classes for the afternoon. There was definitely a real reason for this - her class created the most amazing Koru artwork (inspired by Raewyn Harris) a few weeks ago and I realised that I could either try to replicate this myself without the same expertise as her, or, I could offer a trade-off: strength for strength. I went to her class to work on blogging while she was in my class planning and drafting their art.

We, as educators, seem to be afraid of 2 things. We are afraid that others are better at teaching aspects of the curriculum than we are. And we are afraid to admit it. The reality is that we simply cannot all be good at all things - in life, we all have strengths and weaknesses and it is more important to grow in our strength and try to develop in our weaknesses.

Art is something that I love to teach but it is not necessarily my strongest suit. I can try different things but I tend to end up abandoning some projects because they were simply too hard or they really didn't go to plan. eLearning is something that I also love but I feel less worried about making mistakes or revamping things or evaluating and changing things than I do with art!

So swapping classes was the ideal. It means that my class get the same experience with better teaching and I get to impart my knowledge on another class who hopefully also get some expertise from me. It doesn't mean that now I no longer teach art, it doesn't mean that I no longer feel confident to teach it, but it means that the class were treated to a new experience with a different teacher. It also doesn't mean that she now avoids teaching eLearning skills - not at all! I work alongside her anyway but she is also an exceptionally strong eLearning teacher who didn't need me to teach blogging skills but it gives us the opportunity to teach in another year level with other children. As teachers, part of our own personal challenge is to keep stretching ourselves and especially to push ourselves beyond our own comfort zones.

Have you tried this with other class teachers? What worked for you? What were the challenges?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Day As The Principal

So I arrived at school today at the usual 7.35am and was greeted by our office XO saying, "Can I have a pay rise?" I giggled of course - she is rather a terrible tease, so I figured this was her usual joke. But then she said, "You are the boss today so can I get a pay rise?"

Upon checking my emails, the truth was revealed. Every one of the senior management team were out for the day...the buck was about to stop with me.

Eek!

First thoughts? Panic. Then I realised that was only a short list of disasters that could possibly occur in a 7 hour window so I began to list them. Fire. Flood. Earthquake (it is New Zealand after all). Volcanic eruption (it is AUCKLAND after all!) and then I decided to get real - what could REALLY possibly go wrong?

Well, one of the high needs children could have a meltdown and need to be removed for some time out. Ok, I could deal with that. I know most of them pretty well and was fairly sure that they would come with me for a bit of a walk and chat if they were upset. One of the staff might get suddenly ill and need to go home, leaving us with a class to be split or a reliever to be called. One quick look at the list of relievers in the school already assured me that choice A was the only option here! We could have an accident in the playground but that could be managed as we have plenty of great first aiders in the school and a direct line to the ambulance service!

So then the next email arrived. Our caretaker was away. Oh dear, this meant that any 'accidents' of the cleaning-up variety could be a challenge for the office staff! It also meant that the toilets wouldn't be opened yet and there could be alarms going off left, right and centre...

Crisis averted after a wee walk-about, and then it was off to chat to the awesome office staff who really were holding down the fort for the day. They managed parents, juggled a few messy incidents with toileting accidents, a cut foot (needed a tetanus), a broken trellis (caused the cut foot), a few children who hadn't brought  their money to school for popcorn (enviro movie day at lunchtime) and the rest was just routine. I must admit to feeling like the biggest fraud rather than the big boss all day! Quite honestly, I admit to being shocked at the amount of small yet important bits and bobs that a principal deals with all day - phew!

So, the good news is that my 7 hour stretch did NOT end in a volcanic eruption or an earthquake, no roof fell in, no toilets flooded, there were no fire alarms, no teachers rushed home ill and no children needed to stroll around the school with me to calm them. All in all, I escaped extremely lightly and am very glad that tomorrow the REAL leaders of our school will all be back and I will be simply a happy classroom teacher once again.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Pass-It-On

The idea for a new kind of blog came about like a bolt out of the blue thanks to @deputymitchell. I was reading a post he'd put onto Facebook and discovered that they were doing something where they pass on a blogpost to someone else to write and I thought, "Why not?" It looked like a great concept so I decided to develop it around our own current events and topics and see if we could send a pass-it-on blog around New Zealand.

This week is Enviro Week and it's also the Queen's 60th Jubilee so I have combined the 2 as the authentic learning. The idea is that one class (mine to begin with) blogs about one of the these events, for example, we might write a blogpost about Enviro Day tomorrow at our school and take a photo of some of the events. Then we post this and 'pass-it-on' (the blogpost url link) to the next class. Now that could be a class in our school or a class outside of our school, whichever we decide. We can pass it to more than one class and then their task is to (a) write a comment on our post and (b) create their own post. They can make it about the Enviro Week or something environmental that their school/community are involved in or it could be a post about the Queen's Jubilee, perhaps something they have read about it or from the news. Then they post their writing and/or photos and pass the address on to the next class and so on.

Foreseeable problems could be if the passing stops happening, then what? And if the blog gets frozen somewhere that could also be a problem. I'm hoping that since it is all controlled via my PLN on Twitter then it is easier to see what is happening and simple for people to communicate around it. I will have to reflect on how it works after it gets going and then evaluate when we should stop it and how to get it to travel in a complete circle so that it ends up passing back to us!

Watch this space and contact me if you wish to join us...who knows where we will end up?

http://room14passiton.blogspot.co.nz/ the details are on the blog if you are keen to see where we end up!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Boys' Learning

At the start of the year, 3 boys in my class were pretty unmotivated by anything to do with literacy. They were all underachieving hugely and it seemed that a slide had already begun, one which many boys start to slip down when they are 8-9 years old. This seems the magical time when we have few opportunities left to inspire and foster in them a passion for learning through reading.

It's something that I am passionate about. I have watched many boys learn to loathe reading as it becomes a 'sore hand' activity when their teachers expect them to WRITE in response to everything that they read. They are forced to read guided texts that bore them on subjects that disinterest them, filled with weak characters and ones they cannot connect with. Research shows that boys need to make real connections to their lives while they are learning and that they thrive when their reading is nurtured through reading magazines, non-fiction and graphic novels or comics. They learn when there is quality oral reading all around them and when they control the choices for their personal reading.

So, from the beginning of the year, I took the boys to the reading room (where all of our resources are stored) and got them to pick 10 books of interest to them to take home. In the library sessions, I have helped to guide them towards books of high interest to them but also at a level that suits them. In writing, there has been a lot of support for them to ensure that they are planning their writing thoroughly as this was the process missing for them.

They are engaged and enjoying every moment of our class story, which they are busily reading along with (we are reading 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'). Quality literature as shared texts makes a wonderful time as a class for listening and experiencing texts at a higher level, as well as hearing how texts can sound (especially of you put on all of the dumb character voices like I do!!!)

In the past 5 months, they have shifted from being rather apathetic towards reading and writing to being the most enthusiastic 3 in the class! Today, we were working on the iMovies that we are creating based on the Julia Donaldson books such as The Gruffalo and The Snail and the Whale. These 3 boys were in my office practicing their expressive reading, working out how to make it sound better and planning how to put the movie together. They also hiked off to the reading room and were so enthused about choosing their books that I had to get them to stop taking books as they were all well in excess of 15! One of the boys is off on holiday away for a week and was discussing how cool it will be to read the books he has then!

And then, to put the icing on the cake, a notice came around to say that if anyone wants to write poems about Enviro Day next week then they need to take a notice home. All 3 were the first to grab a notice and then started talking animatedly about what their poem was going to be like!

The assessments and running records show excellent progress, well beyond expectation especially considering how much they were underachieving. I am thrilled to say that I firmly believe that these 3 boys are well on their way to being passionate readers and thrilling writers. Yippee!