Monthly Archives: November 2013

Filters and fences.

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I love the advances that my school has been making in technology over the last 2 years.

Despite the advances that schools make, there are always bound to be areas to improve upon, points to be refined and strategies to be implemented. Which is why I find technology so frustrating at the moment!

Simple things like internet searches should not be made difficult. I understand the moral obligations and responsibility for students’ safety that a school must uphold, but enforcing strict internet search filters is not the way to encourage students to be deep thinkers.

At my school, I believe we have certain categories that internet sites ‘fall into’ to deem them restricted. Like ‘Entertainment and Games’. I agree that games can be distracting, and that watching endless Youtube videos can lead to disruption in a classroom environment. However, when my student is genuinely interested in researching ‘The Top Ten Cricketers of All Time’, he can’t, because cricket falls into the ‘Games’ category and is therefore blocked. It’s the same outcome when I include a link to a maths game that students can use to consolidate their skills.

I tried to access the Harvey Norman webpage, as I am in desperate need for a new laptop. This was made difficult as it fell into the category of ‘Advertising’. While trying to use my Twitter account on the school network, I am faced with the restricted category of ‘Social Media’. Our school maths program provides a list of suggested websites for students to visit to complete their investigation tasks. When I checked the sites to ensure their quality, I had no problem accessing the site. But under a student log-in, my students found that the sites were blocked. They fell into the category of ‘Other’. The straw that broke the camel’s back and caused me much frustration was the fact that one of my students was unable to post a new post on his student blog, as ‘New Post’ was blocked.

I am a big advocate of Genius Hour, where students pursue their own interests. Like cricket or minecraft, ballet and mythical creatures. Although excited and passionate about their projects at the start, they have become increasingly frustrated with the limitations that are holding them back from accessing the information they need. I love seeing students immerse themselves in content they find meaningful, which is way more engaging than me giving them a list of unblocked websites. I’m a teacher, not a website analyser – I don’t have time to trawl through the endless numbers of possible websites that my students might want to use and request that they all be unblocked.

As an E-learning leader, I have pushed for sites to be unblocked, but feel like a broken record, as I send email after email to get sites unblocked, one by one for my upcoming lessons. Our technicians are not teachers, and as a teacher, I am not a technician. As I don’t have a student log-in, I can access most sites, so am unaware of the difficulties that students will face when they log in. This can sometimes be quickly fixed, or diverted into using something else, but can sometimes detract from the whole content and purpose of the lesson, no matter how flexible I plan to be!

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to prevent children from inappropriate content, they may still come into contact with it. It is more important to teach them how to deal with the inappropriate content, rather than to close the door and ignore it. I discovered this yesterday, as one of my students searched for a Google image of a ghost. Many cartoons and drawings came up, but so did a photo, of a half-naked couple. This photo was able to wrangle its way through our stringent internet filters, and I was able to have a discussion with the small group of boys and the very embarrassed girl about what needs to happen.

Internet filters are like pool fences. We put them in place to protect, but we also need to teach the survival skill.

How does your school filter internet searches?
What is needed to encourage students to think deeply and inquire about their learning when faced with restrictions like this?

Another year over…

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This weeks post was inspired by @stephyadan and her contributions to the Twitter chat #pstchat (PreServiceTeachers).

 
Part of the chat on Monday night involved an analysis of how teachers spend their hard-earned holidays. Personally, I would love to use the entire school break for rest and relaxation. Mentally, I cannot afford to, because I need to feel adequately prepared for the first few days of the term.
 
As the summer holidays are just around the corner, I have begun my preparation for my 2014 school year already. I actually have a folder on my computer labelled ‘Classroom setup’, which is my go-to guide for the beginning of any new year. It contains documents like:
  • labels for cupboards to document what is in each one
  • a variety of birthday charts
  • dividers to organise my binders
  • permission notes for my class blog
  • bulletin board signs
  • book cover templates
  • parent surveys/communication forms
  • classroom/door displays
  • a letter for my new class
  • classroom handbook for parents
All the ‘pretty’ things like the birthday charts, displays and posters are probably not what some teachers would deem as necessities for the first week. I only put a few up before the students start to emphasise a welcoming and safe environment, as my first week at school is dedicated to getting students to produce pieces of work to display in the classroom to give them a sense of ownership and importance.
 
Two of my most treasured resources for the beginning of a new school year are my letter to my new class and my classroom handbook for parents. The letter to my new class is a requirement from my school, to begin that teacher-student relationship before the new school year begins . (We do have a transition day where students meet their new teacher at the end of the year, but this letter is sent out during the holidays). It is a way of my students getting to know a little bit more about me, on a personal level. I have found that students LOVE finding out personal details about their teacher – seeing their car in the car park, knowing their siblings names, etc.  For those of you who think this could be something you might like to implement, see below.
Letter to students 2014 (PDF)
 
The classroom handbook for parents is a way for me to communicate the little routines and habits that I expect or prefer in my classroom. This is really personalised for every teacher and I found that even though my co-teacher and I taught the same content, little details about the running of our classrooms were different. Most parents will read it, some will not (can’t win them all!)
Parent Info Booklet (PDF)
 
Is this the best way to run my classroom? I don’t know – this is only my third year teaching, with many years still ahead of me. It’s important to focus on what makes me comfortable and what is successful for the students and parents in my care.
 
What structures do you put in place at the start of the year to ensure your class runs smoothly?

Teaching Twitter

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As one of the e-learning leaders at my school, I am helping run professional development for our staff to assist them in using their iPads.

Some of the staff are brand new to the concept of iPads so things like turning it on, using the home button, swiping the screen and opening an App are hurdles for them. Others are focusing on downloading Apps, rearranging Apps into folders and organising their Apps like Evernote.  For most staff, the implementation of iPads at my school has pushed them out of their comfort zone.

Today I decided to push them even a little bit further and introduce them to the concept of Twitter.  I wanted to make it very clear that I have only been on Twitter since May and that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing – I didn’t even know how to type a ‘Tweet’.  I stressed that I use my Twitter account to boost my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and I don’t follow many celebrities or television personalities.

I put together a brief Keynote presentation to show them, which included screenshots of my own Twitter feed, featuring many valuable Tweeters, as well as screenshots of some of my tweets.  I had also tweeted out to the Twittersphere earlier this morning to ask my followers why they use Twitter – and I showed these results to my staff.  People had retweeted, favourited and answered my question, with valuable comments and arguments to demonstrate the benefits of Twitter.

The last slide features people that I gain much benefit from following – not to say I don’t appreciate all of the other Tweeters that I follow, but a Keynote slide is only so big!  I felt it was important to provide them with a starting point, and a platform on which to ‘lurk’ and watch the tweets fly back and forth!  Hopefully I will be able to run a dedicated PD workshop on how to set up and use your accounts for the first few days or weeks, as today’s session only went for 20 minutes, before we headed into our focus groups for specific Apps.

I’m interested to see how many of my staff join, or better still, start making a visible presence on Twitter. I was introduced to the hashtag #battt (Bring A Teacher To Twitter) recently which I think is an amazing idea!

Do you have any hashtags that you find helpful for developing your educational PLN?

Have you used Twitter in the classroom, or as a schoolwide program? Share your success stories!

 

Show me something clever.

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I spoke to a very frustrated lady the other day. Her son was to submit an assignment using Microsoft PowerPoint. It had to include photos, text and music. He had finally completed the task, but submitting it seemed to cause some problems. He couldn’t email it to his teacher, because the file was too big. He couldn’t upload it to Dropbox, because our school hasn’t made that technological advance yet. So, he was back to putting it on a USB to give to the teacher…and on that particular day, the teacher didn’t bring her computer, so the file STILL couldn’t be transferred.

Technology can be frustrating. But so can the way teachers implement it.

The issue with this lady’s son wasn’t the fact that it had to be transferred via USB. It was the fact that the task that students were required to do was to use a specific program on the PC. By limiting the choice of program students could use, the teacher was limiting the creativity process. Couldn’t they use an app on the iPad like Keynote, iMovie, VoiceThread and use AirDrop to submit it? Couldn’t they use a Web 2.0 tool, like Photopeach or Vimeo and submit it by sending the URL?

I found that when first introducing the iPads to my Year 4 students, I gave no more than a 2 minute introduction of the app. I told them the name, what the app icon looked like (with a fantastic whiteboard texta-drawn piece of art) and asked them to make something clever. That’s my catchphrase in my classroom: “Show me something clever”. It was a great way for students to become more familiar with apps and there were shrieks of excitement (my classroom is rarely quiet!), as students showed each other how to add text, or change that colour, or add voice recordings to their “cleverness”. Rather than seeing it as ‘free time’, I saw it as peer teaching at its best.

As time went by and students were familiar with more apps and their capabilities, it became more free range. “Show me something clever” was extended to “Show me something clever… on the iPad to demonstrate the science experiment you just conducted”, or “Show me something clever…to explain to someone the different ways of working that problem out”. There were, and still are, a few students who find this confronting because I haven’t told them exactly which app to use. Sometimes we list suitable apps on the board as a scaffold for those students.

I’ll admit, sometimes I will request that students use a specific app. But I’m doing it less and less. There is always that one student that will pipe up with, “But could we use this app instead?”

That student is the one who is thinking outside the box more than the teacher is.

How important is it to introduce apps explicitly to students?

Do you request specific apps or programs to be used, or are your students more “free range”?

Building independence

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This year, I was ‘promoted’ from a Year 2 class to a Year 4 class. I was excited at the higher level of independence I was going to see, the students’ ability to manage their own learning, more personal organisation and responsibility and an increased knowledge of how to listen and follow instructions.

I soon found out that I was living in a fantasy world. Maybe my class had too many exercise books, so it was difficult for them to figure out which book they needed to pull out. Maybe I hadn’t been explicit enough in my instructions. Maybe the task was simply too difficult. Maybe their previous teachers had let them use whatever book and whatever pencils they wanted and didn’t care. Maybe I was too pedantic and too much of a perfectionist.

Or maybe I just wanted my students to succeed. I had high expectations of them. I have high expectations of myself. So it was frustrating for me to learn that I wasn’t being explicit enough. Until my teacher aide said to me, “Fiona, you give some of the clearest instructions I have ever heard.”

I then realised that it wasn’t my fault. I have come to believe (and I am prepared to be wrong) that it is how the students are brought up. If they don’t turn the television down, mum will do it for them. If they don’t make their bed or pick up their dirty clothes, someone else will do it. The rubbish bin will always be out out, regardless of whose job it is. Where they relying on technology to tell them, for a bell to ring, for a whistle to sound? I was sick of being that person to constantly re-explain tasks, just because my students have rarely had to do it for themselves.

For one student in particular, his poor listening skills and inability to following instructions was beginning to wear very thin with me! I decided to invest in some posters that I found on a blog by First Grade Glitter and Giggles.. I edited them to make them more personalised and used language commonly used in my classroom.

I realise that this was reducing the amount of verbal instructions, but it began to make my students more independent. They had to use their eyes, their common sense and their independence. There were absolutely no excuses for not being able to understand the requirements of a task.

Teachers are too busy to constantly re-explain the simple elements of a task. Our time is too precious.

Have you come across any other terrific time-saving classroom displays?