Podcasting our Book Club Conversations

Book Club conversations are an important part of a UWCSEA literacy education. Thinking deeply about a shared text, sharing understandings and connections, and – crucially – listening to the perspectives of others, all contributes to our reading experiences.

As teachers, we know these conversations are valuable, but we can only be in one place at one time. Listening to one group’s discussions has the opportunity cost of missing out on the other conversations.

Podcasting book club conversations has a number of benefits – not least of which being teachers have the opportunity to gain an insight into more conversations.

Knowing a conversation will be recorded adds a layer of accountability for students, meaning they tend to take it more seriously. They consider their word choice more carefully, ensure they provide evidence for their assertions and listen with greater consideration.

G5 teacher Andrea McDonald began the podcasting process for her students by listening to great examples. Book Club for Kids has a whole host of age-appropriate options. They also listened to a charming episode of the Modern Love podcast called ‘What it’s like to fall, quite literally, in love’.

Andrea provided an A3 planning sheet for students to write sentence starters to use as prompts for their discussion. The class wanted natural sounding conversations that were largely unscripted, to give it that sense of authenticity they love when listening to podcasts.

Here are some documents Andrea created in support of the planning and preparing, including some examples of student work.

 

Once planning had been completed, the groups found quiet spots to record. We decided on using iMovie for easy editing later, however, GarageBand would be another great choice.

To enhance the quality of audio, we used headphones with a microphone placed in the middle of the group. Students recorded their discussion in chunks on a shared iPad and airdropped their footage to their individual laptops afterward.

One thing we learned (the hard way!) was not to record in 1080p, but to change the settings to 720p instead. We had some difficulty getting the footage to individual computers due to the sheer size of the files. The students were very patient with this frustrating aspect of the process.

Next, it was time to edit. Adding clips to iMovie was pretty straight forward, so we just showed them how to detach the audio from the video clip, and replace the image so the emphasis could be on the conversation itself.

Making decisions to cut aspects of their conversation was really hard for many! But always good practice to learn about cutting to strengthen the overall process. Most podcasts ended up between 10 – 15 minutes in length.

Below you will find a few examples of our finished podcasts. It was our first attempt, but a great learning experience for us all.

 

Kanopy Streaming: Movies & Documentaries

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UWCSEA East recently got a subscription to Kanopy Streaming – and what a treasure trove it is! (UWC Teachers, click here; everyone else, try this link). If you have never heard of it before, let me tell you a little about it.

Kanopy began selling DVDs to universities in Australia, but has moved with the times to deliver a video streaming service to education providers worldwide, including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. They have over 26,000 videos available currently, which are added to regularly.

So why should you care?

It is no secret how much students love learning through film. Kanopy has an incredible range of documentaries available: from  BBC’s Shakespeare Collection or its Planet Earth Series, through to Gravitas’s Food Choices: How Our Diet Affects the Planet, there is – quite literally – something for everyone.

A lot of the content is more suited to older audiences, but there is plenty in there to support Elementary learners. We’d encourage Elementary teachers to search Kanopy for a subject/unit they have upcoming, and preview the content before use with students.

One of the features that we love is the ability to clip and share a section of a video, so students don’t necessarily watch the whole video, but a pre-selected segment that most closely relates to what they are learning.

Teachers can also create playlists of videos and share those. For more details on this process, check out this help section on the Kanopy website.

If you are a UWCSEA Teacher who wants to watch at home, you just need to log in with your Google Account, and you’re away.

If you would like further information about Kanopy, just contact one of the DLCs, or have a chat to our friendly Librarians!

[Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations]

Shared iPads? No Problem!

How lucky are we? We recently added 6 iPads to each G3-5 class, augmenting their existing 1:1 Macbook Air laptops.

Planning for valuable use of shared devices requires some creative thinking, particularly when you are used to 1:1 devices. That said, the small number of devices provides a great opportunity to differentiate for powerful learning, maximise small-group rotations and engage in collaborative activities.

Together with some of our wonderful Digital Literacy Mentors (Mike & Jocelyn), Dave and I developed some ideas about how to best manage shared devices and use them effectively to support learning.

We hope you find these tips for shared devices useful.

[Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations]

Learning How to Focus

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Take a look at the photo below. What does it tell you? What do you notice?
It tells me that with close to 60 tabs open, this student was so distracted by the extension that he/she wasted a significant amount of time being off task. The worrying thing is that if this student continues these patterns of behaviour, he/she will find it increasingly hard to focus on learning. Let’s face it – learning is our business!

 

But how much direct teaching goes into helping students learn how to focus? I’m willing to wager not enough. We need to be fair to our students: we can’t expect them to pick it up through osmosis. As teachers, part of our role is to teach into how to focus, not merely that one should focus.

Telling students to delete distracting elements such as non-educational chrome extensions is not enough; students need to understand the reasons behind the request – why is it unsuitable for learning?

After all, they’re not doing this maliciously – they have a genuine curiosity and love making their devices feel like their own. The trouble is, many of their choices have a negative impact on their ability to stay on track and focused.
Helping students to identify what helps their learning and what hinders their learning is a great place to start.

 

Chrome Extensions
Recently, we had a number of students install a Chrome Extension called Tabby Cat. It’s a cute, harmless-looking extension that shows a different cat every time you open a new tab. You can interact with it, and sometimes you will get little gifts to play with. Sounds ok, right?

 

I asked the class to tell me what they liked about this Tabby Cat. Predictably, the responses were as follows:
“It’s cute!”
“It’s fun because you get toys to play with if you keep opening new tabs.”
“Every new tab is different.”
“I want to see what is going to happen next and if I will get any gifts”

 

Helping students understand that each new picture of a cat is essentially rewarding distracting behaviour, can help them make better choices.One recommendation is to replace Tabby Cat with the Chrome Extension Momentum, which gives one new picture a day, together with the question: What is your main focus for today? This personal reminder prompts students that they have a task to complete, with a beautiful photo that doesn’t change every tab.

Vision and Movement

“Vision trumps all other senses,”  according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules. Approximately half of the brain’s resources are dedicated to processing visuals. Our brains are attuned to noticing colour and movement, so moving backgrounds, animated gifs and scrolling advertisements draw our attention.

In a G3 class recently, we did an audit of our visual noise. Common things we saw were:

  • Animated snow falling on Gmail backgrounds (or similar)
  • Desktop backgrounds where the picture changes every 5 seconds
  • Highly pixelated images used as desktop backgrounds
In pairs, students helped each other make good decisions to remove distracting movement – that was the easy part. The hard part was making good decisions about their desktop backgrounds. Saying goodbye to their favourite sports star or cartoon character was more of a challenge for some.

 

We discussed quality resolution of images being more pleasing to the eye. We also introduced the idea of colour association. Green is a calming colour (think, Green Rooms backstage in theatres) and blue can help with productivity. Encouraging students to choose a green/blue-based image that is high quality helped them see they still had some choice and the option of personalisation, but not at the expense of their focus.

 

Number of Desktops

Students using school laptops that don’t go home, really have no need for multiple desktops. Deleting extra desktops will help to remove the temptation to swipe between apps.

Reader View (Safari) or Readability (Chrome Extension)
When looking at websites, particularly those which have articles, using Reader View in Safari or  the Chrome Extension Readability can help strip away those annoying advertisements and other extraneous and distracting material, allowing us to focus primarily on the text and images in the article. Check out the tutorial below:

Effective Digital Reading using Safari Reader View from UWC South East Asia on Vimeo.

Tidying your “Room” 
When in a rush, it’s easy to leave your desktop background as a cluttered disaster, always thinking, “I’ll clean it up later.” Many of our student’s desktops look like this (not unlike my teenage bedroom):

 

 

A secondary-click (right-click, or 2-finger tap) > Clean up by > Kind, helps organise files into groups of the same type. See below:

 

Once organised by kind, it’s easy to trash all the screenshots and/or arrange files into folders.

 

We recommend moving files/folders to Google Drive or Documents on a Mac (depending on file type) rather than keep things on the desktop, so as to make startup as smooth as possible. Aesthetically, it’s also more pleasing!

 

These suggestions are aimed at helping empower our younger students to make better choices by being well informed about distracting elements on their laptop. If you are interested in specific apps and Chrome Extensions to take managing distractions one step further (blocking specific sites etc), you may wish to check out my recent post on Parenting in the Digital Age.

 

Do you have any other great tips for managing distractions in primary? We welcome your ideas!
[Cross-Posted at GreaTechxpectations]

Parenting in the Digital Age

Being the first group of people to parent the iPad generation certainly is an adventure.

On the one hand, we are amazed by their capabilities to navigate between applications, create movies, build websites and FaceTime their grandparents. On the other hand, we may feel anxious about buzzwords like ‘screentime’, ‘game-addiction’, ‘distractions’ and ‘cyber bullying.’

Keep in mind that advances in technology have helped families in numerous ways. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Communication – We can communicate quickly and easily with people around the globe via messages, email, FaceTime, FaceBook and instant messaging. In our international school setting, this is a huge benefit.
  • Efficiency and Organisation – GPS has changed the nature of travel. We can find any address easily, even if we haven’t been there before. We can use apps to organise our shopping list, to sell our used goods, and let’s not forget do our banking.
  • Learning – Now we can teach ourselves anything with the powers of YouTube, Pinterest and Google combined! Lost the rules to your board game? No problem! Need to change a tyre? Can do! Learning can be 24-7.
  • Entertainment – It’s only in the last few years that Netflix came into being! Developments in movie and video distribution, the gaming industry and the explosion of apps means there is a little something for everyone when it comes to entertainment.
  • Medical – At the consumer end of the scale, fitness monitoring is now built into many devices, and made it easier to be aware of the need to keep exercising regularly.
We are, however, realistic about the challenges facing parents too. We have put together a resource that has information, articles, and apps around common pressure points for parents. We have tried to provide a balanced perspective around some of these key issues so that you as parents can find an approach or strategy that best fits your parenting style.
We encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with your children. Inspired by the Key Jar, we have put together a list of questions that might help you begin some conversations with your child around some of these issues. Perhaps print them both off and mix them in together?

Common Sense Media has a lot of resources around parent concerns, so that is also a great source of information.

At the end of the day, each family is different, and you need to find the right combination of solutions to challenges that works for you. I hope these resources are a step in the right direction.

(Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations)

Documentation Using Technology

“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” 

– Loris Malaguzzi

Inspired by the work of Reggio Emilia, UWCSEA East infant teachers have been exploring documentation to make learning and thinking visible. The role of the teacher in this process is to observe the students carefully, look for those significant moments, and capture images/videos together with examples of student voice.

This documentation is brought to their teaching teams so they can interpret it, explore options for next steps for the students involved, and make connections to the curriculum where relevant.

My colleague Dave Caleb and I had the opportunity to present to the infant teachers about ways technology can help support the documentation process. As you can imagine, technology is a natural fit for this sort of process, so we had lots to share.

Our presentation is below. We would love to hear your ideas about ways technology can enhance the documentation process. Leave us a comment!

(Cross posted at GreaTechxpectations)

Shoulder-to-Shoulder

fullsizerender-4I have described being a Digital Literacy Coach as the best job in the world and I truly mean it. 99% of the time. But some days are hard.

I mean, really hard.

Navigating the dynamics of a large school and the complicated nuances involved in building and maintaining relationships can be challenging at times, but today was not one of those days.

Today was one of those days that reminds you that you are privileged to do this job every day and work with such an amazing bunch of educators. Here are a couple of the highlights:

Today, not only was I welcomed into a G3 team meeting, I was  encouraged to stay and participate in a discussion around possible goals for the year for that grade, even though I don’t teach the students daily like the class teachers do.

The discussion was well-organised, and every single person in the room had their voice recognised and heard. There was a sense of calm, despite people raising different and interesting possible areas of focus for the grade level goal.

Today, an informal conversation about professional development with the effervescent  Laura led to a shared desire to learn (and teach) visual note-taking. I am not a visual notes guru, but I do know someone at our school who is: G5 teacher Jocelyn Sutherland.

Laura and I set off to find her. Predictably, she was in class, conferring with individual students on their writing as we came in.

There are some teachers that are 100% ok with people popping into their classes, no matter what is going on. Jocelyn is one of those teachers. I truly value teachers who can see visitors as an opportunity rather than an imposition.

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As we took photos of posters Jocelyn had made using visual note-taking strategies, she quickly sent us links to some videos that teach visual note-taking. Winning! We even saw some student examples of visual notes. The students were very eager to share, and articulate in sharing why/how visual note-taking is helping them.

There were about 10 minutes left before the period ended – just enough time to watch the first 2 videos with Laura.

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What I liked about the interactions I described today was that I wasn’t just a Technology specialist giving advice or tech support to people, but rather I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers – learning from and with them.

And that makes for a pretty great day.

BreakoutEDU: Migration Edition

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BreakoutEDU is the brainchild of Google Educator and High School teacher James Sanders. Observing his students playing Escape the Room style video games, he was amazed at how engaged they were and wanted to create that same level of engagement for learning and problem solving during class time.

Enter BreakoutEDU.

James flipped the idea of escaping from a room on its head, instead getting participants to attempt to break into a box with a series of different locks attached. Clues to each lock could be hidden around a classroom, encouraging “critical thinking, teamwork, and complex problem-solving” across a range of content areas.

I first played BreakoutEDU at the Google Apps Summit in Singapore in September, and knew it had a lot of potential, particularly for the development of the traits of the UWCSEA Learner Profile. My MS/HS counterpart Jeff Plaman worked with DT teachers to build Breakout boxes, and we managed to procure a range of locks with the help of Head of Chinese Wendy Liao.

We played one of the pre-existing games with teachers at our Tech Mentor retreat, and have been searching for some opportunities to create games in the primary school ever since. Grade 3’s unit on Migration gave us the perfect opportunity.

Grade 3 Tech mentor Mike Bowden and Unit of Study mentor Kim Duffy worked with Jeff and me to design a game to help G3 students develop collaborative group work skills, while also gaining some insight into what it is like for new immigrants to navigate the language and culture of a new location.

We tested the game out on the G3 teachers and teacher assistants (who performed admirably and broke out in the nick of time) before we tried it out on students in Mike’s class.

G3 Teachers and TAs playing the Migration Breakout

G3 Teachers and TAs playing the Migration Breakout (Photo: Dave Caleb)

We divided the class into 2 groups of 11, and had 2 facilitators in each class (a teacher and a TA). Aside from the huge level of noise that came from each group (seriously!), we found it hugely successful in that they were thoroughly engaged, motivated and determined to break out.

One of the most powerful aspects of Breakout is the reflection afterwards. Students learned a lot about how they participated and contributed to their group – not all of it positive! Every child I spoke to wanted to do it again, and each could give insightful reasons as to what they would do differently next time and why.

Of the two groups, one broke out, and one didn’t. Sometimes, as teachers, we want to make it so that all groups are successful, but there is learning to be had, whether or not a group gets into the box or not.

If you would like to get started with BreakoutEDU, I’d encourage you to join the BreakoutEDU Facebook community, and explore the existing games on the BreakoutEDU Site. We are also happy to answer any questions or share resources.

(Cross-posted at Great Techxpectations Blog)

Wonder-full Portraits

As I mentioned in my previous post, Classroom Design Matters, Miles Beasley‘s Grade 6 classroom has a design focused on the book Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.

To build community with the 3 classes he teaches, he asked each class to draw a self-portrait in the style of the cover of Wonder.

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FullSizeRender (3)Using an iPad, each student took a selfie in the classroom, and added it as a photo layer in the free app Adobe Ilustrator Draw [NB, as the students are under 13, they logged in with a class account Miles had created]. They turned the opacity slider down, then moved to the draw layer to trace around their features.

Using a brush size of about 4 points, they went around the outside of their face. Zooming in, and reducing the size of the brush to 2.5 or so points, meant they could get more detail around the eyes.

Some students had good results colouring their hair in entirely in black. Others went black at first, and painted in strands of white to show detail. Some preferred general lines to indicate the contours of their hair.

Once complete, the photo layer was either turned off or had the opacity slider turned right down, leaving you with the finished portrait.

Students seemed to enjoy the exercise, and it was nice for them to try a new app in the first week of school. Having the photo underneath, meant all students were able to complete a portrait they were pleased with.

It was easy for the students to export the finished portrait to the camera roll, then airdrop it to their MacBook Air, where they shared it in a specially created Google Drive folder.

Another of our favourite features of Wonder are the precepts Auggie’s teacher Mr Browne shares with the students each week. Miles followed this lead, by getting the students to search for a quote that resonated with them, which then formed part of the classroom display, together with their portraits.

As an English/Humanities teacher, it was a great opportunity for Miles to reinforce the importance of attributing one’s sources, and checking the validity of the quote.

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Classroom Design Matters

As a classroom teacher, one of the most exciting aspects of starting a new school year was organising the classroom learning spaces. Where would the desks go? Can everyone see the board properly? Can everyone move around the room easily?

While I took a great deal of time thinking about the physical objects, I didn’t spend as much time thinking of the use of display areas in my classroom – how students would learn best using the materials selected for display. The classroom environment truly is The Third Teacher.

As my love and appreciation of design has developed, I have noticed those who make a considerable effort to consider an holistic view of classroom design. Physical space, classroom displays, learning opportunities, student preferences, movement of people – all contribute to an engaging learning environment and a positive learning climate.

Flexible Learning Spaces

Effective teachers are catering for a rStanding up desks Jakiange of learning preferences in their classrooms. Jaki Graham, Grade 3 teacher has a combination of traditional group desk formations, standing up desks, low tables with cushions, and bean bags in her class set up this year. “I want students to be able to choose a space to work at which suits them best,” she said.

Standing up DesksFellow Grade 3 teacher Kim Duffy experimented with stand up desks last year, and she noted how much of a difference it made to her more fidgety students. “It really helped them focus,” she explained.

Nicole Tripp, who teaches Grade 4, has also provided the option of stand up desks for her students (see photo, left).

Comfortable Furnishings

Traditionally, a comfy chair was a privilege only given to teachers. Nowadays, we recognise that, like adults, all learners enjoy working in comfortable environments. Many teachers, like Anne Marie Chow, Middle school Literacy Coach, organise armchairs, lamps, or couches in their classrooms, which make them feel more like homes than classrooms.

FullSizeRender_3Heather Kingston, Head of Grade 6, has Turkish carpets, armchairs, as well as bright red couches and cushions, which gives her room an inviting feel.

If you were a student in these classrooms, you’d want to settle in some of these places, surely!


Theme for the Year

IMG_8943Some teachers select a theme which sets the tone for the classroom experience in the year ahead. Middle school English teacher Paula Guinto has taken this approach for a number of years. This academic year, her theme is “Level Up”.

Her classroom features retro-inspired game elements, from Mario Bros to Pac Man, and invites her students to level up their thinking. Paula shares that for her, the theme is a chance to set the tone and allow her to focus her energies on teaching and learning.IMG_8940

She explains,

“Big picture though, it’s really an act of love. I put a lot into it because I want the kids to know that I love them. That I value their space and the time they spend in it. That they inspire me. To be creative. To be a learner. To be better in what I do. It’s a way for me to say, this space is safe, that I have your back, that from the very beginning, they are the priority and yeah, we’re in this together.” 

Middle school English and Humanities teacher Miles Beasley has worked with themes for the past 2 years. Each theme was carefully chosen to pass on a message about the year ahead to the students he teaches. Last year’s theme was around Dr Seuss’s book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” which aimed to create a sense of excitement about the first year of Middle school for his Grade 6 students.

IMG_2378This year, Miles has selected another of his favourite books – Wonder, by R. J. Palacio – to set the tone. It says to students, in this place, we care about each member of our community. How we treat each other is one of the most important aspects.

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His teaching partner, Trish Waszczuk, helped select some of the precepts that featured in the book, to be made into large posters to inspire the students.

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Student Involvement

20654602841_44064e4c3e_kGreat teachers like to get students involved in design, rather than have it solely be a teacher-directed experience.

Middle school English teacher Jabiz Raisdana had his mentor class this year put together a shelf to put plants on. They planted seeds, and got their hands dirty, providing a real sense of ownership in the class decor. This community building, participatory environment reflects Jabiz’s approach to teaching and learning.

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Miles’s Wonder theme also invites student participation. He plans to kick off the year by having students make Wonder-style self portraits using the iPad, so they can contribute their images to the blank walls, to make it really feel like their classroom.

Grade 1 Head of Grade Ben Morley and his team create inviting displays that will encourage student exploration and creativity in their shared Pod area. Each new unit gets a brand new display.

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IMG_1389These Reggio inspired pod displays spill over into the classrooms as well, with natural wood and other materials featuring.

Living Things

There is something about having living things in classrooms that make them feel more real. Increasing numbers of teachers include plants in their classroom design. Aside from their obvious decorative and aesthetic qualities, plants have been used as the inspiration for poetry writing, and lessons on responsibility.

As a parent and a teacher, I understand the effort that goes into the decisions around classroom set up, and appreciate the care and concern it shows for our children.
They are truly in great hands.

Additional Resources

IMG_894420 Classroom Setups that Promote Thinking – This blog post outlines a number of different approaches teachers can use to set up their rooms. There is something for everyone in here.

Classroom Makeovers to Engage Learners – This article from Edutopia shows a collection of 5 minute videos that show different classroom set ups.

Stephen Heppell speaks here about Space: The Final Frontier

Ewan McIntosh speaks about the 7 Spaces of Technology in School Environments.

I would love to hear your thoughts on great classroom spaces.
Have a wonderful year ahead.