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

Adobe Spark

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.

Designing Effective Presentations

Every educator today needs to learn how to present effectively. But how much do they know about what makes an effective presentation?

Garr Reynolds, author of the popular book Presentation Zen Design, notes:

“For many of us, there is a hole in our education when it comes to visual communication… In the past, the tools for creating high-quality graphics and multimedia presentations belonged only to a select few. Today, those tools are in the hands of virtually anyone with a computer. However, possessing the hardware and software tools and knowing how to operate them does not a designer make.” (p. 22, Presentation Zen Design).

Keynote iconMy colleague Dave and I are very passionate about Visual Literacy. We want to give educators the tools to develop their Visual Literacy skills, and presented recently to our fabulous Primary Leadership Team on Designing Effective Presentations.

Embedding the presentation here would not make sense. If you could understand the content of our presentation just by looking at the slides, then we would have failed in our job. There would be no point presenting if you could just read our slides! However, we did create some other resources which might be useful to share.

Handout

We wanted our audience engaged in our presentation. We didn’t want them to feel they had to take copious notes as we spoke. We prepared this handout, because there were a few key things we wanted them to take away from the presentation, and we thought this 1-page handout could be posted at a desk to refer to when designing presentations later.

Presentation Redesign


Finding Quality Images

Finding the right images to support the message you are sharing takes time – and is time well spent. This slide-doc takes you through how to find quality images. It is geared for teachers at our school, so bear that in mind as you look through.

Focus on the Audience

Really understanding what your audience needs and is hoping to gain from your presentation is important. We had participants in our workshop consider the needs of their audience using this handout we adapted from Nancy Duarte’s fantastic resource Resonate.

Know Your Audience

Additional Resources

Some of our favourite resources for presentation design can be found here:

We hope you found these useful! Please let us know if you would like further information about designing effective presentations.