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]

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.

6 Alternatives to Comic Sans (With a True ‘a’)

You are just not my type

It is no secret that I am a bit of a font geek. It is also no secret that I (like many others) dislike the widespread use of Comic Sans. Sites such as Comic Sans Criminal are solely devoted to the derision of the font.

The main reasons why Comic Sans bears the brunt of this font snobbery, really comes down to fonts having a personality and purpose: in the case of Comic Sans, it has a childish, overly informal quality, that I feel suits a very limited range of writing.

FontsFonts are the clothes with which we dress our words.

We need to choose a font to match the way we want our text to be received. If we want to be taken seriously, Comic Sans would not be a natural choice.

Many educators choose Comic Sans deliberately because it is one of the few fonts available natively on both Mac and PC which has a ‘true a’ – that is, an ‘a’ which is a circle and stick (rather than the one used in my current font!). “I know Comic Sans isn’t the greatest,” they say, “but it has the ‘true a’.”

It’s time for me to be solution-focused! Here are some alternative fonts you can use that contain a ‘true a’.The following fonts you will need to download and install on your computer:

National First Font

Hattori Hanzo Light Italic (make sure you select light italic, as the regular version does not have a ‘true a’.)

Hattori Hanzo Light Italic

Aller Light Italic (make sure you select light italic, as the regular version does not have a ‘true a’.)

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Daniela

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The following fonts are also Google Fonts, so you can use them in your docs/sites too.

Ubuntu Regular Italic (install the whole font family, or select regular italic to get the ‘true a’.)

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Architect’s Daughter (this installed better for me within Google Apps)

 

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I hope this helps you! What other fonts do you know of that have a ‘true a’?


Image Credit:
CC licensed (BY-ND) flickr photo by (debz): http://flickr.com/photos/debbybosman-debz/4109261288

CARP Design Posters

I have been meaning to get a set of posters up for the elements of design – Contrast, Alignment, Repetition & Proximity (CARP) – for some time. Finally, with help from Dave Caleb, I have managed to complete them.

Please feel free to download a copy here and use them in your classroom.

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Design Secrets Revealed

Design Secrets RevealedHave you ever been disappointed by the quality of student-produced posters? Do you want to make great posters yourself, but they always seem a little lacklustre?

If so, then my most recent (FREE) multi-touch book, Design Secrets Revealed, can help!

It will take you step-by-step through each design principle, and provide you with examples and suggestions to help guide the teaching process for your students.

I would love your feedback, so please let me know if you find it useful.

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Building Capacity with Tech Mentors

Photo by Dave Caleb

Photo by Dave Caleb

I was lucky enough to participate in a 3-day retreat with 25 teachers from across UWCSEA’s two campuses, designed to build capacity in the college with regards to coaching and mentoring in general, and technology in particular. We have had a lot of requests for more details about the retreat, so I thought I’d outline some key aspects:

Approach

The planning committee comprised of the Digital Literacy Coaches, Teacher Librarians & our Tech Director. Andrew McCarthy (DLC at Dover) created a wonderful Google site for the retreat, then we divided into groups to plan and populate the site according to interest/level of expertise.

The retreat focused on Cognitive Coaching and Mentoring (facilitated by the dynamic duo of  William Powell & Ochan Kusuma-Powell) in the morning sessions, together with afternoon sessions exploring strategic technology themes at UWCSEA. We wanted to build in a culture of sharing and team building throughout. To this end, we incorporated an optional Photo Walk with Dave Caleb (Grade Four teacher and photographer extraordinaire), time for sharing best practice from participants and a social dinner one evening.

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Bill & Ochan really did a spectacular job of setting the tone of the Retreat. They had a fluid, natural style which contributed to a relaxed, engaging atmosphere throughout. Their coaching sessions focused on the following:

Photo by Dave Caleb

Photo by Dave Caleb

Wednesday – 8am – 12pm

Surfacing assumptions about adult learning — preconceived notions vs. what the research suggests

Four support functions: Coaching, Consulting, Collaborating, and Evaluating

Trust and Rapport

Thursday – 8am to 12pm

Photo by Dave Caleb

Photo by Dave Caleb

Self-Directed Learning: how does a Mentor support it

Coaching as Mentoring

The Planning Conversation – how to support a Mentee in planning

Practice with specific coaching strategies

Friday – 8am to 12pm

Photo by Dave Caleb

Photo by Dave Caleb

Situational Leadership for Adult Learning: Directive and Supportive Behaviors

Feedback: The Breakfast of Champions and Losers — how different types of feedback affect the recipient.

Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development and how they impact learning.

The Reflecting Conversation: how to support a Mentee in reflecting and evaluating technology use.

Things I learned:

If you effectively double the number of devices people have access to, you will break the wifi

iPadsOne exciting aspect of the conference was that we were able to give each Tech Mentor a new iPad. There were several reasons for this, including the fact that teachers who play with technology in their everyday lives are more likely to use it in the classroom (and beyond), as well as the opportunities for meaningful and detailed assessment for learning that the iPad affords. Not surprisingly, the iPads were very well-received by the Mentors, and they dove headfirst into exploring it for note taking, capturing images, creating iMovie trailers and much more.

The downside to that is that although we factored in the number of people coming to the Retreat, we didn’t take the number of devices they would be connecting to the wifi into consideration. Lesson learned.

People Really Matter

Screen Shot 2012-06-05 at 1.24.07 PMFrom the feedback we received, the chance to meet and get to know people from the other campuses repeatedly came up. Both our campuses are HUGE, and it is not unusual that people can work at the same campus for years and not lay eyes on one another. Just taking the time to sit down and really learn about some other people was a considerable benefit. We know that magical things happen when you put passionate and interesting people in the same room together, and the Tech Mentors’ Retreat certainly confirmed that.

Pedagogy First, Technology Second 

DSC_6243This Retreat was not designed to teach the teachers a whole lot of technology. The people who were there were already keen on the tech – we didn’t need to shove it down their throats. What made it so successful in my mind was that it was grounded in research and emphasized technology as a tool for learning, rather than an end in itself. In fact the majority of the conference involved best practice for interacting with others – social skills 101 if you like – and would be useful for any individual! It gave a lot of insights into the reasons people can be reluctant to use technology, and provided some techniques to deal with these sort of issues at school.

I Still Love to Share

And so it seems did our Mentors. It was neat to have the showcase sessions with interesting things people are doing in their classrooms. Learning from the experience in the room made people feel valued, and reminded us that there are so many wonderful things happening already at our school, we just need to provide opportunities for people to share with a wider audience. 

Photo by Dave Caleb

Photo by Dave Caleb

[Please check out our Storify collections from Day 1, Day 2 & Day 3 if you would like to see the collective knowledge of the group as we went along.]

Getting off Campus is a Good Thing

A new location can help us to switch our mind from the pulls of day-to-day teaching, to focus on new learning with fewer distractions. It felt like we were at a conference in another country.

Visual Literacy is Important for All

Many Tech Mentors mentioned Noah Katz‘s work on Visual Literacy as a highlight for them. Noah (DLC at Dover) reminded us that we all have a role to play in helping students learn how to share information in the clearest, most visually appealing way possible. We hope to get Noah’s presentation up for you soon, so you can all benefit from his knowledge in this subject.

Passion is Infectious 

Photo by Louise

Photo by Louise Phinney

When we are passionate about something, it really shows through in our presentations. Watching Noah talk about design, Katie Day talk about literacy or Dave Caleb about photography, well, you can’t help but get sucked into that vortex of awesomeness. How are we making this happen for the students we teach? For our teaching colleagues? For ourselves? These are questions worth considering as we look ahead to a new academic year in August.

Thank you!

I couldn’t let the opportunity to say a couple of thank yous go by…

Andrew, thanks for coming up with this genius plan in the first place; and Ben, thanks for having the vision to support it and help make it happen.

To our new Tech Mentors, working with you was an absolute pleasure, and I am grateful so many of you are on Twitter etc so we can keep the conversations going.

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