Easy Blog Jr – Week 1 Reflection

After a week of using Easy Blog Jr, I can confidently say that I think the app is fantastic! As I’ve stated in previous posts, it is so simple to use.

rubysmovieI truly love how easy it is to post to my class blog. I love that you have the option of setting categories in profile settings; in my case, this is each student’s name. In one week, almost all of my class posted to our blog. That is amazing! And each post is categorised, meaning visitors can click on a name under the “categories” heading to filter results. I’ve already had a parent access our blog and comment on her child’s video using this method. She was thrilled to see her daughter’s work. Another parent mentioned that she loved the way the students spoke over their pictures. It meant more to her than a sentence or two under an image.

These comments got me thinking about how to use my class blog and the app for another purpose. Initially, my blog was to share with parents the learning that’s happening in my room, but by categorising each post, to a degree, I am also creating a digital portfolio for each of my students. We have student led conferences in a couple of weeks. How great will it be for my students to share our class blog with their parents, if they haven’t already done so at home, filter the posts to just theirs, and speak about what they were learning when they took each photo. Their digital portfolios are being created by them during class when they are completing activities, not during a stand alone “work on your digital portfolio” session. They don’t need to sift through work samples to select to include, they are rather sharing their learning journey as it happens. Students are commenting on their work sample at the time they are creating it. This app allows you to capture real-time learning. How awesome is that!? 🙂

I cannot express how flattered I am to have been contacted by one of the app developers to trial this app. I can see its potential and will continue to use it and sing it praise throughout the year. I’ve asked a few colleagues to trial the app in their classes too. I look forward to hearing how they go and sharing their experience with you and the developer as well.

Easy Blog Jr – Day 2

easyblogjrMy students and I have been using the app, Easy Blog Jr, for two days now and I must say we “absolutely love it!”

At the moment I have everything, i.e. all student profiles, set up on my iPad. Throughout the day, my students take photos, voice record a caption, review their recording, then publish their post to our class blog when they are happy with it. They are in control of the whole process. To them, publishing a post is very similar to creating a one picture project in Adobe Voice.

I have been amazed to see that with little instruction, my students’ posts are moving from a simple description about what they are doing towards what they are learning. This is exactly what I was hoping for. It is clear to me that this app has great potential in being a fantastic reflection tool. I can’t wait to see how my students’ reflections improve over the term.

categoriesI was sharing the app and my class blog with my pre-service teacher today. She asked if it was possible, once students had posted multiple times, for parents to easily access just their child’s posts, rather than scroll through everyone’s – Great question! This got me thinking of an easy way to “filter” the posts. When setting up each student profile, there is an option to add a category. I have decided to add each student’s name as a category. This will mean that as soon as students publish their post, it will be categorised under their name. Parents will then be able to click on their child’s name under the ‘categories‘ heading down the right hand side of our blog… So, problem solved! 🙂

I can’t wait to explore this app some more with my class over the coming weeks to share what we think, discover and solve 🙂

Educreations

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m teaching a grade 2 class this year after 3 years in a grade 6 1:1 iPad classroom. I initially thought there would be a big difference with assigning tasks and students completing these using any app/s they wanted, but to my surprise, there isn’t. My little darlings this year have proved to me that student voice and choice is just as alive in an Early Years classroom!

educreationsCurrently, Educreations is the app of choice! My students love creating movies and video clips, as well as tutorials with it. They particularly like the way they can record themselves, press pause, add a new slide or two… then record themselves some more. They often critique the end result and re-record themselves to ensure a high quality product. For 7-8 year olds, this is AMAZING! 🙂

With so many recordings, I needed to think of an easy way to view them all. In the past, my older students have created their own Educreations accounts and emailed me a link to view their work online. Rather than ask my grade 2 students to do this, I decided to set up individual school accounts for my students, where I can log in via the Educreations site and access their dashboards. It did take a while to set this up, but in the long run, it is worth it, as now I don’t have to sift through copious emails to find what I’m looking for.

Hello 2014!!!

Wow! What a crazy 7 months it has been since my last post! Towards the end of last year, I was run off my feet organising the Grade 6 Celebration (Graduation), writing end of year reports and coaching for a DEECD professional learning initiative, Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century. This year, I have changed year levels – I’m now teaching grade 2! – so I am getting my head around a lot of changes. To say I have been busy is an understatement!

ipadsTo provide you with a brief overview, at my current school, Manor Lakes P-12 College, we run 1:1 iPad programs in Prep, 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. I’ve been leading the 1:1 iPad program in grade 6 for the past 3 years (2011 – 2013), so it is a welcome change to move into an Early Years classroom to share my experience and vision with a new team and group of students. I worked with this cohort and their teachers last year when I was an ICT peer coach… and I am excited to be released a few hours a week again this year to continue coaching. I love this part of my job 🙂 I was trained as an ICT Peer Coach by DEECD, in conjunction with Microsoft, during 2008 and 2009 when the school I was working at, Dallas Brooks Community Primary School, was one of 9 state schools recognised for best practice in effective ICT integration. During that time, I held the positions of ICT Co-ordinator and Learning & Teaching/eLearning Leading Teacher.

Since beginning in grade 2 this year, I have reviewed the recommended school apps and have created a list of “must have” free apps to support our learning and teaching program. Over the year, there is no doubt this list will grow. I just felt that in order to begin to use the iPads in a purposeful way now, it was important to provide a list of free apps to students and their parents so we can start the ball rolling. The uptake of paid apps has been quite poor in the past, hence the reason for a list of free equivalents 🙂

While I’m on the topic of free apps, I have also updated the list of free apps I use with students at my school. I will be talking about these at an upcoming conference. This morning, I spent an hour or so downloading some more cool free apps. I look forward to sharing these with you in future posts 🙂

Massive Minecraft Build Challenge

Last week, a student asked me if we could have a “Massive Minecraft Build Challenge”. I had no idea what this meant, but being a fan of Minecraft, I agreed. This student assured me he’d organise everything. He’d even lead the session. Now, how could I refuse a request like that!? 🙂

In the morning, my student beamed as he told me how he spent most of the night before clearing the land in the world we’d be using, and setting up a target board. The target board included topics for the builds. These were to be selected by shooting an arrow. This sounded amazing! I couldn’t wait for the session to happen.

During the day, the class was informed of our plans and tweets were sent out via our class account. Word spread amongst other classes too. Excitement was in the air!

The time came and we projected the world on to the whiteboard so everybody could see and hear the instructions. It seems we came into some problems, though. Only some students could access the world because they had the updated version of Minecraft. Also, only five students could access the world at one time. On the spot, my capable student suggested the class form groups of 4 or 5 to complete the task in their own worlds. The class accepted this idea and my student shot the arrow. It landed on the ‘castle’ square, so the topic was set.

For the next 40 minutes, there was a hum of engagement in my classroom. My students worked together to build their castles and chatted amongst themselves to assign tasks. Students who wouldn’t normally work together were co-operating and respecting each other’s comments and suggestions. I loved this! It was clear they all shared the same vision 🙂

As home time was nearing, students buddied up with peers from other groups to share their creations. They explained their builds, as well as their plans for improvements. I had already mentioned they could continue to work on their castles next week, hence their forward thinking.

Although the session didn’t go exactly as my student had planned, the ‘Massive Minecraft Build Challenge’ was a success. We faced some obstacles, but know what to expect next time.

 

Learning with iPads

Last year, my colleague, Jessica Gallagher, and I were extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to present at ULearn, an international learning and teaching conference held in New Zealand. We presented how we integrate iPads in a 1:1 setting. Our hands-on workshop was booked out. Throughout the conference, attendees thanked Jess and myself for inspiring them and suggesting purposeful ways iPads can be integrated. They loved our list of free apps too.

This year, Jess and I are presenting a similar session at the ICTEV conference. Shortly after our abstract was accepted, we were approached by ICTEV to write an article about our session for a publication about mobile devices. We are flattered that we’ve been recognised as innovative educators who promote student voice and student choice through effective ICT integration.

Please read our article below.

 

Learning with iPads – By Jessica Gallagher and Michelle Meracis

Manor Lakes P-12 College is a government school in Wyndham Vale, a rapidly growing residential area. The school opened in 2009 with 450 students. Today, the school has approximately 1600 P-11 students and 200+ dedicated staff. The College is set amongst large grounds with numerous active and passive play areas.

Manor Lakes P-12 College strives to provide a personalised learning program through a rigorous curriculum that integrates the use of Information and Communication Technology. Currently, students in years Prep, 1, 6, 7 and 8 participate in a 1:1 iPad program and students in years 9-11 participate in a BYOD model. This allows for learning to take place anywhere, anytime. Mobile devices have not simply replaced pen and paper; they have rather enhanced student creativity and collaboration.

iPads were first introduced to grade 5 students in late 2010 when the college was asked to take part in the DEECD iPad trial. In the very beginning, apps were mainly used to support and reinforce concepts covered in classes. They were introduced during warm-ups as a way of tuning students into learning and, in some cases, to front load students. Now, iPads are a tool used to support the learning process when and where students see fit. Teachers set learning tasks and students choose how to complete and present them.

 

Literacy

Staff and students at Manor Lakes P-12 College use a number of apps to support and reinforce literacy skills, particularly in the areas of vocabulary building, note-taking, planning, drafting and publishing. Many of the apps have been suggested by staff, but most have been discovered, tried, tested and shared by the students.

Some of the apps we use during the first 10-15 minutes of literacy lessons, our warm-up/tuning-in time, include Chicktionary Lite, Whirly Word, Story Spine, Mad Libs, Words with Friends and Hanging with Friends. All of these are free. Chicktionary Lite and Whirly Word are both anagram based games. They require students to create a number of words out of the given letters. Story Spine and Mad Libs both focus on the strategies and skills required for creating an interesting narrative. Mad Libs reinforces parts of speech too. Words with Friends is a game similar to Scrabble and Hanging with Friends, as the name suggests, is similar to Hangman. In our classrooms, we alternate between using the Apple TV to explore these literacy apps as a whole class and giving students quiet time to work independently.

Many students prefer to take notes on their iPad using apps such as Popplet Lite, SimpleMind+, Corkulous and Lino. These apps allow students to record notes in a speedy manner, move them around and alter where necessary. They are also popular for planning written texts, as are Bamboo Paper and Idea Sketch. Sound Note is another great note taking and planning app as it allows students to verbally record their ideas, as well as type and draw them. As teachers, we love that our students are planning and organising their ideas using these apps, but we encourage them to write in their books too. There is a time and a place for writing straight on the iPad; it is all about the purpose of the activity.

In terms of publishing, iMovie, Storyrobe and Explain Everything are at the top of our students’ lists. Students find it easy to import text, images and photos into these apps and voice record over them. Toontastic is another app that students enjoy using. Its layout complements the 7 Steps to Writing Success program and reinforces the sequence and strategies necessary for composing a correctly structured narrative. We have heard some students say that they like how Toontastic has clear steps for them to follow, making the process of writing and publishing so much easier.

Another great publishing app is Wattpad. This app allows students to publish their work to a global audience and read the published pieces of those also signed up to it. We have noticed that students who generally refuse to write anything are suddenly motivated to write and publish their work. The published pieces are sorted into genres, making it easy for users to locate something of interest.

During independent reading, students have the option of selecting physical or digital texts to read. In many cases, students read pieces from Wattpad. They also read iBooks, eBooks, online books and material from web sites, such as newspapers and history based texts. As teachers, we roam and engage in conversations with our students to ensure the texts they are reading are appropriate for their reading level and age group.

 

Numeracy

Similar to literacy, we use a number of apps to support and reinforce numeracy skills. Many of these apps are discovered by students and shared on a daily basis. In most cases, these fun and addictive games are played during the warm-up/tuning-in time at the start of each lesson. Currently, the most popular math apps include MathBoard, Mathletics, Math Dragon, Math Ninja, Math vs Zombies, Number Battle, Pick-a-Path, Shuttle Mission Math and Speedo Math.

One particular app we have found to “stand out” from the rest in terms of supporting and reinforcing student learning is Virtual Manipulatives. This app is an interactive fraction wall that can be viewed in fraction, decimal and percentage form. Students can drag tiles out to a main working space for simple comparison and manipulation. Equivalent fractions, decimals and percentages are all in the same colour too, making the connections easier to see and make. Students of all ages and abilities have benefited from this app.

Drawing apps have been useful during small teaching focus groups. Rather than students writing on paper or a small whiteboard, students complete equations on their iPad in a drawing app and save their work directly to their camera roll. This image is then inserted into their digital portfolio or used as the background to a voice recording that outlines the steps undertaken to complete the problem. In the beginning, students used Reel Director, Splice, iMovie and Storyrobe to create their tutorials. Over the past two years they have moved onto screen recording apps like Explain Everything, Educreations and ShowMe Interactive to produce the same result.

In the beginning, students kept their tutorials on their own iPad, sharing their work with their peers and teachers only when prompted. Now, students export their tutorials to their camera roll and either email them to their teachers or upload them to a shared folder in Dropbox. Our students really enjoy watching and listening to the different ways they each learn. We are currently collecting the student made tutorials so we have a bank to select from to support student learning across the college, as well as to front load students in a way similar to a flipped classroom; the main difference being that these tutorials have been created for students, by students, using “kid speak” rather than “teacher talk”.

An idea we have been looking into is having a student video record their teacher on an iPad during the introduction of a lesson to later post to a shared space, i.e. Dropbox, YouTube. At present, students take photos of the examples completed on the board to refer to, but if someone records their teacher, an immediate tutorial can be created for students to watch and listen to again, anywhere, anytime. As an alternative to this idea, because not everyone likes to be videoed, teachers have started to connect their iPads to an Apple TV and then record themselves using a screen recording app introducing the lesson. A tutorial is instantly created and, during the lesson, it is uploaded to Dropbox for students to refer to. Students are encouraged to view the tutorial prior to the following lesson to reinforce the concepts and skills already covered.

 

Inquiry

For inquiry based work, students select the apps they feel best meet their presentation needs. This may include using one or a number of apps. Over the years, we have seen a big shift from a picture and some text in Keynote to top quality graphic designs created in PicCollage. Some students take these designs one step further by importing them into iMovie to produce digital masterpieces including voice recordings and original music composed in GarageBand. Like all lessons in each learning area, as a class, we discuss the apps that can be used to complete certain tasks, to model thinking about our thinking, as well as to assist those who may be a little unsure of where to start. Ultimately, though, the choice is up to the student as to how they present their work.

A very popular app amongst students of all ages and abilities at the moment is Haiku Deck. It is very similar to PowerPoint and Keynote, yet adding images as backgrounds, positioning text and rearranging the order of slides is much easier. Its simple features make it an effective and powerful app to produce impressive presentations.

 

Collaboration

Since the beginning of the 1:1 iPad program, we have been amazed by the natural transition towards collaboration and peer coaching amongst students. It is common for students to sit on the floor in small groups to assist each other and discuss the tasks they are completing. The design of the devices lends themselves quite easily to students passing iPads around to share and showcase what they’ve done and how they’ve accomplished this.

This has been particularly evident in the iBuddies program, where classes in grades prep and 6 pair up and participate in purposeful lessons that provide students with opportunities to work collaboratively on their iPads. Over the past two years, we have observed the preps learning and practising foundation skills and the grade 6s strengthening their peer coaching and leadership capacity. A bonus from last year’s experience has been the way this year’s grade 1 students have supported their current teachers with using the iPads to enhance their learning by selecting appropriate apps to complete class tasks. This has been very helpful in supporting the grade 1 teachers, many who are new to the college, with effectively integrating the technology in their learning and teaching programs.

It is evident that student voice is a strong component of our 1:1 program. A large part of its success stems from students having the freedom to choose the app/s they want to use for a task and then being able to explain why they chose it and deemed it to be appropriate. This emphasis has really strengthened our students’ abilities to articulate and reflect on their learning.

 

Cloud Technology

With a major focus on digital learning environments, we have needed to explore ways for students to share work completed on their iPads with their teachers and peers. In the very beginning, this was through email. Every student at Manor Lakes P-12 College has an email account. Over the past two years, we have moved across to using Dropbox. Within Dropbox, teachers create one shared class folder that all students in that grade are invited to access. Teachers also create individual folders for each student that only them and that student access. This set up is made possible by students having their own Dropbox account. Managing work this way has proved to be less time consuming as teachers don’t need to scroll through and open copious emails to download attachments, they can rather access student folders and view submitted work on any connected device.

A number of classes are also using Edmodo and Google Drive as mediums to share and submit work. Teachers at Manor Lakes P-12 College work with their students to select the preferred space to use and work within, again demonstrating the college’s focus on student voice.

 

The use of iPads in classrooms at Manor Lakes P-12 College has certainly opened up new and exciting ways for students to create, collaborate, connect, share and reflect. They have allowed students of all abilities to feel immediate success and produce work of an outstanding quality.

Welcome to 2013!

It is hard to believe this term is almost over… I just don’t know where the time has gone!?

I must admit, my students and I have had an amazing start to the year. Being part of a BYO iPad program, I was a little worried during the first week of school when only half of my students had their own device. My nerves soon settled over the following week when all but three students had access to one… Phew!

This is my third year now in a 1:1 iPad program. Each year I am blown away at how easily the students adapt to the technology. My class this year has taken to app selection to complete tasks like fish to water. They have been able to articulate their choices and learning to class visitors clearly, something I truly didn’t expect so soon. They are able to navigate our class site (https://sites.google.com/site/6michelle2013/) and Edmodo group with ease, as well as email me work or upload work to their shared Dropbox folder. All of this in five weeks!!! It is outstanding!!! I am so proud 🙂

We’ve set up a class Twitter account, but it is going to remain protected. We’ve been tweeting over the past few weeks and next week, we’re going to set up individual accounts. Each student will only be allowed to follow the main class account, no one else. I’m purposely putting this restriction in place to allow parents the opportunity to see how we use Twitter as an educational tool to post responses and reflections to lessons to demonstrate our learning.

 

Tutorials – Take 2

Last year, I wrote a post explaining how my students were creating tutorials to demonstrate their learning, mainly in mathematics. Students either took screen shots, inserted these images into a movie making app and then voice recorded over them, or they used the app Show Me Interactive Whiteboard.

This year, some students have continued to use Show Me Interactive Whiteboard. Many, however, have moved onto using Explain Everything. Explain Everything offers many more features, including the ability to add additional slides and export to the camera roll.

At present, my students are continuing to create math tutorials. They are also using this app to publish explanation and procedural texts in writing, as well as to explain concepts and systems in science.

In the past, my students kept their tutorials on their own iPads, sharing their work with me when prompted. Now, my students upload their work to the ‘tutorials’ folder in our shared class folder in Dropbox. My students really enjoy watching and listening to the different ways they each learn.

Earlier this year, I followed the hashtag thread from a conference via Twitter. Alan November was the keynote. He said something that really resonated with me:

“We are very good at asking students to create tutorials to demonstrate their learning, but what are we doing with them?”

As a result, I’ve now created a separate folder where I’ve placed the best examples from my students. I plan to use these next year, if I teach in the same year level again, to front load students in a way similar to a flipped classroom.  The main difference will be that these tutorials have been created for students, by students, using what I call “kid speak”, as opposed to “teacher talk”. I also plan to place these tutorials on the school server for other year levels to access because sharing is caring 🙂

Dropbox

Last year, my class and I explored the use of Dropbox as a means of sharing files, rather than emailing back and forth. We set up a class account and everyone used the same log on details to access the same folder. That worked well, but this year, I wanted to set up things a little differently, so each student had their own space to upload and back up work to. As a result, I set up a number of folders, one being the main class folder that everyone has access to; the remaining being individual student folders that are only accessible by that student and myself. Each student has their own Dropbox login, so ultimately, they have two shared folders, as well as any other folders they’ve created to back up their work. This has been a lifesaver on many occasions, particularly when students have had to restore their iPads. I will admit it did take time to set things up and individually invite each student to their shared folder, but in the end, I believe this arrangement has made accessing student work more manageable.

In hindsight, I would invite my students to their shared folders first, before their accounts have been set up, so I’d receive additional storage. With a class of 24 students, this equates to, potentially, an extra 6gb of space (250mb per new user).

iLearning

Following on from our class experts, my “iLearning” program was further developed. I had introduced iPlay and iPortfolios to my students last year and decided to expand this concept to cover more ways to promote thinking, creativity and collaboration.

 

iCreate

iCreate began as a way of embracing my students’ creativity. I was truly amazed by the brilliant constructions my students were producing in Minecraft. One of my students had been home sick for a couple of days and emailed through to me some dinosaurs she had constructed to cheer up her younger sister, who was also home sick with her. During the same week, another student had shared with me some work she had completed in an app called PicCollage. This app wasn’t on our school list, it was one she had found herself. I was surprised by how professional her work looked, in terms of layout, balance, text and image size, etc. Having an art and ICT background myself, it was clear that this student was a natural in considering the elements of design in her work. I also had a number of students in my class who played musical instruments, so they enjoyed tinkering in Garageband, as well as a student who was very keen on movie making. With such a creative class, it was obvious I had to do something to show I valued and was impressed by such talents.

 

iDiscuss

iDiscuss was formed because I wanted a space for my students to interact and respond to individual posts. I had a class blog last year and I loved the way my students commented on posts that were made. One downfall I found, though, was that on all of the pages, other than my home page, there was only one comment box at the bottom of the page. This, in my mind, defeated the purpose of responding to posts. I say this because I wanted my students’ comments to particular posts to be clearly identifiable. In the comment boxes on these pages, you needed to scroll down to read what was written.

This year I explored the discussion tool on wikispaces. It was easy to embed, yet my students needed to sign up to wikispaces and become a member of our class wikispace. Due to learning and teaching content being placed on our class wikispace, I decided this wasn’t the way I wanted to go – I didn’t want my students to accidentally delete information. I know I could have protected pages, I just hoped there was another option. I spent a while searching embeddable discussion tools and eventually came across one I liked – Nabble.

Nabble offers free access to discussion tools; however, after a trial period, a subscription is required if you don’t want advertisements displayed. For $25 for the year, I didn’t mind paying to remove the advertisements.

To date, my students enjoy responding to my posts. I now intend to open the discussion topics up to my students in order to cater for ideas and interests.

 

iExplore

Last year I encouraged my students to explore the internet in order to pursue personal curiousities. I occasionally posted links and infographics on our Discovery Learning page in order to spark discussions and initiate interest. This worked really well, so this year I repackaged this concept as iExplore.

 

iPoll

iPoll came about as a result of listening to my students and respecting their “voice”.  At the end of term 1, I posted a poll to see if my students wanted holiday homework. Of course, they didn’t 🙂 What they did want, though, was the opportunity to continue to vote on a range of topics selected by either them or me.

This data is real as it reflects my students’ responses. During our ‘Data’ unit in mathematics, we analysed these results. We looked at the different ways the data was graphed, we discussed which graphs were easier to read and questioned why the results were presented as percentages. During our ‘Sustainability‘ unit, we also hypothesised why litter is such a problem at our school, based upon the results presented.

Collecting data through this means has proved to be a rich learning experience for my students. It has also provided my class and my school with real data about a range of topics.

 

iQuote

Throughout my day, I often find myself sharing quotes and sayings with my students. These are shared to support what we’ve been learning or in response to an incident that’s happened. A class discussion follows where we unpack the meaning they take from the quote or saying and how it relates to the situation at hand.

Some of my students have really been inspired by this and have come to school with their own quotes and sayings to share with the class. Sometimes these are shared just before a recess break and sometimes they are shared at the end of the day as a way to promote thinking and reflection.

In some ways, I often think we overlook the messages and lessons we can learn from quotes, sayings, proverbs, etc. That is why I created the iQuote page on my class wiksipace, to expose my students more to thinking about their thinking.