Collaboration

One thing I am noticing more and more during this learning journey with iPads is the way my students like to sit on the floor in pairs or small groups to discuss their learning and what they are doing on their iPads. I have always given my students the choice to sit at their tables or on the floor whilst undertaking independent work tasks, but I’m becoming more aware that very few students are remaining at their tables. After being involved in 1:1 laptop programs for two to three years, I’m seeing a greater degree of collaboration amongst my students with the iPads than I did with laptops. They hand their iPads between each other like they are workbooks. They are happy to share them. They are happy for someone else to use theirs. They are happy to work together. They are happy to learn with and from each other. Upon reflection, I find I am like this too. I am happy for my students [and young nephews] to use my iPad and show me what they can do; however, I wouldn’t be as comfortable having them use my laptop. What does this say about iPads and how we use them in the classroom? What does this say about iPads and how students view them in relation to their learning? What does this say about iPads and how we should use them in the classroom?

Stephen Heppell actually made me conscious of this when I heard him speak at the DEECD iPad trial PL last month. He spoke about students’ seating choices within learning spaces, the way a number of schools overseas encourage students to take their shoes off during class and how willingly students hand over their iPads to their peers. Maybe this could be something for you to think about too…

iPads 4 Learning – Professional Learning

Last month, I was fortunate to attend two professional learning days with inspirational educators as part of my school’s involvement in the DEECD’s iPad trial. It is always a pleasure to listen to and engage in meaningful discussions with educators who share the same vision… this being improving the learning experiences of students by embracing the mobile technologies available to them. It is also great to visit schools. I just love entering learning spaces, talking to students about their learning and listening to conversations between students and teachers, but moreso between students and students. As I wrote earlier this year though, it is important to adapt what you hear and see to meet your own school’s/classroom’s needs… innovate, don’t replicate!

Day 1

On the first day, we visited three different school settings to view the ways iPads are being integrated in learning and teaching – Ringwood North Primary School (RNPS), Ringwood Secondary College (RSC) and Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School (VCASS). Students at all schools demonstrated a connectedness to their learning using the iPads. They were engaged and were able to articulate their learning. The leaders within the schools had a clear vision and explained the learning journey for themselves, their staff and their students. I particularly liked the way the Principal of RNPS stated that the main focus at their school is the process, not the product. I also loved RSC’s motto: iLearn, iShare, iCreate, iPad. It is clear that creativity is valued and promoted within these schools, something I can personally identify with because, as mentioned in an earlier post, I want my students to use the iPads at a transformative level, not as a substitute. By this I mean that I want my students to use a number of apps/skills to create something to demonstrate their learning, thinking and understanding; I don’t want the iPads to be used just as a word processer, web browser, game console or calculator.

Day 2

On the second day, we met at Federation Square. Wow! is all I can say! This day was truly inspirational. I walked away with my mind buzzing with ideas. Where to start?

Screen shot 2011-06-07 at 12.32.38 PMWe began the day with Stephen Heppell, a well-respected international educator. Stephen shared his passion for learning spaces and inclusion of student voice within the creation of these. This had me thinking about my own classroom. There is a lot of floor space and the tables are grouped to promote collaboration… but at what point did I involve my students with setting things up? Hmmm… Stephen shared an example of a class in London. This class entered a competition and won some money to transform a room into their ideal learning space. From what we saw, this room had low-level lighting (stobe lights) and there weren’t any whiteboards, rather many surfaces that could be written on. There was a tiered seating area, perfect for collaboration with iPads. There were desktops with video conferencing capabilities set up as a Skype bar and when these computers weren’t being used, current affairs and news were streamed on them, as well as any unused LCD screens mounted around the room. The students moved between spaces responsibly, they were engaged in their learning tasks, they felt ownership over their learning space and they wanted to go to school.

Stephen also shared that in England, a few teachers he knows use Facebook and Twitter with their classes. These teachers have two identities, one for their friends and another for their students. The teachers set boundaries with their students as well, stating that they won’t look at their profiles, photos, etc…  and they will only communicate via the group. The class group includes the teacher, all students… and occasionally, an expert is invited in to respond to students’ questions. Then, once their expertise isn’t required, they are removed. Again, this had me thinking… I set up a Manor Lakes College Facebook group last year and don’t feel it has any direction. I posted a couple of discussion topics and have noticed students post to the wall every now and then. I’ve also noticed parents join the group as this group is open to the general public. Oh wow… just after writing that, I can hear alarm bells are ringing… How safe is this group for the student members? It is open for anyone to join… Hmmm… note to self, when setting up my class group, make it closed and by invitation only. I need to go in to the current MLC group and change the settings too…

One more thing Stephen mentioned that had me reflecting on my own practice was the amount of time my students spend actively learning. Stephen spoke about a school in Scandinavia where rather than students attending a number of different classes/subjects everyday, classes/subjects were taught in day blocks. Student progress through this approach was tracked over time and apparently data shows a dramatic increase in achievement levels. Hmmm… I don’t think I’m able to teach day blocks… but maybe I should start teaching double blocks for particular areas…

After Stephen, Kim and Gawain spoke about documenting our learning journey by keeping reflective journals and digital diaries. They shared examples from teachers they have worked with in the past and asked us to commit to sharing our school’s story. This had me thinking… why limit my school’s learning journey to only being told by the teachers involved… why not have the students create a one minute reflection on their learning journey too? What better way to evaluate the iPad trial than through the eyes and “mouths of babes”, so to speak?

ngvfacade1Our next session involved us getting out and about in Federation Square. We were asked to form teams, select a place to go to, find something there that resonated with us, compare and contrast it with something else and present this all in a creative way. My team and I chose to go to the Stormy Weather exhibition. There, we selected photographs that related to our own local environments, photographed them and found photos on our iPads that related to them. This was the easy part. The hard part was trying to get everything across to one iPad to create the movie. We tried to send pictures via email, but that didn’t work. We tried to transfer pictures via the Bump app, but that didn’t work. We tried to upload pictures to a wikispace to download from, but that didn’t work. So, eventually, we used Dropbox. The problem solving was intense. The collaboration was authentic. The task / challenge was rigorous. The experience was fun. Whilst doing this, we also needed to check Twitter because tasks were going to be posted for us to complete and respond to.

Please find below a link to my team’s final response. The original file was over 40mb, so in order to export the file, the quality was set to low.

Stormy Weather

As educators (and learners), we found this activity engaging. Imagine how students would respond to an activity like this at school or when on an excursion. I know when I did my Teacher Professional Leave (TPL) a few years ago on the integration of PDAs in classrooms, my students loved using the mobile devices out in the yard and when on excursions. It required a bit of work on the teacher’s behalf beforehand to create a brief / short movie outlining what to do / what information to collect, but in the big scheme of things, where do you draw the line for authentic learning opportunities for students?

As you can see, there is a lot to absorb and process from the two days. I now need to prioritise my ideas and put them into practice. I’ll post an update very soon.

iPals

Grade 6 students + Prep buddies + iPads = iPals

Grade 6 students have often paired up with prep students as a way of providing prep students with an older friend to turn to in the playground should they have a problem. It has also been an opportunity for grade 6 students to demonstrate a greater level of responsibility within a school, to be role models, to prove they truly are leaders. This year, rather than run the usual ‘Prep Buddies’ program, the year 6 and prep teams decided that we wanted to maintain the focus of the buddy program, yet incorporate the iPads and student to student coaching.

I have been fortunate to work as an ICT Peer Coach in the past. I loved the experience and came to see peer coaching as taking on many forms – educator to student, student to educator and student to student. I found student to student coaching quite powerful. From my observations, students responded better to what I call “kid speak”. Sometimes, “teacher talk” was just too complicated and frustrating for them to grasp and understand. I noticed this to be the case with student to educator coaching too. Students had a different way of explaining to educators how to use certain programs and create things. Many educators responded better to working with students as well. In my opinion, this pairing was very effective for the professional growth of some educators too because it opened their minds to learning with students, moving them beyond the mind shift that they had to be the bearer and instructor of all knowledge and skills.

My class paired up with Prep Kim. Kim and I decided it would be best for my students to meet in her classroom so her students were in their comfort zone. Meeting and working with “big kids” can be a daunting experience for preps.

From the moment my students entered the prep classroom, the prep students’ eyes beamed. They knew the grade 6 students were bringing their iPads and they knew they were going to have a chance to play on them. I say play for a reason here because I believe it is really important to have play and discovery time in all areas of learning, whether it be looking through new books, decoding and writing new words, using a calculator, playing a musical instrument, experimenting with new pastels and paints or exploring software and mobile devices.

It was amazing! From the moment the iPads were in the preps’ hands, they knew exactly what to do. They were sliding their fingers across the screen, as well as turning and shaking the iPad around. Many students opted to play games, whilst others chose to draw pictures. A few even decided to create a little movie in PuppetPals, including voice recordings. I was particularly blown away by the excitement level of one prep student who made a PuppetPals movie. He jumped up and down and giggled when he played the movie for Kim. Afterwards, he clearly articulated his experience and what he learnt. It became very clear then that the iPads not only provided opportunities to support the prep students’ interests and preferred learning styles, they also provided opportunities to support their oral language and reflection experiences. This was evident during the session’s share time too. Many prep students not only recounted what they did and what they played, they also clearly explained what they liked and what they learnt.

Now that the preps have had their discovery time, Kim and I hope the grade 6 students can work with their iPals to create little movies to support what they are learning in class. We will still allow for discovery time at the beginning of our sessions, to tune the students into learning, but our main focus will be on reinforcing concepts covered in class. I will provide some guidance to my students prior to our iPals session, but in most cases, it will the grade 6 students working with the preps to create something that incorporates a number of apps and skills.

I, personally, want to see the iPads used at the transformative level, not just as a substitute… even with preps. I believe the devices are more than just a game console, word processor and web browser… they are true multimedia devices. It just takes some vision, creativity and risk taking to see this and make this happen… and we, at Manor Lakes College, will make this happen!

Please click on the following links to see some movies created by the preps and their buddies:

Rob Vingerhoets

Rob Vingerhoets is a well-renowned educator in Melbourne, Australia. He has taught in many school settings and was a Principal for a prestigious Melbourne private school for a while too. He is an author of many educational texts, presents to educators on a regular basis and works with schools to help schools and educators improve the delivery of math classes, as well as the engagement level and understanding of mathematical concepts of students.

Last month, I was fortunate to have Rob visit my classroom and work with my year 6 students. My class isn’t the easiest class for visiting educators to work with and engage, but within minutes, Rob had my students eating out of the palm of his hand. He introduced my class to a game called ‘Date Maths’, where you create equations to equal the numbers 1 through to 20 using only the digits in that day’s date. The activity is timed and if all 6 digits are used in an equation, a bonus is awarded; that being 30 seconds off the total time. My class had never played this game before and within minutes, they were applying order of operations across to equations so all 6 digits were included. Some students also noted that if you multiplied or divided a number by one, the total remained the same; however, if you multiplied a number by zero, the value was wiped.

I was amazed by the deep level of thinking this game promoted. Each student shared an equation. It is definitely a game that caters for all mathematical abilities.

The one thing I admired whilst Rob was playing this game with my class, was that whenever he could, he would relate a score to a mathematical concept, i.e. “You have completed 5 out of 20 equations. How do you write that as a fraction? percentage?” These incidental teaching points provided concrete examples for my students to relate to. I truly believe my students will remember fraction to percentage conversions now as a result of this game. It was fun, it was challenging, there was a clear purpose and it involved the class working together as a team.

It was a pleasure to meet and work with Rob. My students adored him and we look forward to working with him again in the future.