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 🙂

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.

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.

About Me

I am a primary school teacher. I teach at Manor Lakes College (MLC). I have been teaching for the past 14 years and have taught in a range of schools – government and independent… disadvantaged to privileged. Prior to teaching, I worked at The Univeristy of Melbourne and for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD).

I currently teach a year 6 class. My school is very fortunate to be part of the DEECD iPad trial. All students in year 6 at my school have iPads. I have co-ordinated and been part of 1:1 laptop programs in the past, so integrating technology effectively is not new to me.

In the past, at my previous school, Dallas Primary School and Kindergarten, now known as Dallas Brooks Community Primary School and Kindergarten, I held the positions of eLearning / Learning & Teaching Leading Teacher and ICT Peer Coach. I taught the equivalent of 3 days a week in a year 6 classroom and then, for the other 2 days, I supported 3 teachers with integrating ICT in meaningful and purposeful ways in their learning and teaching programs. I love peer coaching and would one day love to become a full time eCoach.

I have a strong interest and background in Art, Gifted Education, Learning Technologies and Mathematics, I have a Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Education and have presented around Victoria on a number of topics, including computers in the primary classroom, mathematical software, differentiated curriculum and ICT peer coaching. I have also worked closely with representatives from Cisco, IBM and Microsoft on educational projects.