Flickr

This week, the grade 6 classes went on an excursion to Serendip Sanctuary, Lara. It was truly one of the most enjoyable excursions I’ve been on in all of my 14 years of teaching. My students loved the excursion too, especially the ponding experience where they investigated and classified pond life.

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During the day, I took over 100 photos on my iPhone. I wanted to share the photos with my students and thought long and hard of ways to do this. Seeing my students have iPads, it wasn’t possible for me to upload the photos to the school server for them to access. Emailing all of the photos to them wasn’t an option either. I tried uploading the photos to Dropbox, but only 10 to 15 of them loaded. Then I thought about Flickr. I set up an account, looked at the settings and pondered possible privacy issues. I wanted the students to access the photos of themselves, but I didn’t want the photos to be visible to the public. At this point, I hadn’t uploaded any photos yet.

images-3At school the next day, I spoke to my team teaching colleague, James, about my dilemma – our classes went on the excursion together and there were photos of his students too. Together we decided it would be best to create a private Flickr account both of our classes could access, to upload the photos, then email out all of the log-in details to the students. In the email, I reassured the students that nobody, other than us, could see the images. I also shared that the photos would be on the site until the end of school on Friday, so if they wanted any particular photos, they needed to save them to their iPads prior to then.

This idea seemed to work well. The students were able to log in to the account, view all of the photos and save the ones they wanted. At no point were the photos visible or searchable outside of the log-in.

As part of sorting out the excursion experience, James and my classes came together to talk about what we saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted. James and I also shared that now they were to represent their time at Serendip Sanctuary in any way they’d like. We brainstormed ways of doing this, i.e. drawing, writing, performing, creating a presentation on their iPads, etc… It was wonderful to see so many students select different ways to complete this task. Some students drew pictures; others made collages of animals. Many students opted to use their iPads, but in saying this, they chose to present their experience using different apps, i.e. drawing apps, Strip Design, Popplet, Corkulous, Flip It, ReelDirector, Keynote, etc…

I love learning experiences like these, where you set the task and students select how they want to process and complete it. I’m a big fan of student voice and student choice… as are my students!

**Update: All photos including students have now been deleted from the Flickr account.

Twitter

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 10.38.46 PMIn 2009, I remember attending a training day where the presenter shared how he was using Twitter with his class. Many of the teachers at the training day with me had no idea what Twitter was, nor how to use it. I recall helping many teachers set up their accounts, then encouraging them to follow me… and each other… as a way of forming a Professional Learning Network (PLN). @MichelleMeracis is my personal Twitter account. I follow many people who inspire me and share my interests in the effective integration of ICT, flexible learning spaces, 21st Century learning, etc…

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 10.39.29 PMAt this training day, I remember sharing with teachers on my table some ideas I had regarding the use of Twitter with my class, i.e. posting a request for my followers to respond to. This thought stemmed from a Marco Torres session I had attended earlier that year, where during our session, he communicated with colleagues from around the world (his PLN) and demonstrated the powerful nature of real time interaction.

images-1Marco also shared a project he completed with his class with the help of his PLN. His class was looking at the environment, so within a 24 hour time frame, he asked his PLN to go outside and take a photo of a leaf, then email it to him. He compiled the images, created a movie and shared this with his students the next day. Marco shared that the conversation he had with his young students was incredible because they noticed the leaves were different, so it opened up the opportunity for them to explore their curiosities, i.e. seasons, northern and southern hemispheres, night and day, etc… Inquiry learning at its best!

This year I discovered a number of classes at my school had set up class Twitter accounts. I thought this was a fantastic way of reinforcing the home-school communication channel. Students could tweet comments during the day to keep their parents and other classes up-to-date with their learning experiences. Within a few weeks of setting up my class Twitter account, @MLC_6Michelle, a number of my own students joined Twitter. I was a little concerned at first, but used this as an opportunity to talk about Cyber Safety and Cyber Bullying. A lot of my students have parent-approved Facebook accounts, so talking about social media and the dramas that can arise, should it be abused, proved to be beneficial. One thing I did stress to my students was to protect their tweets and not follow or allow themselves to be followed by someone they did not know. I also encouraged them not to use their full (real) name.

At present, there are quite a few classes at my school using Twitter. It is wonderful, during the day, to read tweets mentioning the learning experiences and discoveries of prep through to year 8 students. It is also flattering to see positive tweets regarding the day’s lessons by my students.

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Tutorials

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 9.07.18 PMThis year, my students have created a range of tutorials to demonstrate their learning and understanding of concepts covered in class, mainly for mathematics. To begin with, my students used a number of apps to create a short movie, i.e. a drawing app and ReelDirector. They would take screen shots of their work as they progressed through the equation, then import their screen shots from their Camera Roll to ReelDirector. In ReelDirector, they’d place their images in the correct sequence and voice record over them the steps they took to complete the equation, eg. Addition and Subtraction. This process proved to be quite time consuming, but it displayed my students’ ability to use a number of apps to create an authentic piece of work they could embed in their iPortfolios. This tutorial also revealed any problems and misunderstandings a student had regarding the concept/s and the calculation of the equation. What a fantastic form of assessment!

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 8.53.32 PMShow Me Interactive Whiteboard is an app my students now use to create tutorials. It is a simple drawing app that integrates the steps the students had previously taken, as outlined above. Students are able to record their written and verbal explanations at the same time, similar to a screencast. There are now quite a few apps similar to this one available. I suppose it is up to you and your students to find the one that best suits your needs. I was actually involved in trialing the beta version of this app, so I am a little biased… hehehe…

iPortfolios

Portfolios and digital portfolios have long been a way for students to share and celebrate their learning and selected work samples throughout the year with family and friends. This year, the students were asked to think about what they wanted to include in their portfolios. This allowed them to have a greater sense of ownership over their iPortfolios, as well as a greater connection with what they selected to present. We discussed the purpose of iPortfolios, as well as the possible apps they could use to showcase their learning. This was uploaded to our class wikispace (http://manorlakescollege-6michelle.wikispaces.com/iPortfolios) so students could regularly refer back to our agreed class expectations.

Having worked with students on digital portfolios for over 10 years now, I must admit I was blown away by the standard of work my students produced using their iPads. The capability of the devices compared to laptops and netbooks was phenomenal. My students’ creativity and ‘eye for design’ reinforced the impact of digital media on the youth of today. Their colour choices, font selection and general layout looked professional. Their iPortfolios were actually of a better standard than my students from the year before… and they used MacBooks!

**Screenshots to come**

iPlay

Gaming is a big part of my students’ experiences with the iPads. They love exploring and sharing the apps they have downloaded, comparing their scores and levels and assisting each other to improve their progress. I thought long and hard about incorporating gaming into my learning and teaching program to promote higher order thinking and reflection. I was hoping that by relating these skills to gaming, something my students do with ease and so naturally, the transition and transference of similar thinking and reflection processes about concepts covered and learnt in class would be much easier.

I posted my expectations on my class wikispace (http://manorlakescollege-6michelle.wikispaces.com/iPlay) and shared with my students my latest addiction to Angry Birds. My students loved sharing their successes with the app and I loved hearing the tricks to pass certain levels.

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Brief:

During iPlay, I’d like you to play a non-violent game / app for around 20-30 minutes. I’d like you to take screen shots of your game / app and think about the strategies you use to score points, pass each level, etc… I’d then like you to create a presentation for me outlining the following:

  • Name of game / app
  • Purpose of game / app
  • Strategies required to score points, pass each level, etc…
  • Important information future players of this game / app need
  • Hidden features
  • Why do you like playing this game / app? (At least 5 sentences.)
  • What improvements can be made? Why?

iSnack

Last term, the grade 6 students asked if they could have a time during recess to remain inside to ‘play’ on their iPads. A number of recess activities had been organised for younger and older students at school, but unfortunately, the grade 6s missed out on many of these – these activities weren’t available to them. This could be because, as grade 5s, they were seen as a difficult cohort. Oh, how things have changed… So, in listening to the students, the grade 6 team decided to open up our classrooms twice a week during a morning break.

To date, the numbers have been consistent. Around 20 to 30 students remain in class during recess, eat their play lunch, socialize with their peers and play on their iPads.

Based upon my own observations, the boys like to sit alone, in pairs or in a group of 3. The girls, on the other hand, like to sit in large groups on the floor, mainly in a circle. Some of the girls use apps with a chat facility, even to chat to friends sitting opposite them. This has me wondering why, as educators, we ban instant messaging in class. I am a supporter of social networking and truly believe we need to model correct use of “chat” in classrooms.
Sure, the students will test the waters to begin with; they need to get the novelty out of their system… but after a while, who is to say that they won’t use the feature responsibly? Why spoil the opportunity for all based upon the chance that only a few students may continue to abuse the privilege? I actually wouldn’t mind if my students used ‘txt speak’ during such chat sessions too. Chat is a part of many people’s lives, whether it be through instant messaging or texting. In today’s age, it is part of our students’ lives… it is a part of our lives. If we, as educators, embrace this feature, who’s to say that the students won’t remain on task? Like all activities, there would need to be a purpose behind its use and inclusion. The session would need to be monitored, if not by the teacher, then by a responsible student. I know that many of my students take screen shots of inappropriate chat comments after school and share them with me the following day. So, if my students know right from wrong outside of school, what makes one assume they are going to do wrong during school hours? I’m going to give my students the benefit of the doubt. I’ve added the chat app to my class’ Ultranet Collaborative Space and plan to trial chat sessions next term both during and after school. Stay tuned to see how things go.

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…

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.

School Visits

Last week, a few teachers from two schools came to MLC to view the iPads in action… in the hands of our year 6 students. The teachers who came out were impressed with the way we integrate the iPads in our learning and teaching program, as well as how our students interact and converse with visitors. I, too, was impressed with the way the students were able to articulate their learning through the use of the iPads. It never ceases to amaze me how students step up to the mark when placed in a position like this.

School visits are common at MLC. It is fantastic that my school is being recognised for the wonderful programs we run and the innovative and transformative ideas teachers are trialing and delivering. I really enjoy working with such a talented staff and look forward to what lies ahead. I do have one thing to say about school visits though. I think it is important for visitors to take away ideas they think they can use and implement… then adapt to suit their own school setting…