Kids Collaborate

When I first started this blog two and a half years ago, I also set up a wikispace and Facebook page that shared the same name – “Kids Collaborate”. I registered a business with this name as well. For me, at that time, I was very keen to establish a space for educators around the world to “connect, create, collaborate and communicate”. This idea was put on hold back then, as I started a new venture, integrating iPads in a 1:1 setting. Now that I have that under way, I am very keen to pursue my initial plan 🙂

Today, I spent some time updating the Kids Collaborate wikispace. I’ve listed some global projects my students are keen to be part of. If you and your students are also interested in participating, please get in touch with me. More details can be found at the site.

At present, five projects are listed. I call them the “My School” series 🙂 They include sharing images about:

  • your school
  • your classroom
  • a playground in your school
  • the items in a student’s lunch box
  • the view from a window in your classroom

Inspiration for the projects have come from my students, as well as Professional Learning sessions I have attended in the past.

My students are keen to create presentations using the images shared.

This space is available for you to list your own global projects too 🙂

Skype

This morning, my students connected with two classes from Elm Park School in Pakuranga Heights, New Zealand. I met the two teachers of these classes, Sara Melville and Anna Graham, last month at ULearn. We instantly hit it off 🙂

Through our tweets and emails since the conference, we thought it would be great for our students to connect to discuss the similarities and differences between students and schools in Australia and New Zealand. We decided on a time that suited all of us, due timetable commitments and the “minor” time difference, and spoke to our classes about preparing for the Skype session.

My students were so excited. They formed small groups and developed the following list of questions to ask their peers from “over the ditch”.

  • How long does your school day go for?
  • What time do you start school and finish school?
  • How long does your recess and lunch go for?
  • What lessons do you do?
  • What is your favourite thing about your school?
  • How many students are in your class?
  • How old are you?
  • What is your learning tool?
  • Do you all have iPads?
  • As a class have you used Skype before?
  • Do you have a canteen?
  • What colour is your uniform?
  • Do you have to wear hats?
  • Do you have a class mascot?
  • Do you have a class pet?
  • Does your school have any events?
  • How big is your school?
  • Do you have separate classrooms?
  • Do you have portables?
  • Do you go on excursions?
  • Do you go on camps?
  • Have any of you been to Australia?
  • What’s the weather like in New Zealand?
  • What do you do at home for fun?
  • What games do you play?
  • Do you play Minecraft?

In the beginning, we experienced some technical difficulties. I tried to connect through my laptop, but couldn’t log on. I tried through the Skype app on my iPad. Again, no success. Obviously I was having problems connecting through my school’s network. So, my class ended up chatting via the Skype app on my iPhone. Third time lucky, I guess 🙂

Our chat session lasted 45 minutes. Students on both sides of the screen were quite shy to speak at first, but after a while, they became more comfortable. Having questions as prompts really did help to keep the conversation flowing. My students were very keen to explain how they use Minecraft for learning and creativity. Sara and Anna have asked my students to provide them with more information about this so they can share the educational gains for using Minecraft, through the eyes (and mouths) of students, with their Principal 🙂 How exciting!

Overall, the Skype session today was a huge success! The students loved the experience and are keen to connect with their new friends again towards the end of the year 🙂

 

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.

IMG_0247

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.

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 10.41.56 PM

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.

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.