Instant communication and twice yearly report cards…

I am a ‘cloud granny’ , ever appreciative of the miracle of instant global connection which technology affords us…

Usually when I write about the Granny Cloud, it’s in the context of Mitra’s School in the Cloud.

Cloud ‘Grannies’ all over the world (people of all ages and genders) interact regularly and electronically with kids in a range of settings, currently mostly in India, but expanding to other countries too. As these sessions unfold, it’s rewarding to observe the children’s confidence grow, English improve and computer skills develop.

And I am also a ‘real’ Cloud Granny…

When my kids were little, we would take photos of their latest achievements, wait till the film was developed and then mail the prints a week later to the grandparents overseas. By the time they were received, the photos were out of date.

skypegrannyToday, I wake up to a series of photos and videos of 15 month old Shai’s latest antics. By mid afternoon in my time zone, I can expect the inevitable ‘Skype? ‘ message and I hear him laughing before we can even see each other on the screen.

The lovely teacher at Shai’s day care has set up a private Facebook page, where she posts photos and messages of the daily activities, so parents and (even faraway) grandparents can enjoy seeing the children playing, learning and interacting. It’s a joy to observe Shai’s love of animals on the day the animal lady comes and to watch his progress as he gradually learns to join in with the older children in musical and art activities.


Why is it that, in this day and age of instant communication, schools and parents still expect the kind of report card suited to another era? 

Why do report cards traditionally go out twice a year, when there are endless ways teachers and learners can, and do, communicate their learning throughout the year?

Why do teachers spend great chunks of time reporting in a summative way on a final report, when formative assessment, goals and ‘feed forward’ during the year are so much more valuable?

Why don’t teachers, parents and learners share the learning via online portfolios, easily accessible throughout the year, demonstrating process, progress and final product, with facility for reflection by students, feedback by parents and ‘feedforward’ by teachers? (Let me know if you have a great system, we’re working towards it.)

Why don’t learners communicate their learning more with parents and the wider world through the many possible channels available online?

Why do governments and school administrators continue to dictate not just the existence of report cards, but often the format and parameters they should fit?

Why don’t we abandon report cards altogether?

Now, to prepare for the meeting in which we will review our reports and do our best to make them fit expectations and requirements…

Too many iPads…

In a shift from laptops to iPads, for more mobility, easier use, fewer maintenance issues and lower cost, all our students now bring their own devices. I know it’s a luxury and I am always conscious of how students in less fortunate contexts could benefit from a small fraction of the resources we have at our fingertips.

Yesterday we had an informal visit from Sugata Mitra, educational researcher, proponent of minimally invasive education, creator of the School in the Cloud, dreamer, provocateur…

The Year 5 children tell Sugata they are currently learning about energy. He throws them the inevitable ‘big question’, his signature approach to self organised learning. ‘I’ll give you 20 minutes to find out what you can, in any way you like, about dynamic equilibrium.’

Due to limited space on the whiteboard, the two words appear one below the other and some children ask whether it’s a phrase. He gives his standard response ‘I have no idea’… encouraging students to figure things out for themselves.

Interestingly, the children initially stay in their own seats and investigate on their individual devices. No-one has told them not to move or converse. In fact Sugata spent some time before the question chatting with them about how often and why they move seats.

There is so little talk or collaboration at first that we wonder if they are inhibited by the group of teachers observing in the room or the presence of the eminent stranger.

Eventually, with a bit of encouragement, they begin to move around and interact,  the noise level goes up and the learning is closer to what Sugata calls the ‘edge of chaos‘ as they share their discoveries and develop their understanding collaboratively.

There are too many iPads,‘ Sugata says.

‘Limiting the number of devices ensures that the children move naturally into groups to share and discuss their findings and questions.’

We hadn’t really considered the possibility that 1:1 access could be a disadvantage in some learning situations…

10 understandings about digital citizenship…

What is digital citizenship and why do we need to understand it?

Earlier this year, we developed a unit of inquiry into digital citizenship for our Year 5 students and I’m currently preparing to facilitate a three day workshop for teachers exploring the same topic. As a result, I’ve been thinking a great deal about what, for me, is simply a part of my everyday life.

On any given day (aside from work and play!) I might write a blog post, read and comment on others, join a twitter chat, search for information, find videos to spark learners’ curiosity, Skype with my grandson, interact with children at one of the School in the Cloud settings in India, respond to applications for the ‘granny cloud’, chat with a friend in another part of the world…

Photo by Ingrid Muller

Using the key concepts of the PYP as a lens,  I’ve come up with 10 understandings about digital citizenship for teachers and learners (or teachers as learners) to explore…

Do you think I have missed anything?

  1. Digital citizenship is ‘the ability to participate in society online.’ It includes consuming and creating digital content as well as interaction.  form
  2. Digital literacy includes awareness of safe and effective practices and the ability to navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. function
  3. Digital technologies enable us to communicate and collaborate with people all over the world, expanding learning opportunities and increasing global awareness.  connection
  4. Active digital citizenship provides opportunities for intercultural understanding and exposure to diverse points of view.  perspective
  5. Anyone can publish powerful writing, pictures and video for a global audience. Digital citizenship includes making valuable contributions to the online environment.  creativity (which isn’t one of the PYP key concepts, but maybe it should be)
  6. Reusing content is so easy that people rarely stop to think about its original source. We need to understand our rights as content creators and respect the rights of others. responsibility
  7. In a digital world, it can be difficult to understand where privacy ends and what the risks are. Everything you do online impacts your indelible digital footprint.  causation
  8. Content on the internet is not necessarily accurate, true, reliable or valuable. We need to think critically about digital content that we consume, create and interact with.  reflection
  9. The speed of change in the world is accelerating with the rapid advances in technology. We need to prepare our students for a world we cannot predict.  change
  10. Understanding effective practices and developing the required skills, knowledge and confidence, empower us to make wise choices as digital citizens and maximise the opportunities this provides.  all

And later… a tweet from @flipoz hits the nail on the head…


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Is technology dangerous?

This guest post was written by Tali, a pre-service teacher in her final year of studying to be a primary school teacher. You may have read an earlier guest post by a pre-service teacher in the UK – A conversation with Tali indicates that it’s not much better in Australia. Why can’t so called education experts figure out how to prepare teachers?

Recently, I was informed that technology is dangerous. The person who so confidently imparted this pearl of wisdom is a university lecturer in education (I am studying to be a primary teacher).

This is not the first time that one of my lecturers has warned me of the ‘dangers of technology’, but I always find these warnings quite amusing, so I resisted the urge to laugh and instead asked what it is about technology that is so deeply threatening. He knowingly informed me that technology makes children feel that their classroom learning is boring, because the Internet is more interesting.

Other lecturers have also told me that technology is a distraction, or that it is unnecessary. One went so far as to imply that the use of tablets in classrooms is a fad that will soon pass. I do not think it is a coincidence that the online materials for these lecturers’ subjects are of a very low quality. The worst offence was probably when my readings for an entire semester were scanned and uploaded sideways, and in a format that could not be rotated. I spent many an hour on my bed, with my laptop turned sideways, silently cursing my lecturer.

So it’s not the first time I have encountered this mindset and it does, to an extent, amuse me. But it also annoys me, for a couple of reasons. The first is the use of the word “technology”. I put the word in inverted commas, because I feel that some people’s understanding of the term is quite nebulous. They say ‘technology’, but I don’t think that is exactly what they mean. Technology is actually quite a broad term, and (according to the Victorian Board of Education) encompasses ‘all processes and equipment used to…support human endeavour’. So really, pens and paper are technology. And I don’t see anyone calling them dangerous and demanding that we revert to parchment and quills or drawing in the dirt.

I’m pretty sure that when they say “technology” they mean “ICT, computers and the internet”. And this is the thing that bothers me the most. How can any educator actually think that demonizing those things and banishing them from the classroom can benefit students in any way?

A computer is a tool like any other. Their usefulness in the classroom is determined not solely by their own capabilities, but by the way they are utilised and the attitudes and culture that the teacher fosters towards them. And ICT and the Internet offer us dynamic learning opportunities that (among many other things) can enhance end deepen thinking, give students more responsibility over their own learning and more ways to show it, and connect them with classrooms and thinkers around the world. To me, it is actually a bit bizarre not to utilise these tools in your practise, given that we are so privileged to have access to them.

However, the many benefits of e-learning are actually beside the point. The reality is that this is the direction that the world is ever more rapidly moving in, whether we think it is a good thing or not. I feel that we actually do a disservice to students by neglecting to develop their e-literacy, for in the future it will almost certainly be an integral part of their studies, employment, and indeed their social lives. Does the Internet pose certain dangers? Of course it does. That’s even more reason to be having conversations in our classrooms about Internet safety, bullying, and the nature of one’s digital footprint. As teachers, we have to prepare students for a future we cannot envision. The least we can do is educate them using tools from the present, instead of recycling the education of the past.

So why do some of my lecturer’s discourage me from using “technology”? I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that, as is so often the case, they fear it because they do not understand it. And that is fine. Long gone are the days where the teacher is the beacon of all knowledge. But if you don’t understand something, you need to be open to learning about it, and if you can’t manage that then you should probably stop trying to train pre-service teachers.

Otherwise they’ll blog about you.

Tech Minions- An authentic opportunity for kids with a passion.

Guest post by Linda Wollan, our elearning facilititator.

We have lots of opportunities for kids in our school to shine and find their passion – We have leadership groups, lunchtime enrichment in everything from table tennis to cooking, sporting groups and so on. A new group however is close to my heart, and I’m thrilled to see how successful it is becoming.

We are implementing a 1:1 iPad program at the beginning of next year, with student-owned iPads, so will need to get everyone onto the network, set up with email and ready to move forward. Teachers also need support with learning the ins and outs of new apps.

Who better than the kids?

We now have a self-selected group of tech ‘minions’ (from Year 4 to Year 10) who are being trained to help teachers and other kids with all things tech.

There are obvious advantages for the school, but also for these kids:

  • They are able to mix with like-minded students from a range of year levels and learn from each other (there are too few opportunities in our school for primary kids to mix with secondary)
  • They are able to interact with our professional ICT tech staff, getting to know them personally and learning from them.
  • They are learning how to explain processes and teach others.
  • The espect they are earning from their peers is leading to a rise in their self-esteem.

It’s great to see these kids, who are often hidden away behind their screens, shine in an area for which they have a passion.

It’s not about the technology…

Over coffee with an ex-colleague who works in IT, we chat about technology in schools. He mentions reading some of my blog posts and I’m suddenly aware that I rarely write about technology any more.

When I started this blog, I had a tag for tech, a tag for web 2.0 tools and a tag for 21st century learning.

Now it’s a given….

Scenario 1: Year 6 learners connect with classes in Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore for their inquiry into inter-connectedness.

Read: Skype with Japan.  Skype with Australia.

Tags: Skype, Blogs, Twitter, Googlemaps

Tags: Learning, geoliteracy, communication, intercultural understanding, inquiry…

Scenario 2: A Year 5 class creates videos to demonstrate and explain mathematical concepts and embed them in their class blogs.

Watch: Number Lines with Noah.

TagsiPads, Showme app, blogs, web 2.0 

Tags: Learning, creativity, authentic audience, mathematical thinking, communication…

Scenario 3: A Prep child who is away from school after an operation creates daily books about what she’s been doing and emails them to her class.

Read: My Operation by Ellie.

Tags: iPad, Bookabi, web 2.0 ,email

Tags: Learning, communication, creativity, authentic audience, literacy, purposeful writing…

Scenario 4: A couple of Year 2 students explore then enact the life cycle of a butterfly. They create and upload a video to share their learning.

Watch: Now it’s a Butterfly by Noa and Brooke.

Tags: iPad, iMovie, blogs, Youtube

Tags: Learning, inquiry, collaboration, creativity, communication, visible thinking, scientific understanding…
Just a tool...

You get the idea…

Now, how should I tag this?

Moving learning into the 21st century…

We had a great time in our collaborative planning session this week, moving one of our Year 5 inquiry units into the 21st century. It’s an exploration of plants and how they grow, in conjunction with hands-on work in our school kitchen-garden, and an inquiry into the environmental conditions that affect plant growth.

What’s changed?

21st century

They used to… do leaf rubbings with paper and pencil to see what leaves look like.

Now they will use an iPad magnifier app to look at leaves up close.

They used to… draw diagrams and label the parts of a plant.

Now they will choose their own species, research it themselves and create an animated slideshow of its parts.

They used to…. grow bean plants and watch them grow.

Now they will take a photo of their beans every day and create a stop motion video showing the growth process.

They used to… do experiments related to plant growth and write scientific reports for the teacher.

Now they will film their experiments and upload them to their class blogs with their reports, to enable comments from the wider community.

They used to… read about different kinds of plants that grow in other places and how they adapt to their environment.

Now they will message people around the world to send a photo of a plant that grows where they live, so that they can discuss and analyse their findings.

In each case, it is the learning that drives the technology. In each case, the students will be more engaged. In each case, the learning will be richer and deeper.

Let me know if you are willing to send a photo next month, especially if you live in an environment different from ours here in Melbourne!

Embracing technology…

It was another great tech session with @lindawollan at our Year 4-6 campus on Friday. This time the topic was effective internet searching, equipping teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to support their students in the inquiry process. We’ve been having similar voluntary sessions for a couple of years, exploring web 2.0 tools, setting up class blogs, discovering alternative presentation tools, learning about copyright and the like. The group has grown to the point where almost every member of staff participates.

We used to have:

  • Computer labs with desktop computers.
  • An ICT teacher teaching a computer lesson each week.
  • Teachers afraid of technology, teachers who lacked expertise, actively resistant teachers.
  • Lots of notebooks, ring-binders, posters.
  • Learning limited to the classroom.
Now we have:
  • Sets of laptops that students can use anywhere, carry around, get when they need.
  • An ICT facilitator with a flexible timetable, available as required to work with classes or groups
  • Teachers blogging and collaborating on googledocs, comfortable to have a go and willing to learn.
  • Less paper, more on-line presentations, class blogs and wikis.
  • Learning via Skype with people in other places.
A little more than a year ago, we set some goals:
  • The implementation of technology across all learning areas to support learning and inquiry.
  • The use of technology to support creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
  • The use of technology for global connections to promote authentic learning, not limited to the classroom.
  • Familiarity with a range of tools to document, share, organize, create and present.

We wanted teachers to understand that:

  • Learning is not limited to the classroom. Technology provides opportunities for meaningful global learning outside of the classroom.
  • Technology is an integral part of learning.
  • Integration of technology is not optional. The school is educating for the present and future in which our students will live. Each teacher needs to take responsibility for their own learning and that of their students.
  • Literacy today includes the traditional literacies such as reading and writing, as well as technological literacy.
  • Implementation of technology should always be driven by learning requirements.
  • There is a wide range of tools available to share, organize and present learning.
  • Web 2.0 allows for communication with and feedback from a wide-ranging authentic audience.
  • Web 2.0 provides opportunities for practicing trans-disciplinary skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity
  • Technology can provide access to a broad range of sources of information, through both primary and secondary sources.
  • Technology creates opportunities for natural differentiation and multiple learning styles.
  • Technology provides opportunities for student choice and facilitates students taking responsibility for their own learning.
We thought they should be able to:
  • Use word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software  tools efficiently
  • Read/use email regularly. Know how to set up a group in email.
  • Use the school intranet proficiently.
  • Use the multimedia tools that come with the interactive whiteboard. Make it a student tool as well.
  • Be confident users of hardware and peripherals such laptops, printers, scanners, photocopier, still and movie cameras, flip cameras, iTouch/iPads.
  • Download and manipulate images and digital movies.
  • Be confident web users
  • Be able to search efficiently.
  • Understand copyright issues on the web, and make sure students are copyright aware.
  • Know how to locate the wide range of tools available for learning.
  • Use a wide range of web 2.0 tools to create, share, organize and present learning.
  • Create a class wiki or blog and use it to support learning, including reflection, communication with and feedback from a wide-ranging authentic audience.
  • Be able to embed from web tools.
  • Make global connections and collaborate with people outside the school, using eg Skype or Voicethread.
  • Use digital technologies as part of the information process
It all seemed a bit out of reach at the time and it’s rewarding to see just how far we have come, without ever creating a formal plan of how we would get there. Not everyone is at the same level. Some teachers (and students) are more confident users than others. We all still have a lot to learn and the rapid advance of technology means we will always be learning.  But it’s exciting to see that every single teacher has taken steps forward to embrace technology and change the way we think about teaching and learning at our school. I wonder where we’ll be in another year…

PS. Participating in #elemchat this morning and hearing how teachers are using Google docs in their classrooms, I was momentarily overwhelmed by both the possibilities and the obstacles. But then I remembered that we got where we are through an approach of trying one tool at a time, working with one person at a time, having one conversation at a time, overcoming one obstacle at a time… slowly but surely… it’s the only way.


Learning beyond walls…

Learning for teachers isn’t limited by the walls any more. We can share ideas, discuss our practice, learn with and from other educators outside our own institutions. And I don’t mean through conferences and workshops, live or virtual…

Skype allows us to collaborate with anyone anywhere. As soon as I asked ‘Who wants to learn with us?’ Judith Way said she would love to!

We often gather before school to learn together. I’m lucky to work with a group of teachers committed to ongoing learning and always in search of ways to improve teaching and learning in our school. Over the past few years we’ve had regular voluntary early morning sessions before school, to discuss readings, explore new tech tools, share learning from outside workshops, push each others’ thinking and learn from each others’ experiences.

Yesterday was different, though. Judith Way, a well known teacher librarian and seasoned presenter joined us via Skype to chat with us about responding to literature through a range of web 2.0 tools. She talked us through a variety of examples on her reading wiki and teachers enjoyed seeing familiar and unfamiliar tools used in novel ways to express student learning. One favourite was Google Lit Trips, which we haven’t used at all and teachers were excited by the possibilities for using Google Earth in interesting ways.

Watch this space for follow-ups! Des, who a year ago was a reluctant tech adopter without a shred of confidence to experiment with new tools, was applying ideas from the session already today. (Read about her transformation here.) She was thrilled with her class inquiry into how best to express their learning and their shared exploration of Toondoo. In our next week’s session, we’ll take some time to explore Judith’s wiki slowly on our own and discuss how we might adapt her ideas to suit our learning needs. 

There were teachers from all over the world who expressed interest in learning with us. Hopefully we can create more opportunities to make this happen!