An authentic learning experience… Take 2

Guest post by @lindawollan, ICT facilitator and member of my wonderfully supportive in-school PLN. Her contributions here are as close as I can get her to blogging…

authentic learning

Last year we attempted an afternoon of inquiry into Web 2.0 presentation tools. You can read about it here. At the time we were to some extent defeated by technology – our new wireless network crumbled under the load of a hundred or so students trying to log on simultaneously. We felt the learning experience was valuable though – and now with improvements to the network, we had another go. This time it worked brilliantly, as part of our Year 5 students’ inquiry into media literacy.

The wonderful resource 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story shows how the same story can be told creatively in different ways, using a variety of tools. I showed the students how the story of Dominoe the dog could be told using Glogster, Voicethread, Toondoo, Photopeach, Blabberize, Prezi, Slideboom and Capzles. They made notes during my demonstration – how familiar they are with each tool, and briefly how each could help in their learning.

I didn’t show the students how each tool worked – that was for them to explore. We have four Year 5 classes. They broke into groups of two to three, spreading themselves around our Learning Resource Centre, corridor and classroom spaces, with laptop computers. They were supported by a number of our Year 6 students who wandered around the groups, helping where needed and responding wonderfully to the challenge of supporting the younger students.

What contributed to the success of the learning experience?

  • The tools chosen allowed for differentiation among students. I could hear my ICT star Noah saying ‘Yep, seen it,’ when I showed eg Blabberize and Photopeach, but he found Prezi and Capzles to be new challenges. Less confident students had choices as well.
  • The participation of the older kids. How wonderful to see and hear, for example, one child showing others how to create an account in an online tool, with the warning ‘Don’t put your surname in, you don’t want to identify yourself online’. Great to have it come out of his mouth instead of mine!
  • The class teachers were happy to participate. Particularly as part of an inquiry into media literacy, they saw a need to encourage their students to try new ways of expressing their learning.
  •  This time the technology worked!

An authentic learning experience…

Plan: An inquiry into web 2.0 presentation tools. An exciting afternoon of inquiry-based learning for a hundred Year 6 students

Rationale: In preparation for expressing  their learning for a literature unit through digital presentations, we would expose them to a variety of possible tools, then allow them to explore on their own, discover which they like and decide which will be most suitable for their needs. 

Skills: Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking.

Task: Experiment with the tools of your choice and figure out how to use them. Create a simple experimental presentation relating to the big idea of your unit, as a trailer for what’s to come.

Tools: Glogster, Voicethread, Photopeach, Toondoo, Capzles, Blabberize and Prezi. 

Venue: All the Year 6 classrooms, the open space between them and the open-plan learning resource centre.

Intention: To ‘let go’, allow students choice as to which tools to explore and who they want to work with.

Considerations: The school agreed to pay to increase our bandwidth for the day. We organised volunteers willing to be on-line as backup support for students to call on Skype if they needed help and no teacher was available.

21st century backup

The session encompassed so many things that we value and try to work towards in our school. Collaboration, both by teachers and by students. Meaningful implementation of technology. Student centred learning through personal inquiry. Engaging, purposeful learning. Student choice. Natural differentiation for different abilities and interests. Teachers willing to take risks and explore new possibilities. Opportunities for creativity and higher order thinking. Flattening of classroom walls to include outside experts. Flexible use of the physical environment.

What could possibly go wrong?

  • Monday (Take 1): The whole school network crashed earlier in the day and we had to cancel before we even started.
  • Wednesday (Take 2): A long and frustrating delay during which nothing got done, while everyone tried to log in at once.

What did we learn?

  • 100 students logging into the school network simultaneously is not such a great idea.
  • Most kids persist way beyond the point where adults give up.
  • You need to have big ideas and be willing to experiment, or you will never know…
Over-all, in spite of the problems, it was definitely worthwhile. Here’s a student reflection to prove the point:
I have always relied on Powerpoint because it felt safe. Now I have tried Prezi and looked at other tools and found some tutorials that help you. I found out that there are other ways than Powerpoint to show my learning.


What teachers need to understand…

We’ve been using the McTighe Understanding by Design model to create a technology plan for our school.  I’m sharing some of our ideas here, in case readers find it interesting or helpful. But before anyone tells me (again!) that there are people in the world who don’t have access to technology, let me reiterate that this is based on my school setting and the requirements of my school. Any other sorts of feedback are welcome and appreciated.


  • The implementation of technology to support inquiry and learning across all learning areas.
  • 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.

Part 1: Understandings. Teachers will understand that…

  • Technology is an integral part of learning.
  • Integration of technology is not optional.
  • Each teacher needs to take responsibility for their own ICT learning (with support).
  • Literacy today includes technological literacy as well as the traditional literacies such as reading and writing.
  • Implementation of technology should always be driven by learning requirements.
  • Learning is not limited to the classroom. Technology provides opportunities for meaningful global learning outside of the classroom.
  • 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 and critical thinking.
  • Technology can provide access to a broad range 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.
  • ICT in an essential part of the information process. (Define, locate, select, organize, present and assess)

It was so simply put by Jessica recently on  Stars and Clouds:

This morning I woke up and thought: Why do people make such a big deal about technology? I ask myself that because it is so much part of my life, it is ‘natural’ to me. Shouldn’t we just accept technology into our classrooms just like we accept books, maths manipulatives, and playdough in kindergarten? Why is it that schools do not reflect ‘real life’ anymore? …

Coming next: Part 2: Knowledge and skills.


Collaborative problem solving…

Sometimes the students’ reflections are the most interesting part of a learning experience…

We used Solvr last week. It’s a collaborative problem solving tool for raising issues and coming up with possible solutions. Here’s an example of one which my team created last year to discuss  potential issues in using Solvr. (Feel free to add to it, to see how Solvr works.)

Using it in class was fun, the kids were engaged and everyone participated in the discussion, even the ones who usually have less to say in class conversation.

Solvr-ing problems
By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

I often ask my students to jot down their thoughts in the last couple of minutes of a lesson, in the form of feedback for me or a reflection for themselves.

Here’s what they thought of the Solvr learning experience:

  • I liked that you could see everyone’s learning and connect it with your own. (Dean)
  • It’s nice to hear other people’s opinions about what you have written (Allegra)
  • I liked doing it this way because it’s unique and no-one else does it (!)
  • You could easily see everyone’s ideas, problems and solutions (Jazi)
  • I liked that you can see the problems and try solve them (Simon)
  • I liked that we got lots of ideas down (Jade)
  • I prefer speaking in class discussions, it’s easier to contribute. (Matthew)
  • It’s an easy way keep track of what’s been said (Zac)
  • I liked that we could all talk at once (Gabriel)
  • I didn’t like that it moved so fast. I had trouble finding questions to answers.
  • You can just say what you think and not put up your hand or wait your turn (Amy)
  • It’s nice to try something new (Tahni)

That probably gives you enough reasons to try using this tool…   I have nothing to add!


It’s about the learning, not the tools…

Frankly I’m tired of tools.  Exhausted from experimenting. Weary of web 2.0 options popping up on a daily basis… Well not entirely 🙂

At one point, I was excited to keep trying out new tools, figure out how they work, share them with my colleagues and use them to support learning and engage my students.  I wrote a post a while ago  saying I would start a series sharing one new tool that I tried each week… but never continued the series.  I used to support Linda, our ICT coordinator in introducing a new tool at every session of our early morning tech sessions for teachers.  But, while I am still experimenting with new tools, learning and exploring new possibilities, I have decided to slow down.  It’s important for the learning to drive things, not the technology.

which tool?Most of our teachers are willing to have a go, but not yet entirely comfortable with technology.  They are still daunted by too many different tools, when and how to use them.  So, this week we started using our tech sessions in a different way.  Instead of introducing new tools, we will revisit the ones that teachers have already been shown and discuss further possible ways of using them to enhance learning.  And give teachers and students a bit more time to consolidate and become completely comfortable with each tool in their toolbox.

We started by revisiting Voicethread. If you’ve been with me since the start, you’ll know it’s one of my favourites. To start off with Michele from our junior campus showed us the fabulous connection our 5 year olds made with a school in the US  using Voicethread. (more about that next time.)

Everyone shared ideas for how Voicethread might be used.  As a way for students to respond to an image or video related to their units of inquiry. As a place to share their own inquiry findings and have other kids, teachers and parents comment.  As an opportunity for discussion, a way to collaborate with people in other places, an option for a text response, a way of practising skills of speaking, listening, reading, writing.  Claire liked the idea of setting up a Voicethread as one of her literacy rotations, where kids could respond to a text in an engaging way, without teacher supervision.  Des thought it would be great to upload a talk she had heard and have her class comment on it.  Or perhaps all the Year 4 classes could collaborate.  Rubi has a contact at a PYP school in Mumbai and hopes to connect with kids there for a unit on understanding other cultures.  Talila loves the idea of getting her students to engage in Hebrew conversation.

We talked about how to scaffold thinking so that students’ contributions to the Voicethread will be meaningful.  I remember reading a blog post last week concerning how to get kids to make more valuable blog comments. Whether they are commenting on a blog, adding to a discssion in Voicethread  or responding to their peers’ learning,  the use of a thinking routine will provide a structure for their thinking.  I have blogged extensively about Project Zero‘s thinking routines in the past and can’t stress enough the part they play in fostering higher order thinking. The ‘Connect Extend Challenge‘ routine for any kind of response in Voicethread (or anywhere else) seemed to us one of the most appropriate.  It enables students to make connections to what they already know, explain how their thinking has been extended and then pose a question about the topic/image/video/presentation which they find challenging. One of the teachers suggested simplifying it for the younger kids to ‘Get one,give one’  –  Say something you got out of it (or learned from it) and something new you can add or suggest.

We always come away from these sessions pleased to have reflected on our practice together, aware of how much we have learned and continue to learn from each other, enthused to have a go at applying new ideas… and I always think how lucky I am to be part of a true community of learners.


Tagxedo- a new word cloud generator

‘Tagxedo turns words — famous speeches, news articles, slogans and themes, even your love letters — into a visually stunning tag cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurence within the body of text.’

Just paste in your text or type in a URL, adjust the shape, font, theme, direction, aspect ratio and then save as an image.  Here’s my blog!


4 C’s

Two of the most successful ways to engage students in their learning are technology and thinking routines.  If you read this blog, you already know that’s how I feel 🙂  If not, see my previous posts!!

My favourite scenario is when I can combine the two.  I blogged about using Toondoo for the Colour, Symbol, Image thinking routine.  Tomorrow I intend to use Edmodo,  for kids to respond to a video, using the 4 C’s thinking routine.  I have adapted the routine a little to suit the particular unit of inquiry, but this is the original version:

The 4 C’s:

Connections: How does this text (video, other stimulus) connect to what you already know?

Concepts: What concepts or big ideas are important in this text?

Changes: What changes in attitude, thinking or action are suggested by the text?

Challenges: What ideas in the text would you like to challenge or argue with?

It’s a powerful thinking routine and will hopefully give the students a structure within which to frame their responses to the video, make connections to other learning, think about big ideas and raise issues.  I think Edmodo will be an appropriate tool to use, as the kids will be able to see and build on each others’ ideas.  I like the fact that every single person will be involved in thinking and expressing their ideas, even the shy ones who might normally participate less.  I think it will be helpful that kids can view the video clip as many times as they like, and pause or rewind as required.  I like the fact that the task is naturally differentiated, where the stronger kids can express more, the weaker ones can get ideas from their peers and everyone can be engaged at their own level.

I feel a little disappointed that, in spite of all these advantages, my team mates are opting to show the video to the whole class and get each child to respond individually on paper.

Making foreign language learning more engaging.

I read a post this week about the challenges of making the teaching of grammar less boring in foreign language lessons. While I know that it’s important to teach grammatical concepts and rules, it’s the application that makes the learning worthwhile.  If the students know they will have meaningful opportunities to apply their language learning and to create for an authentic audience, they will surely be more engaged.

Our teachers explored a few such possibilities today and, while we teach Hebrew, these ideas could work for any language.

We started by looking at ways to use Power-Point to enhance second language learning.  Inserting sound creates all sorts of opportunities for the students to record themselves, thereby practising important reading and speaking skills.

  • Insert a series of images into slides and have students record a story based on the images (insert sound, select record).  This can be written first and corrected by the teacher, then read out, or students can simply improvise and tell the story right away.
  • Students select their own pictures or take their own photographs to use for their story. You can see an example in a previous post here.
  • Students work in pairs to create a conversation which they record, based on the selected images.

The slide show can be uploaded to Slideboom, or another such site, so that the link can be shared with parents and others, so that there is an authentic audience for the students’ creations.

Most of the above can be done with Voicethread too, adding the extra dimension of allowing collaboration. You can see see more detail in a previous post about Voicethread, with examples here and another example here.

  • Start with an image or a series of images and have students speak about them in the foreign language (using those newly learnt grammatical skills!)
  • The students can be added to the teacher’s Voicethread identity and everyone takes turns to talk about the image or set or set of images.
  • The students can login and add their own comments or storyline to the images.
  • Other students and parents can record comments on the final product.

If you have ever read this blog, you will know that ToonDoo is one of my favourites! We have our own school toondoospace, which is a secure, private version of the online comic creator. These were the ideas that came up in today’s session for using ToonDoo to practise language skills:

  • Students can choose one panel to create a scene illustrating new vocabulary.
  • They can use 2-3 panels to create a story, adding text bubbles, incorporating new vocabulary and grammatical constructs.
  • Several toons can be combined to create a toonbook.
  • The teacher can create the first scene of a cartoon story and save with the ‘let others redoo’ option. Students can then continue the story.
  • As above, except the teacher gives the middle panel and the students create a beginning and end to the story.

My friend for the week is…

Family legend has it  that when my sister-in-law was at boarding school, she would write home saying ‘My friend for the week is…’  It seems there were so many new people to engage with that she was able to find a new friend each week.  That’s similar to the way I feel about all the web 2.0 tools that I could use in my class!

When I first began exploring web 2.0 tools, I wanted to experiment with each new one I discovered! But I realise (I’m an Aussie, that IS how you spell realise)  that it’s important to remember that the tech tools you use in your classroom need to support learning.  It’s about the learning, not about the technology itself.

So bearing that in mind, here are two of my favorite web 2.0 tools for the classroom . These are the ones that I keep coming back to because they have been so successful in engaging my students and enhancing their learning:

ToonDoo is a wonderful online comic creator. Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know what a fan I am, since I regularly use my toons to illustrate my posts. Our school has it’s own ToonDoo spacewhich is a private, secure site for our students to create toons, express their creativity and demonstrate their learning. It’s excellent for second language practice too. I blogged about it here.

I find Voicethread a versatile tool for conversation around images.  You can upload images or videos and comment either by typing or by recording your voice.  Others can participate and comment, which allows for collaboration as well as feedback.  Again, it’s great for second language practice. See examples here.

And here is a new ‘friend for the week‘, with which I have begun to experiment and whose usefulness for my students’ learning, I have yet to assess:

Primary Pad is a web-based word processor designed for schools, that allows pupils and teachers to work together in real-time.  It is a very simple, straightforward tool for collaborating on a document simultaneously, which young kids could easily manage. My head is already buzzing with possibilities for how it could be useful for learning.  More on that next time, after my students have experimented.

New series: ‘My friend for the week is…(via Phyllis.)