i love technology!

Yesterday I blogged  ‘I hate technology’.  As predicted by the first comment on that post, today I love technology again!

We recently acquired a set of iPod Touch for classroom use.  As a way to encourage innovation, the principal had offered a $5000 grant for each of 3 projects to enhance student learning.  We put in a submission for a set of iPods and were successful!

They have just been set up and I decided to give them a try today.  The Voice Memo app seemed like a great way to practise second language skills.   For a few dollars each, we have bought tiny microphones like the one in the picture.  The task was to interview a partner in Hebrew,  based on the current topic of study, incorporating newly learned vocabulary. The kids were extremely excited, very little explanation was required and they went off to their corners to record.

Here’s what the students said:

  • I never imagined the school would get ipods! (Jay)
  • It was fun and a different way of learning. (Lele)
  • It was a good way to learn the new words by actually using them, while having fun at the same time. (Tahni)
  • When we played it back, we could hear our mistakes and correct them. (Allegra) (That one is my favourite. Ed)

My observations:

  • I love the iPods (and Apple in general, I assume) for sheer ease of use.  None of the usual teething problems when trying something new.  No delay for logging in as we have on the school computers. No time was wasted and the task was done really quickly!
  • The kids were really engaged and self motivated and had lots of fun learning! I could have packed up and gone home and no-one would have been any the wiser.
  • Why would we need to use Audacity for podcasting, unless we want to do something more complicated? This is just so simple. Even non-techy teachers will cope… well, they won’t have to, they can hand over to the students.
  • Fiona used the Voice Memo app in the library for some book discussion today and was similarly successful. Kids from both classes were heard continuing to discuss their experiences in the playground at lunchtime. Always a good sign!
  • I’m looking forward to using them for other things…  So are the students!
  • I predict that mobile devices will be used more and more at schools.  This is technology the students are already comfortable with and extending its application to learning simply makes sense.


Establishing a culture of thinking #2

I wrote in a previous post, about establishing a culture of thinking and referred to Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces of a thinking classroom.

Time for thinking
Expectations for thinking and learning
Opportunities for engaging in thinking
Routines & Structures that scaffold thinking and learning
Language & Conversations that name, notice, and highlight thinking
Modeling of thinking
Interactions & Relationships that show respect for students’ thinking
Physical Environment in which the process of thinking is made visible

‘Work’ does not = learning.
For learning to occur, thinking and understanding are required!  The cultural forces communicate to our students that thinking is expected and valued, what kinds of thinking will be happening and how learning and thinking will be managed and documented.

In that post, I talked about ‘thinking time’.  Another of the ‘forces’ that define a thinking class, is ‘routines’.  ‘A routine can be thought of as any procedure, process, or pattern of action that is used repeatedly to manage and facilitate the accomplishment of specific goals or tasks’.  Ritchhart says that just as you have housekeeping routines and management routines in the classroom, thinking can become a routine too.  Like all routines, thinking routines need to be clear with a few steps, easy to teach/learn and remember, applicable across a  range of contexts.  As a result, Project Zero’s suggested thinking routines are crisp and catchy, while creating a structure for complex, higher order thinking.

Today my class used a routine, called ‘Colour, Symbol, Image‘ which requires selecting a colour, a symbol and an image to represent the essence of the topic or text  studied.  This can be done on paper or digitally, but the computer makes it easy to insert symbols and find appropriate images, with no artistic talent required.  Here’s an example showing my colour, symbol and image of choice to represent the essence of my blog.  I only thought of using Toondoo to create it, after the class had done theirs in boring old Word!!

Cultural forces in a thinking classroom: Part 2: Routines

Compliance vs Initiative…

When she was a young child,  my daughter was once asked to leave a pottery class.  This was because when the teacher insisted every child make the same object, she usually had her own ideas for what she wanted to create.  Expelled from an art class for non compliance.  For creativity…

This is the entire post from Seth Godin’s blog, the other day..

“Compliance is simple to measure, simple to test for and simple to teach. Punish non-compliance, reward obedience and repeat.

Initiative is very difficult to teach to 28 students in a quiet classroom. It’s difficult to brag about in a school board meeting. And it’s a huge pain in the neck to do reliably.

Schools like teaching compliance. They’re pretty good at it.

To top it off, until recently the customers of a school or training program (the companies that hire workers) were buying compliance by the bushel. Initiative was a red flag, not an asset.

Of course, now that’s all changed. The economy has rewritten the rules, and smart organizations seek out intelligent problem solvers. Everything is different now. Except the part about how much easier it is to teach compliance.”

Food for thought.  As a teacher, do you teach compliance? Punish non-compliance? Reward obedience?  Do you value initiative? Creativity? Problem solving?  Even if it comes with non-compliance?  Do you think schools have changed with the times?  Is compliance still valued above initiative in some classrooms?

Establishing a culture of thinking…

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, talks about teaching children to think and the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom.  His work with David Perkins, Howard Gardner and others at Harvard University on Project Zero and Visible Thinking is well worth exploring.

He describes eight ‘cultural forces’ that define a thinking classroom. These forces foster thinking, and hence deeper understanding and more meaningful learning:

Time for thinking
Expectations for thinking and learning
Opportunities for engaging in thinking
Routines & Structures that scaffold thinking and learning
Language & Conversations that name, notice, and highlight thinking
Modeling of thinking
Interactions & Relationships that show respect for students’ thinking
Physical Environment in which the process of thinking is made visible

I’ll start with the easiest one.  Time for thinking.  It’s easy to talk about.. not always so easy to ensure in the classroom.

How often do teachers ask a question, then rephrase it if no-one answers in the first few seconds?
It’s easy to call on the same child who always raises his hand, yet again, if no-one else volunteers.
Do you ever answer the question yourself if no-one else seems ready to?

Sometimes it’s difficult to allow waiting time, if there’s no response right away, but we need to allow time for thinking if we want our students to think!  One possibility  is to give students time to think and to write down their thoughts, before calling on anyone to respond. That way, everyone has enough time to formulate thoughtful responses and there is much greater participation.  Another is to allow time for students to share their thinking in pairs or groups, before calling on individuals to answer.
Time for thinking’ also implies time for in depth exploration of topics.  The PYP encourages higher order thinking and engagement with conceptual ideas through units of inquiry.  We have definitely seen a difference in the way our students think, since our school introduced the PYP  a few years ago!

Cultural forces in a thinking classroom: Part 1: Time

Essential agreement…

In a PYP school, every working group (teachers or students) starts off by creating an ‘essential agreement’.  In the classroom, this means that, rather than teachers imposing rules, everyone works collaboratively to establish an agreement of how the class will function.

Today Jocelyn and I developed our class essential agreement.  We started by asking the children to consider carefully and then write down what helps them learn and what hinders their learning. The next step was to share with a partner and find the things they had in common. Later we brought back a  list of all the things they had written and, in groups, the students highlighted those they saw as most important for a class essential agreement which will maximise learning for everyone.  This will be collated, brought back one more time to make sure everyone agrees and then we’ll have our class essential agreement!

The wordle shows the key words from the students’ original list of what helps them to learn.  We believe it’s important to have an essential agreement that’s based on creating an environment conducive to learning, rather than rules and regulations.

PYP Key Concept: Function. Series of posts through the lens of  key concepts of PYP. Posts relating to other concepts so far: Form, Change, Connection, Perspective, Responsibility.

A community of learners… worldwide!

How often can you participate in personal professional development together with interesting and inspiring teachers from all over the world?

This morning’s online TeachMeet session was an opportunity to do just that!  The energy and excitement was contagious before the event even started.  At 6am Melbourne time, the session kicked off on Justin.tv.  Educators in different places presented examples of how they use technology in their classrooms.  At the same time, conversation and discussion was happening in twitter about what we were seeing.  What an incredible network of people sharing, encouraging and learning from one another!

You can find the link to the presentations on the edtechroundup wiki.

Apart from the actual content of the presentations, here are some of the things I got out of it:

  • putting a voice to  people whose blogs I read and whom I follow on twitter
  • a sense of community, of being part of a huge group of different, yet like-minded people.
  • inspiration to continue to push the boundaries and try new things in my classroom.
  • motivation to encourage others at my school to move forward.
  • courage to stand up to the ‘blockers’.
  • knowledge that there is support out there, for anything I might want to try.
  • understanding what a PLN can really mean!!


I have just discovered edmodo, a  ‘private social platform for teachers and students to share ideas, files, events and assignments.  It’s really easy to add a video, image, poll or any kind of file.’  You can pose a question or set an assignment and kids can respond.  On first viewing, my students said ‘Wow it looks like facebook!’

The task was to view a video, which I posted for them, and then to respond through the thinking routine ‘Connect, Extend, Challenge’.

Disadvantages: We had a few teething problems, as this was the first time we had used edmodo.  But their site support is excellent! You just post a message and send to ‘support’ and the response is immediate.

Advantages: Every student was involved.  Every student was engaged.  Students can learn from each others’ responses and build on each others’ responses.  Students can continue to work on the task at home.

Thinking about learning… continued

In my previous post, I mentioned Angela Maiers’ reflective questions for learners.  She says ‘the difference between a successful learner and a learner who struggles does not lie in a score or percentile, but within the habits and attitudes — Habitudes— each learner possesses.’
It’s interesting to note how my students replied to those reflective questions!  Here is a sample of their responses to some of the questions:

What is the most important thing you do to grow yourself as a learner?

study, practice, try and take in as much as I can, ask, be a listener, be committed, want to know more, focus on and see what’s round me, think creatively, try my best, concentrate…

What do successful learners do that make them successful?

think , try their best,  listen to other people, keep their eyes open, take risks, learn from their own and others’ mistakes, listen to other people’s opinions, keep their minds open to the future, take in as much as they can…

What hinders your success as a learner?

distraction, fear of failing, lack of time, emotional problems, silence, lack of understanding, lack of concentration…

What do successful learners do when they do not know the subject well?

ask questions, look things up, think harder, be curious, stick with it, practice, research, try different learning techniques to improve…

How does your attitude affect you as a learner?

(see toondoo)


Thoughtful answers, don’t you think? All the more so, seeing as they are 11 years old!