Learning about cyber-safety…

It’s the last day of term. The bell’s gone and rowdy kids are spilling out of classrooms,  grabbing their bags and and making their way out. Everyone’s excited to be having 2 weeks holidays with no school!

But in Joc’s class, even after the bell, this is what I found:

She had said they could go home and continue to watch the cyber-safety video after the holidays, but they were so engrossed, they wouldn’t let her turn it off.  Powerful video, it seems…


What Teachers should be able to do…

Guest post by Linda. @lindawollan

After reading the post 10 Things A Teacher Should Know How To Do, by Andrew Garcia, my colleague Ed asked me what I would put on a list of tech skills for our teachers. What things would come first? At our school, many teachers can do none of the things on Andrew’s list. Some can do a few. Some wouldn’t know what most of the list means.

It’s a great discussion to have. The successful use of tech tools comes down to a willingness to explore, either independently or at least what you’ve been shown.  You need to be willing to try new things, and willing to put in some time. The particulars depend on the needs of your class. If you are an active user of a class blog or wiki, then you need the  appropriate tools and should be motivated to learn them. At the very least, collaborate with your friendly tech support teacher to make sure your students don’t miss out!

My list looks something like this:

  • Know what a blog is and start reading some – subscribe to those that interest you.
  • Spend personal time exploring the tools you have been shown, to reinforce your learning.
  • Create a wiki or blog for your own class (it’s a big ask to expect both, though both have a role).
  • Be able to embed video and web tools in a blog or wiki.
  • Take the initiative in looking for/locating appropriate tools for your students by… starting at point 1 again.
  • Knock down your classroom walls – collaborate with people outside your school using eg Skype or Voicethread.
  • Join Twitter – get the best PD of all from the contacts you make in the educational community all over the world.
    double standard

Of course as well as knowing about Web 2.0 tools, make sure the basics are in place. So before we even get to the list above:

  • Know your way around Office tools
  • Read/use your email regularly. Know how to set up a group in email (your first group should be your class).
  • Be able to use the school intranet proficiently.
  • Use the multimedia tools that come with your interactive whiteboard. Make it a student tool as well.
  • Be a confident web user – be able to search efficiently.
  • Understand copyright issues on the web, and make sure your students are copyright aware.
  • Use online bookmarking, so that your bookmarks are available wherever you are

So- What’s on your list?


Below the tip of the iceberg…

Culture is often compared to an iceberg which has both visible  and invisible  parts. The tip of the iceberg represents the elements of culture which we can see, such as food, language and customs. Those elements which are less obvious, such as values, beliefs and world view, comprise the much larger portion of the iceberg underwater. We discussed this model recently when planning a Year 4 unit of inquiry on understanding other cultures.

In Desiree’s class,  students classified their questions about other cultures into ‘above and below’ the tip of the iceberg. They were surprised to discover that all their early questions related to the tip of the iceberg, but have gradually developed an understanding that there’s more to culture than the 3 F’s. (food, flags and festivals!)

To further support their learning, they have opportunities to interact with people of other cultures. Raj, his son Aditya and a colleague Deepali chatted with them and answered their questions live from Chennai, India via Skype last week. Next week they will Skype with Corinne in Japan. Another class will engage with students in New Zealand, some of whom are Maori and Pacific Islanders. (Remember the days when you could only learn about other cultures from books?)

After the session with Raj, students explored some differences and similarities. While Hindu beliefs and customs and the way of life in Chennai are very different from theirs, they found plenty of commonalities. We too have a festival of lights, we too eat traditional foods at festivals, we too have an interest in sport and in particular they could identify with the relationship between father and son!

I was reminded of a presentation by Ruth Van Reken at the IBAP conference. In her talk on inter-cultural understanding, she  suggested adding a third level to the iceberg, the qualities that make us human. She further suggested turning the model upside down. By starting with the human qualities, finding what we have in common, we can more easily relate to and connect with people of different cultures.

Rather than focusing only on the tip of the iceberg, we need to make this kind of understanding our goal in teaching and learning about other cultures!

Technology shouldn’t drive, it should empower…

Des is a teacher who has actively resisted technology for quite a while! Her son is an ICT expert and she has always relied on him to do things for her.  She tried… but she made excuses, she apologised, she labeled herself.  She would come to our tech sessions, write copious notes, express interest in having a go, but never feel comfortable. We’re talking about a wonderful, passionate teacher, willing to embrace change… just not technology.

June 2010:  In the past few weeks, there’s been a shift for her.  She had a go at one thing and then another…And now it seems as if she’s crossed some invisible line and anything is possible!  She has given her Year 4 students a choice as to which web 2.0  tools to use to express their learning and allowed them to guide her.  Her class has collaborated with a class in the UK on a Voicethread, sharing information and learning.  She’s seen the potential of  Skype in the classroom, and after being talked into one supported session, is now setting up her next one herself….

She attributes the change to the following:

  • Plenty of support.
  • Having a go, playing around with the tools, experimenting.
  • Reading what it says on the screen, rather than waiting for instructions.
  • Guilt.  She didn’t want her kids missing out and felt she owed it to them to push herself.
  • Handing over control to the kids and accepting their help.
  • Experiencing some successes, which encouraged her to try other things.
  • Opportunities for using technology to support learning in a meaningful way.

Perhaps these factors can help other teachers move forward in integrating tech into their teaching and learning. At a conference I attended recently, presenter Stephen Knowles put it like this, ” Technology shouldn’t drive, it should empower…”  What do you think, Des?


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…

I’m writing midyear reports.  Looking back at comments from last year, I notice an interesting development. This time last year, web 2.0 tools were still quite new for me.  I was excitedly experimenting with new and different ways of expressing learning. On some reports, I wrote things like, ‘X enjoys expressing her learning through technology’. A year later that seems to me like saying she enjoys writing with a pencil! It’s not about the technology…

It’s about the learning…

Last week in my Hebrew language class,  students were given a choice how they wanted to spend their learning time. Other than a few tasks that required completion,  the students  needed to be effectively practising all their second language skills in any way they liked.  We started by discussing potential problems that might arise in such a setting and students provided possible solutions in advance.

During the double lesson, there were students practising the new vocabulary by playing a card game, while another group was huddled around a computer adding to a Voicethread. As students left, they showed newcomers how to make sure they changed identities and when to start recording.  Some students were engaged in a writing task using newly learned vocabulary. Others sat in pairs with stopwatches, timing each other’s reading. Some used the iTouch to interview each other, using the voice memo, while others created Hebrew comics using Toondoo.

Everyone was focused and engaged.  Learning was student centered. Students used their second language in a variety of meaningful contexts. They practised not only their language skills but a whole range of trans-disciplinary skills such as communication, collaboration, creative thinking, independence and time management. Learning was taking place at all stages of the AMT model described in a previous post.  Some students were working on acquiring skills, some were using their skills in a meaningful way in the learned context and some were transferring their knowledge to other contexts.

Some tasks involved technology and others did not.

It’s  about the learning…

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.


Teacher perspectives on tech…


Circle of viewpoints is a thinking routine that helps students consider different points of view. It might be used to consider diverse perspectives on a topic, to personalise text, to develop empathy or to open a discussion about a dilemma or moral issue.

The routine involves taking on the character of someone with a particular viewpoint, thinking about the issue from their perspective and asking a question they might ask. See the Project Zero website for details of how the routine is used.

I’d like to use this routine to consider and express teachers’ perspectives in relation to technology. I think it’s important to try and understand the different viewpoints, so that each group can receive the kind of support they need.

Group 1

We resist technology. We don’t get the point of spending ages logging into the computer and figuring out new tools, when we can achieve the same thing with a pen and paper. We think kids these days spend far too much time in front of a screen, whether it’s a TV or a computer.  This stops them from playing and from interacting with other human beings. We need to protect our kids, so it’s best not to have their work online in a public forum where unknown people could make inappropriate comments. We are really busy and don’t have time to experiment with new computer tools. Why do we need to change?

Group 2

We understand that the world has changed and we want to integrate technology, but we lack confidence. We don’t feel comfortable with technology yet and we are easily discouraged when things go wrong.  We don’t feel in control of the learning because we don’t feel in control of the technology. We are keen to try but we still need lots of support.  Sometimes we feel uncomfortable admitting that we need the support so it’s easier to do things in old ways. We come away from PD sessions feeling inspired and enthused, but then we lose motivation when we try to manage the technology on our own.   We sometimes feel intimidated by the people who seem to find technology easy to manage. How can we catch up and keep up?

Group 3

We have adopted technology. We understand that the learning is what drives everything, but we are willing to try and integrate appropriate tech tools to enhance the learning. We feel comfortable enough to experiment with tools we haven’t used before and to get support when we need it. We don’t give up, even when things don’t go the way we planned. We are willing to hand over more control to the students. We want our students’ learning to be seen and commented on by an authentic audience. We want to flatten the classroom walls, bring in experts via skype, have our kids interact with people in other parts of the world. We are prepared to put in the time required to mastering new skills and exploring new tools. We realise that we will never ‘get there’, there will always be more to learn. How can we best engage our students and support their learning?

Which group are you in? If you’re here reading a blog, you probably aren’t in Group 1.  (Let’s try and encourage them).  If you’re in Group 2 and you’re reading this, take another step forward and write a comment!  Whichever group you are in, let’s recognise that we are all lifelong learners and just take one step forward at a time.


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.