Sleepless nights….

A friend and colleague tweeted me an infographic yesterday, and I realised it was just the incentive I needed to jot down my thinking on what has been going on so far with my Historical Fiction project. The infographic is called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Who Use Technology.

To my friend, I flippantly made the comment, based on Point 7, “I’m not sleeping at night, so I must be one of those!” HOWEVER, as I look point by point, I am comforted to think that I see these points in much of what I do.

Thinking about Point 1 most,  I need to say that I have not enjoyed the planning for this project in the same way as I enjoyed learning in Courses 1-4. I think because I had to really scrape to come up with something to use for this project. Maybe that is because at this point in my life I am dealing with so many things happening that distract from study or maybe it is the restriction of the project where it had to be the reworking of an old unit and it was hard to reconcile the project to my classwork which is a contractual requirement and I don’t have the flexibility to make the changes I’d like. I have posted of this before so not going to repeat myself.

I started the Historical Fiction Unit by selecting groups with student input. We had a practice interactive read-aloud and then individual reading and then sharing findings in the book clubs – so they could see how the book club worked. I explained that in previous years students had completed the book club discussions with writing in a reading journal. But this time to try something new we would use a digital method of recording and it would be collaborative so it could be shared with all members of the book club and other interested bodies outside the club. We talked about possibilities. Students enthusiastically discussed in their clubs how they might share their learning.

So from the start, we have a couple of book clubs using Google Presentation, a couple using new collaborative blogs with Blogger, a club using a Google site, and one group using Edmodo. I pottered a little with Edmodo some time ago but am not an expert. One student took on the teaching role for her club and they are certainly more proficient than I. One group started with VoiceThread but gave up and chose a Blog instead.

For the First lesson they had their laptops on the tables. We sat together and I picked out the Historical Fiction teaching point for that lesson (from the planner that I don’t have permission to change). This was that readers look at the illustrations on the book covers to extract information about the historical aspect of this type of fiction. Students got their own books to do this for themselves. What I didn’t bargain for though, was that they did not talk about their discoveries. They went straight to their laptops.

They were all sharing their findings online. I was reminded of seeing older students all sitting silently around a table too busy texting to talk…

This happened with the next lesson too, and it started to bother me. I started thinking that this was NOT a good use of the technology. That the technology instead of enhancing the reading lessons, was having creating a situation where the face-to-face had disappeared. I had to rethink and the third lesson I had them discuss the their own findings of whatever the element of the day was, using the “knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye” strategy before they got the laptops out of the cart. NOW we seem to be having the best of both worlds.

We have not started the Writing Historical Fiction part yet. Our initial thoughts were to publish the stories they will write in iBook Author…. until someone said, “What about the Green Screen….?”

Adaptable? Malleable? Embracing change? Sharing? Absolutely! As much as is possible!


Seeing and Doing

My class has spent the first few weeks of this school year learning about how their brains are affected by different things and how that in turn affects how well they learn. This week we have Goal-Setting Conferences with parents. One of the tasks for this week is to decide on those goals. We did have a Google doc with a table and questions which was quite adequate but as I thought about which lesson to add an image to, it seemed like a good one. I decided to look for an image of the brain to go with a goal setting lesson. My class has found that our brains are very complex! So I was immediately drawn to the image by Kai Schreiber. I want to see if my students can see why I chose the image. In this way I think there will be a lead in for a discussion.

I have used this image in my “Mrs Buckley – Thinking and Learning!” blog post which students will see on Monday, if not over the weekend. I also drew colour from the image to use in the text. I will ask if it was effective.

Screenshot of blog post

Screenshot of blog post

I also want my students to think about what they have learned and choose a goal connected with getting the best out of the brain, so I also used that same image on the Google doc.

screenshot of Google doc

Screenshot of Google doc

I first heard about Presentation Zen from Chrissy Hellyer at an inservice. I was sold straight away. Every year since then, when I introduce this, my students find it really difficult. They cannot see how a slideshow without words can be effective, and there are always groans and gnashing of teeth when I tell them, “Maximum 10 words on each slide – and I’m being generous!” And then I’ll show the presentation that I showed their parents for Open House, so they can see how you have your audience looking at a really great picture while they listen to what’s being said. And some will get it quickly. Others take a while…

Reading and looking at the visual elements of Garr Reynold’s blog “Presentation Zen: the Power of the Visual” I was taken back more years than I like to think. Long before classrooms had computers in them, my art master was drumming into us the importance of the “Golden Mean” when we were composing (explained neatly here by Scottish artist, Judith I Bridgland in a blog post). Garr Reynolds shows how successful photos and films use the Rule of Thirds in the same way.

I will find if our Art teacher teaches this. If so it would be a great project for us to collaborate on. Certainly that Rule of Thirds is a whole lot easier to use than the Golden Mean and easy to see how the photographers used it in the Aussie Tourism ads. (Although it has to be said that that series of advertisements was deemed a failure from which the Australian tourism industry took ages to recover. Maybe they should indeed have stuck to the VISUALS and kept print and voices off!)

It makes my eyes go funny…

I have been telling folks at my school how useful the COETAIL courses have been so far. Before I even looked at what was in Course 3, I was saying how I have been able to use my learning in Course 1 and 2 in my classroom right from the start. (This to me is the best type of learning – interesting and useful at the same time.) And now here is course 3 – all about Visual Literacy, Media Literacy, Design and Navigation, just in time for me to use what I am learning with my students who created blogs just last week!

In the article, Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, Brandon Jones says, “Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.” Thinking about this, I took a look at my grade 5 students’ blogs from previous years and it’s interesting to see the range of appearances from very calm, clear places with easy-to-read text and videos and photos spaced with careful thought to almost unreadable blogs, pale text on light backgrounds, practically heiroglyphic fonts or rainbow colours on black background on top of multicoloured, abstract art….. Aaaagh….

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 4.27.07 PM

Image: LindyBuckley
You can tell she LOVES pink!

In the past, I have not spent much time with my students talking about design, apart from gentle apologies when I was unable to read something they’d written because the combination of colours they’d chosen made my eyes go funny! The first year we had students blogs, we were very new to the whole blogging thing too, and it was very much a case of learning alongside. I recall that first year, blogs brimming over with swimming fish, overly cute with fluffy bunnies, kittens, puppies, ponies… virtual menageries! Most of our current students don’t add those to their school Learning Blogs. We don’t say not to, but we do ask them to consider what would be appropriate for a Learning Blog.

Image: LindyBuckley

Image: LindyBuckley
Already thinking about reader appeal.

In Life on the Screen: Visual Literacy in Education, George Lucas says, “We need to take art and music out of “the arts class” and put it into the English class.” When creating their blogs and their e-portfolios, our students are shown how to embed video, photos, podcasts, etc. and they have the opportunity to play around with them as well as the themes, layouts, colours, fonts available in Blogger or Google Sites. Some students are more familiar with iMovie and GarageBand than others and often their teachers OR they are risk-takers, eager to explore the possibilities so we do have “expert” helpers, students teaching others. But we have not formally taught many Visual Literacy lessons. That will change…

I am qualified to teach art, but I don’t, being a grade 5 teacher in a school where my students leave my room to learn with an art teacher. I have not had the conversation with her about this topic but I shall. I think that this is certainly a next step for us. With the amount of digital reading our students do, it makes sense to have them learn about design by drawing attention to it. I can see this would be relatively easy to do from now on each time we look at a new website. As well as looking for information, asking students how easy it was to navigate/locate/read what they were looking for and seeing if they can identify what the author did well to help them be successful. After all we do that when teaching writing  and reading, e.g. non-fiction books.

Image: LindyBuckley Encouraging early thinking about design

Image: LindyBuckley
Encouraging early thinking about design

I note that my post is actually supposed to be about how I would redesign either my COETAIL blog. I like clarity. I like things to be clear. I don’t have much tolerance for websites that look fussy or have advertisements that bounce up and down, or are fluorescent, or move in front of the text. If I open a website and it is cluttered with lots of widgets or gadgets or too many text boxes too close to each other, I get put off. I was surprised to read in 23 Actionable Lessons from Eye-Tracking Studies that many of the things that bother me, actually don’t bother others!

I think because of my minimalistic preferences, I probably wouldn’t do too much to my COETAIL blog (although it might be nice to have some different fonts…) I named my other public blog  “No Frills” simply because it really just has my thoughts on it. No maps of visitors, or spinning worlds, etc. And mostly I blog for myself. If I decide to I am trying to sell something… even myself perhaps… that would be a whole different project. I have bookmarked the 23 Actionable Lessons for just this occasion…..

Going Global

This week’s Performance Task has been an interesting one for me!

“Research online collaborative projects that you might be able to use in your classroom. Write a blog post reflecting on how technology is changing the learning landscape and global education.”

Regarding the global aspect, although the Middle and High sections of my school, seem to have plenty of Sports and Arts events, I don’t think we have that many global collaborations using technology at our elementary level. I am trying to think why this is. I have been watching Flat Classroom projects for a couple of years now. I have read blog posts about Quadblogging. A few weeks ago this Student Blogging Challenge was recommended to me. I have taken note of these and they are all on my “Possibilities List”… (Thanks Beth Dressler for coining the phrase!)

It isn’t that my school is not into collaborating globally. We are from something like 47 nationalities on my campus so we all feel “global”. Our MS and HS have lots of connections with schools in neighbouring countries. But our focus for the past few years has been less about making connections in far away places and more about making connections with our host country Indonesia. This has been a priority. A couple of years ago when parents, students, teachers, administrators, board members and local staff met to plan the next important direction for us all, one issue was raised by many. As one high school student said, being at our school was like being on a cruise ship, with passengers totally isolated from the people of the country the ship is visiting. It was said that we, the expat school community were in a bubble. So last year and this, there has been a concerted effort to “burst the bubble” principally through service in the community. This has been a priority for every class and much discussion and effort has gone into that.

Which makes me think then about how we are using technology to advance those efforts… something for further discussion with my teaching partners.

Going back to my question about how my classroom can be more collaborative globally – as it happened, this morning I opened my tweetdeck and saw #globalclassroom and thought – exactly what I am looking for! I have added #globalclassroom as a column. Thanks to twitter, I now have the following links to investigate further:

The Global Classroom Project by Michael Graffin. Looks like a good project to join. I looked at one example. The students in a grade 5/6 have put their questions on a google doc and it has been shared. They are asking for connections in some Asian countries to answer questions. I would have replied straight away with an offer to have my students help – except no one had asked about Indonesia! But I can see that this would be a great platform for making global collaborative contacts.

Comparing Hemispheres  and Energising Energy Lisa A Parisi. She has set up these wikis where her class is collaborating with others in science and social studies inquiries.

Global Science This appears to be a new site. It has a list of scientists that your class can contact. The first name I clicked on, just to have a look turned out to be Dr Tom Keeble whose area of expertise is neuroscience. What a great connection for our Learning To Learn unit for the start of next year, where we look at how brain research helps us learn more effectively. There is a science blogs section where students have obviously signed up but it all very recent.

World Read Aloud day

We had our first skype connection with another school a few days ago. I saw a tweet asking for a class to join a class in Melbourne for World Read Aloud Day, 6th March. When I saw the repeat, “Still looking for a class…” and since it was a fellow Coetailer, Beth Queeny Dressler,  I said we’d do it. Steep learning curve. I skype regularly with the daughter at uni but we’d never done it as a class. After a few emails, trying to match times and classes, we finally decided that I would ask my students if they’d like to read aloud to a Prep class in Melbourne. I got volunteers very quickly, and tested it all on my smartboard in school. No problems. However, on the day, we had tech problems on both ends to start with, some of which were solved. We could see them, but poorly. They couldn’t see us. However, the sound was ok and as my kids read, Beth showed the illustrations from the same books from their library. Everyone was enthusiastic and my class thought it was great!

Total success, not really. Enough to try again, absolutely! And I have questions for my tech people which will increase my understanding, “What can we do about the bandwidth problem?” “Is there an optimum time of day?” “What about a Google+ hangout? Would it use less bandwidth?”

For about six weeks now we have been on twitter, but still only communicating with our buddy class in school. Seeing what classes were doing with the Global Classroom Project has given me some thoughts on how we could use this to connect with others during our next unit.

Thoughts as yet undeveloped…. just needs a bit of collaborative thinking!


Split Screen Approach

When I think about the Essential Question for week 3, “How can we effectively, practically and authentically embed technology within our curricular areas?” Guy Claxton’s  Split Screen strategy comes to mind. It was introduced to us at a Kath Murdoch workshop.

Basically, in split screen teaching one has the learning objectives or conceptual understanding, i.e. “What am I learning about?” on the one hand and at the same time, specific learning objectives about how the learning is happening, “What am I learning to do and be?” Regular reflection during the unit or lessons are used to identify this. Jane Nicholl’s blog post explains how it works.

I can see this as a useful way to keep track of the technology learning being included in all curricular areas as well.

Here’s today’s:

Learning to learn

And here is another example from last year’s unit “Climate Control.” In the past couple of years, after students have understanding of the main ideas of the unit, i.e. global warming, climate change, severe storms, fossil fuels, renewable energy, etc, we have used  this UbD GRASPS exercise. We may use this agin this year or not. We’ll see.

Your task is to give wildlife a voice!
For this task you should choose to be a creature, endangered because of climate change.

You should tell what conditions are like for you as the earth warms. You should describe how your life is affected, how your life is changing, what you think the future will be like for you. You should include some suggestions of things humans can do to help protect your way of life and not let it get worse.
Tell your story passionately but with true facts to back up what you are saying.

So in this exercise, I would say – and display on the classroom wall –

We are learning about: Animals endangered by climate change

We are learning to be: Persuasive

We are learning to have: Empathy

We are learning to use: Questioning strategies, Digital reading strategies, Thinking strategies, Noodletools, Creative Commons Images 

For all the units we have, my team together with our tech and library teachers will look at possibilities to suggest to students – who may (hopefully) also have their own ideas to go beyond the basic story.

Here’s last year’s.

Climate Control Animal Stories

I am hoping for more this year with our students having greater scope with their macbooks. I could see GarageBand and iMovie being suggested. It is this last part where students are using their learning from other areas to suggest without teacher input that will tell me that students are making that transfer that I want to see.