Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Using VoiceThread for Language Learning

For students studying a foreign language, knowing how, when and why to say what to whom is their ultimate goal. One way they achieve this in the language class is through 3 modes of communication - interpersonal, interpretive and presentational. Voicethread has come into the HS Language learning classes to help students with these goals as well as master 21st Century skills of communication. What is VoiceThread? As defined from the Voicethread Website  "A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in 5 ways - using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam). A VoiceThread can be shared with friends, students, and colleagues for them to record comments too." If you would like more information about this tool visit http://ed.voicethread.com/support/resources/websites/ SAS has subscriptions available. You need to contact your Technology Coordinator if you are interested. It is also available on the iPad

Ways that HS Language students are using Voicethread:
In beginning Spanish classes the students have created a Voicethread called Quien es? In their Voicethread students speak about who they are, their favorite clothes, hobbies, family and travel. This meets the presentational mode of communication especially when they share this with others for viewing. The students then interact with each others Voicethreads through comments and then this moves into the interpersonal communication. The ability to listen, read and respond in Voicethreads will demonstrate the 3rd mode of communication - interpretive.

In higher level Chinese classes,  students interact in class discussions about different topics through Voicethread. One example is the topic of Chinese medicine. Students research the topics and provide information to the class via a thread. They present their opinions and respond to each other demonstrating all 3 of the modes of communication.

By using Voicethread for language communication skills students are using the different modes of communication. As they present, share, listen and respond they are strengthening the skills needed to become a better foreign language speaker. These are just a few examples of how some HS teachers are using Voicethread. Please comment and share any other ideas of how you might be using Voicethread.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rambling on apps

Primary Tech

When we first started using the iPads, it was all about finding the app that would change everything.  Everyone wanted to know "what's a good app for..." and everyone had an idea of another great app.  We currently have 148 apps on our student use ipads, and are finding that 1.) there is no ultimate app for everything and 2.) we don't have enough on the ipads to meet the wants of the students.  There is a third point, related to the second, but I'll make that later.

Having said that, there are a number of apps that are pretty cool, and can do some great things across the curriculum.  Our top list 5 at this time:

  1. Screen Chomp/Educreations/Explain Everything
  2. Pic Collage
  3. Puppet Pals/Toontastic
  4. Pages
  5. Keynote
O.K. Sure there are 8 apps on the list, but you can see some groupings among the list.  The other thing you might notice is that none of them are curriculum specific.  We have found that if you want to teach with a tool, you can't have a tool that teaches, because inevitably, you will have other questions that aren't answered by the app that is static.

So, creation apps are great for groups of students and is one way to integrate technology into the curriculum. I would go on about the difference of the apps, and why you may chose one over another, but that's for another post.  

On to my third and final point, which although it comes third, may actually be more important to the development of the student tech user than any of the creation or content specific apps we have.  The one aspect that I feel we sometimes miss out on is the chance for the student to explore and discover on their own.  The students love to take chances and experiment with the apps on their own.  They do need to have direction for the creative apps, but some of the others, they are perfectly happy to sit and learn without any adult instruction.  I compare it to a textbook, where a student might need direction to go through, with a book from the library, which a student might pick up and read on their own.  Each is important to their individual development, but sometimes we may miss if we don't look at both.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mathematics, Reasoning, Recording, and Reflecting

Robin Guettler's grade 5 students have been utilizing iMovie during their mathematics classes this year. As a culminating activity,students explain concepts utilizing whiteboards, and record their reasoning using iMovie. Their most recent unit was fractions and included concepts such as: finding equivalent fractions; converting between fractions and mixed numbers; and estimating the value of circle graph sectors.

The class was divided into teams of four, with each team having a set of skills to explain. Their task was to: introduce each problem; solve the problem on their whiteboards; and , using iMovie on their MacBooks, record their explanation or solution to the problem using specific vocabulary.

Each team's video was uploaded to the class YouTube channel. In the follow up lesson, the students watched the videos and and self-assessed.
The assessment rubric included: Organization and Presentation; Use of Mathematics Vocabulary; Technical Details; and Teamwork.
Questions such as: Did I explain the problem using specific math vocabulary? Was my explanation clear? Can I use this video help me to understand the concepts?

Each student embedded the video into their e-portfolio along with their reflection on their learning. Overall, they felt that they were secure at explaining the procedure, but not as good at explaining why.
This has given them a skill to focus on in the next unit. They are also interred in improving their technical skills. They would like to learn more about iMovie to add titles to supplement their explanations.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Balancing Personal and Professional Information on a Student Blog

For most of our IS students, this is the first year they have had their own blog.  Thus far, the blogs are mostly being used as an eportfolio and a home for digital projects. It is also a lab in which they are practicing digital citizenship as they decide what is and is not appropriate to post online.

While this slow, controlled launch of the blogs is appropriate, it does not build a sense of ownership. To increase ownership we first had students select the template for their blog.  Blogger provides a wide range of backgrounds and most children ended up pleased with the look of their blog.

Now we are taking that a further in two ways.  The first way is by creating an avatar. They are learning to be cautious about where online they post their photo.  Creating an avatar lets them represent themselves in a safe and enjoyable way. We used Clay Yourself.  In addition to being great fun, it taught students how to download images and edit their blog profile.  Here is Roman's avatar.

Another way we are helping students personalize their blog is by adding widgets/gadgets to the sidebar. For practical purposes we need them to have a labels widget and a vistor's map.  Neither of those are very exciting to a nine year old. 

A Sidebar Pet
We decided that giving them choices of other widgets would expand their web skills and provide many opportunities for them to find that balance between personal and professional. It would also give them repeated practice in embedding web codes.  That is a skill they will use often.

Left to their own devices, most children will fill the sidebar with animated pets, You Tube videos and games. As a class we work through which things help share their personality and are appropriate for their professional blog. We talk about the problems of using widgets that have advertisements. We discuss how much is too much when it comes to widgets.  We know we will need to keep revisiting this discussion as children practice new digital citizenship skills in this safe space.

Students use this sheet as a guideline and a source of appropriate gadgets. Then the fun begins.  After working together step-by-step to install two types of widgets, the teachers step back, encouraging children to troubleshoot on their own and with others.  This leads to a bit of frustration. Fortunately, students are so motivated that they keep working until they master this new skill.

Soon the classroom is full of friends dragging each other over to see the new widgets they have added. There is lots of laughter, collaboration and even a few happy dances. 

Someone discovers how to change the color of a sidebar pet and they ask to bring the class up to the carpet so she can teach everyone.  Another student figures out how to add a poll to their sidebar and soon this information is being passed from one child to the next.

By the end of the class most students are able to embed widgets on their own. More importantly they've have begun to find that balance between personal and professional online. 

The best part is hearing them ask as they leave, "Can we work on our blogs from home?"

Click these links to see a few examples of how the blogs look with their spiffy backgrounds and sidebars.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Digital Citizenship Meets Global Collaboration

This year, Susan Shaw's IS GATE RLA class is taking part in a global, hands-on digital citizenship project called the Digitween Project. They are collaborating with peers in other places such as China and the US, to research different aspects of digital citizenship and create a project.

Students' collaboration skills are stretched as they work with teammates in other countries to complete their research and share it with their classmates.To communicate with their partners they are using a wiki and Edmodo, a social media site. 

Part of the project has classes connecting regularly via the web conferencing platform Elluminate. Recently our SAS Digitweens took it a step further. Up until then, our students had only web conferenced with their Chinese colleagues since the time zone difference made connecting with their US partners difficult.

Last Friday, Susan Shaw coordinated a Skype conference call with their US partner class. A number of the GATE students were able to be part of the conference call from home.  They stayed up late and waited eagerly at their computers to be added to the conference call.  

The conference started with introductions.  Next students used the opportunity to talk with their research partners regarding the work they are doing.  Once the work was out of the way, the conversation turned to daily life.  The US students could not fathom the idea of a school so larger that there are 13 sections at each grade level.  A number of our students have never seen snow and were enthralled to hear about the weather their partners were experiencing that day.  

The conference call was such a success that the US students are hoping to get the chance to be the ones to stay up late and host the next conference call.

This meaningful and engaging project covers aspects of all six strands of our SAS Technology Framework:
  1. Creativity and Innovation
  2. Communication and Collaboration
  3. Research and Information Fluency
  4. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
  5. Digital Citizenship
  6. Technology Operations and Concepts

If you have questions about this project please contact the IS GATE coordinator, Susan Shaw.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Team Teaching - a learning symbiosis

Discussing what makes a good blog comment
Mr. Riley (grade 6 RLA) and I recently team taught a lesson on what makes a good quality blog comment. It was an interactive lesson which ended with students coming up with a list of what makes a comment a good comment. The student list included everything on our list. Students also made connections between the new idea of blog commenting and another process they had learned for providing feedback in RLA class. So, in effect, their list was even better than ours. If you are interested, see the mini-lesson below for details.

I had two big take-aways for the day. One - team teaching is a great thing. Mr. Riley sees the students every day. He knows them. He knows what they've learned and where they're going. I come in for one quick mini-lesson on blogging. I know where we want to go with blogging at our school. I can model the good blogging values we hope to foster in our new bloggers. But, Mr. Riley knows how to tie what I'm saying in with everything the students are doing. He knew to ask the right questions to call up prior knowledge from RLA class. Together we made accomplished the learning objective and we reinforced prior learning. It was a good partnership.

Two - Mr. Riley is not only a great teacher, he is a fantastic new blogger. In his new role as literacy coach, he has started blogging for the teachers he supports. As I stood in his classroom talking with students about the importance of commenting in blogging, I realized once again that I need to live up to what I say. I need to blog more often so that when I talk to teachers about how valuable public reflection on teaching and learning can be, I've got something to prove it. Thank you Mr. Riley.

Continuum of comments
Blog commenting mini-lesson

Before class
  • Students read teacher blog posts and pick one to comment on. Write comment on sticky note and bring it to class.

In class

  • Today’s goal
    1. learn about the qualities of a good comment
    2. Talk about importance of comments - That’s where the conversation happens!
    3. One of the unique things about blogs is that bloggers are looking for comments.  They want to hear from their readers.
  • Hand out real comments from the middle school blog and other classroom blogs to each pair of students.
  • Students put comments on continuum on the floor. (String across the floor with markers for exemplary, meeting, approaching, below.)
  • Walk through continuum and read comments.
  • Do a think pair share on what makes a good comment.
    1. write results on butcher paper
    2. compare to commenting guidelines
  • Students look at their sticky note comment and line up on the continuum where their comment should be.
  • Revise comment and then go type comment on teacher blog.

A comment should add to the conversation.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Project Blog

When it was first suggested trialling blogging in the primary, my initial thought was this would not be plausible in first grade. The benefits of blogging are well documented. It was just the process and how to do this with 22 budding six year old students. 

That is where sharing ideas and networking comes to the fore. When Jeff Utecht  visited SAS and suggested creating a class gmail and using student names as labels for each post they made, the light turned on and the impossible seemed very possible.

So when primary technology decided to trial individual blogs in second grade with several classes, I made the brave decision to take Jeff's idea and put it into practice. I say brave because we were entering unknown territory and we were trialling this with elementary students. 

Never to be phased, I approached two first grade teachers. The initial response was one of apprehension. Blogging? First grade? Why? However, armed with evidence and a persuasive attitude, the agreement was sealed and Project Blog in first grade was born.

We decided to treat this as an action research project. Class gmail accounts were created and the basic blog was set up by myself and the teacher. We created a learning log on google docs to assist with tracking and sharing information back to the first grade team.  

The first lesson was fascinating. We made the assumption first graders may not know what a blog was and it proved to be correct. So the introductory lesson examined various blogs and what they do. The most empowering part of this lesson was to inform students they would be the owners of this blog. That day they added a new word to their vocabulary; post. 

The second lesson was the actual posting. Since we did not wish to take away valuable class learning time, we ran a center of six iPads using the blogger application to make the first post. Students were instructed to use the camera tool to take a photo of themselves . We then began the step by step structure of teaching post title, post content, attach a picture, add a first name as the label and publish. 

Monitoring and providing support to the students at this crucial stage was essential. As life would have it, the first batch of six students could not post. An error popped up on the iPad. A quick change to the image settings was made and suddenly we were publishing.

Since the initial posts, each child has added two more. Last week, one class went to the primary school website and saved images off the screen from the school's JAlbum. They then created a collage using an application entitled Pic Collage, saved it to the iPad and then, as a group, teachers assisted them to post it to the blog. The step by step structure of posting is still a skill students are learning hence constant support and guidance remains essential. 

This project is exciting. It involves an incredible degree of collaboration between myself and the teachers. The creation of a single class blog and the use of labels has enabled us to make blogging very manageable for first graders and we can see that there is much scope for using the class blog as a learning, reflective tool. 

We have witnessed incredible reenforcement of skills when just sharing the class blog with the students as a class. A prime example of this was having the students verbally create the page entitled 'Our teacher'. The students told us what to write and the teacher typed the text into the blog. The skills of reading and writing become incredibly powerful when using the blog in this manner. It is why we as the teachers decided from the very beginning to make all the language in blog readable by a first grader. It is, after all, their blog!

We are only at the beginning of this journey. The content will continue to expand as we move through into the second semester. There is no denying that time taken on this project is substantial. The class teachers are busy and support is crucial. However the ability to use the class blog as a reflective tool to think about what students learned is powerful. Above all else, students enjoy the process and the thrill of having parents and extended family witness their learning online, not just in Singapore, but all around the world.

(The two class teachers involved in Project Blog are Mrs. Pamela Derksen and Mrs. Debra Joyce. Click their names to visit their blogs. ).