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Skype in the Classroom

On Wednesday I worked with some classrooms who wanted to develop their use of Skype. I arranged for two classrooms to skype with us (thanks to connections with my twitter friends, @Marama and @mrkempnz), one in Dunedin at Grant Braes School and the other at Pukeokahu School near Taihape.
The first class, Room 3 at St Thomas Aquinas, watched this video that explained what skype is and how it works.
Next we co-constructed a chart of what a successful skype session is. The poster below is the version I’ve put together in popplet – a cool chart maker, I’ve discovered. The three parts, preparation, during the call and reflection are based on the rubric I found online here, at the ‘Educational Origami’ blog. We found that it helped us have a great first Skype call, especially the prep stage where we visited their class wiki or blog and prepared some questions to ask.
Here are some reflections I’ve taken from the two sessions.
1. Watch for tricky technical bridges to hurdle.
It’s always important to test your technology before using it, especially when you’ve arranged a time to do something with someone else- who has built their timetable around it. We had some issues with proxy settings and, I think, some firewall blocks which has tripped me up in the past. Always check your connection before you need it. Especially when using skype for the first time with a class.
2. Always have an authentic purpose.
Anything new has its gimmick appeal. I’ve found that this lasts for about 20 minutes with kids and then they’re over it! When we’re using skype to call someone you should always have a real reason for doing so…not just because you can – ‘Hey kids, lets skype the class next door!’
With the second session we decided that we’d use the skype call to help the class develop an understanding of open and closed questions – and a real audience to practise on! They were totally engaged in asking their open questions (based on a video the other class made of a science experiment they did with sheep’s eyes) and they got experience how powerful those types of questions are. The learning intention of the session was not how to use skype – classic example of use the tool to help the learning..rather than learning the use of the tool.
3. Don’t underestimate how familiar our students are with technology
It was amazing to see how many hands shot up when I asked if they had used skype before. Many had skyped their grandparents and family front out of town and a lot of them knew how it worked and what it did.
Often we think that we will be sharing a tool with our class that is innovative and amazing! It may well be, compared to the technology we usually use at school, or even compared to the teacher next door. But to these students it’s a normal part of everyday life. It’s not so amazing to them – they don’t know any different. All the more reason to make our classrooms as relevant as possible to our students everyday lives.

Project Based Learning

This video, spotlighted by @web20classroom on this blogpost, made by commoncraft (who make some amazing explanation videos – well worth using as a model for students to try their own) explains what ‘Project Based Learning’ is. If you think broadly then it sums up what Inquiry Learning is..in a round about way.

One of the reasons I like about this video is that it emphasises the fact that students are still having their knowledge based broadened. It’s about the content being discovered and reinforced within a meaningful context.
The process goes something like
– have a problem
– ask questions
– seek answers
– devise solutions
– put solutions into action
What do you think? Would this be a good explaination of what inquiry really is for those of us who are always getting conflicting, vague messages?

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Twitter’s Birthday!

I’ve been sharing the magic of Twitter ALOT lately. (I’m sure I heard someone sigh this week but I don’t care…) It is, hands down, the MOST powerful PD you can ever be involved in. Most educators who blog have tapped into it’s potential to connect / share and upskill.

I showed our Lead Teachers this video today which has come out on Twitters 5th birthday! It’s hard to imagine life without it, now. Yes…I’m not ashamed to say that I’m professionally addicted.

Here are two small examples how teachers are using it in our cluster.

1. A class is involved in a space inquiry and they are following the astronaut in the above movie! He’s posting photos and updates from a space station. They’re apparently SO engaged in their inquiry and his posts inspire so many further questions for them to explore.

2. The Southland region now has 14 educators who are using twitter for connecting with each other, both inside the region and out. Here are a few local twitter names to watch for;
Timl27 – a local Principal – and new blogger.
Craiginteract – the IWB facilitator for the Invercargill Region
Cossie29 – AP and teacher who is embarking on some further study soon. Prolific tweeter!
COME ON! Join the revolution.=)

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Improving our teaching practice

Ever since I started training as a teacher I realised there was lots for me to learn. Now that I’ve been teaching for a while I’ve realised that I didn’t know the half of it! Any teacher who thinks they know it all – or even feels satisfied with their own practice – probably looks like this guy!

There’s a saying I started using a while ago (and have probably used on this blog a few times over the last three years) and repeat often – ‘Every teacher has a veneer of confidence covering a sea of insecurity!’ Every time I use it with another teacher I see a wry smile of familiarity with a touch of relief thrown in that says, ‘Oh, …I’m not the only one!’ We feel insecure, I think, because teaching is such an art with so many constantly moving variables… many of which are out of our control. But – many aren’t, which is why we are always learning and striving to be our best – or should be.
This year our ICT cluster has begun a journey of using the Teacher Inquiry Model to improve the use of eLearning and ICT in our classrooms. The focus is the area of student learning we would like to see developed with improved outcomes while the strategies are the tools / practises or techniques we will use to achieve those outcomes. The shift that many teachers are making this term is seeing an ICT tool as the strategy, not the focus. So, podcasting becomes a strategy to improve my focus of engaging reluctant writers rather than wanting to use podcasting in my class and seeing how it benefit the students writing. This has been an important part of the process and many teachers are beginning some amazing projects – from yes, podcasting to blogging and all sorts of other ‘mashups’ of technology that are looking like making some fantastic gains for our students.
This graph, below is something I’ve been creating in popplet – a mix between wallwisher and mindmeister (or a graphic organiser and online yellow stickies). It’s been a brilliant tool for guiding a teacher to create some strategies they will use to help them achieve their focus. The inside (coloured) ideas are some different forms that strategies could take. The outside (grey) ideas are the kinds of eLearning strategies that could help those strategies.
This example of the popplet is just a screen shot of the dynamic version – which you can embed into a blog and people can add to. Because I’m adding to it as we go I’ve posted a jpg as an archive. I imagine that this chart could be used to reflectively examine our teaching practice at any time, regardless of whether we are completing a formal teacher inquiry or not.
Some questions to ask…
– in what parts of our practice are we simply missing the mark?
– what kinds of strategies could we try using to improve it?
– what or who could help us?
– how are you sharing / reflecting your ideas?

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What’s eLearning?

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I get asked, ‘What do you think eLearning is?’ all the time on my travels and it’s been great PD for me to have these conversations. It’s a concept that’s evolving almost as fast as the technology that’s driving it (both in terms of the tools that provide the learning ‘opportunities‘ and also the societal factors that make it ‘imperitive‘)- and it’s an understanding that’s CRUCIAL for teachers to make the paradigm shift from a tradition mode of teaching to a modern one.
Here’s a slideshow (by Jacqui Sharpe) that makes a great attempt to define it as it stands at the moment. I hope it will be used as resource to help us define the concept for ourselves.
The question for us is, ‘How could it look it MY class?’ – What’s you next step?

iPads in Education – resources

We’ve all been seeing the hype created by the iPad, especially when it comes to being used in the classroom. Mobile devices are being identified as the next big tech tool for learning so… here are some links I’ve collecting.
Here’s an example of one of MANY educational apps for the iPad.

Toontastic from Thushan Amarasiriwardena on Vimeo.

An amazing wiki, and another here with LOTS of resources for both the iPad and the iPod.

A blog post about using the iPad in classrooms.
Some student achievement data for use with the iPod (lets face it, the iPad is just a big screen iPod, essentially)
Some info from a blog post about the iPad2.
This video shows the iPad in action – specifically how students might use them.
And lastly – the MAMMOTH wiki for Ipad resources, created by Mike Fisher!

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