Thursday, October 23, 2008

Teacher eTalk Widget now available!

Widgetbox is a gallery of interesting widgets that you can embed into your blog to add a bit of bling.

You can also use it to create a widget of your own blog! This is a great way to promote your blog, and for followers to keep up with your new posts.

Here's my new widget. You can get it by clicking on the 'Get Widget' button in my sidebar widget! All you have to do is grab the embed code, and embed it in the sidebar of your blog.

Let me know how it goes!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Use 'Power Teaching' to create Powerful Learners!

By the last term of school, teaching with high energy, and captivating student's attention, becomes quite a challenge... and so does student behaviour. This year I've stumbled upon a methodology which has changed our entire class energy and dinamics: Power Teaching.

I was looking through some You Tube videos on teaching Writing skills, which I wanted to show my students. One of the videos used a method called Power Teaching. The students mimic the gestures of the teacher, and in turn teach each other. Student engagement is high, critical thinking skills are stimulated and the fun factor is extreme. Even for the Classroom Teacher!

Last Monday, after showing my kids the video, they begged for us to try Power Teaching in class. Being a good 21st Century Teacher, I told them I would find out more about it, not thinking it would be so easy. To my surprise, I found the Teaching Power website , and the Power Teaching Home page with all the information you could possibly need. It even has downloadable posters, an instruction manual and some case studies written by teachers! I read late into the night....

By Tuesday, I had started introducing the '5 rules' to my class. They caught on quick as a whistle. By Wednesday, they started teaching each other. By Thursday it was part of our class management routine. By Friday one other teacher - in a new entrant class - had started to implement Power Teaching, and two regular relievers had written down the website URL!

At the end of every day we have a quick recap of the day, which we do in the format of '2 stars and a wish'. Every day this week, one of the 'stars' was: 'WE LOVE POWER TEACHING'. Their wish for next week: "We want to do more Power Teaching"!

I'll try to post a video of us trying it next week. In the meantime here's the video that originally captured my attention. Take a few minutes to watch it - you will be astounded!

  • Now I'm just wondering: Are there any of you trying Power Teaching, and what are the pro's and con's?
  • Also is anyone doing Power Teaching training in New Zealand? If so, please let me know!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cultural Kaleidoscope

Our theme for this term is 'Celebrations' and today the entire school celebrated their own culture by coming to school in our traditional dress.

I used Vuvox to create this beautiful kaleidoscope to remember our day:

What beautiful people we have in our class!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Making a difference by donating Free Rice

Our school-wide focus this year is Making a Difference. One of the ways to do this is to make use of the site Free Rice, where you donate grains of rice with every click.

I've been wanting to write about this site for some time now, and many bloggers have mentioned it before me: Free Rice. Initially you could only play a vocabulary game, but now the site gives you different subjects to choose from like Grammar, German, Multiplications Tables, and more!

I've played the game with my class a couple of times, using the Interactive Whiteboard, to improve their vocabulary. They loved it, and I'm sure they're going to love practicing their tables this way too! It's an ideal whole class warm up before starting small groups. At the same time we are helping feed people who are less fortunate, and Making a Difference in a very real way!

To get a running total every time you play, you need to set your options like this. Every time you start, it will remember your total from the last time you played.

I decided to see how the 'German' questions were, and to my surprise, I'm not as rusty as I thought! I managed to donate 1340 grains of rice in about 10 minutes. According to Lance Wiggs, 1000 grains is equivalent to 26g of rice. A child's portion is about 50g of dry rice, so if my calculations are correct, every 2000 grains can feed a child!

Is there any class out there who would like to take up the challenge this term, and try and see who can donate the most grains of rice?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Best Teacher Blog, runner-up!

One of my first posts 'To Blog or not to Blog' was written a year ago, at uLearn '07. I remember how excited I was when Jane Nicholls posted a comment!

It's just a year later, and my blog is a finalist in the Interface Magazine's Best Teacher Blog category. I'm so thrilled! I've loved every moment of blogging, and this is just the beginning!

Please vote for my blog here!

Thanks for everyone's support and positive feedback, and keep the comments coming!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Day 2: uLearn08

Both breakouts today have been great, and I'm looking forward to the next one, too!

Breakout 3: Inquiry with Interactive Whiteboards with Clair Ross

This was really inspiring. Claire is a down-to-earth and engaging presenter, and sure knows her stuff.

The session was focused more on getting kids to interact and discuss during inquiry, and we were given some really effective ideas. I can't wait to try them with my class. It's also made me realize that an inquiry can be one lesson long, and doesn't have to be a long, difficult process!

I loved the little activote-gadget that she used to have us vote on the Big Question, before and after discussion. It demonstrated really well how people's opinions change once they've received information on topics. Does Smartboard have that too?

Plenty of work and thought went into her presentation, and it showed! Just a pity I didn't realize that it was on Promethean, as I have a Smartboard.

I'll be trying out all the tips and tricks, and pestering the Smartboard people to find ways for me to do things like embedding videos, and having those funky little tags that hide notes off-screen.

Breakout 4: Lights, camera, action! Dean Rogers

I've been dying to start a school TV channel, and this, together with yesterday's Mogulus session, was just the thing. He presented director's jargon and tips and tools in a punchy, easy to understand manner. The session was fast-paced, and entertaining.

For all my sessions I've been making notes in Google Docs, so anyone who wants notes can just email me, and I'll share them! This enables me to work on my notes from any laptop, so I haven't really needed to lug mine along, and I didn't yesterday. Best of all, I don't even have a pen, or paper with me!

Breakout 5 : Stuart Hale (again) : Keynote

I thought I pretty much knew everything I could do in Keynote. Gee, was I surprised! I learned soooo much! I have to make a presentation to our BOT about what I've learned at uLearn '08 soon. They may not be blown away by my content, but they will sure be blown away by my slides!

Of course, Twittering away during sessions has kept me informed of what's going on! Oh, how I love Web 2.0!

Image: wikipedia

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

uLearn 08 is here!

Here I am, waiting for my first breakout of this year's uLearn '08 to start. It's a marvellous day, I had a great breakfast, and I'm still buzzing from yesterday's pre-conference breakout on photography!

Breakout One: David Kinane (Turning the Supertanker) is just introducing himself, and will be showing us how to use Mogulus to start a TV network. He has set up a wiki, and you can have a look for yourself!

Have to go! I'll keep you posted... What breakouts have you been at, and how are you finding it?

Friday, September 26, 2008

I had a cool teacher-moment this week!

I had such a cool teacher-moment in my Year 5 class this week! In the life of a teacher, these moments are rare, but cherished!

I've been encouraging my students to become 'powerful learners'. On their ePortfolios, they have had to reflect on last term's goals, think about what they've achieved and set new goals for next term. I want them to take ownership of their learning, and I'm encouraging them to really think about their learning.

To do this I have empowered them by giving them links to sites explaining the strategies in Maths and Reading that we are focused on. All year long I have kept referring to our AsTTle results, and explained the relevancy of every task we do in connection to the skills they are practicing. On my class Home Page, I have a link to the NZMaths Numeracy Framework. It has each of the stages illustrated by animations, and you can even see videos of students explaining their strategies. I use this to help my students verbalize their goals.

This week, I overheard a conversation between some students. It seems my efforts have been rewarded!

(I've changed the students' names to protect their identity.)
Sammy: John, you're stage 8 for Maths aren't you?
John: (In the middle of a chess game, and from a different class.) A-hu.
Sammy: (Persistently nudging John.) So what did you have to do to get to Stage 8?
John: Huh? I dunno? I just got it.
Jim: (Who's sitting at a nearby computer, and is in the same class.) It's on our Maths page, silly. Come here, I'll show you.

A while later, I notice Jim and Sammy pouring over the Numeracy Framework and looking at the animations, but I get sidetracked by another student and forget the whole conversation.

Next Day, enter Sammy with ear-to-ear grin.

Sammy: Mrs T, I'm ready to be tested for Stage 8 now.
Me: Oh? How do you know.
Sammy: I know rat-tee-oh now, Mrs T. I asked Mum and Dad to help me. I have to know decimals, percentages and rat-tee-oh to get to Stage 8. And I can do it.
Bless his little cotton socks - it took me a while to figure out he meant ratio!

P.S. I've just noticed that Sammy wrote on his Maths Goals, for his ePortfolio: "I want to find out more about phi = 22/7 = 3.14285714." Gulp. Anyone know of Maths catch-up lessons for teachers? ;)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Retro - look Podcasting tool

I came across this tool, Mixwit, from Dean Groom's post, Learning with an audience. He has been using it to record student's reflections on their use of Web 2.0 technologies, and how it affects their learning.

For now, I've just popped a normal MP3 song on it, but I'll experiment next week with my students' own stories about their 'Production Highlight'.

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

Is anyone using it, and what interesting ways have you used it in the classroom?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ahoy Ye Landlubbers! Talk like a Pirate Day coming up!

I read about an interesting event on Amanda's blog: It's 'Talk like a Pirate Day' on Friday, 19 September! Everyone on Twitter is also talking about it. Check out the cool wiki and add to the Voicethread with your class.

It sounds like so much fun: - I'll be planning a fun Pirate-themed day for my class for Friday! After our week of production, it will be just the right way to end a busy, busy week...


Sunday, September 14, 2008

How to make your Digital Photos even more fun!

I've just found a brand new fun application, called dumpr. It's free, and all you need to do is register. As with all the other fun toys I find, I don't know yet how I'll apply it in my teaching, but it's pretty cool! Have a look:

I'm sure my pupils will come up with some cool ideas for this application pretty soon!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I can teach Hip Hop!

I'm at home in bed today. I have two complaints: 1) I've lost my voice. 2) Every muscle in my body is protesting.

Now, it may be the lingering flu / lung infection that I've been battling since last week, or... and this is more likely ... it may be that I've taught my kids a Hip Hop dance for our upcoming production.

This is how it happened: I was in bed all last week, so we weren't able to practice the more traditional dance that I had chosen. (Our theme is 'The ebb and flow of the Waikato River'). When we eventually got around to it on Monday, I realized that the dance just wasn't working. The kids were NOT INTERESTED. So I asked them (like a good 21st Century Teacher should) "What kind of dance do you want to do?" "HIP HOP!" was the answer.

I already knew what Hip Hop was, as two of my boys had done their speeches on that subject. (See my previous post on Speeches.) I also do have extensive dance experience, having been a ballet dancer myself (way back when) and also having been part of a dance troupe as a student (many moons ago). But.... that was then and now I'm fat, frumpy and forty-plus. And recovering from a lung infection. And... I had one day to do it!

This is where the marvel of 21st Century Education comes in. I hit YouTube. There are loads of lessons - online and free - on how to Hip Hop. First, I found music I liked. I chose "The World's Greatest" by RD Kelly. It has loads of images which we could translate into dance moves, and a really strong motivational message. It empowered me to learn to Hip Hop!

My daughter helped me work out some 'moves'. My three teenage sons stood around making appropriate comments. (At their age 2 grunts means 'Cool' and 1 grunt means 'Not cool'.) One of them did say "Gee, Ma, I didn't know you could Hip Hop!" and the other one grumbled: "That's too hard for eight year olds." (Which actually means 'Wow, Mum, that's pretty impressive footwork'.)

Yesterday in class we pushed back the tables, got into rows, and learned the dance. We ripped up our flowing river fabric, and made them into bandannas and hand-scarves. We even added some glitter paint. My students' comments? "Mrs T, this is SOOO COOOL!" Praise indeed!

I will keep you all posted on the success of the production next week!Here's my class and our last practice before the final dress rehearsal!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Educating boys.... and girls?

I've always been really interested boys' special teaching needs. But do you ever stop to think about the girls' special needs and maximize their learning?

I found this provocative article in the Teacher Magazine (I get a free email subscription) : Teaching Secrets: Bridging the Gender Gap by Laura Reasoner Jone.

Many teachers have been observed giving different kinds of feedback to boys and girls. Boys tend to receive correction, help, and criticism. Most follow-up questions and suggestions for improvement are directed at boys. But girls tend to receive comments on the appearance of their work, rather than the academic content," she says.

Sounds familiar, I'm afraid. I'll have to give the matter some thought, and dig deeper! What is your opinion? Are we giving our girls the same consideration as the boys?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

21st Century School Speeches

These days, we know all about 21st Century Learners, and most of us are proud to implement the new strategies. Just to refresh my memory I've been reading up on 21st Century Learners:

"A 21st Century Learner tends to be a multi-tasker that uses sound and images to convey content whenever possible. Text, the primary medium of traditional academics, is tolerated only when the technology does not (yet) support something better." (Dr. Roger Von Holzen, Director, Center for Information Technology in Education Northwest Missouri State University in his paper: The 21st Century Learner)

"For New Zealand, the development of a prosperous and conīŦdent knowledge society means the development of new skills and knowledge. It will require a culture of continuous enquiry, innovation and improvement, risk taking, and entrepreneurship. This can only come from the education system." (Enabling the 21st Century Learner - e-Learning Action Plan for Schools 2006-2010)

"Speaking, Writing and Presenting
Students will:
• Integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies with developing confidence to identify, form, and express ideas...
– construct texts that show a growing awareness of purpose and audience through careful choice of content, language, and text form." (from New Zealand Curriculum, Level 3.)

I recently had to sit (as did the other 21st Century Learners in my class) through 30 x 3min speeches. I had to assess each of the speeches according to specific criteria, such as voice quality, eye contact and speech content.

According to the school-wide benchmarking structure, the students are not allowed to use any visual or audio aids, and they should refrain from 'over-dramatizing'. Students were expected to write their speeches in class. They were allowed to use cue-cards, which they were permitted to take home to practice their speeches. I heard some teachers say that they did not allow the actual speech to go home, because in the past parents have been known to assist in the speech writing process. Others did not want their pupils to introduce themselves.

Each teacher has different views on the actual content and delivery, probably framed by what their teachers had expected them to do/ not do when they did speeches (in the 20th Century). This is completely plausibly, because, let's face it NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

While listening to these speeches, and sensing the students' growing boredom / frustration / disinterest in the whole process, I started thinking: Why are we still doing speeches in this archaic way?

Our 21st Century Learners find it arduous to write a speech independently. Even when they can use Google to find the data they need. (They don't have loads of general knowledge stored in their brains - they know how to find it, though.) Rather, they want to collaborate, give feedback, create information and most of all, they want it all to be interactive. Speakers of today are using audio, video and images to convey meaning and capture audience attention. They are inviting audience participation, even letting audience's needs direct the presentation. (Heard of an unconference, lately?)

My pupils took weeks to construct their speeches - not because of interest or meticulous care. It was really hard to keep them motivated. I'm sure if they could have done digital presentations, it would have been a different story!

Listening to the speeches was arduous as well. I had a discussion first with my pupils on what constitutes a 'good audience'. They were still bored, and fidgety. Is forcing our modern learners to be 'good audiences' realistic? Do 21st Century audiences today really just sit and listen? Certainly not at the Keynote Speeches I have attended lately. As an audience member I contribute, Twitter, chat and collaborate. I have a Voice.

Why are we still expecting 2oth Century Speeches from 21st Century Learners? I reckon it's time for the 'culture of continuous enquiry, innovation and improvement, risk taking, and entrepreneurship' to be related to School Speeches too!

Images: (THEN)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What a fun class!

I've been trying to find a way to share my student's work in KnowledgeNet in their ePortfolio's. In my quest, I came across One True Media. What fun! Check it out!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reading Rocks!

Teaching kids to read is not that hard. Most of my pupils have learned to decode, and read with fluency, and some can even entertain you with wonderful expression. Teaching them to read with comprehension, however, is a different matter. At our school we found that a great number of children tested very low on understanding of reading material. We used AsTTle assessment tests, and an alarming 84% of my pupils were unable to infer or make connections!

This term I have used some amazing tools, online and 'manual' to support me in my teaching of comprehension strategies.
  • Our school has adopted the First Steps program. This staff development program comes with comprehensive manuals and great resources. The trainers are professional, experienced and inspirational. The resource books include heaps of fun teaching ideas, games and guidelines. Unfortunately, the program is not online or interactive, but still a fantastic teaching and planning resource. The program is in line with the new NZ curriculum, but I'm sure is adaptable to most international curriculums, and is being used world-wide.
  • In our reading resource room, I came across a long-forgotten gem: SRA Reading Laboratory. I remember using it as a child, and I believe that my life-long love of reading can be directly attributed to this program. Although our set is a bit out-dated, it's still relevant and interesting for my pupils. How do I know? Well, they love it. I haven't seen kids so enthusiastic about written comprehension tests for ages. Even the boys have taken to the self-evaluating 'Power Builders', and work independantly and steadily, with very little motivation from me.
  • My all-time favourite online tool this term has been Into the Book. I have downloaded beautiful posters, songs and worksheets from the Teacher's Area. The Student's area is colourful, interactive and exactly on the right level for my Year 5's. The kids love the songs and we have been using the videos each week on the Smartboard as a whole class activity to introduce the strategy of the week. There are usually 3 or 4 interactive lessons to support each strategy, so I've been using them as follow-ups during our daily warm-up lesson before we break into groups. They focus on eight research-based strategies: Using Prior Knowledge, Making Connections, Questioning, Visualizing, Inferring, Summarizing, Evaluating and Synthesizing. Your class can watch their engaging 15-minute videos, and try the online interactive activities.
  • Another favourite website is Busy Teacher's Cafe. This cute website is jam-packed with teacher-friendly tools. It has a special area for Language Arts, with links to a variety of great resources.
  • If you haven't found Woodlands Junior School's website yet, check it out now. This award-winning British school site is fantastic! Although the interface is a bit staid, and not as flashy as some sites, it is not only super for Literacy, but also really useful for Maths and other learning areas. They have a link to some very handy comprehension tests, which are great for kids to do in their literacy computer time.
  • For excellent, colourful posters on Reading Comprehension strategies, try the Santa-Maria Bonita Schools website. I have downloaded and laminated these posters, and am filing them in a ring-binder for use with guided reading lessons.
Once more, this resource fits in well with all the others I have been using, so there is some continuity in my teaching and my planning is so much easier.

  • For loads more links check out the comprehension tag on my bookmarks!
I have really enjoyed teaching Guided Reading this term. Best of all though, my students have enjoyed, and looked forward to learning these strategies. It's such a thrill to see their eyes light up when they realize that they've made 'a text-to-world connection' or say 'I used my visualising strategies, Mrs T'. See more of our class in our class blog, Sparkle24.

In Room 24 we all agree: Reading Rocks!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Funky Faces

I've just had loads of fun with a cool site, called Befunky. It has a collection of applications, including a cartoonizer, uvatars and a video cartooniser.

I can't wait to use this in class to cartoonize photos and create uvatars. They can be used to enhance students blogs, or ePortfolios. It solves the problem of looking for free images, and is an easy way to protect your student's identities.

The only problem I'm having is that currently our school firewall blocks the uploading of images. I'm waiting for our techie team to sort that out.

Doesn't it just drive you crazy when you find something new, and just to find you can't apply it in class!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Blog Makeover

I've been blogging now for a little longer than 8 months, and I'm absolutely hooked! I started out, not really knowing what it was all about. My first few posts were, well to say the least, mundane!

Now that I actually get it, and have started making some friends in the blogosphere, and actually get comments occasionally - I thought it might be time for a makeover. I've changed the name of this blog, too. (Derek may get away with having his own name in his blog name, being so well known, but now that I know better, I'll stick to a name that actually explains what my blog is about!)

I found these Ten Tips on writing a good blog by Darren Rowse:

Here are his ten tips:

  1. Make your opinion known
  2. Link like crazy
  3. Write less
  4. 250 Words is enough
  5. Make Headlines snappy
  6. Write with passion
  7. Include Bullet point lists
  8. Edit your post
  9. Make your posts easy to scan
  10. Be consistent with your style
  11. Litter the post with keywords
That doesn't seem too hard to do! Anyone have more tips for improving my blog?

Friday, May 23, 2008

I've just gate-crashed a Voicethread!

I feel a bit guilty for joining in the conversation uninvited, but it was just so interesting, and so real to my teaching, that I couldn't resist joining in! Serves you guys right for making it public!

Friday, May 2, 2008

I'ld rather be a Digital Pioneer!

In answer to the Learning Circuits Blog's May 2008 Big Question.

I've only been on the blogosphere since last year. One debate that I keep coming across, is the Digital Native / Digital Immigrant one.

According to those in the know, the Digital Native's are users that automatically and intuitively use new technology. Digital Immigrants are starting to use the technology, but seem to keep reverting to hard copies and tried and trusted methods for finding information / communication and collaboration.

Where do I fit in? I'm not that young anymore, and didn't grow up with computers, but I have been around them since the advent of Windows 3.1. I still believe that my students should know some facts and have some general knowledge. I still drill their Times Tables into them. (Yes, yes, I know, it's sooo old-fashioned - but I do use online interactive activities to do it!)

I'm not an expert at anything, really. It keeps changing too fast. I dabble in blogging, create a podcast here, try my hand at Voicethread and RSS feeds, there.

What I do find, is that a lot of the stuff I'm trying and introducing, is new to my students. I'm leading my students into unchartered territory. They trust my leadership. To them, I am the one that tests the waters; I tread unknown paths before I let them try; I lead the way to safe learning. My next years' students will probably find the projects I've done this year ''old hat". But I think of it this way: Together we will be on a new adventure in new technology highways, that do not even exist yet!

Do I need to change the way I teach? Yes and No. Change is inevitable in some ways. The resources may have changed. I see computer technology as a tool, and not as a pedagogy. Learning has not changed, though. My students still need structured tasks. I will still be choosing appropriate learning areas, asking open-ended questions, keeping my students engaged and interested with whatever resources I can find. The classroom may have glass walls. We may be part of a global community. But we still want to optimize learning, just as we always have.

One thing I am certain of. Together we will have Digital adventures. Together we will navigate new lands. My students and I are Digital Pioneers!

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.


The New Learning

I found this video on Youtube. It really underscores the new learning reality:

- Teachers are no longer the experts.
- Cost no longer curtails our learning, but access rights can!
- Participation and collaboration are vital to successful learning, and one of the most important skills we can teach our students.

Have a look for yourself!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Becoming a better Teacher!

Darren Drake writes the following in his blog:

Carl Glickman hits the nail on the head on one of the pages in his book entitled Leadership for Learning: How to Help Teachers Succeed. In my opinion, his message should be read and synthesized by every teacher worldwide.

He also provides a solution. "How do teaching and learning improve? The answer is no mystery. It’s as simple as this: I cannot improve my craft in isolation from others" (p. 4). "

  • Glickman, C. (2002). Leadership for learning: How to help teachers succeed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
In reading this, I was inspired to start thinking about my own teaching career. I have been teaching for many, many years. Am I the best teacher I can be yet? Surely after all these years, I should know how to teach?

I remember a time when I thought I knew it all. I had been in the job for a handful of years, and had become quite secure in my knowledge that I was pretty good at what I was doing. During another successful appraisal, a man I still remember with warmth and respect, Gerhard Koen, told me that I knew just enough about teaching to think I knew something. I was pretty taken aback. What did he mean? "You will reach a point," he said, "when you will know enough to realize how little you know." Now, a lifetime later, I know what he meant. It has become true that the more I learn (about Teaching, about Learning, about Children, and definitely about ICT) the more I am aware that I still have so much to learn. I'll certainly be looking for Carl Glickman's book!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How to Encourage Effective Learning

We all know that effective learning occurs when...
  • Student autonomy and initiative is accepted and encouraged
  • Teacher asks open-ended questions and allows wait time for responses
  • Higher level thinking is encouraged
  • Students engage in dialogue with teacher and each other
  • Students engaged in experiences that challenge hypotheses
  • Class uses raw data primary sources, physical and interactive materials
  • Knowledge and ideas emerge only from a situation in which learners have to draw them out of experiences that have meaning and importance to them
Derek writes: "In my experience these are exactly the sorts of learning experiences that many of these emerging social web applications enable and encourage."

This brand-new state-of-the-art 21st Century pedagogy was first written about in....
1915 by John Dewey in his "Constructivist Pedagogy". Makes you think about how much progress we've made in the last 100 years in education, doesn't it?

These are my top ideas for using Web 2.0 tools in class, to encourage the type of learning experience John Dewey was dreaming of:

Tip #1
Class Blog: Use blogging software such as Edublogs or Blogger to create your class blog. In a Primary class, it works well to have one student log on username and password, and let them publish their best writing and pictures. I let my class look at our blog every morning just after we've done the roll, and the excitement is always great if we have a comment. The clustermap also lends itself to a quick Atlas search to find out who our readers are!

Tip #2
Class Wiki: I like to use Wetpaint. (You can ask for the ads to be removed, if it is an educational wiki. You can also use PBWiki. For me a wiki is the ideal showcase for students' work. You can create a page for each project, and students can add a page for themselves, on which to add their notes, links and work. Students can edit and comment on each other's pages, and you can have a discussion thread going. This is also something parents can access (but not edit, unless you let them.) My class wiki is still under construction, but it will be used as a sort of filing cabinet to store our work digitally.

Tip #3
Voicethread: This is something I've just learnt about, and I can't wait to try it out in class!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Am I still 'fit to be a Teacher'?

This term has been a wopping eleven weeks long. This is a tongue-in-cheek look at my state of mind as a teacher by the end of the term!

In the April edition of NZEI Rourou, a small insert asks the following question: Are you of "Good Character" and "Fit to be a Teacher"?

It continues:

The Teachers Council defines "good character and is fit to be a teacher" as someone who

a) 'has a police vet satisfactory to the Council';

Yeah, this I can attest to, after months of waiting. I applied for my Police vet in November for immigration purposes. (I had to have it done through the South African department of internal affairs, although I hadn't set foot in the country since moving here in 2005.) After months of telephone calls, payments to various individuals (I won't go into details) and desperate emails to family members living in Pretoria, I now have the police vet. Actually, I don't have it. I sent it straight off to NZ Immigration. I've just thought of something: I hope the Council finds it satisfactory, once I get it back!

b) 'displays respect for persons, for cultural and social values of Aotearoa New Zealand, for the law and for the views of others.'

Well, I have a bit of a confession to make here. While I do respect said persons, cultures and values of Aotearoa and also the law... the views of some others are not always to my taste! And by the 11th week of the term, I find myself, well, a trifle outspoken. I don't think I actually always display the respect I feel. As a matter of fact, what I might be displaying is considerable disdain at some people's views. (I'm thinking: That's ridiculous! I don't agree. What a nincompoop! Oh, no, don't ask me to do that stupid admin again. It's too much work / too hard / too boring. I don't wanna!) I'm not normally a negative kind of person, but I seem to have undergone a personality change of late. Hope no-one gossips about me to the council! I probably just need some rest!

c) 'upholds the public and professional reputation of teachers;

I haven't been dancing on the tables recently, so I reckon I could say 'Yes' to this one. Fat chance of putting the reputation of anyone
at stake, including myself, with the work load we teachers have! Life has pretty much been school, school, school for the past 11 weeks. Note to self: Go somewhere, over the rainbow, where no-one knows you're a teacher, and have a wild party during the holidays. Stay up until at least midnight. Be wild. Throw all caution to the winds, and go to bed without flossing.

d) 'promotes and nurtures the safety of learners within his or her care;'

Yes, they've got the 'his or her' part right. I don't know whether I'm Arthur or Martha by week 11. Regarding the 'safety of learners' I've told my learners all about Cybersafety, Road Safety, Water Safety, not talking to strangers (except while blogging) and saying 'No' when it's appropriate. I've encouraged them to wear their hats all summer (repeatedly) and their shoes on rainy days. I've asked, cajoled and commanded them to 'walk, not run'. I have reminded them over and over and over again to wash, blow and wipe the appropriate body parts. How do you 'nurture the safety of learners'? I've nurtured the learners themselves, though. I've even been pretty patient. Well, mostly.

e) 'is reliable and trustworthy in carrying out duties;'

Oh Dear! Does that include Road Patrol? Shh, don't tell anybody, but I forgot to go out the other day to check on the duty parent. No-one noticed. Does that make me unreliable? I can say uncategorily that I am trustworthy, though. You can trust me to put my foot in my mouth at least once a day. You can trust me to forget to check that my window monitor has closed the windows. You can trust me to steal a few moments of quiet before I go out to field duty. You can even trust me to wait until after school before I read my RSS feeds. Except today. I have to confess, I sneaked a peak today.

f) 'is mentally and physically fit to carry out the teaching role safely and satisfactorily.'

I dunno...! Kids drive you crazy on rainy days. And windy days. And hot days, too.

Physically I'm not doing too badly. I do count kilojoules and at least once a fortnight I remember to wear my pedometer. (So far my upper limit has been 7500 steps per day.) Not completely sedentary. I have the occasional wack at a golf ball at the driving range. I even beat my teenage kids at mini-golf the other day. Much to their chagrin!

Mentally? Is it OK to keep on babbling away, while you have a group of kids looking at you in awe and wonderment? No, it's not the riveting lesson I'm teaching that's creating the awe. It's the fact that I've absent-mindedly reverted to my home language - which they don't understand. Am I still mentally OK, if all I want, after a term of hard work, is to crawl under the covers with a soppy, mind-numbing, zero-literary-value-at-all love story? (I've been reading kid's books day after day, week after week. I have to progress to adult fiction slowly, step-by-step.) Can the snappy, grumpy, growly, quick-to-criticize, slow-to-smile, cannot-be-pleased-even-by-a- chocolate-peace-offering person I have become (after a hectic first term) still qualify as 'fit to be a teacher'?

I realise that I do have some introspection to do about my character and desirability as a teacher. But first I'm going home, pouring a big glass of red wine, and relaxing with my feet up! I'll worry about the laundry/ planning / groceries / kid's squabbles / term goals / classroom displays next week. When I'm on holiday!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Vision for 21st Century Learners

This video was created to inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways to help students develop higher level thinking skills. Equally important, it serves to motivate school leaders to provide teachers with the tools and training to do so.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Teaching in the Olden Days

It's Friday, and I've just put the laptops away, locked up the digital camera, shut down the computers and switched off the Smartboard. I've done my planning for next week, adding hyperlinks to all the internet resources I'll be using during lessons. I've downloaded some video's I want to show my class and they're sitting safely on the desktop waiting for next week.

When I started teaching, many moons ago, my shut down routine was slightly different. I would be closing books, putting text books away, returning the encyclopaedias to the library and requesting VHS video's for next week.

The Year 5's homework task for this week is to find out how things were when their parents went to school. My colleague, who set the task, is still quite young, and it has occurred to me that my pupils' parents are also probably in their 20's. They may have to ask their grandparents for some interesting stories.

And if you think I'm going to start telling my pupils how I walked barefoot in the snow for 4 miles, I'll set your mind at rest: At least I wore shoes to school, and travelled by car. I'm not that old!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lifelong Learning, and affairs of the heart.

My husband feels neglected. It's not my fault, I tell him. "Yes, I am interested in the elections in Zimbabwe," I tell him. "Yes, dear. I heard you." (Hilary Clinton - in Zimbabwe... no, that can't be right...) "Yes, dear, I'm watching." (Which elections ?)

What I don't tell him, is that I'm keeping my eye on the exchange on Twitter. And reading Ewan's blog. And tagging the cool Maths website I just stumbled on. And figuring out what a blidget is. (Blog widget? Anyone know?)

Are you a lifelong learner? I've always seen myself as a learner. I read anything, and everything that comes my way. As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, entertainment was not easily accessible, and books were my constant companions. My Dad subscribed to the Reader's Digest, and I would read it from front page to back page. I loved the 'Laughter's the Best Medicine' section, tested my vocabulary on the 'Word Power' page and marvelled at the 'book inserts' at the back. We had no art galleries to go to, but I studied the art works reproduced on the back cover. And that's where my love affair with words started.

I still read avidly. Only instead of curling up with a paperback, I settle myself companiably on my bed, while my husband watches Sky News / History Channel / CNN. Yep, you've guessed it - he has the remote, and the laptop is keeping me warm. Occasionally I reach over, and absently-minded pat Dearest's tummy - just to show I care. And then eagerly resume my browsing, reading, tagging, learning, blogging activities. I can justify my actions to my neglegted other half: I am learning.

Or I soon will be, just as soon as I've finished bookmarking all the stuff that interests me! I'm afraid my affair with my PLN (personal learning network - who coined this term first?) is creating a void between me and my PND (personal nearest and dearest). I was discussing this issue with some colleagues today, who all do the same, and who all agree: It's not healthy for the marriage! I'm closing the laptop in a minute. Just want to read a tiny bit more.

"Yes, Dearest, I heard you... Osama Bin Laden has won the elections in Zimbabwe, did you say?"

Now why would he look at me like that? I'm learning!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Be Safe, not sorry!

Most of us have a vague understanding that the internet can be dangerous for kids. Do we really understand exactly what the pitfalls are? Or are we just keeping our kids off the internet, because it's a dangerous place to be.

"Children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe – this isn’t just about a top-down approach. Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks. At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim."- Safer Children in a Digital World

How true! We teach children safety rules for the road, water sense, social interaction rules, and now cyber safety rules. Children tend to trust and obey. It's our job to explain the pitfalls in a clear and easy to remember way. I've come across a great site, called CyberCafe, that I will be using to explain and teach cyber safety in my class. We also need to our students strategies to use, should cyber bullying occur. This site walks them through all the strategies in a fun way.

Web 2.0 opens up a world of opportunities for learning and reflecting on learning. Before my students run into trouble, I'll be making sure that they are Cyber Safe!