We are ten weeks into Term 1 in Australia and as such timetables and planners are being finalised. If you are exploring new ways to plan to make your teaching life easier, here are two tools that make every teacher’s life easier.
The free version of Evernote is great for teachers who plan on their own. It will hold all of your planners and make them available on all of your devices. It is also fantastic for organising meeting notes, to-do lists and observational records. The free version is great for text-based notes, but if you want to add images you will quickly eat into your monthly bandwidth allowance.
The paid version of Evernote is fantastic for team planning, as everyone can add to the one note. I highly recommend Evernote for teachers who work across a number of devices, as the app works seamlessly across them all. The paid version also gives you 1GB of uploads, allowing you to add images of students work, voice recordings and even short videos. This is fantastic for organising formative and summative assessments, and will make report writing a breeze.
Check out Bec Spink’s blog for more information on how to set up Evernote for effective teacher organisation!
Google Drive is absolutely fantastic for planning in larger teams, especially those who do not have significant common planning time. I used this last year with my team and it was fantastic. It allows many people to contribute to the one document at the same time, allowing planning to be a lot more efficient. It also has a comments section that allows you to discuss any problems or questions with your team. Best of all it is free and easy to establish.
For organising observational notes and assessments, Drive is a little harder to manage. It is more difficult to search within notes and does not have the ease of use for reporting that Evernote has. Also, if your internet is not reliable, you cannot immediately upload or edit any of your notes. This was a constant issue for me as my school’s internet was not constant. If you need reliability, even without internet, then Evernote is a better choice.
Last year I ran two professional learning sessions: one at Braemar College on iPads and Collaboration, and another at my school on global collaboration and creating global citizenship. Having only an hour and an hour and a half respectively, it was really only an introduction to the tools available. You can check out the presentations and the resources used at the links above. Resources, however, are only half of the solution. The other is actually implementing it in a classroom. Below, you will find information on how to actually make it happen.
Global collaboration is an excellent learning experience for students.
There are so many wonderful tools out there to try that it can be difficult to choose just one. Some schools use Skype, others use blogs, others join global projects (such as iEarn). If you try to implement two or more tools at a time both you and your students will become overwhelmed. Research the tools that you are interested in and choose one that will match your school resources and your class’s needs. Once you have explored that tool, you can always experiment with a second, third or even fourth tool at a later time.
In order to implement the tool you choose successfully, you must know how to use it first. While you do not need to know absolutely everything when you introduce it (there is always room for learning with your students), you need to know the basics. Do you login with a class account or individual accounts? Does it work on the students’ devices? What misconceptions may the students have with the tool? Practice a couple of times without your students to iron out the obvious creases.
Include the tool in your planning
You will only ever use a tool if it is in your planner. Even with the best intentions, it is easy to forget the morning check of your class blog, or to organise another Skype meeting with an international school if it is not in your planning. School life will always get in the way of technology if it is not made a priority. As soon as you can make a connection with your curriculum or inquiry topic, link in the global connection you want to make, including any of the time you will need to plan and set up the task.
Teach the tool and the skills
When implementing any technology, the students need to be taught how to use the tool and the skills they need to use it effectively. There is definitely a digital native myth; you cannot just assume students will know how to use the tool well. Spend a lesson (or several, in the case of more complex tools, such as blogs) teaching the purpose of the tool and the skills needed to use it effectively. This will significantly decrease any potential classroom management and technological issues when using the tool throughout the year.
Patience and persistence
Lastly, just as when teaching anything new, you must have patience. This can be difficult with all the talk of students ‘just understanding’ technology or expecting tools to work exactly the same way every single time. If something does not work the first time, that does not mean it is a failure. It may just need more practice time, or the students may need additional skills. At the very worst, it may be the wrong tool for your circumstances, in which case you can always choose a new tool and try again.
If you cannot find another class to collaborate with, look in new places – there are always a number of global projects and new ways to meet teachers from around the world. There are a list of potential global projects here. Persistence goes a long way to ensuring your global collaboration is successful.
Classroom management is one of the number one topics discussed in iPad schools, by principals, teachers and parents. Many teachers I have met, many of who have taught for years, are afraid to use the iPads for any new tasks in case it causes classroom management issues. Below are a list of six strategies that I have found are the most effective in ensuring students are on task when using their iPads.
Using the iPad in non-traditional ways helps stop challenging behaviours
One of the reasons that many teachers fear technology in students’ hands is because it means there is another commanding force in the classroom. Students can search up relevant things (answers to questions they have) and irrelevant things (checking the sports score) during class time. This is challenging for people who have a ‘sage on the stage’ approach to teaching.
What helps me in this area is remembering what schooling was like before technology. It was not a magic time when all students listened attentively, hanging on to every word the teacher said. Students still passed notes and whispered or drew pictures all over their books. You can only control certain aspects of your classroom. Keeping this in mind will help your wellbeing, whether or not technology is involved.
Have clear expectations
Just as with any learning, if the expectations are clear then they are easier to follow. When using technology, the instructions for the learning task and for using the technology must be crystal clear, with no grey areas. The minute students are confused about what is acceptable and what is not, they will push those boundaries to find out exactly where those boundaries are.
Provide engaging tasks
Students will become distracted by their technology when the learning is not holding their attention. How often do adults do exactly the same thing; checking their phones when they are bored at a meeting or presentation? If the tasks are engaging to students, then they will be less likely to misuse their devices.
Stop the chalk and talk
As with the above, technology is not conducive to traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching. While there is always going to be some degree of teaching that occurs from the front of the room (such as explaining the learning objective), this time should be considered in relation to students’ age and relative attention levels. If you are in a 1:1 classroom and students need extra advice, help or instruction, consider using a tool such as Today’s Meet or Edmodo to deliver it – this means that the students who understand can keep working, while the students who do not can seek the help they need before continuing.
Move towards the ‘R’ in SAMR
If technology is used in traditional teaching ways, it is not going to be engaging enough to keep the students attention on their learning. Moving towards ‘modifying’ and ‘redefining’ tasks, as shown in the SAMR model, assists teachers to create more engaging and authentic tasks. Using devices well is a huge step towards managing behaviour; simply, the off-task behaviour will not occur to the same degree if students are interested in their task.
Using a range of tools also allows this to happen – I have taught challenging classes where every student was on task because they were using a fantastic tool that they had never seen before (in one case, it was Tellagami).
If something is vital, make sure their devices are shut
Sometimes, something needs to be said that is relevant and important for all students to hear. In these rare cases, ensure that all their devices have the screen of or are shut. It is only when they are shut that you can increase the likelihood that the students are listening to the fact that the sports carnival is on tomorrow/their excursion money is due etc.
Ever since my first post on using Minecraft in the classroom, I have been inundated with emails asking me for my lesson plans. After significant consideration, I have decided not to post my lesson plan. It was a part of a larger maths unit and very targeted to my specific students. I doubt that it would have the same effect if anyone else tried to implement it with their class, especially without the considerable work that the students put in during the rest of the unit to make it possible. Instead, I have below a list of things that must be considered before implementing Minecraft in your lessons. My use of Minecraft would not have been successful without them.
When used well, Minecraft can be excellent for learning.
Number one, always and absolutely: consider the learning objective. While this should be done when planning any lesson, it especially needs to be considered when working with interactive technologies. You want students’ learning to be increased by using the tool, not sidelined by the tool. This can only be ensured by having a very specific learning objective that is explicit to both you and your students.
Don’t force it to fit
If you are having difficulty creating a specific, explicit learning objective that can justify the use of Minecraft, then don’t use it. Just don’t. Wait until a better learning opportunity comes along that is more conducive to the use of Minecraft. In order to be successful, Minecraft must be a natural extension of the students’ learning. If it is not, then that is when the distractions, misbehaviour and boredom begin. When it fits, using Minecraft is amazing; when it doesn’t, it can be disastrous. If you’re unsure, read about other teachers who have used it in a range of situations, and think if you have a better session in which it will fit.
Provide students with specific expectations
Just as when using any technology, students must be taught how to use Minecraft in an educational setting. You may choose to give all students ten minutes ‘play’ time before using Minecraft formally, but once the lesson begins students must know that they are using it to learn. That doesn’t mean that it is going to be boring or stagnant, just that they are using it as a learning tool, not to destroy each others’ buildings or fight Creepers. It is a good ideas to come up with a set of guidelines before using it to ensure that all students know what it okay and what is not okay while in the game, leaving no room for confusion.
Ensure students have the relevant prior knowledge
Just as with all good teaching, students must have the relevant prior knowledge in order to develop new learning. If they do not have it, they are more likely to misbehave or become distracted from their intended task simply because they do not understand it properly. I have found Minecraft to be particularly useful as a way for students to apply their knowledge, after they have already studied, shared and discussed the topic at hand. If you are new to using Minecraft, I would recommend using it in the last quarter of a unit, rather than the first quarter, in order to ensure that students have the knowledge they need to fully participate in the Minecraft task.
Know how to keep your students’ work safe
This is the tech knowledge you need before introducing Minecraft to your students. You do not need to know how to build castles or even mine materials, but you do need to know how to keep all the students’ work safe. There are two modes in Minecraft: Creative and Survival. Ensure that all students work is completed in Creative Mode so that students cannot lose their characters through being attacked by other players or night creatures. Secondly, if you are not playing on a school server (if you have iPads, you definitely will not be), ensure you have a plan if someone unwanted enters a students’ world.
If you are on iPads, only people connected to the school’s wifi can see and enter students’ worlds, but this does not stop griefing (trolling within Minecraft). My method was to have class ‘experts’ who knew how to make world’s private, and they went around and helped those students who were new to the game protect their world. If you want to be 100% sure that no student from outside of your class can interact with your students’ world, talk to your technician to see about setting up a school Minecraft server.
Every year, whenever I mention that I am once again teaching middle years students, I receive comments from people that they could never spend that long with teenagers. These comments come from a range of people, teachers and non-teachers alike. I have never quite understood the aversion. Perhaps if my students resembled the teens that are shown on ‘current affairs’ type programs that often depict teenagers as alcoholic hooligans ready to destroy the community. While I am fully aware that of the drinking culture and violence that can result from it for young people, you cannot judge a whole generation based on the behaviour of a few.
Teaching teenagers is inspiring. If anything, I feel like I have more hope for the future than most, knowing that I am comfortable with the world being passed into these young people’s hands. For every story about homophobic bullying, I see 20, 30 40 students who think that no one should be judged for their sexuality and openly support their gay friends and family. I see others who go to protests for marriage equality, whether they are straight, gay or against labels of any kind. For every story of a racist bashing I see groups of students standing up for their friends when they are targeted by adults in the street.
Teenagers often know more about the world than many adults give them credit for. They have seen domestic violence, friends struggling through depression and anxiety and pushed against peer pressure. They often experience these things without a voice, not having the power in society to be allowed to speak up for themselves. I see teenagers who fight against this, constantly trying to prove their place in society. Stories about teens like Malala Yousafzai, Tavi Gevinson, the participants in Girls Up and countless others are working to express themselves, gain independence and be a voice for teenagers everywhere.
The trick, I believe, is in how we, as adults, view them. If we view teenagers as capable, responsible and caring young human beings then that is what we will get in return. If we are constantly suspicious, belittling or even cruel, then we will receive secretive, rule breaking teenagers in return. In the right environment, any teen can help change the world. The decision we have to make, as adults, is whether we will make it easier for them, or harder.
As my teaching has developed over the past two years I have focused more and more on creating a thinking classroom. Beginning with learning mind maps in my first school to reading everything from Buzan to DeBono to Bloom to Costa, is it now a staple of my teaching. It is hard to believe anyone teaches without teaching critical thinking.
The longer I teach, however, the more I realise that not everyone is comfortable teaching these vital higher order thinking skills. As a result, I have found myself showing a number of other teachers how to implement thinking tools in the classroom. Of course, most people have heard of the Six Thinking Hats, or Mind Mapping, or the Habits of Mind, but not everyone is confident in using them effectively. Below are the ways that I use various thinking tools in my classroom, and have found successfully improve students’ critical thinking skills.
Mind mapping is the brain child of Tony Buzan, who created it as a more effective way of note-taking, one that would match our natural desire to make connections between words and ideas. Mind mapping needs a clear introduction with plenty of opportunities for students to practice. If you have it available, Matthew Boyle’s Learning File has some great exercises to introduce students to mind mapping, and for proving to them that it works!
The different between ‘brainstorming’ or ‘concept mapping’ and mind mapping also needs to be made. It is not something to be rushed in one colour pen, or to just every thought down. The rules of mind mapping are very explicit and there for a reason, to improve students’ memory and interest in learning. Once the students understand and can apply the rules, then they can begin breaking them.
Mind mapping is such a vast idea with so much research behind it that it difficult to summarise in a paragraph. As always, the first place to look for more information on mind mapping are Buzan’s range of books on appling mind mapping with students, in business and for life. Once you begin mind mapping you will always wonder why you did not start earlier!
Mind Mapping Guidelines
Six Thinking Hats
In my experience, many students have been introduced haphazardly to the Six Thinking Hats. They may know of them, and may have even used them, but don’t really understand how to apply them in their learning. The most important thing here is applying them in the most authentic ways possible, connecting them directly to the students’ learning. They must also be used regularly in then beginning, otherwise students forget how to use them effectively.
Introducing the students to sentence starters for each hat is a good way to begin. This helps students understand what types of comments may be associated with each hat. As their confidence grows, they can then comment more generally based on the hats.
Class discussions are also useful, especially as students become used to the concept of the Six Thinking Hats, as this allows students to develop their ideas. It is in considering all of the different perspectives that the strategy becomes particularly useful and really challenges students to view other perspectives and have evidence for their opinion.
Six thinking hats
Habits of Mind
The Habits of Mind are wonderful for teaching with a whole-child approach. Rather than just teaching students facts, the Habits of Mind allow students to learn how to learn.I have found that it works best to introduce the concept of the Habits of Mind as a whole and then focusing on a habit a week. Each habit needs a different strategy for students to successfully learn it.
Different strategies and approaches for each habit are outlined by Costa and Kallick here. Most teachers, however, should be able to use each habit as a prompt to associate with skills and strategies they are already familiar with, and may already use in their classroom.
Once the strategies have been introduced, continue referencing to them throughout the year. There may be a task that needs one habit in particular, or a student who is always successful in displaying another attitude. Without this referencing back, students will turn their attention elsewhere and will not apply them as effectively.
This is only a very short introduction to three thinking strategies that have been effective in improving the thinking skills of my students. There are many books and articles written about all three, and I recommend looking at them in more detail once you decide to implement one of the strategies. No matter what thinking strategy you decide to implement, as long as you are persistent and explicitly teach it, you will find significant improvements in your students’ thinking skills.
How have you used these thinking tools in the classroom? What are other useful thinking tools you have used?
Over the last two weeks I have been trialling Aurasma in my classroom, thanks to Nathan Jones’ brilliant presentation at VITTA. My students absolutely love it and created some amazing work around their inquiry unit ‘Ancient Civilisations’. Here are a couple of tips that make using Aurasma in your classroom a lot easier.
1. Practice time
As soon as my students saw Aurasma they wanted to play with it. Most of my students had already played with it at home, so they knew how it worked and wanted to get on with their work. Those students who had not used it at home wanted to make it look like clowns were appearing in the classroom, or robots appearing on top of their friend’s heads. These students did not want to start working because they wanted to play. Allowing students ten minutes to play with Aurasma and learn to use it through creating a silly AR saves time later, as students will get straight on to the work.
Ensure that you both create and use your ARs in bright lighting. My classroom does not face the sun, and does not have very large windows. The result is that on overcast days it is quite dark, even with the lights on. We created our ARs on a sunny day, so they worked well, but when we tried them again on a darker day we were unable to make them work on any of our iPads. When creating them, think about what the ‘normal’ lighting is in your classroom and try and create them when that lighting is available. When displaying students work that is linked to an Aurasma, try and put it under lights or in the sunlight, so that the app will work effectively.
3. Obvious markers
You do not need the Aurasma symbol to make an Aurasma work, as some people assume, but you do need to make sure that trigger you use is unique. If it is not unique enough the app will not recognise it and it will not work. Drawings, photos borders, different colours and headings all help the app recognise the trigger. If the trigger is too simple it may work some of the time but not all of the time, or not at all. If it is a poster, having students write in thin texta instead of pen or pencil helps.
The Humanities wall that is full of AR triggers.
How have you used Aurasma with your class? What tips or tricks do you have when using it?
It is half way through Term 3 and teachers and students alike are beginning to look tired. It is that time of year when routines are well and truly established, the classes are no longer new, yet the end of the year seems very far away. Despite the talk of Term 3 being the ‘easiest’ term, it can also be the most difficult, as the excitement of the new year has worn off and the tiredness begins to set in. I am trying some new approaches, though, to make sure that my Term 3 is as good as it can be, for both me and my students.
There is always a new strategy to try, whether it is one created by by person teaching up the corridor to one trialled by someone on the other side of the world. And Term 3 is a brilliant time to try it. You have already built a relationship with your students, you know where all the resources are and you know exactly where the planning and curriculum is headed. Choose a unit of study, and try something new! Want to trial Project Based Learning? Add it into your Inquiry planner! Want to experiment with reciprocal reading or book clubs? Try it in your reading sessions! It is a great way to challenge yourself and your students and stop monotony in its tracks.
2. Choose a new tool to use
With so many amazing new educational tools being developed, there is never enough time to try them all. Choose one that you have been meaning to use for a while and finally give it a chance in your classroom. Trial creating a class site or blog. Start using ClassDojo. Experiment with exit tickets using Socrative. Ask your students for feedback on the tool. If they love it, keep it. If they don’t, talk about why they don’t like it, how it can be improved, or better alternatives. Even if it is not right for this class, it may be perfect for another grade. If you’re feeling enthusiastic, share your new knowledge of the tool with colleagues or online. Other teachers always appreciate knowing the pros and cons of a new teaching tool! Especially as no single person will ever be able to try them all themselves.
3. Talk to someone new
Despite good intentions at the beginning of the year, people tend to always talk to the same people. While it is fantastic to develop friendships, it is also good to branch out and learn and share with people you would not normally talk to. Even if you teach Grade 1 and normally talk to other teachers in the Junior School, go and chat with someone who teaches Year 6. Learn what the success and challenges or other year levels are and how you can help. You may have a struggling year 5 student who can go to help in a grade 2 class, where they can learn the concepts while taking on a leadership role. You may find resources that you otherwise would never think of. Even if you do not, it is a great way of creating a community across all levels of a school.
4. Shake up the timetable
By this stage of the year you are probably finding that you teach the same subjects at the same times on the same days. While this does lead to stability, if not carefully managed it can also lead to boredom. Shake things up across the rest of the year. Combine some maths lessons and plan a huge maths challenge! Have an inquiry/humanities day and transform your classroom into something that matches with your unit (a courtroom, or an ancient civilisation, or a science lab!). Alternatively you could add in a new program, like Thursday Thinkers, to challenge your students’ learning and keep their thinking skills sharp.
5. Change the layout
Once the classroom layout is established, it very rarely changes. Sure, some work comes down and other work goes up, but that is about it. Changing just a couple of things about the class layout can make a huge difference to teacher and student enthusiasm. It is just like when you change the sheets on your bed, or add a new plant to a garden – small changes, but they change the way you see the entire space. If you want a big change, re-arrange all of the furniture in the room. Change the focus point, create many focus points, or create different areas for students with different learning needs. If you want a smaller change, play around with creating new borders, or new spaces to display student work so that it can be changed more regularly. Get rid of the posters that the students don’t use and replace them with ones that they like. Even one of these things can improve the space for student learning and engagement.
A few small changes can make a big difference to your attitude and the attitude of your students towards the rest of the year. Rather than counting down until the summer break, change things up so you can’t wait to arrive to work each day. Not only is it better for you, it is also better for your students.
A huge focus of my teaching, outside of using technology effectively, is teaching students how to think. This is important for students of all ages, but I feel it is particularly important for my middle years students as they make the choices about the type of person they want to be.
I use several strategies to teach students how to think, including teaching them Bloom’s taxonomy, de Bono’s Thinking Hats and Direct Action Thinking Tools. The method I have enjoyed the most, however, is something I call Thursday Thinkers.
Thursday Thinkers is an hour long session I run on a Thursday afternoon, based on the idea that thinking can be a communal activity. I pose one main ‘Key question’ that is based around a philosophical idea and two to three ‘Guiding questions’ to help students think about the key question in different ways. An example is a key question of ‘Do we have a responsibility to others?’ and guiding questions of ‘Do you have to help yourself before you help others?’ and ‘Is there any time when it is wrong to help another person?’
The session begins with introducing the key and guiding questions and then watching a short video about the topic – TED talks are very handy for these! The students then form a Socratic seminar (an ‘inner circle’ and an ‘outer circle’) to discuss the topic. There are numerous videos on YouTube about how you can run a Socratic seminar in the classroom, but I find that it’s best to take the general principles and then mould them to fit your students.
In the beginning the students needed to be guided with additional questions to help stimulate their discussion and thinking, but after four weeks they are beginning to hold their own discussions and challenge each others’ thinking without constantly looking to me for clarification or confirmation.
Teaching in this way has been an amazing experience – my students’ thinking skills have gone beyond that one session a week, and they are really beginning to apply their higher order thinking in their work. The next step is to explicitly build a path between these thinking skills and their reading, to deepen their comprehension skills. I can’t wait to get started and see my students’ become really involved in their own thinking.
How have you taught thinking skills in your classroom?
Today my class’s book drive is officially closed. After four weeks, a social media campaign and more community support than we could have dreamed of, we have raised 1621 books for children in detention centres.
It has been an amazing experience. It was created from the students’ drive to take action based on what they had learnt during their inquiry, and what they had read in the newspaper, and was completely based on their ideas. They wanted to use social media/announce it at assembly/tell the newspapers, and so we did. They sorted and counted the books and contacted family friends and businesses in their own time.
All the books from the local library in boxes!
Yesterday, the students wrote a reflection on the experience. All of the students mentioned how enthusiastic they were about the book drive, and how much fun it was. This was despite the fact that it involved research, planning and writing, three tasks that are definitely on the ‘do not like’ list of most of my students. It just goes to show how listening to student voice and planning for engaging, authentic lessons really does work (not that I have ever believed otherwise!)
In my last post, you can see the HaikuDeck presentation that I created about the book drive. It shows how and why the drive grew to the amazing proportions that it did. To add to that, below is information on how you can create a successful action within your classroom.
1. Listen to your students
Our book drive was so successful because it was entirely based on the students’ ideas. They wanted to be a part of it because it was their idea. They wanted to write the letter/make the video/collect the books because they had complete ownership of the action.
2. Use social media
Through social media, my class also raised donations for Amnesty International. There were many teachers who supported our cause by donating through our MyCause page. We also received numerous book donations because my students who were over 13 used their Facebook and Twitter accounts to spread the word. We also used our class Youtube account to raise awareness of our campaign through the advertisement the students created.
3. Use old school media
This was one of the most successful ideas. One of my students sent an email to three local newspapers about our book drive. Two answered, and both came and photographed them and wrote a story about it. Through the newspaper articles, we had several people come to the school, including a woman who worked at a school library and another who worked at the local library. We received over 400 books from the articles alone!
4. Trust them!
The book drive meant that the students were often out and about filming or visiting classes to collect books. While I was also in the school grounds, it was impossible to have them all within site at all times, like they would be within a classroom. Unlike in the classroom, though, all of them were on task and completed their jobs extremely efficiently. Because they were engaged, I could trust that they would do the right thing, even when out of the classroom.
5. The benefits of asking
At te beginning of the book drive we created a website and we had students announce it at assembly, but it wasn’t until we actually began asking that we received a huge number of books. Asking if the journalists would like to come in, asking if businesses could donate books, asking teachers personally if they had any spare books that may be good for the book drive was what made it successful. Just sitting and waiting was not enough – the students were proactive, all of the time.