Taking Action Beyond Raising Money

Very often, when schools talk about ‘taking action’ in the classroom, they are talking about raising money. While occasionally raising money is a good solution (and, potentially, the only solution), it is not a viable way for classes to take action as a part of every topic. Even if only one class in a school used raising money as the only form of action, by the time they finished four or five topics, the parents and community would not be well and truly finished with fundraising! Taken to a school-level, it is absolutely unviable.

And yet we know that taking meaningful action that connects students to their local and global community improves engagement and learning by making the topic and skills relevant to their lives. So how can we bridge this disconnect? Here are some suggestions on how to take action in your classroom, without asking for money.

Almighty Dollar

Raising money is not the only way to take action!

Sean Ganann via Compfight

1. Other types of donations

Money is not the only type of donation many charities will take! One of my best experiences in the classroom was helping my students run a book drive, to collect books for children in detention centres. We ended up receiving over 1500 books!

Charities like Vinnies and the Salvation Army also welcome donations of clothes, blankets and household items. Many households have items that they have been meaning to give to charity but just haven’t got around to it yet. Alternatively, most charities that work with homeless people will have some type of drive to collect cans of food, especially in winter and at Christmas. You will be amazed how much your class can collect for charities if you ask for goods rather than money.

2. Connecting students to people

Taking action does not always have to be collecting for charity either. Sometimes, connecting students to other people can be equally as effective. This may involve taking the students on an excursion to a nursing home or to see veteran’s to hear histories from real people. It may mean connecting with scientists or people from other countries over Skype/Google Hangouts to ask the questions they have to an expert. Connecting to others is one of the most powerful things we can do; students can take action by learning to how to make meaningful connections.

3. Teach others

We know that our students have learnt something if they are able to articulate it well to others. Why not put this in to action by planning a Science Fair, or another type of expo, where students have to explain what they have learnt. You could even invite parents and grandparents along for an added dimension.

An alternative to this is for your students to teach what they have learnt to a younger class. It could be a short event that just lasts one lesson, half a day or a full day of activities and learning.

4. Plan a special day

Take the students out of the school setting for the day, if you can, to fulfill an action plan based on their learning. Studying the environment? Organise a clean up day around local beaches or parkland, or participate in National Tree Day. If your students are old enough, talk to your local volunteer organisations who work in similar areas to your topic of study. Most places would love 25 helpers, even if it is just for the day.

5. Plan an event

Your class could also organise a school event, raising awareness rather than money. There are people in the world who have to walk for miles four or five times a day for water, and students could organise an event for their class, year level or even whole school to walk that distance to increase empathy and understanding. Older students could participate in something like the Two Dollar Challenge to begin to understand the challenges for the homeless or people living in third world countries.

6. Ask your students!

Finally, ask your students for their ideas! In my experience my students always mention raising money first, but when we unpack it further they come up with amazing ideas together that I would never have thought of by myself. I have seen schools where it was the students who pushed for an improved recycling programme, and rain water tanks to decrease the school’s water use. Ultimately, if it comes from them then it will be more meaningful than anything else.

Have you assisted your class to take action without raising money? I would love to know how in the comments.

Edmodo: My LMS of Choice

Over the last few years there has been a proliferation of learning management systems. Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, Docebo…and that is just a handful! Some are free, some paid, each seems to offer very similar features so when you begin to use them it can be incredibly difficult to choose between them.

I have used several of these over the years now, and have found myself coming back again and again to Edmodo – the benefits to the teaching and learning in my classroom are just to significant to ignore. Here is why I will continue recommending Edmodo to teachers and schools:

Edmodo new

1. Works with children of all ages

Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that I am predominantly a primary school teacher. Edmodo can be used with 5 year olds as easily as with 12 year olds, and it’s features are advanced enough to cope with demands of high school students as well. I have used it with students up to 14 years olds, but other teachers, such as Bianca Hewes, have used it with senior high school students with great success. This allows Edmodo to be a whole school solution, no matter whether it is a primary, secondary, or P-12 setting.

2. Easy for ‘non-tech’ staff and parents

In every school I have worked in there are a large number of staff and parents who ‘don’t do’ technology. Edmodo is the only LMS I have found that has been taken on by these teachers and parents enthusiastically. Because Edmodo is clear and relatively intuitive to use, most people can use it’s basic features with little training. After a couple of short ‘techie brekkie’ sessions, I found that even the most hesitant staff began to use some of the more advanced features of Edmodo, buoyed by the fact that it was easy to follow, and any mistakes could easily be reversed. This ease of use meant that it is easily adopted as a school-level.

3. All of the tools I need, none of the tools I don’t

As a classroom teacher, there are certain tools I need and requirements I have – collaborative spaces, privacy for student safety, ability to easy receive and provide feedback on student work. Other features are added bonuses, such as badges, storing resources and good tech support. There are lots of features, however, that I don’t need. Plugins, developer tools and the ability to personalise the code are great for universities, but not for a school wanting an easy-to-implement system. Edmodo gives me and the teachers I work with access to all of the tools I need, without giving me a headache trying to work around unnecessary, university based tools.

4. Works across platforms

Uploading student work from the iPad to Edmodo was a nightmare a couple of years ago, but with the updates over the last two years it is now a breeze. Students can upload their work on any device, and I can view it and provide feedback whether I am at school on my Mac, at home on my PC or on the road on my iPad. It doesn’t matter if my school is BYOD, or if we choose to change hardware in the next year or two, all of our information we remain on Edmodo, despite our individual or school-based technology choices.

5. Parents love it

I have had more parents connect to their child’s Edmodo account than with any other platform. Edmodo makes it ridiculously easy for parents to only access the information that they want to see: feedback on their child’s work, whether their child is submitting work and any communications from the teacher. There is no superfluous information and nothing that will waste parents time. In thirty seconds they can check how their child is going and any relevant classroom information, rather than having to go searching for it throughout pages of irrelevant information.

The Best App for Digital Portfolios in Primary Schools

I have spent no insignificant period of time over the course of my teaching career looking for the perfect app to act as a digital portfolio for my students. I searched for apps, went to conference presentations about ePortfolios and even tested a couple in the classroom, but never found one that suited my purpose. I could not find an app that was easy enough for young students to use, while being powerful enough for the older students to reflect on their work in detail.

My perfect portfolio app allows students to do the following:

  • Store a range of media, including text, videos, images and sound.
  • Provides a space for student reflections
  • Easy to present during three-way conferences/parent teacher interviews
  • Easy to search
  • Simple enough for young students to use

When I taught grade 6, Google Drive was fantastic as a digital portfolio, but it was not a whole school solution as it was too difficult for younger students to add content to their folders. I tried a range of ‘portfolio’ style apps, but they were all disappointing. They either did not work well with other apps or they did not provide students with a space to reflect on their learning.

 

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This year, however, Book Creator has been my teaching lifesaver. It is amazing! Students of all ages can learn to use it, and the features allow it to become as simple or as complex as the student (or teacher!) would like. It works with every app I need it to, and can easily be exported as an iBook to present student work beautifully. Students can search their iBook for a particular piece of work, or particular topic, so you don’t need to spend a lot of time searching through pages of work to find a specific piece.

My favourite feature, however, is the ability to ‘hide’ a sound behind an image. This makes both student and teacher reflections a breeze. Students can place a verbal reflection behind their work, so the image becomes interactive when exported to iBooks – the reader simply taps the image, and the reflection plays! Students can also add a picture of their teacher, or a similar image, to the corner of each section of their book and the same feature can be used to add teacher reflections and feedback.

Overall, I will definitely be continuing to use Book Creator, and will recommend it to other schools. It does exactly what I need it to, easily and quickly. I am very glad I started to use it!

How have you used Book Creator in your classroom? What apps do you use for your digital portfolio?

 

Getting Girls Coding: The Final Frontier?

Today I held my first Code Club at my current school. I have held coding clubs under various guises before, so when 15 boys and 3 girls came in I was disappointed but not particularly surprised. Once again, girls were outnumbered 1 to 5.

This is something that has continued to frustrate me as the ‘techie’ female teacher. Not only are women underrepresented in the STEM fields, and in ICT in particular, but that this segregation is happening very young. It is not at all surprising that girls are not going on to STEM careers when they are even underrepresented in STEM extracurricular activities from the age of 9, 10 and 11.

There are obviously a number of factors that contribute to the small amount of girls and women who choose to participate in STEM activities and, eventually, careers. In my particular situation, however, is is doubly as frustrating. These girls do have female role models involved in STEM in this school. A number of the people working in the technicians’ office are women, and they currently have a female ICT teacher (albeit for a limited time).

So what else is going on? I know it could be any number of things – not seeing ICT as a welcoming environment for girls, not thinking that they are capable, lack of confidence, never seeing ICT as an option for girls in popular culture and media…the list goes on.

In my experience, however, girls equal boys in loving to create using ICT. In class they love using different apps to express themselves, to create eBooks and videos and music. If given the opportunity they would stay inside at lunch to continue to create using technology. But the minute it becomes coding, they leave. In ICT, you can not be more creative than when coding: you have complete control over your creativity, rather than being limited by a software.

Unfortunately, I do not have a simple answer. I suspect that there is no one answer, given that the issue is caused by a number of factors. What I will do is continue encouraging girls to pursue their interest in STEM, hopefully set an example by being a woman whose passion is technology, and continue searching for ways to improve the current situation.

Starting the Year for Technology Success!

This year is proving to be quite different to the others in my teaching career. I have moved states (although I think I remain a Victorian in my heart!), changed from the public to private school system and am acting in the role of Head of Learning Technology for the term. Suffice to say, the learning curve was quite extraordinary but I am now settled in for a fantastic term of teaching and learning.

My new role means that I have spent the last week and a half in and out of different classrooms ensuring that technology, innovation and creation are hopefully on the forefront of people’s minds as the year begins. Here are some of the things that I have learnt about setting up the year for success using technology.

My classroom for Term 1.

My classroom for Term 1.

1. Make sure the expectations are clear from the beginning

Can the students have games on their iPads? Can they use their devices however they like after they have ‘finished’ their work? Are there any times when they cannot use their device and have to use their workbook?

For better or worse, each school environment has different rules around how students are able to use their device. Some schools require that student work is recorded in their books most of the time, while others are more fluid in their blending of the traditional and the innovative. Many of the behaviour management issues I see that are caused by technology can be avoided if the expectations are clear. There are lots of procedures that are taught in the beginning of the year to make sure the class runs as smoothly as possible – add in your technology routines and you will find that a lot of the classroom management issues will not arise later on.

2. Hook the students – and the teachers – in early.

Yes, students need to know how to use Pages/Word and how to print. But these skills will come if you provide them with rich learning experiences that allow them to play with the technology. Using technology should allow students to create things that were not possible ten years ago, to think outside of the square and connect their learning to the world outside school. It should allow them to have a deeper understanding of the content and better thinking skills as they get to manipulate the information, not just remember it.

In order for this to happen, however, you do not need to start with the boring stuff! Create a lesson that allows students to get to know each other using an interactive quiz, using Keynote and iMovie. Explore cyber safety by filming a role play of what to do if you are the target of online bullying. Give students an hour of ‘tinker’ time, a chance to get to know the different apps and programs available on their devices. All of this will give students an idea of what is possible using technology, so that when it is time for them to use it during a unit, they know they are not restricted to word processing and the lower stages of Bloom’s taxonomy.

3. Set up the basics

Are you using Google Drive this year? Take fifteen minutes to make sure all your students can access their account and can access documents you share with them. Do your students have email accounts? Take five minutes to make sure their accounts are connected to the default mail app so that they receive notifications.

These tasks don’t have to be done at all at once. Spend five or ten minutes each morning for the first week setting up two or three of the main tools you will be using, and you will avoid most of the issues arriving when you are teaching and go to use those tools.

4. Create classroom  ‘techXperts’

Teachers are busy, and it is easy for technology to be seen as just one more time eater. In most classes there are at least a couple of students who love technology and would be happy to help you out. Even as someone who loves technology, I have ‘techXperts’ in my class to help trouble shoot and offer suggestions. They may help out with a common error message, or suggest an excellent new app for their classmates to try. I have found some of my absolute favourite apps through students who were exploring the App Store for fun after school. They’re an excellent way to make sure technology is saving time, not wasting it.

5. Try at least one new tech tool in the first five weeks

It is easy to start the year with the best of intentions to try that new idea, or test that new app, only to have time slip away from you. Make a plan to try one of the new things you learnt about over the holidays in the first few weeks of school. It could be as simple as introducing a new app to your students to a larger project, such as implementing Project Based Learning or trying the flipped classroom. Introducing it at the start of the year stops us as teachers form falling back on the same patterns that we use each year, and puts us in the mind frame of innovation to hopefully continue throughout the year.

 

What do you do at the start of the year to make sure your use of technology and innovation is successful?

Five Global Classroom Projects You Can Start NOW

As school winds down for those of us in the southern hemisphere, things are still very early in the school year for those in the north. Unfortunately for those of us in Australia, schools in America have often already formed connections by the time we are ready to start our new school year. If we are looking for a quick project to end our year, it can also be challenging to find something relevant in such a short period of time. Below are five projects or places that you can go to find global projects to end your year, or to start next year with engaged and collaborative students!

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Photo Credit: Scott Maxwell via Compfight

More Love Letters

This project is not inherently collaborative but is a compassionate way to start or end the school year. People go onto this site and nominate people who they think need to be appreciated. Some people are terminally ill, some have done amazing things for their communities, others just for people who have gone through hard times. You select the person, write them a (physical) letter and mail it out – that’s it! It is a basic premise, but can lead to some wonderful conversations about kindness, gratitude and about seeing the world form other people’s perspectives.

ePals

ePals is a fantastic place to start for teachers who have never participated in global collaboration before.You can be matches with a school with similar learning needs, create a new global project, or participate in one of their learning challenges. You can be as connected with your partner class as you like, from just emailing to organising a live video chat, depending on your level of confidence and experience.

The Global Classroom Project

The Global Classroom Project for 2014-15 launched two weeks ago, and it is a wonderful way to connect with other educators, find classes to connect with and discover global projects your class can become involved with. It is a wonderful place for beginners as there is plenty of support and you can always ask questions using the Twitter hashtag #globalclassroom

Skype in the Classroom

Skype in the classroom has three main purposes: to connect classes with one another, to connect classes with guest speakers or for virtual field trips/excursions. While the latter two aims are not easy to achieve through Skype, the first aim is absolutely Skype’s strength. Classroom teachers can post topics or projects to be shared with the community, or respond to other teacher’s projects. I would recommend responding to someone else’s project first if you want to connect within a few weeks. If you don’t mind waiting, then posting a project is the way to go.

Twitter

In the words of Amanda Palmer, sometimes we need to learn the art of asking. If you are on Twitter, try just sending out a tweet about what you are looking for. I have sent out two tweets looking for classes to connect with and have received numerous responses both times. Use appropriate hashtags to broaden your search beyond only your followers, and you will be surprised how many other people are out there looking for a class to connect with too. Just be sure that you check Twitter regularly and respond promptly if you receive a response.

 

What other global classroom projects have you been involved in? What worked? What did not?

ACEC 2014 Reflection

What a week. Just a few days ago I was in Adelaide for the Australian Computers in Education Conference (ACEC). It was a crazy three days! I presented twice, and learnt so much in the other sessions I attended. People’s feedback was just wonderful. It is always nice to know that I am helping others learn and that they find what I am presenting useful. If you are interested in seeing the slides from my sessions, they are available here.

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Ready for a big three days!

Alec Couros’s keynote was inspiring. I loved how he showed the importance of putting technology into the hands of children so that they are free to create. It really matched my own views about the importance of student creation, not just consumption, on iPads – it’s the last stage of Bloom’s taxonomy for a reason!

It was also fantastic to see all of the amazing things happening in schools around Australia. The teachers from St Andrews School were a highlight, with their open spaces and personalised learning. It really inspired me to do more with the space I am lucky enough to have access to here at Alamanda College.

Another stand out was Chantelle Morrison’s presentation on encouraging reluctant writers. I though I knew a lot of writing tools, strategies and resources, but she had lots of new ideas that I can’t wait to implement with my year 7s. A list of her writing resources are here for anyone who is interested.

I also learnt about ‘moonshot thinking’. This is a Google term, but I think has equal relevance to the classroom. Moonshot thinking to Google is the space between science fiction and reality, but in education (and EdTech) about thinking big, making everything 10 times better and thinking outside of the square. In a time of standardised testing and results-based pay for teachers, sometimes this type of thinking can get lost between the algebra bookwork and the teaching of handwriting. It is such an important aspect to inspiring students to learn, instead of just teaching them. It is definitely a thought I will try and keep with me as I head into the always-crazy Term 4.

Introducing Techie Brekkies

Introducing techie brekkies in my school is one of my best EdTech achievments. I say this because in the term that I have run techie brekkies, staff confidence in using technology with their class has skyrocketed. They are still one of the first things I recommend when helping establish a positive and authentic EdTech culture in a school.

Despite this, it took me two terms to establish them. The reason for this is, as a new school, we were introducing lots of new things and it really wasn’t the time to be introducing yet another thing for staff to worry about. By Term 3, however, the school’s approach to teaching and learning was more established, and so we could begin to introduce new ideas, apps and strategies. This is something to keep in mind when first establishing techie brekkies: it may not be the right time, but keep it in the back of your mind for when the right opportunity presents itself.

While it seems silly, make sure you don’t forget the breakfast side, and offer something yummy for people to eat. Techie brekkies are early, and not everyone is a morning person. Offering something delicious and lots of coffee adds an incentive for people attending the first few times. After that, the atmosphere has been created and you can do some wonderful things together.

Croissant

Food helps create a community feel

On the same note, because techie brekkies are early, you probably do not want to hold them every week. People get tired from waking up that much earlier, or have other things they need to have done. I run techie brekkies every fortnight, but have also seen them run once a month, or three times a term. Find a routine that works for you school and stick with it. If they are not regular, people are likely to forget about them, or may have other things on. With regular techie brekkies, you may a few new faces each time, as people work around their own schedule.

Finally, keep the atmosphere positive. It is easy for techie brekkie (or any EdTech session!) to become a place just to voice complaints about technology, especially if the people who are attending are not confident with technology. Food actually helps this, as ‘breaking bread’ together helps form a bond between presenter and attendees. The more practical the techie brekkie, the better. This is not the time to break out your knowledge of TPACK or SAMR. Share how you use particular apps in the classroom, how you troubleshoot when things go wrong, and tips for making everything go smoothly. Practical tips always help calm the nerves of people not confident with technology.

How have you introduced techie brekkies in your school? What else have you found works well?

5 ways to use Aurasma in your classroom

After several years of waiting, the Aurasma is now easily available to all students! The fantastic augmented reality app could previously only be used legally by students older than 17, but in the latest update the recommended age has been changed to 4+.

This opens up a world of possibilities in primary schools like my own.

Aurasma

1. Differentiation made easy

You can easily use Aurasma to link students to videos that match their zone of proximal development. This can be achieved in several ways: you could use instruction sheets and use different images on them to trigger different levelled videos, you could have the triggers placed around the classroom for students to access, or could place them on a continuum.

In my classroom, I use the latter, as our focus on lifelong learning and personalised learning means that students are used to continuums and are comfortable identifying their skill level.

In five hours a day, it is impossible to catch up with every student in every class, but Aurasma allows you to at least deliver personalised content to every student.

2. Digital portfolios

If your school uses physical portfolios, Aurasma is an easy way to start connecting students’ digital material. I have students who have written their poem, added it to their portfolio and used Aurasma to connect it to a video of them presenting their analysis.

This can also be very useful for student led conferences – you could use videos that help prompt students’ thinking, or as an addition to their presentations, showing how iPads can assist their learning.

3. Reflections

Aurasma provides students with a more interesting way to think about and present their reflections. Often reflections are rushed at the end, because many students,  unfortunately, do not understand why they are important and do not find them that interesting to complete. Using an app like Tellagami to record students reflections can be a lot more engaging, and Aurasma allows these videos to be easily attached to student work. Aurasma is easier to use then creating QR codes and, even better, does not involve printing, which can be difficult in many schools.

4. Encourage reading

In my classroom, I have a reading recommendation wall, full of colour prints of the front covers of books both my students and I have loved. Instead of writing recommendations underneath, we link the pictures to Tellagamis, videos or book trailers about the book. I have found that this is much more engaging for my reluctant readers, as it gives them a good idea about a book before beginning. Book trailers, in particular, allow them to become hooked into a book before reading. My voracious readers also love it, because they can create their own book trailers or ‘book tube’ style reviews, which are fun to make and even more fun to share.

5. Increase vocabulary

If you have a word wall in your classroom, Aurasma is a fantastic way to make it come to life. You could use it as a way for students to hear how a word is pronounced, how how to use the word in context. This is very important in the upper primary and early secondary years, as students are introduced to a complex and abstract vocabulary full of words they do not know how to pronounce or use in a sentence. Students can easily use Aurasma to add their own words to the wall.

How have you used Aurasma in your classroom?

Oppia: Interactive Online Learning

There is a new tool around that I only learnt about recently but looks to make a huge difference in the EdTech scene. It is Oppia, a site that allows you to use and create interactive learning activities online. While there are similar tools like iTunes U that are fantastic, Oppia adds extra features that make them very useful to teachers. Oppia is responsive to students answers, allowing them to work within their ZPD, not move on to harder topics before they are ready. It is free, with no trial period or extra paid features, making it perfect for the classroom. Everything is also licenced using creative commons, so you can copy, use or modify parts of courses to your heart’s content. Oppia is still in beta, so there may be bugs and there is not a lot of content available yet, but because it is open source, anyone can make suggestions or even improve the code themselves! I have no doubt that we will be seeing a lot more of Oppia in the future.