Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Teamwork makes blogging better.

Blogging is a great way to communicate about the learning going on in your classroom.  The challenge however for new bloggers to overcome is the idea of how this medium is different than the "way we've always done it."

One way that blogging is different than emailing or posting a newsletter is that these forms of communication are often more formal, formulaic, and one-way.  Blogging is a really versitile forum for sharing the learning in your class. You can easily incorporate images, movies, sound recordings, and a whole host of Web 2.0 applications that make every blog a unique reflection of the style of it's owner.

By their nature, blogs can foster great conversations and can be used to connect school-learning with learning at home.  For example, you could post an image of something captured with the digital microscope, ask a question, and watch the comments as students along with their parents continue the learning together.

This creative potential of blogs however can be daunting for first-time bloggers.  At the same time, there can be unease about shining light into what is often a very private space.

These uncertainties are magnified when an entire group of teachers starts blogging together.  We wonder how our blogs will measure up to the others on our team and in our school.

So here's a bit of advice... we are all different, have different teaching styles, and our blog should reflect that diversity.  Blogs should be real.  They should be personal.  They should not be standardized to the point where we all post the same things at the same time.  If you want to do that, send a collaborative newsletter.

But, if you want to reflect the rich diversity of experience and professional practice you bring to bear, then blogging is for you.  Here are some tips for getting started with your team.
  1. Choose a common launch date.  By picking a launch date that's a reasonable date in the future, the team can all launch their blogs at the same time and we won't have some teachers feeling the pressure to post just because the others have already done so. 
  2. Build up a bank of content before the launch. Blog posts can take on a variety of forms limited only by your imagination.  I found this great list of 64 different class blog posts (embeded below). Don't know where to start? Choose one of the prompts and have a go. By having a bank of draft posts, you can easily pull one in from the bank if you're having an especially busy week.
  3. Blog for each other first. In order to meet #2, as a team, select a blogging prompt and by the next team meeting agree that everybody will come with a draft post that they'll show to the group.  This does three things, it will help build up your bank of content, everybody on the team will have a good idea of the "standard" of how others are posting, and it will allow peer coaching as members of the team introduce new formatting, features, and eventually Web 2.0 add-ons.
  4. Communicate with the parents about the launch of your blog. Let them know why you're blogging, the kinds of things you plan to post and how you expect to use commenting. Promote the launch date and let them know that you'd appreciate them reading and sharing the blog with important people in their child's life (Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, etc.).
  5. Debrief and adjust.  After the blogs launch, it's important for the team to get back together and talk about how it's going.  A good protocol could be to just spend time highlighting a post from each person on the team.  As new tools and techniques creep into the team's blogs, make sure they are highlighted and shared among the group so that you all skill-up together. 

List of 64 Ideas for Class Blogs via Free Technology For Teachers by Richard Byrne

Monday, 26 September 2011

Changing Your Password

Please see the screencast below to show how to change your password via the school website www.uwcsea.edu.sg

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Blogging in the Infant School

Blogging is a way to help communicate what's going on in your classroom with an audience that includes parents.  It makes the learning going on in your class visible and provides a forum for interaction via commenting. (Here are some examples of Kinder blogs Mrs. Wills, Zoe Page)

Our teachers in the infant school are using Blogger as the platform for their class blogs.  The expectation is that they'll post at least every two weeks beginning Nov. 4. The blog should reflect the individuality of each classroom and the "style" of the teacher.  Some classrooms are very visual and we'd expect these teachers to share lots of photos and video examples while other teachers will prefer to write more descriptive, text posts.

1. Getting started with Blogger

2. Adding Comment Moderation

3. Adding Gadgets

4. Preview & About Me

5. Writing your first post

Monday, 19 September 2011

Claymation - 3rd Time Lucky!

This is the third year Margot and I have worked on a claymation project with the Grade 5s, and we both feel this is the year that everything is coming together!

I have written about our adventures with animation here and here, so you can see a bit of the history.

This year, we are again connecting with the Grade 5 unit entitled Voices.
Central idea: "Through the arts we tell our stories of who we are: our beliefs, our values and our experiences"
What's different this year?

This year, we are making more of a connection to Art.

The students have been instructed to select a piece of abstract art that interests them, and use it as an inspiration for their animation. We showed them this delightful claymation that shows the sort of thing we envisioned.

It's been great to see the diversity in the works of art the students have chosen. We are confident they will be able to express themselves creatively through having selected a work of art that interests them.

This year, we have more measures in place to make kids successful.

Hafiz, the fabulous new TA for art has personally tested the best positioning of the macbooks and the animation stages, and constructed some 90 degree wooden frames to help keep the macbooks in the same position each time.

The more consistency kids can have in keeping their macbooks still, the better their finished product.

This year, we have provided more scaffolding.

Due to time constraints, we launched straight into the projects last year. This year, we have included time to play and learn some claymation techniques. We asked the students to roll a ball back & forth, make it disappear, then explore some other ways of moving. Below you can see Kelly & Maia's first experimentation with claymation.

5 Fab Ideas for Effective Online Research

Over the past few days, UWCSEA has been lucky enough to have Apple Guru Kathleen Ferenz visit our school. She has been a fabulous resource for me personallyas a Digital Literacy Coach, but also for the groups of teachers she has worked with.

One of Kathleen's many strengths is in Literacy, and she has given us lots of handy hints to do with helping students make sense of online texts, research techniques and some strategies for developing effective research skills.

Many of her ideas come from this great article 'Making Sense of Online Text' which is extremely relevant today, even though it was written in 2004!

 Please know that the following Fab Ideas for Effective Online Research are Kathleen's - I am merely sharing them around.

1. Start with images

The right search words are the keys to unlocking the information you are searching for. Kathleen recommended showing students a photo of the sort of thing they would be searching for online to elicit keywords. By way of example, she showed an image of a volcano, and then asked students to think of the keywords that might describe the image. She then used the words the students gave as a starting point for a search.

2. Narrow search by Reading Level

A neat little addition to the 'more tools' section of the Google search results is the ability to search by reading level. I'm not sure how, but I had missed this gem.

3. Scaffold

Our Grade 6 students have been researching about the UWC movement and the other UWC schools around the world. They worked collaboratively on Google Docs to find information under various categories, with the view to making a Keynote presentation later on.

Although the teachers took care to direct students to retain the URL of their sources etc, the Google Docs quickly became a receptacle for work that had been copied and pasted. Kathleen got the students to set up a table in Pages to help summarize and organise their data. This helped bridge the gap between the 'research' and the Keynote.

Too often, students are not provided with enough scaffolding, and as a result, the finished product lacks a depth of understanding. This scaffold will help our students be more successful in their presentation.


4. Summarize & Transform

As part of the scaffolding process, students were asked to summarize their findings into bullet points, which was a great start of course. Where I think Kathleen really raised the bar was when she asked the kids to transform their notes into audio form. The process of transforming written text into a different form (in this case, audio) really made them think about what they had learned, and what was important. It helped put the notes into their own words and moved them away from copying. 

Throughout her time at UWCSEA, Kathleen used the technique of transforming text. Occasionally it was creating/finding an image that represented a particular word, sometimes it was a movie recording, sometimes audio. I will definitely be adding this technique to my research toolbox.

5. Search Stories

How do you assess a student's search skills? When Kathleen asked this question to a group of teachers, it certainly made them stop and think. Typically, the skills of searching and synthesizing are seldom assessed, and instead, the quality of a summative task/presentation becomes the assessment.

 Using screen capture tools (e.g. Quicktime player) or a specially created video tool to help with the process, students can record their screen and show the process they use to search for relevant information. Google calls these 'Search Stories' (see amusing example here).

[Although this post is primarily about researching, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Search Stories could be used as a basis for literacy - developing storylines, uncovering the plot with each new search category, character development...]

 I would like to thank Kathleen for all her support, ideas and above all, her warmth! I hope you find these ideas as useful as we have.

Image credits:
Kathleen Coaching by Keri-Lee Beasley
Volcano Erupting ( BY NC SD ) by kahunapulej
UWCSEA by Keri-Lee Beasley
Singapore map via Google Maps      

Friday, 9 September 2011

Students (and Teachers) make self-grading quizzes with Google Forms and Flubaroo

It's easy to use Google Forms to collect information for surveys and manage sign-ups, but you can also use them for assessments. Geography students are using the Flubaroo script installed in a Google Form to create ten question quizzes for each other.

We spent most of a double period creating the quizzes that they will share with everybody in the class.  The link to the quiz can be shared by email or posted to a class website or the quizzes themselves can be embeded on a page.  When students take the quiz, the script checks their answers against the key created by the author of the quiz and returns their results immediately via email.
The teacher of the class meanwhile decided to create a Google Form to collect peer feedback of newspaper articles that were written by students in the class.  He simply turned his paper-based question guide into a form.  This will allow him to gather all the responses in one spreadsheet so he can easily look them over.