Gridding up

I was turned onto this rather cool new tool that I think has a ton of great potential in the classroom. It’s called Flipgrid. It’s a way to collect short video responses to a prompt. As well as looking great, it works on mobile (with the Flipgrid app), doesn’t require a login, and is super simple to use!

I’ve embedded a link to an example. Just click the container below and it will take you to a topic page. Then just click the big green plus button to start recording (and you’ll probably also need to click “allow” to give permission to your camera). Then just record your message, add your name and a poster frame, then submit it. As more people submit theirs you can revisit the site to see what they add. Give it a go!

After you click the button, say who you are, where you’re from, what you teach, and how you might use this with your students. You have 60 seconds! Go!

The direct link to the topic page is https://flipgrid.com/2a35ea

The administrator of the grid has a lot of control over things like moderation and approval of comments before they go live, whether replies are allowed, whether likes and plays are shown, whether auto transcription happens, and more. This tool is well designed for classroom use!

I see this as a great way to collect feedback from students, allow them to share their learning with the rest of the class, reflect on an activity, brainstorm ideas, and so much more. What suggestions can you come up with?

PS: If you’re on mobile, grab the Flipgrid app for Android or iOS. I love that it works so well on mobile as well as the web. Well done, Flipgrid!

Header image: Sprites by Thomas Quine via Flickr CC BY

 

Research Strategies for Senior Students

research

Our school has a subscription to a  website called the Study Skills Handbook which offers study tips to senior students. I’m sure it’s a valuable resource; so valuable in fact that it’s behind a $1200/year paywall that requires a login password in order to access it. What a bargain. I’m sure those tips wouldn’t be found anywhere else on  the Internet for free at all.

Anyway, I got an email from someone at school today promoting this resource, and amongst the several study tips it suggested, it listed this one…

3. DISCOVER OTHER RESOURCES:
You could also ask your local librarian for any additional direction on where to look for resource material for your assignment. Librarians are often your best source of information. They know how to help people access relevant and appropriate information, in books, the Internet or computer based references. One of the challenging aspects of Internet based searches for school students is the complexity, language and purpose of websites, not to mention bias and reliability.

It’s true that the Internet can be a wild and woolly place to find information, with the potential for complexity, bias and reliability concerns. However, it is also the environment that most resembles real life, where complexity, bias and reliability concerns are just part of the way the world actually works. While it would be nice to think that the real world could be packaged up into nice neat little packages, decoding the messiness of real life and sorting through all that stuff is one of the real skills our students need.

That said, here are a few suggestions that students can do when they are given a research task on any topic . Of course, the suitability of each of these suggestions will depend on the topic being researched.

1. Start with the Wikipedia article. For whatever potential concerns that people might have about the public edit-ability of Wikipedia, the fact is that for the VAST majority of topics it will be the most current, most accurate and most well researched summary of the topic. Start there.

2. Having read the Wikipedia article on the topic, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and look at the citations list. One of the requirements of Wikipedia articles is that they include a citation for every statement made, and any uncited statements are challenged and eventually removed. So for many topics, looking at the citation list (and links) will provide a treasure trove of further research ideas.

3. Go to Google Scholar at scholar.google.com and search for your topic there. These articles are all reviewed academic papers and usually provide excellent reading on most topics. Not only that, but each article in Scholar shows a link to the downstream papers that cited them, which again provides further reading. If an article has dozens, or hundreds of papers citing it as a source, then you can assume that other researchers have found them valuable. Your students probably will too.

4. Set up a bookmarking system that allows you to keep a collection of relevant links in one place. I HIGHLY recommend Diigo, not just because it is by far the best online bookmarking service around, but it also allows group collaboration on shared bookmarks and online markup of webpages. Using Diigo, a student can make comments and leave sticky notes directly ON a webpage, share those annotations with their partners, keep an organised list of relevant research articles and much more. Diigo is probably the number one tool that students should be using with web research, yet I wonder how many of them actually even know about it?

5: While in Diigo, do a search for the obvious tags related to your topic that are being used by others. This will reveal another rich resource of ideas on a topic by connecting with links and sources that other people have already found useful. It’s often a much better way to narrow in on relevant study resources than a regular Internet search because it has already been through a kind of social approval process. As more people tag a resource it gains social credibility and value, making it more likely to be the kind of resource that others will find valuable.

6. Set up some kind of tool that allows them to curate content. I recommend Flipboard, but there are many others like Zite, ScoopIt or even Pinterest. By curating relevant content into one place it builds a go-to resource for more reading on a topic. Curation like this should be a key digital information strategy.

7. Then there is the use of Internet search in general, such as Google or Bing. But too often students take a very limited approach to search because they simply don’t know any better. As well as using a rich array of search strategies and search operators (there is way more to it than just typing a couple of words into Google!) there is also Book SearchMap searchImage search, etc, each with their own nuances and advantages. While these various search tools and techniques won’t be applicable to every topic and subject, many will. Our students need to be taught about them so they know when is appropriate to use them.

8. Finally, particularly if you;re researching something that is fairly current or topical, go to Google Alerts and set up an alert for anytime that topic is mentioned online. You can be as specific or general as you like in your search terms, but whenever a new result matches that query it can send you an email to let you know about it.

So there are a few ideas for helping your students deal with those “Other Resources” that might be out there on the big scary Internet. There’s a LOT more that could be included in there, but this is a start. Maybe some of these ideas and tools are new to you, so you might like to take a look at them yourself in order to be best able to assist your students navigate this information rich, and often overwhelming, world of information they live in.

And none of that information I just shared was behind a paywall. You’re welcome.

Creative Commons Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadic_lass/6820209341/

Email Information Hunt

When students at our school get to Year 3 they are given their own school email account. We are a Google Apps for Education school, so the email they get is a rebadged Gmail account, and part of my role is to teach them to use it. We do lots of work on digital citizenship and we try really hard to give our students opportunities to be responsible members of the online world, but at the point they get their email we really just want to make sure they know the mechanics of using it… how to compose a message, how to reply and forward, the difference between cc: and bcc:, etc. In those early days of getting their gmail account I really just want them to get the hang of it by using it.

Around the same time as they get their email account, they also do a thematic unit of work about national parks where they look at several of Australia’s most prominent national parks and learn about what they are and what they do.

I had a bit of a wacky idea for integrating the use of email into their national parks unit by creating a sort of “email treasure hunt”. I wasn’t sure how successfully it would be, so I made a small proof-of-concept to test the idea and it worked really well.  I plan on developing the idea further, but for now I just wanted to document the idea here in case anyone else wants to play with it.

Gmail has two very useful features – Filters, and Canned Responses.  By combining these two features and making them work together, it can create a novel and fun activity for the kids to learn a little bit about their email and national parks at the same time.

Canned Responses

First, I created an account in our Google Apps dashboard called National Parks, with an email address of nationalparks@plc.nsw.ed.au.  To make it a little easier to manage, I also delegated that account to my regular email account so I could access it more easily without needing to log in and out all the time.

I created a set of filters that used Canned Responses in an automatically generated reply email. Each filter was triggered by a keyword (in my example I was looking for specific words in the subject line but I think you could look for all sorts of other criteria as well)  So if the previous email asked the students to find the name of the national park in the northern part of Australia that was famous for its aboriginal artworks and started with the letter K, they had to work out that the name of the park was “kakadu” and then they put that into the subject of an email and sent it back to the National Parks email account, where it was picked up by the incoming mail filters. Then, I used the Canned Response tool (available in Gmail Labs) to create a series of short email responses that took the kids on a “treasure hunt” for clues about several national parks. I only made three, which wasn’t too complex, because I was really only testing that the idea would work. Turns out that three replies is just about the right amount to get through in a single lesson.

Filter List

When their reply hit the server, the filter would look to see if any of the criteria were met (in this case a subject line containing the word “kakadu”) and if it found one that matched it would reply immediately with the appropriate Canned Response (in this case, called “kakadu2”). This reply would congratulate them on finding the previous answer, and then give them the next clue so the cycle could repeat again.

Essentially, when the students replied to a previous email with a correctly formed response, the filter would check to see that it was a match and then a reply would be generated using the appropriate Canned Response. The response emails they recieved asked them to find clues by watching an embedded YouTube video or looking on a linked Google Map so they could find the next piece of information and send it back to hit the filters again.

I started the lesson by sending this email to every student…

Hi 3C!

Nice to meet you.  I’m the National Parks Dude, and I’m so glad you are learning about our beautiful national parks.

Today I have a special challenge for you…  You need to follow the instructions EXACTLY, or things just won’t work the way they should.  You need to send me a couple of emails, and if you do it exactly the way you should, I’ll send you the next clue for the next challenge.

To start with, I need you to find out the name of the big national park in the very northern part of Australia… I’ll give you a hint, it has lots of aboriginal art in it, and it starts with a K.

Once you work out what national park I’m talking about, click this link to send me an email at nationalparks@plc.nsw.edu.au with only ONE word – the “K word – in the subject line and I’ll send you the next clue.  Make sure you spell it correctly or I won’t know what you mean!

Good luck!

This led to finding the word kakadu, which when sent back to the national parks account, automatically and immediately sent the next clue, and so on. On the final exchange they were asked summarise three interesting things they learned about national parks and to cc their teacher with the list. This way, the teach got a single email  from each student at the end with some indication of what they learned that lesson.

Overall, I thought it worked really well. I liked the fact that it let each student work at their own pace. My next goal will be to expand the idea to be less linear and more networked.  By sending clues that have different possible answers, it should be possible to branch the flow of emails into different directions, so that each student finds a unique pathway through a web of clues. That is a little complicated to set up, but I’m confident it can work.

If you want to try it out for yourself, just click on the link in the sample email above and have a go.  It should work for anyone, not just people in our school domain. Have fun, let me know what you think, and offer any suggestions you have for making the idea work better, in the comments below.

Kakadu Image BY-CC-SA http://www.flickr.com/photos/pierreroudier/3835863758/

The Interactive Teaching and Learning Masterclass Conference

I’m writing this from the Novotel Twin Waters Resort on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast.  It’s a hard life, I know, but someone has to do it. It’s been a spectacular day here, and I’ve managed to fill it with a bike ride along the beach, drinks at the bar, and lazing around the poolside area, so it hasn’t really been too hard to take. No need to feel sorry for me. I’ll be ok.

But it hasn’t all been just lazing around the pool and soaking up sunshine… The real reason I’m here was to take part in the first Interactive Teaching and Learning Masterclass conference, run by the good folk at IWB Net. I had the privilege of being involved as a presenter, leading one of the Cohort sessions and doing the keynote on the  Saturday.

The ITL Masterclass conference attempted to be different to a typical conference. Most traditional conferences have a pretty standard format… There is a keynote address in the morning, followed by a series of workshops or breakout sessions that are all organised well in advance. At these traditional conferences, delegates typically register, turn up, and hope that some of the breakout sessions will be useful, which, often, they aren’t. Despite the best intentions of conference organisers, making sure that delegates get what they need from a conference event is difficult, since a) most times, the delegates don’t really know what they need, and b) once a conference schedule is in place it’s hard to have the flexibility to adapt it to people’s needs on the fly.

If you’ve been to many conferences before, you’ll know that, often, many of the best conversations and networking happens in places and at times that have nothing to do with the organised part of the event.  Conversations over breakfast and dinner, at the bar, in the lift, during the breaks… often this is where the best stuff happens. It’s as though the “conference” stuff is the reason to get the people together, while the “un-conference” stuff is where they do the real connecting and learning.

This idea of the “un-conference” has grown in popularity in recent years, with the rise of Teachmeets and other un-conference style gatherings. A true un-conference event is highly un-organised, very much made up as it happens. The point of these is to not make it too organised or too rigid, and to try to find ways to make all the “incidental learning” the main focus of the conference and not just a valuable byproduct. Proper un-conferences can be quite chaotic to anyone not used to them.

It’s a double-edged sword of course. If you have too much structure in a conference it becomes inflexible and may not be able to meet the needs of the attendees.  But if you make them too unstructured they can easily degenerate into a mess where attendees get frustrated.  Some people like, and need, structure. Others prefer a more open and agile approach. What would be ideal is a conference that had the best of both worlds – enough flexibility so that attendees could make sure it met their needs, diverting and exploring into areas of interest to them, but still with enough structure so that it didn’t just feel like a bunch of people making stuff up as they went along.

I thought that the IWB Net team did a great job of trying to get the balance right for this event. There were five main aspects to the conference:

  1. a keynote address each morning to set the theme for the event
  2. a series of “cohort sessions” where a group of attendees could spend time doing a 6 hour “deep dive” into an area that interested them,
  3. a series of pre-prepared workshops on a range of topics,
  4. a series of un-conference workshops based on topics suggested by, and voted for, by the delegates during the event
  5. breakfasts and dinners (and the bar afterwards!) where conversations flowed freely

I’ve been to regular conferences where everything is prepared in advance and have sometimes found them frustrating because they don’t always cover what I want. And I’ve been to un-conferences where nothing is prepared in advance and have sometimes found them equally frustrating because they can be just too disorganised. As a hybrid conference model that sits somewhere between these two extremes, I must say I really enjoyed the format for the ITL Masterclass event.

I arrived at the event on Thursday night and went straight into a meeting where we discussed the possible topics for the un-conference sessions. A list was made, groups were organised, and volunteers stepped up to facilitate the sessions.

Friday morning kicked off with a keynote address from Steven Bradbury, Australia’s first Winter Olympic Gold medalist, talking about the idea of peak performance in sports. Steve is best know for his controversial win at the Salt Lake City Winter Games where he won gold after a massive crash that took out all the other competitors in the final. It was wonderful to hear him talk about his “12 years to become an overnight success”. His passion for the sport, his determination to succeed, the stories of his own setbacks and disappointments, all made for a really engaging and interesting talk. We got to hold both his Gold and Bronze Olympic medals, and I found the story of his journey to be very inspiring. The common theme in his story was passion, perseverance, persistence, never giving up, and realising that the gold medal was not a reward for the 30 seconds of the race, but for the decade of hard work that led up to it.

After Steven’s talk, we then started through the various workshop sessions. Some were pre-prepared, some were un-conference style, and we also began the cohort sessions.  I enjoyed the cohort idea… A group of people gathered around a central theme, working over 4 x 90 minute sessions to explore a topic in greater depth.

My cohort theme was Lessons from Leonardo: Dealing with Little DaVincis, and was predicated on the notion of imagining how we might teach differently if our classrooms were full of kids that were as curious, inquisitive, inventive, talented and productive as Leonardo DaVinci. Obviously, you’re not likely to have a whole class full of kids that just happen to be as bright and clever as one of history’s greatest geniuses, but I think if we went into our classrooms with an expectation that our students actually were like that, we might approach what we do a little differently. Over the four sessions I tried to facilitate my group through some deeper discussions about their own school, sharing insights and comparing notes. Then we looked at some of the tasks and assessments we ask our students to do, and tried to measure them against the Seven DaVinci Principles, as found in the book How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.

On Saturday, the day kicked off with my own keynote to the group, a talk called Passion, Purpose, Perspective and a Pirate Attitude. In this keynote, I tried to follow on from Steve Bradbury’s talk about what it takes to be a champion sportsperson, and explore a few ideas about what it might take to be a champion educator. It’s always difficult to speak to a group of your peers, especially ones that are clearly already good teachers, but I hope I did the idea justice.

Here’s a copy of the keynote, along with an audio recording I made and then synced up using SlideShare.

The rest of the day was spent mainly with my cohort group, as they worked to create a product or develop skills that they could take back to school and use. Some worked on creating their very own multimedia Credo for Teaching, as a statement of what matters to them as a teacher. Some took the opportunity to develop an assessment task for use with their students to incorporate some of the Da Vinci principles, and some chose to learn Scratch as a way of taking a cross curricula, whole brain, approach to learning. At the end of it all, they were a great bunch of people to work with and they produced some terrific end results.

Between those sessions, I also ran an impromptu Scratch/Picoboard workshop in the hotel foyer (or would that be an un-workshop) and also managed to get around and drop into a few of the un-conference sessions.  There was lots to see and do.

Overall, it was a great conference event, and I thought the hybrid format worked really well. Having the structure, but also the flexibility, was a nice balance, and I hope they continue to explore this new format.  A special thanks to the team at IWB Net for inviting me to be part of it.

I didn’t leave right away, and instead stayed another night before catching a late flight home. On Sunday I got to hang out with a few other folk who stayed on for the extra day, and after a late breakfast, Jan Clarke from WA suggested we rent a couple of pushbikes from the resort and ride up the beach to Mount Coolum and back. (OK, so riding along the beach was my idea… I’m not sure we were supposed to do that, but it sure was fun.)

I’m off to Canada tomorrow to spend time with Linda’s family and friends, then down to Philadelphia the following week for the ISTE conference. I just love being a connected educator! 🙂

Is the live lecture dead?

There was an interesting article in The Age newspaper the other day titled Teachers Online eLearning Mocking Fears, which was basically about some tensions being felt at some Australian universities between students who were asking (or demanding) that lectures be recorded and placed online, versus lecturers who were resisting this idea because they feared that students would capture, remix and republish their mistakes using social media.  The lecturers in question did not want their “mistakes” being made public to the world.  You can read the whole article for yourself.

But to me, it begs the following line of reasoning…

IF
the nature of a “lecture” is simply the delivery of information…
AND
the students want to be able to watch a recording of the “lecture” at their leisure…
AND
lecturers are concerned about producing a “perfect”, mistake-free lecture…
THEN
why don’t lecturers just create a prerecorded version of the lecture, without mistakes or gaffes, cleanly edited to their satisfaction…
AND
just publish it online for students to watch…
BUT
if they can reduce their lectures to a recording…
THEN
why have the lecture in the first place?…
IF
all students need is the prerecorded content?…
THEN
does this mean lecturers can lecture effectively using prerecorded video?
AND, IF SO,
can learning (at least via a lecture style presentation) be reduced to something as simple as “watching television”?

I learn a lot by watching video, and I think it’s a great way to develop understanding of Just-In-Time key concepts. I’ve no doubt that video podcasts, documentaries, YouTube clips, etc, are a great way to learn.  But you have to ask the question… If a recording of a lecture is as good as going to the lecture, then why have the actual lecture? Are concepts like iTunes U, or TED Talks, or the Kahn Academy, or even YouTube, far more potent than we give them credit for?

Or perhaps it’s a case that any lesson that can be effectively summed up in a recorded video, should be….

Redesigning Learning Tasks: Part 1

In these next few posts, I’m going to try and describe some of the projects we’ve been doing at school lately.  My role at PLC Sydney is ICT Integrator, and I very much see it as a role where I support, advise and consult with our classroom teachers about ways to enrich their lessons with technology. It’s a hard line to walk sometimes, since it often forces me to cross that line between giving advice on how to use the technology and giving advice on how to teach. The nature of digital technology makes it a really good fit with the general principles of quality teaching practice… and sometimes that fit is so good that I find it difficult to suggest ways to use technology without also suggesting that the underlying pedagogy should shift to match it.  Fortunately, I work in a school where most of our teaching staff are willing to take such suggestions on board, be it simply just regarding the use of technology, or to actually shift they way they approach the job of teaching.

Our Year 9 Geography class work on a project each year about natural hazards (bushfires, floods, earthquakes, etc). Over the last few years the students have been given a task that requires them to do “research” on one of these phenomena and “create a PowerPoint” about it.  I tend to put those terms into quote marks because I find that “research tasks” presented “in Powerpoint” are usually just a formal excuse to get kids to plagiarise (especially when they just hand the PowerPoint file in… they don’t actually present it to the class). When I looked at the task as it stood I was struck by the fact that most of the questions being asked could easily be answered by simply going to Wikipedia and doing a cut and paste.

I tend to use Blooms Taxonomy as a means of getting a quick overview of the quality of the tasks we ask our students to do.  It’s not a perfect tool, but it’s nice and easy to apply and it gives a pretty good insight into the degree of higher level thinking that might be involved in a given task.  When I looked at the existing task I got the impression that it was made up of fairly low level recall skills.

As an ICT Integrator, one of the questions I always try to start with is “What can we get the students to actually MAKE?” If  the word “create” is at the top of the Blooms pyramid, then I reckon that starting with that question is a good way to begin pushing upwards into higher levels of thinking, since making things, by definition, is creating.  The term “doing research”, unless it is followed up with actually making something based on that research, rarely takes students much beyond simple cut and paste thinking.  To be fair, the other part of the task did involve creating in the sense that the students were “making a PowerPoint”, but it was really just a PowerPoint summary the “research”.  Is it any wonder our students tend to plagiarise when we give them tasks like this?

So when I got a request, as the ICT Integrator, to simply visit these classes to remind the kids “how to make a PowerPoint” I felt a little underwhelmed, and I tactfully tried to suggest that perhaps we needed to rethink what we were asking the kids to do, and to come up with something a little more challenging. That’s what I mean when I say I often have to cross the line between just offering ICT support to teachers versus helping them rethink their actual pedagogy.

Anyway, we did end up redesigning the task, and I think that in the end everyone agreed it was a better, more interesting task that made good use of ICT while also covering all the necessary learning outcomes.  The students were put into groups of three and their task was to produce a 3-5 minute audio news report about a natural hazard of their choice. (It wasn’t technically a podcast, since we didn’t wrap it in an RSS subscription enclosure, but the recording part was the same general idea as a podcast.)

I suggested that the three students should take on three different roles, each focusing on a different aspect of the natural disaster.  The first role was the newsreader, and her job was to announce and describe the key facts about the disaster – what it was, where it happened, and some information about the causes for it… the newsreader essentially set the scene and gave the background about this particular disaster.  The second role was that of on-the-scene reporter, and this person was responsible for giving the detailed information about the disaster – who was involved, describing what the scene looked like, how it was being handled by emergency crews and so on.  The reporter then conducted an interview with the student playing the third role, that of a victim.  The victim’s job was to talk about the human impact of the disaster, and how people were affected. They were to give an insight into the human cost of natural disasters.  Together, these three roles would cover all the important aspects of natural disasters.  I think it’s important to recognise that all of these aspects are outlined in the syllabus for this unit, and so doing it this way was not just a novelty but a way for students actually engage in the prescribed content in a more interesting, more engaging way.

Of course, in order to play these roles the students needed to write a script.  For this, we used GoogleDocs and I taught the students how to write collaboratively using the shared writing tools in GoogleDocs.  I should point out that our Year 9 and 10 students are now 1:1 and every student has their own laptop.  This is a fairly new thing for our school as the 1:1 program just started this year, so I wanted to ensure we build authentic technology skills into these tasks.  Most of the students had never used GoogleDocs before and had never seen the collaborative, shared writing function. I spent a lesson with each class teaching them how to share a document and work on it together, something that they picked up very quickly. That’s the thing about our alleged “Digital Natives”… they actually don’t know a lot of this stuff, but once shown, they tend to pick it up pretty quickly.  Once they got the hang of how it worked, they used GoogleDocs as a shared writing space to work on a script together.  It worked really well and the students worked in groups of three, all collaborating on the same document, adding, editing and creating together.  I think they found it a very valuable tool.

I also spent some time teaching the students the basics of recording sound using Audacity. Once they were shown the core skills of recording a track, then overlaying it with other tracks, music and sound effects, they were ready to get on with producing their radio news reports.  Again, it was a skill that most of them had never seen or used before, but after a half hour of training they were all quite proficient at it.

Of course, behind all of this the students DID have to do considerable research.  They needed to find out how bushfires spread, what causes cyclones, where droughts are most likely and so on.  It’s not that they don’t need to do research – they certainly do. It’s just that once they did the research the task required them to actually use that information to produce something else.  The focus was not on the research, but what could be done with the research. Importantly, they were given some room to be creative, admittedly within a reasonably scaffolded framework, but there was still room to be creative… it wasn’t all about just regurgitating the facts they had researched.  They needed to take those facts and understand, manipulate and create with them. They were given an opportunity to engage with a range of new technology tools they’d never used before, and ones that will hopefully be of use to them in the future. They were being asked to use the media production capabilities of their shiny new laptops to collaborate and make something original, and not just use it as a glorified typewriter.

As we designed the task, I also made sure it offered the teachers a chance to learn new skills as well. We are really pushing the use of Moodle at the moment, and although most of our teachers are very good at posting resources like Word and PDF documents, the activities part of Moodle is still quite underused. I insisted that the final products of the students – namely a text document with the script and an MP3 file with the finished recording – be submitted as an Assignment in Moodle.  There was initially some resistance to this idea, but it forced the teachers to engage with the assignment submission workflow that Moodle offers and exposed them to a number of Moodle features they were not aware of, like the gradebook and the ability to manage student results electronically.

Overall, I have to say the task was a great success.  The students seemed to really enjoy the opportunity to work in groups, to make good use of their laptops, to be able to inject a bit of their own personality into the final product.  They told me that they liked the opportunity to be a bit more creative and not just hand in yet another boring PowerPoint file or essay.  The teachers told me they were impressed with just how engaged the kids were during the task, and that the quality of the finished products was generally quite high.

I’ll put some more posts up in the next few days about some other projects we are working on at school, but at the heart of them I hope there is a common theme.  That is, I hope we are getting better at rethinking what we ask our students to produce so they can show us not only what they know, but what they can do with what they know.  I’d like to think that we’re working harder to build creativity, choice, authenticity, collaboration and engagement into what we ask of them.  I’m pleased to see their laptops being used in ways that leverage the things that digital technology can do, and not to just treat them as a fancy way to take class notes.

Can this task be improved in the future?  Sure, but it was a nice step up from the previous task. I’d like to think that the ICT in this case was there as the appropriate tool for supporting a richer learning task, and not just there for the sake of using computers.

Below is a playable sample from one of the groups.  I don’t know if it was the best one, since I haven’t actually had a chance to listen to them all, but I picked it more or less and random and thought it was pretty good.  I liked the way they used sound effects and mashups recorded from the TV – it shows that they made a special effort.  And I like the creative (and slightly humorous) way they introduce the story at the start of their bulletin.

Finding the Right Model for ICT PD

I guess many readers of this blog would know that I work as an ICT Integrator at a large independent girls’ school in Sydney.  Large chunks of my day are spent working with our teachers and our students to help them understand a little more about technology and how it might be used to make teaching and learning more engaging and effective.  Of course, teachers always seem to be very busy, and one of the difficulties in trying to deliver some form of ongoing PD is simply getting them to find the time to do so.  I’ve tried a number of different models for delivering PD; some work quite well, others not so much. It usually comes down to finding time, and making it meaningful.

In case it’s of any use to you, I thought I’d share an email that I sent to all the teachers in our junior school (R-6) yesterday.  It’s an outline of how I plan to be delivering ICT professional development to them next term.  I’ve found that this model seems to work best for our staff, and it seems to give the most effective results.  I think this is because it’s delivered in a real situation that is authentic to them and also places a good deal of responsibility onto the staff to embrace the use of ICTs for themselves.  (one of my beliefs is that you should never do for somebody what they can, and should, be able to do for themselves) Perhaps most importantly, our teachers seem to like  this PD model and they seem quite enthusiastic about what we’re doing together… so this is what I said to them…

Dear teachers,

Although the focus of what I do here at PLC is technology integration,  it has always worked so much better when you allow me to help you link this technology integration directly into the things you plan to teach as part of your day to day activities… in this way, the use of technology can richly support and extend the learning for the students.  Over the past couple of years I feel that we have all worked together to make technology less of an “add-on” to the curriculum, and it has become more of an embedded tool for helping engage and enrich our students. Together, some of the techniques and strategies we have tried in the Junior School over the past few years includes podcasting, blogging, live webcasting, digital mapping, digital storytelling, web 2.0 tools, video news reports, social networking, manipulating digital images, and so on.  In the process, your students have come into contact with a wide range of technology tools that are an increasingly important part of the world in which they live.

In working with the Junior School staff, I have tried a number of different models for providing professional development in these tools, from offering before and after school workshops, holding lunchtime sharing sessions, shared planning time, and so on.  With the incredibly hectic schedules that most of you have, some of these PD models have been more successful than others.

Starting in Semester 2, all staff will be required to undertake specific ICT professional development each semester.  In the Junior School, we all agree that the best way to deliver this PD to you is in your actual classroom situation.

The most successful PD model for our teachers seems to be when we create time for collaborative planning time with the ICT Integrator. Under this PD model, I meet with each year group three times per term in order to plan and facilitate the integration of ICT into a classroom project.  We meet early in the term to plan a unit of work together, meet again midterm to monitor the progress of that work, and again at the end to evaluate and assess the work.  Of course, if you need extra assistance with delivering an ICT project then I am more than happy to come into your classes and assist, or to help out with computer class time, but I feel that the core of my ICT integration support is best done by assisting you to develop the skills and knowledge you need to deliver your own classwork with a rich ICT component.  The recent Year 2 “Great Inventions” project is a good example of how I see this working.

Starting in Term 3, we will resume this PD planning model that we’ve used before as it seems to prove the most successful with Junior School teachers.  After looking at the Junior School timetable, I’ve listed some suggested dates below that we could use for meetings in weeks 2B, 5A and 8B of next term.  These all take advantage of times when specialist teachers have your students. Please take a look and let me know ASAP if there are problems with any of these dates and offer some alternate dates that  are more suitable for you in these weeks.

(I’ve removed the actual dates listed here, as they aren’t relevant to anyone reading this post…)

Ideally, in our first meeting (Week 2B) we will look at a task or theme or topic you plan to teach that ICT might lend itself to, and then we can come up with a plan for how we might integrate ICT into that unit.  We will look at modifying or creating activities for the students that leverage ICT skills, and if necessary learn those skills ourselves.  I would encourage you to think about how we can make the tasks we design highly student centric, providing your students with higher order thinking skills and open ended opportunities for creative thinking.

Our second meeting (Week 5A) will be to follow through on how the project is going, what can be improved, what can be tweaked, and also to ensure that any ICT skills are being delivered to both you and the students.

Our final meeting (Week 8B) will be used to evaluate and wrap up the project.  We can evaluate it, look at what worked well, and work out how we might modify it to use (or not use) next year.

Hope these dates suit you.  Looking forward to working closely with you all next term.

We’ve used this PD delivery model in the past and it seems to work quite well.  I start by checking out the teachers’ timetables and working out when they are free (mostly when their students are with specialist teachers for Music/PE/Languages/etc) and then I propose a list of times to meet, asking them to check and confirm that these times work for them.

Anyway, just thought I’d share that in case you can make use of it.  My next few posts will be sharing some examples of how we have made this work in various classes.