Collaboration is the Key

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Photo by Cheryl Terry

While reflecting on how I’m embedding technology in my classroom earlier in the COETAIL course, I realized that I needed to vamp up collaboration to fully transform learning. While we are striving for the transformation level , this continues to be a work in progress (So How Am I Doing?). My current goal is to form closer ties with both my grade level colleagues and other COETAIL teachers to foster collaboration, create authentic tasks and develop a wider audience for student work.

According to the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM), to meet the transformation level collaboration should include these three areas:

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    Photo credits to Emily Roth

    Students regularly use technology tools for collaboration, to work with peers and experts irrespective of time zone or physical distances.

  • The teacher seeks partnerships outside of the setting to allow students to access experts and peers in other locations, and encourages students to extend the use of collaborative technology tools in higher order learning activities that may not have been possible without the use of technology tools.
  • Technology tools in this setting connect to text, voice, and video chat applications and network access has sufficient bandwidth to support the use of these technologies for all students simultaneously.

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Photo by Cheryl Terry

Over the past few months, and during our water inquiry unit (‘Water is Precious’ unit of inquiry), I have strived to build stronger connections with colleagues and global partners. Collaboration has been fostered in the following ways:

* Working on planning an inquiry unit, based on the principles of PYP, with Grade 4 teacher, Mike Jessee.

* Planning inquiry lessons in the ES Hub/library with ES Librarian, Nat Whitman.

* Planning technology lessons on copyright and choosing provocative images with Sarah Fleming, ES Technology Coach.

* Collaborating with Emily Roth’s Grade 4 class at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi via student blogs and comments. An attempt was also made to share Google docs, but firewalls and privacy issues prevented this.

* Skype- connecting with Emily Roth’s Grade 4 class at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi via Skype to learn more about geography, meet our buddies and ask questions related to water use and the cost of water around the world.

* Collaborating with Brad Thies at Seoul Foreign School via student blogs and comments.

* Using Twitter to connect- I have posted tweets for each of my professional blog posts in my Twitter account to continue to create a PLN. As Stacie Melhorn suggested in Twitter Tales, I prefer to use Twitter solely as a professional platform. I am also trialling the use of a class Twitter account. Currently our use of Twitter in class is sporadic. We’re not viewing tweets from other Grade 4/5 classes we’re connected with, but we have created a new ‘Twit’ monitor whose job it is to construct tweets.

* Sharing our learning in technology with parents and administrators via a class share of our Water Inquiry projects.

* Science Fair- Sharing our learning and our ‘Journey as a Scientist’ presentations with Grade 4 peers and parents.

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Photo by Cheryl Terry

So far, we’ve come a long way toward developing relationships and collaborating with others. There’s still a long way to go, and using our local community and strengthening partnerships with Grade 4 peers in our own school, IS Bangkok, is the first step toward real collaboration.

All in all, collaboration is the key to success, both between teachers and between students. Starting small seems to ensure success. Developing strong relationships within a class and between classes in a school is the first step towards success.

 

Transforming Our Learning

Water is Precious

An Integrated Inquiry Unit

Our water unit and the COETAIL course are coming to an end. It’s been a busy time, full of success, a little stress and a huge amount of learning. We’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few months focusing on a unit of inquiry which expanded our existing science-focused unit.

Here is an overview and reflection on our ‘Water is Precious’ unit of inquiry:

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In a nutshell, here are the successes, challenges and next steps:

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Photo by Cheryl Terry

Successes

  • *Giving a clear message
  • *Mashing together media
  • *Making strong statements
  • *Using contrast
  • *Applying technology tools and using tools previously learned
  • *Using provocative images
  • *Awareness of copyright laws
  • *Working collaboratively

Review

  • *Giving detailed credits (name of artist/photographer; URL)
  • *Giving credit for music used
  • *Reviewing rubrics
  • *Self-evaluation of technology projects
  • *Giving constructive feedback to partners

Challenges

  • *Providing adequate time for inquiry and metacognition
  • *More time required than a standard unit
  • *Providing adequate time for planning digital projects, as well as editing and peer-editing
  • *Giving time for reflection and sharing at end of unit

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Photo by Cheryl Terry

Next Steps

  • *Greater emphasis of student self-direction
  • *Teacher working in the role as facilitator wherever appropriate
  • *More student choice to foster motivation (Dan Pink, Drive)
  • *Developing stronger collaboration between grade level classes and within our community, as well as building global partnerships
  • *Greater integration of subject areas to facilitate units of inquiry

In conclusion, aiming to transform learning, as shown in the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM), is my goal. We’re well on the way to forming a meaningful learning environment, which is active, constructive, reflective, authentic and collaborative.

For further details about the unit: ‘Water is Precious’ unit of inquiry

Project in Progress: Water is Precious

Unit of Inquiry: Water is Precious

While embedding technology in an authentic way is the main focus of the COETAIL final project, this was an ideal opportunity to create a unit that integrates core subjects and provides opportunities to link to IS Bangkok‘s Definition of Learning. By refining our original science unit, I was able to extend the unit to meet Technology and Information Literacy (TAIL) and Global Citizenship standards and create a more rounded unit of inquiry. My aim is to embed technology meaningfully and authentically, assist students to become more aware of global issues and best of all, create meaningful learning opportunities.

Here is my first attempt at creating a unit based on the fundamentals of PYP, in collaboration with Grade 4 teacher, Mike Jessee, and ES Librarian, Nat Whitman:

 


Laptops- How Can We Manage Them?

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Laptops and using technology in the classroom are all the rage. But how can we effectively manage our technological devices ?

Creating an effective classroom climate where students feel safe and act respectfully and responsibly is the key to an effective classroom, and that’s no different when we use technology.  Clear routines are important for a classroom to run smoothly, and it’s even more important when we’re using expensive pieces of equipment. Classroom management doesn’t happen without forethought and a highly skilled teacher, therefore management of technology, and the implications that a connection to a global network brings to a classroom, also needs careful thought. I agree with Julie Bredy in Managing Laptops, that we can’t be too regimented and guard computers like prison guards. Respect and responsibility are the key to students internalizing how we treat others, as well as materials, in the classroom.

Setting up routines, especially when using technology, needs explicit instruction. At beginning of this school year, before first using laptops, we discussed both laptop etiquette and our school Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). We discussed the respectful, responsible and safe use of technology in considerable detail. Since then, my students have shown the utmost respect for our school technology devices, with small lapses from time to time over safely carrying the laptops and plugging them in to charge. Working with elementary students, I don’t appear to have the same problems middle or high school teachers face. As the students don’t have their ‘own’ computer which they take home, there are seldom problems with downloading or changing things on the laptops. They are able to personalize their blogs, rather than their laptops, and none have gone crazy with widgets so far. Later in the year we’ll focus on the effect of widgets on their blogs so students can choose appropriate widgets for their home page. My students have also been responsible about using only the websites they’re directed to in lessons. They feel comfortable suggesting other websites if they know of other appropriate sites and I’m happy to check these out with them.

GoAnimate.com: What+Does+Our+Acceptable+Use+Policy+Say%3F by cherylt

At the beginning of the year, students learn to ‘fist’ computers, closing the lid most of the way so that their attention is directed back to the lesson. They’re shown how to hold the laptops with two hands, and I am consistent in enforcing this rule, as suggested in What is the Most Important Thing? Monitoring student use of computers by moving around the room is a simple classroom management strategy, which should not be new to teachers. My students are also assigned computer numbers, so they know to always take same number, no matter which cart. This saves time logging in as each laptop registers the user and starts up more quickly.

In a respectful classroom, our classroom agreements apply to everyone and everything we do in the class, including the use of technology. That way, it’s clear that what’s said online is the same as saying it face to face. Online safety is emphasized regularly, referring back to the idea of YAPPY, and not sharing personal information. We discuss this throughout the year as new things occur, and I’m open with the students about the dilemna of what to share online. In the same way as I often model during reading or writing workshop, I often ‘think aloud’ about whether it’s appropriate to post certain information on our blogs. This was a recent topic of conversation when we considered publishing our ‘Who Am I?’ projects online. I explained to the students that although I was extremely impressed by the quality of the projects and would love to publish them, I’m afraid that the personal information (names of family members, interests, hobbies, favorite things) shared in the presentations will put their safety at risk. I’ve been frank with my students and let them know that I’m trying to find a solution and am talking to the technology coach and others with more expertise than me. In the meantime, they can share the YouTube codes with trusted friends but I have asked them not to share them on their personal blogs to protect their safety. Students may later be given the option of publishing them on their personal blogs with parental permission, but this is still an option I’m mulling over.

Photo by Cheryl Terry

Other management tools which have worked well in the classroom are sticking labels for regularly used websites (URLs, log in and password) in student agendas. I have created class accounts for PhotoPeach, VoiceThread, YouTube and other digital tools, and students have access to them, with the user name and password displayed in the class and in their agendas. I make it clear that while students have access to the class YouTube account and other class websites, and can embed videos in their blogs, they must have my permission to upload any videos to the account. Whenever we make videos on imovie in the class, for recording presentations, lessons, groupwork, plays or discussions, they are uploaded to YouTube. Wherever possible the students are given control of filming the presentations and sharing them via imovie on YouTube. The importance of protecting our safety is emphasized, by making it clear that the videos should be unlisted and shared only with those we trust.

When using the internet for research, I have been purposeful this year in facilitating with our ES librarian and showing the students safe search engines. As mentioned in a previous blog post, Mirror, Mirror, students need to learn to filter information and connect it to their prior knowledge. They need to be explicitly taught the skills to deal with the barrage of information in the modern world, as well as having opportunities for practicing autonomy, mastery, and purpose as recommended by Dan Pink in Drive. Explicitly teaching effective strategies to filter and synthesize information will help empower the students to research ideas and questions they’re interested in.

Using the inquiry model helps to facilitate student learning and foster motivation, as does providing choice in how to present a product (What is the Most Important Thing?, Drive). As Dean Groom suggests in 23 Things about Classroom Laptops creating a remix is a perfect way to motivate students and foster creativity. By making learning fun and authentic, student interest is intrinsic and therefore students are less likely to be tempted by the distractions luring all of us.

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I make use of the resources available in the school as much as possible, enlisting the support of our technology coach, Sarah Fleming, to help to teach important ideas. I also make use of tech experts in the class to help others, using the ‘Ask 3 before me’ motto. I could now make the tech expert roles more explicit by posting the names of tech experts for certain tech tools or processes. This is often only possible a few months into the school year, once students have been exposed to a number of tools and their expertise becomes clear. The role of the computer monitor also needs to be reinforced, ensuring that computers are plugged in to charge, other laptop carts are returned on time and carts are plugged in when move from room to room.

Explicitly structuring lessons on how to write quality blog posts and quality comments makes blogging purposeful. This is again more powerful with support from our technology coach, and is often restricted by time and access to computer carts. Setting up an agreed schedule with a grade level colleague has helped ensure that I have access to 2 laptop carts at certain times of the day. As I am then without access to computers at other times, I have had to be flexible and creative in juggling my schedule. As I begin to use laptops more and more in lessons and for workshop rotations as the year goes on, flexibility will be key. Management routines will also need to be clearer and tighter when using laptops in workshop stations to help transitions to work more effectively. Keeping the computers logged on and making the expectations clear that students should simply log out or close the window they’re working on will help ease time lapses. To assist the quick set up and shut down of laptops, the tip from Classroom Management of Laptops to time the setting up of computers will help students to aim for a fast, safe and efficient start up and transition time. While I usually give a five minute and then a 1-2 minute warning of time remaining in the lesson or workshop station, Rock Hudson, gave a useful tip to encourage students to be on the carpet ready to begin the next lesson with a 5 minute countdown.

While my students each have their own headphones and USB, management of these devices still requires some tightening. Students are aware that they should use their headphones when accessing a game or website with sound effects, but are often lax at returning the headsets to the basket appropriately. While my students are now in the habit of saving work on their USBs, they need more explicit instruction on effective use of USBs. At the beginning of next year, I will ensure that students are explicitly taught to drag files from their USB onto the desktop, rather than working directly off USBs, to avoid contamination issues. They require a clearer time check and more reminders in the last part of a lesson to get ready for the final save on their USB. Students also need to clear their desktop and get into the habit of deleting items from the desktop as they save them on their USB.

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I often use the Smartboard to make expectations clear and to help students stay on task. I also model what effective use of technology looks like by using the Smartboard to create blog posts, embed Youtube videos and insert photos using creative commons with attributions. At this time of the year, after reasonable exposure to different technological tools and devices, the students are given an explicit overview of grade level expectations (What is the Most Important Thing?) and what they should have completed by the end of the lesson.

Google docs can be a tricky tool to manage, but guiding the use of the docs in the first lesson or two saves a lot of misunderstandings. Demonstrating the most efficient ways to log in, share work with the teacher (creating a folder which is then shared) and share docs with their writing partner or peer-editor helps to set up systems which will continue throughout the year. Restricting the number of people they share their docs with is a good first step, which can then be expanded as the year goes on. I’d now love my class to share their writing with a wider audience, including their grade level peers and global connections. I’ll also make the expectation clear that if a piece of work is shared with you, you should then comment on it. As we’re still in the beginning stages of using Google docs effectively, we’ll need to focus on making constructive comments and giving positive feedback. While my students are now skilled at giving specific oral feedback, they need more explicit instruction on giving specific and useful written feedback to their peers. Out of respect for their partners, my students will then be responsible for reading their comments and taking note of their advice. While it is ultimately their choice whether or not to make changes, many students require explicit instruction on how to proof read their work and make improvements to their writing, and they should be aware that this process is important to become an effective writer.

Students should be taught to be flexible and smart when using technology, and be aware that the school network can be slow or unreliable at times. We generally have a backup plan and many students will take out books if their computer is slow to start up or connect to the network. Students should also be aware of backing up their work, saving often. We all learn the hard way if we lose work. Hester’s idea of giving a warmup problem or reviewing homework while computers are starting up would also help us to use time more efficiently (You got to move it move it). What’s important is always to have an alternate plan, rather than solely relying on technology. Planning work before using the computer, such as using a graphic organizer or storyboard, can help us all make better use of our time and create a more effective product, as encouraged by Jeff Utecht when designing a movie or presentation.

Using technology isn’t easy, and it’s not foolproof, but guiding students on how to use it safely, responsibly and respectfully is a great way to ensure that students can get the best out of the technological devices at their fingertips.

Mirror, Mirror…

What is the future of education?

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Who knows what the future will hold? In my short(ish) lifetime so much has changed and yet it seems the world is speeding up. So what will it look like in 25 years? Or even 5 years? 10? That’s what we need to prepare our students for. I don’t know how it will look, but as states in Preparing for the Future, I do know that it will change, and drastically.

How can we prepare our students for the future?

Constructivism is a key focus in my class and in my school, yet now it seems that we must go one step further, towards connectivism. Our students need to be prepared for a continually changing world and have to be ready to deal with all the technology coming at them. With the rise of social networking and technology tools, students need to be armed with filters. They need to become problem solvers, evaluators, collaborators and communicators.

In Connectivism, George Siemens states that ‘Knowledge is growing exponentially’. To deal with this myriad of information, today’s students must not only effectively filter information, but they need to make connections between what they already know and the new information they gather. As Siemens so aptly puts it, ‘Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses’.

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Now our learners must be prepared for working in a variety of different fields as it’s not likely that they will enter a career that lasts a lifetime. In fact, many people now hold between 7 and 10 jobs in their lifetime. As Siemens states, ‘Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era,’ one that is likely to be more chaotic than stagnant. Our learners must be flexible, adaptable and able to synthesize and filter information.

We can prepare the students in our classes for an unpredictable future by arming them with a number of strategies, such as synthesizing and making connections. Those of us who are older, and no longer in elementary, middle or high school can be exposed through a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC)  like COETAIL. A MOOC can help us connect and collaborate in the digital world, participate and network with others, and create authentic networks.

But motivating students and hooking them is still our number one goal as teachers. In order to gain the skills to survive and thrive in the modern world, students have to be engaged and ready to learn. Dan Pink, in Drive, has highlighted three key elements of true motivation—autonomy (self-direction), mastery, and purpose. Pink states, ‘The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world’.

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The elements of autonomy, mastery and purpose would encourage creativity, flexibility and challenge in students. But how could this look in the classroom? Karen Robb, in Is this the future of education?,  throws out an interesting idea: ‘Imagine if we allowed children in our class 20% of their school day to work on anything they wish as long as it was educational’.

Will administrators and the average teacher buy into this?

Would teachers be willing to take the risk and shift their thinking to the role of facilitator?

Would teachers feel comfortable shifting the power from the teacher to the student?

Does this resonate with me? Hell yes! I’m committed to developing self-directed learners in my classroom and am a true believer in giving students choice. Encouraging creativity and finding ways to motivate students to challenge themselves and achieve their potential is my ultimate goal. Now is the time to have the big discussion with the powers that be in my school who are currently working on developing International School Bangkok‘s ‘Guiding Principles 2020′. In a nutshell, connectivism, autonomy, mastery and purpose should be a key part of our ‘Guiding Principles 2020‘.

NETS- Whose Job Is It?

Whose job is it?

Whose responsibility is it to teach the NETs standards to students?

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My idea of how to teach technology and how it should be integrated into the classroom have evolved over the nine years I’ve worked in international schools. At first, like in many schools, I relied on the expertize of technology experts who taught technology, not quite in isolation, but within the confines of a computer lab. Those days are long gone, and after dabbling with 1:1 tablets and laptop carts, I’m beginning to get a feel for how the true model of embedding standards and integrating technology should look. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m well on the way to teaching technology standards, not just tools. In an ever-changing world, we have to prepare our students for what’s yet to come in the 21st century. That means they have to learn the process, not simply a bunch of tools.

I’m still a learner, so though I can navigate my way around a number of tools and am able to embed technology into my programs, I rely on a number of resources. Embedding technology and targeting information literacy standards takes collaboration, so I am a true believer in teaming up with everyone who can lend a hand, including students. As Rock Hudson states in The NET Standards for Students, teachers, administrators, parents and students need to work together and take responsibility for teaching the NETs standards. For that reason, I make use of all the skill sets I have access to: Sarah Fleming, our ES Technology coach and Nat Whitman, our ES librarian, among them.

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Visual literacy is all around us and is taking on an important role in the world today. For our learners to be successful, we have to arm them with the skills they need to survive in the digital world. As the American Association of School Librarian’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner (AASL) states, ‘To become independent learners, students must gain not only the skills but also the disposition to use those skills, along with an understanding of their own responsibilities and self-assessment strategies’. The NET Standards for Students builds on this, ‘Simply being able to use technology is no longer enough. Today’s students need to be able to use technology to analyze, learn, and explore’. In today’s classrooms, our role as teachers is to help students develop the traits of self-directed learners, as well as gain skills in high-level thinking and metacognition. Therefore, the NETS-S and AASL standards are merely asking us to continue developing the skills we focus on everyday in our classrooms, just embedding them in the digital world.

At International School Bangkok, our Technology and Information Literacy (TAIL) standards have been adapted from NETS-S and AASL to produce grade level standards (Grade 4 TAIL standards). While, ultimately, it’s our role as teachers to focus on the TAIL standards, there are a number of factors which would help the implementation of the standards. The most important is familiarization with the documents, as well as time to understand and plan as a team. I believe that schools and administrators have the responsibility to provide time to analyze and synthesize the standards in order to enable us to create units with authentic tasks which embed technology. Pulling in the resources available in the school, including coaches, librarians and technology resources, and familiarizing ourselves with what’s at our fingertips, will also help us aim for producing our ideal student:

  • An effective learner
  • An effective communicator
  • An effective creator
  • An effective collaborator
  • An ethical citizen

Preparing our students for the future is a team effort!

The Art of Zen Presentations

Simple but not simplistic.

That was my mantra as I was designing my presentation based on Zen design principles. And what a difference it made, significantly changing the way I evaluated images. While I designed my presentation, I kept my main idea at the forefront of my mind and selected images based on the mood I wanted to convey. Of course, using Creative Commons images can be limiting but there are some impressive images available as well. You just have to be creative in finding them.

An idea that has resonated with me recently was the power of involving students in ‘parent’ conferences. Creating self-directed learners has been a passion of mine for a long time, and this was only intensified when I participated in Cognitive Coaching training earlier this year. I have actively involved students in every learning discussion for several years and truly believe that it has a resounding impact on a student’s attitude and metacognitive skills. This project gave me a forum to present the ideas to others in our faculty, who are familar with student led conferences but have yet to involve students in all learning discussions.

 

Don McMillan’s video, Life After Death by PowerPoint, was a good reminder of what NOT to do. On the other hand, Garr Reynolds provided clarity on how to create an effective, attention grabbing presentation. In What is Good PowerPoint Design, Reynolds not only emphasizes the element of simplicity, but also stresses that context is important. I used his ideas for visual makeovers to design slides which were clean and simple, but appealing and attractive at the same time. I avoided attention-stealing transitions and overused themes, and opted instead for a simple black background to provide contrast. To ensure my slides were not laden with information, I focused on creating declarative statements.

Reynolds also pointed out six fundamental aptitudes created by Dan Pink in A Whole New Mind. The six aptitudes of Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning help to produce succinct, powerful presentations (From Design to Meaning). These principles provided a scaffold to focus my presentation and make the slides ‘sticky’. Emotional impact was a key consideration as I selected images, as was the simplicity of the picture. In relation to symphony, I was hoping to open the viewers’ eyes, maybe to something they hadn’t noticed or considered before. I was continually attempting to step into the shoes of the audience, and selected images that would have power and impact, often with a little playfulness and humor thrown in. Above all, I hoped the viewers would take away my ideas and ponder over them.

While I have yet to present my ideas to the faculty, my aim is that, as educators who want the best for their students, my colleagues will understand the importance of making students an integral part of conversations to help them to become effective communicators, collaborators, thinkers and most importantly, self-directed learners.

 

 


The Power of Visual Literacy

What I love about the COETAIL course is that the content is so relevant to what I’m doing everyday in the classroom. In the past month it was made all the easier when I was able to focus on an idea which has been nagging me for the last month. How can I make my class blog more aesthetically appealing to readers and more efficient to navigate for both students and parents?

While I’m not a fan of using the class blog to post homework, it’s a great medium for class updates, posting links to often used sites and modeling what good blog posts look like to help students to create their own effective posts. But with so many links and so many great widgets available, I am constantly reflecting on what should be placed where and how to make links more user-friendly.

I’m aware of the power of images and video in blog posts, but I am often at a loss to work out the wrapping tools and find the most effective theme without losing all the widgets I’ve carefully placed. While I try to wrap pictures, and feel that captions can enhance a page, they sometimes look terrible in a post. How frustrating it is when previews look different to how the post actually appears, and what’s more, it’s difficult to change them later to improve the visual appeal.

So, do I change the theme? Should I try using stronger colors? The white space on a page certainly doesn’t represent me, so what theme should I choose? A colleague uses a black background. That helps captions to stand out well against the background, but black certainly doesn’t fit with my philosophy. So do I go for red or strong colors, as I do in my classroom? The grey space at the side of my blog is far from ideal. believes that bold, contrasting colors will demand attention and, when used as a personality tool, color can bring emotional appeal to a page (Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design). I’ll continue to investigate the best way to select a bright background which will better represent the climate of my classroom and help captions to stand out.

Lately, I’ve realized that I need to try to post on class blog weekly, even if that means a short post with a few photos and captions. So far, so good. After 8 weeks of school, I’ve created 26 blog posts! My aim was for one decent post each week, displaying photos and a short discussion of learning, except the posts always end up far too long. While I’m hoping to continue to post regularly, my latest aim is to embrace hypertext and limit large blocks of text, in line with Jakob Nielsen and ‘s theory of succinct, linked posts. As Nielsen states, eye-tracking studies show that online readers tend to skip large blocks of text (Lazy Eyes), therefore my posts need to be short and sweet (unfortunately that’s far too hard when I’m reflecting on this blog!)

In a nutshell, I’ve tried to make the class blog more aesthetically appealing and easier to navigate.  As James Daly states in Life on the Screen: Visual Literacy in Education, ‘If you don’t change, you don’t improve, and you go out of business’. I don’t want to one of those in the education world who thrives on stability and refuses to change. As a result, using what I’d learned about design, I made some much needed changes to my class blog. I inserted a search function and changed the categories to a drop down box to save space in the sidebar. I carefully considered the importance of the items in the sidebar and changed the order accordingly, moving the Flickr photos and student blog links to the top. I synthesized and downsized some of the links, especially those in the ISB links section. The changes, though small, have made a significant impact.

The power of media literacy is clear and we have to embrace it. This year, I’ve made consistent use of Youblisher, You Tube and Flickr to create more stimulating posts. My latest discovery is just how easy it is to produce a slideshow of class photos using FlickrSLiDR. I’ve also been playing around with the placement and orientation of photos, in keeping with the ideas of .

As reinforces, ‘Always keep in mind how you want your audience to feel, set the mood by choosing the direction of your design, then enforce this by choosing the correct content layout and image selection’ (Visual Direction in Web Design). ‘If people’s faces look inward it will help the viewer look towards the center of the page.’ This has given me a greater awareness of the photos I choose and how to position them on the page.

Of course, this is just the beginning of my understanding of visual literacy. Being realistic, I’ll need to make changes slowly and continually refine my blog. My next step: update the header so it reflects our classroom climate and the learning that goes on. I’m hoping the presentation zen ideas may help me create a powerful image that hits the nail on the head.

 

 

 

 

Wonders of the Web

My use of the Web and blogs has escalated over the past few months as a direct result of the COETAIL course. While I had my own class blog and my students had created their own personal blogs as e-portfolios, neither had been used to its true potential. With guidance from Jeff Utecht in COETAIL course readings and the help of Chrissy Hellyer, our ES Technology Coach, I have stepped up my own blogging skills and those of my students. My most important learning was that I should be a mentor for my students and guide them in what a quality blog post looks like by using my own blog as an examplar.

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While I’ve been using blogs as a learning tool over the past three years at the International School Bangkok, I’ve found it difficult to find the time to update our class blog. Now, by using the power of images or video, I am able to make quick posts with thought provoking questions. I’ve still got a long way to go but, boy has it made a difference in the quality of my students’ blogs.

My students and I are now aiming to make quality blog posts, using hyperlinks, asking questions to draw in readers and make connections to our learning. Our goal is to encourage our readers to comment and make our blog posts viewer friendly. By embedding YouTube videos and other digital products such as VoiceThread and Photo Peach our posts have become more visually appealing. We’re all hoping to connect more with our readers and create our Personal Learning Networks (PLN). By reading others’ blogs and commenting, we hope to build up our readers and share our thinking and creations globally. There are still many more people lurking on our blogs, myself included, but I’m hoping that over time we’ll all get better at leaving comments and connecting with our global friends.

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Now, the next step is to continue to build our PLN. By connecting with fellow COETAILers, Emily Roth and Brad Thies, we hope to share our learning and connect with digital tools such as Twitter and Skype. Inspired by fellow COETAILer, Ben Sheridan, our aim is to create a PLN on Twitter to connect our classes in a similar vein to Sheridan’s Twitter project. A Skype call between our classes will also be a great way to follow up the top 10 lists of our class favorite reads we shared.

Right now, the world is our oyster. With so many inspired teachers involved in the COETAIL program, and great mentors such as Jeff Utecht and Chrissy Hellyer at our fingertips, we have unlimited opportunities to make global connections and collaborate.

Time is always our biggest challenge, and over the coming months I’ll be working on finding more effective ways to integrate technology into the classroom. Building PLNs, creating effective blogs that draw in readers and experimenting with new digital tools in the classroom to create global connections, are all on the agenda.


 


 

 

 

Dabbling

Dabbling might be the first step of Mark Prensky’s process of Shaping Tech for the Classroom, but it is critical for teachers to explore and discover digital tools. As we gain confidence, we can implement these tools more successfully in the classroom, hopefully leaping more quickly into creating new things in new ways.

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I am constantly dabbling with technology in the classroom, and more recently I have felt more ‘techie’, exploring new tools in my own time. With an updated RSS Reader, I am now following my student blogs more easily. Though I’ve had two different RSS readers over the last two years, I have recently been motivated to explore new blogs and add new URLs to my Google Reader. I am now often quickly checking in on my student blogs and their blog posts. It has been easy to give feedback to students, validating posts and making them aware that I am reading and keeping up with blogs. An issue still arises time and time again, however. Making the time to comment and read blogs carefully is always hanging over my head, and it’s difficult to make the necessary time to comment on blog posts.

My colleagues constantly inspire me, as was the case when my class created ‘What Rings My Bell?’ slideshows using Photo Peach. I find Photo Peach an ultra-easy digital tool to use in the classroom to create products easily and demonstrate learning in a visual and inspiring way. Plus, it’s accessible to all students because it’s so user-friendly.

I am now continually thinking about Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and how it relates to learning in the classroom. I’ve realized that students in my class are constantly creating, evaluating, analyzing and collaborating, although I can always improve my teaching techniques, use different digital tools and empower students in different ways.

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Currently, I am working on improving our student blogs, making effective blog posts, reflecting on learning and creating social networks through commenting on others’ blogs. My students are becoming more skilled in selecting and inserting images, making attributions, embedding YouTube videos and Photo Peach slideshows, and inserting audio files. As always, there are some students who become the ‘experts’ in the class but, in my opinion, this is the only way to successfully use technology without the teacher going mad! Over the next few weeks, my students will focus on making clear descriptions and blog posts, explaining their learning and making effective comments, with the help of our tech coach, Chrissy Hellyer.

Recently, as part of an author study unit in reading, my students were asked to perform a collaborative task using VoiceThread. Each group was comfortable working together, having videoed several discussion groups together during the unit. They had refined their discussion skills using a rubric and set goals for improving their contributions. The students are now skilled at using i-movie and uploading to YouTube independently and are gaining skills in reflecting on their performance when viewing videos of their learning. Listening to their discussions, their learning was evident when they referred to author’s craft, made references to passages in books and made connections between books. My main issue, however, was watching all the discussion group videos. At an average of ten minutes long, with five discussion groups and several discussions each, I am still devising the most effective way to evaluate the discussions. Sitting in on discussions for a few minutes is possible, and usually the most manageable way to deal with so many videos, but technical hitches often get in the way.

As the culminating project for the author study, each group created a VoiceThread slideshow to recommend authors to others. This provided a perfect opportunity to create social networks and learning communities. Now my aim is to find others who will collaborate- hopefully friends teaching Grade 4 around world, but firstly our Grade 4 team and colleagues at International School of Bangkok who are participating in COETAIL. From previous experience, I need to find partners who are motivated to create learning communities and who are willing to put in the time.

This week has also been an inspiring week for technology in my classroom. In the elementary school at International School Bangkok, we’ve been celebrating International Week. I was blown away by the quality of my students’ country presentations, which displayed  a great deal of thought, effort and quality of design. Students used a wide variety of tools to create their projects- in particular posters, PhotoPeach, i-movie and PowerPoint. Time after time, I gasped at the creativity of students and their skill at inserting images, and embedding links and YouTube videos. Many times their skills surpassed mine, as they weaved images and words incredibly effectively on slides.

The activities this week were also a reminder that students can still create incredible learning with simple pen and paper. In fact, a student wrote on her blog, “In Pakistan we use Arabic numbers so i made a activity with Arabic numbers and Aleenish numbers. Aleenish numbers were created by me!” Such a basic reminder that with pen and paper it is still possible to create amazing products, but then we can step up the learning even further and blog about it!