Monday, September 16, 2013

Its not the journey...but the destination

Innovation and Leadership in eLearning

My teaching and learning practices have evolved through my teaching career as I find myself continually searching for the best for my learners. Why, is a big question I have always asked. Students being at the centre of their learning and being in the driving seat, is the heart of my pedagogy. I see my role as a facilitator of their learning and creating an environment for this philosophy to flourish is an exciting journey to be on. In a 'traditional' classroom (four walls, one teacher), students developed their own individual learning programmes where I let go and the students took back control over their learning. Students decided how and when they were going to learn, as I offered workshops to cater for their needs and wants. This was hugely successful, as my learners became increasingly self-managing. This year, has been a huge change. I have been in the lucky position to help start at new 21st century school. This modern learning environment has allowed us to create a culture where the student has not only taken the driving seat, but also building their own vehicle. As a team, we have challenged not only what learning looks like to our students and community, but what our learning looks like.

eLearning had been a great carrier for being creative and innovative in my classroom practice. From starting out with basic devices (a couple of computers and iPods), the world really was our oyster. We (my students and me) began to explore a vast amount of tools, uncovering a community of learners from blogging to Wikispaces to Twitter and beyond, we had a wider audience that included family and ever growing friends around the world. Our digital toolbox grew to including numerous tools that allow us to create and innovate - aurasma augmented our classroom reality, the writers club gave us a competitive writing experience, Movie making competitions (e.g. I AM MAKING Movies, One Day on Earth) gave us the scaffolding to explore animation, acting and legomation to name just a few.

Alongside my journey, it has been great to take along supportive staff who are mostly willing to come along. Finding innovative ways to introduce new devices and tools has been interesting, to say the least. Most students are always excited and motivated to see the latest gadget, adults can take a little while to discover the excitement. From leading the introduction of over 100 iPads to putting on my Google Certified Teacher hat and looking at GAFE products to showing a cool tool (e.g. an app), I try to be creative, responsive and supportive to staff needs (and wants). Running causal drop-in tekkie sessions to speaking at conferences (and UNconferences), to parent workshops, to having a complete open door classroom policy (online and physical), paying it forward is my way of repaying the good ideas I have used from many others.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Its not about the tools...but here are some tools

We have had quite a few visitors coming in and asking a few questions in regards to some of the tools we are using and are a small sample of what and why we are using:

Explain Everything App
Students are using this interactive whiteboard to explain their learning.  Within our Maths programme, students go through the process of learn it, practice it, prove it then teach it.  This app allows students the ability to prove they know a strategy/ skill and/ or create a lesson for others to learn. This is then uploaded and embed in their Wikispace for others (including parents) to view.

Aurasma App
I have always been a huge fan of this augmented reality app, taking an ordinary physical image (e.g. a poster) called a trigger and turning it to an interactive video.  Recently, the students made how-to video's (using the trailer option in the iMovie app) of jobs that need to be done in the common. We then created an aura over the image of the job and voila, students can see what is expected of them when it is their turn on that job.  Next is to explore augmented reality art!
Aurasma how-to video's

Recently, a small number of students have wanted to learn how to code games, apps and websites.
Scratch is a great site where you can create your own interactive stories, art, simulations and games and is great for all levels. You can also check out ScratchEd a Scratch community for educators
Sploder is an interactive site where students can make online games using simple drag and drop skills - no coding knowledge is needed and is great for all ages.
Code Avengers is an interactive, web-based, New Zealand-made learn-to-code software programme. Designed with secondary aged students, some of our year 8's have been fine with using it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Which Device?

The debate over which device schools are choosing is a topic hotly debated.  With more and more schools promoting BYOD, this may become obsolete in the not-so-distance future.  We still need to provide for equal opportunities and technology is no different, especially for those technical, specific projects (I am thinking high-end video editing, etc).

Being an avid apple user, I lean towards apple's easy to use operating systems, which to me 'make sense', however in the past couple of months have had a little play with some other devices.  It seems to me that each of these devices are quite different and would be used in different ways - what is the right tool for the job?

Apple's iPad (around NZD$500)
With the release of the first iPad back in 2010, this multitouch device really changed the way we looked at devices in education.  Finally, school's could afford a device which had multi-uses (camera, apps, word processing...), meaning we could buy one device that had multiple uses.
- Intuitive use
- Content (e.g. videos, audio recordings) can be easily created and upload/ embed to various sites.
- Thousands of Apps to enhance learning.
- Use with Apple TV to use airplay to share content on iPad with a greater audience.
- Mobile version of websites means limited functionality (e.g. embedding video's on websites can be difficult).
- Updating/ loading apps to multiple iPads can be problematic (speak to anyone who has used Apple Configurator!)
- Best to have laptops/ desktops available for higher end tasks (e.g. video post-production, coding, embedding creations to websites).

Google Chromebook (around NZD$359)
We were lucky enough to trial a Chromebook for a couple of weeks. I like the concept of all your Google Apps making up your desktop (e.g. docs, mail...) and that it is an easy device to share as you log-in to your own environment with your google account.  I made it immediately available for our students, placing it with the other MacBook Air's.  Students quickly figured out how to make user's and logged in with their GAFE accounts.
- Log-in to your own personalised environment.
- Easy to use.
- No maintenance: Updates are automatic and free (no need to sit for hours updating each device).
- Some Google Apps can be made available offline (mail, drive, calendar, etc) - so you don't need an internet connection to work.
- Get Apps via the Chrome store.
- Great for internet-based work.I was a

Lenovo ThinkPad (around NZD$1,200)
This product is meant to rival the Microsoft Surface. When I initially pulled it out of the box,  I was a little perplexed (to say the least) with the operating system - Microsoft8, but once I figured out a few basics (thanks to Google), I set-up the wireless and was away.  I like the concept of having a very mobile device, but with full web capabilities (uses full version of sites, not mobile sites). Having the touch screen, keyboard and stylus means you can flick between interactions depending on the task.  I like the concept of the all-in-one, but am still somehow not convinced.  Apart from the larger price tag, the ThinkPad feels a bit flimsy to use and not sure how it would go in the hands of younger people.

It's exciting to see companies pushing the boundaries and trying to give users the best experience possible.  For us, I still love the experience Apple products give with our students using a combination of iPads and MacBook Air's/ iMac's to suit their desired outcomes.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Google Teachers Academy

Seventh of May, twenty-thirteen saw 52 educators from 13 countries directly influencing 32,727 students, 40,311 teachers, therefore indirectly influencing 410,885 students - sitting in a conference room in the Google Sydney office in Sydney ready to embark on 2 full days of learning.

The room is full of names I recognise from Twitter - educators I follow and learn from - so I am privileged to be part of this amazing cohort.

So what did we learn?

The first day was structured with workshops run by our lead learners, googlers and the GTA planning team.  They were based around Maps, automating your world, youtube editor and collaboration tools.

Here is a snippet from one of the workshops:
Creating your world - lead by Tom Barrett & Jim Sill
What inspires us to create?

Using youtube editor  we were given an image and on a post-it note, wrote down a phrase/ key words about that image.  This was then displayed and we used youtube editor to create a story around this image.  Throughout this workshop, we were given key points to consider when:
  • The starting point - don't front load too early
  • Prototyping is the key - fail early
  • Share early
  • Critique: fail fast to quickly move on

We also heard from Googlers about what life is like working for this amazing company. We had the token Google photo of the cohort and rounded up the first day with magic moments, the pinning ceremony and the dinner.

Day two was the Unconference.  With a relaxed feel, we heard from more Googlers and then designed our day of learning from each other.  This was a great opportunity to get a real feel for the talent that was in the room.  Part of being a Google Certified Teacher is creating an action plan for a project that will be completed in the coming year.  

This was an amazing experience and can highly recommend this face-paced, mind-blowing experience.

Here is my application video:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Walking a fine line...

Over the past two days, these questions have been driving our own end of day reflections.  A task that I would have guessed to take 2 - 3 hours, has spanned across two full days.  As I think about how I would have taught this last year, I realise that although I provided a lot of choice, I was really the driving force  - this year, we are aiming for the students to be the driving force of their own learning, deciding (with some gentle nudging) what steps they need to take to achieve the goal they set.

So back to this week - challenge - that will be my word to sum up it up.  I found the balance between students driving their learning and wanting to step in a bit of a juggling act.  Where do we (the professionals entrusted with their education) step in and when do we back off? What if certain students do not step up and own their learning, who drives the bus then?  As a teacher, how much am I saying/ influencing/ implying throughout a given day - how much is too much, what if it is not enough? What about the things I don't say? 

Yes, things take a lot longer, but hopefully the outcome will be greater ownership from the students of the process and products produced.

I guess the proof will be in the pudding....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

UNschool ME

Honeymoon over, time for action.  It has been just over a month since starting the school year and we have been going slowly, slowly finding our feet, which has been great, but it is time to start challenging our thinking - why were we doing the things we were doing, were we falling back into old, 'safe' habits that we have been used to?  It amazes me the default you can easily fall back into if you don't have people challenging what your doing and your thinking behind your plans.  Last week, we were challenged - in our thinking - why were we doing what we were doing?  Does this fit with our school philosophy? Are we defaulting to the one-fit-for-all model?  In some instances, I think we were going down that path.  Our goal is to offer a personalised, student-centered learning experience for ALL students - so why were we doing things such as getting all the students sitting in the one configuration for our morning meeting, why did all students sit on the same type of seat for this?  Why???

Great question - so getting ready for Monday morning.  For the first time in my teaching career, I have no plans for Monday, or Tuesday or Wednesday for that matter, Thursday is looking pretty much the same - blank!  As we (senior learning common team) sat down to plan out our week, last week, we thought back to the discussion we had - why are we doing what we are doing, are the students in control of their own learning?  We have decided to plan with the students on Monday.  Include them in the decisions we make.  Model what collaborative planning looks like, how working  We purposely did not plan anything, we haven't even talked about what it will look like as we want this to be as authentic as possible - and it sure will be!

So I dampen the voice of a the uni lecturer saying "detailed [weekly] planning is the key to successful week" and go into Monday's uncharted waters...what will the week bring? Watch this space to see....

Sunday, February 3, 2013


If I thought 2012 was a rich, busy and exciting year - 2013 is going to blow it out of the water!

I am lucky enough to be involved as a foundation teacher at Hobsonville Point Schools - Primary section (schools as the primary and secondary schools will be running under one umbrella) - in one of Auckland's newest community.

The start of any school year is always filled with excitement, anticipation and a little bit of the unknown...starting a new school was just the fresh start I needed in my teaching career.

So - what has been involved thus far....

January 14th, 2013 - first day back!  Unlike previous teaching years, gone was the endless summer holiday - back to work after 3 weeks holiday.  For me, this is great.  I am someone who needs to actively relax - I love being this was a great relief (especially to the credit card which normally takes a hammering when everyone else has gone back to work).  So we headed back three weeks prior to the start of the school year...
The infamous brownie incident 

What have we been doing?

Seven people make up the Hobsonville Point (Primary) team. With such a small group, it is vital that we all get along, so there has been a lot of 'getting to know each other'.  We headed away to Waiwera for 3 days, which involved lots of planning, planning and more planning (aka laughter, wine and good food). We got back to school to tackle setting up for the start of the year!

The junior common (year 0 - 3) got well under-way, putting up beautiful boarders, creating discovery tables and generally creating a visually rich environment.  Us in the senior common (year 4-8) took a slightly different approach to our learning common.  We really want the older children to take full ownership of their environment, so we have gone for a minimalistic approach with the idea that the people that fill the space will design the surroundings, from the walls to most of the resources (we have got the bare essentials) that fill our space.

Our weeks have also been filled with open days.  We had a public open day (held on a Sunday).  This was not hugely advertised and we expected a few people to pop to the Sunday at 10.05am...the place was filling up and it took my brain a little while to click into gear and answer the deluge of questions.

We have also had the families in - with our first IEM's (individual education meeting) taking place.  This has been a fantastic experience, getting to know the families and the children that we will be working with.  Usually I have had three way conferences towards the end of the first term.    The idea of having these meetings prior to school was a little foreign, but I could immediately see the benefit.  The IEM process is typically designed to be run by the child, discussing their learning path, however this first one was a chance to get to know them.  We had a few questions to ask such as:
- if you could design your own school day, what would it look like?
- what do you do outside of school?
- what areas of learning do you find easy/ what makes learning easy for you?
- what areas of learning do you find a challenge/ what can make learning difficult for you?
- does anything worry you about the start of the school year?

So we know a bit about our learners (tick), we have moved furniture in and out of our learning common (tick)...we then began planning our first couple of days.

So the journey has well begun.  It will be great to finally see this amazing space being used for its intended purpose.  Monday we start with a stagering 31 students enrolled - we (Kristyn, Lisa and myself) have 13 in our senior (year 4 - 8) learning common.  Activities ready, bouncy castle ordered - we are all good to go!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The year that was...

I asked the class to give a round up of their year - and thought it only fitting that I do the same as this has been such an action-packed year!  From helping to deploy over 100 iPads in the school to attending workshops run by my own students, iLearn is an understatement!

Here are some of the highlights from 2012 and what I have learnt:

This is no easy feat and here are some tid bits from my year:

Train before implementation 
At the GAFE summit in Auckland, Mike Reading suggested train before you implement and make sure your training leaves your staff wanting more.  We started our training when the iPads landed.  Some staff had their own personal devices (ipods/ ipads/ iphones), but many had only seen pictures of these.  Pre-training for these people would have been invaluable and given them some prior-knowledge when we came to starting out.

Buy-in From Senior Management - Top-down approach rather than pushing up from the bottom
This may sound obvious, but it has been a hurdle this year.  This was the direction the school had chosen to take and getting all team and planning leaders onboard would have strengthened the concepts we were trying to implement.  When we started the year, a self-selected group was formed to take on the e-learning focus for the year.  Each year group was represented, however there was a major oversight in that no senior staff were on this team, so when ideas were shared, they had no idea of the background involved.

Buy-in from Parents
Getting not only buy-in, but actively involved parents makes your job so much easier!  We ran parent workshops on Twitter, Wikispaces and Blogger so our parents could not only see why we were using these tools, but how they could add to their child's learning environment.  I had heard too many times parents say "she comes home and says I'm doing my homework online, I have no idea how to help so I leave her to it".  I wanted parents to be able to see what they were doing and to have the tools to be able to help out.  This was also a great way to strengthen relationships with parents and the community.

Let Go - you don't need to know everything - teach explorers!
This probably the hardest concept to get across to adults.  Many teachers felt we were adding to their ever increasing workload.  They felt they needed to know everything before the students - when training to be a teacher, I remember being told to always be prepared - be over-prepared for anything.  I think letting go and exploring with the kids is one of the great benefits of the digital world.  Letting kids become the experts and modelling this sharing of knowledge - teaching kids how to impart their knowledge of the world, is a great real-world experience.  I am proud that my students are explorers and don't reply on me to be their main source of information.  They know where to go and if all else fails - google it! 

TWITTER - do it!
Twitter continues to be my single biggest source of professional development. I am constantly amazed by the resources and ideas that come my way.  Over the last term, I have also been regularly involved in twitter chats.  #edchatnz on Thursday 9 - 10pm.  Moderated by @MissDSciTecher, 'PD in your PJ's' is a great source of motivation, inspiration and sharing.  From #edchatnz, #kidsedchatnz has been born. This is a great opportunity for kids to be active, engaged and connected learners.  This is a weekly event (during the term), 2pm - 2.30pm with kids moderting (check out the archive of #kidsedchatnz.

Get Involved
Attend UNconferences, twitters chats, ignite evenings - it is a great way to meet other educators!  This will help cement your PLN.

Do it now - don't wait to be an expert!