Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Moving on and up

The end of the year is almost here and we are enjoying our lessons in the lab. Grade 3's returned to their blogs in Kidblog in the past two weeks. One of the classes made some polite and encouraging comments on Sunridge School's blogs. It's all part of the digital literacy learning experience. Sunridge Primary is a neighboring school and their teacher is part of our local tech teachers' support group. Having contact with other tech teachers in the area gives me the courage to take risks and try out new things. 

The next week we had a discussion about culture. What is it? They wrote a blog post in their personal blog about how they celebrate weddings or funerals. During the discussion we agreed that respect for others and their culture are very important.

Grade 1's continued their practice with keyboard skills and typed captions for photos on a template.  They are making such great progress.

This week we're doing something completely different. The grade threes are being introduced to photo editing.  Through another of my tech teacher contacts I came across this editing kit  from  The purpose of teaching the students to edit photos is for project work. In Grade 4 we will be doing more project work in Social Sciences and we need as many multimedia skills as possible.

Grade 2's are doing a sequencing lesson using a template to explain what they do first, next, then and last. They can choose to explain the sequence for one of the following processes: Make a sandwich, make a bed or brush their teeth. This exercise takes careful thought and planning to cover all the steps in the right sequence.

I love the time of term when the formal assessments are complete and we have the opportunity to try new things and experiment with tools. I'm finding that the more I expect the children to do the more they manage. Using tech as a tool is the best place to be as a teacher.  I love my job. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Expanding my job?

Tuesday is the start of the fourth term of our school year and the countdown begins. The third term was unbelievably busy and stressed.

The class teachers had to cope with preparing their students for the Annual National Assessments - the South African version of standardized testing. It has become a huge thing and there is a lot of stress for the teachers as they prepare the children to follow instructions and to answer sample questions in preparation for the big day. It's one of those times I am pleased I am not a class teacher. 

Actually I am not averse to being a class teacher  - it's just that the opportunity hasn't arisen so I continue to be the computer/ library lady. Up until July this year the library has been a regular but small part of my job with only 2500 books. That all changed when we received a donation of 40+ boxes of children's books from a church in Australia. The church had collected them from various schools - I suspect they might have been discontinuing their school libraries. They are a huge blessing to us and we are grateful for them.  Once the books are processed they will more than double the size of our library and necessitate another pair of hands in the media centre. At the moment I am being assisted by a part-time student helper who has many other tasks to fulfill during her time at the school so that's not working too well for me. 

For the past five weeks I have had normal classes but allowed the children to play educational games during computer time - maths, reading, phonics and puzzles. We had a concert at the end of term  which meant that the timetable was disrupted. This worked in my favour as the children enjoyed the freedom to choose computer activities and I had time to accession a thousand library books. This represents only about a third of the total donation of books but I'm pleased with our progress. The books are actually wonderful for our print-starved students. The books in our existing library are mostly 30 years old so Australia's second hand books are our new books. 

Once I had accessioned enough books I made up boxes of Mystery Books for each class and delivered them to the teacher. The children loved having such a variety of new stories to read and it's been a great hit. A lot of children don't have suitable books at home so it's a whole new experience. One disadvantage for me is that in handling so many second hand books my dust allergy attacked me and for the last five weeks I have been sneezing and coughing. 

Our concert was fun and in spite of the pressure and stress it turned out alright in the end. Each class "visited" a different country and to link the class items I wrote a script for four narrators who find an iPad lying on the stage and use Google Earth to zoom into the continents and countries. 
There are lots more photos of the concert on our Facebook page.
We have also had our inter house hockey, soccer and netball matches at the end of term, reports and parent interviews and a staff function. Most teachers limped to the end of the term fighting a flu epidemic amongst the staff but we got there. Now for term four and all the extra burdens that brings, starting with house athletics in the second week.....

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Collaboration across age groups

This week I experienced one of those serendipity lessons that worked out really well. I used a lesson I had picked up from friend, Liesel Kruger in East London. It involved the children being given a set of cell addresses and colours in Excel. They have to fill the cell addresses with the stipulated colour and the result is a picture. In this case it was a house.

I was sharing this idea with the teachers in a Global Classroom group in Skype and wondered if it would be feasable to have one class in one location call out the instructions via Skype whilst a class in another country construct the picture. One of the teachers, Joe McNulty of Pennsylvania, USA offered to get his Grade 8s to make up some pictures for my Grade 2's to make. It had to be an asynchronous activity because of the time difference. Joe went ahead and did that and the result was a memorable lesson for our Grade 2's. They just loved the fact that big students across the world had set puzzles for them to solve. They stayed on task and most groups of two were successful in working out the picture with the minimum of teacher intervention. Here is Joe's blog post about the excercise from his perspective. Thank you Joe for a great lesson. My students will never forget how to find the cell address in an Excel spreadsheet. Technology in education is exciting, innovative and game changing. We love it.

Incidentally this lesson has now been shared amongst teachers all over the world. Anyone is free to give it a try.  The link to the Google doc is on Joe's blog.

We had another exciting event this week. Lilitha the Travelling Rhino arrived at Cotswold. Grade 2V are going to sharing why he is important with the rest of the school in the next couple of weeks. The children just love the little rhino and the book of photos and information that goes with him.

We hope that by the time Lilitha leaves us at the end of May we will have all learned about rhinos and the scourge of poaching.

Can we be paperless in our schools?

I have been thinking about this question a lot lately. One of the most expensive items used in schools in paper and ink for printing. In my school there is no access to technology in the classrooms so teachers have to rely on hard copies of material for lessons. This puts an enormous strain on the school budget, and ultimately the environment. Can we at Cotswold overcome this problem?

I believe we can with some training and creative thought. We would first need a big capital outlay to install data projectors or monitors in each classroom and then supply each teacher with a laptop or tablet. Of course the WiFi internet access would have to be extended to the whole school. Connectivity has improved in South Africa over the past five years  and access via adsl is relatively cheap.

In the foundation phase children do still need to learn to write with pencil and paper but we could do away with worksheets, the scourge of creativity. I once read a quote (I am sorry I no longer know who to acknowledge), "The cure for boredom is curiosity, the cure for curiosity is worksheets." I agree wholeheartely.

Having a basic laptop and the means to project content to a class would be the catalyst that would escalate teachers to the next step in integrating ICT in their classroom. I have seen a transformation in their administrative tasks in the past seven years. Once they begin to experiment with the possibilities for lesson integration I believe the next step would be to have a mobile device for every learner - a huge dream at the moment but not impossible. There is no doubt that technology engages learners and if they have access to a device there is far more possibility for authentic learning as they explore issues of today. I have seen a video of grade 1's tweeting their news to their teacher - 140 character blogs are perfect for this level.

Class blogs would open the way for updating parents about what is happening in class.  Our parents love to read about events at school on our Facebook page, I see a class blog as an extension of that. It doesn't have to be all about the teacher keeping the blog up to date. What better way for students to write stories for a global audience than to write an entry in their blog. Once they realise their work can be read by anyone they become very motivated. There is the added benefit of learning editing skills on the job.

We have seen integration move from computer lab based to classroom integration via mobile devices. 

I return to my question: Can our school go paperless?
My simple answer would be yes, but we have to experience it as a process, not an event. At the moment we have barely taken the first step but I have dreams and ideas for the coming months....

One of the things that I often chuckle about is that one often hears innovative teachers say, "If only the older teachers would overcome their technophobia". In my case it's the other way around. I am the oldest teacher on the staff and I'm frustrated that the younger teachers haven't caught the vision. I am learning patience in my old age.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Reflecting on learning

Part of the learning experience is reflection. In the classroom context how do teachers get students to reflect on their learning? How do they get them to think about their thinking in the first place? This has been the focus of my lessons at the start of this new term.

Once again I used the Critical Thinking for Children videos on YouTube to help the Grade 3's understand what thinking is and how they reflect on their thinking.  I showed them parts 1 and 2 and then gave them the opportunity to discuss what they learned with a partner. They then shared in the bigger group. The videos are easily understood by children as young as 8 or 9 years and they enjoy the explanations.

A week later I showed them the Internet Safety video that I have used before. The goal of my lesson was to help children understand why there are guidelines for their behaviour whilst online. After watching the video I introduced them to email. I have downloaded Google Chrome onto each of the PC's in our lab and each PC has a generic email address using our school domain - thanks to Google Apps in Education. I asked the children to send me an email telling me the type of thinker each of the characters is, and what mistakes the little girl made that put her in danger. The video was very subtle but scary for the children - especially as the music builds to a crescendo at the end. Many of them were covering their ears and looking away as they anticipated what was going to happen. We don't see the actual outcome of Jess's encounter with Sam but we know it wasn't going to be good. I was encouraged by the way in which they tackled the reflection and from their email messages to me I can see that they are aware of the mistakes Jess made such as giving her phone number and address to a stranger.

In coming weeks I will continue to help them understand the full importance of Internet safety as well as the need to lay a digital footprint that they can be proud of in years to come. The Internet is a wonderful tool for learning but like all good things it has a dark side and we need to train children to treat it with respect and restraint.

Grade 2's are anticipating the arrival of Lilitha, the travelling rhino and so we have been researching the scourge of poaching. This week each of the Grade 2 classes wrote messages to poachers on a powerpoint slide.

Saveourrhinos! from Brenda Hallowes

The grade 1's started typing a sentence for the first time this week. They had drawn a picture of their family in Paint last week and we wanted to add their names and the sentence, "This is my family".  A few of them did it quickly and correctly, some worked slowly as they searched out the letters and others just typed a jumble of letters separated by wide spaces or no spaces. Next week I'll point out to them how we struggled so it's a good idea to begin to learn where the letters are on the keyboard using a programme like TuxType.  Keyboard skills are still useful and for this reason we do practice typing skills in the foundation phase. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Visits from Friends

We are very privileged to have a visitor from Pennsylvania, USA at the moment. Flat Tyler is from Mrs Tina Schmidt's class and he has come to find out about our children and our school. We are all very excited and the class teacher  has been taking photos for a slide show that the children will present to the rest of the school on Tuesday.

These global projects are wonderful for developing literacy in a real world way. The children have to read about their friend and write about their adventures and they do so in a motivated and unstressed way. They also learn about continents, hemispheres, day and night and time zones by participating in global projects. This particular class are now going to make their own flat friends and send them out to classes around the world.

We have another Grade 2 class waiting for the arrival of a Travelling Rhino.  Through this project they will be made aware of the plight of rhinos and the scourge of poaching.

Our other two Grade 2 classes are participating in a Global Pen Pal project in Edmodo. Edmodo is a Facebook social network look alike for children. It is a closed environment but through the class teacher we are able to make connections with other classes.

We are excited about all the connections we are making and the children love to pore over our large wall map of the world and a big atlas we have in our library. Technology helps us to flatten our classroom walls and make connections whilst we learn and grow.  The technology at our school is only available in the lab where we have 17 six year old PC's and an internet connection but it's amazing what one can do with a little. My dream for our school is to have a laptop and a large monitor for every classroom so that teachers who catch the vision for integrating IT into their lessons can do so. One day ..... 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Literacy, both language and computer

The children are continuing to enjoy coming to the computer lab and appear to enjoy their lessons. The most amazing group is the Grade 1's. After only eight weeks they are able to navigate around a folder during "fun" time. They even manage the multi-step shut down in Letterland now. It save so much time between classes. I'm a happy teacher. This week for our class activity they did initial sound phonics where they had to "click and drag" a picture into a box with the correct initial sound. They did it quickly and with aplomb, leaving me feeling like I'd given them a dumbed down lesson. I see they are now ready to step up the pace - they are reaching a level of computer literacy where we can begin using the computer more as a tool for learning. Now for some keyboard skills .....

Grade 2's are writing introductory messages in Edmodo as part of the Pen Pal project. Our cluster of four schools (three in the USA and our class) is just getting started. I am using this activity as a language literacy activity. Grade 2's are still practicing writing sentences in class. The finer details of capital letters, full stops or question marks are not entrenched yet. In their computer lesson they have to type their introductory sentence correctly because, as I tell them, the "whole world" can read what they have written. They love that and it motivates them to try hard. I read somewhere that teaching is 90% acting and I've put that hypothesis into action this week. I have introduced lots of actions in preparation for their sentence such as reaching up tall for a capital letter and stamping a foot for a full stop or drawing a large exaggerated question mark in the air for a question mark. I have a green teddy bear named Fred who helps me demonstrate. Learning is fun when Fred is showing off.

The beauty of typing their sentences is that I can go around to each child and help them edit out the errors immediately. It's so much gentler and more friendly than red marks on the child's book in class.

The grade 3's have been busy with a project on bullying. They worked in pairs and made presentations in response to some questions I set for them. We watched a YouTube video as part of the project.  I had one group act out the video scenario in assembly one Friday and I then showed a slide show that had been done in class. Bullying is a universal problem and technology helped us get a message to the rest of the school.  I then asked them to write a reflective blog post responding to the question: "What I have learned about bullying".

Through contact with teachers in the Global Classroom Project we have been able to add links to other classes on our blog roll. Now the children can go to blogs in other countries and we are learning how to make suitable blog comments on other students' blogs worldwide. The emphasis is on friendly, positive and encouraging. We are laying the foundation for digital citizenship.

My extra mural activity this year is co-ordinating the chess clubs. Our children are so enthusiastic about learning to play chess and I am thrilled because I know the value of chess as a thinking tool. This week we were privileged to have a student from Nelson Mandela Metro university come and coach our players on the basics for two sessions. The response was exciting and of course very noisy but I can say that although the noise level at times was a bit loud they were totally engaged and discussing their moves with one another.

Lonwabo Charles asks a student to tell him if his move is correct. 

Intense concentration and some discussion. 
One of the ways I find the computer useful for chess coaching is if there are too many children for the number of chess sets we have I put some of them at the computer where they can play a downloaded 3D chess game from  At least I know that they are not able to make illegal moves whilst playing on the computer - but it's hard to watch a number of "live" games going simultaneously.