Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Looking forward

Well the classes for the year are finished and last week we held our awards mornings. Here is a photo of the assembled students and their parents for the Grade 3 event.

 I now have the tedious job of stocktaking in the library - an exercise devoid of any excitement after such a stimulating term. Over the next few weeks I will be brainstorming ideas for projects and activities in 2013. We will definitely be making some global connections and of course we will be working on our special events newspaper project. This is part of a global classroom project that I have initiated.

It's always exciting when one of one's cyber friends is recognised for their efforts. Pru Thomas of Sydney has been nominated for her blog about Flat Rosie and her adventures. Cotswold was part of this project so we are particularly proud of Mrs Thomas' nomination. If you would like to vote for this blog please go to this link. Flat Rosie rocks!

One of our own South African teachers, Karen Stadler has also been nominated in the educational wiki category for her project on Crazy Crazes. Please consider voting for her wiki here. Well done to both these ladies. We are so proud of you.

I have met Jose Popoff from Honduras through the Global Classroom. He is a dynamic teacher and he invited me into his classroom one evening. I was able to watch him teaching in real time via a Google hangout. Technology is truly amazing. Here is Jose's latest blog post on being a connected teacher. He sums it up beautifully.

One last photo. This is a young lady who has excelled in computer lessons this year and for that she received a trophy for excellence. Well done, Liyema.

And on that high note I say farewell to the 2012 year in the computer lab. I have a great job and I look forward to learning new things in 2013. For those of you who celebrate Christmas I wish you a blessed time with your family and friends. See you soon!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Global Connections

We live in a global village. Technology has opened up so many opportunities for connection and collaboration. In the computer lab we have been taking advantage of the opportunity for global connections via the Global Classroom Project. I joined the Skype chat group for GCP. Due to time differences the group is active twenty-four hours a day.  The chat is lively and informative. 

One of the fun activities of the group is a "Mystery Skype".  Two teachers connect their classes in Google Hangout without telling their students where the other class is in the world. The children have to ask questions that elicit a yes or no answer in order to work out the location. 

These two photos show how the students could see one another on the screen.

One of the first things the students have to understand is the concept of a continent. Once we have established which continent the other class is on they then have to pinpoint the country. If they do get really stuck they are allowed to get clues such as the capital city or the hemisphere. I was surprised and delighted when one of my Grade 2 classes guessed Indonesia after they had established that it was in Asia. After trying the larger countries like China and India they began to study the map more carefully. They could barely pronounce the word Indonesia but  they learned that it's a country in Asia and they met a class of real live students from there.  Some of our students demonstrated good thinking when trying to find the answer and then I had one little girl who kept coming up and saying, "Johannesburg! or East London". It's a whole new world out there. Our students are young and many of them are lacking exposure to the world beyond our school and homes but I believe that we can offer them opportunities for enrichment beyond their present development through technology and good scaffolding.

We are coming to the end of the academic year. This has been the first year at Cotswold that I haven't worked through a set curriculum purchased by the school. It's been an adventurous year and I have learned so much. I'm looking forward to what the new year brings. Technology is changing so rapidly and the trend is towards the "Read Write" web where we discover how to construct our own new knowledge using online tools. It certainly is a great time to be involved in education.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Adventure in Learning Continues

We have continued to add posts to our blogs this term.  We have used the blogs as lesson reflections, recording real world events such as recent heavy storms and sharing stories about our friend from Sydney, Flat Rosie.  You can see Flat Rosie on the board just below the screen supervising the children's blogging.

On Monday 5 November we will be having a Skype call with Flat Rosie's class in Sydney. This will be an exciting culmination of the Flat Rosie visit. After that she will be returning to Australia with a new friend, Sipho. 

We have enjoyed some fun lessons this term, notably "Don't Eat the Data". The children were each given a box of Smarties. They had to sort them and count each colour then enter the data into an Excel template and convert the data to a chart. They managed to exercise self control until the data had been sorted - except one of the brightest boys who mysteriously only recorded 11 Smarties on his graph to everyone else's 20+. They then used their blog to reflect on the lesson and what they had learned.

Blogs are such a good way to give children practice in literacy skills. Kidblog is a great platform for young children as logging in so easy. A new addition to Kidblog is a viewer map which has been added. This makes the reality of writing for a global audience so real to the children and it's a great motivator. They only have a short time each week to add to their blogs but they are getting much more efficient at logging in and adding to their blog.

I always have the dilema of how much editing I should do. The fact that our blogs will be read by other children we need to keep the text as error free as possible. I walk around as they type and help them edit and correct their errors while they are working. I believe this is a more effective way of helping our children learn correct grammar and spelling than if the teacher takes in a set of books and uses a red pen to highlight errors. 

It's always sad when the Grade Threes have developed to a level where we can be adventurous in our projects and then they leave at the end of the year. I hope the skills they have learned in computer lessons will help them in their new schools. 

The Grade One classes are just beginning to develop skills in typing their names and simple sentences on the computer now that they have learnt to read in class. It's encouraging seeing them develop during the year and to know that in a year's time they too will be ready to start blogging.

Through a Skype group called "Hello Little World Skypers" (HLWSkypers) I have been able to connect with teachers in other countries. Last week one of the classes spoke to a teacher in Moscow and another group spoke to a class in Indonesia. This was really exciting for the children. We then went to the big wall map and put an X on the places on the map, giving them a global perspective and a beginning understanding of time zones and hemispheres in a real world setting. I am hoping to extend our global connections in the new year. Another useful Skype group is the Global Classroom Project.  Through chatting with teachers I have picked up contacts and ideas for projects. Networking is definitely the way to go! Thank you fo my Professional Learning Network. One idea is to have a Mystery Skype. Here is a blog post by a teacher who held a Mystery Skype for her students.

And so our school year is winding down and planning for 2013 begins. New classes, new beginnings and new ideas for stimulating projects in the computer lab. I am learning new things every week and look forward to what we will all learn together in the coming year.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The blogging adventure continues

It's been a great couple of weeks as far as blogs and bloggings go. First I had the honour of being featured in Anthony Salcito's Daily Edventures blog. I find it a humbling experience.

During this same period I have introduced our Grade 3's to the adventure of blogging. It's something I've wanted to to do for some time but we don't have school email accounts which means setting up blogs was going to have some challenges. Then I heard about It's a really child friendly blogging platform that does not require an email for the children. The first week I explained that a blog is like a mobile or online creative writing tool. Children were able to log in through a simple process and we were soon up and writing.

Over the past months I have bookmarked some interesting online articles on blogging for students. This particular one gives 14 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging by Mrs Ripp and  is a great place to start. Another very good resource for teaching students to blog is this one by Langwitches - a great tech teacher I have followed for a couple of years. Her blogs are a mine of information on a wide variety of tools.

We started by doing a lesson on online safety, focussing on not sharing personal information such as surnames, addresses, phone numbers or particulars that would identify them. This formed the basis of the children's first blog post. They wrote a bulleted list of recommendations for online safety. I will do a follow up lesson on avoiding cyberbullying.

During the next lesson the children chose a photo from our shared photos folder and they wrote a blog post about the photo. This week we learnt about commenting on other peoples' posts. We spoke about etiquette in writing comments. Comments should be positive, respectful and encouraging. They then chose a partner and each of them commented on their partner's blog post. They really took the guidelines to heart and wrote lovely comments to one another.
The Kidblog class blogs are linked below.

Grade 3S
Grade 3J
Grade 3P
Grade 3D

So why introduce blogging to Grade 3's? Firstly blogging is a great tool for developing literacy skills. It involves reading and writing. There is also the global dimension of blogging. Learners are aware that their blogs are live on the Internet and anyone can read their posts. Through my own Twitter personal learning network I have made contact with a teacher in the USA who is keen to link our classes' blogs. Through the blogs children will learn more about other countries and cultures. They will be encouraged to comment on one another's blogs. Once that process begins I believe they will be even more motivated to write for this audience, thus helping them to further develop their skills.

And so it's been all about blogs and bloggings this fortnight.I look forward to the next steps.

Friday, August 31, 2012

First Steps in Blogging.

Blogging is a great way for students to connect globally, practice writing for a real audience, be creative and of course practice their writing skills. To this end I introduced them to blogging.

The platform we are using is It's really child friendly and they could start their first post in a very short time. I saved loads of photos of our school and events in the shared drive on our lab network. They then had to learn to navigate the folders, change to thumbnail view and then insert a photo into their post. The next step was to add a title and write about the photo. Each group only comes to the lab for an hour a week so there wasn't much time for writing this week but I'm pleased with the results. I told them they could be as creative as they liked with the photos. The great thing about the lessons was they could choose a picture that interested them and they were really motivated by that.

Here are the links to the Grade 3 blogs. One class didn't get started because the internet was too slow during their lesson so they wrote a post in Word which we saved. Hopefully we'll be able to copy and paste to our blogs next week.

Grade 3D
Grade 3J
Grade 3P
Grade 3S

Friday, August 17, 2012

Intel Education Visual Ranking Fun

How does our ranking compare to another group?
The children were fascinated by the ranking tool. 

 This week we used the theme Then and Now. I referred back to our problem solving lesson on the hunter-gatherers and we discussed inventions and discoveries. We then brainstormed some important inventions and made a list of them in a new project in Intel Education's Visual Ranking Tool. The students learned how to move the labels up and down in rank order according to their team's opinion of each invention's importance.  A few teams shared their most important invention and gave a reason why they chose it. Each team then compared their list with those of other teams. The tool gives an indication of the strength of the correlation between two lists. Correlation is a very long word for a Grade 3 child but they understood the strong and weak part. I then explained what class average means and they compared their selection to the class average.

The cool tech part of the lesson was pressing Print Screen and pasting it to a Word document. They learned how to crop the image and save it. They were then asked to type their team's reason for selecting a particular invention as the most important. I use every lesson in this series on thinking to emphasize how useful it is to become good thinkers. Although the Grade 3's are only 9 years old they have shown that they are quite capable of understanding the concepts of critical and creative thinking. I have had no problems with children being distracted or lacking concentration. They appear to enjoy "grown up" activities.

The grade 2's listened to the story of the Rainbow Fish read by Ernest Borgnine on YouTube. I had already set up a list of questions on a Google Docs form for them to complete once we had listened to the story. We only have 45 minutes for a computer lab lesson so it's a bit rushed for the children who work slowly - especially with typing, but I wanted them to have the opportunity to answer various types of questions, including open questions. It was quite successful although the spelling and punctuation part didn't go so well. Using a Google form is a new experience for them and for me. If I were a classroom teacher with a couple of computers in my room I would make more use of Google forms for quizzes and tests. It makes assessing so easy when everyone's response is on one spreadsheet.

Grade 1's had a great time. They held their hand against the screen and drew around it. They then turned their shape into a bird - a rooster? Well sort of... This worked better than I expected and the children enjoyed making their colourful feathered friends. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The next stage in our thinking journey

This has been an exciting week for a colleague, Cheryl Wolmarans and I as our new school website went live. We started working on the site during the holidays in Weebly. It's a really simple platform for web-building. Most of the functions are drag and drop. We have used the free version and it was such a pleasure to work with. We used Microsoft's Auto Collage to produce the banner images. We would love to upgrade to the Pro version of the software so we can add video and other features but at least we have the basic product up and running.

In the Grade 3 lesson last week I gave the students a problem solving scenario using a story about hunter gatherers. They had to work out a way of getting a dead buffalo to their home for cooking. I have posted some of their responses on the blog that is attached to our website. Some of them demonstrate some lateral thinking and some of them are just so funny sweet.

This week we focused on brainstorming. They worked in pairs and listed all the things they know about trees. I then made a master mind map of all their facts. They then had to work in their team and produce a document answering the question, "Can we survive on Earth without trees?" As it was a fairly short activity I asked them to then use their computer skills to format their document and add a picture. This will be one of our term assessments.

Next week I'm going to use a visual ranking tool in the Intel Free Teacher Tools suite. I am giving them a list of inventions and asking them to work in teams to rank the inventions by importance. As I write this I think it may be more interesting to ask them to give me a list of important inventions and then get them to do the visual ranking exercise.  Ok, adjustment required here. Using visual ranking involves critical thinking.

I am finding that the students are becoming comfortable with the concept of developing good thinking and they work with commitment. It's been an exciting journey so far. I'm looking forward to see what develops.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More critical thinking

We have been continuing our focus on meta-cognition in our computer lab time with Grade 3's.  Last week we reviewed the kind of thinkers we learned about in the Critical Thinking for Children videos.  We then had an introduction to the game of chess. The majority of our children have never played chess so this was a great opportunity to introduce the game through a free downloaded chess game for the computer.

Before playing the game I explained the pieces and their moves to the children and then told them  that chess is a great opportunity for players to practice critical thinking. They have to learn to analyze the possible outcomes of every move. The children have taken to the game and they are enjoying the stimulating activity. A lot of them play against the computer but a few have started playing against another player. The advantage of using the computer is they cannot make wrong moves. As a coach it's not easy to watch everyone's moves on a physical board when there are more than two or three games in progress.

This week I set the learners a problem solving exercise. They are given a scenario like this: You are a cave dweller / hunter gatherer and your wife has sent you out on a hunt. You go with five friends. How are you going to get your "kill" home? The animal you shoot is a buffalo. What weapons will you use? The wheel has not yet been invented and you are 5km from home. Describe carefully how you will solve the problem.

This was quite a challenge for the children as they haven't previously heard about hunter-gatherers. It took a while for them to realize they couldn't go and "buy" a knife or a rope. We searched out some images of tools and implements and discussed the size of a buffalo compared to a domesticated cow of today. They then opened a scaffolded document and typed their responses. The last two groups will be doing the activity tomorrow and then I look forward to reading about their strategies.

I am now looking into setting up a wiki to share ideas with teachers globally. I'd love to get some input from inspired and innovative teachers who have some creative suggestions for developing critical thinking in their students.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Learning through Links

Technology is such an amazing tool. My students at school love using the computers to "play"and learn and of course technology is my main source of professional development. I  pick up so many links through Twitter @bhallowes and through my PLN.

One of my favourite weekly chats on Twitter is #edchatsa. It's great to see more and more teachers joining the chat on Monday nights - 8:30p.m to 9:30p.m. The weekly topic is usually published here and anyone can go and vote for the topic they'd like to discuss. A summary of each weeks' discussion are published using Storify, thanks to @fibeal. 

This week was the start of our third term. I am using the next few weeks to explore how we think with the Grade 3's. I am using two child-friendly videos published on YouTube called Critical Thinking for Children. 

The children are responsive and appear to enjoy discussing thinking. of course they all want to be Fair Minded Fran. It's so important for them to understand that to become life-long learners they need to learn to think for themselves.

So my job is exciting. We're looking forward to a great term ahead and I'll try to be more consistent in my postings on this blog. My own reflection is a great learning tool for myself.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Term 2 draws to a close

It's been a wonderful term at Cotswold - busy, but lots of fun.
One of the things I have been able to do this year is give a small group of children from each Grade 1 and 2 class an opportunity to consolidate phonics skills. They open Starfall and use the material at an appropriate level. Those children who suffer from problems with concentration in the classroom get to put on earphones and focus on the programme without distraction. I have not yet worked out a method of assessing the benefit of this method but hopefully we will get there.
The major fundraising activity has been the Spelling Bee. The children had to learn their list of words and on 6 June they wrote the test. There are some great photos on our Facebook page (Cotswold Preparatory School). In their computer lessons they typed their words into a word cloud program and this gave them lots of practice at getting their spellings correct whilst enjoying a novel way of presenting them. A satisfying amount of sponsorship funds was raised.
The Spelling Bee was followed by a Father's Day soccer skills day. The dads (and some mums) came to school on Friday 15th to play games with their children. We had a boerewors and chips sale and it was a great community building day.
In the computer lab the focus has been on the Olympic Games. We are proud of how our wiki is looking. Sadly not many other countries added their information because most are now on their summer break. Our Grade 3's learnt a lot and we will be using wikis again later in the year so we have had a good introduction. The teacher is also on a steep learning curve! Click here for the link to our Global Olympic Project.
Before we started the Olympics project Grade 2V participated in a short project with Global Classroom. It was the Global Lunch Project mentioned in an earlier blog post where children from around the world shared what they bring to school for lunch.
The new CAPS curriculum largely ignores the integration of technology at the foundation phase level so I often feel quite isolated in my work. The teachers are under so much pressure with assessments and keeping up with the compulsory weekly themes that there is little time to think about the integration of technology for teaching and learning. For them, computer lessons mean they have only half of their class for one period a week and it gives them an opportunity to assess one of the many tasks with the other half of the class.
And now we are ready to enjoy our three week winter break. I'm looking forward to the challenges of the new term.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Of Olympics and Learning

Last week the children started learning about the Olympics. One forgets that last time the Olympics were on many of them were only four years old so there isn't much that they remember about that event. The fact that it took place in Beijing in a very different time zone meant that they didn't get to see much of it on TV. It's a whole new world for them. I have set up a project wiki linked to the Global Classroom. It's been exciting to see how many people have visited our site. The grade 3's are beginning to discover what the Games is all about and they've enjoyed watching videos on gymnastics so far. We've also had to gain a rudimentary understanding of time zones and international travel. I'm sure that once the Olympic Games happen they will be excited to watch the events and be quite knowledgeable about such a global event.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Word Clouds for Spelling Practice

The children are preparing for a spelling bee competition next month. The grade 3's have thirty words to learn. This week they used a new way to practice their spellings with ABCya word clouds. Here is a slide show of 3P's work. Please note the programme drops all the capital letters - it's not the children's fault. Unfortunately some of the classes didn't get to do the word clouds because of all the public holidays. Perhaps we can try and catch up next week. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Global Project

Today one of our Grade 3 classes is participating in the Global Lunch Table project. This involves joining the wiki and uploading a presentation which shows what children in our school typically bring for lunch. We took some photos and used Microsoft Photo Story to build a slide show. Here is our example.
Giving our children opportunities to produce items for a global audience is a great 21st Century activity.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New challenges

I’ve had a good start to the year in the computer lab. It’s also been exciting as I have been creating a new curriculum for the integration of computers in our school. The grade threes have been working on their project on bullying, grade twos are doing activities on All about Me, computer hardware and Our School.

This year the grade ones seem to be even less sophisticated compared to previous years. The few that have access to computers at home stand out and are very competent but the majority of the children are just learning to use a mouse for the first time. I'm sure that by the end of this term they will be doing well as if they were born with a mouse in their hands.
From now until the end of the term I will not be in the computer lab. I am swopping classes with a colleague who has health issues. I will be taking a grade three class until a new teacher can be appointed for next term. My colleague will be supervising learners in the computer lab and we will be using educational games for this period. There are some great sites like and which the children love. We now have a faster, uncapped internet connection which allows us to do this.
I am hoping to get my grade three class blogging. If I do I’ll post a link from this blog. Watch this space….