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.