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.