iPurpose before iPad


The two above images are good examples of purposeful thinking about iPad usage in schools.

One, a screenshot of an oft-used tool known as iPad As.. by edtechteacher.org, focuses on what the iPad can be used for and provides links to various apps that can be utilised for those functions. It goes without saying that it is a very useful website for schools thinking about iPads. It provides nutshell explanations of a number of apps that relate to each iPad as… category as well as pricing. It’s a good introduction into the functionality of the iPad that counteracts the misconception of iPad as consumption NOt creation tool.

The other, The Padagogy Wheel, is one of many variations on applying Bloom’s Taxonomy of skills to iPad apps. It develops from the general learning action verbs/skills we want our students to acquire to technology based activities that relate to these skills and finally to a selection of apps that can support this development.

Both tools have supported my reflection on iPad use in school and are worth checking out in detail. Having said that, though, I feel they both fall short in what is needed as a resource for implementing iPads in education. iPad as… does a good job at presenting uses for iPads in school – what they can be used for – but doesn’t really provide depth about the skill development that can arise from their use. It’s still action/activity emphasis rather than pedagogical/learning emphasis. It’s great to know that you can create videos, and it describes what the app can do,  but how will this improve learning and what learning will it improve is also a priority iPad schools need to address. I think it also pigeon-holes apps as one trick ponies – I’d like to emphasise the apps that can be used to develop many skills.

The Padagogy Wheel provides many links between skills and tech activities but doesn’t really address what iPad apps address which skills and activities specifically other than lumping them into a particular category. It too, tends to classify the apps as one trick pony options rather than seeing them as multiple category options.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are great tools but there is room for improvement in creating a tool for supporting time poor iPads in Schools implementers in planning, selecting, justifying and integrating iPad apps in education.

Which leads me to attempt a herculean task… I’m going to try to blend the best of both of these resources and address the short falls I have mentioned by creating my own resource. But it’s going to be a work in progress for a while and I hope to get support from Mr G Online followers, subscribers, users and casual visitors.

I’ve started creating a table of important skills, some derived from the Padagogy Wheel, and actions, some derived from iPad As… What I am planning to highlight is that there are many apps that can be use for many purposes and for developing many skills. For example, I have already added “Explain Everything” to 9 categories as I see it as a multifunctional app and one worth its price because of the educational benefits it provides. Over the coming months I plan to add text descriptions to each category to explain how the apps listed address the skill or action they have been linked to and may also link them to other online sources that show them in action. I’ll also provide direct links to the App Store, as I always do on this blog when I mention apps so you can check them out yourself if you want.

Now this sounds like a big task and it is. So I do need some help. What do I want from you? Anything you can give. Just add them to the comments of this post.

  • Examples of apps that help to develop specific skills
  • Additional skills I haven’t listed here
  • Examples of apps that are multifunctional.
  • Explanations of good pedagogical practice with apps. Don’t worry, all credit will go to you when I include your suggestions.
  • Links to blog posts, websites, Youtube tutorials, open wikis, nings etc that promote good practice that I can link to from here.
  • Examples on add ons like bookmarklets for curation sites, websites that work well with iPads ( Flash-free) that can still be categorised under these headings for iPad use.
  • Spread the word regularly through Twitter, Facebook, Curation sites like Pinterest and Scoop-It to keep educators coming back.
This post will look messy for a while as new ideas get added. A blog may not be the best storage place for it in the long run. If I actually get the support – and it’s likely I won’t – and it grows I will probably move it to a separate website for better functionality. It may well be better as a wiki but  I didn’t want to move away from Mr G Online unless I needed. For easy access in the meantime, I will add this post to my main menu at the top of the blog so you can come back to check revisions. I will be planning weekly updates at least, more if I get regular contributions I can just copy and paste in from the comments.
I really hope I can get this off the ground. From reading so many blog articles, I can see there is a huge need for clarity in using tech like iPads. If you have been a regular reader of Mr G Online, you would know I am a big proponent of Pedagogy before Technology. That’s why I want iPurpose before iPad. Hope to hear from some of you soon.

 

IPAD AS VIDEO CREATION IPAD AS AUDIO RECORDING

iMovie Pinnacle Studio VideoScribe HD iStopMotion GarageBand  TagPad  Evernote  Notability

Explain Everything Art Maker Animation Desk iMotion HD AudioBoo
 Whether creating live action videos with iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, animated stories with iStopMotion, Animation Desk and iMotion HD or how to tutorials with Explain Everything, the iPad is a great tool for video creation. Creating videos with these apps develops organisation and planning skills, supports story telling skills in non writers and enhances creativity and problem solving in many ways.
 IPAD AS BOOK PUBLISHER  IPAD AS DIGITAL STORYTELLING
StoryWheel
Book Creator Creative Book Builder StoryWheel    Sonic Pics Explain Everything Toontastic Storify
Video Scribe HD
Providing opportunities for authentic writing with a real audience outside the classroom, publishing real books using the iPad can improve motivation and actual writing skills. With sufficient access, tech based writing can employ the editing capabilities to encourage children to write without worrying about rewriting from scratch. With the real possibility of publishing books online or in the iBookstore for others to read, children will be encouraged to put more effort into editing and improving their written work. The possibilities for multimedia additions allows for more creativit There are more ways of telling stories these days than text and pictures. Some students have stories inside them that don’t get shared because of a lack of writing ability. Let’s give them opportunities to tell stories orally until they are ready to write so that they can develop their imaginations and story telling for when they are ready to write. These apps all allow for alternatives to traditional writing texts, either through combining audio and images seamlessly in a variety of formats
 IPAD AS GRAPHIC NOVEL CREATOR   IPAD AS READING SUPPORT
 Strip Designer Comic Life     Book Creator iPrompter Creative Book Builder iBooks
Explain Everything
Creating stories with audio, highlighted annotations, vocabulary support through linked dictionaries, scrolling screens provides support for students who lack reading skills. Getting children to record themselves reading gives them feedback on their progress as well as support for independent practice.
 IPAD AS COLLABORATION TOOL  IPAD AS PRESENTATION TOOL
Edmodo VoiceThread Skype Evernote Keynote  VideoScribe  Haiku Deck   VoiceThread
Instapaper Whiteboard Popplet Comic Life  Explain Everything  Skitch   iPrompter
  IPAD AS A WRITING TOOL  IPAD AS BRAINSTORMING TOOL
Comic Life  Writing Prompts SpellBoard Tap Dictionary iMind Map 3D  Popplet  Skitch Inspiration Maps Lite
Notability
Notability Whiteboard
  IPAD AS INFORMATION COLLECTOR  IPAD AS INFORMATION MANAGER/ORGANISER
 
 Evernote Edmodo   PollDaddy Socrative   EverNote  Edmodo Pinterest  Instapaper
Notability
Notability  Notability
 IPAD AS NOTE TAKER  IPAD AS PROBLEM SOLVER
 Notability Hopscotch
 Skitch  Evernote  Notability    Wolfram Alpha Numbers  Hopscotch
 IPAD AS GRAPHING TOOL  IPAD AS RESEARCH TOOL
Wikinodes Notability
 Numbers  Wolfram Alpha  Doodle Buddy    Wolfram Alpha PollDaddy  WikiNodes Notability
 IPAD AS DATA COLLECTION TOOL  IPAD AS A ROLE PLAYING TOOL
 
Edmodo  PollDaddy   Socrative Numbers  Edmodo   Puppet Pals    
TagPad Evernote EasyTag
IPAD AS A CLASS MANAGEMENT TOOL IPAD AS AN ASSESSMENT TOOL
ClassDojo  Notability
Edmodo  Socrative   ClassDojo   Explain Everything   Edmodo Socrative  Notability 
IPAD AS A MAPPING TOOL IPAD AS A CALCULATING TOOL
Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 8.32.29 PM   
Routes Explain Everything Skitch Geocaching Numbers Wolfram Alpha MyScript Calculator
MyMapsEditor
My Maps Editor
IPAD AS DEMONSTRATION TOOL IPAD AS COMMUNICATION TOOL
Skitch Explain Everything  Skype    Edmodo  Skype
IPAD AS AN ARTISTIC TOOL IPAD AS A DESIGNING TOOL
ArtRage Garageband Snapseed RoomPlanner
ArtRage GarageBand  Snapseed iStopMotion Skitch  Explain Everything   RoomPlanner iDraw
Phoster ScrapPad
IPAD AS AN EXPERIMENTING TOOL IPAD AS A DEBATING TOOL
Hopscotch  
Explain Everything   Numbers Hopscotch     Edmodo  VoiceThread Skype  iPrompter 

 

 

 

Edmodo vs Blogging (updated and reposted from a post originally published in September 2012)

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I originally wrote this post in September 2012. With a new school year beginning in Australia and plans to ramp up blogging and Edmodo at our school this year, I have updated this post to use with my staff with more screenshots, new ideas and some additional references to the iPad use of these tools with dedicated apps. For those who have seen it before, you may like to revisit.

When introducing transformative teaching practices involving technology, you have to be careful not to overload the senses of the tech novices on your staff. What took über geeks like me a couple of hours to master can take a life time for others. This year at my school we’ve begun to dip our toes into the waters of online communication (some staff are already swimming while others are still sitting on the edge thinking they’ll drown without support). We’ve introduced both Edmodo and blogging to varying degrees this year. Grade 6 embraced Edmodo from the start and used it in many ways, following in the footsteps of a trial program I began with some of the current teachers last year. Grade 5 came to the party a bit later and are working towards good practices with support from current teachers who were part of the trial last year. Grade 3 and 4 have recently jumped on board and are currently in the experimental stage, with some of the more tech savvy trying out more advanced features.

The Grade 6s have taken to blogging this term, although more as private digital portfolios rather than true blogging with a global audience. However, class blogs have started to surface ( still limited to class member only access) and this has started to blur the lines between Edmodo and the class blogs. Our ICT Leader recently attended a network meeting and other leaders there questioned the purpose of Edmodo if they were already blogging ( until they actually investigated Edmodo – few actually knew of its existence). The point for me though is how to make a convincing argument for both Edmodo and blogging being transformative teaching and learning tools that we should be embracing. The purpose of this post then is as a reflection tool for me to consider the purposes of both platforms before selling them to the staff. It’s also a cry out for you, the reader, to share your experiences of both Edmodo and blogging. Do you use both or tend to focus on one?

In a nutshell, I see Edmodo as an all encompassing classroom management/teaching and learning/collaboration system. Blogging, on the other hand, while it can be used for all the purposes just mentioned, is a tool for writing, publishing and sharing your body of work, be it major writing tasks or quick reflections on life or school work. While it aims to share and craves feedback, blogging is a personal tool. Edmodo, however, it more group oriented. Because of the differentiation between the two, I think they should both be part of classroom practice.

EDMODO
Groups – My favorite feature of Edmodo and a big difference between itself and blogging. I’ve written a few posts on how I’ve used groups to organize my lessons with different small groups. In a contemporary open learning environment in which children are grouped by needs and interests, I appreciate the convenience and ease of creating groups for different subjects or smaller groups within that group so that specific groups of children can collaborate and discuss.It takes no time to set the groups up and they can be altered at any time. These groups are then linked to other features listed later. It’s simply a feature blogging doesn’t offer (as far as I can tell – correct me if I’m wrong)

Collaborative Discussion – the simplicity of the Edmodo discussion wins me over compared to blogging. Simply add a note explaining the topic of the discussion, which can include images, videos, embedded links to other web tools, links to other sites, click Add and the discussion begins. All it takes is to hit the Reply button and the discussion is in full swing. The one feature I would like Edmodo to add is the ability to reply to a specific comment like you can in blogs. It can be a bit cumbersome having to write a reply to someone who wrote something 10 comments back.

Assignments and Gradebook – I love this feature because it becomes a class management system. While I appreciate the ability to comment on a student’s blog, for assessment purposes you would prefer to communicate directly and privately with the student. Using the assignment feature, children can send their work directly to you for feedback and assessment. The feedback is only seen by you and the student and the child can resubmit their work as a response to your feedback. Each assignment is linked to a student’s Gradebook where a teach can store grades ( of your choosing) and comments.

File Sharing – as I mentioned in the Collaborative Discussion section, sharing files is very easy with Edmodo. While you can do this effectively in blogs through widgets and links, the Facebook like nature of Edmodo makes sharing a link to another site quickly more timely than blogs.

Of course, it can get a little messy when the posts come in thick and fast and they get lost at the bottom of the page or move to the Previous page section, a feature shared with blogs and other social network sites……which leads us to the solution to this problem>>>>>

Folders and Tags – Tagging is an easy way to group posts around the same topic so you can access then from your tag list later on when they disappear of the front page of posts. Folders can also be set up to store specific posts on a common topic. Both tags and folders can be shared, although only the creator can add to them.

Polls and Quizzes – while more advanced polls and quizzes can be created by dedicated web tools and embedded on blogs, the polls and quizzes on Edmodo can be created much more quickly, albeit only by the teacher. Quizzes can be multiple choice, written answer or fill in the blank and can be useful in collecting data for a range of subjects. With the way testing is becoming a major focus in education, this can become a way of acclimate sing children to the testing process while making it relevant to the class day to day learning. Witt scheduled posts becoming a recent feature, teachers can create a number of quizzes in one sitting but set them to appear on Edmodo at specific times throughout the year.20130209-112757.jpg

Calendar – the Edmodo calendar is a effective way to help your students manage their time. Teachers can add daily events to the calendar and all assignments are automatically added as well. You can post events for specific groups as well so only those who need to see the event do. It adds to the class management capabilities of Edmodo that is simpler to use than blog calendars. I would like students to be able to add events, though.

Library/Backpack - for teachers it’s called Library; for students it’s the Backpack. Either way, it offers a easy to use file uploading and storing system, handy, when you do work at home or school and want to continue it at the other location. Better than emailing or USB data stick.

Extrinsic motivation through Badges - Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like to use stickers or awards, Edmodo has its own reward system called badges. You can create your own (but it’s a lot easier to just grab badges already created by other Edmodo teachers – I’ve collected 190 of them from my connections) and to encourage or acknowledge student effort or work, you can simply select their name in your class list, select a badge and award it to the students. There’s a badge made for just about anything and many come with a comment. Used wisely, it’s a good way to collate a whole bunch of comments for your student reports without doing any more work than giving that badge toa student.

BLOGGING
I’ve written a few blogposts about the benefits of blogging that you can read here if you haven’t seen them. Here’s what I think differentiates blogging from a system like Edmodo.

Open/Closed Collaborative Discussion – Blogging can certainly allow for collaborative discussion and provides you with a level of control over who takes part on the conversation. If you have a public blog, anyone can take part in the conversation. If you have more rigid privacy settings, you can restrict who participates. For me, though, Edmodo is the better option for instant, collaborative discussion and feedback. With most school blogging wanting some level of moderation of comments, there is the time consuming and inconvenient need to approve every comment before it is seen by others. Edmodo, on the other hand, allows for instant posting and replying because of its secure, closed environment. Yes, popular blogging platforms allow for the set up of dedicated forums but to go through the process of setting up that, it makes more sense to put a link to Edmodo on your blog and use that as your forum.

Collaborative Assignments – This is where blogs exceed Edmodo in the collaboration area. While you can share resources, have debates, and contribute to each others work collaboratively on Edmodo, blogging allows for full scale project collaboration. Individual or class blogs can give access to other users to publish work together. Users can either create their own posts or have permission to edit other users’ posts. Images, embedded web tools , videos, comments can all contribute to a shared project between two users, a whole class or even multiple classes – in your own school or worldwide. Yes you can create groups in Edmodo for different classes to share work in but it’s not as wide ranging as blogging collaboratively.

Publishing and sharing work – it goes without saying that blogging is about sharing your ideas, interests, passions and work of any nature with others. Edmodo is great for sharing a link to your blog, but the work all takes place on your blog, in all the ways I’ve outlined in the other categories in this section of this blogpost.

Tags and Categories – Edmodo and Blogging are very similar in this area. Tags are a great way for creating access to specific posts by using keywords related to posts. Categories allow you to group posts under subject areas. Blogging categories offer more flexibility than Edmodo folders in that you can file a single post under multiple categories.

Audience – One of the benefits of Edmodo is that it is a secure, teacher controlled environment restricted to teacher control and a clearly defined set of users. This is also a drawback if you are looking for a wider, open audience. Blogging gives you both options. If you are looking for purpose for writing well, audience is important. Yes, you can keep your blog private or control who views it, but you can open it up to the whole world to share in your journey and provide you with feedback and incentive. Student bloggers get the opportunity to decide on their audience access and the level of communication they have with them. They don’t get this choice with Edmodo, which his heavy on teacher control.

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As a portfolio – While Edmodo has its backpack/library for no fuss, easy to access file uploading and storing, it works more as a filing system. Blogging offers more of a publishing/presentation tool feel to storing your work. It can act as an adequate word processing/publishing option with decent formatting tools, weblinks and ability to add images. It allows you to embed web tools for instant viewing of linked work, whereas Edmodo, while offering embedding, requires you to click on the embedded link to view the file ( albeit within Edmodo). Stored files on Edmodo are private ( unless shared in folders or individually posted to specific groups) whereas on a blog you can open it up for anyone ( or a limited few ) to view and comment on.

Both Edmodo and blogs allow for parental interaction. Edmodo provides a parent code that links the parent to their child’s posts and connects them to the teachers as well. With a blog, students can add their parents as subscribers if they are running a private portfolio blog so parents can view and comment on their work.

I think the feature sets I’ve outlined for both platforms show a clear difference in usage but also shows how beneficial they can both be. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear from other users of Edmodo and blogging. Have I missed something that you think is important to either? Do you have uses of either that eliminates the need to use both. Please join the conversation.

UPDATE:

Edmodo App vs WordPress Blogging App on iPad

The Edmodo App was given a substantial update recently, which I outlined in a post late last year.

The WordPress App is what I use for blogging on the iPad as it is compatible with Edublogs/Global2. There is a dedicated Edublogs app but it is not as advanced in features as the WordPress app.

Before you can use the WordPress app with Edublogs/Global2, you have to enable remote publishing in the settings. Go to settings in the Dashboard and select the Writing section. Under Remote publishing check both the Atom Publishing and XML – RPC options.

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Then open the WordPress app and go to the Settings to add new blog. Select Self hosted blog and type in your blog address and username and password to connect to your blog.

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Once logged on, you can easily view and create new posts. The editing function is something you need to get used to. It is in HTML markup language so it can look a little confusing when you format text, add links and import multimedia because you only see the code, not the actual image or formatting. Also, when you add images, they are added to the end of the text, fine if you are editing sequentially, but a pain if you want to add an image earlier in the text. If this is the case, you have to cut and paste the code and move it to the earlier section of the text.
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One bonus with the app is that you can compose and edit while offline, meaning you can draft posts ” on the road” and then upload later when connected. This is useful if on school excursions or camps and you want to record reflections. The only problem is that the images can’t be added offline – you need to be connected to add images. You can also do some more detailed editing of your blog using the web based format in Safari or other iPad browser, although it can be a bit clunky compared to the normal computer experience ( it is improving )

Whether using Edmodo or blogging, the iPad is now a viable option. On the iPad Edmodo app, you can easily log in and out so a shared iPad can be used safely. Using WordPress is a bit of a security issue if sharing an iPad because you don’t need to keep logging in to the blogs.

Edmodo just got a lot better on the iPad

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One of the justifiable criticisms of the iPad was that it was difficult to impossible to transfer files between many apps or networks. With the addition of some apps like PocketCloud and FileBrowser, and the improvement of the Open in… function in later systems , especially iOS 6, this has become even less of an issue. Still, in terms of downloading files on web based apps, you were often limited to photos from the camera roll. This was the case with the Edmodo app.

An Edmodo app update earlier in the year allowed access to the Camera Roll and Google Docs. This however, was still too limiting to use the Library/Backpack feature of Edmodo to upload, store and download most files.

Today that changed. The latest Edmodo iPad app now adds File Sharing functionality, both uploading and downloading to Edmodo’ s Library (for teachers) and Backpack (students).

To upload files to Edmodo on an iPad, simply use the Open in.. Function, which now includes an Open in Edmodo option. This opens your file, whether an email, a document from Pages or any other word processing app on iPad, or from a file sharing app like Dropbox or FileBrowser, straight into Edmodo and saves it.

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To download a file from Edmodo, you select it from the library/backpack, select the file icon, which opens the Open in… Window and choose the app you want to open the file. Once you have worked on the file, you can then upload it back to the library as described earlier. Once a file is in the Library/backpack file system, you can add it to an Assignment or discussion stream.

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For schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who also use Edmodo, this is a big improvement that will make it easier to become more independent of laptops and desktops.

Maths Extension – engagement with nrich and Edmodo

Earlier in the year I wrote a post titled “Maths Extension/Enrichment with Edmodo“, outlining my plans for an enrichment/extension program for high achievers in Maths at school. It took longer than anticipated to get started but from the start of Term 3 (July), I met with 5 Grade 6 students, 8 Grade 5 students and a couple of very bright Grade 4 boys on a weekly basis for an hour. ( Another teacher does the same with Grade 3 and 4 students ).While we can argue that research suggests mixed ability groupings are more beneficial ( for the rest of the week, these children work in that environment), I am in no doubt that the program has been a resounding success and a great sense of engagement and enjoyment has been felt by all involved, including the Maths teacher!

Whether it is enrichment, extension or a mix of both, which was a point of contention with some readers back in the original post, I am not sure. Regardless, some great mathematical thinking is taking place every week between an enthusiastic, engaged group of students.

The weekly lesson itself takes no time to plan. I simply upload a problem to the MEP (Math Extension Program) Edmodo group at the start of the week so the students can check in for some preparation time before we meet. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what I want out of the lesson when I select the problem and I send a post lesson report to the classroom teachers outlining what we did. The beauty of what we do, though, is that we don’t know what will result from the lesson until it is over. There is no chalk and talk, no pre-task explanation of what to do, no expectations that we have to solve it at the end of the hour. What you will see is a group of mathematicians sitting around together, sharing strategies, discoveries, questions verbally, through demonstrations on the whiteboard or via iPads or by posting on Edmodo.

What has improved throughout the term has been their problem solving skills, collaborative discussions, use of technology aids to organise and simplify the process ( Numbers on the iPad  has been a real winner, using formulas to test and monitor conjectures, as has Explain Everything to record ideas and share via the whiteboard) and most importantly, their ability to articulate their thinking and learning, both their successes and failures ( something they haven’t experienced much beforehand).

A great example of the whole process is our last learning experience, which lasted over two weeks. Most of our problems have come from the well established Maths Enrichment website, nrich. ( another worthwhile site is New Zealand Maths ). The beauty of nrich is the incentive to have your solutions published on their website, giving bragging rights to those who succeed, either partially or fully ( more on that later) Our last problem before the holiday was Summing Consecutive Numbers. The problem is presented via an introductory video that explained the nature of the  task. Each student had their own iPad ( its only a small group – we could have used the laptops) so watched it independently. After a two minute debrief to make sure everyone understood the task, we went straight into solving the problem. Beforehand, though, we made a pact that we would publish our solution on nrich, which always had to be posted by the 21st of each month, which just happened to be the last day of Term 3 ( we had previously missed deadlines or solved old problems, so this was our first chance.)

What was great about this particular problem was that the task itself was simple to start with – just adding numbers – but discovering and proving patterns and formulas was a real challenge that need real arguing and collaboration. During the first hour, the students were so focused on discovering patterns. Every idea they had, no matter how small, was posted on Edmodo. This proved to be an important step as the following week we were able to refer back to all of our discoveries. LEt me interject here and state that I was an active part of this as well. Before the lesson started, I was none the wiser about the solutions so I became an authentic learner with my group, making conjectures and testing theories side by side with them. (I talked about the importance of being a learning role model in a previous post). Some children used Numbers spreadsheets to arrrange the numbers into common sets as we investigated, others jsut used pen and paper while others used Explain Everything to brainstorm every idea they had. At the end of the sessions, we had over 60 posts on Edmodo and had made some amazing progress and they continued on over the weekend and into the following week determined to meet our deadline.

The following week, we met with all of our discoveries articulated on Edmodo and we were ready to write our Proof of the Summing of Consecutive Numbers. The final result was exceptional and is published below for your viewing pleasure.
Consecutive Numbers Proof
I showed their classroom teachers and my fellow MEP teacher and they were blown away by the depth of articulation and understanding in the submission. I merely guided them through the process of writing the proof but it is all their work (some sentence structures needed some modelling). To a person, they all requested a copy to put in their blogs and digital portfolios and now wait excitedly for the news it is posted on nrich’s website next month. Regardless, I am going to showcase their effort at the School Assembly, much to their satisfaction of being recognised for being mathematicians.

Being such a successful and rewarding experience, I then started thinking – should this just be the domain of the MEP group? Why can’t the other students in their grade follow the same process? It’s not as if they don’t do problem solving based tasks. This task in particular could have been entered into by ALL the students at different levels and the MEP students could have worked with the others to extend their thinking. The more I work with my group, the more I realise this model of collaborative problem solving should be done more at school. Sure, some of the less able students would not have arrived at the sophistication of thinking these high achievers attained but they could have contriubted to the adding and would have discovered some of the lower level patterns.

I think we have to stop thinking that not all students can enter into these tasks. Nrich is full of problems for all ability levels. Its my new goal to attack at school. I still think these MEP students deserve their time together to work with like minds. But I also think everyone deserves the experience they are getting. It’s what a differentiated curriculum is all about.

Edmodo vs Blogging

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When introducing transformative teaching practices involving technology, you have to be careful not to overload the senses of the tech novices on your staff. What took über geeks like me a couple of hours to master can take a life time for others. This year at my school we’ve begun to dip our toes into the waters of online communication (some staff are already swimming while others are still sitting on the edge thinking they’ll drown without support). We’ve introduced both Edmodo and blogging to varying degrees this year. Grade 6 embraced Edmodo from the start and used it in many ways, following in the footsteps of a trial program I began with some of the current teachers last year. Grade 5 came to the party a bit later and are working towards good practices with support from current teachers who were part of the trial last year. Grade 3 and 4 have recently jumped on board and are currently in the experimental stage, with some of the more tech savvy trying out more advanced features.

The Grade 6s have taken to blogging this term, although more as private digital portfolios rather than true blogging with a global audience. However, class blogs have started to surface ( still limited to class member only access) and this has started to blur the lines between Edmodo and the class blogs. Our ICT Leader recently attended a network meeting and other leaders there questioned the purpose of Edmodo if they were already blogging ( until they actually investigated Edmodo – few actually knew of its existence). The point for me though is how to make a convincing argument for both Edmodo and blogging being transformative teaching and learning tools that we should be embracing. The purpose of this post then is as a reflection tool for me to consider the purposes of both platforms before selling them to the staff. It’s also a cry out for you, the reader, to share your experiences of both Edmodo and blogging. Do you use both or tend to focus on one?

In a nutshell, I see Edmodo as an all encompassing classroom management/teaching and learning/collaboration system. Blogging, on the other hand, while it can be used for all the purposes just mentioned, is a tool for writing, publishing and sharing your body of work, be it major writing tasks or quick reflections on life or school work. While it aims to share and craves feedback, blogging is a personal tool. Edmodo, however, it more group oriented. Because of the differentiation between the two, I think they should both be part of classroom practice.

EDMODO
Groups – My favorite feature of Edmodo and a big difference between itself and blogging. I’ve written a few posts on how I’ve used groups to organize my lessons with different small groups. In a contemporary open learning environment in which children are grouped by needs and interests, I appreciate the convenience and ease of creating groups for different subjects or smaller groups within that group so that specific groups of children can collaborate and discuss.It takes no time to set the groups up and they can be altered at any time. These groups are then linked to other features listed later. It’s simply a feature blogging doesn’t offer (as far as I can tell – correct me if I’m wrong)

Collaborative Discussion – the simplicity of the Edmodo discussion wins me over compared to blogging. Simply add a note explaining the topic of the discussion, which can include images, videos, embedded links to other web tools, links to other sites, click Add and the discussion begins. All it takes is to hit the Reply button and the discussion is in full swing. The one feature I would like Edmodo to add is the ability to reply to a specific comment like you can in blogs. It can be a bit cumbersome having to write a reply to someone who wrote something 10 comments back.

Assignments and Gradebook – I love this feature because it becomes a class management system. While I appreciate the ability to comment on a student’s blog, for assessment purposes you would prefer to communicate directly and privately with the student. Using the assignment feature, children can send their work directly to you for feedback and assessment. The feedback is only seen by you and the student and the child can resubmit their work as a response to your feedback. Each assignment is linked to a student’s Gradebook where a teach can store grades ( of your choosing) and comments.

File Sharing – as I mentioned in the Collaborative Discussion section, sharing files is very easy with Edmodo. While you can do this effectively in blogs through widgets and links, the Facebook like nature of Edmodo makes sharing a link to another site quickly more timely than blogs. Of course, it can get a little messy when the posts come in thick and fast and they get lost at the bottom of the page or move to the Previous page section, a feature shared with blogs and other social network sites……which leads us to the solution to this problem>>>>>

Folders and Tags – Tagging is an easy way to group posts around the same topic so you can access then from your tag list later on when they disappear of the front page of posts. Folders can also be set up to store specific posts on a common topic. Both tags and folders can be shared, although only the creator can add to them.

Polls and Quizzes – while more advanced polls and quizzes can be created by dedicated web tools and embedded on blogs, the polls and quizzes on Edmodo can be created much more quickly, albeit only by the teacher. Quizzes can be multiple choice, written answer or fill in the blank and can be useful in collecting data for a range of subjects.

Calendar – the Edmodo calendar is a effective way to help your students manage their time. Teachers can add daily events to the calendar and all assignments are automatically added as well. You can post events for specific groups as well so only those who need to see the event do. It adds or the class management capabilities of Edmodo that is simpler to use than blog calendars. I would like student’s to be able to add events, though.

Library/Backpack - for teachers it’s called Library; for students it’s the Backpack. Either way, it offers a easy to use file uploading and storing system, handy, when you do work at home or school and want to continue it at the other location. Better than emailing or USB data stick.

Extrinsic motivation through Badges - Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like to use stickers or awards, Edmodo has its own reward system called badges. You can create your own (but it’s a lot easier to just grab badges already created by other Edmodo teachers – I’ve collected 190 of them from my connections) and to encourage or acknowledge student effort or work, you can simply select their name in your class list, select a badge and award it to the students. There’s a badge made for just about anything and many come with a comment. Used wisely, it’s a good way to collate a whole bunch of comments for your student reports without doing any more work than giving that badge toa student.

BLOGGING
I’ve written a few blogposts about the benefits of blogging that you can read here if you haven’t seen them. Here’s what I think differentiates blogging from a system like Edmodo.

Open/Closed Collaborative Discussion – Blogging can certainly allow for collaborative discussion and provides you with a level of control over who takes part on the conversation. If you have a public blog, anyone can take part in the conversation. If you have more rigid privacy settings, you can restrict who participates. For me, though, Edmodo is the better option for instant, collaborative discussion and feedback. With most school blogging wanting some level of moderation of comments, there is the time consuming and inconvenient need to approve every comment before it is seen by others. Edmodo, on the other hand, allows for instant posting and replying because of its secure, closed environment. Yes, popular blogging platforms allow for the set up of dedicated forums but to go through the process of setting up that, it makes more sense to put a link to Edmodo on your blog and use that as your forum.

Collaborative Assignments – This is where blogs exceed Edmodo in the collaboration area. While you can share resources, have debates, and contribute to each others work collaboratively on Edmodo, blogging allows for full scale project collaboration. Individual or class blogs can give access to other users to publish work together. Users can either create their own posts or have permission to edit other users’ posts. Images, embedded web tools , videos, comments can all contribute to a shared project between two users, a whole class or even multiple classes – in your own school or worldwide. Yes you can create groups in Edmodo for different classes to share work in but it’s not as wide ranging as blogging collaboratively.

Publishing and sharing work – it goes without saying that blogging is about sharing your ideas, interests, passions and work of any nature with others. Edmodo is great for sharing a link to your blog, but the work all takes place on your blog, in all the ways I’ve outlined in the other categories in this section of this blogpost.

Tags and Categories – Edmodo and Blogging are very similar in this area. Tags are a great way for creating access to specific posts by using keywords related to posts. Categories allow you to group posts under subject areas. Blogging categories offer more flexibility than Edmodo folders in that you can file a single post under multiple categories.

Audience – One of the benefits of Edmodo is that it is a secure, teacher controlled environment restricted to teacher control and a clearly defined set of users. This is also a drawback if you are looking for a wider, open audience. Blogging gives you both options. If you are looking for purpose for writing well, audience is important. Yes, you can keep your blog private or control who views it, but you can open it up to the whole world to share in your journey and provide you with feedback and incentive. Student bloggers get the opportunity to decide on their audience access and the level of communication they have with them. They don’t get this choice with Edmodo, which his heavy on teacher control.

As a portfolio – While Edmodo has its backpack/library for no fuss, easy to access file uploading and storing, it works more as a filing system. Blogging offers more of a publishing/presentation tool feel to storing your work. It can act as an adequate word processing/publishing option with decent formatting tools, weblinks and ability to add images. It allows you to embed web tools for instant viewing of linked work, whereas Edmodo, while offering embedding, requires you to click on the embedded link to view the file ( albeit within Edmodo). Stored files on Edmodo are private ( unless shared in folders or individually posted to specific groups) whereas on a blog you can open it up for anyone ( or a limited few ) to view and comment on.

I think the feature sets I’ve outlined for both platforms show a clear difference in usage but also shows how beneficial they can both be. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear from other users of Edmodo and blogging. Have I missed something that you think is important to either? Do you have uses of either that eliminates the need to use both. Please join the conversation.

Web 2.0 for the Under 13s crowd

As I lamented in my last post, many of the fabulous Web tools out there are restricted to users 13 and over. This limits what Elementary/Primary schools students can access online to create content to collaborate. To save others at school some time, then, I have compiled a list of popular/well known Web tools that can and can’t be used by children under 13 – 1), so we are legally covered in what we are allowing our students to use and 2), so they know what is available. Please note that generally the sites that allow for under 13s still ask for parental permission ( even Edmodo if you haven’t read the Terms of Use) so a solid school user agreement is needed to use these tools. Some of the sites are not US based so are not bound by COPPA and CIPA regulations. It still requires schools to carefully check out what can be viewed on these sites to ensure they are appropriate to access.

The difficulty with some sites’ policies is that they don’t all state emphatically that Under 13s are not allowed. They just refer vaguely to not being intended for use or not knowingly seeking personal information from Under 13s. In some cases we have personally contacted sites to confirm their policy. I recommend you do the same – I’m not a lawyer; I’m just expressing my opinions. The links below generally take you to the Policy or FAQ sections to explain use/non-use by students under 13.

 

Available to Under 13s – Free Available to Under 13s – Paid Restricted to 13 and Over
PHOTO SLIDESHOW/MOVIES INTERACTIVE POSTER INTERACTIVE POSTER
Animoto for Education (strict supervision expected as outlined in Education Terms) Here is some info about setting up student accounts GlogsterEDU (Teacher account that can be used to create private student accounts linked to Teacher account- 30 Day Free Trial available which saves your work and students’ if you want to continue with paid option )  Glogster (free account not allowed for Under 13s)
SOCIAL BOOKMARKING AND COLLABORATIVE NOTETAKING 3D ANIMATED STORYTELLING SOCIAL BOOK REVIEWING
Diigo (Teacher account that can be used to create private student accounts linked to Teacher account ) Xtranormal for Education (Teacher controlled accounts)GoAnimate for Schools (secure environment)  Shelfari ( access to any type of book on Amazon so right to limit access to 13 and Over )
EDUCATIONAL NETWORK COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR SOCIAL NETWORKING
Edmodo (Secure teacher controlled system) BitStrips for Schools (secure environment controlled by teacher) Twitter and Facebook ( we all know that even though millions are on Facebook)
BOOK PUBLISHING BOOK PUBLISHING PRESENTATION TOOL
StoryJumper Classroom Edition ( Like Edmodo, a secure teacher controlled system) Zooburst for Educators (secure Teacher Controlled environment Sliderocket(recently changed their policy to not allow Under 13s   – confusing because it implies that with parental permission Under 13s can register and yet they blocked our accounts)Prezi (actually limited to 18 and over)
BOOK PUBLISHING INTERACTIVE TIMELINES
3D ANIMATED STORYTELLING
StoryBird for Schools ( same as StoryJumper) TikiToki (Education account has more options) Xtranormal( it is very easy to find some inappropriate animations on Public version – right to block)GoAnimate
BOOKMARKING MULTIMEDIA AVATAR COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR
Symbaloo (no special conditions – can search for general public’s symbaloos but generally a barebones bookmark button site) Voki (Teacher managed environment) ToonDoo (very clear wording in policy about Under 13s -even the ToonDooSpaces for Schools)
FILE SHARING/CLOUD NETWORK COLLABORATIVE NOTETAKING BOOK PUBLISHING
DropBox ( tricky one – not directed towards Under 13s but if permission granted and no Personal Information is provided – teacher sets up account without using child info – it seems to be OK. School discretion I feel on this one. If web based system is avoided, I can’t see a problem – it’s just like saving to computer)  Evernote (paid account required for sharing and collaborating on notes) Zooburst (a pop up book maker not available to under 13s makes no sense to me but laws are laws!?)
MINDMAPPING SURVEY CREATION
Popplet (not sure about this one – am awaiting a reply to an email I sent for clarification – will change here as soon as I receive reply)UPDATE:reply from Popplet says that as long as teacher creates the account and is responsible in monitoring the account, under 13s can use.                          PollDaddy (can’t work out how why this kind of site is restricted but it is. If you have the iPad app at least the students can conduct the surveys but teacher will have to publish them and log in for results)SurveyMonkey (mentions minors for other countries and Under 13s for USA)
COLLABORATIVE PRESENTATION GOOGLEDOCS
VoiceThread ( a free account must be created by a parent or guardian with permission )  GOOGLE ACCOUNTS        (including Public Google Docs. Hard to find this policy without searching- not in Terms of Use section –  but it is clear on Under 13s restrictions)
PRESENTATION TOOL VIDEO SITES
Prezi EDU ( Tricky one – hard to read policy but after checking forums found a response to a question regarding Under 13s from official Prezi rep that stated with specific parent permission Prezi can be used by Under 13s. See forum links here and here ) SchoolTube ( lacks clarity – can view but can’t upload is my interpretation)YouTube (public site restricted to 13 and Over in terms of user accounts – but like Facebook a lot using it anyway.Schools have to be aware of the terms though.)Vimeo (quite clear in the wording of their policy re: Under 13s)
MULTIMEDIA AVATAR                   
Voki (Supervision recommended, parental permission required and personal information avoided
WEBSITE CREATION
Weebly for Education ( teacher creates student accounts )
WIKIS
Wikispaces (parent email or teacher setup only)
BLOGGING
Edublogs ( no mention of Under 13s – Schools to think about level of privacy settings)Kidblog ( must be over 13 to register but can use with permission if someone else registers for under 13 student)
COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR
BitStrips (parent email contact for approval)
GOOGLE DOCS
 GOOGLEAPPS FOR EDUCATION                     School wide implementation required

Permission for Under 13s required 

WORD CLOUDS
 Wordle   Tagxedo
COLLABORATIVE BOARDS
WallWisher 
INTERACTIVE TIME LINES
TikiToki (limited Free account)
NOTETAKING
Evernote ( another confusingly worded policy – suggests the service is not directed at children but then implies that its more about private information and letting parents know its happened. Get permission, create the accounts and probably OK. )

LINK TO SYMBALOO BOOKMARKS FOR THESE TOOLS

Even though I complained in my last post about restrictions, you can see from this chart that there are still plenty of tools available for the Under 13s. Some of the free options are restricted compared to the paid equivalents but you are paying for the secure environments provided by the education versions. I’m going to continue to investigate more possibilities and add to this post during the year. I’ll also be checking in regularly to see if the policies change ( as happened with SlideRocket) to ensure we are complying with legal requirements. I recommend everyone do the same. It’s one thing for parents to let their kids access sites without checking the terms of use but as schools we can’t be complacent.

Contact sites if you are unclear what their policies are saying. Discuss the possibility of using level budgets to pay for some of the paid options – while they do cost money, they may be better use of money than superfluous stationery or an excursion for the sake of an excursion. Above all, if we are to convince politicians and educational leaders that the Under 13s need access to the Web to learn responsible digital citizenship, then as teachers we need to be responsible and vigilant in their use of the Internet.

Would love to hear from others about other tools I have not listed above that are accessible to the under 13s. Join the conversation.

My iPad – the “nearly a PC” for teaching

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Clearly from reading my blog, you can work out I love my iPad. Hopefully, you can also tell from reading my blog that I am also not a slavish “Apple Fanboy” who never finds fault with the product. Over the last year, I have been experimenting with the iPad extensively ( some would say obsessively) to see if I can completely do away with needing a laptop and relying exclusively on my ‘magical tablet’. As a teacher with ‘many hats to wear’, I rely on access to many computer dependent tools to complete my day to day responsibilities. What I have concluded is that if I was completely independent in carrying out my teaching, I would be almost laptop -free. Because I have to work within the constraints of a shared school environment, though, the iPad still had a little ways to go before it can completely replace my trusty MacBook Pro.

Assessment
Because of its portability and multimedia functionality, the iPad is a great tool for assessment that has streamlined the data collection process in many ways. As a busy teacher and parent, the iPad has given me mo opportunities to access and input data wherever I am ( even during my son’s weekly basketball training )I can take written, audio and photo notes within the same program, whether Notability, Evernote, TagPad or any other similar note taking app and have access to a range of data on a given student. Using ShowMe, Educreations, Explain Everything or ScreenChomp, I can get a student to visually show their thinking in a recorded format and keep that for later analysis. I can use the assessment tools on Edmodo‘s iPad app to mark Student’s submitted work and do text based annotations through the assignments annotation tools. I can record, sort and analyse assessment data on spreadsheets using Numbers or Office2 HD. I can access the school’s shared Google Docs Online Assessment tool and record comments and scores for students I teach. So using just my iPad I can function very effectively in terms of assessing students, however…………

The actual user experience of Google Docs spreadsheets on iPads is a pain and most teachers at my school would not put up with the glitchy workarounds I use to make the assessment spreadsheet we use on laptops workable on the iPad. Proprietary software like school reporting programs and on demand testing programs generally won’t work on an iPad without mirroring from another computer (which obviously means still needing the computer!). Spreadsheet apps have limitations that don’t recognize high end functions on Excel which means some spreadsheets become unusable if originally created on a Windows/Mac computer. Therefore, in terms of individualized assessment procedures that collect really useful data, the iPad can be a standalone tool. Sharing school resources? Not so much.

Accessing and saving Files at school
Proxy server issues with certain apps like Dropbox and Evernote aside, which apparently will disappear when a new system is commissioned next term, accessing, updating and saving files has not been an issue. I very rarely use my laptop to read, edit or create documents anymore, unless they were created with a program incompatible with iPads. The teachers I work with use a combination of Google Docs, Dropbox, Edmodo and our school network to save their documents, all of which are accessible through my iPad through the Internet, their own iPad app or through Filebrowser for network and photo library access. All the apps I use can access these options either through the Open in… function, syncing options or in the case of Apple’s iWork apps, through Dropbox/Googledocs access via Otixo’s webDAV service. The only app that is problematic is GarageBand, which I still have to use iTunes file sharing with. ( Email is a poor option as is YouTube or Facebook for primary school setting). While sometimes I have to perform digital gymnastics to access some files via two or three apps like Goodreader and Filebrowser, it works for me. I’m going to do a post soon on Filebrowser specifically, partly as a lesson for my staff but also to share its features. There is also the option of using sendtodropbox service for apps that only use email for exporting. I really like it. Therefore, in my experience in terms of accessing compatible files, I can virtually put my laptop away and rely on my iPad.

Creating and Presenting Content
Despite protests from some in the anti iPad blogosphere, the iPad is indeed a fine content creation tool. I get the complaints about the keyboard ( personal preference and typing skill dependent) and the switching between screen issues ( I admit this bugs me) but that aside I think the complaints come down to what field of content creation you are in and how text typing dependent it is.
For me I can create everything I need to support my teaching on my iPad.
Attractive multimedia heavy documents and presentations are easily created through publishing apps like Pages, Keynote, ComicLife, Strip Designer, SonicPics, iDraw, Explain Everything et al, iMovie, GarageBand .. The list goes on.
PDF annotation of texts for class note taking can take place using PDF apps like GoodReader or iBooks on an interactive whiteboard or projector/TV. Books for sharing can be created using Book Creator or Creative Book Builder. Lesson content and collaboration can be covered with the Edmodo app or Coveritlive.

The biggest omission on the surface is the lack of compatibility with interactive whiteboard software such as ActiveInspire on Promethean Whiteboards. A plugged in iPad does not interact with the boards like laptops do because the touch based driver doesn’t support iPads ( any chance in future Promethean et al?). If I want to create flip charts, I still need my laptop to run ActiveInspire, however….

There are iPad based options with and without laptop. AppleTV is one solution. No computer required, but an expensive option if you need one for each whiteboard in your school. A relatively recent and cheap solution is the use of AirPlay compatible software that turns your Mac or PC into an AppleTV solution. Reflection and AirServer (PC and Mac) allow flexible projection of iPad screens onto the whiteboard through a connected laptop, including audio, all wirelessly. OS 10.8 for Mac ( Mountain Lion) will have the feature built in. With this feature, all the functionality of all the apps on the iPad appear on the whiteboard’s screen, giving it far more interactive possibilities
than a pen that has to touch the screen. Multiple iPad screens can be projected side by side for student sharing of their iPads. This could cut the cost of buying interactive whiteboards altogether and replace them with iPads and cheaper projectors and screens. The other option is using Splashtop Whiteboard (price has gone up since I bought it) to control the laptop screen through the iPad.

Of course the other elephant in the room in terms of sharing content with the iPad is the whole Flash issue. It’s not going away yet and I have covered this issue in an earlier blogpost this year. You can read that here to get my view on that. At this stage, yes I still need laptop access for some flash based web tools ( but I can use the school’s computers for that and leave mine home. )

In finishing, the question remains – How close to replacing a laptop with my iPad in my work environment am I ? ( I stress my environment because it is not feasible for all ). Not completely yet. And some of the workarounds I pull out to make some of the above possible is too much of a pain for less resourceful people. There are many days, though, that my laptop does remain in my bag untouched for the whole day. If I get AirServer installed on our school laptops connected to the whiteboards (at the moment I rely on my own ) , my laptop will barely see the light of day at school.
I’m not abandoning the Mac platform. There are tasks I would always prefer to do on my Macs. I just want to carry less around at school and if the iPad can be relied upon all day until I get home to my Macs, I’ll be happy. It’s close to fruition.

Obviously the solution is not for everyone and I would be interested to hear from others about their iPad experiences. Join the conversation.

Continue reading

Parents – making them part of the solution

We spend every day of our working life talking to our colleagues at school about the challenges of the students in our care – and rightly so. The students in our classes are given feedback daily on their learning – that’s part of teaching. But how many times do we talk to the parents of the students beyond biannual parent/teacher meetings? Education is changing before our eyes. It’s a challenge for us and we experience it first hand every working day of our lives. I think we forget sometimes that the changes we are implementing are so foreign to the parents in our community there is no wonder why they have so many questions.

So how do we react? How often do we proactively seek to communicate with the parents of our schools? If you surveyed a group of teachers, I think that situation in the cartoon above is probably the most common interaction we have with our parents. Does this really build the supportive collaborative relationship we area trying to encourage our students to develop with others as 21st Century Learners? As we revolutionize the education system we have to make sure we modify the parent/school relationship as well.

The more parents have hands on experiences with school, the more they become accepting of the changes we are trying to initiate in education. As someone who has gone away on school camps with parent helpers, I have seen first hand the appreciation parents develop for our work as they observe and ‘live’ what our job entails. Why don’t we replicate this “parent helper” experience more often in a classroom setting? These are just my initial thoughts and ideas for what we could do at schools. It’s a bit of a ‘What If?’ list that I invite others to contribute to.

1. What if we organize regular, timetabled, informal chats in the staff room for interested parents (limited numbers to keep it simple) before or after school to just share what’s going on in the classroom, the latest initiative your school is starting or a strategy or two you are developing that week?
Keep it to 15 minutes, just sitting around the table ( compulsory coffee in hand ), with no expectations to always be there but give parents an opportunity to hear some positive messages from the school and build a positive community relationship between parent and staff. I don’t want to cut into teacher downtime here but i don’t think 15 minutes once a month would kill us.

2. What if we create a blog that is open to parents, students and staff? 
Schools could share information about new initiatives taking place at school, post links to websites that explain what teachers are doing in the contemporary classroom, give access to websites that can help parents support their children in their learning. Of course this could happen through your typical school website but instead of static, rarely updated website, a blog would allow for two way communication and content contributions from everyone in the community, including student work to showcase the best of what the school can achieve. It would also allow for moderated discussions through comments and discussion boards so that parents could provide positive feedback to the student and ask reasonable questions directed to staff about the work being done.

3. What if we open up some of our staff PD to interested parents?
Most of us teachers are learning new ways of teaching these days. What if we did this learning alongside parents so that they could talk to us in real time about how their children are being taught today. Parents could then be informed participants in the traditional parent car park talks after school and let other parents in on the secrets of the school. It could be a part of a staff meeting, a student free day, a before school “techie brekkie”‘ or an off site conference with attendance open to anyone. It would mean less confusion about homework, less contradiction over “times tables” and more open communication between school and parent about teaching methods. Like everything else I am pondering here, it would have to be carefully thought through so there is no extra commitment for teachers and parents don’t overstep the mark on what is expected of them.

4. What if we bit the bullet and went for full Parent access with Edmodo?
For those who don’t know, Edmodo has a parent account that allows for access to their own child’s work on Edmodo and also allows for communication between child, parent and teacher. Not everyone uses this option ( we certainly aren’t yet ) but planned and implemented properly, this would provide an effective way for parents to track work and check in with their child’s teacher via an easy online service without any additional set up or planning.

5. (Staying old school without tech) What if we just made far better use of the old fashioned student diary?
If the student had the diary beside them all day every day, we could write comments about the work at the same time we record comments in our assessment records. I would be. Nice change for parents to read about the successes of the day rather than the usual reminders about school uniform and late homework issues. Of course, if the student was in a 1:1 iPad or laptop school, their diary could be in electronic form and the process could be far more streamlined.

6. What if digital portfolios or file books were accessible all year?
Too often in schools we keep all the work that children do throughout the year in folders, files, computer programs etc and don’t release them until the end of the year/semester/term for the parent teacher interviews. We stress over the the layout, the organisation of the work, how many stickers they have on their work, how attractive the published pieces are and so on. Why don’t we make it accessible to parents all year?

Digital or paper based, send it home every week, finished or not. This would make the parents aware of the progress their children are making on tasks and projects and also make the children more accountable for their work, knowing Mum and Dad are going to see it all the time. Parents would get used to seeing the real work their child does, not the artificial perfectly published work for display purposes only. It could place the need for unnecessary homework preparation – sharing the work done in class would allows for revision of work without having extra work to prepare or complete. Parents would know exactly what their child is doing before the formal interview and can be more active in dealing with issues before it’s too late. I would prefer it digital and easily accessible from school and home. Digital portfolios are more engaging, easier to maintain and build on and allows for online interaction between student, parent and teacher.

7. What if we have have more open days or evenings so parents can see their children in action with their teachers? Have an occasional late start/late finish day to accommodate the working parent and let the parents see first hand how their child is learning.

8. What if we have regular online surveys created for specific information we want to get fromparents? With all the online do-it-yourself survey tools available these days, this is a simple task and could be a way for parents to feedback to the school in a non threatening way.

In today’s always connected tech driven world, there is really no reason for parents to be out of the loop. School should be a 3 way partnership. We need to embrace relationships with parents to ensure the best possible results for our students. If we don’t communicate with each other we can’t expect miracles. All of these ideas would need to be carefully thought through and the expectations of parents need to be controlled but I think we need to be finding ways to share what’s happening at school and what we are doing with the children more effectively. It will never be 100% access either way but we can make a go of it.

What other what ifs can you think of? Am I expecting too much of teachers and parents for this to really happen? Let me know what you think. Join the conversation.

The power of Social Networking in Grade 6 with Edmodo

I had a big week in class last week. As I’ve said earlier, my role this year in the 5/6 level has led to me being, among other things, a support teacher in a variety of curriculum areas. The week just past saw me taking workshops and lessons across Reading, Writing and Inquiry. I had a similar role last year but always felt like I wasn’t accepted by the students as their ‘teacher’ because I wasn’t always around due to my other responsibilities. It was only late last year after I attended a Tech Conference and was introduced to the potential of Edmodo that I was able to make a real and lasting connection with the Grade 6 students in a real way. After the conference, I was asked to take a Literature Circle group by the Grade 6 teachers and I quickly saw Edmodo as a vehicle I could use to work with them outside of physical contact time. It worked really well as a test case. This year, with that experience behind, I decided to go full steam ahead with every workshop and lesson group I plan.

At the moment I am involved with the Grade 6 students in a Ballad Poetry workshop ( I wrote about that last week), an Inquiry workshop investigating the issue of Urban Sprawl and a Reading Comprehension group with both Grade 5 and 6 students. ( I haven’t signed the Grade 5 students up with Edmodo yet).

Each of the Grade 6 groups are connected to each other and myself through an Edmodo small group within the main Grade 6 group. I decided to use small groups so that it is easy just to switch groups of children in and out of focus groups rather than give them codes every couple of weeks to join new groups. It has also allowed the other Grade 6 teachers to create and manage their own groups easily while also having access to their students who are working for me.

What I have found already is how engaged the students immediately became the moment they were given the opportunity to use a social networking environment. Children who never open their mouths in discussions were suddenly asking and responding to multiple questions from teacher and student alike. Students who rarely express opinions were involved in debates, linking to websites and Youtube videos to back up their opinions. Individuals who in the past have found it difficult to submit any work on time were uploading multiple revisions of assignments after getting timely feedback. This is just a snapshot of the response I, and the other teachers who quickly jumped on board over the course of the week when they saw the initial response from my groups, received during the week. I want to go into a bit more detail about each group interaction now.

URBAN SPRAWL INQUIRY

I began this inquiry workshop with a shared text outlining the basic premise of Urban Sprawl. What I did differently from the past was I allowed the children to sit with laptops beside them as we read the text. They were allowed to use Edmodo to post reactions, new learning and questions that arose from the content of the text. I had worked with many in this group last year in a variety of settings and some rarely provided any feedback or made any meaningful contributions. It was these very students who became key contributors to the conversation here. The freedom to use Technology and their natural environment of social networking/chatting opened up channels of communication that traditional chalk and talk or rotating brainstorm sheets didn’t engage them in.

One student’s question led to multiple responses from others that deepened the inquiry beyond my initial goals. Questions about the content enabled the group to post new concepts to investigate within the broader topic. As a result, within 3 sessions, I have teams of children investigating issues of traffic and transport, access to facilities like education and hospital services and the pros and cons of megacities, all without me suggesting any of it. I strongly believe based on past experiences without technology that this would not have happened without my encouragement if we had just read the text.

The engagement was evident when they posted their own links to Youtube videos of local politicians talking about Urban Sprawl issues, Annotated Google Maps showing distances from outlying suburbs to city hospitals, and links to maps of train networks as they discussed online the inequalities of train travel for some outer suburbs. I’m away with the Grade 5s on Camp next week but I know that I leave this group with a shared understanding of the issues to discuss with other class members without me being there. HAving said that, as an ubergeek teacher, I have also said I will be checking in via my iPhone or iPad from camp to see what they are doing and would be available to support them online if necessary.

BALLAD POETRY GROUP

I spoke at length in my last post about this so this is more of an update of how these sessions have progressed. All students have taken the opportunity to post attempts on Edmodo. Admittedly, there has not been much interaction between the students in this case but they have appreciated the timely feedback to their questions ands attempts from me. As a result, some (but not all) students have posted drafts of verses for me to feedback on and then responded with edited posts. Each student has uploaded their ballad plans for me to have access to, enabling me to provide advice directly to them. The fact that using Edmodo means submitting digital texts means they are more willing to edit their work instead of rewriting entire texts each time if done via pen and paper.

On Friday, we collaboratively drafted a rubric to support them in their writing but I took it away to polish it up and structure in more detail. There was too much of a delay for some who wanted access to it straight away ( One girl posted a request for it at 7 am Saturday morning) and so one of the students took it upon herself to post a link to an online study guide about Ballads which was quickly appreciated by others through replies. Again, while I’m away on Camp, I promised them I would continue to check in and provide feedback to them, something I couldn’t have done in the past.

THE READING COMPREHENSION GROUP

I had two aims for this group. One was for instant responses and shared feedback on comprehension questions in an open forum. The other was to encourage independent editing and revising of work through the Assignments feature of Edmodo.

We started this group work with a shared reading of a newspaper article, using 3 Level Guide statements to encourage conversation on the article. The children were asked to justify the accuracy of the statements by providing evidence in the text. By having the article linked to our Edmodo group, the children had quick access to the article for cross referencing and were able to copy/paste quotes to back up their arguments. By posting their responses online, we could challenge each others opinions instantly, either through verbal feedback with our online conversation on the iWB or through posting replies either during the group session at school, or as often occurred, continuing the discussion online at home. This challenged the children to question their responses and also to provide further explanation rather than the quick responses we often get through one off replies in standardised tests or one session tasks. The inclusion of social networking tools gives that extra think time and the opportunity to add to your opinions after hearing what others have to say. This helps to develop a deeper level of thinking than we get from one chance only tasks.

As a follow up task, I set them an assignment to submit by the end of the week. I made it clear that I wanted them to submit their drafts online through Edmodo’s Assignments section and that I would respond quickly with feedback and expected a second ( or third) edited response. The students responded positively to this and all but one of the 15 students gave me at least a second revision, responding effectively to the feedback in both structure and additional detail. I’m a strong believer that word processing tools should be used at all stages of the writing process as it encourages students to make revisions if they don’t have to do complete rewrites of handwritten texts. My role as the teacher was to give timely feedback so that they saw the worth of early submission and multiple revisions. All the students who participated fully produced a final copy at the expected level.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Part of adjusting to the concept of 21st Century Learning or Contemporary Learning  (whatever you choose to call it) is playing to the strengths of your students. Social Networking is ingrained in their way of being so it use seems like a no brainer that we utilise that in our teaching. The increased engagement I have seen in just one week of using Edmodo with this years’ Grade 6s for the first time makes me even more convinced of its merit. If it gets more than just that usual 20% who contribute to every lesson involved then it has already made a difference. From what I have seen in this short time frame, along with last year’s experiment, it does a lot more than that.

I’d like to hear from other teachers of your personal experiences of using this type of social networking in classrooms, both successes and challenges ( it wasn’t perfect -one child did manage to post a picture of a mouse on a mouse during the Urban Sprawl lesson!!). Join the conversation.

Writing Ballad Poems through ICT tools

After a lot of administrative work last term, I’m finally back regularly doing what I like best – teaching. In my role ( one of many ) as a Lead Teacher supporting the 5/6 Team, I get to teach small groups of students in workshop environments in areas of need and/or choice. This term, the Grade 6 students are beginning their writing workshops by focusing on different narrative forms. As a songwriter, I’ve written many songs in the Ballad style, telling stories through song. This was a natural fit for me to take on a Narrative Workshop based around Ballad Poetry. Combining my talents in writing and ICT, I have decided to heavily incorporate Web tools to teach this unit. Here’s a rundown of how I plan to do it.

My main tool for delivering this unit of work will be Edmodo. I’ve created a subgroup within the main Grade 6 Edmodo group specifically for Ballad
Poetry. Before the lessons even begin next week, I have posted links to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a YouTube video of the Ballad of Paul Bunyan for an American ballad example, a site showcasing all the ballads of Robin Hood as an introduction to how traditional ballads as story telling originated and a link to a website that has a published version of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, ensuring the students are also exposed to our native Australian ballads. During the next 3 weeks of the unit, I will be encouraging the students to post their own search results of ballads so that they can be exposed to a wide range of the ballad poem form. I think exposure to examples are important in any writing unit, especially in a form they are not accustomed to.

A final link I have provided on the Edmodo page is a excerpt from the Simpsons’ episode, “Bart the Daredevil”, in which Homer goes hurtling down a slope on a skateboard and over Springfield Gorge, with disastrous results as always. When I read and chose Mulga Bill’s Bicycle as an example ballad, my mind immediately flashed to this episode as it related beautifully to the experience of Mulga Bill crashing his bicycle in similar circumstances. I felt that the students would need a contemporary link to this century old poem, and despite the objections of some in educational circles to the Simpsons, I get great engagement from my students whenever I use the cartoon as a crossover into other literature and thematic discussions.

My plan is to begin the unit reading Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and break the poem down into a sequential series of events. I’ll then present the clip of Homer’s disastrous skateboarding experience and do the same breakdown of events. Using the stanzas in the Paterson poem as a guide, we will co-write a ballad of Homer Simpson’s Skateboard. Here I will introduce the students to another Web Tool I like using for quick and easy collaboration – WallWisher. I’ve embedded the shared Wallwisher Pinboard into a post on Edmodo already. The students will review the Simpsons clip while working collaboratively on building the ballad in WallWisher through post-it notes of individual stanzas of rhyming verse. As they experiment, we’ll be able to see everyone’s attempts on our interactive whiteboard. As each stanza appears, we’ll be able to arrange them into a sequential order to tell the story.

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This way, I’ll be able to emphasise the idea of freely writing parts of poems that flow easily from your imagination instead of being stuck on a particular part and not progressing. By using the post-it notes on WallWisher, we will be able to manipulate individual verses and insert new ideas that fit when they arise. By having the board embedded in Edmodo, we will be able to continue this collaboration beyond the classroom lesson time for homework during the week or during independent writing time.

Once the students start drafting their own poems, we will use Edmodo as a collaborative platform for supporting each others’ writing. Children will be encouraged to post their drafts for others to comment on, allowing them to get assistance from myself or classmates if they get stuck for ideas, rhyming words, rhythm and structure. Once their drafts are ready, I will ask them to submit the writing through the Assignment feature of Edmodo. This will allow me to annotate their work with my suggestions and note, but not correct, grammatical/spelling issues ( correcting doesn’t teach them to edit independently).

We’ve identified that this cohort of students is reluctant or lack skills in editing their writing. I want to address this by allowing them to draft, edit and get teacher feedback through ICT. It means they don’t have to rewrite texts completely, instead just making changes where necessary. I’m hoping this will encourage them to make several revisions to their text, rather than the draft/correct/publish cycle we have perpetuated too much as teachers. Edmodo’s Assignments allows for several revisions to be submitted with the ability for teachers to feedback on each new attempt.

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Early on in the unit, we will be co-creating a rubric that will guide the students in composing their ballads. This will be posted to Edmodo so they can constantly refer to it as they are drafting and be aware of expectations as well as the structures and features to include in their ballads.

Finally, I’m going to spend a short time near the end of each lesson ( one hour duration ) presenting publishing options. I’ll be encouraging but not requiring the students to consider multimedia tools to present their ballads. By the time the unit is over, I would have already seen and assessed their ballads through the Assignments submissions process and as a result they will already have a written option available. I want to encourage the idea that publishing is not just for the purpose of handing up work for the teacher to assess. We should celebrate the creation of the ballad through a movie version, a multimedia slideshow, a comic strip, a blog post for others to see and comment on, or maybe turn it into a song Mr G style!

I’m looking forward to how this process will pan out. If it goes to plan, I hope that other teachers will try out the lesson structure and the use of Edmodo to encourage better editing of written work by students. I’ll return to this post at unit’s end to reflect on how it went. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other teachers about how you have used Edmodo or similar Web Tools to track writing progress.