So again, school and kids have bumped my blogging down the ladder of priorities, as they should. Reports, birthdays and life in general have been in the front seat, but also has been a new tool that I have been taking for a spin in the classroom. Showbie is an app that I have been familiar with for a long time, and was even part of our workflow solutions this year as we introduced the 1:1 iPad program. It didn’t stay long in the forefront of our day to day working, but this term I have used it again, to great success.
I have been able to guide my students through the writing of historical fiction this term, satisfying the MYP subjects of Design, Individuals and Societies and Language and Literature, as well as the Australian Curriculum content outcomes for History (different perspectives). I have been teaching this in discreet chunks, lesson by lesson eg Step 1 was to find an Australian historical event. Step 2, think of a unique perspective Step 3, outline key historical tidbits etc. This is all well and good but because of constant student absences due to music and other co-curricular considerations, students often miss these discreet teachable moments.
With Showbie, I am able to record instructional materials and individually monitor the progress of individual students throughout the task. I can digitally annotate their works in progress and provide verbal feedback too. Once I turned off the email notifications (which came thick and fast everytime one of the 50 Year 6s updated their work, which was often) I found the app incredible in its capacity to allow me oversight of the students work. I still conference with the students 1:1, but this digital record of their progress is valuable and something I will integrate into my digital toolkit moving forward.
I’ve just acquired a box of Lego for my classroom. I’ve always been jealous of classes in huge younger years who have access to these little blocks and I’ve always thought about how I could use them in upper primary. Through a discount website (the kind that sells you stuff you generally don’t need) I picked up a box of 500 assorted bricks for a decent price.
This is the result:
The kids rushed to my side and the end of individual reading became a hub of creativity. Lines of conversation included
- make the pictures on the box
- no, make whatever you want
- let’s make the characters from Animal Farm (our novel study)
- gee, Mr Huebl, your building thing is amazing (I might have heard that in my own head)
I’m happy with the attitude the kids have had towards the blocks. I am mindful now of how to maximise the benefit if their use as well as making the use of them equitable.
One of the things that most teachers will say is hard to feel motivated about doing all of the time is marking. So often, marking can consist of really just checking that students have done the right thing. While this is necessary, it hardly feels like I am contributing to the learning process in a meaningful way!
One of the things I have liked about student blogging, is that your marking takes the form of commenting, and receiving comments is what can motivate a student more than any other factor. One of the routines I have introduced is the process of having students in my class comment on each others’ work. This form of peer feedback and assessment is valuable because it not only exposes students to new perspectives as they read each other’s work, but provides a genuine, real audience for it.
I have created small laminated cards, with a picture of each student on each side, with a QR code linking to that students’ blog on the other. I use these to distribute to students and assign their lesson/daily/ weekly blog to comment on. I also have the QR codes without the photos, so that we can play ‘mystery commenting’.
The latest app that we have pushed out to the kids is Minecraft. If you have kids, or work with children then you will be familiar with this game. It is a sandbox style game that has both survival and creative modes and has become a prominent tool in education (see here, here, and here for examples.) We will be implementing this app as part of a Design unit in Term 3 but we have given it to the students early so we can establish their skill set with the app before they require it for their learning.
This action by us is what this post is all about. Training the students in particular skill sets has been common practice for us as we have used the iPads this year. Obviously, we can’t expect the students to do stuff if we haven’t explicitly provided them with the skills to do so. With Minecraft though, we will not be explicitly teaching the students how to use the app. (This has nothing to do with the fact that most of them know far more about it than we do…) For this app/game, we are tasking the students themselves with devleoping their own skills. They will do this through playing.
The beauty of Minecraft in our eyes is that it has so many uses. As it is a game, we figure that it should be played. As the students become skilled in playing, they will certainly be better equipped to apply the world of the game to the specific learning tasks that we give them. (Andy in fact created a preliminary task for the students that you can read about here. It was an extension on some Engineering work we were doing earlier in the day and it was a natural extension of that task to have the students replicate their work within Minecraft.)
We are very interested in hearing from others who have used Minecraft in schools, especially in Upper Primary and with iPads.
As part of our 1:1 iPad program, our Year 6 team are constantly reviewing the best practices for running our learning environments. Today I have come up with the term DAFA (Digital Anecdotal Formative Assessments). I got the idea from Andy Peartree (@anderspearz) who was using the app Explain Everything in his Maths group. I saw the students using the app to demonstrate their learning. They were engaged with the process and the Maths itself was not being compromised.
I decided to adopt the practice myself, but thought that I could formalise it to provide me with legitimate formative assessment. My maths class has just finished looking at converting fractions, to varying levels of success. I created a task on Edmodo asking my students to create an Explain Everything showing their understanding. I was able to quickly see who really understood the process without the need to troll through all their workbooks to establish their competence.
This is not a new process by any means, and I must stress the role my colleagues Andy and Jade in beginning this process. However, by formalising DAFA as a formal part of our teaching strategy, we have actively used technology to enhance our teaching.
I have seen two different items on the Internet recently, and I have formed a link between the two. I’ll pop them here and let you see if you can find the link…
First, this image that turned up on my Facebook feed
very clever stuff, and certainly the type of thing I like seeing on my feed when I am desperately seeking distraction from reality. Second, this video that came up in my Twitter feed (via @SunnySouth12)
It’s amazing what kids can do if we give them the chance, isn’t it?
Can you think of the link? What connected these two things in my mind was the old maxim, less is more. Now, the Navy officer is hardly someone to idolise, but his laziness showed there is always more than one way to solve a problem. I would argue that the gross effort required to reroute a ship, as opposed to shifting oneself down the bench a little negates the creative effort, but it cannot be denied that creativity is present.
The clip involves children engaging in Art activities, and clearly demonstrates the nature of children to engage their creativity more freely when they feel there is no consequence for ‘getting it wrong’.
This got me thinking about my students – how much amazing material are they not producing, because they are afraid that it will be ‘wrong’? Hopefully very little, as I try to make my kids feel comfortable in that regard, but a lot can be said for task design. How can I design my instructions to students so that it maximises their inclination to be creative? Do I get too caught up in multiple curriculum considerations, that I lose sight of the forest through the trees? This is going to be a goal of mine, moving forward.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has given this extensive thought.
I’ve never been taught explicitly how to program or code. Over the years I have developed my skills as necessary to maintain and share teaching and learning materials. I’ve managed to learn what I need to know as I need it, and then I inevitably forget it. I have also (sheepishly) used a similar approach in teaching these topics to my students. I have shown then what they need for a task and they have no doubt also forgotten the skills.
With the new Digital Technologies curriculum I now have scope to explicitly teach computational thinking to my students. I will be using the Scratch program in the first instance, as I recall finding it useful myself. This is the realisation that inspired this post – I only know a little bit more than my students. Now, the gap is still very wide, but it is closer than I am familiar with. What it will allow me to do though, is to be more immersed in the learning process that I am offering my students, as it will be much more relevant to me. I will have a greater appreciation of what they a re going through. This is something that I have not experienced for a while as a teacher, and to be truthful, is something that I find quite invigorating.
I saw a Kangaroo this morning. Running along Long Ridge, I was scanning the sides of the trail with my head torch. It was pitch black you see, but I did see two pinpricks of light about 3m off the trail just ahead. As I approached I realised it was a Kangaroo. And it was actually five or six Kangaroos. Good times.
So I am, amongst all my other commitments, going to run an Ultra Marathon later this year. I find that running, especially on trails in the hills near where I live is meditative and relaxing. Now running 56km up and down mountains is not a logical progression from that, but I have a good friend training me and… what the hey. Not sure how closely I will follow my training on this site, but from time to time I may throw something on here if I feel inspired. This morning was the first day of my new regime.
I was fortunate enough to be honoured by EdTechSA when they awarded me with a Leading Light award at their recent AGM. I usually wouldn’t make a big deal of this sort of honour as its not the kind of thing that is a motivator. For me, the focus os always on the learning of my students. The fact that other think that what we achieve is worth a mention is a real bonus.
The other thing that is a little bit cool is that my school mentioned my achievement on their Facebook page. What resonates with me about that is that for years I have been wanting to be at a school that embraces new technology rather than shies away from it. My school’s willingness to support this approach is a large part of why I am personally able to do so much with technology in my own classroom. So I guess that fact that there is a Facebook page to share it on is what I find exciting. Anyway…