Paul's Place of Musings and Insights

the journey of a techno-meddling teacher

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NAPLAN tomorrow!!!!!!

Said no one ever.

Yeah, not so much excitement at my end, I’m afraid. While I’ve got the inevitable opinion on NAPLAN and standardised testing in general (I’ve put some fun memes down below), I don’t want to soapbox (on this occasion), suffice it to say that my class and I are missing two Maths lessons, a Science lesson and an Inquiry session this week. And that means… well not much really. It’s not such a big deal given sports days, excursions et al that consistently push aside the ‘already overcrowded curriculum’ and add to the hidden curriculum that is so meaningful for students. Alongside things like life lessons learnt during schoolyard fights and social development and whatnot. The real parts of life that happen alongside formal education.

That’s what I’ve come to see NAPLAN as – an experience for the students. Like it or not, success in formal education means testing and ranking. If you do well in Year 12, you’ll get into uni and have options. Of course you can be extremely successful without a uni experience, it just gives you options. If that’s what you’re after.

We give our kids formative assessment before giving them summative ones – I see NAPLAN (in one way) as a formative experience for students, in preparation for the higher stakes tests, the ones that actually count, in high school. Sure they also provide valuable information to stakeholders about the standard achievement levels of students and schools, but we all know they are a snapshot, through a narrow lens, of just one part of the educational experience.

So with the talk around staff rooms this week on why NAPLAN is <insert opinion here> I like to think of it in a positive light and let my students enjoy the ride.

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and just for fun…

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Jumping up the ladder

So this post title is a play on my jumping back into both integrated ICT use in my room as well as blogging but also a play on the name of the tool I am using – Studyladder.

First about me – after a hectic year of ICT use in 2014 involving a new 1:1 iPad program at my school, I’ve taken a real step back from ICT integration this year, and gotten back to the basics of teaching. I won’t lie, there were students in my new class disappointed about this, with my reputation as the techie teacher preceding me, but I’m a firm believer in tech use not being tech-centric. That is, the tech should support the learning and if it doesn’t , it shouldn’t be used. I felt with the iPads last year there was a pressure to show that they were worthwhile and some of what I did pushed into the ‘using tech for its own sake’ field and that made me uncomfortable. So this year I have consciously tried to use ICT only if there is a clear advantage for the students in doing so. Its been a bit of a reset, really.

So this study ladder thing. I am using it as a basis for Mathematics homework. I can set modules for different students and monitor their performance in those modules. I can see how many times they have attempted their work, and how their results have changed through these attempts. It certainly fits my criteria of tech use as it allows functionality that would not be possible without it.

I have also started developing individual blogs for my students and through those will start delving back into more regular tech enhancement.

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Start of Year excitement?

In the spirit of me finding balance in my life between school and home, I have undertaken to scale back my blog posts from a place of detailed reflection (often stressful to manufacture when one is super busy!), to a place where I share thoughts, classroom tidbits and given the rebranding of my site’s title, a place of musings and insights.

I have just started the year here in Australia with a Year 5 class. Very exciting for a few reasons; I started my career with a Year 5 class; after three years of Year 6 I was ready to change things up a bit; and after three years of teaching MYP I will now be teaching PYP, something I have never done before.

For now, I am happy just to say I am excited about the year ahead and that I’m looking forward to using this blog in a way that benefits me rather than causes me stress. So, in keeping it light, here is a photo of my new room.

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Fun Play

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:

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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.

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Commenting is sharing the teaching

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’.

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#minecraft: Playing to Learn

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.

iPhone Screenshot 1This 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.