- 1:1 iPad/computer programs were introduced to give students a voice and an opportunity to make their thinking visible. Check out these tools that can help: socrative.com and croak.it . Also padlet, which I have posted about previously.
- Photospheres – Gain a 360o view of places around the world. Students can also create their own (using an Android phone or iPhone) and upload to Google Maps for the whole world to see.
- Use technology to give instant feedback to students. Try these tools: plickers.com (my class’ new favourite thing!), flubaroo and kahoots.
Teachers are always looking for ways to improve student engagement, motivation and understanding. The recent GAFE (Google Apps for Education) Summit in Sydney offered a plethora of ideas. Here are my top 3 takeaways:
I was speaking to a principal this week who said that he was yet to find somebody who could answer how technology actually improved learning outcomes for students. My first thought was how obvious it was - anyone who had incorporated technology could clearly see the engagement and learning that was evident!, but then it hit me... Technology in itself doesn't improve learning outcomes. However, using technology as a tool to deliver pedagogically sound practice can make immeasurable differences in the learning environment. Here are the top five that I can think of off the top of my head:
1. Student voice: Responding in a shared or online space gives every student a voice in the classroom, even those who don't like public speaking, are inhibited by their peers, or are afraid of taking risks. It allows students to make mistakes in a safe, non-threatening environment.
2. Collaboration: When students work together collaboratively, they are able to share and generate ideas, give feedback, learn from each other, consider other perspectives, and create products that are far superior, thoughtful and considered than those that could be done independently.
3. Immediacy of feedback: The effect of feedback in the learning process is well-documented (think Hattie and Marzano, for starters). Programs such as Google Docs that allow teachers to comment on students' work in real-time, track changes, and then follow up at a later time, allow for instant and useful feedback, without the need for students to create various drafts of the same document; a process that can be frustrating and tiresome for many students (and teachers!).
4. Global connectedness: By connecting with a global audience, students, even from a young age, can see that school-work has a genuine purpose. They can connect with authors, artists, mathematicians, university lecturers, environmentalists... real people in real jobs who take an interest in the ideas and thoughts of creative and innovative kids. The motivation and engagement students gain from interacting with the 'real world' on a global scale drives them to further learning and action.
5. Learning to learn: The world is changing. Students need to know how to access information effectively, and what to do with it when they've found it. They need to question, analyse, justify. Working with technology provides another way of provoking curiosity. It allows students to find problems, as well as solve them. To question, as well as answer. To create, as well as consume. Effective use of technology can encourage kids to truly become 'lifelong learners'.
So, does technology improve learning outcomes for students? Not by itself; but with the right pedagogy, and a love of learning, it can truly make the world of difference.
5. Getting to hang out at Google in Sydney was a highlight all of its own! Seeing the unicycles and scooters available for staff to ride between buildings, stepping out of the lifts to enter a space that was the replica of a train carriage, and functional, creative and totally cool working spaces with flipping walls, hidden pull-out blackboards, and lots of colour/neon/balloons, made for a motivating, eye-opening and inspiring couple of days. It certainly got me thinking what I can do to make my classroom a more exciting place in which kids can learn and think.
4. Over the two days of the Google Teacher Academy (GTA), there was a real focus on celebrating success, which tied in nicely with some of the reading I have been doing recently on Marzano's "The Art and Science of Teaching". At the GTA we celebrated with a combination of whooping, music, party poppers, gold stars and written feedback. Celebrations of success happened regularly, both anonymously and in person, and for both big and small achievements. How do we truly and regularly celebrate student progress - big and small - in the classroom?
3. Listening to our mentor groups talk about Google apps and tools that aren't as well-known as the core GAFE suite gave me some take-home ideas that I want to start using straight away. Being able to search newspapers from all over the world and right back to the 1800s to see what was happening at the time, people's reactions to world events and so on... Using Google Earth to let kids see first-hand the effects of rising sea-levels... Google Correlate allows people to look at trends in real-world data, in countries around the world.... Love finding new sites and tools to explore with the kids!
2. Connections with other educators - The opportunity to connect with, work alongside of, and receive feedback from 50+ passionate educators, all effecting change in the field of education, was an exciting and professionally life-changing experience. I'm looking forward to continuing my connections with these awesome people online.
But Number One is....!
1. For a couple of years now I have been encouraging teachers to give students opportunities to be creative, innovative collaborators; to teach students entrepreneurial skills that will help them achieve success in the workforce they will enter at the end of their school careers. However, not having come from a business background myself, I didn't really have the skills or know-how to do that effectively. My attempts to foster creativity were haphazard and not necessarily linked to a meaningful purpose. Being led through the Design Thinking process by Tom and Hamish from Notosh really gave me a tangible way of leading students through the steps of immersion, synthesis, ideation and prototyping. I would strongly encourage you to find out more about Design Thinking as a way to move forward in the area of fostering creativity.
I found out last week that I had been successful in gaining a place at this year's GTA in Sydney #gtasyd . The process of applying included making a 1-minute video talking about how I was an 'Ambassador for Change' in the field of education. The process was personally challenging; I usually hate putting myself 'out there' in a visual sense. However, it also made me engage in those '21st century skills' that I believe are crucial for today's students: taking risks, stepping outside of my comfort zone, being creative. If we as teachers are not willing to get a little 'uncomfortable' and try new things, how can we expect our students to do the same?
Recently I began a collaborative project with some interstate schools as a result of a tweet I had seen asking for expressions of interest. Many people had responded to the initial tweet, but when it came to the crunch, most said they were not ready, not experienced enough, too busy... In fact, I nearly did the same thing. I didn't know if I was going to be as 'tech-literate' as the other participants, I didn't really need an 'extra' thing to do, I wasn't sure if I was ready to engage in this kind of a project... But I jumped. I dove in and said yes, and am so glad I did. I have made new friendships with online colleagues, strengthened my Twitter PLN, engaged my students in exciting ways, and even learnt about and signed up for virtual excursions (this week my students are visiting the Mawson Base in Antarctica to talk to the scientists). I'm so glad I took the risk of trying something new. Try it. Jump in.
Today I held our second deTECHtives group at school - a fortnightly meeting of teachers who are interested in finding out about apps and websites that can be used in an educational setting. Today we spoke about effective Google searches. I put together the screencast below for those teachers who couldn't make it... Enjoy!
Slowing Down with Storythread
I spent today with the Pullenvale Environmental Education Centre (PEEC) team learning about Storythread - a pedagogical teaching tool that involves linking narrative with role-playing, to teach kids about environmental issues and sustainability. The setting for today's workshop was the stunning Silkwood School, set in the Gold Coast Hinterland, and the workshop was the result of a partnership between Silkwood, Healthy Waterways and PEEC.
Part of the day involved spending some time connecting with nature and participating in dadirri, an Aboriginal term meaning "an inner deep listening" or quiet, which biologist Mary Clark refers to as "profound attentiveness". How strange to be still for an extended period of time! When I had a chance to reflect as part of this process, I jotted down the following thoughts:
Have I lost the ability to 'look up'? It seems I am always on a mission, trying to get to the next place; more quickly, efficiently, than ever before. As my breathing slows, my senses seem to switch on: I can hear the birds cheeping, I'm noticing for the first time the way the leaves rain down as the gentle gust of wind blows through the treetops, I hear the repetitive creak of the fallen tree that has fallen in the fork of another tree. As I walk through the path mapped out for me, I come across a signpost that indicates there are native honey bees buzzing in a particular tree-trunk. Would I have noticed this if not for the sign? How much of the world am I missing because I am not taking the time to take in the world around me?
A month or so ago, my students and I discussed the 'Look Up' clip that was popular on social media sites at the time. We tried to identify the motivation behind developing a clip like that, and who the target audience might be. As a lover of all things technological, I struggled with some of the ideas put forward by author Gary Turk, but after today's experiences I now 'get it'. Kids need stillness in amongst the fast-paced craziness of today's world. They need to connect with the natural world around them. The pedagogy of Storythread is all about developing skills such as open-mindedness, creativity, identifying and solving problems, risk-taking and collaboration; exactly the same skills that I aim to develop through the use of 21st century technologies. Once again, the issue is not the device, the teaching tool or the particular strategy that is used; it is the vision we have for what kind of people we want our kids to be. Answer that first, and then fit the curriculum around that. Kids first. Always.
Student Blogging is Contagious!
Not even a fortnight after we launched the Student Scribe program in the classroom, two of my students have created their own blogs. One is a journal that the student is using to post events and photos from her life, while the other is an online magazine for teenagers. Imagine how much those students - currently 11 years old - will know about the consumer market, business and design, by the time they are ready to leave school. Think of the skills that are required to compile and edit an online magazine. And think of the intrinsic motivation that occurred for this to become a reality in the first place. Students who don't exhibit traditional 'academic' skills thrive in the online environment - a place where creativity is valued and appreciated. How are we setting kids up to succeed, if they're struggling in the current curriculum?
What do you get when you mix 200 students, 4 schools, several teachers and one brilliant idea on Twitter? An interstate collaborative sustainability project, of course! Brett Salakas, from St Kevin's in Sydney (@MRsalakas), put out a tweet recently asking if anyone was interested in using Google Hangouts to launch a collaborative project focused on his upcoming conservation unit. After a few enthusiastic responses, several emails back and forth and one test call later, students on the Gold Coast were today listening to Mr Salakas in Sydney explain about carbon footprints, biomes and how all this relates to Minecraft and Antarctica!
Students across the country are now looking forward to this time next week when they can again meet up with their new learning buddies, in preparation for their collaborative inquiries in the coming weeks. Exciting times!
Writing for a purpose
In a previous post I talked about my plans to implement Alan November's idea of a class scribe. I started the scribe program in my Year 6 classroom three days ago. This morning, one of my student's parents emailed me and said that as her son would be home sick for a couple of days, could she please have some work for him to complete at home. I suggested that she get him to look at the class blog, in which the previous day's scribe had posted links to websites we had explored, photos of work samples she had completed and even a video of a dance practice in preparation for the school fair.
This evening I came home to see that the boy had commented on the blog post, "This helped me a lot as I have been sick over the last few days." Since then I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face... How motivational for that student scribe to see that the work she so carefully detailed has been of tangible use to one of her peers. And how fantastic for me that the student who was away could independently source the work he needed to catch up on! The level of motivation and excitement in the classroom program has already lifted noticeably this week, and I am looking forward with eager anticipation to see how the program develops over the coming weeks and months.
Collaboration in the classroom
Yesterday I launched a "deTECHtives" class for the teachers at my school; an optional, after-school, fortnightly program designed to introduce other teachers to various apps and websites that can be used in an educational setting. Our focus was padlet and Today's Meet.
If you haven't used these sites, padlet is a collaborative, online space that can be tailored to your specific needs in a number of ways. Users can post text, images, videos and more, and then content can be converted to a pdf, embedded in a blog or exported in various ways. Today's Meet is designed as a back channel. Users can post questions, comments and website links during a lesson or meeting, and the lists can then be printed out as a transcript.
The session was a great time of sharing amongst colleagues. However, the thing that excited me more than anything was when, not even 24 hours after our first "deTECHtives" session, one of my colleagues came rushing into my room saying that her students were on her very first padlet wall, and were commenting before she even had a chance to log on. They were so motivated and excited, and eager to experiment in this new online format.
Sometimes it is so hard to get out of our comfort zone and try something new. It's a great reminder when teachers see firsthand, the benefits that students gain from a teacher who is willing to take risks and give things a go. Not everything went perfectly the first time - there was a browser issue that was quickly resolved - but it didn't stop her from getting out there and trying something new. What can you try tomorrow that will take you out of your comfort zone? Jump in!
Danni Foster-Brown B.Ed; M.Ed
Director of Junior Learning Community (Academic Performance and Innovation) at an independent school on the Gold Coast, Australia. Google Certified Teacher. Google Educator. Passionate about teaching and learning, and building extraordinary learners.